Author’s note: In which the setting comes full circle, Combustion Man makes one final appearance, Lia reminds everyone why she is the personification of fire and the author had way too much fun with the reunion scene.
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***The Western Air Temple***
Losing a battle is bad. Losing a battle because of something as silly as poor time management is worse. Losing a battle because of bad time management and being forced to leave almost everyone important to you behind is even worse. All this happening to you and having to walk to your new hideout though certainly takes the cake. Katara suppressed a sigh as she looked around her at the group. Toph, Haru and Sokka were walking in front of her, while Aang, Teo and the Duke were behind her dragging their feet – or in Teo’s case wheels – tiredly.
“This is humiliating,” she whispered.
“Do you mean getting thoroughly spanked by the Fire Nation, or having to walk all the way to the Western Air Temple?” Sokka asked grumpily. His sister shrugged.
“Sorry guys, but Appa gets tired carrying all these people,” Aang said apologetically.
“I wonder how the rest of the troops are,” Teo said. Haru shrugged.
“They’re probably on their way to a prison. Seems like my dad just got out, now he’s going back in.”
“I miss Pipsqueak,” The Duke sniffed. The little guy might have been a Freedom Fighter but he was by far the youngest of the group.
“I miss not having blisters on my feet,” Sokka whined. Katara’s eyes narrowed and she was about to start yelling at him when Toph stopped dead.
“Hey, we’re here. I can feel it!” she exclaimed relieved. Anger forgotten, the waterbender raised an eyebrow.
“I think your feet need their eyes checked,” she said taking a look at the cliff they were at. It was a long way down. Aang shook his head.
“No,” he said, “she’s right, we are here.”
“Wow,” Toph whistled, taking in the enormous size of the temple, “it’s amazing!”
The Western Air Temple had been carved on the side of the cliff, keeping it almost completely concealed from the rest of the world. Gigantic statues and carvings decorated the place, making Toph wonder how much of it had been designed by earthbenders. They landed in a courtyard with an hour-glass shaped fountain. Teo, The Duke and Haru were looking around amazed. Sokka and Katara, not so much. This was the third air temple they visited, and although it was beautiful they were more used to places like this.
“It’s so different from the Northern Air Temple,” Teo said impressed. “I wonder if there are any secret rooms.” Haru followed the other boy up the stairs.
“Let’s go check it out,” he said eagerly. The Duke hurried after them enthusiastically. Aang made a move to go with them but Katara stopped him.
“You guys go…” she called at the boys. “I think we need to talk about some things.”
“Why can’t I go?” Aang complained.
“We need to decide what we’re gonna do now. And since you’re the Avatar, maybe you should be a part of this,” Katara explained seriously. The Avatar crossed his arms sulking.
“Fair enough. So, what’s the new plan?” he asked. The gang gathered, sitting or leaning against the columns and stone benches.
“Well, if you ask me, the new plan is the old plan. You just need to master all four elements, and confront the Fire Lord before the comet comes,” Sokka said with his inspirational smile. Aang rolled his eyes.
“Oh, yeah, that’s great. No problem, I’ll just do that.” He stood and started to walk away.
“Aang, no one said it was gonna be easy,” Katara called after him. He crossed his arms frustrated.
“Well, it’s not even gonna be possible. Where am I supposed to get a firebending teacher?” Everyone’s thoughts raced to Zuko. Katara had cried herself to sleep after they had left him behind. Lia might have stayed with him but the waterbender couldn’t help but worry that he had been caught. Pushing her thoughts forcefully aside she sighed.
“We could look for Jeong Jeong,” she offered.
“Yeah right,” Aang scoffed, “like we’ll ever run into Jeong Jeong again.”
“Who’s…” Toph asked confused but shrugged. “Oh, never mind. If it’s important, I’ll find out.” Aang jumped to his feet, a little satisfied with the dead-end they had drawn.
“Oh well, guess we can’t come up with anybody. Why don’t we just take a nice tour around the temple?” he said taking off with Momo.
“What’s with him?” Toph asked confused, staring where Aang had disappeared. Sokka leaned against the stone he had been sitting at.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this but I really wish Zuko was here. He could teach Aang. Or Lia would.” Katara looked away sadly.
Sokka jumped to his feet again.
“Well, no point in just sitting here,” he said stretching. “How about that tour Aang promised?” he asked the girls. Katara followed him wordlessly as he dragged a loudly protesting Toph to Appa. Aang had been gliding nearby, enjoying the air rifts that were unique to each Air Temple. Hearing Appa groan he turned and did a few flashy moves, winking at his audience.
“Aang, can we talk about you learning firebending now?” Katara called over the wind. The Avatar suppressed a groan. Then he smiled deviously.
“What? The wind is too loud in my ears!” he fake-yelled before grinning at them. “Check out this loop.”
“Aang,” Sokka tried next, “I think we should be making some plans about our future.” They landed back were they had started.
“Ok, we can do that while I show you the giant Pai Sho table,” the airbender said carelessly. “Oh, you’re gonna love the all-day echo chamber.”
And they probably would but before anyone could move a blast was shot on the fountain. They all whipped around to see Combustion Man standing on a ledge nearby. The assassin took a deep breath and sent another blast on their direction, as the teens ran for cover.
Not too far away, with the war balloon secured, Zuko and Lia raced towards the edge of the cliff in time to see the first blast. Zuko’s eyes swept the courtyard where Appa was, locking on Katara. He watched as the second blast forced them to take cover. Wordlessly he took hold of a nearby vine. Lia gave him a curious look.
“What are you…?” she was cut off when he jumped of the edge, throwing himself on Combustion Man and causing his third blast to miss its target. Zuko jumped to his feet and raced to the assassin, his fist engulfed in fire. Combustion Man grabbed him by the shirt and Zuko tried to blast him but missed as Combustion Man threw him to the ground.
Aang looked up at the sound of fire, so different than the soundless blasts of Combustion Man. A shadow loomed over him and blocked another blast. Lia pushed a stray of red hair from her face annoyed as she watched her brother hurry to his feet again.
“Rushing to a fight without thinking…” Aang heard her mutter. “He’s Hisao’s reincarnation all right…” Grasping Aang from the back of his neck she pushed him where the rest of the gang was standing. “And stay here!” she ordered him sternly before rushing out again.
For Zuko things weren’t exactly looking good. True, he had diverted the man’s attention from Katara and the others but now Combustion Man was focused on only blasting him. He hastily cast a shield of fire to block an incoming shot. The impact sent him over the edge and he had barely time to grab hold of a vine before he tumbled to his death. Two cries tore through the air.
With a move faster than any of them could notice Lia had launched herself to the air, her body engulfed in flames and a murderous look in her eyes. Combustion Man turned to her, the only one unfazed by her anger, and tried to blast her mid-air. The blast dissipated before it even had a chance to touch her. White flames appeared in her hands and she hurtled towards the assassin. He ducked, but part of her blast grazed his shoulder, melting part of the wall behind him. Ominous flames appeared around the man, slowly approaching until he was engulfed by them. Thick smoke covered the plateau where he and Lia were standing.
Back at the courtyard a horrified gang was straining to see what was going on. Katara was crying silently, convinced that Zuko had fallen off the cliff. Sokka had an arm wrapped comfortingly around his sister’s shoulders shocked both by Zuko’s sudden appearance and disappearance as well as Lia’s reaction. Toph had dropped into a crouch, both palms flat on the ground, determined to understand what was going on. The distant crackling of fire as well as the grim silence of her friends weren’t exactly reassuring. As for Aang, he was standing in front of the others protectively, not sure what to do now that Lia lost her temper like that. And the unspoken question rang to the back of everyone’s mind. Who was Hisao?
Suddenly the smoke cleared and Lia was seen again on the plateau, no sign of Combustion Man anywhere. Aang took off on his glider wordlessly and landed next to her. She was standing in front of a small puddle of lava and molten metal and the airbender’s stomach turned at the thought of what must have happened inside the smoke. A sound of shuffling broke Lia out of the trance she seemed to have fallen and her head turned sharply to where Zuko had been blasted from. A hand appeared and slowly but surely Zuko climbed back on the plateau, breathing hard. In an instant Lia was at his side, muttering words that Aang couldn’t hear but which Zuko could and his face took an expression of pained understanding as he answered in a low voice. Lia nodded once at his answer and helped him to his feet. The Fire prince turned with a smile to the Avatar.
“Sorry we were late,” he said calmly.
Aang flew back to get Appa since Zuko was too drained to bend anymore and too heavy for Lia or Aang to carry. The bison landed in awkward silence and Lia could feel the stare burning holes through her. Zuko next to her didn’t seem comfortable either.
“Hi guys,” he said nervously. Before he had a chance to add anything Katara rushed forward and threw her arms around him, tears still falling slowly from her eyes. He hugged her back immediately and looked down to tell her how much he had missed her, but before he had a chance to say anything, Katara’s lips were on his on a deep kiss. They only broke away for air, having completely forgotten about the others.
“Don’t you dare scare me like that again,” Katara breathed eventually. Zuko silently tightened the embrace, burying his face on the top of her head. They would have stood there, like this, for hours if it wasn’t for Toph.
“Sugar Queen, if you care for your brother’s wellbeing you might want to step away from Prince Sparky,” she said obviously enjoying the situation.
Sokka really looked like he was going to have a heart attack. He stared at them with wide eyes. There she was, his baby sister, still in the Fire prince’s arms looking at him nervously. His face steadily becoming red and his lips kept moving as he tried to form words. Toph punched him on the back, sending him to sprawl to the ground. That made him snap out of it. He leaped on his feet and pointed an accusatory finger at Zuko.
“You!” he yelled. “How dare you corrupt my innocent, little sister!” Everyone looked at him unimpressed and a little amused. Almost everyone that is. Lia was still shaken from nearly losing her brother. What had happened with Combustion Man had been too close to old, painful memories for comfort. She was still on edge, the adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her eyes narrowed.
“You have any comments on the matter?” she asked Sokka venomously. The boy looked a little scared and closed his mouth hastily.
Aang, eager to ease the tension, searched for something to say. With sudden inspiration and a smile he turned to Lia.
“We were all very worried for you.” She turned to look at him, the fury in her eyes slowly dying. “And now that you are here you can be my firebending master!” he said cheerily. To his surprise Lia shook her head.
“I am no master or even a firebender,” she said. “Zuko would be much more suitable as a teacher for you.”
“But you taught Zuko!” Sokka said confused.
“He’s a special case,” Lia insisted. “I would never make a good teacher. You need someone with self-control, but also someone who knows how hard it can be to master firebending.” Once again she turned to Zuko, her eyes lingering for a second on his scar. Aang’s eyes widened in realization and he also turned to address the stunned prince.
“I think you are supposed to be my firebending teacher. When I first tried to learn firebending, I burned Katara. And after that, I never wanted to firebend again. But I know you understand how easy it is to hurt the people you love.” He smiled encouragingly at the panicking boy. “I’d like you to teach me.” Katara squeezed Zuko’s hand and Lia nodded to him. With a deep breath he turned to the Avatar.
“I promise, I won’t let you down,” he said resolutely.
Later Zuko was unpacking in the room Katara had shown him. It was strategically placed between Lia’s and her own. He frowned as he thought of the Spirit. She had locked herself in her room and when he had passed by it earlier he could have sworn he’d heard crying. With a sigh he pulled out the next item from his bag; a picture of uncle Iroh. A small smile lighted his lips as he thought back to when he had first arrived to the temple, before he had met Lia.
Zuko tried his best to ignore the pain that still cursed through his face from the burnt and bandaged side of it as he stared resolutely at the impressive statues of the temple.
“If I have to, I will spend every day of the rest of my life hunting the Avatar. I know it’s my destiny to capture him.” Iroh placed a hand on his nephew’s shoulder and said grimly:
“You know, prince Zuko, destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”
-End of flashback-
Zuko smiled lightly at the memory of his uncle’s words. Now he knew what the old man had known all along. His destiny was tied with the Avatar’s, and bound him to stay by the younger boy’s side. A slight sound from the door made him look up. The smile widened when he saw Katara leaning against the doorway. He walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her waist pulling her to his chest. With a sigh the waterbender relaxed, the tension that had built since the invasion leaving her system. She let Zuko guide her to the bed and they lay there, holding each other. No words were exchanged as they slowly drifted to sleep. When they were both safely dreaming, Lia crept inside the room and pulled a blanket over them before brushing a few strands of hair from Zuko’s face. She was much calmer now, the all-consuming rage from earlier having died to the quiet simmer she was accustomed to.
“Goodnight brother,” she whispered before turning to the door and returning to her room. Zuko did not hear her as he turned to face Katara in his sleep, happy to be near her again.