"Part 1: What They Don't Know..."
Author's Note: Here's the final chapter, and I know it's a bit short. Most chapters in the few chapter fics I've done are. Thanks for the reviews, and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks also to NebulaBelt, for letting me borrow Soulful Heart again. Edited for a minor inconsistency.
"Okay," said Regal Heart, "there's peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches, and there's cheese. Make sure Chance eats his lunch, or he'll be in the cookies before you can turn around. You don't want that."
"Yes, Mom." said Connie and Hope. They certainly didn't! Chance was a very active cub, but when he had sugar or caffeine it was much worse.
"I should be home in an hour or two; Daddy's going to check in with Brave Heart afterwards to find out what and where his Missions are for the day." she continued, sounding mildly envious of her husband. As with her other two pregnancies, she wasn't allowed to go on any Missions and she was plagued by boredom. At least this time around her cubs were a little older, and she wasn't having to watch them quite as closely as before. Having two 'teenaged' daughters certainly made things a bit easier, and they seemed to like helping out. "You know what to do if there's an emergency, right?"
"Yeah," the twins nodded again. They had Take Care's number on speed dial.
"Now, if No Heart shows up-" began Regal.
"We know," Hope cut her off, "Take Chance, and get behind the others."
"Good," said Regal, "And if there's no one else around?"
"Send up a distress signal, and run like thunder. Mom, we know all this." Connie half-laughed, half-scolded.
"It never hurts to go over it again, Connie. This is important." Regal chided.
"I know." Connie had the grace to look properly chastened. Then she said, "Hey Mom, I know Chance is grounded, would it be okay if we took him with us if we went out?"
Hope looked curiously at her sister, and Regal looked suspicious. The lioness folded her arms, frowning slightly. "Where would you be going and why?"
Connie thought fast, and it struck her as mildly disturbing how easily the lie came out of her mouth. "Well, I wanted to go see Soulful Heart today. I sorta ticked him off yesterday, and I wanted to apologize. Hope wanted to return a book, so I thought we could do it all in one trip."
Hope kept her eyes on the floor, afraid their mother would see the guilt in them if she made eye contact. Connie, however, never looked away.
Regal wasn't looking at Hope, or she might have been even more suspicious than before. She could easily see how Connie might have upset Soulful; both of them had sharp tongues, and neither of them liked to back down. Ever. "Well...I want you to take your cell phone with you, and leave it on. I'll definitely be calling you. You be careful, all right?"
Connie barely stopped herself from sighing in relief, and smiled. "We will."
"Good." Regal hugged her and Hope, then looked around. "Where's your brother? And your father?"
As if in answer to her question, Stellar was heard yelling "No!" from the kitchen. Regal hurried to see what was going on, and she got there to find Chance being scolded.
"What did you think you were doing, sticking a fork in the toaster?" Stellar demanded.
"Bread was stuck..." Chance mumbled, hanging his head.
Stellar sighed. "Son, you know better than that. If that happens, you come and get us. Then we'll unplug the toaster and take care of it. Okay?"
Chance nodded, still looking down at his feet. Stellar put down the fork and hugged him.
"I'm not mad at you, Chance. What you did was dangerous...you could get hurt doing that." said Stellar.
"Okay..." Chance mumbled, embarrassed.
Stellar straightened up, and saw his wife in the doorway. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah, I think so." said Regal, hugging her son. "You be good for your sisters, okay?"
"Uh-huh." he nodded.
"Do as they say, and don't be stubborn." she said.
"What if they tell me to clean my room?" asked Chance.
"They won't." she said. "Your room's clean already."
"Well, what if they tell me to scrub the floors?" he asked.
Regal fought the urge to roll her eyes; this was an old game for Chance, and an even older game for her. "They won't. I mopped yesterday."
Stellar did a double-take. "You what? In your condition?"
Regal didn't fight it this time. "Stellar, we went over this before. I'm not made of glass. I won't break. I wasn't doing any heavy lifting, and I wasn't over-exerting myself. Besides, the floor needed it. Chance and I tracked in all that dirt and ash yesterday, and you were out on a Mission."
Stellar still didn't look happy, but he had to be satisfied with that.
Chance continued as if there had been no interruption. "What if they make me dust the house from top to bottom, do the wash, cook dinner, write three songs and do handsprings off the porch? Do I still have to do as they say?"
Regal Heart laughed. "They won't make you do any of that. Now come on, you're being silly. Handsprings off the porch! Gimme a kiss." Chance obligingly kissed her cheek, and she hugged him again. "I'll be back soon. You behave for Connie and Hope."
"I will, Mommy."
"Good boy." she patted his cheek, and went to join her husband.
The ligers watched their parents leave, and just as Hope opened her mouth to ask Connie what she had in mind, Chance said brightly, "Okay, will you show me what you can do now? Please, please, pretty please?"
"Wait a minute," Hope shook her head a little, and looked at Connie. "You told him? How come?"
Connie opened her mouth to speak, but again Chance cut in. "Oh, she told me everything! Well, almost everything. I don't know what you can do yet, so will ya tell me? Huh? Huh? Huh?"
"Ummm..." Hope looked somewhat blind sided by his enthusiasm, but she had to laugh when she saw him waving his tail from side to side, almost like an excited puppy.
Connie sighed. "Long story short, he's one of us..."
Chance giggled. "I like the sound of that, 'One of us'...Makes it sound like we're spies or something. Or aliens from outer space! 'Luke, I am your fathah!'" He shoved Connie lightly, and she calmly got him in a headlock as she began to explain things to Hope. It took her a rather long time, since Chance wasn't the tamest of prisoners, and Hope even thought she saw him trying to bite.
Connie finally finished, still keeping a grip on Chance, and said, "So I thought we'd take him to one of our spots and see what he can do, and whether or not he can control it."
"And whether or not he can keep a secret..." Hope pointed out, looking worried.
"I can!" Chance looked indignantly up at Hope over Connie's elbow. "I can too keep a secret! Secret Bear's got nuffin' on me!"
"Is that a fact?" smirked Connie, tickling him with her free paw.
Chance gave a high-pitched squeal, and tried harder to get away. "Stop it, you're gonna make me go to the bathroom! Lemmego!"
Connie let go of him, got her cell phone from the coffee table and turned it on. "We've got Mom's permission and everything. We just have to--Ack!" she squawked as Chance tackled her to the floor, sitting on her stomach and tickling her neck.
"Say 'uncle'!" he growled through his smile.
"No!" Connie shrieked, laughing in spite of herself. Hope clicked her tongue impatiently, and dragged their brother off.
"If Mom talks to Soulful and finds out we haven't been over there, there'll be a reckoning..." said Hope.
Connie pushed herself up on her elbows, and scowled. "And who says we're not going over there? I was telling the truth about that, at least..."
"So you really did have a fight with him?" sighed Hope as Connie got to her feet and retrieved her cell phone from where it had fallen. "Do I even need to ask what it was about?"
"You don't." Connie said shortly, tucking the phone in her purse and heading for the door without looking back. Hope and Chance, knowing their cue when they saw it, shrugged and followed.
"Where are we going again?" asked Chance.
Connie sighed. "Just walk this way."
Since Connie and Hope weren't allowed to drive anywhere while they were babysitting Chance, they went on foot. Connie walked a little ahead of them, keeping her attention on the rainbow path, until she heard Hope giggling. She spun on her heel and caught Chance imitating her 'I'm ticked off' walk. He stopped immediately and hung his head as he put a finger to his mouth. Connie scowled. "Chance..."
"You said 'walk this way'..." he mumbled, playing dumb. He knew perfectly well what she had meant, but somehow he just hadn't been able to help himself.
"Don't be a smarty-pants." Connie told him. "Follow me, then. No making faces behind my back, and don't shove me from behind like you like to do."
Chance nodded, but stuck his tongue out at her back as soon as she presented it to him. Hope nudged him lightly and shook her head, and he sighed. "Party poopers..."
Connie led them in silence to Soulful Heart's house, and she didn't know whether she hoped he was home or not. Soulful Heart might be friends with their mother, and he might have helped raise her, but when someone hurt his feelings he wasn't the most forgiving person in the world. And she knew she had done just that. There was little time for her to gather her courage, since he was sitting on his front steps reading a book, perhaps waiting for Bright Heart or someone else to pick him up for a Mission. He hadn't seen them yet, but the way his ears oriented towards them it was plain he had heard them.
Connie slowed down considerably, and cleared her throat. "Um...Soulful?"
The fox slipped a bit of paper between the pages of his book and stood up, saying rather stiffly, "What do you want?"
Chance pointed an accusing finger at Connie, and said brightly, "Ooooh, is he ever mad at you, Connie! You can see it in his eyes--ulp!"
Connie clapped a paw over his mouth, but Soulful shook his head.
"No, he's right. Let him speak. Maybe he'll at least speak the truth!" Soulful glared at Connie, and it was plain that he was still smarting from her refusal to come clean. It was probably more because she had lied about it than anything else. "Go on, Chance. Tell your sister what I think of liars."
Connie slowly removed her paw, but Chance now looked rather intimidated.
"Um...actu'lly, I'm done...No more input from Chance, nope, none at all." he took a step backwards, and hid behind Connie.
"Well, really..." Soulful snorted.
"Soulful," ventured Hope, "Connie was only trying to--"
"I don't care." he told her flatly. "I don't tolerate being lied to. Ever. I'm sorry, however, that she seems to find me untrustworthy."
"Oh, don't turn this into an opera!" Connie scoffed, finally beginning to grow angry. "I trust you as much as I trust my parents! Trust isn't the issue here!"
"Are you finished?" asked Soulful.
Connie looked to Hope, as if she expected support to come from her, but Hope merely shrugged. That one gesture seemed to say, 'What can I do?' clearer than any spoken words. Connie turned angry eyes to Soulful Heart now, and said, "I guess I am, yeah. I came here to apologize, but now I don't think I will. You want to be that way, you go right ahead."
Soulful opened his mouth, but Connie had turned away. He didn't call after her, mostly because his voice seemed to fail him. Hope gave another helpless shrug, looking regretful, but this really wasn't her fight. She followed Connie, who was in the process of storming away, and Chance hesitated. He looked back at Soulful, who actually looked like he was ready to cry, and bit his lip. "I don't know what Connie did, but she's sorry..."
"Chance!" Connie called without looking back, "Don't lag behind!"
Chance hurried to catch up with his sisters, and Soulful Heart visibly sagged. As angry as he had been, he had a feeling he had just made things worse. Was something like a lie worth fighting over? 'Yes.' he told himself. Since he still didn't know why she had lied, he had to wonder what she was hiding and why. Then again, maybe if he had handled it better, she would have told him. He wasn't the best at coaxing things out of people, but he could have tried, rather than giving her the evil eye. 'And now I'll be lucky if she ever speaks to me again. I went and ruined it...' He turned and went inside.
"Can't you go back and talk to him, Connie?" Chance asked quietly, "He looked sad..."
"I gave him a chance to listen, Chance. He didn't want to. And that's fine. If he wants to stew, let him. I'm done." Seeing his stricken look, she amended, "At least for today. Maybe he just needs more time to cool down. And to be honest, so do I."
Chance seemed mollified by that, and nodded. Then he said brightly, "Are we there yet?"
"Not yet." Connie chuckled, "And please, don't start that."
"Okay." he said agreeably enough as he followed her, but a moment later he repeated his question. "Are we there yet?"
"Not yet. What did I tell you?"
Connie didn't believe for a minute that he was sorry, or that he wouldn't ask her again. Sure enough, two minutes later, Chance said with a big grin on his face, "Are we theeeeere yet?"
"No!" she snapped.
"I'm sorry! Sheesh..." Chance pouted, and kicked a rock.
"Yeah, sorry, sorry...Don't 'sorry' me..." Connie grumbled. In due time they reached a remote clearing, one with no grass. There was nothing but a wide stretch of clouds for about a mile, surrounded by trees. "Okay, Chance, we're here."
Chance had been waiting for her to say that. "I wanna go hooooome!"
Hope burst out laughing, and Connie laid back her ears. "Why you...Come back here, you little monkey!" Chance broke into a run as Connie chased after him. Hope held her middle and sat down on a cloud puff, pointing as Connie chased their brother around in a circle, and laughing uncontrollably.
Connie was fast, but Chance kept changing directions like a hunted impala, and she was more of a sprinter than a distance runner. Finally, nettled by Hope's laughter and Chance's taunting calls of 'Nyaa-nyaa', Connie felt she'd had enough. She focused her energy through her tummy symbol, and yelled, "Freeze!"
Chance immediately froze on the spot. There was no inertia at all, no skidding, and no sense that he was even aware of what had happened. He had, in essence, done exactly what she had told him for once. It was as if time had completely stopped for him, since he wasn't even breathing. He was, for all intents and purposes, a flesh and blood statue. Connie stepped around his still form and stood in front of him, looking satisfied. "Nyaa-nyaa yourself."
Hope got to her feet and said reproachfully, "Now, Connie, there was no reason for you to do that."
"What?" Connie spread her paws, the picture of innocence. "He asked me to show him. That's why we're here."
"I think he meant for you to demonstrate on me. You want to scare him?"
Connie sighed. "If I know Chance, he'll only ask me to do it again..."
"Oh, all right..." Connie looked at Chance, and visualized an invisible hand closed around him. She imagined the fingers unfurling like flower petals, and Chance stumbled forward and almost pitched face-first to the clouds. Connie was now in front of him, and he gaped in shock as he pointed at her.
"How'd you get there? You were back there!" he shrilled, then it clicked. "You froze me, didn't you?"
Connie nodded, hoping she hadn't frightened him. "Yeah, I did. Sorry..."
"Are you kidding? That was cool! Do it again! On Hopie this time."
Connie looked at Hope as if asking permission, and Hope sighed. "All right, but only for a minute."
A moment later, Hopeful Heart stood completely motionless. Chance walked up to her, and examined her closely. "She's not breathin'..."
"It's okay. Touch her arm." Connie told him.
Chance cautiously touched Hope's arm, and Hope turned her head and looked at him. He jumped back with a yelp.
"If someone touches whoever I froze, they 'unfreeze'. We found that out the first time I fell asleep after freezing Hope, and a pigeon landed on her shoulder." explained Connie.
"Actually, it was a dove." Hope corrected her. "Poor little thing got a real shock when it realized I wasn't a statue."
"Dove, pigeon, whatever. Your turn, Hopie." said Connie.
Hope nodded, and engaged her talent. Chance didn't notice any real change at first, but after a moment he noticed that the air around her shimmered a little. The first image that came to his mind was the heat distortion over the flames of their barbecue. 'Flames...' He shivered a little. He had learned from his father to be afraid of fire, but at the same time he was strangely fascinated by it. His mind must have wandered a little, because he heard Hope nervously ask Connie if she had frozen him again.
"I'm okay." he said.
"Good." Hope looked relieved. She held out her paw, stopping just inside of the 'distortion', and said, "Try to touch my hand, Chance."
Chance did as he was told. Or, at least, he tried to. His paw met with a strange resistance about an inch away from hers. He tried knocking on it, but even though his paw made no sound it was like he was tapping on a brick wall. "How strong is it?"
Hope shrugged. "I don't know yet...I know it'll probably stop rocks, but...I don't know about magic." She was thinking about No Heart.
Connie stepped a little closer, and said, "Better let me in, Hope. Chance...it's your turn. If you want to."
Chance wasn't sure if he did want to. He remembered the vivid terror that had gripped him the day before, but he also felt compelled to do it again. He had felt this compulsion since the terror had worn off, and though he still had an intense respect and fear of fire, he found it strangely...beautiful. It wasn't that he wanted to burn things, and he knew it was a very dangerous responsibility that had been laid upon him, but he couldn't help wanting to make the fire again. If he could control it, so much the better; it meant he wouldn't accidentally hurt someone. But he didn't know if he could control it. That was what he was there to find out. He shivered again. His father had been horrified the day before when he thought his son was just playing with matches. How would he react if he found out about this? He knew that Connie and Hope kept their abilities a secret, and well they might, but Chance didn't have to be told twice not to tell anyone. "If Dad finds out about this, what will he think of me...?"
Connie, now in the bubble with her sister, saw his hesitation and took pity. "Chance...you don't have to do this if you don't want to. All you have to do is promise not to tell anyone about Hope and I. That's all."
Chance shook his head resolutely. "No, I want to. If I can..." He turned away from them, and stared out over the clouds. There seemed to be plenty of room. He hadn't the slightest idea how to start, and though he tried and tried, he just couldn't seem to make it happen. Thinking hard, he tried to remember exactly how he had done it the day before. 'Okay...I was mad. Maybe I have to be mad, or it won't work.' He wasn't angry, and he didn't think he could just make himself angry. 'C'mon, Chance, you're making yourself look bad. There has to be something that gets ya hot under the collar...THINK, darn it!' But he was frustrated, not angry. He sighed. "I can't do it."
"Why not?" Connie asked, trying not to sound impatient.
"I...I'm not mad." he mumbled.
"Pardon?" she cupped a paw behind her ear.
"I said I'm not mad." he said a little louder. "I was mad when I did it before. It just sort of happened...I don't know how to do it. Couldn't you...I dunno...insult me or something?"
Connie quirked an eyebrow, looking confused. "Say what?"
"Call me names." he said.
"No." she frowned incredulously.
"I want you to. Call me...um..." he couldn't think of anything that was bad enough to make him angry.
Hope tried a different tactic. "Is there anyone you don't like, someone who's done something so bad that you get angry whenever you think of them?"
Chance pondered this for a moment, and a pair of glowing red eyes surrounded by darkness and a cowl appeared in his mind. "No Heart does."
"That's good. Use that." Hope said.
Chance faced away from them, and closed his eyes. 'No Heart...Okay, think of something bad that he did...Kidnapping Connie when she was little. Trying to kidnap us...hmm...' He suddenly remembered one encounter, or rather, the effects of that encounter. His parents had left him with his sisters no more than a month ago, and had gone to help the others drive No Heart away from the Kingdom of Caring. He knew very little of what had happened, but he knew that No Heart had taunted their mother, and she had seemed to be in shock when she came home. She was in a fog for the rest of the evening until she was doing the dishes. Then she had stared at the cup dispenser for a long time and broken down crying.
Chance had no way of knowing that No Heart's taunting had centered around the death of her parents, and that he had told her, "By the time I was through with them, there wasn't enough left of them to fill a Dixie Cup!" All he knew was that his father had held her for a long time, and she had been nearly inconsolable. All because of No Heart. Chance's lip twitched back in a sneer as he remembered this image. Truly, he would never forget it. 'No Heart...Making my mother cry!'
His tummy symbol flashed red for a mere fraction of a second before shooting a ball of lava to the clouds in front of him. He gasped; this wasn't what had happened before! The lava seemed to be disappearing, but Connie quickly froze it before he realized what had happened. It was burning a hole through the clouds, and if they were above a place with a lot of people...
Chance didn't know it, but the intensity of his anger was what governed the fire. If he wasn't angry, he simply wouldn't be able to do it. If he let his talent go when he experienced fury, the results would be much more than a garden-sized fire.
Connie and Hope were staring open-mouthed at him, and he looked guiltily at his feet. "I'm sorry..."
Hope let down her shield, and lifted his chin with her paw. "There's nothing to be sorry for, Chance. And there won't be, if you learn to control it. You have to learn what makes it happen and how to stop it. So don't worry. No harm done, and it's gonna be okay."
Chance bit his lip, but he soon lost his battle and hugged his sister to hide his tears. He was scared, probably more than he had ever been in his life. "I won't tell anyone." he sniffled, "I'll never tell. Never..."
Connie couldn't take her eyes off the hardening ball of lava. It would stay semi-liquid for a good long time unless they could cool it in some way to keep it from continuing its trek through the cloud floor beneath them. "Hopie..." she said quietly.
"There aren't any fish in the Rainbow River, are there?"
Three days later, Chance was his old self again. He didn't ask to go along with his sisters when they went off to 'practice', but he kept their secret as well as his own. Someday, he knew, he would go off with them to participate. But 'someday' hadn't come yet, and he wanted to put it off as long as he could and just be a cub for a while. Connie, for her part, was wondering about the ball of obsidian that had once been lava, which was somewhere in the Rainbow River. They were able to move it by creating a bubble around it, much like the one they had seen their father create around the smashed jar of spiders Connie had dropped. It wouldn't have been strong enough to hold a ball of lava for very long, but with Hope's talent they had strengthened the bubble and successfully dumped the lava ball into the River.
Now Connie was worried about someone finding the evidence, because a ball of obsidian had no Earthly business lying at the bottom of the Rainbow River. She decided to go and get it, and after writing a note for her parents she left the house to do so. She wasn't sure of the exact spot, but she remembered the basic appearance of it. All she had to do was walk up the river a bit. By and by, she came across Soulful Heart. He hadn't said a word to her since their last encounter, but then again she hadn't really seen him either. She halted, and considered turning around, but something stopped her. Something about the set of his ears might have had something to do with it; they drooped a little, sticking out to the sides rather than straight up. Now that she looked at him, he had been staring at the same page for an awfully long time. 'Something has his knickers in a twist...' she thought, approaching him cautiously.
"You all right?" she asked.
Soulful looked up at her, and she saw no anger in his eyes. Only sadness.
"Mind if I sit down?" she pointed to the ground beside him, and he buried his nose in his book again.
"I can't prevent you." he said in a monotone.
Connie sat down, not giving him a chance to change his mind, and said, "Now, you know darn well that you can."
"Can I really?" he asked, somewhat bitterly. "I know I'm not your father, Connie. You've made it abundantly clear that you're no longer under any obligation to obey me. But you don't have to rub my nose in it that you don't respect me."
"Where did you get the idea that I don't respect you?" she asked him, feeling guilt begin to show itself with a sickening hollow feeling in her stomach. She was used to it. She didn't let on that she felt anything of the sort.
He looked up, meeting her gaze directly. "You lied to me." his voice wavered a little, "You looked me in the eye, and you lied."
Connie dropped her gaze, unable to maintain eye contact. Only then did she realize just how badly she had hurt him. 'I didn't have to lie. I could have told him where we were and still kept the secret. I could have just said Hope and I were out having fun, just having some sister time, and he might have accepted that. He might not have even known there was a secret then, but he certainly does now. And I hurt him because of it.'
"I didn't deserve that, Connie." he looked away.
"You're right." she said quietly. "Would it help if I said I was sorry?"
"Are you?" he asked, as if he didn't believe her.
"Yes. Soulful...I'll be an adult in a few months. I know I've grown much faster than any human, but it can't come soon enough for me. I...I don't want to have to check in with people all the time, and I don't want to explain myself every time I go somewhere. I don't like being talked down to, and I hate it when people ask me 'Where were you' without so much as a preamble. That's why I lied to you, and I'm sorry. You have no idea how sorry." she said. She wished he would look at her so that she could tell what he was thinking.
He merely sighed, and continued to look out over the River. She still couldn't see his face, but she didn't tell him to look at her. Her part of the conversation was still in the 'testing the waters' stage, and she knew she'd have to tread carefully to avoid upsetting him all over again.
Finally, he spoke. "I'm not good at this. At all. So listen closely, because I'll only say this once. I won't ask you to tell me where you were a few nights ago, and what you were doing...but in return, I want you to give me your absolute promise that you'll tell me if you even think you and Hope are in some kind of danger. If not me, someone else, like your parents. I reserve the right to ask you such questions in the future, and I'll want...no, I'll expect a truthful answer from you, even if it's just to tell me you don't want to say. Not what I'd like to hear, but it's better than a lie."
Connie nodded. "I promise. And I really am sorry..."
He looked at her, and finally he nodded, deciding to believe her.
"So..." she said, forgetting all about the obsidian, "What're you reading?"
"Dostoyevsky." he said, not looking up.
"Yeah?" she smirked, "Who's it by?"
Soulful looked up at her, squinching the left half of his face in an expression of pure skepticism.
"Kidding..." Connie chuckled weakly.
Soulful gave a long-suffered sigh, and went back to his book. "Kids..."