Children of Men

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.

Warnings: General Spoilers, Implied Violence

AN: For Avatar_500 over on LJ. The prompt was #9: Honor.

Some part of him – the civilized part – wants to believe that the blood of children is different. That the metallic odor and tang lingering on his tongue is dissimilar from adults. That it's purer, cleaner in some strange way. That it isn't exactly was it really is or mean what it does.

But it's not different, and somehow, that makes it even worse. Makes him gag even more. Makes it harder to fight the bile rising in his throat as he stumbles through the rubble and sees body after body after body. Some are large, but most of them are small. Tiny and weak and broken.

Killed by his men. Killed by their own soldiers. Killed simply because it was the wrong time and place and they got in the way.

Jeong Jeong didn't do the deed himself, and somehow, that's worse, too. To know that he stood back and did nothing, turned away and just listened to their shrieks. To realize that this happened on his orders, on his commands.

Little bodies. Faces forever frozen in their final moments. Hair scorched and bloodied. Small hands reaching out to him. Eyes that stare so accusingly and beg to know the truth.

"Why?" they demand without a sound. "What did we ever do to you? Why did you let this happen?"

"I don't know," he wants to scream back. "I don't know. I'm sorry. So very sorry."

But the words catch in his throat and taste like ash. They smell like charred flesh and the smoke from fires still burning in the distance. They echo like the laughter he should be hearing instead, swirling around and around in the wind until his aide has to steady him lest he collapse.

That night, Jeong Jeong gathers up his belongings and doesn't once question why. He just searches through his quarters for all the things he can't leave behind. His mother's lotus blossom comb. A pressed flower given to him by his sister. His father's favorite book. Any supplies he can grab and whatever money he can find.

His men are celebrating in the background as he heads for the far edge of the base. Gathered in groups as they enjoy the fruits of their victory. Revelry and good wine and drunken singing until dawn.

And all he can think about is little, broken bodies in the debris. Eyes blankly staring out in his memories while he slips into the trees and keeps going. Further and further and further until the Fire Nation military is little more than a nightmare and a spot on the horizon.

Jeong Jeong keeps walking. Keeps going until he drops from sheer exhaustion and can't do more than crawl into the bushes. But he can still smell smoke and taste blood and feel phantom hands tugging at his clothes while he curls in on himself.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs wearily.

And Jeong Jeong hears the laughter of children on the wind as he cries himself to sleep.

Ever Hopeful,