The scene before Zuko was a terrible one.
His Uncle was trying his best to reason with the Admiral, who was staring at the Avatar with a wide grin. Aang, meanwhile, was on the ground, unconscious, with his right arm at an odd angle and scorch marks on his clothes. Zuko hoped he was not seriously hurt. As far as he could tell, no one had acknowledged his presence, for now.
Zuko advanced towards Zhao, who was now threatening Iroh to leave him alone, unless he wanted to experience utter turmoil. Iroh retorted saying he wouldn't dare. He was of course, mistaken. Zhao raised his fist at Iroh's head, pulled it back and shot a blast of fire at Iroh.
Before the fire could reach its intended target, Zuko had dashed into the fray.
He deflected the flames easily.
"Zuko! Thank you, but your heroics were not necessary. I could have dodged that attack blindfolded. Now if you would be so kind, we have an Avatar to retrieve."
Zhao was lost for words. There, in front of him, was Prince Zuko, but his face was completely normal and he had even got all his hair back again.
"Admiral Zhao. I suggest you return the Avatar to me and walk away from this. Otherwise you will be experiencing another humiliating defeat at my hands." Zuko looked at the Admiral, his eyes narrowed as he smirked at him.
Zhao did not look like he was going to obey Zuko's command.
Instead he had taken a fighting stance, ready for an Agni Kai.
"Very well." Zuko heaved a heavy sigh and also took a stance.
They faced each other for what seemed like an eternity, neither one showing any sign of attack. Then Zhao made his move. He punched a stream of fire at Zuko, who raised a forearm to deflect it. Then Zhao struck again, this time firing a barrage of fire at him. Zuko grimaced as one by one he painfully deflected the shots. This wasn't going to be easy. Zhao had vastly improved since their last duel. Zhao advanced towards Zuko and kicked at his head. Zuko avoided each of the attacks Zhao sent, each time growing wearier and wearier. Now it was time for him to fight back. Zuko swung his leg under Zhao, knocking the Admiral off his feet. Then he blasted Zhao's chest with fire from his fist. Zhao rolled over in pain, but he couldn't find the strength to get up or retaliate.
The Fire Prince had won, again.
"You've lost. Now take your men and go, before I finish you off."
Zhao glared at the Prince, but he could do nothing to him, so he merely jerked his head at his men, who rushed to his aid. They lifted him up, and they all proceeded immediately back to Zhao's ship.
Iroh smiled at his nephew. He was proud of him.
"Well done Zuko. I couldn't have done it better myself. Now what are we going to do with the Avatar and his companions?" Iroh asked his battle weary nephew.
Zuko looked at Aang, lying on the floor. He knew he should take him to the Fire Nation, but he also knew the right thing would be to let him go.
What should I do? He asked himself.
He jerked when the door to his right creaked open. Socca and Katara peered out to make sure it was safe. When they saw that Zhao was not there, they rushed to Aang's side and checked him over.
"Katara, this is bad."
"What?" She asked her brother.
"Aang's arm is completely broken and these burns look pretty fatal. He needs medical attention, or he might not make it." Both their faces had become as white as Aang's deathly pale face. Katara cried into her hands, while Socca tried to comfort her.
Zuko saw their miserable faces and knew what he had to do.
"Uncle. Go and retrieve the medic. He should still be in his quarters. Then go and fetch that miracle cure from my room. If the medic can't help, then maybe that can. Hurry!" Iroh nodded. He made for the door without a second look back.
Zuko moved over to the Avatar's still body and examined the scorch marks. They didn't appear to be too bad, but an infection could arise if they weren't treated.
Socca stared angrily at Zuko.
"You know. Aang wouldn't be in this state if you hadn't tricked him into coming here. I actually trusted you, but you're just a lying snake!" The spite in his words caused Katara to cry even harder. "Hey Katara, why are you crying even more?"
Katara sniffed and wiped at her tear stained face. She swallowed hard and said,
"I knew he was Zuko ever since that little fight you two had. I don't know why I hadn't told you guys, but if I had, Aang would not have gotten hurt."
She buried her head in her hands and started sobbing again. Socca placed a reassuring hand on her back then continued his glare with Zuko.
"Stop taking your rage out on me! I just saved his life and all you can say is its all my fault! Did it ever occur to you that no one's to blame? If I had known Zhao was on his way, I would've set sail hours ago. Now stop crying and getting all worked up. Aang will be fine. I've sent for a medic and that miracle cure. Besides, those aren't even serious burn marks. Now what had happened to me was serious…" He trailed off, a thought just occurring to him.
If I give my father the Avatar, will I be allowed back home?
Did he send me on this hunt, knowing full well that I would never be able to accomplish it?
If my father wanted me back, then he wouldn't have allowed Zhao to search as well.
Maybe I should stop this pointless task and help the Avatar instead.
I seem happier when I'm with him and his friends.
I'm so confused.
Iroh rushed back outside, accompanied by an elderly fellow wearing Fire Nation attire and carrying a medical bag. Iroh was holding the bottle of miracle cure and his face seemed to show concern. When the medic reached Aang, he took from his bag a stethoscope and checked his pulse.
He lifted Aang's arm and felt it.
All broke, not a good sign.
The medic cleaned the burnt flesh and proceeded to bandage Aang up.
"Well? Is he going to be okay?" Zuko demanded impatience and concern in his voice.
The medic looked up.
"There's no easy way to say this. I'm afraid that his arm may be permanently broken and some of these wounds may become scars, not as serious as yours was, but still pretty bad."
The medic resumed his job and Iroh handed Zuko the bottle. Zuko nodded and shoved the medic out of the way. Zuko shook Aang, until he lifted his eyelids open. Then Zuko uncorked the bottle, looked at it briefly, before pouring a droplet into the young Avatar's mouth. The drop slid down Aang's throat and he blinked. Then a surge of immense pain followed by an almost sudden relief of pain ensued.
Aang stood up.
His arm was fixed and all of his burns had vanished.
Socca smiled and gave Aang thumbs up. Katara blinked away all of her tears and hugged Aang. Aang blushed slightly, then he met Zuko's eyes. He smiled, Zuko half smiled back.
"Aang, lets go. We were so worried about you. Now that you're fine, we can leave this place and continue heading for the North Pole." Socca looked hopeful as he said this, but Aang hadn't heard him.
"Zuko, thank you. I take it, this is the miracle cure you were talking about?" Aang asked.
"Yeah. Very effective, isn't it?" They both grinned.
Katara still hadn't let go of Aang.
She seemed to think that if she did, he would leave them again.
"Katara, let go now. Please. Katara, I can't breathe. Katara." Aang was going blue in the face. Katara let go and smiled sheepishly.
"Oops, sorry Aang." She turned to Zuko, who was smiling at Aang as he gasped for air in a rather comical way.
Without warning she hugged him as well.
Zuko stood there, unsure of what to do.
Iroh chuckled to himself.
Aang shrugged his shoulders.
Socca was slightly bewildered by his sister's actions.
"Thank you for saving him. We were wrong about you. You have changed, for the better. I can trust you Zuko." She let go of him and stepped back slightly.
He had blushed while she was hugging him, and she giggled when she saw this. Zuko spun around quickly and walked back to his room to get some rest.
"I think he's tired from the fight he had with Zhao. You three must be tired from all the excitement." He rubbed his hands together.
"So why don't we all head inside and have some Ging Seng tea? Maybe play some Pai Sho?" He asked them hopefully.
Aang shrugged and turned to Socca.
"Oh, fine. We'll stay, but only because I'm still tired and hungry and Zuko's Uncle is kinda fun to talk to." Socca grumbled, using all of this as an excuse to stay. In truth, he had also decided that he trusted Zuko.
Katara and Aang smiled and the four went into the galley, where tea and Pai Sho awaited.
Aang knew that he would finally have some fun and learn Firebending.
He also knew that they had made some new friends.
Things were finally looking up.To be continued…