Author's Note: I've had this idea sitting on the back burner for a long time, and I think it's finally time to introduce this guy. I don't own the Care Bears, but Darien is mine. I realize his escape might seem a little...convenient...but it's the best I could do, having no knowledge of those places. On with the story, and I hope you enjoy it.
"Chapter 1: I Don't Need Help"
In the decrepit alleyway he called home - for the time being, at least - Darien awoke at around midnight. The nights were getting cold, and he wished, not for the first time, that he was waking up in a safe, cozy bed. And, as always, he wished for a hot meal. But wishing never brought relief to his empty belly. He knew that if he wanted something to happen, it was up to him and him alone to make it happen. Now was the time to be up and looking for a meal.
He sat up, his black mane in disarray, and shucked his covering of old newspapers. His body fur was such a dark orange that it looked red in the moonlight. What with his orange and black fur, he almost resembled a 'cutified' Halloween decoration. He was a lion. Or, at least, he considered himself to be a lion. At present, he was only as tall as a small child, and he walked upright like a human. He hadn't made this change happen, that was for sure. It certainly hadn't made his life any easier.
Darien hadn't always gone by the name 'Darien'; he had begun his life in a cage, and had gone by the name 'Demetrius' for seven years. His mother was a normal lioness, his father was a normal lion, and there was nothing especially remarkable about their son. He grew up under the dubious care of Richard Savage, a cruel ringmaster who forced his animals to live in abysmal conditions. It hadn't been so bad when he was a cub. He had been raised on a bottle, and he and the other cubs that were there got the best food the circus had to offer its big cats. It was only when he hit puberty and began to take an interest in the lionesses that he was moved to a tiny cage that was barely big enough for him, let alone another lion. Males and females - lion, tiger, and leopard - were kept separate as much as possible to avoid any unwanted cubs, and for a social animal such as the lion, it was borderline torture. He wanted to interact with his own kind, he wanted to be with his brothers and sisters, but more than anything he wanted to start a pride of his own.
Years of rough treatment and starvation had turned him vicious and mean, and finally he was simply too violent and dangerous for his keepers to deal with. One day, salvation came in the form of a little - no, a tiny bipedal lion, who came into his isolated tent and started taking pictures. Though he didn't know it, Darien (or Demetrius) was going to be 'put down' that night because he was such a liability to those humans. To be honest, he would have preferred that fate to the one that awaited him. After his 'rescue' from the circus, he found a home in a local zoo. When he had first arrived, he wasn't expected to survive the night. The next day, however, he was on his feet and pacing, vocally challenging the other big cats he both heard and smelled in another enclosure. When he had his health back, the zoo keepers moved him closer to the main enclosure so that he and the other lions could see each other, hoping that the resident males would eventually accept him into their pride. Finally, the humans tried putting him in with them, but the two other males were having none of it. They viciously defended their 'wives' against this intruder, and he had been forced to beat a hasty retreat to the far end of the lion habitat to lick his wounds in peace. He was put back in his isolated cage, and that night a change came over him.
The zoo keepers got quite a shock when they went to check on him early the next morning. They found a creature that appeared to be a lion, but he was way too small and he stood on two legs. Moreover, he was actually shouting abuse at the humans in their own language. He had heard enough profanity in the circus, so his vocabulary was quite immense. He was interrogated for hours, but the only straight answer they got from him was that he had lived there for a little while, and he had done nothing to the 'other' lion. When asked if he was the other lion, he had clapped sarcastically and said "Well done!"
Well, the zoo keepers didn't know what he was, or even if he was telling the truth. They hadn't heard about the Care Bears, as incredible as it seems, and they didn't know what to do with him. From his behavior, both as a normal lion and as a...whatever he was...they didn't feel that it was safe to simply let him go. He was too antisocial, too angry and bitter; if he could talk and grip things with his paws as easily as a human could, they had no idea what else he might be capable of. So they made a few calls, and a week later the lion found himself in a laboratory of some sort. He mentally blocked out most of what happened to him there, but he finally got the idea that if he acted nice and pretended to be friendly, they would let down their guard a little bit.
One night, after having lived in the same cell for a year, he turned the tables on one of his 'friends'. The man's name was Andrew, and he was no longer taking the proper precautions around the prisoner. The lion was able to get close enough to steal the needle from him, and he injected Andrew with the sedative that was meant for him. He didn't worry that it would harm the human. After all, if he himself could bounce back from such an injection, he reasoned that he only had a few minutes before Andrew woke up and called for help. So it was without any qualms of conscience that Darien did what he had to do and left...and he hoped Andrew lost his job for letting him escape.
Getting out was the difficult part. There were cameras everywhere, and it was only through a fluke that he made it out at all. The human who controlled the door locks to the place had suffered a heart attack, and Darien found out through trial and error which button unlocked the door. If Darien had arrived at the door five minutes earlier, he would have been caught and locked up again. And, most likely, he would have been severely punished.
The next few hours were a blur. Darien ran for all he was worth, hiding when he saw any sign that humans were near, and making false trails for the dogs to follow; he knew there were humans after him with dogs, because he could smell them. His feet were cut and bleeding by the time he reached a truck stop, and without hesitation he jumped into the back of a pickup truck and covered himself with the canvas tarp, laying silently between a bag of cement and a coiled-up garden hose. By the time the dogs reached the truck stop, he was long gone; the driver didn't stop for four hours, and Darien eventually found himself living on the streets of a big city. He actually received his new name, Darien, from a homeless man he befriended years ago. It was a symbiotic friendship; Darien would find safe places for them to sleep, and his new friend Samuel would share his food with the lion.
But now, about six years later (though he wasn't sure exactly how long it was), Samuel was dead and he was alone. It was up to him to find his own food.
Turning his head this way and that, his ears perked to catch the slightest sound, Darien padded out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. He paused for several tense moments, listening, smelling the air for any fresh traces of human scent. Finally, satisfied that he was safe for the moment, Darien gave a smile that more closely resembled a sneer. Oh yes, he was safe...Safe to go rooting through peoples' garbage for scraps. It was true that beggars couldn't be choosers, but he would have preferred a meal that didn't present the risk of food poisoning. He had learned to use his sense of smell to distinguish what was safe to eat from what was not, but there was still a risk involved.
Keeping well against the building walls, Darien allowed his nose to guide him to a back alley behind a pizza parlor. He managed to find three quarters of an anchovy pizza that someone had apparently decided to try and had rejected, and he dug in with gusto. It was cold, but fresh; he couldn't believe his good luck! He didn't mind the anchovies at all. That is, he didn't mind them until the smell attracted some unwanted attention.
Darien's head snapped in the direction of the sound as he cursed his carelessness, but he almost laughed when he saw a skinny tortoiseshell cat approaching from the side.
"S'mine." Darien mumbled around a mouthful, squirreling his food in his left cheek in order to talk, "Git yer own."
The cat raised a paw as if reaching out to the food, but he hissed warningly at it. The cat put its paw back down again, not offended in the least; after all, it understood as well as any stray cat that it was necessary to be possessive with one's food. It calmly sat down and waited for him to either share the food or leave. Darien looked steadily into its eyes, and after a moment of this the cat laid back its ears and gave a surprisingly deep growl.
"No kiddin'!" laughed Darien, showing some measure of mercy by looking the other way. But he still showed no signs of wanting to share. Rather than getting disappointed, the cat slowly crept closer until it was close enough to touch.
And touch it did. It tried to steal Darien's pizza, but it misjudged the grip and bit the lion's paw by mistake.
"Aah!" Darien shook the cat off, cursing, and the little animal streaked under the dumpster. The lion wrung his paw, using terrible language, but when he finally subsided he received a shock; for there under the dumpster he saw five pairs of eyes, not one. He met the gaze of one of the four smaller pairs, and a tiny pink mouth opened to release a soft hiss.
So that was why the cat was being so persistent; she had a family who needed that food. Darien tried to resume eating, but he was acutely aware of the scrutiny he was receiving from the cat and her kittens; and his discomfort multiplied tenfold when one of the kittens gave a high-pitched, plaintive "Mew!". Darien's eyes flicked back in their direction, and he gave a long, rumbling groan.
"Aww, bleeding hearts of the world unite!" Telling himself that he had pretty much had his fill anyway, Darien tossed the half-eaten pizza like a Frisbee. With much hissing and spitting, the cat family skittered further back to avoid the sailing object, but the pizza stopped just beside the dumpster. A few seconds later a triangular cat face peeked out from under it, and after sniffing the food cautiously the mother cat sank a set of white teeth into the crust, dragging it under and out of sight.
Darien's stomach contracted painfully, and he heaved a disappointed sigh. There was a time when he would have either let those cats starve or made a meal of them as well, but that time had ended when he had transformed. He had long since stopped wondering what was wrong with him. 'If everything else about me got all screwed up,' he once reasoned to himself, 'why wouldn't my mind be?' It no longer worried him that his conscience sometimes won out over his stomach, but the fact remained that he was still hungry. Darien was about to resume 'dumpster-diving' for his dinner when a voice at the beginning of the alley startled him into a fighting stance.
"I was wondering whether or not you'd share with her." said a small blue bear with a crescent moon shape on his tummy. He was a few inches shorter than Darien, but their similarities were rather striking. Darien had no symbol on his belly, but like the bear he was bipedal and possessed the gift of speech. Of course, this didn't mean that unconditional trust would follow.
"Just who the hell are you?" he demanded, ice-blue eyes narrowed in suspicion.
The bear seemed a bit surprised, but he offered a friendly smile and an equally friendly reply. "I'm called Bedtime Bear. What's your name?"
"Supposin' I don't wanna tell you?" said the lion as he relaxed a bit and folded his arms, satisfied that this bear was not an immediate threat. In truth, Bedtime was beginning to look nervous; this lion was actually a little taller than Brave Heart, and he didn't seem very friendly.
"Well, I guess that's up to you, but I don't mean you any harm..." said the bear, shifting uncomfortably under the lion's stony glare.
"I'll keep that in mind." Darien said cooly, "How's about clearing out and letting a fella eat in peace?"
Bedtime cocked his head to one side, looking disgusted. "You mean you want to go back to eating garbage?"
"Mind your own business!"
Bedtime Bear gulped, wondering if he had touched on a nerve, and tried to look as contrite as possible. "I'm sorry..."
Darien wasn't expecting an apology, or the sudden feeling of shame he got, and it only served to make him more defensive. "What do you expect? I just mosey on into a Burger King and say 'I want a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke'!"
Bedtime shrugged his shoulders. "Well, why not? I do it all the time."
"Got no money, and I hate humans." was the succinct reply.
"Do you hate me?" the bear asked in a small voice.
"I jus' wanna be left alone." said Darien with finality. This was making him more uneasy by the minute, and he wanted nothing more than to leave the situation altogether, but the bear was blocking his only exit. He could easily push past him, but there were too many smells around him; he couldn't tell if any humans were nearby. So he simply glared, hoping to intimidate this 'Bedtime Bear' into backing off. Unfortunately, the bear actually seemed to pity him.
"Listen, there's really no reason why you can't have a good meal. Let me - "
"No." Darien said promptly.
"But I only - " Bedtime tried again.
But again, the lion said, "No."
" - want to help." continued Bedtime.
"You deaf? I said no! I don't need anyone's help!" growled Darien, advancing on the bear, who had no choice but to step aside and let him through. As the lion emerged from the alley, a passing taxi cab pulled up sharply to the curb and stopped. The passenger, a young woman, fairly tumbled out of the car in her haste to talk to him.
"Hey, you're a Care Bear Cousin! Can I - " she began, but before she could finish, the lion uttered a vicious curse and fled, his face the very picture of terror. The woman blinked in surprise, and self-consciously adjusted the lapels of her jacket. "Was it something I said?"
"Sorry about that, Miss." apologized Bedtime, who had followed Darien out to the sidewalk, "He's not exactly a member of the Care Bear Family...in fact, I only just met him five minutes ago."
The cab driver leaned out the window. "'Scuse me lady, the meter's running."
The woman hastily got back into the car, and soon she was gone. Bedtime sighed, and looked in the direction that Darien had taken. He knew that he couldn't force the lion to accept his help, but as unpleasant as he seemed, Bedtime knew he had to keep trying. After pondering for a moment, Bedtime Bear got into his Cloudmobile and headed for the nearest Burger king.
"Welcome to Burger King, may I take your order?" came a static-garbled voice from the speaker. The girl spoke in a monotone and strung all her words together, as if she had repeated this phrase a hundred times and was supremely bored with it.
"You surely may. I'd like two cheeseburgers, two medium orders of fries, and two small Cokes please."
Next chapter coming soon...