Mama? he thinks, curling into the nest a little deeper. He can't feel her anymore - not like before when she just went hunting. Now he can't feel her no matter how far he stretches his mind. His brothers are cold and not-there either. He's going to have to get out of the nest eventually, get some food, but he's too scared yet, too cold and where is his mother?
A dark shadow crosses the nest, like the clouds passing but more solid and it doesn't pass over. It shades him and stays, the darkness making him shiver. He looks up and sees a shape – a big, hulking shape. His instincts scream danger, but the thing doesn't seem like it will hurt him; its mind is quiet and thoughtful. It picks him up and he struggles, hissing and spitting at leaving the only place his mother will be able to find him if she comes back.
The large thing looks like a tree, with low-hanging branches that he likes to swat at, but it moves quickly. It doesn't take long before he knows he is too far away from the nest for his mother to find him. He decides the thing is a monster, one of those lesser creatures his mother warned him about. He spits again at it, scratching at anything within reach. It doesn't like that, and wraps him up, trapping his paws and leaving him no way to express his anger but yowling.
He can feel the monster's amusement, like he is only a slight annoyance, and for the first time, he worries that the monster will eat him – his mother told him that there were things out there that would eat them, but she promised she would keep them away. Mama? he thinks again, wondering if he's gotten closer to her in their wanderings. She doesn't answer.
Don't eat me, he thinks at the monster. It doesn't seem to hear. The low hum of its thoughts is steady and easy, at least until it comes upon a huge nest with more monsters in it. There is a mother among them – or... not a mother, but not like him. He doesn't know what to call it, but it is different than the others. Its thoughts are solid and easy, too, like the big one – who is a giant compared to the rest. There are two more, one with jagged and jarring thoughts, and one that is not well. He can feel no thoughts at all from this one, and when he sends a quiet hello, it echoes in the thing's mind.
He struggles then, trying with all his might to get away before they eat him, but the giant is only more amused. He's given a little food which he gulps down hungrily, and then he's set down next to the empty one and the others all go away. He continues to hiss, though the empty one has a sudden spike of happiness that makes him less wary.
The empty one puts its paws on him, a soft scratching motion that reminds him of his mother's baths. It is comforting and he forgets to hiss, lifting his chin to let the empty one scratch under there. The empty one doesn't feel so empty anymore. There are no clear thoughts, but there is a definite feeling of warmth, and for a little while, he lets himself be warm and cared for, and doesn't miss his mother.
He hadn't realized it when he first came, but the strange noises his pets make are their way of communicating. He understands venting frustration with hissing and showing pleasure by purring, but it is beyond him why they would use sounds to communicate when what they want and what they feel is so obvious in their entire beings. He knows some of their language; he knows they call him Tiger, which is a strange name, but better than the void that was left by his mother when she left.
The empty one is no longer empty, and they call him Rodney. The giant is Ronon and the not-mother is Teyla. He still doesn't understand what is different about that one, only that it is very different than the rest of his pets. The jarring one is John, a smooth name for one with so many pointy thoughts. It cares deeply for all of them, Rodney in particular, and this they all seem to understand without words. John does not realize they feel the same, and how frustrating it is to see its complete misunderstanding of their loyalty and love.
Tiger likes his pets and has decided to keep them. They amuse him, mostly, and Rodney in particular is comforting to be around, except when it suddenly fills with sorrow, and then the emptiness comes back. Tiger has learned to comfort Rodney in return for the warmth it provides, crawling under his paw for petting and purring at it until it comes back from whatever dark place it has gone. John will sometimes comfort Rodney with his presence, though John's presence annoys Tiger. It is always worried, frustrated, or sad. Tiger does not understand what makes it appealing to Rodney, but he does understand that its appeal is more than just loyalty or friendship.
He hasn't had the urge to mate yet, but he thinks that the two of them may be involved in some slow, twisting mating dance – one that is painful to them both. He debates pushing them toward each other, but he's not certain how they would react. John is so jagged, all of Tiger's thoughts and helpfulness turn into new ways to berate itself for not being good enough. Rodney is easier, it's thoughts starting to ramble along so quickly, flitting from one to the next like birds. As it feels better, its thoughts get faster, and Tiger is happy to feel the simple delight it gets out of working through puzzles in its brain. It can't always hear Tiger, though, and Rodney is the most stubborn about ignoring Tiger's wishes, even when they coincide with his own.
Tiger can affect his pets by thinking at them. They don't understand, not really. They are so simple, thinking they had the idea themselves, or that it came from nowhere. He decides they aren't really intelligent creatures so it is okay to manipulate them to do things that are better for them. He gets Rodney to eat sometimes, even when it doesn’t want to, and he nudges him toward John in his thoughts.
John takes Rodney to the spring for a bath every day; since routine is the easiest way to get his pets to do what he wants, he thinks warm thoughts at them, love and sex and being held. Tiger pushes a little each day, and soon they are unable to deny what Tiger thinks has been there for a very long time. These creatures are strangely willing to suffer when it comes to mating.
It is like the change in the sky right before the storm, churning and ominous, until finally Rodney breaks like the rain beginning to fall. A hand on an arm – a simple act, but the one that causes the tenuous bonds of John's self-control to break. Tiger puts his head down and smiles to himself as John takes Rodney into their shared cave. Ronon and Teyla smile too, and he purrs at them. They, too, were waiting for the inevitable, and Tiger decides yet again that he will keep his pets. And perhaps when John and Rodney have kittens, he will keep them too.