"He's not gonna remember you, you know," said Kat. "It's been years and years. He's probably forgot aaaaall about you."
Kit, preening, left off her paws and swiped at Kat and his smug face with her claws. He play-hissed and swiped back, his claws turned in so the blow just glanced off her arm.
"Kit who?" sang Kat. "Kitty, kitty, who?"
"You're off-key!" said Kit. He had been off-key since their smell changed, and he was still sensitive about it. His ears flattened. Kit licked the back of her paw, all ha ha, got you.
That would have been the end of it, Kat sulking and surreptitiously mewing to himself, like playing kitten would make his voice go soft again, but the cubs had picked up on the fighting. The cubs picked up on everything. Panthro said they were twice as annoying as Kit and Kat had been when they were just cubs. Kit didn't know how anything could be as annoying as Tygra and Cheetara's cubs, not even butt-licking Kat.
Their heads popped one-two out the main hold of the tank, Cat on top and Cub on bottom, Cub with his puff hair and Cat with his striped.
"Who's gonna forget?" That was Cub, sniffing at the air like he thought Kit was dumb enough to go and broadcast something like that.
"Yeah, who? Who?" That was Cat, kneading his claws in his brother's hair and pushing up higher. They were both sniffing now, going in little circles.
"It's not your fluff, cubs," snapped Kat.
"It's not your fluff either," Kit shot at him.
The cubs puffed up. Cub looked like a kitten, almost, all fluff and no bones. Their spots and stripes went all weird, stripes thicker, spots fainter as their fur went out.
"Is too!" said Cat, indignant. "Is too our fluff!"
"Can't keep secrets, can't keep secrets," chanted Cub. "Not allowed!"
Kit crossed her arms and tipped her nose up. "You can't lick someone else's fur, either."
That was a mistake. The cubs grinned. Cat's eyes went to slits, and he wriggled down to hide in Cub's fur.
"Don't you dare!" said Kit, but it was too late. The cubs always were literal. Cheetara said that was because they were just cubs and they didn't understand sophisticated language, but Lion-O said it was because their brains weren't right.
Cat and Cub scrabbled up out the tank, scrawny, sticky legs and arms everywhere as they tried to get at Kit. Their tongues flashed; they were licking at the air and laughing. Kat was laughing, too, and leaning so far over he almost fell off the tank.
"Ugh!" said Kit. "Stop! You're gross!"
"Getcha clean!" said Cub.
"Clean, clean!" said Cat.
"Hey!" said Kat when they all rolled into him. "Hey! Hey! I'm gonna--" He grabbed at Kit and snagged her top fur. Cat had wound around her arm and was biting at her elbow, and Cub was climbing up her back.
They fell off the tank. Kit landed on her feet and Kat did, too, but Cub went left and Cat went right and they both got to crying right away.
The grown-up cats were setting up camp, but when Cub and Cat started crying, Tygra came right over.
"It wasn't our fault," said Kat quickly. He rubbed at his face fur, smoothing it down.
"It was kind of your fault," Kit told him. She flicked her ears when he glared at her.
But Tygra wasn't listening. He stooped to pick up Cub and Cat by the scruffs of their necks, Cub in his right hand and Cat in his left.
"What did I tell you about playing on the tank?" he asked wearily.
"Head hurts," wailed Cat.
"Cat did it!" said Cub.
Cat spun round by his neck fur, batting at his brother. Tygra just held them farther apart.
"Cub did it!"
"You both did it," said Cheetara, amused, coming up behind Tygra. "What are we going to do with you?"
"I say we lock them up in the bath," said Tygra, and that started off the most embarrassing thing Kit had ever seen, the cubs acting like kittens, all mewling and pawing at the air and acting like they were just big, old babies.
"They're so embarrassing," muttered Kat to her.
"We never did that," Kit whispered back.
Tygra and Cheetara took the cubs (now purring but still wriggling) back to the camp. Cheetara was laughing and Tygra mock-growling, and as they got closer to the fire, Cub said, "Don't eat Cat, Daddy!" and Cat said, "Eat Cub! Eat Cub!"
Kit crouched by the tank's tread. Kat crouched beside her. Their shoulders pressed together. Knees, too. They'd always been like that, since they were kittens, since before that, even. Wily cubs come together and wily cubs stay together, Mom said.
Kat bumped her shoulder. "He probably remembers you."
"Who?" said Kit, mock-sugar, and Kat swatted at her again. Kit faked sticking her claws in his knee and he fell back, yelping first and then clutching at his leg.
Sometimes you forgot people. Sometimes people forgot you. It happened. Kit couldn't even really remember Mom's smell, and that was way more important than she'd ever been to Aburn.
Around the campfire, Cat and Cub were wrestling, biting at each other and biting at Tygra as he laughed and pulled them apart and lifted them high, high over his head. "Higher!" said Cub. "Higher!" said Cat. Cheetara spun her staff around and held it out to them to climb onto; they climbed over each other to do it.
"Should we really be encouraging them?" asked Tygra. He smiled up at Cheetara. Kit could tell. Even from all the way over there she could smell all that love coming off them.
"Cubs have to learn," said Cheetara serenely before she rooted her staff, swung up it, caught the cubs in her arms, and rocketed with the extending staff skyward. Tygra tipped his head back. Still smiling.
Kat watched Kit watching them.
"You couldn't have cubs with Aburn anyway," he whispered to Kit. That time she really did stick her claws in him.
(The village wasn't much bigger; it wasn't much smaller. Just about the same, she guessed, but Kit was bigger than before so the village seemed smaller. The cubs ran shrieking ahead of them even as Tygra said, "Please, slow down," and Cheetara said, "Patience, cubs! Patience!" and Lion-O said, "Don't you think it's a little late for that?" and Pumyra said, "What, afraid you can't keep up?" and Panthro said, "At least they're out of the tank," and Kat said, "Hey, Kit--" and nudged her.
Green stuff was everywhere, big trees hanging over with thick leaves and orange fruits. They'd rebuilt the temple. A small group (like anything was small about them) of elephants met them at the very top of the steps. There was Anet, even more wrinkly than before, and the cubs went pouncing around his feet. Whiskers, but they were so embarrassing.
"You're huge!" shouted Cub.
"Huger than Daddy!" shouted Cat.
"Greetings, travelers," said Anet, and Lion-O sighed.
"What?" said Pumyra. "I thought you were joking when you said these guys didn't remember anything."
An elephant beside Anet stirred, a tall elephant with a long, extra-floppy trunk and a tuft of orange-yellow fur at the tip-top of his head. Kit's heart went pat pat pat pit pat. Dumb, she thought. Like he even remembered teeny tiny WilyKit with her flyaway fur--
Aburn said, "Kit!" and his long, extra-floppy trunk went out, out, out to her like a hand to welcome Kit home.)