A/n: Read this author's note, or be eternally confused!
This piece of fan fiction is part of an AU called "Inspector Iroh". You may or may not have heard of it, but it's a brilliant AU begun by The Artrix over on ASN. You can find more information on the universe here:
Here's the general idea of what you'll need to know before reading this:
"In another universe, and in the future, the Avatar world as we know it has evolved in what could be compared to modern, Western civilization. The war is long over, and the four nations are now engaged in a global, free-trade economy. Even though that sounds harmonious, it's far from an Utopian society. With large populations come problems like poverty, crime and murders.
Our tale takes place in Ba Sing Se, Earth Kingdom, where two Fire Nation investigators, Iroh and Zuko, do their best to reveal the truth about the city's murders and get the murderers behind bars."
My story takes place before that, and shows how Zuko got his scar. Things explain themselves along the way.
Disclaimer: I own neither Avatar, nor the Inspector Iroh Universe..
Crash and Burn – Inspector Iroh Universe
The tendrils of smoke curling up towards the sky, visible even from the many Global Health Initiative trucks, were the first sign that the crash was bad – more so than he had first imagined.
Beside him, Tao was trying to light a cigarette and speed down the freeway at the same time. Tao was a big man, bigger and more intimidating than most men in the Water Tribe Federation, but for the most part he was harmless enough. A gentle giant with a rather large mustache and a smoking problem.
"Shit!" he swore loudly, throwing his match out the open window. His voice was almost lost in the sound of a handful of sirens coming from various GHI medic and fire trucks. "Look at that smoke, Hakoda. Looks like that plane set the whole damn city on fire!"
"I see it, Tao," replied Hakoda.
The man's expression was stern, calculating. The report he'd received said that the plane coming from the Fire Nation had crashed shortly beforehand in Omashu, where a large office building had been scheduled to be constructed later that same day. The ground where the plane had landed, then, he deduced, was more likely to be clear, which meant less wildfire control and a quicker entrance for the Search and Rescue unit. Still, that smoke meant that the plane was burning up, and fast at that. They would have little time.
When the large mass of GHI vans and fire trucks pulled up and skidded to a halt in front of the crash zone, Hakoda and Tao were out and dressed for Search and Rescue in a matter of seconds. In front of them, a chaotic scene was playing out. The pilot had evidently made an attempt to land the plane as is went down, as it had landed the right way up, but the nose was still smashed and flames were curling out of the broken windows and doors. All around, Waterbenders and fire fighters were working together to douse the fire.
As Hakoda buckled the last snap on his protective jumpsuit, the back doors to one van opened and a young man stumbled out, clutching a rectangular backpack to his chest. He looked young, no older than nineteen, and incredibly distraught.
"So… fast…" he gasped. "I thought I was going to die!"
"That's GHI for you," Tao laughed, delivering a friendly thump on the boy's back that made his knees buckle.
"Are you in charge?"
"Sure as hell I am! Hakoda here is the Chief, and I'm his right hand man. What's your name, Rookie?"
"Well hurry up and get your fire suit on. We got people to save!"
For some reason, Shang had been under the impression that he wouldn't actually be going into the burning airplane, so when Hakoda grabbed him by the arm and pulled him towards the men who were putting out the fire, he asked what was going on.
"The unit you're on is called 'Search and Rescue', not 'have victims delivered to you so you can heal them'. We go inside. More often than not, the survivors are too wounded for us to move, or are on the verge of death. That's when you come in, Shang. Waterbending Healers are essential to the equation, and I'm afraid we're short on them."
Shang's big eyes widened as he stared, mouth ajar, at the fireball in front of him. He pointed to the plane and stammered, as if he had not understood, "I… I go inside that metal monster?"
"Yes," Hakoda replied, and then added with a smirk, "I'd strap that water tub to your back and lower your mask. You're going to need them both."
By this time, the pair had reached the place where Tao had chopped an opening in the side of the plane. The heat pouring from inside was staggering, even to the men and women who had entered many a burning building. Hakoda watched Shang fumble around with his backpack for a moment before turning to the rest of the team.
"Have we received the clear to enter?"
It was regulation that the Search and Rescue party wait until the firemen deemed the building or plane "safe enough" to enter. Hakoda had mixed feelings about this rule; it kept him safe, yes, but as far as he was concerned he was more capable of taking care of himself than the people dying inside. He had the tools of the trade: jumpsuit, oxygen, axe, and other assorted tools. What did the victims have?
Tao nodded and flipped the clear part of his mask down over his face. An unlit cigarette hung between his yellowing teeth.
"Yep, just a second ago," he replied. He turned to the rest of the blue and white-clad team. "All right men and ladies. Let's move!"
One by one, the team darted through the plane's opening and scattered throughout the inside of the plane. Tao waited until the others, save for Shang and Hakoda, had entered before lighting his cigarette with the smoldering flames on the side of the plane, sticking the cigarette under his face shield and in his mouth, and running in himself. Shang followed closely behind Hakoda, and together they began to pick their way through the burning aircraft.
The worst of the damage had already been done; plane fragments and luggage lay everywhere, in every which direction. Seats were burned black, and many a corpse sat, buckled in it's seat. The horrible smells of burning hair and flesh lingered in the stifling air. Hakoda pulled out his flathead axe and began using it to move objects out of his path, checking bodies for life signs as he went.
Meanwhile, Shang trailed behind, looking through the smoke with a wary eye and clutching the hose of his water tub a little harder than one normally would. The boy seemed determined not to look at the corpses, and Hakoda could hear him muttering "Don't look at the dead people" repeatedly to himself through the communication device, which was turned to only Shang at the moment. Each jumpsuit helmet came with one of these devices installed so that the unit could keep in touch and do a routine role call.
Hakoda's communication device beeped in his ear. He reached up and pressed the button on his chest that allowed him to communicate with people other than Shang.
"I'm here," he said.
"We got some live wire in the cockpit, Chief," Tao's voice boomed. Shang winced and turned the volume on his headset down. "You wanna come and get rid of it for me?"
"I'm not touching it – I've got a wife and two young kids at home. Have Bato do it; he hasn't got much going for him anyway," joked Hakoda.
"Very funny, Hakoda," Bato deadpanned.
Hakoda laughed and switched off the communication from the others, save for Shang, who seemed disturbed by Hakoda's momentary humor.
"What are we supposed to do, anyway?" he asked.
Hakoda sighed, the smile fading from his face, and gripped the handle of his axe. "To answer you truthfully, Shang, there's not much we can do. A crash like this – any plane crash, actually – doesn't often leave survivors. We might find one or two survivors and maybe a pet in cargo, but the vast majority of the passengers die, either on impact or shortly afterwards."
"Oh… so what are the others doing, then? The men who you were talking to?"
"Tao and his men are called group B. They go to the cockpit and look for the pilots. Group C is Naneko and her crew. They're in cargo."
"What's group A?"
Hakoda felt a fleeting smirk cross his face and he kicked a food cart out of his way. "Me and whoever I bring along with me is group A."
"I see. And where exactly are we heading?" asked Shang. He yelped in surprise as a flaming suitcase fell from an open rack and almost hit him in the head.
Hakoda spun around to see what the matter was, but an interesting sight caught his eye: a small hand, poking out from beneath a pile of suitcases that had fallen on a collapsed seat. A hand that was moving.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed. He began shoving his way through the knee-high rubble to get to the person, or what he assumed was a person. Hopefully, he thought, heart racing, there was a body still attached to that hand.
Shang followed him, confused. "What is it?"
Ignoring Shang's barrage of questions, Hakoda didn't stop moving until he reached the smoldering seat. He hitched his gloved fingers under the seat, inhaled a deep breath, and heaved the seat up and over to a spot on the ground. Behind him, Shang gasped.
"I can't believe it!"
Neither could Hakoda. Curled up in one seat with bright yellow live vests on and arms wrapped around one another, were two children, both unconscious but undoubtedly alive. Two chests rose and fell shallowly and slowly, one boy and one girl. The boy appeared to be a year or two older than the girl, who could have been no older than seven, and he seemed to have sustained some serious burns. The girl, while covered in an abundance of cuts and bruises like the boy, looked more or less unharmed.
"My gosh, it's a miracle they survived the crash!" exclaimed Shang.
Hakoda couldn't agree more. With a crash of this severity, even the small part of him that was usually filled with hope had been replaced with doubt that anybody would have survived. Though the crash itself may not have been as bad as usual, the plane was falling apart around them! He couldn't imagine how the children hadn't sustained more serious injuries; could the pile of suitcases have acted as a shield? Had the life vests they had put on protected them from the licking flames?
Shang's eyes flickered to a couple in the seats behind the children. Both adults were undoubtedly dead, but their hands were together, their charred fingers intertwined.
"Do you think those are their parents?" He asked the question aloud, but it sounded rhetorical.
Hakoda didn't answer; he assumed so, but to answer would weaken him. Instead, he pressed the button on his chest protector again. Tao's rough, deep voice answered a moment later.
"Everything alright, Chief?"
"Yes, we're fine," he answered hastily. "Look Tao, we've got two kids alive here that Shang is tending to –" Shang took this comment as incentive to rush forward with the hose of his water tank drawn, "– but we really need to get them out of here."
"10-4. I'm on it."
A click sounded, and Tao snapped off the communication. For a few moments, Hakoda silently watched Shang do his Healing. Even for a rookie, Shang seemed to know what he was doing. His motions were smooth and his jaw was set as he Bended the water and placed it over the boy's left eye, which was the worst wound than the boy or the girl (who Hakoda presumed to be the boy's sister) had.
When Shang stepped back and sighed – his breath fogged up the clear part of his mask – Hakoda raised his eyebrows.
"I can't heal that burn completely – it's too severe," said Shang. "I was able to clean it and fix it enough so that he doesn't lose his eyesight, but he's got some tear duct damage and there will always be a nasty scar."
"Better a scar than death."
Hakoda shot a glance at the cockpit door over his shoulder, where he could barely see Tao and his empty-handed crew making their way towards them. Either they had gotten whatever they'd found through a hole in the front of the plane, or they would have to go back later to get the bodies. At any rate, rescuing the living was higher up on the priority scale.
"You got survivors?" Tao caught sight of the children then, and let out a low whistle. "Aw hell."
Hakoda nodded. "Two kids – take them out and get them some oxygen before they die of smoke inhalation."
"You got it, Chief." Tao turned to his men. "Search the rest of the cabin for survivors before you go back in that cockpit. I don't want no livin' people dyin' while we're cartin' out bodies."
The men nodded and hurried off, leaving the three men. Even with the jumpsuit and oxygen, Hakoda still felt sick from being in this plane. He coughed and watched as Tao marched through the debris and scooped up the little girl, who suddenly looked a lot smaller in the gigantic arms of the second-in-command. Tao then backed out of the row and into the aisle enough for Hakoda to get in.
"Leave me with the older, bigger one. Thanks, Tao," Hakoda said, voice laced with sarcasm.
"Wanna trade?" asked Tao, the butt of his cigarette moving in his mouth as he spoke.
"No, I think I can handle it." With a grunt, he scooped up and boy and made his way into the cluttered aisle. On his way out, he turned back to Shang. The burned boy's arms and legs swung pathetically. "Go with the crew and heal all who they think might have a chance."
Without a word, Shang nodded and ran off to help the others, almost tripping over a corpse in the process. Hakoda watched until the Waterbender had disappeared from his vision before turning back to Tao.
"Let's get these kids out of here."
Tao nodded. "Right behind you, Hakoda."
Hakoda took off in the direction of the plane's opening.
Hakoda shifted the boy's dead weight into one arm only long enough to pull his helmet and mask off with one hand. His face was covered with sweat, but he continued to march through the crowd of spectators and firemen towards medic station. He breathed in several gulps of fresh air, air that hadn't been mixed with smoke or tainted with the smells of death. The first thing on his priority list was getting this boy some medical attention and –
The boy coughed violently, his too-large life vest shaking. Hakoda slowed his walking and looked down at the boy in his arms, just as the boy opened his right eye; the left one must have been far too raw and blistered to open properly.
"…A-Azula?" breathed the boy, voice ragged. In his semi-conscious state, he seemed unaware of his surroundings.
Hakoda, neither sure of how to reply or who "Azula" was, only picked up his pace and said the first reassurance that came to his mind, "Your sister is safe. We're taking care of her."
The boy coughed and shivered against Hakoda's chest. His eye closed again, and Hakoda thought that he had passed out until he spoke for a second time: "Where is mother?"
At this, Hakoda couldn't help but think of the couple he had seen in the seat behind the children. He felt a sympathetic tug in his chest and frowned as he looked down upon the boy that he had saved. His feet stopped, suddenly heavier than lead.
"You are luckier than you will ever know," whispered Hakoda. "I hope you take this great gift that you have been given, and use it to help others as you have been helped."
The boy heaved a great sigh and fell into the depths of unconsciousness again, his burned hand swaying. Hakoda blinked back the tears in his eyes and began to walk, once again, towards the medic station.