Merry Christmas, summerotaku!
Rating/Warnings: Low-T overall; this chapterK+; Light swearing
Word Count: ~ 4200
Character(s): Dick Grayson, Wally West, Artemis Crock, Zatanna, with almost everyone else.
Summary: Wally has a kitten-sized Robin problem.
Disclaimer (if applicable): No theoretical animals were harmed in the making of this fic. I don't own anything.
Furious knocking from the Cave's side entrance.
Artemis warily put her hand on the doorknob to the hidden door by the garage and pressed her ear against the metal: she only heard the pounding of the storm outside. Only a handful of people even knew about this entrance, and among those, even fewer would want to use it.
Her cautious question was probably inaudible above the twilight deluge. More furious knocking. The heroine frowned and took a defensive position as she slowly pulled open the thick wooden door.
But it was just Wally - a soaking, dripping wet Wally, hair plastered to his forehead - looking back at her through the thin crack. His bloodshot eyes had a decidedly un-Wally glint of desperation in them.
"What are you …?"
He balked a little when he saw the svelte blonde archer inside, like he didn't expect or really want to see her, but his expression melted almost as fast when he held up something he'd been cradling in the crook of his arm.
"Help," he choked out. He looked like he may have been crying, but Arty couldn't tell in the rain.
In his hands, he held a tiny, bedraggled black kitten. It was unconscious.
Megan gently levitated the small furry form just over her knees on the couch in the rec room, telekinetically petting it, searching for any sign of injury. Artemis patiently unfolded a big, fluffy towel - rather, 'the fluffiest towel they had', at Wally's insistence - and slid it over Miss Martian's knees underneath the cat.
The fridge door slammed; Artemis looked back over her shoulder at the speedster. He was considerably dryer - a towel, draped lopsidedly over his head and shoulders,snagged on his Flash ear-cups on his pulled back cowl. He was also no longer buzzing around the edges like he was going to rattle to pieces any second. Now he was just pawing frenetically through the cabinets like normal.
"So, Wally," Artemis cleared her throat. "You said something about this being Robin?"
"What? I didn't say that." Wally pointedly didn't make eye contact with the girls as he pulled out another box of cereal. "It's clearly just a cat."
"I distinctly remember -"
"I was jus' 'ungry," he interrupted a little too loudly, drowning out the rest of her sentence. "Wann't thinkin' straigh'," he babbled on through mouthful of milk and something that looked like rocks. "I mean, how could it be Robs? It's like a fraction of his mass! Where did the other 90% of himgo?"
Wally turned around and smirked at her, finishing up his latest spoonful. "Or are you just not a fanof the conservation of matter?'
Artemis threw up her hands. "I wasn't -
"Augh, is this Grape Nuts?" The redhead grimaced as he realized what he was eating. "Who even bought this?"
"I wasn't the one who said that the cat was -"
"Don't we have any more energy bars?"
By now the speedster was on his second box of cheese and crackers, his fifth bowl of cereal - the Grape Nuts had evaporated regardless - and had drained the fridge of orange juice. When he went for the beef stew that Artemis and M'gann were making before he arrived, though, Artemis got up and smacked his hand away.
"That's for everyone," she scolded. "This is out of control even for you. What is going on?"
"B'in runnin.'" Wally growled through a bite of Mars bar. Pause, chew, swallow, forage. "... for three and a half hours."
Artemis's eyes widened in surprise. "Where -"
"- around, okay?" Wally snapped.
"Well, it's clearly alive," Miss Martian piped up from the other side of the counter, setting the unconscious cat down on her lap. "I don't see any obvious injuries, but -"
Wally leapt over the couch and bent over the furry animal, wringing his hands a little bit. "Are you sure? Positive? Why isn't he - er, it- waking up?"
"Awfully worried about this not-Robin cat," Artemis observed dryly.
"Can't I - can't I be concerned for a fellow mammal?" A smattering of forks crashed to the floor as Wally was suddenly on the other side of the room, digging through the silverware. "Crap."
"Then we should just call a vet."
"Oh? Why not?"
Wally flitted back and forth, struggling to articulate any words at all through a sixth candy bar, waving a knife in one hand.
Artemis cocked an eyebrow.
"Look, that's not the point." Wally glared at her as he tossed the half-eaten Milky Way by the sink and started to fiddle with something looped diagonally across his chest, half hidden by the towel. Robin's utility belt.
Artemis frowned. "So where isRobin, anyway? Why are you wearing his - "
"Robin's missing, okay?" Wally snarled at the utensil as he tried to wrench off one of the buttons on the belt. "Why else would I run around for three and a half hours - OW!"
The utility belt shocked him.
M'gann shifted the tiny cat, now wrapped in the towel, into the crook of her arm and walked over to gently place a hand on Wally's shoulder. "Wally, why don't you back up and tell us what happened."
Wally snapped the knife out of belt with a pop as he turned toward the Martian with a miserable look on his face. "I don't ... I don't know. I mean, we were just meeting up outside Gotham after patrol, and then - then Klarion shows up and starts bugging us and then, POOF!, Robin's just nowhere. He evaporated out of his clothes."
"So his clothes were still there?"
"Well, duh -"Wally hissed as the belt shocked him again. "- stupid thing -"
Artemis and Megan knitted their brows. "Duh"?
"And then Klarion booked it to some stupid other dimension, but I just …" Wally still rattled on, faster and faster, prying at the buckle. "I looked for hours, and I think I covered all of Gotham and Metropolis - "
"So, where did the cat come from?" Megan tilted her head. "Did Klarion give any clues where he might have sent -?"
"Waitwaitwait," Artemis interrupted, "You stopped looking for Robin - to take care of a cat - when he's out there naked?"
ZAAAPPPP! "OW, DAMMIT, AND NO." Wally strode up to Artemis nose to nose, knife still sticking awkwardly from one of the grooves in Robin's belt. "Klarion didn't SAY where he was sending Robin. He said that he would turn Robin into a cat and then he did."
The belt chose that moment to release a small smoke bomb.
As the cloud dispersed around the coughing heroes, three tiny sneezes, all in a row, emerged from the towel. The friends' heads snapped to the creature in M'gann's arms as the cat wiggled its way out.
It blinked at them with startling, bright-blue eyes.
"Augh, f***!" Wally swore, leaning back and covering his face with his palms.
Megan and Arty exchanged confused shrugs as the speedster slumped over to the couch in defeat and flopped onto his back. Artemis thought she heard him mumbling "notRobs notRobs impossible notRobs" behind his hands .
Megan hovered over him. "Don't … it - it's okay, Wally. It's still probably just a cat."
"... Yeah." Artemis chimed in. "I mean, we haven't even checked if it's a boy -"
"No!" Wally sat up suddenly. "That's just … that's just rude."
"Well, if it isRobin," the blonde turned to Miss Martian, who had placed the disoriented cat on the counter and toweled it off, "maybe Megan can read its mind?"
"Hmmm." The jade girl bent over and, placing her fingers on the sides of its head, peered into the kitty's sapphire eyes. She closed her own eyes and concentrated.
Finally the cat mewed and pulled away, and M'gann shook her head. "Sorry, I don't … it seems like it's just a cat. But that could just mean there's a psychic shield or …?"
Wally sighed and looked up from fiddling with the belt. "Wait. Where'd it go?"
The cat had slid off the counter and was experimentally pawing at the refrigerator. It mewled again plaintively. The Martian brightened.
"Are you hungry, cutie?" She dug through the fridge and poured it a bowl of milk, which it rapidly lapped up. "Aw, just like on the eighth episode of That Show About The 80s!"
"See? Perfectly cat-like behavior," Artemis supplied. "Though you shouldn't give it milk. It might make it sick."
M'gann knit her brows and frowned.
"Tuna will work until we can get real cat food. This also doesn't solve the Robin problem."
The Martian returned to the fridge, and the tiny cat devoured the meat like it hadn't eaten in days. Arty crouched down over it and gently scratched its ears; it purred and pushed up into her touch. Wally shuddered and knit his brows as he shifted the belt around to try the buckle on the other side.
"Now that it's dry, it's pretty darn cute," the archer cooed at the soft grey and black kitty. "Look how fluffy you are." She slid her hand through its medium length fur. "I think it's part Siamese. Its face is darker than the rest of it, and look at those cute little dark feet."
"You're quite the cat person, Arty," Miss Martian commented.
"I guess," Artemis smiled wanly, thinking back with mixed feelings to the Cheshire Cat on her Alice In Wonderlandposter on her wall. She sighed and left the cat alone to its meal.
"Dammit," Wally said for many reasons, not the least of which was that he still couldn't get the belt off. "How did I even get this on? Wait. Where did it go again?"
The cat had apparated at the top of the couch above Wally, who still lounged on his back, wiggling the knife clumsily under one of the grooves in the large yellow buckle. It hopped down onto his torso and pushed its head underneath the hand holding the belt in place.
"Uhm," the speedster said. "Hi."
"Aw, it wants pets," M'gann giggled.
Wally awkwardly ran his hand down its back; the kitty made a strange sound and wandered up his chest. On its way, it stepped onto the belt carelessly … and the latch popped open and the belt slid apart. The furball sat down where the buckle had been and licked its paws, purring - smugly.
Wally's hands went to his face again. "Dammit -"
A deep breath.
" - it's Robs."
M'gann and Artemis settled on the couch while Wally slumped so low in the armchair beside them he practically slid onto the floor. They kept one wary eye the cat while he explored - over the tops of the couch, the top of the refrigerator, beams in the ceiling. He had an affinity for high places.
The kitty noisily navigated the tops of the pans hanging from the bottom of the cabinets: he hopped from sauce pan to sauce pan to a skillet and yowled as he lost his grip and landed on the stove. The friends looked up in alarm, but the cat just sniffed and stared them down for ten seconds before prancing off to bat at an abandoned pot holder next to the beef stew.
Artemis sighed and turned back to the miserable speedster. "I think Wally should go over this again," she said. "What exactly happened?"
"Well," Wally began, "We were fighting Klarion, right? And he was demanding to know where Dr. Fate's helmet was, blah blah. And of course I told him that I didn't have it." He paused awkwardly. "... and then I … maybe … said some things I shouldn't have …"
Both pairs of the girl's eyebrows shot up. "Like?"
Wally's head shrunk into his shoulders sheepishly. "I told him that I turned it into a flower pot," he whispered.
M'gann's mouth dropped open. The speedster grimaced and continued, "... and that I threw it away because the water kept leaking out of its eyes."
The shocked expressions on the girl's faces would be priceless under different circumstances.
Wally cleared his throat. "Uh, well, for some reason, this made him all mad - I swear the guy can't take a joke - and he said something about how I should be taught a lesson and that maybe I'd show magic some" - he made air quotes with his fingers - "'proper respect' once I was more uh, 'familiar' with it or something like that. Whatever that means."
M'gann shot Artemis a meaningful look, but before she could comment, the cat started winding his way in figure eights between her ankles, purring loudly. The psychic giggled and scooped him up.
"Soooo cute," she purred back as she pressed him to her cheek. The speedster narrowed his eyes dangerously, but the cat just gave Wally a pointed stare while M'gann cuddled him to her chest and pet his tummy. Artemis grinned and knelt beside the Martian to scratch behind his ears.
"Oooh, your tummy is so sooooft," the psychic smiled. "I just can't resist."
A weird, high, choked sound came from the other side of the room.
All three - M'gann, Artemis, and Robin - froze and stared at Wally. His eyes were wide; his lips were parted, and his cheeks were bright red.
"D - don't, er, p - please, uh …" Wally avoided eye contact with the girls again and balled his hands into fists at his sides.
Artemis's eyebrow crawled up her forehead and slid her hand down the cat's back again. "You can feel this?"
Wally glowered at her. "Mayb - may - look, just st-ttuhoooopp."
The grey kitty blinked, let out a noise that sounded like a snicker, and hopped into into Artemis's arms. The redhead's mouth dropped open.
Artemis grinned wickedly as she cradled the cat closer, rubbing his stomach gently. She nimbly dodged the significantly slowed speedster as he lunged for the oh-socomfortable kitty in her arms. The blonde rubbed behind his black-tipped ears until the cat went limp, and Wally doubled up on the floor, growling over Robin's motorboat purring.
Artemis threw her head back laughing at the squirming boy, and he took advantage of the momentary lull to jump for Robin and snag him from her hands by the nape of the neck. Robin's over-dramatic yowling brought a sleepy Conner out of his room.
"What is going on?" he mumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. M'gann explained the situation to him while Superboy scrutinized the complaining cat Wally held back.
"Huh. He looks part Balinese," the clone began. "They're Siamese bred for longer hair. The gray base color is highly unusual, however; they're usually blond beneath the darker markings. Also, he must have some white fur to have those eyes."
He walked over to the cat hanging from Wally's fingers, and without ceremony, cupped his hands under Robin's front legs and lifted him. The redhead stiffened.
"See? There's a little patch of white where his insignia would go. So apparently the magic follows genetic laws."
Everyone stared at Superboy, and a flush crawled up his cheeks. "What? I like animals."
He put Robin back down and patted him on the head; Robin started, and Wally rushed in to snatch him up again.
"Ok, that's just weird," Wally barked. Robin crawled up his arm to sit on his shoulder. "And you're not collecting another one."
An amused smile played at the corners of Conner's mouth.
The speedster exhaled sharply. "Look, I don't care what kind of cat he is -"
Artemis smirked, "I don't know, I kind of like him as a cat. At least he can't butcher the English language anymore."
Robin hissed out an objection and slid down into Wally's arms, rubbing against his hands. Wally rolled his eyes. "Funny, I'm becoming even moreof a dog person" - pointed look at Arty - "than I was before."
"Annnyway," he continued, absentmindedly scratching Robin behind the ears - "How are we going to fix this?"
The heroes exchanged thoughtful glances.
"I'm giving Kaldur a call," Conner announced.
"Thank God," Wally whined.
A half an hour later, the entire team - freshly showered as necessary - gathered around the television over the beef stew Megan and Artemis had started. Well, the team minus one cat who was busy playing with the wires behind the TV and running on top of the door and the ceiling beams.
"Geeze, Robs," Wally said, swallowing a morsel of seasoned carrots. "Get down here and listen."
Kaldur grinned and reached into his backpack. "I brought something that might help you get him to stay in one place."
He produced a long string of red yarn.
"Oh, awesome!" Wally grabbed it and dangled it from his fingertips in the prancing cat's direction. "Robiiiiiiiiiiiiin, look what I haaave," he sang.
The grey cat tossed his friend a bored look over his shoulder - and then froze, eyes fixated on the wiggling string. He crouched down, staring at it intently for a few flicks of his tail, and then launched himself at it.
"HA!" Wally jumped over the back of the couch, dragging the yarn along the floor. Robin was a flurry of paws as he chased after it, claws out, scratching and and nipping, trying to snag it.
The speedster just laughed and zipped back and forth: "Aw, am I too fast for you, kitty? Can't catch it?"
Conner rolled his eyes. "Great, now neither of them are paying attention."
Artemis sighed. "I don't suppose you brought enough yarn to just tie them both to the couch, have you?"
Kaldur just grinned and shrugged, hands in the air, and laughed at the two boys as they ran around the room. Wally finally tricked Robin into face planting off the kitchen counter.
"Hahahahaha, idiot," the redhead giggled as Robin spat at him and turned away sharply, sauntering back to the couch.
The cat leapt onto the cushion and began to groom his paws like he'd been doing that all day and never even cared about some stupid string. He glanced up condescendingly at Wally, string now limp and lonely in his hand, and meowed as if to say Geeze, don't be such a slacker, aren't you supposed to be listening to this?
Wally pouted and flopped down next to him. "Spoilsport."
The speedster grumpily tossed the string over Robin's head, and the kitty totallywasn't occasionally batting at it as he tried to pay attention. Or rolling on his back to play with the whole ball of yarn that Kaldur had passed to him.
The swimmer, meanwhile, had pulled out some old magical Atlantean manuscripts and was pouring over them; Conner helped skim the ones in more recent dialects. Eventually, though, Kaldur shook his head.
"What?" Wally worried. "Isn't there anything in there about turning people-cats back into people?"
"I don't think there's anything I can do," he sighed. "My powers - this is to say, most Atlantean magic - draw from elemental magic. We derive our sorcery from water, all the transformations we do revolve around water. I am not sure even our masters could help fix ..." He waved one hand at the cat who was tangling and untangling itself in the string. " … this."
"So we call Batman?" Conner asked.
"No way," said Wally. "I am not being sold upriver for getting Robin turned into a cat. It's just maaagic, guys. What is it now, Saturday night? We can handle by tomorrow afternoon, no problemo."
Everyone else shifted uncomfortably as Wally patted a purring, string-entangled Robin on the head.
"Fine, who specializes in transformations?" Artemis asked.
"I'm not sure it's that simple." Kaldur leaned forward and steepled his hands in front of his face. "Based on Klarion's comments and …"
Robin was winding his way in figure eights between Artemis's calves again; Wally was shivering and kicking uselessly in his direction to get him to stop. "Dude, I'm trying to pay attention."
"... that, I suspect that Robin is no ordinary-person-turned-into-a-cat. I think he may be Wally's familiar."
"Familiar?" Wally glanced up with a scowl on his face.
M'gann clapped once in agreement. "Me, too! Wally, it's very common for people with familiars to be able to experience what their familiar does. Like this."
As she ran her hand down Robin's back, the gray kitty stretched into it, and Wally suddenly found himself shutting his eyes and stretching at the phantom touch, too. He opened his lids half-mast and wore a lopsided, licentious grin.
"Welllll, I guess it could be worse. I mean, as long as it's in the right hands," he drawled. Robin snorted and wiggled away from Miss Martian. "Sooo, what exactly is a 'familiar', again, sweet cheeks?"
"It's your source of magic."
Wally coughed a laugh. "My what?"
"Familiars are a source of magical power. They're usually animals," Kaldur explained. "You can use them to cast spells."
"On the contrary, it's quite effective," he continued. "Depending on the familiar, all different kinds of magic spells can be made manifest."
Wally paled. "I don't have to throw him into a cauldron or feed him tail of newt or sacrifice him, do I?"
Kaldur laughed, low and deep. "Not at all. For example, Teekl is Klarion's familiar. She binds him to this plane, provides the energy for all of his spells and attacks. Don't you remember from your battle at Fate's tower? I understand that the tide turned only when Dr. Fate attacked Teekl directly."
"... yeah, I guess so. But still ..."
"It would explain why I can't read Robin's mind," Megan said. "Often familiars are protected from telepaths with a psychic shield. But you might be able to read it."
"Uh, okay?" Wally said reluctantly, crouching down to stare intently into his friend's electric blue eyes. Everyone held their breath.
"... wait. Wait a minute," he said. "He … he wants - "
The gray kitty reached up tentatively with one paw to Wally's nose -
"- he wants to shred all the toilet paper."
Robin hissed and scratched lightly down his cheek; Artemis groaned and rolled her eyes. "Can't you take this seriously, Wally? Your best friend is a cat."
"What?" Wally glared at Robin as he rubbed his face. "Was kinda drawing a blank there, since I can't read minds period."
"We don't need to figure all this out tonight, but we do need to get started on fixing it." Conner looked steadily at Kaldur, Artemis, and M'gann.
Kaldur gently rubbed his temples and looked up at his friends. "I think we need to talk to someone who handles generalized magic - terrestrial magic - who won't go straight to Batman."
"Zatanna?" suggested Artemis.
"Zatanna," everyone agreed in unison.