It was an old cat, a tom, and nothing spectacular, just a plain brown tabby with white paws. There were hundreds if not thousands just like him roaming the city. What made him different was his size, he was very big, and they had named him Moose.
Moose simply appeared on the fire escape one day. He was old, they could see that right away, and he had seen many fights in his younger days. One ear was torn and ragged, one eye was missing, and in his long, striped tail there was an odd kink. It was a cold winter. He was old and tired and needed a place to stay.
They let him in when he asked, and let him out when he asked. He continued to roam the streets at night but came home every morning for a can of tuna and some quiet companionship. His purr was grand. He was noble, an old warrior in his retirement, deserving much respect.
"Noble ol' Moose," they said, and petted his tattered coat.
Moose had lived a long time. He'd used up many of his nine lives.
A car took the last one when his luck finally ran out.
Noble Moose was dead. His body lay twisted, broken and bloody by the side of a busy road. No life lit his single eye. His purr was silent.
The boy stood on the sidewalk looking down at the cat. His hands were in the pockets of his old, shabby coat. He wore a knit hat pulled down to his brows and a worn woolen muffler wrapped around his thin face. Only his cold-reddened nose and wide green eyes were visible. He wasn't much more than a stray himself. In thirteen years he'd seen more places than most people would in their lifetimes. His journeys were reflected in his eyes. They'd captured many memories, not all good, and deep within them lay a quiet maturity far beyond his years.
He sighed, and with bowed shoulders, he turned away.
They shouldn't have fed it, he thought, as he picked his way carefully down icy sidewalks and through snow choked alleys. They'd gotten too close. You couldn't get too close, like a thing too much, 'cause when something bad happened it would hurt real hard. He'd learned that lesson at the tender age of four.
He had tried not to like having Moose around. They weren't allowed to have pets. They would have had to leave him eventually anyway. Maybe this was for the best.
"Don't be a crybaby," he told himself sternly. He was thirteen. His voice was changing. He was almost a man, too old to cry. "Dumb ol' cat."
He wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his coat before going inside the hotel. The whores who lounged around in the lobby sometimes teased and petted him. He was pretty, they said, and cute. They hugged him and kissed his cheeks. He still had vague memories of a woman's touch. Surrogate mothers of the evening. He kinda liked their attention.
There was nobody in the lobby though at this hour of the morning. No one was behind the desk either.
Pulling down his muffler he inhaled the warm air inside the building. It smelled of dust, and mildew, with an undercurrent of reefer. Denny, the day clerk, was probably in his office lighting up again.
He pushed the button for the elevator. There was a can of tuna in his pocket. He took it out and looked at it while he waited. They'd dug around in the lobby sofas every morning and always found enough change to buy a few cans at the little market down the street. It was the real cheap kind, five for a dollar. Moose had really liked it.
The elevator arrived. He took it up to their floor and got out. On the way down the hall he shuffled his feet and stalled as long as he could. It was cold in the hallway because a window was broken. Someone shot it out at New Year's. They'd forgotten they were indoors. His father had taken the gun away from the man and put him back in his room to sleep it off. Dad had been drinking too, but he didn't shoot things when he was drunk. He was a quiet drunk. He sat in his chair in the dark with a bottle of whiskey on his knee and didn't say much of anything.
Sometimes, though, they heard him whisper, "Mary."
He didn't have to unlock the door. It opened before he even reached for the knob. Wide eyes, chubby cheeks, and a wild mop of curly brown hair appeared as the door swung open.
"Dean, did you find him?"
Him. Moose of course. Sam was worried about the cat.
Dean regarded his little brother solemnly for a moment. He slowly unwrapped his muffler, pulled the hat from his head, and shed his coat.
They'd gotten too close, Sammy especially.
Stupid cat. Why did it have to go and get itself squashed?
"Yeah," he said finally. "I found him."
"Where is he? Why didn't you bring him home?" Sam's face crumpled into a frown. He padded behind Dean on the way into the kitchenette. He was, Dean noted, only wearing one sock.
"Where's your other sock?"
"Dunno. Where's my cat?"
"We got any more cereal?"
"No. Dean...where's Moose?"
Dean could practically hear the lower lip start trembling. He tried to ignore it as he fished around in the cupboard for the packet of oatmeal he'd hidden there.
"He's dead, isn't he?"
The oatmeal packet had a hole in it. A mouse had done it no doubt.
Dean sighed. What good was a cat that didn't keep mice out of your oatmeal anyway?
"Nah," he said, resigning himself to a day without breakfast. He turned around and headed back into the main room where he flopped down on a bed. "Someone's got him."
"Huh?" Sam followed. He didn't sit down though, but stood in front of his brother shifting his weight back and forth from foot to foot. His hands fluttered anxiously. "Someone's got him?"
"Yeah. I saw him down where those big old houses are, sitting in a window lookin' all cozy. Had him a sparklie collar too."
Sam's brows knit. "Are you sure it was Moose?"
"Positive. One of those old cat ladies down there got him. He's set for life. He ain't gonna come back here."
There was a long silence. Dean lifted his head to look. The tears were there, but they weren't falling just yet. "It's okay Sammy," he said. "He's in a lot better place." Sitting up, he shrugged. "Winter's almost over. You know Dad'll pack up and go when the weather gets warmer. You woulda had to turn Moose out anyway."
"Yeah," Sam sniffed. "I know."
Frowning, Dean pointed a finger at him. "You better not cry."
"I'm not gonna cry." Almost angrily, Sam wiped at his face. "It was just a stray cat," he said, but looked at his brother with liquid eyes. "He's okay?"
Dean looked away. "He's okay, Sammy," he said quietly, and changed the subject. "It's cold dork-face. Go put on another sock."
He thought it was over. It wasn't.
Stupid cat, frozen to the pavement. He couldn't shake the vision all day, and even into the night. Their father came home from work and then left them again as soon as the sun went down. Like Moose had been, John was a warrior, and he roamed the streets at night.
"Lock the doors and windows," he said, in the voice that meant business. "Don't go out."
Dean was restless. Sam slept peacefully, probably dreaming of silken pillows, rhinestone collars, and delicately filleted fish served in a silver bowl. He lay sprawled across the bed. His pajamas had holes in their knees, his hair curled around his face, still damp from his bath. Just two nights before he'd been sleeping there the same way, but then he'd had a big old tabby curled up to his side, a tabby with a noble purr.
It was after midnight when Dean finally slipped from his bed and made his way into the bathroom carrying a pillow. He locked the door behind him. The mirror caught his eye and he paused to look at his reflection for a moment. He couldn't see a man anywhere in the pale, oval face staring back at him, just a scrawny little kid with freckles and eyes too big for his face.
Dean leaned his back against the door and slowly sank down to the cold tile floor, leaving his reflection behind. He brought his knees up to his chest and pressed the pillow to his face so Sam could not hear.
Too close. He'd gotten too close.
Dumb ol' cat.