37. The Moon and the Ocean

Appa landed in the Spirit Oasis, and Aang, Katara, Sokka, Yue, and Zuko jumped down from its back.

Admiral Zhao was standing in the middle of the clearing. He held a rough bag made of hemp in one hand. The bag squirmed. The Admiral had been giving a speech to the half a dozen soldiers behind him, but now Zhao's attention was on the new-comers.

Zuko wasn't sure what was going on, but Aang didn't hesitate.

"Zhao! Don't!" The airbender was dead-serious and had his staff in hand, poised to attack.

Zhao smiled. There was a burning in his eyes. He lifted a dagger closer to the bag. "Back away, Avatar."

Zuko couldn't believe this was really happening, but Zhao sounded serious. The Prince had been warned that the Admiral had a plan, and that the Moon and the Ocean might be in danger, and still.

This can't be happening.

Zhao surveyed the Avatar's lot. His gaze froze on Zuko, and an incredulous look passed over the man's face. "You're alive?!"

Zhao look stunned, but then his face hardened. "I see you've finally gotten around to wearing colors more suitable for a traitor."

"You have no idea what you're doing." Zuko bit out. He hadn't realized how much he hated Zhao before now. Zuko wanted to attack the Admiral right now, but this was no time to let his temper get the best of him.

"It's my destiny to destroy the Moon and the Water Tribe." Zhao moved the dagger closer to the squirming bag.

"No!" Aang shouted. "Destroying the Moon won't just hurt the Water Tribe. It will hurt everyone – including you. Without the Moon, everything would fall out of balance. You have no idea what kind of chaos that would unleash on the world."

"He is right, Zhao!" A familiar voice boomed from the doorway to the sanctuary. Everyone turned to look.

Uncle! Zuko watched as Iroh lowered the large hood of his cloak. To Zuko's relief, Uncle looked unharmed.

"General Iroh, you also live." Zhao was practically rolling his eyes now. "It seems your treason knows no limits." Zhao turned to Zuko. "Or yours."

"I'm not a traitor, it's you who are out of your mind!" Zuko snarled back.

"Zhao, the Fire Nation needs the Moon too. We all depend on the balance," Iroh said in a level tone, but added with all the authority of a man born to rule the greatest nation in the world: "Whatever you do to that spirit, I'll unleash on you ten-fold! Let it go. NOW!"

Iroh and Zhao locked eyes. For a tense moment, it looked like neither would budge, but then Zhao's expression wavered. Zhao knelt and released the fish back into the water.

The red light of the moon was replaced by natural moonlight.

Zuko couldn't believe Uncle had been able to reason with Zhao. The Prince had ruled that option out categorically when he'd been planning his...

Suddenly, a look of mad desperation crossed the Admiral's face. Before anyone had time to stop him, Zhao slashed the water with a blast of fire.

Moonlight was drowned out, and darkness descended upon the clearing, and upon the world.

Zuko moved to attack, but was outpaced by Iroh, who fired a blast after a blast at Zhao and Zhao's men. Zuko shot a firefist into the fray, but his blast was nothing next to Iroh's inferno.

Zhao blocked one of Uncle's blasts and backed away. The soldiers attacked Iroh, and Zuko moved to help his uncle, but Iroh took them down with ease.

Zuko glanced to see what was going on in the pond. He saw a black koi fish swimming frantically. A white one was floating in the water, unmoving.

Zuko didn't understand everything that was going on, but he knew one thing for sure: We failed.

The Moon Spirit was dead. The world would never be the same again.

ooo

Moments earlier

The fabric of the universe was swaying. Näkki didn't need to see the Moon turn red to know it; the Water Spirit could feel the rift in his very core. The beginnings of a tear were in the air; not quite a fracture yet, but a promise of something unlike the world had ever seen.

For the first time in a long time, Näkki felt truly and utterly afraid.

The Spirit cursed under its breath. He had tried to be among the soldiers Zhao took with him, but the Admiral had picked his landing party so late that Näkki hadn't had time to knock one of them out and take his place. The Admiral had embarked on his private mission, and the shapechanger had been left to wait for his return.

I should have followed him. I should have killed him.

The Moon was in danger, but there was nothing Näkki could do for her. There was, however, something he could do for his newly-gained allies.

The spirit ran behind the smoking wreckage of a Fire Nation tank, glanced around to make sure nobody was looking at him, and pulled on a new face.

Admiral Zhao climbed on top of the halfway-burried-in-ice tank.

"ATTENTION, soldiers of Fire Nation!" the Admiral called out loudly. "I, Admiral Zhao, order you to retreat back to your ships. As soon as everyone is onboard, lift your anchors, and sail back to Rendezvous Point Alfa. We are leaving this city."

He had the attention of hundreds of Fire Navy soldiers and marines who'd been fighting the Water Tribe in the no man's land between the harbor and the city. Many of the soldiers looked unsure of what to do; the Fire Navy willingly giving up a foothold was almost unheard of.

So was the Moon turning red. Special circumstances required special responses.

"That – was – an order!" The Admiral boomed, forcing authority and threat into his voice, his face turning an angry shade of red upon seeing his orders met with hesitation.

That seemed to do the trick. Most of the soldiers in Zhao's immediate vicinity abandoned the fight and retreated to the ships. The Water Tribe warriors kept fighting, but without their benders they could not do much to stop the Fire Nation from leaving.

The Admiral nodded to himself.

Zhao jumped down and marched towards a man he was fairly sure was one of his closest underlings. The officer in question looked nothing short of dumbfounded. "Sir? We thought you were still on your mission. Where are the others?"

Would Admiral Zhao stop to explain himself and his reasoning?Näkki didn't think so. "Are you deaf? Return to our ship immediately, and signal for the fleet to retreat."

"Retreat, sir?" The man whose name Näkki still couldn't remember looked disbelieving.

Admiral Zhao grabbed the man by his collar with one hand. "Waste another moment of my precious time and I'll have you scrubbing animal pens for the rest of your military career."

"Sir, the waterbenders are powerless. Now is our time to strike," another officer put in.

In one graceless shove, Zhao pushed back the man he'd been holding and turned to address all of the commanding staff gathered around him, his voice low but stern: "The Avatar has summoned the Great Spirits of the Moon and the Ocean to fight on the Water Tribe's side. For every second we linger, thousands will die. My decision is final; question it again and prepare to face court martial."

Näkki didn't know what had happened to the Moon to turn it red, and he doubted it was the Avatar's doing, but what was one more lie to someone like him? He needed to convince everyone of the gravity of the situation.

Something is very wrong. No man or spirit should stay in this cursed place. Can't they feel it in their cores?

Great Spirits were involved, and that never bode well for humans.

The officers looked at each other and at the blood red moon above them. Näkki willed them to see things his way.

"Yes, sir." The second one to have spoken bowed his head. "Your orders, sir?"

Admiral Zhao handed out more specific orders, and one by one the officers dispersed to deliver the news of the retreat, and to oversee the evacuation of all Fire Navy personnel from the Water Tribe Capitol.

Näkki was explaining to Commander Zuan how to organize the firebenders in formation to cover for their retreating soldiers, when the Moon resumed its natural glow. Näkki and all around him turned to look up, and the water spirit briefly wondered if he had overreacted.

Then the Moon went out altogether.

ooo

Gently, Iroh lifted the white fish from the water.

"There's no hope now. It's over," a white-haired stranger said in a mournful tone.

The Moon Spirit is dead. Agni save us all.

Iroh spared a glance at his nephew, who was standing very still. Zuko's expression was angry, sad, tense... it was hard to read.

No, nephew. If someone should have been able to stop this, it's me.

A white glow began to shine behind them. Iroh, Zuko, and the children turned to look, only to come face to face with the Avatar, his eyes and tattoos glowing.

The Avatar, his voice deep and multilayered, spoke: "No, it's not over."

Aang walked into the pond. Katara moved to follow, but Iroh lifted his hand to motion for her to halt. Perhaps there was something the Avatar could do to remedy the situation.

Aang stood in the middle of the pond, and locked eyes with the black carp. The fish's eyes and the white mark on its head started to glow the same white glow as the Avatar's eyes and tattoos. The Avatar dropped completely into the pool, despite the water not being deep enough to submerge in.

The water in the pond began to glow an other-worldly blue. The glow spread wider and wider, encompassing all of the Oasis and beyond.

"Uncle, what's going on?" Zuko whispered next to Iroh.

Iroh had no idea.

The glowing water began to coalesce before their eyes. It formed into a huge, incandescent blue wave that rushed away from them. It was headed out of the Oasis. Before leaving the sanctuary, the wave formed into a glowing, fish-like creature. It rose from the pool and moved out of their view.

Zuko bolted after the creature. Iroh shouted for him not to go, but his nephew ignored his Uncle's words, and sprinted out of the Oasis.

Katara ran after Zuko, leaving Iroh alone with Sokka and the Water Tribe girl whose name Iroh didn't know.

Iroh was torn between wanting stay to see if anything could be done for the Moon and going after his nephew. If Zuko did something foolish now, it could easily put him in mortal danger.

ooo

Zuko ran out of the Oasis and saw how the creature drew more water from the canals and grew to a massive size. The monster towered over the citadel, bathing the dark city in blue light.

It was the biggest thing Zuko had ever seen.

Zuko startled when someone came to stand beside him. Katara's eyes were also locked on the monstrosity before them.

There was an air bubble at the center of the white-veined creature. Inside the bubble was a young frame Zuko would have recognized anywhere: the Avatar.

The Avatar spread his arms, and the Ocean Spirit followed suit, duplicating the motion. A few streams of fire hit the monster from the streets below. Firebenders trying to defend themselves, Zuko guessed.

The Prince felt a horrible sense of foreboding, but before he had time to move, the giant koi fish waved its arm, and a wave flooded the street where the fires had come from.

"NO!"

This was exactly what Zuko had feared: an out-of-control Avatar.

His despair melted into an emotion more characteristic of him: resolve.

Zuko reached within himself and summoned flames to engulf him. Before the red, green, blue, yellow, and white flames had time to die down, a young dragon soared into the sky, and towards the wrath of the Ocean Spirit.

The koi monster was moving towards the sea. Zuko flew after it, his anger and vengefulness muted only by fear.

One hit from that thing and I'm down for the count. Possibly permanently.

The Prince was resilient, but he did not stand a chance against the combined might of the Avatar and the Ocean.

The dragon could see Water Tribe people on the streets below. They were prostrated on the ice, bowing down in respect. The Fire Navy seemed to be well into retreating from the city; nearly all the ships had disembarked or were about to.

They are running. Good. They can get away from that thing. They just need a little more time, Zuko decided.

He was close to the spirit monster now. The dragon circled it once, but the spirit paid no mind to him.

The koi monster spotted a group of Fire Navy soldiers pointing their spears at it. The Avatar lifted his hand, preparing to strike.

Zuko swooped down and breathed a hot stream of fire at the koi's outstretched arm. The fire did not evaporate the hand; it barely made a dent. Zuko's attack was not enough to stop the powerful wave that struck Zuko's countrymen down.

His fire had, however, caught the creature's attention. Good, Zuko thought, furious.

The dragon swooped around and came back for another round of fire. This time Zuko shot shorter blasts, aiming for the monster's massive head, which was turning to look in his direction.

Zuko had just enough time to see the Avatar move his hand in a fast cutting motion. The dragon swerved to the creature's left, out of the way of the largest water whip Zuko had ever seen. Missing its target, the whip hit the Water Tribe buildings behind him instead, cutting them in half.

Zuko gulped.

He glanced at the harbor; the Navy needed more time to flee. Zuko would buy them as time as he could.

The monster is fast for its size, but there is a small delay between the Avatar's movements and the creature's responses. So long as I keep Aang in my line of sight, I can try to predict its attacks.

Zuko would make the most of the delay to stay one step ahead the Ocean Spirit's wrath.

More cautious this time, Zuko directed his next round of attacks at the creature's back. The koi monster appeared to have once again lost interest in him; it had reached one of the great ice walls of the city. The monster merged with the wall, and the blue glow of the water spread further and wider. The monster did not disappear, however, but emerged from the other side of the wall, even bigger than before.

The Avatar waved his hands and the Ocean obliged: a tidal wave tossed two unsuspecting Fire Navy vessels away from the City at an incredible speed. Zuko could see one of the ships capsized in the distance.

Zuko's anger burned through in his veins, making his next breath of fire more intense than the ones before.

The Koi lifted its arm and waved it at the dragon. Zuko zigzagged past the massive hand; he could fly fast, but was barely able to stay ahead of the monster's attempt.

The Avatar motioned with his other arm as well, and the monster's left hand launched towards the dragon. Zuko could see the movement, but he didn't have enough time to change his direction.

The glowing blue hand struck Zuko. The impact sent him hurling down and crashing through several building before hitting ground.

ooo

Näkki no longer had to order anyone to retreat; all the remaining Fire Soldiers were running for their lives. Most of the ships had closed their bowsprits and were attempting to depart.

It seemed the last firebender unreasonable enough not to flee was Prince Zuko.

Foolish human! He can't expect to be a match against the Ocean Spirit! Näkki chided.

Yet there the boy was, assaulting one of the Great Spirits, to save the people who branded him and cast him aside.Näkki shook his head. If he lived another thousand years, he would still not understand humans.

The gigantic koi swung its hand and a wave tossed people around like ragdolls. Näkki knew most of the soldiers had died of the shear impact, but perhaps not all.

Still in the shape of Admiral Zhao, Näkki ran to Commander Zuan: "Commander! I appoint you the acting captain of the flagship. Take her and get the fleet far away from here as fast as you can!"

The middle-aged firebender looked nodded. "What about you, sir?"

"Some of our men have been cast into the water. I brought them here; it's my duty to save as many as I can."

The other officer gaped at the Admiral. He probably thought Zhao had lost his mind. "But sir..."

"No buts!" Näkki ordered, and began to stride towards the shore. Zuan followed and tried to protest, but Näkki turned to say: "Commander. I'm an expert swimmer, I know what I'm doing, and this is something I must do. You have yours orders. Go."

Näkki saw acceptance in the man's eyes; perhaps he realized that Zhao would rather throw his life away in a foolish rescue mission than return to the Fire Nation to face the humiliation of his defeat.

Zuan clicked his heals together and bowed deep, saying it had been an honor to serve under him. Then the officer sprinted away.

The water spirit hesitated but a moment before it jumped into the cold water. The Ocean was angry at the human who had hurt its lover, and spirits couldn't always tell humans apart. Näkki hoped that no matter how angry the Ocean was, it would not mistake him, a spirit, for the real Admiral.

Näkki wasn't a bender, but he was fast in his element. He felt more than saw where people struggled against the cold water. He only took the ones that still breathed. One or two at a time, Näkki dragged them to the surface and to the closest vessels. Ropes and ladders were thrown over the sides.

Näkki knew this was a fool's errand: he could not save them all. He couldn't do much at all.

He would save as many as he could, and that would be the last anyone ever heard of Admiral Zhao; the man would not live through this.

ooo

Glancing at Sokka and the white-haired girl, Iroh understood for the first time what he saw. "You've been touched by the Moon Spirit. Some of its life is in you!" A spark of hope was lit in Iroh's chest.

The moon-touched young woman looked up. "Yes, you're right. It gave me life. Maybe I can give it back."

Sokka protested, saying she didn't have to do this, but the woman's mind was made. "It's my duty, Sokka. I have to do this."

It was a heart-wrenching scene. This was a woman of rare courage. Had there been any other way, Iroh would have intervened.

The woman touched the white koi in Iroh's hands. Her body went limp and fell into Sokka's arms.

ooo

Zuko hurt all over. He spit out blood so as not to choke in it, and growled in pain and frustration.

He felt terrible, but he couldn't die now. That would be giving up, and Prince Zuko never gave up.

His men needed him. His crew needed him. They were somewhere out there.

Zuko lifted his head. His ears were ringing, and the world swayed slightly, but not enough to disorient him.

Zuko tried to climb on top of the heap of broken ice he was lying in, but fell back down with a whimper. His right front leg would not support his weight.

He still had three good legs though. Zuko forced himself up.

There was a wound on his right side. It was deep enough to hava cut away some of his scales, but it was still just a scratch: the bleeding was superficial.

The real question is whether my wings still support me.

Zuko spread his wings. Right now they were more crucial than his legs.

Zuko tried to rise into air, and on the second try, he was able to scramble off the ground.

From the bird eye perspective, Zuko saw the koi monster had reached the main canal of the City. It had an uninterrupted pathway to the bay where the Fire Navy ships were hurrying the other way.

Zuko sped up towards the monster, breathing out a long stream of fire as soon as he was close enough to hit it.

ooo

Seargent Jiri was frozen in place. Their ship was far enough that the spirit monster was only a distant glow, but he still couldn't tear his eyes away from it.

We're all going to die, he repeated in his head like a mantra.

Jiri had only seen a spirit once before, but the shapeshifter had been nothing like the monstrosity now wrecking their fleet apart. Nothing could have prepared him for something like this.

"Jiri!" someone shouted and shook the Seargent by the shoulders. "Snap out of it!

Jiri had to blink several times before recognizing Cho's face.

"There's no time for this. We're not in the clear yet," the older soldier warned.

Jiri nodded, and tried to make himself useful. He should be on his guard and ready to firebend in case someone attacked them.

Except if that thing did attack them, what was there that anyone could do?

This was a battle; there was always a chance you wouldn't come out of it alive. But usually, no matter how dire the situation, you had a fighting chance. This time there was no hope. They would all die, and there was nothing they could do about it.

"Look, it's the Prince!" someone shouted, too astonished to bother with euphemisms.

Jiri turned to look across the harbor. He could see it too: a long dark creature danced past the glow of the monster. It looked like an insect next to the angry giant koi. The dragon was hurling streams of fire at the spirit, momentarily illuminating the whole battle scene.

"What on earth is he doing?!" someone yelled.

"He's doing it for us," Seargent Cho mumbled next to Jiri. "To distract it. To keep it from wiping us out."

Cho was right. Zuko wouldn't be able to win, so the boy must have been trying to stall to for time. He was trying to be as annoying an insect as possible.

It was working; the monster swept around itself with water, but miraculously Zuko flew past every attack.

Maybe they weren't going to die after all.

A teardrop was threatening to leave Jiri's eye. If Prince Zuko was brave enough to go toe-to-toe with that thing, Jiri would be brave enough to face whatever else might come their way.

Jiri took a deep breath and raised his hands into a readied bending stance. Do your worst.

ooo

Sokka murmured: "She's gone." He hugged Yue's body tighter. "She's gone."

His heart was throbbing and he couldn't breathe. It hurt so much.

She didn't have to die. Why did she have to die?!

Yue's body began to glow, and vanished. Sokka stared at his hands, unable to make sense of what was happening.

He glanced to his side and saw the fish in Iroh's hands started to glow. The old firebender dropped it back into the water, and the white koi began to swim around in circles once more.

Sokka gaped. What is going…?

The pond started to glow again. After a moment, an incorporeal shape rose from the water, and coalesced into…

"Yue!" Sokka's heart fluttered.

It was her, but she looked different. She shone an ethereal white glow. Her dress was white, and her hair and clothes floated around her as if she was under water.

"Goodbye, Sokka. I will always be with you," the Moon Spirit said, her voice at the same time Yue's and not: it sounded multilayered, like Aang's when he was in the Avatar state.

Yue moved closer and their lips touched. Sokka raised his hands to cradle her face, and she replied in kind, deepening the kiss.

She was back. All Sokka wanted to do was hold her tight and never let go. There was so much he needed to say, so much he should have done.

Before he could find the right words, Yue faded away.

Sokka stared into nothingness. He noticed absently that moonlight illuminated the grass around him once more. He was alone.

ooo

Zuko dodged another wave the enraged spirit hurled his way, but not by much. He was bobbing and weaving past the spirit, but it was only a matter of time before another strike would hit home. Zuko could not keep up the fight for much longer.

Suddenly, the Ocean Spirit stopped in its tracks and looked up. Zuko, too, spared a glance.

The Moon! Somehow, the Moon was back in the sky, alive!

Zuko flew past the now stagnant Ocean Spirit; the dragon was still cautious.

He saw the Avatar begin to wilt inside the creature. The monster started to dissipate, shrinking, its water flowing back into the canals and the sea. The glowing monser placed Aang on an icy walkway by the city's main canal, and the boy fell to his knees.

Some of the water in the canal still glowed an unnatural shade of blue. Zuko followed the glow from air; the light began to race back up the canal.

"No, it can't be!" Zuko heard someone shout below. Admiral Zhao was standing on a brigde, looking up at the Moon in disbelief.

The essence of the Ocean Spirit formed back into a concrete form: a pair of wavelike hands. Zhao turned to see his attacker and threw a firefist, but it was to no avail. The hands grabbed Zhao and started to drag him towards the water in the canal.

No! Dying in the cold depths of the ocean was a fate Zuko did not wish upon anyone; not even his worst enemy, it seemed.

Dragon Zuko shot towards the Ocean's hands and breathed fire at them. As he flew past Zhao, Zuko bit the man by the shoulder, and yanked with all his weight and momentum, trying to pry the man from the Ocean's grip.

It worked: Zhao yelped in pain, but was freed from the monster's watery grasp.

Zuko could taste blood in his mouth; his teeth had pierced through some of the less-armored parts of Zhao's arm.

Zuko tossed the Admiral to a snowy bank, and turned to see what the monster would do next. He felt the cold hands of the Ocean cradle around his torso, and they pulled him into the canal.

The water was even colder than Zuko had expected. It enveloped him from all sides and knocked the air right out of him, leaving a salty taste in his mouth.

The water glowed around him, and all Zuko could see was blue light and air bubbles whirling past him.

He squirmed and struggled to free himself, but was pulled deeper and deeper into the water. The canal must be deeper than it looks.

Lack of air made Zuko feel lightheaded. His thoughts kept drifting in and out of focus. In his mind Zuko could see the Fire Palace; his mother, and father, and even Azula. And Uncle. Mostly Uncle. Stupid, meaningless little moments of Uncle standing by Zuko's side, or instructing him, or smiling that knowing smile of his.

He would miss Uncle the most.

Zuko was barely conscious. His wriggling didn't seem to make any difference against the pull of the Ocean, but it wasn't in his nature to stop trying.

How deep is this canal? Zuko wondered briefly. He tried to focus his eyes to make out the canal walls, or the surface of the water, but all he could see was bubbles and the eerie glow.

We're... we're not in the canal anymore.

Something soft touched Zuko's chin.

There was a new, even brighter glow right next to him. A beautiful face smiled at him sadly. The ethereal woman touched Zuko's cheek, and lowered her other hand to touch the blue light of the Ocean.

The Ocean Spirit let go off Zuko, and both glowing specters faded away, leaving Zuko in darkness.

When the initial shock wore off, Zuko started to scramble towards the surface. He thought he could see muted lights ahead, but his eyes could've been playing tricks on him.

No, there definitely was something above him. Something of this world. Something solid.

Zuko's snout smacked into something cold and hard. Ice.

Pulling at the last reservoirs of his strength, Zuko breathed out warmth to melt the obstacle before him. Impatient, he smacked into the ice again, and again. On the third try, the weakened ice gave way and the dragon burst through it.

Air had never tasted as sweet. Zuko gulped for air between raspy coughs.

In the adrenaline rush of the battle, Zuko had ignored the pain in his front leg, but now it was back with a vengeance. Zuko collapsed on the sheet of ice.

He just lay there and breathed, and slowly his breathing calmed down to something resembling a normal rhythm.

Zuko wasn't alone; a group of blue-clad people approached him from an adjacent street.

Zuko growled at them, flashing teeth; he felt vulnerable and exposed, and did not care for company. Not theirs.

Uncle.

The dragon got up to his feet again, still glowering and hissing at the Water Tribe warriors. I have to find Uncle.

ooo

I have to find my nephew.

The moment life had returned to the Moon Spirit, Iroh had left the Oasis to go see what had happened to Zuko. Or, more exactly, what Zuko had gotten up to. Iroh had little hope that his nephew would have stayed out off whatever had transpired in the Northern Water Tribe Capital in those terrible, moonless minutes.

Iroh couldn't see Zuko, in any form. He started to run towards the harbor. The teenager had probably gone to where their troops were. Or, perhaps more likely, to where the blue-glowing creature had gone.

Iroh could not see the monster's glow anywhere now. He hoped it was gone for now.

Surely my nephew wouldn't be foolish enough to go against a Great Spirit?

The Dragon of the West was only superficially aware of the fact that he was running across a hostile city. Experience told him the devastation of the battle had left the Water Tribe forces scattered. The confusion would create cover even for an enemy combatant such as himself.

Even if the Capital had been in tiptop condition, Iroh would have gone after his nephew regardless. He would find Zuko and get him out of here even if it meant going against the full might of the Tribe.

Further down the street Iroh saw a familiar figure and called out: "Katara!"

The girl turned to look. She stopped running long enough for Iroh to catch up.

"Katara," Iroh panted, feeling the years in his aching feet. "Where did Zuko go?"

The girl's face was unreadable. "He turned into Kulo. And attacked Aang. Tried to, anyway. I have to find Aang."

Without waiting for a reply or a permission, Katara sprinted away. Iroh presumed she had an idea where Aang was, and he ran after her.

Where the Avatar is, Zuko will most likely be as well.

The closer they got the harbor, the more Water Tribe troops there were on the streets. Some of them noticed Iroh and a couple even tried to stop him, but their efforts were halfhearted; Iroh pushed past them without difficulty.

For a moment Iroh thought he had lost Katara's trail, but then he arrived to a wider street with a canal running in the middle. He could see Katara running over a bridge, in a hurry to get to a young, orange-clad boy.

The Avatar Spirit was no longer in charge; Aang was holding a hand to his head, looking spent.

Before Iroh had time to get across the canal himself, a dark shadow passed over him. Iroh's heart skipped a beat. Zuko!

His nephew was flying over them. He's alive, thank the spirits! Injured, but alive.

Iroh was determined to get his nephew out of here as soon as possible, but before he had time to call out, the dragon landed next to Aang and Katara.

Burst of multicolored flames surrounded the dragon, and a roughed-up-looking Prince Zuko took its place.

Iroh could see all the way from the other side of the canal that his nephew was angry. Oh dear.

()()()

A/N:

I apologize for keeping people waiting so long, and for not answering PMs. I'm back now.

Truth be told I had already moved on to other things, but lately I re-watched the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series, and was reminded of how much I love the world and characters of ATLA. I began to read Avatar fanfiction again, and decided to continue my own fic, despite the long break.

I have re-edited all my previous chapters (mostly fixing grammar and sentence structures). I only made minor changes to the plot itself, so there is no need to reread the old chapters unless you want to. I uploaded the edited versions of the old chapters at the same time as I uploaded this new chapter.

In my absence, my fanfic has been posted in its entirety to another fanfiction site. I didn't post it there, nor did the poster ask for my permission, but I don't mind all that much. However, on that other site there is already a chapter 37. I don't know who wrote it, but it wasn't me, nor is that chapter in any way canon for this fic. Just letting you know.