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There was really quiet in the full to bursting Council Chamber. Genrals and strategists where only whispering, none of them dared to rase his voice. They were frightened. They where frightened – the thought, that era of love and peace will never end. What an irony – it lasted less than two years…
The Fire Lord got up of his throne. Cautiously he put his hands on table to not wobble. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t do anything with it.
“Avatar’s team… Conditions od our meeting here aren’t the best…”
“Saying the least” snorted Toph.
Zuko pretendet he didn’t hear it.
“As I said, the leader of rabels is the former Omashu governor…”
“But it’s Mai’s father!” – accidently shouted Suki. She was still on cruthces. Becaouse of her broken leg, she wasn’t able to fight.
People gathered in the chamber murmured with astonishment. Zuko suddenly felt even worse.
“Yes. It’s Mai who told me about the invasion.”
“She warned you?! Why didn’t you tell us?” puffed Aang, standing up. Since Katara’s birthday he was minding on Zuko and only waited, when something will go wrong. But now it wasn’t any private issue. “If we knew anything earlier, we could do something about it! Maybe prevent it!”
“I found it out last night” silenced him the Fire Lord. “Before I was able to think about any strategy, it was too late. Ozai was freed. I couldn’t wait any longer.”
It was difficult for him to acknowledge his own infirmity. He wanted to be known as a strong and unbroken ruler, but it never happened.
“I send a message to the White Lotus. They should be here in two days.”
This time everyone was quiet.
“We have to split up responsibilities. Toph will go to the subburbs and Katara will supervise the city center. Sokka will take Appa and control the whole area, and Aang – you should guard the entrance to the palace.”
“And what about me?” asked Suki.
“You’ll go with Sokka… But I would prefer seeing you here, in the palace. Because of your leg.”
“Oh, I feel great! I could move without these stupid cruthes!” miffed Suki, but when she saw Zuko’s face she changed her voice. “Nevermind. I delaged conduct to Ty Lee.”
Fire Lord nodded.
“Perfect. Let the Kyoshi warriors encircle the palace. The Southern Water Tribe’s warriors may help Toph and Katara.”
“Do you have any other orders, lord Zuko?” asked Aang with spitfullness.
Fire Lord ignored his voice.
“No. You can go now.”
“I have a question” said Katara suddenly.
I was difficult for Zuko to look at her. By all this time he was avoiding her glance to not lose concentration. He had to be cold and calmed.
“Does anybody know what happened to Mai?”
He didn’t expect such question. He was affraid of the answer.
“I didn’t see her since she told me about her father’s plans” he replied quietly.
The girl from the Southern Water Tribe nodded slowly. No one said out loud what they were thinking about. Mai was killed. Or imprisoned.
Members of Team Avatar began to leave the Council Chamber. Katara was the last one. This reminded the Fire Lord of a different issue. A thing that was burning him from inside. He knew, that he couldn’t start the war without solving it.
He catched Katara’s arm cofidenitally, hoping that no one saw it.
“Today at twilight. On the coast near magnaks’ forest. I have to know” he whispered to her ear.
She narrowed her eyes and left the chamber.
Unfortunately, the secret message was heard but one more person. A big-eared one.
Zuko was hiding on a tree and scrutinizing governor’s residence. There was a lot of the traitor guards, who were listening to Ozai. He knew, or maybe tried to believe, that Mai is inside. And still alive.
He came here to free her, but when he saw all those guards… He lost the rest of his courage. There were dozens of well-trained fire benders. He had no chances.
Suddenly he felt warm tears on his cheeks and lips. They were bitter. He knew that his decision was reasonable and proper. If he went there and fought the guards, he would die for sure. Ozai would take the Fire Nation with no one stopping him. Zuko just couldn’t save Mai…
Though all these rational arguments he still knew one thing about himself. It was a thought dominating his mind. Coward.
“You can handle it, Mai” he whispered, trying to forget about his doubts. “You never needed anyone’s help. You even didn’t need me…”
Suddenly he saw, that this was the real reason of their break up. Katara was incredibly strong, but with her he always felt needed. Water and Fire complemented each other. They were giving each other things they couldn’t reach alone. And Mai already got everything and didn’t care about anything. It wasn’t Mai who was his missing part.
Hej glanced at the sky. Sokka and Suki were flying round and round the city. Sun was slowly downing.
He wasn’t sure if she will come, but despite that he was waiting. Water was washing his feet and ancles. He couldn’t stop it like Katara did that day.
Suddenly he felt her hand on his arm. He already knew. He closed his eyes for a while. He earlier prepared what to say… In a moment he opened eyes to confront with the brutal reality. A reality so different than his heart. He slowly turned around.
“I understand you, Katara” he started. “I know this. It would be a too big sacrifice for you. I can’t..”
When he saw her face, he stopped. Those blue eyes were penetrating him so persistently. Maybe it was only his imagination, but he saw tears in her eyes. She smiled slowly.
She hugged him. He felt her hair on his cheek. Her lips on his lips.
Aang goggled. He just couldn’t believe. He followed Katara all the time. He had to know the truth; though he didn’t expect it to be such painful. He felt so worthless. Hiding behind a stone, he had no idea how long he will be able to stay there. He felt excruciating pain somewhere in his chest. It was awful, so awful.
He also felt force. It was an old and forgotten feeling. Enormous amounts of force, like two years ago, when he had to defeat Ozai. He wasn’t doing it since a very long time. There was only pain and anger now. Being alone. He had enough time to hear Katara:
“I love you, Zuko. I love you for such a long time! I can no longer fight this feeling. I just can’t…!”
It was too much for him. The Avatar State came by itself.
“Aang” shouted Katara. Until now she didn’t see him. She was terrified. Zuko too. Aang noticed it. But he didn’t care.
“Aang, I beg you!” Whose voice was it? The Avatar didn’t hear anything. He was drowning into depths of his mind, seeking for the true power of the elements. Pain was pulsing inside him, maybe instead of blood.
Everything happened in a split second. But there was still enough time for Zuko to understand what Aang was up to. It was the end. His end. A sphere of pure energy will hit him and he will die.
Zuko knew it. He was ready.
But… It didn’t came. He opened his eyes. He didn’t even rememebr when he closed them. He couldn’t hear anything. He saw only one thing – Katara. She covered him and saved him from the hit.
The time got faster again. Zuko felt every little cell of his body. He jumped to Katara as fast as he could. She was laying without any move. Like she suddenly took a nap. She was dead.
Zuko was amuck. He stood up. He was feeling the fire within. He turned around to face the Avatar.
Aang’s arrows and eyes weren’t glowing anymore. There was fear in his wide opened eyes. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to accept it. He just couldn’t.
Zuko shouted wildly. Or maybe it wasn’t a shout – it was a groan full of despair. He was throwing fire all around him, trying to reach Aang. He couldn’t concentrate, but he had to kill the Avatar. It was the only way to bring him relief.
Aang found breathing diffcult. He shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. He heard some voices from far away. He should have listened to them, but they belonged to a different world. Zuko was still insanly throwing fire all around; Aang was terrified. He wanted to run away. Somewhere far, far away… He ran towards the sea. When he was at the edge of the water, he jumped high into air. He landed deep under the water. Salt fluid was forcing its way into his lungs. He knew that feeling. He bended a sphere of ice around him, like that one time. He had to disappear for another hundred years, but even then he will be guilty. He hoped, that this time no one will find him. He wanted to stay in the iceberg forever.
“Aang, no! Don’t do this!” shouted Sokka, when he saw the Avatar running towards the water. Unfortunately, it was too late. Aang disappeard in the depths of the sea.
Suddenly he felt madness – it was sneaking towards him, very slowly, but unstoppably. He wanted to kill Zuko. Without thinking he ran in the direction of the insane firebender.
When he saw a bright light on the coast, he immediately turned Appa that way. But the things he saw when he arrived where much worse the he could ever think.
“You” he shouted at Zuko. “It’s all your fault!”
He jumped towards the Fire Lord, punching and kickim him.
“My sister is dead! SHE IS DEAD! Aang disappeared! It’s the end! You… I never trusted you! And you know what? I was right!”
Zuko didn’t react on Sokka’s strokes. He was ignoring the reality. But despite that, Sokka stopped.
It was Suki. Though she was still moving on crutches, she was able to jump off Appa’s back and reach boys to stop them.
“Stop!” she shouted.
Sokka ceased moving.
“You saw exactly what I did, Sokka! It was Katara who kissed him, not him. She loves him. Loved…”
She started to cry. She leaned over Katara and grabbed her hand.
“Here! Here!” she shouted suddenly. “Zuko, Sokka! She’s alive! She breathing hardly, but I can feel her pulse!”
The both leaned over her immediately.
They were both hugging her, even that they knew it won’t help. Her brother and her beloved one, both feeling the same pain.
Suki was the first one to do anything.
“We have to help her. It won’t be easy, but we have to try! Do you have any ideas?”
“Water from the Spirit Oasis” whispered Zuko, suprised, that the answer was so easy. “From the Northern Water tribe. If it won’t help her…”
“It will. For sure” croacked Sokka. He had to convince at least himself.
“I’ll fly there on Appa. It will be also a good chance to ask the Tribe for help. They have to know what’s happening.”
Sokka and Suki nodded. The Fire Lord tried to be reasonable. He had to save at least those rests of his sanity.
They looked up in the sky. There was a lot of flames lighting the dark sky. The palace was burning and the flames were everywhere.
“They conquered the palace” whispered Suki fearfully.
Zuko closed his eyes. He had no idea what to do. He felt lonely.
Sokka stood up.
“Fly, Zuko. We have no time to waste. I’ll find my father and Toph. Together we will take care of the citizens and we’ll wait for your uncle and the others. Give the message to the chief of the Northern Water Tribe. And… save Katara. I beg you! Do your best!”
They looked deep into their eyes.
“I’ll do” replied Zuko.
They laid Katara on Appa’s saddle.
In a moment Zuko was already flying. He was looking at the flames. They were so far away. Everything was burning. The forest, houses, palace. Their hope.
I left my nation. I’m no one, he thought.
It wasn’t a nice thought, so he pushed it away. He looked at unconcious Katara.
He had no time.