A/N: Last chapter everyone! Please review!
I would however like to thank all those faithful reviewers who have been reading since the beginning. Your encouragement and constructive criticisms have helped me make this story better. You all know who you are!
The children ran as far from where Toph was as they possibly could. It was getting later in the night though, but their time was running out. They had to get back home before their parents did.
They raced to the secret spot where Nells was hidden and lounging. At seeing Gyochu, the bison bellowed, sniffing her friend.
Petting and hugging the fury beast Gyochu helped the children get on. They had to get out now before they were discovered. The night air would hopefully hide them well enough until they reached the Northern Air Temple.
Rina rested against the wide saddle of the bison with Maya, Neea and Tenu curled up against her. Unable to sleep Lee went over to Gyochu's side to keep the airbender company. After everything they had been through the teens were tired but it was only about an hour to the temple and they only had to stay awake for that long until they reached their destination.
"Hey how are you doing?" Lee asked sitting next to the airbender. The boy yawned and readjusted his grip on the reins.
"Just tired, you know? It's been a hectic few days. But it's over now. Everyone is safe." The cool words fell into the breeze sweeping over the boys.
"I couldn't have done it without you man. You know I really never had a best friend and I would like to think you come pretty close." Lee smiled as Gyochu stared back.
"Hey, anytime you need help just let me know. You know it's almost like the stories Avatar Aang used to tell us. It felt good, making my own adventures for once. Of course it would have been nicer that they had been under different circumstances." Gyochu glanced back to the sleeping forms in the back. Lee shared his glance too giving a smile as he did.
"Don't we all?" The boys shared a small laugh and continued talking until they reached the Northern Air Temple.
Sneaking in during the night, they awakened only a few children more sensitive to sound than others. Ushering everyone to bed, they slept the night away.
As Rina stretched herself awake, she knew that this tiny relief was over. Soon they would have to leave, her brother would see to that.
Sitting up in her bed she made sure everything of hers was packed and ready. Making the bed she tried to leave everything as she found it. She knew Maya would already be awake, as would Lee. And if Maya was awake, so was Neea. Tenu too may have already risen.
Her thoughts were proven as she passed by each of her siblings' rooms. Feeling somewhat guilty about waking so late, she went to seek out her brother.
Stepping out to the main room, there was a water fountain that had been brought back into commission.
There one form leaned against the water. His new bright garb of yellow told her his identity immediately.
As he heard her footsteps he turned and smiled. She gazed at Gyochu warmly and ran to hug him. He embraced her and after a moment stepped back. Moving his hand beneath his tunic he pulled out a small blue flower.
"I saw it this morning when I was out helping tend our fields. I saw it and thought of you." He whispered gently. Her breath caught as he took the flower and placed it in her hair. Its four leaf bloom arched over her head, its orange stems poking out from a yellow inside.
"There you are! You're finally awake! Come on, we're all waiting for you." Lee barged in interrupting the moment. Completely unaware he took a split second to glance at the flower in his sister's hair then moved on.
"Ugh…ya I got Nells ready. We should reach the Fire Nation by tonight, no problem." The young airbender stepped in trying to avoid Lee's scrutiny. It seemed to work as Lee looked back at Gyochu.
"Great. I want to leave in five minutes." He said sluggishly looking back at the two before heading off.
Rina blushed looking back at Gyochu who also seemed a little out of sorts. Shifting his weight weakly he looked like he was about to say something and then shutting his mouth gave a forced smile. Taking a deep breath he backed away to head towards his bison, leaving Rina all alone.
"Come on Rina, we got to go." Startled Rina jumped around hugging her chest as her heart raced at the sudden fright. She hoped her flush wasn't evident. Tenu however looked at her oddly, not quite knowing what to say. Nodding she followed the boy to prepare for their flight and their way home.
The whole gang traveled on top of Nells for hours. At first the children swapped stories f what had happened. Maya and Neea related of their adventure and how they had tried to escape. Neea was especially eager to talk of how Yue had protected them at night.
Although Maya wasn't sure whether she should believe it or not, Rina smiled and knew it had to be true. The spirits had watched over her sister and cousin in their time of need.
The two girls then proceeded to relate their recapture and confinement. They both looked sad then until Rina had to question them. But they were mute on the subject. The feeling of hopelessness and fear was still raw in their minds. They both preferred not to ever think of it.
Rina allowed them this because she knew the feeling all too well. Lee beside her was quiet as well. Then in one fell swoop the four children hugged each other warmly just glad to be together again.
For the rest of the trip the older siblings related their individual stories although Rina barely mentioned her time as the Blue spirit and Lee hid his duel with the man from the inn. And although there were some secrets there was a lot of sharing.
But once the stories were done with the children loomed around the bison's saddle watching the clouds go by. The land of the Earth Kingdom had since disappeared signaling their flight was only half way done.
The breezes that wiped their faces calmed them and allowed their minds to wander. From cloud to cloud each of their own thoughts occupied the children until they could think no more. A few of them tried to nap, but for some resting was impossible. So it was they waited many hours soaring across the ocean until land finally came into view.
As the lands of the Fire Nation came into view, Lee became more excited. All the Fire Nation children seemed anxious to see the city of Sozin placed in its wide canyon. In the middle of the city was the palace that stood out beckoning the children to come home. Slowly Gyochu reigned in Nels to circle downwars to a landing spot at the head of the castle. Outside the old bent figure of Iroh stood awaiting for their arrival. Earlier a scout had seen the bison flying low in the skies and had signaled the palace of the visitor.
The bison swept down spiraling to the ground where it landed with a thud. Almost instantly the four fire nation children jumped off, followed by Neea. Gyochu on the other hand stayed behind patting his bison's fur and giving it the affection it needed to feel loved. Staring at the family reunite he felt a sort of longing for something he was missing in his life. Then he remembered all the kids back at the temple who would welcome him the same way and smiled.
"Children, you are all back and safe! Now come on in and have a cup of tea, you must be tired. You too, master airbender!" Gyochu passed off his bison reluctantly to the animal caretakers and followed the other kids for a drink of tea.
Later as Maya, Neea, and Tenu ran off to play, Lee disappeared to his father's study. The smell of wood and ash was fragrant in the air bringing back so many memories from when he was a boy. Ruffling his hair nervously he looked through the papers all neatly organized on his father's desk. Everything had been done for him and nothing was left unattended.
Iroh entered the room slowly aware of his grandson's presence already. Lee heard him instantly, but refused to look at him.
"Well, Lee. What's this all about?" Iroh used his cane to move closer to the boy. Lee however took his first seat across from the Firelord's desk. He couldn't even bear to look at his uncle.
"Well looks like everything's already done here. I thought at least I could write a decree or sign a proposal, maybe even delegate the courts. But it's all done." Lee said quietly. Iroh smiled and hobbled closer to his grandson.
"Well I made sure the advisors had everything finished so you could rest when you came back. You're still a boy, Lee, there is no reason to stress yourself out so much. Enjoy your time as a child, it won't last forever." This speech did not sit well with Lee however. Jumping to his feet he slammed his hands against the desk.
"But I wanted to prove I could be Firelord. Dad won't know, but I would. I dreamed of this, being the perfect Firelord while dad was away. It was my one chance and now it's gone. There is nothing for me to do." Despite his attempts to stop it, the water began to accumulate in his eyes. He seethed breathing so hard smoke slipped through his lips. But Iroh was not disconcerted. Placing a hand on the boy's shoulder he gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Is that what this is all about then? You think being a Firelord is about the paperwork and the delegations?" Iroh's calming voice broke the silence. With it came a tinge of disappointment and regret. Lee moved his head to the side to see his uncle out of the corner of his eye. Golden eyes gazed back at him.
"Well I'm sorry you feel like that Lee. But that is not what a Firelord's duty is. You must remember, above all else, the Firelord is a man. Your father would have given anything up for you, your siblings and your mother. It is the strength he uses to protect his family that he extends to the entirety of the Fire Nation and even the world itself. As a leader you protect your family and your people first. Worry about the trade schedule and the crop seasons later. That can wait, some other things can't. I think you're going to be a great Firelord one day. But you don't need to prove that today." Lee looked up to his grandfather and nodded his head to leave. Iroh meanwhile sat down in the Fire Lord's chair exhausted. He just didn't have the stamina to chase after another boy of sixteen.
Meanwhile at the entrance to the palace Gyochu waited. Hearing footsteps behind him he turned to see Rina staring at him.
"So you're leaving?" She asked. Moving closer Gyochu tuned to gaze at the flower still placed in her beautiful brown hair. Blue eyes stared up at him as he adjusted the flower to stay.
"Ya I need to get back to the Northern Air Temple before the Avatar does." He said weakly. Clearing his throat he looked away suddenly nervous.
"When will I see you again?" Rina asked hurriedly. Gyochu's gray eyes widened letting in the light and contracting his pupils.
"Well I don't know. Maybe next time I'm in the Fire Nation or if you go to visit Toph maybe you could stop off at the Northern…" At that moment light on her feet Rina reached up and kissed him sweetly on the cheek. Gyochu stopped talking and just stared at her as she blushed.
"Thank you for everything Gyochu and I'll be sure to visit if I'm ever nearby." Smiling she stepped away and he knew that was his cue to leave while he had the chance. Stepping back he got on to his Bison and with one last wave flew away.
The next day early in the morning Zuko and Katara landed at the docks with Katara at the front of the ship waiting to see her kids in view. Katara was the most anxious. During her whole time away she felt worried about her kids and leaving them alone. Seeing them at the docks waiting for her set her at ease. She just had to have them all in her arms.
Rushing down as soon as the ship stopped she grabbed her youngest in her arms first. Squeezing him tightly she next went to her oldest children.
"Look at all of you. You are all fine and you look so good. And here I was worried." Behind her, Zuko came up giving his youngest a hug. When he managed to wrench the oldest children from Katara's hands he hugged them as well. But as soon as they could his eyes sought out his son's.
"I expect everything is in order Lee?" Zuko asked with a smile. Lee smiled back.
"Ya dad. Everything is fine." Patting his son's shoulder Zuko gave a nod that to Lee was just as good as a 'well done.'
"Hey mom, what's that?" Katara turned to look up in the sky where Maya pointed. Covering her eyes to better avoid the sun she watched as a bison circled overhead only to land sharply.
From the top of the bison jumped Aang. His appearance was rough and he looked as if he hadn't shaved in days. Hurrying to Katara and Zuko he called out to them.
"Katara, Zuko I came as fast as I could, your children are…" He stopped then suddenly as he saw the frantic looks from Lee and Rina. Shaking their heads and waving their hands they tried to give every signal they could to stop Aang from saying anything more. Katara and Zuko stared blankly at the Avatar awaiting an explanation.
"uhh…," Aang gulped and stood up straightening himself out, "I hear they're training more now. How's that going?" Lee and Rina looked up to their parents tensely hoping they would excuse the Avatar's reaction.
"Well it's going fine Aang. But surely you did not need to fly so quickly to find that out did you?" Katara answered slowly and rather confused.
"Wel you know I was in the neighborhood. Sorry don't know what overcame me." H gave an innocent grin while Katara continued to look at him oddly.
"So Mother. How was your trip with Father? Where did you go?" Hastily changing the subject Rina begged for her mom's attention and hurriedly began to keep her busy with questions of her vacation.
Katara smiled happy to talk to her daughter. Together they turned to move towards the palace where a hot meal was awaiting all of them.
Reaching down Zuko put a hand out to stop Lee and let everyone else move forward without knowing. Leaning down to his son, who wasn't that much shorter than him, Zuko gave a sly smile.
"Next time you run off after your sister and cousin and put our whole family in danger, I would like to know." Lee groaned inwardly knowing full well he was in big trouble. "But this time I'm going to let it slide and not tell your mother."
Lee turned to his father and Zuko winked at him and began moving towards the rest of the family. But Lee was still in shock. His father knew? For how long? How?
"How did you know?" Lee asked catching up to his father. With a sly smile Zuko handed his son a letter signed by Toph. Groaning again Lee followed his dad, just happy he wasn't going to get in trouble.