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December 10, 2010
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A/N: I'm going to do something different with this chapter. Expect that kind of thing from time to time. ;) It would work better with visuals/audio, but I'm using the written word. So hopefully I can write this in a way you all can follow. I'm not laying out what times things happen at because it'd make this sequence too artificial, but I give you an idea as to when they take place. Enjoy.


What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 14 - Cursed


- Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 -

It didn't rain. It was clear and clean out that afternoon. Katara wished it rained. It didn't feel right. These were always supposed to dull and dreary and rainy, weren't they? Somehow it'd have been easier that way - she could've hid under an umbrella or a raincoat or something. She was wearing a dark gray sweatshirt and black slacks and shoes out of respect for the occasion. Her friend was garbed in torn gray jeans and a black hoodie with a pink skull emblazoned across her left chest and was giving her eulogy.

"-and regardless of what anyone might think, much of what he did was with good intentions," Jane contnued, eyes planted on the wooden box resting in the hole in the ground before them. "He made me realize that being stubborn...can have its benefits - when you're being stubborn about the right things." Her eyes were leaky but didn't drip tears. She dabbed at her face before drops could fall and sucked in a deep breath. Katara, standing right beside her, took her hand and clasped it tightly as she finished. "Jack didn't always make the right choices - none of us do. But at least the choices he made were for others. Maybe he did a lot of things he shouldn't have, but try telling that to all of the people he helped out over the years. Jack always made sure that Freedom was what we were Fighting for."

Her speech concluded, she tightened her fingers back around Katara's hand before letting it go. Katara sighed slowly and silently as she retrieved a folded paper from her back pocket.

"I, uh..." She coughed to clear her throat and spoke up. "I have a reading," she announced calmly. "I know that...most of you...You probably knew Jeh-...Jack better than me. But I...I just feel like...from what I knew...this is how he would feel. Or does feel, or...-" She slowed her breath, a knot forming in her throat before she'd even began. She unfolded the note, grateful for the space she was given, and began to read.

"When I come to the end of the road,
And the sun has set for me,
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free?"

The rain pounded against Sokka's umbrella like so many regrets and desires, hard and unrelenting in that moment. His sister held him close, her arms wrapped around his waist in sympathy. He would let no one else touch him. His father stood beside them but gave his son space to grieve.

{Ulrika Alfven}
{1988 - 2008}
{Our Princess has returned to}
{The Kingdom from whence she came}

"Are you going to say anything?" Katara whispered in his ear through the thumping raindrops.

"What more is there to say?" he quietly replied.

Sokka had no words of eulogy. The tombstone said everything that needed to be said. The Alfven family had already spoken their peace - anything Sokka would have expressed, anyway. Yue's funeral wouldn't be tainted by redundancy.

He could feel it in his sister's breathing against his shoulder: she desperately wanted to comfort him, to say something, to find the light in the darkness, the silver lining. But she said nothing. And he was grateful for this. His sister's arms around him were all that he needed at that time. Nothing more, nothing less.

"Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that once we shared.
Miss me...but let me go."

Toph's world stood still and quiet - that icy cold quiet she loathed. Her lips were frozen, snowflakes pricking at her face every now and again when the wind gusted. Her mittens were constraining, hands dug deep into her fut coat's pockets. She could feel the presence of her parents looming behind her but she ignored them. They didn't matter in this moment. No one did - no one but Grammy Gram.

Toph pushed the chilly air from her mind and bathed herself in warm thoughts of book readings and being tucked in at night, of gingerbread men and eggnog, of baked potatoes for afternoon snacks, of the soft wrinkles of old skin and the funny smells of old sweaters. Toph ignored the words of relatives she'd never known - and would never know - opting instead to highlight her grandmother's funeral with the music they would listen to together, the songs that made her fall in love with music, the songs she knew her grandmother would've wanted played on this day. At least they would play in her own mind if no one else would listen to them on Grammy Gram's behalf.

~All you need is Love~
~All you need is Love~
~All you need is Love, Love~
~Love is all you need~

"For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all part of the master plan -
A step on the road to home."

The freckled child with the orange hair glared at the priest with rage as he spoke.

"Let us commend Mary and Joel Fitzpatrick to the mercy of God, and by His will...-"

God?

At the age of six, the child with the grouchy face didn't quite understand who this God person was, but if this was His fault then He was a person to be hated. Hated for His stupid guts for taking a kid's parents away. Hated for making a child like this - children weren't supposed to be made this way. The angry redhead could comprehend this, at least - that they were not born natural, that their parents were the only ones who had treated them like a normal child. And now those parents were gone, because this God had taken them away. He was a stupid-head-booger-face and was to be hated.

"-...We therefore commit their bodies to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection of eternal life."

Ashes to ashes...

The child knew very well what 'ashes' were. Those dry, flaky black things that fire made out of everything. Their home had been turned to ashes while the kid had been away with cousins. The parents had been turned to ashes, too. And now that child was alone without them, a ball of Irish fury that would turn anything they didn't like into ashes - dust to dust.

"When you are lonely and sick at heart,
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do.
Miss me...but let me go."

So many strangers...So many people Katara didn't know. Her mother must have touched a lot of lives.

Everyone's words of sympathy meant nothing to her on that day. No "I'm sorry for your loss" would give her anything back. Her mother was gone, and...that was that. She had waited patiently for everyone to say their good-byes and express their consolation for the Kesuk family, and now she had her time alone. Her father and brother had each had their peace - it was her turn, and they had left her to have it.

She fell to her knees in the summer evening's grass and folded her hands together, bobbing her head in vigilance over the wooden box in the ground in the light, misting rain. She tucked her raincoat's hood over her head, cleared her head, and prayed.

Dear God, please take care of my Mom. And tell her that I miss her already. Very much.

Her eyes were dry, their tears long expired during the funeral ceremony, their drops stained into the coffin. The twelve year-old was surprised at how she began to smile at that cold hole in the earth, remembering so many fond memories she had shared with her mother. Was it wrong to smile? No...No, Mom would want her to smile, to remember those things, to keep those good memories with her. She couldn't just live life crying, right? Certainly not.

She couldn't do anyone any good if she was crying all of the time.

"You need more time, Sport? Don't want you getting sick. Your Mom would hate that."

Katara was stirred gently from her thoughts by the firm hand of her father on her shoulder.

"Heyyyy, I told you, Dad, I'm not a 'Sport,'" Katara protested with a sniffle and a smile. "That's a boy name." Finding something to make light of in this mood was a blessing.

"You play a sport," Hakoda reasoned. "Is volleyball not a sport anymore, or...-?"

"But you shouldn't call me 'Sport,'" Katara giggled, taking her fathers hand and letting him lead her away while Sokka filled in her place and gave his own peace.

"What, you wanna be called 'Princess,' instead?" her dad prodded.

"Ew, no," she snickered, rubbing misted water from her face from the fizzing, gentle rain.

"Well, you're gettin' older, Kiddo. I can't keep callin' ya 'Kiddo' forever."

"How about 'Hun?'"

"'Hun?' But...isn't that...-?"

What Mom called me.

"Yea, call me 'Hun,' Dad. I like that."

Maybe her mother wasn't entirely gone. Katara would make sure that her mother's kindness and caring would live on through her own actions. During the funeral, Katara's dad had said something that had stuck to Katara's brain like a prophecy.

"She never turned her back on people that needed her."

Neither will I.

"When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me.
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree."

"Why here, Uncle?"

"This is their home, Zuko."

The young Zuko stared, perplexed, at the memorial stones that resided beside one another. They had mysterious symbols etched into them that he recognized as Japanese characters, but he didn't understand what they meant.

"But...But Uncle Iroh," Zuko muttered, confused, twiddling his fingers together. "Aren't they...Aren't they gone?"

"Their spirits may be elsewhere, Nephew, but their bodies belonged to this home - and this home is where they shall stay."

Zuko was puzzled by this idea: his aunt and his cousin were laying in boxes under the ground at his feet. Keeping dead people in the dirt in your backyard? Kinda creepy. Uncle Iroh had a really big backyard, though, so...maybe it wasn't so weird. At least Uncle was feeling better than he had days before. It had been so bizarre, seeing happy old Uncle Iroh cry so much.

The pink petals on the tree that the stones were planted by wobbled in the wind as a warm afternoon breeze made them dance on their branches.

"And eventually," Iroh continued, "I will join them."

"Don't you want to join them now?"

"Of course, Nephew. But then I would have to leave you, your sister, and your parents behind." His chubby hand patted Zuko on the head. "And besides, I am sure I was left here because I still have work to do."

"Be the green grass above me,
With showers and dewdrops wet.
And if thou wilt, remember.
And if thou wilt, forget."

Toph clenched the servant's hand tightly, her feet skittering across the grass. These blades...were different than others. They were solemn and serene, tickling her feet with melancholy. She had come to recognize this particular field of grass very well.

"We're nearly there, Miss Beifong," advised the portly woman.

"Excellent," Toph affirmed her servant, gripping the device in her other hand by its handle tightly as they marched their way along. She had gradually taken to expressing some more courtesy to the servants who actually treated her with respect, especially since she'd be leaving soon enough for school and they'd be stuck with her intolerable parents.

When they had finally arrived at their destination, Toph set down her bulky device - an heirloom - and felt her hand out to the smooth, marble rock jutting out of the grass. Her fingers slipped across the elegant curves etched into its surface. This was her Grandma's grave.

"Thanks, Madison," said Toph. "I'll call you when I'm ready to leave."

"Certainly, Ma'am." Madison's steps carried her away, and Toph waited until she could hear them no longer.

Toph stood at the grave, continuing to scroll her hand along its surface.

"Heya, Grammy," she whispered. "I came to see you again. I'm going to be leaving soon." Toph smiled as she let her hand drop from the stone. "You'd be proud of me. I told my parents off. I'm going to college where I want to go. Just a few more days and I'll be off..."

Toph sighed deeply as she set herself down in the grass in her summer dress and her bare feet.

"And ya know where I'll be going, Grammy Gram?" she coyly teased, groping her hand around the device she'd set down. She clicked in a stiff button, and the device winded up into life, pouring sound out from its speakers. She sang along with the words in a solemn, sentimental way - the way her grandmother would sing her to sleep.

"~Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup~They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe~"

Toph slowly swayed her body to and fro as she sang, envisioning the grainy voice of her late relative joining in.

"~Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind~Possessing and caressing me~"

["~Jai guru deva om~"]
["~Nothing's gonna change my world~"]

"I've been getting better at the guitar, Grammy. Soon I'll be just as good as you."

["~Nothing's gonna change my world~"]

"You'd better keep an eye on me while I'm at college."

["~Nothing's gonna change my world~"]

"'Cuz you know how I can be, heh. Make sure I find the right people. OK?"

["~Nothing's gonna change my world~"]

"I'm counting on you to still be there for me, Grandma."

"I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not fear the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on as if in pain."

"Put on your coat, Dum-Dum."

"I'm not cold."

"Then stop shivering. It's irritating."

Zuko frowned at his sister's bitter attitude and took the formal coat in his arm and stuffed his body into it. Jamming his hands in his pockets and acknowledging that he was, in fact, pretty chilly, he stared at the extravagent memorial stone left for the sake of his mother, presumed dead. Deep in his gut, Zuko knew that she was dead. She would never have abandoned her loved ones, even if it put her in danger. It seemed that being put in danger must have been what had happened.

"Should we...-?" Zuko shuffled in place. "Should we say something? Or...or sing? Or...I don't know."

"Of course we should say something," Azula hissed. "This is our mother we're talking to."

"What are we supposed to say?" Zuko grumbled. "She's not exactly going to hear it."

"Please excuse your ignorant son, Mother," Azula bellowed to the stone, tightening her blood red scarf around her neck. "I've been trying to keep him in line, but as you can see, it's next to impossible."

Zuko rolled his eyes at her melodrama and considered the question, Why did I let her drag me out here?

"We miss you, Mother," he declared, cutting through his sister's tirade. Whether she could hear them or not, at least Zuko was going to put his sister in her place and on track rather than letting her slip down the usual hypocritical road.

"We most certainly do," Azula insisted with more solemnity than usual, her mittened arms crossed over her chest.

With that, Zuko turned tail and began walking away from the stone, marching through the cold night, down the cemetary's walkway.

"Wh-? Zuzu, where are you going?" Azula demanded with some slight urgency.

"I told Mother what she needed to know."

"So you're just going to leave her here?"

"If I have anything else to say to her it'd be just between us," Zuko explained. "So I'm giving you some time alone with her."

"Buh...But I don't...-" Azula seemed lost with her little brother to ridicule. "Fine," she curtly decided at last. "I'll go first, then."

"Good for you," Zuko grumbled, his words outside of her earshot. He approached the Wayward Cemetary gates after a minute or two and dropped himself into their expensive car, the chaufer asking not a word while they waited.

He's not going to get away with this, Mother. He's prison now. I'm not sure what we'll do, but...we'll work through this.

Zuko lay his head against the one-way window and dozed off into thoughts for a few minutes. His sister entered with a chattering sigh, rubbing her arms.

"Back to our Uncle's," she announced, and the car started up.

"Do you feel any better?" Zuko wondered.

"Of course not," Azula snapped.

"Then why did you want to come here tonight?" he pressed with nonchalance. Azula frowned at him and turned her head away, opting to face the street lamps rather than her brother's skepticism.

There's still hope for her, Mother. If you can hear us, then please...help her. Sometimes I worry she's more lost than I am...

"And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply I may forget."

Jane patted Katara on the back a couple of times in her gruff style of encouragement, and Katara wiped her eyes with her palm. She used her sleeve to clean up her face as she folded up the poem and dropped it onto the coffin. These tears were not entirely for Jet - in her mind, she knew this was true. These tears were for Jet but also for her mother, and for her brother and father. The eerie coincidence dawned on her that anyone with whom her family seemed to get romantically invovled with seemed to pass away quite prematurely.

{Jack "Jet" Chavez}
{1984 - 2010}
{May he find his Freedom}

Maybe the Kesuk family was cursed.


A/N: The poem was written by Christina Rosetti. Song lyrics by The Beatles.
And thus concludes what I perceive as the first 'Act' this serialized story, and hopefully it shows sort of what I'm going for in telling a longer, more involved tale. You may have noticed a distinct lack of Aang. His story will be explored more soon enough.

[link]<--Previous Chapter
Next Chapter-->[link]
[link]<-<--Chapter 1

A lot of chunks of backstory all rolled into a slab of melancholy.
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:iconplastikbullion:
I liked this a lot. Far too much probably, but that's because I'm a sucker for alternating viewpoints and timelines. I could totally see exactly where you were coming from concerning this aspect of the story. Timeline wise it was done well, I knew where and what was happening at the right time and the necessary information was presented without dancing around with superfluous verbiage or purple prose. (incidentally, something I rather like about your overall style, that.)

The poem was a good choice, very good, fitting for Jet specifically, and for this sequence in general. The sequence overall was much like one in a film, (what you were aiming for I'd assume) a fact that probably made it far more emotional as it played out. (I'm a sucker for that kind of thing) I could see and hear each of the characters laments in their own voices with their own characterization behind it while also having the alternate universe characterisation filtered through nicely.

While the idea of a chapter like this isn't in itself isn't particularly original in terms of media in general it is still detached enough from the usual flow of your story that it gives extended gravitas to the events that happen without, adding to the fact that it's a chapter all about the death of loved ones, and allowing me to dismiss the unoriginality out of my love for the characters. Cause well, why make up something new and untried when something old as print would work just as well?

Your writing is both easy to read and still very eloquent, something I look for in everything I read. Able to convey depth and meaning without overdoing the descriptive words, while also able to bring everything back down to the level with some fitting and in-character humour. Your capture of the characters and their feelings is something that I greatly admire as it is pulled off so well. You have their mannerisms and sentence structure down pat as well. (I personally found the brief scene with Iroh the most saddening for this reason; I could hear him speaking the word you had him say, intonation and all.)

In my humble opinion you certainly achieved what you set out to do.
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:icondiehard-kataanger:
DieHard-Kataanger Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2013
This was....really sad. But I loved it and I'm loving the story so far!
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:icondestiny-smasher:
Destiny-Smasher Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for giving the story a try.
Reply
:icondiehard-kataanger:
DieHard-Kataanger Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2013
It's really good so far! I'm glad I stumbled across it :)
Reply
:iconblackphoenix64:
blackphoenix64 Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2013
I was really curious of who wrote those poems and I tried to look them up. From what it looks like, it seems like they're actually two different poems? The first four stanzas are by Edgar Albert Guest, from what I found, and I have to applaud you on the wise choice, along with the other poem. They were very well placed and you did wonderfully in writing smoothly and clearly. Very emotional and very well done.
Reply
:icondestiny-smasher:
Destiny-Smasher Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh, thanks. ^_^; I tried to credit them in the A/N but it's been a long time since I wrote this. This is still one of the best chapters, writing-wise, in the whole story, I think. I wanted to establish early on in the story the core theme I think ties all of the main Avatar characters together: loss.
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:iconblackphoenix64:
blackphoenix64 Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2013
Or maybe it wasn't him. I'm really not sure. Sorry if it's misinformation. :\
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:iconthetaleof2sisters:
thetaleof2sisters Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
So sad......... But fitting...
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:icongreetingsfromhell:
GreetingsFromHell Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2012  Student General Artist
Wow... right in the feelings :( I was crying all the way through this chapter. That is the most important part for me when reading- if another's words can move me to tears, make me laugh, get me angry or otherwise get me to become emotionally invested in the story/characters then I know I am reading a good piece of writing.
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:icondestiny-smasher:
Destiny-Smasher Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Glad to see this chapter did that for you, then. =)
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:icongustyvalley:
GustyValley Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Tres bien, mon ami!~ :3
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