Disclaimer: The ThunderCats aren't mine, unfortunately.
A Matter of Trust
Lion-O watched in concern as Cheetara vomited once again in the bushes before sagging weakly to the ground. As more and more of the drug left her system, she began to suffer from several of the withdrawal symptoms the doctor had warned her about. First it had been the tremors. The tremors had progressed to horrible sweating, excruciating stomach cramps, and dizziness. Now, she couldn't keep anything on her stomach. Lion-O didn't know how fast they'd be able to travel today because of it.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as Lion-O handed her a cup of cool water.
"Don't be," he assured her. "None of this is your fault."
"But it is," she argued. "I should never have allowed this to happen in the first place."
Lion-O was taken aback by her words. "Cheetara, how do you think you allowed this to happen?"
"I was a cleric, Lion-O, trained to always be alert and to protect those whole safety I was charged with. Velox's men caught me off-guard and I had no idea what happened to my daughter. I couldn't help her. Then, once I got to Velox's palace I couldn't even protect myself from being drugged and raped repeatedly even though I knew what was going to happen each time someone came into that room." She shook her head in disgust. Right now she hated herself; she couldn't stand what she had become.
"Cheetara," Lion-O breathed, stunned beyond belief at the way she blamed herself, "none of that is true."
She shoved to her feet wavering a bit with dizziness and argued back. "You weren't there; you don't know what happened. I let it happen. I let all of it happen!" She was nearly screaming at him now, and everyone had turned to look at them.
She stumbled as she turned too quickly and Lion-O caught her before she fell. Cheetara sagged against his chest, totally spent after her outburst and her morning of vomiting. Lion-O held her close and tucked her against him tenderly. He didn't argue with her further. Instead, he stroked her hair back from her face and then his hand moved to her back where he stroked in comforting circles. She slowly relaxed into his embrace and he felt the tension leave her.
Lion-O had never felt more unsure of himself in his life as he did right now. He had never been in this situation before; he didn't know how to help Cheetara. All he knew to do was be there for her in any way she needed. Trouble was he didn't really know what she needed. The lion king stifled a sigh and glanced down at the woman in his arms. He loved her just as deeply and purely as he had all those years ago. Nothing had changed that, not even her experience at the hands of Velox. If anything, it made him love her even more.
"Do you feel up to traveling?" he asked softly.
She sighed against him. "Yes, I need to get to my daughter."
Lion-O swung the trembling woman up into his arms and was somewhat surprised by how freely Cheetara was letting him touch her. At first, she'd been hesitant, but now he seemed to be the only one she was comfortable with. Last night when the vomiting had started, Tygra had tried to help her to a place where she could be sick in private. She had cowered away from his touch, and the tiger had immediately drawn back when he realized he had frightened her. Lion-O had stepped in and lifted the too-thin cheetah against his chest and carried her to the tree line. She hadn't protested, only moaned as her stomach rebelled as soon as he put her down.
Now she let him lift her up on the saddle first and then he crawled up behind her. She was too weak to sit behind him and hold on all day although that's what she would have preferred. Instead, the lion's strong arms surrounded her, and the cheetah had to admit she felt safe and protected sitting here in his shadow.
The lion king gave the command and their company moved out on the last leg of their journey toward home. If they could make good time today, they might make it to Thundera just after nightfall, but Lion-O was not going to push Cheetara if she wasn't up to traveling.
Cheetara felt miserable. Her stomach cramped and rolled and the dizziness that assaulted her from time to time did not help with the nausea. She tried to sit up straight to keep from leaning on Lion-O, but as the morning crept by her strength waned. She found herself slowly slumping back against his chest. He was warm and strong and safe, and she let the rise and fall of his chest lull her to sleep.
Cheetara was jolted awake when Lion-O reined their mount to a stop. She looked around wildly to assess her surroundings. The cheetah had become used to finding Velox looming over her just waiting for force himself on her. She relaxed when she realized she was still in the safe cocoon of Lion-O's muscular arms. She glanced up and found him smiling at her.
"Hungry?" he asked.
She shook her head. She hadn't been hungry since the day Velox had taken her captive, but she ate enough to keep herself going.
"Cheetara, you need to eat. You need to keep yourself healthy. Saya needs you."
Cheetara sighed; Lion-O had her on that point and he knew it. "I'll try."
"Good," he replied as he swung down out of the saddle. He looked up at her and his lips quirked into a grin. "Want some help getting down?" He lifted his arms and waited for her permission to touch her.
This was Lion-O, she told herself. There was no way he would hurt her. "Please," she said, her stomach clenching as he reached for her. In her mind's eye, she could see Velox's greedy leer as his hands reached out to grope at her.
She backed away and Lion-O stopped and dropped his hands, his blue eyes quizzical.
Cheetara swallowed hard against the bile that threatened to rise in the back of her throat. She blinked once, twice, and then focused on Lion-O's gaze. Kindness shone there and worry as well as compassion. He waited patiently for her to decide what she wanted to do. Finally, after a calming breath, she reached her arms out to him. "I'm ready," she said in a voice that sounded croaky and unsure.
The lion nodded and stepped forward once again allowing Cheetara to rest her hands on his shoulders. He placed his hands on her waist and gently lifted her down from the mount. When her feet touched the ground her legs buckled beneath her.
"I've got you," Lion-O murmured as his arms tightened around her waist.
"I hate being this weak," she grumbled as her world spun around her and nausea gripped her stomach.
"You haven't been walking and the drugs have weakened you. It won't take long and you'll be moving around just fine," Lion-O encouraged her.
"I'm going to be sick," she groaned.
Lion-O lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bushes where she had some modicum of privacy. He held her hair back from her face as she heaved up what little was left in her stomach. When she finished, she wiped her mouth with a trembling hand. "I just want this all to be over," she sighed, horrified as she felt tears build in her eyes and began to stream down her cheeks.
As a cleric, Cheetara had been used to masking her emotions. Her experience with Velox, however, had left her feeling raw and exposed. Too much had happened and she just couldn't hold it in.
"Cheetara," Lion-O breathed softly, reaching out to cup her face without thinking.
She flinched at first and he started to draw back. "No," she whispered, reaching out to hold his hand against her cheek. "It's okay." She was terrified; her whole world had been turned upside down. Lion-O was the one person, the only one, that she trusted.
"I just-" Lion-O began haltingly, "I don't want to scare you or hurt you, but I want to comfort you and make things better."
"I know, Lion-O," Cheetara answered softly. "Just go slow and give me a chance to process that it's you touching me and I think I'll be okay."
Lion-O nodded and his shoulders seemed to relax a bit. "Feel up to some broth? Tygra was planning on heating some up for you."
She actually didn't feel like eating, but Cheetara knew that Lion-O would insist on it anyways. "I'll try to keep it down," she told him watching as his face lit up in a grin at her words.
Cheetara did manage to eat a half a bowl before exhaustion took over and she nearly fell asleep sitting up. Lion-O soon had her settled before him on their mount again and they resumed their homeward journey.
"I really think we might reach Thundera tonight after all," Lion-O's voice rumbled pleasantly in her ear.
Cheetara sat up a bit straighter at that news. "Really?" She would get to see her daughter; then she would know for herself that Saya really was okay.
Lion-O chuckled. "Saya is the spitting image of you. She's adorable."
"She is my heart," Cheetara sighed, leaning back into Lion-O's chest without a second thought. His presence surrounding her had become a comfort; the feel of his strong back and thighs holding her in place made her feel protected.
"I can't wait to get to know her better," Lion-O commented. "I only got to spend a little bit of time with her before I left to find you. She seems very smart for her age."
"It's just the two of us, and we spend all of our time together. I've been training her in the ways of the Clerics." She felt Lion-O tense a bit behind her as their mount ambled along the forest road.
"Cheetara, you can tell me it's none of my business, but what happened to Saya's father?"
He felt her stiffen against him.
"It's okay; I shouldn't have asked. It's none of my business," he apologized.
"No, Lion-O," she told him, her voice shaky with emotion, "you need to know, especially in light of everything that has happened with Velox."
At her words, Lion-O knew his suspicions had been confirmed.
"Let me start at the beginning," Cheetara choked out. "It might take me a while to get through this story, so bear with me."
"Take as long as you need," Lion-O assured her.
"When I left to nurse my friend, Velox's men showed up looking for me. I was terrified and I didn't want to bring trouble back to Thundera. I knew the army wasn't strong enough to defend the kingdom against the cheetah clan. I ran to a far-off settlement in the hills and that's where I met Jubal." Her voice broke as she said his name and she drew in several calming breaths.
Lion-O waited patiently for her to continue, and Cheetara tried to match her breathing to his to help calm herself. She cleared her throat and continued her story once she felt she could speak around the lump in her throat. Even now after five years, her heart ached for what had happened to Jubal.
"We fell in love at first sight; it was a whirlwind romance." Cheetara's voice took on a wistful tone and Lion-O knew she was remembering the good times she'd shared with her lover.
"He asked me to marry him shortly after we met, and I said yes. I got pregnant with Saya right away. We were so happy." Her voice broke on the last word and she lifted a trembling hand to wipe away tears.
"Velox found me somehow," she said bitterly once she was able to continue. "He had Jubal killed – poisoned. He couldn't have me, but he didn't want anyone else to have me either. I didn't understand his fixation with me, and I still don't."
"He's evil, Cheetara, and he thinks that because he's royalty he deserves everything," Lion-O replied with disgust in his tone. "That doesn't give him the right to own people or treat them the way he treated you."
She sighed and pressed closely against him, seeking comfort. "I ran after Jubal died; I was scared to death, alone, and pregnant. I didn't want Velox anywhere near my child. Saya was all I had left. I found another isolated settlement and I thought I was safe." She sighed. "It took him five over five years to find me, but he never gave up, and he won't now either." A shiver raced down her spine.
"He won't get you again," Lion-O assured her. "You and Saya will be safe in Thundera."
"Will we, Lion-O?" she asked softly. "You know Velox won't give up until he finds me."
"Then let him come," Lion-O growled low in his throat. "I'll kill him."
Cheetara leaned back against his shoulder and looked up into his face. "Please be careful, Lion-O. Velox hates you. He won't think twice about killing you."
"I'll be careful; I promise," he told her, letting go of the reins with one hand and wrapping his arm around her waist in a careful hug. "Is this okay?" he asked worriedly.
She leaned into him. "Yes, Lion-O; you make me feel safe," she admitted, feeling her cheeks heat up in embarrassment at her vulnerability.
Lion-O seemed to sense what she was feeling. "We all need someone sometimes, Cheetara. It's going to be okay."
"I hope so, Lion-O; I really do hope so."
Lion-O's prediction was spot on. Darkness had fallen as they passed through Thundera's gates. Word of Lion-O's return must have preceded them into the city. Cheetara huddled against him under his cloak once again as she felt the eyes of curious Cats on her. They finally rode into the palace courtyard under the light of the stars.
"Look, someone waited up for you," Lion-O murmured.
Cheetara drew the cloak back from her face with a trembling hand to see her daughter silhouetted in the doorway with Snarf by her side.
"Momma!" the child shrieked already running toward them.
"Saya!" Cheetara nearly fell in her eagerness to get down to her daughter.
Lion-O leapt to the ground and reached for her waist, lifting her down carefully. She sank to her knees as soon as he let her go and she held her arms out for her little girl. Saya fell sobbing into her mother's arms, and Cheetara held her close as silent tears streamed down her cheeks.
Panthro, Tygra, and Lion-O drifted away to give mother and daughter their privacy, but Lion-O didn't go too far. He still felt very protective of the cheetah and her daughter.
Saya finally pulled back and surveyed her mother's face. "Momma," she said as a frown wrinkled her brow, "you're all dirty."
Cheetara gave a weak chuckle. "I know, Baby. I need a good bath."
"How come you're not standing up?" the little girl queried as her little face became pinched with worry.
"I'm a little sick right now," Cheetara explained, "but soon I'll be feeling much better."
Saya looked toward Lion-O, worried.
He noticed and moved to kneel beside the cheetahs. "Saya, your momma is going to be fine. Why don't you help me get her inside so she can rest?"
"Okay, Lion-O," the little girl agreed eagerly, watching as the lion scooped her mother into his strong arms. "I'll help you, Momma," she added bouncing along at Lion-O's side as he carried Cheetara into the palace.
To Be Continued…
I named Cheetara's husband Jubal after a subspecies of cheetah - Acinonyx jubatus.
I am disturbed by the bullying and flaming going on in the TC fandom; it takes all of the fun out of posting and discussing our favorite show. First of all, a person's ship is his or her own choice; I may identify with Lion-O while someone else finds something in Tygra. I don't care for TyChee, but I think it's totally okay if someone else does. If that's where they find their joy and their inspiration, then that's fine with me. Also, fan fiction exists so that we can express our creativity and write things to our satisfaction that haven't necessarily happened on the show. In my personal opinion, there is no such thing as a "fix-fic." People should be allowed to have differnet opinions and not get flamed for it. Sorry for venting, but I just had to get that off my chest. The lack of respect in this fandom is disturbing!