lizbee: (LoK: Lin (sulking because family))
[personal profile] lizbee
Title: The Birthday Party
Author: LizBee
Fandom: Legend of Korra
Characters and Pairing: OCs, Asami Sato, Lin/Tenzin
Rating: All-ages

Summary: Jade Beifong takes her sisters to Asami Sato's birthday party.

Notes: Set in the same AU as "Avalanche", three years later.



The Birthday Party

For Jade's twelfth birthday, her parents hosted a small party for a dozen of her friends from school. The entertainment -- much of it inappropriate -- had been provided by Uncle Bumi. Her two very closest friends had stayed the night, and in the morning, Dad took them home on Oogi.

So when her parents asked her to take her sisters to a school friend's party, she had expected something … smaller. Not necessarily humble -- families who could afford to send their daughters to Republic City Girls College did not do humble -- but restrained.

If Jade had realised she'd be driving her sisters to an opulent estate in Phoenix Heights, she would have washed the ink off her hands. Twenty was probably too young to use phrases like, "Back in my day," but back in her day, kids' birthday parties didn't have valet parking.

And it turned out to be the kind of party where the adults hung around nibbling at canapes while Chou the clown tripped over the ribbon dancers. Which meant Jade was stuck for the afternoon.

She definitely should have been more suspicious when Dad asked her for a favour. She'd had plans for this afternoon -- exams were coming, and her notes on the lymphatic system weren't going to study themselves.

"Should have brought my textbook."

She didn't realise she had spoken out loud until a nearby woman gave her a funny look.

"Ahem," the woman said, detaching from her knot of friends and looking Jade up and down, "I think the maids and nannies are waiting for their charges over there." She waved in the direction of a much plainer tent. "This marquee is for family."

"Oh." Jade summoned her haughtiest expression. "I'm here with my sisters. I'm Jade Beifong."

It was a kind of magic: the sound of her mother's name transformed the overbearing snob into a gracious would-be friend.

"My goodness," she trilled, taking Jade by the arm, "Avatar Aang's granddaughter! I didn't -- that is, I suppose, growing up with airbenders, you're much more enlightened than us, you don't even need expensive clothes--"

Jade glanced down at her tunic and long pants. Sure, they were a little worn, not to mention ink-stained, but her clothes had been expensive … once.

"Bian, your mouth is running away from you again." An older lady joined them. "I'm Nu -- and I should have guessed you were Lin's daughter, you're the spitting image of her. We went to school together, oh, many years ago."

"Nu is always telling us how old she is," said Bian. "Myeong, this is Jade Beifong. Her sisters go to school with Asami."

Myeong was the youngest of the trio, but also the least energetic. She extended a languid hand, although her greeting was less of a Water Tribe-style arm clasp than a gentle brush of Jade's forearm.

"Honoured," she said. "I didn't realise your family had proper schooling at all. Isn't your father some kind of religious fanatic?"

"Myeong!" snapped Nu.

Bian giggled. "Oh, Myeong, don't scare the poor girl." To Jade, she said, "You'll have to forgive Myeong -- her wife wanted to build a resort on some old Air Nomad ruins, but the council rejected the planning application."

"How sad," said Jade, her voice flat.

"Well, your mother certainly never has trouble getting her projects approved." Myeong sank into a low couch. "Family dinners must be so fascinating."

"Mom knows better than to desecrate ancient ruins for a quick yuan," said Jade.

"Quite right." Nu pointedly turned her back on Myeong and smiled warmly at Jade. "Would you care for an octopus fritter? Hiroshi's cook is marvellous, I always eat as much as I can at his parties."

"I don't eat meat," Jade started to say, but Nu was already steering her towards the buffet. Jade looked back, and saw Bian remonstrating with Myeong -- but with an unconcealed glee that suggested she was delighted to have witnessed such entertaining rudeness.

"You don't have to forgive Myeong at all," Nu said as they made their way through the crowd. "She's spoiled and dull, and she cheapens every gathering she attends -- which, unfortunately, is most of -- oh, hello, Gia!"

Nu was waylaid by a stout lady wearing an improbable hat. Jade seized her chance to escape, making an apologetic bow and slipping away.

She wasn't used to this kind of party. She had moved to the Southern Water Tribe at fourteen, around the time her classmates at Republic City Girls College were graduating from tea parties to their parents' more elaborate gatherings. The South Pole was more egalitarian than Republic City, and though her family was one of the most prominent in the Water Tribe, social events always started and finished with everyone pitching in to cook, clean or move furniture. Even if she had dressed up, Jade didn't think she would be comfortable here.

So she steered clear of the adults and watched the kids at play. Girls from three year levels had been invited to Asami Sato's birthday party, her own class and the two younger cohorts. It had seemed ridiculous at first -- they couldn't all be Asami's friends -- but she was beginning to understand that this event was less about the birthday girl than the adults who mingled at the edges. She would bet a yuan that even the servants, relegated to their own tent, were taking the chance to find out who paid the best wages and who would fire you if you got pregnant.

At least the kids seemed to be having fun. She caught a glimpse of Nima, leading a group of girls in a game that seemed to involve three balls and an air scooter, and Jinora, watching the ribbon dancers with a look of intense fascination. A new fad was on the horizon, Jade guessed, and made a mental note to find the ribbons from her own dancing phase.

She wandered through the grounds with no particular goal in mind, admiring the precisely arranged gardens. She could practically hear her mother sneering at the old-fashioned landscaping, but then, a Beifong -- she remembered the reverence with which Bian had said the name -- could get away with a bit of wilderness. A family enjoying its first generation of prosperity might appreciate the security of tradition.

Then she turned a corner and came across a building that owed nothing at all to tradition or feng shui. Near the border of the estate, out of sight from the main house, was a large metal shed. It looked like it had been plucked from the factory district, an ugly contrast to its manicured setting.

Curious, Jade picked up her pace.

Inside, she found a large workshop, with blueprints pinned to the walls and a Satomobile engine sitting on a bench. In the very centre of the room was a … well, it looked like the front half of an airship, complete with cockpit, but completely open, and raised up on a hydraulic stand.

"Excuse me." A a girl was sitting in the cockpit, peering down at Jade. She wore a pink silk dress, with peonies in her hair, but there was grease smudged on her nose and hands. "You're not meant to be here."

Despite herself, Jade smiled.

"And you are?" she asked.

"I'm Asami Sato. I live here."

"Happy birthday, Asami. I'm Jade Beifong. What is that thing?"

"It's a flight simulator. It's how airship pilots learn to fly." Asami pulled a lever and the half-airship tilted, the hydraulics rumbling. "It's my birthday present."

"I only got a bracelet when I turned twelve."

"Oh," Asami smiled, "I got one of those, too. Dad takes birthdays really seriously." There was a self-deprecating tone in her voice that made her sound charming, not spoilt.

"It's pretty cool."

"Thanks." Asami grinned. "Want a ride?"

If anyone else -- especially her sisters -- had been around, Jade would have demurred. She was a university student, and her parents expected her to set a good example for Jinora and Nima.

But they were alone in the workshop, and Asami had big, hopeful eyes. And Jade had always wanted to ride in an airship's cockpit.

"Help me up," she said.

Asami was almost as tall as Jade, but as straight and skinny as a tree in the arctic forest of the South Pole. Gawky, like Jinora was becoming. But she had automatically wiped the grease off her hands, without getting so much as a speck on her expensive dress, and reached down to help Jade climb the ladder into the simulator.

"You can take the co-pilot's seat," Asami said, motioning her towards it. "This is a model of a Future Industries Feilong, but the controls are the same for all Dad's airships. His idea is that once you've mastered one kind of Future Industries machine, you can fly or drive anything else in that category." She threw a switch. "Engines are warming up."

"But every machine feels different, right?" Jade asked. "I can drive, but my old jalopy won't handle like one of your dad's racing cars."

"No, but the principles are the same. What do you drive?"

"Just an old Model 五. It's my uncle's, but he's in the United Forces, so I use it more than he does."

"Cabbage Corp. Ugh."

"It gets me around. Most of the time."

The dial on one of the big gauges flipped into the green area, and Asami said, "Engines ready. Commencing lift off."

"What do you drive?" Jade asked.

"Nothing, yet. Dad says -- oh, retracting landing ropes, I always forget that -- Dad says he'll take me out to the track when I'm ready. Airships are safer than cars." She pulled the main lever towards herself. "Increasing ascent. Fifteen degree tilt."

The simulator tilted back.

"Oh wow," said Jade. "My uncle would love this."

"Isn't it great?" Asami was gazing out at the workshop, but Jade didn't think she was seeing its walls. "I had this idea--" She broke off.

"What?" Jade asked.

"It's embarrassing."

Jade wasn't great with people, but she had practice at persuading adolescent girls to confide in her. "I promise I won't tell. Not even my sisters."

"I thought the girls from school would like it. I wanted to give rides." Asami shook her head. "I thought it would be really fun. But I haven't even told anyone I have it."

"In case they make fun of you?"

Asami shrugged. "Maybe." She levelled them up. "You're Jinora and Nima's sister, right?"

"Yeah, so if they've ever given you a hard time, I can smack them into their next incarnations."

"No, they're fine. I don't really know them, but they seem nice." Asami took her hands off the controls. "Is it true they're friends with Avatar Korra?"

"Yeah, she lives on Air Temple Island with her parents. She and my sisters are always getting into scrapes."

"I wanted to invite the Avatar to my party, but Dad's secretary said it would be rude to invite someone I haven't actually met."

"Korra wouldn't have minded. Trust me, she is not a stickler for etiquette."

"Really?"

"On the other hand, she'd have probably gotten into two fights and challenged your poshest, snobbiest classmate to an agni kai by now." Asami giggled, and Jade added, "You should get to know my sisters. I'm sure they'd be happy to introduce you to the Avatar."

Asami became serious. "I would never pretend to be friends with someone so I could use them to meet important people," she said. "Never." Her narrowed eyes and set jaw made her look older, giving Jade a glimpse of the serious young woman this skinny kid would become.

"You're right," she said. "I'm sorry."

She remembered, again, her own twelfth birthday party. It had felt at the time like one of the best days of her life, but when the weekend ended, she found Panik, Biyu and Lihwa waiting for her inside the school gates.

"You can't sit with us anymore," Panik had said. "Not after what you did to us."

"I don't understand," she replied. "What did I do?"

"As if you don't know," Panik said loudly. Other girls were milling around, trying to listen without being obvious. "You deliberately embarrassed us. You don't deserve friends." She turned. "Come on, girls."

Biyu, the only one of the trio who had stayed for the sleepover, gave Jade an apologetic smile over her shoulder as she followed Panik.

By morning break, the whole school knew what had happened: Jade Beifong had invited Prince Iroh of the Fire Nation to her party without so much as warning anyone, so Lihwa, Panik and Biyu found themselves being presented to an actual prince wearing old, grass-stained clothes and -- in Panik's case -- remnants of air bison snot.

"But I didn't invite him!" Jade said to Hana as they tuned their pipa for music class. "He just turned up! He had some leave -- he's always around."

"But that just makes it worse, don't you see?" Hana had been the other guest at the sleepover, but she was just a scholarship girl, and far beneath Panik's notice. "You had a prince come to visit, and it wasn't even out of the ordinary."

"They're jealous?"

"And embarrassed."

"About the snot? Trust me, Iroh's worn air bison snot before."

"Worse. I'm just guessing, but--" Hana looked sheepish, "--I think they're embarrassed about being jealous of you."

"Huh?"

"It's like … your family's rich, but so is everyone else's here, except mine. And your dad doesn't let you have fancy stuff, so I think most people forget about that, and your grandparents, and everything else. Here, you're just Jade. You're a bit shy, and kind of a nerd. You have strict parents and the worst singing voice in our year. For Panik, realising that she's jealous of you must be like -- well, being jealous of me."

"Hana," said Jade slowly, "are you saying that I'm some kind of loser?"

"Well," Hana gave her a crooked grin, "at least we have each other?"

And they did, even after Panik decided that, rather than making Jade her enemy, she should befriend her, so as to have more opportunities to meet Prince Iroh. Jade was flattered, but kept Panik at arm's length. She and Biyu remained friendly, but Jade never really trusted her again.

But Hana remained her friend to this day, even through the years Jade lived at the South Pole.

Asami, she thought, could use a friend like Hana.

Then she leaned back in her chair and laughed.

"What's so funny?" Asami asked.

"All afternoon, I've been congratulating myself for having a normal party for my twelfth birthday. You know, small. Modest. And a prince came."

Asami's eyes widened. "A real prince?"

"Yeah. Iroh of the Fire Nation."

"That's amazing."

Jade started laughing again.

The workshop door opened, and a portly man with greying hair and a thick moustache appeared in the doorway.

"Asami," he called, "are you in here? I'm sure your guests are wondering where you are."

"I'll be out in a minute, Dad."

"Ah." Hiroshi Sato approached the airship simulator, smiling. "I should have guessed."

"I was just giving Jade a demonstration."

"Hello," said Jade, feeling rather silly. "I'm Jade Beifong. My sisters go to school with Asami."

"Lin and Tenzin's daughter. Honoured to meet you." Hiroshi gave her a shallow bow and extended a hand to help her climb down. "Asami, you've monopolised Jade long enough. Wouldn't some of your friends like to see the simulator?"

"No," Asami said, jumping down, "I'm in the mood for a game of hide and explode." She grinned at Jade. "You were a great co-pilot."

"I had a wonderful pilot."

Hiroshi pulled a handkerchief from his waistcoat and wiped the grease off Asami's nose. Then she scurried outside, where the other girls greeted her cheerfully. Jade and Hiroshi followed at a more leisurely pace.

"Thank you for keeping her company," Hiroshi said. "She's not precisely shy, but…"

"It's a difficult age."

He offered her his arm. Jade thought it was meant as an avuncular gesture, although growing up with Uncle Bumi had skewed her perceptions on that front. "May I show you the gardens?" he asked.

"Please."

They strolled around the edge of the crowd. Hiroshi paused now and then to bow at his adult guests, but he kept his attention on Jade, asking about her education and upbringing. Using her, she guessed, as a template for Asami's future. He wanted to know if she found it challenging, studying medicine as a non-bender, when healers could do the same work so much better.

"But not everyone can afford a healer," Jade pointed out. "And some can't do much more than fix surface wounds. Which is valuable, of course, but you can't just get any old waterbender to remove an appendix, or set a broken bone." She stopped. "Sorry. I have this argument a lot. Non-bending doctors aren't just second-rate healers."

"Of course not," said Hiroshi. "No more than I'm a second-rate metalbender."

"Exactly. There's a place for both."

He looked like he was about to say something more, but then Nima yelled, "Jade, watch this!" and executed an airbending backflip, perfect in every respect until she landed in the pond.

"Oops," said Nima. "Sorry, Mr Sato."

"I think this is our cue to go," said Jade. "I'm so sorry for my -- Nima, if you use airbending to dry yourself in this crowd--"

Nima flicked a few droplets of water at Jinora, who pulled a face at her.

"Car. Now."

"It was very nice to meet you, Miss Beifong," said Hiroshi.

"Please give Asami my best wishes."

"Of course."

It was still another twenty minutes before they left, because Jinora and Nima had to say goodbye to each individual friend. Nima gave a big, wet hug to a girl who looked like Myeong in miniature, leaving her blue silk dress in ruins.

"Finally!" she said. "Maybe next time, Mom will let me wear real clothes. Thanks, Nima!"

Jade decided she would forgive the delay.

The girls' farewell to Asami was much more perfunctory. Perfectly polite, but impersonal, like they were reciting from a book on etiquette. Asami looked past them at Jade, and gave her a warm smile.

"Why'd you come to Asami's party if you don't like her?" she asked as they drove away from the Sato estate.

"I like Asami," said Jinora, at the same time as Nima yelped, "Who says I don't like Asami?"

"We just don't know her very well," said Jinora. "She seems nice, though."

"And she invited us," Nima added. "Why wouldn't we come? Hey, Jade, when I turn twelve, I want a dragon at my party. Not dancers, a real one."

"Like Fire Lord Zuko would drop everything to come to your party," said Jinora.

"He doesn't have to come. Just his dragon."

"I don't care about having a party," said Jinora smugly. "I just want a big family feast, like they have in the palace at Ba Sing Se, and I want everyone to dress up like it's the Jiu Dynasty, and I'll wear Mom's old winged boar jewellery--"

"They eat meat in the royal palace," said Nima. "Gross."

"There's a thing called tofu, dummy. You're so unsophisticated." Jinora leaned forward. "Did you have fun with the adults, Jade?"

"Not really. But I got to hang out with Asami."

"You are such a nerd," said Nima.

"Did you know she got an airship simulator for her birthday?"

"What? Dad won't even let me have a sky bison yet!"

"She's a nice kid," said Jade. "You guys should get to know her."

"Okay," said Jinora. "Maybe I'll invite her to my birthday feast. Do you think Mom would let me have a badgermole?"

Shaking her head and smiling, Jade put her foot on the gas and let the sound of the engine drown her sisters' voices.



end

Date: 2017-03-11 05:56 am (UTC)
archangelbeth: An anthropomorphic feline face, with feathered wing ears, and glasses, in shades of gray. (Default)
From: [personal profile] archangelbeth
This is a nice AU to settle down into and relax. O:D

Date: 2017-03-11 09:00 am (UTC)
mystefaction: A small girl reading a very large book (Default)
From: [personal profile] mystefaction
Hey, I wondered if Asami would be at the girls' school! What a party, though. :-/

He looked like he was about to say something more

I bet he was. *scowls*

But that just means Nima gets the MVP award for this round, however inadvertently! The detail about 'accidentally' spoiling her friend's dress was also great.

"He doesn't have to come. Just his dragon."

*snerk* Brutal.

Your take on young Asami is lovely and it's nice to meet Jade properly. :-)

Date: 2017-03-12 01:46 am (UTC)
mystefaction: A small girl reading a very large book (Default)
From: [personal profile] mystefaction
Party awkwardness is close to the worst, with or without snobbery.

But then I sat down to actually write that bit, and I was like, "OR he's probably not going to invite a young woman he's just met to join his secret subversive bigotry party."

Ha! Yeah, probably not. Suss her out as a potential future asset, though, that I'd believe.

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