STRAY

Okay, majorly huge thanks go out to suerum on this one, she talked me into it and got me through it. This plot bunny would have never taken any form at all without her pointing out that yes, kittens can equal plot. Who knew? But, yes. Anyway. Characters aren't mine. Sadly I do not own the kittens either, for which I am also glad because then I would never stop sneezing. Enjoy!


Spinelli had simply been trying to get home. There had been barely a dusting of snow on the ground when he'd left the Penthouse that morning, but now it was closing in on his knees and he really just wanted to get inside and have a warm shower, get into clothes that were not thoroughly and completely soaked, and curl up on the sofa with his laptop and some nice hot chocolate.

But, it seemed that that would be happening further into the future than he had anticipated.

He'd been just a building away from Harborview Towers when he'd heard it. Just a soft, pathetic sounding, mewling of a noise that drew his attention down the alley dividing that building and the next. There, between two garbage cans, under the sloppiest and most haphazardly constructed shelter ever made, was a cardboard box.

Slowly advancing, as the snow only served to hide the icy patches, not do away with them, he neared the box. Upon finally reaching it, with a few near misses on maintaining his ability to stand, he discovered quite the surprise.

Within the damp cardboard box, were a plethora of kittens, all bundled up together and crying out, their little eyes were open wide as he loomed over them.

Spinelli reached his hand in, finding that they, too, were quite thoroughly dampened from the snow, and rather chilly. He tugged off his jacket, and then the dry sweatshirt beneath it, using the latter to cover the box. He shrugged back into his totally useless coat and hefted the box into his arms, flimsy as it might have been.

"Don't worry, itty bitty ones, the Jackal will ensure that you do not have to suffer another moment of these grotesque weather conditions." He assured the kittens, whose cries had magnified tenfold with the movement of their box. "Casa de Stone Cold is just moments away."

***

Jason Morgan had just deal with the day from hell.

First of all, it had been snowing when he'd left early that morning, a bad enough start to a terrible day. His bike had had a flat tire, and Max had already commandeered the car, so he'd had to call and wait for the bodyguard to return to give him a ride over to Sonny's place. Upon arriving there, Sonny had gone on a lengthy tirade, first about the weather – as if he'd even had to step foot outside in it – and then about all of the things that had to be done over the next few weeks. It had taken a good portion of the day working out new schedules for incoming shipments courtesy of a possible threat that might mess up their usual routines.

Following that, he'd headed over to Kelly's to get some food to take home for himself and Spinelli, wherein, of course, because this day was evil, a grease fire started up in the kitchen and he found himself aiding Mike in the process of putting it out. In doing so, both his jacket, as well as himself, found themselves slightly overcooked and smelling of smoke and fire. He called up Max for a ride home, only to find that the SUV had broken down somewhere on the edge of town in the process of running an errand for Sonny. So, on top of reeking of smoke, nursing a scorch burn to his arm, and not having food, he ended up walking back to the Harborview Towers, getting soaked and cold for his efforts.

Suffice to say, Jason was not in a particularly good mood upon stepping foot into the Penthouse. However, he had been looking forward to sitting down with a beer, maybe playing a game of pool to at least end the day on a good note.

However, what he finds upon arriving is not what he had anticipated and it does not fit into his plans.

***

Six. There were six kittens in the box, all cold and wet and loud. He'd settled four of them in a new box, with blankets and a heating pad set on low, warming them up. One of them was tucked in the pouch of his hoodie, purring contentedly, and the last was in his arms. He'd already consulted the internet on kitten care, and found that at some point in the near future, he'd have to go and fetch some form of milk that was okay for kittens, but priority number one was warming them up.

He hadn't wanted to leave the kittens alone for long, so he'd only taken the time to change out of his soaking wet clothes, his hair still wet with snow, but that was an improvement.

Once Stone Cold got home, he figured he could persuade the older man into watching the feline's for a moment so he could properly warm up.

He'd been extricating the one in his pocket, an orange tabby looking one, when the door opened and Jason entered.

"Oh, greetings, Stone Cold. The Jackal happened upon a most surprising find in the alley down the street." He held up the two adorable kittens. "How could anyone leave these itty bitty felines to fend for themselves in such harsh conditions?"

***

A handful of kittens was not, by any means at all, what Jason had been expecting. He spotted the box on the desk, housing four more of the furry little things and was sorely tempted – had he not been cold and wet and annoyed – to just turn around and leave again. As it stood, though, since he was cold and wet and annoyed, and possessed no means by which to go somewhere else, he shook his head.

"I don't want them here, Spinelli."

The younger's face fell in surprise. Clearly he hadn't been expecting refusal on the matter. "But, I-"

More adamant this time, he says it again. "No, no cats, no pets in here."

"Someone left them out on the street, Stone Cold. They were cold and hungry and what, exactly, would you suggest I do with them at such an hour of night?" He implores, having already grown attached to the defenseless kittens, under the apparently faulty assumption that Jason wouldn't mind all that much – after all, he'd taken the Jackal in with not much by way of argument.

"I don't know and I don't care, alright? They're not staying."

Spinelli was not okay with this particular display of Stone Cold-ness. He deposited his two kittens into the box again and turned to face his mentor as bravely as he could. "It's the Jackal and the kittens, or none of us. The choice is yours."

Jason blinked at the ultimatum, surprised by his roommate, and definitely not willing to give in by way of blackmail. "Fine. Don't come back, then."

"I… Well, fine. As you wish." Spinelli retreated upstairs to fetch a dry coat for himself, and a towel to cover the box, out of which he removed the heating pad, and was out the door before Jason actually knew what was happening.

It was not what he had expected.

***

Spinelli was utterly floored by Jason's reaction to the kittens. Maybe it had been a bit much to assume that he wouldn't mind having six kittens take up residence in his home, but he couldn't grant them a one night reprieve? And that he'd want them gone so much that he'd kick Spinelli out, too?

Maybe it wasn't even the kittens, maybe it was just him.

He stumbled on an icy patch of sidewalk, and almost went sprawling, but somehow maintained his footing. Jason could wait. The kittens were more important. Maybe if he found homes for them, something good could come from this.

His first stop was Maxie and Lulu's apartment. If nothing else, he figured, he could crash there once he sorted everything out. Lulu was the only one present, as Maxie was out doing something or the other for Kate, and so he explained his plight to her.

"Jason kicked you out over a bunch of cute kittens?" Lulu interrogated, sounding quite surprised herself. "Jeez, no wonder you call him Stone Cold. I don't think you can get much colder than that." She offered, holding one of the kittens, a grey and white one who abruptly became fascinated with her long hair. "How could he even say no to them?"

"The Jackal is admittedly unsure as to what came over his Stone Cold mentor, but for the time being, he needs to find homes for this brood of felines." Spinelli answered, looking at the clock.

"Maxie and I can take one. Pets are allowed here, I think." She offered, while attempting to extricate the kitten from her hair. "My vote is for this one."

Spinelli grinned. "Very well, then. One kitten down, five to go."

"Where are you going next?"

"Perhaps to the Doctors' Drake and Scorpio household." He shrugged, as he was just making it all up as he went along. "I should probably get going soon."

A few moments later, he was out the door, one kitten lighter. It was getting even colder out now, and it seemed that the snow was coming down even harder, but he trudged on, heading towards Robin and Patrick's place. He had planned to call ahead to see if someone was even home, but found that his cell phone was no longer in his pocket. He realized that he left it in the clothes that he'd hurriedly changer out of earlier. Fantastic.

Luckily, though, Robin and Patrick were home. And Robin insisted that he come in and sit down and have something warm before he explained anything, which he did, without argument. He relateed the story to the couple, explaining the events that led him here and inquiring after whether they would take in one of the kittens.

"I can't believe he kicked you out!" Was Robin's initial reaction, for which Spinelli was grateful, but it wasn't why he was there. "Do you need somewhere to stay for the night?"

"No, no. The Jackal has plans to crash with Fair Lulu and Maximista once all things feline are dealt with." He assured her, while Patrick, holding Emma, peered into the box.

With one hand, the Doctor reached in and scooped up the orange cat that Spinelli had had tucked into his pockets earlier. "What do you say, Em? You want a kitten?" He asked of his daughter who reached out to pet the strange creature.

Robin laughed as Emma nodded vigorously. "I guess that's a yes." She turned back to Spinelli, who only managed to sneeze in response. "I guess we'll take that one."

With four kittens remaining, he took his leave, after finally convincing Robin that he would be fine on his mission.

His next stop was Diane's. A bit out of his way, but a good possibility on the mental list he'd created. He found himself outside of her condo, knocking on the door, only to find that apparently she wasn't at home. Sadly, he crossed that one off and continued on.

He stopped at Jake's after that, not for purposes of kitten adoption, but simply so he could go in and get warm for a few moments on his way to his next stop. Coleman was behind the bar and he offered orange soda before Spinelli had even sat down.

"You look like shit." Coleman said, quite tactfully. "What's with the box?"

"Kittens." Spinelli replied, ignoring the first comment. "The Jackal has been attempting to find homes for them since Stone Cold is apparently not a cat person."

The bartender peered inside the box. "Hmm. Jason's making you do this tonight?"

He nodded. "I may have attempted to coerce him into keeping the itty bitty ones, but my plan, as it were, backfired, and he asked that I not return to the Penthouse."

"Nice." Coleman commented, scooping one of the kittens out, this one black all over except for its paws, which were a stark white. "I could use a good cat around here." He leaned in closer. "We might have a bit of a mouse problem."

Spinelli, while not exactly happy about one of his kittens being trained to catch and kill mice, was grateful for the offer. "You really want one of them?"

"Yeah." Coleman assured. "I'll take this one off your hands, pretty chill cat."

And so, with one less kitten to find a home for, he prepared to head out into the storm of the century once again.

"Hey, kid." Coleman called after him, kitten still in hand. "Find someplace to crash, okay? You really do look like shit."

He could entirely believe that. He'd been shivering since he'd left the Penthouse, sneezing occasionally, coughing here and there now. If he weren't frozen already, he suspected he would be suffering through fever related chills. "I will." He promised, thought he still had quite a bit of work to do.

He heads over to Alexis' next, because he suspected he could sway Molly in his favor, maybe Kristina, and from there they could convince Alexis of the whole thing. He, once again, found himself ushered inside upon arrival, which he found himself eternally grateful for.

"Spinelli!" Molly grinned, rushing out of her room to greet her hero. "What brings you here?"

Kristina and Alexis are standing by as well, clearly wondering just the same thing.

"Alas, Stone Cold does not seem to be particularly fond of strays, of which I found several out on the street. Kittens, that is. And I was wondering if anyone here," He looked to Molly and then to Kristina. "Might be at all inclined to want one?"

Molly bounced happily where she stood and Kristina looked marginally interested. Alexis, not so much. "Girls, we've talked about this…"

"But, Mom," Molly countered. "Please, you said that we could maybe get a cat for my birthday. And it was five weeks ago!"

"I said 'maybe'!" Alexis argued. "Maybe does not mean 'yes'."

"And she did get those straight-A's on her report card again." Kristina added, approaching the box herself. "I think you should give in, Mom."

Molly continued on, despite the warning look from her mother. "They're right here, and they need homes. Surely we can save the animal shelter some money by not leaving another homeless kitten in their care."

The process continued on for several more minutes, in which time Spinelli felt that he really had to sit down. His head was spinning and he went from being hot to cold about every five seconds. He even shrugged out of his soaked jacket and pulled off his gloves and hat.

"Spinelli?" Alexis said, and he had the distinct feeling that it wasn't the first attempt at getting his attention. "Are you okay?"

He shook his head to bring himself back into focus. "Yeah, affirmative. Just tired is all."

"You should stay and have some hot chocolate," Molly insisted. "It might help."

"A-alright." He agreed, recalling that was one of the things he had so desperately wanted earlier that evening, before the appearance of the six kittens had wandered into his life. "That sounds like quite the appealing idea, if it's okay with the Lady of Justice."

"Oh," Alexis nodded in agreement. "Yes, stay." She said, but she seemed decidedly anxious, perhaps made so by his less-than-healthy appearance.

"Great!" Molly declared, already setting about the task of making his hot chocolate.

"You two can have a kitten only if you agree on which one." Alexis decided, finally, knowing that the two were likely never to do such a thing.

There were only three remaining prospects, and the two kids rushed the box before Spinelli's feverish brain could even follow what was happening. One was a deep grey color all over, another was an orange and black mixed all together, and the last was mostly grey with the occasional splotch of white.

"It's for your birthday," Kristina suggested, quite diplomatically. "You can pick."

Alexis glared at the unforeseen act of negotiation, but she couldn't exactly argue with it.

Molly's interest landed on the grey and white kitten, which she picked up and held. "I like this one."

"Me, too." Kristina agreed, and that was settled, she returned her attention to the hot chocolate her sister had abandoned. "What are you going to name it?"

Spinelli watched the exchange as intently as he could manage, but found himself something between flattered and concerned upon hearing Molly's answer of, "Sir Spinelli."

Kristina snorted, "Whatever you say." Alexis was similarly amused.

A mug of steaming hot chocolate with marshmallows was placed before him and it was all Spinelli could do not to simply drown himself in it. But, his hands were shaking so much from the cold that he could barely hold the thing and the liquid – which might have been water for all he could taste and smell – only served to burn his throat.

"Perhaps Spinelli should get going. After all, he does have some more homes to locate, does he not?" Alexis suggested, with just a bit more hinting than was strictly necessary.

"I, I should, yes." Spinelli agreed.

"Mom!" Molly argued. "No, Spinelli, you should stay for a bit longer."

"It's a school night, Mol', and I do believe you still have homework to do. So, why don't you say goodbye to Spinelli and let him get on with his night."

"We're not even going to have school tomorrow! The accumulation of snow alone is going to have the school boards shutting things down. And you can't make Spinelli go out into that weather, or the kittens he still has!" Molly was a very convincing speaker.

But, Spinelli stepped in, forcing himself to ignore the building ache in his head – and the rest of him – and stand. "No, she's right, Wise Munchkin, the Jackal does have more work to accomplish tonight."

Molly pouted, but seemed to relent now that it was Spinelli arguing and not her mother. "Alright. You have to come back and check on Sir Spinelli soon, though, okay?" She prodded, and he nodded in agreement as he gathered up his coat again. He stuffed his gloves into his pocket, and once again ventured out into the snowy streets of Port Charles with his cardboard box in his arms, and one less kitten and one swooning fan-girl behind him.

The last location he could think of to go was to Carly's place. Wherein he found Carly, Jax, Michael, Morgan, baby Josslyn, and Dominic all gathered.

"Greetings," He said, with as much enthusiasm as he could gather given that his hands felt like they were just gone – he'd apparently lost his gloves, and also misplaced his hat, somewhere along the way.

"Spinelli?" Carly responded, looking quite concerned. "Are you drunk?"

"No, no. I am simply on a quest," He had to stop to cough at this point, which nearly made him dizzy. "Stone Cold has asked that I take my leave from the penthouse and thus I am on a quest to find homes for the kittens that I happened upon in an alley. I have but two more to relocate and then my task will be," Another cough. "Completed." Because if he can find homes for them, maybe he can find his own home again.

"Are you okay?" Dominic approached, reaching out to take the box from Spinelli, but the hacker stepped away.

"I am fine, I assure you." He looked to Carly and then to Michael and Morgan. "Would any of you be interested in taking in a kitten?"

"Mom?" Morgan prompted, looking hopeful. "Can we?"

"Sorry, Spinelli, Morgan. I'm allergic to cats." She answered. "Have you tried asking Sonny? He's all alone," She ignored the snort and snarky comment of 'Hm, wonder why?' from her husband. "And the kitten would be there for when the kids visit him."

Spinelli shook his head, having adamantly refused to do that in his own mind. "I have not asked Mr. Sir. It's a bit further away than I was intending to go, and the Godfather and I are not known for getting along well."

"I'll take one of them, Spinelli." Dominic offered. "For Morgan."

"Really?" Morgan grinned, running over to hug the guy who he looked up to like a big brother. "Thanks!"

"You sure about that, Dominic?" Jax questioned. "You'll never get rid of Morgan if you do that."

"Yeah, no problem." He agreed, and scooped the black and orange one out of the box, offering it to Morgan.

Carly had slipped away towards the end of the conversation and headed into the kitchen, Spinelli realized as he was ushered inside by a concerned looking Dominic, who tugged off his coat for him. He could hear her, talking on the phone. He didn't have to wonder who she'd called.

It was undoubtedly Jason, and he'd tell her than he didn't care what Spinelli looked like, or how bad he was shivering if he had any of those damned cats left.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll try." He heard Carly say, and that was it. He had to get out of there before he heard something that would make this all worse. Like that Jason never wanted him to come home. Like getting rid of the kittens wasn't what the problem was. He just needed to go, his feverish mind told him.

"I, ugh, the Jackal must go. I still have one more kitten to find a home for." He said, and bolted out the door with the box, but without his coat, back into the snow. He was running away as fast as he could, back toward town.

He could hear Dominic chasing after him, so he detoured off of the sidewalks and into the tree line. He tossed the box aside after he'd removed the remaining kitten and tucked it into his sweatshirt, where it could be warm, and kept running until he couldn't run anymore.

***

Jason wasn't worried. Really. After Spinelli left – a shock, but one he figured would last all of about ten minutes before the hacker came home again – he'd jumped into the shower, a nice, long, warm shower that served to make his bad day seem marginally less hellish. He'd changed into clothes that did not reek of smoke and did not drip water all over the place. By the time those suspected ten minutes, and an additional fifteen had passed, Jason was felling much better. He'd bandaged the burn on his arm and was heading toward the pool table when the phone rang.

"Spinelli." He figured, grabbing his still drying cell phone out of his ruined jacket's pocket. Not Spinelli. "Robin?"

"Jason, what were you thinking? You've got Spinelli out wandering the streets trying to find homes for abandoned kittens in the middle of a blizzard!" She exploded at him.

Somehow, that surprised him. He'd pretty much believed that Spinelli would have just gone over to Maxie's place for a while or something. Figured he would go someplace safe, dry, warm. Of course, he also figured that the hacker would be home again by now, too. "Is he still there?"

"No, he kept babbling about having to find homes for the kittens and took off. He said he'd crash at Lulu and Maxie's place once he was done since you didn't want him to stay with you anymore." Robin replied, the last few words she said quite tartly.

"Alright. I… I'll go find him." He assured her, hanging up before she could further rant at him for his bad day induced reaction.

The first thing he did was call Spinelli's phone. No answer came and he could distantly hear the notes of .38 Special's 'Stone Cold Believer' playing somewhere in the vicinity of upstairs. He figured that that was his ringtone. Following the sound, he found Spinelli's phone amongst a pile a wet clothes on the floor, tucked into a jeans pocket.

Great, Spinelli was out there, in this weather, with a box full of cats, with no cell phone.

Returning to the living room, he found a spare jacket and tugged that on over his warm, dry, clothes and made for the door, with both of their phones in hand.

He checked Lulu and Maxie's place first, just in case he'd given up and gone back there for the night, like a marginally sane person might be inclined to do. There, he found Lulu, and Maxie just arriving home, as well.

"Oh, hey, Maxie. We have a cat now, mostly because Jason was a jerk and kicked Spinelli out over a bunch of adorable kittens. I think we should name it Crimson." Lulu greeted her surprised roommate while simultaneously glaring death at Jason. "And no, I have not seen Spinelli since he came by earlier. He said he'd be back once he found homes for all of the kittens."

"You did what?" Maxie glowered at Jason. "You… you sent him out into this storm because you don't like cats?" She picked the offending creature up out of the box Lulu had located for the kitten and cuddled it. "Why does this not surprise me, Jason? Why?"

"I didn't kick him out over the kittens." Jason defends, because it's not… it wasn't like that. It wasn't about the stupid kittens. It was about a bad day and bad timing and overreacting. "I'm trying to find him."

"He told me he was heading to Robin's." Lulu informed him. "Maybe he's still there."

"He's not. Robin called me when he left." Jason answered, dragging a hand down his face in exasperation. Not at Robin's, not here, where else might he have gone? Jason had no idea.

He ended up walking toward the park in his blind quest to locate and retrieve Spinelli. He'd just reached the exit on the opposite side when his phone rang, revealing Coleman's phone number.

"Hey, Jason." Coleman greeted. "Spinelli was just here. He's looking pretty bad, man."

"What do you mean?" Jason asked, now significantly alarmed.

"He's shivering and sneezing and coughing. Do the math." The bartender snapped back at him. "Not to mention he's moping around like somebody ran over his cat – That's not a good way to put it, I guess, is it? Looking like someone made him get rid of all of his kittens?"

"Yeah, I got it." He was just a block away from Jake's, maybe he could catch Spinelli. "Did you see which way he went?"

"Nope, sorry. I have a new kitten to look out for."

Jason hung up with a bit more hope and a lot more guilt. If Spinelli was getting sick from being out here like this, it would be his fault. His bad day seemed more and more irrelevant in the scheme of all of this. Spinelli had really only been trying to do a good deed in the face of a bunch of abandoned kittens and Jason had tried to force him out of it.

With a resigned sigh, he continued on towards Jake's, hoping that maybe he'd happen upon Spinelli's trail or something equally unlikely.

The trail went cold quickly, mostly because any footprints that might have aided him were abruptly covered over by the still falling snow, or else they were simply blown away by the wind. Either way, he had no clues to follow and could only continue to wander away from Jake's.

He'd started to mentally map out the location of people Spinelli knew well enough to go and visit about this, and he'd just finished narrowing down the list when Spinelli's phone rang out in his pocket. The ringtone sounded like some Disney-style theme song (later identified by Molly, the caller, as Kim Possible, because she'd selected it).

"Spinelli?" She'd greeted, sounding about as worried as Jason felt.

"No, this is Jason. Have you seen Spinelli?"

"He was just here with the kittens. He looked… really sick. I was worried, so I was calling to make sure he got home okay." She told him, just as his own phone rang, too.

"I have another call, it might be Spinelli, so I have to go, okay?" He explained, and was still in the process of extricating the other phone when she hung up after a quick agreement. It wasn't Spinelli. It was Alexis.

"Jason," She started, before he could even say anything. "Spinelli, he seemed quite ill when he was just here. I'm pretty sure he nearly passed out. I had to ask him to leave, I was afraid that the girls would get sick, too." She confined, in tones of both concern and guilt. "He just left, so if you can get here quick, you might catch him."

He can't even comment on Alexis sending Spinelli out into this blizzard, he'd done the same thing. Though he couldn't help but wish that someone, of the several people Spinelli had encountered, had attempted to keep him there and called him before the hacker took off again. It was making this tracking thing very difficult.

"Do you know where he was going?"

"No, sorry. I'm not even sure he knew where he was going."

Worry did not even begin to cover Jason's feelings at this point. All he wanted now was just to find Spinelli, make sure he was okay and not lying in an alley somewhere turning hypothermic. "Alright, I'll be there soon, unless I get another lead on where he might be."

He'd been walking in the wrong direction from Alexis' house, so he had to backtrack toward Jake's. Moving faster now, he consulted his mental list of nearby residents who might occur to Spinelli. The Quartermaine mansion and Sonny's place were totally off the list, way too far away for Spinelli to get to in conditions like this. Elizabeth's was back across the park. Sam was out of town for the week, both he and Spinelli were aware of that. He really hoped Spinelli stayed away from the water and didn't attempt to get to Spoon Island and the Cassadine clan. There was, it struck him like a ton of bricks, Carly and Jax's place nearby, however.

With a destination in mind, he picked up the pace even more.

He'd been getting close when Carly called him to inform him that Spinelli was there. And not making any sense. Babbling and swaying on his feet. "Try to keep him there for me, alright?" He asked, and he really hoped that she could because all he wanted at this point was just to make things right and he couldn't do that if Spinelli kept unknowingly running away from him like this.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll try." Carly promised him, and then he'd heard talking in the background that suddenly got louder and then there was a door slamming.

"What's going on?" He demanded.

Carly didn't answer him for a moment. When she came back, it was with answers. "He just ran out into the storm. Dominic's chasing him."

"Damn it! I'm almost there."

He was all out running now. He had to find Spinelli before he did something stupid like pass out in the snow somewhere or slip on ice and bust his skull open. Thinking like that, however, only served to send his brain into panic mode.

"Jason!" He heard Dominic shout from not far off. "I lost him!" The younger jogged over to him, meeting at where a cardboard box lay on the ground. "He left his coat behind. Wasn't wearing gloves or a hat or anything." He summarized. "I think he still has the one kitten with him, but he ran into the woods when he saw me chasing him. And I didn't want you to not know where we went..."

"Okay, we're both going in. I have my phone; call me if you find anything. Spinelli doesn't have his." Jason planned, already ducking into the trees himself. He split off in one direction, and Dominic in the other.

The search began, with occasional shouts of "Spinelli!" coming from both men. Flashlights would have been a good idea, but Jason hadn't wanted to risk returning to Carly's house to find them. He didn't want Spinelli out here longer than he had to be, getting that much farther away from him.

"Damn it, Spinelli. Come on! Where are you!?" He called out, ducking under tree branches and stepping carefully over rocks.

A needle in a haystack would seem easy compared to this. At least you could see.

***

Spinelli ran as fast and as hard as he could. He dodged under branches and over rocks, all the while protecting the kitten hidden away in his hoodie. The snow had thoroughly soaked him through already. His teeth were chattering like crazy and his vision occasionally swam if he dared to stop for the briefest of seconds. He'd been turning to see if he was still being pursued when it had happened. He'd hit one of those icy patches beneath the fallen snow and found himself propelled into a tree branch at chest level. It hit him hard, like the impact of a car crash, and it knocked the wind from him. He twisted awkwardly on his way down to the ground and his ankle paid the price for that, as had his jeans, on impact with the ice, which had blown out and bloodied his knees. He did, however, even in his sheer panic, manage to protect the kitten from any sort of impact from his fall.

He didn't even try to get up again.

***

He had to be the one to find him. Jason knew it was going to be him even before he happened upon the same icy patch that had befallen his roommate. He caught himself before he fell, though, and avoided the badly-placed tree branch.

And there was Spinelli.

Lying there.

Covered with a dusting of snow and not moving.

"No," Jason said, dropping to his knees beside the younger man. "No way, Spinelli. You're not doing this." He checked for a pulse, found one. Checked for breathing, he was. "Spinelli. Wake up, come on."

Something moved in Spinelli's hoodie – which quite alarmed Jason – and slowly the shivering kitten squirmed out of it.

"Alright, alright." Jason said, tucking the kitten into his own pocket for the time being. "Spinelli, come on. I need to get you out of here." He looked around for Dominic, shouted for his searching partner. "I found him!"

"Mrngh, S-stone C-cold?" Spinelli mumbled out, eyes still closed as he shivered in the snow. "Nnno, I, I have to find a home for the l-last one."

Jason didn't realize what he was babbling about for a moment, until he remembered the kitten in his pocket, at which point he laughed in exasperation. All of this and Spinelli was still going on about kittens. "He has a home, Spinelli. He has a home and you have a home and as soon as I can, I'm getting both of you back to it, okay?"

Dominic appears then before Spinelli can respond, with his phone out, calling 911.

Jason took inventory then. Bloody knees, nothing a couple of band-aids wouldn't fix. An ankle that was twisted and swelled at an odd angle, that'd be a bit more difficult to deal with. He was pale and shaking. "You okay besides the ankle?"

Spinelli shook his head. "I, I hit the branch there." He motioned with one hand toward the offending tree. "Chest hurts."

Using the glow from Spinelli's phone, he looked for signs of blood on Spinelli's chest and found none. Eventually he resorted to lifting the snow-soaked material enough to look for bruises or otherwise threatening injuries. "Yeah, you hit pretty hard." He decided, looking back to Dominic, who had still been on the phone. "Ask if we should move him out to the sidewalk."

A brief moment passed and Jason was already gearing up to do so whether or not the dispatcher agreed. Finally though, Dominic answered him. "They would suggest carefully, and they stress, 'carefully', getting him to someplace warm and dry. Response time is slow because of all the accidents going on with the snow. It'll be a while before anyone can get here."

Jason nodded. "Let's get him back to Carly's then." He extricated the kitten from his pocket and offered it to Dominic to hold and then shrugged out of his jacket, using it to cover Spinelli. "Spinelli," He said, getting the hacker's attention – he was no longer shivering Jason noted, and he was pretty sure that that was actually very, very bad. If your body decided it was too cold to bother trying to keep you warm… - "Spinelli, listen to me, okay? This is going to hurt, and I'm sorry, but we need to get you inside, so just bear with me."

"There's a bear?" Spinelli mumbled deliriously, as Jason carefully eased an arm under his knees. "We should get away from the bear." The other arm slipped beneath his back, careful of his sore chest and slowly, and as gently as he could manage while dodging the branch that had put Spinelli in this position, he got to his feet.

Dominic led the way back toward the street, the kitten now wrapped up in his jacket, and finally, after what seemed like forever, they made it back to the front steps of Carly's place.

"Is, is the bear gone now?" Spinelli mumbled against Jason's damp t-shirt. "It didn't get the kitten did it?"

Jason cautiously maneuvered through the doorway, shivering considerably himself now. "Yeah, Spin. The bear's gone." He answered, just to mollify the delirious and confused boy in his arms. But then his attention returned to the important matter at hand. Getting Spinelli warm.

He requested somewhere to lay Spinelli down, as many blankets as could be located, clothes from Michael, who was closer to Spinelli's size than Jax, to change Spinelli into once Jason got rid of the soaked ones, and an electric blanket if they had one lying around somewhere.

Michael led Jason toward his room, where he deposited Spinelli carefully and grabbed up some clothes for Spinelli from the dresser. Jax appeared a moment later with some old sweats and a long-sleeve t-shirt for Jason to wear.

He didn't want to leave Spinelli alone like this, but in the long run, dripping snow and ice all over Spinelli while attempting to get him warm and dry would only be counterproductive, so he left Spinelli in Jax and Michael's care and ducked into the bathroom to dry off as best he could and change into the proffered clothes. It didn't take long to do, but it felt like an eternity before he got back.

With a couple of towels on hand, he shooed everyone else out of the room and set to work on his task. Spinelli had been silent since his last bear-related comment, which Jason found unnerving, but the younger was still awake, at least, and somewhat responsive.

Shoes came off first; those were easy, as were socks, which revealed extremely pale, cold feet. But that was the end of the simple part of this procedure. He'd considered attempting to undress the kid, but found that wet clothes were hell to get off in the best of times, with injuries it was made all the worse. So, he settled for grabbing a pair of scissors.

"Hold still for me, okay?" He said, even though it was him that was shaking and not Spinelli. He cut the hoodie away first, wanting to check out the damage done to Spinelli's chest. It was clear where the branch had hit him, it had left nearly a straight line across his chest and arms, just below his collarbones.

Jason cut away the rest of the younger's clothes as carefully as he could and then set about the task about drying the cold, pale, wet skin off so that he could begin the task of working on warming him up again. It was slow going, maneuvering the barely responsive Spinelli about, but eventually, he deemed his task complete and moved on to the next stage.

"Alright," He said, tugging the sweatpants – similar to the one's Jason was currently wearing – over Spinelli's legs, careful of his ankle and scraped up knees. Once he'd wrangled Spinelli into those, he turned his attention to the shirt – a zip up hoodie like thing so that it wouldn't have to go over Spinelli's head - which might or might not have proven more of a challenge.

The mechanics of avoiding further injury of Spinelli's chest in this complex process involved Spinelli sitting more upright, so Jason slid behind him on the bed, propping the younger against him so that he could slide his arms into it.

Once the shirt was as on as it was going to get, Jason had planned to extricate himself and start piling on blankets, however, Spinelli, as delirious and confused as he was, had other plans. Before Jason could make his escape, he found Spinelli curled against him. The hacker's skin was like ice, and since Jason's own skin was pretty close to that already, it was saying something. He couldn't make himself push Spinelli away again.

"Carly!" He called out, and a moment later, she appeared with the pile of blankets he had requested, as well as the electric blanket.

"Good, I was going to make you do that anyway." She said, upon spotting their position. "You're nearly as cold as he is." Blankets began forming a small mountain over the two of them, and Jason didn't even try to protest what she'd said because it was true.

He shifted Spinelli in his arms, so that the younger's back was pressed against his chest, arms wrapped around him. "Any word on the ambulance?"

"Not yet, there are a couple pretty bad accidents around town, so says the News." She reported, as she plugged in the electric blanket, which had been the first thing on the pile. "I'll go get you something warm to drink."

"Thanks."

Spinelli was still against him, all Jason could feel was the cold radiating off of him, the contrasting warmth of the pile of blankets, and the younger's heart was beating fast under his touch, which was worrisome. The breath against his neck where Spinelli's head was turned toward him, that was the reassuring part. He was breathing, alive and breathing. Jason could still fix this.

"Spinelli?" He tried, after a few moments had passed. "Still with me, right?"

"Mm," Was the only reply he received, and Spinelli tried to shift closer to him. Jason imagined he was probably getting warmer faster than Spinelli was. The shifting, however, was clearly not a good idea, as it promptly started Spinelli into cringing in pain.

Jason wasn't sure whether it had been his chest or his ankle that had caused it, but he curled his arms tighter around the other's chest, careful not to hurt him further. "Hey, relax, okay. You're okay." He assured Spinelli. "Stay still."

"But, I… the Jackal needs to get the kittens away from the bear, Stone Cold." He mumbled out in his delirium. "It is most imperative that he finds homes for all of the itty bitty ones so that he may return home to Casa de Stone Cold…"

He'd thought they'd finished with the bear thing, and with the kitten thing, too, but apparently Spinelli's frozen self was still catching up to things. "There's no bear, Spinelli." He said. "And you and the last kitten are coming back home with me just as soon as we get you checked out at the hospital."

The door opened then, to reveal Dominic with the kitten in hand. "Hey, I didn't know if Spinelli would want…" He started, but Jason waved him over. He set the kitten down on the blankets and looked over his two co-workers. "You guys alright?"

"Better once the ambulance gets here." Jason answered on behalf of his injured grasshopper.

"I'll go check on it again." He answered, taking the hint and leaving them alone.

"The kitten is well?" Spinelli asked, reaching out for the furry thing with his numb fingers. Jason nodded and aided him in the task, settling it on Spinelli's lap.

"Just as cold as us, I think." He answered, and shifted one of the blankets so that the kitten was covered up a bit as well. "Once I get you settled at the hospital I'll get someone to take him to the vet."

The door opened again, this time revealing Carly and Michael. The younger offered Jason a travel mug filled with some sort of warm drink, he couldn't be sure exactly what it was. He took a long drink for himself – and discovered that it was hot tea - and then spent a moment urging Spinelli to have some of it, too.

By the time the drink is gone, Morgan has wandered in as well, perched on the edge of the bed with his and Dominic's kitten settled in his own lap. "You're both going to be okay, right, Jason?"

At this point, Jason just wanted to get Spinelli seen to before the turn of the century arrived. He nodded to Morgan, "Yeah, we'll be fine." He said, though he wasn't entirely sure it was true yet. There were too many people. Spinelli needed to be calm. Every time someone new would enter, for whatever reason they stated – the real one was always concern – Jason could feel Spinelli's heart speed up even faster.

"Hey," Jason started, looking to Michael and Morgan, and more pointedly at Carly, who has been lingering in the doorway. "Can we let Spinelli get some peace and quiet for a few minutes?" He suggested, hoping that a few more moments would be all it took for an ambulance to arrive so that Spinelli could get the help of doctors and nurses who knew what they were doing.

The trio cleared out promptly, Carly a bit more reluctantly than the boys. And it was just a bit later when Dominic entered again, this time with two paramedics armed with bags of supplies and a stretcher trailing behind him.

"Finally." Jason signed in relief, though when they shift Spinelli away from him and onto the stretcher, he found himself missing the contact, missing feeling Spinelli's heartbeat right there where he could know that it was still beating.

***

The hospital was abuzz with activity. Accident victims and other people stuck out in the cold. The ER was simply swarmed. Jason, with one tiny kitten now on its way to some 24 hour emergency pet clinic with Dominic, and Spinelli already wheeled out of his sight and no doubt into x-ray or some room where they could warm him up, found that he had no further reason to avoid his own treatment.

Matt was on Spinelli's case and Patrick had come on shift when he'd heard about what had happened. Dr. Drake ended up being the one to coerce Jason into properly warming up as well. They stuck him in a room and hooked him up to an IV that was distributing warmed fluids into his body and he felt better rather quickly once all that started.

He'd been feeling better, prepared to get out of bed and demand to be able to know what was going on with Spinelli when his roommate had been brought in, making them roommates yet again. They did the same thing to him as they had to Jason, offering blankets and attaching the IV fluids. His ankle was casted and Jason could just make out EKG monitors on Spinelli's chest.

"He alright?" Jason asked of Matt, as Spinelli seemed to be sleeping.

"He has a broken ankle and bruises on his heart." The doctor answered. "He'll need to be on 24 hour watch with us before we can re-evaluate. And, of course, he needs to get back to a normal temperature."

"A bruised heart?" The elder pressed. That… sounded quite dangerous in his mind. And it certainly fit in with everything else. After what he'd done to cause all of this, for Spinelli to come out of it with a bruised heart?

"From the impact of the… tree branch?" Matt questioned. "He was also mumbling something about a bear?"

Jason shook his head. "There was no bear. He was delirious and ran with the idea. But, his heart? Is he going to be okay?"

"We see this most often in car accidents, where someone's chest hits the steering wheel. Typically, there aren't any complications and the bruising will fade. But combining that with the hypothermia which messes with circulation and blood flow and we'll have to be extra careful."

Doctor Hunter left them alone following that exchange and it was only a matter of time before Jason extricated himself from his own pile of blankets and IV tubing and made his way to the other side of the room.

Sitting on the edge of Spinelli's bed, he noticed that he seemed to be getting some color back, no longer ghostly pale. Spinelli was shivering only slightly now and his skin was no longer like ice to the touch. Progress, that was good.

He felt almost compelled to reach out, as he had before, to feel the beating of Spinelli's heart under his hand, but he resisted, settling instead for watching the steady, rhythmic, if a little fast, beat on the EKG monitor's screen. It lulled him into kind of a trance, so much so that he startled when a nurse came in to check on them.

"I'll be out of your way in just a moment," She assured Jason and briefly scribbled down notes on Spinelli's chart about things he didn't particularly care about, and as promised, with a moment she was gone again.

"You're gonna be okay, alright?" Jason said to his still sleeping roommate. He was slowly coming back to life. Moving occasionally, shifting about as much as his various ailments would allow. Eventually, Spinelli reached out and Jason was relieved to find that the hand curled around his own wrist was warm to the touch now. "Spinelli?"

"Stone Cold?" Came Spinelli's sleep-think response, his eyes still closed. "The Jackal heartily apologizes for not accomplishing his task to find homes for all of the itty bitty ones as ordered. He is well aware that his Mentor does not need any more stray's regarding Casa de Stone Cold as home when the Ace of Cyberspace already causes enough trouble."

Jason stared at the boy in the bed before him. There was no way Spinelli could actually think that. This moment of delirium-free speech was enough to cause Jason to re-evaluate his perception of tonight's events. Spinelli thought that he'd kicked him out because he didn't want a bunch of abandoned kittens in the apartment? Considered himself among them in the order to get rid of them? He hadn't wanted to kick Spinelli out at all, not really. He'd just wanted a bit of time to unwind after what he had – at the time – perceived as a bad day. Spinelli had taken it upon himself to locate homes for each and every one of those kittens in the late hours of the night in the middle of the blizzard of the century because he thought Jason didn't want him, either?

But, Spinelli wasn't finished with his speech.

"Your grasshopper had hoped that he had found a home at Casa de Stone Cold, found someone who could tolerate all of the odd eccentricities that he knows that he possesses, but it was undoubtedly only a matter of time before it ended in exile, wouldn't you suppose?"

What Jason supposed was that the Doctors had been grievously wrong in their diagnosis of Spinelli's chest injury. Clearly, his heart was not bruised. It was, in fact, broken. And it was all Jason's fault.

Spinelli was still rambling on, but Jason had heard enough. "Hey. Hey, stop. Listen to me." He all but demanded, catching the hand that had remained curled around his wrist in his own, and Spinelli finally opened his eyes. "You are not a stray, okay? You might have thought you were, and maybe you were when you first showed up, but you're my family now and nothing is changing that. Not a box of kittens that you were right to save." Jason paused, waiting for a reaction, but Spinelli was just staring at him in confusion. "I, I over-reacted earlier. And I'm sorry. I never should have said that the cats – or you – had to go. I'm sorry."

"Surely you cannot be speaking of the Jackal in regards to those you count amongst your family."

He was really going to need to work on Spinelli's self-esteem levels if that was his reaction. "I am and that is exactly what you are to me, got it?" Jason continued on with his very important line of reasoning. "Not a hacker who's scary good. Not the kid who talks like he has a dictionary permanently implanted in his head. Not whatever other people believe you about in Tennessee, or here in Port Charles. All that matters is what I know – that you are my family."

Spinelli seemed utterly bewildered by his mentor's words, up until the point when they actually appeared to register. "I am most honored by your words, Stone Cold." Spinelli said, gazing at him in something not unlike awe. As if he was surprised that someone cared that much about him.

Jason opted to change the topic to something that would get Spinelli focused on the future instead of the past. "What are you going to name the kitten?"

***

It was Spinelli's first day back at home. He'd finally gotten to take a warm shower, albeit with a bit of aid from Jason in the process because he had to attempt to balance on one leg in order to keep his broken ankle out of the spray. He'd finally gotten back into his own clothes, even though the black t-shirt was actually Jason's because it didn't brush against the deep purple bruise on his chest as badly as his own did. And now, finally, he was laid on out on the couch, his leg propped up, his laptop sitting on the coffee table well within reach, right beside what was once a mug of steaming hot chocolate that he had tasted and enjoyed every drop of.

The new kitten, for the moment, was settled on the arm of the chair Jason was occupying.

"Mistoffelees," Spinelli called, waggling his fingers to attract the smoky grey kitten's attention. "C'mere."

Jason just laughed. "You do realize that no matter what you do I am never calling this cat by name?" He nudged the creature, which seemed content not to move. "Go get him, cat."

Spinelli frowned, even as Mistoffelees stretched and wandered over to investigate Spinelli's still wiggling fingers. "Stone Cold, you will confuse the feline."

"It's a cat."

"Yes, which you seem intent upon confusing beyond all help." The younger retaliated, scratching the kittens back and it settled down on his lap.

"Spinelli, I know that you probably already have about twenty nicknames in mind for him, one more is not going to do any damage." And it was a logical argument. He'd already heard Spinelli refer to the creature by things other than its name.

"This is true." Spinelli agreed.

Jason stood, motioning to Spinelli's empty hot chocolate mug. "You want some more?" He offered and headed into the kitchen with it upon Spinelli's affirmative answer.

Spinelli sighed to himself as much as his bruises would allow. "It is most definitely a relief to be back at Casa de Stone Cold where we belong, is it not, Mistoffelees?"

Still within hearing range, Jason could only smile. He was glad that they were all where they belonged, too.