It didn't occur to him until after the Care Bears had left that this time, he wasn't disappearing into mist to plan a victory later.
He was a 'him' now. With fingers and hair and eyes and legs and a penis and dull teeth and soft skin that wouldn't turn into scales or fur. Stuck human.
How did they live like that?
He could be hurt when he was mortal-shaped, so it wasn't totally surprising when he slipped climbing the tree he'd run to and fell and hit the ground. Since he hadn't been able to shift into anything that could fly.
Christy found him sitting at the base of the tree pushing his hand against the bark, watching the patterns it left on his skin. If he shut his eyes mostly all the way they looked like pale pinkish snakeskin.
Her voice sounded unsure, uncertain, but not quite to scared. He was glad. He'd decided he didn't want her scared again. Nothing would scare this child anymore.
He wasn't sure he could do that if he was a child, too. "No."
"No?" she asked, tilting her head, hair coming undone from the messy ponytail she'd tucked it into (the one thing she kept of what he'd shown her; loose hair, she'd found out, got in her way) and flying wispily across one pink cheek.
"I'm not Dark Heart anymore. I'm a real boy. I have blue eyes."
Christy's breath caught in her chest on a low noise, like she was hurt, and he snapped his head up, attention coming away from his skin to deal with whatever was hurting her. But she was looking at him, and he blinked, startled, not sure why -- he liked it when she paid attention to him, he'd found himself starting to like it even before he'd become a real boy, when he was still Dark Heart. But he wasn't going to hurt her again, and she shouldn't look hurt or sad when she looked at him.
"Dark Heart," Christy said, her voice quiet this time, gentle like the Bears sounded talking to some hurt furry creature. "If that's not who you are anymore, then... then what's your name?"
He went still, his breath catching like hers had, a quick sharp noise as he stared up at her and he stared and his eyes started to hurt and his body blinked for him.
"I've always been Dark Heart," he said, and for the first time he heard himself sound like the child he'd shifted this body to look like, to match the camp he'd set out to corrupt and then the child who'd saved and destroyed him.
Christy nodded, and her mouth went firm, that determined Christy expression she'd had as she'd defied him and refused to move and been made a loser again, and he'd been so stupid when he threatened her with that. Christy couldn't ever be a loser, even if she lost swimming and paddling and running and even marbles, if she never won anything ever again. If she did trash duty for a century.
She was Christy, and her soul was always a champion's.
"Okay," Christy said, and nodded again, then crouched to take his soft hand in her hard, tanned, callused fingers. "Think of it this way: now you get to make your own name."
He stared at her again, her sunburnt face seen through human blue eyes and comprehended with a human system and human nerves and a human mind, the real boy he'd become because of caring for this child. This Christy.
He'd never been this kind of real before.
"Okay," he said, and he smiled at her.
Christy smiled back. Over her strong shoulder, the evening star gleamed.
He thought he could see a cloud car over the horizon, and the edge of rainbow it left behind.
He was pretty sure real boys didn't have this problem. He was pretty sure real boys had families, and names, and places to go after camp ended like Christy had told him it did.
He wasn't sure yet what he was going to do about that.
Christy tugged, and he rose, swaying before she caught him, held him close against her side, her hair brushing his face and smelling like woodsmoke and her shampoo. "Easy," she said softly, and squeezed his side. "I bet your legs fell asleep. C'mon, let's get back to camp."
"Christy," he said, and she turned her head a little more, her eyes brown blurs from this close, blinking at him wide and curious. "You're not... I don't think I can make you Camp Champ again. But you're still the champ."
Christy blinked again, and then she laughed, tilting her head back as her throat flexed, dyed red in the sunset, her laughter puffing air against his skin and his hair. "Of course I am! I'm never a loser again, no matter what I can't do." Her mouth stayed curving up, pink and soft-looking. "And I'm always the Marble Champ!"
Something in him still twinged at that, the knowledge that it had to have been her skill that knocked his treasure toppling and freed the Bears. But losing what he'd thought had been his most precious treasure had been worth it to bring her back from where he'd sent her.
The cabins were close together, and they weren't soundproofed. He'd heard her screaming one night. Dawn had refused to look at him the next day, mouth pinched-looking and tight. He'd already known what had made her scream in her dreams. She hadn't been there long, but he supposed Christy wouldn't have to be to remember it too well for happiness.
"Yeah," he agreed, leaning into her, flexing his toes while they prickled at him again. "You are."
"You'll find something you're the champ at," Christy promised him, reckless as always, and tilted her head to rest her forehead against his, her hair tickling his ear.
"Yes," he said, agreeing like he thought he'd probably always wind up doing when it came to this child, this girl, this Christy with her ambition and her loneliness and her reckless pride and her innate goodness. He remembered when that had sickened him, and when it had fascinated him, and finally when he hadn't been able to deal with the thought that this piece of goodness would be hurt.
The regret, and the pain, when he had hurt it anyway. Her. Christy.
He wanted to be the Pleasing Christy Champ.
"C'mon," she said again, and stepped back, sliding her hand across his back and his side to curl around his wrist and fall down to wrap around his fingers as she tugged. "Let's get back to camp."
"Yes," he said again, and followed her anywhere she led.