“...I hate to go looking for a fight, but after what Zuko did to Toph-” Decided Aang, figuring that even if it had truly been an accident it was too dangerous to let a firebender live in close proximity to them, especially one who'd tried to kill them several times.
“I told you, I don't think he meant to hurt me; he apologised and everything!” Protested Toph as Sokka and Katara lowered her feet into a pool of water so that the waterbender could heal the burns.
“He was probably just trying to manipulate you into forgiving him, he's done that before. Back in Ba Sing Se he pretended to be hurt and confused so I'd let my guard down- and it worked.” Spat Katara, swirling her hands around in the liquid and making it glow prettily.
“Well, whatever the case we need a plan to capture him.
“Why don't you just bring him back here? He already offered to be our prisoner once.” Suggested Toph, hissing in pleasure as the cold water moved against her burns.
Perfect! We should go find him, get him to offer again, and then actually capture him! He’ll never expect it!” Devised Sokka excitedly, rubbing his hands together and smiling, just about to head into the forest.
“You are a master of surprise, Sokka.” Commented Katara sarcastically following her brother with Aang.
They left Toph behind to heal and made their way through the forest, not sure where Zuko would be but figuring his camp couldn't be that far away from theirs. Sure enough, after only an hour of searching, they smelt smoke and its scent led them straight to a red tent pitched next to a fire pit, which Zuko was sat beside, one hand across his torso and the other outstretched and occasionally flicking flames at his fire.
“Zuko! We want to take you up on your offer to be our prisoner!” Announced Sokka loudly, making his voice a little deeper than usual, causing Zuko to jump in surprise and then blink at them.
“Okay. Oh, and I'm really sorry about your friend, is she okay?” He asked, pulling himself up to a standing position with what looked like a little difficulty (he probably just had pins and needles or something).
He presented his wrists to them once again and this time Aang bended some rock around them, making great manacles. Zuko then stood there, as if waiting for them to do something.
“Well… Am I allowed to walk on my own? Or are one of you going to lead me to my cell? Or…” He questioned, making no move to attack them or try to break free.
“Uhh, right, you're walking with me!” Decided Sokka, still making his voice stupidly low, and grabbing Zuko’s arm to tug him along- to which the firebender didn't fight against.
Katara, meanwhile, was quietly seething at how willingly Zuko had allowed himself to be taken, sure that it was all some sort of trap. Yet they could exactly allow the Fireprince to roam free, so there wasn't all that much she could do unless she was prepared to kill him. Which, judging by how angry she was at him, she might just end up doing.
They led him back to the temple, the most annoying thing him doing was walking pretty slowly- yet eventuate wasn't too bad, until they got back to their camp.
“Where should we put his cell?”Asked Aang quietly, whispering into Katara’s ear.
“Somewhere we can keep an eye on him but I'd still out of the way. How about that empty room near the giant Pai Cho table?” Suggested Katara, leading them over there and opening up the room.
The for walked inside before Zuko got shoved into the far wall, losing his balance and stumbling into a sitting position with a wince that Katara ignored. Then Aang earthbended some rocky bars to stretch from the floor to the ceiling, making it seem almost impossible for the firebender to escape.
“Wait, didn't Azula break through Toph’s rock with her fire?” Asked Sokka, which Katara didn't remember and so assumed it had happened when she was healing their father. Yet Aang nodded thoughtfully.
“Actually my fire isn't as hot as my sister's so I don't think I can do that. Also I don't plan on escaping so it's not really necessary-” Brought up Zuko, probably just trying to get them to let their guard down.
“Shut up! Besides, even if he can't break the bars (which he probably can and he's just lying) he can still firebend at us through the gaps in the bars.” Mentioned Katara, doing her best to glare murderously at Zuko, and succeeding.
“Well, there has to be gaps in the bars otherwise he'd suffocate.” Reasoned Aang, tilting his head a little and looking at the cell.
“Would that really be the worst thing?” Replied Katara, too quietly for the others to hear.
“Oooh, why don't you freeze over the rock? The cold temperature should prevent him from firebending or at least make it weaker.” Suggested Sokka intelligently.
“You do know tha-” Began Zuko a little sheepishly, before getting shut up by another cold look from Katara.
The waterbender and Aang then used their bending to freeze over the entire cell, leaving the Fire Prince shivering over to one side and covered in frost. Thinking that there was now no way he could escape, the three then left the windowless, now very cold, room and headed back to Toph.
Zuko was freezing. As in, freezing to death. Well, not yet, but he would be soon. You see, firebenders had an inner flame that kept them warm in very cold environments for a short period of time, keyword being short. If they were cold for too long they could die from the low temperature that other benders could survive in for weeks. This being said, most firebenders would probably be able to live in the environment he was in for six hours before they passed out, then two hours after that they would die. But Zuko wasn't like other firebenders; he was pretty skilled and his uncle had taught him how to conserve his inner flame so that it didn't go out at the four hour mark and leave him in a coma, meaning that he should be able to survive for about twelve hours before all hope would be lost (unless at twelve hours someone else saved him, which seemed unlikely since the only people for miles around hated him (well, actually, at this point everyone the planet probably hated him…)).
Still, the Fireprince had some time and someone would probably come check on him to make sure he hadn't escaped or to give him food, he could tell them about his situation and, if they believed him, they probably wouldn't let him die- they weren't murderers, after all.
So Zuko sat, his teeth chattering and legs brought up to his chest, attempting to keep himself warm. What really wasn't helping was how much his ribs hurt from how Toph hit them with that pillar of rock, hopefully she only bruised them but Zuko doubted he was that lucky. He'd barely even been able to walk over here!
About five hours after he'd been put in the cell, Katara came into the room to glare at him. By this point he was scarcely even able to concentrate on anything other than how cold he was and how much each shudder only sent even more pain through his ribs. Yet, despite how much the Fireprince wanted to stay curled up to conserve heat, he knew this might be his only chance to tell someone about his imminent demise before said demise.
“Ka-kata-ara, I- I t-too c-ol-cold. Fire-irebe-benders ca-can’t sur-survi-vive-” He stuttered, hopefully getting his point across, but the waterbender’s angry look didn't lessen.
“You expect me to believe that? You people can control fire, just warm yourself up. You survived the North Pole; I'm sure you can survive this cell.” Replied Katara coldly, crossing her arms before sweeping out of the room.
She was right, of course, he had been okay at the North Pole. Of course, he'd been wearing a properly insulated for firebender use parka and had only been there for ten hours, part of that being spent in the warm, spiritual garden place. Plus, even with all that going for him, he had still passed out from the temperature. Yet here he did have anywhere warm to go to escape the cold, he was wearing summer clothing and was injured.
So, Zuko realised pretty quickly, that he was completely screwed. And, had he had enough energy, he would have probably yelled for a more sympathetic member of the avatar’s team to come help him.
“We should go check to make sure Zuko hasn't escaped soon, how long has it been since you last looked in on him, Katara?” Asked Sokka, before gulping down another helping of fried moose-rabbit.
“About six hours, I think. He was completely fine but didn't really look like he'd be escaping anytime soon.” Replied his sister, who was currently healing the last bit of damage to Toph’s feet.
“Are we sure he’ll be okay in such a cold place?” Fretted Aang, worried over the firebender’s wellbeing despite all he'd done to them.
“Well, it was pretty freezing but I think his clothing was sufficient enough to keep him warm. Plus he can control fire so he can just use his bending.” Figured Sokka, relieving some of the airbender’s concern but not all of it.
“Come on, let's go talk to him then! I want to let him know that there aren't any hard feelings from him burning my feet, since he didn't it on purpose. Plus, you know, he's probably hungry.” Cheered Toph, standing up and climbing out of the water, sighing in bliss as her feet touched the solid rock. “Mmmmm, finally, I can see again!”.
Aang grabbed a plate of food from next to their fire pit and then the four headed the short distance to Zuko’s cell, entering the chilly room to see the firebender was asleep- slouched against the wall with his eyes closed.
“Should we wake him up or-” Started Aang, not sure whether or not Air Nomad manners mattered when dealing with someone you were keeping prisoner.
“Wait! Guys- I can barely feel his heart beat!” Warned Toph worriedly, earthbending the bars away and rushing over to the firebender’s limp body, closely followed by Sokka and Aang.
“He's freezing.” Muttered Sokka, his hand on Zuko’s neck. “And Toph’s right; there's scarcely even a pulse. We seriously need to get him warm.”.
Sokka, who thankfully seemed to have more muscle than it appeared, lifted the firebender into a bridal-carry, before rushing him out of the frigid room. The others followed and gathered several blankets, wrapping up the Fireprince in the hope that it would be enough to make him healthy again.
“Why wouldn't he tell you guys that he couldn't survive in low temperatures? I mean, any normal person wouldn't be in that condition after not even half a day in that cold room.” Brought up Toph, slightly accusatory of the other three as if she suspected they'd just ignored Zuko when he'd told them.
“I don't know! I mean, he tried to to say something but got interrupted… Maybe that was it? But still, wouldn't he have at least tried telling Katara when she went in to check that he was still locked up?” Wondered Sokka, bringing up several good points as he placed his hand an inch away from the firebender’s lips to feel if his breathing had gone back to normal. It had not.
“Well… Actually he did say something about firebenders being unable to survive in cold places… But I just thought he was lying or-” Admitted Katara sheepishly, tucking her hair behind her ear and looking at the ground.
“Seriously?! It doesn't matter if you thought he was lying; you should have still told us so we could all decide what yo do, maybe then he wouldn't be dying right now! Look, I don't like Zuko either, but I don't want him dead! Especially since, thanks to us being the ones who locked him up in an icy cell, we would be his murderers!” Yelled Sokka, berating his sister whilst Aang could feel nothing more than hurt Katara hiding something crucial from them.
“I…” Tried Katara sadly, which the others ignored leaving her to walk away guiltily.
After a few hours and several more blankets later, Zuko was still unconscious and freezing- but despite his horrendously low temperature he hadn't yet died. Everyone was feeling ashamed, knowing that, even though Zuko had done a lot of bad stuff, none of them wanted to be the reason for his death- especially when there was a definite chance that the firebender truly had joined their side.
The next morning Katara rushed to breakfast, still really hating Zuko but not wanting her friends to be mad at her anymore. Because of this, the night before she'd been going through the entire Air Temple library, figuring that if only firebenders were affected this way there had to be a reason. And, lo and behold, there was one.
“Guys! Okay, I know you're angry with me about not telling you there was a chance Zuko could die from the cold, but I think I have a solution. You see, firebenders have this thing called an inner flame, which can be extinguished after too much time in a low temperature environment. Usually, when the flame goes out the firebender only has an hour or two until they die- but since we got to Zuko before that could happen he's now in a coma. And, if we really want to bring him out of it, we need to relight his inner flame, which only another firebender can do.” She explained to her friends, turning to Aang.
“But… I can't firebend… I won't.” Refused the airbender, to which the others sighed.
“Look, Twinkle Toes, just because you don't want to isn't a reason to let him be in a coma for the rest of his life.” Toph pointed to Zuko as she spoke, who was lifeless as ever laying on a stone bench with about twenty different layers covering him.
“You've got to at least try.” Sokka said, patting Aang's shoulder supportively.
“I- fine. What do I need to do?” The airbender deflated, but he seemed reluctant to let the Fireprince stay in his coma.
“It's pretty simple: you place your hand in the center of Zuko’s chest and concentrate on creating fire just below the skin, the book read was pretty vague after that but, long story short, he should wake up.” Revealed Katara, motioning for Aang to try.
And he did, he went over moved the blankets off of Zuko's chest, very worried that if he took too long the firebender would die anyway, and placed his hand in the center of his chest, not bothering to remove his shirt since he had to get the fire inside him anyway. Aang struggled to find the strength to firebend, remembering all too well how he'd hurt Katara, but, when he felt Zuko's heart rate gradually decrease, he panicked and gave it a go.
As he firebended he was shot into some sort of vision, one of the Fireprince’s it seemed, where he was stood in the Firelord’s throne room. He heard as Zuko genuinely stood up to his father and listened to Firelord admit to planning to kill his own son, before saying he'd banished his own wife and Zuko’s mother. He then shot lightning at his son, that the Fireprince managed to channel away from himself before escaping.
Aang was then shot back to the present where Zuko blinked awake and began shivering violently- but breathing at least.
“You're okay! Also we sorry for almost killing you! And you really did betray your dad!” Cheered Aang, hugging the firebender who seemed a little too shocked to react.
“He did?!” Exclaimed him everyone else in unison, as the airbender wrapped the Fireprince back up in his several blankets.
“Yup, now, we need to get him something warm because I think he has hypothermia.” Decided Aang, to which Zuko nodded tiredly before closing his eyes.