This is a response to a prompt by helly_uk over on the Just Kiss Her Becker/Jess community on LJ – the prompt was Jess being surprised to discover that Becker is actually a cat lover. Being a cat lover myself I could resist!
The story grew much bigger than it should have, and I'll probably be writing a sequel... at some point.
Anyway, enjoy and let me know what you think!
Everybody Wants to be a Cat
Jess was sitting at the ADD and sipping her second coffee of the day when Sergeant Simons entered the Hub and headed straight for her.
"Morning, Jess," he said cheerfully as he reached her.
"Hi Fred," Jess said with a smile. "Everything okay downstairs?"
"Oh yeah, we're fine," Fred answered. He held out a plain brown file. "Here's the duty roster for the week."
"Oh." Jess frowned, surprised for a moment. Becker always, always brought this to her, every Friday morning. Today was Friday, and here was the roster... but where was Becker? "Um, thanks," she said, taking the file. She opened the front page and saw that instead of Becker's near-anally-neat print, the names were scrawled in Fred's round hand.
She frowned again. "Is Captain Becker not here?" She asked Fred.
Fred's eyebrows shot up. "Did Lester not tell you?" He said. "He's off sick."
Jess stared at Fred. "Becker?" She asked incredulously. Becker was never off sick – unless he was injured. And even then he had to be directly ordered by Lester to stay home.
Fred snorted. "I know," he said. "He got in touch this morning to say he wasn't feeling well, but I'm under direct orders to call him if anything serious comes up."
Jess was wrestling with some serious disbelief. "You spoke to him?"
"Actually, he emailed me."
Jess gave Fred a nonplussed look, and Fred nodded understandingly. "I know, I know," he said. "The Captain never uses email. Well, he did. I text him, just to double check, and he said he wasn't feeling well and would be in touch later."
Jess shook her head. "What's wrong with him?"
"Some kind of twenty-four hour bug," Fred said dismissively. "I'm sure he'll be fine."
"I'm sure he will," Jess agreed. Especially since he's obviously not actually ill. "Thanks for the roster."
"No problem – the Cap had already done it, I just transferred it to the form," Fred said. He smiled at Jess. "See you later."
Jess pursed her lips and reached for her mobile phone. She quickly typed out a text message and sent it to Becker.
Are you really ill? Jx
A bit curt, perhaps, but she didn't think for a second that Becker was actually ill. He'd had a stinking cold about a month after they'd reopened the ARC, and had stubbornly come in every single day, even though he could barely breathe by day three. No, he was covering for something, and she was sure he was going to text her back and prove her right.
Sure enough, her phone buzzed a couple of minutes later.
Yes I'm ill. Feel really rough, but will be in tomorrow. B
Jess frowned, staring down at her phone screen. That was odd. She was sure that if he was lying about being ill, he would tell her. He knew there was no reason to lie to her, she wouldn't tell on him. He knew that.
God, what if he actually was ill? It was possible, however unlikely. But it would have to be something really serious to keep him at home; he must be completely laid up. She quickly sent another message.
Do you want me to send Dr Coulson round? Jx
Jess bit her lip and wondered if she should just send the doctor over without waiting for Becker's answer. If he was ill enough to stay off of work then he definitely needed to see a doctor, and if he wasn't ill it would serve him right for lying to her. Becker replied to her before she could decide.
No, really don't. If I feel worse I'll call him, I promise. B
Jess sighed and slouched down in her seat. If she sent the doctor round after that message Becker would not be happy with her, so she probably shouldn't. But she didn't feel comfortable about just leaving him at home all day, ill without any help. Most especially she didn't feel comfortable about letting him get away with whatever he was lying to her about... because she still didn't think he was ill. Not really. Did she?
She straightened her shoulders and sat up again – there was nothing else for it.
OK, take care. Jx
She put her phone to one side and got on with her work, but the moment noon came around she was out of her chair and out of the door.
It took her ten minutes to get to Becker's flat. She'd only been there once, and she hadn't gone inside – she'd stayed with Abby in the car while they'd waited for him to emerge, though she'd been itching with curiosity as to what his flat was actually like. The block wasn't as modern as hers or Matt's; it looked like it had been built in the sixties. There were flower boxes on some of the windowsills and a large oak tree stood next to one corner of the building. Jess parked up on the street outside and made her way into the building.
Becker lived on the second floor, number 14, and Jess only allowed herself to hesitate for a brief moment before ringing his doorbell. If he was ill, she told herself sternly, this was no time to get embarrassed.
Except when he opened his front door all her concern for his well-being fled away, and she was straight back to suspicious. His eyes widened at the sight of her, and Jess folded her arms over her chest.
"Well, you can stand upright, so by your standards of illness you should definitely be in work," she said drily. "What's going on?"
Becker kept staring at her for a moment before a noise inside the flat made him look away. He turned back to her, and Jess noticed for the first time that he did look quite strange – his hair was really messy and his eyes were bright, almost feverish. He sighed. "You'd best come in," he said. He pulled the door wider and gestured for Jess to come inside.
Jess stepped through and found herself in a hallway. It was pretty plain, but then again there's very little one can do with a hallway, so she told herself not to judge the flat's decor by its starkness. She turned immediately to Becker, who was closing the door behind her. He was dressed in a pair of scruffy jeans and a plain blue t-shirt. His feet were bare.
"What's going on?" She asked him again. "You're clearly not ill – which I didn't believe for a minute, by the way – so why are you bunking off work?"
Becker raised an eyebrow at her. "If you didn't believe I was ill, why are you here?" He asked her.
"To find out why you're lying," Jess replied immediately. Then she rolled her eyes. "And because if I was wrong and you were ill enough to stay off work, you should probably be in hospital."
Becker rolled his eyes right back at her. "Right," he said. "Well I'm not ill but I... have a situation."
Jess opened her mouth to ask what, but was cut off by a sound from down the hallway. She frowned. She could have sworn that it had been a very loud meow.
Becker reached up and ran a hand through his hair. "I, er, have I ever mentioned that I have a cat?" He asked, looking acutely uncomfortable.
Jess' eyebrows shot up. "No," she said.
Becker nodded and started to walk down the hallway – Jess assumed she should follow him. "Well, I do," he was saying. "Her name's Duchess."
Jess started to smile. "Like in The Aristocats?"
Becker paused at a closed door, and gave Jess a slightly sheepish look. "Erm, yeah."
Jess bit her lip, trying to reign in her smile, and Becker quickly looked away, pushing the door open. Jess hurried to follow him through the doorway.
They had walked into Becker's living room. A quick glance took in shelves of books and DVDs, a large TV and a comfortable looking sofa, before her attention was entirely drawn to the cat struggling towards them from a basket against the wall opposite them. Jess could see why Becker had chosen the name Duchess – like her namesake, his cat was a long-haired white with big blue eyes. Those eyes were fixed on Becker as he walked towards her, and she was meowing constantly, demanding attention. She was stumbling slightly as she walked, and seemed reluctant to leave the basket. She was very fat around her middle.
"Hey, hey, it's okay – I'm back," Becker said soothingly. He knelt down next to the basket, and Duchess immediately placed her front paws on his knees, trying to get close to him. He ran a hand down her back and then scratched behind her ears. She stopped meowing and started purring very loudly. As Jess watched, her sides seem to contract and then ripple.
Becker looked up at Jess. "She's... um..."
Jess stared at him. "She's in labour," she said.
Becker nodded. "Yeah."
Jess started to smile. "So you lied about being ill to stay home and look after your pregnant cat?" She said delightedly. Oh, this was so good.
Becker cleared his throat, and Jess gleefully noted that he was blushing slightly. "She just doesn't want me to leave her alone right now – you heard her," he said awkwardly. "Everything I've read said that I don't really have to do anything to help, but..."
Jess tried to reign in her smile – Becker was obviously very worried about Duchess, so he didn't need her teasing him. Besides, there'd be plenty of time for that later.
She put her bag down on the floor and started to unbutton her jacket.
"They're right, you don't have to do anything," she said. "But cats can get very clingy when they're in labour, so it's good you stayed with her."
"Do you have a cat?" He asked her, sounding surprised.
"No, my Dad's allergic to fur so I was never allowed anything but fish," Jess told him, folding her jacket and dropping it on top of her bag. "But I love cats and always wanted one, so I know quite a lot about them."
"You know quite a lot about everything," Becker said drily. He smirked a little at her before turning his attention back to Duchess. He gently pushed her back so she was properly in the basket and coaxed her into lying down. Jess walked over and sat down on the floor next to him.
"So do you think she's okay?" Becker asked her, the worry back in his voice.
Jess nodded. "Absolutely," she said. "You can see the contractions, so the kittens are going to start coming really soon – and that can take a few hours. But it's very instinctual for cats, and she's not in pain, either."
"Not much, no – see, she's purring."
Jess reached out a hand and gently placed it on Duchess' head. Duchess opened her eyes and looked at her for a moment, before closing them again and rubbing her hand against her fingers. Jess smiled and scratched behind her ears.
"She's beautiful – where did you get her?" Jess asked Becker.
"A friend of my Mum's," Becker said. "She breeds cats. Duchess isn't a purebred, but her parents are both show quality." He shifted round so he was sitting more comfortably, and didn't see Jess' grin. "Anyway, I've always had cats at home growing up, and she offered me a kitten, so I got her about a year ago."
Jess nodded. "Do you know how many kittens she's having?"
"I took her to the vet a couple of weeks ago and she said three or four," Becker said.
"Ooh, if there are three you can call them Toulouse, Berlioz and Marie," Jess said with a grin.
Becker smiled as well but shook his head. Jess wondered if he already had names picked out – this morning she would have scoffed at the idea but in the past ten minutes she'd found out that Becker was a cat lover, owned a cat that he'd named after a Disney character, and was so worried about her that he'd lied about being ill to get out of work.
"I wonder what they'll look like – do you know who the father is?" Jess asked him.
Surprisingly, Becker looked angry all of a sudden. "No I don't," he said darkly. "She got out of the flat and I have no idea who did this to her."
He sounded like an irate father – Jess couldn't help but grin. Her reaction only made Becker glare at her, and she had to force down the urge to laugh. "She went on heat before you could get her neutered?" She guessed.
Becker rolled his eyes. "Yeah," he admitted. "I wasn't sure whether to get her neutered or not – she's an indoor cat, obviously, so I didn't think it would be a problem. And it's such an invasive procedure for females..."
There was that protective tone again. Jess smiled. "So what happened?"
"Well like you said, she went on heat," he said. "And she... went crazy." Jess' smile widened and even Becker had to smile a bit. "Completely bonkers," he said. "I was thinking I would have to have her neutered, and then I came home one day and she was outside on the pavement."
Jess laughed. "How?"
"It was my fault – I left my bathroom window open," Becker said. "She knocked over everything in the room to get out of the window, and then went down the tree next to the building." He rolled his eyes. "I didn't know for sure she was pregnant until a few weeks later."
"And now here we are."
"Indeed." Becker gave Duchess a stern look, but only lasted a second before he gave her an affectionate smile and stroked her head again. Jess smiled.
"Funny, I never would have guessed you were a cat person," she said after a moment. "If I'd had to pick a pet for you, it probably would have been a Labrador or something."
Becker shrugged. "I don't dislike dogs, I've just always had cats," he said, still looking at Duchess. "I don't think I could have a dog – they're too needy."
Jess looked down at Duchess – the cat seemed perfectly content, but Jess could see her belly was contracting more frequently than before. She reached out and laid her hand very gently on top of Duchess' side, and could feel the kittens moving around under her palm. Jess grinned with excitement.
"So what will happen now?" Becker asked her.
"The kittens will start coming out, one by one," Jess told him. "They each have a separate amniotic sack, and Duchess will break it and clean the kitten, cut the umbilical cord and eat the placenta –"
"Eat the placenta?" Becker repeated, sounding completely disgusted. "Tell me you're kidding."
Jess smiled. "Nope," she said. "Didn't you say you read about this?"
"Yeah, I must have blocked out that part," Becker said, his lips curling in disgust.
Jess grinned at his squeamishness, and couldn't resist the opportunity to goad him. "You know lots of women nowadays eat the placenta when they have a baby – it has lots of helpful nutrients," she said cheerily.
Becker looked stricken. "That's completely disgusting," he said at once.
Jess gave him a pointed look. "Childbirth is disgusting," she said. Becker pulled a face and looked away, and Jess shook her head. "If you ever have kids you're going to be useless in the delivery room."
Becker looked back at her and raised an eyebrow. "I don't care if a woman has just given birth to my child – if she eats the placenta, it's a deal breaker," he said firmly.
Jess gave him a shocked look and then bent over to put an arm around Duchess. "Aw... don't listen to him, Duchess," she said. "He'll still love you."
She glanced at Becker and caught him rolling his eyes, though he was smiling as he did so. She trailed her hand down Duchess' back and her fingers brushed against very soft wool. She sat up and looked properly at the basket the cat was in. It was plastic but moulded to look like wicker, and its sides were quite high. She could see a layer of newspaper at the bottom of the basket, which was a good start, but the blanket Duchess was lying on was a very soft wool, and looked incredibly expensive.
Jess cleared her throat. "Speaking of disgusting... this looks like quite a nice blanket that she's lying on," she said.
"Do you like it?" Becker said, completely oblivious to her meaning. "I got it from Habitat. Duchess really likes the texture of... oh." His voice trailed off as he caught sight of Jess' half exasperated, half amused look, and he frowned. "You think I should put down some towels or something?"
Jess gave him a sardonic look. "Yeah."
"Right," Becker said meekly. He gave Duchess an uneasy look. "Could you keep an eye on her?"
Jess smiled. "Of course," she said. Duchess was lying on her side, purring loudly with her eyes closed – she probably wouldn't even notice he was gone.
Becker nodded and stood up. He hadn't taken three steps before Duchess opened her eyes and lifted her head, meowing loudly at his retreating back. She immediately started to struggle to her feet. Becker stopped and turned, looking anguished. Jess put a hand on Duchess' back and waved her other at the door. "Just go quickly!" She said. Becker fled.
Jess turned her attention to the panicked cat. "It's okay, he's coming back in a minute," she said soothingly, stroking Duchess' back and cupping her head with her other hand. Duchess stopped meowing and turned her eyes on Jess, who smiled at her and gave her a little push to try and get her to lie back down. "Settle down, sweetheart," she said softly, keeping on stroking her.
Duchess slowly lowered herself back onto her side, though she didn't close her eyes again. "There," Jess said, smiling again. "Don't get worked up, you've got kittens coming." Jess grinned and bent over her to stroke her properly. "Yeah... you're going to be a mummy! Yes you are!"
Duchess started purring again as Jess scratched behind her ears. "And your little babies are going to have the prettiest mummy in all the world, aren't they?" She carried on. "And their grandpa's a big softie who's going to spoil them rotten!"
"I don't know what's more insulting," Becker said from behind her, "grandpa or big softie."
Jess sat up and grinned at Becker, who walked over and knelt back down next to her with two large towels in his hands. He gave Jess a mock-glare, and she just smirked at him. "I hate to break it to you, but your tough military facade has been well and truly smashed by the revelations of this afternoon," she said.
Becker kept up the glare for another second or so before sighing. "I'm never going to live this down, am I?" He said.
"Don't worry, I'll think of some suitably macho 24-hour disease that you can pretend you had," Jess told him teasingly.
Becker gave her a sardonic look. "Thanks," he said sarcastically.
Jess smiled and looked down at Duchess – she did a double take and thrust out a hand. "Give me that towel – I see a kitten!" She exclaimed.
"What?" Becker yelped. Jess grabbed one of the towels out of his hand but soon realised there was no way she was going to be able to get it under Duchess while she was literally in the middle of giving birth to a kitten. Becker was just going to have to pay another visit to Habitat to get a new blanket.
Becker knelt up to see over Jess' shoulder. "Where is – urgh!" He sat back quickly, having caught sight of the kitten, half in and half out of Duchess, still wrapped in a slimy pink and red amniotic sack.
He shuddered and put a hand over his eyes. "Oh that's disgusting. I could have lived so happily without seeing that," he said.
Jess couldn't believe how grossed out he was getting. "Suck it up, Captain," she said before turning her attention to Duchess. The cat was panting, her stomach getting ready to contract again. Jess knew better than to touch her, so she made soothing noises. "It's okay, sweetheart, one more push..." There was another contraction and the kitten slid out completely. Jess jumped a little with excitement. "There he is! Well done!" She cooed.
Becker was looking again. "It's a boy?" He asked.
Jess rolled her eyes. "I don't know, it's in an amniotic sack!" She exclaimed.
Becker wrinkled his nose. "Yeah. I can see that."
"You're pathetic," Jess said. "What would you have done if I hadn't come round?"
"Called you," Becker replied instantly, almost like he wasn't thinking about his reply. Jess' eyes widened at the answer, and Becker seemed to realise what he'd said a moment later. He gave her a sheepish look. "I almost did, actually, this morning when I realised she was in labour."
Jess was genuinely surprised by that. "Really? Why?"
Becker shifted, looking a little uncomfortable. "Because... well... you know everything," he said.
Jess raised an eyebrow. "True."
Becker smiled. "Then I was tempted to tell you when you text me," he said.
"Why didn't you?"
Becker paused for a moment, and then gave her a raised eyebrow. "To protect my tough military facade," he said, as if it was obvious.
Jess grinned, but her reply was cut off by the tiniest squeak of a meow from the basket. Duchess had been hard at work breaking the amniotic sack and cleaning the kitten's face, and it was now breathing.
Jess couldn't help it – her eyes immediately filled with tears.
"Say hello to your first grand-kitten," she said softly.
"It's black!" Becker exclaimed.
He was right – as Duchess cleaned the kitten she revealed that he was black fur, though his face was white and his front paw, when he stuck it out, was also white.
"Yeah – but look at the little white face and feet," Jess said. "Oh, he's so cute!"
As she spoke, Duchess passed the kitten's placenta and she immediately started chewing on the umbilical cord to break it. She was doing everything perfectly, and Jess felt perfectly happy to sit back and let her get on with it. She glanced at Becker and she was amused to see that he was pointedly staring at the wall above the basket. He didn't look once as Duchess finished cleaning the kitten and then ate the placenta, just as Jess said she would. She watched as the little kitten was pushed towards Duchess' tummy – he groped blindly for a minute before finding a teat to latch on to.
Jess grinned watching him feed for the first time. "I'm going to guess the Dad was a black cat," she said. Becker let out an 'urgh' sound under his breath, and Jess gave him a look. "Racist," she quipped teasingly.
Becker didn't look impressed. "You have not seen the mangy black cats that live in this neighbourhood," he said. He shook his head and reached out to scratch Duchess' ears. Duchess, who had been nosing at the side of her new kitten, immediately closed her eyes and started purring again. "Duchess, you could have done so much better."
"Don't judge her," Jess said. "She was desperate and they don't make vibrators for cats."
Becker gave her a wide-eyed, completely scandalised look, and Jess felt her cheeks heat up as she realised what she'd just said. What the hell had made her bring vibrators into the conversation? Luckily, Duchess provided a perfect escape from Becker's scrutiny.
"Oh look, another kitten!" She pointed out to him, turning back to the cat. Becker looked, and Jess let out a small sigh of relief.
This kitten also passed into the world with very little fuss, and once again Becker tried to look anywhere but directly at the kitten while it was being cleaned up by Duchess. Jess had to bite her lip to contain her smile when she saw him reach out and very gently stroke his finger down the first kitten's back. The second kitten was black too, and as far as Jess could see it didn't have any white on it at all. Soon it was clean and cuddled up next to its sibling, and the two of them were feeding hungrily. Duchess lay back, purring loudly and looking absurdly pleased with herself.
"Do you think there's just two?" Becker said after a few minutes.
Jess shook her head. "No, but there can be a long wait between kittens," she told him. "Sometimes labour stops for up to two days before the other kittens are born... but that's pretty rare. Give her half an hour,"
Becker gave Jess an appraising look. "So how do you know so much about cat labour?" He asked her. "I've read about it, but I was still completely unprepared."
"That's because you skipped the gross parts," Jess teased him. Becker rolled his eyes, but then resumed his look. She shrugged. "Well, I did date a boy once whose cat gave birth while we were going out, and I was there for that," she admitted.
Becker smirked. "Is that why you went out with him?"
"No!" Jess exclaimed indignantly. Becker raised an eyebrow at her, in that way he had, and Jess squirmed a little before breaking. "Well, not at first," she admitted sheepishly. "I did kind of want to break up when the kittens were only a couple of weeks old, but I stayed with him for another month or so..." Becker was smirking again, and Jess narrowed her eyes at him. "Don't give me that look, they were really cute."
Becker grinned. "I'm sure they were," he said.
"He wasn't too bad either," Jess added, in the hopes she didn't sound too callous. Oh well – she'd only been fifteen at the time.
Becker was smirking again, and it occurred to Jess that this was the most depth the two of them had ever gone into about their private lives. She wondered if she should feel uncomfortable, but before she could decide her mobile started ringing in her bag.
Jess plucked it out and looked at the caller ID.
"It's Abby," Jess told Becker.
He nodded. "Did you tell her where you were going when you left?" He asked.
"No." Jess quirked her eyebrow at Becker before answering. "Hello?"
"Jess? Where are you?" Abby demanded.
Jess glanced at Becker, who was looking down at Duchess and her kittens, and decided in that instant that this was something she wanted to keep to herself. For now, anyway – if nothing else, it was great blackmail material. Also... she kind of liked it being just between them.
"I, erm... actually I'm not feeling too well," she said quickly. Becker looked up and at her, and it was her turn to look away. "I think I have a migraine coming on. I came home for some lunch and thought I'd have a lie down but it's just got worse and I think I should stay here in the dark."
She looked back at Becker; he shook his head solemnly and tutted quietly. Jess gave him a glare.
"Oh no – do you want me to come over?" Abby asked her.
"No!" Jess exclaimed. She winced and tried to make her voice sound like she was suffering from a migraine. "I mean... no, I need to be alone. In the dark. Just me," she said, thanking god that Abby and Connor had moved out of her flat. "I'll be fine by the morning, my migraines don't last too long. Can you, er, tell Lester for me please?"
Abby paused, and for a moment Jess was worried she would have to hurry home and fake a migraine all afternoon. "Sure. Connor will cover the ADD – he loves it," Abby said eventually.
Jess sighed with relief. "Great," she said. Then she shifted guiltily. "But call me if there's an alert."
"Don't be silly, you're ill," Abby said at once.
"I'd want to know," Jess insisted. She caught Becker's eye, and he smiled at her. She remembered that Sergeant Simons had said Becker had demanded to be contacted if there was an anomaly as well. She smiled back.
"Well, okay," Abby was saying. "But you take care of yourself, alright?"
Jess grinned, so glad that Abby had bought it. "I will, thanks, Abby," she said.
"No problem," said Abby. "Say hi to Becker for me."
Jess nodded. "I wi –" Her eyes widened. "Er... I mean..."
Abby sniggered. "Bubye!" She said cheerfully, before hanging up.
Becker tutted again as Jess put her phone down. "Lying about being ill to get out of work – shocking," he said teasingly.
"Yeah... Abby says hi," Jess told him.
Becker's eyes widened. "Ah."
"She won't say anything," Jess said quickly.
Becker raised an eyebrow. "Not to grass you up, no, but she will definitely say something," he said.
He was right – Abby would never let Jess live this down. She was going to tease the hell out of Jess for lying to get out of work to check on Becker, and probably tease Becker about it too.
She looked down at the two tiny kittens she'd just seen born, and decided it was worth it.
The third kitten was born ten minutes later, and was the whitest one so far – it had a (mostly) black face, black paws and black tail, but its body was white with black splodges and spots. Duchess did her thing, and soon it was snuggled up against its siblings, feeding alongside them.
And then they waited. And waited.
Becker made sandwiches for him and Jess, and they ate them on the floor, watching Duchess closely for any sign that she was going to give birth again. The kittens had cuddled up against each other in a fluffy ball and gone to sleep, and Duchess was curled around them, starting to drift off herself.
"You know, there might just be three," Becker said, for about the fourth time.
"Maybe," Jess said. "But I wouldn't be so sure..."
"The vet said three or four, so it could just be three."
"I think there's another one in there," Jess said, eyeing Duchess' stomach. It was still contracting every now and then, though far less regularly than before.
"How can you be sure?"
"I'm not," Jess said. She shrugged. "I just have a feeling."
It was well over an hour after the third kitten was born that the fourth one came along. Jess and Becker had moved over to his sofa and were watching the news, when they heard Duchess panting again. They scrambled over to the basket and found that Duchess' stomach was contracting again and she was clearly giving birth. The three kittens were awake and tumbling blindly over each other as they clearly wondered what was going on.
The kitten was just starting to show, but it didn't seem to be passing as easily as the other three had. Duchess was panting and visibly straining.
"What's wrong with her?" Becker demanded. "Is she okay?"
Jess bit her lip. "I'm sure she's fine," she said. Jess looked a bit closer. "I think it's stuck," she told Becker. "I can only see its legs."
Becker leant over her to try and see for himself – it was a testament to his worry in the moment that he wasn't squirming away from the sight. "What do we do?" He said fearfully.
Jess didn't like to interfere, but she felt she needed to do something. She hesitated for a moment, before reaching out and gently pulling on the half-delivered kitten. There was a moment's resistance before it slid out the rest of the way.
"Is it okay?" Becker asked.
Jess didn't answer – she just stared as Duchess started to clean the new kitten off. There was a moment when nothing happened, but then the kitten twitched and opened its mouth, letting out a tiny meow and starting to breathe.
Jess sagged in relief, and she felt Becker do the same next to her.
"It's okay?" Becker asked anxiously.
"It's okay," Jess said. She smiled at him.
Becker grinned and put his arm around Jess to give her a quick one-armed hug. "Well done," he said. Jess grinned as well.
Becker dropped his arm and Jess quickly looked away – she reached for the discarded towels on the floor and used one of them to dry off the bits of gunk on her fingers.
"This one's white," Becker remarked.
Jess looked and saw that he was right – the kitten was basically clean now, and you could see that it was entirely white, just like Duchess. Jess grinned delightedly. "Oh, it is!" She exclaimed. "You have to call her Marie – you have absolutely no choice in this matter."
Becker rolled his eyes. "What if it's a boy?"
"Then call him Maurice," Jess said instantly.
Becker laughed. "Okay," he said. They watched as little Marie/Maurice was nudged towards Duchess' stomach. It latched on next to its siblings, and Jess smiled.
Becker cleared his throat. "I thought of a name for the first one," he said. He shrugged. "Don't you think he looks like Figaro?"
Jess grinned. "I never knew you were such a Disney fan," she teased.
He rolled his eyes. "I did have a childhood, you know," he said.
Jess smirked and looked back at the kittens – she saw what he meant about the first one; it had the white paws, face and tummy just like Geppetto's cat in Pinocchio.
"Well you're going to have to stick with the Disney theme for the others," Jess said.
"How about Bagheera for the black one?" Jess said.
Becker laughed and then nodded. "I like that," he said. "The other one... well, it kind of looks like a Dalmatian..."
Jess grinned. "So, Pongo?"
Becker grinned back. "Or Perdita," he said. "When can we find out if they're boys or girls?"
"Now, if you wanted," Jess said. "But I think you should leave them for a while until they're a bit more settled."
"I don't know how to tell," Becker said. "You're going to have to do it."
"Surprise surprise," Jess said with a smirk.
In the end, Jess waited a couple of hours before checking the kittens' sex – Duchess had got out of her basket to use the litter tray and have some food (Jess had had to order Becker to bring Duchess' tray and bowls into the living room from the kitchen... he was such a novice) and she and Becker took the opportunity to handle the kittens for the first time. They started meowing in protest as soon as they were left by their mum – Duchess looked round at the sound from where she was eating, but she went back to her food when she saw Becker was holding the little black kitten. Jess had to smile at the sweetness of Duchess trusting Becker with her babies.
Jess quickly checked the kittens and gave her best guess at their gender, though she did stress that she could be wrong. To her delight, the white kitten turned out to be a Marie, and the mostly black kittens were boys. The 'Dalmation' kitten was a little harder to tell, but Jess guessed girl. It would become clearer over the next few days.
"When do they open their eyes?" Becker asked Jess.
"After about a week," Jess told him. "But they're still blind for a little while after that. They're deaf too."
"Yeah, see how their ears are flattened to their heads?" Jess pointed out. "So they stay close to their mummy because they like the warmth. And the food."
Becker smiled. "So Duchess is still going to be eating tons, like when she was pregnant?"
Jess laughed. "Yep – she's eating for five."
Becker nodded. "So when do I start weaning them? Do I need to take them to the vet? How do I know that they're eating enough? Should I wash them? Or groom them? Are we sure there isn't another kitten still to come?"
Jess put her hand on Becker's arm to stop him talking. "You need to relax, everything's fine," she told him. "All you have to worry about is getting Duchess a new blanket."
Becker looked down at the soiled blanket and wrinkled his nose. They had swapped the blanket for one of the towels when they were handling the kittens, and it was clear the blanket was ruined. "Yeah – towels from now on," he said.
Jess grinned. "Well you've learnt your lesson, and you'll know for when Marie and Perdita come home pregnant..."
As Jess had known he would, Becker immediately started spluttering indignantly. "No, there will be no more teenage cat pregnancies in this house," he exclaimed. "I refuse to be a great-grandfather at the age of twenty-seven."
Jess burst out laughing, and Becker joined in after a moment. Duchess returned to the basket via Becker's lap for a quick cuddle, and her kittens immediately started feeding again. Jess and Becker sat next to her and watched them feed, Becker stroking Duchess who was purring loudly, and before Jess knew it another hour had gone by. It was mid-evening by now and she knew it was about time she left. There was a fine line between helping Becker out and completely outstaying her welcome.
"So... I should get going," she said, starting to stand up.
Becker looked up at her, and Jess didn't miss the look of panic that flittered across his featured before he schooled them. "Oh, okay," he said, standing up as well.
Jess smiled. "Seriously, everything's fine," she told him. "All you have to do is make sure Duchess has all the food she needs, and just keep an eye on the kittens to make sure they're all feeding."
Becker nodded. Jess gave each of the five cats one last stroke before gathering her things together and heading for the door, Becker at her heels.
She turned to face him at the door and smiled again – he looked at her intently for a second before stepping forward and hugging her. Jess had to swallow back a shocked laugh as she put her arms around his back and hugged him back.
"Thanks, Jess," Becker said as he pulled away. "Seriously, I don't know what I would have done if you weren't here."
Jess grinned. "Well, we know what the moral of the story is, don't we?" She said, arching an eyebrow.
Becker smiled. "Don't try to lie to you again," he said, correctly.
"That's right," Jess said. "It's just an exercise in futility."
"I see that now," Becker said solemnly, reaching for the door handle. He stopped with his hand on it, and looked back at her, his eyes intense again. "You'll come back, won't you?" He asked urgently. "I mean... I have no idea what to do next."
Jess' grin almost split her face in two. "Becker, you have kittens," she said. "I'll be here all the time."
Becker smiled, and Jess raised an eyebrow at him. " Seriously," she said. "Before work, after work, during work..."
Becker nodded. "I'll get a key cut for you," he said jokingly, starting to open the door.
Jess smiled and nodded as well. "That will probably be best," she said in a mock-serious tone.
"So I'll see you tomorrow," Becker said, opening the door wide.
"Yep, see you then," Jess said, though she made no move to go. Now that she was on the verge of going she found herself reluctant to leave – the afternoon had been one of the most surreal of her life, and she felt that it would almost cease to exist when she left.
She cleared her throat. "Erm – what time do you usually leave for work?" She asked.
Becker quirked an eyebrow at her and pursed his lips thoughtfully, before starting to smile again. "Come round between seven-thirty and eight – I'll make breakfast," he said.
Jess grinned. "I'll bring the coffee," she said. Then with one last grin, she stepped out of Becker's flat and headed for home.