Author’s note: In which all those weird old guys we’ve met and liked so far are back, there are strategies discussed and the final battle is due to begin.
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***The Old Masters***
Sokka’s eyes widened in recognition.
“Hey, I remember her. She helped you attack us!” he told Zuko accusingly. The prince shrugged and walked in, pulling Katara close to him in the process.
“Yup, back in the good old days,” he told Sokka over his shoulder. Sokka frowned at the comment and Zuko’s hand around Katara’s waist, but noticing some of the looks Suki was getting he hurried to do the same. Toph was too young to be noticed and Lia was doing an excellent job of death glaring anyone that looked at her direction. June noticed their approach.
“Oh great, it’s prince Pouty,” she sighed. “Where’s your creepy grandpa?”
“He’s my uncle, and he’s not here,” Zuko corrected him. June noticed the closeness between him and the waterbender and smirked.
“I see you worked things out with your girlfriend.” The two teens blushed, remembering that particular encounter while Lia snickered in the background. “So what do you want?” the bounty hunter asked.
“I need your help finding the Avatar,” Zuko explained. June shrugged indifferently.
“Doesn’t sound too fun.” Zuko felt his temper flare. He slammed his hands on the table.
“Does the end of the world sound like more fun?” he yelled.
With a sigh, and a wish to be left in peace, June followed them outside. They found Appa ready to pick a fight with the shirshu.
“Nyla…” June called her pet, holding up a piece of meat. She scratched Nyla’s nose affectionately. “Who’s my little snuffly-wuffly… Whoa! Careful there!” she stepped back when Nyla made a move to let out its tongue. She turned to the teens. “Okay, who’s got something with the Avatar’s scent on it?” Katara climbed on the saddle.
“I have Aang’s staff.” She offered it to June who placed it in front of Nyla’s nose. The shirshu took a sniff and started walking around, trying to catch the scent. After a few moments it slumped to the ground and covered its nose with its paws.
“Well, what does that mean?” Zuko asked impatiently.
“It means your friend’s gone,” June answered, petting Nyla. Toph rolled her eyes.
“We know he’s gone, that’s why we’re trying to find him.” The bounty hunter shook her head.
“No, I mean he’s gone, gone. He doesn’t exist.” Frozen silence met the statement.
“What do you mean Aang doesn’t exist?” Sokka finally asked exasperated. “Do you mean he’s… you know, dead?” June shook her head carelessly.
“Nope, we could find him if he were dead. Ah, a real head scratcher. See ya.” She turned and mounted on Nyla.
“Helpful, real helpful,” Toph drawled. Zuko ignored her as he raced back to the saddle.
“Wait,” he called over his shoulder, digging through his pack. “There’s only one other person in this world who can help us face the Fire Lord.” He brought out an old, really smelly sandal.
“You saved your uncle’s sweaty sandal?” Sokka asked incredulously. Lia smirked.
“I think it’s kind of sweet,” she said her voice tight from holding her breath.
“Let’s do this.” June took the reins of Nyla and rushed towards the forest as the gaang rushed on Appa and after her.
They rushed through the Earth Kingdom, stopping at the outer wall of a very familiar city.
“We’re going to Ba Sing Se?” Zuko wondered out loud surprised.
“Your uncle’s somewhere beyond the wall,” June explained. “Nyla’s getting twitchy so he can’t be too far. Good luck.” She took off again. Zuko sighed tiredly and turned to the others.
“It’s been a long day. Let’s camp and start our search again at dawn.”
Lia opted to stand watch, too tense to sleep. Not feeling any threatening presences nearby, she let her eyes wander over their camp. Zuko and Katara were asleep holding each other while Sokka and Suki slept next to each other a little further away. Toph had made her customary earth tent. Suddenly the Spirit felt four presences approaching. She made a protective ring of fire around them at the same moment Toph woke up, waking everyone else in the process. Four men in white and blue robes walked out of the ruins of the wall. Sokka’s and Katara’s faces lit up in recognition.
“Well, look who’s here,” one of the men cackled giddily. Suki, Toph and Zuko looked at the Water siblings questionably.
“What’s going on?” Toph asked confused as Lia let her fire die. “We’re surrounded by old people.”
“Not just any old people. These are great masters and friends of ours,” Katara explained, bowing in front of one. “Pakku.” The old waterbender bowed back.
“It is respectful to bow to an old master but how about a hug for your new grandfather?” he asked opening his arms. Katara rushed to him, smiling happily while Sokka’s jaw hit the ground.
“That’s so exciting. You and Gran Gran must be so happy to have found each other again,” Katara said excitedly.
“I made her a new betrothal necklace and everything,” Pakku said before he was tackled by Sokka’s hug.
“Welcome to the family Great Gramp!”
“You can still just call me Pakku,” the man said dryly.
“How about Grand Pakku?” Sokka offered.
Katara moved on hurriedly.
“And this was Aang’s first firebending teacher,” she explained. Zuko bowed respectfully to the man and he bowed back but before he had a chance to introduce himself, Lia materialized at her brother’s side. The man’s eyes widened.
“Well, if it isn’t my old flame…” she said playfully. “Glad to see you again Jeong Jeong.
“Lia,” the firebender said with the smallest hint of a smile, ignoring his companions’ looks of astonishment and disbelief. “Still as mesmerizing as ever.” She smiled back.
“Coming from any other man, I would have taken this as a compliment.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek before stepping back to stand next to Toph.
Sokka had walked over to Piandao, decidedly ignoring how weirded out he had been.
“Master Piandao,” he greeted bowing. The sword master bowed back.
“Hello, Sokka,” he said cheerfully.
“So wait, how do you all know each other?” Suki asked confused.
“All old people know each other, don’t you know that?” the crazed man, called Bumi, said cheerfully.
“We’re all part of the same ancient secret society. A group that transcends the divisions of the four nations,” Piandao explained more rationally. Zuko shook his head in understanding.
“The Order of the White Lotus.”
“That’s the one,” Bumi jumped in.
“The White Lotus has always been about philosophy, and beauty and truth. About a month ago, a call went out that we were needed for something important,” Jeong Jeong explained.
“It came from a Grand Lotus, your uncle, Iroh of the Fire Nation,” Pakku explained, addressing Zuko.
“Well that’s who we’re looking for,” Toph said, bored with the long winded introduction.
“Then we’ll take you to him,” Piandao said decisively.
“Wait!” Bumi explained looking around. “Someone’s missing from your group. Someone very important. Where’s Momo?” he asked Sokka.
“He’s gone. And so is Aang,” Sokka said taking a step back to put some space between them. Bumi shrugged.
“Oh well, so long as they have each other I’m sure we have nothing to worry about. Let’s go.”
They had been walking in silence for about ten minutes when a sudden shout made everyone jump.
“FOR THE LOVE OF THE SUN AND THE MOON ZUKO!” Lia huffed. “It was just harmless flirting! Besides, you weren’t even born then!” she stormed away from her brother. Sokka turned awkwardly to Bumi.
“So Bumi, how did you end up escaping your imprisonment in Omashu?” he asked.
“Escape?” the king said, bending his head to look at the teens behind him. “I didn’t escape, everybody else escaped. There I was, back in Omashu, waiting for just the right moment. I didn’t know what or when but I knew I’d know it when I knew it.” He went on to describe how he had used the eclipse to kick the Fire Nation soldiers out of his city.
“Wow, you took back your whole city all by yourself,” Suki said amazed in the end.
“So what about you guys? Did you do anything interesting on the day of the eclipse?” Bumi asked interested. Sokka and Zuko exchanged a look. Memories of the failed invasion passed through their heads.
“No, not really.”
They had reached the inner wall were the White Lotus has set their camp.
“Well, here we are,” Bumi walked into the camp. “Welcome to old people camp.” Zuko looked around nervously.
“Where… where is he?” he asked.
“Your uncle’s in there, prince Zuko,” Piandao said, pointing at a far off tent. It crossed everyone’s mind how strange it was to hear Zuko being addressed with his title again.
Zuko walked up the tent but hesitated before going in. With a sigh he slumped to the ground.
“Are you okay?” Katara asked concerned, walking to his side.
“No, I’m not okay. My uncle hates me, I know it. He loved me and supported me in every way he could and I still abandoned him. How can I even face him?” Zuko asked, looking at her desperately. Katara sighed and took his hand.
“Zuko it wasn’t your fault. And even if it was, you’re sorry it happened, right?”
“More sorry than I’ve been about anything in my entire life.”
“Then he’ll forgive you. He will.” She kissed him lightly before walking back to where the rest of the gang was setting up their tents.
Taking a deep breath Zuko walked into the tent.
“Uncle?” he called quietly, to be greeted with a loud snore. Smiling lightly he sat next to Iroh’s sleeping mat, waiting for the old man to wake up. At dawn Iroh stirred and paused when he felt another presence on the room.
“Uncle, I know you must have mixed feelings about seeing me,” Zuko began hesitantly. No matter what Lia and Katara said he couldn’t help but feel that he was to blame for his uncle’s capture. “But I want you to know, I’m so so sorry, uncle,” he continued, his voice cracking as he tried to not cry. “I’m so sorry that I left you back there. I don’t know how I can ever make it up to you but I’ll…” he was cut off by Iroh’s embrace. His eyes widened in amazement. “How can you forgive me so easily? I thought you would be furious with me,” he said in disbelief.
“I was never angry with you. I was sad because I didn’t know what had become of you,” Iroh said without pulling away from his nephew.
“I taught Aang,” Zuko said simply. Iroh’s smile widened.
“I’ve heard so,” he said pulling back to look at his nephew’s face. “I am very proud of you. And I am so happy you found your way here.”
As soon as they walked out of the tent Lia and Toph rushed to hug Iroh, glad to see him again. They settled for breakfast and began filling Iroh in on their latest adventures. The subject eventually turned to Aang’s disappearance.
“Uncle, you’re the only person other than the Avatar who can possibly defeat the Father Lord,” Zuko said. Lia giggled at his mistake.
“You mean the Fire Lord?” she asked.
“That’s what I just said,” he snapped at her. Iroh looked thoughtful. “We need you to come with us,” Zuko insisted, turning back at him.
“No, Zuko. It won’t turn out well,” he finally said.
“You can beat him and we’ll be there to help,” his nephew insisted.
“Even if I did defeat Ozai, and I don’t know that I could, it will be the wrong way to end the war. History would see it as just more senseless violence, a brother killing a brother to grab power. The only way for this war to end peacefully is for the Avatar to defeat the Fire Lord,” Iroh explained.
“And then… then would you come and take your rightful place on the throne?” Zuko asked. Iroh shook his head.
“No. Someone new must take the throne. An idealist with a pure heart and unquestionable honour. It has to be you, prince Zuko.” The boy’s eyes widened.
“Unquestionable honour? But I’ve made so many mistakes.”
“Yes, you have,” Iroh said gently. “You struggled, you suffered but you have always followed your own path, you restored your own honour. And only you can restore the honour of the Fire Nation.” Zuko looked resolute.
“I’ll try, uncle.”
“Well, what if Aang doesn’t come back?” Toph asked uncertainly.
“Sozin’s Comet is arriving and our destinies are upon us. Aang will face the Fire Lord,” Iroh said calmly. “When I was a boy, I had a vision that I would one day take Ba Sing Se. Only now do I see that my destiny is to take it back from the Fire Nation so the Earth Kingdom can be free again.”
“That’s why you gathered the members of the White Lotus,” Suki said, nodding in understanding.
“Yes.” He turned back to Zuko with a serious look. “Zuko, you must return to the Fire Nation so that when the Fire Lord falls, you can assume the throne and restore peace and order. But Azula will be there, waiting for you.”
“I can handle Azula,” Zuko said frowning.
“Not alone,” Lia cut off Iroh’s next words. “You’ll need help.” Her brother nodded and turned to his girlfriend.
“You’re right. Katara, how would you like to help me put Azula in her place?” She smiled at him.
“It would be my pleasure.”
“What about us?” Sokka asked, pointing at himself, Toph, Suki and Lia. “What’s our destiny today?”
“What do you think it is?” Iroh asked.
“I think that… even though we don’t know where Aang is, we need to do everything we can to stop the airship fleet,” Sokka concluded decisively. Toph smiled.
“And that means when Aang does face the Fire Lord, we’ll be right there if he needs us.”
Piandao led Sokka, Suki and Toph to the edge of the camp and presented them with an oversized lizard.
“Nothing runs faster over land or swims quicker than a giant eel-hound,” he explained as they mounted. “The airship base is on a small island just off the Earth Kingdom shore. You should be able to intercept the fleet within a day’s journey.” Sokka took a look at the map he was given and nodded.
“Thank you, Master,” he said.
Zuko and Katara would take Appa in order to fly back to the capital. Lia decided to stay and help the White Lotus. The prince turned to Iroh.
“So if I’m going to be Fire Lord after the war is over, what are you going to do?” he asked.
“After I re-conquer Ba Sing Se, I’m going to re-conquer my tea shop and I’m going to play Pai Sho every day.” Zuko and Katara smiled at that and Lia laughed a little. Being around Iroh was certainly refreshing.
“Goodbye, General Iroh,” Katara said respectfully as they prepared to take off.
“Goodbye, everyone. Today, destiny is our friend. I know it.”