The day the world eclipsed - Chapter 23 - Smiles4Voltron (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter Text He wanted-!

Chapter Text

By the time his Baba joined the line for ice cream, MK's tears had dried on his cheeks. He grabbed a red crayon and began to draw on the paper, unsure of what to create. His hand moved in circular patterns, forming chaotic scribbles at first.

Each time he glanced at his Baba, the man stood rigid with a nervous habit of biting his thumb. MK took a moment to look at his own much smaller thumb, nibbling his nail. Finding this made his heart heavy, he stopped right away.

His Baba seemed so… sad.

MK wrung his hands against his shirt, worried maybe he had upset him. He always wanted to be a good boy, just like his Dada had taught him to be when he was with Baba. Seeing his Baba happy and smiling was always MK's top priority

Was he being a bad boy?

Puzzled on this, Xiaotian pondered on what he could do to make this right.

His Baba had helped him win a goldfish, and make a fun paper dragon he got to show off at the festival. There were lots of other kids with paper animals too, but MK felt his was the best.

All cause his Baba and Dada helped him.

Feeling a sinking feeling, MK didn’t know why he was crying so much today. Why everything felt so loud and he was so quick to tears. Fine one second and then horrible the next. Maybe he wasn’t a good boy afterall…

MK pondered what he could do to improve the situation. Perhaps he could draw a picture for his Baba? As he tried to come up with an idea, a tinkling sound caught his attention. Curious, he turned to see what had made such a sweet noise. And that's when he spotted it - the perfect thing that would undoubtedly bring a smile to his Baba's face.

It had passed on a creaking movable cart, heading down the closest street to them. There was orange and blue- and purple. He recognized the color.

Without much thought, MK smiled so wide and hopped off the bench to follow the jingling bell that hung from the stall. Mindful of his new goldfish the entire time, he tottered away from the bench and out of sight.

It had been a Monkey King merchant cart that had drawn the boy away.

The bright colors and his father’s face were everywhere, especially on this cart. MK couldn't resist the temptation to follow it as it turned down a side street and disappeared. Without hesitation, he descended the steps and emerged onto a busy main street.

MK followed the jingling bell down the crowded street, weaving between the legs of adults and trying not to lose sight of the vibrant cart. The scent of spices and frying foods filled the air, mixing with the calls of street vendors hawking their wares. MK had to be careful not to bump into anyone, barely up to most folk’s waists.

Up ahead, the cart took a sharp turn into a narrow alleyway. MK picked up his pace, clutching his goldfish bowl tightly. He didn't want to lose the colorful vision that had so entranced him. He had seen many versions of his Dada’s face today. But it was the first time he had seen a plush toy that looked just like his Baba.

He would recognize it anywhere with the six ears. It was cute and chunky, bearing a little tail and a matching circular plush of his Dada beside it, like the two were fighting.

Though the child took it more like the two were playing.

Eagerly taking out the 10 dollars he had been given for a moment just like this, he intended to buy the plushes. “Mister!” he chirped to the man, drawing the stall owner’s attention. Pausing from pushing his Rollin business, he put his hands on his knees. The merchant looked down at MK with a bemused expression, taking in the small boy clutching a goldfish bowl and some crumpled bills in his fist. "Well hello there, little one. What can I do for you today?" His voice was gruff but kind.

MK pointed excitedly at the plush toys on the cart. "Please mister, can I have those?" He held out the money, eyes shining. "I want to give them to my Baba to make him happy again."

The merchant chuckled, stroking his whiskery chin. "For your Baba hm?” The shop keeper had looked confused at first, glancing around for the boy’s parents. Hard to tell if any of these nearby adults might be them, he simply smiled at the boy at first and took the money. “Do some chores?” he asked, wondering if that is how the youngling had procured the cash.

MK gave a solemn nod, “I picked all the weeds.” he grinned ear to ear, patting his chest proudly. “And I put them all in a bag.”

“What a good job to do,” the men praised, grabbing the small plushies to hand to the child. “Keep a good hold of ‘em now, okay?”

MK's face lit up as he eagerly embraced the plushies, pressing them against his chest with a tight squeeze. He nuzzled them affectionately, reveling in their softness, “Thank you,” he gushed. Turning back around, he couldn’t wait to show his Baba!

This would get his Baba to smile for sure!

He pivoted, but his Baba was nowhere in sight. He scanned the area behind him, to the right and left, but couldn't find him. "Huh?" he murmured, coming to a halt and squinting in all directions. He smelled the air next, realizing there were just too many smells to find the exact one he was looking for. He tried to listen for his Baba, but he couldn’t hear as well as he had earlier- that’s right, his Baba had put on a seal. He touched his ears, but he had no means of removing what his Baba had placed. “Where- Where did-” he mumbled quietly. “Baba?” his voice was a small squeak.

The stand owner gave a startled look when he noticed the boy looking around wildly. “Your parents around?” he asked. He himself started to eye the crowd for any local authorities to assist.

“Baba??” MK raised his voice a little higher, and as he did, his breaths became heavier. His feet shifted rapidly in place, his eyes growing more frantic with each passing second.

Where was baba?? Where had he gone?? H-Had his Baba left again?? Gone somewhere far away?! Why hadn’t he taken MK with him? No Baba said he would stay and not go on anymore trips! “Baba!!?”

N-No. No no wait-

He hugged the plushies to his chest, nuzzling the head of the one that looked like his Baba. He remembered now- Baba had gone to get a treat. That’s right. He just had to find where the treat stand was again. He- He just-

His breathing was sharp shrill gasps, clutching his plushies and gold fish tight to his chest. He felt dizzy. He didn’t like how his stomach was twisting and his mind felt numb.

The stall owner inched closer, “H-Hey hey, it’s okay. Lets go talk to the policemen over there, oka-” as the man knelt down to try and calm the boy, MK burst into a panicked run. “Hey wait!” the man yelled.

MK's sneakers slapped against the asphalt as he darted down narrow alleyways and unfamiliar streets. He had grown up in a bustling community, always surrounded by family, never feeling lost or alone. He didn’t understand the concept of being alone. It wasn’t in his nature- it wasn’t how things were supposed to be. He was always suppose to be able to hold his Baba’s hand. Or his Dada’s. He was their baby and they were his and he- he wasn’t suppose to lose them. So why was this happening? Why did his Dada have to go away when his Baba was around? Why did his Baba had to leave when Dada came back?

Perhaps this was about more than just being lost, but how could one so small wrap his head around a concept so big.

“Baba!”

He didn’t know where he was running to, desperately fleeing back in the direction he came from. Or trying to, anyway. Did he use the stairs? Did he pass by the pretzel cart?? He couldn’t remember. He felt the more he tried to find his way back, the more confusing the streets got.

Tears began to well in his eyes, but he bit them back. He was a big boy!! He was! His Baba said so. Big boys didn’t cry.

As he ran, the streets seemed to morph and twist around him, making even the most familiar sights appear distorted and alien. Fear took hold of his heart as he came to the realization that he was truly lost in this labyrinth of a city. The buildings towered over him like giants, casting intimidating shadows in the dimming light. MK's breathing became erratic, each breath coming in short wheezes.

"Baba! Where are you? Baba I’m right here!" He called out distraught, his voice growing hoarse with fear. Each face that turned towards him was unfamiliar, and every hand that reached out was not his Baba's. Desperately, he turned and fled from them, shrieking and ducking beneath carts and stalls to escape their grasp.

Eventually he would lose the startled adults, unaware they were only trying to help.

In a state of panic, he darted into an alleyway and crouched behind a dumpster to catch his breath, “B-Baba… Dada…” he cries, voice cracking.

Cowering in the dark alley, he hugged his knees to his chest, wide-eyed and terrified. The echoing voices of the city seemed to be reaching out for him, their whispers filled with ominous warnings. He clutched his goldfish tightly against his chest as it swam nervously in circles. But the small creature was of no use to protect him from the terrors that lurked in the darkness.

He wanted to go home.

He wanted to go home…!

He wanted-!

He was unsure of the reason behind it- perhaps his fear, maybe his sense of helplessness- but one thing was certain: he was sinking. Literally sinking.

The previously solid cement had gone soft, opening up like a void and sucking the small child up. The darkness below him was coming to life.

The shadows had swallowed him whole before he could even squeak in response.

He found himself suspended in a sea of black and purple, surrounded by darkness.

At first, MK mistook it for his Baba's shadow. But as he got closer, he noticed the smell - it wasn't his Baba's, it was his own. Despite not understanding what was going on, he didn't scream or feel scared.

On the contrary, MK felt warm.

He found himself engulfed by this darkness, reminiscent of the shadows he saw only on rare occasions. Normally it only appeared when he played peek a boo with Sandy. A silly game, but one he continued to play with his Uncle because it showed him this.

His Shadows

“Oh.” he realized, mouth forming an O. “My Peek a Boo friends.” That is what he had referred to them as- for that is all he knew them as. The little creatures that would bubble up from his feet whenever he played his games with Unkey Sandy.

They were like his Baba’s but these were different; they were lighter, almost ethereal. Within the shadows, he saw familiar smiles and eyes that mirrored his own, welcoming him to this unknown realm for the first time.

They had visitors before- well, the same visitor. Normally it was a big blue man who always played such fun games. This was the first time they welcomed their Master.

The shadows eagerly embraced him, as they often did. With limited thoughts of their own, they relied on MK's mood and emotions to guide their actions. In that moment, they had been filled with confusion and panic, desperate to rescue MK from the dangerous situation he had found himself in. Now that they had secured him, they couldn’t be more thrilled.

One of the shadows leaned in towards the child, but this one seemed different from the others. Instead of having golden eyes like his, and the other shadows, it had captivating blue ones. It gazed directly at him, materializing into a detailed form right before his very eyes. Its body mirrored his own, swirling and sporting a wide toothy smile.

Oh, he knew this one. This one liked to pop up more than the others. Always watching. Always waiting. Always hiding from his Baba and his Dada- it didn’t seem to like them for some reason.

MK reached out curiously, "Hello?" he asked. When he touched it, it felt inky and wet- like stained ocean water.

As the creature tilted its head at him, a smile appeared on its face. It pointed downwards, and MK followed its finger to see a source of light. He was surging towards it when the blue eyed shadow said, “Home.”

Like a pellet fired from a pop gun, MK catapulted out of the black void and landed in a place he knew well. The sudden brightness of the lights made him squint until his eyes could adjust to the familiar surroundings. He could feel the soft grass beneath him, and a gentle breeze carried the scents of his tribe and the nearby forest.

Home.

Scrambling to his feet, the child gasped. He was home!

He let out a delighted squeal as he embraced the small patch of grass he had been thrown onto. On his right, a member of the tribe stared at him with a banana dangling from its mouth; The creature had been leisurely roaming around when their young prince suddenly emerged from the ground! It was completely bewildered, unsure if this was reality or just a dream.

“I’m home~!!” the Prince cheered, throwing his arms up. He got up, giggling with glee as he danced around. He could see his Baba and Dada’s house just a short distance. Hugging the monkey to his right, he danced and spun with them, the monkey chirping in confusion.

MK released him and he hastily scrambled up the jagged stone steps. He paused, glancing over his shoulder to see if the shadow was still there. It's head rose from the ground just out of sight of the monkey from the tribe, its unsettling grin and piercing blue gaze fixed on him. With a small wave, the shadow vanished into the darkness once more.

“Thank you?” MK waved back with a soft murmur, unsure of what to make of the gesture. When he waved the monkey looked over it’s shoulder, confused what the Prince was waving to.

MK didn't dwell on it for long, instead quickly making his way into his Dada's house. When he discovered that his Dada wasn't there, he headed over to his Baba's house. But unfortunately, neither of them were home.

Right… they would probably still be in the city?

Finding his Dada’s home phone, he used a stool to reach it. Standing on the soft cushion he grabbed the device, eyeing the sticky note that had numbers on it.

His Dada had shown him this in case he ever needed to call his Unkeys. Which MK liked to often do when he had something super super super important to tell them. Like telling his unkey Sandy about the beetle he had found yesterday or his Unkey Tang about his latest drawing. Or when he wanted a snack from his Unkey Pigsy.

Finding Pigsy’s Noodles listed on the bottom of the sticky note, which Wukong marked with a doodle of the Pig, MK eyed the numbers and compared them to the phone.

Carefully he punched in the numbers that matched the paper and waited, holding the device to his cheek.

Pigsy’s noodles, what can I get ya?” A gruff voice spoke.

“Hi uncle Igsy!” MK says joyfully

Kid?” There was a pause, Pigsy checking the number on the line. “Already back home? Did your Baba forget something?”he figured Macaque and the kid would be out for a while. This festival sure was crazy- he had none stop orders. The business was great! Despite the rush, he had sent Wukong off a little early to try and enjoy it with the kid.

“No.” MK shook his head. “I got lost.”

Pigsy was quiet, “Oh? Got lost huh?” must have frightened the kid. Guess that is why they went home, “So he found you- your Baba, I mean.” He figured Macaque must have gone over protective mode and dragged MK home

“Noooo.” MK frowned “I dunno where Baba is. Or where Dada is. But I found my way home! All by myself~” He cheered

“…What??!” Pigsy’s voice rose an octave “I- you- hold on champ! Just- gimme a second okay? Stay on the line!!”

“Otay.”Sitting and waiting, MK waved his feet back and forth. At some point he started chewing on the collar of his shirt, suckling the material. A habit his Baba and Dada both said he shouldn’t do- but it was nice.

A few minutes later Pigsy picked up.“MK? You there champ??”

“Yes.” He smiled

Okay, good. Your Dads are on their way home right now to get you, okay? How did you manage to get all the way home??”Sure for Wukong the trip was less than 5 minutes. Maybe an hour by car. But to actually walk it was- super long!And when he called Wukong just now using his cell, Pigsy had confirmed the kid had gone missing only 30 minutes ago. He could hear how frantic Macaque was over the phone too.

“I went pop!” MK explained

Pigsy was quite “…Huh? Pop?

“Swoosh and then pop!” MK giggled, remembering the strange sensation of teleporting back home. "It was like magic Unkey Pigsy! Like what Baba uses!”

"Kid...are you telling me you telaported?" Pigsy's gruff voice crackled over the line, disbelief evident. He knew MK had a big imagination, but teleportation seemed a bit far-fetched, even for the rambunctious child.

"Uh huh!" MK nodded enthusiastically, even though his uncle couldn't see. “I want eated up and then put at home.”

Uhhhh….” The older man didn’t understand. But perhaps he didn’t need to. After all, he could hear the sound of Wukong and Macaque on the other end. So he exhaled, knowing everything was good now.

“MK!"

“Xiaotian!”

Seconds later, the two of them burst through the front door. The phone slipped out of MK's hand as his parents scooped him up and squeezed him tightly between their bodies. They covered his chubby cheeks with kisses and cooed over him, engulfing him in their arms. Their embrace was so tight that their arms even wrapped around each other in a display of overwhelming relief.

“There you are star,” Wukong exhaled, his lips to Xiaotian’s forehead.

Left on the line Pigsy sighed, glad things had worked out before hanging up.

“Oh Xiaotian, you had us so worried,” Macaque says, curling his hands against the boy’s cheeks. Wukong was right at his side, checking the little one over.

“Are you okay?? Are you hurt?” he cupped the boys chin, turning his head left and right. “Any rushing fluids?? Any ouchies??”

“No, Dada,” Xiaotian's voice was muffled against his Father’s shoulder as he replied. His small hands reached up and grasped onto his parent's cheeks, giggling as they tickled him with kisses. MK couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear, basking in the attention of both his Dada and his Baba. He reciprocated by giving little kisses back to each of them between fits of laughter.

Wukong was chirping, a sound he almost never made anymore. Yet his joy was uncontrollable, “You did so well bud~ You remembered to call your Unkeys, just like we practiced.” he praised. He didn't know whether to ground this little scamp for running off or hug him tighter for being so resourceful. In the end, he chose the latter.

MK blushed a little, his tail wagging, "I remembered!" he said, his eyes shimmering with pride. "I used my big boy brain and everything!"

Macaque kissed the top of his head. "You did, you did. You're so smart, Xiaotian," he praised him. "That's my good boy." He ruffled his hair gently, trying to calm down his beating heart.

Xiaotian had learned to call for the supports around him…

Something Macaque hadn’t thought to instill in their son- but was pleased that Wukong had. His hand instinctively moved towards the King as he nuzzled their son, finding Wukong's shoulder.

He squeezed.

Macaque's touch sent a jolt through Wukong's body, the simple gesture carrying so much weight. He swallowed hard, feeling his throat constrict with emotion as he looked into those warm auburn eyes he loved so much. They were on MK at first, but when they fluttered to him, Wukong felt the world shift when Macaque quickly looked away to hide his face into their son’s fur.

The Moon monkey forced an exaggerated look of disgust, pulling MK from Wukong’s arms to hoard the child for a moment. “Moon Drop,” he got back on topic. “I… I’m so sorry about earlier,” he says. If anything had happened to Xiaotian, he didn’t know what he would do. “But how- where did you-??”he gestured around, “How did you get here?” He could see MK’s backpack on the ground, a little fish in a bag sitting beside it, “Did you walk here?” Macaque asked as well, stunned. There should have been no other means for MK to get all the way back to the temple. He himself had only gotten here as quick as he had by using his shadows and Wukong by his cloud

“I went pop.” MK told them both.

“What?”

MK was patting the ground. While he explained to his father how it happened, he tried to mimic what had accurred, but couldn’t seem to repeat what he did. The ground ate him, when swoosh, and then he popped out! Exactly as it happened.

He thought his parents would smile and cheer at him, but they only stared. Then they looked at each other, Macaque covering his mouth. Slowly he took Xiaotian’s hand, “What do you mean, Moondrop?” he voice sounded foreign, cautious.

Xiaotian was puzzled in return, “I just… you know… popped out like when I do with Baba.”

“You mean you-” Wukong trailed off. “You used your shadow, like your Baba?”
MK nodded. At least, he thinks that is what happened. “Yeah!”

Macaque looked at MK’s feet, taking in this fact with the utmost cautious, “It can’t be…” he whispered breathlessly. Yet, as he stared at his son, he could feel it. Small but growing, a little bubble of power.

Wukong spoke next, "We thought it would be years before he could do this." he finished, turning to Macaque with wide eyes. "He's not even ten yet." Neither of them had even an inclination of what they could do until they were far older.

MK watched his parents exchange bewildered looks, their surprise only deepening his own confusion. He tilted his head, his little tail swishing back and forth as he tried to make sense of their reactions, "Dada? Baba?" he asked, his voice small. "Did I do something wrong?"

Macaque snapped out of his daze and immediately gathered MK into his arms, hugging him tightly. "No, no, of course not," he soothed, exchanging another glance with Wukong over MK's shoulder. "It's just... You really- you have my powers??” he touched his own chest. He felt himself smiling, feeling excited. His powers. His Baby took after him.

Macaque and Wukong shared a look of astonishment, trying to process the implications of MK inheriting Macaque's powers. The young monkey's eyes glimmered with enthusiasm as he eagerly nodded in agreement to his father's inquiry. "I'm just like Baba!" He wiggled out of Macaque’s hold to strike a pose in front of them. Wukong supposed this “Pose” was meant to copy Macaque’s mannerisms, since the boy put his hand on his hip and gave a little smirk.

Wukong burst into a laugh, which Macaque was startled to hear, scratching his head with an embarrassed smile, “You little- you scamp,” Wukong exhaled. They had no means of knowing if MK would inherited their abilities like this, but it wasn’t surprising either. In truth, he would much rather MK be like Macaque in every means possible. This was a blessing in his eyes. So poked MK’s nose, giving a tilt of his head, “Why did you run off hmm? We were worried sick about you. You scared your Baba to death.” Wukong waggled his finger in front of the child’s face. Best to clear that up first before they got too caught up in what MK could do now.

MK's ears drooped as he looked between his fathers with a guilty expression. "I'm sorry Baba, Dada. I didn't mean to scare you." He fiddled with the hem of his shirt, his tail curling around his leg.

Macaque did a similar action, fiddling with his scarf, “Did I upset you?” he asked.
MK gasped “No no! I-I wanted to- to be a good boy.” MK says honestly. “I wanted Baba to smile and- and I wasn’t being a good boy,” he told his Dada, ashamed of this. He turned, gesturing to the fish still in the baggy on the ground, “Baba helped me get Sunshine, so I wanted to get a gift for Baba.” Then he pulled out the plushies he had bought, showing them both. “I wanted- I want Baba and Dada. With me.” He hugged the plushies. “Always with me…” the words were falling from his mouth, desperately trying to convey what he was feeling, “Baba and Dada keep going away?? Just Baba time. Just Dada time. But I want Baba and Dada time. I don’t want Baba to go away like before…” he pleaded. MK didn’t lift his head to see the pained and startled looked of his parents. But he did hear their soft inhales.

“Oh… bud,”

MK's innocent words struck Wukong's heart painfully, causing him to exchange a sorrowful glance with Macaque. Both of them were filled with regret and self-blame.

They hadn’t realized MK had been feeling that way lately. Of course their son had picked up on the tension between them, on their constant comings and goings. Kids were so perceptive to those kinds of things.

"You’ve been feeling all that?" Macaque crouched before his son, opening his arms wide to welcome him within. As MK stepped between them, Macaque scooped him up to rock him.

MK sniffed and nodded, leaning into his arms. “I like being with Baba and with Dada, but- I miss you when you go away. You’ve been going away so much.”

Macaque’s jaw tensed, struggling to form words. It only hurt more to look up at Wukong, who had a similar expression to their son. Quiet hurt and longing…

Macaque couldn’t bare to see it, his eyes closing tight to force out, "I’m so sorry, MoonDrop. Your Dad and I, we've been...”

How could he give an explanation without going into the painful details? How could he assure his son that he never intended to leave again, and was not responsible for leaving when the child was born? One day, MK may ask and uncover the truth of what happened to them. His perception of them might shift. His adoring gaze may falter as he learns about his parents' past. The truth of their actions and the guilt they carry could taint his view of them forever.

Macaque shifted his weight from one foot to the other, searching for guidance from Wukong. But instead of meeting his eyes, Wukong's gaze was fixed on the ground, his expression neutral- but his pain revealed through the quiver of his golden eyes. He feared their child finding out the truth more than anyone else.

It was his own mistake that MK had to be without his Baba for a while. His actions caused their child to fear the possibility of one of them leaving. Of course, it was natural for the boy to feel that way.

There was even a time where Wukong had almost-

Wukong's stomach churned with worry over how much MK might remember from their earlier days. Did he recall their first trip to the city, when Wukong had planned to abandon him to strangers? Wukong wrung his hands together, his breathing choppy.

sh*t-

No no, he couldn’t think of that right now. He couldn’t let that moment haunt him, less he be unable to focus on what was going on right now.

Macaque exhaled, his ears drooping, “We've been going through some grown-up troubles lately.” he tried to explain.

Wukong crouched down next to Macaque and MK, his hand patting Xiaotian’s back, "Your Baba’s right, Star. We've been having some...issues that we need to work through. But you are the most important thing in both of our lives." He pressed a kiss to the top of MK's head. "We never wanted you to feel like you had to choose between us or like we were leaving you behind."

MK sniffled, looking between his fathers with big, watery eyes. He clutched the plush dolls tightly to his chest. "I don't want you to go away again," he whimpered. "Can't we all just stay together forever?"

Wukong and Macaque exchanged a long, weighted look over their son's head. There was so much history, so many unresolved feelings lingering between them. And yet- what did that matter if it left their son anxious and feeling abandoned?

“We’ll always be together,” Wukong spoke first, startling the other two. “Maybe not always all three together, but neither of us are every leaving you Xiaotian.” he lifted his son’s chin, brushing his bangs out of his face.

Macaque’s jaw relaxed, his voice tender, "You're our whole world, Moon Drop," he murmured, stroking MK's cheek tenderly. "We may have hit a rough patch, but we're still your family. Your dad and I...we have a lot to work through together." He glanced at Wukong, his expression softening slightly. "But we're going to figure it out. For you."

Wukong’s mouth opened and closed, then settled on a tender look. Like warm light in the early morning, it made his eyes shimmer, "We're not going anywhere, Star. I promise." He nuzzled the top of MK’s head. “So if you feel this way again, you can tell us. Alright?”

MK sniffled, looking between the two. Yeah… This right here, was perfect. With a big smile, he nodded. “Otay.” he agreed, drying his eyes. Shaking his head a little to get himself excited again, he lifted the plush. “I bought this myself.” he told his Baba proudly.

Staring at the plushes, the two adults held their breath as they realized what they were intended for.

Something flashes behind their eyes at the sight of the two plushes, but before they could explain to the child why the two were fighting- or make up some excuse, MK giggled. ‘They are playing see??” making the plush dolls dance together, oblivious to the sudden tension in the air.

Macaque squeezed his hands together, eyeing the dolls with a heavy stare. Wukong gave a forced laugh, “They uh- sure are, Bud.”

They far preferred the perception MK had to this toys then it’s original intention.

“Those are cute,” Macaque says, offering his hands for MK to put the plush dolls against. He weighed them, giving a tilt of his head, “We should make a third one,” he says with a smile. “A plush of you. So we can all play together.”

MK's eyes widened twice their normal size as he gasped, exclaiming, "Yes, yes!" in agreement. MK bounced excitedly at the idea of a plush version of himself to join his new toys. "Can we make it right now? I wanna help!"

Macaque chuckled, ruffling MK's hair affectionately. "Maybe not right this second, MoonDrop. But absolutely, we'll make one soon." He glanced at Wukong. He supposed, for all Wukong did today, it was only fair to return that good will, "It'll be a fun family project, won’t it?" he asked the King.

Wukong met Macaque's gaze, seeing the olive branch he was extending. His posture relaxed slightly. Then his eyes crinkled at the corners. "You know it.” He says. To be present to the lives of these two, it was more than he could ever hope for.

“Yay!” MK jumped up and down, his tail swinging like a turbine behind him. After a moment, the three year old lowered his hands. “Baba?” his voice grew soft. Macaque tilted his head, allowing Xiaotian to reach for him with open hands. MK gently held his Baba's face, stroking beneath Macaque's eyes with his thumbs. It wasn't that his Baba was crying, but MK mirrored the comforting gesture his Baba had done for him earlier, “Did Baba have fun with MK today?” he asked, worried he had ruined it all.

Macaque felt a mix of emotions, both bitter and sweet, as he listened to the sincere concern in MK's tone. He immediately wrapped his arms around his son, pulling him close and holding him against his chest. "I had such a great time with you today, MK. You make every moment special just by being here," Macaque whispered softly. They stayed in their loving embrace for a few moments before MK pulled back with a small smile on his face.

“Baba called me MK~” the child grinned.

Macaque's ears perked up as he realized what he had just done. He had called the child by that name, openly and without hesitation. The name gifted by Wukong, a claim from Wukong. It hadn't even occurred to him until now, and it startled him how natural it felt to say. "I...I did," he confirmed, nodding slowly.

Wukong was sliding a bit closer, grinning ear to ear, “Our little Monkey Kid~”

Macaque slapped the Monkey King with his tail.

“Ow!”

The rest of that day the two older monkeys spent talking with their cub together. It was easy to forget that just because the two of them had come to an agreement on how to handle their shared custody, that did not mean MK had come to the same understanding.

He was little, but he understood well enough.

They ushered him to sit, then proceeded to explain his abilities and how they could always be together. However, they warned him that there would be many days where only one of them would be around him.

“So not everyday,” MK pouted as he handed his Baba the spool of brown string. Macaque unwinded some of it with his fingers, nodding as Wukong dug through the fabric basket for a color that matched MK’s shirt.

“Not everyday,” his parents agreed in soft hums.

The grass tickled MK’s knees as he considered this, looking out to the orange skies of the setting sun. "

"But what if I need you both?" MK asked quietly, fidgeting with the yarn in his small hands. "What if I have a really bad dream and need both my Baba and Dada to make it go away?" his lower lip quivered.

Macaque's heart clenched at the innocent question. Not sure how to answer at first, Wukong swooped in with an affronted gasp, “What nightmares dare to mess with my kid??” he demanded, giving MK’s side a tickling poke. The child burst into a fit of giggles, grinning at his Father’s antics. “You just say the word MK, and I’ll-” he lifted his fists like he was boxing, punching the air. “One, Two! Get ‘em out of there~!”

MK mimicked his Dad, throwing little fists into the air with a shrill laugh. “Pow Pow!” After a few more playful jabs and giggles, MK turned to look at Macaque with wide, hopeful eyes. "And Baba can use his tail to whip those bad dreams away!"

Macaque lowered his eyes back to the string, focusing on winding it around his fingers, pretending not to hear his Son. With his son’s expectant eyes gauging him, he gave a side smirk, flicking his tail sharply behind him like a whip. MK squealed in delight when the motion made a gust of wind hit his face.

A slight chill filled the air as the shadows began to stretch, the sunlight in the distance slowly disappearing behind the mountain side. The lanterns around them slowly began to flicker on, one by one, bathing the small family in a sea of soft yellow light.

“Buttons,” MK produced two buttons for his doll’s eyes, holding them to his own eyes. “Baba, are buttons real eyes?”

“For dolls, yes.” Macaque nodded.

MK leaned back dramatically, purposely dropping his head back into Wukong’s lap. He stared up at him, the buttons still held to his eyes as he tried to peek up through the holes at him. “Dada, if Baba is good at drawing, and painting, and funny voices-” the child says, referring to the acting Macaque always did when reading bed time stories, “What is Dada good at?”

“Isn’t that the question of the century,” Macaque mumbled under his breath, working the string for the doll to start taking place.

Wukong huffed at the jab, “I’m good at lots of things,” he touched his chest, insistent.

“Like?” MK asked.

Wukong puffed his cheeks, slightly annoyed MK even had to ask, "Well, I'm an excellent fighter of course! The best there is." He struck a few dramatic poses, flexing his muscles, "I'm also really good at finding delicious fruits and catching fish with my bare hands!" MK gave a wide blink, his eyes narrowing slightly in disbelief. Wukong was quick to ask why this was, “What is that look for??” Did his son not believe him??

MK’s hand pressed to Wukong’s round and very soft belly, as if that was answer enough to why he didn’t believe that his Dad was “the best fighter” out there. Wukong gasped in shock, snagging the scamps hand when he started to giggle wickedly.

“You-!”

Macaque was making the exact same giggle, their little smirks matching. Wukong sputtered and puffed out his cheeks even more, his tail lashing behind him. "I'll have you know this belly is solid muscle!" He punctuated this by flexing his arms, the impressive curves of biceps rippling. "These bad boys don't lie."

“Your arms aren’t your stomach,” Macaque nearly sang.

Wukong slouched a little, huffing and sitting back down. MK was undeterred by his father's display, poking at Wukong's belly again with an impish grin. "Squishy squishy!"

"You little rascal!" Wukong grabbed MK by his ankle and dragged him closer, tickling him mercilessly. The child squealed with laughter, squirming in his dad's strong arms.

Macaque glanced at them with a small, knowing smile as his fingers skillfully manipulated the string into the perfect shape for the doll's body. He savored the moment, relishing in the fact that each week that passed made things easier. He could already imagine his sister scolding him for making arrangements to adjust their shared custody agreement, but he couldn't help it - This entire thing was for that sweet little boy.

Plus, it had become increasingly clear as of late, he had a lot to still learn. He had missed out on that learning window and had fallen behind when it came to being MK’s parent.

He had lost track of his son today. His son.

Macaque’s brow furrowed as he worked his fingers around the shape of the dolls’ body, hands moving on auto pilot. He had to be better when MK was in his care. He had to be better when MK wasn’t in his care too.

When the child wasn’t with him Macaque was- well, he was simply preparing for when Xiaotian was going to be with him again. Wukong had friends, a life- a purpose.

What did Macaque have? Nothing but shattered memories and a broken heart.

He needed to improve, to regain some sense of a meaningful existence that Xiaotian could be proud of. That his son could be part of.

He didn't want to simply be a bystander during the rare occasions they were all gathered. He wanted to contribute his own experiences and personality, rather than just tolerating Wukong's. He knew he couldn't just sit idly by and wait for his life to pick back up.

“Baba,” MK leaned against his knee, watching in wonder as the doll took form between his fingers. “Can I have a hat too?”
Wukong chuckled, “You don’t like hats?”

“But I want mini me to have a hat,” Xiaotian poked it, giving big pleading eyes.

Macaque smiled down at his son, reaching out to ruffle his hair affectionately. "Of course, Xiaotian. Mini you can have any hat you'd like." the doll was almost done after all. His hands had been in overdrive, working a mile a minute. He plucked a small scrap of fabric from the pile beside him, deftly folding and shaping it into a tiny hat to perch atop the doll's head. MK clapped his hands in delight. "Like that?" Macaque asked, holding it up for inspection.

"It's perfect!" MK exclaimed, hugging the doll close. He nuzzled his cheek to it, looking at Wukong expectantly. While MK decided the look, coloring pictures for his parents to work off of, Macaque had taken his job of making the doll itself, while Wukong was tasked with making it a shirt.

The King was hunched over, hiding his work with his hands. Noticing their expectant stares, since their tasks were done, Wukong grimaced. “Oh well uh-” Wukong sheepishly pulled his hands apart to reveal a lopsided, messy attempt at a tiny shirt for the doll. Clearly his talents did not extend to needlework. "I'm no good at this sewing business," he admitted with a rueful chuckle.

MK giggled at the misshapen garment. "It's okay Baba, mini-me can go shirtless like a real muscle monkey!" He took the shirt anyway, keeping it together with the hat his Baba had made.

Macaque shot Wukong an smug look. "The great Monkey King, defeated by a sewing needle."

Wukong puffed his cheeks, but did not deny that jab. Instead he leaned back against the log behind them, arms folded behind his head as he watched their son dance the dolls around, trying to deepen his voice when speaking in “character” of the dolls.

Come on Bud, let’s go~!” MK shook the Wukong doll around. “Moon Drop, keep your Dad out of the pantry- his stomach will explode.” MK shook the Macaque doll next. Wukong clicked his teeth, his mouth falling open in shock as he accusingly looked at Macaque, realizing the man must have told that to MK alot for the child to repeat it. The Moon Monkey looked away innocently.

MK giggled, swinging the dolls around again as they bickered back and forth in his imagination. The fond look on Wukong's face as he watched their son play belied his mock offense.

As the night dragged on, MK rubbed his bleary eyes and let out a small yawn. The two grown-ups reclined in their seats, confident that their child would eventually mimic them and doze off as well. Just as expected, the child began to lean back against them, his small hands continuing to play with the dolls above their heads.

Gradually, his hands fell to rest on his chest, and his eyes began to droop. "...Not tired..." he muttered. Macaque placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, causing MK's eyelids to shut. With his head resting against his father's chest, the boy made contented noises as Wukong lovingly stroked his hair.

The two lingered their for a time, taking in the sight of their child and letting the day’s events settle. Perhaps it was just Macaque who felt this, but there was a sense of stilled tension. He waited, holding his breath, for Wukong to say something.

He was positive the King would.

He felt foolish for being concerned about Wukong's thoughts, but deep down he knew it was warranted. He had failed today, losing their son in the process. He had made a mistake and caused MK to cry and scream- he couldn't handle even one of Xiaotian's outbursts. Without MK's aptitude and the teachings of Wukong, the boy could have been wandering aimlessly for who knows how long. Anything could have happened to him during that time.

Wukong shifted slightly, his movements careful not to disturb MK's slumber. He let out a long sigh, his gaze drifting from their son to Macaque. There was a wistful look in his eyes as he studied the monkey's features in the flickering lantern light.

“You did well.”

Macaque visibly flinched, like he had been slapped. That stinging sensation fell to his chest, making his voice waver, “What?”

“I don’t have to tell you how stubborn MK can be sometimes.” he mused.

Macaque felt his throat tighten as unexpected warmth blossomed in his chest. He ducked his head, unable to meet Wukong's tender expression. "Are you- Are you stupid??” his voice rose, “I...I lost him in the first place. I got distracted and he wandered off because of me." he smacked his hand to his chest. He didn’t need any pity. He would prefer Wukong just snapped and yelled at him.

“The kid is super sneaky sometimes,” Wukong exhaled knowingly, a sound of exhaustion in his voice. He was looking up at the sky when he said this, not realizing how startled Macaque looked when the darker monkey whipped his head around. “When he was little- real little, the kid never stopped eating.” he ran a hand through his hair, the very memory making him shudder. “He would cry and cry and cry- I tired to keep him on a sort of schedule but the kid went ballistic if he couldn’t have his snacks.”

Macaque listened raptly as Wukong recounted the memory, the tension in his shoulders easing slightly. The King's voice was laced with a sort of weary fondness, the kind that came from recalling shenanigans pulled by a beloved child.

"One day I turned my back for just a second to grab something from the kitchen, and the little monster had shimmied up onto the counter and was shoveling handfuls of dried fruit into his mouth. He was even eating things that weren’t food- like rocks. Ugh, the rocks. I couldn’t get him to spit them back up, and eventually they worked out of his system, but he was not happy when they did." Wukong shook his head with a crooked smile.

Macaque stared ahead, trying to imagine these things. He had never heard of this story before. How many more did Wukong have that Macaque had missed out on? What else could he draw from the King to share?

“He’s run away from me too,” Wukong continued. “I think all kids do. They just follow what interests them without thinking.”

Macaque felt the knot of his chest loosen, staring down at his hands. He could still feel Wukong’s touch up on them. How foolish.

How pitiful.

To be comforted by the man who had taken these moments from him.

Macaque swallowed hard, clenching his jaw as he fought back a surge of emotion. He wanted to lash out, to rage against Wukong for his nonchalant reminiscing about moments Macaque had missed out on due to his own selfish actions. But the tenderness in Wukong's voice as he spoke about their son disarmed him. It was just- he wanted to know so much more.

“What did you do when he ran off?" Macaque said finally, his voice tight.

“Squeezed him and scolded him- and then got him some ice cream.” Wukong sighs to himself. He was such a tiny thing back then, I don’t think he understood what he did wrong.” he paused, “He’s still tiny.”

Macaque whispered softly, “He feels too big. Growing up too fast. So much time-” he closed his mouth, stifling the pain sound that threatened to spill out.

Wukong let out a shuddering breath. For a long moment, the only sound was the crackled of the lanterns around them, accompanied by MK’s soft breathing, “If I could give you that time back…”

“Don’t.” Macaque squeezed his eyes shut.

Wukong let his words trail off, watching Macaque's anguished expression with a heavy heart. The pain was still raw between them, a gaping wound that never seemed to heal no matter how much time passed. He longed to reach out, to pull Macaque into his arms and chase away the demons that haunted them both. But he knew that embrace would only be met with resistance, a painful reminder of all they had lost. Instead, Wukong swallowed hard, his throat tight with unshed tears. "I'm sorry," he whispered, the words seeming hopelessly. “I’m so sorry.”

Macaque's breath caught in his throat at Wukong's apology. Those two simple words carried a weight that threatened to crush him. He wanted to rage, to scream, to unleash all the anger and hurt that had festered for years. But in that moment, he felt utterly drained, hollowed out by the echoes of the past.

"I know," he rasped, his voice barely above a whisper. It turned to a sharper, mournful hiss, "I know you are." He turned his head, shuddering.

“I’m sorry,” Steeling himself, Wukong reached out and gently grasped a single finger on Macaque’s hand. He half-expected the smaller monkey to recoil, to reject the gesture as he had so many times before. But to his surprise, Macaque's finger was unmoving.

It held for a few charged moments, then Macaque slipped away, huddling into the shadows of the lanterns around them. “Since he fell asleep on you, he should go to bed with you.” he says, speaking of Xiaotian once more.

Wukong watched with a heavy heart as Macaque retreated into the shadows, his words a thinly veiled dismissal. He knew better than to push, to try and prolong a moment that had already grown too tender, too raw for Macaque's comfort. With a weary sigh, he turned his attention to the sleeping form of their son, cradled against his chest.

Xiaotian looked so peaceful in slumber, his cherubic features softened by the gentle glow of the lanterns.

With a gentle yet firm grip, he lifted the boy up, bringing their foreheads together in an intimate embrace. He let out a deep breath, his words barely audible as he whispered to his son, "I'm sorry to you too, bud."

If his son feared them going away, he would spend the rest of his life ensuring that fear never came to pass.

The following day, Wukong arrived to explain to his friends what had happened. He was bombarded with gasps and shock and an overwhelming amount of questions.

“That’s amazing,” Tang squealed, pushing up his glasses in intrigue. “To think he would inherited Macaque’s powers like that.”

Pigsy grunted, leaning against the counter, “I’m just glad he wounded up at the temple and not somewhere else.” he scratched his chin. “Kid has some good instinct to call the shop.” Wukong and he exchanged proud smiles, both happy that their efforts in teaching the kid how to operate the phone had paid off. As the three talked, the fourth of their party remained quiet

“…” Sandy was silent, eyes wide as he stared at the table.

Wukong kept talking, “Yeah. Macaque and I are going to go over our agreement again too in order to see if we could work out a day where we both are with the kid. Like a three with me, three with him, and 1 together.”

“Is Macaque okay with that?” Tang titled his head.

Wukong nodded, “He suggested it actually.” he smiled down at his hands. “1 isn’t that bad since before we were basically just doing everything together. We might even put it to more than one day since we are already used to MK wanting both of us around all the time. We’ll play it by ear every week.”

Pigsy gave a little smile, “That sounds like a good plan, Wu. I’m sure that made the kid happy.” He gave a smug rub of his knuckles to his shirt, “Not to mention, you can always just bring Macaque some of my dumplings to sweeten his mood.”

Wukong grinded his teeth in frustration as he realized that Pigsy was his only hope for making Macaque tolerate his presence. "You never let me forget it," he mumbled under his breath.

“I can’t help it if he likes my food.” the Pig smirked. “I guess you could say, I’m Macaque’s favorite right now.” it was a tease, but an effective one.

“You are not!” Wukong argued, his fur bristling in agitation. “Your food is what he likes, not you.” He couldn't deny the pig's culinary skills, but he refused to believe that Macaque truly preferred him over Wukong himself.

“Someone sounds jealous,” Pigsy snickered, leaning back when Wukong reached for him. Tang was collecting Wukong’s hands to calm him.

“Don't be a bully, Pigsy,” he reprimanded. “We’re all aware of how much Wukong craves Macaque’s validation.” He patted his hand, “Desperate.”

Wukong nodded in agreement at first, but then he stammered and exclaimed, "What? I-I'm not- desperate?" His eyes widened and his face flushed with heat.

“Shhh shh,” Tang soothed, his tone boarderlining on teasing, “Of course you aren’t Wu~”

“Will both of you quit it??” Wukong demanded.

Sandy's silence was deafening, the water demon staring blankly at the table as his friends discussed Wukong and Macaque's co-parenting plans. His mind raced, a tumultuous storm brewing beneath his calm exterior. “Um…” Sandy spoke quietly before Wukong kept saying.

“Anyway, we gotta figure out how we are going to train MK now. Since it’s Macaque’s powers, he would understand it better then me.”
Tang suddenly gasped, “Do you think he’ll show signs of your powers too?”

“I was wondering the same,” Wukong nodded vigurously. “He hasn’t showed any inclination of it. I’m not even sure if our powers would blend well when together like that?” he admits. Macaque and him had always been a power house together- but having the same powers in one little body worried him.

“Wu?” Sandy’s voice was so quiet Wukong hadn’t heard him.

“For now we just know he can open up a portal of shadows like Macaque can. He can’t really do it on command though.” he frowned. “We tried to see if he would do again but- no luck.”

“Wukong??” Sandy’s voice got a bit louder.

“The only way he could do it last time was when he was really stressed, which we wouldn’t want him to feel again.” Wukong continued.

“Oh yeah, definitely not,” Tang and Pigsy agreed. “Maybe he just needs some visualization? Ask him to recall how he felt in the moment when he used it?”

“Maybe?” Wukong says, rubbing his chin, seeing Sandy wave his hands around from the corner of his vision but ignoring. “We could also try-”

“Wukong!” Pausing from the conversation, they glanced at the larger blue man when he exclaimed. Sandy was holding his drink, a pale look to his face. “Um…” he spoke quietly.

“Geez Sandy, what gives? What ya need?” Pigsy asked.

Sandy gave a weak laugh, “Oh uh- sorry about that,” he bowed his head in apologize. “I just wanted to… um… You didn’t know he had these powers before?” he pushed for his question.

“We’re you listening Pigsy?” Tang pushed up his glasses, “He used them for the first time yesterday.”

“First time,” Sandy repeated. “Well um-” he gave a nervous smiles, “I just- uh… I’m just confused.” he admits at last. “You have never seen MK use his powers before yesterday?”

Wukong frowned, “Yeah? I mean, it would be pretty obvious if he had them before.” there were moments he supposed he should have realized MK had the potential for it. The shadows always seemed so wispy around the kid. But nothing clear cut was ever shown.

“Oh boy,” Sandy sunk into his seat, a weight in his words.

Pigsy snorted a little, “What is with you?” he asked. "It’s not like the kid will bite now that he has powers.”
“He’ll still bite,” Wukong corrected, his poor tail proof of that.

“He wont’ bite sandy,” Pigsy added.

Sandy shook his head, “I’m not worried about that…” he didn’t know how to say this. "I just- I thought-” he waved his hand around. “I was just positive you would have noticed before.” he didn’t know how else to say this, “Cause… CauseI’veseenthem?” he voice got smaller and smaller.

Wukong turned his head, his eyes wide. “What did you say?”

Sandy twiddled his massive thumbs together, “Iveseenhispowersbefore,” he mumbled quickly.

…Are you saying you’ve seen these powers before?” he says quietly, his expression unreadable.

Sandy was sweating nervously, sipping his tea with shaky hands, “Yes.”
‘What??” Pigsy mouthed.

“Sandy??” Tang shook his arm.

“I thought you knew,” Sandy paled, his voice desperate.

Wukong’s eye twitched as Pigsy and Tang yelled, “Clearly he didn’t Sandy!!”

"When?" Wukong's voice was low, a dangerous edge to it. "When did you first notice?"

“It was just- he uses them all the time with me-” Sandy was babbling, interrupted by Wukong’s sharp tone.

Sandy,” The King put his hands together, his voice strange- barely holding onto the patience he had, “I need you to tell me how long you have known this critical information,”

Sandy folded his hands together, the larger man making himself smaller, “Well,” he cleared his throat, nervous. For, if he thought about the time line of it all, it was quite some time. “Remember the day we met?” he asked. “When I offered to babysit and you could take my spot to the Boxing match?”

Wukong’s eyes widened, brows furrowed in fury, “Yes??” he nodded.

“It was that night,” Sandy whispered weakly.

“THAT NIGHT?!” Pigsy roared.

“That was so long ago Sandy??” Tang gawked at him.

“I really thought you knew!” Sandy wailed.

“How would we know?!” Tang demanded, “He’s never EVER shown them before?”

“He shows them all the time!” Sandy insisted.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!” his three friends yelled.

Sandy flinched, beginning to explain. Every babysitting, every game of peek a boo, all leading to the inevitable trip he would take spiraling through MK’s little shadows just to be popped out of the floor and hear MK giggling his head off.

Wukong was shaking the blue by the time he was done, having to be bodily torn from him by Pigsy and Tang. “Peek a boo?? PEEK A BOO?!” Wukong demanded. Of course the one game he hadn’t played with his son was the one trigger his powers had! No wonder MK was never surprised by what Macaque could do! Was never afraid or confused- why would he be if he already knew it and could do it himself??

“I’m sorry!!” Sandy whimpered dramatically, tears in his eyes as Wukong bodily swung him around. Would have been comedic if Pigsy wasn’t screeching.

“No swinging grown men in my shop!!!”

By the end of it all, Wukong was sulking in the corner. “All this time…” he mourned. He thought back to all the times MK would disappear and reappear, giggling mischievously. Wukong had simply chalked it up to childish antics, never once considering the possibility of something more extraordinary at play. How could he have been so blind

“Wu,” Tang tried to coax.

"Ughh Macaque is going to kill me when he finds out,” Wukong lightly slammed his head against the post in the corner.

Despite his friends insisting he would be fine, and Sandy apologizing profusely and promising to discuss any more discovers- even if he was positive WUkong already knew, Wukong left with a heavy head.

As suspected, when he informed Macaque of this news, he was bodily snatching the moon Monkey from sinking into his shadows to hunt the water demon down

“What do you mean he knew?!” Macaque roared, kicking against WUkong’s hold.

“He’s a good man~!” Wukong insisted.

“HE’S A DEAD MAN!”

After many hours of calming the fuming Macaque down, the evening had started to settle in. Macaque had forced himself to swallow any spiteful words and vengeful intentions simply for the fact that “Unkey Sandy” was someone Xiaotian valued.

What’s done was done, and at least they knew now.

As they finished their nightly routine of getting MK ready for bed, Macaque had just finished reading the third bedtime story to Xiaotian. The child's eyes were heavy with sleep as he was tucked in snugly, “I’m going to finish cleaning up and then I’ll come join you, okay?” Macaque says.

“Otay~”

"Goodnight kiddo," Macaque kissed his head.

“And Ke.” MK pointed to his stuffed Monkey. Macaque kissed it too. “And Sunshine,” he pointed to his fish.

Macaque stared at it. “I don’t think I could give sunshine a kiss, Moon Drop,” he admits.

“On the glass,” MK pointed to it.

With a slouch of his shoulders, Macaque lifted the entire bowl. “…Oh Sunshine~” he says dramatically, putting on his acting face. MK pulled his covers up to his face and giggle. “How beautiful you look tonight~” Macaque did a little twirl, his son’s laughter getting louder.

The fish seemed to swim even more gracefully in the bowl as Macaque continued his impromptu serenade. MK was laughing uncontrollably now, ‘Baba~!” he says.

Giving the glass a quick kiss, Macaque returned the bowl to the bedside table. He tickled MK’s peeking toes in passing, getting to the door. “Off to dream land you go,” he waved to MK, closing the door.

He turned his attention back to the house and began tidying up the scattered toys and blankets. Once everything was in its proper place, he glanced at the clock to check the time.

He could have just gone to bed, he supposed. Yet something nagging at his subconscious insisted he do something else. That he say the words that had flickered onto his brain and sat there.

He owed it, after what happened.

With a moment of peace, this might be the only chance he could before it too much time passed and it became awkward.

So, he left the house for a moment, sauntering over towards Wukong’s.

He found the sun kissed monkey sitting on his porch, staring out to the distant sky. Macaque rubbed the back of his neck, feeling unsure how to approach this. With a sigh, he shook his nerves off and walked closer.

As he approached, Wukong’s gold gaze quickly took note of him in the darkness. “Macaque-” he started to stand, but the other gestured for him to stay seated. Wukong slowly sunk back down, eyes doubling in size when Macaque sat beside him.

The old, creaky porch swing swayed gently beneath them, the weight of their unspoken thoughts hanging heavily in the humid summer air. Wukong remained still, his body tense. He studied Macaque's stoic expression, trying to decipher any clue to what was going through his mind. But the monkey remained silent, and Wukong dared not break the heavy silence with words that might ruin this fragile moment between them.

Instead he focused on the smell of plumbs, the silkiness of Macaque’s fur, the flutter of his ears. The rusted chains of the swing groaned under their combined weight, adding a haunting melody to the peaceful evening.

“I’m not sure how you did it,” Macaque finally spoke.

“Hm?” Wukong turned his head, confused.

“Raising him.” Macaque added. “Raising him alone.” Macaque’s shoulders felt heavy, sagging as he understood it must have been incredibly difficult. “Yesterday was a disaster, long before I lost track of Xiaotian at the festival.”

Wukong hid a smile, trying to lighten the situation at first, but it was short-lived when he registered the pain in the others eyes. He could recognize the struggle, as he had suffered through it countless nights. The feeling that he wasn’t enough- that he never would be. Being a parent was just something he wasn’t cut out to be…

“It’s not easy Macaque, I won’t lie. But you’ll pick it up. It does get easier with time.” Wuking’s elbow softly brushed to Macaque’s in a small gesture.

Macaque felt his stomach drop, hugging his arms closer to himself, “I kept telling myself you were a bad Father,” he admitted quietly, the very words hard to say now. It was even harder when Wukong’s gaze lowered, accepting the claim with no sign of refutting it, “I wanted you to be bad,” Macaque continued. “Wanted you to be horrible and no good. For MK to be miserable with you. But…” he shakes his head when Wukong flinches. “You aren’t.” Golden eyes widen, startled and in disbelief. “He’s a wonderful child, because of you.”

Wukong didn’t know what to say. His heart ached, because he knew the guilt in the other’s words. “Macaque I-” he mumbled, “I wasn’t perfect either…”

Macaque cut him off to insist, “But you were there.”

Wukong’s voice was choppy, “You would have been too if you could. Don’t think for a moment you wouldn’t have,” he insisted. Letting the swing shift below them, Wukong adds, “I made so many mistakes. I mean-” he threw his arms forward, “He’s got powers. Power’s he’s had since before he was 1, and I had no idea.” it was frustrating. It was so unbearably frustrating that he wasn’t aware of this. How many other things did he not know?

“I didn’t either.” Macaque stared at his palms. The child hid them well, too well. If it wasn’t for the single key phrase of “Peek a boo” who knows how long it would have taken for any of them to uncover it. “If I hadn’t lost him…”

Wukong nervously wrung his hands together, his brow furrowed in worry. "You aren’t being fair on yourself. He's run off on me too," he laments. "It was his first time seeing an ice cream truck-” A shudder runs through Wukong's body as he recalls the chaotic scene. "He chased the poor driver down for four blocks.”

Macaque’s lips curled into a smile and snort that he tried to swallow down. Oh his little baby~ “That isn’t the same as this. And his powers- ”

“There are other times.” Wukong cut in, “As for his powers, that is on me.” he concluded. “I’ve been with him from the start. I’ve seen signs. Things I’ve just brushed off as my mind playing tricks. I should have realized sooner.”

Macaque didn’t speak right away, but when he did, his voice was a somber sigh, “At least you keep him happy. At least he is growing up well and is learning. I keep making mistakes.” he shakes his head. “He was so upset with me yesterday.”

Wukong leaned forward, the porch swing squeaking below them. "I was wondering actually… MK said he was worried he had been a “bad boy” to you. Even apologized to me for not treating you right.” Wukong offered a little smile to try and lighten the mood, “What exactly happened?”

Macaque’s tail flickered, clearly pleased that his son was that worried about him, but that pass as his frown returned, “He was treating me perfect. I was the one who was messing up.” he paused, then corrected, “Well-” His words caught in his throat as he hesitated, unsure of how to explain. But under Wukong's unwavering gaze, he forced out the rest of the sentence. "He was throwing some tantrums.”

“Oh?” Wukong leaned back, eyes wide.

“He just- he’s so perfect.” Macaque insisted. “I think he slept wrong or missed you- I don’t know.” he sighs. “He’s never acted that way before.”

Wukong found nothing about that strange. The kid wanting endless snacks and treats, whining about shoes, or even stubbornly refusing to change from what plan he’s made for himself, all of that was normal for MK. Wukong leaned back, recalling countless tantrums and meltdowns over the years. "MK has his moments for sure," he chuckled. "I remember this one time, he was maybe a year and a half, and he wanted to wear his swimsuit to the grocery store in the middle of winter. When I told him no, he dropped to the floor, kicking and screaming."

Macaque openly blinked, then chuckled, “Really?” but the concerned look didn't leave his face. "I just... Is that- does he always act that way with you then? I just- I want to be a good father to him, Wukong. I don't want to mess this up."

Wukong settled back, his expression somber. He then mused in quiet understanding, “He hated wearing shoes at first too.” He didn’t know how else to explain this other than examples. Shows of what he had been through. Words were little, but experiences were different.

Macaque slowly looked at him.

“Would throw them away, hide them so I couldn’t put them on him, or even try to eat them.” Wukong shook his head, smiling at the memories. He looked up at the stares, eyes distant, like he could see that conniving little baby still.

Macaque's eyes widened in surprise. "All that? He's always been such an angel for me." A slight frown creased his brow. "I must be doing something wrong if he is showing this to me now.”

“Actually..” Wukong spoke up, “I think you’re doing everything right.” he offered a smile. “He doesn’t throw tantrums to his Unkeys. He doesn’t whine to them, or bargain with them. He obediently does as he is told.” Wukong gave a side smile. “He does all those things to me though. And now you.”

Macaque blinked once, then twice, not sure how all of that was a good thing? “Why… Why just us?” he asked, since it seemed by Wukong’s smile that he must know the reason.

Wukong chuckled and nudged Macaque's shoulder playfully. “Cause we’re his parents.”

Macaque’s ears flickered, shimmering. “I-?” he tilted his head, demanding more explanation.

“Kids can sense when they're safe, when they can let their guard down. With us, he knows we'll still love him no matter what." Wukong sighed wistfully, his smile wide at the dazzling look Macaque had. "When you first got here, I think he was worried that…” his smile faltered, “I think he thought you might leave again.”

Macaque’s starry expression saddened, “What?”

“We told him you were on a trip, right? I’m not a mind reader, but I think he was worried you would go on another one. It’s why he was nothing but sweet and polite to you. But now that he is recognizing that you aren’t going anywhere, he’s letting his walls down.”

Macaque's tail drooped down to the porch, making a soft swishing sound as it brushed against the planks. The thought that Xiaotian might have been worried about him leaving again tore at his heartstrings. He looked up at the stars, blinking back moisture in his eyes. "I never wanted him to think that...” his voice came out stronger, “I would never leave him again."

Wukong nodded in understanding.

Macaque's grip on the porch rail tightened, "I've been so worried I've been screwing everything up... but he just..." Macaque's voice broke, unable to finish the rest of the sentence.

Wukong patted his shoulder again, this time more reassuringly. "He loves you Macaque, I promise." He said without a doubt in his words. "And who could blame him?” Auburn eyes widened in tandem with the King’s hand tensing- realization cutting between the two. Wukong cleared his throat, removing his hand in an attempt at subtlety. "I- ah…” Macaque's tail stilled, the only movement the slight tremble of his fingers gripping the porch railing. The King shifted uncomfortably, unable to meet Macaque's intense gaze. "I shouldn't have said that." His voice was little more than a rumbled murmur.

Macaque's voice trembled with emotion as he replied, “Don't-”

Wukong swallowed hard, his words echoing through the tense silence. "But I meant it." The two stood facing each other, their eyes locked in a fierce battle of wills. Macaque's face remained stoic, but Wukong could see the emotions stirring beneath the surface.

The Moon Monkey’s eyes shifted to the porch steps, aiming for escape, “If you don’t have anything else to say, I’m going to go-”

Wukong fidgeted a bit, then changed the subject. “W-Wait wait, I do have other things to say so-” he held his hand out, drawing Macaque to freeze up. When Wukong lowered his hand, Macaque steadied himself. He slowly sat back on the swing, hands on his lap and staring ahead with a tense look. Wukong blabbered, “S-So uh- yeah, don’t worry about making any mistakes, okay?? I mean, worry about making mistakes but don’t let them overwhelm you?” he struggled, realizing he wasn’t making sense, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes too. More, even.” Wukong wanted to assure him some way.

Macaque regarded Wukong with a measured gaze, his lips pressed into a thin line. "I… appreciate you trying to make me feel better," he said, his voice carefully controlled. "But we both know that's not what this is really about."

Wukong felt his stomach turning, “Right.” he agreed, his hands feeling sweaty. “I know.” he nodded, his body facing back to the temple fields where the monkeys were asleep in their nests. “I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I understand how you are feeling. I felt it too. I still feel it.” Mistakes were inevitable. And while many he had learned from, and some he couldn’t avoid making, there was one that would haunt him forever.

One he felt Macaque deserved to know, but was terrified to say.

He tried, despite how much it made his heart clench, “When Xiaotian was little, not even a year old, I…”

Macaque looked at him and Wukong froze.

Suddenly the realization, the weight of what he was about to admit, crashed against his shoulder.

Wukong stopped talking, his voice catching in his throat. He tried to smile and laugh it off, to continue the story and explain it. He couldn’t.

As much as he tried, the words died in his throat, and his lips twitched.

A sense of unease filled Macaque's throat as he looked at Wukong, who hadn't shown this kind of despair since his return. He hesitantly asked, dreading the answer, "What's wrong, Wukong?"

The King shakes his head, almost desperate. How could he admit this? How could he admit almost the biggest mistake of his life?

The 24 hours he was willing to give their son away to strangers.

When he had lost himself and in turn almost lost the miracle and gift Mihou had given him? His fingers ached, still able to feel how MK had shuddered and sobbed against him. Their son had taken his first steps that day- had walked in pure desperation to him when he had turned his back on his little one. That was a mistake that should never be forgiven.

What semblance of peace he found with Mihou would surely be broken if he admitted this.

When Macaque spoke his name again Wukong jolted. He hadn’t realized how deep he had fallen into his own turmoil- his breathing coming out shallow. He had lost himself to it, prompting Macaque speak, to reach out and almost touch him.

Macaque’s eyes were wide and searching. “Wukong?” his hand hovered above Wukong’s shoulder.

“Oh--! I… I’m fine,” Wukong shook his head and smiled. He smiled, but his eyes were wet and trembling. He didn’t even seem to register they were there, just like he didn’t seem to notice the trembling of his body and the heaving of his own breathing.

It had been his own choice. His own actions. What right did he have to feel pity for himself when it was him who almost gave his child up?

I should tell Mihou, he thought weakly. He should tell him that he almost gave their child away. That Mihou was wrong about him being a good Father.

A good parent would never have….

Then that hand grasped his shoulder, and Wukong’s vision cleared.

Macaque spoke, a softness to his tone, “H-Hey?”

Wukong's usually fierce and confident eyes were now wide, glistening and wet. Macaque himself was taken aback by this unexpected display of emotion from the King. He found his voice after a moment, “Breathe, Wukong.” He ushered for Wukong to take a breath. His ears flickered, recalling the strange technique Wukong had used earlier, recognizing how it had helped. He used his free hand to demonstrate the concept of inhaling and exhaling by mimicking the motion with his hand. He brought his hand closer to his body as he inhaled, then moved it outward as he exhaled. “In and out, right?”

Wukong shoulders shook watching for a moment before he hesitantly followed, inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. As he focused on his breathing, the tightness in his chest began to ease ever so slightly. Macaque kept his hand on Wukong's shoulder, a grounding presence.

"There you go," Macaque murmured encouragingly. "Just breathe."

After a few more cycles of inhaling and exhaling, Wukong's trembling subsided. He felt the fog of panic receding from his mind, replaced by a dull ache of shame and regret. Wukong leaned back with a long exhale, “Thanks,” he says, touching his chest.

Macaque nodded awkwardly, “That hand thing is um-” Macaque drawled out, “useful.”

Wukong gave a little smile, “Yeah, I thought the same.”

“Where did you learn that from?”

Wukong paused, shrugging a little. After a moment, just before Macaque accepted that as his answer and got grouchy for Wukong be unwilling to share, he blurted out, “Therapy.”

Macaque's eyebrows raised in surprise. He paused in his tracks, lowering himself back to the bench. “What?”

Wukong forged ahead, his voice tight and quick, struggling to look Macaque in the eye, “I’ve been going to therapy. A place Sandy recommended.”

“Therapy?” Macaque repeated, his eyebrows arching even higher. Wukong could feel the weight of Macaques scrutiny on him.

Wukong felt his nerves fraying, wringing his hands together. “It’s um- I heard it was good for you. Like- c-cleaing your- brain?” how had Sandy worded it again? “Mainteneance for your skull, or whatever.” Wukong gave a little awkward bark of a laugh and looked at Macaque, steeling himself for the fallout. Macaque’s face was unreadable.

“That sounds...” he began, and Wukong braced himself, “Good.”

“Huh?” he blinked in surprise at the unexpected response.

Macaque nods, “I mean, if it helps you, great. I’m-'“ he struggled with the words, waving his hands about. In the end they folded together, clasped in front of him. His voice was softer then he thought it would be, but genuinely- “It’s good.” he concluded.

Wukong felt a rush of relief at Macaque's unexpected acceptance. He had braced himself for judgment, for ridicule-

Macaque’s unexpected support was like a balm to his soul.

It was a stark contrast to the harsh self-criticism that usually plagued Wukong's mind.

"Thanks, Macaque,"

“Why thank me.” Macaque shrugs. It wasn’t like he had a say in what Wukong did or didn’t do. Still- he supposed- there was a sense of trust with Wukong admitting this to him. Talking things out and finding steps to work through what you had done and experienced- it took a lot of strength.

Strength Macaque didn’t know if he shared.

Macaque observed Wukong for a moment, his mind filled with elusive thoughts. The silence that hung between them was dense, filled with unexpressed sentiments. Finally, Macaque coughed, shattering the tension that had settled over them, “I should,” Macaque began slowly, “Get back to Xiaotian before he notices.”

“Oh right right,” Wukong noded gesturing for him to go. “I’ll see you both tomorrow?”

Macaque nodded. A trip together to go camping. It was intended to be 1 day, but could easily slip into two. Macaque didn’t mind if it was two.

Stepping off Wukong’s porch, he got at least a few steps away before he called over his shoulder, “Wukong.”

“Yeah?”

“Whatever you wanted to tell me…” Macaque rubbed the back of his head, “You can tell me when you are ready.”

“What?” Wukong whispered, eyes widening.

“I’m not going anywhere.” Macaque said. “So when you are ready, tell me then.” He was sure it was bad. He was sure it would hurt or startle him - clearly it would be that way for it to affect Wukong the way it was. But, if recent events proved anything, it was also something Wukong was working to fix about himself.

So Macaque felt he would be ready to hear it.

Looking stunned, Wukong opened and closed his mouth. Then he nodded, a grateful smile on his lips. “Thank you, Mihou.”

A flicker of light flashed against Macaque’s eyes, sharply turning to mask it. “Whatever.” he mumbled in a rush, fleeing back to his own house.

———————-

MK couldn’t sleep after his Baba had left. He listened to his Baba clean and tidy up. Could hear the front door opening and closing- figuring his Baba went out for a stroll.

Left to his thoughts, MK turned his head to the shadows casted over the bed by the night light. He stared at them, dark pools of black swaying in the night.

He had always been able to summon them during peek a boo. Yet his young mind had thought it was a trick reserved only for that game. He had no idea he could pull from them during other times too.

“…” quietly he extended his hand out, letting his fingers hover over some of the casted shadows. He pressed downward, nothing happening at first. He could only feel the soft sheets at his fingertips.

He thought back to what he had felt when he used them before. How much he had wanted something to help him.

His hand sunk.

Gasping, he stared at how his shadow seemed to consume his hand, sinking it into the bed. He quickly pulled it back, startled. Shaking it hand he scrambled back, hiding below the covers and sticking his head out.

The shadows seemed to shift, drawn to attention. It wasn’t often it’s new little master called upon them- so of course they were curious.

As the little prince lay in his bed, something rose from beneath it. His eyes widened, clinging to the sheets.

He found he couldn't move- couldn't speak. Perhaps fear, or curiosity, he wasn't sure, but he didn't make a sound as it rose.

This stood taller then himself, yet seemed to share his face. It's eyes a sunken pale blue, it's smile just a wide as it was the first time they met.

"It's you..." he realized.

He reached out a hand, hesitant, as the figure tilted its head in a mirror image of him. The figure was shadowy but solid, like a tangible darkness pulled straight from his nightmares. With a tremor in his hand and fear knotting in his gut, MK reached out and touched it. His fingertips skimmed over airy skin that felt real and warm beneath him.

Like touching a solid cloud.

"Who... who are you?" His voice was barely above a whisper as he asked the question that had been nagging at his mind. "Are you... me?"

"Me?" The creature echoed his voice, the timbre darker and more hollow than his own. Something about the situation made MK's heart clench with bittersweet familiarity.

"Yes... you," he whispered, a sudden calmness washing over him. This figure - it was him, but not him? It was his shadow...

Or one of them?

He didn’t understand, but he didn’t mind. He giggled, quiet and small, to avoid being heard by his Baba. Reaching out, he touched the lingering shadow. It needed a name.

"I'll name you Spot," Mk decided, grinning ear to ear.

His new and very bestest friend, Spot~

The day the world eclipsed - Chapter 23 - Smiles4Voltron (2024)
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