Transit the Sun
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.
Warnings: Language, General spoilers for both series
Lee finds her by the shore, watching the sun set. The ship that the Water Tribe guys stole – "borrowed" as Sokka keeps insisting – looms out in front of them both. It's something of a depressing sight, truth be told. Dull metal that she can hear creaking from all the way back here. Rusty patches she can see, too. And the smell… don't get Buffy started on the smell.
But it's better than the alternative. Better than being in Ba Sing Se. Formerly the last free city of Middle Earth. Now new residence of Miss Bitch, she of the blue fire.
And doesn't that last part just sting? Buffy knew that Long Feng was bad news from the moment he'd smarmily welcomed the Kyoshi Warriors into the city. His smile then had been way too smooth, his manner far too used-car salesman.
But still, she feels bad for Kuei – the once and not anymore king – as she watches him half-hunch and half-lean into his beary companion. He looks something like a drowned but well-dressed rat. Droopy in his fine robes with that dumb hat still perched on his head.
Betrayal is tough. And if she understands the situation right, he's known that Long Feng guy since he was a kid. Has listened to his advice and pretty much done whatever he wanted for nearly as long. Only to have that jackass and his earthbending minions turn against him, let Fire Nation thugs including Miss Bitch and her posse into the city.
It's like Giles and the cruciamentum all over again; Buffy has to close her eyes to control her shudder at the mere thought. She'd forgiven her watcher a long time ago for that. Forgiven but not forgotten.
Either way, Ba Sing Se is out of the picture now. Which leaves their merry band of misfits as probably the only escapees from the damn place.
It's even worse than it sounds.
Buffy feels old just watching them work. Toph using her feet and earth to move supplies up to the ship. Sokka directing her and the men just so. Katara tending to Aang over to the side. Aang himself half-asleep as he stares at nothing. Everybody else is taking advantage of the lingering sunlight to finish up. They won't have much time later. Won't have time tomorrow.
When they leave.
Buffy thinks she should probably go with them. After all and despite the fact that she's known them for mere days, she isn't about to send off a bunch of kids to fight in the big bad war against the big bad enemy. No way in hell is she going to do that again.
Sokka, the oldest but still so painfully young, tries his best, but they need more. Katara oscillates between playing mother hen and quietly feuding with her dad. Aang is still healing and can barely keep his eyes open for more than minutes at a time. Toph, for all that she's the youngest, seems to be the only one with her shit truly together. But she's only a girl. Only a kid.
They all are.
Except when they aren't.
Either way, they clearly need adult supervision. It's a sad day indeed when Buffy is the best person available.
Hakoda has way too much on his plate as it is and can't see the forest for the trees anyway. The rest of the Water Tribe guys are either purposefully ignorant or completely oblivious to it all. Kuei is little more than a man-child, who's only now left the palace for the very first time. Bosco is just a bear. Appa is only a buffalo, cute though he may be. She still isn't sure what Momo is, and Lee and Mushi have their own problems.
So Buffy it is. She definitely has to come with them.
Besides, it's not like she has anywhere else to go.
The Kyoshi Girls are gone. Buffy isn't sure where. They stayed in the city to fight the Fire Nation.
That only leaves Lee and Mushi. Or Zuko and Iroh, as she's come to learn. As Iroh himself told her just last night. Not that she hadn't already figured it out. Since, you know, she isn't stupid. And was actually listening when the Aang Gang had their earlier freak out.
Lee – Zuko… whatever his name is… He's something like a friend. Probably the closest to one that she has since the Kyoshi Ladies are still MIA. And he and Mushi are certainly the ones who know her the best out of everybody here.
She can't leave them either. Not here. Not when they've been so good to her. Looking after her when she was lost in the big bad city. Trying to protect her even when the shit was hitting the fan. And even now, not questioning her on the freaky lightning stuff they saw earlier. Keeping everybody else from prying, too.
Especially since it's clear she isn't ready to spill the beans just yet.
Instead, Lee just quietly stands watch next to her for a moment before sitting down. Staring out as the sun disappears entirely and everyone else heads back to their camp for the night. He sighs then.
Buffy does, too. But for a different reason, and she looks up to see him watching her.
"You're going with them."
Not a question. Instead a statement of fact.
She shrugs. "I don't think they should be let out into the wild blue yonder on their own. Especially unsupervised."
Lee snorts. His eyes are golden as they look at her, and there is almost amusement present.
"They'll hardly be by themselves," he points out. "Or does Chief Hakoda not count?"
Buffy fights not to smirk, but she manages to lay the bait perfectly.
"'Cause he's done such a bang up job already. Letting two teenagers and their friends traipse across the world. Most parents don't do that."
Lee frowns. Which is his default expression. His shoulders don't hunch, but it's a near thing. He almost looks like a moody teenager as his arms fold over his chest.
He isn't though. Not really. Not where it counts. In all honesty, he reminds Buffy of herself when she'd been the Slayer for a while but was still in high school. After Angel had become Angelus. After her mom had found out the truth, and Buffy had run.
He looks young; they all do. But in Lee's case more than the others, the outside doesn't match the inside. The soul is older than the body would ever suggest. The other kids have had a charmed life so far, a fortunate journey. The war has only brushed them. Not held them down and taken their lunch money. Not beat them up and stuffed them into lockers. Not done worse.
They've had it easy.
Lee hasn't. And it shows.
Buffy sighs as she looks at him. She can't leave Team Teen to their own devices. But she doesn't want to leave Lee or Mushi either.
Time for some sneaky maneuvering.
"I'm still going," she acknowledges. "I think it'll be for the best in the long run. For them and maybe even for me." She waits a second before adding, "There's more than enough room for two more, you know."
Lee tenses but makes himself relax.
"I hardly think they'll want us to come," he states resolutely. "We have too much… history."
Buffy waves him off. "That whole chasing-them-over-the-globe thing? Bygones. You so totally saved them in Ba Sing Se. I think that evens it out."
"No, not really. It'd take a great deal more than that. Like a miracle," he mutters darkly.
"Which is why you should totally come! You'll have plenty of time to even the score that way," she decides in her best California-voice.
Lee gives her a gimlet eye.
Buffy doesn't pout. She doesn't.
Lee rubs a hand over his face. "I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way," he says from behind his fingers. "It'll be better if we keep away."
His voice is firm. Unbending.
Buffy tries a different tactic.
"So… I'll be sailing off on a glorious Fire Nation ship. Into the gorgeous sunset, I might add. And you'll be doing what exactly?" she asks very sweetly. "Going where?"
Lee looks at her again. His frown has become a scowl. And perhaps that's really his default. A perpetual glower. Does he ever smile?
"We don't have anywhere else to go," Lee admits grudgingly, and his tone is sour. "Ba Sing Se has fallen. Azula saw us alive and well. My father has to know that I actually helped the Avatar escape."
Buffy feels her own smile slide away. Particularly when Lee's hand tightens into a fist at the mention of his dad.
To be perfectly honest, Lee's dad sounds like a douche. Aside from the whole "I'm king of the world, and you better bow before me" bit, Buffy has her suspicions how Lee got that nasty scar on his face. Mushi – Iroh – didn't explain that part in his spiel about this whole mess. But Buffy can read between the lines. She knows a bad dad when she hears about one.
Not to mention finding out that Miss Bitch is actually Lee's sister, who's tried to kill or at the very least seriously maim him on several occasions.
No wonder Lee frowns all the time.
But Buffy can at least help him here.
"Mushi thinks you two should come with us," she offers and immediately regrets it when he goes stiff.
His face is a mask. Like a furious statue flash-frozen in the moment before she feels the temperature skyrocket. Flame licks his skin, and hot air pulls at her scarf. But he has enough control that it doesn't do more than make sweat bead at her back.
His eyes though are awful. Black holes surrounded by a rim of molten lava.
"You think I don't know that!" Lee almost snarls before he can stop himself, and something in her aches at his voice. "Of course, uncle does. He wants us to join the Avatar and frolic hand in hand with him as we teach him firebending. Before going stomp up and down on our own nation."
Buffy gives him a look, but that doesn't stop him. Nor does the wind picking up to fling bits of sand at his face.
"Uncle… Uncle doesn't see a difference between the nations. If left up to him, he'd still be in his Earth Kingdom teashop, and forget that I'm stuck there, too. Forget that it's my honor and life at stake. Forget that I've been kicked out of my home and can't ever go back."
He's breathing hard now. And Buffy knows what this is. Knows that it's not her he really sees right now. She's just a convenient ear. The one standing next to the boiler when the pressure gets to be too much.
"Uncle thinks that he's helping, but he isn't! He doesn't listen!" His teeth gnash, red in the dying light. Sharp like fangs. "He just… He wants this war to be over, and he doesn't care how that happens!"
Buffy lets out a slow breath at his fury. Like a breeze fighting against the ash and smoke.
"You know that's not true. That none of that is," she interrupts, and her voice is forged steel beneath the softness. "Your uncle does want the war to be over. But more than that, he wants what's best for you." She gently snags his sleeve and holds firm when he tries to pull away. "He wants for you to not only survive but to be happy. I think you could be, if you let yourself."
He tries to jerk away, but he can't. His eyes are blazing as they glare at her.
"Because you know us both so well!"
The fire goes out in an instant as reality catches up. He bites his lip, and there's flicker of regret on his face before his scowl masks his emotions.
Buffy doesn't take his tone personally, however. It's a painful lesson. One that she learned while trying to keep her sister and her sanity. Words are just that. Words. Sounds on the wind. The things never said are more important that what is.
A breeze pulls at her headscarf again. As gentle as her grip on Lee's wrist. As strong as her fingers on his skin.
But Lee isn't like her. He's fire. Full of more than air and empty spaces. He needs to hear more than silence.
And if there's one thing that truly annoys her about Mushi, it's that he keeps quiet when he should speak. That he's let things get this far without putting his foot down. That he offers love but not discipline.
"My dad was a dick, too," she tells Lee then.
The wind has left his sails though. He can only stare at her before making a pained noise in his throat.
Buffy isn't entirely certain why she said it. Except, she kinda is.
She hasn't known them long. Only weeks. But they're on a similar wavelength. It doesn't take a genius to see how Lee flinches whenever someone thinks Mushi is his dad. Or the way he reaches for his scar. Or even how his sister turned out to be a complete psycho.
She can connect the dots. And the picture it makes is terrible.
"He ditched my mom to run off with his secretary," Buffy continues, and his skin his warm in her grasp. Hot and almost feverish. "And when she died, he left me to take care of my sister by myself. Didn't do anything to help. Didn't give us any money. Didn't even send a letter of condolence. Wasn't there then or later when we really needed him. When I needed him. He never was."
Lee is still staring. But now, his golden eyes are shadowed. By both twilight and his hair as the breeze pulls at his bangs.
"Hating him took too much effort though. Took too much from me." She gives him a final squeeze and lets go. "Hating myself took even more."
She stands then. Slowly but not stiffly. Dusting off the ever present sand without apparent care. But she's very aware of Lee as he sits rooted next to her. Still staring.
"Well, it's getting late," Buffy decides then. Whiplash fast.
The sun is long gone, and the stars have appeared, and she can smell Mushi's cooking on the air. Even with their limited supplies, it'll be divine if he made it.
She smirks at Lee, but it's more like a smile a second later. Particularly since he rather resembles a befuddled puppy as he keeps staring at her.
"We'll be making an early start, I hear. Best to head back now."
She offers him a hand up.
He looks at her hand then back at her. Really looks at her for a very long moment. Weighing. Assessing. Remembering.
Then, he takes it.