Title: Finding Ursa
Summary: After his father told him where he could find his mother, Zuko set off to look for her... but finding Ursa might be more difficult than anticipated. SOZIN'S COMET SPOILERS!
Spoilers: Sozin's Comet and earlier.
A/N: This could be considered either Zutara or Kataang -- I'm not going to add either firmly. It can be whichever you want. Hell, it can even be NIETHER if you so wish it. Enjoy! Reviews are greatly appreciated.
"Aang, I need you to cover for me," Fire Lord Zuko insisted, his golden eyes begging. "Please, this is important."
"What for?" the Avatar asked, surprised and intrigued. It had only been a week since the previous Fire Lord had been defeated, and the monk couldn't think of what might be significant enough for his friend to want to leave his post already.
The Fire Lord glanced around and leaned in to whisper, "It's my mother. I think she might be alive, and I know where to look."
Surprised, Aang was speechless for a moment before responding softly with, "How do you know?"
"My father," was the instant reply. "I asked him just a few hours ago and he told me where I might be able to find her, or at least ask around to see where she went if she's not there." He was breathless with excitement; try though he might to suppress it.
Becoming rather uncomfortable under his friend's hopeful gaze, the younger boy looked out a nearby window. The sky was a perfect blue, with an occasional wisp of white cloud and a few birds flitting about. Concentrating hard on this beautiful image, he said tenderly, "Did… did you consider that he might be lying about her whereabouts or even whether or not she's alive?"
"Of course I've thought of that," Zuko snapped, his face falling almost instantaneously into a scowl. "But I don't think he'd risk such a lie while he's lying helpless in prison. Besides, even if she is… y'know… well, at least I'll know for sure."
There was a finality to his tone that made Aang nod slowly. He looked once again into the eyes of his comrade and smiled warmly, "Of course I'll cover for you. Just… please remember that things could go either way. And no matter what happens –"
"Are you done preaching yet?" The Fire Lord asked impatiently, which earned him a quick cuff on the side of his head.
"No, I'm not done, so please hear me out," the Avatar insisted, ignoring his friend's eye roll. "Remember: no matter what happens, it's not the end. We still love you and your nation still needs you."
Predictably made uncomfortable by the mushy talk, the scarred young man just shrugged and said, "Whatever. We ought to tell the others, but I'd really rather not have this made public… and I don't want to be recognized on my journey, either."
"I think we can arrange that!"
THIS IS A LINE BREAK
"You're gonna go do what now?!" Sokka's eyes were wide and skeptical. Behind him, his sister looked worried.
"I'm going to try to find my mother," Zuko repeated. "My father told me where I should be able to find her, or at least find people who may know her."
"And you're really going to trust your father, after all he's done to you and the world?" the Water Tribe Warrior asked, his voice etched with sarcastic skepticism.
His patience wearing thin, after having to explain the exact same thing to Suki, Toph, and Mai, he said irritably, "He can't do anything while he's imprison and he's not stupid – he knows what a mistake it would be to give me false information when he's so helpless."
"It's still risky," Sokka insisted. "And besides, your nation needs you right now; you're not really going to abandon it so soon after becoming the leader, are you?"
Taking a deep breath to keep himself calm (sometimes Sokka could be so infuriating!) he asked, "If there was even the slimmest chance that your mom was alive, wouldn't you want to look for her? Even if she's not, I need to know."
Speaking for the first time, Katara said, "He's right Sokka. Just like I needed to meet the man who killed our mother, he needs this, if only so he knows whether or not she's alive."
There was a three-way silence for a few moments while the blue-eyed lad considered this. He glanced around and softly asked, "Will you be able to, though? What about the anti-war meetings and—,"
"Aang will be taking care of that," he said. His golden eyes were determined and steadfast, simply unrelenting. "Upon his assistance," he added, "Toph will be coming with me. Though I wouldn't mind if I had a little extra company," he hinted.
"I can't come," Sokka said. "Suki promised to train me in some Kyoshi techniques."
"I'll come," Katara piped, grinning. "I owe you anyway for saving me from Azula's lightning."
"Thanks, Katara," Zuko said with a smile. "You don't owe me anything, but I do really appreciate the extra company. I plan on heading out tomorrow morning, at sunrise."
"I'll be ready," she said. She promptly hugged him and left, humming softly under her breath.
THIS IS A LINE BREAK
Zuko, Toph, and Katara had their clothing and other essentials in Appa's saddle when Aang came out, smiling. He brought a very large bag of food and, after airbending it onto Appa, he stepped forward to give everyone – including Appa – a quick hug.
"Take care," he said, "and good luck. I really hope you find her."
"So do I," Zuko said softly. He glanced at his friends and asked, "We all ready?"
After a few more good-bye hugs from Aang ("Enough already," Zuko snapped, losing his patience.) they took off into the sky.
"Where are we going, anyway?" Toph asked, her cloudy eyes staring blindly at a spot on Appa's saddle.
"Hing Wa Island," Zuko replied. "I know it for it's ash banana crop and as far as I know, there aren't many occupants – just some merchants and then the people who actually tend the ash bananas. It's pretty wild otherwise."
"We should probably start by asking the locals if they've seen her," Katara said. "If not…"
"…if not," Zuko continued, "then we'll know that she's hiding herself well."
They traveled until high sun, and then decided to give Appa a few hours' rest before finishing the journey. Zuko paced restlessly while eating the moon peach that Katara gave him. He was a bundle of nerves, though he tried hard not to show it – what if she wasn't there, what if she wasn't even alive? The whole journey could be a waste of time, when he should be helping Aang with the anti-war meetings…
"Zuko, are you alright?" Katara prodded him with a stick. He frowned indignantly, and then nodded.
"Yeah, I'm alright," he told her. "It's just… what if she isn't there? Or isn't… anywhere?"
"Zuko," she murmured, "you've gone this long without her, right? It would be fantastic if she were to be there, but there's always a chance that she won't be – you don't know for sure. Even your father can't be entirely positive that she's still there. But it's worth that chance. If we weren't going to go, you'd just be wondering, and never knowing. No matter what happens, this journey is worth it."
"I know," he said softly. "It's just that… I've grown so hopeful of her return since my father first mentioned that she could be alive, during the eclipse. I don't know if my heart could take it if she's not alive."
"I don't think you need to worry about that, princess," Toph said suddenly, sitting up from her position on the ground. "You've been through a lot: an abusive father, her leaving, your sister… you're strong. You can make it, no matter what. You're solid and firm, and will not be blown down by the winds of fate. Got it?"
"Wow, Toph," Katara said, her eyes wide. "That was really insightful."
"I try," she replied.
Zuko remained silent, staring at the ground. She was right, of course. He had endured so much in his sixteen years, but the thought of losing her again… it was terrifying.
"Zuko… everything will work out for the best, you know that." Looking into Katara's eyes, he felt a surge of hope. She was right – she usually was, after all.
THIS IS A LINE BREAK
The rest of the journey to Hing Wa Island was relatively uneventful. They talked about the state of the world and how they wanted it to be, with occasional comments on the weather. Very little was said about their destination or the reason for the journey; there was simply nothing to say on the subject.
"There it is!" Zuko exclaimed suddenly, rising slightly to get a better look at the island below them. Appa brought them down and they jumped from his back, looking around. Ash banana trees grew abundantly and created a small forest, and many ferns covered the earth.
"There are people coming," Toph said, frowning slightly. "They don't seem very happy."
Zuko pulled up his hood and inched behind Katara, trying to be discrete. At her raised eyebrow, he shrugged sheepishly and said, "I'm not chancing them recognizing me just now."
Several men came from the ash banana forest, carrying swords, pitchforks and, in the case of one man, an oddly shaped rock. "Introduce yourselves," said the first man sharply.
"My name is Katara, and these are my friends: Zuko and Toph. We mean no harm," the waterbender said, ignoring Zuko's hiss when his name was given.
Luckily, news of the war's end seemed to have not yet reached this island, so the men were unscathed. They narrowed their eyes, but stood their ground. "What is your business here? You don't seem like ordinary ash banana merchants."
"We're not," Zuko said, stepping forward. "We're looking for someone. A woman. Black hair, golden eyes, named Ursa. Have you seen her?"