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Not a Tale of Romance

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Ren hadn’t tried to explain to the excited Mai that “no fur” actually described more of the varied races of Azeroth than it didn’t; in her young world all people had fur, whether they were Pandaren, Grummle, or Yaungol. Jinyu didn’t travel the Burlap Trail, the thin air and bitter cold of the high mountain passes more uncomfortable for them than any amount of wrapping up against the weather could counter. To a cub like Mai, born and raised among the peaks, races without fur were nothing but a Lorewalker tale, something out of myth and stories.

A wounded outsider explained the urgent need for Ren, however, and as much as it made his fur bristle he had to admit Feng Frostflower had thought quickly and correctly. Be it orc, elf, human, dwarf, troll, or any other, anyone in Pandaria - anyone with any business being in Pandaria - would speak some variation of the common trade tongue. It was the first language Ren had learned when he departed the turtle, and nine times out of ten it had sufficed throughout the width and breadth of Azeroth. If they needed to talk to their mystery wounded male - some would-be adventurer who had got themselves in trouble on the mountain trails, Ren privately bet himself - then Ren was reasonably certain he could manage.

He was less sure when Mai delivered him to the tent reserved for the healers and he got his first look at their mysterious unfortunate outsider. Human, was his first thought, and his second-

“Are you sure he’s still alive?” Ren asked, aghast. Feng, who was handing clean rolls of bandages to his mate as quickly as she reached for them, shot him a disgruntled look.

The human had, by the look of it, been caught in an avalanche. The dangerous cascades of rock and snow could easily be fatal and were triggered sometimes by the smallest things, including inexperienced climbers who strayed from the flagged paths. Cut and bloodied, battered, and Ren could count a handful of broken bones just by the awkward look of the limbs that Mei Fan, Feng’s mate, was ruthlessly straightening and setting as she went. Her niece, Jun, was kneeling on the other side of the bedding the human had been placed on, eyes closed in quiet concentration, her hands a graceful and unstopping flow of motion that traced the pathways of the chi between her and their patient.

Ears flat, Ren grimaced and went to Feng’s side, deftly snagging the next roll of bandages and passing them to Mei Fan. His own discipline had lead him to the path of the tiger, his chi use tied more to attack than healing, a necessary skill on the roads he had traveled but fairly useless in the face of critical wounds. He could, however, provide an extra pair of hands for mundane things; he had washed enough battle wounds in his life to know what order a healer needed supplies in. Feng gripped his shoulder for a moment in silent thanks, then shifted to Jun’s side, dropping in beside her without so much as an ear flicker between them, his own hands continuing the energy flow across the human’s fractured legs while Jun concentrated on the man’s torso.

Mei Fan was less serene than her niece or mate, her ears laid back and mouth set in an unhappy line. “Broken to bits,” she hissed to Ren, even as she sponged the man’s arm clean and carefully felt over the break that bent the forearm at an unlikely angle, “and I’ve never seen one intact! Broken is broken, but are they meant to go together like Jinyu? Or is he starved?”

Ren grimaced, mentally comparing both the humans and Jinyu he had seen being treated on battlefields. “Long and thin, like Jinyu,” he confirmed, though to his eye the male was thinner than he should be. Smaller, too - all humans looked small to Pandaren eyes, especially when laying down, little more than adolescent cub sized, but the male laying on the furs was even smaller than Ren thought he should be. He counted ribs, but the pelvic and chest bones weren’t alarmingly prominent, some muscle and softer flesh laying over the limbs. Maybe just small, then, Ren thought, and passed Mei Fan the thin bamboo slats she was using as splints when she held out her hand.

He wasn’t sure how long it took. Mai appeared at intervals, passing in bowls of fresh water, more bamboo and bandages, or small dishes of powdered herbs. Ren had seen healing spells on the battlefield - chi or Light, passed from a healer’s hand to an open, bleeding wound, and had watched as the wound stitched itself back together before his eyes. He had, however, been the recipient of such treatment often enough, either from a priest or monk or the small, emergency spell for easing pain that he could perform himself, that he knew how much it took out of a body. A near mortal stab wound might be shrugged off… for a time, so long as the adrenaline of danger kept a body going, but it was paid for in exhaustion and a ravenous appetite later. He couldn’t imagine how much a toll the healing of the man’s wounds would take.

Mei Fan, seeing his frown as she set another, much uglier break in the man’s leg and then held the torn skin together until Feng’s chi channeling could begin to seal the rend, shook her head. “Too much,” she said softly, dusting a pinch of sharp smelling powder over the wound as the skin began to sluggishly knit. “We reached him in time, but it was too close. Blood in the lungs from the ribs, torn up inside; Jun is healing that first, the rest will have to wait until later.” She shook her head, ears laid back. “He will not be walking again before spring.”

“Avalanche?” Ren asked softly, handing her another set of slats and bandages to brace the leg with once she had wiped it clean.

The healer shook her head, frowning as she deftly wrapped the splint in place and then turned her attention to the man’s foot, which was barely as large as her palm. “Feels intact,” she huffed after carefully manipulating it, “and he was wearing boots, but what do I know?” She grimaced, lips peeling back from her teeth. “Outlanders. Crazy stupid outlanders. No claws, too many toes…”

“May I?” Ren asked. Mei Fan relinquished the man’s foot with a relieved looking flick of her ear, trusting that a Lorewalker or a Pandaren from the greater world would know about her alien patient whether they were trained in the healing arts or not.

Ren cupped the man’s foot in his hand, examining the flex of the ankle and arch and the bend of each toe. He was warm to the touch; the healing tent was well insulated and heated from a central brazier, and there wasn’t any hint of frostbite on the pale skin. Good boots, Ren thought, or the man hadn’t been out on the peak that long. Pale as belly fur all over, but that wasn’t unusual for humans. Fragile to the touch - Ren knew humans were tougher than they looked, but their barely fleshed limbs always struck him as ridiculously fragile and the proof of it was laying in a broken heap on the furs before them.

He found a warmer spot by the man’s instep - they weren’t so different from Pandaren, except for how elongated everything was - and another on the heel, but nothing grated or caught when moved and bruises were going to be the least of the man’s worries. Ren nodded to Mei Fan, who had been watching, and she took the human’s other foot between her hands with slightly more lifted ears, copying the same range of manipulation that Ren had used.

Feng obligingly traded places with his mate, the warm brush of his chi barely skipping a beat as they moved so that Mei Fan could attend to the human’s other side. Jun had one paw pressed as lightly as a moth wing to the man’s chest, her other hand sweeping in and out in a fluid circle in time to the rise and fall of breath. Ren, watching those shallow breaths with a tight feeling in his gut - too close indeed, with one Mistweaver needed just to keep the man breathing - lost track of his duties until Mei Fan reached over to yank sharply on one of his cheek braids, making him wince.

“Pay attention,” she scolded, and if she was using the same tone on him that she used on Mai he had no one but himself to blame. She brushed off the bandage roll he offered her, however, her brows drawn tight and low as she jabbed a claw at the man’s prone body. “Injury?” she inquired sharply, “or normal?”

It took Ren a moment to realize that she was pointing not at the already deeply blackened bruises covering the man’s midriff, but at his naked groin. He reminded himself that he was the only one in the settlement to have ever seen a human and that they had, once, been just as strange to him; it let him keep his expression as politely serene as befitted a queried Lorewalker. “Normal,” he assured her. “The furless races are mostly so.”

Mei Fan’s ears flicked back again. “Exposed like Hozen, then,” she scoffed. “Jinyu have no fur and are not so poorly made.” Despite her huffing her touch was infinitely gentle as she prodded over the man’s pelvis, though her ears had nearly disappeared into her hair she held them so tight to her head. “No meat to them,” she grumbled. “The blood runs so close to the surface I don’t know how he has any left in him.”

She felt carefully up to the bottom of the man’s rib cage, pressing and rolling against the already bruised flesh of his belly. Reaching down, she ran the back of her thumb claw up the bottom of the man’s bare foot, eliciting a faint jerk along one leg, then repeated it to the other. “Intact,” she pronounced, satisfied. “He will probably be passing blood for the next week, assuming we can get any water into him, but he’s as whole as we can manage right now. Jun and Feng will heal the worst, time will have to do the rest.”

Mei Fan sat back on her heels, her hands coming to rest on her well rounded hips - her youngest cub was nearing adulthood, but it was still abundantly clear that Mei Fan had been a solid beauty in her youth, a look that motherhood and time had only mellowed with the faint traces of faded gray along her muzzle - and fixed Ren with a sharp, no-nonsense glare. “And what, in the name of all of the Ancestors, am I supposed to dose him with?” she demanded. “I could kill him as easy as cure him, all for want of one spoon or leaf too much or not enough!”

Ren hesitated, thinking hard about the herbal brews, potions, and poultices he had used during his travels. “Humans are not too dissimilar to us,” he told her, and that was one relief - he would have had far less idea what was or wasn’t safe for, say, a Draenei, but he had ingested enough human brewed potions to know the similarities. “Brew them weak, the way you would for a cub.” He glanced at the man, who was more bandages than not and looked even smaller for it. “A small cub,” Ren amended, grimacing.

Mei Fan nodded, arranging the human’s splinted and bound limbs. “No heavier than Mai was when she started growing,” she agreed. “I hate to leave him in pain, but better safe than not - I’ll start him on the weakest doses, and only after testing them.” She touched her mate and niece lightly, stroking over their noses, then shifted around Jun to briefly touch her own nose to the man’s throat, grimacing. “Dry, the lot of them - how hot should he run?”

Ren pushed himself up to come to her side, bending to press a hand to the human’s forehead, and winced at the feel. “Not that hot. Cold compresses would probably be best - forehead and back of neck, chest and body if it doesn’t begin to drop.”

The healer nodded, straightening with a firm stretch through her shoulders. “Will you put tea on, Lorewalker?” she asked. “The large pot, with ginger and a scoop of the red canister - we could all use a cup, and Jun will drink a pot by herself after this. I’ll get a bowl of snow; at least cold is something we never run out of.”