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The Life and Times of Lord Shen [Kung Fu Panda fic, 3/?]

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Jul. 23rd, 2011 | 12:10 pm

Title: The Life and Times of Lord Shen

Summary: A collection of stories on the albino peacock of Gongmen City. (3. the people you meet, the people you know: A young Shen begins training in Kung Fu.)

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything related to Kung Fu Panda or its sequel(s) and spin-offs, that’s all DreamWorks’ honor.

Spoilers: Both Kung Fu Panda movies.

A/N: Thanks again everyone for all the reviews! I always love hearing what people have to say about the fic and knowing they liked it. I’ve seen Kung Fu Panda 2 twice now. Also always, with this fic I want to mix on-screen canon with off-screen materials found online, i.e. "Although they still cared for him, Shen's parents were ashamed of his albino coloring and poor health, so they left him in the care of their advisor, the Soothsayer who raised him like her own. Traces of this can be seen as Shen is never outright cruel to the Soothsayer, such as how he releases her before the launch of his armada, meaning that he still respects her for for showing him love" from TVTropes.org character page for Kung Fu Panda. So I do want to make this mix of on-screen and off-screen materials as canon-compliant as possible. And I tried to individually reply to all your kind reviews at the bottom.

the people you meet, the people you know

After the incident with the children and the caterpillar toy at the festival, Lord Baojia and Lady Fen finally agreed with Master Thundering Rhino's suggestion that Shen learn some control while training in self-defense and Kung Fu.

After a few words and a laugh shared between the two, the Soothsayer left Shen with Thundering Rhino in the palace courtyard. The boy hadn't paid attention to their conversation, half of him too busy looking up at the Kung Fu master and marveling at how big he was, and how sharp his horn looked; the other half consumed by excitement and nerves. Shen had been eager when his nanny told him he would learn to defend himself, believing he'd prove that he wasn't so weak and that his parents wouldn't have to worry or be ashamed. He'd heard stories of their prowess in Kung Fu, and surely they were disappointed that their son wasn't shaping up to have the same skill--but that would change, he'd show them.

But what if they were right, what if he failed?

"Prince?"

"Master!" Shen jerked to attention, standing up as straight as possible and looking up, up at Thundering Rhino. The Soothsayer had advised that he listen to the Kung Fu master at all times, as well as be respectful.

"At ease," Thundering Rhino said, and the boy heard the slight amusement in his rumbling voice, "the martial arts need you to be more flexible." And Thundering Rhino began a form, slow and steady. Shen took the hint, and began to copy him as best as he could, and after a second he realized he'd seen the master do it before with his other students here in this very courtyard.

"Recognize this form, do you?" The master said, his mouth curved up slightly.

Shen began to nod--but that messed up his duplication of the rhino's form. He got back on track, just saying, "Yes, Master."

"You know, I first met Storming Ox when he would sneak in here, to watch me spar with your father," said Thundering Rhino, as he started to speed up in practicing the form.

The boy blinked, stumbling a little. He recovered, but asked, surprised, "Him too?" The white peacock remembered sneaking around the courtyard to watch Thundering Rhino and Storming Ox and other warriors spar, or sneaking a peek from one of the balconies. It sounded odd to think that one of them had ever done the same.

"Oh yes, he had a greater interest in learning Kung Fu than attending to his chores."

Shen remembered not to nod this time. Instead he murmured, "It's better than etiquette lessons." The boy had started those too, and they weren't simple instructions in manners he'd received from his nanny; oh no, they were stupidly intricate and complicated, with a set of rules devised for all sorts of different situations, such as what gesture showed great disrespect, what spoon to use and when, whether to exclude or include contractions in one's speech, et cetera, et cetera.

"Many things are preferable to that," Thundering Rhino agreed, smirking. He gracefully straightened up and bowed, and Shen did the same, though more stiff, unsure whether he should keep his eyes on the rhino or lower them.

"On your own, now," the master ordered, and Shen complied. The boy tried to keep calm at the rhino's occasional correction, since it was never unkind and aimed toward getting it right ("lower your wings," "raise your leg," "keep your head level with your shoulders").

When he finished, Thundering Rhino nodded, and simply ordered, "Again."

The boy did it three more times without complaint, reminding himself what the Soothsayer said about obedience. Afterward Thundering Rhino showed him another form; although the boy recognized this one too, each pose was held longer, not moving continuously like the first, and Shen found it more difficult. The Prince grew frustrated at how he couldn't keep his talon up at a certain angle for a certain amount of time, stumbling and trying again; only to trip and even fall as he tried to regain balance; only to get back up again and try to move on as if nothing happened.

Thundering Rhino had him do the form again and again. Then repeating the first continuous one again; then back to the slower one; and so it went on. By the time the Kung Fu master ordered him to stop, Shen ached from head to talon. But looking at the rhino, Shen detected no disappointment, and guessed he'd done well enough, hadn't been weak--at least, he hoped so.

The master knelt down on the floor, and Shen followed suit. He would've thought his legs would've appreciated it, but they actually ached more at the motion.

Thundering Rhino closed his eyes, taking a in a deep breath. Shen copied him as he listened to him say, "Calm your mind; clear it of all thought."

That made the boy's eyes snap open, baffled. "You don't want me to think?"

Eyes still shut, the rhino smiled thinly, saying, "At the moment, no."

"I don't think I can--"

The Kung Fu master shook his head; "Try," he said, not unkindly.

Shen nodded hesitantly, and closed his eyes again.

"Remember your breathing; in, and out." Thundering Rhino's voice was low, soft. "Keep still."

The boy tried to think of nothing, but soon he thought of how he felt trapped in time. Somehow it felt like no seconds or minutes or hours passed, even though he felt something long and deep drag by.

Shen tried to keep still, with only his chest rising, but his wing shuffled restlessly, his face twitched and he shook his beak, as if to ward off a fly.

"Be still, Prince."

Shen reminded himself of how emotionless and distant his parents could look in the throne room when speaking with their court and giving orders and passing judgment. He just had to be physically like them, he could do that at least, if not in color--and mentally, except he wasn't because he was thinking of them when he shouldn't be thinking--

The boy shuffled some more and the rhino reminded him to be still, and after a while he said that was all for today, and Shen was still uncertain how much time actually passed, though it had felt long to him. The white peacock gratefully stood up, and found that his body ached in a new way.

"I couldn't stop thinking," the Prince admitted to Thundering Rhino, nervous.

The Kung Fu master gave a reassuring chuckle. "I'd be surprised if you had," said the rhino as he escorted the boy back to the Soothsayer for lunch.

###

Shen practiced the forms by himself in the palace courtyard. It was better homework than studying for a recitation of all the gestures he had to know for the winter festival. He did however skimp on meditation; the idea of not thinking still mystified and eluded him.

The boy paused when he felt someone watching him. He turned, looking to the palace walls, where he caught the eye of a wolf cub--who yelped and stumbled out of view for a second, before climbing back up the wall and looking flustered.

The white peacock blinked, and walked forward, his head tilted.

"Where'd you go?" He asked, noting that the wolf cub had been climbing back into the palace courtyard, not out of it.

"Um, the city," the other boy answered, clutching a full satchel in his paw.

"Er--I mean, why were you there?" Shen looked up at the wolf cub still perched up on the wall. "How come you climbed the wall?"

"Top secret," the taller boy answered promptly. But then his ears lowered, and he looked unsure. "Wait, is that an order, um, Master? Do I have to answer you?"

Shen thought about it for a few seconds. Then he shook his head; "No, I guess not."

The wolf cub grinned at him. "Cool, thank you, Master."

The Prince glanced at one of the watchtowers bordering the palace tower. "But if it's a secret, what about the watchmen?"

The other boy blinked at him, snout open slightly, then followed the white peacock's line of sight. Both boys found one wolf staring at them intently, then give a chipper wave, smirking.

The cub groaned, smacking his face. "Damn it, not Jin! He's gonna hold this over my head when mom comes back...."

Shen shuffled from talon to talon; he knew the unpleasant feeling of being in trouble.

"Um, what's your name?"

The cub looked at him, and grumbled, "An."

Shen looked at him, confused. "You don't like it?"

First the Soothsayer, now this cub--what was wrong with their given names?

"It's a stinking name for a future guardsman!" An insisted.

"It sounds okay to me," Shen offered.

"No, Master, you don't know what it means."

"Oh. What does it mean?"

Realizing that his chance of having at least one person outside of his immediate family and some members of his pack not tease his name was slipping out of his paws, An said, "Um--Iwaswatchingyoudoforms."

Relieved that someone else talked really fast like he did sometimes, Shen nodded. "Yeah, I know, I saw you."

"Right. How did you know I was there? I was being quiet."

"I felt you staring."

"Oh yeah, I guess you would, with everyone gawking at you all the time."

"It's less now," insisted Shen, a tad miffed, but mostly unfazed since An had sounded matter-of-fact and a little dense, not malicious at all. "Only new servants do that now."

"Still, it'll be useful. My uncle's always telling my cousin off for not being aware of his surroundings, 'from the lightest twitch of grass to the slightest sound of your target scratching his bum--'"

Shen laughed, and An joined in, his turning into a gleeful howl.

"So, when did you start?" The wolf asked, once their chuckles had died down.

"Two weeks ago."

An tilted his head. "How old are you, Master?"

"Four. I'll be five next year."

An snickered. "Yeah, well, that's how birthdays tend to go--"

The wolf caught the annoyed glare on the white peacock's face.

"--er, I'm seven."

Shen felt a little better that An was older than him, it was a nicer justification for how much bigger he was.

The Prince opened his beak to ask another question, but snapped it shut when he heard his tutor in government call for him. He frowned; was it time for that class already? (He'd started lessons in government too, and his teacher had a dreadful monotonous tone that was hard to pay attention to.)

He perked up when he heard someone shout for An, watching the wolf's ears prick up.

"I've gotta go," An said, leaping off and heading in the opposite direction, probably planning to stash away whatever was in the satchel.

"Will you be back at this wall?" Shen asked quietly, as he began to slowly walk off too.

An looked back at him, over his shoulder. "Yeah, probably. You can find me in the barracks too, if you want." The wolf blinked. "If you're allowed…are you allowed?"

"Of course I'm allowed, I'm the Prince," Shen huffed, effectively covering up his immediate doubt over whether his parents would let him (but maybe there would be some advantages to barely seeing them, maybe they wouldn't notice--if the whole thing was something they'd be against if they knew; he was relatively confident the Soothsayer wouldn't protest).

"Okay then, see you later, Master."

"Bye," said Shen, waving to the wolf guard-to-be.

A/N: I found online that An means 'peace' in Chinese, and yes, that's a young Boss Wolf/Wolf Boss, but I found no way that I could call him that in-story at this point. For this fic 'verse, I'm saying that Boss Wolf/Wolf Boss is his rank/title, that he mostly goes by (since I say he's a little embarrassed by his real name, but also because I say that's just how it traditionally works out, going by their title). I chose An since I was looking for a Chinese name starting with 'A,' since I think Boss Wolf was like the wolf army's Alpha leader (before Lord Shen outranks him). And I settled on 'An' since I found its meaning ironic.

Master Thundering Rhino was barely in the movie, but I liked him, if only because he was voiced by Victor Garber! OMG, master spy Jack from "Alias" was back for a little bit as a kickass rhino. And there's interesting backstory info on him at Kung Fu Panda wiki (that story with Storming Ox was on the site) and now I kinda regret that he was killed off that quickly. Like, I'm still okay with the scene--love it actually--but it might've been nice if he got more scenes before showing how seriously powerful Shen's cannon was. So I want him to be a key posthumous character in this fic. And I find the idea of him teaching Shen interesting. And makes canon even more tragic. And, well, I kinda felt there was something there between them onscreen--like a little more tension than you'd first expect, there seemed to be familiarity/history between them, a familiar bitterness. And the thought they may've known each other before made sense to me because Master Thundering Rhino and the rest of the Kung Fu council had stewardship over Gongmen City (and its whole province, I say) when Shen was exiled; I feel like that responsibility implies prior service to Shen's parents and a trust between them, and if there's history between Thundering Rhino and Shen's parents, there's probably history between Thundering Rhino and Shen too.
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