A/N: [IMPORTANT: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE READ] Many of you have expressed concern regarding why it has been so long between chapter updates. Part of the reason is that I spent the past few months writing an original fiction novella that was just recently published (http{:/}www{.}amazon{.}com/Ricochet-Michelle-Izm aylov/dp/1939865522, make sure you remove the {} marks). I'd really appreciate if you would consider getting a copy of the novella, which I promise you'll enjoy if you like the writing style of this fanfiction (if the link isn't working for you, just search Ricochet by Michelle Izmaylov on Amazon). I'd also REALLY REALLY REALLY appreciate if you left a review on Amazon after you read the story if you enjoyed it. That'll help send others the message that it's (hopefully, fingers crossed) a story worth reading. To be honest, if people enjoy my original fiction, it'll better motivate me to write more stuff (including this fanfiction).

Edit: I have slightly rewritten the opening few paragraphs per some suggestions made in PMed constructive criticism. As a general note, I am always welcoming of such feedback. Receiving advice is an excellent way to improve, after all.

Here is a scene. Two people sit facing each other over a desk. Each holds a glass brimming with dark wine. The Fire Lord's is half-empty but still refracts light from a candle flickering on the desk. Patterns of red-stained firelight move across the wooden surface each time he even slightly tips his hand.

"You had a dream about those things, didn't you?" I ask.

"To predict such a thing, you must have had so-called dreams as well," he concludes. "So what do you suppose this means, peasant?"

"It doesn't necessarily mean anything . . ."

"But you don't genuinely believe that, do you?" he insists. "The wise know that everything exists, even if it's only in our minds. Dreams are real because they're composed of memories and images, lost hopes and wishes for the future—"

"You're just saying words." I hear a long sigh and it takes me a few moments to understand it was my own. "You don't get this any more than I do."

He holds up his wine glass so the outlines are illuminated. A small gesture of movement. "It confirms certain suspicions, such as why you were able to pinpoint my favorite tea flavors."

"You recognized me too, didn't you? Right from when you saw me in the throne room." The weight of my mother's pendant is heavier than usual around my throat. I bend my head down to consider it. "The betrothal necklace you kept asking about . . . does it have something to do with this, too?"

"Only further confirmation. I was validating if there was truth in a conversation we had."

"In a dream . . ."

"Or something," he says, and takes a sip.

I swirl my drink and consider the waves and ripples flowing on the surface. The rhythm of living involves a perpetual ebb and flow between the mundane and unexpected. For most people that sense of boredom and wonder occurs as a constant subtle shift throughout the day. But somehow in comparison, I feel like I lived out the first fourteen years of my life wandering a road that held nothing at all of interest, no real destiny, no anything, and what lay behind me was the same. Right up until the moment when I was plucked off that road by an iceberg that turned my life into nothing but endless marvels. Part of me wants to deny everything, still. But life is a mysterious thing that has brought me to the brink of knowledge, and I'd be foolish to deny the chance to extract information that might turn out useful.

Before I can get aggressive with questions, the Fire Lord sets down his glass. "It may be helpful to compare notes in order to understand why this may be happening. You will begin."

"No way," comes my instinctual response. "You first. Then I'll talk."

"Do you not trust me with your information?"

"Trust you?" The question is ridiculous. "Please."

He sighs. "Very well, I'll begin with the most critical detail I know. Once we discuss it, you will be dismissed from duty for the evening. Spend it however you like."

The offer seems too generous. "You're not going to get everything you can out of me afterwards?"

"I doubt you'll be able to talk much after this. And besides, we have ample time. You are a servant for life. We will have further opportunities to speak."

I stare at his face that suddenly seems so shadowed and feel like I'm approaching a door in the conversation that leads to the rest of my life. He tips his head up after retrieving something from his desk.

"Do you recognize this?"

Light catches on the red stone attached to a leather necklace. "No," I admit. "Doesn't look familiar."

"It's a pearl, a large and exceptionally rare one."

It seems so distant, that piece of a living shelled mollusk suspended in the air. "Doesn't help. I've never seen it."

"Then hold out your hand," he tells me.

We sit in a pocket of unbearable silence. "Why?" I insist after a beat without complying. In no way do I trust the Fire Lord, not when he's leaning forward but his eyes are oddly expressionless. My hands make it to the shelter of my lap and touch each other as if promising the other safety.

"Because it's yours. Not yet, but I'm supposed to give it to you."

The pearl hangs so motionlessly. Maybe I have seen it before but just can't remember right now. I can't remember the meaning of anything. I hold out my hand, the right one. The Fire Lord drops the pearl. I roll it around in my palm, surprised at how warm it feels. Or maybe it's just my hands that are cold this time.

"Did you give it to me in one of the dreams?" I ask.

"Yes, and you wear it until the end."

Objectively I realize I'm only sitting on the edge of my chair, but it feels more like standing on the line dividing past and future. I'm scared to leave behind the past of ignorance, but I have no other choice. "Until the . . . end?" I press. A part of me feels tired already, weary from anticipation.

He stares at something over my head, at something set a universe apart and fully irrelevant. "Are you entirely unafraid of truth?"

"Just tell me." Spoken before I can change my mind.

"No doubt our dreams are equally fragmented, so I only know small pieces. But I know for certain that I give you the pearl currently in your possession." The Fire Lord turns his head a bit so his face is full of candlelight and I can fully see his satisfied grin. "And you are wearing a pearl just like that one when you die several months from now."

I accept his words as a joke, assuming he's just trying to get a rise out of me. "When I . . . die?" I echo with laughter in my voice. "In several months?"

"You may be dismissed now, to consider this."

"To consider what?"

"The brief life you have remaining. I saw the exact moment of your death. I felt like you should be aware of it. Now then, I have some letters to finish." He pulls out fresh paper from his desk and smoothes it out carefully. "Leave my presence."

"No!" I yell, slamming my hands hard on the desk as I stand. It's starting to get a little less funny. "You're not just going to say that and leave it there. Where? How? Tell me at least—"

"Leave my presence," the Fire Lord says, inflection suggesting I've reached the limit of his patience. "We will speak further tomorrow night, if you wish. Unless you would like my guards to arrest you for defiance of a direct order."

"You're not my boss." I mean to shout it, but it comes out as a whisper.

"Quite technically, I am. You are my servant. And either way, anyone found within the boundaries of the Fire Nation is fully subject to my whims." He's grinning again, the smirk of a man whose teeth I wouldn't mind punching out.

"I don't need this." I drop the pearl. It lands with a sharp crack on the desk. "I don't need any of these . . . lies."

"Believe what you will." He scratches down a line of text. "But I see no reason why I should deceive you regarding this matter, especially if I expect you to return the favor of sharing your knowledge."

"I'm not telling you anything—"

"You shall." He chuckles. "How else do you think you'll acquire the information you seek?"

"You bastard," I yell, no longer concerned with his position as royalty and my own as a servant. It's just him and me now, alone in the whole wide world. "You're just baiting me so I tell you everything I know. You're lying! If I don't wear that pearl, and I won't, then your prediction is worthless."

The Fire Lord shrugs like he doesn't care and probably it's because he really doesn't. "Believe whatever you care to. I've told you the truth. Do with it what you will."

What I would like to do is something I can't do here, not yet, not under the present circumstances. Not when my bending is blocked and my enemy wouldn't hesitate to burn me to a crisp if I pose any serious threat.

"Fine," I tell him. "I'm leaving."

"Until tomorrow morning," he calls to my retreating back. "Len will come find you. She's excellent with tracking, so don't run too far."

I try to leave my anger somewhere between his desk and the door leading out of the room. I walk slowly down the hallways leading to a familiar bedroom, not really running until the moment I suddenly am, when my steps pound on the floor in time to each heartbeat, too sudden, my heart too large and swollen to fit comfortably in my ribcage. The door to Zuko's room is unlocked. I hope to find him sitting on the bed, maybe reading, maybe just waiting for something. But he's gone out and only forgotten to lock the door. I stumble inside and brace my hands on the bed. I can't go much further than to the window, that one over there, the window with its curtains drawn open to let in the evening light. The window pane is cool against my forehead. My hands cup my elbows as if such a small thing could keep me from shaking.

I want to vomit but not in Zuko's room. I have a dinner's worth of food to empty anywhere else. If I could find my way back to the garden I'd get behind a tree where no one could see me. I haven't thrown up in years, not since I ate something spoiled when I was eight and my brother spent half the night helping me sip water and begging me to hold it down. But if my mouth tasted like something rotting, it would justify the Fire Lord's warning. That seems appropriate somehow. Instead my mouth fills with the memory of Zuko's taste on my tongue, his lips on my lips, his hands lingering on my face. But a ghost of touch isn't enough right now. As a healer I know that sick people seek human contact. Something about dying makes you crave physical presence. To touch the world one last time since you don't know how long you have left to hold on to hope.

I'm losing it. Taking it harder than I should. I tell myself it's a lie, it's a lie, I drop to my knees but it's only a lie please Katara please listen but logic can't hold a candle to despair. What if I die before I see my brother again? Where could he be now? Enjoying a slice of cooked meat back in Ba Sing Se, waiting for me to show up again? The bedroom suddenly seems strangely magnified, every color too bright or dim, furnishing blotted or smeared, a cheap replica of reality.

The window goes from floor to ceiling, so even kneeling I can see a shadow of my reflection in the pane. I'm still Katara, brown face and brown hair. I tell the brown face that the Fire Lord is probably lying but part of me doesn't believe that. I know the face of a man who is lying and it was not the face of the man who said I saw the exact moment of your death. Now I don't know what to do with this knowledge. The weight on my hands that is too heavy for me to bear alone.

Footsteps in the doorway. I glance back and see Zuko framed against candlelight coming in from the hall. He's rubbing sleep from his eyes with the back of one hand. Crumbs stick to the corner of his mouth like he's just finished dinner. He hasn't seen me yet. I stand so I'm framed against moonlight coming in from the window. What will I look like to him, a child-shaped container of dimly illuminated sorrow?

He stops when he finally catches sight of me after closing the door. Zuko stands straight up and stays so still, like a sketch on portrait paper. "Katara?" he calls. I want to say something back but know the words will come out messy, incomprehensible. I look at him like he's the only human left in the world.

"Are you crying?" he asks, coming closer. His fingertips are tense where his hand touches my face. The thumb swings an arc over the water on my cheek. "What happened? Katara, what's going on? What did my father do?"

I would say I'm fine but it would hold the opposite meaning for Zuko anyway because he knows me too well already. Instead I hide my face in his shoulder. I hug him around the neck, carefully, like he's something so delicate. "Lie to me," I beg into his shirt. "Tell me it's going to be okay."

For a moment he stays quiet but that's okay, too, because his silence says more than some people's whole conversations. Then I feel his fingers tugging gently on the sleeve of my shirt. He guides me over to the bed. We sit on the edge. He studies my mouth and tips forward to kiss my forehead. His lips feel warm but again that's probably because I'm freezing. Even if I were to bury my hands in his clothes I couldn't get warm enough.

"I would never lie to you," Zuko says. He pulls me closer. I tighten my embrace and think of the red pearl of an ideal shape, round and smooth, that remains on the Fire Lord's desk. But I also think of this place of silence where for one safe moment everything has stopping moving except for the muscles of Zuko's face as he smiles again my cheek. His breath and his words are warm against the shell of my ear. "It's going to be okay."

We sit for a while longer without saying anything. I know he's waiting for me to explain. Meanwhile in sitting here beside the last sign of hope left in the world, I settle back into calm and clarity. With my friend as an anchor holding me steady, I finally reason through what I learned tonight. I come upon this: Even if what the Fire Lord said was true, there has to be some way to change my fate. He saw the circumstances of my death. So what? That doesn't mean I couldn't somehow avoid them. I run my fingers through Zuko's hair, so thick and heavy it was like he'd just now taken a bath. I'll get the full story from the Fire Lord next time we meet and figure out a plan. So that next time I look at Zuko it won't be with tears in my eyes but with something of hope instead.

A/N: Yes, this chapter is fairly short, but not to worry. It's the brief calm before the storm. The chapter that follows is going to be one of the longest so far and will fundamentally alter the direction in which the story currently seems to be heading. In the meanwhile, please please please check out my original fiction (Ricochet by Michelle Izmaylov on Amazon, recommended because that's the cheapest source to get it from), and do me the huge favor of leaving a review on Amazon once you're done if you enjoyed it. PM me if you actually end up doing so; then I'll know who I owe a huge thank-you to~ Also, I wrote a brand new oneshot called "Shatterpoint," which you might want to check out on my FFN profile page. For now, until next time.