A vast crowd of supporters, cordoned off behind metal barriers, cheered for him. They jostled for positions in front of the cameras, holding up hand-made signs bearing slogans such as "HE ROBBED FROM THE RICH TO HELP THE POOR - ACQUIT MIDAS" and "THE TRUE CRIMINALS ARE THOSE HE STOLE FROM".
As other officers desperately tried to control the crowd, Mitch's friends and relations were let into the courthouse through a side door. Mo and Clyde, who had hurried over to Willow Creek as soon as they had heard about Mitch's arrest, stayed close to Nimue - determined to support their former ringleader. As they found themselves in the marble-adorned foyer, Mo smiled.
"Well - the public are with 'im," he said, brightly.
"The public aren't the ones who'll pass judgement," Clyde replied bluntly. "Still, the fact 'is crimes benefited others might go in 'is favour."
"We can only hope," Nimue added - before wincing in pain, her hand flying to her stomach.
"You OK, Bo - Nimue?" Mo asked, concerned.
"Yes - I'm fine," Nimue replied. "It's just nerves about the trial. I want it over and done with. Please, God, I hope my Mitch walks free..."
The bailiff led them into the courtroom, where they took a seat on a front pew in the public gallery. On the bench opposite them sat Marius and Jenny - both looking nervous, holding hands tightly - and moments later, Minerva joined them.
As for Mitch, he was led to a podium in front of the judge - where he stood as still as a statue, but with a determined expression on his face... bracing himself for whatever was to come.
The judge entered, took up his seat at the front of the courtroom, and began to make his opening remarks.
"Mitch Miskin... you stand accused of a string of robberies in the towns of Willow Creek, Magnolia Promenade, and Oasis Springs, and of perverting the course of justice through the fabrication of the so-called "Magpie League". How do you plead?"
Before Mitch could answer, a loud cry rang out from the Gallery. Nimue was slowly and awkwardly rising to her feet... her eyes wide with fear, and her trousers wet.
As her former goons saw what was happening, their jaws dropped.
"'Oh, flippin' 'ell..." muttered Clyde.
"What is the meaning of this interruption?" the judge bellowed.
"Pardon us, Your Honour," Mo shouted back, "but it's Mrs. Miskin. She's gone into labour!"
Acting out of instinct, Mitch tried to run towards his wife, but was blocked by a guard, who ordered him to remain where he was. He was forced to stand there, powerless to help the woman he loved.
Nimue, trembling, yelled again as another bout of labour pain surged through her body. Seeing her suffering, the judge asked a court aide to phone for an ambulance.
"I'll go with her to the hospital," Marius said, leaping to his feet.
"No," Clyde told him. "You need to stay 'ere and support your bruv. Me and Mo will go with 'er."
He turned towards Mitch.
"She'll be fine, mate," he said. "I promise."
As Mo and Clyde escorted the now-gasping Nimue out of the courtroom, Mitch reluctantly turned back towards the judge, who asked him once again to enter his plea.
Mitch did so. When Marius heard it, he buried his head in his hands.
"Mr. Miskin... it is true to say that the profits of your activities have gone on to greatly benefit some of the most needful people in our society. However, your generosity does not excuse the fact that you broke the law - knowingly, and repeatedly."
"Come on, Nimue - push! That's a good gel!"
"Whilst I will take the good deeds you have done, and your recent co-operation with the police, into account, I cannot permit you to go completely unpunished for your actions. This would undermine the meaning of the law, and may encourage others to follow your criminal example for themselves."
"You're gonna be OK, Nimue, love. Keep going! You're nearly there!"
"I have contemplated this matter very carefully, and I am now ready to pass sentence."
"Just one more push!"
"For the crimes you have committed, it is the judgement of this court that you, Mitch Sheehan Miskin..."
"Congratulations, Mrs. Miskin. It's a boy."
"''Ow are you feeling?" Mo asked Nimue an hour or so later, as they sat together on her hospital bed. Clyde had settled himself into an armchair, and had his eyes glued to the news reports on the TV.
"Tired, and rather sore," Nimue told Mo, "but very happy."
"So you should be," Mo replied warmly, before getting up and walking over to the bassinet beside the window. Reaching into it, he scooped up its little resident, and cradled him in his arms as gently as he could.
"'E really is an 'andsome boy," he told the new mother happily. "You must let me adopt 'im."
Nimue chuckled, and went over to stand by Mo's side.
"I'd much rather keep him, Mo... if it's all the same to you."
He lowered the child back into the bassinet, as Nimue approached it to look upon her precious newborn son.
"I must agree with you, Mo," she said. "He is handsome. The most perfect little boy in the world."
"'As 'e got a name yet?" Mo asked.
"Yes. Mitch and I chose it together. His name is - "
A loud cry from Clyde cut her off mid-sentence. He was slowly lifting himself out of the chair, his eyes still firmly staring at the TV screen.
"Nimue," he whispered, "you need to come and see this."
Worried, Mo and Nimue walked up to the TV. When they saw the headline scrolling across the bottom of the screen, they froze.
MITCH MISKIN VERDICT - FIFTEEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
"'Months'," Mo choked out, after a tense silence. "They - they mean fifteen months, surely? Right, bruv?"
Clyde shook his head gravely.
"No. It's fifteen years. The... the reporter just confirmed it."
Nimue felt herself slowly sinking to the ground - her mind a blur, everything around her fading to white, all sounds fading into a surreal silence. Only the sobbing voice of Clyde rang through.
"I'm sorry, Nimue... I'm so, so sorry..."
Nimue threw her face into her hands, unable to look at the words on the screen anymore. She couldn't cope with this. She couldn't accept it. Instead, she surrendered to the blankness forming her in mind. She could just about sense Mo reaching out for her, presumably trying to comfort her, but his words went unheard - his actions unfelt.
With a bloodcurdling scream, she broke down completely, and crumpled to the floor.
Silent and still, Marius sat on a bench outside the courtroom, unable to process what had just happened.
He had heard the sentence, but didn't comprehend it until he saw the police officers leading Mitch away. He had rushed forward in a desperate attempt to be with his brother, screaming his name as bailiffs and court aides held him back.
Both twins had reached out their hands, managing to connect them for one brief moment, before they were forcefully parted - Mitch yelling to his brother to look after his wife and child, leaving a sobbing Marius on his knees at the front of the Gallery.
Jenny had helped him to his feet and led him outside - leaving him on the bench to collect himself whilst she went in search of a drinks machine. Something hot with plenty of sugar, she said, would help him with the shock... and in all fairness, she could use one, too. Besides, as Marius' secretary, it had become something of a default action for her - and was the only thing she could really do right now to help at all.
Minerva had emerged from the courtroom a few moments later, sobbing madly, and unable to even look at her brother sitting there, lest she see Mitch's face staring back at her. Instead, she had phoned for Gabriel to come and pick her up, and headed straight out of the courthouse - staying silent as she pushed her way through the media throng. She had no intention of speaking to them. All around her, she could hear the crowd screaming in protest - equally shocked at the verdict.
As Jenny returned to the bench, drinks in hand, she settled down on the bench beside Marius - not knowing what to do next.
"Fifteen years..." Marius whispered, breaking the unbearably tense atmosphere between the pair. "Fifteen bloody years, Jenny!" he said again - louder and angrier than before.
Jenny said nothing back. What could she say?
"I could have saved him," Marius added. "Said something, done something, called in a favour. I just know I could have saved him."
"How?" Jenny said - gently, but matter-of-factly. "Interferring with the trial? Destroying police evidence? Then you both would have ended up in prison."
"Marius... I know how hard this must be for you, but... Mitch broke the law. He gave himself up so you could stay free. Yes, I know he did a lot of good things with the money, but... he's... he's still a criminal..."
"He's my brother!" Marius screamed. "My twin brother. One half of me. I... I don't know how I'm going to survive without him..."
Jenny reached for his hand.
"You will survive, Marius," she said adamantly. "You have to. People need you. Nimue. Her baby. You have to be there for them."
"But what about me?!" Marius roared back. "Who the hell is going to be there for me?"
Jenny tightened her grip.
"I will, Marius," she told him softly. "I'll always be there."
Reaching out, she cupped her hand under his chin, and lifted his face to look into hers before speaking again.
"After all... I love you."
Marius managed to smile weakly - but was also beginning to cry. Jenny's confession, whilst comforting, was ill-timed. It only created a cocktail of emotions in his brain. But, seeing that Jenny was waiting for some sort of answer, he somehow managed to mouth back the words "I love you too."
As Jenny opened her arms, Marius threw himself towards her... his beloved rocking him slowly as he sobbed into her shoulder.
Night fell at the Willow Creek Hospital. After a physically and emotionally exhausted Nimue cried herself to sleep, her young son lay awake in his bassinet, staring at the strange flapping black creature above him that had just flown in through the window.
As the little eyes followed the critter around the ceiling, it stopped suddenly, and disappeared in a haze of black smoke - only to be swiftly replaced by the form of a man, who looked upon the child, smiling.
"Salutations, little one," he said kindly. "I'm your batty old Grandpa Marcel."
As he reached down to pick up the child, he noticed Nimue tossing and turning fitfully in her sleep. Slowly, Marcel waved his hand over her - casting a soothing charm. Recently, his wife and father-in-law had been schooling him in the ways of ancient magic.
"Sleep now, dear," he whispered. "Repose in peace. Dream pleasant dreams, and let you heart be filled with the love of my son... your husband. Your baby boy is quite safe."
With a blissful sigh, Nimue sank into deep slumber.
As Marcel cuddled his grandson close, he planted a kiss on his head, and then grinned.
"I have a spell for you, too," he chuckled. "I know it will be many years before you see your father..."
He stopped for a moment, feeling a lump come to his throat. When he had received news of the verdict from Renfield, whom had concealed himself in the courthouse crowd, Marcel had wept for several hours, completely inconsolable and filled with guilt over not being there for his son. However, when the word spread that his first grandchild had been born, Marcel had resolved to visit him as soon as the sun was set. He could not change Mitch's fate... but he could try and secure a better future for the newborn heir.
"But please know," Marcel continued, "that your dad loves you dearly... and so do I. I shall be watching over you from afar, and will always do my best to protect you."
Still cradling the child carefully, Marcel outstretched his arms, and lifted the boy, ever so slightly, up into the air. Clearing his throat, he cast his eyes skywards, and began his recitation.
"All you gods and ancestors... I, Marcel, Prince of the Damned, call upon you and invoke your blessing. Look upon this child with love and favour. Grant him many gifts and talents, that will ensure him great success in life. Let him bring honour to the name of Miskin, and though him and his issue, may our prosperous bloodline continue to flow. So the Prince commandeth, and so shall the command be obeyed."
His task done, he placed the baby back into the bassinet - giving him one last kiss.
All at once, his ears pricked up as he heard a noise on the corridor outside: a nurse, performing her nightly checks, with Nimue next on her list.
Waving goodbye to the infant, Marcel transformed himself back into a bat, and flapped away, heading home to Forgotten Hollow.
Four weeks later, the Miskin family and their dear friends had settled into a new but workable normality.
As instructed in her husband's letter, Nimue became the manager of the Brown Sugar Café. Her time was split between balancing the books and sorting out the paperwork, and caring for her son, who she brought into work with her - at least, when Marius and Jenny weren't able to babysit. Occasionally, she would jump behind the counter and help make the coffee when things got a little hectic, but most of the time, she stayed out of sight.
Mo continued to work for Nimue in this new capacity, taking on the role of baker and primary barista. His cookery skills improved by leaps and bounds as time went by, and he enjoyed the work hugely: his loving spirit far preferring it to break-ins and aggressive behaviours.
Nimue had also offered a job to Clyde, but he had turned it down politely. Peddling cakes and coffee, he'd said, wasn't really his thing - he liked to live life in the fast lane. He planned on using his charm and powers of persuasion to succeed in the business world, and soon found work as a salesman for a local electronics company - Willow Appliances.
After securing several sales in just a few short days, Clyde had seriously impressed his new managers, and was well on the way to a great career. However, he still visited the Brown Sugar Cafe on his days off: keen to check up on his brother, and to ask after the baby.
It was during one of his visits that Gabriel and Minerva also came to pay a call. Nimue greeted them warmly, and went to sit with them and Clyde at one of the tables, asking Mo to whip up a few coffees for everyone.
"I have some good news for you," Minerva told Nimue once they were settled. "Gabriel proposed. We're going to get married!"
"Oh, Minerva!" Nimue replied joyfully. "That's wonderful!"
"We hope that," Gabriel added nervously, "you don't think it's too soon after... well, you know?"
"Of course not, Gabriel. God knows we need something to look forward to right now. I'm thrilled for you - really."
"I'm going to ask Marius to give me away," Minerva continued. "Would you like to be my chief bridesmaid?"
"I'd be honoured."
"'Ow about you, son?" Clyde asked Gabriel. "You got yourself a best man?"
"Sure have," Gabriel replied. "He should be around here... somewhere..."
As Mo stood at the coffee machine, brewing up some lattes, he suddenly spotted a trail of cookie crumbs leading from the display cabinet around to the front of the counter. Intrigued, he leaned over - and saw a charming, red-haired toddler sat on the floor before him, chewing away eagerly.
"'Ello!" he said, amused. "Looks like we 'ave ourselves a little tealeaf!"
As Mo chuckled at the sight, he heard a panicked voice calling from the other side of the room.
"Polly! No! No more cookies today! What did I tell you?"
As Mo watched the gentleman - presumably the child's father - pulling the little one up into his arms, his felt his heart begin to race in his chest. He was a slender man with a boyish face, and a shy smile that made Mo feel like he was about to melt. His voice was warm and melodic, and he spoke nice and proper - suggesting he was educated. A man with intelligence was something Mo liked very much.
"I'm so sorry about that, sir," the gentleman said to Mo apologetically. "I'll pay for whatever she took."
"It's... It's OK," Mo replied, his lovestruck brain struggling to find the words to say. "On the 'ouse. You've got a real sweet'eart there - do you know that? Day off for Mummy, is it?"
"Oh, no!" the man answered. "I'm the only parent Polly has. But she's loved more than anything. Daddy spoils you rotten, doesn't he, darling?"
The child burst out into helpless giggles as her father tickled her under her chin. As Mo watched, his mind drifted away into a vision of a little red-brick house with a white fence... him and this stranger cuddled up on the sofa together... his daughter and a bunch of other little rugrats running around at their feet...
"Theo!" Minerva called from the table. "There you are! Gabe and I are stopping for drinks - you should order something."
""Theo"," Mo thought to himself. "This angel has a name..."
"Could I trouble you for a coffee?" Theo asked Mo, snapping him back into reality.
"What? Oh, sure. No problem. What can I get you?"
"All right. 'Ow do you like it?"
"Tall, strong and sweet."
"Like his men!" Gabriel catcalled, laughing - leading to him being elbowed in the ribs by Minerva.
Theo and Mo both giggled awkwardly, averting their eyes away from one another - but both occasionally risking a glance as Mo made the coffee. At one point, their eyes met again, and they blushed.
As he watched, Clyde decided now would be a good time to intervene.
"Nimue?" he asked. "Ain't Mo due a break?"
Thankfully, Nimue caught on straight away.
"I do believe you're right, Clyde," she said. "Mo? Take your break. I'll finish the coffees. Perhaps you and your new friend Theo would care to come and join us? You could get better acquainted."
As Mo stepped out from behind the counter, Theo smiled, and walked alongside him to the group's table.
It would turn out to be a long morning. After all, they had a wedding to plan.
Sitting alone on his bed in his cell at Willow Creek Penitentiary, Mitch gazed upon the small photo he was holding his hands - an image of his newborn son. Nimue had sent it to him along with a note: he was delighted that she had called the child the name they had agreed upon. As he gently stroked the celluoid child's face with his fingers, he blinked back tears as he realised that this was the closest thing he could do to holding his first-born.
His time in prison thus far hadn't been a nightmare. On the day he'd arrived, as he'd been led into his cell, he'd heard his fellow prisoners shouting from the corridors.
"Hey, that's Midas! Good on you, lad! You stuck it to 'em!"
"That lad paid for the hospital ward my daughter was on... if anyone screws with you, kid, they'll have me to deal with!"
"They should be in here, son, not you! You'll be all right! Keep your chin up!"
Mitch found it reassuring to know that he needn't fear the other inmates. Still, he was devastated at having lost the people he loved: most of all, the son he'd never had the chance to meet. Time would go on for them... but aging aside, everything for him would stay the same.
From now on, everything Mitch knew about his family would come from letters, phone calls, and very occasional visits. However, he had written to Nimue asking her to make sure their son never came to see him in here. He wanted their first meeting to be a moment of joy, not sadness - even if it would not happen for many years to come.
Putting the photo to one side, Mitch laid down on his bed, and settled down to sleep - trying to drown out the yells and screams of torment coming from the cells around him.
One month down. Only 179 more to go.
END OF GENERATION SEVEN_______________________________
A series of short interludes - the "Letters to Mitch" - will follow this chapter. These will conclude the Minerva and Thacker arcs in preparation for Generation Eight... which, yes, begins fifteen years in the future.
I'll also include a catch-up for the Miskin family, where I'll reveal the name of our new heir!
Shoutout to cynicalbadger - she knows why.