Katara spends an emotional evening trying to work out her fears. Her group prepares to move, while Zuko finds help from a welcome source.
An Avatar: The Last Airbender Fanfiction
Chapter 3: Demons and Jail Cells
30 June 2006
A/N: Ok, well, not much action in this one, either. Sorry about that. Things will pick up in the next chapter when they grab Toph.
Pray for me. I've never tried to write a character like Iroh before. This is going to be painful.
"Katara! Good to see you out and about!"
Katara ran to her father, relieved that he had survived the night.
"Shssh, honey. You're alright. We're all alright."
The big man held her daughter until she stepped back from him.
"Where are Sokka and Aang? Are they ok? How long have I been asleep?"
"Hold on!" her father laughed, "They're fine. They're just down the beach. Aang's showing off for the northern waterbenders. He says that you've become a pretty powerful bender, yourself!"
"Oh Dad. You can't take half of what he says seriously, you know."
The water tribe soldier watched his little girl run down the beach to meet her friends. He smiled for a moment, and then turned away, his look darkening as he did. Katara smiled openly enough, but he always knew there was something behind that smile that wasn't happy. The night his wife died, he had seen his daughter change from a happy girl with no care in the world to a tortured soul wearing a false smile. He worried for her. He worried deeply and prayed for her to find peace each night before he drifted to sleep.
Katara stopped short as she approached Sokka and Aang. They hadn't seen her yet. She wondered what she would say to them, and was about to turn back when Aang caught her eye.
The giant wave he had been bending over his head came splashing down as he lost concentration. He giggled at himself and greeted Katara.
"Hey! Katara! You're awake!"
"And you're sopping wet. Honestly, sometimes I don't know how you can be so powerful..."
"Lay off, sis!"
Katara turned and saw that her brother was also dripping wet. Sokka's hair was a mess and his clothes hung off him like wet sheets.
They looked at one another, blinked, and laughed.
Just like that, they were all friends again.
Later, after Aang had dried himself and Sokka with a blast of wind, they sat together on the beach, watching the sunset.
"You know, Katara, we have to get moving again. We need to get Toph and head out to find Jeong-Jeong so Aang can learn firebending."
"I know. We're already late as it is. She's probably furious at us."
"I hope not! I can't stand it when she's angry! She takes it out on me during lessons!"
Katara playfully pushed her friend over.
"That's 'cause she likes you, silly."
Aang blushed and looked away.
"Speaking of which... erm... don't you want to, um... go after him?"
"Him who, Sokka?"
"Zuko," Sokka muttered.
"N-no," Katara said slowly, "I... I don't know what happened yesterday. Let's just call it a 'fluke' and move on, ok? I'm over it."
Sokka watched as his sister looked at the ocean. He had the impression that she wasn't really seeing anything.
"Look, Katara. I'm sorry about what I did. I was a royal jerk to get so pissed and try to turn him in. I don't like it one bit, mind you. I don't like it at ALL, in fact. But the fact of the matter is, I thought about it last night and this morning, and I figure you can't help who you like, so..."
"Sokka, shut up! I said I don't want to see him again, and I mean it. You were right! He's a firebender. His people killed Mom. How could I ever even talk to him without wanting him dead? You were right, ok?!"
He heard her saying all these things, and he didn't believe them for a minute. Her eyes betrayed her, but he felt it was safer to let it go. He had been on the receiving end of way too many of her tirades as it was.
It was Aang who finally broke the silence.
"So, how 'bout we go get Toph, guys?"
"That's a wonderful idea, Aang." Katara smiled.
Katara, when will you learn that I know your smile is fake? I'm your brother; I know you better than anyone. Why can't you tell me what's wrong?
Sokka wanted to say all these things to his sister, but instead opted for, "Ok. We'll leave in the morning."
That night, there was a grand feast in true Water Tribe style. They sang and danced around the huge bonfires that littered the beach. Aang was the guest of honor, and he enjoyed himself, despite the fact that he simply couldn't stomach their food.
From her spot on the beach, Katara watched the easy way that Aang acquainted himself with everyone. She envied him of how simply he could get along with perfect strangers. She even found herself envying her sarcastic brother. In spite of the fact that he was always foreseeing doom in his uniquely cynical way, people still gravitated to him. She couldn't even come close to having their charisma.
"You want to see him. Admit it."
Katara jumped. She hadn't even heard Sokka approaching her, yet here he was.
"No, Sokka. I appreciate that you're concerned, but it's wasted. I'm fine. I'm just tired is all."
"Keep telling yourself that, Katara. I'll be around if you ever want to tell someone how you really feel. I'm still your big brother, after all."
He started to walk away, but Katara grabbed his hand.
"Thanks, Sokka. Really. I never tell you this, but I'm glad you're my big brother."
"No problem, Kitty-Kat."
He hadn't called her that in years, and they both smiled as the memories of their childhood flooded both their minds.
"It's great seeing Dad again, isn't it?" she asked.
"It sure is, and it looks like Aang's taken a liking to him, too."
They chuckled as they watched Aang telling their father the story of their adventures so far. The airbender had attracted a large group of northern and southern Water Tribe soldiers as he rattled on about his tales of daring-do, complete with special effects via air-, earth-, and waterbending.
"He's almost there, isn't he? He's surpassed me at waterbending, and he's gaining on Toph quickly now that he's gotten over his bending-block."
"Yep," Sokka simply replied.
"The battle is getting closer. The final one. I wonder how it will go?"
Her voice was strangely choked.
Sokka sat next to his sister and put his arm around her. He realized she was shaking uncontrollably, but it wasn't cold. She leaned in closer to him, sobs wracking her little body. He put his other arm around her and simply held her. He didn't know what demons plagued her, but he felt he had to protect her somehow. For now, all he had was this embrace, and he intended to hold her until she felt better, no matter how long it took.
"You... you guys could die! All of you could be gone tomorrow. This is insane. How can a group of kids win against the Fire Nation? What are we trying to do, Sokka? Even if we win, some other nation will pick up where the Fire Nation left off! It's hopeless. It's stupid. Why??" Katara wailed through her tears.
Sokka's eyes widened. He had never heard his sister so... desolate before.
She's exhausted, he thought, and she's losing the hope that held us all together. She hasn't cried like this since Mom died.
"Kitty-Kat... shhhh. Katara, please. We're not gonna die and we're not going to leave you. Please, whatever's bugging you, just let it out. Whatever you need us to do, tell us and we'll do it! I'll do it. You're more important to me than fighting the Fire Lord. I just have a hard time showing it."
Katara remained silent, but her tears stopped. Finally, she looked up at him, in control of her fear again.
"I really am glad you're my brother, Sokka." A ghost of a smile played on her lips. "Now, let's all get some rest so we can meet up with Toph tomorrow."
Zuko stood up from the bed he had been sleeping in and studied his surroundings. Amazingly, he wasn't in the brig. His quarters weren't luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but they were comfortable.
He saw the soldier in the corner of the room stand to attention.
"So, I'm not in jail, but I am being guarded."
There was no response from the soldier.
Cautiously, Zuko approached the door, not knowing how the soldier would react. As he touched the door handle, the soldier fell in behind him.
"Ok, so you've just been assigned to follow me, is that it?"
There was still no response from the guard. Zuko eyed him severely. He was just your average Fire Nation grunt. Zuko almost smiled that they thought this guy could restrain him if he really wanted to leave.
The banished prince opened the door. He had a few things to tell the commanding officer of this ship.
Zuko was denied this pleasure, as a makeshift prison door had been erected over the room's only exit. He was being held prisoner after all.
He recalled saying that he had to restore his honor on his own terms, and his terms didn't involve being dragged to his father as a prisoner.
That damn water tribe boy! He had gotten him into this. When he got out, he intended to exact his revenge on that pony-tailed loudmouth before he did anything else.
When he got out. He realized he was already plotting his escape.
I'm not running from them, he thought. I'm not running from my father. I just want to do things my way.
Sure, some part of his mind said. Sure you are.
Zuko ignored this thought and sat back down on his bed. The soldier resumed his position in the corner.
How in the hell do I get out of here with that guy breathing down my neck?
Sitting perfectly still on the bed, Zuko pondered this problem for hours until the solution came to him from an unexpected place.
There came a knock on the door and a gruff voice, "Changing shifts!"
The soldier walked to the door and opened it.
Of course! They have to open that door to change shifts!
"He's awake, but he isn't doing anything. Still, be careful."
"Don't worry." Came the gruff voice, "I can handle him."
"Ok, pal. He's all yours."
Zuko watched for a vulnerable spot as they switched out, but found none. They never dropped their guard as the two soldiers swapped places.
The new soldier took up post in the same corner the old soldier had occupied. Zuko looked at him as severely as he had looked at the other.
This one is fat! Is the war so bad that they had to lower standards this much?
The fat guard chuckled.
"You don't have to look at me so harshly, Prince Zuko. You shouldn't look so hard for something that you lose sight of it when it happens."
The guard sighed.
"You are so literal, my boy."
Suddenly, that voice was all too familiar. The fat guard removed his facemask.
"Uncle!!" Zuko cried.
"Yes, I am. And you better appreciate this, Prince Zuko. Do you know how hard it was to find a uniform in my size?"
"It's been a few pounds since your soldier days, hasn't it?"
"Zuko, how do you feel about mandatory sungi horn duty at every music night for the rest of your life?"
"I'd rather kiss Azula, Uncle."
"Then I would learn to hold my tongue when someone has gone through so much trouble to save you. Silence is golden."
Zuko smiled in spite of himself and thanked whatever lucky star sent his uncle to him.