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|When In Doubt|
October 24, 2010
Coming Into Focus
"Hey – nice of you to finally join the fight back there. I was starting to think you were never going to show up..." Aang shook his head. Zuko had little use for sarcasm, but had great timing for it. His fiery temper also made it all the more effective.
He started taking off his armor and handing it over to his page.
"There's some dents there, have the blacksmith pull them out – my shoulder can't move right."
He turned to Aang "Come to my tent."
They started towards the tent. Aang could barely keep up. Zuko greeted some of his officials and soldiers on the way. He asked his lieutenant to get the generals and ask them to meet him in his tent in an hour.
"Yes, my lord."
"Please tell Grand Master Iroh to come to my tent as soon as he's done with the casualties."
"Yes, sire". The lieutenant started for Iroh right away.
They went into the tent and Zuko motioned Aang to sit down. Aang sat down and became all apologies:
"I'm sorry Zuko – I'm a little out of focus, but I'll be fine..."
Zuko cut him short and dispatched his personal guards "I need a moment with the Avatar."
"Yes, my lord." The guards exited the tent.
Zuko's stare softened ever so slightly. "It's Katara, isn't it?"
Aang sighed in frustration. "She's gone Zuko. The girl I married just isn't there anymore! She's just constantly whining and complaining about how I don't care enough about her, or the new baby, how I have not grown up at all...It's just so unfair!"
Zuko was going to start tearing Aang up, but something deep inside of him reminded the Fire Lord that the Avatar was not just another pawn in the game, he was also his friend. And his debt to this friend in particular, ran very deep...
He sighed, collected his thoughts and finally asked: "How long were you home this time?"
"Three days." Aang replied.
"And how long had you been away?"
Aang jogged his own memory as well as he could "I dunno – three weeks?"
"And when did you guys have your big fight?"
Aang began to see Zuko's point "When I was packing..."
They both were silent for a few seconds, and Aang said, "But it wasn't even about me leaving, it was some stupid thing about the colors for the baby's room!! She asked whether I liked moon-peach or ash-banana better – I said both were fine and then all hell broke loose!!"
He then sat down facing Aang. "Aang: it was about you leaving... Women are like that: they'll go off about things they think but do not say out loud. You've been married almost as long as I have. You know this, right?"
Aang sighed again "I know, but she has gotten so..."
"EXACTLY!! Any little thing will trigger off an explosion. It's like walking through a minefield!!!"
"Aang: you are away for three weeks, then stay three days. How is she supposed to feel about that?"
"Well – there's this war going on!"
"Aang – you are needed and you are expected to help, but we have been through this: during Katara's pregnancy, you will be on call!!"
"But you needed me now, you just said so yourself!"
"You're of no use to anyone if your head is all messed...". Zuko interrupted himself: "You know, Aang, this argument is useless. What I'm really trying to get across is that both Katara and I need you to actually be there! You can't be home thinking of being here and you certainly can't be here thinking about what happened back home!"
"I AM – I mean, I try... UGH!!!... This is crazy!"
One of Zuko's personal guards came in.
"Sir, Grand Master Iroh is here."
Zuko motioned to let him in.
"Fire Lord Zuko"
"Grand Master Iroh"
They bowed to each other respectfully. When the guard was gone, they hugged. Zuko motioned for him to sit. In about two minutes, they covered the casualties, strengths and weaknesses in each side during the battle, and possible changes to their strategy. Each time a new subject hit, Aang told Zuko that he would leave them to catch up, but Zuko motioned for him to hang on.
In a few minutes, the tea table was brought in. Zuko had made it known that, whenever the Grand Master was to join him in his tent, a fresh batch of ginseng tea had to be brought in. They all took a sip in silence. The tea reinvigorated them and helped them clear their mind, especially Aang. He stood silent for a moment, pensive, looking through the clear liquid to the bottom of his cup... Zuko continued, now in a calmer demeanor,
"Aang – Katara's is not really talking about colors for the baby room, or back pains, or morning sickness. She's scared and she's looking to you for security, she needs to know you're involved. She's asking a question: is this as important to you as it is to me? When you're here beside me, are you here with me, is your mind here too?"
Aang felt a bit awkward having Iroh watch the conversation, but the burden was heavy on his heart. "I DO want to be there – but there's so many little details she expects me to be aware of, so many mood swings, everything is so ominous, so complicated."
Aang let his cup down, hung his head and closed his eyes. "Besides, I never even had a father. I don't know what I should so, how I should act, what to avoid...nothing!"
Iroh's gravelly voice made him open his eyes again. "Young Avatar, if I may..."
Aang turned to him and bowed respectfully.
"What Zuko is telling you is quite simple: when you see the wind change, you should turn the rudder."
Aang was confused "I don't understand."
Iroh continued. "I can't really tell what is going on between you and your lovely wife, but I'm sure that it will all be better if you make the decision to change your attitude."
Aang looked down. He was now certain that his friends were not really attuned to his problems. Iroh noticed Aang's apprehension immediately, but he continued.
"Katara is having a baby. This is no small thing: her body and mind are changing in ways she could have never imagined. She is going through things she can't fully understand or explain, not even to you. And, she barely remembers her mother herself, so she too, has very little to draw from."
Aang listened attentively. "I would suggest for you to focus on how this is affecting her rather than dwelling on how it is affecting you. I believe you will be rewarded with much pleasant surprises."
"I think I understand. I guess I've been pretty selfish, huh?"
Iroh assuaged him: "What you are feeling is natural. It's something everyone goes through, as they mature. Think of yourself first, and then of others. True greatness thinks of others first. But you are still young, Avatar. Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still."
Aang stood up and bowed to Iroh "Thanks for your wisdom, Grand Master Iroh."
"I can only hope it helps, my young friend. And, about having a father figure to serve you as a guide, I would say that Master Gyatso managed to do far more than what you give him credit for. He planted much goodness inside you, and you will be able to sow that into your children as well, when the time comes."
"I sure hope so. I better leave now. The South Pole is a long way off."
Both men stood up and bowed to the Avatar.
Aang found his Bison. Zuko had made sure he had been washed and fed.
He left for home.
A Fearsome Errand
"Lian! Just the little waterbender I wanted to see. Please, have a seat."
Lu Ming was studying a map that hung on the wall, with his back to Lian. After a few seconds of pensive silence, he continued.
"Obviously, your pet cannot be trusted to run your errands for you... He has not only failed miserably at completing his task, but he has also managed to get them on the move again..."
Lian was furious. "First of all, he's NOT my pet! YOU assigned him to me, remember? I wanted nothing to do with that basket-case..."
She was about to go into a full-blown rant, when Lu Ming turned to face her, wearing a severe expression. She immediately took her eyes to the desk, fearing she had been too rash in addressing him. She continued in a lower voice
"They will go back to their home – it's just a matter of time..."
Lu Ming turned back to study his map again. "I do not think so. I have reasons to believe they have a very good adviser. Someone who knows us well enough to anticipate our moves. Or at least, some of them..."
"You don't suppose..."
"Well – I must get more information in order to be completely certain. However, your little firebending dog's description of one of the monks has a very familiar ring to it..."
Lu Ming lets the words linger in the air for a second, before changing his tone for a drier, more severe one - "I will find their new lair, make no mistake about it. I will use my every resource." His voice grew louder: "I will grow eyes in the end of Earth if I have to... but I WILL find them – and WHEN I do, you WILL go and do what your demented little brat of an apprentice failed to do!!!"
He savored the words. He knew of Lian's fear of the Southern Bender. He loved fear – the way it made people scream and contort when faced with certain death. He loved the way it froze them in their tracks. But most of all, he loved to find that little button than would strike fear in the heart of those who called themselves fearless...
Lian lifted her face to look at Lu Ming. His breathing was labored and his stance was weak. The fearsome airbending master she had known years ago was fading into a decrepit old man. She was angry and resentful. She did not want this assignment, and he knew it. She wanted to rebel, to strike, to retaliate. She wanted to pummel this breathing relic into the wall and bend every ounce of blood out of his wretched body. However, inside this near-carcass of a man, she knew there still was the same bottomless well of terrifying evil she had learned to respect over time. She dared not make a move.
Lu Ming turned to his map again "You're dismissed." She opened the door. "And Lian – I did assign Gao to you. I thought you had a certain soft spot for firebenders...".
He heard her angry breath right before she slammed the door. He smiled.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion