Author’s Note: In which Jet causes trouble, Lia has a vision, Zuko learns that it’s a bad idea to try and keep secrets from Katara and a vital member of Team Avatar returns.
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Next chapter: coming soon…
Another night came and Jet was once again hiding in the shadows near the teashop. He had been doing so ever since he had discovered where they had been working, but hadn’t yet managed to find any proof. In his frustration he had begun considering just challenging the old man, in order to force him to firebend. Narrowing his eyes he thought of his options.
“Jet! We need to talk,” he heard a muffled voice behind him. He turned alarmed.
“What?” he exclaimed, his hand immediately on his hook-swords. Realising it was his friends he relaxed. “Oh great, it’s you guys. Where have you been? I could use some help with surveillance here.” He turned his eyes back at the teashop. Why had nothing suspicious happened yet?
“We’ve been talking,” Smelarbee continued. “And we think you’re becoming obsessed with this. It’s not healthy!”
“Oh really…” Jet said slowly. “You both think this?”
“We came here to make a fresh start, but you want let this go, even though there’s no real proof…”
“Well maybe if you’d help me…” Jet started accusingly.
“Jet, you’ve got to stop this!” Smelarbee was now raising her voice.
“Maybe you forgot why we need to start over,” Jet continued obviously ignoring what she was telling him. “Maybe you forgot how the Fire Nation left us all homeless, how they wiped out all the people we loved?” the other two teens looked away, but still seemed to disagree with him. “If you don’t want to help me, I’ll get the evidence on my own.” He walked towards the door resolutely. He’d show them that he was right.
Iroh was going around the buzzing teashop, serving people with freshly brewed tea.
“This is the best tea in the city!” the customer he had just served – a soldier – said.
“The secret ingredient is love!” Iroh answered happily. Zuko and Lia shared an exasperated glance behind his back. Their employer did not seem to share their sentiment as he looked at his packed shop in satisfaction.
“I think you’re due for a raise,” he said to Iroh.
The door suddenly burst open. Jet appeared at it, glaring full force at Iroh and Zuko.
“I’m tired of waiting!” he said, sounding just a little unhinged mad. He pointed accusingly. “These two men are firebenders.” Zuko and Iroh shared a look. “I know they’re firebenders,” Jet continued, drawing his swords. “I saw the old man heating his tea!” The soldier Iroh had served last raised an eyebrow.
“He works in a teashop!” he said incredulously.
“He’s a firebender, I’m telling you!” Jet insisted.
“Drop your swords boy,” the soldier ordered frowning, as he and his friend stood. “Nice and easy.” Jet ignored him and approached Iroh threateningly.
“You’ll have to defend yourself. Then everyone will know. Go ahead! Show them what you can do,” he prodded. The soldier made a movement to draw his swords, but before he had a chance to do so, Zuko took them approaching Jet angrily. He had had enough of this guy for the rest of his life.
“You want a show?” he asked frostily. “I’ll give you a show!” He kicked a table towards Jet, hoping to throw him off balance, but, just like he suspected, his opponent was better than that. Jet charged towards Zuko only to find his every attack blocked and not even the slightest trace of firebending appearing. That opened a major hole on his theory and pissed him incredibly.
Lia made a movement to join the fight but doubled over, feeling the breath being knocked out of her. She collapsed to a nearby chair and closed her eyes trying to make the speedy images of her vision slow down. She saw a lit candle spin around her madly, dimly lit corridors, the mask of the Blue Spirit smiling at her from underwater, green crystals engulfing her, a lightning strike and finally the picture of a small village near the sea appearing. Her eyes snapped open, in time to see Zuko flying out of the broken door.
Zuko felt a little winded from the hit but managed to land on his feet and block the next attack.
“You must be getting tired of using those swords,” Jet taunted him. “Why don’t you go ahead and firebend at me?” Zuko didn’t answer, he just pushed him back.
“Please son, you’re confused!” Iroh called worried from the door. “You don’t know what you’re doing!” The two boys ignored him, slowly drawing the battle away from the teashop.
“Bet you wish he’d help you with a fireblast right now!” Jet grumbled. Zuko wordlessly dropped his one sword. Jet looked at him surprised. Had he managed to convince him firebend?
“You’re the one who needs help!” Zuko told him, moving his remaining sword uncomfortably close to Jet’s face. The Freedom Fighter jumped away.
“You see that?” he asked the people that had gathered. “The Fire Nation is trying to silence me! It’ll never happen!” He jumped again, charging at Zuko.
The fight continued. For Zuko it felt refreshing to use a sword again, even though he’d much prefer to use his firebending. He had more chance to knock his opponent out with his fire than with a blade. Suddenly the crowd parted, and two Dai Lee appeared.
“Drop your weapons!” they ordered. Zuko took a few steps away from Jet, still keeping a wary eye on him.
“Arrest them!” Jet tried again. “They’re firebenders!”
“This poor boy is confused,” Iroh said calmly. “We’re just simple refuges.”
“This young man racked my teashop and assaulted my employees,” the owner of the teashop added, looking very much like he would have liked to personally drag Jet to prison.
“It’s true sir,” the soldier backed him. “We saw the whole thing. This crazy kid attacked the finest tea maker in the city.”
“Oh, that’s very sweet…” Iroh said blushing.
“Come with us son,” the Dai Lee ordered calmly. Jet tried to fight them, but they handcuffed and dragged him away ignoring his protests.
As the crowd was thinning, Zuko looked around for Lia. He had been surprised that she hadn’t made any comments. Not seeing her anywhere, he entered the teashop again, followed by his uncle. There she was, sitting in a chair, her face buried on her knees.
“Are you okay Lia?” Iroh asked the girl worried. She raised her head a little and nodded.
“Just a little faint,” she managed to say. “I’ll be fine tomorrow.” She tried to stand up and swayed. Zuko wordlessly steadied her.
“You’re not a very good liar, you know it, right?” he said calmly.
“I think you should stay home until you feel better,” their employer decided. “The teashop will be closed anyway for a few days. It’s about time I did some renovations.”
The moment they arrived back home, Zuko led a protesting Lia – she had recovered that much – to her bed.
“But I’m telling you I’m fine! It was just a vision!” she insisted. Zuko didn’t change his mind.
“Even so, you need to rest. You look like you’d collapse if you move.” He hesitated for a moment and Lia rolled her eyes.
“Come on, ask me!” she told him, a hint of exasperation in her voice. Zuko looked at her guiltily.
“Okay, what did you see?” he asked. Lia opened her mouth to answer, but Iroh came in.
“What are you doing talking?” he asked them sternly. “You should be resting. Go to sleep,” he ordered them. Behind his back Lia mouthed, I’ll tell you tomorrow.
When Zuko woke up the next morning, he was surprised to see that the redhead was already up. She was at the kitchen, packing a small bag quietly. She looked up guiltily when she heard him entering the room.
“So you’d leave like this?” Zuko asked her tonelessly. Lia didn’t answer, just went back to her packing.
“I need to travel for a while.” she explained. “Get out of this town, it’s not good for me.” Zuko looked at her suspiciously.
“Where are you going?” he asked her carefully. Her expression saddened.
“I can’t tell you,” Lia said closing the bag and walking towards the door.
Zuko looked at her leaving. Something was not right. Lia never acted like this, so distant. He was still thinking of it when his uncle woke up. The old man looked around surprised.
“Where’s Lia?” he asked, a little worried. Zuko was looking out of the window at that time and jerked when he heard Iroh’s voice.
“She left,” he informed his uncle. “She said she had to travel for a while.”
“But why would she leave? She wasn’t in any condition to travel yesterday night.”
“She was looking much better today.” Zuko said in a cold voice, going back to staring outside the window. What had she meant? “I’m going for a walk,” he said going over to the door. Iroh opened his mouth to answer but the teenager had already left. The old General shook his head. There was an air of foreboding in the atmosphere.
Zuko’s feet carried him to the teashop, where the workers had already begun making repairs. It would be a few days until they return to work, but thankfully the damage wasn’t big. His eyes wondered absentmindedly to a lone figure in blue. Katara seemed to sense someone’s eyes on her because she turned to face him.
“What happened here?” she asked surprised. Zuko shrugged.
“Nothing major,” he said embracing her and hoping she’d drop the subject. He didn’t want to talk about it. It didn’t work. Katara took a step back and looked at him suspiciously.
“The teashop is closed for repairs, half the front wall was demolished and you’re telling me nothing major happened?” she asked a little hurt. “You know you can trust me.”
“It’s not a matter of trust!” Zuko assured her annoyed. First Lia, now Katara. What was going on today? “I just don’t want to talk about it.”
“And when will you want to?” the waterbender asked, her eyes flashing dangerously.
“I don’t know!” Zuko exclaimed. “Can’t I keep something to myself?” The moment he had said it, he regretted it. Katara’s expression closed off and she stepped away from him.
“When you want to talk with me, you know where I live,” she told him before turning and leaving. Zuko looked at her going away; feeling much like lightning struck him. What was he to do now?
A few days later, in the living room of a house in the Upper Ring, papers were scattered everywhere, covered with pictures. Sokka had been working on them the whole morning, trying to make something that resembled Appa. It was harder than it sounded. The front door opened and Katara and Aang stepped in.
“We found a printer to make our posters!” she said excited. Aang nodded approvingly at the – obviously professionally made – poster. Sokka looked up annoyed.
“Hey, I thought designing the “Lost Appa” posters was my job.” He held his latest creation up. “I’ve been working on my Appa the whole morning.” Katara tried to stifle her giggles, while Aang looked shocked.
“Sokka, the arrow is on Appa’s head!” he said.
“This is his head!” Sokka cried offended. His sister knelt next to him.
‘Why are there feet coming out of it?” she asked suppressing her giggles.
“Those are his horns!” Sokka bowed his head defeated. “I haven’t seen him in a while, okay?”
“It looks just like him to me!” Toph said cheerfully. Sokka turned towards her.
“Thanks, I really worked really…” he frowned, realisation hitting him. “Why do you feel the need to do that?” he asked her.
“Let’s just stick with the professional version,” Katara decided. Sokka ripped his latest “creation” angrily.
“Come on!” Aang said excited. “Let’s get busy!”
On the Lower Ring of the city, a small teashop was bustling with life, celebrating its re-opening. Iroh had just served a few fancy-dressed men. With barely a sip they stood up and approached him. The fancier-dressed one said:
“So you’re the genius behind this incredible brew! The whole city is buzzing about it.” He smiled. “I hope Pao pays you well.”
“Good tea is its own reward,” Iroh replied good-naturally.
“But, it doesn’t have to be the only reward,” the man continued. “How would you like to have your own teashop?” he asked.
“My own teashop?’ Iroh said thunderstruck. “This is a dream come true.” Pao heard his words and rushed between them.
“What’s going on here?” he asked hostilely. “Are you trying to pouch my tea-maker?”
“Sorry Pao, but that’s business to you, am I right?” the man said laughing a little.
“Mushi, if you stay I’ll make you assistant manager.” Pao said desperately. “Wait! Senior assistant manager.”
“I’ll provide you with a new apartment in the Upper Ring. The teashop is yours to do whatever you want. Complete creative freedom,” the other man proposed.
Zuko glanced at them before returning back to his job. So long it had to do with tea, he’d let his Uncle handle it. He had his own problems.
“I even get to name the shop?” Iroh asked.
“Of course!” the other man laughed. Pao tried one last time.
“Senior executive assistant manager?” he half-whined. Iroh wordlessly handed him the teapot. Seeing Zuko passing by he smiled.
“Did you hear nephew?” he asked. “This man wants to give us our own teashop in the Upper Ring!”
‘That’s right young man!” his uncle’s new employer said. “Your life is about to change for the better!”
“I’ll try to contain my joy,” Zuko said, sarcasm virtually raining from his words. He banged his tray on a free table, before exiting the teashop.
The Fire prince looked longingly at the sky. He hadn’t seen Katara for almost a week now, and had to admit it was entirely his fault. He acted like an idiot and all because he had been jealous of Jet. He knew the boy meant nothing to Katara, Agni, she had almost killed him back at the ferry. He couldn’t explain it but Zuko didn’t want her to know that Jet was around. Maybe it’s because I know it’d upset her, he mused. Smiling bitterly he turned his eyes towards the sky, hoping for a solution to all his problems. A paper landed in front of him. Curious Zuko picked it up. The picture of a sky bison caught his eyes immediately. So Aang hadn’t found Appa yet, he thought grimly. That wasn’t good for the little monk. But it could be for him.
Zuko quickly climbed at the roof of the teashop, looking around for the little airbender. He only saw more papers being carried by the breeze. What was the difference? If Katara didn’t want to talk to him, not even the Avatar would convince her otherwise. Sighing, the young man moved to put the flyer in his pocket. Then he paused and hesitantly scrutinized the paper. What would Lia tell him if she was there? He buried his face in his hands. Probably stop being an idiot and go make things up with the waterbender. Zuko shook his head. There was no way she’d talk to him, unless… Zuko stared on Appa’s picture thoughtfully. She’d talk to him, if he brought them the thing they were looking for.
Sokka and Katara were playing cards when Aang returned.
“I just finished dropping all the leaflets,” he announced. “Has anyone come with news about Appa?” he asked joining them at the table.
“It’s only been a day,” Katara answered, not bothering to raise her eyes. She had been a little moody lately. “Just be patient.” Aang plopped down disappointed, to jump on his feet again, hearing a knock on the door.
“Wow, you’re right!” he exclaimed. “Patience really pays off!” he ran to the door excited. His face fell immediately when he saw who was there. “Ju Dee?”
“Hello Aang and Katara and Sokka and Toph,” she greeted them with her usual bright smile.
“What happened to you?” Sokka asked. “Did the Dai Lee throw you in jail?”
“What? Jail? Of course not!” she said dismissively. “The Dai Lee are the protectors of our cultural heritage.”
“But you disappeared at the Earth King’s party,” Toph insisted.
“Oh, I simply took a small vacation on Lake Laogai, out in the country. It was quite refreshing.”
“But then they replaced you with some other woman, who also said her name was Ju Dee,” Katara added. Ju Dee looked at her surprised.
“I’m Ju Dee,” she said.
“Why are you here?” Aang asked. She took out one of the flyers.
“Dropping flyers and putting up posters isn’t permitted within the city.” She explained. “Not without proper clearance.”
“We can’t wait around to get permission for everything,” Sokka said frustrated.
“You are absolutely prohibited by the rules of the city to continue putting up posters,” Ju Dee said, her smile only brightening. Aang felt the blood rushing to his head.
“We don’t care about the rules and we’re not asking permission! We’re finding Appa on our own and you should stay out of our way!” he slammed the door on her face.
“That might come back to bite us in the blubber,” Sokka remarked, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t care,” Aang snapped. “From now on we do whatever it takes to find Appa.”
“Yeah! Let’s break some rules!” Toph exclaimed, before earthbending a wall to ruins to underline her point. No one bothered to answer her. Instead they took the posters they had printed earlier and went out to put them up. No one noticed to shadows dressed in dark green following them silently.
Zuko returned to their apartment, hoping to find it empty. Instead his uncle was there, packing their few belongings. Hearing the door open and then close Iroh said:
“So… I was thinking about names for my new teashop. How about, the Jasmine Dragon? It’s dramatic, poetic, has a nice ring to it.” Zuko handed him the flyer.
“Aang is still looking for Appa,” he said instead, turning to look out of the window. His uncle gazed first at the paper and then at the tense figure of the prince. For a moment he flashbacked to their days on the ship.
“We have a chance for a new life here. If you start stirring up trouble, we could lose all the good things that are happening for us,” he warned the teenager. Zuko felt his temper rising. Good things? Nothing good had happened to him in this city, aside from his dates with Katara. He spun around angrily.
“Good things that are happening for you. Have you ever thought that I want more from life than a nice apartment and a job serving tea?” Iroh shook his head.
“There is nothing wrong with a life of peace and prosperity.” His face grew stern. “I suggest you think about what it is that you want for your life, and why.”
“I want my destiny,” Zuko mumbled.
“What that means is up to you.” Iroh watched his nephew leaving for the roof wordlessly. “The Tea Weevil!” he suddenly exclaimed. He frowned. “No, that’s stupid.”
At the roof the Fire prince looked down the city. His uncle thought obviously that he was after the Avatar. Zuko smiled bitterly. There was nothing further from the truth. His thoughts turned to the mask, securely hidden inside his things. Spotting a figure dressed in dark green walking down the street he started working on his plan. Tonight, the Blue Spirit would be hunting once again.
Sokka carefully put up a poster on the wall. A little further away Katara and Aang were doing the same, while Toph was resting against the wall” observing” their work. The warrior looked at the stack of posters they still had to place.
“We’ll split up to cover more area,” he decided. Turning to the petite girl near him he said, “Toph, I guess you should just come with me.” Toph glared at his direction.
“Why? Because you think I can’t put up posters on my own?” she snapped. Snatching the brush from his hand she splashed the wall with glue and slammed a poster on it. The others just looked.
“It’s upside-down isn’t it?” Toph asked sounded resigned. “I’ll just go with Sokka.” She sighed.
They split up and Katara somehow found herself in the Lower Ring. Approaching a small stream she sighed, thinking of the times she had sat there with Zuko after they had been shooed away from the roof from Iroh. She closed her eyes stubbornly. She would not think of him before he decided to apologise for his lack of trust.
“Katara!” she heard a boy calling behind her. A boy she knew. Turning sharply she saw Jet smiling confidently at her.
“I think I can help you,” he told her approaching.
Before he had a chance to say anything else, Katara’s shock melted into rage. Raising her arms she bended the water behind her into two huge waves, sending them against the Freedom Fighter.
“Katara, I’ve changed!” Jet yelled alarmed as the water swept him into a nearby alley. Katara ran after him, a rather impressive amount of water in her hands. She froze it mid-air, turning it to icy daggers and sending them at him. Jet dodged them with his hook swords, only managing to fuel her frustration.
“I don’t want to fight you! I’m here to help,” he said dropping the swords to the ground. Katara approached him cautiously. Seeing his one hand moving slowly to his back she pinned him to the wall with the remaining ice.
Footsteps approached and she heard Sokka calling her.
“Katara, what is it?” he asked a little out of breath. Behind him appeared Toph and Aang.
“Jet’s back,” she informed them tonelessly, not bothering to turn and look at them. Sokka opened his mouth, probably to ask for an explanation but his sister cut in. “We can’t trust anything Jet says.”
“But we don’t even know why he’s here,” Sokka reasoned.
“I don’t care why he’s here!” Katara snapped. “Whatever the reason is, it can’t be good.”
“I’m here to help you find Appa.” Everyone turned to stare at him as he unrolled one of the leaflets Aang had dropped earlier. The airbender looked from the paper to Jet and then to Katara.
“Katara, we have to give him a chance.” Jet seeing his chance tried again.
“I swear I’ve changed. I was a troubled person, and I let my anger get out of control. But I don’t even have the gang now. I’ve put all that behind me.” His words reminded Katara a little too much of another dark-haired boy she knew. She closed her eyes frustrated for a moment before glaring at him again.
“You’re lying,” she said simply.
Now Toph was never a really patient person. She had learned when she was still young to hate dramatics, what with her parents fusing over her all the time. She was ready to cut Sugar Queen some slack, as she had obviously argued with her boyfriend lately, but this was ridiculous! Brushing past the older girl, the blind earthbender touched the wall next to Jet and concentrated.
“He’s not lying,” she announced.
“How can you tell?” she heard Sokka asking incredulously.
“I can feel his breathing and heart beat,” Toph explained. “When people lie, there is a physical reaction. He’s telling the truth.” She turned towards Katara expectantly, feeling Sokka and Aang doing the same.
“Katara, we don’t have any leads. If Jet says he can take us to Appa, we have to check it out,” Aang said pleadingly. Katara sighed defeated.
“Alright…” she said melting the ice on the way. Before Jet had a chance to move she turned rapidly towards him with a warning glare. “But we’re not letting you out of our sight!”
Surprisingly, near the alley they had been in, there was a large warehouse. Katara wondered how she hadn’t seen it before.
“This is the place I heard about,” Jet explained as they started looking around.
“There’s nothing here,” Aang sighed disappointed. Katara turned angrily towards Jet.
“If this is a trap…” she began with her hand already on her pouch.
“I told you, I work nearby! Two guys were talking about some giant furry creature they had. I figured it must be Appa,” Jet snapped, a little annoyed himself.
“He was here!” Toph suddenly exclaimed. Everyone rushed to her side to see her holding a clump of white fur. She silently handed to Aang.
“We missed him,” he whispered.
“They took that big thing yesterday,” an old man suddenly appeared behind them. Aang spun to look at him in shock. “Shipped him out to some island,” The janitor continued. “About time, I’ve been cleaning up fur and various, uh leavings all day.”
“What island?” Aang asked frantically. “Where’s Appa?”
“Foreman said some rich royal type on Whale Tail Island bought him up, guess for a zoo or such, though could be for the meat; would be good,” the old man answered on the same weary tone. Aang turned to the others anxiously.
“We’ve gotta get to Whale Tail Island.” He crouched next to Sokka, who had already spread a map on the ground. “Where’s Whale Tail island?” The warrior’s face fell.
“Far. Very far,” He announced pointing at the map. “Here it is. It’s near the South Pole almost all the way back home.”
“Aang, it’ll take us weeks just to get to the tip of the Earth Kingdom,” Katara reasoned. “And then we’ll need to find a boat to get to the island.” Aang stood up, his face set.
“I don’t care. We have a chance to find Appa. We have to try.”
“Must be nice to visit an island. I haven’t had a vacation for years,” the janitor suddenly commented, sweeping in the background. Katara looked at him annoyed.
“Don’t you have some more hair to clean up?” she snapped.
“Shuffle on, I get ya. No more need for “old sweepy,” the old man grumbled. The waterbender turned back to Aang.
“You’re right Aang,” she said placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Right now, our first concern has to be finding Appa. We can come back when we have him.” Everyone stood up.
“All right, let’s get moving,” Sokka said decisively.
“I’ll come with you,” Jet said firmly. Katara glared at him.
“We don’t need your help.” The boy looked at her hurt.
“Why won’t you trust me?” he asked her. Katara crossed her arms.
“Gee, I wonder!” she huffed. Toph raised an eyebrow.
“Was this guy your boyfriend or something?” she asked confused. Katara blushed a little.
“What? No!” she shook her head and headed towards the door.
“I can tell you’re lyyyyying,” Toph called from behind following her.
Out in the street Sokka had already began planning.
“We can take the train out to the wall, but then we’ll have to walk.” He didn’t seem enthusiastic about the prospect.
“Don’t worry!” Aang said cheerfully. “On the way back, we’ll be flying!”
“We’re finally leaving Ba Sing Se.” Toph threw her arms in the air in relief. “Worst city ever!”
Suddenly two more familiar figures appeared. Smelarbee’s eyes doubled in size seeing her old leader walking freely around.
“Jet!” she called rushing after the group with Longshot behind he. Katara heard the cry and turned surprised.
“I thought you said you didn’t have your gang anymore,” she accused Jet.
“I don’t,” he told her bewildered. As if to prove him wrong Smelarbee threw herself on him, relieved he was still in one piece.
“We were so worried,” she told him. “How did you get away from the Dai Li?”
“The Dai Li!” Katara said alarmed.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about!” Jet said close to panicking.
“He got arrested by the Dai Li a week ago,” Smelarbee explained. “We saw them drag him away.”
“Why would I be arrested?” Jet wondered. “I’ve been living peacefully in the city.” Toph knelt on the ground, her brow furrowed in concentration.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “They’re both telling the truth.”
“That’s impossible,” Katara said dismissively. Sokka looked thoughtful.
“No, it’s not. Toph can’t tell who’s lying because they both think they’re telling the truth. Jet’s been brainwashed,” he concluded.
“That’s crazy! It can’t be.” Jet looked at them closing in, in panic. “Stay away from me!” he half-ordered them.
Patrolling the streets at night must have been one of the most boring jobs in Ba Sing Se. For the lone Dai Li agent though, things were about to become very interesting. A dark figure with a Blue Spirit’s mask suddenly knocked him out of the way, running through an alley.
“Out of my way, skinny!” he ordered not bothering to look back. The agent ran right after him, to see a figure waiting motionlessly on the back of the alley. Knocking his stone gloves together, he managed to make the dummy fall to the ground. The Dai Li looked at it perplexed. Before he had a chance to move, a sword was resting dangerously close to his neck.
“If you don’t want to end up like him, you’ll do what I say,” the Blue Spirit hissed.
A few blocks away the gang had gathered in Jet’s apartment. Katara was staring at the boy thoughtfully.
“The Dai Li must have sent Jet to mislead us, and that janitor was part of their plot too.”
“I bet they have Appa here in the city. Maybe he’s in the same place they took Jet,” Aang said turning to Jet hopefully. “Where did they take you?” he asked. The Freedom Fighter looked at them cluelessly.
“Nowhere. I, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“We need to find a way to jog his real memories back.” Aang looked around for ideas.
“Maybe Katara could kiss him. That should bring something back.” Sokka smirked at his sister. It disappeared when he saw the death glare she was giving him.
“Maybe you should kiss him, Sokka,” She snapped.
“Hey, just an idea!” he said nervously
“A bad one.” She glared at him. Suddenly Sokka’s eyes brightened.
“Oh, wait. I got it!” He rushed to the mattress and picked a straw. Rushing back to Jet he pocked it on the other boy’s mouth, looking at him expectantly.
“I don’t think it’s working,” Jet remarked flatly, spiting the straw out.
“Try to think of something from your past that triggers your emotions,” Toph suggested.
“The Fire Nation!” Smelarbee suddenly exclaimed. “Remember what they did to your family?”
“Close your eyes,” Katara instructed. “Picture it.”
Jet complied, closing his eyes. Silence reigned into the room as the rest of the teens waited for something, anything, to happen. Suddenly he snapped his eyes open.
“No! It’s too painful,” he managed to choke out. Katara walked behind him, bending some water from her pouch.
“Maybe this will help.” The water began to glow as she placed it on his temples. Jet stared right ahead, his eyes unfocused, as if he was seeing something no one else could.
“They took me to a headquarters under the water, like a lake,” he said tentatively after a while.
“Wait!” Sokka exclaimed. Everyone turned to look at him. “Remember what Ju Dee said? She said she went on vacation to Lake Laogai.” Jet jumped on his feet.
“That’s it! Lake Laogai.”
They waited until morning before taking the train to the northern outskirts of town. The lake was beautiful, surrounded by mountains, a few small islands tracing its surface. Sokka looked around.
“So where’s this secret headquarters?” he asked to Jet’s general direction. The older boy scratched his head.
“Under the lake. I think,” He said unsure. Toph pointed to her right, her head still facing forward.
“There’s a tunnel right there near the shore.” She walked away whistling innocently. Reaching the end of the shore, she stomped her feet, creating a stone pathway with a hatch at the end of it. The teens peered inside it, before climbing in. Momo flew away, chattering nervously. That dark hole looked evil to the poor, little lemur.
Inside everything was lit with a dim, green light. The passage was spacey, created by smoothly-cut stones. Clearly the work of expert earthbenders. The group waited for a pair of Dai Li that were walking by to disappear into a nearby passage before sneaking in. Jet took the lead.
“It’s all starting to come back to me,” he said quietly, his memories falling back into place. They walked silently past a slightly open door. Sokka sneaked a look and felt his eyes widen. Inside there were at least a dozen of women, all dressed like Ju Dee, repeating the mantra a Dai Li was chanting.
“I’m Ju Dee. Welcome to Ba Sing Se,” he said and they repeated. “We are so lucky to have our walls to create order.”
“I think there might be a cell big enough to hold Appa up ahead,” Jet said, taking again the lead. He stopped in front of a door. “I think it’s through here. “
Appa raised his head as the door to his cell opened. He moaned uncertainly, wishing it wasn’t another Dai Li. Instead he saw a figure dressed in black, wearing the mask of the Blue Spirit.
“Expecting someone else?” Zuko whispered drawing his swords. Appa tried to back away, but the chains on his feet wouldn’t let him. Zuko approached carefully the bewildered animal. Raising slowly a hand he patted the bison’s nose, just like he had seen Aang do. To his surprise Appa relaxed. Lowering his guard a little Zuko whispered.
“I’ll help you if you help me.”
In another part of the headquarters a door opened. Jet and the others stepped into a massive cavern. Suddenly the door behind them thud shut. Looking around warily, they noticed the Dai Li hanging from the ceiling over them. Turning to face the door, they saw Long Feng.
“Now that’s something different.” Sokka remarked, still staring at the Dai Li on the ceiling.
“You have made yourselves enemies of the state,” Long Feng announced grimly. “Take them into custody,” He ordered his men.
The Dai Li dropped from the ceiling surrounding the teens. Two of them launched their stone fists but Toph turned them into dust before they could hit a target. Before the men had a chance to do anything she launched them across the room, much like she did with Sokka and Aang whenever she was annoyed with them. Behind her Jet was fighting another pair. Aang was using both his air and earthbending, giving his opponents a field day, while in another corner Sokka and Katara were fighting together. Suddenly two stone fists grabbed the two Water siblings. Toph sensed the movement and placed a wall between them and the agents. Before they had a chance to hit her, she made earth rise under her, creating a rather impressive pillar and forcing the agents surrounding her to do them same, becoming easy pray for Aang’s airbending.
Soon it was obvious that the Dai Li were going to lose. Long Feng turned wordlessly and left, shutting the passage behind him. Aang saw him.
“Long Feng is escaping!” he cried. Together with Jet they lunged after him. Aang blasted the door open and the two boys raced after the Head Dai Li. He led them to another huge room before disappearing. They looked wearily around them when they heard the door close behind them. They turned just in time to see Long Feng dropping from the ceiling.
“Alright Avatar, you’ve caused me enough problems. This is your last chance, if you want your bison back,” He said threateningly. Aang looked at him aghast.
“You do have Appa. Tell me where he is!”
“Agree to exit the city now, and I’ll waive all charges against you and allow you to leave with your lost pet,” Long Feng insisted.
“You’re in no position to bargain,” Jet said raising his swords.
“Am I not?”
“You’re definitely not!” Aang shouted, bringing his staff forward.
“Jet,” Long Feng said calmly. “The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai.” Jet’s eyes dimmed.
“I am honoured to except his invitation,” He said in an empty voice, before turning and attacking viciously Aang.
In Appa’s cell Zuko had knelt and was working on the chains on the bison’s feet, when he heard the door creak open. He sprung to his feet, swords ready for attack. Seeing who the person who opened the door was, he nearly dropped them in surprise.
“Uncle?” he whispered taken aback. The old man crossed his arms, looking at him with fake puzzlement.
“So, the Blue Spirit,” he began disapprovingly. “I wonder who could be behind that mask…” Zuko sighed before removing the mask.
“What are you doing here?” he asked his uncle. Iroh scowled.
“I was just about to ask you the same thing. What do you plan to do now that you have found the Avatar’s bison? Keep it locked in our new apartment? Should I go put on a pot of tea for him?” Zuko turned back to face Appa.
“First I have to get it out of here,” he said, his eyes searching for possible exits.
“AND THEN WHAT!” Iroh yelled. “You never think these things through! This is exactly what happened when you captured the Avatar at the North Pole! You had him, and then you had nowhere to go!”
“I would have figured something out!” Zuko shouted back. This wasn’t helping. His plan had been simple: free Appa and return him to Aang, hoping to get back in Katara’s good books.
“No! If his friends hadn’t found you, you would have frozen to death!” Iroh said, concern lacing his frustration. Zuko shut his eyes, memories of his two fights with Katara at the North Pole flashing through his mind. He had thought that was his destiny. He knew better now.
“I know my own destiny uncle.” Iroh didn’t seem to agree with him.
“Is it your own destiny? Or is it a destiny someone else has tried to force on you?”
“Stop it uncle. I have to do this.” Zuko tried to shut the voices out of his head.
I must do it.
There are other ways. Lia’s voice said inside his head.
Katara hates me.
No she doesn’t. She’s just hurt because YOU wouldn’t trust her.
“I’m begging you prince Zuko! It’s time for you to look inward, and begin asking yourself the big questions. Who are you? And what do you want?” Iroh said silencing the debate inside his nephew’s head. With a cry of frustration Zuko dropped the mask and his swords on the ground.
He still thinks I’m after the Avatar, he thought bitterly. And Katara accused him for lack of trust.
Aang was twisting and turning, trying to avoid Jet’s attacks without hurting him.
“Jet, it’s me Aang! You don’t have to do this,” he pleaded, hoping to help the Freedom Fighter snap out of his trance.
“I’m afraid he no longer has a choice,” Long Feng sneered. Jet stopped, trying to catch his breath. Then he charged again towards Aang yelling. The Avatar sent a blast of air against him, but Jet used his hook swords to grab onto the stones of the floor. Taking advantage of the break, Aang tried again.
“Jet, I’m your friend! Look inside your heart!” he pleaded.
“Do your duty Jet,” Long Feng ordered. Jet obeyed nearing the airbender.
“He can’t make you do this! You’re a Freedom Fighter.”
His words made Jet freeze in shock. Images of Smelarbee, the Duke, Pipsqueak, Katara, Longshot, Iroh and Zuko flashed through his mind. Being dragged away from the Dai Li, the brainwashing. Iroh, the Fire Nation soldiers that had attacked his town and Long Feng. His eyes cleared as Long Feng ordered once again.
“Do it! Do it now!” Enraged Jet whirled and attacked the head Dai Li. Before he had a chance to land a hit, Long Feng sent a huge rock against him, before earthbending himself to the exit.
“Foolish boy,” he said scornfully. “You’ve chosen your own demise.” Aang moved stunned to where Jet was lying injured.
“I’m sorry, Aang,” He said quietly.
“Don’t be,” Aang said back, sitting next to him.
Behind them, the door opened once again and the rest of the group appeared. They all rushed next to the fallen Freedom Fighter. Katara knelt next to him, drawing her water and starting to heal the crushed portion of Jet’s chest. Worried she turned to the others.
“This isn’t good,” She said gravely.
“You guys go find Appa. We’ll take care of Jet,” Smelarbee decided. Katara looked at her shocked.
“We’re not going to leave you,” Longshot shook his head.
“There’s no time. Just go. We’ll take care of him. He’s our leader,” He said gravely. The others looked at him shocked by the fact he spoke.
“Don’t worry Katara,” Jet smiled weakly. “I’ll be fine.” Katara closed her eyes to keep the tears from running. She never thought it would end up like this. As they headed away from the Freedom Fighters Toph whispered to Aang.
They hurried silently from cell to cell until they reached the right one. Stepping inside they only saw Appa’s former manacles lying broken on the floor.
“Appa’s gone. Long Feng beat us here,” Aang concluded disappointed.
“If we keep moving, maybe we can catch up to him,” Sokka said optimistically.
Toph took the lead and after blasting a few walls away, the gang ended up on one of Lake Laogai’s islands. Aang tuned his head in time to see nine Dai Lis following them.
“Do you think we can outrun them?” Sokka asked running at his side.
“I don’t think it’s gonna matter.” Aang said seeing six more Dai Lis and Long Feng ahead of them. The agents bended two walls, effectively trapping the teens inside. Momo appeared suddenly appeared and sat on Aang’s shoulder, chattering excitedly.
“What is it Momo?” the airbender asked. The lemur took off again and for a moment seemed to disappear on the midday sun. A few moments later he returned, followed closely by the familiar figure of Appa.
“Appa!” Aang called delighted.
The bison crashed into the first wall, bringing it down easily, as Aang and Toph did the same for the other one. (Toph earthbended as many Dai Li as possible into the
lake in the process.) Appa landed in front of Long Feng. Seeing his men running away, the earthbender fell into stance with a malicious look on his face.
“I can handle you by myself,” he said. He launched a kick but before he had a chance to strike, Appa caught his leg between his teeth. With one mighty move, he tossed Long Feng to the lake, before spitting the Dai Li’s shoe out.
Sokka, Aang, Katara and Momo threw themselves on the giant animal while Toph stroked his nose tenderly.
“Yeah!” Sokka yelled celebrating. “Appa!”
“I missed you, buddy,” Aang whispered, feeling like crying.
Back on the shore Zuko climbed tiredly out of the trap door Toph had created earlier. Turning, he helped his uncle out. The old man took a few breaths. All this running and climbing had taken its toll on him. Nevertheless, he gave his nephew a proud look.
“You did the right thing, nephew,” Zuko wordlessly took out the Blue Spirit mask, staring at it longingly.
Lia had handed him a small package. “If you’re going to make life hard for Commander Monkey-face you need a proper alter ego.” Zuko opened the box to reveal a Blue Spirit mask. He raised an eyebrow.
“A Water Tribe Spirit?” he had asked her dubiously.
“What? I know the guy! He’s great for secret missions. We’ve gone to a few together. And who would guess prince Zuko under it?”
“Good point,” the boy had murmured still scrutinizing the grinning mask.
The mask had turned out to be so much more for him. But perhaps it was time to let go. Iroh put a hand on his shoulder.
“Leave it behind,” he encouraged the teen. With a sigh, Zuko walked at the edge of the small path and threw the mask in the water. The last tie to his ship-bound years was gone.
At the same time, on the shores of the Earth Kingdom Lia was walking through the streets of a small village. She stopped at a house near the coastline and took a deep breath. It was time for her search to come to an end.