Disclaimer: I do not own ThunderCats.
A special thanks to NoWhere ManX and Classic Cowboy. Their encouragement and prodding are the only reasons that this one-shot has been posted instead of still merely being stored as a file on my computer after nearly a year.
This one-shot is an AU version of the episode Between Brothers - giving it a LiChee ending.
Between Brothers - Revisited
Anet looked on as the brothers crossed the portal into the Astral Plane. "I do sense a dark presence within, but on the Astral Plane they will face a greater challenge."
"What's that?" the cheetah questioned.
"Themselves. By evening bell tomorrow, Lion-O will feel betrayed by his brother." The elephant said with certainty.
Cheetara's heart sank as she looked on, knowing that this time she couldn't follow him. She was unable to cross into the Astral Plane and fulfill her duty as a cleric—to protect him. But it was not her sense of duty that caused her anguish. It was him. She was devoted to him heart and soul in a way duty never could have bound them. For all her training, learned discipline and practice of concealing her emotions, the lion had found his way into her heart.
After their return from the Astral Plane…
The elephant approached the young lion king as he quietly stood alone, looking up at the full moon. Lion-O felt a sense of relief wash over him as he realized the elephant's prophecy had not come to fruition.
The soft footfalls of the massive elephant seemed impossibly silent. After a moment the gentle giant finally spoke, his words breaking the lion out of his reverie. "Few could have faced what you did and come out victorious Lion-O. You did well."
"You know you said I'd be betrayed before the evening bell. I thought your visions were never wrong?" Lion-O said, a bit of relieved humor evident in his voice.
"Did the evening bell ring already?" The elephant mystic inquired. "I don't remember hearing it?"
Anet's words overturned his brief sense of serenity. "Of course you don't." Lion-O quipped.
With many thoughts weighing on her mind, Cheetara went in search of Tygra. She had no idea what to say to him, but she knew she had to say something. She had heard the young king's account of what happened in the Astral Plane and felt responsible for some of the rivalry that existed between the brothers. She hoped she could do something—say something to help rectify the situation.
She found him standing on the stone pavilion, staring silently at the full moon above. "I heard about what you and Lion-O went through in there. I feel I've contributed to it by not being clearer with my feelings."
For the first time she could remember, Tygra's voice bore none of the smugness or sarcasm that seemed to always be present. "No, it's pretty clear you made your choice."
The cheetah pressed on, determined to make him understand. "You're right. I did choose—years ago. During those days when I was tested by Jaga, I came close to giving up. And then I found your gift. Of all the flowers, you picked the day astrid. Each petal is said to have trapped a day of life within it. It gave me the strength to endure—to make it one more day."
The cheetah reached into the bracer on her wrist and pulled from it a small brown object, holding it between them. "This is the heart of that very same flower. I've kept it all these years in memory of your kindness. Which reminds me, I never had a chance to thank you."
Tygra looked down at what remained of the once beautiful flower, surprise evident in his expression. He remembered picking the flower and leaving it by her side, having meant it as a token—something beautiful to make her smile. He had no idea that the flower had made such an impact on her.
"And now you have." He said, his eyes carefully not meeting hers. "You're welcome."
"Tygra," the cheetah began, "this flower did much more than give me strength to withstand my test of patience—it made me believe in myself." She placed her hand lightly on his arm, attempting to get him to look at her.
Reluctantly, his eyes met her gaze and she continued. "I made my choice all those years ago to become a cleric. I knew the training would be difficult, but I had no idea that I would need to prove myself beyond the test of agility. I was determined to prove that I possessed the patience Jaga said I lacked. As the days went on it seemed hopeless. That flower made me realize you believed in me—it gave me reason to believe in myself when I was about to give in."
The cheetah searched his dark eyes before she continued, hoping he was ready to hear the words she had longed to speak. "Your brother seeks the same confirmation from you. He needs your support, Tygra. He grew up in your shadow his entire life, watched your father praise you for your accomplishments. King Claudus loved Lion-O, but he rarely gave him his approval."
Tygra's expression remained unchanged. It was impossible to tell his reaction to her words. Regardless, she continued. "I guarded the royal family for years. The king was always very proud of you yet he was frustrated with Lion-O because he was different—a dreamer. Now your brother is trying to shoulder this great responsibility but he feels your resistance at every turn. We all feel it."
Cheetara took a deep breath before continuing, relieved that the tiger was listening to her words instead of arguing with her. "His compassion and honesty have earned him the support of every person we've met along the way, yet he's still unable to earn your approval."
"Do you love him?" The tiger quietly asked.
His candid question was unexpected, but she felt that she owed him the truth. "I love him," she answered honestly. "I chose the clerisy years ago, spent the last nine years focused on learning, training. I never expected my own heart would get in the way of my duty, but it has."
The tiger prince nodded once, stiffly, and cast his gaze on the moon once again. "Then my brother is a very lucky man." His words sounded sincere yet strained.
Cheetara gave a reluctant smile as relief washed over her. "I'm sorry Tygra, I never meant to come between brothers."
For the first time since she'd approached him Tygra's posture seemed to relax a bit and he met her eyes once again. "It's not your fault. Lion-O and I fought over everything from our father's attention to who got the biggest piece of pie for dessert." A chuckle escaped from the tiger's lips. "I only hope he realizes how lucky he is."
A warm smile spread across Cheetara's face. "Please, let him know that he has the respect and support of his brother." The tiger quickly shifted his gaze onto the moon, staring intently. With a frustrated sigh the cheetah continued, "I know you care about him, though you won't admit it—even to yourself. You're a good man, Tygra—a good man who's angry about being passed over for the crown because you weren't of the bloodline. As unfair as it seems, it wasn't Lion-O's fault. Can't you find it within yourself to give him the encouragement he needs, as you once did for me?"
The prince continued to stare into the night sky as he considered her words. Cheetara began to feel discouraged, thinking her exchange with Tygra had been for nothing. After what seemed like a long uncomfortable silence, he playfully smirked. "If you think I'm going to start throwing rose petals at his feet, you're going to be disappointed."
Cheetara exhaled in a quick giggle. "No, I just want you to remember that you're brothers and that nothing should come between you—not the crown, not the sword, not a woman. Family is more important that anything."
He met her eyes again and gave her a sharp nod. It was enough.
"Thank you, Tygra." Cheetara beamed, leaning up to give him a peck on the cheek. As she did, the evening bell began to toll.
Lion-O walked up the hill just as the gong of the evening bell could be heard, hoping to find Cheetara. He hadn't been able to speak to her alone since he returned from the Astral Plane. However, the sight of her leaning up to kiss his brother made his heart pound in his chest as he felt his knees threaten to give out beneath him. He stood frozen, staring, as if the wind had been knocked out him.
Cheetara pulled back from Tygra and glanced in his direction. She smiled initially but upon seeing the lion's expression, her smile disappeared and was replaced with a look of confusion.
"Lion-O!" Cheetara stammered as realization dawned on her. "I… we…"
There was so much that he wanted to say—to her—to him; but in the end he found himself unable to speak. Lion-O turned and stalked off into treeline, disappearing into the forest.
Cheetara glanced up at Tygra and noted that he couldn't completely suppress the sly smile that threatened to form on his face. "What?" He quipped, "I didn't do anything. You kissed me."
Cheetara rolled her eyes as she shook her head in frustration. "I know, I know, it just must have looked so… so bad." Cheetara turned on her heel and followed the path the lion had taken. She knew he couldn't outrun her, but she had to pick up his trail first. Fortunately it seemed that Lion-O didn't go out of his way to cover his path. She easily followed his tracks, picking up speed when she was certain she was gaining on his location. Her heart was racing as she worried about what the young king had seen—or what he thought he had seen.
Cheetara came to an abrupt stop when her sprint brought her to a small clearing by a stream. She looked around quickly and spotted the lion's bright red mane off to her left. Lion-O was sitting atop a large rock on beside the brook. Although his back was facing her direction, she saw him tense as he realized she had followed him.
She quietly ambled toward him and stopped when she was close enough to notice the warm flush on his cheeks.
"It's okay, Cheetara. I won't get in your way." The tension and bitterness in the lion's words startled her for a moment.
She steeled herself, taking a deep breath before she continued. "Lion-O, you don't understand…"
Lion-O slid down off the rock and stood before her. "No, I think I understand perfectly," he seethed. "You have feelings for my brother."
She shook her head, reaching for his arm so he couldn't turn away. "No! Lion-O, please listen."
"There's nothing left to say, Cheetara." And with those words, Lion-O tugged his arm from her grasp and loped off into the forest. Cheetara shook her, attempting to snap herself out of her muddled stupor. She broke out into a run and quickly caught up to the lion, stepping in front of him to block his path. She appeared so quickly that he nearly ran right into her. "Lion-O! You're wrong about what you saw." Her crimson eyes pleaded with him to understand.
"I saw you kiss my brother," he spat back at her.
"Yes, I did kiss him—on the cheek. I kissed him because he wished us well."
Lion-O's furious expression faded, replaced by confusion. "He wished us well?"
The cheetah smiled softly and nodded her head. "Yes. I thanked Tygra for a kindness he'd shown me years ago, then I talked to him about something that's been on my mind," she explained. "After hearing what I had to say, Tygra asked me if I loved you." She waited silently as the young king considered her words.
"He asked you if you loved me?" Lion-O repeated, furrowing his brows in confusion.
"He did," Cheetara reaffirmed, waiting for him to register the words."
Still seemingly in shock that this conversation was even happening, Lion-O managed to reply, "And what was your answer?"
Cheetara stepped closer to him and placed her hand on his cheek, locking her gaze on his azure blue eyes. "I told him that I've fallen in love with you."
Lion-O hadn't realized the tension that racked his body until he felt it release. He let out the breath he had unknowingly been holding and reached his hands up to slide around her thin waist, pulling her close. "I love you Cheetara," he admitted, lightly touching his forehead to hers. "I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you in that alley and I've fallen deeper in love with you every day since."
She smiled sweetly and shifted slightly, allowing her to look into his eyes. Wrapping her arms around him, she murmured, "And I love you."
He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, tightening his arms around her, pulling her as close as he could manage. His lips moved over hers and she sighed, opening her mouth to him and inviting him to deepen their kiss. What began as an affirmation, an expression of love, evolved into more.
Lion-O let go of the hold he had on her waist, sliding a hand up to her neck. He slid his hand around the back of her neck, his fingertips brushed against her nape, tangling in her silky blonde hair as he held her against him. Their mouths were fused, tongues teasing each other's as they sank deeper and deeper.
She brought her hands around to his chest, feeling his hard muscles contract under her touch.
Cheetara's life in the clerisy had been a sheltered one, having only fellow clerics and neophytes as company. She had never been courted, had never been kissed. She was a virgin and as such, was not entirely sure of how to kiss, how to touch. Yet, her inhibitions had been all but forgotten as she moved her lips and tongue against his.
The lion could hardly believe that only moments before he had stormed away, convinced that the woman he loved had chosen another man. Now his feelings of rejection were forgotten—replaced with the need to hold her, kiss her, touch her. This woman had been in the forefront of his thoughts since she he had first seen her. She had appeared in that alley, helped him with the scrap he'd gotten himself into and since then she has been in his company every day. In the few months they had traveled together, fought together, survived together, he realized that he needed her as much as he needed air in his lungs.
Lion-O pulled away from her lips, moving his mouth over her jaw onto her neck. He greedily moved his mouth over her skin, savoring the sweet taste of her. He slid his hands down her back as his mouth moved lower, nipping her collarbone.
He heard her moan softly as she brought her hands up to his head, raking her fingers into his fiery thick mane.
"Mmm… Lion-O…" she whispered softly as her head tilted back.
The sound sparked his awareness. The moment his mind began to clear he pulled his mouth off of her. "I'm sorry." His tried rather unsuccessfully to calm his breathing. I didn't mean to go this far so soon. I'll stop."
She was also nearly breathless, her heart pounding in her chest so loudly she swore all the creatures in the forest could hear it. She knew they should stop, they had only just declared their feelings for each other after all. Yet, her love for him had been building since the first time Jaga had sent her to look after him.
She spoke softly but absolutely. "Don't stop."
Lion-O stood frozen for a moment, unable to stop admiring her. She was stunning. Her kiss-swollen lips were glistening in the moonlight and her crimson eyes were bright, unwavering from his gaze. He knew they should stop—it would be the proper thing to do. But he didn't want to stop either.
He reached his hand up to cup her cheek and stroked his thumb across her cheekbone. The cheetah reached up to lay her hand on his, holding his palm against her cheek, as she stared into his azure eyes.
Their lips were drawn together again, softly at first but becoming more urgent. The lion drew her into his arms and she slid her hands around his neck and pressed even closer against him.
Their kiss deepened and their touches became bolder. Lion-O began to run his hands across her back, savoring the soft feel of her as he reached the curve of her lower back. He rested his hand on the small of her back and pressed her close.
When their lips finally parted, he held her close, leaning his forehead against hers. The thudding of their heartbeats began to slow as their breathing became more relaxed. Lion-O finally spoke, "I still can't believe you chose me."
"You don't see yourself as others do, Lion-O," the cheetah pulled away slightly so she could look into his eyes as she spoke. "You see the good in everyone even if they don't see it themselves. You inspire those around you."
With a sad mile on his face the young king slowly shook his head. "I think my brother would disagree with you."
"You're brother's been misdirecting his anger at you for a long time—so long that he forgot what really made him angry in the first place." Cheetara reached her hand up and pressed her palm against his cheek as she continued, "He'll come around, I know he will. Until then, I want you to know that I'll follow you anywhere—not because I love you, but because I believe in you."
The lion placed his hand over hers, turned his head to the side and pressed a kiss into the center of her palm.
"I don't know what I did to deserve you but whatever it was, I'm grateful."
A soft smile spread across the cheetah's lips. "You deserve everything you have—the crown, the sword. You've more than proved that. As for me, there's nowhere else I'd rather be than by your side."
They stood together, wrapped in each other's arms, content in the knowledge that whatever difficulties lie ahead, they would face them together.