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Adoptabat

Chapter Text

“Wrench.” Mao Mao demanded, holding a hand out to the side.

Badgerclops, who was sitting off to the side with his lunch, reached into the tool bag nearby and placed the requested item in his friend’s waiting hand. Mao Mao took it and then disappeared back down into the confines of his bike’s engine. The sound of squeaking metal pieces followed as he worked. Badgerclops frowned as he turned his gaze from Mao Mao to the back of their vehicle, eyeing the oversized thruster had had been haphazardly attached in replacement of their perfectly good one. The more they worked on this project, the more Badgerclops was becoming convinced that it was a bad idea for multiple reasons. The only reason he wasn’t inside enjoying his new video game was because he was worried Mao Mao would get himself blown up working on this thing.

“Hey, uh, Mao Mao?” Badgerclops spoke with a mouth full of sandwich. “Not that I’m against cool tech and all, but uh…I just can’t help but feel this might not be the best upgrade for this thing.”

Mao Mao scoffed, poking his head out from his work with a teasing smile on his face. “Oh Badgerclops. Always so overcautious. There’s nothing to worry about, we’re just giving my baby a little more speed.”

“That may be the idea, but I don’t think that’s how it’s going to go down.” Badgerclops took another bite of his food. “Can’t you at least let me do it? I’m the one who-”

“No! This is my bike! My idea!” Mao Mao snapped, holding his hand out again. “Give me the bigger wrench.”

Badgerclops sighed, reaching into the toolbag again and held out another wrench. This time, Mao Mao retracted his hand before Badgerclops could hand it over, looking at the tool in disapproval.

“I said the bigger wrench, not the biggest wrench!” Mao Mao grumbled. “Come on, Badgerclops, work with me!”

Badgerclops dropped the wrench on the worktable in frustration. “There are better ways to identify tools, you know! Just admit it, you don’t even know what you’re doing in there!”

“I do know what I’m doing, because I am the owner of this vehicle, and I have experience working on it!”

“Fixing a flat tire and replacing a rocket booster are on two completely different levels! If it weren’t for me, you would’ve blown up ages ago!” Badgerclops folded his arms and turned his back towards Mao Mao.

Mao Mao narrowed his eyes dangerously, jabbing a finger at the badger. “You take that back!”

“Hey, don’t get mad at me! Truth is truth.”

“You know what, fine!” Mao Mao growled. “I don’t need you!”

Badgerclops’ one eye went wide and a hand flew to his mouth as he turned to gasp melodramatically at the hurtful words.

Mao Mao marched over to the worktable. “Gimme that toolbag! I’ll do it myself!”


Mao Mao reached out to grab the toolbag, but it was swiftly yanked away by Badgerclop’s metal arm.


“What-” Mao Mao sputtered as he watched Badgerclops hold the bag over his head.


“Nope. You are being rude and I’m not letting you hurt yourself.” The badger scowled.


“Badgerclops! Gimme that toolbag!”


The black cat jumped up towards the bag, which was well out of reach with his friend’s height and arm length combined to work against him. But just for good measure, Badgerclops extended his arm so that it reached even higher, keeping it safely out of Mao Mao’s reach. Mao Mao never liked being reminded that he was shorter than Badgerclops, but this was an extra potent insult to injury. The cat’s growl and the shade of red that had colored his face warned of dangerously high levels of anger.


“Badgerclops! Give it now!”


“Not until you apologize.”


“Wha-until I apologize!?” Mao Mao bared his teeth. “What about you!?”


“I don’t have anything to apologize for! You just don’t want to admit it!”


Mao Mao waved his hands as he screamed “I am not wrong! I am right and you are wrong! That’s it! You asked for it!”


Mao Mao leapt up with claws extended, sinking them into the sides of the metal arm, and reached up to climb towards the bag. Badgerclops hadn’t been expecting such a bold move, and looked at his friend with frustration as he grabbed the cat’s cape with his other arm.


“Really dude!? This is so not cool!” Badgerclops began tugging on the Mao Mao’s cape in an attempt to dislodge him. “Claws out of the arm!”


“Give my toolbag back and then you get your arm back!”


Badgerclops finally managed to get Mao Mao off his arm and the battle entered into the next level of ferocity; the two friends began going back and forth, wrestling with one another for the tools while trading insults and jabs that were growing louder and louder. The shouting had become so heated that they hadn’t even noticed when a stork dressed in a royal uniform, a messenger bag and glasses landed in their yard nearby. Normally, he would have walked up to the door and knocked, but he had noticed the cat and the badger arguing in the front yard long before he had even landed. The stork fixed his glasses with a grimace, considering if perhaps he should make up an excuse for being unable to finish this particular job.


No. They were starting to catch on to his excuses back at the office. Better just get it over with.


The stork nervously approached the fighting duo, clearing his throat before he spoke up.


“Um, excuse me.” He began.


Mao Mao and Badgerclops didn’t even hear the sweetie-pie, the uproar of their fight having drowned out his feeble voice.


The stork spoke louder “Excuse me!”


Mao Mao turned on the spot, towering over the newcomer and fully diverting his wrath to his new target.


“What do you want!?” Mao Mao roared.


The stork shrank back, sweating heavily and trembling in fear. “Uhhhh, begging your pardon. B-b-but I am here on-“


“I don’t care what you’re selling! We have enough of it, and we don’t need any more!”


Badgerclops stepped behind Mao Mao, placing a claw on his shoulder. “Dude, lighten up. The guy’s just doing his job.” He turned his attention to the stork with a friendly smile. “Forgive my friend, sir. He has yet to learn proper social etiquette.”


“What was that!?”


Badgerclops ignored his short, angry cohort. “How can we help you today?”


The stork, seeing there was at least one person that was willing to hear him out, regained his courage. “I am a messenger from his majesty’s royal courts. I come here today on account of some legal documentation.” The stork began, producing a clipboard and an ink quill from his bag. “I just have some adoption papers for sheriff Mao Mao to sign. If you could-“


“Fine, fine, just give it here and let’s get this over with!” Mao Mao spat.


Badgerclops stood off to the side, looking over Mao Mao’s shoulder with a concerned look. “Wait, did he just say adoption papers?”


The stork looked surprised as well “Wouldn’t you like to read over-“


“I don’t have time for that, I’m very busy right now! Now give me that!” Mao Mao swiped the clipboard and the pen from the stork's grasp.


“Woah, Mao Mao, hang on!”


“Shushshhshh!” Mao Mao silenced his friend as he began scribbling his signature across the paper.


The Stork craned his neck around to look over the paper. “Yes, and if you could sign here. And here. And right there. Alright, that’s good. Thank you.”


Mao Mao thrust the clipboard and feather back at the stork, who took them and placed them back in his bag.


“I’ll take these back to the castle and once they are filed, everything will be official! Congratulations, sheriff!”


“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Mao Mao grumbed as he bird flew off.


Badgerclops watched the stork go slack-jawed, not noticing that he had lowered the tool bag back into reach. While the badger was distracted, Mao Mao crept over to him and reached for the tools.


“I’ll take that!” Mao Mao said pointedly, snatching the bag. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish upgrading my bike.”


The cat walked away, fishing out another tool from the bottom and walking back over to the bike’s open hood. However, Badgerclops wasn’t concerned about winning their previous argument anymore.


He raised a brow at Mao Mao. “Dude, you do know what just happened there, right?”


“Yeah, I just showed you who’s in charge round here.”


“No, I mean that guy with the papers!” Badgerclops gestured to the sky exasperated. “Mao Mao, he said those were adoption papers!”


“Yeah, so what?”


“I pretty sure you just adopted a kid! That doesn’t concern you?”


Mao Mao scoffed. “Of course not! Why should it? That’s one of the most heroic things you can do, after all! Adopt a kid and become a da..become a.”


The cat suddenly made a choking sound and stopped his work, the tool in his hand simultaneously dropping to the ground with a clang. His eyes went wide, and a vacant look crossed his face.

“Become a dad.” He finally mumbled.


Badgerclops noticed the rigid stance Mao Mao had taken. “Uh, you okay there buddy?”


Mao Mao remained rooted to the spot, slowly shutting the hood to the bike. “Badgerclops?”


“What?”


“Get on the bike.”


Badgerclops paused as the words sank in. “Ohhhh, no! Nuh uh! No way man!”



“Oh, that went better than I thought it would.” The messenger stork sighed in relief, flying on a course back to the castle. “I just hope that’s the worst thing that happens today.”

Thankfully, the stork didn’t have any other tasks to take care of at the moment, so he could fly straight back to the castle and relax a little before he was sent on another errand. It was always a nice treat to be able to rest his wings before flying out again; King Snugglemane had such fine taste in selecting lavish furniture that was absurdly comfortable. Working a royal job truly was the way to do things. He’d be feeling better in no time at all.


He’d only been flying for a few minutes, covering almost half the time it took to fly from the sheriff’s headquarters to the castle. Just when he thought that he was in the clear, the stork began to hear the strangest noise coming from behind him, getting louder and louder. It was a low, deep rumbling sound, but it also was a high pitched squeal at the same time.


“Wha-?” he mumbled to himself, risking a peek over his back. “What is-?


He froze in the air as he managed to spot some strange green, black, red and white object shooting towards him at speeds that had to be almost over the sound barrier. A large column of blue flames trailed behind the thing, scorching the tree tops that it passed by in mere seconds. It turned, angling away from the trees and barreling straight for him.
The stork’s eyes practically popped out of his head, flying as fast as his wings could carry him.


“AAAAAHHHH!”


He flapped harder than he’d ever done in his life, pointing his beak straight for the castle and making a bee-line for safety. His glasses had fallen off of his face and down into the forest below, but he couldn’t bring himself to care, fearing that his life was in mortal danger. He pumped his wings to get as much speed as he could, but the thing that was chasing him swiftly rocketed straight past with what sounded like two distinct screaming voices, the fire that followed it just nearly missing him. The stork backpedaled in the air, coughing on the billowing smoke that was left in the wake of this flying beast.


As the haze cleared, the sweetie-pie scanned the skies fearfully, trying to catch another glimpse of this strange assailant. It spotted it up in the distance ahead of him, and he watched in disbelief as the creature rocketed towards the castle, disappeared behind the Ruby Pure Heart, and then circled back to soar straight back at him all within a mere few seconds.


“Oh, please no!” the stork cried out, turning around and moving towards the sheriff’s headquarters again.


The stork was once again overtaken by the fire-fueled object, and had to stop in the air to avoid getting hit. “What is it doing!?”


The thing zoomed back around again and again, buffeting him with heat, wind and smoke, each blast threatening to knock him out of the air. The stork did his best to shield his face all while keeping airborne, praying that someone or something would save him.


“Please, someone make it stoooop!”


Finally, he heard a low growl echo next to him, and the heat waves, the smoke, and the billowing wind ceased…



“Mao Mao, stop! Stop!”


Mao Mao applied the brakes just in time, bringing the vehicle to a midair stop just in time to avoid plastering the stork sweetie-pie on the front of the vehicle. As they idled, the engine purred innocently below them, like it trying to convince its riders that it hadn’t just tried to kill them on a midair roller coaster. On top of the bike, Mao Mao and and Badgerclops gasped with open mouthed pants and wide eyes, the fur on their bodies disheveled from the intense wind speed. Mao Mao had a death grip upon the handle bars and was doing his best to hide the shaking in his arms. Badgerclops gripped at his chest, positive that his heart would stop beating any second now. Meanwhile, the bird in front of them was trembling and weeping bitter tears, his eyes shut tight as if he expected some terrible fate was about to come upon him.


“Please, whatever you are, don’t eat me!” the stork wailed pathetically. “I have so many small little bones! You’ll choke on them!”


Mao Mao and Badgerclops ignored him, instead focusing on trying to catch their own breath.


Badgerclops was the first to speak “Mao Mao…I don’t care what you say. As soon as get back on the ground, we’re down-tuning this thing.”


Mao Mao was unusually compliant. “Uh…yeah, yeah. Sure thing.”


The stork, who had been confused by the voices, had dared to open his eyes. “Wh-wh-what? Sheriff? Is that you?”


Mao Mao blinked, shaking his head as he remembered his mission. “Wait!” He jabbed a finger at the stork, making him flinch. “You! Messenger boy!”


“Um…yes?”


“Those papers! That you just made me sign! What were they!?”


“You mean the adoption papers?”


Mao Mao’s eyes widened, his fears confirmed. “Yes, those! Lemme see ‘em!”


The sweetie-pie looked confused at the sheriff’s unexpected behavior, hesitating for a brief moment before retrieving the clipboard from his bag once again. He only had it out for a split second before Mao Mao yanked it out of his grasp once again.


“What kid are these even for!? Who did I just adopt!?” Mao Mao asked no one in particular, a hand on top of his helmet.


Badgerclops leaned over his should, reading it aloud. “This document is to signify that the following person/persons who sign below are claiming responsibility for the mental and physical wellbeing of…Adorabat?”


“Adorabat?” Mao Mao echoed. “What? Did she do this?”


“Um, if I may.” The stork spoke up, seeing their confusion. “I think I remember hearing some of the royal councilors talking about this. They noticed that the little girl that was in foster care had taken up residence at your headquarters. I suppose that they took this as a sign that you meant to adopt her.”


Mao Mao’s expression morphed into a look of pity. “Adorabat’s an orphan?” he said slowly.


Badgerclops put a claw to his chin. “Well, now that I think about it, she never did mention anything about having any kind of family. I guess it all makes sense now. Wait, how come we never asked her about that?”


Mao Mao saddened look was quickly replaced with one of annoyance, pointing a finger at the stork. “Ugh! Look pal! Adorabat’s not my kid! She’s my deputy, sidekick, and protégé! We just shelter, feed, and protect her from all forms of physical and emotional danger! That’s it!”


Badgerclops held up a hand “Uh, dude, that’s the same thing as parenting.”


The stork looked apologetic. “Well, I’m afraid the papers have already been signed, sheriff. Once that’s happened the process cannot be reversed.”


Mao Mao narrowed his eyes “Oh yeah? Then I bet you didn’t count on me doing this!”


Mao Mao removed the documents from the clipboard and began pulling at the papers, gritting his teeth as he strained to rip them apart. But no matter how hard he pulled, the papers refused to tear, stubbornly remaining in one piece.


Badgerclops gave Mao Mao a questioning look. “Um…what are you doing?”


“I can’t…tear this!” he growled. “What the heck is this paper made out of!?”


“Oh, that must be the anti-tear spell they put on royal documents.” The stork chuckled. “So nothing of importance gets destroyed.”


“Alright then, wise guy. Give me that pen!”

The pen was handed to Mao Mao, who then proceeded to violently scribble ink across his signatures, blotting each of the lines out with pitch-black ink.


“Ha! Let’s see someone try to read that!” Mao Mao smirked.


POP!


“What the-!?” Mao Mao stared down at the paper in wide-eyed disbelief, seeing the excess ink vanish in thin air and all of his signatures becoming plainly legible once again.


“That’s the signature permanence spell.” The stork explained. “We’ve avoided some nasty accidents with ink spills that way.”


“Wow, for such easy-going people, you guys are really protective of your paperwork.” Badgerclops commented.


Mao Mao crumpled up the papers into a ball before he threw them behind the bike and into the afterburner. The flames from the engine incinerated the wadded paper instantly, causing it to disappear into a puff of smoke that sent ashes everywhere.


“Ha-ha!” Mao Mao laughed triumphantly, pumping his fist. “No dumb paper’s gonna outsmart me!”


His proud moment was interrupted as a strange wind blew past them, blowing the ashes of the papers to the side. Suddenly, the wind began swirling the ashes into a strange midair tornado, and right before their eyes the documents somehow reformed themselves from the ashes, looking just as they had before they’d been burned, signatures and all.


Mao Mao could only stare dumbfounded. “Huh?”


The papers hovered in the air a moment longer before they began to move again. This time, the corners folded in, then folded lengthwise, and the paper didn’t stop shifting until it had neatly formed a paper airplane.


Whoosh!


And just like that, the paper airplane adoption papers had flown out of sight, zipping in the castle’s direction within the blink of an eye.


Mao Mao held up a limp finger towards the castle, still unable to believe what he’d just witnessed. “Wha…what was that?”


“That was a combination of spells actually. They’re meant to prevent vandalism. In the event that a royal document is destroyed somehow, it will reconstruct itself and immediately fly to the castle worker for-“


“GRAAAGH!” both Badgerclops and the stork flinched as Mao Mao slapped his hands to his head. “This can’t be happening!”


“Ahh, well.” The stork began to sweat again. “I suppose I am probably needed back at the castle. I should be going now. Farewell, sheriff! Good day!”


The stork flew off again, leaving Mao Mao and Badgerclops to come to grips with what had just taken place. As the bird disappeared from sight, Badgerclops leaned over in his seat, trying to look his friend in the eye.


“Hey, Mao Mao, listen.” Badgerclops began. “Maybe this-“


“I was supposed to become a legendary hero, not a dad!” Mao Mao bemoaned. “How am I going to become a legend if I’ve got this responsibility holding me back?”

Badgerclops smiled optimistically. “Hey, no need to get upset, buddy.”


Mao Mao’s shoulders slumped in defeat as he pulled his cape around him. “How could I not be upset?”


“Well, hear me out. Like you said earlier, Adorabat already lives with us, and we’re already taking care of her. So what if there’s a few papers with your name on them somewhere? Why does this have to make things any different?”


Mao Mao furrowed his brow as he pondered the words. “Well, I suppose you have a point.”


“Just, don’t think of it as a father/daughter thing. Just keep thinking of it as a hero/sidekick thing and it won’t get weird.”


A small, confidant look formed on Mao Mao’s face. “You know what, Badgerclops! That’s a great idea! I…I’m not so worried about this anymore! I eat monsters for breakfast, I can do this!”


“See? Nothing to worry about!”


“Ha ha ha.” Mao Mao chuckled. “Oh, and to think I was getting so worked up about it too. I mean, it’s not like I’d have to start taking her to school or something. Or doing tea parties. Or reading bed time stories. Arts and crafts and all that crap.”


Badgeclops gave his own chuckle. “Heh, yeah, I can’t see you doing any of that. No offense, but you’d be a terrible dad.”


“Uh.” Mao Mao’s expression instantly became pained, but after a few seconds he managed to force a chuckle as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah heh heh, yeah. Terrible. Heh, not my style at all. I’d be…awful.”


Mao Mao made another face before he decided to change the subject. “Well, anyway, we’ve got nothing else to do here. Why don’t we head back and just forget this happened?”


“Cool. Sounds good to me.”


Mao Mao reached for the handle, ready to take off once again.


Badgerclops’ eye went wide as he saw what was happening. “No wait, Mao Mao, easy on the-“


The two heroes immediately found themselves shooting across the sky once again at break neck speeds. They let out screams and held on for dear life as they then plummeted below the treeline, setting multiple trees on fire and creating loud crashing noises in the process.

Chapter Text

In the village of Pure Heart Valley, a small blue bat with a peg leg and a yellow heart marking on her body hummed a happy song as she casually flew through the streets, enjoying the bright sunny day that they’d been given. The sweetie-pies around her all went about their daily business, walking to their jobs, driving tiny cars in the streets, and greeting one another with friendly voices. Whenever someone called out to her, she would immediately return with her own salutation.

A green frog waved a stubby arm. “Hi Adorabat!”

Adorabat turned and waved a wing. “Hello!”

“Hey there, Adorabat!” A pink beaver called out.

“Hi Ketchup! Hi Blue!”

A small sad-faced blue dog stepped out of his car and saw Adorabat pass by, giving her a small smile and a wave.  “Hi Adorabat.” He answered calmly.

"Hi Pinky!" 

The pink rhinoceros huffed. "Whatever" 

Adorabat’s warm smile grew even larger, and she continued to glide above the sidewalk cheerfully. Ever since she became friends with Mao Mao and Badgerclops and fought monsters with them, she’d noticed that the other sweetie-pies were being extra nice to her. They didn’t think it was weird for her to like fighting monsters anymore, or to go on dangerous adventures. They even seemed to appreciate it, and nothing made the young bat happier.

The only thing that could make her morning flight through the village any better was one thing; sugary treats. Before she went back home to HQ, Adorabat decided to make it a point to stop by the sweets shop and look at all of the candy and ice cream they had on display. The simple thought of looking at the candy nearly made her mouth water. Maybe Mao Mao and Badgerclops would be willing to lend her some money to buy something, or maybe even come with her to get a treat themselves. Mao Mao was very strict on his diet, only allowing fatty, sugary foods to enter his system in small amounts. Badgerclops would most likely be all for the idea, but Adorabat had been practicing her puppy-dog eyes to help convince them, just in case.

She turned her wings and steered herself down the corner, just in time to see the door to one of the magic shops open to allow a green chameleon in purple robes exit the building. The chameleon was soon followed by a little girl that was dressed in a yellow robes and a pointy yellow magician’s hat, carrying some paper bags in her arms. Truthfully, Adorabat didn’t know exactly what species of animal the yellow robed girl was.

Adorabat recognized them immediately. “Hey Camille! Hi Honey!”

The two magicians turned to look at her, looking surprised at hearing their names. “Who is-oh! Well, look who it is!”  Camille spoke kindly. “It’s the little deputy girl! You’re looking very happy today!”

“I’m gonna go stare at candy!” Adorabat announced proudly with a big smile.

“Oh, I see.” Camille chuckled. “I imagine you must be planning a huge celebration for today”

“Yeah! I’m gonna celebrate so hard!”

Adorabat’s opened her eyes and the smile suddenly dropped off her face, replaced with a confused look. “Um. Celebrate for what?”

“Celebrate your adoption! It’s a special occasion, after all! I’m sure you’re so excited.”

Adorabat raised a brow, only growing more confused. “What’s an adoption?”

Camille blinked, looking surprised. “You don’t know? That’s strange; I thought your new father would’ve gone over this with you by now.”

Adorabat’s eyes grew wide and she made a face. “Huh!?” Her new father!? What was the magic lady talking about? She didn’t have a father!  Although she wished she did sometimes. From the things that she’d heard and seen on TV, it sounded really nice to have one.

“Well, anyway. Adoption means when someone volunteers to become a parent for a child who doesn’t have any.” Camille explained. “Or for children who need new parents for some special reason. Obviously, adoptions don’t happen very often here, but when it does happen, it’s a very happy day for a child!”

Adorabat sat hovering in the air, letting the words sink in for a good long moment before she found herself able to speak.

“You mean someone in Pure Heart Valley,” the bat’s eyes got bigger. “wants to be my parent?”

“I’d say so. I saw the papers myself. Before I went out for the morning, I was taking care of something at the castle when a paper airplane flew through the window and poked me in the eye.” Camille ran a hand along her left eye. “At first I thought it was just some children who’d lost their plane, but when I took a look, it was your adoption papers! Sent by a magic spell no less! Every one had the sheriff’s name written all over them. By the way he’d signed his name all scribbly like, it looks like he was in a hurry to get those papers filed.”

Adorabat’s heart was almost beating hard enough to burst through her chest. Upon hearing the word “sheriff”, she’d begun to tune everything else out as her eyes had gotten even bigger and shone brightly. The young bat couldn’t remember having a bigger smile in her entire life!

“…Sheriff!?”

“Yes, that sheriff Mao Mao may be an unusual fellow, but I think he’s got a good heart underneath that gruff exterior.” Camille continued. “I’ll admit, I never really imagined him as the type to go and adopt a child, because he’s always going on and on about being a legendary hero, but he’s been surprising-“

Camille paused when she realized that Honey was trying to whisper something in her ear, tugging on her tunic gently.

“Honey dear, what is it? I’m in the middle of telling something important to…oh?”

The Chameleon’s words were stopped in their tracks once more as she realized the airspace that Adorabat had been occupying a mere few seconds ago was now completely empty. Camille blinked and turned her head in both directions to see where the bat had gone, but couldn’t find any trace of her. Adorabat had vanished without a single sound.

“Where’d she go?” Camille asked aloud. The only reply she got was Honey giving a small shrug.


 

Normally, it wasn’t hard at all for Mao Mao to concentrate when he meditated; years of practicing and discipline had given him the ability to momentarily forget the world around him and help him calm down after something had gotten his emotions riled up. But as he sat on the pillows that day, humming to himself, nothing about it was feeling right. It felt forced.

“Everything is okay.” He spoke softly, closing his eyes. “Everything is okay. Everything is okay.”

Despite his words, intrusive thoughts and visions danced around his head tauntingly. Prominently, he saw a small little kitten with green eyes and dressed in red overalls running around with a wooden sword. A large cat in a gloriously luxurious suit of armor was always there as well, but his voice wasn’t heard so much as was the kitten’s constant pleas for attention.

Daddy! Daddy! Watch me! The kitten said, followed by things like. Come play with me, Daddy! Daddy, can you read me a story? Daddy?

But try as he might to get his father’s attention, the kitten usually went ignored, or was brushed off with a curt dismissal.

I’m busy right now, Mao Mao. Why don’t you run along a play outside? A heroic voice echoed in the distance. Maybe later, when I’m done with training your sisters for the day.

Mao Mao knew how those stories ended; the heroic looking dad would always promise some alone time with the kitten, telling him that his daily tasks made him “too busy”. However, it always seemed that the kitten ended up forgotten in favor of his older sisters. Every now and then, he would hear their voices as well, always so hurtfully insensitive in their taunts and laughs.

Sweat began to bead on the cat’s brow, prompting him to rub his forehead in small circles. “Everything is okay. Nothing’s wrong.” Mao Mao spoke louder, moreso an attempt at reassurance than a statement of fact.

Daddy, look at me! Please play with me! Daddy?

The sweat began to drip onto the floor, and the head massage became more intense. “Just go away!” He growled through clenched teeth. “I’m fine! Everything is okay! Just leave!”

The kitten wouldn’t leave him alone, coming back with tearful eyes. Why won’t you look at me, Daddy? Daddy please!

Suddenly, the image of the black kitten disappeared, immediately replaced by the apparition of a small blue bat, who wore the same tearful heartbroken expression. She stood off to the side of a cheering crowd, watching a cat in a red cape and holding a golden katana as he stood triumphantly in front of adoring fans.

Daddy? Please? Please look at me!

His voice was the one that answered. Not now, Adorabat! I’m busy!

“AAAAGH!” Mao Mao screamed, kicking the daydream away and falling onto his back.

The black cat panted as he collected himself, the ghosts of the black kitten and the blue bat having disappeared. Around him, the training room was silent, filled with his weapons and practice dummies that took no notice of his distress.

Silently glad that no one had been there to witness him freak out, Mao Mao wiped the sweat off of his head and got back on his feet, deciding not even meditation would do him any good today. Which was strange, because it was his reliable go-to method of unwinding; why hadn’t it worked today? And why had he imagined Adorabat like that? Had that jerk in front of the crowd really been him? No! It couldn’t have been! Sure, even he had to admit he wasn’t perfect, but he wouldn’t just neglect a child like that!

Would he?

Mao Mao let out a tired sigh, and let his face rest in his palm. “This is the worst day ever.” He grumbled.

The sound of the sliding door opening caused him to flinch, standing tall as his head shot up to see a concerned Badgerclops standing in the doorway with a bag of chips and a gaming headset around his neck.

“Hey, you doing okay in here man?” the badger questioned.

A Cheshire cat grin stretched across Mao Mao’s face. “No. Y-yes!” Mao Mao corrected himself quickly. “Yes, I’m totally fine, Badgerclops! Why wouldn’t I be?”

To Mao Mao’s chagrin, Badgerclops didn’t look convinced. “Okay, I caught that. And I’m pretty sure I just heard you scream, dude. Even with my headphones on.”

Mao Mao waved a hand with a forced laugh. “Ha, ha, Badgerclops! You must be imagining things! I don’t scream!”

“You were screaming earlier when we were on the bike.”

“Ahh, no!  You’ve got it all wrong! That wasn’t a scream! It just really got my blood pumping during it all and I decided to…practice my battle cry!”

 Badgerclops gave him a look. “While riding your bike, through a burning forest?”

“Yeah, of course! That’s the perfect time to practice!”

“Dude, you are a terrible liar.”

“Come on now, Badgerclops! Why would I lie to you about that? I’m fine, really!”

Badgerclops stepped into the room, walking towards the black cat. “You’re still freaking out about the adoption thing, aren’t you?”

Mao Mao’s lip went tight before he finally let out a groan of defeat. “Okay, fine. I might be…mildly concerned about that.”

Badgerclops gave him a reassuring smile. “Hey, dude, just remember what we said earlier. No one’s expecting you to be something different. Adorabat already thinks you’re the coolest guy ever. You don’t have to be a dad. Just be yourself.”

The small tidbit of praise instilled a little confidence in Mao Mao, though it wasn’t enough to settle his doubt. Still, he didn’t like showing anyone this kind of insecurity, even if it was Badgerclops that saw it. Something still just didn’t feel right, and Mao Mao had a feeling not even he fully knew what it was.

“Yeah, I know.” Mao Mao begrudgingly agreed. “I’ll get over it soon. I just need a little more time.”

“Hey, how ‘bout you come play this game with me?” Badgerclops offered, gesturing to the door. “We can be on a team this time.”

Normally, Mao Mao would turn down such an offer, since video gaming wasn’t exactly his forte; he never liked anyone seeing that he was bad at something, even the trivial things like video games. But Mao Mao knew that going back to do more meditation wasn’t going to help him at all today. At the very least, maybe hanging out with his best friend would be enough to distract him from the relentless flashbacks he was having.

He played it cool “Eh, why not?” Mao Mao relented, letting Badgerclops guide him through the door.

 “You know, you might even like this one.” Badgerclops told him as they walked to the living room. “You mostly fight with guns and lasers, but there is this one class that lets you use a sword, and it’s really cool.”

“I’d prefer to use a katana, but close enough.”

“A katana is a sword dude.”

“Same idea, different application in battle!”

They made it to the living room, Mao Mao electing to take a seat on the couch while Badgerclops reached for the second controlled in next to his Xstation.

“Just need to make sure this other controller’s charged, though.” Badgerclops leaned over. “I can’t remember if I-“

The front door suddenly slid open with incredible force, slamming into the sides. Mao Mao jumped off the couch and into a fighting stance, while Badgerclops dropped his chips and his controller. Surprisingly, the only thing standing there was Adorabat, who had a wild look in her eye and panted heavily as if she’d just flown straight from another continent, leaning on the doorframe for support.

For some reason, Mao Mao’s stomach lurched again as he recognized the newcomer. “A-Adorabat! It’s just you! I thought we were under attack or something!” he blurted, trying to hide the nervous edge in his voice. “Weren't you were going to be in town for a while? Did something happen?”

Adorabat’s heavy breathing suddenly slowed upon hearing Mao Mao’s voice, and she whipped her head up to look straight at the black cat with wide shimmering eyes. For several moments, no one spoke as the two stared into each other’s souls.

Mao Mao began to feel more anxious the longer the bat stared. “Adorabat? Is somethi-“

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

No one was prepared for such an ear piercing shriek to come out of such a tiny creature; had it been any louder, all of the glass objects at the headquarters probably would have shattered. But as startled as he was by the shrill noise, Mao Mao had no time to recover before he found himself being bowled over by a small flying object that latched onto his neck with a death grip.

“OOF!” Mao Mao grunted upon the impact.

“Woah!” Badgerclops jumped again as Mao Mao and Adorabat tumbled to the floor.

“Mao Mao! Why didn’t you tell me you were adopting me!?” Adorabat screamed excitedly, hugging him tighter. “Now you’re my hero and my daddy!”

Mao Mao’s eyes bulged, his air knocked out of him from the fall and the vice-like hug. “Adorabat, wait!” he wheezed.

“I’ve always wanted a daddy so bad! And now I have one! And he’s SO AWESOME!”

Adorabat released her hold on Mao Mao, who immediately gasped for breath with a cough. Meanwhile, Adorabat began flying wildly around the room, flying in zig zag patterns and talking several miles per hour. Badgerclops and Mao Mao tried to track her movement around the room, risking neck injury as they tried to keep up with her. Mao Mao watched the blue blur move around in disbelief, still trying to wrap his head around the rapidly escalating situation.

How on earth had she found out about those papers!? He’d only signed them earlier that morning! Heck, they probably hadn’t even been filed yet!

“A-Adorabat!” Mao Mao coughed.

“I’ve never been so excited! We’re gonna have so much fun! We can play games, watch TV, go on adventures, fight monsters!”

“Adorabat!”

“We can do everything we were already doing but now you’re my dad!”

“Adorabat!”

Adorabat halted in flight only to let out a massive gasp, eyes shining bright enough to light a room.

“Wait! If you’re my dad, does that mean I have grandparents who are legendary heroes!?” She flapped her wings up and down spastically with uncontainable joy “THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!”

Mao Mao seized advantage of her pause in flight to snatch her out of the air, pinning her wings down to the sides and bringing her to his eye level.

“Adorabat, listen!” Mao Mao said loudly.

He held the bat still for a little while, taking a moment to recover from the adrenaline rush and catch his breath.

Finally, he looked her in the eye with a serious look. “There’s something you need to know about the adoption papers.”

“Mmmmmm!” Adorabat bit her lip and trembled in his hands with excitement, barely able to keep from screaming again.

“When, I filled out the papers to adopt you.” Mao Mao let out a sigh. “It was…it was an…an acc…”

Mao Mao stopped, pausing to look closely at the child in his hands that looked back at him with huge sparkling eyes. He tried to speak again, but unexpectedly found himself unable to, his mouth hanging open slightly instead.

Go on. Tell her! It was an accident. His own voice chastised him in his head. You never intended for this to happen! She’s not your kid! She’s your deputy and trainee! She needs to understand that!

His mind kept urging him to say it, to save himself from the responsibilities of a fatherhood that he’d never asked for. Though as much as he wanted to get out of this situation brought about by his own negligence, something about the way Adorabat watched him made him hesitate. Ever since he’d met her, Adorabat had always looked at him with an admiration that no one else had ever given him before. But now it was different; now her eyes gazed up at him with the pure, immeasurable love of a child, directed solely at the one she now considered a father figure.

Why was it so bad for him to be Adorabat’s dad? It wasn’t anything against her exactly, as Mao Mao had truly grown fond of Adorabat. As he’d told her after their first adventure, in a way she had reminded him of a younger self.

Maybe, he realized, that’s what was stopping him at that moment.

The images from earlier, of a black kitten begging for his dad’s attention, came back to haunt him once again. For as long as he could remember, despite the fact that Mao Mao had a dad, he’d never had a true father in his life. And, he realized, Adorabat had never been given a chance to have that at all; until now, anyway. Was it fair for him to deny her the thing he’d spent his whole life chasing a legendary hero status for? Because if he told her the truth now, after she’d had one of her own dreams fulfilled, he’d break her heart.

 The black cat chose his next words very carefully, knowing it would change things between them.

“It was…actually a hard decision for me to make.” He said evenly. Adorabat’s smile faded, replaced with a look of curiosity, wondering what he was going to say next.

He sat down on the couch, setting her down next to him and looking away as he searched for what to say next. “Ya know, becoming a legendary hero is a long, hard, and dangerous road. It’s not gonna get any easier, and sometimes it feels like more than you can bear. I…I wasn’t sure if you were ready to travel that path at such a young age. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized…if I could choose a protégé to stick by my side throughout that journey to legend…”

Mao Mao glanced down to the side, giving her a small smile. “It’d be you, little buddy.”

Adorabat’s lip trembled, and her eyes began to shine once again, this time from unshed tears. She leapt up at his neck again, forcing him to catch her so she didn’t slip.

“Thank you, Mao Mao!” her tiny body shook. “I love you!”

Mao Mao chuckled somewhat nervously, slowly moving his hand to her back. “I know.”

Mao Mao felt something strange in his chest, an emotion that he wasn’t very familiar with. He couldn’t remember if he’d felt it somewhere before, or if this was a new emotion. He wouldn’t mention anything out loud about it, but it felt…nice.

Adorabat pulled away from his neck and wiped her eyes, giving him a big smile. “You’re my favorite hero, daddy!”

Then, without warning, Adorabat leaned forward and planted a big, wet kiss on Mao Mao’s cheek.

“Mwah!”

Mao Mao froze, his eyes going wide and his fur standing on end at the unexpected act of affection. A warm rush of color lit his cheeks on fire more intensely than a hot summer’s day. Adorabat didn’t seem to notice her dad’s discomfort, instead giving him another tight hug and smiling contentedly. During his time sitting there in a stupor of thought, he was reminded that they were not alone when Badgerclops blew his nose loudly. Having no tissue, Badgerclops had hurriedly devoured the rest of his chips and used the empty bag instead.

“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen!” the badger bawled, trying to wipe tears from his one eye.

Adorabat looked up from her hug to look at Badgerclops. “Aww, Badgerclops! Do you need a tissue?”

“Yeah.” He nodded.

Adorabat moved away from Mao Mao, jumping into the air to fetch a tissue. His hands now free, Mao Mao reached up and touched the spot where he’d been smooched, his cheeks still burning hotly as he realized that he hadn't gotten a kiss like that since he was a kitten. He didn’t exactly know what to make of the emotions that raged like a hurricane through his brain.

Adorabat soon returned with a tissue, so Badgerclops dropped the chip bag and was able to blow his nose properly.

“You get some love too!” Adorabat said, hugging his neck.

Badgerclops returned the hug without hesitation, drowning Adorabat in his massive arms. “Aww, you little cinnamon roll!”

Okay, that was enough mushy, sugary affection to last for…weeks. Maybe even a few months. Ignoring the blush on his cheeks that was just barely starting to fade slowly, Mao Mao stood put and cleared his throat.

“Well, uh, good talk. Good talk.” He began, reverting back to a professional tone. “Glad we got that sorted out. Now everything can return back to its normal, much less physically affectionate state.”

“Give me a moment; I don’t get hugs very often.” Badgerclops wimpered.

Mao Mao watched them with folded arms, finding himself growing impatient rather swiftly. Finally,  after one too many moments later, Adorabat and Badgerclops separated.

“Okay, I’m done.” Badgerclops sniffled, wiping his nose again.

Adorabat flew between them, glancing between them both. “So what do we do now?”

“Well! Now we uh, um…” Mao Mao paused, furrowing his brow. “I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.”

Adorabat’s eyes lit up. “Oh! We can go get ice cream!”

Mao Mao gave a small smile. “You know what, little buddy? That’s a great idea.”

“I’ll go get my bike helmet!”

Mao Mao and Badgerclops’ eyes widened. Before Adorabat could fly off to retrieve said item, Mao Mao acted on instinct and caught her by the foot.

“No!” he cried out, pulling her back gently. “Let’s just…take a nice walk instead.”

“Okay!”

Adorabat flew out the still open door in a flash, missing the sigh of relief that Mao Mao let out.

Badgerclops let out his own sigh, instead expressing his regret. “I wish we hadn’t waited to fix the bike.”


 

The bell to the ice cream shop jingled as the three heroes exited. Adorabat came first, fervently working on a tall stacked ice cream cone that required both wings to hold, each scoop a different flavor. Badgerclops came out with a towering cone similar to Adorabat’s, while Mao Mao exited with a humble single scoop of pumpkin spice ice cream.

“So, I’ve been thinking.” Badgerclops said in-between licks. “That since I don’t really wanna be a mom in this kind of situation.” He gave his cone a few more licks. “Maybe I could be like a co-captain dad or something.”

Mao Mao looked at him. “But you didn’t sign the paperwork, so technically you don’t have any parental authority.”

“Mmm, I guess that’s true.” Badgerclops’ tongue took one of the top scoops off and brought it in his mouth, stuffing his cheeks with ice cream. “Well, maybe I could be like an uncle or something.”

“Ha, yeah! You’re now the crazy uncle who builds dangerous weaponry and robot gear.”

“Crazy uncle Badgerclops!” Adorabat chimed in, doing a little dance.

“Hey, if there’s gonna be an adjective in there, I want it to be ‘cool’ uncle Badgerclops.” Badgerclops shot back. “I’m the cool uncle that lets their favorite niece get away with all the stuff her dad is too stuffy to let her do.”

Mao Mao narrowed his eyes with a glare out of the corners. “Don’t even think about undermining my authority.” He said dangerously before giving his scoop a little lick.

Their conversation was interrupted an abrupt explosion that blew off the front door of one of the local cafés, sending smoke, wood and brick everywhere. The heroes stopped to assess the threat as the nearby sweetie-pies began screaming and running for cover. Then, out of the haze of the ruined café came several large silhouettes.

“Ha ha ha ha!” came the familiar evil cackle. “Nothing starts off a good brainstorming session like a dine-and-crash!”

The figures stepped into view, revealing themselves as Orangusnake and his crew of sky pirates, all with their respectively menacing demeanors.

“Now that we’ve had lunch,” Orangusnake gave a sinister grin. “We can formulate a plan to finally steal the Ruby Pure Heart!”

Orangusnake threw up his big arms and gave another animated evil laugh, lightning strikes appearing out of nowhere from behind him. As they observed the chaos that was unfolding before them, Mao Mao’s face grew determined.

“Uncle Badgerclops,” Mao Mao said, slowly pushing his cone towards the badger. “Hold my ice cream.”

“Mine too!” Adorabat said excitedly as she jumped up and shoved her cone into the now overburdened Badgerclops’ arms.

Standing side by side, the sheriff and deputy duo prepared themselves for a good fight.

“Well, my little deputy?” Mao Mao smirked down at his new daughter. “Ready for some family bonding time?”

Adorabat launched into the air, flapping her wings like a hummingbird. “Yeah!”

Mao Mao and Adorabat charged forward, with the cat unsheathing his katana and leaping into the air with a battle cry onto the startled Orangusnake.

“RRAAAAGH!” 

Chapter Text


 

It began with a loud thumping knock on the door, surprising Badgerclops and Mao Mao as they sat watching late night TV.  The two heroes turned to gaze at the door curiously, seeing that it was almost ten o’clock at night.

“Who comes to visit at this time of night?” Mao Mao grumbled.

“Dunno man, but I don’t wanna get it.” Badgerclops sighed as he slumped on the couch further. “You get it this time.”

Mao Mao would have, but he was starting to get to a point in life that he noticed that his joints were starting to ache a little more than usual. Years of time in Pure Heart Valley, constantly fighting monsters, bandits, sky pirates and everything in-between made it feel like he’d aged a few decades early. The wild stories he had could be proven with the scars on his body and the once sleek jet black fur becoming dull and untidy. Each day, he only seemed to hurt even more. Now most nights, instead of training he ended up doing the usual, sitting in front of a TV with Badgerclops, until he got tired enough to either pass out on the couch or crawl back to his bunk.

Badgerclops hadn’t fared so well either, but his physical condition was instead worsened by poor dietary choices; he’d somehow managed to put on even more pounds, giving him a rounded pot belly. He’d also suffered from hair loss, leaving a small little pink patch between his ears. A mustache/beard combo had grown around his face, probably to compensate for the lost hair on top.

The knock sounded again, and Mao Mao could only wince as his bad leg began flaring up with pain, warning him there’d be consequences if he moved from his seat. That particular wound had come from a fight with Orangusnake, and the joint just hadn’t ever been the same since then.

Guess there is a downside to hero work after all. He mused to himself.

Deciding he didn’t want to get up himself, he turned to the hallway.

“Adorabat!” he shouted. “Could you get the door, please?”

From down the hall, the frustrated groan of a teenage girl could be plainly heard. A few seconds later, out of the darkness came a disgruntled Adorabat, not even bothering to hide her annoyed expression. She’d changed the most out of the three of them, having grown just a little bit taller and getting a more mature voice as well. But she was also wearing a jacket, a cap that had been turned backwards, and a few ring piercings in her right ear that poked out the bottom of the cap. It’d seemed like she’d become a rebel almost overnight, leaving Mao Mao to wonder what had happened to the sweet girl she’d been only a few years earlier.

“Daaaad, you always make me get the door.” Adorabat said. “And I told you to stop calling me Adorabat! It’s such a kid’s name.”

But despite the teenager’s complaints, she did as she was told and marched over to the door, sliding it open rather roughly.

There was a brief pause. “Woah.” Adorabat’s rather impressed voice came from behind the couch.

Now that was an unusual reaction. Mao Mao was about to turn his head to ask who was at the door when another voice answered the question for him.

“Ah, good evening, young lady!” a voice with a heroic tone said confidently.

Almost immediately upon hearing the speaker’s familiar voice, Mao Mao’s heart jumped into his throat and he froze in his spot on the couch. As he sat in shock, heavy metallic footsteps could be sound on the wooden floor, indicating that the stranger had entered into the house.

“I was told this is where sheriff Mao Mao lived. Is he here by chance?”

Ignoring the aching pain that followed, Mao Mao jumped up from the couch and spun around, confirming the identity of the stranger with a single glance.

“Dad!? Is that you!?”

Surely enough, there in front of him was his father, standing in all his magnificent armor and dwarfing everyone else in the room. Despite all the time that had passed since he’d last seen his old man, Mao Mao saw that his father seemed to look almost exactly as he’d remembered him.

“Ah, Mao Mao! My boy! It’s been so long!” his father said with excitement. “Er…I’m sorry, but I must ask, just what on earth are you wearing?”

Mao Mao suddenly became conscious of the large old-man glasses that sat on his face, and the floral button up shirt that he’d left unbuttoned due to the heat.

Mao Mao chose not to answer the question and avoid the embarrassment, his mind still blown at how his father had just shown up out of the blue. “Dad, how’d you even find me here?”

“Well, it wasn’t easy.” His dad answered.  “I had wondered where you’d gone, but it wasn’t until recently that I’d heard of a rumor you’d been in Pure Heart Valley all this time. As the sheriff to boot!”

Mao Mao’s dad laughed again. “A sheriff! I guess the whole hero thing didn’t work out after all? But I suppose you could have settled for much worse.”

Wow. If Mao Mao had any pleasant feelings about seeing his dad again, that statement couldn’t have killed them faster.

“Really Dad?” Mao Mao grumbled.

“Oh come now, Mao Mao, don’t get upset. I understand. The life of a legendary hero isn’t for everybody, after all. It’s hard work! I should know.”

While Mao Mao sat off to the side fuming, he hadn’t noticed the spark of amazement that was in his daughter’s eyes , which were wide as she stared up at the towering cat who was nearly too tall to stand upright in their humble house.

“You’re my grandpa?” Adorabat said in awe. “I knew you must’ve been cool, but I didn’t know you’d be this cool!”

“Why thank you! You must be my adoptive granddaughter.” Mao Mao’s father turned his attention to Adorabat. “And I’ve gotta say, for a non-hero, Mao Mao has got a good eye for potential. You just radiate enthusiasm. “

Adorabat was eating up his dad’s every word. “Yoooo, this is the best day of my life!”

“Mmm!” Mao Mao clenched his mouth shut and made a face and his eye twitched, doing his best to hide the fact that his heart and his pride were being brutally stomped into the dirt.

His dad spoke again. “As a matter of fact, it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a promising candidate. You could come with me and learn how to become a legendary hero! What do you say, granddaughter?”

“Uh, let me think. Heck yeah!”

Mao Mao stared. “What!?” he said incredulously, hurt by the unhesitant response.

Adorabat suddenly vanished in a cloud of dust, only to return a split second later with large bags carried in her wings and a huge hiking backpack.

“When do we get started!?” Adorabat asked excitedly.

His dad laughed. “I like your attitude. Let’s get going now!”

As quickly as he’d entered the home, Mao Mao’s dad was turning to exit with his little girl in tow. The two of them passed by Badgerclops on the couch, pausing to talk to him as well.

“Hey there, big guy. Wanna tag along? Give my granddaughter a hand with her things?” his father asked.

“Uh, no! No way man!” Badgerclops replied quickly, resting a hand atop his big gut.

“Oh, that’s a shame. I was planning on preparing a big banquet to celebrate the beginning of her training.”

Mao Mao hadn’t seen Badgerclops get off the couch so fast in years. “I’ll carry all the bags you want dude!”

Adorabat handed her bags over with a grin. “Thanks uncle B!”

Watching the three of them exit the door together was as if someone had yanked the very ground out from underneath Mao Mao’s feet. His heart plummeted to the bottom of his stomach, and his jaw couldn’t have dropped wider. This couldn’t be happening!

“Huh!?”

“Goodbye, Mao Mao!” his dad called over his shoulder. “Nice to see you and all!”

“See ya, dad!” Adorabat called, waving a wing. “I’ll be sure to write, like, every 5-10 years or so!”

No…ohhhhh, heck no! Not on his watch!

“Adorabat, stop!” he shouted, charging out the door after her.

He managed to get the three of them to turn around, right before they reached his dad’s luxurious jet car.

“What do you think you’re doing!?”

“Um, going to get grandad to make me a legendary hero. Duh.”  Adorabat answered, rather rudely.

“But that’s what I was doing!” Mao Mao protested. “What about my training!?”

“Err…no offense, dad, but.” Adorabat made a face. “You never really were a legendary hero.”

Mao Mao could practically feel the steam blowing out of his ears as he tried to contain his anger. “I’ve saved this valley countless times! What do you mean I’m not a legendary hero!?”

Mao Mao’s dad laughed again. “Oh, Mao Mao! You’re still just a kitten! Kittens can’t be legendary heroes!”

He stomped his foot “I am not a kitten!”

Mao Mao froze, this time in confusion. What just happened to his voice!? He looked down to see that he had suddenly gotten much shorter, and that his shirt had just been swapped for a pair of red overalls just like he’d used to wear as a kid. In his right hand, he was a clutching the stubby wooden sword. Apparently he’d been wrong.

“AHH!” he yelped, in a much younger voice. “What is happening!?”

“Ha ha! That boy’s such a kidder. Well, climb in everyone! We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.”

Mao Mao couldn’t help the tears that flushed his eyes. “No! Wait! Don’t leave me here!”

No one was listening as they jumped into the fancy car, slamming the doors shut without a second thought. He started to run after them, but found himself tripping upon his stubby kitten feet. He landed in the dirt with a grunt and made to get back up, only to stumble again, realizing that no matter how hard he tried that he just couldn’t close the distance between him and his family.

The jet engines to his dad’s car charged up.

“No! P-p-please!”

The window rolled down and Adorabat stuck her head out the window, this time with a mocking smirk on her face.

She waved a wing. “Ha ha! Later, loser!”

The car shot forward without warning, extending wings out of the sides and pulling up off the ground before it reached the end of the cliff face. Mao Mao lifted a hand towards the disappearing vehicle.

“Adorabat! Badgerclops!” he wailed.

“Oh, Mao Mao…” A sickeningly sweet feminine voice called.

Mao Mao flinched, looking up to see green eyes and white sharp teeth in the darkness, grinning menacingly down at him. But it wasn’t just one set of eyes and teeth; as the kitten looked around him, he was completely surrounded by the shadowy visages of his older sisters, who all had the same taunting grin.

“You’d better hurry! They’re stealing the Ruby Pure Heart!” one of his sisters sang.

Ice gripped his insides as he turned to look towards the valley, seeing that they were telling the truth. Dark storm clouds had completely covered Pure Heart Valley, sending down massive bolts of angry lightning all around. In the middle of the storm was a sky pirate airship, far more massive than anything he’d ever seen. The airship extended a giant mechanical claw, which lowered down and grabbed the sides of the crystal that sat atop the castle for so long, gripping it so tightly that the ruby cracked, sending sharp crystal shards raining down into the village below. The Ruby Pure Heart separated from the castle with a deafening crack, and the pirate ship began to lift higher into the sky.

Finally, in the clouds above the airship, a red snakelike face appeared in the mists, laughing down at him.

“Who’s legendary now, you pathetic little weakling!?” it boomed. “NOT YOU!”

Mao Mao tried to scoot backwards, tears streaming down his face as he realized he could barely even move. He waved a hand at the sinister grinning cats and the red cloudy snake that closed in on him rapidly, further darkening the sky around him.

“No. No! NOOO!”


 

Mao Mao bolted upright, his hand gripping his chest as he gasped for breath. It was still dark, but once he’d gotten over the panic attack he realized that he was in the bedroom at HQ, sitting in the bottom bunk. Slowly, he ran his hands over his body, seeing that he was back to normal, wearing his cape, knee pads, sash and all. In the top bunk somewhere above him, he heard the loud snores of Badgerclops, still blissfully in dream land. He was still his awesome self. They hadn’t abandoned him! No dad. No sisters. No sky pirates. It had all been nothing but a dream!

Mao Mao let himself flop back onto his pillow, a relieved breath escaping him as he silently chuckled to himself.  Man, that dream had gotten weird real fast! Okay, maybe terrifying was a more suitable word for it. But now that he was able to think about it clearly, he was able to see the absurdity of it all; like, just what the heck had been up with that hideous shirt and those glasses he’d been wearing?

As his breathing slowed back down to normal, he noticed that despite waking up from that dream, he didn’t feel tired enough to sleep anymore. He’d probably just have to lie awake for a while, or maybe he’d get up and take a moment to go get some fresh air, clear up his head. Before he could make a decision, two bright yellow eyes suddenly appeared, hanging down from the bunk above him.

“Hey dad. Are you awake?” Adorabat whispered.

Mao Mao blinked. “Adorabat? Why are you awake?” he asked quietly, not wanting to wake Badgerclops.

“You woke me up cause you were kicking the bed. And I heard you saying stuff in your sleep.”

“Oh.” He muttered sheepishly. “Sorry little buddy.”

“It’s okay! I get nightmares too sometimes.” Adorabat said with a smile.

Well, this was actually the first nightmare he’d had in a while. Or at least one that had been intense enough to wake him up like that. It’d only been a few days since he’d officially become the adoptive dad of Adorabat, and truthfully the nights hadn’t been kind to him since then. Either he’d lie awake, barely able to shut his eyes for more than ten minutes, or he’d have upsetting dreams that somehow left him waking up more drained than when he’d gone to bed. The one that he’d just suffered through had been the worst by far.

“Do you need a hug?”

Mao Mao scoffed with mirth, giving Adorabat a calmed smile. “Nah, I’m fine now. Just go back to sleep, little buddy.”

“I think you need a hug!”

“Really, I’m fine.”

The blue bat dropped down to the floor, landing on her feet quietly. She furrowed her brow and gave him a mischievous smirk, holding her wings up in attack position as she prepared to strike.

“I’m a dangerous hug monster!” she said menacingly. “My hugs are the tightest hugs in all of Pure Heart!”

He gave her a look. “Adorabat, no.”

Of course, she didn’t listen, jumping up onto his chest and forcing the air out of his lungs.

“Ugh!” he grunted with a wince, trying to keep quiet.

Adorabat snuggled into his chest. “And now I’ve got you trapped!”

Mao Mao rolled his eyes and sighed in defeat; getting used to the hugs was proving challenging. He had to admit, it was nice to get a hug or two on the rare occasion he was in the mood for it. Even so, he still didn’t fully enjoy the dramatic increase in physical affection he’d been receiving these last few days. It felt like too much too fast. He was considering talking to Adorabat about it, but he wasn’t in the mood for it now.

“Oh no, you got me.”

“Feeling better?”

Mao Mao paused, giving the question serious thought. “A little.” He admitted.

Adorabat lifted her head off his chest to shoot him a disapproving look. “A little? Then it’s not working! You need more!”

Adorabat dropped her head back onto his chest, squeezing him tighter. Hesitantly, Mao Mao placed a hand on her back and gave it a gentle pat.

“Thanks.”

 They sat still like that for an unknown amount of time, just relaxing and listening to the sound of Badgerclops’ snores. Unfortunately, it turned out that Adorabat was far more tired out than he was, because it didn’t take long at all before he heard her own little snores coming from his chest.

Mao Mao lifted his head up, prodding her cheek gently. “Adorabat?” he whispered.

No reply. Her eyes were closed and a small trickle of drool threatened to wet his fur, and he could feel the steady rise and fall of her breathing against his chest. Mao Mao sighed again, wiping her mouth before it got on him. It was tricky to move without pushing Adorabat off, but the black cat managed to pull his cape over him and the sleeping form on his chest, expecting more long hours of lying awake. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before he drifted back off to sleep as well.

This time around, he found his dreams were much more pleasant.