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Nine Lives or Thereabouts

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Jack woke with a start, his head pinned down, unable to draw a full breath. On instinct, he lashed out with one fist, and then the other, trying to engage his assailant, but he encountered only air. Trying a different tack, he brought both hands to his face, hoping to get a grip on the bad guy's arm and work from there.

But instead of an arm, he found a giant ball of fur resting right across his nose and mouth. A giant ball of fur that let out a screech as he yanked it off and deposited it on the floor next to the bed.

Jack glared down at the cat. The cat glared back up at him. They stayed that way for several long seconds, assessing each other, until Jack levered himself up from the mattress, grabbed the cat by the scruff of the neck, and headed for the bedroom door.

"That's it, cat," he said as he strode down the hallway. "We're going to have a little family meeting now. The law is about to be laid down, and you're not going to like it."

"Meow," said the cat.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I thought you'd say that."

Sam was seated at the table, coffee in one hand and the inevitable briefing memo in the other, when Jack and the cat reached the kitchen. "Carter," he barked, and she looked up, her eyes wide.

"What?" she asked, blinking at him over the edge of her mug.

He plopped the cat down on the kitchen counter, then thought better of it when he looked at the glass coffee carafe nearby and transferred her down to the ground instead. "When I said we could get a cat, I didn't think I was taking my life into my hands. You trained this thing to murder me, didn't you?"

Sam looked down at the cat and back up at him, her brow furrowing in confusion. But that whole cute innocent thing wasn't going to work on him this morning. He pointed at the cat, covered his mouth and nose with his hand, and her eyes widened. Then she bit her lip to hold back her laughter. "She woke me up the same way, you know," she said.

"No, I don't. Because I was sleeping in. Due to – wait, why was that again? Oh, right. Due to actually having the day off for the first time in the last several decades."

The cat, unconcerned about Jack's vacation schedule, jumped from the floor into Sam's lap and started to purr. Sam, well trained already, rubbed the furry head right behind the ears.

"See!" Jack pointed a finger at them. "You're consorting with the enemy."

Sam snorted, then covered her mouth. Then she gave up the battle to hold in her laughter altogether.

"You want to get rid of me," Jack said. "And you got a cat to do your dirty work for you."

Sam laughed more, and Jack scowled at her. "Yes, Jack. I'm after your life insurance policy. You figured it out."

Jack pulled out the chair across from her. "I thought it was my job you wanted."

She shrugged. "Fringe benefit."

"See, I was right."

"Yes, dear." She smiled at him, mock-sweetly, then set the cat back on the ground and gathered up her mug and papers. "But for now, if I want to keep the job I've got, I have to go."

"Don't want to miss that transport beam."

"More like I don't want to be naked when the transport beam finds me." She set the cup on the counter and headed for the hallway, but he grabbed her arm as she passed his chair.

"I nearly died," he said, putting on his best pathetic face. "I need coffee. To revive me."

Sam rolled her eyes, but she crossed back to the counter, opened the cabinet and pulled out a mug anyway.

"Also sympathy," he added.

"Yes, dear." She kissed him on the top of the head and deposited the full cup on the table in front of him.

"Hey," he protested, grabbing her arm as she turned away again. "That wasn't very sympathetic. I breathed in fur. And dander."

"Go tell the President. Maybe he can make a law or something. But I've got a briefing in an hour, and I need a shower."

"And that's supposed to make me let you walk away?" He pulled her down and kissed her, long enough that he felt her start to relax into him, just until she made that soft little sound that usually meant she was going to push him against the nearest wall or counter and start getting rid of the pesky, annoying clothes that were in her way.

Then he pulled back and looked up into her eyes.

"Oh my God." She groaned. "I have to go, Jack."

"Yeah." He smirked and gave her a little push. "See you tonight."

She huffed in frustration, whacked him on the top of the head with her memo, and strode out of the room, muttering under her breath.

Jack grinned into his coffee cup before taking a long drink. As he set down the mug, the cat jumped up on the table and stared straight at him.

"Look, I'm onto your master plan, sweetheart. But I'll make you a deal. Cut me in on the world domination thing, and I promise not to tell the President you're an alien."

The cat stretched, twisted in a circle, and settled down to clean her leg.

"Carter's right, you know. There should be a law. No cats for members of the Armed Forces. Because otherwise you're all going to wake up early one day and begin the invasion by smothering the people that defend the planet."

She paused in her cleaning to look back up.

"Yeah, that's what I thought."