the1andonlyofo, thank you as always! I'm glad you like the kittens. I want to say thank you also for being such a regular reviewer; I always look forward to seeing what you think of my latest chapters. HGP, thank you so much! I've really been enjoying your reviews and kind words! nezumi-momiji-neko, thank you, I'm happy you're enjoying the story and the kittens! Indeed, Mandragora comes from the mandrake root. I figure Misto would like a name like that. :) sfeather, thank you! That's a cool coincidence about the name. :D Thank you also for being such a kind, regular reviewer. NyraGrimm, thank you! I hope you'll enjoy this next (and last) chapter!
Disclaimical: T.S. Eliot created these kitties, Andrew Lloyd Webber made them sing and dance. I just play with them, like so many toy mice. Jezebel is mine, and these seven adorable kittens are mine, though I owe Eliot for suggesting they existed in the first place.
A big fish-pasty thank-you to CrazyIndigoChild for being my beta-reader!
"Everlasting Cat," Jezebel sighed good-naturedly. "How do you keep track of them all?"
As he watched the kittens running around in front of Jezebel's den, with Jenny kindly directing a few to sit down in a semi-circle, Mistoffelees had to admit that the last year had been an exercise in chaos, and it was due in no small part to keeping track- as Jezebel put it- of seven growing kittens.
To watch them now, it was astonishing to remember how small and helpless they had seemed as newborns. Just a few short weeks after their birth, they had outgrown their cherished hat and had started tottering around on their small legs, causing both Mistoffelees and Tugger no small amount of panic attacks as they set about exploring first their den, and then the junkyard.
It seemed they had inherited both Tugger's single-minded determination to be contrary, and Mistoffelees' uncanny ability to sneak and squeeze into any hiding place. It had become a common sight in the junkyard for one of them to yell at the kittens to either get down or come out from wherever they'd scampered off to. With the soon-after arrival of Cassandra and Alonzo's two tom-kits, Verismo and Serapis, the junkyard had indeed become overrun by a herd of boisterous young kittens.
Caring for the kittens had been both exhausting and exhilarating, and despite the rather accidental manner in which they had come about, the experience was not something Mistoffelees would have traded for anything. His body, after changing to allow him to naturally give birth to the kittens, had changed back as soon as the kittens no longer needed to nurse. Now back to normal, he and Tugger had been all over each other that night.
Of course, there had been times in the last year when he was ready to tear his fur out and pray to the Everlasting Cat for the little ones to be quiet and still for just a few moments.
The only quiet ones at the moment were Tourmaline, the tuxedo queen, who sat in Mistoffelees' arms; Josephine, the fluffy calico, who stood by Jezebel's legs and glared at her roughhousing siblings; and Mandragora, who was only quiet because Tugger had taken her aside to finish grooming her unruly fur before they left the kittens in Jezebel's care for the night before leaving to attend the Jellicle Ball.
A few paces away, Augusta gave a mighty roar and leapt onto Cyrano's back, determined to bring him to the ground. The brown tabby queen had developed an affinity for playing roughly, and had nearly succeeded in pinning her bigger brother to the ground, until the authoritative Josephine stomped over to them.
"Stop that!" she yelled. Her voice was already bigger than she was. "It's not proper!"
"I'm not sure who taught her that word," Mistoffelees remarked to Jezebel, shaking his head. "But she doesn't seem to think anything is proper. Anyway, are you sure these aren't too many to handle, on top of Cassandra and Alonzo's kittens? Tugger or I can stay behind and help you watch them."
"Not Tugger," the older tom said, spitting out a white fluff of fur from Mandragora's mane. The small black-and-white kitten whined and squirmed restlessly in his lap.
Cappella and Aloysius sat a clear distance away from the small wrestling match; both had become inseparable, always playing, huddling, or making grand plans with one another. Both now sat with Verismo and Serapis in front of Jenny, giggling kittenishly as the old queen told them an animated story. Verismo, a sleek brown tom-kit, kept shyly glancing in Mistoffelees' direction between giggles.
"Oh please, my dears, I'm quite equipped to handle a few kittens for one night," Jezebel airily said. After a quick moment of scrutinizing her charges, her voice dropped to a whisper. "I don't suppose any of your little ones have figured out magic yet, have they?"
"Er- not that we know of."
Jezebel nodded, relieved. It was probably wiser, Mistoffelees mused, to not mention how Cappella had levitated her favourite toy ball last week.
"No! Let me go! Help!" Mandragora cried, evidently tired of Tugger's efforts to groom her mane. She'd begun squirming in his arms with renewed energy and mewling dramatically.
"Sit still, Mandra," Tugger grumbled. "Your fur's a mess. You look like a pollicle."
"You look like a pollicle!"
"She definitely has her father's wit," Jezebel smirked. "I can't believe he lets her talk to him like that."
"You have no idea," Mistoffelees sighed, re-adjusting his hold on Tourmaline. "Tugger would let her get away with murder."
Tugger finally abandoned his efforts and released Mandragora; the small kitten made a desperate bid for freedom by running over to where her siblings and friends sat, cuddling up to Cappella. Once more, Verismo peeked out from the group to look in Mistoffelees' direction, trying to catch the eye of the kitten in his arms.
"That kitten has no sense of style," Tugger huffed, walking up to Jezebel and his mate.
"Look, Tourma," Mistoffelees said to the kitten still huddled in his arms. "I think Verismo wants you to go sit with him. Why don't you go join him?"
The small brown tom-kit had caught Tourmaline's eye some time ago; of course, they were both young kittens, much too small to think of anything to do with mating until at least next year's Jellicle Ball, but it was sweet to watch their mutual kittenhood crush.
"I guess so," Tourmaline said shyly. "You and daddy won't forget us here, right?"
"Of course not," Mistoffelees said, giving the small queen a light nudge with his nose. "Remember how we discussed it? We're just going to the Jellicle Ball, and Jezebel's going to take good care of you until we come get you after the sun rises. Now why don't you go sit with the others?"
Tourmaline nodded quietly. Mistoffelees set her to the ground and watched her totter towards the group, bumping Aloysius out of the way so she could sit next to her friend.
"I suppose that's it, then," Mistoffelees said. "Jezebel, thank you for—Augusta! What have I told you about pulling your sister's tail?"
"I wasn't!" Augusta pouted, though she still held the white-and-orange tip of Josephine's tail in her little hand.
"Everlasting, kittens, behave for Jezebel tonight, all right?" Tugger said, giving the wide-eyed kittens a stern look.
"Run along and sit with the others," Jezebel instructed. "I've got some wonderful new toy mice to show you in a moment."
Cyrano, Augusta and Josephine eagerly scampered off to sit with the rest of the kittens. With a soft titter, Jenny rose up and petted their heads as they ran past her.
Mistoffelees shook his head. "As I was trying to say, Jezebel, thank you for watching the kittens this year. I'm sorry you'll miss the Jellicle Ball."
"Oh, think nothing of it," Jezebel said. "There will be plenty more Balls for me, and someone needs to watch these sweet dears." She gave Mistoffelees a teasing jab to the ribs and cocked her head in Tugger's direction. "Are you two planning on trying for a second litter tonight? I'm quite certain I'm feeling magic in the air again this year."
"You know," Tugger said with a triumphant smile. "This will be our first full Jellicle Ball as mates. We'll have a lot of catching up to do at the mating dance."
"Oh really?" Mistoffelees said, giving his mate a pointed look. "Are you ready to end up with another seven kittens?"
"I'll take my chances."
Jenny and Jezebel both tittered softly at his side, and it certainly didn't help when Tugger wrapped an arm around his waist and playfully growled.
"Victoria and Plato are dancing their union this year," Mistoffelees said, putting a hand to his mate's chest to push him away. "I surely wouldn't want to take any attention away from them."
"You're my mate," Tugger purred. "You'll always get attention now."
Mistoffelees rolled his eyes. "No mating dance. Everlasting knows you could use the break."
"Don't worry," Jenny interjected, patting Tugger on the arm. "I'll make sure Tugger dear stays close to me at the mating dance."
"You wouldn't dare," Tugger gaped.
"All right, please have this discussion away from the young ones," Jezebel said, shooing the three away from the semi-circle of chattering kittens. "Now go and have fun at the Ball. Jenny, I will expect to hear everything from you and Jelly at the end of the night. And I mean everything."
Jenny nodded happily and led the way. Though Mistoffelees meant to bid the kittens good-bye, they were already preoccupied with giggling and whispering among themselves. Maybe it was best to leave before one or two or three of their litter decided to start being fussy.
He followed Jenny away from Jezebel's den, batting away Tugger's tail as it mischievously wound its way around his thighs.
"Do you suppose you'll feel exhilarated again after the Ball this year?" Tugger whispered to his mate.
"I doubt it," Mistoffelees said. "Last year was unusual."
"You know what they say; unusual things always happen at the Jellicle Ball."
Before Mistoffelees could protest in any way, Tugger wrapped a loving arm around his shoulders, and together they walked to rejoin the group of Jellicles with their kittens safely cared for behind them.
Jezebel watched them leave with a small smile on her face, until a small tug to her leg fur made her look down.
"Jezebel?" Mandragora asked. "What's a mating dance?"
The old queen shook her head. "Ask your father."
It's weird to think of this gigantic epic as being done. At last! Seven kittens later, Misto and Tugger are settling into a life of domestic bliss. Yeah right. ;) Their saga isn't over; please stay tuned for more stories.
Huge baskets of gratitude and fish-paste to CrazyIndigoChild, who's been my beta-reader throughout this whole thing. She and DontBeAZombie warmly welcomed me into the fandom all those months ago and made the whole experience pretty awesome. You girls rock my sock.
Equally large baskets of gratitude and fish-paste to everyone who's followed, read, and/or reviewed the fic. I hate begging for reviews, but I won't lie: it's really awesome to hear kind words and support from people who enjoy what I write. So, thank you all for giving me the best kind of motivation to see the story through to the end.
Of course, folks, the fic is done but the story ain't over…