AN. A totally random fic that I just had to write. It's actually based on a piece of prize-art I received for winning the November contest in the DA club Sweetest Irony. I asked for a Tien-x-Chiaotzu friendshippy pairing with the theme of summer. My newest friend Megami drew me a wonderful picture, which I absolutely adore, and this just flew from my fingers. It's kinda weird, but whatever XD You should totally check it out. It's awesome: http: // megaminoeien . deviantart . com / art / Fly - By - Me - 109264466 (without the spaces, of course ;P)
When he fought he felt as though part of his mind completely zoned out. He would slip into a calm and relaxed state of mind, fighting so cleanly and naturally that it seemed as though he had been born to do it. Instinct guided him through every fight, showing him strategies, revealing his opponent's weaknesses, and so he rose quickly through the ranks of the Crane school, learning every technique he could.
Now he trained alone, usually in an empty corner of the central training courtyard, firing off punches and kicks that sometimes sent sharp cracks through the still air. Sweat flew from his body with each sudden movement, his three eyes slitted against the stinging as more sweat ran into them, not willing to stop training for even a moment to wipe it away. He was lost now, and only one thing could bring him back to earth.
He faltered instantly, and it was enough to disrupt his perfect rhythm. His mind and body reconnected with an audible (to him at least) click, and he turned his head as he straightened, one hand lifting to wipe the sweat from his eyes.
"You are wanted. Come."
Tien bowed, then followed Tao Pai Pai, the Crane Hermit's younger brother, obediently from the courtyard. His hands hooked together behind his back as he walked, his head dipping a little. He was a good student in this way; obedient with just the right amount of humility. He knew Shen and Tao were better than him, and never allowed his pride of his own prowess to show.
They reached the main office of Shen, and Tao Pai Pai ushered him inside. He went and closed the door behind him, knowing instinctively that Shen wanted to speak to him in private. The old man was sitting at his desk, flipping through an old book, but as Tien entered he lifted his head and smiled. His glasses flashed in the dim light.
"You wanted to see me, Master," Tien said softly, respectfully, ducking his head in a quick bow.
"Yes." The book closed with a snap and Tien looked up. Shen was standing now, his gaze burning Tien like a brand, though it was impossible to tell exactly where his eyes were looking. "I wish to talk to you about your training."
Tien tried to stop a frown from creasing his forehead, and cursed internally as he failed. His brows drew together and his mouth turned down a little at the corners.
"You are, by far, my best student as far as hand-to-hand fighting is concerned," Shen said, stepping around his desk and approaching Tien. "You have excelled far beyond my wildest hopes for you."
"Thank you, Master," Tien said, still frowning a little. He didn't know what this was about, but a huge part of him didn't like it. It felt wrong somehow, though he didn't know why.
"However, you will never become my greatest pupil until you learn to master your ki."
Tien flinched before he could grab control of his features. Damn. He hated ki. Of all the different strains that Shen had taught him, he was undoubtedly worst at ki-control. He had no instinct when it came to that at least.
"Since you haven't responded to either Tao or me teaching you, I will be putting you in the hands of my greatest pupil in the fields of ki-control and telepathy. He will teach you what I cannot."
Tien hesitated, then blurted out, "What if sempai can't teach me to control ki?"
Shen snickered, the sound startling Tien far greater than the idea that another student would be his tutor (the sheer amusement in it, as though Tien had said something incredibly funny).
"He'll teach you. He has a way with these things. An instinct, you might say."
A flush of embarrassment and shame rose on Tien's cheeks. Shen turned his back, picking up his book again. It fell open and he flipped a few pages to return to his place.
"Leave now. You will find your new tutor on the hill beside the dojo. Get to it."
"Yes, Master," Tien said, and bowed deeply before turning and leaving. Tao was still standing there, and he sneered as Tien passed.
"Good luck with your training, boy," he said.
Tien bristled a little, but lowered his head and continued on. Tao always called him boy, and it was started to irritate him. He was only sixteen, true enough, but he was well past being a boy. He was tall and broad, strongly muscled, and those who saw him mistook him for a man more often than not.
He forced these thoughts from his head. He should be focusing on more important matters, such as: who was this student who was such an expert on ki and why had he not noticed him during training? He surely would have noticed any student who was ahead of his class even slightly; Kami only knew he watched the ki classes enough. But all of the other boys were at roughly the same level, far better than Tien but not extraordinary. Who could he possibly be?
Already Tien's mind had formed an image of this student. He would be tall, maybe a little taller than Tien, but slighter. His shoulders would be narrow, not broad, his limbs would be thin, and his face a little gaunt. He might have pale skin, like most telepaths, and perhaps he would be bald, as Tien was. This was all speculation really, but judging by the telepaths he had so far met at the Crane school, it wouldn't be far off.
He had never been more wrong.
As he reached the top of the hill which Shen had directed him to (a spot very different than the one he usually trained at; covered with lush, green grass with colourful splotches of flowers everywhere as opposed to a square comprised of white, stone slabs), at first he saw no one. He glanced around, frowning, then a soft giggle made him turn his face skywards. The sun was out, it was well into the middle of summer and nearing midday, and sent shooting pains into his eyes for a moment. He shielded his eyes with one hand just as someone descended from the sky and landed in front of him.
For a moment he couldn't believe his own eyes. He rubbed them, then looked again. No, the boy was still there, standing still, short and slight, his hands behind his back and his spine ruler-straight. Now Tien knew why Shen had found his statement so amusing: the word 'sempai' could hardly be applied to this child, who was maybe five years old, six at a stretch. Tien had been right about two things only in his mental image: the boy was slight, though that was natural at his age, and pale. Very pale. Completely white, in fact, except for two red circles on his cheeks. He looked almost like a doll, with oval eyes beneath perfectly arched brows, and a complete lack of emotion on his young face. Tien had never seen him before.
"Are you the one they sent for me to teach ki-control?" the boy asked, and his voice was high and somehow sweet, not what Tien had expected at all.
"Are you the best student at it?" Tien asked, unable to prevent the note of disbelief that tainted his voice.
The boy obviously noticed, because he smiled slightly, his head tilted back so his eyes could meet Tien's.
"Do you have any control over your ki?" the kid asked, and Tien felt a thin thread of irritation trail through him.
"Yes," he said, then, just to prove he could, he pointed his finger at a boulder and said, "Dodonpa." A thin red beam shot from the tip of his finger, shattering a small crater in the rock. This was the only ki attack he knew so far, and he had learned it by watching other students do it repeatedly.
The boy looked at the crater in the rock, then up at Tien.
"That wasn't very good," he said. "And it doesn't mean you can control your ki. Watch." He pointed his own short, white finger at the rock, said the name of the attack, and a beam four times the diameter and ten times the brightness of Tien's own shot from the tip and shattered the boulder into tiny fragments that fell to the ground with soft, gentle clicks. Tien looked at the remainder of the giant rock with shocked eyes, his mouth dropping open a little. The boy was smiling, but there was no amusement, no pride behind that smile. It was as though he was completely emotionless, something that disturbed Tien deeply.
"That is control," the boy said, and again Tien was surprised of the sweetness of that voice. It held so much potential, like any child's voice, but again the lack of emotion, the empty flatness to it, was almost disgusting in a way. "If you wanted to you could do one…" Here he paused, his eyelids fluttering closed for a moment, before he opened them again and looked at Tien. "About ten times stronger than that one."
"Ten?" Tien couldn't help the wonder in his voice. The one the child had done had been at least five times stronger than his own, and increased by ten that made fifty times the strength of his original blast. Was that even possible? "How would…?"
"Because that's how much stronger your ki is than mine," the kid said, matter-of-factly, as though it meant nothing. "All that training you've done with your fists has really paid off. You have a very powerful ki, you just can't harness it."
Tien felt another bolt of annoyance, but pushed it away hard. The promise of a blast fifty times stronger than the one he could manage now made his stomach warm with anticipation, and he wasn't going to lose this chance.
"How?" he asked, aware that his voice was getting intense, the way it did when he was interested or very excited. "Teach me."
The child looked up. "What's your name first?"
"I'm Chiaotzu," the boy said, and smiled a little. Now there was a hint of emotion in those dark eyes, something akin to hope. "Now, sit down."
"Sit down. C'mon." Chiaotzu sat on the ground, his legs crossed, his hands resting on his bent knees. Tien mirrored his position, frowning a little as he looked down at the child. To his surprise, the boy lifted from the ground and hovered so his eyes were level with Tien's, sitting comfortably on thin air. "Now, hold your hands like this." He held out both his hands in front of him, palms curved towards each other. Tien did so too, still frowning a little. "Can you feel your own energy?"
Chiaotzu sighed quietly, then, faster than Tien could blink, a ball of light was flickering and dancing in the space between the boy's small, white hands. It swelled and shrank as the kid breathed, rolling over like a miniature globe. Tien couldn't take his eyes off it; it was so mysterious, so beautiful, that he could hardly believe it was of this earth.
"Feel your heartbeat," the child said, his eyes closing as a small smile graced his lips. "Try to synchronise it with your breathing. Whatever pattern you use is up to you, but do the best you can to keep it consistent."
Tien closed his eyes, focusing inside him. His heart was beating very fast, and he concentrated on slowing it down before timing his breath, four beats in, four beats out. Instantly a calm he had only felt while fighting took him.
"Good." Chiaotzu's voice was soft and pleased, a smile audible in it. "Now, focus on what is making your heart beat, what is making your lungs draw air. It's not your consciousness, don't be fooled by that idea. It is your ki, your life-force, and without it your heart will stop and your lungs will halt. Focus on that energy. It feels slightly different to each person, but at first you should feel it as a warm glow, somewhere in your chest. Can you feel it?"
And suddenly Tien could. It was wonderful how sudden it was, a warmth so potent it almost had colour, a reddish, golden glow, like a sunrise during spring, that filled him from the inside out. Now he understood why his heart beat, why his breath continued, why his mind worked. It was because this warmth drove him on, aiding his strength and increasing his power.
He couldn't talk, but jerked his head in a nod.
"Excellent. Now, grab a little bit of that energy with your mind. That sounds stupid, but it's what you need to do. Just a little bit, mind; you don't want to exhaust yourself completely and Master is expecting me to teach you much more than just ki-control today."
Tien tried to imagine grabbing a tiny bit of that glowing light, and was astonished when part of it separated easily from the rest, hanging alone in his consciousness.
"Now, draw it out of you, try to pull it out of your body so it's sitting between your hands."
Tien frowned, clenching his eyes shut, concentrating with all his might. The energy hanging alone first shifted a little, then slowly moved up his chest, down his arms, and out of his palms. He opened his eyes and stared in wonder at the tiny spot of light between his hands. It was nothing compared to the dancing ball between Chiaotzu's, but it was there and it was real. Shen and Tao Pai Pai had been trying to teach him this for years, and ten minutes with this child had produced results they could have only dreamed of.
"Good," Chiaotzu said quietly. He closed his hands and the ball of light between them flickered out. His mouth was curled up in a slight smile, and now there was pride in it, at least a little. "Right, now if you close your hands it'll disappear, but it won't leave you. It'll return to you."
Tien closed his hands, watched as the sparkling dot winked out of existence. He looked up at Chiaotzu and said, "What now?"
"Now for flight." Chiaotzu unfurled his legs, standing on midair. "Bukujutsu in proper terms. It's a case of focusing your ki and pushing it out through your feet. It is possible, and when done right, you can soar." A sense of wistful joy filled Chiaotzu's eyes and Tien watched, confused. Chiaotzu blinked, shook his head, and the emotion was gone. Tien was surprised to realise that he was slightly upset to see it go. "So get to your feet and we'll start."
Tien got up, settled his hands by his side, and looked questioningly at Chiaotzu.
"Now, feel your ki. Then concentrate it and push it down, out through your feet. Don't be worried if nothing happens. It will take some time."
Tien closed his eyes, focusing on feeling that glow again, and when he did he grabbed it instantly. He pushed it down through his body, leaving a glimmering trail behind it, then out of his feet. For a while nothing happened. He just stood there, pushing his ki down internally as his feet remained firmly planted on the ground.
Then, about ten minutes later, his body shifted, and rose the slightest bit. Elation filled him, and the moment it did he lost concentration and his feet lay flat on the ground again.
Chiaotzu frowned a little, then said something that made Tien's eyes widen with surprise.
"Take off your shoes."
Chiaotzu gave him a long, measured look, those perfectly oval eyes devoid of any emotion.
"It will be easier for you without shoes on. Later you will be able to fly with them, but for now they are hindering the flow of your ki. Take them off."
Tien hesitated, then pushed both of his shoes off with the opposite feet. Then he pulled off his socks. The long grass beneath his feet was warm, like a living carpet, and he couldn't help the small smile that tweaked at the corner of his mouth. Chiaotzu obviously saw, because a wide smile broke out on his face for a moment. It quickly disappeared, but the understanding and joy behind it etched themselves into Tien's mind. He suddenly realised that he didn't like Chiaotzu when he was an emotionless doll, but when he smiled Tien's heart warmed and he felt a strange affiliation he had never felt before.
"Now, Tienshinhan, we…"
"Call me Tien."
Tien blinked in surprise. He hadn't asked anyone to call him Tien ever, not in his long history at the Crane school. It was his own private nickname, one he used when he was writing something only he would read, or when he was egging himself on in his head. He had never told anyone else. But somehow hearing his full name in that high, almost sweet voice seemed wrong and awkward.
Chiaotzu was looking up at him, confused, before that radiant smile broke out again.
"Okay," he whispered, and now his voice really was sweet, properly sweet, the way a child's voice should sound, his tone soft and shy, his lips curled up a little at the corners. "Tien-san…"
Chiaotzu blinked, shook his head a little, and focused. Tien was glad to see that the slight smile didn't go away, that the boy didn't revert back to his emotionless state.
"Right. Okay, so now we have to concentrate, Tien-san," he said. "Close your eyes if you wish; with your feet bare you'll feel when you lift off, but if you keep your eyes open you can't be distracted when you get into the air. If you get distracted you lose the control and you'll fall back to the ground. When you get better you'll be able to do other things; talking, fighting, that kind of thing, but for the moment just concentrate."
Tien did so, lowering his head. He didn't close all of his eyes, keeping the third one on his forehead open, but even just closing two of them helped a great deal. He found his ki easier this time, and when he pushed it out through the soles of his bare feet, he rose up almost instantly. His heels left the ground first, leaving his toes touching the thick blades of grass, and then even that slight contact was gone.
Tien opened his eyes, looked down, and tipped forward slightly. His hands lifted so he could catch himself, but that wasn't necessary. He hung about two feet from the ground, his arms outstretched for balance, his feet pedalling instinctively at thin air. He heard a high, pure sound, for a moment didn't recognise it, then realised that Chiaotzu was laughing gleefully.
"Yes, Tien-san! That's it! You're doing it!"
Tien wavered in the air, dipping down a few inches before having to force himself back up, his eyes fixed on the ground below him, but Chiaotzu was right, he was doing it. He was flying!
He faltered in the air, dipping a foot down, and promptly shut his mouth. Chiaotzu was still laughing, and when Tien dared to glance up he saw that the boy had crouched a little in midair, his fists held out, a classic 'you-can-do-it' posture, pride and joy on his face. Tien smiled for a moment, then focused on flying a little higher, on stopping his feet from moving, on settling still the way Chiaotzu was. He managed to lift another four feet off the ground and straighten his legs, stretching his arms to the side to maintain his balance, watching his shadow float, disembodied, on the ground.
"Now, try to land," Chiaotzu said, still grinning.
Tien kept his arms out, but closed his eyes again and focused on lessening the flow of ki out of his feet. He didn't know how he knew to do this; he supposed that some of Chiaotzu's instinct in this regard had rubbed off on him somehow. Within moments he felt himself start to drop, then minutes later his feet encountered the soft, thick grass that covered this hill-top. He opened his eyes, looked at the ground, then up at Chiaotzu.
"I did it," he said softly, disbelief in his voice.
"Yes." Chiaotzu giggled. "You really did it. You did so well."
Tien looked down at the ground for a moment, studied it almost, then lifted his head and held out his hand. Chiaotzu flinched backwards, clenching his eyes shut, and that tiny movement hurt Tien's heart in a way he didn't understand. He kept his hand out though, waiting for Chiaotzu to relax again. When he did, he looked up at Tien with wide, confused eyes, before uncertainly slipping his hand into Tien's.
"Thank you, Chiaotzu," Tien said solemnly. "For teaching me what Master Shen and Master Tao could not."
He shook Chiaotzu's hand, the way he would to an equal, something he never would have done to a child, to any other child at least. Chiaotzu was different somehow, he wasn't an ordinary child, and Tien didn't need to be a telepath to know that.
"Thank you," the boy said, and that solidified the idea in Tien's mind that Chiaotzu was too old to be a child, at least mentally. "Thank you for making me smile so much that I couldn't hide it."
Then, to Tien's surprise, he saw red rising in Chiaotzu's cheeks, a gentle flush that touched the white area above the red circles on his cheeks. He would have never imagined that an hour after meeting this small emotionless boy that there would be a blush on those bloodless cheeks.
"Thank you," Chiaotzu whispered again, and then his eyes were brimming with tears. "It's…it's been too long…"
Tien didn't know what to do. He didn't know what to think. His fingers were still folded around the small boy's hand, and before he knew what he was doing his arm had pulled the boy forward and caught him, giving him a short, simple hug.
Then he lowered Chiaotzu back to the ground, setting him down on his feet, not feeling at all awkward about hugging the boy. He had obviously needed it, the confused and disbelieving joy in his eyes told Tien that, but his first reaction was to blink up at Tien and ask, "Why?" in a voice that told the triclops that whatever physical contact this child had had in his memory, it wasn't pleasant. He wasn't used to hugs, or even handshakes, he was used to being slapped and punched. And that wasn't fair.
"Because you really helped me," Tien said simply. "And we're friends."
He hadn't known he was going to say that last bit, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth he was glad he had. Chiaotzu's face broke into a wide smile and he giggled softly. He didn't hug Tien again (it was obvious that he wanted to, but he wasn't comfortable enough yet), but he reached out and took one of Tien's hands in both his own, holding it tight.
"Yes, friends," he said softly. Tien smiled slightly, and was rewarded with another luminous grin from the small telepath before him. The boy hesitated after a moment, then whispered in a soft, embarrassed voice, "I've never had a friend before, not here…"
Tien wasn't surprised, or even sympathetic. He had been at the Crane school for ten years himself, and he had never had a friend in another student before. So he wasn't surprised by that. He was surprised by the answer to the question he asked next.
"How long have you been training under Master Shen?"
Chiaotzu looked up, his gaze shy and shamed.
At first the words didn't sink in. His mind simply refused to believe what his ears were hearing. He stared at the child (five, he's only five!) and then repeated the words he had just said in a voice that sounded far away, not his own, and disbelieving.
"Yes." Chiaotzu looked down sharply, flushing bright red again. "At least, that's as far as I can remember. Before that my memories get fuzzy and my brain starts to hurt if I try to think about it too hard." He put the heel of one hand gently against his temple, closing his eyes and shaking his head, before opening them and looking up at Tien. "Please don't be freaked out; I know I look too young, if it makes it easier, Master says I'm five in my head so that's all that really counts, right?"
Tien didn't know what to say. Then he saw the fear in those dark, oval eyes, and knew that no matter what, he never wanted to see that emotion there again.
"Right," he said. He clenched Chiaotzu's hands a little tighter, smiling. "I don't mind."
Chiaotzu smiled, then said softly, "You do…but that's okay. It's not normal to be a twenty-year-old five-year-old." His smile became rueful, slightly bitter almost, and Tien liked this look even less than the fear.
"But we're still friends, right?"
"Right." Tien was relieved to find that this was the truth, because he felt that Chiaotzu would have felt the lie. "Exactly right. I may never understand why you're stuck at this age, Chiaotzu, but it doesn't change who you are."
Chiaotzu smiled widely. His eyes were clear of tears now, sparkling in the summer sun, his white skin once again bloodless.
"Now, wanna learn telepathy?"
Tien started a little, then returned Chiaotzu's grin.
Chiaotzu giggled a little, then started to explain the theory behind telepathy, a wide smile on his small face, his eyes fixed upon Tien's, while his new friend listened attentively, smiling a little, his hand still holding onto both of Chiaotzu's. Whatever else befell them, this was the start of a friendship that would last a long, long time.
AN. Ah, I had to end it and I didn't know how!! (palmface) Oh well, I like it anyway. It's kinda random but hey, there you go. The actual scene which is depicted in (and based off of) Megami's art is only one paragraph, and far less than it deserves. Thank you, Megami! (super glomp)