A.N.: This is a sequel to jjhatter's "The Final Game of Cat and Mouse", written with permission.
Bayard was in a relatively good mood that morning. While he mourned the death of the Hatter, on each day following the funeral the sun still rose, his wife Bielle was still at his side, and his four pups were playing their little games and exploring the woods around their home. All in all, life had moved on satisfactorily, although he did miss his occasional visits with the slightly insane but very brave man.
The bloodhound had just sat down again with his wife after helping his daughter out of a pond she'd fallen into when he heard a voice behind him.
"Bayard? Do you have a moment?"
Husband and wife whirled around to become face-to-face with the Cheshire Cat.
"Oh, good morning, Chessur," Bielle said. "How are you?"
"Fine, fine," Chessur replied. "Could we please talk, Bayard? Somewhere private, if possible?"
Bayard gave him a strange look. The Cheshire Cat was smiling as usual, but something seemed off. He seemed uncomfortable, with his front paws clasped and his bright turquoise eyes shifting anxiously from side to side, as though he wanted nothing more than to evaporate to somewhere very far away.
"Of course, Chessur," Bayard said. "If you'll excuse us, my dear," he added to his wife, who nodded and then went back to watching their pups.
The bloodhound and the cat headed off into the trees, stopping in a mostly secluded area.
"What's the matter?" Bayard asked.
"It's about Mally," Chessur said uneasily.
"Mallymkun?" The last time Bayard had seen the dormouse had been at Tarrant's funeral. He remembered glimpsing her standing off to the side, stubbornly trying to appear strong despite the tears leaving dark streaks on her white fur. "What about her?"
Chessur hesitated, glancing around nervously again before getting himself to say the three words that he needed to share.
"Mallymkun is dead."
"Dead!" Bayard gasped. Mallymkun was dead? Bold, unstoppable Mallymkun, who'd rode on his back to the Battle of Frabjous Day? Dead? It didn't sound right to him. "Mallymkun" and "dead" were two words that just didn't go together in a sentence, unless it was "The Jubjub Bird is dead, and Mallymkun helped kill it." And even that was a compound sentence.
"First Tarrant, now Mallymkun!" the bloodhound moaned. "What happened, Chessur?"
The Cheshire Cat shifted guiltily and remained silent for several moments. It was a wonder that there was still a smile planted firmly on his face through his distress.
"I ate her," he finally confessed.
"You what?" Bayard was practically shouting. "Chessur, how could you?"
"Quiet, please!" Chessur urged, glancing around yet again.
"How could you?" Bayard hissed. "She took Tarrant's death just as badly as, if not worse than, the rest of us!"
"That's exactly why I did it, Bayard!" Chessur defended himself. "She took his death far worse than any of us could have guessed. She asked me to eat her!"
Bayard sat back on his heels, stunned. Mallymkun asking for death was even more unbelievable than her death itself.
"Tell me what happened," he demanded.
Chessur nodded. That was exactly what he'd come here to do. He told the bloodhound everything, from him finding Mallymkun in tears by the brook, to her surprising confession and even more astonishing request, the day spent at his house, trying to coax her back to happiness, and finally, the act itself. By this point, large, round tears were rolling down the Cheshire Cat's face, and his voice was broken by sobs.
"…and there she was, lying in my—in my stomach, all the while trying t-to comfort me, and as she—as she faded away, she was s-singing that silly little song Tarrant taught her, about the—about the bat…"
The two sat in silence for a while, Chessur's weeping being the only noise.
"When was this?" Bayard asked softly.
"A few d-days ago," sobbed the cat.
Now it was Bayard who hesitated, trying to figure out how to phrase his question tactfully.
"Did she…well…taste good?"
"The tastiest," Chessur sniffed. "But it was terrible, Bayard. I was terrible."
Bayard shook his head slowly.
"I just wanted to tell someone," said Chessur, his voice now very dull. "If anyone asks where she is, you can tell them that she was eaten by a monster. It wouldn't be a lie."
Bayard glanced at the Cheshire Cat in alarm. "You're not a monster, Chessur!"
"Am I?" The cat glared back at him furiously. "Am I, Bayard? What would you call someone who ate the closest thing he had to a friend?"
"But what else could you have done?" Bayard asked gently.
"I don't know!" Chessur hissed. "But I should have done something! I should have made her happy, somehow!"
"You did, Chessur," Bayard assured him. "I'm certain that you did."
"I haven't been able to live with myself these past few days," the cat said. "Her clothes and pin-sword are still in a little pile on the floor in my house. The next morning, when I woke up, saw them, and remembered what I'd done, I wanted to take that pin-sword and stab myself with it! And every time I see that pile, I hate myself even more, but I can't bear to throw them away! They're all that's left of her.
"I've always known what to do, Bayard. I've always known what's best for me…but now, for the first time in my life, I'm at a loss."
Chessur sagged with his back against a tree, his head lowered in despair. Bayard moved over to the cat and placed a paw on his shoulder.
"Here's my advice, from one quadruped to another," he said. "Firstly, I would not call killing yourself a good option. There's been more than enough sorrow here already, and besides, I don't believe that Mallymkun or Tarrant would want you dead.
"Secondly, think more of Mallymkun's positive attributes, rather than your negative ones. Try to be happier that she lived than sad that she's dead.
"And thirdly, if you ever need a friend to talk to, I'll always be available and willing. Do you understand, Chessur?"
"I…I think so," the cat gulped, wiping his eyes with his paws. "But I still feel horrible about it."
"I'm not saying that you shouldn't," Bayard said. "It's awful what happened. As a father, every day I wish for my pups to never have to experience grief or internal torment such as you and Mallymkun have had to face. But if they ever do, I can only hope that they will come out of it stronger than they were going into it."
"Strong isn't exactly something that I'm good at," Chessur attempted to joke. "Tarrant was very fond of saying that I was a slurvish andcowardly guddler's scut."
"Not always," Bayard pointed out. "That rescue at the execution was an especially fine moment."
"Yes, it was, wasn't it?" The Cheshire Cat's smile seemed a bit more genuine now.
"There, you're looking better already," said Bayard.
"I think I'd like to go home now," Chessur said.
Bayard nodded. "Be well."
"Thank you so much, Bayard, and fairfarren."
After the Cheshire Cat had evaporated, Bayard sighed and glanced skywards.
"Fairfarren, Mallymkun," he whispered.
Then, he went to rejoin his family. It was time to move on, and time to find what the dormouse had been unable to find in life: something to live for.
When Chessur reentered his house, the first thing he did was approach the pile of Mallymkun's clothes. He carefully folded the pink skirt, blouse, and apron and placed them in a neat stack in the cupboard, pausing for a moment to breathe in her scent from her garments.
As he turned around again, he suddenly noticed the small bag lying near the bookcase—Mallymkun's travelling bag. He picked it up and opened it, pulling out the red dress. Her unbirthday present from the Hatter. An image of her, beautiful in the dress, waltzing over his belly with one of his paws, taking a break from her depression to smile and giggle for one last time in her life… Strangely, the Cheshire Cat couldn't help but be glad as he shook out the wrinkles in the dress. He had been able to bring her that one final joy. The dress followed the other clothes into the cupboard.
Then he took the pin-sword and mounted it on the wall across from the door.
"There," he said to himself. "A place of honor for an object deserving of honor that belonged to a dormouse deserving of honor."
Chessur reached up and touched the pin-sword with one paw, the other absent-mindedly stroking his belly. A single tear rolled down his cheek, one of many that would be shed over the dormouse.
"Fairfarren, Mallymkun," he said. "I hope that, wherever you are, you're with Tarrant. Tell him that I say hi, all right? And, Tarrant, if you're listening, I hope you know that she's really an incredible dormouse."