Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar or anything related to it. Nor do I own Oshkosh B'Gosh, or any article of farmer work clothing. I used a couple of lines straight from the show again, but I couldn't resist : )

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Chapter Two: The Singer Returns

Sokka was not pleased.

Not only with his cheap burger that could be called meat as much as his previous dinner could be called a fish, or the fact that Katara had been gone for a total of three and a half hours, or even that she was completely wasted, under most circumstances those things could be excused. No, this was far worse. This circumstance caused him to go fully into big brother mode, becoming as intimidating as he possibly could with massive bed head and dark rings under his eyes (she had woken him up, after all).

Katara had brought home a boy.

He knew this day would come. His little sister was an adult, after all. But up until now her various boyfriends had stayed away from the apartment. Sokka had prided himself on being the scariest older sibling he knew, because since his father had left he had to provide intimidation for the both of them.

But this stranger seemed unaffected by Sokka's withering stare. He just smiled at Sokka from across the small pine coffee table, testing the lumpy cushions of the brown loveseat he was currently resting on.

"Soooo…" The stranger drew out the syllable after about a minute of uncomfortable silence, and then added "You're Katara's brother."

"Sure am." The ensuing silence was this time punctuated by a loud snore from Katara, who was currently sleeping on the cot on the other side of the room.

"Well, I'm Aang."

"Okay." The silence lasted a few more minutes. Aang decided if he was going to tell Sokka the real reason he came here, it would have to be now.

"Do you mind if I stay here for the night?" Aang had neglected to book a hotel for the night, as he was at the bar later than he expected and he hadn't really expected to end up in Maine, anyway. Sokka was so shocked by this comment he let it sink in for a few seconds, but then answered plainly.


"Yes, I can stay, or—"

"Yes, I do mind you staying for the night. That is to say, simpleton, that you cannot stay here this night, or ANY night!" By this point, Sokka had raised his voice enough to wake his sister, who stopped snoring and sat up.

"Stop shouting. Let him stay." Katara said, her voice now laced with fatigue.

"What?! We can't just let him stay! He could…steal something!" Sokka's argument sounded weak, even to Katara.

"Think about it, Sokka. What do we have that he would possibly want to steal?" Sokka looked around. She was right.

"Fine," he said finally, sitting back in his tattered gray armchair. "But I'm keeping an eye on him the whole night."

"Don't worry," said Aang, finally chiming in, "You won't even know I'm here!"

"That's what I'm worried about." Sokka grumbled in return.

It was going to be a long night.

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In fact, the night was not as long as they had thought. Sokka had kept vigilant over his sister and Aang for a good half hour after they had both fallen asleep, but gave up and went to bed after his arm started turning red from where he had constantly pinched himself awake. It just wasn't worth it.

So when Aang woke up, he was alone. Well, not alone exactly. Katara was still sleeping off her drinks, and Aang had a feeling she wouldn't be up for a while now. Sokka was in a different room of the apartment, so Aang could be alone for a little while longer. He found the television remote stuck between the loveseat's cushions and decided to channel-surf. After about an hour of one mindless show after another, he finally hit on the kids' channels.

Now showing was a show involving numerous singing animals, one of which was pink and unlike any animal Aang had ever seen. Above their heads floated the show's title in big, kid-friendly letters: "THE BACKYARDIGANS." After a minute of watching them dress up like singing pirates, he mused "That penguin's voice isn't half bad."

"What are you watching?" came a sleepy, muffled voice from behind him. Aang turned away from the television to see Katara, who was now sitting in the gray armchair across from him.

"A show about singing animals."

"None of them sing as well as you," she replied with a smirk.

"Heh, thanks," Aang said, now blushing slightly. He didn't get compliments often, but then again, the only places he had sung previous to Frosty's Pizza were in front of his grandfather Gyatso, and his shower.

"Really. You're the best singer I've heard since…well, ever. Where did you learn to sing like that?" Aang wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel grateful for her praise or not, since the odd way her eyes narrowed when she talked to him made her praise seem more like disbelief.

"Well, my grandpa Gyatso had a bunch of old forty-fives and a record player, and I listened to them and sang when I was doing my chores at the farm. Gyatso always used to call me the 'singing cowboy,' even though we didn't actually have cows. Just wheat and horses, mostly."

"Oh." Katara turned off the television as the singing animals reached a high-pitched crescendo. "Aang, have you ever heard of the Avatar?" Aang's eyebrows shot up at the word Avatar, but he shook his head no. "Well, he or she is supposedly a great performer who is reincarnated in a cycle as a different type of musician: a singer, then pianist, then drummer, then guitarist, then another singer and so on. An Avatar must master each part of the band to become the greatest performer of their time. But a lot of Avatars never make it big due to bad marketing, so lots of people think that the Avatar is a myth."

"But not you?"

"Not me. The Avatar is the only person left that can bring together all of the elements of a good song, unlike the garbage we have on the airwaves today." Aang looked confused at her last comment.

"Garbage? What's wrong with the music today?" Katara turned the television back on, this time changing the channel to show a taped concert that had aired a few weeks ago. The concert was very theatrical, with lots of flashing red lights and sweaty musicians. The massive crowd was cheering their heads off to…

The worst music Aang had ever heard.

The song was guitar-heavy, filling the small apartment room with blaring bass notes and face-melting guitar riffs. The guitars were so loud that they completely overpowered the comparatively small drum set and were therefore completely off-rhythm. The lead guitarist's face showed utter dedication and concentration, his long black hair partly covering his golden eyes that glowed red in the stage lights. He was physically striking, with a well-muscled, bare chest that the camera operator apparently liked zooming in on. The only singing provided was the lead guitarist's indecipherable screaming into the microphone. The crowd loved it though, screaming even louder as the camera panned over their faces. Katara shut off the television in disgust. Aang sat back, his expression dismayed.

"I see what you mean," he told her sadly.

"That garbage was the work of Ozai, the self-proclaimed 'Lord of Rock.' His music, if you can call it that, is everywhere nowadays."

"That's horrible," Aang said finally.

"But we can stop it."


"Yes! We could start our own band, just you and me. You could sing, and I could play piano. With your voice we could top the charts!"

"You play piano?"

"Not very well, but I'm sure you could teach m—" Aang cut her off.

"You must have forgotten, Katara, but I don't play piano. I'm a singer. Couldn't you find someone else to teach you?"

"The only piano players I ever knew used to play nights at Frosty's Pizza. But they've been replaced by karaoke."

"Oh." They both looked down, dreams melted like chocolate in the sun. Suddenly Aang had an idea. "Why don't we go find them? Then you could get lessons so our band could really rock!"

"But those guys could be anywhere by now. It's been eight years. For all I know, they could both be dead."

"Hey, Katara, don't say that. I'm sure they're out there." He stood up dramatically and grinned at her. "And wherever they are, me and Appa will personally see to it that you get there."

"I've never actually left the state of Maine." Katara said, still unsure about leaving her home.

"It'll be an adventure." Before Katara could reply, her brother shuffled into the room.

"You people are too loud," Sokka groaned, "Waking people up at ungodly hours of the morning. And you didn't even bother to make me breakfast." Katara glanced at the clock.

"It's almost noon, Sokka, and I do everything around here anyway. Why can't you cook your own breakfast for once?

Sokka grumbled something unintelligible and swore his way to the kitchen.

"Not much of a morning person, is he?" Aang observed.

"He's not much of an afternoon person, either. Or a night person, for that matter." Sokka popped his head out around the doorframe to the kitchen.

"I suppose I have to cook breakfast for Aang, too?"

"If it's not too much trouble," Aang replied cheerily.

"It is. But since I'm in such a giving mood, we will be having bacon and eggs."

"Oh…well, there's only a slight problem with that…" Sokka groaned.

"What now?"

"I'm a vegetarian." Sokka was too shocked to reply, appalled that his saint-like offering of greasy, meaty goodness had been so swiftly denied. Katara picked up on his silence and added:

"That means he doesn't eat meat, Sokka."

"I know what a vegetarian is!" As Sokka retreated back into the kitchen he grumbled "I should get paid to put up with this."

After a few minutes of swearing and burnt smells radiating from the kitchen, Sokka finally emerged to thrust two plates of almost unidentifiable food at Aang and Katara. "After you eat, he leaves." Sokka told them sharply, nodding his head toward Aang.

"What?" Katara screeched, more out of surprise than asking a question, all thoughts of food forgotten. Her brother held firm.

"The deal was: he stays one night. After that, my hospitality ends." Sokka decided that this time, he would not give in to his sister's argument. It was his apartment, and his rules.

"Then I'm going with him!" Katara decided as she grabbed Aang's arm (complete with fork half-way to his mouth) and dragged him toward the door.

"You can't just leave, Katara!" Sokka called after his sister. Her eyes narrowed dangerously.

"Watch me." As she began to stalk out the door with Aang in tow, Sokka turned to his last resort.

"You're leaving your family for a guy you met last night? What would Mom say?"

She stopped.

"Don't bring Mom into this." Katara's voice had an edge of steel, but Sokka knew his little sister well enough to know he had hit a nerve.

"Just think about what you're doing for one minute, that's all I ask."

Aang finally managed to disentangle himself from Katara long enough to chime in. "It's okay, Katara. I've still got places to go. I'll be fine."

"Okay," she said finally, giving him a hug that lasted maybe a bit too long for everyone's comfort. "Well…thanks for the ride home and everything."

"Thanks for breakfast," he replied, handing back the fork he was still holding.

"You're not welcome," said Sokka dourly, ruining the mood. Katara tried her best to ignore her brother.

"Visit us…anytime you're in the neighborhood."

"Will do." And with that he walked away, not wishing to prolong the goodbyes anymore. After a few seconds of silence and immobility, listening to the singer's retreating footsteps, Katara turned to look pointedly at Sokka's breakfast.

"You do realize I'm not going to eat that," she said with almost no emotion in her voice. Sokka stared at the dish for a second, and then sighed.

"Me neither."

It was decided that they would be going out for breakfast.

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Aang had walked out of the back door of Sokka and Katara's apartment building, not wishing for any human contact at the moment. His false happiness had worn off as soon as he walked out the door, but he wasn't sure why. It certainly wasn't because he missed Sokka's company, that was for sure. Although Aang could see where Sokka's wary attitude was coming from, it didn't excuse his abrasive personality. And even though Aang had been known to eat anything put in front of him on a plate, Sokka's cooking was terrible. It wasn't because of Katara, either. She had been drunk for most of the time he knew her, and she had become very…domineering, when sober.

So why was he feeling so depressed?

He tried his best to wave off his feelings as he climbed into Appa, and drove downtown. Now that he was the only person in the car, he could go whatever speed he liked (that was physically possible, of course). It wasn't that Aang enjoyed getting speeding tickets on a regular basis, but he just felt the need for speed. Even if his clunky SUV was one of the worst possible car shapes for swiftness, he had saved up to buy it (used) himself. And that made Appa special.

Aang decided he would go one last time to Frosty's Pizza, for old time's sake. Aang noticed that, judging from the amount of cars in the parking lot, the crowd was considerably less than the night before. One car caught his eye though, a little boxy blue car that probably wanted to be a Jeep when it grew up but was definitely worse for the wear. Normally he wouldn't notice something like that, but he remembered Katara saying last night that she had a "really crappy blue car." On closer inspection of the rustbucket, he saw that the steering wheel had one of those cloth cozies on it that seemed to be so popular with the young adult car-driving crowd. The cloth was printed with a keyboard motif.

Definitely Katara's.

But what was he supposed to do? Drive her car back and walk to get Appa? Get the car towed? Or just leave it there indefinitely? He could do anything he wanted…

But he couldn't just leave it there.

As Aang drove Appa out of the parking lot and towards the apartment building five minutes later, he tried to convince himself he didn't care about Katara at all.

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If Jee had thought a few months in an RV were bad, he should try being more or less on the road for a few years. That had been Zuko's life for the last five years, getting small-time gigs all over the country. He had played guitar at carnivals, retirement homes, and once even at an amusement park (as the opening act for another lesser-known band). It was humiliating work, and he had a sinking suspicion that the only way he got people to hire him at all was through association.

He was the son of the "Lord of Rock." The operative word there being was.

Now that he was twenty-two and officially an adult, he no longer had to live with the rock legend or even talk to him, but he carried his father's mark all the same. Whispers followed him everywhere, most of them along the same basic lines:

"Hey, that's Ozai's son!"

"Oh, I remember him. Wasn't he on the news for something five or six years ago?"

"Yeah. Something having to do with Ozai's custody battle after Ozai tried to kill him."

"Poor kid. Want to go get something to eat?"

Zuko was shaken out of his trance.

"What?" He looked up to see his uncle's smiling face. Iroh was wearing his casual clothes, gray slacks and a crisp white T-shirt. Apparently while Zuko had stayed up the whole night, Iroh had time for personal grooming. As usual, he had a steaming cup of coffee in one hand. He drank coffee so much that to Zuko it seemed like a permanent fixture to his body. Zuko normally didn't like the strong taste of his uncle's coffee, but after a long night of hardly any sleep the scent of it made his senses go wild.

"I said: do you want to get something to eat? It's almost lunchtime, and you missed breakfast."

"Uncle, we're on stakeout. What if he decides to leave while we're eating?"

Iroh only stared at his nephew, his eyes imploring him to get up from his perch in the driver's seat of the RV for a few minutes, at least. Zuko's golden eyes glittered back, informing his uncle that he would not, under any circumstances, leave until he found what he wanted. Iroh finally gave in with a sigh, heading toward the back of the vehicle.

"I'll get you a sandwich."

Zuko said nothing, staring out the windshield of the RV ready to jump on anyone who came out the door of the apartment building. It would be an understatement to say he had been surprised when Jee had described the singer, and even more so when he had led them to this run-of-the-mill apartment building. The building wasn't exactly a decaying wreck, but the luxuries there were decidedly Spartan. All in all, it was an average building in an average town.

So what was a singer of such high caliber doing here? He could be anywhere else in the world, making millions from single performances. He was the Avatar, after all!

Or at least, Zuko fervently hoped that he was the Avatar. If Jee had been exaggerating the singer's "amazing" voice, or if he had somehow trailed the wrong person, Zuko would be back at square one. And if he ever wanted to get into his father's good graces again, this kid had to be the one. On the other hand, if the Avatar was real and Zuko managed to get him to join his band, Zuko could become just as popular as his father. Perhaps even more popular than his father. And he wouldn't have to stalk prospective band members…

Just like he was doing now.

After waiting another hour and eating half of a peanut butter sandwich, Zuko spotted two people walking out of the front door of the apartment building, a guy and a girl that looked a year or two younger than him. Not wanting to cause another false alarm, he pulled out his walkie-talkie from the RV's glove compartment.

"Jee. Are you there?"

"Eh?" Came the nasally, static reply. Zuko rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand. No matter how many times he heard the man's voice, his Canadian accent annoyed the hell out of him.

"Look out the window. Is that the girl you saw with the singer last night?" Jee obliged, looking out the backseat window of the RV at the two figures walking from the apartment. Jee rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and responded.

"Ya, that's her right dere."

"Thank you." As Zuko stepped out of the vehicle, Jee's voice sounded from the walkie-talkie.

"Uh, Zuko, why do we have to talk on dese walkie-talkies here if we're only a few feet away dere, eh?" Zuko's reply was to simply turn off the walkie-talkie and slam the car door behind him. The reason he talked to Jee via walkie-talkie was because he despised the man and wanted to have as little contact with him as humanly possible. Even if that meant taking extreme measures.

Zuko strode over towards the pair, acting as confidant as he could while having no idea what he was doing.

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As Katara and Sokka left the building to get a decent breakfast, they saw an imposing young man with a mohawk coming toward them. He was about Sokka's height, although counting the black mohawk; he was an inch or two taller. He wore a typical tough-guy black leather jacket over a red T-shirt with a burning guitar on the front. His badass look was given some merit with the burn scar he sported over his left eye.

Sokka turned to his sister and whispered the exact same thing she was thinking:

"Who the hell is this freak and why is he walking towards us?" Okay, maybe she would have phrased it better than that, but it was the same general idea. Zuko stopped in front of them and addressed Katara.

"There was a singer who brought you here last night. Where is he?"

"I have no idea who you're talking about," she told him, but he continued anyway.

"Orange shirt, bald, amazing singing voice?" Zuko listed Jee's description from memory. Katara shook her head no, but Zuko took another step towards her. He knew she was lying.

"Listen, buddy, my sister doesn't know who you're talking about. So if you'll just step asi—"

Sokka was cut short by Zuko, who pushed him to the ground with what looked like minimal effort. Sokka's first thought was: I knew that kid was going to be trouble.

His second thought: I need to work out more.

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As Aang drove by Sokka and Katara's apartment, he was pleasantly surprised to see both of them already outside. Less enjoyable, though, was the fact that they were being harassed by a man with very strange hair. Although Aang couldn't see what they were saying, he could tell it was getting dangerous when the stranger pushed Sokka down on the sidewalk and started advancing on Katara.

It was none of his business. Katara and Sokka were adults; they could fend for themselves. He could just drive away now and be done with the whole situation.

Aang parked Appa and walked toward the group. He hated lying to himself.

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"Hey! What's going on here?"

Katara looked around. She knew that voice.

She finally spotted Aang coming toward them from across the street. She didn't say anything to him, but her eyes told him desperately to go away. Apparently he didn't get the hint fast enough, as Zuko followed Katara's gaze to see his prize walking towards him, practically handing himself over on a silver platter. Zuko's good eye widened.

"You," he said to Aang simply, an odd expression to his voice that Aang couldn't place.

"Me," Aang replied, just to be contrary.

"You're the Avatar," Zuko said with self-belief. Aang glanced at Katara before saying:

"That's possible. Who are you?"

"My name is Zuko. You need to come with me."

"And why would I want to do that?"

"I want you to join my band." At first Aang was going to ask if he was serious, but Zuko's eyes assured him that he was, in fact, quite serious.

"If I join you, will you leave my friends alone?" This question surprised everyone, including Zuko. He looked first at Katara, then Sokka (who was still sitting on the ground), and then back to Aang.


Aang gave Katara a hug, and then held out his hand to help Sokka onto his feet. As he left for Zuko's RV, he called back:

"Take care of Appa for me!"

The RV drove off not only with Aang, but all of Katara's hopes as well.

"We have to go after him, Sokka."

"Uh-huh," was his wholly noncommittal reply. Katara still looked out down the street where they had left, as if watching for the RV would make it suddenly reappear.

"I mean, I know you two weren't exactly friends, but he could have made me a whole career! We could still make it to the top if we could just figure out a way to get him back—"

"Right. Are you coming or not?" Katara heard the sound of a car revving its engine behind her, and she turned to find Sokka at Appa's wheel. She ran to climb in the passenger's seat.

"Sokka! How did you…?"

"The kid slipped me his keys when he helped me up."

"But I thought you didn't like him."

"Not one bit. But you like him, and…I care about you, sis." Sokka stopped. If he didn't watch it, he might become sentimental. Katara threw her arms around his neck in a hug, just because she knew he hated it.

"I think that's just about the nicest thing you've said, ever." Sokka grinned in spite of himself, and put Appa into gear.

"I'll try not to make a habit out of it or anything. Besides, I wanted to win an argument for once."

As they drove out of the parking lot, Katara realized something.

"It's pretty sad if the only way you can win an argument is by siding with me."

"Shut up, Katara. I've used up my nice for today."

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As the RV drove away, its occupants were relatively silent. Zuko was driving, Iroh was asleep in the back seat, Jee was playing solitaire, and Aang sat in the passenger seat idly looking out the window. Aang let out a long, dramatic sigh, sneaking a glance at Zuko to se if there was any reaction. Nothing.

He tried another time, dragging out the sigh so that Zuko couldn't possibly ignore him. Zuko glanced over irritably.


"It's just, joining you and all; I didn't have time to get lunch. Maybe we could stop somewhere…?" Aang asked, his eyes growing round and innocent. Aang had never been much of an actor, but Zuko was tired enough to fall for his act. He pulled over at a convenience store and unlocked the doors of the RV.

"There. Get whatever you want but I'm not paying for it," Zuko told him.

"Oh! Can I get sum o' doze snack foods den, eh?" asked Jee hopefully.

"Just go."

Jee followed Aang happily into the convenience store. As Aang walked in, his only thought was: I hope Sokka isn't as big of a jerk as I think he is.

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"Are you sure they went this way?"

"Katara, I know this town like the back of my hand. They went this way."

"What if they turned back on Ninth Street?"

"All that's up past there is farmland. They would have gone back though town." Katara hated admitting her brother was right, but this time he was. She was just getting a little over-excited about the whole situation. As she looked out of the window, she spotted a very familiar RV parked in front of a convenience store.

"There he is!" She shouted, pointing out the window. Sokka followed her direction, finally parking next to the RV. "Let's go in and get him!" Katara said, already unbuckling her seatbelt and stepping out of the car. Sokka held her back.

"Patience, little sister. We wait until he comes back out. Then we won't have to worry about losing him."

Katara sat back down. Dammit, he was right again.

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The inside of the convenience store was pretty much the same as every other convenience store in America, with dingy lighting and generic background music playing over the store's speakers. Aang chose a bag of chips and a Coke out the rows of snacks and drinks, and then walked up to the counter to make his purchases. He glanced out of the window behind the counter that looked onto the parking lot to see Appa driving up next to Zuko's RV. He felt like shouting in delight. His plan was working out perfectly! Now it was time for the finishing touch.

"Excuse me ma'am," he told the employee at the cash register, pointing at a tool on the wall behind her "How much for those utility knives?"

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Fifteen minutes later, Aang, Katara, and Sokka were headed back to the apartment unscathed.

"I still can't believe you slashed Zuko's tires," Katara said to Aang, who was sitting in the backseat. Aang held his new utility knife aloft in the air like Excalibur.

"I guess you don't know that much about me," he told her, laughing.

"I guess not. Now put that away before you stab your eye out," Katara replied, sounding a lot like his mother would.

"Well, this has been fun, but you two do realize Zuko will be after us as soon as he gets those tires fixed," Sokka cut in, ruining the mood. "He knows where we live, Katara. The apartment isn't safe anymore."

"We could go back to my farm. My grandpa would probably know what to do, and we could stay there for a while," Aang said thoughtfully.

"But that's all way in Iowa!" Katara protested.

"Wisconsin, actually. And besides, it'll be an adventure!"

"…Well, it's safer than staying here. How about it, Sokka?" Sokka groaned internally at his sister's request, knowing he'd kick himself for his decision in the morning.

"Yeah, why not. It's not like I've got anything else to do here."

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A/N: Thanks for the reviews, guys! Next up: A "reunion" with Gyatso and a Guitar Hero battle of epic proportions!

A/N2: Fire Lord Ozai's unofficial AU name is Ozai Osbourne. The only reason I'm not calling him that in the fic is that it caused too many problems to give Zuko a last name, and it seemed in bad taste.