Disclaimer: Last time I'm going to say it. I don't own it. Yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah…
-Sigh- here it is, the last chapter. It's been one hell of a wild ride, and I want to thank everyone for joining me on this little literary road trip. But before I begin, I was wondering how everyone would feel about me doing a Shuffle of my OCs, sort of a way to learn more about them, their pasts, personalities, etc. Y/N? Just a thought…
Anywho, enjoy. It was a pleasure having you as an audience.
Epilogue: Lunar New Year
Three months later…
New Year's Eve, Year of the Ox
So here I am, less than one year later from when I first started this journal. I took Su Lin's (formerly NGP) advice and read over my first few entries this morning. She was right; I have changed, a lot. The snow leopard who wrote those words back in late spring couldn't possibly be the same one writing these words now (FYI, "OH" is now Auntie—not OH, or "Old Hag". She would kill me if she knew I'd called her that. No, seriously. She would kill me, make it look like an accident, and bury me under her flower garden).
But, I know that snow leopard is, was, me.
The valley has changed so much. I don't miss the Jade Palace. In fact, I'm glad I decided to move down here. I feel better not being isolated from the people. The Chins, and little Fu, stop by the Long and Feng (The Dragon and the Phoenix? How did Ping think of that, I wonder? Recall, I am very sarcastic creature) regularly, and that little rascal always brightens up my day. I make sure he gets his favorite, candied almonds, whenever he visits "Mr. Kitty".
Since the new restaurant opened, things have improved for everyone. I admit, Mr. Ping (Father of Po, the 'panda formerly known as BFP'…a goose??) has energy that's difficult to keep up with at times. But, he's got a good heart, even if he is a little overeager with those knives…
Dalang's fallen into the new space quite well. He and Tigress are still an item, and I wager that any day now, we'll either be dressing in red for another occasion, or we'll hear pitter-patter of little tiger cub feet, whichever comes first. Though I'm not really one to talk, I suppose. Mei Xing and I are mostly in the same boat, sort of. We're still not exactly a 'relationship' but maybe that'll change…
Po and Su Lin have gotten closer in recent months—there's no point in hiding the (rather adorable) relationship status. She's agreed to take over the reins of the noodle business for Mr. Ping when he retires, if he believes in retirement. Po still makes the best noodle soup I've ever had. But my crab wontons far excel even Dalang's dumplings—I admit with no small amount of satisfaction that he is extremely jealous of that. Ha!
The cleaning is all done around the house, and the brooms have all been locked away so no one mistakenly sweeps away good luck. The whole group is coming down here for the big feast, so it is naturally up to Dalang, Su Lin, Mr. Ping, and myself to feed a very hungry party of 13 (or is it 14?). Its one hell of an extended family, I have to say…
Tai Lung looked up and frowned at his adoptive brother, who was fussing with the collar of his new red shirt. The snow leopard was dressed in a brand new red shirt matched with trousers the color of burnished gold. On his shirt, an embroidered phoenix soared up his back, the mystical bird's tail feathers embroidered along the cuffs. Dalang was similarly dressed, except his red shirt—made out of cotton, as even South China winters were still warm by his standards—had bamboo embroidered on it. Auntie Wu had done the embroidery for all the new clothes this year, and her skill showed.
"Do you mind? That's a little distracting," Tai Lung said.
"I'm not used to sleeves, thank you very much."
"At least you managed not to set them on fire…"
"Yet," they chorused. Dalang continued to fidget, looking in a mirror and licking his palm to smooth down the fur on top of his head. Tai Lung rolled his eyes, "Are you trying to impress someone?"
"Sorta, yeah…tonight's the night."
The leopard's eyes widened and he set aside his journal. "Tonight? Are you sure?"
"When is there a better time than to start anew than at New Year?"
"But is it auspicious?"
"Of course it is, I checked with Auntie," he offered by way of an explanation.
The snow leopard groaned, "Then you're going to have an audience, no matter how you swing it."
The tiger twitched nervously, taking deep breaths to calm himself, "Doesn't matter—I need to do it. If I don't do it now, I never will. So…how do I look?"
"Getting plenty of that already, thanks."
"Please don't give me details…"
"Why? Don't think you need a few tips?" he teased.
Dalang smirked and shook his head, letting it drop. To argue during the New Year was bad luck. "Speaking of new beginnings, anything planned for you?"
"I'll think of something."
"I know you will, Bro. And by the way," he smirked. "Last time, we did it, oh…seven times?"
"SEVEN?" his brows rose in surprise.
"Yup," he said with a self-satisfied smirk. "Seven."
"How did you manage that?"
"Look who's asking for tips now," he teased.
Tai Lung scowled, "You're lucky it's New Year."
Su Lin popped her head into the room, "They're here! Come on, we need to get everything on the table!"
"Crap!" Dalang swore. "Gods, I can't do this…"
Tai Lung rolled his eyes and yanked him out of the room by his collar. "Oh no, you're not backing out now. Get your tail out there and do what you need to do."
"Shifu's going to kill me…"
"He'll get over it."
The extended family was gathered in the courtyard of the Long and Feng Café, all dressed in new red clothes and exchanging hugs and New Years greetings. Po hugged his father, who then went around to everyone else giving similar greetings, even to Sonam, who looked a little uncomfortable with the close contact from the goose.
Po smiled at everyone, thinking how much of a difference one year could make. Crane and Viper had arranged a wedding date, picking an auspicious day not too soon after the festival. The bird and the serpent were the perfect picture of a happily married couple, totally devoted to the other. Things had improved significantly after the waterfowl had stood up to his mother; he admitted later there was no small amount of satisfaction in telling her to go to hell. Mother and son had later reconciled, if only for the sake of the holiday.
The panda's eyes flicked over to the other couple—or soon-to-be couple, anyway. Wu Lien had made Shifu a special new set of clothes for New Year, embroidering good luck and happiness symbols into the fabric with dexterous skill. He wore it proudly, she hiding a flattered blush of pride behind her fan. During the autumn, the feelings the red pandas had for each other became more obvious, despite their initial resistance.
They complemented each other well: Wu's calm patience matched Shifu's need for control and action, and his dedication to his art brought out her own devotion to dance. He would play his flute on quiet mornings while she danced to the tunes; it had become a daily ritual for them. That's probably what did it. The perfect synchrony; didn't hurt that Dog people and Monkey people got along so well. Now they stood side by side, their happiness apparent, especially from the fond looks they shared every so often.
Monkey, Mantis and Sonam laughed loudly at a joke the insect had just told—probably a dirty one—and Sonam added one of his own; it made even Monkey blush. Wu smacked Sonam with her fan to get him to tone it down and behave himself.
Then the panda saw four people walk out of the restaurant. He grinned and hugged Su Lin as she greeted him, kissing both cheeks. "Happy New Year," she chirped.
"You too, Su," he said, pecking her lightly on the lips and smiling as she blushed as red as the dress she wore.
Tai Lung shoved Dalang in front of him, Mei Xing right behind him, both snow leopards sharing a smirk.
Dalang came to a stop right in front of Tigress, who looked absolutely stunning in her red dress with a bamboo forest embroidered in gold on it, a red flower tucked behind one ear. He was breathless for a moment, just staring at her, and counting every blessing, and thanking every god in the pantheon for her.
"You look gorgeous," he breathed.
"Thanks," she grinned, and teased, "You look good in sleeves."
He chuckled, staring at her. How did she manage to get more beautiful each time he saw her? Crap, this was going to be harder than he thought.
"Uh, listen, before we begin, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about…"
The courtyard was silent as a crypt. Everyone was watching.
Oh hell, he thought.
"Is everything alright?" she asked, looking worried.
He felt his forehead perspiring, his hands became clammy and his breath hitched. He knew he was going the right way for a panic attack, and he couldn't allow it to happen; he couldn't allow it to get in the way of what he had to do.
Just get it over with. End this now…
He blurted it out.
She gasped, stunned. "W-what?"
"Please," he corrected himself, making it right by getting down on one knee and taking her hands in his. "You are my reason for being, my reason for living…you're my everything. You're the best thing that has ever happened to me…and I'll be damned if I ever let you go; I'm not making that mistake again. Tigress, will you marry me?"
She stared at him for an agonizingly long moment, fighting for the words. Then she grinned ear to ear, let out an excited squeal and pounced, hugging him tightly,
"Yes…a thousand times, yes!"
The courtyard erupted into a loud collective cheer and applause as Dalang stood, kissing her deeply. He kissed away her grateful tears, "I thought tears were bad luck?"
"I don't think these count," she joked, kissing him back, hugging him tightly.
Su Lin sighed happily, smiling as Po wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Sonam came to stand by Tai Lung and Mei Xing, all three leopards beaming.
"They make a nice couple," Sonam said.
"They do," Tai Lung nodded.
"Their kids are going to be gorgeous," Mei Xing said with a happy sigh.
Then something clicked inside Tai Lung's head.
Besides, Shang had said, I'll be seeing Dalang again, real soon.
The leopard saw Dalang's arm around his new fiancee's shoulders, and his hand over Tigress's stomach in a protective gesture, and the revelation became clear.
He will have three… Oogway had said.
And one of them would be Shang.
…and you will have two.
Tai Lung suddenly grinned with this second revelation, "Yes, they're going to be beautiful children…"
"Who're going to kick some serious arse when they're older," Sonam chuckled. He eyed his son when he laughed as well, "I don't see what you're laughing at—you're next, as far as I'm concerned."
Mei Xing coughed a little, and even he had to admit he felt awkward. "Um, sure, Dad," he said—it was just easier to agree instead of argue with the old leopard anyway. "Whatever you say."
Sonam looked between his son and his female friend and rolled his eye. Boy's got a head thicker than a brick wall…
Mei Xing took a deep breath and spoke up, grabbing everyone's attention, especially Tai Lung's,
"Okay, the table's set, we have enough places, I think," the female leopard ticked off on her fingers. "Soup's simmering on the stove, dim sum's out with the dumplings…I feel like I'm forgetting something."
Tai Lung continued to stare at her; she looked stunning in the outfit she was wearing. He had noticed it not too long ago, that she had started to wear brighter colors, but he should have noticed sooner. She was happy, happier than when he'd met her, certainly, and now her clothes reflected it. Before, she would have done anything to hide her femininity. Now, she delighted in being a woman, and she showed off her natural beauty.
New Year's was a time of new beginnings…
She was easily the most incredible woman he'd ever known. She was smart, she was determined, and under his tutelage in recent months, had become a good fighter. It didn't hurt that she was drop-dead gorgeous either. After another moment of contemplation, he decided, The hell with it.
"I know I'm forgetting something," he said.
Mei Xing thought he meant he'd left something in the oven. "Okay, but make it quick—OOM!" she yelped as he grabbed her and lowered her into a graceful backbend, kissing her firmly yet tenderly. His lips electrified her, and she could do little more than hold on for dear life as she swooned from what was easily the most romantic thing he had ever done.
All too soon, he ended the kiss, helping her back upright.
"I forgot to wish you a Happy New Year."
She giggled like an idiot, a goofy grin on her face, "Okay! Well, a Happy New Year to you too!"
The look in her eyes said enough, and it made his heart soar: she wanted this as much as he did. And, like Dalang, he'd be damned if he ever lost her.
Sonam bit his lip to keep from laughing; Perhaps I spoke too soon…
Shifu's eye twitched a little. Wu just patted his arm, "You have to admit, the boy's got style."
He laughed, shaking his head. "I didn't teach him that."
"You sure?" she asked with a sly look. He coughed to cover up his embarrassment, and she tittered behind her fan.
Mr. Ping brought everyone back to the moment and hailed them all to the large round table set up in the center of the courtyard. "Well, dinner's on! Let's enjoy it before it gets cold! Goodness, this seems to be a night for romance, isn't it? Who knew it would be in my shop!"
"We should light a couple more candles," Su Lin suggested, blushing. "You know…add to the ambience…"
Po grabbed a handful of candles in an instant and Dalang quickly lit a match. "Done and done!"
Everyone laughed and sat down, immediately passing steaming dishes around. Once they had offered a prayer to the gods and ancestors, they started passing food around.
Under the table, Su Lin took Po's hand in hers, the girl panda blushing a little, but smiling sweetly. He kissed her cheek, whispering "happy new year" in her ear.
After he'd taken a few bites, Sonam nudged his son's shoulder. "So how soon can I expect grandchildren?"
"Dad!" Tai Lung admonished.
"I'd say next autumn," Mei Xing answered cheekily.
She grinned, shrieking with laughter when he tickled her side in retribution. Sonam just shook his head. By the way things were looking…well, maybe he'd at least be a father-in-law by that summer.
The main course was over very shortly, and the chefs made their way into the kitchen to bring out their signature dessert pieces: Su Lin supplied a dish similar to an apple turnover, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, while Tai Lung brought out a large plate with a lavender-colored cake made from boiled taro and rice, topped with sugared almonds and pecans (he'd saved a small bag of the nuts to give to Fu the next day). Po supplied almond cookies (Monkey had graciously provided the recipe), and Dalang presented the all-around favorite: the sweet red bean paste-filled caramelized rice balls…dumplings…things.
Yes, months later, he had still not come up with a decent name for them.
That all changed suddenly, when he picked up the first one and held it to Tigress's waiting lips. She took it right out of his chopsticks and chewed, closing her eyes in bliss. When she opened her eyes again, Dalang finally got it.
"Tiger's eyes…Tiger's Eye dumplings," he said.
"What?" she asked, her mouth still full.
"That's the name…you gave me the inspiration for it!" he said excitedly. "Tiger's Eye dumplings—I finally know what to call them!" he kissed her firmly, tasting the caramel and sweet bean paste on her lips. "Gods, I love you!" She grinned and laughed, grasping his hand.
Tai Lung sighed, saying to Po as an aside, "How many times do we need to rewrite that menu?"
The panda shrugged, "As many times as we need to, I guess."
A couple hours later, after dishes were put away and tea served, the group sat waiting around and staking out prime spots to watch the fireworks show that would be starting soon. The Long and Feng was in a fortunate location; the fireworks would be set off from a perch on the Jade Mountain and other high points around the valley.
Outside the open gate, children played in the streets with their red paper lanterns and set off firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, though usually it spooked the younger children instead. Calls and greetings of "Happy New Year!" resounded around the valley, adding to the warmth and cheer of the occasion.
Tai Lung had taken an original idea and perched himself and Mei Xing on top of the Long and Feng's roof, the ideal place for the best view. The female snow leopard leaned against him, his arm around her shoulders.
She looked up at him and poked his ribs lightly, smirking as he squirmed a little. "Hey…"
"About the things I said earlier this year…"
"You mean comparing me to your ex?"
"Well, that and…" she looked uncomfortable. "For calling you fat."
He pinched her playfully, "Forgiven. I knew you were just being facetious anyway."
"You sure it's okay?" she sounded uncertain.
"You hated my guts, and I admit, I thought you were a mal-tempered shrew," he confessed. "So let's call it even."
She nodded, smiling a little, then rested her head on his shoulder.
"I just had a thought," he said suddenly after a moment of silence.
"You, having a thought? Say it isn't so!" she teased.
He sprung his idea on her. "I've been thinking about all these traditions and whatnot…why not start one?"
"A kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve," Tai Lung said suggestively, holding her closer. "What do you think?"
Mei smirked, "That's not a tradition…"
"It could be," he defended. "It could catch on, you never know…"
They heard the countdown on the other side of the walls. The fireworks would start soon. Mei snuggled closer to him against the chill in the winter air. "Hmm…I think it's already catching on…"
He looked down from their perch on the roof and saw the couples below. The three unattached males, Monkey, Mantis and Sonam, all ignored the couples' behavior, probably swapping dirty jokes again.
He was most surprised to see Shifu kiss Wu's forehead as she leaned her head on his shoulder, grasping his hand in her lap. Po and Su Lin's eyes lit up when the first firecrackers went off further down the street. Tigress sat with her back to Dalang's chest, the tigers sitting on the second-floor porch, his arms wrapping a blanket around them, kissing her cheek as they cuddled…
Hmm, not a bad idea, Tai Lung thought, hanging off the roof a minute to grab a spare blanket from his bed through his open window. Mei smiled and snuggled close, her arm snaking around his waist as he wrapped the blanket around them. He wasn't cold, but that wasn't the point.
A little pinprick of light shone on the mountain, and a red flash streaked across the sky before light erupted into a brilliant red bloom of fire in the night sky.
He kissed her. The two snow leopards ignored the colorful display, finding much more enjoyment in what they were doing. He pulled her closer and she returned his kiss willingly, and ardently.
Below, Wu kissed Shifu's cheek, "Happy New Year, Master Shifu."
He squeezed her hand lovingly. "Happy New Year, Master Lotus."
Above them, Dalang nuzzled his fiancée. "So when did you want to do it?" he whispered to his soul mate. Tigress shifted a little, "Hmm…early Spring?"
"Don't want to waste any time, huh?"
"Nope," she smiled and sighed contentedly. She paused to think for a minute, then smiled wider, "Hmm…three…that sounds like a good number…"
"Three?" he asked curiously. "Three what?"
She just giggled and smiled, sensuously rubbing his arm.
He got the message, and grinned ear to ear, and hugging her a little closer. "Oh! Three…yeah, I can do three..."
Mantis tapped Sonam's arm and pointed up at the roof. "How long do you think?"
Sonam looked up and saw an equally interesting display, his son and new girlfriend silhouetted against the sky, their forms lit up by the lights in the sky. He smiled. "For a wedding, I give it a few months. A grandchild," he smirked, "maybe a day later."
Po also spied the snow leopards on the roof over his shoulder, and smiled. Good, as it should be.
"It's so beautiful," Su Lin said, breathless at the display. Blooms of red and gold fireworks lit up her face, and another rocket burst, showering down fire that resembled willow branches. Whistlers screamed through the air as others popped and sizzled, as more large round blooms burst in the night sky with loud bangs.
"Yeah…beautiful," he said, but he didn't mean the firework show. She felt his eyes and turned her head, her lips meeting his.
And so, New Year's was truly the time of new beginnings.
Five Years Later
Excerpt from a Journal, Lunar New Year, Year of the Horse
So here we are again, five years after I officially returned to the place I grew up. If I thought it amazing what just one year could do, five has practically blown me away. I now have four full journals sitting on my bookshelf; Po wagers they could be published, to give people an idea what our lives were like, hundreds, maybe thousands of years into the future. Why anyone would want to read something I wrote is beyond me. It's been awhile since my last update (three months, agh!) so I will try to do recent events some justice.
Tigress finally had her baby, a girl, adding to the two boys, Shang and Jin, both of whom are happy to be older brothers. Dalang couldn't be prouder, and I don't blame him. Little Ming is scarcely a month old, and it's striking how much she looks like her mother. The boys, we expected both to look like Dalang, but Shang more closely resembles his deceased uncle and namesake; if my guess is correct, then it makes perfect sense why that would be. Jin, naturally, looks like his father but is gifted with his mother's eyes. I still say that boy should be called "Fang" since he's got two fangs that extend past his lips (though he might grow into them).
The Jade Palace needed another building built to house all the students coming to train with Shifu and Auntie Wu. They just celebrated their fourth anniversary last summer, and everyone now affectionately calls them Yeh-Yeh and Nai-Nai. Shifu didn't like being called that at first, at least before Mei Lien was born.
She's grown so much, but she's still—and will always be—my little girl.
To think I was disappointed to hear Mei Xing had given birth to a girl, after wishing my firstborn would be a son! I could practically see my male firstborn learning kung fu by my side, being a great warrior, and then to see my firstborn was a girl instead…
Well, of course that lasted about five seconds. When Auntie placed that little bundle in my arms, it was all over; it was love at first sight. What can I say? She has me wrapped around her little finger. Mei laughed when I told her "Li-Li" (named for her mother and 'paternal' grandmother, a.k.a., Wu Lien Li-Li's name means "beautiful lotus") was the new girl in my life.
Speaking of Mei, she's still recovering from her last pregnancy. We settled on a name (finally): Tai Shan, "peaceful mountain". Fitting, since he's only two months old and is the quietest baby (otherwise he has a healthy set of lungs on him). It worried us for a while, until we saw how quickly he was developing. Just like me at that age, Dad said. He looks like me too—it's uncanny. Whereas Li-Li got Mei's eyes, Tai Shan looks like me through and through, right down to the nose, fingers and toes.
Dad's still the Jade Palace's blacksmith, and loves his work. He sees Mei Lien weekly, and of course, my little girl never misses out on a chance to see her Yeh-Yeh Shifu and Nai-Nai Wu. Though sometimes "Pop-Pop" is more fun, she says. Four years old already, when did that happen?
Now she wants to learn kung fu. I told her I'd think about it; precocious little thing told me "Baba, I know that means 'no'!" So I told her to ask her mother. She didn't buy that either. So now she starts training with Tigress in the fall, along with her primary education at the village school. I swear Li-Li's too smart, I don't know where she gets it. At least she's in good company: she and young Shang might as well be attached at the hip.
Mr. Ping unofficially retired last year, of course, with Su Lin taking over the noodle half of the Long and Feng. Oh! Completely forgot to mention: Su and Po are finally engaged! (Took them long enough—five years? Seriously?). They decided not to have children right away—they want there to be room for them. My guess is a large family is in the plans.
Speaking of large families, Crane and Viper have their fair share of kids now: eight, to be exact. There was an earthquake in the Western part of the empire, not too long ago, and many orphans were sent here since they couldn't be sustained there. Crane and Viper, being who they are, immediately adopted as many as they could, and couldn't be happier.
Speaking of training: the Jade Palace now has dormitories here in the valley. Auntie needed to set up her own studio to teach the Lotus style. She has classes at full capacity, well over 150 students of all species, from all walks of life, from all across China. Master Shifu has taken on at least 200, interspersing them amongst the Five—and Dad, who's started to teach swordsmanship—so they all get equal treatment and attention. The goal is to train as many masters as possible, then send them out into the world, spreading the art as far as it can go.
I know I'm rambling. Believe me, there's a lot to remember…
Tai Lung was halted by the long wail coming from the other room. Sighing, he set his brush down and took a few strides to the door. Mei Xing stirred in their bed; he stopped to kiss his wife's forehead, "I've got it, you get some more rest."
She smiled and kissed him back before falling back into bed and into slumber. He slipped out of the room and across the hall, opening the door to the nursery. His son had been born with a healthy set of lungs, and heaven knew he'd probably be a strong as his father one day, if the volume of those cries were any indication.
Little Mei Lien was sitting up in bed, grasping the paw of her stuffed panda toy and rubbing her tired eyes, "Baba, Tai's bein' loud again…"
"I know, love, just go back to sleep, okay? We're still going to see Yeh-Yeh and Nai-Nai and Pop-Pop again today. I'll wake you up in a little bit." He chuckled as she fell back in bed, curling up into a fluffy little ball of downy fuzz around her stuffed animal. Su had made a stuffed panda doll for her after she was born, remarkably similar to the same stuffed animal Tai Lung had owned in his youth; after Tai Shan was born, the little cub inherited Ping.
He smiled down at his daughter, smoothing the fur on her head as he tucked her in, she hugging her teddy bear closer.
He remembered his father had noted how similar Li-Li resembled Nima in looks; the words Nima had spoken to him in his dream state were immediately clear. She had seen her son again, very soon. And he saw his mother, every day, whenever he looked into his daughter's face.
Now he turned his attention to the crib in the corner, reaching inside and carefully picking up his infant son. "Shh, shh, shh, easy now, Baba's here. Shh…go on now, easy on there…I bet someone's hungry, isn't he?"
Tai Shan's cries tapered off now that someone was holding him; he opened his wide innocent eyes and stared up at his father, his little arms reaching out, and legs kicking excitedly. He looked around with the same sharp, inquisitive eyes that had belonged to his father, and his grandmother, Nima.
Tai Lung would never get over how much he loved his children. Holding his son in his arms, he slipped out of the room to feed him. He took him down into the kitchen, holding the little cub close. After heating something for the baby, father and son sat at the kitchen table so the child could eat. The tiny little cub in his arms sucked on the bottle greedily, his little body curling around an object almost as long as he was, starting to quiet down now that his hunger was satisfied. A healthy little burp later and the cub was right as rain, and Tai Lung rocked his infant son in his arms until Tai Shan fell right back asleep.
Mei Xing downstairs a moment later, wrapping her arms around her husband's shoulders, both of them smiling down at their little boy. She laughed softly.
"What is it?" he whispered, not wanting to wake the baby.
"Can you imagine," she whispered back, "If five years ago, someone told us that we'd be standing here today, married, two kids, and a huge family that loved us, would you believe them?"
"Hell no," he snorted, still smiling. "But I don't mind being wrong."
"Nope, not at all," she kissed his cheek lovingly and nuzzled him. Tai Shan slept on; a moment later, Mei Lien woke up and joined her mother and father in the kitchen, just as her Uncle Dalang and Aunt Tigress came out of their bedroom to begin preparations for the New Year's feast that night.
Tigress carried little Ming, with Shang and Jin shuffling out of their room behind her. Dalang patted his surrogate brother's shoulder, winking. "Whenever you're ready."
"I'm ready," he said, standing. Mei Xing took Tai Shan into her arms and carried him back up to his crib.
Both Shang and Mei Lien bounced up and down excitedly, "Can we help? Can we help?"
"Please, Dad?" Shang begged, tugging on his father's pant leg.
Dalang and Tai Lung shared a look, then smiled, "Sure," the tiger said, "Let's get you kids set up with something."
"Just remember to be quiet," Tigress warned. "Let's not wake the babies…"
Jin, who was two, cutely put a little finger to his lips, pantomiming quiet, and followed his brother and "cousin" to the stove where Dalang was stoking up the fire.
A few minutes later, Tai Lung grinned when he heard Po call out, "Hey, Happy New Year, everybody!"
Tai Lung grinned as the kids ran helter-skelter to greet their 'Uncle Po' and 'Aunt Su'. Not too long after, Shifu and Wu Lien came in, all three kids crying out "YEH-YEH! NAI-NAI!" as they hugged the red pandas. In no time at all, the rest of the Furious Five, Sonam and the Chin family too with six-year-old Fu, now warmly populated the Long and Feng's kitchen, from the oldest adult, to the smallest child. Tai Lung sighed happily.
He finally had a family, a real family.
Yes. Yes, it was a Happy New Year indeed.
I can't believe it's over already! What a wild ride, right? After much contemplation, I figure I'll skip on having a sequel. I'm notorious for starting them and never finishing them. So, for posterity's sake, I'm just going to leave this as is. This probably won't be the last time I write for this fandom, but it's likely the last of this fic-verse. I hope everyone enjoyed reading, it was a pleasure to have you all as an audience. -bows- from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you!