Monday, April 27, 2015

Memory Monday: Enter the Plot Hole

I've decided to start another regular segment on this blog, which I am going to entitle Memory Monday. Mostly, this is going to be me sharing fun moments with my kids, but as it is the Book and Baby blog, I don't think that's too out of place.

Today's adventure... my four-year-old discovers the concept of a plot hole.

My son has asked some interesting questions recently in regards to some of his favorite super-heroes. He loves to act out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and while he had me pretending to me Michelangelo (on account of that's the only turtle I never mix up with the others), he asks, "Why don't the turtles just call the police and tell them to arrest Shredder?"

Very good point. "I don't know," I reply. "Why don't we do that?"

"Okay!" He proceeds to pick up an invisible phone and tell police that Shredder is being bad and should definitely be arrested. The police wholeheartedly agree and Shredder is thrown in jail. The turtles wait around for a while until my son realizes that pretending to be superheroes when the bad guy already got arrested is kind of boring.

"Oh," he says, sitting up. "The police fell asleep, and Shredder got out. We have to go get him."

"Okay," I agree, and off we go.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the superhero of the month is Batman. My son is questioning how The Joker keeps coming back all the time, even though Batman helps the police arrest him over and over.

"They should just have a fire jail," he declares in the car. "Then when the Joker tried to touch it, he would say, 'Ow! That's hot!' and then he wouldn't try to get out anymore."

Again, very good point. Although now I must wonder if somewhere over the various Batman universes, The Joker has ever been contained in a fire jail. (And if he was, how did he escape?)

Have you ever dissected a favorite childhood book or show by finding all the plot holes in it? (Or had someone too young to have heard of a VCR find them all for you?) Did it ruin the series or do you still love it anyway?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 7

At first, Zuko was unconcerned. His uncle could defend them perfectly fine. However, Katara reacted first. More from panic than planning, by the look on her face. As the flames headed straight for her, she held out her arm, catching the fire's power and changing its course to slam harmlessly into the wall. It didn't cause nearly so much damage as Zuko expected. A reflection perhaps, of Azula's weaker powers, though clearly, they weren't weakened enough.

Azula stood surprised at first, but then returned to her gleeful state. "A waterbender manipulating flames?" she asked. "That looks more like firebending to me. Also," she tossed her hair to the side, "I thought the benders of the Water Tribe had blue eyes, not the golden eyes of the Fire Nation?"

A flurry of murmurs arose from the group. Katara lowered her gaze, but given the fury with which she'd been staring at Azula only moments before, she didn't expect it to do any good. The damage was done.

"Clearly my brother has asked the avatar to swap his powers with those of the Water Tribe girl," Azula went on. "An act of open defiance against our country. How can we trust someone like that to rule us?"

Zuko felt fear course through his veins as echoing voices floated through the crowd:

"We can't trust him."

"How could he do this?"

Zuko felt the shame of banishment creeping, surrounding him again, at the time when he should've been most able to stop it. Several of the guards quickly advanced. He motioned for the water he'd used to heal his uncle to come up next to him, while Katara and Iroh's hands glowed with orange flames.

Azula, however, did not react. "Are you so sure you want to attack me?" she asked. Then, glaring at Zuko, she added on, "Especially you, brother. And when I have such interesting information for you."

Zuko shoved his arm forward and the water shot off like an arrow. Azula easily sidestepped it.

"Don't mess with me!" Zuko said.

"It's hardly messing with you." Azula smiled. "You see, unlike you, I actually know how to talk to Dad to get the info I want." Her eyes narrowed as her grin widened. "I know where Mom is."

For a moment, Zuko thought his heart stopped. Then a voice seemed to chant in his head, Azula always lies. Azula always lies.

"I don't believe you!" he shouted, his hands starting to shake. The guards took a step closer, now within distance to grab him whenever they chose. Iroh and Katara stood unmoving, both looking at Zuko to determine their next moves.

Before anybody could act, however, a low vibration sounded throughout the room. Suddenly, several of the guards blocking the entrance way were thrown backwards as the ground beneath them jolted and curved.

"Thought it sounded like a scuffle up here," Toph's voice called out. She rushed into the room, followed by Aang, Mai, and Sokka. Then she turned to face Azula. "Didn't someone lock you up or something? You're really annoying." Even three more enemies in the room, however, did not throw off Azula's piercing grin. She flicked her fingers, just slightly, barely noticeable. The guards closest to Katara and Zuko moved in and grabbed them, pulling their hands behind their backs.

"Use your feet!" Zuko called out to Katara. She reacted almost instantly. Straightening her constrained arms, Katara pushed her feet down as hard as she could, slamming onto the man's toes. She then twisted herself enough to create a small flame at the man's feet. He jumped back in surprise, loosening his grip enough for her to break free. With full use of her body, she sent a much larger flame in his direction and he staggered away, heading for the safety of the crowd.

Zuko, unfortunately, didn't fare so well. The guard who grabbed him was a bit more clever, holding Zuko's body still with one huge arm and using his free hand to put a dagger to Zuko's throat. Zuko gasped and tried to move, but the blade pressed stronger against his skin, and his arms were far too weak to put up any resistance beyond that.

"Everyone freeze!" Azula ordered. "Unless you want to see your new leader in a pile of blood."

Zuko gritted his teeth. No, this couldn't be happening. He was supposed to be able to hold his own, not be the weakling that Azula used to manipulate everyone. How could he let this happen?

Aang gave up the fight first, immediately throwing his hands up in surrender. Katara, Mai, and Iroh followed suit, and this time two guards came up to restrain each of them instead of one. Toph growled under her breath before finally doing the same.

Azula looked around, anger dancing in her eyes. "Where's the last one?" she demanded. The guards looked at each other in confusion.

"The boy from the water tribe! Where is he?" Azula demanded. Again, more blank stares. Somehow, with everyone focused on the benders, Sokka had managed to sneak out. Not bad.

"Find him – search the palace!" Azula yelled. Three guards ran obediently off. Azula scoffed as they left. She knew better than to let a loose string like Sokka go, but she wasn't going to let it ruin her moment of victory either. She walked first up to Toph.

"I hear you made quite a mess of a fire nation airship. A metal fire nation air ship. That's a pretty neat trick. But don't worry. I'm making sure your prison is especially tailored." Toph spit at her. Unfortunately, she missed.

Azula barely glanced at Katara. "Unfortunately for you, I know very well how to deal with firebenders. You'll be getting your own... private room." Katara scowled.

Next, Azula spoke to the guard restraining Zuko, who'd now been surrounded by several of his comrades. "Take my brother to the dungeon, and I want twice as many guards around him as everyone else. Keep anything away from him that has water, especially plants. He eats and drinks only when someone's restraining him, am I clear?"

"Yes, princess!" came the reply, though they did not yet move.

Finally, Azula faced Aang. "Now, you've got a bit of a dilemma. You want to give people the impression that this is a smooth transition to a new era. That my brother is a capable leader who's got everything under control. Having me publicly seize control of the throne now would be, I daresay, disastrous for you, am I right?"

Aang said nothing. He only glared at her, breaking her gaze once or twice to see if there was any weakness in the guard holding Zuko. But the blade was so close that even the slightest movement could mean a slice through Zuko's throat. Aang clearly wasn't willing to take that risk.

"So here's my proposal," Azula said. "As you so kindly pointed out while I was imprisoned, Zuko has been working together with you to keep the peace. That means that you can speak for him. So I'm going to let my little takeover here remain a secret for the time being, and you're going to do everything you can to maintain the image that Zuko is still running the show. Am I clear?"

Aang still remained silent at first, which flared up Azula's temper. She raised her hand and slapped the avatar across the face. "I said, am I clear?"

"Yes," Aang said through gritted teeth. "You're perfectly clear." Grinning in victory, Azula motioned for the guard holding Zuko to carry out her orders and take him to the dungeon. Zuko hung his head in humiliation. His weakness had gotten them into this situation – emotionally, he had not stood up to Aang and demanded to have all Azula's powers removed. Physically, he couldn't defend himself. He didn't need his father telling him how much of a failure he was now. That was clear all on its own.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 6

Zuko had several reasons to be irritated. First and foremost, against all his experience and arguments, Aang had decided to leave Azula with some of her firebending. Not much, he assured everyone, barely anything at all. Even the slightest sliver, Zuko thought, and she was just as dangerous as when she was at her full power.

The second reason was that Mai had really been giving him the cold shoulder. Not that he'd expected anything else, the way he'd avoided her and yet let Katara follow him everywhere. He wondered constantly if the whole reason he'd refused to let Mai in on his secret wasn't to protect the Fire Nation, but to protect his own pride.

And now, to top everything off, Iroh had been acting strange lately. There was no doubt about that. In his mind, Zuko liked to imagine that it was just his uncle being his usual oddball self, but somehow, he knew better. Iroh could tell he was hiding something and was going to be determined to find out what. Zuko just never imagined exactly how conniving his uncle could be when he put his mind to it.

"Ow!" There was a loud clang as something fell over. Iroh generally came in several times a week to let everyone try his latest recipes before he tried them on customers. (Zuko's attendants had mixed feelings about that.) Lately, it seemed, he'd been coming in every day.

Zuko turned to see what the crash was. His uncle knelt down on the ground, his teapot turned over with a dull green liquid spilled out over the carpet. The metal pot's base was bright red with heat, and Iroh grasped his hand, wincing as he bent over.

"Oo, my hand! My hand! That really hurts!"

Zuko grasped the throne's arm to steady himself for a moment before kneeling down next to his uncle.

"Let me see," he said with a sigh.

Iroh relinquished his grip and allowed Zuko to examine the injury. It wasn't pretty, already the skin was peeling away under the burn. It would probably get infected and scar if not dealt with quickly.

"Come on, Uncle Iroh, since when are you this clumsy?" Zuko muttered. He glanced over at the few attendants in the room and ordered them out. They bowed and slipped away silently. Except for one that Zuko ordered to bring him a bowl of cold water. The attendant obeyed, and then she too slipped out of sight.

"It must be my hands getting all old and shaky," Iroh theorized as he dipped his injured hands in the cold water, wincing again.

"Yeah right," Zuko muttered. He looked at the injury again. It wasn't going to get any better with just some cold water. It needed some serious healing. It needed...

Zuko scowled. He could've cared less that his attendants thought he was odd for keeping his distance from them. He could even tolerate Mai thinking he was a complete jerk. But to let his uncle, who'd always defended him, sustain an injury that he knew perfectly well how to heal? It wasn't an option.

"Uncle, hold still for a moment," he said, holding up Iroh's hand.

"What?" Iroh asked. "What are you planning to do?"

"Just be quiet for a minute," Zuko snapped. He raised his hand over the water. It felt much more familiar now than it did a few weeks ago when he'd first become a waterbender. It still wasn't as comfortable as the fire, it was harder to deal with, but nevertheless, he could manipulate it.

A blob of water rested over Iroh's burned hands. It emitted a soft blue glow, and the skin that had begun to blister on Iroh's hand became smooth and uninjured.

Iroh's eyes widened in surprise, but somehow the surprise in his voice sounded less than genuine. He had a smug smile on his face.

"Zuko! Where did you pick up this little trick?"

"Oh, don't start," Zuko muttered. "You knew something was up right from the beginning."

The smile on Iroh's face grew into a grin. "Well, the change in your eye color did give a bit of a hint. But you haven't explained what happened exactly."

Zuko pulled the water back into the dish. "It's a long story. Maybe I'll have time for it later."

The next voice that spoke was neither Iroh's nor his own, but it drove fear through his spine. "Oh, but come now, brother, we've got plenty of time now for you to explain."

Zuko whirled around. Apparently the attendants had not left him as alone as he thought. And now, standing in their midst, surrounded by a pack of guards, was Azula. Her face sneered in triumph as she turned to face the same crowd of palace staff.

"How did you get out on the dungeon?" Zuko demanded and he and Iroh quickly got to their feet. Azula ignored him.

"You see? It's just like I said. Zuko has betrayed the Fire Nation by taking on the powers of a waterbender!"

A murmur went over the group. Clearly some of them were more skeptical than others. This was good, Zuko thought. It meant that Azula had lured many of them here out of curiosity, and they might not be traitors if steered in the right direction.

"But how is that even possible?" one of the guards asked. "I've never heard of any bender changing powers."

Azula looked annoyed, but kept her cool. "The avatar, of course. Don't you see? If he has the power to take away my father's bending, couldn't he have the power to change Zuko's?"

Iroh stood to speak. "May I ask you, Azula, even if what you say is possible, what reason you think the avatar could possibly have for doing such a thing?"

Azula hesitated. Clearly, this wasn't going in the direction she'd hoped. Before she could come up with a good answer, Zuko heard a voice calling out from behind the crowd.

"That was me!"

The guards turned and made a path for the person who had spoken. Katara walked past them and into the room, standing next to Iroh.

"The waterbending you just saw wasn't Zuko. It was me. I've been... practicing an advanced technique that allows me to bend water from another room. I can see how this would cause some confusion." She made a polite bow to show her apology. Some impressive quick thinking on her part, Zuko observed. Katara had been present at the coronation. Everyone in the palace knew of her waterbending skills. She must've heard just enough to know she had to cover for him.

Even better, the crowd was now starting to turn on Azula, anger and shame written all over their faces. Zuko prepared to give a forgiving speech about how clever Azula's trickery could be, planning to be particularly harsh on whoever had been manipulated into letting Azula out of her cell. However, he had little time to compose. A line of fire flew straight toward himself, Katara, and Iroh.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 5

a/n: So, annoyingly, I scheduled the last chapter to automatically post last week, since I knew I would be gone for Good Friday, and it never actually showed up. So there are two new chapters this week. Thanks for reading. :)

The day Azula's powers were removed was not a day that Zuko had any intention to miss, no matter how lousy he was feeling. Toph, Katara, and Sokka joined in his excitement, practically counting the minutes as they waited for Aang to arrive in the dungeon. Mai had refused to come herself. Although Azula deserved what she was getting, she agreed with that much, she had a difficult time watching her former friend suffer like she undoubtedly would. Zuko didn't blame her for sitting out. If he had ever gotten along with his sister at any point in his life, he might've felt some sympathy for her now. As it was, however, she drained out all of his sympathy a long, long time ago.

Aang's avatar garb was similar to his usual monk robes, but finer material, embroidered with the symbols of all the four nations. He said it looked ridiculous and he liked his old clothes better.

"It makes the people feel united," Zuko had explained. "Just wear it. It's not hurting you or anything."

The group covered their faces to avoid breathing in the potent fumes that kept Azula subdued along with her chains. Her wild hair was matted up hopelessly as she leaned over, arms bound behind her back, sobbing and wailing. At least two days worth of food sat off to the side untouched.

"Azula," Zuko said in his most commanding voice. "Look up at me."

She did so. At first, her eyes were bloodshot, insane with despair. Yet when they fell upon Zuko, he saw a bit of the old Azula again. That conniving, plotting expression that always told him she was one step ahead flooded onto her face.

"How…?" she asked. "How are you walking?"

"By putting one foot in front of the other. I picked it up in toddlerhood. You know, that wonderful time of my life before you were born."

Toph and Sokka snorted behind him at this, but Katara elbowed him in the side and Aang gave him a condescending, "That's not what we're here for," sort of look. Azula didn't react to his mocking at all. Instead, she continued her intense stare, first at his feet, then on his face.

"I saw that Water Tribe brat try to heal you and fail. The girl who healed the avatar from my lightning strike couldn't help you. So how…?"

Now her gaze fell to Katara. Zuko felt a bead of sweat crawling down his face. For once in his life, he had been relieved to have his scar - unless someone stood reasonably close, spotting his blue eyes wasn't easy. Especially when he'd been going out of his way to avoid eye contact with anyone who didn't know his secret. Katara, on the other hand…

Zuko's hand flexed as he stepped between Azula and Katara. This didn't ease his nerves one bit. Azula examined his hand as much as she had his face.

"This conversation is over," he said, trying to sound as authoritative as possible. "We've got other business here."

Azula smiled her usual cat-like grin. "Of course we do. So, Zuzu, what do you want with me?"

"You know very well what I want," he replied. "For crimes against the other three nations, your punishment has been decided. The avatar will remove your firebending powers. After your time in prison is complete, you will be released and confined to a restricted area of the palace." He gritted his teeth. "It's more than you deserve, you should know that."

Azula laughed. "Why not execute me? Isn't that what you normally do with war prisoners?"

"Avatar Aang is in charge of keeping the peace between the Fire Nation and the other nations. Your punishment is his decision."

Another hideous laugh. "You're a coward, brother! You always were! You're too scared to get a little blood on your hands, so you're blaming the decision on the pacifist avatar. I knew you were weak! I always knew it!"

Zuko held himself back from attacking her. His temptation was to fire blast her, but that wasn't going to end well, even if he could do it. He'd already decided how to deal with this. Best to let Aang go forward and not think about it anymore.

He unlocked the door to her cell. Aang stepped cautiously in, clearly ready to counter if she tried to breathe a blast of fire in his direction. She did no such thing, however, merely lowered her head back down and started sobbing.

"Please don't do this to me!" she begged. "I'd rather be executed than humiliated like this! Stop being so cowardly and just kill me!"

"You know I can't do that," Aang said calmly. "You'll find a way to live without your firebending. Start over-"

She sobbed louder. "Don't you understand? My firebending is all I have! If you take that away, what reason do I have to go on living?"

Zuko saw the hesitation in Aang first, he was sure of it, but Sokka got the words out before he did.

"Aang! Don't listen to her. She's just trying to mess with you! Take her bending away now!"

Aang's hand was shaking. Not a good sign. What was it he had said? That if he didn't have complete concentration, the energybending could go awry? He could injure both people involved. He'd been able to take the powers of Ozai against his will because of his own determination and strength. If Azula made him falter on those, then this could be a much more dangerous act than defeating her father.

Aang knelt down next to her. "Listen," he said calmly. "I'll do what I can, all right? I have to make sure you're not a threat to this nation anymore. If I can do that without removing your powers completely-"

"Aang, that's not what we discussed," Zuko said sharply. "Azula's dangerous. You have to remove them completely. "

"I had to do that for your father because of his authority," Aang said. "Azula doesn't have any authority here anymore. She's just a helpless prisoner."

Azula put on the most pathetic face she could, an act that irritated Zuko to no end.

"I was an exiled prince and look where I've gotten," Zuko argued. "If she even has an ounce of power, she's-"

"Your highness," Aang said, in a tone more serious and formal than Zuko could ever remember. "You said you were putting this decision on my shoulders. If you're taking that authority away from me, please tell me now. Otherwise, I have to act the way I feel is right."

Dang it, stupid Aang putting the ball in his court like that. He'd told his people he'd be trusting the avatar. This was pretty early on in the game to go against that.

"Fine," he said. "Do what you think is best, Aang. But please remember what I told you."

Aang smiled childishly now, like a kid who'd just won a clean victory at Pai Shō.

"Thanks, Zuko." He walked up to Azula's side. She still crouched over, whimpering as tears streamed down her face. Aang closed his eyes, slipping into the avatar state. Only this time, not only his tattoos glowed. His entire body gave off a soft bluish-white aura. Zuko remembered it vaguely. The state in which Aang would energybend.

Slowly, Aang reached down and touched Azula's forehead.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 4

The coronation ceremony itself became mostly a blur. The crowd loomed before Zuko, a mass of faces from Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, and even Water Tribe. He spoke to them as openly as he could, and shared with them his vision for a brighter future. Though, for the life of him, if someone would've asked him later what all he said, he wouldn't have been able to remember a word of it.

With the moon high in the sky, the coronation ended, and Zuko retired to the palace. Out in the garden, he found Iroh sipping a mug of tea.

"Congratulations, your highness," Iroh said with a chuckle. "Looks like all your dreams are finally falling into place, eh?"

Zuko leaned against the wall. After bloodbending his body all day, he wasn't sure how much more of it he could do. Especially without Mai and Katara, who'd both gone to their rooms for the night, he felt unsteady on his feet.

"You look tired," Iroh observed.

Zuko smiled. "Yeah, well, I'm still pretty weak," he said. "Azula hit me pretty hard."

"Yes, I know," Iroh said, setting the tea aside. He had a knowing look in his eye, like he was fully aware of everything his nephew was thinking and just playing a game trying to get him to drag it out.

"What was it you decided to do with her again?"

"She's imprisoned for now until the avatar removes her powers," he said. "When we've tried to get near her, she's gone a bit ballistic."

"I see. Why don't you come sit next to me and rest?" It was a welcome invitation, and Zuko took him up on it, keeping one hand on the wall to steady himself. Sitting he could handle. His hand flicked and he lowered himself down, feeling the smooth stone wall against the back of his head and neck.

"Tell me again, exactly how she injured you?" Iroh said.

Zuko narrowed his eyes. So, it was going to be a game of twenty questions now? He was smarter than that, he wouldn't lose so easily. The less people knew about his condition, the safer everything was. "She shot me with lightning," he summarized.

"And you redirected it?"

"Sort of. I was caught off guard. I started to redirect it, but I wasn't completely successful. Katara... the Water Tribe girl, helped heal my wounds, but her abilities only work so well."

Iroh nodded. "That seems a valid explanation," he said, in a tone that indicated the complete opposite. "Well, then, I guess I should let our new leader get his rest, and I'll get back to my tea shop."

Zuko smiled. His uncle was probably still suspicious, no doubt there, but it was clear he had nothing but love and concern for Zuko. Couldn't hold anything against him for that.

Once Iroh was gone, Zuko sat resting for a while longer. He kept meaning to make his way back to his room, but the cool night air felt so refreshing. Suddenly, though, he became aware of someone walking along the top of the stone wall behind him. He whirled around, trying to think of the best way to defend himself, when he saw Toph taking a seat on the wall's edge.

"Hey there, your majesty," she said.

He lowered his fists and let out a huge sigh of relief. "Don't scare me like that."

"Aw, I'm sorry. Your Fire Nation capital is just so big and amazing, it's easy for a poor little Earth Kingdom girl like me to get lost." She leaned back and kicked her feet into the air. "Say, would you demonstrate some of that nifty firebending you people here do?" she asked.

Zuko narrowed his eyes. If she meant to mock him, but he didn't get the joke. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It was supposed to make a point," Toph said, slipping down from her perch on the wall. "The other option was to start earthbending in your face and see how you defended yourself, but I didn't think you'd appreciate that."

"Your concern for my well-being overwhelms me."

"Don't mention it. Look, my point is that it's not too smart of you to go walking around with no way to firebend. You need a back up. Someone who knows what's going on and can do it for you in a pinch."

"The only people who could fill that role are Aang and Katara," he said. "And the avatar's a little bit busy… well, being the avatar."

"Well, looks like you and Katara are going to be spending a lot of time together, then." She pulled herself back up onto the wall and started to walk back the way she'd come. "Oh, and for whatever it's worth, you are walking better. Even if it doesn't feel like it."


Zuko did not take Toph's advice lightly. Mostly because he had no good argument against it. It had been almost a week since the coronation, and Katara had rarely left his side. Today, they sat down by the pond. The large tree at Zuko's back provided the perfect amount of shade, and Katara had suggested that the fresh air would do him some good. She'd been right. Zuko closed the scroll he'd been reading, set it down in the grass, and picked up a new one from the pile. It wasn't exciting work, he'd readily admit that. Still, he wished Katara wouldn't keep reminding him just how boring it was.

"Geez, don't you need a royal mental break or something?" she asked.

Zuko took a extra long pause before answering, just to annoy her. "The Fire Nation is vast and complicated. It's my job to know every detail about it. My father was twice my age when he took the throne."

"Yeah. And someone's totally going to stop you on the street and quiz you on," she looked over his shoulder, "the price of cabbages five years ago."

"I'm studying the fluctuating market prices of common goods."

Katara groaned and leaned back against the tree again. For at least five minutes, she didn't say anything. Then, she went at it again full force. "Seriously, just tell your uncle what's going on. Then you'll have a firebender to hang out with you who actually knows something about Fire Nation history."

Zuko's grip on the scroll tightened. If he could actually firebend right now, it probably would've gone up in flames. "I was hoping you'd understand walking up to my uncle and saying, 'Hey, could you follow me around just in case I have to firebend in front of anybody?" doesn't sit well with me."

Katara lowered her head, looking embarrassed, so he'd probably made his point. Still, he continued the mock conversation, mimicking Iroh's deep, easygoing tone: "'Why, Zuko, why ever would you need me to do that?'"

"'Oh, no reason, Uncle. Just because I thought the general public wouldn't approve of me being a waterbender.'"

He said the last word in a hushed tone, just in case, and Katara turned bright red. "Okay, okay, you made your point," she muttered. Then she flicked her fingers in front of her, a small flame appearing in the air for a just a second. If Zuko hadn't been so irritated at her, he might've laughed. He'd done the exact same thing as a kid whenever he got bored with his mother's lessons.

Zuko went back to his scroll, though in truth, he had to admit the price of cabbages did not make for exciting reading. And Katara continued to entertain herself by tossing little flames into the air. It distracted him in no end, but he couldn't ask her to stop either. It brought back so many memories he didn't want to ignore just yet.

Just then, one of Katara's flames got just a tad too close to the open jar of ink sitting in the tall grass by his feet. While this shouldn't have been a problem in theory, the liquid inside suddenly caught fire and an orange flame flickered inside the jar's rim. Zuko pulled back as Katara yelped in surprise.

"Who filled the ink jars?" he demanded.

"I think it was Sokka."

"Your brother can't tell the difference between ink and lamp oil?"

"Oh, excuse me if we aren't versed in Fire Nation menial labor!"

"I don't think it's too much to ask him to do something simple without setting the palace grounds on fire!"

"If you're such a great leader, why don't you stop yelling at me and do something about this!" She jabbed her finger in the jar's direction, were the flame came dangerously close to setting the dry grass alight. Face hot with embarrassment,

Zuko started to reach down to pick the jar up, only to jerk his hand back when he got near.

"Ow, that's hot!" Katara rolled her eyes, which Zuko tried to ignore. Instead, he motioned at the pond. A ball of water floated out and positioned itself around the jar. Then he used the water to lift the jar and carry it over to the pond. The jar was impressively buoyant and when he sat it on the water's surface, it floated like a little glowing boat.

"Oh, wow," Katara breathed. "Zuko, that's actually really pretty."

Zuko watched as the little jar bobbed its way back and forth in the gentle water, carrying its golden flame with it. It did look kind of nice. Not that he was ever one for aesthetics.

"Hey, go ask a servant to bring us more ink, would you?"

She did and one of the maids came back with ten jars of it. Once he was sure they were alone again, Zuko lay each jar of the pond's surface, commanding the water to hold them in place while Katara set a small flame atop each one. Then, he moved the water currents to arrange the jars in all sorts of patterns - a swirl, a crescent, a teardrop. Katara kept making suggestions and he kept trying to meet each challenge. He barely noticed the sky above them turning to dusk or the first couple stars starting to come out. They had, quite by accident, discovered their own personal set of stars right on top of the pond. The pathetic thing was that while Katara stood there in wonder at the whole thing, all Zuko could think about was just how much he'd lost.