Sleep. He can't wait to go home and shower off the smell of coffee and pastries that not only clings to his work clothes but seems to have permeated his skin, too. But there's still plenty to do around the coffee house before he can reacquaint himself with his bed.
With one last look out the rain-streaked window, Jared turns the key in the lock and starts clearing the nearest table of napkins and plates and mugs left behind by the small study group that had occupied it until closing.
In the time it takes for him to pick up and wipe down all the tables, the light drizzle outside becomes a full-on downpour, rain falling hard enough he can hear it pounding on the metal awning of the dry cleaner's next door. The sound of the vacuum drowns it out easily as he continues with his nightly cleanup.
He pushes the vacuum back towards the supply closet and empties the contents of the plastic canister into the kitchen garbage before he puts it away. The rain's still coming down pretty hard, so instead of taking the trash out, Jared moves on to the next of his duties and loads the dishwasher before taking the trays of pastries and rolls out of the small walk-in cooler and leaving them on the counter to proof.
When he gets done grinding coffee beans for the morning shift, it becomes apparent that the rain isn't letting up so Jared just gathers the three bags of trash and opens the back door that leads to the alley and the few spaces of off-street employee parking. Fat, heavy raindrops patter dully against the thick plastic lid of the dumpster and Jared finds himself soaked to the skin before he's even got it open.
As he hefts the last bag into the nearly-full dumpster, Jared catches a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. Letting the lid slam shut, he turns from the dumpster and crouches down next to the rear tire of his truck to peer underneath the bed. Blinking rain from his eyes, Jared curses then holds his hand out anyway.
The brown-and-tan tiger-striped cat huddled beneath his truck sniffs tentatively at his wet fingers before butting against them. Jared scratches behind its ears for a moment, working his hand along the back of its head far enough he can grab it by the scruff of its neck. The cat yowls and hisses at Jared as he drags it out and Jared has to curse again when he catches sight of the cat's front leg. It's bent at an unnatural angle, pale stripes of fur matted and dark with blood.
“Poor thing,” Jared says as he brings the injured animal up to his chest, mindful of the broken leg.
As much as he want to go home, get showered, and go to bed, he can't just leave this poor cat behind to fend for itself. Harley and Sadie's vet has a 24-hour emergency number he can call, so he heads back inside and lines a cardboard box with some old hand towels and carefully puts the cat into it.
“Just stay put,” he tells the cat, talking to it just as he would either of his dogs, scratching under its chin. “I've gotta clock out, then we can get you to the vet.”
The cat blinks at him and sits, watching him expectantly.
Jared quickly makes his way to the break room and punches his time card before gathering his sweatshirt, wallet, and keys from his locker. The cat is still sitting in the box when he returns and if Jared's a little bit surprised it's only because his aunt's cats sat still like their tails were on fire.
He picks up the box, the cat meowing low in warning as it's jostled, and locks the door on his way out. Once inside his truck, the cat shifts in the box until it's laying down, right paw tucked under its chin, left resting gingerly against the towels.
Jared calls Dr. Beaver as he gets the heat going, right hand idly stroking down the cat's back as he waits for somebody to answer.
“Main Street Veterinary Clinic.”
“Jim? It's Jared Padalecki.”
“Hi, Jared. What can I do for you? Harley get into another batch of brownies?”
“Uh, no, Harley's good. I found a cat out behind the coffee shop. Looks like his leg might be broken.”
“Bring him on in. I'll ask Genevieve to stick around. See you in a bit, kid.”
“Thanks, Jim.” Jared drops his phone into the cup holder after he hangs up and gives the cat a couple more pets. “So much for those new tires.”
The cat meows and lifts its head to butt his hand as he pulls away.
Jared just smiles halfheartedly to himself and pulls out of the narrow parking space, heading for the street.
- = -
Jared's got a voicemail from Jim Thursday afternoon when he gets out of his psychology lecture that lets him know it's okay for him to pick up 'Cat.' If the animal is going to stay, he's going to have to come up with a better name. But that all depends on how Sadie and Harley take it and he knows how well they – mostly Harley – get along with things smaller and quicker than they are.
So on his way back to town, he calls Beth at Nomad's to let her know he's going to be a little late. She's fine with him taking as much time as he needs when he explains about the cat and praises him for his big, animal-loving heart. And that of course leads to her complaining about how Aldis consistently ignores any mention she makes of the super-cute – her words – cockapoo her friend Gina is trying to give away. Jared argues that it's probably more that it's a cockapoo than the fact that Aldis is against getting a dog.
Then he oh-so-subtly steers the conversation towards Aldis and the Y, then the other trainers, and speaking of the other trainers... has Aldis mentioned anything about Jensen lately? Beth snorts at him inelegantly. “Could you be any more obvious?”
“Probably,” Jared concedes. “He said he was gonna stop in last night and never showed. Figured it would be a less awkward place than the Y to finally ask him out because it would be easier for him to bolt if things got weird.”
“Please. The guy's smitten. I'm sure he was just busy showing some soccer mom how to use that one weird weight machine with that thing.”
“Right,” he agrees, having no clue what weight machine she's talking about. “I don't know. Maybe I'll just stop in Saturday morning and see if he's free for a beer or something. Keep it casual.” He sighs and throws on his blinker to get off the highway at the exit south of town. “I'll figure something out.”
“I'm sure you will.”
“Well, I've gotta pick that cat up. I'll see you in a bit.” He hangs up as he pulls into the vet clinic's lot, parking beside a red Caravan with a stick family of five and three dogs in the back window. He holds the door for a short woman with an excitable black lab on a leash as she leaves and gets a hand covered in slobber for his trouble. He fights the urge to wipe it off on his pant leg because he'll be running late enough for work as it is without having to change his jeans.
Genevieve smiles at him from behind the counter. “The bathroom is right over there if you want to wash off Max's drool. He's a little... friendly. I'll go get your cat.”
When he comes out of the bathroom, Genevieve already has Cat on the counter in a battered, off-white carrier. “This is just a loaner,” she explains, stapling a couple sheets of paper together and setting them on the counter. “Return it as soon as you're able.”
Jared turns the carrier as she covers the bill and what all was done and he has to stifle his embarrassed laughter at the sight he's met with. “Oh, no. Poor little guy.”
The cat blinks its bright jade eyes at him, clearly disgruntled by Jared's sick amusement at his predicament.
“The cone is precautionary. He doesn't really need it unless he starts biting at his cast. Other than the obvious injury, he looks to be in really good health. Jim scanned him and he's not chipped, so if you decide to keep him, all you'll have to worry about it getting him fixed.”
At that, the cat yowls as though he thoroughly disagrees. Jared laughs. “We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Gotta see how he does with the mutts first.”
“Of course,” Genevieve nods. “Well, here's the bill.”
Jared heaves a sigh at the total for the visit and the surgery – he still ends up dropping over a week's worth of pay even after the discount Jim gave him – and pulls out his wallet, handing his debit card over. “Might as well throw in a bag of food, too,” he tells Genevieve before poking a finger through the metal grid of the carrier door. “You better be on your best behavior, mister.”
Again, the cat just blinks indifferently in response.
Jared folds the receipt into his wallet before shoving it into his pocket and reaching for the carrier. With a large bag of Science Diet under his arm, he bids Genevieve goodbye and backs out the door. “So... What am I gonna call you?” he asks the cat as he starts across town to the small house he rents a couple blocks down from the high school. “I can't keep calling you Cat. George? Steve? Fluffy? No? You don't look like a Fluffy. What about Tiger? Huh?” He slows as he drives past Clark Street, frowning when he spots Jensen's dark blue pickup parked along the curb in front of the house he shares with Chris. “Looks like Jensen's home,” he muses aloud.
The cat meows.
“Jensen?” Jared asks the cat like its response was a response and not a random cat noise. But he meows again, head cocked, whiskers twitching in exasperation. “You like the name Jensen?”
“Jesus Christ, Jared. You're attempting conversation with a damn cat. You seriously need a vacation,” he tells himself.
“Rrow,” the cat laments.
Jared glances over at him as he turns down his street. “What about Sue? Johnny Cash-”
The cat hisses his obvious disapproval.
“Tiger it is.”
The cat – Tiger – makes a low grumbling sound before huffing and looking away.
Jared chooses to overlook his grumpy companion's attitude in favor of pulling into his driveway and taking the cat inside. Sadie and Harley go nuts sniffing at the pet carrier, Harley wagging his tail so excitedly that his whole back end moves. He nudges them back with his knees as he makes his way to the bathroom, leaving the carrier inside and closing the door while he gets some old newspapers from his recycling and a couple small Tupperware bowls.
“This'll have to do for now,” he tells Tiger as he unfolds a few papers to cover the area in front of the shower stall. “I'll stop by Walmart after work and get a real litter box.” When he opens the door on the carrier, Tiger slowly steps out, careful of his leg wrapped tight and held rigid by his bright blue cast. Jared takes pity on him and unfastens the cone.
Tiger purrs loudly when Jared scratches at the fur flattened by the cone at the back of his neck.
“Does that feel good, buddy?” He lengthens his strokes all down Tiger's back and the cat arches into his fingers like Harley and Sadie do before climbing into his lap, butting his head against Jared's chest. “Oh, you're a good boy, aren't you?”
Outside the bathroom door Harley whines.
Jared sighs and rubs behind Tiger's ears one more time before he puts him back on the floor and climbs to his feet. After filling the plastic bowls with food and water, he gives the cat another pat. “Don't pee on the floor, okay? Just on the newspaper. I'll see you later.”
Harley dances around Jared's feet as he leaves the bathroom and heads down the hallway to the back door in the kitchen. Both Harley and Sadie bolt outside and Jared goes upstairs to his room to change now that the front of his shirt is completely covered in cat hair.
He refills the dogs' water bowls then lets them back in, making them sit for a couple of Milk-Bones before he has to leave. He can only hope the bathroom door is still in tact when he gets home later.
- = -
Jared has to shoulder his way through a group of heavily-perfumed high school girls gathered right inside the front door of the coffee house. A couple of them blush and a few more smile at him coyly and Jared knows it's karmic payback for making Beth stay late.
“Mr. Daniels parked in your space again?” Beth asks, not looking up from where she's drawing a demented reindeer in the foam atop a cappuccino.
“Yeah. Found a spot around the corner, though.”
“How's the cat?”
“Good. I locked him in the bathroom.”
“Afraid Harley might get hungry for a snack?”
Jared shrugs and ties his black and green apron around his waist. “More worried the cat would piss all over everything.”
“Oh.” Beth wrinkles her nose. “Good point.”
The mass of jingle bells attached to the front door as part of a festive holiday wreath Beth put together jingle obnoxiously as Aldis pushes inside and sidesteps the same group of girls blocking the entrance. “You about ready, baby?” Aldis asks Beth, leaning against the counter with his hip.
“Yeah,” she says, glancing up with a smile. “Oh, hey. Jared was asking about Jensen earlier. You have any new news or really good gossip?”
“Beth,” Jared hisses, eyes wide with embarrassment.
“What? You were.” She slides the mug across the counter to a girl more focused on her cell phone than what she ordered.
Aldis, laid back as ever, just shrugs. “Nah, not really. Chris said he had to go over to Dallas for a few days. Should be back by Christmas, though.”
“Oh. When did he leave?” Because he doesn't remember Jensen mentioning anything about going to Dallas when they saw each other on Monday. And Jared would remember.
“Yesterday afternoon, I think?” Aldis just shrugs again. “All I know is while he's gone, Chris is covering all his training sessions, so...”
“Let me punch out quick, then I'm all yours,” Beth says, pushing an extra-chunky chocolate chip cookie on a white napkin with Nomad's Coffee House embossed in dark green across the counter.
“You're all mine anyway,” Aldis returns with an indulgent smile and a roll of his eyes.
Jared moves into Beth's vacated space to help the next customer, but can't shake the feeling that something's up. If Jensen left for Dallas yesterday, it would certainly explain why he blew Jared off last night. But it doesn't explain why Jensen's truck is still here and there's no way he would've attempted that long of a drive in Chris' rusty death-trap of a truck.
“I'll see you Monday,” Beth tells him as she rounds the counter and grabs Aldis' hand.
“See you Monday,” he agrees. “Have a good weekend.”
“Don't worry,” she says with a jaunty little wave, “we will.” Then she pulls Aldis out the door.
Jensen stays on Jared's mind the rest of the night as he tries to figure out what is really going on. He's still wondering if he's exaggerated Jensen's interest in him when he returns home, litter box and twenty-pound bag of Fresh Step in hand. It won't be the first time he's projected his feelings onto somebody that wasn't looking for anything more than his friendship. He seriously hopes that's not the case with Jensen.
- = -
Sadie and Harley have taken to Tiger famously, so Jared isn't worried leaving them home alone Saturday morning when he heads to the YMCA to talk to Chris. Tiger is curled up in the corner of the couch, Sadie beside him, and Harley on the floor in front of them. “You kids behave,” he tells them, pulling on his tennis shoes. Sadie huffs and Harley blinks up at him from where his head rests on his paws. Tiger cocks his head and yawns. “Right,” Jared says. “I'll be back in an hour.”
When he gets to the Y, Chris is sitting behind the front desk reading a copy of Men's Fitness. “Hey, Jared. How's it going?”
“Good.” He crosses his arms and leans against the counter. “You seen Jensen?”
Chris immediately goes fidgety, eyes darting around. “Uh, no, not since he, uh, left.”
Jared saw Chris' truck in the parking lot, so unless Jensen took a cab or had another friend drive him to Dallas, he didn't leave. “Left?”
“Yeah, um, he went to Dallas.”
“That's what Aldis said, but I drove past your place the other day and his truck was there.”
“Oh. Well.” Chris leans forward and rubs his face with is hands. “Look... I'm not sure what happened. He just... I don't know.”
At his slightly stricken expression, Jared bends down closer to him. “Where is he, Chris?”
Chris shakes his head and shrugs. “I don't know. Gone?”
“Gone where?” Jared can admit that he might be going a bit overboard with his concern for Jensen, seeing as though they've only known each other for a handful of months, but he really likes the guy. And if something's happened...
“I don't know,” Chris says again, glancing up at Jared. “He worked the morning shift Wednesday and was leaving as I was coming in. Said he had a couple errands to run and that he was supposed to meet up with you later.”
“He was supposed to drop by Nomad's. But he never showed.”
Chris nods. “I figured as much when I got home and his truck was there. The door was unlocked, but I couldn't find him anywhere. And when I tried calling his phone, I found it in the pocket of a pair of his jeans on his bedroom floor. And then there was that was the cat.”
“Cat?” Jared echos, stomach turning, heart racing. There's no way.
“Yeah. It was weird. There was a tabby cat curled up on his bed.”
“What did it look like?”
“A cat. What does it matter what it looked like?” Shaking his head, Chris braces his elbows on the desk. “Jensen's gone.”
Jared thinks about Tiger. The way the cat responded to him, to Jensen's name. His familiar, bright green eyes. But it's crazy. Impossible. Isn't it? “Did you call the police?”
“Not yet. He disappeared once during our freshman year of college. He was all hung up on this girl and came back a few days later. I figured, with the two of you dancing around each other, he'd done the same thing.”
“But he left his phone and his truck behind.”
“Right. If I don't hear anything by tomorrow-”
“Christmas is next week. What about his family?”
“They don't really talk. He'll be fine, Jared. He'll be back.” Chris doesn't sound too certain.
“Where would he go? Where did he go then?”
“He never said. But he'll be back.”
It's difficult to take in and even harder to accept that Jensen's just gone. And of the three distinct possibilities Jared's faced with – that Jensen's run off out of some kind of fear, that something bad has actually happened to him, or that he's been... turned into a cat – Jared isn't sure which is worse. He knows which is the craziest, but that's pretty obvious. Regardless, he still has to ask. “Was there a cat back then, too?”
“What is it with you and the damn cat, Jay?”
“I don't remember. Maybe. If there was, it wouldn't've been too weird – there was a crazy old lady that lived across from us that had, like, ten cats. They got loose all the time, so.” Chris looks at him for a long moment, considering. “You think the cat's got something to do with it?”
Jared knows he should keep his insane idea to himself, so he does. “Probably not.”
Chris looks like he's holding back from saying something himself and a charged silence hangs between them for a moment. “Well, if you hear from him, give me a call. Doesn't matter what time.”
“Yeah. Of course. Same goes for you.” Jared starts to back away from the counter towards the exit. Tiger is snuggled up on his couch with his dogs and Jensen is... maybe Tiger. “I'll see you later, Chris.”
Chris hooks a thumb over his shoulder. “Weren't you gonna work out or something?”
That may have been his original intent, but he really has to get home. “Um, no. Just wanted to check on Jensen since I hadn't seen or heard from him in a few days.”
“Right. Like I said, he'll show.”
“Okay,” Jared nods. “Later.”
In his haste to cross town, Jared breaks a few traffic laws – fails to use his turn signal, rolls through a couple stop signs, drives above the posted speed limit – but he doesn't get pulled over, doesn't see a single squad car. He makes it home in record time and slams through the front door, drawing the attention of the three animals unmoved from the positions he left them in less than half an hour ago.
Harley and Sadie glance up at him and Tiger sits up a little straighter, head cocked in question.
“Jensen?” Jared tries, heart in his throat.
With a weary twitch of his whiskers, Tiger blinks at him. “Meow.”
“Holy shit,” Jared breathes, letting the door fall closed and collapsing against it heavily. “Jensen?”
The cat huffs and climbs to its feet. “Meow.”
“No way. No fucking way.”
Tiger moves to the edge of the cushion and looks down at Harley before jumping over him carefully, plaster of his cast lightly tapping the wood floor. With his awkward gait, he crosses the living room to sit in front of Jared, head tilted back to look him in the eye. “Mrow.”
“I think I need a drink.” It's not even noon.
The cat hobbles into the kitchen and pauses in front of the fridge, glancing back at Jared before standing on his back legs to paw at the door handle.
Jared's tempted. Drink the day away and wake up with a hangover, pretend this insanity was all brought on by alcohol induced delusion. Then Tiger – Jensen, and man is it crazy to think of the guy as a freaking cat – is crossing back over to him, rubbing against his calf. “This is really crazy, buddy,” he says, crouching down to pet Jensen along his back. “How do we fix this?”
Jensen stretches up on his hind legs to nuzzle into Jared's palm, pressing as close to his face as he can manage. He purrs as Jared scratches the back of his neck and meows quietly.
“What did you do the first time? Did it go away on its own?”
“Meow.” Jensen butts the underside of Jared's chin with his cheek, whiskers tickling Jared's skin.
“It went away on its own?” Jared asks again, leaning back and holding Jensen still. “Meow for yes, stay quiet for no,” he says inanely.
Jensen tilts his head to the side, blinks at him, and meows.
“Okay. So this'll wear off?”
There's a pause, then, “Meow.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
Jensen cocks his head and blinks.
“So we just have to wait it out?”
- = -
Jensen remains his furry self throughout Saturday and on into Sunday, spending much of his time curled up next to Jared on the couch or with Sadie trailing after him around the house just as protective and watchful of the cat as she's ever been of Harley. She likes to take care of her boys.
Jared's lazing on the couch with his feet up on the coffee table, Harley and Sadie on either side of him, and Jensen on his chest, watching game highlights on ESPN when his phone vibrates on the table between his socked feet and a mug of Kahlua-spiked coffee. Trying his best not to dislodge Jensen, he holds the cat against his chest as he leans forward to reach for his phone, glancing at the message on the screen before tossing it back onto the table.
When he sits back and resumes petting down Jensen's back, the cat glances at the abandoned phone before turning back to Jared. “Mrow.”
“My sister,” Jared explains. “She wants to know if I'm coming home for Christmas.”
“I finally came out to my family last year. I bailed on the annual neighborhood New Year's Eve block party in favor of meeting up with my boyfriend at the time. I knew my mom would be fine with it – she's a teacher and she's sympathetic about a lot of really sensitive things her students go through and she's always been really accepting and open-minded, but by dad wasn't quite as understanding. We haven't spoken since, and I haven't gone home.” He scratches behind Jensen's ears and runs his palm over Sadie's head when she noses the back of his hand. “When he apologizes... maybe I'll go home. But this isn't so bad.” He nods at his sparsely decorated artificial tree standing in front of the living room window, white lights blinking. “At least I've got you and the mutts.”
On his chest, Jensen huffs and mews quietly, resting his head on his cast.
“I know. Kind of depressing. But... whatever. We'll watch A Christmas Story and Home Alone and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation if we're lucky. And I've got a ham in the fridge. We're totally set, buddy.”
Jensen blinks and twitches his whiskers and it's amazing, really, how expressive his little cat face can be.
The day wears on and when night falls, Jared turns in early, letting Harley and Sadie out one last time before locking the doors and turning off the lights. He slowly follows Jensen up the stairs, his cast thunking hollowly against the wood steps as he climbs. They fall asleep in the same position they spent most of the afternoon in, Jensen sprawled across Jared's chest, head resting on his collarbone. The cat shifts in his attempt to get more comfortable, Jared's hand coming up unconsciously to settle over the back of his head, and then there's a sudden weight bearing down on Jared's chest.
It's startling enough to wake Jared from a dead sleep because, even though his eyes haven't quite adjusted to the darkness of his room, holy shit! That's most definitely a naked Jensen scrambling off the side of his bed. “Jesus Christ!”
“I- I don't- shit,” Jensen curses, cradling his left arm against his chest while trying his best to keep his naked self covered.
“I'm fine,” Jensen interrupts, eyes downcast. “Can you just take me home, please?”
“I.” This isn't quite how Jared pictured things going. “Yeah. Of course.” He gets out of bed, stepping around Harley where he's pacing in the small space between Jared's dresser and the side of the bed. He dresses quickly and pulls out a pair of sweats he shrunk a couple years back and one of his well-worn zip-up hoodies. “Here,” Jared says, passing the clothes to Jensen. “Should be easier for you to get in that sweatshirt with your arm.”
“I'll, um, I'll go wait downstairs.” When he leaves his room, Jared whistles for his dogs. Sadie lingers in the doorway, whimpering as she glances back at Jensen. “Come on, girl.”
Jensen joins him a couple minutes later, hoodie zipped up to his chest with his broken arm still held close to his chest.
“Can we please not do this?”
Jared swallows hard and nods before realizing Jensen's not looking at him. “I guess, yeah.” He leads Jensen around to his truck and waits for him to get in, and the drive through town to his and Chris' house is one of the most painfully awkward and silent rides of Jared's life.
Jensen's nearly got the door open before Jared has fully stopped the truck and is at his front door, pulling a spare key out of a magnetic case from beneath the mailbox and letting himself in without so much as a 'thank you' or a 'goodbye.'
Jared sighs and feels his heart sink a little. He expected some awkwardness, but not this absolute avoidance of what happened. But it's not like there's anything he can do about it besides drive himself home and go back to bed.
- = -
Jared's in the middle of his double-shift Monday afternoon when Chris finally calls him. He's busy filling a large to-go order, so he misses it, but gets the voicemail when he takes his short break. “Hey, Jay, it's Chris. I meant to call you earlier, but things have been a little... weird over here. Jensen came back last night. Had to take him into the ER 'cause he busted his arm. Wouldn't say where or how, but he's okay. Just a little worse for wear. I told him you came by looking for him – that you were worried about him – and that he should probably give you a call, but... like I said, he's kind of off. Maybe this time he'll tell me what's going on. I don't know. I just wanted to let you know that he came back and he's okay. Well, mostly, anyhow. I'll talk to you later. Have a merry Christmas, man.”
Jared deletes the message and fires off a quick text of Thanks to Chris, then tosses his phone into his locker before heading back to work. He stays fairly busy until he has to close at five and spends an hour quickly cleaning up the shop so he can get home to his dogs and the chili that's been simmering in the crock pot all day. Sadie and Harley meet him at the door and their excitement is enough to help him forget about Jensen for a few minutes until he goes upstairs to change while they're outside and finds the remains of Jensen's tiny blue cast on the floor. He's kind of surprised Harley didn't chew it to pieces. After a brief debate, he tosses the plaster into the wastebasket next to his desk and strips out of his work clothes to pull on sweats and a clean tee.
He spends Christmas Eve much like he'd told Jensen he would – hanging out with his dogs and watching as many Christmas movies as he can find on cable. He's dozing on the couch after his third bowl of chili when there's a loud succession of knocks on his front door. On the TV, George Bailey is running around Bedford Falls learning just how different things could've been if he'd never existed. With a sigh, Jared glances at the clock and heaves himself up off the couch. There aren't many people that would be at his door this late on Christmas Eve – only two he can think of and he doubts Megan drove all the way out here from San Antonio to spend Christmas with him. Their father would totally have a coronary if she skipped out on Christmas.
It's not Megan at his door, for which he's simultaneously grateful and disappointed, but Jensen. Which he kind of expected. “Hey,” he says when he opens the door.
Jensen's standing there in a pair of faded jeans and a dark gray hoodie, left arm bulging obviously where it's bound in a plaster cast. “Hey. Can I- can I come in?”
Jared steps aside and opens the door wider, letting Jensen pass before closing it behind him.
“How bad are you freaking out right now?” Jensen asks, arms crossed over his chest.
“I turned into a cat.”
“And you're cool with that? With what a freak I am?”
“I might've thought I was having a psychotic break or something when I realized you were Tiger, but mostly, I was just worried about getting you back.”
“That's what Chris said. Not that he knows about the cat thing. Just that you were worried.”
“So... what happened? Why did you... turn into a cat? And how'd you turn back?”
Jensen takes a deep breath and moves further into the living room, sitting in one corner of the couch, Sadie immediately by his side resting her head on his knees. “There was this lady that lived across the hall from me and Chris our freshman year. I was a total dick to her because she was this lonely older lady with a ton of cats that kept getting loose and I told her – God, I was so mean – I told her that it was no wonder she was all alone, that she must really be some kind of horrible if even her cats were trying to escape. I was just going through a bad breakup, but it was no excuse. And her cats just liked to explore. They always came back. But I was mean and I hurt her and she told me she'd teach me something about unconditional love. Didn't know what she meant at the time.
“Then, a few months later, I was finally ready to move on from my previous relationship and made up my mind to ask out this girl in my bio class... and I was suddenly a cat.”
“How did you turn back?” Jared sits on the edge of the cushion and pats Harley's side.
“There was this fifteen- maybe sixteen-year-old girl in our building, whose parents were going through a pretty nasty divorce, that found me. Fed me bologna and gave me milk. She told me all about what her parents' divorce was doing to her, how it made her feel. She didn't want to go live with her dad, and she was angry and upset and nobody would listen. Except for me. Cat me.
“It was her unconditional love for me – for that cat – that turned me back. It was probably the most awkward moment of my life and, while she freaked out a bit initially, she thought it was pretty cool. I was just glad she wasn't traumatized. And I told her to talk to her parents about how she felt about her divorce, that they'd listen to what she had to say.”
“So, when you turned back this time...”
“It was your unconditional love for me. Or cat me. Whatever.”
“I'd say it's a little too early to be calling it love,” Jared says, shifting closer on the couch cushions, “but I really, really like you, and I'd've been really upset if I'd never had the chance to do this.”
Jensen starts when Jared leans in and presses their mouths chastely together. He tentatively kisses back, fingers curled tight in the front of Jared's shirt before pulling away and burying his face in Jared's neck, nosing at the hollow of his throat. “It's been a long time since I got to do that.”
“Now you can do it as often as you want. I mean, if you want.”
“Mmhmm.” Jared untangles Jensen's hand from his shirt and twines their fingers together before standing and pulling him up as well. He tugs Jensen close for another kiss and, grinning as he moves towards the stairs, whispers, “What do you say we start celebrating Christmas a couple hours early...Tiger?” Then he bolts up to his room, Jensen following close behind.
“Don't ever call me that again,” Jensen warns.
“At least I didn't name you Sue!
“C'mon. I bet you're a real tiger in bed,” Jared chuckles, waggling his eyebrows comically.
“I bet you're gonna find out,” Jensen says, every muscle in his body tensing the moment before he pounces and tackles Jared backwards onto his bed.
They don't do much more than make out heavily in the tangle of Jared's sheets before they start to doze, Jensen half on top of Jared, sprawled across his chest not at all unlike the way he'd been on Sunday night. And, just as he had Sunday night, he nuzzles his face closer into Jared's neck, each warm breath ghosting over Jared's skin as he strokes his hands down Jensen's bare back, making him hum contentedly. Glancing at the clock, Jared sees it's just past midnight and, holding Jensen a little closer, he presses a kiss to the side of his head. “Merry Christmas.”