Oh snap, I'm actually posting something?
Hopefully I can complete this; I have a few chapters written, and the plot somewhat planned. Wish me luck, and enjoy the prologue~!
"A staggering amount of refugees are seeking shelter within our cities, my lord."
Zuko nodded, forcing his boredom from his expression. "What news on this front?"
"Well, my lord, the latest count puts the number at nearly fifty thousand. If we take in any more, the annual food stores may not support the population through the winter."
It was interesting, Zuko thought, that even a year after the war's end there would be such a mass of people labeled refugees. People expelled from their original homes, looking to the Fire Nation for a new life. Zuko considered it a testament to how badly his forefathers had shook the world, that there would be so many lives unhinged. At least they trusted Zuko's reformed Nation enough to desire to live within it's boundaries. Though Zuko knew that was probably due mostly to Aang. The young Avatar had truly done his best to reconcile any hatred left between the three remaining kingdoms.
"I will not close my borders to those in need, advisor," Zuko stated. "If food is an issue, then something needs to be worked out. Increase fishing, establish trade. Surely there are enough hands to help." Zuko had all but disbanded the army, leaving only enough to defend the country should the unfortunate need arise. Between retired soldiers and fifty thousand refugees, Zuko couldn't imagine any lack of labour.
The advisor nodded. "Of course, Lord Zuko, but I would advise against any long-term over-fishing. And farmland is rapidly shrinking due to your father's over-farming. The land is becoming less fertile, and I'm afraid fertile land is becoming harder to come by. Previous sites haven't had a chance to rejuvenate."
"Right..." Zuko sighed. He had spent three years banished from his country, three years that would have otherwise been spent learning how to run it. He didn't know much about these problems, or how to fix them.
Zuko looked up to see Aang standing patiently at the large double doors. His eyes met Zuko's, and he smiled. Zuko nodded.
"I will have to dwell on the issue. Perhaps a meeting is in order?" Zuko said to the advisor.
"A meeting, yes. I will gather the relevant personnel and arrange a time. That is all, my Lord." The advisor bowed low before turning to leave the throne room. He bowed a head to Aang as he disappeared through the doors.
Zuko stood from the throne and stepped down. Aang met him half-way. "Aang," Zuko smiled, pulling his old friend into an embrace. "To what do I owe the honor?"
"Oh, you know," Aang beamed. "I was just in the neighbourhood, so I figured I'd drop by."
Zuko opened his mouth, but was interrupted by his growling stomach. "Uhh," he said, blushing. "Perhaps we can talk over lunch?"
The royal dining room was grand. The high, vaulted ceiling above them was inlaid with windows, allowing the bright sun in. Tapestries lined the walls, and between them sat marble statues and porcelain vases on pedestals. Two dark, polished tables sat side by side, complete with two dozen chairs a piece. The dining room had been up-scaled by his father. It "impressed their important guests at dinner, when they were thinking about food rather than politics", his father used to say. It had rarely been used. No one within Ozai's rule had been important enough to try to impress.
Zuko sat at the end of one of the tables, his plate of roast duck and papaya half-eaten and long forgotten. Laughter shook him as Aang finished a recounting of past days.
"And then you said," Aang cleared his throat, lowering his voice, "'At least I made something happen. If it were up to you, we'd never have made it pass the courtyard.'" Aang's body went limp with his laughter. Zuko could feel the stitches in his own sides. God, he hadn't laughed this hard in months.
"If I recall," Zuko gasped for breath, "that wasn't so funny at the time. You were worried half to death."
"Me?" Aang cocked an eyebrow. "You were mister serious. You couldn't have made light of a box of CatHares."
Zuko rolled his eyes. Their laughter faded, smiles still clinging to their faces. "You know," Zuko said, turning his gaze back to his papaya. "It's boring around here without you."
"Well of course," Aang replied. "The fun's where I'm at."
"I wish you could stay. Help me fix this mess of a nation," Zuko sighed, his smile fading completely as he thought back to the hours he had spent that morning with his advisors. "There's a lot of work to do, a lot that my father messed up."
Aang leaned against the table. "I have my Avatar duties," he lamented. Zuko nodded, looking up at the boy. A hundred and thirteen years or not, Aang was still young. Zuko could see the toll his "duties" were taking on him. "I wouldn't know how to run a country anyway."
"It wouldn't matter," Zuko shrugged. "Just someone to make me laugh, take the edge off. Give me advice and encouragement. My Uncle used to fill that position, but it's not the same through letters."
Aang lifted his head, his eyes meeting Zuko's. "What about Mai?"
Zuko smiled mirthlessly. "Mai's great, she truly is."
"I'm not the one for her. I can tell. She's retreated back into her old stoicism. she needs someone who can make her feel again. It's like she's just a shell, you know?"
Smiling encouragingly, Aang reached out and placed a hand on Zuko's arm. "You'll find someone. One day."
"Yeah..." Zuko returned the smile. They sat there for a moment, simply enjoying each other's company. A crash pulled them back to reality. One of the guards jogged up to their place at the table, his face red from exhaustion.
"Sir..." the guard gasped. "Azula... she's escaped..."
Aang scratched the back of his bald head. He stood in the small prison cell, staring at the bent metal bars of the door. Zuko was off to one side of the room, talking animatedly with one of the prison guards. Aang leaned forward for the dozenth time, scrutinizing the bars closely. They looked as though they had been heated and bent. But what had Azula used to bend the hot bars? Her hands? Well, Aang pondered, she was rather insane.
The prison guard bowed to Zuko and hurried out of the room. With a sigh Zuko turned back to the cell. The two benders exchanged looks.
"This isn't good," Zuko stated the obvious. "My sister was bad enough as it was. But an insane Azula... loose on the world?"
Aang smiled, but there was little mirth in the expression. "I'd rather be back fighting Ozai than dealing with her. Any idea where she might have gone?"
"Revenge," Zuko replied without thought. "She'd want to get back at me for stealing her throne."
"How?" Aang asked. "She hasn't come after you yet."
Zuko shook his head. "She would have gone after someone close to me. She'd want me to suffer..." Another sigh. "I just sent guards to protect Mai, but I doubt she's is any danger. Azula will be long gone by now."
Aang's heart skipped a beat. "What about the others? Katara, Sokka? Toph? Your Uncle?"
"The best I can do is send out messenger-hawks."
"I'll go," Aang offered, planting his staff on the stones determinedly. "Send out warnings. Hopefully with Appa I can get to everyone in time and make sure they're safe."
"Go. You have no time to lose," Zuko said. Aang nodded, and with a hasty farewell he sped out of the prison cell.