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Written in Blood

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"Bloody hell bloody hell bloody hell!"

"'Teazer, will you shut it already? I can't hear myself freeze."

"I'm past freezin'! I think I'm startin' to feel like I'm burnin' up!"

"Maybe if you—agh!" Mungojerrie shrieked at the sudden gust of icy wind, huddling down into a tight little ball against the cobblestone ground in a vain attempt to keep warm until the gust had passed.

A few paces behind him, Rumpelteazer moaned dramatically. "It's too cold, Jerrie! Go on without me, save yourself!"

"A'ight. I'll remember you while I'm eatin' your leftover meat pies."

"Oi! Bloody wanker. Wait up."

Rumpelteazer hurried to join her brother, who'd managed to uncurl and continued to creep along the ground. There was barely any snow, save for a light dusting on the cobblestones of Victoria Grove, but the wind seemed particularly relentless for an early-January morning.

"Is it just me," she grumbled. "Or is this one bad, bad winter?"

"S'cold," Mungojerrie agreed, chancing to lift his nose into the frigid air, hoping to sniff out something or someone familiar. He was starving, and it seemed none of their usual acquaintances were open for business.

The Heart and Crown was up ahead; it shared a covered alley with the sweets shop next door, where many of the strays of Victoria Grove went to seek shelter, gossip, and companionship, but Mungojerrie was pessimistic about finding anything there.

"Nothin' at the Heart and Crown either, I betcha," Rumpelteazer sighed, as though reading his mind.

Sure enough, they rounded the pub's corner to find the usual wooden crates and empty boxes that served as furniture for the strays, but not a cat in sight.

"Where is everyone?" Mungojerrie muttered. "Maybe we oughta just go back to the junkyard. We got food there."

Rumpelteazer nodded glumly, butting against her brother for scant warmth. "I was lookin' forward to some Shrewsbury cakes. Junkyard's warmer though."

"Wanna try the Clocktower pub before we pack it in? Vin's always good for a bite."

"S'long as he's got a fresh pot of tea goin' on."

Trudging on against the wind, dodging the hurried footsteps of humans who were too chilly and bundled-up themselves to bother looking where they were going, the twins hurried along the frozen cobblestones until they'd reached the familiar sculpted wooden clocktower of the pub.

Mungojerrie stamped his paws and glared up at the Clocktower pub's closed shutter. "What's Vin thinkin', closing off the window like that?"

"I guess he doesn't feel like company," Rumpelteazer shrugged, huddling once again into a tight little ball.

"He always feels like company," Mungojerrie grumbled. "Oi! Vin! Where the bloody hell are ya? We're freezin' our tails off out here!"

The shutter popped open a crack, but the cat that peeled out wasn't the scruffy brown tom they were expecting; it was a long-haired caramel queen, who moved the shutter open all the way at the sight of the two and perched on the edge of the window to look down at them miserably.

"Oh. Hullo, Priscilla," Rumpelteazer sniffed. She'd never made it a secret that she disliked the queen. "You're not Vin. Is he around?"

Priscilla gave her a tight look and decided to address her brother instead. "Vincenzo isn't here. Oh, it's awful! I haven't seen him in weeks, 'Jerrie!"

"That's weird," Mungojerrie said. "Did he take off travellin'?"

"Lots of cats have gone missin', looks like," Rumpelteazer said. "Are they leavin' Victoria Grove for the winter? Or London?"

"No, you dolt," Priscilla huffed. She gave a furtive look around; there wasn't a single cat in sight, only two humans who, bundled-up as they were, hurried to pull open the door of the Clocktower pub and seek shelter inside.

Despite the lack of a single presence, Priscilla leapt down from the windowsill, pausing to glare as a gust of wind ruffled her fur.

She leaned in close to Mungojerrie and whispered, "It's him."

"Him? Him who?"

"You know who I mean," the caramel queen said through clenched fangs. "It's because of him that so many cats are gone. Macavity."

She said the name so lowly it was almost as though she'd only mouthed it. It was enough, though; as if on cue, Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer both shuddered and cast a quick look around. It was survival instinct; no cat in London went about chattering casually about Macavity.

"He took Vin?" Rumpelteazer whispered. "How? Why?"

"He didn't take him, exactly," Priscilla said. "You two dolts miss out on a lot, all cozy in your junkyard. Ever since that business with the magic queen and the kittens last year, things have been different around here, if you catch my meaning. Dangerous. Very dangerous."

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer exchanged a quick, uneasy look. They'd learned, in the past year, that very few of the Victoria Grove strays knew the details of Macavity's kidnapping of the 'magic queen' and the kittens. Few knew where the queen came from, and none knew that the 'queen' in question was actually a tom: Mistoffelees, at the time pregnant with a litter of seven kittens.

Only the junkyard Jellicles had been privy to the fact that Macavity had orchestrated the kidnapping with the goal of getting his paws on the one magical cat who could bear him a litter of magical kittens of his own. Whether the magical cat was a queen or a tom made no difference to the Hidden Paw.

It was actually Vincenzo, the stray who had warned Mungojerrie in the first place, who'd helped lead Munkustrap, Rum Tum Tugger and Skimbleshanks to Macavity's lair in time to rescue and help a labouring Mistoffelees deliver the kittens safely. Over the past year and a half, the memories of the entire event had begun to fade, and life had returned to normal.

No one had been completely certain of Macavity's status— only vague talk of him attacking the junkyard, which alone served to indicate to the Jellicles that he was still alive and well after being attacked by a pregnant and panicked Mistoffelees' magic.

As far as the rest of London was concerned, no one knew what had become of him. Was he alive or dead? Still active, or had he run and hidden outside London? There had been rumours and whispers in Victoria Grove about Macavity's activities, but rumours were exactly that. This was the first time Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer had heard anything concrete.

"What you do mean by dangerous, Prissy?" Mungojerrie asked. "Anybody turn up… dead?"

Priscilla weakly shook her head. "Not exactly. Hard to say, mind. Rumour has it, some cats—the biggest, strongest, not always smartest ones—have been… recruited, you could say. But in the 'saying no isn't an option' sort of way, if you catch my meaning."

"He's recruiting," Rumpelteazer frowned, casting a quick look at her brother. "For henchcats?"

Priscilla gave her an irritated look. "Search me. Henchcats, some kinda army, target practice, who knows? But he's snappin' up every available tom and queen in Victoria Grove. And I can promise you, those who said no to him aren't exactly strolling back home to live on, business as usual."

"Bloody weird," Mungojerrie muttered.

"One day, Vincenzo was here, bein' all tender with me," Priscilla said. "Then some awful-looking stray comes knocking at the shutters. Said he needed to talk to Vin, alone. Said it was an important business proposition. Then just like that… I don't see Vin anymore. Gone. Gone to work for him… or worse, if Vin said no."

"Bloody weird," Rumpelteazer echoed. "Poor Vin! I hope he's okay."

"He's not the brightest," Priscilla sniffed. "But he's the sort M—he likes to keep around."

Another gust of wind made Priscilla whine, and made Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer shiver and huddle closer together.

The odd news alone was enough to make any cat shiver. Not only was Macavity alive, but also rebuilding after nearly a year of silence. For all they knew, Mungojerrie decided, Macavity was simply preparing to move out of London and on to bigger, better schemes. No sense worrying until they'd seen more signs of the Hidden Paw's plans, if any.

"All right," the caramel queen sighed. "I'm not Vin, but I guess I can bring you two in for something warm to drink. It's not safe to keep talking like this outside, in any case."

"Good!" Rumpelteazer brightened, thoughts of Macavity all but forgotten at the thought of finally thawing out. "I could use a hot toddy."

"Easy, 'Teazer," Mungojerrie said, following Priscilla and his sister back up to the still-open shutters of the Clocktower. "You turn into kind of an ogre when you drink, you know?"

Chapter Text

"And there you go," Mistoffelees said, lifting his paws from a round stone nestled in a clay dish. It glowed faintly red. "This should last you a few weeks. Just don't touch it with your bare paws, and make sure none of the kittens go near it at all. I don't want anyone to burn themselves."

Victoria shifted the sleeping kitten in her arm so she could reach over and place her hand a short way above the stone. She reacted to the heat with a delighted smile.

"Misto, this is wonderful! It's heating up the whole den! How can we thank you?"

"Just stay warm," Mistoffelees said, smiling as Lyrette, the kitten in Victoria's arms yawned and kneaded at the air briefly. The little white and pale ginger queen was the sole result of Victoria and Plato's second litter, born a few months ago. "It's been a rough winter."

Victoria's other two kittens, a quiet white tom named Cygnus and an energetic ginger queen named Coloratura, were bundled up and playing in the back of the den. They'd all but swamped Mistoffelees when he'd arrived earlier, and it was all Victoria could do to send them off to play on their own while the tux prepared the hot stones for the den. They loved watching Mistoffelees perform his magic, but Victoria didn't want them to get too interested in the hot stones, lest they decide to play with them and burn themselves.

"Rough winter," Victoria agreed. Quietly, she added, "And a rough year."

Mistoffelees sighed in acknowledgement. It had been a rough year, for many of the Jellicles; the last Jellicle Ball alone had had its share of anguish for many, starting with the unexpected arrival of the much-maligned Grizabella, followed by Macavity's repeated intrusions, and his kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy. Everything had turned out well, but the Ball seemed to serve as an omen of things to come.

The weather had been unkind, beginning with an unpleasantly hot summer and culminating with the current, difficult winter that left most Jellicles confined to their dens.

Food and warm living space were becoming difficult to obtain, due in large part to the small population boom in the last two years. Victoria and Plato had three kittens to their name now; Alonzo and Cassandra had had two of their own; and of course, there was Mistoffelees and Rum Tum Tugger's wholly accidental but still welcomed addition of seven, now-grown kittens.

And that, Mistoffelees mused with a small pang of sadness, was yet another thing that had made the last year so difficult. He and Tugger liked the idea of kittens, and at the last Jellicle Ball, had finally decided to try for a second litter. He'd conceived at the Ball, only to have a miscarriage three weeks later. Though he'd recovered in body and mind, the incident was still a weight in the back of his heart. Despite everything, he still longed for more kittens.

Lyrette began to fuss gently in Victoria's arms. With a tiny smile, Mistoffelees reached over to rub her belly, soothing her slightly.

"Misto, you've got that look again," Victoria said softly.

"What look?"

"The look that tells me you'd really like another kitten."

Mistoffelees slowly withdrew his hand; Lyrette had fallen back asleep anyway. He hadn't realized his brooding was written on his face. It felt odd to be discussing this with Victoria. Since Victoria's first and his second litter had both been made on the night of the Jellicle Ball, it'd been especially difficult to watch, knowing his own litter was now gone, but he'd welcomed Cygnus and Coloratura into the tribe as warmly as everyone else. They were adorable little things; Coloratura was a white and pale-grey kitten who had more than a bit of glamour and showmanship in her, and Mistoffelees often thought that Demeter was correct in believing that Jellicles returned from the Heaviside Layer as new kittens. There was more than a little of Grizabella in the little one. Cygnus, for his part, was a little ginger ball of giggles and energy. They were adorable kittens. He missed kittens.

He'd almost lapsed into a minor depression when Victoria announced she was expecting a second time, but he'd worked hard to quell the feelings of resentment. Now, all he felt was the occasional pang of regret for something he wanted but did not yet have.

Victoria tentatively continued, "It's obviously something you want. Haven't you and Tugger talked about...?"

"Of course we've talked about it," Mistoffelees sighed. "Some days we'd love to. Other days, I can't get past the thought of going through that again."

"I understand." As if to take the edge off the conversation, Victoria smiled cheekily and added, "You're awfully adorable when you're pregnant, in any case."

"Oh, shut it," Mistoffelees said teasingly. "Remind me to point and laugh when you're expecting again."

"Oh, I doubt that-"

Lyrette suddenly arched and cried out, now awake and upset over some unknown slight. Victoria rocked her lightly and sighed in dismay.

"Come on, kit. I know you're not hungry. What do you want? Your daddy? He'll be home soon!"

"She's probably upset at not being part of the conversation," Mistoffelees said over the wailing.

"My first two were never so fussy!"

The tux chuckled. "And Josephine was always like this. Here, let me try something."

He waved his paw in front of the fussy kitten, halting her cries as she looked at him dubiously. With a tiny flourish, tiny sparks erupted from Mistoffelees' paw, and a second later, a small, bright purple hummingbird flitted out. Lyrette brightened, uttering a pleased mew and batting at the bird as it flew in quick little circles over her head.

Victoria smiled in relief. "Thank the Everlasting Cat that worked. It looks so real! It even smells like a real hummingbird."

"It's just an illusion," Mistoffelees said modestly. "I've been practicing."

Lyrette squirmed happily in Victoria's arms and kept batting at the bird. "If it wasn't so pretty, I'd be tempted to try and eat it."

"Don't," Mistoffelees chuckled. "It's not that real."

Both cats shuddered at the sudden gust of cold wind in the den. As the entrance was covered again, the magic stone took over and bathed the den in heat.

"Argh!" Plato whimpered. He was carrying six small mice and a fine layer of frost on his fur. Dropping the mice, he shook himself off, succeeding only in looking like a drowned rat. "It's so cold out there! I can't feel my tail! Vic, did it break off!?"

Victoria laughed and swatted Plato's proffered backside with her free hand. "Don't point that thing at me."

Plato snickered. "Misto, do you want to check?"

"With pleasure," Mistoffelees said. With a flick of the wrist, the bright purple hummingbird circled in the air and pecked Plato's left buttock.

Plato yelped and fell to his front. "There's a bird in the den! Victoria, there's a bird!"

"I know."

"Eat it, quick!"

"It's not real," Mistoffelees said. He made the hummingbird flitter in front of Plato's face for a few seconds before disappearing in a tiny puff of sparks. Lyrette clapped her tiny paws at the display and reached for her father.

"Hi princess!" Plato said, scooping up his giggling kitten. "Misto, I didn't know you could make birds appear. Can you do the same thing with real food?"

"If I did, I wouldn't have sent Tugger out to hunt today."

"You're welcome to some food. It's not much, but…"

"No, I'm quite all right," Mistoffelees said. He was hungry, but Tugger was a decent hunter, in the sense that he could withstand the cold better than almost everyone else right now. He trusted him to have dinner waiting. "I have to get going."

Mistoffelees nuzzled Victoria and gave Lyrette a quick scratch between the ears before bracing himself to face the bitter winter cold outside the den.

He couldn't stifle a whimper as the wind blew, ruffling his whiskers and fur and making his teeth chatter. The snow, knee-high to him, wasn't helping his creeping exhaustion. He thought about teleporting to the warmth of his and Tugger's den, but shrugged it off as an inefficient idea. He was good at teleporting, but it took a lot of energy, and food and time to rest were luxuries that weren't abundant in this cold snap. He was already beginning to feel the weariness of generating the heated stones all day long. Traipsing from one end of the junkyard to another was a good walk in nice weather; in gale-force wind and whipping snow, it was devilish and exhausting.

He'd started at the South end of the yard, where Jellylorum shared a den with Gus. Protecting the old and frail theatre cat from the cold was a must and Mistoffelees was eager for any chance to help Jellylorum with her duty. Gus was now very old, his fur patchy and matted and his eyes clouded over with a milky film. He didn't seem to take notice of Jellylorum, looking old and weary herself, spooning him a bit of cream, nor did he notice Jezebel, who'd dropped by with blankets. He did repeatedly ask Mistoffelees if he knew where to find an umbrella, because he had to go on stage soon and didn't he know that the princess watching and was very fond of umbrellas, and Mistoffelees could do little more than reassure him that the umbrella would be ready and that it would be a wonderful show. Jellylorum smiled wearily as he left.

He'd stopped in the next den, Alonzo and Cassandra's. They still lived with one of their sons, Serapis, while their other son Verismo now shared a den with one of Mistoffelees and Tugger's own daughters, Tourmaline. It was good to catch them up on news on their kittens, but Mistoffelees cut the visit short, eager to continue.

Pouncival and Bombalurina's den was next, though from the look and scent of things, they hardly needed any heated stones to keep the place warm. He checked in on Coricopat and Tantomile next, though with their limited magic they'd already succeeded in enchanting a candle to heat their den.

That left Mistoffelees with a long walk down a natural stone path, hugging himself against the cold and lamenting, like the mother hen he was, that his and Tugger's seven kittens had all moved out of their communal den.

He walked past a small den with a collapsed roof—his daughter Josephine's—and over to a bigger, sturdier den—his son Cyrano's, who was now grudgingly housing his sister. When Mistoffelees had gone in to prepare a heated stone for them, he'd found the two arguing over the freshness of a recently-caught mouse. Josephine, Tugger's daughter through-and-through in both looks and attitude, fluffed her mane and stomped away to the back of the den, leaving Cyrano to give his father the saddest, most pleading look.

"Are you absolutely certain she can't stay with you and dad until she finds a new den?" Cyrano had begged. "Or with one of the others?"

Mistoffelees had responded with an airy shrug. "You've always been the strong one. You can handle her."

"I'm going to abandon her here and go stay with uncle Munk."

"Sounds great. Promise you'll visit if you're on our side of the yard."

After leaving his two kits with a hot stone and promises that they weren't going to tear each other's fur off, Mistoffelees drew in a strengthening breath and went back into the cold.

On and on he went, making sure to stay extra-long at his kittens' dens. He dropped in on Tourmaline and Verismo, happy to see the two shy young cats were well. Next was his daughter Augusta, who'd struck a very intense friendship with Electra, leading the two to share a den.

A few more dens, a few more heated stones, circling the junkyard until he approached his own home. He stopped in to warmly greet Munkustrap and Demeter and to make sure they were doing well in the harsh cold. He was almost done.

It had been a busy day. Magic was useful, but also draining. He was striking a delicate balance between helping as many as he could, and also caring for himself. Luckily, he only had one more stop before reaching his own den, and it just so happened to belong to his last three kittens.

Even standing at the door, he could hear their voices inside. Pushing open the door sent a gust of wind into the den, replacing the chattering voices with startled shrieks.

"Aargh! More cold!"

"But how can you tell in here?"

"Shut it, you two."

Mistoffelees smiled. Cappella was bent over a plate, concentrating on its contents. Aloysius was sprawled on the ground, chin cupped in his paws and staring at the plate with what Mistoffelees suspected was sarcastic interest. Mandragora, the youngest of the litter, looked bored under her blanket, at least until she noticed their visitor.

"Hey, dad!"

The other two turned to greet him with smiles. Aloysius hopped to his feet while Cappella returned to her plate.

"Everlasting, dad!" Aloysius said, greeting his father with a nuzzle. "You must be freezing."

"Is it cold? I hadn't noticed. I thought it was positively balmy."

"You've gone delirious! There, there."

Aloysius petted his head with a look of mock concern. Bast, when had his son gotten so tall? All of his kittens, in fact, were taller than him, save for Mandragora. But they were grown now, living and hunting on their own. Some, like Tourmaline, had already taken mates.

They were growing too fast. No wonder he was still dreaming of having more kittens.

"Have you been out all day?" Mandragora asked as Mistoffelees came to sit by them. The den was a bit of a mess- exactly what he'd expect from three young cats living on their own for the first time. The tux had to sidestep blankets, teacups, books, baubles and toys until he found a spot clear enough to sit on.

"I'm just heading home now." He looked at Cappella and finally understood what she was doing; there was a smooth stone in the plate, and she was laying her paws flat against it, concentrating, trying to use magic to infuse it with heat. "Cappella, love… do you need help?"

"I got this, dad."

Cappella had Tugger's black-and-gold colouring, but definitely not his figure; where Tugger was slim and lanky, Cappella was distinctly rotund. Mistoffelees wondered if she'd gotten that from his side of the family. She'd certainly been the kitten to inherit the strongest magical abilities.

Though, maybe not strong enough. Once more she concentrated, and Mistoffelees could see and feel the magical energy seeping from her paws, but before the stone could heat, the energy dissipated. He watched, calmly. Insisting would only frustrate her.

"We're going to die in here," Mandragora said, matter-of-factly. "Frozen solid, like rats."

Aloysius fished out a blanket from a nearby pile and wrapped it around his head, putting on a sad air. "You'll remember us, right dad? Tell stories of our heroic deeds?"

"Crawling on our bellies towards an extra blanket, but… well. We never made it."

"Mandra, you'll make sure I freeze in a dignified position, won't you?"

"Naturally. With your arse in the air."

"Thank you!"

"Will you two just shut it already!?"

"I think you two have made your point," Mistoffelees said. He had a sudden flash of memory of holding unruly kittens by their scruffs while they hissed and spat at each other. Back then, their biggest problems involved ownership of toy mice. "Kit, it's a complicated spell. It's okay to ask for help."

Cappella groaned and dropped her paws from the stone. "I almost had it though. I'm sure of it."

"I tried it too," Mandragora said, ignoring the pointed eye-roll Cappella shot her. "I didn't… I mean, it didn't work at all when I tried it."

"Magic can be fickle," Mistoffelees said. It was a diplomatic way of putting it; Mandragora, like Cappella and their brother Cyrano, had shown magical tendencies, but hers were weak. Mandragora herself, on her crankier days, would often consider her abilities "worse than useless" as her magic skills consisted of teleporting small objects like spoons and marbles, but only one-way. Teleporting them back was something she hadn't been able to coordinate. Mistoffelees promised her that magic, like any skill, took time to develop.

He wondered though, if her lackluster skills had to do with her difficult birth and her near-death, something that had left her the smallest of the litter and the only kitten to be shorter than the already-short Mistoffelees. He probably would have teased her about it, if he wasn't keenly aware of being a too-short tom in a world made for tall Jellicles.

"Aw, don't worry Cappella," Aloysius helpfully supplied. "Maybe it's the stone. It does look pretty ugly. Like Mandra's face."

Mandragora nodded sagely at her brother. "Smells as bad as Al, too. It's definitely a bad stone."

"You're both terrible stones," Cappella said. She crossed her arms, but smiled nonetheless. "I just want to try it one last time, okay dad?"

"If you insist," Mistoffelees said. He petted her on the head as he got back up to his feet. He was cold and tired and ready to go home. "But if you don't have heat by dinnertime, come by and stay with us. All right, kittens?"

There was a definite perking of ears and whiskers at the mention of 'dinner', followed by muted nods. Mistoffelees nuzzled his three kittens and braced himself for the last stretch of his journey back to his den.

The snow whipped viciously at his face but the prospect of his warm den being so close made the journey bearable, if only just. He burst into his and Tugger's den with a groan of relief and a hearty shiver, and smiled at the sight before him.

Tugger was lounging, dozing near the bowl of hot stones Mistoffelees set up earlier that day. He'd had a successful hunt, thank the Everlasting Cat; seven large mice and two birds were lying on a cloth off to the side.

Tugger's rump was facing the stones while his limbs were sprawled all about him—ever the careless sleeper. Still, the lanky, supple, powerful body never failed to make Mistoffelees purr in appreciation. Even twisted around in sleep, Tugger's fur was sleek and perfect.

Where Tugger was languid from the heat, Mistoffelees was still frosty and shivering. Funny how the cold made him feel awfully frisky all of a sudden.

Mistoffelees leaned against the wall of their den, cocking his hip and running one paw down his body to smooth out his wind-ruffled fur. Tugger was slim and lanky, whereas Mistoffelees was not. His pregnancies had left him with rounded hips and a rounded rear and a bit of a soft stomach, all things that made him self-conscious when he looked at others' slighter forms. He had to admit that Tugger did an excellent job of reminding him that he was still sexy and attractive.

"Evening, Tugger," Mistoffelees said with a low purr. Still standing by the door, he rolled his hips and swung his tail enticingly.

A low "hm" and a slight shift of Tugger's tail were his reply.

Well. Tugger did a great job of making him feel attractive, when his lazy mate decided to open his eyes.

"Hey, Tugger?"

Still dozing, eyes closed. "Mm-hm?"

"Your mane's on fire!"

Tugger's reaction did not disappoint. He flipped backwards and began to roll on the ground, slapping at his mane. "My mane!! It's burning! It's… not on fire, is it?"

"Nope."

Panting, Tugger dropped to his back and spread his limbs out in relief, staring at Mistoffelees with a look of pathetic betrayal. "That was beastly of you. Why in Bast's name would you do that!?"

Mistoffelees grinned and pushed himself from the doorjamb, crawling on top of Tugger and giving him a long, slow kiss.

"Ah, now I understand," Tugger purred, running his paws up and down the tux's sides until they came to rest on his hips. "Your paws are cold, by the way."

"It's not exactly summer out there," Mistoffelees said. He punctuated his point by snaking his hand down between their bodies and grasping Tugger's crotch.

Tugger shuddered and clutched the black-furred hips beneath his paws. "Aaagh! Yes! Point taken!" He protested, but still he began to slowly rock into Mistoffelees' grasp. "Everyone is doing all right out there? The kits?"

"Most of them are happy and warm. Cappella, Aloysius and Mandra are probably going to show up later."

Tugger nodded and, obviously done with talking, grasped the back of the tux' head and pulled him down.

They kissed again while Mistoffelees threaded his fingers through Tugger's mane, leeching the heat from his already-overheated mate. They moved and rubbed and rocked until they finally broke away from each other's lips, flustered and aroused, not a trace of cold in the den.

"Bedroom?" Mistoffelees asked huskily.

Tugger nodded and playfully growled. "I can't wait to have you. Teleport us, will you?"

Mistoffelees gently cuffed him on the side of the head and leapt to his feet, hurrying to the bedroom with his mate right on his heels. They fell to the top blanket, a soft green fleece, in a tangle of limbs and harsh breaths until Tugger ended up sitting on the bed with a lapful of lustful Mistoffelees.

"Your paws are warm now," Tugger breathed as the tux lapped at his neck.

"Hmm, what about yours?"

"You tell me."

The lapping turned into bite as Mistoffelees clutched a mouthful of mane to stifle his groan. Tugger had gone for his one weakness, rubbing at his chest and firmly rolling his nipples with his thumbs. Tugger's paws were very, very hot indeed.

"Turn around," Tugger growled.

Mistoffelees obeyed, swiftly turning himself around. He knew what Tugger had planned, and in fact he'd barely settled himself back down on Tugger's lap with the rough paws went back to his nipples, rubbing them slowly, wrenching moans and pants from the tux. This was always his undoing, and his undoing was always Tugger's undoing, so it was no surprise when he felt Tugger's member urgently rubbing at his entrance.

Mistoffelees' moaning intensified as they were joined. His head fell back on Tugger's shoulder and he let his mate set the pace, jolting into his small body and caressing his chest until he reached back to grab a paw-full of mane. So close…. "Bite me," he groaned. Tugger obeyed instantly, nuzzling at his scruff and fastening his teeth into the fur, just hard enough for Mistoffelees to yelp and shudder through his orgasm. Tugger followed a few thrusts later, squeezing his mate's hips.

"Great," Mistoffelees panted as they fell back to the blankets. "Now it's too hot."

"I'll show you how hot it can get," Tugger said, snapping his teeth and rolling on top of his mate.

They weren't done—not nearly. With the den warm and with food available for the day at least, they could freely turn to their favourite pastime: sex, and lots of it.

They kissed, until Tugger's head suddenly popped up, ears twitching on confusion. "Did it just get colder in here?"

Mistoffelees frowned. It did feel drafty all of a sudden. "Maybe the stones-"

"Oi! Dads? Are you in here?"

It was Mandragora. She scrabbled through the den and paused just outside their bedroom entrance.

"Yes?" Mistoffelees sighed, as Tugger resignedly grabbed a spare blanket and tossed it over them. It was no use to scramble to hide what they'd been doing; it would be obvious by scent anyway. "Mandra, what is it?"

"Bloody Cappella. She can't figure out the stone trick and I'm tired of freezing my arse off in the den. Can I stay here?"

"Only if you watch your language," Tugger called out.

"I'll stay in the old room," Mandragora coolly said. "Don't let me interrupt you two."

"You're not interrupt-" Mistoffelees began, then shook his head. "Just wait out there, we'll be right out."

"You said they'd be here later," Tugger groused. He crossed his arms but made no move to get up, or to clean up.

"I didn't think-" Another gust of cold air interrupted Mistoffelees' thoughts.

"Heat! Blessed heat! I'd forgotten what it feels like. Oh hey, Mandra! Are they here?"

Now Aloysius. And minutes later, another burst of cold wind as the den's door opened, and a third voice joined the chorus in the main area.

"Okay dad, you were right," Cappella sighed. "The stone magic is hard. Can we stay here until I figure it out? Wait, where are they?"

"In their room, being tender," Mandragora said matter-of-factly.

"The little beasts," Tugger said, kicking off the blanket so he could at least begin to clean up. "I hate it when she calls it that."

Amused, Mistoffelees slid off the bed. "We'll be right there, kittens," he called out.

He pulled the despondent-looking Tugger down into a kiss, laughing as he did so. Yes, it was going to be a long winter.

Chapter Text

Though winter still had a firm grip on London, a rare and most welcome midwinter warm snap brought a temporary end to the constant snowfalls and bitingly cold winds. The snow blanketing the junkyard relented and began to melt, turning itself into heavy and sticky slush ideal for snowballs and building snow piles, to the kittens' delight. While no one expected an early spring, more than a few Jellicles were thanking the Everlasting Cat for the temporary break in brutal temperature.

More than a few cats had emerged from their dens to enjoy some much-needed fresh air. Mistoffelees in particular was glad to breathe in cool air and recover his energy, after weeks of maintaining the magically-warmed stones for everyone's dens.

Tugger had been more than happy to bolt out of their den and into the agreeable weather earlier that night; despite the break in cold, their kittens Cappella, Aloysius and Mandragora were still hanging about their parents' den.

It had been about a week, and Mistoffelees wondered if they'd simply forgotten they had a den of their own. They were bigger, louder, and even messier than they'd been as kittens. He loved his now-grown kittens. He also loved his freedom, his formerly-clean den, and his privacy, especially with his mate. If he'd had more energy, he probably would have bolted after Tugger.

Instead, he lazed on the large tire in the centre of the junkyard, enjoyed the fresh air and the clear, early-dawn sky. He'd managed to drag all three kittens out of the den, and while Cappella and Aloysius decided to wander off to find food, a bored Mandragora decided to follow her father.

Seemingly, only to complain to an audience. "I'm cold," she sighed, idly kicking at a tuft of snow. "There isn't much to do here, is there? Why can't I go back inside?"

"Because you need fresh air. And you're not cold." She was short and small like Mistoffelees, but the fluffy white mane inherited from her other father kept her more than warm.

A welcome opportunity appeared in the form of Jenny and Jezebel, happily chattering to one another as they padded through the wet snow, while Skimbleshanks sullenly followed behind.

"Well, look who it is!" Jenny chirped. "Mistoffelees and Mandragora! Finally, some friendly faces who aren't frightened of a little cold."

"That's exactly what I was telling my dear kitten here," Mistoffelees said. He smiled devilishly as a sudden thought came to mind. "And how fortuitous that you happened to walk by! Mandragora was telling me that she's simply dying for a singing lesson."

Mandragora attempted to shoot her father a venomous look, only to be interrupted as Jezebel practically teleported into her face. "Is that right? Well you know you only need ask! It's about time you decided to work on those reedy pipes of yours!"

"My… my what?"

"Let's begin with some basics!" Jenny said.

Mistoffelees relaxed on the cool rubber and gave the crestfallen Mandragora a cheeky smile as Jenny and Jezebel descended on her, thrilled for something to do at last.

A frosty and despondent-looking Skimble stood shivering close by, evidently not as pleased with the weather as the nearby queens. Mistoffelees didn't miss the rather generous sips of scotch he kept sneaking from his vest pocket.

"'Come out for a healthy walk with me, Skimble dear'," he muttered, mimicking Jenny's voice with a broguish falsetto. "'The odds are good that you'll not die of exquisite and excruciating frostbite, Skimble dear!'"

"A little cold air is good for the constitution, Skimble dear!" Jenny harrumphed, momentarily diverting her attention from nudging Mandragora into singing her scales.

"My constitution was just fine inside our nice warm den, Jenny dear."

"No, from the belly, little one," Jezebel said. She tapped Mandragora's black-furred stomach and almost knocked her off her feet. "If you want to hit high C, you need to bring your voice out from deep inside! Now try it!"

"You know, I think the air is a bit too cold to sing," Mandragora said demurely.

"Nonsense! Singing carries very well over snow! Now reach deep inside!"

Mistoffelees shrugged innocently as his daughter looked to him for help. "Even deeper," he called out, smiling uncontrollably. "Try singing from your feet."

"Dad, haven't you done enough damage for one day?"

"I will help you when you help clean up the mess you left after breakfast."

"Adjust your posture," Jezebel said, oblivious to the fact that her singing lesson was in fact being used as punishment. Jenny, in agreement with the posture advice, quickly tugged the small black queen's tail to straighten her spine.

Jezebel's next instruction was drowned out by a shrill, angry voice closing in on the clearing. "…. You arse-faced idiot! Don't you run away when I'm yelling at you!"

Mistoffelees winced. Now there was one of his kittens who didn't need any help hitting high C.

Cyrano marched ahead, ears flat on his head and features pinched with misery. Trailing close behind him, stomping with as much dignity as the still-high snow permitted, was Josephine.

"Dad!" she yelled. Cyrano followed with a low, pleading "Dad!" of his own.

He missed the days when he could pick up both by their scruffs and easily separate them. "What's the trouble, kits?"

"My tosser of a brother! He bit me!"

Mistoffelees quirked his brow. "Cyrano…?"

"Everlasting, I did not bite you!"

"You snapped at me! With your teeth!"

"I was standing three bloody yards away from you!"

"The idea was there! It still hurt!"

"You are utterly insane!"

"What's insane is that your first thought was to march here and tattle on each other like bloody kittens," Mandragora said with a snort.

"Shut it, Mandra," Josephine grumbled.

"All right, I see the trouble here," Jezebel said imperiously. She grabbed a fistful of Josephine's scruff. "Some terribly hot heads need to be cooled. A walk is in order."

Josephine bristled. "Jezebel, you're spoiling my mane-"

"Oh, pish-tush. Don't be concerned about maintaining your dignity around me, little one. I helped wipe your arse when you were a kitten. Now come! Mandragora, walk with us, we'll continue our lesson."

"But I-! Uh…"

"Go, kit, don't disappoint your teacher," Mistoffelees said with a wicked little wink.

"Tea at my den later, Jezebel!" Jenny called out. "I'm going to stay here and tend to my poor frozen Skimble."

She laughed as she wrapped her arms around her mate, and he made a great show of shivering and cuddling for warmth.

With his sister out of sight, Cyrano groaned and leapt onto the tire to sit next to his father. "Dad… I love her, but she needs to find a new den. Can't she stay with Bombalurina? They get along. Or with you?"

"I would help, but we're already playing host to some unexpected visitors," Mistoffelees said. He straightened himself up from his lounging position, a little self-conscious next to his so-very-tall son. The kit was almost as tall as Tugger, and solidly built all over thanks to frequent outings with his uncle Munkustrap.

Mistoffelees' gaze drifted over toward the sound of careful footfalls approaching the clearing. Speak of the devil, there was Munkustrap now, trudging through the snow with Alonzo at his side.

"All I did was take back one of my blankets!" Cyrano said. "I've only got three."

"I think you're both at the end of your patience. The weather's kept us all cooped inside for much too long."

"But Josephine and I aren't meant to live together. I don't hear dad complaining that you've tried to bite him."

"Because Tugger wouldn't complain about that," Skimble quipped, earning a snorting titter from Jenny.

"I'll get Tugger to talk to her later." Josephine worshipped her other father. Tugger could at least get her to calm down and be kind for a few days. Hopefully, until the damned snowed melted.

"Thanks, dad," Cyrano said. He waved a quick greeting at Munkustrap and Alonzo, who seemed intent on walking on through, all business.

Naturally, this gave Mistoffelees a devilish idea. "Cyrano, why don't we have a little fun?"

"What are you thinking?"

Mistoffelees scooped a handful of wet, heavy snow from the tire and quickly pressed it into a snowball. He wasted no time in hurling it at Munkustrap's turned back.

The snow hit the tabby on the back of the neck. A little affronted, Munkustrap quickly whirled around to see who had opened fire.

"Cyrano!" Mistoffelees gasped, turning to his son and clasping a dramatic paw to his chest. "How dare you throw a snowball at your uncle Munk? Were you raised by pollicles?"

"What? I-I didn't…!"

Munkustrap shook the snow off his head and tsk-tsked as he gathered up a scoopful of snow. "I'm very disappointed in you, Cyrano."

A splatter of snow suddenly covered Mistoffelees' face, quelling his laughter at Cyrano's expression. Stunned, he shook the snow from his eyes to see Munkustrap shrugging airily, a second snowball ready to go.

"I also have terrible aim."

Grinning and spitting out a clump of snow, Mistoffelees leapt to his feet, dragging his son up with him. "It's a matter of honour now!"

He quickly grabbed a handful of snow, not even bothering with rolling it into a snowball, hurtling the slushy stuff at Munkustrap's chest and tossing a second volley at Alonzo, for good measure.

Alonzo yelped, crouching down, and rose up with two snowballs. "I'll take care of the little one, Munk!"

There was a brief moment of confusion about whether the 'little one' was Cyrano or Mistoffelees, until Munkustrap yelped as a snowball struck him in the buttocks. Jenny stood as few yards away, her paws caked in snow and a maniacal grin on her features. "Skimble! How could you do that to our dear Munkustrap!"

Skimble blinked. "Oh, it's quite easy. Just as easy as doing this!"

A second later, Jenny was on her back in the snow, tittering like a kitten while Skimble attempted to bury her.

A chaos of snow, slush, and yelps erupted. By the time Mistoffelees jumped and rolled off the tire, Cyrano was engaged in a fierce back-and-forth snowball volley with Alonzo while Jenny had somehow managed to throw Skimble off, and was now stuffing large handfuls of snow down the back of his vest. The wind shifted abruptly and a stray snowball from the Cyrano-Alonzo fight made Munkustrap duck, giving Mistoffelees an opportunity to jump on the distracted tabby's back and wrestle him to the ground.

"Argh! Misto-!" He spat as the tux dumped an armful of snow in his face, straddling his chest to prevent him from fighting back. Mistoffelees giggled; he was fully expecting Munkustrap to throw him off and return the attack any moment now, but even getting a mouthful of snow was a refreshing change from being cooped up inside for so long.

Munkustrap had just managed to bring up a paw to stop Mistoffelees from stuffing another clump of snow in his face when the wind changed again. Mistoffelees paused and stopped wrestling, giving the tabby the opportunity to flip him to the ground.

Mistoffelees wheezed briefly as the wind was knocked out of him and Munkustrap used his body weight to pin him tightly, scooping up a snowball.

He pressed a paw to the tabby's chest. "Wait, Munk…"

It could have been a trick to stop the snow fight, but to his credit Munkustrap stopped. He blew a speck of snow from his whisker and asked, "Did I hurt you?"

"No, something doesn't smell right. Do you-?"

And Munkustrap did, flicking his ears and raising his face into the wind. "It smells like smoke, doesn't it?"

He raised himself off Mistoffelees and helped the smaller tom to his feet. Cyrano and Alonzo seemed to catch that the snowball fight was over. "Munk, what's wrong?" Alonzo asked.

"Oh dear," Jenny said. She rolled off Skimble's back and twitched her nose, staring in the same direction as Mistoffelees and Munkustrap. There was nothing to be seen over the junk piles, but the scent was getting strong. "There's something bad on the wind."

"Dad?"

No, something definitely wasn't right. On instinct Mistoffelees went to his son, still attuned to the wind. His back twitched violently as sudden anxiety made his magic whirl and buzz inside his head. He deeply wished all seven of his kittens were here, where he could see them. Something was deeply wrong.

"It's smoke," Munkustrap said grimly. "It's definitely smoke. Alonzo, we need to find out where-"

"Fire!"

Three frantic voices came barreling within earshot, all screaming the same terrifying word: fire.

With a clang and a clatter and a scream and some sobs, Electra, Augusta and Etcetera ran to the group, skidding to a halt and pointing back toward the direction they'd come from.

"F-fire!" Etcetera shrieked.

"What happened?" Munkustrap asked. He looked to each of them and decided Electra looked the most coherent. "Did you set a fire-?"

"No!" Electra said, shaking her head. "The junkyard is on fire, Munkustrap!"

Mistoffelees went to Augusta, holding her by the shoulders and looking her up and down quickly. She was out of breath and tense, but not hurt. "Where? How did it start?"

"South side, the whole fence is going up!" Augusta said with a gasp. "We were climbing near the trucks and next thing we know, there's smoke and flames everywhere. We didn't set it, dad! I don't know how it started."

Munkustrap was tense on his feet, tail whipping in agitation. He was staring in the direction of the fire, at the grey smoke that began spilling over the top of the junk piles. They had no contingency plan for fire. There was nothing a tribe of small Jellicles could do to stop a blaze; at best, they could hope a human would walk by the junkyard, spot the flames, and call the fire brigade.

Mistoffelees could tell what Munkustrap was thinking: trying to pinpoint exactly how the fire was spreading, whose dens were nearby and who would be in danger, and—grimmest of all—whether it was time to evacuate the junkyard before the entire place burned to the ground.

Where would they go? It was still winter and they had kittens and elderly cats among them and—

Mistoffelees came to the realization the same moment Munkustrap did. "Gus and Jellylorum!" Munkustrap yelled. "They live right in the south area."

"Cassandra!" Alonzo gasped. His den was in the same area. "We need to get everyone out."

He began to run before Munkustrap could stop him. "Jenny, Skimble," the tabby said. "Gather everyone towards the north side of the junkyard. Don't go towards the fire! I'll send everyone over to you. Keep everyone safe. Once everyone is accounted for, we can start moving towards my father's den at the vicarage-"

As Munkustrap delivered his instructions, Mistoffelees still held his daughter's shoulders as he stared at the growing cloud of smoke. He hadn't practiced much magic with fire—it had too many negative connotations for him. But at its core, fire was heat and energy, and of late he'd become quite the expert at manipulating heat. Charging a stone with heat was complex and exhausting, but he knew how to do it. Could he do the same, in reverse?

"Munk," Mistoffelees said. Jenny had come to pull Etcetera and Electra away to safety, and he gently nudged Augusta towards her too. "I think I can stop the fire. I'd need to go now, though."

It was a testament to Munkustrap's trust in him that his only reply was a terse nod and a, "How can we help you?"

"Just keep evacuating everyone in case I'm not as smart as I thought."

With the plan in place, Jenny began to herd the younger cats away while Munkustrap ran full-tilt towards the fire. Augusta struggled away and grabbed her brother by the arm, marching up before Mistoffelees had a chance to start running for the fire.

"Dad, we can help," she said. "Cyrano and I have been training with uncle Munk and-"

"No! Under no circumstances are you two to follow me, understand?"

"But dad," Cyrano said. "We can help evacuate! Alonzo and uncle Munk will need help."

"You will not come near that fire," Mistoffelees said, roughly shoving them both back towards Jenny. "You will stay with the group and keep everyone calm and safe, understand? We don't know what's going to happen and we may need someone to lead us to the vicarage, all right?"

They both nodded reluctantly. Mistoffelees only waited long enough to lock eyes with Jenny and note her silent assurance that his kits would be safe before he turned back in the direction of the roiling smoke, clenched his paws, and teleported away.

Chapter Text

Teleporting was dangerous without knowing the exact spread of the fire, but Mistoffelees was not a fast runner under the best of circumstances and the snow only slowed him down. He opted to teleport close to a pile of rusted trucks; he knew that area, and from afar it seemed clear of smoke.

When he rematerialized, the sudden shock of heat and smoke made him gasp and fall to the ground, instinctively seeking the fresher air on lower levels. All right, so he'd misjudged the extent of the blaze. That, or this fire was spreading quickly and devastatingly.

He shook the snow from his face and chanced a peek at the inferno. The fence surrounding the southernmost corner of the junkyard was made of old rotten wood, and was completely engulfed in fire. The tall flames licked at the sky, bounced on the surrounding materials, and spread whenever they found something eagerly flammable. An old bookcase propped against a rusted truck cracked loudly, startling Mistoffelees, and collapsed to the snow. The fire had spread to the interior of the truck, burning the material of the seats with black, stinking smoke.

Mistoffelees' eyes stung as he blinked against the smoke. The actual flames weren't that close to him—he was maybe a good twenty yards away—but the heat was stifling. The snow around the main fire had completely melted and he could feel the snow beneath him slowly turn to slush.

He had to move. And fast.

Mistoffelees pressed his face as low to the ground as he could, enjoyed the feel of coldness for one last second, and drew in the deepest breath he could manage before leaping to his feet.

He focused on the burning truck first, extending his paws, trying to get a feel for the energy of the fire. It was wild and crackling, not at all like the gentle heat he'd learned to manipulate into the stones, and for a moment he feared he'd made a terrible mistake by thinking he could handle this.

No. No, no, he had to relax, and think. He couldn't gently manipulate the energy, but it was still just energy. All magic was simply energy at its core, and his skills involved seeing beyond the restrictions of the physical and visible world to understand how to move that energy around.

All the heat energy from the fire had to go somewhere. Mistoffelees clenched his paws, giving in to a hacking cough as the wind shifted and the smoke bit at his face. He recovered, focused on the fire, looked beyond the crackling flames and at the core energy.

He couldn't snuff it out, but he could change it. He could transfigure the fire. He concentrated, calling forth the energy he knew best how to manipulate, and opened his mouth in a small cry as lightning shot from his paws and into the truck.

The resulting explosion knocked him on his rear. He landed with a splash into the melting snow, shaking his head to clear it. Before him, the truck had burst in half from the force of the explosion, but the fire was out. The smoke quickly dissipated into the early-dawn sky.

Mistoffelees giggled like a kitten, relieved and overjoyed and filled with a sudden cheerful adrenaline. He could put out the fire!

Scrambling to get up in the thick wet snow, he climbed past the blown-up truck and pondered his next move. A pile of junked objects, now unidentifiable and long turned to blackened scrap, was still aflame and dangerously close to other flammable piles. Standing on an intact, hollowed car, Mistoffelees raised his paws, focused on the energy beyond the fire, and again, morphed it into lightning.

The junk pile exploded. This time, Mistoffelees knew to brace himself, planting his paws firmly against the metal of the car as the force of the explosion knocked him back a few inches. Shrapnel struck him, bits of scrap and burnt embers. One still-smoldering piece of wood knocked against the back of his wrist; he hissed and shook his paw, wincing at the feel of singed fur and burnt skin.

All right. Focus. The fire was out on the junk pile, but the roaring flames were still attacking the wooden fence. He had to concentrate on that next, or else the fire would continue to spread all around the junkyard.

Jumping down from the car, Mistoffelees leapt as close as he could to the burning fence. The smoke whipped at his face, and he couldn't stifle a harsh cough, clasping his paws over his nose and mouth to avoid drawing in a lungful of smoke.

When he was reasonably certain he could breathe again, he focused on a section of the burning fence, locked his paws into position, and braced himself as an explosion of lightning blew the fence apart. A five-yard section of wood was gone. Again, the fire was gone too.

He was going to destroy the fence, there was no way around that, but the fire would have done the job all the same. Mistoffelees lowered his paws and shook wooden splinters out of his fur. He was becoming exhausted. He was terribly thirsty too and thought about throwing himself down to the snow to drink, but a moment of hesitation could mean the fire spreading again.

Blam. Another section of fence. Blam. An old bureau went up, and he extinguished the fire before it could spread to neighbouring junk.

Every blast left him fuzzy-headed and parched, but still he pressed on. The air was clearing, the crackles and sizzles of the fire ebbing away.

The next section of fence that needed his attention did not have a clear area in front of it. Gathering his strength, Mistoffelees quickly clambered up a stack of crates, uncomfortably close to the heat of the fire, but as good a shot as he was going to get. Focus, energy, lightning.

He was too close, and too tired to remember to brace himself. The explosion blew the fence apart and knocked some of the crates away, leaving Mistoffelees to teeter dangerously for a few seconds before crashing to the ground.

He landed with a hard splatter on the melting snow, rolling over his ankle and taking the impact with his right hip. He managed a pained groan before gathering enough wits to roll away before one of the crates came smashing down after him.

"Everlasting! Did the fire explode?"

He knew that voice, though it was raspy from exposure to smoke. Rolling over onto his stomach, Mistoffelees blinked at the haze of smoke and spotted the tom that was frantically approaching. "Alonzo? Why are you here?"

"Munk asked me to see if you were all right," Alonzo said. He coughed and dropped down to the ground beside Mistoffelees, rubbing his reddened and watery eyes. "I didn't know fire could do that! Are you hurt?"

"I'll be all right." With Alonzo's help, he struggled to his feet, more sluggish from the strain of magic than from injuries, although his hip and ankle were going to be sore for a while. "The fire's not exploding, that's me. I'm putting it out, bit by bit. Help me over there."

He pointed to the next section of the fence. Alonzo obliged and supported him as they limped to the fence. Mistoffelees quickly informed Alonzo to shield himself from the explosion as he worked his magic.

The deed done, Alonzo brushed off bits of smoking wood from his fur and, "That's an unusual way of putting out a fire!"

"It's the only way I know," Mistoffelees said. He surveyed the fence; the last blast had taken out a seven-yard section of it and the fire seemed to be out. Smoke still plumed from within the junkyard and he needed to focus on those next.

The first den he saw was Gus and Jellylorum's. The fire had reduced it to a pile of smoldering embers. He debated whether to use his magic to put out what was left but he decided against it. The fire wasn't spreading from there. The home was already ruined.

"Did they get out in time?" Mistoffelees asked quietly.

Alonzo nodded briskly, still holding his arm for support as they hurried down a natural path of stone. "Munkustrap got them out. Just in time, too. The place collapsed as they were running away. Munk got himself a face-full of smoke for his troubles, too. Poor Gus; he didn't understand what was going on and kept trying to go back inside for his lute, he kept saying. Munk had to carry him away."

"What about—oh," Mistoffelees quietly said.

Alonzo heaved a sigh as they approached the smoking remains of his den. It too had collapsed. "Yeah. Cassandra wasn't in the den, thank the Everlasting Cat. Everything we had was in there, though."

Mistoffelees gave him a quick, sympathetic squeeze of the arm. Shelter was only shelter and things were only things, but it had to sting to lose a den full of memories. Of course, if they didn't hurry, no one in the junkyard would have a den of memories left.

"I can't see anything through this smoke," Alonzo said, stifling a cough and rubbing at his eyes. "I just hope Cassandra is somewhere safe."

"She is. She's smart; she found a safe place to be."

"I hope the kits are-"

"Focus," Mistoffelees tersely said. Everlasting, if he let himself worry about his or anyone else's kits now, he'd be too frantic to finish the job. They were fine. Tugger would make sure of it. He had to trust.

They pressed on, but the urgency was reduced as it became clear the worst of the fire was over. Mistoffelees stopped twice to extinguish burning piles of scrap and junk, and pausing to note that Bombalurina and Pounvical's den hadn't escaped either. He did manage to salvage most of Coricopat and Tantomile's den, though he still had to blow a hole in the roof to put out the fire.

It was only after they'd walked a bit, with Mistoffelees heavily leaning on Alonzo, that they could say the fire was out. The air was still thick with smoke and the stink of burnt things, but the fire itself was gone. The junkyard was safe. Mistoffelees all but collapsed against Alonzo, utterly drained. He couldn't remember the last time he'd ever used so much magic in so little time. His head hurt, his hip hurt, and all he wanted was to see his family, drink some water, and lie down.

"Easy now," Alonzo said, looping an arm around Mistoffelees' back.

"North side," Mistoffelees murmured. "Let's go make sure everyone is safe."

It was a slow walk through melted snow, slurping footfalls echoing in the eerily empty junkyard. The smoke cleared as they left the south side and for the first time since the crisis began, Mistoffelees felt a small twinge of uncertainty about this sudden, mysterious fire. A natural fire was rare in the middle of winter, and unless one of the Jellicles had accidentally set it…

The din of voices, cries, and coughs became louder as Mistoffelees and Alonzo approached the north side of the junkyard. As instructed, everyone had gathered to the safest spot and huddled together, turning and pointing and exclaiming as they spotted the two new arrivals.

Mistoffelees blinked quickly as he scanned the crowed. Victoria was on the very edge of the crowd, holding a crying Lyrette in her arms, and looking immensely relieved to see him. Plato was at her side, holding their other two frightened kittens.

Just beyond Plato's shoulder, Mistoffelees could see Cappella's worried face peeking through, and he mentally ticked off one name. Another quick scan of the crowd and he spotted Tourmaline, standing close to Verismo and Cassandra, who broke away to come nuzzle Alonzo.

Cappella and Tourmaline were safe. Alonzo gently let go of Mistoffelees as Cyrano ran to his father, helping to support him. That made three of his kittens safe.

"Dad, are you hurt?" Cyrano asked.

Mistoffelees shook his head. There was a hacking cough in the distance and he sympathized; the smoke had left him raw too. "Just thirsty. Nothing serious. The fire's out, we don't have to leave."

It was Etcetera who squealed in joy and quickly passed on the news, her voice carrying above the throng. "The fire's out! Thank the Everlasting Cat, we're safe!" The news was shouted and passed on and the worried murmurs of the crowd turned to relieved cheers.

"Is everyone here?" Mistoffelees asked, swallowing dryly as his son led him to a spot near the edge of the northern fence.

Gus had been seated there, Jellylorum on one side looking quite flustered and Skimble on the other, talking animatedly. Mistoffelees wondered if they were trying to keep the confused old cat calm and distracted from the crisis.

A loud, barking cough made Mistoffelees jump. It had come from Munkustrap, who was shakily perched on all fours in the snow, hacking and coughing while Jenny stood vigil over him with a cup of water.

Demeter, standing quietly nearby, came over to help settle Mistoffelees on a wooden pallet, giving him a quick nuzzle in the process. Augusta was hovering nearby, keeping an eye on her uncle Munk. Four of his kittens were safe.

"Is he all right?" Mistoffelees asked, wincing as Munkustrap retched and brought up black phlegm onto the snow.

"He breathed in a lot of smoke," Demeter said grimly. "Jenny says he just needs to cough it out."

"Is that—Misto!" It was Tugger, pushing and shoving his way through the crowd, Aloysius right behind him. Five kittens safe, and now Tugger. Mistoffelees relaxed a tiny bit on the pallet, shifting a bit until he'd found a position that didn't hurt his hip too much.

Tugger embraced him quickly, but he was stiff and tense. "Are you all right?"

"A bit sore, but the fire's out," Mistoffelees said. Cyrano pressed a small bowl of water into his hands and the tux took a long drink before asking, "Is everyone here?"

With Munkustrap indisposed, Demeter was now leading things. She didn't bother looking at the crowd before answering; she'd clearly already taken a mental tally of all the Jellicles present. "Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie weren't found, but a few seem to think they've been in Victoria Grove."

Mistoffelees nodded and rubbed at his eyes. They were still dry and sore from the smoke. "All the kits are here, right? Tugger?"

Tugger's mouth pressed into a hard line. He exchanged a quick, frightened look with Demeter. "I thought—I mean, I assumed you were going to come back with-"

"With what? With who?" Mistoffelees leapt to his feet, numb to his aches and pains. "All our kittens are here, right Tugger? Who's missing?"

"We can't find Jezebel," Demeter said. "And we can't find-"

A shrill, terrified scream cut her off. Mistoffelees' head whipped towards the sound, flooded with both dread and relief at the familiarity of the voice. He grabbed Tugger's arm and they propelled their way through the crowd as the cries drew closer.

It wasn't a single scream, but a string of incoherent cries. When Mistoffelees pushed his way to the front of the crowd, he froze in horror at the sight.

Josephine stumbled through the snow. Her calico fur was matted with blood, her face thoroughly soaked as she sobbed her way towards her father, falling to her knees in front of Mistoffelees.

"Josephine, what happened? Where are you hurt?"

Josephine could only shake her head, eyes wild as she sobbed and heaved. "I tried…" she said in a strangled gasp. "I tried, I tried! I swear I tried!"

Tugger caught her by the arms. "Tried what? Josephine!"

"Mandra," Mistoffelees said. A cold, sick feeling crept into his stomach. Jezebel was missing, and the three of them had gone off together just before the fire started. "Mandra and Jezebel… Josephine, where are they? Whose blood is this?"

The queen could only sob, shaking her head. She pointed with a wildly shaking finger in the direction from which she'd stumbled. It was the south side of the junkyard, where the fire had started. Had they been injured in the fire? "I tried…!"

The crowd of Jellicles had gathered around them, collectively dumbstruck at how to proceed. Bombalurina gave Tugger a quick shove and took the trembling Josephine from his arms. "Go see what's going on. I've got her."

"Tugger, come on," Mistoffelees said, grabbing Tugger's arm.

It was a gamble to try teleporting when he was already so drained, but Mistoffelees was counting on the leftover adrenaline to propel him through this hopefully final expense of magic.

In his head he conjured an image of the south side area, sank his claws into Tugger's arm, and teleported the two away.

They reappeared on top of slushy snow in the middle of still-hazy air. Mistoffelees swayed on his feet, dizzy and queasy. He reached for Tugger to steady himself but his mate, his mind only on his kittens, had already leapt out of reach to search the area.

It didn't take him long to cry out. "There's blood! Everlasting Cat! Mandragora? Jezebel!"

Mistoffelees blinked. There was blood on the snow, blood that hadn't been there less than twenty minutes ago. Weak, rosy splatters against the snow. Blood that had been shaken off Josephine's fur.

Tugger found a trail and was following it, following the faint splatters toward what was left of the now-burnt fence, and beyond the limits of the junkyard.

Cold, creeping dread washed over Mistoffelees as he dizzily forced himself to put one paw in front of the other and follow Tugger and the trail of blood outside the junkyard. There shouldn't be blood. Fire burned, but it didn't make one bleed. The pieces were starting to fall into place—the sudden, unnatural fire, the unexpected blood—and then, a few paces ahead of him beyond the charred remains of the fence, Tugger screamed.

"No, no! Bast, damn it, no!"

The scream ended in a gag as Mistoffelees approached. There was no way to miss what had made Tugger cry out.

There was the body of a Jellicle in the disturbed snow, with limbs sprawled out like a broken toy and torn and bloodied fur. No breath, no moan, no sign of life. The snow was thick with the blood that had long since stopped spilling.

"Jezebel," Mistoffelees whispered.

He took a few steps towards the dead queen, careful not to step in the shockingly large puddle of slushy blood. Her throat had been viciously slashed. She had a look of rage on her frozen face and unseeing eyes. The paw sprawled above her head had broken claws, blood and fur stuck between her fingers.

Whatever had happened here, she'd fought back. She'd fought to the death.

"What happened?" Tugger said. He was pacing, a few steps out into the blank snow and a few steps back towards the dead Jezebel. "What the bloody hell happened? Was Mandra here? Misto!"

"Mandra was with her," Mistoffelees quietly said. There was a scent to the area, faint enough but strong enough for him to know that he was meant to smell it.

He could smell Jezebel's blood, and some of Josephine's, and some of scent that belonged to Mandragora, but it was faint. She hadn't bled here. She hadn't been injured. That wasn't part of the plan.

No, the scent underlying the scene told him everything: it was the smell of magic, cold, dark familiar magic. The kind of magic that casually set fires and influenced others into killing.

And all of a sudden, everything fell into place, the haze lifting over the answer that Mistoffelees had known all along, but had refused to acknowledge.

Sudden, vicious fire. The lasting stink of magic. One Jellicle cut down in cold blood, and another—his daughter- kidnapped.

Mistoffelees growled. "Macavity."

Chapter Text

"Let me go!"

"Tugger, wait!"

"I'm going to kill him!"

"Tugger, for Everlasting's sake, will you wait?"

"He has Mandra. He has our kitten, Misto! I'm not about to do any waiting! What do you expect?"

Tugger managed twenty paces away from the horrid scene of Jezebel's dead body before Misto managed to catch up, limping from his injuries and still exhausted from his efforts to stop the fire. He grabbed his mate's arm and was promptly shaken off, nearly pitching to the ground. Tugger could be awfully rough when single-mindedly focused on his kittens.

"I expect you to stop and think," Mistoffelees called out as the other cat continued to march ahead. "Tugger! What are you planning to do exactly?"

"I'm going to kill him and get our daughter back."

"This is Macavity we're talking about. How do you expect to fight him? Think for a moment, what happened last time?"

That got Tugger's attention. He stopped short and kicked up snow as he whirled to face Mistoffelees. "We got you back, that's what happened!"

"You got me back because somehow, by the skin of my teeth, I managed to stun Macavity long enough for me and Demeter to escape. We can't march in and attack, Tugger. We'll get ourselves and Mandra killed."

He spoke evenly, but all Mistoffelees could do was focus on the reasonableness of his words to stave off his own panic, and hopefully Tugger's as well. His mate was strong, but not nearly strong enough to fight someone like Macavity. He had neither the muscle nor the magic to defeat someone so strong.

Tugger fidgeted on his feet, looking towards Elmsmere Way and back to the edge of the junkyard, where—Everlasting—Jezebel's body was still crumpled. At once the anger drained from his face and body, ears flattening miserably as his expression became one of pained resignation.

"But why Mandra?" Tugger croaked. "What could he possibly want with a kitten…?"

Macavity. Macavity, who two years ago, had kidnapped him and Demeter and threatened to kill his unborn kittens so Mistoffelees could attempt to conceive magical kittens for the Hidden Paw's legacy. Once back safe in the junkyard and Mistoffelees' kittens born, they'd agreed to keep the demand secret. No one but the two of them knew what Macavity had wanted. Tugger had seemed completely unwilling to discuss the time his mate spent in captivity, and that suited Mistoffelees just fine. His kittens didn't even know who Macavity was or what had happened to their father and aunt Demeter. They had no clue they were born in a panic outside the junkyard. They'd never needed to know any of these things.

Mistoffelees had assumed the matter was over and done, but… he thought back to those horrible few days, so long ago, locked in Macavity's basement, terrified of the Hidden Paw's intentions and worried for the safety of his unborn kittens. He remembered the dead stillness of Elmsmere Way, the cold of that basement, how it stank, the brutality of the henchcats.

He thought of it all, and sank to his knees, achy and exhausted and emotionally crushed. His daughter, his sweet harmless daughter, was now in Macavity's stinking den in Elmsmere Way. Maybe the henchcats were touching her. No! If she was hurt…

"He might…" Tugger began, walking back to his mate. "He might want to… to do her harm. It's probably revenge he wants."

Mistoffelees shook his head. Tugger had painfully avoided saying "kill", but at the very least, Mistoffelees knew that wasn't the immediate threat. "He won't kill Mandra. He never planned to kill her, or else she'd be right here next to-" He swallowed hard, resisting the urge to glance at Jezebel's body. "No, Macavity needs her alive."

"But why?"

"He needs her for leverage because he needs something from me."

Tugger's tail whipped. "What does he want from you? Your magic?"

Mistoffelees' head swam. He had to think, he had to plan what to do next, but panic and exhaustion fogged up his mind.

A sudden cry made him and Tugger jump. "Jezebel!"

It was Demeter. She'd come to help and was now stopped in her tracks by the scorched remains of the fence, staring in horror at the deceased queen in the snow.

"Jezebel, no!" she screamed again. She caught Mistoffelees' eye. "What the hell happened!?"

"Don't let…" Mistoffelees began, weakly waving a paw in the direction of the junkyard behind her. He stopped to catch his breath and Tugger finished his thought for him.

"Don't let anyone else come this way," Tugger said. He stomped through the snow and gently helped Mistoffelees to his feet, helping him walk closer to the fence. "No one should have to see her this way… especially not kittens."

"Munk and Alonzo are on their way," Demeter said numbly. Again, she asked, "What the bloody hell happened here?"

"Macavity," Mistoffelees said. He didn't miss the brief flash of panic in Demeter's eyes. "He had Jezebel killed and he took Mandragora."

"Oh… everlasting." Demeter put a paw to her mouth, shielding a look of sudden despair. He didn't need to say anything else because, like him, Demeter had clearly already puzzled out Macavity's line of thinking.

"Is Josephine all right?" Tugger asked.

"She's not hurt," Demeter said. "She was starting to calm down when I left, but… oh, the poor thing must have seen all of this."

Her ears twitched and she suddenly whipped around to see who'd been approaching behind her. She relaxed somewhat, and Mistoffelees saw Alonzo cautiously approaching, supporting a bedraggled and weak-looking Munkustrap.

"Jezebel is gone," Demeter quietly said.

"Gone as in gone away?" Alonzo asked, practically dragging Munkustrap along to the edge of the fence. "Or…?"

"Macavity killed her."

Munkustrap seemed to shake off his weakness, batting away Alonzo's paws and hauling himself over to Demeter. He spotted the body at the same time he began to ask, "What happ—oh. Oh damn it."

"He's got Mandra too," Demeter said.

"All right, we need to-" Munkustrap's thought dissolved as he began to cough, deeply and wetly. The smoke he'd breathed in hadn't been kind to him.

Demeter placed a gentle paw on her mate's back. "We need to make sure this area is off-limits until everyone is told what happened. And until we decide what to do with poor Jezebel."

Mistoffelees nodded mechanically. "And we need to go to Elmsmere Way to talk to Macavity."

Tugger gaped. "But you just said-!"

"I said we're going to go, calmly. We're not going to attack. We're going to see what he wants."

"You think he wants something from you?" Munkustrap asked weakly. His voice was reedy and he was still doubled over, trying to get his breath back. "What could he want?"

Demeter met his eyes sharply. Oh, she knew. Mistoffelees held her gaze knowingly as he said, "I don't know, but Tugger and I are going to find out. We're going to Elmsmere Way."

"I'm coming too," Munkustrap croaked.

"Absolutely not," Demeter said. "You're about to keel over. Alonzo and I will go with them."

"I can't let you-"

"You need to stay here. Tell everyone what's going on when they come this way. And… you need to watch over Jezebel."

Munkustrap quietly admitted defeat, sinking into the ground on his haunches as another cough rattled his shoulders.

Mistoffelees wanted nothing more than to do the same, to collapse on the ground and forget that anything bad was happening. He swayed on his feet a bit and leaned into Tugger.

"Hey," Tugger said, catching him. His tone was calm, but there was no hiding the tension beneath. "You're a little banged up yourself. Are you sure you can go to Elmsmere Way?"

Saying no was not an option. Not for Mistoffelees, and not for Tugger either. The question was only asked because Tugger needed reassurance that his mate was all right, that he could focus on getting their daughter back. When Macavity was involved, Tugger was out of his element, and he knew it.

"I'm fine," Mistoffelees said. "Teleporting will be faster than walking."

"The four of us?" Alonzo asked. He gave Munkustrap a sad, encouraging look before joining Mistoffelees, Tugger, and Demeter. He was clearly unsure of how this whole process worked.

"And the five of us back," Mistoffelees said. He spoke with a confidence he didn't feel, couldn't even begin to access. But if anyone was going to be the leader now, the protector, it would have to be him.

He looked from Tugger to Demeter to Alonzo, mentally connecting them through his magic, preparing to pull them along the slipstream of magical energy he used to bend the physical world and teleport. He just hoped he wasn't delivering any of them to their deaths. Everlasting Cat help him.

"All right," Mistoffelees said. "Let's get our daughter back."

He concentrated, mentally travelled to the one place he'd hoped never to see anywhere but his nightmares, and in a flash the four of them were gone.

***

Mandragora yelped as the world re-materialized around her. The effect left her disoriented and she stumbled, unwittingly burrowing against the tom who still had an iron grip on her arm.

She yelped again and tried to pull away, but he wasn't letting go. Mandragora hated him. His gray and brown fur was dirty and unkempt, his breath stank of rotting mice, and while one of his eyes was scarred shut, the other leered at her.

He'd leered back there, too. Back when fire suddenly tore open the fence of the junkyard, just a few yards from where Jezebel, Josephine, and she had been standing, and four strange cats casually stepped inside the boundaries of their home.

The first one in was the scarred tom, followed by two wiry, white cats with fur stained pink and pinched eyes. The last one in was a tall, wild-furred red cat with cold eyes and gnarled whiskers. He'd taken one careful and appraising look at the three stunned queens, and raised a thick paw to point at Mandragora.

The scarred tom had leered with his good eye and laughed when Jezebel had hissed and clawed at the tall red cat, shoving Josephine and Mandragora behind her to shield them. The tall red tom nodded to the scarred one, and then to the two wiry white cats with the stained fur.

He'd leered as he tried to pry Mandragora and Josephine away, only to dodge a swipe from Jezebel, who screamed at the two kits to get away and run.

And worst of all, he'd leered and grinned as the twin white cats pounced on the old queen, savaging her with teeth and claws.

Josephine had tried to stop them, clawing at one of the white cats, only to be knocked to the ground as they continued their work on Jezebel until she gurgled and stopped fighting back.

Mandragora remembered the screams. First Jezebel's, then her own, and probably Josephine's. She screamed until she was raw, watching the old queen's blood splatter onto her sister, spreading in the snow, melting it to slush with its heat.

She remembered struggling, kicking, clawing, breaking a claw as the scarred tom caught her paw, twisting her arm behind her.

And then her head felt as though it was exploding, as though she was titling sideways but never hitting the ground. Josephine's screams faded and her own caught in her throat.

And then she wasn't standing just outside the junkyard fence anymore. She was in a human neighbourhood on a dirty snow-covered street, in front of a human house with boards over the windows.

She knew, without knowing where she was, that she was a long, long way from home. Her father had teleported her a few times, and she recognized the feeling of this particular type of magic. But the wielder wasn't her father. It was the tall, cold-eyed cat, who was now carefully appraising her from head to tail.

He took a few confident steps closer. She struggled against the scarred tom.

"What do you want from me?" Mandragora hissed.

A few more steps and the tall cat with the red fur towered over her. He was the leader here, that was much was clear, but that was all Mandragora could glean from the situation.

He took her paw in his huge one, easily encircling her wrist. His claws were thick and sharp and pressed against her fur and skin. Not enough to break skin, not even enough to hurt. He was being gentle, and it made the situation all the more puzzling.

She made a token effort to pull her paw away, just to see what he'd do. He tightened his grip, but still didn't crush or scratch her, instead pulling her forward, a bit off-balance.

He brought her wrist to his nose. It should have been comical, especially since he was so tall and she was so short that he needed to bend at the waist to do it, but the gesture only made Mandragora's stomach twist in fear.

The tall cat breathed in, raking his nose along the fur of her wrist, her arm. She felt his whiskers against her paw, so sharp they felt as though they would stab her clean through flesh and bone.

"You were here once before," the tall cat said. His breath was like a hot poker against her fur. "Do you remember?"

"I've… I've never been here before," Mandragora evenly said.

"A long time ago—a lifetime for you, quite literally—your little tom of a mother came here to visit me. He was full to bursting with kits. I said hello and gave you all a little pat. One of you said hello back with a kick. I am certain…" And he gave her wrist another slow, deliberate sniff. "… it was you."

Mandragora's breaths collapsed into shallow gasps. No, none of this made sense at all. She didn't know this cold monster, and surely neither of her fathers did? But how did he know about her parentage?

And why did it matter to him?

Why did Jezebel have to die for this?

"My father doesn't-" she started to say, cutting herself off as the tall cat squeezed her paw, his first overt show of violence. She trembled but forced herself to keep holding his gaze. She needed to be strong. Assertive. It's what her fathers would have done. It's what Uncle Munk had taught her.

"I am about to welcome you into my home," the tall cat said. "And I wish to make one thing clear: if you try to kick me again, I will cut your throat and then let my associates…" He nodded towards the two stained white twins. "… finish whatever is left. Do you understand?"

Mandragora tried to pull her paw away. She couldn't move it an inch.

"You will follow my instructions. You will not fight me, and you will not fight anyone who lives with me. Your comfort and safety will not be in danger as long as you obey. Do you understand?"

He gave her all of two seconds to continue staring at him, gape-mouthed, before signaling to the twin cats and to the scruffy scarred tom who held her. Mandragora was then dragged down the unkempt and snowy path towards the human house, where the tall cat led the way inside through a broken entrance in the bottom of the door.

The inside of the house was big, bigger than any den Mandragora had ever known. It instantly made her feel vulnerable. It smelled of many toms and queens, of old food, a bit of blood.

A few cats scurried out of the way when they saw the tall red cat enter, aside from a lanky queen with rough caramel-tabby fur. She took her time stretching and rising from the pillow on which she'd been lounging.

She strode to the new arrivals, disdainfully looked Mandragora up and down, something she was starting to get used to. The queen was all bones, old with dull and dusty fur. Probably as old as Jezebel. Mandragora instantly hated her.

Her appraisal done, the old queen raised an uncouth eyebrow and said, in a gravelly voice, "That one looks like she'd blow over in a breeze, Mac. Don't tell me that's who you want."

"No," the tall red cat said. His name was Mac? "But she has her own purpose."

"What do you want me to do?" Mandragora quietly asked. She made her tone a little more sniveling, a little more scared than she truly felt. They didn't want to kill her, though this strange tall cat was clearly dangerous. She was interested to learn what they wanted from her, or at least to pretend to care long enough to get away.

"I want you to remain calm and obedient for now," Mac said.

"T'ain't you he wants," the scarred tom said in her ear, playfully pinching her scruff. "It's your whore of a father."

"What?" Mandragora yelped, snapping her head forward to free her scruff from his grip. Magic. It had to be magic. This Mac tom clearly had magic. Did he need more? Is that why he wanted her father? "No, please… don't hurt my dad. I can give you what you want."

This made the bony old queen laugh in a harsh throaty rattle. Mac hissed in her direction. "Sedna, enough."

"I have magic," Mandragora said. Magic too weak to even teleport a spoon more than a yard, but that was for her to know. "You can use my magic. Take it!"

Mac coolly regarded her, a hint of a smirk on his sharp mouth. "You don't know who I am, do you? No, only your little father can give me what I want. He escaped me once. But now that I have one of his most precious possessions, I believe he and I will reach an agreement."

"What does my father-"

She was interrupted as the scarred tom took her by the arm and gave her a rough shake. "I'll bring her to the basement."

"No, not quite yet. Keep her close by."

There came a dull snap from far outside. Mac raised a knowing eyebrow. "It would seem your little tom of a mother wasted no time. Sedna and Bixbite, watch over this little one here." He waved a paw toward the twin white cats and indicated the door. "Cesare and Eris, let's go greet our new arrivals."

Chapter Text

Elmsmere Way had a distinct, nauseating scent to it. Rumours abounded that Macavity had cleared it for his use a long time ago by using fire to scatter the human residents, and the gutted houses still stood, abandoned, charred, lending the area a perpetual smell of smoke and ashes. Mistoffelees couldn't be sure, but he thought Elmsmere Way had an underlying scent of blood and burnt flesh, and he wondered if Macavity had done a bit more than simply scatter the former residents.

Mistoffelees had only been to Elmsmere Way once before. He knew the smell would never leave his memory.

He'd assumed he'd never have to return, but there he was, using up the very last vestiges of his energy to teleport himself, Tugger, Demeter and Alonzo back to the place he'd tried so hard to forget for almost two years.

Teleporting was a difficult bit of magic. Mistoffelees could transport himself and others to any place he could focus on, but in order to do it without causing injury or death, he needed a clear view of his arrival spot. He remembered exactly where Macavity's hideout was within Elmsmere Way, but he had no way of knowing how heavily the house was guarded, whether they'd arrive into a trap, or even if an extra fence or boulder had been placed in what he'd previously believed to be an empty spot.

Because of all that, he opted to teleport everyone to the only other spot in Elmsmere Way he knew well: the abandoned house in which he'd given birth to his kittens.

When the haze of magic cleared and the ground solidified under his paws, Mistoffelees immediately pitched to the side, dizzy and drained from too much magic and too little rest. It was Demeter who caught him and kept him from slamming into the cold ground. She squeezed his arms in reassurance as he frantically blinked and the familiar house came into view.

They were just outside the front of the house, with the front door stuck tight, frost rimming the long-destroyed wood and paint of the frame. The window by the door was still broken from where Tugger had kicked it to get inside. It felt like a lifetime ago.

"This way," Demeter said. She gave him a little nudge before releasing his arms, just to make sure he was steady on his feet, and he gave a curt nod to indicate that yes, he was fine, just fine.

Demeter led them down the street away and of course she knew, of course she remembered where Macavity's lair was.

The dead streets of the abandoned neighbourhood were eerily quiet, the dead grass and broken junk covered in snow. There was the occasional trail of paw prints but it was useless to try tracking anything, not when Macavity came and went as he pleased without leaving a paw print anywhere.

"Follow my lead," Mistoffelees whispered for Tugger's benefit. "And don't do anything foolish."

Tugger looked a little hurt at the suggestion. "I just want to get Mandra back."

"And that's why you shouldn't do anything foolish. Macavity has a… method to his madness. Cooperation helps you stay alive a little longer."

"But cooperation with that? We still don't know what he wants."

Mistoffelees said nothing. He let Demeter take the lead while Alonzo slowed to walk alongside him, protecting him as he eyed the ruined houses all around them. Poor Alonzo; if anyone was going to be doing any protecting here, it would be Mistoffelees, and that wasn't saying much.

The march to Macavity's house made Mistoffelees' stomach twist in familiarity. He'd been marched through here by henchcats, who'd had a rough touch but hadn't really hurt him, beyond a few choice sneers. Mandra was probably safe, then. Macavity needed her. He didn't hurt anything or anyone if he needed them.

Everlasting, he hoped he was correct.

They rounded a corner filled with broken pallets of wood and a rusted, upturned metal garbage can. Demeter carefully sidestepped a broken glass jar and when she moved, Macavity's lair came into view.

Mistoffelees had few memories of the house itself. He and Demeter had been marched in and locked up in the basement, their small and terrifying home for three days. He remembered his anxiety at the situation, the panic as Macavity's plans became clear. It had rained for one of those days. He remembered fitful sleep and then pain as his kittens suddenly decided to come into the world.

And then a different sort of pain, a strong, liberating pain, as Macavity threatened him and his kittens and his body responded in the only way it knew how: with a burst of pure, unstoppable magic.

Macavity and his house and his henchcats were a blur after that moment. The rest of his time in Elmsmere Way was spent giving birth to his kittens, and getting as far away from the place as possible. Too many things he tried hard not to commit to memory, including the memory of Mandragora's birth. The runt of the litter, she'd come out not breathing. Tugger had managed to get her breathing again, but he refused to dig into the memory, and Tugger had never mentioned it again, for both their sakes.

And now they were back in this place, and again Mandra was the one in danger. Elmsmere Way was cursed.

As they approached, Macavity stood on the splintered porch of the house, a casual curve to his body meant to indicate his lack of surprise at their arrival. Mistoffelees frowned. The Hidden Paw was flanked by three cats he did not recognize.

One was a tall and lanky queen with dull fur and dull whiskers, who casually picked at her teeth with a claw and coolly watched their approach. She was likely not a threat, though any cat who'd earned the right to stand at Macavity's side had to be taken with caution.

The other two gave Mistoffelees greater anxiety. They were twin cats, a tom and a queen, small and wiry and sharp all over. Their fur could have been pure gleaming white, were it not for the deep-set pink stains around their paws and throats and bellies, and Mistoffelees realized with revulsion that the pink stains were for the most part old, long-dried blood. The queen still had fresh blood on her chest.

Mistoffelees bristled at the sight and the smell. Jezebel's blood.

"Welcome back," Macavity purred, theatrically drawing out every syllable. His voice was calm and still it boomed over the silent wind of Elmsmere Way. "I've missed you so, Mistoffelees. How good of you to come visit."

If Macavity wanted to play, then Mistoffelees would play the game. Whatever kept everyone alive and safe. "You didn't need such extreme methods to get my attention, Macavity. You could have just asked for a visit."

Macavity's mouth split into a wicked grin. "But look how efficient it was. You're here."

Demeter stood tall and alert on his left side, while he felt Alonzo and, more importantly, Tugger's restless energy at his right side. He was staying quiet, which was more than Mistoffelees had expected at this point.

"You took something from us," Mistoffelees said.

"And in turn, you have something I need. Isn't it interesting how these things balance out?"

"What do you want?" Tugger suddenly bellowed. Well, Mistoffelees supposed it was too expect him to stay quiet for long. "Where is she, you piece of filth? Where is my daughter?"

Macavity gave Tugger a bored look, then addressed Mistoffelees as though they were discussing an unruly kitten. "I'm surprised you brought him. Does he always have this temper?"

"Let me see Mandragora," Mistoffelees said. It was a chore to keep his voice steady. "Please. And then make your demand."

Another long, cool look from Macavity. It was impossible to tell what was happening behind those cold, sharp eyes, but he was likely debating if Mistoffelees had jumped through the proper hoops and could now be rewarded. He turned to the lanky queen and nodded briskly toward the house. She flicked off whatever she'd been picking from her teeth and went into the house.

"I've never seen her before," Demeter whispered to him. "Or those two."

"Those two killed Jezebel!" Alonzo hissed, as though noticing the two white cats for the first time.

"And they'll kill us if we're not careful," Mistoffelees said. He made a point of looking at Tugger while he spoke, though his mate only had eyes for the house, waiting to see who would emerge.

"Not you though, Misto," Demeter said.

Alonzo frowned at her, puzzled. Mistoffelees stalled any questions by raising his paw. "He just needs me alive. Not necessarily intact."

"Dad!"

Mistoffelees' heart leapt at the sound. By some miracle, Tugger managed to resist running forward, a move that would have instantly cost him his life. Instead he stuck his arms out as far as they could go as though he could manage to reach the struggling queen who'd just appeared, held firmly in the paws of a large white and grey tom. "Mandra!"

She's all right, she's all right, Mistoffelees chanted to himself, frantically scanning his daughter up and down for any signs of scratches, blood, abuse. She was scared, but not hurt.

"Mandra, just stay calm, okay kitten?" Mistoffelees said. "You're going to be all right."

Mandra nodded jerkily, as much as she could with her scruff in the firm grip of the white and grey tom. His face was scarred and one of his eyes was missing. This tom was instantly familiar.

"It's Bixbite," Demeter said with revulsion. "I thought he was dead."

Then again, Mistoffelees assumed that Macavity was dead too. If ever he managed to get his paws near Macavity without his daughter at stake, he vowed he would not stop until the Hidden Paw was dead.

"When you last visited me," Macavity said, speaking coolly as though Mistoffelees and Demeter had merely been over for tea. "We had a little discussion about my plans for the future. Do you remember?"

Mistoffelees heard a low hiss from Demeter. He clenched his own paws, quelling the anguish he felt now that Macavity was confirming his suspicions. "You talked about a lot of things. I had other things on my mind at the time."

Macavity laughed darkly and shot Bixbite a 'don't-I-know-it' glance. "You're quite right. It was not the best time for my offer, was it? That was entirely my fault. Let's begin anew."

Tugger's paw banged into his arm and Mistoffelees realized he was trying to grasp his arm, eyes still riveted to Macavity. "What's he talking about?" he whispered. "What offer? What did he offer you?"

"Your mate has special talents, as you can see." He winked in Mandra's direction before stepping down from the porch, one careful, calculated footfall at a time.

"His magic?" Tugger asked.

"Of a sort."

"Thick one, i'n't he?" the lanky queen snorted.

"The idea of my legacy ending with me is not an appealing one," Macavity said. "Magic is an inherited talent, so as you can imagine, I am looking for certain talents in a mate so that these talents may be given to any kittens of mine."

"Wait…" Tugger said. He was either beginning to understand what Macavity was driving at, or threatened by the bigger cat's careful approach of their group.

"You have these talents," Macavity said. He stopped a few inches from Mistoffelees, towering over the entire group. Mistoffelees silently begged them all to stay still as Macavity raised a paw and gently poked him in his soft, but flat belly. "I saw it when you first came to visit. You were ripe with kittens."

"Don't touch him! Don't touch him!"

"Tugger, shut it."

"So I will offer again, in very precise terms," Macavity said, amused by Tugger's outburst. "Your daughter will be returned to you, if you first bear me a litter of magical kittens."

Of course now Tugger understood, and now he barked a sour, exaggerated laugh. "Ha! No! Never! He'd never do anything to help you like that!"

"Everlasting Cat, will you let me speak?" Mistoffelees hissed, ignoring the way Tugger snapped his jaw shut with a hurt look. To Macavity, he said, "Listen, I don't care about whatever plans you have for heirs. Give me my daughter back, and I'll help you, but not like you ask. Maybe… maybe I could help find you a queen, one with magic. Somewhere here, in London."

"There is no cat, in London or anywhere, magical or not, I don't already know about."

"I have my own secret ways of contacting cats you may not know about." He didn't, but he hoped Macavity would fall for his bluff. If anything it would buy them time.

"Please. I know of everyone, everywhere, who is of interest to me. How did you think I found you in the first place? How do you think I found your runt?"

Mistoffelees bristled. "Then maybe… maybe I could teach you how to bear the kittens yourself? The sire wouldn't matter, as long as the one bearing them is magical."

Macavity blinked dumbly. His face suddenly crumpled and he heaved a strange breath, and Mistoffelees realized he was laughing, genuinely laughing for the first time in probably ages. Behind him, the lanky queen wheezed a laugh.

"I'm serious! If I could do it, so could you. You'd know the kittens are pure-"

"Go for it, Mac!" the queen said. She mimed patting a large stomach and grinned at Macavity. "I'd pay to see that!"

"Enough, Sedna."

Macavity looked behind him one way and the other, making sure all hilarity and dissention was quelled before he fixed his gaze on Mistoffelees again. "Timing is everything, Mistoffelees. Take some time to think of my offer. You have one week. If I've not heard back from you in an agreeable fashion by then, your runt will be deposited on your doorstep, and I will allow Eris and Cesare to do the delivery."

The two white cats cackled and the queen dipped a finger in the tacky blood on her chest.

Mistoffelees clenched his jaw, mind racing, looking from one cat to the other. Strength wouldn't work. Magic was too dangerous right now. He'd need to use cunning. He just needed to buy enough time to think of a trick.

He nodded, briskly. "Okay. Give me one week."

"I expect cooperation." Macavity's words were as firm as a slamming door. He cocked his chin towards Bixbite, then the two white cats, and finally to Sedna, the rusty old queen. In turn they went back into the house, Bixbite dragging Mandragora by the scruff.

"Dad!" she croaked.

"We'll get you out!" Mistoffelees yelled. "We love you!" His legs almost collapsed as the door shut.

No. No way was he going to lose a kitten to Macavity. One way or another, he was going to get her back home safely.

"Misto… Misto?" Tugger said. His tone was panicked, almost hysterical as he stared disbelieving at the closed door and the empty porch. "What are we doing? We need to be doing something!"

"We will," Mistoffelees said. "We're going to go home and think of a plan."

"But-"

Arguing was useless. As much as the thought of leaving Mandra here turned his stomach, Mistoffelees grabbed Tugger's shoulder, turned him back towards Demeter and Alonzo, and teleported before anyone could protest.

Chapter Text

As they teleported back to the junkyard, Mistoffelees had a brief impression of a burnt fence and surprised Jellicles before he pitched sideways onto the ground, too dizzy and exhausted to do much more than pant as his cheek pressed against the snowy ground.

A pair of paws grasped his shoulder and rolled him onto his back. Mistoffelees had hoped, but had not expected, to see Tugger staring down at him, and sure enough it was Alonzo's worried face that greeted him.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

"Bloody terrific," Mistoffelees muttered, throwing a shaking paw across his eyes. The snow crunched restlessly somewhere on his left side.

"We left her," Tugger was saying. He still hadn't dropped the near-hysterical tone he'd had back in Elmsmere Way. "I can't believe we left her!"

"We're not leaving her," Mistoffelees said. He blinked as his vision briefly greyed out and tried to meet Tugger's eyes. "We won't let him hurt her. I just need to think of something."

"What's there to think about? You're not going to… do what he wanted!"

He had to admit it was kind of Tugger not to mention the details of the deal out loud. "I'm not. But we need a plan. And keep this whole thing to yourselves, all right? Macavity's deal, I mean."

Alonzo nodded, and Tugger restlessly stormed away. Mistoffelees sighed and rubbed at his eyes. His head hurt, his ankle hurt, his hip hurt, and now anxiety was gnawing at his insides.

All around him, the smell of smoke was still thick in the air, stinging his eyes. His ears twitched at the sound of worried chatter, the occasional sob undercut by the sound of a deep hacking cough.

"…Dad?"

A warm, stable paw slipped under his shoulders and Mistoffelees let Cyrano pull him into a sitting position, replacing Alonzo at his side. It took a few blinks before realization set in and he nearly made himself dizzy again as he whipped around in the snow, looking for the gory scene they'd left behind before teleporting. Who had allowed his son to come here?

He spotted Munkustrap first, his paws balanced on his knees as he gagged into the snow, still under the effects of the smoke inhalation. Demeter had gone to his side and now Alonzo joined them.

Tugger continued to pace in the snow, restless with nervous energy with no particular destination in mind. Skimble stood a few paces away, anxiously rubbing at his face as Jenny stood grimly, patting his arm and looking down at a Jellicle-sized lump in the snow, covered by a thick plaid shawl. Someone had made a token effort to kick snow over the splatters of blood that had once been Jezebel's.

No one else had come to visit the grisly scene. Mistoffelees was relieved, but only slightly so, that Cyrano was the only one of his kittens here. He had probably insisted on coming and no one had insisted on stopping him.

"How did… um, where's Mandra?" Cyrano asked.

"Still in Elmsmere Way," Mistoffelees said, his voice thin. "Still with Macavity."

His son frowned. He didn't know Macavity. None of the younger generation did. If Mistoffelees had had his way, none of them would have known about him.

"I'll explain later," the tux said, holding onto his son's arm as he shakily got to his feet. "But she's safe for the moment. We just need to decide some things before we get her back."

Cyrano nodded, a little dubious, but trusting, letting his father lean heavily on him as they trudged through the snow and back inside the junkyard. Tugger eventually paced back to his side, tail still twitching in anxiety, though his features were softened.

Munkustrap greeted them with a harsh cough smothered against the back of his paw. "I sent Alonzo to get Old Deuteronomy from the vicarage," he rasped. "We'll need him for… for the funeral."

"Oh dear," Jenny sighed, turning her gaze away from where Jezebel's body lay swaddled in the shawl. She looked bent and weary, as though a pollicle were riding on her shoulders. "What is he going to think about everything that happened here?"

"And what about your little one, lad?" Skimble asked.

Mistoffelees sighed. He felt ready to faint, despite the dread coursing along his limbs. Tugger's arm slid around his back protectively and said, "Mandra's okay. Macavity won't hurt her, right? Not right now."

He directed large, worried eyes to his mate, and Mistoffelees nodded. "We just need to figure out our next step. I'm convinced he won't harm her."

Jenny bristled. She was never one to enjoy a lack of details when it came to drama. "But why does he want that poor sweet dear?"

"It's a long story," Mistoffelees murmured, shaky on his legs as his son and his mate supported him back into the junkyard. Munkustrap followed closely, his breath in short rasps, his arm slung around Demeter. "Let's worry about Jezebel for the moment."

Jenny sighed, though the tail end veered off into a small sob. Mistoffelees did not blame her; he felt like curling up into a tight ball and sobbing himself, cursing the day he'd ever felt magic first coursing through his paws.

To Mistoffelees' chagrin, Tugger ended up carrying him the last few yards to their den. He deposited the smaller tom on their blankets, a stony expression on his face, and spoke in the direction of Cyrano, who'd quietly followed them home.

"Go check on Josephine," Tugger said. "Tell her I'll be right there to take care of her."

Cyrano nodded meekly. "Is there anything else I can do…? What—um. What should I tell everyone?"

"Don't say anything. I'll be right there."

With Cyrano gone, a heavy silence filled the den. Mistoffelees had thrown an arm over his aching eyes and he lowered it now, meeting Tugger's troubled gaze.

"You never told me that," Tugger said.

"What?"

"What Macavity wanted, when he took you and Demeter the first time. You never told me he wanted you to…" Tugger looked nauseated then, looking everywhere but at his mate. "You never told me he wanted kittens."

"It wasn't important. I said he wanted my magic, and I didn't lie."

"You didn't-!" Tugger spluttered, clawing at his mane. He tugged at a hunk of fur with such force Mistoffelees was scared it would be pulled out.

"It wasn't necessary to tell you that," Mistoffelees amended. "It was done and over and there no sense in upsetting you."

"I'm upset now!"

"Not because of me!"

Tugger gave a hard yank to his mane and released it. He turned his nervous attention to one of the blankets on the bed. "So what are we going to do? We can't give him what he wants, so what are we going to do? Right? We're not giving him what he wants?"

Mistoffelees pressed his mouth into a hard line.

"Misto! Everlasting! Say we're not doing it! You are not going to mate with him, and-and… "

"It… maybe wouldn't be the most terrible thing."

"What the bloody-!" Tugger's paws clenched and unclenched, a snarl of fury on his face. He leapt to his feet and paced to the end of the den, looking quite intent on putting his fist through the wall. "You can't… you can't be serious!"

The words felt ashen as Mistoffelees spoke them. "We may not have any other choice, Tugger."

"We do! We'll fight, we'll bring the whole junkyard over! We'll… use magic? Please? Please?"

The last word came out in a strangled, desperate whisper as Tugger lost his will to maim the wall and collapsed to his rump, his agitated breaths turning into rapid gasps.

Swallowing thickly, Mistoffelees rolled to all fours and, lacking the strength to do anything more than crawl, made his way across the den and to his distressed mate.

He quickly took Tugger's paws in his own, uncurling the clenched fists, applying pressure to the palms. "Listen to me, Tug. Breathe. Just breathe. Slowly…"

Between the grounding pressure and the slow mantra, bit-by-bit Tugger's breaths slowed to a normal cadence.

Once the haze of panic cleared, Tugger gathered him in a crushing embrace, pressing his lips to Mistoffelees' head as the smaller tom gently smoothed out the kinked fur in Tugger's mane. The minutes ticked by in the oppressive silence of the den and a nagging thought at the back of Mistoffelees' mind told him to enjoy this moment, because such things might be scarce in the future. Mistoffelees quite adeptly pretended not to know what the voice was talking about.

"It'll be all right," Mistoffelees said. He nuzzled Tugger's mane and straightened up. "I think I have an idea, and it involves magic."

The hope in Tugger's eyes was heartbreaking. "You do? Yes?"

"I do. Now let me get some rest. Go check on Josephine and the other kits. We… we're going to have a difficult few days ahead of us."

Tugger nodded somberly. He nabbed his mate's chin between his paws and kissed him. "Thank you. I love you."

"I love you too, Tug."

With thoughts of his kits on his mind, Tugger made a hasty exit from the den, sending a brisk winter breeze into the den as he did. Mistoffelees shivered, as much from exhaustion as cold, and crawled back to the blankets. He fell asleep within minutes and felt himself spiralling down a dark cavern as he did.

***

The spiraling cavern chased his dreams and dogged his every sleeping moment. A day of sleep had worked to clear Mistoffelees' head, but not much else. He woke with a start at early dusk, taking a moment to ground himself to confirm that no, the previous day's events had not been a horrible, horrible nightmare.

The air still stank of stale smoke, there was a dead Jellicle, his body was still in pain, and his daughter was still in Macavity's clutches.

And the damned ultimatum still hung above his head. Give Macavity kittens, or lose his kitten.

Mistoffelees stretched, groaning at the ache in his hip and leg. He felt sore and parched and starving yet nauseated all at once, and he hadn't even begun the laborious task of getting up.

He rolled off the blankets and managed a woozy kneel before his ears pricked at the gentle sounds in the den. It was too quiet and measured to be Tugger but too comfortable to be anyone but one of his kittens. Mistoffelees sighed, rubbed his eyes, and struggled to his feet. He needed more time before facing his kittens but time was not a luxury he had at the moment.

Mistoffelees limped to the door of his bedroom and poked his head out to see Cappella, sprawled on the ground and looking quite bored as she batted at some smooth rocks. When she noticed her father she bolted to her feet, tail whipping in nervous agitation.

"Oh, dad! How are you feeling? I heard about everything—well, not everything, dad wouldn't answer some things, but… how are you?"

"I'll be all right, sweetheart," Mistoffelees said. He placed his paw on her cheek to calm her down a little. "How's your sister?"

"Josephine?" Cappella scoffed a bit, pinching the generous swell of her hip. "Well this morning she was screaming at everyone who wasn't dad and called me a pounder, so I guess she's fine."

At least it was a relief to hear Josephine was well. "And so you decided to come kittensit me?"

"Well, that," Cappella said. Her tail began to whip again and she chewed her lip. "And I was supposed to wake you so you wouldn't be late for… for Jezebel's funeral."

"Right," Mistoffelees murmured. His heart broke as much for Jezebel as it did for these kittens, his and others, who understood so little of what was happening here. He would owe them all an explanation at some point, but now was not the time for that. They had a fallen friend to mourn. "I suppose we should get going."

"You need to eat first, dad. You've been asleep for a whole day."

Mistoffelees' first instinct was to protest and press on, but one step towards the den's exit had him swaying on his feet. Cappella grasped his arm and helped him to sit before he collapsed in an astoundingly graceless heap.

"See? Ha, you know, I've always wanted to be able to say 'I told you so'. Now here, I've got half a rat for you…"

The thought of food led to thoughts of Mandra, to memories of being fed while in Macavity's capture. Macavity had brought them food and water in abundance and he hoped Mandra was valuable enough to him that she was receiving the same treatment.

He hoped that she wasn't alone and frightened in Macavity's basement. He hoped that those two horrible twins with the stained fur were nowhere near her. He hoped—

"Dad? You need to eat. We'll be late."

Mistoffelees nodded shakily. "Of course. I'm sorry, kit…"

He couldn't banish thoughts of his daughter, but he could ask them to lie quiescent at least long enough for him to help honor Jezebel. He pressed on through his churning stomach and ate.

***

Funerals were rare in the Jellicle tribe. Illness and injury were no strangers to the tribe, but either through luck or some greater design, very few Jellicles had ever succumbed to a sudden death. Mistoffelees searched his memories and found he had none of such a ritual, though he realized with a pang that the last funeral in the tribe would have been held for Demeter's mother.

His eyes landed on Demeter. She stood stony-faced next to Munkustrap, who was still pale and unsteady from the smoke inhalation, and who in turn stood next to his father.

Old Deuteronomy looked older and wearier as he stood in the snow, his head bowed to the bundled figure before him. A circle of Jellicles had naturally formed to pay final respects to Jezebel, who'd been tended to and neatly bundled in a thick green shawl.

Tugger stood by Mistoffelees' side, his mane in disarray again, while their kittens clustered closely around. Josephine was nearly plastered to Tugger's side, stoically staring at Jezebel. Sobs and hiccups and whispered assurances ebbed and flowed through the circle but Mistoffelees paid no attention.

His eyes were riveted to the green bundle. It could have been Josephine there. It could eventually be Mandra there, and right now the only thing that stood between thought and reality was him. He had to act.

"It was said a long time ago," Old Deuteronomy said, his voice settling like a blanket of snow. "That we do not actually fear death; we fear that no one will notice our absence, that we will disappear without a trace. This is the fear that drives Jellicles to ask of the Everlasting Cat that, if only for one night a year, we may choose the one who departs from this world, so that one life at the very least will be guaranteed celebration and remembrance.

"Unfortunately, life is not without its twisting roads, and that is the very reason it is worth living. Our dearest Jezebel, though taken through a twisting road, will not have disappeared without a trace. Together, we remember. Together we make our departed everlasting. I invite anyone now to step forward and share why Jezebel will never disappear from our memories."

Munkustrap was the first to step forward. He spoke, but Mistoffelees didn't listen, staring at the green shawl, as the air began to land heavily in his lungs.

He touched Tugger's arm by way of signal, unwilling to ruin the silence of the circle, and retreated quietly. His heart thudded frantically against his ribs as he found an area out of sight, located a snow-covered crate, and landed hard on it.

Mistoffelees clenched his paws into tight fists, deliberately pressing his claws into the tender flesh of his palms, staring down at the disturbed snow as he willed the cold air into his lungs. He focused on the pain of the claws digging into his palms, fought back the scream of anger and frustration that tickled dangerously at his throat. Swallowed back the anxiety that churned his guts. Calmed the nerves that made him want to punch the crate, throw it through the air, and aim his deadliest bolt of lightning at it.

He couldn't give in to the panic. He had a job to do.

Mistoffelees slowly uncurled his cramping paws, the pinpricks in his palms pulsing to the beat of his frantic heart. He brought the paws together, closing his eyes, focusing his energy, his magic, and—finding the eye of the hurricane in his panic—pictured a copy of his own body and let it flow through his paws.

When he opened his eyes, a copy of himself stood dumbly in the snow. Mistoffelees' paws undulated, manipulated the magic, and soon the dull-eyed replica morphed into a queen. He made her a bit taller, slimmer, with a modest chest. When pregnant, his magic had taken the rather rude initiative of transforming him into a queen for the birth, and so queen-parts weren't exactly foreign to him. He gave the illusion queen everything she needed, then morphed her face, tweaking her features.

With a flick of his wrist the queen whirled in place, bowed, sashayed a few steps. She was lithe and lovely and something any tom would have found irresistible. But hold on… did Macavity even like queens? He didn't seem too choosy about who carried his kittens, but would a voluptuous magical queen catch his eye long enough for him to…?

Mistoffelees briefly shuddered at the thought of Macavity rutting this fake queen. Maybe she would only need to be convincing enough to get into his den. Surely that would be enough for him to release Mandra.

"Dad?"

He jumped, his wrist jerking, making the queen twitch in a ridiculous dance before she stood still again.

Tourmaline quietly padded through the snow, cocking her head at the sight of her father and a strange queen.

"You left early. I came to see if you were all right… and who do we have here?

He made the illusion queen turn to greet his daughter. The voice was a little rusty but it sounded believable enough. "Hello, Tourmaline."

Tourmaline gave the queen a cool look, then turned to her father. "Why are you conjuring up fake cats?"

"What? No," Mistoffelees said wanly. "This is my friend… Agatha. She's from Inverness. Say hello, Tourma."

"Her eyes look a little dull," Tourmaline said, poking at the queen's face. Mistoffelees made a mental note to add the ability to flinch in his illusory queen, and as he watched his tuxedo-patterned daughter stand to a queen with the same coat, the thought revolted him. He wasn't going to send in a fake queen that looked like his daughter, for Bast's sake.

He clenched his paw and concentrated and the queen's coat changed to a light cream-red.

"That's a bit prettier," Tourmaline observed. "What is this for? If this is to replace Mandra, I can promise you we'll notice."

Mistoffelees sighed at his daughter's attempt at dark humour. "This is to… distract Macavity."

"You're going to build an army of cats, then? Gorgeous, voluptuous ones?"

"Something like that." Mistoffelees closed his fist, withdrawing the magical energy and taking with it the fake queen. It was a shot in the dark anyway.

Tourmaline implacably stared at the spot the vanished queen had recently occupied. "Dad? What's the story behind this Macavity? Why did he decide to do this to you?"

"He's a bad cat who's done some bad things to our tribe. It's complicated, kitten."

"So he's a tosser who wants your magic for his own nefarious purposes?"

"In summary, yes."

"That doesn't seem so complicated."

A dark laugh bubbled from Mistoffelees' throat. "Trust me, it's very complicated. If I help him, it will return Mandra to us, but…"

"But?"

"But it might mean the end of everything else."

"Well this is clearly very complicated for my little kitten mind," Tourmaline dryly said. "But dad, what this Macavity needs your magic for… it isn't to kill anyone, is it? Are we talking about the end of London and the end of all life as we know it?"

"No. Not in the least." Mistoffelees wanted to laugh again at the absurdity of it all. It wasn't death that Macavity was after this time, it was life.

"Then… if you decide to help him, even though he's a bad cat who's done bad things, we'll be behind you. We just want our family back. We love you, dad."

His own sob took him by surprise. It clearly took Tourmaline by surprise too, though a moment later she reached for her father as he cried.

"It's okay, dad," she quietly said. Always so quiet this one, and with tears close to the surface in her kitten days. But here she was, taller than him, the quiet shyness replaced by quiet strength. "Everything's going to be okay."

Mistoffelees nodded and ran a paw across his nose. It wasn't going to be okay, but there was no version of him who could ever utter those words to one of his kittens. Instead he hugged her back and whispered, "I love you too, Tourma. Don't worry, I'm going to fix this. I'm going to save our family."

***

Mandragora was not a big cat. It had never really bothered her to be the smallest of the litter—someone had to be the smallest, after all—but aside from being the only one who didn't tower over her father, her size had never been that much of an issue. She could still hunt, and dance, and even though her magic was weak, at least she had magic.

This place, though… this Macavity fellow's lair, well, it certainly did a grand job of making her feel utterly tiny and helpless. Every cat here was bigger than the next one.

Even the queens were hefty. Even that raspy one who liked to hang out around Macavity was taller than most. The one who held her scruff and marched her through the house, he was as big as he was tall and his grip was made of steel.

He stank, but then again the entire house did. Everywhere she was made to turn, there was a tom, a queen, until she probably passed fifty cats before she stopped counting.

The tallest one, Macavity, calmly walked at her side, escorting her to her destination. He'd confused her earlier. Now he repulsed her. To hear what he wanted to do with her father, well… that was an unprecedented sort of evil. And then she recalled her declaration that Macavity could use her magic, and she felt revulsion at what she'd unwittingly offered. At least he hadn't seemed interested in taking her up on the offer.

And the poor kittens that would result from such a union… what was the plan for them?

Mandragora twisted a little in the hench-cat's grasp. He allowed her some slack, enough for her to look askance at Macavity. She wasn't safe here by any means, but for the moment she was a valuable hostage, and that made her feel a little bolder.

"What do you do here?" she asked.

Macavity didn't bother reacting to her for a few long minutes. "Whatever I please."

"But what do all these cats do?"

"They work for me. They handle whatever tasks I give them, and in return I work for them. I care for them and protect them."

Mandragora thought of the cats with the bloodstained fur and tried not to think about what sort of tasks Macavity liked to assign. "I suppose in a sense, I'm working for you now."

Macavity chuckled. They rounded a corner and came to a steep staircase leading down into a basement. A large bureau stood to the left of the stairs. "In a manner, yes you are. And for that reason, you'll be taken care of. Everyone here is taken care of, so long as they don't defy me."

Of course. The large hench-cat nudged her forward, and step by step she was pushed into the basement. It was dusty, smelly, and positively overcrowded with junk. At least pawing through it should keep her entertained.

"You'll be fed," Macavity was saying. His tone was calm and deceptively comforting. She had to give him points for that. "You'll be safe here, as long as you obey."

"But what about my dad? Are you going to hurt him?"

"If he cooperates? Not in the least."

Mandragora nodded meekly, a little more meekly than she truly felt, as the hench-cat released her. No way in Heaviside was her father going to go along with this. But she trusted him enough to know he would have a plan.

She combed through her mane with her claws, smoothing it out, as she watched Macavity walk back up the stairs. Once both cats were out of view, a loud scraping sound filled the staircase and she saw that the bureau had somehow been pushed over the entrance.

Terrific. Mandragora sighed and sat on the nearest blanket, a gray woollen thing with a shredded corner. She was going to be all right. She just hoped her father would be all right too.