Daniel shivered as he sprinted from the shop toward the attic apartment he shared with Jack. Indian summer had abandoned them with a vengeance; the chilly October downpour was merciless. Jack was going to give him all kinds of hell over leaving his jacket at home.
With a final surge of effort, he gained the meager protection of the deli's roof overhang. He paused, leaning over his knees and panting. He'd seen the glow fanning upward from the skylight... Jack was already home. Drenched *and* gasping for breath was definitely going to earn him snarls and scolds. Followed, of course, by rough toweling and cuddling. He'd as soon pass on the reaming out and get straight to the commiseration.
As he straightened and lifted his foot toward the first step, he heard it again. The same tiny sounds that had caught his attention that morning. Peeping, squeaking little noises, just on the edge of audible.
He hesitated, reluctant to step out again into the downpour. But there was something desperate about those fragile little noises. Taking a deep breath, he moved away from the wall, out into the rain. He listened carefully, then walked slowly along the shingled wall that extended under the stairs, searching for a breach in the facade.
And there it was. A missing shingle, and a black space beyond.
He crouched down, hunching his shoulders against the water that dribbled down his spine.
Jack would kill him. Several times over. But he couldn't have stopped himself, even if his over-protective lover had been beside him, haranguing him for his stupidity.
Those tiny cries were much more obvious now, and much more obviously desperate.
Daniel drew a deep breath, then shut his eyes and reached into the darkness, feeling around carefully, hoping that none of the possible inhabitants which his active imagination was so busily conjuring were actually in residence.
He started when his fingers encountered cold, wet fur. Gently, he wrapped his hand around the tiny body and drew it out of the cavity. He grimaced sadly at the kitten, so obviously not the author of the siren's song that had drawn him here. He set the small, still body down beside his knee and reached back into the hole.
Moments later, he was pretty sure he had all of them. Five tiny bodies, thin, sodden, and cold. He bowed his head sadly over the four who were beyond help, and cradled the only survivor close to his chest, keeping his hands wrapped around the shivering body, offering as much warmth as he could.
He felt a couple of hot tears keeping company with the cold raindrops running down his cheeks. Poor little things. Obviously, their mother hadn't been around in a few days. Probably killed on one of the roads.
He took a deep, sighing breath, and cuddled the lone survivor closer. For a moment, he wavered in indecision. But caring for the living won over seeing to the dead. He had to get this tiny thing inside and warm.
Common sense told him that the baby had no real chance. But the same could have been said a few times about himself, and he was still going strong. The kitten deserved the chance.
He stood and moved back toward the bottom step, unconsciously crooning to the bit of sodden fur he cradled.
Jack really *was* going to kill him.
"What the *hell* did you think you were doing?"
The words greeted him as he slid gratefully into the loft's warmth.
"Damnit, Daniel... Don't blame me if you end up spending the next week in bed. Alone!"
"You'd think a man with your brains would be a bit..." Jack paused, staring at his dripping lover. "Danny?"
Damn. This was stupid. But Daniel could feel the tears, still sliding down his cheeks.
Warm, gentle hands gripped his shoulders as Jack assimilated the tears. Then he slid one arm around Daniel's shoulders as the other reached gently for the hands still cupped against the breast of Daniel's sodden sweater.
"Let's see, buddy."
Slowly, Daniel tilted his hands, revealing the tiny scrap of life they sheltered.
"Under the stairs. Five of them. The others... They..." His throat felt tight.
"Yeah, Danny. I get it. You heard them this morning."
Wordlessly, Daniel nodded.
Jack tugged him, kitten and all, into the kitchen nook and eased him down into a chair. Reaching into the tiny bathroom for a handful of towels, he firmly pried Daniel's fingers open, lifted the kitten and wrapped it in a dry, fluffy washcloth then gently returned it to Daniel's cold grasp. His rough, calloused fingers stroked the backs of Daniel's hands, urging him to rub and caress the baby.
"You tend him. I got you..."
Daniel leaned gratefully into the soft towels rubbing through his dripping hair and over his forehead and cheeks. His own fingers were busy massaging and drying the kitten's wet fur.
"The others... I left them. Needed to get this one inside. But..."
"'S okay, Daniel. Let's get the two of you halfway dry, then I'll take care of them. Nothing you can do for them now."
Daniel let himself sink into Jack's warm attentions. He allowed the other man to take the kitten and set it, squalling, on the counter as the two of them struggled against the unruly sweater. He cuddled into the big bath sheet and accepted his charge back.
"Uh, Jack... You know anything about kittens?"
He heard Jack's chuckle from behind him as the towel was rubbed vigorously over his clammy skin.
"Know more about puppies than kittens, but I think the principles are pretty much the same. This little guy's eyes are open, so he's probably several weeks old. We can figure out something to feed him tonight, then find a vet tomorrow."
"He's so thin..."
"Yeah, looks like Mom's been gone a few days. You know, Daniel... There's a good chance he won't make it. He's not really big enough to be away from his mother."
Daniel dropped his head and cuddled the now-dry body closer.
"I know. I just..."
"Got it, Danny." Jack crouched in front of him then leaned over to kiss him gently. "You guys sit here and get warm. I'll be right back."
Daniel heard the door open and close as Jack left the loft. Grimacing slightly, he cuddled the kitten closer and rocked gently, crooning wordless comfort as he rubbed the tiny round head.
Absently, Daniel adjusted the sling around his shoulder, feeling the squirming body wriggling against his chest. He rubbed his hand gently against the hard, needle-edged lump.
"Shh. You've got to wait a few more minutes, Amy. I'm almost finished."
A demanding series of peeps and squeaks preceded the appearance of a small, brown head poking out of the cloth hammock.
With a long-suffering sigh, Daniel slipped a pencil into the accounts book, took careful note of his progress with the day's records, and straightened. He stretched languidly, then reached into the sling to pull out the fluffy, chocolate brown kitten.
He held her up, nose to nose, and shook his head at her.
"You're not starving any more, you know. You *can* wait an extra twenty minutes for lunch."
She yawned cavernously, favoring him with a good whiff of fishy kitten breath, then produced a truly prodigious yowl.
Nell's laughter sounded from the back room. "Daniel, you do know that baby has you completely buffaloed."
"Well, she *was* nearly starved," Daniel said defensively.
She emerged with her arms full of paperbacks. "Yes, and you did a wonderful job of feeding her every four hours. So wonderful we're all lucky Jack didn't wring her noisy little neck. Or yours."
He grinned at her, tenderly cradling the kitten's small body close as he reached under the counter to open their small refrigerator. "But it worked. She made it."
"And now we have a shop cat."
"Just what every bookshop needs."
She laughed and kissed his cheek as she passed, heading for the Mystery section.
"So right. Just what every bookshop needs."
|Summary:||What is it that the lovely Parchment lacks?|