The cat had been an impulse born of watching other living things suffer and die in the snow. He had brought her inside before work, out of a cutting wind and sub-zero temperatures that threatened to dip even further as the day progressed. By the time he left work, he had almost forgotten about her. Now, barefoot and shirt unbuttoned, he opened a drawer in search of dry socks and found instead a much thinner cat and four very small kittens.
They were still wet, but mostly clean, which was more than could be said for the contents of his sock drawer. The mother had moved them away from the mess of fluid and at least one remaining placenta. Hannibal scooped it up along with the socks it had touched, took it downstairs, and put it outside in the trash.
He stood in the cold for a moment. Snow drifted down and lodged in his hair and eyelashes. He found he didn’t regret his rescue, but he certainly didn’t have any urge to keep a cat, let alone four newborn kittens. He’d meant to take her to the shelter in the morning. Now, another idea dropped quietly into his mind as if it had always been there.
The drive to Will’s house took longer than usual as the snow turned the highway into a smear of white and gray. The mother was silent, but her kittens mewed constantly, tiny, high-pitched voices in the passenger’s seat next to him. He’d spread a blanket over the drawer, which did nothing at all the muffle the sound.
"It’s only a little further," he said. The mews quieted just for a moment. He paused. They started up again. "Are you warm enough?" Another lull in the minute, piercing noise. "I’m taking you to see a friend," he said.
Another mile or so rolled past. Whiteout conditions. He switched on the radio and was advised to stay home. The kittens didn’t like the man on the radio, but they seemed fond of Mozart.
"He’s a kind man," Hannibal said. Will was kind, of course. That was nothing more than an observable fact, but he could have made a list of the traits he valued in Will that stretched from Baltimore to Wolf Trap, and he would not have thought kindness had a place among them.
He parked at last in Will’s driveway and hurried through the snow to his front porch. He could not seem to find the appropriate expression, and he was still trying to put himself in order when Will opened the door.
"Dr. Lecter." Will raised his eyebrows and stepped aside. "Please, come in."
Hannibal set the box down on the bed. The kittens had fallen silent. Will lifted the blanket, and Hannibal watched his face soften as he sat down next to them. One of them made its squeaky little mew, and he touched its head with a careful finger.
"Where did you get them?"
"As you see. I found them in situ."
Will blinked and transferred his attention to Hannibal. "In your socks?"
"I let the mother in before I left for work this morning. I was unaware of her condition."
"No good deed goes unpunished," Will said, but he was smiling. "They made kind of a mess in here."
"What do you want me to do about it? You could’ve taken them to the shelter."
"I’m not really a cat person," Will said, but the mother let him scratch under her chin and purred at his touch. She’d hissed at Hannibal’s attempts to clean up the space around her. Will stroked over her back and tucked the blanket in around them. "Did you give her water?"
"I brought them here."
Will looked amused. "I’ll get some water. You could put them down by the fireplace. It’ll be warm. The dogs won’t bother them."
Hannibal set them down as instructed. The dogs came over to sniff and peer over the edge of the drawer. Only one got close enough for the mother to deliver a swat on the nose, and the dog quickly retreated.
Will sat next to Hannibal on the hearth and reached over him to set a bowl of water within the mother’s reach. The position pressed his body along Hannibal’s side, and he stayed there to watch her drink.
"When she’s done, maybe we can get a towel in there instead of the socks."
"You can try. I don’t think she’s fond of me."
"You’re not fond of her."
"She ruined half my socks."
"So you drove her through a snowstorm to my door instead of dumping her at the shelter in the morning."
Hannibal watched him gently remove a sock that the mother had sunk her claws into. He sighed a little and stood. "Have you eaten?"
"Shall I cook?"
"Be my guest. Make something for her, too."
He left Will picking out socks one by one and easing the mother’s fear with his hands and voice. Will’s kitchen provided chicken and spinach and lemons, which was more than Hannibal had hoped for. He should’ve brought supplies. He had a half-prepared heart in his refrigerator that would now go to waste.
Cooking, even with more mundane ingredients, set his mind at ease. Wind beat snow against the windows with a steady thrum. Oil sizzled in the pan. He sliced the lemons paper thin.
"You’ll have to stay the night," Will said, over his shoulder. "The weather’s only getting worse, and they won’t plow out here till morning."
"Thank you for the invitation."
"That sounds like a prelude to a refusal."
"No. Only gratitude." He paused and looked down at the chicken. "Would it be foolish to ask for capers?"
Will smiled at him. "You might need to lower your expectations for one night, Dr. Lecter."
"And in the morning? What will you do with them?"
"Talk to my vet. See if she knows anyone who wants kittens. They should be pretty easy to find homes for, and they can stay here till they’re old enough."
"And the mother?"
"I’ll try to find someone who wants her, too."
"And if you can’t?"
"She can stay. One more mouth to feed won’t be much trouble."
"Not if you make your guests cook for you, certainly."
"Oh, you want me to cook? I’ve got SpaghettiOs in the cupboard."
"I suppose it’s only fair I earn my bed for the night," Hannibal said, well aware that no one needed to earn shelter in Will’s home. Kind. The word came back to him again as he juiced lemons to tenderize the chicken.
"They’re all asleep. Speaking of beds. Do you want to see?"
Hannibal didn’t, particularly, but he glanced at Will bent over the drawer and smiling softly and dried his hands anyway. He came to stand by the hearth.
Will looked up at him. "She’s lucky she found you."
Hannibal shook his head a little. "No. She’s lucky to be here."