Summary: "When Starfire discovers she must give up her newest friend, she learns an important lesson in life: Sometimes, doing the right thing...is the hardest thing of all."
This fic is dedicated to my friend Meg, for your birthday. Hope you enjoyed it, hon!
“Thank you, shopkeeper! I will most certainly ‘come again!’”
Starfire strode out of the local candy store, a small bag of fascinating sweets in one hand…‘taffy,’ the shopkeeper had called them. They were very chewy, came in a wide variety of flavors, and were all very sweet. She adored them. She could chew on just one for a good ten minutes, and it still wouldn’t lose its flavor. At the moment she was sucking on her most favorite kind, which the shopkeeper said was called ‘oranges & cream.’ It was quite heavenly, she thought joyously as she chewed.
It was a rather normal, late-summer day. There were no big villains to battle, no mountains of paperwork to fill out other than Robin’s usual reports, not even a petty thug to put a stop to. In fact it would almost have been a boring day for Starfire, had she not decided to take a walk around town after lunch and encountered that wondrous candy store. She would have to remember where it was, and return someday soon. In the meantime, she could only wonder what other joys she would discover as she continued her walk.
As it happened, she would encounter it right around the next corner.
Starfire stopped short, her ears perking up at the sound. It was faint, almost inaudible against the white noise of the city around her, but for some reason her senses picked up on it effortlessly.
“Hello?” she ventured, looking around, seeing little more than strolling citizens giving her odd looks. There was nothing for another few seconds, until…
Her senses perked again; it was that same sound, quiet and tiny and…perhaps even scared. But no one else on the street seemed to be reacting to it. Was she the only one that could hear it? Why? Did she simply have better hearing than most of these terrans? Or was she imagining it?
“Hello? Who is there?” she said again, not paying attention to the strange looks she was getting. She glanced all around her and saw nothing and no one respond to her voice…but her eyes did fall instead upon an alleyway beside her. She hesitated for a brief moment; Robin had instructed her to be wary of alleys, especially at night…who knew what awful people and things hid in the darkness, he’d said. But it was broad daylight, so she decided she could handle whatever she might encounter. She took a few steps into the alley.
There it was again, louder this time. She was getting closer. “Hello? I mean you no harm!” she tried again, hoping for another response; but as she ventured further and saw the end of the alley, she found no one. She scratched her head in confusion, wondering where it could possibly have been coming from, until her eyes fell upon a small junk pile at her feet, covered by a flimsy plastic tarp.
Her eyes widened. Whatever that sound was, it was coming from under that tarp. With some level of wariness, she reached out a hand to grip the tarp, and in one swift motion she yanked it away.
Starfire gasped, and nearly melted on the spot. Underneath the tarp was a tan and white kitten, no larger than the palm of her hand, mewling at the top of its tiny voice. It looked terrified, and Starfire could see why; its little back leg was trapped under a fallen crate, and it was struggling to pull free, but it could not.
“Ohhh, you poor thing!” Starfire cooed, dropping to her belly in an instant to make herself appear less threatening. The kitten stared at her with wide eyes as Starfire extended a gentle hand toward it, letting it become familiar with her. It sniffed her hand for a few moments, and to her delight she passed inspection, and it let her stroke its head as it mewed at her.
“Shh, it is alright, little friend,” she whispered to it, scooting closer and stroking its back. It had fluffy, tan fur down the top of its head, all the way down its back, and up its poofy tail; the rest of its body, up and down its legs and belly, was white. It was a little dirty, too, like it had been there for some time. She could only imagine how hungry the poor thing was.
“Do not be afraid, little one, I am here to help you,” she assured it. She hooked one arm under its belly, and with the other she lifted the box that trapped its leg. She scooped it up into her arms, continually stroking it and calming its nerves.
“Hmm…what shall I call you…?” Starfire pondered. A quick peek told her it was a boy kitten, and with that she decided quickly, “I shall call you Leo!”
The kitten tilted his head and mewed again.
“Hehehe!” Starfire giggled. “Come, new friend, and we shall find you some food! And in the meantime I shall clean you up!”
And without a second thought she began licking the tiny animal clean like a feline mother as she made her way to the nearest convenience store, paying no mind to the continued strange looks passersby gave her.
“Go on, little Leo, eat your fill!”
The kitten eagerly munched on the can of tuna Starfire had bought for him, eating like he hadn’t for days….which, Starfire realized with a pang of pity, might just have been the case. The two of them sat underneath a tree in the park, Leo chowing down on the tuna while Starfire gently stroked his back.
“You adorable little thing,” she cooed happily, leaning over the kitten. The motion shook a few strands of ruby hair loose from behind her head to dangle in front of Leo’s face. Immediately he stopped eating and darted his head up, staring intently at the wavy strands. She didn’t have even a second to wonder what he was so interested in before he reared up on his hind legs, raised a front paw, and batted at the loose strands.
“Hehehe! How adorable!” Starfire giggled in delight, and began to swing her hair back and forth. Leo reacted eagerly, leaping and pouncing and batting at the swinging locks. He kept at it for nearly half an hour, and not for a moment did Starfire get bored. In fact she only grew more delighted by the minute at the kitten’s enthusiasm.
“You are quite full of energy, dear Leo,” she said when he finally wore himself out and ended the game. He yawned cutely, stretched, and curled up for a short nap under the shady side of the tree. Starfire too was quite content to take a rest, so she leaned back against the tree beside him, stroking his head, to which Leo responded with the most adorable purr she’d ever heard.
“Sleep well, my little bumgorf…” she whispered.
She wasn’t sure when exactly she’d fallen asleep, but she’d certainly slept for longer than she meant to, because when she woke up it was already dark out. She opened her eyes, wondering what had woken her up, and found the answer in the form of Leo mewing quietly and rubbing his head against the outside of her thigh. He’d finished off the can of tuna, and now gazed up at her with unnaturally large eyes.
“Oh, thank you for waking me, little Leo…I must return home,” Starfire realized. She bent down and scooped the kitten into her arms. “And perhaps, with the blessings of my friends…it shall become your home as well,” she added with a hopeful smile. She lifted off and soared through the night sky toward her home, the great big ‘T’ silhouetted against the bayside. She was there in a matter of minutes, Leo tucked safely in her cradled arms.
“Hello? Friends? I have returned!” she called as she entered the building through the roof. From between her arms Leo looked around curiously, taking in the new sights. But neither girl nor feline saw any signs of the others.
Starfire eventually stopped at the door to Robin’s room, perched Leo up on her shoulders, and knocked. “Robin?”
A relieved breath could be heard from inside. “There you are, I was beginning to wonder!” he said from within. A moment later the door began to slide open. “You should let us know if you’re going to be out as late as--”
His words cut off as the door opened fully. The Boy Wonder looked just as handsome as ever, she thought, even if he was a tad shorter than her. But rather than his usual cool, collected expression, he wore one of rather thorough surprise as he stared at a spot beside her head. And Starfire could guess why.
“Hehehehe!” Starfire giggled, petting the kitten’s head. “Is he not adorable?.!” For a moment Robin only stared wordlessly, so Starfire went on. “His name is Leo and he enjoys tuna and the game of attempting to catch and chew upon strands of my hair!”
“Where…did you get that cat, Star?” he finally said.
“I rescued him!” she explained. “He was trapped beneath a box in an empty alleyway beside the store of candy, crying for help. He had surely been there for at least a full day, without food or water or proper shelter! I could not bear to leave him, so I freed him from his entrapment and cleaned him and provided him with food and oh, Robin, may I please keep him?”
“Keep him?” Robin echoed.
“Do not worry, I will take complete care of him, I assure you he will not be a bother to any of you!” she said in her nicest, most soothing voice that almost always worked on Robin. Surely it would convince him. Surely he’d let her keep it.
“……” Robin was silent for a few moments, then extended his arms. “Let me see it for a second.”
Starfire hurried to comply, believing he wanted to check it for signs of any sort of sickness she would need to attend to. But to her surprise, all he did was take one look at the back of Leo’s neck before he heaved a sigh and handed him back to her. “I’m sorry, Star…you can’t keep this cat.”
Starfire’s eyes shot wide open in shock. “Wh-what?”
“You can’t keep it.”
Starfire tightened her arms protectively around the tiny animal. “Why not?”
Robin pointed at the cat’s neck. “Because it has a collar.”
Starfire followed his finger, and for the first time she noticed a soft belt of nylon wrapped around Leo’s neck, not so loose that it hung freely, but neither was it tight enough to cause any discomfort. It was shaded almost the exact same color as his fur, which explained why she didn’t notice it before.
“What does a collar signify…?” she wondered aloud, fearing the answer.
Robin sighed again, in that way that meant he hated to be the bearer of bad news. “A collar means it already has an owner.”
Starfire almost froze up completely at that, but still she clutched the kitten closer to her chest. “An owner who surely cares nothing for poor Leo, if they would simply leave him to fend for himself and be trapped in an alley and left to perish!”
“Starfire--” Robin started.
“No!” she insisted, more to herself than to him. “I rescued this poor creature from certain doom, provided him with food, bath, and shelter, and I care about him very much! I will not return him to an abusive owner whom I would not even know how to find in the first place!”
Robin narrowed his eyes, not looking straight at her, and frowned, in that expression that told her he was thinking very hard.
His expression eased a moment later. “Alright…I’ll make you a deal. I’m going on a late surveillance sweep of the city. Help me out tonight, and then, if you really want to, you can keep the cat. How does that sound?”
Starfire positively jumped for joy. “I most certainly accept your terms!” she announced. “I shall put Leo to bed immediately and--”
“No. Bring the cat with you.”
Starfire’s thoughts ground to a halt once more. “H-huh?”
“I want you to bring the cat along.”
Starfire frowned, slightly worried. “But Robin, if we encounter trouble--”
“Don’t worry about it. Trust me.”
Starfire hesitated for a moment, but Robin had never yet wronged her, and she did not believe he would start now, and she ultimately nodded her agreement.
“Good. Let’s go.”
For the next handful of hours Robin led Starfire around – him on his R-Cycle, her flying through the air – as he scoured the city, block by block, street by street, with a meticulous, almost tedious thoroughness that she had never seen from him. By the time their rounds had taken them through more than half the city and they had stopped near the candy shop where she found Leo, it was past five in the morning, and the horizon was starting to brighten.
“Robin…” Starfire yawned as Leo did the same in her arms. “We have been out here for several hours and have encountered nothing…”
Robin didn’t respond, only went on with his strange habit; at every juncture, he seemed determined to stop at every telephone pole, bus station wall, and wooden fence to inspect the sheets of paper stuck to them. Starfire didn’t understand the point; was he looking for some sort of secret message or code?
When he moved on to the next thick telephone pole in line, Starfire sighed and spoke louder, “Robin, it is very late; so late it is early, in fact, and we are all tired. What on Earth could you still be looking for?”
Robin’s eyes stiffened. “Not looking for…found.”
He pointed a finger at a spot on the side of the pole. Out of sheer curiosity Starfire pushed aside her tiredness to walk over and look at what he was pointing at – a flier of some sort – and promptly gasped.
Missing for Two Days
If found, please return him to us!
Beneath was a phone number and an address, but Starfire didn’t register either of them. Her gaze was transfixed upon the photograph in the flier, of the very kitten she held in her arms, playing jovially with…
“His family,” Robin said, almost psychically finishing her thought. “They’re looking for him, Starfire…they miss him. They love him. They want him back.”
Starfire’s eyes welled up with tears as she stared at the smiling young mother and father, gazing down at their daughter, who could not have been older then eight, snuggling the kitten as it batted at her little blonde curls. They looked so happy…
“I’m sorry for deceiving you like this, Starfire…” Robin said quietly, “but I had to show you just what it would mean if you really insisted on keeping that cat. You’d be happy…but they would lose something very precious to them…and they’d never know why. Do you really want to take him away from his family…?”
A pair of emerald tears leaked from her eyes and down her flushed cheeks, her conscience weighing down on her heart. She gazed down at the kitten in her arms, sleeping peacefully. He was so young…and here she was, taking him away from his family before he was even old enough to care for himself, simply for her own happiness and enjoyment…
“X’Hal…” she whispered. “I have been…so terribly selfish…”
Robin laid a hand on her shoulder. “You can still do the right thing, Starfire. You can fix it. I know I can trust you to make the right choice.”
Starfire nodded through her tears, and pointed a shaking finger at the address. “Take me there…please…”
Robin smiled kindly and nodded, climbing back on his cycle. “Hop on.”
Starfire complied, holding the sleeping kitten tightly.
“Rest well, little friend…you will be…where you belong soon,” she whispered to him. The kitten purred in response, and with a touch on Robin’s shoulder, they took off.
The address was harder to find than expected; it was six-thirty in the morning and the sun was starting to rise before they pulled up in front of the driveway. It was a simple house; green grass, a few flowers in the garden, a paleness to the grey paint job on the house. Starfire approached it with heavy footsteps, her eyes unable to leave the kitten in her arms.
“Mreow?” he said, now fully awake and looking curiously around.
It what seemed like no time at all she was at the front door. Starfire steeled her nerves, raised her free hand, and knocked. A handful of tense heartbeats later, a woman opened the door, a little girl peeking out from behind her; Starfire recognized them as the mother and daughter in the photo.
Starfire cleared her throat. “I am…sorry to disturb you at such an early hour, but…I do believe this…belongs to you.”
The eyes of both lit up almost immediately, but while the mother was shocked into silence, the girl squealed with delight almost instantly.
“WHISKERS!” she cried as Starfire knelt down and held out the kitten. Immediately she swept the kitten into her own arms, hugging him tightly. “Where did you goooo? I missed you so much!”
“Where did you find him?” the mother asked as Starfire stood up again.
“He was trapped in an alley near a candy store. I discovered him this morning and…gave him bath and food and shelter until I discovered the whereabouts of his owners.”
“Oh, thank you, miss Starfire, thank you,” she said. “I don’t know how we can ever repay you…”
Starfire shook her head. “N-no payment is necessary…”
A pressure on her lower body made her look downward; the little girl had set the kitten on the ground and was hugging Starfire around the waist, looking up at her with the most wonderful smile on her face.
“Thank you miss Starfire!” she echoed her mother before releasing the alien girl and hoisting her kitten into her arms again. Starfire knelt down once more, and the girl held out the kitten for Starfire to pet one more time.
“Now you be good, little Le…Whiskers…” she said, stroking his head. “I shall not forget you, friend…”
A moment later the mother and daughter had returned inside, their family complete again, and closed the door. And for some reason…Starfire wasn’t sad anymore. She thought she would be in tears…but somehow…she was happy. She would miss him, of course…but he was where he belonged now…and seeing them all happy together, as they should be…it made her happy too.
She felt Robin’s hand on her shoulder as she returned to the R-Cycle. “Are you gonna be okay?” he said, concerned.
Starfire turned to him, smiling slowly, and wrapped him in a quick, gentle hug.
“I am more than okay, friend Robin…”
Robin smiled too and hugged her back. “C’mon…let’s go home.”
Starfire took one last look at the house in remembrance, and nodded. “Yes…home.”
Robin gunned the engine, and the twosome sped off into the sunrise.