"Run, damnit, run!"
Lils and Lucy collapse onto the sofa in silent giggles as April stomps over the pandaskin rug in front of the television, leaning unnecessarily close to the screen with her giant sparkling silver lobster headwear.
"Use your horn! You've got an extra foot on all the others! Poke them in the ass! Win!"
"Don't you think that would make the other horses run faster?" Lils mutters under her breath to Lucy, who quickly places a finger to her own lips, silently telling Lils just to enjoy the spectacle.
"No! NoNoNo!" April collapses to her knees, grasping the panda fur in her fists, the antennae on her hat quivering along with rest of her body as she mourns her loss.
Lils addresses no one in particular, "Tell me again why Cooper wore full armor to ride jockey?"
April tears off the lobster hat and sits back on her heels, sticking her tongue out at Lils before returning to the recap on the screen. "I wanted him to stay true to himself," she admits sullenly. "In retrospect, I see that it was probably not the best opportunity to support individuality."
Hiding a grin, Lucy removes herself from the sofa and joins April on the floor, wrapping an arm around her shoulders in comfort, "It's not all about winning, you know."
Still seated on the couch, Lils lets out a huff of indignation.
"Yeah, yeah. . ." April begrudgingly agrees. "Cooper and the unicorn tried their best."
"Exactly," Lucy says. Her eye twitches as she stares at the growing pile of glitter collecting on the rug from April scratching nervously at her hat. She removes the lobster from April's possession and quickly flings it out the open window, not satisfied until she hears the crunch of the crocs' jaws as they discover their treat.
Lils regains Aproma's attention by loudly clearing her throat. "You're forgetting one thing though. . .I WON! April now owes me a story." She nods in smug satisfaction.
"What would you like?" April asks, regret from agreeing to the initial wager piling up all around her, like panda carcasses after their last epic battle with The Angel.
"Well, what kinds of characters are in your repertoire?" Lils asks.
April scrunches up her face, thinking much too hard, "None."
Lils stares at her, perplexed, "I'll consider it for awhile and get back to you, okay?"
Defeatedly rising to her feet and shaking glitter from her clothing, April reaches into her front pocket and pulls out a keychain with a lucky rabbit's foot on the end, dropping it to the floor, where it's hideously dyed pink fur clashes with the black and white rug beneath. A few steps closer to the door, there's a tiny plink as her lucky penny bounces off the floor and rolls along a natural crack in the stone, halted only when it collides with the wall. As she finally reaches the doorway leading towards the kitchen, there's a resounding clang as the arch of a horseshoe just misses her toes, instead taking a small chip out of the floor.
Lils looks to Lucy for reassurance, but only finds a reflection of her own worry, "She agreed to the terms. . ."
Lucy focuses on the doorway that April just disappeared through. "I know. Just give her some time, she'll come around."
"I need a snack," April mutters to herself as she rambles down the hall. Her mood brightens some as she enters the kitchen, spotting Dillon curled up with the newest members of the special baking team, the dragon and the ragdoll kitten. Smiling a little now, she crosses the room to locate a bowl and spoon, then crosses again to retrieve a box of Honey Nut Cheerios from the pantry. Pouring the Cheerios and milk together, she hears some clatter outside. "Cooper?" But instead of Cooper clanging into the kitchen, Johanna jumps into the doorway.
"Long live the Cheerios!" Beelining for the door opposite, she sprints past April, smacking the bowl of cereal with her right hand, successfully liberating the doughnut seeds. . .to be crushed underfoot and gobbled up by the fluffier two thirds of the kitchen staff, who have been rousted from their siesta by all of the ruckus.
April watches the fleeting back of Johanna disappear into the afternoon shadows of the Castle's interior. "She's in the living room!" Frowning slightly at the puddle of breakfast delights on the floor, April lets out a sigh and heads for the freezer, "Ice cream sounds better anyway." As she's standing in front of the open door, the slapping of two pairs of shoes on the floor announces that Johanna has successfully located Lils. "Hey, Lils, any idea where all the ice cream disappeared to?"
"Huh? Oh. . .yeah! Uh, Johanna and I were using the cannon to shoot pints at Yew earlier!"
"You. . .fired all of my Butter Pecan at Yew?"
"Erm, sorry? But don't worry, Zoey's cleaning him up!"
"Oh. Well, if Zoey's- hey, hold up!" April scratches her head, trying to get events straight. "Zoey? As in, The Angel's evil cohort?"
Johanna chirps up, "Hey, I used to Rule the World with Angel, too!"
April sniggers, "Yeah, but that was before she acquired an unquenchable thirst for baby koala blood, which rumor has it, Zoey keeps her stocked with through the Australian Black Market." She crouchwalks over to the window and slowly raises her head above the ledge to peer out towards Yew. Alternately squinting then rubbing her eyes, she finally whispers back to Lils and Johanna, "I don't have my glasses on, but. . .does it look to you guys like Yew is enjoying himself?" They nod their heads up and down in unison. "Hmph. Remind me to talk to that tree fort about family dedication." Still searching for a snack, April walks over to the refrigerator and opens the door to find- "Cheesecake! Ohmygosh, I love my wife!" She scoops up the lemon-scented dessert and starts waltzing it over to the countertop for immediate consumption.
"Um, April," Lils hesitantly begins, "Lucy was very adamant earlier that that was not to be touched until after dinner."
"Come now, surely she won't miss just a tiny sliver!" April says as she noisily searches through all of the nearby drawers for a knife.
"Mmm, I was actually here when she issued the warning," Johanna agrees. "Something about not waking the dragon. . ."
They all look towards the scaly, leather-winged creature curled upon the stone floor. April looks longingly at the cheesecake. Lils and Johanna look pittingly at April. The cheesecake is returned unscathed to the refrigerator.
Unable to stop laughing out loud, Yew finally resorts to using a branch to halt Zoey's thorough and very ticklish scrubbing. "I am certain that I am quite clean by now, wouldn't you say?"
"Oh, very good," Yew responds dryly. "I've surely never heard that one before."
Zoey ignores his sarcasm, "Do you ever wish you were a real boy?"
"Like fucking Pinocchio? No."
Zoey frowns and extends the handle of the soapy brush to clean out Yew's froody mouth. "I'm going to Rule the World, you know. . .will you be my fortress?" Since there's a torrent of water and foam preventing him from replying snarkily, Zoey continues on as if he is in full support of housing a lovely and charismatic pandaglomping maniac within his branches and weathered boards, "Aw, I knew Yew loved me!"
Never gonna give you up,
Never gonna let you down,
Never gonna run around and desert you-
Head plucks the strings of his lute with a flourish, kicks his leg out to the front and uses the momentum to spin himself around, ending up on one bended knee to continue the chorus. . .
Never gonna make you cry,
Never gonna say goodbye,
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you!
An anchovy muffin comes hurtling from the window directly above his performance area, and he drops his instrument to catch it, smiling wide as he inhales the aroma, "My favorite!"
April steps off the colored squares she was walking along on her way to Gold's lab and begins to applaude, startling both Head and the muffin-flinger in the window- he jumps a foot in the air and turns red, while the lady's arm overthrows the chocolate chip muffin that she was winding up with, sending it directly into April's outstretched hand. "Mmm, my favorite!" She waves towards Muffin's window and curtsies to Head with a wink, "I'll let you two get back to your Rick Rolling now."
A knock at the exterior entrance to his laboratory causes Gold to spin around in his workchair and knock over a beaker of churning bright green liquid as he reaches for the lever that will drop the false wall into place. . .but before he can complete the necessary motion, April's silhouette is illuminated in the open doorway and he lets out a sigh of relief, "I'd really prefer if you used the entrance from the interior of the Castle. If anyone else finds out that I'm the next Dr. Frankenstein instead of a mild-mannered physics teacher. . ."
"Don't worry so much, Gold! I took precautions on my way here; I was careful to avoid any cracks in the sidewalk so as not to break Paige's back, I skipped backwards for a bit to ensure no one was following me, I flung a chocolate chip muffin to the-"
"-where'd you get a chocolate chip muffin? I thought we only ate rainbow cupcakes around here?"
"Oh, you know. . ." April vaguely points in a northernly direction before giving up and waving the comment off, "it's unimportant really. How is our army of zombie pandas coming along?"
"Very well, actually! Let me show you the progress," he leaps up from his chair, unknowingly dragging the sleeve of his lab jacket through the green puddle on the workbench and stepping in a bit that has collected on the floor. "With these undead pandas under our command, we will be invincible!"
Poking one of the furry beasts in the arm, April jumps back in surprise when it's eyes pop open and a low growl is emitted. "Wow. We're not taking this war too far, are we? These buggers seem more dangerous than I expected. . ."
"No, not at all! Our people need to feel safe, and ridding FanFiction of evil, tyrannical Mary Sues needs to happen. Who else would have enough bravery to do so? It must be the mighty Littles; remember our words! 'Where Angels fear to tread!' Now we're going to make her fearful to tread anywhere," Gold states proudly as he throws a sheet over the green-tinged, growling panda's head.
Hesitantly, April concurs, "Aight, carry on. But be careful."
Gold has just settled back into his chair after April leaves, when he's startled once more by a noise at the exterior door. Cautiously undoing the latch, he peers out to find no one in sight. "Hmm," he mutters to himself. As he's about to close the door, he happens to look down and spot a licorice bat with a fruit roll-up tied around its leg. "Oh," Gold exclaims, "you have excellent timing, little bat! What instructions does Angel have for me today?"
April finds Lucy tucked away in her bedroom, a tattered spiral notebook spread out before her and black ink smudges staining her right hand as she swiftly outlines one of several birthday stories that she has been meaning to begin composing.
"You're good now?" Lucy asks, without looking away from her work.
"Good enough," April responds as she collapses onto the side of the bed, creating a jagged line of ink across Lucy's notebook page. Restlessly, she grabs from a multitude of sickeningly pink pillows adorning the bed, fluffs one beneath her head and crosses her feet near Lucy's elbow. "Have you noticed that our family is slowly becoming infiltrated by Angel's former and current partners in crime?"
Lucy pushes April's penguin-sock clad feet off the doona. "If you're talking about Johanna, I hardly think we have anything to worry about. . ."
Spinning herself around and flipping onto her stomach, mimicking Lucy's position, April supports her head with one hand and uses the other to trace the errant penmark in the notebook questioningly. "I was actually more concerned about Zoey living in Yew."
Lucy is finally distracted enough to make eye contact, "Zoey in Yew? Isn't that a tad backwards?"
"Different strokes for different folks," April shrugs. "But we can't very well have Yew becoming the Trojan Horse that brings us down. . .something's brewing. Something big."
The whinnying of a horse in the courtyard and the crashing of a brave knight's helm into the pot rack above the kitchen island announces Cooper's arrival home from his day at the horsetrack. A hardy yell of HUZZAH! reverberates through the entire Castle, drawing footsteps from every corner, Cooper's family eager to greet him and gaze upon his purple participatory ribbon.
Refilling Irma's goblet with cranberry juice, Angel gives a quick swat at Rachel to get off the table, before returning to her seat, "I can't believe people really think I drink baby koala blood!" She swirls the contents of her own glass, gazing into the crimson liquid, frowning slightly. "Where'd that rumor start anyway?"
"Your evil fiancee," Irma states.
"She left me for a tree fort; the engagement is null and void," Angel responds grumpily.
"But you still allow her to control the Pandas and use the Pandaglomping gun?"
"Well, yeah. . ."
"So you're still partners in world domination?"
"Kind of. . ."
"Kind of?" Irma asks curiously.
Angel hesitantly reveals, "Well, lately I'm getting the sense that she'd rather destroy the world then rule it. . .and I feel a bit helpless."
"Don't worry, my little Entwi; Irmagonna take care of this!"
Knuckles rap sharply on the shoulder of Cooper's armored suit and open palms slap into the back of his helm - all intended to be congratulatory, but the day has been long and his family's love is feeling more like punishment to his aching head and body. When Head appears with his lute and begins to strum the opening bars to a song detailing the race, Cooper flips up his visor, tears the helmet from his own head and slams it onto Head's. "It looks good on you, brother," he announces whilst bringing a closed fist down on the brim, "And the acoustics are fantastic!" With a satisfied grin, he then sneaks - as quietly as metal armor will allow - behind Lils, clasping his gloved hands in front of her eyes, "Guess who, Chippylils?"
Setting her hands on her hips, Lils cocks her head slightly to the right. "Oh, gosh," she ponders aloud, biting her lip in feigned consternation, "could it be Muffin?"
"Try again, ChipsAhoy!" Cooper smiles wide at Johanna, whose conversation with Lils has been interrupted by his little game. She arches her brows and smiles back, shaking her head slightly, but successfully stopping her eyes from rolling.
Exasperated, Cooper steps around to reveal himself, "Really? A six foot tall flightless bird?" He flaps his tired arms comically, switching his weight from foot to foot in a herky-jerky attempt to mimic a creature he has never seen before in his life.
"Oh, Coop, I was just pulling your leg!" Lils laughs and throws one arm around Cooper's shoulder and the other around Johanna's, "Let's go claim spots near the dessert, shall we?"
Later that night, Gold tiptoes into the kitchen, carefully stepping over the tails of each pet sprawled on the floor, their varied snores indicating them to be thoroughly tuckered out from another busy day of feeding the ever-growing Little family. "I can't believe I napped through supper! Again! These zombie pandas are going to be the death of me! And Angel's sending a bat every other day, demanding another horcrux be made or she'll pokestab me into a pit of Irma's cats. . ." Gold mutters to himself as he very quietly grips the handle on the refrigerator and opens it ever so slowly, careful not to let the light shine out more then necessary. He grabs a beer from the shelf on the door and searches the rest of the brightly lit interior for something tasty to silence the rumbling of his stomach. "Fruit. Vegetable. Fruit. Vegetable. Vegetable," he grumbles. "Why can't there ever be something tasty, like a cheesecake?" The as yet unopened bottle of beer slips from his hand and smashes into dark brown shards on the stone floor. "Oh, no!" He throws the door all of the way open, bathing the pets in light as some wearily glance in his direction and others groggily cover their eyes with their paws. "Someone ate Angel's horcrux!"