Sokka clattered up the stairs leading to the upstairs lounge of the Jasmine Dragon. "Hey guys, you'll never guess who I just - wait, why are you all staring at the wall?"
Aang looked up. "Oh, hey Sokka. Where are Suki and Ty Lee?"
"Right here," Suki answered for her boyfriend as she emerged from the stairs along with her fellow Kyoshi Warrior. "Did someone say something about staring at a wall?"
"That would be me." Sokka stepped forward and stood on tiptoe to peer over his friends' heads, but lost his balance and came crashing down on someone else. "Oh, sorry, I - Iroh! You're here too?"
Iroh got to his feet and helped Sokka up. "Yes. Zuko told me there was a crack in the wall and it's growing by the hour, so I had to come and investigate. I'm not about to have my tea shop collapse on me, you know," he chuckled.
"Oh." Sokka turned his attention to the crack on the wall, which was almost a foot long already. "Well, that wasn't there yesterday."
"We only noticed it this morning after you left to meet Suki and Ty Lee at the train station," Katara explained. "At first it was just a few inches, but it's grown longer in the time since."
"They told me to try and check out what's wrong with the wall," Toph added, "but all I can tell is we'll have a nice view of the back alley if this thing cracks open. I don't even know what's making the crack - there's no dry cement or shaky foundations or anything."
"Never knew you were such an expert on architecture," Sokka mumbled before perking up. "Anyway, guess who came along with Suki and Ty Lee on the train!"
"The rest of the Kyoshi Warriors?" Katara speculated.
"The Unagi?" Aang joked.
"Mai!" Zuko exclaimed as his girlfriend walked over to stand beside Suki and Ty Lee. "You're here as well?"
Mai gave a small smile. "Well, I was visiting Ty Lee in Kyoshi Island, and she said she and Suki were coming to visit you all, so I decided to tag along."
Sokka nodded enthusiastically. "So, I think this is a perfect opportunity to get out The Gaang's Companion again! Mai's never seen it before, and neither has Iroh, remember?"
"Actually, Zuko's told me quite a bit about this book of yours in his letters," Mai spoke up.
"And I had the chance to see for myself the stories in it, though I suppose my experience wasn't quite as traumatic as yours," Iroh said with a grin.
Zuko turned to look at his uncle. "Is that why you asked about whether I said anything about the two of us in a circus?"
"More or less."
"Since when have you two been in a circus?" Aang wondered.
Sokka shrugged. "Who knows? But in the meantime, why don't we all have a seat and a cup of hot tea while I check out the Companion?"
After everyone had gotten their cup of tea from Iroh and found a nice spot on the couches surrounding the low table, Sokka opened the book and flipped through the pages. "I've just gotten a bit of an idea just now while we were waiting for the tea. Remember that poll we saw before about who Azula's ideal partner should be?"
The others nodded, except for the two Kyoshi Warriors and Mai. Ty Lee widened her eyes. "They're choosing a partner for Azula?"
"Yeah, that was my response when I first heard about it too," Zuko replied.
"Really? Oh yeah, now I remember." Sokka ran his finger down the list of eligible candidates. "The funny thing is, they've put almost everyone we know and then some in here. There's the five of us, and you too Ty Lee."
Ty Lee looked baffled. "But I'm a girl! How could I be Azula's partner as in, well, like that?!"
"Dunno, but apparently same-sex romances are not such a weird thing in their world. Alright, now for the results." Sokka cleared his throat and started reading from the bottom of the page. "We'll start with the person with the least votes, which would be... Chan!"
Mai raised an eyebrow. "That guy from Ember Island? I'm surprised they even bothered to list him."
Her acrobat friend giggled. "Well, she did seem to like him back at the party."
The knife-thrower shuddered. "So it was a good thing he had the least number of votes after all."
Sokka continued reading. "Anyway, Chan's got two votes, and then it's Katara and Aang tying in second-last with three votes each..."
"Well, that's a relief," Katara said as she leaned on her boyfriend's shoulder while he put an arm around her.
"Next up's Toph and Zuko with four votes each..." Sokka went on, only to be cut off by Ty Lee.
"But Zuko's her brother!"
"And Sugar Queen and I are girls, as well as you," Toph answered. "Don't you see? They'll pair anyone together just for the heck of it. At least I'm no better than Sparky there, which should be a bit of a comfort."
"Oh, now we're on to the top three spots," Sokka announced. "Two choices tie for third: Ty Lee and 'Others (but then again, there are only so many people you can pair with an awesome deranged princess)'. Funny how they never stated what 'others' might include."
Zuko shrugged. "Well, if I were to think like a crazy author, I'd say anyone from Zhao to that guy who sells cabbages might count as 'others'."
"In other words, we don't want to know," Sokka concluded before turning back to the book - and gritting his teeth when he saw who was in second place. "Oh great, I've got 11 votes..."
Suki raised an eyebrow. "And why would they think Sokka would make a good match for Azula?"
Ty Lee giggled again. "Well, I wouldn't mind someone pairing me with - " she stopped abruptly when she caught a glance at Suki's expression. "Sorry."
"Okay, fair enough, at least I'm not in first. As it turns out to be, the guy (yes, he's a guy, thankfully) with the most number of votes - 21, in fact, or 32% in other words - "
"Cut out the suspense and just tell us who it is already, Snoozles!"
"Alright, alright, hold your ostrich-horses!" Sokka paused and cleared his throat for dramatic effect, to the chagrin of his blind earthbending friend. "The top choice for Azula's ideal partner is - Jet!"
There was a silence following this proclamation, until Ty Lee spoke up. "Who's Jet?"
"Azula's ideal partner," Toph responded bluntly.
"Yeah, but I mean, who is he? And how did Azula get to know him?"
Sokka shrugged. "The same way you could've been dating her, Ty Lee - who knows? Not much stuff in this book makes sense anyway."
"Like the time the Unagi made a great water ride," Suki recalled.
Aang's eyes glittered. "The Unagi was a water ride?"
"Don't get any ideas Aang, it's still highly dangerous," Sokka told him. "Anyhow, since we're all here gathered on this fine day, what say we try another story?"
"As long as it doesn't involve Zuko with any other girl," Mai said seemingly nonchalantly, although she was toying one of her knives in her hands.
"Okay, so that rules out half the stories in here. Let's see whether we'll get lucky then." Sokka turned a few more pages before finding something. "Hey guys, this one's actually called The Gaang's Companion, just like the book!"
"Really? Let me see." Katara took the book that her brother passed to her and read the summary aloud. "When the Gaang receives a book full of stories about themselves and many other characters in the AtLA universe, they begin their journey into the wide and wacky world of fanfiction. From romance to adventure to humor to even slash(!), join them as they enter the realms of 'The Gaang's Companion', where they find out that fanfiction writers are always interesting if nothing else. Wow, that does sound like us."
Zuko's eyes suddenly widened in realization. "Wait, since most of the authors in here seem to know what we've done before somehow, like they're constantly watching us, what's to stop one of them from watching us read this book and then put it down in a story?"
Another silence followed this, before Sokka finally spoke up. "I guess we'll find out now." He took the book back from Katara and promptly began.
"Hey guys, what's up?" Sokka asked as he walked into the upstairs level of the Jasmine Dragon to find his friends gathered together and bending their heads over something.
"Oh, hey Sokka." Aang waved a hand at his friend. "Come on over."
Sokka scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm, I don't seem to remember that part."
"I think I do though," Aang said.
"Well, it did happen quite some time ago - it's not surprising you guys can't remember the exact details," Katara said. "Just get on with it first, Sokka."
"What's that you got there?" Sokka peered over Aang's shoulder. "A book?"
"Not just any book. Remember Professor Zei, the professor from Ba Sing Se University who took us into the desert to find Wan Shi Tong's lost library?"
"Oh, you mean the one who got himself buried underneath the sand with the rest of the library."
"Wait, now I definitely remember saying that!" Sokka looked up from the book at his friends. "So... there is someone watching us all this time?"
Before anyone could answer him though, an ominous crack resounded in the room, and they all turned to see the crack in the wall now nearing two feet in length. Nobody said anything for a while until Sokka roused himself. "Never mind. On with the show!"
"Yes, that one," Katara replied. "Iroh found this delivered to the Jasmine Dragon this morning. There's a note that came with it."
Katara widened her eyes as if she had suddenly remembered something important. "The note! I think I still have it somewhere! Wait here - " and she dashed off to her room, only to come back later with the piece of paper in her hand.
"Guess this'll be it then," Aang said, eyeing the paper as if it would try to bite him. "If the story includes the exact contents of the note, then we'll know that, um, er - "
"That something really creepy is going on," Toph finished for him.
She handed a slightly tattered piece of paper to her brother, who started reading the neat small handwriting on it:
Dear Avatar Aang and friends,
It has been almost a year since we parted, and I have heard of your victory over the Fire Nation from the foxes, which have been of great help to me in familiarizing myself with this vast collection of knowledge. I write to tell you of an extraordinary piece of literature I came across while exploring the secrets held by the bookshelves. It mentions you, Avatar Aang, and your friends in many places, as well as people I know nothing about. The stories here, or 'fanfictions' as the book calls them, seem to come from another world far away from the one we live in, as the great spirit Wan Shi Tong, He Who Knows a Thousand Things told me himself, for he is the one who has brought this book to be added to his beloved library. I am now sending you the book itself, for it may be of use to you, and in any case Wan Shi Tong does not seem to mind the loss of this book. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did, for though some of the stories may be shocking, they are quite entertaining if not anything else.
Sokka glanced at the book, then back at the note Katara had handed him. He repeated this motion several times. Finally he looked up, horror written on his face. "It's exactly the same. Word for word."
Aang looked troubled. "But... I don't get it. In fact, I don't understand any of this at all! How is there an entire other universe existing somewhere we don't know who knows every single thing we've ever done or are doing right now? And why do they want to write stories about us that seem to defy all logic and disregard our own opinions, preferences or even our very personalities? And to get back to the start of it all, what is this book, how does it seem to change itself whenever it feels like it, and how in the name of the spirits did it get into our world in the first place?!"
Sokka made a hold-on motion with his hands. "Woah, woah, slow down Aang. That was way too many questions at once. But at least we know the question as to how this book got here: Professor Zei sent it to us, and he got it from Wan Shi Tong himself. And since Wan Shi Tong seems to be able to get his hands (or claws, if you want to get technical) on every single written piece of parchment in history and then some, it shouldn't be too surprising that he can somehow gain stuff from other universes too. The spirits' powers have always been rather unpredictable."
The Avatar sighed. "Yeah, but... well, I wish someone around here could help us figure out what this all means. It's just that - " But just what Aang was going to say would never be known, for it was then at that very moment that the inexplicable happened.
With a mighty crash, the wall collapsed into pieces.
Naturally, when walls collapse, they tend to release clouds of dust, which was what the nine people in the room found them engulfed themselves in. When everything had cleared away, they turned their eyes to see a gaping void where the wall had once stood and, to their horror and amazement, a white rabbit.
Yes, it was just a white rabbit. Normally that wouldn't have been too much of a shock, but in a world where hybrid animals are the norm, it was indeed uncommon to find a purebred creature such as this one. What's more, the rabbit had a carrot tucked behind one ear and was standing on its hind legs while staring at them all with an expression of surprise that looked rather human.
This whole staring business went on for a while until, to their surprise-but-then-again-we-just-watched-a-rabbit-e merge-from-a-collapsed-wall, the rabbit spoke. "Uh... I come in peace?"
Sokka finally found his voice. "In peace?! You just broke a wall."
"No, that was purely an accident!" the rabbit said hastily. "Although I guess I should've expected something of the sort... it is called 'breaking the fourth wall' after all..."
"What are you?" Aang blurted.
The rabbit raised an eyebrow. "That's not very nice." Then it shrugged. "But then again, I guess I'll forgive you since I've obviously conked myself on the head while attempting interdimensional traveling and ended up in some alternate reality conceived by my mind. That, or I'm dead."
"You look alive enough," Ty Lee contributed.
"Thanks, I guess."
Katara spoke up. "What she means is this isn't some crazy dream you're having or some sort of hallucination. I myself have trouble believing that, but if we're all here together at the same time then there's only one possibility. This is actually happening."
The rabbit's eyes were growing wider by the minute. "So that means... I'm actually in the Avatarverse? And you all are really Team Avatar and Mai and Ty Lee and Iroh? And this isn't some badfic universe I've stumbled into?"
"I suppose so, yup, and it definitely isn't," Sokka answered promptly. "So now that you know who we are, now it's time to tell us who you are. And how did you break that wall?"
"I didn't break it!" the rabbit insisted. "I was trying to open a portal that links to other universes, and that portal happened to run through your wall. And you can call me Carrot."
"You're named after a vegetable?" Toph said disbelievingly.
"No, it's just a nickname derived from my penname, but that's not the point. The thing is, somehow or other, I actually survived traveling through different realities and got to meet the AtLA characters!" Carrot gushed happily.
"Yeah, about that," Sokka said. "We've seen the letters 'AtLA' pop up quite a few times in this book," he waved the Companion in his hand, "as well as having ourselves referred to as 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' and being described as a show. What's that all about?"
Carrot took a deep breath. "Oh boy, this is going to take a whole lot of explaining. Okay, let's all have a seat and - "
"And a nice cup of tea," Iroh suggested.
The rabbit nodded. "You're going to need it. Whatever you've seen in that book is nothing compared to what I'm about to tell you..."
A whole lot of explaining and a few months later...
Sokka closed The Gaang's Companion and looked up at Toph. "Well, that one was predictable enough."
The blind earthbender nodded. "You said it. Honestly, I still can't get my mind around the fact that some people actually write fanfiction just because there's Zuko in it. Fangirls are the weirdest species ever."
"Amen to that." Sokka set the book down beside him and picked up the sheet of paper lying beside him. "I can't believe we're actually doing this either. I mean, if you'd told me I'd be standing in an auditorium somewhere behind the fourth wall addressing over 300 fictional characters that come from the same cartoon as me a year ago, I'd say you've drank too much cactus juice."
"Well, Carrot did say she thought of Suki and Ty Lee being the hosts originally," Toph reminded him. "I think we're a better choice though; we do happen to be members of the Gaang after all."
"I'm still going to stick with the name 'Team Avatar' no matter what. I'm the one who came up with it, after all." Sokka got to his feet, holding the sheet of paper in one hand and a microphone in the other. "Alright, it's showtime. Let's get this thing started."
And the two left the Companion sitting on a bench backstage as Sokka's voice drifted in from the front of the stage. "Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Avatar: The Last Airbender Awards!"
Well people, it's been eight whole months ever since this fic was first published, and we've certainly come a long way since then. But all good things eventually come to an end, like the aforementioned Avatar: The Last Airbender Awards, which had its grand finale over nine months ago. In that case, this could be considered as a sort of prequel to that: a beginning after the end, if you will.
Wayward philosophies aside, there are a few people I would like to thank before this thing really comes to an end:
To Miba, otherwise known as Mibamonster, for the funniest Marauders story I'd ever seen, The Marauders' Companion, and then giving me the permission to use the premise for said story in a new fandom. You're the whole reason this story came to be in the first place, and I can't thank you enough for that. Here's a cookie as my token of gratitude.
To Dave, otherwise known as daveshan, for reading through every chapter and giving me feedback that really helped, even putting up with my repetitive errors (we're still at odds over that One Great Problem, but never mind). You're the best beta ever, and here's a cookie of thanks as well.
To every author who's given their permission for me to use their stories in this fic, thanks for spicing up the mix with your stories, and for giving me and the Gaang an enjoyable time reading. Honestly, I think Sokka's read more in the past eight months than in the first fifteen years of his life. Alright Sokka, you can put away that boomerang already.
And last but not least, to all the readers who've reviewed/suggested stories or ideas/favorited/followed/simply read this fic, whether for chapter one onward, or just from the start of this chapter. My only regret is that I can't use all your ideas and/or story suggestions, but I still appreciate every single one of them. You're what keeps me going even when all I want to do is flush my fanfiction account down the drain, and ultimately this story is dedicated to each and every one of you.
So to sum it all up, xie xie, terima kasih, arigato, kam xia, and thank you for all your support. Hope to see you all soon.
~Carrot-Bunny (insert paw print here)