Bliss

Chapter 5: Crash and Burn


Because of the storm none of the gang were able to tell exactly how close the ocean was while they were still on the ship. Rain made for poor visibility and the sheet metal was too slippery for any of them to imagine trying to get close to the edge. Of course, there wasn't time for that and none of them even thought to check how far away they were from crashing. They had Katara for that, and she seemed to think it was imminent.

Once Katara jumped off the ship both Aang and Sokka refused to leave with her still there, despite her wishes for them to take off immediately. Sokka, in his infinite wisdom, tried to follow her, but Suki held him back with a well-aimed kick to the knee. Aang just refused to move Appa, peering intensely through the rain for Katara to realize she was on a fool's mission and return. He knew how close the water was and ignored it as long as possible until the choice was to either leave or crash along with the airship.

Appa became edgy, shifting uneasily and Aang shot a concerned look through the heavy rain as he finally brought Appa off the ship with a decisive "yip yip."

The gang crowded around the edge of Appa's saddle, with the exception of Toph who simply listened and shot Aang an exasperated look. Appa hauled up and away from the ship. Even Suki gasped when she saw how close they had been to the ocean. They could see individual waves on the ocean and for a team who spent what seemed like more than a year on Appa's back flying around the world, they knew how close that was.

Appa struggled to gain altitude as the airship drifted downwards below them, the way it seemed to float in stasis belying the quick descent into the water. It was like a cannon ball that looked to be dribbling slowly across a field but could still take off a man's foot or destroy a building.

"The angle," Sokka muttered, leaning forward in his perch to get a better view. His friends could see the numbers multiplying in his head as he calculated the crash, his hands waving to correspond what was going on in his head. It looked pretty silly with the boot still in his hand. "Speed. This is going to be bad."

They all looked over the side of the saddle grimly.

The ship still looked like it was drifting into the water, but Sokka was hugging his boot and making sounds of distress as it rapidly came closer and closer to impact. Everyone was tense.

At the last second, the ocean spread from beneath the ship, water coming up on all sides and cradling the crashing airship as it hit and immediately pulling it under the waves with nary a splash.

"Katara!" Sokka shouted. The water settled back into choppy waves caused by the storm, rain hitting on the debris littering the surface.

Toph listened to them with a forlorn expression as Suki narrated what was happening.

Aang guided Apps down to the wreckage, his baby blue eyes scanning the water for Katara. As the other Waterbender in the group, he should be the one who found her, but he couldn't. Water, water everywhere and the human body was made up of sixty percent water. The other forty percent was difficult to locate in normal conditions, and Aang didn't have proficiency at a micro level like Katara did.

There was so much wreckage and Katara was so small. None of them could see very far or well in the rain, but each one of them had their eyes peeled and their ears on alert for any sound that wasn't the roar of water.

"She wouldn't just float there," Sokka said angrily. "She'd make herself known." Then he started to cry.

Appa bellowed and lightening struck.

x.x.x.x.x

Katara screamed in rage as she and Zuko were propelled out of the bed on impact, her mind calling the water to surround them to cushion the blow. Her hands held Zuko to her as they bashed against the wall, the ocean quickly heeding her call in all directions. Katara's back smacked harshly against the wall and she felt her grip ease. For a moment she panicked at the thought of losing him in the tempestuous power of her element, but she controlled all. For so long Katara had believed that the water was stronger than she was, and that it would always come out on top, but not this time. This time it couldn't be the victor in this battle. Instead, she would be.

She reached out and created a ball of water around an air pocket, pulling it towards her. The water swirled in a whirlpool around the air, as she kicked off from the wall, cutting through the spinning water like a knife through butter. The water practically deposited her and Zuko safely in the pocket of air, and she quickly froze the surrounding area into an impenetrable fortress, taking inspiration from the iceberg Aang had rested in for a century.

Once they were in safety Katara let out a sigh of relief. She wasn't sure it would work. Rarely did she have to rely on her own powers to manipulate another element, but now she knew it could be done in a roundabout way. Aang could have expanded on the air in her little bubble, but she was only able to work with what was already there, trapped beneath the water like they were.

His heart had started to beat right before impact, but he wasn't breathing now. His pulse was weak, but still there. Katara put her hand on his chest again, closing her eyes as she probed his body with her senses. There, her mind screamed as she realized he had swallowed water in an attempt to breathe while they were submerged. With a flick of her wrist she brought it to the surface and it flowed out of his mouth.

Katara had seen people choke up water before, and they had always coughed and sputtered as it came out of their throat and they were able to breathe again. Zuko didn't. She frowned, her hand still on his chest. It definitely wasn't rising beneath her palm. Quickly, without giving it any thought, she leaned over and pressed her lips against his, blowing air into his mouth.

It didn't work, the breath just leaked out of the side of his lips and his nose, so after assessing the situation for a second she tilted his head back and tried again. The air went in cleanly and he expelled it on his own. He inhaled again on his own too, but didn't wake up.

Katara listened to his pulse and the soft sound of him breathing as she huddled next to him in their cocoon of ice. She sighed and her throat felt heavy from not crying or screaming through the entire ordeal. He was cold where he always ran hot.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked, probing him again with her senses again. She cast her mind back to his room for clues, and she could remember a pillow being out of place on his bed, tossed at a strange angle beside his head. So he could have been smothered, she supposed, but she couldn't picture Zuko as they type to simply lie back and take it. He must have been incapacitated at some point, probably after supper. He hadn't consumed anything different from what the rest of them had eaten or drank. In fact, his supper had been very close to what she herself had devoured, with the exception of a small side of vegetables. Considering Aang had eaten an entire heaping plateful of those, she was sure that Zuko hadn't been poisoned at supper.

Katara closed her eyes and probed his blood. It took every bit of her concentration to detect the small impurities running through his veins. She knew his blood intimately from the last time he had died in her arms. His heart wasn't supposed to beat this sluggishly, and she knew if she didn't do something quickly that the life she had given back to him in the last few minutes would be snuffed out again.

Katara's limited experience with blood bending was mostly limited to stopping the flow of blood through someone's body, but this time she sped it up so his heart was racing to keep up with the flow. With one hand held straight in front of her, tense and firm with the fingers splayed only slightly. She began to grasp the air behind it with her other hand, making a drawing motion with her fingers as though she were pulling hair out of a drain pipe. Her fingers acted as a visualization of a strainer, keeping the silt in the water back, only this time it was poison in blood, and at a far more microscopic level.

By the time his blood started to flow clear through his body Katara was sweating and breathing heavily from the effort. Her hands were shaking, but her mental resolve was still strong. One thing she had learned in the last year was that the bending itself wasn't always about how fatigued or shaky your body was, but more about how it was mentally interpreted. For the longest time if her body showed signs of weakness, so did her bending, but that didn't always necessarily have to be the case.

It was a lesson she had learned on her own. No Master could have taught it too her.

The poison was all located in his forearm and Katara's eyesight wavered as she broke a piece of the ice surrounding them and cut open Zuko's wrist. The tainted blood flowed through the wound, cleansing his body rapidly. The knife melted in her hand, coating the fingers into a healing touch. Once Zuko was free of the poison, her hand clasped around his wrist and she collapsed on top of him, utterly spent.

x.x.x.x

Zuko awoke first and immediately recognised three things without opening his eyes. The first was that he had fallen asleep at some point, though he usually didn't require much of it, and his head pounded and throbbed worse than the morning after the last time he drank fire ale. The second thing Zuko noticed was that he had been moved somewhere. He couldn't detect the vibrations of the airship on his body, and he felt cold rather than the usual hot temperatures that usually pervaded Fire Nation technology. Third, it felt like he was sleeping across someone's legs, as there was the distinct shape of a knee pressed into his lower back.

What had he done?

His eyes flew open and he found himself trapped under a small blue dome that felt like ice next to his palm. Upon closer inspection he realized it was ice. His first reaction was to call his Fire forward and melt himself out of there but caution followed closely on the heels of confusion. Slowly, his head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton so that every movement was a battle of will, he turned to see who he was collapsed against.

Katara.

He wasn't surprised, and he realized that he had recognised the ice as her handiwork the second he woke up. Zuko knew something had to be very wrong for her to have sequestered both of them into a cocoon of ice. He looked closer at her, his eyes having trouble detecting anything in this dark. There was a slight glow coming from the ice itself, almost blue in color, but it wasn't allowing him to see much of the details. He wanted to see if she really looked as exhausted as it seemed in the blue glow, if the shadows cast beneath her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks were because there was something wrong with her or if it was just the lighting. He yearned to raise his palm to her face and let a small fire flare, just for a second.

He would never light fire in here. Who knew how thick the ice was and what was immediately outside that could get in if it melted. There was also a chance that they were running out of oxygen. Why else would she have passed out like this when she had been healthy enough to get them there in the first place?

That's when he noticed the blood, just a dark splotch against the pristine ice and the light color of her night robe.

"Katara?" Zuko question, his voice nothing more than a croak. His mouth and throat felt so dry. "Katara?" he said again, louder this time. His hand pressed against her shoulder. She felt so cold, but then she always felt cool to the touch, hadn't she?

No, no, that was wrong. She always burned more hotly than he expected, he remembered.

Katara's breath sighed out of her body when his fingers made contact and her head lolled to the other shoulder.

He should have been relieved that she was alive, but instead the spark of unease flared in his mind. A lock of her thick hair fell lankly against her forehead and her skin was coated in a thin veil of sweat. She wasn't just asleep. He'd never seen her like this, without the fire that made her so unique. Somehow, he managed to push past the fuzzy feeling in his head and navigate around the tight confines they were in to face her, his knees balanced on either side of her hips.

"Zuko," she sighed in her sleep as his hand pressed against her stomach, trying to find the wound. That was where most of the blood had pooled, so dark it was almost black against her clothes, but she seemed to be fine. Had she been able to build them this cage and also heal herself? At the sound of his name on her lips, his stomach fluttered with satisfaction, but he pushed the inappropriate response away for a better time. A moment later she said "poison" and he realized she hadn't been saying his name in her sleep after all; she had been trying to tell him something.

x.x.x.x

Katara was drifting, her was mind away from her body, following the ebb of waves and tides through the ocean. She played with her element like a child cupping water on the palm of her hand and then skimming her palm along the meniscus, feeling the surface tension smooth and silky beneath her touch. If only she could wear water, she thought. It would feel cooler on her skin than even the best silks, smoother than the most expensive furs. She would feel like a queen.

Her mind giggled at the idea. She could probably bend water into a very fashionable dress, but there wasn't much she could do about the nudity issue.

What would Zuko think?

The moment her mind thought of Zuko she realized he was speaking to her at a distance, back in her body, but she couldn't entirely make out the words. They were muffled through the roar of water in her ears. She didn't care what he had to say; she would gladly have ignored him if it wasn't for the urgency in his tone. Was he ok? she wondered. Had she failed in healing him? Was he bleeding to death in her arms while she slept a healing sleep herself? Immediately Katara shot awake, her eyes springing open and her mind popping back into her skull and she surfaced.

She was curled against Zuko's chest, his heart beat slow and steady in her ear. She felt satisfaction upon hearing it, and couldn't help but smile slightly at the sound.

Mine, her mind thought, asserting ownership over the sound as her hand drifted over his heart. She felt relaxed, almost euphoric. Giddy. His eyes were closed, but he wasn't sleeping. He seemed fine, and she knew he had rearranged them so that he was protecting her in her sleep rather than the other way around. That wasn't an easy task in this small of a space. Her legs were bowed between his, hers bonelessly limp and his stretched taut on either side. He was still wearing one of his stupid slippers, but the other foot was bare, the slipper probably long lost to the water. It made her smile expand.

"I didn't understand at first," he told her, his voice rumbling in his chest. "You mentioned poison in your sleep. I should have known you meant me. The blood is mine, isn't it?"

She nodded, ear brushing against his body. "How are you feeling?" she asked him. She felt so warm, so peaceful. She wanted to just drift back to sleep, but for now his answer was more important.

"Alive," he said mirthlessly. "Katara, we're running out of air."

Katara's eyes snapped opened again and she inhaled sharply, recognising the warmth, lethargy and sense of euphoria for what it was. She pushed away from Zuko, pressing herself against the cool wall of ice. Contact with her element helped center her, keeping the fuzzies at bay. They had drifted at least two hours worth of distance towards the bottom of the ocean and she could see every inch of that space. Ice wasn't supposed to sink, so she knew that subconsciously she must have been forcing it downwards and she didn't know why she was doing that. Shouldn't she want the two of them to be rescued quickly on the surface?

She had saved his life and then exhausted herself too much to pay attention to what her Waterbending was doing. She had been neglectful, she realized, by thinking they were secure enough here for her to let go. She should have fought against the blackout until she knew they were safe, but at the same time a part of her couldn't see how they could be any safer than in this protective bubble. If it wasn't for the air situation, she would have been keeping him perfectly out of harm's way. With her mind, she gave the water beneath them an enormous thrust and at the same time let go of the heavy, sinking sensation that was dragging them under.

"I'm sorry," she told him. "I made a mistake bringing you here." She was overcome by guilt and didn't know how to express it.

He looked away from her and Katara yanked her foot away from where it rested against her knee, interpreting his move as blame. There wasn't much space in their cocoon for two separate people, but somehow they both managed to not touch.

"I guess so," he told her frigidly.

They were silent, the air turning cold between them in a way that had nothing to do with the ice or the lack of air. Why was he being so sensitive? Why was he being judgmental about her almost suffocated both of them? It wasn't entirely her fault she had collapsed from exhaustion. That one was his fault too. If he hadn't been so careless, he wouldn't have been poisoned in the first place.

He didn't have any right to judge a simple slip-up on her part. Her anger fuelled her worn-out bending abilities, and before long they were flying out of the water.

x.x.x.x

"She wouldn't have drowned," Sokka said as the gang scoured the wreckage for Katara, and then for Katara's body after the timeframe for someone surviving underwater expired. "She's a Master Waterbender," he insisted. "She didn't drown."

They remained silent, not contradicting him. Suki was grim, not believing that anyone could survive that crash, even if they were in command of the ocean. All around them were piece of debris torn from what had been a solidly constructed airship. The water had shredded the metal to shards. Suki didn't think even Katara could survive that, but she didn't tell Sokka that.

Aang didn't contradict Sokka because he believed in Katara too, though he didn't understand why she hadn't surfaced yet to make sure they knew she was alive. He tried to find her in the water, using his own Waterbending abilities, but there was simply too much ocean and the storm in addition to all the pieces of wreckage made finding her the equivalent of locating a needle in a haystack. Or, in mariner terms, finding a single drop of water in the ocean.

Toph wasn't sure either way. She thought it was a little strange that the ship went down at all, let alone with Zuko still on it. She had felt it beneath her feet and she knew it was solidly built. She wasn't worried about Katara. Katara was resilient. Anyone who could make a knife out of her own sweat wouldn't have any problems in a high speed impact. Probably. There were much more pressing things for Toph to worry about.

An hour after the airship crashed and Katara disappeared they found the first lifeboat. It had collapsed in the water, the balloon dead and waterlogged and the boat reduced to little more than a few planks of wood. Survivors were clinging to anything that floated, including the life jackets, seat cushions, and wood from the boat. The strange thing was that despite the ongoing storm surrounding them and the choppy and hazardous waves of the water, this one radius of ocean was calm.

"Katara," Sokka said with surety as the first survivor they pulled on Appa's back told them a tale of the lifeboat coasting from the sky, the balloon unable to hold many people. It was like they were drifting on raindrops, he said. That the water had turned calm when they approached and it had saved them all.

"It had to be one of them sea witches," the man insisted with a shiver.

"Katara," Sokka nodded.

"More like someone hit the sauce too much before we crashed," Toph pointed out, miming the action of drinking alcohol.

Appa was able to do little more than paddle on top of the ocean with all the added crew from the ship on his back. Everyone remained silent for the most part, each reflecting on what had happened in the last hour and the people who were not present with them.

"Captain?" Toph's voice rang out clear as her eyes focused on the former captain of The Aurora, the flagship of Zuko's small airfleet which was now twenty thousand leagues under the sea. It unnerved people when she did that, she knew, as they always thought she could see things she couldn't. Not visibly, but through an added sense like clairvoyance or mindreading. Really, she could just smell the tobacco the Captain used and had recently heard the sound of him sucking on his teeth. She didn't know anyone else who did that to cover silence. "Where is the Fire Lord?"

The silence before was nothing compared with what happened now as everyone stopped moving, stopped breathing, and waited for the response. "On the first airship," the captain answered. "I couldn't have abandoned ship unless he was safe."

Toph accepted this as an answer. For now. Obviously, this rationale didn't hold true for everyone on his ship, not even Katara. Toph hadn't been there when Zuko had told his people Katara was their Fire Lady, none of the gang had been, but even during her most furious Toph had noticed they treated Katara with various degrees of respect.

Sokka picked up on it too. "What about my sister?" he demanded. "Aren't all you people supposed to treat her like your queen or whatever? What about her?" He jumped over three people, causing them to sprawl out of their assigned seating to get away from him. One almost toppled off the side of Appa's saddle and into the water. Sokka had the Captain by the neck of his uniform, shaking him for all he was worth. "And what about us? You were off the ship before we even reached the evacuation site. If my sister is dead, I'm blaming you."

"Sokka, don't be irrational," Suki said, but without conviction.

The Captain frowned as he looked around the small space on Appa's back. "Where is Lady Katara?"

The gang remained silent.

"Rogers?" the Captain asked, directing the question at the man who had told them Zuko was on the first lifeboat before they had evacuated. The one who had given Katara the idea that Zuko was, in fact, still aboard the crashing ship.

"She went down with the ship, sir," Rogers answered grudgingly.

The captain went white. It was the first time any of them had seen a seasoned sailor, or aviator as the case may be, look seasick.

"She didn't just go down with the ship," Sokka spat in Roger's direction. "Something this bozo said convinced her that your Lord was still on it and she went back for him."

Half an hour later they met the second lifeboat, this one had landed on the water with ease and had converted their balloon into sails. They cheerfully wove as Appa drew broadside.

"Ahoy. Glad to see you made it, Captain, even if you did lose both your boats," the first mate called out.

"Have you seen the first lifeboat?" Aang asked. "We're looking for Zuko."

The first mate pointed in the distance where an island was starting to become visible through a curtain of fog. The sun was starting to rise and with it the storm clouds were rolling away, leaving a humid but clear dawn. "We're converging on the nearest landform as per procedure."

"Land?" Sokka asked. "But Katara will stay with the water. I won't go," he insisted stubbornly to Aang as the Captain directed a few of the sailors transferred onto the lifeboat. "She needs to be able to find us."

"Once Katara has found Zuko she'll stay with him," Aang explained. "That's why she didn't come look for us. She's with the first lifeboat."

They all stared at him, dumbfounded as he urged Appa on to the island.

x.x.x.x

The first lifeboat survived the journey without falling from the sky and the seasoned soldiers were creating a makeshift camp on the beach, including a signal fire to be seen by either a passing ship or one of the other two airships still in the sky. Appa and the gang arrived slightly before the second lifeboat, Appa's paddling feet quicker than a sail on the calm post-storm breeze.

Appa walked right up on shore, bypassing the small sandy beach area and settled beneath a canopy of trees on solid land. The gang scampered onto dry ground, Toph visibly relaxing as her toes scraped against the hard rock. One minute she was sighing in bliss at the feel of ground beneath her feet and the next she frowned, flicking her fingers to the side at something behind her. Rogers yelped as unyielding stone closed around his ankles as shackles.

"What is this?" Captain asked, stepping forward to defend his subordinate.

"I don't see Zuko anywhere," Aang said, his timing perfect. "Do you think he might be in the forest?"

"I think it's more likely he's at the bottom of the ocean," Sokka said with a glare, stepping between the Captain and Rogers with his sword in his hand. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this, Captain. This is my sister we're talking about and it is starting to look like this guy killed Zuko and tried to kill her. It isn't going to be pretty for anyone involved," Sokka declared menacingly.

The Captain looked like he was going to throw up, turning a color of green not found in nature except maybe skimming the top of a swamp. "He must be here," the Captain insisted, straightening his uniform as he marched down the beach. Sokka trailed behind, slapping his sword against his palm menacingly. The rest followed, a parade of anger and mourning.

Suki's fingers were twitching around her fans and the small throwing daggers she had fashioned after Ty Lee's weapons of choice, but she didn't do anything as overt as Sokka. She didn't want give away the only defence she had, which was surprise. Most of these men feared the Avatar because of who he was and they had heard rumours of Katara's Waterbending skills from those who had seen her in action. They were even wary of Sokka considering the size of his sword and the stubborn set of his enraged face. None of them knew who she was and she liked it that way.

As always the Avatar team backed each other up, flanking the Captain as he approached the sailors from the first airship. He marched right up to the man who had taken charge, someone who looked familiar but wasn't one of the soldiers or guards. For one, he wasn't wearing a uniform, though that wasn't entirely integral since they had been dragged out of bed at night, but he also didn't straighten or show the Captain any sign of respect as he approached.

"Where is the Fire Lord?" the Captain demanded.

"He must have been on one of the other lifeboats," Makiz responded indifferently.

"Policy says the Fire Lord is always evacuated first. No lifeboats leave until he does! You know the rules apply to everyone on The Aurora, not just my men."

A crowd was forming around the two of them, whispers surging backwards like a wave of sound.

"The Fire Lord is dead?" one particularly loud bystander asked.

Makiz shrugged. "I went to his room and he wasn't there. He was probably with his new wife. Why don't you ask her where he is?"

"I don't like this guy," Sokka said loudly.

"I don't either," the Captain said with satisfaction. He turned to his men, including the Avatar and his friends in his gaze. "Detain everyone on the first lifeboat."

Makiz sputtered and the men simply looked lost, glancing at people who had been, up until the night before, fellow soldiers in arms or at least neighbours and confidants.

"For the murder of Fire Lord Zuko," the captain continued.

Everyone was in motion at once, some trying to flee and others giving chase. With the help of Toph and Aang's Earthbending skills, a crude jail formed out of rock, solid and impermeable against murderers or mutineers. Sokka's sword did a great deal of talking for him and he hovered next to the door of the jail until every suspect was rounded up and the entrance was closed.

The Captain's hand fell heavily on his shoulder as Sokka stood, still guarding the prisoners. "Come," he said, face haggard and aged years in the span of hours. "We will be meeting the sun in memory of our Fire Lord. We will honour your sister as well. She who risked her life for our Fire Lord is worthy of our respect."

"Katara's not dead," Sokka insisted, but the words sounded hollow and empty to his ears.

"I pray you are right," the Captain said quietly, turning to look at the makeshift prison. "Terrible, terrible business."

He walked down to the beach, leaving Sokka to follow. On the way there Suki joined them, falling into step with Sokka and taking his hand in hers. "We won't accept they're dead yet," she told him quietly. "Tonight we'll take Appa and search again. Your sister is stronger under the moon."

"Katara stopped needed the power of the moon a long time ago," Sokka reminded her angrily. They glanced at each other, frustration evident on Sokka's face as Suki stared mildly at him.

"Do you still believe she's alive?" Suki asked.

"Of course I do," he snapped. "This is Katara we're talking about. You've seen her, she does three impossible things before breakfast without breaking a sweat. She's still alive somewhere, I know it. She can't die."

"Then stop moping and take action!" Suki told him.

"I'm not moping!" Sokka pouted.

Suki shook her head but tightened her grasp on Sokka's hand as they reached the beach. In the wide, expansive area the soldiers and Fire Nation delegates not involved in what was starting to look like a Fire Lord assassination were lined up in the sand, standing at attention as they faced the sun. It just so happened they were facing the ocean as well, and Sokka felt tears well up in his eyes at the unwitting association of Fire and Water. It was as if nature had planned the tribute to coincide with this time of day, when everything was aligned to honour both of their missing comrades.

"Zuko being dead would solve a lot of problems," he mentioned casually to Suki, not meaning it.

"Only for you. Maybe Aang. And only on the level of freeing Katara from marriage to him. I know that soon you'd miss your buddy, and on a global level his death is catastrophic."

Sokka frowned as they met up with Toph and Aang on the edge of the military formation, ruining the look of the straight formation with their clustered group.

Aang looked like someone killed his best friend, all fight gone out of him. When the Captain took his position in front of the men and women of the Fire Nation, Aang looked towards him with respect.

"Isn't it too soon to count them out?" Sokka hissed out of the corner of his mouth, suddenly irrationally infuriated that everyone just assumed Katara would fail at her mission. Katara never failed anything in her life once she set out to do it. Everyone was behaving as if Zuko was gone for good and Katara had gone with him.

"What's going to happen to us now?" one of the soldiers called out, asking the Captain.

The Captain stared him down.

"Will we all be punished?" another asked.

"Who will be Fire Lord?"

"Quiet!" The Captain yelled. "You should all be ashamed, thinking of yourselves when your Lord lies dead at the bottom of the ocean."

The men immediately fell silent and after a moment the Captain raised his hand and all the Firebenders shot a bolt of fire towards the sun. Every individual flare of fire joined and created a great ball, burning over the ocean and blocking out the real sun for a moment, intense and burning hot in all of their faces. Everyone stared into the flames as it smouldered brightly in the sky. Some had tears in their eyes from grief, others from the hot waves and intense light of the fireball.

A geyser of water poured out of the ocean, dousing the fire as a great wave smashed against the shore, soaking all of them with brine. It hovered over them for a moment, threatening with the promise of crashing. The wave came out of nowhere and was so strong a few of the men fell backwards as it crashed into them. It was gone almost as soon as it arrived.

"YES!" Sokka exclaimed, jumping up with his fist pumping the air even before the water reached him. He landed on Suki, causing her to laugh and pitch forward into the wave. Sokka got a mouthful of ocean for his exuberance, seaweed sticking to the top of his head, and Suki batted at him to remove him from her back, sand adhering to her face. He was halfway to his feet when he stopped and stared like the rest of them. In great wave starting with Captain, each member from the Fire Nation fell prostrate to the ground, hands extended above their heads and their chests pressed against the wet sand.

Left standing were Zuko and Katara, bone dry at the base of the tide line. Water lapped at Katara's feet and she appeared worn out but unharmed, floating ethereal atop the water. The two of them stood together for a moment, not touching, not smiling. Katara appeared as a mythical spirit come to life, the tempestuous countenance of the Great Water Goddess Kateon and Zuko as her companion. He looked just as furious, taking a step forward towards his people.

"Captain Alzond?" Zuko called out, his voice strong against the silence.

Sokka snapped his fingers. "That's his name!" he exclaimed in a mock whisper to his friends, already past the fact that Katara and Zuko were alive. He hadn't doubted at all that they were show up eventually, and was impressed by the dramatics of Katara's timing. He wanted to laugh, dance, and run up and hug his sister and maybe even that bastard Zuko as well. His exuberance was stayed by what was said next.

Zuko continued. "What happened to my ship?"


A/N: I don't work with third-person omniscient, ever, but this chapter seemed to be calling for something along those lines. There was too much to tell besides Katara's POV, so I hope you'll all forgive my inconsistency. When Katara is in a scene, you'll always see the narrative as third-person limited, but the style will get murkier when she isn't present. Personally, I kind of like it.

Any thoughts?

Thanks to all who offered to Beta. It took me a while but I finally identified my needs as being someone intimately familiar with the Avatar universe rather than someone to edit or help with plot. A round of applause to WizardsofAllGenres for fulfilling that role.