Summary: Roku shows Sozin what an Avatar can do; Sozin is a sore loser. Friendship fic. Set right after Roku's return from Avatar training in The Avatar and the Fire Lord (S3E06).
Characters/Pairings: Roku, Sozin; gen, but I'm a Roku/Sozin shipper, so if you want to see subtext, go right ahead ;)
Prompt: fanfic100 prompt 067. Snow
Word Count: 1,670
Author's Note: A little humorous moment between Roku and Sozin set a while before the wheels come off. I normally write somewhat darker stuff, but a conversation with muffinbitch put the idea in my head and I just couldn't resist it. ~g~ Many thanks to muffinbitch and joyeuses for their input on the fic.
'I was expecting everything to be much smaller than I remembered,' Roku said. Above the gardens, the first stars had appeared in the late summer sky, and insects buzzed fatly in the warm air. 'Isn't that what's supposed to happen when you return home?'
Sozin glanced at his friend. Some part of him had not expected Roku to return like this, sleek and confident and as different from the boy who'd gone away as an adult dragon was from a hatchling with its wings still damp. He brushed the rather foolish thought away; Roku was a fully-realised Avatar, after all. 'I made sure the palace got a little bigger every year. Luckily, you returned before we had to start building up the crater wall.' He put his hand on Roku's arm and his voice turned mock-serious. 'Come on, tell me everything about the other nations. Is it true the Air Nomads can fly just by flapping their arms?'
'No, of course not. You have to flap both your arms and your legs. Obviously.'
'Obviously.' They looked at each other for a while, their faces grave, then burst out laughing, and for a moment they were fifteen again. Sozin was the first to stop. 'I missed this,' he said.
Roku smiled. 'Aren't Fire Lords allowed to laugh?'
'Only once a week.' They started walking through the gardens again, and stepped around the largest of the pavilions. 'Now I'm going to have to have to be especially serious for the next fortnight.'
'It must be hard,' Roku said, the merriment gone from his voice.
'I was joking.'
A flash of amusement in the golden-brown eyes. 'I know you were. But I'm sure it's hard, being the Fire Lord.'
'Like being the Avatar, I suppose. We both have so much to watch over. We don't choose our burdens, they choose us.' He glanced at the pavilion and a memory of his father darted through his mind, sharp as a knife and twice as painful. For a moment the loss was a physical thing, burrowing somewhere behind his heart, still with some bite after all those years. He looked away. 'Come take a look at this.'
They stepped up to a waist-high stand full of intricate gears and polished stone. Sunlight careened off obsidian inlays. 'What is it?' Roku asked.
'It's a mechanical sundial.'
'Like a clock?'
'No, no, it's a still a sundial, but the gnomon moves around with the seasons, and with these mechanisms here you can calculate the positions of the stars and the stations of the sun and phases of the moon.' He turned some of the wheels as he spoke. Gears and plates spun into place with a series of clicks. 'See? It's a really interesting device. Of course, there's a much better astronomical clock in the palace. It…' He turned back to his friend. Roku's gaze lay on him, palpable like a caress, and the flash in his eyes was back.
'I missed this,' Roku said.
'Your enthusiasm.' He ran his fingers over the rim of the sundial, as though it were an unfamiliar animal. 'Didn't there use to be a ginnan tree here?'
'Oh, it had to come down—bad case of tree-rot. I had the sundial put in after that…' He trailed off. 'Hey, show me some of your Avatar skills. Can you bend a whole storm, clouds and lightning and everything?'
Roku looked up from the sundial, the amusement gone from his face. 'Being the Avatar is a matter of great discipline and responsibility. The power that comes with it is not a toy.' He paused, and the seriousness turned into a smile. 'That doesn't mean we can't have fun with it. I'm going to—no, I know just the thing. Is there a water line around here?'
'Sure, there's one that runs right next to that wall. The grate—'
'I don't need the grate. Come on.'
They moved closer to the wall, but Roku stopped when they were still several yards short of it. He closed his eyes and his body looked as though he was searching for something; then he shifted his position to a bending stance and the earth opened by his feet. Water spilled up into the air, a great silver ball that Roku kept flowing back and forth. A few droplets fell on Sozin's face.
'So that's waterbending,' he said, trying to sound like someone who'd never seen it before.
'Stay right there,' Roku said, and he sent the mass of water higher into the air. 'Trust me.'
Before Sozin could say anything, a motion of Roku's body spread the water into a cloudy layer, then made it plummet back to earth. Sozin's first instinct was to shield himself with firebending, but he hesitated for a split second, and then it was too late. A flurry of white fell upon him, like thousands of lotus petals raining from the sky. They settled on his hair and clothes, caught in his eyelashes. When he stretched out his hand the flakes melted and stung his skin with cold. 'What is this? Is this ice?' His breath came out in a puff of fog.
'Oh. Of course,' Sozin said, his face hot with embarrassment. Of course he knew what snow was; there was plenty of it in both Poles and in some parts of the Earth Kingdom and he had come across it dozens of times in reports and books and paintings. He had even seen it once, capping the Red Mountain, a distant dollop of white gilded by the sun. But he'd assumed it was something like the heavy rains in the wet season, when the raindrops looked like molten silver and were big enough to hurt. Not this fall of soft white that made his skin numb and the air around him thick with silence and bone-shattering cold.
'Do you like it?' Roku said. He had finished turning all the water into snow, and shifted his stance back to normal as the last of the flurry fell to earth.
Sozin reached out again and a handful of straggler flakes fell on his palm. They caught the light of the summer sun before they began to melt. For a moment he pictured the whole of the gardens muffled under a layer of snow, the ground blanketed with it, the branches and leaves filigreed with ice. 'It's beautiful,' he said, but now it was only a pile at his feet, blades of grass already poking through. He nudged it with one foot. It didn't look like the egg-white softness atop the Red Mountain at all; it was hard and slippery and made a crunching sound when he pressed on it. 'What is it for?'
'For? It isn't—well, in the North Pole they'll sometimes turn it into water. And almost everything is built from ice.' His gaze grew distant. 'You should see it, Sozin: walls made of ice, stretching up to the sky, and a palace of ice, seven storeys high. And outside the city, Ice and snow as far as the eye can see. In the summer we had to wear goggles made of buffalo-yak horn when we went into the ice plains. It was so bright.' He shook his head at his own recollection, then leaned down to scoop two handfuls of snow. 'Of course, you can also use it for snowballs.'
'Snowballs? I never heard of those. Are they for building things too?'
'No,' Roku said as he patted the snow in his hands. 'They're for this.'
This time Sozin didn't even have long enough to hesitate. The snowball hit him square in the face before he could melt it, dodge, or even realise what Roku was doing. Snow dripped down his collar, icy slush soaked his clothes and skin. His mouth was so numb he couldn't even gasp. He tried to wipe the snow away, but it just clung to the fabric and soaked him even more.
Roku started chuckling. A moment later he was doubled over with laughter.
'Yes, very funny.' Sozin's temperature rose enough to make the slurry on his skin melt fully. He stepped into the blanket of snow, moving towards a still-guffawing Roku. 'I don't—'
His balance was perfect, cultivated by years of firebending practice. He could run blindfolded down a beam four inches wide. He had trained on grounds made of grass, rock, polished stone, wood, sand, even volcanic glass. But he had never walked on snow. He managed two strides before he slipped and only quicksilver reflexes stopped him from unceremoniously landing on his face. Landing on all fours wasn't that much more dignified. Cold seared the skin on his hands, seeped through his robes. Roku let out another peal of laughter before he brought himself under control.
'I'm sorry,' Roku said, as he wiped away tears. 'It's just—your face.' A pause, and worry chased the laughter away. 'Are you hurt?'
'No.' Sozin sat back on his heels, snow crunching underneath him. When he spoke again it was with all the seriousness he could muster. 'But look at us: the Fire Lord and the Avatar playing around with this snow thing like a couple of children. I mean, really.'
Roku looked down at the sheet of snow at his feet. 'You're right,' he said, a little deflated. 'I'm—'
Sozin had never made or thrown a snowball before, but he managed to score a direct hit. The wad of snow landed on Roku's face with a wet slap. He froze in place; a chunk of snow fell off his chin.
'You were right,' Sozin said with a snicker, already readying his second projectile. 'You look hilarious.'
Roku wiped the snow off his face. The edge of his mouth, still snow-dappled, curled into half a smile. 'You do realise this means war.'
Sozin smiled back. 'Let's see it, oh all-powerful Avatar.'
Tomorrow, everything would be different. But for now, the Avatar and the Fire Lord were having a snowball fight.
Notes: The Fire Nation is located right smack on the equator, so snow (and snowballs!) seemed like the logical choice for something of which Sozin would have no direct experience at all. He, of course, reacts like everyone does when they see snow up close for the first time: it's all very pretty until you slip on it/it soaks through your clothes/you have to scrape it off things at 7am ;). Snow goggles are traditionally made from antlers/bone or ivory in RL; they are of course used to prevent snow blindness. "We both have so much to watch over": obligatory oblique Watchmen ref. Because, as far as I'm concerned, Sozin is the AtLA-verse's answer to Adrian Veidt. Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? indeed. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the fic's last paragraph owes some inspiration to the end of chapter/issue 3 in Dennis O'Neil's (script) and Denys Cowan's (art) truly excellent graphic novel/comic series The Question.
I welcome speculation on who won that snowball fight. ~g~