61. Fairy Tale-Zukaang
"verbal communication" 'thinking' telepathic communication
"The crime was committed out of ignorance, not malice. And he's just a child! He's already been punished enough. There's no need to send him to Hell!" The cold eyed Fae Queen just stared at Aang.
"He captured one of my subjects, Wizard. Bound her in a jar and kept her in a mortal home from sundown to sunrise. As a result, Aurelia fell. She's now an imp, and is no longer welcome in my Court." Aang swore silently. John's brother had told him John had captured a fairy, but later freed it. Tyler said nothing about the fact his brother had kept the poor thing overnight. That would have been good to know. It still didn't justify sending an eight year old boy to Hell, though. The Queen suddenly smiled. The sight sent a chill down his spine.
"You do have a point though, Wizard. The boy has already been punished quite severely." Cold dread twisted Aang's insides. What had they done to him? "Perhaps we can reach an agreement. The Tithe is approaching. If you willingly take the child's place, I'll set him free."
"I want twenty-four hours." Aang had to think, get The Old Ways on his side. He needed time to do so. He wracked his brain, trying to think of stories that matched this situation. The only one he could think of was 'The Ballad of Tam Lin and Fair Janet.' It would have to do.
"Agree here and now or leave my Court." Aang couldn't just leave the kid.
"Do I still get my twenty-four hours?"
"Yes, although you may not leave my realm." Damn. This particular Queen's realm was most of the Northeastern United States. He'd hoped to go to Montana and consult his library. Or appeal to Queen Rhiannon. He would have to work with what knowledge he had. "Do we have a deal, Wizard?"
"Yes." Of course they did.
"Free the boy. The Tithe is in forty-nine hours Wizard. Your twenty-four hours start now."
Across town, while Aang made a deal with a Seelie Queen to save a child's soul, Zuko Ohasi waited tables in his uncle's tea shop, the Jasmine Dragon. He enjoyed working there. He loved living with Uncle, as opposed to his father. He also particularly enjoyed it when a certain tattooed Wizard Apprentice came to see him at work, like he hoped Aang would today. It had been almost a week since he had seen him, and he missed Aang. His shift was almost over now. Maybe Aang would stop by afterwards.
The door above the door jangled indicating another customer. Zuko glanced up to see if it was one of their regulars, and brightened. It was Aang. Crossing the shop quickly, Zuko threw his arms around Aang and kissed him hungrily. Aang seemed distracted by something, but he kissed back.
"I was hoping you'd come see me today. It's been so long. I've missed you." If that didn't make Aang feel guilty for neglecting him, nothing would.
"It's only been a week, my sweet Zuko. And I've been busy; otherwise it wouldn't have been that long." The pet name was new. Zuko wasn't sure how he felt about it yet. Aang was definitely distracted, though.
"What's wrong?" He narrowed his eyes. "You aren't cheating on me, are you?"
"What? Of course not! Why would I do something that stupid?" Aang kissed him softly. "Jealousy doesn't look good on you, my lovely Zuko." Another pet name.
"Well, what's going on then?" Aang sighed. "And what's up with the pet names?"
"Work stuff, my darling Zuko. I need to talk to you after your shift."
"I'll meet you in my room. My shift's over in about fifteen minutes."
"If I asked you to do something for me, something that was stupid and potentially dangerous, would you do it?" They were cuddled up on Zuko's bed. Zuko was sitting in Aang's lap and Aang was running his fingers through Zuko's hair. Zuko snuggled closer before answering.
"It would depend on what you wanted me to do."
"I'm…kind of in a bit of trouble."
"I won't help you escape from the law."
"I'm not asking you to. This kid pissed off the Seelie Queen in this area. She decided to use him as their Tithe. She was going to send him to Hell." Aang took a deep breath and continued. "The kid's brother went to the cops, who didn't believe him of course. A sorcerer on the force contacted me to tell me what was going on. I tried to get the Queen to let him go, but she wouldn't. We ended up making a deal, though. She let the kid go in exchange for my willingly taking his place." Horror shot through Zuko as he realized what Aang was saying. Aang was going to Hell. Zuko would never see him again. "That's where you come in. There's a tale called 'The Ballad of Tam Lin and Fair Janet.' Tam Lin is the captive of the Fae, and they're going to send him to Hell as their Tithe. He meets a girl named Janet, takes her virginity, and gets her pregnant. She falls in love with him and ends up saving him. They live happily ever after. That's the only way I can think of to keep from getting sent to Hell."
"You want to take my virginity and get me pregnant? I don't think Uncle would be very happy with you." Aang laughed.
"No. Fair Janet saves Tam Lin by holding on tight to him when the Fae on parade. He transforms several times, the exact number of which varies. She holds on, thus proving her love and freeing him from the Fae Queen. That's what I need you to do." Zuko could do that. That didn't sound real hard.
"How is this stupid and potentially dangerous? And what, exactly, would I have to do and when?"
"It's stupid because I have no idea if it will work or not. It's potentially dangerous because I don't know what will happen to you if this fails. All you have to do is go to the address I give you, find me in the crowd, and hold on to me no matter what. I might be able to talk to you beforehand and give you some last minute advice. The Tithe's in about…forty-seven hours now. So a little less than two days. I have twenty-two hours before I have to go back, though. I figured I could take you on a date. If your uncle's okay with it, that is."
Two days later, Zuko walked up the building Aang had given him the address to. After Zuko agreed to help him, they had made out for a while, and then Aang asked his uncle if it was okay if he took Zuko on a date. They had gone to various points all around New York City. Aang had brought him back around five in the morning and they'd fallen asleep in Zuko's bed. When he'd woken up around two in the afternoon, Aang was gone. He'd left a note with the address. He rang the doorbell, uncertain of what precisely he was supposed to do. What if whoever answered the door refused to let him in? The door opened, but there was nobody. At least not that Zuko could see. He walked in. He could hear music and laughter drifting from somewhere in the building.
A tall, thin man entered the hallway. He had deer antlers growing from his forehead. He studied Zuko for a moment. "Follow me, Knight." The man turned and started up the stairway. Why had he called Zuko 'Knight'? Most people in Aang's world referred to him as 'mortal.' He led Zuko too a doorway. "Enter, Knight." He vanished. Zuko blinked, and then opened the door. Aang jerked him into his arms and rained kisses on Zuko's face.
"I was getting worried you'd changed your mind. We don't have long, and I can only give you two pieces of advice, my fair Zuko. The first is: Nothing is what it seems, so don't trust your eyes. The second is: Don't let go. No matter what, don't let go or we're both doomed." Aang kissed him one last time, and then stepped back. "I have to go now, my beloved Zuko. I'll see you, soon. Remember my advice." With one last look back, Aang stepped through the door and disappeared. Zuko stepped out into the hall, hoping to see which way Aang had gone. No such luck. He decided to head towards the music.
He finally found where the music was coming from. It was a ballroom filled with people. People who all looked just like Aang. This plan had seemed so simple when they were cuddling in his room. Before he arrived here and met a man with antlers. Before he saw the fear in Aang's eyes at the thought that Zuko might not come. Before he walked into a ballroom filled with hundreds of Aangs, and had to figure out which one was really him or they would both get sent to Hell. One of the Aangs grabbed his hand and pulled him into the dance. He was passed rapidly from partner to partner. His feet were starting to bleed. How was he supposed to figure out which one was Aang? The advice Aang had given him. That nothing was what it seemed. He closed his eyes. Once he did, he picked up clues to help clear out the false Aangs. This one was too fat. The next one was female. The one after that was too short.
Very good, Knight. You've found a way around the glamours. Now open your eyes and see your reward. The voice was female and melodious. He opened his eyes. All the false Aangs were gone. There was only one Aang left, up on the stage with the musicians. He was playing the lute. Wait. That wasn't right. Aang couldn't be playing the lute. He didn't know how. But he could definitely hear Aang singing. Aang had sung to him on their date two days earlier. Which meant the real Aang was the singer. He worked his way through the crowd towards the stage. Once there he stepped up onto the stage.
He threw his arms around the singer, who instantly transformed into his father. "Stupid, useless faggot. When I'm done with you, you won't be able to walk for a month!" Zuko tightened his grasp even as Ozai drew back his fist to strike him. Another transformation. The smell hit him first. Oh, gods. He cracked an eye open. He regretted it. His father had been replaced by a rotting corpse. A horny rotting corpse, judging by the way it was grinding against him. 'Aang will pay for this,' Zuko vowed to himself. He struggled desperately against his urge to hurl the thing away from him and then vomit. He tightened his grip as it dragged its tongue along his cheek. He would make Aang pay for this. Big time. (A/N: I didn't forget about Zuzu vowing to make Aang pay earlier. Aang is just in major league trouble right now.) Another transformation. Zuko hoped it was almost over. He wasn't sure how much more he could take. Pain shot through his body. Aang looked like himself again, but he was covered in quills like a porcupine. Zuko forced himself to hold Aang tighter, ignoring the way the quills sank deeper into his flesh. The last two times he had tightened his grip, the next transformation occurred. The quills vanished, revealing a naked Aang, and an uninjured Zuko. Except for his feet which were still swollen and bleeding.
"You did it, my sweet Zuko. I knew you would. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. Especially the second one." Aang did look sorry, but Zuko could still smell that damn corpse and wasn't going to let him off that easy. He would have his revenge…later. Right now he was exhausted. Aang scooped him up and carried him out of the ballroom, ignoring the Queen and her Court.
"What time is it?" Uncle was probably getting worried. He'd told him he was going out. He hadn't said where, though.
"It's almost four in the morning." Oh. Uncle was definitely worried sick by now. "As soon as I get dressed and we find a phone, I'll call Iroh and get him to stop worrying, my gorgeous Zuko."
"You can stop with the pet names now. They're getting on my nerves. Why did you tell me so much in my room, but were so cryptic here?"
"The Queen put a glamour on me to keep me from giving you too many details. But I have layers of Wards and Sigils on your-and Iroh's-rooms to protect you two. Those negated the glamour enough that I was able to tell you. The pet names were so I could give you a third clue. I wasn't sure if they were following me or not. I figured if they were, and they heard me calling lots of pet names, they would just assume 'my fair Zuko' was just another one of them. I wasn't sure if the Wards would negate the glamour, so I wanted to give you as many clues as possible."
"Oh. Okay." Zuko snuggled close as they walked down the hallway. His eyes were drooping despite his best attempts to stay awake. Aang laughed softly.
"Go to sleep, Zuko. I'll get you home safely."
"Mmmm." Zuko buried his face in the crook of Aang's neck and was soon fast asleep. Aang gently laid him down on the bed of the room he had waited for Zuko in and quickly got dressed. The Seelie Queen was furious that they had beaten her. It would be best to get out of there quickly. Besides, the quicker they were out of there, the sooner he could stop Iroh from worrying, and the quicker he could join Zuko in sleep. Scooping his lover back up, he left the room.
"I won my freedom fair and square, Your Majesty."
"Only because you told the Knight exactly what to do. You violated our agreement."
"I played the game by the Fae's rules. You gave me twenty-four hours to do whatever I wanted. I used part of that time to tell him what he needed to do to save me." Aang turned his back and headed down the stairs and out the doors to freedom. It would definitely be best if he avoided contact with any Fae in this region for a while. Like about a hundred years or so.