Maurice Antonio Rolf Jean-Pierre Gaulle LeGrand IV- Now better known as Ping Pong- had never felt so conflicted in his life. On the one hand, his dream had come true. He had proven himself to his heroes, and now he had won the right to train under them, beside them, to become the next Xiaolin Warrior. On the other, however, the Xiaolin Temple was now lost. The Wu was lost. And, as he watched his new teammates pick through the rubble and debris for the scraps of their old lives, Ping Pong couldn't help but feel that something far more important had been lost as well.
Looking through the debris by the gardens, Raimundo had smiled in pure relief as he dug out a battered old teddy bear, only to have it fall away to a lost, broken look when he noticed the gaping tear across the toy's belly. Kimiko noticed this, and gingerly took the teddy from her friend with a promise to the Wind Dragon that she's sew it up for him later, earning a look of gratitude from the Brazilian.
Trudging through the chilly mountains of China with a few meager packs of what they'd managed to salvage, the Xiaolin Dragons were silent and somber, save for the occasional whimper from Dojo on Clay's shoulder. Behind the four warriors he admired so much, Ping Pong remained quiet as well. Because even though his dream had come true, he didn't have it in him to celebrate that. Not when it had happened on the day his heroes had lost their home and teacher.
While Dojo was moaning and wailing over every pile of rubble he found, Omi was silent- almost mechanical- as he dug through the remains of the only home he'd ever known, stopping only once when he found a picture, torn and partly burnt, which showed the warriors in their Wudai robes. Seeing the boy tear up at the sight of the photo, Raimundo gave Omi a reassuring pat and whispered something that Ping Pong couldn't hear, but which made Omi smile and nod before going back to work.
Though he had been welcomed as part of the team, Ping Pong couldn't help but feel out of place as he watched the others mourn. Because it was a subtle reminder that he really wasn't one of them. Not yet, anyways. He didn't have their memories, or their experiences or the training they did. He never knew what they were thinking every time one of them stopped working to stare sadly at something. But the others always did, and it never took very long for one of them to see their friend's pain and reach out to comfort them.
Rummaging through the remains of the kitchen, Clay's face had fallen when he discovered the broken pieces of the wooden statue he'd been whittling every night before bed, before forcing a smile and joking that it hadn't been turning out right, anyways. Omi protested loudly when Clay started to throw the pieces away, and it didn't take long until Raimundo and Kimiko joined in, pressing Clay until he agreed to give each of them a piece of his broken statue. The earth dragon looked visibly touched as his friends bickered good-naturedly over the piece they wanted.
The fall of the Xiaolin Temple was a painful lesson to Ping Pong. Because even though he admired the Dragons, he wasn't truly a member of their group yet. They accepted him, and welcomed him, and he tried to help them any way he could, but he didn't know them like they knew each other. He had read of their adventures and their exploits, but he knew nothing of Teddy Bears and Pictures, and Statues and Clothing.
In their old living quarters, Kimiko looked absolutely heartbroken when she found her things, the majority of which had been ruined beyond repair. Sighing heavily, the girl tried to wave off the obvious concern of her friends by saying that carrying all her stuff would've been a big hassle anyways, since they'd lost the changing chopsticks. This didn't seem to make the boys feel any better though, and Clay promised to help her go shopping as soon as possible, prompting Raimundo and Omi to promise as well, though a little more reluctantly. Kimiko smiled warmly and vowed to hold them to that later.
"Ping Pong? Are you okay?" Ping Pong was torn from his thoughts at the concerned question from the female monk, who was watching him closely with a frown tugging at the corner of her mouth. It was only then that Ping Pong realized he'd been shivering from the cold of the coming night. Embarrassed about being seen as weak in front of his idols, the small monk immediately tried to suck it up.
"Oh yes, Kimiko! I am fine!" He insisted, grinning widely and clenching his teeth together tightly to keep them from chattering. Kimiko rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath as Raimundo shook his head and laughed.
"All in favor of making camp here for the night?" The Brazilian boy drawled out. Omi frowned a bit in disapproval before sighing in a long suffering sort of way of one who had long since given up.
"I suppose we will have to wait until tomorrow to locate a new temple to stay in." The young monk said grudgingly. Ping Pong felt as though he'd been slapped in the face.
"I'm fine! Really I am! I'm fit as a violin!" He tried to convince everyone hurriedly.
"Ping Pong, you just spent the entire night getting tortured by Chase Young only to escape, run back to the temple and get caught up in an epic battle of good versus evil. I don't think anyone would be fine after all that." Kimiko pointed out in a direct, no-nonsense fashion that made Ping Pong flinch. "Besides, the rest of us aren't in the greatest shape either. Especially Omi. We could all use a good night's sleep before we start running around China looking for a new place to stay."
"Your concern is most unnecessary, Kimiko. For I am strong as a cow!" Omi huffed, bristling slightly at his name.
"Ox." Raimundo corrected, poking at Omi's arm and making the small monk yelp in pain. "And you're not fooling anybody, Chrome dome."
"Better just stop fightin' it and settle in for the night." Clay recommended, though Ping Pong couldn't tell if he was addressing Omi or himself.
"Very well." Ping Pong agreed meekly when it became apparent that the others were determined to camp out there for the night.
"Should I go get some wood?" Clay offered, making Raimundo frown and shake his head.
"We can't risk lighting a fire. It'll attract attention, and we don't know if Chase or Shadow are still lurking around somewhere." The Brazilian pointed out darkly. "The three of us are in the best shape right now, so we'll take turns keeping watch. Clay can take the first shift, then me and then Kimiko."
"I can help!" Omi protested.
"As can I!" Ping Pong insisted.
"We know." Kimiko assured the two patiently. "But you guys will be a lot more help once you're back into top shape. That's why you need to rest. You two can share the night shifts tomorrow, if we have to camp out again. Okay?" Omi didn't look very happy about this, but agreed. And once again, Ping Pong felt a stirring of discontent. Now that he was an official apprentice, he wanted so badly to prove himself to the others, to do good and really become a member of the group who could be trusted and respected, but it seemed that he'd have to wait longer to prove himself. Sighing sadly, Ping Pong nodded, earning a satisfied smile from Kimiko.
"Good." She said in that no-nonsense tone again, settling herself against a nearby tree and motioning to the two smaller monks. "Now come over here. It's gonna be a cold night, and since we can't light a fire I guess that means I'm gonna have to try and keep you guys warm." Omi didn't need to be told twice, scrambling past the others to claim a spot at Kimiko's side, his head in her lap. Ping Pong, on the other hand, hesitated. He'd never really slept so close to a girl before.
"Best take the lady up on her offer there, partner." Clay drawled with a chuckle. Otherwise she'll be thawin' you out in the mornin'." Ping Pong flushed and fidgeted a moment before finally gathering up his nerve and settling himself in on Kimiko's unclaimed side. The Japanese girl smiled down warmly at him and Omi for a moment, before a shadow passed over Ping Pong and suddenly the fire dragon turned sharply to level a warning glare at Raimundo, who was now next to Ping Pong, close enough that the apprentice was forced to practically climb into Kimiko's lap to give him room.
"What?" Raimundo asked in feigned innocence. "It's cold!" Kimiko considered him for a moment before sighing grudgingly.
"Do anything and you're ash." She warned him primly before settling back against the tree and closing her eyes. Raimundo merely grinned triumphantly in response.
The sky darkened, and Ping Pong watched through bleary eyes as Kimiko's breathing evened out and Omi began to blink sleepily at the sly above while Raimundo nodded off, his cheek pressed against Kimiko's shoulder.
"Can't sleep?" Clay asked the little monk quietly, tearing Ping Pong's gaze away from the others as he settled in at Kimiko's side to be closer to the warmth she was giving off to protect the others from the chill.
"Not really." Ping Pong confessed meekly. "My mind is so full, that I can't feel sleepy."
"Yeah, I was like that my first day as a Dragon in trainin'." Clay confessed with a grin. "We just got done beatin' Jack for the first time 'n I was so excited that I couldn't sleep if my life depended on it. Just stayed up all night listenin' ta Kimiko e-mailing her friends back in Tokyo 'n Raimundo listenin' to a soccer game on a little radio he brought in. Kept thinkin' the world was in trouble if the four of us were gonna be the ones savin' it, ta tell ya the truth."
"But the four of you have accomplished so many great things since then." Ping Pong protested, his insecurities bubbling forth. "You are all such good friends, and you know each other so well. I…" I'm worried I won't fit in.
"Yeah, well we weren't always that way." Clay chuckled. "It took us a while ta get ta where we are now. Some days, we could barely stand one another. But after a while, we learned ta live with one another. Then we learned ta like one another. We became a team. And a family. And now, you're part of that family too, lil' partner." Ping Pong smiled gratefully at the cowboy, his heart warming at the sincerity in Clay's words.
As the soft breathing and quiet song of the night lulled Ping Pong to sleep, he thought again of his worries from earlier. He still didn't know anything about Teddy Bears, or Pictures, or Statues or Clothing. But he could learn. He wanted to learn about those things, just as much as he wanted to learn about the elements and becoming a warrior.
This was the first family he'd ever been a part of, and he couldn't dream of a better one if he tried.