The Education of Mouse

J Ecris

Jamie had fallen in love with Mouse. There were no other words for it. She’d looked at things from every angle, tried to persuade herself it was hopeless and to let it go, but her easy kinship with him and the way they understood each other and trusted one another made her realize that it was he she wanted to spend her life with, to take as her mate, to be father to her children. And her body had attained an age when she craved a child beyond reason.

But he seemed a little... well, clueless. She wasn’t sure he was even aware of the differences between men and women. It’s not that he was unintelligent, as many people thought; it was just that his interests were rather narrowly focused on gizmos and explosives and inventing things. The mundane details of life that most people take for granted often seemed very much on the periphery of Mouse’s world. Most people who knew him weren’t aware of it, but his vocabulary was actually quite extensive–it was just a bit light on the everyday words–and she had to admit, his grammar was definitely non-standard.

She knew he liked her though. They were best friends. And she knew there was potential for more.

What she really needed was advice on how to proceed. And it was beyond obvious that none would be forthcoming. She’d given up long ago trying to talk to those near her own age about Mouse. They just didn’t understand. Father and Mary had both told her Mouse was a lost cause and she’d be wasting her time. Father had gone so far as to suggest it would be inappropriate to try. Even Vincent had told her as gently as possible that she shouldn’t get her hopes up.

But no one else seemed to understand Mouse the way she did; indeed, some people seemed to dismiss him as less than a complete person. She knew there had to be a way of getting through to him, if only she could figure it out. She’d been thinking about it for months now, and of one thing she was certain: it would be a long, slow, and very gradual process. And if at some point, she decided it wasn’t going to work, they would always have their friendship. Even if she temporarily scared Mouse with relationship-y stuff, she knew all she would have to do to be his friend again would be to start talking gizmos and gadgets. She figured she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So for the last few weeks, she’d been spending as much time with him as possible, partly to reassure herself that a life with Mouse was really what she wanted, but mostly just for the greater opportunity it afforded her to get closer to him. They were getting along as well as ever–which was not to say that it was always smooth sailing. They had plenty of disagreements, but they always managed to settle them.

She’d taken to telling Mouse she loved him. At first he hadn’t noticed. When he did, his reaction indicated he must be misunderstanding. But as she continued to say it, and he got more comfortable hearing it, his reaction evolved from puzzled tolerance to pleased acceptance to a sheepish, "Mouse loves Jamie too."

She’d begun to touch him more too, gradually. She’d begun just by standing nearer him when they were working, or by resting her hand on his arm or his back while they were poring over plans. And this caused her to realize that he listened to her much more thoroughly when she first captured his attention by touching him. He’d realized it himself in fact, and used the tactic in return on her. Of course the touch he used on her–something along the lines of a back slap–was rather less subtle than the one she used for him, but she found it endearing.

Mouse had never been averse to hugs, and she’d been finding more opportunities for those as well lately. They were mostly used as an expression of joy between them, a celebration of some accomplishment. She’d attempted greeting him and saying goodnight to him with a hug, but it just didn’t work, mainly because he was usually busy with something and couldn’t be bothered. He’d scolded her more than once for interrupting before she gave up that particular attempt.

She’d been pondering her next step for several days now. Their friendship was closer than ever. She thought the key was to continue to push the physical closeness–still very gradually. She couldn’t decide whether to throw some kisses on the cheek into the mix, or to just casually ask if she could spend the night–just to sleep and be near him. There had been a couple of hugs that day, but she hadn’t summoned up the courage, or perhaps the presence of mind, to add in a friendly kiss. So she’d ask to spend the night then.

It went well. Better than she’d expected really. After she’d started feeling sleepy, she went over to Mouse’s bed, took off her shoes, and climbed under the covers. In typical Mouse fashion, he hadn’t noticed for at least 20 minutes.

"Hey! That Mouse’s bed!"

"Do you mind if I share?" she asked nonchalantly.

He puzzled for a moment or two, measuring her with a critical eye, then finally shrugged. "Ok."

And as simple as that, Jamie was now sleeping in Mouse’s chamber. More than that, she’d begun moving in, just a few things every day. Mouse hadn’t noticed for at least a week. When he finally did, he prowled around for several minutes as if trying to figure out what was different, and then had a Eureka moment.

"Jamie lives here now?!"

"Yeah," she answered matter-of-factly.

"Neat!" he beamed.

He grew to enjoy having Jamie in his bed as well. Her cuddling close had seemed to confuse him at first, but as he became accustomed to it, he took to wrapping an arm around her too. "Warm," he said one night upon joining her in bed. "Nice." And he nuzzled her nose with his.

The nose nuzzling became something of Mouse’s trademark after that, and it was the exact opportunity she’d needed to throw in a few kisses here and there. She kept the kisses for when they were in bed. She was braver in that regard when she was half asleep. Poor Mouse had looked positively alarmed at that first lingering kiss. But he grew comfortable with those too in the ensuing weeks. When he kissed her good night of his own accord, coming late to bed one night, she felt they’d turned a corner.

Into unknown territory. Below was a small place, and Jamie had never really dated. The pool of available guys was vanishingly small and none of them had ever appealed to her–except Mouse. So she was feeling more than a little nervous when it seemed that the next logical step on their journey should be wandering hands. And knowing that no advice would be forthcoming from any of her potential live sources, she decided to consult the library. Father’s library was extensive and she found numerous books which told her that the trick to not being nervous was to just let your feelings out and go with the flow.

Except she’d been deliberately keeping those feelings very much under wraps, so as not to do something which would scare Mouse away prematurely. What to do, what to do. For several days, she made no new moves and found herself lying awake wondering about things, thinking about the future.

Mouse surprised her that night by openly asking what was on her mind. "What thinking about?"

And she surprised herself by answering openly. "Babies."

"Babies?" He looked puzzled as he repeated the word, as if trying to grasp which alternate meaning of that word she could have in mind, but he couldn’t think of any other meanings. "Babies??"

"Haven’t you ever thought about having a son, or a daughter?"

He thought for a moment. "No."

"Think about it now."

He made a number of different faces, clearing weighing the pros and cons. Finally, he nodded skeptically, eyes narrowed, and said, "Maybe."

She smiled. "I want one."

"So have one."

She smiled again. "Well.... um... I can’t really have one by myself."

He thought about that for a moment. "Mary will help," he assured her. "Or Father. Helped Olivia. Helped Lena."

She decided to take a different tack, the technical one. "Mouse, what do you know about reproduction?"

"What kind?"

"The kind where you get baby animals, or baby people."

"Oh, that kind. Uh... don’t much know about that kind. Never needed to make any baby animals or baby people. Hey. Jamie should find out. If Jamie wants baby."

"Jamie already knows how," she said, adopting Mouse’s style of speaking.

"Cool," he replied. "What need?"

She gazed at him for a long moment. "Well... I need... a father... for my baby." And before he could suggest the probably obvious–to him–choice of the tunnel patriarch, she added, "I want you."

He gaped at her in amazement for a few moments. "Mouse?" he asked incredulously.

She nodded.

He shook his head confusedly. "Girls don’t like Mouse."

"I do. I love Mouse."

He stared at her for an even longer time, finally coming to understand why she was here in his chamber, in his bed. She wasn’t just a roommate. Why had he never noticed it before?

"That’s why Jamie kisses Mouse."

She smiled. "That’s right."

"But–" he shook his head. "Mouse never... why?? Why Jamie here?"

"Because I love you, Mouse. I want to have a life with you. We work so well together and get along so well together, and we’re such good friends. I think we should be a family."

"Family...? Below is family."

"More than just the extended family of Below. Like Kanin and Olivia. And Luke."

"Jamie and Mouse? And baby?"

She nodded.

"Mouse never had family before. Own family."

"Me neither."

He gazed at her for another long minute. "Ok good. Mouse, Jamie, baby, family." He put an arm around her and nuzzled her nose. "Family," he repeated, beaming.

Jamie went to sleep happy. There were minor technical details to be worked out–well ok maybe not so minor–but they’d handled problems far more complicated than these before. And if there had to be in-depth conversations and hours poring over diagrams about the mechanics of how things worked, well they’d done that before too. And trial and error was a technique near and dear to them both. And the last several months had shown her that anything was possible with gentle patience and dogged persistence. And of course, love.

***

And then the very next day Father had to go and spoil her happy mood. She hadn’t told anyone she’d moved in with Mouse, and she’d only half moved out of her own chamber, as she didn’t want people to realize she’d moved. It’s not as if she was ashamed or embarrassed for anyone to know–she’d just been trying to postpone the inevitable fit Father was going to have. It was not unusual for her to spend all hours of the day and night with Mouse, so anyone visiting her would just assume she was with him, and as Mouse’s chamber was pretty far removed from the main hub, mostly people wouldn’t bother to come looking for her–they’d just wait until they saw her at breakfast or whatever.

And they still wouldn’t know–except for Vincent, who’d known for weeks, but also knew how to keep a secret–if Mouse hadn’t practically shouted it from the rooftops. They were on their way to breakfast when who did they happen to see but Kanin, Olivia, and Luke, and modeling their behavior, Mouse took Jamie’s hand in his. And that would have probably been fine, except that Mouse was clearly feeling exceedingly pleased about the whole thing and somehow managed to make a small thing like hand holding into a great big, conspicuous thing that no one could help noticing.

And still, it might yet have passed relatively unremarked–Mouse did get a lot more leeway with strange behavior than anyone else–but when Father mentioned it in passing, Mouse repeated the vow he’d recited to Jamie the night before, "Mouse, Jamie, baby, family!" And then all hell broke loose.

Later–much, much later–Jamie would sit in convulsions of laughter, remembering how upset Father was that she was pregnant–when of course she was no such thing. She and Mouse were both as inexperienced as it was possible to be, but she staunchly refused to tell him so. Father ranted and raved for at least half an hour about how he’d told her to leave Mouse alone, that he was an innocent and she’d taken advantage, and how dare she ignore his advice, and how could she be so irresponsible. He’d even called her wanton–wanton! She’d never been more furious in her life. And she couldn’t get a word in edgewise to defend herself, even if she thought she needed to, which she didn’t.

Mouse, for his part, was so accustomed to Father’s outbursts and had become so adept at completely tuning him out that it wasn’t until Father turned the tirade on him that he even noticed that he and Jamie were the targets of Father’s wrath. At that point, Mouse began to actually listen, and Jamie grew more angry still as she realized the influence Father had had on Mouse’s attitude toward physical closeness. Evidently Mouse had been made to promise not to touch any of the girls, and he looked guiltily at the floor when Father scolded him. Jamie’s blood boiled.

She jumped to her feet, and at the top of her lungs, shouted, "THAT’S ENOUGH!" The dining chamber was so still you could hear a pin drop–or you could if it weren’t for the pipe tappings–and the relative silence bolstered Jamie’s nerve. She took a deep breath, and quietly said, "This discussion is over. I’m a grown woman, for god’s sake! And Mouse is a grown man. If we want to have a life together, that’s our business and nobody else’s."

Mouse stood and put a hand on her shoulder. "Mouse, Jamie, baby, family!" he affirmed.

"That’s right!" Jamie agreed, humor beginning to tickle at the back of her mind. "Let’s go, Mouse." She took his hand and led him to the door, but turned back momentarily to state icily, "You owe us an apology."

They walked in silence for a minute or two, Jamie still shaking her head and muttering, still fuming. Until she noticed Mouse staring at her. "What?"

"Wow."

She broke into a grin. "What, wow?" she said as they walked on.

"Jamie... yelled at Father!" Admiration shone on his face. In fact, if he were any other man, she would have said he was looking at her with sexual interest. Hmm, maybe he was. Well, in any case, he could look at her that way any time he wanted.

"Mouse, we need to talk." Father’s ridiculous notions about touching had to be expunged.

"‘Bout what?"

"I am so angry about the way Father spoke to you! How dare he assume that you would go around willy-nilly touching women?!

"Willy who?"

"I just mean that you’re more interested in gizmos than girls."

"Right," he agreed. "Except Jamie."

Beaming, she kissed him on the cheek and he squeezed her hand. And then snatched it away guiltily.

"Father says Mouse shouldn’t touch."

"Father is an idiot!" she spat.

Mouse stared at her in awe again.

"Mouse, if we’re going to be a family, don’t you think it’s all right for us to touch each other?"

He looked at her skeptically.

"Kanin and Olivia touch each other. And Lena and that new guy, what’s his name–?"

"And Vincent and Catherine!" he crowed.

"Yeah," she agreed, even though she didn’t think they were the best example, their relationship being the only one moving more slowly than hers with Mouse. But if that was the example that convinced Mouse, it worked for her.

He took her hand in his again and hummed happily for almost a minute before launching into a renewed discussion about the issues involved in getting running water to somewhere close to his chamber.

***

Jamie spent the rest of the day waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. But Father never showed up, nor was she summoned to see him, nor to appear before the Council or anything like that. And then another day passed, and another. Still no shoe dropping. She and Mouse had been deliberately avoiding Father by turning up either quite early or quite late for meals and had so far managed to miss running into him. Jamie guessed that Vincent had intervened with Father on their behalf. She would have to ask him when she next saw him.

As stressful as the days were, the nights were so very sweet. The afternoon of the incident in the dining hall, as it came to be known, Mouse pulled a muscle in his back while lifting something he shouldn’t have. Jamie offered to rub it for him, taking the opportunity to half undress him.

He was so uncomfortable and so grateful for her touch that his usual discomfiture at new intimacies was completely short circuited. Her touch–learned in Mary’s ad-hoc school of alternative medicine–provided such relief he was almost in tears. "Why Jamie so good to Mouse?"

"Because I love you, Mouse."

Wondering what he’d done to deserve this, he was grateful beyond words. And he was struck by the contrast of how very content he had been alone in this chamber, and how very fulfilling it was to now be sharing it with Jamie. He couldn’t make sense of it.

And he was frustrated, as ever, by not being able to properly communicate his feelings to her. Words were such a difficult and complicated thing and he had enormous difficulty translating feelings into words. As if words were... a foreign language, one he was not proficient in. After several days of Jamie’s ministrations, he was determined to find a way of thanking her properly, and of repaying her.

As she offered to rub his back again that evening, he declined. "Back fixed. Thanks, Jamie."

"You’re welcome. And you’ve thanked me at least half a dozen times already."

He nodded. "Thanks–words... not enough."

"The words are enough, Mouse. I care for you and want to help you when I see you in pain. You would do the same for me."

"Yes." He pulled her into a close hug, rubbing his face against hers. "Mouse loves Jamie," he whispered.

"I love you too, Mouse." She was beginning to feel... aroused.

He continued nuzzling her. "Anything Jamie needs now?"

She gulped. The question offered so much more than he was currently able to give, she knew. She began to get very, very relaxed as he continued gently nuzzling her face. "You know," she murmured, "actually... there is something I’d like. Kiss me?"

He gave her a big squeaky kiss on the cheek.

She broke into a wide grin and chuckled. God, she loved him! She turned toward him, briefly pressing a finger to her lips. He puckered up again and she stopped him, tapping his lips with her finger until they relaxed. She approached him with soft lips and had to tap his back into submission once more before they shared a soft, moist, lingering kiss.

"Nice," Mouse marveled. "Better than nice."

"Very nice," Jamie agreed.

They shared another kiss. And another. And a few more. And Jamie’s inhibitions began to evaporate right into the ether. Her tongue grew ever bolder, until she surprised Mouse so thoroughly he pulled away, staring at her with wide eyes. But even as he stared, his body gravitated back to hers, and he joined her mouth for another kiss, daring to join the dance her tongue so tantalizingly invited him to.

Their kisses continued until they were both breathless, both of them aching for more, except that Mouse wasn’t aware of what. He only knew his body was in a state that Father had warned him about once long ago, but he couldn’t remember what the warning was. Only the guilty feeling lingered, and he didn’t want Jamie to find out.

"Night, Jamie," he said, not knowing what else to do or say.

"Night, Mouse," she replied, disappointed that it was over, but overjoyed at the progress they’d made.

***

When she knew she’d have Father’s library to herself–during mealtimes, in other words–Jamie prowled the library looking for books about anatomy, physiology, menstruation, reproduction, and so forth, especially those with good illustrations. Over the last few days she’d borrowed, read–or skimmed–and returned several which were interesting, but less useful than she thought they’d be, and also found several that were exactly what she needed. After the one she’d found today, she thought she must have sufficient information to plan a presentation for Mouse. Pleased, she emerged carefully from the secluded corner, peeking out to make sure she wouldn’t be discovered.

And found herself face to face with Vincent. She hid the book behind her back.

"Jamie."

"Hi, Vincent."

"You’ve been missing at mealtimes lately."

"Yeah, well I wanted to look for a book without being lectured again."

"I see you found one."

"Yeah. If you’ll excuse me, Vincent, I have sentry duty."

"May I walk with you?"

She hesitated, suddenly afraid he was going to take Father’s side. "Ok... sure."

They left Father’s chamber and walked quickly away from the main hub. "So, is it you I have to thank for Father backing off?"

He smiled slightly. "Perhaps. We had a long discussion about the incident in the dining hall. I confess I have not understood the source of his irrational fears in this matter. I tried to persuade him that you and Mouse do not pose any manner of danger to yourselves or each other."

Jamie glanced at him skeptically.

"However, I suspect your... pregnancy is a more convincing argument."

Jamie couldn’t suppress a grin. "Good."

Their conversation paused for a bit as they met and greeted Samantha and Eric, who both eyed Jamie with curiosity and increased respect. After all, no one ever shouted at Father. Well, hardly ever.

Vincent and Jamie walked on. When Vincent was sure no one would overhear, he said quietly, "Jamie, you’re not pregnant. Are you?"

"What makes you say that?" Jamie replied, amused. "What–you don’t think Mouse has it in him?"

Vincent blushed. "The book in your hand is one clue. Now if you were carrying ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ or perhaps Dr Spock’s ‘Baby and Child Care’..."

Jamie blushed and shifted ‘The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys’ to her other side. She cleared her throat, said nothing, and walked faster.

"Jamie..."

"Are you going to tell Father?" she demanded.

He paused. "Not if you don’t want me to."

"I don’t," she assured him.

"Does Mouse think you’re pregnant?"

"No. Well... I don’t think so. Never really know with Mouse, do you?" she grinned.

"But you’ve discussed it."

"Yeah. Kinda. Well... not in any detail. Mouse actually summed it up pretty well at breakfast the other day."

"And you’re sure this a goal you want to pursue?"

She sighed. "Vincent, I thought you, of all people, would understand. Just because someone is different doesn’t make them undesirable."

Vincent hadn’t expected that remark, and they walked in silence for a time.

"Jamie... I only meant that... Mouse probably isn’t the easiest person–"

"Don’t you think I know that?" And after a beat, "I don’t see Catherine giving up on you!"

This conversation was turning out to be a lot more than Vincent had bargained for. But he cared about her, so he pressed on. "You... both–lack experience. That combined with Mouse’s differences–"

"Just drop it, Vincent! I’m not changing my mind!" she said fiercely.

"I’m not trying to change your mind."

She stopped walking and turned to face him. "You’re not? Then... what...?"

He was blushing again. "I thought, perhaps, you might want to speak with someone who is... experienced."

She raised her eyebrows. "You?" she asked incredulously. "Oh yeah I bet you have almost as much experience as Mouse and me put together!" And she suddenly burst out laughing, the tensions of the last several days beginning to melt away.

Vincent cleared his throat, embarrassed but still able to enjoy the joke at his own expense.

"Oh, I’m sorry, Vincent, really. That was way out of line." But she burst into laughter again. "Really, I’m sorry. And any minute now, I’ll start acting my age." She saw mirth in Vincent’s eyes, so she knew he couldn’t be too offended.

"Actually, I thought perhaps... Catherine... might–"

"Catherine! Yes! She’d be perfect! Why didn’t I think of her? Do you think she’d be willing to talk to me?"

"Yes. I took the liberty of asking her."

Her eyes narrowed. "What exactly did you tell her?"

"I described the incident in the dining hall and mentioned that I was concerned for you both."

"And you told her you didn’t think I was really pregnant."

"Yes," he said reluctantly.

"You haven’t told anyone else that, have you?"

"No. On my honor."

"All right then."

"I’ll let you know when Catherine can meet with you."

"Ok. Thanks. I appreciate it."

"Will you be at tomorrow’s security meeting?"

She groaned, knowing Father would likely be there. "Yeah... I’ll be there," she almost whined.

"Thank you. Will you remind Mouse?"

"Yup."

"Good. I’ll see you both in the morning then. Enjoy your shift."

She raised her eyebrows at him. Sentry duty was deadly dull, as he well knew.

"You brought reading material," he pointed out, his eyes dancing.

***

Jamie and Mouse arrived strategically late to the security meeting. Jamie wanted to miss any off-topic conversation. Not to mention being the topic of it. The discussion of the upcoming "change of ways" was relatively unheated, considering how it sometimes went. Mouse annotated the map as each change was discussed, while Vincent took detailed notes. That finished, they continued on to personnel issues, which usually comprised a brief review of who was available for sentry duty and the proposed duty roster for the upcoming month.

"We need to remove Jamie from the roster," Father announced.

"Excuse me!?" Jamie interjected.

"You’re pregnant. Surely–"

"Oh for heaven’s sake!" she exclaimed. "I’m perfectly capable of doing sentry duty!"

"But there’s a risk–"

"A tiny one. Leave me on the roster!"

"What if you have morning sickness and are unable to–"

She shook her head in annoyance. "Just leave me on the roster, Pascal. I’ll be fine."

Pascal, who managed the duty rosters, looked from Father to Jamie and back again.

"Very well," Vincent decided. "I’m sure Jamie is capable of assessing her own physical condition. I trust you’ll inform us if–when you are no longer able to serve as a sentry?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Then unless there are any other issues..." he paused, looking around the circle. "...we are adjourned."

Jamie rose to make a quick exit. She didn’t manage it.

"Jamie, may I have a word with you?" Father asked.

She closed her eyes, sighing. "What?"

"I should like to examine you."

He’d caught her completely off guard. "What?"

"Prenatal care is of vital importance."

She rolled her eyes. How was she going to get out of this one? By staying mad at him, she decided an instant later. "You are not touching me," she said flatly.

"But–"

"It is not happening! Let’s go, Mouse."

"If not for you, then for the sake of your child! Please!" Father called after them.

"Fine!" Jamie snapped. "But I’ll see Peter!" They walked out, leaving Father still trying to argue.

"Jamie..." Mouse said after they cleared the main tunnels. "How comes Father thinks Jamie’s pregnant?"

She sighed heavily.

"Jamie... not...?"

"No, of course I’m not. Actually it was what you said at breakfast the other day that made him think that."

Mouse puzzled, remembering. "Mouse never said–"

"I know, Mouse. What you said isn’t what Father heard. Don’t tell him though, ok? If he wants to jump to conclusions, he can just go on thinking I’m pregnant. Ok?"

Mouse shrugged. "Ok good, ok fine."

***

The nights grew more interesting still. Mouse had tried to remain on his own side of the bed, but he couldn’t stay away. Even though he felt ashamed that his body just could not seem to behave itself for very long when he touched her, he was utterly unable to resist. He didn’t know what magic this was between them, but it was far too amazing to ignore.

All fears and inhibitions completely out the window again, Jamie guided Mouse’s hand under her pajama top. Realizing where his hand was going, he pulled it away in alarm. "Jamie! Mouse can’t!"

"Why not?"

"Promised. Father said–"

"Oh for heaven’s sake!’ she snapped, alarming Mouse even further. She took a deep breath, deliberately setting aside her anger. Calmly, she said, "Mouse, whatever Father said, it doesn’t matter. If I say you can touch my body, then you can." Mouse remained clearly skeptical. "I suppose Father also told you shouldn’t let anyone touch your body?"

"Yes, but..." and he understood her point. "Mouse body. Mouse decide." He nodded. "Jamie body, Jamie decide. Ok good!" He reached out hesitantly and she smiled in encouragement, and then guided his suddenly terrified hand to her breast. After the terror subsided, his natural dexterity shone through: Mouse had always been good with his hands.

***

Peter showed up in Mouse’s chamber after dinner two days later, escorted by Vincent. Jamie and Mouse looked up from the wiring diagrams they were discussing. Jamie sighed loudly, rolled her eyes, and banged her forehead on the table. She’d managed 4 or 5 bangs before Mouse put his hand under her head and gently lifted it, staring at her curiously.

"Good evening," Peter called good-naturedly.

Greetings were exchanged all round, Jamie’s most unenthusiastically.

"I hear congratulations are in order!" He extended his hand to Mouse, who leaned forward to see what it contained and was disappointed to find nothing. Peter chuckled and turned to Jamie, who had caught Vincent’s eye. He was clearly enjoying her plight, but he had obviously kept her confidence. She shook her head in disbelief of the situation.

"How are feeling, Jamie?" Peter asked.

She shook her head in exasperation. "I’m fine."

"I have instructions to examine you. Vincent, Mouse, can I ask you to–"

"You don’t need to examine me, Peter."

"Jamie, prenatal care–"

She sighed. "Peter, it’s not necessary, and I wish Father would quit interfering!"

"Jamie!" he scolded.

"Look, Peter..." and then she had an idea. "You’re my doctor, right? So you’ll keep anything I tell you in confidence. Right?"

"Of course."

"And if I don’t want you to discuss it with Father, you won’t?"

"If those are your wishes, then no. But–"

"Good. There’s no reason to examine me because I’m not pregnant."

"You’re–but–Father said–" He glanced from Jamie’s annoyed face to Mouse’s bewildered one to Vincent’s merry one. He sat down. "What’s going on here?"

Jamie began to explain. Mouse joined in, the two of them talking sometimes both at once and sometimes finishing each other’s sentences. All things considered, the story Peter heard was pretty coherent. He raised his hands to stop them both.

Mouse finished with, "‘Mouse, Jamie, baby, family’ not mean Jamie pregnant!"

"Ok. Ok, I get it. It was all a misunderstanding. What I don’t get is why you haven’t set Father straight. Why you’re taking so much flack for something you haven’t even done!"

Vincent smiled. "Think about it, Peter."

He thought a moment. "Because... you’re planning to have a baby."

"And...?" Jamie prompted.

"And if Father thinks you’re already pregnant, he won’t try to dissuade you. Ok, got it. So, you’ve been trying then?" He looked at Jamie, who looked suddenly uncertain, then at Mouse, who appeared to be thinking hard, then back at Jamie.

"Not... y–yet."

"Then... you’ve discussed it?"

"Yes," Mouse replied.

The idea of Mouse as a father made Peter uneasy. "Being a parent is a big responsibility. Are you sure you’re ready?" he asked him. "There’s the feeding and the diapering and the constant watching. The teaching–"

"Peter, I don’t really expect Mouse to become an expert in baby care any more than I expect him to start reciting Shakespeare. And I don’t foresee a problem."

"I agree with Jamie," Vincent chimed in. "Parenting, while always a challenge, is easier here Below. The whole community will raise and love their child."

Peter nodded, conceding that point. But still... "Mouse, do you know exactly what’s involved in conceiving a child?"

Mouse got the slightly guilty look he always got when he was accused of not knowing something he was apparently supposed to know. "No," he admitted. "But Jamie knows. Jamie explains Mouse. All the time. Explains good. No problem." Jamie smiled at him, and he took her hand in his.

"But what if–what if you’re not able to do what Jamie needs you to do?"

"I have every confidence in Mouse’s abilities!" she declared definitively, before Mouse could even begin to contemplate the question.

Mouse stood up taller, aglow at her praise, and put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. Jamie reciprocated, smiling at him.

"Jamie, you know how, but have you ever–"

"No," she confessed. "But I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Old as time and all that."

Peter sighed in resignation. "True enough." He supposed no harm could come from the attempt, with the possible exception of Jamie’s broken heart if it didn’t work out. But she was a grown woman and could make her own choices. He put a hand on each of their shoulders. "I would counsel you both," he said gravely, "to be kind, gentle, and patient with one another. There’s no rush."

Jamie smiled. "Thank you. We will."

"Now... will you accept my congratulations? He extended his hand again. Jamie shook it, beaming, and Mouse followed her example.

***

"Jamie?" Mouse asked, some time after Peter and Vincent had departed. "Reproduction... explain Mouse."

She had nearly finished preparing her presentation. And since the perfect opportunity lay before her, she decided to go ahead with it. She went to fetch the books and her notes and then proceeded to explain female and male reproductive anatomy and function, the menstrual cycle, the sex act, reproduction and gestation. She used all of the relevant diagrams and drawings she had found.

Mouse was clearly fascinated. And he was impressed with what he dubbed "organic machines". She was both surprised and relieved to discover that explaining these things to Mouse was a lot easier than it would be almost anyone else because he was not remotely embarrassed, only extremely curious, and so focused on the content of the topic that any resultant feelings were just insignificant. There were only a few things–body parts having no overt reproductive function, the strictly for pleasure ones–that seemed to give him pause.

He was quiet for a long time after they finished and he continued to flip back and forth among the different visual aids. He seemed especially vexed by the external female anatomy drawing. He rotated it in every conceivable direction and just couldn’t seem to make sense of it. She had the urge to ask if he had any questions, but she discarded that idea. Mouse was practically made of questions. If he had any more of them, they’d come tumbling right out.

So she left him to study the diagrams and went and got her drawing pad and a pencil. A conversation she’d had with Elizabeth some months ago had encouraged her to try her hand at drawing. She hadn’t really ever drawn anything since she was little–well except for the occasional technical drawing. Elizabeth had said that drawing helped one to see the world with different eyes, and somehow the idea appealed to Jamie.

Mouse sat down after a while, staring off into space for a minute or so, before picking up a broken clock from the work bench. He turned his mechanical genius on it and it was soon in pieces, well on its way to becoming a working clock. Fixing things was child’s play to Mouse, so she knew the ‘wheels turning’ look he wore wasn’t related to the clock, and under the circumstances she wondered where those turning wheels would take them.

 

***

Mouse was unusually quiet and introspective over the next several days, even for him, but what was missing in verbal conversation, he made up in physical affection, brushing against Jamie more often, leaning his head close to hers. Holding her close at night, her head tucked under his chin. She wondered as she lay in his arms if she should try and initiate something with him. She was definitely missing his kisses. But she was sure she should let him work through the "problem" at his own pace and in his own way. Not that their situation was a problem, per se. He just seemed to be approaching it in the same way he did any kind of mechanical problem, and she knew from experience he’d have some sort of revelation any time now. Peter was right–there was no rush. She would give him time to process all of it.

Mouse did indeed have much to think about. The mechanics of reproduction were somehow not what he’d expected. The entire process was complicated and fraught with ways things could go wrong. He knew, because he’d paged through more of those books than just the places Jamie had marked. Women could die from complications of pregnancy! To say nothing of the things that could go wrong with the baby.

The idea of losing Jamie was just too awful. Her being here was like having an extra sense almost. Their friendship was closer than ever and somehow the physical closeness with her drew them together even more. And she was a blessing in other ways too, reminding him of those mundane details he always had so much trouble keeping straight. He could hardly imagine life without her.

And he knew he had to tell her, but he was so not looking forward to it. He hated to disappoint her, especially after she’d expressed such confidence in him to Peter. Tomorrow, he promised himself, pulling Jamie closer and nuzzling her with his nose.

***

"Jamie?"

"Yeah?"

A pause. "About baby?"

"Yeah..." she replied hesitantly.

"You sure?" he asked.

"Well... yeah. Why?"

He plucked a Helper’s broken toaster off the workbench and fiddled with it. "Dangerous... pregnancy."

"Dangerous?"

"Books said."

"Well... I guess it can be, but... odds are I’d be fine, Mouse.

"Odds?" He put the toaster back down. Mouse knew all about odds and was a master at beating them.

"Yes. I would say the odds against something dangerous happening with the pregnancy are probably 100 to 1."

"Really?" He was so relieved!

"Yeah! And you know what Father and Peter said about prenatal care is true. They’ll keep checking up on the baby and me to make sure we’re healthy. I’m sure they’ll take very good care of Baby and me."

Mouse surprised her by throwing his arms around her. "Oh, good! Mouse so scared. Don’t wanna lose Jamie." He rocked her back and forth. She was touched almost to the point of tears. She kissed him shyly. And he kissed her back more passionately than she had begun to imagine was possible. "Mouse loves Jamie," he whispered when they separated.

His quietly affectionate behavior continued that day, but in a stronger and yet more tender way. Jamie thought she just might melt under his touch. She would catch him gazing at her, and when she met his eyes, he didn’t look away embarrassed; he smiled. This whole first time thing wasn’t going to be as much of a challenge as she’d once thought.

***

She was right. After they went to bed that night, Mouse’s silence ended. "Books. Explains a lot."

"What specifically?" she asked.

"Mouse body. Normal, natural. Not bad. Nothing wrong," he explained.

Jamie smiled and kissed his cheek.

"Jamie body too, normal, natural," he went on.

Again she smiled and again kissed his cheek.

"Reproduction, normal, natural."

Did he say what she thought he said? Yup, he did. Not that she wasn’t ready, exactly. Or that she couldn’t be ready in a few minutes, more exactly. She just hadn’t expected the subject to come up so... abruptly. "Uh..." was all she managed as she gazed into his eyes.

"Mouse read all the books. Studied all the diagrams." Noticing her nervousness, he reached out to touch her cheek. "Jamie ok?"

She nodded. "Just a little nervous."

"Why?" he asked sincerely, lacking any nervousness whatsoever.

She smiled, letting his confidence fill her. "I don’t know," she replied, and suddenly she didn’t. "Kiss me, Mouse."

He pulled her into his arms and she felt his kiss all the way to her toes. She moaned eagerly and slid her hands under his shirt, pushing it up over his head, interrupting their kisses. She then proceeded to remove her own top. His hand slid across her back and cradled a breast for a few moments, then ventured downward, fingering her waistband. She pushed her pajama bottoms down, kicking them off.

Mouse’s curiosity was too far aroused to continue the kisses. "Can Mouse see?"

She nodded. He practically leapt from the bed and scurried over to the workbench.

"Mouse?"

He returned momentarily with a flashlight. She couldn’t help it–she broke into laughter.

"What?" Mouse asked.

She shook her head. "It’s just–you make me happy!"

He grinned. "Jamie make Mouse happy too." He turned on the flashlight and shined it at her nether regions. "Hey! That doesn’t look like picture!"

Oh boy. Here’s where things get interesting, she thought. One at a time, she spread her legs wide. "How about now?" she asked, blushing a little.

He leaned closer for a moment, then thrust the flashlight into her hands. "Hold this." He ran across the room again and returned with the book containing the diagram he’d been so utterly unable to orient. Snatching back the flashlight, he exclaimed, "Jamie, that does not match picture!"

"What? Let me see!" She sat up for a closer look at the anatomy of a vulva. "Oh!" she said, pointing to a word accompanying the drawing.

"Non-v–v –" Mouse began.

"Virgin. Non-virgin."

"What means?"

"A virgin is a person who hasn’t had sex before."

He considered for a moment and then nodded. "Jamie virgin. Mouse virgin too."

She pursed her lips, amused.

"Why looks different?"

She shrugged. "I don’t know. Something about that hymen thing we read about, I guess. It’s close, isn’t it?"

He pointed the flashlight at her again, and she lay back down, setting the book aside.

"Close enough!" he smiled. "Can... can Mouse touch?"

She nodded. He examined her body with the intense and thorough scrutiny befitting such an elegant organic machine, touching her as gently as the most delicate of his beloved gizmos, but clearly surprised at the wetness. And when she clenched involuntarily, he pulled his hand away, eyebrows above his hairline.

The look on his face almost spurred her laughter again, but she restrained herself. "So... are you going to take those pants off?"

He glanced down, just a trace of residual guilt passing over his countenance. He stepped out of bed, pulled the pants off and sat down, turning partway to look at her uncertainly.

"Do I get to see?"

He squeezed his eyes shut, stood and turned to face her, afraid of her reaction. But one eye struggled to peek.

She once again found him terribly endearing and smiled up at him.

He opened both eyes. "Didn’t you look?"

"I did look. Can I touch?"

"Uh... ok."

She reached out gently and he quivered under her touch. She was surprised at the softness of his skin–and at the way he grew beneath her fingers, though she knew that really ought not to be a surprise.

Mouse was growing lightheaded. "Jamie," he said softly, moving her hand away and climbing back into bed to lie beside her.

Jamie was in his arms immediately, kisses resuming. "Oh, Mouse..." He made no aggressive moves, so she pushed his shoulder to the bed and overlapped his chest with hers. He gasped in usual surprise at this new sensation, but recovered quickly, pulling her closer, his hands possessive on her back. Her leg crossed his body to straddle him, pretty much of its own accord, and she lowered her hips over him. They both groaned. Mouse’s hands slid down her back to her hips, and she began to move them, rubbing against him.

"Oh, Jamie... so good," he murmured.

She was panting. "Mouse, let’s try."

She sat up, and Mouse remembered their purpose, taking his responsibility seriously. He found her opening with his fingers.

She whimpered. "Mmm. Inside," she pleaded.

"Jamie... so small. How fit?" he wondered out loud.

"The books say it will. Come on. Only one way to find out."

He nodded, guiding his member to her body. It felt impossibly good. After a number of slippery attempts, they finally found their way. Jamie leaned forward again, rocking against him. They both moaned with pleasure. They both groaned in frustration when they slipped apart.

"Mouse, trade places with me." She slid off him and lay down, guiding him on top of her.

Mouse was exceedingly careful, afraid of hurting her, but Jamie didn’t seem afraid, and he did as she indicated, trusting her judgment. She guided him back inside her and he followed her cue to rock against her. She was right–this was better. This was amazing! They fit together better with every thrust.

"Oh, Mouse!" She’d had no idea it would be this good.

"Jamie!" He looked alarmed. "Oh! Orgasm!"

"Ok," she reassured him, nodding.

"Oh!" She held him close, in awe of the force that rocked his body. "Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie, Jamie... Jamie. Mmmm, Jamie." He nuzzled her neck with his nose. "Oh, Jamie. Mouse loves Jamie."

"I love you too, Mouse." She was jubilant. "We did it!" She held him tight.

"Did it!" Mouse agreed. He hugged her close, kissed her sweetly, and nuzzled her with his nose.

***

He kissed her awake the next morning. She smiled, keeping her eyes closed. "Jamie loves Mouse."

"Mouse loves Jamie." He kissed her again. "Morning. Get up!"

"Mmm, can’t we just stay in bed today?"

"Nope. Morning, Jamie. Time get up. Work to do."

She sighed happily. "All right, all right, I’m getting up." She got dressed, finding it remarkable that her feet were actually touching the ground–it sure didn’t feel like they were.

Mouse took her hand as they set off for breakfast, and she realized she was so happy she felt like skipping. So she did, and with Mouse joining in as best he could, they skipped all the way to the dining hall.

They got their breakfast and sat, Jamie so full of joy she could barely contain herself. She wanted to shout it from the rooftops–no, to sing it at the top of her lungs. It was going to be an interesting day, she thought, trying to contain this secret, so that it didn’t undo the other secret. And then she suddenly realized she no longer needed the ruse of a false pregnancy. She decided to tell Father the truth at the first opportunity. Her conscience had been twinging a bit ever since she’d stopped being angry with him.

Just then Vincent turned up, pulling her out of her reverie. "Jamie, Catherine can meet with you this evening."

"Oh good!"

"Jamie!"

"What?"

"You’re... you’re positively glowing!" he exclaimed in a low voice. She grinned from ear to ear. Vincent turned his gaze on Mouse. "As are you!" Mouse touched his face, looking alarmed, and took off at a run.

"Where..." Vincent began, puzzled.

"Probably to look in a mirror," she chuckled. "Ok, so tonight. What time and where am I meeting her?"

"7 pm. She suggested you come to her apartment. More privacy there."

"Perfect! Thank you, Vincent." She didn’t need Catherine’s advice any more–she didn’t think–but she was dying for a sympathetic ear.

"Jamie... congratulations!"

"Thanks!" she gushed and reached up to kiss him on the cheek.

***

Jamie arrived at Catherine’s apartment promptly at 7 pm. Catherine greeted her with a big smile and a bigger hug. "Come in! I hear you have some exciting changes happening in your life!"

"You don’t know the half of it!" Jamie beamed.

"Really? Do tell!"

Jamie proceeded to tell Catherine the whole story, from the beginning. Catherine was an enthusiastic listener who didn’t scold or doubt or ridicule, and it was just so validating to be able to talk to someone that way.

"Catherine, thank you."

"For what? I haven’t done anything."

"But you have. You have no idea how good it feels to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t shame me or doubt my taste in men or tell me what a waste of time it would be–"

"Who’s done that?"

"Who hasn’t is a shorter list!"

"What was Vincent’s initial reaction? I can tell you he greatly admires the faith and trust you’ve shown in one another."

"He advised against it."

He would, Catherine thought.

"I wish I’d thought of you back then!"

"Me too. You know, you’re a patient woman."

"Not as patient as you! So are you making any progress with Vincent?"

She shook her head. "Baby steps, you say? But how did you... how did you ask for his... permission. Consent... to proceed?"

"I didn’t. I took liberties. I surprised the heck out of him several times. But he knows me and trusts me and I think that’s why he allowed it."

"But Mouse never, at any point, said no, did he?"

"No. Well, not exactly. I had to talk him out of Father’s..." she rolled her eyes and grimaced, "prohibitions... on things a couple of times."

Catherine nodded knowingly.

"Take some liberties, Catherine. Little tiny ones. You two belong together."

Catherine said nothing, but she was clearly considering the idea.

"You know... I think Father’s opinions about things might be having an influence on Vincent too. You wouldn’t believe the things he’s told Mouse!"

Catherine gave a frustrated chuckle.

"What if we..." Jamie grinned conspiratorially. "I have an idea."

***

Jamie entered Father’s library and found him engaged in a game of chess with Vincent. "Hello," she called, announcing her presence.

Vincent nudged Father with a look."Good evening, Jamie," Father said. "I’m glad you’ve come. I’ve been wanting to speak with you."

If it were yesterday, she would have been suspiciously on her guard. But not today. "There’s something I need to talk to you about too, Father. But you first."

"I have been informed," he began, glancing at Vincent, "that I may have behaved inappropriately a few weeks ago at breakfast. I apologize, my dear."

She beamed. "Thank you. I really appreciate that."

"Apparently my misgivings were..." he glanced at Vincent again, "mistaken."

She nodded. "Um, Father, actually... there’s another mistake."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. You know when Mouse said, ‘Mouse, Jamie, baby, family’? Well... he didn’t mean to imply that I’m pregnant."

"He didn’t–" Father frowned. "What did he mean?"

"He meant that he and I are a family now and that we’re planning to have a baby."

"You’re not pregnant?"

"No. Well... I could be...."

"You have not yet missed a period then?"

"No."

"I should go," Vincent said, feeling uncomfortable and beginning to rise. Father and Jamie both insisted he stay.

"Please explain to me the purpose of carrying on this charade for more than two weeks!" he blustered.

"Well for a start, I was mad at you! You called me wanton!" she accused.

He opened his mouth to retort, but thought better of it. "I’m sorry. That was not... appropriate."

"All right then." She paused a beat. "The other reason is... I knew if you thought I was pregnant, you wouldn’t try to separate Mouse and me, or talk us out of it."

He blinked, seeing the logic of her position in spite of himself. "I see. So why are you telling me now?"

"Because I realize now you can’t talk us out of it. And I don’t think you could persuade Mouse to leave me either. He loves me."

"And you love him." Father sighed in resignation. "Sometimes I wonder why I struggle so against these things." He rubbed his temple.

"So do we," Jamie said. "Right, Vincent?"

Vincent was at a loss to understand how he had become the subject of this conversation and was still trying to formulate a reply when Jamie continued.

"You’re going to find out sooner or later, Father. You might as well just know now, and get it over with. Though it’s not really my place to tell you."

"Tell me what?" He was looking alarmed.

"I’m not pregnant, but someone else is," she confided.

"Who?"

"She doesn’t live here with us, but the baby’s father does," she said gravely.

"And who is the baby’s father?" he asked impatiently.

She glanced at Vincent. "Don’t try to hide it from him, Vincent. Pregnancy shows sooner or later. You may as well just own up to it now and get it over with."

Vincent was blushing crimson and utterly speechless. He couldn’t fathom why Jamie was saying these things.

Father misinterpreted Vincent’s reaction as acknowledgment. He sighed. "I see. Well, I guess I was mistaken about that too. Are any more of my preconceived notions about to be shattered?"

"That’s all I got," Jamie replied, forcing herself to keep a straight face.

"Well... if you’re determined to make me a grandfather, Vincent..." He sighed again. "Congratulations, my son. Now, if you don’t mind... I think I’d like to go to bed–assuming it does not dissolve out from under me–and contemplate life’s... certainties." He rose. Vincent rose as well, unable to find words to contradict what Jamie had said. Father hugged Vincent. "Good night. And... I’m glad I was wrong." He smiled.

Vincent stared dumbfounded as Father retreated. Jamie took him by the arm and led him out of Father’s chamber and to his own. "J–Jamie," he finally managed. "Wh–why... why..."

"Vincent, don’t you see? You’re free now. No more cautions from Father. He just flat out accepted it! Which makes me think that he’s just a little bit gullible, falling for the same story twice in a row... but–"

"How will Catherine react when she learns that people think..." He was mortified.

"She approves of the idea."

He was dumbstruck. "She does?!"

She grasped him by the shoulders. "Vincent! Catherine is in love with you! Hello! What are you waiting for?!"

He sat.

"And I know you’re head over heels for her. Heck, even Father approves of the idea now. You heard him."

"But..."

"Take a chance, Vincent. Life is short. You and Catherine could make each other so happy. Believe me... I know."

He stood again, but hesitantly.

"She’s waiting for you. Go!"

He found his voice again. "Jamie... thank you."

She kissed him on the cheek. "You can thank me later–after!" she teased.

Vincent blushed, picked up his cloak, and hurried out of his chamber.

The End