It was a warm day in the market. The aroma of freshly cooked food wafted on the heavy air and the sunlight seeped pleasantly into the body. Katara found herself humming just a little as she sifted through different fruits, turning them this way and that to check for bruising on their delicate skins. Just then she felt a tug on her skirt.
"Momma?" a little girl asked hesitantly from her side. Her dark skin tone was startling amongst the populous of the Fire Nation, but it wasn't far off from Katara's own. Equally gripping were the girl's eyes, which were a bright, lustrous gold. She was clearly of mixed heritage.
Katara turned and bent down at the girl's level. Considering how the girl looked it wouldn't be surprising if she had a Water Tribe mother, and in that case it wouldn't be surprising for her to have mistaken Katara for that mother. "Sorry, sweetie," Katara said gently, "Are you lost?"
Where Katara would have expected a better view of her face to reveal to the child that she had mistaken her identity, instead the girl's eyes lit up to see it. "Mommy I was so scared!" she cried, throwing herself into Katara's arms. It threw her a little off-balance and she tottered before catching the girl.
"I'm sorry, honey, but I'm not your mother," Katara attempted reluctantly, trying to peel the girl away from her as she stood back up.
The shock and hurt that crossed the girl's face was almost heartbreaking. "B-b-but, you're- you said you would never forget me!" she exclaimed, tearing up.
"Hey now!" Katara soothed quickly, "You're not forgotten. Your mom's probably worried-"
Fat tears started rolling out of those bright golden eyes. "You are my mom!" the girl screeched, now on the border of hysterics.
Instinctively Katara's arms went out to her. "Alright, alright," she shushed. She pulled a fruit from the cart at random, brushing it off on her sleeve. "Here," she offered, "This will make you feel better."
The girl took the fruit numbly, alternating between hiccups and nibbling with a pensive, blurry stare. Katara finished her exchange with the fruit merchant and hefted a basket of new purchases to her hip. With her free hand she patted the little girl's shoulder. "Why don't we play a game?" she asked.
The girl brightened considerably. "What kind of game?" she replied excitedly.
"Let's see if we can find anyone we know," Katara suggested.
Almost wriggling in enthusiasm the girl responded, "You mean like Izumi or Uncle Sokka?"
Katara's eyes widened to hear the name. Who would think that there was another Water Tribe man living in the Fire Nation, much less one with the same name as her brother? But she shook her head and let it go.
"Yeah," Katara answered, "Like Izumi or Uncle Sokka."
"Do I get a prize if I win?" the girl fished.
Katara laughed, but she knew she would have to say no. She didn't really have anything she could wager, and she didn't know what the girl's mom would approve of anyway. Thinking back to the games she used to play as a kid she decided, "You get to not be the rotten sea prune, how about that?"
With a frown the girl kicked her toe in the dirt. "Aw, you always say that."
This too took Katara back a little bit, but she was quickly distracted when the girl turned and ran into the crowd. "Hey, wait!" she exclaimed, racing afterwards.
Frantically she bobbed and weaved through the throng, just barely keeping sight of the back of the girl's head. Finally she bumped into a large man, sending the fruit in her basket scattering. With a gasp of horror her eye contact was lost and she debated dropping the basket entirely to run full tilt but then she heard the girl's voice cry out, "Mommy, Mommy, I found Daddy!"
Sagging in relief she accepted the help of the unfortunate soul who she ran into and as hastily as she could picked up the fruit that had rolled onto the ground. As she stood up to see off her temporary charge she was startled to meet a very familiar pair of golden eyes.
"Zuko?" she gasped.
"Daddy?" he repeated.