Illegally Born

Chapter 13: Worries and Fears

Munkustrap lay in his own bunk, cuddled against Demeterís back with one arm draped across her waist. She slept peacefully in his arms despite the lights and the quiet conversations going on around them. He nuzzled her hair affectionately, inhaling deeply to take in her warm, soothing scent. He had always enjoyed afternoon naps with her close to him, the quiet time between work and more work.

Just as he was nodding off himself, he felt a gentle tug on his toe. Black fur framed the white kitten face that watched for his reaction. Munkustrap considered motioning Amadeus away but changed his mind, deciding that if the kitten had something to say that was important enough to disturb him, he shouldnít ignore it. He slipped off the end of the bunk, careful not to disturb his mate, and placed a hand on the kittenís shoulder, leading him to the far side of the room.

The kittenís shoulders felt hunched under Munkustrapís hand, his head bowed lower than the striped tabbyís ribs, where it normally came up to. His quiet also disturbed the older cat. Jessel had suggested the name "Amadeus" for the kittenís habit of making up tunes and humming them, wherever he went. She said that made him a composer (whatever that was) and "Amadeus" was the name of a famous composer. Munkustrap wasnít sure he liked the idea of naming kittens after famous humans, but the black and white kitten had accepted it, rubbing his head up against her arm in thanks. The silver tabby suspected that the kitten would have accepted any name she had suggested in his fondness for Mistoffelees and, by association, his mate. Now, though, the kitten was silent, ears down and tail drooping.

Munkustrap sat down on the floor in front of the lockers and patted the floor next to him. "Shouldnít you be asleep?" he asked with a gentle smile as Amadeus joined him. It was the wrong thing to say. The kittenís dark eyes looked away from his elder as he brought his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them tightly. Munkustrap stroked his head and shoulders to calm him. "It must be pretty important."

The black and white kitten met his eyes then, but didnít untangle his limbs. "Are there going to be any more performances?" he asked softly, a catch in his voice.

"I donít know," answered Munkustrap truthfully. Amadeus began rocking back and forth, and Munkustrap pulled him closer knowing that the kitten needed comforting. "You want a chance to be on the stage donít you?"

"He got to be," answered Amadeus defiantly, jerking his chin in the direction of the top bunk where the tall gray and black kitten lay, his tail lashing back and forth.

"I knew he wanted to," answered Munkustrap gently, trying to think of some way to soothe the tightly balled kitten in his arms. "Perhaps we should have another performance. One where everyone who wants to can be on stage."

"You mean that?" asked the kitten, brightening.

Munkustrap nodded, "We can have a performance for ourselves, if nothing else." Amadeus frowned. "But I will ask the Captain if we can put on another performance for the crew. They enjoy our dancing and it is a wonderful feeling to be up in front of a truly appreciative audience." The silver tabby smiled slightly as he rubbed the kittenís neck and back, feeling the tension ease out of him.

"Me too, me too," meowled a high kitten voice. A tiny, black and brown mottled kitten with a white blaze down his chest stopped in front of them. Finding his eyes on a level with Munkustrapís, the little one pushed his light brown face forward until their noses almost touched. "I want inna play, too."

"Youíre too young, Dart," snarled Amadeus, pushing at the younger kitten leaning over him.

"Am not," protested the dark, multicolored kitten as Munkustrap caught his arm to steady him.

"I said anyone who wanted to, Amadeus," scolded Munkustrap, but amusement rang in his voice instead of heat. "I think you boys had better get back to your naps so you can be well rested when we are ready to work out your parts." Munkustrap carried Dart across the floor and then boosted him into the bunk above his parents, Quaxo and Jemima. Quaxo raised his head as Munkustrap bent to boost Amadeus up beside his foster brother, blinking sleepy green eyes at his leader questioningly. "Go back to sleep, Quaxo," the silver tabby said with a wry grin. "Your kittens have a project for you when you wake up enough to put one foot in front of the other."

"I can always dance," came the sleepy reply, as Quaxo nuzzled his face into his mateís neck.

Munkustrap boosted Amadeus up, smiled at the two boys, and was turning away when a gray tail smashed into his face. Shaking his head in surprise, he looked up to see the gray and black stripped kitten, who would have been his own replacement, peering over the edge of the bunk above Amadeus. He gave the kitten a hard look but relented as the boy actually looked chagrined. Sighing for his lost sleep, Munkustrap climbed up to the kittenís top bunk and sat down. "What has you so disturbed that you canít keep your tail from twitching?" he asked with as much sympathy as he could muster.

"Nothing," grumped the kitten, then, seeing that that wouldnít satisfy the Jellicle leader, he continued, "just contemplating my name."

The silver tom nodded. "Have you chosen one yet?"

The tall kitten just shook his head.

"I thought that Jessel had suggested several names for you."

The kitten hissed. "She has." His tail slashed jerkily back and forth as Munkustrap waited for him to continue. Finally he said, "I donít want a name that SHE picks for me."

"Because she is human?" Munkustrap asked, softly.

"Maybe," the kitten replied in an unconvincing voice.

The older tom tried again, "Because she is Mistoffeleesí mate?"

The younger cat suddenly became very interested in picking pieces of gray fur off of his blanket. Munkustrap stayed quiet, waiting for an answer, knowing it already from the kittenís silence.

"Why does he have to be so perfect, anyway?" grumbled the young cat under his breath. Yellow-green eyes met Munkustrapís silver. "He never misses a step, always gets his lines right the first time, and everyone likes him. Even Teacher liked him, and she didnít like anybody."

Munkustrap thought this over for a moment before answering, "Not everyone liked him when he first joined the troupe."

"Really?"

"Really. But he is kind of hard to stay mad at."

The kitten went back to picking fur off his blanket.

"That is, unless you work at it," added Munkustrap softly. "Iíve been watching you. You work very hard at your dancing and singing. I donít think Iíve ever seen anyone so determined to get it right."

The kitten looked up from under his lashes. "I have to. Itís not so easy," he shrugged, "for me."

Munkustrap stroked the kittenís cheek with the backs of his fingers, then placed his hand under the kittenís chin so that the young tom couldnít look away again. "Itís not so easy to stay angry all the time, either. It hurts inside. And it makes you hard to stay near. It pushes away everyone who could be your friend."

"I donít have any friends," he replied, dropping his eyes despite the gently restraining hand under his chin.

"I could be your friend," replied Munkustrap, running his hand from under the young manís chin to behind his ear and stroking his head in a comforting fashion. "I know there are others who will be your friends as well, if you will let them."

The kitten stayed silent for a long moment, emotions warring behind the yellow-green eyes. When he finally spoke it was like he was holding out a hand, expecting it to be slapped away. "Will you -- will you help me find a name, then?"

Munkustrap smiled. "I donít know very many names, but I will try." Only one name popped into his mind. "When I was in the dance class we gave each other names. You did not?"

The tall kitten shook his head, "Teacher found out about that and made them stop before I joined the class."

Munkustrap nodded. "You could use the name I used, then -- ĎBraveí."

The kittenís eyes grew wide. "Youíre Brave?" he asked, both awed and disbelieving.

"Yes," replied Munkustrap, confused by the younger catís sudden change of attitude.

"Did you really catch a fly and put it in Teacherís water bottle?"

A bark of laughter escaped Munkustrapís lips before he bit it off, not wanting to wake the sleepers from their naps. "Yes, but I wished I hadnít. She punished the whole class for that trick."

The young cat snickered and then considered for a moment before saying, "I canít take your name though. It would be like stealing. Nobody likes a thief."

A pleased smile crept over Munkustrapís face; at least this young one could see that his actions had consequences. "Something like it then? Or do you not like the name at all?"

"Oh, I like it," the kitten assured him quickly. "I just want my own name, thatís all."

Mukustrap patted his shoulder to reassure him that that was just fine, then stiffened as the door opened and Drs. Branch and Maddigan walked into the room. "You keep thinking about it," he said as his fur fluffed with tension. "Weíll talk more about your name, later. I have to go find out what those two want." His dark ears flipped back and his eyes dialated into a hunting stare, the slit pupils widening until the silver iris was almost invisible. The kitten looked at him in confusion, then turned to see what Munkustrap was looking at. Seeing the doctors, he flattened his ears and ducked his head.

Munkustrap jumped down from the bunk and padded silently up behind the two doctors, tail tip twitching in agitation.

They had crossed to where Mistoffelees lay on a bunk with his head pillowed in Jesselís lap, her hand resting on his shoulder, caressing his neck fur. Mistoffelees had been painstakingly trying to sound out words from a childrenís book and he looked up with relief. Jessel acknowledged the doctorsí presence with a cheerful greeting. "Hello, Father, Dr. Branch."

"Actually, we need to speak to Mistoffelees," said Dr. Branch.

"I hear you," he said mildly, not moving. Munkustrap noticed the tip of the black tail begin to flex.

"Weíd like you to volunteer for some additional tests, Mistoffelees".

"Why?" he asked suspiciously, sitting up partway to prop himself on an elbow and turning towards them. Jessel ran her hand down his back to soothe him as his tail gave a convulsive thump against the bed.

The doctors both looked uncomfortable as Maddigan replied, "One of the arguments against letting genetically altered creatures live is that they donít always produce viable offspring. If we can show that the Jellicles can and have produced healthy children then we will have knocked down one of the oppositionís arguments. You werenít born in the laboratory, Mistoffelees. You were born to one of the other dancers."

Mistoffelees nodded. "I know."

"What are these tests you want Mistoffelees to take?" Jessel asked her father.

He shrugged. "A complete physical work up. The same thing you had to take to get into space service."

Jessel grimaced, "Yuk."

Munkustrap could see Mistoffelees tense in response to her reaction and a low growl escaped the silver tabbyís throat, alerting the two doctors to his presence. Maddigan turned to find himself staring up into Munkustrapís slitted eyes. He was close enough to see the brief flash of sharp teeth as Munkustrap growled, "I thought I told you that I say who takes what tests."

"I apologize, Munkustrap," replied Dr. Branch quickly. "We should have asked you first, but we couldnít have told you why without Mistoffelees being present. Medical ethics."

Munkustrap turned his narrowed eyes on her, "I didnít know doctors had ethics."

Dr. Branch dropped her voice and answered very slowly, "I know youíve had bad experiences with doctors, Munkustrap, but any reputable doctor obeys a strict code of ethics. If we donít, we lose the right to be a doctor."

"Ease up, Munkustrap," said Jessel. "They are trying to help."

Munkustrap took a deep breath to release some tension, "And these tests will help."

"All of the tests will help some," replied Dr. Maddigan. He sighed. "I just wish there were a test to help with the biggest argument against you."

"Which is?"

The two doctors glanced at each other before Dr. Maddigan replied, "Whether or not you have a soul. Theyíll dance around it with intelligence tests, and other medical evidence but thatís what it will boil down to."

"What is a Ďsoulí?"

"Iíd be careful who I asked that question around, if I were you," replied Dr. Maddigan. "A soul isnít a scientific concept. It isnít something you can prove; itís something people believe in. A soul is that part of a person that people believe is eternal, it doesnít die like the body does. Itís what makes a person who they are, act the way they do, believe or not believe."

"And you do not believe I have one."

"I know you have one, Munkustrap," replied Maddigan, smiling. Munkustrapís ears flipped forward in interest, despite his irritation with the doctors. "I canít prove you have one. Thereís a big difference. There isnít any way to prove that anyone has a soul. You have to make people believe you have one."

"How?"

Maddigan shook his head sympathetically, "I really wish I could help you with that one, Munkustrap. I really wish I could. Iím doing everything I know how to do to help you. Please, let me do what I can."

Munkustrap felt his jaw tighten at the thought of Mistoffelees being poked at by the doctors, and his ears pinned themselves against his head. They might be more polite than Dr. Ferranís staff, but he still didnít like trusting these doctors any more than he absolutely had to. "Iíll take the test first, then Iíll say if Mistoffelees can."

The two doctors glanced at each other. Maddigan replied, "The test we want Mistoffelees to take takes a half a day and his stomach has to be empty. He canít eat anything for hours before the test. Weíd like to do it first thing tomorrow morning. If we test you first that would have to happen tomorrow and then weíd test him the day after.... The day after that the Firestorm arrives. That doesnít leave us enough time to get the test results to the people that matter." Maddigan took a half a step closer to Munkustrap, looking straight into his eyes. The silver tabby stiffened defensively and forced himself to meet the doctorís stare. "I know that you donít want to trust me but thatís exactly what Iím asking you to do."

Munkustrap turned his gaze away; anywhere but at the green eyes staring into his. Finally his eyes landed on Mistoffelees. "Do you want to do this?" he asked, voice rough; every instinct he had screamed at him to tell the doctors ĎNo.í

"Yes, Iíll do it," replied Mistoffelees hoarsely, every muscle in his body tensed. Even his tail had stopped twitching and was stiff against the bed.

Whipping his gaze back to Maddigan, Munkustrap growled, "Donít you hurt him."

Maddigan turned to Mistoffelees, "Thank you. Eat a normal dinner tonight but donít eat anything after that. Iíll come and get you tomorrow morning." With a last look at Munkustrap, the two doctors retreated out the door.

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

Rumpelteazer carried the hot teapot gingerly through the mess hall to where Mungojerrie was sitting. Tumblebrutusí tail struck her leg as she wove past him, and she giggled. Mungojerrie had woken in a sour mood, which had put a damper on her morning; but for some reason everything seemed funny now. She poured more of the fresh tea into Mungojerrieís cup before sitting down to finish her breakfast.

"Thank you," snickered her normally taciturn mate, mischief dancing in his golden eyes.

She smiled back at him and drank more of her tea, the hot liquid warming her as it coursed down her throat. It was a rather plain tea, compared to some she had tried in the previous days, but she liked it and had had several cups this morning. Mungojerrie caught her eye and showed her the face heíd drawn in his syrup. Both of them began to chortle and laugh.

Jessel sat down across from the giggling couple, smiling herself. "Good morning. You two look like youíre in an awfully fine mood this morning."

The two just giggled at her.

"Rumpelteazer, I got a call from Chief Engineer Fallon this morning. The tests you took the other day say that youíve got quite a technical talent. Fallon would like to know if you would be interested in a tour of the engine room?" asked Jessel. Rumpelteazer just giggled at her again, so Jessel tried to make herself more clear, "The engines push the ship from place to place. He thought seeing them might interest you."

"Oooo," said Rumpleteazer, trying to make sense through her fogged mind, "that would be great." And she giggled again.

Jessel frowned and took a long look into Rumpelteazerís wide green eyes, then stared into Mungojerrieís gold ones. "What have you two had to eat this morning?" she asked, becoming concerned.

"Jusí whaís on our trays," answered Mungojerrie in the broad accent he normally only used on stage, then he collapsed into a fit of giggles on Rumpelteazerís shoulder, setting the calico queen off again.

Jessel stood up and looked around the room. "Munkustrap," she called, motioning him to come over. Then she started examining the contents of their trays. She picked up a wrapper from Rumpelteazerís tray. It was from the herbal tea the two cats had been drinking.

"Whatís wrong?" asked the serious silver tabby, as he arrived at the table.

"I think theyíre drunk," responded Jessel, holding up the teabag wrapper.

"What is Ďdrunkí?" asked Munkustrap.

Mungojerrie got up from his seat, tried to take a step around Rumpelteazer and fell instead, ending up a heap of giggles on the floor. Munkustrap tilted his head, staring in consternation at the odd behavior of the stripped cat.

"That is," responded Jessel pointing to the fallen but tittering tom. She looked over the wrapper again. "Hmm, by any chance would you know if you Jellicles are susceptible to catnip?"

"What is Ďcatnipí?" answered Munkustrap, looking annoyed.

"So much for the easy way," she sighed, and opened a channel on her communicator. "Ensign Jessel to Dr. Branch."

Munkustrap grabbed her arm, but Jessel just shook her head at him as the doctor responded, "Branch here."

"Doctor, would you happen to know if the Jellicles are susceptible to catnip?"

Rumpelteazer managed to laugh herself out of her chair and landed on the floor next to her hysterical mate, both cats rolling with giggles.

"If you mean would it react on their systems the same way it does to a house cat, I donít know, but it could."

"It does," replied Jessel, watching the giggling duo. They were attracting stares from the other Jellicles now. "Think it will hurt them any?"

"Catnip isnít poisonous to either humans or felines so, no, I donít think it will hurt them. Probably it will just make them very relaxed. Where did the Jellicles get catnip?"

"One of the herbal teas. Two of the Jellicles look very drunk."

"Pour them back into bed and Iíll come and check on them in a little while. Donít worry about it though; chances are catnip is a lot safer for them than alcohol is for humans. Branch out."

Jessel asked Munkustrap, "They sleep in an upper bunk donít they?"

"Yes." The silver tabby flattened his ears in bewilderment as the two giggling Jellicles tried and failed to rise to their feet, collapsing into hysterical giggles again.

"Weíd better tuck them into someone elseís bunk then," said Jessel, looking rather disgusted. "They might fall out. Not that theyíd hurt themselves, as relaxed as they areÖ No, maybe we should put them in one of the empty rooms instead. Iím not certain how much of their behavior theyíll remember and it might be embarrassing for them, if others mention it to them later".

Munkustrap looked uncomfortable, "Iíd be embarrassed if others saw me like that," he said as he took hold of Mungojerrie and helped him out the door.

Rumpelteazer felt Jessel lift her from the floor and whined, "What about my tour?"

"Iíll arrange it for this afternoon," responded Jessel, "you should be sober by then".

Rumpelteazer giggled.

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

Munkustrap paced the corridor.

He had been pacing in the sleeping room but Demeter had insisted he leave because he was upsetting the kittens. It didnít make him feel any better that he had upset his mate as well. Guilt ate at him for allowing Mistoffelees to go to the doctorís labs. If heíd just said ĎNoí, no one would have forced Mistoffelees to go. At least thatís what they wanted him to believe. He wanted to believe it, oh how he wanted to believe it!, but he couldnít quite convince himself that these doctors were different.

He paced the length of the corridor again, pausing to gaze at the elevator doors before beginning another round. Mistoffelees was supposed to be returned any time now. The silver tabbyís tail lashed with worry over what the doctors were doing to the small tom, striking Jesselís leg with an audible thump as he went by. She yelped in surprise but went on talking to Mickelvy, who leaned against the wall beside her.

Munkustrap momentarily tuned into what they were saying as he passed them, but it was the same idle gossip that theyíd kept going since Mickelvy had arrived. Mickelvyís presence didnít bother Munkustrap -- heíd gotten used to the sandy-haired guardís visits with Jessel; what bothered him was the stunner Mickelvy carried on his hip. The guards didnít usually carry their weapons when they visited the Jelliclesí quarters; Jessel never carried one at all. Munkustrap tried not to let it frighten him. At least he knew what it was and that it wasnít intended to kill. He reached the end of the hall and had just turned back when the elevator door opened.

Mistoffelees stepped off the elevator very slowly, one hand pressed against his stomach. His tail drooped and his ears lay limply flat on his head. Maddigan released the grip heíd had on the black and white tomís arm as Jessel slipped an arm around her trembling mate.

The silver tom closed the distance between them in a few long strides. Placing his hands gently on Mistoffeleesí face and shoulder, Munkustrap asked, "Are you all right?" The smaller tom nodded but Munkustrap could see that he wasnít. His eyes had dilated until there was almost no blue left, and his jaw was tight, mouth puckered as though holding back the contents of his stomach.

"What did you do?!" demanded Munkustrap turning to Maddigan, ears flat and eyes dialated in a hunterís stare. Lt. Sentry stepped into his line of vision behind the doctor -- he couldnít see Mickelvy. Mistoffelees cringed at the raised voice, and his ears tightened miserably against his head as he closed his eyes, swallowing hard.

"The tests I told you about," replied the doctor calmly, as Jessel bent her head to whisper soothingly to Mistoffelees. "We warned him heíd feel pretty sick by the time we were done. He agreed to go ahead anyway. He did everything we needed him to do and didnít complain once." There was admiration in his tone, but the silver tom chose not to hear it. His tail slashed the air violently, expressing his rage, as his toe-claws extended to dig into the carpeting of the corridor.

He suddenly understood why Sentry was there, why Mickelvy carried his stunner. Theyíd known Mistoffelees would come back in this state. They expected him to lose his temper over the smaller tomís condition; perhaps even attack the doctor in his fury. Hurriedly, the tabby clamped down on his anger and looked around for a target to let off some of his frustration at. His vision blurred as he locked onto Jesselís face. "You knew this would happen, you let it," he snarled, frustrated. "Why?"

"Because Iím more worried about saving lives, than about Mistoffelees being a little sick to his stomach," she replied bluntly, looking up at him. "I warned him, they warned him, he agreed to it anyway. He doesnít look any worse than I did after I took that test."

Munkustrapís vision cleared as her words soaked through his anger. "Youíve taken that test?" he hissed, surprised.

"Every member of this crew has taken that test, including the doctors. Itís required for space service. Iíve taken it twice," she responded, making a face. Mistoffelees groaned and Jessel turned back to him with a concerned look. "Letís get you to bed," she said sympathetically, pulling his arm across her shoulders, the better to support him. "Itís easier if you sleep it off."

Munkustrap watched the two of them disappear through the sleeping room door, the black and white tom leaning unhappily on his human mate and Jessel guiding him gently across the floor. His fury easing, but not completely satisfied he turned back to the doctor. "You said you wouldnít hurt him," he accused, the fear behind the fury creeping into his tone.

"Heís not hurt, Munkustrap. His stomach is upset. Heíll be just fine in a couple of hours." Maddigan hid his sympathy, knowing it would only be misunderstood.

"Whatís wrong with his eyes?"

"His eyes?" asked the doctor, momentarily confused. Then his face cleared, "Oh! We put drops in them so that we could see inside of them. Theyíll return to normal in a couple of hours, too. If you like, I can come back and check on him later this afternoon."

"I think youíve done quite enough," growled Munkustrap, turning away and stepping into the sleeping room. He paused as he passed the bunk where Mistoffelees lay. The small tom had pulled a pillow over his head and Jessel was massaging his back gently. Several Jellicles were watching them with concern and Grizzabella stood next to them, looking down at her son, fear etched on her face. Jesselís voice droned in a soothing croon, telling the Jellicle woman that Mistoffelees would be fine. Munkustrap hoped that was true.

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

"I said Iím done, Quaxo!" snarled Mungojerrie, trying to ignore the shocked expression on the other tomís face. He knew it wasnít fair to take out his frustrations on his friend. Munkustrap had sent him to the practice room with Quaxo over an hour before, to stop his pacing and keep him occupied while he waited for Rumpelteazer to return from her tour. Pearl, as the former Rumpelteazer, had stepped in to practice with him in his mateís place, and now both she and Quaxo were staring at him with concern in their eyes.

"She will come back, Mungojerrie," soothed Quaxo, "she only went on a tour. Sheíll be back soon."

"She was supposed to be back in time for dinner. The dinner bell just sounded and sheís not here! If she were, she would have come and found me. She knew I didnít want her to go!" He spun on his heel and headed out the door before his friends could say anything more. He wanted more than anything to go searching for his mate, but he knew heíd never find her on the ship. There was only one person who would know where she was.

Stalking determinedly into the mess hall, it wasnít difficult to spot the red-headed human in a sea of furry faces. As he made his way over to her table he kept his eyes on Mistoffelees, sitting next to her. Like all of the other Jellicles he knew what Mistoffelees had been through earlier in the day and he was relieved to see the smaller tom looking alert and eating well.

Jessel lay a hand on her mateís arm and said in an amused tone, "Donít eat so fast, youíll upset your stomach again".

"Iím hungry," complained the black and white tom through a mouthful of food.

Jessel laughed and then looked up to see Mungojerrie glaring down at her. "Is there something I can help you with, Mungojerrie?" she asked politely.

"Where is Rumpelteazer?" he demanded. "She isnít back yet."

"Then sheís still with Commander Fallon," replied Jessel in a reasonable tone.

"Sheíll miss her dinner," complained Mungojerrie, not daring to reveal his true worries. While he didnít object to Mistoffelees choosing Jessel for his mate, he did think it set a bad precedent. Some of the humans had started flirting with the Jellicles and it worried Mungojerrie. None of the Jellicles would come between him and Rumpelteazer, he knew, but he didnít trust the humans not to take advantage of their strained relationship. Commander Fallon had turned out to be quite handsome, for a human, and he knew things that interested Rumpelteazer. Mungojerrie didnít want the starship officer to spend any more time than necessary with his mate.

Jessel opened a channel on her communicator with a smile, "Ensign Jessel to Commander Fallon."

"Fallon here," came the response.

"Mungojerrie was wondering if Rumpelteazer is about finished with her tour, Commander."

"Oh, we finished the tour but Rumpelteazer wanted to pick my brain some more, so weíre having dinner in the officerís mess," came Fallonís easy voice. "Unless thatís a problem, Ensign?"

"No problem, sir. Just checking; her mate was concerned when she didnít come back as expected. Jessel, out."

Mungojerrie felt his temper rise as she closed the channel. "She should be here with us," he snapped.

Jesselís voice came out in measured tones, "Rumpelteazer is a big girl. If she wants to have dinner with Commander Fallon, she can."

Mungojerrie turned and bolted from the room. The striped tom strode back towards the practice room, but collapsed against the corridor wall before he got there. He knew he wasnít the easiest person to get along with, and Rumpelteazerís sharp wit and quick temper paired with his sometimes sullen temperament made for a stormy alliance. Still, he wouldnít trade away his one true love even for his freedom or his life. He had fallen in love with Rumpelteazer while they were still in the dance class. They had become constant companions and had moved up to the troupe together. Even being painted with orange and red stripes hadnít been so bad when he had realized that it meant he could dance with her. But Rumpelteazer had always been different from the other Jellicles too and that had placed a strain on their relationship.

Privately Mungojerrie thought she was smarter than the rest of them and he worried that she was a lot smarter than he was. It was Rumpelteazer who had been able to open the electronic door locks in their captivity. And when Mistoffeleesí lighted jacket had stopped working and he was terrified of the consequences, it had been Rumpelteazer who had somehow fixed it. Now her intelligence had attracted human attention and that had never brought anything but trouble. While Mungojerrie didnít really believe that his mate would ever be attracted to a humanís furless face, the Commander had knowledge that his mate had always dreamed of having, and that Mungojerrie feared he could never understand.

A gentle hand on his arm brought him out of his reverie and Mungojerrie looked up from his thoughts to see Pearl, looking so like his mate, staring at him with concerned eyes. "She does love you," she said quietly.

Mungojerrie just nodded and, closing his eyes, slid down the wall to sit on the floor.

Pearl sat down beside him and pulled his head onto her shoulder to comfort him.

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

A low growling noise woke Jessel from a sound sleep. She lay still, quickly checking the area with her eyes before turning towards the sound. Mistoffelees lay beside her, twitching and growling, helplessly gripped in a nightmare. Jessel watched for a moment, to see if he would come out of it. As the growls turned to despairing whimpers, she lay a hand on his shoulder, gently squeezing to waken him, her hairless skin a pale shadow against his lush sable fur. With a gasp his eyes flew open and locked onto her face. She felt his muscles stiffen in terror and realized that the dream still held him. She gathered his rigid body into her arms, stroking his strong back and murmuring softly to him.

"Itís just a nightmare, Iím here, Iím here," she repeated over and over, trying to reach through his terror-deadened senses. Finally, she felt him begin to relax and his breathing quickened to restore the breath heíd been holding.

"I didnít -- I didnít recognize you," he stammered, his voice shaking and his eyes wide and staring.

"Youíve had a big day. You had a nightmare," she responded, leaning forward to kiss him, but the wild look in his eyes stopped her. Instead she raised her hand towards his face very slowly, watching his reaction. Huge eyes followed her movement intently and finally closed as she touched his cheek. He sighed and went limp. Gently, she used the backs of her fingers to stroke the velvet-soft fur there as she asked, softly, "You were remembering, werenít you?"

He nodded. She could feel him trembling still in the aftermath of the dream, even as his breath began to calm.

"Would you like me to sleep somewhere else tonight?" she offered, reluctantly, concern tingeing her tone.

"No!" His arms snaked around her and he pulled her hard against him, burying his face in her hair. His whiskers tickled as he moved his nose over her face and neck, taking in her scent. "No. You are mine. I just need time to get used to you, thatís all."

Jessel stroked his fur for what seemed like a very long while before his breathing changed to the regular patterns of sleep. As she lay holding him in the night, she listened to the noises coming from the bunks around her and realized that Mistoffelees wasnít the only one having nightmares.

Chapter 14: My Love

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