“Stuck with illusion now, I drown in your sea. I hope that you first save yourself, and then come for me.” Hearts/Wires, Deftones
The storm rages, lightning flashing through the night in streaks of brilliant light, briefly highlighting the dusky grey clouds covering the sky. The ocean throws massive waves across it’s surface, battering the sides of the steel ship, threatening to topple it into the depths. A handful of men run around and across the deck, scurrying like ants, trying to tie things down and round up spilled supplies.
“Get inside! Forget about the supplies!” Prince Zuko stands on the deck, desperately trying to get his men back into the shelter of the ship’s hold. This is his journey, and he’ll be damned if he loses any of his men to a spirit’s forsaken storm in the South Pole, of all places. It seems that the men running around can’t hear him over the storm, so the prince steels himself to run out onto the deck and get them himself.
“Prince Zuko!” His uncle grabs his arm, a look of concern and alarm on his face. “Where are you going?”
“I have to get those men inside, uncle!” The water is dripping into his eyes, making it almost impossible to see out of the damaged one on the left. “I won’t let them get hurt.”
“Please nephew, be careful!” Zuko nods to his uncle before he turns and runs further out onto the deck.
He has successfully grabbed four men and sent them inside the ship, but there is one man left that he has to get to. Unbeknownst to him, a massive wave is building, and just as he is running back to the hold with the last man, it breaks over the ship. In the split second he has before it sweeps them away, Zuko throws all his weight forward, and pushes the crewman closer to the door where his uncle and the other men he has gathered wait. But in doing this, Zuko has sealed his fate, and he doesn’t even hear his uncle scream as he is swept overboard into the freezing, dark water.
He is thirteen years old.
His left eye is damaged beyond repair, his vision less than a third of what it should be. His left ear is mangled, but he has luckily only lost some of his hearing. But what took the most damage is his heart. Betrayed by the people who were supposed to love him, he has been sent out on an impossible mission that he would rather die than fail to complete.
He is sixteen years old.
He has been searching the world for the Avatar for three years, and no sign of the last airbender has shown itself. He is angry and dejected, but he must not give up— that’s what his father wants him to do. He will show his father, his country, that he is strong. That he deserves his father’s love. That he is fit to rule.
He is nineteen years old.
He sits in a bar in a small earth kingdom town on the sea. His crew is drinking and making merry, but he drinks to drown his thoughts. He still has not found the avatar, and at this point, he fears that he never will. He’s jaded and depressed, and when a handsome man around his age comes to him with a flirtatious smile and a drink in his hand, Zuko does what he can to forget who he is and where he comes from.
He is twenty years old.
He has grown to love his crew more than he could imagine. They have stayed with him for seven years, despite him telling them multiple times that they didn’t have to. He will continue his search, but only because he doesn’t know what other purpose he has. If he stops, he fears that his demons will drown him. So his search continues, and as it ends up, his demons are not the ones that get the best of him. The ocean swallows him like that’s what it was created to do, and as blackness covers his vision, Zuko thinks that maybe he was born just to be lost in it.
“No, that’s it! I’m done helping you! From now on, you’re on your own!”
A massive cracking sound splits the air, and when Katara turns around, the huge iceberg behind her has completely split open, crumbling into the sea. In the space that is left behind, a smaller burg with strange shapes in the center floats to the surface.
“Geez, sorry Katara.” Sokka brushes himself off, looking offended. “You don’t have to go around breaking shit every time you get mad.”
“Uhg, fuck off, Sokka!” She throws her hands into the air, exasperated and sick of her brother. “Maybe if there were any other waterbenders here, I could actually learn how to control my element, but in case you forgot, they’re all fucking dead!” By the time she finishes speaking, she has tears in her eyes, and Sokka is looking very apologetic.
“Katara, you know I didn’t—”
“Whatever Sokka. It’s fine.” She turns around, and at seeing the strange shapes inside the iceberg, steps towards it. “What is this?”
The snow falls in big flakes, a heavy shroud around them; the weather is picking up as darker storm clouds gather off in the distance.
“Katara, maybe we should get back.” Sokka comes up behind her, also inspecting the strange iceberg. “What‘s in there?”
“I don’t know...” She thinks for a moment, and then grabs Sokka’s club right out of his hand.
“Hey!” he objects, but Katara is already moving towards the iceberg, and when she gets close enough she starts hitting it with the club. “Be careful with that!”
“What’s a club for if not for hitting?”
Right after she says it, she breaks through the iceberg, and a powerful stream of air pushes her back into her brother, knocking them both over. The shape in the iceberg starts to glow; more accurately, what looks like a pair of eyes start to glow. Deep fissures in the ice spread out from the point where Katara broke through, and after a moment, the whole thing shatters in a small burst. Katara screeches as Sokka maneuvers her so that she is under his body, and a bright column of light shoots into the air. After a few seconds, the light disappears, and Katara crawls out from under Sokka.
“Katara, be careful! We don’t know what’s in there!” By the time he finishes his sentence, Katara is already climbing over the lip of the crater that was created by the explosion.
When she crests the crater’s edge, she sees a young boy slumped over with his eyes closed. She slides down the inside of the crater, stopping herself when she gets to the boy, and Sokka quickly joins her. Up close, the boy seems to be about fifteen, maybe sixteen years old. Katara takes his head in her hand and goes to feel for a pulse, but as soon as she gets her ungloved fingers to the boy’s neck, his eyes pop open. She yelps, and accidentally drops his head as she scoots backwards. She covers her mouth with her hands as the boy sits up, and her eyes are wide as he speaks.
“Will you go penguin sledding with me?”
Her and Sokka are frozen to the spot, the snow falling around them and their eyes blinking in disbelief the only things that move.
“Who… what…” Sokka tries to speak, but he seems at a loss for words.
“Where’s Appa?” The boy looks around him as he speaks, gracefully getting to his feet in an unnatural movement that almost seems like floating.
“What’s an ‘Appa’?” Sokka speaks again, and no sooner than he asks, a loud groan reverberates through the air, and he leans over to grab Katara. A huge, fluffy creature lumbers over the opposite side of the crater and growls.
“Appa!” The boy literally floats up to the top of the creature’s head, and spreads out over it as if giving it a hug. The beast groans again, and somehow it sounds… affectionate?
“What is that thing?!” Sokka is on his feet with his club in front of him, his stance protecting Katara from the giant animal.
“He’s my sky bison!” The boy floats back down to the ground and smiles at them.
“Woah...” Katara stands up behind Sokka and moves slowly towards the sky bison. When she gets closer, the creature sniffs at the air, and then darts its massive tongue out to lick Katara. She laughs at the absurdity of the situation, and the boy starts to laugh too.
“Who are you? How did you get here?” Katara asks as she attempts to rid herself of bison slobber.
“I’m Aang! And I got here on Appa.”
“What do you mean you got here on Appa? Does it swim?” Sokka gets closer to the bison, and it licks him as well. Katara can’t help but chuckle as he tries desperately to wipe off the slimy residue.
“I mean, yeah, he does swim, but that’s not how I got here.” Aang flies up onto the bison, and there’s no possible way, but he really does fly. “He flies!”
“Yeah, right,” Sokka scoffs, clearly not believing the boy.
“Wait, how did you get up there?” Katara questions, the crease between her bows deepening with each passing second.
”What, up here?” Aang jumps back down from the bison’s head, and again, literally floats down to the ground.
“You’re an airbender!” Katara says it without fully believing it; there’s no way this kid is an airbender.
“Yup!” She stands corrected.
“Okay, this is getting ridiculous!” Sokka steps in, literally between Aang and Katara, and turns towards his sister. “We need to get back to the village before that storm gets closer!” He points out towards the open ocean; the dark clouds have gotten even closer, lightning flashing periodically within them.
“Do you guys need a lift? We can take Appa!” Aang jumps back up onto Appa, and Katara figures this surprisingly friendly, fluffy monster is their best bet to get home safe.
“Sure,” she says as she climbs up Appa’s side and onto the saddle on his back.
“Oh, come on!” Sokka looks like he’d rather jump in the ocean than get on the bison, but Katara waves him over, and he groans and hauls himself up onto the saddle.
“Appa, yip yip!” Appa leaps up into the air, floating suspended for a moment, before splashing back down into the water on his belly. “He must be tired from the trip. Once he gets some rest, he’ll be flying through the air in no time!”
“Sure thing, Aang.” Katara smiles at the boy, and he smiles back. Sokka groans again, tilting his head back, and they settle in for the ride back to the village.
After about an hour, they’re getting closer to the village, and the storm is drawing nearer by the moment. Katara is looking out into the ocean when something catches her eye. She leans over the side of the saddle, trying to get a better look. A dark shape is spread over an ice floe a little ways away, but it doesn’t look like any animal Katara has ever seen.
“What are you looking at?” Aang comes over next to her, and Sokka soon follows, the three of them staring out at the object.
“That,” Katara points out at the ice floe. “I think…” She squints, and as the floe is moved by a wave, it turns just a bit, and she can see what looks like pale skin. “I think it’s a person!”
“What?” Sokka leans forward to try to get a better look. “There’s no way someone could survive out there.”
“No, really, Sokka, I think it’s a person! We need to help them!” Her voice takes on a panicked tone; if that person gets trapped in the storm, any chance of them surviving is gone— if they’re not dead already.
“I’ll get them!” Aang leaps off of Appa, snaps open a glider, and flies over to the ice floe. When he lands on it, he airbends a cyclone in the opposite direction to Appa. The ice floe glides over to the bison, and as it gets closer, Katara sees that she was right. Aang gets right up next to Appa, and she hops down to help him lift the person up to Sokka so he can pull them up into the saddle. With the help of Aang’s airbending, it's much easier than it should be. Once the person is in the saddle, Katara climbs back up and crawls over to the body.
She flips them over, and a gasp escapes her throat. It’s a man who looks close to Sokka’s age, with shaggy black hair and pale skin. An angry red scar covers the left half of his face, and, surprisingly, when Katara checks his pulse, he’s still alive.
“We have to get him to the village fast. He won’t survive much longer in this cold, he’s soaking wet!” She does her best to pull the water from his clothes, and is satisfied when she gets most of it.
“On it!” Aang jumps back up onto Appa’s head, and as if the bison knows what needs to be done, he starts swimming much faster than before.
Katara keeps her fingers on the man's pulse point. He’s extra pale right now, but she can tell that his complexion is lighter than anyone she’s ever seen before. His hair looks silky and is pure black, making it clear that he is not from the South Pole. How did he even get here? Despite being out in the freezing cold and soaking wet until just a moment ago, Katara finds that he is surprisingly warm. Not as warm as he should be, but not nearly as cold as he should be either. He’s really attractive, even with the scar. Katara mentally shakes herself; now is definitely not the time to be thinking things like that. Maybe I should make sure he lives before thinking about how cute he is. They quickly make it to the village, and Sokka jumps off of Appa to go tell Gran Gran to get a bed ready.
Aang and Katara get the man off of Appa, and Sokka comes back to help them get him into the bed Gran Gran has cleared off. They gently lay him on the bed, and Katara strips off his damp outer layers; his heaviest outer shirt, the lighter one underneath, his shoes, and his socks all come off. They leave his pants on, and Katara manages to pull all of the water out of them with some effort. Then, they cover him with all the furs they can find that aren’t under him already, and Gran Gran goes to get some water warm for when he wakes up.
“That’s all we can do right now.” Katara sits down next to the bed after picking up the man’s clothes and laying them out to dry. “I’m going to stay here to monitor his breathing. You guys don’t have to stay, it might be a while before he wakes up.”
Sokka and Aang exchange worried looks before Sokka speaks. “Okay, but be careful when he wakes up. He could be dangerous.”
“Sokka, the poor guy is half frozen, what’s he gonna do to me?”
Sokka shrugs his shoulders and begins to lead Aang away, who turns back and looks at Katara once before leaving. She smiles in hopes of reassuring him, and he smiles back before continuing outside with Sokka. As soon as they’re gone, Katara realises how tired she is. She props her head up on her hand as she yawns, soon finding that her eyelids are drooping closed. She moves the man’s short hair off of his face (it’s just as soft as it looks) and puts the back of her hand on his forehead, realizing that he’s warming up quicker than she expected. She does her best to stay awake, but soon she dozes off, resting her head on her arms at the edge of the bed.