Disclaimer: Avatar not mine. Duh.

AN: Inspired by 'Sixteen Years' by justcallmefaye. It's a sort of companion fic.

Two years.

When he was two years old he welcomed the embrace of sleep. There, in his dreams would be a pair of bright blue eyes and the feeling of being cradled in warm arms and protected. Protected from what, he didn't know; he only knew the eyes didn't belong to his mother but they made him feel happy anyway.

Sometimes he would stare at the water in the fountain and wonder why the water followed him. One night the arms returned and they held onto his arms in a gentle, guiding grip and he began to sway back and forth. Pushing and pulling. It had felt so natural that he began to do it all the time during his waking hours, regardless of how excited the adults got when the water followed his hands.

Four years.

He looked at the animal ice sculptures along the walls of the teaching room in wonder. The teacher said they all lived in the poles. He and his class watched and listened to the teacher as he showed them the dangerous animals like saber-tooth snow leopards, wild wolf-bears and the great orca-shark that would surge onto land to catch tiger-seals in its mighty jaws. Then as the teacher talked about the elk-lion his gaze wandered from the graceful looking animal and landed on something that had four wings and two legs. He raised his hand urgently and the teacher looked at him.

"Yes Daraka?"

"Umm ... what's this?" He pointed at the creature.

"That is a penguin. They live in the South Pole." The teacher told him. He nodded and looked at the penguin stature, wondering why it was so familiar.

That very same night, he dreamed he was sliding down a hill super fast! Below him was no sled, but a penguin! He shouted with glee as they sped through an icy tunnel, trying to catch up to the sparkling and laughing blue eyes ahead of him riding a penguin too.

Six years.

Gran-gran was gone. She would never wake up again, no matter how loud he yelled, she would never hug him or pat his cheek or even ruffle his hair. The thought hurt so much he got so angry and the ice all around turned to water and great waves struck any who came close. All went dark and the hand returned, it gripped his wrist and when he turned his head he saw her eyes again. Then a face surrounded those eyes and that face looked so sad that he knew she understood his pain, his anger. Her arms, wrapped in water tribe blue, surrounded him and his head rested on her chest; below the dyed tiger-seal fur there was a heartbeat that soothed the pain and pushed the anger away.

When he woke up feeling better he wondered why he'd fallen asleep outside the healing huts and why there were huge waves frozen in the canal and holes in the buildings across it.

Eight years.

Katara. The bright eyes, gentle hands, warm arms and soothing heartbeat belong to Katara. He is happy he knows her name because now he knows that she must be real, that she must be alive somewhere. But no one will listen to him, they don't believe she's real. Eventually he stops telling everyone about her and she fades from their minds. But not his.

Twelve years.

Of all the dreams he had about Katara, this was his favourite. They were standing hip deep in water, a small lake this time, and she was showing him more water bending. He watched as she drew a thin tendril of water and formed a whip that twirled and snapped around her. He felt himself copy her movements and was soon sparring with her. Darting back and forth and lashing out, not to injure, but just to leave a wet spot to mark a strike. Then, when they were tired they sat on the shore and he rested his head on her bare shoulder.

Fourteen years.

He was with Katara and Sokka in the audience chamber of the palace and Katara for the first time ever in his dreams, she was angry and getting angrier with every word she yelled at Chief Arnook and Master Pakku.

"No. No way am I apologizing to a sour old man like you!" The ice below began to crack ominously and a jug of water cracked and split open, spilling the water onto the floor.

"Uh, Katara ..."

"I'll be outside if you're man enough to fight me!" Stunned, he watched her storm out.

"I'm sure she didn't mean that." He heard himself say to Master Pakku. Beside him, he heard Sokka put his two coppers in.

"Yeah, I think she did."

During the fight he could tell she had no formal training, but by the spirits she made up for her inexperience with raw talent and ingenuity! After the ice disks, master Pakku actually looked surprised.

He woke up with images of the battle blazing through his mind and a reminder from his mother that his exhibition duel with master Pakku was only a few hours from now. To prepare himself he sat on the great wall facing the ocean and began to meditate.

The duel was nearing an end and he found himself facing a veritable wall of water surging toward him. This would finish it, his stance had been broken and he had no defense. Then he remembered Katara's cleverness. He brought his feet under him and engulfed them in ice, giving him the stability he needed to open a split in the approaching wall and let the wave crash on either side. He grinned almost cheekily at Pakku.

"You can't knock me down!"

A look of shock crossed master Pakku's face before it turned into contemplation.

Sixteen years.

Avatar. Spirits above, he, Daraka, was the Avatar! All because of some toys he had chosen when he was younger. He glared at said toys as he sullenly left his room and went to sit on the wall facing the ocean. So deep in his thoughts, he didn't notice master Pakku come up behind him until the old master spoke.

"You still dream of the girl, don't you?" It was more a statement than a question.

"What do you care? She's just a figment of my imagination." He answered somewhat bitterly.

"Perhaps, perhaps not. Years ago, before you were born I taught a young woman of an indomitable spirit to waterbend. Like you, she was a prodigy and mastered it in a short time."

"You taught a girl to fight Master Pakku? I was told that it wasn't until after the defeat of Fire Lord Ozai that girls could learn to fight with waterbending." Master Pakku chuckled.

"The trend had to start somewhere." Master Pakku paused. "She was inexperienced, had had no previous training; but she was feisty and clever enough to hold her own against me for a respectable amount of time. I began to believe you about your dream-teacher two years ago; and as I watch you grow and learn waterbending, I see her influence on you. I think to myself that perhaps, that the girl in your dreams is the same girl I taught seventeen years ago. That's why I've arranged for a voyage to our sister tribe in the South Pole. If it is the same girl, that is where she will be."