Avatar: The Cycle's End...

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Fri Jun 15, 2012 8:17 pm

Zuko knew the moment that he made his move that it had been a mistake. He could see it there on her face the way that she looked at him, the way that she acted. There was no need to pepper the open wound with words, but in case it wasn't blatantly clear that he had already made perhaps the biggest mistake of the entire trip her words confirmed it. 'No' had been the first word out of her mouth, and from that syllable Zuko's hand fell away from her own. Twisting girl's arms might be the sort of thing that was up Jet's ally, but Zuko wasn't the sort to try to ply a woman's legs who was actively telling him not to. She started sputtering other things that were more than likely excuses, but Zuko had fixated largely on that first word, the plainest one to understand. It wasn't what she wanted, at all. He wasn't sure how he'd gotten to the conclusion that she wanted it, maybe because she hadn't seemed that disturbed by his kiss, maybe because it looked like her eyes were...

"Yeah..." he said amidst a chorus of excuses that sputtered from her mouth, his yellow eyes looking down at his bedroll as she scampered out of the tent after blurting her excuses. He didn't bother to try to stop her, bother to catch her hand as she left. What had he even really expected? That she would want to do something? That she would tell him that she wanted to, but later, when they had some privacy in Ba Sing Se? That he was right? That she felt something for him? Zuko stared at the ground for a long time after he heard her curl up into her sleeping roll. A brief bitter thought came to his mind that made him chuckle a little that at least the heat and... hardness... problems that had persisted before weren't a problem any more. As Lu Ten often reminded him, the best way to get rid of a horniness problem wasn't a cold shower, but to have someone you found attractive treat you like a leper.

It was probably a half hour later that Zuko gripped his hair and pulled at it roughly. What the hell had he been thinking? That was the absolutely stupidest thing to say to her. Fire benders had destroyed her home, her family, most of the people that she had ever loved, and he had been under some delusion that she could actually be attracted to him? He tugged until it hurt and then finally let go, closing his eyes in the darkness as he sat cross legged and started to meditate, closing his fingers just slightly as he bent the smallest flicker of a flame between his hands. He could feel it's faint heat, but it wasn't enough to burn him. Doing this had taken nearly a year to perfect, and was still one of the hardest things that he could force himself to do. Oddly it was easier to bend forward with a sloppy burst of flame than it was to keep an insignificantly small flicker alive in the space between your hands.

But as he opened his eyes and started down into that flicker he tried to lose himself into it, to focus on the flame and nothing else. It was a trick to get one in the moment, to forgo the past and forget it, to lose all his concerns about the future. But as he stared into the fire he found that while the bruised ego Katara had given him could be dropped, his fears could not. The things that didn't add up about the Rough Rhinos knowing where they were or the fact that specialists had been sent to get the water bender. Fear for Lu Ten's safety and the safety of his friends coiled up in his cut like a pricklesnake, making Zuko glad that his stomach had been long since empty after all of the exhausting feats of the day.

Taking in a breath he stared down at the flicker of flame again, hoping that somewhere in that light he would find the answer to everything that he was searching for...

He watched her dark eyes flicker over the man in front of them who was quite a bit larger than Zuko happened to be, his muscles straining as he had balanced on his biceps what might have been at least 50-100 lb containers. The man's biceps looked bigger than Zuko's head as he grunted, and then paused, looking down at the woman who happened to be staring at him. If Zuko had thought the man was straining, he was corrected easily by the sudden bulge in muscle mass as the man forced himself to flex even more as he passed, giving the woman that was staring at him a broad, toothy smile. Zuko felt his own smile fading as the man's grew, until the exiled prince was outright scowling at the man, who didn't seem to even notice him there, or if he did, not care.

"Hey there..." The man rumbled in a voice that sounded an octave below the deepest voice that Zuko had ever heard. Zuko could feel his face fuming and watched as a street vendor quickly shut the door to their oven, staring at it as it seemed to blaze ultra hot of it's own accord. Zuko's golden eyes flickered to the woman at his side as he waited for her to turn her nose up at the man, to roll her eyes as if she weren't the slightest bit interested, or to just not even notice the man that had passed her.

"Hey yourself." Mai said with a faint smile as the man passed her, and the slightest coloration of her cheeks. No scoffing, not sneer that she might have given someone else. She blushed at the man... Zuko took her arm lightly in a display of possessiveness and saw her glance at him, the light seeming to leave her eyes as it did. There was no warmth there, just something else... she seemed like she was genuinely... disinterested right at that particular moment. Zuko stared at her for a moment as if she would come up with some sort of explanation, but instead she just stared at him as if he were stupid. "Well? Are we going to be here all day or are we going to go shopping?" Mai growled.

He shopped with her, and watched her the whole time. There was no smile on her face as he offered her things, just the slow droll nodding when he got to something that she wanted or a rolling of her eyes if there was something that he suggested that she didn't actually want. But there were no suggestions, nothing to really give him the faintest clue as to what she wanted. With each offering he felt himself get more and more frustrated when he didn't see that smile that she had given the other man, until by the end it was boiling inside of him like lava in a volcano struggling to get out. Zuko could feel himself glaring as he carried the basket full of food in front of Mai because she trailed behind him, refusing to walk at a brisk pace because she was too tired.

As he walked though Zuko noticed that he was being watched by a woman with beautiful light brown colored hair, her soft red lips opening up into a dazzling smile as he got a little closer. Zuko felt a little flush come to his cheeks and glanced over his shoulder to see if there was someone else that she was looking at, but there was nothing behind him. As he neared closer he watched the woman, staring at him, her sandal hitting a rock lightly and causing her to go careening forward. Without thinking about it Zuko dropped one of the baskets, holding out his arm to catch her lightly in her grip, setting the other basket lightly down as he helped her to her feet. "Are you OK?" he asked.

"Oh my goodness, I'm so clumsy, I'm sorry. Thank you so much for helping me!" The woman said softly, "My name is-"

"Are you done trying to steal my boyfriend?" Growled Mai from behind darkly, and Zuko blinked a little, looking at the woman as she did the same, her face falling a little.

"No, I just tripped and-"

"Uh huh..." Mai replied. "But now you're back on your feet, so I'm sure you have better things to do than to flirt with someone who's already taken."

Zuko watched as the girl blushed horrifically and ran off without another word, taking the first corner she could just to get out of their line of sight, frowning slightly as he picked up both baskets and turned towards Mai. "You could have been a little nicer to her, y'know, she was just clumsy..."

"And you were just checking her out..." Mai growled as she strolled past. By now they were far enough on the road that Zuko didn't feel embarrassed talking openly, as there wasn't anyone else around.

"Oh, like you weren't with that guy who was lifting those boxes earlier?" Zuko shot back at her. "I saw the way you were looking at him!"

Mai snorted. "That wasn't even the same thing." One of her classic eye rolls accompanied this as Zuko caught up to her walking on the road.

"Oh, then what was it, Mai?" Zuko said. "Why is it that I'm supposed to let a girl fall on her face but you can flirt with whoever you want??" Zuko asked.

"You know what, 'Commander', flirt with who you want to." Mai said with another snort, "I don't really care anymore."

"Don't you think that maybe you should?!" Zuko countered, starting to catch up to her again only to pause as she spun on him.

"No, I don't think I have to, Zuko..." Mai growled, poking his chest roughly. "Do you know why? Because this is as good as it's going to get, right now, with me..."

Zuko blinked, not understanding. "What?"

"That girl back there... the one that was clearly willing to look past your scar. How many women do you think there are like that in the world huh? You think there are a ton of them just waiting for you somewhere?" Mai said, leaning in to narrow her eyes at him as he backed up a step. She seemed intent on going in for the kill on this one, though. "And of ALL of those maybe hundred women, how many do you think are actually going to still want to be with you once they happen to learn that you're fire nation, huh?" She hissed out.

"I-" Zuko started, but clearly Mai wasn't in the mood to let him speak.

"And of THOSE, how many do you think would want to be with you, knowing that you're an exiled prince of a man everyone sees around here as a mass murderer? How many of those will want to be with you knowing that there is a price on your head? That you're going to have to be on the run for the rest of your miserable little life, never staying in one place for fear that someone is going to kill you? How many do you think would want to raise a family with the son of a sociopath, knowing that they're going to have to tote your children all over the globe and live in fear all of their lives? How many, Zuko? HOW MANY?" Mai's face had twisted and become dark and bitter as she looked at him.

"You know why Lu Ten and Jet sleep around like it's a sport? Because they can't do any better, because no one is going to want to be with someone like you, or them. All you have is me... so if you want to ruin it by going back to flirt with some random piece of ass on the street, go for it..." Mai said, waving her hand dismissively as she started to walk at a brisker pace than he could have kept up with carrying the baskets, leaving him standing there, watching her back as she walked away...

Zuko woke up before any of the others, finding himself laying on his side from where he'd just fallen over trying to meditate. Groaning he picked himself up off his bed roll and packed it up, reaching into his pack to pull out some food for the day along with a frying pan. Food would make getting up and going easier, and from the looks of things he was the first one who happened to be awake. Zuko strapped his swords on his back, somewhat paranoid about them today given that he'd almost forgotten to stray from the others last night to get them as they had packed up their camp to get them. It wasn't as if he couldn't make more if he absolutely needed to, but the materials were expensive and these had been balanced so nicely that they practically felt like a part of him at this point.

Grabbing some rocks Zuko made a quick and dirty fire pit, sticking a couple of decent sized logs on there as he drew in a deep breath and then blew out a fire onto them, and then started to stretch his bending muscles by rolling the flames across the log, keeping the fire from smoking too much as he focused the heat inward into the logs themselves, turning them into some good cooking coals without needing to go through all of the process that might have been needed if they didn't have a fire bender with them.

By the time breakfast started cooking Ping had pulled himself from his bedroll and started packing up, as had the earth benders and Jet. Zuko watched as the fighter practically leered at the sleeping Katara but went instead for the more pressing need, food. Zuko realized that he was either too tired or just downright didn't care any more when he saw it. It wasn't hurting team morale any, and ultimately Katara had made it clear the night before that he didn't have any particular stake in the whole thing.

When Gui woke up Katara there would be food waiting for her as well to eat, though Zuko had long since forgotten the fire and focused on packing up his tent. He didn't pause when he heard Katara and Jet speaking, but did pause when the fighter came over to him and crouched down next to him, a wide grin on his face as he chewed a piece of straw, looking more pleased with himself than usual. "You need any help there, Commander?" Jet asked, "I'm kind of waiting for Katara to get out of my tent before I take it down. Kinda weird that she didn't ask you to use your tent. I guess maybe she realized she made a mistake somewhere along the way."

Zuko's golden eyes flickered to the man for a moment, but then continued what he was doing in silence, letting Jet stroll off with that smile in tact.

Zuko was long packed by the time that Katara had finished her rounds of healing, and when she came to him he blinked a little at her. What the hell did she expect him to say now? A part of him wanted to apologize for the whole thing, for his confusion about her. But seeing her there, wanting to heal him again, he felt... he didn't know what to feel. But he knew that he didn't want the water bender's hands on him again. He'd taken a look at the wounds that she wanted to heal. They were deep gashes, but if they scarred it wouldn't be more than a line or two as a reminder of them. And he'd bandaged them this morning. It occurred to him before that he'd had to live his whole life without a water bender healing him before, he would just have to make do without one again.

"I think you did enough last night." He muttered darkly. It had sounded more benign in his head, but his tiredness and frustration tinged his words with venom he hadn't intended for her. By the time he looked at her he could see the mask of apathy there on her features. Had he really expected anything else? When she walked away he noted that Ping frowned at him, as if he had something to say to Zuko but was biting his tongue. It didn't really matter at this point though, frankly Zuko wasn't really in the mood to hear it at this point.

The Commander waited until all of them were ready to go before making the signal to break camp. As the others fell in line Zuko sighed a little, taking the vanguard position again. He was tired, annoyed, and there were likely enemy troops that were tracking them if they weren't laying in wait with a trap someplace. All in all this was turning out to be a pretty fucking perfect day.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sat Jun 16, 2012 2:39 am

Katara didn’t understand what had happened. Well, sure, she did to some extent. She hadn’t slept with him when clearly it was what he would have preferred. Still, it seemed weird to her that he would be so pissed that she wasn’t ready to do something that… committed that he would act so coldly toward her the next day.

If she was honest with herself, it actually hurt a lot more than she’d imagined it would. Why should she care that much that he was rejecting her because she hadn’t done what he’d hoped last night? Maybe it was because she hadn’t wanted to see him as the sort of person she saw in Jet? When he’d first kissed her back, during their sparring match when she’d been so determined to win, it had felt so… nice. It had been as if he’d been giving into her lips, but he hadn’t touched her otherwise. In fact, he’d released her, and for a few seconds, she’d actually forgotten her purpose in kissing him in the first place.

Then, when he’d kissed her in the woods again, she hadn’t known that he’d only been using it as a diversion of sorts, a distraction for their enemies. Katara hadn’t fought it, instead just giving into the sensations that had filled her. The waterbender hadn’t even fully comprehended what he’d whispered into her ear during that moment until a few seconds had passed because of how intoxicated he’d made her feel. While he had probably been more focused on their enemies than on her, the feelings he’d inspired within her had been real.

No one had ever made her feel like that in the past. She hadn’t had any suitors in the Southern Water Tribe, just friends of both sexes. Even though rites of passage were done at the age of fourteen, the marrying age was still sixteen. It was just at the age of fourteen that men and women were viewed as having become more mature, mature enough to begin courting one another if they chose. If the South Pole hadn’t been completely wiped out, she would probably have found someone and been married by now.

However, the Northern Tribe was different. The people of that tribe were considered more high-born while the five who had escaped the south were mere peasants. Who would marry down to that? It didn’t help that she had disrupted their culture, not standing for their separation-of-the-sexes bullshit. Sokka had made it even worse by having his obvious affair with Princess Yue. Hama had tried hard to become a teacher of fighting styles, but while Katara had enabled women to be taught, teaching was something else entirely, and neither Master Pakku nor Chief Arnook would budge on that matter. Gran Gran had probably had it the easiest, having already been from the Northern Tribe. She had even married Pakku, and things were looking up with only that minor stain of shame from her having immigrated to the South Pole. Bato, honestly, probably had it the easiest. He was a man, a warrior. He’d been her father’s right-hand man, and while he’d lost his wife and child during Sozin’s Comet, he was treated the best of anyone who had found sanctuary there. Only his depression – for which Katara partially blamed herself – held him back, but he helped where he could.

Because of issues the Northern Tribe had with those Southerners who had made their way there, Katara would probably never really find a husband. It was never her goal to do so as she didn’t require a man to make her feel whole. Still, the idea of never knowing a love like that, never having children toward which to look forward was still hard. While she certainly didn’t want them yet, not in a world filled with war where the Fire Nation was trying to complete the genocide of her people – having only half succeeded so far – she wanted to eventually be able to experience the joys of motherhood.

However, it seemed as if it would never come to pass. Katara had once had feelings for a boy, and she’d shown him by “taking what she’d wanted,” just as Zuko had told her last night. She’d kissed him, and while he’d kissed her back, he’d passed it off as a momentary lapse in judgment, and he’d confessed that she wasn’t the type of person he wanted for a mate. It was likely that his parents never would have arranged a marriage between the two anyway, but it was kind of depressing that he didn’t even want to court her. After all, she hadn’t been of marrying age at that time. Then again, he had been, and he’d married six months later.

It had been okay. They hadn’t been right for one another. Kissing him, the first kiss she’d ever experienced, had been interesting and kind of nice, but she’d get over it. However, Katara had had no idea what kissing could really feel like. With Zuko, it was different. It was as if her body had finally awakened to the possibilities; a revelation that was both amazing and terrifying. If she’d kissed him last night as she’d almost done, the waterbender wasn’t sure that she could have stopped herself from doing more than she truly felt comfortable doing.

Why of all people did Zuko, Fire Nation royalty, have to make her feel that way? It couldn’t just be because she’d been told of his attempt to save her tribe from being wiped out, right? Good deeds didn’t necessarily cause desire like that. Katara was actually attracted to him, all of him, but he was making it extremely clear that he didn’t want her. Was it really because she wouldn’t give herself to him last night, and he didn’t want a girl who wasn’t easy? It wasn’t like she really knew him that well. How could she know if that was or wasn’t the sort of person he was? Maybe he realized last night, after she’d left his tent, that she really just wasn’t good enough to pursue after all? She was just a peasant on a mission he didn’t believe in, and she’d controlled him using bloodbending. Maybe he thought he was better off without that kind of crap mixing too deeply into his life?

Still, it was extremely confusing for her. She wasn’t really sure what she felt for him other than the obvious lust. The things he did just felt so contradictory to her. First, he’d tried to save her tribe. Then he wouldn’t stop treating her like crap – which, to be fair, was justified considering what she’d done when he’d broken through her bonds days ago. Then, he showed her kindness by trying to get Jet off her back and getting Ping and the earthbenders to stop fearing her by showing them she was stable and a good fighter to have on their side. Then he showed more anger toward her followed by kissing her, then more kindness and even a level of real attraction, following by more cold behavior. What was wrong with her that she’d incite such behavior, and what was wrong with him for being like that?

This would be so much less confusing for her if he could just be up front about what he was feeling like Sefa had been so long ago. She’d never had a boyfriend in her life, so she wasn’t exactly the greatest at picking up the subtle clues of rejection. Didn’t she at least deserve to know the truth? If Zuko didn’t specifically say he wanted nothing to do with her, she wasn’t really sure if that’s what he wanted or if he was just upset about last night for reasons she hadn’t presumed just yet. Did his silence mean there was still something there, or did it mean he no longer had any interest in what happened?

Ugh… Katara wanted to march right up to him and demand he tell her the truth, but at the same time, she was afraid. What if she received more than she bargained? What if he really was still interested? What if he wasn’t? She didn’t know how she would handle either situation. Wasn’t it better to just assume there was nothing there for him anymore? Still, if they could somehow at least recover a friendship, wouldn’t it be worth it? Then again, what if even asking ruined any chance of even that much? What was she supposed to do?

Her fingers moved to caress the pendent her mother’s necklace, the only heirloom she had left of her. She wished she could have the woman’s guidance right now. Katara wasn’t sure that Gran Gran would quite understand, for she seemed permanently against the Fire Nation. When Hama had returned to the Southern Tribe twenty years ago, bearing stories of the horrors of her life while she’d been prisoner, Kanna had grown an even deeper hatred for that nation than she’d had previously, and after the destruction of the South Pole… there was no hope that the old woman could ever condone Katara’s even having minor interest in someone born there, let alone the Prince of that Nation, no matter how good he seemed to be. Sokka would probably threaten to cut off Zuko’s family jewels if he learned about any of this. Then again, her mother’s encounter with firebenders had turned out… in a way the waterbender didn’t want to think about.

Katara sighed. All she really could do at this point was back off. Maybe it would be better for everyone. The sane side of Zuko’s family probably wouldn’t want him with her any more than what remained of her family would want her with him. Giving someone space wasn’t all that new to her, but it didn’t make it any easier, and she supposed it was easier in the long run than facing all of the reasons why someone wouldn’t want her. How many times could she go through that long list of items?

The six traveled for four days, being extra cautious about their surroundings, before they spotted the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se. They had noted some Fire Nation soldiers during their scouting missions, but they always found ways to get around them without being seen. These moments only lengthened their travel time, but it was better than having to fight again and again and again. No one was invincible.

Zuko still wouldn’t really talk to her if he didn’t have to do so, and he hardly even looked her way the entire time. However, when he did speak directly to her or look at her, he didn’t glare at her, and his voice didn’t hold that same coldness it had held the morning she’d offered to finish his healing. Still, she really couldn’t read what was written on his face or in his voice. Was it indifference or something else? The waterbender found her eyes occasionally wandering toward him when no one else was looking, trying to read his thoughts through the looks on his face or the tone of his voice, but she always came up empty. Why couldn’t she just let this go?

It seemed like the closer they got to Ba Sing Se, the kinder Jet became to her. It hadn’t been a sudden transition, but one evening, she realized that he had seemingly changed a little. He wasn’t as direct with his pursuit of her, and she didn’t notice him leering at her anymore. She was honestly starting to count him as a friend, and that surprised her.

He told her about his past, about how the Rough Rhinos – as she now knew the men who had last attacked them were called – had destroyed his home and killed his parents. He even told her about his old group of rebels, the Freedom Fighters, and how they used to live in a giant web of tree houses in a forest. He told her about their missions and about some of his old friends.

When he discussed these things with her, his entire demeanor seemed to change. He wasn’t as cocky as usual, and he would often become somber after telling her stories, even if he’d been laughing during the retelling, which led her to believe that anyone featured in these stories was probably dead. Katara really felt for him in those moments, like he had more to him than being an overconfident ass, like she’d misjudged him.

However, she continued to have her guard up around him. Katara worried that he was only trying to win her over before using her. Lu Ten had warned her that he was a total jerk, that he used women, and that she should be on her guard. After all, he’d practically told her that first night that he wanted to be with her because she was a bloodbender; all he wanted was a bit of control over such an intense amount of power, and she could never fully trust him because of that. While part of her guard was down to make way for an acquaintance with him, and maybe even a future friendship, she didn’t want it to go any further than that, so she was always a little hesitant when it came to interactions with him.

When they finally reached the Outer Wall, one day later, the gates were opened wide to them, and they would take the first monorail train into the city. Katara looked around the enclosed area. It was pretty big, and it was relatively active with people moving around, most of whom were standing in lines, but there was one line in particular that was quite short, so her party stood in it, the waterbender at the lead.

When she approached the window, the woman looked at her pointedly. “Hi, I’m here as an ambassador from the Northern Water Tribe. I have an urgent message for the Earth King from Chief Arnook and the Council. Can you tell me how to get to the palace?”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:33 pm

Zuko found his golden eyes staring at Katara's hair from the vanguard position as they walked together, the group as eagerly chatting with Katara as they did amongst themselves, often times more eagerly so, both because she was different and therefore her opinion held more sway with the rest of the 'like minded group', because she was a girl, or simply because she hadn't heard all of the stories that made the other ones groan because they had heard it told hundreds of times in different ways. Zuko was glad though, that he had managed to integrate her with the group now, fully. After a few days together they had taken to each other like she was simply a new recruit, and Zuko was certain that probably it was only himself and Jet that really still thought about the blood bender incident, though if the poofy haired fighter did, it didn't seem to stop him from speaking with Katara whenever he could, glaring off the other guys as if they might somehow steal her from him. Not that it worked half the time, but it was something to take note of, anyhow.

As they made camp, that evening, Zuko was surprised that Jet offered to help him gather fire wood for the campfire. Despite Katara's initial coldness to the idea, Jet had pretty much tried to stick as close to her as possible through every volunteer round of chores, save for the ones that Zuko made him do something else for fear that his relationship with the water bender would sour if the two of them spent too much time together. And Zuko had noticed that Katara's coldness towards him had stopped as well. It was a curious thing, but he supposed that he shouldn't be surprised by it at all. She and he weren't talking, and really, he didn't have stories that he liked to tell of back home the way that Jet did. Jet had come from a loving family, it was the war that had done this to him, at least when it came to his rage.

Zuko's rage, on the other hand, was something that was in the blood. His Uncle had told him once he had been banished of the tale of Avatar Roku and Fire Lord Sozin. Once they had been friends, the best of friends. But Roku's power had made the Fire Lord jealous, and annoyed that Roku's loyalties lay to his Avatar duties above those of his home nation. When the time was right, Sozin stabbed his friend in the back and killed the Fire Nation Avatar in order to do what it was that he had wanted all along, to destroy the balance, crush the weak and stop the Avatar cycle for good. He had accomplished it too, a dozen years later, when he completely wiped out the air nomads, Avatar and all. Zuko had been disheartened to learn the truth about his great grand father, but it had not surprised him, given his father and his sister Azula's tempers. What had surprised him though was that the other side of his bloodline was that of the Avatar. Sometimes it felt like the old ghosts of Sozin and Roku were inside of him, raging for control all the while.

As he walked along with Jet in silence, he noticed the dark eyed youth looking at him now and again. If Jet somehow thought that there was going to be some sort of macho contest here in the woods where he would beat Zuko, he was mistaken. After all that had happened with Katara, Zuko's desire to fight someone or something had become an itch that he couldn't scratch. She'd reminded him of everything that he could never have, and every reason why. Even as they walked through the woods he hoped that he would see some Fire Benders running towards him so he could finally blow off some steam. If Jet wanted to throw down, Zuko would be more than willing to lay the smackdown on his wide grinning face the way that he had almost the last time he had seen Jet crossing the line with Katara. As Jet turned around he grinned widely at Zuko and the exiled prince found that there was little more that he wanted to do at this point than to wipe the smug grin off of the bastard's face, even though he took a deep breath to keep collecting kindling.

"You look a little, stressed, 'Commander'." Jet said with a bemused grin as he picked up the firewood, practically whistling with enjoyment. If Jet's smile had gotten any more shit eating, his teeth would have been brown. "Given the silent treatment going on between you and Katara, either nothing happened the other night, or you were just really awful in bed..." Jet said, turning to look at his leader as he raised his eyebrows, the grin seeming to stay there, pratically begging Zuko to knock his teeth out as the silence rolled on.

"She just healed me, Jet." Zuko said simply, remembering to breathe so that he would be less tempted to throw the first punch. Jet was probably just as eager for a throw down, but he was too smart to actually start it himself. It would look worse if Zuko started it, as, being a leader, he was supposed to be above such things, even if there was nothing more he wanted right now. "Just like she healed everyone else in the group." Zuko was glad that at this point they had already gathered almost enough that they would need for a campfire/cooking fire for the evening. Zuko reminded himself to never take it for granted again that Jet was off doing something else instead of bothering him.

"Oh, I don't think it was just like everyone else." Jet said smugly. "She didn't need to go into anyone else's tent for it, after all. You decide that you weren't really willing to slum it with a commoner after all, Prince Zuko?"

Zuko rolled his eyes at that point, and started to walk back to camp, pausing as he heard Jet catch up and then catch his shoulder with one hand. Zuko noted that the man hadn't actually dropped his logs from the sounds of things, so he would have one hand busy. All that it would take would be one good hit to disable Jet's arm and a sucker punch to put him down, though Zuko probably wouldn't make it that quick. He had quite a bit of anger to expell at this point and it would look better in the end if he gave Jet a fighting chance.

"Oh.... oh ho ho. You didn't turn her down, did you." Zuko paused at Jet's words, "No... you didn't turn her down. She turned you down." Zuko kept his face blank as Jet came in front of him and tapped Zuko's chest with his index finger. "Good. She deserves someone better than you anyway. I guess she decided to wisen up and go for a real man. Do me a favor though, Commander..."

"What is that?" Zuko was barely able not to growl as he uttered the words.

"You had your chance with her, and she decided she was better than you. Don't be petty and ruin things for a REAL man, will you?" Jet said, stalking off at that point and waving in a dismissive fashion as he started to whistle on his way back through the woods. It took a lot of willpower to keep those logs in Zuko's hands from catching fire right then and there.

Zuko was halfway back to camp when he saw Ping, leaning against a tree waiting for him.

"Jet came back to camp so cheerfully, I was worried you had been killed in the woods..." Ping said, his features tugging up in the faintest of grins at his own joke, and Zuko found that it actually made him laugh and forget the anger that had been bottling up over the past few days. That was probably the reason why Ping had decided to come. Really, if there was a member of their group that reminded Zuko the most of traveling with his Uncle, Ping would have been it. Though Ping was far more subdued than his uncle had ever been. "Do you want to talk about it?" Ping asked finally.

"There's nothing to talk about, he's just being Jet." Zuko muttered.

"That's not who I'm referring to..." Ping countered.

Zuko sighed a little, knowing well who Ping was referring to. "Like I told Jet, nothing happened..." he said grumpily, hoping that the archer would just let it go at that point and walk alongside him in silence as he often did. Something told him that it wasn't going to be quite that simple.

"And are you glad about that?" Ping asked.

"Yes." Zuko said simply. It was true, after thinking about it, he had no idea what he would have done if Katara had slept with him that night. And yet, at the same time by her reaction he knew that she wasn't the one for him. "She's not what I'm looking for..."

"And what are you looking for?" Ping asked.

"I... don't know any more." Zuko muttered as he plodded on ahead.

"It would be hard to tell if she's not what you're looking for if you don't even know what it is, Commander. If it's worth anything, I thought you two made a cute couple..." Ping offered.

"I don't know exactly what I want, but... I know it's not her." Zuko muttered. He'd thought about his words to her, asking for her to make a decision. She had seemed scared at the idea of it. The Fire Nation, his whole people were filled with drive and purpose, they were a proud people, but one of the essences of the element of fire was power, drive, will... to have a purpose and see it through. When he'd looked at Katara he could see in her just... confusion, lack of focus, not being sure what it was that she really wanted at all. Even if he had taken what it was that he wanted that night, she likely would have either pushed away due to not knowing what she wanted, or worse gone along with the flow for the same reason. It had turned out to be a blessing that finally he saw the resolve in her eyes that reminded him of Mai's words. It made sense, after all.

"Are you sure that's what she wants as well?" Ping asked softly.

"Yes." Zuko said with sincerity.

"I see..."

And together they walked in silence.

As they got to the walls of Ba Sing Se, Zuko scratched his chin pondering what to do next. It would probably be best to see family, as he was certain to get in trouble if he didn't make that a priority. Iroh too would probably know a good way of getting to see the Earth King so that they could talk with him about the water tribe and getting some support against the Fire Nation. He didn't really have the greatest hopes for it, however, given that the Earth King never seemed to have been seen by his people. Katara didn't know any of it, but Ba Sing Se was a city of Walls and Secrets, a place where stepping out of line, even the tiniest bit, could change the societies entire perspective of you. In the Fire Nation he had been used to rules, but Ba Sing Se took the idea of rules to an entirely different place than he was used to. He couldn't imagine that Katara would even know what to do- Katara!

Zuko spun and his golden eyes widened slightly as she went up to the ticketing booth, perhaps prompted by Jet who seemed to have a smug grin on his face, to ask about getting tickets, and which rail system actually lead to the King's Palace. Zuko gritted his teeth a little as he noted that two men in matching suits calmly and briskly started walking the way of their group. This was not the place that he wanted to have a throwdown even though he'd been aching for one the other day... this would likely wind up with them all in chains in a dark prison that they never would get out from. Zuko noted the number of guards on this floor, if he needed to actually get away he could likely create a distraction by-

"Oh! So you're an emissary from the Water Tribe. Welcome to Ba Sing Se..." The ticket taker said. "Do not worry about tickets on the train, here you go. It is so rare that we get visitors from the Water Tribes here. If you just take the tram to your left there and get off at the first stop, the way will be clear..." The woman said mysteriously. Zuko felt his skin bristle a little, but as his eyes glanced at Katara and Jet they were heading for the first tram. Jet, who was and Earth Kingdom national probably didn't think it was possible for his kingdom to do any wrong. And Katara was far too likely to be trusting, given that from how she spoke about the Water Tribes, it was simply a matter of simply announcing to people that their best interests might be in danger to get someone to listen to you.

Exchanging a look with Ping he frowned slightly, noting that Gui and Shen were just as happy to go with the flow on this one. They were Earth Benders, but hadn't been in the capitol before. Zuko was certain Ping hadn't either, but he seemed as cautious as Zuko did on the matter, and the two of them were the last ones aboard the monorail to the inner city. There were other people on board, so it didn't feel like a trap, though Zuko was a little weirded out by the guy who appeared to have somehow jammed most of a raw ear of corn into his mouth and was suckling on it silently as if it were the tastiest candy in the world.

What the ticket taker had told them seemed to be valid, yet, at the same time, Zuko felt a knot in his gut. Zuko, his Uncle and Lu Ten had all come here practically incognito when they had arrived here years ago, walking right up and saying that they needed an audience with the King felt... off. Not to mention how a ticket seller had been so certain that they would be able to have an audience with the King felt... wrong. All of it was just too... easy.

As they looked out at the first stop of the ride, Zuko knew that something was wrong. There was no one here, and the way that was 'supposed' to be clear didn't seem to be clear wasn't clear at all. In fact, the only one around was a woman with perhaps the creepiest smile on her face that Zuko had ever seen. In fact, despite having seen wars and taken part in numerous battles, he could feel his skin prickle and chill at the unflinching nature of the woman's' smile that seemed like it should hurt her face but didn't...

"Ah, the Emissary from the Water Tribe... I am Joo Dee. Welcome to Ba Sing Se."

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:04 pm

Katara told herself it was getting easier, that Zuko’s silent-treatment of her was helping her get over the idea that something more could have happened between them. The waterbender told herself that it was better this way, that they weren’t right for each other in the long run, that they were from two different worlds and they would have to return to those separate worlds once this was all over.

Besides, she didn’t need a man to feel whole. That much was true, but having a romantic partnership was still appealing; it just wasn’t necessary to her happiness. However, Zuko’s coldness toward her definitely wasn’t bringing her any sense of peace. In fact, it stressed her out more, frustrating her because she wanted to talk to him, she wanted to find some sort of compromise. If he didn’t like her romantically, that would be fine, she would be okay. If there would be nothing else, she just wanted to be friends with him. The others had warmed up to her, would tell her stories and joke with her, but not the Commander. Ever since she’d healed his legs and… left him otherwise unsatisfied, he’d ignored her.

You couldn’t force someone to like you as a friend or as more, so she just had to let it go – or at least try to do so.

Chapter Two: "City of Walls and Secrets"

Katara smiled when the ticket clerk spoke so brightly to her. She took the six tickets the woman slid through the window. Things were looking up. She’d worried it would be a little more difficult to get to the Earth King because she really didn’t know what to expect. The waterbender knew that cultures were different, but she hadn’t really been in the Earth Kingdom much – the only time being when she’d traveled with the other four Sozin’s Comet survivors to get to the North Pole. “Thank you!” She said brightly. Katara headed toward the first car of the monorail with the others following behind her.

A row of bamboo seats lined either side of the car with bars overhead in case some wanted or needed to stand instead of sit. Katara took a seat on the right side of the car, her hands resting on the seat on either side of her. Jet sat to her left, his hand brushing against hers as he leaned back. The waterbender smoothly pulled her hand away and smoothed the skirt of her dress. She’d changed into clothing that hadn’t been damaged by battles that morning, not wanting to enter Ba Sing Se looking shabby. After all, looks were important, and as someone who needed to convince the Earth King to give his aid, she couldn’t look like a slob.

Gui and Shen sat on the row across from Jet and Katara, and Ping sat next to them, leaving only the space to Katara’s right free for Zuko unless he wanted to go sit on the other end of the train car. She saw his golden eyes look at the spot beside her before he chose to remain standing by the earthbenders. Her jaw clenched and her fingers curled tightly when she saw that. Was he serious? Was she so repulsive to him that he couldn’t even just sit next to her? Her stomach twisted, but she looked elsewhere, not wanting to deal with him or any of it. She just wanted to focus on getting to the Earth King.

Katara found herself gazing out the window as the train moved along the monorail. As it left the station, the world became bright, and she could see miles of farmland and wilds with the occasional animal dotting the landscape. It was really beautiful, and seeing it from this perspective was fascinating. It was like looking at a patchwork blanket. Everything was so serene, unlike anything she’d ever seen.

Despite her anger, this sight on such a beautiful day had her smiling softly to herself. Things were going to be okay. She would talk to the Earth King who would be surprisingly kind and understanding, and he would help her. The Earth Kingdom probably had a navy even though it was such a large continent, and they would have the manpower. The Northern Water Tribe would be saved from the Admiral Zhao’s attacks, and as a result, they wouldn’t go after the Earth Kingdom. Everything was going to work out.

After about twenty minutes, the inner wall came into view, and Katara could feel her excitement growing. Ba Sing Se was the largest city in the world, bigger than even the Northern Water Tribe, and she was finally going to see it. They passed through a tunnel, and there it was. Rows upon rows of buildings spread miles around, surrounded by more walls. This was only one ring of the city, too. It was amazing. Her eyes were wide as she looked around this ring of the city.

The train stopped, and Katara left first, eager to both get away from Zuko’s rejection of even sullying himself with her presence by sitting next to her and eager to make her way to the Earth King. The six in the group were the only ones who got off the train at this stop, and the whole platform was just… empty. Katara’s brows knitted together in confusion. She couldn’t see anything resembling a palace from here, and she had no idea where to go. Besides, this whole thing was starting to feel a little… wrong. Where was everyone else?

As Katara turned to look around, her muscles tense with foreboding, she noticed a woman standing there, beginning to approach them. Her smile was broad, and while normally happiness in others inspired happiness in Katara, there was something that was just… off about the woman’s smile. It was almost like it didn’t extend to the rest of her face despite it being so broad it made Katara’s jaw ache in sympathy.

“Ah, the Emissary from the Water Tribe… I am Joo Dee. Welcome to Ba Sing Se.” The woman said, his voice pleasant enough, but that smile never once even twitched or dissolved or anything.

“Thank you…” Katara said hesitantly. “My name is Katara. This is Gui, Jet, Ping, Shen, and-”

Zuko interrupted the waterbender before she could speak his name. She was glad he did. Did people know him as Fire Nation just by his name? It wouldn’t be surprising because the name sounded typical for that country. Things could have gotten really bad if she’d introduced him by his real name.

“It is lovely to meet you all.” Joo Dee said. Her words seemed very… precise and rehearsed. “I have been given the honor of showing you all around our wonderful city. Shall we get started?”

“Actually, I was hoping for an audience with the Earth King immediately. We have information that he needs to hear and a request.” Katara responded.

Joo Dee only smiled wider, if that was possible, and said, “Great! Let’s begin our tour and then I’ll show you to your new home here! I think you’ll like it.” Katara’s brows cinched together as Joo Dee walked away, clearly expecting them to follow.

“Excuse me,” Katara said, walking up behind the woman, “maybe you misunderstood me, but we have to talk to the Earth King about the war. It’s really important.”

Joo Dee turned to face Katara, that perpetual smile beginning to make the waterbender’s skin crawl. “You are in Ba Sing Se, now. Everyone is safe here.”

This woman was intent on ignoring what Katara had to say, and it was frustrating. She looked back to her party quizzically. What was she supposed to do? Joo Dee walked away again, and Katara slipped back into her party as they followed their guide. “Maybe in order to get an audience with the King, we have to give a little. Let’s do this tour and try talking to her again after that. Maybe all she needs is a show of good faith, to make sure we’re who we say we are?”

First, they took a cart around the lower ring while Joo Dee gave an explanation of it. “What’s that wall for?” Katara asked, gesturing toward one of the walls that was clearly not the main, inner wall.

“Oh, Ba Sing Se has many walls. There are the ones outside, protecting us, and the ones inside that help maintain order. This is where our newest arrivals live, as well as our craftsmen and artisans: people that work with their hands. It’s so quaint and lively!”

Katara frowned. “Why do they have all of these poor people blocked off in one part of the city?”

Joo Dee didn’t miss a step. “It is simply to maintain order.” She repeated, earning a scowl from Katara. This woman was infuriating.

They moved on through the lower ring, transitioning into the next area. This place was clearly better off with buildings that were well kept and less shabby. “This is the middle ring of Ba Sing Se – home to the financial district, shops and restaurants, and the University.”

Katara’s eyes moved from one building to the next before looking back at Joo Dee. “There aren’t really any universities in the Water Tribes, just informal schools, but if we don’t speak to the Earth King, there won’t even be that much.” The irritation in Katara’s voice was clear. She was sick of this tour, and she wanted to get down to business.

“Aren’t other cultures fascinating? Look! Here’s one of the oldest buildings in the middle ring: Town Hall!” The cart stopped, and Joo Dee left the other six in the cart, expecting them to follow. Katara’s eyebrow twitched.

“What is wrong with her? It’s like she only hears half of everything I say!”

“This place isn’t right.” Shen said quietly, looking to Gui who nodded in agreement.

With a frustrated growl, she left the cart and followed the woman on this ridiculous tour. Katara, to get a little, you have to give a little… She told herself, her hands clenching and unclenching as she tried to calm her anger.

Eventually, they all moved onto the next area. “The Upper Ring is home to our most important citizens. Your house is not too far from here.” Katara had, by this time, given up on trying to get through to the woman, instead just vaguely listening to her talk about the key points of the city. When they finally got to another part of the Upper Ring, a large wall loomed over them.

“What’s inside that wall?” Katara asked curiously, wondering if it was perhaps the entrance to the ring where the palace was. She looked out her window, noticing a group of men in the same style of dress. The men paused and stared at them suspiciously as their cart passed.

“And who are those men in the green robes?” Gui questioned.

Joo Dee seemed ecstatic to have been asked these questions. “Inside is the royal palace. Those men are agents of the Dai Li, the cultural authority of Ba Sing Se. They are the guardians of all our traditions.”

“Can we get a meeting with the King, now?” Jet asked.

“Oh, no! One does not simply ‘pop in’ on the Earth King.” The waterbender’s eyes narrowed at this revelation. She wouldn’t have agreed to this stupid tour if she’d known that at the end of it, she wouldn’t be granted her meeting with the King. “Let me show you to your new house.”

The six climbed the front stairs to the house where they would be staying while in Ba Sing Se. It was big enough for all of them to live there together and then some. Katara had never lived in any building so large, not even in the Northern Water Tribe. As they approached the door, a messenger delivered a scroll to Joo Dee who accepted it and opened it to read.

“Good news! Your request for an audience with the Earth King is being processed and should be put through in about a month! Much more quickly than usual.”

Was this supposed to be good news? “What! A month?” Katara cried out unhappily.

“Six to eight weeks, actually.” Joo Dee responded cheerily.

Katara normally wasn’t a very violent person if she didn’t have to be, but at this moment, she wanted nothing more than to hurt his woman who had wasted their time only to inform them that they would be staying in Ba Sing Se for longer than necessarily. She hadn’t been this violently infuriated since Master Pakku had tried to tell her he wouldn’t teach her because she was a girl. Honestly, this was worse because this was life-or-death for her people.

She stormed inside the house, the fury filling her, but if she had stayed out there, she would have hit that woman. The others followed, Joo Dee close behind. “Isn’t it nice? I think you’ll really enjoy it here.” She announced to them, as if everything was peachy.

I think it would be nicer if we weren’t staying here so long... Katara growled in her mind before trying to steady herself and speaking. “Isn’t there any way we can see the Earth King sooner? The lives of my people are counting on my speaking to him as soon as possible.” She tried hard to keep her voice calm.

“The Earth King is very busy running the finest city in the world, but he will see you as soon as time permits. In the meantime, I will be happy to escort you anywhere you wish to go.”

“We don’t need you to watch over us.” Jet piped up. “We’re not children.”

“Oh, I won’t get in the way, and to leave you alone would make me a bad host. Where shall we start?” Joo Dee countered.

“Actually,” Katara spoke, “I think we’ll just stay here for the rest of the day. Thank you for the tour, but we’ve been traveling for a week, and we’re all very tired.”

“Very well.” Joo Dee said with her perpetual smile, putting her palms together and bowing. “I shall leave you to your rest, and I will return tomorrow.” She righted herself and left the six in peace. With her exit, Katara let go of an angry breath.

“I don’t want to stay cooped up here all day.” Jet said.

“I don’t, either. I just said that to get rid of her. That woman is infuriating.” She elaborated. “I can’t believe I actually thought they’d just let me go see the Earth King. What am I going to do now? By the time I actually get a chance to talk to the King, the only home I have left is going to be destroyed…” Just like the last one… She thought but didn’t add. She felt her frustration building, becoming despair that threatened to break her in half. Her jaw clenched and she turned away from the others as her eyes filled with tears; she did not want to cry in front of them, not like this.

Katara hoped that Sokka was having more success in helping their people with Lu Ten than she was having here. How could she be failing so miserably? One life had already been lost on this mission. Tamo’s family would never again see him, and that was her fault. She’d brought him with her, and he’d died. She had to find a way to make sure his death wasn’t in vain, that she and Sokka could both do their parts to save what remained of their people, but how?

Last edited by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:35 am; edited 2 times in total

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:43 am

Zuko couldn't help but narrow his eyes as Ping took the last seat on the train on the side away from Katara, clearly looking to see what Zuko would do when there was only one seat left next to the water bender. His golden eyes glanced at it, and then looked at Jet whose eyes narrowed slightly, clearly wanting to glare but in a rare display of tact not quite doing it in front of Katara or any of the others. It occurred to Zuko at that point that Jet had, as poorly as he had put it, essentially been right. Zuko had been given a chance, and Katara had made her decision on it. Had she said anything else to him about wanting him, even caring about him he might have thought differently, but instead all she had done was act mortified that Zuko had dared to pose such a question to her. He was just lucky that she had been willing to let it go as much as she had. Then again, as he stood he could see her staring at him angrily, maybe she did hold a grudge with him over it after all. They were, for all intents and purposes at the end of their journey though, they just needed to get in to see the Earth King and be done with it.

Of course, Katara hadn't helped matters any by just announcing their presence to the ticket keeper, and to the shadowy figures who had been listening near by. This town was not like any she had ever been to, though. As they raced through the countryside, Zuko's eyes narrowed at it lightly. This place was huge, but at the same time, the populace was... complacent. They had been protected for far too long by their walls and their guards. A single well placed fire nation balloon and a team of fire benders could easily raze all of the farm lands that they could see. Zuko remembered bitterly the lessons that he had learned in school about the Fire Nation sharing their gifts with the world, teaching it about honor and dignity and respect. They described it as a beacon of light bringing order into a world of darkness that had no idea how to govern itself. Looking at the lands that the Fire Nation would some day be pillaging if not stopped, Zuko could feel the sour taste of the childhood lies curdling in his gut.

The one thing about standing rather than sitting was it made him feel better. Given that this city was full of earth benders and the train seemed largely made of stone itself, there was something to be said for being ready to go at a moment's notice. Zuko's golden eyes flickered to the top of the tram over and over again, half expecting to see the Dai Li or worse storming in from above to arrest them. There was something off about their organization, Zuko and what family he had left were certain of that much, but it was impossible to tell exactly 'what' it was that was off about them. Even in their most discreet whisperings, people simply did not talk about the Dai Li. At first Iroh had been convinced that they were an organization of mobsters, but it seemed to run deeper than that. They couldn't be bribed, or bargained with, the people that crossed them were usually never heard from again... but what was more disturbing was that the people that used to know them would pretend that they simply.. didn't exist any more. Like that person had never been.

Was it the will of the people that the Dai Li were upholding, or was there something more sinister? Iroh might have gotten answers, but then again, it wasn't good for him to ask too many questions here either. As they passed into the city, Zuko noted that there were fliers for the Jasmine Dragon that were posted at the train stop. But it was hard to notice anything other than the unnerving woman that happened to be standing there with the oddest smile on her face. Zuko glanced around, looking for someone else to ambush them, but there wasn't anyone. For whatever reason it made Zuko MORE nervous that the woman had come alone, without a single guard in sight. He glanced upward as he thought something moving caught his eye, but as he looked to the high ceiling nothing was there. Disturbing indeed. When the woman said she was here to show them around Zuko felt his scowl get darker. They would be OK as long as they didn't offer too much information about-

Zuko barely managed to keep a poker face as Katara just listed out the names of their entire group, his eyes widening as he caught the first syllable of his name and he coughed loudly. "My name is not really important. Given the time, don't you think that we all should be going?" Zuko said, the first words that he had said to Katara all day, but she would hear the anger tinged in them. Did she really have no clue that mentioning his name would probably be a bad idea in this place. Even here, there was no telling if rumors of an exiled prince with a hefty bounty on his head had been spread about, along with his name. The last thing he needed to do was give more information out than he actually wanted to.

"Ah, well, Not Really Important, it is a pleasure to meet you..." Joo Dee said without missing a beat as Zuko stared at her in disbelief and then stared back at the others. Katara looked as weirded out as he did, Ping just shrugged, and the rest were too busy oggling the exquisite stone structures to really pay much attention to Joo Dee at the moment. Zuko opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again, which seemed to prompt Joo Dee to keep speaking. "It is lovely to meet you all," she said, as if that didn't seem odd to mention it again right after she had said something similar to Zuko. He stared at her to see if there was some sort of sign of embarrassment or some mistake that she had made, but instead she went right along giving them all that creepy smile...

Zuko couldn't help but roll his eyes at Katara's assessment of the situation, that maybe a show of good faith would be all this woman needed in order to get them an audience with the Earth King. This had been a fools errand from the beginning, but he couldn't outright say that in front of Joo Dee. For all he knew she might be some sort of twisted assassin, which actually would explain that freakishly creepy smile of hers quite a bit, now that he thought about it.

Tour was a waste of time. Zuko noted that every now and again as they passed a building they would see a golden slightly yellow colored dragon along one of the tea shops around town. They were offshoots, of course, but there was only one Jasmine Dragon. By the time that Zuko had shown up his Uncle had already worked his way from a bus boy all the way towards having a wealthy patron in town, giving him a shop in the finest district in the city. By the time he and Lu Ten had left to see what sort of rebels they could find out there, Iroh had managed to buy out his business partner in the venture and run the Jasmine dragon all on his own. As the years progressed slowly Iroh's reach, his ownership spread to other shops, to the point where the Jasmine dragon name, and 'Gin' the alias that Iroh went under, were known throughout Ba Sing Se. Like a good military campaign Iroh was slowly squeezing the life out of other tea shops in the city with his superior methods of preparation... what he did with his profits, however, was another matter altogether.

Zuko wasn't at all surprised by the segregation of the poor and the rich, and noted the scowl on Katara's face that said she was. Even in the Fire Nation that was common. The barons and generals didn't mingle with the peasants. Katara seemed genuinely disturbed by this. Was the Water Tribe truly so different? He had heard that the Northern Water Tribe had a leader that was treated like a King... it didn't make much sense that she would have no idea about this sort of thing, but whether or not she knew, the look of annoyance was clear on his features. He noted that even Gui and Shen accurately pointed out that there was something just.. off about this city. Zuko had remembered it slightly differently, but perhaps that it was just that he had turned a blind eye to it the last time that he was here.

As they approached the place where they were going to be living, Zuko's eyes narrowed. No way in hell was he staying here. This was too good to be true. No place that he had ever known would host people in such a place unless they were planning to keep an eye on them or worse. It reminded him of stories he had heard about his father's 'Special Accommodations' houses that he put in people he wanted to get rid of. It would look amazing, but the place was ventilated with shafts that could either be filled with knockout gas or something to permanently deal with the issue. There was no way he was staying in a place like this any longer than he had to. Thankfully Katara seemed mad enough to spit as it was. The news about them needing to stay here for 6 weeks or so didn't surprise him at all, but again, there would be no way in hell that he was going to go along with that.

And of course Joo Dee wanted to go anywhere that they went. This just kept getting better and better. Zuko crossed his arms as he let them protest it, not bothering to speak up himself. As Jet and Katara were complaining about being cooped up, Gui and Shen were looking at the place with some form of wonder, talking with themselves about how spacious it was. "We're not staying here." Zuko said flatly as they turned to look at him, giving him a quizzical look. "This place is either supposed to be a virtual prison, or a place to keep us locked up so that they can attack us and know exactly where we are. I don't mean to stay here any longer than we have to." He said, looking outside, noting the sunset rapidly approaching.

"When it gets dark, Gui, Shen, you're going to bend us out of here. I'm certain someone is watching this house right now... even if we can't see them. Maybe my uncle will have an idea on what we can do to see the Earth King... but we're not going to get anywhere by staying here. First things first though, Gui, I need you to bend your way out of here, you look the most like one of the natives. Go to this address and let my uncle and tell him that 'Ryu' is coming, and tell him about our situation, but only in private." Zuko saw Gui nod lightly as he bent his way out of the place, leaving Zuko to pace lightly. It was after dark before Gui managed to bend his way back in, and he had clothes in hand.

Zuko smirked a little, seeing what his uncle was getting at, and handed each person a robe and a hat, the brim of it wide enough to shade their eyes. He then took a handful of candles and lit them. "Each of you take a candle into the rooms when you go to change. Make sure not to do it where you can be seen from the window." he cautioned, following his own instructions himself. After they assembled again in the main room, as Gui and Shen started to bend, Zuko slowly started to snuff out the candles, one by one until he was in the tunnel himself and snuffed out the last of them with his bending as he followed them into the tunnel as it sealed up behind them.

When they came out a few block's later, Zuko leapt, scurried up the side of one building and flipped up onto the roof, crouching once he got up there as his eyes narrowed, before he nimbly scrambled his way back down and landed in front of them. "At least two watching our house from the rooftops. They might have made out who I was, or just want to watch us in general." He muttered. "Either way I don't like it. We need to get to my uncle's." he muttered, leading them all down the alleyways. The streets were all but dead, probably due to public curfews, and many a time Zuko and the gang had to press up against a wall to let someone pass down the street, looking around suspiciously. Everyone safe here indeed.

The going was long, but Zuko felt a sigh of relief as he saw the dragons that were around the steps to his Uncle's tea shop. As they moved, Zuko noticed that now and again Gui was giving him a sheepish look, and the fire bender felt a growing sense of unease. Could Gui really have betrayed them after all of this? It didn't seem possible and yet at the same time, why was he acting like a frightened animal all of a sudden? It seemed to be getting worse the closer and closer they got to the shop, so Zuko was particularly on edge when he knocked on the door, only to have a familiar hand yank him inside and spin him into a hug.

At one point Uncle Iroh had been a flabby, jolly sort of fellow, and he still somewhat looked it with the loose robes that he wore, but Zuko could feel underneath the muscles that he had seen during training, flexed as they were now around him they felt like they were made of the finest crafted iron. "Uncle... I can't... breathe..." Zuko gasped as Iroh finally let him down.

As his uncle let him free Zuko gasped, starting to ask him a question when he noticed that the room was deathly quiet. That was probably because the woman who was standing there in fine robes was looking on them with a look that made Zuko's blood run cold as the instant fear that there was something that he had done wrong. It was as stern as a raven hawk, and yet at the same time almost seemed to freeze everyone in place to the point where none of them, not even his Uncle, said a thing. Zuko remembered it from long ago but it had been a long time since he had seen it, and he remembered suddenly with a sense of dread that there were some things in this world that were more scary then bending.

"I would like to have a word with you, if you please..." dripped out words that were so icy that the air in the room seemed to drop in temperature, and Zuko was about to hang his head when he realized that the woman's cold glare wasn't at him, and in fact, she wasn't talking to him at all.

Ursa, his mother, was looking straight at Katara.

Join date : 2009-10-03

Posts : 144
Age : 1516
Location : On a mountain somewhere

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Wed Jun 20, 2012 2:29 am

Katara managed to calm herself down by the time Zuko began to speak. His words worried her because she believed he was right. Would they really treat an ambassador to the Water Tribes so badly? Would they really kill them just because she wanted to speak to the Earth King? Why not just send her back home where she could hang her head in shame and defeat if all they wanted to do was get rid of her? No, it seemed more likely that they just wanted to watch her and the rest of her party than kill them, but why? Why couldn’t she just talk to the Earth King? Why all of the secrecy and manipulations?

The Commander sent Gui to discreetly tell his uncle that they were coming and that they were in a bit of a bind. Honestly, Katara felt extremely grateful to him in that moment. When despair had begun to creep up on her, to overwhelm her, Zuko was able and willing to help. He probably wasn’t doing it for her, especially not with how he was acting toward her lately, but she was still glad that he was at least on the side of helping what remained of the Water Tribes.

The waterbender slid her pack off her shoulders and sat with her back against the wall as Gui bent a hole into the stone floor, slipped inside it, and sealed it above him. Ping and Shen sat down at a table nearby for a game of Pai Sho, a game at which Katara was terrible. She pulled out her two damaged water skins and split open the hurried stitching she’d done to them during their travels. Now that she actually had time – since they wouldn’t be leaving before dark – Katara wanted to fix them the right way, so they wouldn’t leak.

Jet initially sat next to her, trying to engage her in conversation, but she wasn’t much of a conversationalist. He eventually moved over to the Pai Sho table to watch the game. She didn’t really want to talk anyway, for she was still feeling the effects of her dashed hopes. It was true that Zuko had enabled her to feel at least a small semblance of it again, but while she was willing to try anything at this point, she really wasn’t sure what she was going to do, how this would work. As Zuko paced back and forth, she wondered if even he believed that something could be done to help her cause. He seemed unsure and a little worried as she looked upon his hardened expression.

How could she have been so stupid? How could she have just… trusted that everything would work out nicely? Katara put away her work and wrapped her arms around her shins as she waited, her chin resting on her knees. Her eyes closed. Spirits, be with us… She prayed to herself.

The stone floor cracked and exploded upward, bringing Katara immediately to her feet in a defensive position. However, it was only Gui, having finally returned from delivering Zuko’s message. She was extremely relieved, having worried that maybe something had happened to him along the way. Katara took one each of the robes and hats that Gui had brought when Zuko handed them to her, along with the lit candle. It was the first time in days that he’d bothered to come that close to her in days, but now wasn’t the time to worry about that. She moved silently into her room, quickly drawing the shades and setting down her candle. She hurriedly undressed, wrapping her robe around herself before slipping her water skins around her torso and positioning the hat atop her head. There was no way she was leaving without the ability to fight if she had the need to do so, and she’d rather have torn clothes than be imprisoned or killed.

Leaving her candle in her room, she regrouped with the others back in the main area as she adjusted her pack on her back, and each of them dropped into the tunnel made by Gui. When it closed above them, Katara decided she wasn’t very fond of being in a small tunnel underground. In fact, she felt a little afraid of being down there. It wasn’t necessarily that she was claustrophobic, but she felt helpless. At any moment, the walls could come crumbling around her, and there would be nothing she could do. Still, she just put aside her fears, trusting in Gui and Shen to guide them safely away.

The air, when they finally left the tunnel, was almost sweet to her in its coolness and its representation of freedom. They waited while Zuko scouted from the rooftops, marveling in how limber and agile he was. If she had enough water, she could move anywhere she wanted to go, and while she probably could have climbed the way he had, she wasn’t strong enough to do it so quickly. It would probably have taken a few minutes whereas he was up and down in a matter of seconds.

The way to his uncle’s tea shop was stressful. Katara’s heart hammered beneath her chest any time even the smallest shadow moved, worried that it was one of the men who was watching the house. Did they still believe the six were in there, that they’d simply gone to bed, or had they discovered the deception and were now looking for them to take them into custody?

Finally, their travels were over, and they approached the tea shop. It was quite remarkable with the golden dragons decorating the door, and she was relieved when, upon Zuko’s knocking on it, the doors parted and Zuko was dragged inside, locked in a strong hug. The other five piled into the entrance, closing the door behind them. Katara smiled softly at the sight of Zuko embracing a man who had to be his uncle. She’d never seen him show real affection toward anyone, but this showed a different side to Zuko, even when he complained of a lack of air. The waterbender almost laughed, but she became aware that everyone was quiet and on edge, and her eyes found the source.

A woman in fine robes, standing tall and straight, clearly a regal sort of person, stood off to the side, staring at the group. The coldness in her gaze gave Katara a chill that could have taught ice a lesson or two. No, she wasn’t staring at the group; the woman was staring at the waterbender.

“I would like a word with you, if you please.” Her voice was as stern as her eyes, and she noticed in that moment that her eyes were golden like the leader of their little group. Their features were similar, too. This must be… Zuko’s mother. She saw Zuko turn his head toward her in surprise, following the line of his mother’s gaze, and she looked at him with panic in her eyes, pleading with him to help her or to at least explain to her what was going on, but she would receive no aid from the Commander this time. Sapphire eyes looked at the rest of the group, but they all looked at her with equal shock except for Gui who wouldn’t look at her at all; the shame was all over his face. What had he told her?

Katara swallowed hard and looked back toward Zuko’s mother. How did she have the power to make her feel ashamed when she hadn’t even done anything wrong? “Um… I… Yeah. I guess so.” The waterbender answered hesitantly, slowly parting from the safety of her group to follow the woman into a room at the back of the shop. She looked back at the men behind her, and they all looked back at her, unsure of what to expect.

The waterbender removed her hat and moved into the room after the other woman, stepping aside so that she could close the door behind them. The fact that the door had to be closed had Katara even more worried than before. The golden-eyed woman offered the younger one a seat at a table, and the waterbender took it, not saying anything. She felt like a child who had been caught sneaking candied seaweed before dinner.

The woman looked at Katara like she was examining an insect for a moment, but it gave Katara a chance to look back at her. The woman, even with the coldest look on her face that the waterbender had ever seen, was incredibly beautiful. Now that she looked closer, she could see that while Zuko’s eyes were the same colour, they weren’t exactly the same shape – at least his good eye wasn’t since there was no telling how his left eye had originally looked before he’d been scarred. She could see that they had the same nose and a similar facial shape though his was decidedly more masculine in its definition. The woman’s hair was dark brown, but it looked to be a couple of shades lighter than her son’s.

Finally, the woman’s lips parted, and she spoke. “What are your intentions toward my son?”

Katara was startled by the question. The woman hadn’t spoken very loudly, but she’d spoken in such a way that even as soft spoken as she was, her voice commanded attention. Still, the question itself was really what had thrown her off guard. “I don’t have any intentions toward your son except to make sure that he’s kept alive and safe for as long as we’re traveling together.” That seemed like a satisfactory answer, but she was going to have to talk to Gui when this was all over.

Ursa blinked softly at the question, her golden eyes seeming to pierce Katara with their steely gaze. This was clearly not the sort of woman that agitating was the best idea to do, but as Katara's answer hit the air, there would be a long silence there, awkward, lasting nearly a moment. There was nothing in that moment to disturb the woman's poker face, her mask of non emotion could have kept her safe from Koh it was so still. She maintained that calm, composed look as she watched the water tribe girl, and then Katara would see it, the slightest crinkling of her brow, the faintest narrowing of her eyes. There were almost no signs of her emotion at first, and yet as Katara began to see the emotion settling there, she would suddenly be smacked in the face with the full might of the woman's death glare out of nowhere, seemingly more powerful than the one she had unleashed in the room before with all of the people present. There was no telling how much worse the woman's gaze could get, but if glaring had been a form of bending, Ursa would have been a Grand Master.

Ursa's jaw clenched then, as she spoke, her tone quite a bit less civil than it had been before. "I'm going to assume that your dishonesty was intended out of courtesy rather than a disrespectful slur to my intelligence that it came across as, and that it is not going to be repeated." She said matter of factly as her eyes focused on Katara once more. "One more time, Katara of the Southern Water Tribe. What are your intentions towards my son?"

Katara maintained eye contact with Zuko’s mother. The waterbender’s gaze wasn’t defiant or made in challenge; she simply knew better than to break contact. She’d been in similar situations in the past, when an angry adult was unjustly accusing her of something, especially when she wasn’t even one hundred percent certain she knew what it was she was being accused of doing.

One moment, the woman’s face was a mask of cold apathy, and the next, she was glaring daggers at the waterbender. If looks could kill, the Tribeswoman would have been incinerated on the spot. Was this woman a firebender? Could firebenders bend without moving? She couldn’t bend without movement, but Zuko had hardly been moving at all when he’d set Mongke’s arms aflame. Maybe there had to be physical contact? Then she just wouldn’t let this woman touch her. That seemed the safest route.

Katara’s hands clenched beneath the table. She would have to be very careful with her words. “I have a lot of respect for Zuko, and he’s saved my life on more than one occasion. He’s also saved the lives of some of my family members and other people from my tribe and the Northern Water Tribe. I owe him a debt, and I intend to fulfill it if I can. Why do you think I’m lying about that?”

The glare slowly faded from the former Fire Lady's face at that point, and she smiled a little. "I'm sorry, I'm probably making you nervous..." she said.”I know that some people are often, well... a little intimidated by the fact that I used to be married to the Fire Lord." There was no tinge of malice there, but really this woman had weathered being married to what Katara's people would consider one of the greatest monsters that the Fire Nation had ever produced. Ursa seemed to take it in stride though, smiling faintly to the point where her eyes squinted, and then she let out the faintest of laughs, seeming to want to put the water bender at ease. It was almost as if the other woman that had been before Katara was gone and she was now meeting her nicer twin sister who happened to be as cheerful as can be. She put a hand to her chest lightly and smiled.

"You'll have to forgive me, Katara, I've just been forced to be protective of Zuko for a long time, and sometimes it is a bit difficult to, well... keep influences from him that should not be around him. You have no idea how many women would lie, cheat, or steal their way to getting their claws on someone with even a hint of a birthright to the throne, no matter how slim it might be... but I'm going on."

Ursa sighed lightly and smiled broadly at Katara. "You have to tell me more about the Water Tribes, Katara... I've never actually been there myself. What does it mean amongst your people when a woman kisses a man there?" There wasn't the slightest hint of a falter in her tone, but beneath it all she could practically hear the drawn breath of a viper eel there, waiting to pounce upon her words. The feeling of her words had changed, but the message was still clear, this was the second lie that Katara had been caught in, and Ursa was getting less pleased with each one.

When Zuko’s mother’s face relaxed into a smile, it did nothing to set the waterbender at ease. Katara was still tense. People didn’t change moods that quickly, at least none that she knew. There remained that residual feeling of anger for a few minutes before it could be cooled, and with how terribly the woman had glared at the Water Tribeswoman, there was no way she could be so calm now. People had been trying to manipulate Katara for four years, trying to get her to stop pushing for women’s rights within the North, and she had weathered all of it. She wasn’t about to be thrown off now, especially because this woman was the former Fire Lady. How could being married to a monster not have some kind of lasting effect on a person?

“Wait, what?” Katara asked incredulously. Okay, so Gui had told the Commander’s mother about the kiss. Shit… What was she supposed to say to that? What was she supposed to say to the accusation that the waterbender was a gold digger on top of that? This woman was as smooth as a viper eel and just as deadly. She was pissed that this woman would imply that she was just trying to use Zuko that way, but she wouldn’t say it. This woman would just turn her anger on her, use it against her, and Katara couldn’t afford to have that happen. “In the Water Tribes, when a woman kisses a man, it usually means she likes him.” Her voice was calm, but her cheeks were red, betraying her feelings.

She wouldn’t deny that she’d kissed Zuko; what was the point of that? This woman already knew the truth, but that didn’t change the fact that Katara really didn’t want to deal with this right now. It was like the night that Zuko had asked her why she’d kissed him to win their sparring match when she obviously wouldn’t have done the same to any of the other men in their group, and she definitely would never have done it in battle. She really didn’t know how to answer that because she didn’t even know the answer herself. At the time, she hadn’t really known him well enough to assess whether or not she was attracted to him, just that he was nice enough to get Jet off her back and to try to get the others to accept her. It looked terrible even to her that she would beat him using such tactics, after everything he’d done for her. No wonder his mother was so infuriated upon hearing about it.

"I see... so I guess kissing someone must mean something different for you personally then..." Ursa said, not giving Katara a moment to recover from her words. "I mean, given that you have both told me that a woman from the water tribe would not kiss a man unless she liked him, and clearly by the blush on your face you did kiss my son... there must be something different about you... which would make it so that you were not lying to me a moment ago when you told me that you had no intentions towards Zuko..." Ursa said simply. "Again, I must apologize; it is often difficult to understand the motivations of those with different backgrounds. In the Fire Nation, for example, something like this might reflect... somewhat poorly on a person, Katara..." Ursa said without missing a single beat, her lips drawing upright in a smile.

"You know, it is funny what people can tell you just by the little things that they do. Ozai and Azula would lie even about the smallest little things if it would hurt their pride any... the only time I can remember Zuko lying was when he wanted to spare someone's feelings. It got him in a mess of trouble when he was younger, but I suppose that's what makes him someone special... someone that you can trust." Ursa said, drilling the point home lightly, her smile never fading as she watched the young water bender squirm under interrogation.

"I did have one other question before we get back to the rest of the group, Katara... What were you doing in my son's tent the other night?" Ursa's eyes widened as her smile faded and a stern look crossed her features.

Katara frowned at the cruelty in the woman’s words. It was proof that just because someone no longer lived in the Fire Nation or truly affiliated with it that they didn’t forget their upbringing. Did Zuko harbor a secret viciousness in his heart, too, or was he really different the way that his mother implied he was? Had she inadvertently dodged an arrow on this topic when she’d somehow gained Zuko’s disinterest? Then why did his mother’s reminding Katara that she wasn’t good enough for him, that she would never be good enough for him, that he was right not to like her, make her feel so terrible?

At first, the waterbender had no idea whose names she’d mentioned other than Ozai’s who was the Fire Lord. Azula must be Zuko’s sister then. Who else would this woman be talking about other than her family? Still, she really didn’t like being compared to them, but it was interesting to hear her talk about Zuko’s past, to know that he was different from his sister, from his father.

Katara didn’t bat an eyelash when Zuko’s mother asked what had happened in her son’s tent. After having been hounded and teased about it for the better part of a week, she knew how to keep her face straight, but her heart beat more rapidly. Honestly, she was getting tired of this game and weary of this woman twisting her words to turn them into daggers. “He had some deep lacerations in his legs that he wouldn’t let me heal until we’d made a new camp, so I went into his tent to heal them. I now know that Gui doesn’t believe that nothing happened that night from the way you’re reacting, but in the Southern Water Tribe, marriage and sex are one in the same, and I’m not ready for that kind of commitment. I don’t care if you believe me or not. I do like your son, but he’s made it obvious over the last several days that he wants nothing to do with me. I’m respecting his wishes by leaving him be, so I hope you can understand that I was not, in fact, lying to you when I told you have no intentions toward your son other than protecting an ally and repaying my debt to him.”

For the first time since the woman had begun speaking, Katara looked away from her. This was the first time she’d said out loud what she’d been feeling, and it just made her feel worse. At least, when it had all just been in her mind, there was the smallest hope that something could change, that she was wrong. However, talking with this woman, admitting to Zuko’s mother – who clearly thought she was beneath her son – that the Commander had rejected her, that she understood it and had reacted accordingly, just made it all the more real. Why would he want someone like her anyway? All she’d done since she’d met him was wrong him in one way or another.

Ursa raised an eyebrow at the Water bender's allegation that she happened to be healing lacerations in Prince Zuko's leg. On this answer she nodded, and the mask faded for a moment. Perhaps it was because it was the first genuinely honest answer that Katara had given the former Fire Lady. It seemed that, for better or worse this woman could tell that much, at least. "I'm glad you were honest in that, at least." Ursa said softly, looking at Katara with golden eyes before turning and rising from the chair. "I will have to have the same talk with Zuko that I did with you, I fear. He's conflicted about what he wants, but my son often does not use the best judgment when making his choices..." Ursa said simply, rattling off the subtle backhand without so much as batting an eyelash towards the Water Bender's direction.

"I'm aware that your life probably was difficult in the water tribe, and I am aware that nothing can truly ever repair the damage that was done by the Fire Nation to the Water Tribe. I know that Zuko wants to try to heal the world, and there are days when I like to believe that he can..." Ursa said softly, and sighed. "As I said before he has a gentle heart, so I want to leave you with one last piece of advice, Katara..." she said solemnly, standing, and walking past Katara so that her back was towards her as she said the last words, so low that even someone who might have been listening at the door would not hear.

"The last time someone threatened to destroy my child I had them killed. It would be a shame if I had to repeat such actions because someone callously tried to hurt my son again." she said softly, and then nodded lightly. "Come, I think enough time has passed now... there is someone that I would like you to meet." Ursa said, calmly stepping past Katara and opening up the doorway there. She offered them all a light smile, though the faces that were on everyone, including Iroh, clearly were expecting some sort of blood to be staining Ursa's green and pale robes, even though there was not a speck on them. She gave them all a smile, seeming as soft and cheery as a proper lady might have.

"Sorry for that bit of unpleasantness everyone..." Ursa said calmly, looking to Iroh, who seemed to be more nervous than the rest of them as a man dressed in plain robes that clearly was some sort of servant came out of the back of the tea house, looking at Ursa and giving her a proper nod, which caused Zuko's mother to smile. It was actually a beautiful thing, when it was genuine, soft and sweet and full of love and life. "Now Ryu... come here..." she said, her golden eyes glancing back to Katara as she pressed a hand to her son's back and pushed him forward slightly. "There's someone that I think you should meet..." she said, gesturing forward towards the doorway.

As if by cue a girl came forth from the doorway, looking a vision in a pale white kimono that seemed more regal than anything they had seen in all of the Earth Kingdom, even on their tour of the upper ring. The girl blushed a little and looked down, keeping her hands in front of her like a lady might as she bowed faintly towards Zuko, whose golden eyes flew open wide as he looked at the girl and then looked at his mother.

"Ryu, I would like you to meet Toph Beifong... your fiancé."

Katara didn’t understand what Zuko’s mother meant when she said her son was conflicted about what he wanted. When she said that the Commander didn’t always make the best choices, she was even more confused. Did that mean that she thought Zuko did like her and that his mom thought he made a bad choice in deciding he didn’t want her? How could the woman go from giving her the third degree and accusing her of being a gold digging liar to approving of her having any sort of affiliation with her son beyond being allies? She looked at the other woman’s face, and she knew that wasn’t at all what she’d meant. Gui must have admitted that Zuko had kissed Katara back which was – in Zuko’s mother’s eyes – a bad judgment.

She looked away from the woman when she stood, her mood soured by one blow after another throughout the day. When the Fire Lady spoke of her son, her love for him was clear. It was strange to hear of him wanting to heal the world, but it made sense. Who else would feel so duty bound than the first good son of a long line of destroyers? Katara was glad he had come with her, even if things had become awkward between them as of late.

Then the woman’s voice softened, and Katara strained to hear the words of ‘advice’ that were really a threat. Her sapphire eyes widened, and she looked up in shock, staring at the woman’s back. The meaning was clear. This woman disliked Katara, and she would do what it took to make sure her son was happy. The waterbender’s best bet was to stay away from Zuko. Still, it seemed strange that this woman would think someone like Katara could hurt him. After all, he didn’t want to be with her, and she disgusted him enough that even sitting next to her on a train for a few minutes was a detestable option to him.

Katara didn’t respond to the threat, but she did rise and follow Zuko’s mother when she said there was someone she wanted the waterbender to meet. Why would she want the Tribeswoman to meet anyone? It didn’t make any sense, but she would understand soon enough.

Really, she didn’t want to face anyone at that point, but to run and hide would make things look even worse, and she was the sort of person to stand her ground. The Fire Lady seemed very pleased and happy about life, but while she wasn’t running away, the waterbender couldn’t really bring herself to even force a smile. Her eyes quickly flickered over the faces of her group – noting the regret on Gui’s face – before looking away, not wanting to face their curious stares.

Then, she summoned Zuko forward, and Katara caught the look on the woman’s face as she announced there was someone for him to meet, the same person that she’d wanted Katara to meet. The door opened, and there stood a girl who looked a little younger than Katara. She was quite lovely with her raven hair contrasted with her fair skin. The girl was of a higher class than Katara for sure by her way of dress and her demeanor. In fact, the waterbender hadn’t seen anyone so regal since she’d met Princess Yue – before she’d started her affair with Katara’s brother. Even then, this girl could probably outshine the white-haired princess in a test of class.

Toph Beifong… your fiancé…

Katara’s heart stopped, her eyes widening and mouth dropping open slightly. Was this really happening? She hadn’t realized that arranged marriages were common in any place other than the Northern Water Tribe. How could she have been so stupid as to expect that they wouldn’t be? How could she have thought even for an instant that Zuko could possibly have even considered her when he had the prospect of a betrothal looming before him? Her mouth closed, her jaw clenching as she tried to control her emotions. Zuko’s mother had purposely set her up for this. That woman was no better than her former husband, but instead of dealing in physical battles, the Fire Lady dealt in emotional destruction.

The waterbender’s eyes looked over the young woman who was now the Commander’s betrothed, studying her face. She seemed demur and perfect – everything a Prince deserved. However, the longer she looked at the girl, the more something seemed very slightly off. Perhaps it was the tilt of her head or the way her gaze didn’t really seemed to focus on anyone in the room. Then she realized that the girl’s pupils were strangely pale, and her eyes widened even more.

Zuko’s mother, who would protect him and love him at all costs, had arranged a marriage in which his future wife was blind. Did the woman really undervalue humans and her own son so much that she didn’t believe that any woman could love her son if she could see his face, his scar? If Toph Beifong ever touched his face, she would feel that something was wrong, but she wouldn’t be able to really see the supposed defect. Was that what the woman had been counting on? It was so wrong on so many levels. It was all the waterbender could do to stay calm and hide her feelings from her face, carefully molding her features into a mask. She pulled the hat back onto her head, dipping her head low so the brim hid her face from view.

Zuko didn’t want Katara, and he would be marrying someone else. She should be happy for him. Just because this girl was blind, it didn’t mean she wasn’t a good match. She was beautiful, and by Northern standards, she was the ideal woman: quiet, unassuming, and demure. Katara had been right to back off that morning that the Commander had first uttered the words that made it clear he no longer had any interest in her. Zuko deserved better, and now he was finally getting it. She melded into the back of her group, behind everyone else so that no one could focus on her or assess her feelings on this matter.

When did the Fire Lady intend to have the “same” talk with Zuko that she’d had with Katara? The waterbender doubted it would really be the same. She would probably tell her son that he was right to have stopped any potential involvement with the Water Tribeswoman because he now had a bright future toward which to look. Hopefully, the Fire Lady wouldn’t hound Zuko about what had happened.

No one except for the firebender and the waterbender knew about the second kiss, and none except for them knew what had almost happened that night in his tent. She hoped he wouldn’t cave and tell his mother everything. The woman already hated her and thought she was a liar, and she didn’t want any more animosity sent her way. Zuko was a grown man. He didn’t have to tell his mother everything. Hopefully, the Fire Lady was satisfied enough that Katara hadn’t slept with Zuko that she wouldn’t press for more details. It seemed like the smarter move for her to focus on all of the good that his new marriage would be and not remind the banished Prince of a potential flame with a peasant.

“Are you okay?” She heard Ping whisper to her, but Katara didn’t move, remaining with her head bowed so her hat hid her face.

“I will be.” The waterbender responded.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Thu Jun 21, 2012 1:50 am

Zuko stood dumbfounded as he looked at his mother, blinking a little as Katara went past them all to sit with her in another room. His eyes narrowed for a moment, golden eyes looking almost as if they could pierce the very door the two of them were in to see what was going on. And then, realizing that there was no telling what was going on in there, he did the next best thing. Without hesitating a beat he spun then and grabbed Gui by the collar, holding him up off of his feet as he stared into the shocked Earth Bender's eyes. "What did you tell her?" Zuko growled out darkly, his voice filled with almost as much venom as Katara was likely getting in the other room right about now. There was something that didn't add up about all of this, and the only weak link in the whole equation happened to be Gui. Zuko's eyes warned of Shen who happened to be coming to his comrade's aid. Zuko was still handling the Earth Bender by his collar, not his throat the way that he wanted to be at the moment.

"I didn't... I mean... she gave me the third degree as soon as I mentioned you... I'm sorry Commander, I didn't mean to, but..." Gui was just spouting out stuff at this point, clearly not wanting to go toe to toe with an annoyed Zuko. As Zuko's eyes narrowed he began sputtering again. "I just mentioned the kiss... and what Jet was talking about the other evening with the whole tent stuff... that's all, that's all I promise!"

"That's enough." came Iroh's voice as he placed his hand on his nephew's shoulder. Zuko looked at his uncle and sighed. Even if he had wanted to commit to the fight, Iroh would have been more than enough to keep him busy. Begrudgingly Zuko let down the Earth bender as he narrowed his eyes lightly, giving him a glare that didn't come close to Ursa's, but still got his point across. As she started to turn around, he found himself face to face with his uncle, who grabbed a shoulder and in a fluid motion spun him back around to face Gui. "Apologize." Iroh said. Zuko knew him well enough to know that it was a suggestion more than a demand, or rather an appeal to Zuko's conscience, which did feel guilty at this point.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gotten so worked up." Zuko muttered softly and sighed, extending his hand out towards Gui, who seemed more than happy to clasp it and bury the hatchet between the two of them. Zuko could only imagine that Katara wasn't going to be quite so forgiving with the Earth Bender, but that was between her and him. Right now he was dying to know what it was that the two women were discussing in the next room. Of course, Zuko knew far better than to be caught spying on his mother. So far she had only whipped out the first level of her evil eye in front of them all. Zuko shuddered lightly just thinking about it. Growling a little he paced, then paused, chewing on his lip.

"Uncle... we need to talk..." he said finally. As he told Iroh about what happened to the side, he could see his Uncle's face getting grimmer and grimmer, the way his might if he were hearing it. As he had expected, the revelation about the Rough Rhinos going after them was a bad sign. Iroh stroked his beard lightly as he frowned, and Zuko worried furiously that his Uncle would just turn towards him with awful news about him finding the bodies of rebels and this suddenly putting all of this in place for him. Or worse, that his Uncle might demand to know why it was that Zuko decided to go on some stupid errand to Ba Sing Se with the water tribe rather than being beside his cousin when he fought an opponent like Zhao. Zuko chewed the inside of his cheek nervously as he waited for whatever judgement might be handed down from the elder firebender.

"You did the right thing, Zuko..." Iroh said finally, softly. Zuko blinked, confused as his Uncle touched his shoulder. "You understood from my training, that none of us can win this war alone. You might be able to dethrone your father, but it will look like, to history, a struggle for power from son to father, assuming that the whole country does not revolt when they hear the news anyway. The only true path is unity. I am proud of you, Zuko, for taking the first step to mend the bad blood between the Water Tribe and those of the Fire Nation with good in their hearts." Even as he said it though, Zuko could see a sadness in his Uncle's eyes and his heart fell. Iroh was worried about Lu Ten as well. "It seems like that is not the ONLY kind of bonding you have been doing with that young lady..." Iroh muttered shortly after, causing Zuko's face to go scarlet.

"It's not like that, Uncle..." Zuko hissed out, hoping that the others with him didn't accidentally overhear. Especially Jet. The last thing he needed was the fighter in his face over some perceived slight. "She's a good fighter, but that's all. There's nothing more between her and I than that." Zuko said softly, feeling his Uncle's eyes looking at him.

"And it was her decision, hmm?" Iroh said softly, and Zuko bowed his head at that. Zuko expected a soft squeeze on his shoulder but instead was pulled into a light hug by his Uncle. "I am sorry, Prince Zuko. There are things in this world that cannot be helped, and there are people who are just not meant to be together. Perhaps that is the case with you and the Water Tribe girl. I would love to see a world where none of us had our boundaries, where we lived in one civilization together, but it will take a long time to tear down those boundaries, no one is expecting you to do it with the first attractive water tribe girl you meet..." Iroh said, ribbing Zuko lightly.

"I will send out word amongst my 'friends' about the Earth King and Lu Ten, but it will take some time. In the mean time, you should stay, relax, and show me what it is that you've learned. I know that there is someone else who will be very happy to see you as well..."

"If she ever gets done talking to Katara..." Zuko muttered with an annoyed snort.

"Ah... well... that is not exactly what I meant-" Iroh started, but the doors were already opening towards as Ursa and Katara came out.

Zuko moved forward, his mouth starting to open to ask for an explanation as to what was going on, but then he noticed that his mother was making an announcement. Whatever it was, he didn't understand why it couldn't wait, but there was nothing that was going to keep him from getting the answers out of his mother right after she finished announcing whatever she needed to say. Zuko huffed a little as she called him Ryu, and introduced his fiance to him. As Ursa looked at him he blinked, and slowly the words started to process in his mind. Fiance... marriage...

Zuko looked to the girl as he opened his mouth to explain, then noticed the girl wasn't looking at him at all. She was looking in his direction, off to the side, at, nothing. Zuko blinked a little as she bowed lightly in his direction and then slowly took a step forward, starting to extend outward with her hands as she seemed to be afraid that she might run into something. Zuko blinked again and again as he realized what it was that was causing the girl to act this way... she was well and truly blind.

"I'm here..." Zuko said, controlling his voice as he glared at his mother who returned his look with a pained one of her own. They would definitely need to have words over this sooner or later. In the meantime though, he caught Toph's hand lightly and tried to take it in his own, but instead her hands gripped his wrist and lightly walked their way up his arm slowly, across his chest plate and then up across his neck. Zuko didn't tense at this, after all, what sort of a jackass would he be to judge her an unacceptable mate based off of her eyesight?

He watched her face, her features, demure and subdued, a soft smile touching her features as she traced her fingertips down his face lightly, pausing at the scar and frowning, but only for a second. "You're very handsome." Toph said softly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ryu. If there's anything about me you want to know... or anything that you want to do, let me know..." Toph offered softly.

"The Beifongs have allowed Toph to come stay with us for a while, Ryu. Let her get a chance to get used to Ba Sing Se. We were also going to send word for you to come here to meet her. Both the Beifongs and I feel that it is important that this not be a forced marriage." Ursa said softly, "We trust you to do what is right for yourself." Zuko's eyes watched Toph's face at Ursa's statement and noted her chewing on her lip lightly. Something told him that the Beifong side of this wasn't quite so voluntary as his mother was making it out to be.

"The night is rather young, Zuko... perhaps you and Toph should go find a place to get some dinner." Ursa suggested.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:39 pm

Even her voice was sweet, much like her delicate appearance. What the Northern Water Tribe wouldn’t have given to have a woman like this born amongst their ranks. Then again, she was rather pale, and darker skin was considered more beautiful in the Water Tribes than the fair ideals in the Earth Kingdom. Katara had been considered beautiful in the South, but her independent and headstrong personality had soured any sort of beauty the Northerners would have felt toward her. Now, it seemed like her personality had soured any other potential she may have had with anyone else – other than Jet who, frankly, was not a desirable mate for her.

Katara almost scoffed when the Fire Lady announced that she didn’t want this betrothal to end in a “forced marriage,” but she kept the sound from erupting from her throat. In the North Pole, that phrase was frequently given, but it was just a phrase. In reality, if a person didn’t marry their arranged betrothed, they brought shame to their family. No one married for love up there unless they were lucky enough to be set up with the person courting them. Zuko and Lady Beifong really didn’t have a choice as far as the waterbender could see.

Still, this was bothering her more and more by the second. Katara didn’t feel a grudge toward Toph Beifong though she was admittedly jealous and saddened by this turn of events. The girl was being sold into this arranged marriage just as much as the Commander was. However, the fact that she was blind was disconcerting. It wasn’t that her disability would make her a bad wife, but the implications of it were too terrible to ignore. How could a loving mother think – of all of the women in the world – that a blind woman would be the only feasible choice for a son with a scarred face? Furthermore, this woman didn’t even know who Zuko truly was: a firebender, born and raised in the Fire Nation, formerly the heir to that nation’s throne. Even his name was kept a secret from Lady Beifong. How was that fair to either of them? How could a marriage – even an arranged one – be successful if it was built on lies? Wouldn’t the Beifongs feel cheated if the truth ever came to light?

Katara didn’t think Zuko’s past reflected poorly on him, but she knew that if she’d been sold into marriage with a man and discovered he wasn’t who the waterbender was told he was, that she would be furious despite whomever he’d proven himself to be. She would never be able to trust her own husband, and simply trying to be a good wife would become a strenuous chore.

She found she liked Zuko’s mother less and less with every word that passed from her mouth. Initially, she had figured that the woman was only out to protect her son, to give him a good life, but how could an arranged marriage set up like this be any good for him? Wouldn’t he be stressed, trying to keep his secrets for the rest of his life? At the very least, if she’d arranged a marriage for him, it should have been with someone who would love and accept him for all that he was.

The night is rather young, Zuko... perhaps you and Toph should go find a place to get some dinner…

Katara’s jaw clenched. She needed to ignore that this was all happening. What kind of family announced a betrothal in front of everyone anyway? In the North, at least they had the decorum do so privately. Why was there need for an audience? She understood the Fire Lady’s motivation in having Katara in the vicinity, where she could be hurt by it while simultaneously having it drilled into her head that there was no hope for anything between her and Zuko, but this must be terrible for Zuko, to have his followers witness this.

“Thank you, Lady Daiyu and Lord Gin.” Toph Beifong said sweetly as she bowed to each in turn.

She could hear Zuko’s uncle chuckle merrily. “No need to call me ‘Lord.’ We will be family soon enough. You can just call me Gin.” Katara bowed her head lower. We will be family soon enough… Why did was this happening to her again? Why was it that any time she had even the smallest interest in someone, they ended up with someone else, in an arranged marriage? Why couldn’t Katara, for once, be the ideal as she was?

In the Southern Tribe, she would have been. After all, she’d been the daughter of a Chief, the great-granddaughter of the Avatar, and a skilled fighter and healer. She’d had four waterbending masters teach her what they knew, whether it be fighting or healing or both, and she had become one of the more powerful Waterbending Masters in the world with her ability to incorporate several different styles at once and flow with the water she was commanding. Even in her sparring with Zuko, she’d seen the respect in his eyes while they fought, and if it had been night with a full moon, she could have legitimately beaten him in that match without bloodbending or feminine wiles. As it was, Zuko was an excellent firebender, and the sun had been up; everyone knew that firebenders drew strength from the sun while waterbenders drew it from the moon. Still, the match had been extremely close, and in the South, that would have been worthy of respect. In the North, it was just another display of Katara’s not staying in her place where she belonged.

It didn’t really matter, though. Katara refused to be in an arranged marriage no matter what the consequences. She’d rather be alone for the rest of her life than give up her freedom to choose her own husband, to know that her husband also chose her without any coercion or outside influence. Some would call her stubborn, but having the freedom to choose her own paths was extremely important to her.

Much to Katara’s relief, Zuko’s mother and uncle took their leave of the seven at that time, offering their apologies for the departure, but they apparently had things they needed to do. Before he left, Zuko’s uncle handed him a coin purse. In a way, their leaving it was a little frustrating. Katara had come here to talk to Zuko’s uncle, to ask if there was anything that could be done to see the Earth King sooner than expected. Maybe Zuko had already discussed it with him? She’d need to talk to the Commander directly then, but when would she have time with his new… responsibilities?

She felt a hand grasp her wrist and pull her forward, causing her hat to shift and fall so she had to catch it. Jet was tugging her toward Zuko and Toph. “Maybe we could join you two for dinner, sort of like a double date.” Katara’s eyes widened and her head jerked up to look at his face. Jet seemed totally relaxed, but his trademark smirk had appeared on his face. A double date? Was he serious? Was Jet purposely trying to screw with her? She didn’t want to go on a date with Jet, especially not when she would have to be there, seeing that Zuko was on a date with his fiancé.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. They won’t want us encroaching on their first date, Jet.” Katara said, her eyes passing from Zuko to Toph with an awkward smile though the latter wouldn’t see it.

“Nonsense!” He exclaimed. “What kind of people would we be if we, as Ryu’s friends, didn’t welcome his beautiful, future bride as one of our own?”

That was the problem. From the look on Zuko’s face, he didn’t want them there any more than she wanted to be there. She and Jet weren’t his friends. He’d ignored Katara most of the way to Ba Sing Se, and he and Jet hardly seemed to get along at all.

“I think that sounds like a great idea,” Toph said softly with a small smile, “if it’s okay with Ryu, that is.”

Katara’s heart was hammering in her chest. She didn’t want this at all. Her eyes moved toward Zuko’s face, trying to beg him with her thoughts to deny the request. He was a commander; he could order Jet to stand down, right? But all he did was nod his assent, and Katara wished she could just sink into the floor and disappear forever. How could she decline going now that Toph had expressed interest in her appearance? She would look like she was spurning the young woman, and it would just be completely rude.

The waterbender removed the pack from her back, setting it on the floor against the wall, and she placed the hat next to it. Katara smoothed out the green robes she continued to wear. It was better for her to wear Earth Kingdom garb than to give herself away with her Water Tribe clothing. As such, she also reluctantly removed her water skins and set them by her pack. She didn’t want to be without water if the men watching them attacked, but there would likely be some form of it if they were going to eat at a restaurant.

Having never been to Ba Sing Se, Jet and Katara walked behind Zuko and Toph – the latter couple walking arm in arm – who led the way to whatever restaurant they chose. The Tribeswoman wished she still had her hat so she could hide her face from view, but it would be rude to wear her hat on a date… Yes. This was a date. She was on a date with Jet who walked quietly beside her, watching the two ahead of them as they walked.

Maybe she’d misjudged him. He didn’t look quite as pompous right now as he usually did. Maybe he just saw this as an opportunity to go on a date with Katara, and he’d thought that she’d be more comfortable with another couple? Maybe he didn’t realize that by choosing Zuko and his betrothed, he was actually just hurting her.

What could it hurt to just give him a chance? He’d been changing over the past week, and he seemed less inclined to just try possessing her for her power. He actually seemed to care about more than just her bloodbending lately; in fact, he hadn’t even mentioned anything about waterbending for a long time. He didn’t look anything like Zuko. Jet was taller and slimmer, but he wasn’t unattractive, either.

Jet's a complete asshole, and pretty much sees women as a notch on his belt…

Lu Ten’s words echoed in her mind ominously. Was Jet good enough to really fool her, or could he actually change under the right circumstances? Didn’t men who felt like women should just be used and tossed aside not care for challenges? Even though she’d spurned all of his advances so far, he kept coming at her. Wouldn’t someone who was only interested in sex not bother with someone who was clearly not going to just give it up?
She decided it was better to just wait and decide. Maybe this date would reveal something that would tip the scales to one side or the other, and she could decide then?

Toph was the one who suggested the restaurant, leading Katara to believe that she’d been to Ba Sing Se in the past. She watched the frail looking girl as she walked ahead, noticing that there was a strange confidence in her step. Did she already trust Zuko so much to guide her properly that she believed he couldn’t even accidentally lead her astray or cause her to trip? Katara remembered the way it had felt to touch Zuko, the strength in his limbs and in his body. Would she inherently trust him, too, in Toph’s position? Maybe this was just where their paths led, and Toph and Zuko would be a great couple with a great marriage and beautiful children for whom to care.

Katara looked away from the couple, watching the cobbled ground as it passed beneath her feet. The restaurant wasn’t far from the Jasmine Dragon, merely a few blocks, and the building came into view. It was a larger building and well lit. Others were moving along the streets, passing into and out of the place.

The doors were opened for them by men in nicely pressed uniform robes, and they bowed as the four passed through the doors. It was beautifully decorated inside the restaurant with various shades of greens and white. There were several people eating at tables and talking and laughing, but they all had an air of regality and high society about them. “Welcome to the Jade Garden.” A polite hostess bowed to them as she spoke. “Do you have a reservation?”

“We did have a reservation for two under Toph Beifong, but we would now like to have a table for four.” Toph said sweetly to the woman. She frowned just a little and looked over her list of names before her smile returned.

“Ah, Lady Beifong. It is a pleasure to host you and your party at our lovely restaurant. If you will come right this way...” The hostess beckoned for them to follow, and they did. Katara felt extremely out of place here. The women were all so elegant, and she was never raised to know the proper etiquette in other cultures because she’d never had any intention of leaving the South Pole. She wished she’d asked her great grandmother what the culture of the Earth Kingdom was like when she’d had the chance.

When they reached their table, Zuko pulled the chair out for Toph, Jet taking his cue and doing the same for Katara. She’d never had anyone do that for her in the past, and it was a strange custom she wasn’t used to following, but she went with it. Strangely, Jet had chosen to pull out the seat that was not across from Toph, choosing that seat instead for himself while Zuko sat across from Katara.

The hostess handed them all menus, hesitating when she started to give one to Toph, noting her blindness. “If you would like, I can list the menu items for you.” She said, but Lady Beifong declined, announcing she knew what she wanted. “Ah, I see. Very good. Your server will be Xiu, and he will be here shortly.”

Katara hid her face in her menu. Everything was so expensive. She would have to pay back every coin to feel okay about this. Her eyes perused the options, trying to find something that sounded even a little familiar that wasn’t as horrendously overpriced as the rest, but she was having a lot of trouble with it. Seafood was the majority of what she’d eaten in the Water Tribes, but in Ba Sing Se, those items were the most expensive due to the larger amount of difficulty in acquiring such things, no doubt.

The server came to call on them. “Can I start you four with any beverages?” He wrote down the orders onto a pad of paper, three teas and a water, the final thing having been ordered by the self-conscious and expense-minded Katara. He left them to look at their menus some more.

“So, Lady Beifong, have you been to Ba Sing Se before?” Jet asked her, his eyes studying her over his menu.

“Yes. My parents have brought me here on many occasions, but this is the first time I’ve come without them. Is this your first time in the city?” Toph responded cordially.

“Yep.” He patted the waterbender’s shoulder, and she had to force herself to not recoil at the touch. “This is Katara’s first time, too.”

“Oh? How do you like it so far?” Toph asked.

She pulled her menu down and looked at the younger woman. “It’s a lot different from where I live.” Katara said simply, not wanting to alienate the girl, but also not wanting to say anything adverse about the city in case they were still being watched or in case someone overheard.

“I bet.” Toph said. Her voice hadn’t sounded haughty at all, but Katara could have sworn that was meant to be an insult. Katara, just calm down. You’re just a little touchy because of everything underhanded that’s already happened today. This girl is sweet, and she wouldn’t insult you for no reason… She thought to herself, forcing herself to look through the menu options though her eyes could hardly read the characters. Her gaze moved up, toward Zuko, but he was looking at his own menu, so she did the same once more.

“Where are you from, Toph?” Jet asked, using her given name this time.

“I am from Gaoling. I’ve lived there all my life.” Toph responded.

“I went there once. It was a nice place. I went to see one of their Earth Rumbles. It was pretty great.” Jet replied. Was it just Katara’s imagination, or had his words caused Toph to tense? “I loved seeing the Boulder take down all of those other guys. He really knows his stuff.”

“I wouldn’t know. I was never allowed near that part of the city.” It must have been her imagination. The girl seemed perfectly at ease now, at least, as at ease as one could be amongst a trio of strangers.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:59 am

Normally Zuko glanced every now and again at the Water Bender, but now he was a million miles away from her. He kept looking to his mother and Iroh, expecting that this was some sort of joke, that they would just come up and tell him this was their revenge on him for not sending enough messages through the networks to them, not writing them enough letters. But he could see it there on his uncle's face, a look of guilt that spoke of Iroh preferring to have done all of this differently. And his mother wasn't looking at him, she was looking at Katara. Suddenly it all became too clear what it was that the two of them had been talking about, and why his mother had been so icy. She hadn't wanted the water bender to screw things up for him and Toph. It all made sense now. By the looks of her servants the girl clearly came from money. Setting this up had probably taken quite a bit of time... glancing to his Uncle he knew what it was that it signified as well. His mother wasn't wanting him to die on the battle field, to fight an endless battle that might never have an end.

Zuko blinked a little as he realized that, for the first time, he hadn't actually thought about Toph touching his scar. Immediately though he felt ashamed, simply because she was blind. Of course she had needed to touch it in order to see his face. But, as someone who had been treated differently because of that scar, he couldn't even imagine what it would be like to not be able to see. How often was it that people simply treated her like she wasn't in the room, knowing that she couldn't see them? How often did they just brush her aside and treat her like just a thing? She wouldn't see him studying her eyes, but he did, not to verify that she was blind, but instead to see if he could see anything in there to show some sign of emotion. He was decent at detecting lies in a normal person, but her eyes didn't give away the same tells that other people did. Would she even have the same facial ticks as someone else who had grown up seeing others lie and mimicked them might have? How was he ever going to tell if this was really what she wanted?

Zuko's golden eyes lifted to his mother there, and he could see the frown on her face. Probably regretting her choice not to talk with him first about this. He was angry with her for it, but at the same time, he wondered if something about her talk with Katara had been a catalyst for it. The Fire Nation people were often considered by outsiders needlessly rash and prideful. In the worst of people it lead to doing shameful things just to save face. In the best of them it sometimes lead to hot-headedness that would often leave them regretting the move that they had just made. Zuko had done it plenty of times himself in the past... could he really blame his mother for being the same way. They would, of course, need to talk. Zuko wondered what she would tell him when he asked about Tophs blindness. Was it all part of the design, so that she would never have to see his scar? Or was it more practical than that? Someone who would never recognize that face on wanted posters? Never catch him fire bending and wonder where it was that he had been trained. Someone who would never have to know... him.

At his mother's suggestion, the Fire Bender bowed his head lightly in acceptance of it. She was right of course, despite the fact that he had questions that demanded answers, there was a beautiful girl in front of him, who for all intents and purposes was acting nearly like a blushing bride. He could be a pompous ass and storm out right now... in fact, it ashamed him to admit that 4 years ago he might have done just that, thinking only about himself. As he looked back at his team though he reflected that he had changed over the past years. He learned that there was more to the world than just from his own viewpoint. Zuko thought he glanced a look of relief in his uncle's eyes at his complacency, which dissolved into a wide grin and a nod of approval. Four years ago Zuko might have thought it was just about his willingness to go with the flow, but now he recognized it for what it was, a nod to how much he had grown.

Zuko took his uncle's coin purse graciously, blinking at how heavy it was. He noted that the older man tossed him a wink at that. Clearly his uncle's profits weren't ALL going towards the resistance. Not that they could, but still, if he could afford to throw this kind of gold around, then-

And suddenly then it hit him. The Beifongs clearly came from money, and they would have had to realize his Uncle's financial situation before they'd ever agree to something like this. Clearly his uncle had been doing far better than even Zuko expected. In many ways he was envious of his uncle, knowing that all of this had been a life long dream of his. All Zuko had ever dreamed about growing up was leading the Fire Nation. His dreams would never come true, but it was good to see that Iroh's had, at least. It was bittersweet though, Zuko knew eventually, if it came to it, his uncle would fight. The fact that he was still in such good shape was a testament to the fact that he was prepared for it if the words happened. Zuko hoped that it... didn't come to that.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked Toph softly, who was looking at him with an odd expression as if it was a question that she had not been prepared for. Zuko chewed on the inside of his cheek lightly, realizing that he was probably already off to a rocky start. "I'm sorry, I've been away from Ba Sing Se for a long time, and I have no idea where the better places to eat are around here. That probably seems-"

Toph touched his hand lightly where no one else could see it to silence him. "It seems nice. It's just a question I'm not used to being asked, is all..." Toph said softly, a gentle frown touching her features that made Zuko frown in turn, and he had wanted to ask her more about it when suddenly he saw Jet grabbing Katara, pulling her up towards Zuko and his fiance, the stupid grin on his face practically begging to be kicked out. Zuko made sure to steel himself against whatever it was the jackass was going to say at this point, and it would probably be something stupid. Nothing of course, could have prepared the former Fire Nation Prince for what it was that actually came out of Jet's mouth.

Zuko's golden eyes flashed to Katara at that point, trying to read what it was that she wanted. She looked mortified of course, and he could understand why. The last thing you wanted to do was go out with someone that you had kissed before when you were with someone else now. Jet had made his point about wanting his own shot with Katara, so why was he intent on bringing her along? Was he rubbing this in Zuko's face, or rubbing Zuko's engagement in Kataras. Either way Zuko was about to open his mouth to object when Toph said it was a great idea, and he paused lightly, then calmly nodded at her. It made sense, of course, to have others around. Maybe she was just as nervous about being around him one on one.

"Let me take a minute to get ready, Toph..." Zuko said softly, and went in to one of the back rooms, noting that clothes had been left out for him along with a cloth on the edge of a wash basin. He took a quick minute to wet his skin and wipe off the dust from traveling and to get in finer clothes. Zuko blinked as he realized that the robes made him look rather regal, like he too, was part of the merchant upper class of Ba Sing Se. He came out a moment later, noting that people were looking at him differently, and he frowned slightly, looking towards Toph for some perhaps smile of encouragement when he realized once again that to her it probably didn't matter at all.

Clearing his throat a little he tried to announce himself as being close to Toph. Odd that she didn't seem the slightest bit startled by it, but he probably made sound that she heard, that had to be it. Zuko was a little surprised when she had a restaurant on the tip of her tongue when asked about one. He had assumed that she hadn't been here before. Even more surprising was that she was able to describe instructions on how to get there. He wondered if she just had memorized the way, or had someone explain it to her before. With the night a little cool he felt Toph lean against him, and strangely let her hands wander up across his bicep. When she felt the strong muscle there, Zuko thought he caught the faintest glimpse of a smile on her face.

As the hostesses at the Jade Garden started to bug them about a reservation Zuko opened his mouth to say something, but Toph beat him to it. When she mentioned the name Beifong, he saw the woman's eyes widen slightly. Apparently they had heard of the Beifong family here. Would his wedding to Toph be a big thing? Something that a ton of people would be at? Would something like that even be safe?

Walking in, Zuko realized that he would need to be on better manners here than he usually happened to be. It was strange how used to being amongst a bunch of rebels could just relax you, but one staunchy waiter could somehow bring back all of those years of being forced to sit upright and proper, take a napkin and put it in your lap, wait for the server to serve you, etc. The waiter seemed just fine with Zuko and Toph, but he could see the look of dissatisfaction when he made his way over to Jet and Katara. This, of course, was a little unusual. Usually the creme de la creme of the Earth Kingdom didn't mingle with people who looked as if they were... well, just average people.

Jet and Toph seemed a lot more comfortable carrying the conversation, leaving Katara and Zuko to silence, though Zuko thought that he could catch Toph tensing slightly as Jet mentioned Earth Rumble. He wasn't sure what it was about, but then, everyone had their secrets. Zuko put a hand on her arm lightly, trying to be reassuring to her as he looked at Jet, wondering what sort of faux pas he could come up with. Jet instead seemed to be more to be thinking about the rumble than the conversation at that point.

"Yeah, there was this one little brat there that just wiped the floor with them all. I don't remember his name though... he was kind of a snot tho-" Without warning Jet suddenly seemed to lose his balance and fell over backwards, Zuko gripping the table to make sure he didn't take it with him as he landed on his butt, having tipped over his chair. How the hell he managed that, though, was beyond Zuko's guess. He thought he caught the faintest tug at the corner of Toph's mouth as Jet fell over as well... weird.

"How about you, Ryu? Where did you grow up?" Toph asked as Jet pulled himself up from the ground.

"I... kinda grew up all over. But... Omashu mainly." Zuko said, lying pretty flawlessly.

"Omashu! The tunnels there are amazing!" Toph exclaimed. "Did you get to meet King Bumi?"

"A couple of times, though he was more of an acquaintance of my uncle's..." Zuko said softly. That in fact, was not a lie, though there wasn't much of a difference in it. Either way he already was feeling more than a bit dishonest with the Beifong girl. Was this what relationships were really supposed to be like? All lies and hiding your real self from the other person?

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:31 pm

Katara wished that Zuko hadn’t left to change. After all, the only clothing she and Jet had was the robes on their backs from Zuko’s uncle and their original clothing which was better suited to battle than to a date. However, Toph looked so beautiful and well dressed that it would have been strange if her date hadn’t been equally well groomed. When he returned, though, she couldn’t help but to admire how good he looked in these new robes, but he had eyes only for Toph, and even knowing it was as it should be, the waterbender clenched her jaw.

This was a good thing, really. It had to be. Ursa had just been trying to impart some wisdom on the waterbender, that she was beneath the Fire Lady’s son, that she would never been good enough for him. Now that Jet was dragging her along on this double date, it just reiterated the point. Zuko and Toph made a beautiful couple in their expensive robes and well groomed appearances. Katara and Jet were still just… peasants, lower class. Why had he invited himself along on this date and dragged her with him?

The waterbender hated seeing the way that Toph leaned against Zuko, the way their arms were linked, but there was nothing she could do. Zuko didn’t belong to her, and he didn’t want anything romantic with her anyway. Besides, he was betrothed. Even if he wanted to be with Katara, nothing could ever come of it. The Fire Lady had made herself very clear when she’d warned Katara not to do anything that would ruin things for her son.

Then they were in the restaurant, and every time Zuko touched Toph, it sent a pang through her abdomen. However, she was distracted from this when Jet suddenly flew backwards onto the floor. Katara’s eyes widened, and she realized that the conversation in the restaurant had ceased, and all eyes were on them. The waterbender quickly left her seat, looking over Jet’s form to make sure he wasn’t hurt. “Are you okay?” She asked quickly.

“I’m fine.” Jet grumbled.

“Try to draw some more attention to us, will you?” Katara hissed sarcastically, hoping that Toph wouldn’t hear. The girl didn’t know that they were trying to stay out of sight of whoever was spying on them, and there was no reason why the girl should become involved in their problems, especially when Katara couldn’t be sure how big they really were.

“I didn’t do it on purpose.” Jet growled softly. “I think the chair broke or something.” He righted his seat and looked at it, but there wasn’t a crack on it. The waterbender frowned as her gaze passed over the unharmed chair. How had that even happened?

“Sir, are you all right?” A hostess came over to their table, inquiring about his well being. Jet smiled. “Yep. I’m just fine. Just took a little spill. No harm done.” She nodded and left them. Katara and Jet resumed their seats.

The waterbender’s eyes moved to Zuko’s face as he lied so effortlessly to his fiancé about where he’d grown up. Toph seemed excited about it, but from the look in Zuko’s eyes, he wasn’t happy about it. How could anyone be happy if they had to lie to someone about their life? Katara wouldn’t be able to do it. How long could he keep it up? Would he be able to do it for the rest of their lives? No one should have to maintain a lie for so long, and she couldn’t help but to feel that Zuko’s mother had wronged him badly by arranging this marriage.

The server came and delivered their beverages, and they all announced their orders. Katara decided to go with the almond ginger hog-chicken on a bed of wild rice. It was one of the least expensive menu items. Jet ordered the lobster-clam, easily one of the most expensive items.

While they waited for their food, Jet maintained his easy conversation with Zuko’s betrothed, frequently reaching over to touch Katara possessively while making it seem like a very passive gesture. She found ways to avoid his touch lingering too long by moving her hand to reach for a glass of water or other such seemingly innocent gestures, but she realized that many times when he would touch her shoulder or her hand, he would glance quickly at Zuko, as if making sure that the Commander was paying attention.

For what it was worth, Jet really tried to get Katara involved in his conversation with Toph though he seemed to not care so much about what pieces Zuko had to offer. However, Katara just didn’t want to be there. The only things she wanted to discuss were the plans for how they were going to get an audience with the Earth King in enough time to save her people. There was no telling when Admiral Zhao would attack, and the waterbender had no idea if her brother and Zuko’s cousin had succeeded in taking him out. She didn’t even know if he was still safe and alive by this time. It had been a week, and she hadn’t heard anything. She wanted to ask if there was a way to communicate with them, to learn what may have happened. The more time that passed, the more worried she became that her brother was hurt or dead and that she would never get the chance to save the rest of her people from the Fire Navy. She couldn’t talk about any of that, not here, not in public, and not in front of Zuko’s new fiancé.

Her eyes passed toward him every now and again, studying his face when he wasn’t looking at her, trying to judge how he felt about the entire situation. If his eyes moved toward her, she looked away, not wanting to be caught staring. At one point, Jet having seen her gazing at Zuko reached under the table cloth to squeeze her knee. Her gaze moved to his face, and he looked… conflicted, as if he was angry, but he was trying so hard not to show it, or maybe he was trying not to look hurt?

Their food arrived while the others were conversing, and she was grateful. It gave her a chance to keep herself busy so as not to stand out as being overly quiet. She gently moved her leg so Jet’s hand would slip off her knee, and he didn’t resist. Instead, he began to dig into his food. Katara looked down at her plate, and she suddenly realized something that gave her pause. Why were there so many eating utensils? She’d been so caught up in her own thoughts and misery and trying to dodge Jet’s flirtations – though that wasn’t quite as hard considering he seemed to be just fine flirting with Toph – that she hadn’t noticed the eating utensils of various shapes and sizes.

What fork was used for what food? Clearly, there was a method to this, and her eyes flickered toward Toph and Zuko who seemed perfectly at ease. Even Jet was happy to not care about what fork or spoon he used and just dig right in, regardless of etiquette. Why couldn’t there just be a pair of chopsticks? That would make things so much easier. She should have ordered what Zuko or Toph had ordered, and she could have just copied them, but she hadn’t, and now she was suffering for it.

Katara took a deep breath. She could do this. If she could master waterbending, she could master table manners, right? Of course, the difference was that she’d had four masters teaching her what she’d learned, and she had no one directing her in this endeavor. It was one thing to ask someone to teach you how to fight, but the gap between classes was already so large that she didn’t want to draw any more attention to the fact that she was a peasant.

Her hand hovered over the forks for a minute, uncertain about which one to choose, but she eventually chose one that looked like it could be the proper size. Her cheeks were scarlet, not knowing if this was even the right one, but she lifted a knife and dug slowly into her meal. She glanced at Toph every now and again to observe her own eating behavior, and she mimicked it to some extent though she refrained from copying every movement, afraid that it would be obvious that she was trying to learn table manners that the higher classes would already know.

Katara found she really wasn’t very hungry any more. She was too embarrassed and too upset about the entire day to really want to eat her food, no matter how deliciously it had been prepared. Jet didn’t seem bothered at all, cracking into his meal and scarfing it down with delight. Still, the waterbender forced herself to eat every bite, not wanting to seem rude when this wasn’t even being paid for by her tonight though she was intent on paying it back, somehow…

“Katara, are you okay? You seem distracted.” Jet said softly, catching her off guard with the genuine caring in his voice.

“I guess I’m just tired. It’s been a long day. Actually, I think I should probably go. It was wonderful to meet you, Toph.” Her eyes turned toward Zuko. “Thanks for allowing us to come with you. I’ll pay you back for the meal.” The waterbender wiped her lips with her napkin and stood, Jet doing the same.

“I’ll come with you and leave these two to rest of their date.” He placed an arm around her shoulder as they walked away, causing Katara to tense, but he didn’t remove it this time, only clutching her tighter when she tried to move away, so she just gave up until they were away from the restaurant. Then, she pulled herself away hard enough that he had to relent.

“What’s your problem, Katara?” Jet asked.

“Why did you drag me along on this date?” She confronted him.

“I didn’t. You agreed to come.”

“Only after you insisted so much that Toph showed interest in it. I didn’t want to make her think I couldn’t accept her by not going along with it at that point.”

“Oh, I’m sure it had nothing to do with being near Ryu.” Jet spat the cover name.

“No, it didn’t. You really think I wanted to be on a date where I have to watch him be with someone else!” As soon as the words left her mouth, Katara wanted to catch them and stuff them back inside her where they could never be heard, never discovered by anyone other than her.

Jet’s face darkened, and he grabbed her wrist, dragging her into a deserted alley. “He’s marrying someone else, and you’re still pining over him?” He hissed at her.

“No, I… When have I been pining over him?”

“Ever since he rejected you the morning after you went into his tent. I’ve seen you looking at him every time you think no one else is noticing you. Every day, it’s the same. From the look on your face when you came back after your talk with his mother, I’m sure she likes the idea of your being with him just as little as everyone else. You need to get over him, Katara. He’s not an option any more.

That’s why I brought you. You obviously didn’t get it from whatever talk you had with Lady Daiyu, so I knew I had to show you, up close and personal, that there’s no chance with him since his rejecting you didn’t get through your head. He’s above us! She’s on his level, and she’s just his type: pale and thin with straight, black hair. You’re not his type like Toph is and like Mai was.” Jet’s anger was beginning to overwhelm him now, and she could see the fury in his eyes.

“Shut up. I get it, okay!” Katara yelled t him.

“No, you really don’t. Even during dinner, you kept looking at him. If Toph could see anything, she would have been glaring at you the whole time with the way you were mooning over him. They’re going to get married. They belong together, and even if they didn’t, they would go through with it anyway because that’s what high society people do when they’re told to marry.

“You and I are lower class, but we’re also free from that sort of bullshit. We can choose whoever we want to marry as long as they’re on our own level. We can be with whomever we want. Don’t you see, Katara? There’s no hope for you and Ryu, but there is hope for us. We could be together.” His voice was softening a little as he began to get to his point, and his fingers moved over the side of her face, brushing loose strands of hair away from her cheeks. She trembled under his touch. How could someone whose words had been so cruel have such a gentle touch? He leaned forward, his fingers still touching her face so gently as his eyes began to close. Maybe he was right and she just needed to let go…

As his lips came closer, she realized she just… couldn’t, and she turned her head so his lips only graced her cheek. Her eyes squeezed shut as she felt tears welling in them, but she would not let them fall. “It’s okay, Katara. Just let it go.” His voice was so soft as it smoothed over her. “Just let it go.” He turned her face toward him and leaned into her again, his body pressing her against the wall of the building behind her, and his lips met hers. His thumb caressed her throat as he kissed her, his lips becoming hungrier, more passionate against hers, more demanding. At first, her lips reciprocated, and she desperately wanted feel what she’d felt before… with Zuko… but it just wasn’t the same. While Jet clearly knew what he was doing, and while it felt nice, it just… didn’t incite the same feelings in her that she’d had before.

Katara pushed him away. “I’m sorry, Jet. I just can’t.” The past week, he’d been really nice to her, but after what he’d done tonight, she knew he wasn’t the right person for her, would probably never be right for her. “As my friend, I care about you, but it doesn’t go beyond that.”

“In other words, I’m just not him.” Jet said bitterly, but Katara didn’t respond to his words. She started to walk past her, but he gripped her arm. “I’m not going to wait for you forever.”

“I hope you don’t.” Katara said softly and tugged herself away from him to leave the alley. He didn’t follow her right away, and she found herself looking toward the restaurant as she walked. Just as she was turning her head away to go back to the tea shop, she saw someone sneaking around the side of the Jade Garden, someone very familiar.

Katara’s eyes narrowed, and she began walking toward the restaurant. “Where are you going?” Jet asked her, catching up behind her.

“I think I just saw Shen sneaking around. I want to know what he’s up to.” Katara replied, continuing forward. Jet followed her, and they carefully and quietly snuck around the side of the building.

“Yeah… I saw them kiss, but Katara rejected him. She must be some kind of man-eater.” Shen was whispering to two others, Gui and Ping, while all three of them looked through one of the windows. She could feel Jet fuming next to her.

Katara’s eyebrow twitched, and she put her hands on her hips. “So I’m a man eater, now?” She growled.

All three of them jumped in surprise, and Shen looked at her sheepishly. Gui still looked just as guilty as he had earlier that evening when Katara had spoken with Zuko’s mother. Ping even had the decency to look a little ashamed of himself.

“And are you guys spying on Toph and Zu- Ryu? How long have you guys been there?” Katara was pissed. Had they been there from the beginning? Had Shen been the only one to leave the others to find out what happened between Katara and Jet to report back to the others?

“Um… We’ve sort of been here since… we followed all four of you…” Gui looked sheepishly at the ground at his feet.

“What is wrong with you guys? You can’t just spy on people! We’re supposed to be your friends, and he’s our Commander! Do you have no respect for us or for him at all?” Katara chastised them.

“Well, if we hadn’t been watching, we never would have learned some important things!” Shen defended them.

“Like what? That I’m a ‘man-eater’?”

“No. Like Toph is an earthbender. You guys couldn’t see it because of how you were seated, but the table cloth doesn’t reach the floor. I saw her use earthbending to knock over Jet’s chair.” Gui confessed.

“Wait, what?” Jet paused. “Why would she knock over my chair like that? She seemed to really like me.”

“Perhaps she wasn’t as happy with you as you suspected?” Ping offered, wounding Jet’s ego more than he’d already suffered tonight.

“What did I say that she didn’t like?” Jet asked.

The three just shrugged, but none of them had an answer for him. Katara looked from Jet to the others to the window. If she could earthbend, and she’d purposely used it against Jet, what else was she hiding? Was she a threat to Zuko? Technically, she could consider Zuko a threat to her as well if she ever learned the truth. Everyone had their secrets, but she found herself worrying about the Commander’s well being. What if Toph knew who he was, and she was involved in a conspiracy against him despite all of the good he was doing? It was doubtful that his mother and uncle would have known about her if they had the two become betrothed.

Katara approached the window and looked through it. They were far enough away to be discreet, but they were near enough that they could make out what the couple was saying, even above the din of the restaurant. If their eyes flickered to the window, all the group had to do was duck their heads down to remain unseen, and they could still hear what was going on. Jet joined the others, still upset about the night’s turn of events.

“Not so high and mighty now, are you?” Shen teased her, but his grin faded when she shot him a death glare.

“No, I guess not, but if she’s hiding things from him, she could be a threat, and I don’t want him to get hurt.” Katara growled, peering through the window at the new couple.

Last edited by Kathryn Lacey on Sun Jun 24, 2012 2:52 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sun Jun 24, 2012 12:48 am

Zuko couldn't believe that the date was going on. He could see Katara looking at him every now and again, but whatever it was that happened to be there was hidden behind a mask. He wanted to tell her that it was alright, that she didn't have to worry about any hard feelings between the two of them. The heart wanted what it wanted, Zuko had been around long enough to know that much at least. But when he looked at Toph, he didn't know. Was this what his heart wanted above all other things? Could such a decision even be made so rashly? What sort of time line did he really have though, to tell her one way or another that she was the one that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He knew what his mother was hoping for, but he didn't know that she would get it right away. He knew one thing though, if he was going to reject Toph Beifong, he needed a damned good reason for it. Uncertainty wasn't going to cut it for an excuse with his mother, that much Zuko was absolutely sure of.

When the menu came, Zuko ordered the Fire Turkey Chicken, while Toph ordered something milder. "Are you sure you want it that hot? The spices are pretty intense. I've seen some of the most boastful guys wind up crying about it later on..." Toph said with a sly smirk.

"I... think I'll be alright." Zuko said lightly. He wondered what Toph would think of the fact that he easily downed fire flakes without so much as batting an eyelash. She'd probably ask what they were, of course, which would be too close to the truth, given that they were a snack that was almost exclusively consumed within the Fire Nation. They were actually really tasty too, one of the few things that Zuko actually missed about the Fire Nation. Unfortunately, the recipes for good Fire Flakes were one of those jealously guarded secrets amongst chefs of the Fire Nation, and despite having asked several times and several people, Zuko had yet to find someone who could make decent Fire Flakes outside of his home country. He could already tell that what it was he was going to be eating probably would be flavorful, but not nearly hot enough.

When they brought it out, Zuko was surprised at his first bite. It was actually surprisingly good. Of course, as he chewed on it the flavor really struck him, as did the fact that anyone who happened to be from the Earth Kingdom who was eating this would either need to be a hot food fanatic or have eaten similarly spicy things before. Zuko sucked in a breath of air as if it was spicier than he had expected, even though by Fire Nation standards the food was actually quite mild. "Whew!" Zuko exclaimed rather naturally, and smiled as Toph gave him a 'told you so' and a bright smile to go along with it. There was something honest in that smile, something indescribable, and yet at the same time... sweet. But it was tenuous. He could see the difference between the real one and the one that she put on for the sake of society...He wanted to ask her about it, but this wasn't the time or the place.

As he ate his meal he watched Katara struggle a little with hers, trying to figure out which one was the right fork. He noticed that a waiter looked at her strangely as she did it, probably wondering if this was some sort of clever ploy to try to steal some of their dining wares. Zuko wished he could have helped her with her silverware, though as time went on he saw more and more behind her mask to the point where he was sure that she wasn't enjoying this particular evening. He didn't know why it was that she came then, she could have told Jet no. Perhaps she liked the idea of showing him that she wasn't interested in him, but this wasn't turning out quite the way that she had imagined it would. Every now and again he watched as Katara would get touched by Jet, and, unless he was misreading her body language, didn't seem so happy about it. Maybe it was just awkward in front of him.

Jet on the other hand, he was sure wanted him to know, from the way that he looked at him. Zuko would stare back without any malice in his gaze. As much as he hated to admit it, Jet had really had a point. Katara wasn't his, she was her own person, free to do what it was that she wanted. And Jet deserved a shot at her, if that's what the two of them wanted. He couldn't deny that they had been fast friends the past few days. From the outside it seemed like the blossoming of a relationship, slowly getting more tense until there would be a kiss that might change everything about it... Zuko blinked at that and raised a napkin to his lips to wipe them, remembering the touch of Katara's there... yeah, it would need to be a kiss like that... only one that would mean something.

Zuko blinked a little a moment later as Katara left, leaving him and Toph alone. "Well, that was... sorry about my friends, they're a little... unique at times." Zuko said faintly. "They probably were just worried that they weren't giving us enough time to get to know one another." He offered, trying to soften the abruptness of Katara's leaving, and smiled a little as Toph laughed.

"Ah... good, they're gone..." The waiter mumbled to himself as he began to take their dishes away.

Zuko blinked a little. "What's that supposed to mean?" He said, staring at the man.

"It's just... we have certain guidelines for what sort of people should... and should not... be in the Jade Garden, Sir." The waiter offered lightly, clearly not having been expected to either be heard or have what he said commented on.

"Those are my friends you're talking about. If you insult them you insult me..." Zuko said, starting to stand up, but the waiter had scurried off at that point, leaving a manager to come bustling over to ask if everything was alright. Zuko nodded, but his displeasure was clear enough that the manager sweated lightly as he tried to read Lady Beifongs face to see if she was similarly upset. Unfortunately for the man whether or not she was seemed nearly impossible to judge, and after a moment of apologizing the manager left.

"That wasn't very lordly of you," Toph commented dryly.

Zuko blinked, and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, I am just... tired from travel, and must be forgetting myself..." he said, biting his lip.

"It was a compliment." Toph offered quietly. At Zuko's confused pause she laughed softly, and squeezed his arm lightly. "Don't worry about it. Let's pay for the food and then we can go for a walk. There's a park near here that is pretty quiet at night, it would be nice to go for a walk there, just the two of us since we're not really... 'alone' alone here."

Zuko nodded, though he was somewhat surprised that she wanted it. As they walked out of the restaurant he chewed on the inside of his cheek lightly. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you wanted to be alone... I just figured, since we were strangers that maybe public places were better than private ones..." Zuko said, feeling a bit stupid now, though he only felt Toph squeeze his arm tighter because of it.

"I appreciate it, and there's no way you could have known unless you can read other people's thoughts. And if you can, there's a wanna be mind reader on the edge of the district that you could probably put out of business with it. I tested him, and let me tell you he had no idea what I was thinking..." Toph said, the smile returning to her face. Zuko was glad that they had come out here. She had been somewhat talkative with Jet in the restaurant, but it had seemed soft, diminutive. The way that one would handle a dignitary rather than get very in depth and involved.

Toph paused, and then stopped walking, and bit her lip, looking up towards his face. "Does it bother you that I'm blind?"

Zuko blinked a little, feeling a lie on this tongue, but he swallowed it back down lightly and touched her arms as he stood in front of her. "Promise to listen to the whole answer?" Zuko asked her, and sighed a little as she nodded her head. "It does, but not for the reason you think. It's not anything about you...I think you're wonderful the way you are. It's that, I have a pretty big scar on the side of my face, and I've had to deal with people in the past treating me like some sort of freak because of it. I wonder if my mother just didn't set this up because she thought no one would want to look at-"

Zuko blinked as Toph pressed herself towards him and kissed him to silence him.

It was nice... a little rougher than the kiss Katara had given him, but not so much so that it would stand out. It was just clear that Toph was... eager. Not eager for anything more, but eager in this moment. Zuko blinked for a moment and found himself kissing her back. She was his fiance, there was nothing wrong with kissing her, letting himself go in the moment. After a long series of heartbeats he felt her pull her lips away from his, nestling lightly against his chest, leaving him there blinking.

"This is wonderful..." Toph whispered against him lightly.

"I don't-"

"Of course you don't. If you did understand, that would take away some of the magic of it." Toph said with a light laugh against his chest. "My family has money, Ryu, a lot of money. So the guys that I meet fall into two categories. Rich worthless snobs who only care about appearances, or people who are trying to get me to marry them so that they can get my money, sometimes both. You're the first person to ever answer that question truthfully without being a giant asshole at the same time..."

"I'm sorry..." Zuko said softly.

Toph just chuckled and looked up at him. "Don't be. Here's an example... What if I don't want to be a housewife, what if I want to travel and see the world with you?"

Zuko blinked a little. "Why would that even matt-"

Zuko's words were cut off again by another rough kiss as Toph took a step forward, the sound of earth grumbling beneath them as a bench shot up from the ground as she pushed him forward, catching the edge of his knees on it and forced him to sit on it, leaning down to kiss him as she started to hike up her skirt. Zuko tried to pull back from the kiss but she grabbed him roughly by his dark hair to hold him into it. Spirits she was... STRONG. Zuko's eyes widened a little as she climbed atop him then and slid up... intimately close.

When she finally let him break back, Zuko sputtered out what was probably last on his list of things that he should be talking about right now. "You're and Earth Bender!" Zuko exclaimed as he felt the stone beneath him.

"Oh, sweetie, I'm THE Earth Bender... and don't you forget it. We should elope... right now... I want to make the Earth shake in some other ways right about now too..." Toph purred out as she slid her hands up his chest and started undoing the buttons of his coat.

"Toph, I think this is-" Zuko started, and leaned back a little as she went in for another kiss to shut him up. "This might be moving too fast.." he said, setting his hands down on the bench at his sides.

Toph shook her head viciously at the assertion. "No, you're wrong. This... you and me, this is right. Do you have any idea how long I've been waiting for someone like you? And then you go and say you'll let me come with you to see the world? Unless you're into dudes this is totally as good as I'm going to get..." Toph said, rubbing her hands up his arms, "God, and you work out too, mmmn. I know my parents said I should wait a couple of years till I turn 18 to get married, but I gotta be honest, waiting to do some things has been pretty hard... and you are really... really hot..."

"I'm just... naturally warm." Zuko sputtered.

"Mmmm hmmm hmmm... Not what I meant, stud."

Zuko blinked for a minute. Wait, he had missed something. His mind went internally over the last few minutes of time as he felt Toph kissing her way around his jaw... she seemed to have an amazing ability to sense where his face was just from him talking. Maybe it was one of those things that just got enhanced when you were blind or something. As he played back the conversation in his head though, his eyes suddenly shot open.

"Wait, did you say a couple of years until you were 18?" Zuko squeaked.

"It doesn't matter..." Toph muttered into his neck.

"No, it really-"

With an indignant snort Toph touched the bench then which grew up around his hands locking them in place. "No. It. Doesn't. You said it before Ryu... it's not like you meet a lot of girls who don't care what you look like... and let me tell you, scar or not you are definitely hot enough for me. You want this don't you? Feels like you do to me, anyway..." Toph purred lightly, and Zuko swallowed. "Wouldn't it be nice to just... not have to worry about it any more?"

Zuko blinked a little, and felt his head bow slightly. "It would... but that's not the reason why I'd want to get married, so that I wouldn't have to worry about things anymore. I like you, Toph, but..."

"We don't have to elope... you would make it official eventually, wouldn't you?" Toph asked him.

"Yes, but, Toph... please." Zuko said softly, soft enough that she released his hands.

"Am I not pretty eno-"

This time it was Zuko's turn to interrupt her with a kiss. He could feel her gripping his clothing so tight that he thought she might rip it in that embrace, and when he pulled away he could see tears of doubt in her eyes. "No. It's not that. I just want to take it slow... or even... normal speed I guess. It'll mean that we can have more dates like tonight..."

"You're a fucking tease... and way too good looking for anyone's good..." Toph said with a sigh as she climbed off of him and dusted off her dress lightly.

"And you're not actually blind, are you?" Zuko said, watching the way that she moved.

Toph smirked a little. "It's an earth bending trick, stud. I'd explain it to you but it'd probably be over your head." She said as she yanked him up off the bench as it popped back underneath the ground, and she clung to his arm the way that she did on the way to the dining place. "But if you tell anyone, you're going to have to sleep on the couch for a month once we're married."

"Trust me," Zuko said softly, "I can keep a secret."

Once they had gone back through town and gotten back to their rooms, Zuko kissed Toph goodnight, turned her down for an invitation into her room, and made his way back to his own, sighing as he pulled off his clothes and climbed into the bed that had been prepared for him. Toph was amazing... and in many ways surprisingly like him... but everything she felt was the same way he felt about things years ago... if he really gave himself over to the idea of a marriage now... would she look on this in 4 years as the biggest mistake of her life?

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sun Jun 24, 2012 4:26 pm

As Katara peered through the window, she could hear them discussing plans to leave, to go to a park where they could be alone. Worry filled her. If this girl was secretly an earthbender, what if she just wanted to get him alone so she could ambush him? What if Toph knew he was the Prince of the Fire Nation and was just leading him into a trap? She couldn’t let that happen even if she didn’t have any water. However, if they were going to a park, there would be trees, right? She’d have more than enough to protect him, to repay part of the life debts she owed him.

Katara and the other four waited quietly while the two left the restaurant, waiting so they would be far enough behind to not be noticed as they shadowed their Commander and his betrothed. They drew a little closer, noticing that no one else was around save for the couple and the group secretly following them. The park was lovely, and there were strong trees on either side of the paths through the place as well as plenty of plant life. Katara could fight if she had to do so.

She took a loose stance when Toph stopped walking, waiting for what was about to happen, but instead, the girl simply spoke, asking if her blindness bothered Zuko. His reply caused sadness to well in her. He really was insecure about his scar, and his thoughts echoed hers on the potential reasons why his mother would arrange for him to marry a woman who couldn’t see it. It also pained her that he didn’t seem able to recognize when there were people who weren’t bothered by it. Katara didn’t overlook his scar, but she couldn’t imagine his face without it. It was a part of him, and nothing about it bothered her, but she wasn’t what he wanted.

The waterbender understood that feeling of insecurity in a way. While her souvenir from the night of Sozin’s Comet was somewhere that was easy enough to hide, she would never be able to hide it forever, not if she ever decided to get married. Katara hated the idea that she would have to remain clothed if she ever committed to someone. It seemed wrong and dishonest, but at the same time, the healers of the North Pole had basically told her that whoever she ended up marrying would be met with a nasty surprise on their first night, that she should consider Spirit Water healing or remaining clothed. What kind of marriage would that be?

Zuko had been made to be just as insecure about his scar as Katara had been made to feel about hers, but while she would overlook his, would he have been able to overlook hers?

… there’s no chance with him since his rejecting you didn’t get through your head… Jet’s words echoed in her mind. He was right, but rejection or not, he was her leader for this mission, and he’d saved her life on multiple occasions. She wasn’t about to let him get hurt.

Then Toph kissed him, and Katara swallowed hard, wanting to leave but still not knowing if the young woman was going to hurt him. The hardest part was seeing him lean into the kiss, watching his eyes close as he responded to it. Was this how Jet had felt when Katara had kissed Zuko during the sparring match, or did Jet simply see it as his potential conquest not being so easily conquered?

Her jaw clenched and she closed her eyes against what she was seeing. Their kiss was more meaningful than any she’d shared with Zuko because the first had been a trick on her part and the second had been a trick on his. This was a kiss between two people who knew they would be spending the rest of their lives together, and the thought of that hurt more than anything. She was glad she was in front of the group so her back was to them all; Katara didn’t want them to see her like this, but she couldn’t leave until she was sure.

The waterbender’s stance became stiffer as she heard the earth rumble all around, and she could feel the others take their own positions. However, the only thing that happened was that a stone bench shot from the earth, and Toph was pushing Zuko onto it. Katara’s stomach clenched as understanding filled her. Lady Beifong, Zuko’s fiancée, was not trying to trick him. She was showing him her true self, that she was an earthbender, that she wasn’t a helpless blind girl like everyone else must have considered her to be. She could take care of herself.

If you see something you want you just... have to reach out... and take it... It was what Zuko had wanted the night when they’d been in his tent, but she’d been too afraid to do it, and now Toph was doing exactly that with confidence and with ease. She felt ashamed of herself. What was she doing, watching them together? Her head bowed, and she dropped her hands to her side, walking away from the group, back toward the tea shop. “We need to go. We shouldn’t be watching them.” Katara said firmly.

Ping began to follow behind her, followed by Gui and Shen. Jet remained behind. “You guys go ahead. I’ll catch up to you. I still don’t trust her.” Jet said, drawing a glare from Katara.

“They’re betrothed, Jet. They can do what they want together, and they should be left in privacy. I don’t think she’s going to hurt him, and you wouldn’t care anyway if she did.” She was angry, but she kept her voice hushed so that Zuko and Toph wouldn’t hear her. Jet just glared at her, staring her down, daring her to do something about his sticking around, but what could she do? If she started battling him, head on, it would draw too much attention to them, and they’d be discovered as having peeped on their Commander.

Instead, she turned around and stalked off, but to her surprise, Jet sighed and began following the group. Gui approached her. “Hey, I’m sorry about earlier, with Lady Daiyu.” He said softly, not daring to look at her.

Katara didn’t want to be reminded; she just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep, forgetting everything that had happened that day for just a few hours. “You don’t have anything to apologize for.” She said, the defeat clear in her voice.

“But I do. She never would have taken you back there to talk if I hadn’t caved. She can be scary, but as an earthbender, I should have stood my ground.” Gui admitted.

“No. She only told me what I needed to hear. However, if you tell her that Jet dragged me onto a double date with them, I will destroy you before she gets the chance to kill me. I’ll also let her know that we all followed them, and trust me when I say that you do not want to face that woman’s wrath.” Katara’s eyes looked around sternly from face to face. They all, including Jet, looked a little pale at the idea of facing down Zuko’s mother, especially after seeing how she’d been when she’d requested the talk with the waterbender when they’d first arrived.

They all headed back to the tea shop and found their rooms on the upper level. Katara’s stuff had been moved into hers, hopefully not by Lady Daiyu, but when she opened it, she was still worried that something terrible would come out of it. Would it explode? Would some kind of poisonous creature escape from its depths to bite her? She carefully opened her pack to find nothing out of the ordinary at all, and she breathed a sigh of relief before removing her robes and slipping into the bed.

Sleep was almost elusive for her. All night, she would fall asleep only to dream something terrible that would awaken her. It began as simple things… Visions of Toph and Zuko kissing or visions of his kissing Katara before telling her he had to get back to his wife. Then they steadily got worse. Men in dark green robes stabbed at her party with spears, not allowing them to be free from Ba Sing se. Then, fire built in her mind’s eye, incinerating her brother before consuming the Northern Water Tribe as it had done to the South, destroying everyone right before her eyes.

Katara finally awoke with a start for the final time, realizing she couldn’t go back to sleep. At most, she had probably gotten four hours, and that had only been in spurts and stops. She held her face in her hands, noting the chill on her sweat-dampened skin. The waterbender needed to talk to Zuko, badly.

She filled a basin with water and bathed herself in it before pulling on the robes that Zuko’s uncle had provided the night previously, so they could all blend in. Then she styled her hair in its usual half-bun with loops connecting from her hairline to the sides of the bun with the rest of her hair falling down her back. Using a bit of the leftover water, she tried to heal the dark circles under her eyes, but she was too distracted to diminish them completely.

She could just detect the day transforming from the black of night to the grey of early dawn, and she pulled her water skins over her shoulders. Now that she was ready, she had no idea how she was going to approach him. Would he know as soon as he looked at her that she’d followed him? How was she even going to bring up the subjects on her mind?

Maybe, first, she should pay back what she owed for the dinner the night before. She dug into her pack, pulling out a sack of coins. The money was Water Tribe, and the exchange rate made it so that it wasn’t worth quite as much as Earth Kingdom currency, but she could calculate how much would be right, and hopefully, he would accept it. She grabbed the proper amount, rounding up a little because she wasn’t quite sure if it was exactly right – Sokka had always been a lot better at things like math – and she left her room, draping her pack over her back.

She walked down the hallway, remembering who had been assigned which rooms, and she found Zuko’s and rapped on his door, trying to be quiet about it. Would he still be asleep? He was usually an early riser, possibly due to his being a firebender. Firebenders rose with the sun while waterbenders had a tendency toward rising with the moon which also explained why Katara had usually been the last person awake during the week when they’d been traveling to Ba Sing Se.

Why was her heart beating so quickly as she waited at his door? “Come in.” She heard his familiar gravel from the other side, and she gently pushed open the door and stepped inside, closing it behind her. The look on his face told her that he hadn’t expected the waterbender to be the one coming inside, and it only made her feel even more anxious.

“Hey, I… I just need to talk to you before we head back to that house so Joo Dee doesn’t suspect something if we’re missing.” Katara stayed on her side of the room while he was on the opposite side. She moved over to a small table that was in the corner on her side and placed a bit of fabric, secured with a small leather tie, upon its surface, hearing the Water Tribe coins clink together within it as they settled. “That’s for last night’s meal. It’s Water Tribe, but I think it should be enough to pay for my meal. If it isn’t, I’ll fix it. It’s a little hard to figure out how the exchange rates work between this nation and mine.”

Katara’s looked away from him, toward the floor. “I’m really sorry that Jet dragged us along on your date. I didn’t know what he was doing until he said something to you. I’m sure you wanted us there even less than I wanted to be there. I tried to get out of it, but when… Lady Beifong said she thought it was a good idea, I didn’t want her to think I was being rude and rejecting her by not going. She seems really nice, and I’m sure she’ll make a really great wife.” She took a steadying breath. She didn’t want to be talking about this with anyone, but she wanted him to know that she didn’t have any hard feelings toward him. “Also, it would be great if you don’t tell your mom that Jet and I went with you two last night. I really do not want to have another ‘talk’ with her.”

Her gaze lifted to his face. “I don’t want things to be weird between us. I know that this past week, you’ve wanted nothing to do with me, but I want you stop treating me like I’m a pariah. I want us to at least be friends. I know that nothing else is possible, especially not now, but it’s okay. I can deal with that. Ever since… Sozin’s Comet, I haven’t exactly been anyone’s ‘ideal,’ and that’s fine; it’s nothing new to me, not anymore.

"I mean, you’re basically royalty, and your betrothed was not only raised into high society, but she’s also beautiful. Even in the Water Tribes, there is a sort of separation of classes, but having lived on the other side of the world, I had no idea about it. It’s not as bad as in this city, but it still exists to some extent, and my brother and I had to learn the hard way that there's no true way to breech the division.” Her cheeks suddenly became inflamed. What was she saying to him? She was not confessing the fact that she still liked him, right? His mother was going to literally snuff out her life if she didn’t stop talking right this instant. He’d already made his choice and decided she wasn’t for him, but Lady Daiyu would probably perceive this as Katara’s trying to change his mind. She was just tired. Stay focused, Katara… She chastised herself.

“But that’s not what I came here to talk about, other than us being friends and actually… well… talking again… I really wanted to know two things: did you ever get a chance to talk to your uncle about our predicament with the Earth King, and is there any way to get into contact with your cousin and my brother? I haven’t heard from him in a week, and I’m getting really worried. I don’t know if our two groups were supposed to maintain contact or something, but the more time that passes, the more I feel like something terrible is going to happen to him if it hasn’t already. I may just be paranoid, but he and my grandmother are the only family I have left. I don’t know what I would do if I lost either of them.” She could feel tears beginning to well in her eyes at the thought that she may never see her family again, but she wouldn’t let them fall. Even if she had to try to waterbend the liquid back into her body, she would refrain from crying in front of Zuko. “That’s part of why it’s so important to me to get a chance to talk to the Earth King.”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:51 pm

Zuko had slept fitfully himself throughout the night. His own dreams had been filled with nightmares of Toph Beifong finding some sort of mystic water bender healer that could fix her eyesight. The dream ended the same way, with her successfully regaining her vision, blinking and laughing with joy as she looked around at the wonders of the world for the first time, and then turning to look on him, her face twisting into a horrified look as her lips slowly parted and she let out the most horrified scream Zuko could imagine, so much so that it usually sent him jerking awake with sweat on his brow. There were others too, of course, Katara dying, his friends dying... Zuko being the only person around them who could save them, and yet not being able to do anything, his hands seeming to not want to move as he watched his friends die one after the other at the hands of Azula and his father.

Before he'd woken up for good he'd had the worst of them. His group had rushed out to rejoin Lu Ten after having talked to the Earth King. When they had finally gotten to where Zhao was supposed to be, all they found was a field of bodies, their friends, their comrades. When Zuko turned over Lu Ten's body he heard a cry from behind him as a familiar hand shoved him out of the way and on his back. Zuko didn't know how his uncle had gotten there, but seeing Iroh's face at the loss of Lu Ten was more than he could bear. His uncle, once proud and strong, looked weak, frail, and lost. As his uncle cradled the body, he wouldn't even look at Zuko, and when he whispered a single question to ask why Zuko had went to the earth kingdom instead of staying with his blood, he didn't have an answer. Iroh stopped talking to him at that point. The rest of the dream had been a blur at that point, but he got flashes of it. Iroh's business in decline while he mourned his son, eventually stopping eating, stopping everything... and then he was gone.

Zuko had woken up with tears running down his face at that one and wiped them off as he got up and shuddered lightly, refusing to go back to sleep. He wondered if someone was still up, but at this point he couldn't take the risk. His friends needed their sleep... he couldn't explain anything to Toph, nor could he his mother or uncle without worrying them. Zuko was, at this point, alone. Sighing a little, he took one of the candles by his bed and lit it with his fingertips lightly setting it down on the ground as he stared at it, taking in a breath slowly which caused it to raise, then exhaled which caused it to shrink. He watched it, making it reflect his breathing, his calm, his composure. He focused on the candle and then closed his eyes, letting himself meditate, focus away from the thoughts of darkness. This was the hardest thing that he had been forced to learn from the Sun Warriors. It looked simple, but was surprisingly difficult as it required control of ones mind and detachment, something that Zuko had always struggled with.

It had been well on an hour passing when Zuko heard a soft knock on his door. As he opened his eyes the candle snuffed out at his behest without him even needing to move a hand across it, another trick that had been passed down from one of his teachers. He touched his finger into the wax then lightly, feeling it before remembering that he was supposed to answer the door. Standing, Zuko tugged on some pants and tied them as he called softly towards the door for them to come in, sitting on his bed as he watched Katara come into the room and shut the door behind herself. This was... in some ways all to familiar to her healing him a few days ago, and Zuko was suddenly glad that he'd had the foresight to put on pants. The results of not having done so might have been blushing on both sides, and this room was a bit more well lit than a tent... there was no chance of her not seeing...

Zuko shook his head a little as Katara seemed to be working getting something out. When she mentioned that she was paying for the last night's meal, Zuko raised his eyebrow lightly. "You don't have to do that. My Uncle has plenty of money, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind having paid for both of us to go..." Zuko said. "Besides, that place was seriously overcharging everyone, and they buy tea from my uncle at high prices too, I'm sure. So if you don't pay, it's really like the restaurant ripping itself off rather than ripping you off..." he said with a hint of a smile, which faded when he saw the look on her face. She wasn't here for jokes, really, she was here to talk with him seriously about something that was on her mind. Joking certainly wasn't going to help her muster the courage that she needed, that much he was certain of.

"I kind of got that." Zuko said when she mentioned that she had no idea that Jet was going to drag her along with him. "I think he's just being territorial," Zuko offered lightly. "And it was a good thing, I mean, being able to go out with friends... I didn't think that Toph really would want to go out, just the two of us at first. Things like this... are kind of tricky, y'know? You can't just shove two people into a room and expect that they will somehow magically have a connection, or something." Why was he talking about his relationship with Toph with Katara? Maybe because he wanted her to understand why it was that he had just nodded. "Anyway, I don't think the two of you were intruding, or anything. Clearly Toph wanted you guys there..." And it hadn't stopped her from nearly trying to jump his bones last night either.

"I'm sorry about that." Zuko said when Katara mentioned her talk. "I'm guessing I'm due for one today myself, but I'll try to talk to my mom about her needing to lecture my friends..." he said with a sigh. He was sure it wasn't going to be pleasant, but on the other hand, he didn't need his mother making things awkward with the only people he knew and trusted in the world...

Zuko blinked a little in obvious confusion at what she said. "What are you talking about?" he said as he frowned. "You're the one who wasn't talking to me, Katara. Not that I blame you..." Well, that last statement wasn't entirely true, but Zuko also blamed himself. "Look, I'm sorry I misread things between us." Zuko said flatly. "I thought... I don't know what I thought... I just... got confused by the kisses, I guess." Zuko said, frowning. "I thought you wanted something that you didn't, and I shouldn't have made that assumption. But when you ran out of my tent like there was a raging sabre toothed moose lion in there with us, I figured it was best to give you some space. That, and your new-... Jet doesn't really do the whole non-jealousy thing either..." Zuko muttered. Of course, he felt bad about that one given that he was nearly as bad. He tended to be possessive of girls, or at least he'd been possessive of Mai...

"And if my father taught the world anything, it's that there's nothing special about someone just because they were born to a royal family..." Zuko said bitterly. The statement was a reflection on both his father and himself. Royal blood hadn't stopped his father from being a madman, and it hadn't stopped Zuko from being discarded like some unwanted toy by a child. "I understand though... plenty of people don't want to be associated with me because I'm Fir-.... because I'm royalty..." Zuko offered, thinking that her comment on not being able to bridge the gap was her own way of trying to let him down gently, or perhaps her real reason for not wanting to be with him. After all, how could you be attracted to someone who happened to be in the same family that ordered the deaths of your loved ones, of the avatar herself?

Zuko's face got grim, however, when she mentioned the Earth King and talking to him. He could see the pain there at the idea of losing Sokka. What would happen then if his dreams came to pass? Would he have another person he cared about despise him because he couldn't save anyone? Zuko's flesh goose-pebbled and he rubbed his arms lightly. "I did have a chance to talk to my uncle about it, but he needs some time to make some inquiries. Running a tea shop here, he's not had a lot of run ins with the Dai Li, but it's clear that they aren't good news. They're strict, well disciplined, and supposedly have all their actions sanctioned by the Earth King himself. I don't know what that means, though... is the Earth King specifically trying to stop us from seeing him, or is something else going on here?" Zuko said with a frown. "Either way, we need to be on our guard. If my uncles sources can't get anything, we may need to try to sneak into the castle somehow to see him..."

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Jun 25, 2012 1:40 am

“No. I do have to pay him back.” Katara insisted, leaving the money on the table and stepping away. “He’s your uncle, so it’s different for you to take money from him, but he’s a stranger to me. I don’t know him, and I can’t just use whatever money he gives to you, especially not when we’re asking him for help. This mission is only yours because you agreed to come with me as long as my brother went with Lu Ten. I know no one wanted to go with me, not after…” She couldn’t finish with the words, not wanting to recall to his mind that she was a bloodbender, that she had betrayed him – her savior – by retaliating against him with that darker art. “I’ll find another way to repay him for helping us later, but I don’t let my debts to people just idly sit and collect dust.” Just as she would never dream of not repaying Zuko for saving the lives of five Southern Water Tribesmen, the only people left of her culture and the only family she had left.

“Besides, if he finds out that I took a meal for him when his nephew was supposed to be on a one-on-one date with his future wife, I have no idea what he would do. What if he told your mother? She is the absolute last person I want finding out about that. I feel terrible enough as it is without her threatening me with death again.” Crap… Had she just said that out loud? She’d intended to keep that threat from Zuko. He was the Fire Lady’s son, and she didn’t want to cause any negativity between them. “I mean… She didn’t exactly threaten me with death… It was just… sort of implied...” She put her arms around herself, wishing that she’d had more sleep and could collect herself better. There was no possible way to smooth this over without outright lying to him, and she didn’t want to do that.

Katara’s eyes narrowed when Zuko said that Jet had been acting territorially. “Jet has no right to act like I’m his territory. I’m not his, and I highly doubt I ever will be, especially not after last night.” Her face softened when he mentioned his thoughts that in the end, it had probably been a good thing, and she looked away from him so he couldn’t see the sadness in her eyes. Yes, it probably had been a good thing. Zuko’s mother would approve if she would ever be able to get passed the fact that Katara had interfered with Zuko’s first date with Toph. It had shown her proof that Zuko was in a class far above hers, and that Katara never would and never had stood a chance with him. She should just go back to the commoners where she belonged.

“I don’t know. After her earthbending trick where she knocked Jet on his ass, I’m not so sure she really wanted us to be on that date.” Katara wanted him to know that she was aware of what Toph could do, but the surprise on his face caused her to explain. “There was nothing wrong with the chair. It didn’t even have a crack in it; I looked at it. Nothing else makes any sense, especially because I thought she looked uncomfortable when Jet was talking just before his chair tipped over.”

Katara scoffed when he apologized for his mother. “You don’t need to apologize for your mother. She loves you, and she just wants to protect you. After what Gui told her, I’m not surprised that she’d want to have a talk with me. You’re really lucky to have a mother who loves you so much.” Honestly, it made her miss her own mother who had been dead for ten years and her father who had been dead for four. They had been loving protectors though not perhaps to the same, frightening degree as the former Fire Lady, but life had been different in the South Pole, more relaxed and less rigid.

“She did tell me she was going to have a talk with you, too, and that it would be along the same lines as the one she had with me, so you’ll want to brace yourself for it. Gui told her only about the sparring kiss and that I went into your tent, but she thought more happened in there than did. I told her I was just healing your legs and that nothing else happened.” She hadn’t lied completely, but she wanted to be sure that Zuko was on the same page as her so that he didn’t reveal more than she had. His mother disliked her enough, and she didn’t want to inadvertently fall into a deeper hole than necessary.

When Zuko defended himself about the lack of communication during the week, the confusion was clear on his face, and it only brought more confusion to her mind. “Wait… What?” Katara asked, completely baffled. Had she misread everything? Had she taken the wrong action by leaving him be? “How does that even make sense? I was giving you space because you sounded so angry and final with me the morning after the Rough Rhinos attacked us!” Actually, she was starting to get a little upset herself, and she took a step forward, throwing her hands into the air. “You wouldn’t even let me heal you again after that, and you certainly wouldn’t even look my way the entire time. Then, on the monorail into the city, you acted like I was some disgusting spider-fly you would rather squash than sit next to! I thought you wanted space, that you decided you wanted nothing to do with me after that!”

Katara took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm herself, but she could feel her frustration growing anyway. “You were confused by the kisses? How was I supposed to feel? The one time you took initiative to kiss me first, it was because you were trying to distract our enemies, and I didn’t even know your plan until you were almost done! You could have done some sort of signal for me so I could have understood what was happening before…” Before she’d allowed herself to surrender to the feel of him, of his lips against hers. Ugh! This was making her so angry, but she was to blame, too, and she couldn’t deny that.

“I admit that we’re both to blame on that front, though. I kissed you first, and it wasn’t really for the right reasons, either. I guess yours was just payback for earlier, though?”

His next words weren’t helping. “I didn’t run out of your tent. How do you remember things in such a skewed way? I left because… Well, what else was I supposed to do? I got scared… You’re only the second guy I’d ever kissed, and I certainly haven’t gone any further with anyone in my life. Sex isn’t something that just happens casually where I grew up. I was afraid that if I let myself go that far, that I wouldn’t be able to stop, and I can’t be the kind of girl who just does that. No offense to other girls who are freer with themselves. Kudos to them for their confidence, but in the Southern Tribe, sex isn’t just something people do for fun; it marks two people committing their lives to each other.” Perhaps ‘wasn’t’ would have been a better choice of words now that her tribe no longer existed, but she couldn’t just let go of the culture in which she was raised.

“Wait… Did you almost call Jet my new boyfriend? Are you kidding me? Even your cousin warned me away from him. Why would I want to be with the guy who only wants me because he thinks if he can gain my trust and my love that he can control the power he thinks I possess? Jet doesn’t want a girlfriend; he wants an object he can command. I told him I didn’t want anything from him beyond friendship last night after we left the restaurant. He was pissed, but I don’t care. He’ll get over it and find a new conquest.” How was this happening? How was she only now finding out that Zuko had wanted her? The irony was almost too much to bear; they’d both been giving the other space because they’d believed it was what the other wanted, and in that way, they’d somehow accidentally rejected each other. The realization calmed her anger and instead turned it to sadness. Maybe that’s what had truly fueled her rage in the first place, but now, it was recognizable in its true form.

She moved closer to him, seating herself on the best next to him as he admitted his insecurity about his past, about his bloodlines. “You don’t think you’re special?” Katara asked softly, looking at his face, searching his eyes. “You’re wrong. Not many people can overcome the sins of their parents, of their ancestors, but you have. You fight against your father’s evil every day. Five people from the Southern Water Tribe, including my brother and me, are still alive today because of what you and your team did for us four years ago. You saved us again only a week ago, Zuko. You protect the people who need you even when they’re strangers to you and you don’t owe them anything.” She placed a comforting hand over his. “Anyone who can’t accept you just because of your bloodlines is an idiot, and they don’t deserve to have your friendship or your love.

“I’m sorry about bringing class into this. Ever since I moved to the North Pole, I’ve had people telling me I’m just a peasant, that I’m overstepping my bounds by demanding changes there. It was kind of hard not to recognize the differences in class even more drastically last night at the restaurant. I tried to ignore it, but I know the workers there were looking at Jet and I like we were pond scum, and I was never taught proper Earth Kingdom table manners like you and Toph obviously were. I guess it just… overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t help but think of it as just another excuse for why your mother was right when she spoke to me last night.” She pulled her hand away from his, settling them in her lap where she gazed at them instead of at his face.

“Maybe class isn’t an issue with you, and I’d like it to not be an issue period, but it doesn’t change the fact that your family set up an arranged marriage for you, and you’re betrothed now, and you probably have been for as long as I’ve known you. If anything more had happened between us, it would have just made things more difficult than they are now. I don’t know how it works here, but in the Northern Water Tribe, it brings shame upon a family if either person breaks a betrothal. According to their societal norms, I’ve already brought shame on mine by refusing to allow my grandmother and her husband to set one up for me, and Sokka has made it even worse by participating in an affair with a married woman.”

Her fingers clenched, and she forced her next words from her mouth. “I don’t want to come between you and Lady Beifong. I don’t want to ruin what you two could have.” Her jaw clenched, and she couldn’t look at him as she spoke. It was the right thing to say, the right decision to make, but it still hurt her to say the words, to give voice to thoughts she didn’t want to hear.

Still, even though she’d admitted her feelings to him, she understood that nothing could come of it. Instead, they could have friendship, and it was honestly better than having nothing at all, right?

She had to change the subject, to talk about something else. How could she have lost sight of her main reason for even coming to Zuko, to speak to him? She quickly asked the two questions she needed answered. He only answered one of them, and that brought a wave of worry cascading over her. Instead of confronting him right away, she focused on his first answer. “I had dreams about the Dai Li last night. In them, they wouldn’t let us leave the city, and they were actively trying to harm all of us. I think you’re right that we need to be very careful where they’re concerned, but if they’re under the Earth King’s thumb, won’t they be protecting him, too? How will we sneak into the palace to try to see him? I can’t wait two months. What if… what if Lu Ten and Sokka fail, and the final Water Tribe is completely wiped out by that Admiral?”

Her eyes moved to his, studying his golden optics as the sun began to rise. “There isn’t a way to contact them, is there? How are we going to know what happens to them?”

Kathryn Lacey
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:10 pm

"If you want me to give it to him, I will..." Zuko said flatly, blinking at her. He wondered if Katara realized that there was no way that his uncle was actually going to take the money from her, and that it would probably mysteriously wind up amongst her things before they left. "But my uncle isn't like that... I'm sure my mother didn't give the best impression of my family," Zuko didn't even go into what sort of impression his father had given the entire world, "But my uncle is very down to earth. You don't need to worry about him thinking that you owe him something. My uncle is probably the nicest person that I have ever met in the world." Zuko offered, not verbalizing what came after that in his mind: That if something were to happen to his son, that would probably be so devastating to him that he would never actually be the same. Zuko felt his insides twist as last night's dream clawed at the back of his senses, but he shook it away with a light shake of his head that Katara insisted that he was the only one who believed in her.

"Trust me, when he finds out that we went out on a date together, he will probably laugh. And he wouldn't say anything to my mother if that's what you're worried about. I meant what I said, there is no one who is a more genuinely... good person, than my uncle." Zuko said honestly. It was weird, it was like his father had taken everything wicked and angry from the bloodline, and somehow his uncle had managed to get all of the kindness that there was to be had. There were many times that Zuko had wished that his father's approval had been so easily won as his uncles, or his support. Eventually after years he had given up on it, but it was still hard. A part of him still wanted to rush back to his father and provide something that would prove that he was actually worth... being loved. Zuko realized he was getting a slightly distant look in his eyes thinking about family and snapped back to the situation at hand.

"Wait... she did what?" Zuko said for a minute, looking at Katara with wide eyes, before his serious expression started to melt a little, and he let out a snort and a soft laugh that turned into a rather violent one as he tried to hold it in. "She seriously threatened you? That's awesome..." Zuko said as he slapped his knee, and he bit his lip looking at Katara. "Oh no... you actually believed it?!" Zuko could help himself at that point, he doubled over laughing at Katara. "I shouldn't laugh... but..." but he still did. Finally after a long moment Zuko pushed himself upright and wiped the little drops of tears from his eyes as he looked at Katara who happened to be staring at him as if he just didn't get it. Zuko took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to control his own laughter at that, before looking up and then sighing.

"Sorry... I don't know if they do it in the water tribes, but in the Fire Nation... and even the earth kingdoms it's very prevalent that a father will threaten a potential suitor with death if they do something to hurt their child. Lu Ten must have told me about a good 20 death threats he had alone." Lu Ten had always been something of a heart breaker. "But it's just hot air, especially if it's coming from my mother. She might not be happy with you, but she wouldn't hurt a mosquito fly, let alone you." Zuko shook his head. "I know you don't think so, but it is pretty funny that she managed to convince you of it... it reminds me of how terrified Lu Ten said he was on his first date..." Zuko couldn't help but chuckle as he thought of Katara all last night paranoid about the fact that his mother of all people coming for her. It was almost funny enough that he started laughing again.

"He didn't hurt you, did he?" Zuko asked softly when she brought up Jet, praying the answer was 'no'. He didn't know what the hell he would do if Jet crossed that line and actually forced himself on a woman. No, he knew what he would do, and he knew that his comrades would understand, but at the same time... it wouldn't look good, not to Jet's friends. There wouldn't be any choice though. That sort of thing wasn't exactly tolerated, not by Zuko or Lu Ten. It was what separated them from the soldiers that they fought. Fire Nation soldiers were known to rape and pillage towns that they raided, if not outright commit acts of genocide. The rebels would kill as necessary, but they wouldn't commit the atrocities that the Fire Nation troops did, and if they happened to, the punishment would have to be... severe. It would have to send a message Zuko definitely didn't want to send.

"An earth bending trick? Are you sure that Jet didn't just fall on his ass?" Zuko said, furrowing his brow. He supposed that it was possible, but he didn't really think that Toph would do something like that. No... that wasn't true, she certainly would have, but the question was did she? It was possible, but Jet hadn't been particularly rude. He'd just been mentioning some bender or something like that. It sounded like it was some sort of competition, maybe Jet had insulted her favorite contender? He couldn't really think of a reason other than that, but it was far more likely that Jet was just clumsy. Still, if Katara was certain of it, he wouldn't argue. He knew that there was a possibility that Toph was something other than she seemed, but the possibility of it was probably low. If she really was trying to hide something, why reveal part of it to him?

"Don't worry about my mother talking to me. I'm sure she won't threaten me with death too..." Zuko said, cracking a light smile. It was still somewhat hilarious that Katara thought the idea of his mother killing her was an honest possibility. Zuko had never known his mother to say a bad thing about anyone. There was as much chance of her being an assassin as there was of Zuko training the next avatar how to fire bend. "I'll just explain to her what you meant by it..." Zuko said softly. Katara after all had done it just to win the match. It had made him flush at the time, but she had pointed out a weakness in his strategy. He was certain when his uncle found out that he would hear non stop laughter over it probably until they left. Honestly, it was good that he had something like that to discuss, given that he couldn't really come out and talk about Lu Ten's 'Get IN Jin' stratagem...

"What do you mean how does that make sense?" Zuko said back to her. "You ran out of my tent like I was a terror in the night or something..." Zuko said defensively, very confused about what was going on. She was going to try to lay this one on him? "What the hell would you do if our position had been reversed, huh? At least I was willing to make a move. If you'd put my hand on your thigh, and I ran practically screaming out of YOUR tent, do you think you'd be very conversational the next day?!" Zuko growled out, looking at her. Of course he'd done more than put her hand on his thigh, but the point was the same, she'd ran, and he'd assumed that she'd been the one scared of everything, and so he'd let it be. But he wasn't about to let her lay all this out on him.

Zuko blinked a little as he could see Katara getting frustrated. Why the hell was she upset? When she exclaimed that she had been confused by his kisses, Zuko's eyes flew open at the hypocrisy. "I went with the first thing I could think of!!!" he hissed out, barely able to remember not to shout for people being asleep. "It wasn't pay back, I just figured that since you used a kiss as a distraction it was... a good distraction I guess. It worked, didn't it?" Zuko's eyes narrowed as he realized something. "So let me get this straight. You're trying to say that it's just fine for you to have kissed me in order to win at a sparring match between the two of us, but when I kissed you to save our lives from impending death that somehow it's worse than what you did??" Zuko gave her a look that pretty well communicated his disbelief. "Really??"

When she fired back about Jet, Zuko threw his hands up in the air. "Well, how the hell am I supposed to know? You two have been keeping to yourselves all week and now you're going out with him. And a lot of girls like assholes, trust me, I've seen Jet-" Zuko bit his lip at that point. What if Katara really liked the guy? Jet's words about it not being his place to interfere still run in his head. "I've just seen a lot of girls wind up falling for guys that were jerks, is all..." Zuko said with a shake of his head. He blinked though as Katara came closer to him. A minute ago he might have poked a finger at her chest demanding answers, now he just felt... confused.

"I'm not special because I'm royalty." Zuko corrected her. "If I were still there in that palace, I would believe all of the lies that my father and my tutors fed to me throughout the years. That the fire nation was great because of our drive and our goals and we were simply trying to save the world, to light the way into a new era for everyone. That's what we grew up hearing day in and day out, learning in school. And I didn't learn anything until I got away from it and saw the world myself...." Zuko trailed off though. She had read what she wanted to in the words that he had said before, and answered how she wanted. To her, he was something special. Suddenly the distance between them felt awkwardly close.

Zuko frowned a little at the last part, and she would see a change come over him, the way that anyone has when someone brings up something horrible. "Who told you about the...." Zuko couldn't even bring himself to say it, "About that day?" he rasped out lightly. Mai, the dead, it was hard to talk about it without thinking about them. Zuko wondered if his mother was the one, she and a handful of others were the ones who knew the truth about all of it, about what he had done there. The rest knew that something had gone down. But only family knew the whole story. His friends dead... Azula's hand, and his own. Her words also struck another chord, the shameful one that filled him at lying to Toph, that he was going to marry someone who probably would reel in horror if she realized who he was...

"If class was something she brought up, she wasn't right." Zuko said firmly. "Who our parents were don't make us great, just the decisions that we make along the way. And the only thing that you have to be ashamed of with what the people in the Northern water tribe told you is that it seems like you partially believe them." His golden eyes met hers, staring into them as he felt her fingertips slide from his own.

He reached out for her then, but as she mentioned Toph he felt his fingers curl as his hand stopped halfway towards her face. When she mentioned her dream, Zuko looked down slowly, his golden eyes studying the ground. "They're on the move, if there was a way to get a hawk to them, then there would be a way for the enemy to find them. The only way we're going to be able to help them is if we can talk to the Earth King and get out of here, one way or another..." Zuko sighed softly as he thought about it. They were running out of time, running out of everything it seemed. What if his dream was right? What if it was already too late. Katara would hate him forever for leaving Sokka to go with Lu Ten instead of taking them with the rest to go to Ba Sing Se... it was the right call, but why did it feel so horrible that she might not like him.

Zuko sat in silence with her until she made her excuse to leave... was there anything really to say, to do at this point in time? It felt like everything was whirling too fast, leaving him behind and sucking the air out of him. What the hell was he supposed to do about all of it? Zuko frowned, not knowing what he could say or do...

And then he was already moving. Pushing off of the bed, bare feet hitting the cool ground beneath him as she took her last step towards the door. Her fingertips were on the handle when his hand grabbed her arm and spun her around, feeling her arms come up in question, and he grabbed them and pinned them over her head once again, just like he had the night at the tree as he pressed his lips to hers, gripping her wrists tight in case she decided to try to push him off of her as he kissed her lips roughly. Yet if her blue eyes opened to look at the window there were no hidden dangers there... just the danger of the feelings he was causing to rise in her...

Join date : 2009-10-03

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Tue Jun 26, 2012 5:58 pm

“He may be nice to you, but what about to me? I’m not a part of his family, Zuko. For all I know, his kindness could be reserved for those close to him, and I haven’t even officially met the man. I know I’ll have to face him eventually because I can’t just be rude and not meet the man who’s trying to help me save what remains of my people, but I have no idea how he’ll react to me.” Katara’s cheeks turned red when he said that “when” his uncle found out, he would just think it was funny. For one, that meant that Zuko had every intention of telling the man about the double date, and secondly, it meant that someone would be amused at her expense. Still, if Zuko was certain his uncle would refrain from telling the Fire Lady, it would be okay, right?

Katara took a step back when Zuko burst into laughter once she’d confessed that his mother had implied a death threat. How was that even remotely funny? His mother hated the waterbender, and she threatened to have her killed if she did anything negative toward the woman’s son. That really wasn’t amusing in the least to her. Then he explained, and she found her brows furrowing.

Why would a father or a mother want to frighten away a suitor? “In the Water Tribes, we just… give them a hard time by joking at their expense a lot… At least, we did in the Southern Tribe. I don’t think anything happens like that in the North because all marriages are arranged. I’ve never heard of a single person up there marrying without their parents collaborating and deciding who will marry their daughters and sons. Why would someone want to threaten another’s life? It doesn’t make any sense!” Even her grandmother’s marriage to Master Pakku had been arranged. The old woman had simply avoided it for the better part of sixty years before finally going through with it, and not until she’d already lived her life in the South Pole and raised her children with another man.

The waterbender sighed. “So your mom was lying about having had someone killed to protect you… just to make me afraid of her?” She felt stupid. Just because the woman had accused Katara quite angrily that she was lying, it didn’t mean the woman wouldn’t stoop to the same level. To be fair, that woman was terrifying enough without the death threats, but she had sounded so sincere and so… deathly cold when she’d said the words that they had taken a reality of their own.

Katara’s eyes widened a little when Zuko’s narrowed and he asked if Jet had hurt her. It dawned on her that her words ‘especially after last night’ could be taken to mean something entirely different from what she’d intended. “Not physically. I just meant how he manipulated me into going onto the date with you guys so that he could shove it in my face later.” There it went… more word vomit… She’s spoken the words softly, but they were the only two in the room, and everything else was silent around them save for the soft chirping of birds in the distance as the rising sun awakened them. How could he have not heard her speak? She didn’t have any hopes that he would miss the bitterness in her voice when she’d said the words, and she wished she could recover them and bend them away from the world.

They moved on from that topic, and the subject moved to Toph’s earthbending. Her arms crossed over her chest, and her brow rose skeptically. “Really, Zuko? I’ve only known Jet a week, and he may be an ass, but that man is not exactly clumsy. He’s a skilled warrior, and the only times I’ve ever seen him knocked on his ass before last night were when I put him there myself the first night and when we were blown back by a bomb tossed by one of the Rough Rhinos.

“How long have you known him to think that he would really just fall out of a chair that hard, without any warning, especially when he wasn’t tipping it or sitting in it awkwardly? The only thing that I can’t figure out is why she would do it. She seemed pretty receptive to his conversation, and I didn’t see any real awkwardness about it. Then again, she’s hard to read, so I don’t know; maybe something he said upset her. I just don’t think Jet fell on his own, and I know you and I had nothing to do with it.”

Katara couldn’t help but to narrow her eyes at him when it came to his joke about his mother not threatening him with death. He was smirking at her, and she felt her cheeks redden. Then he said something that made her go pale. “You’ll explain what I meant by what, the kiss? You mean how I used it to win the sparring match? You can’t tell her that! She’ll hate me even more than she already does.” Katara put a hand to her forehead, wishing she’d had twice as much sleep last night as she’d actually gotten. “Besides, I don’t even know what I meant by it.” She mumbled. He had been right that night about it, after all. She never would have done that to win a match against any of the others, so she shouldn’t have done it against Zuko, but she still wasn’t sure what her motivation had been to try it on him specifically.

“Are you kidding me? I didn’t run out of your tent! What’s wrong with you? I wasn’t ‘practically screaming,’ either! I just left at a normal speed.” Katara’s rage was building. “If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t have acted like you were scum! I would have wanted to at least try and talk about it at some point during the week, to make sure that things were okay, but after you so clearly implied that I needed to get lost, I left you alone! What else was I supposed to do?” He was infuriating!

“You’re a Commander of a decent sized group of rebels, and kissing me as a distraction was the first thing you could think of?” Her tone was completely accusatory, and she felt it was rightfully so. “I’m not saying my kissing you to win the match was okay, Zuko. I’m saying that you could have at least given me some warning or any kind of indications as to your true motivation behind it before you did it.”

Katara rolled her eyes. “I’m not going out with Jet. I didn’t even want to go on that stupid double date. He’s not the one I-” The waterbender didn’t allow herself to finish that sentence. She was already doing more harm than she’d intended, and she needed to stop herself before it went too far. “I don’t want anything more from him than friendship.”

She calmed as she listened to him talk about his family, and she could hear the bitterness in his voice. Katara was drawn to his side, her hand touching his. Why was his skin always so warm? “Maybe you’re not special because you’re royalty, but you are special because of whom you’ve allowed yourself to become. You’re not at the palace any more, and you’re not being fed lies about the world. You’ve found your own way, and you’ve chosen to do good with the things you’ve learned.”

Then he seemed to become upset, when she revealed to him that she knew what he’d done the day of Sozin’s Comet, demanding to know who had told her. “Well, you sort of did for one. That night, in your tent, you told me that my great-grandmother healed your hand. She would have told me about it if she’d ever gotten the chance, but the last time I saw her was during battle four years ago.” She realized that wasn’t going to cut it, though. “Other people sort of filled me in on the rest of the details.” She didn’t want to say who had told her because he was clearly upset that she knew though she had no idea why he would be. He’d saved a few people from the fiery death that awaited them at the hands of the Fire Nation. Maybe it was because he was reminded of Mai, of her treachery and the loss of her. He must have really loved her if it still bothered him so much, four years later. Katara realized that no one would ever be able to really take Mai’s place in his heart; instead, they would have to share the space with her ghost.

The subject finally changed, but it wasn’t exactly a more pleasant one for her. The differences in their classes were still there, still obvious, and while she desperately wished they could be overlooked, she wasn’t sure that it would be possible.

And the only thing that you have to be ashamed of with what the people in the Northern water tribe told you is that it seems like you partially believe them…

Her eyes met his, and she could feel pain welling inside her. He was right, of course, that it really shouldn’t matter what society had to say about the differences in classes. She didn’t want to believe in it, but it was sort of hard not to notice when it was shoved down one’s throat at every turn, even when she wasn’t at home. She pulled her hand away away from him, her gaze moving to her lap. She missed her real home, the one where just because her great grandmother was the Avatar and her father was the Chief that she and Sokka didn’t receive special treatment – either negative or positive. The entire Tribe was close and relaxed. They were all a family, and they all worked hard and did their share.

In the North, it was different. While clearly a peasant could become more important – after all, Katara had fought and won the right to learn from Master Pakku, and she had been the one chosen for the mission to Ba Sing Se – when it came to other things like marriage, those boundaries could only rarely be overstepped, and only if the parents of those getting married agreed to it. As long as Katara refused to become betrothed, Gran Gran would refuse to accept anyone who tried to arrange it though that list was almost non-existent as it was.

Still, while she wouldn’t allow herself to be a part of an arranged marriage, Zuko’s family had taken the initiative and set him up with a perfectly nice girl. Katara had to mention it, so she did. She couldn’t forget that he was engaged, and that she was potentially standing in the way. Katara didn’t want to cause problems for him; she wanted him to be happy.

He didn’t say anything, and she thought she saw his hand drop. Had he been reaching for her? No. She must have imagined it. It wasn’t that important, not as important as their mission, not as important as her brother, so she changed the subject. She knew he was right when he said that if they could find the other group, that their enemies could, too, and she absolutely did not want that to happen. Lu Ten’s mission had a lot to do with stealth, more so than Katara’s, and she would never do anything to jeopardize that, no matter how badly she wanted to hear from her brother. After all, she could unintentionally be damning him to the fate she worried he’d get if she sent him a message.

Katara heard him sigh next to her as silence fell over them. She couldn’t think of anything else to say, and she just felt depressed. Their closeness, sitting together on the bed, was suddenly awkward for her. She’d come into his room, wanting to make peace and find out what she could about her brother and the plan to talk to the Earth King. Instead, she’d inadvertently confessed her feelings for him, discovered his for her, and made things infinitely more awkward than intended.

Her sapphire gaze moved to the window where the sun was getting higher. “I should go. The others will be waking up soon, and we have to get ready to leave.” Her eyes flickered to his face for a second, but he was lost in his own thoughts, so she got up and headed toward the door. Her fingers slipped over the cool metal of the latch when she heard him behind her. Thinking nothing of it, she started to pull only to have him grip her arm and pull her around to face him before the door would even budge.

“What’s-” but the swift motion of his hands gripping her wrists and pinning them above her head silenced her question. This was so familiar, but at the same time, there were differences. Heat rose within her as his lips pressed against hers, feeling more urgent than the last time he’d done so. Katara could feel herself slipping, as if her mind was being consumed by flames. His grip on her was tighter than the night he’d first put her into this position, and she knew that this time there was no one around, no enemies lying in wait to harm them. It was just the two of them.

The waterbender felt herself give into the sensations he stirred within her as his body pressed against hers. The feelings rising within her were so different from what she’d felt with Jet, and this was what she’d been missing. Even though Zuko had her pinned, she wasn’t afraid of him or what he may do. Instead, she welcomed the feel of him against her, the sensation of his lips on hers however rough, and she responded to him. It was as if the whole world had ceased to exist, and there was only this moment.

Katara’s skin became warmer, her cheeks flushing as she leaned pressed back against him. Her lips parted, and her tongue flicked over his lips to taste his skin much as she’d done the last time. She relished in the feel of him, and she wanted to touch him. The waterbender met only a small amount of resistance when she tried to tug her arms free as they kissed, but she succeeded in freeing her wrists. Her hands caressed his skin, slinking over his arms to his shoulders as she pulled him closer to her. His skin was so warm, and she could feel hers taking on a similar heat. Her fingers slipped over his jaw, her thumbs gliding over his cheeks on their trajectory. She felt the difference in the skin of his scar against the undamaged flesh, but she didn’t falter or stop. Her hands made their way into his raven hair which was surprisingly soft to the touch, and she curled her fingers through it.

She felt so alive with him, and he brought things to the surface that she didn’t even know she could feel, didn’t know were options for her. This moment was perfect; he was perfect. This was-

A knock came at the door, bringing her back to reality. Wrong… This was wrong… Her eyes flew open, and she pulled away from him, trying hard to slow the beat of her heart, to regain control of her breathing. How could she be doing this with him? He was engaged. Was this how Sokka had felt? Was that why he was so willing to give up his culture to have a woman who could never truly be his? How could Zuko make her forget something so important so easily? How could she let herself forget it?

Kathryn Lacey
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:04 am

Zuko couldn't help but laugh as she tried to paint his uncle as someone fearsome. Truth be told, there was no one more honorable that he could think of than his uncle. Iroh had shaped him into the man that he was today. Every thing that Katara saw in him was only there because of his uncle, because his uncle had taken the time to deal with the pain and anger that he had once harbored so intensely, and showed him how to push it aside. Beneath there was something else, there was the man that he had become. Not perfect by any sense of the imagination, but someone who tried, someone who when he was knocked down didn't wallow in misery or agony, but who fought to his last breath, who held on to hope even in the darkest of times. Uncle Iroh once had told him that giving himself hope in the darkest of times was the meaning of inner strength. Zuko didn't think he was really wise enough to say one way or another if it was the truth, but it had served him on the battle field, it had made him attack Azula when other men might have fled or been broken by the loss of their troops. It had made him meet the avatar.

"You'll understand when you talk to him, I suppose..." Zuko said, chuckling again and shaking his head.

Katara's reaction to Zuko's laughter only made him laugh harder, as she looked so incredibly shocked. Of course, she didn't seem to have any idea what it was that he was talking about. Zuko bit his lip lightly, trying to think of how to explain it. She had probably come from a village where there were people that knew each other. It wasn't as if it was some random stranger who came to date your daughter. "Well... it's different in the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation..." Zuko said softly. "There's so many people that often the guy that a girl brings home is a stranger to her father." Zuko offered lightly. "And, well... sometimes, I hear, the person that they bring home isn't necessarily the best sort of person. So it's pretty customary for a worried father to... uhm... make it known that doing... things... with his daughter is not a good thing for one's personal longevity..." Zuko couldn't help but crack a wide smile at that and start chuckling.

"I'm sure that my mother was just worried about me. She doesn't know you," Zuko looked at her with his golden eyes, a bit of sadness showing in them. "And let's face it, Katara, she married my father before he became... who he is." Zuko said, biting his lip lightly. "It's not... easy to trust someone after you've been betrayed completely..." he murmured, feeling a pang of emotion stabbing in his chest at the thought of Mai. "I think that her greatest fear is that I will make the same mistake that she did. Gui didn't mention that he brought up the blood bending thing, but if he did maybe that's why my mother was so... annoyed." Zuko offered softly. He knew it probably didn't make much difference to the water bender at this point, the damage was already done, but she seemed genuinely rattled by it, and Zuko frowned a little. He would need to bring this up with his mother. She was usually tolerant of other cultures, but the water tribe was as far from the Fire Nation as could be personality wise. Maybe that was why they hadn't gotten along.

"No. She was exiled by my father for standing up for me when I was a child." That was the story that had been given to him anyway, by his Uncle, his Mother, even his Father. Two people might have lied to him but all three of them was not the sort of thing that Zuko would expect unless it was the truth. The fact that her exile coincided neatly with his father ascending the throne wasn't something that Zuko really thought about. It was all such a turbulent time, losing his mother to exile right after Lu Ten had been exiled, which had lead to his uncle leaving the fire nation and being branded a traitor in the process for refusing the orders of the Fire Lord at the time, who happened to be Ozai. When Zuko thought of his father though, his thoughts were always dominated with the sneer in Ozai's eyes, the contempt he felt for Zuko's weakness, the fear that he invoked, and the suffering that he made Zuko endure to mark him for a lifetime.

Zuko breathed out a sigh of relief as Katara mentioned that it wasn't anything physical with Jet. That he hadn't hurt her, physically. Or been with her physically. But why was it that the last part mattered so much? Zuko bit his lip trying to think about it. Yes, it did matter because she was his friend, and because if he saw pain in those eyes, he would have to beat the crap out of Jet. There would be no other recourse. That was the only reason for it, right? No, Zuko knew well enough to tell when he was lying to himself. There was something else, something deep down in his chest that he didn't want to think about, but he could feel it burning inside of his chest like a fire there. It wasn't something that he even remembered, and yet it was familiar. He knew that it had a name, but he was afraid to think about what it might mean. It didn't matter as Katara didn't want him, anyway.

Zuko's face darkened though as she mentioned that Jet shoved it in her face later. Maybe he would need to have words with the fighter after all. He hadn't wanted things to come to that but there was no way if Jet happened to be harassing Katara that he could let it stand. The team dynamic being what it is, the crew was more likely to participate in a beat down of Jet than they were to go against Katara at this point. She'd been nothing but good to Zuko and his friends, and her loyalty had been rewarded with their trust. The last thing Zuko wanted to do right now was to cause a rift between everyone else and Jet at this point, and if threatening Jet would solve it, then maybe that would be what he had to do. It wouldn't score him points with the fighter in any regard, but it seemed as if there was going to be a conflict between himself and Jet anyway.

"I just don't understand what it was that you think Toph might have gained from making him fall over, is all I'm saying." Zuko said softly. "I mean, if she wanted to harm him or something she could have just had a pillar of stone jolt out from the ground and smack him in the forehead or something..." he offered. "Making him look like an ass... well, that's something Jet does just fine on his own, you're the one who just pointed that out." Zuko said. It was something that was worth thinking about, but he didn't really think that Lady Beifong had some great conspiracy in mind when she had made Jet fall out of that chair, IF she had. "Maybe he was too busy oggling you to actually pay attention to what it was that he was doing." Zuko said. It was a valid point given that Jet had been staring at her the whole night.

Zuko opened his mouth to protest, but then he scratched his chin. Katara did have a point, if his mother already didn't like her, mentioning that she had kissed him in order to win a sparring match, of all things, wouldn't win her any favors with his family. Why did it matter though if his mother approved of her? That familiar feeling ached inside of his chest and Zuko felt as if the answer was there, dancing in the back of his mind. Now wasn't the time to think about it though, she had her place and he had-

Zuko raised an eyebrow as she said that she didn't even know what she meant by it. What was that supposed to mean? Shouldn't she know what she meant by it? She clearly had meant it to be a way to win the match. So why was she doubting it now? Zuko wanted to pull at his hair, or at least demand to know what the hell she meant by the fact that she didn't know what it meant! You couldn't just... say something like that and let it hang there. No, it couldn't mean anything, why the hell else would she have run screaming from his tent if it was something that she had wanted!?!

"You did so! I've seen men walk away from a pricklesnake slower than you did from that tent!" Zuko growled, narrowing his eyes. He was willing to deal with a lot of things, but she couldn't deny that she made a B-line for the flaps of the tent the minute that he had tried to make her make a choice. "It wasn't like I said, take off your clothes or get out... I told you to make a choice about what you wanted and you headed for the door. That's a pretty clear damned message to be sending to someone. If you asked me if I wanted breakfast, and I just walked out the door on you, you'd have a pretty good idea that I didn't want... breakfast." That had sounded better in his head...

"And I didn't treat you like scum, I backed off. Maybe I was a little brusque that morning, but it's not like you wouldn't have been in my place." Zuko said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"If I hadn't kissed you, you would have gotten caught up in the fight there, and not had time to warn the camp." Zuko said flatly. "You can say what you want to, but I think I made a pretty good choice, all things considered. And I couldn't give you a sign because if I had they would have known it was a trick. What was I supposed to say? 'Gimme some sugar, baby?'" Zuko snorted. "If you can think of a better way to give you a signal, you let me know and I'll do it next time, but even you have to admit that it worked, and worked well... sort of..." Zuko rubbed his neck self consciously as a phantom pain of that chain around his neck caused his skin to pebble.

Zuko's eyes narrowed slightly as Katara mentioned that there was someone else she wanted, catching herself. She wanted someone else, she was confused about his kiss, and she was calling him special. He looked down, knowing what all of it was adding up to. He wasn't the smoothest guy with the ladies, but he wasn't exactly clueless when it came to them either. There was something there, there was something that she felt for him. Why didn't she just come out and say it then? Because he had Toph, because there was an engagement standing between them like some invisible wall.

Zuko bowed his head lightly. "I lost a lot of people that day. I don't like to talk about it." Zuko said, leaving it at that. His eyes flickered to his hand again as she brought it up, and he flexed it lightly. There were times that it didn't even really feel like his, like there was something lasting that the Avatar had done to it, though that was insane. She had done no more than Katara had done when she had healed him a few days ago. There was a sound of awkward silence that hung over the room at that point, but Zuko didn't know how to break it, and was grateful when Katara was able to. That was far better than him saying something that would probably come out wrong...

He could see the way it affected her when he mentioned that the only thing she had to be ashamed of was believing them. But he meant it. And he could see on her face that she knew that it was true. But the lingering silence that had once been descended on them both again. Zuko found himself reflecting on that feeling inside of himself then. That nagging sensation that there was something here, something to focus on in this moment, some little piece of destiny that was slipping through his fingertips and he only needed to grasp to it. When Katara mentioned that she had to go, he felt it then, an overwhelming lonliness welling up inside of him, as if she was going and taking all the light in the room with her.

He didn't want her to go. There was absolutely nothing that he wanted more in that moment than for her to stay. And it was then that he knew what it was that he had to do, what it was that he wanted. He was moving before she could catch him, and he heard that moment of surprise in her tone as he captured her lips, and instantly knew that it was the right thing to have done. There was just something different about kissing her, something wonderful. Something that he didn't think that anyone else could actually replace, even if he kissed a thousand other girls after her, and certainly none of the girls that he had kissed before. He leaned into it and felt her responding, felt her slipping her hands from his grasp.

A pang of doubt filled him as he worried that she would push him away, but instead she clung to him. He inhaled slowly as she touched his scar, a part of him naturally flinching at it, the way that he did, but he let himself relax again into the kiss as she moved past it. Something told him that he was never going to get used to someone actually touching that scar, but he was glad that it didn't seem to repulse her. Of course, at the moment such thoughts fluttered away like little winged lemurs on the wind.

There was a knock on the door.

Zuko's eyes fluttered slightly but he wasn't inclined to do anything about it. It wasn't as if he was that much of a morning person. Let them come back later when it was... well, later. When Katara pulled away he resisted, and he looked at her calmly, narrowing his eyes lightly as he took in a slow breath. "This isn't over." Zuko whispered softly, poking her chest lightly. "We'll talk about this later."

"Yes?" Zuko said, pressing against the door in case someone tried to open it.

"Ah... Ryu..." Iroh muttered as if it was still a bit weird for him to say that name. "Your mother and I are making the rounds to wake up your friends for breakfast. As their leader, it would be good for you to be there first..." Iroh offered lightly, and Zuko sighed and tried to suppress a growl in his throat as he looked at Katara again and slipped on a shirt, mouthing the word 'later' to her before taking a step toward the door and opening it just a crack away from her. "Where are you headed next, uncle?" Zuko asked.

"Well, to wake up the water bender. I figured after last night, the last thing she probably wanted was Lady Daiyu waking her..." Iroh said with a little bit of a chuckle, and Zuko gave him a light smile as he slipped out the door.

"Let's talk for a minute though Uncle, before you go..." Zuko said as he started to walk away with his uncle. "I was just thinking that it's been, ah... well, it's been a while since I was able to spend any time learning from you, and I had some questions about how best... to run a team, or maybe look for pointers and whatnot. It's not something that you really covered when you were teaching me bending and most of the classes I had on leadership in the... er, back home were somewhat worthless. What do you think, Uncle?"

Zuko turned, but his uncle was nowhere to be seen, having clearly started walking with him and then changed direction before Zuko could stop him. And something told Zuko that he knew just where his uncle was too. "Fuck." Zuko growled as he started to round a corner almost to come crashing into his mother, who looked at him calmly and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"We should have a talk, about last night." Ursa said softly, leading Zuko towards her room.

Join date : 2009-10-03

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Fri Jun 29, 2012 2:08 am

Even though he was laughing at her expense, Katara suddenly realized that this was the first time she’d ever seen him even crack a smile, and she felt something warm flutter into her stomach. His smile softened his entire face, giving it a quality she’d never seen when he was serious or angry. Honestly, at this point, the waterbender just wanted to go to him, to be by his side, in his presence, but she couldn’t. He wasn’t hers, and she wasn’t his. They could be friends, sure, but nothing more was possible.

Katara found a small laugh bubbling in her throat at his explanation of the ritualistic death threats from parents to potential suitors. “I still think it’s weird, but I guess it makes more sense. The Southern Water Tribe consisted of a few different villages, but my father was the chief of all of them, so I traveled from village to village a lot, and I pretty much knew everyone. It seems so weird that anyone could bring home a boyfriend or girlfriend without their parents knowing the person, but I guess if I’ve learned anything from living in the Northern Tribe, it’s that the villages in the South Pole were tiny by comparison.” And now they didn’t exist at all.

The waterbender took a step toward him when she heard the emotion in his voice as he spoke about his mother’s past. It was hard to believe that the Fire Lord hadn’t always been the crazed, sadistic person that he was today. However, her steps faltered when he brought up bloodbending, and she looked away from him. That night had been her greatest cause for shame, and she just wanted to forget it had ever happened. However, life didn’t work like that, and she knew it. Katara would never be allowed to forget. Did her group look at her and remember what she’d done despite having accepted her so easily now? Did Zuko remember that she’d done it to him?

Katara knew how it felt to have someone bloodbend your body. She’d made Hama do it to her before she ever started training in the art herself because she didn’t want to do something to another person like that until she knew what it was like. It had been awful, and she’d almost decided right then and there that she would never learn it, but Hama had insisted, and in the end, she’d relented, but she shouldn’t have.

“No. I think if she knew I used it on you, she would have destroyed me on the spot. If I had children, and someone used that technique on one of them, I wouldn’t hesitate to take them down, especially if I was as protective of them as she is of you. Honestly, bloodbending should be illegal. I’m never using it again.”

Katara’s right brow rose when he said that his mother had been exiled for standing up for him. Skepticism, usually her brother’s forte, rose within her. Why would someone be exiled just for that? Then again… Lu Ten had told her that he had been challenged to a firebending duel just because he spoke out against a military plot, and he’d been exiled soon after being burned. Maybe the Fire Lord was just an intolerant asshole who couldn’t take anyone disobeying him, not even his wife?

The subject eventually moved onto Toph and her earthbending. Katara didn’t understand why he was defending her, trying to make it seem like she wouldn’t have done it. He wasn’t outright denying that the girl could earthbend, but it seemed like he was trying to make it sound like she couldn’t. If Katara hadn’t seen the girl do it with her own eyes, and if the others hadn’t seen her do it to knock over Jet’s chair, she may have actually second-guessed what had happened. She couldn’t exactly tell Zuko that they’d all spied on him, though, so she didn’t say anything, just letting the subject drop with a shrug instead of arguing the point. The waterbender didn’t want to talk about the date any more, didn’t want to remember it or think about what it had been like to see Zuko with another woman, to have Jet be so possessive over her until he eventually took it upon himself to kiss her.

The next subject wasn’t exactly pleasant, either. This whole morning seemed to be a day of unpleasant conversations about relationships she either didn’t or couldn’t have. “Well, the next morning it sure felt like that was the choice you’d given me!” She growled at him when he said he hadn’t told her to take off her clothes or get out. “I mean, you basically told me to get lost the next morning, and it really seemed like it was just because I hadn’t… stayed. If the situations were reversed, wouldn’t you have felt the same way if I’d said, ‘You did enough last night?’ You sounded really… upset and final about it. How was I supposed to take that? The choice you gave me sounded more like ‘stay and have sex or leave and go back to your own bedroll.’ If you’d never done anything like that, wouldn’t you have made the choice to leave, too? I wasn’t afraid of you, and I tried to explain it to you, but I guess you just weren’t listening.” She was so upset right now. Part of her suddenly wished she had stayed and had just let things happen, but at the same time, she knew she’d made the right choice.

While Katara didn’t want to admit that he was right about the kiss having worked to throw off their enemies, he had a point. It just… hadn’t been the kindest thing emotionally. Being alive was worth having a bruised ego, though, especially when it meant that their entire group had survived as a result.

The waterbender bowed her head when he said he didn’t like to talk about that day, and she could respect that. It wasn’t exactly her favorite subject, either. The genocide of her culture, of her entire homeland, was a tough subject, and she could feel sadness welling inside her. Her fingers caressed the pendant of her mother’s necklace, the last real relic she had of the Southern Tribe.

At last, after a little more conversation, she realized it was time for her to go, to leave him to himself. They could regroup later with the others, and they would go back to the house to deal with Joo Dee and the fact that they were being watched.

Things didn’t seem to quite work out that way, and soon, his lips were on hers, and she was pressed against the door she’d been trying to open. She would touch him, feeling his skin beneath her hands, the heat of it, and she would soon move to curl her fingers through his hair. At any other time, Katara wouldn’t admit to herself how badly she really wanted him, to be with him, to stay in that moment forever, but with his lips on hers and his arms around her, she could let go of logic and give into sensation to act on instinct. This was why she hadn’t allowed herself to stay in his tent that night, but right now, things like that didn’t seem to matter. It was as if reality and thought were all just… floating away as if they had never existed at all…

Until the sound of knocking brought her to her senses.

She pulled away from him, and she saw his golden eyes narrow a little when he told her it wasn’t over, that they would talk about it later. It worried her, honestly. What was there to talk about? It wasn’t like there could be any future for them. He was engaged to someone else, and she couldn’t follow in her brother’s footsteps. She’d seen how being with Princess Yue affected him though he tried his hardest to hide how badly it hurt him that he could be with her in secret but never truly have her or acknowledge that there was anything between them in public.

“Ah… Ryu.” The old man’s voice sounded through the door as she watched Zuko press against it in case someone attempted to open it. She pushed herself against the wall to one side of the portal in case someone succeeded in getting through. “Your mother and I are making the rounds to wake up your friends for breakfast. As their leader, it would be good for you to be there first...” Katara paled a little at that. If she wasn’t in her room, would they know where she really was? It wouldn’t be such a frightening prospect if she’d just left when she had instead of having just made out with Zuko. What if his mother was the one who went to her room? It was truly a terrifying prospect, regardless of whether or not her death threat had been serious.

Katara stared at Zuko, wide-eyed, while he put on his shirt and mouthed the word ‘later’ to her, so she knew he was serious. She wanted to say… something, but all words caught in her throat, and she didn’t want to be heard. All she could think about was the fact that he was engaged, that she was insane for even allowing herself to feel something more for him than friendship, to give into him when he’d kissed her. However, she got the feeling that he wasn’t purposely trying to mess with her head, to manipulate her. Maybe he was as confused about this as she was, and he’d just followed his hormones rather than thinking logically. It wasn’t all that strange considering that had been exactly what had happened with her once he’d kissed her.

Zuko looked at her pointedly, not saying anything as he left. She could hear Zuko and his uncle speaking, and she could hear both of them walking away as the younger man spoke. Katara’s eyes moved around his room, now empty of all but herself. She could still feel the heat of his body against hers. Her fingers moved to her lips, remembering how his had felt against them. He wanted her, and she wanted him just as badly. She wasn’t in her right mind. How could she even consider being with him? He wasn’t free to make that choice anymore, and she couldn’t make it for him.

After what felt like long enough, she pressed her ear against the door and listened. There wasn’t a sound, so she quietly opened the door and slipped into the hall, but as she turned to head down the hall, she saw that she wasn’t alone. Her cheeks flamed as she took in the stocky frame of Zuko’s uncle. Had he been there the whole time? He looked neither angry nor amused, and that almost frightened her more. “Would you join me for a private breakfast?” He asked cordially, but after having been in private with Lady Daiyu the night previously, this didn’t bode well.

Katara would have declined the offer if it wouldn’t have been extremely rude to do so to the man who was helping her. “I… Yes, of course.” He turned and led the way to a different area which wasn’t the main part of the tea shop and motioned for her to enter the room to which he led first. As she stepped into the room, she told herself that this wasn’t about having just been caught in Zuko’s room. He probably just wanted to talk about plans for seeing the Earth King, right? Then why couldn’t he discuss this in front of the rest of the group.

“Won’t you please sit?” He asked kindly enough, motioned toward a seat at a table where there were a few choices of breakfast foods. Hesitantly, she took a place at the small table while he sat across from her. He poured some tea into her cup before he began to pile some food onto his plate. Katara sat in silence, looking around at the familiar smelling items. These were… No, she had to be imagining it. Were these… Water Tribe food items? She hadn’t had a home cooked meal, prepared in the way of her people in so many long weeks, subsisting mostly on dried meats and things that wouldn’t expire quickly. She spooned what appeared to be stewed sea prunes into a small bowl and placed some seaweed noodles onto her plate.

As amazed as she was that Zuko’s uncle had been so thoughtful as to invite her to eat a breakfast that was very reminiscent of her culture, she suddenly wasn’t very hungry. She worried that this was just a trick to get her comfortable before hitting her hard with cruel words and underhandedness. Instead, she took a sip of the tea. It was hot, but it wasn’t so hot it would burn her. It was delicious, too. Clearly, this man had earned his place in the tea business with his excellent brewing.

“What are your intentions with my nephew?” The man asked, causing Katara’s dark skin to go quite pale. This was exactly how it had begun with Lady Daiyu, and she could feel the trap closing around her. She couldn’t lie. If she’d left the room at the same time as Zuko, it would make more sense that she could just say that there was nothing going on between them, but as she had clearly been sneaking out of the room, minutes after the Fire Prince, giving his uncle the same answer as she’d given his mother wasn’t the best of ideas. She felt ashamed of herself. Why had she let him kiss her? Why had she kissed him back? This was just overcomplicating everything.

Katara gazed down at her plate. “I don’t know any more. Last night, when I was having this talk with his mother, everything seemed so much clearer and easier. I shouldn’t have gone to talk to him this morning; I just wanted to find out if he’d had the chance to talk to you and if there was any word from my brother and your son, but we started talking about other things. It was the first time we’ve really had the chance to have a real conversation in days, and now I have no idea what I’m going to do.” Katara picked up a simple spoon, grateful that there weren’t a million and one utensils from which to choose like there had been at the Jade Garden, and moved it through her sea prune stew. “I know he’s engaged. I know nothing can happen between us.” Her eyes widened and she looked up at his uncle. “Nothing did happen between us, just so you know. We just… We didn’t… We didn’t have sex, I mean.” Her face reddened, and she looked back down to her food, not wanting to face this man. Why was Zuko’s family so hell bent on having these uncomfortable talks with her?

"I am an old man, but no so old that I don't recognize the sounds of two people kissing behind a door." Iroh said with a little bit of a chuckle, patting his stomach for a bit as he motioned to the spread. "I hope that you like it. I am certain that it is not as good as the food back home, but it is probably a bit closer than what you've had to eat in the Earth Kingdom." Iroh said softly, picking a little at his food as he scratched his chin, trying to think of what it was that he was going to say next perhaps. He took in a breath at that point, and let it out with a sigh as his eyes focused on the water bender who was in front of him, clearly scared witless, and not knowing what to say to him.

"If you are truly not sure of what it is that you want, then we have a problem." Iroh said softly, chewing his food lightly as he ate, in seemingly little rush here with Katara. While Ursa's words had been threatening, there was nothing overly sweet or dark about the way that Iroh spoke his words, they were simply carefully chosen. "I would wager a substantial sum that Lu Ten told you about what happened to Zuko as a child, and about what he did at the South Pole." Iroh said somewhat nonchalantly, watching the water benders reaction as he pointed it out. "Without knowing that, I don't think that there is any measure of forgiveness you could give him, given his relationship to Ozai." Despite the fact until this point he had been vague with details, Iroh didn't seem to have any problem mentioning the name of the Fire Lord, almost as if he would be able to tell if someone had been listening at the door.

Iroh took another bite of food and chewed it calmly, then took another sip of tea. "My nephew is a complex individual, as you know, but I wonder if Lu Ten explained things the way that you might fully understand." Iroh said quietly. "To my people, a person’s honor is considered sacred, to the point where some consider it, to their own peril, more important than friends or family. When my brother decided to burn a mark upon Zuko's face and strip him of his honor, he took away most of Zuko's identity with it. To the water tribe, who values family much more strongly than any of the other nations, it would be as if your father branded a mark upon your forehead that signified that you were a traitor to your blood, and did not deserve friends or family any longer." Iroh's steady gaze watched Katara's, and she would see the sadness there in his eyes. "There are few things that I regret more than the fact that I was not there to try to stop my brother from doing that to his own son..." Iroh said, bowing his head.

"And I am certain that his mother feels worse about it than even I. It is part of the reason that she so violently clings to the idea of protecting him, from the world as well as himself. This is something that she will always feel is her duty, if for no other reason than to make up for the fact that she was not there to protect him either." Iroh tugged at his beard lightly in thought as he stared at his breakfast for a moment, and gave Katara a grim smile.

"But aside from honor, one characteristic that Fire Benders share is drive, passion. These elements are seductive, but also dangerous as well. Zuko's mother is proof of what happens when one gets swept away by their emotions in the moment without truly thinking about the long term implications of what she is doing. Much like a real fire, it is important to be able to balance emotion and a clear head. I would worry about you if you did not think of the implications of his engagement, that there was too much fire in you..." Iroh said softly, raising his eyebrows at her lightly.

"Instead, what it is I see is too little. You have said it yourself; you do not know what it is that you want." Iroh said softly, and then picked up his teapot.

"The water inside of this teapot right now is in the shape of the teapot. When I pour it into this cup..." he did so to illustrate, "It changes its shape to suit the cup. When it is docile, water can adapt to its situation to exist in peace with its surroundings. But love does not come from the element of water, but fire. How would love be if it simply adapted to whatever situation it saw itself in? If at any moment you loved the person you were with just as much as you loved the person you were married to? It would certainly make things easier in some ways." Iroh said with a bit of a chuckle.

"But when one person blazes with passion and the other simply moves with the flow of things, you mix water and fire." Iroh said, sipping his tea lightly, looking to Katara as if she should have, based on what he said to her, understood the entirety of the situation, what she needed to do, and everything. To him things were always so clear, but he knew from experience training his son and Zuko that often times what seemed the clearest in his mind was often very cloudy in the mind of another.

Katara’s face turned a deeper shade of scarlet when Zuko’s uncle confessed he had heard them kissing, but he wasn’t showing any anger toward her for it, and she felt confused. Shouldn’t he be considering it as her trying to sabotage his nephew’s betrothal?

Thankfully, he changed the subject, and motioned toward the food. “Thank you. I’m really honored that you would show me so much kindness by making these foods.” She took a bite of the sea prunes. He was right that they weren’t quite what she’d grown up eating, but they were still quite good, and they brought good memories to mind. However, she still had her guard up. How far would Zuko’s family go to make sure she got the hint that she wasn’t right for him?

She chewed slowly, swallowing carefully as she waited for him to speak again. He seemed to choose his words carefully, and Katara was prepared for something underhanded. Instead, his words surprised her. He had misunderstood what she’d meant when she’d said she didn’t know what her intentions with Zuko were, but he also revealed that he knew his own son had revealed his nephew’s past to her. Her eyes widened at that, but there was logic in his explanation of the knowledge, and she bowed her head.

“Your son told me not to tell Zuko that I knew. I hate keeping the fact that I know from him, but I promised Lu Ten that I wouldn’t say anything.” The waterbender was one to keep her word, and she wasn’t going to stop that now. However, it was difficult. Zuko clearly had a lot of pent up emotion regarding his scar and likely the way it had been acquired. She’d felt him stiffen when her fingers had moved over it when they’d kissed, and she still recalled how desperately he’d fought to get away that night when she’d healed the scratches that had sliced through his disfigured flesh. Katara so badly wanted to comfort him in those times, but anything she said would reveal the extent of her knowledge, knowledge she’d promised Lu Ten she would keep to herself.

Her sapphire gaze moved to the old man’s when he began to explain more about Zuko’s past. She had thought that his father was a terrible man, and that was still true, but this man was putting it in such a way that she could truly understand what was happening to Zuko. Pain clenched in her stomach, and she could see the sadness in the old man’s eyes. She was quiet when he described the Fire Lady’s fuel for the protectiveness over her son. It made more sense now, especially because Zuko had told her that she’d been banished at one point in defense of him.

Katara didn’t know what to say, so she sat silently, listening. He began to talk about the passion and drive that firebenders had, and she could see the sense in it. Zuko always seemed to have a clear purpose in mind for himself. When she’d met him, he was saving the Water Tribesmen, saving her from the Fire Nation. Now, he was still continuing along that path but in a less head-on way. However, he seemed determined to see this mission through, even if it meant sneaking into the palace to force and audience with the Earth King.

She looked away from Zuko’s uncle when he mentioned the engagement, shame filling her nearly to the brim. When she wasn’t being seduced by the haze that came over her whenever he kissed her, it was all she could think about. Katara had to let him go, to allow him to have his life with Toph the way it had been arranged. There was no future for them in a world where they were opposites, where their families didn’t or wouldn’t approve, where he had been engaged to another. She’d been right to think that this was why the man had wanted to speak to her privately. At least, that had seemed the case until his next words caught her by surprise.

In a way, his telling her that she didn’t have enough fire within her was a little underhanded, and it still spoke of her not being right for Zuko, but at the same time… the tone of his voice made her question what he was saying. He began his teapot analogy, and she was suddenly reminded of Yue and Sokka. Did Yue love her husband and Sokka equally? Was she just going with the flow? Was Katara the water that simply melded to whatever shape would help her peacefully coincide? Did that mean that she wasn’t good for Zuko or that she should try to break up their engagement? How could either of those be good options?

Then he ended with the mixing of fire and water, and she felt confusion flood through her. Sometimes she could understand symbolism, but this was just lost on her. “I… I honestly have no idea what you mean.” She confessed. “All I know is that what I want and what I can have are two things that are battling against each other right now. I have thought of the implications of his engagement to Lady Beifong, but I don’t know what to do. On one hand, I feel like it’s not my place to interfere. I mean, I care about Zuko, but betrothals are a really serious thing in the Northern Tribe. To break one or even to attempt it is the equivalent of turning oneself into a pariah and bringing the family into one’s shame. I could destroy any chance of even having him as a friend if I was to ruin this for him.” She could feel the sadness welling inside her, but she could feel anger and bitterness building there, too.

“On the other hand, I don’t know how it’s fair to anyone that Zuko has to hide who he is for the rest of his life if they get married. How can he be expected to simply live a lie for the rest of his days, and what if he couldn’t? What if she somehow finds out on her own or even if he ends up telling her down the road? I’m certain that if I was set up with someone, and I found out that they weren’t at all who they said they were, I would be hurt and furious, and even if I loved the person, I don’t know that I would never be able to trust them again, so who’s to say that his wife wouldn’t feel the same way? How is that okay? How could you both do that to him?”

Katara bowed her head, ashamed that she’d let those words escape her lips. She had just behaved extremely rudely toward this man, and he was only being kind toward her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be hurtful. I’m just… confused. I’ve never bought into the Northern Tribe’s custom of arranged marriages, so I must just be missing something that drove your choice. I’m sure it’s a good match, and she is beautiful and seems very nice. I just… don’t know what to do. I only see two paths before me, and while one is a little more desirable, it isn’t as… well groomed as the other, I guess.”

"I am not surprised that Lu Ten decided to confide in you. I am certain that he thought it might make a trip with the Prince of the Fire Nation easier for you to bear, especially knowing that Zuko tried to stop his father's shameful actions at the South Pole." Iroh paused then, and gave her a light smile. "Though it would seem that Lu Ten might have done too good of a job. Given that he has been trying to find the right girl for Zuko, I think if you wind up being her, none of us would hear the end of it..." he said with a dry chuckle, and then took another bite of his food. He had not tasted Water Tribe cuisine in quite some time, but it made him feel nostalgic to eat it, just like it was strange to see the water tribe girl sitting across from him. Were Zuko and Ursa not heavily involved in this talk he would have been more fascinated to talk with her about water tribe culture, but alas it had to wait.

Iroh's face fell a little after she admitted she had no idea what he meant by his analogy, and he scratched his chin thinking of another way to put it as he listened to what she had to say. It was interesting to hear the words coming out of her voice. She, it seemed, shared many of the concerns that he had about Zuko's union with Toph. "It is indeed a cruel fate not to be able to share everything with someone that you love." Iroh agreed. "But I think that Ursa's heart is in the right place. She would prefer it that Zuko leave his past behind him, embrace life here as a merchant, and forget his heritage. I know my nephew thinks that he can do it if he tries, but I believe that there will always be a part of him that belongs to the Nation that he came from. Not that he shares their ideals, but in him I see the true spirit of what the Fire Nation should be... a light that could return them to the path of goodness." Iroh said softly.

"And, betrothals are a serious thing everywhere. I would hope that with time, Toph would accept my nephews past and he could be honest with her. Though she seems as if she is soft and delicate, she is an earth bender, and at her heart she is made of stone. She would be able to weather whatever storm would be thrown at her, but I do not know that the relationship itself would survive. If Zuko decides to marry her, it will be his choice whether or not he confides his darkest secrets to her, even I could not council him one way or another on what is best." Iroh said honestly. It was a grim situation to say the least. But his eyebrows rose quietly as he looked at Katara.

"What I do notice though, is that both of the reasons you gave involve Zuko, and none of them involve you. You are focused on the way that Zuko will decide, but that in itself makes it so that you can blame your choice on him. If you choose to stay out of it, you will put the blame for it on wanting not to ruin Zuko's chance. If you choose to get involved, then you are blaming it on the fact that he does not deserve to live a lie. Neither one of those are your own decision, coming from what you want." Iroh mused quietly as he started to finish his breakfast, feeling a light fullness in his stomach. Water Tribe foods were not as heavy as much of the earth kingdom fare, it was usually to keep their warriors nourished with just enough, but that was why most of their tribe was muscled in a tight fashion rather than some of the bigger more bulging muscles of the Earth Kingdom or the Fire Nation.

"As for my metaphor before, what I am saying is this. If Zuko holds a flame of passion for you, and you approach it as simply going with the flow, eventually you will douse those flames and kill what he has for you, even if he decides to be with you. No one wants to be with someone who has simply settled for them as 'good enough', not someone who is looking for love, that is."

"It is probably strange or even hard for you to realize, but even though it is the avatar who embodies all of the four elements, we too, have each of the four elements inside of us. If the Water Tribes always went with the flow of things, you would not have fought the Fire Nation when they came for the avatar. For you, the ties of family and friendship are sacred things that you find worth fighting for."

"Much like in that situation, you are now faced with a similar question, to fight, or not to fight. The question you have to answer, the question that you are afraid to tell me the answer to... is whether or not it is worth fighting for. You do not need to tell me outright, I will be able to tell based off of what you decide to do with my nephew." Iroh offered as he sipped his tea, having finished his meal, and looked at Katara plainly, tilting his head for a moment as he thought of something, and then looked down towards his cup.

"Before you go, let me tell you a story. In my days in the military, I was known as the Dragon of the West, and on several occasions I was fortunate enough to have the Avatar herself as my opponent. I found her to be a very honorable woman, strong in her conviction and her duty. There are many times these days that I wish I could have spoken with her and had tea as a truce, even had my men mocked me for it. But then I was still too blinded by my sense of honor and self importance, much the way Zuko was when he was younger. I had glimpses of what was right and what was wrong, and I always fought with real honor, not what Fire Nation thugs claim it to be today. But I was still blind to the truth of what I was a part of, what I was helping to create in this world. It took me losing everything, my status, my right to the throne, and almost my family for me to see what it was there that was truly important in front of me."

"Had I not lost everything I thought I cared about at that moment, I would likely have lost what was truly important to me instead. I hope that what it is that is truly important to you is not as elusive as it was to me..." Iroh offered, sipping his tea in silence as he let his words sink in.

“I think he was right to tell us about Zuko’s past and his own to a much less detailed extent. My brother wouldn’t have gone with him, and I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable going with Zuko if I hadn’t known. It sort of put things in a different perspective when I learned that my life was saved because one person decided to lead a small group into my home to take out just enough enemies that I could escape with a small handful of my people.” Katara admitted. She felt confusion flooding her again when he eluded to the idea that she, of all people, could potentially end up being the right person for Zuko. Wasn’t this about trying to convince her that she should back off? “Hey, I’m not just interested in him because he saved my life. That part only helped me relax so that I could actually get to know him for whom he really is.” She felt a little defensive, sure, but given how the talk with Lady Daiyu had gone and her lack of sleep the night previously, she couldn’t help herself. She ate some more of her food, putting some meat on top of her seaweed noodles and lifting the combination to her lips with chopsticks.

“Just because a person’s past was hard, or terrible, or even shameful, it doesn’t mean that a person should simply abandon it. Our pasts are always going to be a part of who we are; they’re what shape us into the people we are today. I don’t think that Zuko should be expected to leave it all behind, to forget the things that have turned him into the man he’s become.” The rest of Iroh’s words reminded her of what Zuko’s mother had said.

I know that Zuko wants to try to heal the world, and there are days when I like to believe that he can...

While the Fire Lady’s words had sounded more bittersweet, Zuko’s uncle sounded more… confident, in a way. Perhaps Zuko was more important than she’d ever even considered. Maybe she wasn’t doing enough to protect his life. He’d saved hers twice, but his seemed the one that was most worth saving. She vowed to herself that she wouldn’t let any harm come to him, that she would protect him even if it meant losing her life in the process.

Katara was surprised when he revealed his knowledge that Toph was an earthbender, but really, from what she’d seen and heard so far, this man was incredibly adept and observant. While she wanted Zuko to be happy, and she was grateful that his uncle believed that Toph could potentially accept him and his past one day, the idea of them spending their lives together hurt. She would be lying to herself if she said it didn’t bother her, that all she wanted from Zuko was friendship, an ally. “What do you mean if he ‘decides’ to marry her. Is there even a choice in the matter? You said that arranged marriages are a serious thing everywhere, and if they’re as serious here as they are in the Northern Tribe, isn’t the choice already gone now that the match has been made?” Was there really hope that he may not go through with it, that he could safely back out without dragging his family and himself through the mud in the process?

Zuko’s uncle was right. She wasn’t thinking about this in terms of her own options, but she hadn’t really felt that she had any choice in the matter. His betrothal to Toph wasn’t something she could force to continue or to break; she was an outsider on that matter, but the turn of events made it so that she was accidentally becoming involved. What did she want? What should she do?

“Actually, a wise woman once taught me that we’re all made of the four elements, that without the combination of the four, there would be no balance, and we couldn’t live or even exist. I just never thought of it beyond the physical; I didn’t realize that we all have the four elements residing within us emotionally, too.” She continued to eat her meal and to drink her tea.

She wanted to be with Zuko, but there were so many obstacles ahead of her. Was he worth traversing them to be with him, to show him that she wasn’t just passionate for him when they were in the heat of the moment? Katara didn’t want to be with him just because he inspired lust within her, and she really had to think about what it was that she truly wanted, for herself. What if she made her choice, what if she decided to try to win Zuko’s heart only for him to decide that his best course of action was to continue with his marriage to Lady Beifong? Zuko wanted to talk to her later, and while there was no telling when ‘later’ would be, she knew she had to come up with an answer for herself, for him, by that time.

Katara’s eyes shot open when he told her he’d been nicknamed the “Dragon of the West,” for she’d heard that nickname uttered by her great grandmother in the past. She never in her life thought she would be sitting across from the man, drinking tea and asking for his help. The waterbender couldn’t help but to smile when General Iroh spoke so highly of her great grandmother.

“My great grandmother told me about you when I was younger. She told me that you were honorable, and you fought well and hard but not with rage. I couldn’t understand what she’d meant when she’d said that she believed the Dragon of the West was a good man because back then, all I’d ever seen of your people was anger and hatred and destruction. Even then, when you two were technically enemies, she defended your character when my brother and I tried to convince her she was wrong, as if a couple of kids were so much wiser than the Avatar.” Katara laughed, a little sadly. Remembering her grandmother only reminded her that the woman was gone, that everyone was gone. “After Sozin’s Comet, I thought of that as proof that no one from the Fire Nation could ever have any goodness inside them, but this past week has proven me wrong. I know now that my grandmother was right about you, and even if your brother is a bad seed, his son isn’t, and neither is your son. I’m sure even Zuko’s mother is a good woman, even if she doesn’t particularly like me.” Katara finished her meal and drank the last of her tea, feeling pleasantly full.

“Speaking of which… You’re, uh… not going to tell her about earlier, right? I would prefer to remain just an annoying spider fly on the wall to her and not one that needs to be squashed just yet.”

"I agree, it was the right decision, just as it was the right decision for Zuko to form an alliance with your people instead of letting you come here on your own." Iroh offered calmly, and then chuckled, holding his hands up as Katara tried to defend that she was not interested in Zuko solely because of the fact that he had saved her life. "I was not implying that you were. The blush on your face is not one of someone who is with someone solely because of duty..." Iroh said, seeming to take some delight in the fact that he was embarrassing her by pointing out her physical attraction to his nephew. He chuckled a little as he poured himself out another cup of tea, smelling it in his hands as he felt the warmth seep into them.

"What you have said is true, but it also does not mean that they have to wear it on their sleeve, either." Iroh countered. "Every moment of pain that you have endured to come here has made you who you are in this moment. But it also does not mean that in order to love someone you have to spill out every detail of that pain with them in order to prove your love." Iroh said softly. "Zuko must choose what it is that he wishes to disclose to Lady Beifong and what he decides to keep to himself. It would be easy for us to say what he should make known and keep private, but it is much harder when they are your own emotional scars that you are exposing. I would guess that even you have some skeletons that you would not automatically want to disclose to Zuko just because you care for him." Iroh watched her face as he said this.

Iroh let out a loud laugh as Katara asked him what he meant by whether he decided to marry her or not. "Everything we do is a decision, Katara. When I asked you here to have tea with me, you made a decision to come. You might have thought that you did not have a choice, but that was because you felt chained in by etiquette and wanting to do what was polite. To you it did not seem like a choice, and yet it was. Even sitting here enjoying tea with me now, you make a choice to stay here and listen to me when you do not have to. People, as a rule, do not like to take responsibility for their actions. It is much easier to say that you were forced to do something than to say you decided to do nothing to stand up for yourself. It is much easier to place that blame in the hands of another, and yet it is incorrect to do so."

"So when I say that if Zuko decides to marry Toph, that is what I mean."

Iroh looked at her calmly in the eyes, staring deep into them for a moment as he said his next words. "I would hope that you would not think that a man who went against his family, his country and his heritage to try to save your life would truly be bent by the rules of society. Think about how many different ways that Zuko could have convinced himself that there was no choice that he had to make in order to do something. It was difficult. It required sacrifice. It went against everything that he had been taught. It went against his family. It made him a traitor to his nation. Every aspect of Zuko's life could have been simpler if he had not made that choice."

Iroh sipped his tea. "I think we could all learn something from the fact that he wasn't willing to do what was easy, but instead chose to do what was right." He let that point weigh on Katara's mind for a moment as the air stilled. He wanted her to face that realization on her own, in silence. She would be the one who decided what it was that she would do with it, if she would brush it off as the words of an old man who had gotten too philosophical or if she would actually see the deeper meaning inside of it.

Iroh smiled a little as her eyes shot open at the mention of the Dragon of the West, but when she mentioned that the avatar was of her bloodline, it was Iroh's turn to have his eyes shoot open, though not perhaps for the reason that Katara thought. Whatever it was though, other than the widening of his eyes there was no other indication, and after a moment of looking away he chuckled lightly and then looked at her again. "It is indeed a small world; I did not realize that you were of the bloodline of the Avatar." Iroh said quietly. "Your great grandmother was too kind a woman, and you and your brother were right. Even though I did not fight with the bloodlust of my peers, I also did not stand up for what was right, the way that my Nephew has. In many ways Zuko is today more wise than I was at his age, and I hope that someday he will be even wiser than I am today..." Iroh said with a distant smile.

"I will keep your secret, but it might be better if you did not." Iroh suggested quietly. "Ursa was very angry last night that you were not completely honest with her, and it was a justified anger. You have spoken very strongly about Zuko being honest with Lady Beifong when it would be difficult to do so, but you yourself are not honest with Zuko's mother when it would be far easier for you to be." Again, Iroh gave her a moment of silence to consider that one.

Katara’s blush deepened when Zuko’s uncle pointed it out. Even so, she could feel herself relaxing with him. It was almost like being among people of her own tribe, like being around her grandparents. He teased her for her interest in his nephew, but he also seemed to be imparting wisdom without making her feel like either a terrible person or an idiot. She found her lips relaxing into a small smile as she ate her food and drank her tea.

Her smile faltered when he helped her realize that while history shapes people, it doesn’t have to be made known to everyone, even those closest to us. Her mind wandered to the distorted flesh that extended from her thigh, up her side, and onto her back. Katara still hadn’t told Zuko about it; in fact, none of the group knew about it. The Commander had to wear his mark on his face, but she could hide hers, and there just… didn’t seem to be any point during which it seemed appropriate to bring it up. Honestly, she wasn’t sure she wanted him to know about it. Even if he could still accept her, would he still be attracted to her, despite the hypocrisy it would take for him to reject her over it? A small part of her was still worried about it, especially with how the Northern healers had reacted to it.

There were other things, too, like having kissed Jet. She really didn’t want to tell Zuko about that, even if she had ultimately decided she wanted nothing more from Jet than friendship. What if Jet told Zuko about it, though? She didn’t know if he was still going to treat her possessively despite the fact that she’d made it clear there wouldn’t be anything between them. Maybe he would become vindictive and announce it to Zuko, or maybe one of the others would accidentally reveal it in passing, thinking Zuko already knew? She had to tell him, but the only problem was that she had no idea how to do it. Katara didn’t want to be dishonest with him.

She realized, as the old man spoke of Zuko’s going against all of the societal norms he’d been raised to believe and to follow, that there was hope for the two of them. After all, Katara had lived in the Northern Water Tribe for almost four years, and she didn’t bow to their customs. She trained to fight every day even though women had once been forbidden to do so. She refused to allow a marriage to be arranged for her despite the fact that she was now considered a frigid spinster for it. Zuko had become a rebel against his father and his entire nation in order to do what he felt was right. Why should something like a betrothal to a stranger stand in their way?

There was a slight problem with that logic, though. If it only concerned Katara and Zuko, it would have been so much simpler, but it also concerned Toph Beifong, and the young woman had shown interest in Zuko, having gone so far as to kiss him when she realized the sort of amazing man he was. If the waterbender succeeded in winning Zuko to her side, Toph would be hurt in the process. Guilt filled her. Taking what one wanted was not always the kindest thing, and she wasn’t sure she could think of a way to make it so everyone was happy with the choices that could be made.

She noted the surprise in Iroh’s eyes when she mentioned her great grandmother. “I hope you don’t think of me differently just because of whom my great grandmother was. She may have been the Avatar to the world, but for us, she was just our grandmother who loved us and protected us just like anyone else would have done for their family.”

Katara smiled softly. “Maybe Sokka and I were sort of right in the beginning, but my Great Gran Inoa was right about you the entire time. She saw the good in you, and you’ve proven she was right all along. I’m certain that if she was still alive, she would have loved to share a cup of tea with you. I’m also certain that Zuko will be all you hope he will be, maybe even more. I’m willing to bet that having you in his life has helped him become the man he is today, and for that, I’m grateful.”

She paled a little when Iroh mentioned that she needed to be honest with Ursa, and she knew he was right, but the idea of talking to her again terrified her, especially when she would be telling the woman what she’d done with Zuko. “What am I supposed to say to her? ‘So, Lady Ursa, I know you told me to stay away from your son, but I totally ignored you and decided I would kiss him even though you set up a perfectly nice betrothal for him.’” Katara sighed. “If she was just trying to intimidate me before by implying she’d have me killed, I’m pretty sure she’d be determined to go through with it after that, regardless of Zuko’s insistence that she wouldn’t hurt a mosquito fly.

“It doesn’t help that when I spoke with her, I thought Zuko wanted nothing to do with me, so it was easy to say that I didn’t have any romantic intentions toward him. She’s going to think that I lied and that I purposely set my intentions toward ruining his betrothal. I only wanted to talk to him and be done with it, and suddenly… it wasn’t just talking anymore.” Her face flushed. Why was it that Katara’s first real chance of having a boyfriend was so overly complicated? Why couldn’t it just be easy like it was supposed to be where two people decided to date and that was that? Instead, she had to face off against an arranged marriage and an angry mother. Iroh seemed to be on neutral ground, simply there to shed light on things and to see how they played out. The only person on Katara’s side was Katara.

”No, I do not think differently of you. Given that my brother was Ozai, it would be somewhat hypocritical of me." Iroh said with a smile. There were reasons why all of this became potentially complicated, but that was a ways down the line yet, not something that he would trouble Katara or Zuko with right now. Instead, he focused more on listening to Katara than ruminating on what was going through his mind in the background, watching her as she worked out some of her questions in front of him. He wondered if she had been unfortunate enough not to have the same sort of mentor that Zuko had been given the past few years. Perhaps if she had, it might have made things easier for her. Or perhaps it was just that she was just not used to dealing with the fire nation.

"In matters of truth, it is good to be like the stone, and not the snake." Iroh said simply and nodded, as if that was all he actually needed to say on it. The quizzical look from Katara was returned, and then he realized that once again, it was not going to be so straight forward as telling her the answer, he would need to explain it a bit first. "A stone is there, for everyone to see. If someone sees it from far away, it is there, when they approach it, it remains there. It is solid and consistent. You can pick it up and set it back down, but it will remain in the same form that it is." Iroh explained. "The way you approached the truth before with Ursa was like the snake. You hear it in the grass, and you know it is there, but you cannot see it. Even if you catch a glimpse of it, it is elusive, hard to find, constantly changing. If you were to pick it up and examine it closely, it might attack you with its fangs."

"The way you described talking to Ursa was as the snake." Iroh said, sipping his tea. "You made the truth like unto fangs sinking into skin. Of course if you make it like that you will hurt her with it, and she will retaliate. But if you present the truth to her the way you did to me, that you know something now more than you did then, then you are as the stone. True, when someone holds a stone, they can drop it on their own foot. And they might even blame the stone for hurting them, but deep down inside they know it is not the stones fault, but their own. If you think back on ways that the truth was given to you, I think you will find the times that you appreciated it most was when someone was like a stone, rather than a snake."

Iroh paused then, and smiled. "Of course, if you greatly anger an earthbender then you may find that the stone becomes a snake!" He let a loud raucous laugh rumble out of his stomach like that until he saw that Katara wasn't actually laughing with him, at which point he quieted down a little, coughed, and then sipped his tea to let the moment of awkward silence pass.

Katara smiled softly. It was so easy to forget that Zuko and his uncle came from a family of monsters. Perhaps that was why Zuko could forgive her, too, for her bloodbending. Knowing that people were truly good could excuse the wrongs of their pasts and of their bloodlines.

The waterbender looked at Iroh, trying to work through his metaphor. This one was almost as confusing as the last one, but he went ahead and explained without her needing to ask. She heard his words and absorbed them, carefully sifting through her own feelings in the process. Iroh was right, and she needed to talk to Ursa, but first, she would talk to Zuko. What would be the point of confessing everything to his mother when she wasn’t even sure what the future held for the Commander and herself?

When he likened the rock under an earthbender’s command to the snake, Katara didn’t laugh. He may not have realized how, if taken literally, the waterbender may feel a little reluctant to laugh. Toph was an earthbender, and while there was no proof that she was amazing, there was no proof that she wasn’t, either. What if she succeeded in getting Zuko by her side only to upset Lady Beifong? What if she decided to seek vengeance? Clearly, she wasn’t opposed to using her earthbending against people as she did against Jet last night, but how far would she go to get revenge on someone who may potentially ruin her only perceived shot at happiness?

Katara had nothing against Toph. She was beautiful and she seemed nice, and she seemed confident in herself, unafraid to take what she truly wanted. The waterbender greatly respected that, and if Zuko chose Katara over the earthbender, she would feel badly if the girl was hurt, but she couldn’t jeopardize her chance with the firebender just because someone else stood in the way. It sounded harsh, but Iroh had enlightened her that she had the choice of doing nothing or going for what she wanted, and while she hadn’t completely settled on a specific choice yet, she was leaning a little more toward taking what she wanted.

“Thank you for the breakfast, General Iroh, and for your wisdom. I appreciate all of it. I have a lot to think about, and I guess I have time to do it since it doesn’t sound like I’ll be seeing the Earth King any time soon.” Katara stood, placing her fist to her palm and bowing as they did to their elders in the North. “I should get back to the others. They’ll wonder where I am, and we have to leave soon so that our absence doesn’t raise suspicions.”

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Fri Jun 29, 2012 2:15 am

Zuko wandered into his mother's room, not recognizing a thing in there. No, that wasn't true, there were things that he did recognize from the last time that he had visited, but none of them were old memories, all new. They were things that she had collected from this place. She was living for her new persona now, she had embraced life in the Earth Kingdom. Zuko knew that he couldn't blame her. After what she had been forced to deal with in her past life, being married to someone that she was watching turn into a monster couldn't have been easy. And sometimes when he looked into her eyes when his father was brought up he could catch her looking away, the hurt gleaming into those eyes of hers. Zuko dared not ask if she still held feelings for the man, the answer wouldn't change anything, it couldn't undo what had been done.

Taking in a deep breath, Zuko watched as his mother closed the door, both of them standing, neither of them feeling like sitting as they took in a breath and started to talk at the same time.

"We need to talk about Katara." they boy said in unison, and blinked a little afterward.

"Go ahead..." Zuko offered, seeing the annoyance start to reflect in his mother's face that he was bringing it up with her. Like him, she could already sense that this wasn't going to be something that she liked. Zuko watched her, seeing the emotions play upon her face, and for a moment he thought that she in turn would demand that he go first, lay his cards out on the table, but then, she smoothed her robes and went over to the bed, sitting down on the edge of it as she looked at him, offering him a seat next to her that he waved off. Sitting close to her at this point was a potential hazard, he would much rather have a shouting match with her across the room than he would having her yell right at his face.

Ursa calmly accepted his decision, and clasped her arms together in her lap. "Zuko, I understand that you are older now, and that as men grow, there are certain needs that they have." His mother looked about as comfortable discussing this as Zuko was hearing it, which was not very much at all. Zuko could feel his teeth starting to grind a little at the subject matter. The last thing that he wanted to do was have 'the talk' with his mother right here, or even begin to discuss his sex life, which was nonexistent. That fact would of course make talking about it somewhat less awkward, excepting of course the fact that his mother probably wouldn't believe him, and that would cause all sorts of issues in and of itself. Ursa took a slow breath as she continued. "I understand that you have probably taken... steps to ensure that your needs are met. But there are also responsibilities that men have to their families as well, and when those two come into question you need to make a choice." Ursa said simply.

"And you're hoping that I'll make the one that involves the girl you found for me who specifically can't ever identify my face? Or see how horrific my scar looks?" Zuko shot back, feeling his fingernails starting to dig into his arms.

"That's not fair, Zuko. I was not aware that the daughter of the Beifongs was blind. It was not something that they disclosed to any of her potential suitors. Given that she rejected all of them I assumed that she was just picky, not that she was blind. But does that really matter to you? Are you really going to hold such a trivial thing against her?" Ursa said, her eyebrows raising in quiet sadness as she looked at him.

"No, I won't." Zuko said, feeling his tension start to ease a little. "I of all people know what it's like to have something that you can never erase that people judge you for." Zuko could see the hurt in his mother's eyes as he brought up the scar. When he had first come to them, it had been in a bandage, and he could see even then the tears welling in her eyes as she had seen it. She had wished that she could have done something to prevent it, he was sure, but he was also certain that there was nothing that she could have done that would have stopped his father once he had decided that Zuko needed to be taught a permanent lesson about respect and what it meant to show any sign of something that he considered disrespect. And after the bandages came off, he could see it in her eyes. She smiled at him of course, she hugged him, told him that she loved him and that it would be alright. But he heard her crying in her room later that night, alone. Even if she said it, she acknowledged that what had been done was irreparable. She would never be able to look at her son's face the same way again. "But that also means that I have to treat her normally as well. I can't agree to this simply because she's blind, it's not what she would want."

"Zuko, I understand that all of this is confusing for you. I know that it feels like I sprung this on you, but-"

"You DID spring this on me, Mom. You ambushed me with it the moment that I walked in the door. No wait, I forgot, you decided to berate Katara first."

Ursa stood up swiftly in a single motion like a cobra raising it's hood, looking at Zuko with a look that rattled him to the core still. "I did what was best for you, Zuko. You have known her for a handful of days, and she's already having midnight rendezvous in your tent with you, ones that she won't even admit to when I asked her about them. I don't like her, Zuko."

"You made that clear from the minute that you saw her, Mom!" Zuko growled. "You interrogated her from the minute that she set foot in the door, and yet you expect that she is actually going to be up front with you? She doesn't have any idea who you are, or what you're asking about, and nothing happened in that tent that night, despite what you might think. I wanted it to, and she's the one who said no."

"So you're chasing after someone who doesn't even want you..." Ursa said, raising a brow.

"No, she does-"

"Has she told you that she does?" Ursa persisted. "Has she told you that she wants you?"

"I... No..." Zuko looked down, biting his lip as he frowned slightly.

"So you're going to give up on a bright future with a wonderful girl, for the hope of something that will never work?" Ursa offered, touching his shoulder. "There has never been a marriage between our two people, Zuko. Not once, throughout all of history as far back as our history goes, which is a long, long time. Even when the Fire Nation lived in peace with the other nations. Not one. Use your head, Zuko, do you think that there might be a reason why it is that no Fire National ever married someone from the water tribes? Their lives are too different from our own. I'm sure that right now it's novel for her, that you're different, but I know her type..."

Zuko bowed his head and frowned. His mother had better points than he had considered going into this conversation. "But..." he said softly, "I want her."

"You don't know what you want. You CAN'T know after a handful of days. Have you learned nothing from the mistakes that I made Zuko? And I knew your father for years, and-"

"And without him I never would have been born. Is that what you want?" Zuko asked her pointedly.

"No... Zuko, never. I want what is best for you, I have always wanted what is best for you..." She touched his face and pulled him into a hug. "Won't you please trust me, this is what is right. Lady Beifong is the one that you're meant to be with."

Zuko frowned against his mother's shoulder as she held him so tight. "No, she's not. I know that much. I don't know that Katara is the one for me, but I feel with her what I should feel for Toph." Zuko said, pulling away from her to see the confusion and anger in her eyes. "I want you to support me in this, Mom. Please..."

"I support you in all things, Zuko." Ursa replied softly. "But this IS a mistake. If you want to go off and have your tryst with her, that's fine. But I beg you to not break things off with Toph."

"How is that fair to her?" Zuko said, his brows furrowing.

Ursa sighed. "They practically expect it here. Nobles have their phase of experimentation before they settle down with someone. If you really are determined to see where this goes with the water tribe girl, promise me you won't ruin your future over it." Ursa said.

"I can't do that." Zuko said softly. "That's not who I am. That's not who I will become."

Ursa sighed softly. "I know that's not who you are. You have always been gentle, deep down. And that has hurt you so much, Zuko. You have a big heart, but even you must realize now that sometimes you have to think with your head and not what your heart wants. If you wind up with Katara, what kind of future will the two of you have? The Water Tribe will never accept the son of the man who wiped out half of their people. For all you know, she doesn't really accept it. Perhaps this is just her way of trying to get revenge."

"I saved her life at the south pole, when I-"

"So she claims, Zuko. If she's willing to lie to me, who's to say that she's not lying to you?" Ursa countered. "You are your own man now, but you have to admit there are things here that just do not make sense. You have been so hurt by blindly following your heart in the past, be careful this time, please."

"I will." Zuko affirmed quietly. "But I have to see this through. I have to know."

Ursa sighed and bowed her head. Zuko hated it when she did that. It was her way of conceding that she could not do anything to stop him, and yet at the same time he knew that he was disappointing her by what it was that he was doing. This time, of course, there was no way that he could make her happy. No, that wasn't true. But he wouldn't. He wouldn't go against his gut just because it was the safest route.

"Will you at least try to be civil with her?" Zuko asked. Ursa stared at him again and he felt her gaze go cold. It apparently was too soon to ask something like that of her. "Fine, you do what you have to do, and I'll do the same." Zuko said as he stalked out of her room towards where breakfast was being served. He was hungry, and he needed to eat something so that he could make the knot in his stomach that talking to his mother had given him go away.

As he was approaching the table though he felt a hand come up and grab him, a familiar form gripping his arm as she hugged to it. Zuko felt the knot twist to the point of pain as he took a breath, and turned to look at her. "Toph, we need to ta-"

"Ryu! It's so wonderful, the Earth King is holding a royal dinner tonight and you and I have been invited!" Toph exclaimed as she gripped him tighter. "I normally hate these things, but... a chance to meet the earth king is like something that never happens, y'know? When are we ever going to get another chance like this ever again?"

"I... don't know..." Zuko admitted, bowing his head as he considered what she was saying, and how very complicated it made everything all of a sudden.


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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Fri Jun 29, 2012 3:42 am

Katara left the room with Iroh following behind her. They went to the area where breakfast was served for the others, and she arrived just in time to see Toph with her hand on Zuko’s arm and a smile on her face. She felt a knot twist into her stomach at the sight as guilt overwhelmed her until she heard the words coming from the earthbender’s mouth. “-Earth King is holding a royal dinner tonight and you and I have been invited! I normally hate these things, but... a chance to meet the Earth King is like something that never happens, y'know? When are we ever going to get another chance like this ever again?”

All semblance of guilt or thoughts of being with Zuko were swept from her mind as her head jerked up. Her eyes moved to his face as the idea entered her mind, but how to voice it with Lady Beifong sitting right there? Her heart beat rapidly as the thought tickled her mind, tormenting her. Zuko seemed unhappy about the situation, and while the waterbender could understand that, she couldn’t let this opportunity pass. “You two are going to meet the Earth King?” Katara asked excitedly as she approached them, her eyes moving pointedly to Zuko’s. “That’s amazing! You two are really lucky to receive such a high honor.”

If she was honest with herself, she was upset that she had to go through all of this bureaucracy to meet the Earth King when Lady Beifong was simply invited to go just a day later… with Zuko, her fiancé. However, she couldn’t allow herself to think about that right now. Somehow, she had to find a way to get into that party, to meet with the Earth King herself. This was exactly the sort of thing she needed, and Zuko had said they may need a way to sneak into the palace. What better time to do so than amongst a large group of people? Who would notice one or two more?

Having already eaten, Katara didn’t touch any of the food herself, but the others seemed to eat quickly. They all knew they had to get back to the house before Joo Dee arrived, and the creepy woman hadn’t announced when exactly she would be there. For all they knew, she could be there already.

When the others finished eating, they grabbed their packs and slung them over their shoulders. They all thanked their host and divulged how nice it was to meet all three of them: Iroh, Ursa, and Toph. Jet, especially, seemed to linger over Toph a little long before getting back to the group. He caught Katara’s gaze, smirking softly. Had… Had he just tried to make her jealous by flirting with Zuko’s fiancée? It didn’t work. At the moment, she had no head for the complexities of relationships or rejections. She only thought of the possibilities for tonight, if any existed at all.

They left the Jasmine Dragon and headed back to the house. There were people in the streets, but the six kept to themselves and kept their faces concealed by their wide brimmed hats. Thankfully, the robes didn’t all look exactly alike, so they didn’t stand out. “This is an amazing opportunity, R-Ryu.” Katara said, stumbling over his alias. “You could meet him tonight. There has to be a way to get me into that party. Do you think your uncle would help? I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but I have to get there. This could be the only chance I’ll have to talk to him. If I don’t get the chance tonight, it could be too late by the time any other opportunity presents itself, and you did say that we may have to sneak into the palace.”

“We should all crash that party.” Jet said.

“You would be lucky if you could pull off being a bus boy.” Gui laughed.

“Oh, and you would make a better high class character?” Jet countered.

“Nope. Probably not. The Commander’s probably the only one up for the job.” Gui said, laughing a bit before he realized that he may have sent more insults than intended. “And maybe Katara.” He added sheepishly.

“No, you’re right. After last night, I have no illusions that I can just walk into that party and present myself as something I’m not. I would need to be taught a condensed version of Earth Kingdom etiquette before I could make it, but I can’t exactly ask Joo Dee about it. I don’t want us to be followed into that palace, and I have a feeling she reports back to those who are watching us. Maybe I should sneak in as a bus boy with the rest of you… if they even allow girls to be bus boys.”

They were about a block away from their assigned house, and no one was around, so Shen bent a hole into the ground, and they all slipped inside as he and Gui began to tunnel under the streets and into the house. There was no sign that anyone had been inside it, and Katara relaxed a little, going into her room to change into her Water Tribe clothing. If Joo Dee was coming, the waterbender didn’t want the woman seeing the robes used for sneaking out of the house.

Just as she regrouped with the others – who had also changed – a knock came at the door. Ping answered the door, and Katara felt taken aback again by how large that woman’s grin could become, as if her mind had purposely dulled the memory of it to insure its sanity. “Hello, everyone. I trust you have slept well and have eaten breakfast?” Her voice was so… pleasant, but all of her words were so rehearsed, and that grin was just unsettling.

“Where would you like to go today?” Joo Dee asked happily.

“We figured we’d just stay inside today and relax some more in this nice house. It’s nice to just be able to sit and play games and hang out after traveling for so long.” Katara responded. It had seemed to be the only way to get rid of the woman yesterday, so hopefully it would work today.

“Ah, that is a very fine choice.” Joo Dee said approvingly, but at the same time, the woman seemed hesitant, as if she hadn’t been prepared for it. Ping and Jet began to play a game of Pai Sho while Gui and Shen placed bets on the outcome. Katara grabbed the card tiles and shuffled them, dealing an equal number to Zuko and herself for a game. The woman’s smile didn’t even fade once as she stayed with them, and Katara was honestly surprised at how well all six of them kept up the act of relaxed fun. After about ten minutes, Joo Dee finally excused herself, letting them know that she was pleased to see they were all happy in Ba Sing Se and to continue enjoying themselves.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Katara set down her cards, and the others stopped their games and bets as well. “I will be so happy when I can finally talk to the Earth King, and if all goes well, we won’t have to waste two months with that woman breathing down our necks before it happens.” Her eyes moved to Zuko’s, familiar feelings battling to rise to the surface despite how hyper-focused she tried to remain on her goal. How could just being near him do this to her?

She took a breath, refocusing on the mission, on the goal. “So, what are your thoughts?” Zuko was the one who had been raised into royalty, and he would be the only one with an answer for how exactly to get into the palace without being detected.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Fri Jun 29, 2012 1:02 pm

Zuko felt himself struggling with the morality of it. Toph was a wonderful person, she deserved not to be used like this. On the other hand, it would be the easiest path to the Earth King as wrong as it was. What did it hurt to hold off one more day to be honest with her? Especially when Zuko wasn't even sure of what the full situation was? His mother had reminded him that other than Toph and her, he wasn't certain what the water bender actually wanted. And unfortunately, at the moment hers was the most important opinion to him. Still, he didn't think that it was right to drag this on any longer than it needed to be. Katara might have been angry that he passed up a golden opportunity to meet the King, but there had to be another way. Zuko opened his mouth to talk to Toph when suddenly he heard Katara's voice cut him off. Zuko blinked up slowly at her and looked into her eyes as she gave him a pointed look to drill the point home.

"Yeah..." Zuko said finally, acknowledging that he knew what she wanted. The underlying implications of it though were a little harder to bear. Zuko had expected Katara to be against a deception like this. That when he had asked her if she really would have rather wanted him to go on a date with Toph again just so that she could get to see the Earth King that she might have told him no. Or even really debated it in her head. Instead she simply had told him yes. This was something that she wanted him to do. The real question was, if it had been something more, if Zuko had been forced to compromise even more of himself for this, would Katara so willingly have wanted to make that bargain? He didn't know. And in that lack of knowledge he could feel his mother's fears radiating up his bones softly even as Toph snuggled closer.

Zuko's golden eyes flickered over to hers, leaning up against a wall, looking at both Katara and him with a raised eyebrow, pointing out their hypocrisy as loudly as she could without opening her mouth. Zuko bowed his head and looked up to see his Uncle coming from the direction that Katara had come, his eyebrows raising slightly as well, though there wasn't as cold of judgement in them as there was Ursas. Zuko half wanted Iroh to give them some excuse not to go, only to reveal his plan for getting into the palace on his own. Instead he walked past and patted Zuko on the shoulder lightly. Zuko wasn't certain if it was intended as comfort, or if his uncle in fact didn't have any idea how to get inside of the palace either and this was his acknowledgement that it was Zuko's best change, even if it seemed deceitful.

Zuko and the others ate quickly, and he noted Toph smiling about it though she didn't actually comment on it directly, just smiled at him the way that his mother used to sometimes, when he would only catch a glimpse of her doing it here or there when she thought that he wasn't looking. It made him feel all the worse about all of this, but Katara had cast the dye for all of them already, undoing it would start a fight Zuko didn't really want to have with her looking at him expectantly. As he ate Zuko mentioned that there were some things that he needed to take care of for his Uncle, and so they all needed to go. Toph smiled knowingly and nodded lightly as he said it, telling him that later they would need to go shopping to make sure that he got the right outfit for the dinner. Ursa softly offered that she would be willing to escort them around town to some of the best stores, and Zuko wasn't certain if it was to make sure that she could try to bring him and Toph together, or if she was trying to be merciful and give them an excuse not to be too close.

When Jet flirted with Toph, Zuko didn't really notice, having said goodbye to his mother and his uncle but not her. Given that Toph didn't seem really to be really effected by Jet's flirting made it quite a bit easier. There was no point in being jealous over her. In secret he had denied her, cast away her love. She just didn't know it yet. When Zuko went to say goodbye she flung her arms around him and pressed a kiss to his lips which caused Gui and Shen to whistle lightly. Tophs lips were nice.. but they weren't Katara's, and the fact that he was doing it in front of the woman that he wanted to be with made it feel all the more wrong. Yet at the same time she was the one who asked him to do this. Forcing his eyes closed he pulled in Toph close and returned the kiss, feeling closer to his Father as he did it than he ever had wanted to, releasing her a moment later as they headed for the door, noting the look of judgement from his mother along with the look of sympathy radiating from his Uncle, who must have weasled the details of their relationship from Katara.

Once they were out of the building Zuko looked positively miserable on his way back to the house. When Katara came up to him to talk with him about how amazing it was, Zuko's eyes narrowed sharply at her, as if she had been intentionally trying to rub salt in the wound. "No, my uncle isn't getting involved in this, he's too involved already," Zuko growled out. It was true, of course, Iroh's business savvy had been instrumental in funding the rebels and seeing them get supplies. If for some reason the Earth King wanted to level his wrath against their band, Zuko's association with his uncle would need to be as light as possible. "I know what I said, I'll find a way for you to get in. But in talking with the Earth King you're probably going to be on your own. I'm guessing I'll need to focus on entertaining my date." He leveled that last word in an accusatory way, ignoring the banter from Gui and the others about it.

When Joo Dee approached them, Zuko let Katara handle it, feeling a bit more comfortable in his typical traveling clothes than he was in the other clothes that had been purchased for him. He could only imagine how uncomfortable he would feel in the outfit that he was going to need for tonight. Zuko's face twisted a little at the thought, remembering Katara talking about the bus boys. As Joo Dee stood there uncomfortably, Zuko paused and looked at her for a moment, biting his lip. "Joo Dee, the last time I was in Ba Sing Se, there was this party with the most beautiful bus boy I've ever seen, and I was hoping that I could get her name. Do you know who might know who she was?"

Joo Dee tilted her head at him like a confused bird as he asked her the question, and then seemingly forced her face into that twisted smile once again. "I am... very sorry, but all of the bus boys at parties in Ba Sing Se are male." Joo Doo offered, and Zuko's face fell a little as he heard Gui, Shen, and Jet off snickering in a corner about the question that he had asked.

"Must have been my mistake then." Zuko grumbled, and Joo Dee seemed to accept it. She lingered for a few minutes longer, which was about the time it took everyone to get the laughing out of their system as Zuko maintained the sour look on his face.

When Katara asked him his thoughts, Zuko scratched his chin lightly. "I've never been to a party in Ba Sing Se, but usually they have the lightest guard at the entrance so as not to scare their patrons. He can cry out of something bad happens and he needs backup. Which means our best bet isn't sneaking around, but tackling things head on. Even if bus boys are all males, usually rich people come with an entourage of servants, especially the more important and older they are. When I'm out getting fitted for my outfit, you'll just need to go look at servant uniforms, and I'll follow behind of them, distract the guard at the gate while you blend in to one of the groups going inside."

"Gui, Shen and Ping will double as bus boys and sneak in that way to provide you backup since I'll be... otherwise occupied." Zuko said softly.

"I don't know that heavy petting really counts as a part in our mission, boss!" Jet chimed in merrily. "And what's my job?"

Zuko glowered at him. "You'll be the carriage boy for them all. We need a getaway driver in case it all goes sour. I'm guessing if the Dai Li decide to take offense at you visiting the Earth King they may decide to do it with force. Best that you not hang around for it if it comes to that." With the plan laid out, all that there was to do now was execute it. Oh, and pretend to want to be with someone that he didn't for an entire evening...

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sat Jun 30, 2012 1:21 pm

Katara couldn’t look at Toph and Zuko sitting together while the girl clung to him. It would bring to mind too many questions and confusions that plagued her. Lady Beifong seemed really happy with him, and she felt guilt twisting in her gut. It wasn’t right to use them like this, to use her. She seemed so nice, and she really seemed to want to be with Zuko. How could Katara be so callous? No… This was more important than one girl’s feelings. Half of the Water Tribes had already been destroyed, and she would be damned if she let down the rest of her people. She clenched her jaw, staring at her hands while she waited for everyone to finish their breakfasts.

The waterbender waited for the others to finish their goodbyes, but she hadn’t been prepared for the goodbye between Zuko and his fiancée. She threw her arms around him and planted a kiss on his lips, and she could feel the frustration and unhappiness surge through her at the sight, but the real pain came when she saw the Commander lean into the girl, accepting and reciprocating the kiss. Her fingers clenched tightly, and she tried so hard to collect herself. This was her fault, right? She was the one who had wanted Zuko to go on this date with Toph, so it was only natural that he would show her that he was pleased to go, right? Katara suddenly worried that maybe it wasn’t deception after all, that maybe he’d made his choice, and the waterbender wasn’t the one he wanted.

She turned and walked out the door with the others following behind her.

After she had a few minutes of walking to cool off, to shove unpleasantness to the back of her mind, she fell back to Zuko’s side. With their hats covering their faces, she couldn’t see his facial expression, but while she cared what he was thinking, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know, and she didn’t want to think about the idea that he may actually choose Toph over her. It’s not like rejection would be anything new to Katara, but this was the first time she’d actually considered fighting to be with someone, and if she lost before she even got the chance to fight… It would just be really hard, but saving her people had to come first before her own happiness.

She could hear the anger in Zuko’s voice when he told her that they weren’t going to get Iroh involved. “I’m sorry. You’re right. He’s helping us enough as it is. I guess I’m just trying to think of all of our options.” Her voice was soft and apologetic, and she felt ashamed that she’d even mentioned the General helping them into the palace. Then he said he’d help her find a way into the party, but that he’d be busy entertaining his date. The emphasis on the last word sent a stab of pain through her stomach, and she lowered her head, making sure her face was covered thoroughly with her hat. He’d sounded like Jet when he’d said it, like he was purposely trying to hurt her, and she didn’t like it at all. On one hand, he could be upset with her for having made this choice for him, but on the other, if he was going to choose his engagement over potential with Katara, then maybe he really was just rubbing salt into the wound.

She didn’t say anything, instead walking the rest of the time in silence, not wanting to think about anything but plans for speaking with the Earth King. She found herself wishing her brother was here; he was amazing at coming up with ideas on the spot, and he was sure to be able to find a way into the palace party tonight.

As if trying to figure out a way to sneak into a party while dealing with her feelings for Zuko weren’t hard enough, Joo Dee seemed intent to stay there with them. Katara couldn’t just ask her to leave without drawing suspicions, so instead, she feigned interest in a card game with Zuko. Her eyes flicked to his face when he asked Joo Dee about a bus boy he’d seen and if he could get her name. Joo Dee’s smile flickered for the first time and became a very slight frown, but it only lasted a second before her trademark smile returned to her face, and she informed him that bus boys were only male. The waterbender faked an amused smile while the other three laughed about Zuko’s “mistake” with wanting to get to know a bus boy who wasn’t a girl. However, she felt a sense of turmoil begin roiling inside her belly. If all bus boys were male, then how was she going to get into that party?

The minutes passed like hours until Joo Dee finally excused herself and left them to their own devices. She asked Zuko what his thoughts on getting into the palace were, and she was surprised that he had such a detailed response. There was a role for all of them to play. “I don't know that heavy petting really counts as a part in our mission, boss!" Jet chimed in merrily.” Katara glared at Jet, certain that his comment hadn’t been meant just for Zuko but to remind the waterbender of her place, too. However, when she looked at the Commander, his face was just as sour. Was it just because he disliked Jet or was it something else? She was relieved when he assigned Jet to being the getaway driver. It gave him less chance to get them discovered if he was in there hitting on every woman in sight. Jet seemed extremely unhappy with this turn of events, but he didn’t fight it.

Katara’s eyes moved over his face, and she knew she wasn’t just imagining the unhappiness there. “Can I talk to you?” She asked softly. “Alone?” Jet’s glare was piercing, but the waterbender ignored it. The other three just stared at her in surprise before Gui and Shen formed smirks on their faces. She suddenly didn’t care what they thought even though she could practically hear Shen calling her a man-eater again though the boy was silent.

He agreed, and they went into another room where she closed the door behind them. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I know it must have seemed really callous of me to just jump on this chance without thinking about how it may affect the people around me. I can find another way into the party, or someone else can distract the guard. I don’t want to put you into a position that makes you uncomfortable. I’m really sorry that I didn’t think about that sooner, but this may be the only chance to save the last of my people, and I can’t let my personal feelings get in the way of stopping the Fire Nation from committing genocide. Doing this is more important than I am, and if I can just get the Earth King to listen to me, then maybe he’ll stop being so illusive and decide to help the Northern Water Tribe.

“Even so, I can’t feel good about using either you or Lady Beifong to that end, and if there’s another way, we should do that instead…” Katara’s gaze moved away from his face to the floor, and her voice softened, and though she tried hard to keep the emotion out of her voice, she wasn’t sure she fully succeeded. “Or… I mean, I guess if you do want to go, you don’t have to worry about us while you’re there. You can just… enjoy the party with her if that’s what you want to do.”

Katara didn’t want to say those words. Instead, she wanted to shout at him, to ask him why he kept shoving it in her face that he was engaged. Why would he kiss Toph in front of her after he’d just kissed the waterbender an hour before that. Was he trying to hurt her, to mess with her emotions? Worst of all, being alone with him made her want to kiss him, to make him realize that he should be with her, not with Toph. If Iroh’s talk with her had taught her anything, it was that she needed to fight for what she wanted, but it wasn’t worth fighting for someone who didn’t want you, and after seeing him kiss Toph, she couldn’t be sure what Zuko wanted any more.

Zuko blinked away from what he had been thinking about as he saw Katara asking if she could talk to him. He was wondering exactly how many awkward talks he was going to be able to squeeze into one day at this rate, but he nodded lightly, suppressing the sigh that wanted to come from his lips at the idea that he was going to have another talk with someone who would give him more shards of glass in the eye of what he dreamed of. Zuko caught Jet glaring at him and gave Jet one back that made the fighters eyes widen. Zuko so far wasn't having the best day, and he would be damned if he was going to let the fighter decide to be pissy with him right about now. He just wasn't in the fucking mood. Zuko's glare lasted long enough that Jet actually looked away from him before he turned towards the doorway of the room that Katara was entering, watching her close the door behind them as Katara looked at him.

"It didn't seem callous. It was callous." Zuko said flatly. If Katara had any illusions about the fact that Zuko was happy about this situation, she would see on his face that he wasn't. Or perhaps he just wasn't happy with her. Zuko crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall as he closed his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. "You've essentially done the equivalent of asking me to make out with a stranger in order to get what you want." Zuko said softly. "If the situation were reversed and it was my country that needed saving, and the only way in was for you to make out with one of the guards, how would you feel about it?" Zuko said, his golden eyes looking at her, seeming to judge her there in that moment, staring through her before he closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. This wasn't what he wanted to do, he didn't want to lob words at her just to make her feel bad about it.

"But my Uncle believes that no one can make us do anything. I'm inclined to agree. I could have told you that it wasn't going to happen, but I went along with it." He looked down. "At the end of the day, if denying it was what brought about the downfall of the Northern Water Tribe, you would never forgive me for it. You might say you would now... but it's another thing to lose... everything." Zuko said. "And standing by and letting the genocide of people happen just because I have to do something that makes my heart ach-... that is not what I want, isn't who I am." Zuko wanted to slam his fist into the wall. In the tales that he had always heard of the Avatar, it was never a decision that they had been forced to make. True heroes could uphold their ideals and everything would work out. True heroes never had to get their hands dirty. Maybe that's why he knew he wasn't a real hero.

"It's not what I want to do. But it is what I have to do, isn't it." Zuko said, looking at her as he moved towards the door and touched the doorknob. "Was there anything else?"

“I didn’t ask you to kiss her! That wasn’t what I wanted, but you seemed more than happy to do it without my asking.” She was angry now, but she only hissed the words, not wanting the others to hear. Sure, he had every right to be upset with her about this, and she understood that, but Zuko had definitely taken it further than she’d anticipated, and while she was upset about it, the true anger lay with herself, not him. Still, she was having a hard time recognizing it quickly, and the fact that his were the words had hurt her made it easier to direct her rage toward him. “If the situations were reversed, I would still do what it took to save a nation from genocide, even if it meant hurting myself in the process. That’s exactly what I’m doing now. You think I want to be around while you’re on a date with another girl? I didn’t want it last night, and I sure as hell don’t want it tonight, but this is different. There’s a bigger picture involved this time.”

Her stomach clenched painfully when he admitted that it hurt him to have to do this, to pretend to enjoy himself with another girl. Spirits help her… How could she do something that would make everyone happy? Was it even a possibility?

He was furious, and she now knew why. Understanding melted away her anger, but he was still furious, and he was going to leave, but first he asked if there was anything else.

“I spoke with your uncle this morning. He said as much about choices as you just did. We all have choices, we simply choose to blame our more unpleasant choices on societal constraints. I’m going to get into that party whether you go or not, and I’m sure the others will still play their roles. If the same plan doesn’t work without you there, there’s no telling if it will work if you go, either. I can’t blame other people for my own failures. If the last Water Tribe is still destroyed, I wouldn’t blame you for that when it wouldn’t even come close to being your fault. You got me into Ba Sing Se when the closest I was going to get was being imprisoned and tortured for information, and you helped come up with a plan to see the Earth King. I should never have asked more from you for this mission than that, and I won’t. I care about you too much.”

She placed a hand on his arm, pulling his hand away from the door. “There are other ways, so you don’t have to do it. Jet could distract the guard while I sneak in, and because he won’t be going into the party, he won’t be recognized later.” Of course, someone could still recognize him waiting at the carriage, but hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. Really, the best way would be for Zuko, as an invited guest, to distract the guard because he would know how to do it without making a scene and drawing too much attention to them, but she couldn’t make that choice for him, and she couldn’t hold it against him if he chose not to do it. “Regardless of whether or not you go, I will still have to face the Earth King on my own. I don’t want you to feel like you have to do this. You’ve done enough for the Water Tribes already; you’ve done enough for me.”

Iroh had made it clear that she couldn’t blame the future on Zuko’s choices alone, and she realized that it would be worth it to fight for the right to be with Zuko. He wanted to be with her, not with Lady Beifong. Even if he was still upset with her now, maybe he could forgive her in time. Even in his anger, he’d spoken of his feelings, and that was enough for her to realize that even after the smoke from the heat of their moment had passed, it wasn’t just lust that drove him, and she knew that hormones weren’t all that drove her, too. She cared what he thought of her, and she cared about him as a man, as a person who did the right things. He had such a good heart, and he had so much to give to the world, but she knew he was only human, and he felt anger and pain just like the rest of them. Katara didn’t want to antagonize him, and she didn’t want to hurt him. She wanted him to be happy, and she found herself believing that there was potential for her to be the one to bring him that joy. They just had to get through tonight without getting arrested or killed. That should be easy, right?

"And my uncle says that I don't think things through." Zuko said with a sigh. "I'm supposed to be going to a party with her tonight. How do you think she would react if I suddenly decided to stop kissing her? Don't you think that might open the door for some unpleasant talks that would in fact screw up exactly what you wanted out of this?" Zuko shot back at her. "No, you didn't ask me to do it, but I either had to do that or blow the plan you sprung on me. I made the choice to preserve your plan, so don't throw it back in my face like it was something that I did to hurt you." Zuko was already annoyed about the situation that he had been put in. The fact that Katara was going to try to act like him kissing Toph was something that he did thoughtlessly was the icing on the cake, and he certainly wasn't in the mood for it.

When she brought up the bigger picture, Zuko bowed his head quietly. "Yes there is." he said. There really wasn't anything more to say other than that. It wasn't comfortable, but on the other hand, if he said no, if he didn't put all of his effort into it he would be forced to live with that knowledge. That was the price of not helping someone, not doing what you could to see something through, was that if it fell apart then you had to bear the burden of letting it happen without the solace of knowing that you did whatever you could to stop it. A thousand years from now he doubted that anyone would even remember who he was, save for a footnote in a Fire Nation scroll someplace. But if the world lost the Northern Water tribe, it would be devastating. With the world already out of balance, how much more would it deteriorate if there was another element pulled from it?

"Even if you don't ask me to do it... we both know that I have to." Zuko said bowing his head lightly as he looked at her fingertips on his arm, and closed his eyes as he leaned his head against the door frame for a moment. "If I don't do everything I can, then this trip might have been for nothing." Zuko said, opening the door and slipping out into the room where a bunch of expectant eyes looked at him as if wondering what might have transpired in there. He knew they likely expected him to come out flushed and angry or something a bit more embarrassing. It would have annoyed him had he been in a better mood, but right now there was only one sensation that Zuko was focusing on right now, and that was the pang in his stomach of the idea that Lu Ten and Sokka might not be alright.

For that reason, even above his own personal feelings, he had to do what it took to make sure that Katara saw the Earth King tonight, even though it pained him. After all, how much more horrible would it be if this all had been some sort of fool’s errand? Or worse that he had left them to go on a mission that he couldn't stomach seeing through to the end? They were risking their existences on the fact that their mission meant something. Could Zuko really do any less for this mission and still be able to look at himself in the mirror?

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sat Jun 30, 2012 8:53 pm

Chapter Three: "The Price of Freedom..."

Standing still was by far the worst part.

Given what he knew, given what he feared, Zuko wanted to be sparring with someone, or punching a sandbag as hard as he could right about now. He could feel the energy bubbling inside of him at this moment, the firebender inside of him calling for action. It had taken time to temper it, but it was still there. Four years ago he would have been pacing without being able to help it. Right now he certainly wanted to be doing something, but instead he was feeling a tailor get far more comfortable with Zuko's junk than anyone other than his wife should be. As the woman smiled up at him and took yet another inseam measurement, Zuko glowered down at her. Exactly how many of those did she need to take anyway? All of this felt like a giant waste of time, and yet at the same time, he knew that it wasn't. He just wanted to get this night over with so that they could get the support of the Earth King and get back to Lu Ten. Unfortunately, apparently part of doing that meant having a tailor staring at his junk for a bit.

"It's going to look lovely." Ursa said softly as she looked at him with her golden eyes, seeming to want to try to comfort him in this. He didn't look happy, and she knew it. Even Toph seemed to be able to sense that he was unhappy about it, though whether it was because she could actually make out facial expressions with her ability or she just could hear it in his silences and tone of voice when he did speak, Zuko couldn't tell. Like Zuko, she was currently getting fitted for a dress, which she seemed to be tolerating just fine. Then again, as his mother had reminded Zuko, Toph had likely done this more than most minor noblemen would do in a lifetime given her family's status. Zuko had been rather surprised at how quickly the tailor's shop had jumped up when she had presented the Beifong family crest to them on some official looking paper.

Ursa seemed content just to watch him, though she hadn't been as happy to learn that they needed to use this entry into the party to get Katara an audience with the Earth King in a way that wouldn't attract the Dai Li or Joo Dee's suspicions. She had managed to calm down from their earlier talk though. All she had asked him to do was to get Katara in and then focus on having a good time with Toph, not to concern himself with the rest of what happened that night. He could see it in her eyes even now as she watched him. She wanted him to settle down, she wanted him to fall in love with Toph. Looking away from her, Zuko focused his glance on Toph instead watching her as her dress was pinned in certain places. She really was beautiful and wonderful. Zuko wished that he felt for her the way that he did about Katara. It would certainly make things... simpler. But at the same time, he knew himself well enough now to know that it wouldn't be like that. He also knew what his mother was hoping for as well, that a logical pairing would eventually blossom over time instead of burning with heat in the short term.

When they were done, Zuko quietly adjusted himself when no one was looking, things finally starting to feel a bit normal down there. Thankfully Toph, if she noticed, didn't seem to say anything, though he caught Ursa rolling her eyes lightly as she gently touched his arm as they moved down the street. It was weird, of course, being on the rich side of town. When he had first arrived in Ba Sing Se a while back he had been forced to spend a few nights in the poor part of town when he was looking for his uncle. There it was rather violent and cut throat. Here, it was like that world never even existed. People were polite to you, made chit chat with people that they hardly knew. But there was no talk of the war. That was the part that Zuko found the most disturbing. The whole day he never heard anyone bring it up even once. Even if it was something that they weren't interested in, it had to be somewhat relevant, didn't it? And yet newspapers talked of Earth Kingdom news, never once mentioning the Fire Nation navy or their ground troops encroaching upon earth kingdom lands at all.

Zuko had known society well enough to know better than to broach subjects that no one talked about, but usually you heard them in whispers amongst the people. Here there was... nothing. And the more time that he spent in the city the more time it seemed as if they were all just puppets, marionettes going about the motions of their day, their discussions shallow, pointless. There was a war going on for Spirit's sake! But here they ate, slept, lost themselves in games and other pointless things without ever thinking about the war that was going on just a day's ride from their precious walls. The more that the day wore on, the more that it got under his skin. Was this really what his mother wanted for him? A life filled with not caring about a single thing that actually mattered? So lost in his own amusements that he never actually did a single thing that meant anything in this world?

When it was time to get ready, Zuko actually found himself more relieved than he had expected that he would be, getting ready for this party. Perhaps it was the fact that he could see the light at the end of the tunnel, the ending of it all for them here in the Earth Kingdom. He had never before been someplace that was so open and yet at the same time felt so... constricted. The walls of Ba Sing Se were an invisible prison, it seemed, and Zuko longed to be free of it so that he could get back to what really mattered.

Even though he had been with Toph when she tried it on, he found himself somewhat speechless when he saw her in the rich green kimono that complimented the greens of his own outfit. It was strange, to be certain, the jacket itself had shoulder pads in it that reminded him quite a bit of the fire nation military uniform, but at the sides it was flat rather than curved up. Soft golden tassels hung there as if he was a military general of some kind. Zuko thought it was stupid, but the person at the tailor's shop who had then spent an hour touching him inappropriately had first ensured him that this was the high point of fashion amongst nobles. Ursa, of course, had fallen in love with it at first sight and had talked him into it. Zuko sighed a little and fiddled with the golden coin clasp in the front that was part of the Earth Kingdom's art, and sighed softly.

What came next was his mother's idea, an artist coming to sketch the rough outlines of himself and Lady Beifong so that Ursa could commission a painting based off of it. Once he had come up with the darker lines of it and presented it to Ursa she had nodded lightly, and Zuko was finally free to go to this damnable dinner. Trying to remember to have fun, he smiled at Toph who sat across from him in the carriage they had commissioned there. Zuko had instructed all of his crew to be there early as he had no idea how fast the driver would get them there, but it seemed as if he was taking a leisurely pace through the city. "Your robes look lovely." Zuko said softly to Toph, who blushed for a moment, before giving him a smile.

"You should see what's underneath them." She said with a wink, making it Zuko's turn to blush.

When it came time to step out of the carriage Zuko was glad that he could see some other people wearing similar things to what he was wearing. It seemed that the high priced, possibly perverted tailor had known what she was talking about after all. Zuko wondered how many people here she had actually groped.

As he helped Toph from the carriage he noted his friends off to the side looking at him. He saw Jet roll his eyes, and saw Katara's deep blue eyes widen at what it was that he was wearing, which only made him feel more self conscious, but there was no time for that now. He scratched the back of his neck which was Ping's sign to be ready, as he lead Toph and quietly got in line behind a large entourage of servants that were tending to an even larger woman with an obnoxious laughter and a boy half her age on her arm that she was clearly dragging to this thing. There were enough servants in uniforms close enough to Katara's that she could easily pass for a handmaiden of this woman, she just needed to get close and have a distraction to do so.

Once the guard had verified her tickets, Zuko let go of Toph's arm to pull out the invitation, taking a hurried step forward then and pretend to trip, taking a few hurried steps and slammed into the guard full force, sending them both tumbling down, causing all eyes to go onto him for a moment, giving Katara what she needed to slip into the servants of the woman who was now chuckling at him before turning her entourage towards the doors of the Earth King's Palace. Well, part A seemed to go well enough. Now all he had to do was actually explain himself.

"I am so sorry..." Zuko said as he dusted himself off and offered the guard a hand up. Instead the man rose of his own accord and gripped Zuko by the gold clasp of his collar and pulled him forward.

"Just who the hell do you think you are, kid?" The guard demanded, snatching the invitation from Zuko's hands, then paling as he noticed Zuko's date staring crossly at him, and the names on the list. "L-l-lady Beifong, this is an unexpected pleasure. I am... so... completely sorry for my clumsiness." Zuko blinked as the man started readjusting Zuko's outfit to put it back into place as he offered the most fake smile Zuko had ever seen someone give, and then bowed deeply to them both.

Zuko took in a breath then as he took Toph's arm and went into the party. Whatever happened from this point on... it was going to be... interesting.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sun Jul 01, 2012 3:10 am

This wasn’t exactly what Katara thought was pleasant. Gui, Iroh, Jet, Katara, Ping, and Shen had all piled into a clothing shop in the Middle Ring. Iroh had informed them that this was the place where servants of Upper Ring families bought their uniforms. When Katara admitted she had no idea what servants wore, Zuko had suggested they ask his uncle, and the old man had been happy to help them though Ursa had been less than pleased that the Commander’s party, namely Katara, would be crashing an important event for her son and his fiancée. The woman had glared at the waterbender until she’d left with Zuko and Toph to get them party robes.

The shopkeeper, an elegant older woman, approached them. “How may I help you today?” She addressed Iroh, as he was the best dressed of the bunch and thus the one with the money to spend.

“There is an important party tonight, and I would like my servants to be very well dressed for the occasion.” The old man began. “This young lady will be my date’s handmaiden, and this young man will be our carriage driver while I have offered the service of these three young men as bus boys.”

The woman’s face seemed to light up with joy. “Ah, the Earth King’s special party! It is truly an exciting event. Your servants are very lucky to be accompanying you and your date this evening to such a royal event.” Her eyes passed over Katara’s figure approvingly before sizing up the other four men. “Are you looking to show off your wealth while you are there? We have some robes that are very fine.”

Iroh chuckled heartily. “Oh, no. I do not think I want something for these youngsters that stands out too much. I believe my date would be very unhappy if the young lady was to outshine her. Perhaps something elegant and classy so we are not embarrassed but subdued enough that they will not outshine us on this special evening. I admit that I have not kept up with the fashions for servants as of late, and I would not be opposed to using a more popular design.”

“I have just the thing in mind for this young woman. Come this way.” The shopkeeper turned away and headed to a far corner of the shop where bolts of nice fabrics as well as mannequins wearing fully formed clothing were displayed. She motioned toward one mannequin in particular wearing a simple, two-piece, wrapped ensemble, but the cut was quite flattering while still insuring a woman would not bear too much of herself. “This has been a popular style for servants attending the ball, and these are the fabrics that we can use to recreate it.” She motioned toward a variety of bolts of varying colours and patterns. Iroh looked from one to another before choosing a bolt of a nice, moss green fabric with pale tan trim.

“That is a lovely choice and a popular one this week if I might add, and it will work nicely with the young lady’s colouring.” The shopkeeper excused herself to find her assistants.

“These are servant’s robes?” Katara asked skeptically. “They look like they could be worn by people in the Upper Ring to a fancy dinner.”

Iroh simply placed a hand on his belly and laughed. “For a party such as this, it is expected that servants dress as nicely as those they serve while their masters will dress almost as extravagantly as royalty.”

“So we’re going to look like high class citizens tonight. Nice.” Jet said with a smirk.

“Actually, as a driver and as bus boys, you will likely be wearing what is normally on par with servants on a regular basis, simply in better fabrics. It is only this young lady who will be truly dressed as a higher society maiden.” The woman had returned just in time to correct the poufy haired fighter, staring distastefully at the wheat stalk on which he chewed though too polite to say anything to the man who would be giving her his money. Four assistants stood behind her, and one of the women grabbed a bolt of the chosen fabric before taking Katara’s hand and leading her to a stool in another room while Iroh and the other went to another section of the store to find other clothing.

The waterbender stood on the stool after disrobing to her under things as the young woman who looked to be only a little older than her began to take her measurements. She seemed to hesitate upon beginning to measure Katara’s side, noting the angry scar there, but her hesitation was only momentary before she continued as if nothing was wrong. “You’re so lucky to be attending the royal ball, even as a servant!” She said excitedly.

“I know! I’m very excited.” She lied smoothly. She wasn’t excited to see Zuko there with Toph, and the idea of meeting the Earth King brought more anxiety than joy, but it would all be over soon. She had faith that she would be able to convince the Earth King to help her people, and all would go well. “I’m also very nervous.” She confessed. “This will be my first time serving my masters as such a big party. I don’t want to embarrass them.”

“Well, just remember not to speak unless someone specifically speaks to you first, and try to keep whatever you say short but kind, and you’ll do just fine!” The seamstress said encouragingly.

“You seem to know a lot about this sort of thing.” Katara observed.

“I’ve been a seamstress here for five years. Servants and their masters like to talk a lot, so I’ve learned a thing or two.”

“I don’t mean to ask for more help than you’re willing to give, but I’ve been told my usual, single-braid won’t be sufficient for this party, and I don’t really have anyone to give me advice about it. Do you know what a good style could be?” Katara didn’t want to overstep her boundaries, but she couldn’t exactly ask Zuko’s mother who hated her or Zuko’s fiancée who needed to be left out of the loop for advice.

“Hm…” The woman said as she finished her measurements and began draping the fabric over Katara’s form. She looked at Katara’s dark chocolate hair. “You’ll need to tame your waves to give it a sleeker look. Perhaps you should try an intricate braided bun, accented with a medium sized flower? I have a picture from a popular fashion magazine. I finished reading it, so you’re welcome to try it. Have you also considered the make-up you’ll wear, or were you waiting to see the fabric for your robes?”

Katara paled a little. “Make-up? I didn’t know I would be wearing any. I’ve never had to wear it before.”

“You really are new to this.” The seamstress said as she pinned the robes. “Just be sure to wear a lighter amount than your mistress, and you’ll be fine. I recommend just a touch of pale green eye shadow with the lightest touch of blush and a shade of lipstick that is only a little darker than the rest of your skin but maybe has some pink undertones to it.”

Katara felt stomach tighten at what the woman was saying. She didn’t own make-up, and she’d never worn it in her life. Few people in the Water Tribes wore make-up because there wasn’t exactly a good supply of plants from which to make it. All they had was ice and animals as their supplies, and trade wasn’t exactly an existing practice with the Fire Nation attacking them every chance they got. It was simply a better practice to not smear animal insides on one’s face just for beautification purposes.

“The shop next door sells some things, and I’m sure they’d be more than happy to help you find the right colours for you.” She finished pinning the robes and began writing some things down on paper and marking the fabric itself before removing it all from the waterbender. “It will take an hour to finish sewing this. You may relax in the meantime, perhaps begin work on your hair and makeup.”

Katara thanked her for her advice and stepped off the stool and dressed in the robes that Iroh had original given to her that first night and returned to her party. The men each stood on a stool while the attendants pinned and marked the fabrics. They all looked distinctly uncomfortable, but Gui and Shen were doing especially well, standing as still as pillars. The waterbender moved to Iroh’s side. “The attendant said I’ll have to wear makeup, that it’s expected of all women but in lesser amounts on servants. What do I do?”

Iroh looked at her, his stocky height making it so he had to peer upwards, but she still felt small and childlike next to him. “Ah, I don’t suppose it is common practice to wear it where you were raised.” He seemed to be thinking to himself about this conundrum. Clearly, he wouldn’t know what to do to help her himself.

“The seamstress said there’s a shop next door, that they would help me. Do you mind if I step over there for a moment? She said it would be an hour before the robes are done.”

“Yes, that is a good idea.” He said with a nod, and she left the boys to their fittings.

Katara looked into the mirror, noting the strangeness in the reflection. She looked… beautiful. She’d never considered herself unattractive before, but she’d never felt like she was any great beauty. Even now, she couldn’t compare to Lady Beifong or even to Lady Ursa, but she felt like she looked like she could have been raised into high society. The make-up on her face highlighted her features without masking them or over emphasizing them. The women in the make-up shop knew what they were doing when it came to colours that looked good. If she hadn’t known what her face looked like without the make-up, it would have looked almost… natural the way her features looked.

Hair hadn’t been a problem. As women had no make-up in the Water Tribes, and they had to remain covered in public unless they wanted to freeze to death, hair was really the only thing on which one could focus. She knew how to work with her hair and form it into complex plaits and knots and designs. This wasn’t difficult for her at all. In the end, she decided on plaiting one part of her hair to wrap vertically around her head with a white ribbon laced through it. The rest of her hair was twisted into a complex series of braids whose beginnings and ends couldn’t be distinguished. Iroh had taken some flowers from the garden for her hair, a few small, white flowers to accent the twists at the back of her head and a slightly larger one to pin above her ear.

The robes had turned out beautifully. There was a white under-dress whose collar rode halfway up her neck and whose skirt was a little longer than the outer robe. The moss green fabric showed her curves nicely without drawing too much attention to them, and the tan trim gave the outfit more interest. There was a small slit on either side that showed the white dress beneath it all. As for the sleeves, they were tighter, but not constricting, around her upper arms and became wider at the elbow, but they weren’t billowy like a non-servant’s sleeves would be.

As she gazed at herself in the mirror, examining herself on all sides, she suddenly didn’t want to go. What if she drew too much attention to herself in this ensemble? She should just wash her face of the makeup and take her hair down. Maybe a simple braid down her back would suffice. She looked too… high class. What if someone didn’t believe she was a servant? People at the restaurant last night had been dressed this well, and even though Iroh claimed they would be even more extravagant than usual, she wasn’t sure about any of this.

A knock came to the door as she began to struggle to untie her robe, causing her to freeze. “Are you almost done in there?” Shen’s voice came through the door. “We’re going to be late. We’re supposed to get there before the Commander.” Katara’s hands were shaking, and she closed her eyes tightly.

“Yeah. Sorry. I just… I’m almost done.” She took a steadying breath. She had to do this, to save her people, to make it so that Zuko’s going on an unwanted date with Toph wasn’t in vain. Katara tightened the ties she’d loosened and paused before the mirror, looking herself in the eye. You have to do this. You can do this, and you will succeed… She silently told herself before pulling away and stepping through the door.

Katara froze when she saw the looks on the others’ faces. Gui’s mouth gaped open, and even Ping looked surprised, as if he hadn’t expected something. Jet and Shen just looked shocked, but Jet’s surprise soon turned into his trademark, relaxed smirk. Her eyes moved over the robes. “Did I mess something up? You don’t think they’ll recognize me or… realize I’m not a servant, right?” Her heart was hammering beneath her breast as panic began to fill her.

A warm hand settled onto her shoulder. “I think they are simply giving you a compliment, Katara.” General Iroh said softly, merriment in his voice. “You look like a proper handmaiden for a royal ball: beautiful and refined.” Katara looked into his face, seeing his smile.

She placed a fist to her palm and bowed to him. “Thank you, sir. I truly appreciate all of the help you’ve given to my people and to me.”

“We should go now.” Ping said softly. “We don’t want to be late for our first night as bus boys.” Katara smiled and the five of them left, filing out of the tea shop. As they walked past a door, the waterbender noted Ursa watching them, the unhappiness and distaste clear on her face. Would she ever be able to convince this woman that she wasn’t a bad choice for her son? Maybe not, but Katara was still determined to talk to her once she had a chance to speak with the Earth King. Right now, her mission was more important than any romantic turmoil.

The area was packed. Jet had some difficultly maneuvering the carriage through the rest, but he got them to where they needed to go, to where Zuko was going to meet them. The five of them removed themselves from the ostrich-horse drawn carriage once it stopped and moved through the crowd a little off to the side. In the light of lamps, she could see that Iroh had been correct. These people were so extravagantly dressed that even in her own finery, she looked like a servant. She saw several other servants wearing the same colour scheme as her robes, and she found herself thanking the spirits that Iroh had had the foresight to choose fabric that was popular.

After a few minutes, she saw Zuko emerge from a carriage, and she felt the breath catch in her throat. He looked… fantastic, even more so than the night she’d gone on that horrible double date. He’d obviously had a lot more time to prepare, and it had paid off. Then she felt her stomach drop when his hand reached back to the carriage, and a pale, delicate one grasped his hand. When she appeared, Katara couldn’t help but to feel the envy curling its way through her body. Toph looked stunning; there was no denying it, and she looked fantastic on Zuko’s arm. She couldn’t erase the awe on her face, but she hoped she at least hid the sadness well.

“Let’s get ready. Jet, go back to the carriage. Gui and Shen, start moving toward the back. I’ll catch up once Katara is safely inside.” His voice was so soft that over the din of conversation, only those to whom he spoke could hear him. Jet stalked away, clearly unhappy with the idea of waiting by himself while everyone else had something to do, but he obeyed without verbal complaint. Gui and Shen immediately moved away, their robes – so dark green they were almost black with mint trim – disappearing through the darkness. Ping receded into shadow as Katara moved forward, still within the crowd but off to the side of the line where people were gaining entry. She saw Zuko behind a group of people, mostly servants, who wore the same fabric for their robes as her. However, the design was different, less flattering for the women and possibly too flattering for the men. As she realized that this was the group she would have to sneak into, she felt her heart race. What if she was noticed? No. This had to work. Just act the part. She gripped her wrists within her sleeves and kept her head bowed meekly but still holding the confidence of a servant meant to be there. As Zuko tripped, grasping the guard at the door, she slipped quietly into the procession of servants and walked past without anyone saying a word to her.

Katara didn’t look back, not daring to do so lest she be caught, and as she stepped over the threshold, she breathed a sigh of relief. She’d made it! Things were definitely looking up. Now, all she had to do was find the Earth King.

Her sapphire eyes scanned the ballroom. Everyone was so extravagantly and elegantly dressed that she had no idea if she’d even know the king when she saw him. In the Water Tribes, the Chiefs really had no difference in attire to the regular people, but they were small enough that everyone knew each other, so it had never been a problem. Now, however, she felt her hopes fall in the sea of people.

After a few moments of searching to no avail, she saw Shen, serving sweet rolls. She approached him, walking a little past him before stopping. “Have you found him?” He hissed.

“No.” Katara said softly. “I don’t know what he looks like. He could be anywhere.” Her eyes picked Gui and Ping out of the crowd, but she didn’t need to find Zuko. She’d known where he was the entire time, and she was specifically avoiding looking at him, unable to bring herself to see Toph Beifong clinging to his arm like a lover, and unwilling to give away his connection to their group if someone saw her gaze at him too frequently.

“I’ll tell the others to keep an eye out.” Shen whispered before the moved away from one another. Katara kept close to other servants all night, but she remained apart enough that her presence wouldn’t be noticed. There was water everywhere should she need it, especially because she’d had nowhere to keep her water skins on her person without the awkwardness of either a strangely shaped body – which would be too attention grabbing – or giving herself away as the Water Tribe ambassador.

After about twenty more minutes of searching without finding, she felt a jolt as a bus boy accidentally bumped into her. “Excuse me.” Gui said softly, turning toward her. A woman approached them, her shoulders hunched.

“What are you two doing here?” She asked, and Katara was shocked to see Joo Dee’s creepy smile was nowhere to be seen. “You have to leave immediately, or we’ll all be in terrible trouble!”

“Not until we see the King.” Gui said, his voice low. “There he is, Katara.” He jerked his chin behind her, causing her head to turn as well. Many guards had gathered in a line as a palanquin was carried toward the head of one of the tables, a silhouette visible through the sheer curtains. The Earth King! Joo Dee reached for Katara’s arm, but the earthbender blocked the hostess’ path with his food tray as the waterbender left them.

She maneuvered through the masses, her step quick and light as she headed toward the man. However, as soon as she made it within ten feet, the man was carried away again with only the slightest hesitation of the palanquin bearers. She hurried toward the direction of the King, but a man stepped into her path.

He was taller than her, and he stood with his arms behind his back. His head was balding on top, but the hair he did have was well groomed. His robes were fine and a deep green colour with golden accents. “Ambassador, it is a great honor to meet you.” He said, paying no mind to the shock on his face. He bowed lightly to her. “I am Long Feng, Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se and head of the Dai Li. I’d like to talk to you. Your friends will be waiting for us in the library.” Katara’s blood ran cold. He knew exactly who she was and who her friends were. She looked around the ballroom, but she couldn’t find any trace of Gui, Ping, or Shen. However, as she looked, she did spot Toph and Zuko, but her eyes didn’t hover over them, merely glad that Zuko hadn’t been discovered and that Lady Beifong hadn’t been dragged into this.

Long Feng walked away from her after motioning for her to go with him, and she reluctantly followed him out of the ballroom and through large, double doors that led to a huge library. A warm fire blazed in the fireplace, but the flames were an eerie green colour that made everything around look distorted and strange. Gui, Shen, and Ping stood before it, and Katara joined them while the Dai Li leader took a seat before the hearth.

“Why did you bring us here?” Gui asked.

“I wanted to speak with you about your purpose here.” Long Feng replied calmly.

“Why can’t we speak with the King directly?” Gui asked. “Her people need the help of the Earth Kingdom army.”

His back straightened as he looked at the earthbender. “The Earth King has no time to get involved in political squabbles and the day to day minutia of military activities.”

“If we can’t speak with him, the last of the Water Tribes could be completely wiped out. The Southern Tribe has already been completely destroyed. That can’t happen to the North, too. This is too important.” Katara insisted.

“What’s most important to His Majesty is maintaining the cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se. All of his duties relate to issuing decrees on such matters. It’s my job to oversee the rest of the city’s resources, including the military.” The man replied.

“So the King is just a figurehead.” Katara said, surprised.

“He’s like a marionette?” Shen asked, understanding dawning on him.

“Oh, no, no. His Majesty is an icon, a god to his people. He can’t sully his hands with the hourly changes of an endless war.”

“If the Fire Nation wipes out the Northern Tribe, then he’ll come for the Earth Kingdom next. If the Earth King doesn’t have control over the military, then you could help us. You can gather the navy and head toward the North Pole and-”

“Enough!” Long Feng said sharply, interrupting Katara’s words as he stood. “It is the strict policy of Ba Sing Se that the war not be mentioned within the walls. Constant news of an escalating war will throw the citizens of Ba Sing Se into a state of panic. Our economy would be ruined. Our peaceful way of life, our traditions would disappear. In silencing talk of conflict, Ba Sing Se remains a peaceful, orderly utopia – the last one on Earth.”

Horror filled Katara at his words. “You can’t keep the truth from all these people.” She said. “They have to know what the future holds for them.”

“We’ll tell them all!” Shen announced angrily.

“We won’t let you keep this a secret.” Gui backed him.

Long Feng took a step toward them, his back straightening.

“Until now, you’ve been treated as our honored guests, but from now on, you will be watched every moment by Dai Li agents. If you do not leave the city, I will have you all killed.” Katara’s eyes widened at his words, at his threat. He turned away from them. “Now, Joo Dee will show you home, where you will have until morning to collect your things before you leave.”

A woman they didn’t recognize stepped in front of them. The woman’s hair was short, and her voice was deeper as she said, “Come with me, please.” Only her wide, creepy grin was reminiscent of the other woman.

Katara took a step backward. “What happened to Joo Dee?”

The woman didn’t hesitate. “I’m Joo Dee. I’ll be your host as long as you’re in our wonderful city.” She bowed her head before them and led the way from the library. Katara’s skin crawled, as an even deeper terror filled her. What was happening in this place? However, she followed the strange, frightening woman from the library, followed by the others. They were all escorted through the ball room, along the edges so as not to disturb the party. Her eyes passed along the people, hoping that Zuko would see this, that he would see them being led away, and that he would see the two Dai Li agents lurking behind them, following them, in the shadows. They needed to talk to him; he was their leader, but there was no way to signal him without alerting the agents of the connection between them. Honestly, Katara was shocked that the original Joo Dee hadn’t revealed him to Long Feng, but she wouldn’t question such a miracle.

Jet apparently hadn’t been noticed, either. As the fraudulent Joo Dee led them to a carriage, she could see the hook-sword wielder begin to leave his carriage, to go after them, but Ping shook his head softly, and the poufy haired man resumed his place on the carriage as if he’d simply mistaken them for someone else.

They were taken back to their assigned house, and the four of them quickly ascended the steps and made their way inside, closing the door on the false Joo Dee without a word.

“What are we going to do now?” Shen asked.

“We wait for the Commander.” Ping responded while Katara leaned slid down the wall in defeat, tears of rage and sadness springing to her eyes and streaking her cheeks. She’d failed…

Kathryn Lacey
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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Sun Jul 01, 2012 2:41 pm

Zuko only took one look at Katara, but that was all it really would have taken. Just a glance, no more than that to commit it to memory. There had been a day when something like that would have been impossible, but Piandao had changed all of that. Of the school of thought that art and sword fighting were heavily connected, the old sword fighting master had spent years enforcing Zuko's artwork along with his craft at the twin dao blades, both of which Zuko had mastered. Not that fighting really left a lot of time for artwork or calligraphy, but they were trades that Zuko knew. In many ways he revered the old sword master who spent most of his time practicing and peacefully painting. In fact, most of the true masters of the white lotus lead similar lives, quietly preparing themselves for the terrible battles to come while at the same time living life to its fullest in order to try to make the most of what little time there would be left.

For Zuko's uncle that meant running a tea shop and enjoying tea and quiet contemplation. For Piandao it was painting and meditation. For Bumi it was leading his kingdom of Omashu. For Jeong Jeong it was leading a life with as little human contact as possible. For master Pakku who lived in the Northern Water Tribe it was about teaching his students, passing on his legacy to the future. Meanwhile the rebels only had a handful of members who were actually members of the White Lotus. Iroh had explained it to Zuko that it wasn't time for them to be revealed to the world yet, and Zuko agreed. If their secret society were revealed, and revealed to be organized, they would simply be hunted down and rooted out. With rebels, however, they appeared to be scattered enough to be merely annoying mosquitoes in the ears of the Fire Nation, even though they could deal critical blows when necessary. But with the water tribe truly in danger, would they have their hand forced? Zuko didn't like where things were going...

All of these thoughts and more were floating through Zuko's head as he made his way in behind Katara. He blinked for a moment and as his eyes closed he collected from memory what it was that she looked like, each detail. She had been breathtakingly beautiful the way that she was now, but at the same time, he couldn't lose his breath, not here, not now. If he had seen her on the battlefield he wouldn't have hesitated even a heartbeat if he was in the middle of a fight, and here he could do no differently. Zuko was on the front lines of a war, it was just a war of shadows and subterfuge instead of swords and bending. As he went inside he smiled as best he could, trying not to think about what was likely going on right now with his friends. Instead he let himself be introduced, talked to the people who were friends of Lady Beifong, let himself be joked around with and pulled into awkward hugs with women who were really not that attractive at all.

If anything, Toph seemed to be enjoying this less than he was. There were several times when he caught her muttering under her breath about how she'd wished that the Earth King would just show up already instead of leaving them all to socialize with the Ba Sing Se elite, who Toph had joked with him in the carriage ride over were full of more hot air than a smithy. Still, Zuko had been well enough trained how to deal with socialite types when he had been a prince. When they came to talk with Toph he started deflecting them if it seemed like she was tired of it, instead stealing the show with witty banter that he hated and guiding them deftly into talking about themselves, which was really what most people wanted to talk about anyhow. It was surprisingly easy, once you got them started; it was just hard to actually make them stop.

As he was bidding his farewells to another party he paled a little as he saw that Joo Dee was walking around, clearly looking for people. Zuko growled to himself a little as he tried to figure out the best way out of this. She was going to not stop until she found all of them, and he couldn't be found here. Not with Lady Beifong at his side. The last thing that he wanted was to drag her into all of this. His mind reeled as he tried to think of some way that he could actually get out of all this and then he blinked as an idea sprang to his head. She, like most other people, probably only recognized him by his scar, all he had to do was hide it from her sight. He just needed to dance with Toph, get close and then... of course, that was assuming that people were dancing, which they weren't. What the hell sort of party was this anyway? Were they just going to stand around and... chatter? That's exactly what they were going to do.

When Joo Dee came by Zuko mentally swore as he leaned in quietly and kissed Toph on the cheek, hiding his scar as he kissed her again and again there, feeling her chuckle a little, though there was an edge of something else to it. "What are you doing, Ryu?" Toph asked lightly, her fingertips curling against his chest roughly and then sliding down as her breathing started to increase. "Someone's going to see this; you can't just do this in the middle of a party." Toph said softly.

Zuko blinked at her words and at her hand as he hissed back. "Then why are you grabbing my ass?"

Toph bit her lip quietly and whispered back in a tone that tried to be innocent but really wasn't. "You started it, stud." She paused then, and raised a brow. "I think I feel the Earth King coming..." she said, lightly pushing him away. Zuko would have resisted, but he watched as a pair of Dai Li agents had subdued Joo Dee and had her pushed out a side exit, while someone who was dressed exactly like she was with a slightly different hairstyle was pushed through the door she had just come out of. What the hell was going on here? Toph was more entranced by the palanquin of the Earth King, but then suddenly it moved as the water bender and her friends approached it, and they too were lead off.

"It is our humble regret that, due to security concerns, the Earth King will not be able to attend tonight's banquet after all. In the name of his Highness we would like to invite you to stay and enjoy yourselves." someone announced, standing where the Earth King had been. Zuko saw several people groaning, especially those who had decided to sit next to the Bear, the oddest looking creature Zuko had ever seen, a singular animal that had no blend to it. It roared its unhappiness, and Toph, seeming to take a page from the Bear's book, grabbed Zuko's hand and started to lead him out towards the carriages. Surprisingly, there were quite a few people who made the same decision, as if the Earth King not showing meant the end of the party of them. They were probably nobles who hoped meeting him might further their causes, Zuko supposed.

As he waited with an annoyed Toph, who was complaining about how the whole party had been a bait and switch tactic, Zuko looked around. There was no Jet. He felt his blood run cold as he looked back at the palace, and noticed the increase in guards. Going in full force now would be suicide. He would either need to enlist his uncle's troops or... he didn't know.

When the carriage finally arrived and Zuko stepped into it, he glanced outside the window and saw his friends being lead out of the Earth King's palace by Dai Lee agents, but their hands were free, they weren't restrained. This meant that the Earth King must have been willing to listen to them, didn't it? Zuko felt himself sigh with relief as he saw Toph close the shutters to the carriage, leaving them in complete darkness. Zuko blinked a little, wishing that she knew what he was so that he could firebend.

"Uhm... it's kind of dark in here..." Zuko said softly.

"Welcome to my world, Ryu." A sultry voice whispered, her breath hot on his lips right before she captured them with her own.

By the time they got home, Zuko's coat was half undone and Toph was impatiently herding him into her room despite him trying to broach the subject of it being late. Zuko swallowed a little as he considered what it was that he was going to do in order to get himself out of this situation. Maybe he would fake some sort of stomach bug, or something. There wasn't anything less sexy than that, was there? Well, there was, but Zuko certainly wasn't willing to go there, even in order to get a free pass on this time with Toph. When they got into the door to her room she spun him around against one of the walls and pressed him there as her fingertips slid over his chest and she whispered into his ear.

"You know, a few days ago I heard about the most amazing game we should play." Toph whispered into his ear. "Strip Pai Sho."

Zuko's eyes flew open and he swallowed. "That's uhm... that's really..." Zuko blinked for a moment and then looked at Toph. Pai Sho tiles were painted on. "How would you even know what to play?" Zuko asked her softly.

The smile that Toph gave him after that sent a shiver down his spine that was the complete opposite of the ones that Joo Dee gave him. "I guess I'll just have to trust you." She whispered wickedly as she claimed his lips again. She paused though and released them after a moment, thoughtfully. "You're right though. It'd just be a lot of waiting and I'm a bit tired of that tonight." With a grip that on anyone else Zuko would have called it a 'Death Grip', Toph grabbed him by the jacket and spun him around to spin towards and fall on the edge of her bed, sitting on it. How the hell was a girl that frail, so strong??

"Toph, I..."

"Before you say anything else, I want you to know I wore this outfit traditional style." Toph said as she took a step forward, pulled on something that Zuko couldn't see, and it all seemed to fall off in a single stroke, leaving her bare in front of him as she stepped forward. "Like what you see?" she asked, standing there. The stunned silence was enough to cause her to chuckle lightly as she came closer. "I'm going to take that as a 'yes'."

This was getting rapidly out of control. No, this was out of control. He needed to be honest with her, and he needed to think of a good way to untangle himself from this situation. Of course, Toph pushing him back down as he tried to get up and climbing into his lap was definitely not helping things. "To-" Zuko managed to get out a syllable before she kissed him roughly and pulled at the last few buttons of his coat, snapping them and causing the buttons to fly across the room, leaving a soft sound of them falling as she released him.

"Shh, I know you're shy, stud... well... most of you anyway. Looks like I found one part of you that certainly isn't..." Toph said as her fingers curled around aforementioned part, Zuko groaning a little despite himself.

"I can't do this tonight, Toph, we need to talk." Zuko pleaded only to have her palm smack against his chest hard enough to bruise the muscles there as she slammed him down on his back against the bed.

"Ryu, I have honestly never met a man so reluctant to get lucky. If it weren't for your unshy parts I would swear you weren't interested in women. Trust me; tonight's not going to change anything except it's going to make us both feel really, really go-"

Zuko thanked the spirits when a knock on the door interrupted her. He just hoped that it wasn't Jet or Katara about to walk in on him, because that meant that he would likely be dead at Katara's hand regardless of who it was. Zuko's started to push his way up only to find Toph's hand touching him right about where she'd bruised him. He flinched a little at that and looked at her.

"This isn't over, stud." Toph promised him.

Why did those words sound familiar?

As she put on a robe and he opened the door, he saw his uncle standing there. Zuko's face broke out into a quiet smile as he looked for the same on his uncle's face to reflect the man knew what he was doing. Instead, he saw his uncle paler than he'd ever seen him before. Zuko felt all of the heat that Toph had inspired in his blood drain out in a heartbeat as Iroh pulled him from the room.

Zuko read the letter again and again. It was succinct. Lu Ten and Sokka had managed to kill several of Zhao's top officers, but the Admiral himself had managed to escape the attempt on his life. With their plan failed, Zhao had brought down the entire weight of his force upon the rebels, leaving them running ragged for days into the hills, and beyond. It didn't directly say what it was that Lu Ten was after, but Zuko knew his cousin's words well enough to read between the lines, as did his uncle. It was a call for help... a desperate one. Zuko felt his blood run cold at the words, and thought of the dream that he had. It didn't matter that Katara had gotten the Earth King's support. He had to leave tonight.

"I had a vision in my dream, Zuko. I dreamt that I was broken, alone, inconsolable." Iroh's voice cracked lightly beyond its usual rasp, and Zuko could tell he was choking back tears. "There is much sadness that will happen very soon. When I awoke from it... it was to the knock of the member who brought me this letter." Iroh said, his golden eyes seeming to bore into Zuko as he looked at him with a haunted expression.

"I'll leave at once, I'll try-"

"NO Zuko. You cannot try at this." Iroh growled, gripping his shoulders firmly. "He is my only son, Prince Zuko. He is the only thing sacred left in my life. You cannot let him die. You must promise me this. You must promise me you will bring him home, no matter what."

Zuko swallowed. He had never seen his Uncle lose himself like this. There were plenty of times that Iroh had gotten angry with him in his training. But this was different. He could see tears welling in the old man's eyes. "PROMISE ME, ZUKO!" Iroh shouted at him, and Zuko could feel the man's hands grip him roughly enough to hurt.

"I promise." Zuko said softly.

"I'm trying to mobilize the White Lotus." Iroh said, and in his face Zuko could see the pain there that explained everything. Iroh wanted desperately to go with them, but if he left, there would be no one to mobilize his forces, and even if Zuko managed to get to Lu Ten in time they might all wind up getting hunted down in the process. Iroh was making the best play for Lu Ten's safety, and yet at the same time it was killing him. Zuko watched the tears falling across his uncle's cheeks and felt pain stab him in the chest. He couldn't wait around to feel it though.

"I need to go, get the others." Zuko muttered, and then blinked at what was on the table in front of him.

"I thought you might need something so that you can get into your house anonymously." Iroh said, a faint smile appearing on his features through the tears.

Alone in the house the gang would hear the sounds of struggle outside softly. It was swift, brutal, the sounds of metal meeting flesh, and then there was silence. It happened again, and again, sounds of struggle only to be met with silence. After a moment, a form dived in one of the windows, dressed in all black save for a blue oni mask.

Gui was the first to react, lobbing a hunk of stone at the intruder which he sliced in half, spinning under Jet's hook sword as he planted his foot into the fighter's chest to send him back, slicing a brick aimed at him before spinning his sword up to deflect the arrow Ping shot at him before the intruder tugged off the mask and growled at them all.

"What the hell are you guys doing?!" Zuko demanded.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Sun Jul 01, 2012 11:59 pm

Katara smiled at her great-grandmother as the old woman patted her shoulder. “You’ve been improving a lot over the last year, Katara. In a few more years, you’ll even surpass me in waterbending.” The old woman chuckled and the younger one shook her head.

“Yeah right, Great Gran! You’ve had what, a hundred years to practice, not to mention a million past lives who mastered it before you? I’ve just got me.” She countered.

“Well, you are learning from a woman who had a hundred years of practice and a million past lives to call on.” The old woman grinned, making her wrinkled face look years younger. Katara only smiled at that. She had a point; Great Grandmother Inoa always had good points and good wisdom.

Snowflakes began to drift toward the ground, and Katara tugged her hood over her head. The crisp, white fluffs were so beautiful, and even though she’d never been away from the South Pole, and she often took this place for granted, she couldn’t help but feel that right now, everything was perfect and lovely. The sun was half set, but its glow still caused the ice to glitter, and the fires and lamps that had been lit gave a similar effect, but it was beautiful.

“Katara, Great Gran, it’s time to eat. Gran Gran finished making dinner!” Sokka shouted at them before stalking into the hut.

Katara and the Avatar went into the hut to share dinner. There were others in the building, too, who weren’t directly related by blood so much as bonds of friendship so strong they may has well have been family. Bato and his and daughter sat to the right of her father, Chief Hakoda, while Sokka sat to their father’s left. Katara took a seat next to her brother, while Inoa sat across from the chief with Hakoda’s mother to Katara’s left. There was no true table on which to eat, but the food was at the center of the circle the Tribesmen formed, and they eagerly passed food to one another, laughing and joking as they all talked. Hakoda and Sokka seemed the most exuberant, laughing about things that even the rest of them couldn’t find amusing, but the others would laugh and poke fun at their cheesy punch lines.

Just as they were halfway through their meal, a man swept aside the furs at the doorway and moved into the hut. His face was filled with worry as he stepped forward. “Chief Hakoda, Fire Navy ships are heading toward our village.” Katara’s father immediately stood at the same instant as her great grandmother and the others followed quickly. They all dressed warmly, but the men each grabbed their weapons. Katara and Inoa had no need of physical weapons, for theirs was all around them at all times. Gran Gran led Bato’s wife and child away from the hut, toward the main building at the center of the village where they could be better protected by those who could fight. The warriors followed them only because that was where they always met before battle.

The sky was dark, and Katara felt confused. “Why are they attacking us at night when we’re stronger than they are?” She softly asked her grandmother.

The woman looked older than usual and if the young waterbender didn’t know better, she would say there was fear lurking behind the sadness and resolution in the woman’s blue eyes. “I was warned of this, but I didn’t know what day it would come.” She said. “Sozin’s Comet will be upon us soon.”

Fear clamped around Katara. She had been told the history of the world, that her grandmother had been born after the Air Nomads and the last Avatar had been completely wiped out when this celestial anomaly had graced the skies a century ago. If the Fire Nation could attack four separate places simultaneously and complete a total genocide of the Air Nomads, could they do the same to the two Water Tribes? Then again, the last Avatar was said to be only a little boy at the time, one that hadn’t even gone beyond mastering air. Inoa was a nearly fully realized Avatar with the ability to bend three elements and she could enter the Avatar State, not to mention she had a connection to the Spirits and the Spirit Realm. Would Sozin’s Comet be any match for a woman as powerful as that and a bunch of waterbenders at night? Katara didn’t know, but she would have been a fool if she hadn’t been terrified.

The snow that was falling now was staining the ground black, and Katara felt the disgust rising as well as her fear with every flake. It was reminiscent of when her mother had been killed though that had been done in the daylight. Now, the snow merely looked as if it was dotted with incongruent shadows.

The entire village gathered before Hakoda in the Great Hall, and Katara knew the other villages were doing the same with Hakoda’s appointed councilmen speaking to them. “The time we have all feared would come is upon us.” The Chief spoke, his voice strong and clear, seemingly unafraid though the waterbender knew her father well enough to know he must be terrified. However, she also knew that he would never allow his fear to consume him. His people needed him to live and to fight for him.

“Sozin’s Comet is coming tonight, soon, and we have been preparing for this day for decades. Tonight, we will face the Fire Nation, and we will fight for our right to live on this land. We will show them that no amount of power can stand up to our will, the will of the Water Tribe!” Cheers rang through the crowd.

“Those who can’t fight will board ships and leave. When the comet has completed its trajectory and left the world, you can return, but for now, it would be much safer for you in the Earth Kingdom.” People didn’t seem happy about this, but his word was law, and there was wisdom in his words. His grandmother-in-law was the Avatar, and they’d been meeting together with the councilmen from the other villages for months leading up to this day. The villagers knew this was going to happen, but now that it was upon them, it was a harder thing to bear. Still, men and women who couldn’t fight were ushered onto boats with all of the children who hadn’t yet been through their rites of passage and warrior training.

Katara and Sokka didn’t go near the boats, choosing instead to fight. They were both quite good, Katara having been trained by the Avatar and Sokka having been trained by the Chief and his right-hand-man, Bato.

Several of the boats were leaving when Fire Navy ships were making port against the frozen tundra, troops filing out onto the snow covered land. They let the smaller ships pass which baffled everyone until the understanding set into them when they realized that a terrible mistake had been made. The sky began to grow lighter, casting a yellow-orange over the world as the comet touched the atmosphere. Its glow made the night as bright as the day, and they could see the war ships in the distance, completely dwarfing the Water Tribe ships that were sailing toward them. In the darkness, they hadn’t seen the number or the exact locations of the other Fire Navy ships, but now, it was all too apparent that there would be no escape for the Water Tribe.

Flames larger than Katara had ever seen in her entire life exploded from the metal monstrosities the Fire Nation used as boats, completely consuming the Water Tribe ones. Even from this distance, Katara could hear the screams as they were burned alive.

They all fought hard. Utilizing the water and ice and snow all around them, the waterbenders – male and female – fought for their lives, for their people. Still, there was so much fire that Katara could hardly see, and it seemed like every time she attacked, the water used was simply evaporated. The others were facing similar difficulties, and the non-benders couldn’t even get close through the walls of flame.

Still, every now and again, she would get through their offense, and their deaths were quick. Sokka was able to use his bladed boomerang to disable several of the male and female firebenders before they knew what had hit them. Even with the small victories, the Fire Nation was gaining ground, pushing the Water Tribesmen back farther and farther, closing off any hopes of escape. Sweat slicked her skin and hair, and she could smell the sickening aromas of singed hair and burning flesh. Still, she would not stop; she would continue to fight until her last breath. Her people would survive somehow!

A wall of flame burst toward her, and the last thing she recalled was Sokka tackling her to the ground as pain seared through her body before everything went black.

Agony… It was the first sensation she could understand, and it made her want o fall back into the blissful nothingness the darkness had once provided, but as she whimpered in pain, she could hear people around her, speaking. Gradually, she began to understand her surroundings. Katara was on her stomach, and just breathing sent pain searing through her body. “Don’t move. Your burns are too severe.” An old woman’s voice… Gran Gran.

“What happened?” Her throat was dry, and it hurt to speak, but at least her eyes were adjusting to the light.

“Katara, I’m so sorry. I tried to protect you, but the fire was too much.” Sokka said. Her eyes found him, also lying on his stomach, and she could see bandages swathing almost the entirety of his back.

Tears sprung to her eyes as recollections moved through her mind, all marked by flames. “Where are Dad and Great Gran? Where is everyone else?”

“They’re gone, Katara. All of them. Days ago.” Another old woman’s voice sounded, and she recognized it as her Gran Gran’s best friend, Hama.

“Why aren’t we gone, too?” She asked, the tears falling over her face onto the furs on which she lay.

“Hakoda and Inoa told us to leave. He ordered me to protect his children and get my family out of there.” Bato spoke, his voice sounding hollow, empty. “We slipped right past four naval ships that were being taken out by a group of strangers, maybe Earth Kingdom people who had seen the ships leave.”

“Where are Seha and Mihan?” Katara asked, and she thought she heard Bato sob, but she couldn’t move enough to look around to find his face.

She felt her grandmother’s hand on her shoulder. “I’m afraid they didn’t make it, Katara.” The old woman said softly. “They were already wounded when we left home, and they couldn’t be saved.”

“So if everyone is gone,” the young waterbender said between sobs, “where are we going?”

“The South Pole is no longer inhabitable. We’re going to the North Pole. We learned that they remain intact, and it’s the only home we have left.” Sokka said, a tightness in his words suggesting that he was holding back tears as well.

Their homeland had been destroyed. They were the last of the Southern Tribesmen. Everyone else was dead, and there would be no going back. Katara found her will to live lessened as depression took hold of her. She had failed her people and her family.

Katara had failed… for the second time in her life, she hadn’t even come close to succeeding in helping the Water Tribes, and she was angry and hurt and saddened by it. The idea that truly the last of the Water Tribes would be destroyed as the South had been was unbearable, and she hugged her knees, burying her face in the fine robes she wore as she cried.

What was she going to do? Maybe she should try to reach out to the Earth King anyway, sneak into the palace unnoticed by the Dai Li, and tell His Majesty about the plot that Long Feng had begun. Clearly, the King couldn’t know he was only a puppet, right? No, that was a terrible idea. If they were seen, they wouldn’t merely be imprisoned. Long Feng had made it clear that he had no qualms with ending their lives, and the waterbender was no good to her people dead.

She choked back her tears, trying to remain strong as she stood and left for the bathroom to clean her face of the tear streaks and make-up. Katara would remain outwardly stout, unbreakable no matter how she felt inwardly. She needed to be ready for anything, and she needed to fight for her people, for their right to live in this world. That was the most important thing, and this one lost battle didn’t mean the war was lost. She changed into her normal, Water Tribe gear, slinging the water skins around her torso.

The sounds of battle reached her ears, and she rushed into the main room where the others were fighting against a masked man, clothed all in black, and just as he deflected one of Ping’s arrows, she shot a whip of water toward him from her skins until he stopped and removed his frightening mask. The waterbender jerked her hands back as recognition entered her mind, and the water fell just inched from Zuko’s face, splashing the stone floor. In another movement, she pulled the stream from the floor and from where it had wet the firebender’s clothing and tugged it back inside its container.

“What are we doing? What are you doing? I thought you were an assassin sent by Long Feng!” Katara shouted, both angry and relieved.

“Yeah, me, too, actually.” Shen added. “There’s no telling what that guy is going to do to us to make sure we’re kept quiet.”

Zuko’s confusion was clear on his face, and she realized that he didn’t know, didn’t understand, that she hadn’t fulfilled her mission. “The Earth King won’t help us. He’s just a puppet of Long Feng’s.”

“Long Feng is the leader of the Dai Li.” Ping added for clarity on Zuko’s part.

“That guy threatened to kill us if we don’t leave the city soon. We were just waiting for you, and we were afraid that you may have been Long Feng making good on his promise.” Gui said.

“I’m so sorry, Zuko. I failed. If we don’t leave tonight, he’s going to send the Dai Li to eliminate us.” Katara said sadly, feeling the tears well inside her but refusing to let them show.

“We haven’t failed. You guys are just going to give up because one guy makes a threat? We can take his stupid Dai Li. We can get to the Earth King and get his help for the Water Tribe, Katara.” Jet sounded as angry as she felt, but she had already considered his idea.

“That’s a suicide mission, Jet. He controls who knows how many agents, not to mention the entire military. We’re dead if we even make a step toward the palace instead of toward the monorail station. We’re no good to my people dead. We have to leave.” Katara insisted, and he took a step forward as if he could intimidate her into seeing things her way, but when her hand instinctively reached toward her water skin, he paused and looked away angrily though his face softened.

“Why are you dressed like that?” Shen asked Zuko. “Were you found out by the Dai Li?”

Foreboding filled Katara at Shen’s question. If Zuko had to hide his face as well as his identity, did that mean something even more horrible had befallen him? “Are Iroh and the others okay?” She asked, genuinely worried.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Mon Jul 02, 2012 1:21 am

Zuko looked at them quizzically. Someone was threatening them with death? What did that even mean? They had gotten to talk to the Earth King, Zuko had seen them being lead away and coming back. If something too terrible had happened, they wouldn't have even been let go, would they? But as his head moved from Ping to Katara, to the rest of them, they would see his face go from looking puzzled to slowly looking less and less happy and more the way that he had looked when the Rhinos had been bragging over him. Zuko closed his eyes tightly as Jet tried to pretend as if they could just storm in the castle and get the king to sign off on support and that would somehow change something. Even if they took the man hostage all it would do would be to cause the entire Earth Kingdom to view them as enemies. Coming here had been a mistake, Zuko had known that it was a fool's errand from the beginning. Why the hell hadn't he listened to his gut in the beginning? Zuko could feel the rage bubbling up inside of him, threatening to come out as pain and anger seared it's way into his brain.

"ENOUGH!" Zuko growled as he slammed his fist into a wall hard enough to crack it in several places.

"Holy shit" Gui muttered.

"Shhh." Shen corrected him.

"Dude, that's like almost solid stone, what the fuck?" Gui countered until Zuko looked at them both.

"Gui, Shen, Ping, I need to talk with you." Zuko growled as he snapped his fingers towards the other room, and he handed Katara the scroll that had come to his uncle so that she would know what it was that he was so upset about, and what they would all need to do. Leaving the city rapidly was the least of their concerns at this point. Katara and Jet would hear muffled shouting coming from the other room until a voice that was clearly louder than the rest belonging to Zuko bellowed out. Katara would see Ping storm out of the room, looking angrier than she had ever seen him, as if all of his peace had suddenly been ripped away from him. Gui and Shen both came out with their heads down. Gui looked up for a moment with a grim smile on his face, trying to be positive it seemed, but the rest of them just remained in silence.

Jet was uncharacteristically silent when Zuko came back. There was no mirth in his voice, all of them knew what it meant that Lu Ten had written such an urgent message for help. Lu Ten never asked for help, so the fact that he had meant that things were worse than Zuko had ever known them to be in his time with the rebels. There wasn't much to say at that point, they packed their things as rapidly as they could, and then left underground thanks to the two earthbenders carving them a way out of the city. Zuko would have loved to explain to them the story behind the Blue Spirit, the mask that he had worn in order to assassinate them, but this wasn't the time for stories any longer. With no backup and the fate of their friends on the line the silence between the six members of their band was palpable, undeniable.

Zuko regretted that he couldn't have the time to talk with Toph about their marriage or lack thereof, or to see what Katara was thinking right now, but there wasn't any time for it. Once they got to the lower ring Zuko broke out in a run, leading them towards a small place that sold ostrich horses. Zuko noticed that there was a small flower, a white lotus bloom, in the corner of the man's sign. This was definitely the place. As they gathered their breath Zuko knocked on the door. Normally a shop like this would have been closed, but the owner was here tonight. He looked at Zuko's face and nodded as he lead them in to where the majestic birds had already been groomed, fed, and saddled. Zuko let them all pick a bird as he walked up to the owner and looked at him.

"Thank you for this." Zuko said softly.

The owner sighed softly. "Here is a map, if you follow the main road, another member will meet you, Prince Zuko." the man said, putting his hand on Zuko's shoulder. "May the spirits protect you and your friends." he said, smiling to all of them as Zuko hopped up on one of the Ostrich horses like he had ridden all of his life and clicked his tongue to get it to take up the lead position. The others were well trained, and fast as well, so as Zuko's beast broke out into a dead run as he spurred it on the others picked up the pace to follow, their natural tendency to follow in packs. Zuko didn't look back at the man's shop, or Ba Sing Se at all as he left it, instead he put on his wide brimmed hat that shadowed his face and made it hard to see his scar and dug his heels into the ostrich horse to have it run at a break neck pace. He knew where they were going, and at this pace the animals would be exhausted, but not hurt physically.

The miles flew by as they rode for hours on the backs of the birds, flying over distances that had taken them days to cover coming here the way back. Even so, it felt too slow to Zuko. They would need a fresh bird for every leg of the mile, and at this rate they'd be lucky to be near the Zhao's camp by the day after tomorrow, which was a grim thought. Zuko wished that he could somehow use bending like Katara's only to give these beasts energy instead of control them. It would be wonderful to have such an ability, but he couldn't. And the more miles that past the more it felt like Lu Ten was slipping through his fingers, that his ghost would be all that would be left of the man by the time that he got there.

By the time that they got to the place they all seemed like they were feeling the wear of travel. Zuko didn't even know where it was that he would make camp, but he would need to or else they would fall asleep in their saddles before they managed to get where they needed to go. Zuko waited for a moment impatiently as a man approached them from the woods, and Zuko reached into his pocket to toss the man a Pai Sho tile, the white lotus tile to be exact. The man bowed lightly as he offered them food and water, which Zuko mentioned they would need to take on the road with them, that they planned to be riding for a few days at least. The man looked puzzled, but he scratched his chin.

"Not sure where you fellers are planning to go that would take so long, especially on these puppies. Grand Master had 'em prepared all special for ya too..." the man said as he lead three huge lizards out from the bushes, all of which seemed to be somewhat tensed, as if standing still was obnoxious to them. "They're docile enough critters, but they're rarin' to go, been standing still for too long, y'see..." the man said softly, and looked at Zuko, who was smiling for the first time since the beginning of the night.

"Thanks Uncle..." he whispered as he petted the Eel hounds flank, and then hopped aboard the lead one, noting a crate strapped behind the saddle. "Careful with that, I was told that was special for you. A batch of, what they call it... White Jade tea petals..." the man said, and Zuko's eyes widened at the discovery. Another priceless gift from his uncle. Zuko broke the team into pairs, having Katara ride with him. At any other time he might have been embarrassed or shy about what they were doing, but really there wasn't much time to feel anything. With these, they would be able to reach Zhao's camp in a matter of hours. With Jet at the reigns of one of them and Gui at the reigns of another, Zuko kicked the beast into run.

And run it did. Unlike the ostrich horse that he had been forced to pester on the way here, the eel hound seemed more than happy to be moving, and Zuko grimaced a little as the wind became and icy blast on his face, forcing him to shield it slightly as the creature moved fast enough to make the horses that they had they been racing the horses they had been on before, it would have been as if the beasts were standing still. Zuko had remembered his uncle talking about eel hounds once, telling him that there was no faster beast on land or water, and now he saw why. When they hit the river they zipped across it as if it were nothing to them and lept out the other side eager to be running again.

The hours passed, and the night slowly gave way to the morning by the time they were in the hills near where they had started all of this, the hounds seeming not to care about the fact that they had been running for hours, happy as all get out to be still guided here and there so long as they could run. As the hills started to part around them, Zuko saw black smoke in the distance and growled, kicking the eel hound to go faster, which it seemed happy to do, flying along the ground at what would have been an insanely dangerous pace. To fall from a beast going this fast would probably cause severe injuries, but the eel hound seemed surefooted enough that it wasn't about to miss a step. Besides, they were now... out of time.

As the animal crested a large hill Zuko felt his heart stop. "No..." he whispered as he saw the tents, burning in fire and ruin. Around them were the bodies of rebels, at least a dozen that had been slaughtered probably in their sleep, thinking that the night had been a good time to rest. As the animals slowed down at Zuko's request, he hopped off before it had finished completely, rolling down to the ground as he called out. "Lu Ten?! LU TEN!" he bellowed out. It wasn't the smartest move in the world, but he was past it. He knew one of these bodies would be those of his cousin, he could almost feel all of his dreams coming to pass before his eyes and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

When the others hopped off their mounts as well to look, Zuko felt his hair prickle as he saw some of the dead bodies. They had been dead for days... but the fires were fresh, which meant...

"And here my lieutenants said that you would never actually be stupid enough to fall for my little trap." Came the voice of Admiral Zhao from a hillside looking up over them. Zuko growled as lightning started to take shape in his hands, the power of it filling him as he knew where it belonged, and he knew what he was going to do with it. There would be no mercy for this man, he would end this right here and now. Zuko started to move his hand forward just as he saw Lu Ten and Sokka being dragged forward in front of the general, his fingertips twitching to the side at the last moment as lightning flowed off into the distance harmlessly with a loud boom.

"See, and they said there was no point in keeping these two alive, either. I should really look into better help..." he said, giving a slight nod to the two men who were holding razor sharp blades against the necks of the two men that Zuko had prayed to the spirits that he would be here in time to save. "It is rather funny though, I don't actually need both of them to serve as a human shield, just one." Zhao said, and Zuko gritted his teeth as a wall of firebenders flanked them from the left and right. They had been preparing for this for a while, as Zhao's smile broadened, seeing his prey in his trap.

"Both of them swore to me up and down that you wouldn't go to any extraordinary lengths to save them, and yet here they are. I had word that you dispatched the Rhinos, and that you seemed very keen to save a water tribe girl... that must be her." Zhao said with a smirk. "Which would make her this one's sister, very interesting. I tell you what, Zuko, since I only need one of them, I'll let you decide which one of them I kill, and which one I keep here with me for when your merry band decides to surrender. What's it going to be? Blood? or something to impress your new girl? I know which one I'm betting on..."

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Mon Jul 02, 2012 2:07 pm

Katara jerked back in surprise when Zuko punched the wall as he roared in fury. She could hear the stone crack, and when his fist moved away, she could see the spider fly webbing of fissures in the stone. Her blue eyes widened in shock, and Gui and Shen voiced her surprise. Zuko wasn’t an earthbender. How had he done that? She knew one thing; his hand wouldn’t be undamaged after that.

She approached him, taking his right hand in hers as she gently worked off the glove. He seemed hesitant to allow it, but in the end, he must have realized it was better to just let her heal him. His knuckles were bleeding, and she could see the signs of swelling. Katara wished he wouldn’t hurt himself, but his rage was understandable. He could have been helping his cousin instead of going on this worthless mission with the waterbender. It had truly been a waste of time for him, right? She coaxed a bit of water from the container at her side, wrapping it around her hand as she lightly moved her palm over his fist. The waterbender could feel the tiny fractures he’d created in the bone as their energy mingled, as she worked his into the proper pathways.

The waterbender didn’t say anything to him; what could she say? ‘I’m sorry I wasted your time coming with me. I’m sorry you felt forced to pretend to be happy on a date to a party you didn’t want to attend. When she was done, he ordered Gui, Ping, and Shen into another room, replacing his hand with a scroll. As they disappeared into the next room, she wondered why he wanted to talk to his men without Jet, without Katara. Weren’t they part of the group, too, now, or was her failure such that now that the mission was clearly a bust, she was just a nuisance? That didn’t explain why Jet wasn’t among them.

The Water Tribeswoman opened the scroll, her eyes moving quickly over the characters as more and more dread filled her. Sokka had failed, and now he was on the run. Was he even still alive at this point? Tears filled her eyes, and Jet ripped the letter from her hands as muffled shouting began to sound from the other room. What would she do if she lost her brother? Her dream came back to her, of her brother consumed by flames, dying at the hands of the Fire Nation. Had it been a vision from the Spirits? She felt the tears fall, but she was in too much shock and pain and anger and sadness to worry about them.

“Lu Ten doesn’t ask for help.” She heard Jet as if from far away, and she heard parchment crumpling.

The silence that followed the four reentering the room was grim, and it was no surprise considering what had happened. Her emotions were overwhelming her, and eventually, there was a breaking point where numbness began to set into her core. It was easier, and while she still cared about her brother, she couldn’t handle all of the pain roiling within her, so it was better to not feel it, to allow emptiness to set in. They all packed their things, but she was already packed, having kept her things together since she got to Ba Sing Se in case she needed to leave quickly though she hadn’t expected that there would be any true need for it. This wasn’t how she’d thought things would happen.

Katara had imagined getting the chance to finally talk to Ursa, to tell her the truth, to give a relationship with Zuko a chance… She’d believe she’d talk to the Earth King himself, that he would be more than willing to help save a race of people from extinction. She’d thought that things would look up, that life could be better, that the Fire Nation wouldn’t be conquering anyone. Lu Ten and Sokka were going to succeed in their plan, and Zhao would no longer be a threat to the fate of the Water Tribe.

Everything had gone so very wrong. The Earth King wasn’t in control; the leader of the Dai Li was, and he was more worried about himself and the power he wielded than trying to maintain what little balance was left in the world. Sokka was in trouble and probably dead by now, leaving only four Southerners left in the world, leaving Katara with almost no family left. And Zuko… Her eyes moved to the back of his head as he walked ahead of her. In just the limited amount of time she’d seen them together, Lu Ten and Zuko seemed as close as siblings; they were brothers. Would he blame her if Lu Ten was lost to him? Would she blame him if Sokka was lost to her? She didn’t know the answer though she tried to tell herself now that none of this was his fault, that they’d made their choices to separate.

Then they had arrived… somewhere in the Lower Ring… She was surprised they hadn’t headed toward the monorails, but when she saw the sign depicting Ostrich Horses, she understood. They would be faster mounted than on foot. She was grateful for Zuko’s foresight, and she stroked one of the feathered animals. It seemed docile enough, and she’d ridden a mount in the past. Of course, that had been a buffalo yak, not at all like this two legged creature, but she wasn’t going to complain. She just wanted to get to her brother, to help him. She slipped her foot into the stirrup and hoisted herself onto the saddle. The bird moved a couple of steps as it readjusted itself to accommodate her weight, and she gripped the reins tightly. The way it moved was foreign to her, and she had to take a few test steps with it before she thought she would be comfortable riding it regularly.

Katara initially lagged behind as their mounts began to run, being less comfortable with riding than the others. Buffalo yak weren’t this fast, and they were more or less pack animals, meant to carry the meat hunted by the Northerners back to the city. They were also used for moving objects too heavy for the humans to bear. Speed wasn’t a necessity with those animals. However, she soon began to catch up, noting the differences in the ostrich horse’s movements and changing her line of thought to better suit riding one. As a waterbender, she’d had to learn to go with the flow, to adapt to her surroundings, or she wouldn’t have become the master that she currently was. This was no different.

This was taking too long, even at the speeds at which they traveled. She could feel her mount slowing just the tiniest fraction as it grew weary, and she could feel her own weariness settling into her, but she wouldn’t allow it to overcome her. She would remain alert and awake and undaunted. Her brother’s life depended on it. Finally, they stopped, and Katara knew it was because they were going to meet another person. The ostrich horses panted unhappily, seeming to be more than pleased when the riders dismounted. A man appeared in the trees, and she saw Zuko toss something to him. In the moonlight, she could see it was a Pai Sho tile, but she couldn’t see which one, not that it mattered, right? Why would a Pai Sho tile have any significance? Maybe there was something written on it?

Whatever its meaning, they were all given food and water, and it was clear they would be getting fresh mounts. Katara’s eyes widened when the man led three huge creatures from the bushes. She had never seen any animal like them in her life. They were reminiscent of drawings of lizard creatures she’d seen, but they were so much bigger than she’d ever imagined, and they were strangely shaped, too. Katara looked questioningly at Zuko, and he was actually smiling. “What are they?” She asked.

“These are eel hounds, the fastest creatures on the ground and in the water that you’ll find on Earth.” The old man seemed quite proud of the animals, and Zuko mounted it without issue when it crouched onto its belly. He then gave directions for each of them to mount the three, and Katara was assigned to ride with him. He gripped her hand, helping to pull her up as she swung her leg over the saddle, and she wrapped her arms lightly around him. It soon became apparent that a light grip wasn’t going to cut it, and as the wind whipped past them, her arms tightened around his torso.

These creatures were faster than anything she’d seen, let alone experienced, and she had to place her cheek against Zuko’s back to protect her face from the biting wind. The chill of the air was only offset by the heat of his body that permeated through his clothing, keeping her warm though her arms were cold. Still, she didn’t mind the cold, having been raised on an icy tundra.

They didn’t even hesitate when they met the river, simply gliding through the water as if they were still running on land though only slightly slower. Katara had had to freeze a path of water clear across the way for them to travel, and she had been sure to melt it back to liquid once they were across so no one could easily follow them. It had been a lot slower than these creatures could travel, and she was infinitely grateful that they were going to make their way so much more quickly than anticipated. Maybe there was hope that her brother’s life would be spared after all.

Katara could see the dawn turning the world from black to grey, but she didn’t pay much attention otherwise. She didn’t know where they were going exactly, and Zuko seemed to know the way just fine, and she trusted him to guide them where they needed to go. Though she couldn’t hear his growl over the howling of the wind in her ears, she could feel it vibrate within him, and she found her eyes looking ahead of him, over his shoulder. Her heart seemed to stop as she saw the black smoke, the catalyst for his growl, and as they finally made their way toward the camp, horror filled her.

There were bodies everywhere, and flames licked at trees and tents alike. The eel hound began to slow, and she could feel Zuko pulling away from her, so she released him from her grasp as he leapt to the earth. She took the reins, tugging on them to pull the beast to a complete stop, and she didn’t wait for it to lean down before she jumped from the saddle. Something was wrong with this scene, something worse than what she was registering, but she couldn’t figure it out. She could hear Zuko shouting, and she desperately wanted to call out to him, to tell him to be quiet. Her skin pebbled as her unease grew.

Her eyes scanned the bodies, looking for her brother, hoping both to find him and to not find him. If she didn’t find him, he may not be dead. However, as she neared one body, she realized what was wrong, and she realized what that strange scent in the air was. “Zuko…” She said softly, the fear clear in her voice. In the Water Tribes, bodies didn’t really rot the way they did here because the cold froze them. The Earth Kingdom, at least not in this area, didn’t have a cold enough climate to preserve bodies. These people had been dead for longer than the flames lapping at the camp ground would indicate.

“And here my lieutenants said that you would never actually be stupid enough to fall for my little trap.” Katara’s eyes lifted in shock to see a man wearing a Fire Navy uniform standing above them on the hill. She could hear the crackling and feel her hair begin to rise as the air began to surge with energy at Zuko’s movements. He was going to shoot lightning at the Admiral, and she felt it was justified. He’d killed… everyone, probably even Sokka and Lu Ten. He deserved his fate.

However, that wasn’t going to happen. Guards dragged two familiar men in front of the Admiral, and she shouted before she could think. “Sokka!” The lightning shot through the air, vertically, uselessly, and she felt the environment go back to normal, her hair settling against her skin. She heard the soldiers begin to flank them, surrounding them, and she felt terrified, but what could she do? They were all going to die. This little choice that Zuko had to make was just to mess with all of them.

“If you don’t release both of them, I’ll kill every last one of your soldiers while you watch before I make you suffer the slowest most painful death you can even imagine!” Katara shouted, rage filling her.

The Admiral laughed heartily, as if her threat was the most amusing thing in the world. “And what is a little Water Tribe girl going to do against this many soldiers?”

She took a stance. “Didn’t you hear?” Katara asked, almost sounding bored though her heart raced beneath her breast. “I’m a bloodbender. I’m surprised none of them told you. They seemed awfully keen on calling me the Water Witch after they all saw what I can do.”

Zhao seemed to hesitate at that for just a moment, considering her words. The waterbender was lying, of course, to some extent. The sun was lighting the sky, and it hadn’t been a full moon in almost two weeks. However, Sokka was the only one here who knew that she could only bloodbend during a full moon; even her own party had no idea.

“You’re bluffing.” The Admiral growled. “You would have done something by now if you had that kind of power.”

“Are you willing to stake your life on that? I don’t like to kill, but I’ll make an exception if you don’t release them both.” Katara said calmly. He was right of course. Though she had promised herself to never use bloodbending again, this was a different situation. If the moon was full and lighting the sky, the Admiral would be on his knees, watching as she slaughtered his entire army. Her brother’s life was too important to her to try to find an alternative. However, this still made a decent gambling technique if he bought it.

Admiral Zhao’s eyes narrowed as he peered from the waterbender to her brother. Sokka’s face was bruised and battered, but there was nothing revealed there that she could see. Zhao seemed as if he was going to-

The man’s laughter filled the air. “Nice try, Little Girl, but it’s time to stop stalling. Zuko, make your choice. If your party so much as moves, I’ll kill them both, right here, right now, before anything can reach me.” Katara’s face fell, and hatred filled her to the brim. She’d showed her hand, and it hadn’t been strong enough. Now, someone was going to die. The waterbender couldn’t bear to look at Zuko, afraid her eyes may inadvertently plead with him to save her brother. She didn’t want him to die, but she couldn’t make this choice for him. Regardless, she didn’t anticipate any of them surviving longer than a week if they surrendered, anyway. In her mind, the choice was really who would be tortured to death and who would die quickly.

Even so, Katara wouldn’t go down without a fight. If she lost her brother, she didn’t know what she would do, but if he lived, she couldn’t just sit back and surrender. She would fight to her dying breath to have him freed, released. Even if she didn’t live, if even one of them could escape, it would be worth it.

Surrender wasn’t an option.

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Misery on Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:13 am

Zuko didn't let it show in his golden eyes as Katara made a bold bluff. If Zhao fell for it, it would solve all of their problems. But Zuko had a feeling in his gut Zhao wouldn't. A cautious person might have, but Zhao was not the sort to be cautious. He was a blowhard, but he knew how to manipulate people, and he had no conscience as far as Zuko could tell. He would kill everyone else here if it meant doing something that would see him gain status or profit from it, and he would do it without batting an eyelash. As Zhao laughed at the water bender Zuko closed his eyes. Zhao was gambling his life and the lives of everyone here that Katara couldn't control all of them, and he had a point. If she could control that many firebenders with the sun in the sky, what would be there to stop her from ending the war herself? Zuko gritted his teeth slightly as he heard Zhao tell him to quit stalling, his eyes looking to Katara who was looking away from him as if ashamed to look at him any longer. Zuko wondered if she would look at him that way for the rest of his life.

Gui and Shen were covering her rear while Jet seemed to be coming forward to the forefront of it all. If he was going to die, the fighter clearly wanted to make a last head on charge into the crowd of firebenders in order to kill as many as he possibly could. There were too many though. It was said that Piandao fought a hundred benders for his freedom, and Zuko mentally wished that he had bothered to ask how such a thing was possible, though he was fairly certain that they hadn't all decided to try to toast him at once when they had gone for it. Zhao's firebenders wouldn't be so forgiving. They had them dead to rights, and they knew that there wasn't going to be anything that needed to be done other than to slowly close the jaws of their trap around the party, in order to kill them all, or take them alive. Zuko was fairly sure which one of them would be a more horrifying fate.

But neither fate was as dreadful as the choice before him. Zuko had made a promise to his uncle in order to bring Lu Ten home. Without his cousin, Iroh would be broken, lost to the world. Zuko had no idea what the old man would be like if he came to deliver the news. At the same time, he knew that if he chose Sokka's death, that would end any hope that he ever had of mending his relations with the water tribe. Katara would never forgive him for what happened this day. She might not hate him, might not try to kill him, but she would never feel the same about him ever again, knowing that when push came to shove, he would choose his family above her own. It was an impossible choice, and as Zhao leered at him from atop the hill, Zuko closed his eyes, gritting his teeth as he knew exactly what he had to do. There was no choice, and Katara was going to hate him for it.

"Make the play." Zuko muttered. He clenched his eyes tight at that, and Katara would suddenly feel as Gui and Shen grabbed her arms to force them behind her back to keep her from bending, holding her arms tight behind her back as Zuko opened his eyes to look at the pain and anger on her face. He'd not let her in on this little plan for a reason. He knew that there was no way that she was going to let this go. Zuko took a slow breath as Jet looked at him in horror, and he could see the fighter wanting to lunge for him, but even Jet had to be mindful of the circle of firebenders that were around them now, fists aimed at them, reading to blast them all from this earth without so much as a moment's hesitation.

Zhao laughed loudly as he watched what was happening below. "Very good, Prince Zuko. For a minute I was worried your little water tribe piece of ass had made you a traitor even to your blood. I'll feel quite a bit better about toasting this loud mouthed idiot." He said, grabbing Sokka by the hair, who growled at him, gritting his teeth as he prepared for his end. As Zhao breathed in however he caught the movement in his eye of Ping bringing up his bow in a swift fluid motion and spinning it around to aim at Zuko's head. Zhao roared with laughter at it. "It seems that you may have bigger problems than your water bitch after all, Prince Zuko..." Zhao said, chuckling. "I would imagine this means that you're not the only one who's had a piece of her."

Ping gritted his teeth, his bow trembling as he held it against Zuko's head. "This isn't what I signed up for, Commander." Ping said, his breathing heavy.

Zuko glanced at him, and nodded slightly, staring at the arrowhead that was just a moment of release away from shooting through his brain. "I know it isn't," Zuko said softly. "Thank you."

"STOP!" Zuko called out as Zhao had turned back to the water tribesman again, and Zhao narrowed his eyes at Zuko.

"What game are you playing at now, boy?" Zhao growled, releasing Sokka as he turned toward the scene down below.

"Both of them, for me." Zuko said softly, his golden eyes staring at Zhao's face.

Zhao roared again with laughter. "Surely you jest, Prince Zuko. You expect me to lose two hostages for one? One that I already have in my trap?" Zhao spread out his arms as if to point out the firebenders around them. "What on earth makes you think that I will agree to your little deal? Maybe I'll just kill them both and let your mutinous little friend do me the favor of ending you while I'm at it." Zhao said with a wide smirk.

The Commander didn't bat an eyelash as he stared the Admiral down. "That's your choice. It works out for the best for me, anyway, Admiral." Zuko said flatly. "After all, Ping is acting on my orders." Zuko watched as Zhao's face twisted in anger and rage at the idea that there was something to all of this that he hadn't thought of, a plan that he hadn't foreseen. "I've got no intentions of going back to my father to be tortured for the entire kingdom to see. There's a reason the wanted posters for me offer a reward for me, alive." Zuko could see it now, the rage starting to form on Zhao's face that he was being manipulated into all of this, and he smiled a little at it. "But by all means, kill one of them and me with the same stroke, Admiral. I'm certain that my father won't look on it poorly at all that his greatest Admiral had his son delivered on a silver platter to him, and instead decided to kill him over the son of a traitor and a piece of water tribe trash."

Zhao's face darkened, not liking at all the fact that Zuko was robbing him of the decision that he'd wanted the exiled prince to make. "And who do you think is going to tell your father when all of you are dead?" Zhao growled out.

Zuko shrugged lightly. "I guess you're right, Admiral. Surely no one here would benefit from your downfall, and being able to take your place." Zuko smiled as he saw it there on the Admiral's face. That sense of fear creeping into the man's posture, the man's features. If there was one thing that Zuko could count on from someone who had back-stabbed his way to the position that he had received, it was that the man would be deathly afraid of the same thing happening to him. Even in a room full of his most loyal men, Zhao would see traitors that were waiting just for a chance to stab him in the back. If he made this choice there would always be someone with something to hang over his head.

"Fine." Admiral Zhao said finally. "Release them." he ordered, shoving Lu Ten and Sokka slowly down the hill, as Zuko went to the eel hound, stroked its neck and unbound the box from its back. The crate was quite an armful, and heavy to boot, but Zuko knew he wouldn't be carrying it that long. Zuko saw the admiral's eyebrow rise at the crate, but with the troops focusing on him, what could Zuko possibly do? Zuko walked past Lu Ten who was looking at him with a worried glance, and Sokka who seemed happier that he was going back with his sister than anything else, his eyes glaring instead at the two earth benders who were holding her arms, clearly not approving of it.

By the time they reached the other side, Ping had lowered his bow, instead using the arrowhead to cut Sokka and Lu Ten's arms free as Zuko ascended the hill in silence to be alongside General Zhao. On the other side of the hill Zuko could see the forest less than 20 yards from them, expanding out into the distance. He closed his eyes for a moment, savoring the image in his head. He would have loved to have painted such a beautiful landscape had he had the time, but there was no more time for it any longer. As Zuko set the box down, he stepped back as Zhao slammed his foot on the side of the crate, leaning against it as he looked at the label on the box and laughed. "White Jade Tea. I suppose you were planning on serving that to us. How stupid do you think I am?"

"Pretty stupid." Zuko muttered.

Zhao smirked at him. "You realize that I've got no intentions of letting them go, don't you? That your little self sacrificial stunt only meant that you have a front row seat to watch them all die?" Zuko could see it there, the smile of victory on the admiral's face, and he looked back down at Sokka, Katara, Gui, Shen, Jet... and Lu Ten looking there at him, and he closed his eyes, feeling his hand start to tremble a little despite himself as he looked back and Zhao, and forced himself to smile.

He could see it then, and so would Katara, Lu Ten's head suddenly shooting up as he realized, the scream forming on his lips as he realized that no one would actually ever want to drink White Jade tea if they knew anything about tea whatsoever. But White Jade Tea wasn't actually tea at all, it was a cover name that Zuko and his Uncle and Lu Ten had used back in the day for something that was far more dangerous than any drink could be. Zuko looked down at the blasting powder that Zhao was standing on and nodded.

"Goodbye Admiral." Zuko muttered as he slammed his fist forward, a ball of fire arching out towards the box to set it ablaze.

Zhao didn't even have time to lift his foot before the explosion ripped through the air.

Lu Ten had rushed forward, and gotten halfway towards the hill when the explosion struck and sent him flying backward, skidding on the ground as he stared in horror at the fireball that erupted from the ground into the air like an angry dragon. Through the flames, Lu Ten could make out the form Admiral Zhao's body, his leg blown off, the rest of him on fire. A few feet from him, Lu Ten spotted the body that must have been Zuko's. It was burning like wood on a campfire, no signs of life coming from it. The members of Zhao's army were in chaos, the officers in his army had been at his side, trying to show a sense of loyalty to their leader, and from the looks of it, it had either killed most of them or sent them flying like human projectiles into their own men.

It was only a heartbeat Lu Ten hesitated before he shouted out to his group. "GO! GO GO GO!" He growled out, Ping loosing arrows at the unprepared Fire Benders who were scattering, looking for direction or simply worried that they were going to be caught in a follow up explosion from the crate as flaming chunks of heated rock started to rain down on all of them.

As Lu Ten moved towards the eel hounds for a getaway he noted Katara trying to stay for the fight. "We have to go, Katara... we have to go! He's gone, and if we don't go then everything he sacrificed himself for will be for nothing...." Lu Ten pleaded, then noted Sokka coming to make sure she left. Lu Ten tried not to think about the body that he was leaving behind, or the life that had been lost in order to do what it was that he and a small battalion of rebels had failed to...

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

Post by Kathryn Lacey on Tue Jul 03, 2012 12:32 pm

Katara couldn’t ask him to choose between his family and hers. It wasn’t fair to him, and in the reversed situation, she knew that she would always choose Sokka over a stranger, even if it meant losing Zuko’s respect and trust forever. She liked Lu Ten from when she’d met him, but he was still practically a stranger to her, and her family was more important to her by far than anyone else. Because she understood that, she knew that Zuko would choose Lu Ten’s life over Sokka’s. She didn’t like it, and she could feel tears welling in her eyes, but she held them back, staring intently at the Admiral, readying herself for the fight.

Zuko’s next words didn’t make a lot of sense. What play? She didn’t understand it, but she thought she could find meaning in it. He meant they were going to fight, right? Katara unstoppered two of her water skins, but just as she was about to move to waterbender, she felt strong hands grip her arms, pulling them behind her, and forcing her to her knees. She fought hard against their grip, but they were strong, and betrayal filled her as she realized that it wasn’t a pair of soldiers who held her but her own companions: Gui and Shen.

“What are you doing? Let me go!” She shouted, struggling to escape them. How could they do this to her? Had this all been a trap the whole time? Could they really have just been acting as if they were helping just to lead up to this moment when she was delivered to the Admiral? Why would they bother to gain her trust first? She’d already been on her way to him in the first place when they’d rescued her from that fate, so why all of this convoluted trickery?

No, this wasn’t a trick. She looked at Zuko, pain and rage and sadness filling her. He didn’t want her to fight, to die for anyone. She was one of the best fighters here, though! She was an asset! He’d sparred against her himself, and he knew she was good, that she’d be necessary to win this battle. Why wouldn’t he just let her try?

When Zhao gripped Sokka by the hair and jerked his head back, Katara struggled harder. Adrenaline filled her, fueling her, and if Gui and Shen hadn’t been earthbenders and well rooted, she would have gotten free. Tears streamed down her face. Her brother was going to die; she was going to lose him. Why wouldn’t they at least let her fight to try to save him? Why did they hold her back?

As angry as she was, when she saw Ping take aim at Zuko, she found herself afraid that he would end the Commander. Would Zuko be killed along with her brother? Would she lose them both in a matter of moments? “Please,” Katara whimpered to her captors, “let me go. Please don’t do this to me. I can’t let this just happen.” Their eyes filled with shame, but they didn’t release her, didn’t even loosen their grips on her; the Commander’s orders were law.

Her energy was leaving her, and defeat was taking the place of determination. She drooped against her human bonds, sobbing openly, wishing for the numbness she’d felt only hours ago. This was too much. All of it was just too much to bear. How could she lose her brother without even fighting for him the way he would have fought so hard for her?

“STOP!” Zuko’s words brought her head up, and she looked at him questioningly. Was he going to withdraw his choice? Then he revealed his plan to sacrifice himself for his cousin and for her brother. She began to struggle again. Katara knew it wasn’t logical. She understood that she couldn’t have all of them, that someone had to die, but she wasn’t thinking clearly at this point; she only knew she wanted to save everyone, and she had to try. She couldn’t let Sokka die, but she sure as hell couldn’t let Zuko just give himself to that monster, either.

Katara felt like she was missing something important, some puzzle piece that would bring all of this together. Ping wasn’t really going to try to kill Zuko but was doing what had been commanded? This had all been a plot to manipulate the Admiral, but into what? Then it became clear. Everyone would live this way. Lu Ten and Sokka were shoved down the hill, and Zuko would go with the Admiral, but he would live. They could regroup and go back for him, rescue him in a stealth mission. It was all so clever, and she felt her tears begin to subside. They could do this. The waterbender felt hope renewing itself within her.

Her brows creased as she saw Zuko carry the crate toward Zhao. She had no idea what white jade tea was, but she imagined it was poison or some kind of sleeping brew. Perhaps this was part of the plan to sneak Zuko away. The soldiers would be sleeping off some powerful brew, or they would be dead, making it that much easier.

Katara looked hard at Zuko’s face, feeling a sense foreboding. It was there in his eyes, something… wrong, something she couldn’t quite understand. In her peripheral vision, she could see Lu Ten’s head jerk up, and he began to run.

I've got no intentions of going back to my father to be tortured for the entire kingdom to see…

Before she could do more than lunge her body forward, trying to escape from Gui and Shen, the flames produced by Zuko devoured the box before and explosion consumed her senses. Katara felt like the air had been completely sucked from her lungs, and it took her a moment to remember how to breathe. “NO!” The scream broke from her lungs, and she struggled hard against Gui and Shen, harder than ever. Somewhere, distantly, she could hear Lu Ten shouting, and she felt her arms released. She started running, away from the mounts, toward the bodies. Fireballs shot toward her, but she dodged or deflected them with water, tearing it from the plants and from her water skins. There was no true control to her waterbending right now, only emotion and panic and anger because ever second she had to deal with the Fire Nation soldiers attacking her was another moment she couldn’t get to Zuko.

“We have to go, Katara... We have to go! He's gone, and if we don't go then everything he sacrificed himself for will be for nothing...” She heard Lu Ten speak, but everything sounded so far away, and she couldn’t register the meaning of his words beyond his yelling her name. She had to get to Zuko, she had to-

A strong hand gripped her arm, and she spun around ready to attack the soldier who would dare to touch her, but the face wasn’t the skull-like helmets of the Fire Nation. It was the battered, bruised face of her brother, grabbing her, pulling her away. “No! I have to help him! I have to heal him or he’ll die! We can’t just leave him here when he’s hurt!”

His other hand grabbed her shoulder, and he pulled harder. “He’s dead, Katara! No one could survive being that close to the bomb. There’s no saving him! Even you can’t bring someone back to life!”

Tears streamed down her face, and she hit him, trying to break his hold, to push him away from her. “But he’s a firebender! He could have-”

“No! He’s dead!” Sokka yelled at her. “We have to go or his death won’t have meant a damned thing!”

Katara’s eyes moved toward the hill where she could see the body of the Admiral, and not too far away from it there was a second body, burned beyond recognition. The sight brought to mind finding her mother’s body. “He’s dead, Katara. I’m sorry.” He wiped away one of the tears streaming from her eyes only to have it replaced with more as she sobbed, heartache and sorrow filling her.

“But he was just here. He can’t be dead.” Even as she choked out the words, she knew Sokka was right, and she stopped fighting him, allowing him to lead her away as a sea of overwhelming pain and misery filled her. She’d failed again. She hadn’t protected him, and instead of repaying the life debts she owed him, he’d saved the lives of her brother and her again, finalizing it with his own death.

Flashes of his face filled her: the seriousness in his eyes when he spoke, the heat when he touched her, the way his entire face softened and lit when he smiled and laughed. She would never again see any of that; no one would ever again see him or know his kindness. He had left this world in flames just like everyone she’d ever known who had died.

Sokka forced her onto an eel hound behind Lu Ten, hopping onto the saddle behind her. She hardly registered the chill of the wind as it began to run at breakneck speeds. All she knew was that she would never see him again, never feel his arms around her, never hear that soft gravel of his voice.

Zuko was… gone….

Last edited by Kathryn Lacey on Wed Jul 04, 2012 12:29 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Avatar: The Cycle's End...

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