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Heart of the Wounded - Chapter 10

A month went by. Zuko burns had healed nicely and he had spared with Wolf several times. Jin had slunk off one day and returned with Zuko’s swords.

The Fire Nation outcasts were lounging about. There really was nothing to do for the war effort at this time, especially with the winter coming. Wolf had talked about going up north to see if he could get the northern Water Tribe to contribute, but that would be weeks later if he decided to go through with the plan.

Jin came into the room with a tray laden with tea. She glanced at the three for a moment before setting the tea on the table. “I think it wants to rain out there,” she informed the men quietly.

Iroh made a disgusted face.

“I hate the rain,” Zuko commented, almost angrily.

Wolf shrugged. It might not be the best of things, but it was necessary. Besides, a dislike for rain was only natural for a Firebender.

“I’m sorry,” Jin replied. She liked the rain, but since Zuko said he hated it, she wasn’t going to say that.

There was silence again as the group served their own tea and drank it.

Half way through his cup, Wolf froze with it halfway between the saucer and his mouth. This caught Iroh’s attention. He looked at Wolf, who had a look of hard concentration on.

“What is wrong, Wolf?” Iroh asked.

Wolf shook his head slightly, brining himself back to the room. Now everyone was looking at him. “I forgot to do something. I might want to before the rain starts.” Wolf stood and set his tea on the table before walking into a side room. He returned minutes later, throwing a cloak over his shoulders. “Start supper in an hour. If I’m not back, start without me.”

“Ok. What’d you forget?” Jin asked.

Wolf stopped at the door. “Just a little something,” Wolf replied before leaving.

“Well, that’s a little strange,” Jin muttered.

“I wonder what he could have forgotten. It must be really embarrassing if he didn’t tell us,” Iroh said. He had a feeling it was something very serious that Wolf had heard something and didn’t want any one else to know or worry. Chances were that they would find out soon enough.

……………

An hour passed. Jin started working on cooking a dinner. She was cutting meat for soup when Zuko came into the kitchen. Jin glanced over at the exiled prince before continuing for a few seconds. With her attention half distracted, cutting things was very hazardous.

“Ouch,” she muttered. She looked at her hand. Her finger had a nice long slice in it that started oozing blood. She set the knife down.

“What happened?” Zuko asked. He sounded slightly worried.

“I just cut myself. Its just a little cut, but I need to wrap it up before I finish. Good thing it’s on my left hand, right?”

Zuko sighed and shook his head.

Jin was too busy working on ripping a strip of cloth from her apron to notice the motion.

“Here, let me help,” Zuko commanded. He stepped up to Jin, took the cloth and wrapped it around the wounded finger.

“Thank you,” Jin whispered as he tied it.

“There. Now, how big does the meat need to be?” Zuko asked, turning to the food and picking up the knife.

“No, you don’t have to cut it,” Jin practically whined.

“Girls shouldn’t have to cut meat.”

“Are you saying I can’t handle sharp pointy objects?”

“No. I just don’t think that you should have to cut food with your skills with sharp objects. You cut yourself once, that should be enough for today.”

“Fine. I see your point.” Relieved of her current job, Jin found herself slightly bored. She wandered around the kitchen. She trailed over to the soup and looked inside. The yellowish liquid bubbled slightly. She started at it, thinking. What to put it beef soup? Carrots, which she had already cut up, and what else? Potatoes.

Settled on adding potatoes to the mix, Jin went into the cupboard where the potatoes were kept. She pulled two out and shut the cupboard. The loudest noise she made was shutting the door, causing Zuko to jump slightly.

“Sorry,” Jin muttered. She sat and pulled out a kunai, a small dagger that had been sharpened on both sides. It was a ninja’s favorite weapon, easy to conceal and deadly. Also great for skinning vegetables. Jin put the kunai to good use pealing the first potato.

“The beef goes into the pot now, right?” Zuko asked.

Without looking up, Jin nodded. “Yup.” She listened as Zuko walked over to the pot. Splashes were heard as the meat was added. Zuko walked back over to the counter and set the cutting stone back.

Jin continued her work. She finished the first one and started on the second. She could feel Zuko watching her. She blushed slightly and concentrated harder on pealing the potato. Jin felt warm hands wrap gently around her wrists. She looked up to find Zuko as the owner.

“Give that here.”

“No. It’s my potato. Get your own.” Jin looked back down at her work. “It’s done anyway.”

Zuko pulled Jin up. He held out his hand for the potato. Jin pouted slightly.

“Give me the potato.”

“I’m not doing my job if you cut everything up.”

“Give me the potato.”

Reluctantly, Jin handed over the skinned potatoes. Zuko took it to the cutting stone and cut it in half. “If you don’t hurry, I’ll cut both of them.”

Jin perked up as she realized what he was saying. She pranced over to the stone and worked on cutting her half into little, bite sized pieces. They finished at about the same time. Jin took the cutting stone and added the veggies into the stew. On her way back, she tripped. With a little ‘eep’ she fell forward.

Zuko caught her and pulled her upright. The stone hit the floor and skittered away. Jin looked up at Zuko. He still had one arm wrapped loosely around her holding her steady.

“Thank you,” she whispered for the second time.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah. It just startled me.”

“I see.”

Jin leaned up. Now was the time, her mind whispered.

A loud rumble caused both of them to jump.

“That sounded like Fire Nation,” Zuko mused.

Jin sighed. Zuko pulled her closer, but she shook him off. She turned away from him. “Go Zuko.”

“What? No. I won’t leave you.”

“That was your destiny calling. Now go!” Jin shouted. She refused to turn.

Zuko looked downcast. Then, slowly, he grew determined. “I will be back.”

Jin nodded. Zuko turned and left.

Jin heard Iroh ask, “Where are you going Zuko?”

“I’m going to help Wolf.”

The door shut.

“I thought you liked my nephew,” Iroh commented quietly.

“I…I do.”

“You could have had him right now.”

“Shut up. I know.”

“He might die.”

“I know! But…it wouldn’t be right. He probably would have left weather I wanted him to or not. And if he didn’t, he would have wished he did. I couldn’t live with myself knowing I stopped him from doing something I know he has to do. So, I told him to go.”

“You love him that much.”

Jin nodded. Iroh walked over and put his hand on her shoulder. “It will be all right.”

Jin nodded again. She brushed at the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.

“It will be an hour before the soup is ready,” she mumbled. “Just leave it until then.” Jin started to walk out of the kitchen.

Another rumble vibrated in the room, and she braced herself against the wall. Rain began to pelt the roof.

“I advise you not to go out in this.”

Jin turned, laughing sarcastically. “Yeah, I’m going to go out in the rain.” She sighed. “I’ll wait here. He said he will return, and I know he will.”

“Such faith.”

“That’s about all I have right now. It’s all I need.” Jin turned.

When she was out of sight Iroh snuck over to the pot of soup. He stirred it and made to sample it.

“And don’t touch the soup!” Jin shouted.

Iroh sighed and put the ladle full back.

……………

Iroh was sitting on the couch, where he had been for the past half hour, when Jin ran into the room. “I think I saw someone coming!”

“You think?”

“I can’t see very well in the dark. The rain just makes it worse. I saw movement towards the bottom of the hill.”

The door burst open. A dripping wolf stood just inside the door, panting. Quickly, Wolf transformed. He was missing his cloak and his shirt was pocked with holes. “Come on. We have to go.” He looked around. “Where’s Zuko?”

“He left a while ago to find you.”

Wolf growled. He thought for a minute. “Iroh, you and Jin leave. Grab whatever you think is important that shouldn’t fall into the Fire Nation’s hands. Meet me at the western side of the island in two hours. There will be a boat, I think. If I’m not there, leave. Go back to Ba Sing Sei. You’ll be safe there, at least for a little while.”

“I’m coming with you!” Jin demanded.

“No, you’re not. This is a life or death situation. I need to move as fast as I can. Leave with Iroh.”

“Why do you always do this?”

“I’ll tell you later. Hurry.”

“We don’t even get to eat my soup,” Jin grumbled as she hurried to gather supplies.

“Be careful Wolf,” Iroh ordered.

“You too.” Wolf transformed back and took off back outside.

Iroh stood for a moment before following after Jin. Things were getting worse and worse.

…………..

Zuko had been sneaking around. He hadn’t been out around the place, and he was pretty sure he was lost. The rain had started just after he left, so it made finding the Fire Nation difficult. It was discouraging, but he refused to give up and turn around. So he kept going forward.

Zuko heard movement just off to his left. A form leapt out of the bushes and collided with him. They rolled in the mud from the force of impact. Zuko managed to throw his attacker off and roll to his feet. He looked up and recognized who had attacked him.

“Azula?”

“Well, well, well. Fancy meeting you here, Zuzu,” Azula said casually, attempting to remove the mud from her clothes.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Why not? It’s fitting.”

“What are you doing here?”

“What happened to your manners? Isn’t it your turn to exchange a greeting with me?”

“What are you doing here, Azula?”

“So impatient. Fine, I’ll tell you. Father sent me. He said that he regretted what he has done, and wants you back. So, he sent me, since we’re all family. Family are the only ones that can be trusted.”

“Father regrets what he did and wants me back?” Zuko asked.

“That’s what he said.”

Something didn’t sit right. Zuko stood in the rain, thinking. “You’re lying. Father doesn’t ever regret anything ever.”

“Actually he does,” Azula paused, smirking. “He regrets not finishing you off when he had the chance!” Azula shouted before attacking. A bolt of blue lightning lanced its way through the air.

Zuko ducked and rolled. He reached for his double swords, then thought better of it. Right now, he didn’t need them.

Azula attacked again. Zuko moved off to the side to avoid it. “What’s wrong Zuzu? A little to wet for you?” Azula sent another bolt in his direction, which he dodged. “Can’t fight me like this? It’s a shame that you aren’t good enough to use this kind of attack, isn’t it? That’s why you are an embarrassment!”

Azula continued to send her blue lightning at Zuko and he continued to evade them. Finally, Zuko slid in the mud. Azula smirked and sent a large attack at him. Zuko’s hands leapt up to guard his face.

Just before he did, he saw a dark blur. Zuko heard lightning sizzle, but nothing hit. The fallen prince looked up to see Wolf standing in front of him, shaking his right hand. A near by tree was smoldering.

“What were you thinking, Zuko?” Wolf asked.

“I was going to fight to regain my honor.”

“Foolish boy. With us, you have your honor. Or…maybe it’s just that honor doesn’t matter that much with us.”

“Why did you get in my way?” Azula asked loudly.

“Because I promised Iroh nothing would happen to Zuko.”

“Ah, you must be Wolf. My father told me about you. How you are even more disgraceful than Zuzu. An outcast Firebender who can’t even bend anymore. Not even a savage, nothing more than a beast.”

Wolf smiled wickedly. He spread his arms wide. “What can I say? He’s got me pegged.”

Suddenly, a blur flew into the area directly at Wolf. Wolf stepped back and pulled his arm up. The blur spun in a couple circles before hitting a tree and sliding down to stand.

Despite the wet look of her hair, the girl wore an excited smile. Wolf was reminded of Jin.

“Need help Azula?” the girl asked.

“About time Ty Lee.”

“Zuzu! How are you? It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? What happened to your face? Oh, wait, Azula told me about it. Wow, it looks bad. So many things happened when I went away.”

Wolf decided that, even though they looked alike, Ty Lee and Jin were different. Jin at least had some self-control and limits.

“More fight, less talk,” Azula commanded.

“All right Azula! Um, can I fight against the other guy? I can’t fight against Zuzu. I always remember how fun it was to play with him. I think you’d fight against him better anyway. That way, if I mess up, it won’t be as horrible. K?”

“That’s what I planned on.”

“Watch it Wolf. She knows her pressure points,” Zuko warned.

Wolf smiled. “Great.”

Wolf attacked first. He dashed towards Ty Lee. She bounced off of the tree and jumped over his head. She tried to attack Wolf’s chest area, but he blocked with his right hand.

A little bit of Azula’s lightning had stayed with Wolf as static that even the rain couldn’t erase. That little bit sparked with the contact. “Ow, you bit me!” Ty Lee exclaimed.

Ty Lee noticed what he had done, and smiled. “That was stupid. Now you can’t attack with that hand. I’m sure your not left handed.”

Wolf pushed her back. “Actually, I can’t feel this hand. I think it became numb when I caught that lightning.”

“Man. That’s not fun.” Mai bounded back and attacked again.

While Wolf was dealing with Ty Lee, Zuko and Azula continued their fight. Azula continued to throw her lightning and Zuko would always sidestep. This time, he was getting closer with every step.

Finally, he got close. He drew the double swords swiftly. Azula chuckled and sent another blast.

It traveled the length of the blade without hesitation. Zuko froze as the lightning crawled up his arm and down the right side of his body into the ground. His arm dropped and the blade stuck into the ground. As much as Zuko told his arm to move, it didn’t listen, it just hung limply. Aside from his arm, the entire area the lightning touched tingled unpleasantly.

“Still not so special, are we?” Azula taunted.

With a shout, Zuko leapt at Azula, swinging the other blade.

Wolf was doing fairly well against Ty Lee. She was fast and nimble, but Wolf kept a good eye on her and blocked using his hand when necessary.

“Come on! Let me hit you!” Ty Lee shouted.

“I’m really going to listen to that,” Wolf replied.

Ty Lee attacked with new vigor, if that was possible. Wolf growled and threw her off again. Before she could completely recover and bounce back, he transformed. She wouldn’t be able to pressure point an animal to well.

“Wow, that’s so cool. I wish I could do that. I wonder what I’d be…” Ty Lee had slid in the mud and now stood several feet away.

Wolf lunged at her. She took a step back and slipped. She kept her balance, but it wasn’t enough. The large wolf ran into her broad side. The pair slid into a tree. Wolf stepped back, but Ty Lee was unconscious and landed face down in the mud.

Wolf turned in time to see Zuko attack.

Azula took a step back to brace herself from Zuko’s attack. She caught the blade on her metal wrist guard and deflected it. She pushed Zuko back with a strong shove to his side, adding a jolt of lightning. Zuko fell back and landed in a kneeling position.

With an evil smiled on her face, Azula raised her hand to finish her opponent. The electricity gathered, running up her arm. Right when she was about to release it, Wolf grabbed her hand and channeled the lightning away.

Azula growled. She twisted her wrist around in Wolf’s grasp and grabbed his in turn. She pulled his arm up and around his head and held it to his back. Switching hands quickly, she placed one on his opposite shoulder. A small bit of static ran down the arm and back up it, searching for a ground and finding none. Azula nudged his feet apart so he was closer to her level.

“You know, for a leader of a rebellion, you aren’t to smart.”

Wolf tried to pull free, but Azula jerked harder.

“I don’t think you would be to tough if you couldn’t walk.”

Azula stepped down onto Wolf’s leg, right below the knee. The joint popped loudly before bending into an odd angle.

As Wolf fell, Zuko attacked. With a flurry of swipes, he pushed Azula back.

Wolf popped his knee back into place and stood. He couldn’t put any weight on it, but he was standing. “Zuko, let’s go!”

Zuko glanced back for a second. Azula caught the movement and lashed out. Her sharp nails caught Zuko’s forehead and tore ragged scratches. With a cry of anger, Zuko smacked Azula in the side with the flat of his sword. She collapsed.

Zuko snatched up the second blade and ran over to help support Wolf. The two started quickly for the meeting place.

……………

Jin was pacing back and fourth in the wet sand. Iroh was sitting on the prow of the small wooden boat, waiting.

“We need to leave now,” he commented.

“Five more minutes. They’ll be here, I know it!”

“You said five more minutes five minutes ago. You said it five minutes before that, and five minutes before that. The bad weather isn’t even waiting that long.”

“I know. Five more minutes, then we’ll leave.”

Five minutes passed slowly for the soaking duo.

“Five minutes is up. We need to go. Come, get in.”

“No, no. Five more.”

“Five more. This is it.”

“Iroh!” a faint voice called.

Iroh looked to try and pinpoint the source. He saw two figures in the distance hobbling in their direction.

“Iroh, cast off!”

Iroh climbed out of the boat and started pushing it into the water. The wet sand made getting a footing hard, so it was taking twice as long as usual.

Wolf and Zuko were halfway to the shore when Jin spotted something.

“Zuko, behind you!” she shouted, running toward the two.

Zuko and Wolf glanced back. Azula was racing towards them. The two tried to hasten their escape, but Wolf’s leg gave out, pulling the two ground-ward. Zuko let go of Wolf and turned to face Azula once more. Jin arrived.

“Take Wolf and go. I’ll hold her off,” Zuko ordered.

Wolf wrapped his arm around Jin’s shoulder and she helped pull him up. “I don’t want to leave you.”

“Just get to the boat. I’ll follow.”

“Right.”

Jin and Wolf made their way slowly to the boat.

Azula slowed as she approached Zuko. “Tired of running, Zuzu? Or did you finally accept your punishment?”

“Fight me Azula.”

“Oh, I see. You’re being noble. You’re going to sacrifice yourself so that your friends can escape. How sick.”

Zuko backed up a couple of steps and glanced back, checking on where Jin and Wolf were.

Azula attacked. She switched to close combat, using the stances for fire bending. Due to the wetness, no fire could be created.

Zuko defended with his sword and attacked. Azula blocked with her wrist guard, then attacked with her nails. They cut through the wet fabric of Zuko’s shirt and tore the skin underneath.

Zuko kept most of his attention on the battle, but occasionally checked his companion’s positions. Zuko attacked quicker. They traded several blows until Jin and Wolf reached the boat.

“Zuko, come on,” Jin called as loud as she could. Iroh was helping Wolf into the boat.

Zuko dropped to the ground and spun. His spinning kick caught Azula unaware, and she fell. Zuko leapt up and sprinted towards the boat. He dropped his sword and ran harder. He saw Jin leap in and look towards him.

“Behind you!” she shouted.

Without looking back, Zuko kept running. He heard the lightning blast, but ignored it. The blast traveled directly where he wanted it, right to the blade. A little later, he made it to the boat. It was floating a little ways off shore, and he splashed through the water and pushed it a little farther. Iroh and Jin helped Zuko get in and Iroh started rowing.

Jin yelped as Azula sent another blast in their direction. Iroh stood quickly, hand raised with his thumb, middle and index fingers pointed out. The lightning hit it. He made a quick movement and sent it right back in the direction it came. Satisfied, he sat back down and began to row.

You know how to handle this, right Iroh? The storm and all?” Wolf asked quietly.

“Yes. I wasn’t in the Fire Nation army for nothing.”

Wolf nodded. “Take us through to Ba Sing Sei.”

……………

……………

Chapter 10 – END

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