by K. Stonham
first released 1st November 2011

The fire murmured low, giving off the barest light but more than a whisper of heat as a branch within suddenly broke in two. Cheetara drowsed, staring at the small wavering flames. So much had happened in the last day that she wasn't quite able to shut down into sleep. Shadows wavered at the edges of her sight, and it was a measure of her exhaustion that it took a moment for her to realize that they weren't cast by flame.

WilyKit and WilyKat crept close with padded, almost silent, footsteps.

Cheetara willed herself to lay still and lax, eyes barely slitted open as she watched.

They opened her and Tygra's packs first, digging quickly through them, setting items neatly to the side until they reached the bottoms, then deftly repacked the bags. The twins met one another's eyes, looked at Lion-O's sleeping form, and hesitated just a moment before quickly searching his travel bag as well.

They took nothing from the young king either.

As silently as they had come near the firelight, they left, springing adroitly up to the branches they'd claimed for the night. There were quiet sighs, and slight shifting, but eventually she heard the soft chirring purrs of sleeping kittens.

Across the fire, Lion-O shifted, sitting up. His brother's eyes, she saw, also glinted gold in the firelight. Neither of them had been asleep.

"Well," Tygra murmured low, "we seem to have a pair of ferals on our hands."

Lion-O snorted. "What do you expect, the way they've probably grown up? I wouldn't trust us either."

"What do you mean?"

"You really should've gone into the slums with me sometime," the younger brother told the elder.

Cheetara stretched and sat upright. "I note," she said, "that neither of our little magpies actually took anything."

Tygra snorted. "Not for lack of trying."

"More like for lack of interest," Lion-O said thoughtfully. He looked up at the dark branches overhead. "If you were going on a journey, wouldn't you want to know your party's complete resources?"

"You really think that's it?" Tygra asked. His tone conveyed his utter disbelief.

"I choose to think that's it," the king replied.

"It's late," Cheetara cut in, not wanting another royal catfight to erupt. They'd all been through enough. "We should sleep."

Lion-O nodded and laid down first, the prince grudgingly following suit a minute later. Cheetara settled back onto her cloak and closed her eyes again until a mere slit of red-gold firelight danced in her vision. And if she heard a snuffled breath across the fire, she let the noble cry in peace.

The half-feral kittens, she thought as she finally drifted off to sleep, were the only ones among them who hadn't lost someone today.

Author's Note: A small story set mid-Ramlak Rising.