When i finished writing this chapter, I didn't know what to do with myself. I have been working on this story for 11 months...
No. Not enough patience for something like that.
I can think of a lot of stories I want to wright, but I have one Christmas present to write first before I can do any of them, and I doubt any of you will ever see it...
Dang, this chap is like twice the size as a usual chapter! Please enjoy!
I've realized that I spend way too much of my time unconscious lately, but I've also realized that it can be nice at times. Like now. I know in the back of my mind that when I wake up from this, I will be in a lot of pain, and I'll have a killer headache, but for now I can use this time to relax and think.
I sat cross legged on a blanket, fingering the soft grass at my feet. Being trapped in your own mind isn't all that bad when all you have to do is think about something you want, and then you'll get it. I imagined a little meadow and then, bam…it appeared.
I could do whatever I wanted here.
I reached down and put my hand over a rock, closed my eyes, willing it to transform, and when I lifted up my hand the rock was now a caterpillar.
The only bad thing about this little dream world, besides the inevitable pain upon waking, is you'll never know when you'll wake up. You also never know what is going to happen next.
With that thought in my head, I wasn't surprised when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see an old Fire Nation man.
I recognized him immediately. As I grew up, I learned about this man, heard his name mentioned with hushed reverence, his likeness hung on tapestries in the palace halls. Thee mans skin hung on his face with deep wrinkles, his eyes empty and angry, his hair pure white. Although he was much older than in his tapestries, I knew him to be my great grandfather Sozen.
I groaned, out of all of the people my mind could have conjured, it had to be the one who started this war.
Sozen took two steps, and he was in front of me, but he did nothing but stare.
"What do you want?" I asked rudely, forsaking all politeness. Hell, it was my consciousness; I could be as rude as I damn well wanted.
His eyes narrowed. "That's what I'm supposed to ask you. You're the one who imagined me"
I closed my eyes and sighed, but when I opened them again, I found that Sozen had been joined by two other men. I recognized one as Avatar Roku.
I knew the third man had to be someone important or else he wouldn't be here with Roku and Sozen.
The man looked ageless. He could be in his thirties or fifties. He was tall, regal, and never before in my life had I been able to say this about a fellow man, but he was handsome. His golden eyes shone with love and wisdom. His black hair was secured at the top of his head with a golden crown, and his lips were tilted up with a smile. A faint glow surrounded him.
"Hello, my child…" he said, love saturating his words.
My eyes narrowed as I searched him for anything that would give his identity away. I needed to know who this man was, it was killing me. I felt as if I had knows that man all of my life, but I couldn't recall his name. Suddenly, a possibility hit me with the blunt force if a hammer to the head. "Agni?" I asked unsurely.
His answering smile was dazzling. I didn't know what I expected our firegod to look like, but this definitely wasn't it. He looked so nice and young, I expected him to stern and intimidating, but this man looked like he could easily be your best friend.
It was a good thing I was sitting down already, because I probably would have fallen over if I hadn't been.
"Am I imagining this, or are all of you really here?" I asked uncertainly.
Agni and Roku looked at each other and smiled, while Sozen continued to glare. "That is for you to decide, Zuko." Roku said.
Agni looked at me. "We have a matter to discuss with you that is of great importance."
I glanced between Agni and Roku, completely ignoring Sozen. "What is it?" I asked quietly, afraid that I screwed up somehow and they were here to put me straight. Maybe after they yelled at me, Sozen was going to beat me up. I shivered, if there was anyone I wouldn't want to get yelled at by, it was these two.
Agni smiled at me. "As you know, you're going to be the next Fire Lord."
I stood up quickly. "No, I can't possibly. I was going to have Iroh take the throne. I'm not ready!!" I half yelled, half begged, and then froze. Crap, I might have just raised my voice at the real Agni.
Roku looked at me for a second. "You might feel that way now, but although I hold your uncle with very high esteem, you are meant to take the throne."
"We would not have appeared in front of you if we weren't certain you were the best thing for your country." Roku countered.
"I-I don't know. I'm only a teenager." I sputtered.
"You may be a teenager, Zuko," Agni stepped up to me and reached up to undo the crown that adorned his topknot. "But you were forced to grow up, making you wise beyond your years." He slipped his crown off, his black hair tumbling to his shoulders.
I nearly died of shock as Agni presented the crown to me. I stared at the delicate, golden Fire Nation crown in awe. It was larger and more intricate than my father's crown, and much more graceful looking. The style was also different from my father's, it had golden circles that fanned out and reached around to the back of your head. Engraved in the Fire Nation insignia were two dragons, circling each other in an endless dance.
I looked from the crown, to Agni's smiling face, and back to the crown again, unsure of what to do. I even looked at Roku to see if he was shocked and appalled that Agni would present such a gift to me, but he just smiled and nodded at me in approval.
"I-I can't-" I began, but was silenced by the look Agni gave to me.
Slowly, I reached out and he placed the crown in my hands, a shock jolted through my body as soon as the crown touched me, but it stopped as soon as it began and was replaced by a feeling of warmth. It gave me strength and assurance that everything would work out.
The crown was weightless in my grasp. "Thank you…" I was finally able to whisper after a few seconds.
Agni's face glowed. "Take this and remember, you have my blessing and I will always be with you. Don't for get that you will always have the help of your friends as well."
"You will make an excellent Fire Lord." Roku clasped me on the shoulder.
"There's just one thing I don't understand then…" I looked at both of them. "Why is he here?" I indicated Sozen.
Roku laughed as he noticed him for the first time, and Agni smiled. "That is a question you should ask yourself. We did not summon him." Agni said sweetly.
I looked at Sozen's angry face and knew that I should say something to him. "I will be a better Fire Lord than you in every single way." I said with conviction.
Sozen looked at me and smiled. A second later, he blurred into someone else.
He was me. I stared at my mirror image before it slowly vanished from my sight.
I turned to Agni and Roku with a satisfied smile on my face. "Thank you."
They nodded their heads. "You need to wake up now; you have friends that are worried sick about you."
"On no…" I gasped. "What do I do about Aang? I'm sure he's going to kill me." I looked at them for help.
Agni sighed good naturedly with a smile. "He will forgive you, and if he doesn't, I'll have Roku and Kyoshi have a talk with him."
I laughed. "Thank you again."
"Wake up, Zuko." Agni repeated.
I closed my eyes and clenched them shut, willing myself to wake up. I knew it was working when I started to feel weak and drowsy, a dull pain started on my chest and leg.
My eyelids were heavy as I slowly lifted them. My vision was blurred as I looked up at what seemed to be blobs of color. As I tried to focus my vision, my head began throbbing, and the rest of my quickly followed suite. I groaned loudly, not caring if anyone heard.
"He's awake!" I heard Katara's voice yell. A chorus of "Finally!!" and "What?" rang out from the rest of the gang.
I opened my eyes again and they slowly unblurred.
I was laying on my back at our campsite, covered in blankets, with Katara hanging over me checking my pulse and temperature with her hands. "Are you ok?" She asked. There were tears in her eyes and dark circles under them, but to me, she looked like the most beautiful women I had ever laid eyes on.
I moaned again, my headache barely allowing me to speak, I settled for nodding my head instead.
She choked out a wet laugh and put her hand on my cheek, rubbing circles with her thumb. I leaned into her touch and smiled despite the pain I was in. I tried to sit up, but she pushed me down easily and scowled. "You had us really worried… I missed you."
My brows furrowed as I tried to sit up again, but Katara's hands stopped me. "How long have I been out?"
Katara frowned. "Three days."
"What?" I yelled, but groaned as my head throbbed harder.
"The poison was something I've never seen before, I've had some training with how to cure most poisons with herbs, but I couldn't make an antidote for this one. I've been trying to heal you with water this whole time, and I even used bloodbending, and I think it worked..." She tried to assure me.
I groaned and clenched my eyes shut.
"There's one more thing…" She hesitated. "The poison didn't let me heal your wounds; they will have to do so naturally…That means you'll have a scar on your chest. I'm sorry, I remember how angry you looked when he told you he'd give you a scar like his, and now you have it anyways…"
"It's not the same, Katara; I got this one saving you. This is more like a badge of honor than anything else." I mumbled.
She nodded solemnly.
"So, what happened to Kanjou?" I asked her uncertainly. I knew he must have lost, or else we both would be dead.
In one second, her face crumpled into agony. I immediately shot up and held her in my arms as she began to cry. My body shook from the excruciating pain in my chest from sitting up, but I continued holding her anyway. With a trembling hand, I stroked her hair and whispered to her that everything was fine. I continued just to stroke her hair and waited until she was ready to speak again, aware that the whole gang was watching me with shock.
"I-I…he came at me, he was going to kill me, and I had to-" she sobbed into the crook of my neck.
I took her shoulders and brought her in front of me so that she had to look at me. I brushed a tear from her cheek and kissed her lightly on her lips. "Its okay, Katara, you can tell me." I whispered.
She nodded and took a deep, shuddering breath. "I killed him! I killed a man…" she rasped out in a shaky voice. "I had no choice! I've never killed someone before…" she collapsed back into me.
I knew there was nothing I could tell her to comfort her. She would always remember this, although I've never killed a man before, I've known people who had, and they never totally got over it. "It's alright, Katara, you had no choice. If you didn't kill him, we both would be dead. You didn't do anything wrong."
"But I killed him, what would my mom be saying right now?!" she yelled and began crying some more.
"She'd be saying that she's glad you're alive." I reasoned with her.
She nodded weakly into my shoulder and continued to cry. I did my best to soothe her, but she was in shock and there wasn't much I could do. I felt horrible that while she was in so much pain, I was unconscious and having weird dreams about Agni. I kissed the top of her head and whispered that I loved her. This was all I could do.
Eventually, her sobs began to slow and her shaking ceased. "I'm tired Zuko…I haven't slept for three days."
My heart clenched. "Go to sleep Katara, I'm fine now, you can rest." I assured her although I felt anything but fine.
She nodded and snuggling into my chest, apparently forgetting about my wound. I ground my teeth and let her, I knew she was already half asleep, so it was forgivable to forget something like that.
She fell asleep quickly and her sleep was so deep that she didn't wake as I shifted her out of my arms and into the makeshift bed that they made for me.
"Ah!" I cried in pain as I tried to stand up and go to the group.
"Come on, Zuko…" Iroh's voice was right beside me; he held my arm and helped bring to a semi-standing position so I could avoid using my bad leg. Using him to support most of my weight, I slowly hobbled out way to where the Avatar and his friends were sitting silently and waiting for us.
Everyone had their eyes on me as I sat down next to Iroh. I had to suppress a groan as my chest and leg burned from sitting. I remained silent, not wanting to be the first one to break the silence.
Everyone just looked at me. Sokka looked at me strangely, his lips in a thin line. Toph smiled at me like she was happy I was back, and Aang stared blankly at me, a detached expression on his face.
Surprisingly, it was Sokka who spoke first. "My sister hasn't left your side this entire time, did you know that? I don't think she slept at all for three days. She didn't even tell us exactly what happened."
I remained silent, not sure of what to say so I was relieved when he continued. "If- this is hard to say…so give me a moment…I -damn this is hard- I think she really likes you…"
Aang looked at him in surprise. This was obviously not what he thought would happen.
"If she chooses you, I won't stand in her way. While you were unconscious…well the gods know I haven't seen her that heartbroken since mom died, but don't think I'll just stand back and let you do whatever you want with her. I will be watching you."
This could have been a really tender moment if the circumstances were better and there wasn't a death threat attached to the end of it.
"I'm just glad you're back, I was bored without you!" Toph threw her hands up and laughed. Just like that, the depressing aura over our camp vanished save for the small cloud over Aang's head.
Iroh placed his hand on my shoulder. He didn't need to say anything; I knew that he was glad I was back and alive. "I'll make some tea."
I watched him walk away and then turned back to the group. Sokka had turned his attention to Toph and was chatting soberly with her.
"Here, drink this." Iroh put a cup in front of me and took a seat at my side.
"What is it?" I asked him, he knew which my favorite tea was, but this was definitely not it.
"Tea." Iroh answered.
"I know that, but what kind?" I took a whiff. I could smell the herbs and spices, but there was something else, something familiar smelling, it was sweet and intoxicating.
"It's a special blend; we used to give it to soldiers after a battle. It will make you feel better." Iroh told me with a smile.
I knew something was weird with the tea, but I was in too much pain to put up a struggle. Besides, I trust Iroh, the man knows his tea, and if he told me that this tea would make my fly I would probably believe him. I tipped my head back ad poured the hot tea into my mouth all at once. The tea only had contact with my tongue for a few seconds, but I was able to tell what gave off that smell instantly. Fire Nation wine.
I considered spitting it out, but decided against it. Iroh told me this would make me feel better, and I sure as hell wanted to.
"Where did you get wine out here?" I asked once the wine settled in my stomach. I immediately felt warmer and some of the pain ebbed away. To show that I wasn't complaining about the wine, I held my cup out for another. "And this time, give it to me straight."
Iroh chuckled and pulled the rest of the wine and a jug out of a bag that hung around his shoulder. "I have my ways…" He said cryptically.
With a smile, he poured me a generous amount and handed it back. I smiled as memories of the Fire Nation palace flitted through my head. When I was young I used to sneak into the wine cellar and try to steal some wine. Iroh caught me once and let me have as much as I wanted. I thought he was the coolest uncle in the world until I got sick afterwards. I rarely drank any alcohol after that.
"Can I try some?" Sokka was by our side with a smile on his face
"No way." Iroh laughed.
"Why not? Zuko got some!" Sokka said childishly.
"You're too young; you won't be able to handle the wine." Iroh said with a raised eyebrow.
Sokka threw his hands in the air. "I'm the same age as Zuko, and I've had wine before."
"But Zuko is a Fire Bender, and Fire Benders burn off most of the alcohol before it has the time to dissolve into our bloodstream. Our nation's wine is much stronger than anything that you have tried."
I smiled and took a small sip. "Iroh, you let me have some when I was very young," I winked, "Let him have some."
"Ok…" Iroh told him, catching on. "But don't say I didn't warn you…" Iroh poured and passed him a cup.
Sokka sniffed the contents of his cup and scoffed. Sokka threw his head back and took a big gulp. "Oh, this is nothing." He laughed and chugged the rest of the cup.
I stared in open mouthed shock at him and waited to see what would happen in anticipation. Sokka's eyes unfocused and then focused again. "Whoa…that was-" Sokka froze mid sentence and tipped sideways where he fell asleep with a snore.
"Wow, he lasted longer than I thought he would." I chuckled awkwardly, aware that Aang was still staring at me.
Toph and Iroh both began to laugh, but they were interrupted by a sharp voice. "Zuko…I need to talk to you." Everyone that was still conscious turned their head to the source of the voice. It was Aang.
I gulped and looked around for help, but received none.
"Come on, Toph; let's get some food for dinner." Iroh told her.
She opened her mouth to complain, but Iroh gave her one of his stern you-better-do-what-I-say looks and she immediately quieted. "Whoa…I couldn't see that look, but I sure felt it." She shivered and got up to leave.
When Aang and I were alone, I hung my head and waited for him to yell at me or hit me. But nothing happened. I heard no movement, and he didn't say a word.
I plucked my dignity off of the floor, took a big gulp of wine to ebb the pain away, and then met his eyes.
"Why?" Aang asked, his voice cracked.
He didn't have to elaborate. "I couldn't tell you, Aang, we knew you would be hurt."
"So you thought it would be better if you waited?" His voice picked up volume, but he stayed seated, obviously restraining himself.
"Yes, we did." I said, not wanting to lie to him.
"How could you think that's better?! You knew I loved her, she was mine! I asked you about you two, and you lied to me! You lied to me! How would you?!" Aang yelled angrily.
"Aang!" I yelled and he stopped out of surprise, obviously he wasn't expecting me to raise my voice at him. "This is why!"
"I don't know what you mean." Aang yelled back at me.
"You are the most immature kid I know, you think that just because you love her, she has to love you back. Yeah sure, you like her, but have you ever thought about how she felt? She's not yours, hell, she's not even mine! She doesn't belong to anyone. Don't you get it?" This I said in truth, Katara was like her element in every way, she was like the ocean, and she didn't belong to anyone.
I took a breath and continued knowing full well that I could be signing me death warrant.
"You're the Avatar for Agni's sake, you need to stop thinking about a girl and start thinking about the world! I'm going to be Fire Lord one day," I told him with a smile, remembering my strange dream, "And I don't want you to hate me for taking her from you. Grow up!"
Aang looked shocked, but that emotion soon turned into anger. He gripped his staff as he readied himself to fly away.
"Oh yeah, run away. Do you remember what happened last time you did that?!"
Aang froze, and I knew I hit him low. "Are you blaming all of that on me?" He asked, his voice dangerously low.
"As a matter of fact I am." I sneered and struggled to get up. My body ached, but I was not backing down until I got my point into his thick skull.
Aang growled. "This is just as much your fault as it is mine. If you would have told me sooner-"
"You would have done the exact same thing, and you know it." I chugged the rest of the wine and felt much better. "Stop trying to make yourself seem less guilty, I know I shouldn't have kept him a secret from you, but you need to stop and think about why we did that! We knew you would go crazy!"
Aang's eyebrows furrowed. "We?" his voice lost some anger.
"Yes!" I yelled with no mercy. "We, meaning Katara and I. She didn't want you to know either. We knew you would be crushed and we knew you would do something stupid. And guess what? You did!"
"Katara wanted you to keep this from me too?" He asked.
"Yes. She. Did." I growled.
"But why?" he questioned quietly.
"Because she knew you liked her, but she didn't like you back."
"Oh..." And in one second, he went from an angry Avatar, to a twelve year old boy.
I continued glaring at him, but guilt slowly started to replace my anger. "Damn, I'm sorry Aang. I'm really sorry."
I thought about trying to comfort him, but I knew he wouldn't want me to.
"This really entirely all my fault…" he said quietly.
"Not totally." I backpedaled. "I shouldn't have gone after Kanjou, it's my fault too."
"No its not…you wouldn't have needed to do that if it weren't for me running away." He told me and used his staff to lean on.
"I'm at fault too." I took a step towards him but then stopped.
"No you're not. It's all true. Its-" Aang choked back a sob and a tear ran down his cheek as he began to cry. "Don't apologize."
I groaned to myself, feeling horrible about yelling at him so much. I took another step towards him, and when he didn't glare at me, I walked until I was standing next to him. I did everything slowly, acting like he was a wild animal and could attack me at any second. Slowly, I reached out and put my arm around his shoulders awkwardly and pulled him into a light hug. He stiffened, but then relaxed into my hug and continued to cry.
I didn't know what I was about this kid that made you want to make him happy, but I couldn't resist it.
I let go of him and went into a habit of mine that I picked up from many years at sea with Iroh. I offered him tea. "Here, I'll make you some Jasmine tea; it'll make you feel better."
Aang chuckled pathetically. "Ok, thanks…"
"And Aang?" I asked. "Do you forgive me?"
Aang looked away. "It will take some time to get used to seeing you two together, but I think I'll manage. I forgive you."
"I want to be good friends, okay?" I asked, hoping it wouldn't get too weird around us.
Aang looked at me and smiled. "Okay."
"Good, now let's get you some tea." I patted his bald head, and he swatted away my hand with a wet laugh.
His face was a little red and puffy as I handed him a cup of tea a few minutes later.
"Is Katara mad at me?" Aang asked.
"No, she's not." I told honestly.
"Should I apologize to her?" he asked with worry lacing his voice.
I smiled at him. This was good, by him asking me for advice, it meant he trusted me still. "No, you don't need to. Just make it up to her by not being weird around us."
Aang sniffed and nodded.
A groan brought my attention back to where Katara lay sleeping. I stood up and limped my way over to her side just as her eyes opened.
"Do you feel better?" I asked her quietly.
"What happened?" she asked, dazed and tired.
"You fell asleep." I told her with a smile.
She groaned sleepily. "Did anything happen while I was asleep?"
I glanced back at Aang and he nodded. "Iroh and Toph went out to get us some food, Sokka is…uh…sleeping…and I had a talk with Aang."
Her eyes widened. "You talked with Aang?"
"Yeah." I almost added that it wasn't much of a talk, considering we almost killed each other, but I stopped myself.
"Are you two going to be okay?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yeah, I think we will." I smiled and helped her sit up.
"How are you feeling?" Katara asked, always thinking of others when she should be thinking of herself.
"I feel much better thanks to Iroh's tea."
"Oh good." Katara yawned and smiled up at me.
Just then, Iroh and Toph walked back into camp carrying berries and an unidentifiable animal carcass. Iroh looked at me and I knew they had overheard everything.
Katara got up to make dinner, but Iroh's words stopped her. "Stay, I'll cook, you need your rest."
I gave her a quick peck on her cheek, trying to be mindful that Aang was still here, and squeezed her hand. "Just lay back down and rest."
"I can't possibly rest!" she yelled. "At least let me do something, how about I mend one of your shirts. There's bound to be one shirt with a hole in it." I was about to reject the idea, but she continued. "Let me do this, Zuko, I'll do it sitting down if that'll make it better."
I sighed dejectedly, I could never say no to her. She would be my downfall. "Ok, ok…" I got up awkwardly, the wound in my leg not allowing my muscles to move easily. I sent a silent thank you to Iroh for the wine; although I still hurt just about everywhere, I would be dying of pain right now if it weren't for him.
I found my bag thrown into a pile of everyone else's belongings and had to take a second to pry it out from under Sokka's green purse. With a grunt, it came loose and I was able to open it without further incidents.
When I peered inside, I stopped short. There was an unfamiliar wooden box in my bag. I pulled it out and weighed it in my hands, maybe it was a get well gift from Iroh or something. I frowned, if it was another tea set I was going to chuck it at him. I pried open the lid and froze.
Inside the box was the crown of Agni.
I snapped the lid closed and took a deep breath, freaked out beyond means. I was sure that it had been a dream, I thought that that when I got older, this would be a good story to tell my children about how I had a crazy dream that I met Agni, but now…
I opened the box one last time and peeked inside, waiting for it to morph into a tea set, but it didn't. I touched the fine gold of the crown gently and thought about putting it on and showing it to everyone. With a smile, I put the box back in my bag gently and took a few steps back.
The time would come when I would need this, but that time isn't now.
I swept my gaze to all the others, finally lingering on Aang, who seemed much more cheery after our talk although his face would break into a sad one every once in a while.
The world needed the Avatar, and Aang needed me. So to save the world, I'd help him to be the best that he could be.
I heard Toph laugh along with something Iroh said and I smiled at them. There was something in the back of my mind, a question that I needed to ask Toph. "Hey Toph…" she looked over at me. "How did you keep Sokka from following us?"
Toph looked over at the sleeping Sokka and smiled. "It was easy, I buried him up to his neck in dirt, and the guy couldn't move an inch."
Toph's brow furrowed. "It was weird…he kept mentioning something about how this stuff always happens to him, and he said 'where's a moose lion cub when you need him'…whats a Foo Foo Cuddly Poops?"
Off to my side, I heard Katara snort in laughter.
I smiled at Katara. This was the girl that I almost gave my life for, and I knew that although I might not own her, she definitely owned me, my heart, and my soul. I loved her and always will.
One day, when the war is over, she would be my wife and help me bring peace to the world…together.
Zuko was really close to getting a different gift from Agni...yup, it was either a crown or a muffin basket. I hope I made the right choice...lol.
I'd like to thank everyone for all of the support they have shown me throughout this story! I am very grateful! I cant believe I wasn't even going to post this story!
A special thank you goes out to my beta who constantly yells at me about my grammar mistakes and spelling issues. Thanks for being honest and brutal when needed, and encouraging when I wanted to quit. If I hadn't already payed you (Not money ppl, I wrote her slash as a gift.), I would be tempted to give you something. I'll see you at school on Monday, I love you!
p.s.- The only reason Zuko survived last chapter is because VioletCrystals said so. Lol, jk. I cant believe some of you thought I would kill him! I would have given a character death warning if I was going to kill anyone important off.