Illegally Born

Chapter 19: Finale

Gus stepped out of sickbay, relieved to have the operation over. He smiled to himself. Grizzabella would have never let him go through with it if she'd known, but she would be so pleased when he told her. He turned to say as much to Deuteronomy, who had accompanied him , but stopped when he realized that the gray tom's ears and tail were still wilted in obvious signs of upset.

Gus' mouth quirked in a half smile. "I told you, you didn't have to watch."

Deuteronomy glared at the smaller tom, slitted green eyes thin with stress. "Now, I understand why they make us sleep for that.... procedure." He shuddered. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I feel fine," grinned Gus. "Well, maybe a little sore, but Dr. Branch said that was normal."

"I don't understand why you had to do this now. You could have waited."

"And I could have missed the opportunity," Gus said jovially, stepping off towards the elevator. His steps were still slow, but at least now they were steady. "I knew I could do it now. I don't know what choices I will have after the hearing. And Dr. Branch has been nice enough for me to trust her to do this. Do you think I would trust just any doctor?"

"I'm not sure I will trust any doctor. If Ceres wants kittens there are many that don't have parents. We can adopt all she wants. And what if Grizzabella gets pregnant and the humans won't let you keep the kittens?"

Gus pushed the button to call the elevator and turned to Deuteronomy. The small tom's mouth had flattened to a straight line and his eyes had ceased to twinkle. "I thought about that. I thought about it a lot before I had the implant removed. Jessel says they are either going to kill us or free us. If they kill us, we no longer have to worry about the future. If they free us, we'll find a way to keep our kittens with us. I'm sure Munkustrap and Demeter aren't going to give up their kittens again without a fight and none of the other parents will either. It will all be decided long before Grizzabella could possibly give birth."

Deuteronomy watched his friend's expression as he spoke, then sighed. "I suppose it will."

Gus clapped Deuteronomy on the shoulder and burst into a huge grin as the elevator doors opened. "When did you get so gloomy? You're always reassuring other Jellicles; why the sudden doldrums?"

The two toms stepped into the elevator and Gus pressed the button for the Jellicles' theater. A slight smile relaxed Deuteronomy's face. "Maybe it's not having to keep your spirits up that allows me to let my true feelings show."

"Ah, so you need someone to keep your spirits up so that you can keep everyone else's up?" grinned Gus, ruffling the fur on his arm, noticing the black roots growing longer under the bleached fur. "I'll volunteer for that detail."

"Your color is coming back in," observed Deuteronomy, but then he couldn't resist a tease. "My, you look a mess -- just perfect for your part."

Gus laughed, "Anything is better than getting dyed."

"Are you sure you pushed the right button?" asked Deuteronomy as the elevator halted.

"I'm sure," replied Gus, stepping out before the doors had fully opened. "I have gone up to sickbay several times on my own, well, with Grizzabella, but I think I pay more attention to where we're going." Gus stopped short and Deuteronomy nearly ran into the smaller tom.

Deuteronomy looked around the corridor, wondering if Gus had made a mistake, but his ears told him the Jellicles were through the doors just ahead and to the right, so that wasn't the problem.

"I just have to try this and Grizzabella won't let me," said Gus, stepping forward and starting to spin. He fell out of the turn only half way around. Deuteronomy caught the smaller tom as he fell face-first toward the floor.

Gus raised twinkling eyes to his friend. "I am going to dance again, you know."

Deuteronomy helped Gus back to his feet and asked with a laugh, "Why is it that every Mistoffelees we've had has been a little crazy? Planning to retake your son's name?"

"No, he's welcome to his name. I'm proud of him. What's crazy about wanting to dance again?" asked the smaller tom impishly as the two toms entered the theater.

"Not a thing, Gus," smiled Deuteronomy. "Keep reminding me of that."

"Anytime," laughed Gus, waving as Deuteronomy headed off towards his mate. Gus quickly spotted Grizzabella, sitting against the left-hand wall about halfway between the stage and the door, and started across the floor, reminding himself to take it slowly. He wanted to run to her, or make her laugh by tumbling across the floor, but he knew better than to try either of those things... yet. Gus shortened the tedious distance across the large empty room by greeting the few Jellicles he passed, or noticing the activities of those sprawled nearer the stage.

Mungojerrie sat nearest the door, his tail twitching and his mouth puckered in determination, staring tensely at Rumpelteazer and Commander Fallon. Gus silently prayed that the younger tom's determination was to stay where he was and not tear Commander Fallon's eyeballs from his head. Not that there was anything inappropriate in the engineer's actions. He and Rumpelteazer were carefully scrutinizing two costumes laid out on a table; one being Mistoffelees' lighted costume and the other an all-black bodysuit that Quaxo would be wearing in the next evening's performance. Rumpelteazer held a long thin device in her right hand and a thin wire in her left. Commander Fallon reached around her and placed his hand over her arm, steadying the device.

Gus glanced back at Mungojerrie. The tensely staring tom's ears had flattened all the way back against his head and his toe-claws had extended, but he hadn't moved more than his tail, which now lashed furiously behind him, thumping quietly but emphatically against the decking. Gus sighed and turned back to the striped tom, who jumped as Gus reached out to him, turning towards the older tom with a vicious glare. Gus knelt, placing a soothing hand on the younger tom’s shoulder and looking deep into Mungojerrie’s eyes. "You trust her," stated Gus, reminding Mungojerrie of the fact, not questioning it.

Mungojerrie took a deep breath and nodded, but he still didn’t blink.

"And she’ll tell you if there’s a problem," continued Gus.

Mungojerrie glanced quickly towards his mate and then looked back at Gus. In a low voice he growled, "Her, I trust."

Gus leaned in close to the younger tom’s ear. "Keep repeating that to yourself, because if you scratch her tutor, she’ll be furious." A slight smile played along his lips taking the sting from his words.

Mungojerrie grabbed the older tom’s arm, still staring into his eyes. "If she had to choose…?"

Gus shook his head. "Don’t make her and she won’t have to."

The striped tom sighed and nodded, melting back into his seated position on the floor, and resuming his vigil. His ears drooped dejectedly, but at least he no longer looked as though he was ready to attack.

Gus stretched a bit as he rose from the floor, enjoying the feeling of muscles that actually did what he wanted them to do again. The kittens on the stage began to sing "Old Deuteronomy" under Tugger's direction. The thirteen kittens let their joy to be allowed in the production show in their voices and Gus couldn't help but sway delightedly to the tuneful music as he walked.

They'd had some trouble with the early practices with the kittens, particularly the ones that hadn't been in the dance class, and therefore didn't know the songs or routines. Quaxo had done an excellent job of working the kittens into the background for most of the dance numbers. Deuteronomy had originally tried to take on the singing instruction, but he seemed to be constantly distracted by one concern or another. Jellylorum had had better luck, until she had been told of the death of her kittens. After that, trying to teach kittens to sing reminded her too much of her loss. They'd ended up with Tugger organizing the kitten's singing lessons, despite his protests that he squeaked when he tried to hit some of the notes the kittens were singing. To alleviate the problem, Tugger drafted all of the best singers to take their turns "showing off," as he put it, for the kittens. The leopard-spotted cat had turned out to have quite a way with his pupils, falling into his onstage personality to amuse them into paying attention to him one minute, and changing into a firm disciplinarian the next. Not that he ever seemed to need more than a stern look to keep his students in line. They were too used to obeying authority figures to purposefully cut up much during lessons, and too pleased at the thought of being allowed on the stage to risk the loss of that opportunity.

Most of the parents sat or lay in front of the stage, beaming at their off-spring. Gus noticed his own son talking quietly with his fire-haired mate in the center of the room, as they watched the singing practice.

Gus sighed as he reached his mate, following her line of sight back to their son. "You're doing it again," he accused softly as he sat down on the floor beside her. "If you want to talk to him, just go over and sit with him."

"Oh... well," stuttered Grizzabella, "I don't want to bother him, and I don't really have anything to say."

Gus picked up her gray hand in his, comfortingly. "The staring bothers him. You'll bother him less if you go sit with him."

"Well...but...he's sitting with his mate and...I don't want to be in the way."

"Do you object to Jessel?"

"Oh...," the dark queen hesitated, "No. He can choose who he wants. I wouldn't try to interfere with that. I just don't want to be a bother."

"You wouldn't hesitate to go sit with any of the other couples, would you?"

"No, it's just that...," Grizzabella's voice trailed off and Gus waited patiently for her to continue. "I don't know how to deal with this. He's my kitten, but he's not a kitten. It’s easier for you. Everything’s always been easier for you."

"Yes, I know," smiled Gus, wrapping an arm around his mate. "That’s why you love me."

Grizzabella rubbed her check against his and smiled slightly herself, "You make things easier for me too."

"I’m going to make this easy for you too. I’m going to go over there and sit with them and you are coming." The dark queen tried to protest but Gus stopped her with a finger over her lips, teasingly asking, "Or do I have to tell Jellylorum on you?"

"You wouldn’t torture her that way?" hissed Grizzabella in a low voice, her ears flattening in distress.

"No," replied Gus, searching her eyes, "but you aren’t making her situation any easier. You have what she most desperately wants."

The stripped queen bowed her head. "You’re right. I’m being stupid again."

"Not stupid, just nervous," said Gus, patting his mate’s back to encourage her to her feet. "Help me up, my love?" he asked reaching up with a mischievous glint in his eye as she rose.

A smile puckered the stripped queen’s mouth as she hauled her mate to his feet. "Like you still need help."

"I’ve always relied on your help," replied Gus, feigning hurt feelings, but slipping his arm around the queen’s waist.

Mistoffelees looked up at his parents’ approach and grew concerned at the expression on Gus’ face. "Is something wrong?"

"No," replied Gus cheerily, pushing Grizzabella down close to their son. "I’m just teasing your mother into letting me have my own way."

Mistoffelees looked unsure at that answer, but Jessel barked a short laugh. "Sounds like my parents."

Grizzabella turned to the security officer sharply, but Gus grinned. "Dr. Maddigan has mentioned his mate a couple of times. She sounds like she's difficult to get along with, but I think he misses her."

"They've been talking everyday," nodded Jessel, grinning wickedly. "I know they're looking forward to getting to Mars so they can see each other in person again. I just wonder how long it will be before my dad's back in the brig."

"Capt. Schubert sends her own mate to the cages?" gasped Grizzabella.

"Hmm, not that I can remember," Jessel replied thoughtfully. "But mom's pretty difficult to get along with, and when she gets really impossible, dad goes and sleeps in the brig." Jessel grinned again, a teasing sparkle in her eye. "It makes her pretty mad when he does that, but it warns the crew to stay out of her way."

"You wouldn't --" the dark queen broke off with a glance at Mistoffelees.

"No one gets locked in the brig without a good reason, Grizzabella," Jessel reassured her. Her voice blended with Mistoffelees' as she continued, "And an argument isn't a good reason."

The black and white tom rubbed his head up against Jessel's shoulder and added, "Or I would have been in the brig by now." He grinned impishly.

Grizzabella straightened up in a startled manner, her ears flattening out defensively, but Gus stroked the gray stripe running over her knee, "That's a good sign, they're starting to finish each other's sentences."

The dark queen still looked unsure. Gus would have gone on but Mistoffelees leaned closer to her, rolling his eyes with a smile. "Aww, mom, you worry too much."

Grizzabella startled again at the unfamiliar name being applied to her, but this time her ears came up to attention and a pleased smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Greatly daring, she reached out to scratch her son's back. He purred at her and moved so her fingers would scratch where he wanted.

Gus looked on with approval at his son's antics and he noted the approval in Jessel's eyes as well. He didn't quite understand his mate's nervousness over her relationship with her son, but he was certain that it would take time and encouragement for her to get over it.

Demeter and Bombalurina, each holding one of Demeter's kittens, stopped beside the little group. Demeter dropped down to a seated position beside Jessel, nervousness showing in the black and gold queen's copper eyes and the twitching of her tail. Bombalurina remained standing behind her, an overly self-satisfied smirk badly hidden against Argent's tiny head.

Jessel gave Demeter a reassuring smile and waited for her to speak, but Gus reached out and scratched the thin black stripes on top of Persephone's tiny blond head, something that neither his mate nor the security officer would do, though Gus suspected their reasons were not the same. Smiling he asked, "And how is this little one today?"

"She's fine, Gus," replied Demeter, holding out her daughter a bit for him to see and smiling a little. Awkwardly, the black and gold queen glanced over at Jessel and then turned to face her fully. "Umm, I won't be needing you to find someone to watch the twins for the performance. I've decided to stay with them myself and I can watch Griddlebone's kittens too."

"That's fine," replied the security officer quickly. "I just thought that you wanted to be in the performance."

Demeter sighed, "I do, but…I'm just not comfortable leaving the kittens with someone I don't know. It was one thing to trade off watching the kittens during rehearsal, then the other queens had the kittens." Guiltily she added, "It's going to be a pain to take me out of the show this late, but I just have to."

"It's all right," Jessel reassured her. "You're their mother, you're the one who has to be comfortable with their care."

"I hope Quaxo is that understanding." The black and gold queen grimaced, whiskers drooping.

"Oh, he'll manage to rearrange the steps…again," grinned Gus evilly. "I don't think he knew quite what he was getting into when he agreed to work in so many extra people, but I think he's having fun with it."

"Demeter," said Jessel quietly, "if you really want to be in the show, and this is just a suggestion, feel free to say 'no,' would you be comfortable leaving the twins with me?"

"But you should get a chance to watch the show," objected Demeter, surprised.

"I've already seen it a couple of times, and I've seen the practices, so I know about all the surprises you have planned. There will be lots of officers in the audience who can take care of anything that goes wrong." Jessel shrugged, "There's really no reason why I have to be there."

Demeter bit her lip in indecision and then abruptly dropped Persephone into Jessel's arms. The red-haired security officer cuddled the blond kitten close. "Well, hello there little one," she cooed as she tickled kitten's blond tummy.

"Have you spent much time around kit -- er, children?" asked Demeter tentatively.

"Oh, I did a lot of babysitting the years I lived with my grandmother," Jessel reassured her, without interrupting the funny faces she was making for Persephone. Huge grins washed across the kitten's face in response. "Your mommy's worried that I wouldn't know what to do with you for a couple of hours," clucked Jessel. "But there were two babies that used to live near my Grandma's house, and I used to watch them for their mommies all the time."

"Well, if you're sure it wouldn't be too much trouble?" hesitated Demeter.

"No, we will be just fine," replied Jessel still looking at the kitten. Then she looked up at Demeter, "If you're sure you'd be comfortable with it….?"

"Yes," nodded Demeter, starting to look more confident, "I'm sure you will take good care of the kittens." She reached back to take Argent from Bombalurina, and noted the scowl on the red queen's face. Demeter's mouth set into a determined line as she took her son in her arms. "Jessel stays with the troupe. She has taken good care of us and I know she will take good care of the kittens."

The red queen flicked her tail as she turned away sharply.

"I don't think Bombalurina approves," said Jessel.

"They are my kittens," replied Demeter firmly, watching Bombalurina walk over towards Griddlebone. "Would you mind, Grizzabella?" she asked holding out Argent to the gray stripped queen. "I think I need to head off a problem."

Seeing his mate hesitate, Gus held out his hands for the kitten. "I'll take him," he said quickly, adding in a teasing tone, "I think Grizzabella's got her hands full with our kitten at the moment."

"Right," agreed Mistoffelees, laying down on his stomach and bumping his mother's hand with his back so she'd start scratching again.

Demeter grinned at the toms' antics and handed Argent to Gus. "I'll be back in a minute," she said striding after Bombalurina.

Jessel shot a concerned look at the conversation starting between Griddlebone and Bombalurina.

"Don't worry about it," advised Gus softly. "Demeter might be young enough to let Bombalurina influence her some, but Griddlebone just thinks she's an uppity kitten."

Jessel nodded acceptance of that information and then went back to making faces at the kitten in her arms.

Gus slid around until he was close up against his mate and crooned softly, "You might want to try holding one of the little ones. It might be good practice for when we have some more of our own."

Grizzabella froze momentarily, "I am not going to put you through that," she told him determinedly before continuing to scratch Mistoffelees' black fur.

"Too late," quipped Gus.

Grizzabella froze, staring at her mate in shocked surprise. "You didn't?"

"Yes, I did," replied Gus mater-of-factly.

"When?" asked Mistoffelees, looking up at his father quizzically.

"This morning."

"Are you all right?" Grizzabella demanded, grabbing his arm fearfully.

"I feel fine," replied Gus, bouncing the kitten on his shoulder. "A little sore, but Dr. Branch said that was normal. Deuteronomy is the one who's sick. He watched. I was asleep the whole time."

Mistoffelees gave an involuntary shudder. Gus noticed and teased his son, "What's the matter? Don't you want little brothers and sisters?"

The younger tom laughed, but Grizzabella's tail started to flip back and forth in mounting concern. "But, but, what if…," she stammered.

"Shshshshsh," hushed Gus. "No, what-ifs. Everything is going to be just fine." Taking her chin in his hand he cooed, "Trust me."

The dark queen rubbed her cheek up against his hand and then laid her head on his lap, closing her eyes in a solemn expression. The gray mood couldn't hold long though, as Argent's tail began to swipe across Grizabella's face. Gus began to snicker, and then Mistoffelees and Jessel followed suit. Laughter fought it's way through Grizzabella’s glum countenance and finally all four were laughing outright.

**************************

Quaxo stood on the scaffolding, high above the stage, in the gymnasium turned theater, as the crew of the Starbright assembled for what might be the Jellicles' final performance. The Starbright was to arrive at Mars the following morning and no one knew quite what would happen then. But the butterflies dancing in Quaxo's stomach weren't due to their imminent destination so much as the reception the crew would give this performance. Quaxo had always wanted to modify the show. He felt that a little innovation would keep it fresh. Seventeen years with almost no changes felt rather boring to the black tom. Quaxo himself had been with the troupe for 8 of those years and the rare instances when another person had been added to the cast had been exciting, but their teacher had never used those opportunities as fully as Quaxo felt they could have been used. In fact, Quaxo hated Amanda Ferran as much for her lack of imagination as much as for the abuse she'd heaped on the troupe over the years.

Now, suddenly, he'd been given the chance to modify the show. Adding thirteen kittens, as well as several adults, had been a huge challenge and he hadn't made nearly the modifications he'd wanted because they'd only had two weeks to prepare. Most of the changes had consisted of adding the kittens into the background. But now some of HIS ideas were going to be in front of an audience. Some were ideas he'd had for years and some were ideas that had come quickly in response to the kittens' presence. He, himself, would only be on stage for "Mr. Mistoffelees". The rest of the performance he intended to stay where he was now; watching the performance and gauging the reaction of the audience.

Captain Darren arrived and made her way to the front of the theater, where a place had been left for her on the floor. It seemed funny to Quaxo to see all the humans sitting on the floor for the performance. The crew sat in orderly rows, lined out with removable paint on the floor. Two aisles had also been indicated by the paint markings and the crew scrupulously stayed out of them when they were seated.

Almost as soon as the Captain had seated herself, the lights began to dim and the overture began to play -- the Jellicles' signal to take their places in preparation for their entrances. Jessel had somehow come up with a lot of notes on past performances of "CATS", most of which made references to the actors running through the aisles during the overture, but the Jellicles had never done so in their own performances and Quaxo had quickly nixed the idea as being too uncomfortable to start the show with. There were to be no changes in "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" either, other than that the kittens would start peeking out from the sides once all of the adults were onstage.

Quaxo watched with trepidation, and a certain thrill, as Victor stepped onstage as Cassandra sang, "Were you there when the Pharaohs commissioned the Sphinx?" the signal for the kittens to start appearing. Victor himself wasn't technically a kitten, but Tugger's apprentice, so Quaxo had been a bit surprised when he'd volunteered to be the first 'kitten' on the stage. It worked well though, as Victor knew the choreography well enough that if there were any problems with the younger ones, Victor would likely be able to take care of it without disturbing the show. The tall brown adolescent took his place on the pipe and began checking the places the kittens were to pop up from with his eyes.

Blanche stepped out from the same side and crawled up on the oven with a fair approximation of Victoria's grace -- not surprising since that was who the white adolescent queen would have most likely replaced. But she jumped high with a most unladylike hiss when a blond head with orange stripes popped out of the oven door beneath her. Blanche swatted Mirth in the head as though annoyed with her, then pulled the slightly smaller adolescent queen up to sit beside her on the oven.

Jonathan and Sienna tumbled forward through the pipe, Sienna ending up just in front of it and Jonathan pulling her back inside. The brown-striped pre-adolescents then started a pantomime between themselves, pointing out their favorite dancers.

Augustus and Dare ran on stage from the opposite side, zooming up the bedstead as fast as they could go, Augustus' red fur a sharp contrast to Dare's gray and black stripes. Sitting atop the bedstead, the two teen toms also started a pantomime discussion, but one less admiring and more self-congratulating than the one Jonathan and Sienna were having.

Amadeus' head appeared around the side of the juke box to the upper right of the stage, quickly followed by Peter's. The two boys grinned at each other and then looked back behind the juke box, rolling their eyes in a disgusted manner. After disappearing momentarily back the way they had come, the two black-and-white furred children reappeared pulling a third reluctantly from her hiding place. Amadeus shoved Viva down beside the juke box and then dropped down beside her, immediately becoming intensely interested in the dance below him. Peter patted his sister's back comfortingly before taking his place on her other side.

Hector and Paris climbed out through the car window, Hector giving his smaller brother a shove so that he could sit dead center of the trunk. Not that anyone would recognize these two as brothers, much less twins. Barely taller than Dart, Paris' creamy brown fur contrasted sharply with his brother's darker brown and white patches and stockier build. The two sat up, smiling and waving at the dancers circling in front of them.

Liesel appeared with Dart at the high place at the back of the stage where Jemima would later sing her solo. Quaxo had specifically chosen that spot for them to try to contain his son's enthusiasm. The youngest of the kittens on stage, Dart had also been the hardest to work with. Liesel, on the other hand, had shown a tremendous amount of patience, and more than a little shyness. The brightly-hued preteen had a calming effect on the little brown tom, and now sat with him slightly in front of her, her arm around his waist to prevent him from running where he shouldn't.

All of the kittens had entered by the time the adults took their places for the 'choir on the tire,' and they sat up straighter in deference to the hymn-like music, then started to pantomime to each other again as the adults raced forward to complete the number.

Right after the last, "What's a Jellicle cat?" was asked, the kittens crept down to range themselves over the tire and the car trunk. They were joined by those adults that normally played kittens or very young adults; Victoria, Jemima, Etcetera, Pouncival, Mistoffelees, and Tumblebrutus. The other adult cats seated themselves around the stage floor; some of them looking into the audience, others intently watching the group of kittens. Munkustrap stood off to the side near the car trunk and raised one hand to catch the kittens' attention as he began the "Naming of Cats".

Everyone in the kittens' group kept their eyes on the silver tabby as he slowly stepped towards them, reciting the entire time. Munkustrap laid a hand on Victoria's shoulder and she responded by rubbing her face against his hand. Then the white queen slipped down to the floor, promoted to the adults' group. Pouncival lay on the car trunk with his face hanging halfway to the floor looking dejected. He jumped as Munkustrap lay a hand on his shoulder, and then scooted happily to the floor. Tumblebrutus sat up straighter on the car trunk and Munkustrap nodded permission for him to follow Pouncival.

Etcetera kept flicking her eyes around to the other kittens and then back to Munkustrap, missing his signal for her to join the adults several times. Finally the silver tabby stepped directly in front of her and caught her chin in his hand, nodding at her. The light colored queen stared in surprise for a second and then screamed. Munkustrap slapped his hands to his ears and shook his head. Looking chagrined, Etcetera quickly crawled to the floor as most of the adults frowned their disapproval of her reaction.

Munkustrap quickly scanned the rest of the kittens as he regained his place in the recitation. Dare caught the silver tabby's eye by sitting up straighter and nodding quickly, but Munkustrap shook his head at him and moved on. Dare allowed his posture to wilt. Augustus shook his head, in a teasing manner, close to Dare's face. The gray and black stripped teen swiped at his colorful age-mate and then went back to pouting.

Perched on the tire, Amadeus patted Mistoffelees' back in a congratulatory manner, catching the older tux's attention. Mistoffelees turned to the small kitten with a grin, pointing to himself as if to say, "I'm next." Turning back to watch Munkustrap, Mistoffelees found himself nose to nose with the very serious Jellicle leader. Mistoffelees' ears and whiskers wilted in a mortified manner, but he did not look away from the big tom's stare. Instead he began to recite along with the rest of the Jellicles. Munkustrap recited the next four lines into Mistoffelees' face before giving the black and white tom a shove towards the adults.

Jemima rose quickly at Munkustrap's nod and took the hand he held out to help her down from the tire. She gave him a shy smile before slipping away to sit between Skimbleshanks and Jennyanydots. Victor had remained on the pipe during the "Naming" and startled so badly that he nearly fell off when Munkustrap gestured for him to move to the adults. The young brown tom pointed to himself questioningly, and Munkustrap nodded at him. Victor slipped from his perch just as the Jellicles began echoing the last line of the poem and moving off the stage. He followed with a silly grin and a skip.

Victoria's solo dance went well and Mistoffelees sang the Invitation to the Ball as usual. No real changes occurred during the "Gumbie Cat" number except that Blanche, Mirth, Liesel, and Sienna played the mice and Mirth danced the little tap-off with Jennyanydots.

As soon as Rum Tum Tugger made his entrance, Paris and Hector danced onto the stage kicking a ball between them. Tugger motioned for them to kick it to him, though his kick redirected the ball at Mistoffelees' head. The tux ducked it easily, with a pantomimed hiss. Tugger rolled his eyes towards the audience, bringing his hand to his mouth in an exaggerated "oops" gesture, which left the two brown and white kittens rolling on the floor. Mistoffelees swung a scratching motion in their direction and then ran after Tugger. Munkustrap caught the tux by the shoulders before he'd taken two running steps and they sang the line, "The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore!" together.

High on the scaffolding above, Quaxo waited with bated breath to see if Tugger would run into the audience. They had never been allowed to before, but Jessel had come up with so many notes from old performances that showed that the actors normally did, that Tugger had agreed to try it during his number if he could spot a likely candidate for a dance. Quaxo cheered silently as Tugger ran into the audience, but he nearly fell over when the tall, maned tom jerked Dr. Branch from her seat beside the Captain, and sashayed the pinch-faced brunette down the aisle. Ensign Mickelvy leaned against the wall of the theater, and Tugger pointed at the tall security officer as he spun the doctor hard, releasing her in the middle of the turn so that she spun out of control, directly into the startled Ensign's arms. Tugger cockily twitched his mane straight and ran back to the stage amid laugher from the audience. Shock had registered momentarily on the faces of many of the actors on stage at this outrageous display, but they were too well schooled to falter in their singing, or let it throw them for more than a moment.

Tugger had a larger than usual group of admirers around him at the end of his song, as Blanche, Mirth, Sienna, and Liesel joined Victoria, Jemima and Etcetera to surround him. Viva sat on the car trunk and yawned. The little tux girl lay her head down on Electra's lap and then startled straight up as Mirth gave Etcetera's scream.

At the beginning of Grizzabella's song, the kittens scattered to the highest points around the stage, to stay out of the way, except for Dare and Augustus, who moved off to the side to plot. Augustus had been assigned to 'scratch' Grizzabella. He'd been a little over enthusiastic in rehearsal and Dodger had sternly warned him to be careful, but he did just fine this time and slid off to exit with Dare under Munkustrap's glare.

"Bustopher Jones" began and Admetus entered as the twenty-five pounder. Quaxo thought the taller tom made a much more impressive Bustopher than he ever had and the small black tom was glad to be rid of the part. Admetus had refused to take the name Bustopher Jones though, joking that he really didn't want a name that was that big a mouthful.

The smaller kittens tumbled all over the stage during the first part of the scene, getting in everyone's way, then had a game of 'king of the hill' on the hat as soon as Skimbleshanks brought it out. Hector started it, jumping up to stand on the hat and make faces at the other boys. Peter and Amadeus hauled the brown and white splotched kitten down and then jumped up on the hat to congratulate each other. Sienna ran in front of them and stuck out her tongue to distract them while Jonathan shoved the tuxes from behind. Peter and Amadeus scrunched their faces and stuck their noses in the air at the larger brown striped tom, before running off. Sienna ran to join her partner, and Jonathan grabbed her hand to help her up, just as Dare shoved him off from behind. Dare sat down on the hat and folded his arms with a self-satisfied smirk, just as Munkustrap and Mistoffelees led Bustopher to the hat. A glare from Munkustrap sent Dare slinking away in shame, and Jonathan and Sienna ran off to the tire giggling. Augustus sat by Dare until it was time for the line up and pantomimed trying to get Dare to stand up for the inspection, but Dare shook his head and continued to sulk, so Augustus joined the older toms without him.

Then thunder crashed and lights flashed, sending the Jellicles off stage for the first Macavity scare. Jonathan and Sienna hid on stage, curling up inside the tire where they wouldn't be seen. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer started to sing and Jonathan poked just his ears up where they could be seen over the tire. His eyes followed after a few seconds and then his whole face appeared, lighting up with delight at the sight of the pair dancing in front of him. The young tom tapped Sienna to get her attention and then hauled her up where she could see. The two kittens watched for a few bars and then jumped down to the pipe. Jonathan slipped inside, pulling out a pink sheath dress, several sizes too big, for Sienna and a green security jacket and hat for himself.

Sienna slipped the dress over her head and then raised the back of her hand to her forehead, pretending to be faint, as Rumpelteazer and Mungojerrie sang, "Or after supper one of the girls / Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls." Silent giggles played across the kitten queen's face as Jonathan clapped his hands together, the ends of the green sleeves flapping. Rumpelteazer danced close to the kittens and waved to Jonathan as the duo sang, "They were plausible fellows / And liked to engage a friendly policeman in conversation". Mungojerrie sent a big cheesy grin in the direction of the kittens and slipped his arm through Rumpelteazer's, dragging her away. Jonathan scratched his head, slipping Mickelvy's hat to one side as he did so until it seemed that it hung from his left ear.

The two kittens stayed near the pipe for the rest of the scene, alternately mimicking the duo's movements or aaahhhing over them. The instant the other Jellicles began to appear back on the stage, however, Jonathan grabbed Sienna's hand and the two dove through the pipe, looking very guilty. Only the adults came on stage to surround and reprimand Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, but the kittens began to ease on stage as Old Deuteronomy began.

Munkustrap sang the opening lines as usual, walking back to stand on the steps as Tugger picked up the next part. Victor sat on the pipe at Tugger's feet, looking up adoringly at his mentor. The young tom's voice took over the lines: "At the sight of that placid and bland physiognomy / When he sits in the sun on the vicarage wall / The Oldest Inhabitant croaks." Then Tugger and Munkustrap's voices blended together for the chorus.

The song normally faded into repetitions of the chorus at that point but the kittens had become very excited one night when Jessel had read them two verses for "Old Deuteronomy" that they had never heard before. They'd begged to be allowed make the verses their own and had worked very hard on the song. The music fit verse 3 fine, but had needed to be altered slightly to fit verse 2. Amadeus had been quick to figure out the necessary melodic changes for the lyrics and Commander Loncosky had volunteered to work with him to alter the score. The rather staid Commander had quickly found himself overwhelmed by the enthusiastic kitten and had wasted no time introducing Amadeus to the rest of the Starbright's small amateur orchestra. The little tux had gobbled up lessons in musical theory at an amazing rate, was learning to read music faster than books, and wanted to spend so much time practicing on a keyboard that Commander Loncosky had loaned the kitten his indefinitely. Quaxo had been reluctant to send Amadeus off with human tutors so frequently, but it did keep the kitten busy, so he had allowed it as long as Amadeus could find an adult Jellicle to go with him.

Now, as the first chorus ended, Dare crawled up behind Munkustrap and tugged the Jellicle leader's tail. Timidly, at first, but growing stronger as Munkustrap smiled and motioned encouragement to him, the young man began to sing the first line in the second verse. The other kittens chimed in from where they sat and stretched around the stage.

 

Dare: Old Deuteronomy sits in the street, He sits in the High Street on market day.

Mirth: The bullocks may bellow,

Blanche: The sheep they may bleat,

Mirth and Blanche, together: But the dogs and the herdsmen will turn them away.

Jonathan: The cars and the lorries run over the kerb,

Sienna: And the villagers put up a notice:

Jonathan and Sienna: ROAD CLOSED--

Augustus: So that nothing untoward may chance to disturb Deuteronomy's rest when he feels so disposed Or when he's engaged in domestic economy:

 

Only the kittens sang the second chorus, their high voices blending in joyful harmony; And the Oldest Inhabitant croaks: 'Well, of all… Things…Can it be… really!… No!… Yes!… Ho! Hi! Oh, my eye!

Amadeus (cheekily, which earns him a scowl from several adults): My sight's unreliable, but I can guess That the cause of the trouble is Old Deuteronomy.

 

Paris: Old Deuteronomy lies on the floor

Hector: Of the Fox and French Horn for his afternoon sleep,

Peter: And when the men say:

All the tom kittens except Dart: 'There's just time for one more,'

Dart: Then the landlady from her back parlour will peep, And say:

Liesel: 'Now then, out you go, by the back door, For Old Deuteronomy mustn't be woken -- I'll have the police if there's any uproar' --

Viva: And out they all shuffle without a word spoken.

Dare: The digestive repose of that feline's gastronomy, Must never be broken whatever befall:

 

Munkustrap took over with, "And the Oldest Inhabitant croaks," and the Jellicles continued their normal chorus repetitions. Old Deuteronomy entered and "The Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles" began. No major changes were scheduled for that number and it went off as smoothly (or as terribly) as always. Pouncival had offered Jonathan his place as the lead Pollicle, saying, "If you really don't mind getting dropped on your face, you're welcome to take my turn at it." And the kitten had jumped at the chance.

Viva had been given the task of following Old Deuteronomy down the stairs at the beginning of "The Song of the Jellicles" and ruffling his fur, but otherwise Quaxo had intentionally given the kittens little to do on stage during the "Pekes and the Pollicles," "The Song of the Jellicles" and the "Jellicle Ball". The speed and intricacy of those numbers would have made it difficult to add the kittens and the short amount of time they had to practice made it nearly impossible. Instead the kittens stayed in the background and rotated off stage for water and bathroom breaks so that they wouldn't be in the way during the intermission.

The one part that all of the kittens were on stage for was the White Cat Lift and the Napping Scene. All of the young kittens headed for the tire to curl up in a heap behind Deuteronomy and go to sleep. Blanche, however, lay down on the car's trunk to watch the adults. The white adolescent motioned to her friend Mirth to join her. Mirth looked at Blanche and then back at the pile of kittens on the tire. Yawning, the brightly striped queen shrugged at her white friend and joined the pile.

Blanche settled herself more comfortably on the car's trunk as Dare and Augustus snuck up behind her. With a quick motion the two teen toms slipped into place on either side of the white queen. Blanche pinned each of them with a glare and then returned to intently watching the adults. Not at all discouraged, Augustus rubbed his shoulder against Blanche's. The white queen pantomimed a hiss at him and raised her hand as if to scratch. Augustus backed off a few inches. Dare made a teasing face at the red tom over Blanche's back and then tried to cuddle up to her himself, with the same results. Augustus snickered and pointed at the gray and black tom. Dare put his nose in the air and tried to sneak down to the floor with the adults. A sharp glare and motion from Munkustrap sent the young tom dejectedly climbing back up. Augustus rolled with laughter, but Dare sulked until the music speeded up again, sending all the kittens scattering.

Most of the kittens were already off by the time Grizzabella entered to sing "Memory". Blanche and Mirth had been allowed to take Victoria and Jemima's places at the beginning of this scene. Mirth didn't have as pretty a voice as Jemima, but her voice expressed a fearful curiosity that fit beautifully. After everyone else had left the stage, except Grizzabella and Old Deuteronomy, Dart crept back onto the tire. As if sensing someone behind him, Old Deuteronomy turned and smiled down at the littlest kitten. The gray cat picked up the little brown kitten and deposited him in his lap. Dart yawned and sleepily watched as Grizzabella began to sing, apparently falling asleep before the end of "Memory".

Quaxo slipped from the scaffolding to the improvised backstage. He wanted to get his costume on during intermission so that he wouldn't miss any of the second Act. Not that there were many changes to come; he'd known that everyone would be getting tired, especially the younger kittens.

The black cat punched Tugger in the arm as he passed him. "What are you trying to do give me heart failure?" demanded Quaxo merrily.

Tugger sagged on the bench and placed one hand over his heart. "You and me both!" Then he grinned, "But I couldn't resist, the doctor was too tempting a target." With a lightning change of mood he asked, with concern, "She isn't mad is she?"

Quaxo shook his head. "More startled, I think. And the Captain seemed amused so I think Dr. Branch will get over it."

Unconvinced, Tugger’s ears flattened as he asked, "Do you think I should apologize later?"

Quaxo shrugged. "Ask Jessel," he replied moving off.

A small form plowed into him, wrapping its arms around his waist. "Did you see me? Was I good?" chittered Amadeus, his gray eyes wide in his white face.

"Wonderful!" pronounced Quaxo. Becoming aware of the other kittens around him, he added, "All of you are doing a great job. I can't believe how well this is going." Quaxo beamed at all of them and rubbed the fur between Amadeus' ears as the kitten pushed his head affectionately into the black cat's ribs. "I have to go change now, I don't want to miss anything," Quaxo said, giving the tux kitten a last pat.

Amadeus released him quickly. "We don't want you to miss anything either, " grinned the tux kitten. It only took Quaxo a few moments to slip on his all black costume in the makeshift dressing room, though he had to take a whole minute to walk into his shoes. He didn't really understand how humans could stand the clompy things; he had to accustom himself to the weight on his feet every time he put them on. Fortunately, that no longer took a great deal of time and he was back on the scaffolding in time to see the first of the Jellicles return to the stage for Act 2.

Quaxo watched as the Jellicles quietly crawled onto the stage, Deuteronomy shushing them over Dart's sleeping form. Quaxo wondered if his son had actually fallen asleep and was sure of it a moment later when the little kitten suddenly sat bolt upright at the first powerful notes of Moments of Happiness, bringing laughter from the audience. A sharp panic passed through Quaxo, fluffing his tail and flattening his ears at the thought of Teacher's reaction to the surprising movement, but he let the panic out with a deep breath and a reminder to himself that she was locked securely in the brig.

Moments of Happiness and Gus, the Theater Cat contained no real changes, though Quaxo had worked with the kittens on some pantomimes so that they wouldn't just be sitting at the edges of the stage looking bored. Dare and Augustus determinedly tried to catch an imaginary fly without getting too many stern looks from the adults, while Amadeus, Peter, and Viva curled up in a tight black and white ball. Paris stared avidly at whoever was singing while Hector played with his brother's tail.

Dart slipped from Deuteronomy's lap to go sit with Blanche and Mirth at the beginning of Gus, but something seemed to catch the kitten's eye at the edge of the stage and he slipped back behind the two girls to head for the ramp leading to the audience at the left of the stage. Blanche scrambled after the wayward kitten, sliding past him to lay on the ramp, blocking the kitten's passage, tail snapping back and forth in emphatic refusal. Dart pouted at the white adolescent, but didn't dare pass her warning looks. A brown uniformed crewman sitting in the audience caught the tip of Blanche's lashing white tail between his fingers, just for an instant. Startled at the touch, Blanche rolled up on one arm and froze, staring at the crewman in alarm. Dart also stared fixedly at the man, eyes wide, and started backing away slowly, ears down and fur beginning to fluff in fright. Mirth hauled the frightened kitten behind her as soon as he came within arm's reach, but didn't take her eyes off the man who'd touched her friend. The crewman, for his part, seemed at a loss to know how to respond to the obviously frightened kittens. He tried reaching out in a conciliatory gesture just as a silver streak slid between the crewman and the kittens, resolving itself into a large, softly hissing gray tom showing sharper teeth than any human possessed. Munkustrap quickly coiled into a crouch, his hands held low but his claws completely extended. Wide silver eyes fixated on the offending crewman for a moment, whose gesture of goodwill instinctively turned to one of defense. The silver tabby spared the kittens only a brief glance as his hand slashed in a gesture that instantly sent the kittens scrambling for the back stage. As soon as they were off, Munkustrap flipped his tail indignantly at the crewman and turned back to fondly watch the old cat tell his tale, haughtily ignoring the audience, as if nothing at all had happened. Quaxo hastily slid back down the ladder to check on the exiled kittens.

As soon as the kittens saw him, Blanche started apologizing and Dart reached for his father. Quaxo lifted his kitten onto his chest and laid a hand on Blanche's shoulder, apologizing himself, "You didn't do anything wrong, Blanche. I should have warned you. You were never supposed to be so close to the audience or I'm sure I would have." The black cat crooked a smile at the white queen. "It hasn't happened very often, but humans just can not resist a twitching tail," he said, flipping his tail into her hand.

Mirth giggled, and Blanche joined her, fright forgotten. Dart snuggled into his father's fur.

"You're alright, then?" asked the black tom. Blanche nodded and Quaxo sent the girls off to get some water. Then he pushed his fingers under Dart's chin forcing the kitten's yellow-green eyes up to meet his own. Sternly, he asked, "You know what you did wrong?"

Dart nodded, wide-eyed.

"And you won't go near the audience again?"

The little kitten shook his head.

"Alright then," said Quaxo, softening his voice and stroking his son's ears. "Where are you supposed to be?"

Dart pointed at the two girls, "With them."

Quaxo smiled then to let Dart see that he'd been forgiven. "Off you go, then," he said setting Dart on his feet and pointing him in the right direction. He watched the kitten go, his fright apparently forgotten, and then returned to the scaffolding. Growltiger had begun and Quaxo was eager to see how the young pirates would do. Tumblebrutus wore his usual stripped pirate costume, but Victor had taken over for Tugger, Dare for Munkustrap, and Augustus for Skimbleshanks. Amadeus had been allowed to take over for Mistoffelees only after he'd begged and pleaded and gotten both Mistoffelees and Jessel to take his side - Jessel having contributed that it really was stranger to have an adult play the cabin boy than a child. Quaxo was pleased with the results. Amadeus' high kitten voice really did fit in well.

For Skimbleshanks, the kittens formed the Sleeping Car Express. Hector and Paris got into a shoving match and when Skimbleshanks got in between them, both kittens put their hands behind their backs and looked up at the orange stripped Jellicle like little angels. Quaxo made a mental note to compliment them, especially since Hector had had such a hard time learning not to shove his smaller brother too hard. It took adults to handle the heavy props for the train engine, so the kittens had to stay up in the background out of the way, but their voices lent a joy to the music that had the audience grinning irresistibly.

Macavity appeared, his henchrats hauling Deuteronomy away and the younger kittens disappeared through the hidey holes around the set. Amadeus, Viva, and Peter disappeared behind the jukebox. Paris and Hector disappeared through the pipe, followed by Jonathan and Sienna, who turned to watch the stage. Dart ran to his mother and hid his face in her fur. Jemima picked him up and carried him off stage.

Augustus and Dare tried to follow the toms, but Alonzo shook his head at them. The teen toms looked rebellious but obeyed. Dare patted Augustus' arm and pointed to the right side of the stage. Then Dare took up a position on the left at the back of the stage, doing his best to look like Munkustrap on guard duty. Augustus ran to where Dare had pointed and followed his friend's example, though he glanced around nervously as though expecting Macavity's return at any moment.

Blanche and Mirth joined the adult queens to dance "Macavity". They'd practiced it for years already, so it had been no problem to add them. When Macavity threw off his Old Deuteronomy disguise, Mirth jumped up and back, landing in Augustus' arms. The two kitten's looked at each other in shock before Augustus dropped his classmate and they retreated hastily up the bedframe. The rest of the kittens were already up and out of the way for the fight scene. Some of the older ones scratched at the air in encouragement to their elders, but they knew to stay far out of the way until after Macavity's disappearance.

When Pouncival turned on the spotlight in the darkness after the fight, the kittens crawled down to the floor with their elders. They'd simply blend in for the Mistoffelees number and then stay in the background for the rest of the show. Which Quaxo was glad of, otherwise he'd have been distracted, trying to watch them and concentrate on his own part.

As soon as Mistoffelees reached the floor, Quaxo slipped down the ladder and into the wings for his entrance. Reaching behind him, Quaxo pulled the semi-transparent black hood over his head and face. He flicked his ears to get a better fit as he tucked the hood into his collar. A light touch caused him to turn and Grizzabella checked his hood, impersonally tucking in an errant corner for him, just as she had helped him change into the Mistoffelees costume during the eight years he'd held that name. The black tom smiled and nodded his thanks to her, grateful for this little bit of familiarity before this most unique and difficult performance.

Just then, Tugger stepped close to the set, and Quaxo knew it was time. Slipping in tightly behind Tugger, though still hidden from the audience by scenery, Quaxo concentrated on the music. This would be a very few steps, but the timing had to be perfect for the illusion to work.

And-on-the-beat, Tugger stepped out to face the audience directly in front of Mistoffelees - blocking his path, Quaxo tightly behind the tall maned cat. As Tugger swung away again, Quaxo remained in Mistoffelees' shadow, cast by the bright spotlight. The two of them rolled their hands in Mistoffelees' magical gesture and then began to dance side by side. The crowd screamed applause and Quaxo's heart soared; they hadn't realized he was there until Mistoffelees' "shadow" came to life. The two toms had no problem matching the half-minute worth of tricks and spins that were left before the Conjuring Turn. The two of them hit their marks and began to spin side by side. Mistoffelees stopped his spins on cue, but Quaxo threw three more, just as they'd planned. As Quaxo's foot came down to stop his rotation, precisely and perfectly, Mistoffelees jealously slid his eyes forward to the audience and back to his "shadow", ‘obviously’ put out at being shown up. Then he rolled his hands again and Quaxo clicked the remote control in his gloves, releasing the trapdoor under his feet. A roar of applause and laughter sounded as Quaxo disappeared through the stage floor.

Quaxo had to crouch and roll to prevent the trapdoor from hitting him in the head as it closed. He pulled back the hood so that he could see well enough to make certain the trapdoor was properly secured. And then he had to crawl around and through the supports under the stage to get out. Still, he made it back into the wings quickly enough to see Mistoffelees jump into Old Deuteronomy's arms.

Quaxo blew out a breath and collapsed onto the floor in relief. They'd made it through all of the changes he'd added and it had gone wonderfully! He'd purposefully left "Memory" and the "Addressing of Cats" alone because he knew everyone would be tired, besides they'd worked in more new steps and tricks in this show than the black cat could remember adding in all his years with the troupe. Pride swelled in his chest as he watched the last of the show. And when his turn came to take a bow, Quaxo threw a split jump so high, he felt it would carry him to the ceiling in elation.

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