I don't own them


IX

Dangerous Tides IV

"Your majesty, the visitor is here to see you again."

He studied his pet's fur as he scratched its neck. The said visitor has attempted to speak to him for the past couple of weeks. King Kuei refused to meet him until now. The man, relentless, constantly requested his presence through the guards.

The king found it odd that someone was eager to see him this early time in the morning. He walked past the maid to walk down the corridors towards the throne room. There, the visitor bowed at his entrance, clad in dark and dirtied tunic and pants.

"I could have asked my men to turn you away, but you've been wanting to see me for some time. State your name."

"Han, your majesty."

"And what gave you the right to harass my men for the past two weeks?"

Han sat up, his scarred face prominent under the soft light of the torches. "I'm here because of my duty to serve only one king, the Earth King. As part of my duty, I believe you might want to hear the information I have for you."

"And what is that?"

Han spoke, "Not all of the leaders are interested in making any progress towards peace at the summit. I've worked for Firelord Zuko since Sozin's Comet, and I know that his intentions aren't pure. The Firelord wants to start another war with the Earth Kingdom as his first target."

King Kuei's eyes narrowed, ambling the short steps towards the peasant who now looked up at him. Infiltration at this time after the war was out of the question. The nations needed each other to build up their economies, there was no way he was about to be ambushed.

"Why should I believe you?"

"Because my loyalty belongs to you, King Kuei." Han said. "As an Earth Kingdom citizen myself, I was raised knowing that my homeland is all that I have."

The king looked over at two of his guards. One stepped forward, looking ever so determined to do whatever the king was going to ask of him. It was clear that even if he didn't believe this so called Han, his men were already on edge. They all had to set precautions.

Kuei was aware of the Harmony Restoration Act and the issues he had with the Firelord over it. Since then, he hasn't trusted that boy one bit. It wasn't a surprise that the boy would be up to no good. He was Ozai's son after all.

"Very well, what do you propose we do, Han?"

Han stood up. "I'm the leader of the Earth Freedom Fighters. We all plan to revolt against the Fire Nation on the day of the summit. My men include guards who personally serve the Firelord. We only have a small group and we need more men to defend the Earth Kingdom."

King Kuei blinked confusedly. "The summit? You mean the Firelord plans to attack us on the day of the summit?"

"Yes, your majesty. As we speak, the Firelord has deliberately imprisoned the assassin who attacked him without your knowledge. He is systematically killing off the guards he suspects of being from the Earth Kingdom just to go forward with his plan. It's clear that his nationalistic pride has never left him."

"So we show him what true pride is," The king said thoughtfully. "Do you know exactly what time he plans to go forward?"

"An hour after the summit begins."


The market square was crowded, sunned up and booming as they both strolled in between several vendors who sold merchandise on the edge of the Upper Ring border.

Small shops much ornamented than the ones in the south, had bells that jingled atop the doors whenever a customer went in or out. Along with the twinkling noise, the chatter of the citizens, and the toasty smell of dry air, Aang was comforted by Hanome's arms clasped around his waist.

Under the sunlight, she seemed much different, like a child curious and enlightened about the world around her. Her golden eyes were more sharp and clear under the sun, and her hair was a dark halo, fluttering with the wind and falling in wisps about her face.

Hanome bore this strong resemblance to someone, he thought. Under the sunlight, her facial expressions heightened the itch in the back of his head. Maybe at one point, he has met her before.

He came to Ba Sing Se before, and he probably saw her then. Maybe she was living somewhere else, and they had met. He tried to imagine himself giving a younger version of herself a small wave, never believing that years later this small girl would be this close to him.

"Sometimes I feel like I've seen you before," he murmured as they walked up the lane.

The Jasmine Dragon was not too far away, but Aang preferred taking his time. It was a bit late in the morning. He noted the flowers blooming on the sides of the lake running under a bridge. Hanome didn't look like she heard him. The young woman looked as though she were daydreaming, but she turned to stare at him.

"I feel the same way about you too." she said.

"Really?"

She placed her hands over his chest. They slowed to a stop. "Of course. Sometimes I feel like I've seen you somewhere before."

"Ba Sing Se."

"Maybe." She said. "Or maybe not. I don't think Ba Sing Se is the place I think about when I try to remember where I've seen you."

"Hm. We probably met many years ago."

Hanome laughed as he bent to wrap his arms around her upper thighs and pull her up to his chest. Her lips were merely inches from him. "You mean my Fire Nation ancestor right?"

"Yep. I'm old enough to be your grandpa."

"I always forget that part about you." she smirked, leaning down to kiss him softly on the lips. "I should report you to the officials."

She breathed those last words, teasing him with her full lips. He stole her lips this time, oblivious to a passerby who gawked at their state.

Aang cursed himself for having to be a good boy today, which meant keeping his hands to himself while a gorgeous woman was nearby. Hanome pulled back, placing a peck over his nose as he reluctantly released her.

"Alright, now we need to get to the tea place before I forget the way there." he murmured, earning another dizzying kiss.


They arrived before the Jasmine Dragon's golden entrance. Aang led Hanome inside, suddenly feeling tense when the customers turned to look at them. It was clear that Hanome wasn't from the Upper Ring, and they didn't bother to hide their distaste.

He unconsciously kept her close. It didn't take long for the customers to notice the marks over his skin and turn quickly away from Hanome.

Aang found an empty table, looking around to see if Iroh was nearby. The old man practically lived in this place since tourists were swarming in for the summit. Hanome looked a bit uncomfortable so he put an arm around her shoulder. "Everything okay?"

She smiled. "Yes."

"Hold on a sec."

Aang walked near Iroh, who noticed him immediately.

"Avatar Aang!"

Iroh's voice boomed. The potbellied formal general came forward. Aang got up to the center to hug the elderly man. "It's been so long!"

"I've been living in your estate, Iroh," Aang muttered.

"Well, it's still been a long time." Iroh said. "I barely see you anymore. Sokka was just here with Suki the other morning. They said you left and didn't tell them where you were going. Everyone is worried, maybe you shouldn't run off the way you do."

Aang scratched the back of his head. "Sorry." Then a thought ran throughout his head. "By the way, I want you to meet someone."

"Hold on for a minute. Let me get you some tea," Iroh said.

"Make that for two."

"Oh? Is the tea for the lucky lady sitting there in the back?"

Aang turned to see Hanome study the fine paintings over the table. Her hair hid the side of her face as she fingered the marble finish. "That's her."

"No wonder you disappear now and then."

Aang laughed, "You caught me there."

Iroh chuckled, "I see. Now then, why don't you both relax while I get your tea?"

"That sounds great."

Aang returned to Hanome's side. She looked up from the intricate painting on the table. She waited until Aang plopped down next to her, slipping his arm around her.

"He seems cheerful."

"He is," Aang said. "He's a very good man."

"I'm sure he is."


The tea her son prepared for her still sat on the far side of the table she sat by. Kiyi was in the courtyard with Katara, exploring the estate for herself.

The woman smiled at the girl's voice, loud enough for her and Zuko to hear on the upper floor. She silently watched Zuko tap his fingers over polished wood in the library.

"How have you been doing?" she asked.

"Fine," he said.

He tried to evade whatever she would say next. Ursa only smiled, even though she was hurt that her son held her so far away from him. She witnessed the changes that took a toll on him. He seemed leaner. The dark bags under his eyes were prominent. His skin took a slight sickly hue. She could tell that even Katara noticed it, and it worried her.

"I hope your uncle is taking very good care of you," she said.

"He is," Zuko said and glanced in her direction. "He's always busy, but he manages to make time for evening tea. It's not like I made it any easier for him."

Ursa smiled. "I'm sure you have work to do as well. Preparing for the summit is hard work."

"I don't even have my entire case prepared yet but hopefully I'll get it done by tomorrow. Katara's going to help me with it."

Her brows rose. "Oh? She does seem like a very nice young lady."

He smiled, "Very."

She saw the gradual changes on his face. It was clear to her that he took an interest in the girl.

Katara was a kind and compassionate young woman with an incredible talent. When she met her for the first time, her gentle demeanor was so unlike what she expected. A thought came to her. "She was the girl your grandfather wanted dead during the raid."

Zuko grimaced. "Yes. Unfortunately."

Ursa looked down over her lap, remembering not paying attention to the attack when it happened. She was naive enough to believe that Azulon had simply imprisoned a water bender who never had a trial. "So her mother was the one who was killed."

"Yes."

"I see."

Ursa watched Zuko rise from his seat, walking over to look out the window. She got up to stand by him, admiring his profile as he looked out.

She eyed the scar, only feeling a surge of pride rather than sadness. Despite all the odds, her son's strong spirit brought him to this position.

"I remember when your uncle always made me spiced tea whenever I was sad...I'm sure those are the staples at the Jasmine Dragon, correct?"

"Yeah."

She nodded, making her first move. "Zuko. I know you're aware of why I'm here. There should be no distance between us anymore. Katara told me everything."

"I know that."

"So why are you still intent on leaving me in the dark?"

Zuko walked away from the window, hands clasped behind his back as he struggled to shut himself down. Ursa knew her son better than any other when he was younger. But having to be with him after those troubling times reminded her that the young boy she left was gone.

"I didn't think you'd agree. I didn't want to make you worry," he said. "I just wanted to make sure that this person was really my sister."

"Have you seen her?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"….I'm scared. I don't know…I was looking forward to the investigation but now, I don't think I can handle it. I want to withdraw."

"She is my daughter, Zuko," Ursa said.

"You both weren't the closest. Not like you and Kiyi."

She blinked sharply. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what it meant. I'm not stupid, mother. We both know that you and Azula weren't on the best of terms. We all weren't. And now that I look back, I wonder who the real victim was. Who gained freedom and who didn't."

"Zuko, do not blame yourself for this-"

"Why can't I?! Look at Katara and Sokka. They're close because their brother and sister. They understand each other. But when it comes to Azula and I its like having to deal with a stranger who just happen to share the same blood!"

"Zuko pleas-"

"Please what?!" he cried. "For years we have hated each other because one foolish man decided it was the best way we needed to grow up. I could have fought harder. I could have not cared so much about pleasing him! I could have listened to my own damn voice when the council wanted her head! I could have…"

A sob broke out.

By the time he trailed off, his mother hid her face behind her hands, shoulders hunched and body drained. Hot tears ran down his face, and he broke down.

"Maybe because I just wanted to figure things out. It's strange having her gone, when nothing much was resolved between us. She would have killed me if she had the chance but I still miss her. I still want to see her, and I still tell myself that this girl is her but I'm so scared mom..."

Ursa rushed forward to put her arms around him. She closed her eyes when he hugged back. She led him over to sit down, still holding him close.

She whispered her own apologies in his ear, for never being there to protect both of them when they needed her the most.

She sniffed and asked, "What is her name?"

"Hanome."

She nodded. "That's a beautiful name."

Iroh watched as his apprentice prepared the two cups of tea. He made sure that the young man prepared the jasmine with a hint of mint and spiced tea with ginger.

He thought about Aang, at first wanting to ask him how his nephew has been doing.

Ever since Zuko came to Ba Sing Se, his time working at the Jasmine Dragon didn't help with their spending time together. In fact, Iroh grew suspicious of the fact that Zuko preferred him working more than coming to the estate to see him.

Zuko's detached demeanor over his stay had grown. His nephew was now unreachable. Iroh chose to be oblivious, but it didn't mean that he was stupid.

"Make sure the water is hot enough," he murmured.

"Yes, Master Iroh."

The worker placed the tea on a tray. Iroh took the tray and walked out of the kitchens. He greeted some of his customers who waved at him.

As he approached Aang and the woman he brought over, he couldn't help but stare at her. She looked up to stare back.

Wait a minute.

He slowed his steps, looking into those thoughtful golden orbs.

The woman smiled, albeit nervously because he was staring intently at her. Could it…? Suddenly, the way over to the two lengthened. Iroh frowned, each step of his slower by the minute.

Suddenly, he regained his steps, putting the tray of tea over the table. The woman eyed him warily as he sat down. But once he flashed her one of his warm smiles, she visibly relaxed.

"You're one beautiful lady."

Hanome laughed, charmed by the elderly man. "Thank you."

"Which means that you're the one holding him up, haven't you?"

Aang choked on his tea before Hanome responded. "That's right."

Iroh guffawed, holding on to his belly. Aang smiled nervously at the two people who somehow warmed up to each other quickly.

Hanome laughed, obviously liking the man before her. Iroh's laughter died down, and for a moment, he looked as if he saw someone he hadn't see in a long time. It was clear that Hanome somehow charmed the pants off him.

"I'm sure I will be seeing more of her soon, right Avatar Aang?" he asked Aang.

Aang blinked rapidly at the way Iroh eyed him, waiting for his answer. There was something off about it, but Aang smiled down at Hanome and answered, "You'll see more of her."

"Oh? Does that mean that you're thinking of marriage?"

Aang coughed again while Hanome blushed.

"Did you have to ask so early?"

Iroh laughed again. "You said early. Maybe I don't have to ask. I'm sure it will happen. You both just seem quite…taken with one another."

Again, Iroh regarded him thoughtfully, as if he was trying to figure Aang out. The Avatar frowned, trying to see what the old man was getting at. Did he know about Hanome? He almost flinched when Hanome put her hand over his own.

"I'm not sure if that's what we're thinking about now. We're taking things slow. We can deal with whatever comes next." Hanome answered.

Aang smiled and nodded, gazing at her warm expression.

"We can."


Han waited in the gardens for Hanome, but she hasn't shown up like she was supposed to.

He barely acknowledged the young women who placed gold coins in front of him. Cheng, his so called accomplice looked around nervously. Han watched him for a few more moments.

"The girl isn't here today. What will we tell the Firelord?"

Han scoffed. "What else. We tell him that she just didn't come to work today."

"What about those other days before! We're supposed to be the spies here, shouldn't we try to find out where she is?"

"Stop blabbering Cheng. You haven't been to work with me for days and now you want to make a difference. I know where she is, just leave it to me."

"But we're a team."

"Not since you decided to have vacations whenever you wanted to."

Cheng frowned, his bushy brows furrowing together.

"Just because the Firelord decided you needed to join me on this mission doesn't mean that you're my partner. I was the one who found the girl first. I singlehandedly told the Firelord of her whereabouts, so don't try to tell me what I should or should not be doing.

He put the gold coins inside a small pouch, waving the girl off. Gulping down his drink, he eyed all of the prostitutes in the gardens. The sun was fully up, shining over the ones with the dull eyes. The Joo Dees. Cheng watched him warily, gritting his teeth.

"Why is it that those women always give you money?"

Han glared at him, "You don't need to know. I work on my own."

After the summit, the Dai Li will have their place ruling the Earth Kingdom. But from then on, what else will happen? Azula will be under his control, and with her strength, they could take over the world for themselves.

The more Han drank, the more he began to like the fact that the woman who called herself Hanome still didn't know anything. It was apparent that her memories were truly lost as his brother said. He saw an opportunity the afternoon he threatened her.

If her memories were truly lost, he would simply build new ones. She will know her abilities, but she will never know that she didn't belong to him.

Tonight, he will make sure that she knew she was his and his only. Once he makes that known, they will be unstoppable. Ba Sing Se will be under his rule, and his alone.