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Love Runs Deeper than Blood

Chapter Text

The young women scurried around him like spider-rats, dashing in and out of the room at the end of the hall, exchanging bloodied towels for fresh ones and refilling empty water pitchers as they went. His father had already gone to bed for the night, and his brother was in his own apartments, watching over his child as he slept. It was the solstice—the longest night of the year, and with a new moon to boot. A bad omen for any in the fire nation welcoming a child in the world.

 

Ozai stood still, staring at the door, waiting for news of his wife and child. He tried to ignore the memories of his childhood, filled with the voice of his older brother taunting him with spirit tales in the middle of the night. Ozai never believed in bad omens, and thought the stories about spirits were nothing more than babble to pacify the lower classes, but he did know that there was such a thing as luck. Considering the darkening expressions of the servants who passed him, Ozai had a feeling that his child would need as much of it as possible to even come into the world.

 

After moments or hours—the passage of time was endless on the longest night—the commotion stopped. Everyone stilled, and Ozai held his breath.

 

A small cry pierced the silence, and Ozai relaxed, letting the breath slowly leave his body. The doctor exited the room and bowed to Ozai, indicating his wife was decent and ready to receive him. Ozai moved into the room, barely nodding to the man as he made his way to Ursa.

 

She leaned back against a wall of pillows, her long dark hair covering them. Her skin was more pale than usual, and she was covered in sweat. Her amber eyes were focused on the tiny clothe bundle that was in her arms. A small, sweet smile adorned her face as she waggled a finger at it, cooing to the child within.

 

“Ozai,” she said, glancing up at him. “Would you like to meet your son?” Ozai reached down and gently took the child from her, moving the blankets from his face so he could see. The baby wrinkled his face and half-opened his eyes—a dull gold.

 

There was no spark there.

 

Ozai’s breath left him in a rush as he shoved the child back to his wife. “This is a disgrace,” he growled.

 

“Ozai?” Ursa asked, pulling the child close to her breast.

 

“You give me an heir that has no spark! He will never bend!” Ozai shouted, his hand now wreathed with flames. Ursa cried out, but he paid her no mind. “He is useless to me. I will not have this pathetic excuse for a child waste any more air!”

 

“NO!” Ursa screamed, shielding her child with her body.

 

“Move out of the way, Ursa,” he snarled.

 

“Ozai, please,” she begged, curling even tighter over the babe. “Please I beg of you, do not deprive me of this child. I am certain a child of your esteemed lineage will have fire. Give him a chance. Do not take him, please.”

 

Ozai stood over them, flames sparking and jumping from his hand. Ursa remained hunched over the child, sobbing. The babe suddenly wailed. Perhaps he knew his mother’s distress, or he had been jostled too much. The sound was loud and strong, and startled Ozai. The prince shook himself and put out his flame, examining his wife and child. Ursa uncurled slightly, trying to shush the boy. He huffed, stepping away from her.

 

“Very well,” he said. “Perhaps he will not disgrace me.” Ursa sighed and relaxed slightly. Ozai turned away, shaking his head, certain that his words would prove false. His wife had a difficult birth on the worst night of the year. Ozai huffed, settling in a chair near his wife and trying to keep a frown from forming on his face.

 

He was lucky to be born.

Chapter Text

Ursa named the boy Zuko. Ozai made sure to spend some time with his son daily. At first, Ursa was wary, but as time went on, she seemed relieved at Ozai’s involvement. Every day, Ozai would carry Zuko out into the courtyard of the palace. Every day under the light of Agni, he would look into his son’s face.

 

Every day, he swallowed against the rage that filled him at the absence of the spark in his son’s golden eyes.

 

It had been a full year. The babe could pull himself up and not do much more—normal for a child’s first year, the nurses assured him—when it came to mobility. He crawled around and pulled at Ozai’s robes when he wanted attention, but was otherwise a quiet child. Too still for fire. Too soft for Agni’s blessing. Ursa adored the boy. Iroh doted on him. Azulon would coo at the child when he thought others weren’t watching. Even Lu Ten, who often declared the baby boring, would play with Zuko near the turtleduck pond. No, it seemed Ozai was the only one who saw what a disappointment his son was.

 

No matter. His problem would be dealt with by morning.

 


 

Harmony waited.


Storm clouds gathered overhead, blanketing the world from the light of the stars. The darkness suited her purpose well. The young woman stared, her gaze unrelenting upon the high window in the palace, a light flickering within. Her patience was rewarded when the light went out.

 

The assassin darted forward, ready to taste Fire Nation blood—the blood that destroyed her family. Taking the life of a Fire Nation prince would do little to soothe the ache in her chest when she remembered her loss, but it would be cathartic enough, and the coin she had received would be worth her trouble.

 

After tightening her hood, Harmony scaled up the wall with precision and ease until she reached the window. The instructions she was given were explicit. Her benefactor had deep knowledge of the layout of the palace, and guaranteed that the window she was approaching belonged to Prince Zuko.

 

Harmony wasn’t sure who Zuko was, but anyone of Azulon’s lineage was a stain on the earth. General Iroh was a menace to the troops of the Earth Kingdom, but with how often the Crown Prince left his home to attack hers, she was certain the earthbenders would kill him. It was the remaining princes they had to worry about. The less of Azulon’s heirs there were, the better. She would rid the world of another corrupt man bent on destroying her home.

 

Harmony hesitated at the window ledge, gripping the stone with her fingers as she listened for any noises within. After a full minute she deemed the area safe, and soundlessly pulled herself through the opening. She landed silently on her feet and looked around. The bed in this room was clearly empty.

 

Bleeding hog-monkeys, she thought. It’s a trap! Harmony spun toward the window when a small coo caught her attention. She carefully turned back around to see a metal crib with a mobile spinning over it. Cautiously she moved to the crib, eyes widening in disbelief. She swallowed as she looked into it. She gazed into pair of small, reflective eyes. In the darkness, she could make out an unruly mop of dark hair, a round face, and pudgy hands the seemed to be reaching up for her.

 

Harmony felt bile rise to her throat as she stepped away. Her patron wanted her to murder a child. A baby, no less. While she had no love for the Fire Nation, she was not so immoral that she would kill someone so innocent. She knew others with less empathy—a lack of ethics helped people like her thrive in this business—but there were some lines she couldn’t cross. She had already been paid, though. If she wanted to maintain her reputation and not have a target on her own back, she’d have to do something.

 

The baby cooed again. Harmony heard the sound of footsteps thudding near the door. She had to make a decision now.

 

Without another thought, she reached into the crib and snatched the baby, blanket and all, and darted out the window to scale down the side of the tower. She slid around the side of the tower, so no one could see her if they looked out the window. As she carefully climbed down, she heard an agonizing scream. The baby cooed and looked up as she shushed him, sliding down to the ground below as fast as she dared. Torches began to flare to life in the palace. As soon as her feet touched the ground she ran, still clutching Prince Zuko to her chest as she darted into the trees and under cover. She moved swiftly, exiting the palace grounds and staying hear the edges of the city.

 

There was no way anyone in the city knew the prince had vanished. At least, not yet. Harmony ran to the docks. She had already resupplied her ship before she started the job. As soon as her feet hit the deck, she had her crew disembark.

 

“Did you do it?” Li—her second—asked gruffly as they pulled further and further from the coast. She said nothing, swaying back and forth. Zuko answered for her with a coo.

 

“Oma and Shu,” Li breathed, standing up and stalking towards her. “That’s a baby. Why do you have a baby?”

 

“I,” Harmony swallowed, “I couldn’t kill him, so I brought him with me instead.”

 

That’s Prince Zuko?” Li rubbed a hand over his face. “Shit. That’s who we were supposed to leave dead in his bed?”

 

“Well, that was before I knew his bed was a cradle,” she snapped. The baby cried, startled by her outburst. She shushed him, rocking him in her arms.

 

“Hey, hey,” Li said, hands up, “I didn’t think you knew. You wouldn’t do a job like that, same as me. I just—what’s going to happen?”

 

“If that man gets in touch with us, we tell him we killed the boy outside the palace. We tell him there wasn’t time to do it there,” she said, a little desperately. “The problem has been removed. There’s no way this kid will come back—he won’t even know who he is, and none of his family will either. Gold eyes are becoming more common in the Earth Kingdom. Zuko could be anyone.”

 

“We can’t take care of a baby, Harmony,” Li said, his common sense rearing its ugly head.

 

Harmony sighed and looked down at the small bundle in her arms, smiling as his bright eyes took in his new surroundings.

 

“Then we’ll find someone who can.”

 


 

“Ursa.”

 

She wouldn’t move.

 

“Ursa.”

 

She couldn’t move.

 

Ursa laid on the empty bed in Zuko’s room, completely despondent. Her eyes were dry and itchy from crying all night. The sun was preparing to set, but that didn’t matter. It had hidden behind the clouds all day. Even Agni grieved with the Fire Nation. Ursa stared out the window, feeling her heart shatter all over again.

 

Zuko was gone.

 

There was not a single sign of trespassing in his room. Nothing was broken or torn. Nothing was burnt. Even the crib was undisturbed, save for the missing blanket. In the cover of a moonless night, just after her son’s first birthday, he had vanished. It could be worse. They could have killed him and left the body. His disappearance gave her hope. It was not enough to move her, but it kept her from stopping her own heart.

 

“Ursa,” Ozai sat at the edge of the bed and touched the back of her hand. She flinched away from him and heard him sigh. “We will find him,” he said, resolutely, “and if we don’t, we will not let those who did this go unpunished.”

 

Ursa felt her grief tighten in her chest and she pressed her lips together to stop the new onslaught of tears that threatened to consume her. “Our son,” she whispered.

 

“Agni will be with him when we cannot,” Ozai said, tiredly. Ursa turned her head and stared into the blank face of her husband. His gold eyes were downcast and an ugly scowl marred his features. He caught her gaze and softened his mouth into a frown. “What do you need?” he asked.

 

Ursa shook her head and turned away, facing the window once again. “To be alone with my grief.”

 

For several heartbeats, neither of them moved. Even the air was still in the quiet room.

 

“Very well.”

 

The bed creaked slightly. Footsteps moved further and further from her. At last, she heard the click of the door shutting. Ursa sat up and turned to find she was the only occupant in the room, as requested. She let her tears fall again. Sobs wracked her body, and she pressed a pillow tightly against her mouth to muffle her cries. Eventually the tightness in her chest began to ease. Her heart stopped pounding as hard, and the gulps of air she caught between her sobs turned into steadying breaths. She trembled, pulling the pillow from her face and clutching it against her chest.

 

For the first time that day, the clouds parted, allowing the red-orange glow of the sun fill the room. The warm rays hit her face, and Ursa slipped from the edge of the bed to the floor. Kneeling with her head and hands pressed to the floor in contrition, Ursa eased her breathing. Breath was life. Breath fed the fire, and the fire protected them. Agni protected them.

 

“Agni,” she begged, whispering so low that only the Spirits could hear, “Please, hear my prayer. I beg of you, protect my boy. He is one of your children, and though we can’t see it yet, I believe he is one of your blessed. Please, save Zuko. Protect him and deliver him to safe harbor, so that I may hold my child in my arms once more. Let him come home.”

 

A warm breeze blew through the window—odd, for winter—making Ursa look up. The clouds moved again to cover the sun, casting the room in shadow. Ursa picked herself up from the floor, only to fall into the bed, consumed by her loss. She hoped Agni would answer her prayer.

 

Otherwise, she may never be whole again.

 

Chapter Text

The sun was bright, shining high above them. The sky had very few clouds, showing that the weather would be good for the next few days. It was quiet. The children had all been put to bed and as the hours stretched on, Bato became a little jealous of them. Hakoda sat outside the entrance of the igloo before them, his head pressed into his gloved hands. Bato sat beside him, a firm hand on his best friend’s shoulder.

 

“Tui and La will watch over your wife, Hakoda,” he said calmly.

 

“How do you know?” Hakoda moaned, freeing his head from his hands. His eyes were wild and panicked. “Spirits, Bato, after all you’ve been through, how can you be confident about this?”

 

Bato ignored the sting of his best friend’s words. He knew Hakoda often lacked tact. “I have faith,” he said, gently. “I have faith in Kanna to deliver the child, and faith in Kya to bear it. Your wife is strong, and if your child has at least a fraction of your stubbornness, they will come into this world screaming to be heard.” As soon as the words left his mouth, a small cry could be heard from inside. Hakoda looked at the entryway, launching himself to his feet. Bato followed, standing behind his chief as they waited.

 

Kanna emerged, her weathered face broken into a bright smile. She gestured them inside. “Come, my son,” she said. “Come and meet your firstborn. Name him so he may receive the blessings of the Moon and Ocean Spirits.” Hakoda looked back at Bato, who smiled and nodded him in. Hakoda gripped his arm.

 

“You are my brother in all but blood,” Hakoda said. “Will you join me, and meet your nephew?” Bato felt a wave a grief. He closed his eyes and let it wash over him, then away. He opened his eyes again and nodded solemnly. Hakoda gripped his shoulder and led him inside. Kya was wrapped in furs, a small bundle in her arms. Bato could only see the babe’s tuft of hair in all the blankets.

 

Hakoda went to Kya and pressed his lips to the crown of her head. She smiled wearily at him, holding up their child. “Hakoda, this is your son,” she said tiredly. Hakoda grinned, holding the boy to his chest.

 

“Our son,” he said. He tugged one glove off with his teeth so he could caress the newborn’s cheek. Bato stayed behind Hakoda, looking over his shoulder to see the boy yawn and curl his fingers on the edge of the blanket. “Who are you, child?” his friend asked quietly, smiling at the boy.

 

“He is you,” Bato answered, “and he is Kya. He is the tribe.”

 

“That’s a lot,” Hakoda said with a laugh. “What could I name him, when I have so much to honor for his birth?”

 

Bato swallowed. “When Kyra and I were—well. When we thought of names for ours, we decided to name her for something we wanted her to be. We were going to name her for something we wished she would seek.”

 

Hakoda’s smile fell at the mention of his friend’s grief. “Bato—I shouldn’t have—”

 

“I am happy to be here, to meet my nephew,” Bato replied in a firm voice. “New life is always a joy, no matter what is in the past. You grieved with me. Now, let me celebrate with you.” He smirked a little. “Now, we don’t have to be so serious, either.  There is no shame in naming him for something beautiful or strong. He looks like a Nanouk.”

 

“Nanouk,” Hakoda replied. He stared down at the bundle in his arms, chuckling. “Thank you, friend, but I think I’ll have to pass on that name.”

 

Kya chuckled. “Perhaps not this time,” she said. “I like what you said about naming him for something we think he should have. I think our child should seek to understand the world, and never stop wanting to learn.”

 

Hakoda nodded as Kanna filled a cup with broth from the stove. She handed it to Kya who drank it carefully.

 

“What about Sokka?” he asked. Bato nodded with a thoughtful expression.

 

Kya smiled at him, handing the now empty cup back to Kanna. “Sokka,” she said, testing out the name on her tongue. “I like it.” Kanna dabbed at her eyes as a huge smile spread over her face.

 

“Alright,” Hakoda said, staring into the face of his newborn son. “Welcome to the world, Sokka of the Sothern Water Tribe.”

 


 

The celebrations for the Chief’s son went on for hours. The whole village gathered together, and neighboring tribes sent tokens of congratulations. Bato was certain they would see some boats from Kyoshi Island soon, as well. Ever since Hakoda’s father helped the city against a Fire Nation raid, the tribes of the South Pole and Kyoshi Island had a bond, and it only grew stronger as time went on.

 

Kyra was a dream throughout it all. She cooed at baby Sokka and laughed at all of Hakoda’s terrible jokes. She even let the boy grip her long, midnight curls, grinning at his inherent mischief. She warned all of the tribe the boy would be trouble for the women, since he was pulling hair already. Only Bato saw her pain, carefully hidden behind her piercing eyes, as blue as the sky in summer. He saw when it got to be too much. At first opportunity, he walked her away from the others. They stopped walking when they reached the beach. The sun was too bright. It made a mockery of their grief.

 

“Kyra,” Bato began, then halted. What could he say that hadn’t already been said? That all life was precious, even though this was denied to them last year? She knew that. He wouldn’t remind her to be happy for their friends, for they already knew how much she and Bato supported them. He wondered if Agni laughed at them, high up in the sky, watching over two people in the Water Tribe that had tasted what it was to have a child, only to lose her before she could take her first breath? Bato sighed. Even the Spirit that guarded the Fire Nation would not be so cruel.

 

Kyra knelt on the ground and bowed her head, and Bato followed her. A breeze stirred, pulling her locks away from her face. After a moment, he heard her speak.

 

“Tui,” she said, “La, thank you for blessing our friends with a child. Thank you for protecting their son and keeping Kya strong through the birth. We will love Sokka, and guard him as faithfully as we would guard our own.” She sniffled. Bato reached his hand out and covered hers. Though she couldn’t feel his fingers through their gloves, she still smiled at him.

 

“I wish we could have our own child. By now, our daughter would be just over a year old. Sokka would have done well with a friend. I know it would take a miracle to have a child now, and we have accepted that.” She paused to swallow. Kyra glanced over at Bato who nodded for her to continue. “But if you have a miracle for us, we would be forever grateful. No matter what, we are family, and know we are loved, and will love the others unconditionally. The ocean gives us life, and the moon watches over us. We thank you.”

 

“Tui and La,” Bato murmured reverently. “You are balance, and we follow in hopes to find that balance for ourselves. We thank you.”

 

They knelt together in the snow, watching some clouds gather overhead. It would storm again, soon. He would have to tell Hakoda when they got back. Bato rose and held a hand to his wife, who took it gratefully. She looked up to the sky and smiled with closed eyes as the sun’s rays danced over her dark skin.

 

“Thank you, Bato,” she said, letting him lead her away from the water’s edge.

 

“Your grief is mine, beloved.” Bato asked, nudging her a little.

 

Kyra shook her head. “Isn’t it selfish, to think of this when our nephew was born?” she asked.

 

“Our friends wouldn’t think so,” Bato said. “Kya and Hakoda love us, and wish us as much happiness as we want for them. They wouldn’t deny us the right to pray or ask for a miracle of our own.”

 

Kyra hummed and nodded, walking back to the village with Bato, hand in hand.

 


 

They aren’t here.

 

They’re never here.

 

Agni watched the world, eyes carefully following his son. A child of fire swathed in green clothes on a boat docked at a small island. He was so far from home—too far. The Autumn Lord danced about, creating mischief where they saw fit. Agni felt a twinge of annoyance at their jubilance. Didn’t they see how much danger the boy faced? His child was lost. He was away from his home, near a land where they sheared his children, stealing their honor before slaughtering them. He was in a place where they would gut him the moment they saw his eyes. This was not a time for frivolous games!

 

Lord of Storms and Wind, you test me, Agni growled. The Autumn Lord stilled. They let out a rush of air, and all the boats in the harbor rocked on the new waves. The humans pointed, frightened. Agni felt remorse for stealing the Autumn Lord’s joy. My friend, I’m sorry. I just need their answer, and they aren’t here to give it.

 

They are waiting for yours, the Autumn Lord said. Your sister will always wait for you when it comes to your children, and the lady of the moon does not trifle with matters of family so lightly. The fire prince is your child. What do you want?

 

I want him to be safe! Agni burned. Lightning struck and fires roared. The Autumn Lord danced away, casting rain in Agni’s shadow. But how can he be safe so close to the South Pole? My children need the sun. Without Tui’s blessing, he will die in winter, and that is only months away!

 

Why wouldn’t she bless the child?

 

Why would she? After all the pain my children have wrought, how could she be willing to bless him?

 

The Autumn Lord laughed. Breezes blew through small, hanging chimes. You are La’s brother. La is her beloved. She would not want to hurt you, for that would hurt La.

 

Our children hurt each other, Agni sighed.

 

They do, the Autumn Lord said, sadly. But Children are foolish, and often fight. It does not mean there is no hope. Perhaps, if our children grew up together the way they were meant to, they will be able to teach the others not to fight.

 

They are children.

 

They begin as children, the Autumn Lord corrected. Children grow up. Have faith in your sister and her beloved. They will support you.

 

Agni thought about it, watching his daughter weep over the loss of her son. He gazed upon the boy as more threats came nearer to him. He stared at the couple in the South Pole, who doted on the babe born to their friends. At last, he nodded. The Autumn Lord grinned and danced away, the wind following in their wake.

 


 

“Here,” Li said, bringing a package on board. The rain finally let up. “I got us coin and supplies. We’re going South.”

 

“South?” Harmony asked, frowning. “What’s south?”

 

“Some items to trade for the island, and a gift for Chief Hakoda, of the Southern Water Tribe.”

 

“We can’t go to the South Pole!”

 

Li rolled his eyes. “We won’t be. They’ll meet us near Whale Tail Island.” He glanced at the boy. “The Water Tribe—they believe in family. When they hear about a boy who was abandoned by his,” he trailed off, shrugging a little. Harmony raised an eyebrow and Li cleared his throat. “It’s our best chance.”

 

“A Fire Nation prince raised by the Southern Water Tribe?” she asked, bouncing the baby in her arms. As they left the Fire Nation, they learned more about the prince than they expected. All anyone could talk about was the sudden disappearance of the new prince, who had just had his birthday on the Winter Solstice. Princess Ursa was distraught, but Prince Ozai carried on with the strength expected of Fire Nation nobility. A search had been conducted throughout the islands, and just before they left the Fire Nation altogether, they received a messenger hawk from their benefactor. Li nervously replied the job had been carried out, trying not to wonder at the royal seal stamped outside the container on the hawk’s harness.

 

“Every family we’ve talked to in the Earth Kingdom refuses to help. I think we’re lucky none have come after us to kill him,” Li said, regretfully. Some of those people stared at the boy with murder in their eyes. He wouldn’t be safe there.

 

“He’s a baby!” Harmony shouted. The boy cried in her arms. “Shh, hush now.”

 

“Yeah, I know, but some people—well they can’t really tell the difference between a kid and a soldier, when it comes to Fire Nation,” Li said, frowning. “At least with the Water Tribe, he has a chance.”

 

“Alright,” Harmony relented. “I hope they can help.”

 

Li nodded as the crew prepared to set sail. Me too, he thought. If this didn’t work, they would have to risk the Earth Kingdom again, and he didn’t think they would be so lucky the next time around.

Chapter Text

Bato grinned once land came into view. “Chief,” he yelled, catching Hakoda’s attention. “We should be at Whale Tail Island within the hour!”

 

Hakoda stood and passed the tiller to someone else before he made his way toward Bato. “Thank goodness,” he said, clapping his hand on his first mate’s shoulder. “The sooner we can finish our trade, the sooner I can be home. If I’m not careful, that boy will grow up without me!”

 

Bato laughed, shaking his head. “We could have handled this one, Hakoda. You know that.”

 

Hakoda sighed. “You know why I had to come.”

 

Bato did. Hakoda was a relatively new chief. He needed to make his presence known and respected to those outside the tribe.

 

“It’ll be over soon,” he replied, nudging Hakoda. The chief smiled, staring at the island they were approaching.

 

“Have the men bring up the furs and seal jerky,” Hakoda said. “I want us in and out as soon as possible.”

 

“Will do, Chief,” Bato replied, waving him off. He directed several men to bring up their wares, keeping an eye on their destination. The flurry of activity kept Bato occupied until they docked. After they tied their boat, a man jumped onto the dock from the neighboring ship, grinning.

 

“Hey there,” he shouted at Hakoda and Bato as they climbed onto the dock. His bright green eyes twinkled in the sunlight. “My name’s Li. I understand you have some trade with Kyoshi Island?”

 

“Where’s Haru?” Hakoda asked, frowning. “I thought he would be trading with us today.”

 

“You wouldn’t believe it,” Li responded, rubbing a hand through his messy brown hair. “A huge storm came up in the harbor. There was lightning and massive winds. A tree got torn up by the roots and smashed Haru’s boat! We happened to be in the area and have managed trade deals for the island before, so he asked us to go in his stead. I’ve got a letter, if it will help.” Li pulled a scroll from his pocket and handed it to Hakoda. Hakoda took it and carefully unfurled it, reading the message.

 

“Hmm,” Hakoda said, lowering his brows. “Alright, but I’m not haggling with you,” he said, folding his arms over his chest as the crew unloaded the boat. “Haru and I already know what everything is worth, and our trade arrangement has been this way since my father was Chief.”

 

Li held up his hands peacefully. “I’ve got strict orders not to haggle, Chief Hakoda,” he said, grinning in a friendly way.

 

Hakoda nodded, smiling. A woman with a long dark braid and dark skin jumped off the boat with a child in one arm and a small bundle in the other. “Li!” she shouted, waving the bundle. Once she reached him she put the child down, letting the boy toddle around the dock. “You forgot this,” she said, handing him the bundle.

 

“Spirits,” Li muttered, turning red. “I can’t believe I almost forgot. Chief Hakoda,” he said, holding out the bundle. “This is a gift for you from Kyoshi Island. Haru said something about congratulations?” Hakoda and Li started to step towards the wares and continued their conversation while Bato watched the small child wander. He had a pile of fluffy, jet black hair on his head and was wrapped in green and brown clothes that looked too big for him. He walked past Bato’s legs to the edge of the dock, making the man crouch down in concern. As soon as he was in arms reach of the child, the boy tripped and started to fall toward the water. Bato reached out and caught him deftly, cradling the boy near his chest.

 

“Whoa there, cub,” he said, rocking the boy. He looked up at Bato with wide eyes, surprised. Bato was about to scold the woman—this was far too dangerous for a child—when the boy giggled and grabbed his hair. He tugged on it, making Bato wince. He reached up and gently pulled the boy’s hands away from his hair.

 

“None of that,” he said, softly. The boy cooed and tugged on his tunic instead, making Bato smile.

 

“He seems to like you,” the woman said, easily, folding her arms over her chest. Bato frowned at her.

 

“He’s lucky he wasn’t hurt,” he growled. The woman shrugged.

 

“Yeah,” she said, “he is. I’m not very maternal. Should have figured he’d try to throw himself off the dock.”

 

Bato’s mouth hung open. “Your son could have died, just now. Don’t you care?”

 

“He’s not mine,” she said, nonchalantly. Bato blinked and looked to Li, who was gesturing at some crates that came from their ship. “Not Li’s either. He doesn’t belong to anyone.”

 

“What?”

 

“He was lost. Someone tried to kill him, if you can believe that. And his family—well, he can’t go back to them. They’re the worst kind of people,” she continued, examining her nails. She flicked her eyes up to Bato. “We’ve been trying to find someone to take him in, actually, but haven’t had any luck.”

 

“Why not?” Bato asked, shaking his head. He never understood the strict definition of family in the other nations. Everyone in the tribe was family, and everyone had an important role to keep the family safe and healthy. No child would ever be left alone if their parents were gone.  

 

“Is it really hard to guess?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. “Look at him.”

 

“I already did,” Bato spluttered.

 

“Look at his face.”

 

Bato studied the boy’s face, frowning. He looked normal. He was just a small, pale thing with chubby cheeks and a tiny round nose. His gold eyes held onto Bato’s with interest.

 

Gold eyes.

 

Bato looked up, stunned. The woman was examining him, unsure. He blinked down at the child and the woman took a careful step toward him, making him look up again. He could see fear flickering in her eyes, as if she were trying to figure out if the child was in danger as he held him.

 

“Fire Nation?” he asked quietly, holding the child out for her to take. The boy shouted when he was dragged away from Bato’s chest, whining at the loss of contact.

 

“Yes,” she said, making no move to take the baby. Bato carefully pulled him back, rocking him slightly until he calmed down. “There’s no hiding those eyes.”

 

“I see,” Bato said. “So no one wants him in the Earth Kingdom.”

 

She nodded. “To be honest, I think we’re lucky no one killed him in the Earth Kingdom.”

 

Bato gaped at her. “He’s a baby!”

 

She shrugged. “He’s Fire Nation. Not only that, but he comes from ash makers.” Bato glanced down again, seeing how his eyes sparkled in the sunlight. “Li and I don’t know what else to do. I suppose we’ll have to raise him on our boat. It won’t be much, but at least he’ll have food to eat and clothes on his back.”

 

“You act as though raising a child will be a hardship,” Bato growled. The boy made a curious noise and Bato hushed him, giving him some seal jerky from his belt pouch. The child gnawed on it enthusiastically.

 

“It is,” she replied. “I don’t want children. Never did. He fell into my lap. I’ll do the job if I have to, but I’m no mother, and Li isn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea, either.” She smiled at the boy’s drool covered face. “You seem to be a natural, though.”

 

Bato shook his head. “We can’t just take a firebender back home.”

 

“He has no one,” she said, sadness creeping into her tone. He slowly shook his head. “He’s only a year old. His birthday was on the Winter Solstice.” Bato’s breath caught on the words. Last year, he and Kyra lost their child on the Solstice. His heart fluttered. Had they been heard? Was this La’s answer to their prayer?

 

She reached her arms out. “It’s alright. I don’t know why I brought him out.” Bato took a step back, still cradling the child against him.

 

“No one? He has no one at all?”

 

“No one who can help him,” she replied slowly, dropping her arms to her sides. “No one who can really love him.”

 

And it was true. The Fire Nation had no love for people. How could he send a child back to a place that kidnapped, pillaged, and slaughtered anyone they came across? How could he send a little boy to a family who didn’t want him enough to protect him, who would only measure his value in his ability to kill?

 

“I lost a child, last year,” he said, quietly. The woman tilted her head curiously. “She was born on the Winter Solstice, and she never took a breath. We couldn’t even give her a name.”

 

“Do you want to give this one a name?” the woman asked, quietly. Bato did. He felt it in his very heart. He wanted to bring this miracle back to Kyra. He wanted to accept this blessing from the Spirits. The question was whether or not the Chief would allow it.

 

They waited for Hakoda and Li to finish with the trade. The woman—Harmony, Bato learned—waited on the deck while Bato went to Hakoda, carrying the child.

 

“Who’s your friend?” he asked, wiggling a finger at the boy and bopping him on the nose.

 

“He doesn’t have a name,” Bato replied.

 

Hakoda raised his eyebrows. “A little old for the couple to hold out on naming him, don’t you think?” he laughed.

 

Bato wore a stoic expression. He stared at Hakoda until the smile slipped from his face.

 

“He doesn’t have a name because no one wanted him,” Bato said. Hakoda frowned peering into the boy’s face. His eyebrows narrowed.

 

“Bato, his eyes—is he—”

 

“Yes,” Bato said, cutting Hakoda off. “He’s from the Fire Nation, but those savages didn’t want him, and the Earth Kingdom don’t see a child, they see a firebender.”

 

Is he a firebender?” Hakoda asked, uneasily.

 

Bato shrugged. “That remains to be seen.”

 

Hakoda stared at Bato, eyes questioning. “Bato, you aren’t proposing that you keep this child?”

 

Bato swallowed nervously. “Yes, I am.” Hakoda shook his head. “This boy needs a family, and my family wants a child, Hakoda.”

 

“But Bato,” Hakoda said, throwing up his hands, “he could be dangerous to our tribe!”

 

“He’s a boy.”

 

“He’s Fire Nation!”

 

“He’s a miracle, Hakoda. He’s the miracle that we asked for.”

 

Hakoda’s mouth opened and closed a few times. “What are you talking about?”

 

“We prayed for him,” Bato said, fiercely. Hakoda’s eyes widened. “Kyra and I. After we lost our daughter, we prayed to Tui and La for a child of our own. La brought him here on an Earth Kingdom ship. He is meant to be with us, Hakoda.”

 

Hakoda shook his head. “Coincidence, Bato.”

 

“He has no family.”

 

“That doesn’t mean La brought him to you!”

 

“He came just after we asked for a child,” Bato pressed on, heart pounding.

 

“Again, coincidence,” Hakoda said firmly.

 

“His birthday is the Winter Solstice.”

 

Hakoda opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He looked down at the boy and up at his friend’s face, comprehension dawning over his expression.

 

“The Winter Solstice?”

 

“He’s a year old, Hakoda,” Bato said. The boy in question started to cry, making Bato lift him higher to his shoulder to comfort him. The boy cried into Bato’s neck, small hands gripping at his hair. Bato felt his heart swell as he quieted down.

 

“Tui and La,” Hakoda breathed. He rubbed the back of his head. “Bato, you can’t go back on something like this. It’s not a decision you should make lightly.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Bato agreed. “But my heart knows he is mine, Hakoda. Can you really ask a man to argue with his heart?” The boy pulled his face away and turned to face Hakoda, making grabby hands at him. With Bato’s permission, Hakoda took the child and held him up, scrutinizing him. The boy kicked out his legs and waved his arms, laughing at being held so high. Hakoda’s face broke into a sunny smile. He brought him close, and the boy grabbed one of his beaded braids, tugging on it. Hakoda winced, but the smile didn’t leave his face as he passed the baby back to Bato.

 

“What will Kyra say?” Hakoda asked.

 

Bato laughed. “She will cry and laugh and thank the Spirits for answering her prayer.”

 

“But he’s Fire Nation,” Hakoda sighed. “Will that really not matter?”

 

“She won’t see Fire Nation, even with eyes the color of the sun,” Bato said. “She will see a baby who needs her. She will see a child without a mother.”

 

Hakoda stared at Bato for a few heartbeats. “Well, I suppose it will be fun to be an uncle,” he replied, softly. Bato grinned, filled with elation.

 

“You mean it?” he asked, breathlessly.

 

“Yes,” Hakoda chuckled, rubbing the back of his head. “Let’s finish up and sail out while the tide is with us.”

 

“Thank you,” Bato said, blinking back tears.

 

Hakoda grasped his shoulder. “I would never tell you no, my friend. Not for something like this.”

 

Bato laughed, swinging the child in the air over his head, making him shriek and giggle. It was like a missing piece of his heart was finally found and slotted back into place. He would cherish this boy forever and love him even longer. He belonged to him and Kyra, now.

 

This boy was his son.

Chapter Text

“Tarkik.”

 

“No.”

 

“Koko.”

 

“Hmm, maybe.”

 

“Nanouk?”

 

Kyra laughed, bouncing the baby boy on her knee. “You have great love for that name,” she said, grinning. Bato shrugged, wiggling his fingers at the boy and making him giggle.

 

When he brought the child to Kyra, she broke down in tears before immediately thanking the Great Spirits. She fell in love with his soft hair and golden eyes, and she held him like she could never let him go. Bato understood. He was like that with the boy the whole journey back.

 

“It’s a good, strong, Water Tribe name,” Bato defended, grinning. “What about Toklo? For your father?”

 

“My brother was named for my father already,” Kyra replied. “Maybe Tonraq?”

 

Bato made a face. “No,” he replied, shaking his head.

 

“Why not?”

 

“When I went Ice Dodging, the boy manning the main sail was named Tonraq. He’s the reason I have a scar on my boat,” Bato said darkly. Kyra laughed.

 

“Well, there’s always Soomool,” she offered. Bato shrugged. They had been going over names for two days now. Even Kya and Hakoda offered input, with baby Sokka in tow. The new boy was fascinated with the chief’s son. Bato hoped they would become good friends. Kyra handed the boy to him and he lifted him up so their noses could touch. The boy went a little cross-eyed, making Bato laugh.

 

“You know what his eyes remind me of?” he asked Kyra.

 

“The sun?” she asked, grinning.

 

Bato shook his head. “No. Well, yes, I suppose. But they look like the sky during a storm, when lightning strikes.”

 

“You mean when the sky turns to gold for a moment?” Kyra asked, thoughtfully. Bato nodded. Kyra hummed in thought.

 

“What about Kallik?”

 

Kallik was an amazing child. He played with the other children as well as he could, and he took to the snow like a penguin took to water. Bato had worried that his nationality would make him predisposed to do poorly in such cold weather, but it seemed the boy thrived in his new environment, giddy and playful with everyone around him. At times he seemed to run hot, and Kyra occasionally worried he was feverish, but Kallik never even had a sniffle to accompany his temperature.

 

After a few weeks, Hakoda started acting odd around Bato. Between their duties and their new roles as fathers to their respective children, Bato didn’t have much time to ask Hakoda about his behavior. It always lingered in the back of his mind, though. One day, after a hunting trip, Bato found a moment to pull the chief aside.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked as they delivered the leopard-wolf carcasses to the rest of the villagers to clean. Hakoda sighed and looked around, pulling Bato away from the other villagers.

 

“I think you should walk with me,” he replied. Bato nodded and followed Hakoda past the icy wall the separated the village from the beach. They walked through the ice and snow. The sun was still high in the sky, but it was starting to get lower each day. Soon, they would have day and night again. Bato looked forward to it; the midnight sun could be trying after a while.

 

Hakoda stopped at the edge of the water and stared at the horizon. Bato frowned, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“What is it?” he asked, impatiently.

 

Hakoda frowned, glancing at Bato from the corner of his eye. “I spoke with my mother.”

 

Bato raised an eyebrow. “I would hope so,” he replied. “She did give birth to you and raise you, after all.”

 

Hakoda didn’t chuckle, which put Bato on edge. Hakoda always laughed at a bad joke. “What’s going on?” he asked, worry coloring his tone.

 

Hakoda took a deep breath, then turned to face his friend. “Did you know before, during some of the raids, we would capture the firebenders?” he asked, quietly.


Bato furrowed his brow. “I can’t say I did. I thought they were always killed.”

 

“Yes, I did as well. While my father was chief, the ones that were caught were killed, and never kept prisoner. I had always wondered about that. It seemed very merciless to me, which was not how I usually thought of my father.” A breeze picked up, piercing through Bato’s coat and making him shiver.

 

“I remember,” Bato said, thinking of the times that Hakoda had talked to Bato about it, swearing if he were able, he would be more compassionate.

 

“My mother just explained why my father had the firebenders killed,” Hakoda said, slowly. “It was kinder than keeping them captive.”

 

Bato’s jaw dropped. “How?”

 

“Mother said that the firebenders—they’re different. Waterbenders can feel the water in everything, even the air. Earthbenders are rooted and strong, and are tied to their element no matter where they are. Firebenders are like airbenders. They are never away from their element.”

 

“Because they create it,” Bato said, shrugging.

 

“No,” Hakoda replied. “Because they can always feel the sun.” He stared at Bato very seriously. “Even when they are locked away from it, they can still feel how it rises and sets. The sun is always there.”

 

Hakoda looked down, eyes serious. “They can’t feel the sun rise in winter, because it doesn’t. Firebenders that were captured here, they never made it through the winter. The strongest would survive for maybe three months before they perished, either from madness or sickness. Mother wasn’t sure.”

 

Bato swallowed. “Why are you telling me this?” His heart pounded in his chest.

 

“Kallik’s eyes spark, Bato,” Hakoda said, looking into his friend’s eyes. “They dance like fire, and he’s Fire Nation.”

 

“No,” Bato said firmly. He wouldn’t hear this.

 

“We don’t know if he’s a bender, but it’s better to be prepared—”

 

“No!” Bato shouted, throwing up his hands. Hakoda winced. “You’re telling me my child, my second child, is going to die. That he’ll be taken from me like the first! Well I refuse. The Spirits wouldn’t have given him to us just to let him slip away in winter.”

 

“Bato—”

 

“For all we know, he isn’t even a bender,” Bato went on, speaking over Hakoda. “And if he is, it doesn’t matter. He’s strong, Hakoda. He’s strong and he is loved and we will take care of him. I will surround him with fire if that’s what it will take. I refuse to lose him!”

 

Hakoda gripped his shoulders and Bato realized he was shaking and his face was wet.

 

“I can’t lose him, Hakoda.” he whispered. His friend pulled him into an embrace, patting him solidly on the back.

 

“We’ll give offerings to Tui and La,” he responded. “We will help in any way we can. We love Kallik too, Bato.”

 

Bato didn’t want to tell Kyra. He couldn’t. He refused to break her heart, not when they didn’t even know if Kallik was a firebender. It was better to enjoy their time together without the burden of knowing how soon their child could be taken from them. She learned it anyway. He could never hide anything from his wife. She shook her head when she heard the news, smiling at her husband.

 

“This child is an answer to our prayers, Bato,” she said, watching the boy sleep in his small bed. Kallik smacked his lips in his sleep, rolling slightly. As the nights drew longer, the boy had a bit less energy, and he slept easier, much to Kyra and Bato’s relief.

 

“I know,” Bato replied with a sigh.

 

“Tui and La would not grant him to us if he couldn’t survive,” she continued. “Agni wouldn’t want one of his blessed to lose his life because of their whims. Have faith, my husband. All is as it should be.”

 

He did as his wife asked, playing with his son and nephew, watching Kallik clap when Sokka crawled for the first time, listening to his son call them ‘da,’ and ‘mama,’ as he babbled away at them. Though the worry lingered in his heart, he refused to let it tarnish the joy of raising the darling boy.

 

As winter approached, Kallik got fussier, but that was normal for such a young child, especially one not as used to the polar winters as the rest of the tribe. He carried on, though, and Bato started bringing him along to the stores where the tribe stocked non-perishable food and extra supplies for the long nights ahead. It would be dangerous to hunt now. All was quiet in the village.

 

Kallik was not doing well.

 

Kyra rocked him and soothed him. Bato tickled him and played with him. They built up the fire in their tent as much as they could. Nothing seemed to help. After the first week without the sun, the boy cried relentlessly. After the first month, he stopped playing and laughing. In the second month, he became quiet and listless.

 

In the third month, he stopped eating.

 

Bato saw his wife’s face break, and felt a familiar ache in his chest pulse to life as they begged their child to eat something. Kallik reached a point where he barely opened his eyes, anymore. Then, one day, he didn’t wake up.

 

“Kallik,” Kyra whispered as she held the sleeping child, tears streaming down her face, “my little boy, please wake up for mama? Please?”

 

Bato pressed his lips together and wrapped his arms around the two of them. Kyra sobbed and pressed Kallik into his arms, wiping her face with her sleeve. Bato pressed the boy against his shoulder and slipped out of the hut into the moonlight, giving his wife a moment with her grief. It was the same as the last time. The only difference was that they had the opportunity to get to know their child. Bato felt his heart coming apart in his chest as he rocked the boy in the frigid night air. He hummed quietly, looking up to the sky.

 

The moon was full and hung low in the sky. Bato kissed Kallik’s head and pressed his nose to his hair, trying to commit his smell to memory.

 

“Tui,” he whispered, “I—I know that we asked for one miracle. Asking for another seems greedy.” His voice was watery.  “But—my child is dying. He’s dying here, away from Agni, and I can’t—I can’t bear it.” He shuddered, holding his son tightly. “I thought La carried him to us because he belonged with us. I thought… I thought he came to us because he needed to be loved and cherished. Now with his illness—well, I don’t know anymore.”

 

“I just wanted him so badly. There was a hole in my heart. I didn’t even know how broken I was until he healed me. I didn’t know how broken Kyra was until he healed her,” Bato shuddered. “Tui, please. Please help my child. Even if you can’t heal him, at least let this be painless. I don’t want to say goodbye, but even if you must take him, don’t let him suffer. Please.”

 

Bato frowned. The sky seemed lighter. He looked up and saw the moon was shining much brighter than before, casting the village in an odd, low light that was similar to twilight. A small breeze blew, making Bato shiver.

 

Kallik snuffled and cried.

 

Bato stared at him, startled. The boy blinked and cried, burrowing into Bato’s coat. “Da,” the boy babbled. “Da, cold.”

 

He glowed in the moonlight. Bato watched in wonderment as a long streak of his hair turned white. Kallik looked up at him with wide gold eyes, blinking in the harsh light of the moon.

 

Bato laughed and grinned. “Thank you!” he whispered, turning and running back inside. Kyra was kneeling beside the bed, still weeping.

 

“Kyra,” he said, excited. She sat up, shoulders still shaking as she wiped her eyes.

 

“Mama!” Kallik shrieked, reaching for her. Kyra’s eyes widened and she stood immediately, crossing the distance quickly. Bato handed the boy to her and watched as joy filled her face again.

 

“Kallik?” she asked. “Are you awake now?”

 

Kallik babbled at her, tugging on the collar of her coat. “Foo. Hungy, Mama, foo?” Kyra laughed and spun around with Kallik in her arms.

 

Bato had always respected the Spirits. Now, he would never doubt their intent again.

Chapter Text

Kyra grinned, watching Kallik shriek with laughter as Kato’s new pet licked his neck. The young boy had just gotten a polar dog puppy after he had finished ice dodging with his father, and he showed it off to the other children. The animal had taken a strong liking to Kallik—a commonality shared by most animals that lived nearby—and kept romping around the boy, insisting he play. Sokka laughed, chewing on the ball of Hakoda’s club.

 

“Sokka!” Hakoda barked, grabbing the club away, “don’t chew on that!”

 

Little Sokka’s bottom lip quivered as tears filled his big blue eyes. After two sniffles, the boy wailed, reaching his little hands out for the toy that had suddenly been taken from him.

 

“Give me that,” Kya said, shifting baby Katara from one breast to the other and snatching Hakoda’s club from his hands. The newborn handled the change with surprising adaptability, latching back on with ease. Hakoda spluttered as Kya handed the club back to Sokka.

 

“There you are my fierce little warrior,” she said, smiling at the boy who giggled as he chewed on the club again.

 

“Kya, that’s a weapon,” Hakoda said, exasperated.

 

She shrugged. “It’s not sharp, and he can’t hurt himself with it. Let him play a bit, Hakoda.”

 

“Mama?” Kyra turned to see Kallik had wandered back to the adults and away from the other children. Kato’s dog tried to follow, but was scooped up by the teenager before he could get far.

 

“Hi love,” Kyra said, holding out her arms for a hug. Kallik wrapped his arms around her neck and kissed her on the cheek with an open mouth, making her laugh.

 

“Mama, is it dinner?” Kallik asked. Kyra reached into the pouch sitting next to her, pulling out some dried sea-prunes. She held the snack to Kallik, who took it with a big grin on his face.

 

“The food is almost ready, love,” she said. “This should help your tummy, yeah?” Kallik nodded and snuggled into her, chewing on the salty snack. Kyra smiled fondly at the boy before looking up to catch Kya staring at them with a warm expression. Kyra raised an eyebrow.

 

“You’re so happy, my friend,” Kya said. “I’m so glad Kallik found his way to you and Bato, and even gladder to know him.” Some arguing from several of the hunters caught Hakoda’s attention. Kya gave him a kiss on his cheek before he left, then turned her attention back to Katara. The little girl snuggled into her mother as she nursed.

 

“I am too,” Kyra admitted, feeling her heart fill as Kallik stood up and walked over to Sokka. This was the first day of sunshine they had after a long winter, and Kyra could tell he was enjoying the change. He sat down and offered some of his snack to his friend, and Sokka squealed as he grabbed the food and shoved it in his mouth. “I don’t think I knew how much was missing from me, before he came.”

 

Kya nodded, adjusting the baby in her arms.

 

“Do you think he’s a firebender? I mean, since he did so poorly last year? Hakoda was worried when Kanna told him he might not survive. We both were.”

 

Kyra frowned, thoughtfully. “At first, I did. He became so ill, and Kanna had said only firebenders were affected. That first summer, when we had him, he was so active. He couldn’t sleep well. Then the winter came and all he seemed to want to do was sleep, and he was miserable.”

 

“This year, though, he acted different,” Kyra continued, thoughtfully, staring at the white streak in Kallik’s hair. “He was less active, but we all are without seeing the sun in so long. Otherwise he was completely fine. I know Tui blessed him—perhaps that meant taking his bending so he could survive.”

 

Kya nodded. “I suppose that’s possible, but if waterbenders are the blessed of the Water Tribes, then wouldn’t firebenders be the blessed of the Fire Nation?  I can’t imagine one Great Spirit interfering with another’s child in that way.”

 

Kyra shrugged. “We’ll just have to watch. I wouldn’t worry, though. Even if he is a firebender, he can do it safely here, surrounded by ice and snow. There is very little he could burn that we couldn’t fix, and perhaps it will encourage the men to actually get to work on building some more structures, instead of these huts and tents!”

 

Kya chuckled. “Kyra, you know it’s because of the raiders that our homes are less permanent. We never know when we have to move.”

 

“But the last raid was 10 years ago,” Kyra replied. “When we were very young, not even old enough to marry! There are no waterbenders left,” she said, sadly. “While that breaks my heart, we all know the only reason the raids happened was to steal them away.”

 

Kya hummed. “Perhaps you’re right. I’ll mention this to Hakoda. Maybe it has been long enough that we can start to rebuild.”

 


 

“Come on,” Kato said, blue eyes sparkling as he led the smaller kids to the top of the hill. Kallik noticed Sokka begin to slow down and grabbed his hand, urging him to stay ahead of the pack. It wouldn’t be proper for the chief’s son to fall behind everyone else, and his dad always told him that they took care of family.

 

“Thanks,” Sokka panted, grinning at the older boy. Kallik shrugged and smiled back before turning his attention to Kato again. The teenager shushed them when they reached the peak, and gestured for them to look around. They were surrounded by funny looking birds that waddled in the snow. Kallik pressed his hand to his mouth to keep quiet, eyes widening at the sight. The birds flapped their four wings as they walked around, making funny honking sounds at each other.

 

“Does anyone know what these are?” Kato asked quietly, crouching down so he was level with the group. No one answered, and Kallik shook his head and lowered his hand again.

 

Kato grinned, tucking his thick dark hair behind his ear. “These are penguins,” he said jovially, still keeping his voice low. “We don’t hunt them very often, because they aren’t good to eat and their pelts are too small to be useful. They show us where the good fishing spots are, and where the ice is most stable when we go out to the coast.”

 

“Wow,” Sokka breathed, big blue eyes wide at the sight of the birds. Kallik had to agree. They were like nothing he had ever seen before.

 

“Kato,” Kallik asked, “if they’re not for hunting, why did you bring us here? We don’t have any fishing stuff.”

 

Kato chuckled and stood back up, walking into the flock. The birds started to waddle away from him, but didn’t seem too perturbed by his presence. “Follow me,” he said, waving them over. “Walk slowly, okay?”

 

The children wandered into the flock, disrupting the penguins, who started to waddle away a little faster. Kallik let go of Sokka’s hand as he approached. The penguin he was next to was only a little smaller than him. It regarded him curiously, nudging its beak into his furs.

 

Kallik looked up when he heard Kato chuckle. “I should have known,” the older boy said, reaching into his pouch. “Everyone, watch Kallik. He’s going to go first, since he’s already made a friend here.”

 

“I’m gonna go first at what?” Kallik asked, furrowing his brow. Kato slowly walked over and put a pickled sardine into Kallik’s hand. The penguin started honking and flapping his flippers (because now that Kallik was close, he couldn’t call those wings, anymore) eyeing the fish the young boy held.

 

“Penguin sledding!” Kato chirped. “You give the penguin a fish, then get behind him and hold onto his shoulders with your hands. He’ll flatten out and go down the hill.” He laughed at Kallik’s shocked face. “Don’t worry, you won’t hurt him! This is how they move all the time, and they love kids because they feed them extra fish.”

 

Kallik furrowed his brow, eyeing the penguin warily. Kato didn’t have any reason to lie, but he was still uneasy. “You’re sure it won’t hurt them?” he asked. Other penguins started to come close to him, noticing he had a fish.

 

“I’m sure,” Kato said, warmly. “Go on, give him a fish and grab his shoulders. You’ll see.”

 

Kallik looked at Sokka who gave him a thumbs up. It was all the encouragement the boy needed. He offered the penguin the fish, who ate it greedily. As it chewed up the snack, Kallik moved behind and grabbed its shoulders. At the feeling of hand gripping his shoulders, the bird honked curiously, then started to walk toward the edge of the hill with Kallik still holding on. It flattened out, just like Kato said, and Kallik found himself straddling the bird’s back. It started to slide forward.

 

“Be sure to grip it’s belly with your knees!” Kato said. Kallik followed the advice just in time. One second, they were slowly sliding on the ice, then the next he was flying.

 

His stomach leapt into his throat and he screamed as he shot down the hill, gripping the bird like his life depended on it. The icy air pelted his face and his hood blew back. The wind tugged his hair out of the tail his mother tied it in that morning. Every little snowdrift made the penguin fly up into the air and back down, making Kallik’s stomach swoop. They were sliding, faster and faster, until suddenly they were slowing down as the ground evened out. Soon, the bird came to a stop and honked at him, standing up and dumping him to the ground. Kallik sat at the bottom of the huge icy hill, stunned for a moment before he laughed, feeling a huge smile take over his whole face.

 

He was ready to go again.

 


 

“I hate laundry day,” Koro muttered. Sokka nodded in agreement. Katara rolled her eyes.

 

“Clothes have to get clean, you know, and if they dry outside, they’ll freeze,” she said to the other little girl, as Sokka huddled closer to Kallik, who was carving a piece of driftwood.

 

“I wonder when Dad will let me start carving unsupervised,” he said, nudging him. “He keeps saying you’re allowed because you can self-manage.”

 

Kallik nudged him back. “I’m allowed because if I get a cut, I know to go to a grown up. You’d just try to hide it.” Sokka sighed but didn’t disagree, leaning against his friend.

 

“What are you doing?” Kallik asked, putting down his knife. He couldn’t carve anymore with Sokka leaning so heavily on his arm.

 

“It’s laundry day, so we aren’t allowed in the huts,” he replied, “and you’re super warm, so I’m snuggling.”

 

“Weirdo,” Kallik muttered, blushing.

 

“Really?” Koro asked, putting her hands on Kallik’s shoulders. She grinned and hugged him from behind. “Oh wow! You are really warm, Kallik!” Kallik’s face turned even redder, making Sokka snicker. Katara eyed them for a minute before hugging Kallik from his other side, sighing a little.

 

“Guys,” Kallik said, helplessly.

 

“Well, until our moms let us back inside, you’re stuck with us,” Koro said in a matter-of-fact type of voice. “That’s what you get for being so warm.”

 

“Besides,” Katara added, giving him a smile, “you like hugs.”

 

Sokka laughed when Kallik didn’t argue.

 


 

Katara smiled, watching the globe of water hover over her. All she had to do was push and pull, like the moon did to the ocean, and the water just did what she wanted. She had been sneaking off to the beach by herself, afraid to tell anyone about her magic. People in the tribe seemed to struggle when others were different. She had seen how some of the grownups acted around Kallik because of his pale skin and gold eyes. They never said anything, but they always looked at him funny. It bothered her. So what if Kallik looked different? Why did it matter if his furs dried quicker than the rest of them, and the food on his plate stayed hotter longer than anyone else’s? It just meant they could trade furs with him or eat his snacks. He never minded, because he was nice like that.

 

Doing something really weird, like moving the water, would give her ugly looks too, and she wasn’t sure she would like that at all. So she kept it secret. No one needed to know how big of a wave she could make when she was mad, and no one needed to know she could make a big puddle of water hold still in the air. It was just for her, and no one else.

 

A quiet gasp startled her, and she spun around, dropping the water back into the ocean. Kallik and Sokka stood nearby, both staring at her with wide eyes. Sokka had a huge grin on his face, and even Kallik was smiling a little bit.

 

“Don’t tell, Sokka!” She said, putting her hands on her hips, trying to keep from crying.

 

“Don’t tell?” Sokka asked, shaking his head. “Oh man, Mom and Dad are gonna flip!”

 

“You shouldn’t have been spying!” Katara shouted, stamping her foot. Sokka took a step back, looking behind her. Katara wondered if she accidentally made a wave.

 

“It’s okay, Katara,” Kallik said, walking toward her. “Sokka, quit laughing! You’re making her cry!” Katara rubbed at her face, brushing the cold trails off her cheeks.

 

“What? Why are you crying?” Sokka asked, stupidly, like he had no idea what kind of trouble he was going to get her into by telling. He furrowed his brow when she told him as much. “Why would you get in trouble?”

 

“Katara, you’re a waterbender!” Kallik said, a little breathlessly. “You’re the first waterbender the tribe has seen in like—I don’t know, a really long time! It means you’re blessed!”

 

Katara felt the tightness in her chest ease a bit. “What?” she sniffled.

 

“I forgot you’re not old enough yet. Gran-gran tells everyone when they turn seven because that’s when she remembers waterbenders starting to show their abilities,” Sokka said.

 

“Yeah, only prodigies would start bending before then, because water is a really tricky element,” Kallik added. “You have pull it away from itself and the moon and it doesn’t want to go, or something.”

 

“No you don’t,” she said, frowning. “You pull the water like the moon. It helps.” Kallik raised his eyebrows.

 

“Katara,” he asked, slowly, “how long has this been a secret?”

 

Katara flushed and looked down, kicking the snow with her toe.

 

“Come on,” he said warmly, offering his hand. She walked forward and took it, smiling at her friend. Sokka rolled his eyes and shook his head, still grinning.

 

“Trust me, Katara,” Sokka said as the trio walked back toward the village, “Mom and Dad will only be happy about this. This makes you extra special.”

 

Kallik nodded. “Yeah, Katara. It’s really cool. Besides, how could anything bad come from you being a waterbender?”

 

“You really think so?” Katara asked, letting the boys lead her back to the village.

 

“Sure do,” Sokka laughed, grabbing her other hand. “This can only mean good things, just you wait.”

 

Katara felt warmth blossom in her chest as a sense of relief filled her. What she could do had a name, and it made her special. She looked at Kallik, wondering if maybe one day, he would do something extra special, too.

 

Chapter Text

The children of the tribe all played a lot of games together. They went penguin sledding when it was warmer. Kneel-jump or knuckle-hop were fun to play anytime. There was usually time for tag between chores, and there was never a shortage of snow for a snowball fight. Kallik’s favorite was hide-and-seek.


They'll never find me here, Kallik thought with a giggle as he wedged himself between the stove and wall. He never had a problem near fires or hot things, but Sokka and Katara did, so they wouldn't even think to look near the stove.


Kallik heard footsteps and he pressed his hands to his mouth to muffle himself, remembering a lesson his dad taught him when they went fishing.


“When you make noise, you give yourself away,” his dad said in a low voice after they each cast their lines. “For fishing, that means we scare the fish and come home hungry. But if you're hunting tiger-seal, they know where you are, and will attack you for coming too close. Silence is your friend, Kallik. It will help you more than anything else.”


Kallik shrank down, grinning behind his hands. He was the best at hide-and-seek. He tilted his head to unblock his ear and listened. After a few minutes he heard the clatter of something hitting the table.


No way is Sokka tricking me, he thought. That was how his cousin caught Katara. He'd act like someone else, and she would investigate because she was so nosy. She always gave herself away.


Suddenly, shouts filled the air. The clattering had stopped and new footsteps resonated in the hut. After he heard a soft thud, Kallik bit his lip, breathing as quietly as possible. Something bad was happening.


“Stay where you are.” A man was speaking, and Kallik couldn't recognize his voice. His words sounded odd.


“Alright.” That was Auntie Kya. Kallik tensed, ready to bolt out of his hiding spot.


“You seem intelligent. Good,” the man paused. “Perhaps you can give me what I need.”


“And what's that?” Kallik could hear how much her voice shook. Auntie Kya was scared.


“Information.”


“Mommy?”  Katara must have just come in. Her voice sounded like it was further away, maybe near the door.


“Just let her go. I'll give you the information you want,” Auntie Kya said.


“You heard your mother,” the greasy voice said. “Get out of here!”


“Mom, I'm scared.” Katara sounded like she was going to cry.


“Go find your dad, sweetie,” Auntie Kya said. “I'll handle this.”


Kallik strained his ears, but he couldn't hear anything else. He hoped Katara would bring Chief Hakoda soon.


“Now tell me who is it? Who's the waterbender?”


“There are no waterbenders here!” Auntie Kya was lying. Kallik wondered what this stranger wanted with Katara. “The Fire Nation took them all away a long time ago!”


“You're lying. My source says there's one waterbender left in the southern water tribe. We're not leaving until we find the waterbender.”


Kallik bit his lip. Everyone always told Katara to keep her bending secret. “If I tell you, do you promise to leave the rest of the village alone?”


The man grunted in agreement. Kallik trembled. Auntie Kya wouldn’t tell him. She always protected Katara.


“It's me. Take me as your prisoner.” Kallik felt his mouth drop open. What this man wanted to do was wrong. Auntie Kya belonged here, with her family!


“No!” the boy shouted, jumping out from behind the stove. He was terrified. His hands and face felt hot. He made fists in front of himself, darting between Auntie Kya and this tall stranger in red and black metal armor.


“Kallik!” Auntie Kya cried, kneeling up higher and trying to pull him behind her. He stood his ground.


“You leave Auntie Kya alone!” Kallik shouted, glaring fiercely at the man in front of him. Sokka always told him his glare could scare a wild polar bear-dog.


The man's face twisted up like he just ate some rancid seal jerky. “What's a nasty little half-breed like you doing here?” he asked in that same slimy voice. “Not that it matters. I'll end you right now!”


The man drew his fist back and Kallik could barely hear Auntie Kya scream over the rushing noise in his ears. Kallik pushed both fists forward, guided by some kind of instinct inside of him. The heat from his hands burst out in red and orange flames, surprising everyone in the small space.


The man dispelled the flames, gaping at Kallik as he did so. “What?”


“You stay back!” Kallik shouted, feeling the same tingling heat in his hands sparking toward the surface of his skin. The man snarled and a jet of fire shot from his hand. That same instinct whispered what to do, and Kallik clapped his hands together, making the flame split apart and fade out in the air around him and his aunt.


Another man in red armor ran into the hut, looking between Kallik and his adversary. “Sir?”


“Lieutenant!” the man barked, “help me. That little monster is attacking me!”


“Sir,” the newcomer said, confused, “that's a child.”


“It's a half-breed and it attacked me,” the first man snarled. Kallik was shaking, he was so scared.


“Kya!” Chief Hakoda had run in, followed closely by Katara. His machete was out. The new man dodged out of the way and the chief struck his leader on the head. Kallik stared, eyes wide, watching the man fall to the ground. He swallowed, staring at the spot where his head had caved in. His eyes were still open.


Katara screamed and moved toward Auntie Kya, but Chief Hakoda held her back, warily eyeing the raider suspiciously.


The armored man held up his hands in surrender.


“I don't want to fight,” he said, carefully. Kallik saw his uncle's shoulders tense. “My father is a fire sage. I understand how blessed the benders are.”


Chief Hakoda scoffed. “And you serve with the Fire Lord’s raiders?”


The man shook his head. “I don't want to serve with the Raiders. I never did! Please, believe me. I didn't—until we got to the Earth Kingdom, I didn't know. I didn't know what they did to the other benders.”


Kallik slowly lowered his arms, stepping backwards toward Auntie Kya. He heard her gasp and turned around to see her scooting away from him. She stared at him with wide eyes, like she was frightened of him.


He looked back at the soldier who was studying him. His eyes glanced between Zuko's bare, reddened hands and his face.


Chief Hakoda kept his knife high in the air. “Why are you looking at my nephew like that?” he growled. Kallik straightened his spine at the tone. The soldier looked at the chief, frowning.


“It's just... sometimes you have no sun. For months, I've heard.”


Chief Hakoda tilted his head.


“I've never known a firebender to survive for very long, away from Agni's eye.”


“Who says he's a firebender?” his uncle asked, tone cold.


The man looked at the scorch marks on the floor on either side of Kallik, then back at the chief.


“My mistake,” he mumbled.


Chief Hakoda stared at the black marks on the floor as well, before his eyes moved to his nephew. Kallik tried to make himself small. He didn't like how his uncle was looking at him. It made him nervous. He looked at him like he was dangerous.

He looked back at the soldier. “And what do you propose I do with you?”


“You let me go. I bring Yon Rha back with me, and I tell the others he killed the waterbender at the cost of his own life,” the soldier responded.


The chief looked thoughtful before giving a slow nod of his head, holding his blade in front of him. The soldier moved quickly, picking up the body and slinging him over his shoulder. With one last glance back at Kallik, he darted out of the hut.


“Mom!” Katara shouted, running past Kallik and into Auntie Kya's arms. Auntie Kya held her close, but she was still staring at Kallik in fear.


“Auntie Kya?” he asked, frowning. The hut smelled really smokey. Tears fell from her eyes.


Kallik felt his own get wet.  He looked back at Chief Hakoda, who now moved further inside to stand with his wife and daughter. He was frowning at Kallik. The boy twisted his hands together.


“I... I'm sorry, Auntie!” he exclaimed, feeling his throat get tight. He shook himself. He wasn't a baby. He wouldn't cry. “Please don't be mad.”


Auntie Kya blinked and shook her head, rocking Katara back and forth. Kallik took a step back towards the door. He had done something bad. Kallik spun around and took off through the open door.


“Kallik!” Chief Hakoda shouted. Kallik didn't slow down. He knew he was different from everyone, but this was too much. He was from the Water Tribe. He shouldn't be able to bend fire. He ran fast and hard to his own hut. He was scared and put together wrong and he just wanted his mom to tell him everything would be okay.


Kallik burst through the door. “Mom!”


He stopped dead in his tracks. His mom was lying on the floor of their hut, eyes open and unseeing. In her hand was one of his dad's knives. She was very still, and Kallik saw a large pool of blood had formed around her.


“Mom?” he whispered, stepping closer and closer until he could kneel beside her. He gently touched her cheek.


She was very cold.


Kallik shuddered and stood up, gagging. He couldn't—his mom was….


He ran out of the hut and away from the village as fast as his legs could carry him.






Bato trembled, holding a cup of warm broth in his hands. Hakoda wrapped an arm around him as they sat together in the Chief's home. Kya held both her children close to her, glancing up at him apologetically.


“He just ran out?” Bato asked with a shaky voice. Hakoda grimaced.


“It was my fault,” Kya said, sadly. “He surprised me. I didn't expect him to be able to bend fire.”


“Is Kallik in trouble?” Sokka asked.


“Of course not,” Hakoda responded. “He didn't do anything wrong.”


“Were you mad at him?” the boy continued, furrowing his eyebrows.


“No, honey,” Kya replied. “He scared me. He didn't mean to, though. I think he scared himself, too.”


“That's probably why he ran away, then,” Sokka said, nodding to himself. “When Kallik is really, really scared, he hides. He's good at hiding.”


Bato thought of the little, red footprints he saw leading away from his home. The tracks faded out once they reached the edge of the village, lost amongst mess left behind from the fight.


He tried not to think of Kyra's lifeless body on the floor.


Bato shuddered, feeling his eyes sting. A low whine came out of his throat, causing Hakoda to tighten his grip. Bato glanced out the window and watched the sun start to dip. It would be dark soon, and the temperature would drop. Kallik couldn't stay out there.


Bato stood up, shaking Hakoda's arm off. “I have to find him,” he said, hoarsely. “The sun will set soon, and he ran off without supplies. He'll get too cold.”


“Bato, please wait. Listen to me—”


"Hakoda, I can't lose my son!" Bato shouted. "Tui and La, I can't! I have to find him."


“Bato—”


“Dad, Kallik is really good at hide and seek,” Sokka said, kicking the floor. “He listens and the second he hears a noise he gets super quiet. He'll come out if he hears his dad calling.”


Hakoda sighed. Bato set his cup down. “You can't stop me, Hakoda,” he said in a firm voice. “I'm going out there.”


Hakoda huffed and also stood. “I know. I’ve been trying ask you the best place to start.”


Bato sighed in relief. “You'll help me?”


“Of course. That's what family does,” Hakoda replied. “Sokka, you're going to tell me all the places Kallik hides around the village.”


“I'll check our hunting and fishing spots,” Bato replied. “They aren't very far.”


“Dad,” Katara said, hesitantly, “I don’t think you should look for Kallik. He thinks you’re mad at him. Even if Bato calls for him, if he sees you, he might be too scared to come out.”


Bato frowned, eyes narrowing at his friend. Hakoda shrugged helplessly.


“I didn’t say anything, Bato,” he said, “but I’m sure he could see on my face how alarmed I was. He bent fire, and—well, Mother always said benders develop their skills around seven. He’s nine, now. I wasn’t expecting it.”


“Hakoda,” Bato said, frustrated.


“It’s not an excuse. When you find him and bring him back, I’ll apologize and remind him he will always be a part of this tribe.”


“Chief!” Young Kato—and Bato needed to stop thinking of him as young, seeing as he was a man, now—ran into the hut. “We found him, but he won't listen to us,” he grimaced. “He's at the beach. He managed to climb up the cliff face. We can't get to him.”


Bato didn't need to be told twice. “I’ll get him,” he said.


“Bato, I can try to help.”


“No,” Bato said, shaking his head. “I think your daughter is right. I’ll bring him back here and you can speak to him then.” Hakoda nodded his assent, and Bato ran out the door down the path toward the beach. Once he got there, he saw four men gathered below the cliff, trying to find a safe way up.


“How did he get up there?” One man asked, scratching his head. Bato already knew. Kallik scared the devil out of him and Kyra, scurrying up the cliff face like a snow-leopard, completely unafraid of the height. Kyra insisted they tie a rope ladder up there in case he got stuck.


Bato stared up to see the back of a thick, blue parka on top of the cliffs.


“Kallik!” he shouted. He waved the other men off. “Go tell Hakoda I've got him,” he said. The others reluctantly left, heading back to the village. Bato stared up to see his son looking back down at him. His face was blank.


“Son,” Bato shouted. “Lower the ladder, please. Let me talk to you.” Kallik moved out of view. Bato held his breath, then sighed in relief when a rope ladder unfurled in front of him. He climbed up quickly. As soon as he was on the cliff, he stumbled toward Kallik who was sitting on a rock, his arms wrapped tightly around himself.


“I didn't mean it,” he said wetly as Bato knelt in front of him. His eyes were red and wet, and he sniffled, wiping at his messy nose. “I promise, Dad, I didn't mean it. I didn't even know I could do that. I didn't want him to hurt Auntie, but I scared her and—”


“Hush,” Bato whispered, opening his arms. Kallik let out a loud sob and fell against Bato’s chest, pressing his tear-stained face against his neck. “You were very brave.”


“They're scared of me, Dad,” Kallik stuttered, holding onto Bato as tightly as his little arms could. “I did something bad. I—I made fire, like the men who attacked us—”


“You are not like them, Kallik,” Bato said in a firm, but gentle voice.


“Mom is dead,” Kallik wailed on, shaking now. “I went home, and she was on the floor—”


Bato shushed him, rubbing his hand up and down Kallik's spine. The boy sobbed, his voice muffled by Bato's thick coat. Bato let himself out. When Kallik was only sniffling, Bato pulled away. His son's lower lip was trembling. Bato eyed the skyline. The sun was finally dipping below the hills that surrounded them.


“Come on,” he said, standing up and holding out his hand. Kallik took it and let Bato lead him to the ladder. Bato climbed down and Kallik followed, and together they walked back to the village.

 

Chapter Text

-Five Years Later-

 

Kallik was ready. He had been waiting for this day since that snot, Panuk, had earned his mark, shoving him and telling him an ashmaker like him would never earn the right to take this test, let alone pass it. Years of bullying and abuse from the Neanderthal had strengthened his resolve. The attack of the raiders was a long time ago, but no matter what Kallik did, there were still others in his village who refused to trust him. None of them thought he belonged.

 

He’d show them.

 

Bato smiled at the small group of boys (and one girl), leading them to the boat. Together they pushed if off the shore,  into shallow water before they climbed aboard. Hakoda smiled at the group and waved as the waves carried them away.

 

“Kallik, you’re the leader,” Bato said, seriously. “You’ll steer and call the shots. Lead wisely.” Kallik nodded and took his place by the tiller.

 

“Toklo, Pilip, you secure the mainsail. The winds are vicious, so be brave.” Two of the boys stood by the ropes below the sails, each grabbing a different one, ready to work together to move with the wind.

 

“Silla, you’ll watch the jib. Kallik has to trust you to have as steady hand. Don’t let his faith be unwarranted.” The third boy nodded, hopping to his place on the boat.

 

“Koro,” Bato called the only girl—and the only person from their village. The girl straightened up, expression serious. “You’re scouting. You stand at the bow with me and watch the flow of the water and the ice. You’re the only one who will be able to see the paths that form, and how the bergs will come together. Kallik needs to trust you as well, in order to navigate his crew to safety. Koro nodded and took her place beside Bato. The boat moved swiftly away from the chief, into the rapid waters that was churning in the ice ahead.

 

Bato settled at the bow of the ship, staring right Kallik. Kallik took a steadying breath, glad that his dad was there for him, even if he couldn’t help.

 

“This is an ancient test of wisdom, bravery, and trust. I can’t offer any advice. You’re pass or fail on your own. Good luck.” He winked at Kallik, making the teen smile. The boat picked up speed, and Kallik noticed the sails flapping too much.

 

“Silla, tighten up on the jib,” Kallik called. Silla pulled the rope, tightening the sail a little and making the boat go faster. Kallik smirked. He would be able to steer a little more sharply now. The first bergs were coming up on them. “Toklo, Pilip—steady,” the teen said, furrowing his eyebrows. They looked like they wanted to tighten the sail further because of the gusts, but he wanted the burst of speed, first. He pushed the tiller, pulling the boat on a course that went between the two bergs. A large wave splashed him, making him shiver, but he shook the cold off. He couldn’t afford to be distracted. The fire inside warmed him quickly. “Koro?”

 

“Three bergs on the port side, but there’s some movement starboard,” Koro replied. “It’s gonna be a tight squeeze, Kallik.”

 

Kallik saw the telltales lift and twirl. “Silla, jib to lee!”

 

Silla grunted, pulling on the rope to move the sail up. “Got it, Kallik!” Kallik pulled the tiller hard, just as they were passing the new icebergs. The boat didn’t rock or bump, so he had missed the unseen ice below. “Good work!” Kallik called. His crew smiled at him. They started to lose speed, and Pilip eased up on the mainsail without Kallik having to say anything. Kallik was grateful for him and Toklo. The pair had always been fun to fish with, and taught him about sailing whenever he and his dad would visit their village. He knew right away that he wanted them with him his first time Ice Dodging.

 

“Iceberg ahead! Starboard side, Kallik!” Koro called. Kallik pressed the tiller again, letting their speed carry them away from the small chunk of ice barely breaking the water’s surface. Kallik guided them through the field of ice, decisions made from Koro’s information. The four in front of him listened to his every direction, trusting him to find the safest path. Finally, the boat had escaped the ice. Kallik guided them back to the beach through calmer waterways, excited to see the tribe ready to greet them. He could see Kya standing behind Hakoda with Sokka and Katara.  Behind them was the rest of the village. Kallik smugly wondered how much Panuk would be scowling when he found out that Kallik had gotten through his trial without even a scratch.

 

The boy’s arms ached. His whole upper body protested. He had never steered his grandfather’s boat for so long, before. Kallik steered the boat towards the coast, allowing the tide to carry it the rest of the way to the sand. Once they reached the shallows, they all hopped out and shoved the boat the rest of the way to shore.

 

Bato hopped out of the boat as well, grinning at them and ruffling his son’s hair. Kallik smiled, elated by their success.

 

“Well done!” Bato cried. “You all performed admirably. Kallik, you proved to be a wise leader who trusted your crew to their tasks, while steering them out of danger. Pilip, Toklo, you faced down the winds with all the same fearlessness as hawks. Silla, your hand was steadier than any other young man’s I have seen, and I have been Ice Dodging many, many times. And Koro, your sharp eye and wit saved this crew more times than I could count!”

 

Hakoda smiled at them all, holding a small, clay bowl in his hands. “Men, and—um—lady,” he said, nodding to Koro. Kallik pressed his lips together as the girl visibly refrained from rolling her eyes. “Step forward.”

 

All five teenagers lined up and bowed their heads. Hakoda came to Kallik first, touching his chin and causing the boy to lift his face. Kallik stared at his uncle, warmed by the pride he saw in the man’s eyes. “The Spirits of water bear witness to these marks,” Hakoda called, causing the chatter of the villagers to die out. “For Kallik, the Mark of the Wise.” Hakoda brushed his thumb over Kallik’s brow. “Your quick wit and decisiveness led your crew to safety.”

 

Hakoda went down the line, giving Pilip and Toklo the Mark of the Brave, and Silla and Koro the Mark of the Trusted. When he was finished, he raised Kallik’s hand in the air, proving his support of their success. The villagers cheered and gathered around them, clapping and talking about a celebratory feast. Kallik managed to pull out of the crowd, grateful that the other boys were much more interested in preening and showing off. He only felt a little bad abandoning Koro to the attention. He snuck away to a fire pit and sat down on an empty bench.

 

“Wow.” Kallik turned and grinned when Sokka sat down next to him, eyes wide. “Wow, Kallik, how was it? Was it scary?”

 

Kallik shrugged and ruffled his cousin’s hair, making the younger boy squawk and adjust his wolf-tail. Kallik pushed a few strands that came loose from his plait, tucking them behind his ear.

 

He looked over his shoulder before answering, making sure no one was listening to them. “Yeah,” he said, quietly. “I have such bad luck, I was worried something terrible would happen.”

 

Sokka nodded solemnly. It wasn’t like he hadn’t heard it before. People said Kallik had the worst luck out of everyone in the entire village. Actually, he had the worst luck out of everyone in the entire South Pole, it seemed. Everyone said he used it all up to survive his first winter.

 

“How much ice was there? How fast did you go? You got to steer, right?” Kallik laughed at the younger boy’s excitement and answered all his questions until a shadow fell over the two of them.

 

“So, how’d you cheat, ashmaker?” Kallik sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose before standing up and turning around. Panuk was standing behind him, scowling. Kallik eyed the larger boy warily. Ever since the raid, Panuk had done everything he could to make Kallik miserable. He’d call him nasty names, push him down, and steal his things, sometimes. He even started rumors that if Kallik went near a fire, it would go out of control.

 

Which was the stupidest thing to say. The first thing Kallik taught himself was how to smother flames, once he realized he could. He never wanted to scare anyone like he scared Aunt Kya again. Kallik raised an eyebrow and levelled a cold stare at Panuk as Sokka stood up behind him. Kallik didn’t need to look at his friend to know he was ready for a fight.

 

“What, Panuk, jealous that my time was better?”

 

“Yeah, right. I bet if I went with my dad, I would have had better time too,” Panuk sneered.

 

“You calling Kallik’s dad a liar?” Sokka shouted. “How can you say that when we all go our first time with our family? You went with your uncle, your first time!”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Panuk growled, jabbing a finger at Kallik’s chest. “It’s because of ashmakers like you that I had to go with my uncle in the first place!” Panuk glanced between the two of them and scoffed in disgust before walking away. Kallik stared at his retreating form, his elation from his success slowly dwindling away.

 

“Kallik,” Sokka said, gripping his arm. Kallik shrugged him off.

 

“I’ve got to walk, or something,” he said, walking away. “I’ve gotta—I’ll be back in time for the feast.”

 

“Okay,” Sokka said hesitantly. Kallik didn’t think he could stand to look at the sad expression that always came over Sokka’s face when anyone brought up the day of the raid, and the day Kallik’s mom died. He didn’t look back.

 


 

Bato laughed as they passed food around, watching Kallik and his crew nudging each other and selecting things from different dishes. His son wasn’t as enthusiastic as Bato expected him to be, but at least he was participating. Kallik left shortly after the trial was over, but he made sure to get back with enough time for Kya to fix his hair again. It touched his shoulders, now. For the occasion, Kya braided four blue beads into his white streak before weaving it into the rest of his hair. Bato felt so much pride at how grown up he was, now. He could forget for a minute that he had the broodiest child of the Water Tribes.

 

“They did well,” Hakoda said, settling back down next to him. “You must be proud.”

 

“Yes,” Bato said, smiling. “I wish he were a little happier about it, though,” he sighed.

 

“Bato,” Hakoda said, raising an eyebrow.

 

“I know,” Bato said, shaking his head. “Your mother would say to let him have his feelings or some wise nonsense like that. He just—earlier today was the first time in a while that I’ve seen him so excited about something. He looked like he was on top of the world and nothing could knock him down.” He poked at his food. “I was hoping we could both enjoy that a little longer, before I leave.”

 

Hakoda clasped a hand on Bato’s shoulder, making the man look over at him. “Bato, if you feel you need to, you can stay and look after your child.”

 

Bato shook his head. “No, he’s—he’s practically a man, now. He can provide for the tribe, knows how to ice dodge, and he can use any weapon we have well enough to defend the women and children. He’s old enough, and you need me.”

 

“I can get by without you,” Hakoda said gently.

 

“Oh really? And who will get the men to listen to your crazy ideas?” Bato asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

“They aren’t crazy!” Hakoda said, affronted.

 

“You want to make bombs that work underwater,” Bato said, flatly.

 

“It can work!” Hakoda said, hotly. “Especially if they just break open instead of explode. I’m telling you Bato, we fill those things with kelp and—”

 

“I never said they couldn’t work,” Bato interjected. “I said the men will need convincing. And we all need to do our part to win this war.”

 

“What’s my part?” Bato turned to see Sokka settling beside Hakoda. He raised his chin proudly. “To win the war?”

 

Hakoda regarded Sokka very seriously. “To provide for the tribe, and to take care of your mother and sister.”

 

“And to make sure the others don’t give Kallik such a hard time,” Bato added. “They listen to you, you know.”

 

Sokka looked suspiciously at them before Kya came by and distracted him with stewed sea prunes.

 

When they got back to their hut, Kallik stoked the fire with a puff of air before he drew the blind over the window. Bato knew the midnight sun wreaked havoc on his senses. As he started to straighten up his blankets for the night, Bato sighed and sat on the floor at the edge of the pallet, stopping him. Kallik frowned and sat next to him, picking at a loose thread in his tunic.

 

“What’s going on?” he asked, quietly. “You—you and Chief Hakoda, and the other men have been having meetings.”

 

“Sneaking around and spying again?” Bato asked with a chuckle. Kallik shrugged but gave him a small smile.

 

“Something like that.”

 

Bato sighed and wrapped an arm around Kallik’s shoulders. “Son, you know how devastating the war is. The last time we traded with Kyoshi Island, the news we got was—well, it wasn’t good.”

 

“I know,” Kallik said, seriously. “Sokka and I heard you and Chief Hakoda talking about it.”

 

“You were eavesdropping?” Bato asked with a raised brow.

 

Kallik had the nerve to roll his eyes. “You were talking on the dock, out in the open. It wasn’t like you were being private.”

 

Bato shook his son a bit and ruffled his hair, making the teenager wiggle away from him. After the teenager got a chance to fix his braid and settle back down, Bato folded his hands together in his lap.

 

“We have to help. We’re going to set sail tomorrow and offer our services to the Earth Kingdom. Hopefully, it will be enough to turn the tide in this war.”

 

Kallik leaned away from him. His white, beaded braid had come loose from the rest of his plait and swung wildly with the movement. His gold eyes were wide and panicked as they took in Bato’s expression.

 

“Dad—”

 

“I have to go, Kallik. I have to help Hakoda.”

 

“You can’t!” Kallik said, standing up and throwing his hands down. The fire in the lantern flared slightly. “Dad, you can’t just leave me here alone—”

 

“You won’t be alone,” Bato said. “Kya will be here to look after you.”

 

“No, Dad, please—please don’t go.” Kallik’s eyes were watering and his lower lip trembled. Bato’s heart broke at the sight of his son, begging him to stay.

 

“Son, this is something I have to do. We all have to go. Our strength is in teamwork. The Fire Nation doesn’t know how to fight us, and if we don’t do something, it’s only a matter of time before they colonize the poles, too.” Bato stood as well and held out his hands, beseeching. “You’re practically a man, now—”

 

“Then let me come with you!” Kallik huffed. Bato shook his head, denying the request.

 

“You need to be here, to protect the tribe—”

 

“You can’t leave me behind, Dad, you can’t! If I’m a man now, then I can go with you!”

 

“Kallik!” Bato said, sternly. Kallik pressed his lips together. His hands were clenched into fists at his side. “Kallik,” he repeated, gently, “You and a handful of others are the only ones old enough to hunt and gather for the tribe while we’re gone, or to look after the children when their mothers have the duty. You are needed here. Do you understand me?”

 

Kallik stared at the floor for a long moment before he nodded once. Bato placed his hands on Kallik’s shoulders, and Kallik threw himself at him, wrapping his arms tightly around his torso. Bato wrapped his own arms around his son, pressing his face against the boy’s hair. Kallik’s shoulders were shaking.

 

“Shh,” Bato whispered, rocking slightly. He felt Kallik hiccup and press his face tighter to his chest. When had he gotten so tall? Bato swallowed against the lump in his throat. “Shh, Kallik, it’s alright.”

 

“You could get hurt,” Kallik mumbled into his shirt. “You could die.”

 

Bato rubbed a soothing circle into his son’s back. He wouldn’t lie. Kallik never appreciated it, and Bato wouldn’t make a promise to him that he couldn’t keep. “I’ll try my hardest to stay alive.”

 

“I’ll miss you, Dad,” Kallik said. “I love you. I don’t want you to go.”

 

“I know, Kallik,” Bato said, pulling away and looking at his son’s tearstained face. “I love you too, but when you miss me too hard, you just remember I’m right here,” he pressed a palm over Kallik’s heart. “I’ll always be right here.”

 


 

Bato stood at the side of Hakoda’s boat, staring at the beach. His own was just behind them, being steered by Kato. Hakoda was beside him, raising a hand and waving at his family. The tribe had all gathered to see them off, solemn at their departure. Bato gazed at his son’s face until he was too far away to pick out in the rest of the crowd, then stared at the crowd until they dipped below the horizon.

 

“Are we doing the right thing, leaving them behind?” Bato asked. Hakoda sighed.

 

“I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Kallik tied the carcass of the puffin-seal to his sled, patting Narok’s head, which came up to Kallik’s chest. When Kato left with the rest of the men two years ago, he put Narok in Kallik’s care. The two became inseparable. The polar dog panted, shaking his head happily and covering the teen in his slobber.

 

“Ugh,” Kallik grunted, wiping specks of drool off his face.

 

“That is so gross,” Koro said, smirking.

 

“Haha,” Kallik replied, taking his place next to the pet as Koro stood behind the sled. “Tomorrow, do you want to come with me to get some pine and artic dogwood? Kanna said that some of the boats need repairing, and Aunt Kya said we’re almost out of dye for the furs.” Narok barked and he scratched his chin. Koro was unusually quiet behind him.

 

“I know it’ll take a couple of days, but I could use the help, and Sokka is useless when it comes to that stuff. I swear, if his mom did it one time, it’s women’s work,” he continued, chuckling.

 

“I can’t.” Koro delivered her reply in a flat voice. Kallik paused and turned around. Her light blue eyes were downcast. She twisted one of her soft brown braids between her fingers nervously.

 

“Oh,” Kallik said, dumbly. His eyebrows shot up when he heard her sniffle and saw her dash at her face. “What’s wrong?”

 

“It’s stupid,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s so stupid.” She was scowling, now, and gripping the handle of the sled tightly.

 

“What is?”

 

Koro hesitated before reaching up and pulling down her parka, revealing a blue, carved stone tied to her neck with a leather choker.

 

Oh.

 

“Oh,” Kallik said, scratching the back of his head. “Congratulations?”

 

“Don’t patronize me,” Koro huffed, hopping off the sled. She crossed her arms over her chest.

 

“I’m not!” Kallik exclaimed. Narok barked in concern. Kallik rolled his eyes and patted the animal again, wishing, not for the first time, that Kato had babied him a little less when he trained him.

 

“You know I’m not happy about this!” Kallik and Narok both cringed at her shrill tone. Koro had always been very vocal about what she thought when it came to marriage, especially an arranged one. Her father was elderly, though, and very traditional. He often said he indulged his youngest daughter too much.

 

“Um,” Kallik mumbled, searching for an appropriate question. “Who is it?”

 

Koro kicked up some snow. “Toklo,” she murmured.

 

“Oh!” Kallik grinned. “That’s not so terrible, right? I mean, you know him, and he’s a nice guy.”

 

“I guess.”

 

“So, uh, it’s unseemly for you to go anywhere alone with me now, huh?”

 

Koro smiled a little. Kallik counted it as a win. “They do things a little differently in his village,” she said, still scuffing her boot along the ground. “Toklo’s family doesn’t believe we’re just friends, because of all the time we spend together.”

 

Kallik laughed, shaking his head. He and Koro talked about everything, including what it might be like to be in love. They even kissed once, a long time ago, but it was one of the most awkward things either of them experienced. They didn’t have the spark Kya described when it came to love.

 

Koro was one of his best friends, though, and he wanted her to be happy. “Toklo’s not going to be an idiot about you, right?” he asked, brow furrowed. “He knows you’re one of the best hunters around, and everything. He wouldn’t try to like, make you a kept woman or anything, would he?”

 

Koro threw her head back, laughing so loudly that Narok jumped in surprise.

 

“Spirits, Kallik, could you imagine?” she asked, dabbing her face again. “No. I talked to Toklo before I accepted his necklace. He knows better. It’s even going to be a long engagement.”

 

Kallik sighed in relief. Toklo was the same age as them. They weren’t even old enough to go to war. Some elders wanted people to marry quickly, though, so they could have more babies. Chief Hakoda and Kanna never did, but who knew what Toklo’s village was like.

 

“It’s good for my family,” Koro added a little bitterly. She moved to stand next to Kallik and spoke in a low, shamed voice. “The village, too. We’ve been struggling so much since most of the men left. Toklo and I can take care of each other, and I’ll be going to his village, soon. It’ll be less of a burden to figure out how to feed and house me.”

 

Kallik winced at the truth in her words. Their village had the most volunteers for the war. In the last two years they went from thriving to barely scraping by. Their huts were badly damaged from weather, and there weren’t enough people to gather all the supplies they needed to repair them. Most of the village were in tents, now. The mothers were too busy caring for their own children to spare too many hands. The only ones who could do anything were him, Panuk, Koro, Sokka, and Katara, since they were the oldest. It was too hard, sometimes, and the bad days made Kallik miss his dad even more than usual.

 

“Want to guide Narok for a while?” Kallik asked, patting the polar dog on the shoulder. He whined as Kallik stepped away.

 

“And have him drool on me? No thanks,” Koro replied, shuddering. Kallik smirked at her and scratched Narok just behind his ear, causing him to stick out his tongue and shake his head, vigorously. Gobs of slobber covered them both.

 

“Ew!” Koro shrieked, trying to hide her smile as she rubbed the mess off her face.

 

Worth it, Kallik thought, as he wiped the drool from his furs.

 


 

Narok started barking like mad and took off toward the coast, pulling Kallik’s attention from cleaning the carcass he and Koro hauled back. He groaned, just ready for the day to be over. First, Koro said she was engaged. Then, there was that weird light in the sky. Now, Narok was going crazy for no reason. Kallik just wanted a calm, summer day where he could focus on his chores and not have to worry about anything unusual. Was that so much to ask?

 

He ran after the polar dog, past the tents that had been pulled out while they repaired the huts for winter. Kallik stumbled to a halt, eyes widening fearfully at the sight that greeted him.

 

A large, furry monster was grumbling as it swam to shore, growling so loudly at Narok that he put his tail between his legs and cowered behind Kallik, whining.

 

“What do you expect me to do?” Kallik asked the dog in a high voice. Kallik lifted his knife in front of him, still covered with the puffin-seal’s blood, and made himself as big as he could.

 

“Hey,” he shouted, menacingly. “Go on! Hey! Go!” he shouted, waving his arms and knife, hoping the creature would be scared of something it didn’t recognize. At least, he hoped it didn’t recognize humans. If a think that big was unknown to humans, but it knew what humans were? Well, Kallik was pretty certain that meant it would have eaten any humans to cross its path.

 

The creature grunted and blew out a huge puff of air, pushing Kallik back into Narok. He sprawled on his back, staring the beast with wide eyes. The teen wished he had his sword, or spear, or anything other than his cleaning knife.

 

“What’s happening,” he heard Sokka slur. He looked around, but his friend was nowhere in sight. “Kallik!” Kallik looked up.

 

There, in the saddle—this thing has a saddle?—was Sokka, rubbing his eyes tiredly. The younger boy waved and launched himself over the side, sliding down one of the beasts furry legs. Katara followed, hugging a small bald boy to her as she descended.

 

“What,” Kallik stuttered, pulling himself to his feet.

 

“Kallik, Katara was using her stupid water-magic again—”

 

“It’s waterbending, Sokka! You know that, you and Kallik were the ones who even told me about it—”

 

“—and she freaked out and broke our boat—”

 

“I didn’t break the boat! You broke the boat before I did anything by steering it the wrong way—”

 

“Excuse me, but have you ever tried to steer a canoe in rapids? And oh, you can’t bend us out of the water where chunks of ice are going to destroy our boat, but you can break open a giant iceberg that’s holding a little bald kid?”

 

Kallik blinked, stupidly, trying to make sense of what the siblings were saying. A very important detail caught his attention.

 

“You broke a boat?”

 

Sokka and Katara stopped bickering. They glanced at each other guiltily and looked down at the ground. Kallik pinched the bridge of his nose. Great, he thought. Now what? Koro can’t even help me gather enough pine to repair the huts, let alone boats. Sokka and Katara have other duties, and there is no way I'm asking Panuk.

 

“Kallik?” Katara asked, nervously. The older boy tried to reign in his anger. He was the oldest, and they looked up to him. He knew that. Kallik took a careful breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth, and regarded her as steadily as he could. It was an accident, after all.

 

“Who is this?” he asked, gesturing to the bald kid, who appeared to be unconscious. He wore orange and yellow clothing, and had a blue arrow on his head.

 

The kid stirred, opening his eyes, blearily. “What’s the matter?” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He stumbled into Katara, who prevented him from falling. “Can we go to bed? Summer at the poles is so weird.

 

“This is Aang,” Katara said. “Come on, can we get him to a tent? We can explain on the way.” Narok came back up and sniffed the boy before licking the side of his face. The boy giggled and tiredly pushed the dog away.

 

Kallik looked on, thoughtfully. If Narok trusted him, then Aang probably didn’t pose a danger to the tribe. The dog was an excellent judge of character, if nothing else. Kallik grabbed one of the boy’s arms, helping Katara walk him to the tents. Sokka and Katara snipped at each other the whole way. When they reached the shelters, the boy stumbled into the first tent they passed, which was Kallik’s, and snuggled into the furs on the ground. Kallik sighed.

 

“What happened?”  he asked, tiredly, holding his hand in front of him and concentrating. A small flame burst to life, which he used to light the lantern that hung above. It would give the boy some extra heat.

 

Sokka led them back to the firepit outside, where Kallik was still cleaning the kill from earlier. He pulled his own knife out of his belt to help. Then, Sokka started telling a wild story that began with Katara dumping water on him, (I caught a fish with my bending. Sokka was the one who popped the water with his spear) and ended with a long swim on the back of what was apparently an air bison.

 

“That fluffy thing snotted on me, Kallik. It was so gross,” Sokka said, shuddering.

 

“Narok slobbers on you all the time,” Kallik said, smiling a little.

 

“Trust me. This was so much worse.”

 

“He’s an airbender, Kallik,” Katara added, softly. “He—I think he was frozen in that ice for a really long time, and he used his bending to survive.”

 

Kallik stared at her, alarmed. There was no way that kid was an airbender. They had all been wiped out a lifetime ago.

 

Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time any of them had seen something impossible. Kallik was proof enough.

 

“I don’t trust him,” Sokka said, frowning. “Maybe Katara’s right. Maybe he’s really an airbender, but Kallik, what if he’s a Fire Nation spy?”

 

“Well, what do you propose we do?” Kallik asked, seriously. Sokka was going to be the next chief, and almost always made sound decisions, when he was being rational about things. He would trust Sokka’s judgement about the stranger.

 

Sokka twisted his face as he thought. After a few long minutes of working and listening to the crackling fire, he answered.

 

“Let’s wait for him to wake up. It would be pretty hard to fake being an airbender, right?”

 

Kallik nodded in agreement. It seemed like something Chief Hakoda would do. “Whatever you say, Sokka.”

 

It was a long wait until morning.

 


 

Aang shot up, panting slightly. At some point, he must have gotten too hot, because he had taken his shirt off, which was just weird for the poles. It was always freezing here. The small space was weirdly warm, though. He looked around to see he was in a tent, and Katara was standing at the entrance, grinning.

 

“Come on,” she said. “Everyone is waiting to meet you!” Aang quickly pulled his shirt over his head just in time. Katara had grabbed his wrist and pulled him out into bright sunshine. The walked past her brother, who was cleaning his boomerang next to the tent, to a large group of children being minded by a teenage boy, some women, and elders. Off to the side stood two other teenagers. One was a girl with pretty, soft brown hair and sky-blue eyes. She leveled a steely glare at him. The boy made Aang do a doubletake as he was dragged by.

 

His hair was—well it kind of looked normal, for Water Tribe. Most of it was tied back in what looked like a braid, but some short pieces framed his face, one of which was white and beaded. It was the wrong color though. It was so brown it looked black. His skin was unusually pale for the south pole, especially in the polar summer, and his eyes were bright gold.

 

What the heck was a Fire Nation boy doing in the Water Tribe?

 

Katara halted in front of a scowling, elderly woman who also wore her hair in loops, like Katara.

 

“Aang, this is the entire village,” Katara said, sweeping her arm out to encompass everyone. Aang looked on curiously, wondering where all the men were. Perhaps they were hunting something big. Monk Gyatso said the Water Tribes would take their boats and hunt for whale.

 

“Entire village,” she continued, “Aang.” Aang bowed respectfully, but the women pulled their children closer to them eyeing them wearily. A tall woman with flowing brown hair and the same eyes as Katara was standing behind the elder, clicking her tongue disapprovingly at the villagers behavior.

 

“Why are they all looking at me like that?” Aang asked, looking at his clothes. “Did Appa sneeze on me?” He was pretty out of it after they started swimming towards the village. He seemed to remember something licking his face.

 

“They have never seen an airbender. No one has in a hundred years,” the elderly woman said, her face unchanged. Her voice was soft, and Aang wondered if she just had a face like the that elder nun at the Western Air Temple, who looked mean but was the sweetest woman there. “We thought they were extinct, until my grandchildren found you.”

 

“Extinct?” Aang asked, softly. He glanced around. The boy with gold eyes was studying him closely. It put Aang on edge, but not as much as the elder’s words did.

 

“Kanna,” the woman behind her said, “be gentle. He's a child. Aang,” she said, smiling, “I’m Kya. Katara and Sokka’s mother.”

 

Aang bowed. “Nice to meet you.”

 

“What is this, some kind of weapon?” Aang looked up to see Sokka was now standing next to him, frowning at him. He pulled the staff out of his hands and examined it. “You can’t stab anything with this!” Aang heard a snigger and darted his eyes back at the two teenagers. The girl had her hand over her mouth and the boy was pinching the bridge of his nose. Aang felt a little relieved. They were normal kids like him. They were just nervous about him, like everyone else.

 

“It’s not for stabbing,” Aang said, twisting a current to pull the staff out of the unsuspecting teen’s hand. “It’s for airbending!” The kids around him gasped and smiled, asking for more magic tricks. Aang laughed.

 

“Not magic,” he said, pulling the latch to release the wings of his glider. The boy let out an alarmed yell and stepped back, arms up. “Airbending. I use it to control the air currents around my glider and fly!”

 

“What?” That was a new voice. Aang turned and grinned at the Fire Nation boy, who was looking at him in disbelief.

 

“Humans can’t fly,” he said. He was trying to look severe, but his eyes were wide and curious, taking in the wings of Aang’s staff. He reminded Aang of the young journeying monks who were treated like grownups, but still played airball with the kids when they came back.

 

“Check it out!” Aang shouted, pushing a gust of wind beneath his feet. He launched into the air and circled around to the applause and laughter below him. He looked down and grinned hugely at the sight of Katara, eyes sparkling at the sight of him. Her smile lit up her whole face. Aang felt a flutter in his stomach at the sight.

 

Then, he smashed into something hard and icy. His head got stuck in a huge pile of snow. He pulled himself out and fell to the ground, grinning sheepishly as Katara, Sokka, and the Fire Nation boy ran up to him. Sokka ran right past him to the large column of snow, then grunted when a pile fell on top of him. The boy behind Katara snickered.

 

“Great,” Sokka said, brushing the snow off his parka, “you’re an airbender, Kallik’s a firebender, Katara’s a waterbender—I’m surrounded by benders! Spirits,” he mumbled, stomping away.

 

“You’re a waterbender?” Aang asked, excitedly. He wondered what Katara knew about healing.

 

“Well, sort of,” she stammered, shrugging. “Not yet. I mean, Kallik and I practice together,” she gestured to the boy behind her, “but I’m not very good.”

 

“It’s hard to figure out firebending and waterbending at the same time,” Kallik added, shrugging. “Opposites.”

 

“Oh,” Aang said. “So, you didn’t know how to firebend before you came here?”

 

A flash of hurt went through those bright eyes before he scowled. Aang felt his heart stutter. He must have said the wrong thing.

 

“I mean—I’m just guessing that—I mean, you look Fire Nation to me, but you do have a Water Tribe name. So are you both?” Aang went on, babbling nervously.

 

“I am Kallik, of the Southern Water Tribe,” the teenager said, cold as ice, “and I hate the Fire Nation. So quit telling me that’s what I am.” He spun on his heel and stalked off. A polar dog scurried out from between the tents and followed him.

 

“Uh,” Aang mumbled, scratching the back of his head.

 

“That’s enough,” the elder said. “Katara, you have chores.” Katara said goodbye, walking off with her mother and grandmother. Aang looked down the path Kallik had gone.

 

He vanished.

Chapter Text

Kallik stared up in the sky, alarmed at the bright flare that launched into the air. It looked like it came from that Fire Nation wreck that was frozen in the ice. Narok barked at the noise, and Kallik launched himself to his feet and ran back to the village, machete in one hand and knife in the other. He arrived just as Katara and Aang were approaching the huddle of villagers that were gathered at the entrance of their border wall. Sokka was glaring at them in front of the villagers.

 

“You signaled the Fire Navy with that flare!” he cried, pointing an accusing finger at the airbender. “You’re leading them straight to us!”

 

“It was an accident!” Katara said, pleading with her brother. “We went to the Fire Nation ship, and—”

 

“Katara!” Aunt Kya said, sternly. “You know you aren’t supposed to go anywhere near that ship!”

 

“Katara,” Koro said, folding her arms over her chest, “why did you let this, this stranger talk you into doing this? We’ve been taught that ship was dangerous all our lives! You’ve endangered the whole village!” Kallik looked over at his friend in alarm. Now wasn’t the time to be placing blame. He put away his weapons, assured there wasn’t a threat nearby.

 

“Neither of you should have been anywhere near there,” Kanna added, frowning. “I know you haven’t forgotten the last raid, and all it took from us. Now, without the men to help protect our village, all could be lost.”

 

“We’ll have to move again,” Koro growled.

 

“It wasn’t Katara’s fault,” Aang cried, stepping in front of her. “I led her there. There was a booby trap though, and, well, we kind of boobied right into it.”

 

Kallik smacked his forehead. How dumb did you have to be to just walk onto a ship from the Fire Navy? He watched Sokka’s eyes narrow. His cousin was about to do something rash.

 

“So, the traitor admits it!” Sokka shouted, pointing his finger at Aang.

 

“Sokka,” Kallik said, softly, moving to stand next to him. Sokka glanced up at the taller boy, still livid. “I think we should gather before making a decision.”

 

Sokka growled and folded his arms over his chest. “Fine,” he grunted out. “Fine. The airbender will stay outside while we figure out what to do with him. Mom, Gran-gran, gather everyone who wants their voice heard while we make our decision. We’ll meet in the lodge.” The chief’s son spun on his heel and marched toward the large building at the edge of their village.

 


 

Everyone was so loud. The elders were shouting about having to move again, and this time, if they left their lodge, how would they build a new one without the manpower to cut new ice blocks? The young mothers and women tittered nervously about the Fire Nation coming back again to finish what they started seven years ago. Sokka sat in front of them all, Kallik to his side and slightly behind him, as he listened to their worries.

 

Katara wanted to shake him. He wanted to play soldier so badly. It drove her crazy. She huffed to the side with her mom and grandmother, crossing her arms over her chest. Kallik caught sight of her and winced, nudging Sokka. He murmured something to her brother which made the boy groan before waving Katara over. Her mom smiled and winked at her as Katara got up to join the boys in front.

 

“About time you decided to quit being a sexist jerk,” she muttered as she sat down next to them.

 

“For your information, I didn’t have you sitting here because you’re the one who went off with the airbender and lit that flare,” Sokka said, haughtily. Kallik sighed.

 

“Sokka,” he said, softly, “Katara didn’t do it on purpose. We all make mistakes. Remember when you tried to get that fishhook out of your finger with another fishhook?”

 

“It seemed like a good idea at the time!” Sokka said as Katara snickered.

 

“And now?” Kallik asked, calmly.

 

Sokka shrugged. “Now it seems pretty stupid.”

 

“And didn’t it seem stupid to all of us who were with you, who told you not to do it?”

 

“Yeah,” Sokka said, hanging his head. “But it was just my finger. What happened at the ship endangered the whole tribe.”

 

“Maybe, maybe not,” Kallik said, frowning. “There hasn’t been a raid since—well, you know. And I remember, clear as day, the guy your dad killed? He was looking for a waterbender, and the soldier who took his body said he would lie and tell them they killed the waterbender. He said they wouldn’t come back.”

 

“And you trust him? A Fire Nation soldier?”

 

Katara watched Kallik carefully, as he thought about Sokka’s question. Sokka didn’t know. He wasn’t there. Katara remembered, though. She remembered the sincerity in that man’s face when he told them he didn’t want to fight, anymore.

 

“Yes,” Kallik said, finally. “I do.”

 

Sokka huffed and shook his head. It reminded Katara of when her dad and uncle would go back and forth about decisions that would dramatically affect the tribe’s welfare. Uncle Bato had taught Kallik a lot before they left. It looked like Dad taught Sokka a few things, too.

 

“You’re not even listening to us!” an old man shouted, raising a shaking fist. “Chief Hakoda would never show such disrespect! Listening to that ash—”

 

“Shut up, Pana!” the woman next to him scolded, pulling his arm down. Katara saw the shift in Kallik’s eyes as he closed himself off.

 

“No! It matters!” Panuk said, near the front. “If we’re talking about Fire Nation spies—”

 

“Panuk,” Katara said with a scowl, “Kallik never did anything to you—”

 

“Maybe not,” Panuk sneered, “but I don’t want a firebender to have any influence over a decision that has to do with protecting ourselves from the nation he came from.”

 

“Enough!” Sokka shouted, standing up. The babble ceased. “Kallik is our family. He is the son of Bato and Kyra, and he grew up with us. His bending has nothing to do with this. I don’t care if any of you are uncomfortable with this, he’s a member of this tribe, and we all take care of each other! No one is left behind. Am I understood?”

 

The crowd murmured its assent, and the discussions began. Katara’s mom and grandmother both made it clear that they didn’t think the Fire Nation would come back here for a long time, despite the flare. The last information they got from the traders they met near their borders indicated many of navy ships had been heading north. They came to the conclusion that they should increase watches and be prepared to flee the village and hide, but otherwise, they would continue as they always had.

 

Then came the discussion of what to do with Aang in general.

 

Sokka said, in retrospect, the likelihood of a twelve-year-old airbender being a spy was a bit ridiculous. When Katara mentioned they discovered Aang must have been frozen for at least a hundred years, chattering broke out again.

 

The mothers were concerned about his influence over their children. Who knew what bizarre ideas he would give them? The elders were skeptical about the amount of time he was in the ice. The ones that remembered the benders claimed that there was no way anyone could survive very long in those conditions, no matter how powerful. Sokka was worried that the airbender would distract the villagers from their chores and training. Katara had enough.

 

“Aang brought us something we haven’t had in a long time,” she said, glaring at everyone. “Fun.”

 

The group murmured again. Kallik—the best timekeeper of all of them—suggested they take a break and resume talks after everyone got a chance to snack and stretch.

 

“I’m going to talk to him,” he said to Sokka as they stood up.

 

“I’ll come with you,” Katara said, but Kallik held out his hand.

 

“No, Katara. We already know how you feel, and I want to get a read on him without your influence,” Kallik said with finality.

 

“You can’t tell me what to do!” Katara said, frowning at her friend. Sokka stood between them, making his serious face at Katara.

 

“Katara, I want Kallik to make a call, here. I need his input. He notices threats you and I don’t,” he said, firmly. Katara couldn’t argue with the statement. Kallik had to watch his back against people from their own tribe—people who were meant to protect him. The only people he trusted blindly were her family, Koro, and his dad. Everyone else was always treated with suspicion. He was one of the few who could get a good read on others.

 

“It’ll be okay, Katara. Kallik will be fair.” Sokka’s tone left no room for argument.

 

Katara sighed and looked at the floor.

 

“Fine,” she said. She looked up at Kallik very seriously. “What he said before? If I’m right, and he is over a hundred years old—he didn’t mean it, Kallik. Not the way you think he did, anyway.”

 

Kallik offered her a small smile. “I’ve heard worse from Panuk, Katara. I won’t hold it against him.”

 


 

The airbender was spinning a small ball of air between his hands, tongue poked out in concentration. Kallik tilted his head, studying his stance. It was like he was trying to cage the air in his hands. He sat next to Aang, breaking the boy’s focus. The airball dissipated.

 

“How do you do that?” Kallik asked, curious.

 

“Oh, I invented it, actually. You use your breath to control the air currents, and your hands to hold the ball in place. You can make them huge, too. I use one as a scooter, sometimes,” Aang said with a grin.

 

“How do you keep the shape when it’s a scooter?” Kallik asked. Holding an airball in your hands made sense, since he could contain the air. How did he contain it if he stood or sat on it?

 

Aang shrugged. “It’s the same concept. You control it with your breath, but instead of using your hands to keep it in place, you use the ground and your body.”

 

Kallik hummed in acknowledgement. “I suppose that makes sense,” he said, mimicking the way Aang held his hands. He wondered if he could do the same with fire.

 

“So, you’re a firebender?” Aang asked. Kallik looked over at him and saw the boy looking up at him with wide eyes. Kallik shrugged.

 

“Yes,” he said. “We found out when I was nine.”

 

“Wow,” Aang breathed. “And you lived here all your life?” Kallik nodded. “But I thought firebenders couldn’t live at the poles. You must be a really powerful bender.”

 

Kallik shook his head. “No, I’m not very good,” he said, shrugging. “I can move fire around, and heat up our cookfires and smother them out—I can make flames, too, but I can’t keep them lit for very long.”

 

“I just don’t get how a firebender is able to live at the poles.”

 

Kallik sighed, thinking carefully of his answer. Aang was young. He thought about how he would answer if little Koko asked him, instead. Kallik looked around, as if he were about to share a serious secret. Aang leaned forward, gray eyes huge, acting like the kid he was. Kallik wondered how he could have thought for a second that this boy meant them any harm.

 

He reached up and tapped a bead in his white braid. Aang scrunched his face up in confusion, making Kallik laugh.

 

“What?” the boy asked, petulantly. “I don’t get it! What does hair have to do with anything?”

 

“Aren’t you a monk? I thought the airbenders were spiritual,” Kallik said.

 

Aang rubbed the back of his head, grinning sheepishly. “Well, yeah, the grownups. We learn all that stuff about the Spirits when we get older. There are some Except the great ones. Everyone learns about the Autumn Lord,  Tui and La, and Agni.”

 

“Well, Tui actually has something to do with it. She saved my life, and left her mark on me,” Kallik said, smiling.

 

Aang was awed. There was no other word for the look that came over his face.

 

“Wow, Kallik, that’s so cool! You’re Spirit-touched! The monks told us that if we ever met someone that was Spirit-touched that they should be revered.” Aang stood and cupped his hands together in an unusual way, bowing.

 

Kallik was baffled. “Why?”

 

Aang straightened up and frowned. “I’m not sure. Something about trials in the Spirit World, or something.”

 

“I’ve never been to the Spirit World,” Kallik replied.

 

“That you know of,” Aang said with a wink. Kallik smiled again at the kid’s antics. He couldn’t remember the last time he was so at ease with someone he just met. His stomach grumbled, and he reached into his ever-present pouch for some dried sea prunes. The salty snack wasn’t as good as it was when it was stewed, but it would take the edge off his hunger. The boy looked at the snack curiously.

 

“Is that dried squid?” he asked. Kallik shook his head.

 

“Dried squid is lighter, and looks stringier,” he replied, offering some to Aang. “This is dried sea prune. It’s pretty good, if you want to try it. Really salty.”

 

“Oh, I’m a vegetarian,” Aang said, “but thanks!”

 

“It’s a plant,” Kallik said. Aang’s eyebrows went up. “It grows off the coasts. What, did you think we only ate meat here?”


Aang’s eyes trailed over Kallik’s furs and weapons before he took the offered snack. “Well—I mean, the monks always said the Water Tribes had to hunt for everything to survive. I thought it was because you didn’t have enough plants to live.”

 

Kallik rubbed his thumb over the bone handle of his machete. “We don’t, but even if we did, hunting is a way of life, Aang. A lot of different peoples hunt to survive.”

 

“We never did,” Aang said, frowning. “Air Nomads don’t eat meat, because it can affect the purity of the spirit.”

 

Kallik scoffed at that. “Okay. Well, I’m sorry you’re stuck with such impure people, now—”

 

“No, wait,” Aang said holding out his hands and nearly dropping the sea prune. He managed to catch it and settled back down next to Kallik. “I keep saying the wrong thing around you. I’m sorry,” he said, earnestly.

 

Kallik carefully examined him. His head was bowed and his shoulders were drawn inward. He was the picture of remorse. Kallik patted him on the shoulder, making the boy look up at him.

 

“Apology accepted,” Kallik said. Aang scooted closer to him. “What?”

 

Aang grinned. “You’re warm,” he said. Kallik chuckled. He was exactly like every other kid Kallik had to deal with. Not only that, but he didn’t look like he could hurt a spider-fly without breaking his own heart. An airbender at the south pole would draw unnecessary attention to them, though. An airbender anywhere, would draw unnecessary attention.

 

“Aang, how did you survive in that iceberg?” Kallik asked, watching the boy closely. Aang flushed and wiggled uncomfortably.

 

“I don’t know,” he said, glancing at Kallik. Kallik raised an eyebrow. Sometimes, when the kids were lying, he could catch them out just by staring at them. Aang twisted his hands and frowned, furrowing his eyebrows. “What?”

 

“Aang,” Kallik said, flatly, “come on.”

 

“What, I don’t know, okay? There was a storm, and me and Appa went under, and the next thing I know, Katara was waking me up, okay?” Aang said, defensively. Kallik kept staring, frowning like his dad would when he was disappointed. It always worked on Kallik, after all.

 

Apparently, it worked on Aang, too.

 

“Fine!” Aang huffed. He looked at the ground. “I—I’m the Avatar.”

 

Kallik’s heart stuttered and his eyes widened. He was pretty sure his mouth was hanging open.

 

“What?”

 

Aang crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t know how to do anything but airbend, but—the monks told me I was. They told me I was the Avatar and that’s why I became a master so young, and then they wanted to take me away from Gyatso and I panicked and ran away, but I flew into the storm and now I’m here—”

 

Kallik gently grabbed Aang’s shoulders. The boy looked at him for a moment with a trembling lower lip. Tears were streaming down his face and he lunged at Kallik, hugging him tightly. Kallik patted him awkwardly on the back.

 

“Everyone I know is gone, now. And there’s a war—why is there a war?”

 

“I—I don’t know, actually,” Kallik said. “I’m sorry, Aang.” They sat like that for a while, until Aang calmed down. Kallik figured it had to be pretty scary, waking up and finding out everyone you knew was gone. Even if Aang was the Avatar, he was just a kid. Didn’t the stories say the Avatar was told when he or she was sixteen? That seemed like too much of a burden for someone so young.

 

Aang finally settled down, wiping at his face.

 

“Thanks, Kallik,” he said, sniffling. They sat quietly for a while. “Hey, why aren’t you in that meeting?”

 

“We’re taking a recess,” Kallik said. “Everyone was getting a little hotheaded. We took a break to eat and rest. We’re going to resume pretty soon, actually.”

 

“Oh,” Aang said. “So why did you spend your break with me?”

 

Kallik shrugged. “Because I don’t think I can make a good decision about you without taking the chance to get to know you.”

 

“Huh.” Aang scratched his head.

 

“So if you’re the Avatar, you need to find teachers to learn the elements, don’t you?” Kallik asked, seriously.

 

Aang sighed. “Yeah—and now that I know there’s this huge war, I really need to help. I can’t believe I disappeared right before all this started.”

 

“Maybe you were meant to,” Kallik offered. Aang stared at him, shocked. “I just mean that the Spirits are odd, sometimes. They sailed me from the Fire Nation to the South Pole for a reason. Maybe they trapped you in ice for a hundred years for a reason, too.”

 

Aang hummed, thoughtfully. “Kallik, you know how you said you’re not very good at bending?”

 

Kallik nodded.

 

“What do you think about finding a master?”

 


 

“You all need to go.”

 

Sokka threw his hands up. “Mom!”

 

His mom stared at him, eyes bright and face stern. She stood tall, arms folded over her chest the way they always were when she was in no mood to argue.

 

When Kallik came back with the information that Aang was, in fact, the Avatar, the village immediately came to the unanimous conclusion that he could stay as long as he wanted. Aang thanked them for their generosity, but said he had to leave to find bending masters so he could learn the elements and stop the war. They threw a feast that night, grateful that Kallik had brought back such hearty fair. Aang reluctantly ate a lot of dried seaweed and sea prunes.

 

“Sokka, listen to me,” she urged, holding out her hands. He rolled his eyes and put his hands in hers, staring at them for a minute before looking up at her face. “Your grandmother and I talked about this. After you leave, we’re all going to join the next village.”

 

“But—”

 

“There is nothing for us here. We haven’t received any correspondence from your father in over a year. Your sister needs to learn to waterbend, your cousin needs to learn to firebend, and the Avatar is the only one who can stop this war! We all need to do our part.”

 

“Mom, Dad said my part is to stay here and protect you,” Sokka said, eyes wide and beseeching. His mom smiled at him and nodded.

 

“Yes, when you were thirteen. I think your part has changed. Now your part is to help the Avatar.” His mom let go of his hands and cupped his face, kissing him on his forehead.

 

“You will gain so much for our tribe if you go, son. And if you go, Katara and Kallik will follow you. They always do.”

 

Sokka wrapped his arms around her. “Do you promise you’ll stay safe?”

 

“I’ll do my best, son,” she replied. “Now that that’s decided, get your sister and cousin. We need to go over some last-minute things before you go.”

 

While the rest of the village slept on, Sokka gathered supplies with Kallik, who was more quiet than usual. Katara and Aang babbled excitedly about the upcoming journey, but they were younger. Katara was excited to properly learn waterbending, and Aang was excited to take his new friends to exotic places. They didn’t fully know the consequences of leaving the tribe behind, like he and Kallik did.

 

As the grey horizon brightened again, they were ready to leave. Kya hugged and kissed all three of them. The children talked excitedly at Sokka and Katara as they started to mount Appa. Kallik and Koro exchanged a hug and Narok stood on his hind legs, putting his forepaws on Kallik’s shoulders. The polar dog was longer than Kallik was tall, but Kallik just rubbed his neck and chest, letting the animal lick his face before he joined the rest of them on the air bison.

 

Aang flipped to the head of the bison as Kallik settled down in the saddle.

 

“Alright, are you all ready to fly?” he asked, eyes bright with excitement.

 

Sokka rolled his eyes. “Yeah, because that worked so well the last time.” He looked over at Kallik who raised a curious eyebrow. “He tried to get this thing to fly before, and he just swam in the ocean instead.” Kallik hummed in acknowledgement.

 

“Sokka doesn’t believe Appa can fly,” Katara said, glaring at Sokka, “but I do.”

 

“How do you get him to fly?” Kallik asked, gripping the saddle nervously. Aang grinned at him before spinning back around to face forward.

 

“Appa, yip-yip!”

 

Sokka startled as the beast growled and gave a giant flap of his tail, leaping into the air. He prepared himself for the sensation of falling back to the ground.

 

It never came.

 

Sokka stared around with wide eyes as they climbed higher and higher, watching the villagers stare and point in awe as they flew into the air.

 

“Spirits, look! Katara, we’re flying!” He looked over at Katara who had a smug grin on her face, then at Kallik who was gripping the saddle so tightly, Sokka wouldn’t be surprised if it broke in his hands. He had an expression that fell somewhere between elated and terrified.

 

“Okay, so before we find any bending masters, I need to take you guys to ride the hopping llamas—or maybe we could surf on the backs of giant koi fish. Oh, and the flying hog-monkeys are the best—”

 

Sokka leaned back and closed his eyes. It was going to be a long trip.

Chapter Text

Kallik tended to the fire, getting the coals hot enough to cook breakfast. He woke at dawn, so he took care of the morning chores while the others slept. Aang was the first to wake up after him.

 

“Did you use your bending?” he asked, grinning.

 

Kallik shrugged, shifted the coals. “No, I don’t usually unless we need fire right away.”

 

Aang furrowed his brow. “Why not?”

 

Kallik sighed and stood up, moving to their supply bags. He couldn’t put in his words what it was like to grow up where everyone was afraid of his bending. The only ones who weren’t were his father and Katara. Even Sokka was nervous whenever he lit a flame. Kallik pulled out some dishes to start cooking breakfast.

 

“We should wake the others,” he said, changing the subject. “We’ll need to break down camp soon. I don’t like the look of those clouds over there.”

 

“Kallik,” Aang said, a reproachful. Kallik moved back to the tent and poked his head in to shout at the siblings.

 

“Rise and shine!” he said, loudly. Sokka grunted and rolled over, but Katara sat up and rubbed her eyes.

 

“Do you need help with breakfast?” she asked, stretching.

 

“Yes please,” Kallik said, gratefully. “Thanks Katara.” He raised his voice as Katara exited the tent, “I’m glad one of you can act responsibly.”

 

“I’m up,” Sokka groaned, sitting up and rubbing his face. “Geez, what time is it, anyway?” Sokka stumbled out of the tent and Kallik grabbed his shoulders to steady him. Sokka squinted at the horizon.

 

“Kallik!” he whined. “It’s dawn!” Sokka pointed at the sun that hung low over the horizon.

 

“No, Dawn was ages ago,” Kallik grinned, ruffling Sokka’s hair. “Look, chief-to-be,” Kallik said as he pointed to the dark clouds gathering in the distance. “That’s not something we want to break down camp in, alright?”

 

Sokka grimaced at the sight. “Yeah, that makes sense. We’ll hunt at the next stop.”

 

“It’s gonna be a light breakfast,” Kallik warned.

 

“We’ll manage. There’s some dried seal jerky, so I think we’ll be alright,” Sokka said. “That storm started brewing really quickly. It’s a good thing you spotted it.”

 

Kallik shrugged, indifferently. “You don’t have to tell me. I can’t believe this mess. My bad luck is already following us around.”

 

“Don’t even joke about that,” Sokka said with a shudder.

 

They busied themselves with their chores, and Aang didn’t try to ask Kallik about his bending again. Kallik was grateful for this. He needed the break so he could sort out his own thoughts about everything.

 

He had been fighting with himself since Aang brought up the prospect of finding a master. Someone who could actually teach Kallik to do his bending? It was something he never thought would be possible. He thought all he could do was make sparks and tiny flames, or move fire around like Katara did with water, and he was okay with that. At least, he thought he was.

 

Once Aang said they could find an actual teacher, though, Kallik realized how much he was just telling himself he was fine. The reality was, he did want to learn more. He wanted to know how to use his bending so he could protect his village with something more than his blades. He wanted to learn how to control his power so sparks wouldn’t fly off his fingertips when he was mad. He wanted to be able to actually use that small, burning fire that only he could feel, flickering in time with his heartbeat.

 

Firebending terrified him, though. It scared him to his very bones. He never forgot the fight with that man. He never forgot the heat that grazed his hands and arms as he flung enemy fire behind him. He still could smell the singed fur of his parka. The look in Aunt Kya’s eyes haunted his dreams. He put that fear in her. The day he became a firebender was the worst in his life. Part of him wanted to bury it away forever.

 

The four of them made quick work of their campsite. Kallik smothered the fire as Sokka handed up the last bags to Katara. Aang was saddling Appa.

 

“I know. That’s why I have to see it for myself,” Kallik heard Aang say as he climbed into the saddle. Kallik settled down, gripping the leather railing and closing his eyes. He wasn’t sure if he would ever get used to this.

 

“What are you talking about?” Sokka asked. Kallik felt him sit down next to him.

 

“The Southern Air Temple!” Aang said. “Appa, yip-yip!”

 

Kallik held his breath as the air bison leapt off the ground. His stomach climbed into his throat. This was nothing like ice dodging or penguin sledding. Boats and otter-penguins operated in a territory he was familiar with. Hovering hundreds of feet in the air with nothing to hold them up? He didn’t understand how Sokka and Katara could think this was fun.

 

“It’s okay, buddy,” Sokka said, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “You’ll get used to it.”

 

“Ugh,” Kallik groaned. “Shut up.”

 

“Aw, Kallik. There’s nothing wrong with having delicate sensibilities—”

 

“Tui and La,” Kallik growled, cracking an eye open. Sokka was smirking at him. “If you don’t shut up, I’ll—”

 

“What? Puke on me?” Sokka laughed, poking Kallik in the shoulder. Kallik clenched his free hand into a fist, but Sokka just sniggered at him. “You have to let go of the saddle to hit me.”

 

Kallik rolled his eyes and sat up, letting go of the leather handle. “I wouldn’t hit you anyway. You can’t handle it.”

 

Sokka looked affronted. “What?” he shouted, flinging his arms up. “I can take you on!”

 

“Yeah, right,” Kallik scoffed. “Because our last spar worked out so well for you.”

 

“You—”

 

“Is this normal?” Aang asked, leaning towards Katara. He looked concerned.

 

Katara sighed. “Yes. They argue with each other for fun.”

 

“Oh,” Aang said. He released the reigns and flipped backwards, sitting next to Katara in the saddle. Kallik gripped the saddle again and leaned backwards, trying not to panic.

 

“Sokka, will you grab the sea prunes,” she asked, frowning at Kallik. “Do you want some?”

 

Kallik shook his head, swallowing. “I’m fine.”

 

“Kallik?” Aang ventured. Kallik looked over at him. “It’s okay to be scared.”

 

Kallik felt his face flush. “I’m not scared!” Sokka pressed his lips together and looked back and forth between Aang and Kallik.

 

Aang smiled at him. “Or anxious, or nervous. But you can trust me and you can trust Appa, okay? We won’t let you fall.”

 

Kallik groaned and flopped backward, staring up at the blue sky above them. He heard Katara giggle.

 

“I hate you,” he said, half-heartedly.

 

“No, you don’t,” Katara responded. He felt her poke his foot.

 

“No, I don’t,” he agreed, voice reluctant.

 

They flew through the clouds, far away from the storm that was heading toward them. Aang directed them over a variety of islands. Eventually, Kallik relaxed enough to let go of the saddle and eat some seal jerky with Sokka.

 

“The Potola Mountain Range,” Aang exclaimed. “We’re almost there!”

 

“Aang,” Katara said, tone gentle, “before we get to the temple, I want to talk to you about the airbenders.”

 

“What about them?” Aang asked.

 

Kallik winced. He knew Aang had been gone for a hundred years, but he still didn’t seem to understand what that meant, and how much had changed over time.

 

“Well,” Katara said slowly, “I just want you to be prepared for what you might see.” She turned her head and looked at Kallik before lowering her gaze.

 

“The Fire Nation is ruthless,” she said, sadly.

 

“They killed my mother,” Kallik said, tone flat. Aang looked back at him, eyes wide and sad. Kallik hated the pity they held, and stared down at his hands instead.

 

“They could have done the same to your people,” Katara continued, voice soft.

 

Aang looked thoughtful for a moment before smiling. “Just because no one has seen an airbender doesn’t mean the Fire Nation killed them all. They probably escaped.”

 

Kallik sighed. The rest of this trip was not going to be pleasant.

 

“Aang—”

 

“You don’t understand, Katara,” Aang continued, smiling wide, “the only way to get to an Air Temple is on an air bison!”

 

Aang pulled back the reigns without warning. Kallik slid back against the saddle and gripped the sides hard with both hands as they quickly flew up and over the peak of a mountain. Kallik held his breath and felt a painful pop in his ear. He stretched out his jaw as they leveled out and slowed down, trying to adjust to the new pressure in his head. He blinked, shaking his head a little, wondering why Appa was tilting around so much all of a sudden. His vision was greying out.

 

“Kallik?” Sokka asked. He sounded nervous, but Kallik was having trouble picking out his voice over the rush in his ears.

 

“There it is.”

 

Why was everything dark?

 

“The Southern Air Temple.”

 


 

“I’m so sorry!” Aang exclaimed, flitting over them as they settled Kallik on the ground. Sokka rested his head and shoulders against a bedroll as Katara pulled out their medicines.

 

“It wasn’t your fault, Aang,” she said, grabbing a smelling salt from their kit.

 

“No, I think it was,” he said, woefully. Katara looked up sharply and Sokka glared at him.

 

“What did you do?” Sokka growled, gripping his boomerang. Aang held his hands up in surrender.

 

“I forgot! The monks always said to be careful coming up when you bring new visitors, and I forgot.”

 

“Aang, slow down,” Katara said, grabbing a spare water skin. “What are you talking about?”

 

“We’re really, really high up,” Aang said. “I’m an airbender, so it’s no problem for me, and some people don’t have a problem with such a high place, but others can faint if they come up too quick or get sick if they stay too long,” he said. “I should have done a gradual rise, I’m so sorry.”

 

Katara sighed and unscrewed the cap from the jar of salt, then held it under Kallik’s nose. After a moment, he snorted and shot up, gagging. Katara rubbed a soothing circle on his back as he coughed, trying to ease him.

 

“What,” he gasped, clutching his chest as his breathing evened out, “what happened?”

 

“You passed out,” Sokka said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Are you feeling okay?”

 

“I feel like I just got dragged around by a polar bear-dog,” Kallik grunted, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut.

 

“What is it?” Katara asked, quietly.

 

“Headache,” Kallik bit out.

 

“Oh!” Aang exclaimed, grinning. “I know what’ll fix that. Just a second!” he flew off into the trees. Kallik groaned and rocked forward a little, trying to hunch in on himself.

 

“See,” Sokka said, nudging him. “Delicate sensibilities.” He bolstered his voice with extra bravado. Katara was pretty sure he was covering his nerves.

 

“I will kill you,” Kallik groaned. Katara saw him open an eye and bump his shoulder against Sokka’s.

 

“Boys,” she muttered, sorting through her medicine to find the snow-willow bark.

 

Aang returned with a green berry in his hand.

 

“Here,” he said, passing it to Kallik. Kallik eyed it warily. “It’s works really quick on headaches, honest. A long time ago, I brought my friend Kuzon here and the same thing happened to him. This is what Monk Gyatso gave him. It doesn’t taste good, but it’ll work.”

 

Kallik glanced over at Katara, who shrugged. She didn’t think it would hurt to try. Kallik sighed and popped the berry into his mouth, face puckering at the taste. The tension around his eyes seemed to ease as he chewed, and when he swallowed, he gestured for Katana’s water. Katara handed it to him, and he took a quick pull from the mouth of the bag, rinsing his mouth out.

 

“That was disgusting,” he said, repulsed.

 

“But did it work?” Aang asked.

 

Kallik scowled at him but gave him a single nod. Aang grinned.

 

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said. “I’ll be more careful next time.”

 

“Um, that’s okay,” Kallik said, confused. He glanced at Katara to help him understand what happened.

 

“He didn’t approach right,” Katara explained. “They don’t often bring outsiders and when they do, they’re supposed to do the climb gradually. That’s what made you faint.”

 

“Oh,” Kallik said, furrowing his brow. “You two are fine?”

 

Katara and Sokka shrugged. Aang scuffed his toe against the stone floor.

 

“Some people just get affected differently,” he said. Kallik was giving him his polar dog look. Aang squirmed a little, and Katara stood in front of him.

 

“Since you’re feeling better, I think Aang could probably show us around now, right?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Kallik. Kallik stared at her and shrugged, pulling himself to his feet. Sokka rose with him.

 

“Oh yeah!” Aang said, excitedly. He led them up a stone path. “I can’t wait to show you guys the airball court!”

 


 

Kallik winced as Sokka flew off the wooden pole he was standing on, this time through the goal behind him. Aang laughed and teased him a little as Kallik and Katara ran over to help him up.

 

“Making him feel better is putting me in a world of hurt,” he muttered. Kallik chuckled.

 

“You’re the one who volunteered.” He held out a hand for Sokka but the other boy swatted it away.

 

“How could I not?” Sokka asked, wincing. “He looked like Narok does when you won’t give him his extra treat—whoa,” he crawled forward. Kallik and Katara stared at each other before following.

 

“Check this out,” Sokka said, shifting over so they could see what caught his attention. An old, rusted helmet sat against the rocky wall, faceplate staring out at them. Kallik shuddered. It wasn’t quite the same, but it looked similar to the armor of the men who attacked them.

 

“Fire Nation,” Katara whispered.

 

“We should tell him,” Sokka said. Katara nodded.

 

“Aang, there’s something you need to see,” she called.

 

“Okay,” Aang shouted back as he ran over, tossing the ball in his hands. Kallik watched indecision flash in Katara’s eyes, before she swept the snow off the cliff to bury the helmet. Sokka spluttered as cold snow hit his body.

 

“What is it?” Aang asked, looking around.

 

“Just… a new waterbending move I learned,” Katara said, smiling nervously.

 

“Nice one!” Aang said. “But enough practicing. We have a whole temple to see!” He started to walk toward the temple that overlooked the court.

 

“You know,” Sokka sighed, “you can’t protect him forever.” Katara didn’t respond as they followed him into the temple.

 

Aang showed them the statue of his mentor, Monk Gyatso, before taking them to the sanctuary within. The door was adorned with an odd, metal symbol for the Air Nomads. Aang explained the key to opening the door was airbending, and quickly executed a move that caused the lock to sing before the doors swung open.

 

The three entered a strange, circular room filled with statues arranged on a spiral.

 

“Who are all these people?” Katara asked. Kallik shivered. He felt the hairs on his arms rising. Something wasn’t right about this place.

 

“I’m not sure,” Aang responded, “but it feels like I know them somehow. Look!”

 

Aang was pointing to an Air Nomad statue. “This one’s an airbender!”

 

“And this one’s a waterbender,” Katara exclaimed, pointing at the next statue. “They’re lined up in a pattern…. Air, water, earth, and fire.”

 

“That’s the Avatar cycle,” Aang said. Kallik swallowed and shook himself. The room was spooky, and all the Avatar talk wasn’t helping. Didn’t Aang say he was supposed to meet someone here? Were they a spirit? Katara and Aang talked about the Avatars a bit more as they moved further into the room.

 

“Katara, do you really believe in this stuff?” Sokka asked, rolling his eyes.

 

“It’s true!” Katara said, vehemently. “When the Avatar dies, he’s reincarnated into the next nation in the cycle. Right Aang? Aang?”

 

Aang was standing in front of the last statue in the cycle, staring into its face.

 

“Can you believe this?” Sokka asked, nudging his head in the direction of his sister and the Avatar.

 

“Man, this place is creepy,” Kallik replied. “And you should take spirit stuff more seriously.”

 

“Not you, too!” Sokka cried.

 

“Sokka, I’ve always believed in the Spirits,” Kallik replied, raising an eyebrow. “It’s kind of hard not to.” He pointed to the white braid in his hair.

 

“Right,” Sokka said, grudgingly.

 

“That’s Avatar Roku,” Aang said. Sokka and Kallik walked forward. Kallik examined the statue. It—wasn’t what he expected. But then, he couldn’t expect everyone from the Fire Nation to wear armor all the time.

 

“You were a firebender?” Sokka asked. “Maybe you can give Kallik some pointers so he’ll stop singeing my socks on laundry day,” he snickered.

 

“Why am I drying your socks, again?” Kallik deadpanned.

 

“At least you get them when they’re clean,” Katara scoffed. “Have you ever smelled his dirty socks?”

 

“No, and I don’t need to,” Kallik said, grimacing.

 

“Hey!” Sokka cried.

 

“Aang,” Katara asked. “How did you know his name? There’s no writing here.”

 

Aang shrugged. “I’m not sure. I just know it somehow.”

 

“Just when I thought you couldn’t get weirder,” Sokka muttered. The sound of a kicked pebble skittered along the ground. The four looked down to see a large, frightening shadow approaching. Each hid behind a statue. Kallik pulled out his machete as quietly as possible.

 

“Shh,” Sokka whispered, making Kallik want to smack him. “Nobody make a sound.”

 

“You’re making a sound!” Katara whispered loudly. Kallik glared at both of them and pressed his free hand over his mouth. Katara blushed but pressed her hands against her lips. She was probably embarrassed to have to use a trick they were taught as children, but it was effective. Aang opened his mouth but she shook her head. Kallik tensed, carefully peering around the side of the statue.

 

As soon as the body appeared to be in striking distance, Sokka rose, club ready. He slipped around the statue, club held high overhead, and froze. Kallik immediately followed, ready to defend. He stopped at the sight that greeted him.

 

There was a tiny, furry, big eared creature standing in the doorway. It had grey and white fur and tiny green eyes. It chirruped. Kallik smiled at the sight, wondering what kind of treats it would eat.

 

“Lemur!” Aang shouted.

 

“Dinner!” Sokka drooled, bolting past the statues.

 

The two ran towards the lemur and chased him out of the sanctuary, leaving Kallik and Katara behind.

 

“What just happened?” Katara asked. Kallik shrugged, then rubbed his arms. The weird feeling he got in this space wouldn’t go away.

 

“Can we get out of here?” he asked.

 

Katara smiled at him and nodded, leading the way out. They walked down the path they saw Sokka running along, chasing after Aang and the lemur. There was a covered area not too far off that Sokka slipped into.

 

“He’s being really nice to him,” Kallik said. Katara smiled.

 

“Yeah. He’s a good big brother, when he wants to be.”

 

Kallik laughed, nudging her. She frowned. He followed her line of sight to see dust start billowing around the building. Suddenly, the roof exploded upward, revealing a giant windstorm. Kallik and Katara ran forward, only to be pushed back by the gusts. Sokka was clinging to a stone block. In front of them, Aang was hovering, surrounded by a circular sphere of air.

 

“What happened?” Kallik shouted, grabbing the block next to Sokka.

 

“He found out the Fire Nation killed Monk Gyatso!” Sokka shouted back.

 

“Oh no!” Katara said. “It’s in the stories Gran-gran told. It’s his Avatar Spirit. Seeing this must have triggered it! I’m gonna try to calm him down!”

 

“Well do it before he blows us off the mountain!” Sokka screamed.

 

“Don’t even joke about that!” Kallik yelled, squinting in the wind.

 

“Who said I was joking?!”

 

Katara slid forward, step by careful step, shouting at Aang and begging him to calm down. Aang slowly rose into the air, but spun around to face them.

 

“Aang, I know you’re upset,” Katara shouted. “And I know how hard it is to lose the people you love.”

 

“How would you know!” Kallik found himself holding his breath. The voice that came out of Aang’s body was wrong, and it was terrifying. Kallik could hear ancient power and rage screaming at them.

 

“Sokka and I went through the same thing when I lost Auntie Kyra,” she said. “And she was Kallik’s mom. We lost her to the Fire Nation. Our fathers left to fight in the war. We know loss,” she inched closer, beseeching him. “Aang, Monk Gyatso and the other airbenders may be gone, but you still have a family. We’re your family now. Me, Sokka, and Kallik. You’re our family and we’ll take care of you.”

 

The winds slowed to a stop and Aang slowly sank back to the earth. Kallik found himself running up to Aang with Sokka.

 

“We won’t let anything happen to you, buddy,” Sokka said. Katara held out her hand and took Aang’s. The glow left his eyes completely, and there were tears on his face. He looked up at Kallik.

 

“You can trust us,” he said, putting his hand on Aang’s shoulder. “We won’t let you fall.”

 

Aang sniffled and gave a watery smile as Kallik echoed his words from earlier, allowing the three of them to pull him into a hug.

 


 

Aang sighed as he stared at his home. He didn’t regret coming here. He needed to see what changed with his own eyes. The lemur perched on his arm, chittering.

 

“You, me, and Appa,” Aang said, watching the sky turn pink with the sunrise, “we’re all that’s left of this place. We have to stick together.” His new friends walked up to him, each carrying a pack. Kallik and Katara were bickering about something, and Sokka was rolling his eyes. Aang smiled, feeling a sense of belonging as they approached.

 

“Katara, Sokka, Kallik,” he said, shifting his arm so the lemur would move closer to them. “Say hello to the newest member of our family.”

 

Kallik presented the lemur with a piece of fruit, smiling widely when the lemur ate it and grabbed onto his hand, looking for more.

 

“What are you gonna name him?” Katara asked. The lemur took off, quick as lightening, snatching Sokka’s half-eaten peach out of his hand.

 

Aang grinned, staring between Sokka’s dumbfounded look and the lemur’s cheeks full of fruit.

 

“Momo,” he said, laughing. The lemur hopped off his arm to Kallik’s shoulder and started picking at his hair.

 

“He likes you!” Aang exclaimed. Kallik grinned back.

 

“Well yeah,” Sokka grumbled. “It’s Kallik. All the animals like him.”

 

“Really?” Aang asked.

 

“Yeah. You should hear the story about the first time we went penguin sledding.”

 

Aang couldn’t be happier to be part of this wonderful family.

Chapter Text

Kallik shook his head as Sokka demanded the map from Aang, sharpening his machete. All the time they spent in the air as they hopped from island to island got him very used to the sensation of flying. He still didn’t like it, but he didn’t feel the urge to hang onto Appa’s saddle as if his life depended on it. Katara hummed a little as she worked on fixing Sokka’s pants.

 

“You have no idea where you’re going, do you?” Sokka asked, rolling the map back up.

 

“Well,” Aang said, apologetically, “I know it’s near water.”

 

“Great,” Sokka said. “We must be close.” Kallik lifted his head up and looked around, then snickered when he saw there was nothing but water below them.

 

“Hey Katara,” Aang said, “check out this airbending trick!” Kallik looked up and watched as a small marble spun around between Aang’s hands. It was pretty cool, how well he could control the air currents.

 

“That’s great, Aang,” Katara said, eyes on her work. Kallik snickered and nudged Sokka, making the boy narrow his eyes. Kallik shook his head. It was kind of cute how much the younger boy was trying to show off for her, but Sokka was always overprotective of his little sister.

 

“You didn’t even look,” Aang said, pouting.

 

Katara looked up and smiled at him. “That’s great!” The marble sat still in his hand.

 

“I’m not doing it now,” he mumbled, looking dejected.

 

“Stop bugging her, airhead,” Sokka said in a low voice. “You gotta give girls space when they do their sewing.”

 

Translation, Kallik thought, eyes off my sister and back on the road. Sky. Whatever.

 

“What does me being a girl have to do with sewing?” Katara asked, raising an eyebrow at her brother. Kallik immediately looked back down at his machete, putting his sharpening stone away and pulling out a cloth to clean it. He did not need to be part of this fight.

 

Don’t say it, he thought, desperately. Don’t say it, Sokka.

 

“Simple,” Sokka said, “girls are better at fixing pants than guys, and guys are better at hunting and fighting and stuff like that.”

 

“You’re an idiot,” Kallik muttered.

 

“Huh?” Sokka asked, turning to him.

 

“All done with your pants!” Katara said in a chipper voice, throwing the garment back at Sokka. It was still riddled with holes. “Didn’t I do a great job?”

 

“Wait,” Sokka said, “I didn’t mean it. Come on, Katara, I can’t wear these. Please?”

 

“So what you do,” Kallik said, slowly, “is take the thread and pull it through the eye of the needle. Then you knot the end, and you pull the needle and thread through the fabric to put it together again.”

 

“Kallik,” Sokka groaned. “Come on, they’ll look terrible if I do it.”

 

“Yeah, but it’s good practice,” Kallik said, shrugging. “You should have learned stitching from your Dad or mine for injuries, in case you’re ever hurt while hunting.”

 

“I mean, I know how to do that, in theory,” Sokka said, hesitantly.

 

“Glad to know if Katara or I are hurt, you know how to fix us up ‘in theory.’”

 

“Pants are different!” Sokka shouted.

 

“Yeah. They’re easier,” Kallik deadpanned.

 

“Relax, Sokka,” Aang said. “Where we’re going, you won’t need any pants.” Ahead was a small island with a large, empty bay. Appa landed and Aang flew off the air bison, landing gracefully on his feet. Katara, Kallik, and Sokka slid down the animal’s tail. Momo perched on Kallik’s shoulder.

 

“Didn’t we just stop?” Kallik asked, scratching behind Momo’s ear. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be back on the ground, but shouldn’t we go a little farther before we take another break?”

 

“Appa is tired,” Aang said, “aren’t you, boy?”

 

Kallik narrowed his eyes as he watched the boy nudge the bison in the side. The beast grunted before letting out a large yawn.

 

“Yeah,” Sokka said, sarcastically. “I’m convinced.”

 

Kallik folded his arms over his chest. Aang had an irritating habit of telling white lies when he wanted to get his way. He had planned on confronting him about it at the Air Temple. Kallik was certain Aang knew why he got sick and the other’s didn’t. Katara had cut him off before he got a chance to question the airbender. Now they had stopped on a snowy island that wouldn’t have much in the way of food or supplies, as far as Kallik could tell, and Aang wasn’t telling them why. It was frustrating. Didn’t they just say he was family, now? You weren’t supposed to lie to your family.

 

“Still,” Sokka relented, “it’s hard to argue with a ten-ton magical monster.”

 

A large fish jumped out of the water, startling Kallik.

 

“Look!” Aang shouted, pointing to the water. Kallik glanced over at Katara and Sokka, who looked as stunned as he felt.

 

“That’s why we’re here,” Aang continued, stripping his clothes. Kallik wanted to shake him. It was too cold to be stripping down to his underwear! Sure, it may not have been as bad as the South Pole, but there was snow on the ground, here.

 

“That’s an Elephant Koi, and I’m gonna ride it,” Aang said, grinning. “Katara, you’ve gotta watch me!”

 

Kallik was about to grab him to keep him from the water, but Aang was too quick for him. The boy ran into the water and fully dunked himself. He surfaced quickly enough to shout about how cold it was before he swam towards the giant fish. Sokka looked over at his sister and raised his hand, twisting his finger around in the, he’s crazy, gesture. Kallik found himself wholeheartedly agreeing.

 

Soon, Aang was holding onto the back of one of the Elephant Koi, laughing loudly and waving at them. Katara cheered and waved back, laughing at the sight.

 

“He looks pretty good out there,” she grinned.

 

“Are you kidding?” Sokka scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. “The fish is doing all the work.”

 

“I don’t know,” Kallik said, somewhat awed. “Holding onto a fish for dear life takes some effort.” Appa grumbled behind them, catching Katara’s attention.

 

“No, Appa!” she shouted, running back to the air bison, who found a prickly bush to chew on, “Don’t eat that!”

 

“Hey,” Sokka said, voice low and worried. Kallik looked back out at the water and swallowed, his heart stuttering. Something was pulling the other Elephant Koi under as they swam. “He needs to get out of there!” Kallik and Sokka started shouting, trying to wave him back to shore.

 

“What’s going on?” Katara asked, as she joined them again.

 

“There’s something in the water,” Sokka said. “Aang’s in trouble!”

 

“Aang!” she shouted, waving her own arms. Suddenly, the boy was thrown off the Elephant Koi, right in front of a giant, brownish fin that surfaced. Then, he moved so fast that he was running on water. He ran straight into Sokka, bowling the boy over in his haste to get away. Kallik and Katara chased after them, finding they had halted at the tree line where they left their belongings. Aang climbed off of Sokka and started pulling his clothes back on.

 

“What was that thing?” Katara asked, looking back at the bay.

 

“I have no idea,” Aang said, dumbfounded.

 

“I vote we get out of here,” Kallik said, looking around nervously. Something wasn’t right.

 

“I’m with Kallik. Let’s get a move on,” Sokka said, with finality. Kallik heard a whisper of fabric on air and looked up, gaping at some green-clad figures that dropped over them. He took a step back, sparks flying off his fingertips before his arms were pinned behind his back and a blindfold was tied over his eyes. He struggled, trying to find his balance, but it was useless. He was tied up and pushed to the ground. He heard grunts and thuds from the others, as well as the chittering of a very distressed Momo.

 

Kallik strained his ears. He heard the warriors whisper, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. After a few minutes, he was hauled to his feet. Two warriors gripped him on either side, dragging him forward.

 

“Guys?” he asked, trying to twist his head back.

 

“We’re here, Kallik,” Katara replied from somewhere behind him.

 

“Oh man,” Aang said, in front of him, “We’re sorry! We just wanted to see the Elephant Koi!”

 

Their captors had nothing to say in response. After an eternity of stumbling blindly forward, Kallik’s back was pressed against something hard. The fighters wound something tightly around him, pinning him to the object. He felt arms pressed against him on both sides.

 

“Let us go!” Sokka said, to his left. Kallik could feel him trying to wiggle his arms next to him. He nearly cursed at their situation. There was no response to Sokka’s demand. Kallik tried to calm his breathing as he struggled against the bonds.

 

“Can’t you burn the ropes or something?” Katara whispered.

 

“Not without burning you guys,” Kallik replied, tugging hard on the ropes.

 

He wasn’t sure how long they had been tied there, left to their own thoughts, before a gruff, commanding voice got his attention.

 

“You have some explaining to do,” the man said, seriously. “How dare you bring a firebender into our midst.”

 

“You’re going to answer all our questions,” a girl continued when the man stopped speaking. “If you don’t, we’ll throw you back in the water with the Unagi.”

 

“The what?” Kallik asked, still trying to free himself. He couldn’t get the image of that giant fin out of his head.

 

“Show yourselves, cowards!” Sokka shouted. Kallik squinted as the blindfold was ripped off his face, eyes adjusting to the light.

 

“Who are you?” Sokka asked, incredulously. Kallik noticed they were tied to a thick, wooden pole. He wondered if he could heat his hands up enough to burn through the rope without creating a flame. “Where are the men who ambushed us?”

 

Kallik craned his head around to get a look at their captors. A group of women in white face paint and heavy green dresses all stared back them. Among them stood an elderly man, garbed in blue furs.

 

“There were no men,” a woman in front said. “We ambushed you! Now tell us, who are you and what are you doing here?”

 

“Wait a second,” Sokka said, “there’s no way a bunch of girls took us down.”

 

“Don’t antagonize the people who are going to feed us to that water monster,” Kallik hissed.

 

“Too late,” the girl in front said, gripping Sokka’s collar. “The Unagi is going to eat well tonight.”

 

“No, don’t hurt him!” Katara shouted. Kallik couldn’t see her, so she must have been on the opposite side of the pole from him. “He didn’t mean it. My brother’s just an idiot, sometimes!” The woman sneered at Sokka but let him go.

 

“It’s my fault,” Aang said. “I’m sorry we came here. I wanted to ride the Elephant Koi.”

 

“You’re clearly Fire Nation spies!” the old man said.

 

“No way,” Katara said. “We’re water tribe!”

 

“Then why do you have a firebender with you?” the man replied. Kallik groaned. Why couldn’t he just waterbend like Katara?

 

“I’m really bad at it,” Kallik said. “Seriously. Absolutely terrible. No other firebenders in the South Pole. No way to learn how to do it.”

 

“Kallik,” Aang said, “we’ll find you a master in no time—”

 

“Not now, Aang,” Kallik said through gritted teeth.

 

“A firebender at the South Pole?” the girl laughed. “How stupid do you think we are?”

 

“Wait!” a new voice called. Kallik tried to twist further, but he couldn’t see the newcomer amidst the large group of villagers that were coming to see the commotion.

 

“Oh, thank the Spirits,” Sokka sighed.

 

“What?” Kallik asked, before sighing in relief as well at the sight that greeted him.

 

A man older than his father, but younger than the elder before them, ran up to greet them. He wore thick green clothes. His greying hair was cut short, and his green eyes took them in, widening in surprise.

 

“Sokka?” he asked. “Kallik? My stars, is that you?”

 

“Haru!” Sokka said, relieved.

 

“You know these people?” the elder asked.

 

“Of course I do!” Haru exclaimed. “This boy is Sokka, Chief Hakoda’s son. And that’s Kallik. He’s Bato’s boy. I’ve seen them every year, ever since they were old enough to join their parents during trades.”

 

“But,” the girl spluttered, pointing at Kallik. He narrowed his eyes at her. “He’s a firebender!”

 

“Yep,” Haru said, working at the knot in the ropes. No one stopped him once he spoke up for them. “The only firebender in the South Pole. Apparently he was blessed by Tui.”

 

“You know about that?” Kallik asked, rubbing his wrists once he was free of his bonds.

 

“Are you kidding?” Haru laughed. “Bato loves telling the story about his miracle of a son. I heard it every time we saw him.”

 

“So wait, this is Kyoshi?” Sokka asked, looking around.

 

“Kyoshi?” Aang asked. “Like Avatar Kyoshi? I know her!” he said, grinning. Kallik smacked his forehead.

 

“Impossible!” the elder shouted. “Avatar Kyoshi was born on this island four hundred years ago. She’s been dead for centuries!”

 

“It’s because I’m the Avatar,” Aang said.

 

“The last Avatar was an airbender that disappeared a hundred years ago,” the girl said, raising an eyebrow.

 

“That’s me,” Aang said, pointing his thumb at his chest.

 

“Prove it.”

 

“Sure!” Aang spun the air around him to form an airball, then sat on it and flew around the group. The group gaped at him.

 

“It’s true,” the elder said. “You are the Avatar.”

 

“Now check this out!” Aang said, spinning the marble from earlier between his hands. Kallik stared at him. Was this kid serious?

 

“Your mouth is hanging open,” Katara muttered, nudging him. Kallik snapped it shut.

 


 

Sokka sighed, staring at the ceiling. Katara was off gathering supplies, Aang was off impressing villagers, and Kallik was off… somewhere. Sokka was bored. There was nothing to do but swim in cold water and watch Aang do a million airbending tricks, which got old after a while. Katara was still mad at him for almost getting them fed to the Unagi-thing, so helping her stock up for their journey was definitely a bad plan. He wished he knew where Kallik was so they could spar.

 

The floorboards creaked, and Sokka looked at the door, then sat up, stunned at what he saw.

 

At first, he thought one of the girls from earlier had come into their lodging, but after seeing a white, beaded braid in their hair, he realized it was Kallik.

 

Kallik in a dress.

 

Kallik in a dress wearing makeup.

 

“Shut up,” his friend said as Sokka howled with laughter. The older boy pulled the fans out of his belt and set them down on the table, then removed the rest of the outfit.

 

“No, keep it on,” Sokka giggled. “It’s a good look for you.”

 

“This is traditional garb for a warrior here,” Kallik said, lifting his nose in the air. “All the trainees have to wear it, and—”

 

“Wait,” Sokka interrupted, holding up his hand. “Trainees? You’re training with a bunch of girls?”

 

Kallik pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sokka,” he said, “just because your mom and dad are a bit more traditional doesn’t give you the right to act like an idiot. Snow and sea, you’re friends with Koro.”

 

“Yeah, but Koro isn’t as good a fighter as me or you,” Sokka said. Kallik rolled his eyes and threw his blue tunic on before sitting down at the mirror in their room. He poured water from the jug into the bowl and pressed his fingers against it. Sokka watched as steam started rising from the bowl.

 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Kallik allowed, “but that could be because her dad stopped her from training as we got older. You know half the reason why my Ice Dodging went so well was because she was my scout, right?”

 

“Scouting is different from fighting,” Sokka said, stubbornly. “Why are you training with them,” he asked, curiously.

 

Kallik grabbed a cloth and soaked it in the water before wiping away the makeup on his face. “Because I want to know how they fight. They ambushed us from the trees, Sokka, and they didn’t even make a sound. Doesn’t that make it worth it to learn from them?”

 


 

A few days later, Sokka was still mulling over Kallik’s words. He was still mad he got taken down by girls. I wasn’t that he thought girls couldn’t do anything. All the women in the tribe always repaired the huts in summer. They fished and crabbed whenever the men went for a big catch. They knew where the best places were to gather sea prunes and made all the clothing for the whole village. He knew women were amazing at a lot of things.

 

Other than Koro, though, he had never known a girl to really fight. Even Katara didn’t do it much, and she was a waterbender. Finding a whole, elite team of women who were trained to protect their village was mind-blowing for him.

 

It was different for Kallik. His mom was a fighter. Sokka knew that. She was one of the people to take up arms when that Polar bear-dog tore through the village. She was the first one to teach Kallik how to throw a punch. Sometimes, after Kallik had a nightmare about her, he would tell Sokka about how he found her in their hut, holding a knife in her hand. She was a fighter to the bitter end.

 

Sokka’s mom wasn’t a fighter. She was kind, smart, and amazing, but she never took up a blade as far as Sokka knew. She would shield her children from anything, but she didn’t know how to fight. His dad said that he and Kallik needed to protect her and the other women, because they weren’t warriors and his mom supported that decision wholeheartedly. Meeting these women made him question what he was taught, which was not a comfortable place to be.

 

Sokka decided to clear his mind by training in the dojo Haru pointed out to him. He wandered to the large building at the edge of the village. Sokka slowly climbed the steps, then halted at the doorway when he saw movement inside.

 

The girls and Kallik were practicing a coordinated move with their fans. Their leader flicked her eyes in his direction. Sokka walked in, stretching his arms.

 

“Sorry,” Sokka said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your dance lesson.” What else could they be doing, moving like that? No one trained to fight that way. He saw Kallik look up at the ceiling, the way he did when he asked Tui to give him strength. Sokka ignored his friend’s antics. “I was just looking for somewhere to get a little workout?”

 

“Well,” the leader said, “you’re in the right place.” She pressed her lips together as he continued stretching. “Sorry about yesterday. I didn’t know you were friends with the Avatar.”

 

“It’s alright,” Sokka said, chuckling. “I mean, normally I’d hold a grudge, but since you guys are a bunch of girls, I’ll make an exception. I went easy on you, anyway.”

 

Kallik pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead, grimacing.

 

“Oh, thank you,” the girl replied. “A big, strong man like you? We wouldn’t stand a chance.”

 

Sokka puffed out his chest a little at her words. Finally someone agreed with him. He saw Kallik shaking his head, glancing between the girl and Sokka.

 

“Yeah, but don’t feel bad,” Sokka said, raising an eyebrow at Kallik. “After all, I’m the best warrior in my village.”

 

“I beg to differ,” Kallik said, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“I’ll take you on right here, right now, Kallik,” Sokka said, smugly.

 

“Why don’t you take me on instead?” the girl asked, leaning forward. Sokka raised his eyebrows. “The best warrior in your whole village? Well, it would be foolish not to see what you can teach us.”

 

“Oh,” Sokka said, startled. “I mean—”

 

“Come on, everyone, wouldn’t you like him to show us some moves?” she asked, gesturing to the group. A couple of them giggled and agreed.

 

“Knock it off, Suki,” Kallik said, crossing his arms over his chest.

 

“No, it’s okay, Kallik,” Sokka said. He could take this girl. “If that’s what you want, I’d be happy to teach you. Here, stand over here,” he said, moving her back a little. The girl—Suki, followed his directions, smirking a bit. “Now this is kind of hard, but I want you to try and block me.” Suki nodded and waited. Sokka swung his arm into an uppercut, aiming right at Suki’s jaw. A sharp pain in his armpit stopped him, causing him to yelp and step back.

 

Suki was holding her fan out in front of her, still folded. That thing was hard.

 

“Good,” Sokka chuckled, nervously. “Of course, I was going easy on you.”

 

“Of course,” Suki replied, still smirking.

 

“Let’s see if you can handle this,” Sokka shouted, swinging his leg in a kick toward her torso. Suki bent and kicked his ankle out from under him, causing him to fall on his back.

 

Sokka saw red. “That does it!” he shouted, ready to go all out. The second he swung his arm, Suki caught it and spun him back and forth. After a moment he was disoriented, then he found himself hopping on one foot, laughter burning in his ears. He almost fell to the ground when someone caught him.

 

“That’s enough,” Kallik said. His voice was cold as ice. Sokka looked up at him as he untied his wrist and ankle, giving him his own belt back. When did that happen, Sokka wondered, tying it back around his waist. Sokka glanced up and saw Kallik’s eyes were narrowed. His gold irises sparked angrily at the group behind him. Sokka felt his whole face start to go red.

 

“What,” he heard Suki ask in a smug voice. “I thought he wanted to teach us.”

 

Kallik stood further in front of Sokka, then pulled the fans out of his belt and handed them to Suki. He saw the girl raise her eyebrows in surprise.

 

“I can’t learn from a teacher who would use her power so callously against someone less trained than her,” he said. “I’ll send the uniform back later today.” He spun on his heel and shoved Sokka out in front of him until they were on the path leading away from the dojo.

 

Sokka had never been more embarrassed in his life. The two walked back to their rooms in silence, Sokka musing and Kallik brooding. When they got there, Sokka sat down on the edge of the bed, processing what just happened.

 

“Kallik?” he asked. His friend was back in his Water Tribe clothes. Sokka watched Kallik folding up the uniform to return to Suki and the others. He still had the paint on his face.

 

Kallik looked up and raised an eyebrow, signaling him to continue.

 

“You—you didn’t have to leave. That—that was my fault. I shouldn’t have insulted her like that.”

 

She was better than him. She was better than him and he was jealous. He was jealous because he was nowhere near that level. He was the best warrior left in the village. He won more often than not when he fought Kallik, and Kallik knew it. Sokka understood how a new move worked after seeing it once. He took to fighting like an otter-penguin to water. To find out that out here, in the huge world just outside his door his skill meant nothing? It was an absolute shock.   

 

Kallik shrugged and looked away. “Come on, Sokka,” he said. “You would have done the same. She was bullying you. Teachers shouldn’t bully.”

 

“Still—that’s a really good style of fighting,” Sokka said, somewhat amazed. The way she used his own strength against him was impressive. “The fans are a little weird, but—”

 

“They’re blades,” Kallik said. “They act as a sword and shield, and they’re really good for disarming an opponent. And they—” he cut himself off, looking at the floor.

 

“What?” Sokka asked.

 

“They—helped me with my firebending,” Kallik mumbled, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“What?” Sokka asked. “You found that out in the dojo? In the wooden dojo?”

 

“It was an accident!” Kallik shouted, throwing his hands up. “Besides, nothing even got scorched. I put the fire out before it did anything. But they—they work on the sparks. The sparks pop out and I fan them away, and they become these bursts of fire, Sokka. I’ve never, ever been able to make fire like that before.”

 

Sokka thought about the flicker of flame that Kallik could hold in his hand and swallowed nervously. It wasn’t Kallik’s fault that he was scared of firebending. The men who raided the village were terrifying, and Sokka still had nightmares about them. But Kallik would never hurt them. Still, the thought of him making proper flames was a bit disconcerting.

 

He must not have controlled his expression enough, because Kallik frowned and turned around, hunching in on himself. He sat in front of the mirror to take his makeup off.

 

Sokka opened his mouth to apologize, but a knock on the door distracted them.

 

“Come in,” Sokka said. The door creaked open and Suki stood before them, looking at the floor. After a moment she took a careful breath and looked up at him, eyes serious.

 

“I came to apologize,” she said. “I knew my skill was greater than yours, and I taunted you into a fight. That’s not becoming of the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors. I’m sorry.” Sokka blinked and looked between her and Kallik. The latter was staring at her through the mirror, mouth open in surprise.

 

“Thank you,” Sokka said, standing up. He watched Kallik’s eyes glancing between them. “But—I’m the one who should apologize,” he said, kneeling on the floor. “I insulted you. You’re an amazing warrior. I—would you teach me?”

 

“You want lessons from a girl?” she asked, arching her eyebrow.

 

“I’m sorry. I should have treated you like a warrior,” Sokka said, seriously. “What you did in the dojo showed me that I have a lot to learn. Please, will you take me as your student?”

 

“We don’t usually teach outsiders, or boys, for that matter,” she said, mulling it over. “But you demonstrated you’re capable and could handle the regimen, like Kallik did when he asked to learn from us.”

 

Sokka looked up at her with hopeful eyes.

 

“Alright,” she relented. “But you have to follow all our traditions, and wear the uniform.”

 

Sokka grinned and looked over at Kallik. “Can Kallik come back, too?”

 

Suki looked over at the older boy and smiled, hesitantly. “I was hoping he would be willing to reconsider joining us.”

 

Kallik looked back at them and grinned. “Can I practice more firebending?”

 


 

“I’ve never known a firebender to put his own fires out,” Suki said after Kallik folded his fans back up.

 

“It was the first thing he taught himself,” Sokka said, still practicing the move Suki had just taught them.

 

Kallik huffed. Once again, his cousin proved his ability to learn a brand new fighting technique in a day. Sokka could be a prodigy when it came to fighting if he would quit getting in his own way.

 

“Why?” Suki asked.

 

“We got raided when we were younger,” Kallik said, quietly. “The firebenders were awful, and I don’t want to scare anyone. Not like they did.”

 

Sokka nodded solemnly. “The thing is, a lot of his firebending is useful. He can boil water and dry things out really quickly. He’s the best one to get the smoker at the right temperature for the fish and seal jerky. But people forget about that if he starts a fire he can’t control.”

 

“So I just learned to put them out,” Kallik said with a shrug. “Fire just kind of, does what I want it to. I can make it bigger or smaller. I just make it small enough to go out.”

 

“Girls!” the elder shouted as he skidded to a halt in front of the doors. “Firebenders have landed on our shores! Come quickly!” Suki ran out after him.

 

“Hey,” Sokka shouted, “we’re not—”

 

“Let’s go,” Kallik said, running after them. They skirted around the edges of houses until they reached the entrance of the village, where a Fire Nation soldier was waiting astride a Komodo-rhino. Several other soldiers were fanned out behind him. The man was clad in red armor with gold piping, and he regarded them coolly with amber-gold eyes.

 

“We’re here for the Avatar,” he said, almost in a bored voice. “We will not harm anyone if he is relinquished into our custody.”

 

When no one came forth, he sighed and waved a hand. “Find him.”

 

The soldiers spread out through the village, all riding their own Komodo-rhinos. Suki made some quick gestures with her hands, indicating where Kallik and Sokka should place themselves to ambush the soldiers. Kallik and Sokka darted off in opposite directions. Kallik quickly climbed up the side of a building near the leader. He could hear the other Kyoshi Warriors fighting the soldiers that had moved further into town.

 

When he got to the edge, he saw Suki run towards their leader, dodging his flames as he punched them in her direction. She leapt into the air, ready to strike, but the man’s mount spun around and knocked her away with its heavy tail. Suki fell to the ground, fans knocked out of her hands. Sokka ran in front of her and deflected a flame the man threw their way. Kallik used the man’s distraction to drop from the roof and knock him to the ground.

 

The man hollered and punched, but Kallik redirected his flames, smothering them when they came too close. The man’s eyes widened in surprise. Then Kallik felt the wind get knocked out of him as he was kicked in the gut. He fell backwards and away, gagging as he tried to recover his breath.

 

“How did you do that?” the man asked. Kallik struggled to his feet as several other warriors tried to detain the man. With some quick bursts of flame he disarmed them all, knocking them down.

 

“How did you put out my fire?” he asked, slowly coming toward Kallik, limping a little. Kallik growled and held his fans to his sides, flicking them open.

 

“The same way I can do this,” he snarled, feeling his fingertips spark. He pressed his fans down hard, causing two slices of flame to barrel towards the other firebender.

 

The soldier yelled and ducked, falling to the ground. He grunted as he got up, fists wreathed in flame. Kallik swallowed, sliding into a fighting stance.

 

The man released a quick barrage of punches in the air, and jets of flame flew at Kallik, one right after another. He batted a few away with his fans and smothered others, but there were too many for him to dodge. One caught him in the chest. He cried out and dropped his fans as he was knocked to the ground. His hands immediately went to the leather chest guard to smother the flames before they did any damage.

 

“How could you betray the Firelord? How could you betray your nation?” the man asked, incredulously.

 

Kallik rolled back to his feet, his arms held out in fists in front of him. “I don’t serve any Firelord,” he spat. “Never have.”

 

The man screamed in rage as he threw another jet of fire towards Kallik before it was suddenly vanquished by a burst of wind. Kallik looked to the side and saw Aang holding his staff in front of him. Aang waved Kallik to the side and a wall of wind came up, sliding Kallik back near a building.

 

“You asked for the Avatar,” Aang said, expression grim, “well here I am.”

 

“You’re the avatar?” the man asked. “But you’re a child!”

 

“And you’re an old man, but you don’t see me pointing it out,” Aang said, smirking.

 

“I’m not old! I’m twenty-seven!” the man spluttered. Aang swung his staff and blew the soldier into the house behind him while he was distracted.

 

“Kallik,” he called, running over, “are you okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Kallik said, frowning.

 

“I was just talking to Katara. They’re after me, Kallik,” Aang said, seriously. “Appa’s all saddled up. We have to leave so they’ll follow us.”

 

Kallik scooped up his fans and followed Aang back to the air bison, putting out fires as he went. Sokka joined them moments later. As soon as they were all in the saddle, Appa took off. Aang stared dejectedly ahead, gripping the reigns tightly.

 

“I know it’s hard, but you did the right thing,” Katara said at the front of the saddle. “Those firebenders would have destroyed the whole place if we stayed. Now they’re gonna be okay.”

 

Kallik frowned, staring at the burning village behind them. The fire was too big for him to smother.

 

“Aang! What are you doing?” Katara screamed, shaking Kallik from his thoughts. He noticed an orange and yellow figure dive into the water below. For a moment, his heart stopped until he saw the Unagi shoot out from the water, Aang balanced on its head. Somehow, Aang turned the beast towards the village, and managed to make it spray a huge river of water over the burning buildings. Appa dived toward Aang and the monk flipped up, letting Appa catch him as they flew away.

 

After he climbed up Appa’s side, Kallik and Katara pulled him into the saddle, helping him sit down and dry off.

 

“I know,” he said. “That was stupid and dangerous.”

 

“Yeah,” Katara said with a tentative smile, “it was.”

 

Aang smiled back and scooted closer to Kallik, shivering. Kallik raised an eyebrow at him.

 

“What?” he asked, teeth chattering. “You’re warm.”

 

Kallik sighed, looking back down at the island, thinking about the firebender they just encountered. If they were lucky, they’d never run into him again.

 

Then again, when was Kallik ever lucky?

Chapter Text

The last few days were awful, in Sokka’s opinion. The disaster at Omashu with the delivery system was terrifying. Meeting the king afterward was worse. Encasing them in crystal for tests? Just to tell Aang that he was his old friend from a hundred years ago? Sokka shuddered. It was not pleasant for any of them. Kallik still wouldn’t talk about it. The crystal moved the farthest along for him. The last piece of crystal covered his eyes just as Aang answered the mad king’s question. He didn’t speak for a full day after they were broken out.

 

At their next stop, Katara kept making an oogie face at that Haru kid. Sokka rolled his eyes but let her go off to flirt with him. He wasn’t her keeper after all, and she was getting much better at waterbending to defend herself. Okay, maybe he watched them from far away, just to make sure she was safe. She didn’t need to know about it. Letting her get imprisoned on that ship was probably the craziest thing he’d ever done, though. His mom would kill him if she ever found out. When he told his cousin this, Kallik merely agreed and suggested they leave this bit out when they told the story. Katara smacked them both.

 

Other than those incidents, it had been smooth sailing. A couple of people side-eyed Kallik, but the things that drew attention to him at the South Pole (his skin and eyes) blended in with a lot of different people in the towns they came across. It seemed like the biggest reason people stared was because Kallik’s face didn’t match his clothes. Sokka wondered if they would be better off if Kallik wore some Earth Kingdom garb. It was hard to figure out where to get some, or how to even bring the idea up to Kallik.

 

This though? The new sight that greeted them awful.

 

There was a massive, black scar on the land, cutting between two green hills. Landing in the mess was devastating for everyone. Sokka moved ash with his foot, frowning at the destruction around them. Kallik had sat down to pray once they realized what happened here. The Fire Nation had come through and purged this beautiful place of all life. It was monstrous, and Sokka couldn’t see the reason anyone could be so cruel. Aang sat in front of a charred log, despondent. Momo curled up in his lap to comfort him.

 

“Are you ready to be cheered up?” Katara called.

 

“No,” Aang replied. Something whizzed past Sokka’s ear and hit Aang in the head. “Ow! How is that supposed to cheer me up?”

 

“Well, it cheered me up,” Sokka laughed, but was pelted as well.

 

“Hey!” Sokka looked over to Kallik to see he was rubbing the back of his head and pouting at Katara.

 

“These acorns are everywhere, Aang,” she said, holding her hand out to the boy. He examined the seed she gave him. “That means the forest will grow back! Every one of these will be a tall oak tree someday, and all the birds and animals that lived here will come back.”

 

Aang smiled up at her. “Thanks, Katara.”

 

Suddenly, Kallik stood up, hand on the hilt of his machete. Sokka followed suit, glaring at the figure coming towards them.

 

“Who are you,” Sokka asked, gripping his boomerang. Once they were close enough, Sokka realized it was an old man, dressed in green robes. He carried a walking stick.

 

“I saw the flying bison,” the man said in awe, approaching Aang, “I thought it was impossible. Those markings, though—are you the Avatar, child?”

 

Aang glanced at Katara who nodded in encouragement. Aang looked back at the man.

 

“Yes, I am.”

 

“My village needs your help,” the man said. Kallik relaxed his grip on his weapon. Sokka put his boomerang away and folded his arms over his chest, watching them thoughtfully. Aang agreed to find out what the problem was, and together, they took the long walk back to the village. It was almost sunset by the time they arrived. Sokka let out a low whistle at the destruction around them. Most of the huts had their roofs torn off.

 

The old man led them into a large lodge that was full of villagers settling in for the night.

 

“This young person is the Avatar,” the man said, solemnly.

 

The village leader came to greet them and told them about Hei Bai, the Black and White Spirit. The monster had been attacking for three days straight, stealing people from the village. When Sokka asked why it was attacking them, none of them could come up with an answer. After Aang agreed to help them, Katara pulled him aside. Kallik and Sokka followed them.

 

“You seem unsure of this,” Katara said, nervously.

 

“I don’t really know anything about the Spirit World,” Aang said, miserable. “It’s not like there’s someone to teach me this stuff.”

 

“Can you help them?” Katara asked. Aang shrugged.

 

“I have to try, don’t I?” he asked. His face lit up. “Kallik, you’re spirit-touched!” he exclaimed. Kallik raised an eyebrow at him. “Can you teach me about the Spirits?”

 

Kallik let out a startled laugh. “Aang, I barely know what Tui’s blessing means, and I’ve been living with it my entire life.”

 

“But you know a little about Spirit stuff,” Aang said earnestly.

 

“I know a little about water Spirit stuff. Like Amarok. Or the Shadow People.”

 

“Kallik, don’t,” Katara said, rubbing her arms. “I hate those stories.”

 

“Why?” Aang asked, curiously.

 

“They don’t end well for people,” Kallik shrugged. “But they teach us great lessons! Amarok only comes at night if you’re foolish enough to leave your shelter to hunt. That’s why we don’t hunt alone in the winter.”

 

“We don’t hunt alone in winter because it’s dark, cold, and dangerous,” Sokka interjected, rolling his eyes.

 

“And part of why it’s dangerous is because of Amarok,” Kallik said, stubbornly. “And I saw a Shadow Person once—”

 

“That was midnight sun madness, Kallik,” Sokka said, flatly.

 

“I hardly ever get midnight sun madness, Sokka, and I could only see that thing out of the corner of my eye!” Kallik said, throwing his hands up. “I had wandered too far from the village, remember? I had gone too far, and it was there, waiting for me! It was just like the stories!”

 

“Was it there to try to bring you back home?” Aang asked, smiling. Kallik gave him a stricken look.

 

“Stop,” Katara said. “I mean it, Kallik, stop it. Hei Bai is not going to be like that.”

 

“It kidnaps villagers, Katara. What else could it be like?”

 

“How do you deal with a Shadow Person?” Aang asked.

 

“You run away,” Kallik replied, “and hope it doesn’t come after you.”

 

Sokka repressed a shudder. He was not about to let Kallik know he was scared by some Spirit tale.

 

Aang sighed. “Maybe whatever I have to do will just… come naturally.”

 

“I think you can do it, Aang,” Katara said, encouraging him. Sokka sighed.

 

“We’re gonna get eaten by a Spirit monster.”

 


 

“We can’t sit here and cower while Aang waits for some monster to show up,” Sokka growled. Kallik’s eyes never wavered from Aang’s retreating form. He was near the entrance of the village now.

 

“If anyone can help us, the Avatar can,” the old man said behind them.

 

“He still shouldn’t have to face this alone,” Sokka said, stubbornly. It was true. Aang may be the Avatar, but he was just a kid. It baffled Kallik that the villagers couldn’t see that.  

 

They watched from the window as Aang spun his staff, then walked away from the gate. Kallik paled at shifting of air behind his friend. A large, black and white beast with a mouth full of sharp fangs lumbered after Aang. Aang turned to speak to it, but the monster reared up, roared, and smashed the nearby buildings, moving as quick as a flash.

 

“We have to help him!” Sokka shouted.

 

“Only the Avatar can act as the bridge between the human and Spirit worlds,” the old man said.

 

“Aang will figure it out, Sokka,” Katara said. Kallik winced as Aang was tossed into a nearby building, wondering if her faith in his abilities was misplaced.

 

“That does it,” Sokka growled, running towards the double doors and going outside. Kallik was right on his heels.

 

“Sokka! Kallik!” Katara shouted through the window.

 

“He needs help, Katara,” Kallik shouted back, pulling out his knife and machete. Sokka threw his boomerang at the Spirit, only for it to bounce off and fall to the ground. He growled and ran over to Aang.

 

“Sokka,” Aang shouted, “you have to go back!”

 

“We’ll fight it together, Aang,” Sokka said, seriously.

 

“We can’t leave you here alone,” Kallik added when he joined them.

 

“I don’t want to fight him unless—”

 

Quick as lighting, the Spirit appeared behind them and grabbed Sokka, running out of the village. Kallik dropped his weapons and grabbed Hei Bai’s side, clinging to his fur. The monster tore through the woods. Kallik gripped the fur tightly, trying to maneuver himself so he could get to his cousin.

 

“Sokka!” he shouted. Sokka was struggling in the beast’s hand, reaching back toward Kallik. Kallik couldn’t remove his hand to grab Sokka without falling off. He saw an orange flash out of the corner of his eye. Aang was gliding around them, trying to find a way to get them.

 

“Help!” Sokka shouted.

 

“Sokka, hang on!” Aang said. He hovered over Kallik for a moment, but Kallik shook his head.

 

“Worst comes to worst, I can let go,” Kallik yelled. “Go get Sokka!”

 

Aang moved past Kallik towards the monster’s paws. Kallik watched him reach out to Sokka before he was suddenly surrounded by an odd, amber light. Aang disappeared, and the ground rushed up to meet him. He landed hard and rolled a few times before skidding to a stop. He laid flat on his back for a minute, gasping for air.  

 

He managed to sit himself up with a groan, peering around to figure out where he was. The world was amber gold. Strange plants and trees were growing all around him. Hei Bai was nowhere to be found.

 

“Sokka?” Kallik asked, getting to his feet. He looked around, panicked. He couldn’t see his cousin anywhere. “Sokka!”

 

“Relax, little prince,” a voice said behind him. Kallik whirled around, his fists up and ready. Nothing was there.

 

“Too slow,” the voice said again, over his shoulder. Kallik shouted and spun again, still not seeing anything. He felt his heart start to race.

 

“Where are you?” he yelled, eyes scanning the area around him. “Come out and face me!”

 

“Alright,” the voice said, right in his ear. Kallik gasped and stumbled forward, only to be caught by his belt and righted before something twisted him around.

 

He came face to face with the oddest creature he had ever seen. It stood upright, like a man, and its skin was a mixture of red, yellow, and orange. It wore a long robe that was covered in intricate leaf designs, and carried a long wooden staff, similar to Aang’s. The sun glinted off of the crown of its smooth, round head, and its eyes were huge and grey, like a storm cloud.

 

“You should see your face!” the person thing said, grinning madly and revealing a mouthful of very strong teeth. Kallik swallowed and tried to catch his breath again. “Oh, why so serious?” it asked.

 

“I…” Kallik swallowed again and felt a sudden tightness in his throat. He didn’t even know what this thing was. Sokka was gone, he was lost, and he came face to face with a technicolor nightmare who was grinning maniacally at him. Sokka was right. He was about to get eaten by a spirit monster. Kallik blinked a few times and set his jaw, trying to contain his fear.

 

The smile slipped off the thing’s face, quickly replaced with a curious expression. It tilted its head, examining Kallik. Kallik felt his eyes start to water and sniffed sharply to keep from crying. The creature’s face fell.

 

“Oh no!” it said, frantically waving its hands. “No, don’t be sad, please? I’m sorry, I was just having some fun!” it begged. It put its hands on Kallik’s shoulders, making him flinch. The staff stood beside it, unmoving.

 

“I promise, I won’t hurt you,” it said, voice low and calm.

 

“What are you?” Kallik whispered. The creature released him and pulled the staff to itself, releasing a gust of wind.

 

“I’m the Autumn Lord!” it replied, wearing a huge grin on its face. Kallik furrowed his brow. He heard Aang refer to the Autumn Lord before, hadn’t he?

 

The Autumn Lord looked at him curiously. “Oh right,” it said, snapping its fingers. “I forgot. Water Tribe, right?” Kallik nodded dumbly in response.

 

“Of course,” it said. “I’m the Lord of Storms.”

 

Kallik gaped before falling to his knees and bowing his head. The Lord of Storms could both harm and protect, depending on his mood. The tribe often asked for protection from him when they men would go on a long trade or fishing trip. Kallik had prayed to the Lord of Storms for a full month after his father left, begging for his safe transport.

 

“Now, now,” the Spirit said, tilting Kallik’s chin up. “None of that. Come on, stand up.” Kallik pulled himself to his feet but bowed his head.

 

“I’m sorry, great Spirit, for not—for insul—”

 

“You Water Tribe are too serious,” The Lord of Storms said, flipping his legs up so he was sitting, cross-legged in midair. Kallik gaped at him for a moment. “How is it an insult to ask my name?”

 

“I—I didn’t recognize it?” Kallik replied, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat.

 

“Well of course you didn’t!” the Spirit replied. “You’re Water Tribe. If you were from the Earth Kingdom, I would have said I was the Great Harvest Spirit. I just got you mixed up, little prince.”

 

“I’m—I’m not a prince,” Kallik replied, shaking his head. The Lord of Storms cocked his head in a bird-like fashion.

 

“My mistake,” he said slowly, making Kallik shiver. “Come on!” He dropped his feet back to the ground and grabbed Kallik’s wrist, pulling him along a path. Kallik stumbled after him but did not pull away from his grip.

 

“Where are we going?” Kallik asked, looking back behind him. He still had to find Sokka in this mess.

 

“Someone wants to meet you!” The Lord of Storms replied. The foliage had gotten thicker as they ran, until Kallik felt twigs snag against his hair and arms. The light he had seen before had gotten dimmer as the trees thickened overhead. They were running so fast Kallik had to throw an arm across his eyes to protect his face. Kallik looked over his arm to see a spot of light in front of the Lord of Storms get very bright before they suddenly burst through.

 

Kallik gasped and fell to his knees, squinting. The light was so bright it made his eyes burn.

 

“Breathe, my child,” a smokey voice said. A hand touched the back of his head. “Breathe and relax. You are of fire. My light cannot hurt you.”

 

Kallik took a careful breath and blinked his eyes open, gasping at what he saw. Beneath his feet was smooth, black stone that was so glossy it showed his reflection. The walls surrounding him were different shades of blue touched by gold and red. In front of him stood the tallest man Kallik had ever seen.

 

The top of Kallik’s head couldn’t have gone further than the bottom of his chest. He had smooth amber skin and bright gold eyes. He wore red robes that were covered in golden suns. His hair was long and black, and tied in an elaborate knot at the top of his head. The man smiled kindly at him, and Kallik felt warm. The little flame behind his heart flickered in recognition.

 

“Agni?” Kallik breathed. The Great Spirit gently put his hands on Kallik’s shoulders before pulling him into a hug. Kallik felt warmth flood through him. He hadn’t been hugged like that since his father left. The feeling of being this safe and protected cracked his heart open. He squeezed his eyes shut as tears slipped down his face.

 

“I know, little one,” Agni said, patting his head. “You have gone through much hardship.”

 

“Why?” Kallik asked.

 

“Because of human whims,” Agni said, bitterly. “Because I made the mistake of giving you to a man who had no love in his heart.” The Great Spirit sighed as he pulled away. “Thankfully, my sister took you to those who did, and her lover granted you the skill to survive polar winters.”

 

“Tui,” Kallik said, gazing at Agni. The Spirit smoothed a hand over his beard. “She blessed me. What did she do?”

 

Agni grinned. “She made you feel my light through her,” he replied. “It really was quite clever. Any firebender could do this, if they opened their minds to the possibilities. Tui just gave you some assistance.” He ran a finger down the white braid in Kallik’s hair.

 

“Agni, I need help,” Kallik said, starting to fall to his knees. Agni caught him to keep him upright.

 

“No, my child. You do not need to kneel to me, here,” he said, chuckling. “What do you need help with?”

 

“Sokka,” Kallik said, desperately. “He’s trapped here, somewhere. Hei Bai took him. I was hanging onto him, I know it, but somehow he must have shaken me loose,” Kallik rambled on. “Then the Lord of Storms grabbed me and brought me here. He—where’d he go?” Kallik looked around, just realizing the Lord of Storms was absent.

 

“They come and go as they wish,” Agni said, shrugging. “The Autumn Lord has always been whimsical, but they very seldom give bad counsel.”

 

“They?” Kallik asked, confused.

 

“Neither a man, nor a woman,” Agni said, kindly, “and yet, somehow both. They believe that constraints of femininity and masculinity are ludicrous. They are what they are, as air is what it is.”

 

Kallik gaped at the Great Spirit, unsure of what to say.

 

“It’s a very difficult concept for humans to grasp, little one,” Agni said, tucking his hands into his sleeves. “As for your friend, are you certain he’s here?”

 

“I—“ Kallik swallowed, shaking his head. “I don’t know. He was in Hei Bai’s hand, and I was on his back, and somehow I wound up on the ground.”

 

Agni nodded. “You were not Hei Bai’s target. The brother of your heart will be in the fog of lost souls.”

 

“We have to get him!” Kallik begged. “I have to save him.”

 

“Hush,” Agni said. “As we speak, the Avatar is leaving the Spirit World. He will know what to do to save you and your friend.”

 

“What?” Kallik asked blinking.

 

“And when he does, our time will be finished here. I need to share something with you, my child.”

 

Kallik stared at him for a moment before giving him a hesitant nod.

 

“You do not understand it yet, but you are using my gift the way it was meant to be used,” Agni said, gravely. “Fire is life. Though it can cause great destruction, it can also bring creation into the world. Fire is warmth, and light, and love. It protects. It empowers.”

 

“It burns,” Kallik replied, frowning. “It maims. It kills.”

 

“So does water. So does air. So does earth,” Agni said, spreading out his arms. “Every element has the capacity for life and death. Humans must find the balance.”

 

“How can I find balance?” Kallik asked, desperately. “I’m wrong. I’m not water, and I’m not fire either.”

 

“You are both, Kallik,” Agni said, kindly. “You are both, and because you are both, you can do things no other firebender could think of. Do not fear your gift. It is a blessing. It always will be, as long as you remember who you are.”

 

Kallik looked at his hands, wondering at the Spirit’s cryptic words. They trembled.

 

“I’m no good at it.”

 

“You will be, if you do one thing,” Agni said, softly.

 

Kallik looked up at him, eyes wide and pleading. “What?”

 

“Breathe.”

 


 

Kallik gasped and shot up, looking around wildly. He was surrounded by bamboo. He groaned and grabbed his head, pulling himself up. He stumbled out of the thicket, squinting at the bright morning light.

 

He was back at the village. Kallik rubbed his eyes. When he pulled his hands down, he felt something smack into his torso. His arms moved reflexively around the girl who was hugging him.

 

“Katara?”

 

“Kallik,” she said, face pressed into his tunic, “I was so scared!” She pulled away, eyes watery. She looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Sokka!”

 

Kallik whirled around as she ran away from him to her brother. She pulled him into a tight hug. Kallik walked back to join them, relieved that his friend was okay.

 

“What happened?” Sokka asked, rubbing his head when they let him go.

 

“You were in the Spirit World for twenty-four hours,” Katara replied. “How do you feel?”

 

“Like I need to go to the bathroom,” Sokka said, running desperately towards the outhouses just outside the village. Aang joined them and cleared his throat. Kallik looked at him.

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you away from Hei Bai in time,” he said, seriously. “All the others don’t remember anything, but if you do and something bad happened,” Aang trailed off and looked at the ground.

 

“It’s alright, Aang,” Kallik said. “Nothing bad happened.”

 

“Do you remember what happened?” Katara asked, eyes wide. Kallik swallowed then gestured towards the gate of the village. He walked through it, maneuvering through the bamboo trees. Once they were on the other side of the border, Kallik spoke.

 

“I met Agni.”

 

“What?” Aang exclaimed, eyes wide. “No way. No way, Kallik! What did you guys do?”

 

Kallik frowned and held his hand out in front of him. He felt the sparks begging to leap off his fingertips. He took a careful breath in through his nose, and let it out through his mouth.

 

Flames wreathed his hand, flickering merrily along his skin. Katara squeaked and stepped back, eyes wide. Aang grinned, looking between Kallik’s fire and his face.

 

“I think he gave me a firebending lesson.”

Chapter Text

“This is really shaping up to be some birthday,” Kallik shouted, gripping the saddle tightly. Fireballs flew overhead as Appa swerved, dodging them.

 

Aang had tried to sneak away from the village, but Appa wouldn’t let him. When Katara and Sokka told him they were sticking with him, Aang dug his heels in. He didn’t want his friends to get hurt. Kallik reminded him that family helps each other, and he was family now. They couldn’t abandon him. Aang relented, and after they resupplied they set a fast pace across the sea towards the Fire Nation. Unfortunately, trouble struck when they hit the border.

 

A blockade. There just had to be a blockade.

 

“It’s your birthday, too?” Aang yelled back, pulling on Appa’s reigns. “I told you guys I didn’t want you to come!”

 

“We’re not abandoning you!” Sokka screamed, barely holding on. “Now come on, we’re almost through it!”

 

Appa flew up until they were high over the clouds. Several fireballs burst through in front of them. Two collided right beside the air bison, making him jerk upwards in surprise. Sokka fell out of the saddle from the impact, but Kallik caught his ankle before he could fall too far. He and Katara pulled Sokka back up as Aang maneuvered Appa in and out of the explosions surrounding them. When they dipped below the clouds again, the Fire Navy ships were far behind them. Kallik sighed in relief.

 

“Is it really your birthday?” Aang asked. Appa had slowed a little, but he was still going an extremely fast pace.

 

“Yeah,” Kallik said, grabbing some food out of a bag. He handed a sea prune to Momo who took one bite and hissed at it, running around and chittering angrily.

 

“I can’t believe I almost forgot,” Katara said, reaching into her bag. “I have something for you. Seventeen is a big one.” She pulled out a necklace and set it in Kallik’s hand. Kallik examined it carefully. It had several white spikes of ivory spaced out by blue and black beads. At the front of the necklace was a round piece of caribou bone. It had a beautiful carving of a crescent moon wrapped around a flame.  Kallik ran his fingertips over the bone reverently. He recognized this work.

 

“How did you get this?” he whispered, awed. Katara smiled and gestured for the necklace. Kallik placed it in her hands and wordlessly scooted towards her so she could secure the jewelry around his neck.

 

“Bato left them with my mom,” Katara said, quietly. “She strung the ivory and the carving with the beads for you. He said it was meant for this year, if he wasn’t back in time.”

 

Kallik swallowed against the lump in his throat, gently touching the carving. His heart swelled at the thought of his father, and how much time he must have spent making this with Kallik in mind.

 

“Thank you, Katara.”

 

She shrugged. “You’ve had a pretty hard time of it lately. We all have,” she chuckled, nudging him. “Your bad luck can’t seem to stop following us around.” Kallik grinned and ducked his head, glad she was able to lighten the mood.

 

“Huh,” Aang huffed, straightening his shoulders. “I guess those superstitions might be true, then.”

 

“What superstitions?” Katara asked. Momo went to her and pawed at her bag until she gave him some pieces of fruit.

 

“In the Fire Nation it’s bad luck to be born on the Winter Solstice,” Aang said. “I gotta say, you’ve run into some really bad luck, Kallik.”

 

It was true. Throughout their journey, all kinds of bad luck had fallen over them. Granted, Kallik often thought that half the issue was the shenanigans Aang got up to, but the monk told them when he was younger he never got in as much trouble as he did now.  

 

“Whatever,” Sokka said, shaking his head. “That’s right up there with all the Spirit talk.”

 

“Sokka, you were just in the Spirt World,” Katara replied, folding her arms over her chest.

 

“I don’t remember it. I was probably just knocked out and stashed somewhere,” Sokka said, stubbornly.

 

“Kallik remembers it!”

 

“Kallik also fell off a giant bear-monster,” Sokka countered, shrugging. “He could have hit his head and had a weird dream.”

 

“Then why is he better at firebending?”

 

“Coincidence.”

 

“Hi, Kallik here,” Kallik interjected, holding up his hand. “I did, in fact, go to the Spirit World. You were in the Fog of Lost Souls, Sokka. That’s what Agni said.”

 

Sokka rolled his eyes. “Oh really? And what happens in the Fog of Lost Souls?” Sokka asked, wailing like a ghost.

 

“I don’t know, he just said you were there,” Kallik shrugged.

 

“Come on, Appa!” Aang urged the bison as he started to lose speed. “Don’t slow down now. Yip-yip!”

 


 

It was almost sunset before they arrived at crescent island. Appa landed, and as soon as they dismounted, he flopped on his side and moaned pitifully.

 

“Aw,” Katara said, rubbing his belly, “you must be tired.”

 

“No,” Sokka said. His back was to her and he stretched his arms and legs. “I’m good. Refreshed and ready to fight some firebenders.”

 

“I was talking to Appa,” Katara said, raising an eyebrow. Sokka blinked at her for a moment, blushing a little in embarrassment.

 

“Well, I was talking to Kallik,” he said, gesturing to the teen who was putting his weapons on his belt.

 

“No you weren’t,” Kallik replied, straightening his tunic.

 

Aang led them up the path toward the temple at the base of the volcano. There were no acolytes as far as any of them could see.

 

“The Fire Nation must have abandoned this temple after Roku died,” Katara said, quietly.

 

“It’s almost sundown,” Aang said, springing up. “Let’s go!” he shot towards the entrance and the other three chased after him. Their footsteps clattered loudly on the stone floor as they moved. Sokka stopped them.

 

“Wait, I think I heard something,” he said, turning around. He gasped and Kallik grabbed his machete, spinning around, readying himself to fight. At the doorway were five men dressed in strange, red robes, wearing pointy hats.

 

“We are the Fire Sages,” the man in front said, a grim expression on his face. “We are the guardians of the temple of the Avatar.”

 

“Great,” Aang said in relief. “I’m the Avatar!”

 

“We know,” the leader said, punching a jet of fire at them. Kallik ran in front and clapped his hands together, dispelling the flames.

 

“Run!” Kallik shouted. Katara and Sokka ran back as Aang pushed a blade of air forward, knocking all the Fire Sages off their feet. Kallik spun around and ran with Aang down the tunnels, chasing after Sokka and Katara’s footsteps.

 

“This way,” Aang said, pulling Kallik down another tunnel. They ran along the passage until they wound up meeting with the others again, managing to pop out in front of them.

 

“Come on,” Aang shouted, running further down the tunnel. Sokka and Katara joined Kallik behind him.

 

“Do you even know where you’re going?” Sokka asked, panting.

 

“Nope!” Aang replied as he turned a corner. As quickly as he disappeared, he returned, leading them in the opposite direction. “Wrong way!”

 

“Wait!” Kallik turned his head to see one of the Fire Sages running after them. Unfortunately, Aang led them to a dead end. Kallik gripped his weapon in front of him, ready to fight.

 

“Wait, please,” the man said, holding his hand out to placate them. “I mean you no harm. I am a friend.”

 

“Yeah?” Sokka asked, menacingly, “then why are your buddies chasing us?”

 

The man knelt before Aang and bowed his head. “I know why you are here, Avatar. You wish to speak to Avatar Roku. I can take you to him.”

 

“How?” Aang asked, disbelief in his tone. The man stood and reached up and moved a lantern to the side, then pushed a small fire blast into a hidden hole. A door unsealed itself and slid open.

 

“This way,” the Fire Sage said. There was commotion behind them. The others were getting closer. “Time is running out,” the Fire Sage said, desperately. “Quickly!” The four walked into the secret passage. The Fire Sage followed, closing the door behind them. He squeezed his way to the front of the group to lead them through the chambers below.

 

While they navigated the passages, the Fire Sage—Shyu—explained the pathways were built by Avatar Roku himself. He told them about the connection the sages had with the Avatar and the temples. He mentioned the statue of Roku gave them a sign that Aang returned, as a few weeks ago its eyes glowed. Soon after that, there were sightings. The Fire Sages knew Aang would come to try to communicate with Roku.

 

“If this is the Avatar’s temple, why did the sages attack me?” Aang asked.

 

“Things have changed,” Shyu said, sadly. “In the past the sages were loyal only to the Avatar. But when Roku died and the sages eagerly waited for the new Avatar, he never came.”

 

“They were waiting for me?” Aang asked, forlorn. Sokka put a hand on his shoulder.

 

“Don’t feel bad,” Sokka said, grinning. “You’re only a hundred years late.” Aang glared at him. Kallik smiled. Aang still wasn’t used to Sokka’s teasing to lighten the mood.

 

“They lost hope the Avatar would ever return, and began to follow the orders of the Fire Lord. I never wanted to serve him, though. My allegiance has always been with the Avatar. I knew I would have to betray the other sages when you came.”

 

“Thank you for helping me,” Aang said, bowing. The Fire Sage nodded at him and led them up another path. As they climbed a long, spiral staircase, Shyu explained to Aang how to speak with Roku once he was in the chamber. Finally, he led them up to a secret panel in the ceiling. He pressed his fingers against it and lifted it up and over, then climbed into the room above.

 

“Oh no,” Shyu gasped.

 

“What’s wrong?” Aang asked.

 

“The sanctuary doors are closed.”

 

“So open it,” Sokka said, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Only a fully realized Avatar can open this door alone,” the sage said. “It takes five firebenders to open it otherwise. They need to fire five simultaneous fire blasts.”

 

“Five fire blasts, huh?” Sokka smirked. “I can help you with that.”

 

Sokka gathered some things from his bag and started putting something together. Kallik raised an eyebrow and squatted down near him. Sokka handed him an animal skin filled with oil and a piece of twine.

 

“Tie that off, please,” he said as he filled another skin. “This is a trick my dad taught me. I seal the lamp oil inside an animal skin casing. Shyu lights a fuse and ta-da! Fake firebending.”

 

“You’ve outdone yourself, Sokka,” said Katara. “I’m really impressed.”

 

“My dad kept telling me your dad had all kinds of crazy ideas like this,” Kallik added. “I can’t believe I’m about to see one in action.”

 

“This might work,” Shyu said, smiling. They popped a filled skin in each chamber and stood back. Shyu threw a blast of fire at the fuse, and they all plugged their ears as the blasts went off. As soon as the explosion occurred, Aang ran forward through the smoke.

 

“They’re still locked!” Aang cried. The smoke cleared to reveal him standing at the doors, tugging on a handle. “Now what do we do?”

 

“This looks just like firebending,” Kallik said, looking at the damage on the doors.

 

“Why didn’t it work?” Sokka moaned.

 

“Sokka, this is perfect!” Katara said, snapping her fingers.

 

“But his plan didn’t even work,” Aang said, bewildered.

 

“Yeah, it didn’t work,” Katara said, slyly, “but it looks like it did. Here’s what we’ll do.”

 

Under Katara’s quick guidance, the group hid amongst the statues in the room. Shyu ran out into the hallway and called the other sages.

 

“Quickly!” Shyu cried. “The Avatar has entered the sanctuary!”

 

“How did he get in?” the gruff leader from earlier asked as the sages entered the room.

 

“I don’t know,” Shyu said, helplessly. “But look at the scorch marks!”

 

“The Avatar must have entered the chamber,” the leader said. “Open the doors, immediately!” At his command, the sages lined up and blasted the locks, causing the mechanism to twist and the doors to swing open.

 

“Nothing is inside,” the leader said. Kallik ran up and apprehended one of the sages, pulling his arms behind his back. Sokka and Katara did the same, while Momo flew into their faces, distracting them. Shyu grabbed the leader’s arms and forced him to the ground.

 

“Now, Aang!” Kallik shouted.

 

“Hurry,” Katara added. “Now’s your chance!”

 

Aang darted forward, but was stopped by a blast of fire cutting him off.

 

“Well, well, well, look at what I’ve found, here.”

 

It was the man from Kyoshi Island. Behind him were several Fire Nation soldiers, ready to fight. The group was startled and the sages managed to twist out of their holds while they were distracted. Kallik found himself being pulled backwards.

 

“Close the doors,” the man said, folding his arms across his chest. “My father is coming, and we wouldn’t want anything to be amiss for his arrival.”

 

“Of course, sir,” the leader said. The soldiers took over for the sages and tied Kallik and his cousins to one of the columns behind them. A sharp spike from the dragon the spiraled around it jabbed into his back. As the doors were sliding shut, Momo flew into the firebender’s face, surprising him. Aang darted around the sages and slid through the doors just before they closed. A bright blue light flashed underneath the entryway.

 

“Open the doors!” the man growled as a solider tied Shyu next to the others. No matter how hard they tried, the firebenders couldn’t get the doors opened.

 

“It’s no use,” the leader of the sages sighed. “They’re sealed shut. Avatar Roku doesn’t want us inside.” The soldier in red and gold growled and stomped back towards the prisoners. He glared at them a bit before pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

“It’s no matter,” he said. “The Avatar will have to come out sometime.”

 

“Son,” a gravelly voice called from the entryway.

 

“Father,” the man said, smiling. “We almost have the Avatar. His companions are our prisoners. He won’t leave without them.”

 

Kallik frowned at the new arrival. The man’s father was elderly, had a small stature and a large belly. He smiled at all of them, shrugging almost helplessly.

 

“I apologize if this is uncomfortable,” the old man said, regretfully. “You see, when there was word that the Avatar reappeared in the world, my Father, Fire Lord Azulon, wanted him brought back to the Fire Nation.”

 

“You mean captured,” Katara said, snidely. The Fire Nation prince shrugged.

 

“I cannot say what my father’s will is toward the Avatar.”

 

Kallik scoffed in response. They weren’t stupid. Suddenly, strong fingers gripped his chin, tilting his face down. Kallik tried to jerk away.

 

“Look at me,” the old man said, voice firm. Kallik flicked his eyes down to the aging face, taking in long silver hair and pale skin. Amber-gold eyes stared at him, wide and shocked at what he was seeing.

 

“Can it be?” he whispered, eyes darting all over Kallik’s face. “Is it you? Can it be you?”

 

“Get your hands of my cousin!” Sokka growled, tugging tightly on the ropes. The old man glanced at Sokka then back at Kallik.

 

“Cousin?”

 

“Father, what’s the matter?” the man behind them asked, tilting his head curiously.

 

“Lu Ten,” the man said, letting go of Kallik’s face and stepping away. “His face, look.” Lu Ten narrowed his eyebrows but examined Kallik nonetheless, but he managed to keep his hands to himself. After a minute or so, he raised his eyebrows.

 

“Why do you look familiar?” he asked.

 

“Maybe because I kicked your ass on Kyoshi Island,” Kallik growled.

 

“You!” Lu Ten shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at Kallik. “You put out my fires! You’re the traitor!”

 

“Lu Ten, stop!” the old man said, voice quiet but firm. Lu Ten growled but stepped away. “Lieutenant,” he called. A Fire Nation soldier came over. “Release that boy from the others.”

 

The lieutenant came over and carefully untied Kallik from the column. As soon as his hands were free, he dropped to the floor and swung out his leg, knocking the soldier to the ground. Kallik took a careful breath, and threw jets of fire at the soldiers approaching him. He couldn’t keep up the blasts for long, and he was quickly apprehended again.

 

“General Iroh?” the lieutenant asked, nervously, as Kallik tried to catch his breath. The old man stroked his beard, thoughtfully.

 

“Bind his hands with the shackles,” he said. Kallik felt his wrists wrapped with cool metal. He jerked away, but the soldiers had a tight hold on him.

 

“Take him to the ship,” General Iroh said. “Put him in the spare chambers. We have much to discuss.”

 

Kallik dug his heels into the ground, pulling tightly against the hands that held him. It didn’t matter. The soldiers dragged him along, and Kallik could do nothing to stop them.

 

“No!” Katara shouted, struggling against her binds.

 

“Kallik!” Sokka shouted, mournfully.

 

“Let me go!” Kallik screamed as he was dragged out the door. “Let me go! Let me go!”

 

The soldiers ignored his pleas. As the sun fully set, he found himself thrown aboard a metal ship. When they started to pull him below deck, an explosion rocked the boat. Kallik looked up and gaped at what he saw.

 

A jet of lava shot out of the top of the temple. The other firebenders were fleeing down the path to the ships. Kallik’s eyes were wide with terror. His heart seized in his chest.

 

“No,” he whispered, pulling forward. “No! Let me go! I have to help them!” he screamed as soldiers pulled him below deck. “No! Sokka! Katara! Aang!”

 

The last thing he saw was the temple sliding downward before the metal door snapped shut in his face.

Chapter Text

The ship was wrong.

 

It moved too smoothly through the water. The metal that surrounded him was stark and ugly. The chambers were too warm, all lit with small lanterns, casting the space in an ominous, reddish light. The walls would creak and groan as they sailed along. Kallik sat at the edge of a metal chair next to the table in the center of the room. A few candles sat in the middle of the table, flickering with Kallik’s agitated breaths. The door squeaked open and he straightened his spine, fully alert.

 

“I’m sorry we can’t be more accommodating,” the old man said as he settled across from Kallik. He set a tray down in front of him. Kallik pulled his wrists, testing the strength of the chain that held him to the table. He had made an escape attempt earlier, and the crew were not inclined to give him very much freedom after that.

 

“Please, eat,” he continued, uncovering the tray to reveal a silver fish and a bowl of rice. Kallik raised an eyebrow at the food before giving the man a blank look.

 

“I’m sure you’re hungry.” He picked up some chopsticks and began to eat his rice, like Kallik saw people in the Earth Kingdom use. The chopsticks were too short, though. It was odd to see how different they were compared to the utensils he had seen before. The man flicked his gold eyes up and watched Kallik with a small smile as he chewed his rice.

 

“It’s not poisoned, if that is your concern.”

 

Kallik held the man’s gaze for a moment before he turned away and stared out the window. He could see the sun was setting. He spent a full day on this ship, wondering who these people were and why they had taken him. There was a knock on the door.

 

“Come in,” the man said, warmth coloring his voice. A young soldier entered, carrying a metal pot and two cups. He set them down in front of the man and bowed.

 

“Your tea, Prince Iroh,” the soldier said. The prince thanked him and the man bowed once more, leaving the room.

 

“Jasmine tea is very soothing,” he said, pouring two cups. Kallik could see the man place one in front of him out the corner of his eye. The prince took a loud slurp and let out a pleased sigh before he resumed eating his meal. “Would you like to try some?”

 

Kallik said nothing, staring at the sun as it started to dip below the horizon. It painted the clouds pink and orange as it set.

 

“The guards told me they found you sleeping on the floor this morning.”

 

A few birds flew through the clouds. Kallik wondered if they were near land. He wondered if he would see Appa outside this window. He wondered if his family survived.

 

Kallik swallowed against the lump in his throat.

 

“If the bed is not to your liking, we can try other arrangements,” the old man said, kindly.

 

“What happened to them?” Kallik turned back to look the firebender directly in the eye. The man lowered his eyes, frowning at the plate in front of him.

 

“Did you unchain them, before you ran?” Kallik knew his voice was trembling. “Could they have gotten out?”

 

The man carefully lifted his head, a remorseful expression on his face.

 

“I’m so sorry, my boy.”

 

Kallik stared down at the table, feeling his throat tighten. He wasn’t sure if he could breathe through the pain inside of his chest, begging to be released. He clenched his jaw as his eyes started to water.

 

“Leave me alone,” he said, in a hoarse voice.

 

“Very well,” the prince replied. He stood and walked around the table, pausing when he reached Kallik’s side. He raised his hand as if to grip Kallik’s shoulder, but chose against the action and let it fall back down. Kallik kept his head bowed, listening to soft footsteps, the creaking of a door, and the clicking of a latch.

 

Only then did he put his head in his hands and cry.

 


 

Iroh sighed as he listened to the sobs of the boy in the other room, leaning back against the door. It was no easy thing, to learn your loved ones were gone. He still felt an empty ache in his chest when he thought of his beloved Hoshi. Even if Iroh was right, and this boy was who Iroh thought he was, a new family could not replace those he had grown with. Things would never be the same for that young man.

 

After a few minutes, the cries on the other side of the door quieted down. Iroh straightened up and moved down the hall. He figured the boy wouldn’t want to see him after he had to deliver such bad news. Iroh hoped he would find another crewmember to take the boy back to his rooms for the night. Perhaps Captain Jee would be available.

 

Lu Ten appeared in the corridor and waved his father over. Iroh smiled at his son as he approached, still thanking whatever Spirits were watching them that day at Ba Sing Se. The fact that Lu Ten managed to escape that battle with only a limp, when the rest of his battalion had been buried in earth was a miracle. Almost losing his son was enough to open Iroh’s eyes to the state of the world.

 

The battle was terrible. The earthbenders had surprised him, laying a trap for the troops Lu Ten led against the wall. Most were sucked into the ground. Iroh saw Lu Ten get hit by large pieces of rock and stone. The fact that he was alive and breathing was shocking. He had suffered so much physical trauma that he slept, and only slept. The doctors believed he would never wake. Iroh knew he had to do something to save his son.

 

Taking a journey through the Spirit World was idiotic and dangerous, but it was well worth it in the end, in more ways than one. Iroh was granted his wish. He recovered his beloved son’s soul and woke him, but in return he had to help restore balance to the world. At first, Iroh didn’t understand what that meant, but the Painted Lady gave him guidance, showing him everything he had been blind to before.

 

The Earth Kingdom cities his armies took were wasting away. The citizens of the Southern and Nothern Water Tribes stayed closer to their own shores, the former growing weak for fear of Fire Nation raids, and the latter growing stagnant from loss of contact with their sister tribe and the rest of the world. The Painted Lady even showed him her own rivers in his very nation, filled with poison that made their people sick. All this devastation caused by one man’s dream—a dream that turned into a nightmare on the day of Sozin’s Comet.

 

Iroh’s father was too rooted in the ideals Sozin preached to him. Azulon believed whole-heartedly that the Fire Nation was meant to share their ideas and prosperity with the world, even if that meant by force. The ends would justify the means, and peace would reign eternally. There would be no more wars in the Earth Kingdom. The bands of rebels and pirates that raided all shores would be disbanded. The Water Tribe would lose fewer people to senseless deaths because of the conditions at the poles. Iroh believed it once, too. He knew better now, though, and was slowly passing along the secrets of the While Lotus to his son without him knowing. He hoped one day he would fully break his boy from the poisoned politics of their nation.

 

“Father,” his son greeted. Iroh gazed up at the man, wondering—not for the first time—how he got so tall. Perhaps Iroh was being generous, though. He was as tall as the boy in the other room, and that young man was still growing. If Iroh was right, he would end up taller than the two of them, much like Azulon and Ozai were.

 

“Lu Ten,” Iroh replied, nodding his head. “Would you like to join me outside?” Lu Ten agreed and together they went above deck. Lu Ten followed Iroh to the railing, and each settled their hands against it, watching Agni’s eye dip below the horizon.

 

“Father,” Lu Ten said, almost hesitantly. Iroh tilted his head in acknowledgment and Lu Ten continued. “I don’t understand why we took that boy.”

 

Iroh let out a quiet chuckle. “I supposed I was a bit brash, wasn’t I?”

 

“It’s not like you.”

 

Iroh looked down at the waves splashing against the ship. “Do you not see it, Lu Ten?”

 

“See what?” his son asked. Iroh glanced at him and saw he was arching an eyebrow.

 

“The resemblance.” Lu Ten stared at him blankly. “If you can imagine his hair in a topknot, who does he look like to you?”

 

“He would look like a boy with a topknot, Father,” Lu Ten said, furrowing his brow. Iroh suppressed the urge to sigh.

 

“Perhaps time has changed his face too much for others to see, but I remember Ozai at that age,” Iroh said, staring back out at the sea. “And Azula is close to that age now. I know that face.”

 

Lu Ten released the railing. Iroh looked at him again and saw his son was gaping at him with wide eyes. His eyebrows had nearly climbed to his hairline.

 

“You—you think that’s—but it can’t be, Father!”

 

“Why not?” Iroh asked.

 

“He’s Water Tribe!” Lu Ten said, aghast.

 

“His eyes say otherwise,” Iroh countered.

 

“It’s not possible,” Lu Ten insisted, stubbornly.

 

“He is the spitting image of Ozai,” Iroh pressed. “He has my father’s eyes. I believe with my whole heart that we have found Prince Zuko.”

 

Lu Ten shook his head, clearly stunned. “But Father, he was a baby when he disappeared. How could he have ended up with the Water Tribe? How could he have survived at all?”

 

“Because fire is stubborn,” Iroh said, smiling. “Fire is life. We never found a body, Lu Ten. It’s been years, yes, but my heart knows him. Yours does too, if you listen to it. He is family.”

 

“Zuko,” Lu Ten breathed, blinking rapidly. “Father, we can’t bring him back claiming he’s Uncle Ozai’s missing son unless we know. Aunt Ursa’s heart couldn’t take it.”

 

Iroh stroked his beard thoughtfully. “You’re right, son. We need more information. Unfortunately, he’s not very willing to talk with me.” Iroh folded his hands inside his sleeves. “I brought him devastating news. He has gone through heartbreak, and believes he is all alone in this world.”

 

Lu Ten looked solemn for a moment before a soft smile graced his features. “I think I could get his mind off of it.”

 

Iroh raised his eyebrow at his son’s words. “What do you have in mind?”

 


 

Kallik leaned despondently against the metal wall behind him, staring blankly at the Fire Nation tapestry that hung on the wall in front of him. His arms were chained to a bedpost, and he was given enough of a leash to wander around the space if he wished. Kallik did not embrace this freedom, and sat on the ground with a breaking heart.

 

They were gone. Sokka, Katara, and Aang were taken from him just like his mother. For all he knew, his father had been lost, too. They hadn’t heard from the fleet for a full year before they left with the Avatar. Kallik was alone. He was all alone on this steel death trap sailing to who knew where, and no one—no one—would come for him. Because they were gone.

 

He blinked in surprise. There were tears on his cheeks. He growled in frustration and quickly wiped his face. Crying wouldn’t fix anything. All it would do was show weakness to his enemy. He wouldn’t do that. He couldn’t. He had his pride.

 

It seemed like that was all he had, now.  

 

Kallik lifted his head and sat up straight at the sound of knocking at his door. He closed his eyes and sensed the sun slowly rising into the sky. He had been up all night. His stomach growled and he pressed his chained hands against it, grimacing. He had gone longer without food before. He could ignore it.

 

The door whined as it swung open, and the soldier from Kyoshi Island—the one who chained his family to the column to begin with—strolled in. Kallik huffed and stared at the floor. The man apologized last night before he went to sleep, offering his condolences. Kallik ignored him then, too.

 

“Slept on the floor again?” he asked, jovially. Kallik said nothing in response. The man loomed over him, right into his personal space. Kallik barely refrained from flinching.

 

“Hmm, judging by the bags under your eyes I would say you stayed up all night, instead,” he said, clicking his tongue and shaking his head. He settled himself on the floor across from Kallik. Kallik huffed at the words, shifting a little.

 

“Well, come on,” the man said, folding his arms across his chest. “Let me have it.”

 

Kallik raised an eyebrow in response, wondering what this firebender could be getting at.

 

The man sighed, dejectedly. “Well you must have plenty of things you want to get off your chest,” he said. “About what happened at Crescent Island, or where we could be taking you, or if there’s any chance you can bathe because it’s been days, or—”

 

Kallik furrowed his brow as the man went on, then tilted his head towards his chest and armpit, sniffing discretely. He grimaced.

 

“—and I told Father it was a bad idea to just bring you along, but once he’s got his mind made up it’s hard to change it. That kooky, tea-loving nut.” The man shook his head, laughing at his own words. He met Kallik’s gaze again. “You know, I don’t remember if I introduced myself. I mean, I usually don’t have to,” his tone became smug as he rambled on. Kallik’s eye started twitching, “but considering you’re some peasant from the South Pole, I suppose I should inform you of my na—”

 

“Do you ever stop talking?” Kallik asked through gritted teeth. This man was getting on his last nerve.

 

“Spirits,” the man breathed, face pulled in a dramatically shocked expression, “he can speak! He has a voice and tongue and can even make words!” The man pressed his hands against his cheeks, leaning forward. “Thank you for blessing me with the gift of conversation.”

 

Kallik growled, baring his teeth. The man held up his hands in surrender, still chuckling.

 

“I’m Lu Ten,” he said. He settled his hands on his knees, smirking at Kallik. “I’m not going to force you to give me your name, but if you don’t, I’m sticking with Water Tribe peasant.”

 

Maybe it was the man’s candid nature. Maybe it was the way he acknowledged his responsibility for the tragedy Kallik had just suffered. Maybe it was because he rambled insistently like Sokka which gave him an odd sense of familiarity. Regardless of what it was, Kallik started to relax in this firebender’s presence. He looked at the floor again, shifting his weight. He just noticed how stiff his hips and spine felt. He wasn’t sure if he had ever been this tired.

 

“Kallik,” he said, quietly.

 

Lu Ten hummed curiously. Kallik looked up and saw him furrowing his brows, leaning closer towards him. “I’m sorry?”

 

Kallik cleared his throat. “My name is Kallik.”

 

The firebender gave him a soft smile. “Thanks for telling me,” he said. “I know it’s hard to trust us, and I don’t blame you, but we’re going to be traveling together for a while, and your cooperation would be helpful.”

 

Kallik scoffed in response, looking at the wall.

 

“What can I do to earn your trust?” Lu Ten asked. His tone was almost eager. Kallik said nothing. The two sat in silence for several minutes, only broken by a loud rumble from Kallik’s stomach. Lu Ten arched an eyebrow, but Kallik refused to acknowledge it. They sat together that way for some time, the silence broken by groans from the ship and growls from Kallik’s gut.

 

Kallik was surprised Lu Ten’s patience. He held out for half an hour before he stood, stretched, and left the room. After the door swung shut, Kallik let his head fall back against the wall behind him with a heavy thud, staring listlessly at the ceiling above him. His eyelids felt so heavy. Maybe he could close them for just a few minutes.

 

Just as his eyes drifted shut, his stomach growled again, causing him to grimace. Even though he had gone longer without food before, he was still terribly uncomfortable.

 

A quick knock on his door startled him and he sat up. Lu Ten came back in with a small tray. He walked over to Kallik and lowered the tray, revealing a bowl of rice, something that Kallik swore were eggs (though how they were folded in a perfect oval, he didn’t know), grilled fish, and a bowl of some kind of soup.

 

Lu Ten bowed curtly and sat down as another soldier entered Kallik’s room, carrying two small cups and a teapot. The man set a cup in front of each of them and poured them each a cup of some brownish liquid (Kallik assumed it was tea) before bowing and leaving them. Lu Ten picked up his cup and sipped it before setting it down. Then he picked up a pair of chopsticks and ate a piece of food from the tray. Kallik furrowed his brow.

 

“What?” Lu Ten asked with a shrug. “I missed breakfast and I trained before coming here. I figure if you decide not to eat it, I won’t let it go to waste.”

 

Kallik frowned and looked back at the tray, noticing a second pair of chopsticks. His mouth watered slightly at the smell of warm food and he swallowed reflexively. When his stomach gave one more terrible growl he gave in, carefully picking up the chopsticks and bowl of rice. He started eating, entirely focused on inhaling the food in front of him.

 

He was so intent on filling his stomach that he failed to notice the relieved smile that appeared on Lu Ten’s face.

Chapter Text

Iroh furrowed his brow, bemused at the news he just heard as his son sat before him.

 

“And he is resting now?”

 

“Yes Father,” Lu Ten replied, tiredly. “I convinced him to drag the blankets and pillow off his bed. He’s made himself a little nest so he can sleep against the wall.”

 

Iroh hummed thoughtfully. “The terrain at the poles is very harsh, and the lifestyle is hard. Perhaps he faced some danger in his past, or maybe the closeness of the tribe makes him weary of sleeping on his own.”

 

“Or maybe he was just kidnapped and thrown on a hostile ship in chains?” Lu Ten replied, arching his brow.

 

“Son,” Iroh admonished, “you know that I have that boy’s best interests at heart.”

 

Lu Ten chuckled. “Father,” he said, relaxing into his seat, “I’m sure you do. But you know better than I do that this is a hostile situation, to him. I’m the hothead, remember? Not you.”

 

Iroh laughed softly. “Yes, Lu Ten, you’re right. I know this must be hard for him. I wish I knew a way to make it easier. I want him to trust us.”

 

Lu Ten arched his eyebrow. “Well,” he said, straightening up a little, “I might have an idea.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“You’re not going to like it,” Lu Ten warned, frowning.

 

“Well, how bad can it be?” Iroh asked, smiling.

 

“It could be devastating,” Lu Ten said, in a serious voice. Iroh raised his eyebrows, but gestured for him to go on.

 

“I’m only suggesting this because of how far away from shore we are.”

 


 

Kallik blinked his eyes open blearily and yawned, rubbing his face. After he woke that morning, the soldiers politely greeted him and took him out of his room, leading him by his chains up to the deck so he could get some sunlight. Kallik found himself wishing he were closer to the water. Sitting at the beach always calmed his nerves back home. His hands twitched, and he idly wondered if he would be able to get some rope or a knife and wood to whittle.

 

Yeah right, he thought. If they gave him anything he could potentially use against them, he would eat his boots. Kallik sighed as the soldier pulling his lead paused by the railing of the ship. He raised his face toward the sun. It was nice to feel it’s warmth again. His fingers drifted up to touch the carving that hung from his neck.

 

“It is very beautiful.” Kallik startled and looked beside him, seeing the old man smiling as he stood next to him. Prince Iroh, Kallik remembered. The prince was staring at the necklace Kallik wore. The teenager glared and gripped the carving, hiding it from view.

 

“I suppose it is a personal thing,” Iroh continued, looking out to the sea. “From what I know of the Water Tribes, the jewelry you wear is meant to be cherished. Nothing like the trinkets available for trade.”

 

Kallik bit the inside of his cheek, seething. This man could never understand the work that went into the creation of their jewelry, especially tokens handed to family. How dare he talk about Kallik’s people as if he knew them.

 

“You are very still, for fire,” Iroh continued. Kallik raised a brow at him. “For water, too,” he chuckled as he continued. “If it weren’t for the clothes and hair, I would think you belonged to earth. Are you flighty like air, as well?” Kallik turned his face back to the ocean, forcing himself to ignore the ramblings of an old man.

 

“It’s not often I see someone so balanced,” Iroh continued. Kallik resisted the urge to scoff. He turned his back on the prince and walked away until his chain grew taut, then huffed and glared at the guard who was leading him like a dog. The soldier stared at him, aghast, most likely at the disrespect he showed their leader. Kallik didn’t care. He owed nothing to this monster who pulled him from his family when they needed him most.

 

The prince clapped a weathered hand on the man’s shoulder and nodded towards Kallik, giving him permission to follow the water tribesman.  Kallik growled and stomped back towards the doors, ignoring the way the old prince followed them. He knew from the other day he wouldn’t be allowed to go back to his cell (he refused to think of the chamber as anything else), but he could wait stubbornly by the door until time was up. His keeper sighed when they reached the metal door. Kallik sneered at the guard before, turning his face away.

 

“I will leave you alone, if that is what you wish,” Iroh said, serenely. “I would much rather you get enough sunlight. Too little is unhealthy, and no young man should be cooped up inside all day.” Kallik set his jaw and refused to look at the man, folding his arms across his chest. The chain had enough give to allow him some freedom of movement, but he couldn’t stretch his arms all the way out. It restricted his already limited firebending ability, but he supposed that was the reason for the amount of chain he had between his hands. He didn’t care how petulant he looked.

 

“If you want to return indoors, then I will not stop you.” Kallik whipped his head around, staring at Prince Iroh in surprise. He had a solemn expression on his face, and his eyes regarded him sadly. “It is up to you. Hiro, I will be joining Captain Jee for a game of Pai Sho. If Kallik wishes to return below deck, please accommodate him. If he wants to stay out in the sun, then stay with him as long as he wants to be in the fresh air.”

 

“Yes, sir,” the guard said, saluting.

 

Iroh nodded his head and smiled kindly before departing, heading toward the helm. Kallik gaped after him, not quite sure what just happened.

 


 

“Rise and shine, Kallik!”

 

Kallik rolled his eyes and let his head hit the wall behind him. If he got out of this, he would never say that annoying phrase to Sokka again.

 

Kallik swallowed, his throat suddenly tight. He wouldn’t ever see Sokka again.

 

“Why so glum?” Lu Ten asked, settling across from him. Kallik scowled, latching onto his anger. It was easier to feel that than the grief that filled his heart.

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Kallik said, sarcastically. “Maybe I’m upset because I’ve been chained up the last three days. Or maybe I’m mad that I’m led around like a dog. Or maybe I just don’t want to make nice with the people that murdered my family!”

 

Lu Ten leaned back, eyebrows raised. Kallik was baring his teeth angrily. His hands were smoking slightly. Lu Ten glanced down and back up.

 

“You should practice some control,” he said, conversationally. “Then you won’t spark whenever you’re mad.”

 

Kallik growled and folded his arms across his chest, looking away. Lu Ten had struck a nerve. No matter how much Kallik tried, he couldn’t figure out how to stop sparking when he was extremely emotional. That was how his fire came to him in the first place; it was born out of fear. Katara always thought he was firebending long before he made that first jet of flame, but the truth was it didn’t manifest until a strong emotion nudged it along.

 

He blinked his eyes rapidly. He would never see Katara again, either.

 

“Kallik,” Lu Ten said, seriously. Kallik glanced at him, watching him carefully. “I know you’re angry with me. If I were you, I’d be furious. But the fact is, this is where we are now. So let it out. Let me have it so we can move past this.”

 

“Move past this?” Kallik asked in disbelief. “Are you serious? You left my family for dead, and you think if I yell at you a bit, we can be friends? What is wrong with you?”

 

Lu Ten winced. “Yeah, okay. I deserve that.” Kallik rolled his eyes and looked away again. “What can I do to earn your trust? Even just some of it?”

 

Lu Ten had asked the same question the other day. Before, the teenager refused to answer. How could he trust someone who kept him imprisoned? Why did the prince want his trust and goodwill at all? To make him a more docile prisoner? It was unnerving, and the thing Kallik wanted most—besides being able to see his family again—was not something he would get.

 

Kallik looked Lu Ten dead in the eye and lifted his manacled hands, rattling the chains. Lu Ten flicked his eyes between Kallik’s face and wrists. Kallik lowered his arms, unsurprised that the man wouldn’t free him.

 

Lu Ten caught his wrists. Kallik’s eyes widened in surprise as he pulled a key from his pocket. Lu Ten unlocked the shackles and let them fall to the floor. Kallik stared at him. Lu Ten shrugged.

 

“You can’t go anywhere,” he said, nonchalantly. “We’re miles away from the shore right now. Granted, my father has a tendency to change course on a whim, but I can’t think of anything pressing that will take us back to the Earth Kingdom.” He waived a hand towards the door. “Feel free to try to escape all you like.”

 

Kallik stared at him, dumbfounded. Who did this guy think he was talking to? Kallik was from the Southern Water Tribe. He knew the ocean. He knew boats. A ship this size had to have a skiff or something. All he had to do was find it and he would be home free.

 

But he was sore. His skin itched from the sweat and dirt that had built up over the last few days, and his braid was frayed and in knots. His eyelids were heavy and his eyes stung from crying in the dark before he fell asleep.

 

Kallik was tired.

 

He sighed and leaned back against the wall, staring uselessly at his unbound hands. The fight was knocked out of him as quickly as it came, and Kallik found himself too exhausted to even hold onto the brief flare of anger that filled him.

 

“Come on,” Lu Ten said, standing up. Kallik stared up at him, blinking at the hand that was held out to him. He ignored it and stood on his own. Lu Ten led him out of his cell and down the hall to a part of the ship he hadn’t visited yet. They entered a room that had large metal spickets mounted into the walls over a set of railings adorned with curtains. Lu Ten led him to a spicket near a bench, turned the knob, and a jet of water shot out. Kallik blinked in surprise.

 

“It’s a shower,” Lu Ten said, folding his arms over his chest. He looked a tad smug. “There’s soap there,” he said, pointing to a little shelf that held a tan bar and a red cloth. “Get undressed and wash up.”

 

Kallik stared at him in horror. “I’m not letting you see me naked!”

 

Lu Ten furrowed his brow. “What? No!” he said, holding his hands out in front of himself. “Not in front of me!” Kallik wrapped his arms around himself protectively. “I just need your clothes!”

 

“Why do you need my clothes?” Kallik asked, nervously.

 

“To wash them?” Lu Ten asked, raising an eyebrow. “They stink worse than you do.”

 

“And what am I supposed to wear in the meantime?” Kallik sneered. “Some of your stupid Fire Nation stuff? No thanks. I’d rather stink.”

 

“For the love of Agni,” Lu Ten muttered. “You have to bathe. And I’d rather not steal your clothes to get them clean. You’ll have them back before you’re done, washed and dried. Koh’s Lair, I’ll even fold them.”

 

“You’re going to do my laundry?” Kallik asked, arching a brow.

 

Lu Ten scoffed. “You know, I have roughed it before. I know about chores. Besides, none of the soldiers know how to dry clothes without burning them. That’s something me and Father know.” He smirked, winking at Kallik. “Maybe if you’re really nice to me, I’ll teach you how to do it.”

 

Kallik rolled his eyes. “I’ve been drying furs since I could talk.”

 

Lu Ten stared at him, bemused. “What?”

 

“Yeah. Been heating up water in bowls and food on plates, too. It’s not exactly hard.”

 

Kallik wasn’t sure how to classify the look that Lu Ten was giving him. Kallik looked around the wide room nervously. Lu Ten blinked, coming back to himself.  

 

“Sorry,” he said. “I got distracted. You’ve seen how to turn on the water. These two knobs control the temperature. The one on the left is for hot water, and the one on the right is for cold. I’ll leave the room and you can get undressed and clean up. Just pull the privacy curtain when you’re washing.” Kallik watched him for a moment then nodded his assent.

 

“I’ll grab you a towel. Just put your things on the bench.” With a quick wave, Lu Ten exited the room, leaving Kallik to his own devices. Kallik stared after him for a moment completely bewildered, before carefully unweaving his hair, extracting the beads from it as he went. He winced as he tugged them out. His fingers ran into snarls and tangles.

 

Kallik was hesitant, worried his belongings would disappear, but the last time he got a proper wash up was at that village the Hei Bai terrorized. He set the beads on the bench, and glanced toward the entrance, half-expecting Lu Ten to have come back by now. When the man didn’t show his face again, Kallik sighed and removed his clothing, then quickly darted into the shower and pulled the curtain closed behind him. Only his necklace remained with him. He didn’t dare take it off, even to clean himself. It was too important.

 

He tilted his head as he examined the knobs, twisting the one on the right first. The water cooled very suddenly, making him jump slightly. He shook himself. He had been used to cold water all his life. A little more wouldn’t kill him, and he’d rather be chilled then get burned with boiling water. Kallik carefully adjusted the knob on the left, feeling the water go from cold to tepid to warm. Once the temperature reached a point that he found comfortable, he took the soap and rag he was left with and washed all the dirt from his body. He tried to be economical with his time, but his bending had given him the ability to keep water hot as long as he wanted back home, and it was nice to be able to bathe without having to worry about a time limit.

 

He washed his hair with the bar of soap, removing all the dirt and built up oil. Once his hair was clear of suds, he braced himself and cleaned his teeth with a touch of soap on his finger. He gagged at the flavor, despite the fact he knew it was coming, and rinsed his mouth out. At least the filmy feeling was gone. He had washed himself to the point where his fingers were wrinkled. Kallik sighed and twisted the knobs, shutting off the water. Then he carefully pulled the curtain and stuck his head out, weary of what he would see on the bench.

 

Lu Ten was true to his word. His clothes sat, folded, next to a large towel. Kallik frowned and looked around before stepping out and grabbing the cloth, wrapping it around himself. He carefully picked up his tunic, surprised to find it was warm to touch. He brought the clothing to his nose and sniffed it carefully, then raised his eyebrows.

 

Lu Ten really had washed his things, and he did it right away. He could have swapped his clothes for something clean while Kallik washed. He really didn’t have any say in the matter, at the end of the day. But here they were, exactly like Lu Ten said they would be. Kallik wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

 

He quickly dried off and dressed, then toweled his hair as best as he could before sitting on the bench to braid his hair again. He winced as he ran his fingers through his hair, still trying to untangle it.

 

“I don’t hear water, so I’m coming in!” Lu Ten shouted. He stepped around the corner with his hand over his eyes, holding out a comb as he staggered toward the bench.

 

“What are you doing?” Kallik asked, confused.

 

“Well, you seem to think that I want to see you naked, so I’m averting my eyes due to your delicate sensibilities,” Lu Ten said, feeling the bench and sitting down.

 

Kallik felt like a pail of ice water was dumped over him. He stared at the floor and clenched his jaw, willing himself not to cry. How many times had Sokka teased Kallik for his sensibilities? How many times had he used that exact phrase to get a rise out of the older boy?

 

“Kallik?” the teenager looked up to see Lu Ten still had a hand pressed over his eyes, but there was a frown on his face. The room had been quiet for too long.

 

“I’m dressed,” he said hoarsely. Lu Ten uncovered his eyes and gave him a hesitant smile, offering him the comb. Kallik stared at it dumbly, taking it from Lu Ten’s hand. It appeared to be made of some kind of wood, instead of bone. Kallik pondered over the differences to what he knew, focusing on anything he could that wasn’t his cousin. He wasn’t free to grieve, here.

 

“Oh, sorry,” Lu Ten said, kindly. “That’s a comb.” Kallik slowly turned to face him, eye twitching slightly. The prince was talking to him as if he were a particularly slow child. He gestured up to his hair. “You use it to—uh, groom your hair, and get the knots out—”

 

“I know what a comb is!” Kallik shouted, throwing his hands up. He grabbed his white lock of hair and started there, dragging the comb through it quickly.

 

“Well how was I supposed to know?” Lu Ten asked, frowning. “You just show up, and your hair looks like some kind of rat’s nest, and you’re Water Tribe, so what can I expect you to know about?”

 

“We wear our hair in elaborate styles,” Kallik said, combing through the black locks next. “Everyone knows that. How can you think we don’t know how to brush our hair?”

 

“You have brushes, too?” Lu Ten asked, curiously. Kallik stared at him in disbelief.

 

“You’re kidding, right?”

 

Lu Ten shrugged, a little helplessly. “I don’t know much about the Water Tribes,” he said. “My father knows more, but he hasn’t shared much with me. He says when I’m ready, I’ll learn. I swear, he thinks I’m still a kid sometimes.”

 

“Even if you don’t know much, you can’t have gone around thinking we didn’t know what combs were,” Kallik scoffed. “That’s ridiculous.”

 

“Well—I mean—” Lu Ten stuttered, scowling a little. “It’s not like you don’t have blind spots about the Fire Nation.”

 

“Sure, but I really don’t want to know about you,” Kallik huffed, braiding the beads back into his hair.

 

Lu Ten watched him for a moment and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said. Kallik raised an eyebrow as he finished tying off the braid. He reached his hands back and started to weave the rest together in a three-strand plait. It was all he could manage on his own. “I shouldn’t have made any assumptions.”

 

Once Kallik was halfway through the braid, he pulled the rest over his shoulder to finish up. He remained silent as he finished braiding his hair.

 

“My father thinks you’re Spirit-touched,” Lu Ten said, quietly, as Kallik tied off his braid. Kallik frowned, tugging the hair off his shoulder so it fell down his back. “He thinks the Moon Spirit blessed you.”

 

Kallik snorted. Lu Ten looked at him curiously. “Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” he asked, pointing at the white braid in his hair.

 

“Why though? I mean, you’re a firebender. Why would the Moon Spirit get involved with you?” Lu Ten asked.

 

Kallik shrugged. “Don’t you know?” he asked. Lu Ten swallowed and shook his head. “Firebenders don’t survive at the South Pole.”

 

“Why not?” Lu Ten asked, voice quiet and concerned.

 

“Because the sun is gone every winter,” Kallik said, shrugging. “They either get sick or go mad. Tui heard my parents ask for a miracle, and she blessed me so I wouldn’t die the same way.”

 

“Huh,” Lu Ten said, smiling. “I guess we have something in common, then,” he continued, tapping his leg. Kallik frowned, confused.

 

“My father asked the Spirits for a miracle, too.”

 

Chapter Text

Iroh frowned as he unfurled his letter, wondering how many eyes his father had on him, tracking his movements. He sat down, rubbing a hand over his mouth as he thought of his response.

 

“Hello—uh oh,” Lu Ten said, walking through Iroh’s open door. “I know that look. What’s wrong?”

 

Iroh mustered up a smile. “Whatever would be wrong, son?”

 

“Well, you’ve got a letter in your hand, and you’re squinting your eyes like you’re trying to think of the nicest way to answer,” Lu Ten replied as he settled in the other chair in Iroh’s room. “What did Grandfather say?”

 

Iroh chuckled and handed Lu Ten the letter. Lu Ten’s brow furrowed as he read it. “If Grandfather knows we’re on our way back to the Fire Nation, doesn’t he know that the Avatar is dead?”

 

Iroh shook his head. “I suppose whoever delivered information about our whereabouts forgot to mention it,” he said, wryly. “So now I must be the one to inform my father that the Avatar is no more, and we will have to look to the poles to find the next one.”

 

“Good luck giving him that news,” Lu Ten said with a snort. “At least you can tell him it’s unlikely the Avatar will be reborn in the South Pole.” Iroh raised an eyebrow. “Kallik mentioned most of the men have been gone a long time. There won’t be any babies for a while, it seems.”

 

“He mentioned the state of his tribe to you?” Iroh asked, curiously.

 

“Well, not really,” Lu Ten said, scratching his head. “He was watching me train, and when I was done, I asked what he learned about fighting and how. He told me his dad taught him until the men left. He wouldn’t tell me anything more after that. Poor kid looked like he was gonna kick himself.” Lu Ten’s mouth formed a thoughtful frown. “To be honest, if Captain Jee hadn’t shown up I probably could have gotten more out of him. The man frightens him for some reason.”

 

Iroh stared at Lu Ten thoughtfully. “He trusts you,” Iroh said.

 

“It wasn’t difficult to gain his trust, Father,” Lu Ten replied, solemnly. “Kallik lost a lot in a short period of time. He’s tired and scared and—well, he’s vulnerable.” He turned his head and stared blankly at a point on the wall. “It’s not that hard to convince him to trust me.”

 

Iroh sighed and stood up, walking over to his son. He placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I know this is hard. You’ve never been fond of this skill that we share.”

 

Lu Ten snorted as Iroh removed his hand and sat back down. “This skill you taught me, you mean.”

 

“You may not like to use it,” Iroh said, “but it has saved your life many times, and has supported you in your missions for the Fire Nation. Never forget that.”

 

“He’s so young, Father.”

 

“I know,” Iroh said, sadly. “But in the end, this will be justified.”

 

Lu Ten looked up at him very seriously. “Will it? Will it truly be justified?”

 

“If he is our missing prince, then yes. Bringing him home by any means necessary will always be justified.”

 

Lu Ten sighed, looking away. “I hope you’re right.”

 


 

He was here.

 

The man who saved their tribe was here, on this very ship. He had wrinkles and his hair was gray now, but Kallik would never forget that face. The man seemed to know Kallik, too, despite how much Kallik had grown.

 

They both decided to avoid each other. Kallik couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that the man he met—the man who opposed the raid on their village—was still serving with the military. Then again, it was so long ago, and Kallik couldn’t remember much except that he said he would lie for them. It was hard to forget the earnest tone to his voice, and the way he looked at Kallik before he left, as if he were something that needed to be protected.

 

Kallik bit the inside of his cheek as he rested his hands on his knees. What if he told the princes? What if he told them that they never found the waterbender when he raided their village? They didn’t know it was Katara. Even if they did, what reason did they have to believe that a dead girl was the last waterbender? They would think Kallik was lying to them to save his people. What if they sent new raiders back home? It didn’t matter that they joined the neighboring village. None of them could withstand the raids for very long.

 

Then again, if he was avoiding Kallik, maybe he didn’t want to tell the princes what happened. Maybe he just didn’t want the princes to know he recognized the boy. After all, it wasn’t like the man had a reason to wait until now to tell his superiors the waterbender was never found.

 

Kallik was twisted in knots inside when he heard a knock on his door. Lu Ten came in with a small cloth bundle, smiling candidly. Ever since his hands sparked at Lu Ten, he insisted Kallik sit with him and meditate before a candle. The point of the exercise was to make the flame grow and shrink with their breaths, but so far Kallik hadn’t seen the value of the practice. It was boring, and Lu Ten didn’t bother explaining why meditating was important.

 

“So, I was speaking to my father, and he thinks your progress is going really well. He wants me to move up to two cand—”

 

“Why am I here?” Kallik said, bluntly, cutting Lu Ten off. He held his breath, worried about the raider and what he might tell these men. The prince stared at him for a moment with his mouth hanging open.

 

“What?”

 

“I don’t know anything. I can’t tell you about the war, and you’ve already killed Aang,” Kallik bit out. “Why are you keeping me here? What do you want with me?”

 

Lu Ten gazed at him in silence. After the span of several heartbeats he cleared his throat, then sat across from Kallik, putting his bundle on the floor. Kallik stared at him, eyes cold.

 

“That’s really something my father should tell you,” Lu Ten said, carefully.

 

“What, you don’t know?” Kallik asked, snarling a little.

 

“It’s complicated,” Lu Ten said, hesitantly. “And to be honest, I don’t know how much is true, and how much is wishful thinking.”

 

“You make less sense than the Spirits,” Kallik muttered folding his arms over his chest.

 

Lu Ten shrugged. “Yeah, I suppose it seems that way.”

 

Kallik scowled. Lu Ten stared at him for a minute before opening his mouth to speak.

 

“Prince Lu Ten!” a soldier stood at the entrance of Kallik’s room. Cell, you idiot, he thought to himself, never forget this is a prison! “The general requires your presence at once! An important letter was received from the Capital!”

 

Lu Ten scrambled up and bolted out of the room, not giving Kallik a second glance. Kallik blinked, stunned by what just happened. He realized Lu Ten left the cloth bundle on the floor. Kallik carefully picked it up and unwrapped it, revealing two black candles. He sat silently for a few minutes before he sighed and set them up, lighting them both. Then he relaxed into position and focused on the flames flickering in time with his breaths.

 


 

“What is it, father?” Lu Ten asked as he met his father and Captain Jee on the deck. Iroh nodded his head to the both of them and led them back to his chambers. Once they were all inside, Iroh snapped the door shut to ensure they weren’t overheard.

 

The crown prince pulled a letter from his sleeve and handed it to Lu Ten. Captain Jee leaned over his shoulder to read it as well. Lu Ten’s eyebrows were climbing up his face, but he couldn’t stop them. He reread the letter to make sure he wasn’t imagining things.

 

“He’s alive?” Lu Ten asked, breathlessly. “Father, the Avatar is alive?

 

Iroh nodded. “It appears he is either more skilled than I thought, or he got very, very lucky. Regardless, our mission has not changed. We are to turn the ship around and pursue the boy with great haste.”

 

“Sir,” Captain Jee said, frowning. “I believe a storm is brewing to the north, if the water and skyline is to be believed.

 

“I know, Captain,” Iroh said, tucking his arms into his sleeves. “However, this is an order that came directly from the Fire Lord. I cannot ignore it. We will travel as safely as possible while trying to apprehend the Avatar. Please go and set a course for the Pohuai Stronghold. Keep this quiet, for now, until I figure out how to break this news to the crew.” Lu Ten nodded in agreement. They lost several men trying to escape the island. Finding out the Avatar survived when he was in the very thick of things would be terrifying for many of them.

 

“Yes sir,” Jee said, bowing before he left the chambers.

 

“Father,” Lu Ten said, quietly. Iroh looked up at him with a tired expression. “We have to tell him.”

 

“Son, I know you don’t want to hurt the boy, but—”

 

“Father,” Lu Ten said, sternly. “I won’t lie to him about this.”

 

Iroh sighed. “It seems as if you are forgetting what we spoke about,” he said, reproachfully. Lu Ten resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know his father’s tricks by now. “When we discussed this, we agreed that any means necessary is justified.”

 

“No, Father,” Lu Ten said, sternly. “You believe any means necessary is justified. If we keep trying to validate the means with the end result, what we do won’t matter. We won’t have acted with honor.” Iroh raised his eyebrows at Lu Ten’s quick statement, surprised.

 

“You think so?” his father asked, thoughtfully.

 

“Look at it this way, Father,” Lu Ten said, folding his arms over his chest. “He already doesn’t trust us because of the raids on his home and the way we went after him and the Avatar. If we don’t tell him and he finds out—and he will on a ship this small—he will never believe a single word either of us says ever again.”

 

Iroh let out a long sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. “But if he knows the Avatar is alive, he may believe the people he grew up with, the people he knows as his family, will be alive. He will try to find his way back to them.”

 

“Maybe so,” Lu Ten said, “but if that’s the case, and he does make his way back to them, at least he’ll know we didn’t lie. That would be useful, if we ran into him again.” And knowing the dogged streak that ran through his father, he didn’t doubt that if would become a when.

 


 

Kallik sat at the edge of the deck, watching the clouds move overhead. The ship changed course, but Kallik couldn’t figure out why. It must have had something to do with that letter. He wondered what it could have said. Maybe the Earth Kingdom was mounting an attack against the Fire Nation. Maybe someone important would be arriving somewhere and the princes would need to meet with them.

 

Maybe the Water Tribe ships had been spotted.

 

Kallik’s heart started pounding. That last one wasn’t so impossible, was it? His father could be out there right now, sailing in these very waters. He didn’t know if the man was alive or dead, only that he hadn’t been able to write in a year. Kallik touched the carving on his necklace, feeling the lines that were etched deeply into the bone. He missed his dad so much. Bato would know what to do. Bato would know how to save him, and if he did, Kallik might finally feel safe again, for the first time in years.

 

The teenager frowned, touching his face. He had changed. He looked more and more like these people than he ever wanted to admit. Everyone in the Earth Kingdom thought so. Everyone who saw him thought he was Fire Nation at first glance. He didn’t belong with the Water Tribe. What if his father wouldn’t be able to look at him after all he had seen the Fire Nation soldiers do in this war? What if—what if Kallik was as wrong as he always felt? If Bato looked at Kallik like he was an enemy—well, Kallik didn’t think his heart could take that kind of rejection.

 

Dad wouldn’t do that to me, he thought. He loves me. A shadow fell over him, making him jump. He looked up and frowned at the sight of the elder prince staring solemnly at him.

 

“Young Kallik,” Iroh said, “would you please join me in my chambers? There is something I would like to discuss with you.”

 

Kallik pursed his lips, ready to reject the man, but he caught sight of the raider watching them. He swallowed nervously and stood up, nodding at Iroh before following the man below deck. Any time spent out of sight of that man was a good thing, in Kallik’s opinion. They arrived at crown prince’s rooms. Kallik clenched his hands into fists as he followed him inside. Iroh settled himself down on a chair near a desk, gesturing for Kallik to sit in the free chair near him. Kallik wrapped his arms around himself, still standing.

 

“You don’t want to sit?” Iroh asked, curiously. He picked up a ceramic teapot and pressed his hands against the sides until steam rose from the spout.

 

“I prefer to stand,” Kallik replied, stiffly.

 

“Very well. The chair is there if you change your mind,” Iroh went on, pouring a cup of tea for himself. “Would you like a cup of tea? This is ginseng. It’s very stimulating, and quite delicious.”

 

“You wanted to discuss something with me,” Kallik said, bluntly.

 

Iroh took a careful breath in through his nose and let it out through his mouth.

 

“Yes,” Iroh said, seriously. He raised his head and looked Kallik directly in the eye. “I have news, and it concerns you.”

 

Kallik swallowed. Maybe they had found the warriors from his tribe. Maybe Iroh was warning him that they were his next target. Maybe Iroh was going to tell him they were already prisoners, or worse.

 

Kallik bit his tongue and held his breath, not allowing himself to speak.

 


“The Avatar has been sighted.”

 

Kallik felt all the air leave his lungs in a rush. He stumbled, and Iroh swiftly stood up and guided him to the free chair, pressing his head between his knees.

 

“Easy now,” he was saying, when the blood stopped rushing in Kallik’s ears. “Deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth.”

 

“What—” Kallik gasped. He felt a sharp pain developing behind his eye. “What did—they’re alive?

 

“Breathe, Zuko,” Iroh said, rubbing circles into Kallik’s back. Kallik gasped until he gained control of his breaths, trying to make sense of what he was just told. “In and out, there you go.”

 

Kallik raised his head, staring up into the old man’s face. Iroh gazed back at him in concern.

 

“They’re alive?” Kallik asked again.

 

Iroh sighed and sat back down. He stroked his beard before he answered. “The Avatar appears to be,” he said. “There has been no word of any companions other than the flying bison.” He regarded Kallik very seriously before continuing. “I do not want to give you false hope.”

 

Kallik shook his head. “If Aang survived, he would have done his best to save the others.”

 

“I’m not disputing that,” Iroh said. “I can only tell you what I know, and I don’t know what happened to your family.”

 

Kallik felt his heart pounding in his chest. He fought to keep the smile off his face. If Aang survived, there was a chance. That was all he needed. “Aang is my family.”

 

“Ah,” Iroh said, nodding. “I see. Well, I’m sorry to say that we are on a course to apprehend him.”

 

“You won’t catch him,” Kallik said quickly.

 

“That remains to be seen.”

 

Kallik scuffed his toe along the floor. “Why did you tell me?” he asked, curiously.

 

Iroh sighed and gave him a rueful smile. “Because my son told me it would help you to trust us, and I truly mean you no harm.”

 

Kallik gazed at the man for a minute, searching for any dishonesty in his face. He frowned when he found none, more confused than ever.

 

“Oh,” he said, dumbly. “Well, thank you for telling me.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Iroh said, bowing his head. Kallik glanced between Iroh and the door.

 

“Can I go now?”

 

Iroh chuckled and waved him away. Kallik shot to his feet and darted to the door, but he paused after he pulled it open. He glanced back at Iroh.

 

“I mean it,” he said, seriously. “Thank you.”

 

Iroh nodded once again, and Kallik took his leave. It wasn’t until he was halfway down the hallway that he realized Iroh had said something odd before.

 

What kind of a name is Zuko, anyway?

 


 

“So how old are you?” Lu Ten asked. Kallik sighed as he picked at his dinner. Iroh sat with them, quietly enjoying the conversation.

 

Once Iroh told him about the Avatar, Kallik started to feel like he may be able to trust these men after all. They didn’t seem to want him for information about the Southern Water Tribe or their fleet. Kallik was pretty sure they didn’t even know the warriors were active, or that Hakoda was leading raids against the Fire Nation Navy. The teenager wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. On the one hand, it was great if the men from the tribe were operating undetected. On the other, they may have stopped movements altogether. Kallik tried not to think too much about it. Even if the fleet were still active, they wouldn’t know he was on a Fire Navy ship.

 

“Come on, tell me,” Lu Ten prodded. “I know you’re old enough to have kissed a girl.”

 

“Why are you so obsessed with the most uncomfortable topics?” Kallik asked, staring into his soup and fighting against a blush.

 

“Spirits, you’re touchy,” Lu Ten replied, cheekily. “Sorry. Old enough to have kissed a boy?”

 

Kallik sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s none of your business.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“In the Water Tribe,” Iroh interjected, “you don’t discuss these sorts of things outside those close to you in your family or community. We’re outsiders to Kallik, so he wouldn’t share any personal information like that with us unless he considered us trustworthy enough to know his community.”

 

Kallik raised an eyebrow, surprised at Iroh’s knowledge. It unnerved him how much Iroh knew of their customs, but he couldn’t help but be impressed. Iroh smiled knowingly at him. “I have done much traveling while Lu Ten was recovering from his injury. I even spent some time at the North Pole, observing waterbenders and learning about the people there.”

 

“You’ve been to our sister tribe?” Kallik asked.

 

“Yes. It was a very majestic thing to behold. I had never known ice could be so versatile. Each structure was ornate and beautiful, and seemed to rise out of the ground as opposed to being built.” Kallik blinked and looked back at his soup. He couldn’t even imagine it. Other than their lodge, they had no buildings made of ice. The lodge itself was built by normal men, not benders. The idea of waterbenders creating lodgings so easily twisted him up inside. He wondered what his home would be like if there were any waterbenders left. Well, other than Katara.

 

Kallik ignored the pounding of his heart. They might be gone, he reminded himself. Don’t get your hopes up. Focus on finding Aang first.  

 

“Sixteen?” Lu Ten guessed. “You’re at least sixteen, right?”

 

Kallik resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Spending time with Lu Ten was an interesting endeavor. The man was both entertaining and infuriating at the same time. He was also incredibly pushy and demanded attention constantly. It was exhausting to try to ignore him or argue with him.

 

“I’m seventeen,” Kallik offered, glancing up. “I just turned seventeen, actually.”

 

“When?” Iroh asked, slurping his own soup.

 

Kallik shrugged and cleared his throat. “My birthday is on the Winter Solstice.” Lu Ten’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open a little bit. “Yeah,” Kallik added, snidely. Lu Ten must have been reminded of how horribly he treated Kallik and his family. “Kind of the worst birthday ever, actually.”

 

Iroh stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know it’s not worth much, but I truly did not want any harm to come to your friends.”

 

“My family,” Kallik corrected, glaring.

 

Iroh nodded. “Yes, that boy said he was your cousin? By blood?”

 

“No,” Kallik said. “His father and my father are brothers in all but blood.”

 

“I see.” Iroh nodded, but raised a curious eyebrow. “Pardon me for asking this—I know it’s not my place, but you are not what I expect for someone from the Water Tribes.”

 

Kallik let out a humorless laugh. “Yeah. Haven’t heard that one before.”

 

Iroh smiled softly at him. “Your mother is Fire Nation?”

 

“My mother was Water Tribe,” Kallik said, suddenly fierce. He hated questions like this. “My father is Water Tribe, and so am I. It doesn’t matter that I don’t look like them.”

 

Iroh held up his hands in placation. “My apologies. I’m sure it must be frustrating to hear these questions. I just have never heard of firebenders in the Water Tribe.”

 

“Yeah, neither has anyone else,” Kallik sighed, slumping a little. “Look, I know you won’t stop asking me until I tell you. No one does. I wasn’t born there. Whoever actually had me didn’t want me, but my parents did. They asked the spirits to give them a child, and they gave them me.”

 

“Just like that?” Lu Ten asked, arching a brow. “They just accepted you as their kid, even though you had no relation to them at all?”

 

“I don’t get why that’s so surprising,” Kallik said, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s the rest of you that are weird. Do you know how many orphans there are in the Earth Kingdom? Hardly anyone steps up to take care of them. The adults act like the kids aren’t their responsibility.”

 

“Well, they’re not,” Lu Ten said, slowly. Kallik opened his mouth to argue, but Iroh cut him off.

 

“The Water Tribe values family and community,” he said, with authority. Lu Ten settled back to listen. “The responsibility for children falls to the whole tribe. Mothers and fathers raise them, yes, but all the adults teach them, and older children and teenagers help take care of them. If something happens to their parents, someone from the tribe immediately steps up to take them as their own.”

 

“Why?” Lu Ten asked.

 

“The conditions are harsh at the poles, my son,” Iroh said. “Terrible things happen easily to the people who live there. It is a necessity that the children are cared for so they can help the tribe in turn when they are old enough. These values have been passed on for generations to those who are part of the Water Tribe.”

 

“Huh.” Lu Ten furrowed his brow. “I suppose that makes sense.”

 

“What I want to know,” Iroh said, staring at Kallik intensely, “is why you think your birth family didn’t want you.”

 

Kallik set his spoon down. “Lu Ten told me you know I’m Spirit-touched.” Lu Ten told him a lot more than that. He told him how Iroh respected the Spirits. He told him how Iroh went on a journey through the Spirit world to save his life. If anyone would fully believe this story, it would be him.

 

Iroh nodded. Kallik sighed before he continued. “I was touched by Tui when I was a baby. And the Spirits haven’t left me alone since.”

 

“Tui?” Lu Ten asked.

 

“The Moon Spirit,” Iroh explained, gesturing for Kallik to go on.

 

“Well, I just recently ended up in the Spirit world, and I got to meet Agni.” Iroh’s eyes widened. Lu Ten gaped at him. Kallik took a careful breath. “He said the man he gave me to had no love in his heart for me, so his sister delivered me to someone who did.”

 

“What?” Iroh whispered, stunned.

 

“You met Agni?” Lu Ten asked, awed.

 

“I don’t really want to talk about this anymore,” Kallik said, a little discomforted.

 

“Alright,” Iroh said, shaking himself. “I apologize if I overstepped. Perhaps you would like to learn about Pai Sho?”

 


 

Iroh sat before a blank sheet of paper, still trying to figure out how to word the letter he needed to send to his father.

 

They found him. Iroh was certain the boy they found on Crescent Island was Prince Zuko. All the pieces fit. Zuko was only a baby when he disappeared. Kallik was adopted by a Water Tribe couple before he was old enough to have memories. He was the right age, and he even shared the same birthday as the missing prince. The most convincing evidence of all was his face. He looked exactly like Ozai. He looked exactly like Azula. Other than some of the softer features Ursa possessed (a rounder nose and thinner eyebrows) he was the spitting image of Iroh’s brother at that age. Those brilliant gold eyes that Azulon passed down could not be mistaken for anything else.

 

But the boy met Agni, and if he was to be believed, Agni didn’t want him with Ozai. Ozai, who demanded retribution against those who would dare to take his son. Ozai who doted on his wife and daughter. Ozai who lit a candle on the Winter Solstice every year in remembrance of his lost child. Agni thought Ozai had no love for Zuko.

 

Iroh didn’t want to believe it. How could his brother have no love for his own son? For his firstborn? It was true that Ozai could be a little cold, sometimes, but for a Great Spirit to say he was undeserving of his child took tremendous doing.

 

Iroh tapped his fingers against the paper thoughtfully. Ozai always regretted that there was no spark in Zuko’s eyes when he was born. He often lamented the bad omens that hung over his son’s head during that first year of life. He was also the first of them to believe Zuko was dead instead of missing.

 

Assassins often went after members of the royal family, but none had such intimate knowledge of the layout of the palace. Attacks were almost always during travels, or visits with the commoners. When one considered the fact that the rooms belonging to the second prince were practically unknown, one had to wonder how an assassin could have reached Zuko’s room to begin with. And wasn’t Ozai fixated on sending a letter that very day by messenger hawk? What could have demanded his attention so much that he couldn’t even properly mourn the loss of his son?

 

The more Iroh thought about it, the more concerned he became. Finally, after much consideration, he put the paper away.

 

Perhaps it was too soon to notify his father that he found Prince Zuko. It couldn’t be known for sure, and Iroh had more pressing concerns at the moment.

 

The Avatar was not quite at the top of the list.

Chapter Text

The sun was setting when guards came into Kallik’s room. Kallik stood warily, and they quickly grabbed his hands and put them in chains again.

 

“What the—” Kallik struggled, trying to free himself. He was shoved onto the bed by one guard as the other wrapped the chain around the post. “What are you doing?”

 

“They’re acting on my orders,” Iroh said as he entered the room. Kallik scowled at him.

 

“I thought I was free to move as I wished?” he said in a flat voice. He should have known things wouldn’t last.

 

“You are free to move as you wish when we are at sea,” Iroh said, smiling. “But now, we are very close to shore, and I do not trust that you will not take this opportunity to escape.”

 

Kallik scoffed and turned away, glaring at the mattress.

 

“Come now, Kallik,” Iroh said, reproachfully. “You’ve demonstrated your willingness to escape this ship when we’ve been miles from the shore. While land was in sight, you tried to jump overboard and swim—not your brightest moment, by the way.” Iroh shook his head and chuckled. “I would be a fool to leave you here unbound and unsupervised.”

 

“And who is supervising me?” Kallik grumbled. “Lu Ten?”

 

“No,” Iroh said, tucking his hands inside his sleeves. “We planned to stop at the Stronghold to gather more supplies, but we received information from Admiral Zhao that the Avatar was sighted here. He also believes he will apprehend the boy since he has aid from the warriors in this stronghold.”

 

“There’s no way they’ll catch Aang,” Kallik said firmly. Iroh gave him an indulgent smile that made Kallik scowl even more.

 

“Regardless, the Admiral is requesting both of us be present for this momentous victory of the Fire Nation.” Iroh nodded to the guards who saluted and left the room. “Captain Jee and some guards he has selected will remain with you.”

 

Kallik swallowed and tried slow the pounding in his chest. So far, it seemed the raider had said nothing to the princes about the attack on his village. He wasn’t sure what this meant for him. Most likely, the captain would avoid him. If Kallik could find a way to break out of his chains, there was a good chance he could escape.

 

“Captain?” Iroh called. Captain Jee stepped into the room, bowing before the prince. “I must request that you remain here during the duration of our stay. I don’t want to leave anything to chance.” Kallik’s heart fell when he heard the order.

 

“Of course, sir,” the captain said, curtly.

 

Iroh smiled rocking back on his heels. “Well, I probably shouldn’t keep the Admiral waiting,” he said, jovially. “He does not have the best temperament. Good night.”

 

Jee bowed to him before he left, then stood with his arms crossed behind his back at the door of Kallik’s cell.

 

Kallik sighed. So much for trying to escape.  

 


 

So much for trying to escape, Aang thought, struggling against his binds. Those archers trapped him in a net. He was an airbender! He was better than a net!

 

Everything had gone all wrong since the solstice. They searched for Kallik for days. When they stopped for supplies, they even tried to see if those pirates had any information about a Water Tribe prisoner. It was dumb luck Katara spotted that waterbending scroll and stole it—Aang still felt a little guilty they had done that. Katara was probably right, though. It was pretty likely they stole the scroll themselves from someone in the Water Tribes, and they needed to learn waterbending somehow.

 

When they couldn’t find him, they started scouting villages on foot. Sokka hoped they had stopped at a nearby colony for supplies. That lead them to Jet, and that was an encounter Aang would rather forget. It was awful, the way they tricked him. The moment Jet heard about Kallik being taken by Fire Nation soldiers, he used it to manipulate them. Sokka was the only one who seemed to see through him. Katara looked like she was ready to cry when she realized what he was really like. Aang felt like he was going to cry, too. If it weren't for Sokka's quick thinking, all the people in that village could have died.

 

Then that storm came along and grounded them, hindering them from searching more. Now, Sokka and Katara were both sick, and Aang was the only one with the cure hidden away in his robes. Not that it mattered because he was tied up, being dragged toward a Fire Nation stronghold.

 

What am I gonna do now?

 


 

Kallik was leaning back against the wall, staring blankly at the shackles around his wrists. It was fully dark now. Iroh and Lu Ten had yet to return, and Kallik was stuck. He had no way to break the chains, but even if he did, the captain was vigilantly guarding the door. Kallik sighed and shifted, making the bed frame creak. Captain Jee cleared his throat.

 

“Hiro, Juruk,” he called. The guards with him snapped to attention. “Go above deck and take a break. There’s no reason three of us need to guard one, untrained firebender.”

 

“Sir?” one of the guards asked, tilting his head curiously.

 

“I need you to make sure our deck is secure, anyway.”

 

The guard stared at him then nodded slowly, turning swiftly on his heel and walking away. His companion looked between the captain and his partner before he turned around and followed him.

 

The captain waited until their footsteps faded before he shut the door and turned to face Kallik. Kallik swallowed nervously as the man approached him. He paused, inches in front of him, hesitantly reaching a hand into his pocket. Kallik slowly leaned away, trying to put as much space between them as he could.

 

Captain Jee pulled out a key and bent down to unlock Kallik’s shackles.

 

“What are you doing?” Kallik asked, raising a confused brow.

 

“I’m letting you go,” Captain Jee said as the shackles fell away. Kallik rubbed his wrists. “I have your fans. I’m sorry, but they were all I could save.” Kallik’s jaw dropped. He thought they threw all his weapons overboard after his first escape attempt. “They were small enough to hide away. I also have some spare armor that should fit you. Come with me.” Kallik stared at him as he darted out the door, completely stunned. The captain poked his head back around the frame.

 

“We don’t have time!” he hissed. “Come with me, now.”

 

Kallik got to his feet and followed the captain to his own chambers. The captain pulled a bag out from under his bed and emptied out the contents. Several pieces of armor clattered to the floor.

 

“You need to unbraid your hair,” he said, sorting through the armor. “We’re going to disguise you as a solider. You’ll be able to walk right out of here.” Kallik dumbly moved his hands to his hair, unraveling his bread. He carefully tugged the beads out and tucked them in his pockets. Captain Jee quickly walked back to him and swept his hair up in a top knot. Kallik barely resisted the urge to flinch.

 

“Why are you doing this?” he asked.

 

“Because I’m stupid,” the captain said, shaking his head. He started tying pieces of armor to Kallik’s body. “Because I know who you are, and I know you can’t be anything but Water Tribe, with the way their leader looked at you. Because my father died before he could see the Avatar return and I know he would be ashamed that his son was on a mission to capture him.”

 

Captain Jee tucked the fans in his belt, then a pair of broadswords in one sheath. “This is the dao,” he said. “Two thin swords that work together. They’re a common weapon for soldiers here. People will pay more attention to this than the fans in your belt.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Kallik said, shaking his head. “Why was I taken in the first place?” The captain sighed and grabbed the helmet on his way out of the room. He led Kallik up towards the deck, keeping a sharp eye out for witnesses.

 

“I’m not sure,” Captain Jee said, once they reached the door. “But back when I saw you the first time, I wanted to take you with me, too.”

 

“Why?” Kallik whispered, blinking.

 

“Because you’re fire,” Jee said, frowning. “You belong with us. The only reason I didn’t take you was I could see you belonged with them, too.” His eyes darted to the white streak in Kallik’s hair. Kallik felt his hands tremble slightly. Captain Jee put the helmet on his head.

 

“You need to hit me,” he said, setting his jaw.

 

“What?”

 

“I’m going against orders, here,” the captain said. “Make it convincing.”

 

Kallik swallowed and balled his hand into a fist.

 

“Thank you.”

 


 

Aang tugged against his binds, uselessly. No matter what he did, he was stuck. He would never make it back to Sokka and Katara. If they didn’t die from the sickness, then they would be stranded there. They would be lost just like Kallik and it was all Aang’s fault. He never should have let them come with him! He should have made them stay in that village, safe and sound.

 

The door creaked open and a tall man with large sideburns and thick eyebrows entered the room. “So this is this the mighty Avatar,” he sneered. “Master of all four elements.”

 

“I don’t know how you’ve managed to elude the Fire Nation for the last hundred years,” he said, pacing around Aang, “but your little game of hide and seek is over.”

 

“I’ve never hidden from you,” Aang growled, glaring at the man. “Untie me and I’ll fight you right now!”

 

“No,” the man said, smirking. “Tell me, how does it feel to be the last airbender? Do you miss your people?” Aang glared at him as the cruel words washed over him. He felt his eyes start to water and ducked his head so the man couldn’t see him cry.

 

“Don’t worry,” he said in a fake soothing voice. “You won’t be killed like they were.” Aang growled and looked back up at him, tugging against the chains. “See if you die, you’ll just be reborn and the Fire Nation will have to being its search all over again. So I’ll keep you alive, but just barely.”

 

Aang pulled in a deep breath and blew it out, knocking the man to the ground.

 

“Blow all the wind you want,” he growled, smoothing his hair back into place. “Your situation is futile. There is no escaping this fortress.” He turned back and glared at Aang one more time.

 

“And no one is coming to rescue you.”

 


 

Kallik nodded at the guards at the gateway of the stronghold, keeping his body language militant and confident. If he looked like he belonged, no one would bat an eye at him. Ever since he heard the guards on the docks say that Admiral Zhao captured the Avatar, all Kallik could think of was that he had to find a way to save his friend. The disguise was proving more useful than he wanted to admit. So far, no one questioned him. He moved freely about the troops as he went deeper and deeper into the stronghold. He finally managed to get into the tower and walked quietly down the halls, following the voices of guards as he went. He arrived at a door at the same time as four other guards.

 

“Wait, who are you?” one of the men asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

Kallik swallowed. “I’m… Hiro. From Prince Iroh’s ship.”

 

“Prince Iroh is here?” the man asked, eyes wide.

 

“I heard he arrived not too long ago, to witness the capture of the Avatar,” another said, rubbing his hands together. “I’ve only ever seen him during the speeches.”

 

“He wanted me to ensure him that the Avatar is actually here,” Kallik said, puffing out his chest. “I’m here to make sure he’s secure.”

 

The first man eyed him suspiciously. “I have to clear that with Admiral Zhao,” he said, folding his arms over his chest.

 

“Be my guest,” Kallik said, shrugging, begging his voice not to crack from nerves. “But you’re the one who has to explain to Prince Iroh why my report is late. I’m not getting on his bad list.”

 

The man frowned and looked towards the doors nervously.

 

“Well,” he said, turning around and pulling the door open. “Go ahead and check his chains. He’s not getting out of there.” Kallik nodded and stepped through. The leader of the guards followed him and shut the door behind him.

 

“As you can see,” the guard said, walking forward and gesturing toward the center of the room, “the Avatar has all four limbs chained. He can barely bend.”

 

“I’ll show you bending.” Kallik looked over to see Aang quickly draw a breath. Kallik moved out of the way just in time as he blasted a puff of air at them, knocking the other guard off his feet. Kallik quickly pulled out a fan and knocked the guard hard on his temple. The guard fell with a groan.

 

“Why’d you hit your buddy?” Aang asked, clearly confused. Kallik rolled his eyes as he put his fans away.

 

“Aang!” he hissed, “It’s me! I’m here to rescue you.”

 

“Kallik?” Aang asked as Kallik approached him. He pulled out his swords and whipped both blades against the chains, breaking the weak links by the shackles. He did the same with the ankle restraints and looked around the room. Aang darted forward and started picking up something that was wriggling along the floor.

 

“Aang, can we focus?” he asked.

 

“We have to get these frogs to save Katara and Sokka!” Aang replied. Kallik felt his heart pounding.

 

“They’re okay?” he asked. “They’re alive? Why do they need frogs?”

 

“Because they’re sick, and of course they’re alive!” Aang said, grabbing the last loose frog and tucking it into his shirt. “Why wouldn’t they be?”

 

“Aang, the last thing I saw on that island was the temple falling off the mountain,” Kallik said, slowly. “I thought they died. I thought you were dead too, until a couple of days ago.”

 

“What?” Aang asked, eyes wide. “Kallik, we’ve been looking for you! We didn’t know which way they were heading with you, but Sokka noticed several boats seemed to be going North, so we kind of followed them. We’ve been trying to figure out which one had you so we could get you back.”

 

Kallik clenched his jaw as he put his swords away. He couldn’t afford to break down right now. They needed to get out of here.

 

“Kallik?” Aang asked. Kallik looked up at him, blinking. Aang smiled. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”

 

Kallik stepped forward and pulled Aang into a tight hug.

 

“I’m glad you’re okay, too.”

 


 

Aang patted Kallik on the shoulder one last time as they let go, grinning broadly. He was okay! Not only that, he was here to rescue Aang. Kallik sure had a knack for being in the right place at the right time for such an unlucky guy.

 

“There are three guards outside the door,” Kallik said, pulling his fans out. “I can’t take them all on. I think I know a way out so no one will spot us, but we have to get past them, first, and we have to move quickly.”

 

“I can take care of them,” Aang said. “You go and open the doors. Get their attention.” Aang stood back and started gathering an air ball. Kallik ran forward and quickly pulled open the door.

 

“The Avatar has escaped!” He shouted. The three guards ran in, weapons ready. Kallik pulled the door closed behind them and Aang let an airball loose, knocking the guards back into the hard walls behind them. All three slid to the ground, groaning. Kallik untied their sashes and tied their hands behind their backs. Then he cut off pieces of fabric from the bottoms of one of their uniforms and made them into makeshift gags. Once he was satisfied none of them would make much noise, he took the uniform off the smallest man, and quickly shoved Aang into the armor.

 

“What are we doing?” he asked. “No one is going to believe I’m a soldier! I’m a kid!”

 

“I saw a corporal and she was shorter than you,” Kallik said, shoving the helmet on Aang’s head. He managed to tie it well enough to make it look like it fit. “Just keep quiet. We’re going out through the front door.”

 

“How?” Aang asked as Kallik lead him back toward the entrance of the tower. “I just went missing. Why are they going to let anyone out?”

 

“They don’t know you’re missing yet,” Kallik hissed. “If we time this right, we can get out of here before they even know you’re gone. Just do what I do and we’ll be fine.”

 

Aang pressed his lips together as he followed Kallik out to the yard. He walked briskly, like he had somewhere to be, and Aang mimicked him to the best of his ability. No one said anything. They were finally near the gates when they were called to assemble. Kallik stopped and grabbed Aang, stepping alongside the soldiers to help form a neat square. Aang mimicked Kallik’s posture and stared straight ahead, heart pounding. They were so close!

 

Everyone standing below stared up at a balcony, waiting. Aang looked up with them, but he had to bite his tongue when he saw who would be speaking. That guy who caught him and said all those horrible things was right there. They had to get away! He glanced at Kallik. The older boy subtly shook his head, and Aang clenched his jaw, resolving himself to trust Kallik’s plan.

 

“We are the sons and daughters of fire, the superior element. Until today, only one thing stood in our path to victory: the Avatar! I am here to tell you that he is now my prisoner!” Everyone cheered. The man raised his arm and made a fist in the air.

 

“This is the year Sozin’s comet returns to grant us its power!” The crowd cheered again. Aang and Kallik looked at each other as they cheered with them. Kallik glanced back toward the open gate.

 

“This is the year the Fire Nation breaks through the walls of Ba Sing Se, and burns the city to the ground!” The crowd screamed in agreement, raising their fists into the air as well.

 

“This is the year we conquer the Earth Kingdom, and win this glorious war!” The crowd screamed so loud, it felt like the ground was shaking slightly. The man waved at them and dismissed them, leaving the balcony. The soldiers dispersed. Kallik grabbed Aang’s arm and pulled him around so they were following two men that were going to the gates.

 

“Wow, can you believe Admiral Zhao caught the Avatar?” one of the soldiers in front of them asked. “I wish I weren’t on wall duty. I think Prince Iroh will be speaking soon.”

 

“Prince Lu Ten is supposed to be here as well,” the other said. He turned around. “Hey, where are you two going?”

 

Aang swallowed and straightened his spine. Kallik tilted his head.

 

“Stables,” he replied easily. “Need to take care of those mounts for the princes.”

 

“You know the princes?” he asked, awed. “How?”

 

“I serve on their ship,” Kallik said. “I think we’ll be leaving after Prince Iroh speaks, so I need to make sure the rhinos are ready.”

 

“Okay,” the first man said, bowing. “Carry on.” Kallik bowed back and Aang quickly copied him. Then they darted out the doors. The path to the outer stables was shrouded in darkness, and at the first opportunity, Kallik and Aang disappeared into the high grass the led to the woods.

 


 

“Why are we catching frogs?” Kallik asked, pulling the frozen amphibians out of the muddy water.

 

“They secrete some kind of oil that cures whatever illness Sokka and Katara have.” After they got into the woods, the frogs Aang had caught earlier all wriggled away. He and Kallik were forced to stop at the swamp before they headed back to the others. On the bright side, it was a convenient place to dispose of their disguises.

 

“Really?”

 

“I hope so,” Aang said. “They were pretty bad off, Kallik. Sokka had a fever and he was talking to people that weren’t there.”

 

Kallik frowned. “For fever you brew artic willow bark. I know Katara had some.”

 

“Oh monkey feathers,” Aang muttered. “I need one of you to teach me how to use that stuff. Katara had a fever, too. She must have been out of it, like Sokka.”

 

“Well, that or you guys are actually out of it,” Kallik said with a shrug. Aang furrowed his eyebrows. “I mean, not out of it like you’re out of it, out of it. I meant out of it like you’re out of it. It being artic willowbark.” Kallik winced as he tripped on his words. He was still a little stunned that he was walking with Aang, pockets full of frozen frogs. Aang chuckled, leading Kallik out of the swamp and up to an empty ruin.

 

They passed some deteriorated walls, and Kallik felt his heart swell  when they rounded the corner. His family were snuggled up against Appa, tucked into their furs and moving sleepily. They each opened their eyes blearily as Aang and Kallik approached.

 

“Here,” Aang said, shoving a frog into each of their mouths. “These will make you feel better.”

 

“These are tasty,” Sokka mumbled. Kallik let out a high, startled laugh at the sound of his voice. Sokka sat up, eyes wide. The frog was still hanging out of his mouth. After a few moments, the frog began to kick its legs, making Sokka jump and spit the frog out in surprise.

 

“Kallik?” Sokka asked in a hoarse voice as Katara spat her own frog out, gagging. “Kallik, is that really you?”

 

Kallik smiled, feeling his eyes sting. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s really me if it’s really you.”

 

“Kallik!” Katara shouted, wriggling out of her sleeping bag. Her feet were still tangled in the furs as she stood up, making her stumble. Kallik caught her and pulled her into a tight hug. Sokka got up as well and wrapped his arms around both of them. Eventually, Aang was pulled in too. Kallik pressed his face against Sokka’s shoulder to hide his tears. Sokka saw anyway and teased him for his delicate sensibilities, despite the wet trails on his own face. Momo flew overhead, chittering with excitement.

 

They were alive. They were here.

 

Kallik wondered if this was what good luck felt like. He wasn’t sure he could call it anything else.