Final Disclaimer: I don't own it, but the story ideas, the OCs, and the (various) plots are mine. Please don't use without my consent.
Secondly, be prepared for a huge surprise about midway through this chapter. Also, I was planning to have a FAQs chapter after this one, in case there are any unresolved questions that people have; if interested, or if you have any burning questions, please direct all questions to me through a PM. Thank you all for reading.
Memoirs of a Master
Chapter 25: The epilogue
It took me a week to get there, as it always had. Old as I am, I can still make that journey as I did many years ago. I've discovered shortcuts over the years. I met Ochir—Master Flying Rhino—along the way. Li and Ren had been living together for…oh, what has it been, fifty, fifty-five years, give or take? A good long time, and may you two have many more years together.
Now, Xue Shan had made his fair share of mistakes. After Yeying's death, as you all know now, he completely broke contact with us. All we heard were rumors, and in many cases, we didn't like what we heard. He had completely given in to the darkness inside him, and it was truly ugly. I hardly recognized him; he looked nothing like the handsome youth I had befriended so many years ago. He was grizzled, worn, scarred, and, well, ugly.
When he arrived at Li and Ren's doorstep, his had already been sick for at least a decade. It was a miracle he lasted so long. Miracle or his feline obstinacy, I may never know, but something made him wait long enough for me to come to him. I almost refused to come. Had Dong Li not been the one to beg my presence, I would not have been gifted with the information I am now going to share.
First, the six of you will be surprised to know—and you, especially, Tigress—that Xue Shan wasn't the only snow leopard there. There were three more, his children. I had no idea he had ever married. I was introduced to them as Song, the eldest, with reddish eyes like polished red jasper, Ying, the middle child, with eyes blue as a mountain lake, and Jun, the youngest, with eyes as green as the jade she was named for. Now, under different circumstances, my relations to these girls would have been less than civil. Considering the nature of my visit, I had to be not just civil, but comforting to the Wu Sisters.
Yes, the Wu Sisters. Po, close your mouth, please; you look like the catch of the day. And Tigress, sheath those claws, you don't need them.
They weren't too pleased to see Ochir and I, of course, especially me. How many times have those three come up against the Furious Five? It surprised me that the youngest, Jun, was actually happy to see me.
"I'm glad you're here," she said. "You all meant a lot to Daddy."
I told her I had no idea he was her relation.
"No one did," Ying said stiffly. "We tried keeping it that way."
Well, no harm in six more people knowing, is there? After all, Xue Shan's reputation was more concerned with the negative things he did later in life; his daughters, by extension, fed off that terrifying reputation, yet no one remembers why the Wu Sisters were so frightening…they had just always been as long as people remembered.
All three of them stood aside and let Li escort Ochir and I to the room where our old friend lay, just on the threshold of death. Entering the room, I can't explain away that inexplicable chill, like I was standing just in front of the Gates of the Underworld. There, in a bed against the far wall, facing out the window at the snow falling upon the Zhou-tong valleys, was Xue Shan.
"Zig?" Ochir had asked.
That snow leopard was…I can't describe it. The closest thing to explain how I felt, looking at him, that weather-beaten, scarred, sagging visage that crowned a skeletal frame, knowing full well that he had once been kind and mischievously playful, was akin to leaving home for years and years, and upon your return, find it defaced, rotting and ready to crumble to its foundation. That's how he looked: like an old house about to crumble to dust.
"Ochir? Hell's teeth," he chuckled, but it quickly turned into hacking coughs and wheezing breaths. Wu Song was quick to her father's side, helping him sit up and pounding on his back to help him breathe. He turned his face to us, and as I had for all those years, I needed to remind myself he was blind. "You're not alone."
"No, he is not," I spoke up.
I couldn't read his expression in the dying light. By his silence, I knew he wasn't too fond to see me either. "Like what you see, Shifu? You were right. All of you were right. All these years, you were right about me…I was a powder keg next to an open flame. And look what it wrought me!"
I couldn't tear my eyes away from him. His three daughters, Song, Ying and Jun, all sat by his bed, the eldest, Song, holding her father's skeletal hand and glaring at me. Those three girls, whom we had faced in battle before…now it made sense. I knew where they had learned their trade, the way they fought, how they had come so close to beating us all those times…
Xue Shan…Zigsa…their father…had trained all three.
I couldn't help but smile, "Yes indeed."
"Don't you dare mock me, old man," he growled.
"I'm not the only old man here, you know…there's five in all, to be exact." I took a step forward and Song was the first to stand in my way, protecting the old cat. "If only you could see what I see, Zigsa," I told him. "Your eldest, Song, was it?"
"I named her for your wife."
I froze, having no idea what to say. The eldest Wu, for her part, was speechless as well, the unspoken question on her face: you were married?
"I decided that, years ago, after Yeying…well…" he paused, coughing again; Wu Ying brought him a cup of water which he sipped slowly before continuing. "I decided, if I ever had a daughter, I'd name her after the sister I never had. My second girl, Ying, is also named for her." He paused, then exhaled deeply, "I loved her, you know."
"I know," I nodded.
"We all did," Li said for the first time in over forty years.
Shan smiled, only a little. "I knew it the day when my eldest girl took her first steps…that was the same day she threw her first punch, too."
"Don't tell me…"
He pantomimed getting hit in the jaw with a satisfied smirk. "Pow, knocked out some bratty toddler's front teeth."
"That sounds like her," I chuckled. Slowly, I saw a smile tugging at the lips of the red-eyed female, fondly remembering.
Shan settled back in bed, Wu Jun pulling the covers up to his shoulders. "Shifu, Ochir, you can come closer, this old cat's lost his bite and his claws a long time ago…" he beckoned his daughters, smiling wryly, "Gave them to my girls."
We approached the bed; Jun offered me a chair, which I refused. All four of us stood, watching over him. He closed his sightless eyes, now milky white with cataracts, when before we could detect the hint of silvery-blue sheen of his irises.
"Shifu, I don't have long, and there's something I need to tell you. I know about the Dragon Warrior—a panda, named Po. Ying found out about two months ago; my girls are disappointed it's not Tai Lung."
"We wanted a challenge," Wu Song shot back, and I detected just a bit of a roguish smile she unquestionably inherited from her father.
"A challenge, eh? You'd be surprised," I warned her. When I turned back to Shan, I said, "I had to get over my own disappointment a long time ago. I expected Tai Lung to be the Dragon Warrior, and he failed. I expected Tigress to be the Dragon Warrior, and she failed…"
"Yes!" Wu Ying hissed, but was quickly silenced by a sharp jab to the ribs from one of her sisters.
"But as it turns out," I continued, "It was I who failed them."
"We all failed them, Shifu…especially Tai Lung. If I had been…" he shook his head and sighed. "It's my fault, what happened to him."
"You didn't perform the Wuxi finger hold on him, last I checked," Ochir snorted.
"No, before that…long before that. Shifu, I know I should have told you this years ago…I should have been brave enough to tell you the truth, but I was too craven to actually put him into your arms. I could barely face what I did, and have to face you and tell you what happened…"
"What did happen, Shan?" I asked him. I placed my hand on his, to let him know I was there, and that I would listen.
"You have to promise me that this will not change anything, not how you view me, especially not how you view Tai Lung, do you understand?"
"Of course." What else could I say? It had been over forty years since he betrayed us all, and though it hurt, I reiterate: it had been forty years. It still stung, and made it difficult for me to trust anyone, even to this day. Some wounds never heal, and others leave scars that will never go away. I could have finished what I had started, right there in that room, but what was the point? He was already dying, and our quarrels were decades old; to bring it all up was just so irrelevant I wouldn't be able to look at myself. I still hated him, and it was that hate that prevented me from attaining the Dragon Scroll, and that hate tainted Tai Lung, and possibly Tigress, too. I am old, and I am sick of feeling pain. Whatever pain I had experienced was nothing compared to what he had to be going through. Aside from that, I had a feeling that this was something I needed to hear.
"Shifu…" he bit his lip and took in a deep breath, the kind of inhale meant to ward off a sob. "I knew his parents, and so did you. Do you remember when you and Yeying got married, and we met in Zhou-tong? You'd scarcely believe it…I lost it when they got married. Then the Cataclysm happened, and Tai Lee defected with Min Lung to Tibet. The new emperor didn't like that, of course, the son of a bitch."
"Its treason to speak ill of the Emperor," I reminded him.
"Fuck him, that bastard of a wolf is dead, and long live Emperor Xian Xin!" he coughed and gasped for air before he continued. "Besides, what's a dead guy going to do to me? I already know what's going to happen to me after I die…"
"Daddy," Wu Song chastised him, gently squeezing his bony shoulder.
"I know, love," he continued. "But do you see it now? Did you ever wonder why Tai Lung looked so familiar? There's your answer: he had an honorable, intelligent man for a father and the most beautiful snow cat in history for a mother. Well, no surprise that once Tai Lee defected with the other snow leopards, emigrated from the empire, I was sent by my employer to teach him a lesson…and I won't deny I had personal reasons, too."
"No…you didn't!" I gasped.
"I killed him," he confessed. "I thought if I couldn't have Min Lung, no one could; he didn't deserve her, but looking back…I didn't deserve her either. I was only supposed to intimidate him, bring him back in chains if need be, but this was under Emperor Rong Lang…I think you remember how awful he was, lasting barely twenty years before I finally assassinated him, the worthless sack of flesh…
"Tai Lee met me in battle, the idiot. He had no training in warfare whatsoever, and I wondered why Min Lung wasn't going to fight me, but as it turns out, Tai Lee had reasons to keep her from fighting. He had left China, and wasn't going back; I would have to do it 'over his cold dead body'. I was an assassin for hire, mostly taking out Rong Lang supporters…so I took him up on his offer. I had gone alone, found them in a small cabin in the mountains. It was just the two of them, I thought. Tai Lee went down easily, then Min Lung came out to fight me…and she went down too. I was as angry at her for abandoning me as I was at him for stealing her away. In the aftermath, when it was still, and I turned to leave…that's when I heard the baby crying."
My heart leapt into my throat. Tai Lung.
"I'm the reason he was an orphan," he rasped out. "Sure, I could blame Rong, because he was the true source of my rage, but I could never vilify myself, or live with myself if I did. I found the cub in his cradle, swaddled in bunting, crying his lungs out."
"Why didn't you kill him?" I asked. "You killed his parents without remorse."
"I don't know why," he said. "I suppose, when I touched that baby's face, and I realized what I had done, and whose son he had to be…I had killed the only woman I had ever loved…and now I was about to kill her only child." He fell into a coughing fit again, covering his mouth with his fist. There were tiny spots of blood on his hand when he pulled it away.
"I took him away from there, tried to find someplace to leave him. I almost left him on the steps of an orphanage in that region until I remembered war was going to break out there. He wouldn't have been safe. I owed Min Lung that much—I owed it to her to protect her son. It didn't take much longer for me to figure out where to send him…"
I didn't know how long I had been gripping his hand like that, but my grip tightened immediately.
"I took him to the Valley of Peace. I took him right up the Jade Mountain, and left him outside the palace. I didn't know where else to take him. I thought of leaving a note, or just simply handing him over…but I couldn't face you. If I weren't already blind, I would have blinded myself so I didn't have to look in a mirror…"
I can't remember what else he said to me. Li, Ren and Ochir, you three probably do; but I blanked out. Everything I remembered about that night forty years before, from the child's wail, the rich purple swaddling clothes with their familiar design…it turns out I was right. The fabric used to blanket the infant Tai Lung had the same traditional clan designs of the snow leopards of Dragon's Lair. That was why I named him Tai Lung, after all.
But here was the proof of it. I thought back to my musings that Tai Lung had Min Lung's eyes, which made me suspect Shan was somehow the father; I had been both disappointed and relieved that Tai Lung didn't look like Xue Shan when he got older.
I suppose he did look like his father, the brave man and brilliant engineer I'd met only once, and that brought me more peace than I could have predicted. Now I knew where he got his tenacity, his sharp mind; though his father had been the runt of the litter, he more than made up for it, just as his son had made up for his humble beginnings.
Even more remarkable was…well, you three don't know, but my students do. I might as well repeat it for clarity. After Yeying's passing, and after all of you left, I felt abandoned, like all my joy had been stripped away. It hurts to think about it now, but back then, I was willing to end my life. In fact, I was going to end it the night the cub was left at our door. I felt alone, utterly alone, and I had allowed my grief to consume me so much that I wanted to join my wife in the afterlife. Before the knife fell, was when I heard the baby's cry.
For many years I thought Tai Lung had saved my life that night. As it turns out, I owed my life to Xue Shan all along.
"Gods, say something," he snapped. "I always hated when you got silent like this."
"I'm sorry…it just brought up a lot of memories."
"Good ones, I hope."
"Yes," I answered. "Many good ones." I should have been furious at Shan for what he did to Tai Lee and Min Lung, and all the innocent people over the years. But at the same time, he had given me my greatest joy, but more than that…a reason for living.
So I forgave him.
"We all did," Flying Rhino said. "I mean, hell, I stood by his side in some of the worst skirmishes I've ever fought. He had my back for years, and he was the best friend I ever had."
"Despite his faults, he was still a warrior by every sense of the word," Dong Li nodded. "You all can think what you want, but we knew him."
"Every warrior has darkness in them," Ren explained with an intense gravity to his words. "Everyone is like the moon: they have light and dark. He made mistakes, but don't we all?"
"Most of our mistakes don't involve killing innocent people," Tigress pointed out, a bitter bite on her tongue.
"Dear gods, she is a lot like her!" Dong Li snickered. He explained, "Forgive me, but that sounded much like something Yeying would have said."
"Do you think that if she were still alive," Crane started, "That none of this would have happened?"
"Maybe," Ochir shrugged. "But who's to say?"
"If there's one thing this journey has taught me," Shifu concluded, "It's that a life lived with regret is no life at all. I spent most of my life regretting the things that happened, the things I should have done and never did, and the things I had done that I should not have. Regret is a poison. This trip is something I needed to suck the poison from all the wounds…"
"I see what you're sayin'," Po started slowly. "That there's no point in regret, if the past is in the past. Its done, can't do anything about it. Might as well live for today and look forward to tomorrow, right?"
"Yesterday is history," Dong Li started, earning a smile from his lupine partner, who continued,
"Tomorrow is a mystery."
"Today is a gift," Flying Rhino smirked at Shifu, who finished, "That is why it is called the present."
"An Oogway classic," Dong Li said in fond remembrance.
"What happened after you forgave him?" Po asked, bringing them back to the story.
Shifu closed his eyes slowly, as if resigning himself to delivering even worse news. The three other old men bowed their heads.
"He…well, we set him up for bed. His daughters took care of most of it," Shifu began. "They got him some water, pulled out more blankets, things like that. Wu Jun stated she was going to get his pain medication for him…" the red panda took in a shaky breath, his voice low, "and he told her 'There's no need, there's no pain tonight'. We made sure he was comfortable, the girls kissed him good night, and we wished him well, even told him we would see him in the morning. We never did, because he never woke up."
Jian Ren took advantage of the quiet in the room. "We had to rush the funeral, unfortunately. If we waited any longer, the ground would have frozen, and we would have had to wait until spring."
"Shan had waited for peace long enough," Ochir stated, "And I wasn't going to let him wait any longer. There was this hill, overlooking the southern Zhou-tong village, and Tai Lung Shan…"
"The spot where we were named masters," Dong Li smiled, albeit sorrowfully. "We thought he'd like that. The feng shui was good for that place. We burned money and offerings for his spirit to use in the afterlife, burned incense with our prayers."
"It was extremely hard," Shifu sighed, looking alarmingly frail in his grief. "I didn't think I could make it through. I don't think I would have if my friends had not been there with me."
Dong Li smiled, standing to wrap his arms around his old friend and chuckling, "You stupid ass, didn't I tell you decades ago that you would never have to stand alone?"
Po and the Five sat back as Ren and Ochir also brought Shifu into their brotherly embrace, and allowed these men—these friends—to have their moment. This was something that had been denied them for too long. Each member of the Five, and not for the first time, began to wonder if they had the strength in them to prevail if something would tear them asunder. In a way, they each believed that logically they could keep going on, but realistically, they knew they didn't have the strength to be there without their comrades by their side.
Individually, too, they knew that, as strong as their bond was, not a single one of them would be able to stand alone as their master had done for all those years.
Monkey kept waiting for the explosion. He knew that Shifu would, sooner rather than later, rail into them for shirking their training. Yet three days after he returned home with his old friends…nothing.
It was…well, remarkable was not a strong enough word. That third morning, even with all the fresh snow on the ground, the Five and Po made their own way to the Training Hall to make up for lost time. The snow was waist-deep, but they risked it; facing high snow banks and frigid cold was nothing compared to what Shifu would have in store for them.
When they heard their master's voice outside, they started training even harder to show him they had not slacked off (even when they had).
But he didn't come inside. There were other voices outside, and…laughter? Monkey finally had enough and peeked out the door. Astonished, he called the others over. "You guys aren't going to believe this…"
Six jaws dropped when they looked outside.
Master Flying Rhino, Dong Li, Jian Ren, and Shifu were running about the courtyard…throwing snowballs at each other. Old as they were, they laughed and played like they were children again. The smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes seemed familiar somehow, like they had done this many times before. Indeed, the only thing that led to this recent development was Dong Li idly reminding Shifu of their "tradition" with the first snow of winter.
The fox in question threw a snowball that nailed Flying Rhino in the face; he retaliated with a snowball the size of his torso, flinging it at the two canines, only to earn another snowball right between his unprotected shoulders, flung by Shifu of course.
"Alright, that's it! Shifu, you fluffy-tailed tree rat, you're goin' down!" the rhino flung a snowball, which Shifu dodged, and the old-timers realized much too late…
…that the snowball had hit Tigress instead.
The four old men froze, lowering their powdery white weapons in anticipation of what she would do. Additionally, the other five warriors—especially Po—held their breath as they anticipated her reaction.
Tigress was too stunned to say anything, the front of her green robe now cold and wet from the snow melting into the fabric, the powdery flakes hitting the floor in clumps. When she looked up at the old masters, she was…amazed, to see how sheepish they looked. What exactly had Shifu told them about her?
She turned on her master, marching down the stairs and standing face-to-face with a very worried red panda. As she glared down at him, utterly furious, she took in a deep breath; Shifu braced himself.
"You are so dead."
"Excuse me? OOF!" Shifu was thrown back several feet by the power behind Tigress' pitched snowball. When he brushed the snow off his face, he fell back on his tail, utterly amazed.
Tigress was smiling.
Tigress was not just smiling, she was laughing, laughing in a way he had never heard from her. He had never seen her eyes twinkle like that before, or crinkle up with mirth, and even the flash of her sharp white teeth warmed his heart. He returned the grin, picking himself off.
"Well, Master Tigress, I do believe we—" he held up a perfectly formed snowball "—are at an impasse."
"It would appear so, Master Shifu," she said, crouching down to collect some snow. She cringed when he barked, "WRONG!"
"Wrong?" she asked; his heart broke to see the pain in her expression.
He trotted over, knelt next to her and instructed, "Cup your hands like this, shoulder-width apart, bring together, like picking up a handful of water. Remember the Swallow's Tail technique? Use it to form the sphere…" It was then he realized he had never taught her this lesson. What kind of father was he to have never taught his daughter the correct way to build the Perfect Snowball?
When she was finished, he surveyed her work. "Hmm, not a bad form. But the key to a Perfect Snowball is to see how it hits its intended tar—"
Tigress threw, nailing Flying Rhino so hard he toppled over backwards.
Shifu smirked and laughed, "Well, there you go: the Perfect Snowball."
"So…was that a good throw?" she asked, seeking approval. He looked up at her, saw what she needed—what she had always needed—from him, and smiled proudly at her. But, to keep up appearances—which they both knew needed to be done…for now—he instructed,
"Less like a shot-put next time, more of a pitch, but otherwise, perfect." He swore he saw moisture forming in her eyes, but she quickly wiped it away, citing the brightness of the sun reflecting off the snow. He inwardly sighed, accepting it…for now.
"Now," he smirked wickedly at his old friends. "I think its time I introduced all of you to a Jade Palace tradition."
"Gods in Heaven, Shifu!" Dong Li incredulously exclaimed, "They don't know?!"
"They will now," Ren grinned, hailing the others, "Come on! Predators versus Prey!"
"Sweet!" Viper replied giddily. She slithered into her wool sweater and perched herself over Ren's shoulders as he showed her his own recipe for snowball nirvana.
"Ochir can be on our team!" Li called as everyone threw on mittens and scarves. The rhino gave Shifu a signal that could only be translated as "You're going down".
"Bring it on, rhino!" he shouted back. He gathered his team: Mantis, Crane, Monkey, and Po, and all five huddled together. "Alright, we're outnumbered but what we lack for that, we make up in speed…yes, Po?"
"Uh, actually, Master? I'm not exactly fast…"
"Oh I know. You're going to take one for the team."
"I'm wha—aww, man!" he groaned when he realized what the old master was planning.
"Do we have an attack plan?" Monkey asked. Shifu thought for a moment, then looked over his shoulder at the "predator" team, who were also huddled, plotting their battle plans.
"Hm…well, fortunately, we also have another advantage. My friends don't know your weaknesses…" then he smiled wickedly. "But I know theirs."
"He thinks he knows our weaknesses," Dong Li instructed the two females, "but we're going to give him a nasty surprise. Are either of you two familiar with the Blue Mountain Fake-out?"
"No, better idea," Ren said. "Tigress, you know anything about the Twin Weasel masters?"
"You remember their signature attack?"
"Yes, of course, sir. Viper and I practiced that when we were—" she stopped, then she and the serpent shared a wicked grin. "Gotcha."
"Shifu goin' down?" Flying Rhino asked.
"Shifu's going down," she replied, bumping fists with him.
Hours later found the ten masters completely and utterly exhausted from their intense snowball play. Shifu even noted how his students used kung fu even with snowballs as weapons. Had he known that sooner, he would have employed that instead of the usually harsh winter mountain training. It was surely the most fun he'd had in years.
Every one of them was cold, soaking wet, breathless and exhausted, but it was worth it. Shifu had finally heard Tigress laugh for the first time since she was a child. Tigress had finally had the father-daughter moment with her master that she had always craved. The rest of the Five had finally discovered the side of their master they had only known from his own memory.
And Po had finally defeated Tigress at her own game.
Left as Team Prey's sacrificial lamb, Po surprised Tigress and Viper when he served up a snowball the size of his stomach, taking Viper out with one blow; she had pulled herself from the snow, shivering and shaking and shrieking "COLD! Cold! That's cold!" Tigress fought on for her fallen comrade, launching snowball after snowball at Po, who miraculously dodged each one. He even caught one of hers, swung it around, and hit her in the chest. Not to be deterred, Tigress threw another, hitting his shoulder; he grabbed a handful of snow and pulled the dirtiest trick of all…by putting it all down the back of her shirt.
He didn't think her squeals could reach such a high pitch.
But now that the battle was over—and Team Prey the victors!—they each made the executive decision to call it a day. Even if Team Predator called for a rematch, claiming Team Prey won unfairly. In truth, the victory was by proxy: they had been outnumbered and outclassed until the bunnies from Po's beginner's kung fu class showed up unexpectedly, effectively creaming the competition.
In the end, Flying Rhino got what he wanted; seeing Shifu get hit with twenty snowballs simultaneously thrown by children between the ages of seven and ten—not to mention getting nailed by his adult students, too—was well worth it.
It was much later that night, after Po had served dinner and everyone was now resting in the main hall, that the panda received a very unexpected visitor.
"Need some help?"
He turned to the doorway, finding Shifu standing there. He had changed out of his usual brown robe, and was wearing a hunter green one in its stead, and on his face he wore a hopeful smile.
Po returned the smile, "Yeah, you can dry the dishes, if, you know, if you want."
The master nodded and pulled over a chair to stand on, accepting a clean dry cloth from the larger panda. They began this chore in perfect silence except for the clinking of dishes and teacups. Po saw Shifu out of the corner of his eye, the red panda making numerous attempts to say something, but thought better of it and kept his silence. Po, naturally, couldn't stand silence.
"Something on your mind?"
Shifu sighed, stacking the bowls carefully. "I know I said to never live with regret, but there are times when…" he stopped himself and tried again. "I wanted to apologize to you. Some of the things I wrote about you were…well, they were very unkind, and extremely unfair."
"Hey, c'mon, I know you didn't mean any of it. You were mad that Tigress didn't get the scroll, and I was…well, I was a big fat…"
"Panda, I am trying to have a moment here. Do you mind?"
"Look," he sighed, "I suppose I had many reasons for writing the memoirs in the first place. Part of it has to do with my age. I'm getting older and I may not have much time left; aside from that, what things have I forgotten?
"Secondly, as time passed after Tai Lung's defeat and subsequent defeat, I started to appreciate everything I had…but the Five wanted nothing to do with me, aside from continuing to be my students. You know now that in my struggle to detach myself to keep myself from getting hurt again, I ended up hurting those I cared the most for. I think this trip to see Shan was just what I needed. I needed to be reminded of why I study kung fu, and why I need to change myself, now, before its too late."
"Shifu, the Five do care…"
"Do they? How do you think they'd react if I just suddenly became a Happy Buddha wishing them good fortune and being all smiles and sunshine?" he asked, affixing the Dragon Warrior with a stare.
Po paused, imagining it, then grimaced, "Yeah, I see your point."
"So, you see that it was also a chance to explain myself. Public speaking is something I never quite got over my fear of. If I was going to explain myself to you, it had to be through the written word." He chuckled mirthlessly. "It seems I'm still too cowardly to answer to myself in front of my students. My years of training taught me nothing; I'm still too proud to admit I made a mistake…many of them."
"Yeah, but if you ask me, it sounds like you just did."
Shifu paused, nearly dropping the plate in his hand from the shock of Po's wise words. Regaining his composure, he finished drying the plate, and set it aside. "If you insist."
"So, uh, I wanted to ask…what happened with the Wu Sisters?"
"Hmm? Oh, well, after the funeral we parted ways. The eldest, Wu Song, is actually rather agreeable when she tries. We stayed long enough to ensure they had our condolences, but there's only so much time you can tolerate with an enemy.
"Before we left, we paid our most respectful goodbyes. I can't tell you what it feels like to help your enemy through such a trying period in their lives, and realize that perhaps you do actually have something in common with them. But Wu Song and I both knew…how would we explain ourselves? How could I suddenly explain to the Five that the Wu Sisters were now our allies? How could the Wu Sisters save face amongst their fellow assassins by calling us friends?
"Wu Ying and Wu Jun didn't like the idea very much—we'd gotten quite attached to each other over those few days—but Wu Song and I agreed that it was best to pretend that it had never happened. We agreed that as soon as we left Zhou-tong, nothing would have changed. They would still be the infamous female assassins that have even the Emperor quaking in his shoes, and I would still be the master of the enemies they secretly feared."
"So what, the fact you knew their dad means nothing?"
"Oh no, it means everything. They assured me that when I die, it will not be by their hands."
"And that's supposed to make you feel better?" Po asked skeptically.
"One less enemy for me to worry about," the red panda shrugged. "But I see what you're saying. I intentionally didn't tell the Five about my, ah, 'friendship' with the Wu Sisters. Wu Song intends to keep her word to me, and I intend to do her the same favor. Nothing's changed. Wu Ying will still want to fight Tigress, and Tigress will still want to drop-kick Ying across the province."
They shared a chuckle between them at the thought of both female felines fighting it out…and secretly placed bets.
"Speaking of Tigress…how have you two been?"
"Oh, uh, we've, uh…" Po paused. How had they been? What exactly was their classification? Friends, acquaintances, buddies, something more? The panda inwardly snorted. Something more, yeah, right… But it was hard for him to deny that there had been something, some dynamic that had changed between them. But, considering how Shifu had reacted when Po was caught…staring at Tigress…well, the panda was smart enough not to tell him anything! "We've been good."
"That's it? Just…good?"
"Yeah. Well, Tigress not so much, 'cause she got sick and stuff…"
"Wearing too little layers while training on a cold night?"
"How'd you know?" he asked, perplexed by the master's accuracy.
"Oh, she's done that since she was a little girl. You took good care of her, I wager?" Little did the giant panda know—and Shifu was not about to reveal the true reason behind the question—that this question was a test.
Po blushed a little, "Yeah, I guess…she won't be able to look at soup for a while."
"Ah. She likes wontons, you know." Now let's see if you were right about your suspicions, Ren…
Po didn't disappoint, "Oh yeah, she loves them, and tofu cubes wrapped in green tea leaves and boiled with ginger for that nice snappy flavor. She also really likes cinnamon sweet buns, you ever have those? I made them for breakfast one morning and she went nuts…"
"Sounds like you're getting along," Shifu said evenly. He was hoping the panda wouldn't catch up on his hesitation. The old master couldn't believe his old friends set him up for this, and yet here he was… "I thought she'd, ah, injure you by now."
"Well, I think I might've deserved it with the chilled peach noodle soup."
Shifu made retching noise deep in his throat. "You made chilled peach soup with noodles?!"
"It's a great laryngitis cure!" he professed.
"I'll gladly suffer the sore throat thank you very much."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," the panda replied, sinking another bowl into the soapy water. After another pause, he asked, "Did you really meet Tigress' mother?"
"Sadly, yes. Everything I wrote was true. I won't deny I was nervous, fretful of how she would take that information. No one at Bao Gu knew where she came from or who her parents were. Once I knew what happened…it doesn't surprise me why Oogway's punishment for Tai Lung was so severe. Tai Lung made many children orphans that day."
"But can you forgive him? Tai Lung, I mean."
Shifu sighed, "I would if he showed any remorse. As far as I could see, there was none. I fear those twenty years in prison only enhanced his arrogance, and his hatred for those who had locked him away. I shouldn't have been so proud of him at that battle against Rong Lang's forces; I think all the praise from the villagers, other soldiers and even Oogway was enough to make him believe he not only deserved the Dragon Scroll, but was entitled to it. His pride was ultimately his downfall."
"Yeah, but he worked so hard…"
"As if being the Master of the Thousand Scrolls wasn't good enough? But that is my fault…I was blinded by my longing for peace, and of course my pride. I made Tai Lung believe he was the only one that could bring peace. As it turned out, not too long before he was imprisoned, as you know, Rong Lang was assassinated. Well, I can't tell you how quickly we descended into peace. Emperor Xian Xin restored his great-uncle's dynasty into power. I realize now that Xue Shan played a big role in that—he was the one to kill that damned wolf, thus ushering in a new Golden Age. Given that information…I don't think I can truly hate him anymore."
"But do you hate Tai Lung?"
"Absolutely not; like it or not, he is still my son. I meant what I said that this was no longer his home, and that I was no longer his master. I would have given everything for him to see that I wanted him to have a second chance, to be my son again, before he made another big mistake."
"Killing innocent people and almost killing you kinda skedaddles right past 'mistake'…"
"Oh I know. Point is, I gave him the chance to recant; it's not my fault he chose the path he did. But, he had always been determined, which makes me believe that he's not truly dead…" he finally affixed "the look" on Po, who squirmed under the scrutiny.
"You didn't really kill him, did you?" Shifu asked.
"I defeated him."
"Yes, I got that. You said 'defeated', not 'killed'. If I surmise correctly, Tai Lung is still out there." He paused. "And you're not going to tell me where he is, are you?"
"That's because I don't know. I don't know where he is, or where he went after the Wuxi finger hold." Po fell silent and handed him the last cleaned bowl. Shifu dried it and stacked it with the others, then both sighed. They each had their guesses for the long, drawn-out exhalations, but neither of them had time to voice their concerns. Someone knocked on the doorframe, grabbing their attention.
"Master?" Tigress said, "Forgive me if I'm interrupting, but may I borrow Po for a while?"
Shifu smirked, "Tigress, haven't you given him enough bruises today?"
"I had no idea there was ice in that snowball, I swear!" she said guiltily.
Shifu grinned and chuckled, "Its alright, we were done in here anyway. I'll meet you in the other room. No doubt I have some damage control to do…"
"Damage control, sir?" she asked.
"The problem with memoirs is that it's from the point of view of the writer, and he or she can keep or omit certain, ah, events at their leisure."
"Wait, you think your friends are telling embarrassing stories about you?" Po smiled. Shifu frowned, "Over my dead body, they are!"
Tigress smirked, obviously enjoying having something to hold over her master, "That's funny; I was just in there…"
"What did you hear?" Shifu asked a little too quickly.
She shouldn't have been enjoying this as much as she was, "Something about 'that one time, at kung fu camp'…"
She jumped out of the way as Shifu raced through the door, probably breaking the sound barrier long before science would have acknowledged its existence.
Po was laughing, which she quickly joined in. "That was gold!"
She bumped fists with him, giggling naughtily, "You think that was good? Wait until I tell you the things Shifu actually did at kung fu camp…"
The pair had to go outside, because their laughter was too loud. Had Shifu known what both Tigress and Po now knew, he would have surely died of embarrassment. They were walking across the snow-covered arena, their laughter echoing off the stands, both of them holding onto each other to keep themselves from falling.
They stopped laughing long enough to look at each other, then burst back into peals of hoots and giggles. Po, wanting nothing more than to continue to make Tigress laugh, purposefully acted out one of the more embarrassing stories about their master, right down to the impersonation (and the "ears" comment). The animated impersonation resulted in Po slipping on some ice and falling flat on his back, snow flying up in a cloud of powdery white mist.
While Po groaned in pain, Tigress sat down hard, holding her sides and gasping for air, "Th-that was classic!" she said.
"Why's the world spinning?"
"I think the turning around in a circle again and again contributed," she giggled.
"Need some help?"
She offered her hand to pull him up, but forgot that he significantly outweighed her. She slipped on some ice and toppled forward, landing right on top of him. Po grinned, cocked an eyebrow and joked, "Wow, this is nice. So why don't you tell me what you really think?"
Tigress smiled and giggled, but it was…shy? Po didn't know how to interpret it, but he knew that he liked this closeness, and not in a 'friends only' kind of way. Before either of them knew what they were doing, their faces came closer together until their lips softly brushed against each other. They paused, then closed their eyes as they locked lips again, Po's hands resting on her waist as she slipped an arm around his neck as the kiss slowly deepened.
A loud knock came from the Palace doors, making both of them jump and sit straight up. Tigress blushed, forcing herself to calm down. "Just a visitor," Po laughed nervously.
Tigress narrowed her eyes, "At this time of night?"
"Wanna go see?"
She nodded, "Just in case, be on your guard…"
They walked together to the doors, and Po leaned down to look through a crack.
"Who is it?" Tigress whispered. Po stood straight and started lifting the wooden beam barring the door. "C'mon, help me out with this. It's some old lady."
"In this weather?" Tigress said, concerned. "She has to be freezing! Here, let me get that…" With her help, they lifted it off and out of the way, and Tigress was the first at the door, opening it and shedding light onto the unexpected guest. "Ma'am?"
The old woman was dressed in thick woolen clothes, wrapping a scarf tightly around her face and rubbing her wrinkled hands together to keep them warm. "Er, hello…can a body still request sanctuary here?" she asked softly.
"Yes of course, please come inside!" Tigress said quickly, ushering her in. "Is there anything we can get for you?"
The woman lifted her face, giving both warriors full view of a pair of almond-shaped sky blue eyes; she answered, "Yes, my husband."
Shifu sighed wearily, nursing a cup of tea, long since gone cold. Viper topped him off, offering a hopeful look. He returned her smile, albeit sadly, sighing again and looking around the room at his students and friends.
It was blissfully quiet as it tended to be on nights when snow fell. Shifu had always enjoyed the quiet beauty of a snowy night, and in his life, he had many fond memories of spending such nights with the ones he loved.
First his friends, then nights spent with Tai Lung, telling stories. Nights making sure Tigress had enough blankets to keep warm. But his most beloved memories were the ones he shared with Yeying. It was snowy nights like this that he would have given anything—
"MASTER!" Tigress slammed the door open. She looked as Shifu had never seen her, her eyes wild with an emotion he couldn't identify. Instinct told him something was terribly wrong, "What? What? Are we under attack?!"
"No," she said breathlessly. "We have a visitor…"
"You're kidding, at this time of night, in this weather? It's probably just a beggar—send them away, tell them to come back tomorrow."
"Master," Po poked his head in, "I think this is someone you really need to talk to."
Shifu rolled his eyes and shook his head, already feeling weary with the idea of entertaining yet one more guest…but when Po and Tigress stood aside and revealed who their guest was, he froze.
Did his eyes deceive him? Was he dreaming? His jaw dropped, and he barely heard the astonished gasps rising from his friends. He was too bewildered to do anything but stare. Finally, gathering up his courage, he swallowed hard and said,
The old woman had shed her scarf and outer coat, staring back at him. Her face was wrinkled from age and stress, her fur mostly white, and there were numerous visible scars on her arms, and a scar on her cheek from branding; anyone who was sent to prison was branded, and it was a scar she obviously wore with shame. But it was her eyes he remembered, those eyes that had the same spark they always had, if slightly dulled. He didn't care how old she was, how many wrinkles or scars there were…she was as beautiful now as he had always remembered.
Yeying took a deep breath, her voice and frail body shaking with fear. She knew this was a bad idea, returning to him after so long. Besides that, how could he possibly forgive her for what had happened? She spoke, her voice wavering,
"I…I don't know how to explain myself. I know I should have sent word, given you some idea I was alive and safe, but so many years, it wasn't safe and I didn't want to endanger you. I'm sorry it's taken so long, but…" tears sprung to her eyes as she confessed, "Rong caught me that night, they imprisoned me for treason, tortured me…there were times I wished they would just kill me and get it over with. The things they did to me…it took all the courage I had left to come here; they ruined me, Shifu, and what husband would take back a wife who was—"
He dashed forward and cut her off, taking her into his arms and kissing her soundly in a way he had not done in forty years. Tears swimming in her eyes, she tentatively wrapped her arms around him, kissing him back. When they finally broke the kiss, Shifu framed her face with his hands, looking deeply into her eyes.
"I would take you back. Do you have any idea how long I waited for you?"
"Shifu, please…please forgive me," she begged as tears ran down her cheeks.
"Forty years," he said, ignoring her plea. "I waited forty years. This whole time…I never forgot you, and I never remarried."
This surprised her; she had thought that after all this time, he would have at least remarried and had children of his own. But looking around, she saw no other woman, no children, just six young masters, and her old friends who were staring in awe. "I never thought…you were still my husband," she started crying. "And still are…"
"And I always will be…great gods in heaven," he hugged her tightly, tears falling down his face, his voice cracking with emotion. "I missed you."
Yeying hugged him back, crying harder, her voice breaking, "I missed you too, wo ai."
The Furious Five stood back to allow the two lovers to greet each other; there wasn't a single dry eye in that room. Tigress didn't even bother fighting it. She leaned against Po, who wrapped an arm around her, sharing a smile with her that could not be mistaken for anything but heart-felt affection. Shifu suddenly cleared his throat, giving the pair a mock-glare; Po got the message and quickly took his arm away.
Shifu turned to his long-lost wife, holding her hands in his, "There is so much to tell you, but first," he looked up and smiled fondly at the tiger, "You need to meet our daughter."
Shifu sighed as he looked into the Sacred Hall of Warriors. It was late that night, much later, and he could not sleep. Neither could Tigress, apparently, who was dressed in pajamas and wrapped in a warm robe, slowly pacing between the various artifacts, and likely seeing them in a new light, thanks to his memoirs.
The red panda sighed. He didn't want to do this, he really didn't want to, but those two weeks he spent with his old friends had helped him make this decision.
Or, rather, they threatened him with bodily harm unless he finally told her.
Predictably, they also told Yeying about how he had treated Tigress. Despite how she was mistreated in prison for twenty years, and how the cat feared that there were still enemies out to get her, that didn't stop her old water personality from escalating from gentle spring rain to a furious monsoon. She. Was. Pissed. And ordered him to tell her, right now, that very night. Yeying, as Shifu expected and predicted, had kicked him out of bed and threatened to keep him in the doghouse until he treated their daughter with the respect she deserved from a father.
And in order to make sure he lived up to his vow, Yeying, Li, Ren, and Ochir had all gotten out of bed to watch.
"This would be a lot easier without an audience," the red panda muttered. Yeying and Ochir just narrowed their eyes at him. Ren rolled his one good eye and tried to look patient. Li sighed and told him sternly,
"Shifu, I love you like a brother, but you brought this on yourself. I can respect that you didn't want a repeat of Tai Lung, but I remember, years ago, how you vowed to treat your future daughter better than a son. Had we all been here, we wouldn't have allowed this to happen…"
"But that doesn't mean we're at fault," Ren said. "She's not our daughter. Remember, filial duties go both ways, Shifu. You can't expect her to be a good child if you're not a good parent."
"Might as well get this over with," Ochir rumbled. "This is a long time coming. Don't make the same mistake with her that you made with Tai Lung."
Shifu sighed and mutely nodded, and with one last look to his wife, he turned the corner and slowly walked into the hall.
Tigress had stopped in front of the Sword of Heroes, and was lost in her own reflection, in her own thoughts. She didn't know Shifu was there until he was right next to her. She didn't jump in alarm, but there was an unmistakable fear in her eyes as she met his gaze. Somehow, she knew that something was coming…whatever it was. Over his shoulder, she saw Yeying in the doorway, watching, and waiting. Tigress turned her gaze away, focusing on the sword again.
Shifu took a deep breath, and began, "I see you couldn't sleep, either."
Her answer was clipped, short, and quiet. "No, Master, I couldn't. I had a lot on my mind."
"I know. I do, too." He paused, looking up at the Sword of Heroes. "Particularly, how I failed so many people, people that were close to me. I have been a terrible friend, a poor student, and an even worse master. I will not say, however, that I have been a bad father…" he paused, "Because I was never a father to begin with.
"A true father…would never have done the things I have done. Some fathers… strike their children; although I never struck you in anger, the scars I gave you are too deep, and may never go away. In light of that…me saying 'I'm sorry' is as empty as my heart has been."
She didn't say anything, just staring at the sword, arms crossed over her chest. Shifu took in a shuddering breath, swallowed hard, and continued,
"I didn't know until I spoke with Monkey, and with Po especially, how deeply I hurt you. Everything that has happened, every thing you believe…is my fault. I never wanted you to believe I hated you, that you disappointed me. I never wanted you to think I regretted adopting you, that I regretted bringing you into my life. I never wanted you to think I didn't love you. But I see why you did believe that. Po told me that actions speak louder than words…but words are exactly what you need to hear…" he took a moment to clear his throat, and said softly,
"And that is why, finally, I'm telling you that I love you."
It happened so suddenly, Tigress wasn't prepared for it. Tears sprang into her eyes, but she didn't even know she was crying until she felt the hot tears falling onto her crossed arms. Still, she didn't look at him; he saw her distress in the sword's reflection…and his eyes became misty as well.
"I…have always loved you," he said quietly, his voice breaking. "I've loved you from the moment I met you in the orphanage, from the moment I started training you…but I was a stubborn fool, and refused to allow myself to love, to allow myself to get hurt…but that is no excuse. I tried to break the cycle…but I ended up continuing it."
She closed her eyes, taking deep breaths through her nose to stop herself from crying harder.
"I don't expect you to ever forgive me," he said. "I wouldn't forgive me. But I just hope you know, if it's the last thing I ever do…that I do love you, and I am proud of you…and have always been proud of you. And I always will be."
Tigress was silent for a long moment; when she took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, Shifu braced himself.
"Do you have any idea how long I waited?" she asked evenly, and as frigidly as the wind howling outside. "Do you have any idea…that when I went to face Tai Lung, I thought that, if I had died in the attempt…that you wouldn't care?"
This struck him like a knife in his heart, and immediately, unabashedly, he started to cry as well.
"Maybe, someday, I will be able to forgive you," she said. "But right now, I'm not strong enough to accept that, Master."
"Tigress for the love of the Jade Emperor, do not call me that!" he cried. "In fact, I never want you to call me that, ever again. I don't deserve that respect, especially from you."
"So what shall I call you?" she calmly asked.
"Whatever you desire," he said seriously. "You can call me Shifu, or Fu, as Oogway did when he was cross at me—or…hell, at this point you can call me 'Rat Bastard' and I'll answer to it."
Tigress mulled over this, tears springing anew. "…I don't want to call you any of those things." She finally turned to look at him, and there he saw it, the same fear, the same sorrow he had seen for the first time, when she was just a cub, huddled in the corner of her cell-like room.
"All I've ever wanted to call you," she whispered, "was 'Baba'."
He offered a small, yet hopeful smile through his tears. "Tigress…you never needed my permission to call me that…and you certainly don't need it now."
A sob finally tore through her throat, and she looked away, ashamed that he was seeing her show such weakness.
"Oh Tigress, come here," he gently beckoned.
It was as if they had always been able to do this. Tigress knelt and wrapped her arms around him, crying and hugging him. He wrapped his arms as far as he could around her, gently rubbing her back as he mingled his tears with hers. "Mei Jia…my little butterfly," he whispered.
She sniffed, whispering the one thing she had always wanted to tell him. "I love you, Baba…"
For the first time, she could barely believe she'd heard it; she thought she was dreaming this whole thing, and would wake up any moment. But the pain in her heart was too real to be a dream. And the sincerity and love in his words was too real…
"I love you too, Daughter." And he meant it. She could tell…he meant every word. Shifu gave her a gentle squeeze which she returned. "My little girl…my precious little girl…"
Yeying's eyes were glistening with unshed tears. She looked over her shoulder, at her lifelong friends; all three of them were smiling. Slowly, she smiled as well and stepped away from the door.
"I think we should leave them be for awhile," she addressed.
"Yeah, good idea," Ochir nodded.
"Is he still in the doghouse?" Ren remarked dryly.
"I'm still mad at him," Yeying paused, "But I think I can forgive him."
Li was looking through the doorway, watching father and daughter embracing. Finally, the fox smiled; for the first time in nearly five decades, things were as they were supposed to be in the Jade Palace.
Three months later.
Yeying stood on the porch that late night—or early morning—overlooking the training area, a thick shawl wrapped around her thin shoulders. The first signs of spring were beginning to show, with little patches of green grass poking through unseasonably late snow. The night still held chilly winds, which made her to clutch the shawl closer around her shoulders.
She smiled as she reflected on the past three months. Shifu had immediately and unquestionably accepted her back. Telling him exactly what had happened to her while in prison made him angry enough to smash one of the…oh, what were those damn things called? Swinging clubs of… oh forget it. Not for the first time he cursed Rong Lang's name and wished fervently to be able spit on his grave (as it was, the wolf's corpse had been chopped up and the pieces burned after being paraded through the capital with much fanfare. She had been there to witness that).
For the first time in forty years, they slept in the same bed, in each other's arms. It was as if they had never been apart. It had been as natural as kissing him, hugging him, like they had been doing it for…oh goodness, it would be fifty years come the end of summer! Fifty years, heaven help me! She sighed.
He had changed so much, she knew, but she had changed as well. She no longer saw herself as the confident, vivacious young woman she had been; she was withered and old, and terrified of someone coming back to do her harm. Though she had returned to the Jade Palace, a place where she had always been at peace, she still had nightmares. Though no one had been out to hurt her for well over twenty years, she still never trusted a stranger. No matter how hard she, her husband, or their old friends tried to help her, those old fears still lingered.
If there was one thing Yeying could safely say, she was not only happy to be welcomed back into Shifu's life, but to find that she had children as well! Shifu's students…oh, she loved them immediately! Monkey and Viper were such sweethearts, and Crane—such a good boy—well, his mother raised him right. Mantis, she was happy to see, was not afraid to tell bawdy jokes to get her to laugh; she was grateful he did it just for her benefit. And Tigress…
The cat smiled fondly as she thought of her daughter. Tigress was as close to a daughter as she would ever know…and she loved her immediately. Shifu had told her the whole story of how he came to adopt her: as a result, Yeying refused to call her daughter by her "master name"; instead, she called her by her childhood name, Mei Jia. Beautiful Butterfly; it fit her perfectly. Mother and daughter immediately clicked, and where one was, the other was usually close by. Both women gave the other the things they craved, and renewed purpose.
She looked up to the bunkhouse, seeing a light in the kitchen and smiled fondly, knowing there was only one person who would be up at that hour.
Po Ping, such a good boy, and so good for her beautiful little girl; the cat couldn't have asked for a better potential son-in-law. Panda and tiger decided to wait until New Year's to embark on their official relationship, which gave Shifu plenty of time to warm up to the idea. That didn't mean Po escaped the Overprotective Father routine, but he had an easier time than any other male would have.
He was good for her, she was good for him, and that made Yeying happy. They brought out the best in each other: he made Tigress laugh; she gave him confidence in his kung fu. He cooked all her favorite meals and she baked for him, a little known talent of hers that he helped cultivate. They had already moved into the same room with one another (and Shifu had grudgingly allowed it), but truth be told, neither cat nor red panda had ever seen a couple so in love.
Well, except for themselves, of course.
A rustling in the branches above her head alerted her, her ears perking and blue eyes flicking up to the ancient oak tree. She raised her hand and beckoned the visitors down. Three pairs of pawpads gracefully landed on the cobblestones in front of the Tonkinese cat, who crossed her arms again and stared down the three other females.
"You'll excuse us for that," the leader said tersely. "Getting into this valley isn't as easy as you said it would be."
"I expected better from the best assassins in China. Especially if those assassins are Zigsa's daughters."
Wu Song narrowed her red eyes, obviously feeling the sting of the insult. "You want to conduct business or not?"
"Why else would I have called you here? Did you find him?"
Wu Jun nodded. "He was where you said he would be—we took him in, back to Daddy's house. We left him there. We're paying this snake doctor good money, but he wants more."
"He'll get his," Wu Ying said ominously, unsheathing her claws to buff them on her shirt.
Yeying snorted, tossing a bag nearly bursting with coins in Wu Jun's direction. "Just pay him and send him away when he's done…that should be enough to cover everything."
"You sure? He said he'd need to stay a little longer," Wu Jun asked, critically eyeing the small bag. "What if he demands more?"
"He won't," Yeying said furtively. "I met with you to develop this transaction, and true to my word, I never back out on a deal."
"Speaking of," Wu Ying spoke up, crossing her arms, "When do we get our share?"
"Remember where you found him?"
The Wu sisters nodded.
"There's a box buried in the trunk of that oak tree—you'll need to hack around the wood to get to it. The contents are antiques, heirlooms, worth hundreds, and more than enough compensation for your trouble."
Wu Song pursed her lips. "Is that all?"
"No." Yeying pulled something out from her shawl and tossed it to the eldest sister, who caught it one-handed. The female snow leopard gaped. "Are you kidding me? What the hell is this?"
"I want you to take it to him."
"Why? This ratty old thing? It's worthless!"
"Not to him, it isn't," the cat said mysteriously. Wu Song arched an eyebrow in bewilderment, staring at the old stuffed panda bear toy in her hand. She rubbed her gloved thumb over the bear's button eyes, and suddenly, the once-dull orbs now shone in the starlight, sparkling ever so slightly.
"I don't get it…" she confessed, tossing the bear to her sister Jun. "But if your pay is as good as you say it is, then we'll do as you say."
"Thank you." She nodded. "Bear first, payment last. I'll know, girls. I'll know."
"Yeah, yeah," Wu Ying rolled her blue eyes, "We know."
"Oh, and girls?" Yeying asked as a parting shot. "Next time, try taking the path through the mine, not over the mountain—you'll get into the valley with less trouble."
The sisters blinked in alarm. Yeying smirked in triumph. As the sisters warily backed away from the seemingly psychic cat, Yeying heard Wu Jun ask her sisters: "How does she do that?"
Yeying sighed and turned around to crack open the door to the training hall. "They're gone, you can come out."
Shifu snuck through the door and looked out into the direction the Wu sisters went. "So he's safe?" he asked, hiding his hands within his sleeves.
She nodded, "As far as I know. The Wuxi finger hold must have done more damage than you thought."
"Po did say he tried to go easy on him."
The feline smiled, her blue eyes sparkling, "Oh I know. That pure heart and gentle soul are earmarks for the Dragon Warrior. That's one of the many reasons why I'm glad he and our little girl are together. Which reminds me…when am I going hear wedding bells?"
Shifu groaned, not wanting to think about it. "Don't change the subject…"
"Who's changing it? I thought we were on the subject of our children."
Shifu fell silent; Yeying adjusted the shawl around her shoulders. "Does anyone else know?"
He shook his head, offering her his hand. "I don't think so, not exactly. I think they suspect he's still out there, somewhere. It's very likely the villagers and the Five know Po could never kill someone outright."
"And I'm glad he didn't. I've gotten to know my daughter quite well. I'd like to get to know my son, too." Yeying smiled, gripping her husband's hand. It was still as strong as it had been the day of their wedding.
"So…it doesn't bother you, the things he did?" he asked.
"Of course it bothers me; I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't concerned," she said, slowly walking back to the bunkhouse, hand in hand with him. "But despite his mistakes, you still love him, and though I've yet to meet him, I love my son as well. What kind of mother would I be if I didn't?"
The red panda nodded, walking in step with her. "You want us to reconcile, I suppose?"
"I don't expect it. You have always been rather stubborn. But, I suppose that you will come to forgive him…eventually. The pieces are on Tai Lung's side of the game board now; it's up to him to make a move."
"You think he'll come back," he stated.
"Someday," she sighed. "He may still be the villain, or he may be a changed man, but it is too early to tell. As it is, I'm debating still using the Wu Sisters as intermediaries—other than betraying your trust, those girls will bleed me dry at this rate."
"You know of my relationship with the Wu sisters; it is no betrayal at all. Now, if only you told me where he was…" he began to offer.
"You know I won't ask you to do that," she smiled. "As much as I appreciate the offer, sadly, I think you're the last person he'd want to see."
"But you'll keep in contact?"
"It's a mother's duty after all, and I aim to make sure my son gets the treatment he deserves as my son."
Shifu thought about this for a moment…then smirked, "So…when you finally meet him, you're going to make him cut his own switch, aren't you?"
Yeying let out a laugh, "You're damn right I will!"
Zhou Tong, two weeks later.
Far away from the Jade Palace, high in the western mountains in the bordering province, three shapes trudged through the melting snow up to a tiny house. The house stood atop a sugarloaf hill that overlooked the valley below, which had long ago hidden any evidence of the rice farming village that had existed long before the travelers' time. As they plodded closer, they saw lanterns shining in the windows like tiny beacons, lighthouses to warn passerby of incoming threats, but also the hope of a safe haven for those heading their way.
The leader of the three shapes sighed and grumbled, "Damnit, I hate winter…"
"Song, we're snow leopards," Wu Ying reminded her.
"Shut up," the eldest Wu grumbled.
The Wu sisters finally made it to the front door of the small one-story house, the eldest slamming her fist against the door while her sisters huddled against the roaring wind. A latch was lifted and the door swung inward, admitting the wet and frozen assassins.
"Thanks, Borte," Wu Song nodded. Borte, the Lady of Mongolia, wife of Master Flying Rhino, and dear friend of the late Master Oogway, only nodded at the girls before slamming the door shut against the still frigid wind. "Welcome back, girls. Your trip went well?"
"Well enough. How's the patient?" Wu Song asked as she and her sisters swept into the small house. They shed their snow-covered clothing and reached for the offered dry qipao the falcon had left out for them. Borte handed out mugs of hot tea as well before reclaiming her seat at the kitchen table in that front room. The Mongolian falcon stared out the window as she composed her thoughts, and as the Wu Sisters changed into house robes.
It was strange, she thought, why Yeying had bothered to bring these girls into their plan. Strange…until it was revealed just who their father had been. Still, as much as Borte was loathe admitting, it was Xue Shan whom Yeying went back for that terrible night and, whatever agreements the two felines had made, apparently this was a part of their vow to each other…whatever that was.
When Borte had finally found the female feline a few months ago, after four long decades, alive and well but horribly traumatized, it was the falcon's first instinct to take her to Oogway. Yeying had refused, citing that someone they knew needed help. And that someone was the patient who had earned Wu Song's curiosity…
"He's better, been performing well in physical therapy while you were gone." Borte smiled. "Did you get the goods?"
Wu Ying tightened the belt around her blue robe and slammed a small chest onto the tabletop. Opening it, she displayed heaps of gold and silver coins, strings of freshwater pearls and jade beads, and jewelry so exquisite that even an Empress would feel unworthy of such beauty. The female falcon snorted and eyed the youngest Wu. "I meant the gifts from Yeying."
Wu Jun thought about it for a moment, then her eyes brightened up with recognition as she rummaged around her travel pack. "Oh yeah! Yeah, we got it…she gave us this," she showed off the old panda bear toy. "Not sure why, though; it doesn't look like its worth much…"
Borte's eyes widened for a minute with recognition, then slowly, she smiled fondly, her sharp eyes suddenly very far away.
"Miss Borte?" Jun asked.
The falcon shook herself out of it. "Sorry, dear. He should be up."
"Does Mohinder need our help with anything?" Wu Song asked.
Borte shook her head. "Not any longer. He's managed to get him to take his medicine without being threatened."
Wu Song smirked; that old cobra had, over the years, grown to an impressive thirteen feet in length. Doctor he may have been, and though his bedside manner improved, he wasn't above threatening patients with a well-aimed bite if they didn't cooperate.
"So what does he do instead?" Ying asked.
Borte smiled wickedly. "I threaten him."
Jun held back on a giggle as she adjusted the collar of her green qipao. "Sweet, I'll go give this to him while he's still awake."
"All right. Dinner's ready, so why don't you take some to him?"
The youngest snow leopard shrugged, "'Kay," and started grabbing bowls and mugs to place on a tray. She licked her lips in anticipation; Mohinder happened to be an excellent cook too, and it looked like his Extra-Spicy Mumbai Curry Delight was on the menu, along with chickpeas and a flat floury thing called naan. Jun placed everything on the small tray and safely placed the little bear between the tall mug of water and a bowl of dim sum, in case the patient refused the curry. It might have been her imagination, but the bear's black button eyes seemed to be shining just a little brighter…with hope?
While her sisters settled down for delicious curry, she made off to the short hallway that connected the four rooms of the house. She slowed down and stopped just outside the room where her father, Xue Shan, had passed into the next world. Jun's ears fell back against her head as she thought about that morning, waking up to Song's heart-rending wails, having found their father—their Daddy—cold in his bed. She frowned a little, missing him already; Master Shifu had been surprisingly sympathetic, and didn't even turn her away when she needed a hug. Perhaps Song had been wrong about the old red panda, the youngest Wu thought. Strange those whole four days had been, but…she wouldn't have traded it for anything.
She continued down the hall, stopping just outside of the next room, biting back a giggle as she heard the patient swearing,
"Damn you, man! Are you trying to kill me?"
Mohinder's thick Indian accent rose above the patient's (after a loud thwack that indicated the cobra had struck his patient in annoyance). "Boy, do not make me sic Borte on you! Now shut your mouth!"
"I am forty years old for fuck's sake, I don't need—"
After another thwack, and a cry that made the female snow leopard giggle at the patient's expense, Mohinder decried, "Such language on you! I don't remember Shifu being so crude…"
Wu Jun knocked gently. The door opened a minute later, Mohinder's scaly face peeking out. "My eyesight is no longer as good as it used to be—which one are you?"
"I'm Jun, the youngest."
"Ah, good, good. Very well, he will not cooperate right now. Maybe a full belly will do him some good, the stubborn son of a…" the cobra muttered, grumbling irritably. Jun's green eyes crinkled with mirth as she followed him in, nearly tripping over his coils. Luckily she didn't have far to walk, setting the tray down on the nightstand, then sitting on the edge of the bed. She smiled at the patient, "Hey big guy, how you feeling?"
"Brilliant, bloody fantastic. Where did you lot run off to?"
Jun shrugged it off, "An errand. We brought you something. It's from your mom."
"From my m…"
Then his eyes settled on the tray…and on the bear. He didn't move for a long while, absolutely stunned at the sight of that tiny panda, velveteen fur yellowed and grayed with age that seemed to stare back at him, begging him to hold it again. Jun watched silently as the patient slowly, hesitantly, reached over and wrapped his hand around the toy and picked it up, bringing it closer for inspection. His thumb rubbed off some dust that had settled on the black button eyes, his hands holding the well-loved toy like a priceless relic. It may have been a trick of the light, but those button eyes appeared to be shining again…almost with hopeful recognition.
"Are you okay?" Jun asked quietly.
His golden eyes flicked up to her green ones, and Jun bit her lip to hold back a gasp.
He was crying.
Tai Lung was crying.
Tai Lung did not cry. He was the Master of the Thousand Scrolls, the one so feared after a single rampage they built a prison just to hold him, and only him. He was the fiercest, boldest, most dedicated student of kung fu ever to live, and deserved the Dragon Scroll more than anyone else. Tai Lung was the ultimate definition of masculinity, and yet at the sight of this old child's toy…he was crying.
"What's wrong?" she pressed. Mohinder got the hint and made a hasty exit, leaving the two snow leopards alone. Jun looked down at the bear, limp in the male's shaking hand.
"I thought…" he shakily whispered, sucking in a breath, "I thought he'd done away with it…thrown him away…" Tai Lung shook his head, looking very much like a man who had lost everything in a storm, only to find a single keepsake in the rubble of his home. "I thought he hated me."
Jun looked back up at him, then glanced down at the bear. Wordlessly, she leaned forward on her knees and wrapped her arms around the felon. She smiled when she felt his arms encircling her as well, clutching her as if she were a life-size teddy bear. (Jun had her belief that Tai Lung would have made the perfect teddy bear himself, if one didn't mind the claws. As it was, she was the only Wu sister he allowed to get close to him).
She pulled away only long enough to shift on the bed, curled up right next to him, hip to hip. She smiled at the bear, her green eyes shining. "So…I guess Miz Yeying was right. That little guy is priceless, isn't he?"
Tai Lung sniffed, wiping away tears in the most dignified way he could, setting the bear on his lap. Finally, after a long, thoughtful look…he smiled. He remembered the day he got it, a gift from "Uncle Ochir and Aunt Borte", and how that bear was his constant companion, even (though he wouldn't admit it even under torture) up until the day he was denied the scroll. And the day when Shifu had decided to train him…
Just watch, Tai Ping, someday, I'm gonna be just like my daddy and learn kung fu too! See, I can do it!
And he could. Gods help him, he could. He had been plotting his revenge with that kung fu as soon as he was ready, but now that his dearest, oldest, and only friend had been returned to him, and was looking at him like that…how could he? Shifu's apology and the exclamation of his love for his stu—no. No…his son. This bear, Tai Ping, was proof. Tai Lung had once been his son…was still his son…and would always be his son.
Tears sprang anew, but he didn't bother to brush them away. He smiled a little when Wu Jun wrapped her arms around his middle, offering what little comfort she could give. "I guess bringing that to you was a bad idea…"
"No," he croaked. "No…this is exactly what I needed." He wrapped his free arm around her, hugging her closer and kissing the top of her head, "Thank you."
Jun smiled and nuzzled him with a soft purr, happy to finally see him in better spirits. Though she may never know the true significance of that little bear, she figured she didn't need to. That smile she saw on Tai Lung's face was all she would ever need.
Tai Lung smiled at the bear and finally put him aside, wiping away his tears. Jun took the opportunity to shift, straddled his thighs and reached for the bowl of dumplings. "Alrighty then! Let's get you fed!"
"Jun, I can feed myself…" he smiled at the female's clowning around.
She picked up a dumpling between a pair of chopsticks and grinned mischievously. "I know, but this is much more fun."
Tai Lung just chuckled and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. She giggled as he reached his hand out and placed it on the back of her head, pulling her closer for a kiss. She gleefully relented, purring softly against his lips, her tail curling around his in an obvious show of affection.
On the end table, Tai Ping's button eyes watched the two purring snow leopards, noted the cheeky childlike innocence of the female and the warm light shining in the male's eyes as he looked at her, a light that had not been there for years. The toy panda bear hadn't seen such a peaceful, happy light His Boy's eyes for a long time.
Slowly, miraculously, that bear's eyes shone brighter than ever, and that sewn-on smile appeared to grow wider. Things were the way they were supposed to be.
The Jade Palace, 18 months later
He'd been sent down to the village to pick something up for his wife. Shifu had made good on his promise to make every anniversary more special than the last, and this year was no different. He patted the rolled-up wall scroll in his hands and smiled as he made his way up the steps to the Jade Palace, the summer sun setting on the horizon. Oh yes, he remembered their tradition, and this one would never die.
When he finally reached the gates, Zeng was waiting for him.
"It came in," the goose said.
"It certainly took long enough!" Shifu huffed. "What where they waiting for, the tree to die to make the paper?"
The palace messenger shrugged. "Not my place to know. They're all waiting for you in the dormitory, sir."
"Good, thank you." Shifu inwardly grumbled. Why on earth had it taken so long to get this from the publisher? He'd been told by Emperor Xian Xin—who had graciously financed the publication of the red panda's memoirs—that the first tomes would be ready by that spring. It had easily been a month later when it finally arrived. That was the deal: the first bound volume would be delivered to the Jade Palace to be kept in the library, for all generations to come.
Shifu found the dormitory dark, but for a single light in the kitchen. Perhaps Zeng had been mistaken, and the Five were still training? Perhaps the red panda's friends and wife were otherwise occupied? When he made it to the kitchen, however, he found a note on the table: Meet us in the tea room. Sighing, he tucked the wall scroll under his arm and limped over to the tea room, finding its door cracked open. Pushing against it, he was surprised to find that—indeed—they had been waiting for him.
His tail frizzed up like a cat's from the shock. He did nothing as ostentatious as grip his heart in shock, but he was clearly surprised. His old friends, his wife, and his students had crowded into the tea room, where much of the memoir's reading was done, and which was now festooned with red and gold decorations. Dead center in the room stood Tigress and Yeying, the two felines holding an impressive cake between them.
"Happy Birthday, dear," Yeying beamed.
Shifu paused, then slapped a hand to his forehead. "That's right! I can't believe I forgot!"
"With age comes senility. You're how old now?" Dong Li teased.
"Watch it," Shifu growled. "You're my age too, you know."
"You're only as old as you feel…but in your case, you're ancient."
"Just for that, no cake for you," the grand master joked. Li grinned and punched his shoulder before hugging him.
"So…just how old are you, anyway?" the fox pressed.
"I reiterate: no cake."
Po beckoned the master to his seat. "Me and Tigress made your favorite—or, well, what Miz Yeying said was your favorite."
Shifu smiled at the panda and tiger, "A dual achievement, I presume?"
Po and Tigress shared a coy smile between them as they placed the birthday cake in front of their master. "You could say that…"
Shifu arched an eyebrow, but decided it was prudent just to say nothing. He looked at Yeying, who was beaming as she placed just seven and a half candles in the cake—one candle for each decade he had lived—and he said, "You know, I honestly thought today was our anniversary…"
"Oh you didn't!" she laughed. "Oh well, at least you're prepared for next week…"
Shifu scowled amid the laughter, but shook his head with a wry smile when Li punched his shoulder. "Very funny…"
Viper and Mantis came forward, holding a large wrapped package between them. "We thought of the perfect gift, Master," the serpent.
"What would that be?"
"Open it," Yeying pressed, entwining her arm with his. Shifu smiled and kissed her cheek, allowing his students to place the present in front of him. He ran his hand over the delicate red rice paper, then carefully began to unwrap the gift. When the paper finally tore away, he paused in shock, then grinned.
"Hah! I thought as much!"
It was an impressive leather-bound book, inscribed with specialized designs of dragons in jade green paint, and the gold embossed title: "Memoirs of a Master: An Autobiography by Grand Master Shifu".
"First edition, too," he beamed.
"Look inside the cover," Po pointed.
The tightened leather crackled slightly when Shifu opened the book to the flyleaf and inner cover. The inside was lined in cream-colored paper, and on the flyleaf and cover…were names, messages and signatures.
Shifu grinned, running his fingers over the characters as he read:
To my husband on this historic birthday: seventy-five, can you imagine? May we have twenty-five more years together, wo ai. You have always been in my thoughts and prayers, and will continue to be, as long as we both shall live, and beyond. I love you, have always loved you, and always will.
Yours forever, your wife,
Next to his wife's signature was Li's:
Congratulations on making it this far! May you live many more years! What a life it's been, but knowing you, you don't regret a thing. I know I don't.
Your eternal friend,
- Hu Dong Li
Below Li's message was Ren's; unsurprisingly, he echoed his father's sentiments:
It goes without saying that you're too stubborn to die. If you don't live to be 100, I'll be very surprised. You will never know how grateful I am for your friendship to My Li, and how grateful I am to have known you, and been someone to trust.
- Jian Ren
Above Yeying's message, was Ochir's:
It's been a hell of a life. Congratulations on making it this far, you pseudo-erudite cretin.
Ochir/Flying Rhino and Borte
Shifu laughed out loud, making Ochir grin knowingly. Yeying cast him a look, "What did you write?"
Ochir chuckled, "He knows what I wrote."
Shifu smirked and read on, finding his students had also given their well wishes.
It has been an honor to know you, and an honor to be your student.
Thanks for not killing us for all those times we left to fight without your permission. Though I would have tried to die with as much dignity as possible, I swear. You're a swell guy.
I echo Mantis' sentiment. And thank you for giving me a home after the Li Da Academy; it is a kindness I'll never forget.
Thank you for the good times, and also the bad. We all learned a lot from you, more than you'll ever know.
After the Five's messages, he read one that warmed his heart. It was from Tigress, whose relationship with him had improved in leaps and bounds since their reconciliation almost two years before.
We may not have always seen eye-to-eye, but I'm glad to know what I know now. I've always strived for honor, but the greatest honor is having you for a father. I love you, Baba.
Love, your daughter,
PS: Thank you for not killing my fiancé.
Directly next to hers, was Po's message:
First, you're totally bodacious, and second, you're awesome. Just thought you should know that. Because without you, I wouldn't be the totally awesome warrior I am today. You rock!
- Po Ping, Dragon Warrior
PS: Thanks for not killing me when I proposed to Tigress. I really appreciate it. Seriously, I really, really appreciate it.
He arched an eyebrow at Po, who feigned an innocent expression when his hand strayed to Tigress' waist...
"Panda!" the red panda snapped.
"Gah!" Po recoiled.
The red panda glared, standing upon his chair. "I may have given you permission to marry my little girl—"
"Baba," Tigress hissed, knowing this wasn't the time.
"Let me finish, sweetie," he said sweetly to her. He returned his ire to Po, "You may be getting married to her, but under no circumstances are you to molest her in my presence!"
"Shifu," Ren hissed.
"Not now, Ren."
"No, Shifu, you should really pay atten—"
"I'm perfectly aware of what I am seeing!"
"That's not what I—"
"He wasn't molesting me!" Tigress argued, her temper stoked.
Ren raised his voice, "Shifu!"
"Ren, not now!" Shifu snapped.
The wolf finally growled, "Shifu, your sleeve is on fire!"
"…What?" The red panda looked and yelped; his sleeve had strayed too close to the lit candles on his cake while he was berating his soon-to-be son-in-law. Thinking quickly, he threw his cup of tea onto the burning sleeve, the fire dying with a hiss. Then he threw a quick glare at the one-eyed wolf,
"Damn your eyes!"
Ren pointed to his eye patch with a wry smile. "Too late."
Once the laughter had died down, Shifu sighed and sat back down. Tigress sent a grateful look to Ren, who winked back at her. Yeying rolled her eyes and hopped up into her husband's lap.
"Why don't you finish reading everyone's notes, dear?" she calmly suggested, trying to quell the volatile situation between the son-in-law to-be and the father of the bride.
"Yeying, you can't honestly be alright with him inappropriately touching our little girl before they tie the—"
"Keep reading or I'll break your legs."
"Yes'm." Oh yes, he remembered her threats quite well. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he continued to read…and was touched by the extended message he read next:
Words can never express how greatly your influence and your guidance have helped the empire of China. Your patriotism, your determination and ambition, and most of all, your loyalty to your master, your friends and students provided an example to me for ruling our beloved country. Without your help, the peace we now enjoy would not have happened.
Furthermore, I am grateful for how much you have contributed. It is you who restored the dynasty, you who brought us peace and prosperity through teaching the Dragon Warrior. This is a service that has cemented your name to the annals of history, and your name, it is safe to say, will outlast and live on in the memory of our people for years to come.
Your greatest fan,
- His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the Great Xian Dynasty, the Son of Heaven, Lord of Ten Thousand Years (I'm getting really tired of these tedious titles) Xian Xin
Well, if this tome wasn't valuable enough already, now, it was priceless! Who else could claim the honor that the Emperor himself had signed a personal message in their published work?
But, to his even greater shock were three names signed beneath a short message:
Thanks again for supporting us after Daddy's passing. We'll never forget it, or you.
- Song, Ying, and Jun =) (Shifu assumed the smiley-face was Jun's doing)
But what caught his attention—and his breath—was a short, bittersweet note in the bottom right corner, as if just peeking out from behind the next page. The furtive calligraphy was instantly recognizable:
I never wanted your apology. I want your forgiveness. If I had known about any of this, maybe I would have been a better son. I'm sorry, Baba.
He had to fight to keep the tears at bay. He looked to Yeying, who saw which note had affected him so…and smiled, gently gripping his shoulder. So that was why it took so long to be delivered…and yet, he was grateful. All these short messages, these congratulations and prayers for good fortune were precious, but none so far as the emotional signatures of his two most precious possessions: his daughter, and now, his son.
Finally, that chapter in his life was done. He had moved on, and could live the rest of his life in peace, something he had craved for years. He closed the book's cover and rested his hand upon it, smiling. It had taken him months to write the 75-year span of his life, and months longer to edit and revise. But here, now, were the fruits of his labors. When he looked up and cast his eyes around the room, he corrected himself.
No, look at all these faces, all these people I've been blessed to know. This is my greatest accomplishment, memoirs be damned. It had taken a long time, but for the first time, he was truly starting to appreciate his blessings. Even the horrible things that had happened to him, he was grateful for. As Master Jian Qiang had said when Shifu was still known as Little Fu: "how do we learn if we do not make mistakes?"; the old wolf was right. They were lessons well-learned.
Shifu looked over at his wife, holding her hand tightly. Forty years…the past forty years had to have been the greatest whirlwind he had ever known. In forty years, he had gained and lost and regained a son, gained a daughter, and gained honor by training the Dragon Warrior. And now…he had regained the love of his life, which, in his mind and his heart, was the greatest honor of all. How had he survived forty years without her?
"I wish you had come home sooner," he said. "There are so many things…"
"Don't," she said, gently pressing her fingers to his lips. "You said so yourself, do not dwell on the past. We have each other now." She kissed him softly. "I have you, and that's all I want."
Shifu smiled and tightly hugged her, kissing her cheek. In the silence that followed, Ochir finally asked, "So are you going to eat your cake or are we going to have to shove it in your face?"
Shifu scowled; Yeying laughed, "Might as well, your daughter worked hard to make it for you."
Shifu smiled at Tigress, who blushed modestly; "It wasn't that hard…"
"Don't sell yourself short, honey," Po said. "I mean, it was good for me after I tasted it."
Tigress glanced at Shifu, mischief in her eyes. "That's what she said."
Po paused, and when it hit him, he groaned, "Aw, Man!"
Tigress just grinned wickedly, earning a loud laugh from Mantis. "Nice!"
Yeying glared at Shifu, who was struggling to hold in a laugh. "I blame you! This is your fault!"
"You married me!" he chuckled. "You had your chance!"
Yeying smiled and jabbed her husband in the ribs. "I also had the chance of marrying a fat old cat instead of you; some choice! But, 'that's what she said' jokes aside, you know I'm going to love you until the day we die."
"Yeying, wo ai, you know I don't want to think about…" he protested.
"Shifu, just shut up, eat your cake, and enjoy this moment."
Shifu looked into her eyes, smiling at her the way he did on their wedding day, realizing that now—truly—he would have her for the rest of his life, and that there was absolutely nothing to come between them now.
He chuckled and kissed her cheek, "Yes'm."
Final Author's Note: *takes a bow* My heartfelt thanks to everyone who sent a kind word or two during the composition of this fic; you all are monumentally amazing. This has been a wild ride, but I wouldn't regret it, ever. Most of all, if it weren't for everyone's encouragement, I don't think this would have ever been completed.
More personally, I would like to thank Nievelion, Falconmage, corset-rebellion-follower, KFP Reviewer, and so many others too numerous to name for your kind words and encouragements. Great fiction is thanks to readers like you. And it is from your feedback that I and other writers out there know that we have touched someone through our words; it is something too few experience.
And, most importantly, I need to thank the love of my life, for putting up with me during this intensive writing process.
Once again, thank you for reading. You will never know how much is it truly appreciated.