Avatar: Altered States, 1sentence, part four
current song: "Far Away" Nickelback
A Traveling Story
This new world is hot, almost stiflingly so for a boy born in snow and clad in leather - but then he's up in an old man's arms whose name he does not know, staring with gold eyes as the world spins around him and the Fire Lord laughs.
"Hot, hot, hot!" Hassan proclaims, tugging his mother's skirt with each word as they walk, escorted by tall men in funny helmets; the blue eyes that look down at him are ice blue and irritated, but when Mommy lifts him to her arms, he can see the same sweat that buds at his brow on hers.
The stables are on the backside of the palace, but the old man takes them there first anyway; Hassan isn't sure of what 'stables' means but he knows what giant beasts with thick skin and massive horns amount to: Fun.
"Prince Zuko," says the old man, holding Hassan securely on the fence while he strains to reach a rhino, "why don't you take Master Katara to the guest chambers in the palace, since I'm sure she'd like to stay with her brother - don't worry, I'll watch the boy."
His mother doesn't want to go, but his father and uncle urge her onward; Hassan is too busy trying to call the rhinos to him, grateful when the old man holding him tempts a beast forward with a handful of grain from the trough.
"Softly," he is coached, and Hassan's brown hand joins a pale and wrinkled one, stroking rough, leathery skin, "even if he won't be soft back," the old man adds with a chuckle, pulling Hassan back sharply when the rhino tosses its head and nearly gores them both.
He holds a hand warmer than his as they walk to join his parents - Hassan points at the golden flame against silver hair and says his daddy has one like it; the old man smiles and squeezes his hand, lowering his voice as his family approaches to say, "Maybe soon, you'll have one, too."
"Fire Lord," his uncle calls him; "Uncle," his father says; "Iroh," his mother says upon request; his parents whisper to each other before dinner and the old man nearly drops the rice when Hassan calls him "Grandpa."
His first night in the palace is uneventful, though he can tell his mother isn't happy; in the morning, after breakfast, his father takes him by the hand to a large room, lit only by the wall of flame burning in the background - his father kneels and puts his hands on Hassan's shoulders, looking him in the eyes with a somber expression: "This is the throne room," he says, "and you will always be welcome here."
Grandpa is his teacher now, but Daddy sits in on the lesson; he's told to get into Hunting Tiger stance and stares blankly at the Fire Lord; his father sighs, "Uncle, I tried."
The palace is large, a playground waiting to happen; Hassan tears through the hallways, hardly glancing at the hundreds of wide-eyed faces that stare back at him, yelling, "HOT HOT HOT" as his mother chases him with his discarded clothing.
They made a mistake - his father lets it slip that there will be other children coming to the palace in the afternoon and Hassan doesn't even try to concentrate on his lessons through the morning.
They exchange his linen robes for silk and Hassan is only grateful that they are cooler than leather; they comb his hair and he whines through the tangles; pale fingers hesitate on his braid and the blue bead that binds it and he giggles at the sternness in his mother's voice when she tells the aide, "Leave it alone."
He could see the other children from the windows, ten or fifteen, maybe even twenty new best friends; Hassan leaps down the stairs two at a time, pulling at his father's hand in his haste, but pauses, startled and a little scared when he sees that all of his new best friends have bowed their heads to the ground in unison.
His father is confused, he knows, but that doesn't get Hassan to move; twenty children have stood in unison, watching him with eyes that range from gold to brown, not a single one moving without being told-- and Hassan hides behind his father's legs.
Sometimes his parents are silly; the walls are paper thin and he can hear his mother lecture, "Well, of course, he was scared - he's used to real people."
"Commissioner Soong has three girls near his age," Grandpa says, but Hassan isn't listening; his parents and Grandpa make plans, but all he wants is to curl up in the Fire Lord's lap, where people are family and no one's eyes are blank.
Training is over and Daddy walks with him in the garden; he says he doesn't want to meet the girls tonight and giggles when his father, so often serious, winks and then turns to the nearest guards with an order of, "You two - make sure a girl never enters the sight of my son!"
Grandma told him that adults are people that have forgotten how to be spirits, and babies are spirits who don't realize they're people, too - Hassan decides he likes the latter idea better, as the commissioner's daughters range from eldest to youngest, from bowing ladies to laughing babies.
20. Picture *
"Ai-ling is eight this summer," the commissioner says proudly, "and excels in calligraphy; Qing-ling is six and can recite the proud history of our family back twelve generations; Mei-ling is only two and--" "--appears to be mastering the art of drool," Iroh finishes, smirking as he watches Hassan squeal and back away from the baby.
"Commissioner Soong is a moron," Daddy remarks idly, sitting beside Mommy as Hassan splashes about in the bath; "Mei-ling is icky," Hassan replies, but does so with the grin of a boy who adores all things disgusting.
Hassan is studying history, which is a lesson in Firebending, too, as frustration can often cause quite literal sparks; frowning at the family tree of his father and asking questions, Daddy smiles strangely back at him and replies with, "Because she said no."
The idea troubles him - Fire Lords had Fire Ladies but there hadn't been a Lady in the palace since Fire Lord Azulon, and she died young; it troubles him so much, this idea of family and history and honor that he reads, that Hassan has no problem walking up to his mother and demanding to know why she has yet to don the red and black.
She explains the best way she knows how; Mommy pulls him up into her lap and holds him tight, putting her face against his hair; the Fire Nation is a place where gold-eyed boys and girls make a life, and where blue-eyed people come to visit them.
The 'lings,' as Daddy calls them, are back again; as soon as the commissioner is gone, Ai-ling leaves to find the library, Qing-ling wanders into the garden, and Hassan misses his Grandpa, hiding in the doorway while the boy whispers his woes to Mei-ling.
Grandpa joins them, idly rocking Mei-ling's basket as Hassan scoots over to sit beside him; "Mommy's going to leave me," he whispers, and takes comfort in the silk-covered arm that goes over his shoulder; "Neither of your parents will ever leave you."
Meiling burbles; the Fire Lord sighs; Hassan leans against his Grandpa and wishes he was home.
Uncle Sokka has to leave - an urgent message from the Earth Kingdom that calls him away - but makes sure to whisper to Daddy one day during training; shortly after, Mommy's birthday is celebrated with pearls from Grandpa, a card from Hassan written in painstaking calligraphy, and a night away from the palace - with Daddy.
Pai-sho is hard but Grandpa is patient; they have sweet fry bread for dinner with iced cream for dessert; Hassan is tucked into bed with a stuffed rabbaroo, falling asleep to the sight of the Fire Lord acting out the story of Avatar Hongxiu by candlelight.
Mommy and Daddy aren't back by the morning, and Grandpa seems incredibly amused by this; he takes Hassan to parts of the palace grounds he's never seen before, pointing out the menagerie beyond the gardens, named for Avatar Aang.
"No one ever did anything interesting in the kitchen," Grandpa tells him with great dignity, holding up a finger that is covered in flour like the rest of him and Hassan, "by following directions."
"You have a scar," Hassan informs one of the servants on his way to dinner, pointing at the line on a pale cheek; "My daddy has one, too," he confides in a whisper and the man smiles and waves him on to eat.
He is quiet at dinner and not very subtle - Grandpa notices immediately that Hassan is staring at him and seems stunned by the question, "Can blue eyes turn gold?"
"Winter, spring... summer and fall... four seasons... fo-oh-our loves..." "Good," says Grandpa, "now the flute."
Two days pass and Mommy and Daddy have not returned; Grandpa says not to worry and distracts Hassan with a promise of presents and a trip to the docks.
The boat is made of wood with blue sails and Hassan is already squealing in recognition before it even makes it to the docks; a tall, lean old man in light blue linens emerges with his arms full and nearly drops it all in the ocean when a boy launches at him: "MAST'A PAKKU!"
"Well, call them back!" the water master grumps, even as he holds Hassan at his hip; "Oh, I'm sure your message can wait a few more days," Grandpa replies, smirking terribly.
They argue; words are said and audiences forgotten, until discussion gets heated and Hassan claps hands over his mouth and laughs - Grandpa asks Pakku if he needs soap to wash his mouth and Pakku drenches him with water from his own fountain.
"She's here for the boy, not the prince," Pakku insists, wincing a little when Hassan tugs his beard; "Don't be ridiculous," Grandpa replies, heating his skin to evaporate the water, "one is the same as the other."
There is an old man on either side of him at bedtime and Hassan gets to hear two stories tonight; Grandpa makes him grin with a story about his Daddy's first time on a rhino, but Pakku makes him laugh with the often-heard tale of Mommy getting her butt kicked.
"He's improved," says Pakku, watching Hassan jump into the air with fire at his fingertips; "He's a natural," says Grandpa proudly - and Hassan is too young to understand the worry beneath his words.
"Ah-- Fire Lord, it would be a great honor to take of your most esteemed grand-nephew today, but-- well, that is-- you see-- er--" "Oh, stop dragging your feet, Jee, I paid for all the repairs to your living room last time, didn't I?"
His Uncle Bato once swatted his hands for dropping a pot on the floor, even though it didn't break; Hassan waits, nervous as Jee and his wife discover the broken vase, but isn't sure how to react to strained smiles, thin laughter, and the line, "Ah, Prince Hassan - so adventurous!"
Captain Jee has a friend over; the buttons on his uniform glisten and Hassan understands he is important, but less so than his father - what he does not understand are the words the man calls his mother, why Jee's wife blushes and runs to shield her children, or why Jee himself has the man pinned to the wall by his throat a moment later.
"Hassan, your parents have retur-- oh, sun and stars, boy, it isn't that hot in the house!"
Mommy hugs Pakku; Daddy bows to Grandpa; Pakku nods at Daddy; Grandpa kisses Mommy's cheek; Hassan bounces between them with lifted arms and manages to get everyone to smile.
Every teacup on the table rattles when Hassan asks his question, coinciding with Mommy's trembling fists; "Who said that about your mother?" his father asks, and though his voice is softer, Hassan shrinks further from the heat.
"You're a-- very special boy here, Hassan," Daddy attempts to explain as they tuck him in; "But you still have to go apologize to Captain Jee in the morning for the vase," Mommy adds with her goodnight kiss.
He wakes in the middle of the night with the hope of a midnight snack - he is caught in the hallway by a smirking Grandpa who steers him away; "Mommy and Daddy are in the kitchen tonight," he explains in a whisper as they hurry down the hall, "and you wouldn't be much interested in the menu."
"Promise?" he asks and doesn't waver, even when Mommy's eyes roll and her lips curl in a smile; "My eyes may be blue," she says, leaning in to touch her nose to his, "but yours are gold enough for the both of us."
(Bonus!) 51. Gold
Mommy and Daddy argue, which Hassan and Grandpa agree is always pretty funny - "He's not just your son, Katara, he's Fire Nation, t--" "And after you've carried him in your womb as long as I did, you can tell me whether or not he's wearing a braid with his crown!"
Author's Note: Traditionally, the Chinese (and I think some other countries of Asia) start counting age at the date of conception. Commissioner Soong says Mei-ling is 2, but in the west, she'd only be considered a little over one year.