Haru lifted the top off of the cooking pot and took a whiff of the contents.
"Mmm, smells like the congee is ready." He said.
Katara was unwrapping the bowls and spoons. She turned to face Haru.
"Quick, put the lid back on. If Sokka smells food, he'll – Whoa!"
She turned back around to see Sokka standing in front of her, holding a bowl out expectantly.
She looked at her brother, gave a small sigh and pointed over her shoulder.
"Pot's over there. Just leave enough for everyone else."
Sokka dashed gleefully over to the cooking pot and started scooping spoonfuls of the rice porridge into his bowl.
Katara looked around, and could see everyone else arriving for breakfast. Zuko came in via the front. She made a point of not looking at him as he picked up a bowl and went to fetch his share. Toph strolled down the inside stairway, closely followed by The Duke. Now, where was…?
Twin cries of elation sounded out a mere second before Aang and Teo both came into sight. Aang was coming in for a landing with his glider, while Teo came skidding down a ramp on his wheelchair. As they entered the dining chamber, they both called out,
Everyone ducked as Aang overshot his landing, and almost went face first into a wall. A hastily unleashed water whip, courtesy of Katara, looped around the back of his glider and pulled him back down to earth, causing him to land on his rear.
Meanwhile, Teo's brakes seemed to be malfunctioning again. He sped past the group and would've gone off the edge of the temple had Toph not caused a stony ramp to spring up from the ground. His front wheels went up the slope and caused his chair to fall back, leaving him on his back with his legs in the air. Sokka and Haru hurried to help him up amid assurances of "I'm okay. I'm okay."
'These guys sure know how to keep each other on their toes.' Zuko thought to himself.
"What's for breakfast?" Aang asked, dashing over to the cooking pot.
"Congee with mushrooms." Katara answered. "Go ahead. Eat up."
She handed Aang his bowl before taking some for herself.
The group sat and ate in silence for a while. It was Sokka who first spoke up.
"So Aang, how much longer do you think you'll need before you've got firebending down?"
"A few more days, at least." Aang replied between mouthfuls. "Zuko wants to show me some more firebending forms."
"Don't you mean more dance steps?" Toph said with a grin.
'They couldn't have named it the 'Dueling Dragon'.' Zuko dug at his food moodily.
"That brings up something I've been wanting to say." Haru put his bowl down. "Once Aang's finished learning firebending; what then?"
"We'll have to find some way back into the Fire Nation." Said Katara. "But that'll be difficult, now that the Fire Lord knows Aang's still alive."
"Y'know, me and Teo were just talking about that." Said Aang.
"Yeah, and I said we should ask Zuko." Teo motioned to the prince, who stopped with his spoon halfway to his mouth. He looked around to see everyone watching him expectantly. He put his bowl down and cleared his throat.
"Well, um…" Oh great. Here he was, being actively included in his new comrades' plans; and he didn't have anything helpful to say.
"I'm sure we'll figure out something to get us over the border." Aang said, coming to Zuko's rescue. "I'm more concerned with getting inside the Fire Lord's palace. Zuko, are there any secret entrances you know about?"
"Of course. The palace grounds are full of them." Everyone seemed to perk up at this news. "Unfortunately, Azula knows about every one of them. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if she knew a few secrets I didn't."
The gang's enthusiasm died down at this. During the conversation, Momo had been munching on a small pile of mushrooms. Due to his speedy eating habits, he'd already devoured his share of breakfast. However, his appetite told him that the meal wasn't over yet, and he looked around for more food. His eyes landed on Zuko's unguarded bowl.
"Man, it seems like every time we gain some ground against the Fire Nation, Azula comes along and knocks us back." Sokka made circling motions on the ground with his finger. "Just like in Ba Sing Se."
Zuko cringed slightly, remembering the part he'd played that day. Did the oaf have to go and bring that up?
He reached over and picked up his bowl. Momo had just been about to dip his paw in, when Zuko took it back. The lemur watched him resume eating with a feeling similar to indignation. He'd decided he wanted Zuko's food, and he was going to get it.
"Is Azula really that bad?" The Duke asked.
"Yeah. I've fought her a couple of times, and she seems to get better each time." Aang said. He then grinned, and said jokingly, "Y'know, compared to Azula, I'll bet fighting Fire Lord Ozai will be a piece of cake."
"Actually, in terms of firebending skill, my father is far more advanced than Azula." Zuko remarked off-handedly.
The grin dropped from Aang's face.
"Oh." He said quietly. He thought back to when he had fought Azula in the underground bunker. Even with Sokka and Toph's help, he'd barely been able to touch her. And Fire Lord Ozai was even stronger?!
Katara saw the dejected look on Aang's face and put her arm around his shoulders.
"Hey, don't worry about it Aang." She said gently. "Even if he is more skilled than you in firebending; you've got all four elements on your side. That's what'll give you the edge."
She gave Aang's shoulder a squeeze, and then gave Zuko a glare that seemed to say, 'Are you trying to bring him down?'
Zuko tried hard not to flinch. Maybe he should just not talk from now on. He shifted his position so that he was facing away from Aang.
Once again, Momo had been about to snatch some mushrooms from Zuko's bowl, when the boy moved. Now he was losing his temper. He scampered around to the front of Zuko and crouched, getting ready to pounce. Zuko had no idea what the lemur was doing.
"What do you want?"
In response, Momo leapt onto Zuko's lap. Doing so, he knocked the bowl of congee up out of the prince's hands, where it landed with a splat on his head. Everyone stared at Zuko as he lifted the bowl up, revealing his hair and face to be covered in the porridge. To complete the picture, Momo clambered onto his shoulder and started licking the side of his head.
There was total silence for a moment, and then a snickering could be heard. Everyone's attention was now on Aang. His snickering quickly turned into all-out laughter. He held his stomach as he threw his head back, shaking with mirth.
Zuko stared at Aang with narrowed eyes.
"So you think this is funny, Avatar?" He said in a dangerously low voice.
Scooping a handful of congee out of his hair, Zuko smirked evilly and flung it at Aang. It hit the young monk right on the arrowhead on his forehead. Now Zuko was laughing.
"Now that's funny!"
Aang grinned and dug some congee out of his bowl. He let fly at Zuko, but the prince moved his head to the side and let the goop hit Sokka.
"Hey! What did I do?!"
Toph jumped to her feet and cried out,
She then threw some of her own breakfast and hit Katara. The waterbender looked shocked, but only for a second. Smiling malevolently, she returned fire on Toph. The blind girl ducked, and Sokka was hit yet again.
"Hey! Alright, that does it." He picked up his bowl and whipped it around, spraying everyone with congee. They all screamed and shielded themselves with their arms, and then the battle began in full force.
Shrieks and laughter echoed throughout the Western Air Temple. Even after a century of abandon, the majestic structure still provided a home and sanctuary to those that needed it. Be they air nomads or a small group of friends consisting of eight humans, a sky bison and a lemur named Momo.