The Journey to Ba Sing Se
Several days later Sokka found his place by the fire and made himself comfortable. A bowl of some sort of fish stew was passed to him by Zuko, who had already eaten most of his own. Though he was still by far the quietest of the group, Zuko was easing into the warriors' routines without much difficulty. Hakoda was sat on the other side of Sokka, and struck up a discussion on how Zuko and Sokka were going to get over the wall.
"So why do you believe Katara will be in Ba Sing Se?" Hakoda asked Sokka after a few disregarded ideas.
"We found out the date of an eclipse," Sokka told him excitedly, "It will leave the Firebenders powerless. If we can get the Earth King's support we can invade the Fire Nation and Aang can take out the Fire Lord."
Hakoda glanced at Zuko. The Firebender was close enough to hear Sokka's words, but didn't look surprised by them. Sokka must have trusted Zuko enough to tell him already.
"When the time comes you can count on us being there to help," Hakoda said warmly.
"Thanks dad," said Sokka.
They ate in silence as Hakoda held back the one question that really needed to be asked. When Sokka put his empty bowl down with a sigh of contentment, Hakoda steeled himself.
"So when are you planning on heading to Ba Sing Se?"
Sokka's shoulders slumped and Zuko shifted slightly to better hear the conversation.
"I guess I should be going soon," Sokka said dejectedly, "It feels like we just got here."
"If the Earth King supports your plan and all goes well this war will be over soon," Hakoda promised, "And we can return home and rebuild."
"I know," Sokka said to the ground, "I've just been really enjoying these last few days," he swallowed, then looked up with determination, "But right now, Ba Sing Se is where I'm needed most. And it would be nice to see Katara and the others again."
"I'm proud of you, Sokka," said Hakoda, "It's the right thing to do."
"I guess we'll leave tomorrow then," Sokka said.
All of the Water Tribe warriors had taken a break in the their work to come see the two youngest off. The sun had barely risen, yet everyone – even Sokka – was alert.
"These supplies should last you for a few days," Hakoda said, handing Sokka and Zuko a bag each, "And this should get you through the wall," he added, giving Sokka a letter.
"Thanks dad," Sokka said.
"Your mission might be the most important of all," Hakoda told them, "I wish you luck."
Sokka hugged his father. Hakoda held him tight.
"I'm so proud of you, Sokka," Hakoda said warmly, "Give my love to your sister."
Hakoda released Sokka. Zuko stepped forward and outstretched his hand.
"Thank you for all your help," Zuko said.
Hakoda gripped his arm and smiled.
"Thank you for looking out for my son," Hakoda said, "You're welcome as a member of the Water Tribe anytime."
Zuko nodded his thanks. With one last look at the camp, Sokka hoisted his supplies and turned to Zuko. A look of determination passed between them and the two young men set off to Ba Sing Se. Slowly, the warriors returned to their duties. Hakoda waited until he couldn't see either Sokka or Zuko before he turned and barked out a few orders. Within minutes the camp was functioning as though the two boys hadn't even been there.
The journey had been easy compared to the past few weeks. The most entertaining thing to happen on the way to the wall was Sokka tripping over an empty ratsnake burrow. Sokka was almost wishing for something exciting to happen, though that usually meant something bad too. There was little to hunt and Zuko was too impatient to let Sokka spend time fishing. Both were relieved to finally see the huge wall of Ba Sing Se appear on the horizon.
It was the same group of soldiers standing guard on the wall as last time. The leader didn't question Hakoda's letter and before they knew it, Sokka and Zuko were sitting comfortably on a train, which was cutting smoothly through the crop fields that separated the outer and inner walls. Sokka had began to gain some level of paranoia, which was annoying Zuko.
"Can't you just accept that things are going alright?" Zuko asked, watching the green fields roll by.
"Things never go right," Sokka insisted, "We've been too lucky. The train's going to derail, or Ba Sing Se will have been taken over by badgermoles, or we're going to get attacked by the Fire Nation."
Zuko just gave a sigh and relaxed against the seat. Sokka looked out of the window to see the inner wall come into view. He nudged Zuko, who sat up and looked at it, impressed.
"We're almost there," Zuko said.
The train slowed as it passed through the inner wall and stopped just on the other side in some sort of station. Sokka got up and stretched. He and Zuko left the train with the other passengers, staring in wonder at the huge city splayed out before them. Hundreds upon thousands of buildings filled the place, creating criss-crossing roads on which people were hurrying back and forth. It looked like a good place to hide in plain sight.
"Well," Sokka said, uncomfortably, "I guess this is it. How are you going to find your uncle?"
"I'll start by checking the teashops," Zuko said decisively, "After that I'll search the whole city if need be."
"I'll be heading up to the palace," Sokka said, "That's where Katara and the others should be. You know," Sokka turned to look at Zuko, "If you need any help looking for your uncle... well, you've got plenty of experience finding Aang."
"Thanks," Zuko said, extending his hand to Sokka, "I hope you find your friends."
"Good luck," Sokka said, grabbing Zuko's arm.
With one last smile to each other, the two separated, each going their different ways.
Zuko tiredly walked into the next teashop he found with his head down. He had lost count of how many he had been in so far. He approached the counter, ready for the answer he had heard so many times today already.
"Hello," Zuko said, "My name's –"
"Lee?" a familiar voice interrupted Zuko.
Zuko looked up into Iroh's smiling face. Iroh came out from behind the counter and pulled Zuko into a fierce hug.
"It's good to see you again," Zuko said happily, hugging his uncle back.
"Let me speak to the owner," Iroh said, then he was off behind the counter before Zuko could say anything.
Iroh returned within a few minutes, smiling broadly. Apparently the owner had allowed him the evening off. He steered Zuko through a maze of streets, chatting about nothing in particular. Zuko did his best to keep up and reply as often as possible. His willingness to talk surprised Iroh, but the older Firebender took it in stride.
"Pao will be happy to give you a job in the teashop," Iroh said as he opened the door of his apartment.
"Thank you, uncle," Zuko said, looking around the place in interest.
"Would you like some dinner?" Iroh asked, "And some tea?"
"You work in a teashop," Zuko reminded him, "Don't you get enough tea there?"
"There is nothing quite like an evening spent with a warm cup of jasmine," Iroh said wistfully.
Zuko muttered something under his breath, but he was smiling slightly as he pulled some bowls and a pan out of the cupboards. Iroh set about filling a kettle with water and putting it over a small fire.
Some time later, Zuko set two steaming bowls down on the table. Iroh refilled the teapot and joined him. Zuko watched his uncle take a bite of dinner nervously.
"How is it?" Zuko asked, taking a mouthful from his own bowl.
"It's good," Iroh said, a note of surprise in his voice, "Where did you learn to make this?"
"The Water Tribe warriors in Chameleon Bay," Zuko said, "I had to help cook one evening."
"Chameleon Bay?" Iroh asked, his eyebrows raising in surprise, "Is that where you got your new clothes too?"
"Yeah," Zuko said, pulling at the hem of his tunic, "My others wore out."
"It sounds like you have had quite an adventure," Iroh commented, pouring yet another cup of tea for his nephew, "Maybe you could tell me about it."
"Well," said Zuko, relaxing into a now familiar storyteller's role, "It's a long story..."
Sokka double checked the address on the poster of Appa in his hand against the house in front of him. He walked confidently up to the door and knocked firmly. Katara opened the door and stared at Sokka in disbelief and joy.
"Sokka?" she asked, unable to believe her eyes.
"Hey, Katara," Sokka said in greeting.
"Sokka!" Katara gasped as she hugged him, "You're alive!"
"It's good to see you too," Sokka said warmly, patting her on the back, "Can I come in, I'm kinda thirsty."
Katara pulled him into the house, where he was grabbed by Aang. Toph stood to one side with her arms crossed.
"It's good to be back," Sokka said cheerfully.
"It's not been the same without you," said Aang.
"Yeah," Toph put in, "These two wouldn't stop moaning about leaving you behind."
"We've missed you," Katara said, giving him a cup of water.
"Dad sends his love," Sokka said, startling Katara.
"You've seen dad?" Katara asked, her eyes wide with surprise, "Where have you been?"
"Well," Sokka said, sitting down and easing comfortably against the wall, "It's a long story..."
I'm afraid to say this is the end of the story. I had a lot of fun writing it, and hope you had just as much, if not more, reading it.
I may continue with this storyline - I've had a few ideas, but nothing concrete - however, this part of the story is over.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed.