"Hickamore said you wanted to see me?"
This usually meant one of three things. Either Basil needed help with something that required brute strength, or help with something that could be quickly solved with echolocation, or Fidget had gotten himself into trouble, which happened more than he cared to admit.
Today, as it turned out, was 'none of the above'. Fidget brightened when he stepped into Basil's study, where the detective sat with Dr. Dawson and Hiram Flaversham.
He nodded at Hiram, happy to see the toy-maker. "Welcome back!"
"Long time no see," Flaversham replied.
"The Flavershams are visiting, and young miss Olivia would enjoy your company," Basil said. "She's assisting Mrs. Judson with a fresh batch of cheese crumpets."
"But it's my day off--" Fidget started, pulling a face.
"Oh no, whenever shall you find the time to indulge your vices?"
"You don't have to get saucy," he groused as he headed for the kitchen. "I don't even like cheese." He was more amused than annoyed, expecting nothing less from Basil.
"What sort if uncultured Philistine doesn't like cheese?"
Dawson shook his head and ignored the two, bringing his attention back to Flaversham. "You were saying, old chap?"
"Oh yes. Good heavens." He sighed as he took off his glasses, cleaning them with his handkerchief. "I took that lass to the carnival last week, and she hasn't stopped talking about it since."
"Well, it's the sort of thing that captures a child's imagination," Basil said. "She'll move onto something else in due time."
"Easy for you to say, you haven't heard the endless description of the 'sea beast' for the hundredth time... or the flea performances... or the bearded lady... or--"
Basil laughed. "Yes, yes, I get it."
"How is your new shop going?" Dawson asked.
Flaversham was not just a genius when it came to making watches and clock-work toys. He was also an astute businessman, having started with a workshop in his home and built up to owning a toy shop in Glasgow, then a second location in London. He'd been able to bank on his notoriety from the Ratigan incident-- as grim as it was, the automaton that he'd built turned out to be an incredible advertisement. Flaversham viewed it as a silver lining, and made the best of the situation.
Over the last two years, the toy-maker had been barely able to keep up with demand. After having hired staff to help him stock his stores, he found the opportunity to open a third location in Manchester.
"Och, it's doing quite well." He laughed. "At this rate, we'll have a store in every major city of the British Rodent Kingdom by the time Olivia takes over the business."
"Mmh. Don't you know she's going to be a detective when she grows up?" Basil said.
"Ah well, if you asked her now, she'd tell you she's going to join the circus."
This earned a chuckle from the other two mice.
"To be young and have the world as your oyster," Dawson mused.
Flaversham glanced him. "By the way, how is that wee yin doing these days?"
"Just fine, believe it or not." The doctor knew well enough that Hiram wasn't asking in a polite, general sense... especially since it was obvious Fidget had recently been in a fight. "I mean, I can't say he's been exemplary, but he's making an earnest effort."
"Mrs. Judson, looks like you gots a pipsqueak infestation..."
"Fidget!" Olivia gasped. "What happened to your eye?"
"Hmm? Oh." He held up his hands, fingers bent like claws, wings spread. Then he made a grotesque face, snapping at the air with razor fangs. "I was attacked! By a monster!"
She burst into laughter. The truth, of course, was far worse. He'd gotten into a fight at the pub, after some drunken sot spent the evening harassing him before getting belligerent, tossing a drink in his face. Fighting had never been a problem for Fidget. He never lost, not when it was a fair go. Even the unfair ones-- and there'd been plenty-- he usually came out on top. For example, Fidget knew that he could lick a mouse twice his size, while on one leg, using a crutch as an improvised club, because... actually, that's how Ratigan first discovered him.
This time, Fidget hadn't started the row, but in the end, it didn't matter-- he was a bat. Which meant he was the one who took the business end of the police mouse's nightstick, and the one who spent the day in the clink to 'sober up', and the one who had to crawl back to Basil with his tail between his legs and explain how none of this was his fault.
If there was a bright side, it's that Basil had unequivocally stuck by him, giving Inspector Lawless one of the worst tongue-lashings Fidget had seen. It may not effect change with how the beat cops handled things, but it'd still felt good to watch. For all that Basil berated Fidget, the detective was still looking out for him.
It was funny, sometimes he'd think about how similar Basil was to Ratigan. Yet they were far more different than they were alike, and for Fidget, it almost always came down to this: Basil encouraged him to improve himself, Ratigan had routinely torn him down.
"Be a dear and stir that sauce for me, would you Fidg?"
He did, and was unable to resist tasting. "Whassit?"
"Penny-Bun Mushroom gravy for the roast. Will you be joining us for supper?"
"Yes, please join us," Olivia pleaded. "It's my birthday and she's making a-- a wonderful meal, purslane salad, toasted pine nuts, clover blossoms in aphid honeydew..."
Fidget was reluctant. "Mrs. Hickamore would be awful sore if I skipped out."
"Oh, but you live with them and you see them every day--"
"The main course is a roasted mole-cricket with harvestman eggs." Mrs. Judson knew him all too well.
Olivia was quick to catch on. "It's a big fat cricket, too. His abdomen's at least as big as my head." She held out her arms to demonstrate.
"W-well... if you're gonna twist my arm..."
"Rrrrraaagghhhh!" He jumped out of the bushes, arms stretched out, teeth bared.
"Oh no! The monster got Fidget!" Olivia cried, and Fidget paused. How exactly was he supposed to play the monstrous sea-beast and himself at the same time?
After thinking about it for a second, he dropped his arms, did his best to look scared. "Hey! I ain't a part of the act!" Then he leaped back into the bush sideways, as if he'd just been tossed aside.
"I hope Fidget remembers he can fly!"
That brought him to a grinding halt, and he peeked out at her, exasperated. "Livy, I can't fly."
"I know," she protested. "It's just pretend!"
Awkwardly, Fidget climbed out, brushing twigs and leaves from his fur, and started towards the young girl.
She was alarmed when she caught his mischievous look.
"Well if you can pretend I can fly, don't see why I can't pretend you can too..."
With that, he snatched her off the ground. Taking hold of her left arm and left leg, he swung her into the air, spinning faster and faster. Olivia was too big for her father to play with her like this anymore, but to Fidget she weighed next to nothing, and being twirled about was just as exciting as any carnival ride. She shrieked with joy.
He eventually stopped, carefully setting her on the ground before flopping onto his back.
"Ohhh, the grounds all twirly," Olivia complained, as she felt like the earth was pitching beneath her.
"Yeah, but it's kinda fun, ain't it?"
She didn't think so, but being spun around was, and the resulting vertigo was well worth it.
Keeping the young girl entertained while the older mice caught up wasn't exactly discipline, it was more... Basil's idea of Fidget's continued rehabilitation. He didn't mind, really. The red squirrel family he sublet from had two daughters around Olivia's age. The girls treated him almost like an older brother, so he was used to being wrangled into their childish games and mischief.
In many ways it was a relief, because Olivia didn't hold the slightest bit of resentment towards him. The others-- Dawson, Flaversham, even Basil-- they'd been incredibly kind and generous... but Fidget could tell they hadn't forgotten what he was, what he had been. They weren't even wrong. People don't change overnight, and Fidget was no exception. Basil once told him 'no second chances', but had been lenient when it came to his inevitable minor slip-ups.
Olivia, though, she completely absolved him of the past. That, in spite of the fact he'd tried to convince Ratigan to throw her from the dirigible.
Fidget wondered if she remembered that.
He didn't ask.
"The footprints go this way!"
Olivia dragged Fidget by the wrist, magnifying glass plastered to her face. She hadn't put it down since she got it, not even for bed. It had been a perfect gift.
"I don't think you're s'posed to hold it that close, Livy..." He was palling around with her after work, acting like it was a chore but not-so-secretly enjoying her games.
"Ah-HAH! The culprit was Daddy all along!"
Flaversham raised an eyebrow as Olivia followed the trail to him, pointing furiously.
"You know, when you gave her that magnifier, I thought surely you'd missed the boat. Olivia was so taken with the carnival that she was past that whole detective thing..."
Fidget laughed. "No Mr. Flaversham, she finds a way to combine them."
"Daddy, you thought you could get away with smuggling those stolen gemstones in the juggler's batons! But you've been caught by the il--illust-rative--"
"Illustrious," Flaversham said.
"Uh-huh. The illustrious detective Olivia Flaversham!"
"She always gets her mouse," Fidget quipped.
"Alright, take him away, my good bat!"
Fidget saluted her before pretending to handcuff Hiram, who played along. "I'm just glad I ain't the side-kick and the villain this time."
"Er, Fidget," he said as he was led away. "I was thinking, with Olivia's birthday the other day and all-- that is... Well, laddie, Basil tells me you haven't a clue when your own birthday is."
"Not the foggiest. Where I'm from we didn't... Uh, what I mean... yeah. I dunno."
"The way I figure, you got a fresh start the day we fished you out the Thames. It seems to me that's as good of a date as any to celebrate."
He laughed. "Celebrate what, exactly? I still only gotta hazy idea how old I am now..."
"Aye, but you know it's a year older than you were this time last year."
Fidget couldn't argue with that.
"Olivia my dear, why don't we head back inside?"
"Awwwwwww, but Daddy--" Olivia started. Then she stopped, eyes growing wide, and nodded. "Oh, right! Yes, let's!" She bolted ahead of them, pausing to take hold of Fidget's wrist, this time dragging him to the door.
"I can't accept this," Fidget said point blank. "It's too valuable."
"Nonsense. I mostly used parts that I had around the shop..."
"You made it?" He looked surprised, turning the camera over in his hands. "It-- that-- dang! You're a clever mouse, Flaversham."
"Dawson said you had an interest in photography."
"Yeah, Ratigan used to have me set up-- er, well, never mind."
"Oh! I remember!" Olivia said excitedly. "Basil still has that picture of me and him and Dawson."
"Um, right. Maybe... maybe I could take a new photo for him, y'know, to replace that one."
"That's a lovely idea," Flaversham said.
"Thanks a-and, thank you for the camera."
Fidget started in for a hug, panicked and changed his mind, instead reaching out for a hand shake... only to flip-flop at the last second. He awkwardly hugged Flaversham, who was prepared for a hand shake and caught off-guard.
Olivia tugged at his shirt hem. "I got you a gift, too." Then she twisted her foot on the ground shyly. "Well, actually, Daddy got it but it was my idea."
"Tickets! For the carnival!" She grinned triumphantly.
Fidget's face fell, although he recovered instantly and grinned back at her. "Well, uh, that's great Livy! You're coming with?"
It was obvious he was less than thrilled, and that like Flaversham, he'd had quite enough of Olivia's circus infatuation. Fortunately, Olivia didn't pick up on it.
Flaversham paused. Fidget already seemed a little overwhelmed, so he was trying not to hit him with too much at once. "If you're interested, Basil said you could join us later tonight for a nip of brandy..."
"Oh thank god, yes."
"--and wouldn't you know, it had been the butler all along!"
"Goodness!" said Flaversham, stunned by the twist.
Dawson was just as talented at telling stories as he was writing them. Fidget had heard this one before, and Basil, of course, had lived it... but Dawson told it so well, they'd both listened raptly.
"Tell him the one about the swamp adder," Basil suggested. He gestured for Fidget to serve another round, and then they settled in for the next story.
That one was about a mouse who murdered one of his stepdaughters and attempted to kill the other, in order to prevent them from getting their inheritance upon marriage. Afterwards, Flaversham started to digress about how hard it was to connect with someone after he'd been a widower for so many years, and how he wanted to do the best by Olivia...
...but he really wasn't sure what the best course even was.
She looked to have a fine inheritance one day, one that would put her into a position of marrying into a higher class. If Hiram remarried, it could put a wrench in that. At the same time, he felt the girl could use a mother's touch, especially as she grew into a lady. He could already feel himself becoming less and less equipped to prepare her for a life that was so different from his own.
The conversation devolved into a good natured ribbing over Basil and Dawson's prospects... and lack thereof.
"Oh, lay off it," Dawson said, laughing. "We're two old fuddy-duddies. If you're going to grill anyone about settling down, why don't you pester Fidget instead?"
The bat squirmed under the sudden scrutiny.
"I-- I'd like to, y'know, to have a, uh, a missus... and maybe a family, someday." This was something he'd only recently started thinking about. It simply hadn't been an option when he'd worked for Ratigan. "But there ain't too many bats down here, and it's not like mice are keen on... on..." He paused and gestured at himself. "Not when they got other options."
"Stuff and nonsense," Dawson said. "There's someone out there for everyone. You just need to find a lady who can look past the--"
Fidget grimaced. "If you say so. Anyhow, I think I should wait. I couldn't take a mouse wife with me where I'm plannin' to go."
"Planning to go? Where are you planning to go?" asked Flaversham.
"Oh. I'm saving up for a ticket to America..."
"America?" Flaversham's brows shot up. It wasn't so much the idea of immigrating overseas that surprised him, as it was the fact that Fidget had never shown the slightest inclination to ever leave London. Quite the opposite, actually-- he'd been very unhappy with the idea of fleeing to Holland, even to save his own hide. More recently, he'd turned down every offer to visit them in Scotland for a weekend holiday.
"I believe it's the first original idea Fidget's ever had," Basil commented dryly.
Fidget blew a raspberry at him in response, but Flaversham had a suspicion the detective was right.
"What is it that appeals to you?"
"Aw, well, I figure the wages are higher, and land's cheap..."
"Really though, it's about the squirrels," Dawson said, with a twinkle in his eyes.
Flaversham couldn't help but laugh. "Squirrels? We've got plenty of squirrels right here in London. Heck, if you've taken fancy to them, I'm sure Mr. Hickamore would set you up with one of his nieces..."
"N-no, it ain't just that," Fidget started anxiously pulling and twisting at his ear. "See they-- the natives there, got a type of... um, 'flying squirrels'. They don't really fly, not proper like a bird or bat does. They, they sort of..." he held up his right hand, then slowly let it drift down to the left. "Glide. From one treetop to the next. I-- I read there's whole villages they got up in the trees."
His voice grew distant and solemn.
"I can do that. I've been practicing, goin' from the oak in the backyard to the roof--"
"Fidget that's incredibly dangerous," an alarmed Dawson interrupted.
The bat ignored him. "The big thing is, gotta keep myself from tryin'a flap my wings. 'Cause that throws me all off-kilter and I crash. As y'know, instinct is to flap... but-- I just know I can glide just like those 'flying' squirrels do." He broke into a wild grin. "I could live up in the sky again."
Flaversham couldn't help but grin too.
"Well godspeed to you, laddie."
"Let's get a picture before you leave," Basil suggested on the day the Flavershams were heading home.
Fidget was all too happy to try out his new camera for the group photo.
Basil didn't take down Ratigan's picture of him with Olivia and Dawson after he'd triumphantly escaped the multi-death-trap. But he did frame and hang the new picture right above it.