Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Rescue Me

Getting to Know You

by hootowl 0 reviews

“Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you. Getting to like you. Getting to hope you like me.” — “The King and I”

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor - Characters: Aang,Katara,Sokka,Zuko - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2014-07-12 - 4582 words

0Unrated
An entire day and a half of flying and Katara was more than ready to return to the ground. A quick glance around the saddle revealed that she wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Toph had a white-knuckled grip on the edge of the saddle, looking a little green-faced, and Zuko was drawn and pale. Sokka—the only one who appeared unaffected—was leaning over the front of the saddle and speaking to Aang where he sat on Appa’s head. Though the wind whipped his words away before she could hear them, she could tell by his gestures that they were selecting a place to land for the night. Appa would need time to rest and they had to come up with a plan for the next few weeks until Zuko was able to start firebending again.

Sokka nodded, clapping the younger boy on the shoulder and shifted back toward the center of the saddle as Appa turned and slowly dropped in altitude. Toph groaned, fingers tightening further on the saddles edge, and Sokka spared the girl a dry look. “Not in the saddle, Toph.”

The earthbender looked like she would’ve snarled a reply if her jaw wasn’t clamped so tightly closed. Zuko grunted an agreement, but said nothing. Sokka ignored them both and turned to Katara. “We’re going to land on one of the small islands in Fire Nation territory. It doesn’t look inhabited, but don’t wander too far.”

Katara glanced at Zuko and the firebender frowned. She wove her fingers together, asking her brother, “Do you think that’s wise?”

Sokka darted a suspicious look at Zuko, shrugging lightly. “It’s the least likely place they’d look for us.”

She sighed. There was a lot of truth in Sokka’s words, but she also knew Zuko faced execution on sight if he was found within Fire Nation borders. It was an unsettling realization. Sokka settled down in the saddle to watch Zuko—who pretended not to notice the scrutiny—and Katara watched the island draw closer. Like most of the other islands nearby, the center was densely forested before the trees thinned to grassland which faded into beach. They circled the island once and Katara realized the northern part of it was a rocky cliff not more than a hundred feet high.

Appa landed on the cliff side, settling with a tired groan. Katara shifted, but Sokka motioned for her to wait, saying, “Toph, provide us some cover from the ocean. Keep it natural.”

Toph snorted, clambering over the back of the saddle and sliding down Appa’s tail. She walked a few paces from the bison before planting her feet, calling out, “Brace yourselves!”

She waited for a few seconds and then the ground started to rumble. Katara felt her breath catch as they slowly sank into a shallow ditch. Or maybe Toph was raising a wall. She couldn’t decide. Maybe it was both? Her task complete, Toph dropped to the ground, reveling in the reconnection with her element. Sokka tossed down the bedrolls and shouldered a few packs, issuing orders, “Toph, a fire pit.” The earthbender thumped her fist on the ground and a circular pit formed not far from her. “Aang, gather some firewood. Make sure it’s dry. We don’t want a smokey fire.”
Katara dropped to the ground and Zuko moved stiffly to the rear of the saddle, dubiously eying the drop to the ground. Katara grinned, patting Appa’s flank. “Just slide down his tail, Zuko; I’ll help you up at the bottom.”

He didn’t look pleased with her offer, but he slid down Appa’s tail, suppressing a groan as Katara helped him up. He ignored her concerned frown and moved toward the empty fire pit. Toph’s head shifted in his direction and a moment later a low seat emerged from the ground. “Have a seat, Sparky, before you fall over and break something else.”

Zuko eyed the offered seat warily before carefully settling down. Katara didn’t miss his relieved sigh as he adjusted his posture to take pressure off his ribs. There wasn’t much else she could do for them. She’d encouraged as much healing as she could, but the rest just had to take its time.

Aang returned to camp with an armload of branches and twigs that he dropped in the fire pit before vanishing again to retrieve thicker logs. Sokka finally dropped from the saddle with the last of the packs when Aang returned. Sokka dropped a pack to the ground and started digging through its contents, a frown furrowing his brow. Katara watched her brother mutter to himself for a few minutes before he sighed.

“All right. We’re almost out of food so we need to do some foraging,” Sokka turned to the packs, digging through their supplies. Katara was surprised when he pulled out a bow and a quiver of arrows. He eyed the arrows for a moment before swinging the weapons across his back. “Aang, you’re on your own. Remember, stay away from game trails.”

The airbender sighed and rolled his eyes, but nodded anyway. Sokka leveled the young boy a long look before continuing, “Zuko, you’re with me I guess. Know anything about hunting?”

“Some.”

Toph opened her mouth to say something but Sokka pointed his bow at her, cutting her off, “You will stay here and watch camp.”

His tone was so commanding that it took Katara by surprise and she looked curiously between the young earthbender and her brother. Toph groaned, folding her arms across her chest and dropping mulishly to the ground. “So I made one mistake. Big deal.”

“It took me three days to get all the quills out!” Sokka exclaimed.

“That’s not fair. How was I supposed to know—”

Sokka’s gasping, choking cough covered what Toph was saying and he loudly exclaimed, “No need to bring that up again! They don’t need to know!”

Aang’s snicker was quickly muffled when Sokka’s accusing gaze swung in his direction. Katara cleared her throat, resisting the urge to ask for the story, and instead said, “Maybe Zuko should stay here for the time being. His ribs are still healing.”

Sokka’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “No. I’m keeping my eye on him.”

“Really, Sokka—”

“It’s fine,” Zuko interrupted.

Sokka nodded, turning to Toph. “Which way is game?”

Toph frowned thoughtfully for several seconds before lifting a hand and pointing. “That direction.”

Sokka followed the direction she pointed, eyes narrowing. “Right. Aang…”

The airbender nodded. “I’m going in the opposite direction. And I won’t pretend to be a platypus bear this time.”

Sokka scowled and grunted an acknowledgement, pointedly ignoring Toph’s grin. “Right. Let’s go, Hot Shot.”

He marched away without waiting for Zuko, grumbling about ruined plans and tarnished reputations. Zuko stood, moving after the muttering Water Tribe boy, and Katara anxiously followed. “You’ll be all right, right? I mean, your ribs are still bothering you. You should stay and rest. I can go with my brother.”

Zuko paused, turning to look at her and she blushed, dropping her eyes away to look after her brother. She’d never felt so awkward. “Katara, I’ll be fine.” Their eyes caught and held until Zuko broke their gaze, the tips of his ears reddening and he muttered, “We’ll be back soon.”

They stood in uncomfortable silence for several minutes until Zuko cleared his throat and turned away. Katara chewed her lip, watching him disappear into the trees before returning to camp. Aang had already gone off to do his own foraging and Toph seemed content to lay in the dirt though her head tilted toward Katara when she approached. Katara fussed with a few bedrolls, trying to bring her jumble of emotions under control. She’d been trying to ignore what had happened back in Ba Sing Se. Things had been unusually awkward between them since Ba Sing Se though they hadn’t had much time alone over the last few days. Heat burned in her cheeks and she shifted, hoping Toph couldn’t see her blush. She’d been so stupid. She couldn’t even say what she’d been thinking. She hadn’t been thinking. There had just been something in his gaze in the catacombs and she’d felt herself drawn to him. Katara wondered if he even noticed. He hadn’t said anything.

The sound of Toph shifting jerked Katara from her thoughts and she gave up fussing with the bedrolls. The earthbender had rolled onto her stomach as was absently chasing pebbles through the dirt. Katara watched for a few minutes before finally asking, “How did you meet Sokka and Aang?”

Toph turned her startlingly blank eyes on Katara, smirking, “I kicked Twinklestoes’ butt in an earthbending rumble.”

That, Katara decided, was not what she was expecting. She tried to imagine Aang in such a situation and came up blank. “So, you decided to teach him earthbending?”

Toph shrugged. “More or less.”

She offered no further explanation though Katara sensed there was more to the story than Toph let on. Katara clasped her arms around her raised knees, absently twirling the ring around her thumb. “You help Sokka hunt?”

“Once. I mistakenly thought a boarcupine was a koala sheep. He won’t let me help anymore.”

Katara would’ve believed her except for the amused grin that crossed the girl’s face at the memory. So much time had passed since she’d left the South Pole with her brother to rescue Aang from Zuko’s ship and she’d missed most of it with her brother as she’d been captured on the Prison Rig and then in the company of Zuko. It saddened her that there was this awkwardness between herself and her brother that hadn’t been there before. She started when Toph spoke, “So, how’d you end up with Sparky? Sokka and Twinkletoes never really said.”

Katara sighed and settled more comfortably on the ground, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. “I was captured by firebenders while trying to rescue a friend.”

“Haru,” Toph stated, nodding. “Aang told me.”

Katara felt her eyes burn and she realized she hadn’t thought of the earthbender boy or the other earthbenders that died that day in months. She’d been mostly concerned about her own survival since she realized the firebenders were going to sell her. Grief and pain had been buried until she had the leisure give them appropriate attention. The weeks spent in a dark, filthy cell fueled her nightmares still. She swallowed her tears, forcing her voice to steady as she spoke, “The Warden decided I was useless as a worker on the Prison Rig and he’d make a profit by selling me in the markets. Zuko bought me.”

Toph sat up at that, her expression incredulous. “Sparky bought you? You’re a slave?”

Katara grinned humorlessly, fingering the ring again. “Technically.”

“So, you’re not really?”

Katara sighed, waving her hand though she knew the other girl couldn’t see it. “I am until I get this ring off. We haven’t had a chance to have it removed. Too many questions.”

Toph’s brow furrowed as she frowned. “I’ve heard of slave rings, but I’ve never seen them.” She extended a hand, commanding, “Let me see.”

Surprised, Katara let Toph take her hand; the earthbender’s fingers lightly danced over hers until they found the ring. Toph examined it curiously, twisting it and tugging gently, murmuring, “How’d they get it on if you can’t pull it off again?” She must have felt Katara shudder because she shook her head. “Never mind. I can get it off.”

“You can?” Katara asked in surprise.

“Of course,” Toph said smugly. “I learned a really cool trick a few weeks ago. Watch.”

Toph pinched the ring between her thumb and forefinger and slowly drew them apart. Katara gasped as the ring loosened until it easily slipped over her knuckle. Toph held it up and adjusted the size. “You can wear it on a different finger if you like. Or sell it. It’s good silver.”

Toph dropped it into her palm and Katara could only stare at it, too surprised to realize what it meant now that it was off. Aang arrived at that point, but Katara didn’t notice. He dropped his bag by the side of the fire pit, grinning at them. “Hey, I’m back!”

Toph returned the greeting, but Aang frowned at Katara’s silence. Katara held up the ring, watching the sun glint off the silver. Aang moved closer. “Katara?”

She trembled, clutching the ring in her fist and burst into tears. Aang jerked back in surprise, looking helplessly at Toph. He received no explanation from the earthbender, merely a shrug. “Go get some water, Aang.”

Katara wrapped her arms around her stomach and pressed her face against her knees, muffling her sobs and hiding her tears. The wall she’d built to hold her emotions in back crumbled and the months of fear, anger, grief, and relief spilled forth in gut-wrenching sobs.

.........

Zuko trailed behind Sokka, content to let the other boy search for the game trail. The dull throb of his ribs pulsed in time to his heart beat and he hoped Katara’s brother wasn’t expecting him to do much on this expedition because he felt any kind of sudden movement would cause him to embarrass himself. Fainting was not high on his priority list. He almost wished he’d been enough of a sissy to let Katara talk him into staying at the campsite.

Sokka had ceased his grumbling but still continued to march through the underbrush, swiping angrily at hanging branches. Zuko was beginning to wonder if Sokka planned to do any hunting or if he’d lured him out into the forest to stage some kind of hunting accident. It was something he wouldn’t put past Azula, but he wasn’t sure about Katara’s brother. In any case, the game would have long since fled with the amount of noise the boy was making. Without warning, Sokka suddenly whirled to face him, demanding, “What do you want with my sister?”

Zuko stopped short, resisting the urge to grimace as the sudden change in motion jarred his ribs. So it was a staged hunting accident, a small corner of his mind whispered. For some reason, he was surprised. It didn’t seem like something the Water Tribe boy would do. “What?”

“I know that she’s—that you—” he made a disgusted noise and started over. “Look, I know they sold her and that she’s,” he grimaced, “yours.”

“Technically.”

Sokka ignored him. “So, what do you want with her?”

“Want with her?” Zuko repeated dumbly. The painful throb of his ribs was making him stupid.
Fortunately, Sokka didn’t seem to find anything unusual about his question. “She’s my little sister. It’s my responsibility to protect her. You have a sister. You should understand.”

Zuko stared at him blankly. He was…protecting his sister’s honor? Was that normal sibling behavior? He could imagine Azula’s reaction to his meddling and he grimaced. Azula’s honor never needed protecting. “I’m pretty sure she could kill me between one breath and the next.”

Confusion crossed Sokka’s face. “Katara?”

“Her, too,” Zuko agreed.

Sokka frowned, his confusion still evident but Zuko didn’t expound upon his statement. Eventually, Sokka gave a shrug and decided not to pursue the matter further and instead glanced around the darkening trees. “So, any idea how to track?”

“I thought you knew how to hunt.”

The Water Tribe male scowled. “Yeah, in the tundra. Trees and bushes, not so much. It all starts looking the same after a while. You’re used to dirt and green things.”

Zuko groaned. His hopes of a quick hunt rapidly diminishing. “The…royal family doesn’t track its own game.”

Sokka looked surprised. “You don’t hunt?”

“Not for survival purposes.”

Sokka mulled over that bit of information for a moment. “If you can’t track, how’d you manage to find us all the time?”

“It’s pretty easy to find a giant, flying bison.”

Sokka frowned, looking like he’d never considered the thought. “Right.”

Zuko sighed, pushing himself off the tree he was leaning against and absently cradling his ribs. He just wanted to get this over with. He surveyed the crossing game trails before motioning down one. “This way.”

Sokka eyed the trail suspiciously, adjusting the quiver against his back. “How do you know?”

Zuko started down the trail and Sokka fell in step behind him. They walked for several minutes before Sokka nudged the firebender. “Well?”

“In the Foggy Swamp,” Zuko grudgingly admitted, “the men took me hunting while Katara trained. We caught a snakebird.”

“That’s not fair,” Sokka whined. “You and Katara had good, fun times in the Swamp while Aang and I had to eat giant bugs.”

Zuko paused to examine some tracks more closely while Sokka frowned at the surrounding foliage and mused, “You don’t suppose they really eat giant bugs, do you? They just say they do for shock value, right?”

Zuko gave the other boy a side-long look. “I heard they’re an aphrodisiac.”

Sokka whirled around looking horrified and Zuko rose, brushing off his hands and nodding solemnly. “And increase fertility.”

“That’s—my sister…”

“Can really dance,” Zuko finished.

Every muscle in Sokka’s body tensed and his face flushed. Zuko ignored the murderous glare the other boy pinned on him and continued along the trail. A few heartbeats later, Zuko heard Sokka’s footsteps as well as muttered obscenities behind him. Katara’s brother drew even with him, a dark frown still pulling at his lips. “I might decide to kill you yet.”

At Zuko’s questioning glance, he shrugged. “There’s no honor in kicking a man when he’s down.”

A rustling in the brush made them both freeze. Up the trail, a small creature covered in dark fur entered the path, pausing to scent the air. They crouched behind a bush, watching the animal nose along the path. Sokka shifted, reaching for his bow even as he whispered, “What is that?”

“A tarrabah.”

“A what?”

“Some call them devil dogs.”

Sokka eyed the creature for a moment. “Can we eat it?”

Zuko shuddered. Too many stories rose to the front of his mind about tarrabahs. None of them good. “I wouldn’t want to.”

Glittering black eyes turned toward them, sharp teeth flashing as the hair along the creature’s back stood up and it screamed. The scream sent a shiver down their spines and then the creature darted into the foliage and vanished. Sokka stared after before standing and agreeing, “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to eat it either. They sound almost as bad as those screeching birds in the Swamp. That’s not what you were tracking, was it?”

“No. There are goats up ahead.”

“Goats,” Sokka said, his expression dubious. “Just goats?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not going to tell me they’re actually puma goats or something like that?”

“No. Just goats.”

“Very well,” Sokka said, glancing at their surroundings and rolling his shoulders. “Fine. I can handle goats.”

Despite Sokka’s assertion that he was more than capable of hunting a few goats, the goats themselves proved their displeasure in being hunted. Sokka’s first shot injured, but failed to kill, an immature buck that was grazing on the edge of the herd. Its pained bleat brought the rage of the herd and a stampede of hooves. Sokka managed to kill the injured goat with a second shot, but then had to climb a nearby tree to escape the angry herd. An unsteady blast of fire managed to startle the goats and send them scattering to watch from a distance as Sokka dropped from the tree and approached his kill, muttering, “Seems like everything in the Fire Nation is trying to kill me.”

Zuko snorted what might have been a laugh, but Sokka was too busy eying the mournfully bleating goats to pay much attention. Sokka seemed to come to the conclusion that the goats would keep their distance because he looked down to study his kill. “We’ll have to dress and butcher it here.”

Zuko grimaced, picturing carrying hunks of bloodied meat through the forest. Not to mention the attention they’d attract from scavengers. It seemed Sokka’s thoughts were running along the same lines. “I brought some leather bags. Aang,” he hesitated, changing his mind. “It’s better if Aang doesn’t see it.”

Zuko frowned, watching as Sokka deftly cleaned and butchered the goat. They packed the meat in the leather bags, each shouldering one. Sokka grimaced at his hands and knife, glancing at the carcass and scanning the surrounding area. “Do you think we should bury it?”

“Don’t bother. The vultures and tarrabahs will take care of it. We’re far enough from camp.”

Zuko motioned to the birds circling overhead. Sokka studied their flight, musing, “You don’t think they’ll attract attention?”

“Things die all the time.”

The frown Sokka sent him was easily ignored and Zuko started back to camp. His ribs were aching and he really wanted to do nothing more than collapse on something soft and vaguely bed-like and he didn’t care whether the other boy followed or not. He trudged through the trees for several minutes before Sokka spoke, “Hey, there’s a spring in this direction.”

Sokka veered off the path and Zuko paused a moment before following with a sigh. When he emerged from the trees, Sokka had stripped to his shorts and waded into the water, scrubbing at his skin. Zuko froze, retreating a step back into the trees. Sokka straightened, wringing out his hair and returned to the bank, catching sight of Zuko in the trees. “You going to wash?”

He motioned to Zuko’s hands and the firebender automatically glanced down. Goat blood stained his fingers and he curled them into a fist and moved toward the water as Sokka pulled his clothes on again, frowning at a tear. Zuko scrubbed his hands clean, inspecting his skin for any more dried blood or dirt. Sokka cleared his throat, asking, “How soon until you can teach Aang firebending?”

Zuko shook off most of the water, touching the bandages hidden beneath his tunic. “A few weeks.”

Sokka’s brow creased in thought, shouldering his equipment again. “I suppose it’s not that big of a deal, then. Maybe by then the war will be over and he can learn firebending afterward.”

“What are you talking about?”

For a moment, Sokka frowned at nothing before shaking his head and shrugging. “It’s nothing. We’ve still got some time. I have to think some things through.”

An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of Zuko’s stomach. The fact that all the world’s hopes seemed to depend on a twelve-year-old boy made the temptation of finding some remote area of the globe and becoming a hermit all that more appealing. He pushed thoughts of leaving away. It felt too much like running away and his problems were persistent enough to follow him; as they proved in the past. The rest of the walk back to the campsite was done in silence. Sokka was lost in his thoughts and Zuko was concentrating on not jarring his ribs and controlling his breathing.
The sun had sunk low on the horizon while they’d been gone and cast the camp in shadow. Aang had returned in their absence and Zuko could see the airbender’s anxiety as he hovered over Katara. Zuko frowned.

“Oi! What happened?”

Apparently, Sokka noticed something amiss as well. Aang jumped, turning sharply toward them. His face flooded with relief when he saw Sokka. “I don’t know! She just started crying!”

Sokka quickly crossed the distance, unceremoniously dumping the quiver and bag by the empty fire pit. He knelt in front of his sister, reaching for her hands. “Katara?”

Her tearstained face rose from where she’d pressed them against her knees and Sokka reached for her, hesitated, and took her hands instead. She stared at him, swallowing thickly and sniffling back tears. Her eyes moved over her brother, Toph, and Aang before lighting upon Zuko. With a gasp, she pulled her hands from Sokka’s and scrambled to her feet. She bit her lip, her resolve wavering. Zuko shifted and she was decided. Her feet carried her swiftly to Zuko, drawing up short when she remembered his injuries.

“Zuko,” she breathed.

Zuko rocked back on his heels, warily looking down into tearful blue eyes. Tears always made him uncomfortable. She drew her hand from her chest, uncurling her fingers to hold her hand out palm up. She pulled her lip between her teeth and he dropped his eyes to her hand. It took a moment to register what he was looking at. A silver band lay in the palm of her hand. His hand rose and he laid a finger on the ring before meeting her eyes again. “How?”

A smile bloomed on her face and she picked it up, holding it between her fingers. “Toph. I want you to have it.”

Zuko sucked in a surprised breath when she took his hand and closed his fingers around the ring. “I can’t.”

Her head tilted. “You should be compensated for your trouble. Toph says it’s good silver.”

Zuko glanced over her shoulder to where Sokka and Aang looked on, bewildered. He averted his eyes and shook his head, repeating, “I can’t. I—you keep it.”

They ignored Toph’s poorly stifled snort of laughter. He caught her hand and slipped the ring onto one of her fingers. Katara stared at the ring for a moment before shifting her gaze to Zuko. “Why?”

Zuko shifted uncomfortably. “Firebending and metal don’t really mix.”

Katara frowned, but Toph suddenly called out, “Hey, Sparky, start a fire for Snoozles here. I’m starving!”

Sokka scoffed. “I can start a fire!”

“Sparky can start one faster.”

“She has a point,” Aang chimed in, earning a glare.

Sokka turned toward the gathered wood pile, snatching up tinder and kindling and dumping it in the fire pit. “Did you find food?”

Aang shrugged half-heartedly. “Just some berries and a few mushrooms.”

Sokka struck a fire and encouraged the spark to catch before creating a tepee. Satisfied with his work, he set about building a log cabin structure, commenting, “We’ll have to get more rice soon. And other supplies.”

“With what money?” Zuko asked.

Sokka sat back, quirking an eyebrow at him. “You’re with team Avatar, now.”

“People give us free stuff all the time,” Toph drawled.

Zuko looked dumbfounded and he turned for affirmation from Katara. When she only shrugged in response, he turned back to Sokka and demanded, “They just give you stuff?”

Sokka shrugged dismissively. “Yup. It doesn’t hurt that they think Aang’s cute.”

Aang protested immediately, blushing hotly.
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