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June 24th, 2010
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Fic: War-Children
Title: War-Children
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Characters: Ichiro (OC); Daimyo General Torao (OC)
Rating: PG/K+
Summary: A Fire Nation daimyo receives information that the Avatar may be near New Sozin and investigates.
Notes: Takes place about three years before the show begins. Torao belongs to beckyh2112 and is used with her permission. Many thanks to Avocado Love and TigerKat for beta'ing this for me!

Written this Fifteenth Day of the First Month
of the Superior Military Snake Year

General Torao,

There is evidence that the Avatar may have appeared in the forests around the island colony of New Sozin. Traces of firebending and earthbending have been found a mile northeast of the end of colony lands. There is no indication of battle there. Inquiries were made at the colony; any child who has shown firebending ability has long since been returned to the Fire Nation in accordance with the Firebending Law. The local commander believes these traces come from the war-born but refuses to take action.

It is to my dishonour that I do not have more information to provide you, but I only recently discovered these traces and my ship has already left the colony. The situation requires discretion that Commander Li Tojo is incapable of providing.

Your loyal vassal,
Midshipman Boke

Daimyo General Torao placed the letter on the table and considered.

The Avatar? Very unlikely, but Midshipman Boke could hardly be blamed for getting excited. His alternate excuse was far more likely — and problematic.

The Fire Nation had no official policy for dealing with those children born from illegitimate unions of Earth and Fire people, willing or otherwise. However, two or more war-children so close to a port didn't make Torao happy. If they had been raised by Earth Kingdom barbarians, they might be turned against the Fire Nation. A firebender and an earthbender working together could cause… damage.

If the children were on their own, however…

Li Tojo was a fool.

Torao needed to inspect New Sozin anyway. If he just happened to stumble across any war-children, so much the better. He put aside the letter to issue suitable orders.

* * *

"Just where were you?" Daitaro demanded of his oldest son.

Thirteen-year-old Ichiro eyed his father, unrepentant. "Took the twins out for a walk," he said. "We got our chores done."

Daitaro drummed his fingers against the table. "You told no one where you were going."

"We've never had to before," Ichiro said. "It isn't like Earthfolk live here anymore, Dad."

"That is not the point!" the older man thundered.

Ichiro's eyes narrowed. "Then what is?" he growled.

"Daimyo General Torao is here to inspect New Sozin," he snapped at his son.

Kouji tripped on his way to the kitchen. Ichiro reached back and steadied his younger brother, masking a flash of panic. The Daimyo, here? "I'm not seeing how this is my problem. Kouji, go wash up."

With a grateful look, the seven-year-old retreated.

"It is your problem because you weren't here when the Daimyo was," Daitaro said. "You should have been here to honour his visit."

"So? Unless he specifically asked after us—"

Daitaro slammed his hand against the table. "I have just about had it with your attitude, young man. Go to your room, and don't you dare leave it before school tomorrow!"

Ichiro stared at him. "Are you seriously sending me to bed without dinner?"

His father's eyes narrowed. "You're not too old for me to tan your hide, boy, which is the next step if you defy me."

Ichiro went to his room. There were more important matters to deal with than his rebellion against his father.

Like Daimyo General Torao.

The boy sat on his bed, racking his brain to remember anything about the man. He thought he'd heard something about the Daimyo being sent out to the Earth Kingdom some months back, but the memory was vague.

Daimyo General. Now that was weird, Ichiro thought. Daimyo generally didn't act as soldiers, if only because going off to fight and then getting killed could lead to civil war.

This was bad.

He paced in his room, considering his options. He'd probably be grounded for the rest of the week. There would be no going out to their usual practise spot, and since he was grounded nobody would find it suspicious. The twins were only seven, so nobody would question them not going.

That left today to explain.

Ichiro chastised himself for not paying closer attention to the rumour mill. If he'd realised Daimyo Torao was in the area, he would have taken the twins for a walk. No change in routine to alert the observant, save for the unknown destination. Too late now.

Hopefully, the Daimyo would be like Commander Tojo and not venture beyond the colony proper.

* * *

Torao observed the small clearing with interest.

Midshipman Boke's observation had been correct: the earth was freshly churned, and some of the trees showed minor scorching. A firebender and an earthbender — or possibly more than one apiece — had been here. And they hadn't been fighting; Torao had been a soldier for several years and knew the signs of a battle, even one on one. The evidence here seemed to point to them using this area as a training ground.

And three of the colony children had been unaccounted for when he had been visiting his dependents.

Torao found that very intriguing.

It was a possibility to keep in mind, anyway. The question now was the earthbender.

He would only stay another day in New Sozin; that would more than cover his inspection of the colony as well as give him time to review the current test for firebenders. A pity these vague burn marks gave no indication of power.

Torao pointed to two of his guards. "Remain here. If the benders return, observe them and report to me."

The pair he'd indicated bowed and slipped away to conceal themselves in the forest surrounding the clearing. Torao and the remainder of his retinue returned to New Sozin. The inspection would continue tomorrow.

* * *

The Daimyo General was leaving.

Rumours had been flying everywhere at school today, and more than one student had taunted Ichiro about his and his siblings' absence when the Daimyo General came to call. He put a stop to that with his fists before it could filter down to the twins.

It was probably for the best that they'd missed Daimyo Torao, anyway. Here in New Sozin, it was easy to hide what nobody expected to see, but the Daimyo had fought in the war. Ichiro was afraid he might catch what the bender testers had missed.

The people of New Sozin were glad enough to follow his father's wilful ignorance and dislike of setting foot outside the colony grounds; Ichiro had used that to his advantage since he'd discovered his bending. The sailors were not, however, and as New Sozin supplied more and more of the Fire Navy, Ichiro was discovering that many of the men and women preferred to get a feel for the island they had been stationed on.

If one of them stumbled on the place he and Kouji used as a training ground…

There was no help for it, Ichiro realised. They would have to run away before Kouji's earthbending was discovered. Not immediately, of course — if they fled so soon after the Daimyo's visit, it would be suspicious. But before the month was out for certain.

He wouldn't let the Fire Nation murder his little brother.


Once school let out, he waited for Kouji and Yui to join him, then led the twins home, listening to Yui's excited chatter about everything that had happened. Kouji was quieter than normal, and Ichiro put a soft hand on his brother's shoulder.

Kouji turned a worried look on him, and Ichiro forced a smile for him. "Hey," he said softly. "Don't worry about the Daimyo. I'll protect you."

He got a sad little smile in return.

Yui slipped her hand into Kouji's and squeezed, then led him back home slightly ahead of Ichiro, leaving the older boy to plot their flight.

When they reached the house, Ichiro sent the twins to do their homework and headed to his room — not to obey his father, but instead to consider what he would pack. They would have to travel light, with clothes suitable for summer and winter. Food wouldn't be much of a problem — if the hunting was bad, Ichiro could hire himself out to farmers for a day or two.

What worried him was how far the twins could walk, and for how long. Kouji and Yui had no problem with the near-daily walk between New Sozin and their practise ground a mile away, but they took it at a leisurely pace. If they ran away, they would have to move quickly, and Ichiro had never tested the twins on their speed. Why should he have? They were only seven and he'd never thought it might come up. He cursed his naïveté; he should have started preparing the twins the night their father had told them what would become of children like Kouji.

Maybe they could take an animal? No, it would be missed. Besides which, all the animals in New Sozin were too slow for their needs and they couldn't very well steal a komodo rhino from the naval base. Leaving on foot was the best option. If they needed to they could climb the trees, though Ichiro wasn't too thrilled with the notion. He could traverse the branches in the forest with little difficulty, but he was still teaching Kouji and Yui to do it.

And then there was the problem of getting off the island, and Kouji's recently-discovered seasickness.

With a groan, he toppled onto his bed. He'd get them out of there and to safety somehow.

* * *

Torao scowled as he again reviewed the current Firebending Test. Linking one's breathing to a candle flame was a normal exercise, he conceded, but it was generally overseen by one of the Fire Sages. Using that test out here, with only barely-trained firebenders to oversee the children, was utterly foolish. A determined or clever child could throw the test with ease.

When he had pointed this out to the firebender currently in charge of testing, the man had looked shocked. "Who would want to throw the test?" he had asked.

That was the question, wasn't it?

Firebending was a free ticket out of the colonies, a chance for families to return back to the Fire Nation with the wealth they had acquired in the Earth Kingdom.

Back to minimal lands and crowded cities, as opposed to the acres of land even peasants could keep here. There were boarding schools in the Fire Nation for those children whose families didn't want to accompany them back home.

Some of his men had asked around, and of the eleven families who had firebending children, only one had elected to return to the Fire Nation with their child. The rest had remained in New Sozin.

Who would want to throw the test?

This was a problem; one Torao imagined was widespread across the colonies. It was no longer feasible to uproot the young firebenders and transport them to a land they didn't know. The Firebending Law needed to be updated to reflect the growing number of colonies.

But not right now.

At least one of the children here was a firebender. His first task was to find that child and question him or her. After that, he could look into changing the Law.

* * *

Ichiro had joined the crowd watching the Daimyo General's ship leave port. He likely wasn't the only one feeling relief at the Daimyo's departure, but nobody else had lives hanging in the balance. With a sigh, he turned from the departing ship and headed back to the school, fishing the twins out of the crowd as he went.

"'Chiro!" protested Yui, squirming in his grip, but he gave her a look and she quieted. Kouji, he noted, looked faintly ill. Worried, Ichiro directed the twins between two of the houses and released them both.

"Are you all right?" he asked his brother.

Kouji nodded, not looking at him.

Frowning, Ichiro slipped his fingers under his little brother's chin, tilting his head so he could see his face. He was alarmed to see tears brimming in Kouji's eyes. "You're not all right," he answered his own question. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry," the boy whispered.

"For what?" Yui asked, taking his hand and squeezing it.

"For being like this," Kouji replied. "If I wasn't a freak, he wouldn't have—"

Ichiro crushed his brother against him in the hardest hug he could. "You're not a freak," he said roughly, "and this isn't your fault."

"But—" Kouji began.

"But nothing," Ichiro cut him off. "The Daimyo only came in on inspection. It happens." He smiled for his brother's sake. "Next time he comes out here, we'll be long gone."

Kouji stared up at him, shocked.

"Wait," Yui said. "You mean we're running away?"

"That is exactly what I mean," Ichiro assured her. "There's too many people prowling the island now. We'll wait a few weeks, maybe a month, then leave. Maybe we can even find you a real master, Kouji."

Finally, his little brother gave him a small smile. "Maybe."

"That's great!" Yui grinned, hugging both of her brothers. "We can travel, and see the world, and learn new music, and—"

Ichiro put a finger against her lips. "Exactly so. But first, we have to get through school today."

Both of the twins made faces.

"Ah," he chastised them. "Remember, it's only for a few more weeks. And after today, we'll head out to the practise spot to clean it up a bit, just in case."

Kouji and Yui nodded, and Ichiro was relieved to see a new determination in his brother's grey eyes.

* * *

Lying in wait for the renegade firebender and enigmatic earthbender was extremely boring, but Torao had patience to spare. He supposed that he could have left this stakeout to his men — likely would, if this took longer than a few weeks — but he had the feeling he should be here.

The hours dragged by, leaving him plenty of time for his thoughts. The majority of these thoughts seemed to centre around raking Li Tojo over the coals for his arrogant stupidity. A few tried to focus on the possibility that his rogue benders were, in fact, one Avatar, but Torao dismissed those as foolish.

The rest, however, dealt with what he would do when he caught his rogue benders. After all, there was a possibility that neither would be friendly. Alternately, they both might be willing to talk. Or one would and not the other. Best to be prepared for all of the possibilities.

Morning stretched into afternoon, but Torao was not discouraged. The odds were high that his rogues were children, so it was probable that they had been in school while he and his men waited here.

As it turned out, his stakeout paid off much sooner than he had anticipated. A few hours after noon, three children dropped out of the trees surrounding the clearing. Three familiar children.

Though Torao had not acquainted himself with them, all three had the look of their father, the farmer Daitaro. And all three of them had been missing when Torao had paid their father a visit as well.

However, a coincidence was not evidence. Torao remained where he was, as did his men, though he noted that it was lucky the children hadn't spied them. He hadn't anticipated them coming from above. An oversight he would have to remedy in the future.

For the time being, he watched the three children. The taller one was clearly the elder son, Ichiro, which made the younger pair Kouji and Yui, respectively. If they were the firebending culprits, which at least one of them likely was, Ichiro had probably been the spearhead in throwing the firebending tests. But to what purpose? From what Torao had gathered from the local gossip, the boy was none too fond of his father and routinely rebelled against him.

Perhaps it wasn't parental devotion, but brotherly, he observed, watching the boy interact with his siblings.

The girl, Yui, drifted away from her brothers, towards Torao. He scarcely moved, and was relieved when she paused by a tree with blackened bark. "Ichi-ni," she called, and Torao blinked. Had that been a pun in Old Fire?

Ichiro joined her and winced when he saw the bark. "That'll be fun to cover up," he muttered. "And stripping the bark is way too obvious."

"Maybe some rags to rub off the burns?" Yui suggested.

"I don't think it works that way," Ichiro said ruefully, "but it's worth a shot."

He turned back to his brother. "Kouji," he said, "can you take care of t— what's up?"

The younger boy was kneeling, both hands pressed to the ground. "I dunno," Kouji said slowly. "Something's just… weird."

"How do you mean?" Yui asked curiously.

Kouji shook his head. "I don't know. It's… different from normal."

Ichiro sighed. "Well, we'll worry about this later. Can you take care of that?" And he gestured to the churned-up earth.

A pause, and the younger boy nodded. "Okay." He stood up and— earthbent.

* * *

Ichiro watched as his little brother carefully smoothed out the ground. When Kouji was about half done, he stopped him. "That's enough for now," he told the boy. "Rest for a little bit, okay? I don't want you to overdo it."

Kouji nodded and moved aside to sit down. Ichiro frowned as he looked over at the scorched trees. "I think that's pretty much a lost cause."

"Why does it matter?" Yui asked. "Aren't we leaving?"

"Not immediately," he replied. "We need to pack some supplies before we go for good. Besides, if we left now, people would be suspicious — they'd probably think the Daimyo's visit had something to do with it."

"…but it did, didn't it?" Kouji asked.

Ichiro sighed. "I meant they'd think he was directly involved."


"Where are we going to go, anyway?" Yui asked.

The firebender shrugged. "I don't know. Well, the Earth Kingdom, generally speaking. I overheard some of the sailors mentioning that a few towns had been abandoned. We could hide in one of those for a little bit, long enough for any searches to die down. After that, we can find you a teacher, Kouji."

"You need a teacher, too," Kouji told him.

Ichiro shook his head. "I'm doing okay, and a teacher for me would pretty much be a bad idea all around."

"If you're sure…," said his brother doubtfully.

He wasn't, not really, but if he found a teacher, they'd take him to the Fire Nation — or worse, they'd find out about Kouji. If that happened…

Ichiro ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Let's finish up here and head home. We can plan a route there. Kouji, you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Kouji said, climbing to his feet. He turned to the remainder of the work he needed to do and froze.

"'Chiro!" he yelled, voice high with fear — and then suddenly they were surrounded, Fire Nation soldiers seeming to appear from the forest around the clearing.

Ichiro reached out and grabbed the twins, yanking them behind him and backing up until there was a tree at their backs. He slid into a fighting stance, fire igniting around his hands. He was certainly no match for trained soldiers, especially not this many, but he was not letting them take Kouji without a fight!

And then Daimyo General Torao strolled forward.

Ichiro's mouth went dry.

His fire, however, brightened and became hotter, shading towards blue.

"None of that," said the Daimyo, his amber eyes serious as they met Ichiro's.

A chill ran down his spine. If he so much as considered attacking this man, Daimyo General Torao would take him down in seconds. How could he defend Kouji and Yui like that?

(How could he defend them at all in this situation?)

He inhaled slowly, then released the breath; the fire around his hands died.

The Daimyo smiled. "Good," he said.

"What now?" Ichiro asked, mentally cursing when his voice shook.

"Now," said Daimyo General Torao, "you and your siblings join me for tea."

* * *

Ideally, tea would have been served on a more neutral spot than on Torao's ship. However, he had not thought to keep the supplies needed for a proper tea with him, and questions would be asked if he appeared in New Sozin again with Daitaro's children.

To lessen the appearance of a power-play, Torao had tea served on deck fairly close to the rails of the ship. To Ichiro's suspicious eyes, it would appear to be an unthought-of escape route.

As the tea was served to the children, Torao took note of each one. The older boy, Ichiro, was wary and on guard, while the younger child looked faintly ill. That might have been a result of the journey upriver to the ship, however; the earthbender apparently suffered from seasickness. The girl alone seemed to be fascinated, both by him and by the ship. She also seemed to be paying attention to etiquette; Kouji's words could barely be heard, and Ichiro was understandably hostile.

Torao took a sip of his tea, as he suspected that they would not do so until he had. It was both etiquette and common sense — Ichiro might suspect drugs. Once all had sipped, Torao placed his cup on the table. "You should know that none of you are in any trouble," he said.

All three children jumped. Kouji looked startled and somewhat hopeful, whereas Ichiro just stared at him. It was Yui who asked, "What do you mean, Daimyo-General?"

He smiled at her. "For hiding your bending," he answered. His eyes slid to Ichiro. "Wanting to remain with your family isn't a shameful thing," he continued before turning to Kouji, "and there is no policy in place for someone in your… situation."

"What?!" blurted Ichiro. Heat radiated from him, but was quickly reined in — quicker than Commander Li Zhao might have done in a similar state of anger.

Torao regarded the boy mildly. It was easier to do than to look at the way hope had shifted to disbelief in Kouji. "You were told something else?" he inquired.

Yui put her arm around Kouji's shoulders and held him close to her as Ichiro slowly nodded. "We were told that Fire-born earthbenders would be killed." A bitter tone seeped into his voice as a small flame licked out from between his teeth. "As is only right."

Suddenly and altogether too well, Torao understood the fear the children had — not of potential imprisonment, but for Kouji's very life.

"No," Torao assured them. "A Fire-born earthbender is a gift, from the spirits themselves. To destroy something so precious would be a pointless waste."

"A gift?" Ichiro demanded.

"Yes," he answered. "Why else would the spirits allow such a thing?"

The boy had no answer for that, and Torao let his gaze drift to where Kouji had buried his face in his sister's shoulder. "Who told you that he would be killed?" he asked.

Silence stretched until finally Yui said, "Our father."

Torao's eyes narrowed at that confession. How much damage had Daitaro done? He needed more time to observe the children, and hopefully undo it. "Your father should be flogged."

Ichiro jerked, a startled expression replacing the building rage. "What?"

The daimyo took a moment to consider his words. This could be turned to his advantage. "What, exactly, were you told?"

Ichiro took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds before slowly releasing it. A calming exercise? After a second breath, he said, "About a month ago, I asked what would happen if a Fire child was born an earthbender — after all, nobody knows what causes bending, and maybe the spirits don't consider the colonies Fire Nation yet."

The boy did have a point. However, Torao suspected that the spirits approved of the colonies — why else gift them with Kouji? "A hypothetical that should have been asked much earlier than now," he murmured. "Go on."

Ichiro looked over at his little brother, who had practically burrowed into Yui's side. "He said that such an abomination would be destroyed, as was only proper." He practically spat the word 'abomination', fire licking out of his mouth yet again.

Clearly the boy was angry — and Torao couldn't blame him. But he had done very well, not only in protecting a precious gift like Kouji, but also in training him, despite his own lack of experience. The boys had to have some training, or else New Sozin might not be standing. Ichiro also had unprecedented control of his firebending: if Zhao, for example, were as angry as this boy was now, something would be on fire.

Truly, the spirits smiled on him. Midshipman Boke was due in for a promotion for managing to spot these three. If he hadn't noticed, or if he had dismissed the situation as others clearly had, Ichiro would have run away with his siblings to what he imagined would be a safe haven.

Torao imagined these three children falling into the hands of the Earth Kingdom barbarians or Water Tribe savages, and nearly shuddered. They would have been used and abused, and perhaps welcomed it after their father's insanity.

"Your father," Torao said softly, keeping his own anger from his tone, "was very mistaken. A child like Kouji is not an abomination; he is a gift from the spirits to show their approval."

Kouji took his head from Yui's shoulder, turning a tear-filled gaze on Torao. "Really?" he whispered.

The daimyo smiled at him. "Of course," he assured the boy. He paused, as if considering something, then suggested, "Perhaps it would be best for you to leave New Sozin. Such an environment is no place for you. For any of you," he added, glancing at Yui and Ichiro in turn.

Ichiro looked somewhat suspicious. "Where would you suggest we go?"

"With me," Torao replied honestly. "You have done well for yourself and Kouji, Ichiro, but with me you will have access to proper teachers." He smiled at Yui. "My wife and I have three daughters as well, Yui. I believe you would benefit from their tutors."

The girl brightened considerably at that.

It was Ichiro who asked, "What about Daitaro?"

Torao glanced at him, noting the absence of "father" when he spoke of the man. "He will be informed of your new status as my children," he replied. Shock spread over all of their faces, and Torao smiled. "I will show you to your quarters on the ship," he said.

* * *

Written this Twenty-Third Day of the Fourth Month
of the Superior Military Snake Year

Firelord Ozai,

I have taken into my household three children from the colony of New Sozin, two brothers and a sister. It is my intent to adopt them as my own and treat them as my blood.

I beg for you indulgence in allowing the records to be corrected to reflect their new status.

As a tribute to your generosity, I offer the following: Four pounds of fine coffee harvested in Muluku, four pounds of Guoyin chocolate, a marvellous ebony chest liberated from the former port of Taku, and a pair of firebirds carved from boulder opal in the style of the Gaoling gembenders.

Your loyal retainer,
Daimyo General Torao

Current Location: my bed
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: Firebird - Graeme Revell
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(Leave a comment)

Date:July 17th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
You know I love this, babe. So let me count some of the ways.

- the effort you go to with the dates
- Midshipman Boke's letter to his daimyo
- Torao's reaction, his thoughts, his planning of an inspection tour
- Torao's obvious racism not being glossed over in the slightest
- Ichiro's love and protection of his siblings and defiance of his father; though I note the story suffers a bit from Missing Mom Syndrome
- Kouji's fear, all their fear of being discovered
- Ichiro thinking thinky thoughts about how to get them all out of New Sozin
- Torao's trap
- Tea!
- Torao's letter to Ozai and his bribery
That Merry Wand'rer Powered by Scribbld