DISCLAIMER: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or the characters within. Nor do I own the fanfiction this is based on.
This is a little something I thought of after reading sharkflips totally awesome AU fic "Enlsaved". If you haven't read this and are a major Zutara fan , like myself, then do yourself a favor and check it out. It has to be one of the best AU story that's out there right now.
The only thing I might add, and this may be strange considering what I just wrote, but you might want to wait for her to finish it before starting to read. I say this cause it is such a well written amazing story that the wait for the next chapter is agonizing. Trust me, you start reading and you will NOT want to stop.
It is that awesome.
Anyway, now that I've shamelessly promoted the story (hopefully to get author crackin on the next chapter), these events are based in the story and slightly deviates from the current plot line/time line in that the season does not have the villagers hold up inside. It is after Zuko has master a minimum understanding of the language , but there are many words he still doesn't know.
Not too long after Aang's departure Zuko was finishing up his morning swim/workout session and was disappointed to find that Katara failed to show for a sparring match. He mused on the possibilities as he strolled back to the lodge, taking his time to walk around and think on things. Making his way along the beach he noted several canoes he did not recognize hauled up on the shoreline well out of reach of the tides. First he feared another attach, but quickly dismissed that as paranoia since if it were so an alarm or some other noise would have alerted him. It was late enough into the morning that he was sure most of the tribe was up and about.
Eventually a demanding stomach forced him to return to the lodge for breakfast. Upon entering he noticed several tribespeople he hadn't seen before gathered around Hana and a few other village women including Katara. Hakoda sat off to the side looking rather grim. The group spared Zuko a glance as he made his way to the cook pot for his meal. T au did not offer her usual smile as she ladled food into his bowl. Instead she looked a little grave and gave him an strange look. He would have asked what was wrong, but part of her look said "don't ask".
Taking the hint he sat away from the group out of earshot, but withing view and ate quietly. He noted that the visitors were mostly woman of differing ages. Figures since the tribes are run by the women. Every once in a while they would look in his direction. The younger girls would catch his eye then turn away quickly with a blush and soft giggles. This would cause the older women to wave a hand or say something that was most likely a admonishment to behave. However, they too would look over at him and their stares were somewhat ... unsettling.
For some reason he could not explain, but he felt like a piece of meat being eyed for a meal.
The thought sent a chill up his spine.
As soon as he finished eating he deposited his bowl for cleaning then proceeded to head out to the carving shed. On his way out he looked over his shoulder and sure enough they were watching him again. He caught Katara's eyes and was surprised to see her expression troubled and tense. He was sorely tempted to turn around and ask what is was that bothered her, but he learned when the women talked you stared out of it. It was how things worked in the Water Tribe.
He made his way to the carving shed as he did almost every day surprised to find more than Orvik inside. Apparently the a number of the warriors had decided to have a little gathering of their own inside Orvik's shed, but no one had bothered to inform him. He nodded to the warriors he knew, Sokka included, but gave their little group no mind. Instead he took up his adze and moved to start work on the canoe. However, before he could swing his first stroke of the day Orvik had stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder.
Zuko looked up, curious as to what the man wanted. All he got in response was a frown and a head shake of ... 'no work today'. Quirking a brow Zuko was about to ask why when Orvik nodded in such a way that said join us ... we need to talk. Caution rang in his mind, but his curiosity had overrid it so he followed silently.
Coming into the fold he looked at each face in turn. Their expressions ranged from troubled to sad to somewhat amused and cocky to a few angry scowls. Finally settling on Sokka only to find the man looking .... worried. This piqued his curiosity more if not put him on guard. Zuko tilted his head and shrugged in such a way that said 'What's going on?'.
Sokka looked around the group from man to man before settling on Zuko. He let out a long aggravated sigh then spoke slowly.
"You see the other tribewomen meeting with my gran gran yes?"
"They are here to talk for you. To bring ... into their ... house." At this some of the other men groaned or growled some short of disapproval ... maybe disappointment. Others chuckled which earned them a shove form a neighbor and a stern word.
Zuko looked back with a frown. Clearly not understanding what was going on. Sure he understood that there were other water tribe women visiting and they were talking with the leaders i.e. the old crone and the other women who seemed to lead their house. But it had something to do with him? Why?
His expression must have told Sokka all he needed since the man continued.
"You firebender. You ... great wealth. They ... want ... wealth." Sokka said while pointing at him then in the direction of their lodge.
'OK', Zuko thought. 'I'm a firebender. I can create fire from nothing and heat things with relative ease. A skill unknown in the tribe before he came along therefore rare and valuable.' Like Aang said very valuable skills in the tribe. He had seen how his particular skills had helped the tribe in many ways over the last couple months. All of his labors adding to the wealth of the house he resided. The thought filled him with pride. It was a good feeling knowing you contributed so much and that it was appreciated as displayed by his treatment.
Still that didn't answer the question of why the women were here now. Were they here to negotiate to have him help out in their houses as well. If that was the case then what would happen to his duties here? Who would cave the canoe? Who would heat things like he does? More importantly what of Katara and the children.
Then he thought on what his firebending would be worth to the other houses. What their house could get in return although that made little sense to him. The Water Tribe was different than the Fire Nation. There one accumulated things to gain wealth and prestige. Here you acquire things only to give them away therefore gaining wealth though the connections made by the act. So would his services be like a gift to the other houses? Would it make those type of connections? Hmm ... maybe it would be worth doing if that was going to be the outcome.
'Wait a minute?' he suddenly thought. If they were discussing his labor then why wasn't he involved? It concerned him right? He was a free man so why not ... oh wait a minute. In the Water Tribe the women owned everything. A man doesn't. His stuff is owned by his wife or baring that his sister or mother. Wait ... he has neither. He is an outsider. Brought into the tribe by ... well he's an outsider so he has neither. So does that mean the women of his house own his things? His talents and labors?
Actually that made sense given what he knew of how the Water Tribe worked.
A cough from Sokka broke his train of thought so he looked at the man.
"You firebender ... great wealth. They want .. wealth for their house. So they ...you work ... they trade ... want us share wealth." It was obvious to Zuko that the words he didn't know were the key to what Sokka was talking about. Point in case, whichever word or words those happen to be caused a few of the assmbled men to cough or snicker. Sokka turned and scowled at them. Clearly whatever this was about bothered him quite a bit.
'Alright I'm a firebender therefore valuable in the tribe so the other houses want his house to share the wealth .... me. How do they intend to do that?' He was thinking hard when Sokka said something odd.
"You not married. They want ... you ... to their house."
'Not married? Why does that matter ..... wait a minute. They can't be .... Oh No!. A marriage meeting! They're marrying him off! His one eyebrow shot into his hairline as his eyes grew wide. He started shaking his head violently saying they were not going to marry him off.
Sokka waved his hands quickly then grabbed his shoulders to get Zuko to calm down. Once he had his attention Sokka shook his head and spoke.
"Not marry. No. You not married. They want firebender. They want .... you ... work. No marry."
What? This was not making sense. Not married. No marry. What in the world was he talking about? Argh! His lack of understanding was so frustrating at times it was enough to drive him mad. The missing words! What did they mean? All he could do was repeated them with a frown.
Sokka scowled and looked away. A couple of the men snickered again and playfully shoved each other. This caused Zuko's frown to deepen.
Sokka decided to show him the meaning by pointing. At his crotch.
Zuko stepped back. That was a little too personal even for Sokka. He glared at the man demanding he explain himself. Sokka could only look painfully away. What the?
Movement caught his eye and he looked behind Sokka at one of the other warriors. The youhng man grinned and made a thrusting motion with his hips.
Zuko's face must have turned several shades of red when he was able to put it all togther.
An unmarried male. They want to add a firebender to their house. Young maidens gathered to negotiate something of his. With Sokka's pointing and the warrior's antics he was able to fill in the meaning of the missing word.
They were here to obtain his seed. They wanted him for ....
STUDD SERVICE !!!!
Katara was not happy. Never in a thousand years would she have had expected this. Sure it was an old tradition of the tribes, but no one had sought it in any of the remembered history. From what she knew it came about years and years ago when fighting or disease or some other disaster had taken to many of the men away. Men who's.... err services we required by the women to expand the village numbers. So the unmarried or unclaimed men were bargained for by women looking to bear children. It was a simple trade. Their ... contribution to ensure the health and growth of the tribe for an exchange of something. Most times it helped strengthen the ties between the great houses. Hell if the man was deemed valuable enough they even traded married men.
So this is the situation now. The other houses had seen and/or heard how valuable having a firebender around has been for the Howls-At-The-Moon house so they want one as well. Since he has shown himself to be a very desirable male both in his firebending ability and being a fine hunter/gatherer/laborer it was understandable that others would want those traits added to their houses. It made perfect sense. It was incredibly unfair, but it made sense. After all she had no claim on him. Not any longer. He was an unmarried and unattached male so he was fair game to any who would barter. Even if he was a slave no longer, Gran gran, being the eldest female in the house, essentially owned him and his labors. After all he was under the house's protection so it would stand to reason that being no other female could claim then, Gran Gran could. It was her decision whether or not to allow it to happen.
Hence their visitors.
When the other houses had arrived they were all shocked. First demanding to be heard. Second for what they wanted to be heard about. He has provided great wealth to their house this last season. Even with his limited knowledge of how to live and work in the tribe, he learned quickly and his contributions have been great and vast. Imagine in a couple years when he's mastered the arts what he will contribute. Their house stands to make great progress thanks to his abilities. More than likely in the next year some female would claim him. Make him hers alone so it was understandable why the others had shown now. Hoping to make a deal before that could happen. Before he became unavailable.
Her main concern, and she was sure Gran Gran thought of this as well, was that one of the maidens would manage to catch his eye and take him away. If that happened it would be a great loss to their house. More so to her. She liked having him around. Plus the children. Her children loved him. It would break their little hearts if he left.
What to do?
What could she do? She had no claim on him any longer. She had though that maybe something was forming between them. That maybe ... maybe now that he was able to speak their language she could ... would convey her intentions. Her feelings. That in time she would be able to provide her children with a proper father.
He thoughts were interrupted by a loud commotion coming from the lodge entrance. He stormed in and was now stalking towards them looking none too please. Oh no she thought. He found out.
"Katara!" he shouted.
Their visitors were shocked at the outbust and demanded to know what he thought he was doing. Gran Gran looked confused and concerned. Her father was surprised, but made no moves to stop him. She had stood hastily as he stepped onto the platform catching his eyes. They were wide and burned in their intensity. She tried to say something to sooth him, but failed to find the words.
When he came up to their group he paused bowing first to Gran Gran, then their visitors and finally her father. He turned to her and stepped closer. He towered over her so she had to crank her neck to look at him. She opened her mouth to say something, but he quickly, gently grabbed her face with both of this warm hands. Her eyes conveyed her shock at his actions. However, this was nothing compared to her reaction to what he did next.
He kissed her.
It startled her at first and she half heartedly struggled against him. After a moment her arms were moving to wrap around his broad shoulders. Pulling herslef closer to him. Deepening the kiss. When she did this his one hand slide down to the small of her back to bring her closer as the other moved to cup the back of her head to aid her in deepening the kiss. As their passionate kiss intensified she was vaguely aware she was leaning back until he held almost all of her weight. In the heat of the moment she could not hear the startled gasps and protests of their visitors. She did not see her father's surprised look nor the knowing smile her Gran Gran had after her initial shock.
After what seemed like an eternity, but nearly long enough he brought her back to her feet and broke contact. Just in time too since her lungs were beginning to scream for air. She stared at him gasping for breath and eyes wide with surprise and glee. He stared back with a glint of something she could not place. She had wanted to ask what this was about when she was able to catch her breath and stop her pounding heart. He smiled and leaned in close to whisper something into her ear. Just one word.
It stole her breath as sure as that searing hot kiss a moment ago. He smiled again and leaned in to touch his forehead to hers before stepping away. He bowed to Gran Gran, their guests, and her father then turned and left the lodge as quickly as he had entered. Leaving Katara to stand and stare his retreating form all flushed red trying to still her beating heart and catch her breath.
Her grandmother's voice brought her back to reality. She absently realized that all eyes were on her. She blushed deeper, if that were even possible, straighten her hair then sat primely. Keeping her eyes to the floor she took great care in smoothing out her shirt as the others watched. She paid them little mind. Her expression pleased and rather smug. Her grandmother called to her forcing Katara to look up.
"Katara, what did he say to you?"
Katara's smile broadened as she looked to their guests. Kana would have sworn it reached from ear to ear as she answered. Her head was held high and she looked very very pleased as she spoke that one word he whispered to her.
That word .... that changed everything between them.
AN: Definitely nowhere's near the quality of story as the original, but I just had to get this off my chest. Hope I managed to do "Enslaved" some justice. Like I said earlier if you haven't seen it go check it out.
Please R&R if you are so inclined.
Thank you and take care.