teaser: old fairytales make frightening parallels of the real world
author's notes: written merely because it's been far too long since I've written anything for this fandom, which I love, despite the massive ship wars that frigthen me. Less with the Zutara, more with the introverted character reflection. Yay!...?
/Good Mothers Create the Earth/
And she thinks, I just can't do this anymore. And she wonders if this is what all those mothers feel like when they've got five children going hungry and another on the way, and who knows where her husband is anymore.
But she has to so she keeps her hands moving, digging into the last of their dough to make bread so they don't starve and Aang doesn't think about how bad things have gotten and Sokka doesn't miss Suki and Toph doesn't leave them all and Zuko—
She's shaking out the nightmares in her knotted hair and the cobwebs in her skull, and she feels her bones rattle, and this is what it feels like to be a hundred and twelve years old. And her hands are bone-tired with all the baking she does to keep them alive, and she's starting to get the feeling that it's not good enough—that it's never been good enough.
If she can keep them all together for two more months, three, will that be enough? It's like she's walking on glass shards from a shattered mirror and sooner or later she's going to feel the pain and drop to the ground. She can't find balance on this razor edge they're dancing on.
Katara would give Aang the whole wide world if she could. She'd let that boy fly free and tell him to run from war and fire and to find a place where no one goes and just live out the rest of his life with what innocence he has left. And she'd tell him to go if she thought for a minute he'd listen. But he won't so she just cooks him soup and makes him bread with what dough she can find.
This is what she has to do, here. She has to keep on talking and baking and being strong; being strong because if she doesn't who knows what will happen to the lot of them.
So she calls Sokka on his bad throwing and his poor sword skills, even though they both know he's deadly, and he doesn't worry about Suki too much, and she bickers with Toph so she doesn't remember what it's like to not fit in and not have anyone, and she smiles at Aang and holds his hand and lets him think she loves him back, so he doesn't think that if he dies in his attempt against the Fire Lord then that's okay.
There used to be an old nursery rhythm about how the mother of the world was so lonely that she made all the breathing creatures up and was so devastated to find that she had forgotten that she would outlive them all and on the day the first of her creatures died her grief turned the world into ice and all the animals died anyway, and the mother of the world was left all alone because her sadness was fatal.
When she thinks about, Katara is frightened.
If she really wanted to, if she really put her mind to it, she could kill a whole fleet of people. She'd think about them and their blood and how it doesn't flow in their veins because she doesn't want it to, and like that she's digging graves for hundreds of corpses.
Except she's not-fifteen-yet and she doesn't want to kill anyone. Or most times she doesn't.
Half the time she isn't even mad at Zuko anymore for being what he is; she understands him a lot better than she lets on and she might just admire him for his sheer determination to keep on trying. Half the time, it's just easier to hate, because then he's not important and it's one less person who she's going to lose one way or another in the end.
If she keeps on glaring at him over the campfire, elbow-deep in whatever she's baking, at least then Zuko knows his place and she knows hers and it won't be anything more than stay away me, I'll never forgive you.
Maybe if she keeps everyone moving and keeps Zuko over there and keeps on turning the dough she can keep them all together. Maybe they'll be like this still, even after eternity's long over, just them and nothing else, the beginning of the world.
All she has to do is keep on baking, her skin coated in flour, with white spots that won't wash off. All she has to do is keep on smiling and keep on pretending and keep on fighting and maybe they'll make it out of this somehow.
But she's starting to think that Aang really loves her, and she's starting to think Sokka just pretends to not think about Suki, and she's starting think that Toph is preparing herself for their inevitable break.
All she has are the nightmares woven into her hair like spider web silk, about a woman who killed the world with her tears, and boy who has a scar on his face and another boy with too much hope and defeat in his eyes.
She worries that they'll ruin the world this way.
Every morning she's shaking them out of her hair, cobwebs and nightmares, and she isn't sure who's weaving them back around her at night.
If she can just keep on holding on to them for a little bit longer, if her arms can handle just a little more strain, if Aang grows out of her and Zuko just stays where he is, if Toph beliefs and Sokka forgets…
In the end though, she won't ever be able to get the flour off her skin.
Zuko wakes up to the pounding of rain on the smooth stones of the air temple. Aang snores beside him, Momo on his head, and further off Toph sleeps in a dirt pile and Sokka is passed out with a sword in his lap.
Katara is awake and standing in the rain.
He gets to his feet and picks up his blanket and steps into the cool downpour, his clothes sticking to him, his hair dirty and matted; he can't remember the last time he's taken a bath.
When he dumps his blanket onto her shoulders, Katara says nothing.
"You can't really afford to get sick," he points out, but silence is the only thing forthcoming.
She glares at him from out of the side of her eye, but she doesn't say anything as she turns back to the rain and watches as it disappears into the deep gorge.
"I want to be alone," she says.
Finally, Zuko nods and starts to turn, but halts. He looks at her again and thinks she looks like some vulnerable, pagan goddess, who's found the end of the earth where all the things she loves go to die and she can't stop them from going because it's their destiny as mortal coils to go and she has to stay.
He reaches out and places a hand on her shoulder, and it stiffens, but she doesn't draw away, and they stand a bit like that, her wetter than he but both of them soaked to the bone, with water and with blood and with everything else.
Then Zuko turns and goes back to lay down. Tonight is not the night for forgiveness.
Katara watches him fall asleep before looking back into the night sky and pretends she is not crying.
once there was an earth, and it was vast and deserted, and one day there was a woman walking the earth and she was very lonely because all she saw before her was barren earth and unfulfilled promises
but there a man and he was the king of the sky and he saw this lady and her great sadness and he loved her gently, then passionately, with all the fire of his being and together they made many children and the land was green and the woman was mother of the earth, born from the fire of blood and the water of life
mortal coils must all die though and the mother of the earth held the first of her dying babes in her hands and she wailed loudly, like only mothers can, and she turned away from the king of the sky in her great grief and he from her in his and they loved no more, woman, queen of life, and man, king of heaven
her grief turned into great despair and she wallowed in her empty heart and the earth turned to frost and ice and all animals died at her feet, as if she a plague unto them, and the mother of the earth ran from them all, the children she had killed with her fatal unhappiness
she found a cave in which to reside and plucked from her mind the spider webs of her nightmares and wove them around herself and cast herself into a deep sleep, nightmares tangled in her hair and cobwebs holding her bones
the king of the sky found her when he saw the earth was ice and dead and he took her pale, lifeless body in his loving arms and burned away the webs around her skin and breathed the hot fire of his atmosphere into her frozen lips and she awoke at once and looked upon him after near a millennia
"I've killed all good things," said she and the king of the sky was very tender with her, for this mother of the earth was young yet
"Not so, my love," the king of the sky told her. "Your heart is not lost. It is cold. I will never leave you again, and I will warm you, and your babes will flourish and walk once more."
so the king of the sky loved the mother of the earth again and many more babes were born to them and though the mother of the earth despaired with each passing of a child, she remembered her consort's words and thought the snow would melt yet
This is the story that every child is told. Winter may be long, but it is not forever.
notes: p.s., in case you couldn't tell, I love me some Greek mythology.