Title: Gilded Memories
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar or any of it's characters; all are owned by Bryan and Mike.
A/N- This is a piece that I wrote for LJ Community Order of the Lotus. A member there requested Jun, and after much thinking and plotting, this piece came about. This is one of my first Avatar pieces, and while I think that it could have been a bit better, I'm very proud of it. Enjoy!
A young girl of nearly twelve winters leaned against the wall, one of her feet against it and the other in front of her. One could tell from looking at her posture that she was bored and tireless, although her clothing said differently. Garbed in a pair of short pants, leather black boots that came to her knees, and a sleeveless gray tunic that reached her thighs, Jun looked frightening and more like the hunter that she had been trained to be rather than a girl that was nearly twelve. While girls her age normally helped with chores, she travelled all over the world with her father, helping him to hunt down those that others considered a threat to society or had a grudge with. Her father always demanded currency upon delivery of the hunted, and the two lived somewhat well. Her mother had died when she had been younger, making the only female influences upon her life the relatives she rarely saw, if ever. She cared little for frivolous things as she deemed them unnecessary to their way of life, having learned early on that it was easy to lose things when you travelled all the time.
She sighed softly, squirming where she stood and becoming restless. The urge to listen in on the conversation between the two males on the other side of the door was very tempting, but she quelled it. While her father might be getting older and was sick, no matter how much he tried to hide it from her, she knew that his senses were still very sharp. Once they concluded their business with the man they were now with, a rare animal collector, they would be going to what they called their home, despite the fact that they were rarely there. After dinner and when she knew her father was asleep, Jun would sneak out, as she did quite a few nights every week and visit the local taverns. A little gold in her pocket usually tripled by the end of the night; she would go and watch the fights that took place, hedging bets with the other patrons that were present on who the winner would be. Thankfully, she hadn't been caught yet, and she didn't intend to start tonight.
The sound of a door opening pulled her from her musings, her head rising to see her father walking out of the room.
"I take it the transaction went well?" she asked.
"As well as can be expected. I have something for you, daughter," Lu Min said with a smile.
"Thank you, but I don't want or need any gifts, father. I'll just end up losing them."
"Not this one, you won't. Follow me," he replied mysteriously striding out the door. Curiously, she followed him around the small house to the backyard, where small whimpers and sniffs could be heard coming from a wrought-iron pen. Her father approached the enclosure and motioned her over. With tentative steps, she crossed the ground over to him and peered in. Inside was an animal that was very ugly looking. It had no eyes, was mostly covered in brown fur, except for its paws, which were a pale pinkish color, tipped with tiny claws. It had a snout similar to that of a mole and had small whiskers.
"What is it and where did it come from?" she asked with a bit of disgust.
"I'm not sure where it came from, just that Khan Lao offered it to me for remuneration for his debt. It's for you."
"For me? What on earth could I do with something so small?"
"It might be small now, but give it some time; the shirshu will grow to be taller than human size," Khan Lao called out as he came around the corner of the house.
"It's a shirshu? Where did you get it?" she demanded, trying to contain her excitement. She'd heard on her extensive travels with her father that they were extremely rare and hard to find.
"I got it off of someone else, fresh from the litter. I would say that it's only several weeks old, if that. She'll grow to be quite big, and will be a great help to you in your line of work."
"She?" Jun repeated as she knelt down, sticking her hand into the enclosure.
"Yes, it's a she. You'll want to be careful with doing that. The tongue of a shirshu—"
"Is poisonous. I know, I've heard all about them," she interrupted, her eyes going to the animal, watching as it walked toward her hand, sniffing and getting whiffs of her scent. Rather than lashing out at her with its tongue, it cuddled up against her hand. Jun was surprised to find that the fur was soft, nearly like silk, against her skin. Her brow creased and her lips curled as she tried to think of a name.
"She seems to like you, daughter, and it looks like you two will get along well. Do you like her as well?" her father asked.
"Nyla; her name is Nyla," she answered with a small smile, giving him the response that he'd been looking for. Her father shook hands with the other gentleman, concluding their business, as Jun got up and let the creature out of the cage that it was held in. She saw that it's back only came up to her shins, but if what she'd read was any indication, Nyla would grow up to be taller than herself, possibly bigger. A rare smile blossomed on her red lips as the shirshu snuggled against her in her arms.
"Why did you give me Nyla, father? I know that she could be a great tool in helping you catch people," Jun asked a few hours later once they were back home and building an enclosure for the animal.
Lu Min sighed and put down what he held in his hands before stretching and sitting down on the ground, indicating that she should sit down next to him. Once she'd done so, he spoke. "I'm getting sick, my dearest Jun, as much as I hate to admit it. I've always known that I wouldn't be around forever, which is why I agreed to teach you how to be one of the best hunters out there. I knew when Khan Lao told me that he had a shirshu that it would be perfect for you. She'll make a magnificent animal companion, and with it, you'll be able to travel long distances in a matter of a few days rather than a week or longer, and be able to hunt down your prey that much faster."
Jun nodded, accepting what her father was saying, though she doubted that he was being entirely honest with her. Having been in many taverns and having watched people try to cheat her and her father out of their proper bounty owed to them for a job well done, she had learned how to observe people, and he was one of them. His gaze had averted and his hands had folded in his lap, something that rarely ever happened, and she could sense the hesitance in his voice. Rather than confront him about it, which she knew would be dishonorable, she moved toward him and in a move that surprised them both, hugged him. "Thank you, father. I'll make sure to take good care of her."
Years later, as Jun stood at her father's grave beneath an old tree, she mused on his explanation and realized that he'd been looking out for her. He had known that he was going to die at some point, and he had, shortly before he reached his forty-ninth year, dying of disease. She'd made every attempt to get him the best medicine and healers, but none of it helped. She'd even considered capturing a Waterbender, and with Nyla being fully grown and taller than the average person, it would have been a bit of a fight, but useless for anyone else to try to fight. When Jun had a job or a goal, she always won, but her father had told her to stay, that capturing a Waterbender would only cause more harm than good. She'd given him a terse nod, and with a tight-lipped smile, she'd stayed, only leaving his side to quickly fulfill a job for a bounty, returning just a few days later.
Now, five years after his passing, she stood alone beneath the tree, a woman of twenty-four winters. She'd always been a bit of a loner, sticking out wherever she and her father had travelled. Nyla, though, had never left her side unless tied up or directly commanded to. Once getting her, the two forged an incredibly close bond, one that her father had foreseen. The shirshu took care of her, and Jun in return, feeling that it was the least she owed the animal. Jun shook her head, looking at the tree and wishing that her father could be there like he had been until late, knowing that that would never happen.
"Rest well, father. I hope we'll meet again in another life," she said softly, placing a hand on the tree before going back to the spot where she'd tethered Nyla. Once she'd untied the reins, June got up in the saddle and nudged the shirshu towards the nearest tavern that she knew of, intent on swindling several men out of their money, simple fools that they were. It wasn't until many hours later, once she'd helped her former ally try to find the Avatar, when she'd made it back to the place that she was staying at the for the night and putting Nyla in the stable, did she allow herself to cry silently on the anniversary of her father's death. No matter how alone she might seem to everyone else, she would always miss the man who had taught her everything she knew.