Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Not Alone


by ingrid 8 reviews

As they travel together, Zuko learns.

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama - Characters: Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Other - Published: 2006-06-15 - Updated: 2006-06-15 - 2647 words

Not Alone II: Flight
by ingrid


If anything, there was some amusement in watching his uncle ride atop the shaggy head of the flying bison, his eyes closed, with a look of heavenly contentment on his face.

Of course, Iroh would love such a means of travel, but for Zuko the feeling of not being in control was almost unbearable. If he weren't a thousand feet in the air, he might have gotten off and walked, never mind what he'd promised.

Promised. By the ancestors, had he really done such a thing? He'd been so sure at that moment, so full of clarity, but now flying aboard this strange beast with his former enemies, doubt began worm its unpleasant way into his thoughts.

How could he and these ... children ... depose a Fire Lord as powerful as Ozai? Would the people of the Fire Nation accept such a thing? He'd never heard any grumblings against the current state of affairs, but then again, who would dare to grumble against a man as powerful -- and cruel -- as Ozai?

No one who valued their skin, Zuko thought bitterly, the tight scar over his eye starting to itch as it sometimes did. He ignored it. "Can this thing fly a little faster?" he yelled over the whistle of chill wind blowing over them.

"No," replied Sokka crankily. He turned, wide-eyed with innocence, to his sister, whose glare was colder than the wind. "I'm only saying that because I've asked! And the answer is always no!"

The girl wasn't convinced. "Were you raised on an ice float?"

"Maybe I was," Sokka replied, sticking his tongue out at her.

Zuko sighed at this exchange. He was going into war with children. And his uncle, whom he loved, but seemed just that side of too-quirky to be an effective warrior any longer.

Then again, there was the Avatar, but upon closer inspection, he seemed years away from gaining his full strength. Strange as it seemed, the little blind earth bender appeared to be the gravest and toughest of the entire group, but ...

Blind. Tiny. Angry at the world, not unlike Zuko himself, and he smiled slightly. Maybe that wasn't a plus after all.

He glanced down below and saw the green fields of some corner of the Earth Nation seemed unblemished by any of Azula's war machines. "Perhaps we should land down there, in that valley. The surrounding mountains should give us some protection against surprise attacks. We can always fly up and over if Azula tracks us here."

"Isn't she dead?" Sokka asked.

"I'd never be that lucky," Zuko replied darkly. "And we know for sure her companions still live, but their loyalty to the cause is suspect without Azula to ... inspire ... them, I'm sure."

"I don't know," Aang sounded hesitant. "What do you think, General?"

Iroh laughed long and hard at the honorific. "It's been many years since I've been called 'general' and to be honest, I haven't missed those days, so please, call me 'Iroh'. As for landing, I think it's a good idea, as long as we aren't fooled into thinking we are invulnerable. My nephew is correct in assuming his sister not only lives, but now lives for the moment she can kill us all with a single blast of fire."

"Sister problems," quipped Sokka, as the bison drifted in circles over the valley. "I know them well."

Katara's eyes narrowed. Her lips twitched up in annoyance, but she didn't reply.

Zuko had to repress a smile and wondered at the feeling. It had been a very, very long time since he'd felt so ... normal. "I'd be happy to trade, but even you don't deserve a sibling like Azula." He pointed to a vast clearing, just beyond the tree line. "There. I think we can set up an excellent base past the pines."

"Are you sure, nephew?" Iroh asked, pulling on his beard. He pointed to a more distant area. "Because over there seems a bit more level."

Zuko sighed. "There are tea plants in my spot."

"Land the bison!" Iroh cried as Aang pulled on the reins. "Right where my nephew pointed. Yes, that's it ... right near the tea."


Zuko wasn't easily impressed, but there was something about the efficiency and speed at which the group set up camp that made him take notice. They'd learned much during their months on the run, that much was apparent and he did his feeble best to help, but in truth, he was better at giving orders than being part of a team.

"Put those over there," he said imperiously at one point, trying to organize the sleeping gear.

Katara, who was struggling with a slippery pile of blanket rolls, shook her head. "They'll get wet over there. It's rained here recently. The grass is dry but the ground isn't."

"How do you know that?" Zuko asked, regretting it the minute she made a small hand motion and a wash of water squirted from the ground, hitting him in the chin. He spluttered, as everyone chuckled. For a brief second, familiar rage flooded him, but he paused as the water dripped from his face. The laughter wasn't unkind and, well, she was right. "Okay," he said, with a shrug. "Then put them over there."

"Your majesty is too kind," Sokka snipped. "Shall we set up your throne closer to the stream or more in the shade?"

"The stream," Zuko replied, bending a tiny bit of heat toward the bottom of Sokka's feet. It took a moment or two, but soon Sokka was dancing and shouting in pain as his shoes smoked. He ran shrieking toward the water as everyone howled with laughter. "See how refreshing it is?"

"Listen, you ..." Sokka growled, but the laughter drowned him out. He stomped out of the stream and returned to his work without another word.

Iroh merely did what he did best, which was sit and make giant pots of tea atop a roaring fire. Aang sat with him, drinking, particularly captivated by everything Iroh said. "This is quite the business, trying to overthrow a Fire Lord. I don't think it's ever been done, at least not by an outsider. Although within the royal family, that's another matter entirely."

"How did Ozai take the throne from you?" Aang asked innocently.

Iroh stared into his tea, his face setting into a hard mask. "The same way men have taken things from their brothers for centuries. By trickery and, if that doesn't work, by force. I suppose, in a way, I'm lucky to still be alive. My father was not so lucky."

Zuko glanced up at this, listening. The confusion of those terrible days were still little more than a blur in his mind (his poor mother!) but perhaps now would be a good time to learn the truth.

But Iroh wasn't being that forthcoming. Not yet. "Not that I wasn't somewhat relieved that someone else had taken on the terrible burden of ruling the Fire Nation," Iroh shrugged. "It's not an easy place to run, as you might imagine."

"My teacher said that fear only works for a short time and that those ruled by it always find their courage in the end," Aang said. "So it's better to rule with wisdom, because while people can turn brave, they rarely grow smarter."

Iroh laughed heartily. "Your teacher is a man I would have liked."

"I think you would have," Aang replied, somewhat sadly. A pebble clattered to the ground beside him, followed by a small rain of rocks. "Hey!" he yelled as he was pelted. "What are you doing?!"

"So you wanna learn Earthbending or not?" Toph yelled, a wiggle of her finger making large boulders dance through the air in circles, like a juggler's balls. "Because you don't have all day."

"I don't?" Aang asked, confused. He quickly jumped over a huge flying rock that flew his way.

"Not when I'm teaching you," she shot back, as around her, the earth spiked and crumbled in astonishing patterns. "So get over here and start working."

"Right," Aang said, quickly bowing to Iroh before following Toph to the rockier edges of the valley.

Zuko took his place, slowly settling into a cross-legged position next to his uncle and picked up a fresh serving of tea. "These are children," he whispered past the rim of his cup. "We can't defeat Azula and usurp Ozai with a gang of kids and a flying ... thing."

"Those are pretty talented kids," Iroh replied mildly. "And they've held up on their own pretty well against Azula ... and you ... for a while now. If you don't mind me saying so, nephew, I fear we need them more than they need us."

"I don't need ..." Zuko hissed, then quickly corrected himself. He took a deep breath, trying to clear away the vestiges of anger that simply refused to budge. "All right, there is the Avatar. But he seems weak compared to what he's supposed to be according to legend."

"Even legends have to start somewhere. Maybe our job will be to help him realize his potential," Iroh said, with a meaningful glance. "He doesn't know firebending, does he? That's a skill you can easily share."

"Me? You're a much better firebender than I am."

Iroh laughed. "You compliment me too much, Zuko. No, I'm too slow when it comes to teaching." He leaned in close to whisper, "This may surprise you, but I can be a little lazy at times."

"You don't say," Zuko replied dryly.

Iroh shrugged, grinning. "I'm an old man. I need lots of breaks. That's why I think you'd be the better teacher. You are driven, as well as tireless, focused on your goals with a powerful intensity. These are qualities I think our young Avatar might do well to learn, along with firebending."

"How can I teach that?" Zuko put down the now-empty tea cup with an impatient gesture. "You either want something or you don't. Besides, I don't even know what my goals are now. Everything is mixed up." He sighed. "I've never felt like this before, Uncle ... so unsure."

Iroh squeezed his shoulder sympathetically. "I hate to say it but that's what happens when you grow up. Everything becomes more and more muddled." He laughed, patting his own large girth. "Look at me. Doesn't get much more muddled than this."

"Great," Zuko muttered. Tiredly, he rubbed his hands over his hair, a little surprised at how long it had grown in such a short time. "I guess it could be worse."

In the distance, there was a crash, as Aang's earthbending lesson took a downturn. Zuko and Iroh ducked away from a cloud of dust caused by a rock fall, as Sokka's loud protests echoed through the camp.

Aang blushed. "Sorry," he said cheerfully, as Toph shook her head.

"I take that back," Zuko said, his shoulders slumping. "It's as bad as it can be."


The early evening was chill, especially to someone used to heat as Zuko was. He hated cold of any type and sat huddled by the stream's edge, hugging himself, his teeth grit against chattering. A few feet away the waterbender worked, creating intricate waves of liquid streaming through the air, sometimes playfully, sometimes with a violence that surprised him. As a firebender he never thought much of waterbending as an effective weapon, but it had a subtle power that Zuko could see as eventually commanding his respect.

She finished, looking quietly pleased with herself. Zuko hesitated before speaking; he was always uncomfortable talking to people as equals -- it was something he wasn't ever shown how to do. Still, he'd have to learn eventually, he guessed.

"Very .... um ... nice," he said, hesitantly. Wait, maybe that was the wrong word ... nice. Waterbending was a hard-won skill, 'nice' might be an offensive term. "I mean, very impressive."

Surprisingly, she seemed to understand his intention, as clumsily put forward as it was. "Thank you. And I was aiming for nice." She raised her hands and huge wall of water rose, then crashed back into the stream. "That's me trying for impressive."

Zuko grinned. "Very impressive. Though not quite as impressive as your healing skills."

Katara sighed, rubbing her hands off on her pants before sitting down beside him. Leaning back, propped up on her hands, she looked out over the rippling stream, her expression contemplative. "I didnt' think so when I first learned them. I thought they were a punishment."


"They were the only skill women were allowed to be taught, according to the masters. I had to fight to be allowed to learn waterbending, but that was only after I mastered the healing skills. I wanted to be a warrior, not a nursemaid."

"Yet you know that on a battlefield, you'd be more valuable than any warrior. Someone who can heal a soldier's wounds on the spot, as soon as they are hurt? You'd have a huge, tireless army at all times; your side could never be defeated. If the Fire Nation had healers such as you ..."

To Zuko's surprise, the girl flushed a bright red. "I never looked at it that way. Although I'm grateful I had the skill when needed."

"I am as well," Zuko replied gravely. "I ... my uncle ... is very ... dear to me." The admission was humiliating in a way, but it was the truth. Zuko had no idea how he would have survived with Iroh dead. Probably, he'd have gone out in a blaze in misery, dying at either Ozai or Azula's cruel hands, his short life meaningless. "So, I thank you."

"You're welcome," she replied cheerfully. "It's worked out for the best. We're working together now, instead of against each other and you can teach Aang firebending."

"It's not as simple as that. Firebending takes a certain ... frame of mind," Zuko replied doubtfully. "I'm not sure Aang has the ... fire ... needed to work the element, if you'll excuse the pun."

"You'd be surprised," Katara replied. Her eyes were serious, more serious-looking than a young girl's eyes should be, Zuko thought. "Aang has a lot inside of him that he's barely tapped into yet, but from what I've seen ... " She shuddered slightly. "I wouldn't underestimate him, that's all."

"I don't," Zuko said, rising to his feet. He stared out over the now-dark sky. "I just have my doubts."

"I guess we all do, just about different things," she replied, pulling her knees up and resting her chin on her folded arms. "But we can't give into those. We're not going to get a second chance. No one is."

"Easier said than done." Politely, Zuko put his hands together and formally bowed. "Good evening, Waterbender. May you wake in good health, with no sword above you."

Katara gave him a strange look. "That has to be a Fire Nation saying."

"It is," Zuko replied, walking away. "A wise one too."

She shook her head, turning back to the water. "I think I'll just say good-night, Prince Zuko. Sleep tight."

Sleep tight, indeed, he thought, looking around the crowded campfire where most of the group was already out cold, snuggled in their sleep bags. He wondered if he'd sleep at all, but once settled in beside his snoring uncle, Zuko felt an odd peace overcome him. He stared up at the twinkling stars, taking a moment to count them as he once did with his mother, until they melded into an endless quilt of light ... then darkness, as dreams took over and for the first time in a long time, they were blissfully blank, filled only with calm and darkness.

It was best sleep he'd get for quite a while to come.


the end?

Now I'm not sure. There might be more. Anyway, I appreciate the reviews and would love to hear anything you might have to say. Thanks for reading!
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