BLACK

VELVET

By:

Karen B

Summary: Set sometime in the early part of the first season. Sam has a nightmare/vision…and it's not of Jess this time…The boys go on a hunt for a phantom feline panther. Hurt Dean, and hurt Sam/angst.

Author's note: The muse can be a free flying thing, a hairy tarantula hidden in a crate of bananas, or a spooky, prune skinned, bent over, seaweed for hair old bag.

-- Either way…I'm at her/his/its mercy, and I thank you most truly…for your time and care in reading.

Non profit dreaming…guilty of nothing more than having my head in the clouds 24/7.

Thank you so much for your time and care!

Sunshine,

Karen

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"There are no ordinary cats" -- Colette , French novelist

His eyes searched the darkness of the cave. Flashlight beaming back and forth upon every wall, crack, and crevice.

"Dean!" Sam's voice bounced repeatedly off the walls and floors, then suddenly died.

Sam pressed his back up against the wet wall behind him, drifting around the circumference of the large cavern. Flashlight in one hand, crossbow in the other. Even with the flashlight, he could barely see beyond the darkness. There was something in here with them. Something prowling silently through the surrounding darkness. The chill of the cave seemed to almost freeze the sweat dripping from his brow.

He felt like a quail hiding in the brush waiting to be flushed out -- shot and killed. And where the hell was Dean? Sam felt cold and alone.

"Where are you?" Sam whispered, but the echo reverberated loud through the hollowed out stone.

The toe of his boot hit against something. Sam pointed his beam of light to the cave floor. A bloody, tattered, lump of freakishly mutilated blue jean clad flesh.

"No! Oh, my God, no!" Sam took a stumbling step backward.

A rummaging sound on the opposite side of the cave, kept him from squatting down to inspect what he prayed wasn't what was left of his brother.

A silhouette appeared out of the dark -- like magic. Only a dozen feet from him. At first, only saucer-wide yellow eyes glowing like a campfire. The shadow stalked closer. Revealing its true form. A panther. Black as velvet. Its long tail straight, head hung low, drops of blood-red dripping from ivory fangs. The giant feline growled, continuing to show every tooth in its mouth. Caught on one of its razor sharp teeth like a carnival ring toss game, was a sliver band.

"Dean!"

Sam bolted straight up, unwrapping himself from the smothering blankets. He jumped from the bed, landing on his feet in the center of the room.

"Bro." Startled, Dean leapt from his chair, his beer bottle on the table rocking from the quick motion. "What the hell?" Fists raised, ready to slug someone.

"Sorry." Sam waved an angry hand at his freaked brother. "I'm okay."

"Another nightmare?" Dean sat back down.

"Guess so," Sam muttered, pale and trembling.

"Jess?" Dean asked, a note of sorrow in his tone.

"No." The words readily drifted out.

Sam sank back down onto the bed. Glancing around the room, he tried to orient himself in the here and now. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Eleven o'clock in the afternoon. Why had Dean let him cat nap so long. Sam cringed at the pun recalling his dream. The images had seemed so real. Like he'd been sitting in the first row of a movie theater, wearing 3-D glasses, and Dolby stereo boomed in his ears. Yet, here he was back in the budget motel room. Where the carpet smelled like blue cheese and the walls looked like they'd been stuccoed with mayonnaise.

His gaze came back to land on his brother. Drinking a beer and sitting at a small two-chaired table in the corner. Sam had to smile. The way Dean worked the keyboard was like watching a chicken peck at rolling marbles in the dust.

"Anything?" Sam questioned, pushing a piece of stray hair out of his eyes.

"Not much," Dean answered, unable to type and look. "Another Elvis sighting," he sighed. "In a Dairy Mart on route 27. Eye witnesses say they saw The King Of Rock boost a loaf of Wonder bread and Peter Pan peanut butter. Cops chased him down an alley, but he disappeared into a cloud of pink dust," Dean laughed, taking a swig of his beer.

Sam rolled his eyes.

"Just kidding, Sam. "I got nothing."

"Hilarious," Sam huffed.

They'd been hunting for a chase for the past three weeks, like a couple of Bloodhounds with stuffed up noses. Driving here to there with no such luck. Every possible job they'd come across was little more than childish stories. Giant Big Boy statues coming to life, a taxidermy shop claming one of its stuffed albino ferrets was haunted, and some blue hole of water that mysteriously had no bottom. And then there was every town's local legend -- Bigfoot. All hunters knew the eight foot, shaggy creature was nothing more than a fanatical folk story fueled by overly active imaginations.

Their journey had led them to yet another state. A bizarre, over the rainbow land called Garrettsville, Ohio. There wasn't much around. Cornfields, woods, a few square farm houses, a dozen half-erect barns, a heard of cows, three traffic lights, two stop signs, and a hawk in a Buckeye tree.

Every town held its creepy cemeteries, roadside distractions, and whispering legends. None of which lately had held a grain of supernatural. Sam feared if they didn't find something to hunt soon, Dean would strap on a cement cast of a big foot, hand Sam a rifle, and request a thirty minute head start -- just for the hunt of it.

"Dean." Sam pushed off the bed feeling a little shaky still from his dream. He carefully moved to stand near his brother. "You couldn't type and blink," he said, his shadow falling across the keyboard.

"Hey, my typing is just like me."

"How so?"

"Smooth and stylish." Dean waggled his brow, but didn't look.

"Good luck backing that claim up," Sam said, looming over the PC.

"Sam, gimme a break, you're blocking my light." Dean swatted a hand at his brother.

"Dean." Sam leaned in more, pointing a stiff finger at the screen. "Ken and Barbie make a porno?" He snatched the processor, slid the laptop across the table, and sat down.

"Hey!" Dean snapped, reaching for the PC.

"Bro!" Sam pulled back out of Dean's reach. "Stop confusing reality with porn. Let me check something out." All ten fingers easily worked the keyboard. "I just had the weirdest dream."

"Okay..." Dean sat back in his chair. "Whatever works for you, Aunt Bee," Dean laughed.

"Stop busting on me." Sam briefly glanced up fingers still working the keys.

"You know you're adorable, Sam, when you act all square and innocent." Dean pressed his beer bottle to his lips taking a long swallow. "What'd you dream about, anyway? Because, I know you weren't dreaming about Victoria's Secret," Dean laughed.

"Whatever." Sam sulked.

"Spill it."

"The dream was about you, okay?" Sam said in a rush of air.

"Did I scoop you up into my arms and carry you off to bed?" Dean laughed louder.

"Man, you're sick." Sam bent his head studying the screen.

"You going all Madam Swammy on me again?" Dean pressed.

Sam sent Dean a pointed stare.

"So tell me, then, Sam. What… in this dream of yours has you all fired up?" Dean gulped another mouthful of beer.

"There was this sleek, black, feline…."

"Whoa…" Dean sputtered, beer spraying out his mouth. "Cool! Hope she was purring my name in my ear, and rubbing up against my d…"

"Dean!" Sam shook his head. "Uncomfortable."

"Don't worry, Sam, someday your cat will come," Dean snickered.

"Dean, you can file that under 'things you can shove up your ass.' This isn't funny. The dream was very vivid." Sam titled his head, eyes still glued to the laptop's screen. "A large black panther tore you to ribbons." He glanced up. "You were…" Sam's voice broke off, struggling past the fresh image. "Eaten, Dean," he blurted out after several seconds.

Dean frowned. "How so?"

Sam sucked in a breathe. "You were a pretzel-twisted lump of tattered bloody flesh lying on a cold cave floor."

"Dude, just say I was F.U.B.A.R."

"Fine, Dean. You were fucked up beyond all recognition."

"Huh."

"Just take a look." Sam spun the laptop around. "Three hikers in the past two months have gone missing. And six farmer's reported sheep and cattle mutilations for the past eight months. Over a dozen witnesses said they saw a big black-velvet cat with long tail and huge yellow eyes heading up into the ledges."

"More like they were drinking, black velvet," Dean remarked. "Probably just a wolf."

"There are no wolves in this area. Besides, wolves are shy. Stay as far away from humans as possible.

"What wolves do you know that stay away from human flesh, Sam?"

"Wolves, regular, Dean." Sam said irritably. "Wolves stay with their pack and they sure as hell don't make claw marks on trees." Sam eyed Dean. "How long were you looking for a hunt on this thing?" Sam waved a hand toward the laptop.

"The three hours you were cat napping."

Sam cringed at the pun.

"Dean," Sam said in surprise. "Three hours? It took me three minutes to find this article."

"So, I missed that piece of writing," Dean said hotly. "You know you not only look like Sasquatch you snore like him too. Very distracting." Dean made his excuse.

Sam's only response -- a curled lip and fixed blank stare.

"What are the ledges, anyway?" Dean asked, getting back on task.

"Nelson's Ledges. It's a State Park. Plenty of cliffs and rock formations. A lot of hiking trails, but there is still plenty of unexplored areas a creature could hide. Deep holes, crevices, caves. The local sheriff's office has been up there. Found the tracks of some animal, and said they were huge, nothing like they have ever seen before."

"Sounds hooky. All this hoopla -- because you had a dream?" Dean chugged the last of his beer, setting the bottle on the table next to a MacDonald's carry out bag.

"Dean." Sam eyes glazed with unshed tears. "You know…I told you my dreams sometimes come true. Jess…" his voice trailed off unable to finish.

"I know." Dean nodded, studying Sam intently.

"Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I'm Damien or something."

Dean narrowed his gaze.

"Dean, there's tons of lore on cats. Some cultures worshiped them like the ancient Egyptians. Others thought of them as demons because their eyes glowed at night. In Europe, weary Slavic travelers tried to avoid meeting black cats at night. Believing them to be the devil and if they crossed paths with a black cat the animal would destroy them." Sam took a breath then added, "Thus the old wives tale…"

"Never let a black cat cross you path.," Dean injected, reaching into the white paper bag and unwrapping his burger.

"Right." Sam grew excited, as the information he was reading seemed to jive with his dream. "And what I think we're dealing with now is a phantom panther."

"Define, phantom panther." Dean took a bite of his two all beef patty, special sauce, lettace, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

"A large, black, monster cat. Fur, fangs, claws. Interesting tid-bit…." Sam rubbed his jaw. "Phantom felines are always female."

"Giant pussy?" Dean spat bits of chewed up Big-Mac out his mouth.

"Dean! Reality. Not Porn." Sam scowled at him. "Seriously, dude. There's a Celtic belief that a cat's eyes are windows through which a human being can see his soul, his hearts desire, and his failures. Probably can freeze things in their tracks that way. Makes for a quick catch. But, what's worse is they don't kill you right away. They like to play with their wounded. Pretending to let the victim go, but actually still holding them prisoner. Their considered demons."

"A devil cat woman?" Dean waggled his brow taking another big bite of hamburger.

"Funny you say that." Sam went back to staring at the laptop. "The word devil cat is another word for the devil himself. 'Old scratch. Legend tells of a fisherman who caught a black kitten in his net, fed kitty and gave the fur ball a home. Until the cat grew to unusual size and killed the hand that fed it. The monster cat then ravaged the country side mutilating and killing cattle and human alike. Leaving them defleshed, white bone sticking up out of a bloody, twisted, sloppy pile of…." Sam smiled to himself. "Ground beef." He glanced up through long strands of hair, just in time to see Dean's face.

"Sam." Dean froze, burger mid-way to his mouth. "Eating." He wrinkled his nose. "What else?" he asked, tossing the uneaten burger back into the bag with a sick look on his face.

Sam shook his head and continued, "King Arthur and his knights led by Merlin were said to have destroyed the animal. They used a crossbow, shot an arrow through its head.

"So, Puss-n-boots is dead, Sam"

"Cats breed like rabbits, Dean." Sam closed the laptop. "And it's been an old wives tale for centuries that they have nine lives. If you don't cut off their legs, they can reanimate." We got nothing else, Dean," Sam sighed. "Take a hike and check kitty out or…" Sam waved a hand indicating the Television. "Watch Flash Dance on H.B.O."

"No! Hell no!" Dean turned on the heel of his boots. "Okay, Sam." He nabbed his duffle off the back of the chair, and started to stuff needed items into his pack.

"Okay, what?" Sam stood.

"Okay, we're going on a little hike." Dean glanced over his shoulder. "Little brother." He smiled going back to packing.

Sam bit his lip, remembering the bloody lump that was Dean in his dream. He didn't understand how, but his dreams had found a way to infiltrate his reality. Like the nightmares were attached to some chain inside his mind and when he woke he drug the visions back into this world. A normal person would just splash cold water on their face, minutes later forgetting the dream. Sam's dreams bled into the here and now, destroying his life. His dream's took from him all that he loved. It was his fault Jess was dead. He'd dreamed her death, and his dream had come true. Jess was caught in the crossfire of what he'd hauled back from lullaby land. When had his attempt at a normal life turn into a sci-fi movie?

"You okay?" Dean's soft voice interrupted Sam's thoughts.

"Maybe…" Sam blinked at Dean, worried green eyes cut into him like a machete. "Maybe we shouldn't…" Sam racked a shaky hand through his hair. "I mean…"

"Sam, get packed." Dean brushed a hand across Sam's shoulder as he passed by. "Nothing eats me, bro," he assured, twisting the doorknob. "I'm not as sweet as the chicks think I am." Dean shifted his pack, and dug his keys out of his front pocket. "Meet you in the car." He swung the door open. "Four minutes, Princess Leia." Dean stepped through the entrance into the bright sunlight. "Or my baby leaves without you," Dean called back, not bothering to shut the door behind him.

"Yeah." Sam made an odd choking noise going straight to his pack.

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"Sam, What are we on? Some sort of… nutty wildflower… chase," Dean complained, between chomping on a Twizzler. "I mean what are we hunting here? We've been hiking for hours and not seen so much…so much as a hairball."

"Dean," Sam huffed trudging ahead of his brother up another hill. "After my dream, don't you think this is worth checking out?" he asked, careful not to slip on the outcrop of jagged rocks jutting up from the ground. "Besides, explain to me what has been killing all those farm animals and what about the missing hikers and the eyewitness reports?"

"Puss -n-boots… gone skitsofrantic psycho."

Sam paused, just long enough to turn and give Dean a stern look.

"What?" Dean gave a scheming smile. "Clearly we're deep in fairy forest land and not one sign of this phantom feline."

"Clearly," Sam drawled out, turning and stepping over a fallen log. "You know I'm not an idiot, Dean."

"You're not?"

"Hysterical," Sam drawled out. "Look, I know what you're thinking."

"That you wear woman's underwear?"

"That I'm crazy." Sam's toes curled in frustration. "That my dreams are just … are somehow nothing more than figments of my imagination."

"Like purple dragons and unicorns that shoot rainbow colored Skittles out their ass?" Dean said, sarcastically.

Sam couldn't help but laugh at that, making his way around a particular large rock.

"Look, Dean. I'm asking you to trust me. We're already deep in the woods. Let's just go a little further." Sam's grip tightened on the crossbow he held in his hand. "If we don't find anything in the next couple of hours we'll go back."

"Fair enough," Dean muttered.

They hiked in silence for the next hour. Trees soared straight as wooden solders, their changing leaves rustling in the light, cool breeze. Everything appearing normal enough.

The rumbling sound of the Impala's engine and AC DC's cassette tape 'Back In Black' had been left far behind. The only sound now was the sound of nature. Beneath the gray Autumn sky came the music of an outdoor concert of birds, the dry lifeless crackling of leaves beneath heavy work boots, the chatter of squirrels, and Dean still making his way through his bag of twisted red rope candy.

"Hey, Huckleberry…" Dean called from behind. "You will let me know when you get tired of playing this game won't you?"

"You got it, Tom," Sam huffed in agitation. He was a lot of things, but crazy wasn't one of them. There was something out here, and he was going to find it, before 'it' found Dean.

The path they were on took a fork in the road. Sam stopped, slinging the crossbow over his shoulder. He scanned the woods, hoping to see some sort of paranormal sign.

Dean never slowed, strutting right past. Fumbling with his pack, he dropped the bag near Sam's feet.

"Where you going?" Sam questioned the retreating leather jacket.

"Stay here," Dean said, stuffing the last of the red licorice in his mouth.

"Dean?"

"Where do you think, man?" Dean pointed to a spot several yards away. "Duty calls." Dean whistled a tune as he disappeared behind a large bolder.

Sam lowered his pack to the ground, crouched down and dug out a plastic bottle of water.

"Damn it!" Dean growled from a few paces away.

"What?" Sam tensed, quickly standing he dropped his water and readied the crossbow pointing it in Dean's direction. "Dean?"

"Mosquitoes," Dean grumbled. "Nasty little pricks"

"You should know." Sam shook his head and relaxed. Squatting back down, he retrieved what was left of his water. "Hurry up, Dean." Sam took another drink.

"You can't rush Mother Nature, Sam," Dean called . "She's one hot chick, but don't piss her off."

"You would know." Sam bit back a chuckle.

Looking at the crossbow, Sam had to smile. Both he and Dean were raised with a gun, knife, or some sort of weapon in their hands. But there was no denying he was the more skilled hunter with the crossbow. Dean had always hated admitting that fact. Sam never enjoyed hunting, but it was a special day when his father proclaimed him a natural born huntsman.

Sam's first time out with bow and string, had earned him his merit badge. It'd taken Dean three hunts to earn his. It was one of the few times Sam felt his father was proud of him.

Sam recalled his tenth birthday. His father and brother taking him out deer hunting. His right to manhood. Sam had been anti-hunting, but wanted to please his family. After all this was who they were. Hunters. And what better way to start off learning how to hunt then by killing something as simple as a deer.

Sam had been perched in a tree. Below him, his brother had scattered apples and a few melon rinds. It was an easy slaughter. Two large bucks standing side by side had come to feast almost immediately

Sam had jumped down out of the tree, landing solid on both feet. In a single motion, he pulled the trigger of the crossbow, a solitary bolt passing through one dear's hearts, out the other side and into the second. Dropping both deer -- instantly dead.

His very first hunt, and he'd killed two deer, with one shot, earning him not only his first beer, but his father's high regard -- and Dean's jealous one.

From then on, the hunts got more intense. Zombies, werewolves and vampires. Whenever the crossbow was needed, his brother would hand the weapon to him. A certain look passing across Dean's face. One of jealousy sure, but also one of trust and respect. A look that said, Dean knew the hunt was in the hands of a good shot.

It was one of the few childhood memories he treasured. Stuffing his water bottle into the pack Sam stood, staring at the spot where his brother had gone.

"Dean." Sam brushed the hair from his eyes. "You dumping toxic waste again or what?" The sun poked out from behind a cloud, but the rays filtering through the treetops only made him shiver. "Got a problem?"

Something wasn't right. Ignoring the fact that Dean would never let him live it down for interrupting his duty, Sam grabbed the crossbow and ran toward the bolder. Rounding the rock, he skidded to a stop, stiff and ready to click off a shot.

Quick confirmation -- Dean was nowhere to be seen.

Weapon still ready, Sam turned in a slow circle, scanning the area.

Nothing.

"Dean," he called softly.

No answer.

"Dean." Slightly louder.

Nothing.

Panic and despair filling him, Sam started to cup a hand around his mouth and scream his brother's name as loud as he could, but thought better of it. Gathering his wits he bent down searching the dirt for tracks.

Almost immediately, Sam caught sight of Dean's cell phone, several drops of blood dotting the case. More alarming were the overly sized paw prints. The tracks were followed by the deep heels marks of his brother's boots. Sam hadn't heard a sound. The animal was good, getting the drop on Deanjust like that and dragging him silently off into the brush.

"You're always pissing off the chicks, Dean," Sam said grimly, going back to gather up the packs.

Like a hound pursing a coon, and with his best speed, Sam raced in the direction the two had gone following the blood trail.

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The tracks, and droplets of blood weren't hard to follow leading Sam to stand before the entrance of a cave. He could feel the cold wetness pouring out the cavern's mouth. Peering into the dark, the abyss seemed to peer back at him beckoning him in.

With flashlight in one hand and armed crossbow in the other, Sam took a few cautious steps inside the pitch-blackness. Flicking on the flashlight, he shone the broad beam around the walls, and floor.

Sam walked further into the cave, then stopped. The blood trail ended here. He stood in the damp, misty silence, just listening and looking. His flashlight's beam throwing strange shapes on the wet walls. The only sound was the echo of water dripping from the high ceiling, and the thumping of his heart in his ears.

There was something dark and evil in here. Sam could feel it in his blood. Judging by the ten foot high ceiling and several long passageways branching out in different directions finding his brother wasn't going to be easy. A cave this size was a black labyrinth of chambers, underground rivers, and bottomless chasms. Dean was here, somewhere. Sam could almost swear he heard Dean whispering 'be careful' in his ear. The beam of light came to rest on the ground near Sam's feet.

"How am I going to find you in here?" Sam asked out loud.

'Open your eyes, college boy,' the whisper inside his head made Sam tense, and eyes widen.

He dropped to a crouched position, fingers tentatively brushing across the fresh scratch marks along the cave floor. Scratch marks made by a small pocket knife. Familiar squiggles. Marks Dean always used when they were kids and he was teaching Sam how to blaze a trail. Dean must have come too, managed to get his fingers on his knife, and dug the point into the ground, as the creature dragged him along.

"Dean." Sam nearly laughed in relief, his brother might still be alive. "Nice bread crumb trail." He stood, carefully making his way through the sprawling network of passages following Dean's trail.

He hadn't gone far. Maybe a mile and a half, when that odd feeling struck again. The feeling of being watched, preyed upon. The darkness once again, seeming to peer at him.

Sam pressed his back up against the wet wall behind him, drifting around the circumference of the large cavern. Flashlight in one hand, weapon in the other. Even with the flashlight, he could barely see beyond the darkness. There was something. He could smell its foul breath, the scent making his blood run cold. Something was prowling silently through the surrounding gloom. The chill of the cave seemed to freeze the sweat dripping from his brow.

Sam felt like a quail hiding in the brush, waiting to be flushed out, shot and killed

This was exactly the way his dream had gone.

"Where are you?" Sam whispered, but the echo reverberated loud through the hollowed out stone. "Dean?"

The toe of his boot hit against something. Sam pointed his beam of light to the cave's floor. A bloody, tattered, lump of freakishly mutilated blue jean clad flesh.

"No!" Sam took a stumbling step backward, every hair on his body coming to stand at attention. "Oh, my God, no!" Not the dream. Not again.

"Sam!" Dean called out loudly.

Sam immediately froze. "Dean? That you?" Sam's hand shook violently as he ran his flashlight's beam toward the direction he thought the voice had come from.

"No, man, it's Grizzly friggin' Adams," Dean said in a pain filled tone just as the beam of light landed on his face.

"Sam." Dean squinted shielding his eyes.

Dean looked pale, blood dripping down from his hairline over his left eye. But he was conscious and alert.

"Sorry." Sam said, lowering the beam, trying to absorb the fact his dream hadn't come true -- this go round.

Who was it that was a twisted, bloody mess was a disturbing notion, Sam would have to deal with later.

"Sam, get a grip. Remember -- Puss-n-boots."

"Where?" Sam scanned the area, flashlight beaming all around.

"Don't know, but pussy is close, I can smell the mother."

"And you want to get as far away from her as you can?" Sam gave a lighthearted life, feeling his chest tighten.

"Yeah, whatever, man. The she-devil is strong. Almost turned me into cat chow."

Sam got a sickening whiff of rotting flesh.

"You're cheese bait, man" Sam said, exploding forward. "I gotta get you out of…

He was only inches away from Dean, when a distinct form detached itself from the shadows like magic. A pair of eyes glittering in the shadows.

"Son of a…" Dean scrambled back, edging up against the rocky wall.

Sam's knees locked and he skidded to a halt, as the shadow pounced, positioning itself between the brothers. Saucer-wide yellow eyes glowed hot, like the rising flames of a campfire. The black as velvet cat was beautiful, its muscles hardened as the cave rock itself. Tip to tail, Sam estimated the animal to be at least nine feet long. The cat's twitching tail stood straight, head hung low, drops of blood-red dribbling from ivory fangs.

"Sam! Watch out!"

Sam dropped his flashlight, the tube rolling to rest against Dean's boot. He backpedaled, holding fast to his crossbow, until his spine was slammed up against the jagged cave wall behind him. He was alert to his surroundings, but somehow couldn't take his gaze off the animal before him. Sam couldn't help but look into the panther's eyes. The yellow globes were disturbing, and evil, but there was something else.

Sam continued to hold tight to the crossbow, the tip of the arrow pointing at the panther's head, but he had yet to release the bolt. The cat's eyes grew fierce, intense flames blazing. Sam could almost feel his eyebrows singe, but couldn't move.

"Sam, shoot!" Dean ordered.

Sam's finger quivered against the trigger, desperate to do as his brother had ordered, but couldn't. The cat's eyes held great strength, intelligence, and power. Deep within the glow of the cat's eyes, Sam saw something. Moments in time. Dreams preserved. He tired to fight off the blur speeding across yellow lens like a movie reel gone helter-skelter, but the images kept coming at turbine speed. Thru the haze of yellow, what once was a far off dream, now seemed so real.

He saw Jessica. A small blue house bordered by beautiful flowered bushes, and well manicured green grass. White curtains blowing in the breeze. The smell of clean sheets. Lavender, and chocolate chip cookies.

"Stop." Sam sucked in a breath, the pain of what was never to be killing his soul.

This was the life he and Jess could have, should have, would have had. Graduating college, walking down the aisle, a picnic in the park with their 2.1 children, and a Golden Retriever named Ralph.

"Sam!" Dean called out loudly.

Things were hazy, but Sam was clear enough to hear his brother. Clear enough to continue to try and break through the trance. These were merely images of his wishful heart, an impossible fairytale -- that only served to piss him off.

"Not real." Sam balked, slamming his head against the rock behind him. "It's not real!" He angrily gritted his teeth, every vein in his neck popping out.

"Sammy!"

The scorching heat of the yellow eyes burned through Sam's body, turning the dream into a nightmare.

"No!" Sam screamed, alert to the trick but pulled into the damning images anyway.

Jessica was pinned to the ceiling, drops of blood dotting to his forehead. Her eyes catching his she took in one last breath, just before bursting into flames

"Noooooooo!" The heat radiated down upon Sam as hot as the earth's liquid core.

The large cat advanced slowly, dangerously close, toying with its prey. Snarling, almost seeming to smile at Sam as if it knew the hell its victim was reliving.

"Jess. Jessica!" Sam wrestled within the fiery confines of the animal's power.

"Damnit, Sam!" Something whistled past Sam's ear breaking against the cave wall. "Sam! Stop playing with pussy, and kill it!"

"Owe!" Sam yelped as second object collided against the side of his head.

A trickle of blood leaked down his cheek, the images fading. Sam's knees felt weak, but he didn't slip an inch toward the ground. Sam shook his head, glancing across the cave at his brother.

"What the hell?"

Dean, another rock in hand, only shrugged in response.

Fear suddenly rose into Sam's throat as he realized he was no longer staring into the panther's yellow eyes, but still was unable to move. The animal had done an about face, heading straight toward Dean.

Knowing he had to pull the trigger and send the arrow into the cat's head, Sam shouted his frustration. "Dean!"

Dean's expression was grim, and he looked more than a little scared. He scrambled as far back against the wall to escape the inevitable. His pig-sticker was little defense against a set of retractable needle-sharp claws. Dean sliced at the animal's chest, but the panther only growled deep in its throat, tail wildly twitching, and ears pinned back.

The black beast sprung immediately upon Dean.

"Ahhh!" Dean bellowed, dropping the knife and trying to beat the cat off with bare hands.

The panther wouldn't be stopped, tearing at Dean's clothing, claws gripping, teeth sinking into his right shoulder.

Sam struggled to free himself from the trance. With strength he didn't realize he had, Sam peeled himself away from the wall; his body in motion before his brain could catch up to the action. On shaky legs, he took three large steps and dropped to one knee near a large rock jutting up out of the damp cave floor. Resting the crossbow on the boulder helped to steady his aim. Extending his arm, Sam braced himself. His vision was hazy and he blinked several times.

The panther straddled over the top of Dean, strong jaws chewing on his right shoulder, like a dog chewing a bone.

Sam breathed in deeply, eyeing his prey. Knowing if he missed he'd hit his brother. On his exhale, Sam pulled the trigger and froze. He didn't even flinch watching the target in his sites. A soft thump, and a loud hideous yowl let Sam know the shot was good. The arrow slid into the panther's head sending the black cat lurching into the air. The animal twisted, then flopped to the ground jerking in death throws for several long seconds before stilling.

Sam slowly got up, cautiously walking toward his kill. He booted the animal in the ribs.

"It's dead," Sam announced, his voice trembling.

"Nice shot, Daniel Boone."

"You good?" Sam looked up through the long strands of sweat soaked hair dangling in his eyes.

"No, but finish the job." Dean shivered, resting his head against the cave wall.

Sam needed to tend to Dean's wounds, but his brother was right -- first he had to finish the hunt. He set the crossbow down near Dean. Quickly retrieving a large hunting knife from his pack, he cut the felines legs off tossing them in different directions into the shadows of the cave.

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"Dean," Sam called, pulling his pack toward him, digging inside for the med-kit. "Dean, wake up, man."

"Sam," Dean mumbled, eyes still closed. "You got to stop doing that."

"What?"

"Taking such a long time to finish a hunt."

"You've only been out five minutes, Dean." Sam reached for the flashlight still resting against Dean's boot.

"Feels more like three days." Dean opened his eyes.

Same winced, as the beam of light searched out his brother's injuries. Dean was a mess. Aside from bumps and bruises from being dragged through the rugged forest, deep scratch marks lined Dean's neck and he had a nice gash on his forehead at the hairline. Dean's right shoulder took the brunt of the damage -- a raw as ground beef bloody mess. The blood glistening in the flashlight's beam, eerily reminded Sam of moonlight bouncing upon on a sea of red.

Sam swallowed hard, sickness curling through his belly.

"F.U.B.A.R.," Sam whispered under his breath. "This is going to hurt." He leaned over, all his attention put into gently trying to peel torn, bloody-wet material away from jagged, flesh.

"Damn!" Dean, hissed, turning his head way. "How bad?"

"Bad enough." Sam flinched, feeling the pain flare through his brother. "I think you need a hospital."

"No."

"Dean." Sam's attention back on his brother's face. "Cat scratch fever. Your shoulder is badly shredded, and could get infected."

"Still no." Dean turned his head to gaze at Sam.

"Don't be an ass." Sam shook his head in frustration, retrieving some gauze and heavy tape from the pack. "You need stitches."

"So, stitch it." Dean shut his eyes.

"Place is dark as a dungeon, Dean. Flashlight's not going to cut it," Sam muttered, wrapping the wound to stench the flow of blood. "You're insane."

"Only temporarily." Dean stiffened. " Motel, Sam."

"How the hell do you keep up this stubborn act all the time?"

"Habit," Dean mumbled, pushing his back against the wall, and pressing feet flat to the floor. "Get me up." Dean struggled to stand.

"Dean, I hate to tell you…" Sam followed Dean up, steadying him with a hand to his good arm. "The car's like five miles from here."

"Lucky me," Dean panted, resting against his brother. "Let's move."

Sam glanced away, a moment of silence stretching between them.

"Sam," Dean prompted breathlessly. "Let's move."

"Fine," Sam said, his loud voice carrying deep into the cave and echoing back at them.

"Fine," Dean retorted.

"Hold it right there a second." Sam made sure Dean was stable beneath his hand before bending down to gather their things.

"Too bad you can't get the Impala and drive it in here," Dean chuckled lightly. "Acoustics in this joint are sweet."

"Yeah," Sam said with disinterest. "Too bad." He stood, and adjusted his load. Wrapping an arm around Dean, he pulled him close to his side. "You going to make it?"

"Make what?" Dean snickered. "Because, you know, Sammy, I'm not some French maid. I just taught you the other day how to open a can of Spaghetti O's."

"That was a can of Pork-n-Beans, Dean." Sam played along. "Still waiting for the Chef Boyardee lesson."

"Oh, yeah, that's right." Dean burrowed closer as they started on their way. "Speaking of French Maids..."

"Dean. Reality. Porn," Sam reminded, heading them toward the grassy knoll where they'd left the Impala.

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Intermission: Dancing hotdogs jumping into buns, smile-face popcorn containers, and bouncing sodas with whip cream and a cherry on top.

Author's note: At this point I wanted to wrap up the story…but the hairy tarantula in the banana crate crawled out of hiding, and told me to get back to work -- or it'd bite me!

Shrug….

So I did…

Onward…hope you enjoy.

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The sun fading into night wasn't the only thing going down. Sam could feel his brother's energy fizzling out, like cacading fiery sparks of a firecracker falling into water.

"Crap," Dean cursed his weakness, every few steps his feet dragging the ground.

"Dean?" Sam glanced down at his pale brother. "Doing okay?" His gripped tightened.

"Outstanding," Dean said, breathing hard.

"What? Not having fun?" Sam grinned trying to distract his brother from his pain.

"This is about as fun as getting a wedgie." Dean's knees knocked together and gave way, dipping him toward the ground

"Hey, hey, hey!" Sam tugged Dean upward, his worried gaze raking over his brother. Dean was at the end of his reserves. Perspiration trailed down his cheeks as he kept walking a drunken zigzag pattern even with Sam's help. "You need to take a break."

"I'm good." Dean shook his head in denial.

"Whatever." Sam eased Dean to perch upon a hollowed out tree stump. Dropping both packs to the ground, he dug inside one. "Here." Sam handed Dean a bottle of water. "Drink this."

"Thanks." Dean unscrewed the cap and took several long swallows.

Sam glanced around nervously, gut instinct kicking back into four-wheel drive. Something didn't feel right.

"Here." Dean offered Sam the bottle.

Without looking, Sam took the water, screwed the lid on and shoved the bottle back into the bag.

"Sam, you need to take a break too. You've been hauling my Tapioca Pudding ass through this woods for two and a half hours."

"That's nice, Dean."

"Drink some water, there's plenty there," Dean ordered.

"Close by." Sam continued searching the area with eyes alone.

"You lose something?"

"Uh-huh, sure." Came the distracted reply.

"Sam Winchester plays with naked Barbie dolls, under the bed covers, with a flashlight at night," Dean said in a sing song voice.

"Yeah, that's cool," Sam murmured, eyeing every tree, bush, and rock.

"Ground control to Sam." Dean kicked Sam in the shin with his boot. "Sammy!"

Sam snapped to attention glaring at Dean.

"What?"

"Exactly, Sam. What?"

"I don't know." Sam shook his head.

"Huh?" Dean frowned, he too glancing around.

Everything was a picture of calm. Not a breeze blew. Not a bird chirped. Not so much as a mosquito buzzed.

"Something's off." Sam's face grew serious, quickly readying the crossbow and hoisting the weapon to his shoulder.

"You're paranoid, Sam. Why do you think that?"

"Because black cats are strongly associated with witchcraft, Dean. I think that cat was a familiar."

"A what?"

"A familiar. It's a spirit. Traditionally an animal that helps support a witch or magician."

They were near the end of the woods. Sam could see the Impala through the trees, parked near the grassy knoll where they'd left her.

"So, what? You saying pussy has an owner?"

"According to legend, yes," Sam said, never taking his eyes off the area in front of them.

"That confirms it," Dean huffed pushing himself to a standing position. "Now I know you're a walking encyclopedia of weirdness. Look," Dean said with unease. "The car's right there, Sam. 'Case you're right, we'll just make a run for it."

"Not fast enough!" Sam yelled, seeing a hunched figure appear from behind a tree.

The wrinkled, sharp toothed, seaweed for hair old bag was hideous. She stepped toward them slowly, crooked finger pointing at Sam and hatred glowing in her eyes.

"Holy hell bitch!" Dean bellowed.

"Stay behind me!" Sam took one sliding step in front of Dean, pulling back on the crossbow's trigger.

The witch smiled wickedly, giving a slight flick of her bony finger. The crossbow was ripped from Sam's hands and fell to his feet. Another finger-flick was like a bolt of lightning. The force struck against Sam's chest, sending his body free-flying through the air until his back was pinned against a nearby tree.

"Sam!" Dean shouted, scrambling toward the fallen crossbow.

With a skilled finger, the witch dropped Dean painfully upon his injured shoulder to the hardened ground.

"Son-of-a-bitch!" The strangled words left his throat.

"Dean!" Sam's jaw clenched. "No! Over here! Over here, you ugly, skank. I killed your cat, and I enjoyed doing it." Sam struggled, the bark of the tree digging into his back. "Cut it's legs off," he taunted the witch desperate to keep her away from his injured brother. "You're not going to put kitty back together again this time."

As he'd hoped, the witch spun from Dean, slowly advancing on Sam instead.

Still using only her finger, she brought the young hunter to his knees. Another slight of hand gesture, and the back of Sam's head was slammed once, twice, three times, against the tree behind him.

"Ahhhhhh!" Sam cried in pain, his head lolling to one side.

Fiery green eyes glared and locked onto Sam. What he saw within the orbs made him whimper. Jessica stood in the middle of a dark room. Pointing a finger at him. Her clothes and body clawed and bitten. Cruelly distorted as if Sam was looking in a fun house mirror.

"You, Sam. You did this to me." Jessica's voice rang loud and clear in his ears.

"Jess. Jess, I'm sorry."

"You!" Jessica screamed, bursting into flames over and over again, her shrieking cries clawing Sam's heart into ribbons.

"Nooooooooooooo!" Sam's scream echoed through the trees.

The wind died and suddenly Jessica's image died with it. Sam heard a whoosh. In a silvery flash an arrow drove through the witches head, piercing out her left eye. Sam's body suddenly cut free, and he slipped sideways to the ground. The witch let out a gurgling scream. The earth shuddered, and in a hiss of fire, her body peeled and crackled until a blast of smoke sucked the hell bitch into oblivion.

Sam looked across the way. Dean was lying on his side, pale, and breathing hard, crossbow held tight in his fiercely trembling hands.

"Dean." Sam swallowed.

"Who ever said I c-couldn't, couldn't shoot this thing?" Dean's lips twitched into a painful half-smile.

Sam shuddered, barely conscious, his chin dropping to his chest. He was exhausted from all images of Jessica he'd been forced to bear witness to.

"I'm sorry, I lied," he mumbled, sliding into a dark place.

"Hey!" A loud voice pulled him quickly back into the light "Sam."

Sam lifted his head trying to clear his foggy universe.

"Geek boy! You okay?"

"Could be worse." The words came out low and throaty.

"Good!" Dean raised up onto his elbow.

Sam glanced around the wooded area still dazed. "You killed her?"

"Ding-dong." Dean pushed himself against the tree stump. "Uhhhhhhh," he winced.

"Hey." Sam let out a breath, seeing the blood spatter dotting the gauze tapped to his brother's shoulder. "Easy," Sam panted, bracing himself against the tree trunk, he pushed back. His jacket snagging bark, until he found his feet. "How'd you break free from her hold?" Sam swayed.

"The bitch only had eyes for you," Dean blamed. "Besides, she didn't have her broom stick to fly away on." Dean let his fingers uncurl from the tight hold they had on the crossbow. "Probably back in her broom closet."

"Dean, this isn't 'The Wizard of Oz.' " Sam staggered the short distance, dropping down beside his brother.

"You mean I don't have to burn the broom?" Dean arched a brow.

"No, man." Sam cocked his head. using gentle fingers to peer under the bandage of Dean's shoulder wound.

"Huh," Dean muttered.

"Dean, this is bleeding bad again." Sam continued to probe the wound.

"What about you?" Dean raised a hand to the back of Sam's head, fingertips coming away bloodied. "She tried to cut that tree down with your head."

"You're going to need about sixteen stitches," Sam said, ignoring his brother, while fighting back the tremors that racked his body.

"You okay?" Dean asked.

No response.

"Sam?"

Sam shrugged.

"What aren't you telling me, little brother?"

"Maybe twenty." Sam scowled.

"Sam! Stop counting stitches, and tell me what's going on in that caveman brain of yours."

"You're a good shot." Sam sat back on his heels.

"That's not it."

"That's all you get."

Dean narrowed his gaze. "Sam, tell me."

The cold, crush of Guilt and pain throbbed through Sam's core. He'd lied to her. Every demon, witch, and hellcat knew it too. And because of those lies she was dead. Jessica was dead. Never again would he cradle her in his arms. Hear her call his name from across the room. Smell her perfume, or taste the sweetness of home baked chocolate chips on her lips.

"Jess," Sam whispered.

Brought back to awareness, Sam noticed Dean's intense gaze.

Talk to me.

His brother's unspoken words loud and clear.

"It's Jessica." Sam relented like he always did when Dean gave a silent order. "When I looked into the cat's eyes…" he let out a breath. " I saw Jess."

Dean nodded seeming to know. "It was an illusion, Sam."

"Was it?" Sam looked away. Painful emotions surging through him.

"You know it was. That bitch knows your weakness. Read your mind."

"I betrayed her."

"Sam, that friggin' demon that killed her is to blame. Not you! Understand!" It wasn't a question, it was an direct command.

"No." Sam paused. "I don't understand, Dean. And what makes things worse." He turned back, tears clouding his eyes. " I saw what could have, should have, would have been."

"Sam, I'm sorry."

"Forget it, Dean. I don't want to talk about it."

"Why?"

"Just 'cause."

Dean pressed his lips together, both brothers sitting in stone silence.

"C'mon," Sam was the first to break the moment. "Let's get you out of here." Sam pulled at Dean's good arm, urging him to stand.

"Lets," Dean agreed.

"Thanks," Sam said, grateful his brother knew when to back off.

Dean rose stumbling, and pressed a hand to his shoulder.

"You okay?" Sam asked.

"I'll be ready to bat a thousand in…"Dean gasped. "Two or three innings, tops." Dean raised his eyes to Sam. "Dude, I'm Lou Gehrig."

"Come on, Lou." Sam pulled Dean firmly against him. "Home plates right over there." Sam nodded in the direction of the Impala. "Walk," he ordered, matching action to his words.

"You know…" Dean took small steps, leaning hard against Sam. "I think I need more like twenty-five stitches." He glanced at his shoulder. "Maybe Twenty-nine. That's like probably ten times as many as your head's going to need."

"Not that stupid game again, Dean." Sam let out a breath of disgust. "How many stitches you get isn't a measuring stick as to how big a man you are."

"Don't worry, Sammy. You can cry like a girl when I stitch up that Encyclopedia head of yours. You're manhood won't be up for grabs." Dean gave an evil smile. " I'll still respect you in the morning."

"So not funny, Dean."

The End.