AN: This fic was inspired by psychedelic aya's story, "a girl worth fighting for," which is a crossover of ATLA and Mulan. It's fun and fast, so check it out!
"Call Me Katto" takes place a year or so after the end of the series, and it assumes very little from the show happened. The Hundred Year War goes on, Sozin's comet never happened, and the resistance is still struggling. Other things are different – it will all become clear in the story. There will be some OOCness - characters are a little older and spent the last few years differently than they did in the show. I'm rating the story M for probable future heaviness.
Hope you like it! I got really excited about this idea when I read psychedelic aya's story and I hope you will too!
"Katara, I'm serious. You have to let this go."
It was just like Sokka to fall back on the traditional view in the face of good sense. Katara rammed the pestle harder into the mortar of glacier root before her, but refused to tear her eyes from where her stupid brother stood all haughty and righteous in the doorway.
"People die all the time in this war, Katara. It would destroy me and dad if you got hurt."
"Just what do you think it would do to me if one of you got hurt? An ocean away, it'd be months before I even heard about it. And what could I do? Sing the mourning songs with the other women? Stitch a death shroud for a body that isn't coming home?"
She shuddered and slapped the pestle down by the fire pit. The contents of the mortar were fine as flour and she set the little stone bowl down before she could give in to the urge to throw it. "No, Sokka. I need to go to the front with you. I'll go crazy if you leave me to sit here with Gran-gran while you run into the most dangerous place in the world."
"This whole argument is crazy! What would you even do in a fight? Smack the firebenders with a frying pan? Scowl them to death? Splash them with magic water? Yeah, the war'll be won in no time!" He flung his arms up in the air. "All hail Katara, mighty warrior from the South!"
"I can fight," Katara snapped. It was almost true. She was certainly strong from all the work she did, and she was quick enough to catch fish with her waterbending. It was just training that she lacked. Sokka shot her a withering look. She went on. "And I could finally learn waterbending at that training camp you keep talking about. Didn't you say Bato mentioned a Master had come in with the refugees from the North?"
"He only trains boys, Katara. Only men go to war. You can't just-" He flailed his arms as if trying to signal her from a distance. "-just do whatever you want! There are really good reasons why women don't go to war."
Katara crossed her arms over her chest. "Well I have really good reasons to go. So, when Dad gets here, I'm going with you."
Sokka scoffed and seemed on the verge of saying something, but she pushed past him through the door and out into the brilliant tundra morning. Sokka's voice followed her as she marched between the huts. "Dad'll never allow it! 'Cause he's not crazy! Katara?"
She passed the last huts and marched out toward where the ice floe broke off and the ocean lapped against the jagged white seam. The water was dark, except where it reflected the sky and the distant, hazy sun that hung so low in the north this time of year. During his visit two months ago, Bato had told them to expect Hakoda's ship any day after the fox-owl moon, and every day made Katara more anxious as the wait went on.
He would stop for a day to deliver supplies and news and then he would take Sokka away to war. Because he was finally old enough, Bato had said, because they needed men like him.
When Hakoda finally arrived, Katara would only have a day to convince him to take her, too.
But surely her father could be made to see reason. She was almost seventeen and she'd never left the South Pole. She'd never properly learned to waterbend, though she'd made up a few tricks of her own during the moments she stole from chores during the day.
It just wasn't fair. Sokka kept saying she couldn't fight, but whose fault was that? He spent all his time hunting and sparring while she did all the drudge work around the hut. He had only taught her a few moves so she could help him practice, and now that his trainee warriors were a little bigger, he didn't even teach her that much anymore. She knew it wasn't some kind of intentional sabotage, but it was hard not to wonder sometimes.
Katara looked off across the water at the icebergs creeping along the horizon. Each one had a big jagged chunk that jutted above the water, but Katara knew that the submerged part was what was really impressive; a vast inverted mountain of ice, stabbed down deep to where the light faded away, and beyond.
It was the tip of the iceberg everyone paid attention to; that was the part that caught the pink morning light and reflected the moon. The tip was the part that reflected on the ocean sometimes and made it seem like the ice underneath was just the same as that up above. Katara knew better than that, though. You had to look past the surface to really understand something.
Suddenly, a ship coasted between the very two icebergs Katara had been watching. It was a sleek Water Tribe vessel, gliding rapidly toward the village. Katara's heart throbbed. She spun and ran back to the village to tell everyone Chief Hakoda had come home.
Some miles to the west, a battered steamer was coasting along the edge of the same field of icebergs. It was smaller than most modern Fire Nation vessels, an older model that could be spared from the Royal Navy.
Or it had been five years ago when the Fire Lord had graciously bestowed it on his unworthy son on the event of his banishment. That son stood high on the observation tower, scanning the vast empty plain of the southern wastelands through a spyglass.
Zuko's wartail whipped against the back of his bare scalp but he hardly noticed. It was so cold here, colder than he remembered it being two years ago. The wind licked across the ice and blasted every inch of bare skin until it turned painfully red and chapped. Last time, he hadn't felt it the way he did now. He would stand out in the wind for hours, searching that blazing white landscape until his entire head went numb, and then he would practice firebending until everything burned.
Zuko had been numb and burning for so long.
"Prince Zuko," came his uncle's amiable voice from the control room door. "You have been out here for a long time. Wouldn't you like to come in for a hot cup of tea?"
He used to rail at his uncle for not caring about his search for the Avatar. Now he only stewed. A man could only circle the globe so many times before admitting that what he was looking for could not be found. Or so Iroh would have him believe.
Zuko had argued at the time and ordered a course be set for the South Pole. He didn't even know why, it just felt right. That was months ago, after the fall of the last holdout of the Northern Water Tribe. Zuko had spent the better part of a year scouring those icy shores, watching from a distance as the Fire Navy blackened the icy walls and bridges of that city. He hadn't seen it before the fighting started, but it had crossed his mind that the place had probably been very beautiful once.
Iroh's suggestion that the Avatar might not ever be found had come back to him often during the long voyage south, whenever he stared off into the horizon and only saw the horizon. For so long he had lived without doubt; the Avatar was out there and eventually he would show himself and Zuko would be there, Zuko would capture him. Zuko would go home and his honor would be restored.
Time hadn't dulled his certainty, Azula had.
On the way north, he had received news during a one-time-only visit from his sister that Mai had gotten married. Zuko had told her he didn't care, but it had shaken him and she knew it. He wasn't thirteen anymore. He was nineteen, or nearly. A grown man by any standard. His old girlfriend, a girl he might have really loved, had married some nose-picking noble while he had been on this quest.
This ridiculous quest for something that might not even exist.
It gnawed at him like the wind.
He turned to find that Iroh stood beside him at the rail, peering up at him with that assessing expression.
"Sure Uncle," Zuko said. He looked back out over the water. "Hot tea sounds alright."
When Zuko made no other move, Iroh left and returned with the tiny cups he favored in each hand. It stung Zuko's fingers at first, but then it felt good to hold the porcelain. Iroh stood beside him again, inhaling steam from his tea and gazing out at the icy plain.
"Why are we here again, Nephew? Wouldn't you rather search for the Avatar in the tropics?"
"If the Avatar was hiding in the tropics, someone would have found him by now." Zuko sniffed his tea, then breathed deep. "Besides. I thought you didn't believe in the Avatar, Uncle."
"It isn't that I don't believe he exists, Zuko." The old man looked up at him and seemed to make up his mind about something. "It is that it might not be your destiny to find him."
Zuko whipped his head around to glower at him. "And what is my destiny, Uncle?" he asked in his chilliest voice. "To languish in exile while Azula takes my crown? To die without honor and be forever remembered as a failure? Is that a new family tradition you're starting?"
Iroh only stared out across the water and sipped his tea until Zuko had finished. Then, quietly, he said, "Destiny is not a simple matter of success or failure, Prince Zuko. Destiny is the road you walk as you pass by all the victories and defeats of your life." His sharp eyes cut over to Zuko. "A wise man recognizes when he's trying to walk a path that will take him places he does not truly want to go."
With that, he turned and walked back into the command room, shutting the door softly behind him
Zuko scowled after the old man for a moment, then hurled his teacup overboard. Hot tea bit at his fingers and then immediately went cold. The cup soared until it hit a hulking iceberg. The sound of it shattering was tiny, and hollow, and it made Zuko ashamed.
When the little village turned out to greet the returning warriors on the ice, Katara couldn't help but notice how much older her father looked. More gray in his hair, and a limp he hadn't had before, which he quickly evened his stride to conceal. He descended the ramp at the head of the handful of men who had come, after so many years, to see their families again. The lucky few to survive.
It had been a joyous reunion for everyone.
Though she was anxious to talk to Hakoda about her plan, Katara was of course enlisted to help prepare a feast. She left her father and brother sitting together in their small hut, happily relating stories about hunts and fights, and huddled in another hut with the other women, stewing sea prunes and roasting bison-hares and selecting strips of different pickled fishes and cabbages.
Katara was assigned the task of constantly stirring the sea prunes to prevent them from sticking. It seemed to go on for hours, and the smell of the steam was acrid, unpleasant. She kept stealing glances out of the hut door whenever it opened, though she didn't know what she was looking for.
"Be careful, Katara," Gran-gran said, noticing how her stirring spoon had stilled. "You don't want them to scorch."
"Sorry, Gran-gran," Katara said. She picked up her stirring and tried not to look so pensive, and the old woman settled down next to her and began shelling the ice peas that had been drying in their pods all winter.
Later, the entire tribe gathered in the biggest hut, cramming in together to sit on the floor and eat and tell stories. There were so many stories to tell about the war.
"If we had known there was going to be an eclipse," Hakoda was saying, "we could have done so much more. We could have even stormed the Fire Nation Capital itself."
Sokka finally took a breath between bites. "What did you do?"
"Well, it's an interesting story. Bato had gone into this tiny port town to trade news with an informant he knew and we were waiting at the dock for him when these three Fire Nation steamers anchor all around us…"
Katara watched her dad tell the story and tried to envision herself there, surrounded by Fire Nation soldiers. She wondered if she would ever have the skill and courage to stand up to enemies the way her dad did. Tightening her fingers around her spoon, she decided then and there. Yes. Yes, she did. She was going to do this. For Sokka, even if he didn't think he needed her. And for herself.
She shook herself from her reverie to find that the room was chattering away, all but her father and Sokka, who were both looking at her. Hakoda's eyes had a gentle shine in them and he smiled.
"You seem distracted, my little waterbender. Everything alright?"
"Yeah," Katara said, looking down at her bowl. The nickname felt strange. She hadn't heard it for so long. "I just… There's something I really want to talk to you about-"
Hakoda's smile vanished. "Yes, Sokka mentioned it. We'll discuss it later," he said, and then turned toward the sound of his name, smiling again.
Katara stared at him for a long moment, stricken by the harshness in his tone. She didn't need to have the promised discussion later to know how Hakoda felt about her going to war.
"I'm sorry, Katara," Sokka was saying quietly. His hand was on her knee beside him, seeking reassurance. "I didn't mean to tell him before you could. It just slipped out. You scared me with all that talk about-"
Katara looked at him and he went quiet, his expression pained. Whatever he saw in her face, he seemed to feel pretty guilty about it.
But guilty didn't fix this.
In one smooth movement, Katara surged to her feet and, like an afterthought, dropped her bowl in Sokka's lap. With a yelp, he barely caught it right-side-up. A lot of eyes were on her as she walked out of the hut, stepping over people to get to the door. People asked where she was going and then went quiet when she wouldn't look at them.
It was better outside. The air bit through her and cleared her head of all that heat and closeness. The sun was still setting, a long process this time of year, and even though it wasn't really safe to wander the tundra alone at night, Katara struck out toward the sunset. She made a run for it.
She ran until her lungs burned and her legs threatened to collapse under her. She left the flat plain and climbed over a rise to another plain, another stretch of coast. The ocean was blazed up with the fire of the setting sun, orange and striking, and all the shadows across the snow were stretched out like blue teeth toward her. It was beautiful and it made Katara furious.
She used a simple bending move she'd made up to harden the downward slope and then skied down it until she hit a rough patch and went tumbling. At the bottom, panting, she dragged herself up and kept going. She couldn't run anymore, but she could bend. She used sharp movements of her arms and shoulders. The ice cracked and tore away in unpredictable chunks before her.
It felt good to see so much of her element respond to her call. She had worked so hard to get this strong, and it was clumsy and brutal bending, but it was powerful.
And with her father's dismissal and Sokka's betrayal stabbing so sharp in her chest, she needed to feel some kind of power.
From the observation deck of his steamer, anchored for the night, Zuko watched what had to be the weirdest display of waterbending he had ever seen. He'd seen a few of the captured Northern waterbenders work on the outer walls of their city, but they had been graceful, precise. There was a recognizable ebb and flow to their movements.
With the bender at the far side of that ice plain, it was more like two rabid animals fighting in a barrel of water. There was some ebb and some flow and a whole lot of other stuff, too.
Zuko twisted his spy glass to get a better look at the bender but all he could really see was a long hooded parka. Whoever it was, they had a lot of power. It was a good thing there was so much distance between them.
Zuko had lowered his spyglass and was considering ordering a move farther out of range when a heart-stopping crack resounded across the plain. He watched in horror as a vast chunk of the ice floe split off and came inching inexorably toward his bobbing steamer.
"Start the engines," he shouted. "Get us back!"
He could hear his crew hustling in the control room behind him and the engines thundered to life, the anchor clanking up, but the ship wasn't moving fast enough. The ice floe kept coming. One of the lookouts shouted and Zuko looked back only to find several of the icebergs they had passed between had closed together. They would have to go forward and hope they could get out from between the floe and the other icebergs surrounding them.
"Full power ahead! We have to make the gap!"
But he could see even now that it was impossible. The space was closing too quickly. He had to do something.
Zuko slid down the access ladder to the main deck and raced to the bow. The ship was designed to drive through ice but blows from the sides were more likely to damage it. He began punching fire at the nearest points of ice on the approaching floe.
Katara scrambled back and stared in wonder and horror as a gaping crack opened up in the ice and the two vast sheets separated. She must have hit some fault line in the ice because this had never happened before. She pressed her mittens to her face and glanced over her shoulder toward the village. It was over the rise, of course, so no one would see what she'd done, but they may have felt it. This would probably come back to bite her later.
When she turned back, she found a huge block of ice had risen above the surface. Rather, a bubble of ice. It was round and swirled and seemed to glow a little from inside. There was a shadowy shape inside and, as Katara leaned closer to look at it, it opened its big, glowing eyes.
It was a kid! Trapped in the ice!
Katara didn't exactly decide that she needed to open the bubble. She didn't really think about it, except that there was someone trapped in there who needed help. She made a big slashing motion with her arm…
And was blasted back about fifteen feet as an explosion of white light beamed straight up in the sky.
Standing in the line of firebenders who had joined him along the gunwale, Zuko was mid-punch when the light shot up in the sky. He shaded his eyes for a second and then stared at it, a new kind of chill lancing through him.
It was the Avatar. It had to be. Suddenly a part of him that had been sleeping came roaring to life.
"Uncle," he shouted, not taking his eyes from the light. He wasn't even sure that Iroh had come on deck during the emergency, but he couldn't hold in the satisfaction. "It looks like you were wrong about my destiny after all, old man!"
From behind him there was no sound, and Zuko had no way of knowing how his uncle's heart at once fell and soared. Iroh blocked his eyes from the light and watched his nephew's posture change, the dejected bend in his neck easing at last.
For Zuko, the moment was ecstatic. The Avatar was right over there, at last, within his grasp. He would capture him and go home. He could finally go home.
All he had to do was subdue one crazy, unpredictable waterbender.
That had to be why no one had found the Avatar yet – he'd already been reborn from the Southern Water Tribe. From what he could see, the Avatar had looked fairly young and energetic. It was possible Zuko had found him before he could train in the other elements, which would mean an easier fight.
"Uncle, prepare a unit for excursion. We have to capture the Avatar before he gets away!"
"Prince Zuko, are you certain the situation here on the ship doesn't require your attention first?"
The light faded and Zuko stared out across the vast plate of ice that was closing in on his ship. He hurriedly punched more fire at the ice, but it was too late. The floe collided with an iceberg ahead of his ship and the gap of open water narrowed on either side of the hull. Someone shouted, "Brace for impact!"
Zuko braced himself but the actual impact was gentle, rocking the ship to starboard until the observation tower grated against an iceberg. The steamer settled slightly with a metallic clank, and then was still.
Zuko scanned his crew and, finding no one grievously injured, looked back toward the source of the light. He couldn't see anything around the massive chunks of ice that now obstructed the area, but the Avatar couldn't have gone far.
"Uncle," he said. "Prepare that unit now."
"Of course, Prince Zuko… But perhaps…"
Zuko whirled. "What?"
Iroh was shrugging and using that I'm-just-an-old-know-nothing-but-here's-what-I'd-do face. "Perhaps it would be more prudent to focus the men on digging the ship out first, since we cannot currently reach that area on foot."
Zuko snapped back to look again. To his disgust, Iroh was right. The ice locking them in place had completely separated from the mainland, leaving wide gaps of water between the two masses.
"Rrr! Fine! All of you," Zuko snarled, pinning the firebenders on deck with an imperious gesture. "Begin melting through the ice ahead. No breaks until this ship is free!"
Groaning, Katara sat up and rubbed her face with a mitten. As her vision cleared, she spotted a skinny kid climbing out of the iceberg. He looked about as dazed as she felt. And weird. He had blue arrows tattooed on his forehead and hands and not a single hair on his head.
When his eyes focused on Katara he grinned a big, goofy kind of grin and said, "Hi! I'm Aang!"
Katara smiled back, a little mystified, but glad the boy had escaped the ice apparently unscathed. "Hi, Aang. I'm Katara."
"Is this the South Pole?"
Katara sat forward and blinked hard, not sure she'd heard him right. "Yeah, South Pole. That's us!"
"Wow," he said, squinting past her at the rise and, beyond, the mountains. "It's so beautiful."
Katara twisted where she sat to look back and, yes, the light of the setting sun had painted the peaks orange and pink and cool blue. She looked back and found the kid had stood up and was stretching. He was wearing strange flappy yellow clothes. Katara felt cold just looking at him. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, just a little groggy," he said, and began loudly clearing his throat and peering around at the shattered bubble. "Wow! I wonder how long I was in there!" A look of worry suddenly took his face and he leapt back into the iceberg weightlessly. "Appa!"
Katara struggled to her feet and made her way closer. She didn't quite trust herself to hop over the gap between the iceberg and the floe, so she just stood up on her tiptoes and tried to peer inside. "Hey! What's going on in there?"
Suddenly, a monstrous shaggy head loomed up out of the ice. Katara screamed and scrambled back until she realized it wasn't following her – and that Aang was perched on top of that head. He looked thrilled.
"What is that?" she asked. She tried to sound less uncertain than she actually was.
"This is Appa! He's my best friend!"
Katara did her best to grin. "He looks like a good friend to have."
"He sure is! Appa and I go everywhere together, right boy?"
The creature gave a great huff and began clambering up out of the bubble. Katara stood back to watch. Aang was jabbering about something excitedly but she hardly heard him, too focused on how enormous Appa was. And how many legs he had.
"So how about it?" Aang asked, hopping off Appa and onto the floe next to Katara. He was short, maybe ten or eleven years old, if she had to guess.
"How about what? Sorry…"
"Penguin sledding! I flew all the way here to go penguin sledding. Would you take me?"
"I'm a little old for penguin sledding. Maybe one of the kids in the village could take you," Katara said, rubbing the back of her head. "Wait, did you say you flew here?"
"Yup! Appa's a flying bison," Aang said, patting Appa's shaggy head. He cast a hopeful look Katara's way. "If he takes us for a ride, then would you take me penguin sledding?"
"A flying bison?" Katara asked, skeptical. Was this kid playing a prank on her? "I thought they went extinct a hundred years ago…"
Aang just laughed like she was the one trying to play a prank. "Good one, Katara. But seriously, where are all the penguins?"
Zuko was the first one off of the tugboat when it ground to a halt against the icy shore. The sun had gone down more than an hour ago, but the night was bright with starlight reflecting off the snow, so it was easy to see where he was going. He didn't rush toward the cluster of icebergs where the light had come from, but he set a brisk march, his men keeping pace in two short lines behind him.
They were all exhausted. In the back of his mind, Zuko heard a voice much like Iroh's chastising him for pushing his men too hard. It had taken well over an hour to clear the ship of that tangle of ice and more time still to ride the tugboat back through the icebergs to the mainland. The firebenders were spent. Knowing this, Zuko had brought them along more for show than anything. If he was lucky, the Avatar would still be nearby and Zuko would be able to intimidate him into coming quietly back to the tugboat.
But Zuko was never lucky.
It was no easy task to identify the exact origin of that light. The ground was torn up everywhere, chunks of ice flung in so wide a radius that Zuko wasn't even sure where it ended. What he could tell right away, though, was that the Avatar was long gone. He had watched for movement with his spyglass until it had grown far too dark to see anything, but there had been no sign.
"Split up," he commanded, pointing off to the west and east. South, there were only mountains stacked to the sky. He led the men going east and began the slow climb up the tightly-packed snow of a rise.
He couldn't have lost the Avatar already. And even if the trail was cold, there were only a few villages on this continent. Someone was bound to know something.
Yes, Zuko assured himself as he climbed. Someone would know something and he would squeeze it out of them one way or another.
Katara got Aang back to the village a little before moonrise. The bison had made himself a burrow in a snowdrift on the near side of the rise, wuffing mournfully as if he couldn't possibly go another step. Aang went on cheerfully enough, tapping his staff as he walked.
"Don't worry," he said. "Appa's just tired. He'll be up and flying again in no time."
"Sure Aang." Katara still wasn't sure if she believed that Appa could fly at all. That would explain how Aang had gotten to the South Pole, but Katara still had a lot of trouble believing it was possible.
She had a lot of trouble believing a lot of things Aang was saying.
"The Southern Air Temple?" she asked again.
"That's right. In the spring. It's so beautiful, Katara. All the trees and bushes bloom and the halls fill with warm sunlight."
"Aang, you don't have to make up stories to convince me to like you, okay?"
He blinked up at her, then laughed a little. "Why would you say that, Katara?"
"It's just hard to believe that people are living in the Air Temples again. After what the Fire Nation did to the Air Nomads, it seems like it would be disrespectful to just move into their temple like that."
Aang stopped walking. The faint light coming from the village fell softly on half of his face. He looked scared. And maybe a little guilty. "What do you mean? What did the Fire Nation do?"
Katara took a step closer and peered into his face. "Come on, Aang. Everybody knows the story. You couldn't have been in the ice that long…" When he didn't crack a smile, she sobered. "The Fire Nation wiped out the Air Nomads about a hundred years ago. The Air Temples are all in ruins."
Aang took a step back, then another. "No. No, that's not possible."
Katara reached out a hand toward him. "Aang…"
"It's not possible," he said again. And then he rapped his staff against the ice and it snapped open to reveal a wide red glider. Aang leapt into the air—
And flew. Really flew. Katara watched him soar off into the night, stunned. Aang was an airbender. Was that even possible? Were Airbenders living somewhere in secret? Or had he truly been trapped in the ice for a hundred years?
Katara stood staring at the point where Aang had vanished, not even sure she believed what she had seen. After a few moments, she heard footsteps coming from the village, just one pair.
"I was worried about you," Hakoda said as he came to stand beside her. "It was childish to run off that way, Katara."
Katara blinked and looked at her father's stern face. Had she imagined Aang? Had she knocked her head on the ice and dreamt him up? If she had, maybe it was best not to tell her dad about him. She shut her mouth and swallowed. "Sorry, Dad. I just… needed a little air."
"It sounded like there was an avalanche. We just got a search party together when I spotted you coming over the rise."
She almost wanted to ask if he'd seen Aang, but didn't like the accusation in his tone. "You don't have to worry, Dad. That was just me. Bending. I hit a weak spot in the ice or something and-"
"Katara," Hakoda placed his hand on her shoulder and leveled his familiar blue eyes on her. So familiar, but so… distant, now. It had been years since Katara looked into her father's eyes. Something had changed, and she felt trapped under his hand and his gaze. "You're practically a grown woman now," he said, "but you'll always be my little girl. I'll always worry, because that's what fathers do."
"And Sokka?" Katara tried not to sound bitter when she said it, but she couldn't help it. "Do you worry about him, too?"
"Of course. Maybe even more."
At his wry tone, Katara allowed herself a tiny half-smile. The hand on her shoulder didn't feel so burdensome now, but it was still a weight. "Let me go with him, Dad."
The instant the words left her mouth, Hakoda drew back. Katara pressed on. "We'll take care of each other – just like we always have! Let me come to the training camp and really learn bending. Please."
"Katara, no." The finality of it cut her off, the emotion in his voice stunning her. "I'm going to say this once and I don't want to ever hear you talking about it again. A training camp is no place for a young woman, and a war is even worse. Your mother would haunt me to my dying day if I let you go to war."
To her shame, Katara felt her eyes welling up with tears. Frustration, shock, an exhausting day, whatever it was, it came leaking onto her cheeks. She turned her back on Hakoda, hoping he wouldn't see.
He sighed and spoke more gently. "Katara, you don't know the kind of danger you're asking to poke your nose into. I've heard of awful things happening to young women in the border towns, and it's not just the Fire Nation. There are a whole lot of bad men looking to take advantage of the chaos of war however they can. It would… It would kill me if something happened to you. You're so much safer here."
Katara glared out at the vast white emptiness before her. Oh sure, the stars were diamonds and the snow was velvet. Sure, there was no shade of blue the tundra lacked. But there were a whole lot of other things missing.
She was trying to think of a way to put this into words when Hakoda patted her shoulder. "Come in, Katara. It's cold."
Katara faltered. She didn't even know how to talk to him anymore. "Give me a minute," she mumbled, scrubbing at her cheeks. Her mittens rasped against the chapped skin.
She listened to Hakoda's pause, and then his steady footsteps as he returned to the huts. Only after the sounds of his boots had diminished into silence did she move.
Zuko peered over the rise and down onto another wide plain of snow. In the distance, there was a tiny wreck of a village huddled in the lee of a sloppy snow wall. The village emitted a few flickers of firelight and by that light and the light of the rising moon he saw a figure bending down, snatching up double handfuls of snow, and hurling it farther than seemed possible for a nonbender.
Zuko smiled. There he was. The Avatar.
What was he doing? Was this some new technique?
The distant figure kicked a final chunk of ice halfway to the ocean and finally stalked off into the village. Which tent he entered, Zuko couldn't be sure, so a nighttime raid would be more challenging…
In the back of Zuko's head, that annoying voice that sounded like his uncle chimed in. Better to attack with the dawn when your powers will be at their strongest and your men well-rested.
Grudgingly, Zuko allowed that this was true. He also noticed a sentry posted at the top of the poorly-constructed wall and, upon further investigation, spotted a Water Tribe war boat moored off the shore.
So, the rebels had come home to collect the hidden Avatar. Zuko was suddenly glad he hadn't acted on impulse. There could be dozens of warriors down there, and he had only four exhausted firebenders. No, it would be better to attack at daybreak.