Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender

Among the Ice

by BeccaStareyes 0 reviews

After the war, Zuko visits the South Pole and learns something about the Water Tribe. (Light Sokka/Zuko)

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: G - Genres: Drama,Romance - Characters: Sokka,Zuko - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2008-02-09 - Updated: 2008-02-10 - 1214 words - Complete

Zuko remembered why he hated the South Pole.

His uncle had suggested the trip south as a show of goodwill. And, well, Zuko had his own reasons for making it. But, he had forgotten what the South Pole was like.

The sunlight had seemed so weak when he got off the Fire Nation transport onto the ice -- far from the Southern Water Tribe's village, as people still looked with fear the the passage of metal ships through the polar waters. He was brought across the ice via sledge, long enough that he had ended up both snowblinded and with a horribly sunburnt and windburnt face -- the only thing that had stuck out under the mountain of furs he had to wear to stay warm in the cold. One of the old women -- Kana, he recalled, Sokka and Katara's grandmother -- had smeared some oily, noxious fishy-smelling paste on his burn, which had stung his scar, and told him to stay inside for the next couple of days. Which he did, growing bored with the chatter of the old woman as she mended and sewed. He was ready to do anything if it got him outside.

When Kana had finally pronounced him fit enough to return outside, he had one of his men bring him a set of smoked-glass goggles and some of the sun cream that was more commonly used on the tropical coast of the Fire Nation.

Now he was being hauled along on some crazy boat trip in one of the boats the Water Tribe people used. Zuko had watched the icebergs moving and crashing together, and had seen the old wreck of a Fire Nation ship trapped within, and he wondered how the Water Tribe managed, in boats of skin and bone and canvas. Surely, where the ice could crush metal, such fragile devices wouldn't stand a chance. But the boats would dart in between the mountains of ice, much like the fish and penguin-seals they were chasing. An occupation that seemed to take up a good deal of the village's time -- whether hunting, gathering some of the weird underwater plants they used in food and medicine, or mending the boats and nets and tools. Zuko sometimes wondered how everyone could seem so happy, when all it seemed like they did was work to survive on the ice. He was sure his uncle would have some odd saying that he thought would explain it -- Sokka had just shrugged and said it was just how things were, and there was plenty of time for other things.

Sokka, who was sharing the boat Zuko was in on his second trip onto the ice, said, "Are you just going to sit there?"

"What would you have me doing?" Zuko replied. "It's not like I have any idea what's going on."

"You can either work the rudder while I adjust the sails, or you take the sails."

"I'll take the rudder," Zuko said. He carefully crawled to the back of the boat, nervous about capsizing the thing. Sokka said that the skin clothing he had been given was water tight, that if he fell in, he wouldn't die of hypothermia in the sea. At least, not right away. Zuko didn't think he wanted to test that theory.

But the rudder looked simple enough. You moved it to turn. This was barely more than a couple of pieces of wood, held together by leather cord and wooden pegs.

"All right, We're heading out. Move to starboard," Sokka stood in the boat like he was born balanced on a frame of whalebone.

"Starboard. Right." He had learned 'port' and 'starboard' from his time at sea, so it wasn't like the nautical jargon was going to confuse him.

"No, left," Sokka said. Zuko inwardly groaned, wondering if that was Sokka's sense of humor.

It didn't take long for Zuko to get the hang of steering the little boat. He watched Sokka adjust the sails, seemingly able to move without any regard to how the wind flowed, despite the fact the ship was driven by the wind.

It was a lot more physical than boating had ever seemed to him. When he had been with the Fire Nation Navy, the most physical one ever got was shoveling coal into the boiler, a duty usually left to whatever crewman was either most junior or who was on punishment duty. He was working up a sweat beneath the leather and furs. It was more than just a means of transportation, it was an extension of the way these people lived on the ice.

They had paused, giving Sokka a chance to jab his spear into the water to bring up silvery-grey fish, gasping for water. Zuko was getting used to the sight of seeing his food alive and struggling -- hopefully, this time they'd cook the fish first before serving it. Water Tribe food wasn't to his tastes at all.

After the third fish, Sokka stood up, looking towards the horizon, wind flying through his wolf-tail. "There's a storm coming in," he said.

"You're sure?" Zuko asked.

"You can smell it. Plus, I have this," Sokka held up a blown-glass tube, which had been wrapped in skins in his pocket.

"What is that?" Zuko asked.

"I made it last winter. It's a weather glass -- the quicksilver rises when a storm is coming in. Or it gets too warm, or I drop it. Still working out the kinks in it." Sokka said.

"Well, then, put it away, and let's get back," Zuko didn't need a sense of smell or a glass trinket to notice that clouds were starting to form on the horizon and the wind was picking up.

"Yeah. Hey, Zuko? Mind taking a shortcut?"

"What short cut?"

Said shortcut was cutting very close to a glacier. Their little skiff bounced from whitecap to whitecap as Sokka called directions steering through the immense icebergs coming off the glacier, skimming perilously close to blue-white walls of ice that were shaped by wind and sea into sculptures that looked like they were made by a waterbender who had eaten too much desert cactus. As the wind whipped through his hair, which had worked its way loose of the tight Fire Nation topknow he had worn it in, Zuko stopped thinking, stopped worrying, and fell into a state like he had gotten when practicing firebending, or with his swords, letting Sokka's commands flow from his ears to his muscles, without really passing through his brain, like the way he could block lightning, by just letting it flow.

Uncle would have been proud of him.

Then, suddenly, there were no more bergs in front of them, and the ice showed a clear path back towards the village. The wind caught the sail, and propelled the little boat on, without much need for supervision from either man.

Sokka laughed like the whoop of a shorebird. "That was awesome!" he said. "I haven't done something like that since Bato took us ice-dodging. It's a rite of passage among Water Tribe members." He chuckled again. "Guess that makes you an honorary Southern Water Tribe member." He scrambled aft to give Zuko a tight hug.

But maybe the South Pole wasn't completely horrible.
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