Disclaimer: How many times must I say it...?
Dedication: This is for SteelShadow, who requested a happy ending, forKya and Jade Sabre (the only two who offered to help edit it), and for my brother (We'll call him Shrapnel right now), who helped me to revamp the final chapter.
AN: Keep in mind that, though Shrapnel helped me fix this, it's still not that great. I still hate it, but I no longer feel the urge to gouge out my eyes every time I think about fanfiction.
Also, keep in mind that this is the alternate ending. It picks up immediately where chapter 14 left off, so the first few paragraphs will be similar. And yes, I'm the author so yes, she can do that.
And finally, please, don't ask for a sequel. In place of this, I've created a Forum here on Fanfiction. net, so all of us can take part in writing thier continued adventures. fanfiction. net/f/551732/ It's called World Domination, so if you're interested, please take part!
"They've found us!" Katara sounded the alarm, racing to her brother and Aang. "The Fire Nation! They're coming!"
"What?" Sokka demanded. "How'd they find us?" He began grabbing their belongings and shoving them in into his arms, and didn't see Katara's eyes flicker to 'Ji' for an instant.
"It doesn't matter," she said. "We need to get out of here."
"But what about Kuzon and Ji?" Aang interrupted, stopping them short. 'Ji' looked up, barely able to mask his confusion. "They're as good as deserters to the Fire Nation. They'll be killed if they're found."
"Then they can come with us. But we need to get out of here," Sokka urged. "And fast."
'Ji' nodded, grabbing a few scattered objects and clothes, before he too stopped, his old heart suddenly icy. The smoke had become a thick canopy over the trees, and he suddenly remembered where he had last seen his nephew…and in what direction he had been headed, accompanied by the Spirit. Sokka followed his gaze.
"Oh, no…" the young man whispered.
"We need to find him," Katara found herself saying, though her mind raced: did he betray us? Or was he trying to hold off the attack? Or did he even know about it?
Barely exchanging another sentence, the four of them threw aside their parcels and raced into the trees, into the thickening smoke.
It was Katara who found the body first, its limp form clad in Kuzon's clothes. But the name she cried out betrayed the face he wore:
"Zuko!" She dove down, 'Ji' beside her, helping her push aside the thick branches and vines that surrounded the young man. Blood smeared his head and a cruel looking bruise disfigured the unscarred side of his face. Without hesitation, she uncapped her water skin and covered her hands in the icy technique of healing, laying them on his head, slowly mending his wound.
"What are you doing?" Sokka demanded. "That's Zuko! He's one of—" He stopped short, his face pale, staring wide-eyed as Ji's features blurred and ran into each other, until they fell away altogether, leaving only an old man in his place: the man who had watched the turmoil when Katara had been captured. The man who had comforted them when Yue had died. The Prince's uncle, Iroh.
"What's going—" The Avatar started, attempting to get between Katara and Iroh, but he, too, was interrupted.
"It's been a while, Zuzu," an icy voice sneered. All eyes darted through the bushes, to see small squadron of Fire Nation soldiers, most of them on the backs of their intimidating beasts. At their head was a small, fierce looking woman.
"Not long enough," another voice snapped, slightly muffled by distance.
Every heart seemed to freeze. Because the voice belonged to Zuko.
The Prince of the Fire Nation stepped into their line of sight, a cold glare on his face.
"There's two of them?" Sokka hissed, looking between the motionless figure on the ground and the young man who challenged the army. Iroh's hand clapped over his mouth, silencing any further outbursts. Below them, the wounded Zuko began to groan softly as he regained consciousness. Katara covered his mouth, quieting his moan and jarring him further to awareness.
"Zuko," she whispered, barely audible. "If it's really you, Zuko, then prove it. Do you understand me?" He nodded, though with a slight wince as his head rattled.
"Where's our dear uncle?" the Fire Nation girl challenged. The standing Zuko glared at her defiantly for several moments, then lowered his gaze.
"He's dead," he said at last, a weary sorrow in his voice. "It's been more than a month, now."
"What a shame," the girl mocked.
The Zuko in the bushes opened one hand. A spark kindled in his palm, growing into a small orb of flame. Aang reached out to fend off the Fire, but Katara grabbed his wrist with her free hand, keeping him away.
"So it is you," she whispered, slowly taking her hand from his mouth.
"What's going on?" Aang hissed. Katara put a finger to her lips, ushering deeper silence, and turned her stare to the distant girl and her challenger.
"What are you doing here?" The standing Zuko demanded. The girl's serpentine grin widened.
"What? Have you lost all dignity, dear Zuzu?" she replied innocently.
"Get to the point," he growled.
"Is that anyway to treat your little sister?" she asked. "I'm here to take you home, of course." Her voice dripped with poisoned honey. Zuko's eyes narrowed.
"Since when does a messenger need twenty armed men?" He asked. The girl seemed undaunted to find that her taunting had failed.
"I never said I had to bring you in one piece," she said, raising her hand idly. At her signal, a dozen of the men descended on him.
The prone Zuko rolled to his knees, prepared to fight, but Katara and Iroh grabbed his shoulders, holding him back. For a moment he struggled, but the sound of rustling branches was obscured by the roar of the Other Zuko as he was beaten and restrained by the soldiers.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" the girl asked, looking disdainfully down at her brother.
"Release me, Azula!" he demanded, his cry still loud and fierce.
"Why should I?" she shrugged. "You're a traitor to your nation, and a failure to Father. You don't even deserve his generous exile. Do you hear me, Zuko? You are going to die today."
"At least I'll never be as pathetic as you," he said, his voice proud, his face raised into a dark smile. Azula's expression twisted into that of rage.
"How dare you, you—"
"I don't believe a sick little wretch like you can even dream about getting the throne," he interrupted, his voice growing louder, stronger, as he raised himself to his full height, despite the grips of the shocked soldiers. Azula's face was white with rage, her eyes so small that they nearly disappeared, but still he continued: "You think that killing me will make any difference? You think that'll make you any less of a bloodthirsty monster? What a joke!" He loosed a single barking laugh, looking triumphantly at the soldiers around him, seemingly unaware that the air had grown unbearably hot with Azula's wrath. His eyes paused, for only the briefest of moments, on a distant bush, where he could barely discern four shadows. Satisfied, he returned his glare to the girl: "No. You'll never be anything but a twisted, foul—"
"SILENCE!" she shrieked. For several eternal moments, the entire world seemed to hold its breath.
"Release me," he said again, shattering the deadly quiet.
The Zuko who waited in the bushes felt his arms begin to go numb. His uncle and Katara's hands were digging painfully into his shoulders, but he didn't dare speak, nor could he tear his eyes from the scene before him. All were entranced. Silently he prayed.
"Get away from him!" Azula snarled, swiping the soldiers away. The young man before her did not stir as they fled from the voice of their leader. Not until they had all scattered did he make his move.
He sent her one final glare, before turning and walking proudly away.
But Azula wasn't finished with him yet. She sent a burst of flame, hot enough to melt steel, racing after him. Zuko twisted to face the flame, though he made no move to ward it off, his face grim as he accepted death.
But he didn't die.
The flames surged around and above him, but he remained untouched. A wall of fire encircled him and the silhouetted figure that now joined him. He stared in disbelief at its conjurer: Iroh stood strong and resolute before him.
Azula was barely distracted, but the proximity of victory had stolen the edge from her guard. She was barely able to evade the fist that collided with her skull. She staggered back, then leaped to retaliate, only to evade a blast of flame from her attacker's hand. She only managed to glimpse his scarred face: Zuko.That caught her attention.
Her eyes darted to her uncle, now fighting off the soldiers that approached him. Beside the old man, battling like a rabid animal, was Zuko.
"There's two of him?" one of the soldiers cried in alarm. Azula's eyes narrowed.
"It's a trick!" she snarled. "Kill them both!" Her men raced forward to obey, but their ranks were torn asunder by a brutal gale. The Avatar stood in their midst, flanked by two Water Tribe teenagers, all three ready to fight.
"Kill them all!" Azula ordered. "But leave the Avatar alive!"
Twenty men erupted into battle against their five enemies. Meanwhile Azula stepped back, fending off the occasional burst of flame or wind or water that was sent her way.
Two soldiers were frozen where they stood…five… Seven more were hurled against the earth and trees until they lost consciousness. The blasts of flame were warded off by the two Exiles, while Sokka's club sent the remnants into oblivion.
Katara was the first to finish his opponents—and so was the first who went after the princess. At first she was only startled by the strange technique that faced her, but she felt the sudden thrill as pale streaks tore behind Azula's fingertips.
Katara found her face buried in the ground, Zuko on top of her. She was just barely aware of the sudden, searing heat that flooded the air above her head. What caught her attention was the tree that exploded behind her, throwing a shower of splinters and flames into the battlefield.
"Zuko?" Katara whispered. He nodded, trying to regain his feet. A cruel blow returned him to the earth—Azula's leather boot struck his chest again, pinning him to the ground.
The horrible crackling sensation put their senses on edge.
Iroh threw himself at his niece, throwing her away from Zuko and Katara, but her attack was uninterrupted.
All around them, the moisture sizzled out of the air, seared away by a deadly heat.
Azula felt a cold hand grab her shoulder, try to pull it away from Iroh, but Azula took no notice. Not even of the golden glint at the edge of her eyes.
The lightning roared forth like an unleashed monster, racing towards Iroh…and then turning on its course, and descending into the oddly still hand that reached out past Azula's. For an instant, the intruder's entire body was illuminated, but the instant passed, and the deadly light was cast into a new victim.
Azula didn't even have time to cry out before she died. Her limp body toppled to the ground, her hand slipping from the grip of her unmoving captor. Iroh stepped forward, staring at disbelief at the smoldering body of his niece…and at the copper statue that had seized her. It was of a woman, her face cold with determination, her hand still gripping at an imaginary enemy, so still that she seemed forgotten by time.
"I…didn't know you could do that," Iroh said at last. Around him, perhaps unseen, the Avatar and his friends recollected themselves and healed the worst of their injuries. Zuko joined him in his silent reverie, and tentatively, so did Katara.
"I don't understand," the Waterbender said quietly. "What happened?"
Iroh put a heavy hand on the statue's shoulder. "Metal can draw lightning," he said. "And channel it into anything it touches." He pointed down, at the mass of charred grass and earth at the statue's feet. Katara still seemed unsure.
"But you can't mean…that wasn't Tsune, was it?"
Zuko gave a grim nod.
"I…I'm sorry," she managed to say. A part of her still wanted to hate the Spirit, but this wasn't the occasion for it. Zuko and Iroh seemed to have cared about her, and that was enough.
It took more than two weeks for the metal to recede enough for Tsune to change into a more pliant form. She returned to the cottage to find Zuko and Iroh waiting for her, though the Avatar and his companions had already passed on.
"They couldn't risk being caught if the Fire Nation sent anyone else after them," Zuko explained.
"Though I'm sure that this development is a bit of a grief to you," she said pointedly. She was slightly disappointed that they hadn't been floundering in mourning, but evidently they both trusted that she would change back in her own due time. "That's what I get for being reliable," she had muttered in reply.
Zuko shrugged mildly. "Katara is going to come back," he said. "As soon as this war is finished." Tsune reclined into the wall, letting Iroh scratch her head. She shot a charming smile at him, then returned her gaze to Zuko.
"That could take months, though," she pointed out languidly. "Perhaps even years."
"I'll be patient," the young Prince said. Tsune wrinkled her nose.
"Of course you will," she said. "But she may get hurt, or killed, or swept off her feet by another man…"
Zuko was glaring at her again, and she burst out laughing. This was the way things were supposed to be.
"The other Spirits are watching out for her, of course," Iroh pointed out. He'd made sure to coerce Tsune into providing the Avatar an escort. Tsune nodded prettily.
"My big brother, primarily," she said. Both looked surprised now.
"You have a brother?" Zuko demanded. She grinned.
"Well…half brother…I think," she shrugged carelessly. "Hard to tell after all the millenia. He's no family man, but I managed to talk him into it. You'd love him. He's a real great guy. They call him Koh."