Tag Archives: Water Tribe

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Awakening

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Author’s note: In which there are tensions, plan-making and Avatar-yelling. Also, in which the author would like to apologise for last chapter’s cheesy ending. I was feeling nostalgic….

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***The Awakening***

Aang drifted back into consciousness slowly and painfully. His whole body hurt and he could feel bandages covering his arms and torso. Managing to sit on his bed he blinked a few times to clear his vision. A wave of pain came through his stomach.

“What happened?” Aang muttered confused. Looking around for the first time he realized that he was on a Fire Nation ship. His eyes widened. Azula captured me. Scrambling off his bed Aang made a beeline for the door. He grabbed his staff from its resting place not pausing to think why the Fire princess would leave it there. Limping through the corridors Aang tried to find his way on deck. Coming out of a corner he saw two soldiers standing a little far ahead. He gasped and quickly hid behind the corner again.

“You hear something?” one of the soldiers asked.

 

Aang decided to use whatever element of surprise he had. He jumped out of his hiding place and bended a strong air current to the soldiers. As they shielded themselves Aang ran between them, down the corridor.

“He’s awake!” the taller soldier exclaimed. They ran after him and Aang tried desperately to stay ahead. “Stop, wait!” the soldier called. He ignored them and seeing a small staircase in front of him he half-limped, half-airbended himself on deck. He ended up on lying on his stomach, the staff having been tossed on the other side of the deck. In front of him he saw Momo being petted by   Zuko who was wearing a Fire Nation armour. More men were scattered here and there wearing armours. The prince looked up when he heard the sound of Aang bursting out. Momo squealed happily and rushed to the boy, licking his cheek.

“Momo?” Aang asked uncertainly. He heard Toph’s voice.

“Twinkle-Toes, that’s got to be you!” She and Katara rushed to his side along with a smiling Zuko, Lia and another soldier, this one wearing a helmet.

“Aang, you’re awake!” Katara said relieved and happier than anyone had heard her for quite some time. Aang rubbed his eyes.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I feel like I’m dreaming.” Toph lunged herself at him, hugging him furiously.

“You’re not dreaming. You’re finally awake,” Katara assured him. The soldier with the helmet gave Aang a quick hug.

“Aang, good to see you back with the living, buddy,” a familiar voice said. Aang looked incredulous.

“Sokka?” he asked. His eyes rolled to his head and the last thing he heard was Toph.

“Uh-oh!” she said worried. “Somebody catch him, he’s gonna…” Aang fell to the ground unconscious before anyone was quick enough to catch him. “…faint.”

 

It took only two minutes for Aang to wake up again. Zuko handed him a cloak which the Avatar put on gratefully. He turned to Katara who was sitting in front of him.

“Why are we on a Fire Nation ship? Why is everyone dressed this way? And why am I the only one out of it?” Katara placed a hand on his shoulder.

“You need to take it easy, okay? You got hurt pretty bad.” She gave him a small smile. “I like your hair.” Shocked Aang touched his head.

“I have hair? How long was I out?” he panicked. Katara chuckled.

“A few weeks.”

 

Hakoda approached them worried.

“Everything okay?” he asked. Katara rolled her eyes annoyed.

“We’re fine dad,” she snapped. Hakoda offered his hand to Aang.

“I’m Hakoda, Katara and Sokka’s father,” he introduced himself. Katara huffed.

“He knows who you are. I just called you ‘Dad’, didn’t I?” Aang shot her a surprised look as Hakoda’s small smile fell.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. Aang extended his arm on a warrior’s handshake.

“Nice to officially meet you, Chief Hakoda.”

“It’s an honour to meet you,” The man said back. Katara simply waved her hand.

“Great, great. Now you guys have finally met, so would you mind giving us a little privacy?”

“Of course,” her father sighed and walked off to Appa. Aang looked at the waterbender curiously.

“Are you mad at your dad or something?” he asked tentatively. She looked at him surprised.

“What? Not at all, why would you say that?” she asked confused. Aang shrugged and immediately doubled over as pain shot from his back.

“Maybe we should go upstairs,” Katara decided. “You need a healing session.”

 

With Lia’s help Katara carried Aang back to his room. There the Spirit leaned on the wall, looking them with a measuring gaze as Katara knelt behind her patient and placed the glowing water on his back.

“Tell me where your pain feels most intense,” she instructed him. Aang squeezed his eyes shut and grunted a little.

“A little higher,” he told her. He gasped as the ghost pain from the lightning hit him again. “Wow, you are definitely in the right area there,” he mumbled.

“I can feel a lot of energy twisted up around there. Let me just see if I can…”

 

Katara tentatively drew her water back, coaxing the trapped energy to follow it. Aang arched his back, letting out a grunt of pain. He took a few deep breaths, trying to recover from the shock and looked alarmed at the girls.

“I went down! I didn’t just get hurt, did I? It was worse than that. I was gone.” He turned to face Katara. “But you brought me back.” The girl shrugged.

“I just used the spirit water from the North Pole. I don’t know what I did, exactly.”

“You saved me,” he told her plainly. Katara eased him on his bed.

“You need to rest,” she told him before leaving the room with Lia.

 

Later that night Zuko heard a knock on his door. He was about to get ready for bed and the only one he could think of coming to visit him at this hour was Katara. His face fell a little when he saw Lia standing at his door but he let her in anyway. The past weeks she would scribble down furiously in any piece of parchment she could get her hands on, always making sure no one saw what was written on it. And now here she was with the expression of someone mentally preparing themselves for an argument.

“You are going to be mad at me,” she said decisively. Zuko looked at her confused.

“Why? Did you set someone on fire?” Lia gave him a small wink but quickly put her serious expression on.

“I took my sweet time telling you this but there was hardly any appropriate time earlier.” She took a deep breath. “I found your mother.”

 

Zuko looked at her thunderstruck.

“She’s alive?” he finally whispered, throwing himself to a chair next to her.

“Alive, well and happy now that she knows you are okay too,” Lia assured him.

“You spoke with her?” She nodded. Her words sank in at last. “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME EARLIER?” Zuko shouted, hurt that she had indeed taken her “sweet time”. Lia glared at him a little but didn’t shout back.

“When?” she asked him. “While we were running from Azula, trying to convince Hakoda that yes you won’t murder everyone in their sleep or the last two weeks when you had decided to spend half your time in the engine room and the other half revising Sokka’s plan?” her voice started to rise too but she controlled herself. Zuko lowered his head.

“It’s just…” he said quietly now. “It almost feels like a dream that after all these years my wish came true.” Lia smiled gently.

“I promise you Zuko,” she said. “Your mother will see you in your coronation. But for now she is safer in anonymity. Once everything is over we’ll go together and bring her back to the palace.” The younger firebender gave her a small smile.

“That would be nice,” he said. That night he dreamt of his mother.

 

The next morning they were all eating breakfast on the deck. Sokka was sitting in the middle on the group of friends and was filling in Aang on what he had missed…when his mouth was not completely full of noodles.

“After what happened in Ba Sing Se, we had to get you to safety,” he explained. “We flew back to Chameleon Bay, where we found my father and the other Water Tribe men. The Earth King decided he wanted to travel the world in disguise, so he set off alone.”

“Not completely alone,” Toph jumped in. “That creepy bear-thing-pet of his followed him.”

“Soon, the bay was overrun with Fire Nation ships,” Sokka continued after an annoyed look which Toph didn’t see. “Rather than fight them all, we followed Zuko’s plan, captured a single ship and made it our disguise.” He unrolled a map and showed their route to the Avatar. “Since then, we’ve been traveling west. We crossed through the Serpent’s Pass a few days ago. We’ve seen a few Fire Nation ships, but none have bothered us.”

“So, what now?” Aang asked confused.

“We’ve been working on a modified version of the invasion plan,” Hakoda explained. Katara shot him an annoyed look.

“It’s Sokka’s invasion plan,” she corrected him.

“Yes, Sokka’s plan,” Hakoda repeated uneasily. He turned back to Aang. “We won’t be able to mount a massive invasion without the Earth King’s armies, but the solar eclipse will still leave the Fire Nation vulnerable.”

“So we’re planning a smaller invasion,” Sokka continued. “Just a ragtag team of our friends and allies from around the Earth Kingdom. We already ran into Pipsqueak and The Duke.” He pointed at said people.

“Good to see you again, Aang,” Pipsqueak said.

“And the best part is, the eclipse isn’t even our biggest advantage!” He leaned towards Aang and whispered as if fearing someone might overhear them. “We have a secret. You!”

“Me? “ Aang looked at him confused. The whole world knew he was back.

“Yep, the whole world thinks you’re dead!” Sokka stood up enthusiastically. “Isn’t that great?” Aang looked at him shocked.

“The world thinks I’m dead? How is that good news? That’s terrible!” he finally managed to say.

“No, it’s great,” Sokka insisted. “It means the Fire Nation won’t be hunting us anymore. And even better, they won’t expect you on the Day of Black Sun.” Aang shook his head.

“No, no, no, no, no. You have no idea. This is so messed up!” He clutched his head frustrated.

 

From somewhere nearby a horn was heard. They all looked up alarmed to see another ship approaching them. Zuko squinted his eyes.

“They’re signalling us to stop,” he informed Hakoda. Aang took out his glider.

“I’ll handle this. The Avatar is back!” However, even the simple movement it took to open his glider made him double in pain. He ignored it and took position to take off.

“You’re going to give our cover away,” Lia pointed out calmly. “They think we are Fire Nation.” Aang lowered his head resigned and closed his glider.

“Everyone just stay calm,” Hakoda ordered putting on his helmet. “Bato and I will take care of this.”

 

Pipsqueak and The Duke hurriedly covered Appa with a piece of tarp, making him look like a bulky mass of cargo. Momo quickly hid next to his friend. The kids hid on the staircase that led below deck with the exception of Zuko and Lia who wore helmets and decided impromptu to act as “soldiers”.

“I hate not being able to do anything,” Aang muttered. Toph heard him and rolled her eyes.

“Hopefully, you won’t need to,” she snapped at him.

 

A bridge was put between the two ships and a Fire Nation officer accompanied by two soldiers crossed to their ship. Hakoda bowed to the man.

“Commander, why are you off course? All Western Fleet ships are supposed to be moving toward Ba Sing Se to support the occupation,” the officer demanded.

“Actually, we’re from the Eastern Fleet. We have orders to deliver some cargo,” Hakoda improvised quickly. The man seemed to believe him.

“Ah, Eastern Fleet. Well, nice of Admiral Chan to let us know he was sending one of his ships our way.”

“I am sure Admiral Chan meant no disrespect, sir,” Bato assured him hurriedly.

“I mean, how hard is it to write a quick note and send a hawk our way?” the officer insisted. By the looks of it this Admiral wasn’t the most helpfully person to work with.

“Next time, we’ll send two hawks to be sure you get the message,” Hakoda assured him.

 

He and Bato bowed to the officer and he bowed back. As he turned to leave a soldier whispered to him:

“Sir, Admiral Chan has been on leave for two months at Ember Island.”

“What? Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me anything? Something’s not right. They should’ve known that. I think this is a captured ship,” he lowered his voice. “Just stay quiet until we’re safely across the ramp. Then we’ll sink this ship.” He didn’t count on Toph’s exhalent hearing though. She jumped from her hiding place.

“They know!” she shouted before metalbending the bridge and throwing the three Fire Nation men on the water.

 

Katara jumped out too and hurriedly gathered a small mountain of water between the two ships. Her father opened his mouth to warn her not to bend so much water or she might lose control but then she simply used it push the two ships apart with the ease someone swats away a fly. The ship began to accelerate as Zuko and Lia returned hurriedly on deck.

“The engine will go faster for a little more but we need to lose them fast or they’ll sink us,” Zuko shouted. Both he and Lia had dropped their helmets and were preparing for battle. The other ship prepared the catapults and started firing at them. It was only their steadily increasing speed that saved them from the first few shots.

“Now that seems oddly familiar,” Sokka called over his shoulder as he dragged Aang to a small room on deck where he would be safe. Zuko ignored him. On the back side of the ship Pipsqueak was placing boulders in front of Toph. She sent them back on the enemy ship, destroying one of their catapults and stopping mid-air one of the flaming boulders that came against them.

 

Aang saw a fireball landing centimetres from the ship and made a move to go out. Sokka grabbed him by the shoulder forcing him to stay inside. Frustrated the Avatar knocked his head on his glider. The Fire Nation ship fired a projectile, piercing the side of the ship. Katara shut the hole with ice and turned to Lia.

“We need some cover!” she called and the Spirit nodded. A cloud of mist and steam rose between the ships hiding each other from view. Another fireball appeared and Lia hurriedly called the flames to herself in an attempt to minimise the damage done.

 

Inside the small room Aang huffed.

“I can’t just stand by and do nothing!” he rushed outside.

“Aang! No!” Sokka ran after him. He grabbed the other boy’s staff. “You’re still hurt, and you have to stay secret. Just let us handle this.” Aang snatched it back.

“Fine!” he muttered before returning to the room. Sokka barely had time to send him a concerned look before another hit was launched. Zuko saw it and pushed Katara out of the way, managing to kick the fireball to the water. She gave him a small smile in thanks.

“How we doing?” Toph asked.

“Things couldn’t get much worse,” Sokka called back, leaning against the railing. Just then a giant serpent decided to appear behind him. Sokka gulped. “The Universe just loves proving me wrong, doesn’t it?” he said resigned. Toph sent a glare to his direction.

“You make it too easy!” Another fireball was launched. Lia smirked and redirected it to hit the Serpent. It screeched and dived underwater to appear moments later and proceed to attack the enemy ship.

“Thank you The Universe!” Sokka sighed.

 

Later that afternoon they docked near a small island to restock. Aang was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, bored out of his mind when his friends appeared at the door.

“Hey, Aang, we’re going into town to find some dinner,” Toph said cheerfully.

“Well, I am pretty hungry. Maybe dinner’s a good idea.” He was still down from not being able to take part at the battle earlier. Sokka took out a red headband.

“Here, tie this around your head. It’ll cover your arrow,” he explained. Aang glared at him.

“I’m not going out if I can’t wear my arrow proudly,” he snapped.

“Aang, be practical,” Sokka tried to make him understand.

“Why don’t you guys go ahead and we’ll catch up with you,” Lia said suddenly. With an uncertain glance from Katara they left.

“It’s because of Ba Sing Se, isn’t it?” she said as soon as everyone was out of earshot. “You don’t want people to think you failed.”

“You’re right, I don’t. But the problem is, I did fail,” Aang muttered. Lia raised an eyebrow.

“You’re alive. That alone disproves your point.”

“But I was in Ba Sing Se. I was there, but I lost. And now, the Earth Kingdom has fallen for good.” Lia tried again.

“We still have the invasion plan,” she reminded him, forcing herself to sound cheerful.

“And I hate the invasion plan, too!” Aang said angrily. “I don’t want Katara or any of my friends risking their lives to fix my mistakes.” He tried to take a few calming breaths. “I’ve always known that I would have to face the Fire Lord, but now, I know I need to do it alone.”

“Aang…” Lia began in a slightly reproving tone but he cut her.

“Lia, please. Just go, please.” She sighed defeated and made her way to the door.

“Is there anything you need?” she asked before leaving.

“I need to redeem myself. I need my honour back,” Aang said resolutely. He was sure he heard her say “Zuko all over again” before she moved away.

 

Katara had made sure to bring something nice from the town for Aang. Meatless of course but Zuko had assured her that this was one of the best dishes in the Fire Nation and she trusted his opinion.

“I brought you some food,” She called entering Aang’s room. Her eyes widened seeing it empty and the tray fell from her nerveless fingers. Not caring about it she ran back on deck immediately.

 

She ran immediately to where her father and Bato were standing. Seeing her crying Zuko made a movement to go to her but Lia placed a hand on his shoulder. Getting the message he stood back.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” Bato said awkwardly.

“What’s wrong Katara?” Hakoda asked worried. He hadn’t seen his daughter cried since his wife’s death.

“He left.”

“What?” he asked her confused.

“Aang. He just took his glider and disappeared. He has this ridiculous notion that he has to save the world alone. That it’s all his responsibility,” she explained frustrated.

“Maybe that’s his way of being brave,” her father told her calmly.

“It’s not brave. It’s selfish and stupid. We could be helping him. And I know the world needs him, but doesn’t he know how much that we need him too? How could he just leave us behind?” Hakoda looked at her in silence for a few moments.

“You’re talking about me too, aren’t you?” he finally said gravely.

“How could you leave us, dad?” Katara was finally crying and she felt like she couldn’t stop the tears. “I mean, I know we had Gran Gran, and she loved us, but…but we were just so lost without you.”

“I am so sorry, Katara,” Hakoda said sadly as the girl cried inside his embrace.

“I understand why you left,” Katara managed to say through her sobs. “I really do, and I know that you had to go, so why do I still feel this way? I was so sad and angry, and hurt.”

“I love you more than anything,” her father assured her. “You and your brother are my entire world. I thought about you every day I was gone, and every night when I went to sleep. I would lay awake missing you so much, it would ache.”

Plans were made immediately. They would go on Appa to find Aang and meet with the main force at the day of the invasion. While the others were hurriedly loading their stuff on the bison Lia was standing near the edge of the ship, glaring at the horizon. Following Zuko’s example everyone had wisely avoided her. Sokka was leaning over Appa’s saddle to take a bag of provisions from his father’s hands when she spoke.

“Screw the rules!” she shouted before doing a very complicated move of firebending. Everyone stopped to watch her as the majestic figure of Avatar Roku appeared through the flames. Some of the Water Tribesmen fell to the ground in awe. Lia didn’t seem to share their sentiments.

“Where in the Nations are you?” she yelled at Roku. Hakoda sucked a breath worried. That girl had been able to summon a past life of the Avatar and now she was yelling at him. They were all as good as doomed. Lia was continuing her ranting.

“I don’t care what the rules say! Find that current incarnation of yours and make sure he stays alive long enough so that I can kill him!” she paused for a breath. Before she had a chance to say anything more Roku spoke.

“I will see you at my last home.” He disappeared. Lia looked around at the shocked faces.

“What?” she asked.

“You just yelled at Avatar Roku,” Zuko pointed out. His Guardian shrugged.

“I’ve never got in big trouble for yelling,” she said. “Besides he was a firebender. He knows I have to let the steam out.”

“Pun intended I supposed,” Toph commented wryly. Lia ignored her.

“We’re heading to Crescent Moon Island,” she said climbing on the saddle.

 

Not very far Aang was struggling to keep control of his glider. As he managed to gain some altitude he saw a blockade in front of him. Taking a deep breath he closed his glider and dived to the ice cold water. He managed to avoid the blockade and resurfaced on the other side. Luckily for him a piece of drift wood was sailing next to him. Smiling Aang climbed on it and used his glider to windsurf through the tides. His luck lasted only so far and soon it began to rain. A wave threw him in the water and Aang had barely time to catch another piece of drift wood and avoid being drowned.

“I’m not gonna make it. I failed,” he whispered exhausted. A flash of lightning lighted the sky and Roku appeared in front of him.

“You haven’t failed, Aang,” he assured the boy.

“But everyone thinks I am dead again. They think I’ve abandoned them, and I’m losing this war. I’m letting the whole world down,” Aang insisted. Roku looked at him with guilt.

“If anyone is to blame for the state of the world, it is me. I should’ve seen this war coming, and prevented it. You inherited my problems and my mistakes. But I also believe you are destined to redeem me, and save the world.”

“I don’t know,” Aang said hesitantly.

“You already saved the world,” Yue’s voice was heard. Aang looked up to see the once princess of the Northern Water Tribe smiling down at him. “And you’ll save the world again. But you can’t give up,” she encouraged him. Aang nodded.

“You’re right. I won’t give up.”

 

He climbed again of the drift wood and started waterbending himself. Slowly an island appeared in front of him. By early sunrise he managed to drag himself on the shore where he collapsed exhausted. He woke up a few hours later when Momo hopped on his chest. As he sat up he was tackled by Katara.

“You’re okay!” the waterbender said relief. Soon everyone, even Zuko, joined the group hug.

“I have so much to do,” Aang said once they gave him some breathing space. Katara nodded.

“I know, but you’ll have our help.”

“You didn’t think you could get out of training just by coming to the Fire Nation, did you?” Toph asked raising an eyebrow. Neither she nor Aang had realised that they had been holding hands since the hug had broken. Still Aang wasn’t assured.

“What about the invasion?” he asked Sokka and Zuko.

“We’ll join up with my dad and the invasion force on the day of the eclipse,” the warrior assured him. Lia felt something poking her foot. Looking down she saw a piece of wood having been washed out.

“Is that your glider?” she asked shocked. Aang took it from her hands with a demure smile.

“That’s okay. If someone saw it, it would give away my identity. It’s better for now that no one knows I’m alive.” He turned his head towards the still smoking volcano. With a few airbending jumps he was on its crater.  Aang looked at his glider for one last time before he tossed to the magma and turned his back to join his friends.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Meet the Father

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Author’s note: In which there is damage control, set up for the first half of part III and the closest to lime I dare write on something my mother might read.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Meet the Father***

Hakoda had been scanning the horizon for any signs of a flying bison ever since Sokka had left with the Avatar to save Katara. Given the unnatural silence of the Fire Nation in the last days, he had a lot of time to do just that. But it seemed now that his patience had paid off, as a large shadow appeared at the horizon, rapidly growing to the distinct shape of a sky bison. Hakoda quickly signaled the ships to return to the shore.

 

As they grew closer the Water Tribe chief scrutinized the people that were sitting on Appa’s back. Sokka must have been stirring because he jumped down first, followed by a young man dressed in fancy robes who jumped clumsily off and an animal that looked like a platypus bear. Behind them appeared a young woman whose hair caught Hakoda’s eye because of their unnaturally bright red color. She landed much more gracefully than the two young men and turned to make a signal to those still sitting on the back. An Earth Kingdom girl roughly the age of the Avatar, jumped to the ground and made relatively large platform of earth rise to Appa’s back level. Hakoda guessed she was Toph, the little earthbender Sokka had told him about. The chief couldn’t help but feel a little worried seeing neither the Avatar nor his daughter. Katara stood up then and walked to the platform. Another young man stood behind her, the limp body of a younger boy in his hands. As he handed him over to Katara Hakoda caught a glimpse of yellow. The Avatar. Feeling more alarmed than he had felt in a long time the Water Tribe chief shouted to his men to make the ship go faster.

 

By the time the ships reached the shore, the children were already halfway through making camp. A tent had been set and Katara had disappeared inside with Aang. Toph had set her own earth tent while Zuko, Sokka and Lia were saying goodbye the Earth King. Finally Zuko decided to break the silence.

“Do you think Aang will be okay?” he asked Lia hesitantly. She gave him a grave smile.

“I hope so,” she said. “But I have a feeling that his connection with the Universe is broken. I can’t sense him in the Spirit World.” Sokka looked at her confused.

“But that’s good right?” he asked. “I mean if you felt him there wouldn’t he be considered… I don’t know. Dead?” he gulped audibly thinking of the prospect. Lia opened her mouth to answer him but closed it again as the Water Tribesmen with Hakoda on the lead approached them. Unconsciously she drew closer to Zuko.

 

Sokka turned to see what had made her look uneasy all of a sudden and his face brightened with a smile.

“Dad!” he exclaimed as he rushed towards the man. Hakoda smiled at his son and hugged him briefly.

“I’m glad to see you managed to find Katara,” he said Glancing at the rest of the teens he asked his son: “Won’t you introduce me to your friends?”

“Of course!” Sokka beamed. He dragged Toph forward. “This is Toph.” The little girl yanked her shoulder free.

“Greatest earthbender of the world at your service,” she said with a small, mocking bow. “Can I go now Snoozles?” Sokka’s face turned red at the mention of his nickname and the laughs it got out of the men.

“And these are Lia and Zuko,” he said annoyed, gesturing at their general direction. Lia merely waved at Hakoda but Zuko approached him, giving a small bow to the man. It wasn’t just that he was the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe. He also happened to be his girlfriend’s father.

 

It took the sharp intakes of breath from the man to realize his stupid mistake. He had bowed, out of habit, Fire-Nation style. After a short tense silence Hakoda decided to speak.

“I hope there is a good reason that the prince of the Fire Nation is traveling with you,” he told Sokka in a disapproving way. His son frowned and opened his mouth to retort when Katara’s cold voice was heard.

“Because he is on our side,” she said, pointedly standing next to him. Her face was worn and she was tired from the multiple healings Aang’s condition required, but it only served to strengthen her glare. “Besides,” she continued turning her back to her astonished father, “as soon as Aang masters earthbending he will need a firebending teacher.”

 

After a quick lunch, which Lia had prepared, having all but ordered Katara to rest, and a quick description of what had happened in Ba Sing Se, Hakoda brought a map and together with Sokka they were trying to figure what their next move would be.

“We need to leave here,” the chief insisted, “There’s no point in staying. The Fire Nation is bound to send ships this way. It’s the fastest route to Ba Sing Se.” Sokka nodded.

“Zuko!” he called. Hakoda frowned. He didn’t trust the young firebender, despite the fact that he had turned his back to his family to help the Avatar. As soon as he sat next to him, Sokka asked: “How long do you think we have until the Fire Nation knocks on our door?”

“The Western fleet controls a lot of ports nearby,” Zuko said thoughtfully. “I think we would have a week at most until they arrive at the bay. Knowing Azula she will probably demand the presence of the entire fleet to support the occupation, if only to show off.” Sokka’s hopeful expression fell.

“We can’t pass unnoticed through the entire fleet!” he whined. Zuko seemed deep in thought.

“We don’t have to,” he said finally. Raising a hand to silence any questions he continued. “We can take over a ship, preferably one of the last of the fleet and use it as a disguise.” Hakoda looked at him doubtful.

“And how do you propose we do that?” Zuko opened his mouth and closed it again as if having thought of something. Quickly excusing himself he ran to where the girls were sitting and began a conversation that mostly involved him asking them questions. After a few minutes he returned, a satisfied grin on his face.

“The girls say it’s doable,” he announced. Spreading out a map he pointed at a narrow spot near the opening of the Bay. “An entire fleet will take a lot of time to cross such a narrow point. By sundown or at early night there will still be a few ships left to cross. Katara and Lia can raise a mist and Toph create a few reefs. Fire Navy captains know better than endangering their ships on such occasions. They will stop for the night.”

“That’s when we sneak in and take over a ship!” Sokka exclaimed exited. “That might actually work!” He slapped Zuko in the back, making him wince a little. Still Hakoda look thoughtful.

“Are you sure that three girls will be able to pull this through?” he asked. Both boys looked at him shocked.

“Dad,” Sokka began tentatively, “they are all Masters on their elements. You wouldn’t exactly want them to hear you doubting their abilities. If they say they can, then they can.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence Snoozles,” Toph called from where they were sitting, planning out their attack.

 

A guard was posted on the highest cliff and the Water Tribe ships were camouflaged safely. It only took five days for the first ships to appear from the horizon. Immediately the whole camp was set on alert. Anything that would be needed was packed and loaded on Appa along with Aang, carefully tucked in Katara’s sleeping bag. The girls had placed themselves on the riverbank, while the warriors remained hidden. They waited all day as ship after ship passed before them. Toph was beginning to feel restless. Finally at sundown the last ship appeared. It was a relatively big cargo ship, able to carry everyone.

 

Lia and Katara shared a nod before taking their stances. Slowly a mist started to rise from the water. When visibility reached minimum Toph made a few pointed rocks emerge from the water. A few shouted orders were heard from the ship and it slowly came to a halt. Silently the warriors approached them. Moving closer to the ship they climbed from the sides with expertly mastered only after many battles. Zuko followed them with Toph clinging in his back. Earthbending would make way too much noise.

 

A few hours later:

Hakoda breathed a sigh of relief. The prince’s plan had worked and now the ship was under their command and sailing towards the sea again. None of his men had been injured and it was impressive to say the least seeing a team of Masters working on their respective elements. The children had retreated to their rooms after making sure everything was secure and Katara had given another healing session to the unconscious Avatar.

 

The next morning came only too early for some. When Hakoda and Sokka stumbled half-asleep on deck the sound of fire alerted them immediately. To their surprise they saw Zuko and Lia wearing Fire Nation armors practicing a few moves. Or more like Zuko doing the move again and again with Lia correcting him. Sokka scratched his head.

“Uh… guys?” he asked hesitantly. They two benders looked at him surprised. “Why are you wearing these things?” Zuko shrugged.

“Just in case we’re intercepted by another Fire Nation ship,” he explained. “It will look suspicious if they see people dressed in Earth Kingdom or Water Tribe clothes, don’t you think?”

“Plus,” Lia added, “I’m sick of green.” She looked at her dark red uniform satisfied.

“Where did you find them?” Hakoda asked thoughtfully.

“On a storage room next to the one with the weapons,” Lia explained. “I think there might enough for everyone.”

 

Indeed soon enough all men were dressed in Fire Nation armors. Sokka had grumbled on how much they weighed until he saw Lia do a backflip to avoid Katara’s waterwhip (they were practicing) and shut up to salvage some of his pride. The gang had broken now that they were on board. Zuko had disappeared to the coal room and since then they were going steadily faster. Katara was showing Lia some waterbending moves after the Spirit’s request and Toph was practicing on a small piece of scrap metal she had found. Seizing the opportunity Sokka went to the navigator’s room and spread out on the table his plans for the invasion. Without the Earth King’s support he would have to reorganize the whole thing again.

 

By nighttime most of them were dead on their feet. Katara dragged herself to her room after healing Aang again. She was getting worried that the boy was still unconscious but his injuries were slowly beginning to look better after the multiple healings so she held hope. She paused briefly in front of Lia’s half-open door. The redhead was sitting on the floor writing down something that looked like a very complex diagram. Judging by the amount of parchment around her it wasn’t her first try. Knowing better than to disturb her, the waterbender returned to her room and threw herself to bed. Only to have a very nasty surprise. She couldn’t sleep.

 

Three nights later Katara was fighting insomnia. She had silently agreed with Zuko to continue letting everyone to believe that they were just good friends. She was beginning to tire of the secrecy though. When they had been traveling together, she could almost always find an excuse to stay alone with him and then in Ba Sing Se they would meet always at the Lower Ring, where Lia and Iroh were more than understanding and left them on their own. She had grown so accustomed to acting as his girlfriend around Zuko, that she was now finding it tormenting to hide her true feelings. The ship was so big, she had been certain they would be able to sneak somewhere and be alone. How wrong she had been… And to make matters worse, Zuko’s room was just at the end of the corridor, very near to her own.

 

Her thoughts kept going in circles as she tossed and turned on her bed. Finally, frustrated, Katara shot standing. She pulled on a robe over her nightgown and left her room. She was probably acting like some crazed teen girl and not at all like a strong waterbending master, but she felt as if she would burst if she didn’t see Zuko now. Silently she walked through the corridor, debating all the way with herself. However, when she reached his door she opened it without the slightest hesitation, thankful it didn’t make noise. Katara closed the door behind her and turned to face the room. Zuko was lying on his bed, seemingly asleep. She felt her heart sink. But then again, she berated herself, what was she expecting? For him to suffering the same insomnia she did? He was helping around all day, never stopping to take a breath. He was probably dead on his feet by nightfall.

 

Zuko was lying with his eyes close, trying to get some much-needed sleep. It was the third night he couldn’t sleep. Being around Katara so much, it was almost tormenting for him. He wanted to kiss her, after seeing her almost every day on Ba Sing Se; he couldn’t imagine how he had been able to be for so long thinking of her as his enemy. And now they were together, but he couldn’t embrace or kiss her as he wanted in fear of giving away their secret. All of a sudden he felt another presence inside his room. Sitting up, he saw Katara’s figure half-turned towards the door. He stood up silently, approaching her, feeling a sense of wonder rising through him. Had he finally fallen asleep and now his subconscious was torturing him? He had to touch her, feel for himself if she was real.

 

Katara felt a light touch on her shoulder and jumped guiltily to face Zuko.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I shouldn’t have bothered you. I’ll…I’ll just go now.”

“You are real!” Zuko whispered, more to himself. She didn’t seem to hear him as she turned to open the door. “Katara wait,” he asked her softly. The waterbender turned slowly to meet his eyes. “Why have you come here?” he asked her. She blushed crimson.

“I missed you,” she tried to explain, playing nervously with her hair. She was suddenly feeling very self-conscious, standing there on her nightclothes. “I couldn’t sleep and…” she stammered again. “I don’t know why I came. I suppose I just wanted to see you.” She tried again to leave but Zuko embraced her tightly from behind, preventing her.

“I missed you too,” he whispered on her ear, making shivers run through her spine. “Don’t leave Katara, please,” he asked her, still holding her close. Katara swallowed. Suddenly her mouth had gone dry.

“I won’t,” she managed to say. She felt his hands sliding down her sides until they reached her waist. Tenderly the prince turned her to face him again, drinking in her features. Katara took a step and felt her back touch the door. She looked up to see Zuko leaning down to her. She didn’t have time to think any more, because now his lips were on hers on a deep, passionate kiss. She kissed him back feeling a fire rising inside her. They broke away only too soon.

“I love you,” Katara whispered resting her forehead against his.

“I love you too,” he whispered back hoarsely. Now that he was sure she was here he felt like he couldn’t stay away from her. “Will you stay with me?” he asked her hesitantly.

 

Katara blushed furiously. She didn’t want to leave him either, but to spend the night together… She didn’t dare to imagine what everyone would say if they found out. She definitely shouldn’t stay. She shouldn’t have come on the first place. And the moment she raised her head to answer him, she knew she shouldn’t have done that either. There he was, his golden gaze full of emotions. Katara had always found it fascinating to read his eyes. They told her all those things that Zuko was normally too shy to say himself. Right now she saw the hope and to her surprise a little fear. She realised that Zuko too knew how improper this was, but still he needed her. They both needed each other. Her presence there was proof enough.

 

Zuko looked at the girl he loved hesitantly raising her eyes to meet his. He knew he was probably asking her too much. He searched her eyes. If he saw there the tiniest bit of hesitation, he wouldn’t insist. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked her on the first place. The prince let himself sink on the blue of Katara’s eyes. Surprised he saw no hesitation in them. She needed the closeness as much as he needed it and was willing to accept it. As if to confirm his thoughts Katara told him:

“I’d love to.”

 

They laid down on the bed, still in each other’s arms. Katara brought Zuko’s face down near hers and kissed him softly once more. Then she rested her head on the crook of his neck, feeling all of a sudden relaxed. Zuko turned his head a little to face her. She was looking up at him, her eyes already half-closed. He also felt the tension leaving his body.

“Good night,” he whispered before falling into a peaceful deep sleep at last.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Siege of the North

Standard

Author’s Note: In which the author is shipping, Zuko starts to question things, Katara is a badass and Zhao gets his due.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Siege of the North***

The weeks until they reached the North Pole were some of the hardest of their lives for Iroh and Zuko. They were in constant fear that someone would discover the stow-away prince. This fear, especially with Zhao constantly prowling the flagship’s corridors, was what convinced Lia to allow Zuko to enter the in-between zone with her. She had formed a little shelter there, where he could at least sleep safely. Zuko didn’t hate the place as much as she did, but he wasn’t comfortable there either. In an attempt to make him feel a little better she began to teach him how to manipulate the energies there to form a window out in the physical world. Zuko spent a lot of his time keeping tabs on the Avatar and his friends, paying extra attention to Katara as she managed to be admitted to the fighting waterbending classes and moved to rapidly master her element.

 

Weeks later, when the fleet had docked at a safe distance from the Northern Water Tribe citadel, Zuko, still dressed as a soldier, met with his uncle one last time.

“We’ll be landing soon. Do you have a plan?” the old man asked worriedly.

“I’m working on it uncle,” Zuko assured him. Iroh left without a comment and the prince moved unseen on the stern. Lia was there immediately.

“What are you going to do?” she asked him curiously.

“Seriously, I don’t know,” he answered. “I haven’t found much about the city. The Avatar could be anywhere inside.”

“He will be in the most spiritual place on the North Pole…” Lia whispered absentmindedly. Zuko had learned to recognize her vision-mode, as she called it, and waited for her to snap out of it. Once she did he asked her.

“Are you still against me capturing the Avatar?”

“Yes,” she said plainly. “And I know that neither of us will change his or her mind. So listen to what I’ll do: If you find a way to enter the city, I will lead you to the Avatar.”

“Will I ever understand your way of thinking?” Zuko asked her, rolling his eyes. “If you don’t agree, don’t help me at all.”

“Oh, but I won’t help you!” Lia smiled mischievously. “I will merely show you the way. Trust me; I know what I’m doing.”

“All right” Zuko sighed. “I trust you.” And he turned to leave.

 

Night fell. The moon was nearly full, Zuko noted. The waterbenders would be at their most powerful for a few nights. No wonder Zhao had stopped. Zuko turned his attention on the small canoe he was preparing. He was almost ready to leave. It was a surprise his uncle hadn’t appeared, he noted a little disappointed. I’m being selfish. Zuko decided. Iroh had already risked too much by even coming with him. He heard the door behind opening.

“You’re fishing for an octopus my nephew,” Iroh said. “You need a tightly knitted net, or he will squeeze through the tiniest hole and escape.”

“I don’t need your wisdom right now uncle.” Zuko said straightening. Mentally he slapped himself. Wasn’t his uncle’s presence –and inevitable proverbs- what he had just been wishing for?

“I’m sorry. I just nag you because…well…ever since I lost my son…” Iroh tried to explain.

“Uncle, you don’t have to say it.” Zuko tried awkwardly to help him.

“…I think of you as my own.” Iroh finished.

Zuko turned, touched. Of all the things his uncle could say, that was the last the thought he would. “I know uncle.” He bowed. “We’ll meet again.” Before he had a chance to turn, Iroh hugged him tightly. Zuko hugged him back briefly. “After I have the Avatar,” he concluded.

 

Zuko got in the boat and before he lowered himself on the sea he turned to Iroh for a last piece of advice. The old man didn’t disappoint him.

“Remember your breath of fire. It could save your life out there.”

“I will.” He promised.

“And put your hood up. Keep your ears warm.” Iroh called after him.

“I’ll be fine.” Zuko answered rolling his eyes.

 

Zuko monitored the boat through the icebergs. The cold was almost unbearable, worse than on the South Pole. He took a look at the guard tower and quickly hid behind a block of ice. The walls had a lot of damage, but still he couldn’t pass through them unnoticed. Zuko suddenly understood what Lia had meant. It was next to impossible to enter the city at all. He anchored his canoe the nearest he could get to the wall itself. There was no way in. He almost turned to leave when he heard some seals. They were diving inside a small hole in the ice and didn’t reappear anywhere near.

“Where are they going?” Zuko wondered aloud. “They have to come out somewhere for air.” Not seeing any better chance to make any process he took a deep breath and dived in.

 

Just when he thought he’d run out of air he saw an opening. Zuko used his remaining strength to half-swim half-drag himself out of water. Once he had somewhat regained his breath he realized just how cold he was. He curled into foetal position trying in vain to get any warmer. Seeing no other solution, Zuko breathed deeply and exhaled fire a few times. He slowly returned to a more normal temperature.

“Be quiet!” he shouted at the seals, succeeding in silencing them for a few moments. He staggered to his feet and started looking for an exit to the city.

 

There was a powerful steam running through the other end of the icy cave. Zuko hesitated only for a moment before he started climbing up, going against the current. He almost lost his footing a few times, but managed to climb out of the tunnel. Then he could swim easier to the top of what seemed like a huge lake of salt water covered by a low dome of ice. He took a few deep breaths before diving again in search of an exit. One of the other tunnels that ended there seemed to emit light. Zuko headed through it looking for an opening. He found one, blocked with a thin layer of ice. He didn’t have much breath left and the ice wouldn’t budge. Desperate he tried the only trick in regard to water that Lia had taught him and he had manage to master.

 

He heated the ice, careful not to let the warm water escape. In no time the ice gave way. Zuko would have celebrated if he had any strength at all left. He couldn’t even come out of water. Just when he was ready to give up, a pair of hands dove in and dragged him out. He felt the familiar wave of burning energy surge through him, combined with warm air. Lia helped him lie on the floor of the small tunnel they were in, near the opening.

“Rest a little.” She told him breathing heavily. “The Avatar is near.”

“I don’t need rest,” Zuko told her sitting up. “You said you’d show me the way.”

Lia sighed. “And I will. But stay quiet.”

“Lia,” Zuko called her as she turned, “thanks for saving my life, again.”

“Just don’t make it a habit. You promised me, remember?” the Spirit smiled warmly. “Now come on.”

 

As they walked the air was getting warmer and warmer. When Lia disappeared silently, Zuko knew he was close. Hidden behind some blocks of ice he saw the Avatar meditating, while Katara and another Water Tribe girl were standing close to him.

“Maybe we should get some help,” the girl was saying worried.

“No, he’s my friend. I’m perfectly capable of protecting him,” Katara assured her.

“Well,” Zuko said sarcastically, through chattering teeth, “aren’t you a big girl now?”

 

Katara turned surprised. There he was, Zuko, standing in something else than his usual Fire Nation armour, looking like he’d been through hell.

“No,” she whispered terrified. Who did this to you? Zuko seemed to take it the wrong way.

“Yes,” he said crossing the small bridge that had separated them. “Hand him over and I won’t have to hurt you.” Please Katara don’t fight back. I don’t want to hurt you. The other girl ran away, probably to bring help, while Katara slid into a fighting stance. Zuko attacked sending fire towards her, but purposely avoiding her as a target. Turns out he didn’t have to. Katara bended water out of the small river surrounding them, blocking every attack and sending him flying against the wall.

“I see you’ve learned a new trick, but I didn’t come this far to lose to you.” He told her, trying to make her back down. It wasn’t working. During night and so near her element she was powerful.

 

Slowly she made him back to the wall. Zuko was beginning to get afraid. He had underestimated her, having judged her abilities from the glimpses of lessons he had seen. He knew she was competent but didn’t expect her iron control over her water’s movement. He saw her smile at her own work as she imprisoned him in a ball of ice.

“You little peasant! You found a master, didn’t you?” he asked, a hint of pride in his voice, before he raised the temperature inside the sphere abruptly. The ice exploded.

 

They continued to fight. To an outsider it might seem like they were dancing, close enough to observe each other’s face. Katara could feel her heart beating faster and faster. It was more the closeness with Zuko than the fight itself. She saw his gaze slipping to her lips a few times. The girl paused for a second, something Zuko used to grab Aang by his shirt. Her haze broken, she attacked him again and managed to trap him in a mountain of ice, rendering him unconscious. Katara watched over the two boys the whole night.

 

Dawn broke only too soon for her. Zuko felt the sun giving him power, he felt able to melt the whole Pole. He silently freed himself from the iceberg. The prince was angry, really angry with himself for having underestimated Katara and for giving way to his feelings. He couldn’t hurt her, he had almost kissed her when they were fighting. Katara was now approaching the Avatar to check on him. Zuko sent a powerful blast of fire at their direction. She saw it too late and didn’t have time to properly block it. It knocked her on a tree and she fell to the ground. Zuko was on her side a second later, checking if she was okay. When he saw that she was just dazed he turned and took hold of the Avatar.

“You rise with the moon.” Katara heard him say through a fog. “I rise with the sun.”

 

Outside the oasis the cold was deadly. Zuko didn’t have much of a choice so he kept walking, hoping to find shelter soon. He didn’t bother to cover his tracks. The snow that kept falling did it for him.

 

The snow soon turned into a blizzard. Zuko kept walking, using sheer will-power only. He felt really tired, despite the energy Lia had given him. And it wasn’t just that. Part of him wanted to abandon the Avatar and return to make sure Katara would be okay. Zhao would have definitely entered the city by now, and it would be only a matter of time until he found the oasis. The little voice inside his head kept telling him that he should be on her side, instead of out there risking both his and the Avatar’s lives.

 

Suddenly he heard the ice crack, making a sound like the crack of a whip. Horrified he saw it giving way. He run and, using the last of his strength, jumped away from danger. Rising unsteadily to his feet he saw shelter. Dragging the Avatar behind him – he was far too tired for niceties – he entered the small cave. He leaned the kid – who remained unconscious – against a wall and proceeded to tie him.

 

Even though the wind wasn’t biting them inside the cave, the cold was the same. Zuko breathed fire into his hands, trying to make life return to them. He looked at the twelve-year-old opposite to him.

“I finally have you, but I can’t get you home because of this blizzard. There’s always something. Not that you would understand, you’re like my sister. Everything always came easy to her. She’s a firebending prodigy and everyone adores her. My father says she was born lucky; he says I was lucky to be born. I don’t need luck though, I don’t want it. I’ve always had to struggle and fight and that’s made me strong, it’s made me who I am.”

“It’s made you someone you should be proud to be,” he heard a girl’s voice say. Lia had appeared again.

“You said you wouldn’t help,” Zuko said gesturing at the cheerful fire that the Spirit had lit.

“I’m not helping you capture Aang, I’m keeping you two alive. You’d freeze to death.”

“So what?”

Lia sighed. She had seen a few of the things that were to happen and she didn’t exactly like them. Right now, the only thing she could do though was to prevent the boy sitting next to her from convincing himself of his uselessness. She tried again.

“Zuko, if Azula became Fire Lord, she would be feared. She wouldn’t care for the people, not even for her own and eventually, she would exhaust the world with her endless wars. Would you do any of this?”

“No,” Zuko told her horrified at even the thought. “Being Fire Lord is like being a father for your people and as for the war…” he paused uncertainly. “I… I’m not so sure it’s right anymore.”

“Exactly!” Lia exclaimed. “Azula commands fear, but you genially care. Your people would love you. Isn’t love something worth fighting for?”

“You’re not just referring to my father’s heir are you?” Zuko asked her suspiciously.

“You tell me?” Lia shot back. “Now, will you please, get some rest? We’ll be here for a while.”

Beside them Aang took a deep breath. Zuko looked at him curiously.

“What is he doing?” he asked Lia. She concentrated for a few moments, following the Avatar’s unique aura, before opening her eyes and casting the kid a fearful look.

“I can feel him in the Spirit World.” She said. “He is talking with the Face Stealer.”

“Face Stealer?” Zuko looked at her surprised.

“He’s an ancient demon with a personal score with the Avatar. He was slayed almost nine hundred years ago by a previous incarnation.”

“Why is he called like this?”

“If you show the slightest emotion before him, he steals your face. No one goes near him unless it was a matter of life and death. What was Roku thinking? I know these Spirits and could have helped him! Honestly this man sometimes doesn’t think!” She tried to stand up, but Zuko held her down.

“Care to explain, oh mighty Spirit?” he asked her annoyed. Lia took a few deep breaths.

“I’ve been waiting for you at the Spirit Oasis, where you found Katara and Aang. Aang crossed to the Spirit World to find the Ocean and Moon Spirits. Roku found him there and guided him to the Face Stealer, because he couldn’t think of any other Spirit old enough to know of their location. But I was there when Tui and La crossed the bridge and took mortal forms. I know too were they are.”

“So the Avatar just had to ask you?”

“Exactly!” Lia scoffed. “Men!” she muttered under her breath.

 

Suddenly Aang opened his eyes. Zuko turned, hearing him trying to stand.

“Welcome back,” he told the boy. Lia had become invisible the moment the Avatar had woken.

“Good to be back,” the kid answered. He took a huge breath and literally flew out of the cave. He started crawling away. In retrospect, it was rather pointless. Zuko caught up with him immediately.

“That won’t be enough to escape,” he said, grabbing the airbender by the collar.

“Appa!” Aang called, seeing his bison landing.

Zuko smiled, seeing Katara approaching.

“Came for a rematch?” he asked her eagerly.

“Trust me Zuko, it’s not going to be much of a match.” Feeling the power given to her by the full moon, she knocked him out cold. Sokka approached Aang and cut his bonds.

“Hey, this is some quality rope!” the warrior exclaimed.

“We need to get to the oasis. The Spirits are in trouble!”

 

They all hurried to Appa, except for Katara. She was looking at the cave where Zuko had taken shelter. On the entrance stood a young woman with flowing red hair looking at her pleadingly. Somehow Katara knew that this was a Spirit, a Spirit that protected the prince. Suddenly a memory came to her.

– Flashback –

“I’ll bring you a blanket.” He told her softly. “Just promise not to run off, okay? And you’ll have to be standing like before when they return.”

“Why are you doing this?” Katara asked him sharply.

He looked at her surprised. “You’re tired and you’d hurt yourself if you fell asleep like this. I don’t want this to happen.” 

–          End of Flashback –

She had been on his mercy and he had been so caring. How could she not return the gesture?

“Katara come on!” Sokka called. “You heard Aang, we need to get back.” She turned to them and then back to Zuko.

“We can’t leave him here. He’ll die.”

“Sure we can. Let’s go.” Sokka said.

“No,” Katara yelled at him. “I owe him and I won’t let him out here to freeze.”

 

It was Aang’s turn to turn towards the Prince and the cave. He had felt a Spirit’s presence there. He too saw Lia, only he recognized her. A memory came to him too.

– Flashback –

He had taken of the Blue Spirit’s mask. Seeing Zuko under it, he had sprung to his feet and started running away to fall right into her. The Avatar had recognized her immediately as a Spirit and despite the situation bowed. She roughly led him towards Zuko.

“I’ll help you if you help him.” She whispered. Aang nodded. He didn’t understand why a Spirit would protect Zuko, but he had no time for questions. Once he held the Prince, Lia had used her powers to send them away.

– End of Flashback –

Aang sighed. “Katara’s right. We cannot just leave him here.” He jumped off Appa and helped Katara bring the unconscious boy on the saddle. Sokka rushed to tie him.

“This makes a lot of sense. Let’s save the guy who’s constantly trying to kill us,” he grumbled.

 

They had almost returned to the city when the moon turned red. Yue, the white-haired princess of the Northern Water Tribe grabbed her temples.

“Are you okay?” Sokka asked her softly.

“I feel faint,” she managed to whisper.

“I feel it too,” Katara said.

“It’s the Moon Spirit,” Aang realised. “It’s in trouble.”

“I owe the Moon Spirit my life,” Yue confessed.

“What do you mean?” Sokka asked.

“When I was born I was very sick and very weak. Most babies cry when they’re born, but I was born as if I were asleep, my eyes closed. Our healers did everything they could. They told my mother and father I was going to die. My father pleaded with the Spirits to save me. That night, beneath the full moon, he brought me to the oasis and placed me in the pond. My dark hair turned white, I opened my eyes and began to cry and they knew I would live. That’s why my mother named me Yue, for the moon.”

 

They landed silently at the pond. Zhao was there bragging about how he would become a legend. Lia was disgusted with the man. He was so self-absorbed that he would mock his own death. Suddenly Momo, Aang’s flying lemur jumped on his head, trying to make him let go of the Moon Spirit. Lia smiled seeing the great Admiral failing to get a small lemur off his head, before returning to the task at hand. She was trying to wake Zuko, with no success. Finally she leaned and whispered to his ear “Zhao’s here.” His eyes opened immediately. He sat up observing the scene.

“You need to get out of here.” Lia told him.

“I need to stop Zhao. He’s going to kill the Spirit.” He shot back, pointing at the bag still dangling from the older man’s grasp, where the Moon Spirit was trapped in its koi fish form.

“Stopping this from happening is the Avatar’s job. Zhao will soon be running for his life. Don’t you want to be waiting for him?”

“Fine!” he sighed. “But I want to see what happens first.”

That was the best she could get out of him, so she agreed.

 

Everyone had fallen into fighting stances.

“Don’t bother,” Zhao said threatening the Spirit with a knife.

“Zhao, don’t!” the Avatar warned him.

“It’s my destiny. To destroy the Moon and the Water Tribe.”

Zuko cringed upon hearing that.

“Destroying the Moon won’t hurt just the Water Tribe. It will hurt everyone; including you. Without the Moon everything will fall out of balance. You have no idea what king of chaos this would unleash to the world.”

“He is right Zhao,” Another voice suddenly said from the shadows.

“General Iroh,” the Admiral remarked, “why am I not surprised to discover your treachery?”

“I am no traitor Zhao,” Iroh said. “The Fire Nation needs the Moon Spirit too. We all depend on the balance.” Zhao was obviously not convinced. “Whatever you do to that Spirit I will unleash on you tenfold! Now let it go!” the Dragon of the West thundered.

 

Zhao seemed to surrender momentarily. He freed the Spirit and the night sky returned to its normal colour. As he stood though, something seemed to snap inside him. He bended a huge fire to the pond. The sky turned grey, the Moon now dead. Iroh attacked the soldiers Zhao had brought with him furiously, while the Admiral…

“He’s not going to escape this one.” Zuko hissed furious. He had seen the looks of pain on both Katara’s and Yue’s faces and he slipped away to find Zhao.

“This way!” Lia appeared next to him, guiding him through the city streets. She seemed to be equally furious, because the soldiers they encountered were knocked out without so much of a glance from her.

 

They found Zhao running away. Lia sent a flame to erupt right in front of him, halting him for a moment. The man turned to see Zuko towering on a balcony overhead.

“You’re alive?” he asked terrified. Who could survive an explosion big enough to destroy a ship?

“You tried to have me killed!” Zuko accused, sending more fire against him.

“Yes I did,” Zhao admitted. “You were the Blue Spirit, an enemy to the Fire Nation. You freed the Avatar.”

“I had no choice,” Zuko shot back. He continued to send fire against him, but Zhao blocked the attacks.

“You should have chosen to accept your failure. Then at least you could have lived!” He attacked Zuko, only to find out – the hard way – how much better the boy had become since their Agni Kai. Soon he was knocked out of the level they were fighting.

 

Their fight continued, as the sky was lit by the moon again. They didn’t notice it at first, but then Zhao went flying and as he looked up he saw the full moon glaring down at him.

“It can’t be!” he cried. Zuko turned for a moment, to see the Spirit restored to its position. He smiled menacingly at the older man.

“You failed,” he whispered. As if to prove it, the hand of the Ocean Spirit appeared, almost trapping them. Lia pulled Zuko away, but Zhao wasn’t that lucky. He was imprisoned by the pure power of the Ocean. Zuko tried to save him, not really understanding why, but Zhao preferred death than help from his enemy.

“You did what you could, Lia said to Zuko, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Now come on. It’s not safe here and you need to find Iroh.” Zuko didn’t protest. The fatigue was getting the better of him so he followed his Guardian Spirit silently.

 

By dawn Zuko had found Iroh. The old man had put together a small make-shift raft. Once he was sure that his nephew was alive and in one piece they got in.

“I’m surprised prince Zuko,” Iroh said while managing the sails. “Surprised that you are not at this moment trying to capture the Avatar.” He stole a look at Zuko, when fire didn’t immediately come towards him.

“I’m tired,” Zuko admitted quietly.

“Then you should rest. A man needs his rest.” Smiling Iroh watched as his nephew laid down and slept. It was the first time since he was a child that Zuko admitted weakness in front of others. Maybe it was a sign that things were going to be better for them.

***End of Book 1 – Water***

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Stow-Away

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Author’s note: In which Zhao makes a come-back, Katara is annoyed, Zuko’s life makes an explosive turn and the author is chilling at an island working more on her tan than her writing. 😉

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Stow-Away***

Weeks after they had left the abbey behind them the air suddenly got cooler and there was a thin layer of frost covering the deck in the mornings. Zuko didn’t have much of a problem with the change in the weather. It merely gave him another excuse to practice his firebending. Besides, cold meant that they would be reaching the North Pole. He would soon see Katara again. Lately he had been seeing less and less of both the Avatar’s crew and Lia. Zuko suspected that they had already reached the Northern Water Tribe. As for the Spirit, she had found some information about his mother’s location and was traveling all around the Earth Kingdom to check whether any of it was valid. Zuko doubted it. He just couldn’t imagine his mother in a city like Omashu or Ba Sing Se. But then again he judged by what his uncle had told him of the cities and Iroh had a habit of embellishing his stories.

Speaking of his uncle, Iroh was currently pestering him about his music night. Zuko had known that Tsungi Horn was a bad idea the moment he had set eyes on it. When he had been younger he had learnt to play it, in an effort to best Azula at something. It was a difficult instrument and his prodigy sister didn’t have the patience to study. Zuko himself didn’t particularly like playing it either, especially in front of others. He’d sooner die than admit it, but he had terrible stage fright. So when his uncle threw the idea of him playing with the rest of the crew, Zuko flat out refused. That was a week ago, and ever since Iroh had been constantly bugging him.

 

Tonight was the much-argued about music night. After one last unsuccessful attempt to convince him, Iroh left for the deck. Zuko was sitting in his room wishing against all hope that Lia would appear. He hadn’t had a chance to speak or spar with her for quite some time. Hearing the door open and guessing it was his uncle he said:

“For the last time, I’m not playing the Tsungi Horn.”

“No,” his uncle told him, “it’s about our plans. There’s a bit of a problem.”

Zhao suddenly appeared behind him. “I’m taking your crew.” He announced smugly.

“What?” Zuko jumped on his feet in disbelief.

“I’ve recruited them for a little expedition to the North Pole.”

“Uncle, is that true?” Zuko asked refusing to believe him.

“I’m afraid it is.” The old General said sadly. “He’s taking everyone. Even the cook!”

“I’m sorry you won’t be there to see me capturing the Avatar, but I can’t have you getting in my way again.” Zhao turned to inspect the room, dismissing the seething teenager with no more than a glance. Iroh barely managed to restrain his nephew from attacking the Admiral.

 

Zhao’s glance fell on pair of broadswords proudly displayed at the wall. He picked one up, testing the weapon’s balance. Zuko behind him paled. He cannot figure it out. He can’t guess I was the Blue Spirit. There are probably hundreds using this type of weapons, he thought desperately.

“I didn’t know that you were skilled with broadswords prince Zuko.” Zhao said in a flat voice his attention apparently engaged by the sword in his hands.

“I’m not. They’re antiques. They’re just decorative.” Zuko answered in such a calm voice, it surprised himself.

“Have you heard of the Blue Spirit General Iroh?” Zhao proceeded to ask in the same flat voice.

“Just rumours,” Iroh answered. “I don’t think he is real.”

“He is real alright.” Zhao approached them and handed the sword to Iroh. “He’s a criminal and an enemy to the Fire Nation. But I have a feeling justice will catch up with him soon.” He turned to leave. “General Iroh, my offer to join the mission still stands, if you change your mind.” With these rather ominous parting words  he left.

 

Meanwhile at the North Pole Katara found herself disappointed and angry. Unlike the loose hierarchy of her own tribe she had found the Northern tribe rigid and almost completely patriarchal. She had arrived excited, planning to learn how to use her waterbending abilities to fight only to be told that women were expected to be healers rather than fighters. She had to admit that the healing lessons were interesting and they would no doubt be useful Zuko chasing them everywhere. Katara didn’t see however why couldn’t she learn how to both fight and heal and she planned to find a way around the restrictions sometime soon. By the end of yet another healing lesson Katara found her thoughts straying again to the firebending prince and her own reaction every time they encountered each other. While some of the other students carried out the dummy body that they used to practice on, she approached Yugoda.

“Thanks for the lesson,” she said, forcing herself to be polite.

“So who’s the lucky boy?” the old woman asked interested.

“Excuse me?” Katara asked surprised.

“Your betrothal necklace,” Yugoda explained. “You’re getting married, right?”

Katara smiled sheepishly. “No, I don’t think I’m ready for that,” she stammered. For La’s sake I’m only fourteen! “My grandmother gave my mother that necklace and my mother passed it down to me.”…

 

Once out of the hut Katara felt her head ready to burst. It wasn’t that much the story of her Gran-Gran running away from a forced engagement. She was a really brave woman after all. No, there was another thing that bothered her. A betrothal necklace! He tried to bribe me with a betrothal necklace! He more or less asked me to marry him! Why would he? Did he even know what this necklace meant? Or was it for him, like Aang, just a sentimental trinket? He seemed so caring though, even if he didn’t want anyone to understand it. But why wouldn’t he? His uncle seemed such a gentle man. He even reprimanded him for not ensuring my comfort. Why didn’t Zuko tell him the truth?

 

She walked back and forth through the town, not paying attention to what was happening around her. Any way she looked at all her encounters with Zuko, he had never tried to hurt her. He even made sure that she was safe and had offered her and Sokka their freedom when he had the Avatar in his hands. Katara stopped on a bridge, staring down at the water thoughtfully. Could it be that Zuko had… feelings for her?

 

Meanwhile, at the northern shores of the Earth Kingdom, the centre of Katara’s thoughts was sulking. Ever since Zhao’s visit, Zuko had locked himself in his room and didn’t come out even to farewell his crew. To his slight surprise, Iroh was assured both by Jee and many other members of the crew that they understood. They didn’t want to leave the prince they had travelled with for three long years, not now that they were finally starting to get along. After the men had left, Iroh went to his nephew. He would have to come out of his room eventually. It wasn’t healthy to stay inside for so long.

“The crew wanted me to wish you safe travels,” he told to the bitter boy.

“Good riddance to those traitors,” was the only answer he got. He tried again.

“It’s a lovely night for a walk. Why don’t you join me? It would clear your head.” Silence was the only answer. “Oh, just stay in your room and sit in the dark. Whatever makes you happy.” Iroh left the ship humming.

 

At the grey line between the worlds, a place that seemed to get worse every time she visited it, Lia was aimlessly walking around. Last time there was just fog. Now there was fog and icy winds. The Spirits really hated her. Unfortunately for her, this was the only place where her visions gained enough clarity to make sense and frankly Lia was getting fed up with the random premonitions of explosions she had been having. She suddenly paused mid-step. The vision was once again playing right in front of her eyes. A ship burning to flames… She knew this ship. It was a small Fire Navy one. If only she could remember how she knew it. Then it came to her. Zuko. It was his ship that was burning down. She had to return to the physical world.

 

Zuko was still lying to his bed, starring at the ceiling. His mind was completely blank. After rescuing the Avatar from Zhao he had hoped not to hear again from the Admiral. But the Spirits just had to hate him. He heard a crackle down the corridor and an involuntary shiver ran down his spine.

“Uncle?” he asked rising, a little afraid. He opened the door. “Uncle is that you?” He jumped to the corridor ready to strike. There was no one there. Even this unnerved him. The ship was eerily quiet. Cautiously he made his way to the main room of the ship. Still there was no one there.

 

Lia jumped out of the in-between zone a few feet away from the ship. She saw Zuko’s shadow moving in front of some windows and group of pirates leaving hastily on a small boat. Wait a minute! Pirates? She ignored them and hovered higher in the air. She had to reach the ship in time.

 

Zuko looked around suspiciously. He was sure he had heard something. He turned to look out of a window, when he saw the pirate captain’s pet bird staring at him through the glass window. Suddenly he understood what he had heard. He turned to leave but his time was up. The blasting jelly that the pirates had planted exploded and fire rushed towards him in waves. He had never thought his element would seem to him so menacing.

 

Right before the fire could consume him, a figure jumped from the shadows and took the hit. He watched, mesmerized, as Lia was embraced by the very element she was. The redhead seemed to absorb the fire, her long hair and dress suddenly made up by small dancing flamed and her eyes blazing like the sun. Azula’s firebending was nothing in front of this. The Spirit created a sphere of pure energy and placed herself and Zuko at its centre. The power of the explosion threw them out of the window and in the waiting ocean below.

 

The impact on the water nearly knocked Zuko unconscious. Struggling for breath he saw Lia calmly disappear under the surface. He panicked, afraid that she would drown. He was ready to dive after her when she re-emerged, all the fire vanished. Silently she took hold of his shoulder dragging him towards land. Once out of the water Zuko hugged her tightly. She gave him a quivering smile, returning the embrace.

“Why is it always that I find you in near-death situations?” she asked him.

 

They took shelter in an abandoned flat near the port. Zuko was pacing restlessly, cursing Zhao for blowing up his ship. Lia was equally angry at the Admiral for even thinking of harming her little “brother”. Her thoughts turned to Iroh; no doubt he would have heard the explosion and be worried sick by now. The Spirit turned from the window, from where she had been watching people pass, to see Zuko sinking on the floor, his head in his hands.

“What am I going to do now Lia?” he asked her.

She sat next to him, putting a comforting hand on his shoulders.

“You can still go to the North Pole.” She said.

“With what ship? Everyone will probably think I’m dead.”

“Exactly! Prince Zuko is considered dead. Which means that no one would pay attention on another faceless soldier who happened to join Zhao’s fleet.” She stood, letting him think her idea, as she retrieved a bag from a corner on the room.

“What’s this?” he asked her.

“A few things that were saved from the explosion.” She gave it to him. “Your Dao swords, the dagger your Iroh gave you, the Blue Spirit mask and some other stuff.”

 

While Zuko was going through the contents of the bag, Lia went back at the window.

“What about Iroh?” she asked.

“I don’t know” Zuko sighed. “He probably thinks I didn’t survive. I don’t want to leave him in the dark, but I also don’t want him to be in danger.”

“If you’re going to infiltrate Zhao’s ship you’ll need back-up. Reliable backup,” she added, seeing him ready to protest.

“But how am I supposed to find him in the city?” he asked defeated.

Lia smiled. “Leave this to me.”

 

A few minutes later a black, golden-eyed cat was running the streets following the scent of a certain retired General. She found him still standing where the ship was still burning. Lia felt bad for the poor old man as she approached him. She started tugging the edge of his robe until he looked down to her surprised. She motioned with her head for him to follow her and he complied curiously.

 

A few blocks later they arrived at the flat where she and Zuko had hidden. The cat motioned him to go inside and Iroh did, feeling even more surprised. He sensed that there was something different about the animal, but couldn’t put his finger on it. Nevertheless he opened the door. Inside he saw the figure of a teenaged boy who seemed to be packing a bag. Upon hearing the door opening his shoulders tensed.

“Uncle?” he asked uncertainly turning.

“Zuko? Thank Agni you are alive!” his uncle cried rushing to hug him. From a corner of the room the cat winked.

She will be bugging me for this until we reach the North Pole. Zuko thought. “I’m going to infiltrate Zhao’s fleet.” He said aloud to his uncle. The older man looked at him determined.

“I will be coming with you.” He announced.

 

The next day Iroh visited Zhao with the news of Zuko’s “death”.

“I’m devastated to hear for prince Zuko. Just devastated.” He said. Lia was watching them unseen, at Zuko’s request, and frowned upon hearing it. She overheated his tea, hoping to burn him.

“The Fire Lord will not be pleased when he learns who was responsible,” Iroh said gravely.

“You know who was behind the attack?” Zhao asked with hidden nervousness.

“Yes, pirates. We had a run with the a while back. They wanted revenge.” Zhao hid a smile taking a sip. He was burned.

“So, have you reconsidered my offer?” he asked.

“Yes.” Iroh said. “I accept. It will be an honor to serve as your General. To the Fire Nation!” he toasted raising his cup.

“To victory!” Zhao completed.

 

A couple of days later, inside Zhao’s flagship Iroh was talking with a soldier.

“Our plan is working perfectly. Zhao didn’t suspect a thing.”

“You didn’t have to do this.” Zuko told him.

“No nephew of mine will store away on a ship without some back-up.” Iroh repeated Lia’s words.

“Thank you uncle.” A door closed somewhere near.

“Someone’s coming!” Iroh said urgently. “Stay hidden until we reach the North Pole and the Avatar will be yours.” With that they parted ways.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Avatar Returns

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Author’s Note: First chapter and already things are heating up (pun unashamably intended)! New characters, new subplots, foreshadowing…. And a slightly sleep-deprived author, so I will keep this short.

Last chapter: link

Next chapter: link

*** The Avatar Returns ***

The Spirit of Fire flew unseen over the glaciers of the South Pole, her attention divided between two very different boats and the conversations happening there. The first, the one that she had almost missed against the glare of the sun, was merely a fishing boat, carrying two Water Tribe teenagers. Closer to her was a rather small Fire Nation ship. On deck, a teenager listened impatiently to the instructions of an older man. Lia decided that the Water Tribe children would be more interesting to spy on. One can listen to General Iroh for only so long.

 

The children were out fishing, but judging by the lack of fish in their basket and the dejected, bored look on the girl’s face, they hadn’t had any luck. Lia floated over them, invisible, laughing to herself at the self-confident expression on the boy’s as he boasted to his sister.

“Watch and learn Katara. This is how you catch a fish.”

Katara paid him no heed, her attention focused on another fish. She glanced over her shoulder hesitantly, but her brother was busy mumbling to his target about all the different ways it would be cooked. Then, despite the biting cold she took her glove off and slowly moved her hand over the water.

That’s interesting, Lia thought. I didn’t think there were any waterbenders left here.

 

Maybe it was a sign of the changing tides. For a while she had been sensing the energies shifting, preparing for something big, something she could not quite put her finger on. Knowing that overthinking the subject would only give her a headache, Lia concentrated again on the pair. The boy – quite oblivious of what was happening behind his back – scolded his sister for being too loud. The next moment he raised his spear, effectively breaking the floating bubble where Katara had managed to trap the fish and getting himself drenched.

 

Immediately the two of them got into a loud argument over whose fault it was, neither noticing that their boat edged towards a big iceberg. Lia glanced at it absently and then glanced at it again. There was pure life-energy emitting from it, a beacon that drew her in, and suddenly she understood what the shifting tides had meant. She threw a look at Prince Zuko’s ship. They would meet again very soon. She only had to ensure that the Avatar was freed. Slightly at first, but then with increasing power, she heated a stream of water, creating a current under the siblings’ boat. They didn’t notice at first, too engrossed in their bickering.

 

Though she knew that they would have been drawn at the iceberg sooner or later, Lia couldn’t help but wince when their tiny boat crashed against the ice. She had been left too far behind to hear what they were talking about, but judging by the girl’s abrupt movements her brother (Sokka? She hadn’t quite caught his name) had made her mad.

I owe one to the kid, she thought as she flew closer to the Fire Nation ship, ignoring the sound of cracking ice behind her. She arrived just in time to see Zuko’s stunned expression. The release of the Avatar was quite an event what with all the light. She landed unseen as the boy turned to his uncle.

“Uncle, do you realize what this means?” he asked excitedly.

The older man merely looked disappointed: “I won’t get to finish my game?”

The Spirit of Fire giggled in a rather undignified manner at their exchange.

 

Her laugh was caught short when her protégé started yelling at the General. She frowned. Sure it had been three years since she had last talked to Zuko, but she had been keeping an eye on him and she hadn’t thought he would have changed that much.

Well, she berated herself, what did you expect? The poor boy is getting desperate and he probably thinks you deserted him! You really need to talk to him soon. If he keeps this kind of behaviour he will only land himself in trouble. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do for the time being. With a sigh she headed again to the iceberg, only to find it empty. Lia looked around confused. The Avatar and his bison had been in suspension for a hundred years. There was no way they would be able to fly around just yet. As if on cue she heard a bison groan. Turning towards the sound and saw Katara, Sokka and the Avatar (now what was his name? Avatar Roku certainly hadn’t liked it at first but had grown fond of the little airbender over time. It was something with “a”. Aka? Anga? Aang! That was it!) sitting on the bison that was lazily swimming. The twelve-year-old Air Nomad was openly staring at the waterbender. S uddenly bells of alarm started ringing at the back of Lia’s head. She had seen that smile before! The kid had a crush on Katara already! This is not good! she thought. Her premonitions were never wrong. The three children were talking to one another and after a while Aang turned his back to the others with a guilty expression.

 

The sun had nearly and so she returned to the prince’s ship. She had a boy to tuck in. Said boy, however, didn’t return to his room until late. She had dozed off, still invisible to mortals, when the door slammed open, and judging by the way Zuko threw himself on the meditation mat, he was in no mood for talking. Oh, well, she thought, it would have to wait.

 

The next morning dawned bright and chilly. It was greeted by a disgruntled General Iroh who did not appreciate his nephew dragging him out of bed, thank you very much. That could have been partially the reason why he refused to teach the prince any kind of advanced firebending. That and the fact Zuko seemed to channel all his anger and frustration in his practice sessions. Lia took a seat to watch, thinking wistfully back to their old spars. There had been anger there too, but it had been controlled and mostly due to the fact that he couldn’t get the perfection he wanted right away. But this; this was new. Now Zuko was so angry he let his feelings control him. Saddened the Spirit watched as Iroh repeated sternly what she had explained to Zuko at the very beginning: Fire is all about breath, not brute muscle. He had obviously forgotten her advices.

 

Lia watched with a frown as Zuko executed some really simple moves entirely wrong, his movements entirely out of balance. He clearly understood his mistake, but still wouldn’t admit it, preferring to go through the drill without stopping while the day went on. At sunset he was still practicing, having enlisted a couple of soldiers to act as his opponents, but Zuko’s patience was long spent. He demanded learning a more advanced set of moves, using once again the Avatar as his excuse. Iroh refused at first, but eventually gave in. Lia shook her head at the pointlessness of all this. The oh-so-feared Avatar was a twelve-year-old who didn’t have even the most basic knowledge on any element, aside from air. And let us not forget his devil-may-care attitude. Zuko was in for quite a surprise.

 

Even though she thought of the prince like a younger – much younger– brother, Lia couldn’t help but think that a good dressing-down was long overdue. Zuko seemed to have stifled the caring boy he used to hide inside him altogether. This worried her. She wasn’t going to go back on her promises to him, but she would be really disappointed if they were waste on a miniature version of Fire Lord Ozai. Lia had kept an eye on the entire royal family and she really didn’t like the person the princess, Zuko’s little sister, was growing into either.

 

Her musings were interrupted by the sound of a missile. Instinctively she cast a shield over the young prince. She immediately realized that there was no real danger. The missile had been an alarm set off at the husk of a nearby abandoned ship. Still, she couldn’t help but roll her eyes as Zuko, glued to the telescope in an effort to catch a glimpse of his elusive opponent, commented: “Quite agile for his old age.” This was going to be fun to watch.

 

Lia, despite her temper and sharp sense of humour, wasn’t truly ruthless or cold-hearted. She had decided to grant Zuko’s wish mostly out of pity for the lonely boy. While they had trained together at the Western Air Temple, he had steadily grown on her and she eventually came to see him as the brother she used to have. But she was also the Spirit of Fire, and after years of watching history unravel, both in the Spirit World and the mortal planes, she’d become rather cynical. It had been a very long time since she had trusted anyone unequivocally, not thinking of any possible ulterior motives. Her decision to grant Prince Zuko’s wish and teach him, while about as altruistic as a jaded old soul could get, had gotten her in deep trouble back home. So far she had never had reason to regret it but now she found herself fearing that her good intentions aided to the continuation of the war.

 

The ship changed course abruptly, heading towards the settlement of the Southern Water Tribe. Zuko had gone below deck to prepare himself for battle. Still, in a bad mood after her brief introspection, Lia decided that she wouldn’t interfere at all, unless lives were threatened, but would have a talk, a rather long one, with Zuko tonight no matter what mood he was in. As the ship approached she took flight once again over it. Solemnly, she watched it crack the icy protective wall and heard the screams of the scared women and children. She saw Katara turning just before she entered the tent and paling. A toddler lay forgotten on the snow and the crack caused by the ship’s hull was nearing it fast. Katara ran towards it as Lia landed next to the child, forcing the ice to hold for just a little longer, long enough for the waterbender to scoop the little one in her arms and run to safety.

 

The ship had barely stopped before the hatch opened and Zuko, accompanied by two soldiers emerged, decked in full armour. Even though she disapproved of the very idea of the whole thing, Lia couldn’t help but feel pride for her student, seeing him send Sokka out of the way with two efficient moves. Her pride was short lived though, and replaced swiftly by curiosity the moment Zuko’s eyes rested on Katara. Over the years Lia had learned to read his aura as well as her own. He probably hadn’t even noticed himself, but the girl was beautiful and his subconscious was already rethinking his plan. Love’s in the air, Lia thought. Or will be soon, she amended when the prince grabbed an old woman standing next to the waterbender to use as an example of what the Avatar might look like. It didn’t take long for the actual Avatar to appear, and Lia couldn’t help her giggle at the way Zuko landed, having been shoved in the snow by a blur in orange.

 

Landing on the roof of a nearby igloo Lia let the circling boys absorb her attention. Zuko spoke first, disbelief evident in his voice:

“I’ve spent years preparing for this encounter. Training, meditating. You’re just a child.”

Aang looked at him surprised: “Well you’re just a teenager.”

Zuko’s eyes narrowed in anger and he attacked. He was obviously more than a little rough around the edges, but Aang moved even more awkwardly. Lia was counting minutes. She knew the airbender was far too caring not to surrender. And so he did simply demanding that the village remain safe. Zuko agreed. This was what he would have done too and knowing how close his mind-set was to that of the “enemy” annoyed him to no end. Lia sneaked in the ship with the rest of the crew. Nobody noticed, but Zuko stole one last glance of Katara and seeing her close to tears made him frown. He hadn’t thought that the Avatar might have already made friends. But a blast of arctic wind against his face reminded him of the nasty scar that covered his right eye, and he banished any second thoughts immediately. He had the Avatar. He was going home at last. Pretty little Water Tribe girls didn’t matter.

 

As they left the Pole, Lia contemplated evolving the speech Zuko needed into a huge sermon. There were many things she had little patience for, but using someone’s culture against them, scored high on the list. Zuko’s gloating over Aang; she though, was way out of line. She followed him to his room but as she was ready to make herself visible, the Avatar entered. Lia bit back a curse. If the kid was this world’s only hope he really needed to work on his timing! As much his airbending was concerned however, he was really good. He momentarily knocked Zuko out with a swift wave of his staff and fled.

 

Lia really thought he was going to make it to freedom but as he set off in the air, the prince, who was not quite as knocked out as they had thought, jumped on him. They landed heavily on deck. Time sped up around Lia, whose bad feelings had returned. Before she knew it Zuko was falling off the side of the ship. She grabbed him mid-air and helped him steady himself on the anchor chain. He was looking around for his saviour so she let herself seen for a few brief moments: “We need to talk”, she told him sternly. Before Zuko had a chance to reply, or even nod, he was helped back on board by his oblivious Uncle.

 

That night the prince retired early, the Avatar’s escape and his ship’s condition weighing heavily on his shoulders. He entered his room and hastily locked the door. Then he looked around for his old friend… no associate, he corrected himself in his mind.

“I really thought you considered me a friend,” a voice from his bed called him. The room had been dark up until that moment, when little fires lit around the walls. Lia sat on the bed, looking angry and a little hurt, Zuko noted with surprise. Nevertheless he swallowed his emotions.

“What did you want to tell me?” he asked neutrally.

If possible, his non-reaction seemed to make her angrier: “Oh, I don’t know where to begin!” she said. “Maybe from the thing that scared me most. What do you think?” She stood up and stalked up to him, glaring at him straight in the eyes. “Now tell me,” she demanded threateningly. “What have you done to Zuko?”

“What?” the boy exclaimed surprised. “Lia, it’s me? What are you talking about?”

“You cannot be Zuko,” the spirit insisted. “I trained him for a year. I thought I knew him! He looked like you on the outside, sure; all tough and uncaring, but in reality he had emotions and kindness. You? You are nothing but an empty cell. Now tell me. What happened to you?” she finished in almost a whisper. The firebender looked at her icily.

“People change. And you haven’t seen me for nearly three years. I grew up.”

“In what? Tell me, did you really think that I’d abandon you?”

“I didn’t have to think about it. You made it obvious.”

“No I didn’t! You may not see me, but I watch over you. Didn’t you ever wonder who tucks you in every night? If I am to find your mother, I have to travel a lot, but still I watch out for you.”

“You don’t have to.” Zuko said turning his back on her. “I ceased to believe in dreams a long time ago. There is no need for you to feel compelled to act as if you can fulfil a childish wish.”

“But what if it isn’t just a childish wish?” she asked him quietly.

“IT IS!” he exploded. “My mother is dead. There is no way she could be alive. And even if she was she doesn’t care obviously! If she did I would have found her. She would have come to me!”

“Here?” Lia raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been searching the South Pole for a year and before that you were looking at the Air Temples. Even if she knew where you are, I doubt she would be able to reach you.”

“Which proves my point.” He lay down on his bed, his back still facing her. “Go Lia. I told you I don’t need you anymore. Go to your home. You can.”

 

Lia walked to the door. She became once again invisible and opened it. Before she stepped out she turned at him sadly and said: “But you still need me Zuko. You have so much to learn. And the original reason I came looking for you wasn’t for us to yell at each other. Your mother is alive. I know that for certain. All I have to do now is find exactly where she is.” With that she left.

 

Zuko stayed awake that night. In his mind, he replayed her words again and again. “You still need me Zuko. You have so much to learn. And the original reason I came looking for you wasn’t for us to yell to each other. Your mother is alive.” He twisted and turned unable to find peace with the nagging thought that had taken the only chance he had to ever see his mother again and burnt it to a crisp.