Disclaimer: I do not own ThunderCats.
Author's Note: Thanks as always to my dear friend, bronwynn. She is the motivating force behind this fic and a willing plot master.
I think I was a bit unclear in my previous author's note. I did not mean that anyone had necessarily been ugly to me, although that has certainly happened since I started writing for this fandom. The disrespect among ThunderCats fans as a whole, TyChee and LiChee, needs to stop. LiChee fans are not innocent of all faults. They flame and bully people on boards, too, just like TyChee fans. This is something that has been bothering me for quite a while, and recent events that happened to a friend of a friend pretty much brought it to a head. We all need to show respect to one another as fellow authors/readers that love the same show, but maybe for different reasons.
A Matter of Trust
The firelight flickered in the cozy room as Saya cuddled next to her mother on the bed. "I missed you, Momma. I was worried Lion-O wouldn't find you."
"Well, he did, and he brought me home to you," Cheetara replied, tapping the tip of her daughter's nose. Her stomach cramped painfully, but she bit her lip and tried her best to ignore it.
The little girl studied Cheetara carefully. "Momma, you're a mess. Your hair's all tangled and you smell funny."
Cheetara sighed. "I need a bath." Bile rose in the back of her throat as her stomach rolled and she took a deep breath hoping to dispel the nausea.
"I can get one of the servants to come help you bathe," Lion-O offered from his place in the chair next to the bed.
The cheetah shook her head. "No, I'd prefer to do it myself." She tickled her daughter's tummy. "You need a bath, too."
Saya frowned. "I want to stay with you," she whined.
"And you will – after you have a bath." Cheetara held her little girl close and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I love you so much." Thankfully, the nausea had abated for the moment although the stomach cramps remained.
"I love you, too, Momma. Will you be here after my bath?"
"Yes, Saya, and you can stay with me tonight." Cheetara forced a smile for her daughter's sake.
"Really?" The little girl bounced on the bed excitedly and Cheetara winced as her aching limbs and muscles protested.
Lion-O scooped the four-year-old into his arms. "Let's see if we can find your nanny and get her to give you a bath."
Saya wound an arm around his neck. "Thank you for bringing Momma home, Lion-O," she smiled.
"You're welcome," he grinned, jostling her on his hip. "I'll be right back," he called over his shoulder to Cheetara.
Lion-O returned a few short moments later without Saya, having found her nanny right outside in the hallway. "Let me draw you a hot bath," he told Cheetara as he disappeared into the bathroom.
She heard the water running and looked forward to actually feeling clean again. It would feel good to scrub Velox's foul stench off of her. Lion-O returned a few minutes later and helped her into the bathroom making sure her robe was nearby.
"Call me when you are ready to get out of the bathtub. We'll figure something out," he grinned.
"Thank you, Lion-O," she stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Thank you for taking care of Saya, for rescuing me, for just – well, for everything." She felt tears welling in her eyes once again and she blinked them away.
"You are very welcome," he smiled, his blue eyes suddenly full of emotion. He blinked quickly and turned around. "I'll be right outside the door. Call me if you need me."
Cheetara sunk into the warm bath water with relief. She immediately reached for a rag and the soap and began scrubbing furiously, longing to feel clean once again. She quickly discovered that no matter how hard or how long she rubbed at her fur, she still felt dirty as if Velox had permanently tainted her body. Her limbs were soon trembling with exhaustion, and she hadn't even started washing her hair. If she didn't get out of the tub now, she thought she might pass out.
It took pure determination to hoist herself up on the edge of the tub and wrap the robe around her body. Her hair was still dirty and tangled, but that would have to wait until tomorrow. She needed her bed. "Lion-O," she called softly, "I'm ready." She was shaking so badly she could barely hold herself up.
"I'm coming in," he called, waiting just a moment before he opened the door and stepped inside cautiously. He found Cheetara wrapped in her robe and slumped on the side of the tub. She was totally spent, her body racked with tremors. He knelt beside her, noticing that her hair still hung in dirty tangles around her face. "You didn't wash your hair," he commented.
"I didn't have enough energy," she sighed.
"Let's get you back to bed, and then I'll figure out a way to wash it for you."
Cheetara's head snapped up so she could look him in the eye. "That's not something a king does for one of his subjects."
"No," the lion countered, "but it is something one friend does for another. Please, Cheetara, let me help you."
She thought for moment. "It would feel so good to have clean hair."
Lion-O grinned. "Come on." He reached out to help her to her feet. She swayed dangerously.
"I'm dizzy again," she murmured tiredly.
Lion-O carefully lifted her into his arms and soon had her settled amongst the clean sheets on the bed. "I'll be right back," he promised.
Soon he reappeared with a deep pan, a bucket of water, another towel, and a bottle of shampoo. Cheetara leaned over the pan and prayed she wouldn't throw up everywhere. It felt so good as Lion-O wet her hair and massaged the soap through it with his nimble fingers. She sighed and relaxed beneath his touch.
Lion-O's breath caught in his throat at the feel of Cheetara's thick blonde locks sliding through his fingers. He had always craved the freedom to run his fingers through her silky tresses, but he never wanted it to happen this way.
Finally, he rinsed the last of the soap from her hair and took the bucket and pan into the bathroom, returning with a comb. He quickly used the fluffy towel to soak some of the water from her hair. Then, he sat behind her and nervously and began to draw the comb through those long, golden locks. His longed to bury his hands in their silkiness, but he restrained himself and instead focused on the task at hand.
Cheetara sighed. "That feels so good. No one has done my hair for me since I was a small child."
Lion-O winced as he encountered a tangle. Not being experienced at grooming a woman's hair, he worked at it clumsily trying to extract it without hurting Cheetara.
She realized what had happened. "It's okay, Lion-O. You're going to have to pull a bit to get that knot out."
"I don't want to hurt you," he replied.
"Give me the comb," she commanded, attacking the snarl with a vengeance and then handing the comb back to the king with trembling hands. "I need to lie down," she sighed. Something as simple as brushing a tangle out of her hair had completely worn her out.
Lion-O put the comb to the side and tucked Cheetara into the soft, warm blankets.
"Where's Saya?" she asked sleepily.
"Momma!" the little girl's voice called from the doorway. She ran into the room dressed in a new white nightgown that fell just past her knees. Her blonde hair was wet from her bath and had been brushed until it shone in the firelight. She ran across the room and clambered up onto the bed, tucking herself securely into Cheetara's side.
Cheetara pressed a kiss to Saya's forehead. "Goodnight, my beautiful girl. I love you very much."
"I love you, too, Momma," Saya yawned.
Cheetara flicked her gaze to Lion-O. She suddenly didn't want him to leave. She hadn't been away from his presence since he rescued her from Velox. The thought of staying in this big room without him while Velox was still out there somewhere sent a chill down her spine. She swallowed her pride and spoke. "Stay, please?" she asked hesitantly.
Saya looked from Lion-O to her mother and seemed to sense Cheetara's distress. A pinched expression appeared on her little face and she reached for Lion-O's hand. He gave it without hesitation and settled into the chair next to the bed unable to say no although he was exhausted, too. "Of course," he assured the two cheetahs, giving Saya's hand a squeeze.
The four-year-old grinned and cuddled against her mother, still clinging to Lion-O's hand. It didn't take long for the girls to fall asleep.
Lion-O kept Saya's hand clasped in his and sighed as he studied Cheetara's face. Dark circles rimmed her eyes and her cheeks were sunken from the weeks of lack of appetite. Gone was the self-assured fiery cleric. In her place was a young woman terrified of every shadow, a woman who felt used, dirty, and embarrassed. Cheetara didn't deserve any of this and neither did Saya. Fury churned in Lion-O's gut as Velox's image burned itself in his mind. If Saya hadn't of been clinging to him so tightly he would have been up pacing the floor to burn off some nervous energy. A low growl emitted from his throat and he quickly stifled it. There would be time for revenge later. For now he needed to be here for Cheetara.
The cheetah moaned deep in her throat and rolled over, putting her back to him and Saya. The little girl whimpered and woke up, wiping at her eyes sleepily. Lion-O realized that Cheetara was in the beginnings of a nightmare, and he didn't want Saya to witness it. The ones Cheetara had suffered through on the trail home had been pretty bad. He lifted the little girl into his arms and she sleepily cuddled close to him.
"Momma," she murmured against his neck.
"Sh, Momma needs her rest," he murmured softly. "It's time for you to go to your room."
"'Kay," Saya mumbled already nearly asleep again.
Lion-O quickly tucked her beneath the sheets in her bed in the room on the other side of his before hurrying back to Cheetara. She was tossing and turning now, her legs tangled hopelessly in the sheets which only made her more frantic. "No, please, no; it hurts. Don't." She made a mewling sound that nearly broke his heart.
"Cheetara," he said firmly, shaking her shoulder to wake her up.
She snapped to wakefulness and jolted to a sitting position; Lion-O stepped back quickly having learned the hard way what happened when Cheetara was awakened out of a nightmare. She flung her arm out clumsily to swing at him as she panted for breath. Sweat beaded on her forehead and ran down her face, mingling with silent tears.
Finally, Cheetara realized it was Lion-O standing next to her and not Velox. Sobs began to shake her slim shoulders. "Why did this happen to me, Lion-O? When will this ever stop?" She covered her face with hands that still trembled as a result of her body's withdrawal from the drugs.
"May I hold you?" Lion-O asked softly, moving forward until his thighs brushed the edge of the bed.
Her hands dropped limply into her lap and she nodded, her shoulders shaking even harder now.
Lion-O kicked off his boots and climbed fully clothed onto the bed, taking her in his arms. Cheetara's arms wound around his neck and she held onto him desperately as her body convulsed with sobs. He winced when he realized she was so thin he could feel her ribs through her nightgown. Lion-O rubbed her back in soothing circles until he finally felt her cries begin to subside. Once again, pure rage bubbled up inside of him. "Velox will pay for what he's done to you, Cheetara," Lion-O ground out through clenched teeth.
"Just keep us safe," she pleaded. "That's all I ask." Cheetara buried her face against Lion-O's broad shoulder and heaved a shuddering sigh, completely exhausted.
Lion-O pressed a kiss to the crown of her head. "I think someone should be with Saya at all times. Kit, maybe."
Cheetara nodded sleepily, too tired to even ask how Kit was doing. The girl she remembered would be a young woman now. Instead, the cheetah slumped against Lion-O. "Stay with me?" she asked. "Hold me?"
"Of course," Lion-O replied, pulling her down to the bed with him and pulling the blankets over them.
"Don't let him get me," Cheetara mumbled as she once again drifted off to sleep, her body pressed tightly against the lion king's.
"I won't," he promised. "I will die before I let that happen."
Cheetara slept the rest of the night in Lion-O's arms. He woke first the next morning to find her pressed tightly against him with her hand fisted in the sheet over his heart. The lion king knew Velox would come for her; it was just a matter of time. They had to be prepared. He would talk to Panthro and Tygra today and see what sort of protective measures they could put into place. He would also summon Kit and introduce her to her new charge.
"Lion-O?" Cheetara mumbled sleepily.
"Good morning," he whispered into the quiet of the dawn, reaching out a hand to tenderly tuck a lock of her blonde hair behind her ear. "How was the rest of your night?"
"Better. Thank you for staying with me." She glanced down shyly.
"Anytime," he reassured her, giving her a gentle squeeze. "Why don't I go wake Saya and let you two have some time together?"
"Thank you," Cheetara smiled. "That would be wonderful." She tugged the blanket up to her chin and sighed as her stomach cramped painfully.
Lion-O slid from beneath the sheets and ran his hands through his thick red hair before disappearing into the hallway. He returned a few short moments later with a sleepy Saya in his arms. She grinned at the sight of her momma. Lion-O placed her on the bed and she immediately cuddled into Cheetara's side.
"I'm glad you're back, Momma," Saya sighed as she nuzzled Cheetara's cheek.
"So am I," Cheetara responded as she kissed her daughter on the forehead.
"Are you all better today?" Saya asked hopefully.
"No, Sweetie," Cheetara answered regretfully. "My legs are still weak and my stomach doesn't feel good."
"Momma," the four-year-old began seriously, "why did the bad cheetahs take you away?"
Cheetara froze and her mouth fell open slightly. She didn't know how to respond.
Lion-O sat down on the edge of the bed and tugged on the end of Saya's blonde hair. "Because the bad cheetah king told them to," he said simply.
"Why?" Saya asked as she left her mother's side and crawled across the bed to clamber into Lion-O's lap.
He rested his cheek on the crown of her head as Cheetara looked on. "He's not a very nice man," Lion-O told her after a moment.
"What if he tries to get me and Momma again?" Saya asked fearfully as she glanced back and forth from Lion-O to Cheetara.
Lion-O hugged her close. "You are safe here at the palace," he reassured her. "In fact, I want to introduce you to my friend, Kit. She's going to be your guardian and help keep you safe."
"Does Momma have a guardian?" Saya asked as she played with the front of Lion-O's shirt.
"Yes, me," he replied.
"Good, then she'll be safe," Saya sighed with relief.
Cheetara's eyes snapped up to Lion-O's face as guilt spread through her shattered soul. She was supposed to be the one watching out for him, not the other way around. What kind of cleric was she? She sighed as depression blanketed her shoulders. She hated herself. First, she'd let Velox kidnap her and leave her daughter along in the middle of the forest. Then she'd been unable to protect herself from being raped repeatedly. And now, she was unable to do the job she thought she had been born for – protecting her king.
Lion-O stood with Saya in his arms and opened the door, speaking softly to a servant. He returned to Cheetara's bedside and snuggled Saya under the blankets with her mother. "I just sent someone for Kit. She should be here shortly."
"Will Kit like me?" Saya asked anxiously.
"Of course she will," Lion-O assured the anxious girl, "and you will like her, too."
A light knock sounded on the door. "Come in," Lion-O called.
Cheetara's eyes widened at the sight of the slender teen of medium height that entered the room. Shoulder-length reddish-orange hair brushed against an oval face wreathed in a smile.
"Cheetara!" the girl squealed. "I've missed you!" She rushed forward, but Lion-O caught her by the arm.
"Cheetara is a bit sore," he cautioned. He had recognized the panicked look that had crossed the cheetah's face as Kit was rushing toward her.
Kit slowed. "Oh, sorry." Her eye landed on Saya. "I'm Kit. What's your name?"
"Saya," the four-year-old cheetah answered shyly.
"Kit," Lion-O began, "Cheetara and I need you to be Saya's guardian. You are to shadow her wherever she goes. Understood?" Lion-O's serious blue eyes let the young cleric-in-training know just how important this job was.
Kit nodded. "You have my word that I will keep her safe," she promised solemnly.
Cheetara stifled a moan as her stomach cramped once again. She curled in a ball on the bed as Lion-O lifted Saya and handed her to Kit.
"Your Momma needs some rest so she can get better," he explained. "Kit, why don't you take her to her nanny so she can get dressed for the day?"
"Of course, Lion-O," the girl replied, quickly carrying Saya out of the room.
Lion-O tugged the blankets up to Cheetara's chin and smoothed back her hair. "You'll feel better in a day or two," he promised.
She moaned in response as her stomach revolted.
To Be Continued…