Authors Note: You know how sometimes you're in the middle of writing something completely different and a plot bunny sneaks out and attacks you, and you have to stop and write it down before it eats your brain? That's what's happened here. I hope you enjoy it!
Takes place during the time of The Tales of Ba Sing Se
The air was warm and dry, the cat-birds were singing, Yue had risen mid-morning in all of her glory, and Sokka had a few spare coins in his pocket that were just begging to be spent.
All in all it was the start of a good day.
Sure, things could be better. He could have meat right now. Luckily, that was one thing he planned on fixing.
It wasn't often Sokka traveled down to the lower rings of Ba Sing Se. Katara would throw a fit if she knew, but Sokka was bored with wondering around the upper rings. The people there were all so… above everyone else. The girls hid behind their expensive fans and giggled to each other whenever he walked by, and the shops were way too expensive and exclusive to do any real meaningful shopping. He just wanted to be among real people for a change, and not royal wannabes.
Sokka cast a quick glance up at the sky where the moon rested, faded but full in the sunlight. "Not that royals are all bad," he murmured with a quirk of a smile across his wide mouth. "You were special, Yue."
Maybe it was his imagination, but he thought that he saw the briefest hint of a shadow cross the moon's features. Almost as if she was winking at him.
Almost the moment he stepped foot off the trolley and into the lower ring, he felt himself relaxing. It was crowded and loud here, and the air was heavy with the scent of people and food. Merchants were barking out for sales from every direction.
Sokka took a second glance at one who seemed to be having a sale on cabbages, and quickly walked in the other direction. He didn't know if it was the same guy from Omashu, but he didn't want to take the chance.
Sokka smiled to himself again, and then turned his attention to his surroundings. He couldn't be caught out daydreaming in the while walking the lower rings. There were posters of some kind of blue masked bandit laughing out at him from nearly every wall. Someone had taken it upon himself to disrupt the "peaceful" goings on in Ba Sing Se. Sokka would have rooted for him, if he wasn't hurting innocent people.
His silver and copper pieces jingled heavily in his pocket. Alright. Now was time to get some serious shopping done.
The second that thought flashed through his mind, his eyes caught sight of a dingy looking tea shop. Normally he wouldn't have given it a second glance — tea was usually Toph and Aang's thing — but he had a sudden craving for the special kind of artic rose-thorn brew that his Gran Gran used to make. This was Ba Sing Se… they probably had exotic flavors from all over the world.
He was reaching out for the door handle when the door suddenly flew open as if kicked by the other side. He caught only a flash of a scowling mouth and a large reddened scar before they collided.
"Ow," Sokka grumbled, rubbing his forehead. He glanced at the other teen… and then froze.
Prince Zuko… the angry freak with a ponytail (only it looked like he had finally ditched that horrible look and grew his hair out a little) was staring at him, his good eye widened in shock.
"What are you doing here?!" Sokka demanded, nearly outraged. He thought he was going to have a good day!
The angry firebender just opted for a surlier growl of, "You!" before he reached behind his back, and with a zing of metal, brought his Dao swords to bare.
Sokka ducked to the side, avoiding Zuko's first wild slash. He felt as if his mind was going at a million miles an hour. He should run, get Aang and the others and come back to take care of this menace. Ba Sing Se was a place for Earth Kingdom refugees, not firebenders… and how had Zuko managed to track them down here, anyway? Didn't the guy ever give up? They should have left him to freeze at that stupid cave in the North Pole. Maybe Yue would be alive…
As he scrambled to the side to avoid another swing, Sokka's fingers closed on a long piece of metal, a crowbar left over from some construction project next door to the teashop. Inwardly, he grinned and when Zuko struck at him again, he met his swords with the heavy steel bar, the impact jarring both teens to the bone.
He had just a moment to enjoy the look of shock and rage on the firebender's face, before Sokka went on the attack. He jumped to his feet, swinging widely — not really in an attempt to hurt, but mostly to give himself some space so he could think. One of his wild swings ended luckily, catching the Angry Jerk in his left arm with a sickening crack.
Zuko cried out, dropping the left sword, his arm hanging limp and useless at his side. Sokka jabbed with the crowbar again to back his enemy up a step, and then scooped up the dropped sword. Suddenly, they were on equal footing.
For a moment the two glared at each other, neither one noticing that Iroh had come to the door and was watching the duel warily, and both very much aware that they could throw down their weapon and walk away from the fight without any more bloodshed.
Blue eyes met amber, both hardened against one another.
"You good for nothing watertribe peasant." Zuko growled.
"Stupid firebender." Sokka shot back.
And the swords met again with a loud clash that echoed down the streets of Ba Sing Se.
Zuko knew that he had made a big mistake in underestimating his enemy. His left arm was broken, he could feel the pain like a stabbing knife with every move. Setting his jaw, he forced himself to ignore the arm, concentrating on the task at hand, even as his mind was reeling. If the watertribe boy was here, it meant that the Avatar would be close by! He had thought he had lost his chance — he had even started to accept his new life as a tea server, but now… yes now he would make sure he would win duel and then make this stupid peasant tell him where the Avatar was.
He just hadn't counted on the watertribe boy having any skill. Zuko hurriedly parried a halfway decent thrust, feeling the loss of the left sword. Dao were meant to be used as a pair, and he knew he was handicapped by only having one.
But at the same time he was a Prince and had the benefit of years of weapons training, while this barbarian only had his snowy wastelands to hack at. Zuko felt a ghost of a smile cross over his scarred features. He stepped forward, going on the offensive with a flurry of faints and real jabs meant to overwhelm his opponent and confuse him into making a mistake.
It worked, mostly. The peasant couldn't keep up, but just when Zuko swung a finishing blow meant to disarm, the peasant jumped up to a nearby bench… and suddenly he had the advantage of height.
Zuko swung upwards in a wide arc that jarred his broken arm badly. He gasped, hunching over the sudden pain and had to fall to his knees to avoid the peasant's return attack, the blade only a hairs breath away from his face. Zuko returned it with a slash, viciously aiming for the peasant's knees, and forcing him to jump back down.
In the background he could hear his Uncle yelling… something. The exact words were lost in the heat of combat, but the meaning was clear. He couldn't be caught brawling in the streets again… the Dai Li were coming, he had to stop.
No. He wasn't going to stop. This might be his last shot.
This had to end. Now.
Once again, his and the peasant's eyes met and this time Zuko could see the same steely determination he felt echoed on the other boy's face. Before, their fighting had been serious. Now, it was deadly.
"I won't let you hurt them anymore." The other boy, said.
"And I won't let you get in the way of my destiny." Zuko replied, even as a treacherous voice in his mind asked him which destiny he wanted. One of the Prince, or of Lee?
The swords met again, for the final time because the peasant's inexperience finally got the best of him: when the boy backed up to swing again, his foot caught the crowbar, lying forgotten in the dust.
The peasant threw out his other arm for balance, but fell to the ground anyway.
Zuko allowed himself a split second to savor his victory — before he thrust downward, intending to hold the point to the peasant's neck.
He didn't count on the peasant's vicious kick to this thigh, and he didn't intend to lose his own balance, making his sword go wide. The sharp edge cleaved into the peasant's chest, opening a mortally large gash. Zuko caught a horrible flash of blood and bone before he came crashing down on him. A horrible lancing pain shot straight through his stomach, right out his back…
Sokka's sword had impaled him straight through, even has Zuko's sword slashed him from chest to belly.
Zuko could hear his uncle yelling, words mixed into the peasants last gurgled breaths under him… and it didn't hurt as much as it did a just few seconds ago. He was already feeling a little numb… felt like he was floating…
The world first took on a pallid shade of fuzzy gray, and then grew dark around him.
Sokka woke up.
Only it didn't feel like he was waking from normal sleep. It was as if he were a small flame that had blinked out, only to be rekindled by a powerful hand.
Not that he really wanted to think about fire or firebenders for that matter.
Blinking in confusion, he sat up and put a hand to his chest. He was whole, tunic and flesh back to normal as if it never had been cut. How…?
A muffled sound to his right got his attention, and he saw that the Angry Jerk was sitting next to him, a hand to his own stomach which was also whole and unblemished.
"You… you killed me." Zuko said. There was a mix of awe and shock in his voice.
"Hey, that's only because you killed me!" Sokka yelped, indignant. "At least," he paused, a hand still to his chest, feeling his own heart beat. "I think I died."
Zuko's left hand shook as he flexed his arm, testing what was once broken. "I think I did too."
"'How' isn't really what you should be asking yourself, Sokka," said a melodious voice, "You should be asking 'why'?"
Suddenly he and Zuko were no longer the only ones in this strange blank nothingness. A beautiful white haired young woman, in glowing white dress stood in front of him. To her side stood a stately dark haired man clad in orange robes, his hair in a royal topknot in the fire nation style.
"Yue!" Sokka gasped. He stood up, intending to go over and give her a hug, but something in the way she held herself made him pause. She stood straight and tall with her hands tucked into her robes, her lips pressed into a thin line.
Zuko, on the other hand was bowing so low that his forehead touched the floor. "My Lord."
"Sokka, how could you?" Yue's voice, always full of laughter and a strange type of wisdom as Sokka knew her in life, was filled with disappointment. "What did you think you were doing, starting a fight in the middle of the street?"
"Hey!" Sokka pointed at the still bowing prince, "he started it!"
"I did not!" Zuko looked up, and seemed to decide that he was no longer required to bow. Rising to his feet, he clenched his fists. "You were the one who ran into me!"
"And you were the one who have ignored your Uncle's good wisdom time and time again, young prince?" The orange-robed man said. Sokka didn't know how he knew, but this had to be Agni the sun spirit. "How many chances have you been given to redeem yourself?"
Zuko shot Sokka a venom filled look. "I have tried to capture the Avatar—"
Agni cut him off with a wave of his hand. His next words were terrible, rolling over the both of them like licking flames. "Do you truly believe it is my wish for you to capture the reincarnated spirit of the planet and throw the entire world out of balance? Tell me that you are not that great of a fool."
Zuko winced and ducked his head. "Then it was my destiny to work in a teashop? Be a nobody?"
"Wait, you worked in that teashop?" Dawning realization hit Sokka full on, and he didn't know if he should laugh or be horrified. "I thought that you were chasing us again. You know, like you have been for the past four months!" he glanced at Agni, wanting to drive home the fact that his subject was an angry jerk, and that he deserved to be yelled at.
He noted with satisfaction how the unscarred side of Zuko's face blushed with embarrassment. "Well if you didn't kick my leg out from under me like some kind of untrained barbarian, we wouldn't be here. I wasn't trying to kill you!"
"How was I supposed to know that?!" They were sniping at each other right in front of the Sun and Moon spirit. A small part of Sokka's brain was telling him that this might not be such a good idea, but he was too incensed to care. "Every time I've ran into you in the past you were an angry sadistic jerk! You're fire nation, and you were going for my neck. What was I supposed to do?"
"You were supposed to submit in honorable combat!" Zuko's pale cheek was flushed bright now, and he took a step forward, looking like he wanted to hit the other boy. "But I suppose you don't even know what honor is. Watertribe." He spat it as if speaking a curse.
"SILENCE!" Agni's command stopped their argument right in its tracks, although both boys glared at each other. Sokka curled his hand into a fist and realized it was shaking. They were about to come to blows again. Right in front of the spirits.
Agni swept an imperious look over the both of them before turning to Yue. "Fire and water do not mix well. He," a long finger pointed at Sokka, "is a companion of the Avatar, yet he cannot see past his own prejudices." Now the finger pointed to Zuko, "And his heart and mind are so separated he would be the last I would choose to bring this world back to balance."
Yue's face saddened. She looked like she wanted to agree. Sokka's heart caught… he didn't mean to make her lose her faith in him. "I'm… sorry," he said, directing the apology at (just to be sure that Angry Jerk didn't think it was meant for him), "I just thought… the fire nation took my mother away from me, and you'd still be alive if it weren't for Zhao."
She turned her sad gaze to him. "I had to return what was borrowed. It was my fate to become the Moon spirit." She stepped forward, and for the first time touched Sokka, a brush of a hand across his cheek. "Don't worry for me. I feel most sorry for Aang, Katara, and Toph… your fight cost them all, even if they don't know it yet."
There was a strange look on Zuko's face, almost as if he was about to sneeze. It took Sokka a moment to realize that it was sadness, even regret. "What's going to happen to my Uncle?" he asked, looking to Agni. "I didn't think… I didn't mean to get killed."
"You didn't think." Agni repeated, his voice chilly despite being the Sun. "Why does that not surprise me? Your Uncle just watched his nephew died a murderer right in front of his eyes. How do you think he will fare?"
Both boys stared at each other. Murderer. They had both killed each other. But… that couldn't be right, could it? Instantly, both launched into denial.
"He was coming at me with his sword! It was this big!"
"He broke my arm, and I couldn't catch my fall!"
"Hey, you were the one who pulled out your swords first."
"You were bursting into my teashop!"
"I was not!"
At once both boys looked to their respective elemental spirits and pointed fingers at each other.
"IT WAS HIS FAULT!"
Agni looked too stately of a man to throw up his hands and roll his eyes, but that was exactly what he did, and turned to the Moon spirit. "Impossible. These two are too wrapped up in their own pettiness to see the truth. They are too much alike for such opposite elements."
Yue was silent for a moment before she spoke, "There is a proverb in my own tribe. 'In order to fully understand a man, you must first walk a mile in his shoes.'"
"Then… that way, if he gets angry, he'll be a mile away, and barefoot?" Sokka guessed, and ignored Zuko's sudden snort of laugher. He didn't know the evil firebender could laugh.
But Agni seemed to be interested now. He tugged at his long dark beard in consideration. "That may work, Yue. It would grant them a second chance like you wanted, and it would serve my purposes as well."
Yue smiled that gorgeous completely open smile that never ceased to melt Sokka's heart. "Then it is decided."
"Wait, what's been decided?" asked Sokka, glancing from one spirit to another. He wasn't sure if he should dare to hope… he would get a second chance?
Zuko shot him another glare. "Shut up. Don't question the spirits!"
"Oh, you're one to talk."
"You will be sent back after all." Agni's voice broke above their renewed bickering. "But your positions shall be switched. If you are wise," and his expression told them that he seriously doubted they were, "you will glean some wisdom from this experience. But I will give you this one warning… no mortal soul is to find out what has happened, or I will bring my wrath upon you myself."
"We can't have everyone wanting second chances." Yue clarified, with a serene smile.
There was a moment of silence as each wrestled with what they just had been told, and what it meant for them.
"Wait, wait, wait!"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not evil enough to be him!"
"How long is this going to be for?"
Agni and Yue just smiled, and the world went dark again.
Sokka woke up again. This time it was for real, because he could still feel the sweet embrace of unconsciousness still at the corner of his mind. He felt sweaty and sick, and his arm hurt like hell.
He was being smothered… no… he was being held, a scratchy beard tickled his face and wet teardrops fell onto his neck.
"Zuko…" said an aged voice above him, "Oh, my nephew…"
He stirred, instinctively trying to push away the arms so he could breathe, so he could think. Immediately the body above him stilled and pulled back… and Sokka was looking into the golden eyes of that one General guy who had helped them in the North Pole.
"How?" The General whispered, touching a hand to Sokka's cheek, and then suddenly Sokka was pulled into a crushing embrace again.
Reluctantly, unsure of what to do or how to think, he returned it. The man was crying, after all.
Then, looking over the old General's shoulder he saw something that made his newly beating heart skip a beat. He saw himself sitting there, as if looking in a three dimensional mirror, staring wide eyed back at him.
"No…" Zuko whispered, in Sokka's voice, and before Sokka could do anything he got to his feet and ran off.
Iroh AKA "That one old General guy" copyright Sokka 2008. All rights reserved.
What do you think? Should I continue this crazy story? Did you like it? Anything I missed? Let me know!