|Avatar/SGA Fic: "Needs Salt"
||[Aug. 2nd, 2008|06:26 pm]
To my friendslist: this is a fanfic I wrote involving Avatar: The Last Airbender and Stargate: Atlantis. If it seems even geekier than the errata I usually ramble about, that's because you're blind to how awesome both shows are, but I forgive you. Posting it here so's I can show it to any interested parties.|
Title: Needs Salt
Notes: pentapus and I dreamed this up for a challenge over at artword entitled "Remix." We should win an award for how freaking late we are, but regardless, enjoy!
“These prices are criminal.”
Teyla, though she was shadowed under the awning, shot Rodney a still perfectly visible glare and continued forking over their carefully hoarded money. The merchant across from them sucked at his pipe and watched her count.
“That’s it, then?” He puffed out some more smoke, pointing to the various bags laid out in front of them. “Ten pounds of jerky, one ounce styptic powder…”
“Yes, yes,” snapped Rodney, “keen observation, considering you just fleeced us for all of this.”
“Prices change with the times, son. Eight ounces essence of Southern Pepper…” At that, his brows knitted, and he peered at Teyla. “This stuff is rather hot, you know.”
“It’s for a headache remedy,” she responded evenly, shooting Rodney another look.
“I’m sensitive to noise and there is a lot of it here,” he said, more than a little defensively. As one, Teyla and the merchant peered around the village. Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and the forest surrounding them stayed embarrassingly silent. “And light,” Rodney added, grudging. “The light is different here.”
“We have one more purchase we wish to make,” Teyla said, looking infuriatingly mature. Rodney shoved his hands into his pockets and grumbled about ‘son.’
She nodded firmly. “Salt.”
“Headache remedy?” The merchant asked, glancing sidelong at Rodney through the smoke.
“And more jerky,” Rodney said, while Teyla sighed.
“Right. Ten per bag.”
Teyla reached into the coin purse and winced. Beside her, Rodney missed free salt. The choppy waters outside his village held an entire ocean of it; with a little boiling you had enough salt to make jerky out of a dozen seals. Totally free! Totally accessible! A basic mineral was the last thing on his mind when he left. He hadn’t expected to be buying supplies in a landlocked nightmare a whole continent away from home, and he was logically getting pretty cross with the merchant across the counter.
A big city huckster trying to screw some rubes, that Rodney could understand. But this was where rubes came from! The village was barely that, more of a camp amid the surrounding sea of evergreens. Aside from some timber huts, there weren’t even buildings.
Abruptly, he snapped and smacked his palm down. “This is ridiculous! Look, look at the clothing.” Rodney tugged on his tunic—light blue, except where Teyla had patched it, and fairly dirty—and tapped the counter with a finger. “Water Tribe, get it? We’re tourists. Exploring the Earth Kingdom! You should be giving us a discount!”
The merchant shook his smoke-wreathed head, knocking out his pipe. Rodney jerked his fingers away from smoldering tobacco and gave the man his best glower, but the salesman didn’t seem fazed. “Exchange rate’s not in your favor, son. South Pole money’s not exactly reliable these days.”
“Oh? Yes, we must have a really unstable economy, with the war going on inside our borders and all those targets of interest to the Fire Nation we’ve got.” He smacked his palm, eyes wide. “Oh wait! That’s you!”
The merchant didn’t miss a beat. “The nearby garrison has been skimming my supplies…”
“The Fire Nation garrison is supplied by caravans from the south,” interrupted Teyla. “We have seen them.”
The merchant hesitated. “Look,” he finally said, “I’m sorry about the price.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Right. Your regret is just palpable.”
“But with the Avatar around, the Fire Nation is on the move and prices are going to go up.”
“Avatar?” Rodney repeated, eyes wide. Teyla shot him another look, which Rodney tried to ignore. “He’s, uh, around?”
“You haven’t heard? He’s been showing up everywhere!” A note of enthusiasm crept into the old man’s voice; the pipe trembled just a little. “Freeing towns, airbending all over the place—you’d think he would want to lay low!
“Yes.” Rodney said sourly. “You’d think.”
Teyla smiled. “Perhaps he is hoping to rally the people. Regardless…no one would pay that much for salt, sir.” She laid out one fat coin. “Five.”
“My hands are tied,” said the merchant. “I couldn’t go below nine.”
“I believe you could.” Teyla said, less as a contradiction, more as encouragement. Rodney tried to look imposing in the background, looming behind Teyla, but his menacing face always looked more crabby than dangerous, and it was all irrelevant anyway--the merchant's eyes stayed firmly fixed on his sister.
“Seven?” He asked, but the insistence was fading.
Teyla pushed forward the fat coin, added a smaller one. “Six. It is as high as we can go.”
The merchant sighed and nodded, hefting a huge sack of slightly gray salt onto the counter. He scooped full a smaller bag and tied it off, then passed it to Rodney, who clutched it like a prize.
Teyla gave a low nod. “Thank you.” Starting away, she peered at the crystals encrusting the top of Rodney’s bag. “Why is it gray?”
“Comes from rocks,” said Rodney absently, frowning to himself and tossing it from hand to hand. “There’ll be trace minerals in it. God, even this place knows about him? You couldn’t find it on any map!”
“Our own village is not particularly large, Rodney,” Teyla chided. They walked past the largest of the timber buildings, an inn that reeked of lizard droppings. Rodney hmphed.
“We’re from the South Pole. We’re supposed to be isolated. This is the Earth Kingdom!”
“You are just bitter he tried to overcharge us for salt.”
“Yes, of course I am, but mainly—“ They were on the very edge of the village, but still he lowered his voice. “—mainly I’m concerned that people in the middle of nowhere everywhere know we’re coming!”
“John is the Avatar, Rodney. Word will travel fast.”
“To the Fire Nation along with everyone else,” sighed Rodney morosely. He cast a glance over his shoulder; the nearest villager was well out of earshot. He halfheartedly kicked a sapling. “ “For the love of—even with Fire Nation garrisons everywhere in the kingdom, an entire navy looking for him, not to mention that crazy princess, uh…you know, burn scar, curly blonde hair…”
“Sora,” Teyla supplied.
“Right. Her. And her uncle, who I am frankly terrified of. All of them hunting us already—“ His sandel slipped off just as he stepped in a clump of burrs. “—damn it!“ He picked a few off, jammed his foot back in, and kicked another tree. “The guy just can’t stop getting people’s attention!”
Teyla cast a worried glance around, but the village was already masked by trees, and Rodney doubted an echoing –tention! would bring anyone running. “You cannot be too angry with him, Rodney. John was just—“
“Right, right. Helping people escape the pressing heel of the Fire Nation. Action! Heroics! All well and good, but we don’t need publicity right now.”
“Nor do we need cowardice. You are begrudging him his purpose and his kindness, and you should stop doing so.” Teyla glared up at Rodney, stooping to grab some berries. He considered pointing out the silliness of a fifteen year old girl with berries in her hand and her bangs up in loopies trying to glare a warrior of the Water Tribe down, but then she’d kind of taken over that role around the time he found out the village had a library.
Instead he kept walking and moodily threw “those aren’t edible” over his shoulder. Teyla stuffed them in one of the bags anyway.
“You said that about the oranges.”
“They made me feel sick! It’s not my fault you keep foisting colorful and probably deadly plant life on me in place of food—“
“Halt!” The order boomed from somewhere in the trees. Rodney looked around wildly, tensing; Teyla stayed relaxed, but cocked her head, trying to determine the source of the sound. Rodney found it first: a trio of soldiers, only the middle wearing full armor, strode towards them from the east. Thin smoke rose in the distance, snaking oily into the trees.
“Did we actually make camp this close to a Fire Nation patrol?” he whispered. “Are we delirious from hunger, or is he leeching out my vast intellect?”
“Please be quiet,” Teyla hissed. Then, louder: “May we help you?”
“State your business,” snapped the leader.
“Walking?” Rodney offered.
“We are traveling and looking for a suitable place to camp,” Teyla said. “Do you know of any?”
Rodney considered the trio: no weapons. That was good. Firebenders didn’t need weapons. That was bad. Combat effectiveness? He realized Teyla was weighed down and for the first time felt vaguely guilty for making her carry everything.
“No. Why not at the village? No room at the inn?”
“Please,” said Rodney, “as if we could afford their prices. Have you tried to buy anything there?” The amused look shared between the three answered his question. Maybe the merchant wasn’t quite as dishonest as he’d thought.
“No matter. Have either of you seen the Avatar? You may have noticed him…bald, arrow tattoos. Only airbender left in the world.”
“Couldn’t say we have,” Rodney said evenly. Privately he wondered: Bald? Teyla just shook her head. The commander eyed them, pursed lips barely visible under the grille of his helmet. Then those lips curled into a smile, and he shrugged.
“Well, I’m sure you’re telling the truth.”
“Of course we are.” Teyla smiled back, radiating sincerity. Rodney wished she’d tell him how to do that.
Voice dripping with cheer, the man continued: “So we’ll just need to take you back to base to be sure.”
“What?” Rodney yelled. A few birds overhead scattered, showering pine needles. “Do you detain any traveler who doesn’t have the answer you want? Is that, I don’t know, standard operating procedure?”
“With travelers in strange clothes who’re probably heading towards a campsite we found a couple miles away—generally, yes.” The smile beneath the grille, already pretty obnoxious, flexed into a joyless grin. Rodney wondered how much force one needed to dent a Fire Nation Helmet.
“You are not detaining us,” Teyla said, voice edged. The commander laughed; he towered a foot above her in height. He put a meaty hand on her shoulder, squeezed it firmly.
“Teyla,” hissed Rodney.
“Very well.” She shrugged off the bags, dropping them at his feet. “May I have a drink of water first?”
“Sure,” the commander said, watching her uncap her flask. Perhaps finally making the connection between foreigner and light blue clothes, he widened his eyes and started to shout, “Wait—“ but a concussive blast of water caught him in the chin. He staggered backwards, helmet spiraling into the trees, and knocked the left bender down. The third, snarling, flung out a hand; Teyla nimbly but just barely pivoted away from a stream of fire. Rodney made a horrified grab for the stores, getting most of them before he realized what the hell he was doing and scrambled behind a nearby fallen tree.
The other two were up, now, hands encased in flames. Teyla lashed out at the closest, water forming a pillar in front of her and smashing him in the chest. He sailed a few feet, slamming into a tree, and stayed there; the other two responded with a wave of fire that evaporated half her water and filled the air with the scent of burning pine.
Rodney took stock.
Two firebenders. One Teyla. Very bad. One Rodney, protecting jerky and overpriced salt—his adoptive father never begrudged Rodney’s preference for books, but he could imagine at least a disappointed head-shake right now. “This is not my area,” he moaned, hunting through the groceries. There had to be something to use, some kind of weapon. Hard bread, no, jerky, please, extract of southern pepper—
Rodney blinked, grinned, and grabbed his canteen.
Teyla was down to one lightning-fast tendril of water, darting between burning trees. The fire was spreading, and the benders used that, herding her in; abruptly the commander broke the gap, lunging for her. She knocked his flaming hand aside at the wrist and flat-palmed him in the jaw with a satisfying crack, looked past him, saw the last soldier charging already—
A splash of water, uncontrolled, slapped against his shoulder. The bender looked down at one flaming hand, then at the water already steaming off his clothes, and finally incredulously to the panting Rodney, who held his canteen out like a sword.
“Are you kidding?” He asked, turning for Teyla again. Rodney slung another splash, this time dousing the man’s face and plastering his hair to his head. This seemed to have more of an effect—primarily because the man started screaming.
Rodney tossed Teyla the canteen. “Good buy, that extract, really. My head doesn’t hurt at all.” He watched the wailing firebender, ran a hand through his hair. “I feel spectacular. I may even give that idiot in town some more money, we’ve certainly…”
Teyla smiled and silenced the stricken bender with a kick to the head. Rodney took that as a good cue to shut up. “Thank you.”
There was a sudden rumble, off to the right; half a dozen trees groaned and cracked. Teyla jolted into a fighting stance; Rodney slid behind her. Both stared wide-eyed until a lumbering, furry, gigantic shape lurched out into view, at which point they relaxed, even as a thick pine crashed to the ground beside them.
The shape roared and shook its shaggy head. Straddling its neck was a younger boy in bright clothes, arrow tattoos on his hands and forehead, tugging ineffectually at real arrows sticking out of the beast’s side. Rodney and Teyla rushed to him; she got there first, bounding easily over the fallen tree. “John!”
John looked up, eyes stricken and a little murderous, but the look melted into relief as Teyla grabbed the nearest arrow and tugged. The beast growled faintly and nuzzled her.
“And Ronon,” she said warmly. John hopped down, pulling her into a sudden hug; she hugged back.
“I don’t get a hug?” Rodney complained, stumbling off the trunk. “Not that I particularly, you know, want one, but the offer would be appreciated—“
“You smell like burnt pepper,” John said, peering up at him. “So, no.” Teyla laughed, and he grinned, ducking his head away. Rodney rolled his eyes; someday, maybe Teyla would notice the crush. In the meantime Rodney got to endure all the smitten looks a twelve-year-old could try to hide.
“The Fire Nation thinks you’re bald, by the way.”
“Bald?” John repeated. He tilted his head, ran a contemplative hand through his hair. “Oh., right…well, as a monk, I’m, y’know, technically supposed to keep it shaved, but--it always made my ears look too pointy.”
“But what has happened to you two?” asked Teyla, finally yanking out an arrow. She tossed the wicked thing aside and started on the next one. Ronon grumbled stamping slightly, but didn’t flinch away.
“Ronon kinda…saw some soldiers,” John said, sheepish. “We got into a little fight. A dozen firebenders and some kind of camp full of archers and—you guys are okay, though, right?”
Rodney left them to tend to Ronon and tried to take stock. Teyla, uninjured; Ronon, unbothered; John, grinning like a schoolboy and explaining how he’d bashed that firebender there and another one here. Jerky, still there. Pepper, all gone. Salt…
Trailing behind him in a long, grey-white line. Rodney held the bag up and watched the last few grains tumble down.
And now he had a headache.