Hey there guys Aleina here. I stole the title of this from one of AFI's songs, but it's not a songfic- just a story that came to me today, wouldn't leave me alone, and occupied my brain, demanding to be written. This chapter and the next might seem kind of slow, but don't worry- it will pick up. Enjoy, and PLEASE REVIEW!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything, Avatar is the property of Nickelodeon and all that good stuff. Lucky people.
Katara padded silently to the window in her bare feet, smiling and listening to the world outside her door. The room she inhabited was spacious and open, the floors a dark cherry with red furnishings, as befitted the Fire Nation.
The city of Caldera, better known as the Fire Nation capital city in the womb of the dormant volcano, was teeming with life. Down the street she could hear the fish vendor yelling, and the women who sold the spice soups were advertising their daily stews. Children played among the older civilians until told to stop by stern parents, and Katara smiled as she saw a little girl being swung up into the air by the strong arms of her father.
The war had been over for only eight months, but the atmosphere was already happier than it had been in years- and not just in the prosperous cities. Zuko had convened with all the world leaders as soon as he'd become Fire Lord, and they had planned ways to get food, medicine and other supplies to disaster zones, like the Third Ring of Ba Sing Se and the countless Fire Nation establishments within the Earth Kingdom. Help had also been sent to the Water Tribes- the Northern Reconstruction Project had acquired so many volunteers that they'd started turning people down, or reassigning them to the Air Temples.
Aang had written a letter to Katara just a week ago, talking about his first home- the Southern Air Temple. He'd gone with a group of refugees who no longer had homes, and together they were trying to replace the peaceful Air Nomads who had been decimated a hundred years ago. Aang had been so excited for the project when he left six months ago, even though he had wanted her to come along.
"Come on, it'll be fun! Like the old days, just you and me… and a couple hundred volunteers. But still, Katara, at least we'll be together!" Aang grinned hopefully, his grey eyes searching hers, then leaned back almost defensively. "You still want to be together… right?"
Her skin prickled, and she shifted her cerulean gaze from his eyes to the roiling city around her. There was something so joyful about it, but it was a desperate happiness- as though people were enjoying what they could before the other shoe dropped.
It reminded her of what life was like when she was younger- always on edge, waiting for the raids, wondering who would be taken next. She couldn't explain the attraction she held for this place, the desire to be near the epicenter of change.
She studiously ignored the scarred face that came to mind, and the fluttering of her heart when she dared to name it. The explosions sending shivers down her spine were unearthly, exciting- and she only ever felt them when she thought of Zuko. It was like she could be a woman with him around- not a warrior, not a mother figure… not someone to be adored, like a puppy following its master.
"Aang, I can't…. go. I can't go." She chickened out at the last moment, mentally berating herself. But how could she break his heart after he'd trusted her with it for so long? Her guilt was too much for her to handle, but she knew it would be even worse if she hurt him. "I need to stay and represent my tribe, because Sokka isn't here to do it. I have to do what I can for my home, while you do what you need to for yours. Does that make sense?"
His expression saddened, and he nodded wordlessly before flicking the wings out on his glider and taking off from the balcony of her house, leaving her to her loneliness.
She shook her head to clear her thoughts, ordering herself not to stray down that path again. From his letters, she could tell that he didn't hold it against her. In fact, he'd uncovered a hidden room full of the monks' teachings, and ancient scripts that he alone could translate. He had taken Longshot, Smellerbee and the girl from the Fire Nation school he went to, On Ji, and was planning on teaching them his heritage before he enlightened the hundreds of followers he'd brought with him.
No doubt about it, his work now was changing the world just as much as his war actions had. She was actually sort of jealous- while he was keeping busy helping an entire culture come back from extinction, she was sitting around in Caldera, acting as the Southern Water Tribe ambassador, waiting for news from her friends and healing whoever came to her- with one glaring exception, where she had been the one to seek her patient out.
She's seen Azula at the height of her madness, and had seen the hollow, broken young woman who was left over. It occurred to her that they were all just kids- except Zuko, who was of age, but still- they were too young to hate so fiercely, to throw away everything on one failure. So she had gone to the palace, and asked Zuko if he would let her heal Azula.
He'd said yes, but had restricted the meetings to ensure her safety. She'd met the princess in a white room, sitting on the bed with dull eyes and asking her what she was doing there. As an answer, she'd pulled water from her pouch and onto her palms, and had moved behind the girl. It had been as if Azula no longer cared what happened to her- if she'd been the same ruthless princess who had shot lightning at her, she would have jumped up and defended herself against an attack, but she had just sat still and quiet, indifferent.
It had taken weeks of daily visits, trying to heal the severed connections in Azula's mind, but Katara had done it. By the end of it, the girl was imperious, cruel as ever, but completely stable, and she hadn't seen Katara since. She'd done her part and eased her guilt, knowing that her battle was the turning point of Azula's breakdown. She'd brought the girl back, and her debt was repaid.
But that still didn't mean she liked the spoiled, power-hungry little brat.
Katara snickered to herself, sounding more like Toph than she cared to admit. The Blind Bandit was currently on a mission to scout out any troublemaking Fire Nation soldiers in the Earth Kingdom and arrest them, helping the villages who'd been under oppression for so long that they didn't know what to do once they were free.
Secretly, Katara thought it was just a maneuver to keep the twelve-year-old out of school, but she wasn't one to judge.
Last she'd heard, Toph was making her rounds in Senlin Village, near the forest where Aang had encountered Hai Bai, the panda spirit. It was right on a peninsula which was straight across the ocean from the Fire Nation Capital.
She'd subconsciously mulled the idea of going to see her over in her mind, before deciding to stay in Caldera.
Waiting, a little voice whispered in the back of her mind, but she squashed it down, biting her lip in annoyance. She wasn't waiting for anyone- anything. Especially not for a certain Fire Lord to get back from his trip to the Earth Kingdom. Rumor had it that he'd gone back to visit Iroh in the Jade Dragon, but no one knew for sure- and if they did, they weren't letting the bat-lemur out of the bag.
She wouldn't be surprised, though. Zuko thought of his uncle as his father, and he was right to do so. Katara felt a burst of hatred for Ozai when she remembered everything he'd put his son through- the scars, the emotional damage, the loss of his mother. It was a good thing that Ozai had wasted away in his prison cell, died in that rotten cage before she hunted him down...
She realized what she was thinking, and drew away from the violence in her own head. What the… Spirits, Katara, did Azula really rub off on you this much? The shocked, taunting tone sounded suspiciously like Sokka's voice, even though he was currently with Suki on Kyoshi Island, waiting for their first child to be born. Then, they would continue on to the Southern Water Tribe so that Sokka could help with reconstruction, and so that he could learn how to be a good leader, and someday the chief, when Hakoda steps down.
She shook her head again, just then noticing a twinge of pain in her temples. She'd been sitting inside too long.
The young woman stood up and slipped out of her red robe, leaving it draped over the back of her chair by the window and rolling her shoulders. Her house had a yard in back, and a pond right next to the high fence. She went outside in her usual training costume, her chest bindings and a pair of short pants gathered at her knees. She shifted her weight and raised her arms, pulling thing, thread-like streams of water from the pond, swirling them around her like a spider spinning a web, then freezing the strands in a precarious cage around her. This form was no use on a battlefield, instead being used for performing arts, but she liked it anyway. She touched the ice and felt it collapse around her, then spiraled the water above her head, adding more from the pond until it was a whirling cyclone, then brought her arms down to pound the water into the ground.
She was almost too late in noticing the palace messenger waiting nervously by her back door, but caught the water just in time, arcing it over their heads and back into the pool. The older man looked terrified, and she knew he probably thought she was attacking him.
"Sorry about that, I just got so caught up that I didn't notice you. So, yeah. Really, I'm sorry." The man nodded faintly, and she realized he was averting his gaze from her, blushing. Most people in the Fire Nation didn't walk around in their underwear.
This time, it was her turn to blush. "Oh. Um, let's just go inside- I'll put some real clothes on… what's going on?" she asked conversationally, leading the man back into her home. She found the robe and turned away from the man.
"You have received a letter from Lady Mai, Master Katara," he said, and the silk slipped from her numb fingers. Mai? No, there had to be a mistake. She hastily picked up the fabric and slung it over her shoulders, cinching the sash around her waist and whipping around to face the man. He was bent over at the waist in a formal bow, holding a sealed letter out in front of him. She took it, not really believing it was true until she caught a glimpse of Mai's seal holding the letter closed- two lethal looking knives crossed against a scrolled background.
"Why would the future Fire Lady be writing to me?" she asked, regretting the bitter tone of her voice. She didn't trust the woman- not after everything that had happened during the war. Not to mention that she'd completely abandoned Zuko when he was banished, a fact that he seemed to overlook when he asked her to marry him. The wedding would be sometime next year, as soon as she turned eighteen.
Katara wasn't quite sure if she was going.
"I don't know, but… well, the honorable lady seemed to be very upset when she ordered these letters to be sent out."
"Letters?" So she wasn't the only one who was receiving this note. She tore through the seal and unfolded the paper, staring at the words for a full minute without really comprehending the weight behind them.
Zuko is dead. I know that after everything between the two of you, you would want to be notified before it was made public. His funeral is in three days, at noon in the palace courtyard.
"Zuko?" she whispered, tears erupting from her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. She waited, almost as if she would be able to hear him calling back to her. "No. No, this isn't…" The words aught in her throat- she'd never been able to lie to herself. There was no way to tell herself it wasn't happening, because the agony ripping through her was real.
She lost herself in a wordless cry, collapsed to the ground and felt her entire being burn to ash.
There isn't a lot of dialogue in this chapter, but there will be more. This is more of an explanation of what's going on, a prologue. There is another chapter having to do with the immediate aftermath of Mai's announcement, but after that… we're going on a journey :) and only I know where it ends. Please review!
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