Storm clouds
Before the Storm
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True Winds, Flowing Water



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Chapter 11-Before the Storm

Words of Avatar Yangchen

In the moments before the Storm, all is quiet.

So peaceful is this silence that we strain to hear our own thoughts.

Our emotions begin to rise, suspicion replaces peace, and we turn to witness the coming storm.

Dark clouds loom in the distance, casting their malicious gaze towards us.

A flash splits open the sky, a warning glare of what is to come.

This gaze alone causes us to react.

We feel the air around us become tight and suffocating.

We reach out for our loved ones, taking comfort in their warmth and embrace, and our confidence returns.

We have prepared.

And now we await the inevitable, knowing that we have no alternative but to stand and fight.

Subtle Signs.

Ba Sing Se, Royal Palace courtyard...

"You know," laughed Zuko, shaking Aang's hand, "this is actually very ironic." Crossing his legs, he sat down heavily. "Over a hundred years ago, Sozin attended Roku's wedding as his best man. Now, I'm attending your wedding as your best man. It's the Firelord and the Avatar thing all over again." Chuckling, he lifted a cup of steaming tea to his mouth.

Aang grinned, not taking his eyes off of Katara, who stood a ways off talking to her grandmother. "That is ironic," he agreed. "If you really think about it, you are a descendant of Sozin, and I AM Roku. Well, you're related to Roku, I am technically your great-grandfather."

Zuko sipped more of his tea, smiling and shaking his head. Glancing around the crowd his grin faded. "Where is Mai?" he muttered. "I haven't seen her since the first dance."

Aang shrugged. "Not, what is married life like?"

Zuko's smile reappeared. "Not much different, actually...I mean, besides the fact that Mai lives in the palace with me and all. When we were just dating, though, she was there pretty much every day."

"How is she doing with being the new 'Fire Lady?'" asked Aang.

Zuko laughed. "She's trying to be more emotional, but it just makes her seem more depressed."

"Sounds like Mai."

The two friends fell silent, watching the chattering people interact. Aang, who was still watching Katara, suddenly noticed Meng, the girl from the fortune-obsessed village. She was smiling at Katara enviously. Aang chuckled, shaking his head. Sighing, he stood up and stretched. "I'm gonna go stand with Katara," he said nonchalantly, "wanna come?"

Zuko hesitated. "No," he said, "I'm going to find Mai."

"Okay!" Aang replied cheerfully. Waving, he strode off, whistling happily. As he strode up next to Katara, she glanced sidelong at him, wondering who it was. When she saw Aang, her face instantly broke into a big smile.

"Hey, Aang." She said.

"Hey." He murmured, placing an arm around her waist. She leaned on him, gazing up at his face adoringly.

Aang inclined his head to Katara's grandmother. "Kanna," he said respectfully, "are you doing well?"

Kanna swished her hand. "I told me Gran-Gran. After all, you are my official grandson now." She smiled at Aang. "Yes, I am well, thank you...just not as young as I used to be."

"You still look like a twenty-year-old." Aang said, winking. "Do you mind if I steal Katara?"

Gran shook her head. "Not at all. I have to find Hakoda, anyways." Stepping forward, she hugged Katara, congratulated the couple, and wandered off.

Katara looked at Aang questioningly. "Steal me, huh?"

Aang nodded. "I just feel like we should be together right now. Plus, Zuko gets boring after a while." He kissed her forehead.

"Well, looks like we won't be alone..." Katara mumbled, watching as a wave of eager guests swept towards them. Putting a smile on, she greeted the new crowd cheerfully as they engulfed her and Aang. She kept hold of his hand, using the other to greet the pressing people. Among the group were Smellerbee and Longshot, who offered sincere congratulations. Also present were Haru and his father. They all gave out hugs of greeting and shared their news about life.

Haru, blushing, introduced them to his fiancée, and invited them to the wedding. Aang and Katara both accepted happily, wishing them luck.

Finally, the wave of people subsided and talked amongst themselves, leaving the slightly weary couple to themselves. Katara, relieved for a break, simply turned and leaned into Aang, resting her head against his shoulder. Sighing, she slid her arms around his waist. He smiled softly, resting an arm around her shoulders. Using a gentle touch, he caressed her face with the fingertips of his free hand.

She closed her eyes in content, giving out a small, indistinct sound. "I'm really tired...I don't know about you, but I am."

Aang rested his head on the side of hers. "Yeah...I'm exhausted. All of the preparing and hustle today kind of drained me." Grinning wide, he said, "It was all worth it. Every single moment. This couldn't have been more perfect."

Katara "mm-hmmed" in agreement. "And now, we're bonded forever."

Aang nodded. Slowly, his smile slid off of his face, and he approached a new subject. "Katara? I feel...strange. Like, we're being watched or followed..." he bit his lower lip. "Have you had that feeling at all tonight?"

Katara didn't move. Frowning, she considered this. "Well...I don't know if I've felt like we're being watched, but something does feel off."

"Yea..." Aang muttered. "It's making me feel really edgy. I feel like something is going to happen." He shook his head. "Maybe I'm just imagining things."

"Yeah...maybe." Katara answered, suddenly feeling on edge as well. She clutched him tighter. "Let's just not think about that kind of stuff right now, okay? I'm really, really happy right now. I don't want to ruin the night."

Aang nodded. "I agree."

They stood together, staying quiet.

A ways off, Hakoda stood alone, watching the two of them. His eyes closed, and a small tear rolled off of his cheek. "No words can describe how much I miss you right now, Kya." He whispered. Wiping his face, he sighed. "Who would have thought that our daughter would marry the Avatar..." he sniffed."I'm sure you're as proud of her as I am, my wife." He gazed at the young couple again, smiling at the memories of his wedding.

A few moments later, Kanna walked up next to him, placing a consoling hand on his shoulder. "These two remind me of you and Kya." She said. "I never thought that I would see a couple more meant for each other than you two, but Katara and Aang rival even that."

Hakoda smiled. "I don't deny it." He watched as Aang tilted Katara's face up, kissing her. "I also don't deny that Aang will protect my daughter at all costs." He shifted to his other foot. "He is perfect for her...she needs him."

Aang turned when he heard his name being called. A slight frown came on his face when he saw an anxious Zuko jogging towards them, looking extremely worried. He stopped next to them, panting.

"What's wrong?" Asked Aang, immediately frowning.

"I can't find Mai anywhere." Zuko told them, glancing around. "No one has seen her, and I haven't seen her since the first dance. That was over an hour ago, and I'm getting nervous. Have you two seen her?"

Katara shook her head. "We haven't, Zuko." She looked up at Aang. "You haven't, right?"

"No." Aang muttered, glancing out over the crowd. Suddenly, he called out, "Lee!" and about ten feet away, a man turned around. Aang beckoned to him, motioning to come closer. Lee instantly obliged, walking quick and smooth.

"Katara, Zuko," Aang said, "let me introduce you to Lee. He is the head of the guard that I hired to be here tonight."

Lee bowed to the three of them. "It is an honor to meet the Firelord and the Avatar's wife." He had a deep, rich voice. "How can I be of assistance, Aang?"

"Zuko's wife, Mai, is missing." Aang explained. "I need you to gather a few of your troops to find her. Don't make a huge fuss about it. Keep it low and quiet." He placed a hand on Zuko's shoulder. "Follow Lee, Zuko," he said, "let me know if you find her."

Zuko nodded, and he and Lee walked away.

Aang sighed, rubbing his eyes. "I hope she's all right." He groaned. "I'm not going to be very happy if she's found all beat up or something."

Katara laughed. "Aang, this is Mai we're talking about. If there was a fight, she would be the one dealing out the beating." Reaching out, she took his hand. "Come on. Let's go dance again." She tugged on his arm, breaking his trance. He grinned, pushing the negative thoughts that were circulation through his mind aside.

"All right," he said, "let's go!" He took off for the dance floor, pulling a giggling Katara behind him.

Getting tugged along like that brought back a sudden memory.

I Wonder...

Fire Nation, secret cave...

Katara sat alone, growing slightly bored. Sighing, she placed her head on her palm, watching Aang dance. She grinned slightly as he twirled and flipped, graceful and agile. But, her smile slid off as she saw him approach the girl he had ballroom danced with.

Katara turned her head, frowning. She stared at the punch bowl instead, trying not to think about jealousy. She became so focused that she didn't even notice Aang until he was three feet away.

She looked up. He was standing with his hand outstretched, a slight smile on his face. His message was clear. Her heart started racing, and a warm blush flooded her cheeks. "I don't know, Aang," she said nervously. Um...some excuse that he'll take... she thought quickly. "These shoes aren't really right for dancing, and I-I'm not sure that I know how to—"

"Take my hand." Aang interrupted, giving her a reassuring smile.

Katara gazed into his eyes for a split second. Those eyes...

"Okay." She said, smiling. She took his hand, and he whipped her onto the dance floor. Stopping right in the center of the crowd, he pulled her in front of him. Leaning over, he whispered in her ear, "Just think of Waterbending and follow my lead."

Together, they stepped back and bowed to each other. She extended a hand, pressing the back of hers to his. They began circling, not looking away from each other. Every other beat, they twirled around, switching hands and direction.

Katara, at first confident, suddenly realized that the whole student body had stopped and were now watching her and Aang. She grew slightly nervous.

Umm..."Aang," she whispered, glancing around, "everyone's watching!"

"Don't worry about them." He murmured. "It's just you and me right now." He gave her a sly grin.

Wow...smooth she thought idly. Katara blushed again and blinked, feeling her confidence returning.

They resumed circling. After a few more rotations, Aang took Katara's hand, and they leaned past each other, both relying on the other to hold them up. They stood straight once again for a moment. Katara ducked as Aang swept a kick over her head, then took his hand. He pulled her past him, lightly brushing her back. They both twirled, moving faster. They leaned in so close that the crowd thought that they would kiss, but they smiled and pulled away.

Katara flung a kick over Aang's head, and he ducked. Then, they both cart wheeled onto their hands and used their arms strength to launch themselves into the air. Aang landed on his feet and flipped again.

The crowd stared with bated breath. As he landed again, he and Katara fell into a synchronized dance step that strongly resembled a Waterbending sequence. Then, with a running start, they both flipped sideways, causing the crowd to gasp. When they landed, Katara did a back hand-spring so that she was level with Aang. He took her hand, pulled her around, and dipped her low.

He held her there, and the students went insane.

All the while, Katara and Aang stared into each other's eyes, panting, sweating, and smiling.

A strange feeling rushed through Katara as she gazed into those gray depths. This time, she didn't brush it off, and considered the possibilities...

Without any strain, Aang suddenly pulled her up. They bowed to the screaming crowd.

As they straightened up, he turned to tell Katara thank you, but was interrupted when Katara tackled him with a hug.

"Thanks for the dance, Aang." She said, pulling back and smiling at him. Then, she turned and walked away, leaving a blushing boy to be surrounded by admiring bystanders.

First Strike.

Ba Sing Se, Royal Palace courtyard...

The stars wheeled overhead and Katara laughed as Aang stopped in the center of the dance floor. He grinned at her, raising his eyebrows questioningly. "What?"

"Nothing." She laughed. "Just reliving some memories."

He looked at her with joyful eyes. "Let's wait for the next song...this one is almost over." Standing on his tip-toes, he cast a glance at the Fire Nation band he had hired. Suddenly, he froze, and a huge grin spread onto his already-smiling face. "No way..." he muttered. Motioning to Katara, he whispered, "Come here...check this out."

Katara frowned in curiosity. "What is it?" she asked as she strode to him. He didn't answer, but instead took her shoulders and faced her in a certain direction. He bent down slightly to whisper in her ear. "Look." He murmured, pointing. Katara looked, and her lips rounded into an "Oh" of surprise.

A short ways off, Sokka and Toph were dancing to the slow music. They swayed back and forth, not talking, not making any sort of conversation. Sokka held Toph around the waist, one hand holding hers. She kept her head down, and Katara could see her blushing.

"Wow..." she chuckled."Who knew?"

She and Aang watched the two of them. Sokka never so much as looked at Toph, and no words were exchanged.

"Do you think...?" Aang trailed off.

"Yes", Katara answered. "It would be so helpful for Sokka, too. He needs help...he's just not his joking, happy self anymore." Shaking her head sadly, she leaned back against Aang's chest. "I'm glad we have each other."

Aang tugged one of her curls playfully. "Me too."

They watched Sokka Toph as the slow song ended. They gradually came to a stop. Toph, looking extremely embarrassed, dropped her arms immediately. Sokka did the same.

"Oh, don't ruin it!" Katara muttered in exasperation.

Toph said something, probably thank you, and turned to walk away. Sokka, acting fast, caught her arm. Aang's breath hitched, wondering what would happen next. Sokka stood there, hesitating. A torn, confused expression made his mouth turn down at the corners. He stood, holding Toph's arm. Suddenly, he said something and let go. Turning, he hustled away, disappearing quickly into the claustrophobic crowd.

Katara groaned. "So close..."

Aang didn't answer. He mused over the idea of Toph and Sokka together...

"He just needs some time." He said casually.

"It's been three months since Suki died, Aang." Katara pointed out.

They fell silent. For a good ten minutes they sat, ignoring the songs that began and ended one after another. They weren't angry, just contemplating.

Their contemplation ended when their names were called. They turned, curious. Running towards them was Mai, and they knew instantly that something was wrong.

"Mai!" Katara said, surprised. "What happened? What's wrong?"

Mai panted, bending over as her breathing labored and strained. "I'll...tell you...what's wrong!" she gasped.

Aang's stomach turned over and Katara's heart clenched as she strained to speak.

"Azula and her thugs...she's here...there's got to be at least fifty of them! They attacked me!" lifting her arm, she revealed several deep cuts in her skin that were bleeding profusely.

"Where?" Aang snapped, clenching his hands into fists.

"Just outside!" Mai panted. She looked absolutely frantic. "She let me go, but just so that I could tell you—"

"MAI!" came a joyful yell. They all whipped around as Zuko jogged for them, grinning at his wife. His happy attitude vanished when he saw their expressions and was replaced with fury when he saw Mai's injuries. "What's going on? Who did this to you?!" he demanded in rage.

"Azula!" Aang snarled.

Zuko let out a frustrated growl. "Honestly!" he spat. "She doesn't know when to back off!"

Katara stepped forward. "Mai!" she said. "Let me heal your arms."

Mai looked at her numbly. "It's not just my arms." She whispered. Turning around, she revealed slashes and tears in her dress. Through them, they could see the skin of her back, which was ravished and split horribly. Zuko gasped.

She whispered. "I was just stepping outside for some air...and they jumped me."

Aang closed his eyes, clenching his teeth. For a moment, he began to glow.

"Aang!" Katara snapped, touching his face. The glow faded.

"Sorry." He muttered. He turned to Mai. "What did she want you to tell me?"

Mai's eyes were streaming. "She wanted me to tell you that she's here for—"

"YOUR WIFE!" came a maniacal scream. Everybody wheeled around, facing the source of the noise. There, on the rooftop, stood Azula. She was surrounded by five huge men, and more were climbing over the rooftops around the courtyard. She began to laugh insanely, and lightning flickered around her fingertips.

People began to scream. Azula's cronies flooded into the crowd.

She poised and let the blast of lightning loose, illuminating the courtyard.

As always, be sure to check out the rest of the series, more chapters coming soon!

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