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01 March 2008 @ 03:14 pm
The Bathetic Adages  
Title: The Bathetic Adages
Pairing: Zuko x Katara
Fandom: Avatar the Last Airbender
Genre: General, Romance
Rating: G
Word Count: 1.472

The Bathetic Adages

still water runs deep…

Little child, little prince, little monster-ling is born loud and shrill, shrieking.

In fire, he sits, bathes, and soaks (eats) greedily from Ursa’s warmth, Ursa’s love. Zuko is thrashing and gurgling, is the heir apparent, is the last hope the peasant (lords) have on anything left. From war to peace, to the rapprochement, Zuko stands: small and frail and will ultimately fail.

“Your son is a willful thing.” Iroh picks the boy up and a twinkle ignites.

“Have some tea, brother.” And Ozai pushes back. The pendulum swings; Ozai wins. His brother loses ground—again. All the while Zuko sleeps, noisy and despairing in his miniature castle of dreams and innocence.

And in these dreams, Zuko is always the one with the final word.

The rivers flow.

He tastes the edge, slit down to his belly—where the fire runs free and out.

-x-

The woman paints her baby’s face dark and menacing, paints on the warrior signs superimposing the warrior soul. Katara, she names the girl. Katara, the name of luck and destiny and the eternal ocean. Blazing like fire tongues on slippery ice, Katara is a strong name for a weak child.

Carefully, the mother dabs her fingers into the jar and smears black and fierce-looking jagged lines onto a whimpering cheek and smiles kindly. Happy. This is it. Her baby’s here to stay.

“You’ll become a pity, but of a good cause.”

Flourish and grow.

She sees the end coming down, three months old. Left is the sea, and right is the snow. No escape, she knows. Three months old.

ignorance is bliss…

Three days before he turns thirteen, Zuko’s mother disappears. She is clever, the Princess Ursa. Because this is a calculated move, is equivocal and treasonous, is infallible. She leaves in the night, surrounded by dark and fright, and by doing so leaves him unharmed. Safe. For now.

Three days before

—the upcoming year.

Three, the number of chance, the number feared. And by this, Ursa gains her and her son a deadly, fatal weapon. Ozai is terrified, but doesn’t let it show. It gradually gnaws away at him, insides squirming and hurting, the rapacious parasite come to avenge. For this, he raises his son properly.

And Zuko lives on, content without knowing. Zuko learns about war and conquest, and how he is destined to be The Greatest Ruler of All. What an exaggerated thing, he thinks.

Butexaggerate has a nasty habit of lashing back. Too bad, it just became real.

-x-

That summer, Katara visits her grand-aunt. The old woman is sleeping tranquilly in a casket, open, with her white face calm and white nose up.

Her brother tells her the grand-aunt has “went away”, just like mother. But Katara didn’t understand. And she’s tired of searching.

Why doesn’t Mother just come home?

Sokka pushes her down, falls to the floor stiff and cries. Her brother turns, evades, and there’s no one else around for solace.

Shattered, Katara re-constructs her world: she’s no longer the stupid child, she tells herself—adamant—it’s the war. All because of the war. All because of the Fire Lord and his insanity.

She’ll bring him down. He’ll see. They’ll all be “went away”. Just like mother did, and auntie and everyone else.

beginner’s luck…

Banishment is a blessing. A furtive blessing, but a good fortune nonetheless. In his exile, Iroh decides to teach his nephew how to manipulate lightening. (Thunder and lightening, éclair and tonnerre, strike them down—down and oblivious, no mercy left.)

Zuko is strong, Iroh believes, but he is delicate in his heart. He is uncertain, quivers in his bones, and reaches out for the moon, reaches for what he just can’t have. And so, Iroh teaches him how to redirect, not re-conjure or re-assail. Irate, not devastate.

“You let it run through your core, in the middle, let it pass without injuring yourself. Watch, it is not so hard.”

Yeah, not hard at all. Not in the least when Azula’s towering over him, looming like despair. She is a calamity incarnate, disease and ruthless personified. And she lunges forward, takes a breath (deep) and goes in for the sever—

Sever Him Straight. In seven pieces and an eighth.

But somehow, Zuko manages to escape. Barely alive, he goes to the west. Chest mauled and bloody, deathly and possessed.

-x-

“I can hear your heart beating. Soft and hissing, like a snake.”

Katara entwines her arms around Aang. Tells him it wasn’t his fault. They were unprepared. They had all the advantages. Just a mistake, a misconstrued victory in mind.

But Aang refuses to be comforted and lets tears roll, roll down. Where below, they converge with other drops, and together, the people and the Avatar mourn. (Because they all knew, that it really was his fault. That him to hate, inculpate.)

Gently, Katara pets his arm. And like a good puppy, Aang stifles his sorrow. Pulled and tugged, just as a puppet is. Katara operating the strings, the puppeteer. Strange, that being what she wanted to avoid. The most.

Pull and tug, La and Tui, she is a natural. A master without guile, without desire of expertise.

look before you leap…

Once, he called himself the Blue Spirit, dressed up in black, white, and blue, and wore a hideous mask. And called himself righteous.

He swerved and veered and fought with petty boy-swords. Swung at enemies, and decapitated men. There was no other reason, just himself benefiting. Find the Avatar, bind him, cart him in as a trophy (in a noose). Then maybe, he’ll be loved.

“Pathetic.”

-x-

In a southern town of the Fire Nation, a small fishing village thanked their Painted Lady.

They bowed and burned incense to honor their deity. Brought her samples of that year’s harvest—bountiful and fragrant, the flowers and the wine. Families gathered and everyone sang. They praised and shouted triumphs, gathered in the center, with Dock and his two brothers laughing.

The Painted Lady was gone for now, but she will return (she had promised) and when she does, everything will be even better than now.

They had faith, and she had guilt.

strike while the iron is hot…

Zuko knocks, twice, on the heavy oak metal-sheathed doors of the Western Air Temple. He knocks again, then again, tenacious and could hang himself over and over just to prove. Prove that he is good, remade, made wholly holy.

Hit, indent, and blunt while the wounds are fresh.

“Katara,” Zuko begins.

The door opens and is shut.

Barred and un-forgiven, Zuko bears down, resolute.

-x-

Over the threshold, past the first courtyard, someone thumps at the door.

Katara rises to see who, rises to counter-act the unknown because everyone else is asleep. Because she is always the responsible one.

And to her surprise, and to her horror, she finds a face too familiar for reassurance. Finds someone grim and grimy and just as defeated.

And so, she assembles the barrier to prevent him from a-comin’ in. Retreats into the cool confines of an old abbess’ room, where the woman is waiting, smiling.

only skin deep…

At night, the halls and walls are quiet with anticipation, with unsaid anxiety. The birds are asleep, and so are the cicadas. Silent and murmuring, softly, they whisper behind closed eyes.

“I am scared,” Katara confesses, “I am scared because we’ll fail. We will lose. There is too much to forfeit, but that is what will happen. I can see it happening.”

Zuko nods, feels a suffocation going down his throat, guttural and ragged. Like an animal, feral and caught. “You’re real cheery, aren’t you?”

Katara narrows her eyes, then sighs. Realizes what he just said was true. There’s no point in wondering, in supposing. It is all between here and later.

“I don’t think you’re the one to talk.”

“At least I’m not the one mourning years already gone.”

-x-

dead men tell no tales…

When everything is washed over in water and lye, when lustration is done, when the world has come to an halt, there will be a girl. And a boy. And a mutual understanding.

The merchant watches from his house, tucked in the city of wealth and old, kisses his wife tenderly and lets a toothless grin creep over his wrinkled face.

And the soldier marching down the line, he knows it too. Feels the sudden bliss surging, an unprecedented sweetness for life. His new bride is waiting at home, for him to return.

Because now, there is no more fighting. Something happened, something no one remembers. Something long ago, up in the volcano in a palace of gold and blinding red. Splendor that slays.

A boy and a girl, girl and boy.

So the saying goes.