CHAPTER 20! ZOMG! AH! Okay, sorry, I had to freak out for a moment. Please enjoy this excessively long celebration chapter.

Also, Thanks to all the reviewers that stuck through everything (especially me being a moody little bitch and not posting in April because I was depressed about my dog dying), I know most people don't care what I say at this stupid over the top of the chapter rant whatsamawhosit and just want me to get on with the chapter, but to those that do, thanks, this fic is massive (with no end in visible sight. It's way off in a horizon-ish direction.) And what I'd claim as a success on my part. I pretty much have taken the universe and gutted it, stuffed it full of assumptions, teenage angst, swords, and UST and created something interesting, if not great.

Yeah, my ego is spiraling right now, no clue why, but I'm oddly humble in my achievement… Ah well, on with the fic, enjoy, and hey, you.

Stay beautiful.

Also, I got a puppy. It really does help…

Chapter 20: Kicking it With the Old Boys.

The balloon had been successfully inflated and upon reaching that point, Juyoi utterly disappeared into the engine room to see what was salvageable.

According to the very loud cursing and screaming echoing from below, not much was.

Zuko was wandering the tents, a couple optimistic soldiers breaking a few of them down, expecting to maybe get out before dark, and then he stopped.

"I think I'm forgetting something." he said aloud, frown crossing his features as he considered it then he spotted Keiichi and snapped. "That guy, the prisoner."

Then he frowned. Maybe he wasn't quite over the effects of that dart; he was kind of talking to himself…

Zuko shook his head and walked briskly after Keiichi, the man carrying a tray with food on it and ducking into a tent. Zuko lifted the flap, the man inside, rough looking with eyes that seemed to pierce through everything, glared in his direction. Though it wasn't directed at him, it was directed at Keiichi.

"About time you showed up! I was starting to think you'd forgotten about me." the prisoner complained and Zuko went slightly red.

He kind of had.

"Sorry about that, I'm a busy guy you know, in case you haven't noticed there's a big bloody ship strew halfway across the beach." Keiichi stated and then glanced back at Zuko. "Gonna stand there all day or help out?"

"Right." Zuko said and stepped forwards, untying the prisoner so he could eat. Keiichi sat with him.

"so who's this mook?" Soucharou grunted, looking over at Zuko as he ate. Zuko frowned.

"You shot me with a poisoned dart." he informed the other man who paused a second then glanced up at him sheepishly.

"Oh, that was you?" he asked conversationally.

"Yes. That was me." Zuko said with an utter lack of emotion, blinking at the earth nation man there and simply wondering if he'd been born with a tragically terrible memory.

"Sorry about that mate." the man apologized and Zuko lifted an eyebrow then shook his head.

"I'm going, take care of him Keiichi." Zuko stated and lifted a flap of the tent as the man panicked.

"Take care of me? What's he mean by that? Hey! Listen to me!"

Zuko let the flap drop and smirked a little as he strolled off.

Revenge was sweet.

Zuko paused a few feet from the tent and cast his gaze towards the tree line, eyes serious and focused.

He could have sworn he saw something…

No. Must have been a trick of the light.

Just in case, better find Katsuo…

Kaido frowned and crossed his arms. His soldier's sense was tingling violently. There was something coming, they were being stalked, though by who, or even what, was the question.

A few of the other more seasoned men recognized it too, the calm before the storm and Kaido barely spotted one of Katsuo's spies combing through the area stealthily, before he flitted away again.

Katsuo felt it too.

That was it, all he needed to know.

Kaido pulled a few of his men off repairs; they weren't doing anything terribly helpful anyway, and set up a perimeter. It was small, just a few men dotting along the campsite edge, but Kaido felt it was enough. Better to keep it small and not risk panicking anyone, than too big and inhibit movement in the enclosed spaces of the camp.

Kaido watched the trees and waited, and he wished they'd landed in a more defensible position.

They had the sea to their backs, the woods to their front, and they were damn near impossible to defend against an air strike from either side.

And that ship that had shot them down was still out there somewhere.

Kaido scowled and watched the trees.

Katsuo's fingers were twitching when Jugan landed in front of him.

"General Kaido has set up a small perimeter around the camp, and we've scouted a little into the woods but as of yet, we haven't seen any activity on that front."

"Any other activity?"

"There was a small camp a bit farther down the beach that looks to have been recently abandoned."

"Any sight on the ship that attacked us?"

"No. It sort of hit and ran, but it wasn't a big ship, it's possible they could have docked nearby and come ashore."

"Alright. Keep me posted." Katsuo nodded and then frowned. "And find Zuko, I want him within arms reach in case something happens."

"Yes sir."

"Oh, Jugan?"

"Yes sir?"

"Keep up the good work." Katsuo smiled encouragingly at the man who nodded and disappeared, Katsuo wandering along and hoping to spot Zuko himself. All he saw was a glimmer then something blew up in the middle of camp.

Soucharou frowned; hand pressed to the ground and then grew a smile. Keiichi lifted an eyebrow at him.

"What?"

"Nothing. What were you saying again?" he asked pleasantly and Keiichi opened his mouth in time for an explosion to rock the camp.

He spun to look at the tent flap seeing smoke, and then back to Soucharou to find only cut rope and a slit in the tent behind where the man had been sitting.

"Shit." Keiichi growled and spun, rushing from the tent.

Kaido knew it was coming but the attack still rocked him. He had commands on the tip of his tongue but he didn't know what to do, they were being attacked and he couldn't even see the enemy.

Renichi caught his attention.

"Sir, plan of attack?" he asked and Kaido growled lowly, pulling his sword.

"Attack of course." he snarled and dove into the fray, eyes frantically searching through the crowds for anything out of the ordinary.

They were too close, too packed together. And where was the fire coming from?

"Renichi, get Satu and Morita on the fires, put them out but keep your eyes open." he barked and the two soldiers saluted.

"Yes sir." he shouted in unison and split up, heading in opposite directions.

"where's Zuko?" Katsuo was suddenly at his side and Kaido shot a glare at him.

"I thought he was with you!" Kaido accused and Katsuo's eyes went wide a moment before pulling a knife to his hand and knocking Kaido out of the way, knocking him to the ground of the soldier behind him, burying the knife to the hilt in his gut.

"Katsuo! What're you-" Kaido started and then saw the small assassin's dagger drop from his hand as his body fell to the ground. Katsuo looked to him.

"We have to find Zuko. Now." he declared and offered Kaido a hand up, the soldier nodding and pulling his sword free.

"Lead the way." he declared and Katsuo smiled a little and took point, darting through the cluster of soldiers defending the airship

Zuko stretched his jaw, trying to get his ears to pop after the explosion left him with nothing but ringing in his ears. He looked around the area, tents burnt and some still flaming, a huge crater in the center of the camp and looked around for a sign or something. A direction, a point of reference, and he blinked frantically.

His eyes couldn't focus, he needed to just take a second and stop but he didn't know what was going on, he couldn't stop, what if someone was hurt? What if he was being targeted?

Zuko took a deep breath and spun around again just in time for another explosion to shake the ground a couple yards away. His ears popped then, just in time for him to hear yells for help under the tent beside him. He shook his head, shaking the confusion out of him, and turned, pulling the burning canvas away to find a soldier trapped underneath.

"Are you okay?" he asked and the man gave him a look like he was a moron and Zuko sighed, rephrasing his question. "Can you walk?"

"Yeah. My leg's pinned though sir." the man answered and pulled himself as far as he could get out from under the collapsed tent. Zuko stepped over him and looked back.

"On three." he stated and the man nodded just for another explosion to rock the camp. Zuko winced but lifted. "Three!"

The soldier yanked his leg out from under the tent pole and pulled himself backwards, rubbing at the leg before Zuko turned and offered him a hand.

"What the hell is going on?" the soldier growled and Zuko scowled.

"Wish I knew." he stated and his eyes focused on the airship. "I do know where we should go though."

Zuko gripped the soldier's arm and pulled it over his shoulder to pull him along, the man limping as Zuko headed to the airship.

Katsuo saw something out of the corner of his eye and snapped towards the direction. A flash of black that wasn't one of his.

He knew the way his men moved; this was different but still familiar.

His eyes took it in, all of it, the chaos in the area, the men, and looked for something that didn't match.

It was uncomfortable, knowing that there was something but not seeing it.

"Katsuo?" Kaido said roughly, pulling the spy out of his focus.

"Yeah?"

"what's wrong?"

"I thought I… no, I did, I saw something but I don't know where it is." Katsuo stated and frowned, Kaido looking past him.

"One of yours?"

"No. But familiar."

"C'mon. We need to find Zuko." Kaido pulled on him and Katsuo reluctantly turned from the area.

It left an itch in him, an insatiable curl in his stomach that kind of made him want to drop everything and go after it, to assess the danger.

But then again, without Zuko, what damage could it really do?

Zuko's left ear kept ringing, most likely due to the explosions that kept going off. He was still figuring that one out. Was it a distraction? What exactly was causing it?

He sure as shit didn't know.

The soldier hobbling along beside him was leaning a bit heavier on his shoulder but he wasn't complaining so Zuko didn't stop, simply heading in the direction of the airship. The fighting had died down; there was still chaos of course, men rushing around putting out the fires, but mostly just a depressed sort of trudging.

"Fire Lord sir!" came a yell and Zuko turned, looking over at one of Katsuo's lackeys. He saluted and bowed then stood straight. "The master has been looking for you."

"Good, where is he?" Zuko nodded and sheathed his swords.

"he's set up away from the camp until he's figured out exactly what's going on."

"Um, sir?"

"Relax, if you need to rest you're free to." Zuko sighed and turned back to the spy. "We'll be along in a minute."

"I was told to escort you sir."

"Sir!"

"What?" Zuko spun and the soldier pointed into the camp.

"LOOK!" the man yelled and Zuko spotted Katsuo quickly making his way towards them, Kaido close behind.

"Damn, I was hoping this would be easy." the spy behind Zuko hissed and the fire bender spun, deflecting the knife in the man's hand with a quick fire burst. Zuko growled and drew his swords only for the man to back flip and shoot a successive blast of fire at him as he ran.

His face right into the injured soldier holding a chair.

"Ow." Katsuo winced and Zuko spun on him.

"I'M GETTING REALLY FUCKING TIRED OF PEOPLE TRYING TO KILL ME!" Zuko yelled, flames whipping up around him. Kaido shaded his eyes.

"You're definitely in the wrong profession then…"

"I KNOW THAT!" Zuko yelled and Katsuo took the chair from the soldier and whacked the man once more with it.

"Alright, objective achieved, hostage captured, and we'll have answers as to exactly who was behind this as soon as I break out my torturin' knives!" Katsuo smiled widely and hefted the now thoroughly unconscious man up onto his shoulder.

"No torture. Interrogation yes, torture no."

"Interrogation, torture, same thing." Katsuo rolled his eyes and Zuko gaped at him. Katsuo frowned. "What?"

"Do you honestly believe that?" Zuko asked and Katsuo shrugged.

"Well, I mean, just about…" he answered and Zuko shook his head, walking towards the airship with the injured soldier.

"I'm disappointed in you." Zuko said, casting a final glance back at Katsuo who nearly dropped the unconscious attacker.

"What? No! That's not fair! Hey!" Katsuo whined and rushed after him, Kaido rolling his eyes in exasperation.

"You'd think an attempt on the leader of our whole damn country hadn't been attacked now wouldn't you?"

"um, General Kaido, sir, as much as I feel awfully heroic for saving the firelord's life, I recently had a building on my leg."

"C'mon." Kaido sighed and pulled the soldier along beside him.

"So, how is everyone?" Zuko asked as Katsuo dropped the attacking man on his head and went to tie him up, Juyoi scoffing.

"Oh we're just fucking fabulous. You know, like crashing wasn't enough, now we have explosions and the gauges are all thrown off because of the displacement of the air and I'm NEVER gonna salvage my chair…" Juyoi grumbled sarcastically and looked to Kaido. "so, who saved our idiot leader's life this time?"

"This young man right here. Hit the guy with a chair." Kaido grunted.

"Nice improvisational skills son." Juyoi nodded appreciatively.

"To full credit, I didn't know he was the Firelord." the young soldier muttered sheepishly.

"Don't admit that when you're giving your speech." Juyoi stated plainly.

"What speech?" he frowned.

"the one that valiantly declares how you saved our idiot ruler's neck from being stretched farther than it needed to be." Juyoi rolled his eyes and Zuko ruffled.

"Now wait just a minute-" he started and Kaido set a hand on his shoulder.

"no, he's right. From now on, you're not going anywhere without a battalion." Kaido stated, Zuko turning on him.

"What? I can take care of myself!" he argued and looked to Katsuo,the spy simply standing there, arms crossed.

"no, Kaido's right. Full protection, me and him will handpick the men, and I'll want Jugan to watch you too." he stated calmly.

"I don't see why this is such a big deal! I can take care of myself you know!" Zuko huffed and Katsuo blinked at him then scoffed.

"You don't see? You really, honestly don't get it? Right now the hopes for an entire RACE rely on whether or not you keep breathing, hell; the whole world is watching the fire nation now. If you die it just proves that our whole nation can't survive during peace, that we've become so accustomed to war that we just don't know how to handle ourselves in peacetime." Katsuo scowled and rubbed at his eyes. "your stupid neck is all that's keeping the trust between the nations alive, all that proves that we aren't all a bunch of murderous cutthroat bastards."

"Katsuo's right, you take far too many unnecessary risks." Kaido nodded and Zuko britled and turned to the soldier whose life he saved.

"And you? What do you think?" he prodded and the young man wenta little red.

"Honestly sir, as much as like knowing you consider us all equals, if I'd have known who you were I wouldn't have had you help me."

"I'm not a goddamn kid! I'm an adult, I can handle it! I've been fighting and clawing to stay alive all my life, I'm not going to just sit back and-"

"Don't you see? Your life is worth more, we're just peons, we move about to keep the king safe, it's what we do." Katsuo said, eyes deadly serious, Juyoi nodding.

"You need to stay safe and let us do our job." he affirmed and Zuko seethed in frustration.

"Fine, assign your bodyguard squad, whatever." Zuko scowled and turned his back on them. "But just so you know, without all of you, I'm just a guy with a crown. I'm worthless without the people that actually get shit done."

Zuko walked out of the tent and Kaido followed him out. Katsuo sighing and looking at the soldier that Zuko had saved.

"How much do you like your life?" Katsuo asked and the man frowned.

"As much as humanly possible. I'm pretty fond of it sir." he answered and Katsuo nodded.

"Good. Because it just got three times more valuable. Your name?" Katsuo asked and the soldier shifted.

"Yeko." he answered and Katsuo frowned.

"Weird name." he grunted and the man shrugged.

"I'm a colony brat." he stated.

"good, well, Yeko, you're now the Firelord's personal bodyguard." Katsuo stated and went to turn.

"Um, in case you haven't noticed I'm a bit handicapped." Yeko frowned and Katsuo rolled his eyes and bent down, yanking his knee up. The soldier yelped but there was a sharp pop and his eyes widened. "What'd you…"

"Ancient secret, now get up and go follow him and the general." Katsuo grunted and pulled him to his feet.

"Um, yes sir Katsuo sir." the man saluted and rushed out Juyoi looking over at Katsuo with a frown.

"What'd you…" he started and Katsuo shrugged.

"His knee was just locked up, no big problem." he smiled and glanced at Juyoi, the captain shuddering.

"remind me to never let you near me neck when it's stiff." he declared.

"Duly noted." Katsuo nodded and grabbed the unconscious enemy's arm, dragging him off. "Don't let me be interrupted."

"Yeah, go do your spy thing, I'll just be here pretending to not know where the screaming is coming from…" Juyoi shuddered and turned his back to the entrance way.

"So um… back to work?" Rari the engineer's assistant asked, wiping soot from her forehead and Juyoi glanced at her.

"Did I ever say to stop?"

"Zuko you know it's for the best." Kaido stated and Zuko glared back at him.

"Doesn't mean I have to like it." Zuko growled and pulled his swords out, turning to Kaido. "I have killed people before, I'm not unprotected."

"Yes but just because you wear armor doesn't mean that you shouldn't have a sword." Kaido smiled and set a hand on Zuko's shoulder. "it's what we're here for, just let us do what we've been trained to do the last hundred years. Okay?"

"Fine." Zuko grumbled and Kaido opened his mouth to add something but Yeko rushed up and saluted.

"Sir! Sir Katsuo has assigned me to be your personal bodyguard until your team is assembled." he bowed and Zuko groaned.

"Great… name?" he sighed.

"Yeko." the soldier answered and Zuko frowned and looked over at him.

"Odd name. Water Nation?" he asked and the man nodded.

"My father had a sense of humor sir. Colony brat." he answered and Kaido nodded approvingly.

"I see. Well fine, stay out of my way and don't interrupt me when I'm talking." Zuko stated and started walking again, no real destination in mind but wanting to get to a place he could just rest for a few minutes.

"Only to save your life sir." Yeko answered and Zuko shook his head, smiling a little.

"I see the humor thing is genetic…" he grumbled and Yeko nodded.

"Yes sir." he smiled and Zuko sighed.

"Don't call me sir." he declared and Yeko nodded hesitantly.

"Ah, um yes… Firelord" he said, almost a question.

"Informal." Zuko insisted.

"He gets irritated." Kaido added and Zuko glared at him.

"Shut up." he growled and both me nodded.

"Yes sir." they stated and Zuko gripped a hand in his hair with frustration.

"God we're gonna be stuck on this stinking island forever aren't we?" Zuko groaned and Kaido and Yeko looked at each other.

"Looks like it sir." they said in perfect unison and Zuko groaned again, stomping off, both men grinning widely and following after him.

End chapter. Again, sorry for the huge wait, lots of busy things going on. For anyone who's also reading my Bleach IshiKei Fic Under These Lonely Stars, chapter 8 on that is going up this week too.

Also, apparently… I'm the first person to write Kick Buttowski fic. I find that hilariously amusing.

And really, I can't apologize enough for this being so fucking late, I was having issues with school and housing and work all in one large couple month's long clusterfuck. Be glad you got this; I wrote it in English class when I could have been sleeping. Huzzah.