First Blood

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

Warnings: General Spoilers, Implied Violence and Character Death

AN: For AtLA Land's bingo card writing challenge. Prompt was "First Test."


He wakes with a muffled scream. It catches in his throat and threatens to stay there forever. His heart pounds in his chest like he's been running for hours, and his hands shake as he jerks back the covers. He can't get enough air. Every breath is a struggle, a furious battle that he isn't sure he's winning.

He doesn't know how long it takes him to reestablish some semblance of calm. How long it takes for his heart to quiet and his breathing to even. Perhaps seconds. Maybe minutes. Could even be hours.

The metallic tang on his tongue doesn't go away, and there are images burned onto his eyes that haunt him whenever he blinks. He doesn't dare lie back down and return to sleep. Instead, he stumbles to his feet and manages to get himself into the shoes and cloak strategically placed by his bed.

The journey from his room and down the hallway is made in complete silence; the palace is dead around him as he slips outside. The guards conveniently look the other way as he passes, and he knows come morning that they'll say nothing of his actions the night before. His hands are still shaking as he draws his cloak up against the chill and continues down the darkened streets with only the moon to guide him.

Eventually, he finds his destination, a quiet manor that is slightly more affluent than the others around it, but he doesn't head for the front entrance. Instead, he slips around the left side and over the short stone wall. The boy follows the outside of the house almost to the very back but pauses in front of a window that's barely cracked open. It's just enough for him to wiggle his fingers underneath and lift it up soundlessly. A second later, he's easing himself inside with a bare whisper of sound.

The bedroom is large but not as big as his own and certainly messier. He has to dodge the clothes and papers scattered across the floor, but he eventually makes his way over to the bed on the far wall. The occupant is fast asleep with his mouth open. He mumbles in his sleep every few seconds, but the words are indistinct and lost to his pillow. He doesn't even notice as his visitor steps over to him and puts trembling fingers on his shoulder.

"Roku."

A pair of eyes opens slowly, and it takes them several seconds to peer his direction. They're unfocused and half-lidded.

"Gah… What's the matter?" Roku ask sleepily and blinks. He blinks again as he notices the expression on his friend's face, and suddenly, he wakes up completely. "Again?"

His soft shoes dig into the carpet as he swallows and gives a sharp nod. Wordlessly, Roku sits up and shifts over to give him room. He collapses down gratefully, knees unexpectedly weak and inciting a rebellion in both legs.

"What was it this time?" his friend questions after he's settled.

There's a pause. The room is dark around them, but Roku's eyes are bright and lit by a fire that shouldn't be there. His face is an open book of worry.

"It was the same as before," the other boy admits very softly, and it's only when a hand goes to his shoulder that he realizes he's shaking.

"It isn't real," Roku tells him. "It hasn't happened. It won't happen. It's just a nightmare."

Roku's voice is certain. Absolute. Without a single trace of doubt.

But he just can't quite believe it. Behind his eyes, he sees fire and cities reduced to ash. Blood in the streets and bodies of children. He sees Roku dead at his feet, sightlessly staring up at the comet streaking across the sky above them both.

His hands clench as he fights the burning in his eyes, but that's a battle he's already lost.

"It isn't real," Roku repeats, and the fingers on his shoulder give a tight squeeze.

Sozin trembles beside him and begs anyone listening that his best friend is right.


Ever Hopeful,

Azar