Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Rescue Me

Paths to Destiny

by hootowl 0 reviews

Recognizable quotes from "Crossroads of Destiny"

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: G - Genres: Drama,Romance - Characters: Aang,Katara,Sokka,Zuko - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2014-07-12 - 6248 words

0Unrated
Katara immediately stepped away from Zuko, avoiding the knowing look Iroh was giving her. Whatever the older firebender was thinking, she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of believing he was right. Zuko made some sputtering choking noise when his uncle’s attention shifted to him, but Katara kept her focus on the small girl at Iroh’s side. The girl seemed to realize she was under scrutiny because her gaze shifted from down the corridor to a spot just to Katara’s left. “Sorry to break up the moment, Sweetness.”

Katara wasn’t sure if she was more surprised by the comment or the cheeky grin that followed it, but she didn’t have time to decide before Zuko regained control of his voice enough to sputter, “It wasn’t a moment!”

A sardonic eyebrow rose above milky green eyes. “What would you call it then, Sparky?”

Zuko looked momentarily taken aback by the appellation. “We were settling our differences.”

A heavy silence followed and a slow smirk appeared on the girl’s face at the same time a look of horror crossed Zuko’s. Fortunately, Iroh cleared his throat and spoke before the situation could get out of hand, “Always a worthy endeavor; to settle one’s differences.”

Katara could feel her ears burning and she nearly rejoiced when the ground rumbled beneath their feet. The Spirits had mercy on her at last! Her attention diverted, Toph frowned. “That would definitely be our cue, Old Man.”

“Lead the way, Miss Toph.”

Toph scrambled over the fallen stones with more dexterity than Katara thought possible and the others moved to follow. The corridor was surprisingly empty and devoid of any identifying markings. She wondered of there were other prisoners behind the smooth stone walls. “Shouldn’t we find the Earth King?”

“No time, Sweetums,” Toph called back.

“But—”

“I’m afraid Miss Toph is correct, Miss Katara,” Iroh interjected.

At her look of dismay, he smiled. “Don’t worry so. He’s in no immediate danger. The Fire Lord is more concerned with matters closer to home at the present.”

His eyes darted toward Zuko and Katara felt her breath catch as she understood his meaning. Her lips thinned and her eyes narrowed. So that’s the lay of the land. Well, she wasn’t about to let that happen. The ground shuddered again and Toph called for them to hurry. Toph led them through a twisting maze of stairs and corridors, seemingly turning corners at random.
“Where are we going?”

Katara thought the question was a sound one. It hadn’t taken this long for the Dai Li to toss them into that inescapable cavern so she didn’t think an escape would involve so many turns. Toph took another corner, answering in a distracted manner, “Aang is providing a diversion. Now we need to even the odds.”

The rumbling of earth and the sounds of fighting were even closer now. Katara thought she could even hear the burst and hiss of fire. They were about to throw themselves into an unknown battle. Katara’s heart was in her throat, her breath coming in sharp, painful pants. She took comfort in Zuko’s presence beside her, his face set in grim lines of determination. They burst into an open cavern, quickly surveying the battlegrounds. Zuko was moving before she could even determine the position of the combatants. He launched himself at his sister, tackling her from behind and taking her by surprise. Their sudden entrance into battle pulled the others up short and cries of “Zuko!” and “Katara!” reverberated around the cavern.

The scuffle between Zuko and Azula was swift and vicious, but Azula managed to kick her brother away and roll to her feet while Zuko looked a little worse for wear, stumbling upright and clearly hiding a wince. Azula sneered at her brother, wiping blood from her split lip. “I expected this kind of treachery from Uncle, but Zuko—Prince Zuko—you’re a lot of things, but you’re not a traitor, are you? It’s not too late, you can still redeem yourself.”

Zuko flinched as if she’d struck him and, for an instant, Katara saw guilt and shame flash across his face. No. She would not let Zuko doubt himself. Not after everything. She knew he was stronger than he thought. The surprise their sudden appearance had created was fading fast and the Dai Li agents moved to continue their attack. Katara dodged an earthcuff, knocking another out of the air with a quick slice of water. Ignoring the brother she hadn’t seen in nearly six months, she started forward, calling, “Zuko!”

Iroh, it seemed, had also seen the conflict and called out, “The kind of redemption she offers is not for you.”

The Dai Li seemed content to ignore the two firebenders and the battle intensified. Katara had to turn to meet an attack, defending herself and trying desperately to incapacitate the attackers. Sokka, she noticed vaguely, was wielding both a sword and his boomerang.
A sneer moved across Azula’s sharp features though she kept a close eye on her brother. “Why don’t you let him decide, Uncle. I need you, Zuko. I’ve plotted every move of this day—this glorious day in Fire Nation history. And the only way we win is together. At the end of this day, you will have your honor back. You will have your father’s love. You will have everything you want.”

So far Zuko hadn’t moved to attack or accept his sister’s offer. Katara could sense his indecision. She knew Azula offered him the deepest desires of his heart and his resolve was wavering. Katara could feel tears of panic rising as she fought to reach his side, gasping, “Zuko, please—”

“Quiet, slave!” Azula snarled, shooting her with a blast of white-hot fire.

Katara ducked with an undignified yelp, but the action seemed to startled Zuko out of his frozen, uncertain state and he attacked with a furious roar. Katara looked up just in time to see a boulder slam into a Dai Li agent that stood over her. The agent dropped like a stone and lay unmoving. Katara scrambled to her feet, gathering water around her in a defensive shield. The chaos of battle raged around her and she delved into the fray.

“Hey, Twinkletoes! Now would be a good time to make our escape.”

She didn’t have time to wonder at the name as it took all her concentration to deflect the attacks of the Dai Li agents. She’d never used her bending in a fight and was finding herself overwhelmed and growing desperate. In the middle of all the chaos, it was easy to spot the one figure that remained still. Especially when that figure was beginning to glow. Azula landed a kick to Zuko’s chest that sent him rolling and gasping for air.

“You chose the wrong side, brother,” she spat the relation like it was a curse.

Wind picked up in the cavern and Azula turned, eyes narrowing on the glowing Avatar. Zuko regained his feet, clutching at his ribs. Aang’s eyes snapped open and Azula moved. Zuko gasped a faint, “No!”

It was enough to draw Katara’s attention and she felt her heart skip a beat. She recognized those rapid movements even if the static that danced across her skin and made her hair stand on end wasn’t enough to remind her. She moved without thought, instincts taking over in an adrenaline rush like she’d never experienced. All the water in the cavern rushed to meet her call, leaping at her command just as the lightning jumped from Azula’s fingertips. Water met lightning in an explosion that knocked Azula off her feet and Aang out of the air. The young airbender hit the ground and remained still, but Azula was already recovering. Zuko moved to intercept his sister despite the obvious pain he was feeling, but Katara was already on the other girl. The fight was fast and furious, Katara pulling more and more water from the floor of the cavern. She could feel her muscles burn and her limbs tremble.

She stumbled and Zuko intercepted a wave of fire that would’ve finished her. Katara could tell Zuko wasn’t going to last much longer, his face was pale and his breath was coming in shallow gasps. Across the cavern, Sokka slid to Aang’s side under the cover of Toph’s defense. He fumbled among the folds of Aang’s robes before pulling out a small, white object. He put it to his lips and blew hard, twice. Zuko was blocking his sister’s attacks as best he could and Katara could tell he was tiring. There was a rumbling, a crash of rocks hitting the cavern floor, and then—

“Appa!”

Sokka’s shout gave her some relief. Gathering her remaining energy, she darted around Zuko and somehow landed a punch to Azula’s face. The firebender stumbled back in surprise but Katara was already freezing the water around her. She turned, seizing Zuko’s wrist and ignoring his gasp. “Katara! That was my sister—”

Iroh scooped up the limp form of Aang and Katara could see Sokka and Toph scrambling up Appa’s sides. She dragged Zuko behind her, interrupting his astonished exclamation and nearly crying, “Who was about to kill you and everyone else I love!”

They managed to reach Appa before Azula broke through the ice. Sokka was stumbling across the saddle, grabbing for the reins. Toph made a sharp pushing motion with her hands, shouting, “Go, Sokka!”

Appa leapt into the air before Sokka could even give the command to fly. The cavern ceiling was rapidly approaching and the next moment it exploded outward, allowing the bison through into the evening sky. Fire and lightning followed them along with Azula’s enraged scream. They watched with a sense of disbelief as the city of Ba Sing Se receded behind them. Beside her, Zuko fell back against the saddle with a faint groan and Iroh carefully laid Aang down, calling, “Miss Katara, perhaps you should make sure the young Avatar is all right.”

Katara was relieved that the young airbender was breathing and a scan of his internal injuries didn’t reveal anything worrying. The Avatar would wake shortly. That concern out of the way, she moved to Zuko’s side, pushing away his hands when he tried to keep her from pulling at his robes. He finally submitted to her prodding, grumbling and flinching away when she pressed too hard. He could feel the bruises, she didn’t have to touch them. Finally, she sat back with a sigh, brushing hair out of her face. “You have a few cracked ribs. It’d probably be better if you lie down. I won’t be able to stabilize them until we land.”

Zuko grunted, grudgingly accepting her help to recline in the saddle. A benefit of lying down was that he was now out of the wind. She fussed a bit with his clothing before subsiding and staring out at the horizon. “Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about Jet any more.”
Zuko snorted. He almost rather have to deal with Jet than face his sister in combat. Jet was so much easier to handle and the Freedom Fighter was unlikely to land any serious blows. Zuko threw an arm over his eyes, trying to relax and ignore the sharp twinges that stabbed across his ribs. They were lucky to be alive and relatively uninjured. Several minutes passed in silence until they heard Sokka groan from his place behind Appa’s head. “Great. Now we’re stuck with the angry jerk.”

Katara sat back on her heels, sending her brother a warning look he didn’t see. “Sokka.”
He lifted a hand in a careless wave to show that he’d heard her and she could only roll her eyes. It appeared some things didn’t change.

.........

Appa landed in a small forest clearing well away from any significant towns or villages. As far as Katara could tell, they were still in the Earth Kingdom. It still amazed her just how large the Earth Kingdom was. She knew it was easily twice the size of the Water Tribes combined and she didn’t see the Fire Nation before she was imprisoned on the Prison Rig so she couldn’t compare. She wanted to ask Zuko, but one glance as his pinched features and she knew he wasn’t in any mood to answer questions. The sun had sunk below the horizon hours ago and Sokka slid off Appa mumbling something about making camp and hunting. Katara watched him disappear into the forest. So far he hadn’t even looked at her and, other than the acknowledging wave she’d received from her warning, he seemed determined to ignore her. Her imaginings of their reunion had fallen flat. She didn’t even know she’d released a sad sigh until Toph spoke up, “He is really torn up about something. Both of them, actually. Been that way since I joined this camping trip.” She turned startling blank green eyes on her. “Twinkletoes mumbled something about a failed prison break then clammed up right after that.”

Katara shuddered. She tried not to think about those days. They still plagued her sleep with inhuman screams and dark, cramped cells. She turned to check Aang, hoping the small earthbender didn’t notice her discomfort. “Yes. We got separated for a time.”

Toph shrugged and then pulled herself over the saddle, calling, “Come along, Pops, put yourself to use and build us a fire.”

Iroh followed her, smiling indulgently and Katara was left alone in the saddle with an unconscious Aang and a silent firebender. Katara checked over Aang once more, satisfied that she hadn’t missed anything the first time due to fatigue and adrenaline. Knowing there was nothing else she could do for Aang, she turned her attention to Zuko. He didn’t seem to notice her scoot closer to him and she touched his shoulder, keeping her voice low, “Zuko?”

His eyes opened and he looked up at her as she leaned over him. She absently brushed shaggy hair back from his forehead, asking softly, “How do you feel?”

He sighed quietly, his hand lifting to gingerly touch his ribs. “Everything feels worse.”

Katara nodded. That was expected now that there was nothing else to focus on. She checked a few things, ignoring his pained hiss when she prodded a sore spot, then sat back on her heels. “I don’t think it’d be a good idea to try to get you to the ground. I think one of your ribs is actually broken and I wouldn’t want you to puncture a lung.”

Zuko grunted. “Don’t think I could get up anyway. The world’s spinning enough as it is.”

A frown pulled at her lips as she looked down at him. He’d closed his eyes, his brow furrowed. He’d never mentioned he was in that much pain. There was not a lot she could do to relieve him of it either until she found water. Her healing abilities were limited when all she had to work with was the body’s natural water supply. She could only pull so much before dangerous situations arose. She carded her hand through Zuko’s hair one last time and then rose to rifle through the supply packs in the saddle. A single, half full waterskin was the only thing she found of use and she scowled at it. They would have to find several more as soon as they got the chance. She slung it over her shoulder just as Toph called out, “Hey, Fussy Britches, toss down that bag you were snooping through as well as the sleeping rolls.”

Katara tossed the packs and rolls down to the other girl, following them down. Iroh managed a cheerful fire and seemed lost in thought as he fed the flames. He looked up when she approached, his expression expectant. She could only shrug self-consciously and tug at the waterskin. “Aang should be waking up soon so someone should be with him. Zuko needs some healing and I need some water. He shouldn’t move from the saddle for now.”

Toph dumped some of the sleeping rolls next to the fire and collapsed on top of them, lifting a hand and pointed toward the forest. “There’s a stream that way.”

Katara looked at her oddly. “How do you know?”

Toph wiggled her toes, smirking. “I can hear it, Sweetness.”

Katara strained her ears, but all she heard was the crackle of the fire and the sound of night insects. She hesitated, but eventually decided that Toph’s direction was as good as any other, so she started into the dark trees, making sure she kept track of her surroundings so she could find her way back.

The stream was closer than she expected and she drew to a halt, scanning the surroundings warily. Not sensing any one in the near vicinity, she knelt at the stream’s edge and emptied the old water before streaming up fresh water and removing the dirt. She just finished filling the waterskin when a branch snapped behind her and she froze, straining her ears. A quiet shuffle of leaves and she spun, water flying to defend her. She just caught sight of Water Tribe blue and heard a startled, “Katara!” before she managed to pull the attack. Annoyed, she rose to her feet and capped the waterskin, demanding, “Why are you sneaking up on me like that? I could have hurt you!”

Water dripped from Sokka’s hair and clothing and he lifted an equally drenched jackalope, staring at it mournfully before he let it fall back to his side. He turned to look at her and she felt her breath catch at his expression. “You learned to waterbend?”

She grimaced. He must’ve seen real waterbending at some point since he was able to realize she’d actually performed an attack instead of an accidental drenching like she had so many times in the past. She cleared her throat, quickly drawing the water away from her brother so he didn’t catch cold in the late spring air. “Yes.”

“I,” he paused, swallowing thickly. “Katara, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left you behind. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough. I’m sorry I didn’t come back.” The words spilled out of him in a rush and she stared in shock as tears shone on his cheeks. “I thought you died. We heard, later, that there was an explosion—”

He choked on his words and fell silent, hurriedly brushing away tears that had broken free from his restraint. Katara closed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around her older brother and squeezing tight. He gasped and a soft thump told her he’d dropped the jackalope. A moment later his arms wrapped around her and his face dropped to her shoulder. She could still hear his faint, muffled words, repeating over and over, “I’m sorry.”

She couldn’t stop her own tears. She’d missed her brother and only the thought that Aang was still around kept her from assuming the worst. Still, she’d missed him. She’d felt so alone for the longest time. Eventually, Sokka seemed to regain control of his emotions and loosened his desperate hold on her, stepping back and looking critically at her. “Your hair…”

He touched the ends of her hair, frowning slightly. It had grown just past her shoulders now, but it was still shorter than Sokka had ever seen it. Katara knew it wasn’t her hair he was reacting to, it was just the easiest thing to comment on while he worked up the courage to ask about others. He stared at her hair though his eyes were distant as he recalled memories, murmuring, “Dad was furious with me. He still is. I—He—”

He cut himself off with a sharp shake of his head. Whatever it was, Sokka didn’t appear willing to say. She hoped their father hadn’t done the worst. She smiled, her hands tightening on Sokka’s arms. “I’m fine. I’m safe.”

His expression was doubtful, but he bent to pick up the fallen jackalope though he made no move to head back to camp. “How?”

Katara grinned, looping her arm through his and nudging him in the direction of the campsite. She needed to at least relieve Zuko of some pain soon before he turned into an intolerable grouch. “Well, around mid-winter I was sold as a slave girl—”

“What!”

The horrified, stunned explosion was predictable and she quickly stifled the laugh that threatened to escape. Again, the jackalope hid the ground with a thud as Sokka grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her to face him, shaking her and demanding, “Who?”

“That should be obvious, Sokka.”

Her brother froze, his expression darkening. “I’ll kill him.”

He jerked away from her, hand reaching for the hilt that rose over his right shoulder that she hadn’t noticed before then. He turned sharply on his heel, marching back toward camp with murderous intent. Katara scooped up the fallen jackalope, rushing after her brother. She caught him by the arm, forcing him to a stop, saying, “It’s not what you think.” His incredulous look made her blush and she amended, “Well, not really. It’s okay now. I promise.”

He sighed, tugging at his hair and still looking like he’d prefer to settle his emotions through violence. “Are you still…you know.”

He took the jackalope back and now, with nothing in her hands, Katara fiddled with the ring around her thumb. Sokka’s eyes observed the movement but the dark concealed the details. Katara shrugged, glancing toward the camp and nervously chewing her lip. “Oh, no—well, not really. It’s complicated.”

“So which is it: the angry, pony-tail jerk—”

“He doesn’t have a pony-tail any more, Sokka.”

“—or the old guy?”

Katara met her brother’s gaze, waiting until she was satisfied he wasn’t going to go haring off to defend her honor. “I met Zuko again in mid-winter. He…purchased me in the markets, gave me clothes, then told me to scram. I didn’t know where I was, Sokka. I didn’t know where you were. I decided my best chances of survival were with Zuko so I stayed.”

She grinned at him. “I learned waterbending in the Foggy Swamp. It was also the first time I’d heard about you and Aang.”

“Zuko let you learn waterbending.”

“Yes. And master it.”

She let that bit of news sink in before continuing, “He’s really not that bad.” She ignored his snort of disbelief. “Has Aang learned firebending yet?”

“No,” Sokka said slowly, “he’s still getting the hang of earthbending. Firebenders willing to help the Avatar are in short supply.”

Katara nodded sharply, not the least bit surprised. “Zuko will teach Aang firebending. Once I can get him back on his feet.”

Sokka looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. “The guy chased us all over the world! What makes you think he’s going to teach the Avatar to firebend?”

“Just give him a chance. Please?”

For a moment, Katara thought he would refuse. Many times before, he ranted about the evilness of firebenders. His jaw tightened and his fists tensed. He looked away, through the trees toward camp, his brow deeply furrowed. She was not used to this thoughtful consideration. When he turned back to her, he appeared to have come to some kind of conclusion. “Fine. But just so you know, I don’t trust him. I’m keeping my eye on him. You can tell him that.”

Together, they continued their way back to the others. Katara knew Zuko, at least, would be growing anxious for her return. She’d taken longer than she expected and the firebender wasn’t the most patient individual. Just before stepping past the ring of trees, Sokka caught her hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “I’m glad you’re back with us. I’m glad you’re safe.”

She returned the squeeze, smiling up at him. “I am, too. I missed you.”

He gave her a stoic nod and her hand a final squeeze before releasing her and heading toward the campfire. Toph greeted him lazily and Sokka handed off a small bag he’d had tied to his belt.
Katara climbed back into Appa’s saddle. Aang was now curled on his side, snoring blissfully in sleep. She felt the half-lidded watchfulness of Zuko as she knelt at his side, pulling her waterskin loose. Katara uncapped the waterskin just as Zuko murmured, “The Avatar was anxious for your return.”

She glanced back at Aang, noting that he hadn’t moved since her return, and turned back to Zuko. She knew that Aang wasn’t he only one anxious during her absence. Drawing out a stream of water and gloving her hand, she made sure to keep her voice low so as not to wake the other boy, “I ran into my brother.”

His eyes followed her hand and he hissed a little as the cool water touched his skin. He let her work a moment in silence before asking, “He didn’t—Are you…all right?”

“I’m fine,” she assured him. “We talked. I told him you would teach Aang firebending.”

“He’s okay with that?”

She didn’t blame him for sounding surprised. “He knows Aang needs to learn firebending and he says he’s keeping an eye on you.” She paused when Zuko made a sound that suspiciously sounded like amusement before she finished with a wink. “Besides, friendly firebenders aren’t exactly thick on the ground nowadays.”

Zuko grunted and fell silent. Katara continued to work quietly, half aware of the low conversation around the campfire. Zuko’s breathing gradually evened and deepened as he fell asleep. Pain was exhausting and she didn’t blame him. Grinning, she capped her waterskin and let the firebender rest. She tossed what looked like her brother’s parka over Aang, checked that Zuko was resting peacefully, then crawled out of the saddle. Iroh looked up when she approached the fire. “How is he?”

She took the small bowl he handed her, her mouth watering at the scent of roasted jackalope. She tucked her legs under her, smiling reassuringly at Iroh. “They’re both fine. Aang’s sleeping and, other than a few bruises and a knock to the head, he’ll be back to himself by tomorrow. Zuko had several bruised or broken ribs and some internal bleeding. I’ve repaired what I can, but he’ll have to take it easy for a few days. Bones are difficult to mend.”

Iroh nodded gravely. “Princess Azula was always ruthless.”

Princess,” Sokka scoffed, startled. “Does that mean…”

He trailed off, looking between Iroh and Appa. Iroh tucked his hands into his sleeves. “Yes. My niece and nephew have always had a strained relationship. I’m afraid Azula has only grown more like her father in the years since the disappearance of Lady Ursa and Zuko’s banishment.”

Sokka turned a suspicious gaze on his sister. “You think Fire Nation royalty is going to teach Aang firebending?”

Katara’s chin lifted. “Yes.”

Toph interrupted whatever indignant thing Sokka was about to say with a not so subtle kick at the boy’s knee, drawling, “I don’t see why not. I’d think Sparky’d know how his own father would think.”

Sokka still looked mutinous and he narrowed a glare on the earthbender that the girl appeared not to notice. Iroh cleared his throat. “I ask you to give my nephew a chance. He has not had it easy.”

Sokka’s disgruntled expression didn’t change, but he eventually crossed his arms and huffed. “Fine. Don’t expect me to like him.”

“You might find you actually like him, Sokka,” Katara tried.

“Not likely,” he grunted, rolling himself in his sleeping roll and ignoring them.
Katara gave Iroh an apologetic smile, but the older firebender waved it off and gathered the used bowls. He paused as he headed toward the nearby stream, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Give him time, Miss Katara. I wouldn’t expect our welcome to be a warm one.”

.........

Katara woke to the sound of arguing. She groaned, rolling over in her sleeping roll to see what, exactly, the problem was. To her surprise, it appeared that the argument was between Zuko and Iroh instead of any of the other three like she was expecting. She sat up, glancing for the others. Sokka was sprawled across his own sleeping roll, dead to the world. Toph had built her own tent like structure and there appeared to be no movement from her quarter. Katara covered a wide yawn, pushing back the light blanket she’d been wrapped in and blearily climbed to her feet. Neither of the firebenders noticed her approach until she spoke, “What is going on so early in the morning?”

Zuko scowled, folding his arms and grumbling, “It’s not that early.”

She ignored his surly attitude, eying the bruising she could see beneath the gapping of his tunic. Iroh wished her a cheerful good morning, explaining, “I have decided to let Zuko train the Avatar on his own. There are other matters I must attend to now that the war is coming to its culmination.”

“You can’t just abandon us!”

Iroh’s face softened even though Katara caught a flash of pain beneath his smile. “Oh, Zuko. I’m not abandoning you.”

Zuko refused to say anything further and Katara stepped forward, offering the older man a parting hug. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”

Iroh returned the hug. “Oh, yes. I am gathering a bunch of old friends.”

“We don’t need your old friends,” Zuko grumbled mulishly.

“A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring.”

Zuko and Katara merely stared at him until Iroh clasped his hands together, saying, “Well, I should be off. Good luck, Zuko. I’m proud of you.”

Zuko shifted awkwardly, glancing at Katara out of the corner of his eye. She took the hint, waving farewell, and heading back to stir the campfire’s embers back to life. A grinding of stone announced the appearance of Toph. The earthbender grumbled a good morning which Katara returned, getting her first good look at the younger girl. Toph seemed to sense her appraisal, because she flopped onto the ground by the fire and stated, “I can still tell you’re staring, Sweetness.”

Toph’s milky, pale green eyes stared through her and Katara immediately looked away. “Sorry. I didn’t know you were—I’m sorry.”

Toph tugged at her wild hair, shrugging absently. “I’m pretty much over being blind. Don’t remember ever being able to see anyway. Aang’s awake.”

True to her words, the young airbender arrived in a gust of wind, throwing thin arms around Katara and exclaiming, “You’re back!”

Katara gasped as it felt like the air was squeezed out of her lungs with Aang’s enthusiasm. “Good morning.”

Aang beamed widely up at her, gray eyes shining brightly. Katara disentangled herself from the boy, patting him gently on the shoulder. Suddenly, Aang pushed her aside, yelling, “Run! It’s Zuko!”

Katara stumbled, catching at Aang’s arm, trying to prevent him from bending. “Don’t! Zuko!”

Sokka scrambled out of his sleeping roll with a disjointed yell. Toph was on her feet, punching her hands out and up. A wall sprang up, intercepting the blast of air and redirecting it back. Sokka fell back with another shout and Katara went tumbling when the rush of air knocked her off her feet. Only Toph and Aang remained standing. Aang turned astonished eyes on Toph, but the earthbender remained unmoved, keeping her wall up around Zuko. Katara hurried to her feet, trying to catch her breath after having the wind knocked out of her. “Aang! Stop! Aang, it’s okay.”

Aang stared at her in surprise. Katara caught his hand, her eyes searching his face. “Do you remember anything from last night?”

Wide, gray eyes darted from Katara to the solid wall surrounding the firebender. “Um…It’s kind of fuzzy.”

Katara sighed. There wasn’t much she could do about that and she could only hope further attacks on Zuko could be prevented. She gave Aang’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Zuko’s going to teach you firebending.”

Sokka was untangling himself up from his twisted bedroll, grumbling, “Yeah. It’s a super idea. Worked out real well so far.”

“Zuko’s going to teach me?”

She could hear the doubt and disbelief in his voice, but her attention had already shifted. Zuko hadn’t made a sound since the initial blast of air had knocked everyone off their feet and his silence was worrying her. Toph was frowning slightly. “You may want to check on Sparky.”

Katara grabbed the waterskin she dropped and Toph lowered the wall. At some point, Zuko had also been knocked to the ground and once the wall was down Katara was able to see Zuko roll onto his stomach with a groan. Katara hurried to his side, ignoring Sokka’s, “Great, you broke our firebender.”

Aang was immediately contrite. “I’m sorry! I thought—well, he’s never wanted to help before.”

Katara let the conversation drift on its own as she check the injuries she’d healed the night before. She was relieved to find that the tumble hadn’t undone much of her work and she sighed, capping her waterskin. “You really should take it easy for a bit.”

“I’ll be sure to tell that to the Avatar next time he decides to blast me,” Zuko said dryly.

Katara took his elbow and helped him back to his feet, ignoring his sulky expression. Aang cautiously approached, eyes wide and uncertain. Zuko put a hand to his ribs, unsuccessfully hiding a wince. Aang’s expression fell, immediately stammering, “I’m sorry.”

Zuko merely stared at the young airbender, but Katara offered an understanding smile. “It’s okay, Aang. Zuko just needs some time to recover from yesterday.”

Aang nodded solemnly. “You’re really going to teach me firebending?”

“Yes,” Zuko said shortly, pointedly ignoring Katara’s admonishing look at his short answer.
Aang took Zuko’s attitude in stride, suddenly looking excited. “And I can teach you waterbending, Katara!”

“Katara’s already a waterbending master,” Zuko grumbled irritably.

The words were enough to silence Sokka’s morning grouching and take Aang by surprise. Sokka spoke up from his spot by the fire, “I can’t believe you’re a waterbending master.”

Katara flushed with pride. “I learned from Huu in the Foggy Swamp.”

“I bet Huu was a lot nicer than Master Pakku,” Aang said enviously. “Master Pakku was angry about everything when we first arrived. He and Sokka—”

“Whoa!” Sokka interrupted hurriedly. “They don’t need to hear about that!”

Sokka avoided Katara’s curious look, busying himself with stirring the embers of their campfire back to life. Aang grinned widely, but obliged the other boy’s protest and turned back to Katara. “I can show you some really cool moves. Maybe Huu showed you something Master Pakku didn’t show me.”

Toph snorted, folding her arms across her chest. “Hey, Twinkletoes, before you start showing off you need to finish learning earthbending.”

Sokka managed to coax the fire back to life by the time everyone settled down around the fire pit and was pulling out various rations. Katara hung back, feeling useless as Sokka swiftly moved through what was apparently a morning routine. A small skillet was swiftly placed on the glowing embers near the fire and a handful of mushroom thrown in along with a few leafy things and a root that made Katara’s eyes burn. Sokka pulled out a carefully wrapped package, folding back a flap and handing out a few pieces of jerky to everyone except Aang. “Time for breakfast! We might have to go foraging, Aang. There’s not much here for you. Where’s the old guy?”

To her surprise, Zuko responded, “He’s gathering friends.”

“So,” Sokka said slowly, “does that mean we should sleep with one eye open?”

Zuko flushed angrily. “Uncle’s not like that!”

Katara frowned at her brother even as she put a soothing hand on Zuko’s arm. Sokka immediately held up his hands. “Didn’t mean it like that. Don’t get your tunic in a knot.”

Breakfast was finished peacefully and Katara volunteered to wash the dishes. Toph dragged Aang off to practice his earthbending while Sokka cleared camp. Sokka declared he’d feel better if they didn’t stay in one place for very long and, to his surprise, Zuko agreed.
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