Even Brave Hearts Can Be Broken
Author's Note: I realize that this story may be inappropriate for normal Care Bear audiences, but the idea just presented itself one day and wouldn't leave me alone. It's about a failed caring mission, so please note the PG-13 rating for suicidal themes, and the "Tissue Warning", as it is a tearjerker. Also, in case you haven't noticed, I like working with Brave Heart Lion, so this story revolves around him. Give it a chance, though…it's not as bad as it sounds…I hope.
Brave Heart Lion couldn't remember when he'd had a busier day. He had just completed his eighth caring mission in about as many hours, all of them successful, but all of them tiring. He drove his Cloudmobile into Care-A-Lot and headed towards the Hall of Hearts cafeteria for a quick snack, thinking that his work was done for the day, when the Caring Beeper on his wrist went off. "Now what?" he groaned…then stopped short when he saw that it was flashing red.
When the Caring Beepers flashed red, it meant that someone's life was in danger, and that speed was everything. No one else seemed to be around, so he was alone on this one, going in blind and without information. He entered the Beeper's coordinates into the Cloudmobile's data banks, and was provided with a Vid-Map. Bright Heart Raccoon and Swift Heart Rabbit had really outdone themselves with these new car models! There was even an Automatic Pilot, which Brave Heart employed so that he could focus on reading the background information of his newest charge.
15 years old
Suicidal: Boyfriend dumped her; she might or might not be carrying his child; her Aunt Linda is angry with her.
Believes no one cares for her.
Approach with caution and caring
Brave Heart grimaced. This was going to be much tougher than his other eight missions put together! The Dashboard Monitor began to beep, and he slowed the car down as he caught sight of her near the edge of a cliff. She was rather pretty, with blonde hair and a slight frame…and she was also climbing over the safety bar, and preparing to jump. "Oh, no!" he gasped, touching down, and tumbling out of the Cloudmobile. The girl must have heard him, but she didn't move.
Slowly he approached her, stopping when she coolly said, "Stay back."
"Heather?" he said quietly, not wanting to make any false moves. "Please, come back where it's safe."
She shook her head no, not turning to look, but not moving forward either. He took that as a good sign, and continued, "Heather, please. My name is Brave Heart Lion. I'm a Care Bear Cousin; have you heard of us?" No answer from Heather. He continued, "Well, I know you think that nobody cares about you, but you're wrong. I care about you, and so does your Aunt Linda." When he said that she stiffened, and gripped the railing so hard that her knuckles cracked. He heard her sob once, and was about to tell her to come with him and he'd prove it, when she used the rail to push off. For one sickening moment she seemed to hover, blonde hair streaming like pennants, and then she was gone.
Brave Heart stood rooted to the spot for a split second, then he snapped out of it and leaped into his Cloudmobile without bothering with the door. He still might have a chance to save her…if he could just reach her in time. He was in a vertical drop behind her, but he couldn't catch up. All he could think of to do was to use his tummy symbol to send a snare flying after her…but the wind caught it, and it came up an inch too short and closed on nothing. "NO!" he yelled as she disappeared into the tops of the pine trees below, horrendous cracking sounds in her wake. "No," he whispered, "No, no, no…"
Some tree limbs were broken, and the scene at the bottom of the cliff was not a pretty one. He could tell right away that she was dead, but he wouldn't truly believe it unless he saw her up close. He approached her slowly, suddenly afraid. She was lying on her stomach; he got a little bit closer, and…
And that was all Brave Heart needed to see before his lunch rose up in his throat and he rushed behind a tree to throw up. When he finally had a moment to breathe, he turned around and saw a pink cell phone lying nearby. Hers. It must have fallen out of her pocket. He picked it up, dialed 911, and told the operator where to find Heather Barfield. Then, ignoring her pleas to stay on the line, he placed it down nearby and drove off.
He didn't stop until he had reached Care-A-Lot, but instead of going to the Hall of Hearts for his snack and to check in, he headed straight for the Forest of Feelings to find a secluded spot to sit and think. He didn't stop until he had reached a place that only he knew about, and he parked his Cloudmobile and sat with his back against a tree.
* * *
Meanwhile, Wish Bear had seen everything through her Star-o-Scope, and she had also seen Brave Heart drive by her without looking back. She knew she shouldn't leave her post, but…well, there was no one else around, and Brave Heart might need someone. Tender Heart was his best friend, but he was still out. There was nothing for it. Picking up her heart-shaped clip board, she dashed off a 'be back soon' note and headed for the nearest Rainbow Roller. She now had a caring mission of her own.
* * *
Brave Heart was staring off into space, replaying the whole thing in his mind to find out exactly where he had made his mistake. He knew he must have made one, he just didn't know when or how. His approach wasn't too direct; he had been very slow and careful about that. Mentioning her Aunt Linda had made her jump off the cliff, but he still should have been able to reach her if…
Sudden realization dawned on his face. "If I hadn't frozen back there, she'd still be…" huge tears welled up in his eyes, and he gritted his teeth against a sob and buried his face in his arms. "Oh, Heather, I'm so…so sorry…"
He had hidden himself so well that Wish Bear wouldn't have been able to find him if he hadn't started to really bawl just then. She hopped out of the Rainbow Roller, hardly noticing that it had evaporated into nothing as she did so, and called out.
"Brave Heart? Are you there? It's me, Wish Bear…Brave Heart?"
Brave Heart quickly swallowed his sobs and forced back his tears. Drying his face and clearing his throat, he stood up and said in a loud voice, "Yeah, I'm here. Just got back from a caring mission. Nothing wrong here, everything's just swell!"
Wish could hear his voice wavering uncertainly, but she was able to follow the sound to his hiding place. He was leaning negligently against a tree with his back to her and his arms crossed. He was always one to put up a bold front while others were around, but she knew better. "Brave Heart," she said softly, "you don't have to pretend around me. I know what happened; I saw it through my Star-o-Scope. I saw."
He didn't answer, but she saw him lower his head to his paw. She approached him, and wordlessly laid a paw on his shoulder. That one, small gesture caused him to give up the struggle, and he burst into tears. She pulled him into a hug and he sobbed uncontrollably into her shoulder, while she stroked his tawny mane and shushed him softly.
"Shhh…there, there, it wasn't your fault…" she whispered.
"It was too!" he wailed thickly, hardly able to speak through his sobs, "If…if I ha-hadn't froze up, she'd have…" he gulped, "Even if I…hadn't s-said the wr-wrong thing, and…Sho-should have ex-ex-expected her t-to…An-and if…if I c-couldn't save her, then…then m-maybe I sh-shouldn't…even be th-the leader of…of the C-Cousins…cuz it was my fault!"
"That's not true." She told him, squeezing his shoulders for emphasis, "You've been a great leader for the Care Bear Cousins. We all love you, and with good reason! You remember that time when you helped that boy Adam face his fear of the dark? And I know how hard that was for you, because you don't like the dark either, but you did it for him. And I can't remember how many times you rescued Hugs and Tugs from No Heart. I know you did everything in your power to save that girl…I saw it myself, how you rushed after her…"
"But I froze!" he sobbed miserably, "It's be-because of me that…that she ju-jumped in…in the first place! I-I m-mentioned her-her aunt, and she…she jumped, and I…I froze…I c-c-couldn't move."
"Brave Heart, I'd probably freeze too. I'm not sure any of us wouldn't freeze when faced with something like that. She had been planning to jump before you even got there, and if you hadn't arrived it would have happened sooner than it did. It was a terrible thing, and it's okay to feel sad about it—I'm sad about it—but it's not okay to blame yourself. Oh, I know…" she whispered, tightening her grip as he gave a low, quavering moan, and his entire body seemed to weaken as he leaned heavily upon her shoulders. "I know it hurts. You go ahead and cry…but don't blame yourself. Please don't…"
She said nothing more after that, and let him exhaust his tears on her shoulder until it was soaked. She had never seen or heard him cry like this…never, not even when they were all tiny cubs. It just wasn't like him. Once, when they were small, he had fallen down and hurt his wrist. After the initial 'oww' he had only sniffled a bit. It had always been a blow to his lionish pride to be seen with tears in his eyes. It was almost as if he thought that it downplayed his 'fearless leader image'. But now here he was, crying openly and without shame. Well, he shouldn't be ashamed; this was a better reason than most.
Finally he began to get quiet. They stood there in almost complete silence; his heaving sobs had been reduced to quiet sniffles. He stayed in the safety of her hug for some time after that, needing the comfort of a friend's arms and the warmth and solidity of a shoulder to catch his tears. She continued to stroke his mane, understanding his need for silence, and letting him choose when he wanted to step back.
When he finally did step back his eyes were red and puffy, and the fur beneath them was stained a darker tawny than the rest of him from all the tears he had shed, giving the illusion of a blush. He rubbed his eyes with his fists, sniffled loudly, and wiped his nose with the back of his paw. His breathing still hitched a bit, and his tail whipped slowly from side to side as he stood staring at the ground, unsure what to say or do next.
She rescued him by saying, "It's getting dark. Why don't we go back to Care-a-Lot, and get something to eat or drink from the kitchen? You'll feel better once you've had something. Some milk, maybe?"
He wiped his nose again, and gave her a small, grateful nod. He was far from being hungry, but he couldn't just stand there all day. Besides, she had given him a much-needed shoulder to cry on, and he realized how lucky he was to have friends like her, and that the last thing he wanted right now was to be on his own. He allowed himself to be led by the paw to his Cloudmobile, and climbed into the passenger seat.
* * *
The cafeteria was nearly empty when they arrived, and there wasn't even a line at the food counter. Both of them had tall glasses of cold milk, and Wish Bear had brought him some coconut-covered peanut butter balls, his favorite snack. It didn't surprise her that she had almost finished her cookies before he had really begun with his food; in fact, he had barely taken a bite out of one of them before he turned a bit green and pushed his plate away, drinking his milk instead.
The others in the room (at least, those that passed by their table) noticed this also, especially Tender Heart, who had just walked in, and who never knew Brave Heart to pass up a peanut butter ball. He strode over to their table and sat down, asking, "Hey, is everything all right?"
Brave Heart, who was now sitting with his chin resting in his paw, looked up. He met Tender Heart's eyes briefly, then looked away, sniffling once as tears threatened to well up.
"Hey…what's wrong?" Tender Heart asked, concerned.
Wish Bear, seeing that Brave Heart didn't quite know how to answer, asked, "Is it okay for me to tell him?" When she received a nod, she told Tender Heart what had happened earlier that day, omitting Brave Heart's tearful outburst, though judging from the look on Tender Heart's face he must have known that it had happened. He knew Brave Heart as well as she did.
Tender Heart began to speak, but Brave Heart shook his head, saying, "I did have a chance to save her, and I blew it. I froze." He was almost in tears again, and Tender Heart frowned.
"I've frozen too, Brave Heart. Every one of us has, but I've always done my best, and I know that you did too. You can't do more than that. You know?" he patted Brave Heart on the shoulder, and the lion sniffled once more, tears streaking down his muzzle. He wiped them away and nodded.
"Thanks, Tender Heart…and thank you, Wish Bear, for…for earlier."
"Hey," she grinned, "What are friends for?"
She offered him her last cookie, but Brave Heart shook his head and mumbled, "I can't eat. I'm afraid I'll be sick again if I do." His voice cracked. Then, almost out of the blue, he buried his face in his paws and began to tremble violently with choking, half-suppressed sobs.
Tender Heart put an arm around him and looked stricken, and everyone in the immediate area turned and gaped at the unexpected sight before them, whispering amongst themselves.
"Look, Lotsa, he's crying! Is he okay?"
"What's going on, Cheer Bear?"
"I don't know…"
"Is everything okay?"
"Why's he cryin' for, Grams Bear?"
"I'm not sure, Tugs…Where's Hugs? Ah, there she is…come on, you two. Let's give him some privacy…"
"Maybe we should all go…"
"Should we get True Heart or Noble Heart?"
"I think Tender Heart and Wish Bear are handling it…"
And they were, but not as well as they had hoped. Brave Heart had lurched forward and hidden his face in his arms, dripping unseen tears on the tabletop, and crying as if his heart would break. He'd thought he had finished crying earlier, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In no time the cafeteria was deserted, but none of this mattered to him. So what? Let them see!
'Let them see me for the useless, whiny, brainless, sniveling coward I am!'he thought miserably, the images of Heather's suicide repeating themselves over and over in his mind's eye, 'I froze in place and let that poor girl die!'
Though it hardly seemed possible, his sobs grew even thicker, and Tender Heart and Wish Bear looked at each other with nothing short of terror. Was he having some kind of fit?
"Brave Heart!" said Tender Heart desperately, giving him a gentle shake, "Please, try to calm down! Breathe in…breathe, you really will make yourself sick if you don't calm down." He rubbed the lion's shoulders and back in a gentle, circular motion, and Wish Bear just knelt beside him and hugged him as best she could from such a difficult angle. Brave Heart wasn't even trying to talk this time around; all he wanted to do was cry until he was unconscious. Maybe then he wouldn't have to dream about the whole thing. Not that he actually could control himself if he had wanted to…
Wish Bear stood up, and whispered into Tender Heart's ear, "This one's much worse than the last one. I'm going to go find True Heart and Noble Heart." And she sprinted out the door when she received his nod.
"Come here," Tender Heart pulled Brave Heart close and held him as tightly as he could without hurting him. The Care Bear Cousin was bent double with the force of his sobs, so that his head was level with Tender Heart's chest. Tender Heart held Brave Heart's head there with his paw, and rocked him gently from side to side. "Shhh…"
"Why couldn't I save her?!" he wailed brokenly, thumping his own knee with his tightly clenched fist.
"You tried." Tender Heart said soothingly, almost in tears himself.
"She died because of me! You di-didn't see h-her af-after she ju-j-jumped! I'll n-never forgive myself! Never!" he kept his paws up, clenched into fists and obscuring his face.
"Brave Heart, there's nothing to forgive! Next you'll be saying you pushed her over yourself! Oh don't, I'm sorry…I shouldn't have said that…" he quickened the pace of his rocking as Brave Heart made a half-hearted attempt to pull away, and just then Wish Bear returned with True Heart and Noble Heart, both of them looking extremely concerned and out of breath. The sight that met their eyes was far worse than they had been dreading; a frightened Tender Heart was trying in vain to console an inconsolable Brave Heart, and both of them looked extremely lost and alone.
"He started crying again, but this time he won't stop!" whispered Wish Bear, "I'm afraid he'll hurt himself!"
They hurried forward, and Tender Heart tried to lean back, but Brave Heart went with him, unaware of what was going on. "True Heart! Noble Heart, I'm so glad you're here! We can't calm him down! It's like he doesn't want to stop!"
"I c-c-can't st-stop!" Brave Heart managed to choke out as True Heart got him to blow his nose on a napkin. Wish Bear fleshed out the story a bit, and True Heart shook her head.
"Poor guy…" she whispered, as Noble Heart took over for Tender Heart.
"Oh, Brave Heart, you don't think you're the only one of us to have a caring mission go bad, do you?" asked the small, purple horse in such a gentle voice that it softened the statement's edges a bit. "We can only help people if they let us, you know that."
"Ulp!" Brave Heart gagged.
"Whoops, here we go!" said Noble Heart.
The inevitable had finally happened; Brave Heart stumbled out of the cafeteria with Noble Heart's help, his paw pressed firmly over his mouth. Noble Heart gathered Brave Heart's mane away from his neck to keep it out of the way, and when it was over he helped him to walk about fifteen feet away and to sit down against the wall. It had mostly been dry heaves, but it did serve a purpose. Brave Heart's digestive system had just shocked him enough so that his crying was greatly reduced. The others came out to find Brave Heart sitting down and Noble Heart kneeling beside him. "I know," Noble Heart was saying quietly, patting his arm, "it's no fun." It was almost as if he was treating Brave Heart like he was a cub again, but it actually seemed to be calming him down…well, either that, or Brave Heart just didn't want to throw up again…
In his shame, Brave Heart couldn't bring himself to look up at them. "I'm s-sorry…I really didn't…mean to cry like that. It jus' came out, and then I couldn't stop, and…" he sniffled and buried his face in his arms again, but he wasn't crying nearly as hard as he had before. "I just c-can't help blamin' myself…I can't…"
True Heart sighed, and sat down at his other side, while Noble Heart knelt there and gripped his shoulder gently. Tender Heart and Wish Bear found places to sit themselves, well within reach in case they were needed. True Heart tucked a stray tendril of Brave Heart's mane behind his ear as he cried silently into his arms, and said, "Let me tell you a little story, Brave Heart. Back when all of you were cubs and it was just me and Noble Heart taking on the caring missions, I had one really tough customer to deal with. And I don't mean Dark Heart. I won't tell you who, because it's still too hard for me to speak his name. You see, this boy had a grudge against his brother, and was set on getting revenge. I went down and tried to talk him out of it, and he said he was sorry…but he lied to me. He ended up playing a joke, or at least it was meant to be a joke," she trailed off, still passing her palm gently over his mane, then continued to speak with a slight catch in her voice that clearly wasn't feigned, "This so-called joke resulted in an accident that led to his brother's death. The boy then blamed me for it, because I didn't stop him. I had tried, but…Brave Heart, you're not the only one." Her eyes were moist, but not a single tear fell; she had already shed her tears for those boys.
Brave Heart had jerked his head up at the word 'death', and was now opening and closing his mouth like a guppy as he tried to find the words to speak. Finally, haltingly, he said, "B-but, that wasn't—it wasn't your fault! It just…you tried, and it…it just happened."
"I know," she nodded blandly, "but for a long time after that I did blame myself. If I had been more persistent, or more caring…that's what I thought at the time. And I cried about it for a long time…" here Brave Heart blushed, and True Heart continued, "But it sounds familiar, doesn't it? Both of us did our best to save these people, Brave Heart…you froze because you just couldn't process the fact that she had jumped, but it was only for a split second…There's no guarantee that you would have made it to her in time, even if you hadn't frozen. It's not fair for you to shoulder the blame when there really isn't any blame to be had." She carefully took his face between her paws, and gently enunciated every word, "It—wasn't—your—fault."
He gulped back one particularly stubborn sob and nodded, his tears trickling over her paws. She held out her arms, and he leaned into her hug. She held him close, and let him finish his cry as she patted him gently on the back. "Will you be okay now?" she asked, and he nodded against her neck.
"Y-yeah…" he sniffled, "I…I just wish…"
"And…that girl's f-family! They…" he gritted his teeth so hard it hurt, trembling like a newborn cub as he tensed up.
"Shhh…no more, now. It just takes time; in time it won't hurt nearly as much, and this goes for both you and them. It does get better."
Noble Heart got up and told the other two that they should leave it to True Heart. Then he asked her, "Is that all right? I mean…" he trailed off, not sure how to put it, but True Heart smiled and nodded, and Brave Heart didn't object. He was still trying to control himself. The truth was, he wasn't much used to crying, and he hadn't cried like this since…well, ever, as far as he could remember. It was like trying to rein in a raging beast. The others had been gone for a few moments before he was actually able to speak again.
"I just hope…"
"What?" True Heart asked him.
"I hope it…gets b-better soon…feels like my h-heart's bein' squeezed. N-nothin' ever hurt this bad…"
"Shhh, I know…" she murmured as he was once more overtaken by sobs, "I know."
"I know. Hush, now. Shhh…"
He shook his head, and went on, "And…it wasn't j-just her…sh-she m-might have…" he clenched his jaws and made a strangled sort of noise in the back of his throat.
"What?" True Heart asked, dread creeping up on her like an icy specter, "She might have what?"
"Th-the infor-mation on her s-said she m-might be…" he couldn't bring himself to say it, but True Heart had guessed what he meant.
"Oh, no…" she whispered, and he nodded.
"Th-that poor…little baby n-nev-never had a-a chance!" he wailed, torn between wanting to pull away from her and wanting to tighten his grip. True Heart couldn't think of anything to say that would help, so she just held him. "I c-can't take it!"
"You said might be." She reminded him, "You don't know if she was carrying a child or not. She might not have been."
"I…I g-guess not, but…" he gave a shuddering sigh and shook his head, tucking his face in the crook between her head and her shoulder. True Heart was reminded strongly of when he was a cub, the times when he had done this after running to either her or Noble Heart for comfort. He didn't often cry back then, but on those rare occasions when he had, he had always done this. And, just like when he had been a cub, it actually seemed to be working.
* * *
Grams Bear was tucking Hugs and Tugs into bed, looking uncharacteristically somber. Hugs and Tugs hadn't said much, and for once they weren't demanding a bedtime story. Finally Tugs, the little blue cub, broke the silence. "I never saw Brave Heart so sad before."
"Yeah," whispered Hugs, "I didn't know grown-ups could cry…it was kinda scary…"
Grams nodded, and said, "Of course grown-ups can cry. They just don't do it very often. I'm sure he didn't mean to scare you…"
"Oh, he didn't scare me," Hugs amended quickly, thinking she had just gotten Brave Heart in trouble, "I just said it was scary…I didn't know he was gonna do it, that's all. You're not mad at him, are ya Grams Bear?"
Grams Bear did a double-take, and asked in a surprised voice, "Why would I be mad at him?"
"Well…" the cubs looked at each other, and Tugs spoke up, "You made us leave, like we were seein' something we weren't s'posed to…"
"Oh no, of course not! I just didn't want him to be embarrassed, that's all."
Hugs frowned, "Embarrassed? What's that?"
Tugs turned and looked at her, smiling in a superior fashion, "Silly, it's when you laugh at someone and make them feel bad."
"I wasn't laughing, Tugs," she returned, somewhat miffed, and Grams Bear shook her head.
"That's not quite what it means, Tugs. Remember how you felt when I caught you sneaking cookies from the jar late at night?"
Tugs blushed, and nodded.
"That's what it is. It's when you feel uncomfortable about something you did, or something that's happened to you." Grams told them.
"Oh." Both cubs nodded, finally getting it. Then Hugs asked, "But why was he crying, Grams Bear? He looked like he needed a hug really bad."
"Tender Heart was huggin' him," Tugs pointed out. "but he just got loud. Maybe…you don't think Tender Heart made him cry, do you?"
"No," Grams said with conviction, "Tender Heart wouldn't do that. Maybe something bad happened today…but for now, it's time you two were asleep."
"But I can't sleep," Hugs protested, sitting up, "I'm too worried about Brave Heart."
"He'll be fine, dear. Don't you worry. I'm sure he'll feel better tomorrow."
"Maybe we can make him a card," suggested Tugs.
"And give him a big hug!" added Hugs.
"That's very nice. I'm sure that'll make him feel a lot better." Smiled Grams Bear.
"Will you help us make the card, Grams Bear?" asked Tugs, stifling a yawn.
"Of course I will…tomorrow." She told him as she pulled the covers up to their chins and kissed them goodnight.
* * *
Midnight found Brave Heart and True Heart still sitting outside. Brave Heart had cried himself into a stupor, and was now sitting beside True Heart with his head resting on her shoulder, looking dazed and feeling drained. Both were awake, but neither of them spoke.
Brave Heart was looking up into the night sky, trying to read the expression on the face of the Great Wishing Star, but he was too far away. If one wish could be granted, his would be to turn back time and prevent the mistake he felt that he had made…but time couldn't be turned back. The term 'wishing star' was a bit of a misnomer, anyway; he could watch, but he couldn't grant wishes. All the Star could do was hear wishes, and be a friendly ear when one was otherwise alone.
Was it his imagination, or did the Star seem to be looking right at him? He sighed and wiped his eyes as they became moist; he had just about run out of tears, and they stopped in their tracks a few millimeters from his eyes, causing them to itch. True Heart turned her head to look down at him.
"You tired?" she asked quietly, noticing that he winced when he touched his own face; it must be raw and painful from all the rubbing and from the salt in the tears.
"Hmm…" he mumbled, sitting up and stretching his legs out in front of him, suddenly aware that they had gone stiff. "I'm sorry about all this, True Heart." His voice was hoarse, and no wonder.
"Sorry about what?" she shook her head, "You've done nothing to be sorry for, Brave Heart."
"So I shouldn't be sorry for bawlin' my head off like a two-week-old cub?" he raised an eyebrow, and began to play with the tuft at the end of his tail.
True Heart shook her head. "Nope."
He glanced quizzically at her, then looked back up at the sky. "Do you…do you think the Great Wishing Star can see us?"
"Of course he can."
"Good," Brave Heart said solemnly, "because I hope he saw me tonight."
"Why?" she asked, curious.
"I just hope he saw. Nice to know he's watching us, you know?" he swiped at his eyes again and looked down, clearing his throat.
"Yes, it is." She agreed quietly. He drew a hitching breath, and let it out in a sigh. Then he yawned, and True Heart got a better look at his face as the moonlight shifted. "You really do look tired, you know. Why don't you let me drive you home?"
"I…" he looked away. Whatever he had to say must be a source of great embarrassment.
"What? Tell me."
He sighed, and said, "Promise you won't laugh at me…"
"Of course I won't laugh at you, Brave Heart. Just tell me."
He seemed to be gathering his strength for something, but it wasn't anything she was expecting. "I'm…I'm afraid to sleep." She stared at him, and he lowered his head in shame and continued, "I'm afraid I'll dream about Heather."
True Heart only nodded, squeezing his fingers gently. They both knew that nothing could stop that from happening, so it hardly seemed necessary to mention it. True Heart then helped him to his feet, and almost on impulse he hugged her. "Thanks." He whispered huskily, and she knew he wasn't talking about her helping him up.
"Come on," she told him when he stepped back, putting her arm around him and leading him over to his Cloudmobile, "I'll take you home."
* * *
The next afternoon, after sleeping late without meaning to, Brave Heart made himself get up and go for a walk. He was still upset, but he felt somewhat better than he had last night. The best thing he could do, he reasoned, was keep his normal routine going.
True Heart had left him last night only after he had assured her more than once that he would be all right, and against his expectations, he hadn't had a nightmare about Heather. Of course he hadn't really wanted to be left, but it wouldn't have felt right to ask True Heart to stay. After all, he wasn't a cub anymore. True Heart had been like a mother to all of them, himself included, but it had been a long time since she had sat up with one of them. As it was, he was grateful to her for what she did for him last night…not to mention Noble Heart, Tender Heart, and especially Wish Bear. He didn't know how he would have fared if Wish hadn't found him.
He picked up the pace of his walking, and went into a slow jog. His mind wandered, and he found himself wondering how many of the others had seen him break down at the table last night. How many, and which ones had seen? He was sure he had heard one of the cubs (he wasn't sure which one) ask Grams Bear why he was crying, but he hadn't really noticed anyone's faces when he had entered the room. How many faces would he look into, and see pity staring back at him?
It would be nice to just curl up in his bed, and not have to face those looks. It would be nice to retreat, to hide, but it was against his nature to do so. As soon as the idea occurred to him, he stubbornly pushed it away. He was Brave Heart Lion! He didn't hide. He faced his troubles head on! Of course, he was often a bit overzealous in doing so…
He slowed to a walk again, panting, and considered what he should do next when his stomach made the decision for him…
"Bbbburbbblebrrr…" he looked down in mild surprise as his stomach contracted painfully and set up a plaintive growl. Of course…He had thrown up his lunch yesterday, and he hadn't really had any supper last night or breakfast this morning. Right, then. His next order of business would be to get something to eat.
When he arrived at the cafeteria, several of his friends turned to look at him; word must have gotten around. He halted briefly, then took a deep breath and made his way over to the lunch queue.
"How're you doing, Brave Heart?" asked a voice behind him, and he looked around to find Lotsa Heart Elephant, who was back for second helpings.
"Doin' all right." Brave Heart said with a shrug. After an uncomfortable pause, while they waited for the line to move and were unsure how to proceed, Brave Heart finally asked, "I s'pose you were here…last night?"
"Yeah." Lotsa Heart nodded, looking fixedly at his tray. "Um…I'm not gonna ask what happened…I think you would have said something if you really wanted me to know…but you know you can always talk to any one of us, right?"
Brave Heart nodded, grateful that he didn't have to explain, and inched forward as the line moved. "Thanks, Lotsa." He managed a small smile.
Brave Heart's stomach still didn't feel a hundred percent, so he only took a banana, a glass of water, and a few slices of leftover breakfast toast. Then he had a quick look around the room, and spotted Tender Heart and Wish Bear sitting at a table, engaged in conversation. He only needed one guess to know who they were talking about…Well, he did want to thank them, so it might as well be now. A few of his friends waved to him and said hi, and he nodded back, slowly but surely making his way to his chosen table. "Okay if I sit here?" he asked, and Tender Heart grinned mischievously and told him to 'park it.'
"I just wanna thank you guys…you know, for yesterday." He said as he sat down.
"You don't have to thank us, Brave Heart." Smiled Wish Bear.
"Yeah I do." Brave Heart said seriously, not looking them in the eye, "You don't know what it means to me to have you guys as friends…Not too many people would appreciate it if someone just started bawling at their table. Feel pretty silly now, but…well, thanks."
"Don't mention it," said Tender Heart, poking cherry tomatoes to the edge of his plate and away from the rest of his salad. "We'd do it any time, you know that. Hey, Grams Bear's headed this way with Hugs and Tugs…it looks like they've got something."
Brave Heart turned his head, and saw that little Tugs was holding what looked like a birthday card. Both cubs looked a bit nervous, but Grams Bear gave them an encouraging nod and they stepped forward. Brave Heart didn't even have time to say hello before Hugs clambered into his lap and gave him one of the hugs that she was famous for. As always, he was taken aback by the tenacity of her grip. Then she looked up and said brightly, "Hi, Brave Heart!"
"What was that for?" he asked, not unpleasantly surprised.
Hugs shrugged, and said, "Well, we knew you were sad last night. So we thought we'd…"
"We made you a card," Tugs interrupted, "see?" He stood on tiptoe, and held the card so close to Brave Heart's face that he went cross-eyed. He accepted the card with a tolerant smile, and he didn't object as Tugs climbed up beside his sister. On the front of the card was a crayon drawing of Brave Heart Lion, with a frown on his face, and a barely legible caption that read, "Sorry you were sad last night…" he opened the card, and there was a picture of him drawn with a smile, and he was surrounded by as many of the Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins that the cubs could squeeze in. There was another caption at the bottom, "but with friends like us, you'll be all right!"
Hugs blushed, and said, "We had trouble thinkin' what to say…Grams Bear helped us with the rhyming part…"
Brave Heart swallowed hard, so touched by the cubs' gesture that he had to fight back the tears that threatened to spill over. His smile was no longer tolerant; it was genuine, but it was hidden behind the card.
"Don't you…don't you like it?" Hugs asked shyly.
Brave Heart wrapped an arm around each cub, hugging them. "I love it. Thank you." was all he could say.
"Hugs almost drew you twice, so we had to turn it into Proud Heart with a hat." Said Tugs, and Brave Heart had to chuckle at the thought of Proud Heart Cat with a mane. When Grams Bear came to retrieve them, she exchanged a few friendly words with Brave Heart. Then she took them to get their own lunches. The lion looked after them and shook his head.
* * *
Brave Heart spent most of the day walking, trying to keep his mind off Heather, and avoiding his friends' company. He appreciated what they were trying to do, but every time he talked to someone he had to fight tooth and nail to keep from bursting into tears. At first he had felt much better at lunch, but when the conversation turned to the subject of Heather's funeral he had excused himself. Now all he could think about was that poor girl being lowered into the ground, surrounded by sobbing relatives…
He gritted his teeth, and blinked furiously. He headed for the Forest of Feelings, jogging once more. *Keep busy…keep moving…*
He passed Champ Bear on the way, and the yellow bear did a double-take; Brave Heart wasn't usually seen jogging.
Brave Heart veered slightly off the path, and broke into a run as Heather's face loomed up in his mind's eye. His heart pounding madly, he ran for all he was worth, not even sure where he was going.
*It's your fault, you know. You could have saved her.*
He wasn't sure where that voice came from, but it sounded like his own.
*You weren't quick enough…*
"Leave…me…alone…" he panted, hardly aware that he had spoken out loud.
*But you know it's true…girl didn't have to die…could have…you could have…*
*Could have…could have saved her…could have…*
*Could have…could have…too slow…too stupid…*
He tripped. He fell flat on his face, the breath knocked out of him. The reproachful voice receded, and he lay there trembling and panting. What had just happened?
He yelped as something touched his shoulder, but he saw that it was only Bright Heart Raccoon, who must have seen him fall. He sat up, and it was like waking up from a dream. What had just happened?
"Are you all right?" asked the raccoon, helping Brave Heart up and glancing at his skinned knees and elbows.
"I…" Brave Heart gulped, but got no further; he could think of nothing to say. He turned away from Bright Heart, blundered deeper into the woods, then stopped after he had only gone a few yards. He knew from the sound of footsteps behind him that Bright Heart had followed, but it didn't matter. He couldn't run anymore; he was too tired. He sighed, and said in a voice barely above a whisper, "Bright Heart, I think I'm going crazy…"
"Why do you say that?" asked Bright Heart, concerned.
"Because…" he choked, and shut his eyes tightly against the tears that refused to stay put. They fell in spite of his efforts, and he gave up trying to hold them back. "Because I…I tried to save a girl named Heather yesterday, and she jumped anyway…and I was too slow. And now, I…" he trailed off, shrugging helplessly. Bright Heart touched his shoulder again, and he shook his head. "I'm fine."
"No, I don't think you are, Brave Heart." The raccoon said seriously, "I think you blame yourself."
"No really, you think?" Brave Heart snapped, his temper flaring up at the truth in that statement.
"Yes." Bright Heart said calmly, as if he hadn't just gotten tongue-lashed. "I do. You're not going crazy at all, you're just upset. I think you're still perfectly sane. And I also think that it might be a good idea for you to speak to this girl's aunt."
"Her…" Brave Heart blinked, "How did you know she lived with her aunt?"
Bright Heart looked uncomfortable for the first time. "Well, Noble Heart told me what happened last night. I wasn't there, but he told me to keep an eye out for you. He had a feeling that you just might turn up somewhere around here. He knows you come around here when you want to be alone."
So, Brave Heart's secret places weren't so secret. He realized now that he had been heading roughly towards the place where Wish Bear had found him the day before. He sighed, ignoring the tears that dripped steadily down his face. "So, you want me to talk to her aunt. What good will that do?"
"Well…you might just find that she blames herself just as much as you blame yourself. Maybe even more." Bright Heart had never looked more serious about anything. It dawned on Brave Heart that the raccoon knew more than he was telling, but before he could ask, Bright Heart continued, "Heather's funeral is set for the day after tomorrow at two o'clock. I think you should go."
Brave Heart turned away again, and shook his head. "I can't go to…" he trailed off, scrubbing his eyes with his fists.
"I just want you to think about it, that's all." Said Bright Heart.
Brave Heart gave a noncommittal grunt, and Bright Heart said good-bye and left. The lion headed for his favorite spot, and when he finally got there he sat down. Now he really had something to think about.
* * *
Brave Heart decided to go to the funeral after all. He wondered if he would be kicked out of the church; he hadn't been invited, obviously, and he wasn't sure if they had even heard of the Care Bears or the Care Bear Cousins. And if they had, would they find any particular significance in his being there, and think that he had something to do with Heather's death?
He arrived in his Cloudmobile, and used his tummy symbol to dress himself in a Care Bear Cousin-sized suit. His symbol was printed on the front of his shirt directly over where the real one would be, and several smaller ones were printed on his green necktie. He checked his pockets for a handkerchief; he had a feeling he'd be needing it. It turned out that he had two.
"How'd I let you talk me into this, Bright Heart?" he muttered, approaching the open church doors. No one asked him to leave, or even asked him who he was, but he was conscious of their stares and whispers. He caught the words 'Care Bears' and 'Brave Heart Lion'; apparently some of these people had heard about him, perhaps from their children, but nobody spoke directly to him. He chose a place at the far back of the church, and sat with his right shoulder and arm pressed firmly against the wall. He saw an open casket at the front of the room, but he couldn't bear to approach it. Someone had blown up Heather's school picture and framed it, and this was propped up on an easel and surrounded by what seemed to be a sea of flowers.
The minister was speaking, but he wasn't paying attention. He stared down at his toes, which were stuffed into uncomfortably tight shoes. He could hear soft chuffing sounds as people tried to muffle their sobs, and if he had been looking up he would have noticed that Heather's aunt Linda kept glancing back at him. Finally, it was time for Linda to give the eulogy.
He could still see Heather poised to jump, her hands gripping the railing…he could see her hair flying behind her as she seemed to hover…the sound of the branches snapping…the snare missing her by an inch…It was more because of this train of thought, not the eulogy, that caused Brave Heart to bury his face in his handkerchief, shaking with silent sobs. He dimly heard Linda falter in her speech, but he didn't realize that this was because she had been watching him, and was surprised to see him break down so completely. Her own tears seemed to stop when his started, and she regained control of herself and finished with poise and dignity.
Linda sat down, and minister said a few more words before closing. When Brave Heart heard the organ beginning to play, he hastily got himself under control. He saw people filing down the aisle to look at Heather's face one last time, but he couldn't bring himself to follow them. He saw Linda turn and begin to approach him, but he quickly slipped out the door, pretending that he hadn't seen her.
The first thing he did when he had taken to the air in his Cloudmobile was to kick off those stupid shoes of his. He then followed the funeral procession to the cemetery, where an open grave yawned beneath a shiny new headstone. This time, he hung back and hid behind a tree; therefore, he was unable to hear anything clearly. Well, he did hear one thing clearly…the awful tupp sound of dirt hitting the top of the casket. He was forgetting something…
"The rose…" he muttered, smacking his forehead. He ran back to his Cloudmobile to get it, and when he returned the place seemed to be deserted.
It wasn't. Linda had seen Brave Heart's tail sticking out from behind the tree, and now she was borrowing the idea; she had told the chauffeur to wait in the car, and now she watched from behind a tree as Brave Heart approached her niece's grave, a rose clutched in his fist.
Brave Heart cleared his throat uncertainly, and placed the rose on top of the fresh mound of earth. "Well, I guess I really messed up, huh?" he said aloud, talking to the headstone. "I know…I know you probably don't blame me for this…no, that was a stupid thing to say…what I meant was…" he sighed, and knelt down beside the grave. "I don't know what I meant. You didn't have to do that, you know? Nothin' you did was so bad that you had to…to…" he made an odd sound, sort of a mix between a gulp and a choke, and buried his face in his hands. "Oh, Heather, I'm sorry…" He began to rock back and forth, unable to control himself any longer. Linda had seen enough…
Brave Heart froze in mid-rock, and peeked over his fingertips at the woman who stood beside him. What struck him into silence was how similar she looked to Heather. They could have been twins, separated only by twenty years or so. They stared at each other for a few moments, him torn between running away from her or standing up to greet her, and her looking at him with mingled curiosity and commiseration. Finally he looked away and hastily dried his face, mumbling, "Hello."
"Hello." She cleared her throat, and asked, "Um…are you…I'm sorry, but are you who I think you are? Brave Heart Lion?"
"Y-yeah…" he stood up and began to offer her his hand to shake, but pulled it back and wiped it on his pants instead when he saw what was on it. He pulled out his handkerchief, and blew his nose with a loud honk.
"I've heard of you guys." She continued, still sounding uncertain. "But I don't know what one of you would be doing at Heather's funeral."
Brave Heart looked down at the grass, dangerously close to crying again. She hadn't said it in an accusing sort of way, but that hardly mattered. The unspoken question was there. What did he have to do with Heather?
"I'm Linda, by the way." She said, kneeling down beside him to reduce their height difference; he was only about one third her height.
"I'm…well, I guess you already know my name…" he shifted uncomfortably.
They were quiet for a minute, both of them looking at the shiny gray headstone, then Linda said, "Don't get me wrong, Brave Heart. It's nice to meet you and all…but I have to ask. Why are you here?"
That was the question he had been dreading, and he shut his eyes and took a deep breath. "Okay…Heather was my last caring mission three days ago. I got a message that she was gonna…you know, and I tried to stop her. I…guess I didn't try hard enough." He finished lamely, tears coursing down his face again.
"So, you made that call…" Linda said quietly, making a few connections.
Brave Heart nodded, covering his face and turning his back to her, his voice breaking as he spoke. "You'll hate me for telling you. When she…when she jumped, I c-couldn't move f-for a second…Th-then when I did…It was t-too late…"
Linda put a hand on his arm, and turned him gently around. When she spoke, he could tell that she was crying too. "It was really because of me that she jumped in the first place, Brave Heart. I yelled at her. I called her such…such filthy names, and she…she ran out of the house. And I let her go! I don't hate you at all, Brave Heart…at least you tried…the one I hate is myself!"
Whatever he had been expecting her to tell him, this wasn't it. He looked up at her, seemingly through a glass of water as his sobs still followed one after the other, while her own sobs joined them. She had her hand over her mouth, and was no longer looking at him. She thumped the ground in front of her with her fist, and he hesitantly put his hands on her shoulders, ready to leap back if for some reason she attempted to hit him. She did nothing of the sort, however. Instead she gathered him close, and that was all it took before they were crying together, their tears mingling as they found some comfort in sharing each other's grief. He didn't really know her at all, and she didn't know him, but they shared a link in their mutual sorrow over Heather's death. Stormy sobs tore through both of them, but the storm passed as quickly as it came. Brave Heart began to offer her his spare handkerchief, but he saw that she already had one.
"And she wasn't even pregnant like we thought…" Linda trailed off, and blew her nose (much more delicately than Brave Heart had).
Brave Heart felt as if a weight had suddenly been lifted off his shoulders. But in a way, this made it worse for Linda.
"So I yelled at her for no reason. 'You're not ready.' 'You're throwing your l-life away.' What was I thinking? I could have cared for them both…"
Brave Heart sniffled, and said, "Well…ahem…well, Bright Heart says hindsight's twenty/twenty. For the…the past few days I've been…kicking myself for freezing up on that cliff. True Heart told me there's no guarantee that I woulda reached her in time, and she's pr-probably right."
"Well, of course she is. It would take a miracle and a half to…to stop her from falling when she'd…when she'd already jumped. I'm grateful for what you did. You tried to save her, and I…and I want to thank you for that."
He waved it off, as if her thanking him made him uncomfortable. "It's what we do. We give help where it's needed…But you shouldn't blame yourself either. And don't hate yourself." He sniffled again, and blew his nose.
Linda nodded, and sighed. "I guess I don't, really…I was just so angry. I never meant to say those things…those mean things…"
"Of course you didn't." he told her, his own grief pushed to the sidelines as he attempted to comfort her, "We all get angry sometimes, and say things we don't mean. Once I yelled at Hugs and Tugs…they're the two cubs we've got living with us in the Kingdom of Caring…and to make a long story short, they disappeared, and I felt terrible. Then we found out that it wasn't even because of me; No Heart kidnapped them. Then we rescued them…but the point is, we all say things we don't mean. Who knows? It might not have even been because of you. It might have been because her boyfriend left her, or…or maybe it was depression…It could have been anything. If you don't know for sure, there's really no way you can accept the blame…that's actually what my friends have been trying to tell me…" he looked down at his handkerchief, and busied himself with finding a clean corner to blow his nose on. He felt Linda put a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to find her smiling at him.
"Thank you, Brave Heart." She told him sincerely, and he smiled back. She checked her watch, and said, "I should really get back…I'm sort of holding things up…You're welcome to drop by the house if you want to."
"I don't know…" he demurred, but then he really had nothing else to do; he hadn't gotten any caring missions since Heather. He figured that True Heart and Noble Heart had something to do with that…
"It'll just be ten of us; me and her grandparents, and a couple of her friends. They won't ask you anything; I'll just say that you were Heather's friend, which isn't a lie."
"M-kay…sure." He nodded. "I'll be there."
* * *
Brave Heart didn't participate much; since he didn't know much about Heather, he simply sat back and listened. Mostly it was people swapping stories and passing around a tray of snacks, which nobody really wanted. A few of them cried a bit, and everyone laughed when Heather's friend Becky told them how Heather had once smeared peanut butter on Becky's face at a slumber party, and she woke up to the dog licking it off.
Brave Heart learned a lot about Heather that day. It turned out that she had wanted to be a writer, and she had a passion for the Harry Potter books.
Everyone was curious about Brave Heart, who had arrived late, but nobody asked him anything; apparently Linda had told them about him ahead of time, and had warned them that too many questions might upset him. He appreciated that, but he truly wouldn't have minded the questions…as long as they weren't about his involvement with Heather.
Becky, however, made an extra effort to include him. It turned out that she had met Cheer Bear when she was much younger, and she wanted to know how she was doing.
"She's doing fine." Brave Heart had replied, "Still cheerful."
It was eight o'clock when he finally left Linda's house, feeling better than he had in days. Becky told him to tell Cheer Bear she said hi. Linda thanked him for dropping by, and for coming to the funeral, and he got into his Cloudmobile and headed for Care-A-Lot.
"How'd it go?" Bright Heart asked him when he got back.
"Went all right, I guess." He shrugged. "I met her aunt. Turns out you were right."
"But of course!" Bright Heart smiled, buffing his nails on his chest. "But seriously, how do you feel now that you went down and talked to her?"
Brave Heart smiled. "Better. Pretty good, actually. Hey, have you seen Wish Bear or Tender Heart around?"
"Yes, they're having supper with True Heart and Noble Heart. They were asking about you." and with that, the raccoon turned and led the way into the cafeteria.
When Brave Heart joined them at the table, they were talking about what they had done that day. Just like at Linda's house, he simply sat and listened through most of it. No one needed to ask what he had been doing, and he didn't feel much like talking.
"Are you okay?" Wish Bear finally asked him.
"Yeah. I'm just tired, that's all." He replied, putting down his fork since he wasn't really using it anyway.
"I'm not surprised." said Noble Heart, "It can't have been easy, what you did today."
"No, not at first. Actually, it was pretty rough at first…but it got better."
They waited for him to continue, but he didn't. He picked up his fork and began to finish his supper.
That night he slept better than he had in the past three nights, and he did dream about Heather…she was smiling.
Author's Note: This turned out to be much longer than I thought! I hope no one was out of character; I haven't seen the show in years. I know this was a bit dark for Care Bears, and I apologize. But, like it or hate it, that's my story.