This is the first piece of creative writing I've done in two years. I had to resist the urge to foot note and add a bibliography. It's the first fanfiction I've written in 4 years. It's also the first serious fanfiction I've ever written. I did a bunch of parodies but took all but the weakest down. There's also the chance of some OOC, sorry. So, I'm out of practice, out of my usual type and probably out of character.
This is set about 3 years in the Avatar future. It's also based off a well-known movie. Originally it was a lot closer but I ended up cutting and changing bits to fit the characters and Avatar verse better.
It's probably going to last... 5 or 6 chapters. This is shorter than the other chapters will be. It's somewhere between a prologue and a first chapter.
I want something
That's purer than the water
Like we were
Cheng resisted the urge to glance over his should again; knowing it would only raise others' suspicions. Nevertheless, his own suspicions were building steadily. He felt certain that he was being followed and that his shadow knew what he was carrying.
He'd come to this village tracking the faint trail of young man. The village itself was small and a few years ago had been completely insignificant. Now it bordered what was left of the unoccupied Earth Kingdom. Its new position in the diplomatic landscape meant that it acted as a possible gateway for those attempting to flee the Fire Nation. Still, there were other larger and safer villages that people could cross to the independent Earth Kingdom. So, although the Fire Nation kept watch over the village, its attention was ultimately drawn to the others. However, Cheng had not travelled to it looking for a place to cross, instead looking for an old ally who had disappeared.
Once the crown prince of the Fire Nation, then ally and teacher to the Avatar, now passing as a peasant boy named Lee with the aid of his loyal uncle. It was here Cheng hoped to find Zuko.
The news that Lee and Mushi ran a teashop was not unexpected. The exiled prince had spoken once to Cheng about the shop they had owned for a short while in Ba Sing Se, before they had made their choice. He didn't expect that the teahouse had bowed to the desire to serve something stronger than just tea. As with much of the occupied Earth Kingdom, a depression had fallen over the village, aided by the suspicions of the Fire Nation. Many of the villagers had turned to liquid spirits to boost their own. Cheng dismayed such things but ultimately ignored them, instead searching for either the exiled prince or the traitor general.
Zuko sat at a table in the back of the shop, looking over a scroll. He didn't pay any attention to the figure that approached the table, used to patrons (usually female) coming and attempting to start a conversation. Eventually, they all realised that any conversation was going to be strictly one-sided and gave up. When this individual began to speak, Zuko was shocked and wary to discover it was a voice he knew.
"Lee?" said Cheng hesitantly, watching the young man in front of him. He gave a quick bow as he continued. "It is a pleasure to see you once more."
Zuko raised his head to look at his new companion and narrowed his eyes in reply.
Unabashed by his reception, Cheng continued, "It has been far too long, has it not? I have come to you with an important matter to discuss."
"I'm not interested", muttered Zuko.
Cheng paused for a moment, considering how best to convey the matter without alerting anyone else who might be in earshot.
"It's something that we would have been greatly interested in, back in the old days."
Zuko shook his head. "I'm not interested in such things anymore."
"No!" shouted Zuko, his temper flaring. "I told you I don't care. If you've only come here to try and pressure me, you can just get out now!"
Cheng backed away from Zuko, surprised at the sudden outburst. He had known that the young man could be volatile but he had seemed more stable last time they had met. Nonetheless, Cheng didn't intend to leave until he at least got to explain what he was carrying.
"I'm not trying to pressure you, Lee. I just want you to hear what I have to tell you. Please, Lee."
Initially determined to continue shouting, Zuko softened as Cheng pleaded with him.
"My uncle and I have personal rooms in the back."
He stood and walked through a door on the back wall of the shop, never bothering to turn and see if Cheng was following. Cheng noticed but wasn't bothered, following him in to the room. Zuko quietly shut the door and turned to stare at Cheng, silently demanding to know why he insisted on bothering him.
"I have-" Cheng started.
Zuko interrupted him, with an angry exclamation. "Why did you come to me?"
Cheng blinked and then restarted. "I wanted to leave this with someone who I knew was beyond doubt. Someone who was a member of the Avatar's personal group. I searched for Katara, but she has vanished completely this past year." Zuko's expression grew stormier. "And Toph and Sokka have both already crossed over to what's left of the free Earth Kingdom."
Zuko nodded, but his expression didn't cool. "And this is something you don't want to make the crossing with?"
"No", said Cheng smiling. "This will make crossing all the easier."
Zuko waited bemusedly for him to continue.
"Travel orders. With these we could cross over without question. Without our carriages or carts being searched. We could bring anything over", said Cheng, his enthusiasm increasing with every word.
Zuko shook his head. "These are only given to Fire Nation transports of the highest importance. How did you get a hold of them?"
"Rich merchants have been granted these by officers – not officially, of course – in exchange for considerable bribes. Such men are easier targets than the well guarded official convoys."
"I don't see where my help is needed", said Zuko blandly.
Cheng resisted the urge to sigh, instead just nodding. "I need to deliver some documents that I'm currently in possession of. I don't want to take the orders with me; as if I'm caught with the documents they'll count for nothing and be seized as well. I need you to look after them while I perform this task. Just keep the orders safe."
He watched quietly at the effect his words were having on Zuko, whose internal battle was increasingly showing on his face. Torn between agreeing and continuing to sulk in anonymity. Cheng had been his ally once, but so had others. Allies could turn on you, walk away from you. Besides, it wasn't as if Cheng wouldn't be able to find someone else to watch the papers. Even if they hadn't been part of the Avatar's private party. Zuko broke out of thought at recollections of Aang.
"Why bother? The Avatar is dead. The world's last hope is gone."
Cheng, who had been eagerly awaiting what he had expected to be agreement, started at the question.
"Avatar Aang is dead but the Avatar has been-"
"Has been reborn in the Water Tribe? It's a baby and likely to die again the way the Fire Nation has been attacking them."
The two young men stood in silence after Zuko's statement, frustrated with the other. Zuko irritated at Cheng for stirring up his internal conflicts. Cheng annoyed by Zuko apparent determination to not return to his old life.
"Weak", murmured Cheng.
"What?" asked Zuko angrily, glaring at him.
"Don't you remember? Are you so resolved to forget? Even if we don't have the Avatar, we can still bring balance to the world. Are you so determined to forget everything that your friends fought with Avatar Aang for? You all believed, you believed. Now, you're just backtracking."
Cheng took a breath and speedily continued before Zuko could get a word in.
"If you really didn't want to get involved with this again you wouldn't have listened to what I wanted! You would have thrown me out by force if necessary."
Zuko sighed in exasperation, running his hands through his hair. "Fine. Fine!"
Cheng beamed at his monosyllabic answer. He quickly drew the orders form his shirt and pressed them in to the hands of a frowning Zuko. He wanted to gush his effusive thanks but knew that the once crown prince would be annoyed, rather than appreciative. Instead, he settled for a bow and a simple "thank you".
The pair returned to the front of the tea house and Zuko grudgingly offering Cheng a bed for the night, if he wished to stay.
To Zuko's relief, Cheng shook his head. "No, I plan to leave quickly as possible to deliver the documents." He smiled broadly at Zuko again. "Now I know that I have left the orders in a safe place."
Iroh walked past them as he delivered tea to a customer and a thought struck Cheng.
"Your uncle. He will not be bothered by you taking on my request?"
"No." replied Zuko without hesitation. "He'll be glad."
Cheng nodded remembering the old man's kindness and generosity. The pair walked over to where the ex-general was preparing Jasmine tea. Iroh's face brightened at the sight of his nephew and the other young man.
"Ah, Cheng. It is good to see you, my boy."
"It is good to see you as well, Mushi. If only for this brief moment."
Iroh smiled in reply and Cheng bowed.
"I have to get back to the accounts", said Zuko turning to Cheng. Catching the brief look of unease on Cheng's face, Zuko found himself adding, "I'll keep them safe."
"I appreciate it."
Cheng smiled and nodded once more and then left the teahouse he'd spent so much time searching for and departed so quickly.
Iroh watched him leave in bemusement. He'd gotten used to a relatively peaceful life the past year. Only the occasional raid by Fire Nation officers or a brief fight, quickly ended by Zuko, in the teahouse breaking the harmony. Now, it seems that his nephew had once again decided to act rather than wait. Iroh was happy running his shop with his nephew but couldn't suppress a smile when he wondered what path Zuko would follow.