Title: A Net to Catch the Wind
Summary: The whole Fire Nation is in a tizzy because the most important birth of the century is about to take place. Of course there is only one person the Fire Lord thinks is cut out to midwife such an important delivery.
Pairing: Zutara. Hahnzula There are more, but I don't want to give them away yet.
Disclaimer: Avatar is owned by Mike, Brian, and Nickelodeon. Not me. But sometimes I fantasize about winning the lottery, becoming a billionaire, buying the franchise, and masterminding an AWESOME Zutara sequel.
Whatever, like you don't . . .
Please Note: This is a sequel to Midsummer Madness, although it is readable by itself, you may wish to know the back story of the characters. I will briefly summarize anything important at the end.
I do however, recommend you read MM first . . . and review every chapter.
"Hey Sparky, you listening to me?"
Zuko shook himself to attention, "What?"
"I said, the Admiral is telling the truth, he didn't authorize murdering anyone during the raids that summer." Toph repeated, "It must have been another ship, are you sure the mayor remembers the insignia correctly?" She sat with her back to the throne, so nobody in front of the fire rimmed dais could see her. Nevertheless, she had a good view of the surrounding area, and would whisper in his ear whenever she had an opinion on the speaker, or if she sensed them lying.
"I think the town is trying to scam me, Liang is a good man" Zuko replied softly, then stood, "Very well Admiral, I believe your account of the events. I rule in your favor, you may depart."
When the man had shuffled out, and the guard closed the door behind him, Toph jumped to her feet and stretched, her back cracking several times in the process.
"So, why so distant, hot-head?" She asked with a sly grin, "Are you nervous about the wedding?"
"No." Zuko denied quickly, then remembering she could tell when he was lying, quickly amended it, "maybe."
"Hahaha! The big bad Fire Lord is scared of commitment." Toph mocked, lacing her fingers together
"I have work to do Toph." He brushed past her, but like most women he dealt with, the teenager refused to be ignored. Picking up her long skirts, she trotted after him, taking two steps for every one of his to compensate.
"Oh yea, another village want to build a statue for you? Or another merchant want you to invest in their exploration? Or are two aristocrats squabbling over bloodlines again?" Toph asked, "When will they figure out that to pretend to be a virgin properly you have to-"
"Where do you learn these things?!"
"Oh, here and there . . . you'd be amazed how many people think that if you're blind, you're also deaf."
"Well, I need to finish my work, I'm sure Katara is going to want to tell me about the ceremony she is planning with Lo and Lee as soon as she is back from the Temple."
They rounded the corner and walked along the corridor. It was half enclosed, and looked out on the courtyard through large, red columns. The breeze was warm, but not uncomfortable yet. In a few short weeks, the heat would be almost unbearable.
"Yea, that's all she ever talks about," Toph agreed. Zuko knew that the earth bender had been avoiding his fiancée, unfortunately, that meant that she was hanging around him more often, getting him into trouble.
The planning was taking longer than they thought it would because of the brazen culture shock. Katara wanted a water tribe Ceremony in an Ice Shrine, she had described it to him in detail many times, and he had to agree that it sounded beautiful. Water mixed with multi colored dyes was frozen, then light was shone through it, bathing the whole igloo with flickering pastel lights. Unfortunately, even in the rainy season, the Fire Nation was too hot for such a structure to last more than a few hours.
At the moment, his girlfriend was in the sun sage's temple, going head to head with the priests there, trying to organize a wedding that encompassed both their cultures harmoniously. As far as he knew, it was not going well as both parties refused to compromise. The Fire Lord needed to be married in the Fire Nation tradition.
"What's a Fire Nation wedding like?"
Zuko started at Toph's sudden question, it was unlike her to care about things like that.
"Well, my mother used to tell me about her wedding to my father . . . It's a big celebration, she dressed all in red silks, and had henna up and down her arms. There was a huge procession that took her through the streets in an open palanquin, I guess so everyone could see her, ironic that the whole city gets to see her before the Fire Lord . . ."
"Hahaha, so, I'll get to see her before you do?!" Toph gloated.
"Yea, If we- ugh! Toph! That's not funny!"
"Hey," Toph was unphased by the scolding, "It was supposed to make you feel better."
"I always kind of wanted to get married the same way as her, I think her wedding portrait is still in her old room, I should have the seamstresses make a duplicate."
"Jeez, Sparky, why don't you just have her wear your mother's old dress?"
"Well, it's been destroyed, that's sort of a wedding night tradition also, the burning off of the bride's dress. The CAREFUL but passionate burning off of her dress . . . if her husband is a fire bender."
"I don't know, I think Katara will have her own opinion of just what she want's to wear to her own wedding." Toph replied, apparently taken aback by the explination.
"And what about your father?"
"Well, at the same time as all that, my father was anointed and blessed by the Sun Sages," suddenly Zuko sobered, "then there was an agni ki between my father and my grandfather, Mother never told me exactly why . . ."
"I'm sure Chief Hakoda wont challenge you to a duel."
"Well, after it was sorted out, they had to recite the royal vows, then offer a sacrifice to Agni. After that traditionally, as newlyweds, hands bound, they jumped over the fire together, sealing the contract."
"What has jumping over the fire got to do with anything?"
"It's tradition, a metaphor for 'taking the plunge'." Zuko shrugged, they had reached the hallway where his office was, it was near the living chambers of the royal family, far on the east wing of the castle.
"What now, Toph?"
"Zuko!! I'm serious!! There's someone in your study that my feet don't recognize."
"What?" Zuko stopped short, "an assassin?"
"I'm not sure. I don't feel any weapons." Toph dropped to a crouch, flattening her hand against the stone, "I think that they're a fire bender, they have a bender's posture."
"Guards!!" Zuko called them away from their posts with a wave of his hand, "Did you let anyone into my study?!" The two benders jogged over and dropped to one knee, observing the protocol of the castle.
"No, my lord!!" The ranking one sputtered through his skull like helmet, "That is against policy! None of the servants were even scheduled to clean or tend to the plants today!!"
"Please go inspect the room." Zuko crossed his arms. It was a joke really, he was the finest fire benders in the world with the possible exception of his sister and uncle, whoever was in his study he could probably beat with his eyes closed.
As he watched, the guards pressed their backs to the wall and unlocked the door, then, simultaneously, they spun to face the room. One checked behind the door and the other scanned the room. Zuko heard both of them yell and dash in after someone. There was a short pause then one of them was thrown backwards out the door where he hit the column hard and slumped down on himself. The other seemed to be holding their own, but the sounds of furniture smashing soon filled the hallway.
"I hope they don't destroy my documents." Zuko fretted, starting for the door.
"Oh no, you let me handle this." Toph placed a hand on his chest, stopping his advance. She then pulled the back hem of her skirt between her legs and tucked it into the obi in the front, then shoved up her sleeves to the elbow. The baggy yellow fabric only proceeded to slide back down her arms, but she didn't stop to readjust it.
"No way, I'm not letting you go in there alone!" Zuko called, but the little bender waved him off, barging through the open door.
After a second or two, there was a huge crash and the sound of a man screaming like a small girl, then an explosion of flame out the door. Zuko growled, hauling up his robes and galloping towards the door as quickly as the ornate shoes he wore would allow.
The view that greeted him at the door was a sight to be seen. Toph not only had won, but was clearly enjoying the exercise as well, her smirking was proof enough of that. The desk had been overturned, it's contents scattered all over the floor. There was a gaping hole in the far wall, the metal panel that usually resided there was wrapped in a cocoon around a struggling man, pinning him to the floor.
"Alright!! Who are you?!" Toph dropped to her knees, leaning over him, hands flat on the ground on either side of his head to get a good feel for his breathing and heart rate.
"I'm not going to tell you!! I have urgent business with the Fire Lord!! Not some tiny Earth Kingdom brat!"
Zuko paused, the voice was familiar, he had heard it somewhere before. He stepped to the side and peered over Toph's shoulder, catching a glimpse of an angular cheekbone and pointed, red, tattoos.
"Hahaha! A tiny earth kingdom brat just whipped your bony butt!!"
"Let me up, little girl, before I-"
"Sun Warrior!! I expect you to be respectful when you talk to my advisors." Zuko stamped a foot, and the bender craned his head around to find the source of the voice. Although the man was in inconspicuous travel cloths and a cloak, without the hood pulled down over his face, it was easy to identify him.
"Ah! Fire Lord!!" the warrior swallowed, the tone of his voice going from sour to grudgingly respectful, "I have a message for you . . . which I will deliver as soon as your 'advisor' lets me up."
"You know this pitiful excuse for a man?" Toph asked, poking at the man's nose. The tone of her voice was full of disappointment, as though she thought Zuko made better friends than this sort of riff raff.
"Vaguely, but if he is here, it's something important." Zuko turned to his still conscious guard, "Both of you return to your posts, and don't let anyone in . . . Toph, let up . . . umm . . ."
"Let Ham Ghao up, he wont attack."
Toph grumbled to herself but stood up and smoothed her dress back down slowly, making sure they both knew she would let him up when she was good and ready. Finally, after brushing dust from her cloths that she could not see, she removed the sheet of metal, returning it to it's proper place on the wall. With a flick of her wrist, the bolts on the floor jumped back into their holes and screwed down tight.
Ham Ghao, stood, adjusting his jewelry and then combing his fingers through his long goatee. When he finally spoke, it was not about the message he mentioned earlier.
"Is that the way you treat all your guests?! Sicking a tiny, rabid, Earth Bender on them?!"
"You snuck into my private office."
"Your guards would not let me in to see you." Ham Ghao grunted, crossing his arms, "They said you were in the middle of a very important trial, and I would have to come back tomorrow." The man glared at the door, the way the two royal guards had gone. By the tone of his voice, one would have thought the guards had spat on him and thrown him out the door.
"I was, they were following orders, now about that message . . . ."
"Dismiss your . . . 'advisor', and I will tell it to you."
"Toph is my friend, you can talk in front of her."
Ham Ghao seemed scandalized, "The Chief said it was for your ears only!"
Zuko was getting tired of dealing with the scrawny and unpleasant man, "I am the Fire Lord, you will trust my judgment!!!" As with any occasion where he had to orate, his words became more stiff, and his phrasing more elaborate.
"Ha! Even in the Sun Temple, we heard what happened with that last girl Mai. I think your judgment is clouded. Also, it's not my business, but I would think twice about crossing a pregnant swamp bender, those girls are-"
"Toph is not a mistress!!" Zuko raised his voice, "She is a friend, and rumors about Katara's pregnancy were greatly exaggerated!! Now, tell me your message or I will ship you back to the Sun Warriors in chains!!"
Ham Ghao snorted, but hesitantly complied, "It's a summons from the Masters. The Chief wants to talk to you about them. We think that soon, we will have to reintroduce them to the world."
"What?! No. You can't do that." Zuko protested, "there are still plenty of people that believe in the old traditions! They won't be safe. Tell your Chief that he should wait another generation or two for things to calm down."
"It's more complicated than that, I would have thought the 'enlightened' Fire Lord would understand that. You'll have to talk to the Chief or the Masters themselves to get the details."
Zuko ground his teeth together, "I can't drop everything and rush to the Sun Temple. It's not my way to suddenly vanish."
"You will make an exception." Ham Ghao replied with a smug, satisfied grin.
"How many copies have you made?"
"Enough to cover every wanted board from here to Ba Sing Se." the artist commented placidly, gouging out another section of wood from his block, "My men have been working all night."
"I want to double my order then, I want enough to plaster every message board from here to the Fire Nation."
"Seems important, too bad you could not work things out diplomatically."
"I am beyond the point of diplomacy, I am afraid I will have to take drastic measures."
"If I might make a suggestion, sir?" the artist had finished his woodcut, and began inking it with a brayer, "Why not just hire a private bounty hunter?"
"I did two years ago, and, it will not work. I know how to play the odds, hundreds of hunters competing for a prize works better in the long run than paying just one. The last one's I hired were an utter disappointment anyway."
"Oh?" the artist asked, pulling a wet piece of paper from the bath and running a squeegee over it, "May I ask who they were?"
"None of your business."
"Well, if I might sir, I print a lot of Wanted posters, and if it's a Master Bender you want, there's only one woman who can get the job done. Guaranteed."
Azula pivoted on the ball of her foot and then swept her free leg in an arc up and over her body. The flames materialized from her heel in a perfect crescent, and slammed into the half melted snow bank across from her. The execution was flawless.
The ex princess took a deep breath of the fridged air, and sunk down into the snow. Her mind was willing, but her body was not. Her muscles ached, and her skin felt tight, as though she was a snake ready to shed it. Instead of pushing and drilling the move, the princess leaned her head back and looked at the crystal clear sky, imagining it. The sun only rose for an hour or two a day, and while the ice city was wreathed in darkness, she found it exhausting to bend. Therefore, she planned her practices around when there would be light, and tended to lie low for the rest of the day.
She closed her eyes, blocking out the crunch of approaching feet. She knew what it meant. Today, she would be brought in front of the Chief and the Elders and they would decide what to do with her. Yugoda had promised to speak on her behalf, but she doubted it mattered. None of the men would want her in the barracks, and none of the healers wanted her taking up valuable room in the hospice anymore.
"Come on, on your feet, Azula." Yugoda crooned as she leaned over the reclined noble, "Good news!! Some swamp benders arrived this morning, most of them are male. One of them is older, and a very talented bender, and he isn't dim at all! This will make things so much easier, the first years were very insolent with their last two Sifus, they are just too well trained from the moment their born that they don't really have to listen to any woman other than their Mam and Gran Gran. He is actually quite charming in a rural mysticism sort of way."
"How is that good news for me?" Azula brought her knees to her chest then rolled over onto her side in the snow, facing away from the older woman.
Yugoda considered this for a minute then shrugged, "I suppose it's not directly good for you..." then she recited an old proverb Azula heard often among the women, "but, what is good for the tribe is good for you, now come inside and wash your face before we go . . . ugh! Have you sweat through this shirt as well?! I'll fetch you a fresh one."
The meeting room was large, and like everything else in the wasteland, made of ice. The elders were kneeling on a platform on the far side, Arnook in the middle, and his advisors on either side. A large mob had gathered along either side of the assembly hall, eager to see the princess's demise. Azula clenched her jaw, becoming nervous from the attention.
"Remember," Yugoda whispered as they walked, "You are not to speak unless asked a question directly, you will address whoever asked you by their full title, you will bow to the floor when we reach the end, and you will not get up unless asked. Now, pull your hood down over your face, you do not want to offend them with your eyes."
Azula scowled but pulled the fabric down and glanced around. The crowd had gathered and enclosed them, most were nudging each other and whispering back and forth. Almost a hundred warriors had gathered, fully clad in their armor and war paint. Although she studied the throng hard, she couldn't pick out any faces she knew under the layer of color.
Distracted as she was from scanning the crowd, she bumped into Yugoda when the older woman stopped, and the audience murmured softly to one another. Crinkling her nose, the Fire bender dropped to her knees and elbows, pressing her forehead into the icy floor.
"Chief Arnook and Respected Village Elders!" She heard Yugoda say, the old woman projecting so that the whole assembly could hear easily, "I bring you Princess Azula, Fire Bending Master and Prisoner of the Northern Water Tribe. I wish to plead her case, will you hear it?"
"Please continue." Arnook shifted in his seat, looking down his nose at the prostrate royal.
"The Medicine Women in the hospice have voiced a nearly unanimous opinion that the Princess is not longer in need of our services. Furthermore, most feel she is draining the healer's time and resources with her presence, it has been voiced that we are healers, and not babysitters. As the Eldest of the healers, and medicine woman myself, I ask that you allow the patient to be moved to the barracks with all the other benders her age."
As soon as Yugoda finished, there was an uproar of protest, and the warriors began banging the butts of their spears into the ice. Azula simmered to herself, resisting the urge to jump up and yell. The ice beneath her began to melt from her anger.
"Medicine Woman Yugoda," Arnook told her gently, "Surely, you are aware that the Barracks are for the men of our tribe."
"I am well aware."
One of the old men to Arnook's right spoke, "The Princess should be put in prison. She is a danger to herself and to others, she has already fought with one of our Honored Warriors on multiple occasions."
"I agree that it was wrong, Elder Harka but clearly my ward has aggression that must be dealt with, and not simply left to fester in a cell. I would also wager that many of our fourth year benders would relish the chance to spar with a authentic fire bender of their own age."
To Azula's surprise, several of the benders hooted, as though they couldn't wait for their turn to mop the floor with her. The princess rolled her eyes, but deep down, wondered if they had come to embrace or reject her.
Cocky armatures, think they can defeat me, she thought to herself, her nostrils flaring.
"This is ridiculous," One of the painted warriors stepped forward, and through the paint, Azula recognized the aquiline nose and deep blue eyes. She inhaled deeply, and exhaled a lung full of smoke, the warm air melting the ice beneath her nose.
"You have something to say that is important enough to speak out of line, Warrior Hahn?" Arnook crossed his arms, clearly displeased at whatever protocol the young man had broken.
Hahn blanched, but then rallied and nodded, "These traditions have been put in place for a reason, we do not have the space to give a single girl her own room, and putting her with the men will be an indecent distraction."
"That is true." One of the other elders muttered, "I have heard things about girls from the Fire Nation . . . Is she even a virgin? I'll wager not."
Yugoda turned to Azula, frowning, "Are you?"
Azula closed her eyes, fleetingly, a memory of a mouth pressed to hers and a body trapped between her knees cart wheeled through her minds eye. As quickly as it had come, it was gone, and even though she tried desperately to hold onto it, it slipped away like so much smoke.
"I don't remember, Yugoda." She finally whispered.
"My ward does not remember, but even if she is not pure, she will pose no distraction, I promise you."
"She is a woman!" Hahn shot back, "The very possession of her body makes her a distraction to my men."
Arnook actually laughed at that, "Princess Azula, rise and remove your parka."
Azula lifted her head, her good cheek heating and she hissed, "You're not serious!!"
"She is just worried to catch a chill!!" Yugoda said suddenly, shushing the princess, "It is not an unreasonable protest."
"It will only take a minute." Arnook stated.
"Please Azula," Yugoda bent down and whispered as she pretended to help the teenager up, "I think he is trying to shame Hahn for speaking out of turn. If you comply, he will relent and make an exception for you, if you behave insolently, he will send you to jail."
"No!" Azula hissed back.
"I wish for the council to see the extent of your burns." The chief explained, filling the void of silence that the hushed argument created.
"Trust me, Azula, I have always looked out for your best interest before, haven't I?" Yugoda told her.
Grudgingly, Azula pulled off her leather parka, then after more encouragement from Yugoda, pulled off her shirt and bracers and dropped them onto the ground. Wrapping her arms across her breast bindings to cover her front, she let Yugoda turn her around and then lift her wispy black hair to show off the scars that ran the entire length of her back, save one horizontal patch vaguely shaped like an arm.
"Her legs are even worse, should the council wish to see them." Yugoda offered.
"NO!! No. Er, No that will not be necessary . . ." Arnook tried in vain to keep the disgust out of his voice, "I am sure every man here will agree that she is in no way a distraction. How do you find her a distraction, Hahn?"
A murmur of laughter rose from the group, and Hahn crossed his arms, trying unsuccessfully to shake off the blush of shame that crept up his neck. It probably turned his entire face red, but it couldn't be seen beneath the white face paint. He glanced at Azula, his eyes narrowing, but Azula simply grinned back, her mouth twisting it to more of a snarl than a smile.
"It's against tradition!!" He insisted, "Women benders cannot be trained in combat."
"On the contrary," Yugoda continued, turning Azula back around with a vice grip on her upper arm, "My Ward is already fully trained in combat, and if I remember correctly, the taboo only refers to water benders. Anyway, she is a warrior by nature, would you deny her her birthright?"
"She surrendered any rights she had when she became a murderer."
Arnook stood, clapping his hands together to regain everyone's attention.
"I have made my decision!!" he addressed them, "In the spirit of peace between the nations, and the soon to be alliance between the Water Tribes and Fire Nation, I shall allow the Prisoner to stay at the barracks. She will be just as well guarded as in a prison cell. However, if I hear any justifiable complaints about her, our customs hold good, and she will be cast out."
"Thank you Chief Arnook." Yugoda bowed to him, dragging Azula down with her to do the same.
"And for Tui and La's sake, if nobody else's, put your cloths back on." Arnook scolded, disdainfully.
"I will see she does." Yugoda grabbed the shirt and yanked it back over Azula's head, nearly taking the Fire Bender's nose off in the process.
"I can't believe you did that, Hahn, you know you shouldn't have." The bender who had walked with Hahn to the burial cave trotted over and lightly punched his friend's arm, "I guess welcome, Azula, my name is Sangok, Chief Arnook is my uncle."
Azula looked up from fastening her armguards and raised an eyebrow, not bothering to grace the man with a response.
"The only way she is staying in my barracks is as a maid." Hahn blurted out suddenly and whirled around, stalking off into the crowd.
Ty Lee and Aang sat by the fire, morosely. Along with Kisa, they had been searching the Islands around the Southern Air Temple for latent benders, but so far, they had found nothing. The Fire Nation had done it's job well in irradiating them centuries earlier. Aang's usual cheerfulness had stared to dissipate, and he had steadily become quieter and quieter. Sometimes Ty Lee swore she was looking at a brooding Zuko. She couldn't blame him, however, his first crush was engaged to one of his best friends, that coupled with their repeated failure would make even the strongest person depressed.
Even his aura, which was usually one of the most beautiful things Ty Lee had ever seen was muddying, and his chakras were swirling sluggishly. She put her chin in her hands, feeling sorry for the poor kid, not even her progress in air bending seemed to cheer him up anymore.
"So, Sifu Aang, how are you doing?" Ty Lee asked finally, breaking the loaded silence.
"I'm fine, why?"
"Well, I just was wondering what with Katara's wedding and all." Ty Lee shrugged, "I was wondering if you still felt sad." It was obvious he did, the moping he did was enough to prove it.
"No, not anymore, I used to, but, now, I'm just happy that she is happy." Aang prodded the fire with a long stick, readjusting the logs under the boiling vegetables. His aura flared a sickly blue for a minute, then fizzled, contracting itself closely to his body.
"Yea, sure." Ty Lee rolled her eyes, "Nobody is just happy for someone who dumps them for a close friend, believe me, I know."
"It happened to you too?"
"Yup, not too long ago, in fact." Ty Lee stopped, pondering, "But the important thing is to get right back on the Ostrich Horse, don't mope around feeling sorry for yourself the rest of your life. You should find a rebound."
"I don't know, that sounds kind of selfish."
"I never said it wasn't selfish, but it helps. I could help you find one, wasn't the apprentice to the Fortune Teller into you?"
"No." Aang protested, standing. Although he had grown into a gangly teenager, with joints that jutted this way and that at awkward angles, he moved with a level of grace that most teens could only dream of.
"Come on," Ty Lee wheedled, "I want to help!"
"I . . . It's just . . . after Azula, and her . . . teeth . . . I'm a little . . . squeamish." Aang finally confessed in a nonsensical string.
"Oh." Ty Lee's face fell, and she chewed on her lip thoughtfully, she wasn't sure quite how to continue, "Are you mad at Azula?"
"No. Pass me our bowls please?" Aang reached out his hand and waited while Ty Lee dug through their bags still on Appa's untacked saddle. Finally, she pulled the three plates out and brought them over to him.
"I'm really sorry. She shouldn't have done the things she did."
"She wasn't in her right mind."
"I know, but . . . that's no excuse. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault, Ty." Aang gave her a small, reassuring smile.
"Well, I think that you should try to find a new girl . . . or guy-"
"Well, I think that you should go for it. You can't spend your whole life being scared." Ty Lee straightened, "And, I promise, I'll help, do you have any questions about women? I'll be your Sifu on all things girl. It will be like a trade!"
"Well, there has been something I was sort of wondering . . ." Aang perked up, his small smile spreading to the familiar, mischievous grin.
"Yea? What? Lay it on me!"
"Why do girls always go to the bathroom together?"
"Aang! I'm serious!!" Ty Lee groaned and slapped her forehead; this was going to be a long night.
"So am I!" Aang insisted.
"Out of all my lengthy and practical knowledge of women compiled over years of field research, you want to know why we go to the bathroom in groups?!"
". . . yes?"
"Well . . ." Ty Lee chewed her bottom lip, trying to formulate a good response.
"Okay! Momo and I have finished gathering the fire wood." Kisa stepped back into the clearing, dropping the pile of sticks next to the makeshift fire pit. Momo chattered and trotted behind her, dragging one stick behind him as though it weighed twenty pounds.
"Hey, Kisa, why do girls go to the bathroom together?" Ty Lee asked, greeting her girlfriend with a question.
"Wow, what did I miss?" Kisa flopped down, her armor creaking, then she mused it over, "To Gossip."
"And to check each other's hair." Ty Lee added.
"And to keep each other company."
"That's nothing like Sokka's theory." Aang said to himself as he dished out the vegetables.
"I never thought I'd say this, but Sokka is spending TOO much time on Kyoshi Island." Ty Lee reasoned.
"Aw, boiled vegetables again?" Kisa made a face, "We need more protein in our diet. I swear I am losing muscle mass."
"You look beautiful sweetie," Ty Lee cut in hurriedly with dutiful protests, "You're so toned!" The complement was strategically given right before Aang handed her the plate of steaming rice and plants, and Kisa didn't protest again. She was too busy feeling her arms through her baggy sleeves to realize that she had been distracted.
"I think we should stop at Kyoshi," Aang told them as they ate, "We could reach it by tomorrow night if we get up early and leave right away."
"You don't want to check the Fishing Village south of here first?" Ty Lee asked, pityingly.
"No. There are no air benders. You were a fluke."
"That's silly, We're checking that village." Ty Lee argued. If they skipped over it, they would just have to double back again and do another sweep of the area.
"I wouldn't mind visiting Suki though." Kisa murmured, "She isn't going to be in Kyoshi much past the Spring Thaw. Last time she wrote she said she was moving to the South Pole with him."
Ty Lee crinkled her nose, it was obvious it was two against one, so she relented, nodding her head in agreement to their plans. It would be nice to sleep inside on a bed again.
The sleeping skins were a lot heavier than they looked, and Azula soon found herself sweating underneath them. Making two trips would have been easier, but she didn't want to give the boys the slightest reason to pick on her. She didn't want to show any weakness. None of them were scared of her. A problem she planned to remedy as soon as possible.
". . . you'll have to make a kill to get the bone to make a spear," The water bender was prattling on as he helped her carry her things, but she wasn't listening to him. Whatever rules there were were in place for the men, not her.
"And in here is the-"
Both of them stopped, as Hahn's figure appeared, barring the doorway.
"The Fourth Year's room is full with the Swamp Benders. She isn't staying here. Take her to the last room on the left." He crossed his arms, an expression of smug victory filling his features. Azula didn't like it, whenever he was smug, something was about to go badly for her.
"Were you daydreaming?!" Hahn snapped, "I just gave you an order."
"Okay." Sangok looked abashed, and turned to Azula, "Change of plans then, you'll be over here." She followed him down the hallway to the end, the icy walls reflecting a distorted image of them as they passed.
"Why do you let him just boss you around like that?!" Azula demanded, not because she cared, but because it was an opening for a social jab. As far as she heard, the air headed pushover was the heir to the Chief's seat of the entire tribe. He shouldn't have to take orders, even from a ranking official.
"Hahn is one of the oldest men here, he looks after everyone." Sangok replied.
"You shouldn't listen to everything he tells you." Azula advised, a small, manipulative smile dusting her half ruined lips, "You outrank him by blood."
Sangok shrugged, but seemed to be considering it. Before she could plant any more seeds of doubt in his head though, they reached the last door of the hallway.
It took every ounce of strength she had not to drop her things and run.
Inside there were at least thirty eight or nine year old boys, every single one of them screaming and running around, chasing each other with blunted staffs. The floor was covered with a few layers of skins, and the sleeping bags on top of it were horribly trampled by the ruckus. Slowly, the boys seemed to notice the invasion of their space, and they stopped their headache triggering scene and stopped to watch.
"Hey boys!" Sangok seemed cheerful, "This is Azula, you remember her right? She is going to be staying here with you!! Won't it be great! It will be like having a big sister!!"
"My big sister does my laundry." One remarked petulantly.
Azula snarled and dropped her things. In one graceful, easy movement, she grabbed Sangok's parka by the collar and slammed him back into the wall.
"I am not staying here!" she hissed, "I HATE kids."
"How do you know if you can't remember?" Sangok asked, sidestepping her complaint.
"Never mind, I'll take it up with Hahn myself!!" She dropped him and stomped back down the hallway the way that they had come.
"No!" The bender called after her, "Not a good idea!!" She felt him grab her sleeve, and soon the scuffle turned into a Tug-o-war. Reaching her hand back to throw a punch, she was startled when a set of fingers enclosed her wrist.
"Well now! What do y'all think tha yer doin?"
Both of them turned to investigate the unfamiliar voice. It was one of the swamp benders, probably the 'not dumb' one that Yugoda had been gushing about that morning. Azula curled her lip in disgust at the man.
"Who are you?" she demanded. Whoever he was, he had no right breaking up the fight before she broke Sangok's face.
"Well, ain't you a lil lady!" He seemed amused by her discourteousness, "They call me Hue. I cam over with the swamp benders, y'all must be Azula, Y'all don't remember, but we met before."
"I'm sure the memory is sorely missed." Azula's sarcasm was practically visible on her breath.
"Oh yes," Hue nodded, "I was in prison, you interrogated me."
Azula closed her mouth and tensed, it sounded like they were not friends. Surprisingly though, the man seemed to lose interest in the subject and scratched his coarse grey hair that stuck out at several odd angles. He studied her for a long time, as though he were reading things on her that she herself could not see. Finally, he spoke again.
"Y'all should get used to the young 'uns, I see one in yer near future."
Okay, that's chapter one!! Whoo!!
First order of business: Fanart (for those of you with eyes)
There are a few new fanarts up by me, I thought at least, there needed to be a good illustration of Azula and her burns. It's hard to get an idea of just how scary she looks just from the words on a page, so check it out.
There's also a doodle of Katara, Yeo, and Zuko which, I believe I drew for the Swamp Skiin' chapter.
Second order of business: Summary (for those of you who think prequels are for chumps)
Once Katara started her moon time, her bending began to cycle accordingly. She has three energy spikes that correspond with the moon at full, waxing gibbous and waning crescent. To maintain the balance, on the full moon, when she bleeds, she loses her bending entirely. This is not entirely implausible, as women's aura's and chi flow changes during their moon time, and since blocked chi=blocked bending, you do the math.
After a month of searching, Azula found and murdered her mother, in the process however, she burnt them both to a crisp. After being thrown into the ocean, Azula washed ashore in the Northern Water Tribe.
Iroh learned he has an illegitimate motherless daughter, he does not seem to mind her bastard status and is quite happy to have a family again. He named her after his deceased sister in law.
It was discovered that Ty Lee is an air bender, her family descended from the nomads, (or more likely, nomad, as the Fire Nation was thorough) who survived the genocide.
Everyone is roughly two and a half years older than the series.
Thanks for reading!!