Zuko's jaw dropped as he stared up at the towering blocks of ice and the roar of churning rapids filled his ears. "Sokka, this is crazy," he shouted, gripping his paddle tight. "We should head back. Now."
"Oh, come on, it's not so bad."
"You want to take on ice! In a tiny boat! Did you even bother to think this through?"
"Hey, you're the one who said you wanted to experience more of our culture!"
Right, Zuko thought. Thank you, Mai. He could still see the slight smirk on Mai's face when she told him that she had taken the liberty of arranging for him to spend three weeks in the Southern Water Tribe. He should take the time to learn about the cultures of the other Nations, she had said. It would go a long way to healing relations with the Fire Nation, after all. Zuko's hands clenched his paddle as the ice drew nearer. Did she know this would happen?
"Is this what you do for fun?"
"Ice dodging is a right of passage," Sokka said. Zuko glanced over his right shoulder. "If you pass, you'll become an honorary member of the Southern Water Tribe. Only…" Sokka glanced down at their canoe sheepishly, and Zuko's heart plummeted. "Usually we do this in a bigger boat. A warrior ship to be precise."
"What?" Zuko twisted around, eyes wide. "Sokka! There were war ships back at the village! Why didn't we take one of those?"
"Because this…might have been a last minute decision." Sokka shrugged and averted his gaze. "Maybe. Probably."
Zuko smacked his forehead. "Sokka, you idiot! Do you ever—"
Sokka gasped and plunged his paddle into the water. "Paddle backwards!"
"What—?" Zuko spun around, glimpsed the glacier looming over them and did as he was told. The canoe slanted, just barely missing the ice.
"What now, Zuko?"
"What? Why are you asking me?"
"You have to guide us through!"
"I have to what?"
"I thought you knew this!"
"Why would you think—?"
The canoe crashed against an iceberg, cracking it in half. Zuko tumbled into the icy water, swallowing a mouth full. He struggled, fighting against the churning current and the weight of his waterlogged clothes. Finally, he broke to the surface. He grabbed at a chunk of ice and scrambled for purchase on the slick surface until Sokka grasped his wrist and hauled him up and out of the water.
Zuko flopped down on the ice, shivering. He tried his Breath of Fire to no avail. Glancing to his left, he saw Sokka sitting next to him, wringing out his ponytail ("It's a warrior's wolf-tail," he always insisted) and looking around.
As Sokka twisted to take in the scenery behind him, Zuko lunged and wrapped his hands around Sokka's neck. "Why didn't you tell me I was supposed to steer the damn boat?"
Sokka clawed at Zuko's hands, but the thick gloves covering both their hands hindered his efforts. "I thought you knew!"
"What the hell would you assume that?"
"Mai said you knew about ice dodging!"
Zuko loosened his grip, jaw slack. "What?"
"Yeah," Sokka said, wiggling free and scrambling backward. "She said you knew. It's in the letter she sent me, I still have it in my tent, I can show you!"
Zuko quickly gathered his wits and leapt forward, grabbing the front of Sokka's parka and yanking him closer. "What else did she say?"
"Mai!" Zuko growled and gave Sokka a good shake. "What else did Mai tell you?"
"Um." Zuko watched, steam rising from his body, as Sokka tried to think; it looked like hard work. "Oh!" Sokka attempted to snap his fingers despite the thick gloves he wore. "She said something about telling you that now you're even for the time you broke up with her. I don't know what that has to do with… Zuko?"
Shit. Zuko gulped, deathly pale, as comprehension dawned on him: I married a crazy bitch.