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Flying Embers

Chapter Text

In the Fire Nation Royal Palace, a man stood hunched over a small cot in a room deep beneath the palace. Inside the cot was a sleeping child, who was just shy of being two-years-old, the same age as his first-born son and slightly older than his new-born daughter. The child seemed as though she was dead, but she was simply in a very deep sleep and had been in that state for days now. Of course, it was all induced according to plan. Another person soon joined the man inside the room, slightly trembling as he did so.

“Everything is set up according to your specifications, Prince Ozai,” the man announced.

Prince Ozai turned to face the other man with a satisfied smirk, “Good. She’ll need to be taken to her room soon enough.”

“What do you plan on doing with her then, sir?” the man asked.

“I will simply give her a new name and a new identity to live by. She is only an infant, so she’ll hardly remember anything from her past. As planned she will grow up here, in the Fire Nation while we secretly keep our eyes on her,” Ozai replied.

“What will you say to Lady Ursa?” the other man questioned.

“You don’t need to worry about my personal affairs, Takumi. As long as everything goes according to plan, there should be no reason to stress,” Ozai answered.

“When will you release her to the public eye?” Takumi queried.

“In due time, Takumi. First, I must introduce her to my father and the rest of my family before I allow the world to see her,” Ozai replied.

“You seem to have everything under control, Prince Ozai. Is there anything else you need of me?” Takumi offered.

“Yes, actually,” Ozai said as he turned around to face the other man, giving a look that would scare even the strongest of generals. “Under any circumstances, you are never to repeat a word of what we’ve done. If I ever find out that you betrayed my trust, my father will be the least of your worries.”

Takumi gulped, beginning to have second thoughts about what he’d just committed himself to. “Yes, my Prince.”

“You are excused,” Ozai dismissed him.

Soon enough, it was just Ozai left in the room with the infant girl who was beginning to stir in her cot. The world as she knew it would not be the same when she opened her eyes to reveal where she was, and Ozai was going to do his best to make sure she never knew that world even existed.

~*•°•*~

The time had come for Ozai to introduce the new addition to his family’s lives to those around him. His wife had been suspicious of his secretive behaviour ever since he returned, since he was waiting for the right time to do it and that was now. Fire Lady Ursa had no idea what her husband was so intent on showing her, she just hoped that it would be something good.

“What is so important that I must see, Ozai?” Ursa asked.

“You’ll find out, Ursa,” Ozai replied.

Within minutes, they arrived at the doors of one of the very few unused rooms in the palace, which confused Ursa since this wasn’t what she was expecting. She hardly knew what to expect when it came to her husband, and she meant that in the worst way possible. Carefully, Ozai opened the doors to the room which was much cleaner and organised than the last time Ursa had been in there. Her attention was caught by a small child lying on the bed as one of the servants tended to her.

“Is this what you wanted to show me, Ozai? A child?” Ursa asked.

“Ursa, this is Akane. I found her abandoned during my latest expedition, and I could see the potential in her to do wonderful things, so I decided to bring her here, so she could have the best upbringing possible,” Ozai explained.

Ursa raised her eyebrows, silently judging Ozai’s intentions. While she had only known her husband for a few short years, she knew he wasn’t just some good Samaritan who helped random children. But Ursa then realised that if what Ozai was saying was true, then it would probably be best for the girl to remain here where she could be taken care of properly.

“That’s rather noble of you, Ozai,” Ursa commended her husband.

Ozai grinned boastfully, “Aren’t I always noble, Ursa?”

Ursa bit her lip, “Yes, you are.”

“You may get a better look of her if you wish,” Ozai suggested.

Ursa nodded as she stepped forward, eager to see more of this child her husband had found. The girl, Akane her name was, was only small. From first glance, Ursa could tell that she was roughly around the same age as Zuko and Ursa grinned at the thought of the potential friendship they could share. Ursa was slightly stunned by her ember eyes, which were as strong as those in the Royal Family’s bloodline which obviously made her Fire Nation. Her hair was chestnut brown, which rested over her shoulders as she laid down. When Ursa leaned closer, she saw the girl’s eyes widen with what appeared to be fear.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. We don’t want to hurt you,” Ursa soothed her.

“Ma? Da?” Akane asked, glancing between Ozai and Ursa.

Ozai rested his hand on his wife’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, child. My wife and I will be your new parents. We’ll take good care of you here.”

Ursa smiled, “Yes, we will. You will be so loved and cared for you will never doubt it in your mind.”

“Home?” Akane questioned, her lip trembling.

“Yes, this will be your new home. I think you will like it here very much,” Ozai replied.

Suddenly, Akane started wailing uncontrollably which instantly caused Ursa’s maternal instincts to kick in. Gently, Ursa picked up Akane and slowly rocked the child in her arms as she patted her comfortingly.

“There, there little one. Everything will be alright now,” Ursa comforted her.

Eventually, the crying ceased and Akane slowly warmed up to Ursa as she sang soothingly to the girl. The whole time, Ursa noticed how she seemed to be threatened by Ozai’s presence, which concerned Ursa and made her wonder where exactly her husband found her from. Either Akane was more of a mommy’s girl, or there was something Ozai was yet again hiding from her. At this point in their marriage, Ursa wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was the case.

But Ursa was quick to repress those thoughts, wanting nothing more than to be the support that Akane needed. Besides, Ursa feared what Ozai would do to the poor child if she questioned his intentions and by now she knew when to keep her mouth shut, and now was one of those times.

Finally, Akane’s eyes slowly shut before she drifted back into another sleep. Ursa smiled at the sleeping child in her arms, who looked as peaceful as the morning sunrise. In that moment, Ursa made a promise to herself and the girl in her arms that she had no intentions of breaking.

I promise to always take care of you and love you as if you were my own and I will do whatever it takes to protect you.

Chapter Text

The sound of children’s laughter and pounding footsteps is what filled the corridors of the Fire Nation Royal Palace. The source of the noise came from Prince Zuko and his best friend, Akane. Having spent practically all of their life together, Akane and Zuko were the best of friends. They did everything together from training, learning and getting up to all sorts of mischief which was what they were getting up to now.

“I’m coming your way, Aka!” Zuko yelled as he chased after his friend. The pair were currently engaged in a game of tag, which had resulted in them running around almost the entire palace.

“You’ll never catch me!” Akane called back, laughing as she did so.

It was always a common occurrence for Akane and Zuko to be up to these sort of activities, since they rarely did anything without each other. Over the years their friendship had truly blossomed into something special, and it was something that they both valued more than they realised. Even though Akane wasn’t technically family, Zuko had always treated her as such and he had a far better relationship with her than he did with his other sister, Azula.

Eventually, the pair of friends ran out into the palace garden before Zuko eventually caught the younger girl and playfully tackled her onto the ground, both of them laughing as they did so. Their laughing eventually ceased, and the pair just laid there as they looked up into the sky and a comfortable silence filled the atmosphere.

“What should we do now?” Akane asked.

“I dunno. We’ve already caused enough hassle for the servants and I doubt father will be happy about that,” Zuko noted.

“Why do you call him father?” Akane questioned.

“What do you mean?” Zuko queried.

“He’s your daddy. Shouldn’t you call him that? Father just sounds so… weird,” Akane elaborated.

Zuko sighed, “Father’s always said that we’re not to refer to him as such. He says it’s informal and that I shouldn’t do it, so I don’t.”

“But you call Ursa mom,” Akane pointed out.

“Mom doesn’t care what I call her. She’s always been better to me than father has. I have fun with mom, I don’t have that with father,” Zuko explained.

Akane nodded, understanding her friend’s feelings towards his father. Prince Ozai had always intimidated Akane, since he could be such a scary person unlike Ursa who was always kind to her and treated Akane like she was her own. That was probably why Akane bonded more with Zuko and Ursa than she did with Azula and Ozai, since they were nothing like Ursa and Zuko were. Azula was mean, just like her dad was even though Akane didn’t really understand why. She figured that’s just how some people were.

“I wonder how Uncle’s doing,” Akane thought out loud.

“He’s probably fighting hard with Lu Ten,” Zuko said.

Akane sighed, “I miss them.”

“Same. But they’ll be back. And they might even bring us back something!” Zuko exclaimed.

Akane grinned, “Uncle always did get the best presents.”

Since Uncle Iroh and his son, Lu Ten had gone off to Ba Sing Se, it had just been Akane and Zuko around the palace. They hardly spent time with Azula, since she always got them into trouble. Only now they missed their family members and wished that they could be here with them. A sombre mood suddenly filled the air, which Akane didn’t like at all.

“I know what we could do!” Akane suddenly exclaimed.

“What?” Zuko asked as he leaned forward.

“We could fight!” Akane replied.

Zuko looked confused, “Fight? Isn’t fighting bad?”

“Not that fighting, firefighting! You know, with our bending,” Akane explained.

“Oh,” Zuko said in realisation. “You mean sparring?”

“I didn’t know there was a term for it,” Akane admitted.

Zuko laughed, “It’s okay. Let’s spar!”

“Cool!” Akane cheered.

The pair were quick to get up on their feet before getting into their appropriate positions. Sparring was something that they occasionally did together, since they always trained in the same room. Akane was slightly more advanced than Zuko was, but they were still relatively evenly matched benders. Firebending had always fascinated Akane, and she always felt enchanted by her native element. It was almost like she went to an entirely different world whenever she’d bend, even though she wasn’t sure how to describe it herself.

“Let’s go!” Akane exclaimed.

Akane was quick to send a small fire blast at Zuko, which he jumped out of the way from. One thing the pair always did was to make sure that they never hurt each other during their games. Things rarely got out of hand with them, only a few scuffles every now and then but nothing serious. They continued exchanging fire blasts until Akane eventually managed to get the upper hand and caused Zuko to fall on his back.

“I win!” Akane declared.

Zuko sighed as he dusted himself off, “Yeah, like always.”

“Come on, Zuko. I’m sure with some more practice you’ll beat me soon,” Akane encouraged him.

“It’s just that, you and Azula have always been better benders than me. It’s not that bad with you, since you don’t pick on me like Azula does. I just wish I could be as good as you guys,” Zuko admitted.

“And I’m sure you will be one day,” Akane comforted him.

Zuko smiled, “Thanks, Aka. I can always count on you.”

Akane returned the smile to her friend. Before Akane could say anything else, they were joined by another voice that sent shivers down Akane’s spine.

“You two are losers.”

Akane turned around and glared at Azula, Zuko’s younger sister. Unlike her and Zuko, Akane never got along with Azula. Azula was always mean for no reason and it upset Akane to see Zuko be so upset because of his sister.

“What do you want, Azula?” Akane asked.

“Mai and Ty Lee are busy today, so I don’t have anyone to play with and I figured that I’d come find you two, only to see Akane making a fool out of Zuzu. This has been the best part about my day so far,” Azula explained.

Akane glared at the younger girl, “Go away, Azula. We don’t want to play with you.”

Azula huffed, “I wasn’t being rude, Akane. And you should know that you can’t tell me what to do. Only father can do that, and he could easily throw you out if I told him to.”

Akane’s eyes widened, since if Ozai did kick her out she would have nowhere to go. Even though they didn’t get along, Akane doubted if Azula would actually go that far but she wasn’t willing to take the risk. It was clear to Akane that Ozai liked Azula more than Zuko – which Akane didn’t understand why – and it’s not like Ursa would be able to help her in that situation.

“Why do you have to be so mean, Azula?” Zuko asked.

“I’m not being mean, I’m just reminding your friend where she stands,” Azula rebuffed.

“Well, I’m standing right here!” Akane exclaimed, not really understanding what Azula meant.

“If you want me to, I could show you two how to bend properly,” Azula suggested.

Both Akane and Zuko glanced at each other, visibly surprised by Azula’s offer. Azula wasn’t one for offering her help to others, so this wasn’t like her. But Akane was slightly intrigued, since she knew Azula had a lot of skills although Zuko didn’t share the same feelings towards his sister.

Akane’s expression brightened, “Well, that would be fun!”

Azula smirked, “I know it will. Stand back.”

Akane nodded and did as told, with Zuko reluctantly following in suit. They both knew that Azula was well ahead of them in her training, despite being younger than both of them. Azula had always excelled in firebending, while Akane wasn’t that far behind and Zuko just couldn’t keep up with the younger girls.

Slowly, Azula moved her arms around as she performed several firebending tricks, immediately captivating Akane’s attention. Zuko appeared to be less than interested in his sister’s display, while Akane stared at the younger girl in wonder. Eventually, Azula spread her arms out wide, causing the fire to expand around them in large amounts. This caught Akane off guard, and she failed to react in time before the fire came into contact with her hands, burning them and causing her to emit a loud cry of pain.

“Akane!” Zuko yelled as he rushed to his best friend’s side, who was sitting down hunched over as she caressed her burning hands.

“Opps,” Azula said.

Zuko glared at his sister, “You did this on purpose!”

“Why would I do that?” Azula asked, feigning innocence.

Suddenly, the trio were joined by Ursa who heard the commotion form inside the palace. Ursa’s eyes widened as she saw Akane crying in pain and the glare Zuko was giving his sister.

“What is going on here?” Ursa demanded.

“Akane burned herself,” Azula lied.

“No, she didn’t! Azula did this!” Zuko exclaimed.

“I would never hurt Akane,” Azula lied.

Ursa crouched down in front of Akane, her eyes widening even more as she gently took hold of her blistering hands.

“Akane, sweetie. What happened?” Ursa queried.

“S-she b-burned m-me,” Akane cried.

Ursa turned around to face her daughter, who was wearing an innocent look on her face. Unlike most times when Ursa would buy her daughters lies, this wasn’t one of them.

“Young lady, go to your room this instance!” Ursa ordered.

“No. I will not be punished for this!” Azula exclaimed.

“Azula, do not act this way otherwise I will take this to your father!” Ursa threatened.

Azula scoffed, “Like dad would punish me for this.”

“Go to your room now, Azula. I will deal with your punishment later,” Ursa ordered once more.

Azula rolled her eyes as she stormed off, “Sure, take her side like you always do!”

Ursa shook her head as she watched her daughter stormed off. She could never understand why Azula behaved the way she did. Perhaps it had something to do with the amount of time she spent with Ozai. Ursa would worry about that later, as right now Akane needed her attention. Ursa caught the sound of her son snickering and gave Zuko a look that instantly shut him up.

“Why would you act like that, Zuko?” Ursa asked.

“Because Azula always does stuff like this, but never gets in trouble,” Zuko replied.

Ursa sighed, “Let’s just get Akane the help she needs.”

Zuko nodded, ready to help his friend. Akane’s cries had weakened after the original pain subsided, but the wounds still hurt. Zuko blamed himself for Akane getting hurt, since he knew that Azula was up to no good yet did nothing to stop her. Eventually, Ursa lead Akane to the infirmary so she could get her hands fixed. Azula hadn’t burned her too bad, but enough to leave some marks that would stay there for some time.

“Here you go, Miss Akane. These herbs should help sooth the pain. Once I’ve applied them to your wounds, I will bandage your hands and you’ll be good as new,” the nurse explained.

Akane’s lip quivered as she felt a shot of pain, “I hope so.”

Ursa gave her arm a gentle squeeze, “You’ll be fine, darling.”

“Does it feel any better, Aka?” Zuko asked as the nurse started bandaging Akane’s hands.

“A little,” Akane replied.

“That’s good. There will be some mild pain for a while, but they will heal in time,” the nurse said.

“You hear that, Akane? You’ll be just as fine as you were this morning,” Ursa said reassuringly.

Akane nodded, “I want to be.”

The nurse smiled as she finished wrapping Akane’s bandages, “There you go. You’re free to go now.”

“Thank you,” Akane said appreciatively.

“Why don’t you two head off to your rooms while I go speak to your sister?” Ursa suggested. “I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“Okay, mom,” Zuko agreed. “Come on, Aka. Let’s go.”

“Alright,” Akane murmured.

Zuko grinned once Ursa was out of earshot, “Azula’s gonna get in so much trouble!”

Akane smiled slightly, “That sounds good.”

“Akane, I’m sorry that Azula burned you,” Zuko suddenly apologised.

“Why are you sorry?” Akane asked.

“Because I should’ve stopped her. Now you’re hurt,” Zuko replied sadly.

Akane sighed, “It’s okay. The nurse said I’ll be fine anyways!”

“I still feel bad,” Zuko admitted.

“Well, you shouldn’t! Now come on, let’s go to my room and play charades!” Akane exclaimed.

Zuko grinned, “I’ll race you there!”

“Way ahead of you!” Akane yelled before taking off down the palace corridors, with Zuko laughing after her as they did so.

One thing the pair of friends could always count on each other was cheering up when they needed it. That’s what made their friendship as close as it was, and nothing that they’d trade for anything.

Chapter Text

Life at the Royal Palace never ceased to bore Akane. There was always something for her to do, so there was never a dull moment, especially since she had Zuko to keep her company. Sometimes Akane would sit and wonder what it would be like without Zuko. Probably not as good as what it was now. After a day of causing ruckus around the palace, Akane and Zuko were just spending time with Ursa at the pond while they fed the turtle ducks. While it wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world, sometimes Akane just liked watching the turtle ducks as they swam around while Ursa and Zuko fed them. Akane was currently lying down on the ground as she lazily watched the mother and son together.

“Hey mom, want to see how Azula feeds turtle ducks?” Zuko asked excitedly as he threw the remaining loaf of bread in his hands at one of the baby turtle ducks.

Ursa gasped in shock at her son’s behaviour. She would expect this sort of action from Azula, but certainly not Zuko. This was made evident as she voiced her disapproval, “Zuko! Why would you do that?”

Not happy with Zuko’s behaviour, Akane playfully wacked him on the shoulder, causing Zuko to glare at her. In Akane’s opinion, Zuko had that coming after following Azula’s footsteps. He should know better than to do what his crazy sister did. Akane felt bad for the baby turtle duck, almost fearing for it until it resurfaced again. Her feeling of fear morphed into one of amusement when the mother turtle duck charged forth and bit Zuko harshly on the ankle, causing Akane to laugh. She had to admit, he also had that coming.

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ouch!” Zuko yelled as the turtle duck continued biting his ankle.

Ursa then removed the turtle duck from Zuko’s ankle and gently placed her back into the pond, where she swam off with her babies. Akane stifled back a few laughs as Zuko pouted at her.

“Not funny, Aka,” Zuko muttered.

“Sorry,” Akane apologised.

“Stupid turtle duck. Why she’d do that?” Zuko asked.

“Zuko. That’s what moms are like,” Ursa replied as she wrapped her arms around Akane and Zuko. “If you mess with their babies,” Ursa joked as she playfully bit between the two kids. “They’re gonna bite you back.”

The trio laughed as Zuko stayed locked in his mothers embrace. After a few moments, Akane gently pulled away so they could have their moment. Even though Ursa was practically Akane’s mother, she still felt like she was a part of something that she shouldn’t be.

“You were mean to the momma duck. That’s what you get for doing what Azula does,” Akane pointed out.

Zuko sighed, “Now I feel bad. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I’m sure you can apologise to her. Here, I’ll get them to come back,” Akane offered as she took a loaf of bread and gently ripped it into tiny pieces, so the ducks could eat them.

Soon enough, the turtle ducks returned and quickly ate the pieces of bread that were in the pond. While they were distracted, Akane carefully bent over and picked up the turtle duck that Zuko had thrown the piece of bread at. Since Akane always had a way with animals, the turtle duck didn’t fret when the young girl took her from the water.

“How’d you do that?” Zuko asked.

Akane shrugged as she gently handed the turtle duck to Zuko, “They just love me. Now apologise.”

“I’m sorry I threw the piece of bread at you, turtle duck. It won’t happen again,” Zuko apologised.

“Now put her back into the water,” Akane instructed and Zuko did as he was told.

“How are you so good with animals?” Zuko asked his friend.

“I dunno. They love me, I love them. I don’t throw bread at them, they don’t bite my ankle,” Akane replied.

Zuko pouted at her, causing Akane to laugh. It was so easy to rile Zuko up sometimes and although she didn’t do it in a way his sister did, Akane still found it fun to mess with Zuko.

“Why don’t the three of us head off to the barn? I’m sure the animals would love a visit from you, Akane,” Ursa suggested.

Akane grinned, “I’d love to!”

After that, the threesome made their way towards the barn, so they could see the animals. Even though the barn didn’t have the most exotic animals, Akane still loved visiting them and often dragged Zuko for the ride too. At one point, the trio walked passed the royal yard where Azula was playing with Mai and Ty Lee near a man-made river and a rather large fountain. While Mai sat and watched under the shade of a tree, Azula did a complicated flip but messed up the ending and grunted as she landed on the ground, causing Akane to laugh. Ty Lee then did the same flip, only she completed the ending perfectly and landed on her feet, with her arms stretched proudly in the air. Not happy with her friends display, Azula pushed Ty Lee over and laughed as she did so.

“Ugh! Azula!” Ty Lee whined as she got up, although she didn’t appear to be that affected by Azula’s actions.

As she sat underneath the tree, Mai caught the sight of Akane walking nearby. Mai never understood why Zuko spent so much time with that other girl, since she hardly seemed desirable with the way Azula spoke about her. When Mai caught the sight of Zuko beside her, Mai smiled as she turned away and blushed. Noticing Mai’s obvious crush on her brother, Azula turned to Ty Lee with a plot in mind.

“Watch this!” Azula whispered to Ty Lee as her friend giggled before running towards her mother, Akane and Zuko. “Mom! Can you make Zuko play a game with us? We need equal teams to play a game!”

“I am not cart-wheeling. And I won’t do anything with you if you’re going to leave Akane out,” Zuko replied.

“You won’t have to,” Azula stated as she rolled her eyes. “Cart-wheeling’s not a game, dum-dum. And your little friend can join us as well if she has to.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want to play with you! And neither does Akane!” Zuko exclaimed as he wrapped his arm around Akane who nodded in agreement. After the incident almost a year ago when Azula burned her hands, Akane always tread lightly around Azula and was only with her if Zuko was there too.

“We are brother and sister. It’s important for us to spend time together! And this could be a chance for Akane and I to get to know one another better. Don’t you think so, mom?” Azula said with a sickeningly sweet smile.

“Yes, darling, I think it’s a good idea for you and Akane to play with your sister,” Ursa agreed as she placed one hand on Akane and Zuko’s shoulder.

“But you said you would take us to the barn,” Zuko pointed out.

“We can go later. Go on now, just for a little while,” Ursa said before she walked away, leaving Akane and Zuko both glaring at Azula.

Once all five kids stood together, Akane shot Zuko a nervous glance as Azula whispered something to Ty Lee. Zuko did his best to reassure Akane that everything would be fine, but even he didn’t know that since Azula was always up to no good. Azula then reached for an apple on the tree that Mai was under earlier.

“Akane, you stand there and Zuzu, you stand there,” Azula instructed them.

“What game is this?” Akane asked, since she didn’t know any games that involved an apple.

Azula huffed, “I was getting to that. Here’s the way it goes. Now, what you do is, try to be the first one to catch the apple after I throw it in the air.”

Azula then threw the apple high up in the air while Akane and Zuko both looked at each other before charging towards one another. Once the apple started to descend, Azula shot a small jet of flame to the apple with her firebending and burned it on the spot. With nothing to catch and no time to stop, Akane and Zuko went colliding into one another and landed on the ground in one tangled heap.

“That’s what you get when you play games with a peasant,” Mai drawled, shooting Akane a disdainful look.

Akane groaned as she shifted Zuko’s weight off of her. Once he was on his feet, Zuko offered his friend his hand – which she took – before he felt something shoved against his back which caused him and Akane to fall into the fountain together. This time, Azula, Mai and Ty Lee laughed as Akane and Zuko struggled to sit up straight.

Azula laid a hand on Ty Lee’s shoulder, “See, I told you it would work!”

“Don’t you think Zuko would look better in there with Mai?” Ty Lee asked.

“Definitely,” Azula replied.

Once she got up, Akane struggled to get out of the fountain, nearly tripping over the ledge as she did so. Fuelled by her anger, Akane stormed towards Azula, ready to give the princess a piece of her mind.

“You’re a bully, you know that Azula?” Akane asked.

Azula laughed, “What makes me a bully?”

“Well, you’re rude, you’re bossy, you threaten people and you’re just not nice!” Akane exclaimed.

“I’m better than you,” Azula boasted.

Akane narrowed her eyes angrily at the younger girl, “Just because you’re a pretty little princess doesn’t mean that you can walk around like you own the place! Ugh, you’re just the worst!”

“So I’m pretty and the worst?” Azula clarified, knowing that it would upset Akane even more.

“Why do I even try?” Akane asked to no one in particular before she angrily stalked off, leaving Zuko behind as he got out of the fountain.

“Your friend should really learn some manners, Zuzu. She’s hardly worthy of staying here with an attitude like that,” Azula said.

“I don’t know what you see in her,” Mai added.

“Well Akane doesn’t push me into the fountain!” Zuko exclaimed as he stormed off after his friend, who was already way ahead of him.

Once she was far enough away from Azula, Akane angrily sat down as she tried her best to dry her clothes, already feeling the water in places where it shouldn’t be. Soon enough, Akane was joined by Zuko who sat down next to her.

“Your sister is such an… ugh!” Akane snapped angrily.

Zuko sighed, “We should’ve known better than to get in with Azula’s stupid games. Those always end badly.”

“I don’t even know how she has friends,” Akane muttered.

“Come on, let’s get dried off and see if mom will still take us to the barn,” Zuko suggested as he pulled his friend up.

“That would be better than any of Azula’s games,” Akane agreed.

The two headed towards the house where at that moment, Ursa came out from the house towards the duo with a scroll of paper in her hand before she spotted them. Their wet appearance didn’t go unnoticed by Ursa.

“Why are you two soaking wet?” Ursa asked.

“Azula pushed us into the fountain,” Akane replied as she shot a glare at the princess over her shoulder.

Ursa sighed, “Oh. Well, you two can get dried off now and then we’ll meet in the main room shortly.”

“Why?” Akane questioned.

“I just so happen to have a letter from someone who I’m sure you’d both love to hear from,” Ursa answered as she held out the scroll of paper.

Akane and Zuko grinned at each other as they excitedly exclaimed, “Uncle Iroh?”

Ursa laughed, “Yes. Now, go get cleaned up and I’ll read it to you shortly.”

“Alright! I’ll race you, Aka,” Zuko challenged his friend.

“You’re on!” Akane accepted before dashing off ahead of Zuko.

Ursa smiled fondly as she watched her son and the girl who she always thought of as a daughter race off against one another. It always warmed Ursa’s heart to see the affect that Akane had on Zuko, since not many people brought out Zuko’s soft side but Akane was one of the few who could do that. Ursa knew that they would both have a special friendship for as long as they lived, and Ursa was grateful for that.

~*•°•*~

Once they had both cleaned up, Akane and Zuko met with Ursa where much to their disappointment, Azula was too. With her children peering anticipatingly over her shoulder, Ursa unrolled the scroll before she started reading the letter from their uncle.

“Greetings, family. I hope that you are all doing well, just like how everything is over here. As I’m sure you’re aware of, we only recently broke through the outer wall of Ba Sing Se and are well and truly on our way to succeeding in our great march of civilisation. Although I have only laid my eyes on the outer wall, I must say it is truly a sight to be seen. If the city is as magnificent as its wall, Ba Sing Se must be something to behold. I hope you all may see it someday, if we don’t burn it to the ground first!” Ursa read Iroh’s letter.

Akane, Azula and Zuko all laughed at Iroh’s last joke. Ursa gave them a small smile before she continued down the letter, “Until then, enjoy these gifts.”

Three servants dressed in white came up, and Akane and Zuko ran up to meet them. Ursa remained seated and continued reading, “For Zuko, a pearl dagger from the general who surrendered when we broke through the Outer Wall. Note the inscription and the superior craftmanship.”

Zuko picked up the dagger admiringly, unsheathing it as he read the inscription, “Never give up without a fight.”

One of the servants then turned to Akane, who carefully opened the box as Ursa told her what was inside of it, “As for his friend, Akane, I leave her with an elegant bracelet made from the finest jeweller in Ba Sing Se. Take notice of the beautiful crystal encrusted bezel forged from the city’s most signature traits.”

“It’s beautiful,” Akane swooned as she admired the jewellery in her hands.

“And for Azula, a new friend. She wears the latest fashion for Earth Kingdom girls,” Ursa finished.

As Ursa read, Azula picked up her present which was a doll wearing green. Azula picked it up by the head with disgust, making sounds and sticking out her tongue.

“If Uncle doesn’t make it back from war, then dad will be next in line for Fire Lord, wouldn’t he?” Azula asked.

Akane looked at Azula in horror, “Why would you say that?”

“Azula, we don’t speak that way. It would be awful if Uncle Iroh didn’t return. And besides, Fire Lord Azulon is a picture of health,” Ursa reprimanded her daughter.

“How would you like it if cousin Lu Ten wanted dad to die?” Zuko asked.

“I still think our dad would make a much better Fire Lord than His Royal Tea-Loving Kookiness,” Azula muttered as she set the dolls head on fire.

“What did that doll ever do to you?” Akane questioned.

“Exist,” Azula answered.

“Azula, you do not treat a gift that way. Uncle Iroh gave that to you for you to play with, not to burn it,” Ursa scolded her daughter.

Azula scoffed, “If he really wanted to give me a good gift, he would’ve given me something like that knife or that bracelet. Why waste a perfectly good gift on someone like Zuzu and then this one who isn’t even related to him?”

Ursa glared at Azula, “Young lady, we do not speak like that. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done.”

“Fine, mom,” Azula conceded as she strode out the room.

Ursa shook her head as she followed her daughter out the room, deciding that she needed to have a few words with her about how she treated Akane and Zuko. It always worried Ursa how little her daughter seemed to care for them, but lately Azula had been taking it to the extreme and Ursa had decided that it was time Azula accepted that Akane would be staying at the Royal Palace, just like Zuko was her brother.

“Can you believe her?” Zuko asked once his mother and sister left the room.

“I can. Azula’s always been like that. She must’ve been dropped on her head one too many times,” Akane replied.

Zuko laughed, “That would be fun to watch. Hey, why don’t you grab your other dagger and we can have our own little showdown?”

Akane grinned, “That’d be epic!”

Laughing as they did so, the pair of friends ran throughout the palace halls without a care in the world. If only they knew that that would be one of their last moments like that.

Chapter Text

Once Zuko had gotten his dagger from Uncle, he and Akane spent whatever time they could having little fights with one another. Of course, they were always careful not to hurt one another. They were currently running around the palace gardens as they engaged in another one of their battles, laughing joyously as they did so. Azula sat by herself as she watched her brother and his friend with disdain. How was it that little Zuzu was able to get along better with that other girl than his own sister? Why did Akane get more attention from Ursa than Azula could ever dream of? Azula shook her head at those thoughts, refusing to acknowledge them. She had always seen Akane as below her, and just assumed that people only treated her better out of pity. Yes, that had to be it.

Azula watched as Akane and Zuko yelled happily together. It wasn’t fair that Zuko got to have all of his fun and games. What made Zuzu so worthy of that luxury over Azula? He was behind both her and Akane in his training which was arguably pathetic. The fact that he couldn’t even keep up with two girls who were younger than him always amused Azula. Granted, Akane was only a few months younger than Zuzu but still. Suddenly, a devious lightbulb went off in Azula’s head as she thought of another plan to mess with her brother and his pathetic friend. The one good thing about Akane was that she was always easy to rile up, just like Zuzu was.

Carefully, Azula got up from her seat and snuck behind the tree near where Akane and Zuko were playing. The young princess made sure that her intended targets did not spot her. One thing her father always told her was that the best way to catch your opponents was with the element of surprise. It was time for Azula to put what she’d learned into practice. When she was confident they’d be caught off guard, Azula jumped out from the tree and used her firebending to create a giant cloud of smoke, which easily caught Zuko off guard while Akane was able to react faster. The sudden intrusion caused Zuko to stumble back a bit before he tripped over a nearby log, landing flat on his butt against the tree which caused a stack of bark to fall on his head.

Azula laughed at her brother’s misfortune, “Poor Zuzu. Always on the wrong side of luck.”

Zuko glared at her, “Not funny Azula.”

“Then why am I laughing?” Azula asked.

“Because you’re sick!” Zuko exclaimed before noticing that Akane was struggling to stifle back a few laughs. “Akane! You’re supposed to be on my side.”

“I am. If you could see yourself right now though, even you would admit that you look funny,” Akane admitted.

Azula grinned with satisfaction, “See, even she agrees with me.”

“I thought Akane’s opinion didn’t matter to you?” Zuko asked.

Azula shrugged, “Obviously you wouldn’t admit that you looked hilarious, so I need someone to back me up.”

“You two are going to pay for that!” Zuko declared as he stood up.

“Oh, I’m so scared,” Azula mocked before running off.

Akane grinned sheepishly at Zuko, “Uh, sorry?”

“Too late for apologies, now Aka!” Zuko exclaimed before chasing after his friend and his sister.

The three children proceeded to run around the palace grounds, all laughing as they did so. Even Azula seemed to be enjoying herself with Akane and Zuko, despite what she thought of them. As they passed Ursa who was sitting in front of the fountain as a messenger approached her with a scroll. Ursa opened the letter and read it to herself, its contents causing tears to stream down her face. Ursa’s sudden change of appearance didn’t go unnoticed by Akane who haltered in her chase as she stared at Ursa, concerned.

“What’s wrong?” Akane asked as Azula and Zuko joined them.

Ursa turned to the three children as she revealed the devastating news, “Iroh has lost his son. Your cousin Lu Ten did not survive the battle.”

Zuko seemed shocked and saddened by the news of the loss of his only cousin, while Azula hardly reacted at all. Akane hung her head down sadly. Even though she had only met Lu Ten a hand couple of times, she still cared a lot about him and she knew that Zuko did to. Akane could only begin to imagine how Iroh must be feeling now that he’d lost his only child, which was every parent’s worst nightmare. Zuko shook his head before running off inside the palace with Ursa following him behind.

“That’s so sad,” Akane muttered to no one in particular.

Azula still heard her and scoffed, “Please. I’ve heard sadder stories than that.”

Akane glared at her, “How could you say that? He was your cousin!”

“Yeah, was. It’s not like I saw him much anyways. That’s life for you, people live, and people die every day. Get used to it,” Azula said.

“You’re a horrible person!” Akane hissed before storming away from the young princess.

Azula scoffed, “She needs to remember who she’s speaking to.”

With that, the Fire Nation Princess went off to do her own thing, away from her irritating family members who she sometimes wished would just go away and never come back. At least then she’d be happy.

~*•°•*~

A few days had passed since the news of Lu Ten’s death was announced. Since then, Akane had picked up on a strange vibe at the palace, but she didn’t say anything to anyone. There was a tense feeling in the air, with a mix of something else that just didn’t sit right with the young firebender. Zuko had been upset after he found out about Lu Ten’s death but was able to cheer up after some help from Akane and Ursa. It was obvious that Ursa and Zuko were grieving over him, but what Akane didn’t understand was how Azula and Ozai hardly seemed to care at all. There were just some things about this family that confused Akane, but it was the only family she ever knew.

Today Zuko seemed to be doing better, since he was running around in the Royal Palace with his dagger that he got from Uncle as Akane and Azula sat nearby. At one point, Zuko faked his death, dramatically falling to the floor with a groan. Azula rolled her eyes at her brothers display while Akane laughed to herself.

“You waste all your time playing with knives. You’re not even good!” Azula taunted.

“Put an apple on your head and we’ll find out how good I am!” Zuko challenged as he spun around to glare at his sister.

“Let’s not go throwing knives around,” Akane suggested, not wanting them to get in trouble since knowing Azula the young princess would most likely pin the blame on them and get away with it.

Azula ignored Akane, “By the way, Uncle’s coming home.”

“Does that mean… we won the War?” Zuko asked uncertainly.

“No, it means Uncle’s a quitter and a loser,” Azula replied harshly.

“What are you talking about? Uncle’s not a quitter!” Zuko exclaimed.

“Oh, yes he is! He found out his son died, and he just fell apart!” Azula mocked her uncle as she spun around a nearby pole before resting against it. “A real general would stay and burn Ba Sing Se to the ground, not lose the battle and come home crying.”

“How do you know what he should do?” Zuko asked angrily. “He’s probably just sad his only kid is gone. Forever.”

Akane nodded, “You should learn to be a little less heartless.”

Azula rolled her eyes at Akane’s comment and was about to make a remark that wouldn’t have sat well with the other girl until Ursa appeared in the doorway.

“Your father has requested an audience with Fire Lord Azulon. Best clothes, hurry up!” Ursa ordered hurriedly.

Zuko ran past Ursa quickly to get ready, while Akane stood awkwardly where she was and Azula walked rather slowly.

“Fire Lord Azulon…” Azula trailed off in a bored tone. “Can’t you just call him ‘grandfather?’ He’s not exactly the powerful Fire Lord he used to be. Someone will probably end up taking his place soon.”

“Young lady! Not another word!” Ursa scolded Azula as she ran past her mother and left the room. “What is wrong with that child?”

I’ve asked myself that question too. Akane thought.

“Um, Ursa. What should I do?” Akane asked

Ursa sighed, “I’m afraid this is a family only meeting, Akane.”

“Oh. I’ll just go to my room then,” Akane muttered.

For some reason, it hurt Akane that she wasn’t considered family, even though she technically wasn’t. Akane had been around long enough to be a part of their lives. However, only Iroh, Ursa and Zuko treated her like family. Everyone else just treated her like she was some washed up peasant who didn’t belong there. That hurt Akane, but she was used to it by now.

~*•°•*~

That night, Akane laid in her bed as she wondered what could have been possibly going on in this meeting. It had to have been important since Akane wasn’t even invited although she attended most of their gatherings. Part of Akane was glad she wasn’t there, since Fire Lord Azulon scared her but she still wished she could know what was going on. Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she hopped off her bed before heading out of her room and towards the Fire Lord’s chamber.

As long as nobody spots me, I’ll be fine. Akane thought.

Eventually, Akane reached the secret entrance that lead to the Fire Lord’s chamber since she would not have been able to go through the main one. Carefully, Akane entered the chamber that she had only been in a few times and hid behind the curtains, so she wouldn’t be spotted. Akane could see Fire Lord Azulon sitting in his throne as the fire surrounded him, while Ozai, Ursa, Zuko and Azula sat on the floor some distance away from him.

“And how was it Great-Grandfather Sozin managed to win the Battle of Han Tui?” Ozai asked.

“Great-Grandfather won… because…” Zuko trailed off confusedly.

Azula took that as an opportunity to upstage her brother, “Because even though his army was outnumbered, he cleverly calculated his advantages. The enemy was downwind and there was a drought. Their defences burned to a crisp in minutes.”

“Know-it-all,” Akane muttered so only she could hear it.

“Correct, my dear. Now, would you show Grandfather the new moves you demonstrated to me?” Ozai asked.

Azula stood up and moved up. She began with some circular motions, warming herself up, and started her firebending. Akane watched in slight awe as Azula performed fairly complicated moves with ease, finishing off her routine with a jump and a powerful fire blast towards the throne, before landing on her feet gracefully. If she was being completely honest, Akane wasn’t that far behind Azula in regard to her training but there was no way she’d be able to perform the moves that Azula did with such ease.

“She’s a true prodigy! Just like her grandfather for whom she’s named,” Ozai stated.

“Suck-up,” Akane muttered quietly to herself.

As Azula walked back to her seat, the young girl glanced at Akane’s direction and narrowed her eyes. Panicking, Akane shut the curtains to keep herself from being spotted. Once she was certain she was in the clear, Akane peered through the curtains again and saw Azula lean closer to Zuko as she whispered something to her older brother which seemed to upset Zuko as he angrily stood up and declared, “I’d like to demonstrate what I’ve been learning.”

This isn’t going to be good. Akane thought. It wasn’t that she didn’t have enough faith in Zuko, he just tended to mess up when he put pressure on himself and there was no doubt that Zuko would be feeling the pressure to upstage his arrogant sister.

Zuko started off well, doing the same circular motions that Azula did just before. He managed to produce a small fire blast, which didn’t seem to impress anyone. When Zuko tried to create another one, he fell. Zuko got back up and tried again, only to fall harder this time. Akane cringed as she saw Ursa get up and approach Zuko.

“Oh, Zuko,” Akane whispered sadly, feeling sympathetic for her friend.

Akane couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it seemed like Ursa was giving Zuko some much needed encouragement. It also seemed like Fire Lord Azulon was quickly getting impatient.

“Prince Ozai, why are you wasting my time with this pomp? Just tell me what you want. Everyone else, go!” Azulon ordered.

At that moment, Akane debated on if whether or not she too should return to her room since the meeting appeared to be over, but there was something that held Akane back from leaving even though she wanted to.

“Father, you must have realised as I have, that with Lu Ten gone, Iroh’s bloodline has ended. After his son’s death, my brother abandoned the siege at Ba Sing Se, and who knows when he will return home. But I am here, father, and my children are alive,” Ozai began.

“Say what it is you want!” Azulon demanded and Akane nodded in agreement, wondering what Iroh and Lu Ten had to do with this.

“Father, revoke Iroh’s birthright. I am your humble servant, here to serve you and our nation. Use me,” Ozai implored.

Akane had to shut her mouth to keep the gasp in that was threatening to escape. Iroh had just lost his son, Ozai’s nephew and all Ozai cared about was seizing power for his own selfish gain? Akane really shouldn’t be surprised though, since she knew how cold and heartless Ozai could be at times. It just upset her that Ozai could be so insensitive towards his own family, which Azulon actually seemed to agree with as the flames around him began to grow.

“You dare suggest I betray Iroh? My first born? Directly after the demise of his only beloved son?” Azulon roared, sending a wave of fear through Akane. “I think Iroh has suffered enough! But you… Your punishment has scarcely begun!”

After Azulon’s outburst, the flames around him shot up which only meant that he was feeling extreme anger towards his younger son, which Akane would understand. Akane desperately wanted to get out of there, fearing that she’d hear something she wouldn’t want to. Only she couldn’t. Her feet remained planted on the ground as she stood there frozen on the spot, unable to bring herself to move.

“Father, what is it that you want me to do?” Ozai asked.

“It is clear that you have no sympathy for Iroh, which is a shame since he is your brother. That clearly does not matter to you. By asking me to revoke Iroh’s birthright, you have committed treason against your brother. That being said, your punishment must fit your crime. Perhaps it might even make you a little more sympathetic,” Azulon started.

“I am willing to do anything I can to redeem myself in your eyes, father. Please, tell me what it is I have to do,” Ozai said.

“Since you clearly have no feelings for Iroh’s loss of Lu Ten, you must know the pain of losing your own first-born son. By sacrificing your own,” Azulon ordered.

Akane clasped her hands over her mouth to prevent a gasp from escaping as tears threatened to spill from her eyes. Zuko… Azulon wanted Ozai to kill Zuko. Akane wanted Ozai to be punished for his actions, but not like this! This was more of a punishment on Zuko, since Ozai clearly didn’t care about his first-born son and Akane wouldn’t be surprised if he happily got rid of him.

Ozai rose to his feet, “I understand, father. I will do my best to uphold your wish.”

That… jerk! Akane thought as Ozai left the room without another word.

Never before had Akane felt so much anger, fear and sadness all at once. Azulon wanted Ozai to kill Zuko. And Ozai was going to do it! Akane had to do something. She refused to let Ozai kill Zuko. He’d have to kill her too if that’s what he wanted.

But what could she do? There was nobody who could help Akane in this situation. By telling someone, she’d have to reveal that she had spied on a private meeting which could easily get her in trouble. Akane could just tell Zuko, and the two of them could run away so they’d be safe from Ozai. Neither one would be safe here anymore after tonight. There was no way Akane could stop this on her own.

Ursa! Akane realised.

All Akane had to do was tell Ursa what was happening, and she had no doubts that Ursa would stop at nothing to protect Zuko. Unlike Ozai, Ursa actually cared about her children and Akane knew there was nothing Ursa wouldn’t do to stop this. Akane knew that she had to act fast. There was no way that Akane was going to let Zuko die. Not on her watch.

Chapter Text

As soon as Akane left the Royal Chamber, she immediately headed off in search of Ursa. Akane wasn’t sure how much time she had left before Ozai did what Azulon ordered him to, so she knew she had to act fast. Just the thought of what Ozai was going to do was enough to scare Akane to her core. She needed to stop this, and Ursa was the only one she knew that would even be willing to help her. When Akane arrived at Ursa’s room, she was surprised to find the room vacant before immediately heading off in search of the older woman. Akane refused to go to bed until she told Ursa what was going on. For Zuko’s sake as much as her own.

Eventually, Akane found herself alone in one of the corridors of the Royal Palace. She was just about to turn around and head off in the other direction when she heard two muffled voices behind one of the doors. Carefully, Akane tip-toed her way to the door and pressed her ear against it and her eyes widened as she recognised the voices that belonged to Ozai and Ursa.

“Ozai! You can’t do this!” Ursa exclaimed.

“I have no choice. Refusing the Fire Lord’s command is treason. But I am a merciful man. I’m waiting until he falls asleep. He won’t feel a thing,” Ozai responded.

Akane’s face paled when she realised that they were talking about Azulon’s order. Then Akane started to wonder how Ursa had found out about that. Ursa wasn’t there, right? So how could she possibly know what Azulon wanted Ozai to do? What astounded Akane the most was how easily Ozai was giving into his order, not even caring that he was about to kill his own son. But after living at the palace for as long as she has, Akane shouldn’t be surprised that Ozai would be so willing to do something like that. Akane just hoped that Ursa would be able to put a stop to this.

“You listen carefully. I’m going to make you a deal,” Ursa pleaded.

“You have nothing I want,” Ozai stated.

“You want the throne,” Ursa said.

“Go on,” Ozai urged.

“I know how to make a poison that is colourless and odourless, completely untraceable. It causes a person to pass quietly, as if he'd simply fallen asleep. I'll give you a vial of it in exchange for Zuko's life. Once the poison is in your hands, you do whatever you wish,” Ursa explained.

“Just where did you learn to concoct such a substance?” Ozai asked.

“My mother was a master herbalist,” Ursa replied.

“Very clever, dear wife. Very clever,” Ozai murmured.

After that, Akane struggled to hear the rest of Ozai and Ursa’s conversation until their voices became clearer once again.

“…I will hunt you all down. Just like I did with your precious boyfriend,” Ozai threatened.

“Leave Ikem out of this!” Ursa exclaimed.

“It’s not like it matters anymore, Ursa. After all, Ikem has now been wiped from existence. If you really loved your children and that brat you hold so close your heart, you’ll leave them be,” Ozai said.

Akane’s eyes widened as she listened to the rest of their conversation. Why would Ozai want to hunt them down? This whole situation was becoming more and more dire by the minute. The sound of footsteps approaching the door caught Akane’s attention and she quickly darted away from the door before hiding behind the nearby curtains. She watched as Ozai exited the room and waited a few moments before rushing inside, catching Ursa by surprise.

“Akane, sweetheart, what are you doing here?” Ursa asked fearfully.

“Zuko’s in trouble, Ursa! Ozai is going to kill him because Azulon wants him to,” Akane explained.

Ursa sighed, “I know, sweetheart. I know. But how do you know this?”

Akane avoided Ursa’s gaze, “I sort of snuck inside the chambers for your meeting with Azulon. Once you all left, Ozai asked for Iroh’s birthright to be taken away. Azulon got angry and ordered him to kill Zuko. He can’t kill Zuko, Ursa!”

“You shouldn’t have done that, Akane. Now you’re in trouble too,” Ursa scolded her.

“I didn’t mean to. I was just curious,” Akane muttered.

“Listen to me carefully, Akane. I’m going to take care of this mess. When you wake up tomorrow, everything will be just like it’s supposed to be,” Ursa promised.

“What are you going to do?” Akane asked.

“I’m going to protect you, Azula and Zuko. You three are my entire world. I won’t let Ozai hurt any of you. I just need you to do something for me, Akane,” Ursa said.

“What?” Akane questioned.

“I need you to go to your room now and get some sleep. Once this is all cleared up, you won’t have to worry about anything ever again. Just promise me you will not tell Zuko any of this,” Ursa ordered.

Akane nodded, “I will, Ursa. You can count on me.”

Ursa smiled, “I know I can, Akane. Now go to your room.”

Before doing just that, Akane wrapped her arms around Ursa and buried her head into her chest. Ursa quickly wrapped her arms around the child with Akane failing to notice the tears falling down the woman’s face. Once they’d hugged, Ursa lead Akane out of the room before going off to do what she said she would. One thing for sure was that after tonight, nothing would ever be the same again.

~*•°•*~

It was late at night when Akane awakened in her room. The sound of shuffling footsteps interrupted her from her restless sleep. Akane rubbed her eyes to get a better view of what was going on when she saw Ursa standing at her door.

“U-Ursa?” Akane murmured tiredly.

Ursa stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around, catching sight of Akane on her bed, “Akane, you must go back to sleep.”

“Why? What’s happening?” Akane asked.

Ursa sighed, “I have to leave now, Akane.”

“Can I come with you?” Akane asked.

“No, you cannot. I need you to stay here and watch over Zuko. Your friendship has always been special to him, and I know that it will continue to be especially after I leave,” Ursa replied.

“Why do you have to go?” Akane questioned, her lip trembling.

“It is what’s best. Just remember Akane, be true to yourself no matter what and that I will always love you,” Ursa pleaded.

Tears started to fall from Akane’s eyes as she realised what was happening. Ursa was leaving her, and she wasn’t coming back. This wasn’t what Akane wanted to happen. Ursa wasn’t supposed to leave her. She was supposed to stay here, with her and Zuko.

“Y-you can’t leave,” Akane cried as she flung her arms around Ursa.

“I don’t want to leave, Akane but I must,” Ursa soothed the young girl as she gently rubbed her back.

“Please, don’t leave me momma,” Akane pleaded, before she could even stop herself.

That was enough to break Ursa’s heart more than it already was. In all honesty, Ursa had always thought of Akane as her own daughter from the moment she met her, and it touched her more than Akane would ever know for her to think that way. It only made leaving her behind even harder than it already was.

“I’m sorry, baby girl but I have to go. It’s better for you all if I’m not here. Just promise me you won’t forget me and that no matter what, you will stand by Zuko’s side. He’s going to need you more than ever once I’m gone,” Ursa said.

“I could never forget you, momma and Zuko will always be my best friend,” Akane reassured her.

Ursa smiled as she wiped the tears away from her face, “Thank you for being you, sweetheart. You’ve made my time here better than it could’ve possibly been without you. I’ll never forget you, Akane. I love you.”

“I love you too, mom,” Akane said.

“I have to go now, just please be safe, Akane. I’ll always be with you,” Ursa said before she lifted the hood over her head and left Akane’s room, shutting the door behind her.

Once Ursa left her room, the dam finally broke and the tears started falling down Akane’s face. Akane knew fully well that without Ursa around, nothing would ever be the same, but it was something that she’d have to learn to deal with. Finally, Akane cried herself to sleep with her last thoughts of Ursa and how much she loved her.

~*•°•*~

Hours later, Zuko awoke with a start as he quickly glanced around his room for any signs of his mother. He just had the strangest dream where she had come into his room and told him to never forget who he was. Almost as if she was saying goodbye to him.

“Mom?” Zuko asked as he looked around before jumping out of his bed. “Mom? Mom!”

She can’t be gone. She can’t. Zuko thought.

Looking everywhere he could think of, Zuko searched around the palace in the hopes of finding his mother only to find no sign of her. As desperation started to set in, Zuko yelled loudly for his mother, hoping that this was just some game and that she was just playing a joke on him with Akane. But when there was no sign of his mother, Zuko’s hopes started to dwindle as his fears became reality.

Eventually, Zuko ran into one of the main rooms of the palace hoping more than anything to find his mother there, only to find Azula who was the last person Zuko wanted to see right now.

“Where’s mom?” Zuko asked desperately.

“No one knows. Oh, and last night, Grandpa passed away,” Azula replied nonchalantly, almost as if she didn’t care at all about what she was saying as she twirled Zuko’s knife around.

Zuko noticed his knife in his sister’s hand and glared at her, “Not funny, Azula! You’re sick. And I want my knife back.”

Zuko lunged forward to grab his knife, grunting as he missed when Azula dodged his attempt before mocking him, “Who’s going to make me? Mom?”

At that, Zuko’s eyes widened before he dashed forward and grabbed the knife from Azula’s hand as she dangled it in a tantalising manner. Zuko ran away from his sister with his knife in hand and ran off in search of Akane, hoping that his mother was just with her. He found Akane crying at the bottom of the main stairwell as she clutched onto her favourite toy that Ursa had given her for her birthday years ago.

“Akane, I can’t find mom!” Zuko exclaimed.

Zuko immediately stopped in his tracks when he noticed the tears falling down Akane’s face. Something had to be wrong because Akane hardly ever cried, only if she was really hurt or upset.

“Where’s mom?” Zuko asked.

“I d-don’t k-know,” Akane choked out as she buried her face into her hands to muffle her cries.

Eyes widening, Zuko took off once again hoping more than everything that his mother would just come out and surprise him. Zuko eventually found his father in the garden as he stared at the pond where Zuko and his mother always fed the turtleducks.

“Where is she?” Zuko asked, almost pleadingly only for his father not to acknowledge him and continue to stare at the pond in front of him.

When Zuko got no response form his father, Zuko bowed his head in defeat with his shoulders slumping as he did so. His fathers silence and Akane’s tears was enough to confirm what Zuko feared the most.

His mother was gone.

Chapter Text

Things had changed drastically since Ursa left the Fire Nation. The obvious change was Azulon’s death and Ozai’s declaration as Fire Lord, a position which he had held ever since. As for Akane and Zuko, their friendship had become closer than ever now that they only had each other to rely on. In that time, Akane noticed how withdrawn Zuko had become since Ursa’s disappearance. Her friend rarely smiled or joked around like they used to when Ursa was still there, and that only added more to Akane’s pain since there was nothing that she wanted more than to have Ursa with them. Their family really had never been the same since that night, since Ozai became more cold towards Akane and Zuko while Azula became more conniving and mean to them without Ursa there to scold her.

The only comfort that they had was in the form of Iroh, who had returned almost a month after his father and son’s death. Despite Iroh still recovering from the loss of his own son, he had welcomed Akane and Zuko with open arms knowing that they would need the support that Ozai wouldn’t give them. Akane had always liked Iroh, since he was nice to her and told delightful stories that were always fun to listen to. In a way Iroh had filled the void that had been left behind by Ursa, but Akane knew that nothing would ever replace the woman who had always been like a mother to her.

It always felt like there was a dark cloud hovering above their heads that never seemed to go away. For a brief time, Akane had hoped that Ursa would soon return from wherever it was she had gone to but as the weeks rolled into months and those turned into years, Akane had accepted that Ursa was never coming back and that their lives would never be the same again.

Now, at twelve-years-old Akane had spent eleven years at the Royal Palace and she often found herself wondering where it was that she had come from, even more so after Ursa left. It was a common feeling for Akane to feel like an outsider in the palace, despite having lived there for pretty much her entire life. Whenever Akane asked about where she had come from, it was always the same answer: she had been abandoned by her family and Ozai adopted her into the Royal Family. For the most part, Akane never really questioned the story but as she got older, Akane realised just how inaccurate it sounded just based on the fact that Ozai hardly seemed like the kind of person who would take an abandoned child in out of the goodness of his heart.

There were many times when Akane just wished that she had never left her original home because of the harsh treatment she often received. Azula was always sure to remind Akane of her place and use her power against her, which made Akane feel inadequate. The addition of Mai and Ty Lee certainly didn’t help either, since Mai was always cruel to her for whatever reason while Ty Lee just never said anything. The one time where Akane felt at peace with herself was when she’d firebend, and that was something she’d always known. It was almost like she was in a different world when she bended, without any worries or concerns.

Late at night, Akane was practicing her bending in one of the training rooms after a tough day. Something just made today awful for Akane, so she decided to firebend to make herself feel better. Akane never firebended with the intent of using it against someone, only because of the way it made her feel inside. She had just finished performing a rather advanced set of moves when she heard the sound of someone clapping lazily from the doorway. Akane inwardly groaned when she saw Azula standing there with a smirk on her face, which coming from Azula meant she was up to no good.

“What do you want, Azula?” Akane asked.

“I just heard a noise from outside, so I came to see what was going on, only to find you in your natural habitat,” Azula replied.

Akane raised an eyebrow, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Azula shrugged, “You’re always training in here. Don’t you have anything better to do? Though, I guess you need as much help as you can get.”

“I’ll have you know that I’m not that far behind you in training,” Akane snapped.

Azula laughed, “And I’m a ten-year-old girl while you’re twelve and you’re not even on the same level as me? You’re just as pathetic as Zuzu.”

“Zuko’s not pathetic. You shouldn’t say that sort of stuff about your brother,” Akane defended her friend.

“When has that ever stopped me from messing with Zuzu?” Azula asked.

“Right, I forgot because you’re a demented psychopath,” Akane quipped.

Azula glared at her, “Do I need to remind you of where you stand in this place, Akane? I’d hate to have to go tell my dad, the Fire Lord how mean you’re being to me.”

“Still hiding behind daddy dearest, are you?” Akane asked.

“Don’t talk about my father that way. I can easily have you kicked out of here without a second thought. How would poor Zuzu cope without his only friend to keep him company?” Azula threatened.

“At least Zuko doesn’t have to scare people into being friends with him,” Akane retorted.

“You’re really digging yourself a hole, aren’t you Akane? Just be careful of what you say because I know things, Akane. Things that you wouldn’t want people to know,” Azula said.

“What could you possibly know about me?” Akane asked, somewhat curious since there wasn’t really much for Azula to know about her.

“More than you think I do, Akane. I could use it against you at any moment and nobody would hesitate to throw you out of here after that. Though, I’m still surprised that you’ve managed to stick around for as long as you have,” Azula replied.

“Maybe I’m not as hated as you think I am,” Akane said.

Azula laughed cruelly, “Ha, who could possibly like you apart from Zuzu, Uncle Fatso and mother? She’s gone anyways so you only really have two supporters left. It’ll only be a matter of time before they get tired of you and don’t want you around anymore. Then you’ll finally be out of my hair and I can do as I please without you to stop me.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying, Azula. Iroh and Zuko would never abandon me. They’re my friends,” Akane argued.

“Didn’t mother abandon you? That’s because she couldn’t stand to be around you anymore and since father wouldn’t kick you out for whatever reason, she left,” Azula said.

“You’re lying! Ursa loved me, just like I loved her. You’re just jealous she never loved you the way she loved me and Zuko!” Akane declared.

“I’m done wasting my time with you, peasant. Just remember my warning Akane,” Azula proclaimed before leaving Akane to herself.

Once Azula was out of the room, Akane let out a growl of frustration before unleashing a powerful blast of fire. Azula never ceased to give up an opportunity to make Akane’s life miserable, especially since Ursa left. Akane knew that Azula was lying about Ursa, since she knew why the woman had left two years ago. She just wished that Ursa could be with them now, instead of wherever she was.

“Why’d you have to leave, momma?” Akane whispered sadly.

With nothing better to do, Akane decided to head off on her own and wander around the palace since Zuko had already gone to bed and she didn’t want to disturb him. Before she even realised it, Akane had ended up getting herself lost as she found herself in a room that wasn’t hers. There was hardly anything inside of it, except for a shrine with various characters written on it and a large poster with the Fire Nation insignia on it.

“What’s this?” Akane asked curiously as she stepped inside the room.

Instead of focusing on the shrine, Akane found her attention fixated on the large poster of the Fire Nation insignia that stood above it. Without even realising what she was doing, Akane lifted up her hand and firebended at the symbol. Only once the poster shifted to the right did Akane snap out of her daze and widen her eyes in shock when she saw a set of stairs that descended into darkness.

After a moment of hesitation, Akane climbed into the passageway and headed down the stairwell. She wasn’t sure what she would find at the end of the stairs, but Akane was curious enough to investigate on her own. When Akane reached the bottom of the stairs, she found herself in another room lit up by a single braiser in the centre. There were all sorts of items from all four nations which Akane had never seen before and right at the back of the room was a large chest.

“What is this place?” Akane wondered as she walked towards the chest.

Having lived in the palace for practically her entire life, Akane was well aware that it had many secret rooms hidden beneath its walls and Akane figured that she’d just accidently stumbled into one. Inquiringly, Akane examined the chest in front of her and hesitated for a moment before she lifted its lid open. Inside were many pieces of paper folded up and with her curiosity getting the best of her once again, Akane pulled out one of the pieces of paper and read its contents, her eyes widening as she did so.

Ikem, I know it has only been a few months since I left but there is not a day that goes by when I do not think of you, my mother, my father and everyone else that I once knew and loved. Life as a member of the Royal Family is incomparable to what I grew up with. I miss the freedom of our youth, the time that we spent together. I wish that I could go back and change what happened, but even then, there is nothing that could’ve been done to prevent this from happening. Just remember that Ozai will never be the man that you are, and my heart will always belong to you Ikem. Love always, Ursa.

By the time Akane finished reading the letter, tears started welling up in her eyes as she recognised Ursa’s writing. That wasn’t the only thing she recognised, though. The name ‘Ikem’ rung a bell before Akane remembered the conversation she overheard between Ozai and Ursa on the night she disappeared. His name had been mentioned and Akane saw nothing of significance to it until now. This ‘Ikem’ person was someone that Ursa knew, someone that Ursa loved who she had left behind just like Ursa did with her.

This left a dozen questions going through Akane’s mind. There was so much she wanted to know but would most likely never find out. Akane was too busy thinking about the contents of the letter she just read to notice another presence join her in the room until she heard their deathly deep voice.

“My, my. What do we have here? A little brat sticking her nose in places where it doesn’t belong it would seem.”

Letting out an audible gasp, Akane fearfully turned around to come face to face with the man she was afraid of the most: Fire Lord Ozai. Ozai stared disdainfully at the girl in front of him before his eyes widened as he noticed the opened chest and caught the sight of the piece of paper in her hands.

“What did you just read?” Ozai asked.

“N-nothing,” Akane stuttered.

“Do you really think you’re in any position to defy me, you insolent brat? Now, tell me what you just read,” Ozai ordered.

“A l-letter f-from Ur-Ursa,” Akane stammered.

“Why would you read that, Akane? Didn’t you know it’s a crime to read another person’s mail?” Ozai questioned.

“Shouldn’t you not have it then?” Akane rebuffed.

Ozai glared at her, “Do not question me, you little miscreant. I am the Fire Lord, so I have every right to read whatever letter I want. Especially if it’s from my dear wife to her precious boyfriend.”

“W-who’s Ikem?” Akane asked, realising that he was Ursa’s so-called ‘boyfriend’ but she still wanted to try her luck with finding out more than what she knew now.

“Just some treacherous dog who I wiped from existence. You wouldn’t want to end up like him now, would you?” Ozai threatened.

Akane’s eyes widened in fear, “N-no.”

“Then consider this a warning, Akane. Ursa might not be around to protect you anymore but unfortunately you are still useful to me, so I cannot get rid of you just yet. As long as you are staying under my roof, I will not tolerate any sort of treason like this. Now it’s time for you to suffer the consequences of your own foolishness,” Ozai declared.

“Please, don’t! I’ll do anything! I’ll forget I ever came here!” Akane begged.

“Begging will get you nowhere, child. It only makes you more pathetic than you already are,” Ozai sneered.

Before Akane could react, Ozai pulled out some sort of cloth and forcefully placed it over her mouth. Akane could only let out muffled screams before she eventually lost consciousness and was left to her fate at the hands of the man in front of her.

~*•°•*~

The moment Akane opened her eyes, she was welcomed by an excruciating pain that shot through the right side of her stomach. Akane winced in agony as she rolled over, wondering what on earth had happened to make her feel such pain. The last thing Akane remembered was going down that passageway, reading the letter and then… Ozai. He had showed up, and he must have done something to her for her to end up like this.

Carefully, Akane glanced down at her stomach and her eyes widened as she noticed the singed fabric on her training gear and the bandages that were wrapped around her stomach. It didn’t take long for Akane to piece together what had happened before she flung her head back and let out cries of pain. Of all the things, Akane never expected Ozai to do something so horrible but really, she shouldn’t be surprised given the fact that he was so eager to kill his own son.

Soon enough, Akane was joined by one of the nurses who was instantly by her side when she noticed the young girl was wide awake.

“Miss Akane, you’re awake!” the nurse exclaimed.

“W-what happened?” Akane asked, even though she already knew the answer.

“You accidently burned yourself after training last night. You’re lucky that Fire Lord Ozai found you when he did, otherwise these burns would have been much worse,” the nurse explained.

“Worse?” Akane questioned.

The nurse sighed, “I’m afraid this is going to leave a scar behind, my dear. Just what were you thinking by doing what you did?”

“I… wasn’t thinking…” Akane grumbled.

“Clearly you weren’t. The scar will eventually heal overtime, but it will remain permanent for the time being,” the nurse explained.

Akane sighed, “Oh. T-that’s alright.”

Suddenly, another figure appeared in the doorway and Akane’s eyes widened in fear once again when she saw Ozai standing there. At that moment, she so badly wanted to storm up to him and demand he tell her what he did. But Akane wasn’t stupid, and she didn’t want a death wish either.

“Fire Lord Ozai!” the nurse exclaimed as she bowed before the Fire Lord. “What brings you here?”

“I was just checking on Akane to make sure she was okay. You are excused for now, nurse,” Ozai dismissed her.

Bowing as she did so, the nurse got up from her feet and left Ozai in the room alone with Akane who was obviously avoiding his gaze. Silence filled the room until Akane eventually broke it.

“What did you do?” she asked hesitantly.

“I merely taught you a lesson about sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. For your sake, you better remember this for any future circumstances,” Ozai replied.

“There won’t be,” Akane mumbled.

Ozai nodded, “Good. I’m glad to see that you’ve learned your lesson.”

“Why are you here?” Akane questioned warily.

“I am here to make sure that what happened last night is never repeated from your lips again. If I ever find out that you told anyone about last night, a little burn will be the least of your worries,” Ozai threatened menacingly.

“What am I supposed to tell people then?” Akane asked.

“Nothing. I have already told everyone that you were taken ill last night and will be recovering for a few days. The nurses are under the impression that you’re so embarrassed by your foolishness that you don’t want anyone to know about your scar. The only people who will know about your scar is you, me and the nurses,” Ozai explained.

“What if somebody finds out?” Akane questioned nervously.

“Then I’ll deal with them appropriately. If you were smart, Akane you would do your best to make sure that nobody ever finds out about last night. Am I clear?” Ozai said.

Akane nodded, “Crystal.”

“Good. I’ll leave you to ponder your actions then,” Ozai declared before leaving Akane alone once again.

Once Ozai shut the door behind him, Akane buried her face into her hands as she silently cried to herself once again. In hindsight, Akane wished that she’d never set foot in that room since all it did was lead to more questions and consequences that she never saw coming. Akane’s life had changed once again that night, and whether it was for the best or not was yet to be discovered.

Chapter Text

Ever since that fateful night when Ozai left Akane physically and emotionally scared, she had an obvious fear of the powerful Fire Lord. True to her word, Akane had never repeated what happened that night to anyone. The only people who really knew what happened was Akane and Ozai, since as far as the nurses were aware Akane had done that to herself. It was hard for Akane to keep this secret from Zuko, since she always told him everything but Akane knew that it was better if nobody knew about her scar. For Akane, that meant that she could no longer wear short shirts or anything that would reveal her stomach, since it would only lead to questions that Akane couldn’t answer.

It was hard for Akane to admit it, but she never felt safe at the palace anymore, especially after what Ozai did to her. Then again, she hadn’t felt safe at the palace since even before Ursa left. Now, Akane rarely ever wondered around the palace by herself for fear of what would happen to her if she was by herself. The only time Akane ever truly felt safe was when she was with Iroh and Zuko, who had never made her feel uneasy and always treated her as if she was one of their own.

Currently, Akane was waiting outside Zuko’s room as he was eager to show her something that required her to stand there patiently as her friend did Agni knows what in his room.

“Can you hurry up and show me what you want to show me already? I’ve been waiting out here for almost ten minutes!” Akane complained.

“Just a minute!” Zuko called out.

“This better be worth the wait,” Akane muttered.

Soon enough, the door to Zuko’s room pushed open and Akane waited to see what her friend had install for her. Akane’s eyebrows raised when she saw Zuko wearing some sort of warrior’s uniform that she’d never seen him wear before. He looked so formal and just not himself.

“Don’t you look all spiffy,” Akane complimented him as she ruffled his hair.

Zuko brushed her hand away, “Stop that. I can’t have my hair being all messy.”

“Why? What’s with that outfit anyways?” Akane asked.

“There’s a war meeting today and I want to go to it,” Zuko replied.

“Are you even allowed to go in there?” Akane questioned nervously, not wanting her friend to get in trouble.

“I’m the Crown Prince, so I should be able to get in there with no problem. Besides, it’s about time that I started getting into the politics and stuff, since I will be Fire Lord one day after father steps down,” Zuko explained.

Akane stiffened at the mention of Ozai. Any time his name popped up in conversation, Akane always had a sickening feeling build up in her stomach. Just the thought of that wretched man made her feel sick. It pained her to see Zuko speak up of his father with such admiration, since his father hardly ever did the same for him and especially after what Ozai did to her.

“Are you sure you want to go in there? It’s probably just some boring meeting where they talk about old people stuff,” Akane dismissed it, cringing when an old general walked passed them and shot a glare her way.

“Even if it is, this is something that I need to learn if I’m going to follow in my father’s footsteps. I might not be as talented and strong as he is, but I can still make up for it in there,” Zuko said.

Akane frowned at Zuko, not liking it whenever her friend put himself down like that. It was bad enough that his father and sister did it to him on a day-to-day basis, but him doing it to himself was no better. Zuko had always felt inadequate in the eyes of his father and sister, but Akane firmly believed that her friend was ten times the person that they were. It was just a shame that Zuko never believed it himself.

“Well, if you really want to go, then you should,” Akane reluctantly agreed.

“Hey, why don’t you come with me?” Zuko suggested.

“Um, I doubt the Fire Lord would approve of me stepping foot in his private chambers. Besides, I’d much rather take a nap than sit in some boring meeting,” Akane replied.

Zuko snorted, “You sound like my Uncle.”

Akane grinned, “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Come on, don’t you want to see how all of the cool battle strategies are planned and what really goes on in there? Plus, we’d be able to beat Azula at being the first to sit in on one of those things,” Zuko implored.

“You know I don’t really care about that stuff, Zuko. It’s not something that concerns me,” Akane pointed out.

“You just don’t want to be proven wrong about the meeting not being boring,” Zuko argued.

Akane rolled her eyes, “You know that doesn’t work on me.”

“Please, Aka. Come with me. I’ll feel a lot better if you’re in there with me,” Zuko pleaded.

Akane sighed, “Fine, I’ll go.”

“Great, let’s go then!” Zuko exclaimed.

Before Akane could say anything else, Zuko grabbed his friends hand and dragged her towards the war chamber. When they reached the door, there were two guards standing beside it as the other generals walked inside. But when Akane and Zuko tried to go inside, they were blocked by the guards standing in front of the entry.

“Let us in!” Zuko ordered.

“Clearly we’re not wanted here so why don’t we just go have a nice cup of tea?” Akane suggested, wanting nothing to do with this.

“This is not the time for tea!” Zuko exclaimed.

“There is always a time for tea,” a familiar voice chimed in.

Akane grinned as she saw Iroh heading towards them, “Iroh!”

“Prince Zuko, what’s wrong?” Iroh asked his nephew as he put his arm around him once he saw the frustration on his face.

“Akane and I want to go into the war chamber, but the guards won’t let us pass!” Zuko exclaimed as he pointed at the guards in front of them.

“I want no part of this. I’m only here as a hostage,” Akane added.

Iroh gestured for Akane to follow him as he guided Zuko away, “You guys aren’t missing anything. These meetings are dreadfully boring.”

“That’s what I tried telling him,” Akane drawled.

Zuko ignored her as he spoke, “If I’m going to rule this nation one day, don’t you think I need to start learning as much as I can?”

“Very well. But you must promise not to speak,” Iroh warned him as another elder soldier walked by them and into the war chamber. “These old folks are a bit sensitive, you know?”

Zuko bowed to his uncle, “Thank you, Uncle.”

The threesome then made their way into the war chamber, and even though she was escorted by Iroh, Akane was still surprised that they had been able to enter the room without any fuss. Now Akane just had to make it through this meeting without messing anything up.

~*•°•*~

As Akane expected, the meeting was flat out boring. Nothing seemed too interesting for her liking, although Zuko seemed to be fascinated as the generals planned their battle strategies. This sort of stuff had never entertained Akane the way it did to Zuko, which was one of the few differences between them. At one point, the generals started discussing plans on how to use their forces more effectively in the Earth Kingdom when Akane started to tune in.

“The Earth Kingdom defences are concentrated here,” General Bujing stated as he showed the place on the large map in front of them. “A dangerous battalion of their strongest earthbenders and fiercest warriors. So, I am recommending the forty-first division.”

“But the forty-first is entirely new recruits,” another general butted in. “How do you expect them to defeat a powerful Earth Kingdom battalion?”

I don’t. They’ll be used as a distraction while we mount an attack from the rear. What better to sue as bait than fresh meat?” Bujing proposed.

Akane was horrified at his suggestion. Those were their soldiers; their people and he was just so willing to sacrifice them after everything they do for their nation? Just the thought of it made Akane’s skin crawl. In that moment, there was nothing more that Akane wanted to do than to give General Bujing a piece of her mind, but she restrained herself from doing so knowing that it would only mean getting herself into trouble.

That didn’t stop someone else from speaking out, though.

“You can’t sacrifice an entire division like that! Those soldiers love and defend our nation! How can you betray them!” a voice shouted from above them.

It wasn’t just any voice though. It was Zuko’s. Akane stared at her friend in shock, completely baffled that he had the guts to do that. She wasn’t the only one who was shocked though, as the other generals glared at Zuko, save for Iroh who was kneeling behind his nephew. Quite frankly, the generals seemed pissed off and clearly offended by Zuko’s outburst. A sinking feeling started to grow in Akane’s stomach as she feared for the consequences of her friend.

The generals weren’t the only ones angry at Zuko’s outburst as the flames that surrounded the Fire Lord suddenly started to grow larger by the second. Akane had only ever seen the flames like that once before and she knew that whatever the outcome was wouldn’t be good for Zuko.

It was safe to say he had messed up big time and it didn’t look like Zuko was going to get out of this scot-free.

~*•°•*~

“Please, Zuko. Don’t do this!” Akane pleaded with Zuko as he prepared himself for the biggest moment of his life so far.

Soon after Zuko’s outburst at the meeting, the Fire Lord had been quick to deliver his punishment. By disrespecting the General in the way, he had, Zuko had spoken out of turn at the wrong place and certainly at the wrong time. As a result, Zuko had been ordered to fight in an Agni Kai the following day which had since been the talk of the whole Capital City. Anyone who was anyone would be there to watch the young prince duel for his own rights.

“I have no choice, Akane. I can’t back down,” Zuko declared.

“This is crazy. You’re crazy! I can’t believe you would be so stupid and challenge the general like that! Iroh told you not to speak out of turn and you still did anyways!” Akane exclaimed.

“I couldn’t just sit back and let them betray our people like that! Even you said you agreed with me!” Zuko argued.

“You still should’ve just kept quiet because then you wouldn’t be in this situation!” Akane yelled.

“Why is this such a big deal, Akane? All I have to duel is duel the old general. Do you really not have that much faith in me?” Zuko asked.

Akane sighed. It wasn’t that she didn’t have faith in Zuko. On paper, Zuko should be able to win this duel no problem considering he had his power and youth on his side. Akane just worried for Zuko, since she didn’t want him getting hurt in any way.

“You know I have faith in you, Zuko. I just don’t want you to get hurt,” Akane murmured.

“I know, and I appreciate your concern, Aka. But this is something I have to do. This is my chance to finally prove myself to my father,” Zuko proclaimed.

Realising that there was no point in arguing against Zuko, Akane just sat back and watched agonisingly as he got ready for his duel. Iroh was also in the room with them, but the whole time he had just sat quietly in the corner with an uncertain look on his face. It was that look that made the sick feeling in Akane’s stomach even worse as she feared for Zuko’s safety.

Once Zuko was ready, he stood proudly in front of the mirror as Akane stood by his side and linked her arm with his supportively. Even though she had full faith for Zuko, she still wanted to be there for her friend.

“You look good,” Akane complimented him to ease his nerves.

“Hopefully my performance will match it,” Zuko added.

“It will, I believe in you. But Zuko, can you promise me that you will be fine? I can’t afford to lose you too,” Akane pleaded.

Zuko smiled, “You don’t have to worry about me leaving you, Aka. You’re stuck with me for good.”

“I never complained about that,” Akane pointed out.

“I should get going,” Zuko said.

Akane nodded, “You should. Good luck, Zuko.”

“Thanks, Akane. I’ll be looking for you in the crowd,” Zuko said.

“I’ll be cheering for you so loud you won’t even have to look for me,” Akane added.

As his nephew and the girl he always saw as a daughter said their final words, Iroh watched quietly from the corner he was in. It seemed as though the gravity of the situation hadn’t fully dawned on them yet and Iroh had his own fears about the duel but for other reasons of his own. This was something that he didn’t have the heart to break to the two children and he could only hope that his nephew would make it out of this in one piece.

~*•°•*~

The time had come for Zuko’s duel to begin and Akane took her place next to Iroh in the front of the crowd. In all honesty, Akane was somewhat surprised by the amount of people who were actually there given the fact that it was only the day after the duel had been issued but she figured that word travelled fast around here. Akane wasn’t surprised to see Azula and Captain Zhao up front as well, knowing their dislike towards Zuko. What surprised Akane was that Ozai wasn’t sitting with them as well.

“Come to watch Zuzu make a failure out of himself, have you?” Azula asked as Akane sat down next to her.

Akane glared at her, “Zuko will be just fine. I have faith in him. Just like you should have in him.”

“I wouldn’t even bet on Zuzu if he was fighting an amateur,” Azula scoffed.

“He’s just duelling the old general. Zuko should have this won with no problem,” Akane said, more to herself than to Azula.

Azula smirked, “Really? If you say so.”

“Hush, girls. The duel is about to begin,” Iroh ordered.

“I’ll speak if I want to speak,” Azula huffed.

“Are you alright, Akane?” Iroh asked once he saw the terrified look on the girl’s face.

Akane sighed, “I’m just worried. I have confidence in Zuko, but I can’t help but fear for the worst.”

Iroh tightly gripped her hand, “Everything will work out in the end.”

“You’re such an optimist, Uncle,” Azula commented.

“Is there anything wrong with that?” Akane asked impatiently.

“You’ll find out soon enough, Akane. Maybe then Zuzu will think twice before he speaks,” Azula replied.

Akane resisted the urge to fire back another comment at Azula, knowing that things would most likely escalate into something worse between them. Something about what Azula was saying just seemed to unsettle Akane. It was almost like the other girl knew something that she didn’t, which was mostly always the case with Azula. Akane would worry about that later as right now, she had something more important to focus on.

Finally, it was time for the duel to begin and Akane cheered loudly for Zuko as he stepped out into the arena before getting into his opening position. Surprisingly, there wasn’t that much noise going around the arena which Akane didn’t quite understand but then again, this was the first official Agni Kai that she’d ever watched. Eventually, Zuko’s opponent stepped out onto the ring and Akane glanced forward as she noticed the figure heading towards Zuko hardly seemed to resemble the one of the General that Zuko had spoken out against.

As Zuko’s opponent stepped closer and his body came into view, Akane gasped in horror as she realised the mistake that they had made. Only now had it dawned on Akane that by speaking out of turn in the Fire Lords war room, it was actually the Fire Lord who Zuko had disrespected which meant only one thing.

Zuko would have to duel his own father.

Chapter Text

Time seemed to stand still as Ozai revealed himself to his son. When Zuko realised it was his father who had come to duel him, he was more terrified than he had ever been in his entire life. This was not what Zuko had been expecting. He had fully anticipated facing off against General Bujing, not his own father. In one split second, Zuko’s confidence had plummeted straight to the ground and rightfully so. His father was famously renowned for being the most powerful firebender in the world, even surpassing his uncle. How on earth was Zuko supposed to overcome these odds stacked against him?

Zuko glanced in the crowd, hoping to find Akane and his uncle. Sure enough, they were seated in the front row along with all of the other important people who had showed up to watch the duel. His stomach dropped when he saw the terrified look on Akane’s face. She looked as scared as he’d ever seen her, and his uncle had the most downcast look on his face, like he had seen this coming. He wasn’t the least bit surprised that Azula wore a satisfied grin on her face, while Captain Zhao had a similar look as well.

Over in the stands, Akane watched in horror as the scene played out in front of her. Never before had she been so terrified in her life, not even when she was cornered by Ozai himself that year ago. This wasn’t looking good for Zuko, and part of Akane couldn’t even bring herself to watch this knowing that it wouldn’t turn out alright regardless of the outcome, yet she still couldn’t bring herself to look away.

“This can’t be happening,” Akane whispered repeatedly to herself as she blinked several times, hoping nothing more than to un-see what was in front of her. Much to her despair, everything still remained the same and all Akane could do was hope with every fibre of her being that Zuko would survive this battle.

As his father advanced towards him, the fear inside Zuko multiplied with each beat his heart made. He could see the fear on Akane’s face and he knew that she was terrified for him. He had promised her that he would make it out of this okay, so Zuko knew that he had to survive this. Not just for himself, but for Akane as well. Although Zuko had to admit that he had no idea how he was going to survive this battle unscathed. In that moment, Zuko just did the first thing that came to his mind.

He got on his knees and begged for mercy.

“Please father, I only had the Fire Nation’s best interests at heart! I’m sorry I spoke out of turn!” Zuko apologised profusely in a desperate attempt to defend himself. His father, however continued his advance towards his son.

“You will fight for your honour!” Ozai ordered, not the slightest bit affected by his son’s pleading.

“I meant you no disrespect,” Zuko pleaded as he gazed up at his father, tears shimmering in his eyes as his voice started to waver. He no longer cared if he looked pathetic, Zuko just wanted to survive this, if not for his sake but for Akane’s. “I am your loyal son.”

“Rise and fight, Prince Zuko!” Ozai yelled as he grew irritated with his son’s defiance.

Zuko bowed once again as he pleaded to his father, “I won’t fight you.”

“You will learn respect,” Ozai declared as he reached his son who was now starting to shake as tears streamed down his face. “And suffering will be your teacher.”

Akane’s eyes widened in fear as Ozai raised his hand at Zuko and she whispered, “No. Please don’t.”

Despite how desperately she wanted to close her eyes, Akane’s attention remained fixated on the scene in front of her. All that could be heard throughout the room was Zuko’s scream of agony as his father unleashed a powerful blast of fire at his face. Soon, Zuko started to writhe in pain as his cries of pain echoed throughout the room. Eventually, he fell face first onto the ground in one lump with his body sprawled out as blood surrounded him. Akane didn’t need to be a doctor to know that this wasn’t good, this was horrible. What made it worse was that nobody did anything, they just sat there while Ozai towered over his son’s unconscious body.

Devastated for her friend’s pain, Akane lunged forward over the railing as she screamed out Zuko’s name, tears falling down her face. Akane had never felt so many emotions building up inside of her before, mainly anger, sadness and despair. Iroh forcibly held onto the young girl, knowing that whatever she did would only make things worse.

“Let me go, Iroh!” Akane yelled desperately.

“No, Akane! Please remain seated,” Iroh pleaded with the young girl.

“Zuko needs me! I have to go, please!” Akane screamed as tears fell down her face.

“Shh, my dear. Everything will be alright,” Iroh soothed Akane as he held onto her.

“No, it won’t!” Akane wailed.

Albeit Iroh’s best efforts, Akane remained in her catatonic state as she feared for her friend’s survival. No matter what happened after today, Akane would never be able to rid her mind of what she just witnessed, despite how much she wished she could. Akane could only imagine how Zuko would feel when he woke up.

~*•°•*~

Hours had passed since Zuko’s duel with Ozai. Word had quickly spread of the injuries Zuko had sustained under his father’s wrath. Of course, there were all sorts of rumours about his condition, rumours that Akane wished more than anything wouldn’t be true. Akane was currently waiting with Iroh outside of Zuko’s room as they were eager to find out the prince’s condition. After what felt like an eternity, a nurse finally stepped out with a rather sombre look on her face and that only made Akane fear the worst.

“Is Zuko okay?” Akane asked desperately.

“He’s… stable. But unfortunately, the wounds he sustained from his duel will be permanent. He can only rest to help ease the pain,” the nurse explained.

A slight sob escaped Akane’s mouth as she buried her face into Iroh’s robes.

“Can we see him?” Iroh asked hopefully.

“You may, but please be gentle with him. He should be awake soon so just be patient,” the nurse replied.

Gently, Iroh pulled Akane away from him and lead her into the room where Zuko was. When they walked inside, they saw Zuko lying unconscious on the bed with a bandage wrapped around his left eye. Just the sight of her friend in that condition broke Akane’s heart. She then felt a pit of rage build up inside of her knowing that it was his own father that had done that to him. Zuko’s face and his life would never be the same again, all because of his father.

“Oh, Zuko,” Akane murmured sadly.

“My nephew, you did not deserve this,” Iroh whispered.

“I can’t believe this,” Akane muttered as she crawled to Zuko’s side, her eyes shimmering with tears at her friend’s current state.

“He will never be the same again after this. But perhaps that is for the best,” Iroh mused.

“How could it be for the best? He’s just been burned by his own father! Now he has a mark that he never deserved which will probably stay with him for the rest of his life, all because of his douchebag of a father!” Akane angrily exclaimed.

“Calm down, Akane. Getting angry will not solve any problems, it will only make the situation worse. There is nothing we can do,” Iroh said.

“This is all my fault,” Akane muttered.

“How is that so?” Iroh asked.

“I never should’ve let him go in that stupid room. I should’ve stopped him from speaking up when I knew that he would’ve. I should’ve tried harder to convince him not to go through with the duel,” Akane rambled.

“Akane, there is nothing that you could’ve done to prevent this from happening. If this wasn’t going to happen now, it was going to happen soon enough. But just like everything that happens in the world, it happened for a reason. Whatever is the reason will be discovered on our own,” Iroh comforted her.

“Hasn’t Zuko been through enough already? He’s already lost his mother and even up until now things haven’t been easy. He doesn’t deserve this,” Akane said.

“No, he doesn’t. But the universe always has a plan for everyone. Some people struggle more than others, but they end up coming out triumphant in the end. I’m sure it will be the same for Zuko,” Iroh reassured her.

“I just wish I could take the pain for him,” Akane whispered to herself.

Suddenly, Zuko started to stir in his bed and Akane watched attentively as her friend regained consciousness. When he did, only Zuko’s right eye was open as his other one was bandaged up. Akane smiled for the first time since the duel at the sight of her friend, but it soon morphed into a frown as she saw the pain he was in.

“W-what happened?” Zuko asked groggily.

“You mean you… don’t remember?” Akane clarified.

“Remember what? Why does my eye hurt so much? Why can I only see from my right eye?” Zuko questioned as he lifted his hand to touch his eye, eyes widening as he felt the bandage around it. “Why is my eye covered? I can’t be like this before my duel!”

Iroh sighed sadly, “Zuko… Your duel already happened.”

“It did?” Zuko asked confusedly.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Akane questioned nervously.

“I just remember getting ready for my duel. Everything after that is just one big blur. Did I win my duel?” Zuko replied.

“Unfortunately, you didn’t,” Iroh said.

Zuko looked dumbfounded, “What? How could the general have possibly beat me?”

“Zuko, we got it wrong. It wasn’t the general you faced. You spoke out against his plan, but you did so in the Fire Lord’s war room…” Akane trailed off, not wanting to finish her sentence.

Zuko’s good eye widened, “You mean… I faced off against my father?”

Akane nodded sadly, “I’m so sorry Zuko.”

“D-did I… Did I at least get a blow in?” Zuko asked.

“No, the moment you saw him you begged for mercy. He didn’t take any of it, and then he did… that to you,” Akane replied.

Zuko’s good eye widened again as the realisation dawned on him. In that moment, Zuko remembered what he had been missing as the duel played back in his mind. He had just face off against his own father and lost. His own father had just burned him. No wonder his eye felt so bad.

“I can’t believe it. My own father…” Zuko muttered.

“Neither can I,” Akane added. “Zuko, I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? You’re not the one who burned me,” Zuko replied.

Akane grimaced, “I just feel like I could’ve stopped this. Like it’s my fault.”

“You shouldn’t be sorry, Akane. You were the one who got me through that duel,” Zuko reassured her.

“Really? Besides, if anyone should be sorry it should be Ozai,” Akane hissed.

“Yeah…” Zuko trailed off glumly, still struggling to comprehend what his father had just done to him.

There was suddenly a knock at the door, which Iroh went to answer while he left the children to themselves. Iroh shut the door behind him and was now carrying a rolled-up scroll in his hands which caught Akane and Zuko’s attention.

“What’s that?” Akane asked.

“It’s a message from Fire Lord Ozai,” Iroh replied.

“What does it say?” Zuko questioned, a twinge of hopefulness in his tone.

Iroh unrolled the piece of paper and read its contents to Akane and Zuko, “As a result of his actions in the Agni Kai against Fire Lord Ozai, Prince Zuko has shown shameful weakness and has lost his honour. Therefore, by decree of Fire Lord Ozai, Prince Zuko is hereby banished from the Fire Nation and may only return once he has captured the Avatar. Only once that is completed may he return with his honour.”

Once Iroh had finished reading the scroll, a downcast silence filled the air as the news sunk in. Iroh sighed sadly as he rolled up the scroll, not one bit surprised by the news they had just been delivered. Akane felt nothing more than sympathy for her friend, who just wore a blank expression on his face once Iroh had finished delivering the news. Zuko was usually someone who wore his heart on his sleeve, so for his expression to be as stiff as it was, Akane knew that he had to be deeply affected by this news.

Akane gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze, “Zuko, are you okay?”

“What do you think? I just got burned and now I’m banished for life!” Zuko exclaimed agitatedly.

Akane flinched slightly, since Zuko rarely ever raised his voice around her so this was something she wasn’t used to, and something that she didn’t like to see from her friend.

“Prince Zuko, maybe you should take some time to –“ Iroh began before he got cut off.

 “I’m not a prince anymore so why should I be called that?” Zuko exclaimed.

“Zuko, please listen to us,” Akane pleaded.

“I don’t want to listen to what you have to say! Just leave me alone!” Zuko yelled.

“Don’t be like this, Zuko,” Iroh scolded him.

“Just let us help you,” Akane added desperately.

“What could you possibly do to help me? Neither of you understand how I’m feeling and you never will!” Zuko hissed.

“Don’t shut us out, Zuko. We want to help you,” Akane pleaded.

“I don’t want your help! Just leave me alone you annoying wretch!” Zuko yelled as he turned his back to them, his words not wavering.

The tears that were once falling down Akane’s face resurfaced once again at Zuko’s outburst while Iroh gasped at his nephew’s cold words. Never before had he heard his nephew say anything like that and it was disappointing to see. Iroh gently grabbed Akane’s hand and lead her out the room, carefully shutting the door behind them. It pained him to see the two children he held so dearly to him like this. He just wished there was something he could do.

“Are you alright, Akane?” Iroh asked.

Akane sniffed, “Not really. But it’s my fault, again. I shouldn’t have made him snap like I did. I should’ve just taken the hint and left.”

“You were just trying to be a good friend,” Iroh comforted her.

“But I wasn’t really being one, was I? Just like I wasn’t when I didn’t defend Zuko or stand up for him because I was too scared for my own safety,” Akane said.

“You were in no position to argue with Ozai. Even if you had, nothing would’ve changed. It probably would’ve made things worse,” Iroh reasoned.

“Now Zuko hates me,” Akane muttered.

“I’m sure he doesn’t hate you. I just think he needs some time to take this news in. I’m sure he’ll apologise when he comes to his senses,” Iroh said as he patted her shoulder gently.

“I’m just going to go to my room,” Akane murmured, brushing Iroh’s hand away.

Iroh watched sadly as Akane slowly walked away. He could hear the sniffles escaping her as she did so, which didn’t make the situation any better. For their sake, Iroh wished that his nephew and his dear friend would sort this out and go back to the way things were. But despite his best wishes, Iroh knew that things would never be the same after this.

~*•°•*~

Instead of going to her room like she said she would, Akane headed off in search of Fire Lord Ozai. Under any circumstances, Akane would stay as far away as she could from that man. But this was different. She wasn’t just going to sit by this time while he ruined Zuko’s life. Akane might be afraid of Ozai, but she cared about Zuko more and would do anything for her friend, even if he wasn’t exactly happy with her right now.

Eventually, Akane found Ozai in his study. He didn’t seem the least bit affected by his actions but Akane had learned not to be surprised by Ozai’s coldness. At first, Ozai didn’t notice Akane enter the room until she made her presence known and he glared at her once he saw who was there.

“What do you want?” Ozai asked impatiently.

“To talk to you,” Akane replied, trying her best not to let her nerves show.

“Let me take a guess, it’s about my son, isn’t it?” Ozai questioned.

Akane nodded, “Yes, it is. How could you do that to him? What did Zuko do to deserve that?”

“He should’ve known better than to speak up like he did. Zuko has known for a long time that it is not his place to speak up in. Clearly, he was not paying attention, so I had to teach him a lesson the hard way,” Ozai replied.

“Zuko was speaking his mind, which was the truth! It was a terrible plan, one that I can’t believe you even agreed to. But then again, I shouldn’t be surprised by anything you do anymore after what you did to me,” Akane hissed.

Ozai glared at her, “Didn’t I tell you never to mention that night again?”

“Where’s the harm? It’s not like there’s anyone around to hear me,” Akane retorted.

“You should watch your tongue, young lady. Remember your place here,” Ozai threatened her.

“I have no place here! I’m just some peasant who you took under your wing for reasons that I still don’t understand!” Akane exclaimed.

“My dear, you are more important than you realise,” Ozai said.

“Why? What makes me so special that you’d want to keep me around even after what happened?” Akane questioned.

“You will find out when the time is right, which is not at this moment. Now, do yourself a favour and leave before you say something you might regret,” Ozai warned her.

“I’m not leaving until you overturn Zuko’s banishment!” Akane exclaimed.

“Then I guess we’ll be here for a while,” Ozai stated.

“You’re really going to just let him go like that, your own son?” Akane demanded.

“Yes. He needs to learn his lesson the hard way. Maybe with Zuko gone now you’ll be able to focus on your studies. He always did distract you,” Ozai drawled.

“What makes you think I’m staying here?” Akane asked.

Ozai laughed, “You really think you have the option to leave? Remember, Akane, I control you. I decide what it is you are allowed to do, and it should be clear that you are not allowed to leave with my wretched son. He is the one who is banished, not you.”

“Then banish me too!” Akane screamed.

“I have no reason to,” Ozai said.

“Fine, then I guess I’ll just have to leave on my own terms if you won’t let me!” Akane yelled as she turned around.

Before Akane even reached the door, she felt something tightly grab onto her shoulder and she didn’t even need to look to know that it was Ozai. If she was being completely honest, Akane was surprised by the defiance she showed against the Fire Lord since anyone else would be cowering before the man. But Akane wasn’t like most people. She had had enough of Ozai pushing her around.

“If you leave, you will never find out the answers you want. Don’t you want to know where you came from?” Ozai asked.

“I’ll just have to find out on my own then,” Akane hissed.

“Then you’ll never find out what it is you want to know. It will remain a mystery to you. Unless, of course, you stay here, where you’re supposed to be,” Ozai said.

“I’m not staying here!” Akane yelled angrily.

Ozai growled, “It seems as though I’ve given you too many opportunities. From now on, you will be watched and guarded at all times. Any move you make will be reported back to me. If you even step out of line, you will face the consequences. And I think you already know what I am capable of.”

“So, what, I’m a prisoner now?” Akane asked.

“Not a prisoner, just under watchful eyes. And if I were you, I wouldn’t even think about leaving now since you’re already being watched,” Ozai threatened her.

“You can’t do this to me!” Akane yelled.

“Actually, I can. Now excuse yourself, Akane,” Ozai ordered.

Akane growled as she left Ozai’s study, refusing to look at the man once again. Sure enough, when Akane entered the halls there were guards surrounding her who followed her every move. There was nothing that Akane wanted more than to give them a piece of her mind, but she knew that it wasn’t her place to do so. Once Akane reached her room, she slammed her door shut and jumped onto her bed, with tears falling down her face as she did so.

So much had happened in the past twenty-four hours. So much had changed, and certainly not for the good. There was so much that Akane wished that she could undo, but by now she had come to realise that you can’t always turn back the clock no matter how much you want to.

~*•°•*~

Sometime after Akane entered her room, she had fallen asleep before waking up several hours later in the early morning. When she did open her eyes, Akane noticed a rolled-up scroll lying on her bedside table. Curiously, Akane picked it up and unrolled it before reading it to herself.

Akane,

I want to start this off by saying sorry for what I said to you earlier. I know that you were just trying to help me, and I pushed you away. You did not deserve that, just like I don’t deserve you as a friend. Now that I’m banished, I have to go look for the Avatar and even though it’s probably going to be impossible, it’s what I have to do. I already have a ship ready for me to aid me on my mission, which will definitely come in handy.

Uncle has decided to join me on my quest and by the time you read this letter, we will probably already be on our way to leave. I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to you myself, since I knew that things would get messy, so I thought that it would be better to leave you a letter. I will always remember the good times we shared together, and I hope you do too.

From, Zuko

By the time Akane had finished reading the letter, tears were once again welling up in her eyes. This was not how she imagined her goodbye with Zuko would go, especially since she never even imagined saying goodbye to him to begin with. Before Akane even thought of it, she knew what she had to do. Akane quickly gathered as many personal belongings as she could and stuffed them into one of her bags. Knowing that she would most likely be caught if she left from her room, Akane decided to leave through her window which luckily for her, was only on the first floor of the palace.

When Akane tried pulling the window open, she realised that it had been locked shut which left her with no way out. Thinking quickly, Akane pulled out her dagger and jammed it through the doors until they forcibly broke open. Once they did, Akane crawled out her window with her bag in tow before jumping onto the ground. Luckily, there wasn’t anyone around to see her so Akane quickly fled the palace garden in the hopes of not being caught by any of the guards. She didn’t even want to imagine what would happen to her if she was caught running away.

Finally, Akane reached the palace gates which were obviously guarded but Akane had been around long enough to know how to sneak in and out of the palace which was something that she had done in the past. Akane managed to sneak through her secret passageway that she had made several years ago without being spotted and once she was through, Akane was immediately greeted with an overwhelming sense of freedom. But she wasn’t completely out of the woods yet, since she had to find Iroh and Zuko as fast as she could before they left, otherwise her grand escape attempt would all be for nothing.

~*•°•*~

Thanks to her quick speed, Akane managed to make it to the pier in record timing. For a moment, Akane feared that she would’ve been too late, but luck seemed to be on her side today as she caught the sight of Iroh and Zuko standing far ahead. Grinning as she did so, Akane raced towards them with anticipation and some nervousness, since she wasn’t sure how her appearance would be received.

“Zuko! Wait up!” Akane yelled.

Upon hearing the familiar voice calling his name, Zuko’s head whipped around and he was surprised to see Akane racing towards him. But really, he shouldn’t be surprised that his friend would do something like this.

“Akane, what are you doing here?” Zuko asked.

“What does it look like? I’m coming with you,” Akane replied.

“I didn’t think you would be allowed to,” Zuko admitted.

Akane bit her lip, contemplating on how she was going to respond to that. The way she saw it, Akane had to options. She could either tell Zuko that she was running away to join him, or she could lie about why she was here. If Akane told Zuko the truth, he would try and convince her to stay since he would never pressure her to go with him. Whereas if she lied, Zuko wouldn’t question her one bit.

“After I left your room, I went to speak to Ozai, so I could convince him to let you stay. He didn’t like that one bit, and I may or may not have been what he would deem ‘disrespectful’ to him in the process,” Akane explained.

“So, what happened?” Zuko asked.

“Ozai said that by defending you, I had dishonoured myself and betrayed his loyalty,” Akane replied.

Zuko’s eyes widened, “What did he do to you?”

“Nothing, nothing at all. But it looks like you have a travelling buddy now,” Akane said.

“Ozai really banished you?” Iroh questioned once he put the pieces together, although there were some parts of Akane’s story that didn’t add up.

“Banishment seems to be his favourite punishment, so yes, he did,” Akane lied.

“Then why did he let you remain in the palace? Once he was deemed well enough, Zuko was ordered to leave,” Iroh said.

“He didn’t want me to have the chance to leave with you, since he knew that’s what I would do. But I was able to escape, and I ran here as fast as I could, so I could make it in time,” Akane lied as she avoided Iroh’s glance.

“For what it’s worth, Akane, I’m glad you’re here. Even if it’s not for the best,” Zuko said.

“Me too. I was getting tired of the palace anyways,” Akane added.

Zuko laughed, “Well, it looks like we’re in this together, Akane. But before we leave, I want to apologise for what I said to you. I know that you were just trying to help, and I was just being a jerk about it. Now I really feel like I don’t deserve you after the way you defended me.”

Akane smiled, “It’s what friends do. So, how exactly is this going to work?”

“I was able to get a ship to help me, so that will definitely come in handy. It’s not as big and fast as the other ones, but it’s better than nothing,” Zuko replied.

“If Akane is not supposed to be here, then I suggest we get moving before we cause any problems,” Iroh suggested.

“That would probably be smart,” Akane agreed.

“Let’s go then,” Zuko ordered and they did just that.

As their ship set sail from the Fire Nation, Akane laid in her newly acquired room which was obviously different from her last one. Akane knew that she had potentially got herself into even more trouble by what she had just done, but even now she doesn’t regret anything. No matter what would happen, Akane would always stand by Zuko and she knew that he would do the same for her.

Chapter Text

In the years that followed Zuko’s banishment, a lot had changed. For starters, they now practically lived on a floating hunk of junk as they sailed around the world in search of the Avatar. Akane had seen more of the world than she ever thought she would, and some parts she wished she could just forget since there were definitely some strange parts of the world. One of the biggest changes Akane had witnessed was Zuko’s character all together. Soon after he was banished, he turned cold and bitter, not just to her but to everyone else. He practically never smiled or joked around anymore like he used to, and Akane often found herself longing for those days when everything was so much simpler.

Zuko wasn’t the only one who had changed either, since Akane had also developed more over the years. Akane was now more grown up and mature than she was before, something which she had to develop given the circumstances. Though she still found time to joke around and relax, since she wasn’t as uptight and demanding as Zuko was. Speaking of Zuko, a hard scar now stretched across his face that was pretty much unmissable. It hurt Akane whenever she had to look at it, since she knew how much pain and suffering it had brought on her friend. There were many times when Akane just wished she could go back and time and make it so that they were never put in this situation, but Akane knew that would never be a possibility. The only chance they had of things going back to the way they were was by capturing the Avatar. Even if that happened, Akane still doubted that everything would just be fine.

If she was being completely honest, Akane had doubts that they’d ever even find the Avatar. He had disappeared almost a hundred years ago, so Akane thought that the chances of him randomly showing up somewhere were slim, but she never had the heart to say that to Zuko. Now it was sometimes hard to be around Zuko, since Akane felt like she was walking on eggshells around him since Zuko had become a lot more irritable over the past few years. He was no longer the kind and caring boy who Akane grew up with, he was just an angry and pessimistic shell of his former self who Akane wished more than anything would return.

They were currently travelling through the seas down south because it had been months since they last searched there. Zuko was off doing who knows what while Akane and Iroh were sitting together on the deck as they played a game of cards.. Akane felt comfortable as she sat there with Iroh, dressed in her nice robes which kept her warm in these conditions. Being a firebender was also a bonus. She then heard the sound of footsteps hitting the metal ship behind her, and she glanced around to see Zuko heading towards them.

“Good morning, Zuko,” Akane greeted her friend.

“Would you care to join our game?” Iroh asked.

“I don’t have time for your stupid games, Uncle. I have more important things to do,” Zuko snapped.

Akane rolled her eyes, “Gee, a simple ‘hello’ or ‘good morning to you too’ would’ve been nice.”

Zuko sighed annoyingly, “Hello, Akane, Uncle.”

“That’s better,” Akane smiled approvingly.

“Now, what exactly are we doing down here, nephew?” Iroh asked curiously as he watched Akane make her next move.

“Yeah, why are we in the South Pole of all places?” Akane added.

“The Avatar could be anywhere! We might have checked most of the world already, but that doesn’t mean we can’t check thoroughly for him!” Zuko exclaimed.

“If he’s even still alive,” Akane muttered.

Zuko snapped his head towards her, “What was that?”

Akane sighed, “Nothing. Just go and do your morning orders.”

“And what are you two going to do?” Zuko questioned.

“We’re going to finish our game, which I am going to win,” Iroh answered.

Akane smirked, “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Iroh. I’m no easy beat.”

Iroh laughed, “That you are, Akane.”

“You two are impossible,” Zuko snapped.

“Some would say the same about you,” Akane said, knowing how some of the crew members thought about Zuko. While she would never agree with them, Akane had to admit that Zuko lived up to his reputation at times.

“Oh yeah, like who?” Zuko asked.

“You should know that I’m no snitch, Zuko. Besides, maybe if you weren’t so uptight all the time they wouldn’t think of you like that,” Akane pointed out.

“I don’t care what anybody thinks of me! I don’t have time to worry about that nonsense. What I need to do is focus on capturing the Avatar,” Zuko declared.

Their conversation was cut short as the boot suddenly shook from side to side for a few moments before steadying itself. Then, a large burst of light shot up into the air which immediately caught Zuko’s attention while Akane and Iroh remained focused on their game.

“Finally,” Zuko muttered before turning to face his Uncle and friend. “Uncle, Akane, do you realise what this means?”

“We won’t get to finish our game?” Iroh replied calmly as he placed down another card.

Zuko turned back around to face the light, “It means my search is about to come to an end.”

Akane groaned, “Why do you always have to be such a party pooper, Zuko?”

Zuko gestured to the beam of light as he turned to face the pair, “That light came from an incredibly powerful source! It has to be him!”

The light soon disappeared while Akane and Iroh continued their game, not the slightest bit bothered by Zuko’s claim. Every time they found something supposedly related to the Avatar, it was always some hoax or something random. Akane just didn’t want Zuko to get his hopes up, only to have the destroyed like the always were.

“Or it’s just the celestial lights. We’ve been down this road before, Prince Zuko. I don’t want you getting too excited over nothing,” Iroh stated as he placed a card with the symbol of airbending over the symbol of firebending and gestured towards the table as he continued in a relaxed voice, “Please, sit. Why don’t you enjoy a calming cup of Jasmine tea?”

“I don’t need any calming tea!” Zuko yelled angrily as he faced his Uncle, “I need to capture the Avatar! Helmsmen, head a course for the light!”

Akane sighed as she shook her head and looked back down at her game with Iroh. He had just put down another symbol of airbending on top of the one he just put down when a small gust of wind blew past, shaking the cards. Akane watched Zuko as he stared off into the distance, knowing that he was probably filled with determination at the prospect of returning home. Not letting Zuko distract her, Akane confidently placed down her card before jumping up into the air with satisfaction.

“Ha! I win! Never underestimate the power of me!” Akane cheered while Iroh crossed his arms and huffed in defeat.

~*•°•*~

Day soon turned into night and only Zuko remained out on the ship as he stood on the balcony above the deck. Most of the crew had gone to bed, but Zuko couldn’t sleep. How could he, when there were a million thoughts going through his mind? Why was it that the Avatar decided to return now, when he could’ve showed up three years ago? Maybe if he had Zuko wouldn’t had wasted the past three years of his life searching for the Avatar. That was his ticket home, a place that Zuko desperately wanted to go back to, which had been his mission for the past three years.

His thoughts were interrupted by Iroh who slowly joined his nephew on the balcony as he commented and yawned, “I’m going to bed now. Yep, a man needs his rest.”

Zuko’s gaze remained focused ahead of him, ignoring his Uncle as he continued to stare ahead. Iroh sighed as his nephew stared ahead, his attempt at getting him to rest failing.

“Prince Zuko, you need some sleep. Even if you’re right, and the Avatar is alive, you won’t find him. Your father, grandfather and great-grandfather all tried and failed,” Iroh reasoned.

“Because their honour didn’t hinge on the Avatar’s capture. Mine does. This coward’s hundred years in hiding are over,” Zuko stated, not missing a beat on his words.

Iroh sighed again and shook his head before turning around and leaving Zuko to himself, “Good night, Prince Zuko.”

Once his uncle was gone, Zuko kept his attention fixated on the horizon ahead of him. For the first time in a long time, Zuko felt a slight twinge of hope build inside of him at the possibility of the Avatar’s return. He had failed so far, but Zuko had never been more positive than he was now. Zuko suddenly felt another presence join him on the balcony and groaned, not wanting to have to deal with his uncle right now.

“Uncle, just leave me be,” Zuko ordered, not turning around.

“Since when did I become your uncle?” they asked.

Zuko turned around and sighed when he saw Akane standing there dressed in her evening gown. Even though she was dressed in comfortable robes, Akane still looked slightly put off from where she was.

“I thought you were in bed,” Zuko said.

“I was but I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d find you knowing that you’d still be up,” Akane explained.

“Oh,” Zuko muttered.

“You really should get some sleep, Zuko,” Akane suggested.

“I can’t sleep knowing that the Avatar could be somewhere out there, mocking me with his freedom while I’m stuck chasing him around the world,” Zuko snapped.

Akane sighed, “If you’re going to capture the Avatar, don’t you think you need some sleep so you’re in the best form to get the job done?”

“I suppose you have a point,” Zuko admitted.

“Then you should take my advice and go to bed. You’ll feel much better after a good night’s sleep,” Akane said.

“Who says I feel bad?” Zuko asked.

Akane shrugged, “I can just tell that you’re on edge because of the Avatar, so some sleep could do you well.”

“You know that I can’t sleep whenever I have something on my mind,” Zuko pointed out.

“You really shouldn’t put this much pressure on yourself, Zuko. Besides, it could all be for nothing and I don’t want you getting down in the dumps again,” Akane reasoned.

“Weren’t you just convincing me to get some sleep, so I could capture the Avatar?” Zuko questioned.

“I’m just saying that there is every possibility that the Avatar could be back, just like it could be some coincidence. You’ve been so certain about the Avatar before only to get let down in the end. This could very well turn out like those times,” Akane explained.

“That giant beam of light was no coincidence, Akane. It had to come from a powerful source. And what else could make something as big as that light was besides the Avatar? And I know that I’ve been wrong about him before, but I just have a feeling that this is it. This is my chance to finally capture him, so I can return home,” Zuko proclaimed.

Akane frowned, “Is that all you care about, capturing him so you can go back to the Fire Nation?”

“Well, it’s the only way for me to regain my honour. Just think, Akane. We could finally return home and things could go back to the way they were,” Zuko said.

“You seem to be forgetting that I wasn’t the one who was sent to capture the Avatar, that’s your job. Ozai banished me with no intention of letting me return, so I doubt you finding the Avatar would do me any good,” Akane argued.

“Maybe my father will finally respect me once I achieve this and when I capture the Avatar, he’ll have no reason to refuse your return since you helped me,” Zuko said.

“I’m not here to help you, Zuko. I’m here to support you. If I wasn’t I would’ve just let you do this by yourself,” Akane pointed out.

“Then why are you still with me? It’s been almost three years, Akane. You could’ve started a new life for yourself by now, yet you’ve still stayed with me,” Zuko queried.

“Because you’re my friend, Zuko. And friends stand by each other no matter what, even when times get tough. No matter what, I’ll always have your back,” Akane stated.

Zuko gave Akane a small smile, which made her smile as well knowing that she was the one who made him do that. The rare moments when Zuko just sat back and was more of his old safe were what Akane longed for, and this was one of those moments.

“Thank you, Akane. I’m lucky to have you as a friend,” Zuko said.

“Just like I’m lucky to have you as mine. Come on, let’s go to bed,” Akane suggested.

Zuko sighed, “Fine.”

Together, the two friends walked back inside the ship before heading to their separate chambers. When Akane entered her room, she was quick to flop onto her bed in the hopes of getting some sleep, although her conversation with Zuko still lingered in her mind.

Just think, Akane. We could finally return home and things could go back to the way they were.

Unlike Zuko, Akane was perfectly content with spending the rest of her life travelling the world in search of the Avatar since she had no intention of returning back to the Fire Nation. Besides, as long as the Avatar was potentially out there, there was still the smallest chance that he wouldn’t even need to be captured and bring an end to the pain and suffering in the world. But Akane would never tell Zuko that, simply because she didn’t want to ruin everything that they had. Some things were just better left unsaid anyways.

~*•°•*~

The next day, Akane woke up and got herself dressed in her training gear, knowing that Zuko would most likely be training himself. Before Akane went off in search of her friend, she headed off to the kitchen in pursuit of something to eat, since her stomach was starting to turn. When Akane entered the ships kitchen, she was greeted by the head chef, Chen who smiled at her upon her entry.

“Good morning, Miss Akane,” he greeted her.

“Morning, Chen. What are you cooking?” Akane asked.

“Just some roast duck for General Iroh. I could make you some if you like,” Chen replied.

“That would be great,” Akane said, her stomach getting hungrier upon the mention of roast duck.

“Would you mind passing me the sauce over there?” Chen asked.

“Sure thing,” Akane replied, having no problem with helping Chen during his duties.

“Thank you, Akane. Your help is always appreciated,” Chen smiled.

“I’m always happy to help,” Akane said.

As Akane waited for Chen to finish preparing the meals, they were joined by another one of the ships men, Kyou. Kyou had been with them for over two years now and at only nineteen-years-old, he was the closest person to Akane’s age besides Zuko so the two of them were reasonably close.

“Morning, Akane,” Kyou greeted her.

“Hey, Kyou. What are you doing here?” Akane asked, since Kyou wasn’t supposed to be in the kitchen.

“Just getting some snacks for the other crew members on break. You could come join us if you like,” Kyou suggested.

Akane shook her head, “Thanks, but I should go train with Zuko. Besides, I didn’t get changed into my training gear for nothing.”

“You could always spar with us,” Kyou said.

“It’s better that I go train with Zuko. You know how he gets when he trains,” Akane pointed out.

Kyou laughed, “Yeah, he’s even more of a stiff prince when he trains. I just feel sorry for Iroh having to put up with him. Even you, at times.”

Akane glanced around awkwardly, “Zuko has his moments, but he has his reasons for doing what he does. He wasn’t always how he is now.”

“Well, if you change your mind we’ll be on the top balcony,” Kyou said as he left the room.

“Alright, Akane. Here are the meals. I hope you enjoy,” Chen said.

Akane smiled as she took the meals, “I always enjoy your cooking, Chen.”

Once Akane had the meals in her hands, she headed off towards the ships deck to find Iroh and Zuko. Sure enough, when she got there Iroh and Zuko were training with some of the other guards.

“I bring roasted duck,” Akane declared, getting their attention.

Iroh’s expression brightened upon seeing the meal in her hands, “Just what I need. Thank you, Akane.”

“So, what are we working on today?” Akane asked as she began eating her meal, the taste hitting just the spot.

“Prince Zuko is working on perfecting his basics,” Iroh replied through mouthfuls of food.

Just as Iroh said so, Zuko kicked an average side blast of fire at the guards who counteracted his attack with their own firebending. Eventually, Zuko was able to best the guards which was not enough to please Iroh.

“Again,” Iroh ordered sternly.

Zuko opened the fight by spreading his arms in the direction of the two firebenders, showering them with flames. His adversaries blocked his attack with ease. Zuko shifted his weight to duck under a retaliation blast of the firebender to his left. The firebender to his right jumped forward to aim a blast at Zuko’s feet. The prince propelled himself out of the way and twisted around mid-air, directing another fire blast with his hand to the firebender that retaliated first, and another with his foot to the firebender that aimed for his feet. Both soldiers jumped out of the way of Zuko’s flames. Zuko landed and stretched his fists out towards his adversaries, ready to face another attack.

Iroh sighed while he stood up, “No! Power in firebending comes from the breath, not the muscles!” Iroh corrected him as he moved his hand up in front to emphasise the breathing motion and stretched his left arm out as if he was sending a fire blast. “The breath becomes energy in the body, the energy extends past your limbs and becomes: fire! Get it right this time.”

“Enough! I’ve been drilling this sequence all day. Teach me the next set! I’m more than ready!” Zuko addressed his uncle with suppressed anger.

“No, you are impatient,” Iroh replied as he sat down before yelling his next order, “You are yet to master your basics. Drill it again!”

Zuko clenched his teeth in anger and turned around before suddenly directing a power fire kick towards one of the soldiers. The firebender attempts to stop the fire blast, but he is unable to and is thrown on his back by its power.

“That was unnecessary,” Akane commented.

“The sages tell us that the Avatar is the last airbender. He must be over a hundred years old by now. He’s had a century to master the four elements! I’ll need more than basic firebending to defeat him. You will teach me the advanced set!” Zuko yelled with the suppressed anger apparent in his voice.

Iroh did not look pleased with the attitude of his nephew and conceded reluctantly, “Very well.” But then his expression changed to one of complete delight as he picked up his meal, “But first, I must finish my roast duck.”

“You gonna finish your sauce?” Akane asked between mouthfuls of food.

“Of course, I am!” Iroh exclaimed.

Zuko backed away as he looked at his uncle and friend with disgust at their eating habits, “You two are disgusting.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you took a moment to appreciate the wonders of roast duck. Come on, take a bite,” Akane said.

“No thanks,” Zuko snapped.

Akane shrugged, “Suit yourself. It’s very good.”

~*•°•*~

Later that day, Akane was meditating in her room after her training session with Zuko. Akane always meditated after her training, since it helped her keep a peace of mind. She always liked meditating, since it was a good way to put her mind at ease and relax. Suddenly, there was a knock on her door, which caught her attention as she got up and opened it to see Iroh standing there.

“Is something wrong?” Akane asked nervously.

“That depends. Prince Zuko thinks he has found the Avatar,” Iroh replied.

Akane’s eyes widened, “What? Are you serious?”

“Yes, he’s preparing the ship to dock at the South Pole in a few hours since that’s where he thinks the Avatar is hiding,” Iroh explained.

“We better help him get ready then,” Akane suggested.

Iroh then lead Akane to the ships top deck where Zuko was ordering the crew around, presumably for their attack on the South Pole. When Zuko caught sight of Akane and his uncle, he dismissed the crew before heading towards them.

“Did you really find the Avatar?” Akane asked.

Zuko nodded, a twinge of hope evident on his face, “Yes. I saw him airbending off an old Fire Navy ship and heading towards the Southern Water Tribe. That has to be where he’s hiding.”

“How do plan on getting him?” Akane questioned.

“Simple, we demand they give him to us or we burn their village down,” Zuko answered.

Akane opened her mouth in shock, “Zuko! That’s a terrible thing to do.”

“Well, I doubt they would give up the Avatar if we just ask them to. We’ll be making things a lot easier for everyone by just demanding that they hand him mover,” Zuko proclaimed.

Akane sighed, “If you say so.”

“I’m going to get ready. You should too,” Zuko ordered.

With his crew getting everything ready for the moment of truth, Zuko headed off to his chambers to get ready for the biggest moment of his life so far. As he did so, Akane couldn’t help but wonder what this would mean for them, since it could go either way. They either capture the Avatar or fail like they always did. For Zuko’s sake, Akane hoped that they would succeed in what they’d tried to do for the past three years.

Chapter Text

Once Akane had gotten into her formal armour, she headed off towards Zuko’s room to wait for her friend. As Akane made her way through the ships corridors, the nerves in her stomach started to grow at the possibility of facing off against the Avatar. He was supposed to be the most powerful bender in the world and most likely had years of experience under his belt while her and Zuko were practically amateur firebenders.

If it really is him, why couldn’t he have returned when we needed him most? Why does he choose now, of all times to show up again? Akane thought.

Part of Akane was glad that the Avatar was still alive, since that meant that there was still hope for Zuko and the world. But that also put Akane in an awkward position, since as much as she wanted the Avatar to finally put an end to this pain and suffering, she still wanted Zuko to succeed in his mission, so her friend could finally be happy, even if she wouldn’t be. So, for Akane it was really a matter of if whether or not peace and harmony was more important than Zuko’s happiness and freedom.

When Akane found Zuko in his chambers, he was finishing getting ready for their assault on the Southern Water Tribe. His servants had just putting on his breastplate, the kneecaps and boots, wrist guards and finally the helmet. Once they were finished dressing him, the two servants bowed before leaving him to himself. Zuko adjusted the helmet on his head to make sure it fit properly before nodding in approval.

“Well, don’t you look all spiffy in your armour and ridiculous helmet,” Akane joked.

Zuko turned around to face her, “It’s not supposed to look good, it’s supposed to be functionable. The helmet also protects me from any other attacks.”

“Well, you look ridiculous in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it does more harm than good. Whoever designed it should have their creativity licence taken away from them,” Akane observed.

Zuko smirked as he picked something up, “I’m glad you feel that way cause you’ll be wearing one too.”

Akane grimaced, “You can’t make me wear that if I don’t want to.”

“I don’t want you getting hurt, Akane so please wear the helmet,” Zuko pleaded.

Akane sighed as she took it from his hands, “Fine. But only because you asked me to.”

Zuko grinned sneakily once she put the helmet on, “Now we’re matching.”

“Hilarious,” Akane muttered.

“Now that we’re ready, let’s gather the rest of the crew since we’ll be reaching the Southern Water Tribe soon,” Zuko suggested.

“Sounds like a plan,” Akane agreed.

They then made their way through the ship together and the whole time they did so, Akane couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when they finally faced off against the Avatar. This was what they’d been working towards for the past three years and Akane had know idea how it would all go down. One thing that Akane was sure of was that she didn’t want to hurt anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. Although Akane felt like they would be able to make it through this without using any unorthodox methods since the Southern Water Tribe was remarkably weaker than it’s counterpart due to the damage it had sustained from the Fire Nation.

“So, how exactly is this going to work?” Akane asked.

“Well, if all goes to plan I won’t have to harm anyone and they’ll just give him up without any fight,” Zuko replied.

“And if they don’t?” Akane questioned.

“Then we’ll have no choice but to do whatever it takes to get him under our grasp. If they’re smart, they’d give him up without question,” Zuko answered.

“What do we do once we have him?” Akane inquired.

“Simple, we’ll keep him as our prisoner until we reach the Fire Nation before handing him over to my father. Then we’ll finally be able to return home and things will go back to the way they were,” Zuko replied hopefully.

“That’s easier said than done,” Akane commented.

Zuko raised his eyebrows, “What makes you say that?”

“Well, there’s no telling how powerful the Avatar really is. Even if we do manage to capture him we’ll still have to get him back to the Fire Nation. I doubt that that’s going to be easy,” Akane explained.

“If he does escape then we’ll just have to capture him again,” Zuko stated.

“What do you think the Fire Lord is going to do once you bring the Avatar to him?” Akane asked.

“First, he’ll welcome me back with honour, and then restore my rightful place on the throne,” Zuko replied confidently.

“But what about the Avatar?” Akane questioned.

Zuko shrugged, “I don’t know. Father will either kill him or throw him into prison. I couldn’t care less about what happens to him, just as long as I get the honour of making it possible.”

Akane gasped, “Zuko, that’s a horrible thing to say!”

“You really think I would care about what father does to the Avatar? Once I hand him over he won’t be my problem anymore and I’ll finally be rid of that burden,” Zuko declared.

Akane sighed, “Just promise me you won’t get yourself hurt.”

Zuko scoffed, “I shouldn’t have to promise you that. The Avatar is supposed to be over a hundred years old. Surely, I can take on an old man, even if he is the master of all elements.”

“If you say so,” Akane murmured, although she didn’t share Zuko’s level of confidence. The Avatar might be an old man, but he was still the most powerful bender in the world and Zuko was only a teenager.

“You don’t sound too confident,” Zuko pointed out.

“I am confident, there’s just always that bit of doubt that anything could happen,” Akane said.

Zuko paused, “You don’t think I can capture him, don’t you?”

Akane sighed, “Well, he is the most powerful bender in the world. He might be old, but he probably has more experience than you could ever have.”

“Don’t you think I know that, Akane? I need to be confident in my abilities or I’m never going to succeed,” Zuko argued.

“Just don’t underestimate him, he could surprise you,” Akane said.

“I have nothing to underestimate,” Zuko stated.

Akane raised her eyebrows, knowing that Zuko was full-on underestimating the Avatar. She had a feeling that that would be Zuko’s downfall, since he wasn’t taking into consideration the true power that the Avatar could possess.

“The Southern Water Tribe is now in view! Prepare yourselves for the landing!” the helmsmen yelled.

“Let’s do this,” Zuko declared.

Akane nodded, “I’m right behind you.”

In no time, Akane, Zuko and several other guards were standing behind the ships bow as they waited for it to reach contact with the Southern Water Tribe. When it did, Akane felt every bit of impact from the ship. Akane could hear the ship breaking through the ice, creating its own port. Suddenly, the ships came to a halt and steam surrounded them as the ships bow lowered itself onto the icy shore, creating a loud booming noise that made Akane jump. For a moment, Akane was unsure of what to do so she glanced at Zuko who nodded before they began to make their way down.

As they did so, Akane couldn’t help but notice how small the Southern Water Tribe was. There were only a couple dozen villagers there, mainly women and children along with a few elders. It hardly looked like a tribe and Akane could practically see the fear in their eyes, which made her feel guilty knowing that she was partly responsible for that feeling.

A loud scream suddenly filled there and Akane saw a young boy who was probably no older than Zuko run screaming towards them with a war club in his hands. Zuko was easily able to disarm him by kicking the kicking the club out of his hands before kicking the boy aside, causing him to fall off the ships ramp and send him flying into the snow where his head got stuck. Once they reached the ground, the villagers backed a few feet away and they were obviously scared by their unexpected visitors. Not wanting to waste anymore time, Zuko stepped forward as he examined the small crowd for any sign of the Avatar.

“Where are you hiding him?” Zuko asked in a demanding voice.

When Zuko got no answer, he reached into the crowd and forcefully yanked out an elderly woman and held onto her by her parka, “He’d be about this age, master of all elements?”

“Zuko, don’t be such a jerk!” Akane reprimanded him, not liking the way he was being rough with the old woman.

Once again, Zuko got no response which made Akane think that they had no idea what he was talking about. At that, Zuko let go of the woman and shoved her back into the crowd. The old lady clung onto a young girl, who Akane assumed was her granddaughter. It was safe to say that the girl didn’t like them one bit based on the glare she was giving them.

“I know you’re hiding him!” Zuko yelled once he swung out his arm and released an arc of fire that went over the heads of the villagers.

Akane’s eyes widened. Why was Zuko acting like this? Sure, he could be a bit of a jerk at times and had his demanding moments, but he never acted like this and Akane didn’t like it one bit.

“Zuko! What are you doing?” Akane exclaimed.

Zuko glared at her, “Stay out of this, Akane and let me handle it.”

Suddenly, a somewhat girlish scream filled the air as the Water Tribe boy who attacked Zuko went in for another go. The boy lunged towards the prince while Zuko swiftly turned around just as Sokka approached, quickly ducking under Sokka’s wide swing and hurled the boy forward. The boy landed on his rear in the snow and was quickly forced to dart from his spot when Zuko fired a blast at him. The boy spun to the side and tossed his boomerang at his opponent who barely managed to miss getting hit by the weapon. Zuko growled angrily and glared at the boy in anger at the near hit as one of the village boys tossed the warrior a spear.

“Show no fear!” the village boy yelled.

Once the warrior caught the spear, he immediately got back on his feet and charged towards Zuko once again. Akane had to give him credit, not many people would have the guts to stand up to someone like Zuko in the way he was. Her admiration was short lived as the warrior was quick to get halted on his advance by Zuko yanking his spear away from him and snapping it in half before using the soft end to poke the boy in the head which caused him to fall onto the ground again. With that, Zuko simply threw the broken spear aside like it was nobody’s business.

Out of the corner of her eye, Akane suddenly saw a flashing object hurl through the sky before recognising it as the boy’s boomerang. It seemed to be heading straight towards Zuko, but before Akane could warn her friend, the boomerang collided right into his head letting out a loud cling as it pushed him forward. Despite the situation, Akane couldn’t help but snicker under her breath before Zuko shot a glare her way as he rearranged his helmet.

“What? Even you have to admit that was funny,” Akane said.

Instead of glaring at his friend, Zuko turned his glare to the Water Tribe boy who sat dejectedly on the ground, with the boomerang at his feet. Enraged by the attack, Zuko summoned two fire daggers and was ready to unleash them on his opponent. Before Akane could intervene, something shot past her at lightning speed which collided right into Zuko and sent him flying through the air before he landed on his face with his legs in the air and his helmet landed on his butt. The sight was even more hilarious than when the boomerang whacked Zuko on the head.

As Akane headed off to help Zuko, she caught the sight of a boy sliding off a penguin before it waddled away. He smiled in the direction of the two Water Tribe teenagers.

“Hey, Katara. Hey, Sokka,” the boy greeted them.

“Hi, Aang. Thanks for coming,” the boy, Sokka, commented dryly.

“I told you not to wear that stupid helmet,” Akane said to Zuko as she pulled him up.

Zuko didn’t respond to Akane and instead signalled for the soldiers to surround the boy who clutched onto some sort of stick as he was surrounded. Akane gasped as she noticed the blue tattoos that covered his body and the robes he was dressed in. Putting the pieces together, Akane grinned as she realised who was standing in front of them.

Those markings. It has to be him! I can’t believe it! Akane thought to herself.

Though her smile faltered as she stared at the boy in confusion. Instead of being an old man like he was supposed to be, he hardly looked like a teenager at most. The boy then swept the ground form side-to-side with his staff, showering them with snow. He then slammed the ground with his staff which sent a rush of snow towards Akane and Zuko who braced themselves for the attack. Once they were covered with snow, Akane and Zuko both heated it up, so it would melt with Zuko wearing an angry look on his face as he did so.

“Looking for me?” the boy asked.

You’re the airbender? You’re the Avatar?” Zuko asked, shocked.

The two Water Tribe teenagers appeared to be just as shocked as Zuko was, with Katara voicing her own disbelief, “Aang?”

“No way!” Sokka exclaimed.

Akane raised her eyebrows, “How could you have not known that he was the Avatar?”

Sokka shrugged as he gave her a sheepish look, “It didn’t really occur to us…”

Meanwhile, Aang and Zuko were circling around each other as they both prepared to defend themselves. An eerie silence filled the air for a moment that was almost uncomfortable to a degree. You could’ve cut the tension between the two boys with a knife it was so thick.

“I’ve spent years preparing for this encounter. Training… Meditating… You’re just a child!” Zuko growled.

Aang stood back a bit, “Well, you’re just a teenager.”

Akane snorted, “He has a point.”

Zuko glared at her, “Who’s side are you on, here?”

“Yours? Shouldn’t it be obvious?” Akane replied.

Not giving Akane another thought, Zuko angrily firebended at Aang who twirled his staff around to deflect the flames that were hurled his way. Aang’s act of defence caused the flames to shoot past him and towards the villagers who cowered in fear.

“Zuko! Be careful!” Akane yelled.

Aang seemed to share Akane’s concern for the villagers as he quickly pushed Zuko’s flames to the side and held his staff out in surrender as he offered himself up, “If I go with you, will you promise to leave everyone alone?”

Akane’s eyes bulged at the Avatar’s offer. Was this kid serious? Was he really just going to offer himself up like that? The whole thing just sounded too easy to Akane, but she knew that Zuko would have no problem with agreeing on the Avatar’s terms if it meant getting him for himself.

Sure enough, Zuko nodded and signalled for the guards to apprehend Aang and they did just that. Aang grunted as they took his staff away and forced him to walk up the ships bow.

“No, Aang. Don’t do this!” Katara pleaded desperately.

“Don’t worry Katara, it’ll be okay,” Aang reassured her.

Not wanting the Water Tribe girl to cause anymore trouble, Akane stepped forward to hold her back as the guards lead Aang up the ships bow. However, Katara didn’t seem to like that as she roughly pushed Akane off of her.

“Don’t touch me!” Katara hissed.

Their little altercation didn’t go unnoticed by Zuko who glared at Katara with the most deathly look. He was always protective of Akane, and he certainly didn’t appreciate this washed up peasant pushing his friend around like she was nothing which she certainly wasn’t. If anything, Akane was ten times worth that water tribe peasant.

“You watch who you shove, you Water Tribe peasant!” Zuko yelled as forcefully yanked Katara by the wrists.

Akane quickly managed to recover from her shove and knowing that Zuko would do something he’d potentially regret, Akane intervened to put an end to their scuffle.

“Zuko, it’s okay. Just let her go,” Akane ordered calmly.

Zuko sighed as he gave Katara one last glare before shoving her away, “Fine. Let’s go.”

Up on the ships bow, Aang watched the scene play out in front of him with curiosity. He didn’t understand how the scarred teen could go from being such a bully to a protective friend in the span of seconds. They must’ve been close for him to have reacted that way so Aang made a mental note not to get in the way of them.

“Take care of Appa for me until I get back!” Aang called out, not wanting his beloved bison to go unattended.

“Set a course for the Fire Nation! I’m going home,” Zuko ordered as he and Akane made their way up the ships bow.

With one last look at the crowd of people below him, Aang tried to appear as calm as possible even though he was lowkey panicking on the inside. What hurt him the most was seeing the devastated look on Katara’s face, which was enough to hurt him as the ships bow blocked out any form of light.

~*•°•*~

Once Aang had been securely restrained and the ship was on route to the Fire Nation, Akane, Zuko and the guards took him onto the ships deck where Iroh was waiting for them. Just like they were, Iroh was surprised when he saw that the Avatar was merely a child. This was certainly not what they had been expecting.

“This staff will make an excellent gift for my father,” Zuko declared as he examined Aang’s staff. “I suppose you wouldn’t know of fathers, being raised by monks.”

The ticked off look on the Avatar’s face at that comment didn’t go unnoticed by Akane since Zuko was being a bit of a prick right now. Part of her felt bad for Aang, since he was practically a child just like they all were yet was being handed off like he was heading to the slaughter house.

“Take the Avatar to the prison hold and take this to my quarters,” Zuko ordered as he handed Iroh Aang’s staff before walking off with Akane hot on his tails.

“You mind taking this to his quarters for me?” Akane heard Iroh ask which caused her to roll her eyes at his laziness.

As she and Zuko made their way through the ship, Akane couldn’t help but think about how the villagers had reacted when they took Aang away. She had never seen so many looks of despair before and it actually made her feel guilty about what they had just done.

“Zuko, a word?” Akane asked as she tugged on his arm.

Zuko glanced down at her, “What?”

“Don’t you think you were a little harsh back there?” Akane questioned.

“No, my actions were perfectly justifiable. Besides, it’s not like anybody got hurt,” Zuko answered.

“But you scared the villagers, you threw that warrior into the snow and you yanked onto that girl’s wrists,” Akane pointed out.

Zuko scoffed, “That peasant was hardly a warrior and that brat hurt you.”

“No, she didn’t hurt me. That was an overreaction on your part. She had every right to be mad at me after we just invaded and destroyed their village,” Akane reasoned.

Zuko shrugged, “They can fix it. At least now they have a port.”

“What do we do with the Avatar now?” Akane asked uncomfortably.

“Until we get back to the Fire Nation, he’s our prisoner. We’ll have to keep him under a watchful eye at all times, so he doesn’t get the opportunity to escape,” Zuko replied.

“This whole thing just seems too easy, like something’s gonna happen,” Akane admitted.

“Akane, nothing’s going to happen. He surrendered as long as we left them alone which we did. He has no reason to escape,” Zuko reassured her.

Akane raised her eyebrow, “Except to save the world perhaps?”

“That’s not going to happen. We’re going to return him home, father will welcome me back with honour and overrule your banishment. Then everything will go back to the way it’s supposed to be,” Zuko declared.

“Zuko, don’t you realise that we’re literally keeping the saviour of the world captive? By doing so we’re only allowing for more pain and suffering to happen,” Akane argued.

“What do you want me to do, let him go? You know that I can’t and won’t do that. I need to capture the Avatar to restore my honour,” Zuko snapped.

“Yeah, cause your honour is more important than the world,” Akane muttered.

“What was that?” Zuko demanded.

Akane sighed, “Nothing. It’s just, I don’t want you to take on this much responsibility. If you hand the Avatar over to the Fire Lord, he’ll probably just kill him. Do you really want the Avatar’s blood on your hands?”

“I doubt that father will actually kill him. He’ll probably just put him into prison,” Zuko said.

“Right, cause prison’s so much better than death,” Akane commented sarcastically.

Zuko sighed, “Akane, don’t be like this. You know how much this means to me. I’m sorry but I can’t let him go.”

“I know, just… don’t do anything you’ll regret,” Akane said.

“I can’t promise you that, Akane. But I’ll try my best,” Zuko responded before heading off to his quarters.

Akane frowned as she watched Zuko’s retreating form. He seemed to be forgetting that the Avatar was just a child, which was pretty much what they were. Even though she knew how much this meant to Zuko and that his freedom was pretty much on the line, Akane still felt guilty about keeping the Avatar prisoner. But she had to remind herself that the Avatar was what Zuko needed more than anything else, and that as his best friend she had to support him on this. Besides, it’s not like Zuko had many people supporting him anyways.

As Akane made her way down the ships long corridor, she suddenly felt something heavy collide into her which sent her hurling towards the ground. Groaning as she did so, Akane pulled herself onto her feet and was ready to yell at whoever had just knocked her onto the ground before her eyes widened once she saw the Avatar standing in front of her.

“Sorry! I guess I wasn’t really watching where I was going,” the Avatar – Aang – apologised.

“And where exactly is that?” Akane asked.

Aang’s eyes widened as he recognised who he had just bumped into, “I’ll just be on my way then…”

“Wait!” Akane called out before Aang could run off.

“I don’t really have time to wait…” Aang trailed off.

“I know, which is why you should run to the left and up the first set of stairs before going two doors on your right,” Akane advised him.

Now it was Aang’s turn to widen his eyes. Wasn’t this Zuko’s friend? Why was she even helping him? For a moment, Aang debated on if whether or not he should trust her since she could easily be leading him to a trap. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Aang smiled at the girl before running off in the direction that she had advised him to go in.

“Thanks for the help!” he yelled.

“Agni, what did I just do?” Akane whispered to herself once the Avatar was out of sight.

Part of Akane felt guilty for helping the Avatar escape, since she was indirectly betraying Zuko. Yet at the same time, she knew that it was the right thing to do. Akane just hoped that she wouldn’t live to regret what she had just done, which was already proving to be the case as the guilt swarmed inside of her.

“It was the right thing to do,” Akane repeated.

With nothing better to do, Akane decided to head off to the ships deck to hopefully clear her head and get her focus back on. No doubt Zuko was going to discover the Avatar’s escape and she would have some explaining to do. Akane figured that she’d just cross that bridge when the time came.

When Akane came back out onto the top deck, she was immediately greeted by the cold breeze of the icy South Pole seas. Even though she was dressed in her thermal gear, being in the cold was something that Akane wasn’t used to. For a moment, there was just silence around her until Akane suddenly heard a loud shout from above. Looking up quickly, Akane gasped as she noticed the Avatar flying above her before recognising Zuko jumping onto him.

That seemed to stop the Avatar’s advanced as his glider quickly closed before the pair fell onto the ground in a tangled heap. Akane quickly rushed to her friend’s aid, despite that small part of her that just wanted to get the Avatar out of there. Zuko growled as she helped him up, before they suddenly heard another loud growl from above. Curiously, the pair turned their gaze and widened their eyes as they saw a flying beast heading towards them.

“What is that?” Zuko asked.

“Appa!” Aang exclaimed brightly.

“You don’t see that every day,” Akane mused.

Quickly getting over his shock, Zuko started sending fire blast after fire blast at the Avatar who twirled his staff to deflect the attack. Eventually, Aang dropped his staff and with nothing else to defend himself, he was left to evade Zuko’s attack before jumping onto the ships railing to save himself. Using this to his advantage, Zuko kicked out another fire blast which seemed to do the job as it sent Aang hurling over the edge and into the water.

“Zuko! I can’t believe that you did that!” Akane yelled angrily.

“I had no choice,” Zuko declared.

“So much for capturing the Avatar alive,” Akane snapped.

“Why do you care?” Zuko asked.

“I don’t care! I just don’t see how that was necessary! How are you going to explain this to your father?” Akane exclaimed.

Their argument was cut short by a sudden rock against the boat before a water vortex shot up into the air. For a moment, Akane had no idea what was happening until she recognised the Avatar at the top with his eyes and tattoos glowing. Relief instantly shot through Akane, before she was overwhelmed with dread at what the Avatar was about to do.

This wasn’t going to be good for them.

Sure enough, the Avatar landed onto the ships deck as he summoned the water around him before the water swirled around him which created a protective circle before it spread outward. The impact of the attack was enough to knock Akane, Zuko and several soldiers off their feet. Akane even almost fell over the edge herself but managed to save herself at her own misfortune as her head banged onto the ships railing which immediately sent a wave of nausea through her.

For a moment, Akane’s vision blurred as she struggled to stand upright. She could make up the sight of a fuzzy creature on the ships deck, which she assumed was Aang’s pet. It certainly didn’t look like any normal pet from what Akane could see. After giving her head a shake, Akane knocked some sense back into her vision just as she caught sight of a boy she recognised as the one from the South Pole. He reached down to pick up Aang’s staff before shrieking and poking it over the edge which elicited a shout that Akane immediately recognised as Zuko’s.

“Ha! That’s from the Water Tribe!” the boy – Sokka – cheered.

“Hey!” Akane exclaimed.

Sokka turned his head and his eyes widened as he saw Akane standing there. Wasting no time, he immediately took off running towards the Avatar’s pet, which Akane recognised as a flying bison. Recovering from her brief shock, Akane ran towards the ships edge and she gasped as she saw Zuko dangling down below.

“Take my hand!” she yelled as she reached down to help Zuko, not even caring about the Avatar in that moment.

“Stop the Avatar!” Zuko shouted.

“I’m not gonna say it again, Zuko, now take my hand!” Akane yelled.

Groaning as he did so, Zuko grabbed hold of Akane’s hand and she successfully managed to pull him back onto the ships deck despite him almost falling on top of her. Just as they did so, Appa was already flying off into the air while a bemused Iroh watched on.

“Shoot them down!” Zuko ordered.

Together, Akane, Iroh and Zuko shot a combined fire blast towards the Avatar’s bison in an attempt to knock it down, only for their fire ball to be redirected right into the iceberg next to the ship. All three of them widened their eyes in shock as the impact caused a snowy avalanche to come hurling towards the ship, immediately halting it from moving anywhere while causing them all to tumble over, though some more than others.

Since he was too blinded by his rage at being defeated by the Avatar, Zuko failed to notice that Akane wasn’t standing with him and Iroh as they regained their composure.

“Good news for the Fire Lord, the Fire Nation’s greatest threat is just a little kid,” Iroh stated.

“That ‘kid’, Uncle, just did this. I won’t underestimate him again,” Zuko declared before yelling his next order, “Dig the ship out and follow them!”

Zuko turned around to see several of his firebenders using their firebending to melt away the ice that had trapped his soldiers in their place. He grunted with embarrassment as he narrowed his eyes in determination, “As soon as your done with that.”

Turning back around, Zuko noticed that Akane wasn’t standing with him and Uncle and his eyes widened as he caught sight of his friend trapped underneath the mountain of snow that had encased half of his ship. It didn’t look like Akane was moving at all, so Zuko immediately rushed over to his friend’s aid.

“Akane! Akane, are you alright?” Zuko asked as he pulled her out from the snow. He quickly noticed the bump that had formed on her forehead, which certainly wasn’t there before, and he cursed the Avatar for putting his friend in that position.

“It seems that Akane has taken a blow to the head and the impact of the snow hasn’t helped her either,” Iroh observed as he tried to increase Akane’s temperature with his firebending.

“What should we do, Uncle?” Zuko asked, showing a rare feeling of concern.

“I think we should take Akane to her room, so she can rest in the warmth. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for grave concern, so some rest should do her good,” Iroh advised.

“I will take Akane to her room while you make sure they get their job done as soon as possible,” Zuko said.

With Iroh’s help, Zuko managed to pick Akane up and carry her in his arms. While his friend might look light, Akane wasn’t light to carry but that was something that Zuko would never say to his friend. As he carried Akane to her room, he felt her stir in his arms as her eyes slowly opened.

“Mmm… Zuko?” Akane murmured weakly.

“Just go back to sleep, Akane. I’ll take you to your room,” Zuko said.

“I knew you’d underestimate him,” Akane whispered before her eyes fell shut once again.

“I won’t do that ever again,” Zuko promised, for Akane’s sake just as much as his.

Chapter Text

Since the Avatar had all but destroyed Zuko’s ship, they had set a course for the nearest harbour to get the repairs done as soon as possible. They had just docked at an Earth Kingdom harbor in the hopes of getting the ship fixed. Zuko had went to get Akane so that she could go with him and his Uncle, since they weren’t allowed to be on the ship during the repairs.

“Akane,” Zuko said as he knocked on her door, only to get no response. “Akane. Are you awake? It’s time to go.”

There was a slight shuffling noise before the door opened, revealing a dishevelled looking Akane. Zuko was quick to notice how tired she looked, with the bags under her eyes being a dead giveaway. She then let out a loud cough, followed by a few sniffles from her nose.

“What?” Akane murmured.

“Are you feeling alright?” Zuko asked, concerned.

“Just a bit under the weather. It’s nothing to worry about,” Akane reassured him followed by another sneeze.

“Are you sure? We could get you checked out while we’re here,” Zuko suggested.

Akane shook her head, “It’s fine. I’m sure I’ll get better in time. Can’t I just stay in my room? It’s not like my room got any damage.”

“I don’t want you to be by yourself while the ship is getting repaired. You’re coming with us,” Zuko stated.

Akane groaned, “But I really don’t want to. Have some sympathy for your sick friend, Zuko.”

“Didn’t you say you were fine?” Zuko snapped.

Akane sighed, “Fine. I’ll get ready now.”

“Uncle and I will be waiting for you on the deck,” Zuko said.

“What’s got you so up-tight,” Akane muttered.

“What was that?” Zuko asked.

“Nothing,” Akane replied. “Now, would you just let me get changed then?”

“Right, of course,” Zuko conceded, blushing slightly as he shut Akane’s door.

Akemi grimaced once she was left to herself, feeling bad for riling Zuko up when she should’ve known better after they just lost the Avatar. She also felt bad since it was partially her fault that he got away, since she was the one who told him where to go and indirectly helped him escape. Akane reminded herself that he had already escaped and probably would’ve made it out even if she didn’t interfere. Deep down, Akane couldn’t help but wonder if she hadn’t let the Avatar go. Maybe then their ship wouldn’t need repairs and they’d be well on their way to the Fire Nation.

Ignoring her thoughts, Akane finished putting on her regular clothes as well as her armour before heading out of her room and onto the deck where Iroh and Zuko would be waiting for her. When Akane caught up with them, they started to make their way down the ship which was noticeably smaller than the other ships around them. It felt somewhat strange being in this area, since they were pretty much outcasts because of Zuko’s banishment and Akane’s position as his friend.

“Uncle, I want the repairs made as quickly as possible. I don’t want to stay too long and risk losing his trail,” Zuko ordered.

“You mean the Avatar,” Iroh commented disinterestedly.

Zuko stopped in his tracks as he turned around to face his uncle, “Don’t mention his name on these docks! Once word gets out that he’s alive, every firebender will be out looking for him, and I don’t want anyone getting in the way!”

As Akane trailed behind Iroh and Zuko, she suddenly stopped in her tracks when she saw a familiar figure heading towards them. Once their face became recognisable, Akane’s spine shivered and she instantly tensed up, not liking their sudden presence at all and knowing what this could potentially mean for them.

“Getting in the way of what, Prince Zuko?” the person asked.

It was none other than Commander Zhao who stood before them. His sudden presence caused Iroh and Zuko to turn towards him in shock as they widened their eyes. Akane couldn’t help but stifle back a laugh at his comically big sideburns that were signature to his appearance. Zuko crossed his arms with contempt while Iroh just stared at him.

Zuko was the first to address him, with the dislike evident in his voice, “Captain Zhao.”

“It’s commander now,” Zhao smirked as he bowed at Iroh. “And General Iroh. Great hero of our nation.”

Iroh returned the bow, “Retired general.”

Zhao glanced towards Akane, “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Fire Lord’s esteemed protégé.”

“I’m not Ozai’s protégé,” Akane snapped.

Zhao ignored her comment, “The Fire Lord’s brother, son and protégé are welcome guests anytime. What brings you three to my harbor?”

“Our ship is being repaired,” Iroh replied as he gestured towards their ship, which was noticeably smaller than the other ones around it.

“That’s quite a bit of damage,” Zhao noted.

“Yes. You wouldn’t believe what happened,” Zuko added as he thought of a way to derive the attention from the ship, only to fall silent. In the end, Zuko decided to pass the talking onto his uncle. “Uncle! Tell Commander Zhao what happened!”

Iroh’s eyes widened in surprise as he was addressed by Zuko, “Yes. I will do that. It was incredible!” Iroh related enthusiastically before he murmured to Zuko from the corner of his mouth in a confused tone, “What? Did we crash or something?”

“Yes! Right into… an Earth Kingdom ship!” Zuko exclaimed in an attempt to make their story more convincing. Although Zhao seemed to be getting more suspicious with each word. Since Akane was yet to say anything, Zuko thought it would be a good idea for her to add more to their story. “Isn’t that right, Akane?”

Akane’s eyes widened as she glanced at Zuko, not really sure what to say in this situation. However, Zhao ended up saving Akane from any trouble as he butted into their conversation.

“Really? You must regale me with all of the thrilling details. Join me for a drink?” Zhao challenged as he leaned into Zuko’s face.

Zuko averted his gaze and started to walk away, “Sorry, but we have to go.”

Zhao smiled evilly at him as he started to walk away, his advance halted by Iroh as he placed his hand on his nephew’s shoulder to hold him back, “Prince Zuko, show Commander Zhao your respect. We would be honoured to join you. Do you have any ginseng tea? It’s my favourite.”

As Iroh and Zhao walked away, Zuko grunted in anger upon hearing Iroh’s tea comment and growled angrily as he firebended a small arc out of annoyance.

“I’m sure we’ve got nothing to worry about. He might just be up for a drink,” Akane reassured him.

Zuko sighed, “Somehow I doubt that. Let’s just get this over with.”

“Don’t do anything to make Zhao question us. We’re already in enough trouble as it is,” Akane reminded him as they headed after Iroh and Zhao. She tried not to show it, but Akane was feeling really unsure about this whole situation but she knew she’d have to appear otherwise for Zuko’s sake.

~*•°•*~

It wasn’t long before Akane found herself sitting in a tent with Commander Zhao along with Iroh and Zuko. The whole time Zhao was droning on and on about the Fire Nations future plans with the occasional comment from Iroh and Zuko while Akane just sat there quietly, not really interested in their conversation. Even Iroh appeared to be disinterested as he went off to examine something in the corner.

“…And by years end, the Earth Kingdom capital will be under our rule. The Fire Lord will finally claim victory in this war,” Zhao declared.

“If my father thinks the rest of the world will follow him willingly, then he is a fool!” Zuko snapped bitterly.

“Easy, Zuko. Don’t talk like that,” Akane said.

“You should listen to your friend’s advice,” Zhao commented as he pulled up alongside Zuko and smirked. “I see that two years at sea have done little to temper your tongue. So, how is your search for the Avatar going?”

Iroh knocked over a weapon display behind them causing them to crash down with a lot of noise. The general cowered at the noise and the damage he wrecked as Zhao turned around looking annoyed.

“Eh… My fault, entirely,” Iroh murmured as he placed his hands in his sleeved and walked away backward with a faint smile on his face.

“We haven’t found him yet,” Zuko snapped aggressively, causing Akane to raise her eyebrows.

“Did you really expect to? The Avatar died a hundred years ago. Along with the rest of the airbenders. Unless you have found some evidence that the Avatar is alive?” Zhao smirked once again with a look that made Akane want to slap him in his face.

“No. Nothing,” Zuko responded clearly.

Zhao’s expression changed to one of disbelief as he rose from his chair, “Prince Zuko, the Avatar is the only one who can stop the Fire Nation from winning this war. If you have an ounce of loyalty left, you’ll tell me what you found.”

“I haven’t found anything,” Zuko said softly before continuing in a softer tone, slightly mockingly, “It’s like you said. The Avatar probably died a long time ago. Come on, Akane, Uncle, we’re going.”

Zuko grabbed Akane by the arm and lead her to the door. But before Zuko could leave, the guards stopped him from leaving by crossing their spears while a third soldier entered the room.

“Commander Zhao, we interrogated the crew as you instructed. They confirmed Prince Zuko had the Avatar in custody, but let him escape,” a soldier declared.

Zhao smiled evilly, “Now remind me, how, exactly, was your ship damaged?”

“You better come clean, Zuko,” Akane whispered.

“The Avatar caused an avalanche which damaged the ship,” Zuko answered reluctantly.

“Tell me, Prince Zuko… What was the Avatar like?” Zhao questioned.

Zuko sighed, “He’s an airbender. A 112-year-old in the body of a child. He’s hardly aged at all somehow.”

“So, a twelve-year-old boy bested you and your firebenders. You’re more pathetic than I thought,” Zhao mocked.

“I underestimated him once, but it will not happen again!” Zuko snapped angrily.

“No, it will not. Because you won’t have a second chance,” Zhao responded aggressively.

Zuko stood up, alarmed, “Commander Zhao, I’ve been hunting the Avatar for two years and I- “

Zhao angrily turned around as he spread flames in an arc, “And you failed! Capturing the Avatar is too important to leave in a teenager’s hands. He’s mine now.”

Zuko’s face contorted in anger and he jumped at Zhao. Before Zuko could reach the commander, he was held back by the two guards.

“Keep them here,” Zhao ordered as he walked away, leaving an angrily panting Zuko.

Enraged, Zuko kicked the table in front of Iroh, breaking it clean in two, sending the objects that were on it flying through the room. Akane glanced at Zuko worriedly while Iroh remained in the corner.

“More tea please,” Iroh requested with a hint of amusement in his voice.

“Now is not the time for tea, Iroh,” Akane commented.

Iroh gasped, “There is always a time for tea!”

Suddenly, a guard entered the room and glanced in Akane’s direction, “Commander Zhao has requested Miss Akane’s presence outside.”

“What? Why?” Zuko asked angrily.

“That is for Miss Akane to know and for her only. If you would please,” the guard replied as he gestured for Akane to follow him.

“Don’t worry, Zuko. I’ll be fine,” Akane reassured him as she followed the guard out.

Akane felt an uneasy feeling build up inside of her as she followed the guard outside. She had no idea what it was that Zhao would want to talk to her about, but just the thought of speaking to that man sent shivers down her spine. There was just something about him that Akane didn’t like, and it was probably the way that he spoke to Zuko. Anyone who spoke to Zuko like the way Zhao did earned Akane’s distaste.

Eventually, the guard lead Akane to a private place outside where she saw Zhao standing. Once the guard made their presence known, he turned to face her with that same smirk that riled Akane up.

“Ah, you’re here now. Come stand with me. I have something important to discuss with you,” Zhao stated.

“And what would that be?” Akane asked.

Zhao chuckled, “Ozai told me that you were highly-strung. That is actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Me being highly-strung?” Akane questioned.

“No, your abandonment of the Fire Nation after Prince Zuko was banished. You had no right to just leave like you did,” Zhao answered.

“I left because I wanted to. I refused to stay anywhere near Ozai after what he did to Zuko,” Akane spat.

Zhao growled at her, “You’ve done yourself no favours by going with that bratty prince. You would be far more useful back in the Fire Nation. If you weren’t stuck with him then you would have plenty of time to perfect your studies and reach your true potential.”

“So, you’re saying that Ozai would just welcome me back with open arms if I took the chance?” Akane queried, not understanding what Zhao was saying.

“That is exactly what I’m saying. You have so much potential that is being wasted on that pathetic excuse of a prince. You could join me as we aid our nation in its quest to supremacy. Then you could finally return home and be treated like you deserve,” Zhao offered.

“You want me to join you?” Akane clarified.

“Yes, I do. You might not see the raw power that you possess but I do. Do not waste your potential,” Zhao said.

“No. I want nothing to do with you, or that monster you call a Fire Lord. So, you can forget about me helping you because it’s not going to happen. My loyalty lies with Zuko and with Zuko only,” Akane proclaimed.

“Very well. I can see that you’ve made your choice. But I should say that Ozai will not give up on you. He wants nothing but the best for you,” Zhao stated.

Akane scoffed, “If Zhao wanted the best for me then he would leave me alone and stay out of my way, just like you should if you would excuse me.”

With that, Akane stalked off and headed towards the tent where she had came from, not wanting anything to do with Zhao anymore. Akane couldn’t believe that Zhao had the audacity to offer her something like that, when it should’ve been obvious that she would stand by Zuko no matter what after she left to go with him. When Akane walked inside the tent, it was just Iroh and Zuko inside while the guards stood by the entrance.

“What did Zhao want?” Zuko asked once he saw her enter.

“Nothing, really,” Akane murmured.

Zuko raised his eyes, “Really? Zhao pulled you outside to talk about nothing?”

Akane sighed, “He wanted me to go with him and his crew.”

“He what?” Zuko roared.

“But don’t worry, I said no and left before he could even offer me anything else,” Akane reassured him.

“I knew that you wouldn’t say yes but I can’t believe that Zhao would offer you something like that. Why would he even offer you something like that? You’re banished just like I am,” Zuko said.

Akane shrugged, “I don’t know. But I knew that he had to have something in mind that wouldn’t be good for you or me, so I refused. Zhao’s always up to no good when it comes to us anyways.”

Just then, Zhao chose that moment to walk into the tent, shooting a disdainful glare in Akane and Zuko’s direction.

“My search party is ready. Once I’m out to sea, my guards will escort you back to your ship and you’ll be free to go,” Zhao stated.

“Why? Are you worried I’m going to try and stop you?” Zuko questioned angrily.

Zhao laughed out loud, clearly amused, “You? Stop me? Impossible?”

Zuko angrily stood up, his anger showing, “Don’t underestimate me Zhao! I will capture the Avatar before you!”

“Prince Zuko, that’s enough,” Iroh said sternly.

“You can’t compete with me. I have hundreds of war ships under my command and you? You’re just a banished prince. No home, no allies. Your own father doesn’t even want you,” Zhao boasted.

“You’re wrong! Once I deliver the Avatar to my father he will welcome me and Akane home with honour and restore my rightful place on the throne!” Zuko exclaimed angrily.

“If your father really wanted you home, he would have let you return by now, Avatar or no Avatar. But in his eyes, you are a failure and a disgrace to the Fire Nation,” Zhao taunted.

As much as Akane hated to admit it, she knew that Zhao was right. It was obvious to everyone except Zuko that his father wanted nothing to do with him. In fact, Akane would even go as far to say that Ozai had been waiting for the right opportunity to get rid of him.

“That’s not true,” Zuko insisted.

“You have the scar to prove it,” Zhao pointed out.

With a cry of frustration, Zuko jolted up out of his chair and into Zhao’s face as the two stared at each other in anger.

“Maybe you’d like one to match!” Zuko yelled furiously.

“Is that a challenge?” Zhao asked mockingly.

“An Agni Kai. At sunset,” Zuko stated, much to Akane’s horror.

“Very well,” Zhao responded as he erected himself. “It’s a shame your father won’t be there to watch me humiliate you. I guess your uncle and friend will do.”

“Zuko! Are you crazy?” Akane exclaimed once Zhao left the room.

“Prince Zuko, have you forgotten what happened las time you duelled a master?” Iroh asked worriedly.

“I will never forget,” Zuko muttered darkly.

“Are you really going to go through with this?” Akane asked.

“Yes, I can’t back down after I challenged him. That will make me look even more pathetic than he already thinks I am,” Zuko declared.

“But you’re not pathetic. You don’t have anything to prove to Zhao. You’re ten times the person he is, and you know that,” Akane said.

“Why are you so against this?” Zuko asked.

“You’re seriously asking me that after what happened last time? I don’t want you getting another scar, Zuko,” Akane replied.

“I know what this is really about. You don’t have faith in me,” Zuko accused.

“What? Zuko, you know I believe in you. Can you blame me for being worried like this after what happened the last time?” Akane argued.

“You’re my friend, you’re supposed to believe in me. Yet you don’t. Some friend you are,” Zuko scoffed.

“Prince Zuko, do not speak to Akane like that. She’s just concerned for your safety as am I,” Iroh scolded his nephew.

“I am your friend! That’s why I’m worried about you!” Akane exclaimed.

“Are you going to support me in this or not?” Zuko questioned.

Akane paused for a moment before giving her response, “No. I’m not going to watch you put yourself through that again. I’m not coming to watch.”

“Suit yourself,” Zuko muttered.

After that, Akane stormed out of the tent with no intention of going back which left Iroh and Zuko alone. Once Akane had left, it didn’t take Zuko long to realise why Akane had been so upset. Guilt swept through him as he realised what affect him challenging Zhao to a duel would have on Akane. He should’ve known better than to act like that to his friend.

“Are you going to go after her, Prince Zuko?” Iroh asked.

Zuko sighed, “I can’t let her distract me from my duel. I’ll talk to her later.”

As much as Zuko wanted to go after Akane, he knew that now wasn’t the right time to do so. He knew that she would just try to convince him not to go through with this, and Zuko wasn’t in any position to back down. How could he, after he was the one who challenged Zhao in the first place? It looked like Zuko was going to have to go through this duel, whether Akane wanted him to or not.

~*•°•*~

Sunset had arrived and Akane was left sitting in her room on the ship while Zuko had gone off to face against Zhao in his Agni Kai. Part of Akane felt bad that she hadn’t gone to watch, let alone wish him good luck but she just didn’t want to have to watch Zuko go through that again. Deep down, Akane believed that Zuko could beat Zhao but that didn’t mean she thought he would get out of it unscathed.

A knock on the door snapped Akane out of her thoughts about Zuko so Akane hesitantly got up to open it since she was half-expecting to see Zuko there, only to find Kyou standing on the other side.

“Oh, Kyou. It’s just you,” Akane sighed.

“Expecting someone else?” Kyou asked.

“No, it’s just… Never mind,” Akane murmured.

“So, I heard that Prince Zuko challenged Commander Zhao to an Agni Kai,” Kyou said.

“Yeah. It should be happening right about now,” Akane replied.

“Shouldn’t you be there with him then?” Kyou questioned.

“I didn’t want to watch Zuko go through that again, so I stayed here,” Akane answered.

“Oh, I understand. Why are you still here?” Kyou asked.

Akane raised her eyebrows, “What do you mean?”

“Why are still here, with Zuko? You could return home whenever you want. I’d do that if I had the option, but I’m kind of stuck working here,” Kyou explained.

“Zuko’s my friend, Kyou. He has been for practically my entire life. I’d do anything to support him. Though, I guess I draw the line at watching him do something as stupid as this,” Akane said.

“I’m just surprised that Zuko made you come with him. He didn’t strike me as the kind of person to drag his friend on an impossible quest for the rest of her life,” Kyou admitted.

Akane tensed up at that, “Yeah, well, Zuko didn’t really ask me to come. I left to go with him. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“Fire Lord Ozai actually let you leave on your own accord?” Kyou asked, somewhat shocked.

“Not really. I did kind of run away after he refused to let me go with Zuko,” Akane revealed.

“Does Prince Zuko know this?” Kyou questioned.

Akane sighed, “No. As far as he’s aware, I’m here because Ozai banished me with no intention of letting me return. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell Zuko that. Can you do that for me, Kyou?”

“Of course, I can. Especially after all the times you bailed me out of dealing with Prince Pouty Pants,” Kyou replied.

Akane laughed, “Just don’t let Zuko hear you saying that. Is there a reason why you came to see me, anyways?”

“Uh, no. Not really. I was just looking to see if anyone else was on board,” Kyou stammered.

“Okay, well, I’ll see you later then,” Akane said as she shut the door.

For the past three years, the only person who had known Akane’s true reasons for going with Zuko was herself. The rest of the crew just thought she was with him as his friend, while Iroh and Zuko thought that she had been banished. Akane felt like she could trust Kyou, since she had known him for over two years and he had done nothing to convince her otherwise. Besides, like he said he owed her for all the times she bailed him out of trouble.

Now with Kyou gone, Akane was left by herself once again to worry about Zuko’s fate. Part of her wished that she had gone to watch the Agni Kai, since then she wouldn’t have had to put up with this much anxiety, but she couldn’t bare to watch Zuko go through something like that again especially after what happened the last time.

“Please, Zuko. Just be alright,” Akane whispered.

As time ticked by, Akane was getting more and more nervous as she awaited for the result of Zuko’s Agni Kai with Zhao. Akane hoped more than anything that he would at least make it out with a small amount of harm done, but she just wasn’t sure if that was the case. In the meantime, Akane just stared up at the ceiling, hoping to distract herself from the anxiety that was building up in her chest. This wasn’t as bad as how she felt when it was Zuko’s first Agni Kai, but it was still pretty close.

Suddenly, Akane heard her door thrown open and she jerked up to see Zuko standing there. Her eyes widened as she jumped off her bed, quickly examining him to make sure that he was alright. Akane breathed a sigh of relief when she realised that there was no new scar or anything remotely close to an injury on Zuko. But then she started to wonder how that had even happened, since she at least expected him to get hurt in some way. Nevertheless, Akane threw herself into Zuko’s arms as she smiled into his chest.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Akane murmured.

“Me too,” Zuko said as he gently pried her off him.

“How did it go? Did you win?” Akane questioned.

“It went fine and yes, I won,” Zuko stated proudly.

Akane smiled, “I knew you could do it, Zuko. I was just worried about you. Especially after…”

“Akane, you don’t have to say anything. I’m sorry for snapping at you like I did. You were just being a concerned friend and you didn’t deserve that,” Zuko apologised.

“It’s okay. I’m just glad you’re okay. So, was Zhao pissed that you beat him?” Akane asked eagerly.

“Of course, he was. For a moment I really did think he was going to beat me, but I just remembered my basics and that was the key. Even Uncle gave it to him after he snapped at me,” Zuko recalled.

“Now that, I wish I could’ve seen,” Akane admitted.

“It was definitely a proud moment for me,” Zuko said.

“I’m glad. So, where to next?” Akane asked.

“Well, the repairs are almost finished so we should be ready to leave in a few hours. We’ll be racing against Zhao now, so we’ll have to track down the Avatar fast. I’m just going to get some rest now so I’m ready for then,” Zuko replied.

Akane nodded, “You do that. I’ll be here.”

When Zuko shut the door to her room, Akane let out another sigh of relief at the fact that he was okay. It was still a surprise to Akane that Zuko had managed to get out of his duel without even a single scratch but even Akane didn’t give Zuko enough credit. She just hoped that Zuko wouldn’t do anything stupid like that again, but knowing Zuko’s knack for getting himself into trouble, Akane wasn’t so sure. She’d just have to wait and see how it all turned out.

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since Zuko’s altercation with Commander Zhao. Since then, the repairs on their ship had been made and they set sail in the hopes of catching the Avatar. Now that Zhao and every other firebender knew that he was alive, it was truly going to be a race against the superiors to get the Avatar in their clutches. As much as Akane wanted to be confident in Zuko’s abilities, she wasn’t sure how he would be able to compete against every other firebender who wasn’t confined to his limitations. But Akane knew that Zuko was determined to capture the Avatar, and just maybe his determination would be enough for him to succeed.

After sparring with Zuko in the afternoon, Akane was currently on deck while she continued her training with some of the other guards. Zuko wasn’t with them since he had gone to the meditation room, and since meditation wasn’t really Akane’s thing, she opted to stay on the deck and continue her training. Despite being decades younger than most of the ships workers, Akane’s skills were up there with Zuko’s best trainers. In fact, she even surpassed some of them in certain areas. That was a result of her high-intensity training that she went through while she was still in the Fire Nation, since nothing but perfection was enough to please Ozai. Not that Akane had to appease to Ozai’s wishes anymore, but that had always been her motivation in the past and it was what made her bending as strong as it is.

Fire clashed as Akane dulled her opponent, Kyou on the ships deck. This would have to be their fifth duel, since they were battling for a best of seven and Akane was currently up three to one. Their sparring had caught the attention of some of the ships other crew members, who eagerly watched to see what the result would be. Kyou made a swift fire kick while adding a few fire punches for good measure and Akane simply protected herself with a wall of fire before spreading it outwards to Kyou, who propelled himself into the air to avoid her attack. While he was in mid-air, Kyou sent a few quick-fire punches towards Akane who reacted by returning her own punches.

When Kyou landed back on the ground, he unleashed a pair of fire whips at Akane who counteracted with her own. Their whips clashed erratically as they battled for supremacy, and the duelling was beginning to take its toll on Akane. She was normally able to put up a much stronger fight against whoever her opponent was, but lately she had been struggling to achieve her true power and ferocity like she normally did. For a moment, Akane thought that Kyou would be able to beat her as he sent a powerful attack at her, but Akane was able to evade his attempt while returning the favour. That was enough to knock Kyou out of their designated ring, which meant that Akane had won the round and their overall duel.

As the crew members congratulated her on her win, Akane stumbled away before leaning over the ships railing as she suddenly felt an overwhelming sensation build up in her chest. It was unlike anything that Akane had experienced before, but she saw no reason to be concerned about her health since it wasn’t like this had previously happened. Once Akane managed to calm herself down, she turned around to find Kyou standing in front of her as he wore a concerned look on his face. But once he saw that Akane was alright, he gave her a bright smile.

“That was a good match. For a moment I thought I had you, but you’re just too good for me,” Kyou praised her.

Akane smiled, “Thanks. You weren’t too bad yourself. In fact, there were a few times when you almost had me.”

“You seemed to be getting very tired around the end back there. Even now you seem a bit out of it. Are you alright?” Kyou asked.

“I’m fine. Just a little bit tired from training,” Akane replied.

“Maybe you should take a break then?” Kyou suggested.

Akane nodded, “That would be a wise choice. It’s getting late, anyways. I’ll see you later, Kyou.”

“Let me know when you want to spar again,” Kyou said.

“Will do,” Akane called back.

Taking a moment to herself, Akane took a few deep breaths to calm herself down. Deciding that it would be best for her to get some much-needed rest, Akane gathered her belongings and left the deck with the intention of returning to her chambers. However, once she walked below the ships deck she found Iroh heading towards her.

“Ah, Akane. I was just looking for you,” Iroh addressed her.

“Do you need me for anything?” Akane asked.

“I was just going to give Prince Zuko a progress update and I was wondering if you would accompany me, since it most likely won’t go down well with him,” Iroh explained.

Akane grimaced, “Is it not good news?”

Iroh shook his head, “It is not. But I’m sure Prince Zuko will be able to handle it. Your appearance will just help soften the blow.”

“Gee, thanks,” Akane muttered.

Wanting to get this over with, Akane headed after Iroh as they made their way through the ships long corridors. Although Akane had been on this ship for nearly two years now, she still found it easy to get lost on some occasions so it was always easier to get around with somebody alongside her. They passed several of the crew members along their way, who politely greeted Akane and Iroh while they returned the greeting. Unlike Zuko, Akane and Iroh actually got along well with the crew members which made it easier to interact with them.

Eventually, they reached the meditation room and quietly opened the door so that they wouldn’t disturb Zuko. Akane watched as he sat meditating, with four candles situated on a table that steadily increased and decreased in time with Zuko’s relaxed inhalations and exhalations. The candles continued to brighten and dim under Zuko’s control until Akane and Iroh walked inside the room, catching Zuko’s attention.

“The only reason you should be interrupting me, is if you have news about the Avatar,” Zuko stated calmly.

Iroh pushed the door away completely as he stepped towards his nephew while holding a rolled-up scroll in his hands, “Well, there is news, Prince Zuko, but you might not like it. Don’t get too upset.”

Zuko remained motionless as he assumed his meditative stance and calmly responded to his uncle, “Uncle, you taught me that keeping a level head is a sign of a great leader. Now, whatever you have to say, I’m sure I can take it.”

Akane scoffed quietly, “This should be good.”

Iroh tugged his beared as he spoke hesitantly, “Okay then. We have no idea where he is.”

That seemed to be enough to put an end to Zuko’s calmness as the flames of the candles suddenly erupted in a fiery mass, brushing the ceiling as Zuko angrily stood up.

“What!?” Zuko yelled, clearly enraged at the news.

“So much for keeping a level head,” Akane muttered as she scrunched up her nose at the smell coming from the smoke while Iroh simply shield his face and withdrew a fan from his robe and waved it to cool himself down.

“You should really open a window in here,” Iroh commented.

“And keep your voice down. Not everybody is awake, you know,” Akane added.

“Give me the map!” Zuko demanded as he snatched the scroll from Iroh’s hand and unrolled it, scanning over the parchment.

“Well, there have been multiple sightings of the Avatar, but he is impossible to track down,” Iroh said.

“How am I going to find him, Uncle?” Zuko asked desperately as he glanced down at the map, with several locations marked down with zigzagged lines connecting each point. “He is clearly a master of evasive manoeuvring.”

“The Avatar doesn’t strike me as a master strategist,” Akane remarked.

“Then what do you think he’s up to?” Zuko snapped.

“Well, I’m not a betting girl but I’d be willing to put money down on the Avatar being lost,” Akane said.

“What makes you say that?” Zuko asked.

“Considering the fact that this map is basically marked with zigzags, it would be safe to assume that he clearly has no idea where he’s going. That, or he’s just jumping from one island to the next,” Akane replied.

“Akane’s probably right,” Iroh agreed.

“What are we supposed to do, then? Follow the zigzags?” Zuko grumbled as he crossed his arms like a child on time out.

“No wonder they call you Prince Pouty Pants,” Akane muttered.

“What was that?” Zuko asked.

“Nothing,” Akane quickly replied.

“How about we wait until morning before we make our next move? The Avatar himself is probably stopped somewhere now so we could quite possibly receive word of his whereabouts tomorrow,” Iroh suggested.

Zuko sighed, “Fine. But I want everyone up and ready at dawn tomorrow.”

“Very well. I shall pass the message onto the rest of the crew,” Iroh said before leaving the room.

Once Iroh had left the room, Akane and Zuko stood there awkwardly as they avoided each other’s gaze. Even though they had both apologised for what had happened with Zhao, there was still an air of thickness amongst the pair of friends, which Akane hated since she didn’t like it when Zuko blocked her out. Deciding that this was the time to properly clear the air with Zuko, Akane glanced at her friend as she gave herself the courage to speak her mind.

“Zuko, we need to talk,” Akane addressed him.

“About what?” Zuko asked.

“You know what. Don’t act like you haven’t felt the tension that’s been around us ever since Zhao,” Akane replied.

Zuko sighed, “Well, you’ve just seemed mad at me for whatever reason so I’ve just left it alone. Why are you even mad at me?”

“It’s not that I’m mad at you, Zuko. I’m just worried about you,” Akane admitted.

“Why would you have to worry about me?” Zuko queried.

“Because I don’t like it when you do stupid stuff that could get you in serious trouble. Like challenging Zhao to an Agni Kai. Didn’t you see how that affected me? I was so worried for you, Zuko. And you know that I worry for you easily yet you still go ahead and do stupid stuff like it’s your hobby,” Akane snapped.

“I thought we’d moved past this,” Zuko muttered.

“We have. I just constantly worry about you doing anything reckless because I don’t want you getting hurt again. You’ve already been hurt enough,” Akane explained.

“Akane, you know that I can’t promise you that I won’t get hurt. People get hurt all the time. It’s not something you can prevent,” Zuko reasoned.

“It is when you could easily not do it,” Akane pointed out.

“What do you want from me, Akane?” Zuko asked.

“I want you to promise me that you’ll stop being so stupid all the time. I know that you want to capture the Avatar, but your safety is more important than him. Besides, it’s not like you’d be in any state to capture him if you did something dangerous that got you hurt,” Akane said.

“Fine. I promise that I’ll try and be more careful,” Zuko conceded.

“Good. Now, you better stay true to that promise, for me,” Akane ordered.

“I’ll try my best,” Zuko smirked.

Akane rolled her eyes, “I guess that’s all I should expect.”

“Enough about me. Are you alright, Akane?” Zuko asked seriously.

Akane raised her eyebrows at the sudden change of topic, “What do you mean?”

“You seem… unsettled,” Zuko trailed off.

“Oh. I’ve just had an intense training session. Nothing a good night’s sleep can’t fix,” Akane dismissed Zuko’s worries.

“If you’re sure. I’ll see you in the morning,” Zuko said.

“Goodnight, Zuko,” Akane called as she left his room.

Akane smiled to herself as she wondered down the corridor, knowing that she’d officially smoothed things over with Zuko and that there shouldn’t be anymore problems with their friendship. However, Akane couldn’t help but think that this wouldn’t be the last time that she’d get upset at Zuko’s antics despite his promise, since Zuko seemed to have a habit of making all the stupid decisions and the wrong moves. The only thing Akane could hold onto was Zuko’s promise, since that should be enough to keep him in line but Akane still worried about her friend’s future actions. It would be interesting to see how long Zuko stayed true to his promise.

~*•°•*~

The next day, Akane was wondering around the ship as she searched for Iroh and Zuko. There was still no word on the Avatar’s whereabouts, and for Zuko’s sake she hoped that they’d find something soon, since it was obvious that her friend was getting more and more frustrated at the lack of development in their search. Eventually Akane found Zuko and Iroh sitting together in the dining room, and Akane couldn’t help but chuckle at Zuko’s scowl. Although the situation itself wasn’t something to be laughed at, Akane just found Zuko’s reactions amusing. But Zuko certainly didn’t find the situation funny whatsoever.

“What’s so funny?” Zuko snapped.

“You should wipe that scowl off your face. It’s hard to take you seriously when your acting like a child,” Akane suggested.

“Akane does have a point, Prince Zuko. People do not take leaders seriously when they do not even take themselves seriously,” Iroh advised his nephew.

“You should listen to Iroh,” Akane agreed.

Zuko groaned, “You two are not making this situation any better.”

“Hey, we’re just trying to make you feel better. You can’t walk around all the time looking like you have a papaya stuck up your butt,” Akane pointed out.

“I do not look like I have a papaya stuck up my butt!” Zuko exclaimed.

Akane giggled, “Looks like somebody needs their beauty sleep.”

“You didn’t get enough of it,” Zuko rebuffed, although he didn’t mean that comment as a personal attack which Akane knew as well. This was just one of those times when they’d tease each other senseless, but Iroh wasn’t about to put up with their shenanigans when they had other matters to attend to.

“Alright, you two. Let’s settle down and focus on what we need to do,” Iroh said.

“We need to find out where the Avatar is. We can’t keep following him around like we are now, since all that does is give him the upper hand with that beast of theirs,” Zuko stated.

“It’s not a beast. I think the correct term is bison,” Akane corrected him.

“Whatever it is does not matter. What matters is finding out where the Avatar is heading,” Zuko said as slammed his fist down on the table.

“What did that table ever do to you?” Akane asked.

Zuko glared at her, “Enough with the jokes.”

Before either of them could make another comment, the door to the room opened as Chen walked in with their lunch and placed it on the table. Akane grinned as she smelt the deliciousness of the food in front of her. Chen’s cooking was definitely Akane’s favourite, so she was looking forward to enjoying this meal.

“I have news for Prince Zuko,” Chen stated.

“What could you possibly have that would be of importance to me?” Zuko snapped, causing Akane to nudge him disapprovingly which mead Zuko rephrase his previous statement. “What is this news you speak of?”

“While I was in the town at our latest pit stop, I received news on the Avatar’s whereabouts that I thought you should know,” Chen explained.

Zuko’s eyes widened, “What? Where is he?”

“Word has spread about the Avatar supposedly being on Kyoshi Island,” Chen replied.

That was enough to snap Zuko into motion as he abruptly stood up and exclaimed, “The Avatar’s on Kyoshi Island? Uncle, ready the rhinos! He’s not getting away from me this time.”

As Zuko got up to leave, Iroh took that as an opportunity to get his nephew’s food for himself, “Are you going to finish that?”

“I was going to save it for later!” Zuko retorted as he snatched the plate of fish.

“Hey!” Akane cried indignantly as Iroh crossed his arms and huffed to himself.

“I know there’s more important things to life than fish, but it’s so sad,” Iroh said sadly.

Akane put a comforting hand on Iroh’s shoulder as she sympathised with his loss. She too had been looking forward to the meal that was sure to tend to her hunger, only for it to be quite literally snatched away from her.

“I’m sure what we have left here will be enough for our stomachs,” Akane reasoned.

“You should probably go and get ready with Prince Zuko, since he will surely require your assistance,” Iroh suggested.

“Are you saying that because you mean it, or because you want all of the food to yourself?” Akane asked.

Iroh laughed, “I’ll admit to both. But in all seriousness, Kyoshi Island is not that far away from where we are now.”

Akane sighed, “I guess you’re right. But I expect plenty of food for the both of us next time.”

“You’ll just have to try and stop me, Akane,” Iroh called as Akane left the room.

Knowing that Iroh was right and that she would be most likely joining Zuko in the line of fire, Akane headed off to her chambers to get ready for battle. Although Akane couldn’t ignore the rumbling feeling that still remained in her stomach. Maybe she could sneak in a snack before she got ready to leave with Zuko…

~*•°•*~

The time had come for Akane and Zuko to ready their rhinos for their assault on Kyoshi Island. From what Akane knew about the place, it was relatively isolated from the rest of the world and they had somehow managed to stay out of the war for the past century. There was also apparently this giant sea monster that resided near the islands waters, which made Akane hope that they wouldn’t come across it. As they got ready for their assault on the island, Akane suddenly felt that nervous feeling building up inside of her that she remembered from the first time they fought against the Avatar.

Although Akane knew that capturing the Avatar was vital for Zuko, it wasn’t something that Akane felt entirely comfortable with. It’s not like she would be benefited in any ways if they succeeded in Zuko’s mission, contrary to what he thought. Even if Zuko managed to successfully capture the Avatar and bring him to his father, Akane doubted that Ozai would think twice about letting her return to the Fire Nation after she left the way she did. Despite her doubts, Akane knew that she had to do her part as Zuko’s friend and help him capture the Avatar, no matter how much her heart didn’t want her to.

“Is everything ready to go?” Akane asked Zuko as she approached him.

Zuko nodded affirmatively, “The rhinos are fit and ready to go, just like the soldiers. All we need to do now is wait for the ship to hit the shore.”

“Can you promise me something, Zuko?” Akane asked hesitantly.

“What?” Zuko queried.

“Please don’t use any unorthodox methods to get the Avatar. If you can get him without hurting anybody else, do it. The villagers don’t deserve to have that sort of treatment,” Akane said.

Zuko sighed, “I’ll try my best. But if the Avatar decides to make things difficult, I’ll have no choice but to use brute force.”

Figuring that was as good as a promise that Akane was going to get, she decided to take Zuko’s word for what it was. The thought of hurting innocent people made Akane feel sick in her stomach, and although he didn’t show it, she knew that Zuko felt the same way too. Akane just hoped that they’d be able make it through this assault in one piece, and that Zuko wouldn’t do anything stupid like he always did.

Soon enough, the ship docked at the ships waters, catching the attention of the gigantic sea monster that feared the ships massive sight as it retreated into the water. Once the ships bow landed on the ground, the rhinos piled out of the vessel one after another as they headed up Kyoshi Island. As the rhinos made their stampede, Akane couldn’t help but glance around and admire the scenery, before she reminded herself that she wasn’t here to look at the view, but to capture the Avatar even if she didn’t want to.

“I want the Avatar alive,” Zuko ordered as they continued their assault.

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Akane muttered.

As she trailed behind Zuko and the soldiers, Akane could’ve sworn that she heard some rustling from a few nearby rocks. With her curiosity getting the best of her, Akane steered her rhino towards the rocks and did her best to see what the commotion was without potentially disturbing it. Akane could make out a few short coughs, along with a muffled voice.

“Katara… don’t ride the Unagi. Not fun…”

Akane’s eyes widened as she recognised the Avatar’s voice before they narrowed in curiosity. What in the name of Agni was the Unagi? It certainly wasn’t anything that Akane had heard of before. It didn’t take long for Akane to realise the situation that she’d put herself in. Now she was faced with exposing the Avatar’s hiding spot, or letting it slide once again. But Akane had promised herself after the last time that she wouldn’t let the Avatar escape Zuko’s grasp again, even if she didn’t want to take him.

This tug of war that Akane found herself having was frustrating to say the least, since she wanted both sides to win. Akane didn’t want to capture the Avatar, but at the same time she didn’t want to let him go knowing how much it meant to Zuko. In a split second, Akane made her decision just as Zuko called for her attention.

“Akane! What’s taking you so long?” he yelled.

“Nothing important. Just thought I heard something. False alarm,” Akane replied as she steered her rhino away from the rocks.

Although Akane could’ve easily given away the Avatar’s position – which she almost did – Akane figured that there would be another chance for Zuko to get the Avatar, since now wouldn’t exactly be the best time for any of them to go into battle. Just like the last time, guilt swarmed through Akane knowing what she had just done. As much as she tried to rationalise her actions, Akane knew that she could’ve done things differently. She just hoped that her actions wouldn’t come back to bite her in the butt.

Focusing on their mission at hand, Akane followed after the other rhinos as they headed towards the village. It didn’t take long for it to come into view, and Akane wasn’t surprised to see that all of the villagers had retreated into their homes. There were a few villagers that occasionally popped their heads out from their homes. Even though their faces were in the distance, Akane could spot the fear plastered on their expressions a mile away and she felt guilty knowing that she was responsible for them feeling that way.

Get a grip and focus, Akane. Don’t let Zuko down again. Akane thought to herself.

“Come on out, Avatar! You can’t hide from me forever,” Zuko shouted as the rhinos made their way through the small village. “Find him.”

One after another, the rhinos moved into the town. Just like before, Akane stayed at the back as she glanced behind, noticing the large statue of Avatar Kyoshi that towered above them. It almost felt like her eyes were staring into Akane’s soul, even though it was only just a statue. Suddenly, Akane could’ve sworn that she heard the sound of a fan opening nearby before spotting a flash of green dart past the rhinos. Their movements were suddenly haltered as three figures dressed in green fabric jumped towards the soldiers, knocking some of them off their rides. One of the warriors landed in front of the leading rhino and opened her fans as the rider stabbed at her with his spear. She moved to the right before disarming the rider and jumping up to knock him off his steed with a spinning kick. Akane couldn’t help but admire their skills for a moment before realising the situation that they were in.

Another warrior came running towards Zuko, who sent a fire blast towards her which she managed to avoid. The warrior jumped over another blast and attempted to attack Zuko from the air, but he simply turned his rhino which slammed the girl away with a sweep of it’s tail, knocking her down. Akane winced at the impact, knowing that it would’ve hurt. With the girl lying on the ground, Zuko readied himself to shoot a fire blast at the girl, but right before to would’ve burned her, another warrior jumped before her and decimated the flames with a sweep of their fan. The second warrior prepared to fight Zuko, but before they could do anything, another warrior jumped off a nearby roof and knocked a surprise Zuko off his rhino, causing the beast to dash away.

“He had that coming,” Akane muttered, somewhat angry at Zuko for almost burning the girl after he promised that he wouldn’t hurt anyone unless it was absolutely necessary.

“I guess training’s over,” the warrior who came to the girl’s aid said, causing Akane to narrow her eyes as she recognised the voice.

Isn’t that the guy who’s with the Avatar? But why is he wearing a dress and makeup? Akane wondered.

While her thoughts distracted her, another warrior launched themselves at Akane with their fans ready to attack. Just before the warrior would’ve knocked Akane off her rhino, she got her focus back on before pulling out a shield and using it to knock the warrior down. Meanwhile, Zuko angrily opened his eyes as he found himself cornered by several of the warriors who had attacked him. Once he assumed a fighting stance, Zuko pushed himself up and rapidly spun around on his hand while shooting fire out of his feet, knocking one of the warriors back into the house and slamming another against a wooden pole where she collapsed in pain. Zuko proceeded with a low fire kick in the boy-warrior’s direction. He managed to jump over the fire once, but as soon as he landed again, Zuko took that as an opportunity to sweep his feet from underneath him, causing him to fall on his back. Zuko then jumped into the middle of the street as he angrily looked around the deserted street.

“Nice try, Avatar! But these little girls can’t save you,” Zuko exclaimed.

Akane glared at him, “Hey, little girls can do anything they put their mind to!”

“Now is not the time for that, Akane,” Zuko snapped.

“I guess you’re right,” Akane agreed as she spotted a familiar figure in the distance.

“Hey! Over here!” the figure yelled, and Akane didn’t need to look twice to know that it was the Avatar as he held out his staff in front of him like he was challenging Zuko. His name was Aang, wasn’t it? Just like the boy’s name was Sokka and the girl’s name was Katara.

“Finally!” Zuko hissed.

Commencing their battle, Zuko sent two fire balls in Aang’s direction as he prepared to face the incoming, burning projectiles. Aang ducked underneath the first and used his staff to decimate the next fireball. He then rapidly spun his staff over his head, propelling himself into the air. He landed in front of Zuko, who immediately kicked the staff out of his hands. Aang jumped up and landed between two fans that were lying on the ground nearby. Using the fans to his advantage, Aang stood up and picked them up with his airbending. Zuko madly charged towards Aang with his fist already held stretched out before him. Aang simply spun around a few times to create a bigger momentum and uses the extra power of his swirl to blast Zuko into a nearby house with a strong blast of air.

“He had that coming too,” Akane murmured.

Now that Zuko was out of the way, Akane suddenly found herself as the focus of the attacks with several of the warriors charging towards her. Not wanting to hurt anybody, Akane simply leaped forward on her rhino and shot a blast of fire towards the warriors with her feet in an attempt to keep them away from her. However, they continued to make their way towards her at full speed, so Akane simply jumped off the rhino and ran past a nearby house in an attempt to get them off her trail, which she successfully managed to do.

Even without Akane and Zuko leading the charge, the battle between the soldiers and the warriors waged on as Akane ran past several houses, stopping once she caught sight of two figures wearing green in the distance. Since she didn’t want to be seen, Akane ducked down and crept around the houses with the intention of not getting spotted. As she crept closer towards the two figures, she could make out bits and pieces of their conversation as she recognised their voices from before.

“There’s no time to say goodbye,” the girl said hurriedly.

“What about I’m sorry?” the guy, Sokka, offered.

“For what?” the girl asked, almost taken back.

“I treated you like a girl when I should’ve treated you like a warrior,” Sokka admitted.

“I am a warrior,” the girl stated before leaning forward to kiss Sokka on the cheek, and Akane could spot the blush forming on his cheeks from where she was standing. “But I’m a girl too.”

Akane smiled to herself, since she couldn’t help the butterflies that swelled up in her chest at the cuteness of the scene in front of her. She then glanced towards the village, and Akane frowned at the damage that their soldiers had inflicted on the village. This wasn’t what Akane wanted to happen. The villagers didn’t deserve this, but they had got caught in the crossfire anyways. As Akane made her way past the houses, she failed to notice that her position had been compromised until she heard a somewhat manly shriek, causing Akane to shriek as well.

“It’s you!” Sokka exclaimed.

“It’s me,” Akane stated.

“Stay back, I’m warning you,” Sokka threatened as he held out his fans.

“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you. Why would I, since you look so pretty with your cute dress and makeup?” Akane teased with a giggle.

Sokka blushed, “It symbolises my bravery and honour!”

“Bravery and honour, huh?” Akane mused as she crossed her arms, and she couldn’t help but think of Zuko when he mentioned honour.

“If you’re not going to hurt me… then what are you going to do to me?” Sokka asked.

Akane sighed, “Nothing. Now get out of here before Zuko catches you. He’s not exactly the type of person you’d want to be at odds with.”

Seemingly shocked by Akane’s words, it took Sokka a moment to recover before running off past the corner. Once he was gone, Akane let out a loud groan as she slammed her fists against a nearby house, frustrated at herself for what she had just done.

“Why did I just do that?” Akane whispered as she bagged her head against the wall.

Just as she did so, Akane suddenly felt overwhelming sensation of pain swell up in her chest again. Only this time, it was much more intense than it was the last time. The intensity of the pain spread throughout Akane’s abdomen, which caused her breathing to hitch as she gasped for air. This pain was unlike anything that Akane had experienced before, even when she had her little episode on Zuko’s ship earlier. It didn’t take long for Akane to get to the point where she couldn’t hold herself up anymore before she collapsed onto the ground as she wrapped her arms around her stomach in an attempt to sooth the pain.

“What’s h-happening t-to me?” Akane stuttered in confusion and shock. She truly didn’t understand why this was happening to her, since this sort of pain had only been getting worse and it wasn’t like Akane had done anything for this to happen.

Akane’s vision soon started to blur as she struggled to walk straight, resorting to crawling to get herself to safety. An array of water suddenly poured down over Akane and everything around her, which only seemed to make her feel worse. Eventually, Akane managed to stumble her way through to the village where she found Zuko and the other soldiers as they prepared to leave the village in pursuit of the Avatar who was flung into the air by a giant sea monster before being caught by his bison and flying away.

“Where is Akane?” Zuko demanded as stood amongst his soldiers. Everyone had been accounted for except for his friend, and Zuko wasn’t just about to abandon her even if it meant giving up the Avatar’s capture.

“Um, sir…” one of his solders trailed off as he pointed behind him.

Turning around, Zuko’s eyes widened in shock as he caught the sight of his friend stumbling towards him. This was unlike anything that Zuko had seen before, since Akane never acted like this. Without thinking twice, Zuko ran towards his friend as she lunged towards the ground in a mess of tangled limbs.

“Akane, what’s wrong?” Zuko asked fearfully.

“I d-don’t k-know,” Akane stuttered as she shook violently.

The concern for his friend was evident on Zuko’s face as he desperately wanted to help her, but he didn’t know how since he didn’t even know what was wrong with her. As he saw the warriors approaching them, Zuko quickly picked Akane up before rushing her over to one of the rhinos and gently placing her on his. For a moment, Zuko glanced up in the sky as he saw the Avatar’s bison fade in the distance. As much as he wanted to chase after him, he couldn’t deny that Akane came first. There was no way that he was going to risk her safety for the Avatar. He could wait, by now Akane was more important.

“Z-Zuko. It h-hurts,” Akane whispered as she buried her face in Zuko’s chest while he rode off on his rhino.

“Where?” Zuko asked worriedly.

“Everywhere,” Akane murmured.

“Just relax, Akane. We’re going to get you to the ship as quickly as we can and everything will be fine. I promise,” Zuko reassured her.

When Zuko didn’t get a response form his friend like he thought he would, Zuko glanced down to see that Akane had passed out in his arms. Seeing her like this was a major kick in the guts for Zuko, since he felt like it was his own fault to a degree. He never should’ve left her alone in battle. But he did and now there was something seriously wrong with Akane. Whatever it was, it had to be serious since he had never seen his friend in a state like this before. Zuko just hoped that it wasn’t too serious for Akane to handle.

Chapter Text

As soon as Zuko got Akane on board the ship after their disastrous raid on Kyoshi Island, he made it his mission to find out what had happened to his friend. Unfortunately, the ships nurse wasn’t that much help so Iroh suggested visiting a mystic that he knew in the Earth Kingdom. Despite Zuko not wanting to stray from the Avatar’s trail, Zuko wasn’t about to sacrifice Akane’s health and well-being for his capture so Zuko ordered the ship to set sail to Iyashi no Sato, which wasn’t that far off from Kyoshi Island.

Shortly after the ship set sail, Akane regained consciousness but Zuko had ordered her to stay in her room until they found out what was wrong with her, an order which didn’t set well with Akane. Although she understood Zuko’s reason’s for wanting her to rest, Akane hated being treated like she was helpless but knew it was better to listen to Zuko than to stir up trouble. Truth be told, Akane was just as nervous about herself as Zuko and Iroh were, but she didn’t want them to worry about her so she tried her best to appear fine. Her efforts did little to help, since although Akane was awake, she still felt weak for whatever reason.

Eventually, the ship arrived at Iyashi no Sato where Iroh’s mystic lived. Akane was nervous about the whole prospect, since she didn’t feel entirely comfortable seeing someone she didn’t know, even if they knew Iroh. On the other side of things, Akane was nervous about what she would find out, and hoped that it wouldn’t be anything serious that would hinder her in the long run. Despite Akane and Zuko continuously asking Iroh about who this mystic was, Iroh gave them little information but reassured them that if anyone could find out what was going on with Akane that it would be her.

“Is this really necessary, Iroh?” Akane asked as she and Zuko trailed behind him.

“If you want to find out what is wrong with you, then yes,” Iroh replied.

“Why does this mystic of yours even live in the middle of nowhere?” Zuko complained since they had been walking for almost an hour now.

“It’s not that far from the nearby village, which was where I first became acquainted with her quite some time ago,” Iroh recalled.

“How did you meet her?” Akane queried.

“It was when you and Zuko were young, while Lu Ten and I were off fighting in the war. Unfortunately, Lu Ten contacted a harsh virus with a very rare cure. After searching the nearby villages, I was eventually informed of Uilani, the island’s mystic. Once I brought Lu Ten to her, she was miraculously able to cure him within hours and he was back to his normal strength,” Iroh explained.

“Uilani sounds amazing. But why is she called a mystic though?” Akane questioned.

“Because she uses shamanism to reach altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel the transcendental energies into the mortal world,” Iroh answered.

“How is that mumbo jumbo supposed to help Akane?” Zuko asked.

“It is not mumbo jumbo. Mystic’s have been used for generations to cure those in need of help. It was even a mystic who developed the first cure for dragonpox,” Iroh reasoned.

“Well, if you’re sure this will help me then I’m willing to give it a try,” Akane conceded.

Soon enough, the trio came across an isolated house that wasn’t too far from a nearby village, which Akane assumed was where Uilani lived. As they neared the house, Akane caught the sight of a figure out the front and it was clear to Akane based on the way she looked that it was Uilani herself. Once they were at a close enough distance, Akane noticed how Uilani was dressed in flowing robes of numerous colours, which made it difficult to identify which nation she was from. Not that Akane had any problem with being helped by anyone from a different nation, it was just usually easy to deduce where someone came from based on the clothes they wore.

“Uilani!” Iroh called as they neared the woman.

The mystic turned to face the sudden intruders on her property, before recognising the old man whose son she had helped all those years ago. Smiling as she did so, Uilani made her way towards the trio as she greeted Iroh first. Using this as an opportunity to get a better look at Uilani, Akane noticed that there was paint adorned on her face with large earrings and matching bracelets to go with them. Uilani was certainly unlike anyone that Akane had seen before, since just the sight of her was mesmerising on its own.

“Well, if it isn’t General Iroh. I never thought I’d see you here again,” Uilani greeted him.

“As much as I wish this was a social call, Uilani, I’m afraid it isn’t,” Iroh stated.

“How can I be of service to you?” Uilani asked.

“Firstly, I’ll have to introduce you to my nephew, Prince Zuko and our dear friend, Akane,” Iroh announced.

“It is a pleasure to be at your acquaintance. Any friend of General Iroh’s is a friend of mine,” Uilani said.

“Unfortunately, something appears to be troubling Akane on the inside. She has been feeling rather faint recently and is having trouble breathing. Our ships healer was unable to identify what was wrong with her, so I was hoping that you might be able to help us,” Iroh explained.

“I’m sure I can be of assistance. I’ve been a mystic for over twenty years now, and in that time, I have helped thousands of individuals seeking remedies for their troubles. I can honestly say that I have never been unable to help someone, so I’m sure I can help your friend,” Uilani proclaimed.

“Let’s just hope your skills are as high as your modesty,” Zuko muttered loud enough for Akane to hear, causing her to jab him with her elbow.

“Don’t be rude,” Akane scolded him.

Uilani chuckled, “Ah, children. Sometimes I wish I had some of my own, but alas I haven’t been able to find someone to settle down with.”

“I wonder why,” Zuko murmured, this time quiet enough so that only he could hear it.

“I understand that you usually require someone to give you a gift before you give them your service, but we are on a tight schedule and cannot afford to be waiting around for too long,” Iroh cut to the chase.

Uilani nodded, “Under any normal circumstances, I would ask you to bring me something of worth to me, but after the help you gave me when I helped your son, I suppose I can make an exception.”

“That would be greatly appreciated,” Iroh said.

“Now, miss, why don’t you come with me so that we can find out what is troubling you,” Uilani suggested to Akane.

“Let’s do it,” Akane replied as they followed Uilani into her house.

When they entered Uilani’s house, Akane quickly noticed how eccentric the place looked. It was certainly unlike any other house that Akane had ever been inside. There were strange paintings on the walls, which Akane soon realised where made out of bamboo, just like the rest of the house. There were also numerous objects hanging from the roof, including several lanterns which illuminated the room along with beautiful dream catchers.

“I take it by the look on your face that you like my domain,” Uilani addressed her.

Akane nodded, “It’s beautiful.”

“We didn’t come hear to go house browsing. We came here to find out what is wrong with Akane,” Zuko snapped impatiently, not liking the time that they were wasting.

Uilani chuckled, “Impatient, I see? If you want me to find out what is troubling your friend, then I suggest that you treat me with respect, otherwise I might just turn you away.”

“Fine, I apologise,” Zuko muttered.

Akane’s attention soon turned to the large space in the centre of the room, which was surrounded by a circle and included a bed at it’s centre. Assuming that it was for her, Akane turned to face Uilani as she was ready to move on.

“What do I need to do?” Akane asked.

“I need you to lie down on that bed and make sure that you’re relaxed,” Uilani replied.

“I can do that,” Akane nodded as she sat on the makeshift bed and spread her limbs out for Uilani to asses her.

“Where do you feel the most pain?” Uilani questioned.

“On my side. That’s where it always starts,” Akane answered, wincing as she unexpectedly felt another jolt of pain surge through her body.

“Then you’re going to have to remove your garments so I can have a better look,” Uilani proclaimed.

Realising that by removing her clothes that she would be exposing her scar – which Iroh and Zuko had no idea about – Akane’s eyes widened. This certainly wasn’t how she wanted them to find out, not that she even wanted them to find out to begin with. Deciding to use this as an excuse for them to live the room so that they wouldn’t see her shame, Akane turned to face Uilani for help.

Understanding what Akane’s look was implying, Uilani turned to face Iroh and Zuko to address them, “By removing her garments she will be exposing herself to you.”

“In other words, could you please leave me and Uilani to ourselves?” Akane asked gently.

Zuko’s eyes widened as he realised what Uilani meant. Not wanting to see his best friend half naked, Zuko quickly excused himself with Iroh shortly following him. Akane sighed now that she was left alone with just Uilani. Although Iroh and Zuko weren’t with them, Akane still felt uncomfortable exposing herself to someone who was practically a complete stranger to her.

“I’m going to have to ask you to remove your shirt. Don’t worry, there’s nobody else but us here,” Uilani reassured her.

Hesitantly, Akane slowly undid her shirt before lifting it over her head, leaving her in just her bindings to cover her chest. Almost immediately once she lifted her shirt, Akane heard Uilani gasp from beside her. Knowing that the woman had to have been gasping at her scar, Akane slowly turned to face her with the feeling of dread inside of her.

“My goodness! That is a nasty wound,” Uilani exclaimed.

“It’s not that bad,” Akane whispered.

“How long have you had that scar for?” Uilani queried.

“Since I was twelve,” Akane quietly responded.

“Do you mind asking me how you got that scar?” Uilani questioned.

Akane sighed, “It was a training mishap. I accidently burned myself.”

“That looks more serious than a self-inflicted wound. Who hurt you, child?” Uilani inquired.

“Nobody. It was an accident. My own fault. I couldn’t control my bending, so I hurt myself. Nobody hurt me,” Akane insisted.

“If you’re sure. But this isn’t the only part where you’re feeling pain, correct?” Uilani clarified.

Akane nodded, “I feel it everywhere below my chest. The pain happens spontaneously, but it quickly gets worse. Then I have trouble breathing and feel like I’m about to pass out.”

“I see. When did you start experiencing this pain?” Uilani asked.

“Well, my chest has just been hurting for a few months now, but it’s only gotten worse in the past few weeks,” Akane admitted.

“Where was it when the pain started to intensify?” Uilani queried.

“Sometime after we left the South Pole, which was a few weeks ago,” Akane replied.

Uilani hummed for a moment as she looked over Akane, “Before I can be certain of anything, I’m going to have to examine you so we can be absolutely certain of what you have.”

Letting Uilani do her job, Akane simply laid down as she let the woman check her body. There were a few times when Akane tried to analyse Uilani to see if her expressions would give away anything, but Uilani did a pretty good job of staying focused and not giving anything away. That on it’s own was enough to make Akane feel even more nervous as she worried what was wrong with her.  

At one point, Uilani just left the room without saying anything which made Akane feel even more uncomfortable. However, Uilani quickly returned with some sort of ointment which she applied to Akane’s torso. Almost instantly, Akane hissed at the cold feeling of the ointment before she eventually relaxed to it. What surprised her was that eventually the pain on her torso started to subside. Although it was still there, it wasn’t as intense as it previously was.

“Can I ask what you did that for?” Akane uttered.

Uilani chuckled, “Considering you just did, yes. To answer your question, I’m not entirely sure what exactly is wrong with you, since there could be many reasons as to why you are experiencing the symptoms that you are. However, this ointment is a rare substance that is meant to soothe rashes, but it can also soothe pain in the appropriate areas.”

“But what is wrong with me?” Akane asked nervously.

“You could have contacted some form of illness from your time in the South Pole, or it could very well be from before that. You are Fire Nation, correct?” Uilani clarified.

Akane nodded, “Yes, I am.”

“Then unlike most people, you are not as easily adjustable to the cold. While the Water Tribe citizens might be used to the climate, others are not. Even then, the Fire Nation is the least adaptable to intense cold weather since they thrive on the heat and the cold is like their kryptonite,” Uilani explained.

“I’m still confused,” Akane admitted.

“What I am saying, child is that you are at a lot more risk of finding yourself attracted to an unwanted virus. There are numerous viruses that can be transmitted through air, without even needing the sender to be sick,” Uilani simplified.

“So, what you’re saying as that I’m sick?” Akane said.

Uilani shook her head, “I can’t say for sure, but that could quite possibly be the cause of the symptoms you are experiencing. But then there are some areas which are alarming to me, but unlike anything that I have seen before.”

“What do you mean by alarming?” Akane questioned.

“If not treated properly, I’m afraid that it could lead to severe problems for you in the future,” Uilani answered.

“Then what can I do to make myself better?” Akane asked.

“The best you can do is to continue to apply this ointment every time you experience striking pain in your lower torso. That should make it subside for a few hours before it could strike again. As for your breathing problems, the ointment cannot help you in that area, but I do have something that can help you,” Uilani replied.

Once she finished speaking, Uilani headed over to one of the nearby drawers before rummaging through it for a few moments and pulling out several leaves in various forms along with what she recognised as ginger root.

“These are the ingredients for Licorice Root tea. When mixed together, they can sooth your breathing and clear any problems in your respiratory system,” Uilani explained.

“I’ve never heard of Licorice Root tea before,” Akane mused.

“That’s because it’s something only used for healing. It’s not necessarily the best of remedies for those who cannot brew tea, but with someone like General Iroh with you I’m sure you can manage,” Uilani smiled.

“His tea is pretty good,” Akane agreed.

“It was General Iroh who suggested that I combine these ingredients in the form of tea to help patients with severe cases. Although I knew it was possible beforehand, making tea wasn’t exactly something that I was good at. While his son Lu Ten was recovering, General Iroh taught me how to make the perfect tea to help those who need it,” Uilani recalled.

“That’s why you agreed to help me for free,” Akane realised.

Uilani nodded, “Yes, it is.”

“Alright, so is that everything I need then?” Akane checked.

“Indeed, it is. However, I’m not sure if it will be a permanent solution for your troubles so I must ask you to keep General Iroh updated on your progress and in return he will inform me if there are any troubles. In the meantime, I will continue to do as much research as I can to find out what exactly has caused you this stress,” Uilani proclaimed.

Akane smiled gratefully at Uilani, appreciative of her help, “Thank you for helping me.”

Uilani returned a similar smile, “No need to thank my, child. Helping people is what I do. Now, I’ll let you get dressed while I go talk to General Iroh.”

Akane nodded at Uilani before quickly redressing herself and making sure that she had everything that Uilani had given her. Although Uilani hadn’t helped her completely, Uilani had still done plenty of help which would surely make things easier for Akane in the long run. Once she was sure she had everything ready, Akane headed out of Uilani’s house where she found Zuko waiting for her while Iroh and Uilani talked nearby.

“Is everything alright?” Zuko asked, concerned for his friend’s well-being.

Akane smiled at him, “I’ll be honest and say that Uilani couldn’t exactly pinpoint what was causing me to have these troubles, but she did give some potential reasons that could be the cause. She also gave me some herbs and remedies to help me feel better if I have trouble again.”

“That’s great. Now we just have to make sure that you have them with you at all times. I don’t want to risk you getting into trouble again,” Zuko said.

Akane grabbed Zuko’s shoulder, “Zuko, you don’t have to worry about me, I can take care of myself. Besides, we have much more important things to worry about.”

“I suppose your right,” Zuko agreed before noticing Iroh walking towards them. “Here comes Uncle.”

“Did everything go alright with Uilani?” Akane queried.

Iroh nodded, “Yes, she just went over the remedies that she gave you and you are to take those whenever you feel the slightest amount of pain. But you must be careful of how much you use since Uilani only gave us enough to last a few months.”

“I’ll be careful,” Akane reassured him.

“Now that we’re done here, can we please move on?” Zuko snapped.

Akane chuckled at Zuko’s impatience, “Yes, we can Buster.”

Zuko glared at her, “How many times have I told you not to call me that?”

“Obviously not enough,” Akane quipped.

Iroh chuckled, “Come on, you two. Let’s get moving on.”

Not needing to be told twice, Akane and Zuko quickly followed Iroh as they left Uilani’s house, not before Akane thanked the woman again for her help. As the walked away, Uilani couldn’t help but watch Akane with interest as she wondered what could be going on with the young girl. Her condition was truly unlike anything that Uilani had seen before, and she had seen a lot of strange conditions during her time as a mystic. That thought on its own was enough to put concern into Uilani, and she would have to do more research and keep in touch with Iroh before she could deduce what exactly was happening inside the young girl.

~*•°•*~

It didn’t take long for the trio to arrive back at Zuko’s ship which was waiting for them where they left it. As they neared the ship, Akane noticed Kyou talking to some man who she had never seen before. Based on the armour he was wearing, Akane assumed that he was Fire Nation but Akane had no idea what he would want with them.

“Lieutenant Kyou, what is the meaning of this? Everyone was instructed to remain on deck while we were gone,” Zuko demanded as they approached them.

“I apologise, Prince Zuko. Commander Haruto just came to report some very intriguing information that I think would be of use to you,” Kyou said.

Zuko raised his eyes, “What is this information?”

“There was a prison break-out on one of our prison rigs off the west coast of the Earth Kingdom. It has been reported that the Avatar aided the prisoners in their escape,” Haruto replied.

“Do you think it’s worth checking out?” Akane questioned.

“If it’s something to do with the Avatar, then yes. Thank you for the information, Commander Haruto. We will be leaving now,” Zuko stated.

After thanking the commander, Akane, Iroh, Kyou and Zuko boarded the ship before it set sail in the direction of the prison rig where the Avatar was reported to have been at. The prison rig wasn’t that far away from where they were now, so it wouldn’t have been that long of a trip before they reached it. At one point, Kyou pulled Akane to the side to speak with her which sparked curiosity in the young girl.

“Is something wrong, Kyou?” Akane asked.

Kyou shook his head, “No. I was just wondering if everything was alright with you, after you went to see the mystic.”

“Oh. She was very helpful. Although she couldn’t exactly pinpoint what was wrong with me, she was able to give me some herbs and this ointment to help me. As long as I keep using it I should be fine,” Akane explained.

Kyou sighed, “I’m glad that you’re alright and I’ll make sure that you stick to your remedies then.”

Akane laughed, “There will be no need for that, since I’m sure that Zuko will be hounding me to stick to them more than anyone else.”

“You value him as a friend, don’t you?” Kyou asked.

Akane nodded, “More than anything. There isn’t anything that I wouldn’t do for Zuko, just like there isn’t anything that he wouldn’t do for me. We really are the only friends each other has ever had, so that’s enough to make us close.”

“I thought I was your friend,” Kyou pouted.

“You know what I mean, Kyou,” Akane chuckled.

“Do I really?” Kyou joked.

Before Akane could reply, they were interrupted by Zuko as he made his way towards them. Not wanting to get into any trouble with the stubborn prince, Kyou backed away as he assumed that whatever he was here for had nothing to do with him.

“What are you doing here, Akane?” Zuko questioned.

“I was just talking to Kyou. He was just wondering if I was okay,” Akane answered.

Zuko glared at Kyou, “While I’m sure your concern for Akane is genuine, it is not needed. Please leave her to me and make yourself useful somewhere else.”

“Of course, Prince Zuko,” Kyou muttered before walking away, leaving Akane and Zuko to themselves.

Akane crossed her arms, “What was that about?”

“What do you mean?” Zuko rebutted.

Akane rolled her eyes, “Why were you acting like that towards Kyou? He was just being a concerned friend, just like you are.”

“He is not your friend. He’s just trying to take advantage as your position as my friend to put himself in a better position. Pretty slimy if you ask me,” Zuko scoffed.

“Zuko, Kyou is not taking advantage of me. And unlike you, I actually get along with everybody on this ship so I would consider them all my friends. But don’t worry, nobody could ever replace you, Buster,” Akane reasoned.

“You can never be sure of anybody’s intentions,” Zuko argued.

“Zuko, are you a jealous of Kyou?” Akane inquired.

“Jealous? Of What? Why would I be jealous of someone as low as Kyou?” Zuko asked.

“Oh, you are jealous. How sweet. It’s nice to know that you care about me Zuko, but you don’t need to control who I do and don’t talk to,” Akane said.

“I’m not jealous!” Zuko exclaimed.

“Seriously, Zuko. Chill out. Kyou is of no reason to be worried. He’s just being a good friend,” Akane insisted. “Now instead of discussing your unnecessary jealousy, why don’t you tell me what you came here for?”

“We’re almost at the prison rig. You’ll be coming with me and uncle once we get there,” Zuko told her.

Akane nodded, “Then let’s get ready.”

Just like Zuko had said they would, it wasn’t long before the ship arrived at the prison rig that was practically isolated in the middle of the ocean. As they made their way across the rig, Akane couldn’t help but notice all of the coal that was scattered all over the place. Her attention then turned to the smokestacks, which Akane figured was where the coal had come from. But how did it get to here? There didn’t appear to be any way for that to happen. Whatever the cause was, Akane assumed that it had something to do with the Avatar if he had supposedly bene here.

That’s a big hole in the wall over there. No doubt earthbending had something to do with that. But how? There doesn’t appear to be any earth in sight? Akane thought to herself.

With one glance at the supposed warden of the prison rig, Akane could tell that he was somewhat flustered about something, and she assumed that it was to do with the Avatar’s escape attempt. There was no doubt that Fire Lord Ozai would hear about this, and then the warden probably wouldn’t have any good odds at getting a promotion. One thing that Akane wondered was how on earth the Avatar had managed to orchestrate a prison escape. Sure, he might be the Avatar but from what he’s seen he can only bend air, and there’s only so much he could do with airbending.

“And you’re sure the Avatar was here?” Zuko interrogated the warden.

The warden nodded, “Absolutely positive. He was with the girl who managed to infiltrate our prison. She even made a speech about how the Avatar had returned before he showed up. The boy had tattoos and everything, just like he’s described.”

“And you let the Avatar bust all the prisoners out?” Akane criticised.

“We didn’t let him and the prisoners escape. They simply overwhelmed us and managed to get the better of us. If anyone should be blamed for this escape it should be Fire Lord Ozai himself! He was the one who ordered us to use coal to fuel our products, the very same coal that allowed the prisoners to escape!” the warden exclaimed.

“How did they use coal to escape?” Akane wondered.

“Coal is a form of earth, Akane. So, they were able to use their earthbending to manipulate the coal to their advantage,” Iroh informed her.

“Oh,” Akane realised before turning to the warden again. “But shouldn’t you and your guards have been able to stop them?”

“We were overwhelmed!” the warden argued.

“Sure, you were,” Akane muttered before noticing that Zuko had walked away from them and was glancing down at somethin on the ground before he picked it up.

Curiously, Akane headed towards Zuko – much to the warden’s pleasure. Once she was at a close enough distance from him, she noticed that he was holding some sort of blue material in his hands as he gazed out at sea. Akane could tell by the look on his face that he was determined, more than he had been before.

“What’s that?” Akane pointed at the object in Zuko’s hands.

“This is our ticket to the Avatar,” Zuko declared as he held the necklace up, in clear view of Akane.

Glancing at the necklace in Zuko’s hands, Akane couldn’t help but gasp as the engravings on the pendant attached to the blue material. It was certainly unlike any necklace that Akane had seen before, obviously Water Tribe as well. Once Akane realised that it was Water Tribe, she recognised it as the girl, Katara’s necklace.

“It’s the waterbenders necklace,” Akane stated.

“Precisely,” Zuko affirmed.

“It really is beautiful,” Akane observed as she snatched it from Zuko’s grasp. “What should we do with it?”

“Like I said, this is our ticket to the Avatar. No doubt the waterbender will want her necklace back. And if we play our cards right we might be able to make a deal with them,” Zuko proclaimed.

“More like bribe them,” Akane pointed out.

Zuko shrugged as he took the necklace from Akane, “Same thing. Either way, this necklace is ours now.”

“But it’s not. It belongs to someone else and we should do the right thing and return it to her,” Akane suggested.

Zuko laughed at Akane, “I’ll give it back to her once she gives us the Avatar. Seems like a fair trade to me.”

“That is not a fair trade. You’re putting them in an impossible situation. And to be honest, you’re stealing,” Akane argued.

“I’m not stealing, Akane. I’m just holding onto it for her until our paths cross again, which I’m sure they will. For now, I’ll just keep it safe for her,” Zuko said.

Realising that there was no point in arguing with her friend, Akane decided to let the subject drop as the pair made their way back to Iroh, who had finished his conversation with the warden. After that, they returned to their ship before setting sail once again in search of the Avatar. However, Akane couldn’t help but feel the guilt inside of her knowing that they had taken something that didn’t belong to them. While it wasn’t technically stealing, Akane knew that she could easily hand it back to Katara, even if she wasn’t in any position to do so.

It’s the right thing to do. For Zuko. Akane thought to herself, although it wasn’t as convincing as she’d like it to be.

Chapter Text

Now that Zuko had found the waterbenders necklace, he had grown more determined than ever to capture the Avatar. They had stopped at a nearby area close to the prison rig that the Avatar had helped liberate, and Zuko was hoping to find some reliable information to aid them in their search. As for Akane, she was making use of the remedies that she had been given by Uilani, which had definitely bene helpful since she started using them. Although they didn’t stop her problems immediately, they still helped subdue them which was more than enough for Akane.

Unfortunately for Akane, Zuko had been pestering her about taking her medicine and while she appreciated his concern, it was certainly getting annoying with the way he went about with it. Akane knew that Zuko was just worried about her, which she knew he had every right to be given the fact that she was his friend. Then again, Akane never got this worried about Zuko. He was practically treating her like she was helpless, which irritated Akane to no end.

“For Agni’s sake, Zuko stop it! I’m not invalid,” Akane snapped after Zuko reminded her to take her medicine for the thirteenth time that day.

Zuko held up his hands in defence, “I never said you were.”

“No, but you’re certainly treating me like I am. I don’t need you constantly reminding me to take my medicine, especially when I’m getting ready to take it right now,” Akane snapped.

“I’m just doing my job as your friend to keep you safe. If you don’t take your medicine –“ Zuko started.

“I know, Zuko. You don’t have to remind me,” Akane interrupted him.

“If I don’t, then I’m sure you’ll have no problem with me standing here while I watch you take your medicine,” Zuko said.

Akane rolled her eyes, “Be my guest.”

Biting her tongue as she did so, Akane carefully mixed the ingredients together before she added them into a cup with the tea for her to drink. Iroh had taught her how to mix it perfectly, and it was supposed to help her with her breathing issue. She had already applied the ointment for her stomach problem, now all she had to do was drink her tea. Once the ingredients were properly mixed together, she took one big sip as she drank them in one go, releasing a sigh once she did so before turning to face Zuko.

“There, see? All gone,” Akane stated as she showed him the empty cup.

“Good. Now, let’s get out of here,” Zuko ordered.

“Can’t we have a snack before we go?” Akane asked.

“You just drank tea,” Zuko pointed out.

“Yeah, but tea isn’t really… fulfilling. I could go for some fire flakes,” Akane grinned as she headed towards the cupboard that held her stomachs desires.

“Just don’t take too long,” Zuko called.

“I’m just getting some fire flakes,” Akane muttered as she reached forward to grab the packet of fire flakes.

However, just as she took one of the leftover packets, her foot slipped off from the part of the cupboard that it was holding onto. Before she even realised what was happening, Akane fell tumbling onto the ground with the cupboard crashing down on top of her.

“Akane! Are you okay?” Zuko worriedly exclaimed as he ran over to his friend’s side.

“Yes. Just get this cupboard off me,” Akane groaned as she tried to squeeze out, but to no avail.

“I’ve got it,” Zuko calmed her.

Sure enough, Zuko was able to lift the cupboard off Akane and put it back into its place before he went to his friend’s aid. Akane couldn’t help but admire Zuko for his strength, since there was no way that she would’ve been able to lift that up on her own. The cupboard wasn’t the only thing that came tumbling down, since Akane spotted the bundle of fire flakes that had escaped form her grasp. Grinning, she bent down to pick it up before opening it up and taking a few for a bite.

Judging on the look on his face, Akane could tell that Zuko wasn’t exactly pleased with her and that was only confirmed when he simply lifted his hand up and whacked the fire flakes out of her hand, causing them to rain everywhere.

“Hey!” Akane cried indignantly.

“Look at the mess you’ve made!” Zuko exclaimed.

“You certainly didn’t help by whacking my fire flakes all over the place. What did they ever do to you?” Akane challenged.

Before Zuko could respond, the door opened and they turned to see Iroh standing there with a confused look on his face. His confusion soon morphed into one of understanding as he spotted Akane and Zuko standing in the middle of the room.

“I should’ve known that you two were behind this commotion,” Iroh stated as he walked into the room.

“I just wanted some fire flakes. The cupboard fell on me,” Akane defended herself.

“Sure, blame the cupboard,” Zuko jested.

“You’re right, I shouldn’t blame the cupboard. I should blame gravity for not doing its job,” Akane muttered.

“Alright, you two. How about we get someone to clean this mess up so you can go off and do whatever it is you need to do?” Iroh suggested.

“Whatever,” Zuko conceded.

Not wanting to be held up by his uncle and friend any longer, Zuko stepped out of the room leaving Akane and Iroh to themselves. Even though Iroh didn’t seem mad at her, Akane still felt bad since the mess was technically her fault.

“I swear, Iroh. I didn’t mean to make all of… this,” Akane trailed off as she glanced around the room.

“No worries, Akane. Have you got plans for the rest of the afternoon?” Iroh asked.

Akane raised her eyebrows, “No, why?”

“Because I was going to go relax in the nearby springs. It’s certainly more relaxing and enjoyable when you’re a firebender. You can come with me if you want,” Iroh offered.

While Iroh’s offer did sound tempting, Akane was hesitant about accepting it since that would mean showing off her scar. Then she figured that as long as she wore a long shirt, she shouldn’t have any problem with exposing herself.

“That sounds like a great idea. Should we tell Zuko where we’re going?” Akane checked.

Iroh brushed off Akane’s concerns, “I mentioned to him before that I wanted to go examine the hot springs. Once he doesn’t find you, he’ll assume that you came with me.”

“Well, alright,” Akane shrugged.

Taking one quick glance around the room, Akane quickly grabbed another packet of fire flakes that was left on the ground, smiling in satisfaction as she felt them tingling her test buds. Now that she had her hunger satisfied, she could spend the afternoon relaxing in the hot springs which certainly sounded a lot better than watching Zuko do his orders.

~*•°•*~

Hours later, Akane found herself relaxing in the nice hot springs not too far from where their ship was docked. Surprisingly, there had been quite a few of them in the same area which meant that both herself and Iroh got their own spring, which Akane was thankful for. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel comfortable around Iroh, she just didn’t feel comfortable being that close to him, especially considering he wasn’t even dressed.

For the most part, the two just relaxed in their own separate springs. Of course, there was the occasional conversation that came about every few minutes. With Iroh, Akane felt like she could go to him for anything. Well, not everything since she’d certainly never tell him about her scar. But for the most part, Iroh had been her confident especially after Ursa had left all those years ago. Sighing, Akane glanced wistfully in the distance as she wondered where the woman was now. She hoped that Ursa was safe, but since she hadn’t seen her since the night she disappeared, Akane wasn’t so sure.

One thing that the hot springs were good for were for soaking away Akane’s troubles, since she hadn’t felt this relaxed in ages. How could she, when she was constantly chasing the Avatar and barely had any time to unwind? Admittedly, Akane wouldn’t rather be anywhere else but she could safely say that the job got a bit tiring at times. Said job just so happened to be what interrupted Akane and Iroh from their relaxation, when Zuko came storming towards them.

“Uncle! Akane! It’s time to leave! Where are you? Akane! Uncle Iroh!” Zuko shouted.

“Over here!” Iroh called out to his nephew as he relaxed in a hot spring.

“Uncle? Where’s Akane?” Zuko demanded.

“To your right,” Akane replied, giving Zuko a slight wave.

Assuming that Akane was in next to no clothes like his uncle was, Zuko shielded his eyes from his friend’s direction, since he didn’t want her to think he was some perve.

Akane chuckled, “It’s okay, Zuko. You can look.”

Zuko frustratingly shook his head, “We need to move on. We’re closing in on the Avatar’s trail and I don’t want to lose him.”

“You look tired, Prince Zuko,” Iroh observed. “Why don’t you join me in these hot springs and soak away your troubles?”

“It really works,” Akane said.

“My troubles cannot be soaked away. It’s time to go!” Zuko insisted.

“You should take your teacher’s advice and relax a little. The temperature’s just right. I heated it myself,” Iroh said as he breathed steam through his nose, causing bubbles to form in the water.

“Enough!” Zuko yelled. “We need to leave now. Get out of the water!”

“Very well!” Iroh sighed as he got up, exposing himself in the process.

Zuko shielded his eyes, “On second thought, why don’t you take another few minutes? But be back at the ship in a half-hour or I’m leaving without you! That goes for you too, Akane!”

With that, Zuko left his best friend and his uncle to themselves, and Akane couldn’t help but shake her head at Iroh, knowing that he had just scarred his nephew for life (figuratively, of course) just to get rid of him.

“That image is probably permanently engraved in his mind forever,” Akane commented.

“My nephew should know better than to disrupt relaxation. This is something that cannot be rushed,” Iroh said.

Akane rolled her eyes, “Sure it is.”

While Akane wanted to head back to the ship, she knew that if she left there was a very likelihood that Iroh would go ahead and miss their deadline, and Akane didn’t want Zuko to be upset with them. Besides, the springs certainly were relaxing and another half hour would certainly do Akane some good.

~*•°•*~

Time seemed to get away from them, since it wasn’t long before Akane realised that their deadline had passed and they were still in the hot springs. It would be safe to say that Akane didn’t fulfil her job of making sure that Iroh made it back to the ship in time. Especially since Iroh still remained asleep in his hot spring after dozing off some time ago. But she figured that it’d be better to be late than to not show up at all.

“Iroh, we have to leave,” Akane stated, only to get no response but a few snores from the old man. “Come on, Iroh. We don’t want to have to deal with a ticked off Zuko because we missed our deadline.”

Akane’s words seemed to have no affect on the sleeping man as he made no movement whatsoever. Not even the slightest stir. This wouldn’t be the first time that Iroh’s sleeping was an issue.

“Iroh. Wake up,” Akane yelled, only to get no response yet again.

Out of the corner of her eye, Akane caught the sight of a meadow vole scurrying across her hot spring. An idea quickly formed in her mind and stopped the creature in its tracks.

“Hey, do you reckon you could wake him up for me?” Akane asked the tiny creature, only for it to give her a confused glance before hopping away and into the bushes.

That seemed to do the trick though, since it wasn’t long before Akane heard loud rustling noises coming from the nearby bushes. The rustling increased before Iroh finally started to awaken from his sleep.

“Who’s there?” Iroh asked as he leaned forward.

“Relax, it’s nothing,” Akane replied as she pointed at the creature sitting on Iroh’s spring.

“That is not just nothing, Akane. It’s a meadow vole! I should have known,” Iroh commented as he took the creature into the palm of his hand. “You startled me, little one.”

“Well, you wouldn’t wake up so I had to get you up somehow,” Akane said.

Iroh sighed, “It seems I dozed off and missed my nephew’s deadline, but it was a very sweet nap.”

“That isn’t going to save us from the lecture that we’re sure to get from Zuko,” Akane commented.

Suddenly, the meadow vole leapt up and down. That was followed by shaking and the ground moving towards Akane and Iroh, causing Akane to glance worriedly around. The rock at the bottom of their springs jumped up, capturing them booth. Three Earth Kingdom soldiers surrounded them.

“He’s a Fire Nation soldier,” one of the soldiers stated.

“He’s no ordinary soldier. This is the Fire Lord’s brother, the Dragon of the West. The once-great General Iroh, but now, he’s our prisoner,” their captain declared, earning a stern look form Iroh.

“But who’s the girl?” the second soldier questioned.

“She’s nobody important. You won’t get anything with her, so just let her go,” Iroh answered.

“Don’t try and lie for her sake, old man. While I don’t know her name, I know exactly who she is and what importance she has to the Fire Lord. Both of you are coming with us,” the captain proclaimed.

It wasn’t long before Akane and Iroh were made prisoners thanks to the three earthbenders and it was clear that they had their own plans for the two Fire Nation nobles. All Akane could do was hope that they didn’t find out what their plan was, and that Zuko came to their rescue.

~*•°•*~

Night soon fell, where Akane and Iroh where still imprisoned by the three earthbending soldiers who had attacked them. They were riding ostrich horses across a long path, with one of the soldiers carrying a light to guide them.

“Where are you taking me?” Iroh asked.

“We’re taking you to face justice,” the earthbending captain replied.

“Right, but where, specifically?” Iroh clarified.

“Yeah, could you be more clear?” Akane added.

“While you wouldn’t know of it, girl, it’s a place the old man is quite familiar with, actually. You once laid siege to it for 600 days, but it would not yield to you,” the earthbender captain answered.

“Ah, the great city of Ba Sing Se,” Iroh drawled.

“It was greater than you were, apparently,” the earthbender captain commented, earning a glare from Akane.

“I acknowledge my defeat at Ba Sing Se. After 600 days away from home, my men were tired, and I was tired,” Iroh yawned. “And I’m still tired.”

With that, Iroh fell off one of the horses before he was quickly picked back up. Akane glanced at Iroh in confusion when she noticed that he was fully awake and smiling cleverly. That was before Akane spotted one of his sandals lying behind and she resisted the urge to grin smugly.

Iroh, you are a genius. Let’s just hope that Zuko can follow our trail… Akane thought nervously, since if they got to Ba Sing Se before Zuko found them, they’d be in a world of trouble.

~*•°•*~

After spending a long, sleepless night cramped on the back of an ostrich horse, morning greeted Akane and Iroh as they remained with the earthbenders who captured them. There was still no sign of Zuko finding them, and Akane was beginning to worry if he would find them at all. Iroh didn’t seem to be as nervous as she was, since he just sat comfortably on the back of his ostrich horse. That was, until, he suddenly glanced at the sky and gasped in wonder.

“What’s the problem?” the earthbender captain asked.

“Nothing,” Iroh replied before speaking again. “Actually, there is a bit of a problem. My old joints are sore and aching, and these shackles are too loose.”

“Too loose?” the captain repeated.

“That’s right. The cuffs move and jangle around and bump my wrists. It would help me if you tighten them so they wouldn’t shake around so much,” Iroh explained.

Akane glanced at Iroh as if she thought he was crazy before she realised that he had to have something up his sleeve. While Iroh might have his random moments with words, now definitely wasn’t the time for them but they might just be able to help them get out of this in one piece.

“Very well. Corporal tighten the prisoner’s handcuffs,” the captain ordered.

They all stopped on the trail that they were currently travelling across. The corporal dismounted form his ostrich horse and moved towards Iroh. As the corporal touched Iroh’s handcuffs, he breathed deeply and heated them up before pushing the corpora’s hands to the cuffs, causing him to scream in pain. Iroh used this opportunity to jump free and blast fire at the soldiers, causing them to jump out of the way. He then rolled down the hill as the soldiers tried to get control of their ostrich horses. That caused Akane to fall off her own horse before she firebended herself down the hill after Iroh, relieved that Iroh’s plan had worked.

Unfortunately, Akane’s relief was short-lived as they were suddenly hit with a rockslide, causing them to land in a heap at the bottom of the hill covered by rocks. All of the soldiers chased after them, reaching the pair at the bottom of the hill.

“They’re too dangerous, Captain! We can’t just carry them to the Capital! We have to do something now!” one of the soldiers exclaimed.

“I agree. They must be dealt with immediately and severely,” the captain conceded as Iroh spit out a rock.

“W-what do you mean dealt with?” Akane asked nervously.

“You’ll soon find out, ash maker. Corporal, keep her over there. We’ll take care of him first,” the captain stated.

Against her will, Akane was dragged over to the side as she watched the soldiers pull Iroh out from the pile of rocks that he’d landed in. When Akane saw the soldiers moving a giant boulder towards him, Akane knew that whatever was about to happen wasn’t going to be good, for either of them.

Only once the soldiers were satisfied that Akane was properly restrained did they focus their attention back on Iroh, whose hands were spread apart across a rock. Akane desperately tried to get free of her restraints, but to no avail and was left with no choice but to hope that by some miracle that they made it out of this alright.

“These dangerous hands must be crushed,” the captain proclaimed as he levitated a boulder and prepared to drop it on Iroh’s hands.

“Crushed!?” Akane exclaimed in horror as she closed her eyes, not wanting to see what was about to happen. However, all she heard was the sound of a rock smashing on the ground and the sound of a chain being broken. When she opened her eyes, Akane was both stunned and relieved to see Iroh and Zuko standing there, unharmed.

“Excellent form, Prince Zuko,” Iroh complimented him.

“You taught me well,” Zuko responded, giving Akane a reassuring glance.

“Surrender yourselves. It’s five against three. You’re clearly outnumbered,” the captain ordered.

Iroh smirked, “Yeah, that’s true, but you are clearly outmatched.”

The soldiers then fired rocks, but Iroh destroyed them with the chains. Zuko took out two soldiers with his firebending, but he fails to notice a rock being fired at him. However, Akane noticed this and immediately ran towards the action before jumping in the air and blasting fire at the rock, destroying it. The captain fired three rocks at Zuko, which he dodges and one of which Iroh uses to take out two other soldiers. The captain brought up a large mass of rock, however, Iroh threw his chains around the captain’s ankles, knocking him over and causing the rocks to fall on top of him. The soldiers groaned underneath the rocks while Iroh and Zuko glanced around.

“Now would you please put on some clothes?” Zuko asked his uncle, earning a laugh from the man.

“Uh, a little help over here?” a voice called.

Iroh and Zuko glanced around to see Akane lying on the ground in a tangled heap, since she was still restricted by her chains. With the help of Iroh and Zuko, she was able to break free from her restraints before she stretched her arms and legs out in relief.

“Freedom!” Akane exclaimed before turning to Zuko, “Good timing you got there, Buster. For a moment I was starting to think that you weren’t going to show up.”

Zuko rolled his eyes, “You two should consider yourselves lucky that I cam looking for you after you disobeyed my orders and missed your deadline.”

“Would saying sorry cut it?” Akane asked sheepishly.

“There’s no need. Now, let’s get moving on,” Zuko dismissed.

“All in a day’s work for us, huh,” Akane lazily commented as they followed Zuko away, ready to get back to their mission at hand.