A/N: First of all, let me disclaimer this with one fact. I actually haven't got a clue what Sokka means. I cannot find anywhere a dictionary of Inuit names. If you know one, I'd love you forever if you gave me the link.
In the mean time, I figure my guess is as good as any. If it's not true…then I apologize but live with it.
Finally, this is a heck of a lot longer than I meant it to be. Gah! Special thanks to Angelique for helping me when I was stuck in the middle.
Part 5: The Ocean Child Revealed
Zuko and Aang both jumped, startled out of their aw for the large water tribe man by Sokka's first intelligible mutter in hours. Aang looked at his friend to find his eyes, with their pupils so dilated they looked black, were barely open wide enough to see. Even that seemed to have taken a great deal of effort as his skin had taken on a pasty look.
Aang looked again at the man, and could see his eyes had softened as he looked at the boy on Zuko's back. If Sokka had gone to that much effort when he'd heard the man's voice to come back to consciousness and see then he had to be whom he said he was.
The young airbender took a step forward, bowing low. "Hello, sir. I'm Aang…the Avatar."
The woods around the small clearing filled with whispers, and Zuko realized just how surrounded they had been. It was not a pleasant feeling, and Zuko shot a glare over his shoulder in the general direction of the trees.
Aang had lit a fire in his hand now, so they could see better, and the man frowned.
"Bato told me," he said slowly, "that my children were aiding the Avatar…"
"They must have been captured by that firebender," someone in the bushes shouted. This was accompanied by several yells of agreement, and Zuko suddenly found himself aware once more of the fact that not all the world would find it easy to forgive what his nation had done.
He clutched Sokka tighter; the idea of using him as a human shield for his back now seemed a very good one. "I didn't capture anyone!"
"Yeah," Aang said with a grin, "Zuko can't even catch a cold."
Zuko shot Aang a scathing look that screamed of revenge, but knew now would be a very bad time to attack the younger boy. No matter how it strained his self-restraint not to.
"Peace," Hakoda said. His tone was commanding, and all those who heard him fell silent. He fixed his eyes on Zuko and Aang again before landing once more on Sokka's gaunt face.
"If you're the Avatar, then who is he?"
"My Firebending teacher…" Aang said hesitantly, not wanting to give anything away that would send those spears flying their direction.
Zuko took a step forward, lifting his chin high. "I am Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation." He let the news sink in and took in the angry whispers before adding with a cocky smirk, "you've probably seen my wanted posters."
Aang sighed and rolled his eyes. They'd have to have gone into Fire Nation controlled territory for that, and they had no guarantee they had. Why did Zuko always insist on doing things the hardest possible way? "He's my friend, and I trust him."
Hakoda nodded, stepping forward and lifting Sokka off Zuko's back. Zuko was reluctant to give away his shield, but there wasn't much he could do about it anyway. Hakoda shifted his son so he was carrying him bridal style, ignoring Sokka's small groan of protest, before he addressed the rest of the group. "Bind their hands and blindfold them."
"What?" Zuko yelled, his eyes narrowing as twin flame daggers sprang to life in his hands. "We're trying to save your son's life and this is the thanks we get?"
"Zuko, don't do anything," Aang said, turning grey eyes to his friend. "I think I know what he has in mind."
With a growl of frustration, Zuko extinguished his flames. "You better be right about this, Avatar."
'Yeah,' Aang thought as he felt his hands being tightly tied behind his back. 'I had better be.'
It was with several more bumps and bruises than they'd started with that Aang and Zuko finally stumbled into the next clearing an hour later. They were disoriented from the many turns they'd taken, and Zuko could have sworn he'd once been lead into a tree on purpose in spite of the mumbled apology.
Apparently there had still been several people left at the camp, as there was a great deal of rustling around when they came in.
"Bato," Hakoda said from somewhere behind Aang, "I need to speak with you."
"Yes, my friend?" Asked a voice a head, and Aang grinned.
"Is this the Avatar?"
Aang found his blindfold removed and he was now looking up into Bato's smiling face.
"Hello, Aang," Bato said, turning his head as he looked at him. "We meet again."
This seemed to be enough of an answer for Hakoda. With a motion of his hand two of the men ran forward and untied Aang's hands.
"What about my friend?" Aang asked, getting to his feet and finding Zuko still completely bound.
"My apologies, Avatar," Hakoda said, sincerely. "But from experience, Firebenders cannot be trusted."
"Sokka trusts him," Aang blurted out. How that was supposed to help, with Sokka unable to attest to this fact, Aang had no idea. Still, he had felt it was the right thing to say and so stuck by it.
Hakoda met his gaze steadily for several long moments before nodding. "Release the fire bender as well."
There was some reluctance to follow this order, but it was proof of their faith in their chosen leader that the order was followed.
Hakoda walked over to the low burning fire, and lay Sokka down on one of the sleeping mats there as Aang and Bato followed. Hakoda skillfully removed his son's shirt, and Aang felt his stomach turn at what he saw there. The wound, which had first only been a deep gash surrounded by black, had gotten much worse over the last several hours. The wound itself had crusted over with what looked like brownish scales, and the black had spread- spider webbing away from the wound down his arm to the elbow, up his neck, and down the right side of his chest.
"It's a poisoned wound," Zuko said as he came over, rubbing his aching wrists. "We're trying to get to the next town to see if they can heal him."
"How long ago did this happen?" Hakoda's face was grim as he inspected the mark and wiped sweat from Sokka's forehead.
"Early this morning. We were ambushed."
"By fire nation soldiers."
Zuko nodded, even though he understood it wasn't actually a question.
Sokka's eyes peeked open again, focusing glassily up on his father's face. "I'm sorry, Dad. I tried to protect her. I tried…"
Aang and Zuko both looked down, neither wanting to be the one to have to volunteer the information Sokka certainly couldn't.
"I need a bowl of water and a cloth," was all Hakoda said after a moment. A couple of boys, probably only a few years older than Sokka, scrambled to do as he asked. When they returned a few minutes later, Hakoda placed the cloth on Sokka's forehead, using it to wipe away the heat just as Katara had done when Sokka had been ill after the storm. He did this three times before turning to look at the two boys who were intently studying their feet.
"He's talking about Katara, isn't he?"
"Yes, sir," Aang whispered, still refusing to look up even as Bato put a hand on his shoulder.
"What happened to my daughter?"
Aang swallowed as he felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. "I…I can't…"
"During the attack," Zuko said, not looking directly at Hakoda. "It was chaotic. We were completely out numbered…"
"There was a bridge there," Aang took over, steeling himself to attempt to tell the rest of it. "It was old and breaking…"
"Sokka was injured then. Katara went back for him…"
"The bridge broke. Sokka caught her…"
"After that, I don't know…"
Zuko looked up to see something stumbling through the trees. He squinted into the trees in the moonlight, and could see something running toward them. Something with a long braid. "She's here!"
"What?" Aang asked, looking at over at Zuko.
"What?" Hakoda echoed, turning and following Zuko's line of vision. Sure enough, Katara dashed toward the firelight. Her face was red and her clothes torn, but otherwise she looked fine.
Aang dashed over, running and hugging Katara around the waist. "Katara, you're okay!"
"Aang!" Katara grinned, leaning over and giving the younger boy a hug in return. "I can't believe I found you!"
Zuko remained staring at her by Sokka's side as Hakoda got to his feet and went foreword. Katara looked up and could see her father coming toward her. She let go of Aang and ran to him, hugging him tight.
"I thought I'd never see you again," Katara muttered into her father's chest as he hugged her tight.
"I would appreciate it if someone would tell me what's going on," Hakoda said, running a hand along the back of her head.
"It all started out when we started to look for the ocean child," Katara began. Hakoda pulled back, looking down at her puzzled.
"Why would you be looking for him when he's been with you the whole time?"
Zuko, who had looked away to avoid seeing the tender family moment, looked back again with wide gold eyes. "What do you mean with us the whole time?"
Hakoda released his daughter to motion toward Sokka. Sokka was once again coated in sweat, and he was trembling slightly. Katara released her father to run to her brother's side.
"What happened to him? The arrow wound wasn't that deep!"
"It was poisoned," Zuko explained, still staring at both siblings. "What happened to you?"
"I was pulled out of the river by your sister," Katara responded, pulling the chain out from around her neck and looking at Zuko through the oasis water it still contained. "I told her that we'd separated to recruit people for the attack and that I only knew where Sokka was. She let me go."
Zuko frowned, cupping a hand under his chin. "Azula isn't one to just let people go…"
Katara ignored him, uncorking the small vial. With a trembling hand she pushed down the side of Sokka's shirt. She gasped, putting an hand over her mouth. Hakoda knelt beside her, once again wiping Sokka's forehead with the cloth.
"The poison seems to be spreading quickly."
"Zuko," Katara said, looking up at the prince, "I need you to reopen the wound."
"What?" Zuko gaped at her, effectively distracted from the contemplation of his sister's motives. "Are you crazy? You want me to reopen the wound, cause him a great deal of pain, and have it bleeding all over me?"
"I need an opening," Katara explained, placing a hand gently on Sokka's chest. Sokka hissed slightly in pain. Hakoda knelt beside his daughter, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"What are you trying to do?"
"Nothing," Katara said, looking at him before looking at Zuko again. "Unless Zuko chooses to help me."
With a groan, Zuko unsheathed his swords and stepped foreword. He put the blade against the wound and grit his teeth.
"What's he…" Bato asked, stepping forward.
"I'm sorry, Sokka," Katara whispered. "I'm doing the best I can to save your life."
"Here goes," Zuko muttered, pulling back on the sword. Sokka cried out, his body jerking under Katara's hand as she tried to hold him steady. Hakoda's eyes widened, and he would have lunged at Zuko had Bato not grabbed him.
"Trust them, my friend," Bato whispered, holding onto Hakoda's parka. "I'm sure Katara knows what she's doing."
Once Sokka's breathing had evened out slightly, Katara leaned forward and poured a bit of the water into the open wound. With her free hand she concentrated on the water. In her mind's eye she called up the one lesson she had attended with Yugoda and the children of the North. It had been a lesson on healing internal injuries.
Closing her eyes, she imagined the mannequin they had used and the pathways through which the water had to travel. From the shoulder, down to his chest. Once there, Katara took a deep breath before releasing the water. She trusted the water, and knew it would do its job.
She opened her eyes and looked over at her dad, smiling slightly.
"You're a healer," Hakoda said slowly, looking from his daughter to his now visibly relaxed son. He could almost see the dead skin retreating.
"Yeah. It's something I learned on the way to the North Pole."
"It seems we've got much to catch up on," Hakoda smiled, gently resting a hand on Katara's head.
"Before that," Zuko protested, having finished cleaning up his sword and sheathed it, "you need to tell us what you meant by Sokka being the Ocean Child."
"It's a long story."
"We have time," Aang said. "We were told we can't defeat the Fire Lord without the Ocean Child, and if Sokka is him then…"
Hakoda and Bato exchanged glances before Hakoda motioned for the boys too sit. With one exchanged glance they did so, sitting down on either side of Katara.
"Katara you were to young when she died to remember your mother telling you this story. She told it many times to Sokka, and he would remember it if he chose.
Kira and I tried to have children for many years after we married, but with no success. It seemed as though we were destined never to have them, and the idea broke my young wife's heart. She began to pray nightly to the ocean spirit to bless us with a child. Sometimes I would join her, although I didn't think it mattered much to him.
Several months later, and Kira woke me up in the middle of the night. She'd said she had had a dream- a vision. The ocean spirit had come to her, and told her she was going to have a son. In him would reside the ocean's power, and his fate would be entwined with the rest of the worlds. Then he had kissed her, and she had awakened.
I was skeptical at first, but when it turned out she was going to have a child I kept these doubts to myself. Sokka was born exactly nine months later, and she named him Sokka- meaning Ocean's Power- as a reminder to him what he was supposed to be. That is why she died to protect him. She knew he was the Ocean Child."