That's Why They Call It the Present

Disclaimer and Author's note: I claim no ownership to Kung Fu Panda, all copyrights belong to Dreamworks Pictures. Any characters not seen in the movie are all © the author, and must not be used without express permission of said author.

Rated T, just to be safe.

Prologue: Tai Lung

His whole body was aflame. At least it felt like it. In this blackness, this endless expanse where time and space were non existent, he was hardly aware of himself. Who was he? Where was this place, whatever it was? In the first few minutes, what felt like a thousand years to him, it was sweet bliss, where there was neither present, past, nor future. He was in bliss, because he felt nothing, was aware of nothing, like meditation in reverse.

The pain is what brought him out of this primordial fog. Everywhere, from his ears to the tip of a single hair on his tail burned with agony and in that instant, he let out a scream that echoed around him, ringing in his ears and then dying out into the silence.

What had happened didn't register, nor did it matter. All he cared about was getting it, the pain, to stop. He felt close to tears, but knew he couldn't cry. Not because he was unable to, no, far from it; he'd have to live with the shame if he did. But why did he care? What was there to be ashamed of? There was no one to see him.

Something cool settled on his brow and for a moment, there was some sweet relief. He smelled something, sniffed, and recognized it. Sage, lavender, and it registered. It was a compress. Slowly his mind began to take in his surroundings.

Wind, he heard howling wind, and it was…cool. He was laying on rock, and it chilled his back but not enough to soothe it.

What had happened to him?

Something touched his body, and he winced. The thing pressed into his fur and he realized it was a hand. Someone had put their hand over his heart. The hand then moved, pressing two fingers on the inside of his wrist. This person was checking for a pulse.

"He's still alive."

Those three words did two things. First, it surprised him. How bad a shape was he in? The pain was a giveaway, obviously, but was he truly in danger of dying?

Second, but most important, those three words slicing through the intense silence caused his ears to ring, and as those were hurting much worse now, the pounding in his head increased tenfold.

He whimpered, clenching his claws and panted. Anything to stop the pain, will away the pain, make it stop, make it stop…

Two hands were on him, lifting him. He was too weak to complain, but standing was hard. Knives seemed to slash at his legs and stab into his feet, but the person helping him didn't seem to care. The person slung his arm over their shoulders and started walking.

That was when he blacked out.

The sound of footfalls on a bamboo wood floor reverberated in his ears and he groaned, stirring a little. He wasn't outside anymore, which was remarkable, and he was covered up to his chest with a warm woolen blanket that itched slightly. But what surprised him more was that he could move. The pain was gone.

He smiled. Then he winced when it hurt to smile. Well, all right, maybe the pain was not totally gone…

A cool compress was put on his forehead again, over his eyes. A voice spoke in hushed tones to him,

"Hey, you okay? Where does it hurt?"

He coughed, grunted, winced again. He opened his mouth to speak, and breath rattled down his throat like autumn leaves on the wind. He wondered with annoyance if there was anyplace on his person that didn't hurt.

"Everywhere," he rasped out.

The other person chuckled and removed the compress. "That doesn't surprise me. You gotta be one tough character to survive the Wu Xi finger hold. I dunno how you did it, but man, I gotta tell ya, that's hardcore."

He opened his eyes slowly, and though the room was dark, he could clearly see two eyes shining back at him. They were predatory yet calm, like twin coals smoldering in the cast iron brazier by his side. The room he was lying in was dark except for the red burning coals, but the patient could see scrolls and wall hangings of lush mountain landscapes, and one in particular with five very familiar warriors…

He blinked, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose, and looked back at his apparent savior. He took in the entire figure as his own eyes adjusted to the light, and he saw to both his surprise and fear that his rescuer was a tiger.

A big tiger.

As in, big enough to snap him like a chopstick. Tall and sinewy, lean muscles running up his bare striped arms, the cat's thighs and biceps taut and toned. He didn't look like much of a threat, but the leopard knew full well now that he should never judge a warrior by outward appearances. This tiger, though his gaze was gentle, was also fierce, denoting something unpredictable about his character. He'd never been afraid of anything before, but this was different. He was incapacitated, weak, and defenseless. Even when he'd been immobilized in Chor-Ghom, he'd never felt this…chill, that he felt when this tiger stared him down. Something was blatantly wrong with his caretaker, and he knew it.

The tiger pulled the blanket closer around the leopard's body, tucking him into the bed. "Don't worry so much. We're not going to hurt you, unless you give us reason to. I'm going to get some more tonics for the pain. You just get some sleep. I'll check in on you later."

The tiger turned to leave the room and looked back over his shoulder at his patient. He regarded him for a moment, then shrugged and walked out, locking the door behind him.

As if that would have done anything, the patient thought. He settled into the bed, his muscles and bones aching as he stared up at the ceiling. His eyes glazed over the walls, finding them Spartan, minimalist at best. On whole wall was a door covered in rice paper, the other three walls were sparsely decorated. The bed he was lying in was firm, but the folded blanket that served as a pillow was the softest…anything, he'd felt in years. He sighed and looked around. One or two scrolls were of a seascape, two more with mountains, one calendar with a stack of almanacs beneath it, and one scroll with five figures glared back at him on the wall he was directly facing.

The Furious Five.

He remembered, and when it all came flooding back, a torrent of thoughts and memories sweeping his consciousness away from the room he was in. With an ever-increasing sense of dread he realized there was no going back. He knew that now. He was done, finished, and if he ever stepped foot in that valley again, he'd most certainly be killed. Dragon Warrior or no.

He stared back at the ceiling, anxiety sinking in. What was he going to do now? One thing he was certain of, that was unquestionable, was ironically, this questionable fate that had befallen him. How had he survived what was simply not survivable?

One way or another, Tai Lung was most certainly alive.

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