Author's Note: I can't believe it's taken me over three years to finish this! Here it is, the final chapter. Thanks again for sticking with me, and I hope you enjoy it.
"Chapter 16: Final Decision"
The next morning, Hope was disheartened when she entered the cafeteria and saw that Darien wasn't there. It was still early when she and her family arrived, so there was a chance that he had simply decided to sleep in. There was also a chance that he had already gotten somebody to give him a ride down to Earth. She just couldn't believe that he had left without saying goodbye to her.
"Is everything all right, Hopie?" Stellar whispered so that the others wouldn't hear, lightly nudging her arm.
Pasting on a fake smile, Hope gave her father's paw a little squeeze. "I'm fine, Daddy. C'mon, let's get in line before all the cinnamon rolls are gone."
Chance, who was stifling a yawn, immediately perked up. "Cinnamon rolls? Gimme!" He quickly took his place in line behind them, wearing a childlike grin.
Darien gave a deep sigh of relief as he finished combing his mane. He didn't think he would ever get used to the pulling, but once the tangles were gone it wasn't too bad. When his mane was clean and brushed, it was sleek and black; the effect was really quite handsome. He spared the mirror a vain glance before setting his comb down on the edge of the sink, and ran a paw through his hair. It was nice to have a mirror for a change. In the past, he hadn't looked at his reflection much due to the fact that it could usually only be found in something shiny but not perfectly flat. A car bumper, for example, distorted his features to the point where he didn't even bother looking. Shop windows weren't much better, because that would have meant going out in the open. He had almost forgotten what he looked like!
Surely, it wasn't his personality that Hope was interested in. He knew that he was no piece of cake to live with, and that he had made a great many mistakes already. They had every reason in the world to want him to leave, to send him away. Instead, the Care Bear Family continued to treat him like one of them. Personally, he couldn't understand why. All he knew was that he didn't want to leave, and that he would have to try a little harder to get along with the others if he wanted to continue to be welcome here. Even if it meant...ugh...apologizing to that blow-hard, Brave Heart.
Darien left the bathroom, and regarded his rumpled bed sheets for a moment before gathering them up and chucking them in the hamper by the bathroom door. He wouldn't need this room anymore. Now he just had to find Noble Heart.
There was a brisk knock at the door, and he jumped. "Who's there?" he asked, in gruffer tones than he meant to, annoyed at having been startled.
"It's Noble Heart. May I come in?"
Darien relaxed, and opened the door. "Actually, I was just on my way to find ya."
"Oh?" the purple horse raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah, I, uh..." Darien rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little bit uncomfortable. "I was talkin' to Hope last night, and I did a lot of thinking. She helped me work through a few things that were botherin' me, so...I was gonna leave, you know."
Noble Heart nodded, taking care that he didn't react to that. This wasn't entirely unexpected, as Hope had also talked to him the night before, having stopped by on her way home. "I see..."
"But, um..." he cleared his throat, almost mumbling now. "I changed my mind. So...Listen, I'm no good at this. If you're still offerin' that house, then..."
Noble Heart smiled, lightly gripping Darien's shoulder; the lion stiffened, not expecting this, but he didn't protest. "It's already been built. You can move in whenever you like. It's good to have you with us."
"Yeah, um..." Darien glanced at the paw on his shoulder, and finally fidgeted a bit before brushing it off. "One step at a time, huh?"
Noble Heart chuckled, holding up his hands in surrender. "My apologies. Come on out and have some breakfast. I believe there's someone who would like to speak with you."
"Please, open your mouth, Faith." Regal coaxed, "You like scrambled eggs."
The cub had her paws pressed firmly over her mouth, absolutely refusing to cooperate. Her muffled voice filtered through her paws as she glared up at her mother, sounding extremely sulky. "I don't want any. I don't like 'em anymore."
Regal Heart had dealt with this before, many times, and she calmly put the fork back down on the plate. "Okay."
Faith's brow furrowed in suspicion, and she asked without taking her paws off her mouth, "You're not gonna make me?"
The lioness shook her head, tucking into her own breakfast. "Mommy's hungry too, you know. And it's getting cold."
"Okay, I'm gonna go get a 'cimmon' roll!" Faith said brightly, and Regal caught her before she could get up.
"No, Faith, your breakfast is right here. You took it, so you have to eat it before you get something new. You don't want to hurt Treat Heart's feelings, do you?" asked Regal.
The cub pouted, glancing distastefully at the yellowish lumps on her plate. "No, but I don't want it...It's crunchy."
"Crunchy?" Regal took Faith's fork again and poked through the food. She found no eggshells, but now she was beginning to understand Faith's sudden aversion to scrambled eggs. "Did you get a 'crunchy' yesterday, honey?"
"Mm-hmm." Faith nodded. "Now I don't like 'em anymore."
Regal nodded and hugged her daughter, hiding a grin. "That happens sometimes, when the cook is in a hurry. Sometimes some shell gets mixed in with the eggs. It's kinda yucky when you find one, huh?" she scrunched up her nose a bit, and the cub giggled. "Well, Treat Heart is very good at what she does, Faith. It almost never happens. You were just the unlucky one who got it that time. Now, Mommy looked all through it, and there are no 'crunchies' in it this time, okay?"
Faith looked at her plate again, and just to make sure she picked up her fork and poked at her breakfast. There were no bits of shell, at least none that she could see. "Well...Okay. Then can I have a 'cimmon' roll?"
"Yes, then you can have a cinnamon roll." Regal nodded, secretly offering up a thank-you for the fact that her cub hadn't given her too much of a hard time. "Only if you're still hungry, though."
"Okay!" Faith bounced a bit in her seat, and began to devour her breakfast. It was a little cold at that point, but she found that her mother was right; there were no shells in it this time.
Stellar, having received his own breakfast, sat down at his wife's other side and gave her a peck on the cheek. "Hope's coming, she forgot to get her silverware." he explained.
"Okay." Regal nodded, then lowered her voice. "I don't see Darien anywhere..."
"Nope." he replied, clearly not overly concerned by this.
"I think Hopie wanted to talk to him. You don't suppose he left during the night, do you?" she whispered.
Stellar chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of toast, and seemed to be carefully weighing his response. When he had swallowed, and couldn't avoid replying anymore, he sighed. "I don't know, Regs. I know she must have talked to him last night, given her demeanor when she came in. Now, if he did leave, someone would have had to drive him."
Regal nodded, eating another bite of her breakfast. She herself wasn't sure what she thought of Darien. The lion had made more than a few mistakes, all of them big. He had injured Brave Heart, and whether he had meant to do so or not he had really hurt her daughter's feelings. She couldn't forget that. On the other hand, these actions almost seemed to be a cry for help, and she didn't know that it was their place to turn him away now. "And what are you hoping for, Stel?"
"Ohh boy..." Stellar pinched the bridge of his nose, and turned to her. "I don't know, hun...I really don't know. I've promised to behave myself, and I will...but I don't trust him, and I can't help it if I feel that way. That's all I can tell you, Regal."
Regal Heart reached up and lightly scratched behind his left ear, smiling. "Then that'll just have to do."
Stellar tilted his head a bit, a purr rumbling in his throat, before leaning away. "That tickles!"
"Look, Mommy!" Faith pointed to the back of the Hall as Darien emerged to join the Family. "He didn't go away like you were saying, he's right here!"
"Yes, sweetie, I see that." Regal tried hard to sound enthusiastic; she wasn't disappointed by this, but that didn't mean she knew where things were headed.
Hope heard her sister from across the cafeteria, and she froze when she saw Darien at the end of the line. The lion had just finished shaking hands with Brave Heart, apparently having apologized to him. He hadn't left after all!
But would he want to talk to her?
Darien didn't take long to get his food; it seemed that he was more concerned with filling his belly, and that he didn't particularly care what he ate for breakfast at any given time. He piled his plate high with pancakes, dripping with melted butter and syrup, and he was half-way to an empty table when he saw Hope staring at him.
Hope wanted to look away, but somehow she couldn't. Would he resent her for her having seen him in a moment of weakness? She saw him avert his gaze as if considering, then her heart leapt when he looked back at her with a rather shy smile, beckoning her over with a slight jerk of his head. She grinned, striding over with her tray, and sat beside him. "Hi."
The lion began to cut up his pancakes, and the silence between them became a bit awkward. What do you say to someone the day after they saw you bawl your eyes out? And from the other side of things, what do you say to someone after seeing that? Maybe there was nothing to be said, at least about that. Darien finally cleared his throat, and said, "I, uh...I've decided to stay."
Hope raised an eyebrow, and asked, "You mean for a time?"
He chuckled. "Hopefully for a long time. I mean, if you guys're willing to give a jerk like me a chance, even after all I done, then..."
"You're not a jerk." she said, probably more forcefully than she meant to. She blushed, staring down at her plate as she pushed her food around with her fork.
"Ahhh, yeah I am..." he shrugged his shoulders, "But I'm gonna work on that."
Hope decided that it was a good idea to change the subject. "So...how are you doing?"
This wasn't just a casual question, and he knew it. After hesitating, he reached over and gave her hand a little squeeze. "Ya know...I think I'm gonna be just fine."
Stellar Heart, who was drinking his coffee nearby, flattened his ears and looked away. He would say nothing, he would do nothing; he had promised. 'If that's how things are, then that's how they'll be...but I'm watching you.'