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.
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***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.
“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.