Author’s note: In which there is a lot of shipping, Katara gets some character development and the gaang relocates to the author’s favourite setting in the Avatar ‘verse.
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***The Southern Raiders***
A few weeks later everyone was sleepily preparing breakfast near the campfire in the courtyard. Aang was standing near Appa, feeding the bison a few melons when suddenly a bomb came hissing through the air. Before anyone else had time to react Lia jumped to her feet and kicked it back out of the courtyard, a fireball forming at her hand at the same time. The gang jumped to their feet as Aang airbended the doors of the courtyard closed. Safe for the moment they rushed to gather their things as more bombs rattled outside. The old structure started to protest. A part of the ceiling was beginning to crumble. Katara was kneeling under it next to a backpack, hurriedly stuffing it with supplies, unaware of the danger.
“Watch out!” Zuko called as he ran. Before the rock had a chance to crush them he pushed her out of the way.
“What are you doing?” Katara asked alarmed.
“Keeping rocks from crushing you,” came the answer as the prince tightened his hold around her waist. Katara gave him a small smile and raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I’m not crushed,” she said teasingly. “You can get off me now.” Zuko chuckled and helped her to her feet.
“I’ll take that as a thank you,” he said.
Haru and Toph hurriedly made a tunnel at the far end of the courtyard.
“Come on, we can get out through here!” Toph called to the others. Haru, Teo, Chit Sang and the Duke hurried with Lia and Suki following them. Aang was trying to pull Appa inside the tunnel when he noticed Zuko standing still in front of the rumble.
“What are you doing?” he asked alarmed.
“Go ahead, I’ll hold them off. I think this is a family visit.” The firebender explained calmly. Katara’s eyes widened.
“Zuko, no!” she made a move to follow him but Sokka put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“Come on, we gotta get out of here.” The waterbender bit her lip and turned to help the others pull Appa.
Zuko took one last look at them and then ran through the smoke to face the airships. Lia would take care of the gaang. The leading airship came into view, with a very familiar figure standing on it.
“What are you doing here?” Zuko called coldly. Azula gave him a half-crazed smile.
“You mean it’s not obvious yet? I’m about to celebrate becoming an only child!” Using the railing as leverage she sent fire through her feet. Zuko ran ahead, avoiding the deadly flames. The courtyard was slowly but steadily falling apart under his feet. He jumped towards the airship, sending a few fireballs towards Azula while at it. The princess jumped from the observation tower where she was perched before it was destroyed. She watched as her brother started falling, not having enough momentum to reach the airship safely.
Inside the still somewhat protected part of the courtyard Aang was facing a few difficulties.
“I can’t get him to go in there. Appa hates tunnels,” he grumbled to the others.
“Aang, there’s no way we can fly out of here,” Katara answered sternly.
“We’ll have to find a way,” Aang insisted. Sokka turned to the others.
“We need to split up. Take the tunnel and get to the stolen airship,” he told them. Katara’s eyes widened.
“No,” she exclaimed, “the Fire Nation can’t separate our family again.”
“It’ll be okay, it’s not forever.” Hakoda embraced his daughter and then his son before they rushed back to the Avatar’s side. Suki and Lia climbed to the saddle after them and Toph knelt to the ground, concentrating on its structure.
“I can clear that away and we can fly out through there,” she told Aang before jumping to the saddle herself.
“Umm, there’s an awful lot of fire in that general direction,” Suki said nervously, scooting closer to Sokka.
“We’ll get through,” Aang said resolutely. “Let’s go.”
Toph held the earth wall in front of them for the first few moments after they rushed out of the courtyard before letting the barrier fall. Azula turned to firebend at them but stopped when a chill ran down her spine. On the airship behind her stood Zuko, a resolute expression on his face. He took off running again and this time he managed to land on his sister’s airship. Azula did not hesitate to send her fire at him but Zuko blocked each attack and rushed forward with his own.
Behind them Appa was flying, trying to avoid the blasts from the airships. Katara was standing at the saddle, bending her water in the form of a shield, protecting the rest of the gang. Lia was flying next to Appa, blocking as many blasts as she could, while Aang struggled to keep the bison under control.
Back on the airship Zuko and Azula attacked simultaneously. The explosion sent them both off the airship and into the air as gravity kicked in. Appa rushed forward and Katara stood hurriedly, catching Zuko by the wrist and pulling him on the saddle, hugging him close. Lia landed next to them, quickly checking her brother for any burns. Zuko turned to watch Azula as she continued falling.
“She’s not going to make it,” he said in disbelief. His little sister, the one that had tormented him for so long, was going to fall to her death. Azula seemed to have other plans. Ripping the hairpiece that held her bun she propelled herself to the wall of the cliff and managed to stop her fall. “Of course she did,” Zuko sighed as they flew away.
They landed on a small deserted island near the mainland of the Fire Nation. The entire gang was gathered around the fire, sharing dinner.
“Wow, camping. It really seems like old times again, doesn’t it?” Aang laughed. Zuko rolled his eyes.
“If you really want to feel like old times, I could, uhh… chase you around a while and try to capture you.” Everyone but Katara laughed at that. After the morning’s excitement had died down the waterbender had been distant, ignoring the others and remaining deep in her thoughts. Zuko gave her a questioning look which she missed as she was staring at the fire. Sokka raised his cup.
“To Zuko. Who knew after all those times he tried to snuff us out, today, he’d be our hero.” Everyone but Katara rose their cups cheerfully, toasting at the prince.
“I’m touched. I don’t deserve this,” Zuko said, blushing a little.
“Nonsense!” Lia said in a sisterly bossing way. Katara suddenly rose to her feet and stalked away from the fire.
“What’s with her?” Sokka asked confused.
“I wish I knew,” Zuko sighed and stood as well to follow the girl. Sokka watched him even more confused.
“What’s with him?” he asked no one in particular.
Zuko found Katara by the beach, watching the nearly full moon. She started when she felt him near her but instead of going to him she hugged herself and stared stubbornly ahead. Zuko stopped behind her, close enough for the waterbender to feel his warmth but not quite touching her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked her softly.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Katara said, without turning to look at him. Zuko sighed and turned to leave.
“When you want to, please come. I’ll be waiting for you,” he said, a little hurt, and began to walk away. Katara turned sharply, suddenly regretting pushing him away. Reaching out she took his hand.
“Wait,” she said softly. Zuko turned to look at her. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “It’s just that… today was the anniversary of the day I lost my mother.” At the first sign of tears she turned from him and he embraced her from behind.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “If there is anything I can do…” he trailed as she shook her head.
“Just hold me.”
Zuko did so until she fell asleep and then he placed her softly inside her tent, before marching up to Sokka’s. Before he had a chance to get in someone bumped to him.
“Opps, wrong tent,” Suki said blushing.
“Sorry. Do you need to talk to Sokka too?” Zuko asked her tiredly. It had been a long day and it would only get longer.
“Nope.” Suki turned even redder. “Not me.” Rolling his eyes Zuko moved inside. And his jaw promptly hit the floor.
Sokka had lighted candles and was lying on his sleeping mat. Hearing someone entering he turned, a rose in his mouth.
“Well, hellooo…” he trailed off noticing who it was that entered the tent. He swallowed the flower and choked on it. Zuko hit him in the back wordlessly. “Uh, Zuko. Yes, why would I be expecting any one different?” he pulled himself together and sat opposite of his friend. “So what’s on your mind?”
“Your sister,” Zuko answered immediately, ignoring the way Sokka’s expression darkened. “She’s been a wreck all day and it has something to do with your mother. I know this may seem out of nowhere, but I want you to tell me what happened to her.” Sokka looked to the side.
“It’s not a day I like to remember,” he said grimly. “Many of the warriors have seen the black snow before and they knew what it meant. A Fire Nation raid. We were badly outnumbered. But somehow, we managed to drive them off. As quickly as they came, they just left. I was so relieved when it was over but, that’s because I didn’t know yet what have happened. I didn’t know we lost our mother.”
“Wait. Can you remember any details about the soldiers who raided your village? Like, what the lead ship looked like?”
“Yeah…” Sokka said slowly. “Sea Ravens. The main ship had flags with sea ravens on them.” Zuko nodded.
“The symbol of the Southern Raiders. Thanks, Sokka.”
“No problem! Thanks for stopping by.” Sokka shoved him out and sighed. “Thought he’d never leave.” He eagerly popped his head out. “Suki!’ he called quietly. Then he noticed Zuko still standing outside the tent. Sokka started whistling innocently as the older boy walked off shaking his head.
The next morning a surprise awaited Katara when she came out of her tent, not quite remembering how she had ended up there. Zuko was sitting on a rock in front of her, looking ready to fall asleep.
“You look terrible,” she told him concerned.
“I waited out here all night,” he explained rubbing his eyes.
“You should have come in,” Katara said lightly, even as blush dusted her cheeks, reaching to take her comb from her bag.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” Zuko explained. “I talked with Sokka. I know who killed your mother. I’m going to help you find him.” Katara spun around and stared at him in shock before her eyes narrowed in determination.
They hurriedly packed a few things in their bags and walked up to where Aang was feeding his bison.
“I need to borrow Appa,” Katara said curtly. Aang took a look at them and chuckled.
“Why? Is it your turn to take a little fieldtrip with Zuko?” he asked. Neither of the older teens seemed to appreciate the joke.
“Yes, it is,” the waterbender said. Aang looked surprised at the seriousness.
“Oh,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“We’re going to find the man who took my mother from me.” None of them noticed Sokka and Lia walking up to see what they were talking about.
“Sokka told me the story of what happened. I know who did it. And I know how to find him,” they heard Zuko explain. Sokka’s eyes widened in alarm.
“Umm… and what exactly do you think this would accomplish?” Aang asked. Katara scoffed.
“I knew you wouldn’t understand.” She turned away, only to come face to face with her brother.
“Wait, stop, I do understand. You’re feeling unbelievable pain and rage. How do you think I felt about the sandbenders when they stole Appa? How do you think I felt about the Fire Nation when I found out what happened to my people?” Aang said hurriedly. He didn’t like seeing the usually cheerful waterbender like that. Zuko walked up next to Katara.
“She needs this Aang,” he tried to explain to the monk. “This is about getting closure and justice.” Aang shook his head and frowned.
“I don’t think so. I think it’s about getting revenge.”
“Fine!” Katara exclaimed frustrated. “Maybe it is. Maybe that’s what I need.” She lowered her voice. “Maybe that’s what he deserves.”
“Katara, you sound like Jet,” Aang said disapprovingly. The waterbender turned to face him angrily.
“It’s not the same,” she said. “Jet attacked the innocent. This man, he’s a monster!” Sokka walked up hesitantly.
“Katara, she was my mother too. But I think Aang might be right,” he said.
“Then you didn’t love her the way I did,” his sister snapped, ignoring his hurt look.
“The monks used to say that revenge is like a two-headed ratviper,” Aang said grimly. “While you watch your enemy go down, you’re being poisoned yourself.” Lia rolled her eyes.
“Perhaps, in theory. But this is the real world and some things cannot be laid to rest so simply.”
“Now that I know he’s out there, now that I know we could find him, I feel like I have no choice,” Katara insisted.
“Katara, you do have a choice. Forgiveness,” Aang pleaded.
“That’s the same as doing nothing,” Zuko scoffed. Aang shook his head.
“No it’s not. It’s easy to do nothing. But it’s hard to forgive.”
“It’s not just hard, it’s impossible,” Katara said darkly before walking away. Zuko and Lia followed her immediately, the Spirit blatantly ignoring the reproachful look from Aang.
Needless to say that neither Katara nor Zuko changed their minds. Late that night they dressed in dark clothes and sneaked out to Appa. They had nearly finished loading their bags when Aang and Sokka appeared from behind a rock.
“So you were just going to take Appa anyway?” Aang asked annoyed.
“Yes,” the waterbender answered curtly. Aang sighed.
“It’s okay, because I forgive you.” He smiled hopefully. “That give you any ideas?”
“Don’t try to stop us,” Katara insisted.
“I wasn’t planning to,” the airbender said seriously. “This is a journey you need to take. You need to face this man.” Katara smiled lightly and turned to climb on Appa. “But when you do, please don’t choose revenge. Let your anger out and then let it go. Forgive him.” Zuko rolled his eyes as he climbed to the saddle.
“Okay, we’ll be sure to do that guru-goody-goody,” he muttered through his teeth. Katara offered another soft smile to the Avatar.
“Thanks for understanding Aang,” she said before they took off.
“You know,” Sokka spoke for the first time, “you’re pretty wise for a kid.”
“Thanks Sokka,” Aang said surprised.
“Usually it’s annoying but right now, I’m just impressed.”
“I appreciate that.” Aang narrowed his eyes, not sure if that was a compliment or not.
“So… can I borrow Momo for a week?” Sokka asked suddenly. Aang looked at him alarmed.
“Why do you need Momo?” he asked surprised, to receive only a shrug as an answer.
Zuko had taken over steering Appa with Katara sitting tensely next to him.
“We need to find the Fire Navy communication tower,” he explained to her. “All the navy’s movements are coordinated by messenger hawk. And every tower has to be up to date on where everyone is deployed.”
“So once we find the communication tower, we bust in and take the information we need,” Katara summarized. Zuko shook his head.
“Not exactly. We need to be stealthy and make sure no one spots us. Otherwise, they’ll warn the Southern Raiders. Long before we reach them.”
Warning or no warning Katara moved silently next to her boyfriend, melding with the shadows, drawing from her days as the Painted Lady. They sneaked inside the tower through the ventilation system and crawled to where the archives were. A guard was sitting on a table there, painting a map. Katara silently bended the ink, making its bottle topple over the guard’s hands. She sighed in annoyance and went to clean up, not noticing the two shadows that jumped inside the room.
“Okay, Southern Raiders…” Zuko muttered as he went through some files. He pulled out a map. “There.” He pointed at a small insignia. “On patrol near Whale Tail Island.”
“Whale Tail Island, here we come,” Katara said, rushing back to their way out.
Zuko looked at her in worry as she took the reins once again. She had not slept the previous night and dark rings were beginning to appear under her eyes.
“You should get some rest. We’ll be there in a few hours. You’ll need all your strength,” he told her softly as he took a seat next to her and gently pried the reigns from her hands.
“Now, don’t you worry about my strength. I have plenty,” the waterbender said grimly. “I’m not the helpless little girl I was when they came.” She closed her eyes for a moment, reliving the day of the raid. “I ran as fast as I could to get help. But, we were too late. When we got there, the man was gone. And so was she.” Her voice broke a little. Zuko embraced her tightly.
“Your mother was a brave woman,” he said quietly, biting back the tears that threatened to escape. Katara clutched her necklace.
Zuko might hate to see her upset but at least now she had agreed to catch up on her sleep. He had taken over steering when a fleet appeared on the horizon. He shook Katara and when she opened her eyes, he gave her the telescope and pointed out.
“There! See those Sea Raven flags? It’s the Southern Raiders,” he explained. Katara looked at him determined.
“Let’s do this.”
Repeating the trick she had used during the invasion, Katara made an air bubble around Appa’s head and they dived underwater. Her eyes narrowed in concentration, she made them come out of the water near the flagship, following an enormous wave that knocked everyone off deck. Zuko took the lead while they navigated through the corridor, looking for the captain’s cabin and knocking guards out with his swords. They finally arrived at their destination.
“This is it, Katara. Are you ready to face him?” he asked taking a step back. Katara stood in front of him wordlessly, pulled down her mask and blasted the door off its hinges with her water. The captain turned at their less-than-subtle entrance and immediately attacked them. Zuko pushed himself in front of Katara, blocking the fireball and sending one back to the captain.
“Who are you?” he asked alarmed. Zuko’s eyes narrowed in anger.
“You don’t remember her?” he spat, stealing a glance to the glowering Katara. “You will soon. Trust me.” He firebended again and his opponent blocked but as he tried to move to attack again, he found himself not being able to move.
Zuko’s head snapped towards Katara and his eyes widened in horror. He had noticed the full moon outside, but he didn’t think she would go as far as bloodbending to punish the man. Biting his lips he turned back at the captain. This was her fight.
“Think back. Think back to your last raid on the Southern Water Tribe,” he ordered him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please, I don’t know!” the man begged horrified. Zuko grew angry.
“Don’t lie! You look her in the eye and you tell me you don’t remember what you did.” Katara forced him to sit up, starring hatefully at his eyes. A flash of shock passed through her body and she let him go.
“It’s not him,” she said backing away. “He’s not the man.”
“What?! What do you mean he’s not? He’s a leader of the Southern Raiders! He has to be the guy!” Zuko asked incredulously. The waterbender turned away in disappointment but he wasn’t ready to give up yet. He grabbed the captain and pinned him to the wall. “If you’re not the man we’re looking for, who is?” he demanded.
“You must be looking for Yon Rha. He retired four years ago,” the terrified man barely had time to explain before he was knocked out.
A quick look through some of the papers Zuko had “borrowed” revealed where Yon Rha was living now. Zuko was giving worried glances to Katara during the entire journey. The closer they got to her mother’s murderer, the colder she became, the kindness and compassion that she usually exuded completely gone. As they sneaked around at the village they noticed an old man walking away, looking nervously around him.
“That was him. That was the monster,” Katara hissed as soon as she saw his eyes.
The two of them prepared a quick booby trap noticing absently that it began to rain. Yon Rha seemed to have sensed that someone was watching him because suddenly he firebended at a random direction.
“Nobody sneaks up on me without being burned,” he yelled with a hint of nervousness in his voice. As he turned to walk away he tripped right over the booby trap. A blast of fire made him freeze before he even had a chance to move.
“We weren’t behind the bush,” Zuko said calmly and took another step towards the cowering man. “And I wouldn’t try firebending again.”
“Whoever you are, take my money. Take whatever you want, I’ll cooperate,” Yon Rha said frightened. Katara walked up and pulled her mask down.
“Do you know who I am?” she demanded coldly.
“No, I’m not sure,” Yon Rha said hesitantly.
“Oh you better remember me like your life depends on it! Why don’t you take a closer look?” she yelled. Yon Rha’s eyes widened in realisation.
“Yes, yes. I remember you now. You’re the little Water Tribe girl.” His mind flashed back to that day. “The daughter of the waterbender I killed.” Katara’s eyes narrowed and she bit her lips in an effort to calm down.
“She lied to you,” she said brokenly. “She was protecting the last waterbender.”
“What? Who?” he asked surprised. Katara’s eyes snapped in fury.
“ME!” she yelled.
She raised her hands and the rain stood still. The raindrops formed a dome around them. Yon Rha looked around him horrified as Katara formed icicles and with a yell threw them at his direction. The old firebender cowered, closing his eyes and waiting for the end to come. When nothing happened he opened his eyes hesitantly. The icicles were still hovering near him but Katara had held back. Wordlessly she released her hold on the water.
“I did a bad thing. I know I did and you deserve revenge. So why don’t you take my mother? That would be fair,” Yon Rha blurted out, a tone of hopefulness in his voice that made both teens want to puke.
“I always wondered what kind of person could do such a thing. But now that I see you, I think I understand. There’s just nothing inside you. Nothing at all. You’re pathetic and sad and empty,” Katara said disgusted.
“Please spare me,” Yon Rha sobbed, still fearing for his life.
“But as much as I hate you…” her voice broke. “I just can’t do it.”
She turned to walk away and Yon Rha looked up with a slight smile of relief that was wiped away when he noticed the glare Zuko was giving him. The prince walked away too, leaving the man weeping in relief. On the ride back Zuko wordlessly changed directions. Katara didn’t look up from where she was sitting on the saddle until she felt them landing. Looking around disinterestedly at first, her eyes widened in shock.
“Where are we?” she asked surprised as she joined Zuko on the ground. They had arrived at an abandoned beach house.
“It’s my family’s summer house. It’s closer to the capital than our campsite and we’ll be more comfortable here,” he explained, wrapping an arm around her waist.
“But is it safe?” Katara insisted. Zuko simply nodded and looked at her worried.
“Will you be okay on your own?” he asked worried. “I need to go pick up the others and you’re too tired to come with me.”
“Are you afraid of me?” Katara asked hesitantly. Zuko shook his head, understanding what she was talking about.
“You were angry and hurt. It’s natural to lose control,” he said calmly. “But I won’t tell the others,” he added reassuringly. With a light kiss on the lips he walked back to Appa and turned to look at her. Katara managed a small smile before the bison took off.
By sunset the others had arrived. While Lia and Suki were busy trying to bring the house in some semblance of order –Sokka and Toph having conveniently disappeared–, Aang and Zuko went to find the waterbender. She was sitting at the small dock that was on the side of the house’s private beach.
“Katara!” Aang called from behind. “Are you okay?” he asked awkwardly.
“I’m doing fine.” The waterbender didn’t bother to turn.
“Zuko told me what you did. Or… what you didn’t do, I guess. I’m proud of you,” Aang continued with a smile. Katara turned to glare at him.
“I wanted to do it. I wanted to take out all my anger at him but, I couldn’t.” She turned to look at the ocean again. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m too weak to do it or if it’s because I’m strong enough not to.”
“You did the right thing,” Aang insisted. “Forgiveness is the first step you have to take to begin healing.” Katara stood up and looked at him angrily.
“I didn’t forgive him. I’ll never forgive him.” Her face softened as she walked up to Zuko. “But I am ready to move on.” She threw herself in his arms, kissing him lightly before she walked back to the house.
“You were right about what Katara needed. Violence wasn’t the answer,” Zuko said softly.
“It never is,” Aang answered simply. Zuko turned to look at him with a grim look.
“Then I have a question for you. What are you going to do when you face my father?”