School's done, so now I can get back to work.
Anyway, this is the last part of the "Abbey" section of the story, finally. It's been fun playing with this portion of the story, but I really want to move on from it. I just hope I didn't rush it. Also, since the website won't allow me to add more to the summary I will tell you all that from now on the story is rated T for language and violence. I may also bump it up to M later on.
On a quick note, special shout out to ArrayePL for actually figured out what I was planning back in chapter 5.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar The Last Airbender. It is the property of its creators and Nickelodeon.
Chapter 9: Reunions Part 3
Zhao saw the young man who had interfered in their attack. He looked vaguely familiar, and his voice rang a memory in his head. When his eyes saw the eye patch that the man wore, the gears in his head turned. Then the image of a thirteen year old boy groveling to the Fire Lord in the Agni Kai arena of the capital flashed in his mind.
"It can't be," said Zhao unable believe what he was seeing, "Are you…?"
The young man sighed, and lifted his hand to the eye patch and removed it. The red scar was now visible for them to see, and Zhao was the first to gawk. Even though the hair was long and messy, even though the face was dirtier and the clothes were Earth Kingdom, there was no mistaking the scar and the proud, commanding expression.
"Zuko…" was all the man could say, still surprised by who he was looking at.
Zuko only stared at him, and readied himself for a fight, knowing the moment he interfered with the dragoon's volley that his cover would be blown. However, he first needed to make sure that June was alright.
Aang had just propped up Katara and Sokka against the wall to better see what was going on when the three laid eyes on the horrible burn on the left side of Zuko's face as he faced the woman he had protected. Aang wasn't surprised too much since he saw it already, though Sokka felt a little sick looking at the scar, and Katara gasped at the sight. The two siblings had seen burns before, but those were on arms, legs, or other parts of the body. However, the scar on the face looked horrible, and they wondered how he could have gotten it.
"So… how have you been?" Zuko asked June with a familiar, drawled out ease.
June, also seemed to fall into the feeling of familiarity, and just scowled at the question.
"Oh, just fine," she said in a similar manner as she tried to get onto her feet.
"Can you fight?" he asked her seriously.
"I think so, I didn't fall that hard."
Zuko accepted her answer seeing as she got up without too much effort, and he then turned around and focused his attention back to the situation. In front of him were a Fire Nation admiral and twenty dragoons. And on his side were two paralyzed Water Tribe teens a twelve year old Avatar, a former lieutenant turned bounty hunter, and her short tempered mount. In his mind odds seemed to go against them.
"Well, well what a pleasant surprise. Not one, but two members of the 41st Auxiliary Division," began Zhao snapping Zuko out of his thoughts, "Lieutenant June, formerly of the 21st, and Prince Zuko... you're still alive I see."
Aang, Katara, Sokka balked at the word "prince."
"P-P-P- Prince?" sputtered Sokka.
"But, that would mean… he's…" began Katara with similar feelings.
"Zuko?" began Aang, now frightened, "Are you… really?"
"Oh?" began Zhao, "I had no idea you were friends with the Avatar."
"…We're more like frequent acquaintances," said Zuko.
"Is that so? Well, then I guess you wouldn't have any problem in us capturing the boy," said Zhao before giving a wicked smile, "Or… perhaps you would be willing to help us out."
Zuko cocked an eyebrow, "Excuse me?"
"Think about it," continued Zhao, "You can return home with honor, a hero of the war, and your father would welcome you with open arms. You can be a prince again."
Aang tensed and gripped his staff at Zhao's words, worried that Zuko would take the man's offer.
"Not interested," said Zuko suddenly, "I refuse to do anything for that bastard."
Immediately, everyone's eyes went wide at the comment.
"How dare you!" began Zhao with a low growl, "That is our lord, your father, you are referring to."
"How dare I? He banished and disowned me; sent me to war!" snapped Zuko before calming down, "However, I fought for him along with my comrades because it was my duty, our duty, but even so… what he did… I will never forgive him. So excuse me if I haven't shown him the proper respects, but as far as I am concerned, I have no father," Zuko's good eye narrowed and a fierce determination glowed within them, "And anyone who stands against that man is my ally."
"…So, you throw your lot in with them?"
Zuko looked to the Avatar and his friends. They were stunned by his words, and they were anticipating his next action. Zuko turned to June, who simply nodded. The ex-prince gave his answer to Zhao in the form of an attack stance, and June flipped off the admiral.
"Then, you have chosen treason," the admiral then smirked, "By law, I am required to bring you in alive, but the law doesn't forbid me from 'disciplining' you."
Zhao gave a signal. The dragoons dismounted, knowing cavalry tactics would not help in the walled courtyard, and immediately switched to infantry mode and began to assemble into formation.
Zuko turned to face June, "How many can you take?"
"Around ten, you?" she answered.
"Not sure, it's been a while since I took on this many professional soldiers. The last encounter was close, and that was only one person," was his reply.
"And you're still going to fight…" she replied before rolling her eyes, "You haven't changed at all, captain."
"Neither have you."
The June got her whip by Zuko's foot as he got into a charging position, hands gripping his sheathed swords. When they were ready they noticed that the enemy was assembling into a standard fire volley formation, two rows of ten firebenders in a checkerboard layout, each one waiting for the order to attack.
"Follow my lead," said Zuko.
June nodded as they both heard Zhao say "ready." The ex-prince immediately drew his swords and charged. Zhao said "fire," and a volley of flames was shot by one row of dragoons who then shifted into attack position as the second row took to the front ready to fire. It was during this transition that Zuko made his move. He sliced through a blast heading straight for him with fire swords, and using his momentum, flipped himself into the air and barreling toward the dragoons.
Zhao and his men were shocked that Zuko did this that they had hesitated in their second volley for a brief moment, which was all Zuko needed. Just before he landed into the formation, he ignited his swords again and landed feet first into one the men in the second row. The soldier flew back while Zuko landed behind the formation, and once again using his momentum, he spun around unleashing a powerful wave of fire from his swords at the soldiers. The dragoons had no time to face Zuko and block the incoming wave and most were sent flying, breaking the formation and giving Zhao a face full of dirt.
Aang, Sokka, and Katara thought that the maneuver Zuko pulled off was amazing. However, Zuko and June had a different opinion. Zuko knew in his mind he had regained much of his strength while training in the abbey, but he was still not as strong as he was, as he had to be three years prior when he had to fight in the war.
Still, the attack was sufficient enough to give the opening June needed for her attack, and she sent Nyla at the remaining men. The giant shirshrew whipped its tongue at the other dragoons, who were frantically avoiding the toxic barbs on the creature's tongue. Those who were lucky to avoid that wasted their luck as they made a beeline for June who simply used her whip on them, using its flexible form to tangle and trip up the dragoons so that Nyla would have a clear shot. Other dragoons turned their attention to Zuko, using either bending or their own dao swords. However, like June, Zuko held his own, sending them unconscious using the pommel of his sword, his knees, or his own bending.
Sokka and Katara managed to get their necks moving, and began to watch the battle more freely with Aang. They were amazed at the level of skill that the two people had. June was constantly dancing circles around her enemies, and coordinating Nyla's attacks. Zuko took enemies down with brutal, but non-lethal, precision and efficiency. In fact, neither of them killed any soldiers, and both seemed to avoid that outcome.
Zuko took down another soldier when he saw a band of men approach the Avatar, who were obviously too distracted to notice. He charged at them quickly and intercepted them before they could do any kind of damage. With a powerful shout, he summoned the fire in his blood and ignited his swords and blasted them at point blank range. The soldiers were forced back, and suffered intense burns. Zuko turned around and faced the group who were still too stunned to say anything.
"What are you waiting for?" he stated, "Get moving."
"But what about-" began Aang.
"I can't fight them and look after Katara and Sokka and you all at the same time. This is your one chance, now run!"
Zuko quickly went back into the fray as he saw June get pushed back. The two continued their synchronized battle tactics, and held off their enemies brilliantly to give Aang time to escape.
The boy blew the whistle and Appa came in from above to Sokka and Katara's side. Using his airbending, the young Avatar gently got Katara and Sokka to hover and placed them in the saddle. Aang leapt up to Appa's head and grabbed the reins, but as he did, he saw the battle again. Although Zuko and June had the edge in skill and a giant shirshrew, Zhao had them outnumbered with very well-trained soldiers. Guilt rang through the young boy's heart at the thought of leaving the two to fend for themselves while he ran away.
"Appa, get Katara and Sokka to safety," said Aang in a solemn voice.
"But Aang…" began Katara in protest.
"I can't leave them," said Aang, "Not when I can make a difference," the young Avatar turned back, to Appa, "I'll catch up later, don't worry."
The bison grunted, and Aang hopped down onto the monastery grounds. The bison dutifully obeyed his friend, despite the protests from Sokka and Katara, and Aang immediately went to a soldier about to flank Zuko. By the time the former prince noticed the soldier approaching his side, it was too late for him to do anything. However, before the dragoon's sword could connect, a blast of wind blew the soldier to the wall on the other end of the courtyard.
Zuko looked around and saw Aang with this staff ready to fight.
"You're helping us?"
"Well, you did say you were disowned and an ally," said Aang.
Zuko took a moment to absorb what he heard, figuring that the fight had best shown the kid he was on their side.
"Thanks… we could use the help," said Zuko, before parrying a sword slash.
Aang nodded and immediately started shooting out air blasts, and the three, four counting Nyla, began to gain the momentum in this battle. Still, the dragoons were relentless, and they kept coming as long as they had the energy to fight.
Despite the dragoon's rather admirable tenacity however, Zhao was becoming increasingly furious. He lost the Avatar once already, and he would not allow it to happen again. He took matters in his own hands, and charged toward the former prince, deciding to defeat him first. He shot a large blast that caught the prince's attention. Zuko immediately kicked back the soldier he was fighting against, and used fire swords to slice through the blast. When the blast dissipated, Zuko saw Zhao was only feet away from him with a flaming fist.
Being too close to his enemy to use his swords, Zuko kicked up a wall of flame to slow the older man down, and leapt backwards. He sheathed his blades and began taking shots at Zhao. Zhao did so as well, and the two benders began firing, circling, and leaping to avoid getting hit. It was during this that Zuko noticed a glint of blue hanging from one of Zhao's vambraces.
'Is that… a necklace?' he wondered before remembering Katara supposedly had one, but he snapped out of his thoughts when a fireball headed toward him
He leaped back, and shot blasts as he did so to distract Zhao and Zuko deliberately stepped into Zhao's combat zone. This action would put him in serious danger, but also making it difficult for Zhao to fight back. Although firebending was the only form of bending that didn't require the massive amounts of space the other elements required, it was still not designed for the tight proximities that Zuko was setting up. In fact, Zuko wasn't even using firebending. He was now resorting to hand to hand combat, something that Zhao had no experience dealing with.
Zuko was constantly pushing Zhao back until he got his opening. Zuko landed a straight kick to Zhao, forcing the older man back, and shifted from a hand to hand stance to a firebending one in a quick motion. However, all Zuko did was smirk.
"What are –?" suddenly, the admiral's muscles tightened.
"Thanks Nyla," said Zuko as the Shirshrew loomed over the older man's body.
Zuko once again went in to the fray and without their leader the dragoons were on the losing side. Aang used wind blasts, June used her whip and Nyla's toxin, and Zuko knocked out another with his swords and bending. One by one, the dragoons were finally defeated.
Aang took the time to catch his breathe while June began to search the dragoons' unconscious bodies to collect her payment.
"…Thanks," said Zuko as he approached the young Avatar, "You didn't have to help us, but thanks anyway."
Aang nodded, "No problem. Anything for an ally…" Aang trailed off somewhat when the new revelation regarding Zuko's identity came into light. Sooo… you're a prince?"
"A disowned, ex-prince," Zuko corrected with a sigh.
"Did Bato know, or Sokka and Katara's father?"
"…No, and before you start, it's just like my being a firebender," explained Zuko, "How do you tell someone that?"
"Just say it," replied the bounty hunter lifting a coin pouch.
"Do you mind?" he shouted in aggravation, "This is a private conversation."
"You? Conversing? With people?" she began skeptically, "The last time I checked, you like talking as much as I like the color pink."
"Shut up!" said Zuko before returning his attention to Aang with a solemn expression on his face, "Anyway, here."
Zuko dangled Katara's necklace in front of the boy.
"That's Katara's!" he exclaimed as he grabbed it.
"I swiped it off of Zhao before Nyla nicked him. I figured it was hers; not many Fire Nation men wear blue Water Tribe jewelry."
"It belonged to Katara's mom," said Aang.
"I see," said Zuko, "…well, make sure she gets it then. Now, if you'll excuse me for a moment."
Zuko headed over to June, who lifted another pouch as Zuko approached her. She looked at him, sizing him up when he stopped in front of her.
"You grew," she commented.
"I guess," replied Zuko, "So… I heard about a woman on a shirshrew charging outrageous prices for bounties. You're the source of the rumors I take it?"
"I suppose. Anyway, I'm clearing out of here before these bozos wake up," June whistled and Nyla trotted over to the two ex-soldiers.
The shirshrew allowed June to pet it, before letting Zuko do the same.
"So what are you going to do now?" she asked.
"I'm not sure yet," said Zuko vaguely, aware of his surroundings, namely the unconscious or paralyzed soldiers.
"Same here," replied June, "Don't get yourself killed, alright?"
"Likewise… what the –" said Zuko before he noticed something.
The soldier that almost killed him, the one Aang blew away earlier, wasn't quite so unconscious and had an ignited bomb in his hands. The dragoon tossed it in their direction, but Zuko stepped in and shot a stream of fire into it path in an attempt to set if off mid-flight. A resounding boom echoed throughout, dulling everyone's ears. However, Zuko felt several pockets of pain throughout his body, and warm liquid on his skin.
His body collapsed and writhed in pain, and June immediately got onto her knees and examined his wounds.
"Shrapnel," muttered June as she looked at the young man's body.
She saw the young Avatar make his way with a worried look on his face after he blew the soldier over the wall. June felt her knowledge of medicinal sciences kick in as she examined Zuko. None of the shrapnel hit his midsection, but his arms and legs were bleeding. She heard the groans of some of the dragoons, waking up from the explosion no doubt, and knew she had to get him out of here so she can treat him somewhere safe.
"Help me get him on Nyla's saddle," she ordered.
Aang did as the woman asked, but not without hearing Zuko's ragged and pained breathing. June mounted up, and cracked the whip, making Nyla speed away very quickly. Aang followed close behind on his glider, escaping the battlefield with her.
They arrived at one of the places that Nyla had tracked Katara down, the old abandoned temple. June carefully laid Zuko on the bedroll she slept in while on the hunt, started a fire, and pulled out a knife. She got a bottle of swill she would drink sometimes, and a rolled up satchel containing a variety of metal instruments the likes of which Aang had never before seen.
"You might want to head back to your friends now," said June pulling out what looked like hooked chopsticks, "It's getting dark, and you don't want to be around when I get to work."
"No buts kid!" she growled, "You're the Avatar, you've got more important things to do than wait on this idiot of captain," her voice then softened, "He'll be fine, so get moving."
"Are you sure you don't need anything else?" said Aang in one final attempt to stay a bit longer.
"No," she said adamantly with a steely voice, "Besides, we both lived through Uragiri. I doubt some firecracker will kill him; his pride would never allow it. Now get moving before I sic Nyla on you."
Aang saw the giant shirshrew bear its fangs and let its barbed tongue uncoil. The threat was apparent, and he released a sigh, knowing the woman was probably right. He needed to get back to the others anyway. They were probably really worried about him.
"Good luck," was all Aang said.
"You to, kid," she replied before she poured the swill onto her tools.
Aang propped open his glider and went off, but not without taking one last look at the unconscious prince.
And not without hearing Zuko scream.
It took a while, and a couple of whistle blows, but Aang eventually reunited with Appa and the others. The bison was in flight, so Aang just plopped down on the saddle and met with a very angry Sokka and Katara.
"What were you thinking?" "You could have gotten killed!" they both said at the same time.
"Well, I'm not!" snapped Aang.
The two siblings stared back in shock. It was not common to see Aang angry in any way unless something bad happened.
"What happened?" asked Katara gently.
Aang told them of the bomb, and what Zuko did to stop it. He told them of the injuries the young ex-prince sustained, and the blood that he had seen.
"Will he be alright?" asked Katara, genuinely concerned.
"I think so," said Aang, "That lady sounded like she knew what she was doing, so yeah, I think he'll be fine," the airbender decided to switch topics to something more immediate, "So, where do I take you guys now? Do you still want me to take you to your father? We can look for Bato if want."
The two siblings took note of the not so subtle change in topic, but pushed it aside, wanting the day to end on a good note. They looked at one another they faced Aang.
"We're getting you to the North Pole," said Katara.
"Yeah, we've lost too much time as it is," added Sokka.
Aang was surprised by the answers of the two, "Don't you want to see your father?"
"Of course we do Aang, but you're our family too," said Sokka, "And right now you need us more."
"And we need you," said Katara.
Aang smiled at the sentiment, but knew there was one last thing to do before he could officially patch things up with them.
"I'm really sorry I hid the letter from you. I was just so scared you'd leave me. Can you forgive me?"
Sokka gave a sigh, "I'm still a little irritated that you did what you did, but I understand. Bato helped out with that."
"We'd never just leave you Aang. Just promise you won't do anything like that again, ok?" said Katara.
"I promise," said Aang readily when one last thought struck him, "…I just wish I could give you a little piece of home Katara… something to remind you..." he began.
"I'll be ok," replied Katara.
"Still, just a little trinket, maybe something like…this," he said before pulling out the necklace of her mother.
Katara's eyes widened and Sokka had to rub his eyes to make sure he wasn't seeing things.
"Aang how'd you get that?" she asked in surprise as Aang gave it to her.
"Zuko saw it on Zhao, and took it during the fight," he replied quietly before continuing, "He asked me to be sure I got it to you."
"He did?" she asked and she felt her cheeks inexplicably warm up.
"Yeah," said Aang, too enthusiastic at Katara's happiness to notice the slight change in color in Katara's face.
"Thank you," said Katara before giving Aang a kiss on the cheek, making his face go a deep red. She wrapped the necklace back where it belonged, and reveled as she felt the necklace grace her neck, "I'll have to thank Zuko too, it looks like."
She wondered if she would ever see him again. Based on what Aang said, his condition was serious. But if there was one thing she knew about him, it was that he seemed to turn up every time they were in some kind of trouble.
"I thank him the next time we see him," she said.
Aang smiled at Katara's words, giving him added reassurance that Zuko would live and run into them again.
I'm sorry for the late update, but I debated constantly on whether or not Zuko was going join up or stay separate. This final decision just came to me and I decided to roll with it. Anyway, school is done so I should be able to update on a regular basis now. Maybe.
June only knows Zuko through the Auxiliaries, hence why she refers to him as captain.
Thank you for reading and please review.