A/N: Ladies and gentlemen I can't tell you how sorry I am for taking so long to get this chapter out! As it stands, I think if I had been more proactive of the actually-getting-on-my-laptop-and-writing-front, I'm quite positive it would have been done at least a week or two ago. Anytime before that had me completely drowning in exams, schoolwork, work related to school and twenty other kinds of busy.
That being said I want to thank those of you who left a review last time or added this story to your favorites and your story alerts. Here we go with Chapter 16 of Avatar: The Fall!
Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing from Avatar.
Ch. 16- Reunited
In retrospect, Katara was rather surprised that their approach had gone completely unnoticed for so long. Of course the fact that there seemed to be some kind of commotion from within the prison, as evidenced by the blaring sirens and terrified shouts, should have given her some kind of a clue.
Still, she thought it was ridiculous that the only reason they were noticed was the fact that she had bent a massive wall of water hundreds of feet above the hunk of earth Toph had bent to be their boat. But she wasn't going to complain.
"Well Toph, there doesn't seem to be any guards that aren't preoccupied with whatever is going on in there so we can go about this calmly. As soon as we hit the shore you can destroy the walls of this place so that we can get in. They're metal but that shouldn't be a problem for you, right?"
A smirk and a scoff met her query, "Please Sweetness, you saw what I did to those metal balloons! This will be nothing! I swear they're going to have to think of something really out there to keep Toph Bei Fong from getting in!"
"Good because we're about to hit land!"
The waterbender slowed their approach and set their rocky transport down smoothly on the ground.
As soon as her feet hit the floor, Toph was moving toward the black walls of the prison. She placed her hands upon the massive structure, feeling around for a weakness, before giving a little shout of joy.
"Okay Sugar Queen I'm gonna tear down this wall and then we'll need some cover because there is something big going down in there."
"Say no more," the brunette laughed as she pulled another titanic wave of water up, "I've got this!"
The heiress snorted, "Oh Sweetness you should bust people out of prison more often! It brings out your wild side!"
With that she tensed, setting her footing and firming her stance, before plunging her fingers into the metal obstacle before them and pulled them apart with all her might. An earsplitting shriek went up as the metal groaned and whined in protest.
"Whenever you're ready Sweetness," Toph prompted with a grimace, the sound not at all appreciated by her sensitive ears.
With a feral growl, Katara let loose the boiling hot tsunami that was at her command.
Seconds before the wave hit there was a terrified scream and someone shouting,
Nothing could stop the torrential current of scathing water from decimating anything in its way. The water found every single crack, corner and person that wasn't above floor level and proceeded to make quick work of them, effectively eliminating any and all threats to the two girls in a matter of seconds.
The screams however were what had Katara rethinking their plan of attack. Long, anguished wails melded together with sharp, shrill shrieks of agony before quickly being stifled as the surging water covered their source.
'Some of these people are innocent,' she thought as regret shot through her, 'and I may have just condemned them to death.'
Before she could voice her concerns to Toph, the earthbender snapped her head toward her, eyes wide, "Our boys are in that tower over there Sweetness but," she shook her head in frustration, "they're surrounded and have others with them."
Katara's heart raced at the prospect of Zuko being so close and she gave Toph's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, "We'll get them out Toph, whoever is up there with them won't be expecting a waterbender much less a blind earthbender!"
They made their way quickly up the nearest staircase, fighting off the remaining guards and ignoring the moans and pleas for help from the wounded. Again some part of Katara knew that after this was over her conscious would never let her live down the fact that she'd chosen to overlook people in need.
'But I need to save the boys,' she growled at herself, 'I can pray for forgiveness later.'
As they drew closer to the guard tower they could see flames flying and hear the sounds of battle and, judging by the number of people Toph had sensed, things were only going to get worse.
"Okay Sweetness," Toph said as she caught the waterbender's arm, "I'm gonna need you to be careful about this, alright? Being blind gives me the advantage when it comes to precision attacks—not to mention earthbending is a lot more subtle; no big waves to give the enemy a warning."
She smirked at Katara's disbelieving snort, "Anyway I'll hit them first so we can clear a path for Sparky, Snoozles and company to make a break for it and then you can follow up with some waterbending to cool off those hotheads 'cause Spirits know they're going to be pissed!"
With a grim smile Katara nodded, "Alright Toph let's do this!"
Quietly the two set themselves up on either side of the doorway, Katara peering around the corner trying to get a sense of what Toph already knew.
At least twenty soldiers—firebenders judging by the small flames each of them wielded—stood in a circle around a small group of people. Katara's eyes widened as she took in the sight.
'Sokka!' she cried mentally, barely managing to withhold her excitement as her eyes scanned the rest of the defenders, 'And Suki! And…two men I don't even know. But where's…' There was nothing Katara could do to stop her stomach from plummeting as her eyes fell to the figure on the floor.
Zuko lay on the floor, his clothes torn and bloody and his face cut up in every which way. And he wasn't moving.
"Oh La no!" Katara gasped, her eyes welling up with tears, her heart pounding, "Nononono! Zuko!"
She felt a blinding rage consume her and all reason vanished in the wake of her grief. She reached out all around her, gathering more of the scalding water and freezing it instantly into razor sharp spears of ice. With a hiss, steam rose off of each projectile from the abrupt temperature change, catching Toph's attention.
"Katara," she hissed, "what are you doing? I told you I'd—"
"They killed Zuko," the brunette managed as she struggled to keep her voice from breaking, "they killed him! None of them are getting out of this alive!"
But Toph's shout fell on deaf ears as Katara let out a scream of anguished rage, slinging the icicles with deadly accuracy. Every cry of pain, every plea for mercy had no effect on the angered waterbender. Where there was red, there went ice.
"Katara get down!" came Sokka's voice as he dove at his sister who, in her rampage, was oblivious to the flames headed her way from one of the guards who'd managed to slip through her onslaught.
As Katara looked up she saw the flames being redirected in mid flight and sent back to its source and her heart stopped praying and hoping that somehow Zuko was behind it, keeping her safe just as he'd promised all those days ago.
But it wasn't.
It was the shorter of the two men who had been with Sokka and Suki. Unlike Zuko, his skin was a rich tan color—much closer to her own skin tone then his fellow bender's—and his head was covered in the short, cropped ebony locks common among the Fire Nation military. He was lean and muscular, his stance self-assured and poised, his honey colored eyes shining brightly in defiance.
The blast connected with its target and brought down the last of the guards, the rest having either been bested by Katara's rage or Toph's earthbending.
"Katara what are you two doing here?" Sokka growled as he got up from the floor, offering her his hand despite his obvious anger.
But his question fell on deaf ears.
The watebender was up and by Zuko's still form in a heartbeat, the tears that had threatened to fall before now running freely down her face. She put her hands to his face and nearly drew back in shock at the feel of his cold and clammy skin, a stark contrast to the normally warm temperature she was so used to.
"Oh Zuko," she whispered, her voice breaking as she rolled him onto his back and gasped as she saw his bruised and swollen face and the puncture wounds in his neck and chest, "what did they do to you?"
She buried her face in his chest as her grief overwhelmed her and sobbed.
And then she heard a soft groan of pain and felt a shallow intake of breath as the body beneath her quivered slightly, and a small raspy whimper escaped it, "K-Katara."
Said bender sat bolt upright, her reddened eyes wide with shock and hope, as she grabbed one of the prince's hands, "Zuko? Zuko are you…are you alive?"
Another small moan was all the response she got before a hand came down on her shoulder and she looked up into her brother's amused blue eyes, "Katara…Zuko was never dead. He's just been, uh, roughed up a little, that's all."
"I tried to tell you that before you went all psycho on the guards Sweetness," Toph shook her head at her companion, "But no let's just ignore the human heartbeat sensor because she's obviously failed us before!"
If Katara hadn't known she was a waterbender then the blush she felt encompassing her entire body might have just convinced her she was a full-fledge firebender. As it was she knew she was practically glowing red in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry I just…I just thought…"
Again she was interrupted, but this time it was by her savior, who had a kind smile on his face and soft eyes, "There's no reason to apologize Katara; you were merely concerned for the safety of your beloved, there's no shame in that."
Curiosity overtook the girl as she kept a firm grasp on her lover's hand, "How do you know my name? And who are you anyway?"
The man laughed, "My apologies. I'm Azzan and the lump sitting in the corner over there is Ton. We're prisoners here just like Suki, Sokka and Zuko and we were helping them make a break for it when we got surrounded.
"And as for how I know you…let's just say that Zuko talked about you a lot while he was here. He really is completely smitten with you."
"Sooooo….as much as I love introductions and gossip about seemingly cold-hearted benders really being gigantic fluffy koala-sheep," Suki chimed in sarcastically from her position by the window, "I really, really, really think it would behoove us to get out of here! The guards managed to get out of your little sneak attack and are on their way now!"
"Right!" Sokka said slamming his fist into his palm for emphasis, "Now…how does this thing work?"
"Are you kidding me?" Ton groaned, his hand running down his face in exasperation, "You set up this whole thing and you don't even know how to use the gondola?"
"Well it's not like I built the damn thing!" Sokka retorted, his eyes scanning the control panel hurriedly, "Strategic genius I may be but even I have my limits!"
With a sigh, Azzan moved to stand next to Sokka, "Sometimes my friend, it is the simplest solution that is the answer. Observe."
He walked toward a pair of levers protruding from the ground just inside the guard tower and pulled on one, "Et voila!"
Immediately the summoned gondola began to move toward them.
Katara couldn't help the giggle that escaped her but she quickly stifled it when Sokka shot her a glare, "I didn't see that! Azzan that's no fair!"
"Darling," Suki purred tauntingly as she came to the boy's side before gripping his hand hard, "now is not the time!"
The gondola arrived then and Azzan called them all over, "Alright, it's time to go! Come on now, everyone on board before the guards get back up and through the door!"
Sokka took hold of Zuko's other arm and threw it over his shoulder as Katara did the same, the siblings carefully pulling him onto the gondola, "What happened Sokka? You guys were supposed to be back a while ago."
Her brother's face was grim, his lips drawn in a hard line, "Let's get out of this first Katara…then I'll tell you, ok?"
Despite the burning desire to know what had happened she nodded and tenderly placed Zuko down on the floor of the metal transport, "Okay, but I'll hold you to that."
As the group piled on to the gondola Toph decided to speak up, "Sweetness…why aren't we calling for Appa? I'm sure he could get us out about a hundred times faster than this old rust bucket," she tapped her foot down on the floor of the vehicle and raised a brow, "Not to mention that leaving on this thing has so many potential ways to get us killed."
Sokka scowled, "Well if you had mentioned having Appa before we went through all the trouble of dragging Captain Unconscious all the way over here, that would've been great!"
"Question!" Ton chimed in, his hand raised to catch their attention and also to stave off any potential arguments, "What's an 'Appa'?"
"Appa," Katara answered, "is a flying bison that used to belong to our friend Aang, the Avatar, before he was killed. Toph and I rode him here after I freaked out about these two idiots being gone for so long. We told him to stay hidden until we called for him, but he's terrified of fire and I didn't want to put him through that."
Toph seemed to shrink at the older girl's words while Ton and Azzan gave each other surprised looks.
"An air bison? That is so awesome!" Ton gushed as he glanced at Sokka for confirmation, which the teen gave with a nod of his head.
"STOP THEM! DON'T LET THEM GET ON THE GONDOLA!"
It seemed the warden had managed to round up another squadron of guards—some charred, burnt and crispy but nevertheless a threat—and they were racing back up the steps, flames already beginning to fly.
"Sis, can we call Appa now?" Sokka squeaked as he shifted Zuko's weight over his shoulders once again, "I really don't think we're gonna make it with our original plan anymore!"
"Alright alright alright!" Katara growled as she reached a hand into her shirt and pulled out the bison whistle, "Here's hoping he stuck close by!"
The waterbender took a deep breath and blew the whistle.
No sound and no sign that the device had worked prompted a raised eyebrow from Azzan, "Is…that it? Not to burst your bubble or anything but I don't think your whistle is working."
Ton snorted, "Ain't that the truth."
"Heads up!" Suki shouted as a column of fire passed right over their heads from below, "whatever we're gonna do we have to do it now! The gondola won't last much longer and I don't know how long we can hold out against these guys if we're waiting for Appa!"
On cue a loud roar tore through the sky as the Avatar's companion soared in to their rescue.
"Anymore comments from the negative Nancy's in our group?" Katara questioned, sending a pointed look to the two newest additions to their party. Neither replied but both found it hard to keep their smiles hidden.
With another roar the sky bison let loose a powerful gust of air at the approaching guards, knocking them off their feet.
"Let's go!" Sokka barked, "Everyone onto Appa! It's time to get out of this hell hole!"
One by one they climbed aboard the hovering bison, Katara and Sokka carefully handing Zuko up to Azzan and Ton, with Toph bringing up the rear.
"Everybody on? Yes?" Sokka turned toward his companions and took a quick head count, "Good! For those of you new to sky bison riding please keep your hands and feet inside at all times and make sure to fasten your hands around the nearest person to you during take off! Here we go! Appa yip yip!"
With a mighty slam of his tail the enormous mammal lifted off from the prison and up into the sky amidst torrents of flame and the frustrated shouts of the warden.
"DAMN YOU LITTLE BASTARDS! I WANT THEM CAUGHT, YOU HEAR ME? CAUGHT!"
They hadn't been flying for more than a few minutes when Sokka let out a scream.
"What?" Toph panicked shooting up from her place next to Katara and the still unconscious fire prince, "What is it? Are we under attack? Are we crashing? Oh not again!"
"Again?" Sokka queried with a raised brow at his sister, "No it's just…when Zuko and I first set out we kinda…borrowed a couple of ostrich-horses from this little farm along the way and I want to bring them back. They belonged to an old couple with a baby and I felt kind of bad. We tied them up just before we started climbing up the side of the volcano."
Azzan ran a hand down his face in exasperation, his eyes falling on the slumbering prince. With a sigh he nodded at Sokka, "I'll go with you that way if any of the guards decided to run perimeter checks you'll have some kind of defense against them."
"Thanks," Sokka drawled, shoving the firebender good-naturedly before turning to Katara, "what do you say sis, you feel like another drop off and pick up?"
The waterbender scowled fiercely at her brother, "You stole someone's ostrich horses? An old couple's ostrich horses?"
Sokka grimaced, "Heh…that's all you heard, huh?"
Snickers from Toph and Ton went ignored as Katara leaned closer to her brother, "You'd better return those animals Sokka or so help me La I'm going to beat you into the ground for leaving those people without any sort of help whatsoever!" She grabbed the reigns out of his hands, "Appa we need to get low and drop off Azzan and Captain Idiot, okay?"
A rumbling groan came from the gentle giant before they changed direction and began a steady descent towards the forested ground below.
"Alright," Sokka said as they drew closer to the base of the volcano, "this is close enough. The two ostrich-horses should be around here somewhere. Azzan and I will find them and ride them back to the farm—although that'll take us at least a day—and then once we drop them off, you guys can pick us up again, alright?"
"Got it Snoozles," Toph smirked as the two males dismounted the creature, "just make sure you don't get caught and thrown right back in jail!"
"Yeah," Suki added with a smile of her own, "it sure would be a shame to have my man break me out only to see him take my place!"
"Aww Suki," Ton jibed, "who knew you had a soft side to you?"
She smacked him on the arm, "Shut up!"
There was a light round of chuckles before Sokka turned to his sister, "You guys just stay low and follow us, okay? We'll be back at camp with dad and you'll be able to take care of Zuko there, alright?"
Despite the look of steel on her face, Sokka saw the look of concern that swept through her eyes, "Yeah…yeah."
With that the small band remaining on Appa watched as Azzan and Sokka slowly disappeared into the forest, carefully treading through the thick foliage that lay before them.
Only to see them come flying back out seconds later with Azzan barking at them to take off.
"It's the guards! They recovered a lot faster than I thought they would! We need to leave!"
"Oh shitshitshitshitshitshit!" Sokka screamed, his eyes wide with fear as he vaulted straight onto Appa from the ground, "They're coming they're coming! Yip yip Appa, yip yip!"
Suki grabbed onto Azzan's hand just as they lifted off and, with Ton's help, managed to heave the former captain on board.
And it was just in time as from seemingly nowhere a whole wave of Fire Nation soldiers appeared, palms alight with flames and ready to attack.
"I don't understand how they got organized so quickly," Azzan growled as he looked down at the steadily shrinking warriors below, "It took us forever just to get the gondola from one side to the other and there's no way that they could have piled that many soldiers on there at once!"
"Umm," Katara said from Appa's head, "are you sure those were the same guards?"
"What?" Ton asked scratching his head, "Those were the prison guard's uniforms alright. It had to have been them."
Toph piped up, "When Sugar Queen and I were flying over to come save your sorry butts," she pointed vaguely in Sokka's direction before tapping Zuko on the head, "we got caught up in a hailstorm of fire nation war balloons and we had to take to the trees for cover. It was slow going at first but we managed to lose them…though we're not quite sure if they ever left."
"Agni," Azzan breathed as he ran a hand through his hair, "things just keep getting better and better."
"Guys," Suki said getting their attention and pointing ahead of them, "we have company."
"Oh sweet La," Katara gasped in anguish, her grip on the reigns tightening.
"Speak of the devil," Ton quoted, "and he shall come."
"Mommy," Sokka whimpered.
Before them floated a fleet of war balloons drawing closer by the second, each one more menacing than the others around it. Soldiers could be seen running to and fro within the main cabins and several were taking positions at individual posts near the front of the ships.
"I hope you're ready to fly boy," Katara whispered to Appa, stroking his head reassuringly, "it's going to be a bumpy ride."
"You're going to have to get up and away from the trees unless you want them to burn the forest to the ground," Azzan commented from his place near the back with Ton, "I can keep most of the fire off of us if we move fast enough but if we slow down…"
He left his words unfinished, their conclusion not needed to emphasize his point.
"Here we go," Katara grimaced, "Fly hard Appa it's the only thing that's going to save us."
And they were off.
Flames lit up the sky, crisscrossing every which way as the sky bison did its best to weave through all the chaos in the air. What he couldn't dodge was held off by Azzan who worked tirelessly to fend off the building inferno.
"Get me close Sweetness," Toph urged the mocha girl, "just like before. But no diving!"
"Right," Katara nodded to herself and pulled up on Appa's reigns, "come on Appa, let's get Toph to do the dirty work!"
They flew toward the closest zeppelin swiftly, Azzan keeping the flames of the soldiers on board at bay. Once they were beneath the ship Toph stood up and cracked her knuckles.
"Okay people, you're about to witness the greatest earthbender of all time kick some serious firebender ship butt! Watch and be green with envy!"
She raised her hands and found the cool steel of the zeppelin, her fingers searching for the weakest point. Suddenly she stilled, a smirk pulling at her lips, "Gotcha. It's gonna be raining firebenders!"
The sound of protesting metal greeted the groups ears as the tiny bender ripped through the material as if it were a wet scroll.
Ton, Azzan and Suki could only sit and stare in stunned disbelief having never before seen anything like the spectacle before them. Where had this small, blind, short-tempered earthbender learned to do what should have been impossible?
"Incredible," breathed Suki, her eyes wide and mouth hanging open, "that's just…Toph how—"
"Desperate times called for desperate measure Warrior Woman," winked the green-eyed teen, "I did what I had to do when I needed to do it and I found a new way of getting through things in the process. Nobody can keep the Blind Bandit down for long!"
Just then a torrent of flames caught the boasting bender across the back and, with a scream of terror, tumbling over the edge.
"TOPH!" shrieked Katara, her hands shooting to her side for her water skin and twisting the cap off only to find that it was empty, "NO! TOPH! SOMEONE DO SOMETHING!"
Sokka tried to think of something desperately. Katara was the only one in their group who could have possibly done anything to help the falling bender. Azzan could bend yes, but the water tribe warrior had yet to see fire used to help anyone. Suki, Ton and himself were about as useful as newborns and Zuko…
Almost as if he'd been waiting for this very moment the prince gave an enormous groan as he forced himself upright, "Toph…Toph I'm coming."
"Zuko?" Katara gasped, her eyes huge but worried.
"I'm coming Toph," the prince ground out again as he got to his feet unsteadily and looked over the edge, "Agni I hope this works."
"Zuko what—" Sokka started but stopped cold when the pale teen launched himself over the side of the saddle and into the darkening sky, "WHAAAA! DID HE JUST JUMP OFF THE SKY BISON? DID HE JUMP OFF THE FLYING ANIMAL?"
"ZUKO!" Katara cried as she watched her fiancé throw himself after the Toph. If she lost either one of them now it would be more than she could bear, "Appa go after them! We have to catch them!"
She could feel her voice giving out even as she fell end over end. She had never felt this terrified in her entire life: not when she had been kidnapped and shoved inside of the small metal prison and definitely not when she and Katara had taken that psychotic nosedive.
This was completely different.
Being blind had never scared her but not knowing which way was up or where the ground was made her feel like a frightened baby turtle duck. When was she going to splat onto the ground, an unrecognizable lump that not even her parents would be able to recognize? Was this the end of the world's greatest earthbender?
"Fancy meeting you here Toph."
Her screams stopped and her eyes snapped open. She was hearing things, there was no possible way that Zuko was with her—he'd been asleep on Appa when she'd fallen! It was impossible!
"Stop gaping in disbelief and get over here Short Round or neither of us are going to get out of this alive!"
"Zuko?" Toph squeaked out, hardly daring to believe it.
"You bet your earthbending ass!" she heard his voice moving closer almost as if he was controlling his fall, "I'm baaack!"
Strong, warm arms wrapped around her pulling her close to a broad chest, "I've got you Midget just hang on, okay? I'm gonna try something and, hopefully, it'll work."
Toph gulped, "And if it doesn't?"
"Let's not think about that Bandit, alright?" Zuko said with a soft chuckle before taking a deep breath, "Just breathe."
And just like that they weren't falling anymore. In fact they seemed to be going up!
"What's going on? What are you…how are we…we should be dead!" Toph yelled, her fear of the unknown losing out to her overwhelming desire to figure out what the hell was going on! "Sparky you'd better tell me what's going on right now before I kick you where only Katara likes to tread!"
If it wasn't for the rushing wind filling their ears Toph was sure she would've been able to hear the stunned look on Zuko's face as well as the rapid blinking of his eyes that meant he was processing exactly what she'd said.
"When we get out of this young lady," he scolded seriously, "we're going to have a long talk about your sense of humor and whether or not it's appropriate, you hear me?"
"Yeah yeah just tell me what the heck is going on Posh!" Toph barked.
Zuko sighed, "If you must know I successfully managed to channel my firebending through my feet, and we're currently rising back up because of it. Though I doubt I'm going to have enough juice to get us to Appa much less keep us afloat for long. Being imprisoned, fed slop and tortured for a few days really takes its toll on a guy."
"So," Toph began, a little wary to voice her question in fear of the answer, "does that mean that we're going to die unless Sweetness or someone else on top of Appa sees us? How far did we fall anyway?"
A deep laugh, "Well if I had to guess I'd say we're about…a good thousand feet from the ground and Appa's…well Appa's a little blob from down here."
Toph felt her stomach lurch dangerously at the revelation, "Spirits I fell that far? Oh I don't feel so good."
"Tell me about it," groaned the prince, "I haven't even been awake for five minutes and I've already saved someone's life and discovered a new means of transportation via firebending. I'm dead where I float."
"Well at least at this rate we won't crash into the ground too hard," Toph offered nonchalantly, "they may still be able to identify our bodies post mortem."
There was a short silence after her statement, as though Zuko had nothing to say to her. And then she felt the firebender take a sharp breath and tighten his grip around her waist. His heartbeat picked up rapidly and Toph felt a sinking feeling settle in her stomach.
"So," Zuko began calmly though his pounding heart betrayed his bravado, "you know those war balloons that were attacking you guys? You know, the ones with the firebenders on them that made you fall off Appa?" Toph nodded, "Well they're coming our way…fast."
"We're screwed, aren't we?" It was blunt, but then Toph had never thought herself one for sugar coating anything.
Zuko snorted, "So it would seem Munchkin."
"TOPH! ZUKO! HEADS UP!"
Both of the teens in question snapped their heads in the direction of the shout, though only Zuko saw the incoming sky bison and the motley crew on its back. He squeezed Toph tightly in relief, "It's the others Toph! Katara, Sokka, Suki, Ton and Azzan! We're saved and—AAHHH!"
The blind bender let out a scream of her own as she felt them drop sharply, "What the heck was that Sparky? Why'd we fall?"
The prince chuckled nervously, "I may have lost concentration for a second there…you know because I was so excited. Sorry about that."
She punched him.
"I'm not sure I deserved that," Zuko whined as he clutched at his aching stomach, "I really don't think I deserved that Toph. I've been nothing but good to you since I woke up! And this is how you repay me? I am depressed."
"You realize of course," Toph said as they continued to hover in the air, waiting on the speeding sky bison to get to them, "that you've been gone for about a week, right? And punches are how I show love and affection for those that I care about. That punch just happened to be the combined love and affection that I have been keeping for you since the day you left!"
Zuko growled, "A simple "I love you Zuko" would suffice Tiny."
Appa pulled up next to the floating benders, the shocked faces of all those on board simply staring at yet another seemingly fictitious sight. After a rather long and awkward pause, Sokka was the first to regain his bearings.
"Right, so we're kind of in the middle of an epic air battle…chase…thing and we really should be going. If you two would kindly get on the bison it would be much appreciated!"
They obliged the slightly stressed out warrior and took their places on Appa's back where, not even a second after setting Toph down, Zuko was assaulted by a hysteric Katara.
"GAH! KATARA," Sokka screeched in panic, "YOU CAN'T JUST DROP THE REIGNS LIKE THAT! DO YOU WANT US TO CRASH?"
Said waterbender paid him no heed.
"YOU IDIOT!" Katara howled, fists punching every inch of her fiancé that she could find, "WHAT KIND OF MORON WAKES UP FROM A TORTURE ENDUCED COMA AND JUST UP AND JUMPS OFF OF A FLYING BISON?"
Off to the side, Ton leaned over to Azzan and mumbled, "I have a very distinct feeling we're about to find out. Well, us and at least half of the Fire Nation…girl's got a set of lungs on her."
The former captain could only nod in agreement.
"YOU, THAT'S WHO! PRINCE ZUKO OF THE LA FORSAKEN FIRE NATION!" she continued to beat his chest, though the blows were becoming softer now and hiccups broke through, "Y-you stupid stupid stupid i-idiot!"
And then she hugged him and all was forgiven as she felt herself melt into his warm embrace.
Zuko wrapped his arms around her tightly, his eyes closed as he savored the feeling of being here, with her.
Of being home.
"I'm sorry Katara," he whispered into her hair, placing a gentle kiss on the crown of her head, "we weren't supposed to take so long. We ran into Azula almost as soon as we set eyes on the prison and things went downhill from there. And then all of a sudden I'm waking up to Toph screaming her lungs out, you shouting about someone helping and—"
He was cut off as the waterbender pulled away from him and turned toward the green-eyed girl, "Oh Toph!"
With that she crawled to the blind bender and proceeded to squeeze the life out of her, "Are you okay? Oh La I tried to help, I really did but when I went to my water skin it was completely dry!"
The tiny girl had begun to turn purple at the lack of oxygen, "K-Katara….'m fine! Can't b-b-breathe!"
The group matron loosened her grip but didn't drop it completely, "I knew I shouldn't have agreed to your crazy plan! I almost lost both of you, do you know what that would have done to me?"
Zuko came over and drew both of the girls into a hug, "It's okay now Katara, we're safe, we're here okay?"
"GROUP HUG!" Sokka declared, grabbing Suki's arm and tugging her into the impromptu love fest, "Azzan, Ton—don't you even think about trying to stay out of this!"
A little awkwardly the two newest additions made their way over and were almost immediately dragged in by Suki and Sokka.
A roar from Appa brought them all back to reality.
That and the flames streaking dangerously close to their heads.
"I don't mean to be a kill joy," Azzan started.
"Too late," Toph muttered with a smirk.
He played it off well however, and continued on as if nothing had been said, "This is getting to be a little ridiculous. As happy as I am to be out of that prison with everyone in our partysafe and sound, I think it's time to get away from these guys, alright?"
"Right," Sokka confirmed taking hold of the reigns again, "let's leave these Fire Nation jerks in the dust!"
Zuko snorted, "Haha…jerk…circle!"
No one had ever seen Sokka turn that red so fast before. His head snapped around and he locked eyes with the prince, "Don't. You. DARE!"
A few hours had passed since they had last seen any sign of the Fire Nation ships that had been chasing them, Appa's superior mobility allowing them to easily outrun their pursuers. They were flying low and slow now that the sun had set with Sokka and Azzan the only two awake, the former to steer and the latter to keep him company. Unfortunately the weight of the passengers was proving to be just a little too much for the sky bison to bear.
A tired groan escaped from the large mammal prompting Sokka to furrow his brow in concern, "You okay Appa?" Another groan this one longer and more drawn out but still just as exhausted, "You sure you can't hold out a little longer boy? We've only got a few more miles to go."
The bison gave him no choice as he set himself down in the closest field, the landing not one of Appa's most graceful, but effective nonetheless. The impact of the rough landing startled the passengers awake.
"What's a matter?" Toph asked groggily from her spot in between Zuko and Katara her hair standing up in every which way, "Why we stopped?"
"Is something wrong?" Kartara questioned, her eyes still clouded with sleep. Beside her Zuko voiced the same question, though his eyes were sharp and alert taking in their surroundings.
Sokka waved away the questions, "No nothing's wrong, Appa's just tired from lugging us all around for five hours straight. I figure we're just going to have to set up camp here for now until he's ready to go again." He glanced at the now slumbering bison, the beast's snores disturbing the tall grass before him and sending up clouds of dust, "Whenever that may be."
Suki and Ton jumped down from the saddle and walked toward the Water Tribe teen. Toph was next, closely followed by Azzan, Zuko and Katara.
"Now we're gonna need some fire wood, makeshift blankets and someone is going to have to go hunting for dinner because I'm out of jerky and I—" again Zuko snorted, his eyes lighting up with humor but Sokka gritted his teeth and pressed on, "—because I am not not going to eat good food tonight right after I've gotten out of jail and away from the prison crap!"
A chorus of agreements met his statement and it was decided that Ton and Suki would gather the wood, Katara and Zuko would figure out the blanket situation and Toph, Azzan and Sokka would do the hunting.
First back were Suki and Ton and they quickly set about building a suitable fire, though they opted to wait for one of the firebenders to get back to start it. Following them were the three hunters Toph wearing a satisfied smirk on her face, Sokka looking downright pissed and Azzan sporting a bemused expression and hefting a good sized antelope-deer.
"There's absolutely no fun in hunting when you don't have to track anything Toph! I mean seriously, we didn't even get to see the game before you killed them! How is that sporting?"
The earthbender just snorted, "Snoozles you were the one who was making the big deal about wanting to eat now! So I just thought I'd get you to your goal a little bit sooner! You should be thanking me on bended knee Meathead, not nagging me on the ethics of hunting!"
Azzan walked over to Ton and Suki, "Would you believe me if I told you that they've been arguing like this for the last few hours?"
Ton chuckled while Suki responded with a grin, "Those two really love yanking the other's chain. Back in Ba Sing Se Katara was telling me about how often they argue and, apparently, things can get pretty epic so I'd count yourself lucky that nothing was destroyed!"
Zuko and Katara came back next hands clasped and bright grins on their faces, though both looking a little disheveled.
"Well I know what you two were doing," Toph teased.
"I'd rather not have an image of my sister and her boyfriend making out in the woods while we're—and there it is. I hate you Toph."
A smile, "Always happy to help Snoozles!"
The two lovers planted themselves around the pile of sticks Ton and Suki had gathered and Zuko held out a hand—a small flame shooting out—and ignited the stack into a strong, healthy fire.
"Let's get that antelope-deer skinned and cooking!" Sokka declared happily reaching over his shoulder to pull out his boomerang only to stop short when he found nothing, "…Boomerang."
"Oh yeah," Katara piped up with a small smile on her face as she stood up, pulling something out of the folds of her dress, "when Toph and I got to the Boiling Rock we found this at the entrance."
It was his boomerang.
"BOOMERANG!" Sokka squealed shooting up from his spot next to Suki, tears shining in his eyes, "YOU DO ALWAYS COME BACK!"
He hugged the weapon close to his chest, as if it was the most precious thing in the world to him. Pulling away from the embrace he kissed it over and over again, completely ecstatic to be reunited with his constant companion. Looking over to Katara, he smiled brightly.
"Thanks sis. Thanks a lot."
She merely smiled at her brother before sitting down next to Zuko again.
"Now," Sokka began brandishing his boomerang's bladed edge, "we can get down to the food preparation! Oh man…if only we had some sea prunes!"
"Believe it or not," said a voice from behind them, just beyond the light of their campfire, "I can help you with that."
The reaction was unavoidable.
"AAAAHHHH!" Sokka, Katara, Toph and Ton screamed in fright, though it was probably safer to assume that the earthbender was more startled by the shouts around her than the unknown intruder behind them.
Azzan, Zuko and Suki were more disciplined and, thanks to their years of training, jumped right to their feet and into their chosen fighting stances although the two males each set both of their palms ablaze for added effect.
"Who are you?" Zuko growled as the three of them moved towards the spot the voice had come from, "And how did you find us?"
"Calm yourself young bender," the voice soothed, "I'll come into the light. I mean you no harm."
Sure enough a figure emerged from the shadows moments later, tall but with an obvious hunch in his shoulders as if it hurt him to stand up straight. He was old, older even than Iroh but with a full head of hair and kind green eyes. The clothes he wore were simple and sensible and tilted more toward dark brown than anything else.
"My name is Seto Ayani and as to your second question," he directed at Zuko, "I found you when I looked out the window of my home right over there," he gestured with his hand over his shoulder, "where I live with my wife, Mara."
There was a sharp intake of breath from Zuko's left and Azzan stepped forward, "Seto? Is that really you? I-it's me…it's Azzan."
Seto's eyes shot open in surprise as his gaze landed on the obviously startled firebender, "Azzan? Kia's husband? A captain of the Fire Nation army?"
Azzan nodded hesitantly, "I was a captain until my own country threw me into prison for associating with Kia…with a member of one of the Water Tribes."
The old man shot forward, showing incredible speed for his age, and wrapped the young man in a crushing embrace, "It's so good to see you my boy! We had begun to fear the worst when you didn't come back after the initial purge was done. We had to move away when security began to tighten up and the Fire Lord started demanding that any woman found who was pregnant be brought in for questioning."
Fear shot through the young captain's eyes, "Kia?"
Seto shook his head, "No, we managed to get on the last transport out of the capital before that particular decree was put through. And it was not a day too soon! Almost as soon as we got here Kia went in to labor and Mara had me running every which way trying do ten different things! But it was a successful delivery! I am happy to say that you are officially a father." He clapped the stunned man on the shoulder chuckling at the gobsmacked expression on his face.
"Kia's…alive? A-and…I'm a…a f-father?" The normally composed and infallible warrior had been reduced to a stammering, stuttering mass, "She…they're here?"
"Yes son," Seto smiled brightly, "in the house."
Azzan seemed at a loss for words so Ton spoke up, "I'm sure our seemingly dumbfounded friend would like to ask if he could see them, as he had been told that they were dead while we were in prison."
"But of course," the grandfatherly man nodded enthusiastically first at Azzan and then at the rest of the group, who had remained silent and still up to this point, "of course you may! All of you are more than welcome to come in as well. Mara and Kia have actually been a little stressed out today thanks to the baby and when those two get stressed out, well they cook up a storm! And we have plenty of room too, so you don't need to worry about that! Come, let's get you all inside."
Never ones to let a free meal and bed pass them by, the group got up and, after Katara informed the half-asleep bison where they would be, followed Seto to the cozy looking house just a few minutes away.
"Mara! Kia! I'm home," Seto called out as he opened the door and held it for the weary party to enter, "and I've brought guests!"
"Hey Zuko," Sokka whispered his brow furrowed in confusion, "doesn't this house look…familiar?"
"What are you—" the prince began before things clicked into place, "Oh shit…the ostrich-horse house!"
Sokka nodded, "Yeah, that's what I thought too. Maybe if we just keep that to ourselves, nobody will notice. Besides, Seto seems like a good guy maybe he won't be angry if he does find out!"
An older feminine voice interrupted their hasty conversation.
"Seto who did you bring this time? I swear with the way you bring in random passersby it'd be a wonder if we haven't fed half of Ba Sing Se by now!" The woman stopped in the doorway, her eyes taking in the ragtag group of teens before her, "By Agni…"
"Mara?" asked another voice from what was presumably the kitchen, this one definitely younger and female as well, "Is everything alright?" In walked another woman, though she was markedly younger than the first, whose tan skin, blue eyes and chocolate locks were only the beginning of her mesmerizing features.
And resting in her arms was a happily sleeping baby girl whose ebony locks were unmistakably her father's but whose skin she had obviously inherited from her mother.
"What is going on he—" her words trailed off as her gaze landed on Azzan and her eyes began to mist over. Softly she breathed, "A-Azzan?"
"Kia…" Azzan gasped, staring dumbly at his wife and…daughter? Yes, it was his daughter!
He went to her, ignoring the rest of the tears on everyone else's faces except for his wife's and carefully, so as not to disturb their child's slumber, pulled her to him in a long awaited embrace.
"Oh Agni Kia," Azzan whispered, "I'd thought I'd lost you! I never thought I would see you again!"
Kia sniffled and shook her head in the crook of his neck, "No, I'm here Azzan. Though I had thought that I'd lost you! La I can't believe you're actually here!"
"I am love," he soothed with a soft kiss to her forehead, "but it seems we're no longer alone. Who is this beautiful baby girl?"
With a soft giggle Kia pulled away slightly so that Azzan could see their child, "This is your daughter. Your daughter Nova."
End Book I
A/N: And there you have it, the end of Avatar: The Fall! It has been one heck of a ride ladies and gentlemen, but this story is far from over! Currently in the works is the next installment of the series Avatar: Emergence so keep a lookout because things should get a little bit more interesting as soon as we jump into that one!
Again, I really am sorry about getting this chapter out so late, but now that it's here, all I can do is ask you for any kind of feedback because I'd really like to know just what you guys think!
Remember! Avatar: Emergence will be coming out soon! If you want to stay on top of things, I'd recommend the Author Alert option! Til next time!