Sorry about the wait guys! Life and all! Thanks for the kind words and inspiration for this fic, special thanks to lookforme who's been nothing short of a miracle worker pushing me to continue (love ya), counting down to the final chapters... Resting Reflections "Things are looking up, no transportation, nothing to eat, no shelter. If the rain stopped it might be bearable." -Lion-o (Berbils)There's a rumble of thunder before lightning crackles across the sky signaling the rain to beat down harder upon them. She can hear the kittens grumbling to themselves about the mucky weather huddling under a gargantuan mushroom next to Lion-O with Snarf perched like some strange parrot upon Kit's shoulder. The diminutive trio staring with luminous eyes that are wide and miserable, looking very much like drowned rats having not scrambled fast enough under cover when the storm had hit. Cheetara was quick to join them taking her place next to Lion-O who looks happy to have her company despite the wind now threatening to rip their mushroom shelter straight out of the ground and leave them exposed to the elements. The stalks simply rock with each push of the wind but hold fast against the thunderous storm until the worst of it passed leaving only heavy rain. Relieved, the twins are quick to scout the patch of mushrooms before wordlessly agreeing on a large mostly dry one under a cluster of taller mushrooms; they scamper up and settle atop for the night. She sends up the last of their blankets to the little ones who take them without a spoken word of thanks but a smile from the two wily siblings is enough. Tygra is standing under his own ground level group of mushrooms moving a few steps forward and then back again before seeming to settle on a spot kneeling down to a mostly dry patch of ground and setting to work, but on what she isn't sure. She blames sleep deprivation for not catching on to the older prince's task before Lion-O calls out to him. "What are you doing?" The eldest doesn't even look up; his claws are raking through a moss patch pulling up an abundant share he's gathered in a pile along with a few fat branches and twigs. "What's it look like?" In this weather? Impossible. There's an air of exasperation to Tygra's tone despite his cool exterior that Lion-O frowns at. "Good luck," Lion-O calls back with his own dismissive tone. Bright blue eyes rolling, he turns to her, "let him freeze if he wants to, no sense in telling him it's a pointless task. He's the most bullheaded cat you'll ever know." She wants to tell him how right he is about Tygra being stubborn but she isn't sure Tygra would appreciate it no matter how fondly she means it. They wordlessly close the space between them tightly wedged shoulder to shoulder and she notes there is a dry patch to the right of Lion-O he is mindful to keep clear for a certain striped sibling. She gives the thoughtful redheaded lord's shoulder a squeeze before raising her knees to her chest and setting her chin on them. She sees Lion-O do the same tucking of his knees with a little grin breaking the gloom on his face. Cheetara can think of worse things than the company of the two princes, a general and two wily cubs, she's quite lucky in fact to have such resourceful, likeable company. They remain under the cover of their shared mushroom shelter curling into themselves in an attempt to keep their extremities from going numb, the cleric finding it nearly impossible as her damp pelt refuses to get any drier. Only Tygra remains exposed to the wind chill that continues to carry sprays of rain but if the tiger was cold he definitely wasn't showing any signs of discomfort. His orange striped coat had taken on a deep rusty brown color as rain clung to him and water from his mane was dripping down his neck, one pointed ear twitching irritably at the fall of raindrops as he continues to work. The rhythmic clack of stone against stone begins to lull her to sleep despite chilly temperatures and her neck and back taking on stiffness from her awkward position and she wants to tell him it is pointless and to suggest he come join the two under their meager shelter. No sooner does she think to do so that the tiger's flint rock sparks, a red ash igniting a small orange speck on the dry moss before spreading to the wood atop it to become a flame that grows rapidly. Cheetara has never ever seen him look so smug. Or Lion-O so surprised. Tygra's eyes pointedly meet hers before he turns away to settle under the stalk closest to the flames still grinning. She hadn't missed the invitation but it would feel far too much like abandonment to leave Lion-O so she remains next to her king but she can't help smiling with him. The striped prince is truly a conundrum, since their moment alone at the tower weeks before she's found him a much more consistent presence, always some distance away but he's usually more often present and even approachable and that in itself is an improvement. It was a pattern for the eldest prince whether he was easily found or not often depended on his mood and any guardian of the crown knew his mood to be sullen or pensive if it took several minutes to an hour to find even a trace of a clawprint in areas he was known to frequent outside of the palace. He'd been such a challenge for even the best clerics to track when he didn't want to be bothered. Cheetara wonders if he's trying in some way to come closer, to be nearer to her the way she wants to be near him, because though he's much more visibly present he seems to edge an invisible divide, creating a wall she'd thought long crumbled in Thundera. She thinks it nice to see he's obviously feeling a bit more himself the look he gives her across from the fire is all playful invitation that lifts her spirits sky-high. The camp goes quiet of conversation in only minutes, no one in much mood for anything but rest. But her spirits fall with the temperature as the night wears and she's nearly frozen, her toes numb and her belly feeling like ice and she can no longer bear the discomfort. The thought of leaving her space and walking to the tank to obtain her travel cloak crosses her mind only momentarily as she's positive she'd seen Kit with it only a short while ago and as such she was probably still wrapped in it and she had no desire to take it from a cub who was currently tangled in it and half of their blankets. Tygra yawns in his sleep and it's a grimace of fanged teeth before he settles once more in his upright position and she wonders if he's comfortable at all that way. Cheetara smiles to herself, she'd been thinking a lot lately that perhaps the distraction of Tygra's nearness was instead a blessing, an opening for her to fulfill her duties as a cleric and gain what she's longed for from him for as long as she can remember when she dares hope of it. She had been awake very late a few nights following that night at the tower, the brief touch of their minds had been…powerful and unlike anything she'd ever felt, but she'd known him truly for a brief moment. Felt his heart, felt his soul and recognized its language. It was beautiful and she was so focused on the power of it she hadn't thought about what she had touched even more briefly underneath it. Loneliness. Anger. Sorrow. Cheetara had known these things for a long time but touching those things inside him was different and painful in her recognition. She's hoping perhaps to better acquaint herself with the tiger, the friend she had known mostly afar for over ten years but barely knew. The thought saddens her deeply and she's determined to remedy it. She wants to start now, cleric or not. She feels guilty leaving Lion-O to fight off the cold himself but her guilt is short-lived seeing the king is in the same sitting position as before sleeping soundly even with the loss of her body heat. The spotted cleric takes a moment to gather a few dry branches around the stalks of the mushrooms to contribute to the flames before coming to sit nearer to the flames and Tygra. She eases herself next to him though she's certain he's not likely to shun her presence should he awaken she still doesn't wish to wake him, he and Lion-O are usually the last to settle for the night and the first to wake, they both needed the rest desperately. She sits shoulder to shoulder with the large cat daring to press her full weight against his side. Her action does nothing to even budge him from his sleeping position. Tygra's left ear twitches as she'd expected it to. She'd since in her quiet study of him made the observation of that one ear being more sensitive than the other and prone to twitching in high wind chill or perking the merest fraction more acutely hearing a whistled high, sharp noise. He groans when her hands met the top of his shoulder, a light growl sounding in his throat, but he doesn't awaken and she's glad for it, his sleep looks fitful at best, his brow wrinkled in tension. In the distance Panthro is still tinkering away at his tank and Kit is still up as well playing her flute from above, neither seems particularly focused on her. Her heart catches at how young and cub-like he looks right now. To think it'd been over ten years since the first time she saw him. An eager cub playing soldier at the gates of the palace, all business and clearly unaware of how small and unimposing he looked. How very bossy he sounded… She managed to disarm him and tongue-tie him with just a little smile and his cheeks colored so rapidly she was almost sorry to have startled him. But now… Small and unimposing were definitely not words anyone could associate with the tiger anymore. His gawky stature once a few inches shorter than her, he easily had a good three inches over her now and far outweighed her by nearly a hundred pounds, with all of that weight in impressive but not overly bulky musculature. Time had been very good to the tiger. He breathes, in and out, now snoring, the sound of it like a growl too. She wants to soothe him the way he's comforted her and more but she means not to crowd him knowing already Tygra was not the type of cat that appreciated being "soothed", finding it too much like coddling. He doesn't need or want her nurturing, but her king does. Jaga had trusted her to protect and guide him and she would not fail him. The sapphire-eyed lion has the makings of a great king but for now he's barely a grown cat with a great sword and the weight of the world on his shoulders. She eyes Lion-O his face still pillowing his forearms and drawn up knees as he sleeps, only his wild red flame of mane visible. He's far too young to face this alone. She sighs looking out into the night, the fog making the stars above nearly invisible. Thundera may have fallen but she's still a cleric and she would do whatever she must to help Lion-O succeed, it is her duty, her honor, her oath. Cheetara's head already knows what her heart continues to deny. Lion-O is who needs her right now. Not Tygra. Her selfish want would have to wait while she assisted her king. Her pillow gives a louder growl in his sleep and before she knows it she's quieting him with a simple caress of his brow, he unconsciously scents her hand the deep guttural sound quieting into a purr. She settles against Tygra absorbing the warmth of his thicker coat and she sleeps the best she has since their journey began. She can be a cleric tomorrow. The rip of thunder through the night sky is what awakens Lion-O and he nearly leaps to him feet before sucking in a few breaths and surveying his surroundings, the air he gulps feeling heavy and frigid, like swallowing mouthfuls of snow. He remembers now. They'd stopped here to camp when the tank had broken down and the rain slapping against his mushroom shelter is loud but not nearly as loud as the ripples of lightning and the growling thunder that has renewed itself in the passing hours. Wileykat and Kit are right where they've since settled for the night, with Kat and Snarf in a pile of fur and tangled limbs and the amount of contorting looks painful but both Snarf and Kat are snoring contently. There's still the reedy whistle of Kits lute that's an odd but pleasant interval of Panthro's hammering. He'd venture a guess he'd drifted off hours ago and wonders how he'd even managed that when every bang and click of Panthro's tools causes him to wince. Lion-O's lids hurt and he blearily notices none of the other slumbering members of their trope had stirred. Tygra looked especially peaceful with Cheetara pressed in his side, her arms folded tightly to her chest. She had obviously moved sometime in the night to gain warmth from the fire. Seeking the flame was understandable, but seeking Tygra? When exactly did that happen? Had he missed something? Of course, why am I so surprised? "Things are looking up," he mumbles, "no transportation, nothing to eat, no shelter. If the rain stopped it might be bearable." But he knows he's lying, the thing that truly was bothering him was the breathy sigh every time Cheetara breathed, unconsciously nuzzling her cheek against the top of Tygra's shoulder. He's somewhat aware he's being ridiculous trying to glare the two into awakening, the lion gets up, stretching, before gathering wood to throw onto their fire. Lion-O can't help stealing glances at the two of them before flinging lumber onto the fire and th e wood clatters, the low flame gaining strength crackling, Cheetara shifts at the sound making a low murmur before falling over right into his brother's lap. She's lying halfway across him, her hair in a golden heap and her lips parted gently. Her body forced into an impressive and suggestive arch with her back pressed into his legs and over them, she looks a spent lover sprawled half across Tygra's groin. They've been cozy since they began their journey, well perhaps not literally but he knows he's not imagining something that make him wonder exactly what was going with them, what was he missing? Everyone liked Tygra, why would she be any different? Cheetara was perhaps the most stunning cat Lion-o had ever laid his eyes on and in the fact the only one he can recall who pays him much attention and respects him. Even better she believed in him and always told him such. To him they just fit and no one could tell him otherwise. How had Tygra managed to just sweep her away so quickly? Lion-O did not often see his brother in the company of females now that he thinks about it, but in casual passing he was every bit the perfect gentlemen with she-cats. From servant to noble, from girl cub to elderly she-cat always pausing with a genial greeting and some even received a kiss of the hand in meeting or passing that seemed to make little ones hiding owlish eyes giggle into their tightly clutched dolls and even the old smile in the same bashful way the maidens did. But Tygra had never seemed to take a genuine interest in any of them besides a respect and cordiality, anything beyond he's sure even their father would know not of, but if such things Tygra ever were guilty of remained as visible to anyone as Tygra at the crack of his whip. But Lion-O has his doubts about Tygra having any kind of "love affair" with anything but military tactics and weapons work. The redheaded prince decides he's overreacting, so Cheetara was cold and so she spoke to Tygra occasionally it wasn't anywhere near the way she fervently encouraged and protected him, reassured him with a smile and eagerness that told him everything he needed to know. Cheetara liked him, not Tygra that he is sure of. No one took such an interest in another cat unless they liked them, at least he thinks so. And Tygra has no interest in her that he can see, he's positive Tygra wouldn't be so sullen if he were, no, the Tygra he knows would be full of pea****-like swaggering around the cheetah. He doesn't seem to treat Cheetara with anyone more attention than anyone else or notice or care for anything but embarrassing Lion-o, the usual. Cheetara for some strange reason has not caught Tygra's eye and he has to wonder if Tygra is insane. Obviously no love could compete with Tygra's greatest love, making Lion-O feel like a useless cub. And Tygra constantly goading and scolding him when he wasn't sulking about was getting old and wearing on Lion-o's spirit and a new bitterness was growing to match Tygra's, a need to best the tiger more persistent than ever before. And it prods at him even as sleep begins to cloud his mind. It isn't more than a few minutes later Tygra awakens with a start, spots dance in his vision and he's found himself sprawled on the ground from toppling over. A strange weight is pressing into his side and behind him and of all the things he could think of pressing into him Cheetara is far down the list. But she lies there draping him like a blanket, her small hands fisting at his armor in sleep. For a moment he just stares trying his best to slow his breathing fearing even that may jostle her awake and have her gone too soon and probably making sure the next time to just brave the chill rather than risk being tangled with him once more. There's a flash of light and a crackle of sound and the rain has returned bringing with it a nasty icy wind. The mushroom grove they lie under providing a bare minimum of assistance to combat the spray of rain floating on the wind. The cleric's whole body tightens when a heavy gust passes over them and she's trembling with every strand of fur standing high attempting to ward off the cold, but cheetahs are not known for having the type of pelts for anything but the mildest weather. She's gripping him with claws that easily sink into his more vulnerable torso after every howl of wind and pulling her whole body into a ball tight against him to absorb the warmth he offers. The cleric is freezing and she'd likely be ill in the morning without additional warmth. He quiets every hiss as her claws dig at him, he'd suffer them all night to keep her a bit more comfortable but he has a better idea that will be a bit more painless. Cheetara moans, her eyes cracking into corralled slits but it is cloudy and lacks awareness so he continues to carefully shift her onto her side until she lies in the dry grass in front of him nearer the fire. As he'd hoped the tall stand of her fur relaxes in the wash of firelight as those carnation-colored eyes curtain under the fall of her long black lashes. He stretches and yawns before settling sprawled on his side behind her shielding her from the bite of the wind at her back, a gap purposefully left between them to avoid awkward awakenings. Tygra watches the long curve of her spine and a single brownish-black spot disappear and reappear at the nape of her neck when each tousle of the wind through her silken hair exposes it. He closes his eyes only to open them when her scent assaults his nose and she's curled closed to him and purring and it's a beautiful thing he wants to hear over and over. She has rolled over towards him sealing herself against the body of warmth she preferred, close enough to hold, to nuzzle, to lick. Such thoughts were for mates and Cheetara despite her proximity and position is not his own to do so and he needs her further away to make it easier on him. As soon as he moves backwards even an inch, she rolls forward wriggling tight to him once more and he's all but biting the inside of his cheek fighting a small smile of pride at her need to be close to him, if only in sleep he'd gladly accept. Well, he supposes perhaps she had a better idea for keeping warm all along and he can't argue.