Tag Archives: Ursa

Twilight of the Spirit World: Homecoming

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Author’s note: In which the story is almost over, hints are dropped (some more subtly than others) and everyone slowly finds their own place.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Homecoming***

The morning that dawned was glorious, the sky awash with shades of red and gold that gave way to a vibrant blue. The whole Council City was buzzing with an inexplicable euphoria and people found themselves laughing and smiling without even being sure why. And in the centre of it all Lia could be seen walking around, looking more like her old cheerful self than ever. Sokka, the first to come across her in one of the gardens, had to make a double-take to make certain he wasn’t seeing things.

“Are you…alright?” he called after her uncertainly. The fact that fire lilies were spontaneously blooming around her was a little distracting. Lia turned to look at him with a bright smile.

“Just fine!” she said. “All is good in the world!” Sokka frowned and moved closer to look in her eyes.

“You haven’t been drinking sake again, have you?” he asked cautiously. She didn’t look drunk, but then again… Lia laughed.

“No,” she assured him. “Just had a really good night is all. Oh, and I passed Suki on my way here. She said that if she doesn’t have her leachy nuts soon there will be hell to pay.” Sokka gulped, appropriately fearful of his fiancé’s recent mood-swings and hurried back inside. Lia only chuckled and turned back to her original mission of finding her brother and assuring him she wasn’t about to lock herself away from the world.

 

In another part of the palace Zuko had decided that pulling the protective brother act when it came to Azula and Ao’s budding relationship would no doubt cause more trouble than it was worth. Azula didn’t take kindly people telling her what she can and cannot do and, to be fair, Ao had been nothing if not a gentleman. There was someone else however, with a close relationship to one of Zuko’s sisters who could use a grilling. The Blue Spirit was more than happy to help him with that plan and that was how the two of them ended up prowling the corridors, looking for a certain, recently-awakened Fire Spirit, hopefully before Lia came across him.

 

Agni, oblivious to the plans of his impending pain, had also been strolling around, too wrapped up in blissful memories to notice the two overprotective men closing in on him. Until his back was slammed against a wall that is…

“Seriously, why can’t anyone just call out when they want my attention?” he complained, wincing at the bruises that were no doubt forming.

“We just wanted to have a little chat,” Zuko said pleasantly and Agni decided that the bruises were probably the least of his worries.

“You see,” Ao continued, “we both view Lia as our sister.”

“And you have made her cry more than once,” Zuko picked up the speech, his smile replaced by a threatening look. “So, if you ever think of…”

“Boys,” a feminine voice cut through the string of threats about to be unleashed. “I think he gets it.” Agni gave Lia a relieved smile and easily shrugged off Ao’s and Zuko’s hands.

“I have never been happier to see you love,” he said, walking up to her side and wrapping an arm around her waist. “Well, last night excluded,” he added with a mischievous look and teleported the two of them to the other side of the palace before what he said sank in the younger men’s brain.

 

Too his surprise Lia didn’t even call him out on possibly traumatising her two adoptive brothers. Instead she waited until they had materialised in a different room before leaning against him and laughing hysterically. Agni started chuckling as well, too happy with life at that moment to bother finding an explanation as to why they were laughing. The sound of someone delicately clearing their throat cut through their mirth.

“So I take it you too have figured things out?” Toph asked sweetly, in a tone that everyone who knew her agree that was scarier than any yell could ever be. The two Fire Spirits looked up, although neither bothered disentangling from the other, to see not only the earthbender, but also Aang, Sokka, Suki and Katara sitting there, looking at them in amused confusion.

“Something like that…”Agni smirked, “Shorty,” he added for good measure. Toph raised an eyebrow and drummed her fingers against the floor. A faint ripple followed her movement and the two Spirits stumbled a little before regaining their footing.

“Nicknames are my shtick Lover-Boy,” she said. “Get your own.”

“What Toph means,” Suki cut in, pausing to sprinkle her bowl of grapes with a liberal amount of curry dust, “is that it is great to see you both well and happy again.” The others looked at her nervously as she popped some grapes in her mouth.

“Um…sweetheart,” Sokka said nervously, “Are you sure this won’t upset your stomach?” Suki looked at him and then at her bowl confused.

“No,” she said, “They taste great!” Katara and Lia exchange a suspicious look, even as everyone else gagged at the idea.

 

Short of Suki’s increasingly bizarre food combinations during mealtimes (and her increasingly violent reactions when it was pointed out to her that maybe rice and melted rock candy should not go together…) the next few days were peaceful. Everyone was aware that their time at the Spirit World was drawing to a close, even if they were not eager to acknowledge the fact. This however didn’t change the fact that they had responsibilities in their own world, responsibilities they could not ignore for much longer. So it was decided that at the end of the week, they would return. No one was surprised when Lia said that she would stay behind. There was much that still needed to be fixed in the Spirit World, and even if there hadn’t, it was obvious to everyone that she was not letting Agni out of her sight anytime soon. Although she did promise to Suki, in a tone that had the women in the group smiling in secret understanding and the men looking at them incredibly confused, to be there when the time came.

 

What did cause some surprise was Ao formally asking Zuko’s permission to court his sister. Azula had already talked with her brother (in what must have been the most awkward conversation the siblings had ever had) and told him that she wanted to stay behind just a little longer, explore the Spirit World like she hadn’t had the chance with a battle for all reality looming over everyone’s head. Zuko had grudgingly agreed to allow it, but only if she didn’t travel alone. Now, with Ao’s request, his mind could rest a little easier, not that that stopped him from tagging a threatening “and you had better be a perfect gentleman” to his assent.

 

In the end, it was a smaller group than had started that stood in front of the glowing portal that would take them back to the mortal world. Toph and Katara had returned their respective Crystals to the elementals they belonged to and Aang had said his farewells to Roku, so that it was only Agni, Lia, Ao and Azula that saw them off. With last minute hugs and solemn promises for regular visits by those who stayed behind, Zuko and Katara, Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki stepped through the glowing energy to find themselves standing under a blazing sunset in front of the Fire Nation palace, with Ursa and Iroh there to welcome them back. And it would have been a bold-faced lie if any of them said that this didn’t feel like coming home.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Arrivals

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Author’s note: In which there is exposition, Spirit World travels and new rules on the game.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Arrivals***

Zuko had often wondered exactly how tuned with the Spirit World his uncle was, especially now that the old man decided to pay a family visit two days after Lia’s news. After the customary formalities the two men locked themselves in the Fire Lord’s office and Iroh proceeded to interrogate his nephew over his latest travel plans. When Zuko finished recounting everything Lia had told him and Azula the old man stayed quiet for a few minutes, thinking everything over.

“These are indeed grave news,” he said at last, “and I can understand why Lia would seek your friends’ and yours help, but Zuko are you certain it is wise to go through with your idea?”

“I understand that the Spirit World can be dangerous for mortals,” his nephew admitted, “but I can’t just abandon Lia after she helped me so much, and I know the others would agree with me. Besides, the balance of the Spirit World would affect our world too. In a way I’m protecting our people too.” Iroh smiled.

“While I admire your care for your nation and the world Fire Lord Zuko, are you sure this is the true reason for wanting to go through with this?” Zuko’s serious expression melted to one of disappointment.

“You can still read my like a book uncle,” he grumbled under his breath. “Azula and I, we are both getting restless. While I would not even think of starting a war again, sometimes life at the palace can just be so…” he paused searching for the right word.

“Boring?” Iroh offered, getting a guilty smile as an answer. “You are both still young my nephew so it is only natural that you would wish for some excitement even though you have both been remarkably mature and responsible regarding your duties.”

“So will you look after mum and the Fire Nation while we will be away?” Zuko took his chance the moment he saw it. Iroh laughed.

“I don’t have much choice, do I? It’s my favorite nephew asking after all,” he added, conveniently ignoring the fact that his nephew could also order him if he wanted to.

Meanwhile, at another part of the palace, a similar conversation was taking place. For the last four years Ursa had become a confidant of sorts for the girls of Team Avatar, especially Lia, who found the woman’s calm demeanor contagious.

“I can’t help but feel guilty for dragging them to this,” Lia admitted, looking down at her tea. Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“You told them everything you know and they’ve been around you long enough to understand the dangers they might be getting themselves into. Much as I hate to see my children in danger I can’t keep them locked up here forever.”

“It’s not just that,” Lia insisted. “Zuko knows a part of my past and I have let the occasional thing to slip in conversation but essentially they have no idea and inevitably things will come out that I’d rather have kept secret.”

“So you are afraid that they might be scared from what they’ll find about you?”

“Yeah.” Lia stood and started pacing the room, hugging herself. “And I wouldn’t blame them if they did.” Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“I think you underestimate them. Five years ago I would agree with you, but now they are all a lot more mature and understand better how the world works. Whatever it is that you are hiding it might surprise them but in the end they will still be your friends.” She laid a hand on the Spirit’s shoulder when she passed by her to calm her down. Lia closed her eyes and forced herself to relax.

“As usual I’m overreacting on little things,” she muttered with a frown. “You’re right, it’s all going to be fine.”

Katara, Sokka and Suki were the first to arrive three days after Iroh had, having already planned to visit the Fire Nation. As was their tradition since the end of the war, Azula, Suki and Lia teamed up to distract Sokka long enough for Zuko and Katara to greet each other properly. To be fair, the Water Tribe warrior had slowly become a lot more relaxed about his little sister’s love life but he still tended to act before he thought a lot.

“So how was the travel?” Azula asked casually the couple as she stood right next to Lia, effectively hiding her brother and the waterbender from Sokka’s view.

“It was good,” Suki answered just as casually, lacing her fingers with her fiancé’s in an extra effort to keep him on her side. Zuko and Katara were sneaking back to the palace, having read the signs and determined not to let the antsy man ruin another reunion. Luckily for them, Sokka’s attention was mostly caught by the redhead of the group.

“Hey, weren’t you supposed to go back to the Spirit World?” he asked Lia.

“There have been some developments,” Lia said casually. “I thought it’d be better if I waited for everyone to arrive before I explained.” Sokka nodded.

“Last we heard of Aang and Toph, they were at the Western Air Temple. They should probably be here tomorrow or the day after,” he said. Looking around he suddenly realized something. “Hey! Where’s Zuko and Katara?” The girls shrugged.

“They probably went to see mother and uncle Iroh,” Azula said  before turning towards the palace. “How about I show you to your room?”

“Sounds good,” Suki agreed, dragging Sokka along.

“But Suki…” the man’s half-formed complain fell to deaf ears.

Aang’s and Toph’s arrival on Appa was just as dramatic. The arrived the next evening, just in time for dinner. Toph marched loudly into the dining room, demanding a seat and something that was not “Twinkle-Toes’ whacky, all-vegetables-and-no-meat cooking.” The all-powerful Avatar had followed his girlfriend complaining loudly about her assessment of his cooking abilities. With the entire group laughing at Aang’s expense Lia’s unexpected presence went unnoticed until everyone quieted down and settled for dinner.

“So Sparky,” Toph asked after a while, “how come we’re not one down in our numbers?”

“There were some complications,” Zuko explained vaguely. Toph raised an eyebrow unsatisfied with the explanation.

“I’ll tell everyone after dinner Toph,” Lia promised and in an effort to change subjects she asked, “So, what was Aang’s latest attempt at cooking?” The earthbender grinned and began describing how Aang had tried to make the soup they were making cook faster with a combination of water and firebending which resulted in an explosion “so bad I thought Combustion Man had come back from the dead!”

After dinner the gaang gathered in the one of the courtyards, the hot weather making any inside room stuffy even for firebenders.

“Now are you going to explain what’s going on?” Sokka asked impatiently. Lia made herself comfortable against a rock and began narrating her brief sojourn in the Spirit World. When she finished everyone was frowning. Aang was the first to speak.

“So how can we help?” he asked seriously. Lia took a moment to study him while she thought of how to phrase her answer. He and Toph had hit their growth sprout and looked a lot more mature than when they were twelve. Aang especially was a lot more serious; having to deal with full-time scheming nobles tended to take away some of your childishness.

“It’s not your war to fight of course,” she finally said, “but I could use all the help I could get when it comes to the Council.  Most Spirits have at least some respect for it so it will be hard to find many who would outright challenge its decisions. I would know,” she added the last part under her breath.

“What’s your plan?” Katara asked, looking every bit as determined as Aang to help.

“I was planning on lying low for a while and then sneak back to the Spirit World and contact Roku. He will definitely know what’s going on.” Lia shrugged. “From then on I’ll play it by ear.” The gaang looked at each other unanimously reaching a decision.

“It wasn’t your war to fight when you helped us against Ozai either,” Aang said decisively. “We’ll help.” The rest of the gaang nodded in agreement.

“But how are we going to cross over to the Spirit World?” Azula asked the most logical question, cutting Sokka half-way through an exclamation. He gave her a glare in return. Lia gave them an impish smile.

“The same way I do everything,” she said. “By breaking the rules.” Toph snickered. “Theoretically any being can cross over between the worlds given the proper guidance. The reason this doesn’t happen often is because the Spirit World is thought as a purely spiritual realm.” She sent a look at Aang’s direction. “The Air Nomads had a lot to do with this idea,” she added. “The only thing I need to do is open a portal and we can cross over worrying only about what we’ll find on the other side.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sokka said yawning loudly and causing Toph and Zuko to yawn as well.

“How about we call it a night and begin preparing first thing tomorrow?” Katara proposed. “It’s getting late and we all need our rest.”

Two days later the group had gathered in the courtyard in their travelling gear. Lia stood in front of everyone with eyes closed concentrating, while the others were saying goodbye to Iroh and Ursa. A strange, crackling sound cut through the last minute conversations and everyone turned to see a gateway made out of white-blue energy appear out of thin air.

“All right!” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly. “Team Avatar to the rescue!” Suki poked him on the shoulder.

“Plus me and Azula,” she said dryly. Lia rolled her eyes as everyone walked through the portal. At first it was like they floated in an endless grey nothingness. Toph moved around franticly before grasping Aang’s hand, looking for something familiar.

“This is the in-between,” she heard Lia’s calm voice a little ahead. “I know it’s unpleasant but it will help us stay hidden a little longer.” Toph frowned.

“It makes me queasy,” she complained. “There’s no vibrations at all here. Even Aang’s not giving any vibrations.”

Lia half-turned to answer the earthbender when a bright light appeared in front of them. Instinctively everyone closed their eyes and the next thing they felt was the wind whipping at their faces. Everyone’s eyes snapped open in alarm to see that they were out of the in-between and in quite a height in the air.

“WHAT IS GOING ON?” Sokka screamed in horror. Aang gasped and hastily bended a cushion of air under them. When they landed on the ground everyone was as white as a sheet.

“That was not my fault,” Lia hastily assured the others, trying to keep an adrenaline-induced chuckle from surfacing. Nevertheless she received seven glares from the rest of the group. Suddenly Aang looked up confused and asked:

“Why can I only airbend?”

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Epilogue

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

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suddenly a yell came from outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s about time if you ask me.”

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Yeah…we are friends.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“How does it look like?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“That one.” Toph cackled.

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

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

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

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

“He likes the dress,” Lia said louder.

“And?” Azula prompted.

“And he said I still owe him a kiss.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

“I look like a man,” Azula complained.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The 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.”