Disclaimer: I, like everyone else on this site, do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender. And even if the owners of Avatar were on this site... I doubt they'd let us know it. They probably just laugh at us behind our backs, picking us and our fictions apart like little wriggling insects.
Note: I've missed the first two episodes of Avatar. Otherwise, I've seen it all. I just have one question: what weapons does Sokka have? I think I have them all but I want to make sure. Also, please ignore any spelling or grammatical mistakes. I don't have beta-readers and sometimes don't read over chapters.
Why the Caged Bird Sings
Cloudy Days and Bison Spray
"It's them!" the Avatar called.
Sokka scrambled over the shoulder of the flying bison, his brow knotted. "Aang's right!" he affirmed.
It had been an average day, whatever average was for the Avatar and his companions. Like some days before they had been enjoying a leisurely ride on Appa, gently floating over the stretch of ocean below on lazy currents of warm air. It had been cloudy today and Aang took the large beast above the low-hanging clouds for a breath of fresh air.
It had proved pleasant enough; the light splayed across the big puffs of moisture, and a few stray birds called from afar. Sokka had taken to leaning back on Appa restfully, reaching up to grab small, passing cloud-puffs and then attempting to shove them into his mouth in 'experimentation.' However, he was always disappointed when they disintegrated before reaching it.
Katara only laughed at her always-famished brother and instead turned her attention to practicing Waterbending ("All you ever wanna do is practice your magic!" Sokka would pout.) Using great concentration, she lightly twirled her fingers and managed to draw out water droplets from the huddles of clouds, charming them to her in a small but sturdy stream. Proud of her accomplishment, she had then dropped her small globule over Sokka's head, who took to sputtering with his legs kicking up in the air. Aang had laughed with his trademark big grin, with Momo perched easily on his shoulder blinking its large eyes.
All in all, it had been nice, and Aang was glad to have a moment's peace. It seemed everything had been hectic lately, what with all the running and hiding and food scouring, with some escapes thrown in for good measure...
Then the thin clouds below had suddenly become sparse and the bison dropped altitude. And at that moment something large and steel caught Aang's eye, and he knew immediately what it was.
"A Fire Nation ship?" Katara asked, crawling over beside her brother. She peered down, and sure enough amidst the lapping, endless blue and gold of light-drenched waves, floated an ominous ship.
"Think it's Zuko's?" Aang asked curiously, his mind briefly preoccupied, but Sokka leapt up and shook the young Avatar's shoulder gently, causing Momo tojump off.
"Why would it be his? There's only like, a BILLION of them!" But even Sokka had to admit, it seemed the Fire Prince could sniff them out like a depraved dog... "C'mon! We gotta go!" the older boy pressed regardless, pointing wildly. Katara backed away from the edge of Appa in an almost habitual fear, Momo peeping from behind her arm.
"I don't think they've seen us," she said, continuing to train her eye on the ship for any sign that they had.
"But they will if we keep flying right above them," Sokka grunted. The last thing he wanted to see today was Firebenders, especially when they could see him, too.
"Maybe..." Aang lightly tugged on Appa's reigns, leaning forward hopefully. "But there's land just ahead of us. We need to settle somewhere. Besides, I think I see some clouds ahead. They'll cover us, won't they?"
Sokka groaned, covering his face with a hand. "What about the in-between?!" Sometimes it felt like no one listened to his cultured, warrior-refined advice.
"Can you bring them closer, Aang?" Katara asked gently, keeping calm. The ship had not yet given away that it had spotted them. That gave her confidence, even if it was minor. She scooted closer to him, looking ahead, but also finding herself glancing down. Though she now couldn't clearly see it over the bulk of Appa's body and the few straggling clouds that still surrounded them, she knew the ship was there.
"Closer?" Aang blinked, scratching at his head before getting what she meant - that being the clouds. "I don't know..."
"You two had better hurry," Sokka continued, having already decided to let Aang have full blame if they were seen. Having taken over Katara's watch, he scowled as he peeped over Appa's furry side - wishing he could burn a hole through the horrid ship with his superior eyeballs. Momo jumped on his back and chirped, causing Sokka to grunt and bat at the aggravating lemur. "Big eared..."
The wind was starting to pick up, almost as if it willed to work against the young Avatar. "I don't think there's enough clou--" Aang began, before Sokka intervened again.
"They see us!" the older boy yelped, scurrying away from the edge of the furry bison. "Get us outta here!"
"Are you sure, Nephew?" Iroh asked, peering up at the sky. "I don't see anything."
"I saw it, Uncle," Prince Zuko continued, his eyes trained on the last spot he thought (no, in which he knew he saw) the Avatar.
"It would look very silly if you were attacking clouds," Iroh commented, sipping daintily at his tea. Zuko was declined to comment but he brightened mildly, pointing accusingly upwards, his brows drawn down. "There!" he affirmed, his smirk twisted victoriously.
Iroh blinked, following the point until he saw its destination. "So you were right," the old man replied, taking another sip, apparently unbothered. The outline and splash of the bison was unmistakable now, as it seemed to have forsaken the cloud covering - or vice versa. "You have keen eyes!"
Zuko smirked but didn't reply. Finally, he had the Avatar in his sights once more. This time he wouldn't let him get away. "Is there anywhere for him to run?"
Before Iroh could reply, however, Zuko stalked forward in determination, his golden eyes fiercer than usual. "No matter. I'll make sure he won't escape," he breathed.
"Don't panic, Sokka!" Katara berated her brother, yanking on his leg.
"I'm not panicking! I never panic!" Sokka replied shrilly before latching onto his sister as another flaming ball whizzed by. "Can't this portable rug go any faster?" he wailed.
"They can't hit us well from there," Aang replied, suddenly calm. He leaned to his left and blew a small tuft of air from between his lips, but it was enough to send a wandering flame-ball spiraling away into disintegration. "We're too far away..."
"Then what are we doing?" Sokka demanded shrilly.
"If you'd been paying attention, there's a small cluster of islands ahead," Katara replied, in which Aang beamed. "The first one's pretty tall. If we can get by it or behind it, we might lose the ship long enough to make a getaway or land safely." As an after thought, the Waterbender threw in a victorious grin at her observations.
"Oh." Sokka unlatched himself, brushing his panic spell aside. "Well-" At that moment a shrill gust of wind pummeled into the airborne bison, causing it to rock to the side in a small jerk.
"There must be a storm brewing somewhere," Aang thought aloud, his eyes darkening, tightening his hold on Appa while giving him more encouraging yip yips. "We're almost there!"
"You know, we can't reach them that far out," Iroh commented, blinking as he lifted his small teacup to his lips. Zuko continued to stand by him on the deck, never taking his eyes off the sky.
"I know, Uncle," the young prince replied evenly. "I'm driving them."
"To the islands?" the uncle asked, setting his cup back onto its saucer. "Will they land, I wonder?" The old man's eyes lowered to the sea, where the waves had begun to grow choppier. A small but fierce breeze caught him in the side, drawing away his attention.
"Even if they don't, it'll slow them down," his nephew replied, clenching his fists tightly. This time he knew what he was doing.
Another fierce wind caught Appa, causing everyone to slide to the right a few inches, excluding Momo--who simply attached itself to Sokka's face. "We've got to get lower," Aang mumbled, glancing up at a few gatherings of darkened, clustered clouds to his left. His cheery mood, though not entirely gone, was waning slightly and worry was replacing it. He didn't like being out in storms, and the last thing he needed was Sokka and Katara getting sick again...
Sokka, after peeling Momo off, followed Aang's brief glance and immediately had the same thoughts. "Then let's get lower!" Cheerily he reached out and yanked at the reigns, giving Appa a good 'nudge.'
However the poor bison misinterpreted the rough pull and, obeying loyally, began to swerve steeply downwards on its side. At the same moment, a new and more powerful gust caught the large beast halfway on its underside, causing it to tilt precariously.
"SOKKA!" Katara yelped, grabbing onto Appa's thick fur. The older boy floundered before getting a good hold himself.
"WHAT!" he responded huffily. "I got us lower!"
"Too low!" Aang revealed, having kept his balance and Appa's reigns. "We're going right at them!"
The bison stopped above the water, and began to skid just above it, throwing waves up on either side of its turbulence. It was slowing down--but not fast enough. Besides the fact that he was screaming, along with Katara and Sokka (who can scream rather girlishly, Aang also observed,) the young boy had to admit it was pretty fun... like penguin sledding.
That was, until he realized they were still heading towards the ship. Now that he was close enough to get a good look, it seemed the men on the deck looked just as surprised and frightened as the Avatar. But it's fair to say, who wouldn't look surprised at seeing a large, hairy bison barreling toward one's ship with the famed Avatar floundering on its head? For a split second, the young boy thought he saw Zuko's familiar scowl.
At the last minute Aang yanked upwards on the reigns, and Appa adjusted his altitude--just in time, as he only barely zoomed right over the deck of the ship.
Water, foam and bison swept over the area, causing great confusion and running among the Firebenders onboard. The helmsman stared and leaned over to get a better look, but by that time, the bison was gone. All that was left was a vaguely water-drenched, rocking, but otherwise unhurt ship. Not to mention a few drenched Firebenders, some of which were groaning, sprawled over the deck, and others who were draped over the sides (also groaning.) Some had thrown themselves out of the way and were plastered against a wall or against each other, blinking blankly and rather shamefully.
Iroh, either by great skill or sheer luck, had remained out of the coming bison-induced shower and had scurried into an open door. Emerging, he blinked, throwing a glance over the deck and its crewman. However, after the initial shock passed, the old general handed his teacup to the nearest standing soldier and walked to mid-deck, glancing around suspiciously.
"Where is Zuko?" Iroh asked no one, but a nearby soldier glanced over at the side of the ship as he stood. Iroh made his way there and looked over into the unsettled waves, fear vaguely gripping at his heart. Leaning forward more, as the waves resided and calmed, he saw nothing.
It was then the old general looked up at the fleeing image of the bison. He then placed his hand on his forehead and groaned.
"Did the waves take him?" a crewman asked somewhat shakily. As far as had been counted, no men had been injured. Some had fallen off the side in attempts to jump out of the way, but they had and were currently being pulled aboard by rope.
"No," Iroh sighed, now more confident. "Something else did." He turned to the waterlogged soldiers, taking his hand down from his wrinkled forehead. "Follow the beast!"
"Did you see their faces!" Aang asked, laughing gaily. Sokka scrambled up, streaming water from his mouth.
"Let's NEVER ever do that again!" the young warrior whined after a good cough, wringing at his damp clothes that had become wet with ocean spray.
Katara coughed once, wringing at her braided hair whilst glaring defiantly at her brother. "It was all YOUR fault!" she accused.
"MY fault!" Sokka responded, aghast. He went to flick a small fish from his leg but changed his mind, going to pick it up. However Momo beat him to it, snatching the fish away and scurrying over Sokka's lap. With a cry the boy lunged at the young lemur, causing Momo to squeak and drop the fish over the bison's furry side. Sokka crawled and looked over Appa's side dejectedly, watching his meal fall away into the sea. For a brief second he thought he saw something odd from the corner of his eye, but he shook it off, turning to face his 'crew' with a pout evident on his face.
"It's not Sokka's fault," Aang replied, turning his head to face his friends, tilting it with a big grin plastered on his face. He was giddy off adrenaline. "It was his instincts!"
This caused Katara to burst into giggles and she tried to hide her face. Sokka puckered out his lower lip, drawing his eyebrows down.
"Not funny," he grumbled, folding his arms. This only caused Aang to join Katara in restrained laughing.
"Since Sokka's instincts are so good at flying, maybe we should ask them to land," Katara threw in, causing Aang to snicker even more in amusement. Sokka rolled his eyes in reply, turning his back on his sister and the Airbender with an 'hmph.'
Katara reached over and patted her brother fondly, meanwhile throwing a glance over her shoulder out at the water. The steel ship was just a dot now, and the islands were just below them. Even she had to admit...the little escapade had been fun, even though at the moment she had been frightened senseless. It reminded her of the time Aang had persuaded them to ride Omashu's delivery system...
What she and the others didn't suspect, however, is that they had company.
Zuko groaned inwardly, tightening his grip on the thing he was holding. He was disoriented and he began to piece vague images back together.
He remembered, of course, standing on his ship with his uncle, watching the Avatar. They had taken some cheap shots at him, just to let him know they meant business...
Then, strangely enough, the Avatar had somehow changed course and the large bison--whatever it was--had sailed downwards, just above the water. The Prince remembered standing on the deck, scowling in answer as the beast barreled towards his ship. He had refused to move, determined to call the bluff he assumed the Avatar was making.
Of course, the beast hadn't stopped, and in the second it began to zoom over his ship the Prince realized how very large it was.
Then it had been to late. Zuko remembered backing up, his back touching the side of the ship. However, his anger for the Avatar seemed to have planted his feet to the steel, and he snarled, about to throw up his hands and vomit hellfire at his enemy.
Then the bison had skimmed just above him, causing the prince to lose balance and begin to tumble backwards. Now furious, and determined not to fall overboard (how pathetic that would look!) he had reached up and snagged the first thing he could reach with his hands.
Then everything blurred. His shoulders and arms were straining and his back was smarting heavily, having been thrown against the siding in his plight.
After he had pieced these things together, Zuko's mind cleared and his ears turned on--and he froze as he heard voices pushed by him through the wind. He immediately recognized one of them--the Avatar.
Adrenaline flooded his system but the young Firebender kept his mouth shut and his body still. He realized he was in a very precarious situation--as it seemed he had snagged the upper area between the bison's flat, furry tail and one of its legs. ...And it was in flight.
The husky, mammalian scent of his ride immediately filled his nostrils and the Prince scowled, but remained quiet. Besides the fact his body felt rather bruised at the moment, he knew he was several hundred feet (most likely) in the air. It appeared no one knew he was there, however, which was surprising. Then again, not many people grab onto flying bison while they're doing just that--flying.
Zuko silently thanked his training and his great skill, as even though the tail flopped in the wind, seemingly acting as a sort of rudder, the teenager kept his grip, pressing himself against its fur. The bison seemed to not mind the extra weight, its mind possibly preoccupied. The drag was negated due to the large body mass, and all Zuko concerned himself with was keeping his grip, fighting gravity and the bison's movements. He couldn't risk leaping up and alerting the Avatar of his presence. They had the upper hand in this situation and he realized that. He couldn't reveal himself or use his Firebending here.
The beast would have to land soon. Sparing a glance down, and fighting down a vague nausea, Zuko thought he saw bits and pieces of islands below. Good.
Because when the Avatar landed, that's when he'd make his move. After all, Zuko knew his uncle would come after him. This fact caused him to smirk slightly, eyes flashing deviously. Then everything would be fine. He would take the Avatar by surprise. Zuko already knew he could best the warrior, and the Waterbender shouldn't present any trouble... the Prince carefully formed a plan, as it took his mind off the rather frightening fact he was far away from any familiar element. Off in the distance, Zuko vaguely placed the sound of faint thunder.
Zuko's head swam as pain raced up his spine, and he quieted his thoughts and focused on his grip. He shifted his position slightly, his muscles rippling, strained, but frigid. Zuko drew his eyes upwards to the slope of the bison and the sky ahead, pulling his mind to dwell on one goal: to not fall, and to not be seen.
So far, it worked.
For some reason the image of Zuko latched onto Appa makes me laugh... Bad me.