Author’s note: In which there is calm before the inevitable storm, someone is in denial, Toph is even more awesome than usual and someone ominous makes a comeback.
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The next morning Katara shifted contently under the blanket. She had had a good night’s sleep and for some reason her bed was pleasantly warmer than usual. Opening her eyes she smiled, seeing Zuko asleep next to her. Zuko! Her eyes widened as the memories of the previous night kicked in. They must have fallen asleep next to each other. She blushed crimson. Iroh and Lia would tease them to their deaths…She frowned. Where exactly was that Spirit? Knowing her she wouldn’t have moved from Zuko’s side if she was in the city. Zuko shifted next to her and she lay completely still, afraid she might wake him. When he settled back into his slumber, Katara stood and straightened her clothing. She left the room to look for Iroh, determined to get some answers.
The old man was making tea in the kitchen. He looked up from his pot when he heard Katara entering.
“Ah, good morning my dear!” he welcomed her, smiling brightly.
“Good morning Iroh,” she answered a little awkwardly. He seemed to understand.
“When I came to check on you and Zuko you were sleeping so peacefully, I didn’t have the heart to wake you,” Iroh explained. “Would you stay for breakfast?”
“I would love to,” Katara smiled. Iroh rubbed his hands excitedly.
“Great! I wanted to try this new recipe and now I have an excuse to do so!”
Soon enough the overly sweet smell of whatever Iroh was making drew Zuko out of his room. Rubbing his eyes groggily he asked:
“What’s that smell?” Iroh looked at him hesitantly.
“It’s jook,” he explained. “I’m sure you wouldn’t like it.” Zuko leaned over the pot and took a deep breath.
“Actually, it smells delicious. I’d love a bowl, uncle.” He smiled and filled a bowl. Turning to the table he saw Katara studying him and his smile only widened. He placed the bowl in front of her, before serving one more for himself.
“Thank you Your Highness,” Katara said, smiling too. She had never seen this side of Zuko before and she really liked it. She liked it even better when he kissed her on the cheek. Iroh looked at all this with a raised eyebrow.
“Now that your fever is gone, you seem different somehow,” he said suspiciously. Zuko shrugged.
“It’s a new day. We’ve got a new apartment, new furniture, and in a few days it’s the grand opening of your new tea shop. Things are looking up uncle.” Besides, he added in his head, Katara and I made up!
A few days later Katara found herself wondering, for the umpteenth time, why Sokka would even consider staying in Ba Sing Se when he could go to Chameleon Bay. The war meetings she had to attend in his stead were long and boring, making her feel all stiff when she finally left the room. Besides, her only contribution was to help read some of her brother’s almost incomprehensible notes. Most of the time she could just watch as the generals discussed amongst themselves the strategy. Allowing herself to daydream, she thought of her life the last few days. She had all but moved into Zuko’s and Iroh’s place, being there most of the time. Much to the two teens’ glee Iroh had been hustling and bustling at the teashop, adding the finishing touches and left them to their own devices.
“I have to go down to the teashop children,” Iroh said, “When I’m back I’d like to find everything the way I left it.” He winked at the blushing teens. Not that he didn’t trust them, but you can never be too cautious.
“Of course uncle,” Zuko assured him glaring. What did he think they would be doing? As soon as the door closed both he and Katara breathed a sigh of relief.
“What does he imagine we’d do?” Zuko muttered, still glaring at the door. “Burn the whole building?” Katara giggled. She seemed to be laughing all the time lately.
“We could always go out you know,” she said cheerfully. “It’s a lovely day.” Zuko shrugged.
“As long as it doesn’t involve tea,” he mumbled before taking his girlfriend’s hand. “You know this place better than I do,”hHe told her. “Got any good suggestions?”
Katara smiled fondly at the memory. They had found a small quiet park and spent the day there, walking through the paths and just enjoying each other’s company. She was pulled out of her musings by General Hao’s voice.
“General Fong’s base will serve as the launching point of the attack,” he was explaining. “In exactly two months, the army and navy will invade the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun.” To illustrate his point he earthbended a few unit markers across the table, placing them directly in front of the Fire Nation capital. Momo decided that he didn’t like the arrangement and jumped on the map, scattering pieces all over the place.
“Or we could send in Momo to do some damage,” Katara chuckled as the lemur continued shuffling around the table. “Cause the…” she trailed off when she noticed the expressions on the generals’ faces. She sobered quickly. “Sorry.”
Hao snapped the pieces back in place wordlessly. Momo shrieked frightened and raced back to Katara’s shoulder.
“All we need is the Earth King’s seal in order to execute the plan.” He earthbended the scrolls with the plans towards Katara’s side of the table. The waterbender took them and stood up.
“I’ll get these scrolls to him right away. Thank you, General Hao.” She bowed before leaving the room with a quiet sigh of relief.
While Katara was having Ba Sing Se all to herself, Aang had just reached the Eastern Air Temple. Once upon a time this was the most populated of the Air Temples. But now… He spotted the figure of an ascetic, old man and guessing that was the guru he landed Appa nearby. He climbed the stairs to the small balcony the old man was apparently meditating on.
“Um, hello?” he called uncertainly. “You’re guru Pathik, right? The person who attached the note to Appa’s horn?”
“Indeed. I was a spiritual brother of your people, and a personal friend of monk Gyatso,” guru Pathik said without opening his eyes. Aang sat in front of him.
“In your note, you said you could teach me to gain control of the Avatar State. How?” he asked.
“You must gain balance within yourself before you can bring balance to the world. And the first step to gaining balance begins with this,” guru Pathik explained holding out a simple, wooden cup. “Drink up!” Aang took it hesitantly and took a long swallow. He spitted it out immediately.
“It tastes like onion and banana juice!” he exclaimed disgusted.
“That’s because it is,” Pathik said cheerfully. Aang sighed again. This was going to be a long week.
Aang was not the only one in an awkward situation. In a crossroads somewhere outside Ba Sing Se a strange carriage had been stilled for at least half an hour.
“I believe we need to go right!” Master Yu insisted for the thousandth time.
“What are you talking about?” Xin Fu scoffed. “The Bei Fong Estate’s this way.”
“I’m quite certain you’re mistaken.” Before Master Yu had time to add anything else, a loud banging was heard from the metal box they had been carrying.
“Hey! Can you two old ladies quit your bickering for a second? I gotta go to the bathroom!” Toph called urgently. Master Yu looked uneasy.
“Oh. Okay, but make it quick.” He stood and turned to open the cage. Xin Fu grabbed his arm.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked frustrated. Master Yu’s eyes widened in realisation.
“Oh very sneaky Toph! Nice try, but you can’t trick me.” He bragged sitting down again.
“Let me out of here, so I can kick both your butts!” Toph screamed angrily. Xin Fu punched the wall of the box.
“Quit your banging! You might think you’re the greatest earthbender in the world, but even you can’t bend metal.” He called as the wagon began again. Inside the box Toph frowned.
Is that what you think?
The teashop had come out nicely, Zuko decided. Knowing his uncle’s love for curious, useless things he had been kind of worried, but the outcome was definitely better than he had dared to hope. Iroh, standing next to him, suddenly spoke:
“Who thought when we came to this city as refugees that I’d end up owning my own tea shop. Follow your passion Zuko, and life will reward you,” he advised. Zuko smiled cheerfully.
“Congratulations uncle,” he said. The last few days he had been on a ridiculously good mood, as Lia would have said. He felt a slight pang of loss at her absence, but suppressed it.
“I’m very thankful,” Iroh said.
“You deserve it,” Zuko said, a hint of his old bossiness in his voice. “The Jasmine Dragon will be the best tea shop in the city.” Iroh shook his head.
“No, I’m thankful because you decided to share this special day with me,” he said putting a hand on Zuko’s shoulder. “It means more than you know.” Zuko hugged him. Life was good at last.
“Now let’s make these people some tea,” he said enthusiastically, although inwardly he was wincing. Might as well do what he wants me to do for once.
“Yes! Let’s make some tea!” his uncle practically skipped to the kitchen to begin brewing.
Guru Pathik had guided Aang through unlocking the first three chakras successfully. Aang was beginning to wonder what the difficulty on the whole thing was. During the pep talk the older man had given him he had thought the whole process would be next to impossible. They were now inside a partially destroyed shrine, sitting under the watchful gaze of an Air Nun.
“The fourth chakra is located in the heart. It deals with love, and is blocked by grief. Lay all your grief out in front of you,” guru Pathik instructed him. Aang closed his eyes and his mind was transported to an endless plain covered with fog. Opening his eyes he saw Monk Gyatso and the rest of the Air Nomads appearing in front of him. Aang had barely time to smile at the vision before they disappeared in to thin air.
“You have indeed felt a great loss. But love is a form of energy, and it swirls all around us. The Air Nomads love for you has not left this world. It is still inside of your heart, and is reborn in the form of new love,” he heard Pathik’s voice. The cloud that used to be the Air Nomads took the form of Katara and Toph, dressed up for Earth King’s party. “Let the pain flow away,” Pathik said softly. Watching the young airbender’s face relax he smiled. “Very good!” he praised him.
“Can I have some onion banana juice please?” Aang asked wiping a few tears away.
Toph had been testing her idea for a few hours now with no success. She could feel the tiny pieces of Earth in the metal, but couldn’t get them to respond to her orders. Taking a deep breath, she stomped her foot against the whole once again.
“Come on metal…. budge,” she ordered through her teeth. Punching the wall again she managed to create a huge dent on the wall. Feeling her achievement she smirked triumphantly. “Whoo! Toph, you rule!” she praised herself before attacking her prison once again.
Katara loved her freedom as she walked through the streets of the Upper Ring, putting as much distance between the building where the generals were and herself as possible. As she passed in front of the Jasmine Dragon she paused.
“What do you say Momo? A cup of tea before we get back to the king?” she wondered aloud. Stepping inside she smiled at the waitress at the door. “Table for two please,” she said politely, while looking around for her boyfriend.
Zuko was standing near another table, obviously taking orders. He turned to his uncle’s general direction and called:
“Uncle, I need two jasmine, one green and one lychee.”
“I’m brewing as fast as I can!” Iroh called back cheerfully. Katara took a seat on a table near the counter, waiting for someone to come and take her order. Zuko saw her as he poured the freshly brewed tea on a pot and flashed her a grin. She smiled back as he hurriedly served his customers and came at her table.
“What would you like?” he asked in his most fake-polite voice. Katara stifled a giggle.
“A cup of today’s special for me and a few leechee nuts for my little friend.” Momo jumped on Zuko’s arms at the mention of his favourite treat. The boy laughed and petted the lemur.
“Sorry Momo, you’ll have to wait,” he said, handing him back to Katara. “I’ll be right back,” he told her.
Indeed, five minutes later they were sharing a pot of tea, since Iroh had decided to give his nephew a small break. Katara was describing how Momo had messed the generals’ map and how these men just seemed so unemotional to her.
“I mean honestly, they didn’t even say anything! They just glared,” she said. “Do they ever do anything else?”
“Aside from plotting? No,” Zuko told her, remembering the one war meeting he had attended. His expression darkened a bit and Katara looked at him surprised. He seemed fine a moment ago.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked tentatively. Zuko shook his head a few times and shook his head.
“Maybe some other time, when no one can overhear us,” he said and managed a smile. “You shouldn’t be talking about top secret meetings in teashops though.”
“I know I can trust you, to keep them secret,” Katara answered clamly, taking a sip of her tea.
Aang leaned back to admire the night sky over his head. Away from Ba Sing Se’s lights the stars could be seen clearly. He focused his attention again to the old man in front of him.
“This is the last chakra isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yes. Once you open this chakra, you will be able go in and out of the Avatar State at will. And when you are in the Avatar State, you will have complete control and awareness of all your actions.” Aang smiled in anticipation.
“Let’s do this.”
“The thought chakra is located at the crown of the head. It deals with pure cosmic energy and is blocked by earthly attachment. Meditate on what attaches you to this world.”
Aang closed his eyes and in his mind Katara appeared immediately. She smiled at him as Pathik continued talking.
“Now, let all of those attachments go. Let them flow down the river. Forgotten.”
Aang opened his eyes shocked.
“What? Why would I let go of Katara? I….I….I love her.” The moment the words left his mouth they felt wooden. Nevertheless he didn’t think over it.
“Learn to let her go, or you cannot let the pure cosmic energy flow in from the universe,” the Guru explained. Aang frowned.
“Why would I choose cosmic energy over Katara? How could it be a bad thing that I feel an attachment to her? Three chakras ago, that was a good thing.”
“You must learn to let go,” Pathik insisted firmly. Aang opened his mouth to retort, but the Guru raised his hand. “Let me tell you a story: Years ago a young Spirit came to this temple. A hard decision lay ahead of her.”
“What kind of decision?” Aang asked curiously.
“She had to decide between her attachment to her world and what she felt was right to do. We had some long discussions before she came to her decision.”
“And what did she decide?” Pathik looked at the young Avatar sternly.
“To do the right thing and let go.” Aang looked away, deep in thought.
Katara entered the throne room cheerfully. The newly arrived Kyoshi Warriors guarded the now-empty throne.
“Hi girls!” she greeted them cheerfully. “Once you are done with your shift, you should really go try that new teashop, “The Jasmine Dragon”. Suki, you must remember Zuko, he and his uncle are running it. Once the rest of the gang is back, maybe we could do a gathering there.” She looked around. “Where is the Earth King? We need to tell him that the orders for the invasion are ready.” The three girls stood up.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be sure to let him know.” Katara’s eyes widened, recognizing the voice of the Fire Nation princess. Before she had a chance to react, Ty Lee jumped behind her and paralyzed her. Katara fell helpless to the ground. She could only hear in horror as Azula said:
“So, Zu Zu’s in the city too. I think it’s time for a family reunion.”
Aang looked up resolute.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let go of Katara.” Guru Pathik shook his head.
“Aang, to master the Avatar State, you must open all the chakras. Surrender yourself.” The Avatar bit his lip, torn. Then he took a deep breath. He knew he had at least to try.
“Okay, I’ll try,” he said hesitantly.
A vision of a starry sky appeared in front of his eyes. The stars were moving around him at blurring speeds as the image of Katara appeared smiling and glided away. The stars stood on their position.
“Let the pure cosmic energy flow,” Pathik advised.
In front of Aang the Avatar Spirit appeared, along with trail of light connected him with his current incarnation. As Aang started walking towards him, his tattoos began to glow. He entered a sphere the Spirit created out of the spiritual energy surrounding them.
Suddenly another vision crossed his eyes. Katara was locked up in a small room, crying for help. Determined Aang leapt out of the sphere and ran to her. Thus he broke the connection and snapped rapidly out of his trance.
“Katara is in danger!” he cried, jumping to his feet. “I have to go.”
“No Aang!” Guru Pathik called alarmed. “By choosing attachment, you have locked the chakra!” Aang froze shocked. “If you leave now you won’t be able to go into the Avatar State at all!” Aang stood for a moment and then he ran to Appa, never once looking back. Pathik watched him go mournfully.
“You were right,” he whispered. “He wasn’t ready.”
“I wish I was able to be of more help,” a feminine voice said from his side. “I still haven’t repaid you for your guidance.” The old man turned to the Spirit.
“It was an honour to assist you,” he said humbly. “But why you came back here? It certainly wasn’t to warn me about the Avatar’s immaturity.” She shook her head.
“No,” she admitted. “The tranquillity of this place had always helped me to clear my thoughts. I learned lately some really interesting facts that seem to tie together in a rather unexpected way. Just by breathing the air here my thoughts now are clearer.” She walked to end of the plateau. “But I need to return to Ba Sing Se too. I fear I’ve been gone for too long.” Guru Pathik shook his head in understanding.
“I hope I will see you again child.” She bowed in respect to the old man.
“I hope so too.” Then she disappeared.
Xin Fu was finding his patience unravelling rapidly. The brat’s whining had stopped, but it had given itself to a pounding that began and ended several times. Suddenly a loud clang was heard and the whole wagon shook. He stopped abruptly, waking his fellow traveller and they rushed to the back of the wagon.
“It’s another one of her tricks!” Master Yu said as they gaped to the empty cage.
“There’s a giant hole in the box. How’s that a trick?” Xin Fu retorted annoyed.
“It’s not!” Toph was heard behind them. “It’s the real deal!”
The two men turned to see the petite form of the earthbender standing a little away. With a few earthbending moves she threw them inside the cage, before bending it shut. Jumping on the roof of it she stomped her foot.
“I am the greatest earthbender in the world! Don’t you two dunderheads ever forget it!” Diving to the ground again she started running back to the direction of Ba Sing Se, the ground also moving to give her extra speed.
The teashop had closed for the day, so Zuko was surprised to hear feet approaching the front door as he cleaned up. A well-dressed man appeared and walked towards Iroh.
“A message from the royal palace.” He said respectfully. Worried Iroh scanned through the lines, paused and then read it again.
“I…I can’t believe it,” he managed to say.
“What is it uncle?” Zuko asked him worried too.
“Great news! We’ve been invited to serve tea to the Earth King!” he practically skipped back to the kitchen triumphantly. Zuko watched him go with a slight smile. He didn’t remember seeing his uncle so happy since the Siege of Ba Sing Se. It was definitely a wonderful turn of events they had come to this city.