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Fanfic / Salvage

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Zuko bonding with Panuk and Toklo.

An Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfiction by MuffinLance found here on Archive of Our Own and here on FanFiction.Net.

In the middle of season one canon, Zuko is thrown overboard during a storm and rescued by the Southern Water Tribe Fleet led by Hakoda. Hakoda holds Zuko for ransom and sends missives to Ozai, while trying to A) keep Zuko from escaping, and B) keep his crew from killing the Fire Prince. Over time, Zuko bonds with his captors and Hakoda starts to doubt the idea of returning Zuko to the Fire Nation.

For other examples of their work see Towards the Sun, Cheating At Pai Sho and Little Zuko v the World.

Salvage contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Ozai's abuse of Zuko is emphasized throughout the story, though Zuko does not recognize it as such.
  • Accidental Murder: Played with. Due to a comment by Sokka about leaving the teen concussed in a forest surrounded by enemies, Aang spent weeks believing he'd accidentally gotten Zuko killed.
  • Annoying Patient: More like Violent Patient. Zuko has to be held down while recovering from hypothermia, because he keeps thrashing and attacking whoever's holding him. Eventually Kustaa is the only one willing and able, and that's only because Zuko thinks he's Uncle Iroh.
  • Awful Truth: Throughout his exchange of letters with Ozai, Hakoda is increasingly horrified by the Fire Lord's apathy and disdain for his son, culminating in the Fire Lord flat-out stating that he was alright with Hakoda killing Zuko.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Two occur in quick succession regarding the two prostitutes that carry off Zuko.
    • First, Madam Sun charges Hakoda for "the service of two of her employees for three and a half hours, plus an unusual service fee". It turns out that they were helping Zuko tailor his new clothes to better fit him.
    • Second, Zuko is seemingly oblivious to the fact he was taken to a brothel and everyone around him are sex workers. Later on the ship, he admits that he knew full well what they were. When he was hunting the Avatar, he sought out prostitutes as they always knew the local gossip and could be reliably bribed.
  • Batman Gambit: Zuko's plan to rescue Aang without having to kill an entire ship of loyal Fire Nation soldiers relies heavily on him accurately predicting Azula's and the crew's actions. He knew that Azula's pride and paranoia would make her refuse help when fighting a pair of master benders, even if she was losing. And if she did lose, the entire crew would quietly surrender when offered the opportunity.
  • Brain Bleach: After a visiting Earth Kingdom contact visits the Akhlut and eats some of Zuko's curry, he leaves trying his best to not think about how the Fire Prince apparently cooks in a manner not too dissimilar to said contact's elder sister.
  • Body Horror: Seal Jerky the isopod-dog molting after Zuko feeds him enough to gain a growth-spurt. Poor Zuko walks in on Seal Jerky with his back split open and the half-molted animal emerging in a gooey mess from the gaping pseudo-wound, and promptly screams loud enough to wake up the entire ship.
  • Close to Home: Zuko has one very clearly for anything to do with his father and relationships mirroring theirs. He loses his temper badly at Hakoda when he discovers Scuttles's other name, Sokka, and believes the man devalues his son the way his own father devalues and abuses him.
  • Companion Cube: Played for laughs when a prototype thermometer is referred to as "Kustaa's Favorite Apprentice." After Zuko sneaks it into an Earth Kingdom soldier's bag, it's referred to as "Earth Kingdom's Favorite Conscript."
  • Culture Clash: Much like the author's other stories, there's significant misunderstandings and friction caused by two or more people coming from different cultures.
    • Zuko unintentionally starves himself for a time because he doesn't understand that among the Water Tribes, all food is communal and you can just take what you want off any plate, instead believing he's being taunted when others eat in front of him.
    • Bato has a minor freak out over Zuko "sitting on the deck playing with fire", not realizing that the boy is holding a vigil for the Fire Nation soldiers killed the night before, which includes maintaining a flame until the next sunrise.
    • Among the Water Tribes, cooking, cleaning, and sewing are all seen as "women's work", something that confuses Zuko who just sees it as work that needs to be done.
    • Even words cause confusion since each nation measures time differently. Earth Kingdom uses hourglasses filled with sand, their measurement of time being referred to as "steady as the earth". Fire Nation uses degrees of movement by the sun across the sky. Finally, Water Tribe uses either but cares for neither as they focus more on weeks and seasons rather than something as minor as a few hours. When Kustaa is reviewing a Fire Nation burn salve recipe, he has to check with Zuko whether "degrees" is a measurement of temperature or time.
    • A milder example occurs when Zuko and Hakoda bump into a prostitute while clothes shopping. Hakoda thinks her top is incredibly skimpy because revealing that much clothing simply isn't practical at the South Pole. Zuko finds it a fair bit more modest than similar clothing he'd seen in the Fire Nation.
    • More than once Hakoda, or another member of his ship, considers the Fire Nation stuck up for continuing to stand rather than taking a seat, not realizing that in the Fire Nation, one doesn't do so unless explicitly offered.
  • Darker and Edgier: The story pulls no punches about just what the war is doing to people and nations.
    • A port in the Earth Kingdom has a brothel staffed almost entirely by workers who are part Fire Nation (and not truly welcome anywhere).
    • The Southern Water tribes are very close to extinction and struggling so much to survive that elders sometimes "go on final hunts" to ease the burden on their clans. Similarly, their entire bending style has functionally ceased to exist due to the Fire Nation killing every Waterbender they could find.
    • Every sailor on the Akhlut has explicitly killed enemy soldiers before with mentions of how no one is ever forced to deal with "cleanup" after their first kill.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Zuko is not pleased that the men on the ships like to put off washing clothes or cooking or sewing as long as possible, since it's "women's work." Thanks to him, washing and cooking become far more common, because he hates spending literal days doing chores because the number of things to clean or fix is so huge.
  • Delirious Misidentification: While hazy from fever, Zuko mistakes the ship's healer Kustaa for Uncle Iroh. Kustaa plays along, since it's the only way to get him to stay still and take his medicine.
  • Didn't Think This Through: At some point, Aang wondered about Zuko's apparent absence. Having heard about the whole "Blue Spirit" incident, Sokka pointed out that Aang left him alone and concussed in a forest filled with Fire Nation soldiers right after the prince had committed treason.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Azula refuses the aid of her best soldier against Iroh and Pakku partially because she's outraged at what she sees as pity, and partially because she thinks he intends to steal her glory.
  • Dramatic Irony: Hakoda figures he can ransom Zuko to the Fire Nation, since Ozai would obviously want his son and heir back safely. Spoiler: No. No, he does not.
  • Exact Words: Ozai offers leniency for Hakoda's men if the chieftain kills Zuko. When Hakoda claims Zuko fell overboard during a battle, Ozai reveals said "leniency" meant execution rather than toiling in the coal mines.
  • Exasperated Perp: Zuko is very blunt and honest, especially when annoyed, which leads him to reveal vital information to the crew multiple times. Lampshaded when an Earth Kingdom general who has only just met Zuko figures out almost immediately that all he has to do is piss Zuko off to get the boy talking.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride and paranoia for Azula. Her pride in her abilities and belief that everyone is just waiting for the opportunity to betray her results in her refusing any help when facing Iroh and Pakku, something Zuko deliberately exploited.
  • Finger in the Mail: Hakoda receives ten from Ozai: one for each of the Water Tribe members currently held prisoner by the Fire Nation.
  • For Want of a Nail: Zuko getting knocked overboard during a storm has far reaching consequences for pretty much everyone.
    • Because Katara never retrieved her necklace from Zuko, Pakku never had a change of heart after seeing it and refused to train her. As a result, Katara "learns" waterbending by ambushing and fighting every waterbender she can find in the Northern Water Tribe, eventually defeating even masters but never earning their respect.
    • Believing Zuko dead, Iroh kills Zhao and talks down the ocean spirit from killing the Fire Nation fleet attacking the north pole. Iroh then unites said fleet under his own banner with plans to overthrow Ozai, on top of negotiating a treaty with the Northern Water Tribe.
    • Without Zuko's interference in her pursuit, Azula successfully captures Aang before anyone can catch up to her.
    • As Iroh was still near the North Pole rather than traveling the Earth Kingdom, Toph never bumps into him after leaving the Gaang and instead becomes a warlord who's fighting and recruiting soldiers from both sides of the war.
  • Foreshadowing: In chapter 13, when discussing giant isopod-dog aging/size increase mechanics, Panuk rhetorically asks if Zuko has any idea just how big they can grow. In chapter 16, we learn that a proper adult can be bigger than Appa, who is one of the largest creatures in canon.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Zuko is a prince and animals love him. This is demonstrated multiple times with the albatross-pigeons used for delivering messages cooing at him and grooming him. Then the isopod-dog, Scuttles, similarly adopts him in later chapters and follows him around happily. Though it is shown that the animals in question are not above taking advantage of this- several of the albatross-pigeons and Scuttles/Sokka/Seal Jerky learn that by faking being sick or injured, Zuko will sneak them extra food.
  • Gentle Giant: The adult giant isopod-dogs who show up in chapter 16 are predators, but also remember their own days of living amongst humankind fondly, and are incredibly gentle with both the resident isodog puppy and his companion humans.
    The big dogs remembered ships, and humans, and a time when they were small enough to play fetch with the great-grandfathers of the men above. When the pup grew tired, they'd return him to the deck, exhausted and exhilarated and ready for ear scritches. They knew how important it was to spend as much time with humans as they could. Old dogs could learn as many tricks as they wanted, but they could never fit back home.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Hakoda misses or misreads several of Zuko's reactions because the idea of a parent not loving their child simply doesn't occur to a Papa Wolf like him.
  • Good Parents: Hakoda's parenting is set-up in a clear contrast to Ozai. Hakoda shows genuine love, concern, and pride in his children. Hakoda seems to be missing a lot of the signs of Zuko's negative relationship with his father and misconstruing Zuko's reactions because he has not considered the idea of another father not loving their son. The premise of the story largely revolves around Hakoda disagreeing with Ozai's abuse and on Hakoda's good parenting.
  • Got Volunteered: When Pakku disparages the threat Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee pose, Sokka cheerfully writes him down as volunteering to fight them.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: A Fire Nation soldier who gets on board the Akhlut suggests destroying the ship's water store and lighting a few things on fire below deck before escaping, not out of maliciousness, but to end the fight as quickly as possible while saving his own comrades. To the Water Tribe men, it'd mean certain death as, even if they saved the ship, they'd be a week from land with no fresh water.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Despite showing signs of being a master Firebender, specifically the sparks he breathes and the incredible skill and control he shows off, Zuko considers himself not much of a firebender. This is later explained that he is comparing himself to his father, the Fire Lord, his sister, the Prodigy, and his uncle, the Dragon of the West, and that anyone who isn't them "Doesn't matter" in terms of power or skill.
    • After Zuko demonstrates his ability with dual wielding swords, the crew generally decides that "not bad" in Zuko's book means "master" in anyone else's.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Madam Sun offers to buy Zuko off Hakoda because the boy's description of his situation made him sound like an abused Sex Slave. For that same reason, she gave Hakoda an outrageous bill for what was basically two of her workers adjusting Zuko's shirts for him. Once Hakoda makes it clear Zuko is basically an adoptive son to him, she replaces the bill with something much more manageable. Downplayed in that Zuko later reveals he had already paid and Madam Sun was still scamming Hakoda.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A visiting Earth Kingdom official is creeped out by the ship's giant isopod-dog because it "has too many legs", and wishes it was something less disturbing... like an Earth Kingdom spider-hound.
  • Important Haircut: When Hakoda tells Zuko the truth about Ozai's response to Zuko's kidnapping, Zuko ceremoniously cuts off his topknot, symbolizing his break from his family and his nation. Hakoda notes that, while he doesn't understand the significance, hair is supremely important to Fire Nationals and that previous prisoners broke completely on having their hair cut.
  • Improperly Paranoid: Azula believes everyone plans to betray her the moment they get the opportunity, something that cripples her when Zuko exploits it by having her fight a losing battle while refusing any help.
  • Insistent Terminology: Bato makes a point of referring to Katara as "Master Katara" in front of the Northern Water Tribe as often as humanly possible, plus some extra times just to drive home that she is a waterbending master despite the North's misogynistic views.
  • Lima Syndrome: Along with Stockholm Syndrome. Hakoda and the crew eventually recognize that Zuko is a child thrown into war very young and treat him as civilly as their situation permits. By the end of the story, Hakoda (and the rest of the crew) has officially adopted Zuko.
  • Meaningful Name: The name of Hakoda's ship is the Akhlut. This is an actual Inuit mythological monster that is either a half wolf/half orca hybrid or a shapeshifter that can become a wolf, an orca, or a combination thereof at will. In other words, a perfect Water Tribe symbol.
    • The "giant" part of "giant isopod-dog" turns out to be pretty important in chapter 16.
  • The Medic: Kustaa the healer. Zuko eventually becomes Kustaa's apprentice.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: As is common in the author's works, the existing canon use of this trope is expanded with a number of new creatures.
    • The ship's guardian is a giant isopod-dog — that is, a hybrid of a giant isopod (a marine cousin to the common woodlouse) and a dog.
    • Mention is made of the Earth Kingdom having spider-hounds, which are spider/dog fusions.
    • The Water Tribes use albatross-pigeons as messengers, although they're described as looking more or less like giant seagulls with terrible landing skills.
    • The waters of the South Pole are apparently home to newt-squids. We don't learn much about them, except they are apparently "entirely the opposite in construction and size" to the squid-newts in the waters they're currently sailing. Said squid-newts can shed their tentacles to escape danger, and one shed tentacle is literally longer than the Akhlut. The crew are rather disconcerted to learn about this little fact, especially when it comes in the form of Seal Jerky hauling a tentacle aboard and Zuko promptly turning it into giant-size takoyaki.
    • Zuko mentions a Noodle Incident in which his uncle accidentally fished up a manatee-megalodon, which is a combination of a pinniped and an extinct whale-sized shark.
    • A South Tribe story briefly mentions the existence of fox-pythons.
    • Other South Tribe fauna mentioned in the story include seal-gulls, salmon-trout, penguin-peacocks, sword-crabs, leopard-lampreys, shoebill raccoon-storks, and honey-reindeer (bee/reindeer hybrids).
    • Crab-urchins and scallop-shrimp appear during a brief stint on the coast.
    • Mention is made of "jack-gulls", presumably a hybrid of jackdaw (crow) and gull... or else a jackal-gull hybrid.
    • At one point, Hakoda compares Zuko to a "snapping-viper", presumably a snapping turtle/snake hybrid.
    • Orca-wolves are apparently a thing in South Polar waters. Which is fitting, given that the Akhlut is named after an Inuit monster which is literally an orca-wolf.
    • Mention is made of piranha-wasps.
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: Zuko's brief description of the manatee-megalodon mentions "a circle of teeth" bigger around than a tea chest that Iroh was using a spare anchor on a catapult to try and fish up.
  • Mundane Utility: Zuko's firebending is used to do chores around the ship making laundry easier and more enjoyable and reintroducing warm meals and warm baths to the crew. This does quite a bit to help them warm up to him and shows the innocuous side of the Fire Nation. Zuko meanwhile keeps getting bothered into using his bending by Panuk's whining and puppy dog eyes.
  • Offing the Offspring: Hakoda slowly realizes that Ozai not only doesn't care that Hakoda has Zuko, but actively wants Zuko dead. It's when Ozai offers "leniency" in the war if Hakoda executes Zuko that Hakoda finally understands the depth of vileness that Ozai will sink.
  • Papa Wolf: Hakoda becomes an instant protective father when he realizes the betrothal necklace tied around Zuko's wrist is his daughter's. He goes from considering how to positively influence Zuko to dragging him out of bed and demanding answers the second he thinks his children have been injured. Hakoda slowly morphs into one of these for Zuko as well as Ozai's abuse and cruelty become more and more obvious.
  • Screw You, Elves!: Hakoda is far from impressed by the Northern Water Tribe, which is more akin to an actual kingdom than the various tribes in the south. One of his biggest problems with them was how they flourished while outright ignoring the plights facing their sister tribes, citing how "None of their great grandparents have to consider going on one last hunt"note  and that "they have enough benders to freely suppress half of them". But his worst gripe was how Chief Arnook demanded the southern fleet leave before they brought war upon the Northern Water Tribe, as though the war engulfing the whole world wasn't their problem.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Zuko's former crew erect a memorial shrine to him in the galley after he's lost overboard, with a small portrait, a bowl of rice, and his favourite knife. Zuko is bemused to see it when he visits — both because he wants the knife back and because he didn't expect them to care so much.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Along with Lima Syndrome. Zuko slowly bonds with the crew over time, realizing that they are decent people who aren't going to hurt a sixteen year old for no reason. By the end of the story Zuko accepts Hakoda as his father and the crew as his family, while still including Azula, Iroh, and his mother in that category.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land:
    • The entire crew of the Akhlut have some trouble realizing how much things have changed, such as one asking Katara if his little sister is walking yet, seemingly not realizing it's been two years since he'd seen said sister. Hakoda in particular has trouble reconnecting with his children who've not only grown up but have been vastly changed by their travels.
    • Sokka and Katara find themselves having trouble settling in with their fellow members of the Southern Water Tribes. At one point, Sokka realizes he has completely forgotten how to properly tie off a rope on the Akhlut.
    • When Zuko briefly returns to the Wani, he's confused by the deference he's shown, having grown used to being just another crewmember aboard the Akhlut. When Iroh meets him, he initially dismisses Zuko as a random Water Tribe member due to how much he's visibly changed, being taller and broader (from growing and physical labor) along with wearing distinctly Water Tribe clothing and hairstyle.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Pakku dismisses Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee as threats, calling them three little girls, two of whom aren't even benders. When Katara brings up how young Azula is and asks how much threat could she possibly be, the narration makes a point of noting that Katara, who is a waterbending master and has beaten other waterbending masters several times, is the exact same age as Azula. During the actual fight, Pakku ignores a "hopelessly tiny fire dart" Azula launches at him, not realizing how concentrated and hot the attack is until it burns straight through his defense and shoulder faster than he can register.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Like his canon counterpart, Zuko is desperate to capture the Avatar for his father and to return home. As the story progresses, he develops this attitude towards the Water Tribe crewmen, if only to be useful and to save his life. He also develops this attitude due to his growing attachment to Hakoda and the crew, as they're some of the first—and only—adults in Zuko's entire life to treat him with sincere kindness and respect (excluding Iroh, of course).
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Zuko gives one to Hakoda when it's revealed that Scuttles, the isopod-dog, is called "Sokka" after the Chief's son. The crew were trying to keep Hakoda's son in their hearts (and to make fun of their chief). Zuko sees it that Hakoda thinks his non-bender child is so worthless that he's comparing him to a dog, seeing himself in Sokka's position thanks to his family situation.