"We lost the Avatar's trail."
Mai kept her voice calm as she gave her report. She did not bring good news, and Azula had a habit of taking her frustration out on the messenger. Not that Azula ever yelled. No, she had too much self-possession to indulge in such an excess of emotion. Instead, Azula liked to prick and prod at her friends with little stabs of cruelty. The only way for Mai to minimise the target on her head was to appear as bland as possible and make the lure of doling punishment less satisfying. There could be no hint of fear. No doubts. All Mai had to do was state the facts.
So she told Azula that it was currently not in their power to pursue the Avatar. The bison was last sighted heading towards the south eastern coast. It was very likely that the Avatar and his companions had left the Earth Kingdom. Since there had been no word of General Iroh or Prince Zuko, she surmised that the two traitors had escaped with the Avatar.
"We could follow them by boat, but it will take some time to meet up with your ship," Mai said dispassionately. "Even then, we do not have enough information to gauge where the Avatar and his companions have headed. Trying to pursue them now could end with us on a wild pig-goose chase."
Azula drummed her fingers against the armrest of her chair. Her lips had pursed as she had listened to the report, but now her eyes were keen and seemed to look beyond Mai. No doubt that clever mind was being put to work. For all that Azula was a powerful bender, her greatest weapon was her ability to strategize and turn any situation to her advantage. She could form plans and plot out the resulting chain of events with the skill of a Pai Sho Master who could envision victory with a single move. That was why Mai was not surprised when Azula's lips curved into one of her sharp little smiles.
"If we cannot follow the Avatar," Azula said, crossing her legs in a relaxed manner, "we will simply have him come to us."
Mai did not even blink at the bold statement. She had known the princess long enough to understand that the claim wasn't an idle boast. "What are your orders?" she asked.
Azula's smile widened. "How do you feel about conquering Ba Sing Se?"
It was quiet at the Eastern Air Temple. Mist shrouded everything below the narrow path that forged a staircase up the mountain. Zuko felt like he was walking into the sky. The setting sun had never seemed so big, so bright. It glowed all around him, spreading light in swirls of pink and gold—an endless stream of colour for an endless sky. Guru Pathik stopped and gestured for Zuko and Aang to sit. Once the three of them were settled, he explained that the sixth pool of energy was the Light chakra, located in the centre of the forehead.
"It deals with insight and is blocked by illusion," Guru Pathik said in his serene way. "The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same."
"Like the four nations," Aang observed.
"Yes," Guru Pathik acknowledged. "We are all one people, but we live as if divided."
Zuko considered those words. He had travelled the world for three years, but it had taken losing his memories and his status as a prince, even a banished one, to fully understand that humans were humans regardless of where they were born. It was the war that had barricaded the nations inside fortresses of suspicion and isolation, a dividing mentality of black and white, friend and foe.
But then what illusion was blocking his chakra? He had already come to terms with the fact that the concept of Fire Nation supremacy was nothing more than a lie to justify the war, along with every other bit of propaganda that had been taught to him as a child. Zuko knew better now. Maybe it was hard to always act with that knowledge in mind, but he was trying. That had to count for something, right?
"So, what you're saying is that someone purposely sabotaged Zuko's Sound and Light chakras to give him amnesia. That's why I keep getting stopped by that wall."
That's right. Katara had mentioned that the wall of fire blocking the deeper vaults of his mind felt at its strongest where his chi paths connected with the Light chakra. Zuko got the sense that he had broken through one of the illusions when he had regained his identity and the use of his bending. Before that day, he had not been content to rely on lies to fix his shattered world; instead, he had gone a step further and given himself amnesia to cut all ties to his family and the Fire Nation. He had become Lee: a non-bending warrior with no home and no family.
But that illusion wasn't the issue anymore. He knew who he was, and the only reason he couldn't firebend at the moment was because he had depleted his chi too much when he had healed his uncle. No, there was something else holding him back.
"The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation."
"We're all connected," Aang said, his voice soft with wonder. "Everything is connected."
The guru murmured something in response, but Zuko was too distracted to listen. Aang's words, so simple, had triggered a memory in his mind. It had been the first time he had used his healing abilities. Aang had been bleeding. Dying. Zuko had reached out, conscious of the weakening life force that had pulsed under his palms. He had sensed that the separation between their energy, between their bodies, was not as distant as the physical eye perceived.
Fire is life.
Zuko had bound himself to Aang in that moment. Their energy had linked. The very essence of who they were as individuals had touched and merged. He had thought he had severed the connection when he had stopped the healing, but a whisper told him the flames of life that he had passed onto the boy had never truly died.
That those flames would always burn so long as the two of them were alive.
"The Avatar told me that he could feel your life energy dwindling when you healed me, thanks to the spiritual connection you share."
Everything was connected. Threads of energy weaved through the air, through their bodies, through every living thing. Zuko had tapped into those paths when he had healed the Avatar and his uncle; he had anchored their lives together, letting the wounded benders take what was needed from his own essence to heal what had been damaged.
And he had never stopped being connected to them.
A shuddering breath escaped his lips. Was this one of the secrets of the Children of the Undying Fire? He had the power to heal, to strengthen, but the connections he formed were not temporary. They were undying, forged from a sun that burned with spiritual fire.
"The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation."
Zuko closed his eyes. He searched deep within himself, sinking his consciousness into the energy paths that flowed through his body. The trail was weak since his chi was so depleted, but he was still able to follow the lines all the way to the sun that burned at the centre of his inner fire. Life. Power. He could sense the true nature of the sun now. This was the source of his healing ability, though the sphere was much smaller than usual, almost concaving into itself. Well, Zuko had expected as much. What he really wanted to check were the golden threads that extended from the sun, fusing with his own energy and—
Two doors. Or at least that was what it felt like to Zuko. The doors seemed to lead to nowhere, existing in a space of their own with no handles to be found on either side. A golden thread linked to each of the doors, thrumming with energy. He reached with his subconscious and touched one of the threads. A jolt of recognition shocked through him. He could feel the corresponding door, feel the pathway that lay beyond, and as he brushed against the seal, a whisper of air and endless spiritual power.
The name slipped into his mind like a puzzle piece falling into place. Yes, that was Aang's energy he could feel behind the door. Zuko touched the other thread and received a similar jolt, except this time the whisper felt like the flames from a campfire, warm and welcoming. That could only be his uncle.
He opened his eyes with a gasp and fell forward, catching himself on his hands to stop from face-planting.
"Woah, you okay?" Aang exclaimed, scrambling to his side.
Zuko stared at him with wide eyes. "You ... I could feel ..." He swallowed, still struggling to make sense of what he had just experienced.
Aang tilted his head to the side like a curious sparrowkeet. "What is it? I don't have banana and onion juice stuck to my face, do I?"
Zuko shook his head. He didn't know how to explain his discovery. There were doors made of pure energy inside him that linked his inner fire to Aang and Iroh. The doors had no handles and seemed to be sealed shut, but something in him knew that he did have the power to reopen the pathways. The key had always been with him; he just wasn't sure how to grasp it, let alone what it would mean for any of them if he did open the doors.
"Hey," Aang said, waving his hand in front of Zuko's face. "Earth to Zuko."
Zuko pushed himself into an upright position. "I think I know how to remove the wall of fire blocking my memories," he blurted.
Discovering the connection he shared with Aang and Iroh had allowed him to gain a better understanding of his bending. Now, he could see where he had gone wrong before. The wall protecting the deeper vaults of his mind had been crafted from desperation and pain. It was designed to be impenetrable, but in the end it was also just a shield that he had created out of instinct. He didn't have to break through the fire or strip it down layer by layer; he just had to take back control as master.
Because Zuko wasn't afraid anymore.
Because fire was a part of him and it had always been his to control.
Ignoring Aang and Guru Pathik for the moment, Zuko inhaled a deep breath and closed his eyes. It was not difficult to make contact with the wall of flames. However, this time he did not treat the barrier like an enemy that needed to be forcibly removed. He knew that doing so would only strengthen the wall. So he approached the flames as he would a baby turtle duck, gentle yet confident. Almost immediately, the wall began to flicker and disperse. He could have laughed at how simple it was, but the memories that had been sealed away were already beginning to surface.
"Never do that again, Zuko! Do you understand? Never do that again!"
"You must ignore your instincts and do what I ask."
Zuko exhaled. Just the thought of confronting his past had used to make him balk—all the shame, the pain, the secrets. Now he faced it head-on, letting the memories come as they may to fill in the missing pieces of his life.
"Did it work?"
That was Aang. Zuko blinked and leaned back when he found him inches from his face. Hadn't that little idiot heard of a thing called personal space?
"Everything is fine," Zuko said, getting to his feet. "The wall is gone, though I don't feel like all of my memories have surfaced yet."
"They will in time," Guru Pathik said. "What is important is that you have removed the barrier." A smile curved his lips. "Ah, it seems that you have unlocked the Light chakra as well. Very good."
Zuko just nodded. He had realised as much when he had lowered the wall of flames. Aang whooshed to his feet with a gust of air, already demanding that they continue to the next location. The boy stopped mid-bounce and a few creases gathered on his brow.
"Actually, why do we have to keep changing location?" Aang asked.
Zuko pressed his palm to his forehead. "You're asking this now?"
Guru Pathik chuckled. "The path to enlightenment is not purely metaphysical. Each place where we have stopped has mirrored the location of the chakras. By physically walking to the next point, you are readying your body and spirit for the next trial."
"So that's why we've gradually been getting higher," Zuko said, putting the pieces together.
Aang shielded his eyes from the sun as he glanced up at the tallest point of the temple: a towering spire that seemed to reach right up to the heavens. "Is that where we are going next?"
A knowing smile was all he got in response. "Come," Guru Pathik said, turning his back on the boys. "It is time."
Aang and Zuko exchanged a glance before following the man up the mountain. The end was so close that Zuko could almost taste it on his tongue. His body had never felt lighter, more powerful. His mind had never felt so clear. Still, there was one thing that continued to bother him.
"How did you know we have a spiritual connection?" Zuko asked Aang.
Maybe Aang could give him some answers about the doors he had sensed inside his inner fire. However, Aang just looked a bit confused at the sudden question. When pressed, he shrugged and said that Roku had told him.
"I kept getting these weird feelings," Aang explained. "It was like something was being ripped from my heart. Roku told me that you had created a bond with me when you healed my wound and that the pain I felt was probably caused when our bond was about to be cut."
"Cut?" Zuko questioned.
A shadow passed over Aang's eyes. "I could feel you dying," he said softly. "Every time it happened, I got weakened and felt an echo of your pain. It was scary."
Zuko didn't know how to respond. He had no idea that Aang had been experiencing such awful moments with him. Now that he thought about it, though, there had been a moment after Azula had struck him with lightning where he had almost sensed the other boy. He had been falling, his heart a mess of violent spasms and his body convulsing. Zuko had been so sure that he was going to die, but then the flames had rushed to greet him. In that split-second as he had faded in and out of consciousness, he had felt a whisper of air intermingle with his energy. He had felt Aang.
"I think I sensed you once," Zuko said slowly, almost hesitantly. "Back when Azula almost killed me."
"I remember," Aang said. "I'd never felt the pain so strongly before. It was like there was an invisible hand trying to snatch away the threads that linked me to you. I thought you would die if I let them go, so I held on as tightly as I could." His brow furrowed. "You were out at sea, right? I think I saw you."
Zuko's heart stuttered in its rhythm. "What?"
Aang explained how, while trying to keep their bond intact, he had got a glimpse of Zuko drifting on the water. The images had been confusing and more like fragments, but it was as if they had shared the same body for a moment. Aang had felt the vestiges of lightning shocking through Zuko's system. He had felt his pain.
"What do you think it means?" Aang asked.
Zuko shook his head. "Your guess is as good as mine."
If he was a betting man, though, he would put his money on the theory that it probably had something to do with those doors of energy.
"Maybe Guru Pathik can help?" Aang suggested. "He seems to know a lot about this spiritual stuff."
Zuko agreed that it was worth a try. He approached the older man and explained the situation.
Guru Pathik got a thoughtful expression on his face. "It does indeed sound like you share a bond," he said, stroking his snowy beard. "As for what it means, that is something only you can discover for yourselves. There are many kinds of spiritual connections." He nodded at Aang. "The bond you share with your spirit animal, Appa, is just one example."
"My connection with Appa feels different to what I experience with Zuko," Aang admitted.
Guru Pathik nodded, no doubt having expected as much. "I'm afraid I do not know much about the Children of the Undying Fire or their ability to form bonds through healing. However, I suspect that Aang's own high level of spirituality made him much more sensitive to your connection." He glanced at Zuko. "If you wish to understand more, you will need to learn how to control your abilities and not just act upon instinct. You were the one who created this bond; that means that you control its potential and limitations."
"How am I supposed to do that?" Zuko demanded. "No one seems to know anything about the Children of the Undying Fire, and it seems like what little that has been written about them has either been tampered with or destroyed."
"I do not claim that the journey will be easy for you," Guru Pathik allowed, "but by coming here you have already taken the first step. Perhaps unlocking the final chakra will make your path clearer for you."
Zuko swallowed back the frustrated words that threatened to spill from his mouth. It wasn't the guru's fault that he didn't know more about fire healers. For now, Zuko supposed he would just have to see what happened when he unlocked the final chakra.
The sky was dark by the time Guru Pathik, Zuko and Aang reached the top of the tower. They were so high up that Zuko could feel his lungs protesting at the thinness of the air. He shivered and was glad for his long-sleeved tunic. Even the heavens seemed only a breath away. The stars were so bright that it felt like he could reach out and touch them.
Guru Pathik's expression was solemn as he faced the two boys who sat opposite him. "Once you open this chakra, you will be able to use the full extent of your power. For Aang, this means that you will be able to go in and out of the Avatar State as you desire; you will have complete control and awareness of all your actions." His gaze shifted to Zuko. "It is unclear what the final chakra will mean for you, Prince Zuko. The spirits have only told me that this will help you to realise your destiny."
"Destiny, huh?" Zuko murmured.
His uncle had told him that there was a bright destiny that awaited him. Perhaps now he would finally catch a glimpse of that vision.
Guru Pathik met each of their gazes. "Are you ready?"
"Let's do this," Aang said, his eyes brimming with determination.
Zuko just nodded.
The guru settled into a more comfortable position and explained that the Thought chakra, the final chakra, was located at the crown of the head. It dealt with pure cosmic energy and was blocked by earthly attachment.
"Meditate on what attaches you to this world," Guru Pathik said gently.
Zuko closed his eyes and pondered the things that kept him bound to the world. The obvious one was his uncle. Iroh had been his anchor during the three years they had spent together on the ship, and even now the old man had a special place in Zuko's heart.
"Come play Chase the Waves with me!"
Azula's gap-toothed smile bloomed into view. Yes, she was also part of his earthly attachments, along with his parents. Those attachments were more painful than what he felt for his uncle, but they were real nonetheless. Even the Fire Nation itself was an attachment in its own way. Zuko was a prince, regardless of whether he had been banished, and the duty he felt towards his people would never quite be erased.
Except that was what Guru Pathik wanted him to do.
"Let all of those attachments go," Guru Pathik advised. "Let them flow down the river. Forgotten."
"What?" Aang exclaimed. "Why would I let go of Katara? I—I love her."
Zuko blinked. That was news to him, though he could understand Aang's reluctance to forget the girl he loved. Zuko wasn't sure if he could let go of his earthly attachments either.
"Learn to let her go or you cannot let the pure cosmic energy flow in from the universe," Guru Pathik warned.
Aang folded his arms across his chest. "Why would I choose cosmic energy over Katara? How could it be a bad thing that I feel an attachment to her? Three chakras ago, that was a good thing."
Guru Pathik would not be moved. "You must learn to let go."
Aang lowered his gaze, chewing on his lip in obvious uncertainty. Zuko left him to it and focussed on dealing with his own earthly attachments. The guru had made it clear that all of his ties had to be loosened and forgotten if he wanted the cosmic energy to flow through him. Still, something didn't add up. Or maybe it was just that he and Aang were trying to approach the matter from the wrong angle. As Aang had pointed out, the other chakras had helped them both to understand the importance of love and duty. It didn't make sense to throw that all away, not unless "letting go" was not the same as giving up forever.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward."
Zuko frowned. Where had that thought come from? His uncle had said the phrase to him once, though he couldn't remember when or why. There had been so many proverbs he had been forced to listen to over the years, most of which had been too convoluted for him to unravel. Still, this one was clear enough: distance was not always a bad thing. His earthly attachments were important to him and he wanted to hold onto them, of that there was no denying. However, if he wanted to move forward, if he wanted to go beyond the purely physical, he couldn't bind himself to a single person or nation. Doing so would mean that those same attachments would dictate his every action, just as they had been doing for the past three years.
After all, he would have never sacrificed his morals to embrace a cursed destiny had he not been so attached to his father or the Fire Nation. He would have never feared his healing powers so much had he not cared about his mother's opinion nor promised her that he would resist his instincts. It was Azula's betrayal that had driven him to throw caution to the wind and almost got him killed, and even amnesia had not stopped his childish, instinctive need to anchor himself to his uncle's side.
"You understand now," Guru Pathik said, speaking through that strange, telepathic way of his.
For answer, Zuko envisioned the different attachments that kept him bound to the earth. The heavens swirled around him, getting closer and closer as, one by one, the ties that he clutched in his hand loosened and slipped from his grasp. Iroh, Azula, his father, his mother, the very nation that had been his home for thirteen years, they all faded into the stars.
"Let the cosmic energy flow," Guru Pathik encouraged.
Zuko inhaled a deep breath. Light poured down from the heavens in the colours of the aurora, creating an opening that extended beyond the stars in radiant beams of pink, green and blue. Zuko followed the light, pulled upwards on invisible wings. Not once did he glance back at the planet that he had left behind; he only faced forward. A snaking path solidified under his feet. At the other end loomed a spectral figure that glowed with golden flames. Zuko's eyes widened. He was looking at himself.
Carefully, he made his way along the path. Cosmic energy thrummed all around him like a beating heart, beckoning him forward. His own heart quickened in time to the rhythm and the fine hairs on his arms prickled from the sheer surge of power amassing within the starry space. The closer he got to the glowing apparition, the more aware he was of the flames stirring within his body. He also noticed that there was a smaller figure cradled within the apparition's hands: it was himself as he was now, still weak and curled up in foetal position, waiting to be awakened.
Zuko stopped at the end of the path. The apparition gazed down at him with eyes brimming with golden flames. It spread its hands in a cupping motion, unveiling the sleeping figure like an offering. Zuko reached out and touched the curled up figure's forehead, somehow knowing that this was what he was meant to do. A jolt of energy surged through him, shocking him right to his core. He saw flames that burned in all the colours of the aurora; he saw doors that opened and threads of gold that connected to hundreds upon hundreds of souls, like a solar system of planets orbiting the sun.
"This is who you are," a blend of voices whispered, coming from every corner of the universe. "Embrace it."
Zuko opened his eyes with a gasp. He was back on the tower with Aang and Guru Pathik, his heart pounding and his body still thrumming with energy. "W-what just happened?" he stammered.
Guru Pathik smiled. "You unlocked the final chakra."
Zuko stared at his hands in awe. He could feel the pure energy burning within him, just waiting to be accessed. In a rush of giddiness he turned to Aang, only to pause. Aang's mouth was set into a decided frown and his grey eyes were downcast. This was not the face of a boy who had learnt how to master the Avatar State.
"What's wrong?" Zuko asked.
Aang hugged his knees to his chest. "I can't let go of Katara. I just can't."
"You know that letting her go doesn't mean you have to stop loving her," Zuko pointed out. "All you're doing is releasing the ties that hold you down to her. I thought that would have been easy for you, given the whole Air Nomad philosophy of freedom."
"This is different."
Zuko raised his eyebrow. "Is it?"
Aang averted his face.
"Listen, Aang," Zuko said, and he scrunched his nose a little at how weird it was to say the kid's name. "Avatar" just came so much more naturally to him. "I know you care about Katara, but you can't master the Avatar State unless you unlock the final chakra."
"You think I don't know that?"
"I think you're scared and confused. You lost everything when you woke up after being trapped in that iceberg for a hundred years. The Fire Nation had destroyed your people, the world had moved on without you, and there you were still twelve years old and dealing with being the Avatar."
Aang swallowed and stared down at his hands.
"Katara became an anchor to you, right? She called you her family, comforted you when you were sad. She made you feel happy. Of course you're scared of letting her go, because it feels like you'll have nothing to hold onto if you lose her, right?"
Aang's breath hitched a little. He nodded. Zuko gripped his shoulder. The contact surprised Aang enough to make him raise his gaze.
"You're not going to lose her, Aang," Zuko said, and this time he didn't even fumble on the name. "But if you keep trying to make her your anchor, a part of you will always be controlled by your attachment to her. Look at what's happening right now: you have the chance to master the Avatar State, to never have to fear your powers again, but instead you're holding yourself back because you're scared that you'll find yourself alone again." He shook his head. "You're just running away."
A rush of breath escaped Aang's lips. "I—you're right. I know you're right, but I just can't do it. I can't let go of her."
"You were the one who told me that you have responsibilities that set you apart from others and that no amount of running away would change that. This isn't just about what you want anymore; this is about fulfilling your duty as the Avatar." He shifted to his knees, gripping both of Aang's shoulders. "I know you haven't forgotten what happened at the North Pole. Whether you like it or not, hundreds of people died that night because you couldn't control your powers."
Aang's eyes widened. Some of the colour drained from his cheeks. "I ..." He swallowed, and his gaze skittered to the side.
Zuko tightened his grip, forcing Aang to meet his eyes. "You told me that you wanted me to give you a chance, a chance to be a better Avatar. Well, this is your chance. Prove that you will do what it takes to never let the massacre of the North Pole happen again. Prove to me that you're not all talk."
There was a long moment where the two of them just stared at each other. Tears rolled down Aang's cheeks.
"Okay," he said in a small voice. "I'll try."
Zuko released his shoulders and sat back, watching as Aang closed his eyes and went into a meditative state. In a way, Zuko knew that it was cruel that a child should have to take on so much responsibility. Aang should be allowed to goof off like other kids, to have crushes on pretty girls and throw his heart into love instead of learning how to control cosmic energy. Except Aang was the Avatar, and the world needed the all-powerful being that controlled the four elements, not the goofy airbender who enjoyed riding giant fish. It was cruel, but it was also just reality. Zuko should know; he'd never been allowed to have much of a childhood either.
Hang in there, buddy, Zuko thought, his gaze softening.
They both had duties to the world that they needed to fulfil. No matter how painful the sacrifice, destiny would not be denied.
"They're back!" Toph announced.
Katara glanced up from watching Iroh teach Sokka how to play Pai Sho. (Much to Iroh's delight, a board had been found in one of the rooms, though some of the tiles had been missing.) Sure enough, Katara saw three figures enter the chamber where the group had gathered. Momo let out a happy chirrup and leapt off her shoulder, flying circles around Aang, Zuko and Guru Pathik's heads before he settled on the airbender like a furry hat. Aang smiled and reached up to pet the lemur.
"Hey, buddy," he said, rubbing under Momo's chin. "I missed you, too."
Katara scrambled to her feet and rushed towards the boys. "How did it go? Are you okay? What happened?" She pulled Aang into a tight hug. "We were so worried! You took so long and—"
"Breathe, Katara," Sokka advised.
"Or maybe let him breathe," Toph added. "I think you're strangling Twinkletoes."
Katara's cheeks flamed and she quickly released Aang, even as the others chuckled at her antics. Momo gave her the stink eye from where he now perched on Zuko's shoulder. Apparently, he didn't like the fact that her hug had knocked him off Aang's head. Even Appa got in on the action and let out a low rumble, though that might have just been his way of greeting Aang. Appa certainly seemed happy to see his master.
"We're fine, Katara," Aang said, looking a bit pink himself. "Better than fine, actually."
"Then you managed to unlock all those chakra thingies?" Sokka asked.
"Yeah." Aang cast a shy smile up at Zuko. "Somehow, we managed to unlock them all."
Zuko nodded to him, a gesture that Katara sensed was weighted with more than just acknowledgement. Something had clearly happened between the two during their time with the guru. They seemed much closer, almost friendly. Zuko's gaze flickered to her as if bidden by her stare.
She glanced back at Aang. "Oh, sorry. What were you saying?"
He smiled and told her that he knew how to go in and out of the Avatar State now. "Watch!"
And just like that he was glowing, the tattooed arrows flaring to life all over his body. His irises and pupils changed to pure white. Sokka let out a girlish squeak and backed away from him, but Aang just chuckled and held up his hands.
"It's fine," he said, though his voice was layered with hundreds of ancient voices. "I know what I'm doing now."
To prove his point, he exhaled and all of the glowing stopped. He was back to being Aang, the boy with blue tattoos and ordinary grey eyes.
"Wow," Katara breathed. "That was amazing."
He grinned and scratched his cheek. "Thanks."
"What about you, Sunshine Prince?" Toph asked, turning her blank gaze in Zuko's general direction. "Got any new tricks to show?"
Zuko frowned. Perhaps he took exception to the nickname. "Not really," he admitted. "I know I can access the full extent of my bending at will now, but that doesn't mean I know how to use it properly." His voice took on a dry tone. "Unlike the Avatar, I don't have my past lives to explain the finer details to me."
Aang grinned. "Then we'll just have to find you a teacher who can show you."
"Good luck with that," Zuko muttered.
Iroh stroked his beard. "The idea is not completely farfetched. The scrolls you found in Wan Shi Tong's library might have been written before the war, but Shang did state that he met some of the 'pale-eyed ones' on his journey. The fact that you are standing with us today suggests that there could be more fire healers out there. Plus, let us not forget that your own mother and her lady-in-waiting were aware of your abilities."
"I know that," Zuko said. "I just meant that actually finding someone who can teach me isn't going to be easy. We've travelled all over the world and haven't met any other fire healers. If they are out there, they're going to be very well hidden."
"You found me," Aang pointed out, clasping his hands behind his head with a grin, "and I went missing for a hundred years."
"He's got you there," Sokka said, clapping Zuko on the back.
Zuko shot him a startled glance. No doubt he wasn't used to such gestures of comradery.
Katara repressed a smile. "Well, it seems like you both managed to do what you needed to here. Aang learnt how to master the Avatar State, and I'm guessing Zuko got his memories back, right?"
He nodded. "The wall is gone. I'm still waiting for some of my memories to surface, but at least they're accessible now."
"Indeed," Guru Pathik said, embracing the group with a warm smile. "My two pupils have done very well for themselves. In fact, this calls for a celebration!"
Zuko groaned. "Not—"
"Banana and onion juice," Aang finished for him.
Guru Pathik unearthed a jug and several cups from seemingly out of nowhere. "Drink up, everybody!"
The two boys stared at each other and then Aang burst into loud giggles. Even Zuko was laughing, though he covered his face with his hand in a gesture that was reminiscent of Sokka face-palming. If there was one thing that would never change, no matter how many chakras were opened, it was Guru Pathik's love for banana and onion juice.
This brings us to the end of Book 2. I hope you enjoyed. I know the amnesia trope can be pretty hit and miss, but I felt it fitting to use it here. Zuko needed something drastic to make him stop being blindly/desperately loyal to his father and just figure out what he wants, and it also allowed him to form bonds with the gaang as Lee in the way that would have otherwise been impossible.