Author's Notes: A long time ago I read a tumblr prompt about benders in the Avatar universe being physically affected by their elements. What a neat idea! My brain ran with it. If I knew where the prompt came from I'd give it credit. This is less a story with a plot and more of a character study.
Alternate Universe. Benders are physically affected by their element and the world fears them for it.
Sokka loved his sister fiercely. No matter how many times the tribe called her Water Witch, he defended Katara against their hate.
"Cast her out!"
"Kill the ice bitch!"
"She's not human!"
Sokka stood between the tribe and his sister, gripping the club in his right hand tight, raising it toward the very people he promised to protect when the men left for war with his father. No one moved. Perhaps the women of the tribe, young mothers and aged grandmothers were going to listen to him at last. Maybe they just thought he was crazy enough to attack.
Anger and fear collided deep in Sokka's gut. He stood tall, determined, though his whole body trembled nervously.
What would Dad do? He'd calm the tribe down with sincere eyes and well placed words.
Katara had never been a threat to any of them.
This moment had been coming for years, ever since Katara flung water droplets from her fingertips. Waterbender. The unholy name rooted in fear brought disgrace.
Sokka knew these women only saw the jagged white shards of her icy skin beneath her parka, not the little sister that whispered loving, reassuring words late at night instead of bedtime stories.
And though he tried to hide it, sometimes Sokka's skin crawled watching his sister swirl water through the air with just her hands. Humans weren't made to create ice, much less break it at will. Years ago she looked like him with dark skin, but the element inside took over her mind and body.
Not yet, not completely, Sokka reminded himself. She's still Katara, Just … different.
"If she leaves, I will too!" Sokka announced.
"Sokka, no." Katara announced coldly, icily, "If they want me to go, fine. I can take care of myself."
Maybe she could, living alone even in the harsh tundra of her element. Deep down Sokka feared his sister would give herself over to the water inside by slipping into the ocean.
"No." First Mom, then Dad. Not Katara too. He needed her too much.
Club still raised, but no longer a real threat, Sokka extended his left arm to his sister in peace. Amid the crowd Gran Gran's weathered eyes begged him to let her go.
Katara refused to accept his gloved hand. "Don't try to stop me Sokka," she warned, already parting her arms to bend. The women gasped in fear for their lives.
Sokka never hesitated as he met his sister's eyes. "Then I'm going with you."
"She's powerful enough to drown the whole world," Gran Gran whispered sagely. "You're both going to be killed."
Sokka took the heavy pack she prepared for him, his grandmother's one last act of love. He shouldered it, testing the weight. "I can stop her."
"If you can't?"
Sokka saw the sadness in her old eyes. He answered honestly.
"Then she won't die alone."
The girl with granite bones and unpolished emerald eyes kneeled in the garden, fingers flexing through the grass to feel the soil. This was earth, soft, and damper than the stone floors and marbled archways lining Toph's home. It vibrated with life beneath her palms. It called to her.
The cool surface welcomed her touch. If she wanted, she could loose herself to the earth, to let it swallow her, sink deep and never surface.
Underground promised freedom from stiff dresses, overbearing servants, and parents that thought her too delicate to ever be seen in public. Delicate? Ha! She was made of stone; nothing about her was weak.
If only her parents understood. They only saw her as ugly, not strong.
Toph saw nothing, but she knew her own strength as well as she knew the feeling of her father's footsteps thundering angrily as he approached.
"What were you doing here? Someone could have seen you!" he hissed.
Toph pretended to startle. Her world tilted as he yanked her upward to stand on bare feet. Toph gripped his arms tight trying to find balance. There was none.
"I wanted to feel the grass," she whispered in the soft voice a young lady must always use. It was a lie, such a pretty lie.
Toph's eyes didn't work, but her ears did. She knew what people whispered. Her father saw her as an abomination. "She would have been so beautiful without those rocks covering her skin." Her mother refused to have another child. Between Toph's blindness and her … condition –– the risk was too great.
They denied to the world she existed. One day when the stone slowly encasing her small body solidified they would get their wish. Statues were obedient.
Today was not that day.
"Do you know what would happen if they found you? We'd be ruined. Ruined! You would be dragged into the street and slaughtered. No one would do business with us ever again. We'd be poor! Is that what you want?"
Tears slid from eyes useless as stone.
"Answer me! Is that what you want?"
"No!" Words leaped from her tongue. Stronger and defiant.
He dragged Toph inside. "Then stay where you are safe."
But nowhere was truly safe. Not for a bender.
Thin fingers traced the smooth surface along her face, exploring, prodding where flesh met polished stone. Toph's finger's ghosted over her useless eyes before not so delicate hands clenched into fists.
Her parents called her ugly. The servants whispered she was inhuman. A monster.
She would show them. She would show them all! The earth shook with the force of her anger.
If that's what they wanted, fine. She'd be her parent's perfect little monster.
Laughter soared, carried across the cloud temple with the passing breeze.
Aang too felt the urge to grab his glider and sprint toward the nearest edge. Freedom lay in high altitude sun warm his skin, and drifting among the clouds that built his home.
He belonged to the sky, weightless and feather boned, light as the air he bent. He floated instead of walking. Flew instead of running.
The elder monks had asked to speak with him first. The Air Nomad nuns promised it had nothing to do with his pranks. Aang thought back to the flooded chamber inside the temple's lower level and wasn't so sure.
Still, he went before the elders and bowed in respect.
"You are the Avatar," they told him, "You alone, Aang, carry the burden of the world that does not want you."
Aang had never carried anything before. The wind had always carried him. How was he supposed to do this?
A weight dropped on Aang's shoulders, heavy and crushing. He no longer felt light hearted. He drifted downward. For the first time in years, Aang's heels touched the temple floor.
He threw himself into the clouds and let the wind carry him.
For one hundred years the Avatar vanished into thin air.
Every step of the ostrich-horse beneath Zuko led him closer to another abandoned village. For once, hunger clawed more fiercely in his gut than the fire beneath his skin.
No. Keep it inside.
He was thirsty, sore, and tired. So very tired from running and hiding.
Thin hands that once wrote calligraphy now clenched the bird's reigns, warming with anxiety. He was so careful in the last village. But not careful enough. He had to be better this time.
He planned, as much as possible without to time or supplies (other than what he could steal).
The brown tattered robe made him look like a harmless refugee, but it also covered his pale skin hiding the cracks of flame ready to leap from his chest. The brim of a hat hid his golden eyes if he looked down at just the right angle. Zuko needed gloves to hide his hands, but he had no gloves. No food either. Just rags. He wrapped around his palm as if they could hold back a mob once he was discovered as one of them –– Fire flingers, living pyres.
Zuko was the son of the most powerful man in the world. His family spent generations making a place in the world for benders. They no longer had to hide. Yet, he found himself surrounded by people who would kill him instantly if they knew he was a bender.
Sometimes Zuko wondered if people hated benders before his father's war or because of it?
They didn't care he was the crown prince of fire –– and them knowing would probably get him killed faster. Any villager would drown him for being an ordinary firebender.
All because he had been banished from the only safe place in the entire world.
The dusty road took him into another village, same as the last. Zuko just wanted to go home, but no road led back to the Caldera.
When he finally stopped, the innkeeper looked over the young stranger before him. Too thin, and too pale to any use as a farmhand. "You don't belong here, kid."
Zuko kept his head down. "I know."
"Remember who you are, Zuko," his mother whispered to him the night she disappeared.
He thought about her often. She oversaw all his studies and ate lunch with him even when his father was too busy. Her voice was soft and loving.
She would be so disappointed to see him now.
Zuko didn't know who he was anymore. A prince? The banished prince? A traitor? The Blue Spirit? A refugee? A lowly tea server?
I'm so sorry, Mom. I can't remember.