So...anybody else falling madly in love with the 2011 'ThunderCats' remake? I am. And what better way to show that love than with fan fiction? Although buying the DVDs when they come out would probably help.

Anyway, this is going to be a collection of one-shots, updated when something inspires me in the series. Mostly friendship and support stories - hence the title - because I can totally see the bond these guys sharing developing into something truly grand. The old series was great, and this one is showing lots of promise. I can't promise it'll all coincide perfectly with canon, as the series is so new, but I'm just trying to add to the fics and have fun with it.

No, YGO fans, this won't alter my plans to work on the other stories. To the ThunderCats fans, welcome, and enjoy my newest work. Review on the way out if at all possible.

I own no part of this exciting new series, and the title is derived from a song of the same name. Neither are mine, and are owned by their creators/producers/other nameless affiliates, I'm sure.

"Pre-series. Lion-O is in trouble for the umpteenth time. Jaga provides the listening ear, and does some subtle chewing out. Only it's not directed at Lion-O. And he thinks about that."

Playing Favorites

Everybody who tried to engage him in conversation – "everybody" being guards or visiting nobles – found that Lion-O didn't speak much. At three years old he should at least have been able to babble, but he rarely opened his mouth. His father didn't fret about it – "He talks when he's interested in something. If he's not talking, he's not interested, most likely in the speaker." Still, everybody around never heard him say much, and this made many wonder about his mental capabilities.

Jaga had had a stint in the forces outside Thundera for the past year, so to come back and see the plump cub turned into a walking, not-quite-so-plump cub was an interesting thing. The most striking thing about him was that he seemed to watch everything with open eyes. His eyes were a shade of blue that put even his father's to shame and made women croon and fawn over him, and his red mane and warm fur colors were cute, if the old codger could ever admit anything was.

He didn't know he'd become deeply attached to the child he then wrote off as melancholy. In fact, if he hadn't been in the courtyards early in the morning to clear his sinuses, he might not have.

Some things set off his allergies. It was just his luck that dust – specifically, the kind that built up on his shelves when he gone for long periods of time and came cascading down in a smoky cloud when he carelessly pulled off a book – happened to be chief among them. His nose was still wrinkling and his eyes streaming when he found Lion-O in the yard, carrying a bucket.

He wasn't walking along the goldenrod stone path that led into the Lair, as the Thundercats called the palace. Instead he was walking in the short, green grass, toward nothing in particular but the wall that led around the Lair. And not even the gateway through it – just a random, unnoticeable spot in the wall. Jaga didn't say anything, watching as Lion-O stopped and emptied his bucket against the wall. He then crouched beside it, watching something hidden in the grass.

Curiosity won out in Jaga for several reasons. The prince was outside before the dawn had broken. There weren't any guards watching him. He had carried a bucket of water presumably out of the palace – probably having gotten from one of many jars reserved for drinking, brought from the river and purified – all the way through the courtyard. After walking all that distance, he'd dumped it against the wall.

That was a lot of work for something like making mud pies like other little boys liked to do.

"What is that you're doing, Prince Lion-O?" The boy jumped, shuffling to hide whatever it was.


He stood tall over the cub, noting his muddy feet and nightclothes. A faint, cheeping croak from the ground behind the boy made Jaga lean to his right, catching a glimpse of what Lion-O was trying to hide.

It was a frog. A plain, damp, brown and green frog. The water that had been poured onto the ground had drenched it and formed a tiny pool around it, but the liquid was seeping into the earth. "My prince, why are you pouring water on that frog?"

Lion-O shuffled his feet and let his paws dangle by his sides. "I found it out here last night. It can't remember how it got into the walls, so it's stuck. And the nanny said that I can't touch him because I'll get dirty and lose him. And Tygra says he'll dry up like a raisin if he doesn't have water." Bemused, Jaga looked at the pitiful frog, squatting in the mud. It hopped about in the wetness and Lion-O glanced at it before turning a pleading gaze on the old cat. "Can you help me bring more water? He needs a little pond."

It was more common for little boys to want to squash frogs, or throw rocks at them to make them bounce. But this cub had gotten up, sneaked out of his bedroom to search in the dark, early morning to check on a frog, and sneaked through the Lair with a bucket to bring it water.

The little face was plaintive, pleading. "It's a frog. Why is it so important to you?"

Lion-O blinked. "I don't want it to die like a raisin. That sounds icky. And I can help it, so why should it have to die?"

The simple honesty of the statement took him aback a little, as did the guileless wisdom. "That's true." He listened to it croak several more times. "Perhaps we should take it down to the river. That would be easier than making a pond, don't you think?"

Lion-O nodded, looking surprised. "Yeah. Only I can't touch him; I'm not allowed."

"Well, I am one of the oldest cats in all of Thundera. I'm older than your father's grandfather." He snorted at the prince's rounding, amazed eyes. "I am most definitely allowed to pick up the frog and take him to the river."

As if to prove it, he crouched and scooped up the frog with a little of the damp mud, instantly regretting it; it was cold and chalky and slippery. But he kept his hold on the creature. "Am I allowed to come with you?" Lion-O's voice was eager, interested. Jaga cocked an eyebrow, in the way only Jaga could. It appeared Claudus had been right about his blood heir talking when he was interested.

"If your father says yes. I imagine the guards have noticed that you've gone." Lion-O flushed, nervous realization making him turn on his heels and start running for the palace. Jaga kept a careful eye on him as he went, ignoring the fact that he was clutching a slimy frog in his paws.

That was the day Jaga knew Lion-O was different, and was going to be different.

How things didn't change. Jaga really felt his age sometimes.

Usually he was busy training the clerics, teaching them slight spells. Or he was advising the king and reading through the reports of the soldiers that had returned describing areas outside Thundera's borders. This usually kept him distracted from the fact that he was, honestly, older than dirt.

Other days, he was watching Claudus's younger son bury himself up to the neck in trouble.

Tygra was a reasonably good youth, but right now he was looking a little smug. Jaga's eyes lingered on his face until his gaze was met. Lowering his eyes in an appropriately abashed way, Tygra also covered his mouth to hide a grin. Jaga leaned on his scepter and resisted the urge to rub his aging wrists. They didn't hurt too badly, but sometimes it was good to play up the old cat card. People were apt to believe you when you said your joints hurt and you really needed to leave for something more important.

Claudus sat in his throne like a statue, carved to have perfect posture and be intimidating in the extreme. Irritation radiated out from his eyes, boring into the center of the room like a beam.

And Lion-O shifted his weight, trying to smile winningly while he bled from a cut on his lip and orange ooze slid down his head. Other than the occasional sound of the orange fluid slapping wetly against the floor, the room was silent. The goop smelled sweet and sticky, and clumps of Lion-O's fur were in knots.

Jaga sighed. His mustache ruffled. Yes, this was one of those "old-as-dirt" days.

"Lion-O. What is that?" Claudus's voice was even, but it was deep, and a growl trailed along it. Lion-O's grin slipped just a little.

"What's what?"

Steam ought to have rolled out from the king's nostrils so harsh was his sigh. "The slime on your head. The slime that is currently all over your torso. What is it?"

"Oh. Uh…fruit."

Tygra managed to turn his snort into a cough. Lion-O shot him the barest of glances, fuming, but his father's growl made his attention snap back to the throne. "Why is there fruit all over you?"

Jaga's careful eyes also noted other things; a little blood congealing under his left eye, spots where his paler fur looked a bit red. As Lion-O readjusted his balance, he squinted – was the boy favoring his right ankle?

"Well…I was down in the city, and I, er…I fell into a produce stall." He tried the charming smile again and Jaga wished he hadn't, even though it would have automatically worked on him, had he been Claudus. The stretching motion made his lip bleed worse, staining his chin as the droplets rolled down. Claudus's brows didn't soften, face granite.

"Is that all?"

Leaning on his arm, chin on his fist, Tygra was scrutinizing Lion-O too, now. A crease formed across his brow; he too was noting little scrapes and bruises. Lion-O seemed to notice their glances and hesitated, shifting so his right foot was out of their immediate line of sight. His father was watching, and blue eyes met blue for twenty seconds. "Yeah. That's all."

Claudus was quiet, lifting one paw to his brow. His elbow came to rest against the jasper armrest, eyes hidden in his palm. It was impossible to see what his expression was like. "Really. You fell into a produce stall, and that is why you missed today's practice session with the Sword, and the explanation about the rite of passage to take place in a week? Why you are bleeding and bruised? That and no other reason?"

The prince's eyes had widened to enormous proportions at the mention of the "practice session," and it was interesting to see just how far back his ears could go in embarrassed shame as his father continued speaking. Jaga thought he might have heard, "Whiskers!" being hissed. "Because you have been gone for eight hours. Eight hours, Lion-O! And you expect me to believe that it is because you tripped in the market just outside the palace and fell into a produce stand. Is that what I'm supposed to buy right now?"

Jaga shut his eyes. Lion-O had never been able to lie to save his life. At least, not to him, and usually not to his father. Don't look, don't look…you'll want to bail him out you old bat…

"It seems I will have to be disappointed today for one of two reasons. Either my younger son bruises heavily just by tripping into a market stall, or he is telling an utter lie to me. Which is it?" Without waiting for an answer, Jaga heard him say under his breath, "Tygra never gives me such grief." The words hit his own heart like a needle.

Lifting his eyelid just a bit, he saw Lion-O's crestfallen face. He'd clearly heard as well. From his place across the room Jaga could see the mixed look on Tygra's face; a sort of gladness that his father had inadvertently praised him, but a little pity for his brother. Joints creaking, Jaga got up. "Perhaps we should simply gather later in the week to discuss this. Right now I think Lion-O would appreciate cleaning up and possibly being bandaged."

Claudus turned his head to look at the jaguar. "I think that would be best. Lion-O, I will discuss this with you later. For now…go clean up. I expect to see you at dinner tonight." Half-exasperated and half-dismissive, he waved his paw and gestured for Lion-O to go. His son opened his mouth, as if to protest, but thought better of it; he turned and – glancing back just once – headed out of the chamber. He was favoring his right ankle, but doing his utmost to hide it. The three watched him leave, and Jaga picked up his scepter and started after the boy.

"I know. Send for physicians if he's hurt badly. Same as always."

When he reached Lion-O's quarters, Jaga heard his voice and the sound of water. Stopping on the cool stone, he stood just outside the doorway and listened, tucking the bandages he'd brought under a fold in his cloak.

"What was I supposed to do, Snarf? I couldn't tell him…he already thinks I'm an immature failure as it is."

Jaga extended his neck and observed the heir. Two of the servants had brought a basin of warm, soapy water, and Lion-O was bent over it, scrubbing up to his shoulders. Snarf – his ever present pet – was curled at the foot of his bed, lying in the comforters. It yowled gently, and Lion-O lifted his head. The small wounds marking his face were more evident under his wet fur, and he crouched with his right leg extended to the side to relieve pressure. "Whose side are you on? I know I forgot, but I was busy. The merchants had new tech, and I think a few of the pieces might actually fit together to build something-ow. Ow. Ow." Leaning down, he buried his arm in one of the cloths brought to dry himself off. Jaga was disturbed to see blood stain the blue fabric.

"And of course Tygra's always doing everything perfectly. He was present and he didn't even have to be! It's no wonder he's the favorite-"

Snarf had caught Jaga's scent. Swiveling his head, the tiny beast hissed, whiskers and fur standing on end. His tail lashed as he darted to the floor, standing beside his master. Lion-O spotted the old cat and nearly yowled himself. "Jaga! What are you doing!"

"Eavesdropping. Spying. Care for another synonym?"

"I'm taking a bath! Can't you knock!" Jaga rolled his eyes.

"You're talking to the jaguar who was there when you were born. I taught you, fed you, and bathed you when your father was out of the kingdom. Nothing I haven't seen." Quirking a whiskery old eyebrow as only he could, the old cat paced to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. Lion-O's face flushed, and he shifted so that he was sitting behind the basin. "You took quite a beating today. The slums and outskirts a little rougher than usual?"

Lion-O let one hand dangle in the water, shaking his head to dry it. "You have no idea. I thought I was-wait, that came out wrong!" Suddenly nervous, he looked up at Jaga. But his old guardian wasn't looking at his face; he was studying the angle of his right leg. It was twisted, and bruises were dark under the wet fur.

"Oh yes, I forgot; you tripped into a stall." Really, he'll be a poor politician if he can't at least lie properly. Then again, a poor politician makes for an honest cat. The sarcasm in his voice was heavy, and he instantly regretted it when Lion-O began washing his face with an almost angry fervor.

Gathering his thoughts, Jaga studied the room and listened as its inhabitant scrubbed. It was comfortable, the bed simple with green blankets and clean cushions. The window was bright with sun, saturated blue sky beaming and lighting the marble. But most interesting was the corner. A desk, littered with pages and papers, all with strange sketches and little formulas. Pinned above it were cleaner pages, ones with definite blueprints.

Tech. Ideas, thoughts. Snarf growled up at him, planting his tiny feet as if to guard his unhappy owner. Jaga watched Lion-O for another minute.

"You know, I may just be an old fuddy duddy that doesn't know what goes on around here," he began when Lion-O pulled his head out of the water, "But I have an odd idea in my head about where a certain someone was today, and why he missed a rather important appointment."

"I've never thought you were an 'old fuddy duddy.' And knowing you, you probably do."

Lion-O wrapped one of the cloths around his waist and started using the other to dry his hair with careful, slow motions. Bruised, maybe? He was usually wanton about it. "Yes. You see, I've noticed some things about this person's story that simply don't add up. The fact that he was gone for hours, along with the grime on the edge of his dirtiest cloak. Strangely enough, it looks and smells like the kind found only in the slums and outskirts," he explained, nodding toward the desk where the cloak in question was draped forlornly over the chair. "And oddly, I happen to know that the kind of fruit he was covered in isn't being sold in the main market today, where he claimed to be."

Unimpressed, Lion-O sat down by his feet. "Interesting. Not hard to figure out."

"Well then, perhaps I'll come up with a really plausible story. This young prince left earlier today with the story of going to the market, but without mentioning which market that was. He made his way to the borders to look for fabled technology as he is wont to do, got into a fight on his way back because somebody was being mugged, and ended up getting quite hurt. During this fight he was thrown back into a cheap stall and covered in filth, and the assailant took the opportunity to cut and run. And it took this brash, if noble, prince hours to limp back because he'd been grabbed around the ankle and dragged during the scrap. And he didn't reveal this part of the story because he knows he gets into entirely too many fights, and would be reprimanded for looking for mythological technology today of all days."

Lion-O had long ago set his forehead against the edge of his mattress. Jaga put one hand lightly on top of his head, searching the vibrant red hair for signs of a concussion. "That was just a little too precise."

"Not really. I got part of the story from witnesses who saw the fight earlier today, one of whom being the widow the mugger was after. She's very grateful."

Clear blue eyes – eyes that hadn't changed since childhood, never hardened with suspicion or doubt – looked up at him. "Good. I'm glad she's okay."

Jaga set aside his scepter and took Lion-O's left paw and examined his arm. "These need tending. And you'll need a splint on that ankle." He pulled out the white bunch of bandages and began winding them around each wound.

For about ten minutes they didn't speak, Lion-O watching as the elder inspected each scratch. It was peaceful, calm, and Jaga tapped under chin so he could look over the marks on his face. "It was quite a scrap."

"Yeah. The guy was double my weight." Snarf sat beside Jaga's feet, rubbing his chin along Lion-O's side. Absently, he used his right arm to pluck the chubby creature off the ground and into his lap. "Snarf was with me."

"I'm sure he provided protection." The creature narrowed his green eyes in suspicion, but Jaga smiled from beneath his whiskers; Snarf was a coward, but he adored Lion-O. "Do you need a physician?"

"No. Just a splint and some sleep. Is my father really mad?" His tone was expectant, and Jaga weighed his words before replying.

"A little tired I think. He was worried about you. So was your brother." Lion-O lowered his head as Jaga fingered a bump along his hairline. "Is your vision okay?"

"Yeah. I don't think I got a concussion."

"I'd like you to stay awake for about four hours," Jaga advised. "If a certain someone found a piece of tech, he ought to examine it a while to keep himself busy after he gets patched up. At least until dinner."

There was another silence, during which Jaga bandaged each cut with practiced care. It had been a long time since he'd bandaged skinned knees, but this reminded him of it. Even though there was twice the blood.

"Hey Jaga?"

"Hm?" Lion-O was petting Snarf, who rolled over expecting a tummy massage. Spoiled rotten creature.

"Thanks for not chewing me out. I mean, I know when I do something stupid. I don't need anyone to tell me again and again." His claws raked delicately against Snarf's soft underbelly, and the red beast mewled happily in response.

"I can't promise your father won't reprimand you once he knows you're not seriously injured." But the boy would get no scolding from him.

He never did. Never with his heart in it, anyway.

"In days past, when beasts were wilder and magic was rampant, there lived a sorcerer by the name of Mumm-Ra. He was one of the foulest and most wicked beings, a monster steeped in legend. Some say he was a priest for a pagan people, become filled with evil spirits. Some say he was evil incarnate, born from darkness just after time began."

Even using the "spooky voice" as it had been affectionately christened only made the elder prince yawn. But he was courteous about it; he put a paw to his open mouth. But he didn't really notice; a pair of huge blue eyes were fixed on his face, listening intently. The younger prince hung off of every word.

"We don't know, right? Because the book is lost. Like the technology." The tawny cub lifted his arms insistently and Jaga reached down, picking him up and hefting him into his lap. The cushion he was sitting on sank a little with the added weight. Jaga's room smelled of herbs and teas, of scrolls and paper. He couldn't quite decide whether he liked it or not, but while Tygra occasionally gagged, Lion-O simply said it was, "Old-Jaga smell. I like it. It means Jaga's nearby. You smell like soap and old jaguar."

Two red cushions sat on the floor, one having been abandoned by its occupant. Tygra lay sprawled on the other, attempting to amuse himself poking it and watching it spring back into shape. Across the room, on either side of the doorway, sentries waited to escort the boys where they wished to go.

Usually the king wouldn't have been so paranoid. But Lion-O had developed the unhealthy tendency to wander where he pleased, and the Lizards had been restless lately. They had attacked with catapults, destroying sections of the city very close to the walls. But one could never be too careful when it came to taking care of rambunctious boys, especially if they were royalty. So even if they were completely safe, guards followed them everywhere.

"That's right. But the oldest stories about Mumm-Ra make it clear that he was evil. Evil beyond evil. Many heroes rose up against him and were utterly destroyed. It was only the Thundercats who managed to defeat him. But you've heard that story before. Perhaps a new one?"

Tygra lay quietly on the ground, rolling his eyes and giving up on poking the pillow as if resigning himself to a punishment. Jaga cast him a gentle glance. "You know, the storms have finally cleared up. If you both wanted to go outside and play, that might be fun." He was off the floor in an instant.

"Thanks Jaga. Lion-O, you coming?" The bundle in his lap shook his head back and forth in swift refusal.

"No way! I wanna hear the story! And you always beat me at games anyway…" he muttered. Tygra grinned and turned, darting away. One of the guards standing at the doorway followed him, pacing after the small footsteps. Jaga lowered his gaze to Lion-O, who tugged impatiently on his ear. "Come on, Jaga! Please tell me a new story! One with lots of tech in it!"

"All right, settle down. I'll tell you about the unicorn keepers and the time Mumm-Ra tried to slay their colts for an evil brew. The keepers were very brave, and actually managed to keep the unicorns safe from his magic. How does that sound?"

Lion-O's face was honey-colored, attentive. He wound his arms around Jaga's neck and leaned his head on the old shoulder. He didn't say a word but cuddled in, waiting. Thoughtfully, Jaga started rocking the five-year-old, recalling the words. It had been a long time since he'd heard them, but he'd committed them all to memory.

He also committed to memory the innocent face gazing expectantly at him, adoringly waiting to hear about swords and adventures and things unseen.

"Tygra, did you ever go through a phase like this? Cavorting about wherever you pleased, disregarding your duties, getting into fights Thundera-knows-where, and then lying about it! Because I can't remember you ever being so wild!" Claudus was a huge figure, a true lion; he paced with grace and fury, swaying with muscle and the musky scent of thick fur. The throne room was empty but for him and Tygra, and two clerics who stood guard. Or rather, so he thought.

Jaga watched interestedly as the king paced. Tygra watched as well, eyes following obediently. "Father…I'm not trying to get Lion-O off the hook or anything, but he looked pretty banged-up when he came in. I think he's gotten his discipline for running off. Besides, I'm the elder; I'm not supposed to act that way. I'm supposed to be the bossy, responsible know-it-all. It's the younger sibling that gets to play all day."

True. Jaga knew Tygra's love and jealousy for his brother ran deep, and he could hints of both in the words. Claudus continued his pacing, the gold in his fur bright under sunlight that came in the windows and the torches placed in a rim above the main chamber. "The fact that he's gotten hurt is what has me so angry. He looks like he's been brawling in an alley! He's reckless, and never thinks anything through! He'll get himself killed if he continues how he's going!"

"Don't you think that's a little hyperbolic? I mean, he's always wandering and this is the first time he's come back injured." Tygra flinched when Claudus whirled and fixed him with a predatory glare.

The king loved his sons, fiercely. He would easily lay himself on a blade for either of them. But he did not show his love by cuddly, kind measures. He showed it with honor, praise. And he showed his displeasure with rebuke, and the occasional spanking.

The boys were a bit old for the second method, but rebuke hurt just as much, if not more. Tygra shrank under Claudus's hot, blazing eyes, but the king shut them and sighed. "It probably is. But I'm your father; it is my job to worry about you both, incessantly. And I just don't know why Lion-O doesn't understand that he can't act like this. He's not a child; he's the heir to the throne. He should be behaving like you – with pride and dignity and skill. Learning how to be a king. Instead he's running amok in the streets, getting himself hurt. I swear, that child is going to see me into an early grave."

Jaga coughed, loudly. Each gaze in the room flitted to him, and he paced forward and folded his arms behind his back. "Prince Tygra, I wish to speak with the king in private. Would you mind accompanying my clerics to the dining hall? We'll be along shortly."

Tygra nodded, getting up from his seat and athletically hopped over the stairs leading up to the throne, bounding toward the exit with a silky grace. Lion-O didn't have that self-assurance. Or cockiness. Whatever one wanted to call it. He was a skilled scrapper, but when it came to the smooth natural ability required for aerobics, he was lacking.

The king waited for Jaga to reach his own seat at the left hand of his throne. Sitting down carefully, the old cat rested his chin on his scepter, tapping a forefinger against his beard. "Lion-O's all right. He needed a splint on his right leg, but it's just a precaution. He'll be up and in trouble again in a few days. Until then he should rest."

Raking his claws through his thick mane, Claudus growled. "That's just the problem. He won't learn from this. I know he believes in all the stories, but this is ridiculous."

"I believe them as well. So do you, last time I checked." He caught the king's scent as he trailed by. The odor of stress and worry were thick.

"I believe in the tales about Mumm-Ra. Technology, I'm not so sure about. And it's not the fact that he believes all that that bothers me. It's how obsessed he is, and what lengths he's willing to go to for this unhealthy hobby. I don't know where he went, but I know why he went."

Jaga resisted casting his gaze heavenward; it did not do to show exasperation to a king. "He wasn't injured because he was looking for tech. He was injured for attacking a criminal who assaulted a widow to steal her change purse. And it's not his hobby as much as it is his dream and passion."

"Stopping a crime!" Claudus stared at him in a way that made him know exactly where Lion-O got his "bamboozled" look, as he called it. "Why on Third Earth didn't he tell me that!"

"Because it would have involved telling you that he was somewhere unsafe, looking for mythological items. And he's done that enough to know that everyone gets irritable with him when he does that," Jaga said gently. The king settled into his throne, kneading his temples.

"Did he tell you that?"

"No. I surmised it from the situation." Curiously, Claudus laughed harshly. It was almost a bark. Jaga tilted his head, confused for the first time in several weeks. "Something amusing?"

"It's more depressingly ironic more than it is funny. It's just that I don't know my own blood-heir as well as you do, while I know nearly everything about his brother. Both are equally my sons, even if both are not of my loins."

Jaga pondered on that in silence. It was true, and Jaga had never been a liar. A poor advisor to the king he would be if he couldn't tell the truth in even the most difficult situations. "Perhaps if you were a little more lenient toward him. Perhaps if you asked him about what he thought, and affirmed him more heartily when he succeeded." He paused, wondering if he was going too far with the next part. "Everyone knows Tygra is your favorite. Lion-O knows it better than any."

Claudus stopped rubbing his head and Jaga knew that he had indeed said something dangerous. Coals burned in those eyes. "You dare to say such-?"

"Oh please, my king. I'm not saying you don't love both of those boys more than your own life. But when it comes to which one is most pleasing to you, which one causes you more pride, everyone knows that it's Tygra. He's your favorite in that way; both know they have your love, but they also know who is the more 'perfect' son," Jaga explained. The lion lowered his gaze and returned to kneading his temples.

"Tygra is certainly more obedient, and he conducts himself appropriately…although he's a shameless flirt with the girls. Even one of your clerics has caught his eye." Jaga knew the one – Cheetara, a beautiful young cat of great skill and integrity. "And I won't pretend that when they were children I wasn't quicker to pardon him when he did something displeasing. Orphaned at such a young age, I felt sorrow for him. I'm reaping what I've sown, I suppose. But Lion-O is to be king, Jaga. Lord of the Thundercats. Are you going to tell me that I shouldn't be worried about what's going to happen to him and the kingdom the first time a difficult decision hits?"

"No. But you forget that Tygra is nearly grown and Lion-O is a few years younger. And he is simply lighter of heart. You will not change that by punishing him, and I would think a great deal less of you if you should try. I think he would less stir-crazy if everyone stopped comparing the two…including you. If he didn't constantly feel like he had to compare himself to his older brother to be successful."

Kings did not look ashamed. But Claudus would not meet his gaze as he asked, "You heard my regrettable comment?"

"Yes. As did Lion-O, and Tygra." He exhaled through his nose, air hot and frustrated. "Allow me to be perfectly frank?"

"Sure. Why not?"

Jaga cleared his throat. "In the humble opinion of this old cat, you should not chastise Lion-O after dinner. You should tell him you know that he did what he did for noble reasons, and that you aren't angry with him. Tell him you are proud of him for standing up for the weak and defenseless, as our Code lauds. Be as fair with those two as you can; it won't end well if you aren't. Sibling rivalry will turn them into enemies."

The king gazed down at his paws, scanning the lines in them, and the calluses. "It's not that simple. Lion-O will be king one day. Good intentions without shrewdness will lead him into suffering. I want to think that he'll behave differently when he's on the throne, but I can't be sure. And I can't pretend to condone his actions when they're so wild."

"That's true. But being put down at every turn and not being able to make mistakes without being hotly rebuked for each and every one of them will lead him to think nothing he ever does will be good enough…he will be a poor king indeed if he doesn't have the confidence to make any decision at all, right or wrong. His rule will be different from yours. But he has his brother who will no doubt advise him well," Jaga added. He shifted to his feet for the millionth time that day – old, schmold, he had to keep moving and kicking to look after these people – and began to move toward the door. "They will be fine. But Lion-O's tired and I don't think his battered pride can take anymore today."

It became evident to everyone that Lion-O was going to be an interesting child when he turned twelve and was caught trying to build a flying ship in his room.

Sure, smaller children had pretended they could fly. Imagination was healthy. But twelve was a little too old for such things. Especially when he insisted over and over again that he wasn't playing.

"If I had tech, I might be able to build a propulsion system. But I figured making wings and attaching them to the light craft might give me gliding ability, if I got it up high enough." Once Claudus had discovered his son really intended on building such a machine and putting it on some high, precarious place and trying to glide with it, he went off. He'd given his son a serious talk, a carefully controlled swat on the behind, and Jaga met the boy heading to his chambers, eyes red and more upset than hurt. He'd sat him down and given him a talk of his own.

"Lion-O, I'll tell you the truth; some people don't believe in the stories about Mumm-Ra and technology. I know you believe in them. I believe in most of them too. But you have to understand that technology is not something simple; from what we've heard about it, it's incredibly complicated. And you can't just make some up and expect it to be just like in the stories. Particularly if you're making a flying ship out of wooden crates and wings out of paper kites. Your father loves you, and that was why he punished you."

"'Most?' Not 'all?'"


"The stories. You said you believed 'most' of them."

"Well, I will admit that I made up a few of them. But not the ones about technology or Mumm-Ra. I truly believe that those are real. And I even believe Berbils are real, if you want to know. But some things you simply have to take by faith, even when everyone else decides against it, especially if you find evidence for it."

Somber, disappointed, Lion-O had been quite miserable until Jaga had finally done something he probably shouldn't have; he showed the prince an odd, metallic item he'd once found outside the walls of Thundera. It was a green disc and completely unlike anything Lion-O had seen – well, except for a throwing disc made of thin wood – and he was soon too utterly fascinated by it to bother about being unhappy.

That had started the mad collecting, although Lion-O hadn't started going down into the dangerous parts of town until he was fourteen and found a veritable goldmine of odd items he was convinced were legitimate technology.

"If he starts heading out to the slums again, tail him. I'd rather you didn't have to go there without another cleric for backup, but Lion-O can hold his own. Together you two should be able to take down any thugs that give him trouble."

Cheetara watched old Jaga meander about the room, thinking it a little funny that the old cat could look so tired and ancient and yet run nearly as fast as she when the occasion rose. "I heard he got into trouble down there."

"Some. Hence why I want you to follow that child." She laughed softly, leaning on her staff and shifting her weight as he twitched around to look at her. His scepter clinked on the stone of the training quarters. The other clerics had long ago headed to bed, leaving her alone as she battered the dummies and practiced with her staff in the huge, quiet room. The cool, still air had been pleasant enough, allowing her to hear Jaga coming before he was within thirty stairs of the entrance.

"He's hardly a child. He's only a couple of years my junior. But whenever you talk of him, you act as if he's a precocious kit. If I didn't know any better, I'd call you a doting grandfather, talking about his favorite grandchild."

Funnily enough, Jaga stopped and nodded. "Yes. Yes, it does look that way." Something about his shoulders seemed uncomfortable with that, and Cheetara cursed her tongue; again, she could know something she shouldn't. Something personal, and kept close to one's heart. It was none of her business that if the king cherished his elder son in matters of pride just a bit more than the younger, Jaga adored the younger in matters of faith and heart, because he thought he might have "sight beyond sight," whatever that might mean-

She snapped her attention back. This had to stop – none of these things were things a cleric needed to know. "Sorry. I didn't mean to say that."

"No, you just knew it. Like always. Call it a sixth sense, call it woman's intuition; you have a gift, Cheetara. Use it to look after him."

"Gift." An interesting word for her peculiar "premonitions." "As you wish, Jaga. Did you want to talk to me about anything else?"

He shook his head, examining one of the straw-filled dummies apprehensively. "You certainly knocked the stuffing out of this one."

"I'll do the same to anyone who lays a paw on the prince, if you'd like." To her surprise, mild old Jaga seemed to appreciate the thought. "We can't have Jaga's favorite charge getting hurt," she joked, before instantly regretting it.

At the word "favorite," her stomach dropped as his eyelids lowered. For some reason that word bothered him. Thoughts of hypocrisy rushed through him, and though she fought hard not to pick up on those strange, subtle motions, she got impressions of what might have been memories wrapped in time and rhymes.

A little cub, waving goodbye to a frog as it bounded into the river.

The feeling of a weight on the knee, bouncing up and down and cheering when the story ended happily after all.

Claws clinking as they struggled to pry something metal apart.

And blue eyes – bluer than blue, so bright they glowed – sliding shut in a nap, safe and content in "Old-Jaga-soap-jaguar" smelling arms.

'Did Jaga ever have sons of his own? Grandsons?'

She shuddered, pressing a palm to her forehead. "Cheetara? Are you all right?" His voice echoed, far away as her head rang and the blue eyes danced in front of her. Thought she wasn't sure her legs would hold her, Cheetara nodded.

"You see something different about him, don't you?" She only phrased it as a question to hide the translucent, smoky thoughts had trailed through her head. Even now she lost them and they left only misty impressions that she couldn't cling to very firmly without breaking them.

Cheetara was afraid to look back and let Jaga see the knots in her brow brought on by the images. But she chanced a quick peek, and saw that he was nodding as he prodded the straw back into the doll she'd been so viciously brutalizing. "Yes. He is different."

Perhaps it was the magic that ran thick in Jaga that made him easier to read. Cheetara made for the door as quickly as she could without looking rude, but one last, deeply personal thought rang deep as a bell inside her head, stronger than anything else. It was rare to get such a clear, absolute thought, but so exasperated was the old cat that she couldn't help it.

'I can be such an old hypocrite. No favorites my left foot.'