Tygra knew. Lion-o couldn't pinpoint the exact hour of the day his brother had fully recovered his memories, but all of a sudden, when he caught Tygra staring at him, he met his brother's gaze and knew that he remembered. Everything.
Guilt dragged Lion-o's conscience over the coals as the older cat's lips thinned and his gaze shifted away. Lion-o also looked elsewhere. His fingers fiddled uselessly with themselves and he cleared his throat loudly. Tygra abruptly got up and left. Lion-o watched him go.
'Talk to him,' was Cheetara's advice and many times in the past week he had attempted to work himself up to the task. But the words always got stuck in his throat or sounded weak and foolish inside his own head. And now that he knew Tygra remembered… what could he possibly say to make the situation better?
He wanted to go to the cleric, to tell her that he believed Tygra knew all about his past, to have her reassure him that all would be well. But he did nothing. After all, Cheetara had basically dismissed his claims that Tygra's personality had changed, telling him to 'be patient' and 'just give things time'. It was maddening that none of the others seemed to realize just how subdued the tiger had become.
Perhaps they were all distracted by the drastic physical changes in the cat. For the past week Tygra had toddled around, a shell of his former, muscular self. His face's bone structure stood out distinctly beneath his fur; his ribcage showed like a boney xylophone. Any amount of physical exertion left him gasping for breath. He tired easily and slept often.
Still, to Lion-o, who had been looking for them, it was the changes to the tiger's personality that stood out. His brother was quieter and far less quick on the draw with his snarky tongue. His eyes, which ordinarily sparkled with life and confidence, seemed dull and distant. His laugh tormented Lion-o to no end. It rang hollow and false in his ears, a mockery to the hearty, robust, honest sound it had once been.
Tygra certainly made an effort to interact with the others as if nothing had changed; he still attempted to play training games with the kittens, although in his diminished physical state the sessions had been toned down quite a bit, still assisted Panthro (when permitted) with the Thunder Tank. And especially around Cheetara did the tiger act the most normal.
But whenever the others were distracted, or when he and Lion-o were alone, Tygra became an introverted shadow of his former self. Lion-o didn't know which was worse: watching his brother attempt to behave as if nothing was wrong or seeing firsthand how much pain the tiger was experiencing. Worst of all, he knew it was all his fault and he didn't know how to fix it.
Lion-o wished that Tygra would just get mad at him; that they could fight and clear the air like in the old days and everything would go back to normal. But, keeping to his own edict, the Lord of the ThunderCats said nothing to Tygra about it and Tygra said nothing to him. Instead there were looks: pensive frowns, darting glances, lip bites and spacey stares. A few times Tygra would start a sentence but immediately hesitate and change subjects. And all of this had been before Tygra had regained his memories. Watching his brother's retreating back, Lion-o's sinking heart knew that things were bound to get worse now that the tiger fully remembered.
And so they did. The air between the two brothers grew heavy and stagnant, pressing down on Lion-o's head and shoulders with unresolved issues and unsaid words, until he felt like screaming. In the course of a few short days, his temper developed a short fuse and he grew snappish and impatient. Finally, when he growled at WilyKat for no good reason, Cheetara stepped in.
"Lion-o, your brother went to gather fruit over by the river. Why don't you go help him?" Though politely phrased, her iron-laced tone made it clear that it was not a suggestion.
He complied, at once both nervous and strangely relieved. He sent a silent prayer to the heavens, hoping to be blessed with the right words. It was time to talk to Tygra.
He found his brother leaning a heavy basket against a tree as he attempted to reach a dangling hourglass shaped fruit just out of his reach. Claw tips brushed the bottom of his objective, causing the fruit to sway on its stem. Meanwhile the basket slipped down the tree trunk as Tygra's other arm tired.
"Here…" Lion-o trotted up to his struggling brother, "Let me help you."
Tygra, obviously not expecting company, jerked and almost dropped the basket entirely. He managed to stabilize the thing, only spilling a few fruits in the process, before giving Lion-o a glare.
"Thanks, but I think I can handle it."
The lion suppressed a grin. Angry Tygra he could deal with; it was the morose one that scared him. He picked up one of the fallen purple fruits and jauntily bit into it, savoring the tangy juices that ran down his throat. He gave a deliberate smirk. "Clearly."
Tygra straightened and Lion-o mirrored the action. "Look, Cheetara said that you should take it easy, so why don't you stop being so stubborn and take it easy? No one expects you to be Prince Perfect out here."
Mahogany eyes dilated, then narrowed into angry slits. And then, like a candle guttering out, the emotions in his eyes flickered away, leaving the dull, lifeless orbs that Lion-o hated so. Tygra's tone sounded exhausted. "They know, don't they? Cheetara. Panthro. You… you were in my head somehow, weren't you? It's all still so blurry…"
And the tiger shook his head as if he could clear the fog that way. But then his thoughts found focus again. "I don't remember everything, but I know you were there. You saw. And you told the others."
Lion-o shifted his weight from foot to foot as a renewed feeling of guilt assaulted his conscience. He knew his actions could easily be interpreted as a betrayal, the ultimate betrayal of an unwittingly and unwillingly revealed confidence. The cruel and unfaithful act of a very bad brother. But he had only told the others because he hadn't known how to deal with the information on his own, because he had needed their guidance and wisdom. But how could he admit that to Tygra? It would just be more proof that he wasn't worthy of the sword or the role of King.
He cleared his throat. "We used the Sword of Omens. I was just supposed to find you so that Cheetara could put you into a healer's trance. It was the only way to save you! I didn't know…"
"You told them."
"I did. Just Cheetara and Panthro, not the kids. But Tygra…"
The punch was far slower than his brother's usual strike, allowing Lion-o twist out of the way of the unexpected blow. The follow up kick, however, connected solidly with the younger's ribcage. Lion-o staggered back, partially doubling over.
"You know. They know. Everyone knows what I did?"
But his brother was walking away, quite swiftly. Grimacing, Lion-o straightened. "Fine then," he muttered. He broke into a trot, rapidly closing the distance between them. "You can't outrun me, Tygra!" he challenged.
Semi-turning, his brother saw him coming and growled. He whirled around and began to run full out. Lion-o grinned and lengthened his stride. And they were racing like they used to, faster and faster along the riverbank. A familiar, comfortable challenge, but alas, one that ended all too quickly.
Tygra suddenly pulled up short, ribcage heaving as he gasped for breath. Lion-o raced past him before skidding to a stop. He turned to see Tygra fall to all fours, arms shaking as he attempted to keep upright.
"Oh shit! Oh shit! Are you okay? I'm so sorry. I forgot!"
His brother collapsed on his side; shallow, inefficient breaths shaking his thin frame.
"I'll go get Cheetara!"
"Don't… you… dare."
Brought up short by the staggered words, Lion-o shifted his weight nervously between his feet, like a kitten on candy-fruit, torn between the urgent need to seek help and the desire to begin mending things between himself and his brother. To his relief, Tygra's breathing began to ease after a few long minutes. He could afford to let the tiger have his way… this time, at least.
Eying the distance carefully, he sat down on the grass next to his brother's prone body, keeping about an arm's length away. He tore a handful of grass and let the wind take it from his fingers a few strands at a time. "This isn't fair, you know," he commented with a wry smile. "I finally beat you and I can't even enjoy it."
Wheezing breaths were his only response. Sighing, Lion-o laid down. He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. It's my fault you got injured so badly and it's my fault that you remember something you were supposed to forget." He turned his head and looked at his brother's back. So close and yet so far away. Lion-o barely resisted the urge to reach out and touch it, to draw the older cat into his arms and hug him, the way Tygra used to do when they were cubs.
He took a breath and continued, speaking with conviction. "But I'm not sorry you killed her."
"Don't." Tygra's raspy word cut Lion-o off. "Don't make me into some kind of hero. It wasn't like that. I wasn't thinking of you or the queen. I wasn't thinking at all. You were there. You saw. I was four. I just… acted. I picked up the sword and swung it and she died. Just like that. It wasn't noble or brave. It just… sort of happened." The tiger gave a humorless snort. "Funny thing is, I think a part of me thought she'd be proud. Because I finally got something right."
Lion-o sighed. "Maybe she was. I know I'm not an expert but… I don't think she was a traitor. She just went insane from grief."
A cold-hearted, mean spirited bitch, but not a traitor, Lion-o thought. He swallowed back the unhelpful words with an effort. He didn't know how Tygra felt about his mom, besides the guilt he obviously bore for causing her death. That was fine. He could hate Siberia in his brother's place. Oddly enough, he mused, her death had not just enabled his survival, but probably Tygra's as well. What kind of cat would he have been if raised by a mother that obviously despised him? This brought Lion-o back to his original thoughts.
"I'm not sorry you killed her, not just because you saved my mom and me, but because… if things had happened any differently, you probably wouldn't be my brother." Lion-o rolled to his side, closer to his brother's back. Hesitantly, he reached out an arm and touched Tygra's shoulder. "And I can't imagine what my life would have been like without you. Before you were my rival, you were my hero. I aspired to be just like you, and then I tried to surpass you. And when that didn't work, I picked a hobby, technology, that I knew you wouldn't ever be interested in."
The older cat muttered, "So nice to know that I was good for something."
Lion-o rolled his eyes and scooted closer. "Come on, you know I didn't mean it that way. Being around you made me a better cat. And that's true even now. I mean, who else will tell me when I've got the Sacred Sword up my ass?"
Cautiously he snaked his arm around his brother's chest and pulled him against his own. Surprisingly Tygra didn't resist. Lion-o could feel his heart beat beneath his arm. He rested his chin on Tygra's shoulder and closed his eyes.
"Be mad at me if you want to… be sad if you need to, but please don't regret being my brother…"
His brother's body started to shake. His broken voice tore at Lion-o's heart as his big, strong brother began to sob. "Of course I don't… regret. But… my… mother… I didn't mean to… I wasn't good enough…"
Grimacing in empathetic pain, Lion-o held his brother close. A few sympathetic tears leaked out of his own eyes, but he made no move to wipe them. Instead he held tight to Tygra's shaking body as his brother finally vented his sorrow.
When the storm passed and only a few sniffles remained as evidence, Lion-o felt a sense of relief. Maybe now that things were out in the open, his brother's deep wounds could start to truly heal. Maybe they could reclaim a modicum of normalcy. Because Lion-o still needed his brother, desperately. And because, despite all their differences, Lion-o loved the cat his brother was. Knowing the truth about Tygra's past and the reason behind his adoption had only deepened Lion-o's affection.
But Tygra didn't need to know that. They were, after all, still brothers. And in honor of that…
"Honestly," Lion-o breathed in his brother's ear, "you're such a kitten sometimes…"
The elbow was sharp and swift, connecting directly with the young king's solar plexus. As he gasped for breath, his brother stalked angrily away, as erect and proud as he ever was.
"Oh come on! You say that to me all the time," he gasped after his brother's unresponsive back.
Tygra ignored him and despite the pain in his abdomen, Lion-o grinned. Maybe it would take time, a long time, for Tygra to reconcile with his past. Maybe it would slow them down for a while. But he knew in his heart that eventually Tygra would mend. And if all it took was time, well that was a sacrifice Lion-o was more than willing to make.
A/N: Many thanks for reading my story. I appreciate the 'alerts' and 'favorites'. I especially appreciate the reviews! All final questions and comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading and productive writing to you all!