Prologue - The Invisible One
It started with nightmares that woke her up screaming, but then, these kind of things often do.
The first few times, Suki just brushed it off and got on with her life. So she had nightmares. Lots of people who fought in the war had similar problems. She could deal with it. She was a strong person. The Kyoshi Warriors wouldn't have tolerated her leadership if she wasn't. But when the nightmares didn't abate, no matter what amateur remedies she tried, Suki thought that talking about it might help. She had become fast friends with Ty Lee, really finding something comforting about the bubbly girl from the Fire Nation, and the act of talking about her problems felt strangely good. Almost novel.
"In my dreams, I'm a very dark cell."
Ty Lee nodded. "The Boiling Rock." She sat next to Suki on the steps of the town hall, where they could look down the sloping hill of Kyoshi Island's coast, out over the fishing bay.
"Yeah, it must be," Suki said. She hadn't really thought about it before, but that sounded plausible. "There's no windows in my cell, and it's made of stone."
Ty Lee blinked her light gray eyes. "Stone? I thought the Boiling Rock's facilities were made of metal."
"Sure, don't you remember? The metal prison is on top of the rock island in the middle of the caldera." Ty Lee gave Suki a curious look. "Maybe you're mixing the two in your dream. You know, it's like symbolic, like dreaming of a butterfly."
Suki frowned. "Butterflies are symbolic? Well, never mind that. Maybe it was a metal cell. It's just a dream." She got her thoughts back on track before continuing. "Anyway, it's dark in the cell. I'm strapped down in a chair."
Ty Lee nodded. "They have those at the Boiling Rock. Zuko was in one when he was brought out for Mai to see. Remember? He told us about that?"
Suki shrugged, and continued. "In my dreams, Azula comes out of the darkness. There's no light source, but I can see every detail of her uniform. Her face. She's... she stares at me. Her face is awful. I don't even know how I know it so well, but I can tell what it means. That looks she gives is just pure hatred. I can see in her eyes that she wants to hurt me."
Ty Lee said nothing.
Suki said the next part slowly. She had trouble putting it all into words, and just remembering this part of the dream set her on edge, like she was trying to make herself step off a cliff. "I can tell that she doesn't want to kill me. I don't know how, but I'm sure of it. And that's the worst part of it. She starts talking with that taunting tone of hers, and tells me she wants to tear me open. That part always lasts a while, in the dream. She just goes on and on about peeling back my skin, reaching her hand into my chest, pulling my heart out." Suki shivered. "Then, she does. Her hands are on fire."
Ty Lee immediately leaned over and hugged her. Suki sunk into it, wrapping her own arms around her fellow Kyoshi Warrior in turn. Suki had always loved hugs; something about such open, affectionate physical contact really made her feel better. It was like a Waterbender-cooled drink after a long day of working out in the sun.
She couldn't think of the last time she had been hugged. It must have been fairly recent, though. She'd go crazy without hugs.
That brought something else to mind. "I wish Sokka were here."
Ty Lee eased away. "He's really busy," was the first thing she said.
Suki frowned. "You've heard from him?"
"No!" Ty Lee giggled. "I wish. Sokka's doing some work for Zuko in the former colonies, and Mai wrote me about it in her last note. Katara and Aang had to go take care of something in the Earth Kingdom, so Sokka's handling the stuff that would get anyone from the Fire Nation more resistance. He's no Avatar, but he's pretty clever with solutions. Zuko is really glad for the help."
"He came all that way from the South Pole again and couldn't stop here," Suki mumbled.
"Well," Ty Lee said as she stood up, casually pulling Suki to her feet as well, "you know how it is when the Fire Lord says to jump."
"Yeah," Suki replied automatically, not really thinking why she was so sure of that. "It's weird, though, in my dreams. Sometimes, even though her fire is blue, Azula's hair is lighter when she jumps at me, kind of red like her uniform."
Ty Lee didn't respond to that.
The nightmares didn't stop, the weeks that followed. Suki compensated by going to bed a little earlier, so that any interruptions in her sleep wouldn't leave her feeling deprived by morning. Now that the island had opened up its borders, life as a Kyoshi Warrior was busier than ever. Refugees came in small but regular waves, and more merchants and sailors were plying the seas. Most people didn't want to make trouble, but there were always enough shenanigans going on that the Kyoshi Warriors had to maintain readiness. Whenever the call came, Suki would be ready for her girls. Anything less would be less than perfect, and less than perfect was less than acceptable.
That kind of attitude had made her what she was today.
So every night she woke screaming, and every night she pulled herself together and went back to sleep. If only she had some family left, to be there with her in the dark. The memories of their deaths were vague to Suki, but everyone spoke so vividly of the mudslide that she had no problem dredging up the dusty memories.
Then one night she woke up screaming in Sokka's arms.
"Suki! Suki, it's just a dream! Come back to me! Suki!"
She didn't know where she was at first, just as always. She didn't know what he was saying, and only after a few seconds did she recognize the word he kept using as her name. "I'm Suki."
"Yeah," Sokka said. His blue eyes were bright in the moonlight that stabbed through her warped shutters, but darkness ate up the rest of him. "You're Suki." She heard the smile in his voice. "I'm Sokka, in case you were mixing us up."
She laughed. It was a really stupid joke, but it was a Sokka joke, and it was exactly what she needed. "Your name could be Lee for all I care right now. It's you." He squeaked at the hug she crushed him with, but soon enough he was squeezing her with every bit as much strength, just like she loved.
She brought a hand up to caress his cheek. "How did you get here?"
He sighed. "I'm taking care of something for Zuko that has me traveling. Ty Lee mentioned you in her latest letter, and I... hm, arranged for enough time to make a quick visit. I need to be gone again by noon, though. You know how it goes, always fires to put out. Don't tell anyone, though. I don't want Katara to accuse me of slacking."
Suki finally let go of him, but kept one of his hands in hers as she sunk back to lie down on her bed. "Always fires to put out," she murmured. She smiled in the dark. "Is that why you broke into my house? You thought there was something on fire in here?"
He was silent for a long moment after that. It was just silly to think she really cared about things like that, but it was so like him, so awkward and overly complicated. It was a refreshing contrast to Suki's own way of thinking, a constantly working mind that always narrowed in on the perfect words, the perfect actions. "I heard your screaming," he finally said, "and just wanted to be sure you were okay."
She pulled him down to lie beside her, and snuggled up against him. "Good timing."
They stayed like that until dawn, and no more nightmares plagued her in that darkness.
In the golden morning light that always energized Suki, while they were both dressing for the day, Sokka noticed her newest decoration hanging on the wall. "You kept it?"
She nodded, a small smile warming her face. "You're gone so often, it's a nice reminder of everyone. Of you."
"Well," he drawled, a stupid grin growing, "maybe I should sign it for you, if you're such a fan of my art now."
She looked at the painting on her bedroom wall, the one he had made the last time she had seen everyone together, at that gathering at Uncle Iroh's tea shop over a year ago. (Iroh's.) The childish scrawls were as poor in form as they could be while still making up recognizable cartoon figures of all her friends. Zuko with his funny hair, Mai like a grimacing man in a wig. Aang and Katara and Sokka. Toph.
And Suki herself. Firebending. "Yeah, I'm a fan."