The Return @tubendo
Chapter 2

Approaching her brother's tent, Katara felt a sense of frustration; she knew that it would be more awkward for her to go to find Azula than for her to come to them; her grandmother was concerned when she didn't appear at their igloo for dinner, which she usually would do when Sokka was around, but Kanna sounded concerned that she might not feel as confident going to eat with them without her boyfriend. She wanted to refute her and argue that the Princess actually didn't like them, or more specifically, Katara, and didn't want to be around her if she could avoid it, which she certainly could when her boyfriend wasn't around to drag her to the igloo for dinner. She cleared her throat, deciding that she'd first call inside rather than barging in; she had a feeling that as someone who was used to palaces and servants she probably liked her privacy.

"Azula, are you in there?" she asked, hearing some rustling noises before the dark haired Princess peered her head out of the canvas, looking at her with confusion.

"What is it?" she snappily asked from her, straight to the point; instead of arguing, the Water Tribe girl simply gestured over toward the igloo.

"You didn't come to dinner." she told her the obvious; Azula's eyes widened momentarily before she made a cocky sneer.

"Oh, you're not starting without me?" she asked her, as if to place some higher importance on her needs over that of their family, which was a misjudgement on her behalf; her grandmother was just trying to be courteous, seeing that the Princess had been inducted into their family, even if there was no proper marriage between her and Sokka.

"It's called being polite." she clarified with a steely glare, not that her looking daggers at the Princess intimidated her in any way; no one seemed to be able to intimidate her, not even her brother, who had grown to be a very skilled fighter.

"Well then..." Azula raised a finger to her chin, visualising her thought process by tapping on her jawline, "It wouldn't hurt to come along. I just need to put my parka on." she clarified her intentions, Katara tilting her head down as she pursed her lips downward with disappointment as the Princess returned inside her tent.

She didn't want Azula sitting down eating with them, and not because she wanted her to starve, but because she genuinely feared what she might say or do without Sokka around to restrain her. She didn't know Azula all that well, but what her brother's long-winded story about their adventures together had taught her was that she was not someone to be trifled with. He thought for a moment why Sokka would even have liked a girl who was so different to what she assumed would be his ideal Water Tribe woman, the kind of sexist stereotype that annoyed her greatly, but which he hadn't followed; instead he had chosen a woman who was probably too headstrong and independent for her own good.

The idea that she wouldn't have even eaten dinner without being invited was somewhat absurd, as that contradicted Katara's own basic tenets on life; people lived together, ate together, and worked together. She didn't know what kind of person would willingly shunt out others just because she might have felt slightly unwelcome; however, she did consider that if she was a comparable situation, such as being stuck in the Fire Nation, she probably would be as averse as Azula seemed to be to people. Even if she couldn't stand to like her, the Water Tribe girl could at the very least sympathise with how she might have felt. When the Princess stepped out of the tent, now wearing her parka and gloves, Katara turned her heels and immediately began walking back toward the igloo; she was intent on not speaking to her again until they were with Kanna, so at the very least she could take her questions, but it seemed that Azula had something else in mind.

"Why were you standing there?" she questioned her, almost bewildered in her tone; she turned her head back to face her, confused as to why she was surprised about her simply standing out to wait while she got ready.

"Uh, because I came to get you. If I just went back to the igloo and started eating, that would be rude." she told her, educating her on the general politeness standards they held in her village.

Of course, Azula hadn't probably paid much attention to them, either learning by observation or copying what Sokka did, which didn't surprise Katara in the slightest; she was a Fire Nation Princess, who by virtue of her position ought to only be concerned with her own nation and spreading it's war of domination to every corner of the world.

"Ah... don't you know that the only people who would wait outside someone's room where I came from were servants." she stressed, the Water Tribe girl rolling her eyes; she bet that in Azula's eyes, everyone that wasn't royalty was her servant, the category of which definitely included her own boyfriend.

"Oh, of course. Because you have no equal, don't you, your highness?" she mockingly questioned her, the sarcasm in her voice not going unnoticed; instead of getting angry, the Princess simply narrowed her eyes at her, looking bemused at her words.

"I think you misunderstand." she raised a hand, the two of them stopping their strides toward the igloo, "When I say servant, I don't mean Fire Nation officials, or the Palace Guard, or even the sailors on my Royal Barge." she recounted people that fit under Katara's own presupposition of what she guessed a servant to a princess would be, "I mean the kind that cleans your toes on a whim."

"Urgh." she felt liked belching at the thought of another human being having that as their job; washing her brother's dirty socks was bad enough, she couldn't imagine the kind of mental fortitude one would have to garner to live through cleaning the toes of royals, "That sounds terrible."

"Oh, it is quite a great honour to serve the Royal Family." she raised a finger, before the two of them continued walking, "I never socialised with the servants in the Palace, so I can't be sure, but they seemed content enough."

She stopped in front of the igloo, letting Katara open the door, which seemed to be a courtesy that she had learned on the spot; she didn't smile, not wanting the Princess to think that she was mocking her. Opening the doorway, she took note of her grandmother sitting by the fire with her pot of seaweed stew, which she had been cooking for them to eat; Kanna made a warm smile as she saw her granddaughter enter the igloo, and it didn't relent when Azula followed in after her.

"Ah, Azula." she addressed her, making a gesture with her hand, "Please, sit. There is much for us to share with the men away." she suggested her, pursing her lips, almost looking smug; Katara wasn't concerned about getting extra food, as she thought that she always ate enough anyway, but she appreciated that her grandmother was still cooking as much as she might have otherwise.

"Thanks for making dinner, Gran Gran." she smiled at her, sitting down across from her, while Azula sat down directly opposite to the Water Tribe teen.

"It's no worry, Katara. I've been making dinner for this family for decades now. That's not going to change any time soon." she assured her, making Katara tilt her head to the side and smile, appreciating her grandmother's efforts; despite all the hardships their tribe had been through, she had continued to work hard and remained determined to do so, something that she respected and wanted to emulate.

Once Kanna handed them both a bowl of seaweed stew each, they both looked at each other momentarily, Katara interested as to what she thought of the meal; she didn't grimace, but her expression didn't seem very pleased, either. Picking up her chopsticks, she grabbed a piece of the stew, and put chewed it down; she loved seaweed stew, its texture reminding her of a really nice slow-cooked bit of seal meat, although it tasted a fair bit more bland. The stew was cooked with meat juices, which made the flavour a little more popping than simply seaweed by itself. Her eyes darted up, taking note of Azula, who was eating her meal at a leisurely pace, being rather calm and well mannered when it came to her eating unlike Sokka, who was honestly disgusting to look at when it came to dinner.

"So, did you girls finish sewing together that parka?" Kanna asked the pair, the Princess's eyes darting up from her meal.

"Oh, yes. I think we went well." she admitted, reminding the Water Tribe girl that she had been sewing far quicker than her; that still annoyed her, although she chided herself for thinking so pettily, as she ought to appreciate the fact that Azula was eagerly getting into her work.

"You are good at sewing." she complimented her, a rare occasion, which surprised the Princess, who raised a brow at her.

"Well, I wouldn't have gotten it done as quickly as I did without your guidance." she complimented her in turn, although Katara was unsure whether it qualified as a compliment or rather an observation that happened to be positive- most of the Princess's observations tended to be far more scathing of whomever she was judging.

"She's had a lot of experience." Kanna added, making her chuckle, thinking specifically of how many times she had mended her brother's pants, who seemed to tear them every second day when they were younger; ever since he got back from the Earth Kingdom, he seemed to ask a lot less often, although she guessed that might have been because he wasn't 'training for the war' all the time.

"It's not my fault that Sokka tears his pants all the time." she clarified, making the Princess snicker, covering her mouth as she continued to chew down on a piece of seaweed.

"Why am I not surprised?" she mumbled, shaking her head with disappointment; Katara pursed her lips upward, realising that if she could make her laugh, maybe they could get along a little better than coldly acknowledging each other and making quips in response to questions that didn't require them.

They continued to eat, before Katara decided she ought to have a conversation rather than remain quiet; she considered that discussing Bato's return and what he had been doing in the Earth Kingdom would bring out some insightful discussion.

"So, Gran Gran, did you hear about Bato's journey in the Earth Kingdom?" she asked her grandmother, who nodded, her eyes narrowing in thought.

"Yes, Hakoda briefly explained it to me. It sounds like he had quite the adventure." she acknowledged, the Princess pulling her chopsticks away from her mouth as she chewed a bit of seaweed.

"Hmph..." she mumbled, before looking at them both, "What did you think about his... proposition, Katara?" she inquired, making her eyes widen; so Sokka had talked to her about his allies in the Earth Kingdom, which sounds like something they might have feuded over, seeing that she was the Crown Princess of the Fire Nation, a woman who had intended to become Fire Lord and lord over the lands of said rebels.

"I- well- I don't really have much of an opinion. I haven't met these rebels, and honestly, the warriors haven't achieved much in the Earth Kingdom." she admitted, the Princess snickering; what she found funny about their achievements was beyond her, but that didn't mean that she wasn't offended on their behalf, "What's so funny?"

"The warriors of the Southern Water Tribe achieved something the Earth Kingdom has been unable to do for a hundred years." she raised a finger, "Splitting the Fire Nation against itself." she argued to Katara, who raised a brow with confusion; she had listened to their story, over and over again, and she didn't think that warriors had really achieved much, other than delaying her arrival to Ba Sing Se by a week or so.

"I don't get what our warriors have to do with the civil war that you started." she admitted her thoughts, which seemed to annoy the Princess, who put her bowl of seaweed stew down beside herself.

"Sorry, what? The civil war I started?" she asked her with a growing voice of anger, "My brother was the one who overthrew our father." she corrected her with a snarl, "He forced my hand. If I hadn't gone missing, I doubt my brother wouldn't have gone to fight my father. So, congratulations, the Southern Water Tribe has succeeded, they've finally avenged their lost benders by plunging my nation into a civil war." she proclaimed with a chiding tone, which understandably intimidated Kanna, who raised a hand to try and calm the growing anger that was boiling away in the Princess.

"Please, Azula, there's no need to get so angry. Katara didn't mean to offend you." she assured her, the Princess tilting her chin up, snidely looking back toward the Water Tribe girl."

"No, you're right." she agreed with the elder woman, "You wouldn't have said what you did if you didn't despise the Fire Nation as much as you do." she declared with an accusing glare; Katara's jaw dropped, unsure how to respond, but didn't have a chance to as the Fire Nation Princess continued her argument, "You think we're a bunch of mindless murderers. You think that because the Fire Nation hasn't actually lost the war that they haven't suffered from it, or aren't suffering from it right now, because of my own incompetence?"

"I- uh-" she mumbled, before raising a hand, "I don't hate-"

"Don't lie to me. I've dealt with liars my entire life. You could at least do me the courtesy of being honest." she grit her teeth, before standing up and walking out of the igloo, leaving her food down by the small cooking fire.

"Uh..." she mumbled, the Water Tribe girl turning to face her grandmother, who narrowed her eyes at; Kanna's disappointed glare told her what words couldn't, that she was wrong to have pushed her by saying the wrong things- Azula had overreacted, but in the end, Katara had been the one to push her to into rage.

"Katara, I think you might need to apologise." she suggested, making her cross her arms; even if she knew she was responsible, she wasn't going to apologise.

"No." she refused, "I'm not apologising to her. She has a fit, and I have to apologise?" she questioned her grandmother, who sighed, putting her palm over her face as she looked down at her meal.

"Children..." she mumbled under her breath, before turning up to face her granddaughter, "You've been treating her with cold eyes these past six months, no wonder she thinks you hate her."

"What? Am I expected to like her?" she retorted, genuinely concerned that her grandmother was suggesting that she actually force herself to like Azula, purely to keep the peace.

"This isn't about who likes who, Katara." she narrowed her eyes at her, "This is about making her feel welcome. We want Azula to be a friend of our tribe, not an enemy."

"Why should she have to feel welcome? She knows what the Fire Nation has done to our tribe. Her helping around the village doesn't change what happened." she argued, Kanna nodding, indicating that she agreed with her.

"You're right. But she doesn't bear responsibility for what happened. Her family might have had something to do with it, but from the sounds of it, she has had nothing at all to do with our tribe until our warriors attacked her ship. She might be rude, but she isn't taking you back to the Fire Nation as a prisoner because you're a waterbender, is she?"

She looked down, feeling that she had done something wrong; she knew that Azula was a person like anyone else, but she hadn't considered the fact that she was doing right by her tribe and had shown no indication that she was intending to harm or betray them in any way.

"You're right. She's not doing anything wrong... not really." she admitted the truth, before placing her meal down beside her, "I should go apologise." she declared, her grandmother shaking her hand, gesturing for her to sit down.

"Give her some time to cool off. Eat your dinner, and then perhaps take her meal over to her tent, so she can finish it."

Katara nodded, knowing that Kanna was right; she shouldn't just chase after the Princess, who would likely still be fuming over her rant, but rather give her some time to calm down and collect herself.

"Sorry, Gran Gran." she told her, knowing that she had inadvertently ruined their dinner.

"Don't worry about me. I had to deal with you and Sokka arguing ever since you could both talk. This is no different." she admitted, before gesturing to her bowl of seaweed stew, "Don't forget to eat. It'll get cold."

"O-of course, Gran Gran. I'll eat it more and then some, just to make up for Sokka not being around to do so." she declared, making her grandmother chuckle at her idea.

"Go ahead." she smiled at her, gesturing to the pot of stew that sat beside the dying embers of the fire she had cooked it with.

She picked up her chopsticks and returned to eating her meal, momentarily glancing toward the exit of the igloo; as much as she thought Azula was snide, arrogant and probably undeserving of her brother as her boyfriend, she knew that she shouldn't despise her for things she had no control over. She could choose to join them for dinner, but she had no choice in the Fire Nation raiding their tribe to the verge of extinction; the Princess was right, in the end, she had been judging on the presumption of those horrible things she had experienced personally, and the hardships that had been forced upon the Southern Water Tribe as a whole by the Fire Nation. Even if she ought to be kinder and less antagonistic, she didn't deserve to be hated because she came from the Fire Nation; the hard work she had done ever since she arrived had proven that she was better than what she had imagined Fire Nation people to be like. Katara knew that she would give her her bowl of seaweed stew, leave her be, and hopefully be able to treat her a little better the next morning, and hopefully make her feel a little more at home, to make up for her six months of failure.

As the snow fell on his uncovered face, Sokka shivered, knowing that he really shouldn't be out at night; hunting was a task that required alertness and constant mobility, meaning that sleep was something that had to be sacrificed. Walking around in the dark was a bit of a challenge, but the moon was bright that evening, giving them a small amount of light to distinguish features with; because they weren't camping, there was no campfire to light the area, forcing him to rely on bare moonlight alone. Their group was walking in file, each of the hunters holding part of their equipment; a few had tents on their backs, others had nets and bags of material to construct traps with. He wiped the snow off of his face, looking out at the wide expanse of flat ice before him; they were walking along the base of some rocky hillocks that dotted the otherwise flat landscape, where various animals would burrow in the caves that naturally formed there. He kept his eyes on the ground, trying to check for any paw prints that would suggest a large animal, but failed to see much. He could make out smaller prints, perhaps from wolves, although he couldn't be sure, as the light made it a challenge to discern anything other than their size.

He heard his father's voice, up ahead near the front of the group, "Everyone! Head up toward the top of the hill! We need to find somewhere to camp!" he shouted out, making sure everyone could hear him.

It made sense to Sokka for them to camp up on the hillside, as they'd be able to easily move out at daybreak and track down one of the animals that must have been living nearby. He thought that they'd best stay on the sea-facing side of the hill, as he was sure that most of the big predators would prey on seals and penguins, animals that would go from inland to the water on a daily basis. Heading up the hillside, he found his feet going deep in the snow, which was softer on the slopes that in was on the flats; he grunted as he took another step, trying not to sink into the snow, not wanting to fall over and get his face frozen. As they climbed further up, he was able to spot a few caverns and recesses in the hillside, which was a mixture of windswept ice formations as well as the proper rock, which was jagged and rough, portions stabbing out of the snow like skyward-facing daggers. He followed the other hunters up along the path his father seemed to be leading, winding around the rock formations, finally finding a fine place to camp, which was a bowl shaped recess in the hillside, bordered on all sides by rock, meaning that they were well protected from the wind.

"Ah, here's a good place to rest!" one of the hunters proclaimed, stabbing the butt of his spear into the snow, "Can we pull the tents out now, Chief?" he asked of Hakoda, who turned to face his fellow tribesmen.

"Of course. We need to get some sleep if we hope to catch something tomorrow." he assured them, before he pointed his hands around, "Put the tents out by the rock walls, keep them nice and covered. Somebody start a fire, so whoever's keeping watch can stay warm." he directed the men, who all complied with his orders; Sokka, who didn't have any tent on his back, decided that he would best use his strength starting a fire, feeling like he would certainly enjoy sitting by the warmth of one.

As he reached the centre of the bowl-like formation, he pulled his bag off his back, pulling out some seal blubber and spark rocks, which he had to put over a stone dish, something he wasn't carrying himself; setting a fire on ice itself, although possible, was something that only those in desperation did.

"Who's got the stone dish?" he asked of the hunters, one of them piquing their head up, his eyes turning around to see Sokka waving his hand.

"Ah, yep, I got you." he assured him, pulling out the stone dish from the bag on his back, before tossing it over to the Water Tribe teen, who caught it with both hands.

He put the dish down, and filled it with the blubber, before he grabbed some of the kindling for his fire, which consisted of a few small dried plants; it wasn't much, but it'd be enough to start the fire. He began to strike the spark rocks against the kindling, hitting them together a few times before a spark finally hit it, setting it aflame; he smiled at his work, pulling his gloves off momentarily to check and see if the fire was growing stronger. To his relief, the fire was intensifying, although quite slowly; fat wasn't the most potent substance, especially when it was so cold, but once it caught on, it'd be a nice warm fire that would also smell quite nice- that was Sokka's opinion on the matter, not that he cared what anyone else thought about the specific smell of burning seal fat. Glancing around, he took note of the hunters setting up the few tents that they'd have to share; as he honestly didn't want to be sleeping in such tight spaces with other grown men, he certainly preferred taking watch, where he could remain by the campfire. His father approached him, sitting down beside him, putting his hands out to appreciate the warmth of the flames.

"Did you want to take watch, Sokka?" Hakoda asked him, the young Water Tribe warrior nodding.

"Yeah, Dad. I'm more than ready to stay up a little longer." he assured him, "I'm not really that tired anyway." he added, making his father snicker.

"That's what sleeping in half the day does to you, son." he warned him, Sokka laughing off his comments; his sleeping patterns weren't ideal, as he seemed to enjoy sleeping in a little too much.

Azula always harped on about it to him, as she was a firebender, who as she regularly reminded him, rose with the sun, and found the antarctic summer to be more than challenging to sleep through, when there were weeks where the sun just didn't set.

"You're right, but I'll be fine." he assured him, not wanting his father to worry about him.

He wasn't sick or anything of the likes, so he knew that he'd be content to sit around the fire, think to himself about the wonders of the universe, perhaps; more than likely he'd probably just grow lovesick, knowing that he wasn't lying beside his girlfriend. Until he had started lying beside her every night, he hadn't truly understood what physical space could do to his emotions; whenever he slept alone, he felt a certain emptiness in his heart, that was urging him to fill it.

"Well then, are you going to share some of your jerky with me?" his father asked him, catching Sokka's attention as he had been focusing his stare into the flames.

"Don't you have your own, Dad?" he quipped in return, Hakoda making a humoured grin.

"Oh, don't let your old man down. I'm sure you could spare just a piece. It's called rationing." he argued, the Water Tribe teen shaking his head; his father liked to remind him that he was indeed his father when he acted exactly how he would.

"I know what rationing is." he retorted, before rolling his eyes, knowing that he couldn't refuse him; he reached into his bag before pulling out two pieces of seal jerky, "There you go, Dad. Don't ask again tonight." he narrowed his eyes at him.

"I won't, I won't." he assured him, before taking a bite of his jerky, "Is this Ashuna's stuff?" he asked Sokka, who nodded in confirmation; Ashuna always made the best jerky, and he was always sure to go get some from her before he went out on long trips like the hunt they were currently on.

He pulled out a piece for himself, and took a bite, his eyes looking back toward the fire, which were mesmerising; it was small, dainty, and not something to be feared. Before he had met Azula, he feared firebenders and by extension fire itself, although in the sense that it made him uncomfortable, forced to remember the attack on his village where his mother had died. But when he saw fire, he no longer thought of that day, but instead he thought of sparring Azula on the deck of her ship, remembering the few weeks they had spent travelling to Pohuai Fortress from Ba Sing Se. Those days were sweet in his mind, even if he didn't exactly like being stuck on a boat surrounded by Fire Nation soldiers; he could even go as far to say that those days made him feel more at home with Azula and all of her entourage. He smiled, remembering the times he had actually been competent enough to beat her in a sparring session, which was a rare, almost celebratory occasion for him.

"Sokka, I've got to say, you've really grown." his father told him, the Water Tribe warrior's eyes darting up.

"Grown?" he asked him, raising a brow, "I'm not much taller than I was last year."

Hakoda chuckled, shaking his head, "No, I mean you've really become a man. You really know what you're doing with your life, you've found love. I'm proud of what you've become." he complimented his son, who made a grin, before offering his arms out.

"Manly hug?" he questioned, the Chief nodding in agreement, moving in to grapple his back.

"Manly hug." he confirmed, making the two of them snicker.

Sokka was just glad that he had made his father proud, after all he had done; he had inadvertently joined forces with and assisted the Crown Princess of the Fire Nation, who ought to have been their enemy, and even after that, his father was still proud of him. Once they broke from their hug, his father yawned, glancing at the fire, before turning back to face his son.

"Well, I'll go set up my sleeping roll and all that. I'm sure I can trust you to keep watch and make sure the fire stays on." he commented, the Water Tribe teen grinning at his father, giving him a wave as he rose to his feet and walked toward one of the tents.

He turned his glance back toward the fire, before he leaned himself down, lying back in the soft snow; he turned his head around to make sure snow wouldn't fall on his face, his eyes focused on the stone dish and the flames that continued to flicker, despite the cold. He thought back to his discussion with Azula about Bato's return and the rebels that he was working with; from his knowledge, he had been with the Freedom Fighters and they left Ba Sing Se together, travelling through the Earth Kingdom to a rebel held area in the south-west of the Earth Kingdom. Fire Nation control and supposedly been waning in the area ever since Zuko's coup, and the local rebels took advantage of the situation, liberating villages and towns.

The rebels had been the ones to gift Bato his boat for all of his efforts helping them, and he was sent south with the hope of getting his father's support. He was sure that his father would consider the offer, but the 'Azula issue' was one that neither of them could ignore. She would want to go with them north, and Sokka wouldn't refuse her, but he knew that she might do things that would threaten their relationship with their potential allies, or worse, prod Fire Nation forces into hunting their warriors down, which wouldn't end well for the Southern Water Tribe. No matter if she intended no harm to their Tribe, she would pose a threat to their safety if she returned to the Earth Kingdom by their side. Whether the rebels would even be able to push the Fire Nation out was something else entirely, but from his own knowledge, even without the support of the Fire Nation's military apparatus, only the smallest, most distant renegade forces would find themselves unable to ward off Earth Kingdom rebels.

Rising up from his position, he sighed, knowing that worrying over the future of the Earth Kingdom and his Tribe's role in it would only bring him unnecessary dread and concern; what he truly desired was to be happy, and for Azula to feel the same by his side. If that involved returning to the Earth Kingdom to gather forces against her brother, he wouldn't refuse her, even if he would make every argument possible as to why that was a foolish and dangerous idea. He scratched at his scraggly facial hair that was dotted with bits of snow, pulling the white particles from his chin and cheeks; Sokka yawned, glancing around the campsite, taking note that most of the hunters were already moving into the tents, where they'd be quickly falling asleep, readying themselves for the hunting they'd do the next morning. He caught what he thought was a campfire in the corner of his eye, glancing out to his left, downhill from where he was sitting; he narrowed his eyes at the light, trying to discern where exactly it was coming from, immediately assuming it was some hunters or travellers from another village heading toward their own. He realised by making out where the ice ended and the water began that the light was actually not on land, and when it was able to make out multiple more faint lights, he realised what he was looking at.

"Is that a..." he mumbled, not wanting to say it, as he certainly didn't want it to be true; years, it had been years since any Fire Nation ship had come in sight of their land, and although he knew their vessels patrolled the waters of the South Pole, for pirates or for Water Tribe vessels, Sokka was certain that a boat wouldn't come that close to sure to try and find Water Tribe ships.

He stood up, stepping away from the glare of the small fire, trying to see if he could better see the light in the distance if it was the only light in view; his worst fears were proven true when he made out a plume of smoke, rising up into the sky, partially obscuring the light of the moon.

"Dad!" he shouted out, gaining his father's attention immediately, the Chief racing out from his tent, his concerned face indicating that he understood the dire tone of his voice.

"Sokka, what's..." he began to ask, before his eyes followed his son's pointing finger toward the light of the ship, "Oh no." he mumbled, his eyes widening with utter terror, turning to face the rest of the campsite, "Everyone, get up!" he shouted out to the hunters, "There's a Fire Nation ship approaching the village!" he told them, a number of warriors immediately pulling themselves out of their tents.

"What?!" Sokka heard one of them shout out, before another rose up, readying his spear.

"Chief, we can't run faster than a ship, especially with the snow this thick." he told Hakoda, who glanced back toward his son with fear.

"I know that." he acknowledged, "But we have to try and get there... before our village is doomed."

Sokka glanced back toward the ship, tensing up with fear, realising what was happening, that there was a raiding vessel was coming for their village. Were they coming for Katara? For Azula? He had no idea, and the very fact he didn't made him all the more afraid.

"Spirits, you've never cared for me before, but please..." he mumbled, looking up to the moon, not knowing if the spirits of his land could hear him or even cared for his words.

"Please save them."

Azula was alone in her bed, the sleeping roll big enough for two, but only fitting her lithe body inside; she didn't want to be alone, lying there thinking about how she had boiled over in rage at Katara. She didn't even deserve her anger, even if she was a cold-hearted girl who spited her for no reason; Sokka would be furious at her for what she said, and then she would have shouted at him, and then they would have hugged, and he would have told her that he loved her, and that whatever failures she had made, that they didn't matter. Instead of that, she was lying alone, trying not to cry. She didn't like crying, it made her feel weak, it made her feel like she was worthless as her brother, who had sobbed himself to sleep for months after their mother left; she knew however, that if there was anything she ought to cry over, it was her own failure.

She had failed in doing the one thing she ought to have been able to do; defeat Zuko in an Agni Kai, and take the throne, as her father would have intended for her. That wasn't even considering the lies her brother had purported, making it out that he had killed their father in single combat, when he had actually only injured him; he had manipulated her own anger against her, by making her believe he was a ruthless kinslayer. He made her feel unworthy and weak; it was a feeling that had been alien to her all her life, only a threat that she could see from the corner of her eye, knowing it only from how her brother had been treated by their father. It wasn't even that she agreed with her father's actions, but more than she dreaded experiencing that herself. Her brother sat on the throne to spite her, and she hated him for it; if there was one thing she wanted more than anything in the world, it would be to deliver her own retribution upon him, if only to lessen the pain of her failure and incompetence.

She leaned over, deciding that she might as well eat the food Katara had put by her tent's entrance a while earlier; she had been kind enough, or perhaps forced by Kanna, to give her the dinner she hadn't eaten, seeing that she had gone into a fit of rage in response to the Water Tribe girl's own ignorance. The meal had been edible, although she didn't necessarily like it that much; seaweed was bland, and it tasted like the place it was from- the ocean. The taste of seawater seemed to remind her of two very distinctive memories; when she would go out onto her and Sokka's boat and sit on the deck, tasting the salt in the air, and when she had been thrown into the water after her Royal Barge was sunk by the very people she was seeking refuge with. She had to heat up the meal with her firebending, seeing that it would taste even worse while cold; Azula craved the taste of spices, and Fire Nation food more generally, and was looking forward to the day she could taste a fire-flake once again, or some spiced noodles.

Suddenly, she heard a loud thunk in the distance; such a noise was alien in a small village where little construction work occurred, so she felt concerned for a moment that an igloo had collapsed, which would be a serious problem for anyone living inside one. Those concerns were replaced with far more primal fears when she made out screams; not just one, but a number of them, going off in a symphony that could not excite any aesthetic pleasure, but simply terror. Azula didn't fear anything or anyone, of course, as she liked to tell herself, even if it was a blatant lie. She feared death, and she feared capture by Fire Nation forces; if there was one thing she'd hate more than living the life of a peasant at the South Pole, it would be as her brother's personal rose up from her sleeping roll, pulling herself up to a seated position; she couldn't hear anything for a few moments before more shouts and screams called out across the village. Although she might have held some doubt on the matter prior to hearing those voices, she was that they were being attacked; Azula momentarily considered the possibility of fighting her own people, but remembered that she had done just that at Pohuai Fortress to save both her and Sokka from capture.

Pulling herself out of the sleeping roll entirely, she grasped the parka that sat beside her, pulling it over her head and down over her torso. She lit up her tent with the use of her blue flames, momentarily glancing about to find where she had kicked off her boots, before she grasped them, finding them by the entrance. With a growing feeling of dread, she slid her feet into the boots, before grasping a dagger from her bag; she was skilled at close-quarters combat, and knew that if she could hide her firebending and thus her identity for as long as possible, she would do just that. Climbing out of her tent, she glanced immediately toward the shoreline, making out the distinctive red light that was made from the stained windows of Fire Nation vessels, as well as the bursts of fire she could see flying up over the ice wall that encircled the village. Racing forward, Azula readied the dagger in her hand, feeling an unwelcome sickness in her throat from the thought of having to kill her fellow countrymen; as much as she threatened and fought, almost every time she did so, it was never with lethal intent, even if she could easily kill her opponents if she so desired, as when she had fired a lightning bolt at her brother during their Agni Kai.

"Ahhh! Help!" she heard the screams of a child, who upon making sight of, Azula realised was being chased by a soldier who was clearly a member of the Southern Raiders; he had his fists brandished in flames, ready to knock the child down.

She narrowed her eyes at him, letting the child run past as the man continued to approach, his attack now set on her; he sent a fireball right at her head, although she was intuitive enough to duck before it had even left his palm. He was surprised to see her dodge the attack, and even more so when she kicked him in the shin, forcing him down onto a knee.

"Nice try." she mocked him, before sending an uppercut into his chin, making him fall back into the snow unconscious.

Her eyes darted around, trying to make sure none of the other villagers weren't in immediate danger, before she raced on forward toward she caught sight of a few Water Tribe men with their spears and blades in hand, trying to ward off their enemy; she was clearly on the losing side, seeing that most of the tribesmen were only half-awake, and their opponents outnumbered them two to one. She didn't know why the Southern Raiders were there, but she guessed by the fact that they were chasing down children, it wasn't for their prescribed task of hunting down waterbenders, who were believed by all to be extinct in the South Pole, seeing that she was the only person from the Fire Nation who had any knowledge of Katara's existence.

Racing up toward the warriors, she shouted out, "Get out of my way!" she demanded, the men stepping aside as she moved to fight the attackers; she was hoping that she'd catch the attention of the Southern Raiders, seeing that unlike the non-bending warriors, she could easily dissipate their flames, meaning that she was a far better shield against their attacks.

One of the attackers threw a fireball at her, but she ducked under the attack before sweeping her leg out, tripping him over by striking her shin against his legs; she grit her teeth, trying to hold back a shout from the pain, realising in hindsight that without her metal boots, her shins were susceptible to being bruised and beaten as much as any other part of her body. She returned to form, sidestepping a flame-covered fist that came her way, before twisting the soldier's wrist, making him scream out with pain.

"Fuck!" he called out, before she jabbed him in the chin, knocking him out cold, his unconscious body falling back into the snow; glancing back, she noted that the morale of the warriors had increased dramatically, and they were now able to hold off any more Southern Raiders rushing into the village.

Azula then found herself hit by a ring-shaped blast of fire, which struck her in the chest, throwing her off her feet and onto the ground; she grunted, the pain from the fall numbed by the growing sense of anger she felt. She wasn't going to let the village fall, and not because she had any sentimental feeling toward its inhabitants, but because they were her allies; they fed her, they housed her, they tolerated her existence. She was going to return the favour by beating every Southern Raider unconscious, if that was what it would take to stop their attack.

As she returned to her feet, she glanced to the warriors, who were looking rather fearful as they were forced to beat back the enemies fire blasts; she grit her teeth, knowing that firebending in front of the raiders could inadvertently doom her. Readying her dagger in hand, she waited for one of the soldiers to race at her, firing out a volley of blasts in her direction, hoping to her extremities; she rolled forward, before she used the blade to slash at his leg, making him scream out in pain. He readied his hand, aiming it down toward her face, but before he could even send out a puff of flames, she grabbed his palm and twisted his forearm, before she sent her other hand, curled into a fist, right into his jaw, making him stumble back before falling over. Grinning at the results of her quick attacks, she considered for a moment that it might be possible to defeat her opponents without any bending. Before she could decide which soldier to attack next, she realised that the numbers of Southern Raiders was suspiciously thinning out, suggesting that they were running around the other side to attack from behind. Without a word, she raced off to the left, surprising her opponents, before she jumped over a tent, her feet landing on the ice wall, where she could clearly see the raiders making their way around the walls on either side. She ran down the length of the wall, one of them seeing her, shouting out it fear.

"One of them's on the wall!" he shouted, making her grit her teeth as she aimed to ponce at him, suddenly finding herself struck in the side by a fireball, and thrown into the air; she lost all sense of coordination for a few moments, before her face smashed right into the snow.

Groaning with frustration as she pulled herself up to her feet, Azula glanced around, trying to spot the enemy as they made their way around the wall; she decided that if she made her way to the rear entrance of the village, perhaps she would run right into them. A few warriors were racing up to her, looking at her with fearful expressions; one of them offered her a hand, which she slapped away.

"They're going around!" she told them, pointing towards the rear of the village, before returning to her feet, "Come on, are you going to help me or not?!" she accused them, the warriors not saying a word, simply nodding before racing toward the back of the village.

As she began to run, as fast as she could given the thickness of the snowfall, her heart began to beat even faster; she didn't know if they could even win the fight. She was Princess Azula, but she was only one firebender, they had dozens, perhaps, and she would have to beat them back for long enough to ensure that they didn't find and take whatever they were looking for. She still had no idea who or what they desired, but she had a feeling that it might have had something to do with the events that had been occurring outside of their isolated little ice-hole. When she reached the rear of the village, she heard one of the warriors shout out with fear, clearly concerned by what he was seeing.

"Get off of them you ash-maker scum!" she heard one of the warriors shout out, Azula laying eyes upon what looked to be two Southern Raiders grappling children; they wanted to kidnap them, it seemed, and the Princess could only guess for what.

The warrior who shouted ran toward them with his spear in hand, but was knocked down by a fireball; instead of letting another warrior rush forward and needlessly injure themselves, she decided to do it herself, running toward one of the men who was trying to get away with a child. She ducked a fire blast he fired her way with little effort or consideration, before he found himself tripped by her foot, Azula grabbing the child as they fell down. She cried out with fear, and Azula could only point back toward the village.

"Run!" she told her, the child complying as she ran away, screaming in terror. She turned to face the soldier she had just tripped, taking note that he was flaring his teeth at her with vicious rage. He covered his right fist with flames, before trying to punch her in the head with it; she instead rushed forward into his attack, grabbing his hand while he tried to burn her parka. She kneed him in the gut before throwing him down to the ground; when he tried to retaliate by sending a kick of flames her way, she hammered her foot down on his bent leg, making him scream as she obviously dislocated something in that part of his body. She kicked him once more, hitting him in the torso that time, audibly fracturing one of his ribs, before her eyes darted around, spotting a few soldiers heading her way.

"Get her!" she heard the injured, but still clearly conscious soldier demand of his comrades, making her roll her eyes before she kicked his head into the ground, knocking him out.

Turning around she took note of the other warriors coming her direction, still chasing after the soldier who was getting away with another child; she decided to take pursuit, but realised it would be a bit of a challenge if there was a number of other soldiers in her way. She ducked under a fire blast, before she slashed at one of their legs when he attempted to tackle her, making him groan with pain as he fell to the ground face first. The next one found a similar fate as she kicked him in the shin, before stabbing her blade into his hand, making him shout out with pain before he was knocked unconscious.

The last soldier was more intelligent, firing upon her from a distance, which forced her to roll out of the way of his fire blast. She would be shivering from all the snow that was getting on her face and slipping into her parka, but the thrill of the fight kept her warm. She dodged another attack, gritting her teeth as she realised he was getting close to actually burning her; she rose to her feet and charged at him, deciding that she'd had enough of fighting like she was weaker than her opponents- she was stronger than they could ever imagine. He sent another fire blast her way, but instead of dodging it, she simply let her open palm strike it, dissipating the flames immediately; his eyes widened with dread, but he didn't have much time to react as she tackled him to the ground, punching him in the head. She grinned, realising that she had beaten him, but that smile faded as she realised she still needed to retrieve the child, who was being whisked away toward the ship as she lay there.

She heard footsteps nearby and figures approaching, knowing that she couldn't let the village fall, not when she had all the power to defeat a single ship of Southern Raiders. One of them moved to attack her, ready to send a stream of flames right into her face; her instincts kicked in, and she screamed out in anger as she returned in kind. Her flames were far more potent that his own, and threw him back into the air as his armour was viciously singed, shielding him from fire that would have otherwise scarred his chest. As the other Southern Raiders looked at their comrade be thrown back by a stream of blue flames, their jaws dropped as they all began to step back with fear, realising who they were actually fighting.

"That's P-Princess Azula." one of them gasped with utter horror, making her grin, realising that because had just been she found out by her enemies, she would have to go all out on them.

"Congratulations." she told them, celebrating their perception of her identity, before dropping her dagger down to the ground, seeing that she would no longer have any use for it.

As she filled her hands with fire, the Southern Raiders took form, even if they were fearing for their lives, like any sane and knowledgeable person would; she was the most powerful firebender alive, assuming that her brother hadn't gone and finished the deed by executing their father, and the men before her, they were nothing in comparison to her might. Three of them simultaneously sent fire streams at her, aiming to knock her right off her feet; she dropped down, avoiding the attacks while she sent out cutting arcs of fire, which flew underneath the streams and hit the two firebenders to her side, leaving the remaining one looking on in fear as she directed his stream up into the air above them, creating a massive plume of fire that lit up the entire village, the mixture of blue and orange flames flying up into the sky above them. Once her opponents fire stream died out, she sent a kick of flames his way, knocking him off his feet before she glanced around her shoulders, taking note of the numerous soldiers surrounding her.

"Come on, try and hit me!" she prodded them, two of them sending streams her way, which she ducked under, before sending jabs at both of them.

She was able to hit one down, but the other was lucky enough that she missed; he continued sending his stream at her, which she powered through with her own bending, aiming her open palm right into his attack; momentarily, both her stream and his held each other back, before she overpowered his weaker flames, sending them right back at him, throwing him to the ground. She sidestepped another fire blast that was sent her way before returning one in kind, striking her opponent square in the forehead, flinging his head back, before he fell face-first into the snow. Azula dispersed another attack that was aimed at her own head, before sending a stream into a soldier's chest, throwing him into the ice-wall that stood behind him; as he crumpled down by the wall, she glanced behind her, taking note that the warriors were joining her in the fight, beating up the soldiers.

Her attention was drawn ahead, seeing the soldier who had taken a child still running away; instead of chasing after him, she made a calculated decision. The Southern Raiders kidnapping children was only an issue if they could escape, and thus preventing their escape would be a surefire way to stop that eventuality. Spinning her fingers around, she took a deep breath, focusing on the ship that lay some distance ahead of her; she hadn't tried the technique she was attempting ever since it had been shot back at her, but she knew that it was the only one that could deal enough damage to the ship to ensure the kidnapper couldn't get away. The energy growing in her hands, it enticed her further to take form, arcing her right hand from her chest outward, directing it toward the ship; the lightning bolt was blindingly bright, lighting up the entire area and catching the attention of everyone within sight of it, before it travelled right into the bridge of the ship, causing an explosion which sent shards of metal, smoke and flames out of the vessel. She sighed, realising how straining it had been to muster such a powerful lightning bolt, glancing at the clearly fearful Southern Raiders, before she stood up tall, a smile of satisfaction forming on her face.

"Now, now you can't escape."

If Katara was to be completely honest with herself, she wasn't that great a fighter; she could use a spear to fish and hunt like any other Water Tribesman, but her offensive skill with it, or any other weapon for that, was rather limited. Her waterbending was only useful to throw snow at her opponents or perhaps try to freeze them, although seeing that she had never been in a proper fight before; she had never had to try the latter, the former something she had done to her brother countless times. She was holding a spear with her right hand, she raced toward the seaward side of the village, where she could clearly see that the fighting was concentrated; she had told her grandmother that she intended to help defend the village, seeing that their numbers were limited, and at that very moment, Azula was nowhere to be found. Wherever the Princess was, Katara hoped that she was fighting on their side, after all the tribe had done for her.

She approached the group of warriors who were holding off their vicious opponents, who were throwing fireballs at their opponents, into the air, and at their tents and igloos, a few of which were already damaged, taking note that the wall had been destroyed allowing the attackers to move from their boat right into their village. Taking as best a stance she could, she decided that she at least attempt to waterbend before ignoring it as an option; Katara used her bending to grasp the snow beside her, grasping at it as if she was about to throw a snowball, and thrusting her arm forward, her palm facing upward as the snow followed her command, flying right into one of the soldiers, who were immediately surprised by the fact that they had been attacked with snow. Before they could even figure out what was going on, she made the same move again, tripping one of the attackers, making him humorously faceplant in the snow.

"Waterbender!" she heard one of them call out, pointing at the Water Tribe girl, who readied her spear as two of the soldiers charged at her.

She ducked under a fireball that was thrown at her, before thrusting her spear forward, catching one of the soldiers on the shoulder, throwing him back off his feet; the other firebender sent a small blast right into her chest, throwing her back into the snow, although he was warded off by one of the warriors, who tripped him with a machete.

"Thanks." she smiled at the warrior appreciatively, but he didn't take much notice of her, immediately turning to charge at their opponents.

She readied her own spear, picking it up off the ground, before she returned her feet, glancing at their enemies, whose attention was turned behind them instead of toward the warriors they had been fighting; she realised why a few moments later when a massive whirlwind of blue flames burst out of nowhere striking down most of the soldiers. Those that didn't fall at once were quickly struck down by bolts of fire, making Katara purse her lips into a smile of satisfaction; for once, she was very happy to see Azula's firebending on full display, taking down all of the soldiers. When the flames had dissipated, she made sight of the Princess, who looked exhausted, her chest heaving with each breath, as her hands were remained covered in flames, ready to strike down any of their opponents who would be stupid enough to resist. A few moments later a small child child ran past the Princess with a clearly fearful expression on her face, running up to one of the warriors, jumping into his arms.

"Dad! Dad! They tried to take me away!" he told his father, making Katara's eyes widen as they turned back to Azula; she had just saved that child from being kidnapped by the Fire Nation.

The Princess began to walk forward, bee-lining to Katara, who tried to hold back her awe of what she had just seen; the Princess beating up her brother was one thing, but taking down a dozen firebending soldiers at once was something else entirely. Instead of addressing the Water Tribe girl, she instead leaned over, grasping a soldier by his neck, turning him over so she could see his face, while she held a flame-covered fist over his head.

"What are you doing here?" she questioned him, "What did you want with the children?"

The soldier was dazed, and the Princess decided to wake him up by hammering a fist into his face, breaking his nose, "Ow!" he yelped, rubbing at his face with a clearly pained expression; Katara and a few of the warriors slowly approached the pair of them, obviously interested in what he had to say.

"Do I have to ask you again?" Azula prodded him, her flame-covered fist getting close enough to his face that he began to squirm from the pain.

"Slaves!" he told her in a high-pitched, fearful shout, "We wanted them as slaves!"

"And who put you up to this?" she asked the soldier, whose eyes darted about.

"Th-the commander... you know... the boss of the Southern Raiders." he clarified, the Princess nodding before punching him in the face again, perhaps for good measure.

"No. Who are you working for, idiot?" she questioned, his eyes darting around.

"We aren't loyal to the traitor Prince, if th-that's... if that's what you were thinking."

"My brother is certainly above enslaving people." she raised a finger, as if to assert her position of eminence on all the things her brother would or would not let his subjects do, before shrugging her shoulders, "You people are of no use to me." she declared, her eyes darting up to Katara first, and then to the other warriors, "Well... you all know what to do, don't you?"

The Water Tribe girl's eyes widened, realising what she was implying with her words- Azula wanted the warriors to kill the Southern Raiders. As much as the thought of killing another person disgusted her, she knew that their tribe had no space or want for prisoners, especially those who were directly involved in the raids that had devastated their tribe.

A warrior readied his machete, approaching one of the knocked out soldiers, before he was stopped by the arm of one of his comrades, "No. I've got a better idea than killing them." he declared, before his eyes darted back behind the Princess, where the enemy's ship was located, currently billowing out smoke from what Katara could only guess was the result of her powerful attacks, "We should throw them on their shitty hunk of metal and sink it to the bottom of the sea. That way we don't have to worry about getting any blood on our hands."

"What a fine suggestion." Azula complimented the warriors idea, before turning up toward the ship, "I'll take care of the ship." she assured them, glancing Katara's way with interest.

"Uh... I'll come along." she decided, realising that if there was anything she wanted to be sure of, it was that the Southern Raiders couldn't escape.

She didn't realise until the soldier admitted they were looking for slaves, that the people she was fighting were the very same that were responsible for her mother's death; she was certain of it, and knew if she asked Azula, she would tell her that she was right.

"These people... they're the ones that did it, aren't they?" she asked her as she followed her toward the ship; the Princess tilted her head back and nodded, a grin that she could only call disturbing forming on her face.

"They did. The man you're looking for, as I told Sokka, is retired. I'm afraid that you won't be able to get your revenge today." she explained, Katara's eyes narrowing, realising that Sokka hadn't even mentioned that; of all the parts of the story that he had forgotten to mention, it was the identity of their mother's killer.

She narrowed her eyes, clenching her fists as she approached the ship, feeling that she was incapable of doing the one thing that she ought to be able to do; avenging her mother was something that she had desired for so long, just like she guessed her brother had, but she had never had the means to do it. Azula's news was simply confirmation that she would continue to remain unable to achieve it; the anger was boiling up in her, having been hidden away for so many years, and she grit her teeth, tightening her grip on her spear. She wasn't going to get exactly what she wanted, it seemed, but defeating the Southern Raiders and their abhorrent plan would still bring a sense of satisfaction to her heart. Following after Azula up the boarding ramp that had been perched onto the icy shore, she made her way up onto the deck of the ship, where a few stragglers had escaped to; they didn't last very long when Azula used her firebending to knock most of them down, Katara charging in with her spear in hand, using it to pummel one of the soldiers in the head. Another soldier came at her, and she dropped to the deck to avoid his fire blast before he himself was struck in the chest by Azula's firebending.

"Come on, let's get down into the hull. We need to make sure the engine is inoperable." she explained, gesturing to a staircase that led down from the centre of the deck.

The pair raced down the stairs, making their way into a long and dark metal lined hallway; Katara thought that the interior of the Fire Nation ship, was very sombre and foreboding. She was unsure if they were trying to make themselves look like heartless conquerors with their imposing steel ships, but she certainly thought the Fire Nation were doing a good job of it if that was the case. They continued on down the hallway, until they were once again confronted by some soldiers, who this time, weren't wearing any armour, and thus were much less of an issue to fight. Azula simply aimed a palm forward and sent a stream down the hallway, which battered them to the side; even though they remained conscious after the attack, the two of them were able to quickly knock them out while they were dazed. They made their way all the way to the rear of the ship, when suddenly, Katara heard a sudden mechanical grinding noise, which didn't sound enticing in the slightest.

"What was that?" she questioned the Princess, who narrowed her eyes, gesturing for her to follow.

"The ramp being raised. I think they're trying to escape." she explained to the Water Tribe girl, who immediately understood what they had to do.

"So we'll stop them." she declared, tightening her grip on the spear as they got closer to the end of the hallway, approaching a metal door which was closed shut.

Azula sent a kick of flames right at the door, before they even reached it, sending it flying wide open; it revealed what she was looking for, the engine room, where a few unusually clothed soldiers were standing.

Their outfits consisted of masks, skirts and shoulder pauldrons that were bound by a leather strap across their chest; it was impractical for fighting, but made sense to Katara given the immediate change in temperature she felt as they entered the engine room.

"What is the meaning-" one of them began, before he was cut off by being struck in the head by a curt bolt of blue flames; the other men trembled back in fear.

"P-Princess Azula." one of them mumbled in fear, the Water Tribe girl turning to face her, realising that the people she was fighting were aware of her identity.

"Yes, I am." she grinned at them with a ruthless smirk before sending fire balls at each of them in a quick succession.

Katara used her spear to strike the enemy soldiers, whose lack of armour was their downfall; she was able to jab their extremities and force them back while the Princess's firebending proved to be an unsurprisingly quick and precise weapon for knocking them out cleanly. When all of their enemies were knocked out, they both looked at each other, the Water Tribe girl genuinely relieved that she had been able to beat them back so easily; she knew that being captured by the Fire Nation would be a death sentence for her, and thus, every knocked out soldier was a step closer to having her freedom assured.

The Princess pointed to a large number of pipes that ran through the room, the largest going upward into the ceiling, "Katara, how good are you at manipulating water?" she questioned her snappily, the Water Tribe girl tensing up, knowing that her inadequate training meant that even if she could manipulate her element at will, she lacked the skill to use it as an effective weapon over any other tool like a spear.

"I can do it." she admitted, before her eyes moved down with shame, "But not that well."

"Could you hold back some steam for me?" she asked her, Katara raising a brow with confusion.

"Hold back some... steam?" she asked her with a curious tone.

"These engines run off boiling water to create steam. That steam turns motors. Without the steam, the ship can't move." she explained simply, before pointing to a large pipe.

"That is the steam outlet pipe, which goes up with the smoke from the coalfire. If you use your waterbending to hold it in place, then maybe... well the engine will stop working and explode."

She tensed up momentarily, before nodding; she knew that she could at the very least try, "I'll see what I can do."

"Reach out and grab it. Like you would to pick up a snowball." Azula suggested, making her roll her eyes at her comparison; whatever waterbending was meant to be like, it wasn't like picking up a snowball with her hand.

She raised her hand up, taking a deep breath before sensing forward, taking note of all the water, in the form of steam that was rushing around her; she focused ahead at the pipe, sensing the flow that was moving through it, and moved her hand in sync with that flow. As her hand rose up, she felt the flow within her, smiling as she realised that she was connecting with her element; then she dropped her hand down, feeling the force that she was applying physically. She could feel the water vapour bubbling away, becoming denser by the second, and the sound she could hear from the pipes indicated that it was having an effect.

"Yes, yes!" Azula raised a fist into the air, elated that her plan was coming to fruition, "It's working."

For a moment she felt a certain sense of camaraderie with the girl, but that was quickly broken when their attention was turned behind them as a group of soldiers came rushing down the hallway toward the engine room.

"Shit." the Princess mumbled under her breath before gritting her teeth, "Stay focused Katara. We need to make sure this ship can't escape."

She nodded, turning her eyes back to the pipe as she continued to focus her mind on the steam that was building up; she could sense the pressure growing and it was becoming harder and harder for her to bend it. Her strength as a bender was being tested against the power of heat, and she was beginning to realise the fortitude required to bend was something else entirely. She couldn't rely on willpower alone, but that did help as she reminded herself why she was fighting; remembering the fact that she was trying to defeat those who had been responsible for her mother's death was as great incentive and she felt the vigour in her hold intensify, the build up becoming even stronger; as pipes began to burst, she turned her head toward Azula.

"I think we might need to leave in a second." she warned her, taking note of the large number of soldiers that she was warding off with her firebending.

"Duly noted." she confirmed, before smirking as she charged a fireball in her hands, which grew quickly to be nearly half her height in diameter; Katara's attention turned back to the steam, watching as all of the pipes began to burst and steam began to billow out of the coal furnaces the wrong way.

She then stepped back, moving back to back with the Princess as she charged the flames in her hands, which grew into a wild, uncontrollable blast that she could only direct away from her, flying right into the enemy soldiers that were in the hallway behind them; she didn't see what happened to the soldiers, only the blinding blue light of the flames encompassing the hallway. That was enough of a signal for her to turn her heels and race into the hallway, knowing that the engine was about to blow.

"Let's get out of here!" she told Azula as more pipes continued to burst, the room filling up with steam.

The two of them paced down the hallway, and as the flames dissipated the Water tribe girl took note of all the unconscious soldiers; she reminded herself that despite the beating they had received, that they all deserved it. As they approached the staircase they had entered through, Katara heard a booming explosion, which seemed to have occurred from her tampering with the steam; it was only when they climbed onto the deck that she realised what had happened.

The chimneys of the ship had exploded into flames, the build-up of steam and smoke having become literally explosive; her jaw dropped, turning to Azula with a sense of amazement, "I did that."

"You certainly did." she acknowledged her efforts before she turned around, taking note that the ramp was still raised, even if the ship hadn't left shore, "Well that's just annoying." she grumbled, stepping forward as she glanced back toward the Water Tribe girl with a rather smug face, "Let me take care of that." she suggested, before she sent an impressive fire stream toward the railing to the left of them; it didn't seem like she was hitting much, but a few seconds later, she could hear a cracking noise as the ramp suddenly broke free, slamming back down onto the ice.

The two of them made their way back down the ramp, as a number of warriors and other tribesmen approached them with surprise, "By the spirits, you did it!" one of them exclaimed with shock.

"I can't believe it, the Princess saved our village." another gasped, before Azula herself stood forward.

"I wasn't saving your village, I was simply returning the favour. You have helped me by keeping me safe. It is only logical that I return in kind." she explained her actions, in such a way that made her seem as amoral as possible; Katara snickered, thinking how stupid it was for a person to want to not seem good.

"What is it?" she quipped at the Water Tribe girl accusingly, "Did you have something to say, Katara?" she tried to intimidate her, only making her step closer with a grin, realising that if she wanted to offend her, she only needed to say one thing.

"How does it feel being the good guy?" she questioned her, the Princess's eyes widening for a moment before she snarled, her hands filled with blue flames that made the ice shine a bright blue below their feet.

"This has nothing to do with being good!" she growled with barely contained fury.

"It has everything to do with being good. You just saved our children from being enslaved." she retorted, Azula glaring her down for a few moments, before turning to face the warriors.

"Are they all dealt with?" she asked them, the men nodding with relieved expressions.

"Yeah, the rest of them were-" he began, before she cut him off as she walked forward, barging through the group, making a bee-line right back toward the village walls.

"Then I'm going to bed. The Southern Raiders are yours to punish."

For Sokka, making sight of his village both brought relief and dread; he could see that the structures there were still clearly standing, although he could make out damage to the wall, but there was no clean sign of an enemy force, or worse, dead tribesmen. He didn't know what had happened but he was sure of one thing; the Southern Raiders had attacked his village, or at the very least, intended to, and he had no idea why. He had been mulling over the possibilities as he and the other hunters rushed back toward the village; he considered there were multiple reasons for the Fire Nation to attack once again. One was that they had been tracking Bato's small vessel as he travelled back to their village, and intended to take him out; another was that they had found out about Azula or Katara, through word of mouth or by raiding other villages that they were in contact with. The Princess was a hard thing to keep secret, and although she wore the same clothes and did the same work as any other person in their village, she was not one of them; it would have been easy enough for some travelling hunters or traders from another village taking note of her appearance and word getting back to the Fire Nation. The same could be said about Katara, seeing that everyone in the village knew that she was a waterbender, all it would take was someone in the Southern Water Tribe talking to some Fire Nation spy or the likes, and the Southern Raiders would move to capture her.

He increased his pace as soon as he could see the village walls, and quickly enough the features of the small settlement he called home were becoming more noticeable; there was damage to the walls, ash and cracks covering them, as well as a gaping hole where his watchtower had once stood. His father was leading the group, but he was not far behind, and despite how tired they all were, the men were no less intent on getting back to their home. The sun had risen not that long ago, and the glare on the ice was hurting Sokka's eyes, although he didn't complain, knowing that getting back to the village was more important than his petty grievances. As they neared the walls, a few villagers stepped out, surprised by the appearance of the hunters, and their rather exhausted and dishevelled state.

"They're back!" he heard one call out, before one of the warriors, who he remembered to be called Aujaq, approached the Chief with a bewildered look.

"Chief! You're not going to believe what happened." he told Hakoda, who placed a hand on his shoulder.

"The... the Southern Raiders." he panted, trying to catch his breath, "Did they attack?"

"Yes, but we won. We kicked their arses." he clarified, "Well, actually, that's the unbelievable part. The warriors didn't need to do much." he told him with an excited tone, before eyeing Sokka momentarily, "The Princess, she completely destroyed them; she even disabled their ship!" he exclaimed, the Chief sighing with relief, turning to face his son.

"I take back anything bad I ever said about that girl." he told him with a chuckle, "That's great news. Do we know why they came here?"

Aujaq's expression became a whole lot more serious when the Chief addressed him about that matter, "Y-yes, yes we do. They were coming here to kidnap children."

"What?" Hakoda's eyes widened with shock, "Did they think there might be more waterbenders or something?"

"Something. That something was slavery. I don't know what they need the labour for, but I'm guessing it might have something to do with what's happening the Earth Kingdom." he clarified, making Sokka's jaw drop with shock.

"You're kidding me..." before he glanced about, remembering that he mentioned disabling the enemy ship, "Uh, but where did the ship go?" he asked Aujaq, who tensed up, before turning to face his chief.

"We picked up all the ones we beat, chucked them on the boat, and sent it out to drift. The Princess damaged it enough that it's probably sunk by this point." he explained, the Water Tribe teen looking at him with disbelief; he knew that Azula could hand down some damage, but if the crew was all onboard, they had the chance to repair it.

"Are you sure they won't just get away?" he asked him, the warrior nodding with a serious expression.

"Yes. Your sister destroyed the engine with her waterbending. They can't get away." he explained, making Hakoda and Sokka smile at each other with pleased surprise.

"That's my girl." the Chief grinned with pride in his sister's achievement, a sentiment that his son shared, "Where is she, and the Princess for that matter?"

"Uh..." the warrior scratched at his chin, "I think Katara's with your mother, but I don't know where the Princess is."

"I think I do." he admitted, thinking that Azula would likely be in two possible places, mulling around in her tent, or doing the same by the icy shoreline, away from the other villagers; although she loved to mock him, she wasn't very sociable with anyone else in his village, and was more than likely sitting by her lonesome.

He turned back to face his father, who seemed to be both relieved and exhausted at the same time, "So, should we go see Katara and have breakfast?" he questioned him, the Chief not even nodding, simply striding forward into the village, which Sokka took as an affirmative.

As they entered the village, Sokka witnessed the damage that had occurred due to the attack; a number of tents had been destroyed by fire, and a few of the warriors were clearly injured, walking around with bandages on their extremities. He sighed, realising that they really just seemed to have bad luck; they would have had double the warriors to defend the village if they hadn't gone out on a hunt, although he realised that on the other hand, if Azula wasn't there, their village likely would have been destroyed and all of their children would have been kidnapped. It was not that he doubted his fellow warriors abilities, but rather the fact that previous raids had been with the intent of capturing waterbenders, not enslaving the populace of the Southern Water Tribe. They approached their family's igloo, his father stepping through the doorway first, before Sokka followed him in; he immediately made sight of his grandmother and sister making breakfast, both of their faces brightening up with relief.

"Dad, Sokka, you're back!" his sister exclaimed, hugging them both, which they accepted, enjoying the long group hug that the Water Tribe boy would admit he had sorely needed after the panic-attack he had had upon seeing the Fire Nation ship.

"What happened?" Hakoda asked of his daughter, "Aujaq told me your destroyed the ship's engine. That's amazing."

"It was amazing." she told them, "Azula was there to help of course... she did most of the work... actually." she clarified, her tone becoming a little less happy; that indicated to her brother that she felt like her toes were being stepped on a little with the Princess taking the bulk of the glory and recognition for their victory.

"I'm so proud of you." he told her, before he rubbed at Sokka's scalp, making him cringe back, "I'm proud of both of you."

"Thanks, Dad. I know you guys must have gotten back here as quickly as you could." she admitted, "So, I guess you saw the ship."

"We did." he clarified, clearing his throat before gesturing to his son, "Well, Sokka did first."

"I did." he took the credit he thought was fairly given to him, "But I knew it wouldn't help much. They were too fast, and we had to run while it was snowing, so we couldn't get there until... well, just now."

"You did the best you could." Kanna assured them, "Now, I assume you two are very tired, but I was just making breakfast. Did you want some?"

"That would make my day, Gran Gran." Sokka grinned at her, sitting down on the mat in the centre of their igloo, as she had her pot of sea prune stew ready.

The four of them sat around the pot as she poured them each a bowl, which he sniffed to enjoy the aroma as he received his one; he sipped some of the liquid portion of the stew, thinking it was rather a superior alternative to water, which was usually a lot colder when he drank it, as well as tasteless. He realised that Azula wasn't at breakfast with them, which felt odd for some reason; she usually stuck out like a sore thumb with her snarky quips and lack of respect toward others, and he missed that part of the breakfast experience for once.

He turned to face his grandmother, thinking that she would likely have the best idea where Azula was at that moment, "Uh, Gran Gran, have you seen Azula?"

She narrowed her eyes and shook her head, "No, I haven't. I thought your sister was going to invite her to breakfast, but she obviously did not." she commented, bluntly making out his sister's indifference toward his girlfriend.

"I- I didn't want to. Your saw how angry she got last night, and that was before we had to fight the Southern Raiders." she tried to argue with her grandmother, who simply raised a hand.

"That doesn't matter. She saved our village, you ought to at least give her some slack." she clarified, before turning to face her grandson, "I'm sorry, Sokka. I haven't seen her, and as your sister said, she has been in a bad mood."

"Ah." he raised a brow, taking a bite from one of the sea prunes, considering what she was saying; it was obvious that Azula and Katara didn't like each other, but he didn't understand the full extent of that animosity.

As he finished chewing the sea prune, he cleared his throat, "I think maybe I should go talk to her. After I finish breakfast, of course."

"Food goes before your girlfriend. Why am I not surprised?" his sister chided him, the Water Tribe teen's brow twitching, trying to restrain his anger.

He could understand at that moment why his girlfriend didn't like her, although he wouldn't take Katara's comments personally, seeing that she was simply pointing out a fact; he was more concerned about eating breakfast than he was about going to see Azula, as bad as sounded when he spelled it out in his head.

"Did you just have to walk all night? Because that's what Dad and I just did." he growled at her, making her shrink back, realising that she was in the wrong in making her argument, "If I don't eat, I won't have any energy, and that means that I'll probably pass out before I can properly comfort my girlfriend."

"You make a good point, son." Hakoda acknowledged, "I'm about five minutes away from falling asleep flat on this mat."

The igloo fell silent after that, the four of them eating their breakfasts in silence, the only sounds being made was from Sokka slurping up the liquid in his bowl as he quickly finished it off.

"Thank you, Gran Gran, that was a great breakfast." he thanked her, before rising to his feet, "Now, I have- uh- business to attend to." he told them.

"You make it sound like you're going to the toilet, not going to see your girlfriend." Katara commented, the Water Tribe teen rolling his eyes.

"Just... whatever." he waved off her words as he turned his heels, heading out of the doorway.

He didn't want to bother listening to stupid comments from his sister, let alone have the argument that he could see coming from a mile away with Azula; despite his best efforts, it just seemed like he wasn't going to catch a break. Walking back out into the village, the Water Tribe teen made his way past the injured warriors, dropping his head down, knowing that he ought to have been there to fight alongside the warriors. He knew that a feast would have improved the mood of the village, and an excuse for celebration was something that they needed; as happy as he was being at home with the Princess by his side, he was sure that the rest of the villagers, after years of the men being await, although not continuously, had strained their small community.

It wasn't just his village, but the entire Southern Water Tribe that seemed to be suffering because of it; his father had always told him that leaving to fight the Fire Nation was a necessary sacrifice, but he realised after his months away in the Earth kingdom, that as noble as their intentions had been, their absence had done no good for those back home, and the victory they hoped for never came. As he approached his and Azula's tent, he knelt down, pulling the canvas open to check if she was awake; she certainly was, sitting on their sleeping roll with her hands on the headpiece that she used to wear, back before the Agni Kai, when she had to dispense of any ornaments that would make her stick out as herself. Her eyes darted up to face him, bags under them and her lips pursed into a half-frown, although her expression brightened slightly for a moment, before it turned back to a harsher glare.

"It took you long enough." she grit her teeth at him, Sokka stepping into the tent, sitting himself down; he knew he screwed up, but even his instincts couldn't have predicted the Southern Raiders were going to attack.

"I'm sorry. We should have all been here. I should have fought by your side." he told her what he had been feeling ever since he saw the ship himself; that they ought to have been there to defend their village, instead of going out to find something big to eat, just because they felt like it.

"You haven't slept since you saw it, haven't you?" she guessed correctly, the Water Tribe warrior nodding before he slumped down, crossing his legs as he sat on the other end of their sleeping roll.

"I haven't." he confirmed, before looking down, remembering the sense of horror he felt as he and the other hunters packed and made chase after the boat, "I couldn't. I guess that was like how you felt after you woke up when you got... uh- zapped." he admitted, realising that she must have felt similarly; compelled to act, even if she couldn't make any meaningful contribution until it was too late.

She narrowed her eyes at him, seeming annoyed by his mention of that evening, which he knew to be one of her greatest regrets, "Do you want me to punch you in the face or something?"

"Something." he chose, making her roll her eyes.

"That's very witty of you. I see that your brains didn't freeze while you were out in the snow." she gave him a rather unusual compliment, but he accepted it nonetheless.

"Thanks, Azula." he pursed his lips upward, "So... are you alright? After what happened, I'm guessing that... well, you get annoyed easily." he admitted, making her narrow her eyes at him before laughing, realising that she was getting agitated at that very moment.

"Ah!" she hammered her palms together, "You are right, savage."

He laughed along with her, before her expression became more serious, which was a good indication for Sokka to press a more specific question.

"Did something or someone specifically annoy you?" he asked her, the Princess widening her eyes before nodding, contemptuously looking at her fingers for a moment.

"Yes. Your sister." she told him, not in any way surprising him; their relationship was mutually antagonistic, it seemed, and even if they were fighting common enemies, that wouldn't stop them from butting heads.

"Katara is... well, she's kind in heart." he admitted, knowing that she wasn't the nicest of people, especially when it came to people with extremely different moral codes and personalities, like his girlfriend, who prided herself on her rationality and supposed amorality.

"She's a bitch, sometimes, honestly." she clarified, before she decided to offload a rant onto the only person in the village who would care for it, "She's completely ignorant of what your people did. You, your father, Bato, you all essentially allowed my father to be deposed by making my brother and uncle think I was gone for good." she declared, making Sokka's eyes widen; he knew that his actions had consequences, but he didn't really consider what they had done that night on her Royal Barge actually amounted to much more than delaying her arrival to Ba Sing Se.

"W-wait... are you serious? Was Zuko not going to go ahead with taking down his father because he thought you were alive?"

"Of course he wasn't! He's a coward, above all else, and if he had been certain I was still alive when he went out to defeat my father, he wouldn't have done it." she declared; he was unsure if he was right, but he didn't feel brave enough to question her any further.

She furrowed her brow, before returning to what she had been previously talking about, "Now, she has the audacity to say that your people hadn't achieved anything, just because the Fire Nation continues to rule the world. She despises the Fire Nation without even realising the fact the man ruling it now is the kind of principled do-gooder that she so adores."

"I mean, you have a pretty good point. Although I don't know how much of a do-gooder he can be if he shot you with lightning." he commented, not having the highest opinion of her brother after that incident.

She tensed up before raising a finger, "Ah... yes, that is a fair point. But he wanted to end the war. You told me that was what he said in his speech to the commoners, didn't you?" she questioned him, the Water Tribe teen nodding.

He remembered Zuko's impassioned speech outside of the city hall of Yu Dao, it being the first time he ever laid eyes upon the young Fire Lord, as well as a basic introduction to his intentions for the Fire Nation.

"Yes, I think he does. Although ending the war can mean many different things, when you think about it." he acknowledged, the Princess chuckling as she considered his proposition.

"You have a good point. I desire peace just the same, although perhaps not the same kind that Zuko does." she admitted, making Sokka lean closer.

"And what does that look like?" he asked her, genuinely curious, and hoping that she might reveal her own intentions, which she had kept close to her heart ever since they came to the Southern Water Tribe; she wanted to be Fire Lord, but beyond that, her future seemed murky.

"It doesn't matter." she grit her teeth, before raising her eyes to meet his own, "As I was saying... your sister was acting as if the world hasn't changed, when it most certainly has."

"I agree." he smiled at her reassuringly, "And not just because I want to agree with you... Katara's just ignorant if she thinks that your brother taking the throne wasn't a big deal. He overthrew your father in an Agni Kai and has intentions to end the war your people have been fighting headstrong for a hundred years."

"Well, if you were as stupid as her, then I'd be concerned that you had knocked your head and forgotten everything that happened in the Earth Kingdom." she quipped, before narrowing her eyes, "And that was only at dinner."

"Oh." he mumbled, his eyes widening when he realised that Azula had further complaints to make, "Well, then what else did she say?"

"She mocked me." she snarled, clenching her fists as she raised them into the air, "She mocked me after I fought to defend your village against the Southern Raiders! The very people that killed your mother!" her voice rose to shout, Sokka becoming concerned; he didn't know what his sister had said, but he had a feeling that it must have been pretty audacious to get the Princess as riled up as she had been.

"What did she say?" he questioned her, the Princess turning away as her fists remained clenched, indicating that she was still just as agitated as before.

"She asked me, 'how does it feel to be good?'" she quoted Katara, before Sokka reached a hand out to her shoulder, understanding why she had gotten so agitated about it.

They were a double-edged sword, his sister's words; first, she insulted the Princess by telling her she was acting altruistically, even though by her own principles, she was simply being an honourable ally. Sokka understood why she'd be offended, knowing that when he had helped Azula in Ba Sing Se, in suppressing an Earth Kingdom revolt, he was being honourable, but there was nothing good about his actions. She probably thought that fighting against her nation was against what she herself desired to do, and therefore bad, even if she was being honourable by protecting her hosts. Then there was the darker, more underlying meaning behind Katara's words; she had told the Princess that she had been bad, perhaps evil in the past, despite the fact that she knew little to nothing about the Princess's rather disturbing upbringing. Azula probably never thought that she was evil, just as she had never thought she was good, and being accused of one, or in this case, both, would infuriate her beyond belief.

"I... I get it." he admitted, the Princess turning back to face him, her face still scrunched into a scowl instead of a pout, "Don't listen to her." he told her, "You aren't evil, Azula, you never were."

"Then what do you call what I intended to do to all the protestors that Jet and his goons were going to rile up?" she questioned, reminding him of that specific argument they had had after interrogating Long Feng for the first time.

"You were misguided in your heavy-handedness." he assured her, the Princess's harsh expression softening upon hearing his words, "I honestly didn't think you had malicious intent in trying to protect the peace your nation established. Do you think your ancestors decided to conquer the world in the name of being evil?" he questioned her, the Princess rolling her eyes as she tried not to laugh.

"They didn't." she confirmed, "As was always taught at school, Fire Lord Sozin invaded the Earth Kingdom to spread the prosperity of the Fire Nation, " she clarified, making the Water Tribe teen shake his head with disappointment; he wasn't exactly surprised by the Fire Nation's excuses for their actions.

"What, spread it to a few cities on the coast of the Earth Kingdom that were under his rule long enough to forget the fact their countrymen were being slaughtered?" he asked her, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.

"He didn't have the benefit of hindsight like we do." she argued, before narrowing her eyes at him, "You really are stupid if you think I'm a good person, though." she argued, the Water Tribe teen sighing as he leaned back.

"Well, I never said I was smart, did I? You were the one complimenting me just a second ago." he grinned at her making her put a hand on his chest, forcing him down on his back; a mild punishment for his jesting words, "You don't need to be good to be the girl of my dreams, anyway. As you love to tell me... it's about doing what's right, not about what's good."

"You don't literally dream about me... do you?" she questioned him with a curious tone.

"Oh, well, I'd like to. I'm more enamoured by the smell of a fresh pot of sea prunes." he joked, making her punch him.

"Two can play that game, savage." she failed to hold back her grin; Azula had to be the only girl in the world who could go between setting you on fire and making out with you for insulting her, which was something he tried not to think about.

"Oh, come on, try me then." he grinned at her, the Princess raising a finger to her chin in thought.

Instead of responding at once, she leaned over to hug him, lying beside him as they lay on top of their sleeping roll, "You're the most annoying person in this village."

"I could say the same." he grinned at her, before kissing her on the forehead, "Now, if you don't mind, I need to catch up on the sleep I missed out on."

"Oh, you want to sleep?" she mocked him, the Water Tribe teen narrowing his eyes at her.

"You can't be serious, I'm not in the mood to spar. I can barely stand as it is." he refused the suggestion before she could even make it; she rolled her eyes before kissing him on the lips, suggesting that she wasn't exactly in the setting-his-parka-on-fire mood.

"Don't play stupid with me."

Wiping the sleep from her eyes, Azula was simply glad that she had gotten enough sleep, unlike the night prior; she had fought, once more, and properly, to defend her allies, and was proud of the fact she had succeeded, no matter how much she was annoyed that she had to fight her own countrymen. She didn't refrain from blaming Zuko for that turn of events, but by that point, with her boyfriend sleeping soundly beside, Azula the Southern Raiders were behind her, and hopefully, they didn't make a return visit. She didn't want to take part in the heavy-handed punishment of the Fire Nation attackers, knowing that she didn't want to feel remorse or conflict in her actions; it was simpler to avoid having to decide their fates, and to let the warriors deal with it. She thought they had done the right thing; they didn't slaughter the Southern Raiders, something that was perhaps, in their eyes, below them, and rather sent them out adrift in the icy sea, hopefully where they would remain, rather than foolishly attempting to return to shore.

Although she hadn't seen them do it before, she was sure that the Water Tribe men, led by Hakoda, would not be as merciful as they had been that night; their enemies, even if they were Fire Nation, were weak. As much as she knew her opinion had become biased due to her relationship with Sokka, she was sure that they were deserving of being called such, after all the things they had done, for little gain, for both the Fire Nation and the world as a whole. As her father told her with one proverb or another, life was always about the strong surviving, and the weak perishing; the Southern Raiders, despite all their efforts, didn't even stop the Southern Water Tribe from wanting to fight the Fire Nation, and in fact, they were the root cause, the spark at the bottom of the haystack, that had led to her father's overthrowal, even if Zuko had been the one to deliver the final blow.

She rose up from her sleeping roll, feeling a slight chill in the air; it was the South Pole, and it was always cold, as any intelligent person would assume, but their tents were usually well insulated and heated by their warm bodies, meaning that it was unusual for there to be any chill in the tent. She took note that the tent had been opened already, and glanced at the end of their bed, taking note of a bowl of food that was covered by a leather rag to keep in relatively airtight. She raised a brow, considering where it might have come from; leaning forward over the bed, she picked up the bowl, realising that it was still warm, so much so that she realised it must have been put there not long before she woke up.

She took off the leather covering, and her eyes widened as she smelled the food inside; it wasn't just any food, but Fire Nation food. She thought for a moment that she was being stalked or something of the likes, but realised that was unlikely, knowing that none of the Southern Raiders would have made it into the settlement to mock her with a bowl of noodles and spicy komodo rhino meat. As much as she liked the aroma, she could tell from the texture of the meat and the thin noodles that the meal was not of the highest quality products; that was even compared to the kind of food that she and Sokka had been eating while travelling to the South Pole with the extremely stretched budget they had at hand. The poor quality of the food itself indicated that it indeed was military rations, although how it had gotten to her tent, she still didn't know; she considered that perhaps someone had stolen it from the ship when they beat the Southern Raiders.

"Hmph?" she heard a curious grunt from Sokka, who rose up from his bed, "I smell- mhmm... Yu Dao food." he made a sleepy, but clearly pleased smile, before his eyes widened with realisation, "Yu Dao food? Wait a minute, why is there spicy Fire Nation food in my tent at the South Pole?"

"Um... I have a few guesses. Most of them raise more questions than answers." she admitted, the Water Tribe teen wiping the sleep from his eyes before yawning.

"That's... uh, kinda weird." he acknowledged, Azula looking back down at the meal.

"No, very it's weird." she furthered on his own words, "I don't know where this came from, but I really ought to-" she began to plot out her plan to unravel the mystery, before Sokka raised a hand, cutting her off.

"Wa-wa-wait!" he tried to hush her, making the Princess scowl; she for one, didn't like being told to shut up, "I know where this is from."

"You do?" she raised a brow at him suspiciously.

"Well, remember our argument... or... whatever you'd like to call it?" he asked her, the Princess chuckling; to her, every conversation was an argument waiting to be had.

"A civil discussion, I'd say, seeing that I didn't up setting you on fire. That would have been unfair, given you were sleep deprived." she admitted, making him smile at her, genuinely appreciating her thought.

"Oh, how unusually considerate of you." he admitted, the Princess grinning at him.

"The less kindness you give, the more it counts in the end." she raised a finger, thinking that was a succinct argument as to why she refrained from complimenting and praising the Water Tribe warrior all the time; she didn't want him to think that her words were cheap, rather preferring that they have the proper gravity expected that a princess.

"Now, sorry, back to what I was saying. After you told me everything that was said, I had a 'civil' discussion with Katara." he explained, making her jaw drop.

"I can fight my own fights, savage. You didn't need to swoop in and do so for me." she grit her teeth, annoyed that he would have gone out of the way to do such a thing when she was perfectly capable of giving his sister a verbal beatdown herself.

"She's my sister. When she acts out, it's my duty to make sure she knows she screwed up." he retorted, the Princess sighing, understanding that he did have a point; if it were the alternate situation, with Zuko and Sokka arguing, she guessed that she would prefer to handle her brother.

"Fair enough. So, uh, what does Katara have to do with komodo rhino noodles?" she questioned, making his eyes widen, realising that they were going off topic again.

"She was the one who made them." he simply gestured down to the bowl, raising a brow in thought, "Or Gran Gran... probably both of them."

"And how did she get this? Off the Southern Raiders ship?" she asked once more, Sokka nodding.

"Yeah, supposedly the tribesmen raided their pantry, seeing that we were having a little food problem." he clarified, reminding her of the fact that they had unsuccessfully gone out on a hunt, and in doing so, had wasted resources while gaining nothing meaningful; that wasn't even considering the damages to their village and supplies that could have been avoided if all of the warriors had been there to face off the Southern Raiders.

"Little would be an understatement." she quipped, making him chuckle, before continuing to explain.

"She told me that she wanted to apologise, but in a way that was more meaningful. I guess this what she decided on doing." he connected all the dots together, Azula's eyes narrowing on the bowl in her hands.

"Huh..." she mumbled, unsure how to respond to such a gesture.

Katara had made her food that reminded her of home, which was both painful and uplifting at the same time; she wanted to see her country once again, and not have to fear for her safety in doing so, but she also knew that the food itself was proof that the Fire Nation wasn't that far away, nor was its influence. The latter aspect was more than obvious, given the Southern Raiders attack on the village, despite the fact that they hadn't actually come to the South Pole to properly hunt down waterbenders since the raid that had killed Sokka's mother.

"So, does it look good?" he asked her, the Princess shrugging her shoulders.

"It's navy rations, it can't be that good."

"Isn't that the same kind of stuff that we were eating on the trip from Ba Sing Se westward?" he asked with a curious voice, as if he weren't able to put two and two together.

"What you were eating." she grinned, unable to hold back her appreciation for her position and its former benefits, "I got the royal treatment... quite literally."

"Okay, okay, fair point." he acknowledged with a chuckle, "So, are you gonna... take a bite?" he asked her, making the Princess's eyes turn up to face his own, narrowing suspiciously upon considering his words.

"You want some, don't you?" she asked him, the Water Tribe teen raising his hands defensively.

"I wouldn't dare steal your gift. That'd be unfair. Your reward for saving the village." he argued, the Princess raising a brow.

"No offence, but unlike you, I don't think a little meal from your sister is a reward. It's a fair repayment for her acting like a xenophobic dumbass, that's true, but for saving the village... I don't know."

"You've earned their respect." he suggested, "Well, I think you have. You already had mine, and now you've got theirs. Even Gran Gran's warming up to you. She was asking last night why we weren't coming to dinner."

"Ah, yes, sorry about that." she apologised, something that she usually wouldn't do, but after all he'd done for her, Azula knew that Sokka was at the very least afforded that, "I know you might have liked to enjoy your family dinner." she admitted, realising that she might have overstepped some bounds by demanding they eat together in their tent.

"I enjoyed it with you instead." he grinned at her brightly, making her cheeks turn red, something she tried to mask by turning away from him; she wasn't used to feeling chosen, elevated above others, not because of some need for respect, but because someone actually liked being around her.

She decided to take a bite from the meal, eating with some utensils that had been left inside the bowl; she wasn't going to complain about the bone instruments being damp of all things, knowing that if she started complaining about all the minor inconveniences she found at the South Pole, she mightn't ever stop. The komodo rhino was soft, a little too much for her liking, but the taste was just as she remembered it, and it made her smile, knowing that her home still existed, even if she couldn't return at that moment. As she ate up the meal, she appreciated the fact that it had been given to her by a girl who for all she knew, probably still despised her; even if it was meant as a kind of peace offering, no quantity of her kindness would soften her rough edges, something that she was unsure if Katara understood. She decided that she would thank her for the meal, and that would be that, knowing that trying to endear herself with the Water Tribe girl was a stupid and probably unproductive idea, seeing that she had failed to do so, and even if she were able to earn her respect, that did not mean that she'd ever like her.

She turned back to face Sokka, knowing that he'd probably want a bite, even if he was trying to say otherwise, "Come on. I've had most of it, you can have a bite." she suggested, the Water Tribe warrior smiling at her, reaching to grasp her shoulders before giving her a hug; she struggled to hold the bowl upright as he embraced her, but she didn't complain, not desiring to ruin the moment.

He took the bowl into his hands and began to scoop up some of the noodles, before taking a whole lot of them in one foul bite.

"Ah." he mumbled as he chewed them down, "That's... pretty good, actually." before he took a bite of the komodo rhino meat and chewed it down, his eyes widening with surprise.

"Oooh... that's even better!" he exclaimed with a bright grin on his face, making the Princess roll her eyes; he was always a little too enthusiastic when it came to food, after all, "The Fire Nation might have tried to conquer the world, but they make good food, I'll give them that."

"Of course, we are the most advanced of the nations after all. Cuisine is just one of those many advances that we have other the rest." she proudly declared, making the Water Tribe teen raise a finger, as if he were to argue her claim, before he smiled.

"I'll let that one pass... if only because I agree that your people's food is... pretty good." he pursed his lips up before taking another bite of the meal, "Mhmm!" he made a muffled vocalisation, indicating that he couldn't contain his enjoyment.

"Now, I'd like my breakfast back." she gestured to him with an open palm, the Water Tribe boy pouting as he accepted her request.

"I will stay by my word." he assured her, as she returned to eating it in a far less excited manner than he was; she did enjoy the meal, but not so much that she was going to gleefully mumble every time she took a bite.

As she finished off the meal, Azula wiped the moisture from her lips before smiling at her boyfriend, at the very least glad that she had had a good breakfast for the first time in what seemed like forever; Water Tribe food wasn't completely unpalatable to her tongue, but it was nothing compared to what she was used to.

"So, are you going to go thank her for making it?" he asked her, making her raise a brow; she knew that she was obliged to do so, as much as it pained her dignity to do so.

"I mean, you're going to force me to, aren't you?" she retorted, the Water Tribe teen chuckling, crossing his arms as he leaned back.

"I can't force you to do anything, remember? I just have the power of persuasion." he told her with a smug look on his face; he was right, but his words implied something a little more intriguing.

Sokka had persuaded her before in the past with his compelling arguments, but she was guessing that he was meaning that he was persuasive in other ways, the kind that she did approve of, of course.

"Do you mean that literally... or in the other sense?" she asked, unable to hold back a pleased smile, the Water Tribe teen not responding for a few moments as he raised a finger up to his chin, as if he actually had to think about his response; she was certain that he was just stalling.

"Oh, well, just like I have a variety of weapons: my club, spear, dagger, machete, and boomerang, I have also... a variety of ways to persuade." he suggested to her, making her laugh at him, knowing that without saying anything directly, Sokka had proved her assumptions true.

"You're right. You can't make me do anything, but you can give me some fine incentives, Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe." she agreed with his presupposition, before her lips straightened and her tone darkened, "However, the incentive I have to thank your sister is building rapport among your fellow tribesmen to ensure that I can achieve my aims beyond the South Pole."

"Oh." he mumbled, seeming unsure if she was being truthful in her words.

She hadn't lied when she told him she was incentivised to try and ingratiate herself with his people, neither had she when she implied she would enjoy to tumble in the sleeping roll with him as a reward; he just had to see that her actions were never one sided. She was playing a number of games of Pai Sho at once, and their relationship was just one of them, even if she placed its priority above all else at that very moment; that was how she lived her life, always calculating the benefits, risks and damages from every thing she did, as often as she could. In the heat of battle it was a lot harder to do just that, but that didn't mean that she did not try to act as strategically as possible.

"Don't worry, I have a life outside of trying to manipulate the world into venerating me like a living god." she declared with a grin.

"The only person who's supposedly a living god is the Avatar." he retorted to her words, "That doesn't mean that you can't try."

"Oh, I will." she assured him, before she kissed him on the cheek, making him tremble slightly; she was unsure if it was out of fear, but the reaction excited her, "Now, is there any advice you have to give me about talking to Katara? I'm assuming that you've had to apologise to her a few times in the past."

"You're thanking-" he began, before his eyes widened, "Huh, well, thanking and apologising are the same kind of thing. Gotta remember that one." he mumbled to himself, before raising his eyes up to lock with hers, "Well, I always tried to make her feel better by bonding. Maybe you should go do some... activity together."

"Sokka, that's what you call dates. You're not suggesting I go on a date with your sister, are you?" she questioned him, making his face flush red as he tried to hold back laughter.

"Ah- yeah- that's- uh- not what I meant." he admitted, before dropping his eyes down, "I'm really stupid with my words sometimes."

"No kidding." she agreed with him, the Water Tribe boy wincing before he turned his eyes back up to her.

"Sorry. What I meant to say was that going out together, hanging out, working... whatever it is, that's a good way to make her like you. And plus, if you help her out with a chore, that's a practical way of paying her back for breakfast." he explained himself without mincing his words, the Princess nodding before she rose to her feet, glancing over to see her parka and boots.

"Well, I'll do that. This better work, Sokka." she turned back to glare at him, her boyfriend simply making an uneasy grin, giving her two thumbs up.

"You got this, Azula." he assured her, making her roll her eyes; she didn't want to end up fighting with Katara, let alone when she found herself in a situation where she couldn't walk away.

Putting her boots on, she sighed with annoyance, realising that she was going to have to do something before she even had a chance to decide how she wanted to spend her day; she would have preferred to sit around, but that would be unproductive, and she hated being unproductive. Her inner voice was being hypocritical, and it seemed that the side that argued for being dutiful won out over her edgy and apathetic side; she wanted to mock that side and call it the 'little Zuko' in her head, but that made her feel uneasy, knowing that comparing herself to her traitorous brother only made her feel more uncertain about her own identity and future.

"Stay safe, Azula." the Water Tribe teen waved to her, as he continued to lie on their sleeping roll; she raised a brow, realising that he probably ought to go and get himself a full breakfast, seeing that was almost always his main priority when he woke up.

"Aren't you going to get breakfast?" she questioned, the warrior shrugging his shoulders before he pulled himself back into the sleeping roll.

"Nah... I prefer sleeping in. You wake up really early." he simply told her, making the Princess roll her eyes; she woke up at the most logical time, sunrise, as any firebender would, although admittedly, it was far less logical in the poles, where the days and nights wildly varied in length.

"That excuse is going to run dry when winter sets in, you know." she warned him, making him grin uneasily at her.

"Sure, sure it will." he dismissed her words, although the tone suggested that he was afraid of being forced out of bed every day when the day was only a few hours long and they had to toil away in the darkness.

"You better be out of bed by the time I get back from whatever I end up doing with Katara, otherwise I am going to set our bed on fire. I am a woman of principle." she warned him, the Water Tribe teen nodding intently.

"I will! I will!" he raised a hand, as if he was swearing he would; even though she could trust him with a lot of things, getting himself out of bed by his own volition was not one of them.

She rolled her eyes at him before pulling her parka over her body, making her boyfriend pout; she was under no illusion that he didn't ogle her whenever she was out of the thick coats they had to wear outside, seeing that Water Tribe undergarments were rather tight fitting, at least in comparison to what she was used to in the Fire Nation.

"I'll see you soon." Azula assured him, the Water Tribe boy eyeing her momentarily, his lips pursing before he waved at her.

"I'll miss you." he told her in return, the Princess chuckling.

"I'm going to be gone for a few hours, not a few days, idiot." she told him, before she opened the canvas flaps, letting the light of the morning sun peer into the tent, looking back at him one more time, "I'll miss you too." she mumbled, unsure if he could hear her, before closing the canvas flaps, making sure the tent stayed warm, as she liked it.

She immediately grabbed the spear that she had perched up beside their tent in the snow, pulling it out with her right hand, before she realised she ought to put her gloves on; pulling them out of the small bag she had on her shoulder, she slid them over her hands, making them seem a lot larger than they actually were, given how thick they were. It made a lot of sense though, given how cold it was outside; she didn't want to get frostbite, even though it was unlikely to happen anyway, given her instinctual use of firebending to heat her hands up. Making her way down through the village, she realised that she must have been one of the only people awake, seeing that there was no one roaming the icy grounds, or sitting by the communal campfire; she was certain that Katara was awake, because she had made her breakfast.

She approached the igloo, sure that she would respond as soon as she knocked on the icy doorway; it lacked an actual door, only having the same canvas covering that each of the tents had to block out the cold. As much as she didn't want to force herself to spend time with Katara, she knew that she ought to thank her for the thought she had taken giving her breakfast; after defeating the Southern Raiders, she found herself in a unique position where she could spend time with the Water Tribe girl and not be at the receiving end of her snide attitude, due to her act of unintentional heroism. She was forcing herself, or rather had been forced to by circumstances, spend time with Katara, and she would shut her mouth and act as courteous as possible, knowing that was the best way to make her not to think of her as her rival or enemy, but as an ally. When she knocked on the icy doorway, she could immediately hear footsteps coming up toward her, before she forced a smile to her lips; when she opened the canvas and their eyes locked, the Water Tribe teen looked at her with surprise.

"Oh, hi, Azula. Did you get your breakfast?" she asked her, Azula simply nodding before she held up her spear.

"Yes, I did. Would you like to go out fishing?" she tried to sound as normal as possible.

"Uh..." she mumbled, looking uncertainly at her before her eyes darted back into her igloo.

"Is something wrong?" she prodded, hoping to get a straight answer.

"No, nothing's wrong. I need to get my things... but, yeah, we can go fishing."

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