Summary: Ficlet, one-shot. Jun meets a vaguely familiar boy with a disturbing story in a pub.
Spoilers: Everything before the Northern Air Temple
Author's Note: Very shortone-shot, meant to mess with your mind a bit and turn the Avatar world upside down. I dislike the title and will most likely change it soon.
Jun's favorite new pub was loud and noisy, and smelled of alcohol, men, and smoke. It stood on the outskirts of town, a glowing tavern on the black edge between civilization and wilderness. It was crowed, as always, with people looking for a good time and a stiff drink after a long day of work.
"The usual, Tom," She said, flipping a few coins onto the rough-hewn wood and seating herself on an empty barstool. Tom scooped them up with a nod and went to fix her drink. Jun turned around in her stool and leaned back on the counter, surveying the pub's frequenters. She was startled when someone came forward and fell almost violently into the bar.
"As many shots as you have clean glasses," He said loudly, slapping a full bag of coins down and sounding already inebriated. Without waiting to see if the barkeep had heard him, he turned around and slouched with his back to the counter, completely ignoring Jun.
Her drink came and she sipped it while looking at him curiously out of the corners of her eyes. He was tall, but young. Maybe five or six years younger than she was. He looked vaguely familiar.
"Hello," She ventured.
"My favorite drink is alcohol," He said. "It lets you forget when you hurt people."
"That's true," She said.
"I remember you." He said suddenly. "You tried to kill me before."
"That's a good possibility," She said mildly.
"Not exactly me," He clarified, making vague hand gestures in the air. "Those around me."
"Again, a very good possibility," She said.
The loudness in the pub rose as the men burst enthusiastically into a drinking song, their voices gravelly and off key. Some didn't even know the words, but they roared out unintelligible sounds and laughter to something looselyresembling the tune.
"You know, they never do remember my name. They never do try to kill me." The boy said. He looked up at her with startlingly blue eyes. "Would you kill me?"
"I have no reason to," Jun responded. "And why someone so young as you would want to die is beyond me."
"Oh, no, I don't want to die," The boy said firmly. A number of tiny glasses had arrived, each brimming with golden liquid, and he tossed one back with something like practiced ease. "I was just seeing if you would or not. Kill me that is."
"No, I wouldn't kill you," Jun said, feeling a little unsettled. "And you are a remarkably articulate drunk."
"Yes," The boy said proudly, before sliding off the stool and falling in a heap. Jun reluctantly helped him back up and he grunted his thanks. "And you are remarkably pretty."
"I know," Jun said honestly. He was quiet for a long time, and drank twice more before speaking.
"The problem is, I can't tell her. It would break her heart."
Jun sipped her drink.
"It was the only way though. It's the only way."
Jun stirred her drink.
"Do you want to know?" He asked her, looking at her warily.
"I suppose you'll tell me," She said dryly.
"I made a deal with the Fire Nation." He admitted.
"Prince Zuko?" Jun said, a little surprised.
"That snob?" The boy said indignantly. "No. No, see, I went straight to the source."
"Okay, not exactly me," He said with a cough, clarifying with more vague hand gestures. "More like my family."
"Aren't you – "
"From the Water Tribe?" The boy said, motioning to his blue clothing and giving a hollow laugh. "Yes."
He brought his drink to his lips and it hovered there.
"They don't and won't ever know," He said, tossing it back. "that everything they know is fake."
"Excuse me?" Jun said.
"Yes," The boy said simply, setting down the empty glass. "They're basically living in a made-up world. It started out as a deal between the Water Tribes and the Fire Nation years and years ago. You see, they don't really hate each other. That's all Water Tribe and Fire Nation propaganda to keep up appearances and to string them along. We need each other. We cool Fire down, help them cement their plans and think logically without jumping to conclusions. Fire puts power behind our words and ideas and heats them into motion."
Jun didn't answer.
"I cried the day my father left." The boy said softly. "But I cried because he told me what our family had done, not because he was leaving."
Intrigued, Jun couldn't help herself. "What did your family do?"
"The current Fire Lord came to us, actually," The boy said. "But it's not that surprising, I guess. We were and basically still are one of the most prominent Southern Water Tribe families. He called together the most powerful people from each nation and they had a conference. They came to the conclusion that the Avatar was not a being for peace, but a being for hatred and violence. How much blood had been shed in the Avatar's name? How many horrible crimes and acts had been committed in the purpose of the Avatar? Too many, they decided, and they planned to stop the Avatar from returning.
"Of course, there are rebel bands. People who still believe that the Avatar is the one beacon of peace and love and all that crap. I'm a cynical, logical person. I agree with the opinions of my ancestors, however misguided people think they were.
"Aang was frozen in an iceberg for a hundred years, but it wasn't his fault. Well, running away was, but that was part of the plan. Air Nomads on our side spread the word that Aang was the Avatar, which led to Aang being shunned by his friends. When he left, strategically positioned waterbenders encased him in ice. It was perfectly done.
"But you see, Aang wasn't the Avatar."
"No, but he would be eventually. There's this whole complicated scientific, mathematical formula thing that took years to come up with, but comes down to basically educated guesses based on the types of lives and situations in the lives of past Avatars and a little bit of genetics. Seems that Avatars are often prone to having lazy eyes, which I found a little funny. It's been surprisingly accurate so far, though."
This is crazy, Jun thought in disbelief. She kept listening.
"We killed the real Air Nomad Avatar. The cycle moved on, and each Avatar we hunted and killed. It wasn't that big of a sacrifice. It was one life for the lives of many, and there was peace and cooperation between all four nations. But now – now we're finally gaining on him. It wasn't an accident that my sister and I found Aang. Why else would I trick her into breaking open that iceberg? This whole thing is my responsibility, given to me when my father left.
"But now I've got to keep the current Avatar alive, try to stop him from doing stupid things that will get him killed before we get him to the Fire Nation, where we'll kill him with that comet. And we even set up a little meeting with a master firebender before he was ready, too, just to discourage him from ever completely mastering the elements before we could get rid of him. I didn't want to, my sister was hurt so badly,and right then, I would have dropped the mission and killed Aang myself. She wasn't supposed to get hurt, that wasn't part of the plan.
"And before that, my sister was feeling homesick, so I had one of our waterbenders come visit, staged it as a chance meeting. We decided beforehand what stories to share so that I could request certain ones. None of that actually happened. My father didn't even know Bato. But it made my sister happy. And was also a convenient way to prove my loyalty to Aang by changing my mind in an act of forgiveness or something and going back to him.
"I've had to go so far to make them believe this is all real, you know?" The boy said heavily, downing another shot glass but this time with a choke.
No, Jun thought, greatly disturbed. I don't know. I should leave right now.
"You should probably leave right now," The boy said. "I'll walk you out."
He stood up before she did and weaved, swaying, through the crowd of drunken, singing men and outside. Feeling strangely compelled to follow him, Jun drained her glass and left as well.
The moment he stepped out of the pub he took a deep breath of damp night air and slumped against the wall. He looked up at her with penetrating blue eyes.
"I wish you could just run away," He said, his eyes glassy. Jun wished she could too, but her feet didn't move. His gaze was unsettling – he was suddenly no longer the no-name boy who traveled with the prince's girlfriend and the Avatar.
"Y – you're a remarkably articulate drunk," Jun stammered.
"Don't be a fool, Jun." The boy said harshly. "I may have drank a bit of alcohol, but I'm not drunk and you should damn well know it. Some bounty hunter you are."
"These men in this bar are Earth Kingdom actors who follow you from pub to pub to keep each one full for your next appearance and spread news of your greatness as a bounty hunter. They do that so that Zuko, who also is completely oblivious to the fact that he's set up by his uncle, his father and all his crew, could employ you, so that you could play your part and keep the Avatar moving along in time to get to the Fire Nation when the comet hits so we can kill him. Your Xirxiu has already been executed and its body already incinerated. All evidence of your nomadic existence has already been erased; rumors of your death are already spread; from the moment you said hello to me our conversation has been monitored and, because I have told you all of this, you are now going to die too."
Jun pulled her whip from her belt and brandished it, backing away from him in horror.
"Who are you!" She spat, eyes wide.
"It's okay, though, Jun," The boy said soothingly. "Your great-great-grandson would have been the next Fire Nation Avatar. You had to be disposed of soon enough anyway."
"What – what – get away from me!" Jun cried. There was rustling and suddenly a band of people fell from the trees bearing knives and swords led by a tall boy with straw hanging from his lip, and the singing in the tavern stopped, and before Jun could move her own whip was ripped from her grasp and she was down on the ground. The last thing she saw was the boy's face, his blue, blue eyes torn and sorrowful.
"Help me!" She said desperately. "Why are you doing this? Who are you?"
"Why bother?" He told her sadly. "No one remembers my name."
Author's Note: I'm such a review whore. I need them! Keep me off the streets, people! And cookies to the person who caught the cameo of a former character.