Katara wasn't able to sleep that night. After the ship had blown up, she was haunted with memories of what had happened in her village. And after a few hours of tossing in her bed, Katara had given up and walked to the top deck. She now stood, her forearms on the cold metal rail, with her gaze never leaving the water.
Why had she kissed Jet? And why had Zuko seemed so upset?
Right after the explosion, Katara had been stunned. She had merely expected to fall victim to the flying debris and flames, but Jet had jumped in front of her, taking the barrage with his back.
She had healed him later, but it had been awkward. She didn't want to speak after what had happened. He had asked her a few questions, but stopped when it was clear that Katara wasn't answering him.
Katara sighed, blinking at the dark water. She didn't even like Jet. At least, she didn't think that she did.
Kissing him had been… nice? Katara didn't want to think about it anymore, especially because every time she did, she thought of Zuko's reaction.
It wasn't his place to be angry. Well, that's if he was angry with her to begin with. He could have just been mad that the crew hadn't cleaned the ship before he had gotten back.
Yeah. That had to be it.
Katara turned around to sit against the railing, leaning her head back. She wasn't tired, but she couldn't look into the dark, bottomless ocean any longer.
It only seemed like a few minutes when loud shouts erupted from the deck, startling Katara from her slumber. She realized she must have fallen asleep, since the early morning sun beat down on her bare arms.
Stupid Fire Nation clothing was designed for the heat. Katara wasn't used to having skin exposed.
"Prince Zuko! We've got important news!" a soldier yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth to be as loud as possible.
"Shut up, would you?" a monotone voice said, and the soldier turned around to meet Mai's dull expression. "Do you want to wake the whole ship?"
The soldier held his ground, nodding. "That's the point, miss."
Zuko arrived at the top of the stairs, then, followed quickly by Sokka and Suki. Her brother sent Katara and odd look, but she just waved him away.
"What are you yelling about?" Zuko asked, his arms crossed in front of his body. Katara stood up and walked to stand next to her brother, who slipped a piece of bread into her hand as Jet appeared on the opposite side of Mai.
"Prince Zuko," the soldier said. "We've received a very urgent letter from one of the villages near by. A messenger hawk dropped it off this morning."
Zuko nodded, his gaze revealing no emotion. "Out with it, Chang."
"It says there's been a sighting of your mother in the village near there," Chang said, pointing to the trees behind them. "Apparently the sighting is from a few days ago, perhaps a week, but the descriptions matched."
The Fire Nation Prince's arms dropped to his sides, and he was staring at the ground. "Bring us to port," he said simply, turning to head back down the stairs.
A few minutes later, he reappeared with a cloak thrown over his frame. The Captain walked to meet him, and Katara heard him tell Zuko that the ship was ready to dock.
"This is probably a really big deal," Sokka said quietly, looking down at his sister.
Suki shrugged. "Zuko doesn't look very worried. Maybe this is something they've been planning?"
"No." Sokka said, shaking his head. "Zuko told us that he hasn't seen his mother in years. If there's been a sighting, he's going to trace it until the trail is dead."
Katara nodded. "Sokka's right."
"Mai, Suki. Let's go." Zuko said from across the ship, gesturing for the girls to follow him off the ship.
"Hey!" Sokka said, pointing towards the trio. "What about us?"
Zuko shook his head. "You don't need to get involved."
Sokka grabbed Katara's arm and led her to Zuko. "Too bad. We're not waiting here. We're supposed to be a team, you know, bonding and stuff. How are we going to stop the Earth Kingdom if you're leaving us on the ship?" Sokka exasperatedly flung his arms at his sister. "She's a master Waterbender! You only have a Firebender and two non-benders with you, more bending can help!"
Everyone was silent. Except for Jet, who you could hear laughing from the other side of the ship. Suki raised an eyebrow at Sokka, but Zuko looked impressed.
"Alright, Sokka. You guys can come. Now let's go." He turned and walked down the steps, Katara and Mai falling in step behind him.
"Not bad, Water Tribe." Suki said, and Katara could hear a smile in her voice. "Didn't think you had it in you."
Sokka was trying to sound many when he said, "Yeah, just got to stand up with your thoughts. Wait, you didn't believe in me?" She didn't answer, instead she just laughed.
"Prince Zuko, be back before dark. It is not wise to stay in the village for a long time." The Captain said, saluting the young prince.
Zuko nodded, flipping the hood of his cloak up. He began to lead them to the paths that wound into the trees.
"Which one do we take?" Katara asked, her hands on her hips.
Sokka concentrated for a moment before pointing at the one in the middle, "My instincts say we should take that one." Katara laughed.
Zuko rolled his eyes. "Wrong. The soldier said the village that the message came from was at the end of this path," he said, pointing to the path directly to the right of the one Sokka had chosen.
"I was close." Sokka said, starting down the path.
Mai snorted, and Suki said, "Almost would get us killed, Sokka."
The five of them started down the path, a comfortable silence enveloping them. It wasn't too dark under the trees, and Katara was glad that she was able to see. Her hand immediately went to her hip to fiddle with the top of her water pouch, but she found it empty.
"Damn!" she said, slapping her forehead.
"What's wrong?" Sokka called from the front of the group.
Katara sighed, glaring down at the red clothes she was wearing. "I forgot my water pouch on the boat."
"We're not turning around," Mai said, not bothering to turn around.
The Waterbender glared at the girl's back. "I'm not asking you to. I'll just have to hope that there's a stream or something to use."
"You don't know hand to hand combat?" Zuko asked from behind her.
"Nope," Katara said, shaking her head.
"Katara!" Suki called from her place next to Sokka. "Here!" She threw something over her shoulder, and Katara instinctively reached up to grab it.
Katara laughed, a smile spread over her features. "Suki, where did you get this?"
"I found it on the ship, figured it might come in handy."
Katara strapped the pouch over her shoulder to rest at her hip, her smile ever present. "Thank you."
Suki's delicate laugh floated back to her. "Don't mention it."
"Shh!" Sokka suddenly cried, throwing his hand in front of Suki to stop her from walking. "It's the village," he clarified before someone could object.
Zuko pulled his hood more comfortably around his face. "Let's go."
The group started forward, Katara waiting a few seconds so she could fall in step with Zuko. "Why are you wearing that?" she asked after a moment.
The boy sighed, but didn't look towards her. "I can't risk being recognized by anyone. Surely by now everyone in the Fire Nation knows that I'm going against my father. If I'm sighted, we could have thousands of troops on our tail in a day." He chuckled darkly. "So that's why."
"Oh," was all that Katara said.
The trail widened to expose a large circular area with homes on the outside, fields in the middle, and fire pits strewn along the ground. The trees were connected all around the village, guarding the area. It looked abandoned, with rocks dislodged everywhere, and empty windows meeting the group's eyes.
"Spread out and look for anything. Any clues." Zuko said, his voice sounding broken.
Katara walked with Suki towards the houses to their right. "What do you suppose we're looking for?" Suki asked as they ruffled through a few trunks.
"I guess anything to prove that his mother's been here." Katara answered, pulling out old photos of a small family.
Both the mother and father had green eyes, and the woman was beaming at a small bundle in her hands, the man laughing towards the sky.
Katara quickly stuffed the photo back into the trunk.
They looked through two houses before taking a break. They leaned against the doorframe of their third house, scanning the scene around them. Each of the houses, for the most part, looked exactly like the others. The only differences were the touches of family on the walls and in the rooms.
Suki sighed, standing from her post and walking towards a trunk. Katara headed towards the main bedroom, leaving through the drawers next to the bed. She found the bottom one to be empty, save for a letter.
Katara gasped as she recognized the Fire Nation emblem on the ribbon that kept the paper rolled up. She slowly unrolled it, her eyes scanning the characters quickly.
I do hope this messenger hawk gets to you in time.
I fear that there is trouble brewing in the heart of the Fire Nation. Zuko has left the kingdom with two Water Tribe peasants. The Fire Lord believes that he is going to help them defeat the Bei Fongs. He has sent Azula and Ty Lee to find them, and stop them. I worry that he will not be ready to stop them. I know you have been forced to stay away from your family and the Fire Nation. But if Zuko really is traveling the world to stop the war, there is a tiny chance that he would be coming to your village, wherever that may be.
Please, stay safe.
All my love,
Katara quickly rolled the letter back up, feeling as if she had just intruded on something incredibly deep and private. She stuffed the letter into a fold in her clothing, running to the front room to tell Suki of her find.
"Suki!" Katara yelled, stopping when she realized that she was alone.
Katara walked out of the door to find her friends in the middle of the village. She jogged to the group, about to ask why they weren't looking, when she noticed their anxious expressions.
Zuko nodded towards Mai. "She thinks someone's here."
Mai scowled. "I don't think it, I know it. They're that way." She pointed towards the trees, and just as she did, two figures stepped from the woods.
"Mai. I had always admired your brilliant tracking abilities." The voice was hauntingly familiar, and Katara's eyes widened.
The other girl laughed, her braid swinging behind her shoulders. "Azula, you said you hated everything about Mai! Especially after she was captured."
"Oh, don't worry Ty Lee, I still hate her. But I do admire her." Azula said, her dark eyes narrowing.
Zuko stepped forward, throwing his hood back. "Why are you here, Azula?"
Her lips lifted into a smirk. "What's the matter, Zuzu? A sister can't visit her darling brother?" When Zuko didn't answer, Azula shrugged. "Fine. I guess we'll just have to kill you all," she turned to Ty Lee. "What do you think?" the girl nodded energetically.
Everyone sprang into action at once. Ty Lee leaped into the air, chasing after Sokka. Suki followed close behind. Mai dropped back, knives glinting in her long sleeves. She lodged a few at Azula, but she dodged them. Zuko threw a few good punches at her, but she managed to deflect them as well.
Ty Lee rounded back towards Katara, who quickly bent the water from her pouch. She aimed at the girl's feet, freezing the water beneath her feet. She stumbled, giving Sokka the chance to charge at her.
Ty Lee punched Sokka in the side a few times, and his arm hung limply at his side. Suki ran from behind him, kicking at her face. Katara joined her, throwing out water whips and anything else she could think of.
Katara desperately wished that there was more water around.
Zuko let out a yell from his fight, ducking under a wave of blue fire. Mai was trying to hit any part of Azula, but the Princess was too fast for her. But suddenly, Azula flipped over to where Ty Lee was, and stopped the girl from fighting.
Azula whispered something to the girl, and the two of them ran into the trees. There was a quiet whir as a flurry of knives flew past Katara's face, landing in the tree trunks as the two girls ran away.
"Why did they leave?" Sokka asked, cradling his arm.
Zuko narrowed his eyes, clearly angry. "They have a plan. This won't be the last time we see them."
Suki ran back towards Sokka. "What happened to you?"
Sokka shrugged, a blush creeping onto his face. "I don't know. That girl, Ty Lee, hit me a few times and then I couldn't move my arm."
"That's because she's a chi blocker." Mai said, glaring towards the woods. "It'll wear off in a few hours. Then you'll be back to normal, or whatever you can be classified as."
Sokka and Suki shot her matching glares.
"Did anyone find anything?" Zuko asked. Katara was about to tell him about the letter, but he quickly said. "Nevermind. I don't want to stay here any longer. Let's just get back to the ship."
It was uncomfortably silent on the walk back through the trees. Everyone could tell that Zuko was upset, and no one wanted to make him any angrier. Mai was walking next to him, her arm around his waist. Suki and Katara exchanged raised eyebrows, and Sokka muttered about his stupid arm.
The captain spotted them as they walked out of the woods, and the soldiers immediately lowered the ramp for them to board the ship.
"Were you successful, Your Highness?" one of the soldiers asked as the captain left to start the ship.
Katara interrupted. "Yes! Zuko, I completely forgot about this." She reached into the folds in her pants, pulling out the letter that she had found back at the house. "I found this before Azula and Ty Lee attacked. Here."
She handed the letter to him, watching as he took it gently.
"Azula and Ty Lee?" Chang soldier asked. "They were here?"
"Yes." Mai said, "Make sure they don't follow us, or get near the ship." The soldiers all nodded, dispersing around the deck.
Zuko read through the letter. When he finished he didn't speak, but rolled the letter up and stuck it in a pocket in his cloak.
"She was there." He whispered. He stared out at the land around them as the ship began to move. "I may not know where she is now, but there's no way I'm letting her get away again."
Mai rested her head against his shoulder, and he instinctively smiled down at her.
"Successful trip?" Jet asked, coming up to the group. They all nodded. "Where are we heading now?"
Zuko shrugged. "I guess to more Earth Kingdom colonies. We need reinforcements."
The ship started to gain speed, but it stayed fairly close to the coastline. Katara didn't know where they were going, but she knew that this was what they needed to do. They needed allies, without help, they wouldn't be able to take down the Earth Kingdom.
And that was the one thing they really needed to do.
A/N: I am so sorry this update took so long! I had the worst writer's block ever, but today i forced myself to finish this chapter. I hope you enjoy it, though!
Thank you to everyone whose read, and who took any time to review. I truly appreciate it all!