Author's Note: I don't own Kung Fu Panda, nor do I intend to make any money with this.
Megathanks to my beta and friend and guide PointyEdgesofaSign – without her I would not be publishing this or anything else. She works my Muse! And she gave me one of my favorite presents. And she rocks!
This is a short story, rated T for disturbing images. I've punished myself already because I said I would probably not write anymore and I did – I thought I would take some time to read more of other people's stuff and relax, but this tale came to me. It's already finished and I intend to post a chapter per day, as my previous story. Also, note that this may or may not be a sequel to 'The Golden Mountain' – as I don't know if I'll be writing more in the future, there's no specific link tying the two stories. Again, reviews and comments will be appreciated.
Enough talk! To the story!
Of Tears and Sacredness
It was unusual for Master Tigress to loose her sleep. She gracefully accepted that there was a lot about her body she couldn't control, because she knew a true warrior should be humble about this fact. But she also knew that she could control a whole lot of other things, and she always strived to do that the best she could. That meant not only training Kung Fu; it meant breathing properly, eating not a crumb more than necessary, meditations to know herself and her own mind, and many other things. That included sleep, a very important necessity because a true warrior also needs to rest, otherwise 'he'll kill himself or be easily defeated in battle', Master Oogway used to say. So she always got in her bed knowing that she would be rested and dressed to say 'Good morning, Master' to Shifu while the morning gong was still echoing in the brisk dawn air.
But lately getting to bed was an adventure for Tigress every night because she didn't knew if she was going to hear the scream again.
It began a week ago. She was sleeping and woke up to some hideous shriek, like someone was screaming right beside her. She tried to attack whatever it was, confused as she was by the rude awakening, but there was nobody in her room. Then she heard the scream again and it came from somewhere outside, but she couldn't tell exactly where because it was terribly loud, like a hundred voices were coming out of just one mouth. She got out of her room and then saw the most bizarre thing about the night.
Nobody was doing anything. When she got to the hallway the screaming stopped and she realized everybody else was asleep. But how could they be with that much noise? Her ears were still ringing with the power of the cry, but she could easily hear that the rest of the Five and Po were sleeping, breathing gently, each in their rooms.
Then the scream came back and it lasted for about five seconds. It was so loud this time that Tigress put her paws in her ears and dropped on her knees before realizing what she was doing.
And when the screaming ceased, she could tell everybody else was still sleeping. She heard a loud snore coming from Po's room and the sound of the panda rolling on his bed.
She waited a bit more before going out to take a look at the Jade Palace's surroundings, worried that something was going on. But everything was fine. It was deep night and everybody was resting except her. She got back to her room, instinctively waiting for the scream again, like a cat waiting for a rat to come out of its hole, hoping that it might give her a clue, lead her somewhere. Then she forsook sleep that night, but the scream didn't return. She sat straight on her bed until the morning gong rang.
In the morning nobody spoke of anything out of the ordinary so she decided to take the matter into her own hands and told the others nothing about. She just waited for the night to come. She didn't want to fall asleep in that night but eventually she did, because there was no scream to be heard and she was still tired from the night before.
The screams did not return that night, though she woke up in that morning with the impression that she dreamed about people screaming, but she couldn't remember anything more than that. Next night everything went on as normal and Tigress started to gather explanations to herself: that she dreamed or imagined the whole thing.
But in the fourth night the scream came again. Twice. The second time she could swear it was Po's voice, but when she rushed to the room in front of hers, she realized that the Dragon Warrior was sleeping. And everybody else was too, herself excluded.
The next night she heard it again once, though it was faint, like it was being muffled somehow, and she quickly went back to sleep. But on the sixth night the screaming made her angry when it started and afraid when it ended, some twenty minutes later. The crying voice was present; loud as it could be and she searched in all corners of the Palace, but found out she couldn't even guess where it was coming from. She didn't like not one bit the realization that she was truly scared.
She rested a bit before morning, but didn't sleep again. On the seventh night she took counsel with herself before going to bed and decided she would discuss the situation with Master Shifu and the others next morning. She was tired but rested her body without sleeping on her bed, as much as she could with all the questions she had in her mind. What was happening? Who was screaming? And what if there was no scream? What if she was going insane?
She heard a noise outside and her ears moved, but it was no scream, far from it. It was only Po's door opening and closing – another midnight snack, most likely. But when she was ready to dismiss the image of Po eating from her head she heard something else: Po was crying. He was clearly trying to do it as quietly as he could, but wasn't doing a very good job of muffling it. She heard him going to the kitchen and got up to follow him after several seconds of hesitation.
One more dream like that and his mind would crack, he knew it. It was, what, the seventh, eighth nightmare in a row? Po tried his best to stop his sobbing as he stood from his bed to shuffle to the kitchen. It was past midnight but he knew the path so well he didn't need any light. Reaching the kitchen he lit a small lamp to help him go through the cupboards.
Po stopped. His original plan was to eat away his sorrows as he had always done when he was upset – but what good would that do? The dreams quickly came to his mind again. Dreams of violence and blood, full of cries of pain and familiar faces on the floor, their eyes unmoving…
"Master? Is everything all right?" A soft whisper came from behind him. Recognizing the voice, he found it was Tigress. Po froze when he realized he was still crying and didn't want to turn to face her.
"I'm fine, Tigress," Po stuttered. "Please go back to bed."
"I thought I heard you…" Tigress insisted but Po interrupted her.
"I have to leave the Palace for a while, Tigress." He was holding back his tears, and his voice was weak with fatigue.
"What?" questioned Tigress, taken back by his request. "Master, what's wrong? I don't understand…"
"Just go back to bed, Tigress. In the morning tell everybody I'll be back in a few days, okay? There's something I have to do alone." Po stood still, his back turned to Tigress, so he didn't notice that for a moment she held her hand in the air, wanting nothing more than to reach out and caress the panda's shoulder, to console him somehow, even though she was frightened. She had never seen Po so distressed, but she decided against it and turned around to leave the kitchen.
"Good night, Master," she recited, exiting through the doorway. Always 'Master', without any trace of irony or scorn, ever since he defeated Tai Lung. Po was even starting to get used to it.
He waited till he was sure Tigress was far enough from the kitchen before he began packing. Travel supplies, he thought. I can't wait any longer. I must go.
And he did. Less than one hour later he was climbing down the Jade Palace's stairs, sack on his shoulders and tears still streaming down his face, plastering his fur to his skin. Before leaving the Palace, in a fit of childish fear, Po had contemplated his face in a mirror to see if his eyes were still green after so much crying. The color was still there, but the sparkle, his sparkle, was gone. He felt that even his soul had deserted him.
But he wasn't as alone as he initially thought. As he left the Palace, a swift shadow accompanied him - another master of kung fu - one who couldn't decide if she was disobeying a superior because she thought it was the right thing to do or because she was curious as to what was happening. Tigress settled in her mind for a little of both, and also, somehow, felt that Po's strange behavior was connected to the screams, but, even if it wasn't, her preoccupation with Po erased her own fears from her mind. She kept a close eye on Po as they made their way to the Valley. On Po strode, shrouded in darkness, until he left the city as the sun began to rise over the vast mountains, Tigress hot on his trail.
'If we were at the Jade Palace,' thought Tigress while natural light made her task of following Po a lot easier. 'we would be hearing the morning gong right now.'
At the Jade Palace the gong rang and the chorus of 'Good morning, Master' lacked two voices. Shifu waited several seconds before calling Tigress and Po's name once each. Tossing open their doors he discovered that they were gone. Inside Tigress's room was a note she had left, curled, on her bed.
The Dragon Warrior had to go on a journey and I went with him.
Those few words brought much consternation. The rest of the Furious Five wondered where were they going and why they weren't warned with something more than a simple piece of paper. But Shifu, though curious about the matter as well, decided to trust the Dragon Warrior and asked his students to do the same, so they started their daily training routine, Po and Tigress were already outside the city.
The sun was turning the dark into a beautiful day, but all seven of them were too busy in their own minds to notice it.
A couple of hours later Po stopped below the shade of a tree. He had been gradually slowing his pace for some time, and Tigress assumed he was tired.
Her guess was proven right when ten minutes later found Po sleeping on the ground, the soft, comforting grass his mattress. Tigress was a bit tired herself, deprived of her sleep last night, but she didn't want to rest. She stayed awake watching Po and paying attention to everything around them.
Soon the panda was snoring. It wasn't loud or unpleasant; in fact, to Tigress, it was cute, like a child's snore. She got closer to Po, still skulking in the bushes, ready to hide if he woke. So innocent, she thought as she scanned his face. It's that innocence that makes me want to fight for a better world just because he's in it. The Dragon Warrior was also a symbol, after all. It could mean different things for different people, and to Tigress, after living under the same roof as him, it meant… everything she deemed worth saving. It was like he represented everything the Furious Five existed for, while fighting beside them. Sacred. Po was sacred to her, somehow like kung-fu itself, but also as something more...
"As long as you're here, you can make a fire so I can cook something. I'm starving, you know," Po suggested without so much as opening his eyes.
Tigress stood up, forgetting about silence, and turned to speak to him, "Forgive me, Master, I…"
"Oh no, don't start with that! I told you to go to your room! You wanna give me this Master-respect stuff now, after following me here?" Po got up and stared at Tigress. His tone was angry, but his eyes bore a deep, inescapable melancholy. Tigress felt like he was a child who wanted to hit her, but lacked the strength to do so.
"I had no choice, I was worried about you," she defended, though her heart ached at seeing her friend so distressed.
"Yeah, well…you should be. I don't ..." Po relaxed and sat on the ground, erasing from his face any trace of rage. Now there was just sadness – a sorrow so deep Tigress felt consumed by it. She had to force herself to look into Po's eyes.
"Po, what's happening? What can you tell me about it?" asked Tigress, putting formalities aside for the sake of the panda as she watched Po struggle against tears.
"That's just it, Tigress, I don't know. I really don't. Not all of it, at least," tears rolled down his face in pre-plastered grooves as he spoke. He didn't even seem to notice it. Tigress didn't know what to say so she replied like she always did: with honesty.
"I can't stand to see you like this, Po. Please. You bring so much happiness to the Palace because of whom and how you are that I just cannot leave you alone when you are like this. I knew you were crying in the kitchen and I know something is wrong now. I'm sorry to have disobeyed you, but I can help if you'll just let me. At least I'll make sure you're not alone," Tigress finished as Po looked at her and gradually stopped crying.
He smiled, weakly, and replied, "Too many words, Master Tigress. You're not like this."
"I guess I can be, when I'm worried this much," Tigress quickly answered.
Po looked away from her and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he stood up and faced Tigress. The sadness was still there, but he was more like the Po Tigress was used to.
"All right, then," he began. "You come with me. You made your choice, I guess. So we are going."
"Can you tell me where to?" Tigress asked as respectfully as she could, though she was guessing already what the answer might be.
She discovered she was right when Po replied, "Like I said before, I don't know yet. Now… how about that fire? I'm still hungry."