A/N: Well, here it is; chapter 4! Please enjoy! I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender, which makes me sad. What makes me happy though are when my readers review… and the fact that I have some of you wondering what the heck is going on with Sung. I'll shut up now. Enjoy!
~Moon White Rose
Sung was too quiet; there was something wrong and Iroh knew it. Obviously he wasn't expecting her to be happy and cheery about what was happening to her, but something about her now was… off. In between dinner and her joining him outside about twenty minutes later, something had made her change drastically in demeanor.
She had been numb, but still alert, at dinner; now it was like walking with someone who wasn't even really alive. Her face was void of emotion, but the slight shake of her hands betrayed to the fact that something was boiling under the surface. Her steps were slow, as if she were having trouble walking, and once, for no reason, she had let out a choked gasp and her hand went to her heart. Suddenly, another gasp left her lips and Iroh could stay silent no longer.
"Sung, are you all right? Is something wrong?" he asked as he stopped. She acted as if she didn't hear him and continued to walk, and he laid a restraining hand on her shoulder to stop her. "Sung."
"Hmm, what did you say?" she asked after shaking her head. Iroh stared at her before continuing, wanting to choose his words carefully. "Is something troubling you, other than the obvious?" The question brought a little stability to her frenzied thoughts, and she realized she had been wearing her emotions on her sleeve to a shameful degree. She wanted to hit herself for doing so, but settled for scolding herself mentally.
You need to calm down and save this stuff for when you are alone. Concentrate on the current situation and be strong; your life will get worse if these men you're about to meet think you have no backbone. Forget what mother told you…. NOW! She forced herself to give a small smile. "No, your majesty, I'm fine. I assure you."
Iroh wasn't convinced, but he decided not to push it. This girl had been through enough for one day, and he wanted her to see him as a friend, someone she could confide in when she felt the need to. After all, she's going to need a friend; I doubt things are going to go smoothly between her and Zuko. He smiled too and laughed softly at the title. "Please, no need for such formalities; I'm used to being called General Iroh, even though I retired long ago. I guess some things just stick with you, no matter what."
"Yes, it would seem so," Sung murmured as they continued down the road. She doubted she would ever forget the events of today, and she knew for certain that she would never forget her mother's parting words. Silence settled between the two and it made Iroh uncomfortable; he hated seeing people so downhearted, plus he could be quite the talker.
"Don't worry about my nephew; I know he may seem rough around the edges, but he really is a good person," he said, immediately catching the roll of her eyes afterwards. "It's true; he's just been under a lot of stress lately. Once you get to know him, I'm sure you two will be friends." He knew it was a shot in the dark saying that, but he felt the urge to try. After all, he could see some personality similarities in this girl and his nephew… and he could never resist the chance to play matchmaker for Zuko.
And she's pretty, and seemed nice in the market. If only Zuko could see that- if not in her, than in some other nice young lady; that there is more to life than what he thinks there is. He had never had the heart to tell Zuko that this chase was pointless and that his life was passing him by, even though he thought this daily; all he could do was sit back and hope Zuko would realize it for himself, and maybe drop hints for him along the way for him. Sung's quiet, hollow laughter brought Iroh out of his thoughts.
"Friends? With him?" she stopped and Iroh stopped as well. She looked him in the eyes and he was surprised at the coldness found in her beautiful brown irises. She stood up straight and for a brief second, Iroh swore there was something familiar about her; not so much her, but he saw it in the way she stood; the way she looked at him. "General Iroh, I respect you and your family, and you will see that soon enough. However, I am not here to be nice and make friends. I've never had a friend a day in my life, and I don't want, or will ever need, any. Ever."
The quiet of the room, and his even, steady breathing was slowly chasing away the tenseness of his muscles and the pain left by his emotions. Though Zuko prided himself on striking fear into his crew, and enjoyed baring his aggression for all to see, even he could admit that he needed these moments of quiet. Thoughts on his actions filled his mind after he was fully relaxed and he was able to face them somewhat calmly.
He could admit to himself that what he had done was wrong; he really did have no right uprooting that girl from her life. He of all people knew how much that hurt. One mistake just leads to another and the decisions you keep making in the heat of the moment only lead down paths harder for you to travel. He breathed out and he could feel the heat radiating off the candles before him intensify slightly as the flames grew to match his breathing, before shrinking as he breathed in. The thought bothered him and made his pride well up, which made his concentration waver. Even though his eyes were closed he could tell the flames were flickering.
It's not your fault she was acting suspicious; it's her own fault she's where she's at now. Besides, you have the right to make mistakes just like everyone else, even more so since you're so tired and stressed; you have every excuse available at your disposal to use. No one deserves anything more than you. Zuko's eyes opened, and the flames were barely the size of his fingers; sputtering weakly on their wicks. With a slight wave of his hand they died, and he was nearly swallowed up in darkness; the only light illuminating his room being weak moonbeams spilling in from the window above him. He tried to agree with this thought, but he couldn't fully; a part of him was still telling him what he did was wrong.
Suddenly, before the inner turmoil inside him could grow, a knock at his door broke the suffocating silence. "Enter," he called after he quickly relit the candles, so as to provide some light. The door opened and Zuko heard the person enter, closing the door behind them softly. "What took you so long?" he questioned before his uncle could say a word.
"We weren't gone very long, just a few hours. Sung was… tired after you left and her mother told her to lie down. Plus, they had me stay for dinner, and it took a while to walk all the way here," replied Iroh as he sat on his nephew's bed. Silence fell for nearly five minutes. "You should talk to her."
"Why? She means nothing to me, so long as she does what she was brought on board to do," Zuko shot back, but the harshness of his voice was not as strong as earlier. Iroh shook his head, not wanting to get into an argument now, but knowing one was probably around the corner with what he was about to say
"She will be occupying the room next to yours as it was the only one available, and I refuse to let her sleep down in the barracks with the crew, or in the kitchen as she requested." Iroh could see the fire build up immediately behind Zuko's eyes.
"No, absolutely not; she can stay in the kitchen or somewhere else, but I am not having her that close." After all, I don't want to be reminded of what I've done every time I step out the door, he mentally added. Iroh sighed and walked to the door.
"Then perhaps next time, you will not let your temper dictate your actions. She's stays; goodnight Prince Zuko." Zuko stared at the door long after his uncle had left. He wanted to brush away what his uncle had said about his temper; it made him so angry to be constantly reprimanded by the only person on this ship he had respect for, but he could admit, to himself only, that he deserved it.
It was really curiosity, not the desire to please his uncle or to make amends with the peasant, which made him step into the hall. He walked a short distance to his left and was soon faced with another door identical to his own and every other door on his ship, which made him wonder what to do now. Should he knock? Just walk in? Turn around and leave because he was so annoyed, tired, and frustrated to the point that getting better acquainted with the inside of his eyelids sounded like pure heaven?
Eventually, he settled for pounding on the door. He folded his arms across his chest as he waited. Moments later, the door opened slightly, and the girl's eyes narrowed as they locked with his. "Yes?" she finally asked. "Your majesty," she added and he caught the sneering undertone. Zuko's eyes narrowed and he pushed his way in.
"Do you not have manners?" she snapped quickly wrapping herself up in a worn red night robe. He turned his attention to her, his arms one again folded.
A look of disgust crossed Sung's face as she realized that he was void of a top, thus providing her with a view she didn't want. Still, he is a little handsome…. She ignored the thought because it wasn't something she would be admitting any time soon. He glared at her, but didn't answer her question. After a bit he lost interest, and Zuko turned his attention to the room.
It had standard furnishings like his; a bed, dressed in plain sheets with a thin blanket and pillow, a small desk in the spot where his candles would be sitting in his room, and a metal trunk for storing clothes and other personal belongings. He was tempted to go through her things, just to make her mad, and to see if she had brought anything on board that could be dangerous. After all, a fool's blade was almost always sharper than his or her mind, and fools could get lucky….
Wait, do I really think she could get away with doing something to me? I must be more tired than I thought. This girl was only a smidge taller than the Water Tribe peasant who had helped rescue the Avatar and had the ability to water bend. She had no fat or useless flesh on her that he could see; in fact, she looked very fit, and admittedly a bit strong, but she was also very petite and slender. If she really tried to do something, than he could easily overpower her physically; plus he also had his sword skills and bending to help him if she had any tricks up her sleeves, which suddenly made him think of something.
"Are you a bender?" he questioned. Sung, who had been leaning against the wall, her arms crossed, blinked a few times before turning away.
"There hasn't been a bender in my mother's family in generations." Her tone was hollow and Zuko could here hints of tiredness in her voice. The answer struck him as odd however; why would she mention only her mother, and not her father? Better yet, why didn't she just say family?
"What of your father then, is he a bender?" Silence. "Are you trying to protect him, thinking he's going to come save you?" Zuko sneered, but noticed the change that happened immediately. Every muscle tensed, he could see it happen under the thin material, and she turned to face him. Her face was void of emotion, and there was a frigid, but guarded look in her eyes.
"My father… went to war before I was born; I've never met him and… we've never heard anything about him. He's probably dead." Zuko felt a prick of unease in his stomach at the sound of her voice; he couldn't believe how quickly this girl's attitude had change. Her tone now was different than before; it was as closed off as her face, but he could hear danger under the surface. Obviously, he had brought up a touchy subject, and he really didn't doubt she would retaliate physically if he pushed it; after all, she had handled that one guard when he wouldn't stop harassing her.
"Can you go now, please? I'm tired, and I have a lot to do tomorrow, your majesty." Without a word he left; knowing she was right, but doubting she had a good idea of just how right she really was.
Candles lined the path, their glow the only comfort to be found in the darkness. She could barely make out the road they illuminated; she only really knew it was there because she could hear the gravel crunch beneath her feet with each step.
Sung, growing bored with looking ahead, started to turn her head to see if anything was out in the darkness, when a harsh, masculine voice rang out.
"DON'T YOU DARE LOOK AWAY FROM ME! EYES ON ME! NOW!" She looked forward again, startled, and far ahead she could see a figure standing in shadows. "Eyes on me; if you want to find me, than you had better let everything else go. Your way of life, your memories, your fears, your mother; it's them or me, you cannot have both!" The figure started walking away, and Sung took off after him.
"Father, please, why? I want to know you but I don't want to let mother go; why would you make me choose between you two?!" The figure turned and a sickening feeling welled in her stomach.
"YOU WILL NOT QUESTION ME! YOU CHOOSE ONE OR THE OTHER!" Large, angry flames leapt from her father's fists, racing towards her. She jumped to the side, but it was too far and she found out the darkness beyond the path was an abyss. She grabbed the edge of the path just in time, but in all her strength, she couldn't pull herself up. In fact, it felt like the darkness had thousands of hands and all were intent on dragging her down.
"HELP! FATHER, MOTHER, ANYONE, HELP ME!" She heard two sets of footsteps on the path then, both coming towards her. One set was coming from the direction she had been coming from, running fast. The other was coming from where she had been going, walking calmly, barely making a noise. Somehow, both made it to her at the same time. She looked up and her parents stood there. She could make out her mother clearly, but her father was cloaked in shadows.
"Sung, take my hand, please; I'll save you my precious baby girl," her mother encouraged tearfully, holding out her hand. Her father said nothing, but held out his hand as well. She wanted to take her mother's hand, but to her, she suddenly looked frail and weak; it appeared as if her own body weight was too much of a burden to bear.
"I don't want to drag you down too Mother. Father, help me," she begged, stretching out one hand as far as she could. Her mother wept bitterly and faded away, but before Sung could say a word her father grabbed her outstretched hand and started to pull her up, his grip bruising and cruel. "Father, stop, you're hurting me!" He yanked her close and she fell silent.
Even with hardly any space between them, she still couldn't make out his features, except for his eyes; true mirrors to her own. "You," he began, "were not supposed to move. You were to counter the attack or take it with the humility you should show to me. If this is the best you can do, than I have nothing but shame and hate for you." And with that, he pushed her away and she fell into the darkness, the only sound overpowering her screams being his cruel laughter following her into the darkness that never seemed to end….
Sung bolted up in bed; a scream on her lips, and a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. A layer of sweat covered her body and her long black waves were matted and tangled around her face. The queasy feeling grew and she fought to keep the contents of her stomach down. Eventually, the feeling passed and she stood, her legs threatening to give out at any moment. She counted mentally to ten slowly as she stood still, breathing steadily. Finally the waves of dizziness left and she was able to move.
She staggered over to the desk and sank to her knees, regarding her reflection in the mirror that sat there, hardly big enough to show her her face. Brown eyes stared back at her as she ran her fingers through her mass of tangles; fear, confusion, and a bit of curiousness shining in their depths. Never in her life had she had such a vivid nightmare; ultimately she chalked it all up to what had happened to her within the last twenty-four hours.
Still, you really can't help but wonder just how much could have some truth to it. She pushed the thought aside as she opened her trunk to retrieve her comb. The first thing to greet her was the surprise her mother had somehow slipped her before leaving, and Sung couldn't hold back a wistful smile.
Sung had not had friends growing up, so her mother had made her one in the form of a doll. It had been Sung's most cherished possession throughout her childhood, and never had she been so thankful that her mother had kept it, despite the protests she had made not long after she had turned twelve, saying that she didn't need her anymore.
"'You'll never be too old for the things or people that really meant something to you,'" her mother had replied after her first attempt at getting rid of the doll. Sung understood now what her mother had meant; having her doll with her in this prison of steel was like the calm eye in the storm; like having a bit of home with her. Sung fingered the doll's cheek, starting to get lost in memories when a pounding at her door almost made her scream. Quickly she closed the trunk and threw on her robe, hating that she didn't at least have a second to comb out her bedhead.
"Yes?" she asked as she opened the door slightly, half expecting it to be the prince, but realizing it was probably too early for the stuck up royal to be awake, let alone up and out of his room. Instead, a tired looking man with gray hair and sideburns looked at her for a moment before answering her question.
"My name is Lieutenant Jee. I'm here to show you to the kitchen; your first day of work starts now."
A/N: Well, there we go, another chapter done! I don't know how often I'll be able to update, since college is in full swing and my homework load is brutal after just a little over a month. Anyway thanks to:
sunflower13: I hope you enjoyed my sister's fics if you got the chance to read them. Unfortunately, I can't answer your questions now, or I'd ruin the story. Thanks for reviewing, and thanks for being the first to review all three chapters!
xXDark-Fallen-angel: Thanks! I hope you liked this chapter!
liontaming: Here's your update, thanks for reviewing!
Well, until next time!
~Moon White Rose