"I heard he took out eight Fire Nation soldiers at once." Aang looked at Sokka and Katara with sparkling eyes. "He just stood there, and poof. They all fell over."
Sokka waved a hand dismissively."That's ridiculous. Everyone knows he knocked them out with his swords. The soldiers were just too embarrassed to admit it."
"I can't believe you two are still going on about this," said Katara. "Haven't you talked about the Blue Spirit enough already?"
Sokka regarded her incredulously. Shortly after leaving Omashu, they started to hear rumors about a masked vigilante who prowled Earth Kingdom streets at night, defending the people and healing those the Fire Nation had hurt. People claimed he was a firebender of all things, but that seemed the only consistency between stories. Some thought the vigilante was the genuine Blue Spirit, a character from Earth Kingdom folklore who was known for helping the helpless. Others claimed he was a Fire Nation spirit who'd taken up the familiar face so he didn't frighten those he wanted to help. A few even thought he was a defected Fire Nation soldier who'd learned a new bending technique to aid those his nation hurt.
Sokka hadn't believed a word of it. The premise was ridiculous, and every time a person talked about how the Blue Spirit could literally melt into the shadows or kill people just by looking at them, the idea grew that much more unlikely.
But the Blue Spirit wouldn't go away. The Fire Nation put up wanted posters, all of them bearing the same image. The stories started melding too. While Aang still believed some of the more extreme rumors, Sokka had picked out a few elements that showed up more often than others.
The guy fought with swords. He healed with fire, but either couldn't or didn't use it to fight. Not that it mattered; everyone agreed he was effective enough with the former that he didn't need to attack with the latter.
He was also decidedly inhuman. At the very least, enough people mentioned evidence of unnatural stealth and senses that Sokka figured there was some reality to their claims. He didn't know a thing about spirits or bending or anything at all mystical, so he had no idea how an entity like the Blue Spirit could exist, but he was also a very logical person and logic told him that far-fetched or not, there was truth to what people were saying.
Aang had already been firmly in the Blue Spirit's court by the time Sokka came around, having wanted nothing more than to believe something associated with the Fire Nation could be doing genuine good. Katara hadn't been far behind him, her natural optimism prompting her to embrace the idea that victims of the war had been given something to hope in.
Nevertheless, she wasn't quite as into the hype as Aang. Or himself, Sokka acknowledged. It wasn't as though he could help it. The Blue Spirit wasn't just a badass. He was exactly what the Earth Kingdom needed at that point in the war.
It was no wonder the Fire Nation had already flooded towns with additional soldiers and plastered every available wall with posters. He was showing the Earth Kingdom that it was possible to fight back, and the strategist in Sokka recognized just how dangerous that was for the people trying to conquer them.
Aang evidently thought along the same lines, because Katara's comment turned his smile into a contemplative frown. "I'm just excited is all," he said. "I mean, this guy is doing me a major favor. After what Roku said about me needing to hurry up and learn the elements, we don't exactly have time to go everywhere in the Earth Kingdom and help all the people who need to be helped." He grinned. "The least I can do is be grateful that the Blue Spirit is taking care of it. If that means talking about how awesome it is that he can knock people out without touching them, then that's just how it works."
Sokka sighed. "Aang, that's just a rumor."
"It's all just rumor," Katara reminded him. "It isn't like we've actually seen—" She stopped abruptly and grabbed Sokka and Aang's arms to keep them from moving forward.
"What are you—" He snapped his mouth shut when he saw Zuko's uncle walking towards two Fire Nation soldiers, one an older man who looked too spindly to be in any sort of military, the other tall and broad-shouldered, a sword glinting ominously at his hip. They were bickering about something, neither noticing the prince's uncle approach with the obvious intention of breaking up the fight.
Aang and Katara immediately made to head in the other direction, but Sokka held up a hand to keep the two from running away. If Zuko's ship was in the area, it was best to find out whether it was coincidence, or if the prince had somehow managed to track them and intended to pull another Kyoshi. Sokka wasn't sure if he could gather that much from the general's conversation, but it was worth a shot.
"Sokka," warned Katara.
"Shh. They might say something important."
Katara shot him a skeptical look, but shut her mouth. All three crept slightly closer to where the confrontation was taking place.
"I knew it," the older man insisted, gesturing towards the building beside them. "The boy was possessed by a spirit and the thing ate him alive. Look at this! So far, he's been sighted in Wenshu, Osaka, Paibi—all places near Omashu, and all places we've been."
"You're being stupid, Taro," said the other soldier. "It's Zuko. The kid who worships—" He cleared his throat, and something in his tone changed when he corrected, "worshiped—" What? "—the ground his father walked on."
"I didn't say it was the boy," said the one called Taro. "Obviously he wouldn't do this—couldn't think for himself nearly enough to consider it. It's a spirit. Just like I'd been saying all along!"
"Oh, for Agni's sake—"
"Gentleman." Both whirled to face Iroh. He came to a stop beside them. "You've been at each other's throats for the past week. I had intended to let you resolve this yourselves, but your behavior tells me that such a thing will not happen anytime soon. I'm afraid I must insist you tell me: what is the problem?"
The way the men regarded the general told Sokka a lot more than he wanted to know. Taro ducked his head, shame apparent in his posture, and the larger soldier sucked in a breath and looked everywhere but at Iroh. Neither seemed to know how to behave around him, and the one soldier's use of the past tense grew even more ominous.
"He's trying to blaspheme the prince's memory," said the younger one, voice riddled through with annoyance. It was an impressive show of loyalty. A surprising show of loyalty. Someone actually likes Zuko. Who would've thought?
Not blaspheme the prince. Blaspheme his memory.
Didn't get more obvious than that. He's dead. For real.
"I'm sure you're jumping to conclusions," said Iroh. He turned to Taro. "What have you said that so upsets Akio?"
"I was just—" A deep breath. "W-well, I—"
Akio gestured to the same building Taro had. To a poster on the building, Sokka realized. "He thinks the Blue Spirit is some... some creature running around in the prince's body!"
Sokka's heart stopped. Aang made an awful, pained noise from behind him, and Katara let out a sharp breath.
"Calm yourself, Private." Iroh sighed heavily. "I am not so sure he is wrong… My nephew was acting strange in the days leading up to his—" His voice broke, and he choked out a sob before finishing, in a very different tone, "—death. And I am not so foolish not to see how very well the locations match up."
"B-but—" Private Akio looked horrified. "General, you can't mean to suggest that your nephew—"
"None of this is to be blamed on Zuko," said Iroh, and Sokka was surprised by the steel behind his voice. "If the Blue Spirit has overtaken him somehow, it was through no fault of his own, and I will not listen to anyone who connects him to such treason." He leveled a glare at Taro. "Share your theories with no one outside the crew, and I warn you even then to speak of them with discretion. I do not wish for Prince Zuko's legacy to be tarnished by association with the Blue Spirit. If you have ever respected him—if you have ever respected me—promise me that this is the last time you will discuss such sensitive material in public."
Taro hesitated, but nodded, genuine contrition apparent in his expression. "Yes, sir."
Iroh eyed them both. "This is the reason you have been fighting?"
"One of them," muttered Taro.
"He wants to join General Zhao's fleet." Akio looked disgusted. "Thinks it's the logical next step."
"I don't know about logical," said Iroh, "but it might be necessary."
Akio reared back as though he'd been slapped. "After what he did to the prince—"
"We will talk about this later." Iroh glanced to the side, and Sokka's breath caught in his throat when the general looked right at him. He said nothing of it, however, and merely gestured towards a small shop. "Now come. I find myself longing to hear the crooning bellow of a tsungi horn. Let's see if we can find one!"
The men exchanged a look, but wordlessly trailed the older man as he pasted an obviously forced smile on his face and started off towards the shop.
Sokka turned to see Aang slumped against a wall, eyes huge and horrified. Even Katara looked shaken.
"They were wrong," said Sokka. "Whatever happened, there's no way that the Blue Spirit is-" He remembered Zuko, peering down at him on Kyoshi. I was dead… and now I'm not.
Zuko had died, and what more likely to bring him back than something supernatural? It would explain so much—would answer the question of what the Blue Spirit was, and why it bent fire of all things, while also solving the mystery of Zuko's survival of the incident.
"At Kyoshi," whispered Aang, "he moved like an airbender. I tried hitting him several times, but I couldn't touch him. It was almost like he could sense what I was going to do before I did it."
The Blue Spirit was inhumanly stealthy.
"You said he didn't bend either," said Katara.
He wouldn't have, if his fire could only heal.
"He stopped chasing us," Sokka added in a low voice. "There was the South Pole and Kyoshi, but this is the first time we've run into his ship since. And it's been nearly a month. He seemed too determined to give up that quickly."
Aang stared at his feet. "I don't understand. Why would a good spirit kill Zuko? Of all the Fire Nation soldiers, why someone who didn't seem all that bad?"
Because Zuko had been dying, and quite possibly made a deal with a spirit. His life in exchange for… something. But the Blue Spirit took advantage, and now Zuko was gone and oh, there was something inherently wrong with an inhuman consciousness running around in some guy's body. Even the crazy Fire Nation prince didn't deserve that.
"This is sick," said Katara, ignoring Aang's question.
Aang didn't seem to notice. "I don't think the Blue Spirit is so cool anymore," he mumbled.
"They might be wrong," tried Sokka, now weakly. "I mean, they were just guessing…"
The other two looked at him in disbelief. He gave his best attempt at a smile.
"Um… We don't have to worry about Zuko chasing us?"
"I'm trying to help," said Sokka. "It's just a little hard, since this whole situation is about the creepiest thing I've heard ever. I mean, it's like this parasite is animating Zuko's corpse. But it's not a corpse, obviously, because it's still sort of alive, but not really, and—" He realized he was making it worse. "—look! A pirate ship, and hey, it looks like they've got stuff for sale. Who wants to go shopping?"
He left before he could dig himself into a deeper hole. Katara sighed before following after him, her finger's threaded through Aang's in a clear attempt to offer some comfort.
His sister's eyes locked with his for just a second, and Sokka didn't need to be a mind reader to know what she was thinking.
Any chance of them ever telling Aang about Zuko's death had gone up in smoke. Learning he killed someone was one thing.
Learning that his actions had led to… whatever this twisted situation was? That was something else entirely.
The Avatar seemed to be traveling north, so Zuko had decided to head south. He wanted to put as much distance between Zhao and himself as possible. It meant retracing his steps, but there were more than enough people to help, even in the places he'd already been.
It didn't take him long to learn that being short on work wasn't something that happened ever.
Still, he did his best not to linger. He couldn't afford it for one, since word of the Blue Spirit had spread more than he ever would've imagined. It wasn't something he noticed when he'd spent most his time on a ship, but now that he roamed the Earth Kingdom during the day, Zuko was astounded by the amount of attention his alter ego received. Fire Nation soldiers patrolled conquered towns with more gravity than he remembered, wanted posters lined the alleys of more than a few of the places he stopped, and Earth Kingdom citizens started crowding him wherever he went. In half the villages he'd visited since leaving his ship, people who didn't need healing heard about his presence and sought him out, oftentimes with gifts to express their gratitude. Since the soldiers weren't complete morons, they noticed the commotion, and Zuko either had to confront them directly, or lead them away from the crowds and spend an annoying amount of energy finding a way to escape.
After which point, even more soldiers showed up and his presence became more a liability than a help.
Inconvenient fame aside, he also wished to cover as much ground as possible. He didn't want to spend too much time on a single area when he expected there were people further along who needed his help as well, so he hurried past the villages he'd already been through, traveled back around Omashu and then south again, with the goal of backtracking through Osaka as quickly as he could.
The constant moving around was exhausting. Zuko had taken enough money from the ship that he could buy food when passed through villages without his mask, but having enough to eat was about the only thing he could take comfort in. He slept outside or in abandoned buildings, and without his ship, his only option for getting from place to place was walking. With his Blue Spirit gig eating away his nights, and a large chunk of his days spent covering as much ground as possible, rest wasn't something he got a lot of.
And now I'm lost.
He scanned the horizon, lips pursing into a thin line as he took in the distinct lack of civilization. It was almost dark, and there were no villages in sight. There was a forest visible a few miles ahead of him, so at least he'd have cover if he wound up sleeping outside, but this was his second day without running into anybody at all and it was as worrying as it was frustrating. The Blue Spirit couldn't help people if he couldn't find people, and he couldn't find people if he couldn't ask people where in the hell he was.
Last he checked, he was due to hit Osaka within a half day so.
He'd gone a lot farther than that and hadn't run into a thing.
I've passed it.
He failed to stifle a wave of irritation.
Along with every other village in this part of the Earth Kingdom.
Zuko ran a hand over the thin layer of hair that now covered his head, and took several deep breaths to calm himself. There was nothing to worry about. After all, he shouldn't have any trouble surviving on his own for a while. He had a jug of water and several days' worth of food in his bag, along with sharp swords and sharper senses if he did end up needing to hunt. Starting a fire would be an adventure, but he could probably manage with time, and even if he accidentally ate poisonous berries or ended up drinking contaminated water, he could always heal that sort of thing.
As for more physical threats, he didn't imagine there were many animals who could get past his swords.
He'd have little difficulty surviving for however long it took to find civilization. All he needed was the patience to keep walking.
He kicked the dirt at his feet.
He'd never been good at patience.
Zuko huffed a breath and forced himself to keep trudging forward.
It wasn't long before he reached the trees he'd noticed earlier. The sun was still relatively high in the sky when he entered the forest, but the thick canopy of leaves and branches blacked it out almost entirely. Birdsong sounded everywhere, along with cries from other animals he didn't recognize, and Zuko drew his swords for protection, distrustful of the cacophony of noise that assaulted his sensitive ears. Even the sound of bugs scuttling along the floor didn't sit well with him. He was pretty sure normal sized insects didn't make that much noise.
The further he wandered into the forest, the louder the din became. The trees changed, growing thicker and more ominous, and the ground became more and more damp, until he was trudging through mud that squelched beneath his feet as he walked. Not a forest. A swamp. At one point he came across a murky river, and Zuko debated following the green-tinted water until an enormous something moved beneath the depths.
Zuko kept walking.
Maybe I should turn back and go around this hellish place. But no, that wasn't an option. The swamp was too big to conveniently avoid, and anyway, he wasn't one to run away from anything. Once he started something, he stuck with it. Three years spent chasing a myth showed that much—
Fog swelled. A bird screamed. Zuko's step hitched, and he closed his eyes in an attempt to calm himself.
The shift was immediate. Zuko nearly fell over at how much clearer everything seemed when his attention was turned inward. The sounds he'd been trying to tune out hit him all at once, but with an undercurrent he hadn't noticed before, almost like a heartbeat. The stench of decomposing leaves had been masking the smell of nearly everything else, but upon noticing the odd backdrop to the other noises, he extended his focus and caught the hint of a deeper scent that felt almost otherworldly.
And like he'd grown able to sense chi with his fire, he could just barely pick up a life force running through everything around him. This place is alive.
Zuko tore his eyes open and extended an arm towards a nearby tree, now more curious than afraid. He lit his hand with molten fire and ran it over the damp bark, breath catching in his throat when he felt the life beneath his palm, not precisely how he would feel a person, but in a way that was more similar than he would've thought. With so little sunlight slipping through the trees, he wasn't able to draw on outside power to make his flame stronger, but he did manage to expand it slightly. The fire swirled around the tree, crawling down the trunk and towards the roots. He'd always marveled at the strangeness of fire that could heal, of how the spirits had changed him so that he was able to bend something that was more life and energy than pure flame, but he hadn't realized that his gift would extend to something like this. Then again, trees were alive, absorbed sunlight even, and he thought that might be why the plant was oddly… receptive of his attention, why it tugged at his inner fire, demanding even more of his energy.
Now wanting to test just how much he could see, Zuko leaned his forehead against the bark of the tree and closed his eyes once more, breathing softly as he focused solely on his surroundings.
The tree shimmered faintly in his mind, indistinct strings of energy shining like trickles of sunlight throughout its leaves and branches, down the trunk and into the roots. He inhaled and exhaled in time with the pulse of the swamp, and his perspective broadened. The life he'd only heard and smelled before became visible to him, not as pictures, but faint impressions of energy, of animals and plants that had a sort of inner fire all their own. He sensed people some miles away, the familiar chi patterns brighter than the dimmer life forces of organisms he wasn't as familiar with. An enormous, infinitely more powerful tree stood not far from their settlement, but it was too distant for him to get more than a faint view of, and he moved on, turning his attention to a more pressing matter.
Zuko's lips twitched when he discovered that the simplest exit to the swamp was south and slightly east, far but not too far away. He tried to memorize the flashes of light that showed him his way out, but his attention was diverted when he noticed the gleaming white above him—sunlight that the treetops were drinking in and allowing to flow through them, down into everything else.
Zuko focused completely on the phenomenon, fascinated by the way the sun worked in such intimate conjunction with nature. He reached out towards the energy, and it reacted, as though another hand was extending to grasp his own—
"Ah, Prince Zuko. I've been waiting to talk with you."
His first instinct was to yank his hand from the tree at the unexpected presence in his head, but a gut feeling demanded he wait and listen. "Talk to me?" asked Zuko. "About what?" He thought of a better question. "Who are you?"
The presence became more distinct, and the forest around him began to glow with light. "You don't remember, child?"
He'd heard that term of address before, when—
When I was drowning. He recalled it now, the voice bringing back something he hadn't truly remembered before, that perhaps he'd retained subconsciously but hadn't known to acknowledge. 'Very well, child. With my blessing, you shall live.' And he had.
Zuko swallowed heavily. "I remember perfectly fine, but that doesn't answer my question. I still don't know who you are."
He realized as he spoke the words that he was being a fool. The presence was a manifestation of sunlight, warm and powerful but almost too hot all at the same time, and the voice… it didn't come from one place, but rather echoed in his head as though emerging from every trickle of energy that stemmed from the sunbeams bathing those uppermost trees.
"Agni," he breathed.
The voice didn't deny it. "I'd hoped you would come here. The Swamp is one of the few places where the spirits can easily communicate with those of the mortal realm. And so near the Solstice as well—a few days earlier and I might have been able to manifest physically, but regardless, your timing is impressive. We should have no problem discussing everything that must be discussed."
Zuko was too flustered to focus on the compliment. "Why did you save me?"
The answering chuckle warmed and crackled like smoldering wood. "You are my child, and you were about to perish before your time. It is only natural I lend my aid."
"People in the Fire Nation pray to you all the time. You don't answer them all."
"The spirits are not meant to become involved in human affairs. You were an exception, as your destiny concerns not only the mortal realm, but that of the spirits as well."
Zuko balked. "Destiny? You mean as the Blue Spirit?"
"Oh, as so much more than that. The Fire Nation has thrown the world out of balance, and that is damaging to both planes of existence. It is you who has been chosen to fix this problem, not by destroying the land of my children, as would happen should the war be won with no peaceful voice to stand up for them, but through healing a nation that has been broken by violence and corruption."
"I don't… Everyone thinks I'm dead, and by now I've done enough as the Blue Spirit that I'd be branded a traitor if I ever did get to return home," Zuko said. "How can I fix anything?"
"Do you not understand the impact you have made already? You, a firebender, have spread hope throughout the Earth Kingdom in a matter of weeks and you needed only to follow your heart. Imagine the good you could do for the world as a whole if you got it in your head to do so."
He couldn't help but laugh. "You sound like Uncle." A shake of the head. "I never understood enough of his advice to get anything from it either."
"I cannot give you any further detail in regards to fulfilling your destiny, but—" A pause. "Although, perhaps… Do you realize, Prince Zuko, why I brought you back as I did?"
He tensed at the implications of that particular statement. "You mean I'm like this on purpose? You could've left me normal?" He'd assumed that when his inner fire died, whatever brought him back had been forced to replace it with those odd healing flames, that the spirits that saved him hadn't had a choice.
"I could have," said Agni, before Zuko could even begin working himself into a fury, "but it would have done nothing for you. When you were thrown off that ship, you were bitter and spiteful, and your experience would have made you only more so. Your mission to find the Avatar would have become fueled by hatred, whereas to that point your motivation stemmed from desire for love and acceptance.
"In granting you a variation of firebending that's spiritually based and most easily used to heal, I hoped that I would appeal to the softer parts of your soul. I acted as I did with the desire to open your eyes, not only towards the wrongs of the Fire Nation, but towards your own shortcomings as well."
Zuko stood stock still as he took this in.
He'd been manipulated. That much was clear. His bending had been altered because a spirit—or a god, said some Fire Nation lore—didn't think he would become who he needed to be if it was left alone.
He knew he should be furious, but he felt only numb because Agni was right. Zuko had never thought of how different his life would be if he'd come out of the water the same person he'd been when he fell in, but now he suspected he would have hated himself. Until the South Pole, his chase for the Avatar had been for good reasons—for honorable reasons—but it would have immediately turned into something ugly. A mission to get home would have shifted into a quest for revenge, and where he'd been prickly before, he would have become downright explosive. Embarrassment at having been bested so easily would've made the chip on his shoulder grow even bigger, and memories of his failure would have driven him half mad.
As it was, his bending woes had distracted him to the point that he'd been more worried about fixing himself than hunting the Avatar. Heck, the changes went even deeper than that. Violent, frustration-filled firebending sessions turned into hours of meditation, and sessions with Akio softened him even further. Then he'd healed that woman on Kyoshi, and his view of the entire war started shifting. Osaka altered it further, and Wenshu finished the job.
Agni had mentioned that he needed Zuko to repair the damage to the Fire Nation. By gifting him with such odd bending, he'd prompted Zuko to tear down a mindset of violence and obsession, and replace it with something infinitely preferable. Something that was more healing and protecting than destroying and intimidating.
He'd given Zuko exactly what he needed to become the person who would accept a destiny that involved the Fire Nation losing the war, even if common sense told him he wasn't in any position to fulfill it.
Zuko couldn't be angry about that.
"You succeeded in just about everything," said Zuko.
"Not entirely. Not yet. Your inner fire is not as different as you might think. With time, I suspect you will discover a new way of bending that will please you greatly. That shall be the final sign that you are ready to walk the path you are fated to follow."
Hope surged through him. "My bending isn't gone for good?" He realized how that could sound and rephrased it so that he didn't appear ungrateful. "I'll be able to fight with it again?"
"In time, but that is not what I intended to discuss. We were talking about your destiny."
"Healing the Fire Nation. Restoring balance." Zuko made a face. "Uncle thought that was why I was brought back. To fulfill a destiny. I never believed him."
"If you'd learn to see yourself the way your uncle sees you, you would find that you're much more powerful than you think possible." A sigh. "Now, I grow weary of giving advice—you might be human, but you aren't a particularly stupid one. You will be able to find your own way with what I have given you... And, of course, with one final piece of information." He waited as though to make sure Zuko was paying attention, as though a person's mind could wander during a conversation with one of the most powerful spirits in existence, then went on, "Zhao intends to kill the moon spirit, and your father will soon grant him permission to invade the Northern Water Tribe. By the Spring Equinox he will have found the opportunity to strike."
Zuko choked on his next breath. He didn't doubt that Agni was telling him the truth, but it was still hard to believe that his father would sanction something like that. Zhao was insane. Him attempting to murder a spirit was… well, not precisely expected, but hardly shocking. But the Fire Lord? Surely he knew better. Getting rid of the moon... it wouldn't just affect the water tribes. It would hurt everyone.
Didn't he know that?
"He's aware of the consequences," said Agni. "He simply chooses to ignore them." He seemed to consider offering words of comfort, but settled instead for adding, "But remember—the Fire Nation is not evil, but misguided. Take care that you do not allow the atrocities you have seen to color your perspective black and white. Do not give up on my children."
Zuko shook his head. "But what am I supposed to do now? I became the Blue Spirit so I wouldn't have to get involved like this. Why are you dragging me into a war I want nothing to do with?"
"You do not have to do anything," said Agni. "I merely told you what is to happen. How you utilize that knowledge is your own choice."
Before he could say anything else, Agni's presence faded. Zuko's head reeled as his mind reconnected with his body and he felt just how much energy he'd lost. He staggered, head pounding, and nearly face planted in the mud before his blood seemed to warm, chi swelling as a wave of power washed over him.
"Consider it compensation for the energy our conversation drained. You're welcome."
Zuko blinked as he took a step, surprise lighting his features when he realized he was now perfectly fine.
"Thank you," he said, a little reluctantly.
Then he shook his head, clearing it of a million things he wasn't yet ready to deal with, and began walking once more.
So that was a long absence. I'd written the first fifty thousand words of this in about a two week period, spent the next three months editing and posting, and I'd totally lost the flavor of the story by time I got around to trying to write more. Then real life sort of mugged me on top of everything else, and I completely fell away from the fic. It didn't help that Zuko's back and forth grew so repetitive in places that even I couldn't stand to reread it.
Having a three-week Christmas break gave me a chance to revamp the entire thing. It isn't perfect and I'm sure there are still parts that need improvement, but I cut out six thousand words without changing the plot, which is indicative of the junk I had in there. Once that was done, I replotted the entire fic because my initial idea was too close to cannon to be exciting, and then I finally got to writing.
Hopefully some of you guys are still out there reading. Please tell me what you think, and whether the chapter was worth the wait. I can't promise speedy updates, but I shall do the best I can.