Chapter 1: The Meeting
"Hey, are you all right? Can you hear me?"
An echoing voice pierced his consciousness. He could hear someone calling out to him, and felt the occasional smack to the side of his face, telling him to wake up. He groaned as he forced his eyes to peel open and see where the voice was coming from. He turned his head to see the stranger next to him, when side of his neck erupted in pain, causing him to curse silently.
"You shouldn't move yet." A pair of cool hands came down on his shoulders and pressed him down onto the ground. "You really hurt yourself."
He grunted and looked to focus on the person's face—definitely a girl. Although her face was partially covered by a large hood, he could recognize the voice as female. She had electric blue eyes that stood out against her dark complexion. She was crouched next to him with a face of worry and question. He darted his eyes around again and saw that he was in the middle of a forest; large trees covered the landscape of his vision and he remembered what had happened.
He had fought with his uncle back at home and went running into the trail of the mountains where they lived, but he had lost his track in anger and ended up falling down a steep hill. He gave himself a mental slap in the face for his stupidity and temper.
"Can I look at your wounds? I promise I won't hurt you." He looked back at the girl next to him and gave her a curt nod. He was too exhausted and in pain to reject any aid.
She reached out with her arms and began to examine the large gash on his neck. He felt his blood still stream out from his broken flesh and thanked the spirits he didn't break his neck from the fall. Her cool hands felt undeniably refreshing against the heat of his skin, and felt her press a large white gauze against his neck and gently wrap it around his neck.
He pushed his sore body up with his elbows, thankful for the girl's help, and leaned back against the hill. "Thank you," he finally managed to choke out. His face was beaded with sweat and was breathing heavily. He felt like a complete moron—most of his manly pride crushed by his helplessness and stupidity.
The girl smiled in response. "I need to look at your ankle as well." He saw her reach over to his left foot and began to remove his boot and roll up his pants to his knee. She quickly began to examine his ankle, experimentally applying pressure in certain areas and turing his foot a certain degree. "This is a clean break, which is really good. I'm going to set it straight so it'll heal properly later. It's going to hurt." He wanted to protest but knew that she was right; he was simply paying the price for his actions. He gave her a quick nod and braced himself. She firmly gripped the sides of his foot and in a swift motion jerked his foot to align the bones again.
Unbelievable pain ran up his leg as he heard the sound of his body readjusting, his heart pounded against his chest in agony. His body began to tremble but he had refused to scream. Black spots danced around his vision and he slipped out of consciousness.
The next time he opened his eyes, the afternoon light had been replaced by darkness. Only the light from the moon lighted the ground and was giving a fluorescent glow that bounced off the trees. He realized he was lying on the ground on his back, his head resting against what seemed like a soft rock. He shifted his weight around and felt that his left foot was wrapped in something heavy and stiff. He began turning his head and paused. The rock pillow his head was on definitely did not feel like a rock anymore, he cautiously finishing turning over until the side of his face came in contact with something soft and cool.
His heart rate quickened and he felt the blood pooling in his cheeks when he realized what he was resting his face on. He slowly looked the other way and saw the girl from earlier, leaned back against a large tree trunk, head tilted to the side. Her hood covered most of her face, but he could only assume as he heard her silent breathing that she was sleeping.
He forced himself off her legs with difficulty, and sat up against the tree as well. He felt much better than before. Looking over to the girl next to him, and almost yelped in surprise. She was staring at him with an unreadable expression; her eyes looked like they were glowing in the moonlight.
"Did I scare you? Sorry," she smiled. She gave him an amused expression and said, "I can't really leave you here all alone, you know." She breathed in and rose gracefully from her sitting position, and extended her hand out to him, "I actually live close by and can finish treating you when we're there. You're not in any condition to walk by yourself anyways."
He looked up at her and figured that his pride as a man was practically gone now, and released a quiet sigh. He gratefully reached and grabbed her hand as she gently helped him stand up, forcing most of his weight on his good ankle. He cursed silently when he lost his balance, but was caught before he fell down face first. He was surprised at how strong she was, supporting at least half of his weight without struggle.
They began to start walking when the girl staggered against something on the ground, almost bringing him down with her. She whispered something and frowned at him. "Sorry, it's just really hard to see the ground when it's this dark."
He understood her well, the ground was poorly lit and their surroundings were being consumed by eternal darkness. His sense of direction was completely lost and he questioned how they would be able to leave the forest. He looked towards the girl's frowning expression and decided to take action. Although his uncle had mentioned to never reveal his power to strangers, he felt that it was a small repayment to the girl for her help.
"I can light the path for us," he whispered. The girl looked at him with a confused expression, but before she could say anything, he extended his right arm in front of them and concentrated. He felt his energy swirl in the palm of his hand and release a small flame. The girl's eyes widened for a second and looked back at him.
He smiled shyly, "I'm a firebender, but you can't tell anyone, yeah?"
The girl let out a small laugh and looked back towards him, "Got a name, firebender?"
"Zuko," he said with a small smile on his lips, "I would shake your hand, but I don't exactly want my rescuer to burn." The girl stopped walking and glanced around the area for a second. She raised her hand to a nearby tree and Zuko watched as the tree began to lose color. It began decaying away as its water was absorbed out and flew towards her hand creating an orb of water above her palm. Before he could speak, she turned slightly and grasped his burning hand with hers, creating a loud sizzling sound, evaporating her water, and dousing his fire.
"Nice to meet you Zuko." She smiled, "I'm Katara, a waterbender."