Harry is not having any fun at all. They’re stuck on a giant metal ship miles away from the Earth Kingdom that they’d been in for a grand total of four days, the land disappearing quickly the farther the ship travels south-west and he just hates it. Fucking Niall.
“Niall, remind me why I’m here?” Harry asks. He knows he’s pouting, okay, but there’s only so much he can do from fifty feet above the water other than barely push it around in small eddies that dwindle just as soon as he’s formed them. It’s boring. Niall, on the other hand, is having a blast, zooming around on his little ball of air and laughing raucously.
“Because we’re best friends, and you didn’t want me to be all alone in the Fire Nation? Also because your family was about to go on, like, a three month long hunting trip into the far tundra, and you hate hunting trips, so you practically begged me to get you out of it. A visit to the Northern Air Temples and the Earth Kingdom was just the cherry on top.” Niall shrugs, easily flipping his body up and over, and just when Harry thinks Niall’s head is going to come into contact with the hard metal of the floor, a steady burst of strong wind comes out of his pointer finger, effectively keeping him upside down and ramrod straight.
Well, Niall doesn’t have his master airbender tattoos for nothing, even if he does still refuse to shave his head. Niall also refuses to tell Harry about how he looked when he was bald for a short period of time in order to receive his tattoos.
“Yeah, but--” Harry doesn’t even know why he’s being difficult. He did ask for this like Niall said. “We only saw the Temples from the air in your smelly sky bison. And we were only on the ground in the Earth Kingdom for like five hours in total when we had to pee or get more food and just now to wait for this ship to finish getting ready.” Harry feels like he’s complaining for no reason at this point, but he’s been in solid air for days and days, and like, he loves the freedom of the sky, okay, but his legs still feel like a custard tart.
“Don’t you call my little Nugget smelly! She’s just...not very interested in baths.” Niall says, sending a look up to the sky where Nugget is soaring above them. “Which, I can relate to, honestly.”
Harry wrinkles his nose.
“Anyway, it’s going to be hot there. The capital is in the middle of a volcano, Niall, how can I waterbend if all the water is, like, boiled away?” He’s pouting, he knows, his body bent over the railing and the fingers on his right hand twirling in circles, aching to get a reaction out of the water so far below them. He gets a bubble of water to lift up a couple of feet after a moment, but it falls apart just as fast as it had been made.
Niall laughs, unbalancing himself, and he topples over, softening his landing with a quick move that lands a breeze below him and lowers him down slowly. He folds his legs over themselves, shrugging at Harry from where he’s sat.
“It’s an inactive volcano, if that helps. No lava, hopefully.”
“Oh, thank -- wait, what do you mean hopefully? If it’s inactive then how is there lava?”
Never let it be said Harry ever gave two shits about the Fire Nation’s geography.
“Well, there’s three types of volcanoes, I think. There’s active, which is when they’re actively exploding and lava’s everywhere and you can’t live there. Then there’s extinct, which is where the volcano has no lava at all anymore, it’s all cooled down and it’ll never erupt again. Then there’s the volcano the capital’s in, which is inactive, which just means it hasn’t exploded in a while, but there’s definitely lava still in it. So, we probably have nothing to worry about. But even if we do, there’s the airships and we can all evacuate.” Niall explains to him, like it’s no big fucking deal that they’re about to be living in a deathtrap for the next year.
“This is worse than I imagined.” Harry says, sending his gaze towards the bow of the ship, and now the less and less they’ve been seeing of land is no longer a sad sign of leaving home behind but an omen of death.
“Worse?” Niall splutters. “You imagined the volcano being active and lava being, like, in your room and there being no water. How is this worse?”
“Because, Niall, now it’s just like waiting to see whether or not a pack of wolves is going to eat you or leave you alone. You’re just sitting there like a lone turtle duck.”
Niall rolls his eyes. “You’re being so fuckin’ dramatic. If you’d just --”
“Niall!” Monk Jarvis says, and Niall and Harry are both quick to bow in respect, fist to palm. He is the ambassador of the Northern Air Temple, where Niall was born and raised, and he is training Niall to follow in his footsteps one day. That was how Harry met Niall, actually, because last year Niall and Monk Jarvis had come to see the Northern Water Tribe to speak with the chief in the capital about some business relating to the Avatar. All the temples had lit up years and years ago, signaling the Avatar’s birth, but no one has actually found the Avatar yet. The Fire Temple had lit up first, which is usually a sign that the Fire Nation is the Avatar’s home nation, but after years of searching, the world leaders decided to expand the investigation to the other nations.
Niall and Monk Jarvis had come to Harry’s small, lonely village out in the middle of the frozen arctic landscape, bringing few belongings and plenty of questions with them. They had questioned the one child in the village whose birthday lay on the day the temples had lit up; Sesi was just a few days younger than Harry himself, and Harry had always admired her strength and talent for cooking. However, she was a non-bender and Niall and Monk Jarvis’ hopes were dashed almost immediately upon discovering this. They had still placed the objects in front of her and asked her to pick three, but she didn’t choose the right ones, as expected.
Every nation has a different method of finding the Avatar. The Air Nation puts a number of different objects in front of the supposed Avatar and asks the child to choose three objects. Only three of the objects in front of the child belonged to the previous Avatar from the Air Nation, and if the child chooses those three, it’s confirmed they are the new reincarnation.
The Fire Nation has the child go through a series of tests to prove their reincarnation. The Fire Sages oversee the process and help the child to connect with their past lives, and if a connection is made, the reincarnation is proven. Harry (and, quite frankly, the rest of the world) has no idea what the tests are; they’re a hidden tactic employed only by the Fire Sages, apparently.
Harry’s own nation goes to the spirit oasis at the Northern Water Tribe and prays to the Moon and Ocean spirits. With their blessings, they have the ability to see Rava’s spirit within the reincarnated Avatar.
The Earth Kingdom has a much more complicated process. They have the child bend the elements in the original order Avatar Wan, the first Avatar, was given the elements by the ancient lion turtles. If the child can bend the elements in the correct order (fire, air, water, and earth) then it is proven the child is the Avatar.
Regardless of the tactics used, they all had one goal: find the Avatar. Sisi had failed one of the tests, and so she would inevitably fail the rest, even if she had undergone them.
Niall had almost immediately stormed out when it was proven that Sisi was not the Avatar and Harry had seen him in a hurry, the tent’s opening flapping behind him in the gust Niall left behind. He had followed, and they had talked, Niall venting his frustrations out in the middle of the field, causing a flurry of snow to drift around them with the wind his irritation had drummed up. They’d been almost inseparable ever since, Harry traveling around the Northern Water Tribe with them at Niall’s invitation. Harry’s father had taken some convincing; as the son of the head counselor of their village, Harry was expected to take on duties from his father, but his mother convinced his father that Harry’s travels would aid him in leading the village.
He just hadn’t expected to leave the Water Tribe with them. But, back to the matter at hand.
“What have I said about that language of yours?” Monk Jarvis continues. Niall turns his head up to where Monk Jarvis is towering over him, stern expression on his face, and Niall smiles up at him widely. They stare at each other for a few moments before the Monk finally gives up a smile, shaking his head fondly at the younger airbender. He ruffles Niall’s hair and they share a laugh.
Monk Jarvis has been Niall’s mentor since he was very young. The air nomad family setup is a lot different than the other nations’; children are kept in contact with their birth family, of course, but once a child shows they can bend and are of walking age, they begin their training with the monks in the upper reaches of the temple. The air nomads are very intent on not being tethered by earthly desires, and one of those is to learn to let go of family, and see that human beings should be no more important to you than another, blood relations or not; the whole of the human race is family, according to the Air Nation.
Harry thinks it’s a beautiful way of thinking.
“So how much longer until we’ll be there?” Niall asks. “Harry’s already going a bit stir-crazy over here.” Niall laughs, pointing a thumb over his shoulder.
“Oi! I didn’t go around poking fun at you when we were stuck in that cave for a week and a half and you went nuts because you couldn’t fly around.” Harry bites out.
He actually had made fun, but it’s the point of the matter.
“Actually, you did make fun of me. A lot.”
So, maybe it isn’t the point of the matter. Whatever.
“Stop, stop; bickering is such a waste of time. We’ll reach the main island tomorrow night, and then we’ll be taken to the capital. We should actually be coming up on the island that holds the Fire Temple tomorrow morning if you would like to see it. Regardless, we’re about to eat dinner, so please come down to the main hall when you’re finished.” And with that, Monk Jarvis leaves in a flurry of bright robes, a sweet breeze coming from him.
Harry turns back to the ocean, the water already darkened since he’d seen it just moments ago. The sun is lower in the sky than he’s seen it in months, a product of being further south than he’s been in -- well, his entire life, if he’s being honest. He’s never gone further south than the capital.
And now he’s going to the fucking Fire Nation, a whole continent away. A week of fast travel. If they had gone on a Water Tribe boat, it would have taken almost a month. Harry’s still trying to wrap his head around it.
Dinner is fine, like usual. The available crew that had their shift off for dinner is jovial and polite and Harry has spoken with almost every single crewmember of this ship because he wasn’t rude, thanks, Niall. The captain usually dined with them in the main cabin, but he couldn’t tonight, so Harry, Niall, and Monk Jarvis wander down to the tables below to sit among the crew. There is quite a bit of singing going on and Niall sings along with a few of the songs he recognizes, although they were all foreign to Harry.
The ship was a product of the Fire Nation, and the crew of the same origin. There were a few waterbenders on the ship as well, of course, delivering goods or messages, visiting family or friends, but everyone was a stranger just the same. Niall, however, had visited the Fire Nation quite a few times in his travels with Monk Jarvis, upon reports of possible Avatars, so Niall wasn’t at all worried about their trip like Harry was. Niall had seen it all before and Harry has always had an overactive imagination.
They turn in an hour later, worry setting into Harry’s stomach as heavy as the Komodo sausage they’d just eaten.
Harry sleeps the same as he had the past few nights of traveling across the globe; he tosses and turns on the still-unfamiliar and hard bed, the creaking of the giant metal vessel around him turning his stomach. He falls asleep at long last just as he sees the sky beginning to lighten up through the port window.
The next morning is no better. The water looks warm and is crystal clear, and that, more than anything, makes Harry really understand that he’s far from home. Off in the distance is a large tower, and Harry remembers Monk Jarvis’ words from the night before.
The Fire Temple.
This temple had been the first to light up the night the Avatar had been born, and that light had sparked a seventeen year long search for a person who may never be found.
The temple is a lot shorter than Harry had imagined in his mind, hearing all the stories of it from his parents and Niall, who had visited here a few years ago. The sages who live there are supposedly the most powerful firebenders in the whole nation, due to their connection with the spirit world, but Harry isn’t so sure; he’s been in contact with the spirits plenty throughout his whole life and he doesn’t see what the big deal is. He can hardly make a wave taller than himself.
As the ship moves along the water, Harry stares at a strange blue light from the sky, steadily growing larger and larger until it lands on the highest tier of the tower. It appears to be a dragon, its wings calmly pulled into the side of his body as it gets comfortable on its new perch. It’s a strange shade of blue and the sun shines directly through it, and Harry recognizes it for what it is: a spirit. Harry would take a guess and say that the dragon is some kind of spirit guardian for the temple, protecting the people and other lesser spirits inside.
Harry had bonded with the spirits back on the outskirts of the tundra, when they would come in from the cold or burrow under the snow and poke their heads up next to the fire. They were all shapes and sizes, floating through all of his family’s belonging and throughout the rest of the village, as well. Oftentimes Harry would wake up with a few of them staring in his face, and he would just give them a welcoming smile, feeling a buzz of delight at their smiles in return. He has yet to successfully communicate verbally with a spirit, but he’s very determined.
The dragon nods to him while they pass, and Harry nods back. He feels a strange connection with the spirit, something more powerful than he’s felt with any spirit before, and his whole body warms up. It’s almost as if the sun that’s shining through the dragon is being focused, right through the spirit’s forehead and landing on Harry’s chest.
The air all around him is heating up and it feels like the sunbeam is sharpening, digging right into his -- his chest, he can’t breathe, what --
“Hey Harry, you gonna come eat breakfast or what? They’ve got some really great eggs in there, I think they’re from like, actual chickens, which is nuts to think about, huh? Don’t see too many of those where you’re from.” Niall’s yelling from across the ship, presumably from the upper deck further back.
Harry lets out a huge breath and immediately gasps in another one, his gaze shooting away from the dragon for just a moment to confirm it’s Niall speaking to him before turning back to the temple.
The dragon’s gone.
“Hey, you alright?” Niall asks, and Harry can hear a gust of wind and the snapping of a glider before Niall is touching down gently behind him. Niall presses a hand to Harry’s shoulder and Harry can sense that Niall is following his gaze to the Fire Temple, which they’re steadily moving past. “You sense something?”
Niall is the only person who knows Harry can see spirits, but even he doesn’t know the entire story. Harry grew up being told spirits were powerful beings not to be messed with by any humans other than spiritual benders and the Avatar, and Harry hadn’t wanted to frighten his family by telling them that spirits were kind of everywhere. Niall, being an airbender, is more in tune with the spirit world than most other people, and he had noticed the same beings Harry did, so it became hard to say he didn’t sense them but -- Niall has no idea the depth that Harry knows these beings by.
“I thought so, but I don’t know.” Harry forces out, still out of breath. “Did you feel anything weird?” Harry asks, because, to be quite frank, he’s beginning to wonder if that whole thing was just a dream.
Niall shrugs. “Nope, sorry.”
They stand there for a few moments more, the sounds of waves hitting the ship’s hull soothing to Harry, familiar, and his breath slowly calms back down.
Harry needs to process this, but right now, he’s just too freaked out. Maybe he’ll bring it up with Monk Jarvis, but for right now…
“You said they had eggs?” Harry turns to Niall, weakly smiling. Harry knows Niall knows it’s an easy out, but the great thing about Niall is that he lets Harry get away with a lot of things.
“Yeah! Really good ones.” Niall claps him on the back again and gently turns Harry towards the other end of the ship, steering him in the direction of the mess hall. “Let’s get some food in you.”
“I just don’t understand why --” The captain has an angry look on his face as he speaks to the boatswain but wipes it away almost the moment he sees the two boys walking his way, “ah, Niall, Harry, how’re my boys this morning?”
“Good, sir, how are you?” Harry takes a seat, setting his tray stacked high with eggs and steamed vegetables, at Niall’s insistence. Niall has even more food on his plate, which is an amazing feat in and of itself; Harry often wonders how Niall has never once broken his vegetarian diet. Niall has immediately set into his food despite the fact that he must’ve already eaten once today.
“I’m doing, well, as best as I can be doing all things considered.” The captain motions down to the table and Harry pulls his gaze that way, noticing a slew of papers in front of the captain. “It seems we’ve run into an engine malfunction of some sort, just started a couple minutes ago, but I can’t see why that’d be. We have all the forms saying everything’s been fixed just when we were in port at the Northern Water Tribe and this whole trip we haven’t had any issues and we can’t locate what caused it.”
Harry shuffles in his seat. A couple minutes ago -- that sounds like right around when he’d seen the spirit dragon as they were passing the Fire Temple. The chatter of crewmen around him, the clanking of Niall’s utensils against each other, the rush of water Harry can always hear around the boat, it all becomes muffled under Harry’s thoughts. So he definitely wasn’t making anything up.
Harry realizes he’s been sitting silent and still for just a moment too long and clears his throat. “Don’t know too much about engines, sir, or I’d offer to help.” Harry offers, and takes an awkward bite of carrot.
The captain laughs. “Can’t imagine you would, where you’re from! You waterbenders don’t need too much help moving about on the seas. Just put a couple of you in a boat, and you’re set; don’t have to worry about mechanical malfunctions or anything.” The captain dismisses the boatswain and takes another look at the engine blueprints, sighing. “Just wish we could figure this out.”
There’s another couple of minutes of relative silence between the three of them before a sound goes off in the corner of the room -- a mechanical clock, which Harry had never seen before until coming to this ship. The Water Tribe had no need for exact measurements of time; they had the tides, the phases of the moon, the seasons, and the sun to guide them through the day, and that was enough. He had seen a sun dial on a few occasions, but that was as far as that went in terms of telling accurate time.
The captain begins folding up all of his papers at the sounding of the clock, and the crew around them finish up their meals before picking up their helmets and returning to their previous duties. Another round of crew people files in as the first group was leaving, and Harry and Niall get the hint: shift change. They finish up their meals, still in silence, and go back outside.
They spend the day trying to spot different and new types of fish, if any; there aren’t many sightings, sadly, but Harry still has hopes for all the new flora and fauna he’ll get to see once they reach solid land. Niall takes a few glides on the air currents above them, explaining that the heat of the Fire Nation allowed for some great updrafts and was great for gliding. Harry plays around with the water below, and even manages to pull up quite a bit and splash Niall right in the face. Niall just laughs at him before drying himself off in a huge gust of wind that messes up Harry’s hair.
Harry slowly grows hotter and hotter in his fur-lined coat and pants and boots, and finally as he becomes coated in sweat and on the verge of passing out does he begrudgingly change outfits to a lighter, but still thick, one. Summers in the tundra still require something a lot thicker than he’s sure is required of the Fire Nation citizens even in the winter. He puts his hair up in a half-bun, doing a few quick braids in front, in order to get the heat off of his face, but even that feels too much after a while, and he redoes his hair and pulls it all back into a bun.
Harry really, really fucking hopes he gets used to the heat soon. It’s fucking stifling.
As the day goes on, the islands they pass begin to cluster together more and more until there’s a steady stream of land beside them, and Harry knows they aren’t too far off. Sure enough, after another hour or so of Harry and Niall slowly becoming bored out of their skulls (well, even more so), there’s a clanging of a gong from behind them on the deck and the sounding of trumpets from shore. They’re close to port.
Monk Jarvis comes out with them, and the ship pulls up to a very large, stark gate. There is nothing visible beyond the gate, but Harry can see soldiers standing on top of it and along the sides, clearly waiting for some kind of correspondence before opening the gate for them. Just as Harry is wondering how much longer it will be, the gong behind them begins again, in a different pattern than before, and the trumpets sound right back, and the gate begins to lower.
It’s a stone gate, which Harry wasn’t expecting, but he can see the gears and levers on the upper level of the crossing that he’s sure controls it somehow.
Once the gate lowers, Harry is blown away. He’d seen glimpses of what the landscape of the main island could be like due to the fact that they’d been passing bits and pieces of the Fire Nation the entire day on the islands, but this was truly a magnificent sight.
The setting sun was just behind the volcano farther back in the island, shooting off its rays around the summit and sending the land before it into shadow, but its people will not be darkened; lanterns of all colors are lit across the roads winding down the side of the volcano and down into the beaches, lighting up the flora around it. The trees here are taller than Harry could’ve dared imagined for such a hot climate; the trees on the tundra were sturdy, tall things, able to brave the cold, but Harry is so glad they grow just as tall here. He loves climbing trees; being close to the sky is such a relief, sometimes.
The ship slowly pulls into the port, the wooden boards of the dock to their right worrying Harry; the ship is just metal, what if they run into it? Surely the dock would shatter. The captain must know what he’s doing, though, because they come to a slow and steady stop without crashing into anything, thankfully.
Harry takes a look around again, paying closer attention to the setup. The port of the Fire Nation capital isn’t too much different than the one back home, Harry notices, but the types of vessels it houses are a far cry from the ones he’s used to. Every ship that’s flying the Fire Nation banner is of the same dark, hard metal, towering tall and strong. He sees a couple of smaller wooden boats with familiar carvings in the side scattered about the port, and welcomes even the smallest sight of home.
As the ship is tied to the wooden docks, Niall tosses his glider between his hands and plays with the straps on his bag out of nerves. Harry fiddles with his own hands and hair, not knowing what to expect now that they’re here. He’d gotten used to the ship. Harry knows that Monk Jarvis is here on official ambassador duties, and with Niall as his trainee, then Niall also has to be on his best behaviour, and fuck, why didn’t Harry realize this also meant that he would have to be on his best behaviour?
The bow of the ship lowers down, and the three of them disembark first as the crew behind them continue their flurry of activity as they ready to deliver their shipment. A few of the crew members will be taking the rest of Harry’s, Niall’s, and Monk Jarvis’ belongings to wherever it is they’ll be staying, and Harry is grateful; he doesn’t think he can carry all of his stuff in this heat.
There’s a group of people standing at the edge of the docks, clearly waiting for the three of them. Monk Jarvis steps out ahead of them and walks quickly down the way, the two younger boys following behind at the same pace.
“D’you know who that is?” Harry asks, quiet even though he knows the people at the end of the docks can’t possibly hear his voice over the clamor of the port. The people who came to greet them are dressed in deep red fabrics and almost black pieces of armor, their long hair piled on top of their head with hairpieces stuck into them as decoration. The closer Harry got to them, the more he can see of them, and the more they looked like a family.
“No, but they look cool as fuck. Look at all those battle scars!” Niall gushes, and Harry looks the family over, trying to pinpoint what battle scars Niall’s blabbering about. Harry turns to Niall to ask what he’s talking about this time, and sees Niall facing the ship to their right; large, burly men are loading cargo onto the ship, and they all indeed have scars in some place or another. Harry spots at least three amputees.
“I meant the family here to greet us.” Harry says, grabbing Niall’s head and pointing his head in the right direction.
“Oh,” Niall says, “Yeah, that’s the Fire Nation’s ambassador and his family. They’re here to welcome us, obviously, and then escort us to wherever we’re staying. We were gonna stay in the ambassador’s guest house, but it’s being refurbished, so they’ve been trying to locate us somewhere else for the time being.” They’re close enough that Harry makes eye contact with one of the children of the family, a boy with the most beautiful face he’s ever seen. He’s got dark hair, tucked into a topknot like the rest of his family, but half of it is long and flushes down his neck.
“Ah, Niall, Harry, this is Ambassador Malik and his family.” Monk Jarvis motions over to the family. The man whom Harry presumes is Ambassador Malik extends his hand forward, and Niall and Harry shake it; Harry has to flex his fingers afterwards. The ambassador has a stronger grip than Harry thought he would have.
“It’s so good to have you both here. This is my wife, Trisha, and our children.” The ambassador points them all out, listing off names Harry is sure to forget later. He’ll get them eventually, he hopes. “Our guest home is still being refurbished, unfortunately, but the royal family has been more than gracious and is welcoming you all with open arms into the palace.”
Harry swears his heart stops beating. The palace? Royal family? As in, the Fire Lord?
Niall hits his arm (in what Harry assumes is supposed to be a subtle gesture but wasn’t at all) and whispers out of the side of his mouth “Did you fucking hear that?”
And much like a few moments ago, what is meant as a whisper comes out much, much louder. Ambassador Malik’s son, the one who looks extremely ethereal, cracks a smile, while Monk Jarvis glowers at them.
Luckily, the ambassador is also harboring a smile and laughs a bit. “If you all would follow me, we’ll be taking a carriage up to the palace grounds.”
Niall and Harry fall behind again as the Malik family and Monk Jarvis walk forward towards the end of the port where Harry can barely make out the bustle of the road. Everything was much more clearly seen from the height of the ship’s deck, but now that he’s on the ground, he thinks he could easily get lost. Harry shuffles towards Niall just a hair, just to be a little bit closer.
“The royal palace! Harry! This is amazing! I thought, you know, maybe a summer home of one of the lords of one of the provinces, but the royal palace!” Niall is practically vibrating in his delight, bits of wind causing Harry’s clothing to flap about and Niall to rise up sometimes when he steps forward. Harry can see Niall’s airbending is having an effect on the younger Malik girls, setting them off into a giggling tizzy as they continuously throw their gazes back towards Niall, not at all subtle. But, whatever, kids are kids. They latch onto anybody interesting enough, and Niall is certainly interesting.
“I didn’t even know our original housing placement was with the ambassador, Niall. I’m not cut out for this. I have no manners! I don’t -- don’t they use, like, weird stuff here? Like, what’re they called, forks? I don’t know how to use a fork.” Harry’s grasping at the ends of his nerves, trying to pull himself back together, holding his heart in his hands as it tries to jackrabbit away. Niall scoffs next to him.
“Forks are easy to use, promise. And you can charm the pants off of anyone in this city, manners aside. You’re going to be fine.”
“Don’t make it sound so easy. There’s going to be princesses and the prince in front of me, I can’t handle that!” At that, Niall turns around with a smirk, walking backwards on quick bursts of air that cause him to float up and down.
“Prince, eh? Now that’s someone you could charm the pants off of.” His smirk is dirty and very telling. The Malik boy up ahead laughs and tries to stifle it, obviously having overheard Niall’s comment.
Harry’s sure his face is more red than the Fire Nation flags waving off of the buildings around them. “Niall! I don’t -- I don’t know how people here react to stuff like that, okay?”
That obviously makes Niall look more concerned. “If anyone says a thing to you, I’ll --”
“Oh, you’ll do what? You took a vow of pacifism for the rest of your life when you got your airbender tattoos, you can’t do anything.”
“He won’t need to, anyway.”
Harry looks ahead to where the voice had come from, and it’s the son that has been eavesdropping. “I’m Zayn, don’t know if you caught all the names, there’s a lot of us. But everyone here is -- well, they should be fine. We don’t have a lot of trouble with narrow-minded people, all things considered.”
Harry isn’t sure what “things” he’s supposed to take into consideration, but well, Zayn does live here, and he seems kind enough. His eyes are warm, and Harry can tell they’ll be friends.
“See, Haz, nothin’ to worry about!” Niall says, feet back on solid ground as he walks in between Harry and Zayn. “I’m Niall, by the way, and this is Harry. He’s from the Northern Water Tribe, so forgive him for the outfit, he’s never felt anything above ten degrees in his life.”
“Not true!” Harry protests, and upon both Niall and Zayn’s inquiring looks, he shrugs. “It got up to thirteen last summer.”
Zayn and Niall laugh at that.
Well, at least this year won’t be completely boring, Harry guesses.
When Harry stumbles out of the carriage, his knees are so wobbly he’s afraid he’ll topple right over into the dirt and he feels back-heavy thanks to the pack strapped around his shoulders.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the carriages soon enough; they’re the main mode of transportation here.” Zayn says, coming up behind him and giving him a steadying hand on his back.
“It’s a lot -- different. We usually get around on sleds pulled by dogs, or on boats, or on foot. Not so much -- rickety carriages pulled by ostrich horses.” Harry takes a step forward, and luckily doesn’t fall on his ass. Niall walks up beside the two of them, and Harry takes a look forward, and well -- up.
The palace is very tall.
It’s beautiful as well, of course, with its swooping burgundy roofs and bone white walls, vines and trees and bushes growing all around the property. It feels ancient, and Harry spies a couple of small spirits dancing around under the shade of a lychee nut tree. They look towards the three of them and wave, and Harry can almost hear them laughing as they dance and smile; he feels bad for not waving back, but Zayn and Niall would wonder what he would be waving at, but Harry hopes the spirits aren’t too mad with just a smile in return.
The ambassador, his wife, and Monk Jarvis are waiting for them at the entrance, as they and Zayn’s eldest sister had gone up in a separate carriage ahead of them. It seems the sister (Doniya, Harry thinks) has gone off somewhere already, but Walihya and Saafa (he’d learned their names in the carriage ride up) stay with them as they walk up the steps to the palace.
It’s so amazing to him that the servants here actually open the door for them. Harry’s never had a door opened for him before in his life. (Well, that’s not true, people did it all the time, but mainly as a courtesy thing, not because of something like this). It’s a bit overwhelming, if Harry’s being honest. They walk in as if they belong, and Harry is just kind of shuffled along, and he stumbles as the smooth stone they had been walking on suddenly switch to a thick carpet along the middle of the hall.
The hall is large; it’s wide and twice as tall and filled with all sorts of swords and tapestries and other old, historical objects that Harry wonders if anyone can see everything that’s in here in a week. The doors at the end of the hall are opened for them again, great, creaking things built of solid wood and beyond the entrance there is a kind of sitting room with a few different halls shooting off from it.
Ambassador Malik and his wife are deep in conversation with Monk Jarvis, and they continue on into one of the halls on the left, wherever it may lead. If Harry thought he would get lost in the block-shaped streets, he can only imagine the kinds of disasters he'll face if he has to go anywhere alone; it's like a fucking labyrinth in here.
"Come on, let me show you to your rooms." Zayn motions to them, and they follow down one of the halls on the right. "The first hall we came in is an older one, and it isn't used much, but it's closest to the guest rooms so that's why we used it."
That was an old and unused hall? What the hell is a new hall then?
"Anyways, that room is usually where tea is held for the guests in the afternoon, but it's a bit late for it right now, which is why it isn't there, sorry. And the halls you saw on the left lead further into the palace, and the ones on the right have the guest rooms. Don't worry too much if you're alone and not sure where you are, there's usually a servant or two somewhere nearby who can direct you where you need to go, if not escort you there themselves." Zayn finally comes to a halt in front of a door and turns the knob. "Harry, this is your room. Niall, yours is the room in the connecting suite, it's just through that door over there."
Harry doesn't even notice where Zayn's pointing to as he's too busy admiring the room he’ll be living in for the next year. Much like the hall they'd come in on, the room is ornate and is home to some delicate and clearly historical relics. There's gold accents in the paint along the walls, complementing the reds that seem to adorn everything here. The bed is fucking huge, with pillows piled high and a thick duvet folded at the foot of the bed, and when Harry walks forward and touches his sheets, they feel cool, like silk. There's a fireplace across from the bed that probably won't get any use by Harry, as hot as it is here, but that doesn't detract from its beauty at all. It's a gorgeous alabaster, and Harry can tell it was carved with a fine hand.
“This is fucking amazing!” Niall yells through the door to his room, and when Harry looks for it, he sees it’s in the back right corner, to the left of the bed and tucked behind a thick and wooden dresser. Zayn and Harry both laugh, and Harry is inclined to agree.
“It is really fantastic, Zayn. Thank you.” Harry carefully places his pack in the center of the bed, not wanting to disturb the fine arrangement of pillows or crumple up the crisp sheets.
“Thank the Fire Lord; he had all these rooms prepared especially for you. When he heard you were a waterbender, he had them put in that basin in the corner; it was imported from the Northern Water Tribe, and if I remember correctly, Louis said it was carved by an elder from the capital.” Zayn says, and he directs Harry’s gaze to a wooden basin with carvings of the phases of the moon, the tides, and a story of the spirits that Harry can barely remember being told as a bedtime story. But the most amazing thing about the basin is that it is filled with crystal, clear water that Harry has only ever seen in one place.
“That’s spirit water.” Harry’s voice is awed, and he walks towards it with trepidation.
“It’s what?” Zayn asks, walking alongside Harry to peer closer.
“Spirit water. There’s a lot of places you can get spirit water from, but the only place I’ve seen it before is the spirit oasis in the capital. All, um, all Water Tribe children are bathed in it when it’s found out that they’re benders, to give them a connection with the spirit world and to gain blessing from the Moon.”
Harry hovers his palm over the water and it glows a blue that Harry never thought he’d ever get to see again outside of an infirmary. “The water is used by healers when there’s something really wrong, as it’s extremely powerful, and it gives a huge amount of strength to anyone who bends with it as opposed to normal water.”
“Why’s it glowing?” Zayn asks.
“Because it’s water that spirits live in. At the spirit oasis, the spirits that reside there are Tui and La, the Moon and Ocean spirits. They decided to live in the human world and created the oasis and then took the form of Koi fish, circling around each other within the pond, pushing and pulling just like the tides.”
It glows brighter, illuminating the entire room, and Harry feels -- he feels amazing. The same warmth he felt from the dragon spirit at the Fire Temple surges through him, and water pulls up his arm without his urging it to, like he and the water are inseparable. “I don’t -- I don’t know how the Fire Lord came across this water, or was able to even take it, but. But this is truly a gift.”
“Well, be sure to let the Fire Lord know, I guess.”
“Lads, why’s there a blue light shining into my room? I’m trying to nap!” Niall calls, and Harry laughs, breaking out of his reverie. The water slides back down his arm into the basin, the glow dissipating and the water stilling. “Thank you!” Niall’s door closes with a bit of a slam, and Harry can hear when Niall falls back onto the bed, the frame hitting the wall that they share.
“Well, whenever you’re done with your fancy spirit water, you should get dressed for dinner. The Fire Lord and his family are hosting a banquet to welcome you to the palace. My family and I are also going, so you won’t be alone, I can easily sit next to you and Niall. But dress nice, at any rate. It’s just going to be us and the royal family, so don’t worry too much about it.”
Harry bends the remaining drops of water off of his arm and watches them plop into the basin, brows furrowing as the ripples hit the carved sides. “I don’t think I have any clothes like that. Niall didn’t really tell me anything about where we’d be staying, so I just brought my normal clothes.”
Zayn looks at him for a moment before walking over to the dresser.
“There should be some… aha!” He opens the door to the dresser, and inside is traditional Water Tribe formal clothing. And, like, multiple outfits, at that. Zayn’s smiling at him, and Harry feels overwhelmed again. He doesn’t even own anything like what he’s been given. “Knew Louis mentioned something about clothes.”
Harry places his hand on the fine fabrics and could almost cry. To avoid tears, he tries to scrounge up a separate topic.
“Hm? Oh, the prince. He’s my best mate, you’ll like him, he’s a laugh. Couldn’t live without him.” Zayn says, as if being best friends with the fucking prince of the Fire Nation is just no big deal.
“Right. Um, how long do we have until dinner?”
“A couple hours, so you have time for a nap or a bath or something. Speaking of, the bathroom is through that door.” Zayn points to the other side of the room, and what Harry had assumed was a door leading to another bedroom apparently leads to Harry’s own bathroom. “There’s a bell in there, so just ring that and a servant will draw a bath for you, bring you towels, whatever.”
“Right.” Harry’s voice is thick. “This is -- I said this already, but thank you. So much.”
Zayn shrugs again. “It’s really not my doing, but you’re welcome. Someone will be by to tell you when you have an hour until dinner, just in case you want to nap or something, so they’ll wake you up.”
Harry nods. “Yeah, think I’ll do that.” It’s not like his being tired is sudden, per se, because he’s been awake for a long time now and hasn’t gotten much sleep the past few nights, but it’s as if now that he can sleep, it’s all his body wants to do right now.
“Night. I’ll see you in a couple hours, yeah?” Zayn says, and leaves once Harry’s said goodbye.
When Harry places his pack onto the floor, he crawls into bed, his head falling on the pile of soft, soft pillows, and he pulls the sheets around him, cooling his body from the heat. Harry falls asleep quickly and deeply.
He doesn’t think he’ll get used to it here, exactly, but it’s certainly really fucking nice.
Harry isn’t woken up by a servant knocking on his door a few hours later. No. Instead, he’s woken up by a crash resounding through the hall just outside of his door. A strange voice Harry doesn’t know is saying “Oh, shit! Shit, shit, shit!” so Harry’s guessing the person broke something pretty important.
Harry takes a look at the mechanical clock hanging on the wall. He’s still a bit unsure of how to tell time on it, but it seems like he hasn’t gotten a whole lot of sleep, at any rate. Certainly not enough for him to feel rested, so he’s annoyed that this person decided to break whatever it is that they did.
Knowing Niall, he’s still asleep like a rock, so Harry deigns it upon himself to go and shut this person up so he can just sleep. Well, maybe not with language quite that harsh. He’ll ask them to shut up, please.
When Harry opens the door, he’s greeted with a boy that looks only a couple years older than him, caked in dirt from head to toe, and clearly trying to clean up the broken pieces of glass around him as quickly as possible without cutting himself. The glass looks gold in some places and silver in others, and Harry feels like it was a vase of some sort, but where it would have come from is beyond him.
“Um...hi?” Harry begins, not certain how to begin this conversation. Does he just come right out and ask this boy to be quiet? Or does he make small talk first?
The boy jerks up, slicing his palm on a piece of glass and cursing.
“Hi. Uh,” He looks confused and harried, eyes jumping to the start of the hall and back to Harry then down to the broken vase at his feet. “This isn’t what you think it is!” He now looks panicked, voice hushed but firm. “I promise. I didn’t steal this.” He looks back down at the glass. “Kind of.”
Harry pauses. “Okay, I didn’t even think you had stolen it or any kind of fishy business like that, but now I’m inclined to believe you’re a thief.” Harry makes himself seem taller, which, what with his latest growth spurt, isn’t that hard.
The boy goes to say something in retaliation, his expression like he’s about to laugh at something Harry’s said, but there’s a shout from far off, echoing down the halls, and the boy looks down to the surrounding pieces of vase again and then looks back up to Harry pleadingly.
“Look, you gotta help me clean this up. Please.” He has a look in his eyes, like if Harry doesn’t help him, he’ll be in huge trouble with -- someone.
“Will it get me in trouble? I don’t want to get arrested for assisting a thief.”
“No! No, you won’t get in trouble, not if I don’t want you to, I promise.” He goes back to collecting glass pieces and placing them in a satchel around his waist and then just plopping it on the ground in between himself and Harry, the top open, and tossing the glass into it. Harry cautiously bends down and begins picking up the pieces, taking care not to cut himself but doing so anyways. The boy’s cuts are deep and bleeding all over the carpet, probably staining it.
“What does that even mean? What would your wishes have to do with anything?” Harry asks, wincing as he grabs a piece the wrong way.
The boy scoffs. “You’ll probably understand later. But it’s really important you don’t let anyone know that I’m here, alright, I’ll be in big trouble if you do.”
Harry just nods. “Sure, whatever.”
As they’re working on getting every last piece, Harry takes the time to look closer at him. He’s got these piercing blue eyes and fantastic bone structure, and Harry swears that he’s even more attractive than Zayn. Is everyone in the Fire Nation this hot?
Pun kind-of intended.
Once all of the pieces are gathered, more or less, the boy quickly throws the satchel over his shoulder and takes off, dirt flopping out of his hair and clothes with every step he takes.
“Thanks!” He calls back to Harry, barely turning his head over his shoulder. “I wasn’t here, yeah?”
And then he turns the corner and is gone and Harry’s left with a few cuts and more questions than answers. He just goes back into his room, healing himself with the spirit water, and lying back down in bed, not getting another wink of sleep.
He lies in bed for a long time, just staring up at the gilded ceiling. The boy’s voice was a lovely, lilting sound that Harry swears he can still hear it.
Harry wonders who he was.
There’s a knock on his door just before it swings open, a servant stepping in.
“Oh!” The servant says, her eyes wide in surprise before they fall down to the ground, her head bowing and folding her hands in front of herself. “I was informed you would be asleep, sir, I do apologize. It will not happen again.”
Harry sits up in bed, a bit confused. “What won’t happen?” He swings his legs to the left and off the bed and stands up, stretching his muscles out.
The girl looks up to him for a moment before looking down again. “My walking in without invitation.” She’s got these long, dark locks that hang in front of her face, hiding herself away.
“Oh,” Harry says, “that’s fine. You didn’t know, don’t worry about it.” He smiles at her, hoping to quell her nerves but she’s still looking down at the carpet, fingers fidgeting. “You can look up, if you want. I’m not royalty, I’m just a boy from the Water Tribe.”
She glances up cautiously, like Harry’s about to take back his word.
“Seriously. It doesn’t matter. You knocked, which is good enough for me. Don’t worry so much about me, yeah?” He smiles again, and she smiles back at him; it’s small, but it’s a start. “What’s your name?”
“Um, Camila, sir.”
“Well, Camila, my name’s Harry. I’ve never actually met someone who’s employed as a servant before, so I don’t really know how to act. Feel free to take advantage of that.”
Camila laughs softly, smile wider and more genuine. One of her hands comes up to brush her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear.
“Alright, um. Harry.” She shuffles her feet a little bit but unfolds her hands. “Thank you for not being mad.”
“Of course. Anyway, I’m guessing you were here to wake me up for dinner?”
“Yeah, I was. It’s in about forty-five minutes, now, but that’s plenty of time for you. Would you like me to draw you a bath?” She points to the clock on the wall behind him, and even if he can’t read the clock that well, he understands how long he has. Harry looks down at himself and sees a bit of blood still smudged into his palms, and some dirt from the boy in the hallway on his clothes.
“A bath would be great, Camila, thanks.”
She nods and then backs out of the door with a promise to return with water.
When she’s gone, Harry goes about looking into the dresser he’d only peeked inside earlier, when Zayn had opened it. The outfits hadn’t been some strange fantasy, after all, as they’re all hung inside, the fabric just as soft as before. He looks at them all, laughing at a couple of the outfits that were awfully stuffy and old-fashioned, but Harry appreciated the variety nonetheless. He chose a few of them and laid them out on his bed, admiring them in the full light. He loved the coloring on one, but thought the fabric felt amazing on another, and still yet a third he knew would flatter his body.
Speaking of, he wonders how they got his measurements.
Camila walks back in while Harry’s still deliberating, only announcing her presence with a short knock before opening the door and walking in with her head held high.
It’s almost a challenge, to see if Harry is going to keep his word. He really likes her already, and can tell they’ll get along well.
“Hey, Camila!” Harry says to her, and the man behind her carrying a few buckets of water stare at Harry and Camila strangely. “Thanks for coming back so soon. So, I had a quick question -- which outfit should I wear tonight?” He motions her over to the bed where he’s got the outfits laid out, and she immediately points to the last one.
“You want to make an impression, right?”
And that’s that.
Camila leaves shortly after, the men going to the bathroom to fill the tub and heat the water. When they step out, steam billows behind them, and they bow to Harry and leave the room before Harry has a chance to tell them that the whole bowing thing really isn’t necessary.
Harry steps into the bathroom for the first time, and he expected it to be nice, but this is gorgeous. The tub and the counter are made of some white stone, carved in swirls that mimic the carvings on the fireplace, and they even look like waves in some places, if Harry looks closely enough. The heat of the water is a bit too hot for his liking, but he gets in anyways, full body; hot water was a luxury back home, and he’s grateful for the opportunity now. There are little soaps sitting on a dish that’s been attached to the rim of the tub and he plucks one up, smelling it; it’s not a scent he recognizes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful. He pours it out from the bottle and scrubs it up into his hair, sighing when he leans back and lets his hair out into the water. He bends it gently, using little flicks of his hand so the water swirls his hair around and gets the soap out without the use of his hands.
It’s the little things in life.
When he’s done, he grabs a towel and dries himself off, then rubs the steam off of the mirror and looks at himself. His skin looks fresher than it has in weeks, and his hair is gleaming. Harry smiles at himself as he picks up a comb, running it through his hair quickly before it curls back up. He walks back into his room with nothing but a towel on, draped around his waist, and -- Niall’s sitting in the center of his bed with formal robes on.
“Hey, Hazza!” Niall looks cheery and like he got an actually decent amount of sleep. He looks like he wasn’t fucking woken up by a thief who couldn’t even steal something without shattering it. “The bathroom’s nice, right?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty sick.” Harry drops the towel, Niall promptly making a gagging noise and hovering himself above the bed and turning himself around huffily, plopping down on the bed again. Harry goes about getting himself dressed and then goes back into the bathroom, the steam having mainly dissipated from the windows, and begins putting small braids in the front of his hair before tucking them into a bun. He spies the soap dish in the mirror’s reflection. “Do you know what scent the little soaps are? I don’t recognize them.”
“You probably wouldn’t.” Niall walks into the bathroom and picks up one of the bottles, taking a sniff. “Yours are different than mine, but this one is a fire lily. They only bloom a couple weeks a year, and they’re really pretty. They have a festival for them every summer, right in the middle of blooming season, it’ll be a lot of fun.” He places the bottle back down, looking at Harry in the mirror. “You look really nice, by the way. They set you up with some new clothes too?”
So, apparently Niall also did not come prepared. That set Harry’s mind a bit more at ease over the clothes.
“Yeah, Zayn pointed them out. Nice, yeah?”
“Really nice. You almost done, anyways? We should probably be heading down, soon.”
Harry tucks back a few wayward strands he knows will come loose again in a few minutes anyways, and then nods. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
They walk out to the hallway and go right, down to the tea room. Once they get there, though, they both quickly realize they have no idea where they should be going. They both stand there for a few moments before choosing a hall at random (this was mainly Niall’s idea) and walking down it.
The hallway turns into a roofed walkway next to a garden that’s full in bloom. All sorts of flora are here, and there’s a gorgeous pond in the center with a family of turtle-ducks, and a tree hanging over the pond. Harry can see spirits walking around, some short and some tall, a few of them splashing around in the water. Harry can feel a draw towards them and the sun seems to narrow down much like it had at the Fire Temple, and it focuses onto the garden in front of him. Harry steps out of his shoes and ignores Niall’s enquiry as to what he’s doing, and takes a step onto the grass in front of him, the firm feeling of the ground calming him and sending warmth snaking up his leg from his toes.
Every single spirit ceases their motions and looks at him.
“Harry? What are you doing?” Niall says, voice trembling. Harry knows he can probably sense the crazy levels of spiritual energy that’s concentrated in this garden but it’s like he can’t speak right now. He just continues walking forward, taking step after step until his toes are being licked by the gentle waves of the pond caused by the breeze flowing through the garden.
It glows. Spirit water.
This must have been where the Fire Lord had gotten the spirit water that’s in Harry’s room; he probably hadn’t even known it was spirit water, probably had no idea the amount of beings that lived in this garden tucked into the palace.
“Harry!” It’s a louder voice, and Harry is pulled from his focus, turning back to see Monk Jarvis at the entrance to the palace. Harry feels like he has no breath left in him and his palms feel insanely hot, like they’re on fire, or have some kind of heat boiling just underneath his skin.
Monk Jarvis is looking around the garden, and Harry knows he can feel the spirits, knows about the air nomad’s powerful connection with the spirit world.
Harry clears his throat. “Yes, sir?”
The Monk is quiet for a moment, glancing between Niall’s stressed expression and Harry’s disheveled one. “We should be getting to the banquet. Come along.”
Monk Jarvis leaves quickly, Niall reluctantly following him before realizing Harry still hasn’t moved. “Come on, Harry.” Niall asks.
Harry nods, and takes a step back, and tries very hard not to notice the fact that a few rocks follow unbidden in his wake.
They’re sitting at the table, a rich, deep red wood that’s glossy and gorgeous and decorated with fine plates and cups and glistening pitchers, talking to each other, when the tall doors are opened and someone walks in. He looks to be a regular servant, but once he steps right in the center of the walkway and more servants begin lining up next to the doors, Harry can tell he’s the butler here to announce whoever is about to walk in through those doors.
The butler takes a deep breath and say, “Her royal majesty, Queen of the Light, Lady Johanna.”
Harry feels his nerves ignite, and he’s quick to stand along with everyone else in respect.
Once the servant steps aside, the queen walks in, a petite, beautiful woman with long dark hair pulled into a topknot on her head, a hairpiece with the Fire Nation symbol stuck into it. Her clothes are black, red, and gold, like everything else here; Harry is definitely sensing an ongoing theme. Her dress also has pieces of armor overtop it, which Harry has never seen; the chief’s family wore soft wool and woven fabrics, but never armor unless one was in battle. Harry wonders if that’s a royal and upper-class thing, or if everyone in the Fire Nation wears something similar. The queen is also very, very pregnant, and positively glowing; she seems like a very kind woman, if her smile is anything to go by.
Once the queen is seated next to the large chair at the head of the table, the servant comes back and announces the princesses and prince as they walk by him and sit at their chairs.
“Princess Charlotte, Princess Felicité, Princess Daisy, Princess Phoebe, and the eldest, the Heir to the Sun and Flames, Prince Louis Tomlinson.”
Only, after Princess Phoebe sits down, there is no Prince Louis Tomlinson to follow. After a couple of awkward moments, Harry can see the queen sending a look to Zayn in question, who just shrugs in confusion at her, not knowing the prince’s location. The butler looks behind him after noticing nobody else walked in, then whispers to a servant next to him, clearly asking where the Prince is. The other servant just shrugs then quickly walks off, and the butler shuffles awkwardly before clearing his throat, it echoing slightly in the large and silent hall.
“And his royal majesty, the Ruler of the Sun and Flames, the almighty Fire Lord Dan.”
The Fire Lord steps inside, in an almost identical outfit to his wife’s with the main exception of his robes being longer and his hairpiece being larger. He seems calm, collected, his steps are sure, and he sits down at the head of the table next to the queen and Ambassador Malik. There’s a seat to Harry’s right that is left empty after all is said and done, and Harry is nervous all over again, knowing who that seat is meant for.
The servants bring out platters upon platters of food and Harry realizes just how hungry he really is, after not eating anything since this morning’s breakfast. Zayn, who’s sat to his left, explains a couple of unfamiliar looking dishes to Harry; there’s typical noodles and soups, of course, but Harry can honestly say he’s never once heard of sea-slug soup a day in his life. It tastes about as good as it sounds, and Niall laughs at Harry’s disgusted expression.
Conversation is delightful throughout the banquet, probably because it’s a relatively small affair. It’s only the Fire Lord and his family, the Maliks, and then Harry, Niall, and Monk Jarvis in attendance. It’s nice.
“So, Harry,” Harry hears one of the princesses across the table ask, “you’re from the Water Tribe?”
She’s the only one of them with blonde hair, and Harry wonders where she gets it from. Neither of her parents are light-haired, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Harry nods as he swallows his bite of Komodo sausage. “Yes, I am. I live in the flatlands, in the tundra of the Northern Water Tribe.”
“Wow! Doesn’t it get cold there?” She asks, taking a delicate bite of a dumpling. “I’ve heard it never gets above freezing. I don’t know how you stand it.”
“Charlotte! We shouldn’t be rude.” The queen comments, and the princess looks down, but Harry caught the roll in her eyes.
“You’re fine,” Harry laughs. “It does get cold, yeah, and it’s below freezing for most of the year, but if you grow up with it, you don’t really notice it at all. But to be honest, I’ve been dying in this heat ever since we got to the first island. I feel like I’ve been in a furnace the whole time.”
Princess Charlotte laughs at him, blue eyes sparkling, and Harry smiles back. Her eyes remind him of the thief boy’s sharp ones, and Harry wonders, not for the first time, who he was. A bit of irritation settles into him as he wonders just why the boy felt it necessary to thrust his secrets onto Harry, but he just hopes he’ll never see him again.
There’s more cheery conversation before the door opens, and everyone looks towards it. Someone is walking through it quickly, head turned down and heading for the seat next to Harry.
The butler is quick to stand where he’s supposed to and announce in a hurried voice, “The Heir to the Sun and Flames, Prince Louis Tomlinson!”
Harry can’t get a very good look at him, but the Prince doesn’t even acknowledge -- anyone, really. Not his parents, not Zayn who is supposedly his best friend, not his sisters. He just sits down and piles food onto his plate.
The hall is silent.
“Louis,” The queen starts gently, presumably not wanting to make a scene, “what have you been up to today?”
Harry can see bandages around the Prince’s hands, and it’s strange. Harry’s gaze follows the Prince’s arm up to his neck and over his cheeks that look so sharp and gorgeous. Unlike the rest of the family, the boy’s hair is down and there is no headpiece in sight. Harry can almost just make out his face, and --
Oh. Oh, no.
“Nothing much. Just went out to market for a bit after my lessons.” The thief -- Prince Louis, replies. This is ridiculous. Inconceivable.
Harry is annoyed beyond fucking belief.
The prince is making Harry lie by omission about the prince’s own whereabouts? For what? So he won’t get in a little bit of trouble, to get out of some scolding? Harry had thought he was saving some poor kid from jail or something, but no. Louis had probably just wanted to get out of an awkward parent-child chat, or a grounding. Fuck him. Fuck. Him.
Harry skewers a piece of Komodo and takes a bite of it. He’s contemplating if and how he can get out of this dinner early when there’s a nudge to his arm and Louis is looking at him with a quirk of his stupidly, perfectly curved eyebrow. Harry just huffs, going back to his food. Louis nudges him again a few minutes later, the banquet obviously close to coming to an end as conversation around them dwindles and the youngest princesses and Walihya and Saafa are escorted off to bed. Harry looks up to him again and scowls and turns back away, and Zayn and Niall have caught on by this point. Harry shakes his head at Niall’s curious looks.
Once dinner ends and the Fire Lord, the queen and the princesses leave to go to bed or whatever else royal people do after dining. Louis stays behind and walks out with the rest of them, walking next to Zayn and they converse in hushed tones, Zayn motioning back to Harry and Louis clearly trying to deflect the topic elsewhere.
Harry can spy some dirt smudged along Louis’ collar.
It doesn’t make the situation any better.
That night, there’s a knock on his door. Harry begrudgingly gets up, muttering will I ever get any fucking sleep under his breath as he shuffles over to the door. He opens it, twisting the strangely shaped golden knob. It’s more like a handle than a doorknob, for some reason.
There’s his royal jackass, right in front of him, standing over the blood stains he left behind earlier.
“Hi,” Louis starts, and Harry folds his arms in a defensive position over his chest, “look, I don’t know what I did to piss you off. I wasn’t lying to you about anything, earlier.” Upon noticing Harry’s stance, Louis straightens himself up, trying to seem taller than he really is. Harry takes a brief interest in their height difference before mentally shaking the thought.
“It’s irrelevant. You didn’t tell me enough information, so--”
“I was in a hurry!”
“So, I had no idea who you were, yeah? So I thought I was assisting a thief. I thought you would be thrown in jail. So that’s why I didn’t tell anyone about you. But instead, it’s because you, what? Didn’t want a scolding from your parents? Didn’t want a couple hundred dollars taken off of your allowance?”
Harry is probably (definitely, absolutely) pushing his luck here. He’s speaking to the crown prince and heir of the Fire Nation like he’s a sack of shit, but Harry has something Louis doesn’t want him to reveal, so. He’s pretty sure he’s safe.
Louis scowls. “How dare you! That is not the reason I didn’t want you to tell anyone. I just--” At this, Louis stops talking abruptly, cutting himself off.
“You just what?” Harry presses.
“I don’t have to justify myself to you.” Louis says indignantly, tossing his head back and scowling. He’s such a child.
“You do, actually.”
“Fuck you. I have my reasons. You don’t have to know them.”
And with that, Louis stalks off.
“I could tell everyone, you know!” Harry calls as silently as he can down the hall, and Louis’ steps falter. “I could.”
Harry doesn’t know why Louis wants this secret kept so badly, but clearly he does, and Harry wants answers. He’s not above a bit of sabotage.
Although, this is really not Harry’s style. He doesn’t get this angry, at anything, ever. It’s like this whole place has set him spinning in the wrong direction. Harry’s always been like the water -- he’s been able to push and pull, give and take, balance himself out with the person he’s fighting with. But with Louis -- it’s like Louis is fire itself, set on burning everything up in his rage, and he’s somehow caught Harry in the flames.
“You wouldn’t dare.” Louis says coldly, looking back at him.
Louis just walks away, and Harry goes back to bed, blood boiling in his veins.
It lasts a week. Every time Louis comes forward to talk to Harry, he just turns the other way. When they sit next to each other at mealtimes, Harry forcibly moves his whole body to face Zayn completely.
After a week of walking the other way in the hall, of walking out of a room, of being petty as hell but keeping it up anyways, Zayn invites himself and Niall out to the market. Harry and Niall have been cooped up in the palace the whole time, and while they’ve had fun exploring small sections of it, they both feel weird about going beyond where they’re allowed.
Harry cautiously climbs into the carriage, the ostrich horse in front squawking and making Harry jump and trip up the steps.
Niall laughs, of course, Zayn asking if he needs a hand, but then there’s a third voice saying “Should be more careful, there. Wouldn’t want the ostrich horse to eat you, would we?” in a biting tone. Zayn helps Harry back up and into the carriage, and Louis climbs in after the two of them, sitting next to Zayn and across from Harry.
Niall gets in as well, closing the door, and they’re off. Harry tries to seem calm and collected, but he’s probably failing pretty hard, considering he’s grasping the cushioned seat with both hands. They make their way down the volcano-side at a faster pace than what Harry would deem appropriate or safe, but soon they’re out of the foliage-covered path and moving into the streets, homes and stores popping up around them in higher frequency the further they travel down.
Zayn and Niall are carrying on a conversation with Louis occasionally chiming in, something about expandability of fire and how similar the arts of firebending and airbending are extremely alike in their ability to gain height and strength using the same vortexes or whatever, and Harry’s pouting again.
He’s staring out the window to his left, trying to make sense of the streets they’re passing through on the off-chance he’ll come out here by himself or with Niall one day, when they go over a large bump or a hole or fucking something that jostles Harry out of his seat and onto the floor and right in front of Louis’ knees.
Harry looks up and Louis is already looking at him and they make eye contact. They both blush at how Harry is positioned right at Louis’ feet, as if --
Harry scrambles backwards and up into his seat and tries not to hear Louis opening the small slat and asking the driver to be more careful.
The market is lively and beautiful. There’s people everywhere, selling all sorts of wares and pulling strange animals with carts behind them full of food Harry has never seen before.
Harry’s sure his eyes are wide, the stupid waterbender from a secluded, snow-covered village experiencing the outer Fire Nation for the first time. Zayn is letting him explore, though, which is great.
The part of the market they were dropped off in was the food market, so Harry feels most comfortable here. He can look at the things being sold without feeling like he’s imposing; almost every other person here is staring at the fruit and pies and soups and snacks, deciding if they’re worth their money or if they should move on. Harry moves his hand out to grab a strange looking fruit; it’s a bit oblong and clustered together on a branch, but just as he’s about to grab it to take a closer look, his hand is bright red and throbbing from pain.
He looks around to see what happened, and sees the owner of the fruit stand in front of him, a wide stick in his hands.
“You touch it, you buy it, kid.” The man says in a gruff voice, and Harry touches the back of his hand, where it’s hot and hurt.
“You want to get kicked out of here?” Louis says, walking up behind Harry out of nowhere. The man looks over to Louis with a sneer, but Harry can see the precise moment that he recognizes Louis, because his eyes widen and he drops the stick and bows, deeply. “You let my friend here peruse your fruit stand and take what he wants. I’ll reimburse you for whatever products he decides he’d like.”
Okay, Harry appreciates Louis giving this fucker an earful, but -- friend? Really? Harry feels like rolling his eyes at Louis’ little display of power, honestly. He didn’t have to emphasize on the “friend” label.
Whatever, if he wants to pay for Harry to get whatever, he’ll just grab some random shit.
He picks up the clustered fruit he’d wanted to look at in the first place, as well as a small bag of lychee nuts. He looks at Louis, who nods and motions Harry over to where Zayn and Niall are standing, buying some kind of snack and not paying any attention to Harry and Louis.
Niall turns around once he’s got his food and sees what’s in Harry’s arms.
“Ooooh, ash bananas! I love those.” And he takes one of the fruit off of the cluster, taking a bite into it. “Where’d you even get the money for these?”
Zayn side-eyes Niall. “Don’t talk with your mouth full, babes.”
Niall swallows his food with a bashful smile and Harry glances between the two. Babes. Alright, then.
“Erm, Louis.” Harry doesn’t feel like elaborating right now, so he doesn’t, but Niall gives him a look that Harry knows means they’ll be talking about it later.
With the sun high overhead at this point, Zayn recommends they move along to the more covered part of the market, where they sell clothes and jewelry and such. The fabrics here are so much lighter than back home; they’re thin and cool to the touch, all sorts of vibrant colors. While the overwhelming majority of people are wearing some shade of red on their person, there are also greens, purples, oranges -- anything, really. Harry’s looking at some thin, loose and sky blue pants when someone walks up behind him.
“You have a real habit of coming up out of nowhere, you know.” Harry says, barely turning his head.
“Look, I know you’re mad at me, and...well, for good reason.” Louis says and Harry looks up at him when he says that. “I should’ve explained better that first time we met. And I should’ve realized your anger is justified.” Louis isn’t really making eye contact with him, and while his body is more or less hunched in on itself, Louis isn’t purposefully avoiding Harry’s gaze; it’s just that his embarrassment causes his body to do this subconsciously. “I’m sorry.”
Harry looks at him for a few moments and lets out a breath.
“Thank you.” Harry replies, his hands not having much to do, so he goes back to fiddling with the pants. “Both for your apology and your, uh, help. Earlier.”
This is possibly the most awkward conversation Harry’s ever had. He doesn’t get mad at people for this precise reason; the making-up is the worst part of any fight.
Louis looks down at the pants in Harry’s hands. “You’re welcome,” He says. “Would you like those pants?”
Harry looks back to the article of clothing and sets it down softly, trying to fold it back up the way he had found it; he doesn’t think he succeeds.
“Not really.” Harry moves on down to the next stand, the gaps between the awnings letting a sliver of bright light through. This one sells jewelry, and even more specifically, beads. Harry smiles as he sinks a couple of fingers into one of the bowls, imagining what he could do with these.
“D’you like beads?” Louis asks. The conversation between them right now is stilted and awkward, and they both recognize it. Harry hasn’t told Louis he’s forgiven, and Louis hasn’t given up his reasoning for his actions, but they’re at a bit of a stalemate, it seems.
“Yeah.” He picks one up, a fiery red one that matches the cloth on Louis’ shirt, and puts it in his palm to show it to Louis. “Back home, it’s traditional for waterbenders put beads in their hair. Most people nowadays do it anyways, bender or not, but it’s still supposed to be a mark of how good you are. Master waterbenders, or the chief and his family, they have tons of beads in their hair in all sorts of braids and such. Only ever could afford a couple, myself.” Harry says, putting it back down. It’d be strange for him to have a red bead anyways; the beads used to signify mastery of waterbending were always a light blue, like the ice or snow when it’s reflected off the water. Other blues denoted other levels of mastery; darker blues were for beginners, and the more one understood waterbending, the lighter the color. The chief’s beads were pure white, like the Moon.
Harry sees Louis pick up the red bead when he moves on, and he’s sure Louis buys it, but what he would use it for is beyond him.
They return to the carriage, and dinner is held in the dining hall, but it’s just the four of them tonight. Apparently the Fire Lord had to attend some sort of meeting with Monk Jarvis and Ambassador Malik at Fire Temple Island, and the queen and the princesses were out visiting some lady on the other side of the city. Their conversation is light and it flows easily, even though Harry and Louis are still trying to work around each other.
Louis apologized, and it’s a start. Harry meant it when he said fighting isn’t his thing.
They’ve been in the Fire Nation for about a month when one morning, Niall barges into his room at -- fuck, seven in the morning? Seriously?
Harry’s gotten used to the clock, and he’s never hated knowing the time more. But just one week, he’d like to have a solid, good sleep schedule. Just one.
“Niall, if there isn’t a good reason for this--” Harry says, turning over and muffling himself in his pillow.
“We’re going to the beach!” Niall says, jumping onto the bed and flying off the other side (literally; the wind from the blonde’s bending move takes Harry’s blankets clean off the bed).
“The what?” In Harry’s exhausted mind, all he can think of is the shoreline back home with its crags of ice and freezing waters and turtle seals.
“The beach! The hot sun on our back, the water on our side, the sand, the food.” Niall starts wagging his eyebrows like a skeevy merchant trying to sell week-old fruit.
Harry’s really tired, okay?
“And why are we going there so early?” Harry huffs out, sitting up and trying to push his hair out of his face but it just keeps falling back over his eyes and flying into his mouth. He ends up just showing it all back in a horrible, disorganized way, but it does the trick, thankfully. He rubs at his eyes and jaw, trying to rub all the sleep away, and cracks his back, Niall making a gagging sound at the noise.
“Because we’re taking one of their airships.” Niall says, like it’s such a casual thing to be flying around in a giant, air-filled hunk of metal.
“Can’t we take Nugget?” Harry whines. “I’d much prefer the smell to imminent death, thanks.”
Harry climbs out of bed and goes to the bathroom, drawing water out of the tub that was leftover from his bath last night and funneling it into a ball in his hands. He’s been practicing a few tricks, and even if the water’s a bit dirty, he splashes it onto his face a bit to wake himself up some more.
“There’d be nowhere to keep her, really, so, no.” Niall says, having followed him in.
Harry groans and passes Niall and goes back into the bedroom. He’s gotten used to his room, which is something he never thought possible, but after a month of living here, Harry can definitely say it all gets old. The ornate tapestries become something that is hardly noticed, the glittering dishes and silverware are things he’s used to; it all became mundane, somehow. He’s become complacent.
“I can’t believe this. I’m being shoved into a giant metal contraption held up by magic--”
“Oooh, no, forced to have fun! How dare we!” Niall mocks. Harry laughs at him good-naturedly.
He sorts through his closet, wondering what he should even wear; he’s never been to a beach before but there is a pool on the far side of the palace grounds that they’ve frequented, so he knows to take some bathing shorts with him. He takes those out first, tossing them on top of his unmade bed.
That’s another thing; Camila got so frustrated with him whenever he’d make his own bed he’s now gotten into the habit of not making his bed up. His mom’s going to hate it when he goes back home. Harry fiddles around with a few other loose shirts and puts them on the bed, as well.
“How long are we going to be there?” Harry asks idly, wondering to himself why Niall isn’t also packing. Whatever, though; Niall always leaves things to the last minute.
“Just a week or so, Louis was a bit inconclusive.” Niall makes a noncommittal movement with his hands. “For all I know he’s taking us for the night.” Niall makes a face. “That came out wrong.”
Harry just rolls his eyes in response.
“It doesn’t really matter, anyway.”
He’s gained quite a large wardrobe while being here. Harry had come with only thick, fur-lined clothing, but now his wardrobe consists of thin, loose fabrics that flow down his body like rain. A lot of them had actually been gifts from Louis; they were still at a strange impasse, trying to work their way around each other, and Louis was apologizing in an odd way.
Harry doesn’t think Louis knows he likes the gestures, but he does. Like them, that is. They’re very sweet and kind thoughts.
The conversation between Louis and himself has also been a bit stilted, but it’s getting there; that first week of Harry ignoring Louis had left them both on unsure ground, not knowing how to move around each other or look each other directly. They’ve both been trying, though, and it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be. Harry would even go so far as to say they’ve become friends, at this point.
When Harry pulls out yet another loose, flowery shirt, Niall picks it up and eyes it.
“Yet another gift from the prince, eh?” Niall waggles his eyebrows. Harry snatches the shirt back and the two make faces at each other before laughing. “Seriously, Hazza, you gotta let that boy off the leash at some point. Can’t make him buy you shit forever.”
Harry’s smile softened as he held the shirt in his hands, feeling the smooth fabric. “I know, I know.” Harry sighed. “I’ll tell him this week, yeah?”
“What did he even do to piss you off? You still haven’t told me, y’know.” Niall reminds him for arguably the hundredth time.
“Yeah, and I won’t, so.” Harry replies, pulling out a drawer and grabbing his pack to put his clothes into. Never let anyone say Harry Styles doesn’t keep his promises.
Niall, as it turned out a little bit later, is already packed and ready to go. They take their packs and walk down the hall, maneuvering around the place on their own until they get outside.
“Zayn said the ship leaves from over by the volleyball courts. Said we would definitely notice it, so I guess we’ll just head over there?” Niall doesn’t sound very sure, but it’s better than nothing. They head off in the right direction (hopefully).
“So why are we going, anyway?” Harry asks, shifting the pack on his shoulder.
“Um, because the beach is fucking amazing?” Niall replies, sending an incredulous look at Harry over his shoulder.
“Did you even have time to go last time you were here?” Harry thought Niall spent all of his time in the center of the main island when he was here a few years ago.
Niall shrugs. “Nah. But they have a really nice one in Kyoshi Island, as well as some beautiful ones in the southern Earth Kingdom. And with the clear water here? I’m sure it’s even better.”
Harry finishes packing up a few minutes later, and when Camila comes in like she has every morning, he tells her they’ll be gone for a while. She just looks down at the floor where Harry’s accidentally left a shirt and picks it up, rolling her eyes at him.
“Leaving me here to clean up your mess, are you?” she teases and Harry laughs.
“Not quite, but it’s tempting.”
Camila rolls her eyes at him and hangs the shirt up in the dresser. Harry always tries his best to clean up after himself and just watching her put the shirt away makes him feel bad.
“I am sorry about that. I would’ve picked it up if I’d have seen it.” Harry apologizes and Camila just waves him off.
“Don’t worry about it, Harry, seriously. Now have fun at the beach.” She gives him a hug and Harry notices she smells like rosebuds; it’s very nice. They say goodbye to each other, and then he and Niall are off.
When they get to the edge of the volleyball courts, they look around, but there’s no airship in site. It’s a bright, sunny day out with clear skies, so Niall decides to have a look around from up top to try and see if he can spot it. He shoulders his pack more firmly and opens his glider. Niall runs a bit and then jumps up, kicking up a gust of wind to lift him up to a wind current.
Harry loves watching airbending. It’s such a fluid element, so much like water in its capabilities. Fire was hot and quick, but after watching Zayn and Louis train a few times, Harry can say that fire is the same way. They’re all elements that can be moved with, can be manipulated with a flick of your wrist and slides down your arm, out of our mouth, move around your feet. It’s -- Harry will never be over the inexplicable feeling of pure connection he gets whenever he bends. It’s exhilarating, and watching Niall move in the sky makes Harry almost nostalgic for something he’s never experienced.
“Where’s Niall and Zayn?”
Harry turns around and sees Louis on the court behind him, a pack over his own shoulders.
Harry points upward. “Niall went to go find the airship you said would be here. Figured Zayn would be with you.”
Louis shrugs. “Guess if the airship isn’t here, then Zayn went to go get it. It’s kept down near the port. He also to pick up Liam, probably.”
“Who’s Liam?” Harry asks, watching Niall begin his descent back down, dropping from current to current.
“Earth Kingdom prince. He’s here to visit for the summer and we’re going to be hosting him.” Louis looks uncomfortable talking about him, for some reason. “We were good friends when we were younger, but now--”
Niall lands in front of them, and Louis’ interrupted by Niall speaking.
“Saw the airship coming up from the port. Should be here in a couple minutes.”
Both Harry and Louis nod.
“So how long are we going to be there?” Harry starts the conversation back up after a few awkward moments of shuffling feet.
Louis shrugs. “About a week, probably. Last time Liam was here he really liked it, so Dan said I should take him again. You all are joining me because it would be ‘indecent’ for just me and Liam to go.” Louis makes air quotations and an annoyed face when he says “indecent,” and Harry is confused.
Louis looks up at him, a bit surprised. “You don’t--”
There’s a whirring sound from above and a massive gust of wind that Niall is quick to deflect around them. The airship glints in the mid-morning sun, and Louis wasn’t joking when he said it’s smaller than the average military airship. It can easily fit the four -- well, five of them, but not much else. It lands with a few creaking noises that do nothing to alleviate Harry’s worry over climbing aboard.
He can see a furnace in the center of the ship, the funnel of which sticks up in the center of the top. It seems that the fire somehow inflates the top, causing the ship to rise, as there is no fire and it’s on the ground. But what does Harry knows, really.
It’s strange, because while Harry doesn’t feel any fear of the thought of flying like Niall can, and he wasn’t afraid when he was on Nugget, either, he gets so frightened over the thought of being on the airship. Maybe because he has no control over it? He doesn’t quite understand it.
Harry must have looked worried because a moment later Louis’ hand is on his arm, rubbing his thumb against the skin in a soothing motion.
“It may not look like much, but it’s solid and has never failed us before. This was made for me when I was a child. It was a gift from Dan while he was still courting my mom. It’s literally made so that a child can fly it without too much trouble.” Louis says to him, guiding him up the ramp of the ship. Louis opens up a compartment to their right and puts his pack inside and holds his hand out for Harry’s.
That’s something else Louis has taken to doing. Just -- random niceties, like taking his pack for him, or holding his jacket that night when they went to the opera and it wasn’t as cold as Zayn told Harry it was going to be.
“Thanks.” Harry says, plopping down in one of the seats and strapping himself in. Louis laughs but sits down next to him nonetheless.
Niall and Zayn are busy chatting next to them as they hoist up the small ramp.
It’s a stranger’s voice, and Harry knows this must be Liam. Harry turns his head to see a boy of average height and short, curly hair. He’s a bit built, to be honest -- a lot more than Harry is, but Harry suspects that earthbending does take a lot more forceful movement than the other elements do. The boy is all smiles and Louis stands up next to him, and they both hug tightly, Liam tucking his head into Louis’ neck.
“Missed you, mate.” Liam says when they pull back, and Harry feels strange, watching them in front of where he’s sitting, strapped to the aircraft when they haven’t even taken off yet.
“Missed you, too, Li!” Louis replies, and his smile is wide and his eyes are crinkled. Harry’s only seen that expression a handful of times, and they’ve always been directed towards either Niall or Zayn. And like, okay, it’s Harry’s fault that it’s the way it is, but still. Louis’ hands are resting on Liam’s arms, soft and familiar.
Liam sees Harry out of the corner of his eye and turns to face him.
“Hi! You must be Harry.” Liam sticks his arm out for a handshake, and Harry feels so weird, now, that he’s sitting down and buckled in, but it would be weirder for him to unbuckle himself now. Right? Right. “I’m Liam. But, you probably knew that already.”
Harry takes Liam’s hand and shakes it. Liam has a firm grip, and Harry wonders if it’s because Liam’s posturing, or if it’s just a naturally strong one. Considering Liam’s gentle demeanor, Harry’s going to guess the latter.
“Yeah, I’m Harry. It’s nice to meet you.”
“You get enough sleep last night, Harry?” Zayn leers at him. Harry just furrows his brows in confusion.
“Uh...yes?” Harry replies, his hand still awkwardly in a loose handshake with Liam, so he pulls it back. “Why?”
“Heard from someone that you and Camila are real close.” Zayn winks and Niall laughs, and Harry is pretty sure who that “someone” is. Harry purses his lips at Niall.
“Camila and I are friends, yes.”
“Who’s Camila?” Louis asks, and when Harry turns to answer him, he notices that Louis looks irritated.
“She’s my maid.” Harry says and Liam’s eyes widen.
“You’ve a girl assigned to you?”
Harry shrugs. “Yeah? So?”
“Just strange, is all.” Liam answers, and Harry feels -- weird.
“Camila is very kind and very good at her job. I don’t think it’s very strange at all, just because she’s a girl, to have her help someone while they’re staying here.” Harry bites at him and, alright, what is his problem with getting off on the wrong foot with royalty?
Liam’s mouth drops and his hands come up in a defensive gesture. “No, no! That’s not what I meant. It’s just -- I’m sure she’s kind and sweet and stuff, but girls aren’t really supposed to be assigned to men. Like. It’s a custom kind of thing, not a ‘what I think’ kind of thing.” Liam replies. Harry just shrugs at him. This is so much for this early in the morning.
“And in any case, Camila and I are just friends. Just because she’s a servant doesn’t mean she deserves to be treated like shit. She was scared out of her mind the first time she met me because she came in to wake me up and I was already awake. Says a bit more about you than me that I wanted to make her comfortable.” Harry goes on and the other boys look chastised.
The conversation moves on to something else after a few awkward moments, though.
The other boys get seated as well, and Harry notices none of them use the seat restraints, so he carefully undoes them and hopes nobody notices. When he sees Louis wink at him a moment later, he assumes he’s not too successful.
Zayn and Louis both show off by doing a couple of quick fist moves to reheat the engine, rather than just snapping their fingers like Louis had done the other night at a bonfire. Nonetheless, the coals ignite into higher flames and the ship begins to lift up. Louis mans the sails and it flies a lot smoother than Nugget’s darting movements, despite Harry’s worries.
Harry can’t help but notice, however, that Liam and Louis seem to talk exclusively to each other. Louis did say he and Liam used to be best friends, but it had sounded like Louis was about to go on to say something else about how their relationship presumably changed, but it looks to Harry like they’re as close as ever.
Harry just sits back and falls asleep at the gentle lulling of the wind in his hair.
The beach is hot. Harry doesn’t really know why he expected anything less.
Living on top of the volcano allowed for the winds to funnel through fairly easily, and while there’s a gentle breeze coming off of the waves, the sand is scalding and Harry feels like he’s boiling.
Well, not completely. There’s water, even if the water looks really strange. He remembers seeing how clear it was from the ship when he had first arrived, and it looks no less odd to him now.
“Come on, Harry!” Louis yells as he races past where Harry’s sat underneath an umbrella and laying back on a blanket. Louis somehow manages to kick up sand directly into Harry’s face, resulting in Harry coughing for a bit and trying to spit the sand out of his mouth.
“Sorry about him,” Liam says, walking up to Harry much more calmly. “He’s a bit wild, sometimes.”
The way Liam is smiling fondly at Louis splashing in the waves next to Zayn and Niall makes Harry irritated, for some reason. Liam has a history with Louis that Harry doesn’t and will never have, but Harry still feels like he should lay claim to something.
“Yeah,” Harry says, laying back down. “I have lived with him for a month now.”
He doesn’t really notice what Liam’s physical reaction is, as he’s closed his eyes, but he does sense Liam sit down next to him on the blanket.
“Lou told me you two didn’t get on too well, at first.” Liam says after a few silent minutes, and Harry sighs. It’s going to be that conversation. “Says you two still don’t really get on, even.”
“Yeah, I was stupid and held a dumb grudge longer than I should have.” Harry replies, still not looking. He’s embarrassed over his actions, if he’s being honest. Louis’ been very kind to him since that day in the market. “And it’s a bit awkward sometimes, yeah, but I -- well, I think it’s over for the most part. Obviously I don’t know how Louis feels about it.”
“Louis wouldn’t tell me what it was over,” Liam’s voice trails off, and Harry can hear the obvious question in it.
“If Louis doesn’t want you to know, then you shouldn’t know.”
Liam chuckles, if a little self-deprecatingly. “Yeah, I know. It’s just...I feel like he holds so much back from me, you know? Like, he shouldn’t, considering, but he does, and I don’t really like it very much.”
“Louis doesn’t owe anybody anything.” Harry adds in, a smirk on his lips. He opens his eyes to peek at Liam and sees a small smile. “You should know that, you’ve known him longest.”
“Not really. We met when we were really young, sure, but he’s known Zayn since they were born. They’ve done everything together. I could only come over the summers, and I haven’t been able to make it in years, what with my sister’s upcoming coronation.”
Sometimes Harry forgets he’s managed to make friends with royalty.
Harry hums in acknowledgement, not really sure what else he should say to that. But, it doesn’t seem like he has to, because Liam continues on.
“I’ve missed him a lot. And with all this pressure, you know, I don’t know how Louis feels about the situation but I feel so bad a lot of the time, but I figured I should come by so we could have some time to be just us without everything else?” Liam looks really unsure, fiddling with his hands.
Harry’s about to respond when Louis yells up at them from the edge of the surf, waving his arms high above his head and the sun glistening on his tanned, sweet skin.
“If you two don’t get your asses in this water, I’m kicking you both out of the country!”
Harry smiles, and he and Liam stand up at the same time. They smirk at each other before racing down the burning sand, and while Liam wins (Harry’s pretty sure he cheats by earthbending himself farther down) Harry is just thankful that the water is cool enough to soothe his hurting feet.
“Harry, you gonna just let Lima beat you like that?” Niall calls out, just before he’s tackled from behind and goes under the water.
Harry turns to Liam with a grin and flicks his wrist, sending a wave directly up Liam’s back, sufficiently soaking him. Louis laughs so hard he’s bent over, and Harry feels joy spur through his veins.
And if he looks a bit too closely at Louis’ ass, well. That’s nobody’s business, really.
The rest of the day goes much the same way. All five of them joke about on the beach, chasing each other in and out of the waves and through the hot sand. He and Liam build a sandcastle with a beautiful (if Harry says so himself) moat around it. Louis and Niall proceed to act like an invading army, stomping through the castle while Harry and Liam try to fend them off. Zayn goes off to get them some fire gummies and comes back with enough to feed the small army of Louis and Niall, but the rest of them are left with nothing.
“The conquests don’t get a say. Now stay back down, peasant.” Louis says when Harry speaks up about them hogging the food, and he proceeds to put his foot on Harry’s shoulder and press down a bit, smile staining his lips. The way Louis looks like this, towering above Harry in all of his compact and curvy glory, is a bit stressful, if he’s being honest.
Later Louis buys Harry his own bag of fire gummies, the other boys complaining at the unfair, clearly biased treatment. Harry pretends the redness of his face is from the spiciness of the snacks and not how Louis is paying him special attention and commenting on how well Harry’s braids are done today.
They walk around the beach market stalls while the sun is setting. Lanterns are lit and people are milling about, locals and tourists alike. When they finally go back to Louis’ beach house, it’s far past dinner without any proper food in their stomachs, so Harry volunteers to make them something. The boys go back out onto the beach where a volleyball game is going on with some locals.
There aren’t a lot of ingredients that he’s familiar with, but he sees something that looks vaguely like sea prunes, so he quickly whips up a sea prune stew.
When they had dropped their belongings off at the house earlier in the day, they hadn’t stayed much longer than to quickly change and get out on the beach, so he hasn’t seen much more than his temporary bedroom. And, while his bedroom is gorgeous in its open layout and smooth wooden floors, the kitchen is perfect. Harry can see the waves crashing through the window of the kitchen as he washes some seaweed off before dropping it into the pot of boiling water he’s got going. One handy thing about having firebenders around is that you don’t need to fiddle with a flint for ages before you get a fire going.
He holds the not-quite sea prunes in his hands, surveying them. They seem tougher than sea prunes, and they’re definitely smaller. Not to mention, they’re attached to a leafy substance, but whatever. He washes them off and puts them in the pot along with some chopped carrots and a few spices. It’s not quite sea-prune stew, because Niall is vegetarian and a real stew includes meat, but he’s hoping it’ll be good anyway.
He watches the boys playing volleyball out the window, watching as Louis spikes a score. There is no volleyball in the Water Tribe, but Niall has spoken about it on quite a number of occasions that Harry can remember a few terms.
He sees a glint of light off the waves that’s brighter than the moonlight, and he focuses his gaze on it. Something’s rising out of the ocean, some great, large spirit that marches away from the land in huge, lumbering steps.
As he stirs the soup, sprinkling in some salt, he hears the door open at the front of the house. Harry turns around, expecting Niall demanding when the food will be ready, but it’s Louis, actually, with Liam close behind. He watches them over the bar as they shut the door gently and kick off their shoes by the mat. They look to be in a quiet, closed conversation, so Harry turns back to the food he’s cooking to give them more privacy.
As they get closer to the kitchen, Harry hears them talking.
“...-ing, Li, it’ll be easier when everything’s over.”
“Easier for who, Louis? You? Because it sure as hell won’t be easy on me.”
“Look, if you love Sophia so much, then stay with her! It doesn’t matter!”
“It’s -- you know it’ll be more complicated than that. I don’t want to hide her.”
“Neither of us can get out of this, so you’ll have to if you want her that much.”
Harry got the feeling he really shouldn’t be listening to this, so he quickly comes up with a means of distraction.
“Oh, hey!” Harry says, and okay, so he didn’t get in many plays as a kid. His smile and surprise seem fake. “Didn’t hear you come in. Is the game over?”
Louis and Liam look over to him, shocked, like they had forgotten he was cooking dinner. Louis is quick to smile, though, and his eyes shine.
“Hey, Haz. No, we just, uh, wanted a chat, I guess. It’s getting a bit chilly out, so.” Louis shrugs and walks around the bar and climbs up onto the counter next to the pot. Louis takes the spoon sitting next to it and takes a sip, making a face when it’s too hot for his tongue.
“Did you put ocean kumquats in this?” Louis asks.
“I don’t know what they were, to be honest. They reminded me of sea prunes, so I was going to make sea prune stew, but Niall’s vegetarian so I couldn’t make a stew, so it’s just. I don’t know what I really made, actually?”
Louis laughs brightly, the sound tinkling.
“Well, it tastes amazing. Do you need help with anything else?” Louis offers, waving his arm around the kitchen and at Liam, presumably offering Liam up to help as well. It’s endearing, how he just can command so effortlessly. He truly is a prince. A beautiful one.
“Not really. I was thinking about making some bread, but we don’t have any yeast here.” Harry shrugs, and takes another glance through the cabinets. “I could...I don’t know, really. A lot of this I’m not familiar with. Like,” Harry takes out a small, bright yellow fruit-like object, “what is this?”
Liam and Louis both look at him, eyebrows raised, before laughing hysterically.
Harry’s missing something, clearly.
“What? I’ve never seen one! What is it?”
“I-it’s a….it’s a…” Liam is laughing so hard that he can barely get the words out of his mouth, constantly having to breathe heavily back in so he doesn’t suffocate. He’s bent over the counter next to Louis, who’s fallen onto his side and is clutching his stomach in laughter, his other hand covering his face. Harry tries hard not to focus on how small Louis’ hand is, and how it doesn’t cover as much of Louis’ face as Harry is sure Louis wishes it would.
“Lemon, Harry. It’s a lemon.” Zayn’s voice says, and Harry turns to see him and Niall at the entryway to the kitchen. They must’ve just come inside. “A common citrus fruit here, but it doesn’t travel well at all, which is probably why you’ve never seen one. It doesn’t do well in cold climates, but it can thrive in certain climates in the Earth Kingdom as well.”
“Alright,” Niall adds, rolling his eyes, “thank you, mister library. Is there something edible yet? They beat our asses in volleyball and I need pity food.”
Louis and Liam are still laughing, but Harry goes about the cabinets and gets out bowls and spoons. He stacks them next to the pot, and Louis sits up to scoot over and get out of the way a bit. He’s still chuckling, wiping small tears away from his cheeks and out from under his eyes, and his eyes shine. Harry spoons out a bowl of soup and hands it to Louis first, who grins at him and goes about eating it (not without blowing on it first, though).
Once all the boys have food in their hands, there’s not much conversation. They’re all too busy eating what is technically their first full meal of the day.
That is, until Niall says:
“So, you’ve really never seen a lemon before?”
The next couple of days are pretty much the same routine, with the main exception of Louis taking Harry out to the food market and the bakery and letting him pick out food to stock up the kitchen with.
They don’t talk about anything serious; it’s mainly Louis holding up different kinds of fish and fruits and checking to see if Harry knows about them, “Just so we can avoid another poor lemon incident.” They laugh about it every time, though, and Harry’s glad that things have become more comfortable with Louis.
Of course, it all comes to a head their second to last night at the beach.
They’re sat out on the cool sand, the sun long set and the waves gentle under the waxing light of the Moon. The embers of their bonfire from earlier are dying out, gently glowing and sending up sparks into the air on occasion behind them. They’re sat so close to the waves that the water goes up over Harry’s ankles and he plays with it with small twirls of his fingers. He makes small bubbles, making them circle each other and combine and break apart.
Niall’s asleep inside, having gotten burnt during lunch and so decided to stay inside for the rest of the day. Zayn and Liam are also inside, cleaning up the kitchen or getting ready for bed or something.
And Harry and Louis are sat here, outside and close together, under the stars.
Harry bends the water so it moves far enough away that he can let the water drop without fear of getting himself wet.
“That’s really cool,” Louis says, softly, like he’s trying not to pierce the silence of the night. “The way you can move it like that.”
Harry turns his head to look at Louis, who’s already looking at him. Louis’ skin glows under the moonlight. It’s strange, but it almost looks like Louis belongs here, in the ocean.
Harry’s a bit bashful in his reply. “Please, I saw the way you showed off to that girl earlier. You’re much more advanced than I am.”
Louis had juggled a few balls of flame, tossing them high in the sky and jumping over them occasionally. It had been like a circus act, and Louis had loved it, had loved performing for everyone, and the girl had definitely enjoyed it, too, if the way she touched Louis’ arm afterward was any indication. At the time (and even now) Harry feels a flare of jealousy towards how much Louis showed off for her.
Louis’ eyebrows furrow. “Girl? What girl?”
“Well, you know. The girl you were doing the firebending thing for?”
Louis shrugs, the sand dispersing around his shoulders.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about, but okay.” Louis looks back up at the sky, and Harry does the same.
There’s another few minutes of silence, it being broken by nothing but the waves and gulls.
“Then why’d you do it?” Harry can’t help but ask.
“Hm?” Louis replies, voice drowsy. They’ve been awake almost nineteen hours at this point and Harry can relate to the sleepy tone in Louis’ voice.
“Why’d you do those firebending tricks?”
“Oh,” Louis says, yawning deeply before continuing. “Because you saw the very end of that street performer earlier today and said you wished you saw the whole act.”
Harry doesn’t really know what to do with this information, if he’s being honest. Louis does all kinds of things specifically for Harry, and he doesn’t know why. Is he still trying to make up for their old bickering? That was a month old, for goodness sake. Surely Louis knows that Harry’s forgiven him?
“Louis?” Harry begins, tentative. Louis grunts in acknowledgement and Harry grins a bit before continuing. “You know I’ve forgiven you, right? I overreacted, back then, and I’m sorry for being an asshole, and you really don’t have to keep trying to make it up to me. I was the one who fucked up.”
Louis blinks his eyes open, his eyelashes fluttering and glistening.
“I’m not -- that’s not why I did it, Harry. I know you’ve forgiven me and I’ve forgiven you. We were shits. But that’s not why I do nice things for you.”
There’s a gentle touch to Harry’s fingers and Harry looks down to see Louis’ pinky pressed against his own. Harry smiles, and looks back up to see Louis blushing, a bit.
“Promise.” Louis says.
It’s silent again, and Harry and Louis fall asleep with their hands pressed together. It’s mostly worth it when they wake again hours later with water up to their knees from the rising tide.
Two more months go by back at the palace and it’s now the height of summer. The sky seems to always be bright, and the heat is thick and presses down on every inch of Harry’s body. The palace has plenty of gardens and ponds, and inside the building is a pool that goes so deep into the earth that it’s dark.
However, staying inside from the sweltering heat isn’t on the agenda for the day. Instead, it’s the first day of the week-long fire lily festival.
Louis, being the crown prince, has to make an appearance along with his family. He’s been practicing his speech in front of the boys for weeks, and Harry can tell he’s nervous.
“This is my first speech as the heir, Harry, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He’s saying, leg bouncing and jostling Harry’s own as they travel in the carriage down to the village.
“Haven’t you always been the heir?” Harry asks, and he really only meant it to be light teasing, but Louis’ face crumples.
“No. I--,” Louis takes a deep breath and turns his gaze down. “Dan isn’t my dad. He’s my mom’s husband. We’ve like -- we’ve always been noble, but really obscure. I lived out on one of the islands as a child, really. I never knew my dad. Well -- I mean.” Louis sighs.
“Sounds complicated,” Harry gently prods. He can tell Louis wants to say this but doesn’t know how. Louis laughs a bit harshly.
“That’s not even half of it.” He takes a deep breath and starts again. “Okay, so my biological father is some guy who fucked off within days of me being born. I didn’t have a dad for a couple years, but then my mom met my dad -- Mark Tomlinson. ‘S where I get my last name from.”
Louis looks up to him, as if expecting him to ask any questions. Harry just smiles at him and motions for him to go on.
“Okay. So then, my dad...also. I don’t really know, honestly. They got divorced. They just weren’t happy anymore. I was ten. And, um, so when the Fire Lord’s wife died, he was left with no heirs. So...he had to find a new wife. And he met my mom, and, well. You know,” Louis makes a vague hand motion and Harry nods. “They courted and then got married and Lottie, Fiz, Mom and I moved into the palace. Only -- only we found out later that Mom was actually pregnant. With the twins. The divorce was still being finalized while we were moving into the palace, and we found out.
“And, like, Dan was fine with it, you know? He’s a nice person. But now that Mom’s pregnant with Dan’s child, Dan decided to make up his mind as to who is going to inherit the throne.” Louis takes another breath. “He decided it would be me. But not...everyone agrees, exactly.”
“Why would they not agree?” It seems perfectly reasonable to Harry.
Louis rolls his eyes. “Because I’m not royal blood. The new baby will be royal blood. But Dan doesn’t want them to inherit the throne, y’know? He can’t wait to abdicate until they turn eighteen.”
That’s -- that’s the absolute most fucking ridiculous thing Harry has ever heard. Harry feels mad for Louis; he’s angry that these people don’t believe he’s good enough to rule just because there’s no blood relation to the throne. Harry’s seen Louis be a good leader, he’s seen him treat people fairly and equally, okay, Harry has gone out with him multiple times to the village to volunteer at the homeless shelters and orphanages.
Louis is kind, and selfless, and strong, and courageous, and so strikingly, utterly beautiful that it takes Harry’s breath away.
“I mean -- you’re the prince. It’s not like they can just reject you.”
Louis laughs a little bit, but it comes out more like a scoff.
“You’d be surprised.”
Harry really, really wishes Louis would just be proved wrong for fucking once.
The day is hot, as it has been every single day he’s been here, really, but with the crowds on the fairgrounds, it’s truly awful. There are multiple tents set up, and quite a number of vendors selling their wares, but Harry stays by Louis’ side. Well, kind of.
As the prince, Louis is up front with his father as they walk along through the grounds. Harry feels like he shouldn’t be surprised when the people around them pause in their actions and bow as they pass, considering how long he’s been staying with them, but he still is. It’s so strange to him; this is a family like any other, good people who just so happen to have married into royalty.
But, it makes Louis’ cautious steps a bit more sure with every person they pass that gives them respect, so Harry doesn’t draw negative attention to it. Louis sends a smile back to him, Zayn, and Niall (although Harry likes to think it’s just aimed at him) and Harry smiles back. Zayn and Niall are too deep in conversation to see.
Liam walks up front, next to Louis. He is royal, even if from another nation, so it makes sense to Harry. Although, it seems to Harry that as Liam isn’t a member of the Fire Nation’s royal family, he would stand to the side or further back in the formation. But whatever. Harry’s not royal, and he’ll just never fully understand it, he guesses.
Seeing Louis’ smile makes that divide very hard for Harry to swallow.
But onward they go, towards the center of the fairgrounds where a stage is set up. There’s a crowd centered around it, as well as journalists with their ink and brushes and parchment ready to go.
Just past the stage, however, is a field that seems to go on for miles and miles, and it’s filled with bright red flowers that Harry now recognises as fire lilies. The nearly-set sun is bright, of course, but the lilies look radiant and almost ablaze. Harry understands where their name comes from.
They all file onto the stage and sit down on the chairs placed for them. There’s an upper and a lower level near the back of the stage, and the royal family walks to the upper level while the Malks, Niall, Monk Jarvis, and Harry all sit below.
Once they’re all seated and the clapping has calmed down significantly, there’s a gentle kick to the back of Harry’s head. When he looks up, he sees Louis’ devilish grin and gets a wink in return of a roll of Harry’s eyes.
The festivities have been going on all day, but the ceremony doesn’t officially begin until Ambassador Malik stands and introduces himself. He speaks for a while, the sunlight steadily diminishing until someone walks out to the ambassador, holding a tray with a bunch of small candles on it, centered around one tall one. They’re all a brilliant red that is nearly identical to the vibrant fire lily.
Ambassador Malik says something about about everlasting flames and hope for peace and prosperity, and lights one of the candles. The crowd politely claps as he sits, and then -- well, then it’s Louis’ turn to speak.
Louis stands and the crowd’s applause almost simultaneously dies out; there are a few who begin the clapping anew in honor of the prince, but the vast majority of people don’t even move. Harry can hear Louis shuffle on the wood before climbing down the steps in the center of the stage and walking towards the podium.
“Um,” Louis begins, before clearing his throat and speaking louder. “Good evening, everyone.” Louis smiles and Harry can see in the way he holds his shoulders and feet that he’s terrified. “I’d like to begin by thanking Ambassador Malik and his family for opening the ceremony in that, er, touching and beautiful way.” Louis turns to Zayn’s father and they exchange smiles, and if Harry’s right, Yaser sends Louis a quick thumbs up.
Louis laughs a bit to himself over it and returns to his speech. It appears as though Yaser’s small show of support allowed Louis to be a bit more relaxed, which is great.
“That being said, I’m sure you all would prefer to eat dinner or play games sometime this evening, so I’ll keep this short.”
Harry and a few audience members snort out a laugh, but there’s still mainly silence. It’s obvious that Louis was expecting a bit more laughter than that, but he moves on.
“Uh, anyways. I’d also like to extend my thanks to Fire Lord Dan and my mother, Queen Jay, for arranging this festival today. This village, being so close to the palace, has become a special place in my family’s hearts. As the heir--”
“Not the true heir, half-wit!” Comes a call from the crowd. It catches Louis (and everyone else, for that matter) off guard, but Louis carries on regardless.
“As the heir to the throne, I hope that you will allow myself and my family to continue being a part of your life, here. The people are the heart and soul of this nation, and without you all -- every last one of you -- we wouldn’t be the great country we are today.”
“Oh, shut up!”
“Not like you care about it!”
Harry’s hand is clenched into a fist listening to these people speak about Louis this way, but Niall puts a calming hand on his shoulder as a warning.
“I -- uh, I would also just like to take a few moments to speak about the fire lilies themselves. And, er, what they mean to me.” Louis sounds so unbelievably unsure of himself, and Harry would like nothing more than to go up to him and hold him close. “When I was a child, living on the outer islands, we didn’t have fire lilies. They couldn’t grow where I lived; it was either too sandy for them to gain root, or the earth was almost pure rock, or lava. Not much room for grasslands and flowers to sprout. When my mother married the Fire Lord, and we moved here, I didn’t even really know they existed. I’d heard about them in stories, but didn’t really connect them with reality. Like when you hear about old fairy tales and you can’t tell if they hold any sort of truth to them, or they’re completely made up.
Regardless, that first summer, when I was twelve years old, I got to see them bloom for the very first time. Right before my eyes. I was with my younger sisters out in the garden, playing around as kids do, and saw this strange looking flower bud. I was hiding from my sisters, of course, so I didn’t have much to look at but this unbloomed flower. And, as it turns out, I was able to see the first fire lily bloom in the royal garden that summer. It felt almost like a sign to me, at the time. That this new direction for our lives wasn’t going to be dark, but it was going to be full of life and vibrant.
This flower has continued to be one of my main sources of inspiration. I know it traditionally is seen as a gesture of love, but to me it also signifies strength, and I just thought I’d share that. Thank you.”
When Louis lights one of the candles, there is silence. Nobody claps, nobody cheers, nobody is supporting him. Louis turns around, the tray of candles in his hands and he walks in front of the rest of the Malk family as they all light a candle of their own. Safaa, who can’t bend, kisses her fist and then breathes hot air onto the tray, holding a flat palm to it.
Harry doesn’t quite know what it means, but he makes a note to ask Louis later.
When Louis gets to him, they share a -- well, Harry doesn’t quite know what the look means, but it means something. Louis smiles at him while Harry mimics the action Safaa had done, and he thinks Louis stays next to him a bit longer than he had the others. Louis moves down the line and then walks up the stairs, where he continues having his family members and Liam light the candles and touch the tray.
The crowd remains silent, but this silence is more of a reverence for the ceremony than out of spite and hatred of the crown prince. There’s a creaking noise and Harry looks to his left to see the Fire Lord coming down the stairs, the metal tray in his hands and glowing with the flames from the candles. They’re all lit but the one in the very center, and Harry can tell it’s meant for the Fire Lord to light.
“With the sun now set behind us, may we keep the flame burning evermore.” He presses a kiss to his fist and, with his palm now open to the sky, he breathes a flame onto the candle and a cheer comes from the crowd.
“May the festival begin,” He says, and then it’s just -- over. The crowd begins to disperse and the people around Harry begin to get out of their chairs, stretching their arms and legs. Zayn and Niall begin to talk to each other, and while Zayn asks Harry something, he doesn’t catch it. He’s busy looking for Louis and where he could have gone. After a moment, he catches sight of Louis’ retreating back as he runs down the side steps of the stage and then goes out to the field.
The crowd has gone towards the tent, nobody but Louis having ventured out into the field. Harry follows him, but Louis’ moving fast and it’s difficult trying to catch up to him in the un-lit hillside as Louis disappears into the shadows.
“Louis,” Harry whispers once Louis isn’t visible at all. There’s a rustling to his right and Harry goes in that direction. “Louis, come on.”
“Just go away, Haz.” Louis says, his voice broken and full of tears. The sound is coming from just ahead of Harry and so he reaches out and, sure enough, there’s Louis. Harry wraps him up in a hug and Louis breaks down into tears in his arms. “They hate me. I fucking told you, they hate me, nobody wants me --”
“Don’t talk like that. We all love you, Louis. You’re such a kind and lovely person and you have a heart of gold. You’re sunshine incarnate, okay?” Harry strokes Louis’ hair in a calming motion that he himself has always loved and presses a small kiss to Louis’ brow. “Promise.”
Louis is still crying, of course, but it slows down the more Harry talks to him. Louis’ hands tremble less and less and he steadily regains control of his breathing.
“There you go,” Harry praises once Louis’ tears stop, for the most part. He wipes Louis’ cheeks off. “You’re one of the bravest people I know. Fuck what they say about you. You don’t have to have royal blood to be born a leader, you know.”
Louis laughs brokenly, sniffling.
“Thanks, I think.” He says. Louis then proceeds to take Harry’s hand and press a small and grateful kiss to his cheek. Harry blushes so hard he’s sure it’s visible through the darkness. “You’re really good at calming people down. Do you -- um, are you training to be a healer?”
It’s an obvious change in conversation, but Harry’s too surprised to call him out on it right now. He can still feel the imprint of Louis’ kiss on his cheek, and with Louis’ hand still heavy in Harry’s own, it’s almost overwhelming how much Harry wants to kiss him on the mouth.
“Yeah, that’s the goal.” Harry says, voice vaguely dumbstruck. “My mother’s a healer, and I’ve been learning bits and pieces since I was a baby. I’ve always had a knack for it.”
“That’s nice. Don’t know too much about how it works myself, really.” Louis’ hand is still holding onto his and it’s really, really nice and Harry definitely doesn’t want it to end but he also should draw attention to it.
“Please don’t. Not right now. Please.” Louis’ voice is desperate and thick with unshed tears. Harry nods, and while Louis probably doesn’t see him in the dark, he takes Louis’ other hand as a show of support.
“Alright,” Harry says in reassurance. “We don’t have to, yet.”
For some reason, this makes Louis shudder out another short sob and Harry holds him close again and murmurs to him calmingly.
“They hate me so much now. It just makes me think of what they’ll think when I do inherit the throne.” Louis breathes out after a while.
“Fuck them.” Harry says “It’s not their decision.”
“But it is their country!” Louis pulls back from him, wrenching his hands away. “If they don’t think I’m going to be a good leader then what’s the point? I might as well abdicate now, give it to the new baby.”
There is a shift in the breeze around them, and suddenly the light of the Moon comes down and shines on both of them. Louis’ tear-stained cheeks are illuminated and his eyes look glassy, but God, he still looks so beautiful. The fire lilies have been paled by the color of the Moon, and with the late hour, the majority of them have closed their blooms for the night. The stems are pushed up against and around their legs.
Harry doesn’t really know what to say, but something inside of him does.
“I had a friend, once, who didn’t want a position of power but had to take it anyway due to bloodline. He took it and because he didn’t want it, he was the worst leader. He hardly cared about anything, he constantly allowed others to make decisions for him, and finally the people had enough and elected a new leader.”
Louis raises a brow at him, wiping a few tears off of his face.
“So?” He asks in an annoyed tone.
“So, just because someone is supposed to be the leader doesn’t mean they’d be good at it.” Louis looks like he still doesn’t understand, and Harry sighs. “You’re a natural leader, Louis, and they’ll see just how great you are. They’re a nation of citizens afraid of a change in leadership, can you really blame them? But they will see you as leader and wonder why they ever thought otherwise, regardless of your bloodline.”
Louis’ wide eyes shine in the light of the moon as they look at each other. A few moments go by where they do nothing but look at each other, but it feels good. Therapeutic, even; a gentle form of release into each other. Like the changing tides, or air currents tumbling past each other, or tectonic plates shifting, or heat swirling in flames. An exchange of catharsis.
This time, Louis initiates it. Louis’ arms wrap around Harry’s shoulders and hauls him down so they’re clutching each other tight.
They stay like that for ages, standing amongst the sleeping flowers and in full sight of the Moon and just holding each other. Neither wants to let the other go and they just sway with the breeze.
Later, Louis asks, "So, was that story true?"
Harry hums around his bite of watermelon. He swallows it, and asks, ‘What story?”
“The one about the person who was a bad leader.” Louis is fiddling with the case of beads in front of them, poking through them and picking some up before tossing them back in the pile. “Was it real?”
Harry blushes and looks down.
“Um, no.” Louis’ face goes flat and Harry is quick to put his hands up in defense. “Okay, well, not entirely true, I guess. It did happen, kind of?”
Louis makes a “go on” kind of motion as he continues to sift through another box of beads. As they had passed by the stall earlier, the vendor had called out to them and assured them both that the beads were all hand-crafted and blown glass. For some reason, Louis immediately began looking at the beads and Harry just went with it.
“So, there’s this thing called ice dodging. It’s a rite of passage for boys, but lately girls and other kids have been allowed to do it, too, if they want to become warriors. So, okay, anyways, it’s this thing where you and a few other kids who are also doing ice dodging are supposed to captain a ship together and not run into any icebergs or like, crash it, y’know? I was told I had to go through it and so my dad said I had to be the captain of the ship. Except I was terrible. So they put someone else in charge and I was put on rigging.” Harry shrugs, taking another awkward bite of watermelon and looking away.
It’s quiet between them for a bit, the sounds of the beads clicking together and loud conversation around them becoming a bit calming. Harry is starting to wonder if Louis wants him to elaborate further, somehow, until he feels a hand in his hair and he looks to Louis, startled.
Louis is blushing hard as he takes apart one of Harry’s small front braids. Louis is purposefully looking away from Harry, his gaze intent on what his hands are doing. His movements are soft, careful not to tug too harshly on Harry’s hair.
Louis reaches down to the table below them, and -- oh. Louis’ chosen a few different beads, and there’s even the one from months ago that he chose when Harry had first spoken to him about beads. The bright red of it stands out from the light blues surrounding it. Louis grabs one of the beads and winds it into part of the braid Louis is re-doing. He continues adding in beads, braiding, adding another bead, braiding, until there’s just the red bead left. He adds it in last and then plays with it for a few moments to make sure it will stay firm.
“So did you pass ice dodging?” Louis says, still not looking at Harry.
“Yeah. I did. I was able to help where I was put. It was like I knew exactly what the winds were about to do, it was weird.”
Louis just hums in response. He fiddles with the braid a moment more before dropping his hand completely, looking at a loss of what to do.
“Well, thanks. It -- you mean a lot to me, Harry.” Louis is blushing heavily now, but his gaze steadily moves until he’s looking directly at Harry. “I promise. You’ve given me so much.”
Harry moves his hand up and cups Louis’ cheek. Louis casts his eyes down but his lips quirk into a small smile, and Harry strokes his thumb along his cheekbone.
“You’re worth a lot more than you give yourself credit, y’know.” He says and Louis’ hand comes up to press against Harry’s.
“Thank you.” Louis whispers, eyelashes fluttering a bit as he looks back up.
It seems like the way their eyes look would feel electric, but it doesn’t. It feels solid, like the earth below them. It’s the way a mountain reaches up into the sky, and it’s the way the ground steadies you. It’s complete and steady and Harry’s heart thuds inside his chest with the strength of it.
Louis drops his hand and it’s over. Louis pays for the beads he used and they move on to find the boys playing some game involving fishing poles and mangos.
Throughout the next month, everything is different between them. It’s a sudden shyness that they don’t really understand. Harry knows what he feels for Louis, because he isn’t stupid, and he also recognizes that his love reciprocated on some level. They’ve stolen away to be alone together so often the past few weeks that they’ve hardly seen anyone else. Louis has shown Harry areas of the palace that he’s never seen, not even in the four, almost five, months he’s been there. There’s plenty of elaborate halls and ballrooms, of course, but Louis knows Harry better than that. He takes Harry to the private gardens and gets the groundskeeper to show Harry all the different kinds of flowers and trees that grow right in the palace. He walks Harry around the palace grounds, leading him by the hand and making fun of old, stuffy earls and countesses that they pass, gossiping and making up stories about them.
There’s even a day where Louis comes up behind him one day, covers his eyes with a cloth, and steals him away. They walk around, giggling, as Louis tries to make sure Harry doesn’t run into anything or trip over his own two feet. Louis pulls him up into something and sits him down, and from the way he sways and begins to move forward, he guesses they’re in a carriage.
“Where are we going?” He asks, not for the first time. Louis just tightens the slipping cloth, and Harry can hear the grin in Louis’ reply.
“You’ll find out when we get there.”
The ride takes ages, it feels like, and Harry’s growing nervous. It’s a good, warm kind of nerves, though.
The carriage eventually stops and Harry can’t hear anything outside of it, so he knows they can’t be in the village. They went too far to still be on the palace grounds, however, and considering anything else is just the side of a volcano, Harry doesn’t know where they could possibly be.
Louis takes his hand and guides him out of the carriage and then helps him balance himself after being sat for so long. Louis asks the driver to wait for them and he leads Harry away. Grass tickles at Harry’s feet and he can feel the warmth of the sun above him.
Finally, after what seems like forever, they stop. Louis moves behind him and undoes the blindfold and it falls down around Harry’s neck loosely. He blinks at the sudden influx of bright light, but once his vision clears he’s close to gasping.
“Louis, what --,” Harry starts, but where does he even go from there? It’s fucking gorgeous where they are. They’re on a hillside somewhere down in the valley and at their feet is a blanket and a basket of food in the corner, a few small spirits hovering nearby. The spirits perk up when they notice the two of them and Harry smiles at them a bit before looking at Louis. “Thank you.”
Louis just smiles back, saying “Of course,” like he does this on a daily basis for people.
They spend the afternoon laying down and looking up at the sky, and just being close to each other is enough for them.
The whole month is reminiscent of a childhood crush, really, only ten thousand times more intense. They’re giddy all the time and are hardly ever not touching each other in some way; they’re either holding hands or brushing hair out of the others’ eyes, or knocking shoulders or knees at the dinner table. Anything just to be that much closer, really.
Louis looks at him with bright eyes and a huge smile and never lets go of his hand, and Harry is sure that his face is just as lovestruck. The boys begin teasing them that they never see them anymore, and just exactly what were they up to when they were alone? These jokes always make Louis and Harry look at each other with sly, private grins that give nothing and everything away at once.
Of course, then it feels like it slips out of their fingers. Monk Jarvis announces that the main island is a lost cause and the Avatar can’t possibly be here and that they have to move out to the farther islands. They would be leaving soon; a week or two at most. At dinner, under the table, Harry takes Louis’ hand and squeezes it hard.
Louis comes to see Harry at his room for the first time since their fight that night. They don’t say anything. They just climb into bed together and hold each other tight, and when Camila wakes them up the next morning, it’s with a smirk and a chastising shake of the head and a warning that they’re looking for Louis.
Camila leaves to go get hot water for a bath with one final word that Louis should be getting back to the royal halls before the guards believe he’s been kidnapped. Once she’s gone, Louis gives Harry a quick kiss to his cheek and rushes out the door, face red but smiling.
They’re at dinner a few nights after the announcement. The princess and Zayn’s siblings have all gone off to bed, with the exception of Doniya, and the boys are a bit separated from the rest of the table due to the few empty seats between them. Louis and Liam are teasing Niall and Zayn, mainly about how much Zayn is going to miss Niall once he and Harry are gone.
“He’s gonna be a weepy mess!” Louis’ saying, laughing loudly. “All, ‘Oh, Niall, when will you return to me?’” His voice goes high and exaggerated, the back of his hand pressed to his forehead as he dramatically tosses his head back.
Harry’s gotta be honest, Louis would fit right in with the Ember Island players.
Zayn rolls his eyes. “Oh, like you’re one to talk! You’re probably going to be even worse.”
The hand that Louis has on Harry’s thigh moves away abruptly and the smile is wiped off both their faces. Liam doesn’t quite catch the way the atmosphere changes and continues to laugh with Niall. Harry moves his hand and presses his thumb firmly against Louis’ leg, and Louis just -- gives him this look that’s so far away.
Later, when they’re walking back to their rooms, they all stop at the split of the hall that separates the guest rooms from the royal halls. While Niall, Zayn, and Liam all chat excitedly about the circus act they had seen a few days ago, Louis tugs Harry aside.
“I know Zayn was kind of joking earlier, but I will miss you, Haz.” Louis says quietly, eyes so earnest and blue Harry finds it hard to ignore the urge to kiss him. The lighting in the hall is dim, the fire along the walls casting long shadows across Louis’ cheeks, but his eyes are shining nonetheless. Louis takes one of Harry’s hands, thumb caressing his skin gently, and Harry is assaulted with memories of all the times Louis has done that for him. “I -- I made you something, actually. I was gonna wait to give it to you, but --” Louis shakes his head, like he’s exasperated at himself.
Harry smiles brightly at him. “What is it?”
Louis bites his lip, smiling back, and he sticks his other hand into a pocket and pulls out a long, thin box. He hands it to Harry, who takes it with both hands, stroking along the leather cover of it.
“I made it, so it looks -- well, kind of dumb, but I was told it has to be carved by the person gifting it or else it’d kinda, lose all value?”
He looks up to see Louis blushing and casting his eyes downward, to where Harry’s holding the box.
“I just don’t want you to forget how much I care for you, okay?” Louis is still smiling a bit, biting his lip in nerves, and Harry doesn’t even think before he’s opening it.
His jaw drops when he sees the glinting blue stone with the Moon carved into it. The dark blue velvet strap it hangs from is tucked into the box and it’s only just now that Harry notices how quiet it’s become in the room.
“Holy shit,” He hears Niall whisper and knows the silence isn’t because the other boys left but because literally nobody saw this coming.
Harry feels tears pricking at his eyes as he carefully takes the betrothal necklace out of the box. He can tell it was definitely carved by Louis; the shaky curves of the full moon rising out of the waves, the sharper lines of the water. It’s so beautiful, though, and Harry is so, so in love. When he looks up, Louis is looking at him nervously, his hands fidgeting.
“Is it...I mean, do you like it?” Louis asks, voice shaking, and Harry feels like laughing. He feels so grateful and relieved that he hasn’t misread their situation, that his love for Louis is reciprocated enough that they don’t even have to talk about it because they both know it’s a forever kind of thing. Every look, every touch, has led them to right now.
“Yes,” Harry breathes out before wrapping his arms around Louis’ neck and crashing their lips together, not even caring that the other boys are watching right now. The box clatters to the floor, the necklace still firmly held in Harry’s grip. He never wants to let go of it and the thought of Louis clasping it around his neck makes his heart leap. The kiss is -- it’s everything Harry ever could have imagined it being. Louis’ lips are so soft and give just right, and Louis’ hands come up to Harry’s arms and -- push him away.
Louis pushes him away.
Harry is very confused.
When he gets a good look at Louis’ face, he can also see confusion there.
They stare at each other for a few (extremely embarrassing) moments before Louis speaks up again.
“Why did you just kiss me?” Louis’ voice is heavy and wanting for breath. He takes his hands off of Harry and Harry’s arms fall to his sides. Harry’s heart falls to his stomach, dread filling his veins.
The other boys are silent.
“Because --.” Harry’s throat is thick with embarrassment, even if he doesn’t quite know what he’s done wrong. “Because you just proposed to me?”
Louis’ eyes widen and he takes a step back, and how did this go so wrong?
“I definitely did not.” Louis says, eyes wide and staring at Harry like he’s gone crazy.
The necklace that had brought so much happiness to him just moments ago feels like lead in Harry’s hands.
“Louis, you fucking idiot, you gave him a betrothal necklace.” Zayn snaps. Tears fall onto Harry’s red-hot cheeks. He feels almost invalidated, like this whole past month has been meaningless to Louis and he’s just made everything up.
“A what?” Louis turns his head to where Zayn’s standing, but Harry can’t even look at them. He can’t look at Louis, he can’t look at anybody, and he needs to go.
Harry drops the necklace; it feels like it’s going to burn a hole in his hand. “S-sorry,” he breathes out quietly and goes to leave. He gets almost to the end of the hall, listening to Louis being berated by the other boys, when they realize that Harry’s left.
“No -- Harry, stop, wait!” Louis calls out to him, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him back. Louis has the necklace in his hand, and Harry really hopes he doesn’t try to give it to him again. “I didn’t -- I mean, I didn’t know, okay, I’m sorry, when I was younger my mom just told me they were for people who you cared about, right, like good friends,” Harry’s heart breaks just that much further, really. “And, I mean, you gotta know why we can’t -- why I can’t be with you?”
Harry wrenches his arm from Louis’ grasp. “What, because you’re a prince and I’m not?” Harry replies bitingly. He’s so -- he can’t believe this just fucking happened. He completely read the situation so wrong. Louis thought he was giving Harry a fucking friendship necklace, for crying out loud.
“No, Harry,” Louis says, and finally gets Harry to turn around and face him. Harry wipes the tears from his face and Louis looks devastated to even see them. “I thought you knew. I’m promised to be engaged to Liam. I’ve been promised since I was twelve, Harry, I can’t do anything about it.”
This night feels like it can’t get any worse, honestly.
“Liam?” Harry feels out of breath. Harry’s arm burns from where Louis had been holding onto him. “You’re engaged to Liam?” Liam’s name is almost yelled, and Harry turns around, looking at the three boys back at the other end of the hall. Harry can see Liam understand what it is he and Louis are talking about.
A few more tears splash down his cheek onto the carpet below.
“Did you know?” Harry asks. He has to fucking know if Louis did this on purpose.
Louis looks lost. “Know what?”
“Know that I love you. Know that this entire fucking time I thought that we were like, I don’t know. I thought you were fucking courting me or --,” Harry chokes up and it’s too much for him to finish. He feels so stupid for even hoping that Louis was interested in him when clearly it was just platonic.
“Baby…” Louis starts off, but Harry doesn’t let him finish.
“Don’t call me that. Just don’t.” He’s exhausted and he’s been through far too many emotions in a terribly short amount of time and he just wants to go sleep. So he leaves; just turns down the hall and goes to his room and doesn’t wake until Camila comes in the next morning.
Harry hardly leaves his room. Nobody really bothers him, except for Camila who brings him meals and plenty of hugs as he cries into her shoulder.
He feels like he’s been broken up with. Which is fucking ridiculous, really, because there was nothing for Louis to even end. Well, there kind of was. There was their friendship, which can never, absolutely never be revived because Harry is a delusional idiot who thinks he can have a shot with the crown prince of the Fire Nation. He never should have agreed to come with Niall here.
Niall comes in on day four, knocking tentatively and only walking in when Harry tells him he can. His voice is shot and croaky and he’s sure he looks pathetic.
“Um, hey, Haz,” Niall begins, making an obvious effort to be soft and sweet in his movements and tone. “This is going to be shitty, just as a warning.”
Well, at least he’s honest. Harry just shrugs and sits up, and Niall climbs up on the bed next to him, cuddling the duvet around them both and moving Harry so he’s laying his head on Niall’s shoulder. It’s not very comfortable, to be fair, but it’s comforting.
They lay like that for a while, Niall running his hands through Harry’s hair. Harry’s kept the beads in his hair, the ones Louis had put in at the festival, and so that one braid is bedraggled and unkempt. All of his hair is, really, after not bathing properly the past few days, but that braid especially. Harry doesn’t even want to touch it. He doesn’t want to ruin yet another thing that Louis gave him.
“So,” Niall starts, then clears his throat a few times. “Monk Jarvis is pushing the date of when we’re leaving back by about a week.”
Harry groans. He doesn’t want to have to be here even longer. He’s sick of having to be in this room by himself for fear of running into Louis, or Liam. He doesn’t want to see either of them. He doesn’t want to see Zayn very much, either, because he knew, too, and nobody thought to fucking tell Harry that his crush was pathetic and worthless. His love was pathetic and worthless.
“Why?” Harry asks. Niall sighs and Harry can hear him swallow.
“We’re expected to go to Louis and Liam’s engagement announcement ball. Everyone knows that -- well, uh, not everyone knows, obviously, um,” Niall laughs and shakes his head, “Anyways. It’s just a traditional thing. Throw a ball, say you’re getting hitched, that kind of thing.”
Harry’s throat thickens.
“Do I have to?” His voice catches and he sounds fucking pathetic. He is fucking pathetic.
Niall winces. “Afraid so, Haz. I’m sorry.” Niall presses a small kiss to his forehead and rubs his shoulder and holds him tight. Harry feels like he’s going to fall apart if Niall doesn’t hold him together.
Harry sighs. “When is it?”
“In four days.”
Harry nods. “Alright.”
The next four days pass much like the past four. Harry doesn’t leave his room but once at Niall’s begging, and that was just to go and visit Nugget for a bit. It had been nice to be out in the warmth of the sun again.
On the day of the ball, when Camila comes in, she’s already brought the hot water and a brand new set of clothes he’s meant to wear. They’re more formal than usual and are styled similarly to royal Fire Nation clothing, just with blue colors instead of the traditional red. It’s heavy, but Harry just guesses that’s what one is supposed to wear to these kinds of things.
Harry gets into the bath and sits there for a long time, the steam rising up around him. The water seems to be getting warmer the longer he sits in the water, for some reason, so he goes about getting cleaned in a short amount of time to avoid scalding himself. He forces himself to carefully (so, so carefully) wash the braid with Louis’ beads in hopes Louis would notice. He doesn’t even know why he wants Louis to see. So Louis can tell how hung-up Harry is on him? Maybe.
Once done, he wraps himself in a towel and wipes the condensation off the mirror. Harry has bags under his eyes and his face is pale, but at least he’s clean, now.
Camila is still in the room when he gets back out, and it’s like she just knows he needs all the help he can get today. He feels exhausted just by the idea of having to go to this ball. He doesn’t want to talk to people, he doesn’t want to make small talk with strangers, doesn’t want to see the pitying stares of Zayn and Niall, doesn’t want to see Louis announce that he’s engaged to Liam.
She helps him get dressed and then braids back his hair so it’s out of his face. She carefully takes the braid Louis had done and tucks it into another one so it doesn’t hang down.
“There,” Camila says, patting down a few loose curls. “Gorgeous.” Her smile is wide and Harry returns it, somewhat.
“Thanks,” He replies softly. She walks him out into the hallway where Niall is waiting for them. Niall is dressed in typical air nomad clothing, so Harry isn’t sure why the clothing Camila brought for him is so different. The three of them walk down the hall and Camila has to leave them at the tea room, but they part with small smiles.
The ballroom is on the far side of the palace, so it takes a fair ten minutes to get there. There are people lined up outside of the ballroom waiting to be let inside, and they’re dressed in all manner of high-end clothing from all over the world, but the guards see Niall and Harry and wave them on through. The room is large, of course, and it’s decorated lavishly; there are tapestries on the walls and the tables are lined with expensive cloth and covered in delicious foods. At the far end of the room is a slight stage, and Harry’s heartstrings tug when he realizes that’s most likely where the announcement will take place later. People are dancing to music in the center of the room, and it’s one that Harry only vaguely recognizes from a play he saw once as a child in the capital.
There are chairs set up on the stage, with one large one in the center that’s most likely meant for the Fire Lord. Harry still hasn’t seen the throne room, and at this point he doubts he ever will, but seeing the set-up in front of him, he’s sure it looks strikingly similar.
Luckily no one is up there just yet. Harry doesn’t know what he’s going to do once he sees Louis in person for the first time in over a week, but Niall said he’d be there for him, so. Hopefully that will help. Maybe.
Or maybe he’ll have to leave and go cry in a bathroom by himself. It’ll probably be the latter, if he’s being honest. His stomach is heavy with embarrassment just being reminded of what he honestly thought was a fucking proposal. How stupid was he?
Niall leads Harry over to one of the tables and sits him down, pouring him a glass of water. Niall sits next to him and they sit in silence as guests laugh around them, dancing and drinking and eating and generally being happy. Zayn eventually sits down next to Niall, and the two of them begin chatting quietly. Zayn’s fingers brush over the back of Niall’s hands, and okay, Harry knew that things between them had been quietly developing this whole time, but seeing it in person just makes Harry feel frustrated and jealous. He turns himself away and looks at the crowd of dancing people instead.
After what seems like a long, long time, the fire in the lamps around the ballroom dim slightly and everyone returns to their seats. There’s a chattering around them as everyone speaks to each other, but then a hush settles over the room once the royal family begins to shuffle onto the stage.
Louis looks -- fuck. He looks gorgeous. His hair’s been slicked back and he’s in pressed clothing and he just looks like sin. Like tired, stressed out sin, but still. He sits right next to the Fire Lord’s semi-throne and folds his legs nervously.
The Fire Lord stands after a few moments and if there had been any other noise it now ceases completely. The clatter of clinking dishes, or even the general shuffling of people in their chairs, just stops and it’s silent.
That is, until a chair is pulled back right next to Harry and in it plops Liam.
Harry turns to look at him with wide, shocked eyes. The Fire Lord begins speaking about something to do with peace and long-lasting times without war between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom or whatever, and so he says to Liam, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Liam just grins widely and looks like he’s playing a huge trick on everyone in this room. Is this a joke to him?
“Get up there! You’re going to make Louis look like an idiot, you asshole!” Harry says as quietly as he can while still retaining his anger and pushes on Liam’s arm to get him to move.
“Louis asked me to do this, Harry. Chill.” Liam replies and readjusts his seat, scooting in closer to the table. While Harry returns his gaze to where Louis is seated at the front of the room, Liam leans in closer to him and whispers, “And for whatever it matters, we did all thought you knew. We’re both so sorry you found out like that. But just -- just stay, please. I know you probably want to leave but just stay here.”
Harry scowls and runs an angry hand through a part of his hair, taking care not to mess up the braids Camila had worked so hard on.
“Fine.” Harry bites back.
The Fire Lord speaks for too long, in Harry’s opinion. Harry just wants to listen to Louis announce his stupid fucking engagement to Liam so they all can leave and then Harry will move away with Niall and never come back. He’ll never have to think about the stain Louis Tomlinson, crown prince of the Fire Nation, left on his heart and soul.
Liam nudges him a bit, a few minutes later. Liam doesn’t wait for Harry to respond before he begins speaking again in hushed whispers.
“That’s my family, over there,” Liam points to them, and there they are on the far side of the room, sitting at the table closest to the stage. “And I love them, but I love you and Louis more, okay? So don’t pay attention to them later.”
Harry has no idea what the hell Liam is talking about but it sets butterflies into his stomach.
Eventually, the Fire Lord stops speaking.
“And now my heir to the Sun and Flames, Louis Tomlinson, would like to make an announcement.” The Fire Lord makes a sweeping gesture towards Louis, who stands up slowly. There’s a smattering of applause and Harry can at least appreciate that these royals and higher-ups in society at least pretend to appreciate Louis as a leader.
“Good evening,” Louis starts off, and it looks like he’s about to give an awkward wave before stopping the movement quickly. “As the Fire Lord has already spoken of, our ties to the Earth Kingdom have never been stronger. I feel the prince, Liam Payne, and I have become very close friends throughout my life in the palace. I’ve never felt a more solid connection between our two nations, and from stories from both the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom, I can tell it’s felt throughout our citizens, as well.”
Louis pauses and shuffles where he’s standing. Harry feels like he can hardly breathe. This is it. It’s going to happen any moment now. Harry’s hands are fists in his lap and his stomach is rolling.
“That being said, my friendship with Prince Liam is going to serve our two countries well throughout our lives and will give each of us a strong connection to the other and we both believe our economies and trade will thrive. However, that’s not the announcement I’m making. My announcement isn’t really about friendship, but,” Louis takes a deep breath and gives a nervous smile, “about love.”
Harry wants to cry. He just honestly wants to leave and cry, but Liam said Louis wants him to stay, so he will, if only in hopes that Louis will look his way and see what he’s done.
“We’re all here tonight to announce my engagement.”
A round of loud applause starts up from the table that holds Liam’s family and continues on for a fair amount of time before Louis quiets the room again. Louis turns his gaze to Harry and speaks loudly and clearly and Harry’s stomach drops.
“I would like to announce my engagement to Harry Styles, of the Northern Water Tribe.”
After a beat, applause starts up again around Harry, the majority of which is small and off-beat and confused. Everyone begins whispering, and Harry can hear from the table behind him, “Who is he talking about? I’ve never heard of him before.”
Both royal families are shocked silent, looking at Louis like he’s a madman. Louis just extends his arm out towards Harry and waves him up, a begging look on his face. Harry knows his face is red, but he doesn’t care. He almost knocks his chair over in his haste to stand up and go towards Louis, but in doing so, he didn’t realize it would also draw every eye in the building towards himself. He moves through the tables very slowly, trying not to look like he’s surprised even though he is very much so.
When Harry makes it to the stage’s steps, he just looks up towards Louis, who extends his hand towards him. Harry takes it and walks up the steps, Louis gently turning him around and brushing his hair off of his neck. Louis’ touch sends shivers down Harry’s spine and he’s shaking, really.
“What are you doing?” Harry whispers. The crowd below them is gossiping just loud enough that his voice only travels to the boy behind him.
“Asking for forgiveness,” Louis replies, and then presses a kiss to his neck, “and saying I love you so, so very much at the same time.” Louis brings his arms around Harry’s front and clasps that stupid betrothal necklace around Harry’s throat. Harry presses his hand to the carved stone and a few tears spill out.
He feels -- everything. All at once.
And when Louis turns him around and kisses him in front of everyone, he practically feels like he’s flying.
Harry ends up staying in the palace while Niall and Monk Jarvis leave for the smaller islands of the Fire Nation. Harry’s family arrives a few weeks later on a boat and they wrap him up in tight hugs that leave him breathless, but he hasn’t seen them in half a year, so he forgives them quickly and hugs them back just as tightly.
While Louis and Liam’s families had given all three of them quite a long lecture on breaking tradition and making a public embarrassment, Queen Nicola had said something quiet but powerful.
“Louis and Liam are best friends. We’re all close to each other, so there’s no real reason for anyone to get married if they don’t want to. Louis made Harry a betrothal necklace, which means he is very serious about this, if you didn’t already understand that from his announcement. Let Louis and Liam both be happy. They’ll both be better for it.”
And that had ceased that conversation.
However, Harry and Louis’ new-found engagement made it very difficult for them to be alone around each other, now, but they managed to make it work. The first time they had gotten alone, Louis had begun begging for forgiveness and apologized for anything and everything under the sun until Harry had shut him up with a gentle, sweet kiss on the mouth that didn’t stay so for very long. And while they’re not alone too often, they’re also hardly separated from each other. Their families are both far too involved in the wedding process and it’s quickly become the most elaborate wedding either of them have ever seen before. It’s some strange combination of Fire Nation and Water Tribe traditions, which works, Harry guesses, but it also just makes everything complicated.
Late at night, though, when their families have gone to sleep, Harry sneaks from his room and goes to see Louis in his apartment. They don’t get too much sleep, really, and Louis and Harry both have bruises all over their bodies from the long nights.
And on the day of the wedding, neither of their mothers stop crying.
When Harry and Louis both meet at the altar, the boys and family members on either sides of them, a Fire Sage holds out a flame to Louis while Harry’s father holds out a bowl of spirit water to Harry. They each take their own proffered element and hold them and bend them into circles, a common symbol of never-ending devotion.
“Harry,” Louis begins, “we didn’t really like each other at first. For reasons that are, quite frankly, stupid. I stole a vase from my sister’s apartment and didn’t want her to know and proceeded to break it right in front of your room and you thought I was a thief.” The boys, never having heard the story, laugh raucously along with the small crowd gathered. “It was stupid. It was so, so very stupid, but when we got over ourselves, I quickly realized that I never, ever want to live a day without you in my life. You have a river for a soul, Harry Styles, and I swear it’s neverending. You’re just pure, in every sense of the word.”
Harry quirks a brow and smirks and Louis laughs.
“Okay, maybe not every sense. But I love you and I want to live the rest of my days with you.”
The Fire Sage takes a part of the fire and bends it for Harry around his own circle of water, holding it around it. Harry takes this as his signal to begin.
“Louis, you were an asshole, to be honest.” Harry’s mother gasps in shock while Niall barks out a laugh. “But like you said, once we set everything aside, it was like I could never get enough of you. I still can’t get enough of you, really, and when you announced that to everyone -- I was taken so off guard. I really wasn’t expecting you to say you were going to marry me, not after what had happened. I convinced myself that my love for you was stupid and futile and that you could never feel the same for me.
And I have never felt better about being proven wrong about someone in my life as I feel about you, Louis. You have a fire for a heart and it just burns with this insane need to protect and love everyone around you, and you do it fiercely and without any hesitation. I could never stop loving you for that and I can’t wait to spend forever with you.”
Harry’s father bends part of Harry’s circle of water so it loops around Louis’ fire, and then they join hands. Both the Fire Sage and Harry’s father step back, and they kiss, and Harry’s never felt more sure about anything in his life.
When Louis pulls back, he’s so excited that his hands are shaking and Louis’ circle falls apart when Louis can’t focus enough on the fire so it wouldn’t run into the water. They both chuckle about it until Louis looks down towards Harry’s cupped hands and sees that it’s perfect, still. Louis looks to the Fire Sage, who has stepped away and is clapping along with everyone else.
“Harry,” Louis says as Harry presses another kiss to his lips. “Harry, the Fire Sage isn’t bending that.”
“What?” Harry looks down at his hands and then towards the Sage.
Louis just shakes his head. “Just...later, okay?” And he kisses Harry’s soft, sweet mouth again and it tastes like a promise. Like a future.