Saint River 2.0: I was originally going to have Lan go with them. I'd even started writing the chapter with that in mind, but I kept trying to force it to have her go with them. When I thought about it, there was just no logical way that she'd be able to go to the prison with them and be of any use.
The Layman: Cause havoc like she always does :)
Sakura02: Lol, you know Zuko just wanted a break from her
Thanks: AvatarCat13, erica. phoenix16, ilovezim123, ZabuzasGirl, MS-16 Z Jager, and RandomReader for reviewing.
"That's not right, Aang!" Lan huffed and hopped off of her perch on a nearby rock. She walked over to Aang, and pushed his fist up higher in the air. She nudged his ankles so that his feet were wider apart. "Okay, try again."
Aang did as he was instructed. He grinned triumphantly as the flames came out bigger and brighter than before. He turned to Lan. "Thanks, Lan. You know, you're a pretty good teacher."
"I learned from Grandpa." Lan said, her voice lowering as she thought of her grandfather. She wondered where he was now, and whether he was all right or not. Zuko had told her he'd gone to the jail where Iroh had been held, but the cell had been busted open. She hoped Iroh had managed to escape, and that he was safe somewhere drinking tea. She blinked as she felt a hand resting on her shoulder.
Aang smiled down at her. "Want to do the Dragon's Dance with me?"
Lan smiled back and jumped off of her rock. "Sure."
Katara watched the two from a short distance away, and sighed. Things had been tense between her and Lan ever since Zuko had joined them. She knew she should've handled the issue of Zuko better in front of the little girl, but surely Lan could understand her anger and trepidation at Zuko's joining their group. It wasn't just the fact that he had caused Aang's near death, though that was the main reason. Katara couldn't erase the image of Lan's tear streaked and devastated face at Zuko's betrayal. She couldn't forget how Lan had refused to eat, and had been in an almost comatose like state for weeks.
"Would you just talk to her already?" Toph grouched out from beside Katara. "Honestly, your acting like you're her mother or something."
"I don't think she really wants anything to do with me right now." Katara sighed out. She watched the way Aang and Lan began a mock fight. She had to restrain herself from jumping up on instinct to try and protect Lan as the little girl was thrown back by Aang's earthbending.
"Katara, she loves you." Toph said quietly. "She loves all of us. She's said so herself I don't know how many times. Friends fight. Family fights. Just talk to her."
Lan grinned as Aang helped her up from the ground. "Good job, Aang." She briefly glanced up when she heard footsteps approaching. She scowled and looked away when she saw Katara hesitantly walking towards them.
Katara hesitated for a moment, pausing a few feet away from Aang and Lan. She plastered on a smile even though Lan wasn't looking. "Lan, could I talk to you for a minute?"
"No." Lan answered with finality. She still refused to look at Katara. "I'm busy right now. I have to train Aang."
Aang looked between Katara's crestfallen face, and Lan's angry one. He could see the underlying hurt beneath Lan's anger. He put a hand on Lan's head, waiting patiently for her to finally look up at him. When she did, he gave her his biggest smile possible. "I'll be fine for a few minutes on my own. You go talk to Katara." He held up a hand when Lan opened her mouth to protest. "Please, Lan."
Lan sighed and finally turned to face Katara. She glared at the older girl, her hands on her hips. "Fine."
Katara shot Aang a grateful look before quickly following after the little girl. Once they were a bit away from the others, Katara sat down on the ground. She motioned for Lan to join her. She sighed when Lan sat a few feet away from her. "Lan…I know things have been…tense between the two of us…"
"Leave Zuko alone." Lan cut Katara off. She glared over at the teenage girl. "Aang has forgiven Zuko. That's all that should matter to you. He's trying really hard to do the right thing, and be a good person. You keep making fun of him and being mean to him all the time though! You're not helping him!"
"How can you defend him after what he did to you?" Katara had to shout to be heard of Lan. "He betrayed you! You wouldn't eat, you couldn't sleep! How can you forgive him so easily?"
"Because he's my family!" Lan had stood up at this point. Tears of frustration and anger pricked at the corners of her eyes. She wiped angrily at them, backing away when Katara reached out to her. "He's my family…he's always been there for me. Zuko's had a rough past, but he always protected me. There's always been good in him, he's only just now starting to find it. You have to give him a chance, Katara."
Lan stubbornly shook her head, and once again moved away when Katara reached out to her. "If you can't give Zuko a chance, then I won't speak to you again. I love all of you, Katara. I really do. You guys took me in and gave me a chance, even though I was your enemy. Why can't you do the same for Zuko?"
Katara opened and closed her mouth a few times. She could see hope and anger in Lan's eyes. Finally, Katara nodded her head. "I'll try, Lan. For you." Katara couldn't help the wide smile on her face as Lan rushed forward and hugged her tightly. She'd missed the closeness she'd always had with the little girl.
"Thank you, Katara." She leaned up and kissed the older girl on the cheek. "You'll see! You'll see what a good person Zuko really is."
"I hope you're right…" Katara said quietly.
The rest of the day and the next passed uneventfully. Toph and Lan continued training Aang, both girls taking a bit of joy from knocking the Avatar on his butt. The whole time, Lan worried about Zuko and Sokka. What if they had been captured? She was getting ready to go to bed when she heard the sound of an approaching balloon. She quickly rushed out into the main area where Aang and the others already were.
The group was ready to fight whoever came out of the balloon. Lan immediately lowered her guard when she saw Sokka and Zuko disembark. She rushed over to the two, and grabbed Zuko into a tight hug first. "You're both okay!" She briefly let go of Zuko in order to hug Sokka.
Sokka hugged the little girl back. "Sorry. Our war balloon got destroyed, so we had to borrow another one."
Katara raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like a rather interesting fishing trip."
Zuko smiled as Lan latched back onto him. "It was."
Toph sighed irritably. "Did you at least manage to bring back some meat?"
Sokka nodded his head. "I sure did. The best kind of meat. The meat of friendship and fatherhood."
Lan peered around Zuko. She saw a girl she'd never met before, Hakoda, and a very large man all step off the balloon. "Who're they?"
Sokka quickly pulled the girl to his side. "This is Suki! She's a Kiyoshi Warrior. This is Chit Sang. He helped us escape so we brought him along."
While Sokka and Katara happily embraced their father, Lan turned her full attention to Zuko. She could see that despite his smile, there was an underlying pain there. "What's wrong, Zuko? Did something happen? Are you hurt?"
Zuko turned his full attention to Lan, tearing his eyes away from the happy family reunion. He hugged her to him and smiled. "I'm okay, Lan. Mai was at the prison. Her uncle was the warden. She helped us get away from Azula."
"Why would she do something like that?" Lan asked curiously. When Zuko didn't give her an immediate response, her eyes widened. "Does she like you?"
"We were…kind of…dating when I was in the Fire Nation." Zuko mumbled.
Lan tried to picture the two together. She'd known Mai when she was very young. She didn't remember much about her, except that she'd always been a gloomy girl. Lan crinkled her nose. "You two make a weird couple…"
"Thanks, Lan. You really know how to boost a guy's confidence." Zuko muttered.
"You're not going to leave me like that again, are you?" Lan asked worriedly.
Zuko looked into his cousin's wide eyes. He smiled and shook his head. "I won't. I promise."