Author’s note: In which there are tensions, plan-making and Avatar-yelling. Also, in which the author would like to apologise for last chapter’s cheesy ending. I was feeling nostalgic….
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Aang drifted back into consciousness slowly and painfully. His whole body hurt and he could feel bandages covering his arms and torso. Managing to sit on his bed he blinked a few times to clear his vision. A wave of pain came through his stomach.
“What happened?” Aang muttered confused. Looking around for the first time he realized that he was on a Fire Nation ship. His eyes widened. Azula captured me. Scrambling off his bed Aang made a beeline for the door. He grabbed his staff from its resting place not pausing to think why the Fire princess would leave it there. Limping through the corridors Aang tried to find his way on deck. Coming out of a corner he saw two soldiers standing a little far ahead. He gasped and quickly hid behind the corner again.
“You hear something?” one of the soldiers asked.
Aang decided to use whatever element of surprise he had. He jumped out of his hiding place and bended a strong air current to the soldiers. As they shielded themselves Aang ran between them, down the corridor.
“He’s awake!” the taller soldier exclaimed. They ran after him and Aang tried desperately to stay ahead. “Stop, wait!” the soldier called. He ignored them and seeing a small staircase in front of him he half-limped, half-airbended himself on deck. He ended up on lying on his stomach, the staff having been tossed on the other side of the deck. In front of him he saw Momo being petted by Zuko who was wearing a Fire Nation armour. More men were scattered here and there wearing armours. The prince looked up when he heard the sound of Aang bursting out. Momo squealed happily and rushed to the boy, licking his cheek.
“Momo?” Aang asked uncertainly. He heard Toph’s voice.
“Twinkle-Toes, that’s got to be you!” She and Katara rushed to his side along with a smiling Zuko, Lia and another soldier, this one wearing a helmet.
“Aang, you’re awake!” Katara said relieved and happier than anyone had heard her for quite some time. Aang rubbed his eyes.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I feel like I’m dreaming.” Toph lunged herself at him, hugging him furiously.
“You’re not dreaming. You’re finally awake,” Katara assured him. The soldier with the helmet gave Aang a quick hug.
“Aang, good to see you back with the living, buddy,” a familiar voice said. Aang looked incredulous.
“Sokka?” he asked. His eyes rolled to his head and the last thing he heard was Toph.
“Uh-oh!” she said worried. “Somebody catch him, he’s gonna…” Aang fell to the ground unconscious before anyone was quick enough to catch him. “…faint.”
It took only two minutes for Aang to wake up again. Zuko handed him a cloak which the Avatar put on gratefully. He turned to Katara who was sitting in front of him.
“Why are we on a Fire Nation ship? Why is everyone dressed this way? And why am I the only one out of it?” Katara placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You need to take it easy, okay? You got hurt pretty bad.” She gave him a small smile. “I like your hair.” Shocked Aang touched his head.
“I have hair? How long was I out?” he panicked. Katara chuckled.
“A few weeks.”
Hakoda approached them worried.
“Everything okay?” he asked. Katara rolled her eyes annoyed.
“We’re fine dad,” she snapped. Hakoda offered his hand to Aang.
“I’m Hakoda, Katara and Sokka’s father,” he introduced himself. Katara huffed.
“He knows who you are. I just called you ‘Dad’, didn’t I?” Aang shot her a surprised look as Hakoda’s small smile fell.
“I guess you’re right,” he said. Aang extended his arm on a warrior’s handshake.
“Nice to officially meet you, Chief Hakoda.”
“It’s an honour to meet you,” The man said back. Katara simply waved her hand.
“Great, great. Now you guys have finally met, so would you mind giving us a little privacy?”
“Of course,” her father sighed and walked off to Appa. Aang looked at the waterbender curiously.
“Are you mad at your dad or something?” he asked tentatively. She looked at him surprised.
“What? Not at all, why would you say that?” she asked confused. Aang shrugged and immediately doubled over as pain shot from his back.
“Maybe we should go upstairs,” Katara decided. “You need a healing session.”
With Lia’s help Katara carried Aang back to his room. There the Spirit leaned on the wall, looking them with a measuring gaze as Katara knelt behind her patient and placed the glowing water on his back.
“Tell me where your pain feels most intense,” she instructed him. Aang squeezed his eyes shut and grunted a little.
“A little higher,” he told her. He gasped as the ghost pain from the lightning hit him again. “Wow, you are definitely in the right area there,” he mumbled.
“I can feel a lot of energy twisted up around there. Let me just see if I can…”
Katara tentatively drew her water back, coaxing the trapped energy to follow it. Aang arched his back, letting out a grunt of pain. He took a few deep breaths, trying to recover from the shock and looked alarmed at the girls.
“I went down! I didn’t just get hurt, did I? It was worse than that. I was gone.” He turned to face Katara. “But you brought me back.” The girl shrugged.
“I just used the spirit water from the North Pole. I don’t know what I did, exactly.”
“You saved me,” he told her plainly. Katara eased him on his bed.
“You need to rest,” she told him before leaving the room with Lia.
Later that night Zuko heard a knock on his door. He was about to get ready for bed and the only one he could think of coming to visit him at this hour was Katara. His face fell a little when he saw Lia standing at his door but he let her in anyway. The past weeks she would scribble down furiously in any piece of parchment she could get her hands on, always making sure no one saw what was written on it. And now here she was with the expression of someone mentally preparing themselves for an argument.
“You are going to be mad at me,” she said decisively. Zuko looked at her confused.
“Why? Did you set someone on fire?” Lia gave him a small wink but quickly put her serious expression on.
“I took my sweet time telling you this but there was hardly any appropriate time earlier.” She took a deep breath. “I found your mother.”
Zuko looked at her thunderstruck.
“She’s alive?” he finally whispered, throwing himself to a chair next to her.
“Alive, well and happy now that she knows you are okay too,” Lia assured him.
“You spoke with her?” She nodded. Her words sank in at last. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME EARLIER?” Zuko shouted, hurt that she had indeed taken her “sweet time”. Lia glared at him a little but didn’t shout back.
“When?” she asked him. “While we were running from Azula, trying to convince Hakoda that yes you won’t murder everyone in their sleep or the last two weeks when you had decided to spend half your time in the engine room and the other half revising Sokka’s plan?” her voice started to rise too but she controlled herself. Zuko lowered his head.
“It’s just…” he said quietly now. “It almost feels like a dream that after all these years my wish came true.” Lia smiled gently.
“I promise you Zuko,” she said. “Your mother will see you in your coronation. But for now she is safer in anonymity. Once everything is over we’ll go together and bring her back to the palace.” The younger firebender gave her a small smile.
“That would be nice,” he said. That night he dreamt of his mother.
The next morning they were all eating breakfast on the deck. Sokka was sitting in the middle on the group of friends and was filling in Aang on what he had missed…when his mouth was not completely full of noodles.
“After what happened in Ba Sing Se, we had to get you to safety,” he explained. “We flew back to Chameleon Bay, where we found my father and the other Water Tribe men. The Earth King decided he wanted to travel the world in disguise, so he set off alone.”
“Not completely alone,” Toph jumped in. “That creepy bear-thing-pet of his followed him.”
“Soon, the bay was overrun with Fire Nation ships,” Sokka continued after an annoyed look which Toph didn’t see. “Rather than fight them all, we followed Zuko’s plan, captured a single ship and made it our disguise.” He unrolled a map and showed their route to the Avatar. “Since then, we’ve been traveling west. We crossed through the Serpent’s Pass a few days ago. We’ve seen a few Fire Nation ships, but none have bothered us.”
“So, what now?” Aang asked confused.
“We’ve been working on a modified version of the invasion plan,” Hakoda explained. Katara shot him an annoyed look.
“It’s Sokka’s invasion plan,” she corrected him.
“Yes, Sokka’s plan,” Hakoda repeated uneasily. He turned back to Aang. “We won’t be able to mount a massive invasion without the Earth King’s armies, but the solar eclipse will still leave the Fire Nation vulnerable.”
“So we’re planning a smaller invasion,” Sokka continued. “Just a ragtag team of our friends and allies from around the Earth Kingdom. We already ran into Pipsqueak and The Duke.” He pointed at said people.
“Good to see you again, Aang,” Pipsqueak said.
“And the best part is, the eclipse isn’t even our biggest advantage!” He leaned towards Aang and whispered as if fearing someone might overhear them. “We have a secret. You!”
“Me? “ Aang looked at him confused. The whole world knew he was back.
“Yep, the whole world thinks you’re dead!” Sokka stood up enthusiastically. “Isn’t that great?” Aang looked at him shocked.
“The world thinks I’m dead? How is that good news? That’s terrible!” he finally managed to say.
“No, it’s great,” Sokka insisted. “It means the Fire Nation won’t be hunting us anymore. And even better, they won’t expect you on the Day of Black Sun.” Aang shook his head.
“No, no, no, no, no. You have no idea. This is so messed up!” He clutched his head frustrated.
From somewhere nearby a horn was heard. They all looked up alarmed to see another ship approaching them. Zuko squinted his eyes.
“They’re signalling us to stop,” he informed Hakoda. Aang took out his glider.
“I’ll handle this. The Avatar is back!” However, even the simple movement it took to open his glider made him double in pain. He ignored it and took position to take off.
“You’re going to give our cover away,” Lia pointed out calmly. “They think we are Fire Nation.” Aang lowered his head resigned and closed his glider.
“Everyone just stay calm,” Hakoda ordered putting on his helmet. “Bato and I will take care of this.”
Pipsqueak and The Duke hurriedly covered Appa with a piece of tarp, making him look like a bulky mass of cargo. Momo quickly hid next to his friend. The kids hid on the staircase that led below deck with the exception of Zuko and Lia who wore helmets and decided impromptu to act as “soldiers”.
“I hate not being able to do anything,” Aang muttered. Toph heard him and rolled her eyes.
“Hopefully, you won’t need to,” she snapped at him.
A bridge was put between the two ships and a Fire Nation officer accompanied by two soldiers crossed to their ship. Hakoda bowed to the man.
“Commander, why are you off course? All Western Fleet ships are supposed to be moving toward Ba Sing Se to support the occupation,” the officer demanded.
“Actually, we’re from the Eastern Fleet. We have orders to deliver some cargo,” Hakoda improvised quickly. The man seemed to believe him.
“Ah, Eastern Fleet. Well, nice of Admiral Chan to let us know he was sending one of his ships our way.”
“I am sure Admiral Chan meant no disrespect, sir,” Bato assured him hurriedly.
“I mean, how hard is it to write a quick note and send a hawk our way?” the officer insisted. By the looks of it this Admiral wasn’t the most helpfully person to work with.
“Next time, we’ll send two hawks to be sure you get the message,” Hakoda assured him.
He and Bato bowed to the officer and he bowed back. As he turned to leave a soldier whispered to him:
“Sir, Admiral Chan has been on leave for two months at Ember Island.”
“What? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything? Something’s not right. They should’ve known that. I think this is a captured ship,” he lowered his voice. “Just stay quiet until we’re safely across the ramp. Then we’ll sink this ship.” He didn’t count on Toph’s exhalent hearing though. She jumped from her hiding place.
“They know!” she shouted before metalbending the bridge and throwing the three Fire Nation men on the water.
Katara jumped out too and hurriedly gathered a small mountain of water between the two ships. Her father opened his mouth to warn her not to bend so much water or she might lose control but then she simply used it push the two ships apart with the ease someone swats away a fly. The ship began to accelerate as Zuko and Lia returned hurriedly on deck.
“The engine will go faster for a little more but we need to lose them fast or they’ll sink us,” Zuko shouted. Both he and Lia had dropped their helmets and were preparing for battle. The other ship prepared the catapults and started firing at them. It was only their steadily increasing speed that saved them from the first few shots.
“Now that seems oddly familiar,” Sokka called over his shoulder as he dragged Aang to a small room on deck where he would be safe. Zuko ignored him. On the back side of the ship Pipsqueak was placing boulders in front of Toph. She sent them back on the enemy ship, destroying one of their catapults and stopping mid-air one of the flaming boulders that came against them.
Aang saw a fireball landing centimetres from the ship and made a move to go out. Sokka grabbed him by the shoulder forcing him to stay inside. Frustrated the Avatar knocked his head on his glider. The Fire Nation ship fired a projectile, piercing the side of the ship. Katara shut the hole with ice and turned to Lia.
“We need some cover!” she called and the Spirit nodded. A cloud of mist and steam rose between the ships hiding each other from view. Another fireball appeared and Lia hurriedly called the flames to herself in an attempt to minimise the damage done.
Inside the small room Aang huffed.
“I can’t just stand by and do nothing!” he rushed outside.
“Aang! No!” Sokka ran after him. He grabbed the other boy’s staff. “You’re still hurt, and you have to stay secret. Just let us handle this.” Aang snatched it back.
“Fine!” he muttered before returning to the room. Sokka barely had time to send him a concerned look before another hit was launched. Zuko saw it and pushed Katara out of the way, managing to kick the fireball to the water. She gave him a small smile in thanks.
“How we doing?” Toph asked.
“Things couldn’t get much worse,” Sokka called back, leaning against the railing. Just then a giant serpent decided to appear behind him. Sokka gulped. “The Universe just loves proving me wrong, doesn’t it?” he said resigned. Toph sent a glare to his direction.
“You make it too easy!” Another fireball was launched. Lia smirked and redirected it to hit the Serpent. It screeched and dived underwater to appear moments later and proceed to attack the enemy ship.
“Thank you The Universe!” Sokka sighed.
Later that afternoon they docked near a small island to restock. Aang was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, bored out of his mind when his friends appeared at the door.
“Hey, Aang, we’re going into town to find some dinner,” Toph said cheerfully.
“Well, I am pretty hungry. Maybe dinner’s a good idea.” He was still down from not being able to take part at the battle earlier. Sokka took out a red headband.
“Here, tie this around your head. It’ll cover your arrow,” he explained. Aang glared at him.
“I’m not going out if I can’t wear my arrow proudly,” he snapped.
“Aang, be practical,” Sokka tried to make him understand.
“Why don’t you guys go ahead and we’ll catch up with you,” Lia said suddenly. With an uncertain glance from Katara they left.
“It’s because of Ba Sing Se, isn’t it?” she said as soon as everyone was out of earshot. “You don’t want people to think you failed.”
“You’re right, I don’t. But the problem is, I did fail,” Aang muttered. Lia raised an eyebrow.
“You’re alive. That alone disproves your point.”
“But I was in Ba Sing Se. I was there, but I lost. And now, the Earth Kingdom has fallen for good.” Lia tried again.
“We still have the invasion plan,” she reminded him, forcing herself to sound cheerful.
“And I hate the invasion plan, too!” Aang said angrily. “I don’t want Katara or any of my friends risking their lives to fix my mistakes.” He tried to take a few calming breaths. “I’ve always known that I would have to face the Fire Lord, but now, I know I need to do it alone.”
“Aang…” Lia began in a slightly reproving tone but he cut her.
“Lia, please. Just go, please.” She sighed defeated and made her way to the door.
“Is there anything you need?” she asked before leaving.
“I need to redeem myself. I need my honour back,” Aang said resolutely. He was sure he heard her say “Zuko all over again” before she moved away.
Katara had made sure to bring something nice from the town for Aang. Meatless of course but Zuko had assured her that this was one of the best dishes in the Fire Nation and she trusted his opinion.
“I brought you some food,” She called entering Aang’s room. Her eyes widened seeing it empty and the tray fell from her nerveless fingers. Not caring about it she ran back on deck immediately.
She ran immediately to where her father and Bato were standing. Seeing her crying Zuko made a movement to go to her but Lia placed a hand on his shoulder. Getting the message he stood back.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” Bato said awkwardly.
“What’s wrong Katara?” Hakoda asked worried. He hadn’t seen his daughter cried since his wife’s death.
“What?” he asked her confused.
“Aang. He just took his glider and disappeared. He has this ridiculous notion that he has to save the world alone. That it’s all his responsibility,” she explained frustrated.
“Maybe that’s his way of being brave,” her father told her calmly.
“It’s not brave. It’s selfish and stupid. We could be helping him. And I know the world needs him, but doesn’t he know how much that we need him too? How could he just leave us behind?” Hakoda looked at her in silence for a few moments.
“You’re talking about me too, aren’t you?” he finally said gravely.
“How could you leave us, dad?” Katara was finally crying and she felt like she couldn’t stop the tears. “I mean, I know we had Gran Gran, and she loved us, but…but we were just so lost without you.”
“I am so sorry, Katara,” Hakoda said sadly as the girl cried inside his embrace.
“I understand why you left,” Katara managed to say through her sobs. “I really do, and I know that you had to go, so why do I still feel this way? I was so sad and angry, and hurt.”
“I love you more than anything,” her father assured her. “You and your brother are my entire world. I thought about you every day I was gone, and every night when I went to sleep. I would lay awake missing you so much, it would ache.”
Plans were made immediately. They would go on Appa to find Aang and meet with the main force at the day of the invasion. While the others were hurriedly loading their stuff on the bison Lia was standing near the edge of the ship, glaring at the horizon. Following Zuko’s example everyone had wisely avoided her. Sokka was leaning over Appa’s saddle to take a bag of provisions from his father’s hands when she spoke.
“Screw the rules!” she shouted before doing a very complicated move of firebending. Everyone stopped to watch her as the majestic figure of Avatar Roku appeared through the flames. Some of the Water Tribesmen fell to the ground in awe. Lia didn’t seem to share their sentiments.
“Where in the Nations are you?” she yelled at Roku. Hakoda sucked a breath worried. That girl had been able to summon a past life of the Avatar and now she was yelling at him. They were all as good as doomed. Lia was continuing her ranting.
“I don’t care what the rules say! Find that current incarnation of yours and make sure he stays alive long enough so that I can kill him!” she paused for a breath. Before she had a chance to say anything more Roku spoke.
“I will see you at my last home.” He disappeared. Lia looked around at the shocked faces.
“What?” she asked.
“You just yelled at Avatar Roku,” Zuko pointed out. His Guardian shrugged.
“I’ve never got in big trouble for yelling,” she said. “Besides he was a firebender. He knows I have to let the steam out.”
“Pun intended I supposed,” Toph commented wryly. Lia ignored her.
“We’re heading to Crescent Moon Island,” she said climbing on the saddle.
Not very far Aang was struggling to keep control of his glider. As he managed to gain some altitude he saw a blockade in front of him. Taking a deep breath he closed his glider and dived to the ice cold water. He managed to avoid the blockade and resurfaced on the other side. Luckily for him a piece of drift wood was sailing next to him. Smiling Aang climbed on it and used his glider to windsurf through the tides. His luck lasted only so far and soon it began to rain. A wave threw him in the water and Aang had barely time to catch another piece of drift wood and avoid being drowned.
“I’m not gonna make it. I failed,” he whispered exhausted. A flash of lightning lighted the sky and Roku appeared in front of him.
“You haven’t failed, Aang,” he assured the boy.
“But everyone thinks I am dead again. They think I’ve abandoned them, and I’m losing this war. I’m letting the whole world down,” Aang insisted. Roku looked at him with guilt.
“If anyone is to blame for the state of the world, it is me. I should’ve seen this war coming, and prevented it. You inherited my problems and my mistakes. But I also believe you are destined to redeem me, and save the world.”
“I don’t know,” Aang said hesitantly.
“You already saved the world,” Yue’s voice was heard. Aang looked up to see the once princess of the Northern Water Tribe smiling down at him. “And you’ll save the world again. But you can’t give up,” she encouraged him. Aang nodded.
“You’re right. I won’t give up.”
He climbed again of the drift wood and started waterbending himself. Slowly an island appeared in front of him. By early sunrise he managed to drag himself on the shore where he collapsed exhausted. He woke up a few hours later when Momo hopped on his chest. As he sat up he was tackled by Katara.
“You’re okay!” the waterbender said relief. Soon everyone, even Zuko, joined the group hug.
“I have so much to do,” Aang said once they gave him some breathing space. Katara nodded.
“I know, but you’ll have our help.”
“You didn’t think you could get out of training just by coming to the Fire Nation, did you?” Toph asked raising an eyebrow. Neither she nor Aang had realised that they had been holding hands since the hug had broken. Still Aang wasn’t assured.
“What about the invasion?” he asked Sokka and Zuko.
“We’ll join up with my dad and the invasion force on the day of the eclipse,” the warrior assured him. Lia felt something poking her foot. Looking down she saw a piece of wood having been washed out.
“Is that your glider?” she asked shocked. Aang took it from her hands with a demure smile.
“That’s okay. If someone saw it, it would give away my identity. It’s better for now that no one knows I’m alive.” He turned his head towards the still smoking volcano. With a few airbending jumps he was on its crater. Aang looked at his glider for one last time before he tossed to the magma and turned his back to join his friends.