Tag Archives: Taang

Twilight of the Spirit World – Prologue

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Author’s note: In which the author glosses over four years’ worth of material and the comic continuity is COMPLETELY ignored.

Next chapter: link

***Prologue***

The first few years after the war rolled by faster than anyone would have expected. The reconstruction process forced the gaang to stretch thin, each one of the teens returning to their respective nations.

 

The end-of- war negotiations went surprisingly smoothly, especially with a vengeful Spirit on call to glower at anyone trying to take advantage of the lack of political experience of the new Fire Lord and –to a lesser extent- of the Avatar.

 

When Katara finally found out the story behind Zuko’s scar it was only the fact that she was in Omashu at the time, helping out with the repairs from Bumi’s liberation campaign that prevented her from having a little “chat” with Ozai.

 

Lee got his visit at Sozin and spent two memorable months touring not only the Fire Nation but also the Earth Kingdom with the Fire Lord, the Avatar and their friends.

 

The Southern Water Tribe grew from a small village to a bustling city with the return of the warriors and the introduction of more waterbenders from the Northern Water Tribe.

 

Sokka divided his time between the South Pole and Kyoshi Island, prompting an endless stream of jokes from not only Toph but also his entire tribe.

 

While Ty Lee felt more at home than ever amongst the Kyoshi Warriors, Mai decided that staying anywhere for more than a few days was a waste of her precious time and gratefully took up Zuko’s offer to travel through the Fire Nation in search of any problems that might arise with the return of his father’s soldiers.

 

Aang managed to convince Toph to see her parents again. He regretted it when Toph’s father caught them kissing in the garden and launched a speech on what his daughter’s boyfriend – Avatar or not Avatar – was not allowed to do. Toph offered not to visit them again until after their second child was born. In hindsight, that was a bad idea considering that Aang fainted while flying Appa.

 

Zuko proposed to Katara under the full moon on their third anniversary. This prompted Suki to propose to Sokka on their fourth anniversary. Another thing on the long list of things that no one would over allow Sokka to live down.

 

Azula re-mastered lightning when she was sixteen under the careful guidance of Lia.

 

Iroh’s teashop in Ba Sing Se became a regular hangout for the gaang whenever they were there. It also became internationally famous for its Pai Sho tournaments.

 

Lia did not have nightmares or visions of the future again and soon returned to her carefree self. She told no one that she always went to bed with her back turned to the Fire Lily on her bedside table and woke up facing it.

 

For four wonderful years there was peace.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Epilogue

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Author’s note: In which most loose ends are tied, there is shipping you saw coming and shipping you probably did not see coming, reunions, parties and Sokka’s atrocious painting skills.

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

It was not surprising that Azula woke up first the next morning. Opening her eyes slightly she saw Zuko still sleeping peacefully next to her. Katara had bandaged his wounds while they were out. The princess couldn’t help the prick of guilt that she felt. Hearing footsteps she sat up in alarm, not seeing the waterbender anywhere and still feeling too drained to firebend. The door opened quietly and Azula’s eyes widened when she saw the woman that stood in the threshold.

“Mother?” she whispered in disbelief. Ursa had hardly changed since she had last seen her, although she was dressed in plain red robes now. Without pausing to think of her tiredness the girl jumped off the bed and hurried towards her mother, pausing in front of her. Ursa hesitantly took a step closer, opening her arms to embrace her youngest. Azula didn’t need to be told twice. She threw herself into her mother’s arms, feeling the last piece click back into place in her mind.

“I’ve missed you, little one,” Ursa told her daughter tenderly.

“Zuko will be so glad to see you,” Azula murmured, throwing a glance at her brother’s sleeping form. She turned her eyes back to her mother. “I am too,” she added shyly. Ursa just smiled.

“Zula?” a sleepy voice came from the bed. The princess returned to her brother’s side, helping him to sit up.

“Look who’s here Zuzu!” she said excitedly. Zuko followed her gaze and his face split to the biggest grin Azula had ever seen.

“Mom!” he said elated. Ursa walked up to her son and pulled him to an embrace as well, content to be near her children at last.

 

Suddenly a yell came from outside.

“No, you can’t bother them!” Lia’s annoyed voice rang out clearly through the door. “They’re probably still sleeping,” Katara added, just as annoyed. She had been up all night worrying over the two firebenders. The early morning visitors wasn’t helping her temper much.

“But we need to tell Zuko the news!” Sokka whined. “And why won’t you have a look at my leg? You can heal it, why do I have to walk around with a crutch?”

“Because your sister is very tired,” Lia said sternly. She opened the door to see Zuko and Ursa giving her amused looks. Azula just seemed confused by the argument. Katara appeared next to the redhead.

“We didn’t wake you up, did we?” she asked worried. Zuko shook his head.

“Zula woke me,” he explained with a smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“Who’s Zula?” Sokka asked appearing behind his sister. His eyes doubled when he noticed the princess. “You!” he yelled in shock, struggling to jump in front of his sister. Katara rolled her eyes, pushed him back and looked at Azula apologetically.

“They just came and I haven’t had time to explain,” she said.

“Explain what?” Aang’s voice came from behind them as he and Toph joined the group.

“Why Azula is here,” Katara said. The Avatar and earthbender looked at her confused before turning towards the bed. The princess was sitting between her brother and mother, hiding her nervousness behind a calm look. There was silence for a moment before Aang’s face split in a huge smile.

“Well, if Lia lets you anywhere near Zuko we have to welcome you to the group,” he decided happily.

“I agree with Twinkle-Toes,” Toph added. “Everyone knows that Blazes is paranoid.” Lia raised an eyebrow.

“Since when do I have a nickname?” she asked. Toph shrugged.

“It’s about time if you ask me.”

Sokka remained silent, watching the rest of the gaang gathering around the bed to share stories of their separate battles. Suki joined them soon and pulled her boyfriend along. Before he knew it, the Water Tribe boy found himself recounting enthusiastically how he had destroyed the airship fleet, seemingly not noticing that most questions came from Azula.

 

Aang had left again in the afternoon to bring the members of the White Lotus to Sozin for the final formalities that followed the ending of the war. Zuko was declared Fire Lord after both Iroh and Azula had explicitly told the nobles that in no way they would step between him and the throne. The official coronation was scheduled in a week so that he could recover enough, not that that stopped Zuko from ordering the release of any prisoners of war that were still held.

 

The day of the coronation was sunny, and Zuko wondered if Agni was doing it on purpose to annoy Lia, silently approving the new Fire Lord. He turned his attention back to struggling to pull his official robes on. Despite the repeated healings by Katara, the lightning had done a lot of damage and he hadn’t had much chance to rest and recover. He winced when a clumsy move made pain shoot through his torso.

“You need some help with that?” an amused voice came from the doorway. The soon-to-be-Fire Lord turned with a huge smile.

“Katara!” he hadn’t seen her much in the last few days, other than during the brief healing sessions. He smiled sheepishly. “I guess some help wouldn’t hurt.” The waterbender helped him pull the stuffy outfit on.

“How do you feel?” she asked him, concerned.

“A little sore,” Zuko answered truthfully, knowing better than to lie to a master waterbender/healer. “And nervous,” he admitted in a more quiet tone. Katara smiled at him reassuringly.

“You’ll do fine,” she said, placing a hand on the side of his face. “We all believe in you and we know that you will make a wonderful Fire Lord.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him softly. “And if you ever have a hard time Lia, Azula and I can always deal with whoever is the issue.” Zuko couldn’t help but laugh at that.

 

Iroh came soon after to talk over some last-minute issues with Zuko. Sokka and Katara met up, determined to look for their father in the hundreds of people that had gathered for the coronation. Finally, after navigating through a swarm of swampbenders they found Hakoda and Bato talking to each other.

“Dad!” they exclaimed as they rushed to the man. Well, Katara did. Sokka was still limping around.

“I heard what you two did. I am the proudest father in the world,” Hakoda said embracing them. “And your mother would be proud too,” he added, more to Katara than Sokka. Sokka looked up to notice a group of girls dressed in forest-green approaching.

“There’re my favourite warriors! I have to admit, I kind of missed the face paint. How does it feel to be back in uniform again‌?” he asked his girlfriend smiling.

“It feels great!” Ty Lee said, jumping from behind Suki. Sokka had lost count of the times he had been shocked, but this definitely took the cake. He half-jumped in front of Suki, pointing his crutch in Ty Lee’s direction.

“Careful Suki! Ty Lee is pretending to be a Kyoshi Warrior again,” he said accusingly.

“It’s ok,” Suki chuckled. “She’s one of us now.”

“Yeah, the girls and I really bonded in prison,” the acrobat explained. “And after a few Chi-blocking lessons, they said I could join their group. We’re going to be best friends forever,” she exclaimed, smiling brightly.

 

Zuko paused before the doors that would lead him to the coronation ceremony and took a deep breath. Aang was standing next to him in his formal monk robes.

“I can’t believe a year ago my purpose in life was hunting you down, and now…” Zuko trailed off.

“And now we’re friends,” Aang completed the sentence peacefully.

“Yeah…we are friends.”

“I can’t believe a year ago I was still frozen in a block of ice,” Aang said lightly. “The world’s so different now.”  Zuko placed a hand on his pupil’s shoulder.

“And it’s gonna be even more different, when we build it together.”

 

Zuko stepped out and instantly thunderous applause rocked the full courtyard. On the plateau stood Ursa, Iroh and Azula dressed in ceremonial robes for the coronation. Zuko raised his hand.

“Please, the real hero is the Avatar,” he said, taking a step to the side and allowing Aang to take the centre. “Today, this war is finally over,” he continued to address the crowd. “I promised my uncle that I would restore the honour of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided. But with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path, and begin a new era of love and peace.” Aang stepped back as Zuko knelt for the coronation. The head Fire Sage moved forward with the crown when the unexpected happened. He paused. From the shadows emerged the figure of a redheaded woman, dressed in an elaborate scarlet kimono with golden dragons stitched on it. The Sage bowed low to her and handed her the crown. With a proud smile Lia stood behind her adoptive brother.

“All hail Fire Lord Zuko!” she said in a loud voice as she placed the flame-shaped crown on his head. The entire courtyard knelt in front of the new Fire Lord as he stood up. He turned to the Spirit to see her bowing slightly as well, though not to the ground as the rest of the people did. They shared a smile as his family stood from their bows and gathered around him. Zuko could see that Lia was, for the first time in the last few months, at peace.

 

The early afternoon found Azula standing uncertainly in front of a door, a package held tightly in her hands. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so uncomfortable and suddenly wished that someone was with her. But her brother was busy signing papers with the guidance of their uncle and the newly-reappeared Jeong Jeong, whom Zuko had made a member of the Council of advisors, and her mother was overseeing the preparations for the ball to celebrate the end of the war and Zuzu’s coronation. Get a hold of yourself! Azula scolded herself. You have faced worse things than that.

 

So, taking a deep breath, the princess knocked and opened the door to Katara’s room. Just like she had imagined all four girls of team Avatar (as Sokka insisted more than ever on calling them) were there. Following Katara and Lia’s example the other two girls had welcomed her. Azula took a moment to survey the scene. Toph was lying on the bed, seemingly overlooking everything, while Suki, Lia and Katara were sprawled on the floor chatting. They smiled at her and Azula smiled back hesitantly.

“I thought you were preparing for the ball?” she asked, unsure of what the etiquette was for this occasion. Since her very first lessons at the Fire Nation Academy for Girls it had been drilled to her that a princess ought to always follow the proper etiquette.

“Oh we were,” Suki explained, standing up to help the other girl place her package on the floor. Azula followed her and sat between the Kyoshi Warrior and the Fire Spirit. “But given the fact that none of us knows what to wear we were trying to figure it out,” Suki concluded. Azula had thought of this.

“That’s why I’m here,” she explained, gaining courage. Becoming friends with Ty Lee and Mai had been so much simpler. “I thought you probably wouldn’t have anything appropriate with you so…” she paused after a snort from Toph. Had she offended them? She thought worried.

“Ignore Toph,” Lia said eyeing the box. Azula nodded. “So I had some dresses made for you,” She finished in one breath. Even Toph looked surprised at that.

“Wow Sugar Queen! I think you just found a competitor for the title,” she said jumping from the bed.

“Thanks Azula,” Katara smiled gratefully. Said girl glowed with happiness.

 

Opening the box she took out the first dress. Although its style was obviously Fire Nation, it was made out of icy blue silk with silver decorations. Katara looked at it speechless for a whole minute before blurting out “I love it!” Relaxing a little Azula pulled out the second dress. This one resembled the uniform of a Kyoshi warrior, forest green with golden decorations. Suki squealed and impulsively hugged Azula. The firebender looked a little shocked but nevertheless pulled out a smaller, simpler dress in pale green.

“This one is for Toph,” she explained. Not hearing a reaction the earthbender approached and ran her fingers across the fabric nervously.

“How does it look like?” she asked.

“Like Aang asking you out the moment he sees you wearing it,” Lia said finally. Toph blushed and snatched the dress.

“He’d better!” she muttered. Taking out the last dress, Azula handed it to Lia.

“What do you think?” she asked. The dress was scarlet with golden flames decorating it, leaving the left shoulder bare.

“Whoever made this dress,” Lia began slowly, “is a genius!” she concluded with a huge smile.

 

Suki and Katara talked Azula into staying with them for the rest of the evening and the princess found herself slowly loosening up at their company. When they were finally ready later that evening they walked out of the room to meet Zuko, Sokka and Aang, all dressed up for the occasion. They walked together to the ballroom of the palace, chatting carelessly along the way. Zuko and Katara entered first, followed by Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki and finally Lia and Azula. As the entire Team Avatar walked in, another round of applause rocked the packed room. Mercifully, as Lia put it, there had been no great need for formalities and soon everyone was mingling, old friends meeting again and couples dancing the night away.

 

Much to Toph’s displeasure Aang had been whisked away after only one dance by a bunch of nobles who wanted to meet him. This left her, Azula and Lia standing together chatting quietly.

“May I have the honour of this dance fair lady?” A smooth voice said behind them. The three girls turned to see a black-haired young man dressed as Fire Nation nobility. Recognizing him Azula tensed but before she could say anything Lia cut in.

“I thought you promised not to interfere with the mortals,” she pointed out. Agni offered her a Fire Lily and a crooked smile.

“But you are not a mortal.” To Azula’s surprise Lia grudgingly took the offered flower.

“Just one dance and then you’ll disappear,” she warned as they made their way to the centre of the room.

 

“Care to tell me who this guy is?” Toph asked the princess. “His vibrations were weird.” Azula regained her speech.

“That was Agni,” she managed to say, her eyes never leaving the couple dancing gracefully and silently.

“Agni?” Toph raised an eyebrow. “As in the same Agni she tried to kill a few days ago?”

“That one.” Toph cackled.

“Well that explains her vibrations,” she grinned. “And by the looks of it he has quite the crush.”  Just in time the dance stopped. Agni whispered something in Lia’s ear before bowing and promptly disappearing through the crowd. The red-head made her way to her friends.

“So?” Azula asked curiously. “What did he say?”

“Nothing!” Lia said, her blush deepening. She had placed the Fire Lily in her hair.

“I can tell you’re lying…” Toph said in a sing-song voice. “So spill.” Lia muttered something under her breath. “What was that?” Toph insisted. “We couldn’t hear you.”

“He likes the dress,” Lia said louder.

“And?” Azula prompted.

“And he said I still owe him a kiss.”

 

It took two months, during which the gaang split to return to their respective nations and help the rebuilt effort, for Toph to stop teasing Lia. Now, with the excuse of a trade agreement, they had all gathered at Ba Sing Se again. Today the Jasmine Dragon remained closed to the public as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, Zuko, Azula and Lia gathered for the evening. Iroh was playing the Tsungi horn on a corner, the melody he made up filling the air. At a table nearby Azula and Suki were playing Pai Sho with Katara and Lia observing them. Aang was playing with Momo and Zuko was going around bringing cups of tea to everyone.

“Zuko, stop moving!” Sokka suddenly yelled. Everyone’s eyes turned to him in surprise. He was holding a brush and had an annoyed expression. “I’m trying to capture the moment. I wanted to do a painting, so we always remember the good times together,” he explained in a softer tone.

“That’s very thoughtful of you Sokka,” Katara smiled at him as everyone walked around to see the picture. Her face fell. “Wait! Why did you give me Momo’s ears‌?” she asked.

“Those are your hair loopies!” Sokka explained. Zuko crossed his arms.

“At least you don’t look like a boarcupine. My hair’s not that spiky!”

“I look like a man,” Azula complained.

“And why did you paint me firebending‌?” Suki asked confused.

“I thought it looked more exciting that way,” Sokka shrugged. Momo jumped on the table and chirped. “Oh, you think you can do a better job, Momo‌?” Sokka asked the lemur annoyed. Iroh put the Tsungi horn down and came to see the offending picture.

“Hey, my belly’s not that big anymore, I’ve really trimmed down!” he said. Toph spread her arms in the air.

“Well, I think you all look perfect!” she said, making everyone burst out laughing.

 

The little earthbender stopped laughing when she felt Aang walk out. She had been in Ba Sing Se with Bumi and a few of her friends from the earthbending matches the last two months and before that she hadn’t managed to confront the flighty airbender about their argument on Ember Island. Determined, she following him outside.

 

Aang was leaning against the railing, his thoughts on his earthbending teacher. During his fight with Ozai he had been forced to finally let go of Katara, completely unlocking the Avatar State at last. Now, his thoughts and meditations often turned to a petite, blind earthbender. He turned to say something to her when Toph’s hand grabbed the front of his robes and brought his lips down to hers. Aang’s eyes widened before sliding shut and he kissed the girl back. Words could wait. The world was finally at peace and everything was as it should be.

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.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***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 Invasion (Part 1)

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Author’s note: In which the main plot is back from holidays, there are lots of cameos and the best laid plans go the proverbial way.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Invasion (Part 1)***

They say a good night’s sleep can do miracles. In the case of the Avatar that couldn’t be truer. He cheerfully jumped to where the rest of the gang was eating breakfast as soon as he woke up. Toph, Sokka and Katara had changed to their nations’ colors, in anticipation of the battle. Momo saw his master and immediately flew to his shoulder.

“Top of the morning, Momo!” Aang said happily, petting the lemur. Katara looked up from where she was serving everyone.

“Sounds like you slept well,” she commented.

“Like a baby mooselion. I’m ready to face the Fire Lord!” Aang answered confidently, sitting next to Zuko and taking a plate.

“So what’s your strategy for taking him down‌?” Toph asked curiously. “Going to get your glow on and hit him with a little Avatar State action‌?” Aang shook his head with a sad look.

“I can’t. When Azula shot me with lightning, my seventh chakra was locked, cutting off my connection to all the cosmic energy in the Universe.” Lia sent him a suspicious look but didn’t say anything. Toph on the other hand had something to say.

“You know what I just heard?‌ Blah blah spiritual mumbo jumbo blah blah something about space.” Zuko looked at the horizon worried. There was a cloud of thick fog coming towards the island.

“Do you think the fog will delay the invasion‌?” Sokka squinted his eyes and gave the other boy a bright smile.

“No, that is the invasion,” he explained.
Through the fog, five Water Tribe ships appeared. Toph and Aang bended docks on the protected natural port underneath their campsite. Sokka and Katara rushed to their father, excited to see him again.

“You made it dad!” Katara said, hugging the man.

“Were you able to locate everyone I told you to find‌?” Sokka asked anxiously.

“I did. But I’m a little worried, Sokka. Some of these men aren’t exactly the warrior type.” Hakoda pointed at a couple of swampbenders. Unlike his wary father, Sokka looked enthusiastic.

 

“Hi, Katara,” a young man’s voice was heard. Katara turned with a delighted smile.

“Haru, it’s so good to see you.” Aang and Toph approached them.

“Toph, this is Haru. When we met him, his town was controlled by the Fire Nation. So he had to hide his earthbending.” The airbender explained.

“Katara inspired me and my father to take back our village.” Said man approached them and gave Katara a proud smile.

“You helped us find our courage, Katara. Now we’re here to help you.”

 

Suddenly Toph’s head snapped up in surprise. She was feeling some vibrations she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“No way!” she exclaimed. “Is that…” She was lifted up in the air by an enormous man.

“Hippo happy to see Blind Bandit!” the man said. Zuko, who had come up with Lia during the introductions turned to Aang confused.

“Who’s this guy now?” he asked.

“Toph used to be a champion in earthbending tournaments,” Aang explained. “That’s how we found her. These guys were her opponents.”

“You guys here for a re-match‌?” Toph asked angrily. The other man shook his head.

“Negatory. The Boulder and the Hippo no longer fight for others’ entertainment. Now, we fight for our Kingdom!” Toph smiled satisfied.

“Sweet!” she said.
Sokka had originally planned to present the invasion plan on his own. However, after seeing the nasty glares Zuko was receiving from some of the soldiers – mainly because of the Fire Nation armour he was wearing again – he decided to include the other boy too in the presentation.

“Don’t worry, you’ll do great,” Hakoda encouraged the two nervous looking boys. With deep breaths they climbed the impromptu stage that had been set up.

“Good morning, everyone!” Sokka called, trying to get the soldiers’ attention while Zuko set a few maps up. “Today is the Day of the Black Sun, during which a solar eclipse will happen, making it the perfect time to invade the Fire Nation.” Everyone’s attention was fixed on him, making Sokka blush a little. Seeing him a step from stuttering, Zuko took over.

“There will be two steps to the invasion. A naval stage and then a land stage. To gain sea access to the Fire Nation capital,” he pointed at map of the Fire Nation, “we have to get pass our first major obstacle here. The Great Gates of Azulon.”

“Next we hit land,” Sokka continued, punching his palm with his fist for effect. “And we hit hard. We must fight past their battlements and secure the plaza tower.” He changed the map to one of the capital. “Once we do that, it’s up to the royal palace. At that point, the eclipse will begin.” The Boulder raised a hand to ask a question.

“Excuse me, The Boulder is confused. Isn’t the point to invade during the eclipse‌? When the firebenders are powerless‌?”

“The eclipse will only last 8 minutes. Not enough time for the whole invasion and the royal palace is heavily guarded by firebenders. So that’s where we’ll need the advantage of the eclipse the most. When this is finished, Aang will have defeated the Fire Lord. We will have control of the Fire Nation capital and this war will be over!” Zuko explained, his face turning to stone when he talked of his father. Everyone cheered at the plan, as Zuko and Sokka walked off the stage and shared a high five.

Immediately everyone set to preparing. Katara had a strong moment of déjà vu when she looked up from where she was filling her pouches. Zuko and Lia had donned Fire Nation uniforms, and both of them were also carrying swords. Zuko had gathered his hair in a topknot, reminding the waterbender vividly of what he had looked like when they had first met. Sokka was standing a little ways, showing off his “Space Sword” to some men of their tribe excitedly, while Toph chatted animatedly with her fellow earthbenders. Aang landed next to her, startling her.

“Soooo…” he trailed with an excited smile. “You ready?” Katara turned to look at him, to see that he was once again shaved and wearing Air Nomad clothes.

“I believe so,” she said smiling back. She turned to look again at their little family. Aang followed her eyes and smiled too.

“We are one strange group, aren’t we?” he said more to himself that to the girl next to him. “We kind of look like how the world should be. All nations working together in balance.” Katara placed a hand on the airbender’s shoulder.

“It will be like that again Aang,” she told him softly. “We all have faith in you.” The two friends shared a smile before rushing to the others who were already boarding the ships.
“There they are,” Bato called after about an hour of sailing. He had been scanning the horizon with the telescope on the front of the ship. “The Great Gates of Azulon.”

“I don’t see any gates,” Katara said from his side. Zuko handed her another telescope and gently guided her to the right direction.

“It’s a dragon and a statue of Fire Lord Azulon,” he explained.

“Wasn’t Azulon your grandfather or something?” Sokka asked. Zuko just nodded.

“Katara, you and the swamp benders whip up a fog cover,” Hakoda told his daughter and she rushed to take position between the swampbenders.

“We’ll sneak by those statues just like we sneaked by that fire navy blockade,” one of them said as thick mist rose from the sea.
“Keep it up, we’re almost through,” The Water Tribe Chief said when a shrill alarm sounded and a flaming net rose between the statues, blocking their passage.

 

Hakoda calmly turned to the rest of the crew.

“Everyone below deck.” He turned to Sokka as they left the deck. “Let’s hope your invention works.” They all entered the contraption attached under the ship. It looked like a room with glass windows and a panel of controls at the front, where the Mechanist was sitting. With a few hurried explanations Katara and the swampbenders took positions and made the submarine move forward, thus avoiding the Fire Nation soldiers that were by that time swarming the ships. Hakoda turned proudly to his son.

“You really outdid yourself this time, son.”
“Yeah. Congratulations, Sokka,” Toph groaned from the back. “You managed to invent a worse way of travel than flying.” The Duke took off his helmet and offered it to her sympathetically. She took it and promptly threw up.

“Well, I just came up with the idea but The Mechanist did all the work,” Sokka said modestly.

“But don’t sell yourself short, my boy. It was your idea to use waterbending to make the subs sink and float. Brilliant, though your original designs were a bit difficult to decipher.” He unrolled a scroll to reveal a childish sketch. Lia let out a short laugh. “Unfortunately, there is one problem I couldn’t fix,” The Mechanist continued. “The subs have a limited air supply. Before we land on the beaches, we’ll need to resurface.”
Indeed an hour later they resurfaced much to the happiness of Toph and Zuko who had been the most seasick. Aang had been with Appa but now he flew over to the sub where the rest of the gang was.

“So, this is it huh‌?” he asked nervously.

“Are you ready for the Fire Nation to know the Avatar’s alive‌?” Sokka asked back. With a deep breath Aang met everyone’s gaze confidently.

“I’m ready.” He broke into a grin and everyone gathered for a group hug.

“I hope you kick some serious Fire Lord butt, Twinkle Toes,” Toph smiled at him.

“Everyone listen up!” Hakoda called from the entrance of the sub. “The next time we resurface, it’ll be on the beaches. So stay alert and fight smart. Now break time’s over, back in the subs.” Sokka followed his father immediately with Lia right behind him. Zuko followed them and Katara waterbended herself to Appa and bended an air bubble around his head. Soon it was only Toph and Aang left outside.

“Aang I…”

“Toph I…” They both stopped and blushed.

“You go first,” Aang finally said.

“I just wanted to say I’m proud of you Twinkle-Toes. I know that you will beat the Fire Lord.”
“What if… what if I don’t come back?” Aang said uncertainly. Toph seemed to falter at the idea and under Aang’s gaze – even though she could only guess it –. Aang was indeed staring at her. Lately he had found himself thinking constantly of his earthbending teacher in a way that confused him as he had always associated with Katara.

“Don’t you say that!” Toph cried. “Of course you’ll…” she was caught off by Aang pressing his lips to hers before he hastily opened his glider and took off. Toph stared dumbly in front of her when Sokka’s head reappeared.

“Toph, what are you doing? It’s time to submerge.” He came out to help the little girl back in, surprised when she didn’t offer any resistance.

 

Inside the tension was almost tangible. No one talked as the subs closed in on the port of the capital.

“Everyone in position. Earthbenders, into your tanks. This is going to be a rough ride,” Hakoda called from his position at the periscope. As soon as they entered the port harpoons were being shot down at them from the various battlements. One of them grabbed one of the subs and started reeling it in. Katara saw it and hastily led Appa out of the water, cutting the harpoon with her waterwhip. The sub dived back into the water and continued as if nothing had happened.

 

Despite the constant rain of projectiles the submarines were able to land safely. Their front part gave way and tanks carrying the warriors came out. Sokka and Zuko joined to lead them, while Toph and the rest of the earthbenders were given rocks to launch at the various battlements around them. Appa landed near them and Katara jumped down, running to join Lia a little further. Seeing tanks armed with firebenders joining the fight Lia called to the other girl.

“We need to catch up to the boys. They’ll need cover from those things.” They quickened their pace when they saw that Sokka and Zuko had been divided. Zuko was using his own firebending to keep the firebenders on hold while Sokka was busy with those soldiers riding Komodo rhinos. When a waterwhip and a fireblast came from his sides he turned and gave the two girls a thankful smile. Lia stood in front of the two teens and, concentrating, she made a wall of flames rise in front of her, melting the front part of the oncoming tanks. She turned to the water and firebender.

“I’ve got it covered here. You go and help elsewhere.” With a nod they took off to join Sokka.

 

Zuko hastily bent a shield as a fireball came in their direction. They arrived in time to hear Hakoda say:

“We’ve got to take out those battlements. It’s our only chance.” Sokka looked at them thoughtfully.

“I’ve got an idea,” he finally said.

 

They left Zuko with the ground forces as more firebenders where coming and he was needed there. The Water Tribe Chief and his children hopped on Appa and flew towards the battlements, destroying a few before they landed. Hakoda pointed at the battlement further from the point Appa was standing on.

“You two take out that battlement. I’ve got this one. Watch each other’s backs.” He ran towards the closest battlement with Katara and Sokka following his example. Sokka cut through the door and his sister froze the soldiers inside before they destroyed the projectile that was ready to be launched. They ran out again, in time to see their father to enter the other one. There were sounds of struggle and suddenly a blast of fire appeared. Hakoda stumbled out of it, grasping his side in pain. The two Water Tribe teens ran to his side and carried him back to ground level. There, Katara started immediately to heal the wound.

“How does that feel, dad‌?” she asked concerned.

“A… a little better.” He struggled to sit up. “I need… to get back… to the troops.” He groaned and fell back.

“You’re hurt. Badly. You can’t fight anymore,” Katara said sternly.

“Everyone’s counting on me to lead this mission, Katara. I won’t let them down,” Hakoda argued.

“Can’t you heal him any faster‌?” Sokka asked.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Katara said, trying to keep her voice calm.

“I’ll do it,” Sokka said solemnly.

“No offence, Sokka but you’re not exactly Mr. Healing Hands,” his sister said a little annoyed. Sokka stood up.

“No,” he explained. “I’ll lead the invasion force.”

“Don’t be crazy, Sokka,” Katara said, now openly worried.

“Maybe I am a little crazy but the eclipse is about to start and we need to be up that volcano by the time it does,” Sokka insisted. “Besides, I’ll have Zuko help me.” That seemed to calm his sister a little.

“You can do this. I’m proud of you, son,” Hakoda said solemnly.

“I still think you’re crazy but I’m proud of you too.” Katara hugged her brother.
With a final nod, Sokka ran to Appa and took off. He landed in front of the main force, knocking away a tank in the process. He stood up in the saddle and raised his voice:

“Listen up everyone,” everyone paused and turned to the teen. “I want the tanks in wedge formation! Warriors and benders in the middle. We’re taking that tower and heading for the royal palace!” There were a few moments of chaos as everyone moved to their new positions. Spotting two Fire Nation uniforms in the middle of greens and blues Sokka called once again.

“Zuko!” Said teen raised his head. “I want you and Lia with me up front.” With a nod the two firebenders climbed on Appa’s saddle.  Sokka exchanged an excited smile with Zuko before turning to the rest of the force.

“Charge!” he yelled.

 

In another part of the city Aang was standing on a roof confused. There was no one in sight.

“That’s strange,” he muttered to himself. He took off again to land in front of the palace. He bended an air current to force the doors open.

“The Avatar is back!” he shouted, hoping for a dramatic entrance. He was met with silence. Looking around he walked further inside the palace cautiously.

“Hello?” he called nervously. “Anyone home?”

 

Outside it was raining fire but the Fire Nation soldiers were steadily retreating. The invasion plan had been going without a fail so far. It was almost…

“Too good to be true,” Lia whispered as she climbed through a hole at the outer wall of the capital. For a moment she gazed on the land that had so long ago been her home. She had feared that she would hesitate in causing further damage to the place but now she realised that her brother had been right. As long as she stayed concentrated on their goal, the memories stayed away. With a final look at the beautiful city below her, the Spirit of Fire turned back to the task at hand.

 

Aang airbended his way to the throne room, hoping that someone would be there. Seeing the room empty and dark, he fell to his knees as realisation hit him like a ton of bricks.

“No…” he said on disbelief. “Fire Lord Ozai where are you?” he screamed at the empty room.

End of Part 1

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Nightmares and Daydreams

Standard

Author’s note: In which the main plot tries to make a come-back, tensions run high and there are hallucinations but no cactus juice in sight.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Nightmares and Daydreams***

Sokka looked up from his map to the small island. They had finally made it. Despite everyone’s complaints his scheduling had worked and they were in time for the invasion.

“This is it, the official rendezvous point for the invasion force,” he informed the others.

“How did you pick this place‌?” Toph asked. To her it was just another deserted island.

“Before we split up, my dad and I found this island on a map. It’s uninhabited, and the harbor surrounded by cliffs seemed like the perfect secluded place,” Sokka explained as everyone started rolling out their sleeping bags.

“Nice choice Sokka,” Katara praised him as she unbraided her hair. She looked around.  “And we’re here four days ahead of schedule.” Aang’s eyes shot open.

“Wait,” he sat up abruptly. “The invasion’s in four days?” The others shrugged unconcerned.

“Whatever,” Sokka shrugged. “That’s like…four days from now.” He yawned and lied down. “Let’s just calm down, and …” before he had time to finish his sentence he fell asleep.
“Sokka’s got the right idea Aang. We’re here, we’re ready…” Katara said lying down herself next to Zuko. Toph and Lia were already asleep. “The best thing we can do now is get plenty of rest,” the waterbender finished.

“I guess,” Aang agreed nervously before lying down himself.

 

A few hours later he shot up, breathing hard after a nightmare. He frantically looked around and sighted in relief.

“It was just a dream Momo, I still have my pants,” Aang said as the lemur approached him curious. He got up. “Well, I better keep training.” He approached a bush and started practicing his kicks. Momo shook his head and went right back to sleep. His human could be so weird at times…

 

The next morning everyone woke up to the sound of something hitting wood really hard. With the exception of a surprisingly alert Lia everyone else looked at each other confused. Katara stood up drowsily and approached Aang who was busy hitting a tree.

“Hey, how long have you been up‌?” she asked.

“A couple of hours,” he answered curtly and started circling the tree, trying various punches and kicks. “I got a lot more skills to refine if I’m going to fight Ozai.”

“You know there is such a thing as over-training,” Zuko said, lighting a fire to start breakfast. Aang didn’t seem to hear him and punched the tree again. The aftershock from the punch sent him to the ground. He was back on his feet in an instant.

“You don’t get it, do you?” he said, drawing circles around Katara. “My form is bad. I’m sloppy. And I still don’t know any fire bending, not even the basics!” Sokka shrugged casually.

“That’s okay Aang. The eclipse will block all firebending anyway, you don’t need to know any.” He looked up from his map. “Plus it’s a stupid element.” Lia sent a fireball to his feet, causing him to yelp is surprise before she stalked away. Sokka looked at Zuko confused. “What’s with her?” he asked. The firebender shrugged.

“Aside from the comment you just made?” he asked. Sokka didn’t seem to get it.

“Aside from that.” Aang spoke up again, before an argument could erupt between the two older boys.

“Okay, well, I still have to work on everything else. I’d better spend the whole day training.” He jumped on his airscooter and disappeared.

“Lia was up before us,” Toph said confused. “I thought she didn’t like waking up early.”

“She doesn’t,” Zuko agreed before standing up. “I’ll go find her. She’s probably just stressed.”

“Who Lia?” Sokka asked over his breakfast. “Why would she be?”

 

Zuko found his mentor on the edge of the island, meditating. Silently he sat next to her and joined the exercise. After a few minutes of silence Lia gave up. She opened her eyes and turned to her brother.

“This is the first time in so long that I’ve actually, physically, returned home. It feels so strange,” she admitted.

“So that’s what’s been bothering you?” Zuko asked. “But why now? You knew about the invasion plan all along.”

“I guess it’s only now that the idea hit home. It doesn’t even look like it did back then but I can’t help feeling it’s wrong for me to go back.” She turned to Zuko. “How can you handle it so calmly?”

“I’m not sure.” He looked at her helplessly. “I suppose I just keep telling myself it is the right thing to do.” He paused and thought for a second. “And I might have a chance to rescue uncle Iroh,” he added. That got a smile out of Lia.

“I suppose you’re right,” she said as she stood again and extended a hand to Zuko to help him stand. “Come for some practice?” she asked, sounding more like herself again.

 

Much later, long after everyone else was asleep, Aang came back to camp. Flopping down to his sleeping bag he yawned.

“Good night Katara. Good night Sokka. Good night Toph. Good night Zuko. Good night Lia. Good night Appa. Good night Momo…”

“Go to sleep already!” Toph yelled annoyed before he had a chance to add anything else. Wincing a little at her loud voice, the airbender turned on his side and tried to sleep. A few hours later he shot awake again, breathing hard from a nightmare. Wordlessly he approached some sleeping koala-sheep and started practicing again. His constant walking woke up Toph.

“Twinkle-Toes it’s the middle of the night. Go back to sleep.” She approached him, rubbing the sleep away from her eyes.

“But I forgot my pants and my math test!” he answered wildly. Toph sighted and encased his feet in stone, turning him to face her.

“You can worry about them tomorrow,” she ordered. “Now get some sleep. All this walking around made me dizzy.” She dragged him back to camp and into his sleeping bag before he had a chance to protest.

 

The next morning everyone woke up early, this time in yells. Aang shot awake from yet another nightmare and shook Sokka shouting:

“Sokka get up! I need to know what day it is!” The Water Tribe boy jumped up startled.

“What? Who’s talking?” he took his sword and promptly hit his head on the rock in front of him.

“Relax, it’s still two days before the invasion,” Toph sighed as everyone else woke up. Aang didn’t seem to hear her. He kept trying to get Sokka on his feet.

“Sokka, you’ve got to get up and drill your rock climbing exercises.”

“What?” Sokka looked at him confused.

“In one of my dreams, you were running from fire nation soldiers, trying to climb this cliff, but you were too slow and they got you,” the airbender explained frantically. Sokka jumped up, insulted.

“But that was just a dream! I’m a great climber.” Aang didn’t seem convinced. He pointed at a nearby steep cliff.

“Then climb that cliff. Climb it fast!” Sokka looked at the cliff, then back at Aang. The Avatar nodded encouragingly. With a sigh Sokka approached it and started climbing.

“Stupid Avatar. Stupid cliff. Stupid dream! I can climb fast!” he grumbled under his breath.

 

Aang turned pleased in time to see Toph ready to take a sip of water.

“Don’t drink that!” he yelled alarmed. Shocked Toph spit it out, all over Katara. Annoyed the older girl bended it away.

“Why?” Toph asked alarmed. “Is it poisoned?”

“In my dream, we were right in the middle of the invasion, and you had to stop to use the bathroom. We died because of your tiny bladder.” Aang turned to Lia, who was busy untangling her hair. “And you need to start wearing your hair up. In my dream, your hair got caught in a train, and…” he stopped when he saw the evil eye he was getting from the Spirit.

“Do you want to know what happened to everyone in my dream?” she asked annoyed. “Because it involved a lot of lightning being shot in our direction.” Katara saw Aang paling and continued in a softer voice.

“Aang, I know you’re just trying to help. But you really need to get a grip. You’re unraveling.” The boy sighed.

“You’re right. I’m losing my mind.”

 

Everyone gathered around for breakfast and to discuss what to do with Aang.

“It’s like every time I think about how stressed I am, I end up more stressed,” the boy said twitching. “I’m like a big, growing snowball of nerves!”

“Of course you are!” Sokka looked up from his project of making Appa some armor. “That’s because you’ve got to fight the Firelord, the baddest man on the planet, and you’d better win or we’re all done for.” This time both Lia and Zuko sent fireballs at him. “What?” he yelled annoyed.

“You’re not helping!” Katara yelled annoyed at her brother.

“What? It’s true! That’s the deal. He knows it!” Sokka insisted. She slapped him at the back of the head annoyed before walking up to Aang who was trembling from head to toe now.

“You know what?” she said good-naturally. “I’ve got just the thing! Get ready to be de-stressified!”

 

Katara led Aang to a hot spring she had discovered the day before. Lia followed them silently, hoping that whatever the waterbender was about to try would work on her strained nerves too.

“These yoga stretches can really do wonders if you do them in extreme heat,” the girl explained before assuming a stance. “Reach up,” she guided both her “students.” “Reach for the sun. Feel your chi paths clearing.” She changed her stance and Aang hurried to follow. “Now close your eyes. How are you feeling?” she asked gently.

“I feel really warm,” Aang said.

“Go on,” Katara prompted him.

“Like there’s this warm feeling all around me. This heat. Like I’m in the Firelord’s palace and he’s shooting a bunch of fireballs at me!” Panicked again he fell over.

“Maybe your stress is the kind you need to talk about,” Katara sighed disappointed.

 

Sokka was the next to try his “methods”. This time Lia didn’t bother to follow, having been calmed by the warm air from the springs. Aang was lying on the ground with his head resting on a koala sheep, while Sokka sat next to him, wearing his Wang Fire beard.

“Why don’t you get right down to business and tell me what’s been bothering you?” he asked in his fake-adult voice.

“You know what’s been bothering me!” Aang said annoyed. “I have to fight the Firelord in a few days.” Sokka nodded in understanding.

“Tell me more about this Firelord…” he said. “Why are you so afraid of him?”

“You said it yourself! He’s the baddest man on the planet! I’m supposed to defeat him and save the world.” Sokka nodded again.

“Life does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Like we’re trying to save the world from evil?” Aang looked at him exasperated.

“Okay, but what can I do to feel better?” Sokka handed him another koala-sheep.

“Wanna try screaming into this pillow?” Aang tried but he felt just the same with before, along with a sneezing fit since he inhaled some of the koala-sheep’s fur.

 

Toph was the next to drag him away. She led him to a small platform of rocks she had made. Aang couldn’t help but sent a wistful glance a little further away, where Zuko and Lia were practicing uninterrupted.

“Alright,” Toph said, pushing him to the platform. “What you need is a good, old-fashioned back-pounding to relieve your stress.”

“Pound away,” Aang sighed. Toph took his words at heart and stomped her feet to the ground, causing separate pieces of the platform to rise and hit his back.

“Toph!” the boy yelped. “I think this is bruising me!” he fell of the platform.

“Sorry, I forgot you have baby skin.” She paused thoughtfully. “Well there is one more thing we could try.” She stomped her foot again and a porcupine landed on her hand.  She showed it to him smiling. “Acupuncture.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror before he ran away screaming.

 

Aang limped back to camp some time later that night. Everyone else was already ready for bed when he plopped down on his sleeping bag. He turned to his friends.

“Thanks for everything guys,” he said.

“So, do you feel any less stressed? Ready for a good night’s sleep?” Katara asked hopefully. Aang looked up from his feet uneasily.

“I kind of think I sort of might slightly feel a little better,” he said nervously. Sokka yawned satisfied.

“Then our job here is done,” he said satisfied. The next moment he was asleep and the rest soon followed his example. Not for long though. The moon had hardly passed its midpoint when Aang woke everyone up again yelling in horror.

“What happened Aang?” Katara rushed to him worried.

“It’s the nightmares,” the boy explained trembling. “The just get worse and worse.” Sokka took out his fake beard.

“Looks like it’s time for another therapy session,” he said. Aang glared at him.

“No, that won’t help!” he snapped. “Nothing helps! There’s only one thing I can do. I’m going to stay awake until the invasion.” Everyone’s jaw hit the floor.

 

The next morning everyone woke up to see Aang waking around, his shoulders slumped as he tried to remain awake.

“Invasion. All aboard for the invasion,” he muttered to himself in a dull voice. Katara watched him worried.

“You don’t look so good.” She walked up to him. “You sure you can’t just lie down for a little nap?” His eyes gained a little light for a second as he gave her a panicky look.

“I told you, I can’t go back to sleep.”
Katara wasn’t the only one who was worried about Aang’s insomnia. Toph had found it amusing at first but now she was getting scared. The airbender’s normally calm vibrations were completely off and his ramblings didn’t sound right either. Hesitantly, something that was a first for her, she approached Aang.

“Come on Twinkle-Toes, all this staying up can’t be good for you,” she said casually.

“Actually staying up all night has given me some time to think,” he answered as they walked along the shore. “And I’ve realized some big things Toph.” The earthbender looked up curious.

“Really? What big things?”
“I see everything so clearly now…what really matters,” Aang continued contemplatively. “Why I’m really doing this. I’m doing it to save the world, but more than that. I’m doing it for the people I love…” His eyes grew distant and his voice trailed off. Suddenly he sprung to the side.

“Uh… Twinkle-Toes?” Toph asked, hoping to snap him out of it. He jumped straight again. “You really need a nap.”

“Sorry,” Aang rubbed his eye awkwardly. “I guess I kinda drifted off into a day-dream.”

“What was it about?” Toph asked.

“Uh… living underwater,” the airbender said hastily, wincing at the silly excuse. Thankfully Toph just shrugged and walked away.

 

“I’m telling you guys, we need to do something!” Toph insisted, “looking” over to where the rest of the gang was sitting. “If Aang continues like this, he won’t make it through the invasion.”

“Toph is right,” Sokka decided. “If Aang does not get some rest we might as well not take him with us tomorrow on the invasion.”

“Have you tried a pep talk?” Lia asked suddenly. She was still tense but had decided to push her inhibitions aside for now.

“You think it would work?” Zuko asked her doubtfully.

“It works on you…” she shot back with a shrug.

 

They found Aang sitting in front of Momo, trying to speak lemur. The boy laughed at something his pet said.

“Aang?” Katara called hesitantly. “We’re all starting to get a little worried about you.”

“You’ve been awake too long,” Zuko continued.

“And you’re acting downright weird,” Toph added, putting up her usual tough front. Aang’s eyes moved from one to the other as they talked to finally rest on Appa. His face turned blank as he fell into another daydream, not really listening to what the others said. Suddenly his face filled with horror and he ran up to Sokka.

“Sokka, what should we do‌?” he yelled.

“About what?” the boy asked confused.

“About that!” Aang pointed as Appa and Momo’s general direction and the gang turned to see their two pets growling at each other.

“Come on guys, we’re all on the same side!” Aang called to them. Appa and Momo ignored him. Everyone looked on as Aang’s eyes darted from one direction to another, hallucinating. Lia made a move to force him to snap out of it when he suddenly jumped.

“I just need a jump in a cold waterfall!” he yelled before running away. Lia sighed disappointed and turned to the others.

“Okay, who has Plan B?”

When the sun set Aang returned back to camp. He had spent the entire day hidden near the shore, trying to fight away the hallucinations. Looking up ahead he saw a mass of something fluffy and white. Skeptically he popped on it trying it for its softness.

“Oh look, another hallucination. An imaginary bed, made out of clouds,” he sighed.

“Hey! It’s real! We spent hours working on it!” Toph said from somewhere on the side.

“We made it for you,” Sokka explained. “A good night sleep will probably take the crazy away…we hope.” Aang frowned and jumped off the bed.

“Look, you guys keep telling me I need to sleep, but I can’t, the invasion’s tomorrow.”

“Aang…” Katara sighed.

“No Katara, there’s still so much I haven’t learned. I don’t need sleep. What I need is practice. Quick, hit me,” he ordered her, his eye twitching a little.
“I’m not going to hit you!” The waterbender took a step back.

“You want me to do it‌?” Toph asked excited. To everyone’s surprise Zuko stepped forward and grabbed Aang by the shoulders, forcing the younger boy to look at him.

“Listen, Aang. You’ve been training for this since Katara woke you up from the ice. I think I’ve seen your progress better than anyone else.” A snort came from Sokka’s direction, which earned him glares from everyone else. “You’re smart, brave, and strong enough.” Aang looked at the Fire prince, taken aback by the honesty in his voice.

“You really think so‌?” he asked.
“We all do. You can do this. You’re ready,” Sokka added.

“You’re the man, Twinkle-toes,” Toph added with a smile. Aang yawned.

“You know what?‌ I think I am ready.” Katara helped him to the bed they had made and for the first time in nearly a week Aang slept peacefully.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Runaway

Standard

Author’s note: In which Toph gets the spotlight, the boys are afraid of the girls and the weird guy from two chapters back has a bit of a naming crisis. Also, in which the author got her files all mixed up and this was actually supposed to be last week’s chapter. 😦

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Runaway***

A passing bird watched the little human girls under it curiously as they faced each other. A human boy hopped in their direction cheerily, tying his headband as a blindfold at the same time.

“Ok, I’m ready for some training!” Aang called to his water and earthbending masters. He stood between the two girls and started deflecting the attacks that came at him from both directions. He sent a waterwhip back at Katara and simultaneously a rock at Toph. The petite earthbender caught it with one hand.

“Good job, Twinkle-Toes. Visualize – then attack!” She sent the boulder back to him. Aang ducked to avoid it and it hit Katara instead.

“Maybe you should take your own advice, Toph!” the waterbender called angrily. That boulder had hurt. Toph didn’t seem very concerned.

“What’s the matter‌?” she called in an annoying voice. “Can’t handle some dirt, Madame Fussy Britches‌?” Katara’s scowl deepened and she wordlessly bent a wave to Toph’s direction.

“Oh, sorry, did I splash you, mud slug‌?” she called back at the drenched girl.

 

Completely forgetting their student the two girls shot attacks back and forth. Aang looked around confused, without taking the blindfold off.

“Are we taking a break?” he asked a little hopefully. He didn’t notice Sokka sneaking behind him with an evil smile. The older boy rushed to the airbender yelling.

“SNEAK ATTACK!” he called. Aang rolled his eyes under the blindfold and made a wall of earth to block Sokka.

“Sokka, sneak attacks don’t work if you yell it out loud,” he said removing the headband. As if to prove the point a large fireball landed between them. The two boys jumped away and turned to face their opponent, to find a smug-looking Zuko looking down at them from a nearby rock. He jumped silently next to them.
“Practice over?” he asked Aang curiously. The airbender shrugged.

“I’m not so sure,” he said pointing at the two girls who were currently wrestling in the mud. Sokka looked around.

“Where’s Lia?” he asked confused.

“Right behind you,” the Spirit said, laughing as the Water Tribe boy yelped and jumped away from her. “Seems like it’s not your day Sokka.” They turned to watch Katara and Toph.

“Uh, guys, I thought we were supposed to be training me,” Aang called at them hesitantly. That brought them back to reality.

“Very well, pupil. I believe we’ve had enough training for today,” Katara said before walking away. Toph bended the mud out of her clothes and hair.

“While Katara cleans up, let’s go have some fun!” she decided. Aang and Sokka immediately cheered. Lia shared a look with her brother.

“I’ll go to keep an eye on them; you stay and calm Katara down.”

 

They walked to the nearest town and started walking around the streets. Lia sent a particular nasty glare at a statue of Ozai they passed, muttering under her breath something that sounded a lot like over-compensating….

“Look at all those messenger hawks,” Sokka pointed at a shop. “You know, I’ve been thinking about getting one for myself. That way, I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone…I could just send them messages!”

“I gotta say, I like the idea of not talking to you,” Toph said wistfully.

“So, guys, what are we gonna get with our last silver piece‌?” Aang asked cheerfully.

“We could save it just in case,” Lia said. “We are low on money after all.”

“Or we can get more money.” Toph pointed at an alley. “Right there.” There was a man there playing a shell game. “This is where you see-people are at a disadvantage. Everyone guesses wrong because the dealer moves the rock at the last minute. But I can feel it with my earthbending.” Lia gave her a doubtful look.

“Toph, I’m not so sure about that,” she said as the teenagers walked up to the alley.

“Oh, come on!” Sokka said carelessly. “It’s not that bad!”
The dealer seemed to notice Toph and called to her.

“You there! Want to play a friendly game‌?”

“How could I possibly play‌? I’m blind,” Toph said in such an innocent voice it almost fooled her friends.

“You don’t have to see to be lucky,” the dealer said friendlily. Toph leaned on Aang to guide her to the dealer’s direction – which he did blushing – and once seated, the earthbender placed their last silver piece on the ground. The dealer tried to do his usual trick but Toph guessed correctly. He handed her a few coins.

“Flamey-o, Toph!” Aang exclaimed.

“Wow, fancy guessing. You are amazing at this. Would you like to make the game a little more interesting‌?” the dealer said in a sugary tone.

“More interesting‌? How‌?” Toph asked, still the picture of pure innocence.

“Well, let’s say you toss in your friend’s fine sword there. Then I’ll put up
twenty silver pieces against it, and that’s more interesting.” Lia went to protest but Toph spoke first.

“I’ll do it for forty silver pieces,” she said excitedly.

“Forty silver pieces it is,” the dealer said satisfied. He tried removing the pebble while the shells were still moving but such tricks wouldn’t get on with Toph. She bended it back where it belonged. She pointed at the shell the pebble was under. “Sorry, little lady, but…” the dealer began only to lose his words when he saw the pebble there.

“I won!” Toph celebrated. Before anyone had a chance to realise what had happened, the mysterious kids were off.
Katara looked amazed at the amount of shopping they brought back at the camp.

“Where did you guys get the money to buy all this stuff‌?” she asked shocked.

“Toph got us money. She scammed one of those guys in town who moves the shells around all sneaky-like,” Aang explained with no small amount of amazement in his voice.

“She used earthbending to win the game. Classic!” Sokka was equally amazed by the mischievous little earthbender. Katara crossed her arms.

“Ah, so she cheated,” she concluded.

“Hey, I only cheated because he was cheating. I cheated a cheater. What’s wrong with that‌?” Toph asked defensively.

“I’m just saying, this isn’t something we should make a habit of doing,” Katara insisted.

“Why‌? Because it’s fun, and you hate fun‌?” Toph snapped.

“I don’t hate fun!” Katara said incredulously.

“Making out with Sparky doesn’t count,” the earthbender shot back. Katara and Zuko blushed and Sokka let out an indignant noise. He was ignored.

“Katara, I’ll personally make you an Avatar promise that we won’t make a habit of doing these scams,” Aang promised solemnly, eager to end the argument before it went out of hand.
Katara let them have their fun for a few days, seeing that Avatar promises apparently didn’t hold much water. She hoped that they’d get bored and stop on their own, but gradually Toph’s stunts got more and more elaborate. She wasn’t the only one worried. Zuko found it risky too. They stayed in the same place for far longer than was absolutely necessary and he feared that someone might get suspicious. After a week he decided to voice his concerns.

“These scams have gone far enough,” he said decisively. “If you keep doing them, something bad is gonna happen.”

“Would you just lighten up!” Toph said annoyed. Katara nagging her was more than enough. “You and Katara should really relax.”

“Oh, we’re sorry,” Katara frowned. “You think we should be more like you‌? Like some wild child‌?”

“Yeah, maybe. Maybe then, you’d see how great we have it. I mean, look at us. We’re traveling around the world, making easy money, having fun, with no parents to tell us what to do,” Toph said, the picture of contentment. Katara’s eyes narrowed.

“Ah, I see. You’re acting like this because of your parents.”

“Whatever,” Toph mumbled.

“They were controlling over you, so you ran away, and now you act like your parents don’t exist. You act like you hate them, but you don’t. You just feel guilty,” the older girl tried to get through.

“I do hate them,” Toph insisted.

“I don’t think so. I think you miss them. But you just don’t want to deal with that, so instead, you act like this crazy person.” Toph shot to her feet.

“Look. I ran away to help Aang!” Katara crossed her arms.

“You know what?‌ It doesn’t matter. These scams put us all at risk, and we don’t need that. We’ve already got some third-eyed freak after us.” At that Sokka’s head shot up.

“Speaking of that third-eyed freak…I think I’ve come up with a name for him. What do you think of…Sparky-Sparky Boom Man!” They all looked at him exasperated. “Just think about it,” he insisted.

“It’s not important right now,” Zuko spoke again. “We have enough money. You need to stop this!”

“I’ll stop when I want to stop, and not when you tell me Dad!” Toph walked away angrily. Sokka stood up uninterested.

“Speaking of money, I’m off to spend some. See you guys later,” he called over his shoulder as he walked towards the town.

 

Apparently shopping didn’t go well… Toph thought wryly, feeling Sokka sprinting back at the camp not an hour after he left. He paused in front of her.

“Toph, when I was in town, I found something that you’re not gonna like,” he said gravely. He unrolled a paper in front of her. Top didn’t seem impressed.

“Well, it sounds like a sheet of paper, but I guess you’re referring to what’s on the sheet of paper,” she said evenly.

“It’s a wanted poster,” Sokka explained, waving his hands madly. “Of you. They’ve nicknamed you the Runaway.” Toph shot to her feet amazed.

“A wanted poster. That’s so great. The Runaway! I love my new nickname. Is there a picture of me? ‌ Does it look good‌?” Sokka took a look at the poster.

“Well, yeah, actually, it does look pretty good.” He sobered. “But Toph, you’re missing the point. Maybe Katara was right. These scams are drawing too much attention to us.” Toph shrugged carelessly.

“Don’t be such a worrywart like your sister. Think of it this way. Now you have plenty of money to help with the invasion plan!” she dangled a bag of money under his nose.

“Well, that is true. I had this idea of making armour for Appa,” Sokka said thoughtfully. Toph handed him some money.

“Here’s a little extra so you can get yourself a nice map of the Fire Nation.” She gave him the entire bag. “You know what‌? Make it an atlas.”

“I do like expensive atlases,” Sokka murmured, clearly sold.

“Of course you do!” Toph said sweetly, snatching the poster. “And that’s why this wanted poster is going to stay our little secret.”

 

She walked away right in time to avoid the rest of the gang. Katara looked at her brother exasperated.

“Sokka, tell me you didn’t buy a bird,” she sighed, sounding much like a mother. Sokka shook his head.

“Not just a bird. A messenger bird! Now we can send messages all over the world, even to Gran-Gran.”

“Wow, how does it work‌?” Aang asked curiously. Sokka’s smile diminished.

“Hm, uh, I never actually thought about that.” He turned to the bird. “Hawky! Gran-Gran, South Pole.” The hawk just looked at him. “I think he gets it,” he said enthusiastically to the others. Zuko rolled his eyes.

“You’re being an idiot,” he concluded before letting out a low whistle. The hawk immediately flew to his outstretched arm and he gave the other boy a smug look.

“No fair!” Sokka whined. “Hawky is mine! Why does he like you better?” Zuko shrugged.

“Maybe because I don’t have Momo flying over my head,” he said pointing at the lemur.
The next day rolled in and they woke up to find Toph and Sokka gone. At noon Katara’s mood had become progressively worse as she angrily stirred the soup for everyone’s lunch. While she served a few bowls Sokka and Toph appeared, their arms full of packets. The waterbender stood, crossing her arms.

“Well, look who decided to join us. Where have you two been‌? Off scamming again‌?” she asked in a tight voice.

“Yes, we were,” Toph said evenly.

“And I suppose you don’t think what you’re doing is dangerous at all‌?” Katara continued.

“No, I don’t,” the earthbender said.

“Really?” Katara sounded deceptively calm. Toph didn’t get the message but Sokka did and moved quickly away from his sister.

“Well then, what’s this‌?” Katara took out a paper and showed to Toph.

“I don’t know!” Toph shouted exasperated. “I mean, seriously, what’s with you people‌? I’m blind!” she pointed on her eyes for emphasis.

“It’s a wanted poster of you,” Katara explained. “The Runaway. Is that what you’re called now‌? Are you proud of this‌?” Toph narrowed her eyes.

“Where did you get that‌!” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter where I got it. The fact is…” Katara tried to continue defensively.

“You went through my stuff! You had no right!” Toph looked at the older girl’s direction accusingly.

“Your stuff was messy, and I was just straightening up and I happened to stumble across it,” Katara insisted.

“That’s a lie!” Toph shot back a little hurt in her voice. “You’re lying, Katara.”

“Fine! It’s a lie. But you’ve been so out of control lately, I knew something was up. I knew you were hiding something, and you were.” Toph snatched the poster and began to walk away. “Don’t you walk away from me while I’m talking to you!”

“Oh, really, Mom‌?” Toph’s voice was definitely tight now. “Or what are you going to do?‌ Send me to my room‌?”

“I wish I could,” Katara muttered.

“Well you can’t!” Toph erupted. “Because you’re not my mom, and you’re not their mom.” She pointed at Aang and Sokka.

“I never said I was,” Katara said shocked.

“No, but you certainly act like it,” Toph accused. “You think it’s your job to boss everyone around, but it’s not. You’re just a regular kid like the rest of us, so stop acting like you can tell me what to do. I can do whatever I want!”

“I don’t act that way!” Katara turned to her brother. “Sokka, do I act motherly‌?” Said boy jerked upright, surprised to be pulled in the argument.

“Hey – I’m staying out of this one,” he said. Katara turned to Aang.

“What do you think, Aang?‌ Do I act like a mom‌?” Aang rubbed his eye nervously.

“Well, I…”

“Stop rubbing your eye and speak clearly when you talk!” Katara snapped.

“Yes, ma’am,” the airbender said immediately. Lia rolled her eyes.

“That’s enough!” she called sternly enough to drown Toph’s next comment. “Yes Toph, Katara does act motherly. But!” she continued before the waterbender could protest. “She is the only one amongst you mature enough to make sure no one dies of starvation or because the Fire Nation found us so give her a little credit, will you?” Toph stared in their direction before storming away. Katara stormed in the other direction. Zuko made a move to follow her but Sokka stopped him.
“Not yet man. There’s no talking to her now.”
As the sun set neither Toph nor Katara were in any better moods. Sokka and Aang watched them sadly. Suddenly Sokka sat up straighter.

“Hey, Aang, you want to test out my messenger hawk with me?‌ I’ve got an idea.” The Avatar shrugged.

“Sure.”

“I’m gonna send a note to Katara and say it’s from Toph, who wants to apologize. Then everyone will be friends again!” Sokka explained his plan. Aang smiled.

“I gotta say, Sokka, you continue to impress me with your ideas.” Said boy shrugged modestly.

“Eh, it’s a gift.” He took out a piece of parchment. “Dear Katara,” he said out loud as he wrote. “Sorry for everything. Your friend, Toph.” He slid the note into Hawky’s dispatch tube and sent the bird to Katara.

“Good thing Zuko showed you how to send Hawky around,” Aang said. Sokka looked at him insulted.

“I would have figured it out!” he exclaimed.

“I know this is from you, Sokka,” Katara yelled and ripped the letter. “Toph can’t write. Ugh, you’re all driving me crazy!” she stormed away.

“I can’t believe we forgot Toph can’t write,” Aang murmured a little ashamed.

“Yep, we’re idiots,” Sokka agreed.

“I guess plan B is, we send a note to Toph pretending it’s from Katara,” Aang proposed.

“I think we’re gonna run into a similar problem. Sorry, Hawky. Looks like I’m gonna have to do this without your help.” He walked over to the younger girl. “Come on, we need to talk,” he said calmly.
They walked to the edge of the cliff where they had camped. Toph sat down wordlessly, still hurt from her fight with Katara. She tried to hide it behind indifference.

“So let me guess. You brought me out here to tell me your sister’s not as annoying as I make her out to be.”

“Nah, she’s pretty much a pain.” Sokka flashed her a quick smile. “She’s always got to be right about everything, and she gets all bossy, and involved, and in your business.”

“Yeah, I don’t know how you can deal with it.” Toph shook her head in agreement.

“Actually, in a way, I rely on it,” Sokka said in surprisingly serious tone.

“I don’t understand,” the earthbender said confused.

“When our mom died, that was the hardest time in my life. Our family was a mess, but Katara, she had so much strength. She stepped up and took on so much responsibility. She helped fill the void that was left by our mom,” Sokka explained. Toph looked thoughtful.

“I guess I never thought about that,” she admitted. Silently she berated herself. She had never thought that Katara might have had reasons to act like that other than wanting to annoy everyone.

“I’m gonna tell you something crazy. I never told anyone this before, but honestly, I’m not sure I can remember what my mother looked like. It really seems like, my whole life, Katara’s been the one looking out for me. She’s always been the one that’s there, and now, when I try to remember my mom, Katara’s is the only face I can picture,” Sokka continued in a soft voice. He noted with satisfaction that his words seemed to have an effect.

“The truth is, sometimes Katara does act motherly, but that’s not always a bad thing. She’s compassionate and kind, and she actually cares about me. You know, the real me. That’s more than my own mom,” Toph admitted. Then she punched him on the shoulder. “Don’t ever tell her I said any of this,” she warned him. Sokka looked at her defensively.

“Hey, my lips are sealed!”

As the two teens walked back to camp they were greeted by an awkward-looking Katara. She shuffled her feet uneasily.

“Hi, Toph. Um, I want to…” she trailed off awkwardly. Toph raised a hand.

“Katara, stop. You don’t need to apologize. I was the one being stupid. These scams are out of control, and I’m done with them.” The waterbender smiled.

“Actually, I wasn’t going to apologize. I was gonna say…I want to pull a scam with you!” Toph and the rest of the gang watched Katara in disbelief.

“What‌? You want to pull a scam‌?” Toph asked astonished.

“Not just any scam…the ultimate scam!” she wrapped an arm around the younger girl’s shoulders. “What do you say, Toph‌ Just me and you…one last go. You in‌?” Toph grinned.
“You know I’m in! Now what’s this idea of yours‌?” They walked over to the fire and Katara took out the accursed wanted poster that had begun everything.

“The plan is simple. This wanted poster says you’re worth a lot of money,” she explained. “Ten times more than you’ve made in all your scams. So I’m gonna turn you in and collect the reward. Then you metalbend yourself out of jail, and we’re on our way.”
Surprisingly Katara’s plan seemed to be working. The next morning Toph staged a stunt and Katara informed the officials of her position. In a matter of minutes Toph was being dragged to prison. Katara watched with a secretive smile when a middle-aged man approached her.

“You did the right thing by turning in the Runaway,” he said in a congratulatory tone.

“The right thing is its own reward,” Katara said in a fake-respectful way. The man didn’t seem to understand her mocking.

“Well, I’m happy to hear you say that,” he said. Before he had a chance to leave Katara added hurriedly.

“But…I still want the actual reward.”

“Of course. Right this way,” the man told her.
Meanwhile Toph was in for a surprise at the prison cell she had been thrown in.
“Hey!” she called feeling around, “what kind of cell is this?”

“A wooden one,” the guard called before closing the door. Toph sat down worried. There was nothing around her she could bend and no way to inform the others. But, she thought trying to keep herself calm, Aang if no one else would be worried if she didn’t return with Katara. They would come looking for her and she would be out in no time.

 

Unbeknownst to Toph, Katara was closer to her than either girl would have expected. In fact, she was at the room right next to her. The mayor took out a small box in front of the waterbender when the door behind them creaked open. The mayor pointed at her and said to the man.

“That’s her. That’s the girl you were looking for!” Katara sprung around and held back a gasp as the man Sokka called “Sparky-Sparky-Boom Man” towered over her.
Back at the camp Zuko was pacing restlessly.

“They should be back by now,” he muttered annoyed. “How long will this scam of theirs take anyway?” Sokka didn’t look as worried.

“Nah, they are probably down at the city, shopping or something.” Aang shook his head.

“That doesn’t sound like something Katara would do.” He stood up. “I think we should go check on them.” Lia nodded, throwing Zuko his swords. He caught them by instinct.

“You might need them,” she simply said.

 

Toph and Katara had been sitting in silence for a while now when Toph’s head suddenly shot up.

“Wait! It’s a trap!” she said. Katara rolled her eyes.

“Really‌? No kidding. Is that why we’re sitting in a wooden cage right now?‌ Gee, how’d you figure out it was a trap‌?” Toph snorted.

“Not for us Katara,” she snapped irritably. “We’re the bait. It’s Aang he’s after, remember?”

“I can’t believe I was so stupid,” Katara slapped her forehead in frustration. “See, this is exactly why I’m against these scams. I knew this would happen.”  Toph gave her a look.

“But…this was your idea,” she pointed out a little confused. Katara blushed in embarrassment.

“I know. I wanted to show you that I’m not so motherly. I wanted to show you that I can have fun too.”
“Katara, you are fun. If nothing else, you’re at least fun to argue with,” Toph chuckled half-heartily. She couldn’t believe they were having this conversation now of all times.

“I know your relationship with your parents is complicated, and I shouldn’t have said what I said,” the waterbender admitted.

“It’s ok. I was really mad when you said that because; well, because maybe it’s true. I try not to think about it, but when I left, I probably really hurt them.” She let a few tears fall before Katara drew her to a sisterly embrace.

“It’s okay Toph,” she whispered to the younger girl who was now openly sobbing. “You can always go back and I know that your parents will be very proud of you.”

 

Three blocks away, at the town’s square, the boys and Lia were looking around warily. There was no one in sight.

“Where do you think they might be‌?” Sokka asked nervously. Aang looked around.

“Where do you think anyone is‌?” he asked. Zuko scanned the buildings and his eyes went wide. Before anyone had a chance to say anything he jumped in front of Sokka and blocked an incoming blast with some bending of his own.

“It’s Sparky-Sparky Boom Man!” Aang gasped, spotting the huge man.

“You know,” Sokka grumbled, dodging another blast, “I’m starting to think that name doesn’t quite fit.”

“Less talking, more running,” Lia snapped as she moved behind them to cover their retreat to the alleys.

 

Back in their cell the two girls’ heads shot up at the sound of explosions.

“What are we gonna do?” Katara was already distressed that the rest of the gaang was in trouble.

“I don’t know! I wish we had some earth or water. We need bendables!” Toph was also worrying. She didn’t like the thought of Aang being in a battle without her to watch his back. Then she promptly blushed at the thought. If Katara noticed, she thankfully said nothing.

“What about your meteor bracelet‌? You could make a saw,” she asked instead.

“I left it back at camp. I was worried they would take it.” The earthbender said disappointed. Katara wiped a little sweat of her forehead. Why did it have to be so warm… Her thoughts trailed as an idea occurred to her. Jumping to her feet she started running around the cell.

“Um, Katara…are you ok‌?” Toph asked rightfully perplexed.

“Just fine,” the waterbender answered.

“Well, what are you doing‌?” Toph insisted, honestly worrying for her friend’s sanity.

“I’m making my own water!” Katara gathered her sweat and with one swift motion sent it to the door in the form of a dagger.

 

On the streets things weren’t exactly looking up.

“This guy is too good. He shoots fire from his brain!” Sokka yelled to Aang frustratedly. They had been reduced to hiding in alleyways, having lost Zuko and Lia at some point.

“We should split up again,” Aang suggested. “He can’t chase us all at the same time.” Sokka nodded and they ran to different directions. The assassin immediately followed Aang, blasting him to the feet of Ozai’s giant statue at the square. Before he had a chance to deliver the final blow, a huge block of ice encased his head. Katara stood behind him, as well as the rest of the gang.

“On your feet Twinkle-Toes and let’s get out of here,” Toph yelled, relief barely hidden in her voice.

 

The man tried to fire at them again, having rid himself of the ice, but Toph sent a boulder in his direction. Although he blasted it away, a small part hit him in the forehead, causing him to collapse. As they ran away, Sokka turned to the group.

“Hey, I got it. The perfect name for that guy! Combustion Man!” he proposed.

“Good job, Sokka,” Toph said as she passed him running. “Now let’s get out of here before Combustion Man catches us!”

“See‌? It fits so well!” Sokka insisted.

 

That night they made their campsite on a small deserted island. As Katara moved out of the saddle to set things up, Toph called her.

“Katara, I need your help,” she said hesitantly. The older girl turned concerned.

“What is it, Toph‌?” she asked softly.

“I need you to write some things down for me. I want to send a letter to my parents.” Toph held out a piece of parchment. She missed Katara’s bright smile.

“I’ll be happy to help.” Once the letter was written the girls placed it in Hawky’s tube and sent the bird away. No one bothered to answer Sokka’s bewildered question.

“Hey, where’d Hawky go?”