A/N: When I write the Jellicles, I see them as cats. Not people in costumes, just cats. As a result, I've listed their ages and actions appropriately. I figure that a three month old kitten would be about comparable to a nine-or-ten-year-old human – not quite hitting puberty yet, but not young enough that they have to be babied, either.

Disclaimer: I am neither a poet nor a composer, and I happen to possess two very obvious left feet. Ergo, there is no way that I could possibly have ownership of these characters.

Childhood Games

"Ow!" A little voice rang through the junkyard, echoing off the towering piles of aluminum cans and rusted metal pipes. "Stop it, Maca, that huts! Let go! You're really hurting me, let goooooo!"

Maca – or, more accurately, Macavity, a skinny, raggedy three-month-old kitten – just bit harder and began to gnaw on the silvery-grey tail in response to his brother's mewling. His brother Munkustrap – also three months old, and slightly smaller than Macavity, though with a considerably more healthy sheen to his tabby-grey coat – howled in pain and tried, once again, to take a swipe at his attacker. The runty youngest of their litter, Rum Tum Tugger, was sitting on a pile of newspapers nearby and yelling Macavity was a meanie and a bully.

It was about that time that the kitten's caretaker, Jennyanydots, came to investigate the noise. Macavity, hearing her feather-soft footsteps before the matron arrived, dropped his brother's tail and sat up just as the orange tabby stepped into view. "My word, boys, what are you doing over here? Not getting into any sort of trouble, I hope."

"No, Miss Jenny," Macavity intoned, as though she had just walked in on a catnap, instead of a catfight. "We weren't doin' nothin'."

"Was  too!" Tugger shouted, jumping down from his newspapers to run over to the adult queen. "Miss Jenny, Maca grabbed Munku's tail and wouldn't let go, even after Munku told him to! And he was bitin' on it, an' pullin' an' everything!"

"Tugger," Munku hissed in an embarrassed tone,  pulling his tail around to lick the soreness away himself. Under his silver fur, his face burned scarlet.

Now, Rum Tum Tugger was something of a troublemaker and usually hated tattletales that spoiled everybody's fun. But he had never been one to just stand by when somebody was being hurt, especially when that 'someone' was his brother. "It's true, Miss Jenny! Honest!"

Jennyanydots sighed, using one paw to pull Munkustrap closer so she could examine the damage herself. "Macavity, we've had this talk before. You need to place nice with everyone, especially your brothers."

"I didn't do anything," Macavity insisted, sneering in Munkustrap's direction. "Munku's just a wimp."

"Is not!"

"Tugger!" Munku turned so red that it showed through his fur, covering his face with his paws and wanting nothing more than to sink into Jennyanydots's fur and disappear.

The queen clicked her tongue at the brotherly spat but, finding no injury on the kitten's abused tail, let him go free. Munku dashed out of her grip and disappeared over the nearest stack of tires, with Rum Tum Tugger right behind. Macavity stayed right where he was and began to groom himself, purring with contentment, especially as he smoothed every fur into just the right place on his tail.

( - )

Munku was half-way across the junkyard before he finally slowed to a stop. He shook the dewy remains of last night's rain from his paws, licking his front ones completely clean before he turned back to his brother with a sigh. "You shouldn't have done that, Tugger."

"What?" Tugger asked, shaking the wetness from his blonde mane. "Told Jenny that Maca was beatin' up on you again?"

"I don't need you to fight my battles for me!"

"Well, you sure ain't fightin' them for yourself," Tugger insisted, stalking forward to round on his older brother meaningfully. "You would've let him kill you if Miss Jenny didn't come in!"

Munku glanced away. "Maca wouldn't do that."

"Yeah, but if he would've, you'd let him!" Tugger paced around fitfully, messing with his main. "It's just not fair, Munku! Maca's always picking on you!"

"Maca picks on everybody," Munkustrap stretched from head to toe and began to stroll lazily toward the concrete beach of the 'yard's drainage channel.

"But he picks on you more than anybody," Tugger bounded after his brother and crouched on the very edge of the concrete to gaze into the drain. Normally, the channel was a quiet, empty thing with just a little water puddle at the bottom, but last night's thunderstorm had washed snow down from the mountains, turning it into a raging torrent as all the run-off in the village rushed towards the sewers. "He's always pickin' fights and hurting everybody and tryin' to get you in trouble. Maca's nothing but a meanie an' a bully an' a…a big jerk!"

Munkustrap smiled slight and put a paw on his brother's back, pinning the Rum Tum Tugger to the ground playfully. "He's also our brother, Tug, and you shouldn't talk bad about him."

"But I'm not," Tugger insisted, rolling over to swipe at Munku's paw. "It's only really talkin' bad if you say stuff that ain't true, and everything I've been sayin' is one-hundred-percent true!"

"Maybe so," Munku let his brother up and turned away from the drain before one of them fell in. "But you still shouldn't say it."

Tugger was just about to give Munkustrap a hard time about being such a goodie-goodie when a far more pleasant sound reached their ears – the high-pitched laughter of princess kits. Tugger was on his feet in a second, smoothing his mange into place and plastering his 'award-winning' smile onto his face in preparation.

Munkustrap rolled his eyes at his brother's posturing. "Get real, Tug."

"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, big brother," Tugger winked cockily just as Demeter, who had been born just two weeks after the brothers, came chasing Bombalurina – her littermate and the prettiest lady kitten of their generation – into the little clearing. "Laaaaadies."

Bombalurina slid to a stop with a playful little giggle, letting Demeter slide into her as a pretense for the shier kitten hiding behind her scarlet-furred friend. "Hiya, Tugger."

Tugger purred dramatically and stalked forward, holding his head and tail particularly high. Though he flirted with all the queens, Bombalurina was his favorite to play with, not just because she was pretty, but because she was just responsive enough to feed his ego and just coy enough to leave him wanting more. "And how are you lovely kittens doing this fine morning?"

"Puuuuuuuurfect," Bomba cooed, then giggled at her own lame joke.

Tugger fluffed his mane with his claws and brushed his tail along Bomba's leg. The redhead withdrew her paw and tossed her head suggestively, fluttering her eyelashes.

Munkustrap was in the process of rolling his eyes again when Demeter peaked out over Bomba's shoulder. The quiet princess smiled at the silver tom shyly. "H-Hi, Munku."

Munku's face burned again. HE dropped his head and managed to mumble a very quick, very quiet "Hello" before his flight instincts kicked in. Ducking his head down, he darted past the young queens and disappeared through a small tunnel of debris.

Demeter lowered her head a bit in disappointment. Rum Tum Tugger huffed in disgust. "Absolutely hopeless."

( - )

Macavity watched from the top of a virtual mountain of trash as his show-off little runt of a baby brother flirted with Bombalurina for close to half an hour. Half-way through, he considered tracking Munkustrap down, maybe taking another go at detaching the silver brother's tail from his body, but finally decided that it wasn't worth the trouble. Besides, he was having far more fun – and had to put up with a lot less noise – watching Demeter.

Yes, Demeter. Bombalurina and the other queens in his generation were…adequate…but there was something in Demeter that none of them had. If he had to give a word to it, which he didn't really want to do because the trait's intangibility seemed to be as important as what the trait itself actually was, but if he had to call it something, he would say that there was something fragile about her. It wasn't that she was weak – no Jellicle queen ever was, and if they had been, he wouldn't have been interested in them anyway – but she had a delicateness to her that made her all the more intriguing. Certainly, she was more interesting than the screeching harpies she normally kept company with…

Macavity glanced to the ground again. Rum Tum Tugger was making his exit, presumably to find their older brother, and of course, he was making it as drawn out and dramatic as possible. Once he was finally out of sight, Macavity crept down from his perch, keeping one eye on the two princesses while making sure that they didn't get a glimpse of him. There was no real reason behind it. He just liked keeping his clansmen in the dark about his exact actions, especially when it came to watching people from a distance.

He'd been waiting for a day like today, so overcast and rainy and unsuspecting. Nobody ever  expected important things to happen on slow, quiet, dizzily days like today. Half the tribe had stayed in their human homes, and most of the ones who were actually in the yard now were asleep. And – more importantly than anything else – the elder kittens had minimum supervision. Which was exactly the way he needed it to be for his…experiment.

The Jellicle tribe had its limits. Macavity wanted to see how far they would let him push them.

He stepped out in front of the two young queens, purposefully acting as though he had just happened to come around the corner at that moment. Demeter slid to a stop first, surprised, then smiled at him. "Oh…Hi, Macavity."

When his eyes met hers, he made sure to grin extra wide, pushing a bit of sparkle into their depths. "Ah, Demeter. It's…good to see you."

"You know, I'm here, too," Bombalurina mentioned, but Macavity just ignored her.

Demeter's smile became awkward as she tried to keep peace between her sister at the tom. "If you're looking for your brothers, Maca, you just missed Tugger. He went off in that direction. Munku was here too, but he left a long time ago…"

"No, no, that's all right," Macavity said simply, keeping a light, trustworthy tone in his voice. "Actually, I wasn't worried about them at all. I was looking for you, Demeter."

"Me?" The queen exchanged a look with her sister, then turned back to the tom. "What for?"

"Oh, nothing important," Macavity assured her, taking his chance to slip between Demeter and Bombalurina to lead the smaller of the two queens away from her littermate. "I just wanted to talk to you about something."

Demeter blinked, a bit confused. "Something like what?"

"Well, you see…" Macavity shot Bombalurina a meaningful look and sighed heavily. "It's…somewhat personal."

"Hey," the red haired queen protested. "If you've got something to say to Demi, you can say it front of me!"

"It's all right, Bomba," Demeter soothed, trying to keep the peace, and smiled at Macavity warmly. "It'll only be a minute. After all, we're just going to talk, right, Maca?"

"Naturally," Macavity grinned as he lead her away, waving his tail at Bombalurina cockily. "A nice little chat. Just you…and me…"

( - )

Munkustrap sighed as he stretched out over the sundrenched hood of a long-dead pickup truck, his head pillowed on his paws comfortably. From a distance, it would have appeared that he was asleep – actually, he was deep in thought, about everything that had happened that day.

It was that today had been special or different in any way, oh no. In fact, it was exactly the opposite, and that was the problem. Munkustrap's life had fallen into a rather gloomy sort of routine – sleep, eat, fight with Macavity, completely fail to make small talk with Demeter, groom, go back to sleep and start the whole thing over the next day. It was aggravating and it was stifling, but at the same time, he felt like he shouldn't break it. If the routine was broken, that would mean change, and – even if he wasn't magic like Quaxo claimed to be, or even psychic like Coricopat and Tantomile – Munku could feel that whatever that change was, it would be big. He wasn't sure that he liked that idea, not in the least.

A can clattered to the ground somewhere nearby. Munkustrap's ears perked instinctively. He listened carefully for a moment, then grinned. Silently, he counted to three, then rolled away from his spot, just as Rum Tum Tugger leapt from a hiding spot amongst the trash, yelling "Gotcha!"

Tugger hit the hood where Munku had been and slid, his claws leaving long grooves on the rusted chrome. He wound up clinging to the very edge, his rear end hanging out over the bumper, and glared at Munkustrap in distaste.

Munku chuckled and sauntered over to lend a paw. "Nice try, Tug."

"Suddup," Tugger scowled, batting away the proffered paw in favor of scrambling up the rounded edge on his own. "How'd you know I was comin'?"

Munku grinned and batted at his brother's tail playfully. "You're too noisy, showoff. You just can't help but announce your every entrance."

"I'll get you one of these days," Tugger insisted, pulling his tail away and swinging at Munku's paws.

"Just keep telling yourself that," Munku was just starting to shake his head when another sound, softer and further away, caught his ear. "…Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Tugger asked, scratching his ear with his back paw. "You pattin' yourself on the back?"

Munku frowned and tried to focus on the sound, but it had gone as quickly as it had come. "I thought I heard-"

"Demi! Demi! Oh god, Demi!"

Tugger was back on all four paws and at Munku's side in an instant. "That's Bomba's voice!"

Munku's fur bristled across his body. "Come on!"

The two tomcats shot across the yard at top speed, finding Bombalurina in a matter of minutes. The young queen was crouched at the edge of the storm drain's concrete beach, staring down into the raging water in unadulterated horror.

"Bomba, what's wrong?" Tugger demanded, scraping his claws along the concrete as he finally stopped. "Why'd you scream?"

"It's Demeter!" Bomba grabbed Tugger's shoulder and pointed wildly into the water. "Look!"

Demeter was stuck in the middle of the raging current, clinging to a piece of driftwood with both sets of front claws. The thin branch, which was jammed into a crack in the concrete and already bending under her weight, was the only thing keeping her head above water in the torrent.

"What in Heavyside is she doing in there?!" Tugger squawked, his eyes practically bulging out of his head.

"I don't know!" Bomba insisted, her entire body rustling with frantic energy. "I just head a splash and then…then she was…"

"Calm down," Munkustrap ordered and the tone of his voice suddenly became deeper, stronger and more…commanding…than anything the other kittens had ever heard from him before. He began to back away from the edge, slowly disappearing from their view. "Tugger, go get the adults. Dad, Miss Jenny, anybody you can find, just get them!"

Tugger twisted around, scrunching up his face in distaste at the order. "Then what are you planning to do, Munku?"

The question had barely left his mouth before his silver-furred brother reappeared, rushing past Tugger and Bomba at full speed. Before either kitten could stop him, Munku had leapt off the concrete and dove into the water himself.

"Munkustrap!" Bomba shouted in shock.

"Munku!" Tugger yelled. "Are you out of your tabby-coated mind?!"

As Munku's head broke the surface, Demeter let out a cry. The branch she was holding finally broke loose, sweeping the princess away in the fierce current, with Munkustrap right on her tail.

Tugger hesitate just a moment longer, shifting between all four of his paws. Finally, he swore, yelling to the sky as loudly as he could – "Everlasting cat!" – and shot away.

In the water, Munku fought down the quaking shivers that the ice-cold water was sending through his body and focused on the brown-and-white puff that was Demeter. He struggled to push forward in the water, fighting to make the waves and current work for him rather than against him, until he finally reached the struggling princess's side. "Demeter? Demi, can you hear me?"

Demeter sputtered, coughing up a mouthful of water only to have it replaced by a splashing wave. "Munku…"

"Yeah, it's me," the silver tabby grinned a little, trying to be reassuring, and ducked under the water to slip her front legs over his shoulders. "Just…Just hang on. We're going to get out of here, okay? We're going to be fine…"

"Can't…" Demeter groaned, trying to pull her share of the weight. "Can't breathe."

"I know, but just hold on," Munku started to paddle to the concrete shore, where Bombalurina was waiting on a small, flat outcropping. "We'll be out of this soon."

"Branch…"

"What?"

"Branch!"

Munkustrap glanced up to see a huge piece of wood flying directly at them through the water. He twisted around, taking the brunt of the blow. A sharp edge ripped open the skin along his right foreleg, drawing a hiss of pain and leaving a trail of blood behind in the water. In spite of the injury, Munkustrap used his back legs to push off the heavy debris propelling Demeter and himself through the water to where Bombalurina was waiting.

Bomba dashed across the concrete when she saw the pair coming, reaching down to pull Demeter up by the scruff of her neck. The smaller princess coughed painfully a few times, splattering the concrete with water. Bomba nuzzled her littermate worriedly. "You okay, Demi?"

"I…I think so…" Demeter coughed again, this time without any watered, and looked over her shoulder to smile at her rescuer. "Thank you so much, Munku…Munku?"

Bomba lifted her head and he eyes widened in horror. The torrent rushed passed them to its inevitable end, but Munkustrap was nowhere to be seen.

( - )

Exactly five and one-half minutes after he'd left his friends and the drain behind, Rum Tum Tugger reached the center of the yard, where the adult cats tended to congregate. For a few split moments after he rattled off his tale, he was struck with the horrible possibility that they might not believe him – he'd been known to play tricks at the rest of the tribe's expense before – but finally, they'd told him to lead the way, and he had.

Now they stood on the edge of the drain, in the exact spot where he had left Bomba ten minutes before, with Tugger searching frantically for his friends and brother. "They were right here!"

"Could they have been washed downstream?" Jellylorum asked worriedly.

"My dear," said Gus, his ears twitching in the same direction as the rushing water flowed. "I believe that is exactly what happened."

Now the older toms took the lead, following the length of the drainage basin at top speed. As they grew close to the end – where the water crashed through a thinly-barred drain and finally cascaded down into the sewers – a pair of feminist voices echoed over the crashing waves. "Munkustrap! Munku!"

"Bombalurina! Demeter!" Jennyanydots called, sliding down the sloped edge to reach the two princesses.

"Demi!" Tugger gasped, sliding in behind the ever-maternal queen. "You're okay! Where…Where's Munku?"

"We don't know!" Demeter wailed, half-hysterical.

"He got Demi to the shore," Bomba explained, stumbling over her words in the rush to get them out. "I th-though he was right behind her, but he never got out of the water and he…"

Jennyanydots nuzzled the two kittens close, pulling them away from the water. "There, there, dears. None of this is your fault…"

"The boy isn't dead yet, Jenny," Skimbleshanks interrupted, taking a few steps back in preparation for a jump. "There's still a chance."

"Skimble, be careful," Jellylorum warned, and the railway cat flashed her a 'no-worries' smile before he launched himself into the currents.

For a long while, that was the last anyone saw, as the cats on  the shore remained frozen in anticipation. Skimble came up once for air, then again, each time empty-handed. Finally, from the very end, almost completely inside the drain, his orange head finally appeared once again, bearing a water-logged ball of silver fur in his mouth.

When they reached the shore again, Gus took Munkustrap from Skimble so the older cat could climb out, spreading the kitten flat on his side. Jellylorum dropped her ear down to the kitten's mouth and gasped. "He's not breathing!"

"Step back, Jelly," Skimble instructed, pulling the queen away and placing a paw behind the kitten's back to hold him in place as Gus stepped forward.

Gus looked at the water-logged Munkustrap and sighed, "Sorry about this, kit," before pulling back one leg and striking the kitten's stomach as hard as he could.

A blast of water shout out of Munku's little mouth, followed by a painful hacking and gasping for air. Gus and Skimble smiled, the entire gathered group letting out a sigh of relief as the railway cat began pressing on the kitten's stomach rhythmically. "That'a boy, Munku. Get it all out."

"Is he gonna be okay?" Bombalurina asked worriedly from where she, Demeter and Rum Tum Tugger were peering over Jennyanydots's back.

"He'll be fine, dearies," Jenny soothed. "We'll bandage that leg and get him a little rest, and then he'll be good as new. "

"Oh…good…" Tugger said, completely failing to uphold and kind of nonchalant exterior.

Demeter sniveled and hiccupped, burying her face in her paws. "Oh, Munku…he was only trying to help me. None of this would've…would've happened if Macavity hadn't…"

"Macavity?" Jellylorum frowned in confusion. "What does he have to do with any of this?"

As Demeter was still sobbing, Bombalurina tried to answer for her. "Demi went off with Maca right before she fell in. He said that he wanted to talk…"

"I didn't fall in!" Demeter sobbed. "Macavity said something about 'playing a game' and then he…he pushed me! He pushed me in!"

The adult cats exchange cautious looks that the kittens couldn't quite read. Finally, Skimbleshanks sighed and took charge again. "Jenny, Jelly…get the kittens home, would you please? Gus, I trust you can handle Munkustrap? Be sure to tell Deuteronomy everything. I'm going to find Macavity. I think it's clear that he's in desperate need of a good talking-to…"

( - )

Macavity was lounging inside of an empty milk crate when Skimbleshanks found him. The older cat had expected the kitten to be skittish or suspiciously jumpy or, at the very least, vaguely ashamed of what his childish prank had evolved into; but Macavity was none of these things. In fact, he seemed completely relaxed, as though he'd been expecting Skimble's arrival the entire time.

The orange tabby found this extremely unnerving. He herded the tomkit into the center of the junkyard, where the other adults – including, Skimble was pleased to note, Macavity's father Deuteronomy – were waiting.

"Macavity," Deuteronomy began, his normally warm and caring voice dipping into the lower tone of a stern disciplinarian. "This is a rather serious issue."

"And what issue would that be, father?" Macavity asked, turning his head to one side as though he hadn't a clue what they were talking about. And really, Skimble thought, maybe he didn't – there was really no other explanation for how the young cat could be so calm.

"Demeter says that you pushed her into the drainage basin," Jennyanydots said seriously. "Is this true?"

Macavity stared at them all unblinkingly, and the very edges of his mouth seemed to perk into a smile. "Oh yes, Miss Jenny, it's true. But it was only a game."

"A game!" Jellylorum bristled all over at the word. "Macavity, your 'game' put Demeter and Munkustrap in grave danger! It nearly cost your brother his life!"

Macavity shrugged and began to groom his fur. The icy air of his apathy seemed to feel the entire area with an otherworldly chill.

Skimbleshanks shuddered and looked to the Jellicle leader for direction. Deuteronomy appeared troubled and torn, which was only to be expected – this was his own flesh and blood, for Heaviside's sake. But in the end, his sense of justice and, perhaps, the memory of another son lying half-drowned and wounded in his den, won out.

"So be it," the old cat sighed. "Such recklessness cannot be ignored. You will be punished, severely, until which time as your lesson has been learned.

Macavity said nothing, simply staring at his father with emotionless, golden eyes, as though threatening him to just try it. Skimble shuddered again and hoped to high Heavyside that none of his litter ever looked at him like that.

( - )

The first thing Munkustrap realized when he finally became aware again was that his head hurt. The second was that, wherever he was, it was far too bright. He groaned, trying to cover his eyes with his right forepaw, then hissed at the pain that shot up said limb.

From the brightness, a paw that did not belong to him reached out, smoothing out his fur and gently guiding his injured leg back to the ground. A familiar tongue ghosted over his head, soothing his frantic thoughts, and he realized who was with him. "Dad…?"

"That's right, son." Deuteronomy said with an audible smile. "Just take it easy."

Munkustrap groaned and blinked a few times until the he could clearly see his father's face. Around him, the view of their family's den in the junkyard slowly became clear. "What…What happened? Where's…?"

"Demeter is perfectly fine," Deuteronomy soothed in the same calm, caring voice as always. "Thanks to your efforts. That was quite a brave thing you did, rescuing her like that."

Munkustrap shrugged and pillowed his head against the rags that lined his shoe box bed. "I just did what anybody would've done."

"Certainly not," Deuteronomy's smile widened mysteriously at that. "But the fact that you think as such says something about you. Something important."

Munkustrap lifted his head, trying and failing to figure out his father's strange behavior. "Important? Like what?"

Deuteronomy shook his head and groomed the last few scattered furs on his son's neck back into place. "We'll talk more about it once you've recovered. For now, there are others who will be quite happy to see you well…"

"Munku!"

As Deuteronomy stepped back, his youngest son came bounding in, with Demeter and Bombalurina on his tail. Rum Tum Tugger leapt up into Munkustrap's bed, his quick little paws slipping into just the right gaps that he didn't bump his brother's injury, and grinned broadly. "Oh man, you're awake!"

The silver tabby grinned slightly, butting his head against his brother's in greeting. "Hey, Tug…Demi, Bomba."

"Are you feelin' okay?" Bombalurina asked, standing on her hind legs and using her front ones to steady herself against the edge of the box. "Miss Jenny said you'd probably feel sick 'cause you were under so long. D'ya feel sick, Munku?"

"Nah…" Munkustrap yawned and stretched, rolling his shoulders around. "Just a little tired, is all. Kinda sore."

Rum Tum Tugger shot a glance at Old Deuteronomy, as though he was unsure whether he should bring the next topic of conversation up or not. But, seeing that their father was now at the den's entrance, speaking with Jennyanydots in a rather distracted tone, he leaned in close and started it up anyway. "By the way, Munku – did'ja hear about Macavity?"

"Maca?" Munkustrap frowned. "No. What happened to him?"

Tugger snorted. "He got just what he deserved, if you ask me."

"He's the one who pushed Demi into the drain," Bomb explained at Munkustrap's confused expression. "And he wasn't sorry about it, not even after they told him you'd been hurt. So they locked him up in the Dryer and said he's not allowed to come out for a whole week, at least!"

Munkustrap shuddered. The Dryer was one of the worst punishments in the yard short of getting kicked out altogether. It was an old, broken machine that humans used to roll their funny 'clothes' around in so they smelled like them again after they'd been washed. The cats had converted it into a kind of prison, where the inside rolled around and made horrible noises any time you tried to move. It was set up on the top of one of the more permanent piles, positions so that it overlooked the open area where most of the tribe congregated, so that whoever was stuck inside had to sit perfectly still and watch everyone else run free, and they could never sleep for long without rolling over and causing more noise. "That's awful."

"Yeah," Tugger nodded sagely, glancing between Bombalurina and the still-silent Demeter. "They said that if he still doesn't feel bad after a week of that, he might have to spend the Ball in the there."

Munkustrap's frown deepened and he looked down at his bandage-wrapped arm. "I…I can't believe that Maca would do something like that.

"I can't believe that anybody could do something like that," Demeter said softly.

"And to not even feel sorry about it!" Bomba added.

"I can't believe that you actually jumped in that mess on your own!" Tugger laughed, nudging Munkustrap's shoulder playfully. "Between you and Maca, it looks like I'm the only sane one left to take care of the tribe after Dad leaves."

Munku laughed. "Everlasting Cat, we're all doomed."

"Hey!"

As the kittens dissolved into giggles, Jennyanydots looked up from the entrance and cleared her throat. "All right, you three. Let's let the hero get a little more rest, okay?"

Munkustrap blushed at the 'hero' comment, batting at his own ear awkwardly. Tugger chuckled at his brother's discomfort and nudged him with his paw one last time. "Later 'hero.'"

He leapt down and bounded for the entrance, taking Bombalurina with him. Munkustrap was just starting to rearrange the rags and blankets just the way he liked them when a soft voice interrupted his tired thoughts. "Um, Munku?"

He lifted his head and found himself looking into Demeter's bright, wide black yes. "Yes?"

The queen blushed so darkly that he could see it through the soft white fur that covered her face. "Well, I…I just want to, um, thank you for, um, saving me. If you hadn't, the grown-ups wouldn't have been able to get there in time and I would have…um, yeah. So, I just wanted to, um, say thanks…"

Munku waited a while after she drifted off, to see if she had anything else to say, but when she didn't continue he decided to just smile. "You're welco-"

Before he could finish, Demeter suddenly moved. She nuzzled against his neck and planted a quick, chaste kiss of thanks on his check, then turned on her claws and took off without another word.

Munkustrap sat there for several minutes afterwards, stunned. Finally, a goofy grin spread out over his face and he sank back into the soft folds of cloth, resisting the bubbly urge to laugh that was rising up in the pit of his stomach and trying to carry himself as though he had some dignity left.

Injured leg, days of bed-rest and near-death experience aside – it had all been worth it. Absolutely all of it.

END.