Tag Archives: Fire Nation

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Phoenix King

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Author’s note: In which the countdown to the comet begins, Aang pulls a disappearing act… again and everyone’s favourite bounty hunter is back.

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***The Phoenix King***

Fire roared loudly as Zuko and Aang practiced side by side under the strict watch of Lia. Since the play she had taken to overlooking the lessons of the two boys, snapping the occasional correction.

“More ferocious!” she yelled at Aang, when she realized he was holding back on his attacks. His shoulders slumped and he turned to her.

“I’m trying!” he groaned. Zuko noticed the Spirit’s eyes narrowing dangerously and stepped forward.

“Now let me hear you roar like a tiger-dillo!” he ordered the younger boy. Aang nodded and did the move, a half-hearted stream of fire coming out of his mouth.

“That sounded pathetic! I said roar!” Aang frowned at the words of his teacher and repeated the exercise, this time with more fire coming out. Zuko nodded in approval.

“Who wants a nice, cool glass of watermelon juice‌?” Katara’s voice was heard from the house as she came out with a tray.  Aang’s eyes widened in glee.

“Ooo, ooo, me, me, me!” he exclaimed, rushing towards her. He gasped as Zuko lifted him from the back of his robes.

“Hey, your lesson’s not over yet! Get back here,” he ordered.

“Come on, Zuko. Just take a break. What’s the big deal‌?” Suki called from where she was lounging on the steps of the courtyard. Sokka was leaning next to her, lazily sipping his drink.

“Fine,” Zuko huffed and let go of the airbender who raced towards the juices. With a sigh he followed his student and sat next to Katara. Lia did not bother following.

“I’m going to go train,” she said curtly as she walked off towards the beach.

“Maybe Lia’s right,” Sokka said thoughtfully. “Sitting around the house has made us pretty lazy. But I know just the thing to change that. Beach party!”
Everyone looked at him in surprise. Then Katara shrugged and shared a look with Zuko.

“I suppose it’s okay,” she said. They walked down to the house’s private beach. Lia could be seen at a distance practising some moves that made it look like she was dancing with a fiery partner. With one last concerned look in her direction the teens returned to their party. Katara and Sokka immediately rushed to the water, with Zuko hesitantly following his girlfriend after a while. Suki opted to lay on a towel and sunbath while Aang and Toph played with the sand. The airbender turned to his earthbending teacher.

“Check out my Appa sand sculpture,” he said eagerly. Things between them had been a little awkward since the play and Toph had taken to dealing it by acting as if nothing had happened – and fooling no one in the process –. Now she felt the vibrations carefully.

“Not bad, baldy. But I’ve been working on my sandbending.” She cracked her knuckles. “You’re gonna love this.” She stomped her feet, moving into an earthbending stance. A miniature of Ba Sing Se appeared in front of them. Aang knelt to it and looked in amazement.

“Whoa! Wow, you even made a little Earth King and Bosco.” A little further Sokka was frantically making something out of a wet sand dune.

“Try and top that, Sokka,” Toph dared the older boy. He gave them a smug look before jumping to the side to reveal his atrocious creation.

“Is that a blubbering, blob monster‌?” Aang asked confused. Sokka looked at him insulted.

“No! It’s Suki.” Aang and Toph looked at him in shock and then burst out laughing. Katara and Zuko, who had just come out of the water raised eyebrows.

“Suki, we’ll all understand if you break up with him over this,” Toph told the Kyoshi Warrior.

“I think it’s sweet,” Suki said awkwardly. Sokka rushed to her and gave her a swift kiss.

“But it doesn’t even look like…” Aang began but was cut off by the sudden sound of fire near them.

 

They turned to see Lia having created an enormous amount of white flames. Recognising them Zuko rushed, worried to see what they had to reveal.

“General Shinu, your report,” Fire Lord Ozai’s voice was heard. Everyone paled as the image of the Fire Nation throne room was formed. A middle-aged man stood.

“Thank you, sir. Ba Sing Se is still under our control. However, earthbender rebellions have prevented us from achieving total victory in the Earth Kingdom.”

“What is your recommendation‌?” Ozai said calmly. Katara wrapped her arms around Zuko who looked like he was ready to pass out at the sight of his father.

“Our army is spread too thin but once the eclipse is over and the invasion defeated, we should transfer more domestic forces into the Earth Kingdom.” Another general shook his head.

“The people of the Earth Kingdom are proud and strong. They can endure anything as long as they have hope.”

“I think you should take their precious hope and the rest of their land, and burn it all to the ground,” Azula said from her seat on Ozai’s right side. The Fire Lord smiled in approval.

“Yes… Yes, you’re right, Azula. Sozin’s Comet is almost upon us and on that day it will endow us with the strength and power of a hundred suns. No bender will stand a chance against us.” General Shinu sat back down.

“What are you suggesting, sir‌?”

“When the comet last came, my grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, used it to wipe out the Air Nomads. Now, I will use its power to end the Earth Kingdom. Permanently.” Ozai went on to explain his plan. “From our airships, we will rain fire over their lands. A fire that will destroy everything. And out of the ashes, a new world will be born. A world in which all the lands are Fire Nation and I am the supreme ruler of everything!” Lia stopped the conjuration in disgust and gave Aang a look that spoke volumes. He took a few steps back horrified.

“But…but… I’m not ready. The comet is three days away and I need more time to master firebending.”

“And frankly, your earthbending could still use some work too,” Toph added.

“Honestly, if Aang tries to fight the Fire Lord right now, he’s gonna lose. No offence,” Sokka told the other boy.

“What am I going to do?” Aang asked no one in particular.

“I know you’re scared,” Zuko told him gravely. “And I know that you’re not ready to save the world. But if you don’t defeat the Fire Lord before the comet comes, there won’t be a world to save anymore.”
Aang turned panicky to Lia.

“Why didn’t you tell us about his dad’s crazy plan sooner‌?” he yelled at Lia.

“I’m not getting updates from the Fire Lord before breakfast,” she snapped back at him. “Be thankful that we have what we have.”

“This is bad.” Aang clutched his head. “This is really, really bad.”

“Aang, you don’t have to do this alone,” Katara said in an attempt to calm him.

“Yeah!” Toph agreed eagerly. “If we all fight the Fire Lord together, we got a shot at taking him down.” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly.

“Alright! Team Avatar is back!” He started pointing at the various members of the group. “Air! Water! Earth! Fire!” he paused for a second and then grinned in inspiration. “Fan and Sword!”

“Fighting the Fire Lord is going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done together. But I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” Aang said, smiling confidently again. Katara pulled everyone to a hug, relieved that the tense moment ended. Lia stood back with a ghost of a smile until the waterbender looked up at her.

“Get over here, Lia. Being part of the group also means being part of group hugs,” she said and the Spirit hesitantly obliged.

 

After lunch Zuko took Aang to the courtyard where Lia trained with him. Aang gulped audibly at the sight of some melted and re-solidified stones. Katara followed them curiously from a distance.

“There’s one technique you need to know before facing my father. How to redirect lightning,” Zuko said seriously, frowning at Aang’s eager face. “If you let the energy in your own body flow, the lightning will follow it. You turn your opponent’s energy against them,” he continued explaining nonetheless, showing the Avatar the movements.

“That’s like waterbending!” Aang exclaimed after studying the movement. The firebender nodded.

“Exactly. My uncle invented this technique himself by studying waterbenders.” Aang started practicing the move, mirroring Zuko.

“So… Have you ever redirected lightning before‌?”

“Once. Against my father, during the invasion. You guys were already out of the room.”

“What did it feel like‌?” Aang asked curiously. Zuko dropped his arms.

“Exhilarating. But terrifying,” he said remembering the rush of energy. “You feel so powerful holding that much energy in your body. But you know that you make the wrong move, it’s over.” Aang laughed nervously.

“Well, not over over, right‌ I mean there’s always Katara and a little spirit water action… Am I right‌?” he turned to the waterbender. Katara raised an eyebrow.

“Actually I used it all up after Azula shot you,” she said dryly. Aang’s face fell again.

“You’ll have to take the Fire Lord’s life. Before he takes yours,” Zuko said grimly.

“Yeah… I’ll just do that,” Aang muttered, following the prince with his eyes as he joined Katara and they moved inside the house.
At sunset Sokka dragged everyone on some rock formations near the house.

“Gather round Team Avatar,” he said creating a scarecrow with a mean-looking, bearded watermelon as a head. “In order to take out the Fire Lord, or in this case, the Melon Lord, our timing has to be perfect.” He knelt to the ground and started sketching a diagram on the dirt. “First, Suki and I will draw his fire. Then, Katara and Zuko charge in with some liquidly hot offence and while the Melon Lord is distracted, Aang swoops in and BAM! He delivers the final blow.”

“Err… what about me‌?” Toph asked with a confused look.

“For now, you and Lia are the Melon Lord’s forces.”

“So we get to chuck flaming rocks at all of you‌?” the Spirit asked gleefully.

“Whatever makes the training feel more realistic,” Sokka answered. Toph and Lia shared a look.

“Sweetness!” they said. To Zuko that sounded more threatening than any yell from Azula ever had.
Toph even took it upon herself to make sound effects and evil laughs while Lia created a ring of fire around them. The two girls had gathered a few boulders around them as well and covered them with oil as an extra line of offence. For a moment there was silence and then Sokka signalled at his group to charge. Before he and Suki had time to go very far an army of Fire Nation soldier statues popped from the ground. They evaded them but then flaming boulders started raining down at them. Suki somersaulted over one and Sokka fell flat on his face in front of it. He jumped to his feet.

“Watch it, Toph!” he yelled at the earthbender.

“I am not Toph; I am Melon Lord! Muahahahahaha!” Toph yelled back, clearly having the time of her life. On the other side Lia was having her own fun, raining attacks down her student and his girlfriend, proud that they blocked all of them.

“Now Aang!” Sokka yelled suddenly, seeing the two Melon Lords sufficiently distracted. The airbender launched himself against his enemy, his staff on the ready. He landed in front of the scarecrow and froze. Slowly he lowered his stuff.

“What are you waiting for? ‌ Take him out!” Zuko called at him surprised. Aang shook his head.

“I can’t,” he muttered, taking a step back. The gang walked up to him.

“What’s wrong with you‌?” Sokka asked the younger boy angrily. “If this was the real deal, you’d be shot full of lightning right now.”

“I’m sorry, but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself,” Aang tried to explain. Sokka wordlessly took out his sword and cut the melon in half.

“There,” he said tonelessly. “That’s how it’s done.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror.
Dinner was silent and tense that night until Katara rushed outside with a big smile on her face and a scroll on her hands.

“I have a surprise for everyone!” she announced. Toph looked up.

“I knew it! You did have a secret thing with Haru!”

“What?” Sokka, Zuko and Katara asked at the same time.

“No!” Katara rushed to add at her boyfriend’s direction. “I was looking for cooking pots in the attic and I found this.” She unrolled the scroll to reveal the picture of a baby. “Look at baby Zuko! Isn’t he cute‌?” Lia snorted with laughter while Zuko frowned. “Oh lighten up, I was just teasing,” Katara said, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

“That’s not me. It’s my father,” he said dryly. The scroll rolled itself as it fell from Katara’s fingers.

“But he looked so sweet and innocent,” Suki said surprised.

“Well that sweet little kid grew up to be a monster. And the worst father in the history of fathers,” Zuko added the last part under his breath.

“But he is still a human being,” Aang said suddenly.

“You’re going to defend him‌?” Zuko asked incredulously.

“No, I agree with you. Fire Lord Ozai is a horrible person and the world will probably be better off without him. There’s gotta be another way.”

“Like what?” Lia asked dubiously.

“I don’t know,” Aang shrugged. “Maybe we can make some big pots of glue and then I can use gluebending to stick his arms and legs together so he can’t bend anymore.”

“Yeah. Then you can show him his baby pictures and all those happy memories will make him good again,” Zuko added sarcastically while everyone else tried to hide their laughter.

“Do you really think that would work‌?” Aang asked hopefully.

“No!” Zuko snapped.
“This goes against everything I learned from the monks. I can’t just go around wiping out people I don’t like…”

“Sure, you can. You’re the Avatar. If it’s in the name of keeping balance, I’m pretty sure the Universe will forgive you,” Sokka said cheekily. Lia nodded in agreement.

“This isn’t a joke, Sokka! None of you understands the position I’m in!” Aang burst out.

“Aang, we do understand. It’s just…” Katara tried to calm him down.

“Just what, Katara‌! What‌?” Aang interrupted angrily.

“We’re trying to help!” the waterbender raised her voice as well.
“Then when you figure out a way for me to beat the Fire Lord without taking his life, I’d love to hear it!” he stormed off.

“Aang, don’t walk away from this.” Katara stood up, ready to follow him when Zuko stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

“Let him go. He needs time to sort it out by himself,” he said calmly, pulling the angry girl to an embrace. They walked back to where the others were still sitting. Zuko could have sworn he heard Lia muttered something along the lines of “spoiled brat.”
The next morning they were loading Appa, having decided to move off of the island and make their way to the capital.

“Okay, that’s everything,” Sokka said, dusting his hands.

“No, it’s not,” Toph said from her seat on the steps. “Where’s Aang‌?” Everyone looked around, surprised to notice that the airbender was indeed absent. They rushed back to the house to look for him. Eventually they ended up at the balcony surprised to see the airbender’s staff but not him.

“He left his staff. That’s so strange,” Sokka said confused.

“Aang’s not in the house. Let’s check the beach,” Zuko offered before leading the way.

“Look! There’s his footprints.” Sokka pointed at the sandy trail. It finished at the edge of the water.
“So… He went for a midnight swim and never came back‌?” Suki asked.

“Maybe he was captured,” Katara speculated. Sokka shook his head.

“I don’t think so. There’s no sign of a struggle.”

“I bet he ran away again,” Toph said crossing her arms.

“Ah-uh. He left behind his glider and Appa,” Sokka said again. Toph shot him an exasperated look.

“Then what do you think happened to him oh sloozey one‌?”

“It’s pretty obvious. Aang mysteriously disappears before an important battle‌? He’s definitely on a Spirit World journey!”

“But if he was, wouldn’t his body still be here‌?” Zuko asked confused. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh yeah, forgot about that.”

“Then he’s gotta be somewhere on Ember Island. Let’s split up and look for him,” Katara said, making her way towards Zuko, only to be cut off by Toph.

“I’m going with Zuko!” he raised an eyebrow in Katara’s fuming direction. “What? We want to get work done here!”
An hour later everyone had returned to the house disappointed. Sokka jumped off Appa.

“Judging by the looks on your faces, I’m guessing you guys didn’t find Aang either.”

“No. It’s like he just… disappeared,” Zuko said, getting worried. Toph suddenly sat up.

“Hey, wait a minute; has anyone noticed that Momo’s missing too‌?” Sokka paled.

“Oh no!” he said hysterically. “I knew it was only a matter of time. Appa ate Momo!” he rushed to Appa, opened his mouth and leaned in. “Momo, I’m coming for ya, buddy!”

“Sokka, Appa didn’t eat Momo. He’s probably with Aang,” Katara said calmly. Sokka’s dramatics were the last thing they needed now.

“That’s just what Appa wants you to think.” Sokka snapped, still inside the bison’s mouth. Zuko rolled his eyes.

“Get out of the bison’s mouth, Sokka. We have a real problem here. Aang is nowhere to be found and the comet is only two days away.”

“What should we do Zuko‌?” Katara asked him, her eyes, along with Suki’s and Toph’s trained on him.

“I don’t know,” Zuko admitted standing up. He noticed the stares. “Why are you all looking at me‌?”

“Well, you are kind of the expert on tracking Aang,” Lia said from where she was leaning against Appa. Zuko sighed and moved towards Appa.

“Get on,” he ordered everyone, taking the reins. After a few minutes of flying, Sokka looked over his map confused.

“Zuko, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job but why are we heading towards the Earth Kingdom? ‌ There’s no way Aang’s there.” Zuko looked back from Appa’s head.

“Just trust me,” he said darkly.

 

They landed on a forest and Zuko took the lead again, walking towards a small building.

“And the reason you brought us to a seedy Earth Kingdom tavern is what now‌?” Katara asked wearily as they opened the door. Zuko’s eyes swept the room and pointed at a woman near the middle.

“June,” he said simply.

“Oh yeah, that weird bounty hunter with the giant mole,” Sokka said. Suki looked at him confused.

“Mole?‌ Her skin is flawless,” she said. Sokka shook his head.

“No, she has this giant mole creature she rides around on,” he explained, shuddering at the memory of the numb feeling.

“Her shirshu,” Zuko elaborated. “It’s the only animal that can track Aang’s scent anywhere in the world. It’s the one shot we have of finding him.”

 

Toph had been observing both the conversation and the fight that had been going on inside the tavern. She smirked.

“I don’t know who this June lady is but I like her.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Ember Island Players

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Author’s note: In which Bryke were teasing the fandom so the author is doing the same by actually putting some serious stuff in Season III’s funniest episode.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Ember Island Players***

If there was one person glad for the change of scenery, it was Lia. The warmer climate of Ember Island and the large house with a courtyard big enough for her to practice in would be enough to put her in a good mood. And then she discovered THE CLOSET. There was no other way of describing it. Apparently Azula, or some of her servants, sent there any clothes that the princess grew out of or bored of. Katara and Toph were fine with their outfits but Suki and Lia did not resist the temptation of playing dress up. Most of the house was in dire need for repairs but there had been enough rooms for everyone to get comfortable in, especially since certain people were sharing a room.

 

It only took them a few days to get settled. One morning Suki volunteered herself and a suspiciously non-reluctant Sokka to go to the market for supplies. Zuko was training with Aang in the courtyard with Katara and Toph overlooking them.

“Doesn’t it seem kinda weird that we’re hiding from the Fire Lord in his own house‌?” Katara asked absently, trying to keep herself from staring too openly at Zuko.

“I told you, my father hasn’t come here since our family was actually happy. And that was a long time ago. This is the last place anyone would think to look for us,” Zuko explained as he took a towel from her and sat next to the girls. Lia was just walking up to them from her own practice, her clothes singed a little. Toph raised an eyebrow, smelling the smoke emanating from the redhead.

“You seem a little burn out,” she told the Spirit. Before Lia had a chance to retort Sokka’s excited voice was heard.

“You guys are not going to believe this! There’s a play about us,” he said smugly.

“We were just in town and we found this poster,” Suki explained as her boyfriend unrolled a dramatic poster.

“What?” Katara exclaimed. “How is that possible?”

“Listen to this. ‘The Boy in the Iceberg’ is a new production from acclaimed playwright M. Night Shyamalan who scoured the globe gathering information on the Avatar from the icy South Pole to the heart of Ba Sing Se. His sources include singing nomads, pirates, prisoners of war and a surprisingly knowledgeable merchant of cabbage,” Sokka read.

“Brought to you by the critically acclaimed Ember Island Players,” Suki finished.
“My mother used to take us to see them. They butchered ‘Love Amongst the Dragons’ every year,” Zuko suddenly groaned. Katara looked at her brother doubtfully.

“Sokka, do you really think it’s a good idea for us to attend a play about ourselves‌?” she asked. He looked at her in disbelief.

“Come on, a day at the theatre? This is the kind of wacky time wasting nonsense I’ve been missing!”

 

Sokka decided to drag everyone to the theatre that very night for the opening of the play. Lia went ahead to buy tickets for everyone (with the money she borrowed from a noble for old time’s sake) while the rest of the gang snuck in. Zuko and Aang, the most recognisable were wearing a hood and a hat. Katara and Toph rushed to take seats in the front row with Zuko sitting next to the waterbender. Aang was left standing awkwardly. He had wanted to sit next to Katara.

“Hey, uh… I wanted to sit there,” he said meekly. Zuko lowered his hood and gave him an annoyed look.

“Just sit next to Toph, what’s the big deal‌?” he asked. Katara gave them a look and sighed. She had though Aang was past his crush on her by now. Sokka and Suki had taken the back seat and Lia was leaning against the wall near the railing of the box.

“I was just… I wanted to… Okay.” Aang threw himself between Zuko and Toph disappointed.

“Why are we sitting in the nose bleed section‌? My feet can’t see a thing from up here,” Toph complained.

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell your feet what’s happening,” Lia laughed. She had a bet going with the little earthbender about whether or not she would appear in the play. She didn’t think so.

 

The curtain was raised to reveal two actors playing Sokka and Katara. Lia took a double look in surprise. The overly made-up actress sighed dramatically.

“Sokka, my only brother. We constantly roam these icy South Pole seas and yet never do we find anything fulfilling.”

“All I want is a full feeling in my stomach, I’m starving!” The audience burst into laughter.

“This is pathetic. My jokes are way funnier than this!” the real Sokka exclaimed indignantly.

“I think he’s got you pegged,” Toph smiled at his general direction.

“Every day, the world awaits a beacon to guide us, yet none appears. Still, we cannot give up hope. For hope is all we have and we must never relinquish it. Even…even to our dying breath.” The actress Katara sniffed and pretended to sob over the side of the boat.

“Well, that’s just silly. I don’t sound like that,” Katara huffed annoyed to her laughing friends.

“Oh man, this writer’s a genius!” Toph insisted.

 

Aang had been softly laughing at Sokka’s and Katara’s unfortunate casting until the Avatar made his first appearance on stage.

“Wait,” he said in disbelief, “is that a woman playing me‌?” The rest of the gang burst out laughing at the pirouetting actress on stage. “I don’t do that. That’s not what I’m like! And… I’m not a woman!” Aang sputtered.

“Oh, they nailed you, Twinkle Toes.” Toph wrapped an arm around his shoulders to keep from falling to the ground laughing.
The next appearance was that of Zuko on his ship accompanied by a caricature of Iroh. Lia was nowhere in sight.

“I must capture the Avatar to regain my honour!” the actor Zuko declared. Iroh, who was holding a large plate with cake, answered carelessly.

“Well, while you do that, maybe I’ll capture another slice.”

“You sicken me.”

“They make me totally stiff and humourless,” Zuko complained.

“Actually, I think that actor’s pretty spot-on,” Katara said amused.

“How could you say that‌?” Zuko exclaimed. This was his girlfriend! She was supposed to be supportive.

“Let’s forget about the Avatar and get massages,” Iroh’s actor suggested.

“How could you say that?” actor Zuko said in outrage. Lia and Katara gave Zuko identical smug looks and he slumped to his seat in defeat.
The play passed through the Southern Air Temple and then to Kyoshi Island. Zuko turned to give Sokka an incredulous look, ready to ask him if he had really worn a dress. Sokka’s blush and Suki’s giggles were answers enough. King Bumi was uncannily in-character. Mercifully for both Katara and Zuko the same could not be said for the pirate scene. Both sighed in relief and then looked at each other and blushed.

“I think it was romantic,” Katara whispered to Zuko, guessing that he was too thinking of that night. The strangest thing happened when a caricature of the Blue Spirit appeared to free the Avatar from…Zuko? The two boys shared an incredulous look, their previous tension forgotten. The actress that played Aang swooned at the sight of the Blue Spirit.

“My hero!” she sighed. Lia gave the two boys a raised eyebrow as she stifled her laugh.

 

The next part of the journey involved Jet. Katara buried her face in Zuko’s shirt.

“Whatever they say,” she mumbled, “it’s not true.” Zuko had to admit that he sincerely wished she was right. Katara looked up again when the scene had changed to the North Pole. ‘Sokka’ was standing there, holding hands with an overly made-up Yue.

“Don’t go, Yue. You’re the only woman who’s ever taken my mind off of food.” They kissed audibly and Lia’s face turned a little green. ‘Sokka’s’ expression turned from melodramatic to disgusted. “Wait, did you have pickled fish for dinner‌?” he asked.

“Goodbye, Sokka,” the actress said as she was elevated away from the stage. “I have important Moon duties to take care of. And yes, I did have pickled fish.”

“You never told me you made out with the Moon Spirit,” Suki teased her boyfriend.

“Shh. I’m trying to watch,” Sokka sniffed, close to tears. His girlfriend huffed annoyed and turned to look at the stage again. ‘Aang’ was wearing an Ocean-Spirit bulky costume and jumping on toy-size Fire Nation ships.

“The Avatar is back to save the day! Yay!” she laughed before tripping over the costume and falling face-flat to the ground. The curtain was hastily lowered.

 

For the break they retreated at a balcony outside and plopped themselves down on the stairs.

“So far, this intermission is the best part of the play,” Zuko grumbled.

“Apparently, the playwright thinks I’m an idiot who tells bad jokes about meat all the time,” Sokka grumbled, biting on a strip of meat.

“Yeah, you tell bad jokes about plenty of other topics,” Suki laughed.

“I know!” Sokka explained, missing the insult.

“At least this Sokka actor kinda looks like you.” Aang sighed. “That woman playing the Avatar doesn’t resemble me at all.”

“I don’t know, you are more in touch with your feminine side than most guys,” Toph shrugged, decidedly ignoring the hovering Spirit that was standing near her expectantly.

“Relax Aang,” Katara said calmly. “They’re not accurate portrayals. It’s not like I’m a preachy crybaby who can’t resist giving overemotional speeches about hope all the time.” She noticed everyone looking at her. “What?” she asked self-consciously.

“Yeah,” Aang sat down. “That’s not you at all.”

“Listen, friends. It’s obvious that the playwright did his research. I know it must hurt but what you’re seeing up there on that stage is the truth,” Toph said cheerfully.

“And you avoided me long enough,” Lia told the youngest girl. “I won the bet, so pay up!” Toph shook her head.

“No can do,” she said. “There are still two more acts on the play.”

“What bet?” Sokka asked confused.

“We have a bet going about whether or not I’ll appear in the play,” Lia explained, smiling innocently at her brother.

 

Toph didn’t bother sitting down when they went back inside. Instead she leaned against the railing next to Lia, eager to hear her character.

“This is it! This must be where I come in.” she said excitedly as the actors looked for an earthbending teacher.

“I flew all over town but I couldn’t find a single earthbending master,” ‘Aang’ whined.

“Here it comes!” Toph leaned even further and Lia hurriedly grabbed the back of her shirt, fearing that the earthbender might fall.

“You can’t find an earthbending master in the sky, you have to look underground,” the actor playing Toph said, appearing from under a rock on the stage. Everyone in the gang felt their jaws hit the floor.

“Wait a minute,” Toph said as the actors continued their talk, “I sound like… a really buff guy.”

“Well Toph, what you hear up there is the truth. It hurts, doesn’t it‌?” Katara teased.

“Are you kidding me‌?” Toph said with a wide grin. “I wouldn’t have cast it any other way. At least it’s not a flying bald lady.” Aang and Katara glared at her.
Lia tensed a bit when they reached the scene at the abandoned town. If they were going to include her character it would be now.

“Azula! My sister. What are you doing here‌?” ‘Zuko’ exclaimed. Both Lia and the real Zuko snickered at the sight of Azula dressed in pink and heavily made-up.

“You caught me. Wait. What’s that‌?” she pointed at the audience. “I think it’s your honor.” Everyone else on stage turned.

“Where?” ‘Azula’ slipped through a door.

“She escaped. But how‌?” ‘Katara’ wondered. Lia relaxed

“I won,” she whispered smugly.
“I have to admit, Prince Zuko. I really find you attractive,” ‘Katara’ told a sulking ‘Zuko’. The real Katara turned red as everyone’s eyes – especially Sokka’s – moved back and forth from the stage to her and Zuko.

“You don’t have to make fun of me!” ‘Zuko’ snapped. ‘Katara’ shook her head and sat near him.

“But I mean it. I had eyes for you since the day you first captured me.” Aang frowned, thinking back at the incident with the pirates. Katara had never told them what had happened that night.

“Wait. I thought you were the Avatar’s girl.” ‘Zuko’ said surprised. ‘Katara’ laughed.

“The Avatar‌?” she said walking up to ‘Zuko’. “Why, he’s like a little brother to me. I certainly don’t think of him in a romantic way. Besides, how could he ever find out about this?” The two actors started to make out on stage. Sokka leaned over to his sister and boyfriend.

“Is that what happened in Ba Sing Se?” he whispered harshly. Suki pulled him back.

“It’s none of your business,” she reprimanded him. Aang suddenly stood and walked to the door.

“Oh, you’re getting up? ‌ Can you get me some fire flakes‌?” Sokka whispered to him before pulling Suki to an embrace. “Oh and fire gummies!” he called, turning suddenly. Suki scowled at him annoyed.

 

To everyone’s shock when the confrontation in Ba Sing Se came Zuko allowed his uncle to be captured.

“I hate you uncle!” he said. “You smell and I hate you for all time!” The real Zuko looked at the other side. He still regretted not going back for Iroh.

“You didn’t really say that,” Katara said, consoling him.

“I might as well have,” Zuko answered softly.

 

They didn’t bother to go back at the balcony during the next intermission. They just gathered at the corridor outside their box. Lia and Toph were fighting again about who was winning their bet.

“There’s still one act left!” Toph said with a slight tone of panic in her voice. It would ruin her reputation to lose a bet.

“It seems like every time there’s a big battle you guys barely make it out alive. I mean, you guys lose a lot,” Suki suddenly said. Sokka rolled his eyes.

“You’re one to talk, Suki. Didn’t Azula take you captive‌? That’s right, she did,” he said. Suki’s look was something between a glare and a pout.

“Are you trying to get on my bad side‌?” she asked.

“I’m just saying,” Sokka said nervously. Katara looked around from where she was sitting next to Zuko.

“Does anyone know where Aang is‌?” she asked a little worried. He had left right after the scene at the Crystal Catacombs. She hoped he wasn’t sulking about it.

“He left to get me fire gummies like, ten minutes ago. And I’m still waiting,” Sokka said, crossing his arms annoyed.
“I’m going to check outside,” Toph offered, surprising almost everyone.

 

She followed his vibrations to the balcony, feeling a little worried.

“You okay Twinkle-Toes?” she asked, not bothering to put up an act of being tough.

“No, I’m not,” Aang snapped and threw his hat to the ground. “I hate this play!”

“Geez Aang!” Toph raised an eyebrow. “You’re overreacting.”

“Overreacting? ‌ If I hadn’t blocked my chakra, I’d probably be in the Avatar State right now!” came the dramatic reply.
Back inside Sokka had a sudden inspiration.

“Suki, what are the chances you can get me backstage?‌ I got some jokes I want to give to the actor me.” His girlfriend gave him a frightening glare.

“I’m an elite warrior who’s trained for many years in the art of stealth.” The glare melted to a cheerful smile. “I think I can get you backstage,” she said. As they walked away Lia pushed herself off the wall she was leaning against.

“I’m going outside,” she told Zuko and Katara. “I’ll see you in a while.” They both nodded. As soon as she was out of earshot Katara turned to Zuko. He was still down from what had happened at the closing scene of the act.

“I know it must have been hard for you to see all this again,” she told him softly, lacing her fingers with his, “but I hope you know none of us would ever consider what happened down there the truth, no matter what Toph says.”

“You don’t get it,” Zuko told her as he pulled her to an embrace. Holding her close calmed him. “For me, it takes all the mistakes I’ve made in my life and shoves them back in my face. I should have been there for uncle Iroh like he always was for me.” Katara leaned back a little to look at his eyes.

“I know your uncle would be proud of you and besides you said that he has escaped. We’ll probably find him soon.” She stood and pulled Zuko up as well. “Let’s go back in.” She motioned at the box. Zuko raised an eyebrow.

“Why?” he asked. Katara pulled her face close to his and smiled coyly.

“I’m sure you don’t want my brother to find us kissing in the corridor.” Zuko smiled softly at that and followed her back to their seats. One reason he loved the waterbender was that she always knew what to do to make him feel better.

 

Lia had stepped out of the theater and was leaning against a wall there, her eyes sweeping the landscape. The nightmares had eased a little while they had been at the Western Air Temple but they were returning with a vengeance now. She still could not remember what was happening but she knew it was important. The Spirit had never been more thankful for the foresight to take a bedroom that was far from the others. The other night she had woken up because of how loud her sobs were. She knew that whatever she was dreaming was prophetic in a way and now, away from the others she conjured the white flames that allowed her to see the future. The battlefield that appeared before her was the most horrifying she had ever seen and she instantly recognized it. The flames were showing her her dream. She watched with bated breath herself fight and suddenly a body jumping in front of her, taking a blow she hadn’t noticed coming. The man fell to the ground and gave her a pained smile before his eyes closed. Lia saw herself screaming in anguish and releasing a terrible force before she stopped the conjuration and fell to her knees trembling in horror.

“Why?” she whispered. “Why did it have to be you?”

 

On the balcony things weren’t any more lighthearted.

“Toph,” Aang asked hesitantly, “Do you think Katara meant what she said in there?”

“Meant what?” Toph asked, understanding that Aang was talking about the play.

“When she said I was just like a brother to her and she didn’t have feelings for me.”

“An actor said that,” Toph corrected calmly.

“But it’s true, isn’t it‌?”

“Yes Aang,” Toph sighed. “And you knew that Sweetness has had feelings for Sparky for quite some time. I thought you were over her.”

“I love her!” Aang insisted angrily.

“Then you should have let her go!” Toph said just as angry. “I let you go!” Her eyes widened and one hand went to cup her mouth in shock before she rushed back inside. Aang’s eyes doubled in shock and realization. He banged his head at the railing annoyed.

“I’m such an idiot!” he yelled to himself.

 

When he finally went back in, the last part of the play had begun. Aang paused at the door for a moment. Zuko and Katara were still on their previous seats but leaning against each other in manner similar to that of Sokka and Suki. Toph was sitting next to Lia, her eyes trained in the direction of the scene with the Spirit next to her having wrapped an arm around the younger girl’s shoulders in a sisterly embrace. With a sigh Aang sat next to Sokka.

“Here’s what you missed,” Sokka told him in an excited voice. “We went to the Fire Nation and you got better and Katara was the Painted Lady and I got a sword and I think Combustion Man died. Ooo look, the Invasion’s about to start. Shh.” He scooted back to his girlfriend.

 

“I just want to let you know Aang, that I’ll always love you. Like a brother,” ‘Katara’ told ‘Aang’.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way!” ‘Aang’ answered chirpily. The real airbender pulled his hat closer to his eyes. It hurt to hear ‘himself’ say that but not as much as he thought it would.

“Hey Toph,” ‘Sokka’ said suddenly, “would you say you and Aang have a rocky relationship‌?” the audience laughed and Aang’s eyes snapped to his earthbending teacher. He noticed her stiffen and Lia’s arm subtly tighten around her. The play rushed through the failed invasion with the gang running away in a rather undignified manner.

“I guess that’s it.” Sokka stood up. “The play’s caught up to the present now.” Suki pulled him back down.

“Wait!” she said. “The play’s not over.”

“But it is over. Unless…this is the future,” he said in a spooky voice.

 

The future, as it was imagined by the playwright, involved two drawn out battles that ended with Zuko’s defeat by Azula and Aang’s by Ozai. Both boys paled at the sight and the thunderous applause that followed and the rest of their friends looked at them nervously.

“It is over, father. We’ve done it!” ‘Azula’ said triumphantly.

“Yes, we have done it! The dreams of my father and my father’s father have now been realized. The world is mine!” A large Fire Nation banner appeared behind ‘Ozai’, signaling the end of the play.

 

The gang hurried out of the theater and started walking towards the beach house in silence.

“That… wasn’t a good play,” Zuko finally broke the silence when the house appeared before them. Aang nodded from behind.

“I’ll say.”

“No kidding,” Katara said, squeezing her boyfriend’s hand.

“Horrible,” Suki added.

“You said it,” Toph nodded absentmindedly. Sokka shrugged.

“But the effects were decent,” he said, earning himself half-hearted glares from everyone else.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Southern Raiders

Standard

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.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***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.

“I know.”

 

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?”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Daddy’s Little Girl

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Author’s note: In which nothing much happens but the author needed a break from all the emotional and action-packed scenes.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Daddy’s Little Girl***

-Lia’s dream-

Fire and lightning were raining from the sky as two armies clashed. Lia could only watch from afar as lighting tore through the air towards her dream-self, when a man jumped in front of her, taking the hit. She fell on her knees next to him, heedless of the fighting that still raged around them.

“Not you too!” she sobbed as she turned him around so she could see his face…

-End of dream-

 

Lia’s eyes snapped open, tearing her from the dream she could not remember anymore. Raising a hand she absently noted that she was still crying. Burying her face into the pillow she closed her eyes and continued sobbing over the feeling of loss that she could not understand.

 

Taking Lia’s advice, Hakoda made sure to be the first to wake up. The previous night he had watched over his daughter and the prince, but they had just seemed friendly to him. There was hardly any indication of their affection, and Katara always made sure that everyone was asleep before sneaking to Zuko’s room, so Hakoda was still reluctant to believe his son. Nevertheless he made sure to be the first at the courtyard-turned-kitchen, hiding behind a pillar to wait for the children to wake up.

 

The sun had just risen when Zuko walked in. He quickly lighted the fire and started preparing breakfast. Once everything was going Katara walked in. Hakoda watched as she knelt next to the young man, kissing him lightly on the cheek. Suddenly Sokka’s words sounded much more reasonable. Zuko looked at her with a light smile.

“You prepared breakfast?” she whispered spying the pot that was sitting on the fire.

“I told you I’d help out,” he answered smiling. “You want me to wake everyone?” he asked. Katara nodded no.

“They’ll wake up soon enough.” The two teens ate breakfast, enjoying the silence.

 

Soon everyone was walking up to the courtyard. Hakoda was among the first to come by the fire. There was no point in hiding. Amazingly, Lia was the last to wake up. Usually she would be an early-riser, going around cheerfully from sunrise to sundown. Today though, she looked around hostilely as if daring anyone to talk to her. Zuko wondered if it had to do with the fact that she had sported Mai’s appearance for so long the previous day.

“What do you usually do here?” Suki asked curiously.

“Practice,” Katara said. “Toph, Zuko and I take turns with Aang. And every afternoon we spar.”

“Now that you’re here, I can get some actual practice too!” Sokka told his girlfriend excited. Suki smiled at the challenge.

“I’m taking Twinkle-Toes for today,” Toph announced.

“He needs to practice his firebending too,” Zuko reminded her.

“Not today,” Lia said suddenly. She was still glaring at the fire. “You’re having a lesson with me today.” Zuko looked at her worried. He hadn’t seen her moody like this before. It made him feel uneasy.

 

They walked up to one of the furthest courtyards of the Temple, where no one would be around to see them. Lia came to stand rigidly in front of her student, who was watching her nervously.

“I believe it’s time you tried lightning again,” she said simply. Zuko gaped at her.

“Are you sure?” he asked nervously. He could remember all too clearly what had happened the last time he had tried that technique. Lia nodded.

“You are much more mature than you were back then,” she explained. “I’m not saying you’ll master it from the first try, but at least we’ll know where you stand.” She motioned for him to turn and face the cliff. “Take your time,” she said softly. “There is no need to push yourself with this one.”

 

Zuko closed his eyes and concentrated. Feeling the energy flowing through him he slowly repeated the movement, without daring to open his eyes. A low rumble rewarded him. Zuko opened his eyes in disbelief to see a small smoking spot on the other side of the cliff.

“I did it?” he asked incredulously. Lia smiled and nodded.

“You did.” She watched as the boy sat down and wiped the sweat off his brow. “Take a break,” she told him. “Separating the energies can be strenuous the first few times.” Zuko didn’t need further encouragement. He plopped to the ground and turned to look at the Spirit who was still standing away.

“What is it with you today?” he asked her with a frown. “You’re never this moody.” Lia sighed.

“Nightmares,” she explained. “They’ve been more frequent lately and the worse thing is that I cannot remember what they are about. Only that they are bad enough to have me crying in my sleep.” She threw herself to the ground, next to Zuko and huffed. “It’s really annoying.” Then she turned to her brother with an apologetic smile. “Sorry I made you worry. I’m okay now.” Zuko gave her a suspicious look but let it slide, choosing instead to continue practicing his lightning.
Later that day, and after he had got lost a few times, Hakoda finally found the “arena” (which in reality was just a big, flat surface). He had expected to find everyone there, but he saw only Sokka, Zuko and Aang.

“Where are Katara and the other girls?” he asked surprised. Sokka just shrugged.

“Gone to get ready,” he said exasperated.

“We’re here,” Suki’s voice was heard. She and Toph were still in their previous clothes. Lia was wearing tight pants and a tank top on various shades of red and Katara was on her usual white training outfit. Hakoda frowned as he realized that the boys were also dressed lighter.

“Okay…”Lia began rubbing her hands together. Her mood had lightened significantly after witnessing Zuko’s growing familiarity with handling lightning.

“Wait!” Hakoda stopped her, looking sternly at his daughter. “You’re not going to practice like this?” Katara looked at him questioningly.

“Why not?” she asked confused. “I always do so.” Her father looked at her helplessly. How could he explain to her that he didn’t want her to go around like this on the chance Sokka was right? He couldn’t of course.

“It’s not proper,” he tried, with all the ease of a father just realizing his daughter had reached her teenage years.

“Nonsense!” Lia exclaimed. “It’s practical and that is what counts. So let’s just get over with it and started.” She sent an annoyed look at the Water Tribe chief. “It’s everybody against everybody.”

 

Everybody against everybody was an understatement. Within minutes everyone was ganging up on Aang, much to the airbender’s annoyance.

“It’s not fair!” he said dodging a boulder and a firewhip at the same time. “What are the odds of being attacked by both earth and firebenders at the same time?”

“Two words Aang,” Lia said as she pulled back to avoid a redirected waterwhip, “Dai Li.”

“She’s got a point there Twinkle-Toes,” Toph called, before surprising everyone and turning against the Spirit. Lia jumped out of the way unfazed and sent a series of blasts to the earthbender. Zuko and Katara were fighting a little further away; content to perfectly block each other’s moves as did Sokka and Suki. Everyone stopped when the sun began to come close to the horizon, taking a break before dinner.

 

The teens had all gone on their own business afterwards, leaving Hakoda once again wandering on his own. When they had been preparing for the invasion, he had been so happy to have his children near him; he hadn’t paid attention to how much they had changed. Now he felt as if reality had slapped him across the face. Even from a simple practice it was obvious that both his son and daughter, but their friends too, were much more experienced in combat than what he had witnessed during the invasion suggested. They did not need his protection anymore. Also, much to his displeasure, his children didn’t consider it necessary to listen to him. Hakoda was willing to understand them, after all they had grown up on their own, but his father’s frame of mind refused to believe that his baby daughter was old enough to have a boyfriend.

 

He was so absorbed by his musings that he didn’t realize he had reached a small garden, at the lowest parts of the Temple. He stopped dead on his tracks when he heard a giggle. He quickly hid behind a pillar, half-expecting to see the girls of the team sitting together, talking. He had recognized his daughter’s laugh. Instead he saw Katara laughing softly as she leaned her back on Zuko’s chest. The prince was whispering something in her ear that made her giggle again. Hakoda felt his stomach tighten as Katara turned to face the young man that was, quite obviously now, her boyfriend. They were standing far too close for his liking, a feeling that only strengthened as the two teens shared kiss after kiss.

 

When Katara had been born, Hakoda had decided to be reasonable, and when the time came for his daughter to fall in love, he wouldn’t react like all those over-protective fathers (his own father-in-law being foremost in his mind).  He would watch his daughter closely of course, so that he would be the first to understand it when this happened. Then why, he wondered as he left the garden unnoticed, had it taken him spying on her making out with Zuko to understand that his baby girl had grown up?

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Boiling Rock (Part II)

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Author’s note: In which there is an actual, decent plan for a change, planned reunions and veiled deaths threats.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Boiling Rock (Part II)***

The prisoners had been lined up at the courtyard by the time Sokka squeezed his way to the front lines of the guards, trying to steady his breath from having run the whole way. Suki and Zuko had left to sneak back to their cells. The warden was marching in front of the new-arrivals.

“Welcome to the Boiling Rock. I’m sure you’ve all heard the horrible rumours about our little island. Well I just want to tell you that they don’t have to be true. As long as you do everything I say.” He stopped in front of Hakoda who had been looking at the ground the whole time. “Look me in the eye when I’m talking to you.” The man looked at the side.

“No,” he said simply. The warden’s face turned red in anger.

“Oh, you’d rather look at my shoes‌? Then take a look!” he caught with his boot the chain connecting Hakoda’s shackles and forced him to the ground. “I know exactly who you are, Hakoda of the Water Tribe. So strong-willed. But don’t worry, we’ll get rid of that in time. Now look me in the eye.” Sokka felt as if Katara’s waterwhip had punched him in the gut as his father looked up slowly. “See‌? Isn’t that better? You will all do as I say or pay the price.” He turned to address the rest of the prisoners. “You will all…” his words where cut when Hakoda moved his hand, causing him to trip on the chain. Much to Sokka’s amusement the arrogant Fire Nation man fell flat on his face.

As the prisoners were led inside the building Sokka crept at the shadows, following his father and then waiting until all the guards left the corridor. Opening the door hastily, and once again forgetting to take off his helmet, he turned to Hakoda.

“Thank goodness you’re okay!” he said cheerfully. Hakoda leapt to his feet and thrust a fist into the “guard’s” face.

“If you take one step closer you’ll see just how okay I am,” he said threateningly. Sokka lifted his visor hastily. “Dad, it’s me!” Hakoda’s eyes widened.

“Sokka, my son!” He rushed forward to hug the boy. As they parted he smiled. “You know Sokka, you should be more careful with that guard outfit on. I almost punched you in the gut.”

“Yeah,” Sokka said sheepishly. “I ran into that problem earlier.” He turned hastily to check the corridor before slumping to the ground next to his father.

“So where’s Bato‌?” he asked. “Where’s everyone else from the invasion‌?”

“The others are being held at a prison near the Fire Nation palace. They singled me out as their leader and sent me here.” Hakoda gave his son a wry look. “But before I left I met some young women who said they knew you. The Yoshinama Fighters‌?”

“You mean the Kyoshi Warriors‌?” Sokka asked confused.

“That’s right,” the chief said.

“Their leader Suki is here and she’s gonna escape with us,” Sokka explained.

“Good, we’ll need all the help we can get.”

Sokka wondered whether now might be a good time to break some more news to his father. It wasn’t easy, but it would be better for him to know in advance, instead of walking in to his daughter kissing the Fire Nation prince…

“And you remember Zuko?” he asked hesitantly.

“Of course!” his father replied surprised. “I hope he caught up with you.” Sokka nodded.

“He did. And he’s here with me now. I wouldn’t have found you if it wasn’t for him.”

“That’s good,” Hakoda said, remembering the young man fighting.

“And dad…” Sokka tried again. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but he and Katara…” he took a deep breath, “they’re together.” Hakoda looked at his son blankly for a moment and then it sank in.

“WHAT?” he asked, refusing to believe Sokka.

“I know,” Sokka shrugged. “I had the same reaction.”

 

It took a few minutes for Hakoda to calm down and return to the matter at hand.

“So, do you have a plan‌?” he asked his son expectantly.

“We had one,” Sokka said regrettably, “but some of the other prisoners got involved and ruined it. I don’t know if there’s another way off this island.” Hakoda patted his son’s shoulder.

“Sokka, there’s no prison in the world that can hold two Water Tribe geniuses.” Sokka looked down dejectedly.

“Then we’d better find two,” he muttered. Hakoda burst out laughing.
Sokka’s next stop was at Zuko’s cell.

“Zuko, are you there‌?” he called silently.

“I’m here,” came the whispered reply.

“I just got done talking to my dad. We came up with an escape plan together,” Sokka explained.

“What are you doing here?” a voice came from the corridor. Sokka jumped to see two guards standing suspiciously behind him.
“I was just telling this dirty lowlife what I think of him!” he stammered hastily.

“Well, you’ll have to do that later, he’s coming with us,” the guard said impatiently. Sokka looked at them and back at the door.

“Why?” he asked confused.
“Because we have orders straight from the warden. That’s why,” the other guard said.

“Could I just get ten more seconds to rough him up a bit‌?” Sokka asked, with a little whine in his voice.

“Fine, ten seconds,” the guard agreed, rolling her eyes.
Sokka rushed inside and grabbed the mattress, hastily passing it to Zuko. As soon as the prince was holding it, giving Sokka a clueless look in the process, Sokka started punching.

“Take that! And this!” he yelled. Catching on Zuko made a few pained sounds. “We have a new plan but it’s gonna need a big distraction. Be in the yard in one hour,” he explained in a quieter voice. Hearing the door opening he grabbed his friend and put him on a chokehold.

“Alright, that’s enough,” the guard said.

 

The two guards dragged Zuko to a room a few levels higher wordlessly.

“What are you doing‌? Where are you taking me‌?” the boy asked confused. They couldn’t have known of his plotting with Sokka. Without answering his questions, the guards threw him inside the room.

“I didn’t do anything wrong!” he called after them annoyed.

“Come on Zuko,” a cold, emotionless voice was heard behind him. “We all know that’s a lie.” Zuko spun to meet the source of the voice, eyes zeroing to a tall, pale girl with an annoyed expression. His eyes widened. “Mai?” he asked incredulous. “How did you know I was here?” The girl rolled her eyes.

“Because I know you so well?” she asked sarcastically. At Zuko’s clueless look she reached at her dress and took out a familiar pendant. “Surprised to see me little brother?” she said, her voice changing to the livelier tones Lia used. She pulled out a paper and began reading in an annoyed voice. “Need meat. Gone fishing.” She looked up at the sheepish boy. “Seriously Zuko? Where’s the other idiot?”

“Sokka’s still posing as a guard,” Zuko said, knowing better than argue with her characterisations. “Would you rather have him come here alone?”

“Why are you two here anyway?” Lia asked crossing her arms.

“Suki and chief Hakoda are here,” her brother explained simply. A look of understanding flashed through his sister’s eyes.

 

Suki hadn’t been sitting idle in her cell. She had finished practicing her high kicks when the door opened to reveal a grinning Sokka.

“Sokka, what’s going on?” she asked startled.

“I don’t have much time,” he said checking the door for any guards. “If I’m seen with you the guards might think something’s up. I just talked to my dad.”

“That’s great!” Suki said smiling.

“Yeah and we’re escaping today. On the gondola.” Suki gave him a confused look.

“What?” she asked.

“My dad and I came up with a plan together. We’re gonna commandeer the gondola and we’re gonna take a hostage with us so they won’t cut the lines.” Suki shook her head.

“We’ll never make it onto the gondola. There’s too many guards.”
“My dad already thought of that. He said we’ll need a distraction. That’s why we’re gonna start a prison riot.”
“Okay. Let’s say by some miracle this all works and we make it on the gondola. The warden will still just cut the lines, even if we have a captive.” Sokka gave her a mischievous smile.

“Not if the warden is the captive,” he said triumphantly. A noise was heard at the end of the corridor. “I have to go. I’ll find you before we start the riot.”
Before he had a chance to sneak away the two guards from earlier caught up with him.

“Hey you!” one of them called. “The warden wants to see you!”

“Why?” Sokka asked innocently.

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“Maybe I could schedule another time with him‌? How’s tomorrow‌?” Sokka tried to walk away but two heavy sets of arms stopped him.

“He wants to see you, now,” the guard stressed, pushing him to the right direction.
The warden looked at them when they came out to the courtyard.

“Put him in the line-up,” he ordered coldly before turning to face everyone. “One of you is an imposter who thought he could fool me. But now that person is going to be in a lot of trouble. Who is it‌?” he asked as Chit Sang was brought forward. Sokka paled. Now he was truly doomed.

“That’s him, warden.” Chit Sang said, pointing at another guard. “He’s the imposter.”

“What!” the man said outraged. “I am not. He’s lying! He’s a liar!” No one paid him any attention, least of all Sokka who was busy calming his heart-rate down.
As soon as they were released he rushed to the control panel. To his relief only one person was there.

“Hey, I just got orders. Let the prisoners out into the yard,” he said officially.

“But we’re in the middle of lockdown,” The guard said suspiciously. Sokka shrugged.

“Oh, okay. I’ll just go tell the warden you said that. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear about you undermining his authority.” He turned nonchalantly to the frightened man. “What’s your name again?”
“Wait!” the man called. “Don’t tell the warden, I… I’m just a little confused.”
“Hey, I’m confused too.” Sokka walked back at the man, talking as persuasively as he could. “But the warden’s in a bad mood and irrational. So if you ask me, it’s best not to question it and just do what he says.” The man nodded nervously.
“Yeah, you’re right.” He pulled down a few levers and door began to open. “We’re letting them out.”
Sokka met up with his father and Suki at the yard not long before it was filled with the prisoners.

“This is it. We have to start a riot,” he told them, trying to catch his breath. Suki looked at him confused.

“Okay, but how do we do that?” she asked. Hakoda took a look around, looking for inspiration and smiled at the teens.

“I’ll show you how,” he said and ran up to a burly man that was standing a little ways. He shoved him abruptly. The man turned hurt.

“Hey, why did you do that for? That hurt my feelings,” he said.

“Aren’t you mad at me‌?” Hakoda asked surprised. The prisoner shrugged.

“Uhh, well normally I would be, but I’ve been working to control my anger.”

“This isn’t working!” Sokka groaned when a heavy hand landed on her.

“Hey you!” Chit Sang told the startled boy. “You’re lucky I didn’t rat you out. But my generosity comes with a price. I know you’re planning another escape attempt and I want in.” Sokka sighed before looking up to the man.

“Actually, we’re trying to escape right now. But we need a riot. You wouldn’t happen to know how to start one would you‌?”

“A prison riot?” Chit Sang scoffed. “Please!” He walked up to where most of the prisoners had gathered. “Hey!” he called. “Riot!” In a second all hell broke loose. Hakoda, Sokka and Suki looked shocked.

“Impressive!” the chief muttered.
The sirens were deafening inside the building. Zuko and Lia were standing next to each other inside the cell waiting for a guard to appear.

“Ma’am,” one of them called, entering the cell, “there’s a riot going on. I’m here to protect you.” Lia, still in Mai’s form, turned annoyed.

“I don’t need any protection!” she snapped. Zuko chuckled.

“Believe me, she doesn’t.” Nevertheless the guard came closer.

“I’m sorry, but I’m under direct orders from your uncle to make sure nothing happens.” Twin fireblades met him.

“Like I said,” Lia said as they exited and locked the door, “I don’t need any protection.” She turned to Zuko. “I’ll take care of the guards, you find the others.” He nodded and ran.

 

Outside the chaos made him pause and stare. Just what exactly had Sokka done? A guard tried to grab a hold of him as he rushed towards his team. Zuko knocked him over without even bothering to turn.

“Zuko, good. We’re all here. Now all we need to do is grab the warden and get to the gondolas.” Sokka said satisfied.

“And how do we do that?” Zuko asked, only to receive a blank look.

“I’m not sure,” Sokka admitted.

“I thought you thought this through!” Zuko told him exasperated.

“I thought you told me it’s okay not to think everything through!”

“Maybe not everything. But this is kind of important.” Zuko glared at the sheepish boy.

“Hey, uhh, fellas. I think your girlfriend’s taking care of it,” Chit Sang broke the argument, his eyes trained on Suki.

 

The girl rushed to the wall and climbed up to the level where the warden was standing in outrage. A few firebending guards came up against her but she dodged them, throwing a few of them to the waiting prisoners. The warden tried to fight himself, but her speed was too much for him.

“You wouldn’t dare!” he managed to growl before she tied him up like salami.

“Sorry warden, you’re my prisoner now.” Suki greened cheekily and slammed the man to the wall. Hearing the others coming up the stairs, she turned her attention to them. “We’ve got the warden, now let’s get out of here.”

“That’s some girl!” Hakoda manage to say while trying to catch his breath.

“Tell me about it!” Sokka wheezed.

 

They rushed to the upper courtyard, where the gondolas where. Chit Sang had shouldered the warden and took great pleasure in bumping him against any wall corner or railing him could.

“We’re almost there!” Suki called from the front. A group of guards was positioned in front of the gondolas and they took their stances immediately.

“Back off, we’ve got the warden,” Zuko said calmly. The men loosened their stances uneasily. “Let’s go.” Without anyone lowering their guard, the group walked up to the gondola and rushed in. Zuko stayed last to start up the contraption. As soon as it was moving he started kicking the lever until it broke. Only then he rushed after the gondola. Sokka caught him mid-leap and pulled him inside.

“What are you doing‌?” he asked torn between annoyance and concern.

“I’m making it so they can’t stop us,” the prince explained.

“Way to think ahead,” Sokka said impressed.

“We’re on our way,” Suki said, her eyes trained to the other side. Hakoda looked back at the prison.

“Wait,” he said. “Who’s that?” Everyone turned to see two very familiar girls.

“That’s a problem,” Zuko said. “It’s my sister and her friend.”

 

Azula measured the distance between the place she was standing and the slowly moving gondola. Grabbing a pair of handcuffs from a nearby guard she propelled herself to the line and locked the handcuff there. Using twin jets of fire she stated moving towards the gondola, with Ty Lee following her. As they came closer, Suki’s eyes narrowed.

“This is a rematch I’ve been waiting for,” she said. Zuko nodded next to her.

“Me too.”
The three teens climbed at the roof of the gondola and turned to face their opponents, Zuko and Sokka against Azula and Suki against Ty Lee. Azula’s eyes narrowed in annoyance as she was forced to dodge both her brother’s fire and the Water Tribe boy’s sword, leaving her no time to land any strikes of her own. A quick glance behind them told her that Ty Lee wasn’t faring any better against the Kyoshi Warrior. She wondered briefly where Mai had disappeared to. She had gone to see her uncle when they had arrived and had yet to appear again.

 

With everyone on the gondola focused on the on-going battle, no one noticed that the warden had managed to loosen his bonds. The old man jumped to his feet and pulled the tie from his mouth. Leaning from a window he called back at the guards.

“Cut the line!” Chit Sang knocked him unconscious but it was too late.

“He wants us to cut the line,” a guard said in disbelief, lowering his binoculars.

“But if we cut the line, there’s no way he’ll survive.”

“He knows that,” their superior said grimly and ordered for the gondola line to be stopped.

 

The teens lost their balance as the vehicle wobbled in place and Sokka nearly fell off before Zuko caught him. Ty Lee looked back at the prison.

“They’re about to cut the line!” she called alarmed. Azula looked up and took notice of another gondola approaching from the opposite direction.

“Then it’s time to leave,” she said, jumping to it, followed by Ty Lee. “Goodbye Zuko,” she called over her shoulder. Zuko, Sokka and Suki jumped back inside the gondola.

“They’re cutting the line. The gondola’s about to go!” Zuko explained grimly.

“I hope this thing floats.” Hakoda looked around at the metal surrounding them. This wouldn’t be pretty.
The line was cut almost halfway through when a barrage of stilettos pinned the guards away from it.

“What are you doing?” one of them asked confused the pale girl that had suddenly appeared on the courtyard. A pair of ferocious eyes met him.

“Saving my brother,” Lia, still in Mai’s form, answered before launching a new wave of weapons to the rest of the guards. Before more of them had a chance to attack her she rushed to the machine controlling the line and with a sharp kick she made it start again.

 

Back on the gondola everyone stumbled – Suki fell conveniently into Sokka’s arms – as the gondola started moving again. The Water Tribe teen looked out of the window.

“Who is that?” he asked confused. Zuko rushed to the window too and his eyes widened in shock as the pendant hidden under his clothes heated up a little.

“It’s Lia,” he explained shocked. Azula was sharing his sentiments as she stared at the girl she thought her friend.

“What is she doing?” she asked furiously. Next to her Ty Lee just shrugged. She knew that this girl wasn’t their friend. Her aura was far too bright to be Mai or any other human as a matter of fact.

 

The gondola came into a halt on the edge of the crater and everyone rushed outside.

“Sorry warden, your record is officially broken,” Hakoda called smugly at the man that was still out cold inside the gondola.

“Well, we made it out. Now what‌?” Zuko asked. Sokka stopped to think and noticed Zuko still staring at the Boiling Rock.

“Zuko, what are you doing‌?” he asked.

“My sister was on that island,” was all the answer he got.

“Yeah and she’s probably right behind us. So let’s not stop.” Sokka tried to make him snap out of it. The prince shook his head.

“What I mean is she must have come here somehow,” he explained and rushed to the other side of the cliff. “There!” he said pointing at a zeppelin that was docked near the shore. “That’s our way out of here.”
Back at the courtyard Lia had stopped fighting as soon as the gondola had reached safety and was now calmly facing Azula. Ty Lee was standing on the side, her eyes moving from one girl to the other nervously.

“Leave us,” Azula ordered the guards coldly. They were happy to obey. The killing intent was literally radiating from the princess. “I never expected this from you,” she addressed “Mai”. “The thing I don’t understand is why‌? Why would you do it‌? You know the consequences.” A bitterly smiling Lia suddenly took the place of Mai as she stared at the shocked girl coldly.

“I guess you just don’t know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love my brother more than I fear you,” she hissed the last word, addressing the presence that lurked inside the princess. Azula’s eyes widened in fury.

“No, you miscalculated! You should have feared me more!” she moved to firebend but before she or Lia had a chance to do anything Ty Lee attacked. She hit her friend and watched as she fell to the ground paralysed before turning to Lia.

“Please don’t her hurt her, Spirit!” she pleaded, standing in front of the fallen girl. Lia’s expression was unreadable for a few moments before she bowed her head.

“She should be thankful to have a friend like you,” she said softly before disappearing.

 

Their return to the Western Air Temple was by no means short of drama. Aang and Katara had nearly torn the zeppelin apart with their bending, before they noticed Lia flying next to it. Zuko and Sokka were the first to walk out.

“What are you doing in this thing‌? What happened to the war balloon‌?” Katara asked the two boys confused.

“It kind of got destroyed,” Zuko explained sheepishly.

“Sounds like a crazy fishing trip,” Aang said smiling.

“Did you at least get some good meat‌?” Toph asked eagerly. She was by no means whatsoever passing one more day on a fruit diet.

“I did,” Sokka said. “The best meat of all. The meat of friendship and fatherhood.” Suki, Hakoda and Chit Sang walked out of the zeppelin as well.

“I’m new. What’s up everybody‌?” Chit Sang asked, waving. Katara’s eyes widened.

“Dad!” she ran to her father elated.

“Hi, Katara,” the man said softly as the girl threw herself at him. The waterbender turned to her brother.

“How are you here?‌ What is going on?‌ Where did you go‌?” she asked in pleasant confusion.

“We… kind of went to a Fire Nation prison,” Sokka explained. Both he and Zuko were immediately tackled by Katara in a hug. Then Toph decided to break the moment.

“Seriously, you guys didn’t find any meat‌?” she asked exasperated. Lia and Aang laughed at that before the Fire Spirit walked up to the Water Tribe chief.

“Give him a chance,” she told the man looking at the still embracing Zuko and Katara. “He makes her happy and he truly loves her.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Boiling Rock (Part I)

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Author’s note: In which there is bromance, half-baked plans and unplanned reunions.

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***The Boiling Rock (part I)***

It had taken a few days for Lia to completely calm down and stop flinching whenever anyone came near to her or Zuko, but in the meantime life moved on. Aang was having trouble with the basics of firebending, mainly because of his own reluctance, but both Zuko’s refusal to take “I can’t” as an excuse and Toph’s taunting kept him going. Sokka was the only one not to participate to the generally good mood at the Western Air Temple, something that puzzled his friends and sister to no end.

 

One night, nearly a week after the invasion, he was standing a little ways from the rest of the gang who were sitting around the fire. Zuko had offered to make tea for everyone, an offer that was met by surprise.

“No one can make tea like uncle,” he explained as he put the cups on a tray, “but hopefully I learned a thing or two.” He looked up to the others. “Would you like to hear uncle’s favourite tea joke‌?” he asked.

“Sure,” Katara shrugged.

“Yeah, I like jokes,” Aang added. Zuko passed out cups to Haru and the Duke.

“Well, I can’t remember how it starts but the punch line is, “Leaf me alone, I’m bushed.”” Everyone looked at him expectantly. Zuko blushed a little. “Well, it’s funnier when uncle tells it,” he muttered.

“Right. Maybe that’s because he remembers the whole thing,” Katara chuckled, taking a cup and kissing him lightly on the cheek. The whole group laughed at that.

“It’s nice to get a chance to relax a little. It hardly ever happens,” Toph said taking a sip from her cup. “Hey, that’s not half bad!” she exclaimed surprised. Sokka suddenly walked up to the others and patted Zuko on the shoulder.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second‌?” he asked sombrely.

 

Zuko followed him to the area where Appa was sleeping.

“So what’s up?” he asked, hiding his nervousness. Sokka had yet to send any death threats in his direction regarding Katara. The prince suspected that this had a lot to do with Lia’s still-prickly attitude.

“If someone was captured by the Fire Nation, where would they be taken‌?” Sokka asked seriously.

“What do you mean‌?” Zuko asked in alarm. “Who was captured‌?”

“When the invasion plan failed, some of our troops were taken. I just want to know where they might be.” Zuko’s eyes widened in realisation before he turned away.

“I can’t tell you,” he said grimly.

“What? Why not?”

“Trust me. Knowing would just make you feel worse,” Zuko insisted.

“It’s my dad. He was captured too. I need to know what I put him through.” Hearing Sokka’s determination Zuko closed his eyes.
“My guess is, they were taken to the Boiling Rock,” he said. Sokka looked at him confused.

“What’s that?”

“The highest security prison in the Fire Nation. It’s on an island in the middle of a boiling lake. It’s inescapable,” Zuko explained. Sokka’s eyes narrowed.

“So where is this place‌?” he asked.

“Why do you need to know‌?” Zuko looked at him suspiciously. “What are you planning?”

“Nothing! Boy, you’re so paranoid.” Sokka gave his best “who-me?” look.

“It’s in the middle of a volcano between here and the Fire Nation. You guys actually flew right past it on your way here,” Zuko explained warily.

“Thanks Zuko. Just knowing makes me feel better.” Sokka smiled at the older boy and turned to walk back to the fire.

“Yeah,” Zuko scoffed, “I’m sure it does.”

Later that night, long after everyone had fallen asleep in their rooms, a shadow sneaked back outside. Warily watching the shadows, Sokka tip-toed to Appa, a small bundle of things on his shoulder. His eyes widened when he saw someone already there.

“Not up to anything, huh‌?” Zuko asked, raising an eyebrow. Sokka let out a yelp and fell to the ground.

“Fine, you caught me. I’m gonna rescue my dad. You happy now‌?” he asked stubbornly. Zuko gave him a look but Sokka insisted. “Look, I have to do this. The invasion plan was my idea. It was my decision to stay when things were going wrong. It’s my mistake and it’s my job to fix it. I have to regain my honour. You can’t stop me Zuko.” Said boy had initially meant to knock some sense to his friend – quite literally – but something in Sokka’s words made him change his mind.

“You need to regain your honour?‌ Believe me, I get it. I’m going with you.” He announced.

“No. I have to do this alone.” Sokka climbed to the saddle determinedly. Was I really that stubborn? Zuko wondered.

“How are you going to get there‌? On Appa?‌ Last time I checked, prisons don’t have bison day cares,” he pointed out the most obvious flaw in Sokka’s plan. Sokka’s shoulders slumped. “We’ll take my war balloon,” Zuko concluded softly. With a sigh Sokka jumped down and followed the other boy the higher levels of the Temple.

 

The next morning Katara woke alone. Thinking that Zuko had woken up before she had, what with him being a firebender, she rolled over and walked at the “kitchen” area. The Duko was already there feeding Appa and Lia, Toph, Aang were just coming out of their rooms. The sound of paper being crumbled stole her attention and she looked down to see Momo clutching a paper in his sleep. She scooped it up and narrowed her eyes, trying to make out her brother’s unsightly handwriting.

“What does it say?” Toph asked curiously.

“Need meat. Gone fishing. Back in a few days. Sokka and Zuko,” she read out. Aang smiled brightly and turned to go back to his room to catch some more sleep. Katara’s voice stopped him to his tracks. “One more thing. Aang, practice your firebending while I’m gone. Do twenty sets of fire fists and ten hot squats every time you hear a badger frog croak. Zuko.” A frog was heard in the distance.

“Nobody else has homework,” Aang groaned but he walked off to do the exercises.

“So where do you think they actually went?” Toph asked. The two older girls shrugged.

“Don’t know,” Lia said as she started to walk away. “But I’m going to find out.”

 

As it was Sokka and Zuko were on their way to the Boiling Rock. Zuko had taken in it upon himself to up their speed with firebending, thankful for the silence. Sokka suddenly started to whistle, bored with the silence his co-traveler appreciated.

“What?” Zuko asked Sokka annoyed.

“What? Oh, I didn’t say anything. You know, a friend of mine actually designed these war balloons,” Sokka bragged with a smile.

“No kidding.” The Avatar and his friends might have met all kinds of weird people, but this seemed too farfetched to Zuko.

“Yup!” Sokka insisted. “A balloon. But for war.”

“There’s one thing my dad’s good at, it’s war,” Zuko muttered as he turned his attention to the tank again.

“Yeah, it seems to run in the family,” Sokka shrugged.

“Hey, hold on. Not everyone in my family is like that!” Zuko retorted annoyed.

“I know, I know, you’ve changed.”

“I meant my uncle. He was more of a father to me. And I really let him down,” Zuko explained, his eyes fixed on the fire. Sokka looked at him surprised.

“I think your uncle would be proud of you. Leaving your people to join us, that’s hard,” he said seriously. Zuko gave a bitter chuckle, remembering the events leading up to his joining the Avatar.

“It wasn’t that hard,” he said. Sokka looked at him in disbelief.
“Really‌? You didn’t leave behind anyone you cared about‌?” he asked. Zuko shook his head.

“I was only close to my mother and she is not there anymore. Lia knows where she is but now that everyone in the Fire Nation thinks I’m a traitor, it’s too dangerous to contact her. I couldn’t drag her into this.” Sokka bit his lips, trying to come up with something that would make Zuko feel better.

“My first girlfriend turned into the Moon,” he finally said, his thoughts drawn back to the beautiful princess of the Northern Water Tribe. Zuko winced.

“That’s rough buddy.”

 

Suddenly a cloud of mist appeared up ahead. Zuko squinted, trying to pierce through it to see what was before them. The blur of an enormous building appeared.

“There it is!” he called to Sokka. “There’s plenty of steam to keep us covered. As long as we’re quiet we should be able to navigate through it without being caught.” Famous last words… The balloon’s descent wasn’t noticeable at first but their speed rapidly increased. Zuko tried to gain control again.

“We’re going down. The balloon’s not working anymore!” he exclaimed in alarm. Sokka rushed to the side and looked around.

“The air outside is just as hot as the air inside so we can’t fly,” he realised.

“So what are we supposed to do‌?” Zuko asked, grabbing hold of one of the ropes for balance. Sokka shrugged.

“I don’t know. Crash landing‌?” A spray of boiling water splashed him and he bit his fist, trying not to scream from the pain. Thankfully, the balloon made it to the small island before crashing.
Shaking his head to rid it of the flying Momos, Zuko looked around exasperated.

“How are we gonna get off the island if the balloon won’t work‌?” he asked no one in particular. Sokka shrugged dismissively

“We’ll figure something out. I suspected it might be a one-way ticket.”

“You knew this would happen and you wanted to come anyway‌?” Zuko asked in disbelief.

“My dad might be here. I had to come and see,” Sokka insisted.

“Uncle always said I never thought things through, but this,” Zuko nearly banged his head on the basket of the balloon in frustration, “this is crazy!”

“Hey! I never wanted you to come along in the first place. And for the record, I always think things through. But my plans haven’t exactly worked, so this time I’m playing it by ear. So there,” Sokka retorted and went back to trying to push the broken balloon in the water. The now-burning metal scorched his hand and he started cursing before he kicked the balloon into the water.

“What are you doing‌?” Zuko asked him. Sokka’s action’s made even less sense than usual.

“It doesn’t work anyway. And we don’t want anyone to find it,” he explained. Zuko sighed.

“I hope you know what you’re doing. There’s no turning back now.”

 

It was easy to sneak inside the prison and hide in a storage room. Almost too easy Zuko, whose chronic bad luck on undercover missions had yet to appear, worried. They changed into guard uniforms, complete with helmets.

“Now we just need to lay low and find my dad as soon as possible,” Sokka summarized. Suddenly the corridor filled with guards. One of them turned and called the two astonished boys.

“Guards! There’s a scuffle in the yard, come on.” They hurriedly followed them, not wanting anyone to become suspicious. A guard there was bullying one of the prisoners, forcing him to firebend to protect himself. The guard shook his head in mock shame.

“Firebending is prohibited.” He smiled ominously. “You’re going in the Cooler.” He turned and pointed as Sokka. “You! Help me take him in.” The boy started and hurried there.

“Meet back here in an hour,” he hissed at Zuko before leaving.

 

The Cooler was a tube-like contraption sealed by two heavy doors. Sokka opened them and for a moment the temperature reminded him of a winter night back home. The guard pushed the prisoner into the compartment. Sokka couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the guy.

“The warden will deal with you soon.” He turned to Sokka exasperated. “Can you believe this guy‌?” Sokka smiled agreeably.

“Prisoners. Am I right‌?” he said in understanding.

“Ugh. Tell me about it,” the older man sighed.

 

A meeting with the warden later Sokka was able to sneak back out to the balcony overlooking the courtyard. Another guard was standing there alone, scanning the ground below him. Sokka walked up and leaned at the railing.

“Hey there, fellow guard. How goes it‌?” the other guard said. Relieved Sokka raised the visor of his helmet.

“Zuko? Great!” The firebender hurriedly shushed him.

“Listen, I asked around the lounge. There are no Water Tribe prisoners. I’m afraid your father’s not here,” he said disappointed. Sokka stared at him in shock.

“What?‌ Are you sure?‌ Did you double check‌?” he said desperately. Zuko nodded.

“I’m really sorry Sokka,” he said quietly.

“So we came all this way for nothing. I failed. Again.”  Zuko knew that he had to prevent the other boy from convincing himself that he was useless and he desperately searched for something to say. What would uncle say?

“Sometimes…” he began hesitantly, “clouds have two sides, a dark and light. And a silver lining in between. It’s like a silver sandwich. So when life seems hard take a bite out of the silver sandwich.” Sokka gave a small smile, looking down at the courtyard.

“Maybe we haven’t failed after all,” he said with new conviction.

“That’s the spirit! I can’t believe that worked. I didn’t even know what I was saying.” Sokka gave him a look.

“No, what you said made no sense at all. But look, it’s Suki!” he pointed at the girl sitting on a small boulder, a mad grin on his face.

 

The moment the prisoners were back in inside, Sokka rushed to his girlfriend’s cell. Zuko stood outside keeping an eye out for actual guards, a feeling of apprehension slowly growing. Suki looked up when the door of her cell opened, watching disinterestedly as a guard entered.

“What is it‌?” she snapped sitting up. “Did I do something wrong‌?” Sokka crossed his arms.

“You mean you don’t recognize me‌?” he said hurt.

“You people all look the same to me.” Suki turned to the other side.

“Oh. Then maybe you’ll recognize this.” Sokka leaned to kiss her but before he had a chance a punch landed on his stomach, sending him to crash on the door. The helmet fell to reveal a pair of startled blue eyes. Suki’s eyes widened in shock and happiness as she rushed to his side and pulled him to a hug.

“Sokka, it’s you!” He blushed a little before hugging her back.

“The other Kyoshi Warriors, are they here‌?” he asked urgently. Suki shook her head.
“No, I don’t know where they are. They locked me here because I’m the leader.”

“Well, you won’t be here for long, I’m busting you out,” her boyfriend said decisively. Suki leaned her head closer with tears of happiness in her eyes.

“I’m so glad to see you Sokka. I knew you’d come.”

 

Outside things weren’t going so well. Zuko looked up in alarm when a guard walked up to Suki’s cell.

“‘Scuse me, I need to get into that cell,” she said in a bored tone.

“No, you can’t go in there,” Zuko said, hurriedly looking for an excuse. “The lights are out… the prisoner could sneak up on you.”

“Step aside, fool.” The guard tried to push him to the side but Zuko grabbed her arm and slammed her to the wall. “Hey! Hey! What are you doing‌?” she said alarmed.
Inside the cell Sokka heard the commotion and put his helmet hurriedly back on. Sneaking out he saw the guard struggling to keep Zuko down. She saw him.
“Guard, help!” she called. “I think he’s an imposter! Arrest him!” Not knowing what else to do Sokka tackled Zuko to the ground crying:

“You’re under arrest!” Forcing his friend to his feet he leaned and whispered. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.”

Zuko was led to a spacious cell that was probably reserved for interrogations. The door was left open but there were more than enough guards stationed outside.

“Well, well, well,” the oily voice of the warden was heard from the door. “I never thought I’d find you in here, prince Zuko.”

“How did you know who I am?” Zuko demanded. The warden looked at him in amusement.

“How could I not‌?” he asked. “I was there when you were banished.” Zuko looked up, his body tensing at the memory of the pain.

“You were there? And you think I was at fault?”

“Quiet!” the man snapped. “You’re my special prisoner now. And you best behave. If these criminals found out who you are, the traitor prince who let his nation down. Why, they’d tear you to shreds.”  The prince raised an eyebrow.

“So what’s in it for you‌? Why don’t you just tell my father and collect the reward?” he asked. The warden smiled darkly.

“Oh in due time believe me, I intend to collect,” he said before leaving.

 

When Sokka found Suki again it was during mop-duty. She was busy cleaning a remote area near a staircase with Zuko nearby.

“Oh, good. You guys have met up,” Sokka said satisfied.

“It wasn’t so hard to miss him,” Suki said wryly. Zuko caught the fleeting look at his scar.

“Nice to see you again too,” he said dryly. Sokka checked around before joining them in a quiet corner.

“So listen, I think I have an escape plan,” he began. “I checked out the Coolers again, the whole point of them is to keep firebenders contained right‌?”

“Yeah…” Zuko said, unsure where this was heading.

“So they’re completely insulated and sealed to keep the cold in. Well to keep the cold in it also has to keep the heat out, right‌?”

“Just get to the point Sokka,” Suki said impatiently.

“It’s a perfect boat for getting through the boiling water,” Sokka explained triumphantly.

“The cooler as a boat‌? Are you sure‌?” Zuko asked sceptically. His luck was beginning to take a turn for the worst by now.

“I’m telling you, it’ll work,” Sokka insisted. “I walked around the perimeter. There’s a blind spot between two guard towers. It’s the perfect launching point. I already tested it out. We’ll roll the cooler into the water and just float with the current. It’ll take us straight across. As long as we don’t make a sound, no one will notice. And bing, bang, boom we’re home free.”

“But how are you going to get the cooler out‌?” Suki wondered.

“Yeah,” a voice said from above. The all looked up sharply to see the prisoner from earlier. “How are you going to get the cooler out‌?”

 

The three teens all cursed inwardly. Despite their experience none of them had noticed the man, Chit Sang, creep up to them. Sokka panicked.

“What? We didn’t! We… We didn’t say that,” he stammered.

“Yeah, you heard wrong,” Zuko added in a calmer tone. Chit Sang raised an eyebrow.

“I heard you hatching an escape plan and I want in.”

“There’s nothing to get in on,” Zuko insisted firmly. It might have worked if Sokka hadn’t opened his mouth again.

“Yeah, the only thing we’re hatching is… an egg‌!” he said. Behind him Suki and Zuko facepalmed.

“Ok, well, I come with you or the warden hears about this egg too,” Chit Sang switched tactics. Suki sighed.

“I guess we have no choice,” Sokka nodded.

“Okay, you’re in. Now, first we need someone to unbolt the Cooler from the inside.” He handed a wrench to Zuko, who nodded in understanding and hid the tool in his pocket. Chit Sang smiled.

“Oh, I can get you inside,” he said.

Chit Sang’s plan was simply picking a fight with Zuko. Both of them had enough experience to make the fake brawl look believable. Prisoners gathered around them, coaxing them to continue. They heard Sokka call for more guards and Zuko took advantage of this to send a fiery kick under Chit Sang’s feet. Two guards grabbed a hold of him.

“No firebending. Into the cooler,” one of them said before dragging the prince away.

 

A few hours later Sokka walked to the unit and opened the door.

“I can take you back to your cell if you’ve learned your lesson,” he said indifferently, hiding his worry. Zuko lifted his head and let out the breath of fire he had been holding.

“Yes, I have. Completely,” he said. Sokka smiled in relief.

“I got Suki and Chit Sang out of their cells a few minutes ago. They’ll be waiting for us at the shore,” he explained in a low voice. Zuko’s head shot up and he dragged the other boy inside the Cooler.

“Someone’s coming,” he explained and they closed the door partially. A pair of guards passed by.

“Yeah, new arrivals coming in at dawn.”

“Anybody interesting‌?”

“Nah, just the usual. Some robbers, couple of traitors, some war prisoners. Though I did hear there might be a pirate.”

“No foolin’.”

 

Zuko looked at Sokka concerned.

“War prisoners. It could be your father,” Sokka looked away.

“I know”

“Well, what should we do‌?” Zuko asked. “Are we going ahead with the plan or are we waiting another night‌?”

“I don’t know,” Sokka looked torn. “Is it right for me to risk Suki’s freedom,‌ all of our freedom on the slim chance that my dad is gonna show up‌?”

“It’s your call Sokka,” Zuko said simply. He couldn’t and wouldn’t make the choice for his friend.
They were going to go ahead with it. Sokka had decided that it would be too risky to just leave the unbolted Cooler lying around. Of course sneaking the heavy thing out was harder than it looked. Both boys found themselves wishing Toph was there.

“Took you guys long enough,” Chit Sang hissed when they finally arrived at the meeting point. He showed them a guy and a young woman waiting a little ways. “This here’s my girl and my best buddy. They’re coming too,” he explained. Sokka sighed annoyed.

“Fine, everybody in the Cooler. Let’s go,” he said. Zuko looked at him uncertain as they pushed the Cooler near the boiling water.

“Are you sure you want to go‌?” he asked Sokka. “You’re the one who said you wanted to redeem yourself. Redeem your honour. Rescuing your dad is your chance.” Suki looked up sharply.

“Your dad‌?” she asked surprised.

“If I had just cut my losses at the invasion, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe sometimes it’s just better to call it quits before you fail,” Sokka said simply.

“No, it’s not,” Zuko said softly, causing Sokka’s movements to pause. “Look Sokka, you’re going to fail a lot before things work out.”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better‌?” Sokka asked annoyed.

“Even though you’ll probably fail over and over and over again…” Zuko continued.

“Seriously, not helping.”

“You have to try every time. You can’t quit because you’re afraid you might fail,” Zuko finished his sentence, a little annoyed at the constant interruptions.

“Hey!” Chit Sang suddenly called. “If you two are done cuddling, can we get a move on‌?”

“No, I’m staying,” Sokka said resolutely. He turned to Zuko and Suki. “You guys go. You’ve been here long enough,” he said specifically to Suki. She shook her head.

“I’m not leaving without you, Sokka.”

“I’m staying too,” Zuko placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Chit Sang rolled his eyes.

“Not me, I’m out. Let’s roll baby.” The teens watched as the Cooler-turned-boat sailed away.

“We gave up our only chance of escaping,” Sokka said quietly. “I hope we haven’t just made a huge mistake.”

 

They were climbing back to the prison when a pained yell tore throughout the air. Alarms started blaring and guards burst out of the building. In no time Chit Sang and his friends were back at the Boiling Rock. From above them they heard the warden yell.

“Get the fugitives and throw them in the Cooler!”

“Uh, they are in the Cooler sir,” a guard dared to say.

“One that’s bolted down and not floating in the water! This is a lockdown! We have new prisoners arriving! Everything must be completely secure!” the warden shouted, one step from having an aneurism.

 

Sokka’s eyes scanned the area when a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

“The gondola’s moving!” he whispered. Three pairs of eyes were glued on the slowly moving vehicle, scanning the shadows inside. “If my dad’s not there, we risked everything for nothing.” He said gravely. Suki placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We had to,” she said softly. He gave her a small smile before turning his eyes to the gondola again.

“Come on, come on…” Sokka whispered urgently. A big burly man came out on the courtyard.

“Is that him‌?” Suki asked. Sokka gave her an incredulous look.

“My dad doesn’t have a nose ring!” he exclaimed incredulously. He turned back, searching the faces of the prisoners for his father. “Where is he‌?” The last man came out. “That’s it‌? That can’t be it.”

“I’m sorry Sokka,” Suki said softly. Her boyfriend let his head hang in disappointment when one of the guards called.

“Hey you, get off!” he called to someone inside the gondola. Sokka’s eyes widened as the last man came into the light.

“Dad.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Western Air Temple

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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.

“Both.”

“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.

“Zuko!”

“Hisao!”

 

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.

-Flashback-

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.