A/N: Beware: High doses of drama, melodrama, flashbacks and angst ahead. As I've made up copious amounts of backstory, let's just call this A.U. Based loosely on the first four episodes or so, before they found the Book of Omens and significantly before Tygra resumed using his whip. For the purpose of this story, Lion-o and Tygra are about four years apart in age.
Rated: 'T' for violence and language
Disclaimer: Thundercats, its characters and properties, belong to Warner Bros and to people I would list if Cartoon Network would ever play the credits large enough to see. Anyways, not mine.
Thirteen years ago…
It started as it always did: with a sensation of wetness on his paws. He knew what it was; his stomach clenched and sank as he fought the urge to look. He didn't want to look! But then the scent hit his nose: strong, tangy and unmistakable. Breathing through his mouth was a mistake. As a cat, he could taste it in the air.
The dampness spread. He could feel it creeping up his arms, could sense it spattered across his face. The sharp metallic scent clawed at his nasal passages. With a rapidly rising pulse, Tygra opened his eyes.
It was everywhere. It ran in rivulets down the walls, pooled on the floor and flowed towards him. It covered his paws; his forearms up to his elbows bore sleeves of dripping red liquid. He could feel it on his face…
"…!" The young cub jerked awake, sitting straight up in bed. Heart pounding in his throat, he sat in his dark bedroom, wide-eyed and sickened. Eventually his breathing slowed down, his pulse gradually following pace.
"Night terrors", that's what Jaga called it. He would outgrow it eventually, according to the old wizard. In the meantime, Tygra had learned not to scream when it happened, not to rouse the castle with his whimpers and mews. Especially since his little brother's room was now next door. He didn't want Lion-o to know about it. It shamed him to not be able to control his nightmare, shamed him to have to change his sweat-damp sheets and pajamas in the middle of the night. What would he do if his little brother found out how pathetic he was?
But besides that, he had to remain silent about it; the servants would talk if they found out and their waggling tongues would attract unwanted attention. Tygra didn't want his father to know it was still going on, didn't want to sit on the uncomfortable stool in Jaga's cold quarters, while the old cleric peered at him as if he could see inside of Tygra's head. The cub shuddered at the thought.
As he roused himself to start changing his bed, he heard a soft noise. Cocking his head to one side, he listened hard. Ah, Tygra knew that sound. Silently, he slipped into a new pair of pajamas and hoped that the scent of fear didn't cling to him. It seemed he wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep tonight.
He attempted to muffle the soft, shameful sounds by burrowing under his covers; curling into a tight ball while soaking his pillow with unstoppable tears. The occasional ragged, gasping intakes of breath that broke the rhythmic sobs seemed unbearably loud to his sensitive ears, despite his best efforts to stifle them. His failure to accomplish even that simple task added to his misery. He had to stop crying. If he didn't, sooner or later someone would…
A sliver of bright light pierced the darkness, visible even through his cocoon of covers. A slim shadowy figure slipped inside his bedroom and with a soft click the heavy wooden door once again sealed the chamber. The young cub closed his eyes, attempting to feign sleep, but his hiccupping breath betrayed him.
The soft voice was both familiar and unwelcome, filling the prince with a sense of dread. Of all the cats, of course it had to be him.
"Lion-o? Are you crying? Did you have a scary dream or is it…?" Tygra's voice trailed off.
Lion-o's shame at being caught fueled a temporary anger. He scrubbed his face free of tears with one fierce paw before throwing back his sheets and leveling a glare at his unwanted bedroom intruder. "No!" he whispered vehemently. "Go away, Tygra. I'm fine!" And with that he rolled over to face the wall, pulling his covers and sheets back around him. He listened to the stillness, hoping against hope that his older brother would take him at his word and obey. He should have known better.
Faint approaching footsteps shattered any notion of his ruse working. He could picture his brother standing there, with his arms crossed in front of him, maybe smirking a little bit, maybe frowning in disapproval. Regardless of his need to prove himself strong, more tears leaked from his eyes.
A sigh, then Lion-o's mattress shifted as Tygra made himself at home on the other side. "Honestly, you're such a kitten sometimes. I miss her too, you know."
Still nursing his injured pride at being found out, the young heir whirled around to snarl, "I'm not a kitten; I'm a cub. And you're a liar! You don't even cry. Not even at her funeral! You and Father both."
The look his brother gave him temporarily silenced the younger prince's outburst. Tygra appeared to be at ease; legs stretched out before him as his upper body rested against the headboard, hands clasped behind his head. But there was a new tension in the lithe form, an injured expression on his face and a pain in his eyes that even the five year old cub couldn't miss.
Slowly, Lion-o's anger dissolved. "You…you won't make fun? You won't tell? Not Father or Jaga or the generals?"
Tygra laid his right paw over the Thundercat's emblem embroidered on his silk pajamas. "Promise." And then he gave Lion-o a small smile and ruffled his already unruly red mane until it stood up in an even greater number of tufts. Lion-o allowed it for a minute before swatting the offending paw away with insincere protests and grumbles.
The tiger cub briefly grinned as his hands resumed their role as his pillow. Then his face lost all hints of humor as he stared across the darkened bedroom. "She was my mom too. I cry. I just hide it better than you do. What Father said at her funeral, that we should remember and celebrate her life instead of mourning her death… I guess I've just been trying not to let him down. I'm sorry if you felt alone."
Lion-o stared at the shadowy form of his big brother. Tygra didn't usually talk to him, not like this. Unable to help himself, the young prince snuggled a bit closer to the older boy. Tygra's left hand found its way back on top of Lion-o's head. This time, however, he just gently stroked the red hair, a soothing, repetitive motion.
The room fell into a comfortable hush, both brothers lost in thought. Then Lion-o stirred. "Tygra… what was… what was your mom like?"
The hand on his head froze. The silence stretched past the point of politeness, growing tangibly oppressive as it dragged on, causing the younger cub to stiffen in response. He grimaced, ready to apologize for whatever faux pas he had just committed, when his brother finally let out a heavy sigh. Frustration colored his every word.
"I… I don't really remember her. Whenever I think of 'Mom', I think of our mom, Queen Irene. I've tried, but I just don't…" His gaze shifted down to where Lion-o was staring up at him with a mixture of shock and horror. Tygra quickly found other places for his eyes to rest. He could guess what was coming next. His little brother did not disappoint.
"But you were only a year younger than me when she died, right?"
Silence. Tygra continued to stare at the far wall; the brisk rise and fall of his chest and slight tremble of his hand on top of Lion-o's head the only response to the younger boy's query.
The cub's next question emerged in a tiny whisper. "When I'm your age… do you think I'll forget my mom too?"
A sharp intake of breath and Tygra whirled on him so fast that Lion-o flinched and shrunk away. "Of course not! Don't even think about it!" A clenched fist shook just under Lion-o's nose. "If you forget her, even a little, I'll kick your tail all over Thundera."
A small knock at the door froze both brothers. "Are you all right, Prince Lion-o?" a muffled voice called from outside.
Blue eyes met brown in the dark. "Answer him," mouthed the elder silently.
"Um, fine thanks. Goodnight," the cub managed to squeak out.
"Good night, Prince Lion-o."
The guard's foot falls moved beyond the door. Both boys held their breaths and strained their ears, remaining still until the treads could no longer be heard. Twin sighs of relief echoed off the walls, then Lion-o offer up a timid "Sorry".
Tygra frowned and shook his head. "No… I'm sorry. Guess I got too loud."
The little lion cub relaxed. He offered up an impish grin. "So if you forget… do I get to kick your tail?"
Even in the darkness he could see Tygra's responding smirk. Familiar sarcasm colored his words. "Sure, little brother. Maybe I'll even bend down and hold still for you too." Then he slumped back against the headboard. "'Course if I do forget, I'll deserve a good tail kicking," he muttered darkly.
The bed shifted and a warmth pressed against his side. A small hand clutched his and squeezed. Touched at his brother's attempt to be comforting, Tygra smiled down at him. "How about, I won't let you forget and you won't let me forget. Deal?"
"Deal." The younger boy sounded satisfied, but he didn't release Tygra's hand.
"Don't worry, squirt. I'll stay here until you go back to sleep."
"Promise." Tygra slid downwards until he was lying flat on the bed. There was a brief scuffle over the covers, and then both boys settled back down. Eyes burning from his previous crying bout as well as from the late hour, Lion-o was glad to allow them to close.
"She had blue eyes, I think, kind of like yours."
"Uh-huh. Blue eyes and… white fur?"
"I bet she was pretty and nice."
Lion-o smiled at the thought. It comforted him to know that Tygra hadn't completely forgotten. As sleepy as he was, he missed the hesitance in his brother's voice as he muttered, "Yeah… pretty… and nice…?"
Lion-o drifted off, leaving one wide awake tiger cub to ponder what kind of son he was to forget his own mother so completely.
The campfire reflected red and orange off the metallic side of the Thunder Tank. From inside the vehicle came a loud bang and a muffled curse. Squatting near an access hatch, Lion-o called down for what felt like the umpteenth time, "Um… sure you couldn't use some help, Panthro?"
Unexpectedly, the large general's head popped out of the hole, startling the hovering king enough so that Lion-o ended up losing his balance and landing on his tailbone. "What I could use is my connoiter-wrench." Panthro's dark eyes narrowed. "Have you moved my connoiter-wrench?"
The red-head held up both paws in a placating gesture. "No, no, I haven't moved anything."
"Hm. Look, Your Majesty… maybe you could help someone else. Elsewhere. I've got the Thunder Tank handled." And with that, the bald-headed cat ducked back within the confines of his beloved machine.
"Yeah, sure…" With a sigh, Lion-o slipped off the side of the Thunder Tank, landing light-footedly on the ground. He strode to the nearby campfire where Cheetara was roasting fish on freshly cut boughs and Snarf was taking a cat-nap. The cleric greeted him with a welcoming but knowing smile as he collapsed on his bottom next to the fire.
"I don't suppose you need any help?" he asked, the inflection of his voice indicating that he already knew the answer.
"No," she responded gently, "but maybe you could rescue Tygra. He seems to have his hands full."
Lion-o shifted his gaze to the edge of the clearing, where his brother, arms loaded with firewood, was fending off an 'ambush' by the kittens. "No…" Lion-o's voice sounded dull to his own ears, "He's fine."
And it was true. Even whilst juggling his burden of wood, Tygra easily evaded WilyKat and WilyKit's wild swings with wooden knives. The two littermates calmed down enough to circle their 'prey', while Tygra placed his load down. WilyKat took the opportunity to launch a flying kick towards the adult's head, a move Tygra easily dodged.
WilyKit wisely hung back as her brother bounced around, showing more energy than skill as he tried to find an opening in Tygra's defenses.
Lion-o frowned. He remembered attempting that same kick long ago. His brother's paw had snagged his ankle as he had passed and he had ended up face down in the dirt for his efforts. Right in front of his father and the generals, of course. Azure eyes narrowed as he continued to watch the mock combat.
Cheetara followed his gaze, a small smile on her face. "They look like they're having fun."
"He's just playing with them." The tiniest touch of a growl tainted his words, causing the cleric to give him a look.
"They are just kids, Lion-o."
"Yeah, well that won't buy them any mercy from the lizards," came the muttered response. As if he could hear his brother's words, Tygra play-acted drawing his pistol, pointing his index finger at the bounding 'Kat and cocking his thumb. The observing king felt an irrational flash of anger; his blue eyes narrowed into slits.
"Lion-o," Cheetara's calm voice queried, "is something the matter?"
Across the clearing WilyKat miraculously dodged two of Tygra's 'shots', then succumbed to the third. He staggered around dramatically, hands clutched to his chest, groaning and carrying on as his sister took the opportunity to sneak up behind Tygra, crouching in a tight ball directly behind his legs. WilyKat made a sudden recovery, ceasing his death scene long enough to spring at Tygra's head. Attempting to take a step back caused the prince to trip over the carefully positioned 'Kit, and down he went, both kittens instantly pouncing on his prone form. The warm rumble of his laughter, highlighted by the kittens' higher pitched tones, rang across the campsite.
Lion-o's mood inexplicably darkened. He knew his brother's skills well enough to know that Tygra had just thrown the fight, a courtesy he had never shown the Thunderian heir.
"Lion-o?" Cheetara prompted.
"No, nothing is wrong."
He was lying, of course. Thundera destroyed, his father dead, Jaga gone, Mumm-ra revived and they were no closer to finding the Book of Omens… there wasn't much in Lion-o life that was okay. And then there was Tygra. Lion-o often found himself angry at his brother for reasons he could not quite put his claws on. The irrational anger annoyed him, being annoyed fed his anger and the cycle continued into a downward spiral.
He took a breath and let it out as the elder cat and the kittens approached the campfire, the firewood now divided between them. The young siblings dropped their burden with a loud clatter, startling the poor, snoozing Snarf straight into the air. "Oops, sorry," Kit proclaimed as Tygra put his load down more gently. WilyKat and WilyKit stacked the wood as Tygra brushed the dirt off his clothes, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
Lion-o frowned up at his brother. Even recognizing that he had no good reason to be irritated, he couldn't rid himself of the emotion. He gestured abruptly at his brother's waist. "Don't you think you're relying on that thing too much?"
Tygra paused in his motions to give Lion-o a puzzled look. "What?"
The younger cat made a fake gun of his own with his hand in response.
Tygra's smirk slowly returned. "Relying too much on one's hand sounds like a problem of yours, little brother, not mine."
The two youngest cats continued stacking the wood, but they exchanged glances and smiles. They were used to the squabbling between the older pair of siblings by now. The innuendo had thankfully seemed to have went flying over their heads. Cheetara, however, made a noise that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a cough, and Lion-o found his cheeks warming. He rose to his feet as Tygra confidently crossed his arms in front of his broad chest.
"I'm being serious."
"You're being a serious ass," came the dry retort.
The cleric tisked and rose. Her bo-staff sprang to length, jutting out over the fire and between the two brothers. Without bothering to give either a look, she swung the weapon backwards into the Thunder Tank, the loud ringing noise reverberating out from her strike. Panthro's head, one hand clamped against his bald pate, instantly popped out of the access hatch.
"Damn it girl! I've told you not to do that!"
"Dinner is ready," she replied sweetly, retracting her staff.
Growling a stream of just barely under his breath profanities, the large panther climbed out of the tank. It was then that Cheetara gave both sons of Claudus a stern look, as if daring them to further provoke the steamed general with their childish bickering. Tygra gave a shrug and sat down. He hadn't been too invested in the argument to begin with and in truth didn't really understand what it was about.
Lion-o was slower to comply with the cleric's unspoken wishes. His irrational anger at Tygra hadn't subsided. He too was unsure what the argument had been about, but that didn't matter. The only thing that was certain was that he had unquestionably lost. Again.
A/N: Well it's been a while since I've written a story so feel free to tell me what you think. I'll try to update once a week, but no promises...