I'm Here

Cheetara had yet to open her eyes to the world; she was conscious, but held no desire to focus on anything but the inside of her eyelids and the throbbing pulse in her head. The pain reverberated from the back of her head and into her eyes, and scaled up to her forehead. She grimaced as she came to more and each pulse became stronger. Open your eyes, she told herself. Maybe if she did then the throbbing would stop or she could find a way to ease it.

Opening her fuchsia eyes, her vision was blurry and unfocused. She furrowed her brows and blinked a few times to drain the fuzzy vision and gain access to clear pictures. The first thing she focused on was the young lion by her bedside.

His handsome face was buried in his large hands and his elbows rested on his legs. His body was tight like a coil and he was hunched over in a miserable posture. Her king was unmoving and he held an air of despair about his usually bright outlook.

Why was he so sad? Her mind raked anything and everything recent that could have him in such a sorry state. Tygra had left a couple of months ago and left the both of them in shambles, but she had thought they were moving on from that. Things had been going smoothly since then, that is until the shock they had received about two weeks ago. But as far as she knew, her king was taking it in stride and wasn't just completely broken up about it.

So what had happened? The last thing she could remember was fighting the generals and an army of lizards before Kaynar got a hold of her and nearly...


A sense of horror filled her for a brief moment. She nearly died. She couldn't remember how, but she must have been saved somehow. Kaynar had such a tight hold on her neck that she have passed out- although she was sure that her king must have had something to do with her livelihood at this point in time.

Relief filled her; she was alive. Yet a haunting feeling still lingered in her veins and all she wanted was to know that she was in fact alive and not just watching everything from the outside of her body. "Lion-O," she rasped almost desperately. Talking hurt and she winced as her head throbbed again. She brought her hand out from under the covers and placed it against her skull.

Lion-O's head shot up from his hands and he gawked at her in shock before shooting up from his chair. He immediately went over to the head of her bed and leaned over to wrap his arms around her, "Cheetara..." he breathed her name in relief, "Oh thank God..."

The cleric was still in a bit of a haze. She couldn't believe how hyper sensitive she was to his touch; how good it felt to know that she was alive to feel his arms around her again, and to bury her nose in the crook of his neck and breathe in his scent. It was all almost too overwhelming for her, and her head started to throb again. She groaned and the lion released her, a concerned look plastered on his face.

"How are you feeling?" he brushed a lock of hair out of her face as she turned her head to fight the pain.

"My head hurts," she mumbled through gritted teeth.

"I'll go get you some pain medication," he stood up. "I'll be right back."

Once she had gotten some medication and a bit of bread into her system, the headache slowly died out and she was left sitting up in her bed and trying to completely grasp everything at hand. She was alive and safe in her small pristine room. The room only consisted of a closet with drawers and the bed. It was such a small room, but it suited her just fine and she had never been happier to see it in her life.

"How are you feeling?" Lion-O asked again as he sat down in the small chair he had placed next to her bed.

"I'm better," she smiled lightly.

"And what about-"

"It's fine, I think." she shook her head, "It was just my head…" she looked around the room, but forgot that there was no window in the bedrooms of the tank, "What time is it?"

"Midnight or so," Lion-O rubbed one of his eyes with the heel of his hand.

"I was out for that long?" it had been around nine when they were attacked. She must have hit her head really hard at some point after passing out to lose consciousness for so long.

"Yeah," Lion-O said under his breath as he held a steady gaze on her form. She appeared to be fine, which brought him some relief. But there was something else that was eating away at him. It had taken a back seat the moment she passed out, because then he just wanted to make sure she would be okay. But now that his cleric was wide awake and seemingly unharmed, he had to know.

"Why," he said flatly.

Cheetara looked up at her king through her eyelashes and waited; there was no way he was done.

"Why did you do it?"

She knew what he meant, but for the sake of being safe she would play coy, "What are you talking about?"

"Why did you go out into the battlefield?" Lion-O could feel his muscles tightening in his shoulders. She was just playing dumb; she knew exactly what she did and he wanted her to know just how upset he was and how stupid her actions were.

"That's like asking why I breathe." She stated rather unimpressed as she picked at an imaginary piece of lint on the blanket covering her lap.

After all, her entire existence, the reason she breathed, was so that she could protect him.

"I'm being serious, Cheetara." Lion-O stated firmly with a furrowed brow.

Cheetara whipped her head up and gave him a steely look, "So am I." She wished he would save this for later. She was too tired to argue, and she could tell that fatigue rested heavily on his eyes as well. He must have stayed by her side this whole time.

"You shouldn't have been out there—not with the—"

"I was fine," she tried to keep calm; she stiffened her muscles before taking in a quiet breath to calm herself.

"You weren't fine! You were nearly killed!"

"Hey wouldn't have killed me," Cheetara closed her eyes and thought back. If Kaynar wanted to kill her he would have killed her in a different manner rather than asphyxiation. None of the generals were aiming to kill, she noticed. They were tip-toeing around and be careful with their power. That's why she went all out—she knew they wouldn't kill her, "At this point Mumm-ra would rather have us captured and killed later."

"And that's any better?!" Lion-O was struggling to hold back a roar. He never raised his voice at her before; her behavior never called for it before today. He was finding it hard to control his anger, because the answer seemed too obvious, but she would rather be in denial and act recklessly. Her actions of the day were beginning to paint her as a hypocrite, and he knew that such a label didn't fit her gentle nature.

"You know I could handle myself just fine,"

"That's not the point!" Lion-O growled, "The point is that there is always a risk involved!"

"I know the risks well," Cheetara furrowed her eyebrows at the lion and set her frown in a firm line.

"Then why did you go out onto the battlefield when you know full-well what exactly is at risk?" he could feel his fists tightening, and he hadn't been this angry in so long. The last time he had been this frustrated was about a week before Tygra had left.

"Lion-O, it's my job as a cleric to protect you!"

Lion-O stood up and glowered at her. He'd never raised his voice at her before until then. He'd had enough. "Your job is to keep yourself and the cub safe, Cheetara!" he slammed his fist against the dresser next to her bed. An empty glass rattled in response.

Lion-O scolded himself; he was never one to get violent when angry- not over things like this. Angry at her and himself, he quickly strolled out of the room and shut the door behind him.

It started with pain and loneliness. Such things could only be consoled through one another. Panthro and the kids didn't understand the magnitude of their anguish. So they kept to each other; silently at first, but then that all changed once Cheetara decided to embrace her king one night after they had settled down. Lion-O had been outside of the tank, leaning against a tree as his mind mulled over the recent heart break. She had been at the fire, about to put it out. She couldn't describe the loneliness that came over her. It must have been the warmth of the fire, and how many nights she had shared with her ex-boyfriend around it. Cheetara couldn't recall a time where she had felt so small- fragile, if she dared. And it had been so long since she felt like everyone around her was out of reach. So she reached for the closest person to her.

Her slender arms wrapped around Lion-O's frame. And at first he paused, but gently wrapped his arms around her. She needed comfort and so did he. If hugging it out made them feel better, then he would hold her for as long as they needed. But the minute she pulled her head away from his chest and looked into his eyes was the minute everything flew out the window. They both knew it too; the looks in their eyes said the same thing,

Please, take away the pain.

A firm kiss. A tongue between receptive lips. Flushing faces and moans vibrating from deep within chests into the other.

The pain was diminishing, but it wasn't enough.

Soon they found themselves in Cheetara's small bunker. Hands were roaming; lips were traveling. His lips found a place on her neck that solicited a sound from her that he found he enjoyed. She got him back later for it, though.

They were in bed and the touches got bolder and the pain faded more.

Still, they wanted to keep the pain away for as long as possible.

So they kept going.

Before they knew it, their tops were off, and their pants were dangerously close to joining the rest of the garments on the floor. Their minds were intoxicated with a warm lust, but they did have enough of their minds about them to stop for a moment and exchange half-lidded stares and mingled breaths.

Neither gaze relented; they both wanted this.

"I've never done this sort of thing before..." he warned as he panted. He let his lips venture to her neck as he sucked that spot that earned him a noise of pleasure from her.

"Neither have I," she bit out through the tightness in her throat.

Neither of the two of them held the experience. But this wasn't about impressing each other; this was about forgetting. It was about acting on instinct and just doing. Even if it wasn't perfect, it worked. It made her forget about her deceased mentor. It made her forget about the lover who abandoned her. It made her forget about the home she once had in Thundera. For Lion-O it made him forget about the death of his father and the mother he never had. It made him forget about how he felt like a disappointment to the world. It made him forget that he felt so out of place and like he wasn't a good king. It made him forget about his brother and his heart break for the woman he had in the most intimate of ways below him.

All they could feel; all they knew; all they could focus on was each other.

They had often heard from others on the streets that friends with benefits should never share a bed. But they weren't just together for the benefits of sex. It was a matter of comfort and companionship. So they stayed in bed together that night. Lion-O's arm splayed beneath the pillow and his arm wrapped around her hip. Cheetara's body tucked close against her friend's body and her head resting beneath his chin.

They had been a bit flustered about it when they woke up in the morning. Neither of them moved when they had woken up, pressed together and wrapped up in each other. But they could tell when the other was awake.

"Um..." Lion-O swallowed and cursed himself for it. Her ear was pressed up against his neck and she could probably feel it. "Well, I've...never done anything quite like that before," he felt her lips curve upward in an embarrassed smile and she buried her face further into his neck to hide it. If she was embarrassed, then that meant he didn't need to be so shy about it, right? But the next thing he wanted to say didn't cool the heat on his face. "So was I...was it...

"Good?" It was her turn to feel her face heat up. She could feel the lion relax and release a sigh.

"Yeah," he closed his eyes, trying to calm his heart rate, but to no avail.

She nodded, and she wished there was a way to completely disappear into his neck, because the embarrassment and excitement of it all was starting to curl her toes. "Yeah." she paused, panic washing over her with a cold sweat, "Was it...okay for..." she was usually very good with words, but the man against her had her at a loss of confidence.

Lion-O pulled away from her and smiled, "I've never done anything like this before, but..." Cheetara could have sworn she saw stars in his eyes, "But I can't imagine anything better."

Cheetara closed her eyes and sighed as she stepped out of the memory.

That's just the thing, though. It got better.

They sought comfort more than once, and soon it became more than comfort. It wasn't even about comfort after a point. It was about pleasure and company; excitement and warmth. It wasn't even just the practice that made it better.

No. It wasn't just the practice.

It became more than just a physical connection. It became spiritual. It became mental. It became emotional. And it didn't surprise her at all when it became full of loving motions and caring considerations.

Their movements became slower, more languid and relaxed. The kisses felt like they were full of something other than just lust and desperation. This time they were filled with tenderness and a will to express something the neither of them had felt before. And now instead of a frenzied build of heat, she could swear his touches slowly caught her on fire in the most painful and beautiful kind of ways.

She was drowning in this new feeling. And she knew he was too; it was in the way he looked at her—in and out of the moment. It was in the way he smiled at her as they went about their daily routines. Their smiles held more now than just memories of their time in bed together; stolen glances meant more than just another planned rough and tumble later that night.

He was giving her signals that held more than just longing and lust.

And she knew she was giving him the same signals.

They were both falling for one another. And they were falling fast. Yet neither of them relented their positions as just being friends with benefits. Though, the cheetah knew that their positions hadn't been the same since two weeks ago.

They hadn't been just friends with benefits since they had found out two weeks ago that she was pregnant with his cub.

They were numb as the doctor dismissed them.

And suddenly the world began spinning again, only this time it didn't go spiraling completely out of control like it had when the kingdom fell or when Tygra had left. Maybe it was because this time they had each other.

"I can't believe it..." Lion-O had voiced hollowly as they sat down on the benches outside of the doctor's clinic. They had a while before they had to meet back up with Panthro and the kids; why not wallow in their new found discovery?

"I know..." Cheetara echoed. She tried to grasp any shred of her training she could, but her mind was void of such knowledge.

"A cub..." Lion-O said as he ran his sweaty hand from his forehead and through his red hair. "What are we going to do?"

And for once, she didn't look at him and offer him a smile. For once she had no words to comfort him. For once she didn't have the answer.

And for once she was afraid and had no knowledge of how to confront it.

She was off kilter for the rest of the day and well into the next day. They both kept to themselves for the rest of that first day, but at night Lion-O approached her before they crawled into bed, "How are you feeling?" he had placed both of his hands on her shoulders.

"Just a little stunned..." she placed one of her hands on his and looked at the ground. Cheetara couldn't look him in the face.

"I know," he answered just as downtrodden. They went to bed without another word, but for the days after that Lion-O would ask her how she was doing. Soon the question became "How are you two doing?" and she no longer knew how to feel about anything.

Soon the question she asked herself was no longer "what am I feeling?" but "Where did I go wrong?"

She was a cleric. She was meant to protect the crown. Her only purpose in life was to act as a disposable soldier all for the sake of the king's and his predecessor's safety. The last time she checked, creating predecessors with the king wasn't in the job description.

Cheetara was nothing more than a cleric to protect her king. She over stepped her boundaries and became a bed buddy. She was his concubine; he could never have her, even if he wanted to- and she knew, or at least she thought he did. As soon as this quest was done and over with, Lion-O would no longer socialize with her. They would no longer share a bed and make love- if that's what it was now. They would no longer share glances and smiles that held deeper meaning. He would move on to someone of higher standing- someone who could be his queen and rule Thundera. The child she carried wouldn't have a father. It would be a bastard and an embarrassment to the royal family.

First she lost her mentor.

Then she lost her home.

She picked the wrong man.

The man she thought was right had left.

She slept with the king of Thundera.

She fell in love with the king of Thundera.

She had effectively forfeited her rights as a cleric.

And now she was pregnant with the king's cub.

The shame and the newfound stress was enough to make her bolt up one night out of bed and propel her to the bathroom to empty last night's dinner from her stomach.

Why was she breaking now? Why now of all times, the time when she needed to be strong the most? Why was this her breaking point? She had been trained to be calm and collected; why couldn't she use that training to her advantage now?

Lion-O had woken up when the other side of the bed had shifted abruptly. He ventured to the bathroom to find his best friend leaning against the wall. She was trembling, but he had assumed it was from the sudden upset from vomitting. He had escorted her back to what was now their bed, but he noticed that her trembling continued.

And that was when he began to worry about her enough to prompt her. The next day as the kids went off to play in the river and Panthro tinkered with the tank outside, Lion-O confronted her in one of the tank's cramped hallways. "Is everything okay?" he started with upturned eyebrows.

"Yeah, why wouldn't it be?"

"Well, for one, we just found out that we're pregnant." Lion-O looked down at the floor and then back to her. "But you've been acting...off for the past week."

"I'm fine," she offered him a fake smile. When she tried to pass him, he stepped in front of her.

"I'm just really worried about you," he added.

"You don't need to worry about me, Lion-O, I'm fine." she actually did muster a small chuckle—it wasn't like him to be this persistent and worry so much over her. Again she tried to pass him, but he stopped her.

"You're not fine," he said a bit more firmly. He placed a hand on her shoulder.

"You've got to talk to me," he pleaded quietly. "I can't know what to do unless you talk to me." he needed this path of communication to be cleared. He needed to hear her, and to talk to her. He didn't know what to do and he was pretty sure that she didn't know either. He had always been good about talking to her about his problems, but she never opened up to him. If this was going to work, then they needed to open up to each other.

Cheetara was a bit startled by his forwardness, but she tried to keep her surprise hidden. It was her job to comfort him, not the other way around. Then again, she had looked for comfort in him before, but it was been physical- nothing as delicate as laying her heart out for him to see. She was a warrior before anything else, and she needed to act as such. "Lion-O, I don't know why you think that something has to be wrong." she tried to pass him again, but this time he slammed both of his palms against the walls of the hall and gave her a serious look, "Because I'm scared shitless about this and there's no way in all of Third Earth that you aren't too!"

The cleric was taken aback by her king's sudden aggressiveness, but she remained glued to her spot.

"Look," he sighed and let the irritation roll off of his shoulders like rain water, "this is...this is big, I mean..." he ran a hand through his messy hair, "this is a cub—a baby. It's not like this war we're fighting where we can just...retreat or fight back."

He hit the nail on the head with that one. That was probably one of the biggest things that scared Cheetara the most. This wasn't something she could just fight and be done with it. This was permanent. This wasn't something she was trained to handle.

But she had to give her king props though; he was learning. If he had been the man she had met back when they first started travelling together, he wouldn't have been this...sensible.

"I already know all of that," she tried, yet again, to pass him; she could easily pass through the space below his arm. Instead, the king ducked his head down and placed a quick peck on her forehead that made her stand back up and give him her full attention.

"But you don't act like it," the small smile he had received from her dumbfounded expression started to fade.

"I Didn't know there was a certain way I was supposed to act." Cheetara smirked and crossed her arms. Her walls were cracking.

"There isn't, I just-"

"Listen," Cheetara held up a hand to silence him, "I was taught to remain calm and keep my emotions in check. It was one of the things Jaga taught me, and I plan on keeping that teaching to heart."

"I don't think Jaga would want you to tear yourself up over something like this though..." Lion-O knew the old cleric and saw him as a grandfather in some ways. He was a gentle and wise soul, and true, while the older cat did seem to keep his emotions in check, he was always open to listening to the problems of others and letting them talk to him.

"Well, I do know that Jaga would want me to go meditate right about now," Cheetara was about to make a pass again at the space under Lion-O's arm.

"I think Jaga would rather you talk me about this." The young king swayed to the side to block her.

"I think Jaga would want me to keep calm and go on about my business,"

"And I think that Jaga would rather you talk about what's bothering you so that you can be happy,"

She had enough; the walls were breaking and she wanted it all to stop, "And I think Jaga would be pretty damned ashamed that his student slept around with the king and got knocked up!" but that's not how she wanted it to stop.

She stood still, shocked at what she had just said. That was a place she didn't want to go, a place she didn't want Lion-O to see. It was secret and it was painful.

The cheetah dared to look up at her king. He still stood with his hands against the walls, but his jaw was slack and his eyes had widened considerably. He was probably more shocked by how quiet and stunned she had gotten once the cat was out of the bag. Lion-O had struck a nerve, or rather had gotten her to reveal a frayed nerve to him.

It was the look Lion-O was giving her that caused her wall to break completely.

She had never released such a choked sob in her life. It frightened her to hear it cross her lips; with it, it carried every ounce of weakness; rattled every fiber in her being. Cheetara thought she could possibly rope the emotions back, but the minute she felt two strong arms encase her and pull her close to a familiar warm body, she broke down completely. She could never, not in her entire life, recall a time when arms held her so preciously, so firmly with good intention and protection from the world.

And all that protection did was bring her to tears. Because someone was there. Someone was there to tell her that it was okay. He didn't even have to say anything. He just held her tightly, pressing his cheek against the crown of her head, and his eyes shut tightly as he shared in this moment of turmoil.

"It's going to be alright," he whispered. He didn't know how it was going to be alright, but he would make sure it would be. If she couldn't comfort him, then by golly he was going to comfort her. He hadn't realized just how distraught she had been over this; that it was hurting her so much.

"I'm so sorry, Cheetara," he brushed his clawed hand through her hair as she trembled against him. "So, so sorry," he realized that he never knew heartbreak until he heard her cry. And he never wanted to hear her sound so distressed for the rest of his life. "We never should have..." he couldn't bring himself to say it. He didn't want to say it. He loved those nights together; the feeling of being complete, but also the feeling of being complete with her. He didn't regret her being his first. He didn't regret sleeping with her. But he did know that they never should have done it to begin with.

She wanted to cry harder, but she was able to hold that much back. He regretted sleeping with her. She wanted to tell him that she didn't regret it at all, that she would do it all again. But she wouldn't say it, not if he didn't feel the same.

Cheetara didn't reveal all of her fears to him at that moment. No, instead she just let the tears and the quiet cries of anguish tumble out of her. When she had gotten enough of her wits about her, she said "Lion-O, I don't know what to do." now only a few tears fell as her cheek rested against his chest.

"I don't either," he nuzzled his cheek in her blonde hair, "But we'll figure something out..." he tried to sound sure, but he just wasn't. He wished he had the answers, but he didn't.

He felt her nod against him and he was sure a small smile was in place of her lips, "We will,"

Cheetara started to feel more like herself as the days went on. She still had worries in the pit of her stomach, but they didn't feel nearly as heavy as they had a few days before. But she made a few resolutions to herself. She needed to get back to the basics of her cleric training. She needed to continue with her cleric duties, because that's what she had dedicated her life to; that's what she had been conditioned for, and that's what she would continue to do. She would do this at least until she was too far along to fight. She never told Lion-O of this quiet conviction.

And then they were ambushed.

Cheetara wouldn't stay in the tank, and Lion-O tried arguing with her tooth and nail in the brief moment they had before the fight. Panthro and the kids, not knowing why Cheetara was ordered to stay behind, told their king that they needed as many cats out on the field as possible. Before Lion-O could explain to them what had occurred in the past two week, the battle started.

Cheetara had fallen asleep a short while after Lion-O had stormed out of the room. She had been too tired to ruminate over their fight. For the time being she just wanted to forget and rest; the night time was a time for sleep, the day was a time for everything else.

The cheetah loved the feeling of her bed. Once it had been hard, but after many nights of sleeping in it and breaking it in with Lion-O it had become sinfully soft. However, it lacked that familiar warmth she had grown to adore. Cheetara curled up and snuggled closer into her blankets, but the warmth did not grace her. It was then she realized that the other side of the bed felt barren, having no dip or familiar presence.

She sulked; her eyes still closed. Of course Lion-O wouldn't be there—not after their fight earlier. He had probably retreated to his old room and slipped under the now musty covers, in favor of sleeping in peaceful solitude.

That was fine, Cheetara could sleep just fine by herself. She didn't need someone in the same bed, or even the same room to lull her to sleep.

The cleric opened her eyes to change positions, but her eyes caught something she hadn't expected to see at the side of the bed. Her king was sitting in a chair next to her bedside, looking just as miserable as he had earlier that night when she first woke up. Though, this time, Cheetara could pick up the solemn hints of defeat in his aura. His face was in his hands again; his new favorite spot to hide from the rest of the world. And she was slouched over with his elbows resting on the edge of the bed.

She almost didn't want to call out to him or ask him how he was. She might just set him off again and make things even worse. But his silence was frightening and concerning to her. Her Lion-O was always so bright. Even when he was sad or discouraged he still had a certain air around him—one that told her she didn't need to fret over him. But this was something she needed to worry about.

She thought before speaking, picking her words carefully. Lion-O said they needed to talk to make things work, hadn't he? "What's wrong?" she let the words flow quietly between her lips and into air of the dark room.

When the question reached his ears, Lion-O looked up at her, but then quickly looked away. A part of him wanted to snap at her again. She knew what was wrong. But he didn't have it in him to fight with her—especially over a small question. He was far too tired; far too deflated. Instead, he just hung his head and closed his eyes. "It's nothing." Because he didn't really know what to say, or rather he knew what he wanted to say, but didn't know how to go about saying it. He wanted to tell her everything. To yell, to cry, to hold her and never let go; things he never let anyone else see.

She had a way of getting under his guard, and he didn't know if it brought him comfort or scared him senseless.

"You're still angry." She stated as she cast her gaze to the ceiling. She figured he would get angry again; and she was beginning to think she might deserve it. But she fought against the sliver of guilt and held her stance.

"I should be," and he was, but there were so many other emotions that had come to the surface that his anger was now only a little cinder burning out in the pit of his stomach. "I don't really know what to feel right now."

She didn't like the sound of that. It sounded like the prelude before the drop; the hesitation before the step; the warning before the disaster. It sounded like he was going to break it off with her. They weren't even dating, but the tired sound in this voice almost sounded like he was done—done with everything that involved her.

Cheetara closed her eyes, not even trying to calm the panic of her heart beat.

She didn't want to lose what she had with him—even if he was just using her for pleasure. She loved his closeness; the comfort he brought her, but it was more than just that now. She couldn't imagine a day without seeing his smile or his eyes as they glittered from the sound of her voice.

She loved the feeling of being loved, but what scared her even more was she enjoyed the feeling of loving him more.

"Cheetara, listen," Lion-O started without looking up at her.

That scared her even more.

"I…" he was slightly stunned to find he didn't have the words to go on. The lion had so much to say, but none of the words would come forward. "I just…" another word down, so many more to go.

He wanted to tell her he loved her. He wanted to kiss her and let her know just how much, and to make love to her and never let her go. But he knew that this was a poor moment to reveal such things. Lion-O was a romantic at heart, but he knew he failed miserably with most things involving courtships. He figured that revealing such a profound feeling to her now in such a tense and confusing moment would only add another tally-mark to his failures.

Lion-O ruminated over his jumbled thoughts. He tried to organize them, but had a hard time delving too deep. The fear and weakness was too much for him. "I just..." Lion-O started. His eyes darted all about his lover's figure as he tried to find the words he needed to tell her; and trying to prevent the tears he had been fighting from falling in front of her, "I don't know what I would do if I lost either of you."

Cheetara felt her body sag against the pillows behind her as she gaged his words. She examined his physical stature; he looked just a beaten as he had earlier that night, only this time his body language wasn't as tense and rigid. Instead it looked sad and worn out—like he had endured the toughest battle of his life.

It was when her eyes met his that his reactions, words, and feelings became warranted. Cheetara couldn't believe how hard it hit her and how dumb she felt for not realizing it sooner. He had been mad at her, not because she acted against his wishes, but because he nearly lost her, and not just her, but the cub too.

Even if she had felt capable—the danger of her and the cub being taken away from him had felt very real to Lion-O

At this moment he wasn't angry; he was sober and bare in front of her. He was slouched in despair and weakness—not at all in a tired manner or in a way which expressed embarrassment or discouragement. No, this was so much more agonizing for her to watch. His normally bright blue eyes were weighed down at the corners and his eyebrows were tilted upward.

But none of this is what truly horrified her. No, but rather...

His kind blue eyes were coated in a film of tears.

"Lion-O…" Cheetara rasped. She shook her head, more at herself than at him. She swallowed and quickly licked her bottom lip. Now it was her turn to play a game of scavenger hunt with the words in her mind.

Before Cheetara could muster a response, Lion-O stood up. She was a little surprised to see him crawl onto her side of the bed, at first appeared like he was going to straddle her, but instead he wrapped an arm around her and eased himself down onto the other side of her—closer to his side of the bed. She noticed that he didn't pull her too close to him, but rather, he placed his head close to hers and buried his face in the space between her head and shoulder.

Cheetara tilted her head, her cheek resting in his red hair. She could feel him swallow against her shoulder and she could hear his breathing. It was the kind of breathing that she associated with frustration and sadness; like he was trying to hold back.

It all made sense to her

The memories of Lion-O telling her about his mother and about his father came rushing at her like a tidal wave. She recalled his face as Jaga perished and as Emrick passed away. Then the most recent memory of Lion-O sulking after Tygra had left. These were all people who Lion-O had lost in some way or another. Death or abandonment; either way they had walked out of his life without so much as a notice.

It made her feel even worse when she thought back on how hurt he had been when she chose Tygra over him. After all of the support and misleading signals she gave him; all of the support and attraction Lion-O had thought she had for him.

She was one of those people who left. Even if she was always there physically, even if she would always be there for him, Lion-O had probably felt betrayed and abandoned.

But at least when she chose between the brothers she could still come back. This time, she wouldn't have been able to if the battle had gone in favor of the enemy. And this time Lion-O wouldn't be just losing Cheetara, he would be losing a cub too.

Gently, Cheetara moved her hand into her king's fiery hair, "Lion-O," her voice was so soft that clouds would turn dark with jealousy. She turned her head a little bit more; her lips were brushing the shell of his ear, "I'm sorry." She gently fisted his hair between her fingers and she prayed he could still read her physical actions despite his emotional turbulence, "I didn't think of how it would affect you."

She paused, not knowing what to say next. She didn't want to grovel—protecting him was her job after all. But she did know that apologies and explanations were in order, "I've just been so caught up in things…" She shook her head and blinked back the onset of tears. "And I've been so upset with myself…"

She didn't mean for things to get so out of hand.

She heard a soft, sharp intake of air from Lion-O and he swallowed again. There was no mistaking it; he was fighting back tears too.

"I really thought…" Lion-O lifted his head enough to utter quietly in her ear. "That I was going to lose the two of you tonight."

Cheetara craned her head back and caught sight of his eyes. They were red and so tired. She could still see his personal nightmare being relived over and over again in his irises. "I know," she whispered. "But I'm still here." His eyes didn't change, instead they shifted about her face, trying to absorb her assurance, but failing to do so. He was too clogged, too tired from feeling.

But she had to get it across to him somehow; how sorry she was, but more importantly that she was still here with him and that everything was okay.

The cheetah sat up, and her king knew to follow her lead. Reluctantly he sat up next to her, closing his eyes. All he wanted to do was shut down and forget; let his mind reset with sleep's beautiful hold.

Turning to face him, Cheetara planted her eyes firmly on him and allowed her eyes to bore into his, "It's okay," she said, "I'm still here."

Again, Lion-O's eyes, dark from unshed tears, flitted about her being.

She placed her hand on his cheek and brought him closer to hers. Her breath ghosted his face and she could see the tears threatening to overflow and stain his face. The sight nearly caused her to lose the hold she had on our own water works.

She had to get this through to him. She couldn't stand to see him like this—so unresponsive and untrusting. Cheetara wanted him to know he could trust her; even if she had wronged him in the past with a broken heart, and now with the ever living fear of witnessing her demise, she still needed him to know that she was there for him and she wasn't going anywhere. "I'm here," she rasped and shook her head. Her small eyebrows pinched upward as she tried her best to rein back the tears. "What do I need to do to make you realize that?" she whispered as her eyes shuffled about his distraught face. What could she do? What could she say? What words did this man need to hear from her to be put at ease and smile for her again? What did she need to do for him to make him look at her with all the sunshine in his eyes?

Her words weren't reaching him; his eyes still held that same fear and no smile adorned his lips.

Cheetara leaned forward and placed her lips against his. They had helped each other before using physical contact. Sex had seemed to fix the pain before; maybe it's what he needed again- to feel her and know that she was still there; to lose himself in her and have her completely to himself.

Each of her kisses were gentle. She pulled away ever so slightly to try and get him to respond between each kiss. When he did respond, she tried to pull his bottom lip between her own. But to her surprise, her king pulled away, "No," he said gently. He lifted his head upward and placed a slow and gentle kiss against her forehead. "Not that..." he whispered hoarsely against her, "Not tonight," he shook his head and placed yet another kiss on her forehead.

She was at a loss; if not that, then what? "Then what can I-"

"Just..." Lion-O rested the bridge of his nose against her forehead and took in a steady breath; her smell was relaxing. Her scent was familiar and comforting—something he needed. He needed to know she was safe, to know she was real and actually there with him. The king didn't need to bed her to know this; he was too upset by the day's events to get into such affairs. No, all he needed...

He wrapped an arm around her and gently guided her back down to the bed. He drew her close to his body, engulfing her in his strong arms and holding her as tightly as possible. He buried his nose in her blonde hair and he quietly counted the spots on the right side of it.

This was all he needed; to be with her and hold her, smell her and feel her breathing against him. "Let me..." he couldn't form a coherent sentence; he was too busy losing himself in her smell and in the relief it brought him.

Cheetara was here. She was alive and she was safe. She was tucked away protectively in his arms where he wouldn't let anyone harm her or their unborn cub.

The cleric pressed one of her slender hands against the lion's chest, while her other arm snaked around his back and held him. She could feel his heart's gentle rhythm thrumming against her fingers.

He seemed to be calming down, but she wasn't content knowing that she wasn't able to calm him down- not with words or actions at least.

"I still wish there was something I could do to make you feel better." Cheetara mumbled into his throat.

He smiled into her hair as he, finally, began to relax, "This is enough..." He ran his clawed hand up her back and ran his fingers through her hair, "I'm sorry I got so angry,"

She didn't want him to apologize for getting so angry—not now. Not after the unshed tears that coated his beautiful eyes and the broken look on his face had reached her. She didn't want him to apologize for feeling, because she didn't think about him or what could have happened to her or, Thundera forbid, this cub.

"You don't need to apologize," she smiled a bit wryly; "Besides, I think I deserved it."

He chuckled tiredly, running one of his hands back down through her blonde tresses and down her back, leaving it to rest on her hip. Lion-O smiled when he felt a kiss being planted on his neck, and he hugged her tighter and nuzzled into her hair.

Things were silent for a moment. Cheetara was about to doze off until she felt a rumble from the lion's chest and throat, "How are you two doing?"

Cheetara grinned and curled her fingers on Lion-O's arm, "We're fine."

Cheetara just wanted to shut down in his arms. She wanted to forget the world, at least for tonight. Reveling in her gratitude that she was alive and in her lover's arms, and expecting a cub that neither of them were ready for.

To know that he was here, holding her so close; To know that she was here, her lips against his throat—that's all the two of them needed at that moment.

I had too much fun writing this~
This was just for pure fun~
And don't expect a continuation~
This was 16 pages long~
Thanks Bronwynn and Katt for name suggestions~
And special thanks to the LiChee group for all the love~
I'm in a good mood, can't you tell~
I have history class now~