Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of the places/people/events therein, or anything associated with Avatar: The Last Airbender, bladdahbladdahwhoreadsthesesthingsanyway? Heck, I don't even own the title. It came from a line in a song that I've woven into the story. Uh, woven in a, I-put-a-couple-of-lines-at-the-beginning-of-each-chapter way, not in a songfic way.

A/N: Uh, wow, this is pretty dark. I do go dark, but still… wow, this is dark. Anyhoo, you can expect for there to be spoilers for the first season, and a lot for second, but then there's a LOT of AU stuff. You can expect to find character death, violence, Dark!Aang, and lots and lots of angst. I don't know if this has been done before, since I don't really read much Avatar fanfiction. I do intend to start, though, if someone can point me toward some pretty good Zutara fics, or Zuko/Aang FRIENDSHIP fics. Or any good Zuko or Sokka stories, those'd be nice, too.

Pairings: Zutara, Kataang, implied Sokka/Toph (I dunno what they're called). The present group of the Avatar- present Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph, contain unrecruited Kataang, while the future group of Avatar- the kids and more, all grown up- contain Zutara, mostly implied, and a few vague references to Sokka/Toph.

Settings: In the future world of Avatar, or at least my dark and mostly demented version of it, as well as in the Spirit World, at times. Um, the kids have just gotten Toph, and this is just before they go to the library, and lose Appa.

CHAPTER ONE

I can't see your star

I can't see you star

Though I patiently waited, bedside,

For the death of today

- Your Star, by Evanescence

--- -- -- ------

Aang woke up slowly, groggily. His first few thoughts were spent wondering why he wasn't all warm and fuzzy, until he realized that at some point in the night he'd rolled right off Appa's tail and had woken up on the ground. He groaned and sat up, reaching out blindly for the large flying bison.

When he didn't have any luck finding his furry friend, he finally opened his eyes and looked around. "Appa?" He could see Katara, Sokka, and Toph spread out across the small campsite, but there was no trace of Appa- or Momo.

"Katara! Appa's gone!" Aang cried out, shaking his friend. "So is Momo."

Katara rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and pushed herself into a sitting position. "Aang, what is it?"

"Appa and Momo are gone," Aang repeated.

"Sometimes they like to wander in the mornings, Aang. They're probably on their way back from exploring right now," she said gently.

"Yeah, but I didn't even feel Appa leave," Aang explained. "I slept on his tail last night."

"You were probably pretty tired," Katara smiled. "You were training pretty hard with Toph yesterday."

No arguing that, Aang thought. I've got the bruises to prove it. "You're right, I guess." He settled back down, tucking his chin between his knees and folding his hands in front of his legs. "It's just really, really early." His voice was hoarse from the need to sleep.

"Why don't you get a little bit more rest?" Katara suggested, slipping out of her sleeping bag. "You can use my sleeping bag, if you want. I'll get breakfast going."

"You don't have to do that. I'm not in the least bit sleepy," Aang protested, but he was already lying down on top of her sleeping bag, and his eyes were drooping shut.

"You just yawned," Katara grinned, pulling out enough for a small breakfast for four.

"Okay, just a few more minutes then," he agreed. "Wake me up in another…"

"Another what?" Katara turned back to him, but he had already nodded back to dreamland. She laughed quietly to herself, and started humming a soft and sweet lullaby that her mother had sung to her and Sokka when they were much, much younger.

Sharp screams punctuated the air, disturbing the almost-silence of the campground. Katara snapped to her feet, seeing in her peripheral vision Aang and Sokka stumbling out of the sleeping bags, startled out of their sleep. Toph's rock tent blew open to their right.

"What is it? Where did they come from?" Sokka demanded, whipping out his boomerang.

"There's a lot of activity coming from over there," Toph said, kneeling on the ground and motioning in one direction. "But I can't tell what is happening. It's all too far away."

"Let's go!" Aang snatched up his staff and took off.

"Aang, wait- oh, never mind!" Sokka raced after him, with Katara and Toph at his heels.

"Don't worry Snoozles, I can find the way back to our campground," Toph sneered.

Sokka ignored her. "Katara, where's Appa and Momo?"

"I don't know, I figure they're out exploring," Katara answered, while Sokka grabbed her elbow and pulled her to a halt

Toph stopped a few steps in front of her. "Appa, at least, must be in the air or too far away for me to feel him. He gives off big enough vibrations that I can feel him from miles off."

"Aang, slow down!" Sokka called out.

"What are we stopping for?" Aang demanded. Toph chipped in. "Yeah, why are we stopping? Shouldn't we be trying to help those people?"

"I think we should spread out and sneak up to this situation, whatever it may be. That way, if we have trouble of the sort that we have to fight, we can have the element of surprise," Sokka explained, walking off again.

Aang sighed. "Fine." The group moved out.

Sokka slipped up and hid behind a tree. He could see a group of Fire Nation soldiers harassing a small family of three. The man was pleading with the lead soldier, and cradling a recently burnt arm close to his chest.

"Please, we don't have much. We have paid our taxes, I promise! We-we just got back from visiting with some relatives- please!" he blustered, trying to keep himself between the soldiers and his wife and son.

"So why aren't you traveling by the main roads?" the lead soldier jeered. "Why are you sneaking back into town through a small forest pathway?"

"I…" the man's eyes darted around. He licked his lips nervously. "The main road was- was quite crowded, and I, and we, well, we were pressed for time, but I swear, I swear I wasn't- that we weren't-"

"Weren't what? Weren't trying to get out of paying the toll? Weren't trying to by-pass the main road so that you wouldn't have to undergo inspection?" the soldier turned to his friends. "Search the cart!" he barked.

"Okay, heard enough, let's go!" Toph started to step out of the bushes. Sokka cuahgt her just in time.

"No, Toph!" he hissed. "We're doing this, but not like that!"

"What d'ya mean, not like that?" she demanded.

"Let's spread out and then come in from all directions. More confusion to them," Sokka proposed.

"All right, let's just stop them before they hurt these people," Katara said.

Aang's eyes narrowed as his gaze focused on the man's burnt arm, his thirteen-year-old son's furious and scared face, his wife's tears, running freely down her cheeks. "Agreed."

Sokka stepped away from the tree and rolled behind another, then jumped up, grabbed onto a branch, and swung across to the other side of the winding path when the soldiers weren't looking. He waited, to give enough time for the other three to get into place, then he charged out of cover and let out a war bellow.

The soldiers stopped what they were doing and turned as one to face him, their surprise momentarily freezing them in place. But that didn't last long. They held up their weapons, and two of the nine soldiers advanced to meet Sokka's charge.

Sokka side-stepped a thrust from a spear, stomping down on the end, pinning it between his foot and the ground, then applied his full weight until he heard the resounding snap of a shattering spear. His club whistled through the air and caught the soldier square on the side of the face, causing the helmet to resonate with the impact. Sokka leapt over the falling body of the first man and ran on by the second, as though he had forgotten he was there. He didn't however, and that was obvious in the next instant when the second soldier was clipped in the forehead by his flying boomerang, which then promptly arced back in Sokka's outstretched and waiting hand.

The benders had joined the fray by now. Toph erected a wall of stone to protect the small family while Aang swiped through the air with his staff, blowing away a few soldiers that were too close to the civilians. Katara summoned water from her hip flask and used it as a whip, whacking one man in the nose and looping it around another's wrist and flipping him up into the air and negligently released him, allowing that soldier to crash into the branches of a nearby tree.

Aang hopped up on his air ball and swerved around the soldiers, grabbing onto the end of a spear. He let the air ball dissipate and jumped into the air, never relinquishing the spear, and wrapped his legs around the neck of another man. He then jerked his body together, as if he were about to let his hands and feet meet. At the same time he released his hold on both soldiers and spun out of the way, letting their momentum carry them into each other with enough force that they slumped to the ground, unconscious.

Toph skidded to a halt, planting her feet firmly. She stayed in this one spot for the rest of the fight. She created small, slanting pillars of stone and drove them into the chests of the enemy, never strong enough to puncture, but certainly with enough to force to dent their armor and toss them back into the surrounding forestry. Rocks leapt up from the ground and fell back to the ground, each of them landing precisely on the heads of the closest soldiers. She felt one of them coming too close. This one was a bender, as was apparent by the stance he was taking. Toph nudged the earth and the firebender's right foot slid left. His legs crisscrossed and he lost his balance, falling to the ground. She let the ball of flame pass harmlessly by her head. The firebender wasn't done yet, though. He regained his balanced enough as he fell that his legs scissored and a wave of fire lashed through the air toward Toph. The bind earthbender smirked and jerked up an unmoving wall of stone, which, after it had repelled the flames, she pushed at the firebender. He rose to a crouch and punched through the wall with fire. Toph pulled up the ground under one of his feet, letting it rise up until he collapsed sideways. The man cursed and charged at her.

"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" Toph asked, dodging his fireballs.

"Got any more fancy tricks, dirtgirl?" the soldier snarled.

"Just one, and it's not really that fancy," she answered, reading another blow coming and letting it slide by to her left.

"What is it?" To answer his question, Toph simply drove her fist into his mouth. The man staggered back, spitting out teeth and blood. She seized his large nose and jerked him back to her, and kneed him in the stomach. Then she opened up the ground and buried his legs and arms.

Sokka clunked another soldier in the head, then on the hand, knocking his spear to the ground. Sokka picked up and drove it at his head. The soldier stepped out of the way and grabbed Sokka's ponytail. "OW- hey!" The Water Tribe warrior pulled off the other man's helmet and grabbed his ponytail.

"Ow, owowow!" the man whined.

"Okay, OW! On the count of three, we let go," Sokka said.

"Sounds good to me," the Fire Nation soldier agreed.

"One… two… three!" The soldier released Sokka. Sokka let go of his hair and banged him on the back of the head with his club. "That's for messing up my warrior's wolftail!"

The four circled around the last soldier. "You gonna surrender?" Aang asked.

"Never!" the soldier cried.

"Okay then," Toph let the earth swallow him up to the neck. "See ya around! Not!"

"That was just bravado!" the man complained.

Sokka shrugged. "I'd feel sorrier if you weren't Fire Nation."

Katara peered around the edge of Toph's stone barrier at the huddled family. "Hey. Are you okay?"

"We'll be all right," the man replied. "Thanks to you kids." He stepped out, and his family followed him. "That was… incredibly brave. Not many still stand up to the Fire Nation these days. Even fewer will go out of their way to help strangers."

"It's what we do," Aang said.

"Let me look at your arm." Katara gently push the man to ground, and knelt in front of him. She took his arm into her lap and pulled her water up over it, then down on the burnt skin. It glowed faintly, and when the glowing had stopped, the arm was completely healed.

"How- how did you do that?" he stuttered, amazed.

"I'm a healer. It's what I do," Katara said simply.

"Well, what you kids do is incredible," he said. "Like I said, not many real heroes still run around during these troubled times."

"Heroes," Sokka said slowly, trying out the word. "Hey. I like it."

The man laughed wryly. "Glad you do, boy." He stood up Katara looked the woman and the son over, checking for injuries.

"Wow! That was awesome!" the son chattered excitedly. "You guys are cool! Can you teach me how to do any of that stuff? Because that was awesome!"

"Who are you?" the wife asked in awe.

"Um, I'm Aang, and these are my friends, Sokka, Katara, and Toph," Aang introduced himself and his friends, pointing each out in turn. "So, what's your names?"

"My name is Randur, and this is my wife, Noe, and my son, Kien," Randur said. "Whereabouts were you kids headed?"

"Ba Sing Se," Sokka answered. None of them were prepared for the reaction they got from the family they just saved. The father staggered back, letting out a violent string of oaths. Noe gasped and pulled her son closer to her. Kien's eyes, if possible, got even bigger, but this time with a little terror added to his gaze. "Whoa, easy, it's only Ba Sing Se, right?" Sokka laughed nervously.

"Just Ba Sing Se my foot!" Randur yelled. "Are you kids suicidal? Going to Ba Sing Se? That place is a madhouse, a slaughterhouse, a, a, a graveyard for heroic types like you! An enemy of the Fire Nation goes there, they're just going there to die. What are you kids thinking?"

"What? What are you thinking? We're talking about Ba Sing Se, the Earth Kingdom's capitol!" Sokka exclaimed.

"Ha!" Randur snorted. "Where have you kids been the last ten years? Ba Sing Se has fallen. The war is over. The Fire Nation won, and we're all just waiting to find out how we're gonna die."

"Ba Sing Se fell?" Sokka repeated. "It fell? It's gone? It can't be gone- we were just- why haven't we heard this?"

"It fell ten years ago, on the day Sozin's Comet arrived! A few folks are still putting up a fight, but the war ended on that day, and any fool who says differently is just begging for a gruesome death at the hands of the Fire Lord's puppets."

END CHAPTER

I originally intended to go farther, but Steve (my muse) decided to stop here. Next chapter will be up at least a week from now.

Also, does anyone know if they're gonna be reshowing the first ten episodes of Avatar Season 3 in the US? 'Cuz I only saw the first three and the last half of Black Sun, so I'm definitely missing out on a lot. I'd go all SQUEE on you folks over the ending, with Zuko, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. So you'll just have to settle for implied fangirly squeeage. And if anyone else liked that ending too, with Zuko, just put "squee" in your review and I'll know what you mean.