A/N: "Passages" is a sequel to my earlier story "Prison Conversations", in which Zuko and Sokka found themselves in adjacent cells of a Fire Nation prison faced with impending death sentences. Despite themselves, they find themselves talking together and eventually working together to escape.
It was an interesting writing exercise for me because I forced myself to limit all dialogue to that between the two of them. I also limited all action, except in the chapter before the epilogue, to scenes involving them. I think I envisioned it all almost as a stage production.
Frankly, I am very fond of that story. It really made me stretch my imagination and my prose. If you want to really understand what is happening in this story, you should probably read "Prison Conversations" (which has the added benefit of being able to almost fit into canon as of this writing, June 2006).
In this story, I will be following not only the activities (and conversations) of Zuko and Sokka post-escape, but also the other main characters of the story, or at least, the other good guys. As a result, this goes way AU. Of course, my vision of the characters themselves is somewhat AU. These are the Avatar characters as I see them. I make no apologies. I'm firmly aware that the only folks who read beyond this point are either a) already secret admirers of my vision from "Prison Conversations", b) astonishingly open-minded, or possibly c) desperately seeking an Avatar fix and prepared to read anything they see in the fandom. Any of the above is fine by me.
Disclaimer: You know the drill – don't own it, won't claim it, shall be exempt from legal action thereby.
Passages: Chapter 1
"What," Zuko gazed askance at the construction before him, "the hell is that?"
"I call it 'transportation'," said Sokka, as he packed yet another parcel in the bow. He was actually inordinately – and a bit guiltily – proud of having being given such a sweet little boat of his own. Its previous owners died upon the sands of the attempt to rescue him. He lived, they did not. The last thing he needed was a fire-bender's caustic benediction on his chosen path.
The banished prince of fire, so recently weakened by a Water Tribe spear to his shoulder, after a full month of deprivation in a prison at his own father's behest, saw much to question in the caravel presented before him.
"You're not seriously going anywhere on the open sea in that," he questioned Sokka's sanity.
"Look, the bigger a boat is, the harder it is to operate single-handed. So, yeah, it's small. And no, I wouldn't want to be out in bad conditions in it either. But it beats walking. And where I'm going, it will be a lot faster to go by water," Sokka finished stowing his borrowed gear. "What's it to you?"
Zuko had lived at sea for nearly three years. He was no stranger to the perils of water travel. But at least he had faced them with a ship and crew of sufficient size and experience to give him some confidence in his own survival. He had commanded his crew, but he was no sailor himself. Oh, he was perfectly competent in a kayak or canoe, and he knew enough to watch out for a swinging boom or flying lines on board a sailing vessel. But the craft Sokka was apparently contemplating was small indeed, with very little in the way of decking, a tiny cockpit in the stern area, and no cabin space at all. And navigating by the wind! He had only too recently experienced the vagaries of trusting to the wind.
But Sokka was Water Tribe. Even if he weren't a water-bender, presumably he was still pretty much at home on the sea, especially in the primitive craft devised by his own people.
"Do you know where you are going?" Zuko asked, instead of answering Sokka's question.
Sokka looked at him. Zuko knew his aim was to rejoin his sister and the avatar after escaping from the same Fire Nation prison that had incarcerated Zuko. Their time as fellow prisoners had breached many barriers between them, but Sokka was still Water Tribe, and Zuko was unquestionably still the Fire Nation's prince, no matter how banished or disgraced. It was one thing to trust Zuko not to actively seek out Aang. It was another altogether to point out the way.
Zuko raised an eyebrow. He now wore Water Tribe colors, the blue a stark contrast against his pale skin and golden eyes, but the Earth Kingdom clothes he had worn in prison were torn and soiled beyond repair. Sokka, too, and been given a change of clothing, sorely needed given a recent growth spurt and his own travails in prison, none the least the loss of several inches from his tunic to bind up Zuko's wounds.
"I know where they were as of five days ago, if that's what you mean," Sokka answered evenly. Zuko had helped him escape from the prison, had helped him free countless others at the same time. Sokka disliked sentimentality, but he respected debts of honor. He wasn't entirely sure where he stood with respect to such debts with Zuko.
The thwarted hunter in the Fire Nation boy snorted, "With that damned flying bison, they could be anywhere by now."
Sokka smiled, "Maybe"
"You're not telling me everything."
"Did you really expect I would?"
"So. Ask a stupid question…" He trailed off deliberately.
There was nothing astonishing in Sokka's pleasure at goading Zuko. Zuko's apparent patience with Sokka, on the other hand, would have prompted outright denial of his identity on the part of his childhood tutors.
They both looked up as a tall figure joined them. Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe did not understand his son's strange relationship with a fire-bender. But he had left Sokka at the South Pole as little more than a child. He was, in fact, something of a student of history, so he could perceive and accept that the spirits often made strange choices in their tools to move the fate of the world forward.
He had been told that his children were the chosen companions of the avatar, and that was astonishing enough in itself. He no longer felt competent to instruct the young man he had met again this day as his son in an unneeded rescue attempt.
The fact that Sokka had not needed him spoke for itself. That instead, he had relied upon the young fire-bender who accompanied him, spoke volumes about the changing world in which they lived.
All he could hope was that the change was, in fact, for the good.
"We leave with the tide," Hakoda said to Sokka. "Are you sure you won't sail with us?"
"Sorry, Dad," Sokka spoke with real regret, "You know my way lies elsewhere. I wish– you know I wish I could go with you."
"No, you're right," Hakoda smiled. "I'm sure your sister is in good hands with the Avatar. But I would feel better if you were with her."
Zuko snorted. And coughed to hide his indiscretion.
Sokka laughed. "Right, Dad. Cause the most powerful person in the world and two master benders really need a fall guy for when they screw up."
Hakoda smiled as well, but his eyes were serious. "Because I trust you to look after your sister - and the Avatar!"
He looked at the fire-bender, who had not risen at his approach. The lack of respect for an elder could be forgiven considering his injuries, but Hakoda could tell that this was a boy who did not raise himself for anyone. Again he questioned Sokka's apparent trust in the young man. Again he chose to respect his son's judgment. He nodded at Zuko.
"There is nothing else we can do for you. May the moon and ocean heal you with speed, and may they bless your journeys. If we meet again, may it not be on the field of conflict." He nodded again and turned to Sokka. He held his son close for another brief moment, and then turned back to his fleet.
The war held nothing more for them than one incursion after another. They had been surprisingly successful so far. The Fire Nation was arrogant and discounted the fervor and cunning of the Water Tribes, especially the remnants of the Southern Tribe. With that, and great luck, there was still a chance for most of them to return home.
And luck, oddly enough, still seemed to reside in children, particularly a young boy with an affiliation to no one, and to all.
A/N: Were I Sokka's parent I would have screamed blue murder at his leaving the relative safety of the home village – and dragging his sister along – on such a hair-brained quest, not to mention abandoning his tribal responsibilities! Then again, I credit Hakoda with a larger vision than my own. Or perhaps a better understanding of the futility of commanding adolescents.