Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Word count: 2,299
Summary: During the Seige of the North, Katara pursues Zuko from the oasis rather than staying with her friends.
Disclaimer: I do not own this series, nor am I making any money from this story.
There was a flash of fire, and in those precious few seconds that followed, Katara would make an observation and a decision that she would curse herself for throughout the next three weeks.
The sky darkened as the moon disappeared, the old man who traveled with that arrogant prince unleashed a frightening display of unexpected agility and power, Zhao turned and fled, and everyone else stared in shock at the floating body of the white koi fish. As the scene unfolded around her almost in slow motion, Katara caught a slight movement out of the corner of her eye.
"Oh no you don't," Katara muttered as she watched the form of a particular firebender slip through the small circular door that led back out to the rest of the North Pole.
The last thing the water tribe and her friends needed at this point was yet another dangerous and proficient firebender on the loose. He was much more manageable knocked out and slung over Appa's back. There was no time to explain, so she dodged through her stunned friends and ran swiftly after the escaping Prince Zuko.
As she left the oasis, she saw the prince jump clear over one of the walls of snow to a lower level. Katara followed as quickly as she could, but Zuko had a slight advantage of speed over her. She chased him along a set of battlements and through a devastated neighbourhood overrun with soldiers from both nations. From brief glances to either side, she could tell that the Water Nation was losing ground quickly without the vital energy supplied by the moon.
Suddenly, Katara's concentration on her pursuit was broken by a strange blue glow that the water had acquired. She skidded to a halt on the ice, noticing that Zuko was being detained just ahead on a ledge by another firebender, and watched as the water continued to gain an extraordinary radiance. Definitely not normal, yet somehow oddly soothing.
The fighting around her slowed as others began to notice their changing surroundings. Fire Nation soldiers raised their spears, ready to attack, while the Water Nation soldiers lowered their weapons in wonder.
At the top of the fortress, where the oasis was, the water formed itself into a gigantic figure, illuminating the snow with blue. Katara squinted and shielded her eyes from the light with a hand, trying to make out what was in the centre of the being.
"Aang!" she cried, recognizing the telltale signs of the avatar state, before falling almost automatically to her knees in a deep bow alongside the other members of the Water Tribe.
The figure moved throughout the city, meting out justice to any firebenders who had reached the inner part of the palace. Before it reached Katara, however, the form melted back into the water and moved towards the front of the frozen city.
As the blue light around her faded a little, Katara rose slowly to her feet. The remaining firebenders that the gigantic creature had not disposed of were being fought off by the newly motivated waterbenders. After all, she thought, having an enormous mystical creature with the avatar inside was good for morale.
Katara glanced back to the ledge where she'd last seen the prince she'd been chasing and realized with a start that he was fighting Admiral Zhao.
Puzzled as to why two firebenders would be fighting with each other, Katara shook her head and watched as they took their clash into the area below. She followed, jumping cautiously off the ledge, and found herself in a residential area. Her target and Zhao had moved to a nearby bridge and were attacking each other fiercely. With no intention of unnecessarily joining a fight that didn't concern her between two firebenders, Katara watched and waited. If the prince got himself knocked out, so much the better. If he won, she was ready to step in. Katara glanced briefly up into the blank night sky. Even with the moon gone and her waterbending weakened, she had confidence in her fighting abilities.
If the feeling that all was going horribly wrong had not pervaded her every sense, Katara would have found the scene unfolding in front of her almost surreal. Two firebenders fighting intricately only metres away, illuminating the area with flashes of red. One side of the battle beginning a retreat, the other severely drained of its power but continuing to drive back their aggressors. All with Aang's terrifying state casting a glow over the city, elongating the shadows northwards.
And suddenly, without warning, the moon faded back into existence.
Katara's eyes darted to look in the direction of the oasis, but were quickly drawn back to the fight between Zuko and Zhao as the glow from the light in the water grew stronger. She flung a hand in front of her eyes again, squinting and shielding them from the intense blue. The luminous creature -- Aang, she corrected herself -- grabbed Zhao and began to draw him into the canal. With a cry, Zuko offered him his hand, as though the two had not been fighting only moments before.
Zhao, proud to the end, drew back his hand and vanished into the water.
Running to the edge of the walkway, Katara gaped at the ripples dispersing from where the admiral had been pulled under. Surely he would come up. It was his duty to end the war and halt the advance of the firebender army, but Aang had never killed anyone before.
"What are you doing here? And stop gaping, you look enough like a fish already."
Rounding on the prince, a furious remark ready to fire back at him, she had just enough time to see another hand form from the water and seize Zuko from his place on the bridge.
Reacting without a second thought, Katara lept onto the balustrade and jumped to tackle him from the water creature's grasp.
Their thick parkas collided and the watery claws tightened as she too was drawn into its hold. The hand began to descend back into the shining water, but stopped abruptly, as though realizing that it was about to drown a friend. The grip relaxed and the glowing water continued its journey upstream, leaving Katara and Zuko to plunge into the icy canal below.
Salt water stinging her eyes, her thick clothing offering no protection from the freezing water, gasping and spluttering for breath, Katara held onto Zuko tightly as they were propelled downstream by the current.
Disoriented and quickly becoming exhausted, it was all she could do to keep the two of them above the surface. It was obvious that Zuko was in a similar state and his efforts to steer the two of them towards a canal wall did nothing. The current was much stronger than usual, and Katara wondered for a second if that was the fault of the ongoing battle and destruction of the city or somehow caused by Aang's mysterious form.
They hurtled along, trying desperately not to drown, until the back of Zuko's head met a lone plank of wood with a sharp crack.
With one hand supporting the dazed prince, Katara looped her other arm around the plank and got up to her shoulders out of the cold water. Zuko began to slip away from her.
She tried to keep the panic out of her voice. "Snap out of it! It was just a bump on the head. Do something useful, your spoiled royal highness!" No, her voice was definitely higher pitched than usual.
Zuko's arm shot up immediately and grabbed the other end of the plank.
Teeth chattering from the cold, they glared at each other from opposite ends of the board.
And that was when Katara realized they'd been swept out past the city walls and into the harbour.
Her eyes widened. What had been an intimidating navy at the beginning of the night was now half destroyed, half in retreat.
"The flagship, it's sinking."
Katara bit back a reply about how these were the first non-hostile words she'd ever heard him say. Ahead, she noticed a large, magnificent ship alight with flames and sinking fast. Zuko began to swim, wooden plank in tow, towards the wreck.
"No! What are you doing! Do you want to get us both killed!" Katara kicked frantically in the opposite direction.
He didn't bother turning to face her as he spoke and continued to pull them forward. "The firebenders on that ship… I can't let my subjects drown."
"If we get too close, we'll be pulled under as the ship sinks! You can't do much for them if you're dead!"
He considered this for a moment, stopped moving forwards, and Katara thanked fervently that he at least had some scraps of reason.
"So we're just going to sit here in this freezing water and wait until frostbite kicks in?"
"You're quite the master of sarcasm, aren't you? Anyway, no, we're going to move towards ground." She peered around. "The shore on our right looks to be closer. Don't let go of the wood while you swim." She tried to start moving in the direction of the land. He didn't move.
"How useless are you? Or has your brain already frozen that much? You're a waterbender, aren't you? Form us something more solid."
She blinked. Her eyebrows moved to crease in an annoyed expression.
"Yeah, I was just getting around to that."
Concentrating, she began to form an area of water in front of her into a thin sheet of ice. The process was made considerably more difficult without the use of her arms to guide the movement of her waterbending, but she continued to add layers of ice until she had formed a small, but solid, floating chunk of ice. After climbing carefully onto it, she balanced the other side while Zuko lifted himself onto it as well, still holding the plank of wood.
Katara stood cautiously, extended her arms, palms outward, drew them back in towards her, downwards, and then repeated the movement. Gentle waves responded to her summons and pushed the makeshift craft along the sea.
"Use the wood to help steer us."
Zuko rose and used the soggy wood as a crude rudder.
"This is still going to take us at least a half hour to reach the coast. And the current is too strong, we're being pushed further out to sea."
"Quiet! Just steer. Unless you'd like to concentrate on making these waves yourself?"
He said nothing in response.
After a minute, Katara realized they were veering off course.
"Where are you steering? Land is that way, that way." Her arms still moving in the same pattern, she motioned with a nod of her head.
"That raft up ahead… That's my uncle on it."
Sure enough, a vague, short and rather round man was waving to them from a small raft. Squinting, Katara thought she recognized him as the man who had threatened Zhao earlier in the oasis. The raft appeared to be made up of a few boards of wood balanced on two pontoons, with a single crude sail.
"Unlike you uncivilized Water Tribe peasants, members of the Fire Nation do not abandon their kin."
He couldn't resist, could he?
"But they have no problem sending the world to war and killing innocent people? You must explain your complex moral code to me at some point."
Neither could she.
"Watch your mouth peasant! Don't forget you're speaking to royalty! And the Fire Nation is nothing but honourable and glorious!"
Katara stopped her waterbending movements, clenched her fists, and turned furiously to face Zuko. "You are so blind! Can't you see that there's no reason to --"
" -- Welcome aboard my humble raft!"
Pausing in her tirade, Katara turned to see Zuko's uncle, smile on his face, his arms outstretched in a welcoming gesture. His raft was only a few metres away now. Katara was surprising to find that the current must be stronger than she'd thought.
"Unfortunately I have not come up with a name for it yet. The H.M.S. something-or-other. Maybe some sort of reference to the beautiful ginseng flower?" He rubbed his bearded chin thoughtfully and helped them onboard as they approached closer to his raft.
"Ah, but where are my manners! My name is Iroh, and I am Zuko's uncle." The older man bowed politely to Katara.
"Katara. It's an honour to meet you, sir Iroh," she said as she bowed. Member of the Fire Nation or not, this man appeared well-mannered and kind. Katara took an immediate liking to him.
"You can just call me Uncle Iroh." He smiled benignly. "So you are going to accompany us to the nearest Earth Kingdom land, yes?"
"No, no, I've got to get back to my friends and the Northern Water Tribe--"
Iroh cleared his throat and looked pointedly northwards.
Looking in the direction of the city, her face fell.
She might be confident, but she wasn't stupid. There was no way she could get back to the city on her own. In the few moments that her and Iroh had been talking, the raft had been pushed much too far from the icy fortress.
"It looks, my dear, like that option might not be possible." He sat down cross-legged beside the small mast.
Zuko's voice cut in from beside her. "Let's just push her off. She'll only be trouble for us."
Katara's teeth clenched and ground audibly. "Excuse me? Is that any way to talk to the person who helped save your life?"
"I never asked for your help!"
"I should have just let that water creature drown you!"
Uncle Iroh sighed, looked up at the restored moon, and settled in for a long journey.