Chapter X: The Vision Revisited
Aang sighed, his arms crossed as he leaned against Appa. The giant bison mimicked the sound, only he was likely doing so out of lazy contentment as opposed to Aang's nerves.
The airbender was already back at their meeting spot. Having been raised as a monk, he wasn't really the type to go on spending sprees, being more detached from worldly possessions than most. Not only that, but he found himself in one of his rare bouts of depression, which put him in less of a mood to spoil himself with the money he'd been given.
Katara and Sokka would say he was being silly. They'd tell him not to let it get to him, and to lighten up and have fun, respectively.
But they hadn't seen what he had.
His head dipped as he thought back to the group's conversation regarding Zuko's lightning bending.
"Uncle invented lightning redirection himself…"
He hadn't thought much of it then, despite the nagging itch in the back of his mind. Perhaps it had been his intrigue in the discussion about different bending styles, or the hope that blossomed in him as a result of people of all elements sitting in a circle and civilly talking about their bending. But after the group had split up, it had fully sunk in.
"There was fire everywhere, and Fire Lord Ozai did this weird lightning trick, but Zuko just threw it back."
He hadn't given much thought to his vision in the swamp in a while...either of them. And of course, Katara and Sokka hadn't noticed the similarities between the vision and reality. How could they? They hadn't seen it. Sometimes he hated being the Avatar. Was this his burden to bear alone?
"I think I was gone…"
He gritted his teeth. The more time passed, the more realistic his vision in the swamp became. His first had already come true—Toph had become his earthbending teacher. That only leant more credibility to the second. Him gone, Zuko leading the group, everyone taking on his role to fight the Fire Lord, and slowly losing ground…
It could happen.
Toph metalbending to combat the Fire Lord's army.
"Have you ever tried bending metal?"
Zuko redirecting lightning against Ozai.
"It can be redirected too?"
The eerie similarities in his firebending, both in the vision and in reality.
"Fire is life."
It could really happen.
Was it a warning? Could it be avoided? Or was it destined to occur?
No, I can't think like that. There's no way I'll let it turn out that way!
The airbender's head snapped upwards at the familiar voice, and his eyes widened.
"Suki…?" he asked numbly. The girl ran up to him and wrapped her arms around him.
"It's so good to see you!" the Kyoshi Warrior said.
"Yeah," Aang absently replied, when all he could think was check one more off the list of things that stupid vision got right.
"Aang, there's something I need to ask you," Suki said, looking nervous.
"What is it?" Aang asked, before he caught sight of the person following leisurely behind Suki.
"Zuko!" he said, relief heavy in his voice. He really needed to talk to someone about his vision, and the firebender would probably give an unbiased opinion.
His relief caught Suki's notice though, and the girl stared, stunned. "So it's true? You two are allies now?"
"Huh? Oh! Yeah, we're friends now. Heh," Aang responded, before he remembered what happened on Kyoshi Island and paled.
"Um, not that you—"
"It's fine, Aang," Suki said, as if reading his mind. "I haven't forgiven him, but if you trust him, then that's enough for now. I would like to know when this happened though."
Aang exhaled, visibly relieved, and began explaining the incident at the North Pole, along with their escape from Azula.
Zuko wasn't listening though. He felt like he'd taken one of Azula's fire enhanced blows to the gut. He knew that the last time Suki had seen him he'd made a terrible impression. He knew that to earn her forgiveness the first time he'd put his life on the line to help her win her freedom from the Boiling Rock. He knew that she wouldn't forgive him the moment he switched sides this time, because when was it ever that easy?
He knew that. But it still hurt.
Because the last time he'd seen her, they'd been comrades, fighting for a common cause, trusting each other implicitly to have the other's back. He'd been prepared for that to change when he'd come back, been prepared to earn everyone's trust again.
But when it came down to it, he was just so tired of having to prove himself to people that he'd already fought and bled for. He knew it wasn't fair to think that way, because they didn't know. But it was still maddening.
"Zuko, are you ok?" Aang asked, brow furrowed.
Zuko tried not to let his sadness show. This wasn't the time or the place. He took a deep breath, pointedly ignoring the way it shuddered, and the puzzled look Suki was giving him.
"I'm fine, Aang." His voice sounded stronger than he felt, so there was that.
"If you're sure," Aang said, before taking another breath. "Zuko, I need your advice on something."
The firebender blinked. "Ok, sure. What's on your mind?"
Before Aang could ask, a voice interrupted them.
"Hey everyone, we're back!"
The group turned to find Sokka, Katara, Toph, and Iroh heading towards them. Sokka was carrying a pack full of what was sure to be useless junk, while Toph carried food and Iroh helped Katara carry some much needed supplies, along with a brand new Pai Sho set and something Zuko wished he'd never see again.
"Uncle, you bought another Tsungi horn?"
The old man grinned unashamedly. "Well the old one was abandoned along with our ship, so there was little choice, nephew!"
Before Zuko could refute that, Suki dashed forward.
"Sokka!" she shouted, before wrapping her arms around the Water Tribe boy and nearly knocking him off balance. At first Sokka looked confused, but then realization slowly dawned on his face.
"Suki! When did you get here?"
The girl backed up and grinned. "I've been helping refugees on their way to Ba Sing Se. I was actually going to travel to Full Moon Bay pretty soon."
"Ba Sing Se huh?" Sokka said, rubbing his chin. "We haven't been there yet. So you ran into Aang here I guess?"
"Well, actually I ran into Prince Zuko."
Sokka winced, looking back and forth between the two. "And...how'd that go?"
"Perfectly," Zuko said with a snort, before turning back to Aang. "You said you had a question for me?"
Aang took a deep breath and nodded.
"Before you helped us against Azula, I had a vision in giant, spiritual swamp."
Katara and Sokka both sucked in deep breaths, and Aang could only conclude that they had indeed forgotten.
Zuko looked like he didn't want to ask. "Are we talking an Avatar vision, or an I'm so high on swamp juice I'm seeing things vision?"
"As much as I wish it was option two…" Aang's shoulders slumped. "It's the first one. It was real, I just know it was."
"What made you remember it now of all times?" Zuko asked.
"Well, that's the thing. You kind of said some things that mirrored something I saw in my vision."
"That you can redirect lightning. And that maybe Toph could learn to metalbend."
Zuko's eyes widened. "So...your vision…"
"I saw you, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Suki fighting the Fire Lord. You redirected his lightning, and Toph used metalbending to fight his soldiers."
Toph whistled in appreciation. "So I guess metalbending is possible then. I should really get on that."
Suki looked concerned. "Wait, you said all of us were there? What about you?"
Aang's gaze dropped to the floor, and he didn't answer.
"You were gone." Zuko said, eliciting a feeble nod from the airbender, and a gasp from Suki. Sokka and Katara both grimaced.
"Zuko, I don't know want to do! Do you think this vision is of the future?"
Zuko, to his credit, didn't take long to answer. "If you're asking if I think this will come to pass, then my answer would be no," he replied. Which was the truth. What Aang had seen wasn't going to happen, because it already had. He didn't know how Aang could have seen a vision of an alternate future, but then, he didn't understand much of anything spiritual to begin with.
"But...what could it have meant then? Why would I have a vision like that?"
"If I may," Iroh interjected. "I have some limited experience with the Spirit World, and I must point out that visions such as those are not always so cut and dry."
Aang looked surprised. "Have you had visions like that one, Iroh?"
"Indeed I have. Did you all know that I used to be a Fire Nation General?"
Aang blinked, before shaking his head along with Sokka and Katara.
Toph raised her hand. "I did," she said.
"You did?" Sokka asked.
"Hard not to, if you live in the Earth Kingdom," Toph said. "General Iroh, otherwise known as the Dragon of the West. Lead a 600 day siege on the walls of Ba Sing Se back in the day. We won that battle, but just barely."
"Indeed," Iroh said, a faraway look coming into his eyes as Aang, Sokka, and Katara all gaped at him. "But what the history books did not tell you is why I initiated that battle to begin with. When I was a boy, I had a vision that I would one day conquer Ba Sing Se in the name of the Fire Nation." He looked Aang in the eye. "Needless to say, destiny did not favor that outcome, and seeing as I have no plans of ever attempting it again...you see my point."
"That...makes me feel a bit better," Aang admitted. "But still, it just felt so...urgent. Like someone or something was trying to get a message across."
"Then maybe that's exactly what you should view it as," Zuko said. "A warning."
"You think so?"
"Definitely. Whether or not it comes to pass, all you can really do is try to prevent it. So don't think of it as something that will happen, but as something that could happen. And do your best to make sure it doesn't."
Iroh beamed. "Wiser words have never been spoken!"
Aang let out a sigh of relief. "Yeah, you're right. There's no point dwelling on it. I just have to do whatever it takes to stop it." He smiled. "Thanks, Zuko."
As it turned out, seven people on the saddle was pushing it, even for Appa. It had been a couple days of flying since they had met up with Suki in Fira Taun, and the girl had been traveling with them since. Contrary to Zuko's prediction, she and Sokka were not immediately all over each other. If anything, Sokka had seemed uncomfortable when Suki had gotten a bit affectionate, which had baffled Zuko. He knew relationships didn't usually happen that fast, but it wasn't like Sokka to be bashful. But something was clearly holding him back, which Suki had sensed, leading her to take the hint and cease her subtle advances.
It was strange, but Zuko was anything but a matchmaker, so he'd let that one sort itself out.
"Can you guys remind me why we're thinking about going to Ba Sing Se again?" Toph asked, interrupting Zuko from his musing.
"Because Suki said she was on her way to Full Moon Bay to escort refugees there," Sokka reminded Toph for the third time. "And because we need to find some military leverage in this war. Aang mastering all four elements is well and good, but if we don't have any other allies or militia, we'll have no way of getting to the Fire Lord, much less taking him down. Since Omashu is out of the question right now, our best bet is Ba Sing Se."
Toph grumbled something about stuffy old cities with their walls and rules, but couldn't contest the argument.
Zuko frowned. While Sokka's logic was sound by itself, there was another reason they needed to go there. Azula would be plotting to drill her way into the city at this very moment, and if they didn't go there, she'd most likely succeed. The thought of going back to Ba Sing Se made him uncomfortable, what with all its corruption, Long Feng, the Dai Lee, and the bad memories. But they really had no choice in the matter if they wanted to prevent his father from taking the city.
"Ordinarily I'd be worried about intelligence too," Sokka admitted. "But since we have Zuko and Iroh with us, we don't have to worry about that as much. If anyone knows the Fire Nation, it's them."
"If you guys are going to go straight to Ba Sing Se on Appa, we'll have to go our separate ways," Suki said, sounding a bit sad. "I still have duties to fulfill in Full Moon Bay."
"Oh," Sokka said, disappointed. "Well, it was still great having you with us for a while."
Suki beamed at him, which caused him to blush, then look away in discomfort.
"Actually, now that I think about it," Zuko said. "Where are we going to leave Appa when we enter the city?"
The others looked taken aback, as if they hadn't thought of that.
"Well, when we went to Omashu, we left him outside the walls," he admitted. "But that was only a quick visit, and we'll probably be staying in Ba Sing Se longer than that. Maybe we can convince the guards to let him in?"
"I don't think that will work," Toph said. "I've heard the law enforcement in Ba Sing Se is really strict."
Aang looked panicked now. "But...we can't just leave him somewhere for that long!"
"If you want, I can have some Kyoshi Warriors look after him," Suki offered. "I was going to meet up with them in Full Moon Bay."
"Really? Thanks, Suki!"
"That means we'll need to take the ferry to Ba Sing Se," Iroh reminded them. "Which means we will need to acquire passports."
Toph smirked. "Oh, don't worry. I've got us covered."