That year, the Dong Zhi Festival at the Jade Palace ended up a rather larger event than anyone might have reasonably expected for a winter solstice celebration that was usually more of an excuse for a family gathering than anything else, but in retrospect, Po could only wonder why nobody had thought of it before, and hope they did it again next year. Because any festival that ended in a food fight, with Master Shifu on one side and the Furious Five on the other, specifically Po's side, his Dad cheering them all on with tears of pride in his eyes and Tai Lung spitting jeers at all of them from his bed which someone had helpfully moved into the courtyard so he would not be left out of the festivities? MOST AWESOME THING EVER. Po could only imagine the fun they would have next year, when Tai Lung would be free from his full-body cast and able to join in for real. (Assuming that he was in fact over his snit about the Dragon Scroll and not actually cursing them because he couldn't beat them all up and burn down the Jade Palace in his current condition, that is.)
It had started quietly enough. After the euphoria and congratulations for his dramatic victory over Tai Lung finally died down, Po had begun to feel somewhat guilty about having accidentally broken the legendary Urn of Whispering Warriors, especially as the palace geese were having trouble finding the last few shards to piece it back together in the midst of the other repairs going on in the palace, and Zeng had found a mysterious note in Master Oogway's writing about how important it was to restore the Urn to its original condition as soon as possible. The kitchen pigs were starting to whisper about strange sounds and shadows in the kitchen in the night, and food had gone missing.
(And no, the sounds and shadows and missing food were definitely not Po, honest - at least, not all of them - he was in the gardens (not stealing!) picking winter dates to share with the others four of the times it happened. He'd even managed to find Monkey and give him some before he finished all the dates, once. All right, it was two dates, but he really did mean to share them, he just hadn't noticed how many he'd eaten.)
A week before Dong Zhi, Viper's aged parents arrived and were settled with all honour in a quiet set of rooms in the warmest wing of the Jade Palace by Shifu himself, Viper hovering anxiously by his shoulder, after which no one saw head or tail of Viper for the rest of the week.
The day after Viper's parents came, two bunnies, who had been in the orphanage with Tigress, came to visit as well, for some reason - Tigress didn't recognise them, and they seemed rather nervous of her and hardly ever appeared in the same room as her, preferring to wander about the Jade Palace and its grounds at night. They called themselves Hazel and Bigwig (though they were not very good at answering to the names most of the time), and if Po hadn't known better, he would have thought they were actively trying to avoid her, even. But knowing how terrified the other orphans had been of Tigress, Po was very deeply moved that Hazel and Bigwig had felt a bond of kinship with Tigress strongly enough to come to spend this holiday with her.
Then, on the following day, Po's Dad closed the noodle shop ("just for the festival, Po, I know you don't want to leave your friends, and I want a holiday from the business anyway,") and Crane helped Po put in an extra bed in Po's room for him. His weekly game of chess with Shifu became a daily game, and the rest of the time he spent in the kitchen making tofu with a wistful yet determined look on his face.
Two days before the festival, a rather grizzled and scarred bunny from Monkey's old village joined them and looked somewhat oddly at the bunny brothers who had come for Tigress as though he knew them. Po thought it would be simply amazing and wonderfully appropriate if they somehow discovered they were actually long-lost relatives and were reunited at this festival of all times, and said as much to the bunny brothers, but they did not seem to like the idea very much, especially the younger one, who was almost as big as a hare and turned his nose up at the grizzled bunny every time the brothers passed him in the hallways. Still, not long after that, Po saw the three bunnies whispering heatedly in a corner of the gardens, and thought proudly that the idea might be growing on them somewhat. Considering the growing crowd of people gathering in the Jade Palace, Po spent the last day looking out hopefully for Crane or Mantis's friends or family to put in an appearance between madly rushed stints in the kitchen helping his dad prepare his Secret Ingredient Soup for the festive dinner, but no more people turned up, and indeed, the palace geese and pigs were beginning to leave to rejoin their own families in the Valley of Peace below, and Po felt just a little bit disappointed. And still guilty, because the legendary Urn of Whispering Warriors persisted in being just one little chip short of being repaired.
And then it was finally time for The Dinner. They set up tables in the courtyard, and though no one had planned out seating, everyone found a place they were happy with, with a minimum of shoving. There were sparklers, unseasonal but no one cared, rightly, because sparklers were pretty awesome things at any time, and everyone had glutinous rice balls in sweet broth, and there were his dad's noodles, and dumplings, and really, lots of food, and Viper doing a really awesome ribbon dance, and then someone got the bright idea to carry Tai Lung's bed into the courtyard so he could be part of the celebrations, and Tigress stuck a sparkler on Tai Lung's head (the metaphorical fireworks that came of that were way more impressive than the sparkler, Po thought), and in the middle of all this a young girl had somehow made her way past the guards at the gate to the main table, and said to Master Shifu, "Master Shifu, I am your daughter."
Several things happened together then. Tai Lung hissed. Tigress crushed her chopsticks into splinters. Crane choked on a dumpling. Monkey fell off his chair. Viper, frozen in mid-twirl on one end of the table, tangled herself into a knot. And Master Shifu, reeling back and looking as though he'd been struck on the head, gasped out, "THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE." The "NOOOOOO!" normally associated with that went unsaid, but everybody heard it anyway, and Mantis, antennae twitching eloquently, looked from the girl to Master Shifu and back, then said what everyone was clearly thinking.
"The resemblance is undeniably striking. But surely not."
The girl looked around at all their disbelieving faces. "But that's what my mama told me," she tried, and received no better response. Then she burst out into sobs. Po felt his heart go out to her. She was really rather pretty - tiny and fluffy like Master Shifu, with the same ringed tail and dark mask across her eyes on a sharp little face, just black and grey where Master Shifu was mostly red and cream.
"Guys, that's kind of mean," Po said, and went around the table to pat her back soothingly, but she only sobbed harder. The others all looked guilty but unconvinced. For some reason, Master Shifu kept looking from Po to his Dad and back, and his Dad was shaking his head slightly, as though telling Master Shifu something.
"Child," said Master Shifu at last, carefully putting a hand on her shoulder in a very awkward and not at all paternal gesture. "I really am not your father."
The girl searched Master Shifu's face for long moments with huge, watery eyes, then wailed. "My-my mama's dead, and she wanted me to go find my papa, and, and..." she looked at him again, consideringly, seemed to think of something, then collected herself and went on, "I'm sorry. I just really wanted it to be you, Master Shifu. Please forgive me?"
Master Shifu's expression softened by an infinitesimal degree, and Po cheered a tiny cheer in his heart. Of course he knew Master Shifu was really a big softie inside... very, very, very deep inside, but a softie, without question. "All right. You can stay and share dinner with us tonight, but only tonight, do you understand?"
The tension slowly eased as everyone turned their attention back to whatever they were doing before the interruption, and Po plonked himself down beside her, trying to comfort her. "What's your name? I'm Po."
She smiled shyly up at him. "I know, you're the Dragon Warrior. You're my hero! I'm called Zhu." Zhu looked around them, then leaned in conspiratorially. "Do you think you could let me into the Sacred Hall of Warriors, please? I always wanted to see all the amazing treasures inside."
"NO," snapped Tigress from behind them, making them both start guiltily. Tigress had crushed another pair of chopsticks. "The Sacred Hall of Warriors is not a place for casual visitors!"
"Oh," Po said, guiltily, though he wasn't really considering taking Zhu to see the treasures, really, because though they were very awesome indeed, he hadn't forgotten about the missing bit of the legendary Urn of Whispering Warriors, not at all, no. "Of course not! We were just talking about how, how great the Sacred Hall of Warriors is, and I was totally going to say how important it is to keep it sacred and, uh, not broken, right, Zhu?"
There was no reply. Po looked around, and saw that Zhu had backed very far away, obviously in terror of the angry Tigress, which was a very sensible thing to be, but then suddenly, the shadows moved strangely, and then Zhu was standing with a knife over the grizzled bunny from Monkey's village, who just looked furious and not at all as shocked as everyone else. "Zhu! What are you doing?"
Zhu laughed, and her eyes were terrifyingly black and beady. "Absolutely right, Po. Now take me to the Sacred Hall of Warriors, or the bunny gets it. Or better yet, just bring me the Dragon Scroll."
"No...!" Po breathed in horrified understanding, then winced, realising it was really not the right thing to say under the circumstances. "I mean, I- I thought you..." Around the courtyard, Po noted, the Furious Five were readying themselves, poised to move the instant Zhu let her guard down. Hazel and Bigwig had overturned their table and were crouched behind it, looking surprisingly dangerous and ready to fight as well, even though Hazel was only holding a flask of water in one hand and a small black book in the other, and Bigwig had apparently armed himself with the salt-shakers.
"That will not be necessary, young ones. Here, you may have the Dragon Scroll." They all looked up in disbelieving astonishment at the voice as a scroll flew through the air and landed in Zhu's hands. She looked down at it, letting out a triumphant cry, and in the instant everyone turned to see Master Oogway standing silhouetted in the kitchen window as he placidly chewed on a spinach leaf, she was gone.
"I don't believe you gave it to-" The grizzled bunny scrambled to his feet, glared at Master Oogway, and bounded off after Zhu. Master Oogway raised a hand slowly, but the gesture and long-accustomed respect was enough to restrain everyone from joining in the pursuit.
Master Shifu staggered to his feet and approached Master Oogway as slowly as a tortoise himself. "Master Oogway. We all thought you were- How could you- "
Master Oogway looked beatific, or as beatific as anyone could look while chewing on spinach. Which was quite beatific, actually. "If I had remained with you, how would know you did not need me? Mmm, needs more salt." A salt-shaker flew out and hit Master Oogway, who continued to chew his spinach in a completely awesome and unflapped way. "Too much salt," he observed. Po felt his heart swell with joy, and saw that Master Shifu and the Furious Five were quietly wiping away tears, and Tai Lung's tail, the only part of him not in a cast, was twitching almost spasmodically. It really was Master Oogway. Master Oogway was alive.
Then another salt-shaker flew out and hit Master Oogway, followed by Hazel's flask of water. "It's not working, Dim!" hissed Bigwig, his voice too loud and carrying in the silence.
Hazel flipped through his black book rapidly even as everyone turned to stare at them instead. "Sum, do you remember the spell for exorcising ghosts?"
"How dare you show Master Oogway such disrespect," growled Tigress, advancing on the bunny brothers, who backed away, looking wary and intimidated. Monkey had grabbed a staff and was moving to flank them, only for both of them to be pulled up short when a large almond jelly flew past them and splatted into quivering pieces on Master Shifu's face.
"Food fights are never disrespectful," announced Master Oogway placidly into the stunned hush that followed.
Everyone looked to Master Shifu for their cue. He wiped his face slowly, and smacked his hand on the table. Po recognised that move, and was able to duck when Master Shifu leapt up and sent dumplings and glutinous rice balls flying in every direction with a deceptively easy-looking twist of his flute. But even he was dumbstruck when his Dad jumped right up on the table after Master Shifu, squawked "THIS MEANS WAR!" and launched a bowl of noodles at Master Oogway.
In the chaos that ensued, by the time they ran out of food and anyone recovered enough sense to notice, the bunny brothers were gone.