Thicker Than Water
Lion-O heard the knock as he was putting away the last of the laundry he'd just brought up from the washroom. "Come in," he called, apparently not the last person up in the Lair after all.
When the door didn't open, and the knock repeated, he turned toward it, wondering if he'd locked it by mistake. But as he walked around the bed, he heard it again, but this time from the window. Approaching curiously but cautiously, he had to match the dappled grin waving to him from outside.
"You could use the door," he suggested, as he helped Calica down from the sill, not letting go of her hands even once she was fully inside.
"I like to practice…" she explained, as she looked around and then pulled away toward his unfinished project. "I didn't mean to interrupt your laundry."
Cutting her off before she could reach the basket, he set it aside with a note of finality. "I told you I was serious about us all picking up our fair share of the chores. You and Snarf shouldn't get all the fun…"
Satisfied with his action and explanation, she nodded her thanks and admitted, "Good. Because I didn't climb all the way up here just to fold your shirts."
"Oh, and what does bring you up the side of the building at this hour? Are you checking to make sure I can handle my own washing," he laughed as he waved her to sit on the bed while he demonstrably put a pair of socks in the dresser.
Amused by his evident self-reliance, she perched on the edge, and got to her point with a more serious smile. "I know I've said it a lot already; and I know Tygra mocks me for continuing to say it. But I wanted to tell you, in person and just us: Thank you." She took his hand as he sat beside her. "You could have easily let me go, especially after seeing what I did, what I am."
He shifted in place, preparing to interrupt her; but she was expecting his protest, and so placed a finger gently across his lips. "And beyond the whole 'bringing-me-back' thing, and even as you've been on the mends yourself, you've made a point to check in with me, and include me in the larger 'Cats activities. You in particular have been so clear that what happened with Mumm-Ra, didn't affect how you saw me. From the first night, you especially have been there for me. And it means a lot to me."
To punctuate her gratitude, she leaned over a placed kiss on his cheek.
His eyes were closed when she sat back, and he didn't move or even breathe at first—as if he'd frozen in place, with a calm, contented look stuck on his face.
But before she could grow concerned at his lack of reaction to her gesture, a blush and wide smile spread across his face, and he explained. "You have no idea how happy I am to hear that." He opened his eyes gradually, and asked her very slowly and intentionally—not forced, but almost with concern any one word might elicit the response he wasn't seeking. "What do you remember from that afternoon, as you came to after Mumm-Ra …killed you?"
"Like I told you all before, I woke up with everyone gathered around me," she reminded. As he seemed to be expecting more, she thought back more intently to a day that remained largely great sweeps of emotion to her: happiness, fear, anger and comfort. "The Sword of Omens was lying on me. Everyone was smiling or crying, or both. And you were holding my hand." She smiled at the positive memory, and what new closeness with everyone had followed, despite her exposed pedigree.
He blushed again, and looked away. It seemed there was something he wanted urgently to say, but was again to hesitant to share. It was happening again.
"What, Lion-O? Is there something more? Something worse?" She was growing worried, at what additional revelation had been withheld, and how horrible it must be not to have been shared alongside her connection to that hideous creature.
"No, no," he corrected, not intending to worry her. "I was wondering whether you remembered something I told you, as you were waking up."
Her brow furrowed as she tried to recall any memories of him saying anything specific of significant before his tight embrace, and the shower of hands, hugs and good wishes from everyone.
"It's something I tried to tell you that night in the Cat's jaws, with the flowers. Something I should have said in the mountains, or sooner at the picnic, or any day since. It was easy to say when I thought I'd lost you; and so should be easier to say now that I have you back." He took both her hands in his, took a breath and just said it quickly, though sincerely, as he braced for her reaction. "I love you, Calica."
Her face lit up, with a glow he'd not seen since the day she died. "I don't think I heard you say it before; but it's more familiar, certain and comforting than anything else I've heard in my life. But," her expression dropped and she sighed; and her smile turned bittersweet, as she confessed, "it makes what I came to tell you tonight that much harder: In addition to saying thank you again, I came here… to ask for your permission… to leave Cat's Lair."
Lion-O felt as though she had punched him in the stomach; she felt that she had done so to him. She needed to explain; and he needed her to as well. "I have to go: Mumm-Ra thinks me dead, which seems to have brought you all some relief from him and the Mutants, at least for the last week or so. But as soon as he realizes I'm still here, he'll turn his sights on us, on me, with a terrible vengeance. I- I- …understand him enough to be certain of that.
"But even more important than that," she continued, stroking his arm to reassure him that she knew he would again do everything he could to protect her and all his people. "I need to go: I still haven't seen this world, or much life at all. And I know you'd show me," she cut off his next counterpoint. "But I don't even know myself, and that ignorance puts us all at risk."
She stood from the bed, and paced as she cataloged the issues she embodied. "I've heard the talk amongst the older 'Cats, Lion-O—around corners, through the vents… And I have to wonder the same myself. Even revived by the Eye, I am still at least as much 'Mumm-Ra's child' as I am relative to the pride. Does my heritage from so many of you mean I'm destined to be a ThunderCat? Have I, or will I, earn that honor–truly in my own right? Or, regardless, would it be wise given who my- my father is? Can you really trust me, or afford to?"
"We've had questions since you arrived, Calica," Lion-O reminded, as he stood and joined her in reassurance, "Now we just have some new ones. But I know everything I need to about you. We can face the unknown together." His fear of losing her again was also clear in his expression.
She smiled at him, relieved by his immediate confidence and personal connection. But, "I want to be here, with you, too. That doesn't mean it what's best for right now. Beyond everything else, you and I are also part of the unknown. You're not even twenty yet, and were asleep for quite a few of those years…"
"You're not that old yourself," he reminded, with a little irritation at being lectured on his youth.
"I'll be a month in a few days or so," she specified. "And that's part of my point… We're both so young, despite our appearance otherwise."
He crossed his arms in reaction to the familiar too-young-too-know-better sentiment.
She placed her hands on his unhappy barrier, and soothed, "If I'm to bring the best of me to the ThunderCats, to you, then I need to figure out who I am, really. Not in relation to Mumm-Ra, or the ThunderCats, or even you, as wonderful as you are. With some time and experiences on my own, I can answer some of those questions, and be more honest and sure with all of you." Seeing him pained by her adamancy, she placed one hand over his heart, confirming. "And I do want to be with you. But I need to know, really know, who I am, to trust what I bring to that relationship."
He clenched his jaw under a forlorn look, as she tried not to cry for the wise, if unpopular, decision she needed to make. "I know that's not what either of us might want; but it's the truth, Lion-O. Does that make any sense?"
She could tell he didn't want to agree. Silence was preferable to the mix of emotions she was causing; and perhaps gave her space to do more convincing, as much of herself as of him.
"Beyond what we feel," she continued, "I understand that there's pressure on everyone to continue their lines… I hear Snarf and Lynx-O talk about that quietly too. And, I imagine that expectation is strongest on you especially as Lord of ThunderCats. But for that very reason, you must be all the more certain in whom you choose. Please tell me you understand?"
He took and held her hands between them, digesting everything this night and the previous weeks had brought into his world, life, duties and heart. Unable to argue her points, he let his heart speak: quietly, meekly, but honestly. "I don't want you to go."
"Are you ordering me not to?"
"I'm asking you. Stay?" Pleading, he took her face gently but firmly in his hands and kissed her for measurable, memorable, magical moments.
Leading her from the window, he made one more effort to convince her that their place was beside one another, this night and beyond.
Though he heard the concerned, friendly baritone summons, he didn't move from his lookout from the Cat's mouth.
Panthro joined him at the edge, placing a plate of the evening's meal between them. "You need to eat."
"Thank you," Lion-O nodded, "But I'm not hungry."
"I promised Snarf I'd get you to eat. Please don't make me a liar." He modeled eating a slice of meat from the solo cook's efforts.
Another nudge of the plate got Lion-O to begin picking at it dutifully, if not hungrily.
With his immediate goal met, Panthro shifted gears. "Any sign of her?"
"No." So disappointed and deflated.
"I'm impressed that, with the drawbridge retracted, she managed to get over the cliffs behind the Lair. She's definitely full of surprises," the engineer chuckled.
"How could she leave?" complained the young Lord, concerned less with her means of departing, and more with her motivation. "She told me she feels the same about me. And never mind the dangers of Third Earth, she's new to everything…"
"I think she may be better able to handle herself than we might credit her." Panthro rubbed his cheek, and thought of a number of adversaries who could commiserate even more strongly. "Beyond being able to climb well and defend herself, Tygra schooled her in much of the geography and inhabitants of Third Earth; Snarf taught her all sorts of plantlore and cooking; and she's handy with rope and fabric."
His concern still outweighing any confidence in her capabilities, Lion-O moved from their past experience to their future. "But what about Cheetara's vision: My holding a cub with the same green eyes as Calica. She foresaw the bad; why would the positive part of her vision be any less likely?"
"Perhaps Cheetara only saw possibilities, not guarantees. Remember that she also saw Calica lifeless; but not that you would save her. And who's to say an heir won't still happen, someday? She wasn't leaving forever, even though it may seem that way right now." He wondered whether Lion-O could hold that patience along with his passion.
Continuing to scan the horizon as the sun set, Lion-O sighed and confessed, "It hurts, Panthro. Even with the good reasons she gave, and as briefly as she was here, I miss her. I can feel it," he said, as he pressed his hand again his own chest.
"That's actually a good sign, son." Panthro looked at his young leader with a compassion born of experience. "I feel it myself some days," he confided in return.
This broke Lion-O from his sentry; and he turned to face and follow-up this unprecedented revelation from the hardest of his heroes. "You, Panthro?"
The ninja chuckled at the expected reaction, hoping it gave him some credibility on this new, but important subject with their depressed regent. "In the last months on Thundera, when we didn't know what was coming, I was in love with a wonderful woman, named Onca.(1) She lived in Abyssin; so we didn't get see each other often. I hated being apart from her; and can still see the curl of her smile, her golden coat, her headstrong ways…" He grew wistful as he thought back to those times, before.
"Toward the end, I asked her to come to the capital, so we could be together, even leave together. She suggested I join her across the continent. We were a lot alike, she and I; and for lots of good reasons at the time, we both chose our responsibilities over our relationship."
He grew more somber, recalling, "Ultimately, all I could do was make sure she had a spot on one of the transports. But in the confusion of the escape, and with my focus on the flagship, I don't know whether they got away, or to where. And, like you've done for the past week, every day, I look up, and wonder, and feel a little pull at the separation, a little pain at the not knowing..." Panthro looked up into the spreading dark of the night sky. "It's never gone away, even if it's gotten a little easier to bear. Especially with our recent arrivals, I haven't given up hope of finding her again, of filling in that empty space inside." He spoke almost prayerfully, as though speaking an oath.
Pulling himself back to the reality of the here and now, and his responsibilities to his friend and leader, Panthro assured him, "We're all worried for Calica; and we've already put word out quietly among our allies to keep any eye out for our walkabout Thunderian. We'll all be watching for her, to help if she needs it, and to welcome her when we're reunited." His tone and expression suggested he was thinking of a people, and a specific person, beyond just Calica.
"I will wait for her, Panthro," Lion-O promised to his friend and the stars spreading out before them. "Like the Ice King on Hook Mountain, I will wait a thousand years if I must."(2)
"I know you will, Lion-O," Panthro said with a pat to his shoulder. "You're a man in love, and a ThunderCat; that's a powerful commitment. She knows that too; in fact, I'd bet she's counting on it."
Also peering out into the night, but by way of rippling cauldron, another Third Earth figure considered the whereabouts of the newest Thunderian, and also made a commitment about her.
"I too will be looking for my wayward creation," it chuckled. "But I will not wait on her to return to me..."
1. "Onca" is part of the binomial species name for the jaguar subset of panthers.
2. Ancient ruler who sought out his love even after being frozen in ice for a millennium, from Secret of the Ice King (1.52).
A/N: Thanks for the patience with the longer-than-intended unfolding, especially to those followed, fave'd and certainly reviewed the chapters along the way. It's never too late to offer some constructive comments… [hint, hint] Be more than a statistic!
While wanting to remain true to canon with OCs and events, I do have a couple of grazing plotbunnies that could fold into a sequel. If there's interest…