Anko enjoyed her modest lunch while sitting in the shade. She leaned against a tree trunk, half open eyes looking out over her upper field. Almost two weeks had past since the battle on her farm; only now were the last remnants of that battle being swept away. The damaged portion of her barn's roof had been repaired, the large blocks that had made up the inner wall that had surrounded her buildings were removed and now, finally, the upper field had been smoothed and replanted. Anko yawned and stretched. All this bending was tiresome and the majority of the reconstruction had been left to her alone. The Avatar's bison, upon learning that his master was free and waiting for him somewhere in the world, had made a near miraculous recovery. He and his apologetic, yet overjoyed passengers had departed a mere three days after Prince Zuko.
But that was okay. Anko had smiled and waved and wished them all a "Safe Journey". After all, those younglings were the new movers and shakers of the world. Their actions would ultimately affect everyone, even the people of Yopoko. Anko was a simple farmer now; her time in the sun was done. And she didn't mind it, really. She was used to being alone, and it wasn't the first time she had to put the farm back in order. Still… it was kind of quiet now. And it was kind of difficult, to let go. After years of isolation, she had been suddenly thrust back into current events, back into a world she had given up on long ago. And it was hard, not knowing. Had the Water Tribe siblings found the Avatar yet, or would the Fire Nation get there first? Would Prince Zuko find a way to end his banishment and ascend to the throne?
As small and unimportant as Yopoko was, Anko knew she would probably never know the answers. At least, not until it was too late to do anything about them. The earthbender scoffed at herself. And she actually cared. When had that happened? Hadn't the greedy, self-serving, dishonorable ways of other people driven that emotion from her long ago? Did she really want to risk hoping again, for a better world, for a peaceful world?
An odd call sounded across her field. Anko recognized the flash of red as Misha the foxcat pounced on some small unfortunate creature. She was glad to see the foxcat hunting again. Having hidden herself away from the battle, Misha had returned to the farm to find Prince Zuko inexplicably gone. The poor feline had been despondent, searching endlessly at night for her missing bed partner. Anko had found it to be cute in a sad sort of way. She had no idea that the feline had become so attached. Finally she had relented and allowed the foxcat to sleep with her. She was sure that eventually Misha would forget all about the firebender. Everything would go back to normal now… it was for the best, really.
The farmer's idle hands played in the soil, finding something hard amongst the soft grasses. She held it in front of her face; it was a hickory nut, probably a seed from the old tree that had fallen into her field a while back. Anko turned the nut over in her hand; it was still solid, still good. Remarkably untouched by rodents, weather or the stomping feet of invading Fire Nation soldiers that had passed this very area only two weeks ago. She considered it thoughtfully. Its parent had been a very old tree. Old enough to remember peaceful times, before the war.
The earthbender closed her hand around the nut. A different thought troubled her. She was a farmer now, as far detached from the war as she could possibly be and yet, however unintentionally, Zuko's presence on her farm and the arrival of the Water Tribe siblings had revoked her anonymity. As General Iroh had reminded her, in the eyes of the Fire Nation, she would still be considered a General. Anko trusted that Iroh and Zuko would leave her be, but Admiral Zhao on the other hand…
Anko opened her hand and smiled at the hickory nut. "Ah well, like I told the boy, worrying about the future is pointless. How is it that old saying goes? Walking around with regrets and worries is like walking around with pebbles in one's shoes." She looked out at her bare feet with a grin. "And I did promise Grandfather after all." She poked a hole into the ground and planted the seed, watering it with the remains of her canteen water. "Live or die by your own accord, little seed. I've done all I can do. But if you should make it into a tree, I hope you grow up to witness the return of peace."
Anko snorted softly at herself. I must be getting old, to be wasting my time with all this sentimental crap. She heaved herself off the ground with a grunt. After all, she had work to do.
Aang looked up. His large brown eyes widened as a monstrous white furry form came diving out of the clouds towards him. "Appa!"
"Aang!" two blue clad teens waved frantically from the back of the ten-ton bison.
"Hey guys!" he greeted, moments before being tackled and pinned to the ground by Appa's two front feet. The bison gave the giggling boy a wet lick from bottom to top, soaking Aang's clothes in an instant. He wiggled free, only to be engulfed in a group hug from both Katara and Sokka, the Watertribers' own clothes becoming soaked in bison slobber. Momo chattered happily while bounding from head to head. Appa nosed the group with a low steady noise emanating from deep in his throat. He gave them another affectionate lick, causing the friends to break apart with various expressions of disgust on their faces. Aang slammed a fist into the palm of his hand, the blast of air drying them all off instantly.
"See guys," he said while proudly brandishing his bison whistle. "Best copper coin I ever spent!" He grinned and blushed as Katara wrapped him up in another tight squeeze.
"We were so worried! Are you alright?" She let go of him to turn his hands over in hers, inspecting his bare tattooed skin for wounds or burns. She found none. "I'm so sorry Aang." She looked into his big brown eyes. "It must have been so hard on you, to be locked up. I'm so sorry we weren't there for you; that we couldn't find you sooner."
"It's okay, Katara," he assured her. "I'm fine. They didn't even keep me chained up for long; they just put something in my water instead that made me tired all the time so I couldn't bend." Aang's face fell a little as Katara released him. He longed for contact. In truth, he had been lonely and scared. And as the days had dragged on and on, he had wondered if he'd ever be freed. Seeing the worried look in Katara's eyes, he put a big smile on. "The worst part was the food. Always curried rice; bleck! I'd forgotten how hot and spicy Fire Nation food is. Besides that, it was just boring. I really missed you guys!"
"Don't be so calm about it, Aang," Sokka said with a frown. "We almost lost you for good this time. Was it really Momo who set you free?" At the sound of his name, the little lemur leapt to the top of Sokka's head, chewing away on some of the fruit that Anko had sent with them. Cold juice dribbled through Sokka's hair, causing the teenaged boy to give a startled yelp. Momo jumped into the safety of Katara's arms. Aang smiled, a real smile this time. This was what he had missed the most; just being with his adoptive family. Remembering Sokka's question, he answered, "Yeah, Momo freed me, but it was kind of strange."
"Why? Just because Momo managed to escape, and then happened to find and free you? What could be strange about that?" Sokka's voice was tainted with a light touch of sarcasm. A practical person by nature, he found the Avatar, his powers, and the assortment of mystical beasts he attracted to be rather strange.
"No, it was strange because Zuko's uncle was there, but I didn't see Prince Zuko at all."
"Wait a minute, you mean Zuko's uncle was there the day Momo freed you?" The young airbender nodded. Sokka exchanged glances with his sister.
"Zuko was on a small island with us," Katara informed Aang. "That was strange too. Why don't you tell us exactly what happened."
"Well… some of it is still fuzzy." Aang rubbed his bald head with a hand. In truth, he really just wanted to forget about his imprisonment. "And I can't tell you when it happened cause I kind of lost track off time."
"Just do the best you can, Aang," Katara urged while smiling at him warmly. He relaxed a little. "Well I remember it was after breakfast. I heard voices coming and then he was there looking at me through the cell door." Aang could remember feeling relieved to see a familiar face. He was happy to see a face at all. His guards all wore the creepy Fire Nation masks that looked kind of like skulls. And they were all silent. No one spoke to him or to each other in his presence. Aang grew to hate the silence. "He didn't talk to me but he asked the guards all sorts of questions and he ordered them to see to it that I got the proper care. Then he sort of smiled at me and left." That was something Aang could remember quite clearly. The old man's face had seemed sort of sad as he looked through the bars.
"Did anything else strange happen?" Sokka asked.
"Now that I think about it, my water didn't taste funny for the rest of the day. When Momo came after dark, I could bend again, but not very well. Momo distracted the guards and stole their key, then he slipped in through the bars. They came in after him, thinking I still couldn't bend and I took them out using airbending." Aang grinned proudly. "After we left the cell, I found my way out of the prison and hid on a departing boat. An alarm sounded but for some reason all the guards seemed to think I went the other way because most of them ran to the other side of the fortress. It was almost too easy."
Katara gave Momo a grateful squeeze. "Good, good boy Momo! You can have all the fruit you want." She looked over at her brother, who was frowning in thought. He met her eyes and read the unasked question there. "No," he said with a firm shake of his head. "It couldn't be. Aang is the Fire Nation's number one enemy, remember? And speaking of the Fire Nation, we really should be going. Prince Pain-in-the-Ass is searching for you even now, Aang, and we are way too close to Fire Nation territory. We can catch up more once we're airborne."
"Oh, come on Sokka," Katara said mildly as she moved to remount Appa. "Zuko isn't all bad."
"Yeah," Aang smiled at Katara, "I hope someday we can all be friends."
Sokka snorted, "Keep dreaming. And by the way Katara, if Zuko isn't so bad, why did you keep picking fights with him?"
"It was just the one!" Katara protested.
"Really? Katara fought Zuko? Who won?" Aang blasted himself to his familiar place on top of Appa's head, making a mental note to ask his friends about the spot of very short hair on Appa's side as he did so. Then he turned eagerly to hear the answer of who had won the fight. The Water Tribe siblings exchanged glances before answering simultaneously.
"No, that wasn't right. Try it again."
Prince Zuko leveled an irritated glare at his Uncle. This was the tenth time he had run through the kata. Unperturbed, the old man continued on with his game of solitaire. Zuko took a deep breath to calm himself. He mentally recalled how lonely he had been without Iroh. He settled back into his stance, prepared to run through the training set again. Iroh looked up from his game, surprised that he had received no rebuttal. "I think maybe you have grown up a little, since we parted."
Zuko, who was thrown off balance by his Uncle's unexpected comment, stopped in the middle of his kata. "Uncle! How can I train if you keep distracting me? You know I have to get stronger if I'm going to capture the Avatar. And I must capture the Avatar!"
Iroh flipped over another tile, placing it in the circle he was forming. In this game, the idea was to alternate all four elements; to balance them. He smiled at the irony. "Then you had better concentrate on your foot placement, nephew. You need to shift your weight back a little quicker if you want to pull that kick off correctly."
Zuko blinked; the words were very reminiscent of words that a certain earthbending farmer had said to him. He stared at his Uncle, noting the vague, mischievous smile, the intelligent eyes. The retired General had insisted left and right that he had no idea that Anko was living on Yopoko when he had sent Zuko there and he had been awfully vague about the details of the Avatar's escape. Zuko wasn't sure he entirely believed him. The teen sighed as he settled back into the proper stance. He still didn't understand how two former enemies could be so amiable to each other; casually standing there and making polite conversation as if they had never fought at all. He wondered; if circumstances had been different, if they had been born under the flag of the same nation, would his Uncle and Anko have been friends?
"Do you think we could have been friends?"
Zuko closed his eyes. The Avatar's question still tore at him. It had been the first time anyone had ever asked him that. Could a banished Prince even have friends? Could a Firelord? He knew what his Father would say about it. That he was being weak again, that only a fool would waste his time on such trivial, useless sentimentality. But his Uncle wasn't weak or a fool. And neither was Anko, who had stuck her neck out for the well-being of an unknown enemy soldier who had been sitting in despair at the end of a dock. An image of the dark haired, black eyed farmer flashed through his head, followed by one of the Avatar and his friends. Zuko opened his eyes.
Maybe. Maybe he could allow himself a small hope. After all, if two former opposing Generals could stand side by side, maybe he could stand side by side with others too. Maybe even the Avatar. Maybe someday. But for now…
Zuko launched into his kata, focusing on form and breathing, making sure he shifted his weight back at the proper moment. For now, his dream, his only desire, was to capture the Avatar and end his hateful banishment. For now that was the only way to put back the pieces of his shattered life.
A/N: Wow! I can't believe it is finally done. I feel happy and a little sad at the same time… I would like to thank anyone who took the time to read this story from front to back. I especially would like to thank those of you who left reviews. You were very positive and encouraging to a first time writer. I really enjoyed reading them all. I'm going to miss you guys! Thanks for giving my story a chance! All final comments, questions and constructive criticisms are welcome.
By the way, as it is, I think "Shattered" stands alone pretty well as a Zuko-centric story. But I also left some things unanswered. Perhaps, someday… a sequel? But whether or not such a thing comes to pass, I'll be around. See Ya! MagnusRae