Standard disclaimers apply.
Aang was sitting on Appa's neck, holding the reins, but you couldn't say he was steering, exactly. If you wanted to be very precise about it, you could say that he wouldn't have tugged the reins if a dragon appeared right in front of them and held up a sign saying "STOP". Mostly he was just staring into nothing and thinking 'I kissed Katara. I kissed Katara. I kissed Katara. I kissed Katara.' Sure it had been because they thought it would save their lives and there had been singing nomads watching and encouraging them, but still. He had kissed Katara. This was worth thinking about.
So, perhaps he could be forgiven for not noticing the two yelling, waving teens standing on a tall rock until Appa recognized them and started circling down.
"Aang, why are we landing, I thought we were gonna fly straight to Oma- Sokka!" Aang became aware of the outside world again when Katara hurled herself from the saddle almost before they were on the ground and slammed into her brother hard enough to knock him down. "Oh, Moon and Ocean I've missed you so much! Things were crazy at the North Pole, they're even more of sexist pigs than you are and Aang had to teach me waterbending in secret, and there was an invasion, and Zhao tried to kill the Moon but that old guy who travels with Zuko kicked his ass and what the black snow is Zuko doing here?"
Sokka coughed slightly, managed to make his way to his feet, and gently hugged his sister. "I missed you too. Zuko's going to travel with us and teach Aang firebending when he's ready, if Aang's okay with that. Is Iroh alright, Zhao didn't hurt him, did he?"
The airbender looked at the prince, who had abandoned his usual Fire Nation armor for a set of green and gold Earth Kingdom robes. Zuko looked a little nervous, but he was looking nervously at Katara, not him. In fact he looked a little relieved when Sokka brought up the training idea and focused attention on Aang. "Well..." The young monk wasn't sure about this. "I, um, I guess we have some time to decide if I'm okay with that or not, since we have to find Bumi and have him teach me earthbending first. And General Iroh is fine, it turns out he's an old friend of my waterbending instructor, and after he helped save the moon, Chief Arnook let him stay at the North Pole while he decided what to do now."
"Okay, sometime later you can explain exactly how someone saves the moon, or kills it for that matter..." Sokka smiled a little at the idea, but he now seemed hesitant. "For now... um, I've got some bad news and some good news about King Bumi. Um, and then some more bad news. But then some more good news. But-"
"Omashu has fallen to the Fire Nation." Zuko interrupted with a roll of his eyes. "That crazy king of theirs surrendered when they laid down bridges. We were able to get the remains of the army and a fair number of civilians out so they could join in the defense of other cities, but when we found King Bumi, he wouldn't leave. Rambled on about neutral jin, Momo's importance to the war effort and a lot about listening and waiting. He also called me Kuzon twice." The firebender scowled.
"Well, you do look a little like him now that your hair is growing out..." Aang absently noticed that Sokka had changed his hair too. The sides weren't shaved, and it was in something closer to a topknot than his usual wolftail. "Did you explain that he's supposed to be my earthbending teacher?"
"We tried, Aang," the water tribesman said with a comforting hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "He's convinced that he has some other role to play and that you'll have to find another teacher. The good news is I already have a great idea of where to start looking. Zuko and I went to a really cool earthbending tournament and there was this awesome competitor called The Boulder! He'd be great!"
Zuko looked skyward with a sigh and spoke with an air of long suffering. "The Avatar does not need to learn earthbending from a man who hasn't mastered first person speech, Sokka... That girl at the end though was something interesting. Her style was-"
"What is that on your neck?" Katara, who had seemed happy to just be with her brother again, suddenly moved towards the prince and kept his chin up with one hand while the other pulled out a necklace that the change of posture had tugged up over his collar. It was pretty, Aang thought. A smooth white stone with a flame emblem and a boomerang shape roughly carved into it, hanging from a simple leather thong. The waterbender looked at it in shock and stepped back, her eyes flitting between Zuko and Sokka. "What is this?" she seemed to be asking both.
Zuko looked to the water tribesman, clearly letting him decide how to handle this. Sokka took a deep breath and stepped closer to the prince, lightly entangling their fingers, and met his sister's eyes. "It's the necklace I carved for Zuko. He made me this pony tail holder." He gestured towards his new hairstyle and Aang noticed the silver and gold band that adorned it. So Sokka and Zuko were making each other jewelry? And hadn't that healer at the North Pole said Katara's necklace had originally been...
"Oh!" The sound of realization and delight burst out of the young monk. "Zuko is joining our side because you and him are together! That's great!" Sokka smiled and Katara was still shocked.
Zuko, on the other hand, looked insulted. "What? No!"
The waterbender's eyes narrowed. "What? No, you aren't really joining our side, or What? No, you're not with my brother?"
Golden eyes narrowed right back. "What? No, the two don't have anything to do with each other! My duty to the Fire Nation comes before any personal attachments I have. I'm willing to help the Avatar because I've come to understand that it's the only way I can end this war before it damages the world too badly to be repaired. My relationship with Sokka is a completely separate situation."
Aang considered this. "So your duty to the Fire Nation is to help defeat the Fire Lord?" Zuko flinched a little at the blunt phrasing but nodded.
"There is precedent of a sort, and even for the involvement of the Avatar. It would be best if Ozai was formally given the chance to end the war, but if he persists in a course that is destructive to our people, it is not treason to seek to remove him from power." The prince clearly wasn't happy about the idea, but did they really want to work with someone who was thrilled to fight his family?
"Ahem," Katara broke in. "That's all well and good, but can we get back to the part where you have a 'relationship' with my brother?"
Sokka stepped forward and took his sister's hand. "I know this isn't what we were raised to 'Tara, but... It is what it is. I love you, I hope you can still love me."
She gave Zuko one last vaguely distrustful look then shook her head. "Well, since I spent a few weeks trying to single handedly smash the Northern Tribe's cultural values, it would be pretty silly for me to say you can't be happy because the elders say so. And of course I love you."
"Great!" The water tribesman grinned. "So let's get moving to find Aang an earthbending teacher! I'm telling you, I have a good feeling about this Boulder guy." The prince sighed again but the look he gave Sokka was of undisguised affection. Aang met his eyes a little shyly.
"I didn't mean to insult you. The idea seemed sort of romantic."
Zuko smirked slightly. "I suppose it is. They'll probably write songs with it happening that way if we win. A forbidden love that changed the course of the war." The monk laughed at the dramatic phrasing then looked at him sidelong.
"You shouldn't mock romance. Katara and I let love lead the way and it got us through the tunnels here."
"Really? Sokka and I passed through last week and we let huge ferocious beasts lead our way..."
"Heh, this is gonna be fun..."
A/N : Thank you all for reading!
A/N2 : Suteshi created art based on the last chapter at suteshi[dot]deviantart[dot]com[slash]art[slash]Whither-thou-goest-198944827 It is super swell and I am honored!