AN: Hey there, first ATLAB fic. Just a one shot, hope you enjoy.

The Smoke

"Victory had come for one of us; it had come for all of us." That was the quote that I had heard day in day out since the war had ended. Ever since the Avatar had been slain by the Fire Lord and the world was slowly consolidated under the Fire Nation that was all I heard.

Who am I? I am nobody. There's a reason why only the Fire Nation soldiers wear masks. We are all one, we fight as a blaze, enveloping and devouring all in our path. Even as children we are all taught that Agni values the soldier fallen in battle more so than anyone else…except for the royal family of course.

I am a Firebender, though not a particularly skilled one. I can do all the basics but with much effort. Growing up I was told that the skill I had in bending was so miniscule I might want to consider either being a midwife or simply suicide; I decided I wanted to live. How smart of me.

Being nothing more than a simple foot solider I was always part of the first line. Those tossed into battle first with the not so subtle message that we were the ones who were supposed to die for the glory of our nation. The royalty could bask, we were their platforms to history. We were the dirt they walked on.

I've heard the Water Tribe is, or was, much more communal. Everything was family and community oriented. They all looked out for one another. I probably would've hated it there, but at least I would have less reason to. Even in the Earth Kingdom a person could actually be looked at as a person, even if they were a soldier.

But we are the masked murderers of the Fire Nation. We are the ones who stormed the walls of Ba Sing Se, enduring a hailstorm of boulders and other variations of the skull crushing rock. We are the ones who reduced the Northern and Southern Water Tribes to memory, turning their white snow black.

I've killed men, women, and children. I have vomited to memories of all of them. The smoke rising from cities and bodies lingering in my nose, never leaving, never even abating, it was every day. From the stagnate mornings to my boring nights, the first and last thing I smell is the victory my nation. The people have become ash. The history turned to cinders. All for a country whose royalty I've never seen. Whose values I can't fathom or even begin to care about.

I don't know why I have survived this long. I was there at the failed first siege on the North Pole. I was there when the great drill was repelled from Ba Sing Se. I have killed so many and yet find no satisfaction, I have only been promoted once. If Agni is real and actually considers those outside the royal line…then why does a foot soldier continue to live in defeat when his victims are so numerous?

Ever since victory the days have started blending together. The world is under the best order, the strongest order. It won't be long before every other bender is gone and then, then the Fire Nation can reshape the world into one more conducive to its element.

I don't care.

Every enemy was and is the same. Water Tribe men reacted to me the same way Earth Nation elderly children and women did. Their ash all smells the same. I've decided to either wear the mask every day or not at all.

A few days ago we received word that the Princess and her entourage would be coming through our guard station. Apparently the trio had some history here in Omashu, one of them; one of the ones that wasn't the Princess had family here.

I should be elated. A member of the royal family is coming…I've never felt more united with my fellow troops. None of us care.

The war has been too long. We've all lost too much family, too many friends, and whatever shred of faith we had in our glorious nation. We were told a fiery paradise awaited us…all that we have after everything we have given up is a land of smoke and ash. We have created the underworld that the other nations feared. The world smells of our history, of our legacy. Our convictions were as flammable as the enemy.

The princess has arrived along with her two companions. An every happy former circus acrobat and a quiet girl with an air of contempt, automatically I and I suspect my fellow soldiers related more with the latter than the former.

They are marching through our base now. They are surrounded by more masked soldiers. Their armor is more gilded than ours; they've killed more or killed better. We are their inferiors.

Despite our shred of morale, most of us straighten up for the princess. Some out of ingrained habit, but most out of the opportunity to finally see her, we saw her. I was unimpressed.

I was expecting a spirit of fire come alive. I was expecting a deity, a creature so beautiful beyond imaging that I couldn't contain myself, but that's not what I saw. What I saw was a woman, barely out of her teens with a smirk of such great accomplishment on her face. She was pretty, not beautiful, the men and I would probably relieve ourselves to her image in our minds once, maybe twice if the local brothels were full.

She was just a woman. Just a human. Just a mortal. She could live, die, love, urinate, defecate, fornicate just like us.

Yet she had the blood of Agni in her, she was special, better.

We are all lined up in salute. We are the dolls and toys of a spoiled brat. She is walking by us now. She is right in front of me now. She looks and questions as to why I have removed my mask. I don't to look around me to know I am the only one unmasked.

She continues to ask, her curiosity quickly becoming anger. I can feel heat. I can smell smoke. I can remember cities. I can remember histories that no one a generation from now will care about. I am a soldier of a glorious nation.

Surely she is surprised when I bring my lips crashing into hers. I force her royal spit to commingle with my commoners tongue. For a moment the blood of Agni is meaningless…I have claimed her.

I feel heat. I know histories that will be forgotten. I am a soldier of a glorious nation.

I am the smoke of a conquered world.