Sooo Stellar

This is my fifth Care Bears story, if I'm not mistaken, and it introduces my second custom, Stellar Heart Tiger. Before I begin, there is something that needs to be said…I HATE animal abuse. This story is partly my way of speaking out about it. I don't go overboard about it, but I do believe that if you have an animal you should take care of it. In this story, the villain actually does get his! How, you might ask? Read on and see!

He wasn't sure what to do. The Ringmaster had come into the tent where his cage was and suddenly passed out, dropping the keys. Somehow these keys had floated through the air towards his cage, and his first instinct was to roar.

But he didn't. He watched. He waited. He lashed his tail, and put back his ears.

The keys separated, and one of them inserted itself into the lock.

Click!

"Prrrowwr?" he snarled quietly as the door swung open, seemingly on its own. He strode forward, and sniffed at the unconscious man. "Mrrrmm…" he rumbled, moving on and leaving the man untouched. He considered giving the guy a whack with his paw for the cruel treatment he had often received, but decided against it.

His rudimentary thought processes were becoming more and more complex, and his orange- and black-striped forehead crinkled as he pondered, for the first time, in words. "What is going on?" he thought.

Under the cover of darkness, he ran. Ran for his freedom, ran for his life, for he knew he might be shot on sight. A strange force was drawing him away from the circus and into the wooded area of the park, but he didn't question it. All he knew was that he had to run.

Finally, when his senses told him he was safe for the moment, he flopped over on his side and lay panting. A soothing warmth engulfed him suddenly, driving away the chill of the night, and when it passed he rubbed his forehead with his fingers.

Fingers?! "Huh?!"

He jerked his paw…or hand…or whatever it was, as if trying to throw it away, and sat up. Not in the usual manner, either. He sat upright, with his rear legs…or just his legs now…stretched out in front of him. He examined his paw-hands with a newborn's interest; orange, with three fingers and an opposable thumb on each hand, with yellowish pads in the middles of his palms.

No claws, though. In their place was a set of short, human-like nails that almost appeared to be manicured; the nails of a newborn, or so it seemed. He was much smaller, too. While before he had tilted the scales at around five hundred pounds, he probably only weighed about forty now.

"What is this?" he whispered, shivering with cold as a sudden gust of wind slammed into him. "Oh! Gotta get out of here…" he stood, noticed that he was upright, and fell over again. His balance was all right…he had only fallen over out of astonishment, and now sat blinking in the grass. That wind! He crawled beneath some soft evergreen bushes, and curled up. He didn't see the Little Star Buddy that was hovering nearby. He slept.

"Yer gettin' pretty good at Caring Missions, Sis." Said Brave Heart Lion as he drove the Cloudmobile. His sister, Regal Heart Lioness, was the same age as he, but she was still a Care Bear Cousin in training. The other members of the Care Bear Family had had their whole lives to prepare, but Regal Heart had only been discovered a year ago.

"Thanks" the lioness tilted her head back, enjoying the warmth of the sun as it shone on her face. "Getting close to lunch time. What say we get a pizza?"

"Sounds good." He replied, turning the wheel.

Klunk!

"Ow!" The tiger sat up quickly, holding his head and glaring at the squirrel above him; the creature was scolding and chattering, and throwing pine cones.

"All right, already!" he snapped, moving off. "Was that a squirrel, or a nut?" he chuckled at his own jest, then grew sober. When was the last time he had made a joke? Why, that was his first!

"Not a very good one, either…" he muttered.

He sat down on a rock, and looked at his palms. "Still the same…and I'm hungry, too…" his stomach growled, as if illustrating his point. Every morning, some sort of raw meat as chucked between the bars of his cage, and it was long past his breakfast time. All the same, even though he had cut his teeth on it, raw meat didn't sound good to him. He shuddered at the thought of uncooked food. But what could he eat?

"How did it happen?" he muttered, "And how did I get so small? How can I talk?"

Indeed, the past details of his life were somewhat blurred. The scars he had received from his trainer's whip were gone. His pads were no longer rough and callused. He remembered that he could have punished his trainer, the Ringmaster, the night before…it would have been easy, but somehow he hadn't wanted to. It had just felt…wrong, even thought he had been an ordinary tiger.

"Let him get in trouble for letting me get away…that ought to be punishment enough." He said to himself. "But how can I talk? It never even occurred to me to try before, and…" he frowned. He shook his head, and tried not to think so hard.

"Brave Heart…"

"What?"

"Stop the car and look down."

Brave Heart obeyed his sister, and he saw a tiger sitting on a rock.

"Who is that?" asked Regal Heart, leaning over the side, "You know that tiger?"

"Nope," said Brave Heart, lowering the Cloudmobile, "But I'm gonna find out who he is…"

The tiger looked up at the quiet sputtering sound the Cloudmobile made, and quickly got to his feet, preparing to defend himself. The two lions hopped out of the car, and stood staring in amazement.

He was obviously like them, but he lacked a tummy symbol. "Hello." Said Brave Heart.

"Who are you?" asked the tiger, still looking like he might bolt at any moment.

"I'm Brave Heart Lion, the leader of the Care Bear Cousins," replied Brave Heart, a bit self-importantly, "and this is my sister, Regal Heart Lioness." He nodded towards his sister.

The tiger didn't answer.

"What's your name?" asked Regal Heart.

The tiger finally showed some emotion; embarrassment. "Um…" he blushed, "My trainer called me Lysander, but please don't…"

Regal Heart bit her lip in a valiant attempt to keep from laughing, since the poor tiger obviously hated his name. It was almost touching, the way he looked at them as if daring them to call him that.

Brave Heart, however, was concerned about something else. "Your trainer? Are you with the circus that's in town?"

The tiger put back his ears, and scowled. "I was."

"Don't you wanna go back?" inquired Brave Heart.

The tiger drew himself up, and snapped, "No. If you try to take me back, I'll bite you!"

"Huh?" Brave Heart blinked, surprised.

Regal Heart tilted her head to one side, eyeing his posture; defensive, fur bristling, ears plastered against his skull. Though she sensed that he had a kind heart, there was no doubt whatsoever in her mind that he would defend himself, viciously if necessary. "Did they mistreat you?" she asked.

"None of your business." He told her, backing away.

"Now, see here!" Brave Heart began, but his sister put a restraining hand on his arm and shook her head.

"How long have you been…er…like us?" asked Regal.

The tiger looked ashamed of his threat, and replied, "Last night, but I'm still not sure how it happened."

'So, that's it!' thought Brave Heart to himself. Before last night, this tiger had been a normal animal, half-feral and with all the instincts of a wild creature, including aggression. Since he wasn't changed as a cub, some of those tendencies lingered. This creature was confused, and a confused tiger is a dangerous tiger. Still, as Brave Heart noticed, he was really too small to be a danger to anyone. He was way too skinny, as if he had been starved, and he was barely as tall as Brave Heart himself.

"Well, if you'll come with us…not to the circus, but to get some lunch…we'll try to answer your questions." Offered Brave Heart.

The tiger's tail swayed slowly back and forth as he considered, then finally he nodded. "Very well. No tricks?"

Regal Heart winked, chuckling. "If we trick you, you can bite us. How's that?"

For the first time, the tiger cracked a smile. "Oh, yes…eheh…sorry about that."

Brave Heart asked, "Do you like pizza?"

"I don't know," replied the tiger, whose stomach gave a loud growl, "but at the moment I could eat tree bark without complaining."

"Heh…" Regal Heart smirked, "Come on, then."

"They're staring at me."

The Pizza Hut they had chosen was rather crowded, and the tiger was ill at ease; people turned in their seats to look, and he couldn't understand why it wasn't bothering the lions.

Regal Heart met someone's gaze, and waved cheerfully. "Don't let the eyes worry you; they know about the Bears and Cousins, so we get stared at wherever we go. They even make toys that look like us."

Brave Heart took a sip of Pepsi, and said in confidential tones, "Regal Heart's new to the family, too. We found her last year, and she's still kinda star struck by all the attention."

Regal Heart elbowed her brother. "Don't tell him that!"

The tiger snickered a bit at their antics, but he couldn't seem to relax. He looked up as something occurred to him. "Er…"

"What?" asked Brave Heart. "Go ahead and ask."

"Well…if the two of you are brother and sister, and if she was just found a year ago, while you…how is that possible, that you're the same age?"

Brave Heart gnawed on a breadstick, held up one finger, and considered how to begin. Finally he swallowed, and said, "Well, Regal and I are twins, but when our mother was killed she ran off and hid. When True Heart and Noble Heart, who were our guardians when we were cubs, came looking, they only found me. Regal Heart was found by a human couple and raised, and in about a year, like the rest of us, she grew up." He took another swig of Pepsi and continued, "Well, one day a sorcerer called No Heart killed her human parents and put her under a sleepin' spell. That's where she stayed for any number of years before we found her last year, with almost no memory of her past. Eventually she got it back, and…well, here she is."

"I see…" the tiger frowned, wolfing down three breadsticks so quickly that even Brave Heart couldn't help staring in slack-jawed amazement. He wiped his mouth on a napkin, a thing he had seen Regal do, and looked up at her. "And are you happy there?"

"Oh, sure!" she grinned, "I've made a lot of cool friends, and I found my brother again. Not to mention the fact that Care-a-Lot's about the coolest place to visit, and the Forest of Feelings is about as relaxing as it gets. You'll like it there…if you decide to come, that is…"

The tiger, lost in thought, didn't reply. A moment later the pizza came, brought to the table by a waitress who was obviously a Care Bear fan. "Omigosh, this is sooo stellar! I can't believe I'm actually meeting you guys! Um…but I don't recognize him…" she pointed to the tiger, who sank down in his chair, embarrassed.

"Oh, he's a newbie." Smiled Regal Heart.

"Really?! Oh, that is sooo stellar! What's his name?" asked the waitress, remembering that she still had to divide the pie into slices.

"'Stellar?'" asked the tiger, raising an eyebrow. The waitress, unfortunately, misunderstood him.

"No way! You're name's Stellar Heart?!" she shrieked, turning several heads.

"Err…" the tiger sank further down so that his head was only visible from the eyes up.

"That is soo cool, your name and the word I used, it's just…"

"Stellar?" deadpanned Regal Heart and Brave Heart, not daring to look at each other; the urge to laugh was too strong for that.

"Right!" the girl agreed, patting the tiger's shoulder. "You enjoy, Sugar-Pie!"

Both lions bit their tongues and stared at their plates until the waitress was out of earshot before…

"Bahahahaaa!" Brave Heart and his sister dissolved into fits of helpless laughter that were so contagious that the tiger soon joined in and laughed just as loudly.

"Oh! Oh, that is rich!" Regal cried, banging the table. After several moments, they finally calmed down enough to talk again.

Brave Heart leaned forward, and said, "So… 'Stellar Heart'…" they began to giggle again, "Whaddaya say? Wanna join the family?"

The tiger tapped his fingers on the table for a moment, then said, "Sure, why not? Where else would I go?"

"Well, there's always the circus…" Brave Heart grinned.

The tiger's smile immediately vanished, and he said in low, even tones, "That's not funny at all!"

Brave Heart looked down at his plate, mentally kicking himself. "Hey, I'm sorry."

The tiger sighed, looking down at his own plate. "Forget it…"

"Umm…aren't you hungry?" asked Regal, pointing to the cooling slice of pizza on his plate.

"Always." He replied, picking it up by the crust, like he had seen the humans doing, and biting into the pointy side.

Always? Brave Heart glanced at his sister and frowned. Something was definitely going on at that circus…

"Mmm!!" the tiger closed his eyes, chewing slowly.

"Good, huh?" asked Regal Heart.

"Mm-hmm!" he agreed, swallowing carefully; he had taken a rather big bite, and the last thing he wanted was to choke in front of his new friends. And for the first time, he realized that they were his friends.

"That's nothing," Regal Heart was saying, "Wait until you try spaghetti!"

The tiger stood in the middle of the Hall of Hearts, more than a little nervous. True Heart, Noble Heart, Tender Heart and Brave Heart were standing at the inner apex of the cut-away, heart-shaped table; the tiger forced himself to look them all squarely in the eye, since it seemed the respectful thing to do. He need not have worried so much; everyone liked him already, just by looking at his honest face. He stood very still, the only sign of nervousness being his tail; it waved slowly back and forth, seeming to have a mind of its own.

"Do you have a name?" True Heart asked him.

"Well…Lysander, but please don't call me that."

"Why not?" asked True Heart, tilting her head a bit.

"Because I don't like the man who gave it to me." he replied.

True Heart and Noble Heart exchanged a glance, but decided to let that one slide for the time being. "Well," Noble Heart rejoined, "what should we call you?"

The tiger looked down, and shrugged. "I hardly know, sir…this 'naming' business is all new to me."

Noble Heart laughed a bit. "Please, don't call me 'sir'. It's just Noble Heart. No need to be so formal."

Regal Heart giggled a bit. "Well, the waitress at the Pizza Hut called him 'sugar-pie'…"

Brave Heart frowned at his sister, but surprisingly the tiger burst out laughing, and replied, "No thank you! I think I preferred 'Stellar Heart'!"

A few of the family members joined in laughing, but most of them agreed that it was a fine name, and that it suited him.

"Really think so?" asked the tiger.

"Sure!" said Tender Heart, "It's perfect for you; if you like it, that is…"

The tiger grinned. "I like it just fine."

Tender Heart stepped forward, and said, "Now, hold still. This won't hurt a bit."

Tender Heart's tummy symbol began to glow, and the tiger gasped in surprise and took a step backwards. "What are you doing?"

But it was already done. His own belly grew comfortably warm, and when the glow faded a brand new tummy symbol was revealed. He blinked, and touched it with a tentative paw. "It's warm…" he breathed.

And it was, though the warmth was fading a bit. On the creamy white fur of his tummy was a spattering of red and gold stars in the shape of a pinwheel galaxy.

Just then, Treat Heart Pig came in and said, "Dinner's served, guys! And not to brag, but we really outdid ourselves this time!" she gave a snorting laugh, and Stellar Heart perked up his ears.

"Dinner?! I think I'm gonna like it here…"

That night, during the celebration, Brave Heart approached Noble Heart. "Gotta talk to ya." he murmured, so as to go unheard, wearing a very serious expression on his face. Noble Heart's smile was replaced by a look of concern, and he went with Brave Heart to stand by the wall.

They stood there for a while; Stellar Heart was talking animatedly with Regal Heart over by the punch bowl, and Brave Heart could have sworn he even saw his sister blush once. "Great, just what I need…" he muttered.

"So, what did you want to speak with me about?" Noble Heart prompted him.

"Hmm? Oh, right…You know how I told you he came from the circus?"

"Mm-hmm…"

"Well, I think something's up with that place." Brave Heart folded his arms.

"Oh?" Noble Heart asked, growing more interested.

"Yup…the Great Wishing Star sent him to us for a reason…to be helped. Notice how much he ate, and how skinny he is?"

"Why…yes, now that you mention it…I can see his ribs…" Noble Heart covered his mouth. He didn't like where this was going.

"When I asked him, 'Don't you wanna go back?' he got all mad and threatened to bite us."

"Wait, did you say 'bite'?" Noble Heart turned his head.

"Yup. Remember, just last night he was a regular tiger. Remember how you told me I bit you and True Heart a few times early on?"

Noble Heart nodded. "I see…did he say anything else?"

Brave Heart shook his head. "Nope. Didn't wanna talk about it. He apologized for what he said, but didn't tell us anything."

"Hmmmm…" Noble Heart stroked his chin and frowned. "If one animal was mistreated, chances are there're more…"

"Yeah, that's what I was thinkin'." Brave Heart returned, leaning against the wall. "But why wouldn't the police put a stop to it?"

"I'm sure they would, assuming they knew…" Noble Heart sighed. "The real trouble is, people are very good at covering these things up…"

Brave Heart growled quietly. "It's people like that, makes our job hard…"

"You're angry…" Noble Heart observed.

"You bet I am." Snorted Brave Heart, "Aren't you?"

"Well, I'm not happy, but we should go down and find out before we jump to any conclusions." Replied Noble Heart.

Brave Heart lowered his head in acknowledgment, and sighed. "Yeah, yer right…it just really burns me up, is all…"

Noble Heart glanced over at Stellar Heart, who gave a loud bark of laughter at something Regal Heart had just said. "Well, at least one of those 'animals' is on the road to recovery."

"Yeah…" Brave Heart frowned as his sister blushed a second time, Stellar Heart blushing also. Running a paw through his mane, he sighed.

"What's he matter?" asked Noble Heart.

"Look." Brave Heart pointed across the room. "See that?"

Noble Heart looked, and shrugged his shoulders. "They're only talking."

Brave Heart crossed his arms. "Well, you don't blush when you're 'only talking'…"

"Ohhh…" Noble Heart nodded, "I see…You're worried about your sister."

Brave Heart shook his head, and stuffed a fistful of peanuts into his mouth. When he had swallowed, he said, "I ain't worried exactly, but…I dunno. It's just…someone lookin' at my sister like that, it just gets my hackles raised…I like him, don't get me wrong, but she just met him."

"It'll be fine," Noble Heart assured him, "don't worry."

That night, after the party had broken up, Regal Heart and Stellar Heart decided to take a walk. "I'll show you one of my favorite places" She told him, walking a little bit ahead.

"Where?" he asked.

"You'll see." she replied, grinning over her shoulder.

He looked down at his paws, and padded silently after her as she led him through the Forest of Feelings. Neither of them were aware that Brave Heart was following some distance behind them, ready to defend his sister if necessary.

Regal Heart led her new friend to a place by the Rainbow River where the water was slow, and sat down on the bank. He hesitated, standing near her and looking out over the river, watching where, in certain spots, little eddies would form and mix the colored water. Just at that moment, a cloud that had been obscuring the moon was blown away, and the resulting shower of light actually made the river glow. It was achingly beautiful, and he couldn't help but catch his breath.

"Sit down." Regal Heart told him, patting the grass beside her. The tiger hesitated, then shrugged and sat down. They sat in silence for a while, until Brave Heart, who was crouching in the bushes nearby, got a leg cramp and almost gave himself away when he shifted to ease it.

After a few minutes had passed in silence, Stellar Heart finally asked, "So, why'd you bring me here?"

"Hmm? Oh! Right…two reasons." Regal looked up at the sky, "First reason; I thought you'd like to see it…Second reason, you know my story already. You heard it at lunch…I thought you'd be more comfortable telling your story here, if you choose to."

Stellar Heart sighed, and drew his knees up to his chest.

"You don't have to, of course." Regal continued, "But I'm around if you ever need to talk to someone."

The tiger nodded once, and a moment later he whispered, "I do, it's…it's just that…"

"You don't know where to begin." She finished for him.

"Yeah…" he sighed, twitching the end of his tail.

"It's okay…take your time. Maybe you're just not ready to say it yet." She told him.

Stellar Heart didn't answer her right away. It wasn't that he didn't want to; he just couldn't seem to form a clear thought, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He put his paws to his belly, which caved in a bit, completely unlike the healthy round bellies of the other members of the Care Bear Family. He looked a bit like an empty tube sock, if the truth was told. "Well…just from looking at me, what do you notice?"

"Appearance-wise, or personality-wise?" she asked.

"Appearance."

"Hmm…" Regal Heart turned and looked at him. "Well…you are a bit on the thin side…"

Stellar Heart met her gaze. "Only a bit?"

"Well…" Regal looked down. "No, not only a bit…Did they…They starved you, didn't they?"

He flinched, and looked away. "Yeah."

"You okay?" she asked.

"No." he replied, still staring out over the river. Brave Heart, from his hiding place, lowered his head in shame. Unable to listen anymore, he quietly got up and tiptoed away. Regal's ears oriented to catch the sound and her expression hardened a bit, but she acted like she hadn't noticed. She laid a paw on Stellar Heart's shoulder, and it was as if her paw was a magic key. He began to speak, the words coming much more freely than before.

"That's one of the things they did, but not the only one. I remember being whipped for not jumping through the burning hoop. It didn't bother them that fire scared me; they didn't care. Once, when I fought back, they kept me in that tiny cage for two weeks, and all I got was water. They didn't do it after that, since I almost died, but sometimes…" he closed his mouth, unable to continue.

"Sometimes what?" Regal asked gently.

He shook his head, not wanting to say that sometimes he wished they had simply let him die. "I can't." He was trembling now, full of anger and sadness at the unfairness of it all.

She slipped an arm around him, and his eyes widened in surprise. "But they don't have you anymore, Stellar Heart. You're not there; you're here. Your nightmare's over…it's time to wake up."

Stellar Heart had never been given a hug before, and no one had ever spoken this nicely to him. He thought about it for a moment…and decided that he liked it. He allowed himself to relax for the first time that night, and rested his head on her shoulder with a grateful sigh. Before that moment, he hadn't realized just how much he had needed to be held by someone who truly understood hardship. For reasons he couldn't understand, he found himself blinking back tears. The urge to cry passed quickly, though, and he simply sat in silence for a while after that.

That night, Regal Heart walked him to his new home, which was located near her house and her brother's cave. He paused in front of his door, and blinked. "This huge place can't be for me…"

The house wasn't huge…it consisted of one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. Still, to someone who had spent his life living in a cramped little cage, it must have seemed like a palace.

"It is," Regal grinned, "and don't worry, you'll get used to it."

The tiger nodded uncertainly, put his paw on the heart-shaped doorknob, and hesitated. Turning to Regal Heart, he smiled a bit. "Thank you…you know, for being there…"

She grinned back, "That's why I'm here, Stel. Get some sleep, and I'll talk to you tomorrow."

He nodded, and went inside. Regal Heart walked to her own house, going over in her head what she would say to her eavesdropping brother.

Stellar Heart's house was modestly furnished, but he was so impressed by his surroundings that he was almost afraid to touch anything. "I can't believe all this is mine…" he mumbled, pinching his own shoulder, "Ouch…nope, still awake…"

He cautiously made his way through the house to the bathroom, as if he expected something to jump out at him. He peeked around the door, and flipped the light switch. There was a toilet and a sink, and a tub that was closed off by a Care Bears shower curtain, of all things.

Stellar Heart's curiosity got the better of him, and he pushed back the shower curtain to see what was inside. "Huh?" he frowned. There was a rubber plug for the drain, a bar of Ivory Soap in the soap dish, and a back brush…the things that were missing were a faucet and a shower head. In their place was a little cloud!

"What in the…" he stepped into the tub and gave the cloud a little poke, and was sprayed in the face by a stream of warm water. "Aah!" he yelped, leaping back and catching the backs of his legs on the edge of the tub. He fell in an astonished heap on the bathroom floor, and he certainly would have been hurt if the floor hadn't been made of clouds; though it seemed to be a different sort of cloud from the one in the shower.

Stellar Heart got to his feet and dusted himself off, blushing. "Glad no one saw that…"

He stepped into the shower again. Now that he knew what to expect, he intended to get clean. Regal Heart and the others couldn't have been much impressed with his smell; it had been nice of them to overlook it. After all, it hadn't been his fault. Heck, he hadn't even been aware of it until she had put her arm around him, and he noticed that she had a touch of perfume on. He realized how he smelled in comparison, and had been ashamed. She hadn't seemed to mind, but he knew he would…

He poked the cloud again, and this time he stayed where he was. The resulting deluge of warm water made him sigh, and he closed his eyes in quiet pleasure. When he wanted the water to be warmer, it was as if the cloud heard his thoughts. After a few moments, something happened that amused him; he began to purr. As a normal tiger he had been unable, but he wasn't normal now…He found that he was able to stop and start as he pleased.

After he had enjoyed the water for a while, pe picked up the soap and turned it over in his paws, frowning. He gave it an experimental bite…BIG MISTAKE! "Bleahh! Ptoo! Ptoo!" he opened his mouth, and caught as much water as possible.

Well, it had smelled nice, anyway…he noticed that it made bubbles when it got wet, and it was similar to the clean smell that had hovered around Regal Heart…

Oh.

"So that's what this's for…" he muttered, running his tongue over his teeth and spitting again. He finished his bath and stepped out, wringing the water from his fur as the cloud shut itself off. He grabbed one of the fluffy white towels from the rack, and proceeded to dry himself. He was still a bit damp when he crawled into his bed, but he was too sleepy to care. If only Regal Heart had been right about his nightmare being over…

It started out innocently enough. Stellar Heart dreamed he was walking in the park, enjoying the sun and the smells of springtime. Then he smelled something else…vinegar, like the kind people put on their french fries. Then hot dogs…fried dough…popcorn…the smell of a cage that hasn't been mucked out in weeks. Before he had time to process this, he found himself in the center ring of his most hated place…the Circus.

"No…"

The strange thing was, he wasn't a normal tiger in his dream, but the Ringmaster seemed to think otherwise, if the way he wielded his whip was any indication. "Thought you could escape me, did you?" the man sneered, giving the air a lashing with that hated leather strap. The center ring was dotted with black hoops, and the air reeked of kerosene.

"No…" he whispered, "not again…no more…"

The Ringmaster grinned and snapped his fingers, and every one of those hoops caught fire. "Jump, Lysander…jump!"

The tiger did the only thing he could think of…he ran.

"No you don't!" laughed the Ringmaster, cracking his whip again.

The crowd cheered, chanting, "More! More! More!"

Then the unthinkable happened; the fire hoops rose into the air and surrounded him, blocking his only escape route. He skidded to a stop, whimpering and panting as the flames singed his whiskers. Had the hoops always burned so bright? Had they always been so huge and imposing? Certainly not! And they hadn't moved either.

But they were moving now…they rushed towards him, and…

Thump!

Stellar Heart woke up on the floor in the middle of the night, trying desperately to scream, but his voice failed him. His heart raced, and his brow was damp with cold sweat…while his cheeks were damp with something else. He slid under his bed, shaking and sobbing, and he didn't come out until the sun did.

As soon as she woke up, Regal Heart left her house to visit Brave Heart. She let herself in with her key, since she knew he wouldn't be up yet. As usual, the entire house was brightly lit, with a night light in every available socket.

She found him lying face-down at the wrong end of the bed, with a puddle of drool steadily expanding from his half-open mouth as he snored. Stifling a giggle, Regal Heart grabbed his shoulder and shook it. "Hey, wake up!"

Without opening his eyes, Brave Heart grabbed the blankets with one paw and pulled them over his head.

"No you don't…" she ripped the covers from the bed, making him groan. "Wake up!"

"I don't wanna…" he whined, "I was just dreaming about the world's biggest banana split…"

"Well, that would explain the drooling…" she muttered, rolling him over and pulling him up into a sitting position. "C'mon, I'll make us some eggs or something."

It took some urging on Regal Heart's part, but she finally managed to drag him out of bed and into his kitchen. He immediately put his head down on his arms when he sat down at the table, but he finally became more alert when she put a plate of eggs and toast in front of him, along with some coffee.

While Regal Heart was making her own breakfast, she asked casually over her shoulder, "So, did you enjoy the show last night? Was it what you were expecting?"

Brave Heart paused with a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth, and blinked guiltily. He dropped his fork with a sigh, and looked down at his plate.

Regal Heart fixed her own plate in silence, and sat down beside him. "That was a private conversation." She said almost gently, "Why did you follow me?"

"Well…" he sighed, drumming his fingers on the tabletop, "I just wanted to…well…"

"You were worried about me." she finished for him.

He nodded. "Yeah."

"But why?" she asked, putting her hand on his.

"Well…it's just…we hardly know him, and last night…well, I saw the two of ya blushin'."

Regal Heart laughed. "Oh, that! I was just telling some funny stories about when I was a cub, living on Earth with the Greens. Some of 'em were a bit embarrassing. That's why I blushed a couple times."

"How do you explain the part where he blushed?" he demanded, sipping his coffee.

"Well, you know how shy he is…I told him how Daddy left the toilet seat up, and I got stuck…" she snickered, blushing a bit.

"Snerk!" Brave Heart hunched forward, spewing coffee across the table from his mouth and nose, alternately choking and laughing.

Regal Heart rapped him on the back a few times, giggling. "I guess I neglected to tell you that story."

Brave Heart could only nod. When he managed to catch his breath, his sister said, "So, that's what this is all about. You thought Stellar Heart and I were having a romance."

"I didn't know what I thought…I guess I just wanted to make sure he behaved himself." He shrugged.

Regal shook her head, and sighed. "Ohh…Brave Heart, Brave Heart, Brave Heart…trust me, if anything happens between us, you'd be the first person I'd tell. And I can more than take care of myself, okay?"

"Yeah…sorry, Regal."

She smiled. "It's okay. I do appreciate it, just next time don't skulk around in the dark after me."

"Suits me just fine…" he replied, shuddering. "Let the bats and owls have the dark, and gimme the light!"

Regal gave him an affectionate whack on the arm as he mopped up his coffee spill, and said, "Well, I can't blame you for that…my thing's spiders."

Brave Heart decided that it was time to change the subject. "Actually, it's good you got me up early; gives me time to think of a game plan."

"Oh? For what?" asked Regal.

"Talked to Noble Heart last night, and we both think there's some sorta cover-up down at the Circus. What I heard of your conversation last night just proves us right. Now, the Circus leaves town in two days…if we're gonna expose 'em for the cowards they are, we gotta do it soon. The question is how."

"Hmm…well, first you'll need evidence." Regal tapped her chin with her index finger. "An anonymous tip with pictures might be best…"

"Yeah…I don't wanna tip 'em off, and give 'em time to cover their tracks. Um…was it really that bad, what they did to him?"

Regal Heart shook her head and shrugged. "Well, he didn't tell me everything; he wasn't ready…but what he did tell me almost had him in tears."

"Really?" he asked in disbelief.

"If I'm lyin', I'm dyin'. He was this close." She said, making a pinching motion with her thumb and forefinger. Brave Heart shook his head sadly, and rested his chin on his fist.

"Well, I'm going down there with a camera…" he told her, dumping the rest of his breakfast down the garbage disposal.

"Now?" she asked, blinking.

"When else?"

Regal Heart stood up and got in her brother's path. "Hang on, you're not going alone."

Brave Heart folded his arms. "Not much choice. Everyone else has caring missions of their own, and besides, you need to show the new guy the ropes."

"Me?"

He smirked, and gripped her shoulders affectionately. " 'Course! Out of all of us, he trusts you the most. Besides, you know what it's like to be a newbie. He'll identify more with you than with me."

"Well…" she hesitated, looking sideways.

Brave Heart grinned wickedly, and added just as an extra goose, "And you bein' easy on the eyes don't hurt neither; a 'perty li'l lady' like you…"

Regal Heart batted her brother away with an indignant hiss, but she couldn't help laughing. "Go on your own, then! I hope they dress you in a clown suit, and make you walk the tightrope blindfolded!"

"Dare to dream!" he chuckled, and went digging in his closet for his camera. "Hmm…well, I found it, but it's out of film…" he came into the kitchen with dust on his face, clutching an old Polaroid camera in his paws.

"Ask Bright Heart for some." Regal replied with a shrug.

Brave Heart put down the camera, and closed his eyes for a moment. His tummy symbol glowed briefly, and a second later a box of film was sitting on the table. "What for?" he asked smugly.

If Stellar Heart's first attempt at taking a shower was a disaster, his first cooking attempt was worse. He came out of it with burned paws, an empty belly, and an injured ego; he hadn't known enough to throw away the eggshells, so he had ended up with a mushy, crunchy mess he couldn't bring himself to eat.

"Now I know I hate fire…" he muttered, blowing on his paws. When his doorbell rang, his paws hurt too much to touch the knob, so he simply raised his voice, saying, "Come in."

Regal Heart stepped in, looking concerned, and wrinkling her nose a bit at the smell of burned eggs. "You didn't lock your…oh, are you okay?"

Stellar Heart whipped his paws behind his back, and grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, why?"

She crossed her arms. "Nope. Paws, please."

He sighed and held out his paws, blushing and looking away. She turned the palms up, and gave a low whistle. "That must really hurt…" she said.

"Well, it doesn't tickle." He responded, more annoyed with his own clumsiness than anything else.

"Well, I'd say not." she agreed, "Come with me." She took his arm rather than his paw, and tried to lead him out of his house. "Take Care Bear can fix you up in a jiff."

"But…" he began to protest, then fell silent.

"What?"

"Um…well, I'm still hungry…" he blushed, looking down.

Regal glanced at the mess in his kitchen, and nodded. "No problem. Let's see…" She went rummaging through his kitchen, and in no time she had whipped up a sandwich that was really big enough for two. "Here," she held it out, half-wrapped in a napkin, "use the fingers of your left hand to hold it; I didn't see too much damage there."

"Thank you." he said, wincing as he gingerly took the sandwich. It was gone in almost three bites, and she was surprised to note that his stomach had visibly expanded in less than a minute.

"You don't feel sick, do you?" she asked anxiously.

"No, I enjoyed it." He replied.

"I mean, you ate kinda fast."

He grinned at her, and held up his paws. "At the moment, this is all that's wrong with me."

"Well, we're almost there." She laughed. A few moments later, Take Care Bear's clinic was visible, and the red bear with the apple tummy symbol was sitting outside, enjoying a glass of iced tea.

"Yo, Take Care!" Regal Heart called out, waving.

Take Care's head swiveled around, and she stood up. "Hey, Regal. And you've got to be Stellar Heart."

The tiger bobbed his head once, and remembered having seen this bear the night before, though they hadn't spoken.

"So, what brings you here?" asked Take Care, reaching out to shake hands.

Stellar Heart put his paws behind his back again. "I burned myself." He answered reluctantly.

"Oh, really?" the bear's face lost its smile, and registered concern, "Where?"

"My paws…" he blushed, showing her his palms.

"No wonder you wouldn't shake hands! Come on in." she stood aside, and Regal had to give him a nudge to urge him forward.

Stellar Heart decided that he liked this bear; she was down-to-earth and genuine, and she also had a dry sense of humor. She bandaged up his burned paws and warned him to be more careful next time, and the three of them sat and shared a pitcher of iced tea, enjoying the weather and each other's company.

Brave Heart, meanwhile, had just arrived at his destination. He had the camera hanging at his side on a sort of bandoleer; that way, he'd have both paws free if he needed them. From what he could tell, everything seemed normal.

He was walking between the lemonade stand and the popcorn machine when he heard a lion's roar…a normal lion's roar. He tiptoed over to a tent, got down on his knees, and peered under the canvas. What he saw almost made him gag. Curled up in a cage that was much too small for it was a lion, and a skinny one at that. It was obviously sick, most likely from its horrible living conditions, and a trickle of blood ran from its mouth. Judging from the blood on the vertical bars of the cage, it had injured its mouth by trying to chew its way out.

At that moment, the sick lion happened to turn its head; it saw Brave Heart, and simply stared at him for a few moments. Then it began to growl, a low rumble that reminded Brave Heart of a wooden spoon being scraped against a washboard.

"Easy, fella…not gonna hurt ya…" Brave Heart whispered, reaching for his camera. The lion didn't understand him…and it didn't trust him. It got to its feet and began to pace as well as it could in such a small space. The lion turned broadside, trying to appear bigger, and it roared twice as it made swipes at the bars. Brave Heart got several good pictures before he felt rough hands grabbing his arms.

"Huh?"

The camera was wrenched from his paws, and whoever had a grip on him brought the camera crashing down on his head.

"Uh!" he collapsed in a heap, and the lion froze again.

The Ringmaster seized Brave Heart by the tail, and dragged him away. Brave Heart had gotten several good shots, but it had all been for nothing. The pictures were gathered up and destroyed, and Brave Heart was left to recover in a tiny cage. Meanwhile, all shows were canceled; the Circus was preparing to leave town early.

Regal Heart happened to glance at Take Care Bear's wall clock, and her eyes widened. "Four o'clock?!"

"Hmm?" Stellar Heart jumped a bit.

"He should have been back hours ago!" Regal cried, jumping to her feet.

"You don't think something's happened, do you?" asked Take Care.

"I don't know, but I'm going down there." She replied. "Sorry to leave you like this, Stellar Heart, but—"

"I'm coming too." he said quietly. Regal Heart had told him and Take Care about Brave Heart's mission, and now he felt guilty. Regal Heart, too concerned with her brother's safety to argue, only nodded.

Take Care stood up too. "I have to stay here, but if he's hurt send up a distress signal; don't move him. I'll be watching."

Brave Heart woke up to just about the worst headache he'd ever experienced. He tried to open his eyes, but the light seemed to slice right through his skull. "Ohhh…" he rolled over, blinking back tears of pain, and covering his eyes with his left paw. His fingers encountered something sticky and damp, and judging from the metallic smell in the air and a sort of trickling feeling on the side of his face, that tacky stuff was blood. His blood. Stifling a wave of nausea, he cracked open one eye, still shielding his face with his paw. He was alone.

"Unh!" he pushed himself up on his elbows, and force himself to squint at the lock. The keyhole was facing away from him, so he couldn't tell what sort of key to make with his tummy symbol. Also, there was no Little Star Buddy to pick the lock this time. He sank back down on the straw, and closed his eyes in defeat. "Help me…" he whispered, trembling and shielding his eyes again from the piercing light. Though it rarely happened, Brave Heart Lion was afraid. "True Heart…someone…Regal…"

He tensed up at the sound of approaching footsteps, and tried to feign unconsciousness.

"I know you're not sleeping. I heard you moving around."

Brave Heart opened his eyes reluctantly, and looked up. The man grinned, and held up a broken camera.

"You're a Care Bear, aren't you?" the man asked, sneering nastily.

"Care Bear Cousin…actually…" Brave Heart swallowed hard. "What're you gonna do to me?"

"Well, I think I'll keep you until I find my missing tiger again. You know…I don't like being spied on. And I also don't like meddlers. I think you need to learn a—"

"Hold it right there!"

The Ringmaster turned at the sound of a woman's voice, but found himself face-to-face with two Care Bear Cousins, one of which was a rather sick-looking tiger.

"Who are you?" he asked them, laughing derisively.

Regal Heart grinned back. "I'm your worst nightmare; a girl with a temper, which I'm just this close to losing. Now, if you'll just free my brother and lock yourself in that cage, I'll promise not to get too angry."

The Ringmaster folded his arms. This was just too precious for words. "You know, you've got a very big mouth."

Regal Heart's grin vanished, and she sighed. "All right…you asked for it."

Stellar Heart gulped, not knowing what she had in mind. "Are you…"

Regal closed her eyes, and her tummy symbol glowed briefly before a jet of rainbow colors slammed into the Ringmaster, knocking him backwards. A split second later he tried to throw a punch at her, only to find that his hands were tied securely behind him. "You'll pay for that!" he roared. Regal dodged to her left as he ran at her, and stuck out her leg, tripping him. Because he out-weighted her by at least one hundred and thirty pounds, she went down as well.

"Sis!"

"Regal Heart!"

"I'm okay…" she gasped, dodging a kick, and jumping on the man's back. "Stellar! Help me hold him down so I can get the key!"

"Oh…" he blinked once, then went to help her. It felt strange, being the one in control, and not the other way around. This man had caused him so much pain, but now he couldn't explain what he felt. He was torn between wanting to punish the Ringmaster, and wanting to ask Regal to go easy on him.

Meanwhile, Regal Heart got the keys and unlocked Brave Heart's cage. She dragged him to his feet, and he promptly threw up on the straw. "Oh!" Regal Heart rubbed his back, "Oh, that's a shame…"

"I'm…I'm fine…" Brave Heart said hoarsely. The three of them dragged the Ringmaster over to the cage, and he fought all the way.

"I'm not going in there! He threw up in there!"

Stellar Heart's expression hardened, and he gave a low growl. "You deserve far worse!" He slammed the cage door and locked it, oblivious to his comrades' shocked stares.

Regal cleared her throat. "Um…Stellar Heart…you do realize it's not our place to punish him, right? This is just so that he can't run when the police get here." She Called a damp cloth, and began to wipe some of the blood from her brother's face.

"I know…just give me a minute alone with him."

Brave Heart looked at his sister, and they both nodded and said, "Okay." Regal and Brave Heart went outside to call the police, sister supporting brother.

Stellar Heart stood facing the cage, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Well? What do you want, you little cuss?" demanded the Ringmaster with as much dignity as he could muster in his present position.

"Don't you recognize me?" Stellar Heart spread his arms wide.

"No."

"Lysander?" Stellar Heart narrowed his eyes. "Ah…now you know me; I can see it."

"You little…how…" he gulped, staring at this tiny tiger. "How'd you get out? And how'd you get like…like that?"

"I can't explain. The point is I did." He took a deep breath, and shook his head in disbelief. "How could you? We…we bent over backwards to keep money in your pockets and food on your plate, and…"

"Oh, that's it. Cry! Only think of yourself, go ahead! You're no better than the human ingrates who work for me…"

Stellar Heart accidentally sent a Cousin Call at him that knocked him out before he was able to rein in his temper. How had he done that? He stood trembling for a moment with his paw over his mouth, and finally he shook his head slowly from side to side. He jumped as something touched his shoulder, but it was only Regal Heart; she had seen his Call, and wasn't sure what to expect.

"What happened?" she asked gently.

He stared at her for a moment, ashamed of his attack, and heartsick from the man's cruel words. He turned and tried to escape, only to find himself facing Brave Heart. "I…I didn't mean…" he stammered, backing away in fear of punishment.

"Easy." Brave Heart calmly told him, "He's not hurt."

"What did he say to you?" asked Regal.

"I…" Stellar Heart's nerve finally crumbled, and he turned his back on them and burst into tears, covering his face with his paws.

"Oh…" Regal Heart went over to him, and gave him a much-needed hug. Brave Heart stood there for a moment with his mouth hanging open, then he went over to them and gave the tiger a little pat on the back.

"Easy, buddy…he won't hurtcha again." He said, "The police will put a stop to him for good. Now calm down."

"Why'd he do this?"

"Shhh…" Regal Heart rubbed his back, and said, "It'll be okay, don't you worry. But right now we have to leave. They'll be here any minute, and neither of you is up to answering questions right now."

He sniffled, and forced himself back under control, swallowing hard.

"There ya go." Regal smiled and led them to her Cloudmobile. The police arrived just after they rose above the clouds.

Stellar Heart said not a word during the entire drive. Brave Heart opened his mouth several times to talk to him, but he didn't know what to say. There really wasn't much else they could do but be there.

Take Care Bear came running out to meet them, took one look at Brave Heart's injury, and said with a touch of annoyance, "I told you not to move him."

"We had no choice," said Regal, glancing at Stellar Heart, "I'll explain later."

Take Care saw how upset the tiger was, and nodded. "All right. C'mon, Brave Heart." She led him into her clinic, leaving Regal Heart and Stellar Heart by themselves.

Regal and Stellar sat down on Take Care's porch swing, and the tiger began to cry again; he couldn't help it. He doubled over with his fists pressed against his forehead and let himself go. To his credit, he was quiet about it. He flushed red with embarrassment, but he couldn't hold it back.

Regal Heart immediately put an arm around his shoulders, and let him lean against her. "That's right," she told him, "let it out. We're safe at home now, so you can. Just let it all out…"

"But why?" he sobbed, "Why'd he d-do it?"

"Well…" she sighed, "It's a hard truth, but there's a lot of people in this world who…mistreat animals. Some are genuinely ignorant…but a lot of them are cruel, like that man down there."

"He…he's not a man…he's a m-monster!"

"Well, he's not getting away with it. They got him, Stellar Heart…and they wouldn't have even known, if we hadn't found you. You played an important role in this. You should be proud of yourself." She told him.

"But I…attacked him! Should I be proud of that?"

She looked down, and said, "I don't know…but I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing. He wasn't hurt; he was only stunned. Don't worry about it, okay?"

He turned towards her for a hug, careful to keep his burned paws from coming into contact with anything, and she held him close.

"It's okay…everything's okay now…"

Even so, it was a good ten minutes before he was able to stop. When she began to lean away, he tightened his grip on her and shut his eyes tight. "Please…not yet. Please, don't leave me…"

"Okay." she nodded, putting a paw on the side of his head and pressing his cheek to her shoulder. He gave one more choking sob, and closed his eyes. After his nearly-sleepless night he was exhausted, and in a matter of moments he had dozed off.

"Poor guy…" sighed Brave Heart, having just peeked out the window. "He didn't deserve any of it."

"What happened to him?" asked Take Care, who was getting together a meal for the four of them.

"I'm not sure what all happened, but I know they starved him. And if the condition of that lion I saw means anything, they did more than that." he shook his head, and sighed again. "If you could've seen his face today when he faced that guy…man, he was terrified."

"Hmm…but he did face him." Take Care pointed out as she stirred the spaghetti sauce. "That's promising."

"Yeah…but in the meantime, he's a wreck…he's crying."

"That's to be expected." Returned Take Care, "After all that's happened, of course he's upset. It'll take some time, but he'll be okay."

"I hope so." Brave Heart said as he stretched out on the couch. He groaned a bit from the pain in his head, and closed his eyes.

Finally supper was ready. Take Care went outside, and tapped Regal Heart on the shoulder. "Soup's on." She said, ducking back in.

"Okay." Regal nodded, and gave Stellar Heart a gentle nudge. "Wake up…dinner's ready."

He opened his eyes and blinked a bit, then drew a hitching breath and yawned. "Okay…I'm sorry about…you know…" he looked away.

"Hey, don't you dare apologize." She said gently, tilting his head up so that she could look him in the eye. "Okay? You had every right to cry. Crying isn't a bad thing as long as there's a good reason."

"No?"

"No. Come on…you're hungry, aren't you?" she stood up, and he slowly did the same.

"Always."

Stellar Heart didn't talk much during the meal, but he seemed to be feeling better. His appetite certainly wasn't effected by all that had happened to him; he had three large helpings of spaghetti, and he actually smiled a bit when Take Care jokingly warned him that he might explode.

"Boy…" Brave Heart grinned at him, "We'll have to roll you out the door! Are you even tasting that?"

Stellar Heart raised an eyebrow, and eyed Brave Heart's plate. "This coming from someone who took six meatballs?" He gave a startled jump when they began to laugh, but then he realized the humor in it, and smiled again. He didn't really feel like laughing yet, but his new friends took his little smiles as a good thing.

That night, Regal Heart walked him to his house again. "Will you be okay?" she asked him.

He considered the question for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, I think so."

"You sure?" she asked as his house became visible in the distance.

He smiled. "Thanks to you, I will be. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there…"

Regal Heart blushed under the praise, and looked down. "Oh, I think you would've been all right in time. You have a strong spirit."

"I do?"

"Mm-hmm. You're still able to smile after everything that's happened to you. I don't know too many people who could do that." she said.

Now it was his turn to blush. "Well…" he shrugged, and looked the other way. "Boy…this is all so new to me…sometimes I'm not quite sure how to react to some things."

"I know the feelin'…Even among nice people like these, it's tough to be the newbie. I've only been here a year, myself…"

"Yeah…" he nodded as they approached his front door. He had no idea why, but his heart was suddenly racing. He fisted his paws to hide the fact that they were shaking, and swallowed hard, almost choking because his mouth was so dry. They halted at his door, and he noted with some surprise that Regal Heart just stood there, not saying a word. "Um…" he turned to face her.

She was just standing there, looking at him, and he saw that she was just as nervous as he was, if not more so. He swallowed hard again, and said shakily, "I think something is wrong with me…it's here…" he put his paw to his heart.

Regal Heart smiled, and his heart beat even faster, though that hardly seemed possible. "No, there's nothing wrong with you. Not unless there's something wrong with me."

"Wh…what do you mean?"

"This…" she said quietly, putting a paw to his cheek, and leaning in close. She kissed him gently, but quickly pulled back when a drop of something salty and wet slipped between them. It was a tear…and it hadn't come from her. "I…I'm so sorry…"

She turned to go, but he stopped her, grasping her shoulders gently. "No, please…what was that?"

"Huh? You mean what I did? Um…that was a kiss…You…you do it when you love someone…" she blushed.

He smiled gently down at her, and said, "Um…do it again?"

"Are you sure? I mean, if it made you—"

He cut her off with a kiss of his own, and she forgot what she was going to say. He stepped back again, rubbing his eyes and grinning like an idiot. "I don't know why I was crying this time…I wasn't sad or scared; I was happy. Strange, huh?"

She shook her head, laughing a little. "I don't think it's strange at all. Besides, you're still getting used to everything, so of course you'd be a bit overwhelmed at times."

He nodded thoughtfully, and sighed. "How…how do you think I should deal with everything?"

"Best I can tell you is just be yourself." She winked, stroking his heek once with her paw. "Night, Tiger."

"Night…" he turned and went inside, walking on clouds both literally and figuratively.

Stellar Heart was so tired that he slept past noon. What finally woke him up was his doorbell. He yawned, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and got out of bed. He slowly ambled towards his front door, scratching his belly and blinking as he fought the urge to crawl back into bed. The doorbell rang again, and he laid his ears back. "Be right there." He called out, trying not to sound annoyed.

Apparently he was unsuccessful, because when he opened the door and found Brave Heart and Regal Heart standing there, their expressions were doubtful.

"Um…hi." He said lamely.

"Hey." Brave Heart replied. "Sorry, we thought you'd be up by now."

"Oh, no…" Stellar Heart waved a paw, "Don't worry about it. Um…come in." He stepped aside to let them pass, trying not to look directly at Regal Heart.

Brave Heart had a rolled up newspaper, and he was grinning and tapping it against his palm.

Stellar Heart's eyes flicked apprehensively in the lion's direction, and he asked, "Um…that's not for me, is it?"

"No, it's for her!" Brave Heart turned and bopped his sister on the head with it, laughing.

"Hey!" she giggled, taking it from him and letting it unroll. "We thought you'd want to see today's paper." She handed it to Stellar Heart.

"Um…" he stared at the front page, and his ears rotated back again. There was a picture of a circus tent on the front page, but… "Ahem…do you…could you tell me what it says?"

"Oh, of course!" Regal Heart took the paper from him, looking a bit embarrassed. "Sorry about that. Ahem… 'Big Problems At The Big Top…The disappearance of Lysander, the three-year-old bengal tiger, has had authorities on the lookout for a dangerous wild beast. However, it seems that the real danger is to be found with the tiger's former caretakers. Richard Savage, the Ringmaster of this three ring Circus, will be charged with several counts of cruelty to animals. All of the animals were confiscated, and those that could be were sent to animal sanctuaries in Los Angeles. Savage has refused to comment, but there is little question as to his guilt in the treatment of these animals. One major blow against Savage is the condition of Demetrius, the seven-year-old African lion. Said animal was emaciated, and barely able to walk. It is uncertain whether or not he will survive. Lysander is believed to be dead, but as no body has been found, authorities urge you to venture out of your homes as little as possible, and to be off the streets before dusk.' Well, that's the important bit." Regal Heart grinned at him, "The rest of it's legal mumbo-jumbo, but it made the front page."

Stellar Heart was looking down at the floor, and he wasn't smiling. He rubbed the bridge of his nose with a forefinger, and sighed.

"Are you okay?" asked Regal Heart, her forehead creased with concern.

"Yeah…I'm just glad it's over." He looked up again, and their eyes met. He caught himself in the middle of goofy grin, glanced at Brave Heart, and forced a blank expression onto his face.

Brave Heart, however, was busy reading the paper and hadn't noticed.

"Well…now what happens?" asked Stellar Heart, shifting uneasily in his seat.

"Lunch happens." Said Brave Heart, grinning and tossing the newspaper to his sister's lap. "We're taking you down to Earth to celebrate!"

"You don't have to…"

"Nah, we want to." Brave Heart stood up. "Unless you'd rather not, that is…You kinda had a busy few days…"

Stellar's stomach growled loudly, and all eyes turned to his belly. "Er…I didn't say I didn't want to…that is…Sure." He gave a little half-smile, and he even joined them when they began to laugh.

"C'mon, you!" Regal Heart took his paws, and pulled him to his feet.

They ended up going to the same Pizza Hut as before, and wonder of wonders, they had the same waitress.

"Whoa, I can't believe you came back!" she crowed as she took their order. "Good to see you, Sugar-Pie. At least you're a harmless tiger, not like that one that's on the loose."

Stellar Heart looked up, uncomfortable with having a human so close to him, but at the same time he thought he should say something. "Um…I'm him."

The girl's jaw dropped. "No way! You're Lysander?!"

"No." he said, gently but firmly, "My name's Stellar Heart now."

"I see…" she smiled at him. "All things considered, I can see why you needed to get away…So, how do you like your new home?"

The tiger gave a half-grin, and said in a rare moment of humor, "It's sooo stellar!"

"Stand By Me"

When the night has come

And the land is dark

And the moon is the only light we see

No, I won't be afraid

Oh, I won't be afraid

Just as long as you stand

Stand by me

Darlin' darlin' stand by me

Oh, stand by me

Oh stand, stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon

Should tumble and fall

Or the mountain

Should crumble to the sea

I won't cry, I won't cry

No, I won't shed a tear

Just as long as you stand

Stand by me, and

Darlin' darlin' stand by me

Oh, stand by me

Oh stand, stand by me, stand by me

Whenever you're in trouble

Won't you stand by me, oh stand by me

Stand by me

Stand by me