Tag Archives: Taang

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

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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

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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?”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Beach

Standard

Author’s note: In which there are major revelations, (not so) subtle shipping, and a new minor villain. Also, in which the author would like to point out that this was originally written before Legend of Korra and she sooooo came up with the idea of Spirits possessing mortals first! So there! -ahem- Thank you, rant over.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Beach***

Flying around aimlessly can only be fun for so long. With Sokka’s schedule lost somewhere along the way, it was even less fun. Zuko went as far as threatening to send the other boy off Appa if he didn’t shut up, a sentiment shared by the others silently. At last Aang couldn’t take the constant grumbling anymore and landed on a random island.

“There is no way we will continue flying if you are going to be like this!” he declared, giving a stern look at the rest of the gaang.

 

There was surprisingly little complaining on this decision. Appa had landed next to a lake, surrounded by tall rocks. In no time everyone was either swimming or playing near the water. Sokka was once again trying to prove his fishing abilities, while Aang floated around with Momo resting on his stomach. Zuko and Katara had swum a little away to get a break from Sokka’s constant disapproving glances. Lia had only dived in for the fun and now was resting on a flat rock, while Toph had absolutely refused to put anything but her toes inside the water.

“Aang, I know swimming is fun and all,” she called to her earthbending student, “but do you really think you should be exposing yourself like that‌? Cover up!” Aang looked at her confused.

“What‌ I’m wearing trunks?” he called back.

“I know…” Toph said with a slight blush. “It’s your tattoos I’m worried about.” She raised her hands in frustration. “What if someone sees you?”

“There are walls all around us Toph,” Lia said lazily. “Relax, it’s completely safe.”

 

Or rather, it was safe until Aang decided that just being in the lake was boring. Noticing a tunnel with a waterfall he jumped in, along with Momo, for a flash of adventure. What he didn’t see when he landed was two horrified Fire Nation soldiers. But they saw him, and a messenger hawk was on its way to the palace in no time…

 

Back on the lake a giggling Katara let Zuko chase her around in the water. They ended up on a small cave where they sat to catch their breath (and kiss undisturbed). When they broke away Zuko noticed a small seashell near them. On the one side it was shiny and as the light fell on it, various colours appeared. He picked it up and handed it to the waterbender.

“Here…” he said nervously. “This is for you.” Katara gave him a sweet smile.

“Oh, Zuko, it’s beautiful!” she sighed and kissed him again.

“It reminds me of you,” her boyfriend said shyly.

 

They returned to the rest of the group in time to see Aang climbing back to the lake. Zuko scowled, his previous good mood forgotten. He swam angrily to where the boy sat next to the fire Sokka had made.

“What were you thinking Aang?” he asked angrily. The airbender looked at him surprised. “We don’t know if there is anyone living here. Someone might see you! And then what?” he pinched the bridge of his nose trying to calm himself. “My father would know about you being alive before dinnertime rolled around.” Aang had the decency to look a little ashamed.

“What’s done is done now,” Katara said calmly, pulling the Fire prince to sit next to her, giving a disappointed look to Aang anyway.

“Come on everyone!” Sokka called excitedly. “Come and see the miracle I made out of my catch!” Surprisingly there was enough fish for everyone on the fire.

 

They all gathered around to eat with the exception of Lia. She didn’t seem to have heard him or any of them as a matter of fact. She just continued lying on the stone, glaring at the sun that was right over her head. Sokka took a look at her and smirked.

“You know,” he called, “if you keep glaring at the sun like that he’s gonna come down here to ask what is your problem.” Lia froze.

“The sun coming down here…” she repeated spellbound. Jumping to her feet she rushed to her stuff and drew out her parchments. Reading them hastily, her eyes widened. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “It all makes sense now!”

“Uh… What makes sense exactly?” Toph asked confused.

“Everything!” Lia sat next to her, realisation and anger switching places on her expression. “The war!” The rest of the gang looked at her lost. She sighed in frustration. “Hadn’t it ever occurred to you how awfully convenient everything about this war has been? I mean it’s like Sozin woke up a sunny day and decided to take over the world. And once everything’s ready, a comet arrives, making his firebenders even deadlier. The airbenders are all but wiped out and then Azulon takes over the throne. Like his father was renowned as a strategist he is known for his power at firebending. He has two sons. Iroh seems the perfect candidate to carry on the traditions until the siege of Ba Sing Se.”

“What happened there?” Sokka asked curious.

“My cousin, Lu Ten, died,” Zuko explained in a sad voice. “It broke uncle Iroh. After that he was almost openly opposed to the war.”

“But at the same time,” Lia continued, “your father grew more ambitious, right?” At Zuko’s surprised look she explained. “I had a talk with your mother when I found her. She told me that Ozai’s change in character coincided with the failure of the siege. And Azula followed right to her father’s footsteps.” The gang looked at her thoughtfully. “Now think of that. The last four generations of the Royal family are renowned for their strategic abilities and powerful firebending, two traits associated with one spirit.” She glared at the sun again. “Agni.”

“But aren’t you Agni?” Katara asked confused. Lia shook her head.

“A common misconception. The nature of fire is so dual; it needed two Spirits to be expressed. I am the benevolent side of the fire.” She gestured at the cooking fire in front of her. “Agni is the destructive force used at this war.”

 

Another thought crossed her mind and her expression darkened even more.

“There’s more to that, isn’t there?” Zuko asked in a grave voice. To everyone’s surprise, Lia looked away guiltily.

“Spit it out,” Toph commanded bluntly.

“If you want of course,” Aang added on a milder but still curious tone.

“Well…” Lia began uncertainly. “It’s not something I had ever talked about. Spirit World stuff.”

“If you can’t talk about it, we’ll understand,” Katara assured her comfortingly. Lia shook her head.

“No, you have a right to know.” She took a breath. “The genocide of the Air Nomads was too much of a disturbance to the balance to remain unpunished. So the High Council of the Spirits decided that as a punishment, no mortal shall receive aid from the Spirit World until the balance is restored. The Avatar is a special case.” She cut Aang off before he asked.

“But you helped me a lot of times,” Zuko said suspiciously. Lia avoided his eyes. “Did you get in trouble for that?”

“I wouldn’t call it trouble…” Lia started.

“But they did punish you,” Zuko frowned. “How?”

“Ten years exile,” the Spirit answered hastily.

“What?” the gang looked at her shocked. She shrugged.

“It’s nothing really. If I were a lesser Spirit they might have completely kicked me out.” It didn’t lighten anyone’s expression. Zuko especially looked ready to start beating himself up. “Don’t start blaming yourself Zuko,” Lia said sternly. “I was aware of the consequences when I made my choice. However, now that I know that Agni was behind all this, he is in so much trouble…” She sent another glare to the sun.

“Question!” Toph’s hand shot in the air. “How did you figure all this out?”

“I had my suspicions for quite some time now. And then there’s insanity.”

“And like that you lost me,” Sokka said, struggling to keep up.

“If a strong person is possessed by a Spirit, he tries to break free from the control. The result of an extended mental battle is insanity. All the Firelords so far, since Sozin, showed signs of insanity. Ozai especially.”

“That I’ll agree to,” Zuko scoffed. Another thing occurred to him. “Will I be affected too?” he asked, somewhat worried. The gaang turned their eyes collectively to the Spirit.

“No,” she said simply. “Not even Agni is reckless enough to try and take control of someone under my protection.”

“Is there a way to break his influence?” Aang asked. Lia looked thoughtful.

“Ozai is too far gone to be saved,” she said slowly. “But there might be a chance with Azula. She’s still young and much stronger than her father.”

 

Lia’s revelations put a damper on the mood of the gang for the rest of the day. After a quiet diner with the leftovers from Sokka’s catch they all went to bed. Toph in particular was having a rather nice dream of being able to show her parents exactly how good she was at earthbending when a wave of vibrations woke her up. She stood up noisily, waking everyone else in the process.

“Guys, you’re all gonna think I’m crazy, but it feels like a metal man is coming,” she said unsurely.

Suddenly a bright light fell on a still-sleepy Aang. Everyone’s eyes followed the beam to see a man whose arms and legs were covered in metal on a cliff overlooking their camp. His eyes were trained on Aang as he took a deep breath. A beam of energy was released from the eye tattoo on his forehead and blasted a rock over the camp. The kids were blown back from the impact. Toph was the first on her feet, and she bended a huge rock towards the man. He blasted them away, in time to dodge an attack from Katara, which resulted on him being hidden to a cloud of mist.

 

Without waiting for the mist to clear, he sent another blast. The kids barely had time to hide behind a rock.

“This is crazy! How can we beat a guy who blows things up with his mind‌?” Sokka exclaimed. Lia and Zuko shared a look.

“Jump on Appa,” the Spirit ordered. “We’ll distract him.” Before anyone had the chance to say anything the two firebenders charged. Lia ran straight towards the rock on which the man was standing, with Zuko blocking the beams that came after them. She sent a massive fireball to the rock, melting it and causing the man to lose his balance for a second.

 

That was all they needed to run towards a small field nearby that seemed planted with rocks. Blasts came after them soon and it wasn’t long before they actually heard the assassin closing in on them.

“Now what?” Zuko asked Lia. She was looking franticly around for an inspiration and suddenly flashed a grin.

“See that?” she pointed a few tall rock formations in front of them. Zuko nodded. “As soon as we pass them, blast the one nearer to you.” One more nod. They did so, causing the passage to be blocked completely. Seizing the opportunity, Aang landed Appa and they hurried up. Katara immediately tackled Zuko for a hug, checking for injuries.

“I’m okay,” He assured her softly, still a little winded from all the running.

“Well, that was random,” Toph raised an eyebrow. Katara looked doubtful.

“I don’t think so. I get the feeling he knows who we are.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Sokka’s Master

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Author’s note:  In which the author struggling not to make an InuYasha reference, there are arts & crafts and shopping and Sokka gets a cool new toy.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Sokka’s Master***

A rain of meteorites is something rare and therefore something unique. To have the chance to watch one during night time, especially with as busy a schedule as the gaang had, is definitely an occasion.

“This is amazing to watch,” Katara whispered her eyes glued to the night sky. Everyone was lying on their backs, staring upwards.

“Wow,” Katara said under her breath, snuggling closer to Zuko.

“Kind of makes you realize how insignificant we are,” Sokka added. He had taken to ignoring the fact that his baby sister had a boyfriend and that boyfriend was Zuko. Of course that happened after Katara tactfully told him that she would waterbend him to the South Pole and back if he tried to meddle.

 

Toph shrugged unimpressed.

“Eh, you’ve seen nothing once; you’ve seen it 1,000 times,” she said carelessly. A light flashed at the sky and a meteorite sprinted through the atmosphere. Everyone except Toph sat up.

“Oh, man,” Sokka whistled. “You’ve never not seen anything like this.” They watched as the meteorite grew bigger, until it crashed in the distance. The sound of the explosion sent everyone to their feet. They rushed on Appa and flew near the crater.

“Look!” Lia suddenly exclaimed. There was a small city nearby.

“The fire is gonna destroy that town!” Katara said worried.

“Not if we can stop it,” Aang decided.

 

They landed as close to the fire as they dared and everyone but Katara jumped off.

“There’s a creek over here. I’ll bend the water on to the fire,” she explained and took off. Aang turned to his earthbending teacher.

“Toph, let’s make a trench to keep the fire from coming any closer.” She nodded and they followed Zuko and Lia who were already putting out the fire with their bending.

“What should I do‌?” Sokka called after them disappointed. Aang turned unsure. Then with a sudden inspiration.

“Keep an eye on Momo!” Momo landed on his head.

“So what, I’m just a lemur-sitter‌?” Sokka whined. Mom chirped unhappily and Sokka petted him. “There, there. Feel better‌?”

 

Aang and Toph wasted no time in making a trench between the meteorite and the fire. Zuko and Lia remained inside the trench, staying as close as they dared to the flames, subduing them with firebending. Katara flew to the creek and half-emptied it with her waterbending. Controlling the orb over her head she sprayed the fire under Sokka’s wistful look. A few embers flew to his direction and he frantically put one out. He turned for the next one, to see that Momo had put all the other out. Sokka slumped to the ground again. Toph bended the earth to cover a line of fire, while Aang waterbended Katara’s supply near him.

“Sokka, stand clear.” He called over his shoulder, concentrating on his bending. Sokka stood up and walked away slowly.

“Right, stand clear. Got it.” Before he could move fast enough, Aang turned the water into snow and sprayed it on the fire, extinguishing it. Sokka got buried under the snow. Without noticing it Aang dusted his hands off.

“Good work, everybody!” he praised his friends.

 

The next morning they decided to visit the small town. Fearing that someone might see Appa they left him at their camp with Momo and walked the whole way. They arrived by midday and, after Toph’s demand, went straight to a small restaurant. They ordered their food; Katara was very thankful that Zuko explained them what some of the weirder foods were. Aang looked around.

“These people have no idea how close they were to getting toasted last night,” he said thoughtfully. Toph nodded from his side.

“Yeah, the worst thing about being in disguise is we don’t get the hero worship anymore. I miss the love.” Lia rolled her eyes.

“Boo-hoo, poor heroes,” Sokka called from the side of the veranda, where he was sitting with his feet dangling and his back turned to his friends.

“What’s your problem‌? You haven’t even touched your smoked sea slug,” Katara said worried.

“It’s just…all you guys can do this awesome bending stuff like putting out forest fires, and flying around, and making other stuff fly around. I can’t fly around, ok? ‌ I can’t do anything,” Sokka explained depressingly.

“That’s not true. No one can read a map like you,” Katara exclaimed.

“I can’t read at all,” Toph offered.

“Yeah, and who keeps us laughing with sarcastic comments all the time? ‌ I mean, look at Katara’s hair, right‌?” Aang grabbed one of Katara’s braids. “What’s up with that‌?” he asked. Katara took her hair back nervously.

“What‌? What’s wrong with my hair‌?” she asked. Zuko rolled his eyes and wrapped an arm on her waist.

“Nothing. Aang is simply useless at making jokes,” he said.

“Says Gloomy-Face!” Toph said sarcastically. The prince glared at her. Sokka sighed.

“Look, I appreciate the effort, but the fact is each of you is so amazing and so special, and I’m not. I’m just the guy in the group who’s regular.” Katara walked up and sat next to him.

“I’m sorry you’re feeling so down, but I hope you know none of us see you that way.” With a sudden inspiration she smiled at him. “I know something that’s gonna make you feel better.”

“You do‌?” Sokka asked uninterested.

 

His sister nodded and as soon as they finished their meal, she dragged everyone to a nearby building. Sokka’s eyes doubled in size when he spied the variety of weapons inside.

“Shopping!” he cried, clapping his hands in glee. He ran forward, jumping from weapon to weapon while the others scattered around the room.

“Maybe a little something to reinvigorate my battling,” Sokka muttered to himself, trying item after item. Toph and Lia wandered together mostly bored. Zuko went straight to the swords. Katara was trying on some gloves when Aang called her. She turned to face him and widened her eyes.

“What do you think‌?” the airbender asked. He was wearing a huge armour shinning from the light coming from the door. “Pretty slick, huh‌? All I need to complete the outfit is a wind sword.” Katara’s eyes widened.

“What’s a wind sword?” she asked confused. She had thought that the Air Nomads were peaceful.

“It’s where I get a sword handle. And then I just swing this around and bend air out like a blade,” Aang explained excited.

“Yeah…nice,” the waterbender agreed hesitantly. Aang gave her a dazzling smile when the armour – too heavy for him – started teetering. Katara made a move to catch him but he crashed to the floor.

“I’ll just stick to what I got,” he said weakly.

 

Sokka had moved from disappointment to disappointment through the different weapons on the shop. He noticed Zuko still examining the swords and walked up there. His eyes widened.

“That’s what Sokka’s talking about,” he said satisfied.

“You have a good eye,” the shop keeper commented as everyone gathered near them. “That’s an original from Piandao, the greatest sword master and sword maker in Fire Nation history. He lives in the big castle up the road from here.” Zuko’s eyes widened when he heard the famous name.

“That’s it. That’s what you needed all along, Sokka,” Aang said with a sudden inspiration.

“A sword‌?” the Water Tribe warrior asked confused.

“Not the sword…a master,” Lia said catching on. “All of us, me included, had people to help us get better. You should see if you can study with Piandao.”

“That’s a great idea. I could’ve never gotten to where I am without Master Pakku. Everyone needs a teacher,” Katara admitted.

“I learned from badger moles,” Toph shrugged. “They don’t talk, but they’re still good teachers.” Sokka looked at the sword thoughtfully.

“It would be nice to be a master swordfighter,” he said. “All right, I’ll talk to him.”

 

With Sokka gone everything was quiet at the little camp. Bored and a little sleepy Aang looked at the others, sprawled to the ground lazily.

“What should we do today‌?” he asked reluctantly.

“I’m tapped out. I already picked my toes, twice,” Toph said bored.

“Twice‌?” Zuko questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“The first time was for cleaning, but the second time’s just for the sweet picking sensation,” Toph explained, oblivious to the disgusted looks the others shared.

“Sokka’s been in charge of the schedule. I’m not sure what we should be doing,” Katara admitted. Lia sniggered a little, opening one eye.

“Never thought I’d heard that from you.”

“Plus, it’s so hot today!” Toph groaned.

“How hot is it‌?” Aang asked her expectantly.

“I don’t know,” She shrugged. “Real hot‌.”
“It’s so hot, it’s so hot…Momo is shedding like Appa,” Katara tried to make a joke out of it. Only Zuko sent her a soft smile.

“I guess the jokes don’t run in the family,” Aang sighed. Katara crossed her arms.

“Oh, everyone’s a critic.”

 

The silence that followed didn’t last for long. Lia jumped to her feet, having decided that she was bored long enough. She looked at the half-way asleep teens.

“We could always train, you know,” she pointed out.

“Nah!” Aang and Toph said at the same time. “Too hot.” Katara had fallen asleep already so Zuko was the only one left. Noticing his mentor’s expectant look he sighed and stood up. With a glare to the Avatar he followed the Spirit a little further.

“You so owe me one,” he hissed at the airbender as he passed him.

 

At sunset he and Lia returned, Zuko sporting a small burn in his arm. As soon as Katara saw it, she abandoned her cooking and rushed to his side. Zuko closed his eyes as the cooling sensation of a healing relaxed him. The waterbender glared at the Fire Spirit.

“Couldn’t you have been more careful?” she snapped. Lia raised her eyebrow.

“It’s firebending practise,” She said walking away. “Someone is bound to get burnt.” Picking up her bag she climbed on Appa’s saddle and took out her parchments.

“I think she’s more stressed about the invasion than we are,” Zuko told softly his girlfriend. “She wasn’t really going hard on me but that was because her mind was elsewhere. I think that she knows something and she doesn’t tell us.”

“She’s never absent-minded enough to burn you during practise,” Katara pointed out as they walked near the fire again. Zuko smiled sheepishly.

“That was my fault,” he admitted. “I didn’t block properly.” Katara sighed and leaned against him as she stirred the stew with her bending. An over-exaggerated cough was heard behind them.

“Excuse us lovey-dovies but we’re hungry,” Toph said, earthbending them apart and sitting between them. “What’s for dinner?” The two older teens glared at her. Aang saw it and decided to play peacemaker. He quickly served two bowls and turned to the earthbender.

“I’ve served for both of us Toph. Why don’t you come and sit with me?” his eyes widened when he realised what he had said. Both he and Toph turned redder than their clothes.

“If you really want this Twinkle-Toes,” Toph said dramatically to cover her embarrassment, “I’ll humour you.” She sat next to him and soon they were too absorbed into their conversation to notice the satisfied looks Katara and Zuko exchanged.

 

The next morning Katara insisted on taking out Sokka’s maps to figure out at least where were they.
“So where are we going next‌?” she wondered out loud. She picked a random island. “We’re starting from here.” Aang shook his head.

“No, we’re over on this island.” He pointed a place far from Katara’s. Toph “looked” at the sky frustrated.

“You noodle-brains don’t know what you’re doing. I miss Sokka,” she whined the last part. Katara suddenly smiled triumphantly.

“Ooh, I got one. If you miss him so much, why don’t you marry him‌?” she grinned hopefully at Toph and Aang. The earthbender rolled to her side to face away from Katara. Sensing Zuko and Lia returning from their practice she pointed at their general direction.

“Just… go make out with your boyfriend…” she mumbled-ordered. Huffing Katara marched up at them and dragged Zuko away, ignoring his yelp of surprise.

 

Lia sat next to Aang.

“Another lame joke?” she guessed. Aang nodded, looking very disheartened. Toph must have felt his vibrations so she yelled after Katara.

“And I don’t have a crush of Snoozles!”

“Who do you have a crush on then?” Lia asked teasingly. “We’re running low on boys to choose for you.” Blushing, Toph stormed away. Aang ran after her immediately. With a short laugh Lia tidied the camp before lying down to enjoy the sun and quiet.

 

Early in the afternoon, she was still alone on camp when Sokka’s figure appeared approaching from the distance. Sitting up hurriedly she yelled.

“Come out, come out everyone! Sokka’s back!”

Aang and Toph appeared first, covered in dust. Apparently they had been earthbending. Zuko and Katara came hand in hand from another direction, flushed and Zuko looking very annoyed.

“Hey, guys. What are you doing‌?” Sokka called as soon as he was close enough. Aang, Katara and Toph tackled him into a hug.

“We missed you so much!” Katara exclaimed.

“Say something funny!” Aang asked eagerly.

“Funny how?” the Water Tribe boy said confused. Nevertheless his three friends laughed heartily. Alarmed he turned to the firebending siblings. “What’s their deal?” Lia shrugged.

“They missed you or something. I’m going to miss the peace and quiet now,” she said.

“Thanks. That warms my heart,” Sokka said sarcastically. Turning to the others he smiled again. “Anyway, I need some help.”

 

He told them of his lessons with Piandao and of his current problem.

“You want to make the sword out of the meteorite?” Zuko asked sceptically.

“Master Piandao said I could use a something special,” Sokka insisted indignantly. Why not a meteorite?”

“This thing is huge Sokka.” Aang said hesitantly. “It’s going to take some serious bending to move it and…”

“Hello!” Toph called, waving her arms. “Best earthbender in the world!”

“…and we need to be discreet,” Aang finished. Toph huffed.

“I can be discreet if I want to.”

 

After some talking Toph and Sokka convinced the rest of them. They ended up pushing the meteorite uphill to Piandao’s estate, while Toph came last and pushed it forward with her earthbending, smiling smugly. Sokka rushed to the door and knocked enthusiastically. Piandao opened almost immediately. Spying the group of teens he asked his student.

“Who’s this?”

“Oh, these are my friends. Just other good Fire Nation folks,” Sokka hurried to assure him. Piandao bowed to them slightly and they bowed back. Turning at the meteorite Sokka asked. “Do you think we can make a sword out of a meteorite‌?” The sword master laid a hand on its surface, examining it.

“We’ll make a sword unlike any other in the world,” he finally declared.
Sokka slaved over the fires for the entire night, declining everyone’s help. With Piandao’s guidance he crafted a sleek, black blade. Zuko felt a pang of jealousy looking at it and then at his own battered Duos. In the morning they gathered inside the mansion. Sokka knelt in front of his master, as Piandao took the new sword in his hands.

“Sokka, when you first arrived, you were so unsure. You even seemed down on yourself. But I saw something in you right away. I saw a heart as strong as a lion turtle, and twice as big. And as we trained, it wasn’t your skills that impressed me.” He smiled lightly. “No, it certainly wasn’t your skills. You showed something beyond that. Creativity, versatility, intelligence…these are the traits that define a great swordsman. And these are the traits that define you.” He knelt in front of Sokka and gave him the sword. “You told me you didn’t know if you were worthy, but I believe that you are more worthy than any man I have ever trained.” Sokka looked at the weapon in his hands and hung his head.

“I’m sorry, Master. You’re wrong. I am not worthy. I’m not who you think I am. I’m not from the Fire Nation. I’m from the Southern Water Tribe.” The gang behind him exchanged worried looks. Sokka continued talking. “I lied so that I could learn swordsmanship from you. I’m sorry.” Piandao turned to the other side.

“I’m sorry too,” he said gravely, before swinging his sword at Sokka.

 

Piandao spun and moved to attack Sokka. The gang jumped on their feet, ready to join the fight, but Sokka raised his hand.

“No, this is my fight, alone.”

Lia thought she caught a glim of pride on Piandao’s eyes, but when she looked again it was gone. As the two warriors took the fight out on the garden, the gang gathered on the balcony, where they could watch. They collectively winced at a few close calls as the duel drew to an end, with Sokka on the ground and Piandao’s sword over him. They immediately jumped behind Piandao but before they could attack him, he sheathed his sword.

“Excellent work Sokka,” he praised the winded boy. Sensing them behind him, he turned on their direction and smiled friendlily at Aang. “I think I’m a little old to be fighting the Avatar,” he said wryly.

 

The kids looked at him surprised.

“How did you know?” Aang asked astonished. Piandao shrugged.

“Oh, I’ve been around a while. You pick things up. Of course, I knew from the beginning that Sokka was Water Tribe. You might want to think of a better Fire Nation cover name,” he told the boy. “Try ‘Lee.’ There’s a million ‘Lees’.” Zuko let a small snort. Katara was still weary.

“But why would you agree to train someone from the Water Tribe‌?” she asked the older man.

“The way of the sword doesn’t belong to any one nation. Knowledge of the arts belongs to us all.” He picked Sokka’s sword from the ground and gave it back to him. “Sokka, you must continue your training on your own. If you stay on this path, I know that one day you will become an even greater master than I am.” He bowed at Sokka, who bowed back.

 

As they were leaving the mansion, they heard someone calling them.

“Wait!” they turned to see Piandao’s butler. “The Master wanted you to have this, as something to remember him by.” He gave Sokka a small bag. The children gathered around him curiously. Sokka opened the bag to reveal a Lotus tile.

“It’s a Pai Sho tile!” he said surprised.

“It’s the white lotus,” Zuko explained. “It was uncle’s favourite.”

“What does it mean?” Katara asked confused.

“No idea,” Sokka said. Behind them they heard the doors to the mansion closing. They turned to see a white lotus decorating them. Sokka jumped slightly.

“Ooh, that reminds me. Toph, I thought you might like this since you’ve probably never had a chance to bend space earth before.” He gave the girl a small piece from the meteorite. Toph’s eyes widened in delight as she bended the material.

“Sweet! Check this out!” She formed a bracelet and put it on.

“You know, I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘space earth’. If it’s from space, then it’s not really ‘earth’,” Katara said thoughtfully.

“Must you ruin everything‌?” her brother whined. Katara sighed.

“I can’t believe I missed you!”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Painted Lady

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Author’s note: In which there are Spirit legends, alter egos, a crazy boatman and Appa’s acting skills finally come to light.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Painted Lady***

Sokka had stirred Appa to the nearest island. It was smaller than the previous one and so far they had not seen any villages under them. Aang and Zuko had woken up early and took turns in stirring Appa, while Sokka got his much deserved sleep. By the time everyone was awake the bison was swimming lazily in the murky water of a river they had found. Sokka sat at the edge of the saddle, trying in vain to catch fish. Aang shrugged of his suit and dived in the water, heedless of its suspicious colour.

“Momo!” he called before diving again. The lemur flew around trying to find him and after a few tries he managed to spot the airbender and landed on his head. Aang laughed.

“Ah! Ha ha, you found me, buddy!” His mirth died down when he noticed for the first time that the river had a sickly, green-brown colour. Nervously he jumped back on the saddle. “Hey guys, I think this river’s polluted.” He bended the dirt out of himself and on the rest of the gang. Everyone except Toph glared at him annoyed.

“Well, that explains why I can’t catch a fish around here. Because normally my fishing skills are…off the hook! Get it‌! Like a fishing hook‌?” Sokka grinned madly around, waiting for a reaction to his joke. Lia raised an eyebrow.

“Too bad your skills aren’t on the hook,” she said. Sokka scowled while everyone else laughed.

“It looks like we’ll need to go somewhere else to get food,” Katara said. Before she could add anything else a huge scroll unrolled in front of her feet. “Assuming that’ll fit into Sokka’s master schedule,” she finished wryly.

“Hm…it’s doable. But that means only two potty breaks today!” Sokka decided.

“Hey, maybe we can get food there,” Aang said pointing at a small village in the distance.

They got out of the river and found a small, secluded landing by a cave on the mountainside. Aang covered Appa with a blanket of turf.

“Now you look just like a little hill with horns. Bye buddy!” he fair welled his pet. They walked down the cliff and stood for a moment to survey the river below them. Toph looked around confused.

“I don’t feel anything. Where is this village‌?” she asked.

“It’s in the middle of the river!” Sokka explained, amused that anyone in the Fire Nation would live surrounded by water.

“Sure is!” a voice was heard from below. The teens looked down to see an old man with a boat. “My name’s Dock. Mind if I ask who you are‌?”

“We’re from the Earth Kingdom colonies,” Zuko said uneasily. This man looked insane.

“Wow…colonials!” Dock said enthusiastically. “Hop on; I’ll give you a ride into town.”

They rowed through the polluted water in silence for a while. Suddenly Katara asked,

“Why do you guys live on the river‌?”

“Because we’re a fishing town. At least that’s how it was before the factory moved in.” He pointed at a huge metal building. “Army makes their metal there. Moved in a few years ago and started gunking up our river. Now our little village is struggling to survive.” Zuko glared at the building as if wishing to make it disappear. The rest of the ride was filled with uneasy silence. When they reached the docks Aang smiled friendlily to Dock.

“Thanks for the ride!” he called as he ran to catch up with the others. Toph grabbed his arm.

“I can hardly feel any vibrations on wood,” she muttered.

Katara looked around with a sad expression. The village was at its last legs. People dressed in rags were sitting everywhere idle and many looked sick.

“Look at this place. It’s so sad. We have to do something to help,” she said.

“No, we can’t waste our time here! We have a bigger mission that we need to stay focused on. These people are on their own!” Sokka decided harshly.

“These people are starving, but you turn your back on them‌! How can you be so cold and heartless‌?” his sister fixed him with a glare.

“I’m not turning my back, I’m just being realistic!” Sokka said defensively. “We can’t go around helping every rinky-dink town we wander into. We’ll be helping them all by taking out the Fire Lord!”

“Sokka!” everyone hissed, looking around nervously. Toph grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked him to her level.

“Hey, loudmouth! Maybe we should be a little quieter when we talk about taking out the Fire Lord.” she whispered furiously.

“Come on, Katara, be reasonable about this. You know our mission has to come first.” Sokka insisted quieter, yelping as the earthbender roughly released him.

“I guess so,” Katara admitted reluctantly.

“Let’s just get what we need and go,” Zuko said neutrally.

They approached a counter and saw Dock sitting there.

“Hey, Dock. You work here too‌?” Sokka asked curiously.

“I’m not Dock, I’m Xu. Dock’s my brother,” the old man said. The teens looked at each other confused.

“But we just saw you. You’re even wearing the same clothes. The only difference is your hat,” Aang insisted.

“Dock works on the docks, that’s why they call him ‘Dock’, and I work in the shop, that’s why they call me ‘Xu’,” the man corrected him merrily.

“I don’t get it,” Aang said, scratching his head confused.

“Me neither,” Xu agreed cheerfully. He took out a plate with half-rotten seafood. “What can I get you? ‌ Hey, I’ll give you a special deal. If you buy three fish, I’ll throw in a clam for free.” Even Lia turned a little green at the sight of the fish.

“We’ll just take the fish. Mind telling your brother we need a ride back to shore‌?” Sokka asked, taking out some money. Xu ducked under the counter and Dock appeared in his place.

“Hey, colonials. My brother says you need a lift!”

As they turned to leave a little boy stopped Katara, having identified her as the mother figure of the group.

“Can you spare some food‌?” he asked shyly. Sadly Katara knelt to his level and gave him one fish.

“I wish I could spare more,” she told him. The boy gave her a bright smile and ran back where his mother was lying sick.

Back at the camp Sokka took immediately out his schedule while Aang and Katara were trying to bend the water clean and Zuko and Lia set up camp.

“Our detour into town today has completely thrown off our schedule. It’s gonna take some serious finagling to get us back on track,” The warrior said seriously.

“Finagle away, oh schedule master!” Toph said from where she was lying on the ground.

“Well, for starters, it looks like we’ll need to wake up forty-three minutes earlier every day.” Zuko looked at him incredulously.

“Forty-three minutes,” he said. “Not forty or forty-five.”

“Look, we only have a few weeks to get to the Fire Lord in time for the invasion and the eclipse – which, by the way, only lasts for eight minutes. And we just lost a whole day. So if we want to make up the time and stay on schedule, we have to wake up early!” Sokka insisted, taking a sip of his dinner.

“Well, I’m not waking up early,” Toph and Lia said at the same moment. They looked at each other surprised.

“Or we could just cut out all off our eating breaks,” Sokka said.

“What?” Aang exclaimed.

“No way!” Katara said, handing out bowls at the same time.

“Forget it!” Toph stomped her foot, causing a tiny earthquake.

“I got it, how’s this‌? From now on, we’ll take food breaks and potty breaks at the same time,” Sokka said with an inspirational glint. Everyone looked at him surprised. “Hey, it might be gross, but it’s efficient. Either way, we have to leave here first thing tomorrow morning.”
After dinner Lia took out a piece of paper and began sketching, stealing glances at the river every now and then.

“What are you making?” Zuko asked her curious. She handed him the paper and the rest of the gang (minus Toph) gathered around him. The picture was that of a woman in a flowing red dress, wearing a wide hat with a veil and strange marking in her arms and face.

“It’s the Painted Lady,” Lia explained. “She is the protector of the rivers and rumoured to be a healer. I think mortals around here used to offer gifts and ask for her help. Much like the legends of the Blue Spirit in the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes.” She shared a look with Zuko.

The next morning everyone woke up to Appa’s groaning. Aang rushed to his friend worried.

“What’s the matter, Katara‌?” he asked the waterbender.

“I think Appa’s sick,” she said bending some water, trying to locate the problem.

“What, Appa’s sick? ‌ That’s awful!” Sokka bolted from his sleeping bag alarmed.

“Wow, Sokka, I didn’t realize you cared so much,” Toph said surprised. He looked at her aghast.

“Of course I care. I might as well just throw our schedule away now.” The gang glared at him. Gulping he rushed to hug Appa’s leg. “And I’m concerned because my big, furry friend doesn’t feel well,” he added his voice muffled from the fur.

“He must have gotten sick from being in the polluted water,” Toph speculated. “Last night’s dinner tasted funny.” Aang shook his head.

“He doesn’t look sick. You okay, buddy‌?” Appa rolled out his tongue. “His tongue is purple! That can’t be good. Katara, can you heal him‌?” The waterbender shook her head.

“It looks like he needs some medicine. Maybe we can find the right herbs in town,” she suggested.

They crossed the river again and stood for a moment surprised. Toph shook her head around, surprised by the new sounds she heard.

“Is it just me, or does this place seem different‌?” she asked no one in particular.

“Yeah, are the people…happier‌?” Aang said equally surprised. Katara smiled satisfied, seeing a few kids running by, playing and laughing. Zuko shot her a suspicious look. He had thought of going out last night to help the people but deemed it too reckless. Could Katara have done something like that?

They walked over to the market stalls. Dock was there and he waved madly when he saw them.

“Hey, Xu, what’s going on with everyone today‌?” Sokka asked curiously.

“Ah, something amazing happened last night. Food was delivered to our village by a mysterious and wonderful person…the Painted Lady.” The kids exchanged a glance. Dock mistook it as ignorance and continued. “She’s part of our town’s lore. They say she’s a river spirit who watches over our town in times of need. I always thought she was just a legend. Until now.” Sokka turned to Katara satisfied.

“See, we don’t need to help these people, they already have someone to help them.” He turned to Dock again. “All we need is medicine for our sick friend.” The old man shook his head sadly.

“Medicine‌? Sorry, all the medicine we have goes to the factory. That’s why there’s so many sick people in our village.”

“Looks like we need to stay another night so Appa can rest,” Lia said calmly. She too had some reservations about this Spirit. Sokka huffed.

“I guess you’re right. You got any more food to sell‌?” he asked Dock.

“Would you like the one-headed fish, or the two-headed fish‌?” the old man asked cheerfully.

“Two-headed!” Sokka decided hungrily. Everyone else made gagging noises. He turned surprised. “What‌ You get more for your money that way!”
That night Zuko waited until everyone was awake before leaving the camp. He was dressed as the Blue Spirit again. Surprisingly he had found his mask in his pack with a note. Don’t lose it AGAIN! He had heard Katara leaving a little earlier but given the nearly full moon he guessed she had gone to waterbend. Sneaking to the factory near the village he passed unnoticed from the guards and searched for the food storage room. He didn’t know enough of medicine to know what to do so he decided to play it safe. Stealing a small boat he waded towards the village.

A fog had risen in the lake but Zuko paid no mind on it. He left the sacks of food on the village centre and turned to survey the area. A blue glow appeared from one of the houses. Tensing, Zuko slipped to the shadows and waited. The figure of a woman dressed in the Painted Lady’s clothes appeared on the doorway. She walked to the edge of the docks and made her way to the edge of the lake. Zuko hurriedly followed her.

His feet had hardly touched the shore when she attacked him with a waterwhip. With the ease born after many fights with Katara he dodged before raising his hand in surrender. The Painted Lady stopped her attack and looked at him suspiciously.

“Who are you?” she tried to conceal her voice, making it deeper but it was unmistakeably Katara. Without taking of his mask he answered.

“A friend.” Katara walked towards him curiously. His voice was muffled from the mask he was wearing but sounded familiar.

“Do I know you?” she asked, placing a tentative hand on his mask. Zuko nodded. Taking courage Katara slipped off the mask, the moment he reached for her hat and took it off. With a gasp she drew back.

“Katara it’s just me!” Zuko told her hurriedly.

“You were the Blue Spirit?” she asked shocked. Zuko nodded.

“And you are the Painted Lady,” he said with a hint of admiration in his voice. “The role suits you.” With the same mischievous smiles they returned on the camp.

The next day Appa was still sick. The kids went back to the village, ignoring Sokka’s grumbling the entire time. On the familiar market stall they saw Dock.

“Hi, Dock. Is Xu around‌?” Lia decided to humour the man.

“Let me check…” he ducked and changed hats. “Hey there! Back again, are ya‌?” Toph slammed some money on the counter.

“We need more food. Our friend is still sick and we can’t leave until he’s better,” she explained.

“Oh, well, that’s too bad,” Dock said sympathetically. “Maybe if you guys are lucky, the Painted Lady will visit you in the night, and heal your friend.”

“And maybe she’ll cook us a midnight snack, and we’ll all have a sing-along,” Sokka said sarcastically. Lia nudged him.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Yeah, maybe!” Dock insisted. “You know, last night she visited us again. Healed most of our sick folks.”

“Is that why this place seems so festive‌?” Aang asked. They had even erected a statue for the Painted Lady.

“Yep, it’s all because of the Painted Lady,” Dock assured them in a reverent voice.

“Can you believe how much an entire village can be affected by one lady‌? I mean…spirit‌,” Katara said happily. Sokka waved his hand dismissively.

“Well, I hope she returns every night. Otherwise this place would go right back to the way it was,” he said.

“Why would you say that‌? Look how much better off these people are!” Katara insisted indignantly.

“Yeah, now, but without her they wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves. If she really wanted to help, she would use her spirit magic to blow up that factory.” Sokka made a sound like an explosion. Aang shook his head.

“Spirit magic doesn’t work that way, Sokka. It’s more like…” he took a deep breath, “Woooooo….” The two boys giggled until they saw Lia glaring at them. “Of course not all Spirits are like that,” Aang added nervously. Katara stormed away annoyed. Walking up to Zuko, she exchanged a meaningful look with him. Tonight they had work.

Katara waited until Zuko had safely left before putting on her disguise. She stuffed turf inside her sleeping bag, making it look like a person before leaving quietly. Unfortunately Momo heard her. He jumped on Appa’s stomach, waking the boy.

“What’s the matter, buddy‌?” he asked sleepily. Spotting the form gliding away he shot standing. “It’s her! Hello, Painted Lady spirit!” he called loudly, running after her. “Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you, but my friend’s sick and we’re on kind of a tight schedule.” Katara ignored him and picked up speed. “Wait, but I’m the great bridge between your world and mine. I know Hei Bai, we’re close personal friends.” They were in the village now and Aang continued running over the rooftops. “Heeeyy!!” he called and fell on a roof pole. Katara sighed in relief and ran to the factory. Zuko looked up alarmed when she stopped panting. She made a gesture, stopping his question before he said it. They both stiffened when they heard Aang a little away.

“My name’s Aang. I’m the Avatar. You know, you’re really pretty for a spirit. I don’t get to meet too many spirits, but most of those I do meet…not very attractive. And you look fami…” Aang stopped short when he saw the Painted Lady standing next to the Blue Spirit. “Zuko?” His eyes turned to the female figure as the prince took off his mask. “Katara!” he exclaimed. The waterbender looked up at him.

“Hi, Aang,” she said guiltily.

You’re the Painted Lady‌! But how‌?”

“I was just trying to help the village. But since everyone thought that’s who I was anyway…I guess I just kind of became her.”

“So you two have been sneaking out at night‌…” realisation dawned to him. “Wait…is Appa even sick‌?” he asked. Zuko also turned also curious to Katara. Appa had looked sick, but it was awfully convenient.

“He…might be sick of the purple berries I’ve been feeding him, but, other than that, he’s fine,” Katara said with a small smile.

“I can’t believe you lied to everyone so you could help these people,” Aang said in a flat voice.

“It was the only way Aang,” Zuko jumped in. “There was no way we could convince Sokka and these people needed us.”

“No, I think it’s great! You’re like secret heroes,” the airbender hurriedly assured them. The two older teens shared a look.

“Well, if you want to help…there’s one more thing we have to do,” Katara said pointing at the factory. Aang looked at the huge building and then back at them.

“You want to destroy this factory‌?” he asked incredulously.

“Sokka was just kidding, but he was right. Getting rid of this factory is the only way to help these people permanently,” Zuko explained.

It didn’t take long to convince the Avatar. The promise of mayhem and doing good at the same time was irresistible. Zuko took the lead and guided them to the heart of the factory. With an impressive amount of water and firebending they overheated the main generator of the plant. Seeing the metal having turned almost white Zuko motioned the others to run out. They ran on a few guards that were promptly knocked out and made it to the entrance just in time to avoid the explosion.

By daybreak they made it back to camp. Aang was still laughing on their accomplishment but Zuko shushed him quickly.

“You want to wake up Sokka?” he hissed. It was too late for that. Everyone was already up.

“Hi! Sokka! We were just…out on a…morning walk!” Katara stammered surprised. Her brother looked unconvinced.

“Oh, really‌? A morning walk‌?” he picked Katara’s sleeping bag and shook out the grass she had stuffed in. “I know you’re the Painted Lady. I know you’ve been sneaking out at night, and I know you’ve been lying about Appa and feeding him purplising tongue berries!” Toph stuck out her tongue, now purple.

“Sorry guys,” Lia told them apologetically. “I didn’t think it would take you that long.” Sokka glared at her before returning to berating his sister.

“Katara, what you did put our whole mission in jeopardy. We’re leaving right now.” She and Zuko went gloomily to pack their staff. Sokka turned to Aang.

“And how long did you know about this‌?” he asked accusingly.

“Hey, I just found out this morning!” the airbender said before flying to Appa.

They were almost ready to leave when the sound of engines filled the air.

“What’s going on‌?” Toph asked, “looking” around wildly.

“Fire Nation soldiers are heading to the village,” Lia explained, her eyes widening in alarm. Sokka rounded up at Zuko.

“What did you do‌?” he hadn’t forgotten the fact that he had been with Katara when they returned.

“Sokka I started it!” Katara exclaimed. When her brother turned his glare at her, she shifted uneasily.

“We…kind of destroyed their factory,” she mumbled.

“You what‌!” Sokka yelled.

“It was your idea!” she yelled back.

“I was joking,” Sokka said incredulous. “I also said to use spirit magic and made funny noises. Did you even think this through? The army’s gonna blame the villagers. They’re headed there right now to get revenge.”

“Well, what were we supposed to do‌?” Zuko asked getting angry.

“Leave! Do nothing!” Katara had lowered her head at her brother’s scolding but snapped it up again.

“No. I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me.” She turned her back to everyone. “I’m going down to the village, and I am gonna do whatever I can.” She began to stomp away. Sokka felt everyone’s stares on him. With a sigh he ran after his sister.

“Wait. I’m coming too,” he said. Katara raised an eyebrow.

“I thought you didn’t want to help,” she said dryly.

“You need me, and I will never turn my back on you,” Sokka said simply. Zuko and Lia shared a look of understanding.

“Oh Sokka!” Katara smiled touched and hugged him. “You really do have a heart.” Aang sniffed a little and turned to Toph.

“He really does have a heart, doesn’t he‌?” he asked her. The earthbender just rolled her eyes and punched him.

In a matter of minutes Lia and Sokka had come up with a plan to save the village. Everyone had taken his or her position; Lia and Zuko at the village in case firebending occurred, Aang under the docks to provide the special effects and Sokka, Toph and Appa on a cave nearby. Zuko pressed his lips tight together in anger as General Mung kept praching around.

“I thought we could live as neighbours, in peace. But I guess I was wrong. You steal our food, our medicine…and then you destroy our factory.” Dock’s head popped out of the crowd.

“We didn’t do any of that!” he disappeared, to appear again as Xu. “Yeah, the Painted Lady brought us food. She’s the one that healed our sick, not your medicine.” General Mung spared him a pitying look.

“Oh, right, the mysterious Painted Lady did it. And I suppose she drew the army emblem on your containers, too. This is a town of thieves and liars!” he sent a fireblast to a nearby house, setting it on fire. Zuko tensed but didn’t move. “Where’s your Painted Lady now‌? We’re going to cure the world of this wretched village.” He signalled his soldiers to follow his example. Two of them tried to set a few boats on fire, but a current appeared out of nowhere and blew it out. They lighted it again and again it was blown out.

Mist started to rise, accompanied by an eerie tune. Lia, with a sudden inspiration, added a low chanting to the mix. The soldiers looked around nervously.

“Look at that! Where’s it coming from‌?” one asked.

“I don’t know.” Another one said. “Something strange is going on.” A low growl was added to the noise.

“It’s the Painted Lady. She’s coming,” a little boy whispered excited.

“There’s no Painted Lady!” the General snapped nervously.

“What is that sound?” another soldier asked spooked.

The sound was Appa’s growls accompanied by Toph smashing a boulder to the ground and Sokka playing the flute. He nodded to Katara and she moved to the lake. Parting the mist, the figure of the Painted Lady appeared and rushed towards the village with the help of waterbending. Katara landed softly at the docks and calmly approached the soldiers.

“Do something!” General Mung ordered them. The men approached timidly, only to be blasted away by Aang’s airbending. “Stand your ground!” Katara waterbended two of the jets on a nearby cliff without even looking at them. Before she had a chance to do more damage the soldiers climbed on the remaining jets and took off. The General looked at them astonished for a second before scowling to the ethereal figure in front of him. “I’ll take care of you myself.”
He sent an arc of fire against Katara. Before it had a chance to touch her two things happened. Aang sent her flying in the air and Zuko manipulated the fire to come back and blast in front of the General’s feet. While on air Katara bended the water and sent General Mung into the lake. She landed in front of him and gave him her infamous glare.

“Leave this village and never come back,” she ordered him, her voice full of command and power. He swam away terrified until a jet ski appeared and he climbed on it. Sokka and Toph rowed the village as Aang, Zuko and Lia came out of their hiding places. The villagers took no notice at them as they applauded the Painted Lady. The little boy walked up to Katara smiling.

“I knew you’d come!” he said.

“Thank you!” Dock exclaimed approaching them. “Me and my brothers really owe you a lot.” He looked at her and his eyes widened. “Hey, wait a minute! I know you! You’re not the Painted Lady, you’re that colonial girl!” The boy also seemed to recognise her.

“Yeah, you’re the lady that gave me a fish.”

“You’ve been tricking us. You’re a waterbender!” Dock continued accusingly.

“She’s a waterbender! How dare you act like our Painted Lady‌?” a villager shouted.

Katara looked at them surprised. A moment ago they were glad she had interfered and now they looked ready to attack her. She hung her head disappointed. Before things had a chance to escalate Zuko and Sokka stood in front of her protectively. They spared each other a surprised glance before turning to glare at the villagers.

“Maybe she is a waterbender, but she was just trying to help you. Because of her, that factory won’t be polluting your river, and the army is gone,” Zuko said angrily. Sokka nodded his agreement.

“You should be down on your knees thanking her,” he added. Katara placed a hand on their shoulders, silencing them.

“Guys, it’s okay.” She turned to the villagers. “I shouldn’t have acted like someone I wasn’t, and I shouldn’t have tricked you. But I felt like I had to do something. It doesn’t matter if the Painted Lady is real or not. Because your problems are real, and this river is real. You can’t wait around for someone to help you. You have to help yourself.”

“She’s right, but what should we do‌?” Dock asked confused.

Toph’s voice popped out of the crowd.

“Maybe we can clean the river,” she suggested. Dock brightened.

“Yeah, we can clean the river!” He turned to Katara. “Thank you. You know, you’re not so bad for a waterbender.”

“You wouldn’t mind keeping that a secret, by the way, would you‌?” Lia asked.

“No problem. Keeping my mouth shut is a personal specialty. My brother Xu, on the other hand, hoo! He’s a blabbermouth.” Lia sighed. No living with this guy!

“So, Dock, are you gonna help us clean‌?” Katara asked. He shook his head.

“No, ma’am. I’m going to get my other brother, Bushi. He loves cleaning rivers.” He switched hats again. “Alright, I’m Bushi! Let’s get some river cleaning done.”

“Aha, I knew it!” Aang exclaimed triumphantly. “I knew you were the same guy. You’re the shop owner and the boat guy.”

“Oh, you must be talking about my brothers, Dock and Xu,” Bushi said.

“No, I just saw you! You switched hats and called yourself a different name!” Aang insisted exasperated.

“Oh, you know who does that‌? My brother Dock.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “He’s crazy!” Aang looked at him ready to have a nervous breakdown.

The rest of the day was spent with river cleaning. Sokka mumbled a little about getting behind schedule but eventually got down to work with the rest of them. Katara, Toph and Aang used their bending, much to the delight of the children who were impressed to see a waterbender and two earthbenders at work. By the time the sun had set the river was clean and healthy-looking again. Everyone was too tired to take off when the work ended so they camped for a last time near the village. Katara sneaked out to play with the water. It felt nice to bend it now that it didn’t resemble mud. Suddenly a figure appeared before her. The Painted Lady gave the waterbender a thankful smile.

“Thank you,” Katara heard her say before she disappeared.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Headband

Standard

Author’s note: In which there are undercover missions, fashion tribulations, secret dates, dancing and Sokka being Sokka.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Headband***

A strange cloud appeared over the little island. No one bothered to look at it but if someone had, they’d have seen in steadily losing altitude.

“I think I see a cave below,” Aang said, squinting his eyes to see through their self-created cloud.

“Shush… keep quiet!” Sokka scolded him. The cloud disappeared thanks to Aang’s airbending and Sokka jumped to the ground, looking around suspiciously. He crossed his arms and frowned disapprovingly. “Great job with the cloud cameo, but next time, let’s disguise ourselves as the kind of cloud who knows how to keep its mouth shut.”

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want a bird to hear us chatting up there and turn us in,” Toph scoffed.

“Hey! We’re in enemy territory. Those are enemy birds!” Sokka insisted. One bird landed on his head and squawked. The rest of the teens laughed and climbed off Appa. There was a cave near them and they moved to get in. Sokka jumped in front of them, scanning the ground. Zuko rolled his eyes and yanked him to his feet.

“You’re being paranoid,” he told him.

 

Sokka glared at the older boy before turning to the others.

“Well, this is it. This is how we’ll be living until the invasion begins. Hiding in cave after cave…after cave…after cave…” His expression fell at the prospect. Katara sighed.

“Sokka, we don’t need to become cave people. What we need is some new clothes.” She raised her Fire Nation cape to show her clothes. Aside from being Water Tribe they were in desperate need for mending.

“Yeah, blending in is better than hiding out. If we get Fire Nation disguises, we’ll be just as safe as we would be hiding in a cave,” Aang added.

“Plus…they have real food out there. Does anyone wanna sit in the dirt and eat cave-hoppers?” Toph underlined her words punching the wall. A few cave-hopers appeared and Momo rushed to stuff his mouth. Aang turned slightly green.

“Looks like we got outvoted, sport,” Sokka told the lemur. He turned to the others. “Let’s get some new clothes.”

 

It didn’t take long for them to find a laundry place nearby. Katara and Lia started immediately to scan the lines from afar, looking for something to wear.

“I don’t know about this,” Aang said unsure. “These clothes belong to somebody.”

“I call the silk robe!” Katara took off, having spotted her future outfit. Lia was immediately after her.

“I call the dress!” they heard her say. It looked like fun.

“But if it’s essential to our survival…” Aang began and smiled, “then I call the suit!” Interestingly it was Sokka who took the most finding something he liked. Zuko just picked up a vest and stored his armour on Appa’s saddle next to Lia’s. It felt strange to be in civilian Fire Nation clothes after so long.

 

“Ta-dah! Normal kid!” Aang said tying a headband on his head to hide his arrow. Sokka was also ready. Toph seemed to have a slight problem. Her clothes resembled her Earth Kingdom ones (thanks to Lia) but now she was supposed to wear shoes for the first time in many years.

“Hmm…I should probably wear them,” she said hesitantly, “but then I won’t be able to see as well. Sorry shoes!” She sat down and popped the soles out of her shoes. They hit Sokka in the face. Standing up again, Toph sighed. “Finally, a stylish shoe for the blind earthbender.”

“How do I look?” they heard Katara ask. Zuko and Aang took a look at her and turned red. She was wearing scarlet capri pants with a lighter red silk skirt and a top that left the one shoulder free. Aang noticed something.

“Uh…” he said tentatively. “Your mom’s necklace.” Katara’s expression fell as she realised the problem.

“Oh…oh, yeah. I guess it’s pretty obviously Water Tribe, isn’t it?” she took it out and stored it along with her clothes.

 

Zuko fingered reluctantly the small package in his pocket. He had been working on it for quite some time now but still was reluctant to give it to Katara. Lia nudged him as they began walking towards the nearest town.

“Go give it to her,” she told him, motioning towards Katara.

“But what if she doesn’t like it?” Zuko asked unsure. Lia rolled her eyes.

“She loves you,” she said plainly. “Of course she’ll like it!” With a last wary look the firebender sprinted to catch up with his girlfriend. Lia watched their exchange with an amused smile that only widened when Katara squealed and hugged Zuko.

“What’s the big deal?” Toph asked, confused by their vibrations.

“Look what Zuko gave me!” the waterbender showed everyone her new Fire Nation-style necklace.

“Wow! It looks wonderful!” Toph said sarcastically.

“Sorry,” Katara said sheepishly before handing it to the younger girl. Toph traced the carvings carefully.

“It is nice,” she decided finally. “Good job Sparky.”

 

There was a small town nearby where they bought a few accessories to go with their new outfits. Lia also bought a vest to stop Zuko’s grumbling. Her dress was tying with two thin strings around her neck and her brother insisted that she should wear something over it. Aang made sure to hide Momo inside his jacket, wanting to avoid any questions.

“I used to visit my friend Kuzon here a hundred years ago. So everyone just follow my lead and stay cool. Or as they say in the Fire Nation – “Stay flaming”!” Zuko raised an eyebrow but said nothing. This should be entertaining… he thought amused.

“Greetings, my good Hotman!” Aang called to a random citizen as they walked by.

“Uh, hi. I guess?” the man said unsure. The rest of the kids passed trying to look innocent.

 

Sokka laid them to a butcher’s shop.

“Oh, we’re going to a meat place?” Aang said disappointed.

“Come on, Aang,” Sokka said exasperated. “Everyone here eats meat,” he pointed at a hippo-cow. “…even the meat!” Aang made a face of disgust.

“You guys go ahead,” he decided. “I’ll just get some lettuce out of the garbage.” The teens entered the shop as Aang started nodding to the passer-bys.

“Hotman, hotman, hotman hotman hotman…” he stopped short when three officials approached.

“It’s over, we caught you,” the leader said.

“Who me?” Aang asked, trying to sound innocent.

“It couldn’t be more obvious that you don’t belong here,” the man pointed out. Aang tensed, ready to be arrested. “Next time you play hooky, you might want to take off your school uniform,” the man said sternly. Aang laughed awkwardly before following them to the school building near the end of the town.

 

Aang returned to the cave at night, his clothes full of soot traces. Katara stood when he entered, her hands on her hips.

“Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!”

“I got invited to play with some kids after school,” Aang said cheerfully.

“After what?” Sokka and Zuko shouted simultaneously.

“I enrolled in a Fire Nation school, and I’m going back tomorrow,” Aang explained, still smiling. Sokka looked ready to have an aneurism.

“Enrolled in what?” Toph kicked his legs forcing him to sit down. Aang took his seat near the fire and told him about his day.

 

Zuko had been schooled by tutors at the palace so it wasn’t his place to speak, but even that experience had been so horrible that he couldn’t understand why would anyone want have a go. Sokka seemed to share his sentiments.

“Aang, I’m trying to be mature and not immediately shoot down your idea. But it sounds…really terrible,” he said.

“Yeah, we got our outfits. What do you need to go to school for?” Toph made a noise of disgust when she said school.

“Every minute I’m in that classroom. I’m learning new things about the Fire Nation. I already have a picture of Fire Lord Ozai.” Zuko flinched at the sight of his father. “And here’s one that I made out of noodles!” Aang continued taking out another paper. Lia snatched it out of his hands.

“That’ll be good for target practice…” she muttered.

“Impressive, I admit. But I still think it’s too dangerous,” Sokka insisted. Aang raised an eyebrow.

“I guess we’ll never find out about the secret river then. It goes right to the Fire Lord’s palace. We were supposed to learn about it in class tomorrow…” he trailed off. Sokka paused thoughtfully.

“Hmm… I am a fan of secret rivers.” He stood up. “Fine, let’s stay a few more days.” Aang jumped to his feet ecstatic.

“Flamey-o, Hotman!” he shouted before rushing on Appa’s side to inform his friend of his plans.

“Flamey-o??” Sokka asked Zuko. The prince shrugged, equally clueless.

 

When Aang returned at noon the next day his face had a look of impending doom. After his explanations silence reigned for a whole minute. Then his words sunk in.

“What do you mean you have to bring your parents?” Zuko yelled at the boy, the campfire almost reaching the ceiling behind him.

“It wasn’t my fault…” Aang tried to say, feeling very much like he was being scolded by a very strict father.

“It doesn’t matter Aang!” Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose frustrated. “Which of us do you think could be passed as your parents? What have you even told them at that school?”

“That I’m from the colonies,” Aang said in a small voice.

“I could be the father,” Sokka said behind them in an over-exaggerated adult’s voice. They turned to see him sporting a beard and a very stern look. Aang gulped. “Katara could be the mother,” he continued. Indeed after Lia had fixed the waterbender’s hair and had rolled Zuko’s vest under the girl’s vest, she could pass as a young pregnant woman.

“I hope this works,” she sighed.

 

The headmaster was a stiff, old man that could be mistaken for an Admiral rather than a teacher.

“Thank you for coming, Mr and Mrs…”
“Fire!” Sokka said in his fake voice. “Wang Fire. This is my wife, Sa Fire.” Katara sent him a mild glare before smiling pleasantly at the headmaster.

“Sapphire Fire, nice to meet you.”
“Mr and Mrs…Fire,” the headmaster sighed. “Your son has been enrolled here for two days, and he’s already causing problems. He’s argued with his history teacher, disrupted music class, and roughed up my star pupil.”

“My goodness!” Katara feigned shock. “That doesn’t sound like our Kuzon.”

“That’s what any mother would say, ma’am,” the headmaster said calmly. “Nonetheless, you’re forewarned. If he acts up one more time, I’ll have him sent to reform school… by which I mean the coal mines. Are we clear?”

“Don’t you worry, Mr Headmaster. I’ll straighten this boy out something’ fierce.” Sokka turned to his “son”. “Young man, as soon as we get home, you’re gonna get the punishment of a lifetime!” he yelled.

“That’s what I like to hear,” the headmaster concluded.

 

Sokka waited until they were safely back at the cave before he exploded.

“THAT SETTLES IT!” he yelled. “NO MORE SCHOOL FOR YOU YOUNG MAN!” He straightened his posture and stroked his beard in a self-satisfied manner. Zuko shuddered.

“You sounded like my father,” he told the Water Tribe boy. Aang sighed.

“I’m not ready to leave. I’m having fun for once, just being a normal kid. You don’t know what it’s like, Sokka. You get to be normal all the time.” Toph burst out laughing at that. Even Lia snickered a little. Sokka scowled at them.

“Listen, guys, those kids at school are the future of the Fire Nation. If we wanna change this place for the better, we need to show them a little taste of freedom,” Aang tried to convince them.

“What could you possibly do for a country of depraved little fire monsters?” Sokka asked. Zuko slapped him on the head.

“I’m gonna throw them… a secret dance party!” Aang said enthusiastically. Everyone’s jaw hit the floor from the shock. Sokka was the first to recover.

“Go to your room!” he said in Wang Fire’s voice.
It took a lot of pleading but Aang managed somehow to convince them to host the party in the cave. By way of revenge Toph had dragged Aang away for some earthbending practice with Lia as their referee, while Sokka set on organising their schedule until the invasion. Zuko and Katara had sneaked away to enjoy a small picnic. They were sitting on the top of the cave, looking at the sunset.

“Aren’t the colours beautiful?” Katara said motioning at the sky.

“You are,” Zuko whispered, too busy looking at her to watch the sky. Katara blushed a little. She was still getting used to on being showered by complements.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too,” He said back before he kissed her.

 

Before things had a chance to escalate a cough was heard from the background. Toph appeared from behind some rocks.

“Excuse me lovebirds but Sokka needs your help setting up.” The two teens looked up in irritation.

“Can’t you see we’re busy?” Zuko said before returning to kissing Katara.

“Oh, okay,” Toph turned to leave. As she walked away they heard her shout something. “Sokka, Katara and her boyfriend are busy right now!”

“What?” the warrior said, running up the cliff. He simply saw the two teens gathering their things from the picnic.

“We were just coming down,” Katara said annoyed. Sokka shot them a suspicious glance, but followed them without a comment.

 

The cave was almost ready for the party. Toph had made a stand for the band, Zuko and Lia had lighted candles all over the place and Katara was preparing beverages.

“I can’t believe we’re having a dance party. It seems so… silly,” Sokka said to no one in particular. He still couldn’t get how they talked him into this.

“Don’t think of it as a dance party, but as a cultural event celebrating the art of fancy footwork.” Aang gave an example of the fancy footwork. Even a three-hour practice with Toph hadn’t quelled his energy. Suddenly the earthbender looked up alarmed.

“They’re coming! Everyone stop bending!” Aang approached Appa.

“Sorry, buddy. You should probably wait out back.” Appa groaned but walked further inside the cave nevertheless. “I know,” Aang said. “You’ve got fancier feet than anybody…and six of them!”

 

A few of the kids had brought musical instrument and were now playing a quick melody. Aang was ecstatic.

“Ladies and gentlemen, The Flamey-os! Yeah, this ought to get everybody moving.” He looked around but none of the Fire Nation kids were moving from their places at the walls of the cave.

“Now what do we do?” a boy asked.

“This is when you start dancing,” Aang explained.

“I don’t think my parents want me dancing in a cave,” another boy said nervously.

“Yeah, what if someone finds out?” his friend said scared. On the side Aang caught sight of Zuko shaking his head.

“Oh, boy!” Aang scratched his head and took a determined expression. “Listen, guys…dancing isn’t something you think about. It’s a form of self-expression that no one can ever take away from you.”

“Maybe it was different in the colonies, Kuzon. But we don’t do that here,” the first boy said.

“Sure you do. You have for generations.” Everyone’s eyes turned to Lia as she walked up next to Aang. She gave him a mischievous smile. “It just so happens that I know several classic fire nation dances. A hundred years ago, this was known as ‘the Phoenix flight.’” She did the move, he dress and her trailing behind her like the wings of a bird. Aang took his cue.

“And this was the ‘camelephant strut’.” He did another, more complex move, landing in front of a few girls who blushed and giggled before jumping back to the centre of the cave.
Katara and Toph were sitting nearby, observing Aang. Toph’s face broke into a smile.

“Who knew Twinkletoes could dance?” she wondered, her mind drifting to the first nickname she had given him: the Fancy Dancer. Aang landed in front of a girl who had introduced herself as On Ji and led her in the middle of the dance floor.

“And this is how they do it in the ballrooms of Ba Sing Se,” he showed her the move and she began coping him. Soon more kids followed their example and began loosening up.

“Wow,” Sokka said impressed. “They look pretty good together.” Toph frowned.

“Eh, if that’s what you like,” she said dismissively. Aang appeared out of nowhere and dragged her to her feet.

“Come on Toph!” he said as he led her to the dance floor. “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the sound of happy feet. All right, go with that. Everybody freestyle!” he instructed the rest of the kids.
Katara sat nervously alone. Even Toph was dancing now, only with Aang of course, but she seemed to be having a great time. Katara wasn’t so sure she could walk up there and try the same. A shadow fell in front of her and she looked up to see Zuko extending his hand with a shy smile.

“I don’t know, Zuko. These shoes aren’t really right for dancing, and I’m not sure that I know how to…” she trailed off nervously.

“Take my hand,” Zuko said softly.

“Okay,” Katara allowed him to lead her to the dance floor.

“Remember our fights,” he whispered and they started circling each other, their arms in the air, wrists barely touching. Noticing the new pair most kids stopped dancing and turned to their direction.

“Zuko, everyone’s watching,” Katara muttered nervously.

“Don’t mind them,” Zuko whispered back. “It’s just you and me now.” Katara blushed and they continued on with their dance more confident. Lia paused from her own dancing a little further and turned to look at them. With a small smile she took a discreet firebending stance. Their audience looked awed as two thin trails of fire, a red for Zuko and a blue for Katara followed their movements. They finished in a pose way too intimate for Sokka’s taste and the crowd cheered.

 

The party was now in full swing. Even the most embarrassed and awkward kids had loosened up and were dancing, in various degrees of skill.

“This is incredible. It’s like my inhibitions just disappeared!” A boy said. Suddenly a few shadows appeared at the entrance of the cave. The school’s headmaster had obviously been tipped about the party and he had come, bringing along soldiers. The Fire Nation kids froze. “Okay. They’re…back again,” the boy muttered. Aang passed oblivious, still dancing. He froze when he heard the headmaster.

“He’s the one we want. The boy with the headband!”

“Uh-oh!” Aang gulped and disappeared running amongst the kids.

The guards dashed frantically amongst the students, trying to find Aang. The airbender managed to sneak unnoticed at the back of the cave where the rest of the gang waited for him. One of the kids turned and winked at them as they made their exit. Aang bowed Fire Nation style before closing the tunnel behind him with an earthbending move.

 

In a matter of minutes they were on Appa, flying away.

“We’re safe, Sokka,” Katara said with a smile from her position snuggling on Zuko’s warm chest. “You can take off the moustache, now.”

“Oh, no, I can’t. It’s permanently glued to my skin,” Sokka answered in the voice of an emperor. Apparently the role of Wang Fire suited him.

“Way to go, Dancypants. I think you really did help those kids. You taught them to be free.” Toph smiled at Aang’s direction.

“I don’t know. It was just a dance party, that’s all,” Aang said blushing at the compliment.

“Well, that was some dance party, Aang,” Katara chuckled. Surprising everyone, Toph leaned and kissed softly Aang on the cheek.

“Thanks for the dance,” she muttered softly, before turning her back to everyone and pretending to sleep. Aang looked at her with wide eyes before smiling and lying down himself.

“Goodnight Toph,” he said softly. “Night everyone!”
Sokka chuckled at the exchange and turned to make a comment to his sister. The words died in his throat as he noticed her and Zuko asleep in each other’s arms. He sucked a breath ready to yell at them but Lia placed a hand in his mouth silencing him.

“What does this mean?” he hissed, pointing at Katara and Zuko’s direction.

“What does it look like?” Lia answered calmly. Sokka’s face turned purple.

“But my sister… he… Fire Nation… enemy…” he managed to choke out. Lia rolled her eyes and lied down.

“Goodnight Sokka,” she said, leaving a very pissed Water Tribe boy to stir Appa.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Earth King

Standard

Author’s note: In which the bad pun is not made by the author for a change, Zuko goes through character development AGAIN, Lia fullfills a promice and Katara sucks at giving someone the silent treatment.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

*** The Earth King ***

Sokka looked around him. Katara and Toph were sitting on the ground near Appa, while Aang was still clinging to the bison’s fur.

“I missed you more than you’ll ever know buddy,” the Avatar murmured, his head buried in the tuft of hair on bison’s forehead. Momo landed next to him, hugging Appa too. The bison licked them off of his face, looking equally glad.

“Look, we escaped from the Dai Li, we got Appa back, I’m telling you, we should go to the Earth King now and tell him our plan. We’re on a roll,” Sokka suddenly proposed confidently. Katara shot him a disbelieving look.

“One good hour after weeks of trouble isn’t much of a roll,” she said dryly.

“We can build on it,” her brother insisted. “If we want to invade the Fire Nation when the eclipse happens, we need the Earth King’s support.”

“What makes you think we’ll get it‌?” Toph said critically. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things don’t usually go that smoothly for our little gang.”

“I know, but I’ve got a good feeling about this. This time will be different.” Sokka’s confidence didn’t seem to work.

“Sokka, Long Feng is control of the city,” Katara said unconvinced. “His conspiracy with the Dai Li is too powerful. I think we should just keep flying and leave this horrible place behind us.”

“I’m with Sweetness. I’ve seen enough of Ba Sing Se. And I can’t even see!” Toph exclaimed raising her arms dramatically.

“But now that we have Appa back, there is nothing stopping us from telling the Earth King the truth about the conspiracy and the war,” Aang said suddenly. Sokka flashed a bright smile and put an arm around the other boy’s shoulder, glad for the support.

“See? Aang’s with me. It’s the whole reason we came here in the first place, we have to try.”

“Well, I guess if the Earth King knew the truth, things could change,” Katara admitted, still hesitant. Toph rose to her feet and approached Sokka.

“I don’t trust the new positive Sokka,” she said gravely. “Long Feng brainwashed you, didn’t he?” she yelled accusingly.
Aang turned towards the shore, in time to see three ships moving in the distance.

“That’s probably the Dai Li searching for us,” Sokka said frowning. He turned to Katara. “So?” he asked her expectantly.

“‌ Let’s fly!” the waterbender said decisively.

 

Appa was flying, glad to be in his element for the first time in a month. Aang was sitting solemnly in front. Hearing to Toph’s voice he turned worried.

“Can we please buy a new saddle?‌ Riding bareback is terrifying!” the earthbender yelled before burying her face into Appa’s fur. In front of them the palace appeared. Sokka pointed at it.

“There it is! That whole thing is the palace. The Earth King’s chambers should be in the centre.”

“We have to be careful,” Katara said thoughtfully. “Long Feng’s probably warned the King that we’re coming.” Her brother shot her an incredulous look.

“Why would you assume that‌? If you ask me, I think we’re just gonna sail right in….Ahhh!” he yelled seeing a huge boulder coming flying towards their direction. Appa dived to avoid it, growling.

“What was that?” Toph shouted scared.

“Surface to air rocks!” Sokka yelled back alarmed. “More coming!” he said as rows of boulders came at them.
As the Earth Kingdom soldiers continued their attacks Aang was staring ahead of him, concentrating on manoeuvring Appa between the flying stones. He earthbended one into dust without even looking and shot to his feet as another boulder – the size of Appa – came at them. He cut it clean to two pieces using his staff before making Appa dive towards the ground. In front of them, a whole battalion was waiting, riding on their ostrich-horses. Aang leaped at the leader, creating a mini earthquake. The shock wave tossed the soldiers in every direction. The rest hopped off Appa and raced towards the courtyard’s stairs, where another wave of earthbenders appeared. They sent a bunch of head-sized stones at the kids, only to be swiped away by Aang and Toph. Katara took soldier after soldier out with her waterwhip. She winced when some of them groaned in pain.

“Sorry!” she called over her shoulder.

Yet another wave of earthbenders appeared at the top of the stairs. They sent two huge badgermole statues against the gaang. With a simple move Toph created an igloo from the pavement. The moment it stopped raining stones and dust she toppled the ground, domino-ing the soldiers and leaving them pinned.

“Sorry!” Katara called as they rushed past. “We just need to get through to see the Earth King!”
As they reached the top of the stairs, more soldiers came running from the corridors. Aang and Toph took earthbending stances and turned the enormous staircase into a slide. As the guards were sliding down helplessly, Toph and Aang bended an elevator platform from the floor and began ascending.

“Seriously, we’re actually on your guys’ side!” Sokka called to the soldiers that continued falling. His shoulders fell. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, realising the pointless of his words.

 

Reaching the top of the stairs another dozen of guards approached them. Toph and Aang bended stone walls and pushed them back. Finally the kids entered the palace and Sokka took the lead.

“In there!” he called pointed forward. Rushing through the hallway they entered a large room with four hallways. Toph stomped her foot and pinned several of the guards to the ceiling.

“Toph, which way to the Earth King?” Sokka asked her. She raised an eyebrow.

“How should I know? I’m still voting that we leave Ba Sing Se,” she snapped. Sokka shrugged and started opening doors, while the others kept the guards distracted. In the third one he saw a woman standing in front of a mirror.

“Burglar!” she screamed shocked, before tripping on her dress and falling – face-first- on the floor.

“Sorry,” Sokka closed the door behind him. “Wrong door.”

 

Meanwhile, at the Lower Ring, Zuko and Iroh were walking back to their apartment. Zuko felt like he was about to collapse. All his thoughts were tangled together and the only thing he could do was to force his feet to keep walking. Entering the apartment he let his swords fall to the ground, his only thought being sleep. Behind him Iroh said pleased:

“You did the right thing, letting the Avatar’s bison go free.” Zuko rubbed his eyes, trying to clear his head.

“I don’t…feel right,” he managed to say before everything blurred and he fell to the ground unconscious. Iroh turned alarmed by the noise and rushed worried to his nephew’s side. Recognising the symptoms he sent a silent prayer for Lia to return soon.

*          *          *

On the other side of the Earth Kingdom Lia willed her pounding heart to calm down as she walked through the alleys of the small village. The things the people there had told her proved her vision true. Indeed, a woman from the Fire Nation had come six years ago. She lived in a small house, near the shore, making money by selling her paintings. No one knew anything about her past or who she was.

 

Taking another calming breath the Spirit knocked the door. This is ridiculous! she scolded herself. There’s no point in feeling so edgy! The door opened and the sweet face of Ursa appeared, looking at the redhead in front of her questioningly. Lia smiled and bowed in greeting.

“Lady Ursa?” she said. The older woman’s face turned from confused to worried. Before she had a chance to retreat inside her house Lia continued. “I come on behalf of your son.”

 *          *          *

Looking around him Sokka sighed. They had practically wrecked the room and still not found the way to the Earth King’s throne room. Deciding it was worth one last try he climbed over the mountain of wreckage and felt his jaw drop.

“Now that’s an impressive door!” he whistled gaping at the two huge, gold doors. “It’s gotta go somewhere.” He jumped to the other side and sprinted towards them. Landing a flying kick, he only succeeded in falling in front of them. Sharing an exasperated glance Aang and Toph earthbended the doors – and Sokka in the process – out of the way. The warrior landed on his face…again… and sat up rubbing his head.

“A little warning next time!” he whined.

 

The rest of the gang entered the throne room, blatantly ignoring the still grumbling Sokka. At the far end, the Earth King was seated at an impressive throne. He feels far too young and soft for this job, Toph thought curiously. Before anyone had a chance to talk Long Feng and a line of Dai Li appeared, standing protectively in front of the King.

“We need to talk to you!” Aang said urgently.

“They’re here to overthrow you,” Long Feng said persuasively to the King.

“No,” Sokka interfered. “We’re here to help.”

“You have to trust us,” his sister added. The Earth King stood up aggravated.

“You invade my palace, lay waste to all my guards, break down my fancy door, and you expect me to trust you‌?” Toph raised an eyebrow.

“He has a good point,” she said.

“If you’re on my side,” the King continued, “then drop your weapons and stand down.” Aang nodded at the others and they dropped their stances.

“See?” the Avatar said smiling widely. “We’re friends, your Earthiness.”

 
The King’s frown didn’t falter. That was sign enough for Long Feng. He motioned his agents and they sent their stone gloves at the startled teens.

“Detain the assailants,” The Head Dai Li ordered.

“But,” Sokka said confused, “we dropped our weapons. We’re your allies.”

“Make sure the Avatar and his friends never see daylight again,” Long Feng continued unfazed. The Earth King looked up at Sokka surprised.

“The Avatar?‌ You’re the Avatar?”

“Uh, no.” Sokka pointed towards Aang as best as he could while cuffed. “Him,” he explained.

“Over here!” Aang called, waving his hands before letting them be cuffed again.

“‌ What does it matter Your Highness?” Long Feng insisted.‌ “They’re enemies of the state.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” the Earth King agreed hesitantly. Suddenly his bear approached Aang and started licking him. The boy giggled happily. “Though Bosco seems to like him,” he added happily. “I’ll hear what he has to say.” Long Feng frowned as Aang approached the throne.

“Well, sir,” the Avatar began, “there is a war going on right now. For the past hundred years, in fact. The Dai Li’s kept it secret from you. It’s a conspiracy to control the city, and to control you.”

“A secret war‌! That’s crazy!” the Earth King exclaimed.

“Completely!” Long Feng hurried to add. Aang glared at him.

“Long Feng didn’t want us to tell you, so he stole our sky bison to blackmail us,” he continued. “And blackmail is the least of his crimes, he brainwashed our friend!”

“All lies,” Long Feng assured the King. “I‘ve never even seen a sky bison Your Majesty. Frankly, I thought they were extinct.” The King sat back on his throne.

“Your claim is difficult to believe, even from an Avatar,” he said.

“These hooligans are part of an anarchist cell that my agents have been tracking for weeks. If you listen to them, you’re playing right into your own destruction,” Long Feng told him quietly. The Earth King sighed.

“I have to trust my advisor,” he told the children.
The Dai Li made a move to take the kids away when suddenly Sokka was struck by one of his inspirations.

“Wait, I can prove he’s lying,” he said enthusiastically. “Long Feng said he’s never seen a sky bison. Ask him to lift his robe.”

“What?” the minister said appalled. “I am not disrobing!” Aang and Sokka shared a look. Aang took a deep breath and sent a mini typhoon towards the minister, blowing his robes to cover his head. A big bruise appeared on one of his legs.

“ Right there!” Aang exclaimed. “Appa bit him.”

“Never met a sky bison, huh?” Sokka said smugly. Long Feng pushed down his robes annoyed.

“That happens to be a large birthmark. Thanks for showing everyone,” he said.

“Well, I suppose there’s no way to prove where those marks came from.” The Earth King said hesitantly.

“Of course there is!” Sokka insisted, sounding even smugger.
Appa was brought inside immediately. It took only one glance on his teeth to prove it.

“Yup, that pretty much proves it,” the Earth King decided. The kids exchanged triumphant grins. “But it doesn’t prove this crazy conspiracy theory,” he continued. Before Sokka would begin complaining again the Earth King decided. “Though, I suppose this matter is worth looking into.”

 

Iroh looked at his nephew worried. He had known this moment would come since he had discovered Zuko’s affections for the waterbender. It had been part of the reason he had abandoned his quest for the Avatar, but Iroh wasn’t certain whether his nephew had never had second thoughts.

“You’re burning up. You have an intense fever,” he said quietly, placing a wet cloth on the boy’s forehead. “This will help cool you down.”

“So thirsty,” Zuko muttered deliriously. He tried to stand up only to be pushed back down again by his uncle. The old man turned and filled a small cup with water.

“Here’s some clean water to drink. Stay under the blankets, and sweat this out.” Zuko drained the cup before snatching the bucket that was next to Iroh and drinking right from it. He felt as if he was on fire on the inside.

“Katara…” he whispered before passing out again.

 

 *          *          *

It was hours later when Lia stopped talking, her mouth dry. She had recounted everything that had happened the last six years. Ursa had heard of course of Zuko’s banishment, and she had worried herself sick not knowing what had happened to her son.

“It’s so hard to believe how much pain has come to our family,” she said pouring them some tea. “I never thought Ozai would change so suddenly so much.” Lia looked up interested.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Before the siege of Ba Sing Se, Ozai was more warm and human,” Ursa explained. “He would play with Zuko and Azula, teach them small firebending tricks, much like Iroh did with Lu Ten. As the siege dragged on, he became more cold and distant. At first I thought he was just stressed about the outcome of the war, but then that audience came and…” she took a steadying breath. “It was as if some other person had taken over his place: a calculating, cold man I had never seen inside him before.”

 

Lia was deep in thought. The siege of Ba Sing Se seemed awfully important all of a sudden. It was as if someone had cursed the royal family, tearing it apart and letting the most ruthless to rule. And if Ursa was right, Ozai’s change of heart was almost timed with his nephew’s death. The Fire Spirit raised an eyebrow. Now that reminded her of an old friend…

 *          *          *

It has been said that the day the Earth King would use public transport would be the day the world ended. It definitely looked like it, judging by the looks on the passengers’ faces.

“So, this is what a train is like.‌ I didn’t realize it would be this…public,” the Earth King commented. Katara looked at him surprised.

“So you’ve never been outside the Upper Ring before‌?” she asked

“I’ve never been outside of the palace,” he corrected her cheerfully. “Now that’s the way to travel.” He said pointing at Aang who was flying alongside the train on Appa. “So, may I ask where we’re going‌?” he asked the kids.

“Underneath Lake Laogai, Your Kingliness,” Sokka informed him. “To the Dai Li’s secret headquarters. You’re about to see where all the brainwashing and conspiring took place.”
The shores of the lake look so innocent. Awfully innocent, Katara thought with a bad feeling. Toph earthbended the platform, like she had done the previous time, but only a few stones appeared.

“It’s gone!” she said surprised. Sokka’s shoulders slumped.

“Oh, don’t tell me” he took a deep breath and forced a smile. “That’s ok, still got my positive attitude.”

“The Dai Li must have known we were coming and destroyed the evidence,” Katara concluded.

“That seems awfully convenient,” the Earth King said suspiciously.

“Hey, if anything, this proves the conspiracy exists even more,” Sokka said desperately. The Earth King frowned.

“Long Feng was right; this was a waste of time. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to the palace.” He turned to leave. Katara suddenly looked up.

“The wall! They’ll never be able to cover that up in time!” Aang smiled at her before airbending himself in front of the King.

“If you come with us to the outer wall, we can prove to you that the secret war is real!”

“No Earth King has ever been to the outer wall. I don’t have any more time for this nonsense,” the Earth King said annoyed.

“If you come with us, this time you can ride on Appa,” Sokka offered.

 

This offer seemed to do the trick. In a few minutes everyone – including a terrified King and his personal guard – was in the air.

“First time flying?” Toph asked him flatly.

“It’s both thrilling and terrifying,” the Earth King said breathlessly. She gave him a small smile.

“Yeah, I hate it too.” The King smiled back before sobering.

“I have to be honest with you. Part of me really hopes that what you are telling me about this war…isn’t true,” he said seriously.

“I wish it wasn’t,” Aang whispered as they flew to the outer wall.
Soon they were right outside the city.

“It’s still there!” Aang said, pointing at the wreckage of the drill.

“What is that?” the Earth King whispered horrified.

“It’s a drill,” Sokka explained. “A giant drill made by the Fire Nation, to break through your walls.” They landed on the wall itself. The Earth King braced himself against the railing, trying to take in everything.

“I can’t believe I never knew,” he whispered shaken. Suddenly Long Feng and two Dai Li appeared.

“I can explain this, Your Majesty,” he said trying to find a believable excuse. “This is nothing more than… a construction project.”

“Really?” Katara said crossing her arms. “Then perhaps you can explain why there’s a Fire Nation insignia on your construction project.” She pointed at the huge piece of junk metal.

“Well, it’s imported of course. You know you can’t trust domestic machinery,” Long Feng said. Noticing the stares he was receiving he frowned. “Surely you don’t believe these children, instead of your most loyal attendant‌!” he exclaimed. The Earth King frowned.

“Dai Li, arrest Long Feng. I want him to stand trial for crimes against the Earth Kingdom,” he ordered. The two agents exchanged a quick glance before handcuffing their former leader.

“You can’t arrest me. You all need me more than you know!” Long Feng shouted as they dragged him away.

“Looks like Long Feng is “long gone”!” Sokka called after him. “Ha…Oh, yeah, I’ve been waitin’ to use that one,” he said, wiping a tear of laughter from his eyes.

 

By night time they had returned to the palace. The Earth King was devastated.

“I want to thank you, young heroes for opening my eyes. All this time, what I thought was a great metropolis, was merely a city of fools, and that makes me the king fool.” He buried his head in his hands. “We’re at war, with the Fire Nation.”

“That’s why we came to Ba Sing Se, Your Highness. Because we think you can help us end the war,” Sokka said stepping forward.

“We don’t have much time. There’s a comet coming this summer. Its energy will give the fire benders unbelievable strength. They’ll be unstoppable,” Aang continued.

“But there is hope,” Sokka took over again. “Before the comet comes, we have a window of opportunity. A solar eclipse is coming. The sun will be entirely blocked out by the moon, and the fire benders will be helpless.”

“What are you suggesting, Sokka‌?” the King asked.

“That’s the day we need to invade the Fire Nation. The Day of Black Sun.” The Earth King looked at them hesitantly.

“I don’t know. That would require moving troops out of Ba Sing Se. We’d be completely vulnerable.”

“You’re already vulnerable,” Sokka insisted. “The Fire Nation won’t stop until Ba Sing Se falls. You can either sit back and wait for that to happen, or take the offensive, and give yourself a fighting chance.” The King looked at the teens who were waiting for his answer anxiously.

“Very well. You have my support.”

 

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of one of the Five Generals. The man bowed deeply in front of the throne.

“Your Majesty. I apologize for the interruption.”

“This is general Hao, He’s the leader of The Council of Five. My highest- ranking generals,” The Earth King explained.

“We searched Long Feng’s office. I think we found something that will interest everybody,” the general explained.

 

They moved to the office of the former Grand Secretariat. A guard placed a box in front of the Earth King and left.

“There are secret files on everyone in Ba Sing Se. Including you kids,” general Hao said.

“Secret files‌!”Aang said surprised. The Earth King picked up a scroll and read the name out loud.

“Toph Bei Fong.” He handed the scroll to the little earthbender, who wordlessly handed it to Katara. The older girl opened it and scanned through the lines.

“It’s a letter from your mom. You mom’s here in the city, and she wants to see you.” Toph’s face lighted up before shaking her head.

“Long Feng intercepted our letters from home‌ That’s just sad,” she said pityingly.

“Aang,” The Earth King said, handing the next scroll.

“This scroll was attached to the horn of your bison when the Dai Li captured it,” general Hao explained.

“It’s from the Eastern Air Temple,” Aang said with a bright smile.

“Is there a letter for me and Sokka by any chance‌?” Katara asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid not,” The King said softly. Noticing the sad expressions on the Water Tribe siblings’ faces general Hao spoke up:

“But there is an intelligence report that might interest you.” He handed the last scroll to Katara.

“A small fleet of water tribe ships…” the waterbender read aloud.

“What?‌ That could be dad,” Sokka exclaimed. Katara continued reading.

“Protecting the mouth of Chameleon Bay… Led by Hakoda. It is dad!”
“You should know this is not a natural sickness. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying tea,” Iroh said calmly to the sick teen. Zuko looked at him scared.

“What…what’s happening‌?” he asked.

“Your critical decision,” Iroh explained grimly. “What you did beneath that lake…it was in such conflict with your image of yourself that you are now at war within your own mind and body.”

“What’s that supposed to mean‌?” Zuko managed to ask through a coughing fit.

“You’re going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience, but when you come out of it, you will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be,” Iroh said, mopping the sweat from his nephew’s forehead, as he slipped back into unconsciousness. Inside him though, the old general had decided that if the fever didn’t break before the morning, he would go seek Katara.

 

“I can’t believe it.” Aang said, looking up from his scroll smiling. “There’s a man living at the Eastern Air Temple. He says he’s a Guru.” Sokka looked at him confused.

“What’s a Guru?‌ Some kind of poisonous blowfish‌?”

“No, a spiritual expert. He wants to help me take the next step in the Avatar journey. He says he can teach me to control the Avatar State,” Aang explained eagerly.

“And I can’t believe we know where our dad is now,” Katara said, putting up a smiling face. For some reason she had this bad feeling twisting around her heart all day.

“I know what you mean,” Toph said. “My mom’s in the city, and from her letter it sounds like she finally understands me.”

“This is all such big news. Where do we even start‌?” Sokka wondered. His sister sighed.

“I hate to say it, but…we have to split up.”

“Split up‌?” Aang exclaimed. “We just found Appa and got the family back together. Now you want us to separate‌?”

“You have to meet this Guru, Aang,” Katara insisted. “If we’re gonna invade the Fire Nation, you need to be ready.” Aang smiled.

“Well, if I’m going to the Eastern Air Temple. Appa and I can drop you at Chameleon Bay to see your dad,” he offered. Sokka frowned.

“Someone has to stay here with the Earth King and help him plan for the invasion. I guess that’s me,” he said, standing up resigned. Katara stood up too. She didn’t know what her bad feeling was about, but it had to do with Ba Sing Se. There was no way she’d leave the city without finding out.

“No Sokka, I know how badly you want to help dad. You go to Chameleon Bay. I’ll stay here with the king.” She said. Sokka did a small happy dance before hugging her.

“You are…the nicest… sister…ever,” he managed to say. Katara pushed him back smiling.

“Easy there, big brother. Though you’re right, I am.”

 

The next morning found them at the great courtyard in front of the Earth King’s palace. Toph was patting Appa affectionately when she felt Aang approaching.

“Toph, I need to tell you something,” he said hesitantly. She looked at him curiously. His heartbeat was double its normal rate.

“What is it Twinkle Toes?” she asked. Aang blushed.

“I think I…” before he had a chance to finish his sentence, Sokka jumped in. Toph really wanted to punch him to the South Pole and back.

“Alright! Who’s ready to get going on our little men-only man trip‌?” the warrior said, gripping the surprised Avatar in a head lock.

“Aang and Sokka, I wish you good journey.” The two boys turned, Aang still in a headlock. “Ba Sing Se owes you its thanks, and we look forward to your return.” Smiling they bowed to the King. A guard suddenly appeared.

“Your Majesty. There are three female warriors here to see you. They’re from the island of Kyoshi.”

“That’s Suki!” Sokka said shocked, freezing half-way through climbing to Appa’s side. He slipped back to the ground.

“You know these warriors‌?” the Earth King asked them.

“Oh yeah.” Sokka said standing. “The Kyoshi warriors are a skilled group of fighters, trustworthy too. They’re good friends of ours.”

“Then we shall welcome them as honoured guests,” the King said satisfied.

 

Toph approached Aang blushing.

“Wait, Twinkle Toes,” she said before throwing her arms around the surprised boy. She kissed his cheek quickly before turning red and running to hide behind Katara.

“I’m really gonna miss you guys,” she said, regaining her cool.

“Me too,” Katara added, smiling at the idea of the two youngest benders together. They hugged each other, before rushing to Sokka for a proper group hug.

“Ahhh! Great! That’s enough! Ok, we love each other,” the warrior said embarrassed before patting their heads. “Seriously.”

 

Soon the sky bison was flying once again. Sokka turned satisfied to Aang.

“You see Aang? A little positive thinking works wonders. We got the King on our side, we got Long Feng arrested, and when we get back, Suki’s waiting for me.”

“Yeah, girls are waiting for us,” the Avatar said dreamily. “Thanks positive attitude.” Sokka continued cheerfully.

“Everything’s gonna work out perfectly, from now on and forever.”
On the Upper Ring Toph stood hesitantly in front of the door of a big, impressive house. Taking a deep breath she knocked, only to find the door open. She stepped into a big room, completely empty of any furniture.

“Hello?‌ Mom?‌ Anyone home‌?” she called. Walking into the centre she looked around suspiciously. Suddenly a big metal box dropped from the ceiling, trapping her inside.

“Hey!” she called frightened. “Who do you think you’re dealing with‌?” Xin Fu and Master Yu stepped out of the shadows.

“One loud mouth little brat who strayed too far from home,” the first said.

 

Katara walked alone through the streets of the Upper Ring. It felt so strange knowing that she would be on her own now. A few days ago she would be elated, but now it seemed to her pointless. She missed Zuko, but her pride refused to let her go to the Lower Ring. If he wanted to talk to her, he would have to do it the hard way.

 

As she approached the house she was surprised to see a lone figure knocking the door.

“Can I help you?” she called coming closer. Iroh turned, relief evident on his face.

“Katara! Thank the Spirits!” he waited until she was near. “I need your help,” he explained.

“What happened?” the waterbender asked worried. Could someone have found out who they were?

“It’s Zuko,” Iroh said, watching the worried expression on the girl’s face turn to a guarded one. He continued nevertheless. “He’s seriously ill and had been asking for you in his delirium. I was hoping that your presence might help him.” Katara was torn. On the one hand she was still hurt by Zuko’s lack of trust. But this wasn’t a reason to refuse him her help. She hadn’t done so even when they were enemies.

“I’m coming,” she said decisively. Iroh’s face showed his relief. Now he’d have a chance to see why these two weren’t on speaking terms anymore.

 

They walked in silence for a while, deep in their thoughts. When they passed the train station Katara looked surprised.

“Won’t we go on the Lower Ring?” she asked confused.

“We just moved on the Upper Ring,” Iroh explained. “I have my own teashop here now.” He stole a glance to Katara. “I suppose you had already argued with my nephew when this happened. May I ask why?”

Might as well learn something, Katara thought. “I came to the teashop one day and saw it being repaired. When I asked Zuko about it he wouldn’t tell me,” she said out loud. “I told him that when he was ready to talk openly with me I would be waiting.” She hesitated for a moment. “What happened?” she finally asked. Iroh didn’t speak for a long moment.

“It is my fault actually,” he eventually began. “At the port we had a brief encounter with your friend, Jet. While Zuko was talking with him, I heated my tea with firebending. He must have noticed, because the night before you and my nephew argued, he barged in accusing us of being firebenders. Zuko fought him off so that I wouldn’t have to firebend and betray our identities, but it was the teashop that suffered the consequences.” Katara’s face was clouded.

“This doesn’t explain why Zuko wouldn’t tell me,” she insisted as Iroh opened the door to the new apartment.

“Maybe he didn’t want to distress you,” the old man said tentatively. “After all you were quite upset when you crossed paths with Jet at the ferry.” Katara nodded. She could see the logic behind it.

“Where is he?” she asked. Iroh guided her to a door at the far end of the apartment.

“Do you need anything?” he asked her. He had never witnessed a waterbender heal. Katara nodded negatively before entering the room and closing the door behind her.

 

Zuko was laying on his bed, tangled in another fever-dream judging by the tossing and turning he was doing. Whatever anger she still felt disappeared instantly as Katara knelt next to him. Taking his face in her hands she drew out water and formed the healing glove. Placing it on his forehead she willed the fever to go away. Slowly Zuko’s breathing became steadier. Katara leaned his head softly back on the pillow and brushed a few strands of hair away from his closed eyes. She let her hand wander absentmindedly on his face, thinking of what Iroh had just told her. Wouldn’t she have done the same if she was in Zuko’s position? Sighing she made a movement to withdraw her hand, when she felt a larger one keeping it in place. Startled she looked down to see Zuko wide awake looking at her in disbelief. She gave him a weak smile.

“Feeling better?” she asked him softly. Zuko nodded. Katara made a movement again to stand up. “I’ll let you sleep,” she said. To her surprise Zuko’s grip tightened.

“Don’t go,” he managed to say. “I’m sorry.” Katara sat back down and brought their joined hands to her lips.

“There is nothing to be sorry about,” she told him. “Iroh explained to me what happened. I would have probably done the same if I was in your position,” she admitted. Zuko smiled at her hesitantly. She smiled back. “I missed you,” she continued, leaning forward. Zuko pushed himself up and their lips met halfway. Pulling her next to him, the prince gathered Katara into his arms, holding her close.

“If there is one thing I like about fighting,” he whispered before bringing her face near his again, “it’s making up.”

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Tales of Ba Sing Se

Standard

Author’s Note: In which not much of import happens but there is fluff and mostly laughs and that’s good, right?
Previous chapter: link
Next chapter: link

***Tales of Ba Sing Se***

The Tale of Toph, Katara and Lia

It was a morning like every other in Ba Sing Se. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and Katara, Sokka and Aang were getting ready for the day. Looking around, the waterbender realised that Toph wasn’t up yet. Smiling slightly Katara went to the other girl’s room. She must have overslept. Opening the door she felt the smile leave her face.

“Toph!” she called at the sleeping girl. “Aren’t you going to get ready for the day?” Toph stood sleepily and dusted herself.

“I’m ready,” she said groggily.

“You’re not gonna wash up?” Katara asked, feeling very much like a mother. “You’ve got a little dirt on your…” she took a second look, “everywhere actually.”

“You call it dirt. I call it a healthy coating of earth,” Toph argued. Katara gave her a sceptical look.

“Hm… You know what we need? A girls’ day out!” she finally proposed enthusiastically. Toph didn’t seem so happy.

“Do I have to?” she whined.

“It will be fun!” Katara insisted. “We could take Lia with us too!” At the mention of the older girl Toph seemed to become a little more convinced.

An hour later the three girls were standing outside an ornately decorated building. Written over the doors was “The Fancy Lady’s Day Spa”. Lia read it out loud.

“Sounds like my kind of place,” Toph grumbled.

“Are you ready for some serious pampering?” Katara asked her. She was in an even better mood after having seen Zuko.

“Sure Katara,” the youngest girl said hesitantly. “Whatever you say. As long as they don’t touch my feet,” she warned. They followed Lia inside. The Spirit had been a little hesitant too about this girls’-day-out idea, but she admitted it did sound like fun. Besides, what’s wrong with spoiling yourself once in a while?

Much to Toph’s distress the first part of pampering package Katara had booked was a full pedicure. While Katara and Lia were relaxing, three of the strongest women working at the spa were needed to keep Toph still and clean the dirt that had gathered on her soles. Finally the girl resulted in earthbending to free herself from them.

Next they moved on a room with stone bathtubs full of mud. As soon as she felt her element surrounding her Toph brightened up. She was even in a mood good enough to scare the lady that came to give them towels, making the mud mask on her face move and forming the face of an insect.

When they moved to the next room Lia’s faced literally glowed. It was a sauna, and a high quality one at that. She checked behind her shoulder for any eavesdroppers before motioning to the other two girls to move ahead.

“Finally some pampering for me! Take your seats ladies.” Katara and Toph did as asked and saw her concentrating on raising the temperature. Soon steam had covered everything. The three girls sighed contently.

“It’s nice to have three benders at the same room,” Toph said. “This may be a little fun after all.” The older girls high-fived.

“Soooo…” Lia said rubbing her hands. “How about a make-over next? I haven’t worked on a face other than my own for almost ten years. This would be refreshing.”

“Are you good at this?” Toph asked hesitantly.

“Not to tut my own horn but yes, yes I am.”

“It could be interesting to try.” Katara said intrigued. The few times she had tried to put make-up on she had found it challenging to say the least.

Once they were out of the sauna – it had taken quite some persuading to convince Lia to step out of the hot cabin – they moved to a brightly lit room with huge mirrors. Lia took a look at the different kinds of make-up and sighed.

“I’m in heaven,” she whispered in a giddy voice. Hearing Katara giggle next to her, she turned threateningly to the waterbender. “Tell Zuko I said this and I’ll do something unspeakably horrible, like cause bad weather when he finally asks you out!” she hissed. Katara just shrugged.

“You’re not very convincing,” she said taking a seat in front of a mirror.

“She can be if she wants to,” Toph warned her thinking back at the angry vibes the Spirit seemed to emit whenever the name Agni was mentioned. She silently listened to the explanations Lia gave as she applied the different powders on Katara’s face. Fifteen minutes later Lia stepped back.

“What do you think?” she asked Katara. The colours she had used were next to invisible, yet they brought out the waterbenders eyes making them look like a pair of sapphires.

“It’s great!” Katara breathed.

“I want the same!” Toph decided excitedly. Lia looked at Toph hesitantly.

“These colours don’t suit you very well,” she explained to the youngest girl gently. “Do you want me to do something similar but use your colours?”

“What do you mean my colours?” Toph asked surprised.

“Each face is different,” the Spirit explained. “Colours that look good on me or you would look horrible on Katara and vice versa.” Toph sighted and leaned back on her chair.

“Then do what you think best,” she said a little sad. She understood what Lia was talking about, but for her all this meant nothing. It wasn’t as if she could see the outcome… Surprisingly the soft touches of the different brushes calmed her. When she felt Lia move back she turned anxiously to Katara.

“You look great!” her friend exclaimed. Toph silently hoped that Aang would think the same if he saw her.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Toph admitted as they returned home. Lia had left them at the train station, from there she’d return to the Lower Ring. “I’m not usually into that stuff, but I actually feel… girly.”

“I’m glad,” Katara said genuinely happy. “It’s about time we did something fun together.” As they crossed a bridge they came along a few fancy-dressed girls.

“Wow!” one of them said. “Great make-up!”

“Thanks!” Toph answered happily.

“For a clown!” the girl finished snickering. Toph felt her good mood going down the drain.

“Don’t listen to them,” Katara said glaring at the girls’ direction. “Let’s just keep walking.”

“I think she looks cute,” the second girl said. “Like that time you put a sweater on your pet poodle-monkey.”

“Good one!” her friends praised her.

“Let’s go Toph,” Katara said noting the mortified expression on the other girl’s face.

“No, no!” Toph said with a false laugh. “That was a good one!” she turned to the girls. “Like your poodle-monkey… You know what else is a good one?” She stomped her foot creating a hole under the three girls. They fell into the river squeaking.

“Now that was funny…” Katara laughed at them before waterbending them away. She hurried to catch up with Toph.

“Those girls don’t know what they’re talking about,” she assured her.

“It’s okay. One of the good things about being blind is that I don’t have to waste my time worrying about appearances. I don’t care what I look like. I’m not looking for anyone’s approval. I know who I am,” Toph said firmly, trying to convince more herself than Katara.

“That’s what I really admire about you Toph,” Katara said quietly. “You’re so strong and confident and self-assured. And I know it doesn’t matter,” she added hearing the little earthbender sniffing, “but you’re really pretty.”

“I am?” Toph asked disbelievingly.

“Yeah, you are. At the ball Aang couldn’t take his eyes away from you.” That seemed to have the desired effect.

“I’d return the compliment,” Toph said sounding more like herself again, “but I’ve no idea what you look like.” Katara laughed. “Thank you Katara.” She added punching her lightly on the shoulder.

The Tale of Zuko:

It would have been just another day on the teashop, if it wasn’t for the fact that Zuko’s suspicions had been confirmed. And it just had to be today! The prince thought annoyed as he approached his uncle. He had to do this discreetly.

“Uncle!” he called quietly Iroh. “We have a problem.” The old man climbed down the ladder he stood on to restock the shelves and looked at his nephew with mild interest. “One of the customers is on to us,” Zuko continued. “Don’t look now, but there is a girl over there at the corner table. She knows we’re Fire Nation.” Iroh felt his slight worry turn into amusement. Even though he was with Katara now – and Iroh had caught them making out on the roof more than once – his nephew was still ignorant on the subject of girls. He turned curiously to give the girl a look, but Zuko turned him back roughly. “Didn’t I say don’t look?” he asked annoyed.

“You’re right Zuko,” he said to his nephew. “I’ve seen that girl quite a lot. It seems to me she has quite a crush on you.”

“What?” Zuko exclaimed horrified.

“Thanks for the tea,” the girl said from behind them. Zuko took wordlessly the coins she gave him and turned to give her her change. “What’s your name?” she asked him, clearly hoping to strike up a conversation.

“My name’s Lee.” Zuko answered evenly. “My uncle, sister and I just moved here.”

Before the girl had chance to say anything else, Zuko’s eye caught something blue outside the teashop. Hastily he gave her her change and rushed to the door. Indeed, outside was Katara, her hand outstretched to open the door.

“That was some timing!” she told him laughing.

“You have no idea!” he laughed back, a little nervous. There was no going back now. “There are a few customers now, so why don’t you come round the back of the shop? I need to ask you something.”

“Sure,” Katara said surprised. She had sensed his uneasiness and wondered if something was wrong. They sat at the back room, which served as storage, or more accurately Katara sat down. Zuko was passing up and down restlessly, trying to find the words to ask her.

Finally Katara decided that there was no way he’d calm down on his own. Silently she walked up to him and kissed him on the cheek. Zuko froze. He had been so deep in his thoughts, he hadn’t heard her.

“What are you so worried about?” she asked him confused. “Did something happen?”

“No!” Zuko hurried to assure her. He took a deep breath. That was it. “I was wondering if you would come tonight. I… I want to show you something I found and it has to be night…” Katara silenced his babbling, placing a finger on his lips.

“Are you asking me on a date?” she asked teasingly. Zuko’s face turned red. Before he had a chance to answer, she kissed him softly on the lips.

“I’ll meet you outside the teashop at sundown,” she told him smiling.

By midday Katara returned to the Upper Ring, while Zuko and Iroh went back to their apartment for lunch. Lia had been feeling a little sick that day – or so she said – so she had taken the day off. She had prepared lunch and now she was waiting impatiently for her brother to return and tell her the news. She was willing to bet her position as a Spirit that he had been stammering for an hour before asking Katara out. Indeed once they were back home, Zuko came right into the bedroom and plopped onto his bed staring at the ceiling wondrously.

“I take that she said yes?” she asked him. He just nodded, still staring at the ceiling.

“I KNEW IT!” Lia said jumping off her bed. She sat next to her brother. “I told you, you had nothing to worry about!” she laughed at his expression of disbelief. “See? There was no point in acting as if you were going to be executed.” At that Zuko switched expressions and glared at her, even though they both knew she was immune to it.

Katara was feeling giddy as she returned home. She couldn’t believe that Zuko had asked her on a date. She knew their relationship wasn’t a conventional one and she didn’t mind, but still it was nice gesture. She laughed softly remembering how nervous Zuko had been until he had finally gathered the courage to ask her. It had been really cute. Then another thought occurred to her. What was she going to wear? She only had her Water Tribe outfits and none of them seemed right for a date. Stopping in front of a shop on the Middle Ring Katara paused. She had a little money with her. Maybe she could find something nice here…

Precisely at sundown Zuko was standing outside the teashop. A thousand questions were spinning through his head. Would Katara come? Would his surprise work? Would she like it? Had it been a good idea to ask Lia’s advice?

“I hope I’m not late,” he heard a girl saying behind him He turned and felt his jaw drop. Katara was wearing an Earth Kingdom dress of deep green – almost blue – and had let her hair down. Smiling softly she approached him and stood on her toes in order to kiss him.

“Uncle is watching us,” he whispered and fitted a flower into her hand. Katara’s knowing smile turned to one of pleasant surprise. Zuko had given her blooming Panda Lilly.

“Thanks!” she said. The prince took the flower back and placed it in her hair.

“You look beautiful,” he said shyly. Then taking her hand he led her away. Once they were away enough from Iroh’s – and probably Lia’s – curiosity Katara paused.

“Can I kiss you now?” she asked fake-pouting.

“If you can’t hold back,” Zuko answered smugly. Katara humph-ed before leaning in and kissing him. When they broke away Zuko told her smiling:

“Like you said, I could get used to this.”

“I think you already are,” Katara told him leaning on his chest.

They walked through the alleys, Zuko’s hand around her waist and her head leaning on his shoulder, talking quietly, but mostly enjoying each other’s company. Arriving in a square Zuko pointed to an eating place.

“You like it my Lady?” he asked her smiling. Katara nodded. It was a nice place, where they could talk freely without being afraid of someone eavesdropping.

They sat down and soon their food came. Katara’s thoughtful expression drew Zuko’s attention.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked her curiously.

“It’s silly,” she shrugged. “I was just wondering why you call me your ‘Lady’. Not that it bothers me,” she hurried to add when he shifted uncomfortably, “but I was curious.”

“It was Lia who called you first so,” Zuko explained, rubbing the back of his head nervously. “Back on the ferry. And if the Avatar defeats my father, then I will be Fire Lord. So you’d better be used to people calling you Lady Katara.” The waterbender looked at him confused.

“But shouldn’t we be, I don’t know, married, for me to be considered the Fire Lady?” she asked.

“Well, yeah,” the firebender shrugged. “But the moment a member of the Royal Family is crowned and he is not married, then the nobles will begin pestering him about finding a bride.”

“But if there is a girlfriend…” Katara began, understanding his trail of thought.

“They treat her as the Fire Lady-to-be in order to press the situation. That is if they approve of the choice.”

“You think they’d approve of me?” Katara asked nervously.

“You shouldn’t be worried. The nobles have influence, that’s true, but they can’t directly affect the decisions. And their approval would be the least worry in my mind if we were to get married.”

“What would be your first?” Katara asked him, feeling a little weird that they were talking about marriage.

“Your brother,” Zuko answered. “He’d murder me before I had a chance to finish my sentence.” At the thought of Sokka’s reaction the two teens burst out laughing. A waiter approached Zuko.

“If you and your girlfriend are finished, I will bring the desserts,” he half-asked, half-proposed. Zuko nodded. The mention of Katara as his girlfriend made him feel warm inside. She didn’t seem to have a problem with the term either.

When they had finished eating they started walking around again, with Zuko leading the way. They had nearly reached the limits of the Lower Ring when he paused and turned to Katara.

“Are you ready for the surprise?” he asked her. She nodded eagerly. They approached a fountain in the middle of a big crossroad. Zuko’s face fell.

“It’s not lit!” he said disappointed. Katara looked around and noticed many torches, lanterns and candles around.

“It must be magical to see them all lit,” she said trying to comfort him. “I’m sure it would be beautiful.” Zuko had a set expression on his face.

“I wanted to show you the place as it should be and I will,” he said decisively. Motioning for her to wait, he took a step forward and closed his eyes concentrating. Even though he hadn’t done any actual firebending for quite some time now he felt the fire’s response immediately, as the candles sprung to life.

Katara took a sharp breath. It was indeed a magical sight. The flames illuminating the water making it look like liquid light.

“That’s amazing!” she breathed, walking up next to him. She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Thanks for sharing it with me,” she whispered. She felt his hands creep around her waist and she looked up in anticipation. Zuko didn’t disappoint her. Pulling her closer he slowly met her lips with his.

Iroh had been looking curiously out the window, on the pretext of taking care of his plants. That didn’t discourage a sniggering Lia, who had long ago pointed out that the only reason they were both still awake was that they were waiting for Zuko. As she opened her mouth to tease Iroh once again, they heard the door opening. Zuko entered the room wordlessly although the dreamy look on his face was more than enough for Lia. Iroh on the other hand couldn’t resist the temptation.

“How was your evening prince Zuko?” he asked the boy. His nephew’s dreamy expression instantly turned into a scowl. He marched into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. A second later the door opened a bit and Zuko’s face reappeared.

“It was nice,” he admitted quietly. The door closed, quietly this time, and the prince missed his uncle’s satisfied expression.