Sorry for the long wait. Had writer's block. However, it's done with, and we are slowly but surely catching up with the present time in this story. :D Next chapter for sure.
Four hours earlier…
"Man, he's really out of it," Zeb muttered, watching the twelve-year-old sleep on the couch in Henry's living room. He sat on the opposite couch, cutting up paper to make pretty snowflake decorations. Ted and Fred joined him, but Ted wasn't much help as he found himself staring at the she-bear.
"Well, that's usually what happens after a sugar rush, Uncle Zeb," Jewel replied, sitting on the floor in front of the couch. She was stringing popcorn to hang on the tree. Jordan was supposed to have helped her, but he had disappeared a while ago, off to explore the Hall. Instead, Jade sat next to her, helping her out.
"No, no, Jewel, like this!" Jade exclaimed, showing her how to properly string the kernels.
"No, I'm pretty sure it's like this," Jewel giggled.
"Jewel… Listen you little smartalec…"
The she-cub just smirked and threw a piece of popcorn at her "aunt's" head. "Heehee."
"Why you little…"
"Jade…" Ray chuckled, glad to see his daughter having a good time. He surveyed the other adult bears, knowing that one of them was staring at his daughter. Sure, he wanted to yell at him, but he knew that Jade could take care of herself. She'd probably kick his—the one staring at her—ass, anyway.
James wandered over to the other adult bears, but didn't say anything as he sat in the armchair, holding lil Erin in his arms as he fed her a bottle. Tasha sat on the arm of the chair and shook her head. "When's dinner? Taking care of our two lil monsters has made me ravenous."
Henry, Norbert, and Allison worked in the kitchen, preparing dinner for everyone—they had offered to switch with Ted, Fred, and Zeb, who had wanted to cook macaroni and cheese instead of a large dinner. Dex and Roxi were curled up in the loveseat near the fireplace.
Jade glanced over at Ted, knowing that he had been staring at her. He looked away, causing her to smirk. She spoke to Tasha. "They're making it right now, Tash. Chill."
The other black she-bear frowned and rolled her eyes. "Don't need to be so mean, Jade. When you have cubs of your own, you'll understand."
"And who says I want cubs? Taking care of Erin, Jordan, Jewel, and Beary is exhausting enough."
"Hey!" Jewel complained, not amused.
"Well it's not my fault when you're with Beary you two come up with some insane ideas."
"I seem to recall that most of those ideas were yours."
"Oh yeah? Which ones?"
"Let's see… jumping off the roof into the pool, rock climbing—and not those fake ones, either—swimming in a river in the middle of winter… just to name a few."
"True… but you and Beary had some, too. Like mud wrestling while it was raining, cliff diving, four wheeling, storm chasing…"
"Hm… true… but those were mainly Beary's ideas. Well, the storm chasing was mine, but Beary totally made the cliff diving decision when he jumped off the cliff into the lake below." She giggled at that. "Our childhood was epic." She glanced around the room at the wide-mouthed bears who were staring at her in shock and surprise. "What?"
"I'm sorry, but I just can't see it…" Zeb frowned. "You and Beary are the sweetest cubs we know!"
"Oh, then you don't know us at all," Jewel smirked devilishly. "We are far from sweet."
Jewel shrugged. "Suit yourself." She went back to stringing popcorn kernels and glanced over at the sleeping form of her boyfriend before sighing. "When are my parents going to get here?" she asked softly.
The adults—sans Jade and Ray—glanced at each other and frowned. "Jewel, honey," Tasha began, "we don't know when they'll be home… that blizzard was not in the plans… but I'm sure they're doing everything possible to come home to you. No parent wants to spend Christmas away from their child…"
"If I know Trixie as much I think I do, she's probably hijacking a small plane to get herself and Tennessee back here," James continued.
"Uh-huh… my mom doing that… not likely."
"Hey, she knows how to fly a plane. Of course, your father probably wouldn't like it… I mean, he's not exactly a fan of planes."
She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. "Beary needs to hurry up and wake up so we can finish wrapping presents."
"Ooooo you got us presents?" Zeb grinned happily.
"And you're not getting them until Christmas."
"Aww, but Jewel…"
"No, Uncle Zeb."
The auburn bear pouted and stuck his tongue out at her. Jewel quickly returned the gesture. Ray shook his head in exasperation. "So glad my kids aren't that immature anymore," he muttered. Jewel turned and scowled at him.
Beary shifted on the couch and moaned, slowly shaking his head as he began to wake up. "What…?"
The golden she-bear looked over at him and smiled. "Bout time you woke up, C-Bear," she smirked happily. She abandoned the string of kernels and went over to him, helping him sit up.
Beary looked at her in amusement and held her paw as he rested his head on her shoulder, yawning slightly.
"D'aw," Zeb snickered, watching them. "So cute."
Jewel ignored him and smiled at Beary… at least, until the others started teasing them. Then she frowned and growled at them, but they wouldn't stop saying how cute she and Beary were together… but what really ticked her off was what Ray said.
"A twelve-year-old boyfriend/girlfriend couple? Kids these days, dating younger and younger. Foolish, if you ask me. Actually, more stupid than foolish. That's how teenage pregnancy happens. Not only that, but teens are becoming parents younger and younger every day."
"Dad, come on, they're not that stupid," Jade stated.
"She's right. Beary and I would never become parents. Besides, we don't even know how that works. Always heard the stork brought cubs."
Ray raised an eyebrow and blinked. "Don't they teach you kids ANYTHING in those schools?"
"Dad, they only just started middle school," Jade frowned.
"Which is why they shouldn't be dating. Too immature."
"I'll have you know that Beary and I are top in our class!" Jewel snorted, getting angrier by the second.
Beary glanced at her. "Jewel, cool it."
"No, Beary! I won't let him say bad things about us!"
"They've been dating for how long now, and you haven't told them about sex?!" Ray growled, annoyed.
The cubs glanced at each other, confused. "Uh… what?"
"They're just kids!" Henry snarled, coming into the room. "We were going to tell them when they were older!"
Jewel took Beary's paw and pulled him out of the room, disgusted by the adults' antics. It was a good thing, too, that she took Beary with her. If she hadn't, Beary would have had to witness something that he and the others had never seen before…
"You were going to wait?! Just how long were you going to wait?! Until that girl was pregnant because they got curious?!" Ray spat out. He had seen this happen too many times, and the fact that Henry and Helen had let this go on was aggravating. "What on earth are you and Helen thinking?! Are you two crazy?! Where is she, anyway? I highly doubt she would allow this foolishness, unless she's gone as senile as you."
What happened next, no one could have expected. One moment Ray was standing beside Jade's couch, and the next, Henry's fist connected with his jaw, sending him to the ground.
"Don't you DARE talk about Helen!" the pepper furred bear snarled, furious.
"Henry, what the hell?!" Ray growled, getting up and glaring at him.
The others in the room stared at them in slacked jawed silence.
"Like I said, don't you dare say one word about Helen." Henry glared at him with narrow eyes.
"Henry, that's quite enough," Allison said, wandering into the room. "You're both adults, so start acting like it."
Henry glared at her unhappily, but didn't say anything, instead turning around and leaving the room.
Jade looked at her father in confusion. "Dad… what on earth was that all about…?"
"Nothing. Just leave it alone," Ray growled as he turned around and walked out another door, leaving the extremely confused group behind.
Jade glanced over at Ted, not sure what to say at all.
.~*The Country Bears*~.
The first thing he noticed was the choking sound. Jesse's green eyes shifted in the direction of the light brown cub, a frown on his face. He got on his knees and crawled over to them, looking Beary over before frowning. "Oh great…" he muttered before gently placing his paws on the cub's convulsing body, holding him down through his seizure. That's when he realized that Beary was choking on his own tongue, so he quickly maneuvered so that he was holding down most of the cub's body while using a free paw to hold the boy's tongue. "Easy, kid. You're going to be fine…"
Next to him, Jewel was whimpering in her semi-conscious state, muttering random bits of information about her life, her eyes shifting nervously beneath the lids.
"Easy, Jewel," Jesse said softly, watching her. "I'll turn you guys around as soon as his seizure passes." Sure enough, almost a minute later, Beary's convulsions subsided and he lay still, save for the shivering. The older male, forever eighteen-years-old, gently picked up the young male out of the blanket and set him on the thick coat Jesse had laid out, and gently wrapped his naked body in it while he maneuvered Jewel around so that her head was near the fire and she was curled up her side to give her extra warmth. He then lifted the blanket and placed Beary back next to her, a small smile creeping up his lips as he watched the young male immediately curling around Jewel, draping an arm around her waist as he spooned her, resting his head on her neck in an effort to keep her warm. Jesse quickly placed the blanket back around them before grabbing his coat and pulling it back on, shivering slightly.
He knew he should have let Beary keep his pants on, but they were soaking wet, and it wouldn't have done him any good in having wet clothes on in this cold weather. Plus, the clothes would prevent them from sharing proper body heat that would keep them from getting frostbite. No, this was the only way, allowing Beary to curl up around the equally nude she-cub, even though it was morally wrong for them to be that close together at that young of an age. It was also when he pulled off the cub's clothes that he found a bandage on his arm… and after removing the bandage carefully to see what was underneath, he had found a burn… only a few hours old by the looks of it. He had quickly redressed the wound as best he could.
He frowned and curled up behind Beary to keep him warm as well, since the fire was warming Jewel's front, Jewel's back was warming Beary's front, and nothing was warming Beary's back until now. He kept the blanket around Beary, however, choosing to stay around the cub outside the blanket to keep the heat from escaping under the blanket. "Easy, you two… Don't sleep… keep those eyes open for me."
Beary let out a soft whine. "So… t-t-ti-tired…"
"I know you are, but you can't sleep… if you do, you'll never wake up again…"
"Sure you do. What about your parents? Helen's come all the way from Caelo just to save your sorry butt. Don't disappoint her, kid."
Beary didn't reply as he snuggled in closer against Jewel's body, not even realizing that he wasn't wearing clothes.
"Help me keep Jewel awake, all right? You don't want to lose her, do you?"
"N-No…" Beary softly began to whisper to Jewel, trying to keep her awake, even though he knew it was fruitless. She probably wasn't even aware that he was there.
Jesse looked straight at the fire and sighed. "Mom… Helen… hurry…" he said softly.
.~*The Country Bears*~.
Four hours earlier…
Five-year-old Jordan watched the flame dance out of the metal lighter, fascinated. He was hiding behind the Christmas tree in a corner, playing with his father's lighter that he had found in the truck earlier. He thought the flame was rather pretty.
Beary and Jewel wandered into the main part of the Hall and stood on the stage, talking quietly.
"Jewel, come on, you didn't have to storm out of there…"
"Beary, he was saying we were too young to be together! Last time I checked, we were doing just fine!"
"Well, you know, we are younger than most couples… but I agree, we're doing just fine. Though, what were they talking about?"
"Who cares. They're a bunch of jerks," Jewel muttered, sitting on the edge of the stage. Beary frowned and sat beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
"I know, Jewel, I know… We'll just have to prove ourselves to them."
"But how, Beary…? I… I don't know what to do… What if they make us break up?"
"I won't allow that to happen, Gem. I promise." He kissed her cheek and nuzzled her nose, causing her to smile and lean in for a hug.
They sat there in silence for a few minutes, and then the sound of light giggling from behind them drew their attention to the tree.
Jewel blinked and grinned. She knew that giggle. "Jordan? Why are you hiding behind the tree?"
"Why're you hiding?" Beary questioned playfully.
Jordan didn't get a chance to answer before he heard his mother's voice echoing through the Hall as she stuck head in through the door between the Hall and Henry's cabin.
Jordan let out an excited squeal and climbed out from underneath the tree, the lighter still aflame, He giggled happily as he ran towards Beary and Jewel, ready to leap off the stage.
Jewel laughed and grabbed him before he could, not noticing the lighter flying out of his paws as she hopped off the stage, holding him in his arms and pretending that he was superman.
Beary made to join them, but paused, seeing the shiny object on the ground. "Jordan? What are you doing with your father's lighter?"
Jordan suddenly looked rather guilty. "Pwayin…"
"Jordy, you know you're not supposed to be playing with this!" Jewel scolded.
"Me sowi," the little black cub whimpered.
"It's okay. Come on, let's go eat."
The little one nodded and wrapped his arms around her neck as the three of them walked back towards Henry's cabin for Christmas dinner, Beary pocketing the lighter.
It wasn't until they were almost to the door that Jordan spoke up, giggling. "Pwetty light!" he said, pointing at the stage. "Tree all lit up!"
Beary and Jewel glanced at each other, a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs as they turned around with wide eyes at the sight on stage.
The tree was on fire, and so were the boxes of ornaments, and the flames were slowly beginning to creep up the stage curtains.
"Oh, shit…" Beary muttered. "Um… Jewel…? I think you should go get the others…" He raced up the stairs. Snagging a couple blankets, he tried to extinguish the flames.. He wished he knew where the fire extinguisher was. Beary heard the others yelling and the pounding of feet. The flames jumped up at him, snaking up his arm. He suddenly found himself wishing he had worn his jacket as it melted his fur and began to burn his skin, causing him to let out a blood curdling scream of pain as he tried to brush it off, burning his other paw in the process, panicking as it continued up his arm and reaching his short sleeved shirt, setting it aflame.
"Beary!" a voice shrieked as a pair of paws dragged Beary away from the flames and began patting him down with a blanket while another bear held him down. "Easy, kid," Ted said, holding him against his chest as Jade patted out the flames. "Shh… easy… easy…" he said soothingly.
Jade watched the interaction between the two bears as she finished smothering the yellow orange heat. "Tasha, get over here. These burns are pretty nasty."
"Sure, Jade. Bring him over here for now."
Jade nodded and held Beary's legs as she and Ted carried the injured male over to Tasha before going over to help battle the flames.
Henry and Ray worked side-by-side using two of the three extinguishers, trying to keep the blaze under control. Already, they had contained almost eighty percent of it. The other adults helped by using blankets to pat out the flames on the ground while the three extinguishers were used to attack the curtains.
Fred went over to the rigging and quickly untied the ropes holding the flaming curtains in hopes of stopping the fire from spreading, which thankfully worked. Zeb helped him by stamping out the flames after putting a blanket over the flames so as to hopefully not burn his feet.
After spraying the rest of the flames out with the extinguishers, Henry and Ray set them down and looked at the destruction. The curtains, tree, and decorations were ruined, and black soot marred the walls and the stage. Thankfully, the fire hadn't lasted long enough, nor spread far enough, to cause serious damage… well, except that part of the stage was destroyed, the fire having almost eaten through some of the floorboards, which would now have to be replaced.
"What the hell caused all this…?" Henry growled, furious.
"Henry, I'm sure it was just an accident," Allison stated, her heart still racing from the danger. She looked over at her husband, as well as Dex, and his girlfriend, Roxi. She then glanced over their heads at Tasha, who was treating Beary for his burns, Jewel hovering beside him. She hurried over to her adopted child and fussed over him.
"I'm surprised these are not as bad as they should be. They're only bordering on second degree… he doesn't even need a hospital," Tasha said, startled. "All I have to do is give him some burn ointment and bandage him up. He'll be fine in a couple of days."
"What?" The others looked at her in confusion. That didn't seem possible at all…
Beary leaned heavily against Jewel, who had finally knelt down beside him and held onto him while her aunt bandaged him up.
Henry, meanwhile, happy that his son was all right, looked around, still shaking in anger. "How the hell did this start? The tree wasn't near anything electrical! A fire doesn't just start!"
Beary swallowed nervously and reached into his pocket with his free paw, holding the lighter. He knew if Jordan was found out to be the culprit, there would be serious consequences. He didn't want the little guy's Christmas to be ruined… Should he take the fall? Or should he let it die out…?
His father, meanwhile, got down on one knee to look at the decorations, suddenly seeming quite nervous. "Where is it…?" he muttered softly to himself as he dug through the ruined objects. When he came across what he was looking for, he let out a furious growl. He turned around, revealing the blackened form of a winged bear. Stuffing was falling out of it and its dress was completely ruined, as was the fur and the wings. "Helen made this…" he said in a neutral tone. "Our very first Christmas together…"
The twelve-year-old male gulped and let out a silent whine. His mother's Christmas Tueri had been destroyed… Guilt began to fill him as he realized if he had been paying closer attention, he could have saved the decorations and the tree. If he had been paying closer attention, he would have spotted Jordan sooner, as well as the fire. This… this was all his fault… His ears flattened as he heard the other adults talking and shaking their heads in disproval.
It didn't take long for the adults to put two and two together and looked at Beary, Jewel, and Jordan.
"Cubs…? You were in here… what happened?" James asked, fixing them with a stern glare.
Henry stalked over to them, eyes filled with anger.
Beary sighed and stood up, ignoring Jewel and Tasha's protests. Shaking, he pulled the lighter out of his pocket and held it out for the others to see.
Ted and Jade blinked and glanced at each other, as did the others. Henry looked at his son in confusion. "But… why…?"
"I… I'm sorry…"
"You have to have some kind of reason, right?" Zeb asked, startled.
Henry glared at his son. "I'm waiting!" Hearing Beary say "sorry" like it would fix anything, he found himself getting angrier and angrier. "You're sorry?!"
Beary flinched. "Well, I uh…" He glanced over at Jewel before looking at Jordan, who was crying. Upon seeing the young black bear, he knew he couldn't rat him out. "I…" He looked back at Jewel and gave the slightest shake of his head, knowing she wanted to speak out. "I did it," he said, turning back around. "I was playing with the lighter and… uh… yeah…"
Jewel looked down, upset. She knew Beary was going to be in a lot of trouble.
Jade growled, angry. Ray looked at the male in disappointment. "Told you he was immature."
Henry ignored Ray. "Well it was damn stupid of you in the first place to play with lighters! What were you thinking?!"
Beary nervously shuffled his feet, staring at the ground.
"Probably wasn't thinking at the moment," James stated.
"Look at what you've done!" Henry roared, holding out the Tueri tree topper before gesturing at the blackened walls and destroyed tree and decorations. "You could have burnt the whole place down! You put others in danger! Look at this damage! Do you know much it's going to cost to fix all this?!"
Beary flinched again, shaking slightly as he fought back his tears, his ears flat against his head in a saddened expression.
The other adults didn't say one word if they thought that Henry was being too harsh. None of them could believe that Beary had done this. They were equally furious.
Henry took a deep breath and sighed, shaking his head. "I'm very disappointed in you, Beary. I thought you were more mature than that. Maybe Ray's right. You're too immature for a relationship."
Beary looked up in shock. "Don't punish Jewel because I was stupid!"
Jewel looked down, also upset. She couldn't lose Beary… He was her best friend!
"Norbert, Allison, Tennessee, Trixie, and I will discuss what to do when they get back."
Allison, hearing this, sent her over the edge. Red in the face, she walked straight over to her adopted son, snatched the lighter out of his paw and tossed it to Norbert. She then led him through Henry's office, to his cabin, and finally to Beary's room, where her screaming to could be heard by all inside the Hall as she ripped him a new one.
Dex winced and glanced at Roxi. "Ooo… I kinda feel bad for him… Never seen mom so mad before."
The female punk shook her head. "Well, he has to learn…"
.~*The Country Bears*~.
Jewel sat nervously outside Beary's door, silently listening to his muffled sobs. She felt horrible for what had happened. Allison had spent almost twenty minutes yelling at him before leaving him in his room and walking outside too cool off before she rejoined the others cleaning up the stage the best they could.
Jewel had been up on the stage helping out as well, and she had seen Beary peeking around the corner at them, listening to the adults complaining about what he had done. She had excused herself and walked towards him, but he had quickly scurried away and had shut himself in his room. That's how she found herself outside his room while the others finished with the stage.
"Beary, please… let me in…" she said softly. Getting no response, she frowned. Why had the room gone silent? Cautiously, she got up and opened the door, shivering at the blast of cold air that met her. Her eyes widened. The bed was empty… and the window was open. She knew right then and there that Beary had run away.
Rather than squeal and get Beary into more trouble, she turned around and raced for the closet, grabbing hers and his coat before running back into his room and shutting the door silently. She stuffed some pillows under the blankets to make it look like someone was there. Hastily, she climbed out the window and landed in the snow pile that had grown underneath. She shut the window and began walking, following his footprints through the snow.
What she didn't know as she started out was that there was a deadly blizzard on route.
It would be almost an hour and a half before anyone noticed they were gone.