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Let's Play Hot Potato

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Everything had exploded, literally almost as much as figuratively, into irreparable shambles, and the cat ran from his calamitous masterpiece.

He had finally snapped. He was a kettle shaking and bubbling over on a stovetop, and all of the crap and abuse he’d suffered at the hands of his family had finally reached its breaking point, and his metaphorical lid had blown off.

He’d scratched and torn his way through the barbed wire locking him in his tiny little kennel, tearing up his already heavily scarred paws from a thousand other escapes… but this time he didn’t run for the door.

He knew where his family kept their weapons, after all.

He gathered as many as he could hold, which was a lot. The sting of them on his injured hands was surprisingly unpleasant, and he’d thrown the weapons aside just long enough to quickly pull on a pair of gloves he found lying on a shelf before gathering them all up again and approaching his oppressors, shaking and growling and, yes, laughing a bit.

He’d been daydreaming about this for a long time.

But he couldn’t linger. It hadn’t been his aim to kill them, and he hadn’t killed them, but he wasn’t sure how badly injured they really were. He couldn’t let the brief remorse of what he’d done to them, the culmination of everything he’d endured under them fired back in a single blow of retaliation, hold him back… because he knew they’d stir, sooner rather than later, and he’d be their target in even worse ways than before.

So he ran.

He ran out of the house, out of the neighborhood, out of the town, as fast as he could, taking all of the weapons he’d grabbed with him, because when—not if—his family pursued him, he’d have to attack first again or they’d see to it that this first strike back of his would also be his last. Very few people were out that night, and none of them seemed to take much notice of or care about the cat scrambling and fleeing from their midst, never once looking back.

He ran and ran and ran.

His energies were sapping from him, but he dared not stop. But with each and every step his pace slowed, and his breathing labored.

He had to find some place to stop and hide.

Finally coming—more like stumbling—to a stop, the cat pressed a paw against a dying, rotting tree, gasping for air, his entire chest cavity suffocating him with the weight of the situation. He had no idea where he was, or how far he’d gone, but if he was out in the open at all, he would be found.

Spots were erupting all over his vision, and the cat rubbed at his eyes in frustration, vainly trying to force them away. He had to see. He had to find a hiding place, fast.

He dropped his paws from his face, opened his eyes, and looked up.

There, directly in front of him, only a few strides away, stood a door.

“What the fu…” the cat spluttered out in bewilderment, too confused to finish the expletive.

The door wasn’t attached to any kind of wall or fortification of any kind. It seemingly had just sprung from the ground like a daisy.

He had no better options at the moment.

Feeling silly yet desperate, the cat ran to the door, turned the handle, and pushed it open.

The scene that greeted him was nothing like the area he was currently in, or anything he’d ever seen before. It was bright and cheery and the orange-colored sky of the world he’d encountered nearly blinded him.

It seemed he’d found a portal to another dimension.

And the cat wasted no time, grabbing this perfect opportunity by the balls.

He jumped through the door, landing on the short, rough grass of the new world, spun around and slammed the door shut…

…and pulled out a bazooka and destroyed it with one decisive blast.

“Try to catch me now, bastards!”

His newest wreckage smoldered dully, the sound melding into the calming breeze, and the cat was finally able to more fully pause and catch his breath. Wherever he was, he hoped that the door he’d just destroyed was the only portal between it and his old home.

…which, of course, meant that he was stuck here. Wherever “here” was. Being a dimension to which his family couldn’t follow him made it infinitely better than where he’d come from, to be sure… but he still had no idea what awaited him here.

Shrugging, the cat strolled along, past his now thoroughly destroyed point of entry. This world didn’t look threatening, anyway, and if he did encounter something hostile he had an arsenal of chainsaws and bazookas and knives and… well, he certainly wasn’t helpless this time around.

As he walked up and down the small hills of this newly discovered dimension, the cat wrinkled his nose in distaste. Everything was so quiet and sterile. Not that he necessarily minded that at the moment; he was still engaging in a much-needed breather, after all. But with every similar tree and every similar bush and every similar rock and every similar flower (were they smiling?) that he passed, the monotony and sameness of the world threatened to consume him.

Had he really actually discovered this place? Was he the only one there?

His theory was disproven as quickly as the thought had formed, however, for in that moment a small, flaming missile whizzed past him. The cat yelped, leaping backwards and pulling out a bazooka defensively. The ball of fire hit a large rock and fell to the ground, the fire collapsing in on itself, revealing a charred potato… and a dismembered hand still clutching said potato.

As the cat, completely befuddled, tried to make sense of this…

“Quack!”

The cat spun around and aimed his bazooka at the speaker, but the duck that had quacked seemed to take little notice of him. He waddled over to the fallen projectile, reaching out both arms towards it—revealing one hand had been blown off at the wrist. Pushing aside the potato, the duck grabbed the dismembered hand and attached it back where it belonged.

“Quack.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up!” The cat still clung to his bazooka warily, but surprise and confusion compelled him to speak up. “That’s your hand? That’s your hand? How did you do that?”

“Quack,” said the duck.

The cat raised an eyebrow in annoyance, taking a better look at the strangely stoic duck. He almost looked like a ragdoll, stitched and patched together like an experiment of Dr. Frankenstein. His eyes were equal parts dull and watchful. And the hand that had been seemingly violently detached from his body was back on as if nothing had happened.

“Stop quacking at me and answer the question, duck! You just reattached your own hand back to your arm without even blinking! Has that happened before?”

“Quack.”

“What are you, indestructible?”

“Quack.”

“For the love of god would you stop SAYING THAT?!”

“Quack.”

The cat facepalmed, growling in annoyance. If the duck was going to be difficult… “Well, that’s really fascinating what you can do with your right hand there, but does that neat trick apply to your left hand as well?”

“Quack.”

“Won’t talk, eh?” The cat menacingly pointed his bazooka at the duck’s left hand. “I’d say a little experiment is in order.”

“Quack.” While the sound of the quack was as stoic as ever, the duck’s body language finally changed up a bit as he firmly shook his head.

But the cat wasn’t about to accept that. “I didn’t hear a no!”

He fired, and the duck’s other hand blew off into thousands of mangled, torn-up pieces.

…meanwhile, coming up over the hill from the same direction the duck had earlier…

“Stumpy! We’re playing hot potato, not darts! Why did you throw the potato at Quack Quack so forcefully?”

Kaeloo the frog sprinted after her avian friend, panic and worry etched across her face from witnessing the force of the potato he’d caught in his hand send him hurtling across the way. Stumpy the squirrel raced after her, all excuses and justifications. “The timer was about to go off and I didn’t want to lose again! So I got rid of the potato—just like the rules say I should!” He spasmed uncontrollably.

“I hope Quack Quack isn’t hurt,” Kaeloo cried out, glaring at Stumpy in only barely controlled rage. “I’m warning you, Stumpy, if you hurt him…”

Stumpy stopped abruptly at the top of the hill and pointed downwards. “You mean like that guy is?”

Kaeloo screeched to a halt and gasped loudly and shrilly, witnessing her friend callously shot at point-blank range by some cat with a bazooka.

She released her anger.

…and now back to the cat and the duck…

The cat chuckled a bit at what he’d done, the duck looking annoyed (and missing a hand again) but otherwise no worse for wear.

But then, though, the duck’s eyes flickered open about an extra half-inch, just as a rumble from the ground behind the cat and duck shook them menacingly.

The cat stopped chuckling and turned around—and his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.

“HOLY—”

“YOU WILL NOT HURT QUACK QUACK!”

A huge, hulking, monstrous green amphibious lizard-thing tore its way towards them, and the cat didn’t even have the time to aim his bazooka before it grabbed him by the legs and swung him against the nearest tree over and over and over again, like the world’s most inefficient axe wielded by the world’s most terrifying lumberjack. THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!

The cat groaned and winced in pain each time, not sure what would break first—the tree, or him.

Finally the beast tossed him aside, and the cat skidded against the ground, whimpering and trying in vain to move his pained, sore limbs. Pain was nothing new to him, of course, but that had come so completely out of the blue and blunt, like a mallet to the head rather than a razor to the skin, and… and…

…and he’d been hurt worse, honestly.

He was mostly unable to move, and his head was at the level that all he could see was the rock and the charred potato two inches from his nose, so he only heard what happened next—a soft poof sound, like a smoke bomb going off, and then a rather shrill voice exclaiming, “Quack Quack, are you alright?”

The cat groaned. Priorities!

“Quack,” said the duck, as the cat expected.

“Did you get your hand blasted off by a giant gun?” another shrill voice, this one slightly manic, piped in. “THAT’S NUTS! What was it like?”

“Oh my goodness!” gasped the first voice.

And suddenly the cat was rather painfully flipped around, seeing the face of the small frog who’d turned him over and the worry and remorse etched over every inch of it.

“I’m so sorry!” the frog bemoaned, running a slim, slick finger over the cat’s injured arms. “Please forgive me! I didn’t mean to hurt you like this!”

“Th-that was you?” the cat spluttered.

“Stumpy! Bring me my doctor’s bag, and quickly!”

“Are we playing doctor now?” A squirrel poked his head over the frog’s shoulder, looking a bit lost.

“This isn’t playing!” the frog pleaded. “I need to patch this cat up!”

“I’m on it!” The squirrel spasmed, letting out a garbled cry that sounded stressed, and dashed off.

“Please accept my apologies,” the frog continued to the cat, stumbling all over the words, apologetic to the extreme. “This is no way to make a first impression! Are you new to Smileyland?”

The cat, in addition to being rather pained, was trying to process too much information all at once. In the span of about ten minutes he’d found a portal to a different dimension while on the run, encountered a seemingly indestructible duck, gotten the snot beaten out of him by some gigantic toad monster, and was now barraged with apologies from a little frog who was apparently one and the same with the toad monster. The cat wasn’t even sure if the frog was a boy or a girl.

So, of course, the question he asked in response was an inane “This place is called Smileyland?”

The frog quickly nodded. “Yes, everyone’s always so happy here that it’s of course named for our smiles!” He/She tried to smile at that too, but the smile didn’t last long, quickly overtaken by the guilt of his/her actions. “I know we’re not really happy right now, but it normally isn’t like this! I’ve given you such a horrible welcome to Smileyland! I’m so sorry!”

The cat shrugged as well as he could, wincing only slightly as his shoulder muscles flexed. “Eh, if I saw my friend get his hand blown off by a bazooka and could turn into something like that, I would have done it too.”

The frog shook his/her head in disagreement. “What you did to Quack Quack was wrong, but it was wrong of me to react so violently as well. We’ve both gotten off on the wrong foot, but I’m willing to put this behind us and start over with a clean slate!” He/She smiled again, a little more genuinely this time, and extended a hand. “My name is Kaeloo! Welcome to Smileyland!”

The cat blinked. Jeez, even the frog’s name didn’t shed any light as to whether it was a boy or a girl.

“You’ve already met Quack Quack, of course,” Kaeloo continued, motioning towards the duck.

“Quack,” he said, raising a newly formed left hand in greeting.

“And there’s also St—”

“I GOT YOUR BAG, KAELOO!” the squirrel shouted, tossing the bag through the air. It landed directly on the cat’s tail, one of the only parts of his body that wasn’t already in pain.

“GAHH!” the cat grimaced.

“Stumpy!” Kaeloo cried out, aghast. “Please be more careful! You’ve hurt him!”

Stumpy rolled his eyes. “Jeez, when you hurt him it’s okay, but when I do—”

“It’s not okay!” Kaeloo insisted, quickly rummaging through the bag. “That’s why I’m trying to help him!”

“So,” said the cat thoughtfully, the pain in his tail slowly subsiding, “we’ve got Kaeloo, Quack Quack, Stumpy… what’s the big toad’s name?”

Kaeloo, now holding a roll of surgical tape, blushed fiercely with shame. “We’re not going to talk about my bad self right now.”

“Bad self? Sounds exciting.”

Stumpy elbowed the cat in a gesture that was probably meant to be familiar and friendly. “That’s just a thing she does sometimes. You get used to it.”

Girl. Alright.

“I seem to have really lost my temper this time,” Kaeloo said, the blush of shame not leaving her face as she examined the cat’s body. “There’s so many wounds…”

The cat sat up a bit straighter, trying to recoil away from her. “Nah, it was nothing, just a little tap. Most of these were already there before you even showed up.”

Kaeloo’s eyes grew wide with shock. “Oh… oh, you poor thing.”

“Hey, I don’t need your sympathy,” the cat snapped.

Kaeloo straightened up a bit and turned her attentions towards his head, wrapping it up with the bandages. “I can help you with what I caused, anyway. I’m a pretty good doctor! Anyway—” She ripped the bandage from the roll and patted it down gently with surgical tape, and the cat had to admit she did seem to know what she was doing. “—we’ve told you our names, now you need to tell us your name!”

The cat paused at this. Saying his name out loud would remind him of the ones who’d given it to him, and the ones who’d used it to mock and torment him every day of his life. He had no intentions of bringing up anything from his past ever again if he could help it, and that included his name.

So instead he said, defiantly and a bit smugly, “You can just call me… Mr. Cat.”

“Oooh! Cool name!” Stumpy said, leaning over Kaeloo again.

“Alright then, Mr. Cat!” Kaeloo said, cheerfully. She sang to herself as she continued to dress his wounds. “Say, Quack Quack, what happened to our potato?”

“Quack,” said Quack Quack, pointing to the potato at the side of Mr. Cat.

Mr. Cat snorted at it. “That’s the worst way to bake a potato I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh no, Mr. Cat, we weren’t baking it, we were playing hot potato!” Kaeloo taped up one final bandage before putting her supplies back in her doctor’s bag.

“Yeah, and I threw that one!” Stumpy declared proudly, almost maniacally. “I won! Hahahahaha!”

“You did not win, Stumpy,” Kaeloo admonished him. “Quack Quack got hurt, so that round didn’t count. We’ll have to start all over.”

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Stumpy cried.

“Besides, we have to accommodate our new friend!” Kaeloo turned to Mr. Cat, grinning eagerly. “You’ll play with us, won’t you, Mr. Cat?”

Mr. Cat blinked in confusion once more. “Huh?”

“Oh yeah! It’ll be fun!” Stumpy exclaimed, seeming to forget all about being upset a few seconds ago. “We can team up, you and me against Kaeloo and Quack Quack. HEY! WE CAN PLAY TEAM GAMES NOW! AND I CAN HAVE AN ACTUAL TEAMMATE INSTEAD OF A ROCK!”

“That’s right!” Kaeloo exclaimed. “Hot potato isn’t a game with teams, of course, but just think of all the new games we can play with a fourth person! Oh please, Mr. Cat, say you’ll play with us!”

“Quack,” said Quack Quack, and he too seemed willing to let Mr. Cat join them, despite their rocky first meeting.

Mr. Cat still wasn’t sure what exactly was going on, other than the fact that all three of them were clearly idiots. He’d just disfigured one of them, another one had transformed into a brute and pulverized him, and now suddenly everything was fine between them all and they wanted to play with him? They wanted him to be their friend?!

Unless this was some sort of ruse to get him to let his guard down so they could fully exact revenge against them… but no, that was probably giving them too much credit.

Mr. Cat finally made himself shrug again. “Sure, why not, I’ve got nothing better to do.”

“YAY!” Kaeloo exclaimed, jumping up and spinning in a circle. “Let’s go back and get another potato!”

“Quack,” said Quack Quack, quickly moving back up the hill.

“Oh no you don’t!” Stumpy shrieked, running after him. “You got to choose the last one and it was obviously rigged in your favor, you dirty cheat!”

Despite her excitement, Kaeloo didn’t run after her two friends, instead staying and waiting for Mr. Cat to get himself up from the ground. “Do you know how to play hot potato, Mr. Cat?” she asked him.

Mr. Cat climbed to his feet, a little sore but able to move again. “Deductive reasoning tells me that it involves a potato that is hot.”

“Oh no, Mr. Cat,” Kaeloo giggled, the two of them now walking back up the hill as well, Mr. Cat warily still keeping a few feet between him and the frog but still finding himself genuinely wrapped up in what she was saying. “The potato isn’t actually hot, you see. You set a timer, and then you pass the potato around in a circle, and whoever’s holding it when the timer goes off is out! The last one standing wins!”

“Last one standing, eh?” Mr. Cat laughed darkly. “Being the last one standing means a lot more if you’re up against chainsaws or bazookas.” He whipped out one of each to demonstrate.

“No, Mr. Cat!” Kaeloo cried, aghast. “Put those away! Hot potato is not a violent game!”

“Aw, come on, froggy, it’ll liven things up!”

“Absolutely not.” Kaeloo shot Mr. Cat a very firm, serious glare. “You will not hurt Quack Quack again.”

Mr. Cat put the weapons away (for the time being), although he still threw his hands in the air in a moot attempt to rationalize. “You’ve gotta be kidding me! I didn’t even leave a scratch on him! He’s lost both hands already today and he just brushed it off! What is he, some kind of bionic bird?”

Kaeloo’s glare turned somber. “It’s actually very tragic what happened to him, Mr. Cat. He was experimented on by mad scientists as soon as he hatched from his egg. They did make him near-impervious, yes, but what he had to go through to become that way…” Kaeloo shuddered. “It’s a very sore subject for him.”

“While we’re on sore subjects,” Mr. Cat said, leering towards Kaeloo deviously, “what kind of experiments did you endure to get you to turn into that giant toad thing?”

Kaeloo flinched. “That… that is a very sore subject, Mr. Cat, and I will not be discussing it.”

“See, fly-nibbler, I’ve already figured out your problem,” Mr. Cat said offhandedly. “You think something as marvelous as an ability to grow five times your size and beat the shit out of anyone who bothers you is a ‘sore subject’, when in reality, it’s—”

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” Kaeloo roared.

Mr. Cat stopped, every hair on his body on edge. “Um…”

“YOU CURSED! AND I—DON’T LIKE—BAD WOORRRRRDDS!”

With each punctuated fragment, Kaeloo’s voice dropped lower and lower and louder and louder, and spasms rippled through her body, pulsating and growing every single vein and muscle in her seemingly slender frame. Mr. Cat was vaguely aware of the fact that he should be running or trying to defend himself from what was about to happen, but he was too in awe of the process to do anything but stare, fascinated.

She finally erupted, huge, hulking, enraged, towering over him, overshadowing him ominously.

“Oh wow! I did it again!” Mr. Cat exclaimed, strangely proud of himself.

THUMP! A huge fist from Bad Kaeloo pounded Mr. Cat soundly into the ground. “NO SAY BAD WORDS AROUND KAELOO! YOU NEW AND NOT KNOW RULES, SO BAD KAELOO GO EASY ON YOU THIS TIME!” Despite that declaration, she still smacked him into the ground a few more times for good measure.

“Lesson learned,” Mr. Cat squeaked out, his mouth barely above ground, another pounding headache flooding his senses.

Still worth it, though, he conceded, to get to witness that glorious display.

A quick poof and Kaeloo was back to normal, and her hands flew to her mouth in horror. “Oh no! I’ve done it again! I’m so sorry, Mr. Cat!” She quickly began digging through the ground to try to pry him out.

Mr. Cat still couldn’t quite gather why she was so apologetic over such an amazing ability she was lucky enough to possess. “You’re exciting,” he blurted out without thinking. “I like you!”

Kaeloo’s cheeks flushed with shame as she hoisted Mr. Cat out from the ground. “It’s not exciting. It’s dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. I’m always losing my temper and hurting my friends. I’ve already hurt you twice, I’m always hurting Stumpy, and I’ve even hurt Quack Quack! And I know I’m a huge hypocrite for getting angry at you for something I’ve done too, but when I get that way I completely lose control! It’s terrifying, Mr. Cat! I hate it!”

Mr. Cat brushed off his shoulders, finding that he didn’t really mind the still lingering headache. “You said you were holding back and going easy on me. That doesn’t sound like ‘completely losing control’ to me.”

“I didn’t want to do that in the first place!”

“Aw, come on. It felt good to hit me, didn’t it?”

“No! Of course not!”

“It’s just a fact of life, everyone’s got a little aggression in them that they need to let out… and you’ve got a lot of aggression. You feel better now that you let loose, don’t deny it.”

“That is simply not true, Mr. Cat!”

“You’ve gotta rail on me more often. Your mind might be saying ‘no’, but your body was definitely saying ‘yes’!”

“I am not discussing this any furth—”

“HEY KAELOO!” Stumpy jumped right back into the fray, shoving a comic book in her face. “I have a great idea! Instead of using a potato, let’s use a Mr. Coolskin comic!”

“Stumpy, remember the last time we did that?” Kaeloo said, turning quickly to Stumpy and seeming to be relieved for the interruption. “You lost every time because you were too busy reading it to pass it around the circle!”

“Huh?” Stumpy’s face contorted into confusion, then fell to dismay, and finally narrowed into a glare at Quack Quack. “Did you remember that?”

Quack Quack said nothing, although he did look a bit guilty as he tossed a new potato and an egg timer to Kaeloo.

“There! We’re ready to play again!” Kaeloo grinned, a little too forcefully, and plopped down on the ground cross-legged. “Okay, buddies, everyone sit in a circle and we can begin!”

Stumpy quickly sat to Kaeloo’s right, and Quack Quack plopped down to her left. Mr. Cat observed the scene for a moment before sliding down to a seated position between Stumpy and Quack Quack and directly across from Kaeloo.

“Now then, since we have a new friend with us today, let’s review the rules of hot potato!” Kaeloo exclaimed, hoisting the potato in the air. “We set our egg timer for two minutes and then pass the potato around the circle. You’re not allowed to hold on to the potato for the whole time only to pass it right before the timer goes off—the potato needs to keep moving! Whoever’s holding the potato when the timer goes off is eliminated, and we keep playing until there’s only one left, and that one left is the winner! Any questions?”

“I have a question!” Stumpy said.

“Yes, Stumpy?” Kaeloo asked.

Stumpy leaned over towards Mr. Cat. “Where did you get those cool gloves? I want some!”

“I had to kill a man for these,” Mr. Cat answered without missing a beat, “and cut them from his corpse.”

“Really?! AWESOME!”

“No, Stumpy, that is not awesome!” Kaeloo objected. “Mr. Cat, that’s not appropriate!”

“You stick-in-the-mud, can’t you take a joke?” Mr. Cat said lightly, smirking at her.

“I can when it’s funny!” Kaeloo shot back. She forcefully wound up the egg timer, set it in the middle of the circle, and grabbed the potato. “The game starts NOW!”

As she passed the potato to Quack Quack, Stumpy whispered to Mr. Cat, “Seriously, though, where can I find those?”

Mr. Cat took the potato from Quack Quack. “Probably a mail order catalogue or something, I don’t know.” He tossed the potato to Stumpy.

“Mail order catalogue? Where am I gonna find one of those?” Stumpy scratched his chin, deep in thought—or at least as deep in thought as his mind would allow him to be. “And where am I gonna find the money to buy them? Ooh! I know! I could steal it from my sister!”

“Stumpy!” Kaeloo hissed. “Pass the potato!”

“Fine, fine!” Stumpy lightly tossed the potato to his left without even looking. “Wait a minute, I don’t have a sister!”

“I don’t mind if you talk, but you need to pay attention to the game!” Kaeloo admonished, having to awkwardly lean to her right to catch the potato. “Now to you again, Quack Quack!” She held the potato out to her left—and nothing.

“Quack Quack?” she repeated.

Quack Quack wasn’t even looking at her, only engrossed in gobbling down his sixth straight yogurt cup in a row.

Mr. Cat blinked, looking at the substantial pile of trash behind him. “That’s impressive.”

“Quack Quack!” Kaeloo twitched and shook for a few seconds, biting her lip and squirming uncomfortably. “Take… the… potato!”

Much to Mr. Cat’s disappointment, she didn’t transform, but she did rather forcefully shove the potato into the seventh yogurt cup that Quack Quack had just opened.

“Quack,” said Quack Quack amiably, taking the potato out of the yogurt cup and licking the yogurt off it before tossing it to Mr. Cat.

“Ugh!” Mr. Cat grimaced, flinching away and letting the potato fall to the ground. “Duck saliva!”

“Pick that up and continue the game, Mr. Cat!” Kaeloo demanded.

“Not a chance.” Mr. Cat turned from the potato in disgust. “This potato’s been soiled.”

“Aw man,” Stumpy groaned, “do we have to find another potato and start all over again? This game’s boring, anyway!”

“Boring?!” Kaeloo cried, shocked and a little hurt.

“I believe I have a solution to save both this potato and this game,” Mr. Cat said smoothly, raising an eyebrow at Kaeloo.

Kaeloo regarded him a little warily, but her widening eyes betrayed her genuine curiosity. “And what would that be, Mr. Cat?” she asked.

Mr. Cat whipped out one of his smaller bazookas and aimed it at the potato. “Flash-frying this potato will not only burn off and kill all of the germs that currently render it unusable—” he fired at it for a half second, cooking it instantly—“it will also make this hot potato literally hot!” With that, he kicked the potato towards Stumpy.

“I GOT IT, I GOT IT!” Stumpy dove for the potato and caught it with both hands.

Both hands then caught on fire thanks to the potato’s new temperature.

“AAAAHHHH! TOO HOT! TOO HOT!” He blindly and drastically hurled the potato straight ahead of him, roughly in Quack Quack’s direction.

“Stumpy! You’re supposed to throw it to me!” Kaeloo shrieked.

“Hey, why not to everyone?” Laughing deviously, Mr. Cat leaped into the middle of the circle, brandishing a chainsaw and swinging it madly, chopping the potato into four separate pieces that each went flying towards the four participants. One hit Stumpy square between the eyes and knocked him over, Stumpy still too busy screaming over his hands to take much notice. Another ricocheted and landed precisely in Quack Quack’s newest yogurt cup, the duck picking it up and lifting it in the air in confusion. The third shot straight towards Kaeloo, who instinctively shot out her hands and caught the projectile, stumbling backwards from the force of impact.

The fourth and final piece was headed for Mr. Cat, but he was ready for it. Still cackling madly, he swung his chainsaw to the right, slicing the potato again and leaving the pieces to fall harmlessly on the ground.

The egg timer dinged.

“Hey, I’m the only one not touching the potato!” Mr. Cat declared triumphantly. “I WIN!”

Something else then plopped to the ground—Quack Quack’s severed head.

Mr. Cat swung the chainsaw behind his shoulder, whistling innocently. “Whoops. Collateral damage.”

The potato clutched in Kaeloo’s hands thudded to the ground.

“MISSS…TERRRRR… CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!”

Mr. Cat, once again, was transfixed to the spot, overcome with awe as raw, unadulterated power enveloped the form of the sweet little frog. She glowered over him, hulking and colossal once more, the power radiating from her figure staggeringly breathtaking, and Mr. Cat had honestly never felt more alive.

“Now that’s what I like to see,” he grinned.

Bad Kaeloo growled gutturally at him. “TOO BAD, BECAUSE YOU SEE STARS NOW!”

Her fist met his face with a solid crack.

Later that evening…

There was, conveniently, a single, full-length couch positioned in front of an old-fashioned TV atop another hill, and once Bad Kaeloo had finally finished punishing him (and he was finally able to move after the beating she’d given him) Mr. Cat had crawled his way to it, mindlessly channel-flipping while carefully licking his wounds.

It was oddly quiet again after the melee. Once Stumpy’s hands were extinguished he had sulked off, growling that he hated everyone’s guts, although his mood seemed to instantly brighten as he pulled out a handheld game console and gleefully buried his nose in it as he walked off. Quack Quack had calmly placed his head back on his neck and continued eating the rest of his yogurt, wandering off presumably in search of more when he finally ran through his stash.

Now that things had quieted down, Mr. Cat was better able to ponder his first and most hasty action upon arriving at this place—that is, destroying the portal.

He was still trying to determine whether or not that had been a mistake.

…okay, that was a very cynical and stupid question. Despite the mind-boggling nuttiness of the veritable insane asylum he’d trapped himself in, and the fact that he still got hurt here, it was a strange and unfamiliar comfort to have found people who, for whatever reason, seemed to tolerate his presence. Not even tolerate it, in fact—they seemed happy for it. And true, he was still on the receiving end of beatings here, but those were on his terms, in a way at least. Plus, well… it was almost an honor to get beaten up by that magnificent toad.

Besides, he’d already destroyed the portal and made his decision before he’d even encountered these new friends of his. Regardless of whether or not that had been a good choice, it had been made and there was no going back.

Mr. Cat smirked to himself, growing more and more sure of the fact that it had been the right decision.

“Mr. Cat?”

He looked up. Kaeloo stood in front of him, eyes remorseful and apologetic, hands clutching her doctor’s bag.

“No need, doc,” Mr. Cat said casually. “I can nurse myself back to health.”

“Please let me examine you,” Kaeloo countered emphatically. “I won’t rest until I know you’ve been properly attended to.”

It was hard to say no to a face like that, even for someone like Mr. Cat.

He shrugged and scooted over a bit on the couch, making room for her. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

She climbed up on the couch and opened her bag, pulling out various bandages and ointments. Mr. Cat watched her work, the silence in the air accentuating her precision. The cheerful little frog could become incredibly focused and serious when the need arose for it, and Mr. Cat felt his chest tighten up with confusion that she’d waste such gentle attentiveness on him, after everything he’d done to her that day.

“May I see your arm?” she asked him.

He held it out, compliantly and instantly.

She looked it over for a moment before squeezing some ointment in her hands, lathering it up, and gently pressing it down on his arm. He winced a bit at the sting on his wound.

“Sorry,” Kaeloo said quickly. She grabbed a roll of bandages and started wrapping up the wound she’d just treated.

She then looked back up at him.

“I… I’m sorry. For everything. My actions towards you were completely inexcusable.”

Okay, what was this frog smoking, because it was obviously some good stuff.

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Cat asked, rolling his eyes at her. “I decapitated your friend, for crying out loud. I totally deserved that. I was a jackass.”

Kaeloo’s eyes popped, and her grip on the bandage grew tighter and tighter. “Mr. Cat.. I told you…” She spasmed as if fighting down a violent seizure. “I don’t like… bad words…”

Mr. Cat winced, mostly due to the tightening of the bandage on his arm, but also in anticipation for another vicious transformation. Not that he would have really minded that, of course, but if she beat him up again he’d have to sit through yet another round of her apologies.

Fortunately, she exhaled loudly and her twitching ceased, her usual form staying in place.

“I’d hardly consider that a bad word,” Mr. Cat quickly rationalized to her. “It’s just the name of an animal!” But another fierce glare from her changed his tune. “Alright, alright, fine… I was a very bad kitty.” Man, the stupid words coming out of his mouth. All for the sake of this frog.

Kaeloo sighed, finally slacking the grip on the bandage, and Mr. Cat was able to let out an exhale of relief as well. “Two wrongs don’t make a right, Mr. Cat. I need to set a good example for Stumpy and Quack Quack.” She taped up the bandage and moved towards another deep bruise on Mr. Cat’s arm.

Mr. Cat quickly withdrew his arm from her grasp. “That one’s not from you.”

Kaeloo paused, her fingers frozen midair, her sad gaze into Mr. Cat’s eyes so full of sympathy, but this time he was unable to snap at her for it. “May I fix it anyway?” she finally asked softly.

Mr. Cat also froze for a moment, trapped in her tender, empathetic gaze. Abruptly he was struck with the notion that he might be falling in love with her.

He shot his arm back out. “Knock yourself out,” he said gruffly, looking away from her.

Kaeloo returned to her careful work, dabbing the ointment on the contusion very gently. Mr. Cat didn’t wince this time.

“So,” she said, the lilt in her voice seeming to convey an attempt at lightheartedness that was only partly successful, “will you be staying in Smileyland?”

Mr. Cat’s eyes flickered back to her, a bit surprised. “I don’t have a choice. I destroyed the portal that brought me here. I’m stuck here.”

“Oh, there’s lots of other portals. There’s a thousand exits from Smileyland.” She set the tube of ointment down and grabbed a wider roll of bandages. “I can show them to you tomorrow, if you want me to.”

“Want to get rid of me that badly, huh?” Mr. Cat muttered darkly.

“Oh no, not at all, Mr. Cat!” Kaeloo insisted, and to Mr. Cat’s surprise he believed her. “I hope that you want to stay and play more games with us, at least for a few more days, but I know that I push away pretty much every friend I have and I just hoped that maybe, maybe you’d want to stay…” She shook her head and quickly tore off a length of bandage from the roll and began wrapping it around Mr. Cat’s injured arm. “But I’m a good friend and if you want to leave, then I’ll help you.”

“Hold the phone, frog.” Mr. Cat sat up a bit straighter and turned his attentions back to Kaeloo fully, the usual bitterness in his eyes overshadowed by honest confusion. “You want me to play with you again tomorrow?”

Kaeloo nodded. “Of course, Mr. Cat!”

“Have you forgotten that I’m the one who ruined your game today? Twice?”

“No, I know that, Mr. Cat. But everyone ruins games sometimes! Friends don’t hold things like that against each other.” She taped the second bandage and patted it down, finally smiling at him. “I know we’ll have great fun! Just follow the rules and everything will be wonderful!”

Mr. Cat also smiled, but his was more of a cheeky smirk. “I don’t know if I like your rules.”

“Mr. Cat! The rules are there to ensure that everyone has a good time! I know there may be a lot to remember, but…” She folded her arms across her chest and looked at him severely. “Not hurting Quack Quack is the most important rule. Can you follow that one, at least?”

Mr. Cat chuckled. “Oh, Kaeloo,” he purred, leaning closer to her, “you know I’d never agree to that.”

This was a risky move on Mr. Cat’s part, not knowing if it would anger her or not, but Kaeloo seemed more flustered than angered, her cheeks flushing intensely. “W-well then,” she stammered, her voice crisp and sharp, “I’m not sure if I can allow you to play with us.”

“Oh, you will,” Mr. Cat countered. “And do you know why?”

“Um… why?”

He grinned at her. “Because you find me exciting.”

Kaeloo’s blush grew deeper, and she hunched into herself, abashed. “Um… I… yes. Maybe. Just a little bit.”

Mr. Cat chuckled again, leaning back and away from her. That was satisfying. Almost more satisfying than watching her transform.

Kaeloo quickly and forcefully perked back up, swiftly returning her medical supplies back to her bag. “S-so what do you say, Mr. Cat? Will you play with us tomorrow?”

Mr. Cat examined the claws of one paw, feigning a yawn of boredom. “Hmm, I don’t know. Depends on the game, I guess.”

“Ooh, just you wait, Mr. Cat!” Kaeloo said excitedly, hopping down from the couch. “I’ll come up with the most splendid, exciting game ever, and then you’ll have to play!”

“I expect to be swept off my feet with fun!” Mr. Cat replied, halfway tauntingly.

“You will be!” Kaeloo grabbed her bag. “Goodnight, Mr. Cat! I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Mr. Cat watched her prance away, the smirk on his face mellowing out to a genuine smile. Maybe tomorrow he’d admit to her that no matter how stupid the game she came up with was, he’d still play it with her. Or maybe he wouldn’t… but he’d admit it to himself, at least.

He stretched his limbs one more time before curling up into the corner of the couch.

Yes, this world was strange, but it was still shaping up to be a good home.