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Theme: #21 Violence
Disclaimer: My fandom is by no means owned by me and is owned by Nickelodeon, along with Mike & Brian, nor am I, in any way, affiliating myself with Nickelodeon and/or making any form of profit from this. Characters, places, titles, and the 100-year-war are property of Nickelodeon. Plot, scenario, and everything that is not property of Nick is mine. Please do not steal it.
I do not own the Southern Raiders. All references to characters, dialogue and action up to my own creation point is property of Nick, along with Mike & Brian.
"We weren't behind the bush," he spat at the man lying on the ground.
Using his arms and hands as threat for a plausible burn, the man understood him to be a firebender. The old man backed away further as he moved forward toward him, but he had leverage, as the old man was still lying on the ground, defenseless.
"And I wouldn't try firebending again," he warned.
"Whoever you are, take my money, take whatever you want; I'll cooperate," the old man pleaded, raising his hands above his face to protect himself as a woman dressed like his unknown attacker appeared next to him.
"Do you know who I am?" she asked, the words like fire as they rolled from her tongue, spreading through the air and making it difficult for him to breathe.
"No," he said initially, trying to put himself in a position of less compromise. "I'm not sure," he tried again.
"Oh," she sneered, "You better remember me like your life depends on it."
His heart went racing, thinking this could be his last moment alive. He did not know this girl; he had never seen her before in his life. He was going to die because he could not remember the identity of someone he had never met. Unless he had met her, and he didn't remember. Thousands of scenarios raced through his mind in less than a second.
"Why don't you take a closer look," she prodded.
Something in his mind clicked. Her skin and eyes were not of traditional Fire Nation features. She reminded him of someone, but he could not place it in his mind. To keep the talk going, he decided to reply with the answer they most likely wished to hear.
"Yes," he spoke, the memories flooding back to him as he went. "I remember you now. You're the little water tribe girl…"
"Just let her go, and I'll give you the information you want," the water tribe woman spoke beseeched.
"You heard your mother," he threatened the little girl imprudently, "Get out of here!"
The little girl looked at her mom, her eyes shining with fear and her body shaking nervously. "Mommy, I'm scared," she whispered.
"Go find your dad, sweetie. I'll handle this," she said soothingly as her daughter turned to leave the home.
"Now tell me," he demanded. "Who is it? Who's the waterbender?"
"There are no waterbenders here; the Fire Nation took them all away a long time ago."
"You're lying. My source says there's one waterbender left in the Southern Water Tribe. We're not leaving until we find the waterbender."
"If I tell you, do you promise to leave the rest of the village alone?" she pleaded.
The man nodded in agreement.
"It's me," she spoke softly. "Take me as your prisoner."
"I'm afraid I'm not taking prisoners today," the man spoke with a ruthless smile, his hands moving into a stance ready to firebend.
He gulped as he voiced aloud his memory, looking into the Water Tribe woman's eyes the entire time.
"She lied to you!" she spoke suddenly, turning away from him. "She was protecting the last waterbender."
"What?" he asked. "Who?"
She stopped the steady rain that had been falling around them, creating a shell-like encasing around them. He looked around, her partner was still standing, and he had been listening to every word just as intently as she had. His focus came back to the woman, who was still holding the water around them, as if it threatened to fall down at any moment and crush his bones. She bended the water suddenly towards him, the droplets freezing into ice-daggers and shooting towards him impossibly fast. This was it; it was his last moment to live. He put one hand up to brace himself from the penetration of the razor sharp daggers, and…
He looked up to see the ice floating inches from him. She had decided to spare him. She bended it back to water and let it fall, the man covered his head just in case, and when he felt nothing but water drench him, he looked back up at her.
"I did a bad thing," he said, trying to find a way out of her obvious plan to kill him. "I know I did, and you deserve revenge. So why don't you take my mother, that would be fair," he said, trying to add light hearted humor into the grave situation.
"I've always wondered what kind of person could do such a thing. But now that I see you, I think I understand. There's just nothing inside you, nothing at all. You're pathetic and sad and empty—"
"Please spare me," he whispered.
"—But as much as I hate you," she paused. "I just can't do it!"
She turned around to leave, and the man smiled, but her partner looked at him, and he instantly found the ground much more interesting. He glared at him, and then turned to leave, too. The old man silently wondered if he was her lover, accompanying her to find her mother's killer, to help her seek closure. He thanked Agni that he was still able to wonder as he picked up the fruits and placed them back in the basket than had fallen when he had been attacked, and he started the long trip back home to his mother.
Katara stared out into the open water, her hands lightly resting on Appa's reigns while her eyes reflected the stillness of the cold, dark ocean below. The memory came back to her, so vividly she remembered every detail, how strong she had been, and had not been. She closed her eyes to remember her mother's last words to her, relishing in the sweet recollection.
"Go find your dad sweetie. I'll handle this."
She had been so calm, cool, and collected. At first hand she had been so willing to give her life for not just her daughter, but the entire village. Her courage had not only ensured the entire village's safety, but it allowed Katara to become the waterbender she was born to be. Why couldn't she had just given me up, and been selfish? This thought had crossed Katara's mind so many times since she had learned the truth of Kya's death. Because of her, her mother was dead. Those words could echo in her mind for a short time, but the permanent sting of the guilt would be there forever.
"Katara, you should take a break," Zuko's voice broke her thoughts, pressing her back into reality.
She snapped her head back, "I'm fine."
Zuko's facial expression showed concern, looking at Katara softly. "Are you okay?"
Katara looked at him, swallowing hard. "I'm fine," she repeated crossly.
"Then why are you crying?" Zuko pressed.
She was crying? Katara lifted the back of her palms to her face, where, indeed, she found tears across her cheeks. She couldn't help herself as more tears clouded her vision and spilled over the sides of her cheeks. A soft sob escaped her as she hugged her knees to her chest, burying her face in the tops of her knees.
"No," she whispered between sobs, "I'm not okay."
Without hesitation, Zuko brought her back to the saddle and wrapped his arms around her, bringing her head to his chest.
"What you did, Katara, took more courage than it would have—"
"It's not that," she whispered into his chest. "It's my fault that she's dead. Don't you see? If I wasn't a waterbender, the Southern Raiders would have never had come to the South Pole. My mother would still be alive."
Zuko didn't say anything at first, but then he took a deep breath and began to speak. "I know how you feel," he whispered steadily.
Katara snorted, "How could you—Crown Prince of the Fire Nation—"
"Ex-Prince," he corrected her.
"—Whatever. Have any idea about taking the blame. You had everything handed to you on a silver platter your whole life!" She yelled angrily, even though they were close enough to hear a whisper.
He hung his head, "Because my mother was the only one in my family that gave a damn about me," he said bitterly.
Katara cocked her head, interested.
"When I was ten, my father was told to kill me. Fire Lord Azulon, my grandfather, told my father that it would demonstrate his willingness to sacrifice anything for his country. My mother defended me, allowing me to live for a short time. In that time, my grandfather was murdered by my father, and then my father took the throne. The night of my father's coronation, my mother came to my room to tell me that I was never to forget who I was. I never saw her again," Zuko whispered.
"What happened?" Katara murmured.
"I thought she was dead," he admitted. "But during the invasion on the Day of Black Sun, my father told me had merely banished her, like he had done to me four years ago."
"Why were you banished?" she asked tentatively.
"When I was thirteen, I spoke out in a War Meeting, and as punishment I was forced to challenge my father in an Agni Kai. That's how I got the scar on my face," he said resentfully. "After that, my father decided that he couldn't bear to look at me. I was banished until I returned with the Avatar."
Katara's stomach twisted with empathy, but at the same moment she couldn't understand him. She knew what it was like to lose a parent. Zuko had learned to accept that his mother was gone, but was then told that she was alive. It must have been heart-wrenching. Then to have his father hate him, and his sister always outdoing him, it was like he had no family. Katara touched his scar, cautious as he shivered under her touch. Without warning, she leaned into kiss his scar, pressing her lips there for a brief moment. He shuddered.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"My family is just really messed up," he chuckled, looking into her eyes.
"Those people aren't your family," she said softly. "Aang, Sokka, Toph, and I—we're your family."
"Nothing can change your ancestry, even if you leave them; they are still tied to you through everything you do."
"You can adopt a family, which is what you've done," she grinned.
They were silent, looking outwards at the sea as Katara rested her head on Zuko's shoulder. Underneath their bodies, their hands laced together, a reassurance of safety. Katara breathed in deeply, Zuko's sweet scent mixing with the salty aroma of the sea.
"Zuko?" she whispered, breaking the smooth silence.
"When this war is over, and when everything is in order, I'll help you find your mother."
Katara could not see it, but Zuko smiled contently in the darkness.
"There's no one else I'd rather be with."