This one-shot was inspired by a conversation that happened at Promptbending, in which Advocaat stated (in regards to Zuko) that 'Katara wants dat booty'. My response:
"Zuko booty. I must be tired, cause all I can envision right now is a Zuko-looking treasure chest, pirate style. O_o"
And so a crack!fic was born. Needless to say, this fic will feature lots of bad booty puns and is not to be taken seriously. Also, you have Advocaat to thank for the name of Katara's ship. It made me giggle so much that I couldn't resist.
A Pirate's Life For Me
Every pirate worth her grain of salt knew about the most illustrious of Fire Nation treasures: that red and gold gem that was as legendary as it was impossible to retrieve (or so it was rumoured). But Katara was the fiercest pirate on the seas, and she was not to be deterred. She would have that treasure, even if she had to sail to the edge of the world and beyond to find it. No matter what, she would claim Zuko's booty for her own!
Or at least that had been the idea. Unfortunately, when she finally got to the island where the map she had pieced together from rumours said she would find this much-acclaimed booty (after several months of relentless searching and near-death experiences), she realised that the legend had left out certain details. Like the fact that the treasure chest looked almost like a person … and was it glaring at her?
"Um, are you sure this is the treasure we're looking for?" Sokka, her first mate and brother, asked while scratching his chin. A gold earring dangled from his right ear, glinting in the light. "It looks kind of … odd."
Katara folded her arms under her breasts. "It's at the marked spot, isn't it?"
"Then this must be it."
Sokka didn't seem convinced, but just then Momo the lemur decided to get a closer look and reached out to poke the treasure chest with one furry finger. The chest jumped away before he could even touch it and glared at them through its golden eyes (though the one on the left seemed half-closed from the reddish, warped looking wood that surrounded it, almost like a scar). Momo screeched and retreated back to his perch on Sokka's shoulder; Katara just blinked, unable to believe what she had witnessed. Treasure chests didn't move. Then again, this was the oddest treasure chest she had ever seen: the bottom half of the wood had been painted crimson and gold, almost like a tunic, while the lid seemed to be painted all pale and black, forming an elongated face with hair. It was bizarre and unnerving, but she wasn't about to turn back now. Strange or not, Zuko's booty would be hers.
Steeling herself, she marched towards the chest and—
"Stay where you are!"
Katara froze and immediately water erupted from the flask hanging at her belt, forming a shining arc around her as she dropped into an offensive stance. "Who said that? Show yourself!"
The blood drained from Sokka's face. "U-um, Katara, I think you better—"
"What?" she snapped, still looking this way and that for any sign of an enemy. Then she noticed Sokka pointing at the chest, which was raising its one good eyebrow at her. Suddenly, it clicked who had spoken. "That was you?"
The chest rolled its eyes, as if to say "No, really? And here I thought it was the pink polar-bear dog prancing around in a tutu while singing sea shanties." Katara did not take kindly to this attitude. She was Captain Katara, the deadliest and most beautiful pirate on the seas, and she was not going to let some stupid box get snarky with her. Unfortunately, the chest didn't wait for her to make her super killer comeback; instead it ran (well, hopped might be a better word, but it was definitely fleeing at an impressive speed). Katara closed her mouth, realising she had just been standing there and staring while her prized booty hopped farther from her reach. Then she started running, shouting for her brother to help.
"Don't let Zuko's booty get away!" she yelled.
She didn't check to see if he was following. Her whole attention was focussed on that annoying treasure chest that was hopping away from her like there was no tomorrow. Seriously, how did that thing move so fast? She tried firing ice daggers at it to slow it down, but it just kept on running, leading her through dark, winding caves and tunnels. At some point, she was aware that she had lost her brother and the lemur. She was also aware that she was getting steadily more lost herself.
"That's it," she gritted out between clenched teeth.
Putting on a burst of speed, she dashed after the treasure chest and did a running leap, tackling the thing mid-hop. It grunted and struggled, trying to slip out of her grip and calling her all sorts of rude names, but she refused to let go.
"Stop moving or I swear I'll turn you into a chest-shaped ice cube!" she growled.
The chest let out a derisive snort. "You think that scares me? Lady, I've had worse. Trust me."
Katara swore as the chest almost got away from her. "Would—you—just—stop—struggling!"
She started summoning her water, but before she could carry out her threat and make a chestsicle there was an odd crumbling sound from underneath them. They both froze and shared a panicked glance; then the ground suddenly collapsed in on itself and they were both falling and screaming, tumbling into the darkness. Katara lost her grip on the chest, but that seemed of little importance now. She would be lucky to make it out of this mess alive, let alone touch Zuko's booty again.
Suddenly, something glimmered from within the shadows below her like a mirror. Something that felt a lot like water. A grin curved her lips and she started moving her hands, forming a watery cushion to soften her fall. The chest crashed into the liquid cushion next to her, completely unharmed. She didn't waste time patting herself on the back for her quick-thinking, however, and simply controlled the water to place them on the island in the middle of the water. Good, now they were safe—no thanks to Zuko's stupid booty, of course.
"Well, I hope you're happy," she muttered, straightening up her clothes and glaring at the box. "You almost killed us and, as far as I can tell, we seem to be stuck down here."
"You're one to talk," the chest retorted, flipping onto its feet—uh, bottom?—so that it was upright again. "This is all your fault!"
"My fault? You're the one who ran into the caves!"
"You were trying to capture me!" the box exploded, hopping up and down in anger.
She sniffed and flicked a loose strand of hair out of her face. At some point during the fall she had lost her captain's hat, though most of her hair remained pulled back with a blue scarf. "I'm a pirate. Collecting treasure is what I do. Besides, I've been wanting Zuko's booty for years."
The chest made an odd, choking noise. "Excuse me?"
"Isn't that what you are?" She raised her eyebrow, looking the chest up and down. "I admit, I never expected the legendary, lost treasure of the Fire Nation to be a talking treasure chest. Do you contain some special power inside that mouthy little box of yours or what?"
The chest gave her a 'you have got to be kidding me' look, as if it had never seen anyone so stupid. Katara was beginning to like this chest less and less. Instead of saying anything, however, it just hopped about in a circle as if it were trying to examine its surroundings. Streams of light escaped through the hole in the cavern roof they had created, giving shape to outlines and allowing her to make out a few details. Katara frowned as she took in the broken bits of iron and rusted deck that she was standing upon. They weren't on an island; they were on a ship.
"This is my ship," the treasure chest said in an odd voice, as if it (he? It sounded like a 'he' with its low, raspy voice) wasn't sure whether to be pleased or upset.
A crease formed on Katara's brow. "Wait a minute, what do you mean by your ship?"
Sure, the chest could talk and move, but the thing didn't even have arms. What could he—it—whatever—possibly want with a ship?
The chest rolled his eyes again. "I wasn't always like this, you know."
"What, annoying? Because I hate to break it to you, box-head, but I think that's a chronic disease for you."
"Funny," he said dryly. "No, I meant I wasn't always like this. I used to be a man."
Katara blinked and stared at the chest as if seeing him for the first time. No wonder he could talk and looked like a person. "What happened?" she asked, softening her voice.
Fearsome pirate captain she might be, but she had always been an advocate of helping those in need (indeed, she liked to think of herself as a pirate of justice … who just happened to steal some booty from the rich here and there). She couldn't help but feel sorry for the chest, despite the fact it was his fault they had ended up falling into this underground cavern.
He sighed and probably would have folded his arms in a huff if he had any. "What do you think happened? I was cursed and I've been stuck on this island ever since." His voice took on a tinge of bitterness. "I thought someone would come find me eventually, but no one ever did. I don't even know what happened to my crew. Maybe the spirit got to them as well."
Katara's brow wrinkled as she tried to make sense of everything. "So you got cursed and transformed from a human to, well, this—" she gestured at his wooden body. "I get that, but what I don't understand is how all these stories about lost Fire Nation treasure came about. I mean, you're a legend amongst pirates."
The chest stared at her through its unnervingly human eyes. "Haven't you guessed yet?"
Her heart gave an odd thud. Zuko's booty. A Fire Nation treasure that had been lost eighty years ago. Zuko.
"No way," she breathed, taking a step forward and peering at the chest's face. "You're Prince Zuko, the lost heir to the Fire Nation throne."
He didn't say anything, but then he didn't have to; the truth was imprinted all over his wooden face. Katara closed her mouth, unable to believe the discovery she had made. She had found the lost prince, that young man who had gone missing at sea with his crew when he was just eighteen years old. It wasn't exactly the treasure she had been anticipating, but it was certainly something. Now that she knew the truth, she also knew what she had to do.
"So how do we break the curse?"
He blinked. "W-what?"
She smiled and placed her hand on her hip, raising her chin in a cocky way. "Listen, princeling, there's a reason I'm the most feared and respected pirate on the seas. I don't just steal booty; I help people as well." She winked. "Besides, I figure if I help you get home, you'll be honour-bound to reward me nicely."
He rolled his eyes. "Of course a pirate like you would only care about the reward."
She raised her finger in a reproving manner. "Now, now, you've got me all wrong. The reward is just a bonus; it would be my pleasure to help a man of your, uh, royal calibre."
"Oh, I'm sure," he said dryly. "Well, either way that doesn't help me. I have no idea how to break the curse."
Her smile faded. "None at all?"
"The spirit wasn't exactly forthcoming with details. It was all 'Oh, you've trespassed on my island. Well, if you like lost relics so much you can become one.'" Zuko narrowed his eyes, as if even now he could see the spirit who had cursed him. "I really don't like that spirit."
Katara tapped her cheek with her finger. "That does make things difficult, but I'm sure we can figure something out. Plus, I think I might have figured out a way for us to get out of here."
She pointed to the ship they were standing on. "It had to come from somewhere, right? That means this must be a sea cave, and lucky for you I'm a waterbender."
The next moment they were both walking under water in an oxygen bubble she had created. It took her no time to locate the opening that connected with the ocean, and then she guided them through the cave and up to the shore. Her own ship, the S.S Booty-Chaser, was exactly where she had left it anchored in the shallows with the rest of her crew (it still pained her when she thought of that name, but Sokka had insisted and somehow the name had stuck). It was a beautiful ship built in the Water Tribe style, with blue sales marked with the design on the pendant she always wore around her neck.
"That's your ship?" Zuko asked, gazing at the S.S Booty-Chaser in admiration.
"Uh-huh. Fastest ship in the world, and equipped with the best weapons thanks to my brother's ingenuity."
One of her crew members hailed her from the deck. "Captain! Look, everyone, it's the captain! She's alive!"
Sokka pushed the guy out of the way. "Katara! Thank the spirits you're alright! I was just about to organise a search party. I looked everywhere but I couldn't find you in the tunnels." He frowned at the lemur perched on his shoulder. "Plus, I don't think lemurs make very good trackers."
Katara laughed and walked up the ramp to the ship with Zuko hopping along behind. "Yeah, I had some trouble with a sea cave," she said, allowing her brother to give her a hug, "but enough about that. You'll never believe what I discovered."
She went on to explain how the treasure they had been seeking was actually a cursed prince who had been lost at sea eighty years ago. Sokka's eyes widened and then he got right up in Zuko's face, peering at the painted features as if trying to see the man underneath.
"Huh, so you're actually some old royal under all that. Man, you must be like, what, almost a hundred years old now?"
Zuko looked a bit confused. "Uh, I guess. Time passes kind of differently when you're an enchanted box."
"Right, right." Sokka stood up to his full height and stared at his sister. "So, what are we supposed to do with Prince Booty over here?" He jerked his thumb at Zuko. "I mean, he might be a novelty with the whole talking chest thing he's got going on, but he's no legendary treasure. I suppose we could keep him as our personal entertainer, but—"
She smacked her brother upside the head. "Idiot, we're going to help him, of course!"
Sokka rubbed his head. "Ow! Why'd you do that for?"
"You know exactly why," she retorted, planting her hands on her hips. "Now put yourself to use and help me figure out how to break his curse."
Sokka sighed. "Aye-aye, Captain."
She turned to Zuko. "Come on, we can talk in my cabin. I want you to tell me everything you remember about when you were transformed by that spirit. Maybe there's something you missed that will help us."
Zuko didn't look too thrilled, but he allowed himself to be steered (along with Sokka) into the captain's cabin. Meanwhile, Katara ordered her crew to prepare for cast off. After learning about Zuko's circumstances, she had no desire to run into the island's resident spirit. The last thing she needed was to become Katara booty.
She joined Zuko and Sokka in the cabin and sat down in her chair. "Alright, let's have it. Tell me everything you remember from when you first came to this island and got transformed."
Zuko tried to recall as much as he could (and for someone who had been alive for almost a century, he did pretty well for himself), but it seemed he had been telling the truth when he said the spirit hadn't been very forthcoming with details. As far as she could tell, it was just a slightly crazed spirit who had trust issues and liked to turn trespassers into collectible items. It was a depressing realisation, and all three of them fell quiet as they wondered what they were supposed to do now.
Sokka rubbed his chin. "You know, Katara, there is something you have that might help."
"What's that?" Katara asked, perking up.
"The Spirit Oasis water."
Katara reached into her robe and pulled out the crystal vial hanging from a chain around her throat. "You mean this? You really think it could do it?"
Sokka shrugged. "You did say it had special healing properties thanks to the oasis being the centre of all spirituality in the North, or whatever. If anything can help, I'm sure that magic water can."
Katara bit her lip and glanced at Zuko. She had been saving the water for an emergency; she didn't want to waste it, but this was bigger than anything she had ever thought to experience. She actually had the lost heir to the Fire Nation on her ship—the only person who could ever rightfully become Fire Lord (since the rest of his family had died without leaving any heirs). Even crazier, she might be the only one who could help him get back to his true form.
His golden eyes locked with hers—painted but still holding so much human comprehension and emotion. In that moment, she remembered when she was little that she had said she would never abandon anyone who needed her help. True, war and suffering had pushed her to turn to the life of a marauding pirate, but she had never quite been able to shake off that compassionate streak. A part of her would always want to help.
"Let's do it," she said, and wrenched the vial free from her neck.
Zuko backed away. "Uh, do what?"
She smiled. "Don't worry, I'm just going to try healing you with my spirit water. It won't harm you at all."
Sokka patted Zuko on the head. "Yeah, don't worry, Prince Booty. We've got you covered."
"Get your hand off me," Zuko responded in a cold voice.
Sokka obliged. "Alright, alright. Sheesh, no need to get cranky. I guess it's true what they say: getting older does turn you into a snarling platypus-bear."
Katara narrowed her eyes. "Sokka, you're not helping."
He held his hands up in surrender. "Fine, I'll be quiet so you can do your magic water thing."
She winced in exasperation. "Honestly," she muttered under her breath, but instead of saying anything further she just knelt in front of Zuko. "Okay, this might feel a bit weird."
"Wha—" he began to say, only to fall silent as she summoned the water from the vial and let it surround her hand like a glowing glove.
She smiled at his expression and told him to relax; then she took a deep breath, closing her eyes and placing her hands on his head. Immediately, the water began to connect to the strands of energy flowing inside him. She could have laughed in relief; she had not been sure if she would even be able to feel his meridian paths considering his form, but while his energy certainly felt different to a normal human, there was no real obstruction. That was the main thing. Now to see if she could fix the damage.
Still with her eyes closed, she moved her palms slowly over him and let the spirit water take control, fusing itself with his energy and working its way through his scrambled meridian paths. It was almost as if the water had a mind of its own; she certainly knew she didn't have the experience to do what her bending was doing, as if the water knew instinctively where to guide his frayed and tangled energy. A shudder went through her when she felt the wood begin to shift under her hands, becoming warmer—softer. Silky strands of something that felt like feathers brushed against her palms, and then she was touching a cheek, a shoulder, a strong arm.
Katara's eyes snapped open and she found herself kneeling in front of a man with pale gold eyes. Her first thought was that it had worked. It had really worked! Her second was that Prince Zuko looked nothing like a ninety-eight year old man. His hair was dark and shaggy, falling in his eyes. His skin was pale and smooth, unmarred by the wrinkles of old age. His body was slender but muscled, like a honed blade. Put simply, he was gorgeous.
Zuko stared at his hands, then touched his face as if he couldn't believe what he was feeling. He froze when his fingers brushed against the left side of his face—perfectly smooth and as handsome as the other. Katara remembered that as a treasure chest his features hadn't been quite as symmetrical. Maybe the spirit water had healed more than his curse.
"I don't believe it," he muttered in that same raspy voice. "I'm human again." His eyes met hers, and a laugh escaped his lips; then he grasped her face in his hands and kissed her full on the mouth. "Thank you."
"Y-you're welcome," she stammered, resisting the urge to touch her tingling lips.
She didn't feel like much of a fearsome pirate in that moment. More of a tongue-tied schoolgirl experiencing her first crush. This man was just too beautiful, and he'd just kissed her. No doubt it was an impulsive thing, born out of a reckless happiness to find himself human than anything else, but still. That was one hell of a kiss.
Pull yourself together, she told herself sternly. He's just one guy. One really old, really ridiculously hot guy. Seriously, how does a ninety-eight year old look so damn good? He looks twenty-five at the most.
Sokka seemed just as confused. "I'm just going to ignore the fact you kissed my sister; however, I do have one question for you. Why aren't you old?"
Zuko frowned and examined his body. "I don't know," he admitted. "I said that time seemed to flow differently while I was cursed. I mean, I didn't feel like I was ageing all that much. Maybe I really wasn't."
"I guess the enchantment slowed the process right down," Sokka mused. "That could make sense, considering you weren't exactly human for all those years."
"Yeah, I remember," the prince responded dryly.
Katara got back to her feet. "Well, either way, the important thing is that the curse has been broken. You're finally free."
"Free," he echoed, and his mouth curved into a smile that should have been illegal for the damage it could do to a girl's heart. Really, it wasn't fair that the snarky treasure chest who had annoyed her so much should turn out to be such a ridiculously attractive man.
She blinked, realising that she had been staring at him again. Add a little drool to her chin and her humiliation would have been complete. She really needed to stop doing that.
"Well, um, I should go check on the crew," she announced, hoping her face didn't look as red as it felt. "Sokka, why don't you help our royal friend here settle in?"
She didn't wait for her brother's response and marched out of the cabin. Unfortunately, the image of that perfect face and body refused to leave her mind, making her blood pump faster through her veins and her heart spike with desire. This was not good. Not good at all. Yet even as she berated herself for acting like a complete idiot over some ninety-eight year old prince who'd been a box for most of his life, a part of her couldn't help but feel a little thrill of excitement.
It was a long way back to the Fire Nation, and the two of them were going to be living very closely together while they sailed on the ship. She touched her fingers to her lips, remembering how it had felt when he had kissed her: all butterflies and fire. No, there was no way she was going to let this one slip through her fingers. Not if she had anything to say about it, anyway.
After all, she was Captain Katara, the fiercest pirate around, and she always got her booty.