Fandom: ATLA; genfic
Length: 3400 words
Rating: safe for the kiddies
Summary: In an alternate universe where Lu Ten didn’t die in the Siege of Ba Sing Se, Iroh has become the Fire Lord. Aang wakes up from his iceberg to find himself in a world that’s actually... somewhat peaceful. Or at least it’s that way until Lu Ten is poisoned, Zuko is framed for his murder, and someone starts impersonating members of the Northern Water Tribe in an attempt to restart the war. Can the Avatar restore balance to the world when he’s not even sure who he should be fighting?
Notes: This is an idea I've had in my head for a long time. I completely revised it last year for the Big Bang, and am finally finding the time to write it now. Every chapter is blocked out, so hopefully I'll be able to consistently follow it through to the end.
“No! For the last time, you can’t bring that… thing with us!”
“His name is Appa, and wherever he goes I go.”
“Look. Aang,” Katara said, cutting them both off before their argument progressed to full on shouting. “What my brother is trying to say is that there are Fire Nation soldiers all over our village. You’re an airbender. Even if you’re not the Avatar… if they find out about your powers, well, who knows what will happen. It’s going to be difficult hiding your tattoos let alone a giant bison.”
“Not just a bison,” Sokka said in his usual smug, sarcastic tone. “A flying bison.”
“For the last time. Appa can fly,” Aang said. “He’s just tired. How would you feel if you just woke up from being frozen in an iceberg?”
As if to emphasize his master’s point, Appa yawned. Sokka rolled his eyes.
“I wouldn’t feel anything because I – like a normal person – would be dead. Anyways, can’t you just leave it-”
“Appa’s a ‘he,’ not an ‘it’.”
“Whatever. Can’t you just leave it behind a snow drift or something? You can visit him in the morning after we get you some different clothes that aren’t so…”
He stared at the young airbender, his eyes traveling up and down the garishly bright ensemble.
“Yellow?” Aang ventured.
“Yeah, yellow,” Sokka said. “We’ll go with that.”
“I guess as long as it's the first thing in the morning...” Aang glanced up at his companion and sighed. “I know you just spent the last couple days in an iceberg, but do you mind just waiting out here this one last night?”
Appa gave off what sounded like a half-roar, half-yawn and slowly lumbered away. Katara followed him with her eyes for awhile and then looked down at her feet. Hopefully it would snow a bit more tonight. She winced at the immense footprints the giant bison had left over the polar landscape. It wouldn't make a difference trying to hide him if any random person could just follow his tracks. Perhaps if she was better at waterbending she could have done something, cover them somehow... no, it was no use thinking about that. Things were what they were.
“Thank you, Aang,” Katara said as she patted his shoulder and gave him a comforting smile. “I know that he probably means a lot to you.”
“Yeah, he does.” Aang looked contemplative for a few seconds, then he beamed. “Besides, it’s just for one night. Then we’ll fly back home with a whole new interesting story to tell everybody!”
Katara continued to smile until she remembered something. Something that everybody was supposed to know.
“I thought the last airbenders died off almost a hundred years ago,” she said slowly. “I thought everybody knew that.”
Aang frowned. “Do I look like a dead, hundred year old man to you?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No,” she admitted. “I suppose not.”
“Come on you guys!” Sokka hissed.
Katara looked over to see him already starting to walk back towards the village, waving at the two of them to follow.
“We better get moving,” Katara told Aang. “Trust me, you don’t want to be out here once the sun goes down.”
Aang glanced over his shoulder at the nearest snowdrift. “Appa’s going to be out here.”
Katara wrapped an arm around Aang’s shoulder and started to nudge him into walking.
“Appa will be okay since his fur will keep him warm,” she said as the two followed Sokka’s footprints. “Look at you though. You don’t even have a good coat.”
“Monks don’t believe in killing,” Aang said as he shivered slightly. “For any reason.”
“What do they do when it gets cold then?”
“Oh. That’s... different.”
The two walked in silence as they worked to catch up with Sokka.
“Does it work?” Katara eventually asked.
“The meditation? Well...”
“Will you guys keep it down? We’re coming up to the village, so it’d be nice if everyone was, you know, quiet?”
“Why does your village have to be quiet?” Aang asked in a voice that was not a whisper.
Sokka wheeled around and gave him an angry shush. Katara sighed.
“It’s not the village,” Katara whispered. “It’s the curfew. The Fire Nation doesn’t like us out after a certain time, and – really – we should have been back over an hour ago, but then Sokka crashed our boat and then we found you and, well, you know the rest.”
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned the Fire Nation,” Aang said, wrinkling his forehead. “Why is the Fire Nation here and setting curfews and telling you what to do?”
The two Water Tribe siblings turned and stared at him.
“You're kidding, right?” He looked at Katara. “He’s kidding, right?”
Aang looked genuinely confused, which only made Katara more uneasy. Who was this kid?
"Aang," Katara said softly, choosing her words as carefully as possible. If he didn't know already, how was explaining anything going to help? "The Fire Nation, well, the Fire Nation kind of rules the world."
The air was crisp that night, far too chilly for his comfort. If it wasn't for the important message he had to deliver to Lu Ten, Zuko would have gladly stayed in the Fire Nation until Spring came again. As it was however...
"Prince Zuko! Princess Azula! I cannot begin to tell what an honor it is to be graced with your presence in our humble-"
"Save your groveling for someone who cares," Azula said, shutting the Dockmaster up with a wave of her hand.
The two siblings proceeded past the stooped, middle-aged man as they walked down the gangway and onto the pier. An ostrich-horse drawn carriage awaited them at the end to take them the rest of the way to Omashu. Zuko could've waited until morning when it came right down to it, but Azula had insisted that time spent waiting was time wasted, and really? It was just easier not to argue.
"You know, you didn't have to be so rude," Zuko whispered.
"Hmm? Rude?" Azula didn't even bother looking at him, sounding slightly disinterested and confused at the same time. She glanced at her nails. "Rude about what?"
"That guy. The one you just talked to."
"Oh," she said. She didn't even pause in her step. "You really need to stop treating the common folk as if they matter, Zuzu. I'd already forgotten all about him."
"I thought I told you not to call me that," he hissed.
They reached the end of the pier and Zuko stepped back to let Azula enter the carriage as a servant opened the door. As he stepped in, he caught a flash of her smile.
"Oh Zuzu," she said, leaning forward to pinch his cheek. "Whatever am I going to do with you?"
Zuko cursed himself for not being able to think of any sort of comeback that sounded even half witty. Why did he always let his sister dance circles around him?
He forced himself to ignore that as the door closed behind him. He heard a familiar whip and the carriage lurched forward, rumbling slightly over the uneven road. It'd be several hours until they reached the great city at which point he'd be too tired to do anything. The least he could do was get at least a little bit of sleep. He started to closed his eyes and lean back against the side of the carriage.
"Zuuuzu..." Azula's voice drifted over to him from the other side of the carriage. His eyes cracked opened slightly. What now? She smiled at him. "I see something... brown."
He fought the urge not to groan.
"The dirt," he said without looking outside.
"You have to look first."
This time Zuko did groan as he leaned forward, glanced quickly out the door's window, and slumped back down. "The dirt."
"No! Guess again."
It was going to be a long night.
"Katara? Your grandmother keeps staring at me." Aang peered at the old woman from across the cooking fire as cautiously as possible, ducking his head down to his chest whenever he started to sense her glancing over.
"Don't worry about it too much," Katara said after glancing at her grandmother as well. "She's probably just as curious as we are, you being a new face and all."
"She said I was supposed to be extinct." He frowned. And the Fire Nation soldiers... true enough, they had been all over the town when he, Katara, and Sokka had snuck in. Aang still didn't believe what Katara had said about them ruling the world. Someone had to have just lied or exaggerated somewhere. He had only been gone from the Southern Air Temple for a few days. Surely the world couldn't have changed that much since then.
"Aang, I..." Katara placed her hand on Aang's shoulder; she looked unsure of something. He smiled, hoping to ease whatever was on her mind. Slowly, she smiled back. "It's late," she continued. "We should all get to bed."
Aang watched in disgust as Katara finished off a couple more bites of the sea prune soup that her grandmother had cooked for dinner - a dish that proved even his tastebuds had their limits - and then helped her as she set up a bed of furs for him. He protested slightly, he was a vegetarian after all, but the pelts did seem rather warm and it was cold and one night couldn't hurt that much...
Before he knew it he was already lying down, eyes closed and slightly twitching at the start of a dream.
Azula was clearly irritated at breakfast that morning. The two had finally arrived into Omashu a couple hours past midnight. Zuko still wasn't sure if that counted as "really early in the morning" or "really late at night." Transferring from their Earth Kingdom carriage into a smaller, Fire Nation styled palanquin at the city gates, they had been brought up to the entrance of Omashu's palace only to be told that their cousin was already asleep.
Azula had thrown a minor fit at that, threatening to throw the unlucky palace servant who had welcomed them into the dungeons if he didn't go and tell Lu Ten that they had arrived. With some trepidation the servant ran off but eventually came back with a message from Lu Ten saying that a formal welcoming could wait until after the sun was up. Zuko had seen her nostrils flare up slightly at that; he wondered if the servant ever realized how close to her deadly temper he had come. Eventually her mood improved though, after she'd realized that she still had enough imperial status to wake up pretty much anyone else. Azula had waved goodbye to Zuko, wandering off to probably annoy some other unfortunate soul.
Zuko hadn't thought about it too much after that. Sleep had been more important.
He glanced across the breakfast table, wondering what was going through his sister's mind. Of course she'd never say she was irritated, especially to Lu Ten's face. At least, that's who he assumed she was currently irritated at. Their family had been living in Ba Sing Se for so long... That far away from the heart of the Fire Nation, sometimes it felt like another world. Having to obey someone else's orders had become a foreign concept to Azula. It was becoming a foreign concept to all of them.
"Oh and look who's here," Azula said suddenly with just a glint of steel in her voice. She smiled thinly. "The future princess herself."
Zuko glanced up to see a tall, dark-haired girl walk casually into the room. It was Mai.
"Not that again," she drawled, taking a seat next to her old friend. She glanced up at Zuko, giving him a quick nod and smile before turning back to Azula. "So anything exciting since we last saw each other?"
"No, not really." Azula paused to grab a clump of rice with her chopsticks and pop it into her mouth. "I went to sleep, woke up, am eating breakfast now... you know, the usual morning routine."
"You went and woke Mai up last night?" Zuko asked, his eyes widening.
"Oh, Zuko," Azula said with a sigh. "Just because you wanted to go to sleep doesn't mean we all had to."
"I'm fine," Mai said. "Life can be so boring around here at times. You and Azula will only be here for a short while. I can always sleep more when nothing interesting is happening. But thanks, all the same."
"For caring," she said simply.
Zuko immediately stared at his plate and resumed eating in silence after that. He could hear the two of them start to talk from across the table, some of it in hushed whispers, some of it inside jokes, some other stuff about Ty Lee, some about weddings...
"So have you picked a date?" Zuko heard Azula ask.
"Not yet," Mai replied. "He wants to wait until the sages find a really lucky one. Well, he doesn't really pay much attention to that sort of thing but you know how his father is."
Zuko glanced up to see Azula rolling her eyes. "Uncle can be the most superstitious old fool at times," she said.
"Now that's not a very nice thing to say."
They looked up to see Lu Ten leaning casually against the doorframe, gazing at the three of them as they quickly pushed back their chairs to stand. Zuko's cousin was in his twenty-sixth year now, his face strong and square like his father's, golden eyes calm and shining with the pride of his ancestors. Everyone in his family had those eyes, but Lu Ten's had always seemed the steadiest, gentle and warm yet far from weak.
"Cousin Lu Ten," Azula said, quickly regaining her composure. "I didn't see you come in."
He waved her silent. Azula couldn't have liked that.
"I understand," he said as he walked over. He smiled. "My fiance is good at distracting people." He wrapped an arm around Mai's waist and kissed her cheek. "How did you sleep last night? I heard you got a visitor."
"Not you too," Mai said. Zuko saw her elbow Lu Ten slightly in the stomach. "Zuko already asked. I wanted to talk to Azula. If I didn't, I'd have said something. Alright?"
"Alright," he said, giving her another kiss. Mai raised an eyebrow, looking skeptical, but Zuko could see the slight raise of her lips. They both seemed happy. Hopefully the sages would be able to find a date that satisfied Uncle soon.
"Well," Lu Ten said, continuing. "Since you two obviously have some more catching up to do, I'll be over here with Zuko and he can tell me all about what's been going on back home."
Azula and Mai sat back down, resuming their conversation as Lu Ten walked over to Zuko's side. After a couple questions regarding which foods were tasting the best that morning, the two sat down and Zuko passed Lu Ten a large bowl of soup.
"So how is Father?" Lu Ten asked as he scooped several spoonfuls into a smaller bowl in front of him.
"He's... well, Uncle. He annoys the officials by playing Pai Sho in the middle of meetings and yet still walks away from them with more understanding of the situation than anyone else. He turned one of the main manufacturing plants into a garden. There's some new legislation going through to make a national tea holiday. The usual."
"I heard he had guests," Lu Ten said, stirring the soup slightly with his chopsticks.
"You mean the Southern Water Tribe delegation?" Zuko asked. "They're still there. Uncle said-"
"Actually, hold off on that for now," Lu Ten said. Zuko saw him glance briefly at Mai and Azula before turning towards Zuko. "We can talk later. In my study."
"But enough about that," Lu Ten said loudly. Azula and Mai stopped talking to look over. "Where are my manners? We must throw a feast for you tonight. Anything less would be rude."
"Oh, that's okay," Zuko said. "Really."
"Nonsense! Mai, tell Zuko there has to be a feast."
Zuko swallowed nervously as Mai glanced at him. "There has to be a feast," she said in her trademark monotone.
"There you have it! Azula? Any special requests?"
"Well," she said, her lips curling up in their typical scheming fashion as she tapped them with one pointed finger. "Now that you mention it..."
Aang woke up with a scream. Katara rushed over, trying to figure out what was the matter with the young boy. Had he gotten hurt somehow? She glanced around, looking for something that might have caused any damage, but there was nothing near except the soft fur of the bedding.
"Aang! Aang, what's the matter? Can you hear me?" Katara said, grabbing onto him and holding him in her arms. "Ssh... ssh. It's okay. Everything's fine." He was breathing way too fast, like he was... scared? She glanced around the tent as she held him. There was nothing there that wasn't there last night. Then what, a dream? A nightmare?
His breathing seemed to be slowing down, so she scooted back and watched as he blinked his eyes opened. He peered around, eyes slightly unfocused, before slowly turning to stare at her.
"Katara?" he mumbled.
"I'm here," she said. "We're all here. Well, most of us at least."
Gran Gran had already gone out for her morning walk and Sokka... sometimes Katara wasn't sure that Sokka even knew what "morning" was. Her older brother was still soundly asleep across the igloo, unfazed by Aang's earlier shouts.
"Sorry," Aang said. "I thought..." He started to stare off into the distance but quickly shook his head, turning to look at Katara with a smile. She smiled back. She couldn't help it; there was just something so innocent about him.
"Is everything alright in there?" came a gruff voice from outside the igloo. "We heard a noise!"
Katara's eyes widened. The Fire Nation! Would they find out about Aang already? No, she just had to keep calm and think about it.
"Aang," Katara whispered. "Just sit here and let me take of this. Okay?"
He nodded. She stood up and walked outside the igloo, making sure not to raise the tent flap too high so the Fire Nation soldiers could see inside.
"Good morning," she said with a smile.
"We heard a noise," the one on the left said. It was Yun, a new recruit by Fire Nation standards. He'd been there for only a couple weeks.
Yun was a young man who had joined the Fire Nation military with the thought of riding into epic battles, bringing home untold honor and riches to his family. Instead he had ended up here. The other soldiers stationed in her village made fun of him for it. Katara did too, not because she thought guarding her village should be a punishment, but she couldn't help but look down upon people who looked at war and death as something to gain from, even if the war was mostly over now. Not that she'd ever say anything to Yun's face or even the other Fire Nation soldiers. Although they made fun of each other all the time, the soldiers didn't approve of anyone else doing the same.
Katara forced herself to keep smiling.
"It's my brother, Sokka," she said. "He had a nightmare. Nothing to waste time about."
"Oh. Him." The other soldier, Cheng, rolled his eyes. Cheng was an older veteran who'd been stationed in her village for several months now. He was well-acquainted with both her brother and his reputation. Apparently the "two fishhooks in one thumb" story was still a popular story around the Fire Nation cooking fires. "Come on, Yun. The girl's probably right."
Katara watched as the two shuffled off, breathing a sigh of relief as the distance between her and them slowly increased bit by bit.
"Hey Katara! Are you okay?"
Katara jumped. She spun around to see Aang coming out to stand beside her, yellow and orange clothing still blazing like a signal fire at sea. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Yun and Cheng start to turn back around. She could try and shuffle Aang back inside, but now other people were starting to notice. Fingers were raising to point at the two of them; she saw mouths start to move.
What had she gotten herself into now?
- Fire Lord Iroh (01/20)