a Thundercats story
by Nancy Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The characters are copyrighted by Rankin-Bass. No infringement on their property is intended or should be inferred.
Author's Note: When I was young, I used to wake up at 6:30 every morning so I could have my Thundercats fix before school. Then the local affiliate changed timeslots on me. Long story short, I am just now viewing season 4 on the Cartoon Network. However, I've had ten years during which the last episode I saw was "Together We Stand." This is to say, the following isn't canon with season 4. This is My Personal Universe. Welcome to it.
The birds woke her.
She kept her eyes closed against the sun, already fingering its way into her tidy cottage. Outside the door, filling the whole world, she heard the chirps and clacks that were the language of the birds of her forest, greeting the sun like a newborn god every single sunrise.
Time passed, perhaps an hour, perhaps less, as she lay listening, eyes still shut tight. Time had lost much of its meaning since her clock had broken, two years back.
She had returned from a long walk to find it silent, smoking comfortably on its stand. She had the expertise to repair it, had in fact cursed and picked it up, intending to do just that. Instead, she had held it in her hand, as warm and dead as a rabbit with a broken neck, and not for the first time, she had considered her own death. A knife would be swiftest, a poisoned pellet more her style. And she had set the clock back down, and she had listened to the silences around her. She had thought that she would go mad, without the clock to slice her life into acceptable pieces, found instead that without the delineation, two years could slip by like a good night's rest.
Kit opened her eyes, slowly, so as not to offend them with the piercing light of day, and groaning, pulled herself from her bed. She dressed without hurry, placed the bedclothes back in order with an eye to the corners. More than five decades had come and gone since she'd last been admonished for not cleaning her room, but every morning, she still made sure her sheets and blankets were tucked in neatly, as if any minute, a crotchety old Snarf would burst in and demand to know why she could not take time to make the bed.
Those had been the days, she mused, shuffling (how her back ached these days!) towards her tiny kitchen. Then, she could barely be bothered with such things as cleaning the room she shared with Wily Kat, or finishing her chores. Everything was new and fresh, and interesting. She needed to run, to explore, to run her fingers through the dirt and sand of this strange world, to skim laughing above the treetops, welcoming, and often frightening, stray Berbils. There had never been enough hours in the day to see everything, to do everything, and when she lay her head on her pillow at night, it was to dream of what would come tomorrow.
She wondered, had she known then all the future held, would she have dreamed differently?
The refrigerator was dead, but stayed cool enough to keep some carefully-selected foods. She selected a piece of breadfruit and closed the door before warmth from outside could get in and spoil her fruit. The power, brought in from Cat's Lair on a thin line, had been out for weeks. Over the years, she had grown accustomed to the long periods without electric lighting, or the other amenities like cooling and heating. It seemed like a longer period went by each time between repairs. Maybe the new denizens of the Lair thought they'd hasten her along her path by removing one by one the comforts of her life. More likely, they simply forgot about the mad old woman in the forest.
The breadfruit was sweet, and dripped stickily down her chin.
Once upon a time, there had lived a little girl on a little planet, and the planet had gone away, and so had most of the people. But the little girl and her brother had been saved by a few good people, and they had gone far, far away, to a planet around a star she could not have even seen from her home world. And there they had lived, and found a few others like them, and fought a few battles. And for a few years, fate had passed right by them, not even noticing the last survivors of a dead race clinging to life on this out-of-the-way world. Once ...
Her memories were not as sharp as they had once been. She could not remember the exact day, or year for that matter, when she had looked into the mirror from brushing her hair, and seen the stranger in the glass. She did remember that she had been shocked, so much so that she had dropped the brush into her smallest toe, which bruised and swelled. She had not noticed then, had been too stunned by her own reflection.
Had she been someone else, someone more feminine, perhaps the girl she might have been on Thundera, she surely would have seen earlier the sharpening of her face, felt the uncomfortable way her clothes had begun to hang. There were curves to her form, gentle, sloping, but entirely right. She had already noted with disdain the budding breasts, as they threw off her balance at bad times. Now, taken with the rest of the changes, they seemed less intrusive than before, if still as annoying.
There had been other changes. Once she had become aware of her own form, she observed the secretive glances that came from more than one of the others, followed almost immediately by a turning away, a blustered word, something. She watched, and she smiled inside at the new power.
Laughter was a thing she relearned. Gone were the boisterous chuckles of her youth, replaced by light splintery things. She learned to move her head just so, to place her leg in just the right position as she sat. Her clothes were getting too short for her, and she had the excuse to make new tunics, something a bit less childlike and pastel, a bit more grown-up, functional and modest but still offering hints of more interesting sights.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. With amusement, she would note Tygra's friendly hand on her shoulder, remaining for one fraction of a second longer than necessary. Sometimes it stayed more than a fraction. She noted, too, how Lion-O made excuses to bring her along at times it would have been better to leave her guarding the Lair, and likewise, how Bengali would make excuses just as flimsy to be away from her, leaving behind him a mingled scent of desire and fear, punctuating his typical smells.
She had become aware of odor, something to which long association in close quarters had numbed her. As never before, she knew who had been in a room last, long after it was empty. She could not put the scents into language, could not frame a tiny word like "musk" around the heady rush of sensation she felt when she stood beside Panthro after a fight with the Lunatacs, and if she used the word "floral" to describe the lingering thrill of a hallway when Cheetara had passed by, she might as well describe Hook Mountain as "big" and have done.
In short, she was a time bomb.
It could have gone very badly.
She was a little girl in a new body, and fortunately, not everyone was amused. A few months had gone by since the flash in her mirror, and the group of them had just broken up from a meeting. She had errands to run in the Warrior Maidens' village, and had been the first out the door. Moments later, she heard footsteps behind her.
"Got a minute?" asked Wily Kat.
"Sure," she said, wondering what he wanted.
He cocked his head towards the library. "In here."
"Okay," she replied, still mystified, and followed him. He shut the door behind her and locked it. "What's up?"
He took a breath. "Stop it."
"You know," he said, and there was an edge to his voice. "What you're doing. You need to stop."
She rolled her eyes at him. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Can I please go, now? Nayda's expecting me." She moved by him, and he caught her arm with a grip like steel.
"Ow! That hurts!"
He loosened his hold, but did not let go. She noticed, as she had not before, how he was also growing. He chest had become much broader in the past few months, and there was definition to muscles which had previously been just promises. It would be years before he reached his full growth, long after she had filled out the form she would wear the rest of her life, but already she could see what he would become.
"You have to listen to me, Wily Kit. It's like when we used to play hide-and-seek, and I wouldn't really close my eyes."
She blinked at him until he continued: "You're not playing fair. You've got this game, and it's driving everyone nuts."
"They don't seem nuts to me. They seem like they're enjoying themselves just fine."
He half-frowned. "That's what you see? What I see is a dangerous situation just waiting to turn worse. You're distracting. What happens when we're in a fight? You know what it's like. You have to be completely in the battle, or you're lost. If Lion-O or Panthro or anybody else gets distracted in the middle because you're there, someone's going to get killed. Do you want that?"
His grip tightened again, and she felt fear.
"No," she whispered.
"Then stop it. Stop it now. Stop teasing, and stop flirting, and start being yourself again. You used to be a lot more fun."
There were several things that passed through her head, sharp retorts, clever teases. All of them died under her brother's glare. He wouldn't be charmed, and she knew in her soul she could never threaten him, realistically. Instead, she took the only option she had.
"Okay. I'll stop." He dropped her arm, and he smiled.
She did stop, too. It took some time to break the habits she had fallen into, but she had help. Shyly, she had gone to Cheetara and Pumyra, and asked their help in choosing and making something more appropriate for a teenaged girl to wear. The spell dissipated among the others reluctantly, and she noticed, after a while, that she wasn't as hyper-aware of everyone. An unspoken but heartfelt sigh of relief moved gradually through them all.
Perhaps what happened next was in reaction to her, or perhaps it was simply an outgrowth of something that should have happened all along. Nevertheless, not long after her talk with Kat, at the end of a perfunctory meeting, Bengali and Pumyra announced as casually as possible under the circumstances that they had decided to marry. No one was surprised; when she'd first met them, Wily Kit had assumed they were a couple, and had only determined later that was not the case. There were smiles and handshakes and hugs all around, and a common decision was reached that a decent celebration could be arranged by the end of the week.
The day was hot, and Kit sat down on a familiar log, fallen years ago, letting the warmth sink into her bones. She had forgotten how far the journey was back to the Lair from her home, especially now. When she'd been young, she would have raced Wily Kat all the way, stopping for breath only when they were inside, heading for sweet glasses of juice. Now it would take her the better part of the day to get there, and she'd be tired all the way. Plus, she could only imagine what reception she would receive upon arriving.
Insects droned in the tree leaves high above her, and there was a layer of honeysuckle to the earthy smell of the forest floor.
It had been a bright day like this when Pumyra and Bengali had stood in front of their many friends and pledged love to one another. By Thunderian law, they only needed to do so in the company of three witnesses for the marriage to be considered valid. They had scores. Lion-O had made a goofy speech which no one had listened to anyway, least of all the bride and groom, and Lynx-O had drawn them both into a long embrace, and then there had been a nice feast. In fact, if the Lunatacs hadn't shown up to try and spoil the fun, it would have been a perfect day. As it was, they had not anticipated the potential combined firepower of all the local peoples *and* the Thundercats in one place at one time, and they quickly retreated, chased by angry Berbils.
Kit smiled at the memory, at the happy day, and those that followed. As she stood, carefully straightening her still slim but often contrary body, she remembered the second announcement, a few months later, that their species of nine was going to be a species of ten.
As she opened the door to the library, she saw Lion-O sitting in a chair near the fireplace. She opened her mouth to say hello, when he saw her and raised his finger to his lips. She slipped quietly into the room, and then saw why he wanted her silence. Selina was asleep on his lap, clutching a handful of his bright red hair in a small fist. A children's book, one both of them had loved once, lay cracked open on the arm of the chair.
Kit grinned and whispered, "You know you shouldn't let her sleep like that. She'll never want to go to bed tonight."
"I know. I'll wake her in a few minutes. I just wanted to enjoy the quiet."
Kit nodded. Selina wasn't quite three, but still managed to fill both the Lair and the Tower with noise and bustle and activity during every waking moment. Kit was forced to muse that they had probably done their share of calamity-causing when they'd been small. Okay, and sometimes they still did.
"What's the smile for?" he asked, shifting the baby slightly.
"Just thinking about when we were little. You remember?"
He joined her smile. "Enough. Poor Snarf. But I think he enjoys it, deep down. Look how much time he spends fussing over her. He hasn't been this happy in years."
"No." She watched the baby breathe.
"What is it?"
"What's on your mind?"
Instead of answering, she reached down and touched Selina's fine brown hair. She had her father's blue markings on her face. When she grew up, Kit thought, she was going to be a heartbreaker. If there was anyone's heart to break.
"A lot of things. The future, mainly."
"Don't tell me you're developing a sixth sense, now," he teased.
"No." She paused, and then, keeping her eyes carefully on the sleeping child, she said, "We should get married."
She had read of people doing a double take, and she'd seen it in some of the old vids they had of Thunderian entertainment, but Lion-O's reaction was the first time she'd seen it in a live person. "What?"
His movement jerked Selina awake, and she looked up at Kit with dark, confused eyes. "Hiya, Wikit!"
"Hiya, 'Leena. Did you have a good nap?"
Lion-O picked her up off his lap and set her on her feet. "'Leena, why don't you go see Snarf? He's in the kitchen making lunch."
"Okay. Bye." She toddled off in the direction of food. The two of them remained silent, watching each other, until, at the edge of hearing, they heard Snarf talking to his charge.
"Sit down," he said. She sat in another chair by the fire, facing him, knees together, hands folded in her lap. "What do you mean we should get married?" The words sounded strange on his lips. They'd felt strange on hers, so it was just as well.
"I mean ... I don't know. I didn't actually plan all this out. I just know it's what we should do. It makes logical sense. You're the Lord of the Thundercats, and if any of us needs a child, you do. Of the four living females left in our species, one is a baby, one is married, and Cheetara can't have children. Right now, I'm an adult. Mostly. I'm young, I'm healthy, and I'm most likely to be able to have healthy babies for about the next ten years." She sighed. "I also have the feeling that this was why I was brought along on the ship. Just in case."
"You know that's not true."
"I know nothing of the sort. And neither do you. All we know is that we were little, and we did as we were told. And there's a lot they never told us." And still aren't telling us, she mused.
When there was such a close grouping of people, secrets were things that died young. To maintain the illusion of privacy, they sometimes pretended not to notice things about one another. It made communal living easier. As did long walks away from the others. Long long walks. Currently, the rest of them were politely trying not to notice that there had been an arrangement reached among Cheetara and Tygra and Panthro. The exact nature of this arrangement could only be speculated at, but while it suddenly became a guessing game as to who was sleeping where, it did mean that a certain level of daily tension was no longer present. And because Cheetara could not bear, there would be no matter of small confusions to sort out later.
Kit took Lion-O's hand. "There are so few of us. We have to live as we can. Or we're already dead."
He placed his other hand atop hers. "We'll live. As long as we can." He broke away for a moment. "There's a word you haven't said."
"I won't lie to you. I love you, as a friend and a leader, but I'm not in love with you. You're not in love with me, either. You're not in love with anybody. You're even over that crush you had on Cheetara."
"Was it that obvious?"
She shrugged. "Yeah. And now it's Wily Kat's turn to go through it. And he'll get over her, too. Eventually. Maybe he'll find someone among the Warrior Maidens. Or maybe not. He has the chance. You and I don't have that luxury. We have our duty."
"Not exactly romantic, is it?"
"No. I mean, sure I wish we were still on Thundera, and I'd met a wonderfully romantic man who courted me with flowers and meaningless words. The whole damn fairy tale. I bet you wish the same kind of thing. But here we are instead."
"Yes. Here we are." He fell silent, and for a long moment, she thought he was going to say something pithy, try to find another option, and she knew she wouldn't have the courage to bring this up again.
"So," he said. "When should we hold the wedding?"
The day wasn't quite as nice as the last one, but the same friends came to see them and wish them well. She pledged her love to him, feeling like a hypocrite, but it was tradition. She kissed him once, politely, and regretted that there was no spark in their first kiss. There were more hugs, and tears, and free-flowing libations that Lynx-O and Bengali had been brewing for some time at the Tower. She spent a good part of the following feast waltzing down memory lane with her brother, trying not to consider what came next.
After the feast, which was mercifully incident-free, they went back into the Lair. Kit hadn't yet moved her things into Lion-O's room, and so when they went in, it seemed a frightening, alien place. She tried to control the trembling that threatened to overtake her as she sat down on the edge of his bed. Bits of conversation from the previous week came back to her, detailed descriptions from Pumyra and Cheetara about what to expect, what to do, and when positively never ever to laugh.
She didn't feel like laughing. She felt like vomiting. Suddenly, logic could be damned. This had been a terrible idea. She had no idea what she had been getting herself into. It wasn't too late to cancel their vows, before ...
"So are you scared out of your mind, too?" he asked, sitting next to her.
Kit nodded, gratefully. Lion-O touched, then held her hand. "I'm glad I'm with you," he said, and there was honesty in his eyes.
With him this close, she was aware of the scent of him, felt it in images of smoke, and jungle, and warm rain, and enchanted apples, and the flight of birds. His other arm reached around, and brushed the back of her neck, and drew her, ever so gently, close to him.
Their mouths met, and the second kiss was as polite as the first, a kiss between friends who had played together as children once upon a time. Then his tilted his head, and parted his lips, and the third kiss, well, the third kiss was just right.
Sunset had passed, and twilight was settling over Third Earth by the time Kit reached her destination. Cat's Lair pointed its head back and forth high above her, searching out any troubles in their part of Third Earth. It had been maintained over the years, was still as operational as the last time Panthro had taken a spanner to it. She stared at her former home, wondering if she should go in now, and knew she had other things to attend to first.
Feeling her way in the near-dark, she moved away from the Lair to a piece of ground, shady even in the day. There were no headstones, only mounds and small cairns to mark who rested here, three small mounds, eight larger ones. But she remembered.
The attack was swift, and well-planned for their enemies.
The Lunatacs had taken Sky Tomb right to Cat's Lair for a full frontal assault, while the Mutants had staged their own raid on the Tower of Omens. Lion-O had summoned everyone to their posts with the Sword, and they did manage to resist the Lunatacs, driving them back and away with only some structural damage to the Lair.
The Tower had not been so lucky. The reports they got back, much later, were sketchy, but apparently, Vultureman had designed a new and interesting explosive, and had tested it right at the Tower's base. Kit still couldn't visit the site where it had stood without a swelling in her throat. She'd seen the devastation, afterwards, could understand why the Mutants would leave it, claiming complete victory. The twisted metal, the rubble, and the choking dust still haunted her, as she remembered digging through frantically, looking for her friends, fearing the worst.
Physically, Pumyra recovered the fastest. She had full mobility back in the space of a few weeks. She'd barely been conscious when she'd had to give step by step instructions to Panthro and Tygra on the proper way to amputate the remainder of Bengali's left arm. He almost died from the ensuing infection, and it took him nearly a year to be back in physical health. Mentally and spiritually, they never recovered.
Neither had Snarf, not after watching his nephew spend his last ten days of life a broken mess. And with nothing and no one there to distract him, he pulled within himself, speaking only when spoken to, and often not even then.
The Lair had been damaged, yes, but there was still plenty of firepower left, and Panthro spent his waking hours adding to it. Vengeance was not the Thundercat way. There were times, though, when the only difference between vengeance and justice was the side one stood on as the bombs landed. Castle Plundarr was rendered a smoking ruin. Sky Tomb was located as it tried to reach orbit and vaporized. There would be no more attacks. Not from them.
If Kit had to choose a moment when she knew their race was over, it would be then. The destruction of the Tower, the bitter losses of Lynx-O and Selina and soon after, Snarfer, the fact that despite trying for over two years, she still had not conceived a child, it all struck at once. No more Thunderians. Poof. Gone. End of species, all else is a footnote on the pages of history, so glad you could stay, and last one out puts up the chairs and turns off the lights.
That night, after their wounded had been cared for as best they could, they had gone to bed. Kit had come to dread bedtime. Sex had become a nightly chore; no matter how long the day had been, they tried almost every evening to make a baby. There had long since stopped being any joy in it, even when there was pleasure.
When Lion-O touched her shoulder tonight, she cringed.
"No," she said.
"All right. I'd rather sleep, too."
"No, I mean, no more." She rolled to face him, and she could not stop her tears. Wily Kat had been the one to find Selina, and she never would forgot the sound as he howled, holding what had once been their future. "No more trying. I'm done. We're done."
He drew her to him as she wept, and she felt his shoulders shaking in grief and rage.
Later still, when her tears had stopped, and she was almost asleep, she heard him whisper into her hair.
"I love you."
She woke with a start, and stayed awake all of that long, lonely night.
The next day, she moved back into her old room, and no more was said.
"I lose track of days," she said to the mounds as she set about the painful task of clearing them of debris. "I know how the years have gone by, but I don't generally know what day was whose birthday, or what might be an anniversary." Her hand strayed to Lion-O's grave. "So I'm choosing today. Tonight. Whatever."
"Happy birthday. Happy anniversary. Happy everything."
She pulled out a candle she had brought, stout and tall, and she lit it so she could see better.
"Since last I visited, let's see, Gilda was made Queen of the Warrior Maidens. Lynx-O, you never met her. She's Willa's granddaughter, and she isn't fond of remembering that Wily Kat and I handed over the Lair to them. She'd like to believe they built it themselves. Hah." After Lion-O had died, it had been just the two of them. The Lair was huge, and while they could have kept it going, there were too many ghosts, too much silence. If their species was going to die, they could at least make sure something remained, a monument to a lost world.
"There are nine new foals among the unicorns this season. I think they'll grow up just fine. The Unicorn Keepers are doing well, same as always.
"Mumm-Rana came north a few months back. I know she's everliving and all that, but she seems older since last I saw her. Maybe Mumm-Ra's death had a down side after all.
"It's been a good summer, not too hot, easy on the insects. I'll hate to see it end."
She stopped speaking, and rested among the graves, letting the firelight glimmer across them. She knew the order of their passing by heart. Lynx-O, Selina, Snarfer, Snarf, Pumyra, Bengali, Panthro, Cheetara, Tygra, Lion-O, Wily Kat. There was room for one more, the last one to be picked, the last one to show, last out the door to close up the shop, last of the Thundercats, last of the Thunderians.
When Wily Kat had rattled his last breath and died, she had thought she would die within a few hours, a few days at most. He was her twin, her oldest friend, and the sudden absence of him stole the air from her lungs. She sat by his bed, the shadows wrapping their cottage like a raven quilt, and thought about absolutely nothing at all for a long time.
She had not died by the following morning, and so she had roused herself from her vigil, had called for help taking him to this place. She had dug his grave herself. And five years had gone by.
"I miss you guys."
She let out a breath. "I'm old, and I'm tired. I was going to ask to stay at the Lair tonight, but now I don't think I will. It's getting late."
She tried standing, found her knees would work, and rose. She went to Lion-O's grave, and stood there, awash in memories and old dreams. How she awoke the morning after their wedding, to find small blue flowers sprinkled all over her pillow. How she would be on watch, or reading, or fixing a late night snack, and find little folded notes, which when opened, were just repetitions of the phrase "Meaningless words" over and over. He had made her laugh when she hurt inside. He was the second best friend she had ever had. Had they stayed on Thundera, she wondered, would perhaps two young people of the same age have seen something inside the other, maybe an additional magic?
"I loved you, too," she muttered, and turned from them, not wanting to cry in front of her friends even now. "I'll be back soon."
Painfully, she made her way from the cemetery to the river gorge between the forest and the Lair. Above her, the giant cat kept its own vigil over the world. The wind whistled below from the chasm, singing strange melodies, and she heard voices in the winds, the laughter of friends, the bubbling squeal of a baby, the cries of the birds at the first touch of daybreak.
The last of the Thundercats closed her eyes, and flew.