Illegally Born

Chapter 18: Heartbreak and Hope

Munkustrap slumped against the back of the elevator, rubbing his face with his hands. "We can't tell her." Deuteronomy reached out and put a consoling hand on the silver tabby's shoulder, squeezing gently, despite the pain evident in his own features.

Jessel pressed a button on the control panel and the car stopped moving. "I think we'd better decide before we get there," she said dejectedly. Both of the Jellicle leaders had looked weary after their long session with Baines, trying to get ready for court, but that was nothing compared to the depression that settled on them after the news the captain had given them. Turning to Munkustrap, Jessel asked, quietly, "If you were in her place would you want to know?"

Munkustrap closed his eyes and thought for a long moment. "Yes," he answered finally, in a pain-filled whisper, "I wouldn't want it kept from me, even though I wouldn't want to know."

Deuteronomy nodded, ears low. "Better to face the pain so that the healing can begin."

Jessel sighed. "All right, how do we do this? Privately? With everyone around? Who would be most comforting for Jellylorum to have around her when we tell her?"

Munkustrap opened his eyes. "Dodger, of course. Tantomile understands pain all too well, and she is strong."

"Tantomile would be the best one," agreed Deuteronomy. "Pearl would be a good choice too."

"Pearl's daughter is still missing," protested Jessel.

"That's part of why she will understand," replied Deuteronomy. "And I think it would be better if there were no kittens in the room."

"So privately then, with a small group?" Munkustrap nodded, and leaned into Deuteronomy’s hand; Deuteronomy squeezed his shoulder again. Hesitant to intrude on their grief, Jessel asked quietly, "Do you want me to be there? Or would you rather I not?"

"You should be there," said Munkustrap, pointing to the PDA in her hand and trying to moisten his mouth. "You can read the report. You may be able to answer questions we can not."

Jessel nodded and restarted the elevator. As the trio stepped off the elevator at the Jellicles quarters, Deuteronomy touched Munkustrap's arm and pointed to the door on his left. "I will gather them," he said gently, and then walked away.

Munkustrap walked into the empty guest quarters and sank heavily into an armchair, wrapping his arms around his stomach and hunching forward in misery, ears flat against his skull. "I feel like something is eating my insides. I can't even imagine how Jellylorum is going to feel."

Jessel had followed the silver tabby and now laid a hand on his shoulder, as Deuteronomy had done, silently trying to comfort the distraught cat. Munkustrap did not look up, though his tail slowed it’s spasmodic twitching slightly.

After a few moments, Tantomile walked into the room, closely followed by Pearl. "Deuteronomy said that I should leave the kittens with Admetus, that I was needed?" Tantomile asked in a confused voice. Her eyes became large as she took in Munkustrap's despondent state and she exchanged a questioning glance with Pearl.

"When Jellylorum gets here," nodded Munkustrap, swallowing convulsively as he leaned back in the chair, fingers gripping the chair arms so tightly Jessel was sure the knuckles were white under his fur.

Jellylorum and Dodger walked in, holding hands. Deuteronomy closed the door behind them and ushered the couple to the couch.

"Jellylorum --" began Munkustrap, but then his voice broke and he choked. "I'm not sure I can do this."

Jellylorum looked at the long faces around her in bemusement. "It can't be that bad," she said, moving to kneel in front of the silver tabby. She took both of his hands in hers. "What ever it is, just tell me."

Munkustrap clutched her hands firmly, trying to lend her a strength he didn't feel. The hollow tones that issued from his mouth sounded like they came from a stranger. "Jellylorum, your kittens are dead."

For a moment it was if she hadn't heard him, then her hands spasmed in his, clutching desperately. "My kittens? My kittens?" she asked, tears welling up in her eyes.

Dodger grabbed hold of his mate to support her. He lifted her gently away from Munkustrap, even as his eyes begged the silver tabby to retract his statement. Tantomile hurried to support Jellylorum on the other side and the two lowered the stricken woman onto the couch. The blond queen began to struggle against their help and Pearl started to kneed her shoulders to calm her despite the tears that were welling in the brightly colored queen's eyes. "They can't be dead," cried Jellylorum. "They can't be..." her voice trailed off and her struggles ceased, "How...?"

"There was an accident; the transport that was taking them away crashed," replied Munkustrap emptily. Turning to look at Jessel behind him, he said, "You understand the details better."

Jessel had never had to help deliver this kind of news before and she steeled herself against the bile rising in the back of her throat. "There isn't much to tell, really. It happened about three years ago. The transport they were aboard crashed; there was an explosion, a fire. It's certain that the two human pilots of the transport died in the crash. The kittens’ bodies weren't found but there's reason to believe that they may have burned up in the fire." Jellylorum gave out a deep gasping sob and Jessel waited a moment before she continued. "Dr. Ferran sent someone to investigate, at the time. We are having someone investigate further but Dr. Ferran was satisfied that the kittens had all died."

Jellylorum looked at each of the sympathetic faces around her and then dissolved into sobs. Munkustrap tried to go her, to offer his support as well, but Deuteronomy stopped him. "There are enough of us here," whispered the older cat. "The others will want to know what has happened. And you look like you've fallen down a deep hole as it is. Go."

Munkustrap didn't try to protest. He needed to see his mate and hold his own kittens. He stumbled out the door, feeling the pressure of Jellylorum's wails rising behind him. He stood in the corridor for a moment, dashing away the tears that suddenly welled up in his own eyes.

As he entered the Jellicles' sleeping quarters, all eyes silently turned to him. All of the Jellicles had gathered and he could feel their questions boring into his mind as he crossed the room to his bunk on the far side. Demeter looked up from feeding Argent as he approached but he suddenly found he couldn't meet his mate's eyes. Ceres sat beside her, burping Persephone, and, gently, Munkustrap took his daughter from her. Resting the tiny kitten's weight on his shoulder had a calming effect on the Jellicle leader. As he patted her back, her tiny hands patted his and he took comfort from the reality of holding his own kitten. Looking at the anxious eyes surrounding him, he steeled himself for what he had to say. His voice leaden, he told them, "Jellylorum's kittens are dead."

A collection of gasps and sobs broke the stillness. Munkustrap watched as each of the Jellicles turned to a mate or a friend to share comfort at such horrific news. Even the oldest of the tom kittens, Victor, Dare, and Augustus, jumped down from the top bunks to find comfort with their mentors.

Grizzabella's sobs sounded more loudly than any other, despite being quickly muffled in Gus' shoulder. Munkustrap couldn't blame her for that, she had to be worried about her own missing daughters. The silver tabby watched as Mistoffelees sat down beside his parents, resting a hand on his mother's back. The gray-stripped black cat looked up at her son briefly through tear filled eyes; then her sobs increased in volume and she buried her face in her mate's chest. Confused, Mistoffelees pulled back. Gus reached out and gave his son's shoulder a comforting squeeze and then shooed him away. Hurt remained in the young tom's eyes even as he joined Quaxo's little family, who welcomed him into their grieving.

In the next bunk over from them, Viva crawled close to Admetus and asked in a small voice, "Where's Mama?"

The dark gray tom gathered the little girl into one arm and her brother, Peter, into the other, "She went to help Jellylorum, because she knows what it is like to lose someone she loved."

"You mean our dad?" asked the little tom kitten looking up at his mother's mate with large green eyes. Admetus nodded. "Will you tell us about him?"

"Ah, I think you'd better ask your Mama," replied Admetus, thinking that he really didn't want to tell the kittens that the second Mistoffelees had been a little crazy. "But not today, ok? There's enough sadness today; I don't think your Mama needs any more."

Still standing next to his own bunk, Munkustrap would have liked to have watched more of that explanation, but Tumblebrutus stepped up close under the silver tabby's nose, his eyes agitated and his tail twitching. "How could you expect Pearl to comfort Jellylorum when you know her daughter is still missing too?" the white and brown splotched tom demanded hotly.

Munkustrap looked down at the smaller tom sympathetically. "Pearl is strong, and she and Jellylorum are good friends. She's upset, but she's handling it, for Jellylorum and Dodger's sakes, I think. She'll need you later, I'm sure."

Swallowing the angry thoughts that boiled immediately into his mind, Tumblebrutus looked away from the silver tabby.

Munkustrap rested one hand on his friend's shoulder, leaning back slightly to keep Persephone well balanced on his own. "Pearl is a lot stronger than Grizzabella. She'll manage until she has a chance to cry for herself. Until then, Jellylorum needs her."

Tumblebrutus nodded once, sharply, and walked away, his head down. It relieved Munkustrap greatly, though, when Mungojerrie called the depressed tom over to join himself, Rumpelteazer and a couple of the kittens. The Jellicle leader knew that sometimes the best way to deal with grief is to help someone else and Tumblebrutus would most likely feel better for comforting the striped pair's distraught charges.

Looking around to make sure that everyone had someone to lean on, Munkustrap spotted one lone white figure. Ceres had stayed seated next to Demeter, and Munkustrap tapped the older queen on the shoulder, then pointed to Victoria. Ceres nodded and went to her. Munkustrap frowned after her, worrying about the white queen. No one blamed Victoria for Macavity's actions -- except Victoria. He hoped the timid queen would be strong enough for the favor he needed to ask of her, but that would have to wait until everyone had had a chance to deal with the grief over the loss of the kittens they would, now, never know.

Sitting down next to his mate, he leaned over and rubbed his head against her shoulder with a sad sigh. Demeter looked at him with moist eyes and returned the gesture, a whisper of a comforting purr rumbling from her throat. "We're lucky," she said softly, glancing at each of her kittens.

"Very," agreed the silver tabby, but he had to wonder how long their luck would hold out.

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

Victoria could barely eat her eggs and toast. Munkustrap had asked her to wait after breakfast so that he could talk to her alone. It had to be something important and the only thing the white queen could think of that would be that important was finally getting to see her mate. Nearly two weeks had passed since Macavity had been confined to the brig and he had refused to see her. Munkustrap had assured the white queen that Macavity was concerned for her and didn't want her to have to deal with the other inmates of the brig. Privately, Victoria thought that anything would be better than total separation from her mate but Macavity had always been protective of her. And if keeping her away gave him some measure of comfort, in the thought that he could still protect her even in a small way, she had been determined not to put her own needs ahead of his.

But now, maybe he had had time to miss her, and want to see her. At least, she hoped so. Victoria's heart ached so much for her missing mate. Every time she saw Dodger taking Macavity's role she wanted to cry. Even Jessel didn't know exactly what would happen to Macavity once they got to Mars. Even if they let the rest of the Jellicles go it was likely that Macavity would have to stay in prison somewhere for a long time. Victoria worried that she might never see her mate again. He'd made a horrible mistake in attacking Jessel but Victoria was convinced he'd only done it to try to protect the troupe. Jessel had assured her that he wouldn't be punished any more than a human who had committed the same offense but Macavity being locked away for years was still a looming possibility.

A clatter of trays brought the white queen out of her reverie. The other Jellicles had finished their breakfasts and were streaming out of the room. Very quickly, the only other people left at the tables were Munkustrap and Jessel. The silver tabby looked over at the security guard and cocked his head in the direction of the door. She nodded at him once in response, cleared her tray and left the room.

Munkustrap walked over to sit across from Victoria at her table. She pushed her nearly untouched breakfast away and looked up at him with hopeful eyes. His ears wilted as their eyes met and Victoria's heart sank. Whatever he wanted to talk about, he didn't think she was going to like it.

Looking past her more than at her Munkustrap hesitantly began, "Victoria, something came up at the meeting with Baines yesterday that I thought you could help with."

"I'm listening," said Victoria, trying to swallow her disappointment and give Munkustrap her full attention.

The silver tabby looked at her more fully then but his hands kept moving nervously on the table. "Baines thinks that it would help, at the hearing, if one of the humans we worked with would admit that they always believed we were people. I couldn't think of anyone who even might do that at first, but then I thought about Tutor," he said, referring to the woman who had been in charge of the dance class. "She never used to shock us and was always very nice. I remember you even called her by her real name a few times. I thought that, if you asked her, she might agree to testify for us. " Munkustrap's words ran down and he gave Victoria a questioning glance. "It would help her too," he added quickly, "she's in the brig right now and if the judge decides we are people we could testify that she always treated us well and didn't hurt us. I asked some of the kittens and, from what they said, she treated them as kindly as she always treated us."

The white queen took a deep breath and straitened her shoulders. Very slowly she said, "You want me to go down to the brig and talk to Genevieve." Munkustrap nodded, looking nervous. "But you won't let me go to the brig to see my mate?"

"Macavity won't let you come see him," replied Munkustrap quickly.

Victoria thought about that a moment as her usually non-existent temper began to rise. "Are you going to tell him I've been to the brig?" she asked with forced calmness.

"Yes, I think I'll probably have to."

"He'll be furious," exclaimed Victoria.

Munkustrap's tail hit the chair behind him hard enough to knock it to one side and he dropped his eyes to the table. "Yes, he will, but I won't lie to him."

Stress began to show in Victoria's voice, "I don't want you to lie to him. I want to see him." The silver tabby shook his head and Victoria grabbed his hand. "He won't be any angrier to see me than he will to hear that I've been to the brig. You won't be doing anything to protect either of us by keeping me away from him once I've talked to Genevieve."

"Does that mean you'll do it?" asked Munkustrap without looking at her.

"Yes," she replied excitedly, "but I want to see Macavity too.

Now the silver tabby did look into her eyes. "Are you sure you can handle all this?"

"Just because I'm quiet doesn't mean I'm weak, Munkustrap," she responded with a half smile.

"All right then," said Munkustrap, patting her hand before pulling his away. He rose from the table and went to open the door. Motioning Jessel back into the room he told her, "Victoria has agreed to talk to Tutor and then she wants to see Macavity."

"Ohkay," sang Jessel, raising an eyebrow at the turn of events. "If you'll come with me, Victoria," she said motioning towards the corridor.

Victoria followed Jessel to the elevator, whispering, "Thank you," as she passed Munkustrap. Jessel chose their destination but the elevator didn't move until she pressed her hand against a plate above the elevator buttons. The white queen stiffened at the sight of a cage door directly in front of them as the elevator opened but Jessel led her into an office to one side instead.

Ensign Mickelvy smiled up at the white queen from behind the desk and a tall dark-haired woman in a security guard's uniform rose from a chair, putting down a PDA and coming to a respectful stance as she did so. Jessel bent to sign a screen on the desk and said, without looking at anyone, "Victoria is here to see Genevieve Arthur and then Macavity."

Mickelvy's smile disappeared as the sandy-haired security officer turned to face Jessel. "I think I should be the one to take her back then. You can watch my post."

"I'll do it," replied Jessel determinedly.

"I think that's a bad plan," frowned Mickelvy.

Jessel straightened up, her eyes in stare down mode. "Did I ask?"

Mickelvy rose from his seat without looking away from her. "Amiril is going back with you." He took a key from the desk and stepped to a set of lockers beside the door. Opening one, he removed two black sticks about a half a meter long. Locking the cabinet again he turned and handed one of the sticks to the dark-haired woman who stepped closer to take it, then slipped it through her belt. Mickelvy held out the second stick to Jessel.

"I don't need that," growled the fire-haired security officer.

Mimicking her last response, Mickelvy intoned, "Did I ask?"

Victoria felt a cloud of dread gather around her as Jessel tucked the stick into her belt with a glare. Mickelvy nodded at Amiril, who stepped towards Victoria. Jessel raised a hand to signal the dark-haired security guard to wait and then told Victoria to put her hands on the desk. "It's just procedure. She's just going to make sure you aren't taking anything into the brig you shouldn't. Munkustrap and Deuteronomy have put up with this every time they've come down here, " she soothed.

Victoria startled as the female guard ran her hands down the white queen's body, but she stayed still, telling herself firmly that anything Munkustrap could put up with she could too; she'd always had more patience than the silver tabby and living with her storm-tempered mate had only given her more practice in it. The search lasted only a as long as it took to draw a few breaths and when Jessel told her it was done Victoria decided that it was nothing at all to endure for the chance to see her mate. With a not to Mickelvy, Jessel led the way out of the office and to the cage door Victoria had seen from the elevator. Mickelvy opened it with a key and the others stepped through, Victoria's pulse rising at the thought of being confined again.

Jessel opened a door to the left and motioned the other two through. Victoria's attention was briefly caught by the familiar feel of matting under her feet. At the near end of the long room was stacked a pile of tumbling mats. Strange machines lined the far wall to the right; one had a small seat and two wheels, another had a wide strap around it's bottom piece and a third was a bench with bars and blocks of metal. None of these looked very friendly. The pull-up bar next to them she recognized. A second bar was bolted to the wall across from the door, waist height as it should be, though it was metal and wrapped with padding. For some reason that Victoria couldn't place, that bar looked like a recent addition to the room.

"Wait here," instructed Jessel, leaving the white queen alone in the strange room with Amiril. Victoria wondered if Genevieve would recognize her, even as she prepared herself for what she wanted to say to her former teacher. She paced around the matted floor, trying not to let it remind her of the Jellicles' room at the theater. Victoria's heart leapt as the door opened and she caught her first sight of her former teacher in many years. At first, Victoria could only see the top of Genevieve's head. Her shoulders bowed so low that she looked shrunken with shame.

Genevieve raised her gaze from the floor as she entered the room, her eyes widening in surprise. "Timid?" she asked blinking eyes now lined with worry wrinkles in shock. "No, Victoria, now." Jessel slipped into the room behind her prisoner, matching Amiril's steady gaze at nothing as the door slid closed.

Victoria smiled a little at her former teacher. "Yes, for a long time now."

The two women stood, awkwardly facing each other for a moment before words started stumbling out of Genevieve's mouth, "How are you... I mean all of you... especially the kittens... would you know? They don't tell us anything down here, and I've been so worried." She put her hand to her mouth damming the flow of words.

Victoria took a step forward and grasped Genevieve's shoulders. "It's okay," she said, looking into the other woman's eyes, "Everyone in the troupe is all right and the kittens are with us. They even gave our kittens back to us."

"Your kittens?" asked Genevieve, momentarily confused. "Did you have kittens, Victoria?"

"No," laughed Victoria, breaking the tension inside herself. "But some of the other women did and they're back with us now. I've never seen so many kittens, well, not since I was chosen for the dance class anyway."

"Are they getting along ok? I've been having some troubles in the class, or rather, the kittens have been having some troubles when I'm not looking." She sighed, "There always seems to be one bully in the class."

"Dare?" asked Victoria, grinning. "Tall boy, gray and black, probably would have been Munkustrap?" Genevieve nodded and the white queen continued. "Deuteronomy took him in hand. He can't bully now, there are too many toms to watch him. He's becoming quite pleasant, actually."

"Good, good," said Genevieve, as the two women moved to sit down on some piled up mats. "He probably just needed some men around to show him how to be one. And the others?"

Victoria quickly gave her old teacher an update on her pupils and told her all their new names; Dare, Augustus, Blanche, Mirth, Sienna, Jonathan, and Amadeus. She added that Tugger's apprentice had taken the name Victor. The white queen entertained her old teacher with tales of the kittens attempts to fit into the practice sessions for their upcoming performance until she had the older woman smiling and laughing as she remembered her to do long ago.

After a fine laughing fit, Genevieve patted Victoria's hand. "You didn't come here to entertain me, though, I'm fairly sure."

"No," replied Victoria, becoming serious, "I didn't. We need your help, Genevieve."

"I'm not exactly in a position to help anyone at the moment," the human woman sighed, gesturing at the guards at the door.

"You can still testify for us," Victoria gulped.

Genevieve's eyes widened. "For you? I don't understand. You haven't done anything wrong."

"There's going to be a hearing," replied Victoria softly in an effort to keep her voice steady. "To decide if we're people or animals. If they decide that we're animals, they'll kill us."

Genevieve choked on the news and took the white queen's hand firmly in both of hers. "It won't happen, Victoria. You are people. Anyone can see that."

"Teacher never thought we were people."

Blanching white Genevieve said, "Amanda never wanted to think you were people." After taking a moment to think about their predicament, she continued, "Amanda would be a better witness for you than I would, if you can convince her to do it." Victoria tensed at the suggestion, but Genevieve insisted, "She knows where the bodies are buried, literally. I never wanted to know about anything that happened outside my classroom."

Victoria shook her head, stubbornness setting in around her mouth, "I won't talk to her, and I don't think Munkustrap will either. We were told we could testify for you if we were declared people, but we would never testify for her."

"I know she could be cruel," crooned Genevieve, sympathetically, "but she also protected you from a lot. You have no idea how bad it could have been."

"She didn't protect us from Dr. Ferran."

"No, she couldn't protect you from him." Genevieve's eyes seemed to hollow as whispered, "No one could protect anyone from him." She shook herself a bit and the hollowness cleared. "I'll testify for you. You don't have to make any deals with me. My lawyer will hate it but it's the right thing to do and it will be so nice to know I'm doing the right thing for once."

"Thank you, Genevieve," said Victoria, as she gave her old teacher a hug, which was warmly returned. Backing up so she could look into the human woman's eyes, she continued, "I will tell Munkustrap what you said about Teacher, but I don't think he'll talk to her."

"I suppose the only one to blame for that is Amanda," said Genevieve, a hint of sharpness in her voice. But the sharpness disappeared and she smiled once more at the white queen. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine for you, I'm sure of it."

"If you're finished," said Jessel, inserting herself into the conversation for the first time, "Victoria still has one more person to see."

Genevieve looked at Victoria questioningly and the white queen found herself blurting out, "Macavity is here. He did something... bad."

Genevieve patted Victoria's back. "I won't keep you then. I'm sure you are anxious to see him." Rising from the floor Genevieve gave Victoria one last smile. "Thank you for spending so much time with me. I really was worried about the kittens. And I hope Macavity doesn't have to spend too much time in the brig." The human woman turned away then and Jessel took her by the arm to guide her out the door.

"Thank you, Genevieve," called Victoria. In a whisper she added, "I hope you don't have to spend too much time in a cage either.

It seemed to be forever before the door slid open again, though Victoria knew it wasn't more than a few minutes. She spent the interval pacing and trying to calm the butterflies that suddenly took over her stomach. Her ears flipped back and forth uncontrollably, listening for the sound of her mate's step. Fear overcame her momentarily, that Munkustrap might not have told her everything, that Macavity might be injured. Hastily, she schooled that fear down. Genevieve had been fine. 'Genevieve is human,' whispered her fear, 'and Macavity tried to hurt a human. They would protect their own.' Victoria took a deep breath and pushed the fear away again.

Then the door slid open, revealing the red-gold tom standing there, tall and proud. Victoria felt her smile broaden and disappear, only to quickly return, waves of relief washing over her even as doubts about her mate's reaction to her presence assailed her.

Macavity's eyes widened at the sight of Victoria's nervousness. He flipped around to face Jessel in the doorway, nearly toe to toe with her, bending to look her in the eye. His hot breath hit her in the face as he angrily demanded, "Is this how you get even with me, human? Bringing her here?"

Jessel stiffened, staring the furious cat down. Amiril took a firm hold of the stick that hung at her waist.

Suddenly terrified for her mate, Victoria sprang forward wrapping her arms around his waist, pulling him back against herself and a step away from the humans. "Don't," she begged, "please, don't."

Macavity caught his breath and looked down at his mate, his fury cooling. He shot one last icy glare at Jessel and allowed Victoria to lead him into the room. The two humans again took up positions on either side of the door, gazes fixed at nothing as the white queen pulled her mate down onto the piled up mats.

"You shouldn't be here," growled the red-gold tom.

Victoria wrapped her arms around him more firmly, "I missed you too."

A stricken look crossed Macavity's face. Reaching up to stroke behind Victoria's ears he said, in a voice laden with stress, "I have missed you, oh, so much. But this is a bad place, for bad people. You shouldn't have to deal with it."

"Macavity," began Victoria, sympathy coloring her tone.

"I'm not," said the red-gold tom sharply, turning away from his mate and pulling his knees closer to his chest.

"Yes, you are," replied Victoria, letting him go. She began stroking his head and shoulders. "Dodger said he won't take your name. He likes having a name he picked for himself. There isn't any reason for you to give up your name yet. And we still don't know if they'll let you come back to us."

Macavity snorted, "Would the troupe even let me come back? A lot of them must think the name 'Macavity' fits me very well right now."

Victoria looked uncomfortable. "We really haven't discussed it. Just, no one has talked about it." The white queen shrugged her shoulders.

"They could be nicer to you about it," growled Macavity.

"Oh, they have been," Victoria assured him quickly. "Everyone's asked me if I'm all right. It's just that they don't seem to want to mention you. I think they'd take you back, it would just be hard at first."

"It doesn't matter," said Macavity in a leaden tone. "The humans won't let me out anyway. I'll be in a cage for the rest of my life. You should find a new mate."

Victoria's eyes widened in shock. "I don't want a new mate. I want you."

Macavity snorted. "I don't think that's going to be possible." He raised his golden eyes to look into her face. "I know this is hard on you. I'm so sorry to have hurt you in this way. I never meant to leave you." Victoria tried to interrupt him and he pressed two fingers to her lips to stop her. "I know you'll miss me, maybe for a long time, but, in a couple of years, one of the kittens will have grown up and caught your eye, and I don't want you to feel bad about being with him." He took her hands in his, pleading with her, "I want you to have a good life. You deserve to be loved. Please don't punish me more by waiting for me. I couldn't stand it if I thought I'd cost you your happiness too."

The white queen stared into her mate's distressed face, wanting desperately to comfort him but completely unwilling to give him up. A rock seemed to be forming in her stomach and tears welled up in her eyes. "Don't talk like that."

"It's true," insisted Macavity, dropping his gaze to the floor once again as his shoulders slumped forward.

"You don't know that. You don't know what's going to happen because you don't know these humans." Searching for any way to reassure her mate, Victoria's eyes landed on Jessel. She hesitated a moment, wondering if the security officer would have any inclination to help the Jellicle who'd tried to kill her, but there was no one else to ask. Quietly, she called, "Jessel".

The fire-haired security officer instantly woke from her seeming trance, turning her head to look at Victoria, though the dark-haired guard beside her remained a statue. At the same time, Macavity raised his eyes, glaring at the security officer. Victoria rubbed her mate's shoulders, trying to calm him. "Is it true what he's saying? Is he going to be locked up forever?"

"Probably not," replied Jessel, her face and voice totally devoid of emotion. "Assuming that you are declared to be people, Macavity will have a trial to determine if he's guilty and his punishment will be up to the judge."

"But you know I'm guilty!" exclaimed Macavity in surprise.

Jessel shook her head, "You still have the right to argue that you didn't do anything wrong, although, I don't think that will help you much in this case. If you admit that you did wrong the prosecutor might agree to let you plead guilty to a lesser charge that carries less of a punishment."

Macavity cocked his head, suspicious of her words, "How much less?"

"That's something you'll have to discuss with a lawyer," replied Jessel. "And there are other things that will help lessen the punishment; you've never been in trouble with the law before and you were under a great deal of stress at the time." Her tone dropped several degrees, "What I say will make a difference too."

"And you'll say I should be locked up forever."

"Why would I do that?" asked Jessel, noncommittal once again.

"Why wouldn't you?"

Exasperation leaked through Jessel's cool facade, "Because you haven't had a chance to learn how to make good decisions for yourself, and I think that you were only acting out of fear. Or do you have some reason to hate me, Macavity?"

"Why shouldn't I hate you?" demanded Macavity. "Why shouldn't I hate all humans?"

"Because not all humans have hurt you, and those that have are locked up."

Macavity surged to his feet, his claws extending. He froze without taking a step forward and then spun to face the wall behind him. Victoria sat tensely watching her mate extend and retract his claws, his jaw working in anger. "I can't fight you," growled the red-gold tom finally, "I tried that and it didn't work!"

"There are other ways to fight," Jessel told him firmly, "learn them."

"Humans to judge us, humans still get to decide if we live or die."

"Yes, a judge, someone who's been chosen for their ability to interpret the law fairly for all people."

"But we are not people."

"Yes, you are. If you weren't we wouldn't be fighting to save you."

"Not me," insisted Macavity flattening his ears.

"That's your own fault."

Macavity's head jerked up with a snap, his arms pinning themselves against his sides as though he were holding himself in place, refusing to turn around and face his tormentor. Hoarsely, he intoned, "Victoria, get out of here. Go! Don't come back."

Slowly the white queen rose to her feet. "No," she whispered laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. The red-gold tom snapped his head to the side to look at her without moving a single other muscle in his body. "I'm not leaving to let you get into another fight you can't win. As long as I stay you'll control your temper."

Macavity stared at his mate, hot tears of frustration welling up in his eyes, but his words were addressed over his shoulder, "Then you'd better explain these other ways to fight."

Exasperation leaked into Jessel's tone, "Arguing your rights in front of a judge, courting public opinion, getting those who are well known and liked to support your point of view publicly; all the things we've been trying to do to help you."

"I don't know how to do those things."

"I do."

Macavity slowly turned to face Jessel. Incredulously he asked, "Do you mean to say that you would help me? Even though I tried to kill you?"

The diminutive security officer's face turned impassive again. "My duty right now is to see that every member of the troupe has what they need. That includes you."

"But you can say what you want to the judge at my trial."

"That's right."

"What do you intend to say?"

"I haven't decided yet. It kind of depends on what you say."

Macavity snorted, "You want me to beg."

"Never," insisted Jessel, vehemently.

Guardedly Macavity asked, "What do you want then?"

Jessel cocked her head to one side. "I want to know that letting you out wouldn't be a mistake."

Macavity lowered his eyes in thought, then he looked up at his mate and, after a moment, wrapped his arms around her waist. "All I want is to have my mate back and to return to the troupe, if they'll have me. I won't try to hurt you again."

"Or anyone else?" Jessel asked sternly.

Macavity swallowed hard and leaned his head against Victoria's shoulder breathing in her scent as she rubbed his back reassuringly. "Or anyone else," he agreed.

Jessel nodded, accepting his statement. "I'll ask the judge for leniency then. I don't think you'll get off without any punishment, I don't think you should, it sets a bad precedent. But I don't think you'll spend your life in prison." She shrugged, "Maybe a couple of years, we'll see what the judge says."

Macavity closed his eyes for a moment and then turned to his mate. In a strained but quiet voice he begged, "I want you to promise me that if it is a long time that you won't wait for me, you'll find someone else."

Victoria felt her heart cry out in denial, more than anything she wanted to tell her love that she would wait for him for as long as forever. "I won't wait, I promise," she said over the objections of her stomach, "if it's a long time. But until we know, I get to come and see you. Deal?"

Macavity cocked his head at her. "No, you shouldn't have to...,"

"Be deprived of my mate," insisted Victoria, interrupting him.

Macavity lowered his eyes again, And whispered, "I'm sorry."

Victoria pulled him back down so that they were sitting on the floor and cradled his head on her shoulder. They sat silently holding onto each other for a long time.

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

Mistoffelees stood at the foot of his bunk and sighed. Jessel had disappeared again after lunch for a meeting and the young tom found himself surprised at how much he disliked the idea of taking his nap without her warmth to curl up against. They had only been mates for a couple of weeks but already he missed her anytime she wasn't with him.

"Hey," said a soft voice behind him. Mistoffelees started; he would have heard Jessel's boots. The black and white tom spun around and found himself eye to eye with Pouncival. "Sorry." The stripped tom quirked his mouth in amusement. "I thought you would want this as soon as I got it done." Pouncival ran a critical eye over the framed drawing in his hands. "I think it's about as good as I can get it," he said, handing his artwork to his friend.

A slow smile crept over Mistoffelees' face as he took it. Jessel had found the frame to make the gift extra special and to protect Pouncival's hard work. Mistoffelees and Pouncival had worked and worked to get the present just right. Now, holding the finished product in his hand, Mistoffelees just beamed. "Pouncival, it's perfect! I thought I was asking you to do the impossible, but you did it. They look just like I remember."

Pouncival sighed. "Well, we worked hard enough at it. I hope she likes it."

Mistoffelees flicked his eyes in his mother's direction. "Do you think she will? Everything I do or say around her seems to be wrong. The best I've been able to do is keep my distance and pretend not to notice her watching me. I really want this to go right…," his voice trailed off hesitantly.

"I don't know," said Pouncival, shaking his head. He grabbed his friend's shoulder and spoke quietly into his ear. "Grizzabella's always been a little strange, but she's gotten stranger since we came aboard this ship."

"I just want this to go right."

"Just give it to her," insisted Pouncival, meeting his friend’s eyes with conviction. "You worked really hard on that. I worked really hard on that. That alone should show her how much you care about her."

Mistoffelees took a deep breath and shot another covert look in his mother's direction. "I hope so," he said, clasping the drawing against his chest, picture side towards himself.

"Go," said Pouncival, giving his friend a shove.

The black and white tom quickly glanced back at Pouncival and then concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, despite the acrobatic protests of his stomach. Five steps brought him to Grizzabella's side where she and Gus sat on the bunk that they shared. Five steps -- he counted. Gus looked up at his son and smiled; Grizzabella gave him the empty sad look he'd become used to seeing from her. That look was perfect for her part on the stage, but Mistoffelees wished so much that it would vanish outside of rehearsal. He returned Gus' smile and then stared down at his mother.

Moistening his mouth, the young tom said, "I got you a present. That is, Pouncival drew it. I asked him to. I think it's really pretty good. Here," he said pushing it into her arms, face up.

Grizzabella's eyes dropped to the drawing in her lap. Two kittenish faces stared up at her, just the age when they might have been chosen for the dance class. Two little girl kittens, both with black fur, one with stripes, face and a bib down to her waist, all of dove-gray, the other with white stripes, face and gloves. For a moment she only stared, then a tear hit the plastic covering the drawing, followed by another, and another.

Horrified, Mistoffelees dropped to his knees beside the silently weeping queen. "Please don't cry," he begged, reaching up to stroke her face.

The stripped queen pulled away from his touch and looked towards her mate. Gus scooted close and pulled her face onto his shoulder. She wrapped her arms around her mate, letting the picture slip from her lap.

Mistoffelees caught it as it fell, and turned to his father, eyes wide. "I'm sorry. I didn't… I didn't mean... I meant to show her they were all right the last time I saw them."

"I know. I know," crooned Gus, giving his son a reassuring smile and then gesturing for Mistoffelees to leave.

The young tom rose slowly to his feet, shock on his face and his ears and tail drooping. He dropped the picture on his own bunk before nearly running out the door. Wide-eyed himself, Pouncival followed his friend out the door, determined to try to fix a situation he suddenly felt guilty about.

Grizzabella's sobs permeated the room, her mate’s soothing tones wrapped around them as the other Jellicles stared sympathetically.

A shriek pierced suddenly through the soft sounds of mourning. All eyes turned to Jellylorum, who had risen from her bunk and was screaming at the top of her voice. "STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!" Dodger tried to put his arms around his mate but she eluded him, sliding over two bunks in a straight line for Grizzabella. "STOP THAT RIGHT NOW," she screamed, practically in Grizzabella's ear.

The dark queen looked up, tears still streaming down her face.

"STOP IT!" screamed Jellylorum again, into Grizzabella's face. Dodger came up and tried to put his arms around his hysterical mate, but she shoved him away, hard enough to make him stumble backwards, and faced the sobbing cat. "How can you treat him like that?" she demanded. "He is one of your kittens, and you push him away? Do you know what I would give to have one of my kittens... just... one... of my.... kittens...," the blond queen broke into gasps and tears rolled down her furry cheeks as her whole body began to tremble.

Grizzabella surged up from her bunk and wrapped her arms around the other queen. The two held each other tightly, sobbing for themselves and each other.

"Hey, can anyone get in on this?" asked a teary voice.

"No," replied Grizzabella reaching out to bring Pearl into their embrace.

Gus slipped off the bunk and joined Dodger, who was staring at his mate in consternation. Tumblebrutus joined the two older toms, the lashing of his tail giving voice to his agitation. Gus reached out a hand to each of the others and whispered, "Let them cry."

Dodger nodded reluctantly, but Tumblebrutus looked rebellious.

"Let them cry for their lost children," crooned Gus. "They need it."

Tumblebrutus glanced protectively at his mate and then sat down where he was to wait out her tears. Gus and Dodger joined him on the floor

 

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

 

Pouncival rested a hand on Mistoffelees' back, trying to comfort his friend. The crying from the next room wasn't helping. Pouncival wished they'd picked someplace else to settle but he had thought that getting Mistoffelees something to drink in the mess hall might help him feel better. Now the black and white tom had his head buried in his arms, his ears drooping enough that Pouncival hoped the crying sounds were somewhat muffled.

"Look, you did the best you could," purred the stripped tom soothingly. "You worked really hard to give her a nice present and she's being weird about it."

Mistoffelees raised his head sharply, fixing his friend with a glittering stare. "What do you know about it?" he demanded.

"I know how hard you tried," crooned Pouncival, rubbing the base of the younger tom's neck, digging his fingers into the tense muscles and lightly combing through the fur in sympathy.

Mistoffelees hid his face in his arms again. "I didn't mean to yell at you, I'm sorry," he said, his voice muffled. Despondent, he blurted, "I just don't know how to talk to her or what to tell her. She looks at me like I'm a ghost." He shrugged his shoulders and stopped talking, ears flattening miserably.

Pouncival continued to rub the black and white tom's shoulders and back, but stopped trying to make conversation. They sat in silence for a while, listening to the sobbing through the walls; Mistoffelees cringing every time the crying crescendoed a bit. Finally the sobs fell away, but neither tom felt much like rejoining the others.

The door to the mess hall slid open and Pouncival looked up, hoping that Jessel had returned and would know what to say to cheer her mate. He was surprised to see that Grizzabella stood in the doorway instead, her eyes red from crying. Pouncival glanced at Mistoffelees and pulled away from him, but the black and white tom still had his head buried in his arms and seemed not to notice the third presence in the room.

Grizzabella padded silently across the room to the pair. She gave Pouncival one despairing glance of acknowledgement and then laid her hand on her son's shoulder. Mistoffelees didn't look up. The distraught queen ran her hand through the thicker black fur on his head and lisped through a tear-roughened voice, "I'm sorry."

Mistoffelees raised his head slowly to look at his mother, pain still evident in his eyes, the set of his ears.

Grizzabella wrapped her arms around his shoulders and repeated, "I'm so sorry."

Mistoffelees returned the hug, gently, as though afraid she might break.

Pouncival decided that was a good time to slip away and left mother and son to their privacy.

 Chapter 19: Finale

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