He was hungry.
That was a bit of an understatement.
To say Ling Yao was simply hungry was like saying a blizzard was a simple sprinkle of snowflakes. Or that a giant squid was a cuttlefish. Or that... Nevermind.
Ling Yao was dying on the street from hunger. In fact, if it hadn't been for the inhuman gurgling coming from his gut, passersby probably would have assumed he was dead.
But he wasn't. And he was very, unconsciously, thankful for the short man that dragged him into what smelled like a tea shop. When he peeked open an eye, that was, in fact, where he found himself.
However, not wanting to exert too much energy, he closed the eye once more and waited until the delicious aroma of something edible found its place before him. At that point he snapped both eyes open, grabbed the cup of steaming hot tea – not food, he noticed with a small bit of chagrin – and tossed the thing down his throat.
It burned, sure, but he was content that at least something had made its way into his stomach. With a semi-contented sigh he smiled cheerfully at the gray-haired man. "Do you have any more, sir?"
The man smiled back. "Mushi, and of course! Would you also like something to eat, sir?"
"Ling Yao. And... I currently find myself without any way to pay for food, unfortunately." Despite the rather discouraging statement, the broad smile remained firmly in its spot.
Mushi seemed to consider Ling's predicament before grinning and shrugging it off. "Ah, I'm sure you can have a meal on the house. We can't have anyone dying inside a tea shop, now can we?"
At the mention of 'on the house,' a teenager stuck his head out of the back, glared at the old man and shouted a brief "Uncle!" Ling wouldn't have paid him any heed if it weren't for the disfiguring burn scar over his left eye. He watched him carefully as Mushi introduced him as his nephew Lee before widening his smile.
"It is such a pleasure to find such kind people here in... this... city..."
Mushi had already shuffled off to get a meal together, but Lee remained and glared at Ling. "You say that as if you don't know where you are."
Ling paused before nodding slightly. "Ah, that would be correct."
Lee's glare deepened, and Ling noticed that the scar helped him when he wanted to look angry. "You don't know Ba Sing Se? How can you be in the Earth Kingdom's capital without knowing it?"
Ling's smile didn't fade. "Ah, I'm on a mission, you see. I'm looking for something, and I tend to lose track of where I am."
Mushi returned then with a plate of food and another cup of steaming tea. "A mission, eh? Sounds so official."
While he didn't go after the tea as he had before, he began eating the provided food vigorously. After eating enough to rid himself of the ravenous feeling of earlier he paused. "Yes. I'm searching for something. Once I find it I can return home and become emperor."
Mushi and Lee both froze and stared at him, looking somewhat shocked. After a second Lee's glare returned full force. "Become emperor? What are you, a prince?"
Ling nodded, smiling his way through the obvious distrust Lee was showing towards him. "Yes, actually. However, I am only one of many clans. In order for the Yao clan to be distinguished, I must find the key to immortality and return with it. Then I will become emperor."
Lee snorted and returned to what he was doing, muttering something about fool's errands under his breath.
Mushi, on the other hand, seemed very curious, and he sat down across from Ling, who had continued eating. "So, where are you from, Prince Ling?"
Ling waved absently with his fork in a vague indication of direction. "Xing. It's quite a ways from here. And you don't need to call me prince, no one else does."
"Because you're not one, likely..."
Both Ling and Mushi looked to Lee, Ling curiously and Mushi with a glare. "Do not be disrespectful to our guest, Lee! He is to be honored in this humble shop."
Lee shot back a retort and they degraded into a brief argument while Ling tried to stop them. His attempts were rather feeble. "Eh... No... Ah... You don't need... Really... I don't..."
After a moment Lee stormed to the back of the shop and vanished while Mushi stood and sighed. "I apologize for my nephew. He is not used to showing respect to others."
Ling nodded thoughtfully and weighed his words carefully before speaking. "No, it's fine. I don't mind it. I understand why he would not want to hide his pride to respect someone like me. Perfectly understandable, sir."
It had simply been a guess, but at the brief flicker of suspicion that appeared on Mushi's face, he formed the guess into a theory. While the looked didn't remain for long, Mushi paused before bringing him another cup of tea silently and continuing about his business in a strangely sedate way.
Ling shrugged and accepted the tea, blowing lightly on it to cool it as he thought. Lee had seemed spiteful to the idea of Ling having been a prince, and somehow the idea that Lee himself was, or at least had been at a point, a prince began nagging at the edge of his thoughts. He even had evidence, though it was admittedly weak.
Either Lee was jealous, or knew that princes simply did not show up unconscious on the street with no money.
Either Lee thought he knew about fool's errands, or he had been on one himself.
Either Lee was a cocky brat, or he had a reason to be so proud.
Ling may have seemed simple to those around him – he knew he came across as it sometimes – but he could pick out subtle clues and piece them together.
But it was just a theory, after all.
Ling looked up sharply from his tea and thoughts to the doorway, where two masked figures knelt. He brightened immediately. "Ah, Ran Fan! Fu! So wonderful to see you again!"
The figures left their kneeling positions to stalk over to the Yao's table while a few patrons and Lee watched curiously. Or, in Lee's case, rather suspiciously. One knelt again once he reached the table. "We have been searching for you, Young Master, for two days. Where have you been?"
Ling paused and shrugged. "Seeing the sights of Ba Sing Se, of course. It is the capital of the Earth Kingdom, after all."
The other seemed to be giving the impression of a glare, but the mask hid any facial expression. "You should not run off so easily, Master. Someone could assassinate you."
"Ah, Ran Fan, who is here to assassinate me? Xing is a long ways off from here, and I doubt any other clan has come searching here."
Ran Fan tensed. "Then why are you searching here?" Almost immediately she dropped to a knee and bowed her head. "Forgive me for questioning your judgment. It is frustrating being away from home for so long."
Ling pulled her up by the shoulder with a frown. "Hey, hey, no apologizing like that, Ran Fan. I understand." He sighed and stood up. "Well, I suppose we should look where there may be clues, then. I believe the alchemists in Amestris may know."
Fu finally stood and nodded briefly. "That is likely where we will find it, if we are to find it at all. We should leave now, Young Master."
Ling nodded slightly before scanning the small shop. When he spotted Mushi, who was working rather busily for such slow business, he walked over and bowed. "Thank you for your kindness, sir. It was very much appreciated. I wish there was a way I could repay you, but I must continue my search. I hope we cross paths again in the future."
Mushi sighed and stopped what he was doing to watch Ling carefully. "Yes, it would be rather interesting to speak again in better times. I wish you luck on your quest, sir." He paused before breaking into a cheerful smile. "And come back for tea sometime, eh?"
Ling smiled in return. "Of course. I would not want to pass up such wonderful tea the next time I am in the area." He turned slightly to watch Lee continue his own work. With a brief frown of consideration he moved over to the scarred teenager and leaned close enough to whisper. "And I do hope you achieve what you seek as well, Young Master."
Without waiting for any kind of response he returned to Ran Fan and Fu and headed for the door with a brief wave. "Thanks again, Sir Mushi! Excellent tea!"
They left quickly and navigated the backstreets easily, with Ran Fan slightly ahead of Ling and Fu above and behind. Ling was rather glad for their presence, and he allowed his thoughts to drift. He had a legendary object to find, after all, and he needed a plan.
I was browsing the forums (something I don't usually do, it was a first) and saw someone mention something about Zuko and Ling being very similar. It struck me, and I wondered why it hadn't struck me before, and I couldn't help but come up with a brief meeting.
Zuko and Iroh are Lee and Mushi in this because that's what they went by in the Earth kingdom to avoid suspicion.
For those of you wondering who Ling is, pick up the FMA manga sometime. Infinitely better than the anime, which I adore, so it's saying a lot. He's introduced in... volume 8? I believe 8, because he's in the background of the cover picture.
He has a horrible habit of falling unconscious on the street and being fed by strangers.
I don't own FMA or Avatar. That's a given.
And... I like the beginning, but farther along I get to not liking it as much as I would... well... like. Oh well. This was actually done awhile ago, I let it sit and stew so I'd be able to edit it better, but... Other than technicalities I'm not sure how that turned out...