Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
A/N: This was a new experience for me. I actually stuck to a passing idea, even after I had failed to take the initiative and write in one swoop.
Much thanks to my lovely beta Aylah, who has endured my endless whining and inability to write scene changes.
True to Form
A beast will always be a beast. A brave man can cut its horns from its head. He can file its fangs down to useless nubs. He can domesticate it, teach it to act properly. But the moment the door has been left negligently open, the moment the opportunity presents itself, the beast will run wild once more. Animals will always act true to form. The human animal is no different. A beast is always a beast.
-The Writings of Monk Gyatso
Life had become a surreal routine. Wake up in the morning. Go to work in a little restaurant for twelve hours. Help close up. Return home. Go to sleep. Repeat.
All of Smellerbee's days had a hazy grey nimbus that hovered on the periphery of her vision and memories. This was the normal life she, Longshot and Jet had sought out. This was what most people did day in and day out.
Yet, living in the treetops with a group of pubescent boys, creating the stuff of fairytales had felt more like reality. Being a freedom fighter had grounded the warrior to her own body. It had brought her to life, sustaining her when everything had withered away.
These last few months pulled up those roots, rendering a ghost out of a vibrant girl. Smellerbee had drifted, watching a body that seemed to be her own complete a series of mundane tasks.
Destiny had other things in mind for her and in the course of one night, it shifted her path yet again.
The presence of Fire Nation soldiers in the tavern no longer alarmed her. A few filtered in almost every night, restless and discontent, uprooted lives longing for a faraway home.
On that evening, the men that had entered through the old, warped door had a different aura about them. These were the men who thrived on war, whose lives were not complete unless they wrought suffering on their fellow human beings. These were the scum of the earth.
Smellerbee knew the type all too well.
She watched as the eight soldiers surrounded her employer, whom she had grown to respect.
Respect, not love. She didn't think she could generate that emotion for anyone who didn't have a significant role in her memories.
The brutes pushed him into the wall, making thinly veiled threats about how little places such as this went up in flames all the time, sometimes taking the entire street with them.
Of course, as noble firebenders, they could defend against such a disaster for a fee.
The fighter-turned-waitress clutched her serving tray against her stomach, knuckles white and straining.
She stared around at the denizens of the crowded room, looking from one face to another. All had averted their eyes.
Aren't they going to do anything?
The landlord bowed his head, weighed down by conflicting thoughts of his own dignity and the safety of his three orphaned grandchildren. He promised to produce his first payment by the end of the week.
With a self-important swagger, the men exited the establishment, leaving their new client huddled and ashamed against the wall. Awkward, too loud conversations immediately restarted to cover the tense silence that had followed their departure.
Smellerbee remained perfectly still.
She glanced across the tavern, where the one person left to her stood. Longshot's dark eyes had narrowed in dangerous, glittering slits. But it was the position of his hands that what caught her attention. The second and third finger had curled reflexively, leaving a small gap between them. His other hand had clenched into a fist, grasping something unseen; a bowman, deprived of his weapon, but still at the ready. The girl allowed a small hiss of air to escape her teeth. In that posture, Longshot had unknowingly brought an unkind reality to her attention.
They could do nothing. They had been de-clawed and tamed.
Something wild and familiar broke loose inside of her. Hot anger poured from the pit of her stomach and coursed through her veins. For the first time in months, she could truly attest that she felt alive. This revived consciousness screamed for revenge against those men. It told her to race after them, to put all of her considerable force into making them pay.
Another part, a more cautious voice forged by months of living under oppression, bade her have patience.
That night, she followed her usual routine as if nothing had changed. She served, cleaned. After closing, the two freedom fighters walked their usual path to their dingy apartment above the restaurant.
She bid Longshot goodnight, but her voice lacked the usual resignation. He stared at his friend for a long while, but finally tilted his head in return and departed for his small room.
With the click of the door sliding closed, Smellerbee was instantly animated. The uniform and apron that had been her second skin were torn off, thrown carelessly away.
In nothing but her undergarments, she entered her own small cubby. A tug at one of the floorboards dislodged it and revealed a pile of dusty and worn clothing. With as much gravity as a monk dressing himself for a ceremony, she removed the garments and slowly pulled them on.
Smellerbee stood, breathing in stale air and exhilaration. The small window to the right beckoned. With absolute silence, she lifted the latch and slid out into the night; a small dark figure cutting through the pale spring moonlight.
This was her compromise. The action was planned, she just needed the means.
A/N: Encouragement always appreciated and constructive criticism will be treated as gold. :)