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Between Friends

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It had been three weeks since Tigress's wound had healed; three weeks since she had returned to the Jade Palace, virtually slammed the door shut on her master, and tried to prophesy her future with dominoes.

The little wooden game pieces had helped her mood, but did little in making any actual progress. Earning her master-hood would fall on her own abilities.

Tigress could do this. All she had to do was follow her master's instructions for a few years while pretending nothing was wrong, and forgetting her friend existed for a while until she finally earned the autonomy to see him herself.

What's so hard about that?

Sure, she would miss Po's boundless enthusiasm, and the comfort of edible (actually pretty good) noodles shared with decent (actually great) company, but she would survive. She had lived without those comforts before, for quite a while, in fact. She could live without them again.

All she had to do was not think about it. Like now, when she was completely and totally not thinking about the Ping Dynasty Noodle Shop and the afternoons spent doing Tai Chi, or the time she had somehow managed to set noodle soup on fire, (which all parties had agreed that night never happened. Ever.) or the Winter Feast made special by dinner, a show, and a night of family. She most definitely wasn't thinking about the night just a month ago where she had found a snacking panda in the pantry and tackled him to the floor, how said panda cut through to the heart of her issues, how the both of them shared a hug that Tigress still wasn't sure had actually happened.

An image of emerald eyes bright as jade flashed in her mind. The stone obstacle that swung down from the ceiling shattered in front of her paw. She was almost tempted to look around and see if anyone was watching her; a habit that Po had had when she was teaching him. No doubt his mannerisms had somehow infected her.

She dodged the next swing of the chain, ducking under the weapon. She was disciplined. How could one friend possibly change that? On any other day, dancing between the obstacles would be easy. This would normally clear her thoughts. Yet today, it was only after barely missing another swing that her thoughts focused themselves. Although, really, it was less of a focusing of thoughts, and more of instincts replacing them. 

She leapt out of the practice area. Clearly, this was not working.

She knew exactly why.

She hid a sigh and made towards her room. It wasn't abandonment, she told herself. It was just a matter of circumstances. He would understand, she was sure. Yet if that was the case, why didn't she tell him that herself?

Maybe she should have stayed in the training area a bit longer. Hitting something decisively hard would have been a good feeling. Then again, she had tried that already with Ironwood trees, and she had the bloodied knuckles to prove it.

Returning to the barracks might have been a good idea after all, as when she returned, she noticed something. Crane was in his own room, door shut. No doubt, he was composing another one of his letters back home.

It struck her like a bolt of lightning. There it was. The answer. With more cheer than she had had in the previous weeks, she closed the door to her own room. Every student was given a few rolls of parchment in their rooms, along with an inkwell. What they did with it was up to them, and it was a limited supply. For a calligraphy hobbyist like Crane, it would be nowhere near enough. For Tigress, however, it would be more than enough.

Spreading out the parchment and setting the inkwell however, she paused. What in her ancestors' names should she put down? An apology? A goodbye?

She took a deep breath. She should start with the truth. If nothing else, he deserved that much. Actually he deserved more, but the truth would be the best place to start.

She wrote out his name, not entirely sure tat she got the strokes exactly right, but certain that he would be able to read it, or at least guess.

Stroking out the order of events was strangely calming. It was a bittersweet process. Watching the characters take shape made the events of the past month seem more real than had appeared to her subconscious. She sprawled out her recovery, how she had gotten to know the others, as well as how she improved her tea-making skills. She hesitated once she came to the day she had to chose, but she stole her resolve. She had set out to give Po the truth, and she would give it to him. 

Detailing how she had made her choice had marked the end of the body of her letter. There was only one thing that she could conclude the letter with. Her apology complete, she gave it a moment, partly to look over her letter and partly to let the ink dry, before rolling it and tying a string around it.

She exited her room, noticing her timing had been perfect. Crane was just exiting his own room. "Crane," she called, "Could I ask a favor of you?"

"Uh, okay," Crane shrugged. "What's this about?"

"I need someone to make a delivery for me. Do you remember that restaurant we stayed the night at a few weeks ago?"

"The one with the noodles?"

"Exactly." Tigress revealed the roll of paper. "I need you to deliver this letter to that place. Can you do the for me?"

Crane rested his hat in his wing as he grabbed the letter with his foot. "Uh, sure, but what exactly is this about?"

"Let's just say that it contains my compliments to the chefs."

Crane gave a smile. "Alright then. I'll take care of it." He stuffed the letter into his hat before resting it back on his head.

Tigress felt a knot untie itself inside of her. "Thank you, Crane." he gave a curt tip of the hat and left. Tigress watched him leave, feeling better than she had in weeks. Her peace wasn't to last however. A sense of apprehension soon crept upon her. She sighed, deciding to head back to the training hall. She couldn't tell how Po would react, but at least now he would know. That was far better than simply leaving him.

Good or bad, Po would now. That would be enough for now.

It had to be.


"Are you sure?" Mr. Ping asked. "No dreams of noodles at all?"

"I know, weird right?" Po said. "You'd think that at least one of them would have noodles in it when I'm making them all day long, but no."

The two of them stood in the kitchen of their restaurant, the lunch crowd having not yet made it's way to the business. Rafters had needed cleaning this morning, and the bustle of business in the streets had not yet reached full volume.

"What do you normally dream about?" Mr. Ping asked curiously.

Po scratched his neck. "Oh. . . you know. . . being in front of people without my pants, swimming for long distances, that sort of thing."

"Hmm," Mr. Ping looked pensive for a moment, before dismissing his thoughts with a wave of his wing. "No matter. Destiny blooms in its own time."

Po hesitated. "And. . . if it doesn't?"

Ping looked at his son for a moment. "It does. Even if it sometimes doesn't feel like it. Sometimes you think the whole world is turning around and life is leaving you behind, but it isn't."

Po paused. "How can you tell?"

Mr. Ping smiled. "I never found a wife. I never had any luck with relationships. By the time my father retired from the family business, I had resigned myself to being the last Ping running the Ping Dynasty Noodle House. After that, who knows what would happen? Maybe I'd have held a mahjong tournement and given the restaurant to the winner, the way my grandfather did. I can tell you that I wasn't looking forward to it, but I couldn't imagine a future for myself where the Ping Dynasty continued past myself."

Po sat leaned in. "But Dad, you can't give it away!" he exclaimed. "Then it would just be the Dynasty Noodle House. Nobody would wants to eat there." He squatted down a bit in imitation of some random customers. "'Oh hey, you wanna eat at the Dynasty Noodle House?' 'Uh, which Dynasty, there's like, five of 'em.' 'Dunno, they didn't bother saying which.' See?"

Mr. Ping laughed. "Relax, I'm getting to the point. Besides, I'm not giving it away anymore. Because when I least expected it, destiny called. For some reason, and I do believe it happened for a reason, fate saw fit to bless me with a son. Me, unmarriageable Ping Bo, having a son to call my own."

Mr. Ping paused, enjoying the memory, returning to the present when he heard Po sniffle. He gave his son a reassuring smile. "You're not late in finding your purpose, Po. You're purpose is just taking its time finding you."

Mr. Ping waddled a few steps toward his son before being enveloped in a mass of black and white fur. Mr. Ping, although unable to fully wrap his wings around the panda, leaned into the hug. They pulled away a few seconds later. "Thanks Dad," Po said.

Mr. Ping opened his mouth, but a third voice cut through before any words could escape.

"O-oh, I'm sorry. Am I interrupting something?"

The Pings turned to look at their newest customer: a crane with a wide-brimmed hat.

"I can come back later if you want," he offered.

Mr. Ping shook his head. "That's alright. We were just about to get to work anyways."

"Wait," Po said. "Do I know you from somewhere?"

The crane gave an awkward laugh., before touching his wingtips together in greeting. "Student Crane, at your service."

"You're from the Jade Palace!" Po exclaimed. "Aw man, this is awesome."

"So, what can we do for you, Mister Crane?"

Crane rubbed the back of his neck with a claw. "Please, just Crane. And, actually, I have something for you." He rested his hat upside-down in his wing, fishing until he pulled out an envelope. "Delivery for a 'Ping Po'?"

"That's me!"

Crane smiled and handed the letter to the panda. "Compliments of the Jade Palace."

Po took it with reverence, looking at it for a moment. His eyes grew wide when he saw the name signed on the back. He rushed to the stairs. "I'm putting this in my room," he called. "I'll read it as soon as we're done."

Mr. Ping returned his attention to Crane. "While you're here, would you like anything? Bowl of la mian(*)? Yao mein(*)? A serving of freshly baked bean buns?"

Crane hummed in thought. "Do you have any dan dan recipes?(*)"

Mr. Ping smiled. "One bowl of dan dan noodles right away."

"Thank you," Crane said, just as Po came back down. "And do you mind if I have a side of those bean buns?"

"Side of bean buns," Po repeating, searching the kitchen. "Got it."

It only took a few minutes for the food to be prepared. Po came out the restaurant before setting the items down in front of Crane. "Order up."

The two of them watched as the bird savored his meal, pride welling up at seeing the face of a satisfied customer.

"This is a nice place," Crane said, paying at the counter. "Maybe I should come back sometime."

"We'll be glad when you do," Mr. Ping said.

As the two Pings watched Crane fly off, Mr. Ping felt the need to point out something. "See? What did I tell you? I knew someone would buy our bean buns!"

Po nodded, before jokingly rolling his eyes. "Well yeah, you can sell anybody anything the first time around. The real kicker is whether you can do it again."

"Oh hush you, you future restarauntuer."