Illegally Born

Chapter 17: Kittens

          "Please, stay still," begged Pouncival for the umpteenth time, grabbing a fresh pencil from the floor of the sleeping room. Quickly, he continued his sketch, trying to draw as much as he could before the kitten became completely impossible to work with. Giggles and whispers ran around the circle of kittens that had gathered to watch the striped tom draw.

          "I'll go and sharpen these for you," said a tall red queen reaching for the container of pencils by Pouncival's knee.

          "Thank you, Rose," breathed Pouncival as he grabbed the last sharp pencil from the bunch and tucked it under his foot so he wouldn't loose it. A small growl of frustration escaped him as the kitten once more twisted in her mother's lap, making it impossible for him to get a good look at her face.

          "Viva," Tantomile gently scolded, "we promised we'd help Pouncival." The silver and brown queen was more amused than angry at her kitten's impatient squirming. She smiled as her eyes roamed over the kitten's markings, ebony fur with a silver bib and face, silver calf-high stockings, and one brown hand. "And Pouncival did promise to give us the picture when he's finished drawing it. Wouldn't you like to have a nice picture of the two of us?"

          "Yes," said the kitten, thoughtfully, "but why's he want to draw us if he's only going to give the picture away?"

          "Because he wants to compare our faces and see how kitten faces look different from grown-up faces," replied Tantomile patiently.

"Why can't he draw Peter instead?" whined the little girl.

Pouncival sighed a long suffering breath, "Viva, I explained this already. I especially need to draw girl faces. I'll draw the boys, too, but I especially need girls and you're just the right age. Liesel and Sienna already let me draw their pictures; did you see the pretty picture I did of Liesel with her mama?"

"I saw it," replied Viva, suddenly sitting up attentively, ears pricked forward. "Why do you need to draw girls?"

"It's for a surprise," grumbled Pouncival, sketching hurriedly while he had a good view of the kitten's face.

"I know what it's for," drawled Amadeus, who was lying nearby.

"Good, then you just volunteered for the next sitting, long-ears."

"I thought you said you needed girls?" The young tom sat up and idly began scratching the fur of his neck, where the collar had worn it thin, as he leaned forward slightly to get a better view of Pouncival's drawing pad.

"I also need kittens the right age, which you are." The adult tom frowned at his drawing in concentration.

"Ok, I don't mind helping. Can I have someone in the picture with me?" the black and white kitten asked wishfully.

"Yeah, sure," grunted Pouncival, keeping his eyes on his models. "Why don't you go tell Mistoffelees to come and sit for a portrait with you? He's the one I'm trying to figure this out for. He ought to sit for one of the pictures."

"OK!" shouted Amadeus, spinning to his feet and racing away.

"Kittens," grimaced Pouncival, "I am so glad that Rose doesn't have kittens." A gasp from behind him startled the striped tom and he turned to find his mate staring at him as though he'd just slapped her. Coming to his feet, suddenly concerned, he asked, "Rose?"

She just looked away from him with the saddest expression he'd seen on her face since they had become mates. It was an expression he'd promised himself he would banish from her eyes, the same expression she had worn while she was still grieving for her former mate. Pouncival looked around at the small crowd that had gathered to watch him draw and said, "Give us a few minutes, will you?"

Tantomile nodded understanding and distracted her kittens and the others nearby by starting a singing practice.

Pouncival slipped his arm around his mate's waist and led her over to the bunk they'd been sharing. "Do you want kittens?" he asked tenderly, drawing her down to sit beside him on the bunk.

She nodded, tears in her eyes. "But wanting kittens isn't going to get them for me."

Pouncival bit his lip, his dark ears flattening slightly as he wondered if his next question would cause her pain. "You wish you had kittens that reminded you of your old mate, like Tantomile does, don't you?"

The tall queen made a sound that was at once a sob and a laugh, and drew her mate into her arms. They held each other tightly for a moment before she drew away. "I would have liked to have kittens that reminded me of him, yes. I loved him very much." She smiled and brushed Pouncival's cheek with her hand. "The same way I love you."

Pouncival nodded understanding. He'd never met the troupe's original Macavity -- the tom had been taken away before Pouncival moved up to the troupe -- but everyone said he was a nice person and Rose had loved him very much. "You could still have kittens someday though. I wouldn't mind if you had kittens. We could take good care of them together."

Rose rubbed her face against her mate's. "Oh, Pouncival, you're not much more than a kitten yourself."

That stung. But Pouncival thought about it before he replied and he realized that he must seem so to her at times. After all, she was one of the original troupe and must be about the same age as Grizzabella; and Pouncival knew he wasn't much older than Mistoffelees. But then, Gus and Grizzabella must have been about his age when their litter was born. "Old enough to have kittens," he answered her firmly, and then put a finger to her lips as she tried to protest. "If you want kittens, then we'll have kittens. There must be a reason why some have kittens. We can ask Jessel." He swallowed, balking at his next thought, but determined to ease the hurt from his mate's eyes, "and we can ask the doctor too, if we have to. If I have to I'll even go down to the cages and ask Dr. Ferran."

Rose stared, amazed at the sudden fierceness of her mate's tone, so unlike his usual antics when he was trying to cheer her, but he always had been determined to make her happy. She pulled him close again. "We can work on that after we find out if the humans will let us live," she murmured, stroking her cheek against his, but she was smiling again. Pulling back, she said, "You'd better get back, while the kittens are still interested in having their pictures drawn. I still don't know how you are going to draw kittens you've never seen before."

Pouncival grinned and stood up, still holding his mate's hand, "That depends on how well Mistoffelees can describe them for me."

Rose's grip suddenly tightened on his hand and her smile disappeared again. "Pouncival, if you can do this... would... would it be terrible of me... to ask you for a picture of..."

"The first Macavity?" he finished for her. She nodded, ears down, and he brushed her cheek with his hand. "It isn't terrible. I'd be glad to make a picture of him for you." He leaned down and brushed his cheek against hers. When he pulled back again the smile had returned to her face.

"Go," she said, giving him a little push towards the group of kittens on the floor. She watched admiringly as he started to walk towards them, then suddenly dropped and began tumbling instead, coming to a stop right behind Mistoffelees, who had joined the group. Pouncival raised his head and grinned back at his mate, who gave him a big smile for his antics.

********************

          Soft sobs woke Jessel from her sleep. Out of long habit, she checked her immediate area before lifting her head to try to find the source of the crying. Mistoffelees' arm tightened around her middle at her movement, and she lightly caressed the back of his hand in reassurance. Jessel blinked her eyes repeatedly but couldn't see well enough in the darkness to determine where the sound might be coming from. Turning to her mate, she asked quietly, "Mistoffelees, can you tell who is crying?"

          The black and white tom raised his head for a moment and then laid it back on the pillow. "It's Electra," he said, cuddling close to his mate. "Alonzo will take care of her."

          Jessel tried laying her head back on her pillow but the crying set every protective instinct she had clamoring. After a moment she patted Mistoffelees’ hand again and crept out from under the covers, tiptoeing down the row of silent bunks to where Electra and Alonzo slept. The white and black tom looked up at her from stroking his mate's back as the sobbing queen buried her face in his shoulder.

Jessel knelt down by Electra's side of the bunk. "Is there anything I can do?"

Alonzo shook his head silently, his eyes reflecting an eerie green in the near-total darkness.

Jessel frowned, thinking that she should go and just leave these two alone to work out whatever it was, but her instincts were telling her there was something very wrong here, so she pushed a little farther. "You never know unless you ask. Please tell me what's wrong," she pleaded.

Alonzo tightened his grip on his mate, comforting her. "She can't feel the kittens moving," he whispered, his ears flattening in worry.

Moving to sit on the edge of the bed, Jessel drew a deep breath and put her hand on the dark queen's shoulder. Putting both sympathy and authority into her voice she said, quietly, "If you think there's something wrong with the kittens, Electra, you should have the doctors take a look at you."

The dark queen shook her head, "No," she whimpered.

"I know you don't like doctors but if you're this worried, there's probably a reason." Stirrings around her told Jessel that the other Jellicles were listening to the conversation, and probably didn't like what they heard.

Munkustrap's voice rumbled from the end of the bunk, "She does not have to talk to the doctors if she does not want to." Something in the way he stood told Jessel he could see her just fine, in the darkness of the room, despite the fact that she saw him as a faint gray ghost with jeweled eyes.

"No one here is going to make her go, Munkustrap," said Demeter, pushing past her mate to kneel by Electra at the head of the bed. "Do you really think something's wrong?" she asked in concern.

Electra sniffed and nodded, shivering in her mate's arms.

Demeter turned to Jessel, "Could the doctors really help?"

"They could try. If nothing else they could tell her if there really is something wrong."

Demeter thought about this for a moment before telling Electra, "I think you should go to the doctors." Electra shrank down against her mate's chest as Demeter continued, "Dr. Branch helped find the kittens, and she was very nice about Argent's teething; I don't think she will hurt you."

"At least, not much," came Gus' voice from several bunks over. The Jellicles turned to him with questioning sympathy in their eyes. He continued quickly, "Dr. Branch's treatments have hurt some, but she always warns me and it is well worth it not to shuffle anymore."

"But that other doctor really hurt Mistoffelees," protested Electra.

"No, he didn't," corrected Mistoffelees, coming quickly from his bunk to stand at the end of Electra's. "He didn't. He warned me I'd be sick after the tests and he asked me if I was willing to take them. And all through them he kept asking me if I needed a rest or if I wanted to stop. The sickness didn't last very long afterwards. I'd rather go through all of those tests again than ever have Dr. Ferran touch me for any reason."

"Besides," added Jessel quickly, "you can ask for Dr. Branch if you aren't comfortable with my father."

Electra blinked at the fire-haired security officer in surprise. "Your father?"

Jessel grinned, "Dr. Maddigan is my father, and I'd make his life miserable if he hurt you."

"But you let him hurt your mate," shuddered Electra.

"No," answered Jessel and Mistoffelees in a chorus, then smiled at each other. "The tests really didn't hurt that much," said Mistoffelees and Jessel quickly followed with, "I've been through them myself, they're more annoying than painful."

Gus had walked over to stand beside his son while they were talking. He rubbed the younger tom's shoulder fondly and addressed Electra. "Even if it hurts, aren't your kittens worth it?" he asked in a gentle tone. Mistoffelees stared at his father in shock, catching the double meaning of his words. Gus smiled and ran his hand up to stroke Mistoffelees' head, saying softly, "It was worth it, especially now that I know that you're my son."

Mistoffelees put his arms around his father, remorse for Gus' lost ability to dance, or even walk normally, creating a tightness in his chest. "I am so sorry."

Gus hugged back and laughed, "For what? Getting sick? It wasn't your fault." His face became stern as he looked back at Electra, "But it will be your fault if something happens to your kittens because you were too afraid to get help for them." His face softened again at the look of horror on her face. "These doctors really aren't mean. Please let them help you."

"They'll be angry if I wake them," protested Electra weakly, but Gus' arguments had had their effect.

"They'll be angrier if you don't," said Jessel, rising from the bunk. "Doctors are used to late night emergencies." She smiled down at the dark queen and then strode over to her locker. Quickly she shrugged into her uniform jacket and pulled her pants over the short bottoms of her pajamas, not exactly regulation, but better than appearing in the halls in her pajamas. She finished by stuffing her feet into her boots and wrapping a ponytail holder around her hair. Turning back towards the bunks she saw dozens of Jellicle eyes staring at her, reflecting an eerie green, brown or gold in the darkness of the sleeping room. Sighing, she stepped back towards Electra's bunk. "Well, are we going or not?" she asked, spreading her hands in frustration.

Electra and Alonzo exchanged glances then got up to follow Jessel, but Munkustrap stepped in their path. "You don't have to go," he said quietly looking at Alonzo, but speaking to Electra.

"Yes, I do," the distraught queen replied, swallowing hard, "I have to take care of my kittens." Alonzo put a supporting arm across her shoulders and just shrugged at the silver tabby.

Munkustrap nodded understanding and stepped aside. The couple followed Jessel quietly to the elevator, but as she stood listening to their tails convulsively hit the elevator walls, Jessel had to wonder if the Jellicles would ever loose their fear of doctors.

As they stepped through the doors to sickbay, Dr. Maddigan came out of Dr. Branch's office. Before he could say anything, Jessel told him, "I think Electra would rather have Dr. Branch."

"Of course," responded Maddigan, reaching for the com panel by the office door.

"No," said Electra sharply, before lowering her eyes. Her next words were addressed in Jessel's direction. "I don't want to be a bother. You shouldn't wake her."

"It's no bother," replied Maddigan, smiling slightly. "If you'd be more comfortable with Dr. Branch, I'm sure she won't mind coming down." But he didn't activate the intercom.

Electra just shook her head, not looking at him.

"All right then, what can I do for you?" asked Maddigan, kindly.

When Electra didn't answer, Alonzo wrapped his arms protectively around his mate and answered for her. "She can't feel the kittens moving."

Maddigan’s face grew somber and he nodded. "That's a very good reason to come to sickbay. It certainly isn't a bother." He opened a door to his left and stepped back slightly. "Why don't you just come in here and we'll see how the kittens are doing, all right?" he asked, gesturing for them to precede him. Alonzo balked for a moment when he saw into the room, pulling his mate back against him. The couple exchanged fearful glances before walking through the door.

Electra didn't have to be told to sit on the exam table and her posture made Jessel think the dark queen was waiting for orders. The red-haired security officer followed her father into the exam room, taking a place by the door. Maddigan turned and raised an eyebrow at his daughter's presence but shrugged as she returned a familar stubborn look that he recognized all to well. Turning to the large screen that filled one wall, the doctor tapped a query into the keyboard. As soon as the answer popped up he left the room, returning a moment later with a four inch wide belt.

Everyone in the room winced as both Jellicles' tails connected with solid objects at the same time.

"This won't hurt," Dr. Maddigan reassured them quickly, holding the belt out for Electra's inspection. He had to push it nearly into her lap to get it into her field of vision. "I just need to fasten this around your waist so that I can get a look at what's going on with your kittens." Electra pulled back slightly, eyes wide, then slowly raised her hands away from her body as her ears flattened submissively. The doctor slipped the belt around her, then sat down in front of the computer screen and began typing queries using the keyboard and touch screen. After a few moments he turned back to the Jellicles and smiled, asking, "Would you like to see a picture of your kittens?"

Alonzo and Electra exchanged a startled glance. Awed, Alonzo asked, "Is that possible?"

"Certainly," smiled Maddigan. A few more taps of his fingers brought a black and white image to the screen. "It isn't the best picture, but it will allow you to see them." Maddigan rolled a ball implanted in the desk and the picture rotated slightly. "See, that one's sucking his thumb."

"His?" asked Alonzo, his ears suddenly straightening completely upright.

"We can look," said Maddigan rotating the picture again. "No, that one's going to be shy about it. Let's see about the other one." The picture rotated again. "That one's a boy."

A look of wonder crossed Electra's face as she placed her hand on her stomach. "Two kittens," she said quietly. "Are they all right then?"

"I have some questions for you, but they appear to be fine. See how they're moving around? Can you feel them now?"
          "Not... not much," replied Electra, worried again. The baby on the screen kicked out strongly. "Oh, I felt that. That was right here," she said, pointing to her stomach.

Dr. Maddigan turned to face the Jellicle woman fully now. "Babies have a tendency to do that. They'll get you just to the point where you're really worried about them and then they'll let you know they're all right." He smiled at his patient gently. "But what I wanted to ask is how you've been feeling. Any headaches or nightmares?" Electra looked surprised and shook her head. "How about nausea, have you been able to eat all right?"

"Oh, yes, just fine," Electra assured him.

Dr. Maddigan pursed his lips for a moment, thinking. Then he turned to his daughter and asked, "Ari, how's the general tension level in the Jellicles' quarters?"

"High," she responded bluntly. "Several people a night wake up with nightmares. No one will admit to having headaches but I've seen a lot of them rubbing their eyes and temples. No one seems to be eating much in the morning, though, they work so hard at morning practices that they're all famished at lunch. They seem to be trying to take all of their stress out in their dancing. Personally, I'm amazed that there haven't been any injuries, as hard as they're working."

Alonzo glared at the security officer, as though she'd just tattled on them. Electra's stare was more shocked than accusing but she didn't look any happier than her mate.

          "That's more what I would expect," nodded Maddigan. "Electra, I really need you to answer my questions honestly. I can see on my screens that your blood pressure is high. How long have you been having headaches?"

          Electra lowered her eyes guiltily. In a barely audible voice she answered, "A few days." Alonzo rested reassuring hands on his mate's shoulders, his eyes filled with worry.

          "Can you be more specific?" asked the doctor kindly. "Do you remember what day they started?"

          "The day Jessel had the gun."

          Startled, Maddigan looked up at his daughter.

          "Five days ago, when we met up with the Firestorm." Jessel shrugged. "Orders."

          Maddigan tipped his head, accepting that information, then left the room. When he returned, several minutes later he had a cup of water in one hand and three pills in the other. He put the cup down on the shelf and sat down again. "Electra, I want you to look at me."

          The dark queen obeyed out of habit.

          "This is very important. Your kittens are all right at the moment, but you aren't. You are getting sick in a way that is very dangerous for your kittens. If you get too sick you might have the kittens too early, before they can survive outside your body." Electra cried out at that and Alonzo squeezed her shoulders in reassurance.

          "There's no immediate danger," Maddigan reassured her, "but it's very important that we get you well again. Now I've brought some medicine that will help." He pointed to each of the pills in his hand as he described their function. "This will help bring your blood pressure down, that's what's making you ill. This is a vitamin, it will help make up for any meals you've been missing. And this will make you sleep very deeply tonight." He looked up at Alonzo, "Let her sleep as long as she wants to in the morning."

          "What if she misses her breakfast?"

          "That's all right, Alonzo," chimed in Jessel. "I can have a tray left."

          Maddigan handed the pills and the water to Electra and watched her swallow them. "I know it's useless to tell you not to worry, but do try to relax. After you have breakfast tomorrow, I want you to come back to sickbay. I'll recheck your blood pressure and we can talk more about how we're going to keep you healthy." He unstrapped the belt from around the queen's waist and Electra gave a gasp as the picture of the babies disappeared. Maddigan followed her gaze and reassured her, "I can let you look at the babies some more then too. Maybe we'll even be able to see if that second kitten is boy or a girl. Go get some sleep now, and I'll see you tomorrow."

          Alonzo helped his mate down from the exam table and wrapped his arm around her as the couple retreated from the exam room. Jessel moved to follow them but Maddigan laid a hand on her arm. "Any chance I might see you tomorrow?" he inquired. "We don't get too many chances to talk anymore, especially without your mother being around to spar with you."

          Jessel chuckled, "Yeah, I suppose we should make some time to get together while we have a chance. Why don't you come down and have lunch with me tomorrow?"

          Maddigan raised his eyebrows, "In the Jellicles' mess hall? Ari, you may not have noticed but they don't seem to like me too well."

          "They don't like doctors, period. They're going to have to get over it."

"You're pushing, young lady."

          "Always," replied Jessel with a cheery wave as she followed her charges out the door.

*********************

          "You don't have to wait with me, you know," said Jessel, turning to her mate.  "I'll wait for him; I'm used to it.  Doctors are always late, for everything," she rolled her eyes, "Go get your lunch."

          "No, I will wait with you," said Mistoffelees, leaning back against the corridor wall. He tipped his head sideways in curiosity as his tail slapped idly against the wall behind him.  "Why are doctors always late?"

          "Something to do with medical emergencies happening at the most inconvenient times.  But they get used to it and so do their families," Jessel grinned, pointing at herself.  Mistoffelees’ ears flattened slightly and he suddenly looked uncomfortable.  Concerned, Jessel put a hand on his arm. "Hey, what's wrong?"

          Mistoffelees shrugged, trying to straighten his ears, "I just can't imagine growing up with a doctor for a parent."  He laughed uncomfortably.  "Not that I had parents to grow up with.  There were people that came around in the crèche, but they just did their work and left.  And you never wanted to see the doctors."

          Jessel put her arms around her mate, holding him tightly. "I can't imagine growing up the way you did."  She rested her head lightly against his soft chest.

          "It was a lot better once I got picked for the dance class," he assured her, shaking off his melancholy.  "And much better now that I'm with you." He rubbed his cheek against her red hair with a quiet purr.

          "Do you want to talk about it?" Jessel lifted her head to meet his blue eyes.

          "About what?"  Mistoffelees slipped his arms around her waist and looked at her curiously.

          "Growing up in the crèche."

          He shook his head. "No, why would I?"

          "It seems to bother you."

          "No, I don't want to talk about it.  I'd rather talk about us," he stroked her back lightly.

          "Mistoffelees," Jessel intoned, becoming serious, "if it bothers you, I think you should talk about it."  The black and white tom began to purr.  "You can't talk and purr at the same time."  For an answer, Mistoffelees grinned impishly and brushed his cheek against hers, his purr growing louder.  "We will come back to this later," she told him. The passionate kiss he placed on her lips told her to forget about it.

          The doors to the elevator hissed open and Jessel pulled away, knowing exactly who she would see when she opened her eyes.  Mistoffelees' purring stopped abruptly and his face smoothed into a sudden mask of childish innocence at the sight of the doctor.

          "You know, this might have been easier on me if you'd given me some practice earlier in life," joked Maddigan as he joined them. 

          "Like there was anyone you would have approved of me dating on the Unicorn," replied Jessel, slipping one hand through her father's arm and the other through her mate's.  "Come on, let's get some lunch before the chow's all gone."

          "Actually I was fairly relieved not to have to deal with it when you were a teenager," said Maddigan as the three of them collected their trays and began to select their lunches.  "I don't think waiting has hurt you any.  You seem to have done all right for yourself."  He smiled at Mistoffelees briefly.  Turning to dish up his tray, he asked, "So, Mistoffelees, do you prefer to go by Misto, or Mistof?"

          Mistoffelees froze.  Maddigan turned, catching the sudden lack of movement out of the corner of his eye.  The sounds around him quickly quieted and he glanced around.  Most of the Jellicles were staring at him, many with horror in their eyes.  Some were whispering and the murmurs didn't sound pleasant.  "Ok, what did I do?" the doctor asked nervously, being very careful not to make any sudden moves.

          "Made the same mistake I did, only I did it in private," answered Jessel.  "Never shorten their names.  They hate that."

          "Mistoffelees, I apologize.  I didn't realize I would upset you," said the doctor earnestly.

          "It's all right," said Mistoffelees, turning back to the buffet to collect his lunch.  He raised his voice slightly, realizing that the other Jellicles were still listening. "Jessel has explained that humans shorten each others' names to be friendly.  You just surprised me, that's all."  Fixing Maddigan with a quizzical stare, he asked, "How do you shorten your name?"

          "Rich.  My first name is Richard and it shortens to Rich."  Maddigan relaxed into a slight smile at Mistoffelees' acceptance of his apology. The noise level of the room rose again to a more normal level as the rest of the Jellicles returned to their conversations and meals.

          "That's a good name," said Mistoffelees.  Tilting his head, he asked, curiously, "How does your mate shorten her name?"

          "Oh no," laughed Maddigan, as the three of them took seats at an unoccupied table, "you just keep calling her Capt. Schubert until she gives  you permission to call her something else.  I made the mistake of calling my mother-in-law 'Irene' before she gave me permission and she insisted I call her Mrs. Jessel until after Ari was born," he grimaced at the memory, "and then I think she only eased up because we gave Ari her family name."

          Mistoffelees looked confused and Jessel clarified for him, "He's referring to my mother's mother.  Mothers are often not too friendly with their daughters' mates at first."

          Maddigan swallowed a bite of his salad, then leaned forward.  "If you don't mind me asking," began the doctor, tentatively, "Mistoffelees, just why does it bother you so much to have your name shortened?"

          "We earn our names," replied Mistoffelees, more confident now that he was back on familiar ground.  "I wouldn't want to lose half my name, or have it taken from me, although Teacher used to shorten Rum Tum Tugger and Jennyanydots' names so they're kind of used to it.  I don't remember her ever shortening anyone else's name unless she was angry."

          "So shortening your name got to be a kind of a punishment?"

          Mistoffelees considered that for a moment, chewing thoughtfully, "Yes, I suppose it was."

          "That's exactly opposite of the way we do it," said Jessel around her sandwich.  "If you ever hear someone call me Arriyana Bridget Jessel you can be sure they're angry with me.  That is, unless they're being very formal."

          Mistoffelees wrinkled his nose, "We never shorten our names once we earn them.  I love being Mistoffelees; somehow it wouldn't be the same if people started calling me Misto."

          Maddigan grinned at him. "So, is dancing something you enjoy, something you want to continue to do for the rest of your life?"

          "Dad," growled Jessel warningly.

          "What?" asked Dr. Maddigan innocently, "I'm just making conversation."

          "No, you're not.  You're starting in on the third degree."  She carefully placed her sandwich on her tray and glared at him.

          Dr. Maddigan put down his fork and faced his daughter.  "I am not doing that.  I wouldn't under these circumstances and if I did he wouldn't know how to answer the questions yet anyway.  You be happy your mother's not here, because she would."

          Jessel just scowled at her father but Mistoffelees piped up, "What questions?"

          "Never mind," replied Jessel firmly, picking up her sandwich again and beginning to eat it with determination.

          Mistoffelees looked at his mate quizzically.  "I don't mind answering questions."  He turned to Dr. Maddigan and inquired, "What questions did you want to ask?

          Jessel growled at her father, "Don't you dare."

          Dr. Maddigan turned from one to the other, his green eyes glinting mischievously, and then raised his hand and waved at his daughter.  "You brought it up and he asked, not my fault.  Bye-bye."

          "I'm not going anywhere," muttered Jessel, taking a vicious bite out of the rapidly diminishing sandwich and chewing grimly.

          "Yes, you are," laughed her father.  "Shoo."

          Mistoffelees looked bewildered. "I don't understand."

          "He wants to talk to you without me being here," replied his mate, her eyes shooting daggers at her father.

          "Just talk?" asked the black and white tom.

          Maddigan nodded at him.

          "That would be all right," said Mistoffelees, hurriedly taking another bite of his meal.  "I don't mind talking to Dr. Maddigan."

          Jessel frowned at her mate but got up from her seat.  "Mistoffelees, I love you dearly," she said, kissing him on top of his head, then she tipped up his chin to look in his eyes, "but you have got to learn to trust me when I try to steer you away from trouble."  Mistoffelees startled at that and Jessel cleared her tray away as she left the mess hall.

          Mistoffelees stared after her curiously and then, taking a deep breath,  turned back to Dr. Maddigan to wait for his questions.

          "I'm surprised that you would agree to talk to me," smiled the dark-haired doctor.  "After --," but he was interrupted when a furiously scowling Munkustrap landed in the seat next to him.

          "What trouble?" demanded the Jellicle leader. 

          "There's no trouble," replied the doctor, confused.

          "Jessel said she was trying to steer Mistoffelees away from trouble," insisted Munkustrap.  "What trouble?"

          The doctor pursed his lips as he thought for a moment, trying to decide the best way to explain the situation to the hostile cat.  "Munkustrap, you have a daughter don't you?"

          The silver tabby narrowed his eyes at Maddigan and his tail began to twitch.

          "I'll take that as a yes.  Well, one day your little girl is going to grow up and find herself a young man that she wants to be with."

          A low growl escaped Munkustrap's throat and his ears flattened slightly.

          "Exactly," said Dr. Maddigan.  "But you can't prevent little girls from growing up.  So when she finds herself a mate you are going to have a lot of questions for the young man.  That's all that's happening here."

          "And if you don't like Mistoffelees' answers?" asked Munkustrap, roughly.

          Maddigan shrugged, "There's nothing I can do about that.  Arriyana is a grown woman.  She has the right to make her own choices."

          "Then why the questions?"

          "Parents usually want to know something about their children's mates," replied the doctor keeping his voice bland to avoid upsetting the silver tabby further.  "And fathers have a tendency to take a particular interest in their daughter's boyfriends."

          Munkustrap thought about this and then suddenly grinned.  "I'll be right back."

          Maddigan turned and watched Munkustrap flit around the room, speaking to some of the toms.  He said something to Coricopat, who handed the toddler he'd been holding to another cat and came to sit at the table with Maddigan and Mistoffelees.  The silver tabby stopped by one tom and then another until half a dozen of the cat-men had joined them at the table. Gus walked over slowly and his son pulled out the chair next to him for the still slow moving cat to sit down.  The confused doctor tried to put names to the faces joining him, and was pleased when he managed to come up with all of them.  Skimbleshanks and Dodger elbowed each other, grinning as they took places on the opposite side of Mistoffelees from Gus.   Admetus and Tumblebrutus both looked unsure about joining the group but took seats next to Maddigan, leaving a place between themselves and the doctor.  Asparagus took that seat, shrugging at the group like he might as well join them.  Then Munkustrap dropped back into the seat on the other side of Maddigan.

          "What's all this?" asked the doctor hesitantly.

          "We all have daughters," replied Munkustrap.  "I thought we should all hear these questions we are supposed to ask."

          Maddigan closed his eyes momentarily and gave his head a tight shake.  "It's usually a private conversation, Munkustrap."

          "I don't mind," said Mistoffelees quickly, "I don't think you can ask me much that everyone here doesn't already know."

          "All right," said Maddigan slowly, resigning himself to having a private conversation in public.  "Then I suppose the first question is: Do you intend to marry my daughter?"

          "Oh, yes," responded Mistoffelees, perking up visibly.

          "What is 'marry'?" asked Munkustrap suspiciously.

          Mistoffelees answered him before Maddigan could, "'Marry' is how humans say to other humans that they are mates for all their life."

          "But you're already mates," said Gus, obviously confused.

          Mistoffelees shook his head, "We are -- but she hasn't promised to stay with me for the rest of our lives.  She will when we marry."

          Maddigan watched the Jellicles exchange bewildered glances and decided he'd better amend that explanation.  "It's a little more than that, Mistoffelees.  When you get married you give your mate the right to speak for you.  It's a lot of power to give another person."

          "I trust Jessel to speak for me."

          "I don't think she should trust you to speak for her just yet."  Mistoffelees' slight smile disappeared and Maddigan quickly explained, "You seem like a very nice person, always willing to oblige.  Unfortunately, there are people who will take advantage of that tendency.  My daughter might be better off if she waits until you learn to protect yourself in our society before she lets you speak for her."

          "She did say she wanted to wait a while," said Mistoffelees slowly.  "She said most people wait months or years before they get married."

          "Most people do," Maddigan nodded, "It's a very big change in your life when you get married and, quite frankly, you have enough big changes happening in your life right now."

          Munkustrap cut in, "What if I and my mate wanted to get married?"

          Maddigan leaned back in his chair, "Well, I suppose that would have to wait until after the hearing, since the judge is supposed to determine your legal status.  But after that you could talk to the captain.  All ship's captains can perform marriage ceremonies.  That's part of their privileges.  You still might want to wait and get a better idea of what you're getting yourself into but if you've been together for years anyway I don't really see why it would be a problem."

          "Do we have to get married to keep our mates?" asked Tumblebrutus, hesitantly.

          Maddigan laughed lightly, "No, you can be mates without being married."

          "Just making sure," replied Tumblebrutus, but there was a general easing of tension around the table.

          "So why did you want to know if Jessel and I were getting married?" asked Mistoffelees.

          "Well there's some difference if you're just my daughter's boyfriend or if I'm going to be your father-in-law."

          "Gus is my father," said Mistoffelees, obviously bewildered, but certain of that fact.

          "No, no, father-in-law means your mate's father, at least, after you get married."

          "This is very confusing."

          "It's another part of getting married.  When you get married you adopt each others' families."

          Admetus craned his neck around Tumblebrutus and Asparagus, "What about children?  Tantomile had her kittens long before we became mates."

          "If you and she get married then you will be her children's stepfather.  Unless you actually adopt the children, in which case you'll be their father although they still have a different biological father."

          Admetus blinked at the doctor twice, slowly.  "I didn't understand anything you just said."

          Accepting that the tables had just been turned on him, Dr. Maddigan settled in for a long explanation.  "All right, let's start with a basic family unit..."

*********************

          Dr. Maddigan unconsciously drew himself up and threw back his shoulders as he entered the Jellicles’ makeshift theater.  He'd debated whether he should actually escort Pouncival all the way into the theater or just leave him at the right deck.  It had taken him about a half a minute to decide that he would prefer to face any possible unpleasantness over the striped tom's somewhat nauseated condition immediately rather than have it come up later and at a less convenient time. 

          Pouncival had approached the doctor as he left after lunch, with questions about why the Jellicles had so few kittens.  Dr. Maddigan saw no reason not to answer the young man's questions and had invited him up to sickbay for a fuller explanation.  Pouncival had been somewhat hesitant about accompanying the doctor but quickly swallowed his fears. 

          Maddigan took that as a sign that the subject was extremely important to the young man and had done his best to give him a full explanation.  Despite the doctor's gentlest manner, Pouncival had been shocked and disgusted by the facts of sexual reproduction and birth control, though mostly, Maddigan thought, to the particular manner of birth control to which the Jellicles had been subjected.  That hadn't stopped the young tom from asking about getting rid of the birth control device implanted in his own body, but he'd become severely nauseated as that procedure was explained.  Enough so that Maddigan felt it would be safer to escort the young tom than risk letting him get lost.

          Now, Pouncival's ears and tail drooped, his gray-green eyes were dilated and his right hand pressed against his stomach; he looked thoroughly ill.  Munkustrap would have a fit.  Maddigan wasn't worried about a physical confrontation with the Jellicles (he'd become familiar enough with Dr. Ferran's notes to realize that the Jellicles would have to feel extremely provoked before they would be able to overcome the inhibitions against fighting that had been trained into them) but he didn't want to strengthen their fear of doctors either.  And so, he chose to accompany Pouncival all the way into the theater, silently steeling himself for the confrontation he knew would come.

          It took only seconds after the doors closed behind the two men for Munkustrap to spot them and cross the floor in ground-eating strides.  Maddigan watched the silver tabby grow angry as he approached and was somewhat relieved to spot Arriyana following the big cat at a more sedate pace.  Munkustrap looked Pouncival up and down, his jaw working in anger, before snapping his attention to the doctor.  "What did you do?" demanded the Jellicle leader, a faint growl threading through and under his words.

          "I answered his questions," replied Maddigan, keeping his voice bland but firm.

          "What questions?"  The black-stripped tail snapped sharply from side-to-side twice, shedding silver hairs with each whip-crack reverse of direction.

          "He wanted to know why your group has so few kittens."

          Sarcasm crept into Munkustrap's tone as his ears canted back another quarter turn, "And why do we?"

          Pouncival's voice broke as he quickly answered, "You don't want to know."

          Munkustrap's countenance changed from anger to concern and he stepped over to Pouncival to put a sympathetic hand on the younger tom's shoulder.  He tipped Pouncival's chin up so that the shorter tom would meet his eyes and Pouncival repeated fervently, "You really do not want to know.  They did...something...to us, to the toms, so there wouldn't be many kittens."

          "It's not that bad, Pouncival," soothed Maddigan.  "Lots of men have that procedure when they aren't ready to start families.  And, as I told you, it's completely reversible."

          An involuntary shudder passed through the young tom and he pressed his hand to his mouth, swallowing hard.

          "Implants?" asked Jessel, looking at her father.  Maddigan nodded.

          "Implants?" repeated Mistoffelees, who had come up behind his mate.  “What are implants?”  A tall red queen had also joined the group and slipped her arm around Pouncival, who nuzzled his face against hers.  Doctor Maddigan was relieved, however, to see that most of the other Jellicles were more interested in the kittens practicing on the stage than this conversation.

          "Considering the way Pouncival looks, it would probably be better if you didn't ask for a while," Jessel told her mate.  "You have enough to deal with right now."  Mistoffelees shrugged, accepting her advice.

          Pouncival looked at his mate in consternation.  "I wanted to find out if we could have kittens... and... we can, but..." 

          Rose placed two fingers over his lips.  "We don't have to have kittens.  Not if it means putting you through so much unhappiness."

          "But you want kittens," objected Pouncival.

          "Why don't you just wait awhile?" suggested Maddigan.  "You'll get settled somewhere and then you can find a doctor you trust enough to take that implant out.  There isn't really any hurry, is there?"

          "No, there isn't," said Rose, dropping her eyes.  "I'm glad you asked," she told Pouncival, "but I want to know that I'll be able to raise my kittens before we have any."

          The young stripped tom suddenly seemed to forget about feeling ill.  His arm encircled his mate's waist and he drew her away, towards the stage, assuring her, "We will have kittens and we'll raise them too.  You'll see.  It will just take some time, that's all."

          Munkustrap watched them go and then turned back to the doctor.  He shook his finger at Maddigan, "You --" and then he stopped as though unsure about what he was angry about.  In that pause, a shout went up from the stage, distracting the Jellicle leader. 

          "Amadeus, you get back here," called Quaxo angrily.

          "NO," yelled the small tuxedo kitten spinning away from him.  Then Amadeus jumped off the stage and ran towards the group at the door, Quaxo following.  Mistoffelees took a couple of steps towards the two and Amadeus ran behind him, using the grown tom as a shield.  Mistoffelees tried to keep an eye on the kitten behind him as Amadeus ducked back and forth to avoid being grabbed by Quaxo.

          "That is enough!" shouted Munkustrap as he snatched up the kitten in one arm.  The kitten's claws flashed and red scratches appeared through the gray fur of Munkustrap's arm.  The silver tabby cried out in pain and surprise, and dropped the kitten.  Amadeus landed on his feet, staring in shock at his claws.

          For a moment everything was still.  Maddigan grabbed the first aid kit from beside the door and took several things out of it to tend Munkustrap's arm.  Horrified, Amadeus began to back away from the rest of the Jellicles.  Tears streamed down the kitten's face as he stammered, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

          Mistoffelees quickly stepped behind the retreating kitten, blocking his escape.  Amadeus backed into the larger tom and froze, then began to sob.  Mistoffelees knelt down by the hysterical  kitten and put his arms around him. 

          Quaxo moved closer and shouted, "What is wrong with you?  You've been pouting all day, and then you shoved Dart and now you've scratched Munkustrap.  Just what is your problem?"

          Amadeus burst into wails and tried to run again, but Mistoffelees tightened his grip and the kitten ended up sobbing incoherently on Mistoffelees' shoulder instead.

          "Yelling at him won't get you the answers you need," offered Dr. Maddigan mildly, as he returned the unneeded medical supplies to their cubby and approached the injured Munkustrap.  Quaxo faced the doctor sharply, ears flat and tail twitching angrily as Maddigan continued, "You're only frightening him more and making it harder for him to answer."  Taking Munkustrap by the arm the doctor held up a small spray can and said, "This is going to sting a little."

          "Then don't do it," spat Munkustrap.  The tabby's teeth flashed briefly, but, as quickly as Munkustrap's lips closed, the doctor decided that it must have been unintentional.

          He fixed his uncooperative patient with a firm stare. "Do you want to spend time in sickbay?  I don't want you in sickbay and if that gets infected, sooner or later, you will come see me.  Probably later, when it will take a significant amount of time to fix."  He held up the small spray can again, "This will keep it from getting infected.  Now, did you want me to do my job now or later?"

          Munkustrap gritted his teeth and turned his eyes away as he gave in, "Now."

          Maddigan quickly sprayed the scratches but decided they weren't deep enough to need wrapping.

          Jessel had stepped nearer to Mistoffelees and the crying kitten.  Amadeus saw her through blurred eyes and blubbered, "Are you going to put me in a cage?"

          "I don't think I need to do that," answered Jessel, slowly sitting down on the floor.  "You did say you were sorry and I think it was as much an accident as anything else."

          "Shoving Dart wasn't an accident and neither was refusing to take a time out," grumped Quaxo.

          Amadeus gasped, "You hate me!  You want her to put me in a cage!"

          Quaxo's jaw dropped in pure shock at the accusation.  Mistoffelees patted the kitten's back and made soothing noises.  Jessel pursed her lips in thought and then asked Amadeus, "You haven't been getting along with Dart very well; can you tell me why?"

          "He just bothers me, that's all," sobbed the kitten.

          "Can you tell me how he bothers you?" asked Jessel, very gently.

          Amadeus shrugged and buried his face in the crook of Mistoffelees’ neck, mumbling, "He just does."

          Jessel sighed and glanced questioningly up at her father.

          "He could be jealous." Maddigan answered his daughter's unspoken question.

          "What do you know about it?" demanded Quaxo.

          "Well," said Maddigan, "I managed to raise one of my own and she seems to have turned out all right."

          "What's 'jealous'?" asked Amadeus.

          "It means Dart has something you want," answered Jessel.

          "He does NOT!" shouted the distraught kitten, breaking into fresh tears.

          Softly, Maddigan said, "I think that hit a nerve."

          Quaxo shook his head. "Dart doesn't have anything to want, except maybe that ball that Jessel gave him, but..."

          "I don't want his stupid ball," grumped Amadeus, cuddling closer to Mistoffelees.

          "I'm thinking it would have to be something a lot bigger than that," said Jessel, eyeing Quaxo speculatively.  Looking back at Amadeus she made the word into a question, "Parents?"  The kitten froze where he was, his eyes widening hugely. "No, more than that," said Jessel, glancing at her mate and then back to the kitten in his arms, "a family."

          "But that doesn't make sense," said Quaxo, shaking his head and stepping closer to Amadeus.  "We are his family."

          "You don't even like me," shouted Amadeus, raising his head from Mistoffelees' shoulder and flattening his ears.

          Quaxo dropped to his knees beside the kitten, shaking his head in shock. "Yes, I do.  Well, most of the time.  Is that what this is all about?  You've been pushing Dart around because you're mad at me?"

          "Looks more like scared to me," said Maddigan when the kitten didn't answer.

          Jessel quickly picked up her father's cue, "If you're scared about something Amadeus, you need to tell us, so we can help you."

          The kitten whimpered and buried his face in Mistoffelees' neck.  "Kitten," said Munkustrap in a commanding tone, but his voice softened when Amadeus looked up, "you're part of the troupe now.  We handle our fears together."

          "I am?" sniffed the kitten.  "Then you won't leave me?"

          "Leave you?" Quaxo asked incredulously, ears coming forward to shocked attention.  "Why would we leave you?"

          "W-w-well," stammered Amadeus, "you've been talking about getting your freedom, but I'm just a kitten, and you don't seem to like me much, and it's not like I'm your kitten or anything, so I didn't think you'd want to keep me."  The black and white kitten lowered his eyes as his speech ran down.

          Stunned looks passed between Quaxo, Munkustrap, and Mistoffelees.  Mistoffelees recovered the fastest and ruffled Amadeus' fur with a gentle smile, "Silly kitten, of course we're keeping you."

          "I know you like me, Mistoffelees, I just don't think he does," said Amadeus, flicking his eyes at Quaxo.  "And Munkustrap said you couldn't watch me."

          "I said I thought he was a little young for an apprentice and, at the time, Mistoffelees didn't have a mate to calm him down when you got on his nerves, which kittens almost always seem to do."  Amadeus wilted under Munkustrap's reproachful tone.

          "That doesn't mean you can't talk to me," said Mistoffelees, trying to cheer the kitten.

          "And where did you get the idea that I don't like you?" asked Quaxo. 

          "You're always grumpy," complained the kitten.

          "You have been lately," confirmed Mistoffelees, before his predecessor could reply.  "You've been working so hard on the show, and you've had Dart to get used to and we're all worried about the hearing."

          Quaxo frowned. "I suppose I have been."  He leaned forward to stroke the kitten's cheek.  "I'm sorry, Amadeus, I didn't mean to take it out on you."  Amadeus hesitated a moment and then rubbed his cheek against Quaxo's hand.  "Think you can put up with me for a while longer, kitten?"

          The little tuxedoed kitten looked at his feet, then looked up shyly to meet Quaxo’s eyes.  "Yeah."

          Quaxo rose and pulled Amadeus to his feet, "I do want you to apologize to Dart."

          The kitten lowered his eyes, "Ok."

          "Hey," said Quaxo, chucking Amadeus under the chin, "Everybody screws up sometime.  Even me."  The older cat pulled the kitten against his side, wrapping an arm around his shoulders  and leading him toward the stage.  "I meant it, I'm sorry.  I didn't have any idea that you were afraid we would leave you.  It never occurred to me because it's just not something we would do.  And I'll try to be less grumpy."

          Quaxo's voice faded out as the two walked away from the group.  Munkustrap shot Maddigan a look that could have meant anything and then followed the retreating pair, as did Mistoffelees, pausing only long enough to brush his cheek against Jessel’s.

          Jessel stepped up close to her father and said in a soft voice, "You were a big help."

          "Just putting my two cents in," replied Maddigan, equally quiet.

          "Hang around a bit.  They just might get used to you."

          Maddigan grinned, "I've got work to get back to, but I'll stop by again."  He patted her on the arm and headed back to sickbay.

 

Chapter 18: Heartbreak and Hope

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