A/N: I know, I know; I've been gone forever, but college ate all my free time, and another fic was demanding any spare moment I had. On the upside, I'm done with college until the fall, so I should get to update more often. I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Enjoy!
~Moon White Rose
Sung stared at Lieutenant Jee as if he had two heads; what could he mean she had to start cooking now? It was still dark out and the only reason she was awake now was because of the nightmare. "Now?" she asked, wanting to make sure she had heard him right.
"Yes, now," he sighed. "Sunrise will be in three hours, and there are a grand total of seventeen people on this ship, including you." Sung almost passed out at hearing this news; she was expected to cook for seventeen people three times a day?! "Get dressed and don't take all day either." Sung numbly closed the door and quickly changed and combed out her hair.
This is ridiculous. How am I supposed to do this? She finished braiding her hair and in seconds it was wound into her trademark bun, pinned back with the gold pins. Seeing no point in prolonging her work, she opened the door and joined the Lieutenant in the hall. He began to walk off without a word and Sung followed. She was led up and down so many hallways that she quickly got dizzy. "I'm going to get lost in here," she mumbled under her breath. She had not been expecting Jee to hear, but apparently, he did.
"This is nothing if you've been on one of the standard sized ships, but if you do find yourself getting turned around, don't hesitate to ask for help." Sung was surprised at the friendliness she heard in his voice, even though it was faint. Not five minutes earlier, she had pegged him as standoffish and rude. Almost as if he could sense what she was thinking, he spoke again. "Sorry if I came off as rude when I came and got you; I'm just a little cranky from not getting enough sleep."
"So, Prince Zuko… he works the crew hard." Jee stopped and looked at her over his shoulder.
"... Tell me how you feel tomorrow morning, and then you'll have your answer." He resumed walking and Sung felt her heart drop while she thought of a thousand mean things she would have liked to say to the hot-headed jerk right then after hearing the Lieutenant's words. So, he pushed his crew to the point of exhaustion; what would that mean for her? Would he leave her alone so long as she put something edible on the table morning, noon, and night? What else was to be expected?
She recalled him saying something about cleaning and her heart fell more. Would she just have to clean just his room or other places as well? As she thought of cleaning, her mind went to idea of laundry and she felt ready to scream. She had a gut feeling she was going to get stuck with that too. Hopefully no one on this ship is a slob. That thought immediately went out the window when she entered the kitchen; it was an absolute mess. Clean dishes were mixed in with dirty ones, and dried food coated the counters and stove top. Trash and various bits of food covered the floor and that was only the beginning. Ultimately, it looked as if someone had attempted to keep the place clean, but had given up after a certain point, which was most likely the case.
The only truly clean thing she saw was a teapot and two tea cups; they gleamed in the torch light while everything else gave off a dull glow at best. Cleaning this mess was going to be a nightmare. "How did no one ever get sick off of this?"
"The men on this ship are tough, and he put a real effort into the prince's food," Jee replied, disgust plain as day in his voice.
"Too bad he didn't put an effort into keeping this place clean. Did the food ever even look edible?" she questioned, turning to face the Lieutenant. He sighed and headed to the door.
"The prince's did. Just do your best; I'm sure you're a better cook than he ever was." The door slammed, the loud sound ringing in her ears. Do her best? This kitchen would take days to get properly clean, and that was if she didn't have to cook, clean, and do laundry. She stared at the mess for another few minutes then took a deep breath. She willed her determination to not fail her now; after all, she could be very ambitious, according to her mother.
All right, let's get this over with.
The dawn sun was only starting to paint the eastern sky with light when Iroh began to head down to the kitchen. Like a true fire bender he woke with the sun, but it was the thought of a nice cup of tea that actually got him out of bed. Also, he wanted to see how Sung was faring for her first meal and to see if she would be more tolerable of his presence. Hopefully she will be. She seems like such a nice girl.
Finally, Iroh reached his destination and he had to do a double take. He had long ago accepted the semi messy state of the kitchen, even though he didn't like it; but the sight that met him made him wonder if he was even on the right ship. The kitchen was not perfectly clean, but it was much, much better than what it had been. Most of the floor was swept and looked as if it had been scrubbed. The main counter gleamed and pots sat on the stove, delicious smells wafting out from under their lids. The three trash barrels were filled, with more rubbish piled in a somewhat neat stack around them.
It wasn't perfect, a lot of work still needed to be done, but the sight made Iroh happier than he had been in a while; perhaps bringing a girl on board had been a good decision after all. "Sung? Sung where are you? The kitchen looks great." Iroh started to make himself some tea, but stopped when he got no response. "Sung?" A small noise caught Iroh's attention; it sounded like a moan, and it was quickly followed by a disgruntled yawn. Iroh followed the sound to the other side of the main counter and a twinge of guilt hit him.
Sung sat on the floor. A large pot was in her lap with a wet rag in her hand. Her head was back against the counter side and her eyes were tightly closed; strands of hair sticking to her sweaty face. "Um, Sung, are you awake?" Iroh questioned as he knelt down and gently rubbed her shoulder. Her eyes opened and she gazed at him blearily before her eyes widened. She looked around than quickly jumped up. A red blush blossomed on her face.
"General Iroh, I… I, um, well…." Sung closed her mouth as she had no excuse to offer for her dozing. What had she been thinking when she chose to sit to clean the pot? She should have stayed on her feet so that this very act wouldn't have happened. Now I'm going to get it. She waited warily for some form of harshness or brutality to leave the old General, but all he did was smile and motion for her to sit at the counter with him.
"I'm not mad; everyone gets tired. Would you like a cup of tea? I made it myself." She was too surprised to speak, so she nodded and sat where he indicated. Iroh noticed that she was as stiff as a board and mistrust made her eyes appear hard, which again made him feel as if he had seen her somewhere before, or at least had seen someone with eyes like hers. He poured the tea for her and couldn't help but feel amused at the flustered look on her face. He watched her for a minute, but she avoided direct eye contact and didn't touch her cup. He decided to test a theory.
He pretended to lose interest in her and took a long drink from his own cup. As he set the cup down, he watched her take a sip from her own cup. A ghost of a smile appeared and she took another long sip. "You come from a very traditional background, don't you?" he finally questioned softly as he made eye contact. She tensed, but didn't look away; he could almost see her figuring out the best answer in her mind.
"Yes General Iroh… I… I do. What made you aware of this, if I may respectfully ask?"
"Oh, a good number of things gave it away. You won't look me in the eyes unless I look at you first, and you wouldn't drink until I drank first…. You come from a very male dominant house." It wasn't a question. The Fire Nation had always put a high emphasis on personal and family honor, but it was during the reign of his grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, that things had started to become less equal and more male dominant.
His grandfather, in hopes of keeping the people on his good side, had often said that he was merely a ruler twice over; a ruler of the Nation, and like the rest of his people, a ruler of his house. He had said that every man in the Fire Nation, from the highest noble to the lowest peasant was the Lord of his home. Every man's wife and children was his to rule, and that to be a good man who brought honor to his household kingdom and Nation, he had to do whatever it took to protect what was his, even if that meant helping the Fire Nation attack innocent people from the other nations.
He had also said that a woman's best way to bring honor to the family was to bear strong children, nurture her family, and be submissive to her "Lord's" requests. In no time, women began to be viewed more as items and breeding tools rather than people and many men went around as vain fools who were too full of themselves.
"I… suppose you could say that." Iroh snapped out of his thoughts fast enough to hear the frigid tone of Sung's voice. She finished her cup and handed it back to Iroh with a tight smile. "I have to get the food ready, but please let me know if I can get you anything. Coincidently, there's something I'd like you to do for me, if you can."
"Yes of course. What do you want?" Sung leaned in and fixed her emotionless gaze on Iroh.
"It's a simple request really. Do not ask about my home life again; don't ask about my mother, my childhood, my… father. Ever." Iroh had no words to say to the request that had too much hostility floating beneath the surface. Sung turned away and busied herself with the food which would soon be ready.
Iroh sighed, but not with defeat; he sighed because he knew that he wasn't going to get past her defensive surface now. She needed time to adjust to her new situation; once she settled in, he was certain she would be more open to the friendship he was trying to offer. He stood and headed to the kitchen door. "I will respect your wishes, Sung. If you ever need someone to talk to…." Iroh left it at that as he closed the door behind him softly.
Sung tried to not let the words affect her, but they already were messing with her head. Don't worry about it. The voice in her head whispered; the same voice her father in her dream had had. You don't need them; you don't need any friends. You only need me to make you better than what you are now. You are nothing without me.
"Yes, you're right father," she muttered darkly as she viciously brushed the tears out of her eyes. "You are the only one who can fix the mess you have made of my life. The only question is would you be willing to do such a thing? Would you be willing to make up for all the wrong you've done?"
The only answer she got was the same mocking laughter from her dream. It echoed in her mind, driving her crazy, but she couldn't escape it. "Truly," she whispered, "there is never any escape from the ones who are long gone."
A/N: Man. I'm definitely rusty when it comes to this story. I should get back into it soon though. I'm really just posting this as a filler for what is to come, and to let you all know that I have not given up on this fic; college just got in the way of any writing time. Please let me know what you think. Anyway, thanks to:
sunflower13: Thanks for the review. Sung and Zuko will bond, but their terrible fathers will only play minor roles for this story; they'll play a bigger part in the sequel. Glad you like the mystery about Sung; hopefully when all is revealed, you'll be surprised. Again, thanks for reviewing.
Momo da Munkee: Thanks for reviewing!
Chocolate Orchids: I'm glad I have you guessing about the issues between Sung and her father. Thanks for the review. Hope you like this chapter.
Mermaid166: Thanks for the review, but I don't know what you mean by blue words; everything looked fine to me. :/
Potato: Thanks for reviewing! Sorry this update took so long.
.Kittys: Thanks, I'm glad you like the story!
Well, I hope you all like the chapter. Later!
~Moon White Rose