I don’t know how we did it but we ended up getting to the avatar before Azula did. We stand behind one of the buildings in the abandoned town that he has left the trail for Azula to. I looked at Zuko, he is intently staring at him.
“Why does he seem so calm?” he said out loud quietly.
“I guess he figures that he will have to face her eventually. So, what’s the plan?”
“You will stay here. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
I open my mouth, “Seriously? You’re going to fight the avatar alone? What makes you think that’s going to go any better than the last times you have fought him?”
He side-eyes me, and I know that he doesn’t like what I just said. I sigh, “Please, let me help you.”
He looks at me with annoyance on his face. Something I haven’t seen since we first started on this journey. “I do not need your help,” he says through gritted teeth.
“I do not care what you say. If I see that you are in trouble I am going to help you whether you want it or not.”
Zuko whipped around to face me, startling me. He is inches away from my face, and his intoxicating aroma swirls around me.
“If you get hurt, that’s on me. I cannot have someone getting hurt because they think I am some lost soul that needs saving. I do not need your help.”
I clenched my jaw, not backing away from him. He needs to know that I am not afraid of him, “This is not just your problem, Zuko. Whether you like it or not, I am involved now. I have nothing to lose. I have nothing to go back to. Whatever you decide to do, I am with you. It doesn’t matter if you need me or not. After this, if you decide I’m too much of a burden for you, that’s fine. But I am with you right now, and you owe enough to me to at least give me a chance.”
Zuko says nothing, but he doesn’t break eye contact, and he doesn’t back down. And neither do I. I can see fire in his eyes, and as I search them for answers, it changes. It goes from an angry fire, to a hungry fire. I can see his jaw clench as he stares at me, and a heat coming from his body. We are standing so close to each other; I can almost hear his heartbeat. Out of the corner of my eye I see his hand twitch at his side.
“All right you’ve caught up with me,” the avatars voice slices through the air, jolting us back into reality, “Now, who are you, and what do you want?”
We both turn to look in his direction and realize that he isn’t talking to us. Azula must’ve shown up already.
“You mean you haven’t guessed? You don’t see the family resemblance? Here’s a hint,” a female voice sounds from behind us, but then the voice slightly changes, goes deeper, “I must find the avatar to restore my honor.”
I looked back at Zuko and raised my eyebrow at him. He clenched his fists and started to storm out, but I grabbed his arm tightly. “Not yet, we need to wait for the right time.”
Zuko turned back towards me, the fire in his eyes angry again. He ripped his arm out of my grasp, but stays where he is.
I start listening in again. “So, what now?” the avatar said.
“Now? Now it’s over. You’re tired, and you have no place to go. You can run, but I’ll catch you.”
“I’m not running,” he stands up.
“Do you really want to fight me?” Azula asked.
Zuko turned to me, “Do not fight unless you absolutely have to.”
He ran out from behind the building, in between Azula and the avatar, “Yes, I really do.” he said.
I don’t listen to what they say next, all of the possibilities of what could happen and what could go wrong run through my mind, drowning everything else out. There is no way that I am just going to stay hidden while they fight. I have done that for way too long. But I need to wait for the right time. If I make myself known now, we’d be at a disadvantage. Plus, I still don’t know what Zuko’s plan is, or if he even has one. The sound of fire blasts yank me out of my thoughts, in just enough time to see Zuko fly past me and crash into part of a building. I winced, waiting to see if Zuko is going to get up or not. He groaned, and stood up, looking back at me.
“Stay there!” he shouted, frustration filling his voice.
I see Azula running by, and crouch down. Zuko follows her, throwing fireballs her way to turn her attention to him and away from the avatar. I run in a crouched position behind the buildings towards them to get a better view of what is going on. Azula stands between both Zuko and the avatar, and they are both fighting her but not each other. Is Zuko trying to help him?
The avatar retreats back into a building across the way, and Azula follows. Zuko is following closely behind, but then I hear a loud thud as he goes through the door. My eyes widen as I see him then crashing through the wall on the bottom floor.
“Zuko!” I yelled quietly to him. Once Azula chases the avatar away from where he is laying I started towards him. I rushed to his side and shook his shoulder gently. “Zuko, are you okay? Talk to me!” I hear the avatar yell and a loud thud follows. Then a building next to us went up in flames. I heard a roar in the distance, and looked up to see what I can assume is the avatars bison, carrying two people, a boy and a girl. They land, from the way that they are dressed I assume they are water tribe. The girl locks eyes with me, “Where is he!?” she yelled.
I pointed to the building that was on fire, and she ran in. The boy eyed me suspiciously, but then turned a corner and disappeared.
“Zuko,” I heard from the opposite side, and an older man emerged from between two buildings. Short, chubby, partly bald, and has a beard.
He came up to the other side of Zuko, just as he opened his eyes.
“Uncle,” Zuko groaned.
“Get up,” he pulled Zuko to his feet.
Azula, the avatar, and the other two water tribe people are now fighting out on the street. All of a sudden a third person joins them, she is short, dressed similar to me, Earth kingdom. I follow Zuko and his uncle around a building where we see Azula retreating too. She runs straight into the older man. We back her into a corner, and I see the boy eyeing me again.
Everyone is in their fighting stance, so I crack open my water flask, ready for anything. I am standing between Zuko and the short Earth kingdom girl, with Zuko’s uncle on his other side, and on the other side of the Earth kingdom girl, is the water tribe girl, then the avatar, then the water tribe boy. I wonder where they came from, which tribe they are from. They all seem young, but probably not much younger than me.
“Well, look at this,” Azula started, “Enemies and traitors all working together.” She must have assumed I was with the avatar. “I’m done, I know when I’m beaten,” she raises her hands in the air, “You got me. A princess surrenders with honor.”
I glance over at Zuko to see if he buys it. No one moves.
Before we have time to react, Azula brings her arms down and shoots a stream of blue fire at Zuko’s uncle. Everyone looks in horror as he falls to the ground with a painful thud. I heard a horrified yell come from Zuko, and then we all turn back towards Azula and throw all that we have at her all at once. A large explosion throws us back, and when the smoke clears, she’s gone.
Zuko is already at his uncles’ side.
“You’re a waterbender,” I hear the water tribe boy say to me as I kneel down at the old man’s feet. I turn to look at the odd group as they walk up behind Zuko.
“Get away from us!” Zuko yelled, turning towards them. We both looked back at his uncle as we hear a soft groan.
“Zuko I can help,” the water tribe girl took a step towards us.
“LEAVE!” Zuko screams, sending a wave of fire towards them.
They ducked out of the way. I stood up and hurry towards them, “You need to leave, now! He will hurt you if you do not and I can’t have that happen.”
I ushered them towards their bison at the edge of the town.
“What about you?” the avatar said.
“Yeah, come with us,” the water tribe boy added.
I smile reassuringly at them, “I will be fine. Now go!”
They turned and ran towards the bison. I felt a rush of air behind me as I return to Zuko.
“You should have gone with them,” I can hear anger in his voice, I don’t have to look in his eyes this time. But his anger is mixed with pain as well.
I don’t say anything. I walked to a wall that is not on fire and sit with my back against it, watching Zuko. When he’s ready, I will be there to help.
Zuko has been quiet for a while. I have been watching him and swirling a stream of water around my fingers. I decided that I wasn’t going to be the first one to make a move, when he’s ready he will need to say something first.
“You can come over now, I won’t hurt you,” I heard him finally say after a few more moments of silence.
I stood up and walked over to him and his uncle, “I never thought that you were going to hurt me,” I knelt down on the other side, “How is he doing?”
“He is okay, he needs help though. I don’t know how to help him.”
“I was only able to have a couple of healing lessons with Osana, but I can try to do my best,” I brought out a stream of water and let it flow over both of my hands. The water began to glow. I closed my eyes and gently placed my hands on the old man, furrowing my brows in concentration. A few moments later, I heard a deep breath come from him. I looked at his face, and his strong grimace faded. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned the water back into my flask.
He groaned and opened his eyes, “Thank you. Zuko, what happened?”
“Uncle! Are you okay? How are you feeling?”
“Like I just got hit with a blast of fire,” he sat up with the help of Zuko.
“Well, that’s pretty much what happened,” I said gently, bringing out some bandages to wrap his shoulder with.
“What is your name?” Zuko’s uncle turned to me.
“Mara,” I smiled warmly at him.
“That’s a beautiful name. Mine is Iroh, not as pretty.”
I laughed softly as we helped him to his feet.
“You are beautiful as well as your name. Where did you two meet?”
I smiled and glanced over to Zuko.
He eyed me, “Uncle, not now. We need to get some shelter for you to recover.”
“Ah, it is an interesting story then?” he laughed, and then coughed.
We led him to one of the buildings on the other side that wasn’t as damaged. We set him down against a wall, and Zuko goes out to collect firewood and find Chu.
By the time Zuko got back, Iroh was unconscious again.
“I’m sorry Zuko, I couldn’t keep him awake.”
Zuko sighed, “It’s alright. He needs rest anyways. So you do.” He turned to me.
“As do you,” I laid out the blanket in front of his uncle so that he could be near him.
Zuko nodded at me and laid down on the blanket, facing his uncle and away from me.
I sat down beside him, “Zuko, you can talk about it if you want, I’m here to listen.”
He turned his head to the side to acknowledge that I said something, but then turned back to face Iroh.
I sighed and laid down, “Goodnight Zuko.”