A/N: Hello. This is my first fanfiction ever so please be patient with me. I've been so tired of waiting for new Avatar episodes that I finally broke down and started my own story. First chapter is just a bunch of back story on what happened after the war, sorry, sorry. Actual plotline to follow soon. Please feel free to correct me on any plot errors. Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender, nor any of its characters.
Chapter 1: A Lonely Master
Katara, Waterbending Master, heroine of the Water Tribe and savior of the balance of the Four Kingdoms, let out a tired sigh and fell back to lie flat in the bottom of her musty old canoe. Next to her a bucket of fresh fish tottered unsteadily, and a fishing net lay forgotten. Unguided, her canoe drifted slowly to the will of smooth artic waters. Crystal glaciers surrounded Katara in breathtaking glory, but she took no joy from their sight.
It was not supposed to have ended like this. Katara choked on the thought and forced it back down. Of course it was supposed to end like this. It could not have ended better, she told herself again and again - her private mantra behind a forced smile. We had a victory like no other. We fought the war to end all wars and emerged as heroes. I should be eternally grateful to all the spirits. Yet, her heart remained bitter and alone.
What would later become known as the Avatar Wars had not been a few months affair as Katara and her companions had thought from their visit to the Sunken Library. For two long years, the war drug out in some form or another. From the failed raid on the Day of the Black Sun, to the liberation of Ba Sing Se, to the defeat of Firelord Ozai, to the surprise attack and uprisings of Azula, the war never seemed to be truly over. Although the later portion of the war was mainly the quelling of Fire Nation rebels and social rebuilding, lives were threatened, and most importantly Katara was still needed.
She choked once more on the thought. How dare she think such horrible selfish things? It could not have ended better.
She sighed yet again and lay with a guilty tinge. Somehow, two more years had passed from the official end of the war. There had been celebration at first. Parades and balls and excitement had abounded. Katara smiled to herself remembering the laughter, colours and love that ran through them. And then politics had stepped in and all the celebrations were forgotten. Countries had to be run. Cities need to be built. Mouths demanded to be fed.
Just as the days had somehow drifted into years, so had the famous Team Avatar drifted apart. What had she truly expected to happen? Aang was the Avatar – the single most import human in the Four Kingdoms. He could not be expected to run around penguin-sledding with her all his life. His boyish crush on her had been charming, but Katara could never truly bring herself to return his affections. She loved the Avatar as a friend and brother, but nothing more. She was drowned by guilt when she came to realize the depth of his feeling; black pangs stabbed at her stomach each time she saw his heartbroken puppy-love eyes.
For once, Katara was forced to agree with the old adage that time heals all wounds. Those few years had been most kind to Toph…and Aang had noticed. Toph Bei Fong had grown up lovely. Although she retained her strong willed and spunky persona, she had physically matured into everything a socialite heir should be. Katara had never been more relieved than when Aang finally caught onto Toph's unusual courtship methods and returned his affections in kind.
Even after the war ended, Toph and Aang's fates remained closely linked. King Bumi had finally admitted to his old age and had requested the Avatar help him find an heir to Omashu. Who better than Toph for the job? She was well educated, an Earthbending Master, well bred and above all else, shared Bumi's love of mischief. From the day Aang introduced them onwards, Toph and Bumi had terrorized the palace together – a mere 100 year age difference did nothing to slow their friendship. Toph was thrilled for the opportunity. She spent her days practicing her bending in the great stone city, training in government from Bumi, reeking havoc on governors, communing with badgermoles, and above all else, enjoying a young romance with the frequently visiting Aang.
The Artic cold began to seep through her parka and into Katara's back as she lay in the bottom of her canoe. With a lazy circle of her finger, she warmed the waters surrounding her canoe. White steam rose into in the air around her – just like the white clouds of the Hidden Air Temple. They had been foolish to think that the Fire Nation could have wiped out all of the Airbenders. How could they possibly defeat a nation that could simply fly away at any moment? After the attack on the Southern Air Temple, most of the Airbenders took to the skies to their most safely guarded secret: the Hidden Air Temple, a floating island in the sky. Through group bending efforts, the Air Nomads kept the island constantly and away from Fire Nation eyes. They knew that without the Avatar they were no match for the Fire Nation, and thought it safest if the world continued to believe they were extinct. In the great battle against Lord Ozai, when all seemed lost, the Airbenders appeared from the skies and turned the tides.
Aang, accompanied always by Appa and Momo, spent his days attending political meetings, rebuilding the Air Temples, and visiting his beloved Toph – always busy, always needed. Katara had no seen him in over a year.
In the back of her mind, Katara had always known that when the war was over their gang would likely be destined for different paths, but at least Sokka would be with her always. Katara sighed deeply, missing her troublesome brother. Sokka had originally returned to the South Pole with her, only to leave almost immediately. As the heir to the Southern Water Tribe, Chief Hadoka had thought it best that Sokka learn some diplomacy and sent him to where he could do the least political harm: the Kyoshi Islands. Every few moons, a letter from Sokka would arrive via Hawky, relating to Katara all the wonderful times and adventures he was having. His last letter informed her that Suki had finally agreed to marry him. Of course Katara was overjoyed for the pair; however, the news truly highlighted how lonely she was.
Katara frowned; out of all of Team Avatar, it seemed so odd that she should be the one alone. Out in the wide world, she was renowned Waterbending Master, but in the South Pole, she was nothing but a healer and fisherwoman. Being the sole Waterbender of her tribe meant having no one to share her skills with, and no one to practice with. Even now, she could feel her techniques deteriorating. Her days were spent healing cuts, bruises and the occasional minor burn, and fishing, fishing, and more fishing. She was bored and discontent in the home she once held so dear.
Katara was the only one alone. Oh, except for him. Zuko. Prince Zuko. Grand Advisor Zuko. General Zuko. After the war, everyone had expected Zuko to take up his rightful throne; instead, Zuko asked Iroh to be king instead until Zuko believed himself to be truly ready and truly worthy. A wise decision, Katara was forced to admit. Zuko took up the positions of General and Advisor instead, hoping to teach the disgraced Fire Nation Army to help people rather than destroy, and to change the narrow views of a generation raised on dominance: a true test of leadership.
Zuko, Zuko, Zuko. Katara had despised him when he joined their team at the Western Air Temple. He had betrayed her trust once before, and she was determined to never again be fooled… and yet Time once again had intervened and Katara had come to see the humane side of Zuko instead. In the years that passed, Katara began to feel first friendship, then affection, and finally something that she was almost certain was love.
On a night of celebration just after the end of the war, Katara confronted Zuko. Taking him to one of the Fire Nation Palace's breathtaking gardens, she had sat down on a bench with him. With the full silver moon above, reflecting on a flawless pond before them, Katara took his hand in hers. A warm floral breeze engulfed them and whispered words of encouragement in her ears. Katara smiled up at Zuko, as her sapphire eyes searched the depths of his amber ones. With hope and dignity she confessed her feelings for him and exposed her defenseless soul to him… And he rejected her. Simply. Calmly. And walked away. Katara left for the South Pole the next day, and had not seen Zuko since.
And so there was Katara. Just Katara. She had all the peace and stability in the South Pole that she could ever have hoped for, but in her heart true happiness was not to be found.
A penguin surged out of the water, twisted in the air, and landed with a playful splash back into the sea, snapping Katara back into the here and now. She sat up and examined the cold fish in her bucket. Yes, it would be quite enough to feed the village orphans for tonight. With a tired stretch and an expression not quite frown, the Waterbending Master of the South Pole guided her canoe back towards her village.
Not long passed before Katara arrived back at her home. Mindlessly, she went about the task of storing her supplies and canoe. Katara no longer brought paddles with her on her short journeys; bending her way relieved at least some of the monotony. Back and forth she trod to her hut carrying various items. Without a second's pause she began to prepare the fish for the evening's meal. It was cold, messy work even for a skilled cook as herself, but Katara took little notice in her numbed state. In fact, she took little notice of anything in her village at all. She failed to notice the lack of children frolicking in the village centre. She failed to notice the unusually shrill chatter engulfing the huts. Most importantly, she failed to notice the black smoke of a Fire Nation warship approaching.
Katara continued her work oblivious to the commotion outside her hut. The younger woman of the tribe took turns preparing food for the village orphans. Truly believing that a community best raised a child, Katara volunteered frequently. Daydreaming of the far off places she once had visited, she began to hum various ethnic tunes she had learned. With practiced hands, she wrapped the fish in kelp and placed them to bake on hot coals. Dancing slighting in her steps, she moved on to preparing the sea prunes. Sea prunes where labour intense, but well worth the effort in Katara's mind. Full on singing to herself now, she began squishing and mixing the sea prunes in a large bowl of various black and slimy liquids.
"…Katara…Katara…KATARA!!" the shout startled her out of her reveries. Katara jumped around to see her father standing next a Fire Nation stranger. She recognized the traditional cut of his robes as an official royal messenger. Balanced on his side was the largest and most uncomfortable looking bag Katara could imagine.
"You are Sifu Katara, Master Waterbender and Healer?" the young man asked.
Katara, smelling of fish and with black sea prune juice up to her elbows, could only nod.
The young visitor looked unsure, but proceeded to take out an official scroll and began to read aloud from it. "Greetings most honoured Sifu Katara, I am Aizon, personal messenger of Fire Lord Iroh. The Fire Lord sends his greetings to you and your tribe and honours you with this gift of tea." The messenger stopped to hand Katara a small sack of tea.
"Umm… thank you," she replied.
Aizon ignored her and continued to read, "The Fire Lord requests your aid immediately. Crown Prince Zuko has taken very ill and no cure has been forthcoming. The most honourable Fire Lord requests that you depart immediately with me to the Fire Nation capital where you will be joined by the most praiseworthy Avatar, and his consort the Lady Toph Bei Fong. The Fire Lord thanks you for your aid, and honours you with this tea set." Aizon produced a beautiful tea pot and set of cups.
"…thanks?" Katara responded.
"Finally, the Fire Lord sends you this personal sealed message," said Aizon as he handed her a small sealed scroll. Katara broke the red wax seal and read.
"Hello Katara, please ignore the formality. Zuko is really sick and I'm very worried. You are the best healer in the Four Kingdoms. Please help Zuko, even if he is a hotheaded jerk."
Zuko. Katara began to panic. Zuko was in trouble. It even sounded life threatening. Zuko. Yes, he had broken her heart into a thousand lonely pieces, but somewhere she knew those pieces might still belong to him. Zuko.
"Sifu Katara," Aizon began, "Will you grace us with your aid?"
Katara looked up from the note and into the conceited eyes of the messenger.
"Yes. I'll leave today."
Thank you very much for reading. Any constructive reviews are always welcome!