Disclaimer: I don't own the Avatar or any of his friends. I don't own diddley squat…except for Julie and the other OC's…yeah.
Prologue: I Have to Start Somewhere, Right?
It was a long time before I could bring myself to pick up a pen, let alone to tell my story. For the most part, I was doing everything possible to put the whole ugly mess behind me-to shove the memories aside and never look at them again. But I couldn't. My body wasn't letting me forget. Weeks passed and still I continued to wake up in the middle of the night with his name on my lips, drenched in cold sweat. All it took was waking up alone beneath my sheets to remember what I had lost.
To put it simply, I'm not the same girl that I was before the accident. I suppose in a way I should be glad—some of those changes turned out for the best, as you will soon learn. But I can't be happy. Not entirely. Because somewhere along the line I got a new scar, jaggedly vivid beside all the others. And, much like the scar on Prince Zuko's face, it isn't going away anytime soon.
Right. You probably have no idea who the hell I'm talking about—unless you're one of those dorks (like myself) who happen to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you are, I thank you for making my life that much easier. Unfortunately, I still need to explain at least a little bit for the vast majority who haven't watched the show. Zuko is…wow, how do I explain this? I mean, I can't just throw a Wikipedia entry in your face, now can I? People like Zuko, or Aang and the others for that matter, just can't be explained. They just are.
Not very helpful, I know. But then, I never once claimed to be an expert storyteller. Just a nomad, and, if the situation called for it, a fortune teller. Zuko, in a weird, unexpected way, was my guardian throughout my journey…as well as the bane in my existence.
Right. I'm still not making any sense here. After all, how could I possibly claim to have befriended a fictional character from a kid's hit cartoon show? Well, that's the precise reason why I'm still boarded up at St. Vincent's Institute for the Clinically Insane with suspected brain damage. The nurses are having a specialist look at me—one Dr. Logan C. Chaang, PhD—and in preparation for his visit, they are forcing me to write down everything that happened to me in the past year. They say it will help me separate fiction from reality.
Fat chance! I know who I am! Despite all the shit I dealt with, crossing universes, putting dictators in their place, and consorting with spirits, I haven't forgotten myself at all. My name is Julie McVay, I'm sixteen years old, and I most certainly am NOT crazy. Just stubborn.
I suppose I should get to the point right about now. Nurse Hornbill says that if I don't cut to the chase, she's going to request a psychiatrist to prescribe me some of the meds they push on some of the other inmates. Those particular individuals are actually the sanest people here—until they pop their pills, at which point they become nothing more than human vegetables for a few hours.
If that fat bitch were sane, she would prescribe herself a nutritionist and leave me the hell alone.
Yeah, you heard me Hornbill! You're a fat fuck who doesn't know her left hand from her right! I hope you remember that next time you try to slip something in my food…asshole.
Crap. Sorry, about that! My temper was never this bad before the accident… It's something I really need to work on. Easier said than done.
Contrary to what the white-coats say, it doesn't get easier with every passing day. Not at all. In fact, some of them are even starting to say that I might have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—you know, that mental condition you typically see with war veterans and tragedy survivors? I don't want to believe it, but I can't deny that the symptoms are there. I'm angry a lot, I can barely sleep at night, I get accosted with these vivid flashbacks that seem so real that I feel about an inch away from death.
I wake up every morning reaching for his hand, and it isn't there. That's the worst part. Knowing I'll never be able to hold his hand again.
Quite frankly, I'm not surprised. I mean, I did end up fighting in a war—it just happened to take place in the Avatar's world. I still have wounds from it too, but the nurses say that those were from my "accident." Anyway, I'm more surprised that I haven't picked it up earlier considering the fact that my entire life was one traumatic even after another.
But I suppose if I had to label a trigger even for all this, I'd have to say it occurred on the night of October sixth, approximately around eleven o' clock at night.
.. .. ..
I had overspent my evening studying for my SAT's over at Jessie's place-well, actually, she was berating me for cutting English today in the relative comfort of her bedroom while I attempted to quiz her on vocabulary. It didn't work, though, because when it comes to worrying about me, Jess has got a one-track mind. She didn't even listen when I reminded her how good I had done on the essay portion of the pSAT's without hardly any studying at all.
She just gave me a cold stare and reminded me about my pitiful math scores. Touche.
On the flip side, Jessie was the only person who made the connection between me missing a few days of school at a time with the generally well-known fact that my father is the town drunkard. Maybe it was the fact that I didn't have a mother to worry over my well-being that made her act so mother-hen-ish around me. There was no way I could hide a string of bruises from her. As for my mom, she died a little while after I was born, so I could barely remember her now, if at all. Coincidentally, Jessie and I have been friends since the first grade, and that hasn't changed much even now that I've been declared a medical nut-case. She even comes to visit sometimes-when the doctors let her.
If I ever get this story sold to the public, I'm totally dedicating it to her.
Anyway, the gist of all this was that, in the midst of watching Jessie stomp around all mad, ranting about my lack-luster college application, I had completely blown my curfew. Now, I didn't panic right away because it happened to be a Friday night-Dad's chosen night to haunt Steeley's Tavern until some unGodly hour. If he didn't forget his wallet, like he is prone to do sometimes, there was a good chance I could sneak into my bedroom, conflict avoided. Then again, he could still stagger in at two in the morning and give me a black eye over something I had done weeks ago and had forgotten about. Nothing was really certain at my house. All I knew was that if I didn't come home, he would find me...he always found me.
So, taking the late Michael Jackson's advice, I beat it.
Jessie didn't like the situation one bit. She wanted me to spend the night, or to at least do a tarot reading to see whether it would be safe to come home. Yeah, you read that correctly. She wanted me to trust in the heart of the cards like that pissy little Yugi Moto from that 4Kids reject show. It was likely that she had made that suggestion as a stall for time, but the sad truth of the matter was that Jessie actually takes authority in my predictions.
The tarot deck belonged to my mother, I think. I'm not really sure. I found it while rummaging around in our cellar, wrapped up in a crumbling rubber band and covered in an inch of dust. Anyway, the thought of having a real family heirloom-even if it was a cheap deck of plastic cards-and something that belonged to my mom no less really appealed to me. So I read up on tarot in the woo-woo section of the library. As soon as my superstitious best friend found out, naturally she wanted me to tell her fortune...every day.
I think she would have lost interest after a while if I hadn't correctly predicted her winning the raffle at the summer carnival. I had told her that as a joke (and, partially as an excuse for her to drive me across town to the carnival grounds), and to my chagrin she actually drew the winning ticket. To this day she is an avid believer of the paranormal.
I'm actually kind of glad I stuck with that old tarot deck. It actually ended up saving my live when I first entered the Avatar's world. At the moment, however, it did nothing to spare me Jessie's anxiety.
"I'll be fine," I assured her in my most calm voice. "Besides, if I waste time doing a reading, I might not get home in time."
I didn't bother adding that I didn't need to be a fortune-teller-albeit an amateur one-to figure out if it was safe to come home. It was never safe. That was just the way life worked.
"If you don't text me before morning, I'm calling the police," she told me flatly.
I knew she would do it too. Jessie always kept her promises, even if the last thing I wanted was to dance with Child Protective Services. It was part of her philosophy that she knew was was best for me; way better than I did. That's Jess for you.
"It's not like anything I say will be able to stop you," I replied good-naturedly. "Just don't panic right away if it takes me a while. I might not be in the position to talk until he's asleep."
I was talking, of course, about my old man.
"Bastard," she muttered. "I don't know how you can be so damn casual in a situation like this..."
"You may call it a defense mechanism," I said, only half-joking, "but I prefer to look at it as being practical-keeping cool in the face of fire."
If I thought that quoting Albus Dumbledore would save me, I was horribly wrong. The Harry Potter reference did nothing to alleviate her building anxiety. If anything, it only served to bring her to the brink of tears. After all, Dumbledore is dead.
Naturally this did nothing to make me feel any better. So I put my most impressive scowl on my face.
"Okay," I told her sternly. "Cut that out right now or I seriously WILL go AWOL. Now, listen! I'm going to cut through the park and cross over the bridge on the interstate. It's the quickest way," I added before she could accost me with the road-kill and mugger argument.
She glared at me, blinking rapidly.
"You're a reckless idiot," she muttered. "But you're still my reckless idiot. So try not to die tonight, okay?"
"Well, dying isn't high up on my to-do list," I reminded her. "It should be a no-brainer."
"You say that, but every time this happens, you end up looking like something someone dug up out of the grave! I mean it! Call me if anything happens!"
"Okay, okay! I promise! Sheesh!"
I was trying to downplay the whole thing, make it seem like no big deal that my dad was an abusive drunk. It made me feel ashamed to have an audience to this, even if it was only Jessie. I knew it wasn't my fault. I was just a victim. But every time Jessie found a bruise or caught me walking with a limp, I felt like dirt-as though I were the one to blame. I was getting annoyed-and I knew that if we kept up this conversation, I would probably snap at her. The last thing I wanted to do was to start yelling at her for no reason.
"Get going," Jessie urged me, grabbing my attention back from the void of self-pity. "On second thought...are you sure you don't want me to give you a lift?"
"Jessie...!" I growled, rubbing my temples and trying to close the dam before the flood of anger broke through. I let out a sigh of frustration. "No. I don't. I keep telling you, I'll be fine! Okay?"
She caught the drift immediately.
"Fine," Jess grumbled, tossing her car keys petulantly over her shoulder. Then, seeing my aggravation as plain as day, she smiled ruefully. "Hey, don't wig out, okay? That's my job."
"And you do it very well," I replied, relieved to feel myself calming down. I took a couple of deep breaths before I could manage a half-hearted grin. "See ya."
I stepped outside.
"Be careful," Jessie whispered as she closed the door behind me with a quiet snap. I paused, half glancing over my shoulder. But then I thought better of it. I took off running down the steps and propelled myself into the street, catching a glimpse of Jessie's face peeking worriedly out the window. I knew she would be watching me until I turned the corner at the end of the block.
I'm proud to say that I still had the wind to keep up a steady jog after my initial sprint. I was already thin, whether due to genetics or my father's stinginess when it came to providing me with meals, I had no idea. I mean, I don't remember what my mother looked like, but I could only assume that I'm a spitting image of her. I mean, where else could I have gotten such vivid red hair? It sure as hell didn't come from my dad, whose shit-colored ponytail reminds me of a limp turd.
Anyway, if it wasn't my choice in hobbies or the good will of God, it was undoubtedly the necessity to be able to run for my life at a moment's notice that did it.
Okay, don't get off thinking I'm this cheesy Lily Potter remake with a hint of Mary Sue. Please. Just look at me for a second: I'm five foot six with no noticeable breasts, skinny as a flag-pole, and I have this freakish mane of Bozo-the-Clown colored hair that mushrooms at the slightest hint of rain. Oh, yeah. I'm definitely the kind of person that millions of untalented pre-teens like to put in their crappy fanfiction...
Focus, reader! I'm about ten blocks away from the plot, and believe me it's a good one!
I remember that the forecast had called for heavy fog with a ninety percent chance of precipitation. So naturally I looked like a piece of work, as it was unnaturally warm and humid as all hell. I felt my hair frizzing up even though it was already cut-in layers-down to my chin. Any shorter and the ends would inevitably curl upwards into a style that would make Jane Jetson blush. Fortunately, most people couldn't see me in the swirling mist.
It also meant that I was likely to be hit by a car if I wasn't careful. So I made sure to keep to the sidewalks whenever I could.
Despite everything, my muscles felt pretty limber as I raced under the hazy yellow glow of the street lamps. I had to slow down a little as I neared the city park-a deserted hunk of metal that miraculously hadn't been condemned when Billy Hampton almost got beheaded on the jungle gym some years back. I checked my watch as I slowed into a jog and decided-against my better judgment-that I could afford to catch my breath on the bridge.
At this point, the fog had gotten so thick I could barely see ten feet ahead of me. I suppose that, given the circumstances, it really shouldn't have been surprising that I didn't notice that I was being followed. The interstate bridge itself was built for cars-it being connected to a freaking highway, after all. I had jogged about halfway across when I allowed myself to stop, breathing heavily as I clung to the street lamp. It was only once I had done this that I heard the approaching footsteps.
I turned slowly, almost casually as the figure stepped into view. He was dressed in a pair of baggy jeans and a holey black sweatshirt that was almost too big for him. I couldn't make out his face just yet-again, no surprise there-but as he got closer it became apparently how male he was. His chin was masked in a faint stubble and his adam's apple was faintly visible from the lip of his collar. However, it was the panther-like slouch that alerted me that I was most likely dealing with a Class A mugger.
Well, great, I thought wryly as I fished smoothly through my pockets, looking for my pepper spray. My swiss army pocket knife was stowed away in the front pocket of my backpack, and couldn't be accessed without drawing unwanted attention to myself. I didn't want my panic to become evident to the stranger.
I tried not to be paranoid. After all, there was a slight chance that this was just another ordinary guy...who decided to take a stroll...on the interstate bridge...on a foggy night...
At that moment, he had reached me. His hand came up out of his pocket, and there was glint of cold metal. I found myself staring at a drawn switchblade. I flinched and took several steps backwards, my searching fingers groping more frantically.
Christ on a crutch...! Pepper spray...! Pepper spray...!
"Give me your wallet," he said quietly.
My hand finally closed around something cylinder-shaped, and my heart felt a little lighter, even if it had managed to wedge itself into the back of my throat. I could barely breathe. My fear wrapped around my lungs like something cold and slimy and constricted them in an unrelenting grip.
"Your wallet," he snapped, getting impatient. I saw the hand holding the knife falter slightly as he noticed my hand in my pocket. "Hey...!"
Too late. I whipped my wrist forward, teeth clenched, fully prepared to give this creep exactly what he deserved...
Oh, you've GOT to be shitting me!
My jaw dropped as I found myself brandishing an unwrapped tampon in his face. NOT my pepper spray.
"Um..." I choked, my eyes flickering to meet his. "Girl power?"
He grimaced at me as he slapped my hand away. Then, he grabbed both of my wrists in a cruel grip. His breath stank of stale whiskey.
"You think you're some kind of smart ass, don't you?" he hissed, slamming me forcefully into the pole. I gasped as all the air rushed out of my lungs. His weight was crushing me, and my back arched uncomfortably against the steel. I began flailing against him, hoping to maybe get a lucky shot at his crotch.
I was rewarded with a harsh grunt and a momentary respite in his assault. As he gasped for air, I wriggled free.
I didn't realize how disoriented I had become in the struggle. My heart bombarded my ribs as I tore away from the drunk man. I didn't stop to plan an escape route. In my panic, I simply blundered in whatever direction was closest. I had blindly plunged directly into the road.
The shrill honk of a car horn...blinding lights...my muscles went rigid as I braced myself for the blow. My eyes flew shut, my teeth clenched.
Something slammed into me, knocking me off my feet. I was only vaguely aware of the momentum sending my senseless body flying like a limp rag doll, hurtling off of the bridge. Perhaps I was dying. But I couldn't be afraid now. My mind had switched off all of my nerves-I felt entirely numb as my eyes rolled upwards into the back of my skull. I completely blacked out.
The wind whipped around my ears, pushing my body until it crashed lifelessly into the water. I sank like a stone.
I was dead, wasn't I? I couldn't be sure. I didn't know where I was. Everything was dark. I struggled to push open my eyelids but found that I couldn't. I felt trapped as I pushed against the walls of my body. It had suddenly become my prison.
Wake up! Please, let me wake up! Give me one more chance! I'm not ready to die yet!
And that was all it took. Suddenly, I was aware of my surroundings, if only sluggishly.
My first thought was that I couldn't breathe. I attempted to draw in a breath and immediately jerked as water poured into my lungs. It burned in a way water never should. My body screamed for oxygen and completely distracted me from actually obtaining it as I flailed uselessly beneath the waves. This only lasted for about ten seconds before I gave up. I let my arms and legs go limp as the death spasms seized me.
That wasn't the only thing that seized me. I felt strong arms close around me, almost protectively, as though they were embracing me. I slumped against this body as it struggled against my own lifeless weight. As quickly as he could, he was dragging me to the surface. I didn't resist his pull, even as the currents attempted to drag us both under again. I was just an empty burden in the stranger's arms.
Hope is a beautiful thing. It felt almost as good as the sensation of breaking through the edge of the water. But sadly, it was already too late. I had forgotten how to breathe as I had welcomed death with open arms.
More hands grabbed me. A rope was tied around my waist. I was being pulled upwards, up onto the deck of a ship.
Huh? I thought. There are no boats here.
But there was. I was on one. I flopped onto the floor boards like a fish.
"She's not breathing," someone yelled. I couldn't hear him too good. It was as though I was still underwater. Everything sounded warped and muffled. I was probably still waterlogged.
I felt hands pushing down against my chest, hard. My heart attempted to match the rhythms, to no avail. But my savior wasn't giving up. He forced my mouth open and pressed his against mine, pushing a lungful of air into my body. My body tried more fervently to respond.
I gasped, coughing uncontrollably as I tried to push the water out of my lungs. Someone slapped me on the back, not helping. My eyes flickered open and found a group of men surrounding me. The moment my vision came into focus, I thought I was delirious. Either that, or I had lost my mind completely.
I was completely surrounded by a squadron of Fire Nation soldiers.
A/N: That's the prologue. Sorry it was so long, but I wanted to actually establish the plot, along with a few key points before I cut it off. It was much longer originally, but I knew that you guys wouldn't have put up with that. So I cut it down a bit.
Julie, as you can see, is quite blunt with her descriptions. I did everything possible to make her a realistic character-I even went and researched PTSD, substance abuse, and domestic abuse online before I even attempted to write this. I also read Jumper, by Steven Gould. The main character, David Rice, had an abusive alcoholic father. I found Gould's portrayal to be very helpful, and it even gave me some ideas for plot points in later chapters.
So what do you think about Julie? Like her? Hate her? I'm curious, so let me know.