Author's Note: Howdy! There's double trouble in this story. It's being done not only by Scorpiored112, but also by sam81609. We both had an idea to do a Book Three: Fire, so we figured, why not do it together? So, we got together, emailed each other with ideas, started working…and the following chapter was born.
It all takes place, obviously, after Book 2. We do not own Book 3 or Avatar: The Last Airbender. Let's face it, we all wish we did.
Enjoy and Review!
ScorpioRed112 and sam81609
Chapter One: Regrets
"I betrayed Uncle," Zuko said, shivering. He felt broken and regretful. The only person who had stayed with him through his banishment, Iroh, was now his prisoner.
"No, he betrayed you," Azula responded. Her face was glittering with the perspiration of defeat, her eyes emotionless. But Zuko knew that Uncle wasn't a traitor.
Zuko was the traitor. The traitor and the liar and the cheater. All of the above.
"Today, you restored your own honor." It seemed like an understatement. Something was wrong with Azula...something was wrong with him. This wasn't right. This wasn't how he had envisioned getting his honor back. Perhaps what he was expecting was a fantasy, but this feeling...a squirming feeling of guilt twisting in his gut...this wasn't right.
"I guess so," he replied faintly, not sure of what else to say.
Azula's lips curled into a smile. She moved to the Earth King's throne and placed herself firmly in the golden seat. "Father will be very proud of you, Zuko. You've managed to do something that even the Fire Nation's greatest project wasn't able to do." Azula crossed her legs. "We've conquered the Earth Kingdom . Father won't have to restore anything for you. This day is worth honor in itself."
"I want him to restore my honor," Zuko replied, annoyed. His tone rose. "I want to be permitted back home. I want him to welcome me back!" Zuko's eyes narrowed. He knew this was too good to be true. "I don't want to restore my own honor! Father has to."
"Don't be so childish," Azula replied. But she said nothing else of the matter.
"I'm not being childish. It's the—"
"Are we interrupting anything?" a voice asked from the arching doorway. "Azula, what are we supposed to do with Long Feng?"
It was Ty Lee, Azula's childhood friend. Behind her stood Mai, another familiar face to Zuko. It felt like ages since he had last seen them. But time had not ruptured the annoyance he felt whenever they talked, or glorified Azula for her conquests.
"Lock him up," his sister responded. "He's the last of my concerns."
"And the city?" Ty Lee pressed. "Now that we've conquered it, there's really nothing left to do."
Mai said nothing. Her eyes were glued to the young Fire Nation prince, her face red with anticipation. How long had it been since she had last seen Zuko?
Ty Lee must have felt Mai's sudden discomfort.
"Look Mai, it's Zuko! Hi, Zuko!" Ty Lee cart-wheeled to him, leaving Mai without a shield. "What did you do to your hair?" she asked. "It looks so...messy! Wow, I didn't think that burn would scar that bad!" She reached out to touch Zuko's face, but he caught her hand mid way and lowered it. His eyes twitched.
"Oh, you haven't seen Mai yet, have you?" But Mai was no longer in the doorway.
"Shyness got the best of her, I suppose," Ty Lee added. "She'll have to talk to you sooner or later."
Zuko grimaced. "When are we going home?" he asked quickly, eager to change the subject. "And where are we supposed to sleep?"
"We have the whole palace to ourselves, silly!" Ty Lee exclaimed. "We can do whatever we want!"
"True," Azula agreed. "But I'd rather have a general take care of Ba Sing Se. The Avatar is the only threat standing between the Fire Nation and Sozan's Comet."
"He doesn't seem very powerful, Azula." Ty Lee pointed out, referring to the child Avatar, as she sat on the armrest of the throne. "I mean, he ran away from you guys."
"And he won't heal from that hole in his back for a while," Zuko observed.
"I have no doubts about his injuries," Azula responded quietly. Had she gotten the chance, she would have destroying his healing friend as well as him, but Iroh had interfered.
"And the Day of Dark Sun? What are we supposed to do about that?" Ty Lee asked.
"We'll have to wait and see." It was obvious Azula hadn't planned any part of further defeat. Ba Sing Se seemed to be the end of her planning, but she would think of something soon enough.
It was early morning, but still dark. Appa had landed somewhere far from Ba Sing Se, a murky area with no water or clearing near. Not too long ago, Sokka had taken the Earth King and Basco to stay with Hakoda. There he would plan to regain control of Ba Sing Se, but without the help of the Avatar.
Katara had wanted to go with her elder brother, only to see her father again. But she knew she was needed with Aang, still recovering, and Toph, who wouldn't be gentle to Aang in his healing stages. She told Sokka to send her father her warmest regards.
In the dimness of the night she listened to Aang's breathing, his head resting softly on her chest. His limbs dangled loosely to Katara's sides as one arm was propped fondly over her shoulder. With every rasping breath he drew, Katara held him closer. His body was warm and shivering at the same time, but he was alive. All that mattered was that he was alive.
Toph sat some distance away, obviously uncomfortable with all of the prickly shrubbery. She wrapped herself tightly in the blanket Sokka had unloaded. "Is he going to be alright?" she asked perceptively, facing Katara's direction.
"He's going to be fine," Katara stated, her voice trailing off. "He just needs some time away from being Avatar, that's all."
Toph paused. "What did they do to him?"
Katara hadn't explained the Avatar State; the sudden rush of lightening that traumatized his body and sent him falling to the ground. She hadn't explained anything.
"They hurt him," Katara said flatly. Frankly she didn't want to relive the scene again. "They shot him," she specified, "with lightning."
Toph bit her lower lip.
Aang's breaths began to grow further and further apart. He coughed a few times and settled, twisting his position on Katara's worn and tired body. She propped herself up to support his dead weight.
"You know, I can hold him for you if you want," Toph offered, hearing Katara's grunts. "Twinkle Toes can't weigh that much."
"I'm fine," Katara reassured, straightening her back. "He doesn't weigh much at all, he's actually pretty light."
"Well you don't have to hold him, you know. It's not like he'll break if he's not being monitored."
Katara frowned. "I said he's fine, and I'm fine too. There's no reason to be like that, Toph. He just got electrocuted. Leave him alone."
"I'm only saying so for your sake," Toph offered. "You were fighting, too. I can tell you're tired."
As much as Katara hated to say so, she knew Toph was right. "I guess I am a bit tired," Katara admitted finally. She lifted Aang off of her body and placed him next to her. Carefully she crafted a comfortable bed and pillow for Aang out of her winter coat. She tucked him in slowly and made sure his wound was dry before she sat next to him, still awake.
"What about you, aren't you tired?" Katara asked the Earthbender from her spot. "Sokka told me what you did to the two guys tracking you. You could use some sleep too, you know." Toph answered with uneven snores.
"Sounds like a big battle," Hakoda said evenly, his hand resting on his Sokka's shoulder. "You handled yourself well, son"
Sokka practically glowed with pride. To be praised was one thing. To be praised by his father was another thing altogether. "Yeah, it was pretty big," Sokka agreed. "But I guess I don't know my own strength!" Sokka patted his hollow arms, smiling broadly.
"Was your sister fighting?" The smile on Sokka's face faded.
"Yeah," he admitted. "Yeah, she was fighting along with Aang—you know, the Avatar—it was a pretty intense battle—"
"Your sister fought with the Avatar?"
He was going to regret this. "Yeah. But she took care of herself, Katara's a lot better at her waterbending thing then she was when you left, you don't have to worry, she can take care of herself."
"She's strong," Hakoda agreed. "Like your mother was."
For a second they were both silent. Then, Hakoda clapped his hands, suddenly business-like, "Well, we have work to do. We have a former Earth King who wants his Kingdom back, and his—" he made a face, "Bear's things, and we have the Fire Nation, who will stop at nothing to get what they want. We need a plan of action"
Sokka nodded, and then snapped his fingers, remembering something. "The eclipse!"
"The Darkest Day, the reason we went to Ba Sing Se in the first place!" Sokka said excitedly, "There's an eclipse coming towards the end of the summer, right before the comet—"
"Sokka, slow down," his father said, "First of all: what comet?"
Sokka quickly told his father the story of everything that had happened since they had left the Fire Nation on the Summer Solstice. "And then we went to this library, and we found information about an eclipse coming, and we brought it to the Earth King, but before we came up with an actual plan that whole deal with the Fire Nation taking over Ba Sing Se happened—"
"But your basic plan was to attack on the Darkest Day?"
"Yeah!" Sokka nodded, "All we have to do is go after them at their weakest, and they're finished!"
Hakoda nodded, "Give it a few tweaks, and we have ourselves a real plan here. Lets' get to work"
Sokka nodded enthusiastically and scrambled after his father.