At last, the final installment. I enjoyed writing this. It was fun and angsty and just-oh, I hope you enjoy it! I worked hard and I think you'll like it.
If I may make a suggestion! Try listening to "Orange Sky" by Alexi Murdoch. I listened to it the entire time I wrote and edited this chapter, and I think it fits rather well.
Thank you for all the support. It's be wonderful and I look forward to writing more for this fandom.
"His fever refuses to go down."
Darkness. The voices clear but everywhere darkness. A heaviness. Suffocation. His lungs being squeezed, squeezed, squeezed-
"Try some more of the antidote. As much as you can before it the dosage will threaten him. Nirayne, we need more cool towels. Are those binds ready? The wound keeps reopening-"
Too many voices. Too much, too much at once.
Lion-O opened his eyes and breathed through his nose, coughing and spluttering when he exhaled. The world was spinning. Brown, tan, gray all swirling above his head. Something pricked his chest. It was digging holes inside of him. Burned. Burned. Burned.
"Stop!" His voice broke. The voices kept going. No one heard him.
No. No, no, no.
A tug at his arms brought his misted eyes down. Something gray had his arms pinned. Tight. Pain. Pain. Lion-O growled and snarled, snapping at the figure. He froze when the sensation hit his feet. Blocks of lead tying him down.
No! No, they've got me!
"Get-away!" He yanked his only free arm, but it betrayed him. Throbbed and burned but sat like a lame limb. The throbbing shot up to his head, sent vibrations to his brain that made all the organs quiver. His stomach clenched. He gagged and twisted.
"He needs more of those meds! He's throwing up again!"
...no, get away. Get away. Tygra...Tygra, where are you? Where'd you go? Tygra!
"-ga! Tygra!" His voice cracked. Small and weak but he'd take that stupid, smug smile if Tygra would just come and save him. Save him like he always does.
"Hold on there, Lion-O. We just need to-"
Another figure-Shadows. No faces. None of them have faces. No, no, no-leaned over his arm. Something cool touched his head and he flinched. Burns ran up his arm. Hissing, spitting.
"We can't do anything with him moving around like this."
"Sir, the medicine needs a bit more time to work. Afterward, he should settle-"
They drugged me! They drugged me! Tygra! Tygra! Come on, get here already! I don't want-I don't want to be-just-
"Tygra!" Lion-O screamed, his body shuddering. Shouting wracked his body. The room spun and tilted again. But he needed to be louder. He must not be close enough. He's got to be searching for me. He's got to. Where'd you go? Where'd you go, Tygra!
"Tygra! Tygra! Tygra!" Lion-O kept shouting his brother's name, gasping and snarling whenever he noticed another of those nameless shades hovering near him. Yet Tygra did not come. Lion-O was left alone to fight the specters and he shuddered as his mind fogged. His jaw started slacking and his eyes fluttered. He shook his head-tried to fight off the waves of tiredness and the odd, floating feeling.
Tygra...come on. Get here already. Don't you...wanna rub this in my face...
"T-Tygra!" Lion-O tried to lift his back, pulling at his arms and legs, but fire shot through his skin and exploded at his temples. He snarled and fell back, his head slamming down and ringing with the noise. The hands came again, prying and pricking him, and he shuddered. Lion-O shook his head and leaned to the right, the left, the right again. He couldn't escape though. Everywhere he went, whatever direction he took, the hands would find him.
He opened and closed his eyes; they burned and stung with every blink. The world blurred again. The figures began to melt into the background and Lion-O felt something inside him break and fall away. His chest turned cold.
Tygra still wasn't there.
"T-Tygra..." Lion-O's voice was a whisper. He squinted his eyes, trying to focus them on something around him. His heart sent pulses to his temples, while the rest of his body drained of its energy. The world swayed once more. Tipped to the side and crashed to the floor. Lion-O tried to call for Tygra but his throat was closing; the world was closing.
"Will you let me in already, you mangy dogs! Lion-O! Lion-O!" Tygra growled and snarled as the hounds pulled him away from the large, white door. Tygra's fur stood on end and his head was screaming. His body was screaming. Every part of him was screaming: Get to Lion-O.
Lion-O shouted his name again, sounding muffled from behind the door, but it was enough. Tygra hissed and tore himself from the grasp of the dogs, slamming into the door and reaching for the handle, only to the thrown back by a pair of stronger, larger hands.
Tygra gasped when his back snapped on the opposite wall, his vision dotted with black before Panthro's face came into view. The seasoned cat was glaring down at him, his weakened, pinked eye staring straight into Tygra's own wide eyes. Tygra paused for a moment, his mouth parting and Tygra looked at the floor. But then Lion-O called for him again, screamed for him, and Panthro had to shove him back into the wall.
"Will you let me go! He's hurt! He's hurt and he needs my help!" Tygra wriggled in Panthro's grasp, but the old cat refused to let go. Tygra shook his head and slammed his hand against the wall. Tygra closed his eyes and tried to breathe; the blood rushed to his ears and pounded loud in his skull. It deafened everything but Lion-O's screams.
When was the last time he screamed for me? When was the last time he needed my help this bad? He needs me and I'm just standing here, letting his stupid old cat get in my way! Lion-O!
Tygra's eyes snapped open and he fought harder, gnashing his teeth and bucking against Panthro. He glared at the old warrior, seething, "Will you let me go! I need to help him! You hear him, don't you? He needs-"
"He's sick and delirious, Tygra." Panthro's voice was even compared to Tygra's, although there was a distinct growl behind his words. Panthro's face remained expressionless and the blankness made Tygra's blood ignite. He could feel the itch to fight in his arms. The hot blood pooling in his fingers-
"You can't help him right now, and you know it," Panthro continued, watching Tygra as he thrashed. "These healers have dealt with this before, and they've already told you how bad it can be. We knew coming in that Lion-O was in for a rough ride."
"He's screaming!" Tygra spat. "He's screaming for me and you just want me to stand here and listen!"
"What else will you do? What would you do, once you got in there?" Tygra blinked, an icy chill sweeping through his body. The air blew out his lungs and he looked away from Panthro. Fixed his eyes on the door and imagined his brother there; thrashing on the bed, sick and hot with fever. He could imagine the poison that was thrumming its way through Lion-O's body. He could picture the way it made Lion-O's lungs stutter and his heart hammer while he rested. He could do all of these things.
But a way to stop it...did not cross his mind.
"What would you do, Tygra?" Panthro's voice came out as a low growl and Tygra bowed his head. Panthro loosened his grip and allowed Tygra to rest on the wall. Tygra clenched his hands. His legs itched and jerked and he almost ran into the room.
"I'd get in the way." The words were foreign to him. Made his throat tight and his stomach churn. "I'd just get in their way." Tygra closed his eyes and breathed. Felt the air press on him.
"Healers heal. They cure the sick. Comfort the animals in pain. You and me? We fight. We're warriors and strategists. I know you want to help him, Tygra. But you can-"
"Healers heal. Warriors fight. What do brothers do, Panthro?" Tygra didn't look at Panthro though, instead running his claws through his fur and bowing his head. "What's an older brother supposed to do? Huh?"
"They're supposed to protect the little brother. They're supposed to protect the king and their sibling and I-I couldn't do it. I couldn't protect him, Panthro!" Tygra whipped around and slammed his fist into the wall. His knuckles cracked and the skin beneath his fur split. Blood bloomed and dripped between his fingers and down to the floor. His whole hand throbbed and the burning sensation traveled up his arm and settled in his head.
"I didn't do enough," Tygra muttered. He closed his eyes and hit the wall again. It was a softer punch. More, tiny trickles of blood fell from his fist. Tygra hit the wall again and again and again, each hit weaker than the last. "It's because of me...that he's there in the first place. The one time. The one time I screw up...and this happens."
Tygra shuddered and leaned his forehead against the wall. He opened his eyes and glanced down at the crack in the wall he'd made. He spotted the flecks of blood he left. He sighed.
"Why do my mistakes seem so much bigger than his? Why is it, that when I screw up-" Tygra paused and shook his head. "I just..."
"Tygra." Tygra jumped at her voice. Shook his head again and moved away when he sensed Cheetara's hand coming for his shoulder. He didn't look at either of them now, letting his eyes fall to the floor instead.
"I don't want to be-I don't need-" Tygra snarled. "Why can't I talk today! Why can't I make this come out right!" He turned to them, his eyes aflame. For a moment, he saw the redness in Cheetara's eyes. Wondered where'd she gone-it wouldn't have taken that long to distract the kittens. But the thought was consumed by the growing fury in his belly and he was shouting at her. Shouting at everyone that seemed to stand between him and his brother.
"I screwed up, all right? I screwed up! When I went after him we wound up fighting even more! And then we walked into the stupid nest and I was ready to leave. Just wanted to go and forget about it. We'd talk at the camp but I-I wasn't paying attention!"
"Tygra, stop-" Cheetara's voice was pleading but Tygra cut her off.
"And he had to shove me out of the way of those things! He had to save me! It's not supposed to work like that! I'm not the one who needs saving-ever! I don't screw up! I don't get caught like that, I don't need to be saved! I should be the one on that bed and Lion-O should be thinking about what he did wrong! Lion-O should be here worrying about this! I can't-I can't-" Tygra shook his head. His head throbbed and he shuddered again.
"I can't lose him because I screwed up. I can't..."
"You know what happens..."
"You know what happens..."
"He said," Tygra tried, his heart tightening at his brother's words. "He said that...I know what happens if those goes bad. If he-" Tygra snapped his mouth shut. I'm not saying it. I'm not saying it. When he gets out of there, I'm gonna kill him for doing this to me. To all of us. That little-
"He'll be okay, Tygra." He closed his eyes at Cheetara's voice. Listened to her footsteps as she walked toward him. Watched her feet when they stopped in front of him. "He's going to be okay."
He nodded at her words.
But did not believe them.
The world was calmer when Lion-O came through the second time. Things were not as blurred but everything was dark. Black. Except for one, tiny flicker of light beside him.
Yet his insides were aching. His arm, in particular, felt as if it'd been torn off, then hastily sewn back on. The stitches keeping it attached to his body must have been bad ones, because he could feel them peeling off and pricking new holes into his body. Those faceless figures were gone though. He was safe for now...
Lion-O shook his head and tried to turn to his side, but his body refused to move. They must have tied me down... He squinted when the light beside him flared, but had to close his eyes as the rays just seemed to brighten more and more.
The warmth touched his face and sent the heat into his veins. Washed over him in waves until he was sure the warmth had seeped into his bones. He welcomed it; embraced it. A woman flashed through his mind. Long red hair and kind eyes, blue like his and his father's. And her body had been just as warm as this. Just as welcoming. Had held him so close to her chest that he could hear the heartbeats.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
A steady beat. Soft and sure. The faceless ones disappeared and Lion-O held on to the woman's image. Watched as his father weaved his way into the scene. Stood beside the woman and watched and listened to her heartbeat too. Then there was Tygra, small and slender, popping up beside him. And the warmth came in even greater waves. It pooled inside Lion-O's chest and streamed through his body. Bubbled inside him.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
He listened to the heartbeat. Steady. Sure. Soft.
"You have to wake up."
The voice came out of nowhere but weaved in with the warmth so well. Lion-O nodded, or at least, felt like nodding. He kept his eyes closed and slowly breathed out.
"Promise..." he mumbled. I just...wanna sleep a little more.
The world faded when the dog started to speak; told Tygra and the others how it had gone with Lion-O. Tygra had tried to listen. He knew he should. He knew it was important to know what was wrong with his brother and how long they might be waiting for Lion-O to wake up.
"..coma. It happened when-"
"-trying several medicines now. If we hadn't caught it when we did, it would have reached his heart. I don't know if we would have been-"
"-don't know. "
"We don't know when..."
"The best thing we can do is watch and wait-"
They don't know. They don't know. They don't know. They don't know.
"Tygra." He sighed and lifted his chin from his hands, glancing at the door. Cheetara walked inside, the kittens on either side of her. "I thought they'd like to see him," she said. Cheetara gave WilyKit a gentle push forward. The kitten nodded and grabbed her brother's arm, leading the way inside. Snarf opened one eye from his position in the comatose Lion-O's lap, before sighing and settling back to sleep.
Tygra watched them huddle around Lion-O's bed, feeling out of place and unneeded. He shook his head and looked back at Lion-O's face. Some of the color had returned. Lion-O was no longer the deathly pale he'd been when the poison was throttling his body. The arm was wrapped in bright white bandages that hadn't been stained red, and the fever was slowing down. Still there, but no longer the terrible fire it had been.
Lion-O was getting better, if Tygra could overlook the coma.
"He'll get better, Tygra." He glanced at WilyKit as she said it, a little surprised she was talking to him at all. He nodded at her, but there was no real flare in his eyes. He believed her words like he believed Cheetara's. He was tired of hearing how his brother would be okay. He wanted to see it. He wanted some results.
Words were little more than empty promises at this point.
WilyKit looked away from him, her eyes flickering to Lion-O, and Tygra wondered if any of his frustration had shown on his face. Whatever. It doesn't matter. I'm tired of hearing about all this from everyone. Lion-O will be fine, Lion-O will wake up, you have to have more confidence-how about some actual proof that he'll be okay.
"You know what happens-"
Tygra slammed his eyes shut and snarled. His brother's parting words never left him. When he was awake, they replayed over and over. As if Tygra had missed it the first time. And when he did get sleep, they would always accompany nightmares. Of little Lion-O looking up at him from the bottom of the pits, saying those exact words. Of Lion-O in a pool of blood, staring up at the sky, coughing the words up before light drained from his eyes.
He gasped for breath, eyes snapping open and meeting the worried stares of the others. Their eyes were fixed on him and he looked down to see blood trickling down his wrists. He blinked and loosened his fingers-he'd pierced his skin with his claws.
He shook his head and closed his eyes, listening as Cheetara gently guided the kittens out of the room, the door snapping shut behind them. Her footsteps stepped softly on the tiles and he opened his eyes when she stopped behind his chair. Her hand rested on his shoulder and he waited for her words. Knew they were coming; knew they'd be the same.
"He'll wake up, Tygra." Tygra listened to her suck in her breath. The unsteady exhale. "I'm sorry...that it's all we've been saying lately. I know that it seems-"
"Do you think...when he said that to me...he thought he'd be like this?" Tygra's eyes glazed over as he watched Lion-O; the steady rise and fall of his chest. He wondered what Lion-O could be dreaming off, locked away in his head.
"I wonder if he knew he was dying. Or something like that, at least. Maybe he was making sure things got taken care of, just in case. Maybe he knew he wouldn't wake up. Maybe he just wanted to mess with me or something." Tygra closed his eyes and sighed. The world never felt heavier. It grabbed his shoulders and dragged him down to some depths he didn't even know existed. Losing his father, now his brother.
It would be a different kind of alone. One that he'd remember. One he'd have to live through for the rest of his days. It left his heart chilled.
"I'm trying to be as optimistic as the rest of you. I mean...he's doing much better. I think. But he was in pain for a long time, and that poison..." Tygra stopped and shrugged. Emptiness swelled in his chest. Sucked the air away from him. His eyes stared, dead and empty, at Lion-O.
"You have to wake up," he whispered, shutting his eyes when Cheetara squeezed his shoulder.
Tygra's eyes snapped open and he stood up, the chair clattering to the floor. Cheetara wound her way to Lion-O's side, pressing a hand to his forehead and leaning next to his chest as if to hear his heart. "Lion-O?" she asked, straightening up and brushing Lion-O's red locks from his face. "Lion-O, did you-"
Tygra just stared. Even once Cheetara ran out of the room, calling for Panthro and the healers and whoever else could hear her.
Light burned into Lion-O's eyes, staining his lids a dark orange. He shut his eyes tighter, but the light still seeped through, sending warmth and ache through his body. He tried to twist away, but his body throbbed and ached in response. Slowly, he opened his eyes to the ceiling. The tall windows allowed the light to pour in and Lion-O had to squint as his eyes fought to get used to the brightness.
His head felt heavy and stuffed, his arm was numb, and his mind came up blank as he scoured his memory for an explanation as to where he was and why.
Tygra's face flashed in his mind, as well as Lion-O's own words. There was warmth and hotness, nausea and fear. Something about faceless people. Warmth. Warmth had been everywhere.
"Guess...I didn't die..." Lion-O winced at his voice though. It was raspy and his throat tingled as he spoke. He shook his head and tried to use his good arm to prop himself up, but the very idea of moving drained the energy out of him. His eyes felt heavy and he breathed out a sigh.
"No, you didn't die. But you came real close, you idiot."
Lion-O blinked at his brother's voice and looked down the bed, spotting Tygra in a chair. There were a few more chairs around him, but all of them were empty. Tygra cleared his throat and Lion-O looked back at him, raising an eyebrow.
"Did you hear me? You almost died."
"I gathered...that much..." Lion-O winced, but set his jaw and tried to lift his good arm again. He propped his elbow and used it to push himself up in the bed, swaying slightly. "How long-"
Lion-O's eyes widened at that. His heart raced and he stared at Tygra. "Week? A-whole..." Lion-O stopped, wincing again. Tygra's anger wavered and he stood up, reaching to his side for a canteen.
"Here. It should help." He handed Lion-O the water, watching as Lion-O took it, twisted the cap, put the edge of the canteen to his mouth- Tygra is starting to creep me out with all this staring.
Lion-O took several large gulps of water, shuddering when the icy liquid hit his stomach. He spluttered and coughed, Tygra reaching down and grabbing the canteen away from him. "You're not supposed to kill yourself with it."
"Love you too."
Lion-O waited for his brother's sarcastic retort, as was custom, but all he got was silence. Lion-O glanced at his brother, his own chest tightening. He clenched his hands, watching his brother's face. Truly looking.
Tygra looked as unwell as Lion-O felt. His fur was wilted and grayed. His eyes tired. Misted. His demeanor, which usually commanded poise and power, seemed mute. This was not his brother, but a shadow.
Tygra's shoulders tensed and Lion-O knew he'd said the wrong thing. Tygra glared at him, walking up to the head of the bed. "Are you really asking me that? After everything that's happened?"
Lion-O swallowed and looked down at his lap, blinking when he saw Snarf there. So he wasn't entirely alone. A lot of good that did him when it seemed like his brother was about to kill him for nearly dying.
Silence fell between them though. Suffocating quiet. Lion-O was used to yelling and fists flying in his face. Not this quiet that ate at the back of his mind. Not this tired brother whose shoulders seemed to slump.
"You nearly...died." The way his brother said it; the way the word fell from his lips as a whisper, made Lion-O fear it more then, than when he'd actually been dying. Tygra's eyes were clouded and lost. Empty. "You nearly died, protecting me."
Lion-O growled, shaking his head. "You're-my brother!"
"You are the king!" Tygra snapped.
Lion-O shook his head, trying to push himself up and over the edge of the bed. "Don't-don't give me...that. So what...what if I'm king-" Tygra grabbed Lion-O's collar and shoved him back into bed, snarling.
"Not 'so what', you got that? There is no 'so what' when you're the leader of an empire!"
"Even if I died...you-you'd take-"
"No!" Tygra hissed, his eyes misting. "No. Don't you dare. Don't you dare say that. I don't care about what we've done-about what I've done, about this... I am not some replacement. You don't get to throw your life away, just because I'm next in line for the throne."
"You..." Lion-O shut his eyes and took a deep breath. His head felt lighter now and the room was just too bright. "You make it sound...like I'm the-the most important. And I'm not."
Lion-O shook his head though. His eyes were burning and he hated, hated how wet they felt. "You're-you've always been better. No-no matter how...hard...I tried. Always. Better."
Lion-O's eyes drifted shut but he plowed on. He would make Tygra understand. Tygra had to understand why. "You always save me. Save everyone. No...no matter...how hard I try. It seems...like we're always going backward."
Lion-O blinked his eyes open. Wondered why Tygra was squinting his eyes. "Just once...just once I wanted to save you. I-I don't want you to think...I'm more important. I didn't want you to get...hurt...I wanted-"
"Just...shut up. Just shut up." Tygra shook his head and grabbed Lion-O. Pulled him into his arms and rested his chin on top of his head. Snarf was startled but quickly scrambled away, watching the two. "You're such an idiot," Tygra mumbled, squeezing harder. "I almost lost you."
Lion-O shut his eyes and let his brother's warmth seep into him. Like...when I was...
It's just like that. Like mom and dad.
"I almost lost you," Tygra whispered.
"I'm sorry," Lion-O said, trying to blink back the burning in his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Why are you apologizing? I told you...you didn't..." Tygra didn't finish though. Just closed his eyes and hugged his brother. Hugged him long after the others walked back into the room. After they both fell into the bed, dead tired from exhaustion and poison and so many other things that just didn't have words.
He held on to his brother long after they fell asleep, the warmth wrapped around them.
Refusing to let go.
He refused to let go.