Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Rescue Me

Deliverance

by hootowl 0 reviews

Recognizable quotes from "The Desert"

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: G - Genres: Humor,Romance - Characters: Katara,Zuko - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2013-07-13 - 3785 words

0Unrated
There was a dragon. Zuko could only stare at it in astonishment. He could remember his uncle telling him that there were no more dragons and yet, there was a dragon circling him. A big, white dragon. It was bigger than he imagined it—longer, even—and he felt intimidated by it. It circled him several more time before it settled across from him. Zuko gazed around the room. He was in the Fire Palace and yet it looked nothing like the Fire Palace. A small table set with tea things was between him and the dragon. Without really thinking about it, Zuko poured a cup of tea and handed it to the dragon. They were talking about something, but Zuko couldn't recall what it was. The dragon took the tea, inhaling the aroma before gulping it down. Zuko refilled the cup without batting an eye and lifted his own cup to his lips. The dragon looked at him, a deep, rumbling voice that sounded vaguely familiar issuing from its jaws, "A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials."

Even as the dragon spoke, thick, black clouds rolled in and thunder rumbled ominously. By the time the words faded, lightning was flashing around them. A mighty crack! and the dragon reared back with a roar of pain and fled. Zuko found himself on his feet with no knowledge of having risen and following the dragon's trail. The storm followed close on his heels, drowning out his cries. He turned a corner and found himself in the Western Air Temple. It was, after all, perfectly natural for the Fire Palace to have the Air Temple as one of its courtyards.

A water sprite was suddenly before him. It danced around him, smiling enticingly. A moment later, a fire sprite joined the dance. The two sprites moved together in an exotic dance, twining together sensually and still the storm raged on around them. The danced reminded Zuko of Katara's dance in the Foggy Swamp and he could still feel the heat crawl up his neck.

The storm reach an all new fury, thunder crashing loud enough to shake the ground beneath his feet. Lightning struck the stones around him, blasting holes in the ground and sending chips of stone flying. Still, the sprites danced, oblivious to the destruction happening around them. Zuko tried to call out a warning, but the words were ripped from his throat. A bolt struck the pair and they exploded in a shower of sparks before darkness fell over his eyes.

A large fish rose up out of the inky blackness, Lu Ten sitting in a saddle on its back with the reins wrapped around one hand. The fish's wide mouth gaped open, its voice echoing in the void, "You are a failure."

A hand closed around his throat, choking off any reply he might have made. He struggled uselessly against the hold. Lu Ten gazed solemnly down at him from atop the large fish, asking, "Why are you trying to change yourself into something you're not?"

A bird swooped down, claws sinking into Zuko's hair and tugging harshly, screaming, "Never forget who are you! You've forgotten! You've forgotten me!"

Zuko gasped, clutching at his hair. "No! I haven't!"

"You have," the bird insisted.

"No!"

"You've lost yourself. You've forgotten who you are so how can you remember me?"

The fish circled him, chanting, "Failure! Failure! Unwanted! Unloved! Failure!"

The bird vanished with a death cry and Lu Ten looked on him with hard eyes. "It's not too late. You've not too far gone."

The fish turned and swallowed him. Zuko cried.

...........

Katara entered the room with a fresh bowl of water and placed it on the nightstand beside Iroh. The older firebender smiled gratefully and patted the seat next to him. Katara sank down, her eyes immediately going to the unconscious form on the bed. Three days and Zuko had done little but mutter in his sleep. She only caught a few words. Things like "tea" and "gone" and "Lu Ten, why are you riding a fish?" Iroh had chuckled at that, cupping his own cup of tea between his hands and lifting an eyebrow at Katara.

They took turns tending to Zuko. His fevered state worried them, but Iroh was better at hiding his fears. The older firebender also avoided any direct questions on the length Zuko would be unconscious. A sudden deep breath from Zuko drew their attention, both of them standing to hover over him. Katara held her breath, watching as Zuko slowly stirred, a frown flashing across his lips. A moment later, gold eyes cracked open, blinked, and finally focused on their faces. Iroh breathed a sigh of relief, placing a weathered hand on Zuko's head. "Good morning, nephew."

Zuko's brow furrowed in confusion, his voice cracking, "Morning?"

"Ah," Iroh grinned. "In a manner of speaking. It's early afternoon."

Katara nudged Iroh aside, checking Zuko's temperature and peering at his eyes. "How do you feel?"

Zuko's eyes closed again. It was too much work to keep them open. "Tired. I had weird dreams, Uncle."

Iroh pulled his chair closer to the bed, asking, "What did you dream?"

For several seconds, Zuko didn't say anything and they thought he'd fallen back to sleep. When he did speak, he sounded confused. "Dream?"

Katara nodded despite the fact Zuko wasn't looking at her. "Yes. You muttered a few things. Can you remember?"

In the pause that followed, Katara ran a cool cloth over his face and neck before sitting back. Zuko's brow furrowed as he struggled to connect his thoughts, finally murmuring, "I dreamed about tea. And home."

"What a lovely dream!" Iroh exclaimed. "What kind of tea?"

"I don't remember," Zuko mumbled. "The dragon was drinking it with me."

"A tea party with a dragon?"

Zuko struggled to open his eyes and he gave his uncle a lopsided grin. "Yeah. It reminded me of you."

Iroh chuckled, patting Zuko's hand. "Well, dragons are noble beasts. What color dragon was I?"

Zuko's nose wrinkled and Katara quickly stifled a giggle, blushing when Iroh sent her a knowing glance. Zuko peered at his uncle, finally saying, "Gray."

"Dirty-white kind of gray?"

"Yes—no. Maybe. Like silver. Some of your scales were tarnished."

The idea of tarnished scales seemed to surprise Iroh and he suddenly looked apprehensive. "What happened?"

"Lightning scared you away," Zuko sounded sad. "It tried to kill you. I didn't want you to die. I followed."

They waited for him to continue, but it looked like he'd drifted off to sleep. They watched his chest rise and fall for several moments before Katara prompted, "You did?"

He took a deep breath, rousing himself again to respond, "Yes. I couldn't find you. I lost you in the Western Air Temple."

"How did you get there?"

"It was in the Fire Palace."

"Of course."

With those words, Zuko dropped back into sleep. Katara frowned, tugging the sheets back into place and checking his temperature. "That didn't make a lot of sense."

"No, but that's not surprising. Dreams rarely do make sense."

"Do you think it meant something?"

"It could. Or it could just be fever dreams. I once dreamed I was swimming in an ocean of noodles! Don't worry too much about it, Miss Katara."

Yun entered the bedroom, slowly approaching the bed, her expression solemn. It wan't the first time over the last few days Yun had been in the room, but her expression put Katara on edge. Green eyes first studied Zuko, her eyes lingering on the scar in a manner they hadn't before, and then her gaze switched to Iroh and her expression tightened. Katara stood, unconsciously reaching for Zuko's hand. "Yun? Is something wrong?"

She grimaced, pulling her eyes from Iroh to look at Katara. The older woman shifted uncomfortably, darting a glance down at Katara's hands, blanching at what she saw before setting her expression and lifting her chin. "Master Katara, I realize that people in your position may be hesitant to ask for help, but I want you to know that you don't have to stay in your situation. There are ways I—we can help you."

"What?"

Iroh sighed, speaking calmly, "Miss Katara is not being held against her will, Ms. Yun."

Katara turned to look at him, her jaw dropping. "She thinks—"

Yun cut her off, speaking harshly, "Of course you would say that! I recognize that ring even if others don't. I didn't make the connection before, but they came today. You're—"

"Yun!" Katara interrupted, "Uncle's right. I am free to do what I wish." She paused, twisting the ring around her thumb. "It's true, I was captured and then sold, but I wasn't lying to Cam when I said that—that Zuko rescued me. He didn't have to. Sometimes I think it would have been better for him to have left me on that pier. After all, my own folly was what lead me there."

She fell silent, tucking her thumb into her fist and dropping her hand. When she met Yun's eyes, the older woman appeared frustrated. "You don't know what you're saying."

A smile lit Katara's face and she laughed. "He tried to leave me several times, you know." She directed the comment more to Iroh than Yun. "I had plenty of opportunities to 'free' myself. He told me to 'go away' that first day. We were captured by the Foggy Swamp Tribe not long ago. They released me, but had no intention of releasing him.

"You see, Yun, whatever captivity you believe I'm in, it's far from the truth. What changed?"

Yun looked away, seemingly embarrassed. Katara couldn't hide her disappointment when Yun offered no explanation. "We are going to Ba Sing Se as soon as Zuko's well enough."

Iroh spoke up, "Who came?"

"The Rough Rhinos are in the square. They are looking for you."

Katara gasped. "Did you tell them?"

Yun shook her head and Iroh pushed himself out of his chair with a faint groan, tucking his hands in his sleeves and starting toward the door. "I believe I would like to check out the market. Come along, Miss Katara, Ms. Yun will gladly watch my nephew while we step out for a bit. Too much stale air is not good for one's health."

Katara hurried after him, grabbing up her waterskin as she passed it. "But—Uncle! They're looking for you. We can shop later."

Iroh turned to her, lifting an eyebrow. "You are sounding remarkably like my nephew. Come along, now. I believe we have enough money to buy some tea!"

...........

Everything felt heavy and his head was fuzzy when he next woke. It felt like the world was pushing down on him. He could sense the sun was past its zenith, but the house was silent and still. He forced his eyes open and was greeted with a pair of bruised green eyes set in a pale face that hovered inches from his own. He blinked and the eyes blinked back. Confused, Zuko asked, "Who are you?"

To his surprise, the question came out in a hoarse croak. A smile appeared in those green eyes and a young voice chirped, "You're alive! I told Miss Katara that you must be dead because you haven't moved in ages! Mama said you were sleeping but I didn't believe her. You looked dead."

The mattress bounced and for a moment Zuko thought his stomach would empty itself. The room appeared empty except for himself and the boy and his foggy thoughts wondered where the others were. Uncle usually wasn't far away and so far Katara appeared the same way. The mattress jostled again as the boy settled himself closer to Zuko's side, pulling up a blanket around his own thin shoulders, chattering, "Cam said you fought a whole bunch of firebenders and rescued Miss Katara. Your scar's so much cooler than mine."

To Zuko's surprise, the boy tugged up the sleeve of his oversized tunic and shoved a thin arm in his face. Zuko pulled back as much as he was able, peering at the arm the boy held out. Now that the fog of sleep faded, Zuko recognized the boy as Yun's youngest son, Akamu. When Zuko took too long to comment, Akamu waved his arm impatiently. "Look!"

Akamu twisted his arm enough that Zuko finally saw the faint outline of a scar on the boy's forearm. It looked old and it'd probably be nearly invisible in a few months. A thrill of fear shot through him. He could clearly remember the boy's arm being an open wound and the boy unconscious and hovering near death. Just how long had he been unconscious?

Akamu didn't seem bothered by Zuko's apparently distraction, turning his arm to poke at the fading scar. "Miss Katara said if she does another healing, I won't be able to even see the scar any more. I think I want to keep it. It's cooler than the other boys. Mama said a desert fox almost took my arm off! Isn't that cool?"

"Akamu, I told you not to disturb Lee."

Both young men turned toward the voice. Yun stood in the door, frowning at her son. When her attention turn to Zuko, her expression became more ambiguous. Zuko struggled upright, his arms shaking with the effort. "Where is Katara? My uncle?"

Yun's lips thinned, her eyes darting to her son before answering, "Your uncle and Master Katara went into town."

"Why?"

"The Rough Rhinos—"

"They're here?" Zuko interrupted, reaching to pull the blankets back. "I need to stop them!"

Zuko swung his legs over the side of the bed, nearly falling as his head spun and vision tunneled. A hand pushed him back on the bed and, as the rush of blood faded from his ears, he could hear Yun scolding him, "You spend days hovering near death and the first thing you think it to run off and fight a bunch of hooligans? Your uncle and Master Katara can take care of themselves just fine without you throwing yourself into danger."

"But—"

Yun stepped back, pointing a finger at him and commanding, "Stay."

She stalked away, muttering under her breath and returning a moment later with a tray. She placed the tray across Zuko's lap, a deep frown still on her face, and stepped back, dusting her hands. "Eat slowly. It's been a while and you don't want to make yourself sick again. And you," she turned to her son, "you're supposed to be in bed."

"I am in bed!"

"You're own, Akamu. I'm sure," Yun paused, looking uncertain. "I'm sure Lee would like to be alone."

The young boy pouted scooting to the edge of the bed when Zuko spoke up, "I don't mind company."

Yun hesitated, clearly unhappy. "Very well. Make sure you finish that tray. Akamu, don't pester Lee too much."

When Akamu nodded, she gave Zuko one last penetrating look and moved toward the door. She paused briefly when Zuko asked, "Where is my uncle?"

She considered the question seriously for a moment before saying, "Getting tea."

...........

Katara didn't know what she was expecting when Iroh dragged her out the door and into the bright afternoon sun, but casually strolling down the street without a care in the world was not it. The desert town wasn't particularly large—the small oasis in the center could only support so much life—but they were able to blend in with the residence as they went about their daily chores. Katara was just wondering how she would recognize the Rough Rhinos when they entered the town square and she saw them. Two men were mounted on komodo rhinos on the far side of the square, keeping a suspicious eye on the people who warily skirted them. Katara moved closer to Iroh, her grip tightening around the mouth of her waterskin. Two seemed like too few a number.

Iroh's hand closed around her wrist and he pulled her into a small stall that sold various necklaces and a baubles just as another Rough Rhino rider appeared in the square. The rider approached the others and a conversation took place. Katara watched anxiously as the Rough Rhino riders split and headed in separate directions. Iroh picked up a necklace, holding it out and addressing the merchant, "What beautiful jewels you have, sir! Miss Katara, what do you think?"

She tore her eyes from the bustling crowd to look at the ornate, jewel encrusted necklace Iroh held out to her. She was surprised at how garish the necklace was. "It's very nice. Uncle, shouldn't we go back? I'm sure Lee will wake up at any moment."

Iroh merely grinned at the merchant, carefully replacing the necklace and pulling Katara along the booths. "You've spent far too much time at my nephew's side over the last few days. The sunlight is good for you."

Iroh pulled her into a cramped bar and Katara breathed a quiet sigh of relief, glad to be out of sight of the Rough Rhinos. "But—"

"Oh, look!" Iroh exclaimed, interrupting the start of her protest. "Pai Sho!"

She had no choice but to trail behind him as he made his direct path to the game table. A few of the patrons cast them curious glances, but returned to their drinks and conversation without comment. The Pai Sho table was tucked into a dim corner near the back of the bar and Katara spared a thought for how Iroh could have possibly seen it from the door. Once again, she tried to convince the cheerful firebender to return to the relative safety of Yun's house. "Uncle, we don't have time to play right now. If you want, we can play a game back at Yun's."

Iroh cast her a pitying look, but still made his way toward the game table, commenting, "There is always time for a game of Pai Sho and, while my nephew is still a dismal player, you are greatly improving, Miss Katara; but I'm looking for something more in this game."

They reached the table and Iroh came to a stop, giving the man sitting in the far chair a polite bow and asking, "May I have this game?"

The man's head lifted, rheumy eyes squinting at them curiously before motioning to the empty chair with a weathered hand, speaking in a papery voice, "Please. The guest has the first move."

Iroh took the offered chair and the tiles were quickly cleared from the board. He hesitated only a moment before selecting a tile and placing it in the center of the board with a tap. Interest flickered in the old man's eyes and he looked at them with more interest, musing, "Ah, I see you favor the white lotus gambit. Not many still cling to the ancient ways."

He cupped his hands, unfurling them like a flower and giving Iroh a slight bow. Iroh smiled broadly, repeating the gesture and commenting warmly, "Those who do can always find a friend."

Katara watched as the tiles were rapidly placed on the board. She didn't recognize any of the patterns and it just appeared as if each player was placing a tile with little regard for strategy. The final tiles tapped into place on the board and she stared. It looked nothing like previous games she'd watched. "Is that—"

The old man interrupted her, spreading his hands over the table and saying, "Welcome, brother. The White Lotus opens wide to those who know her secrets."

Katara glanced between them in confusion. "Uncle?"

Iroh picked up the lotus tile from the center of the board, tucking it safely into his sleeve. "I have been telling my nephew for a long time that Pai Sho is more than just a game."

The rest of the tiles were cleared from the board and swept into a worn bag and then placed in the middle of the table. The old man rose to his feet, shuffling around the table. "Come, we will talk at my house and perhaps we can play another game."

The man led them out a back door hidden in the dim shadows of the bar. Katara blinked in the bright sun of the streets, following the gentle tug at her elbow as Iroh followed her. There were a surprising number of people behind the bar and no one spared them so much as a glance. Iroh's friend was already shuffling to the mouth of the alley and Iroh tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. "Relax, Miss Katara."

They followed the man out into the crowded streets and Katara felt her shoulders tense as she felt eyes land on her. Her hand tightened around Iroh's arm, drawing herself closer to the older man's side. "Do you know this man?"

Iroh shrugged easily. "No."

She jerked in surprised, turning to look at him incredulously, but they'd reached a small house and she was ushered inside before she could say anything. Pottery lined the shelves, much like it did in parts of Yun's house, and there was a faint scent of mud and damp that managed to cling to the air despite the heat outside. Iroh settled his bulk at the small table and tea was quickly prepared and served. The old man eased himself into his chair, picking up his own cup of tea and gazing curiously at Katara.

"This is not the person rumor said accompanied you."

Iroh grinned, taking a slow sip of tea before saying, "No. My nephew has taken ill and is recovering in Ms. Yun's home. This is Master Katara," he paused and seemed to consider something before settling on, "a friend."

Katara resisted the urge to squirm under the old man's intense scrutiny and instead met his eyes with a suspicious look of her own. To her surprise, an amused chuckle escaped him and he shook his head. "Yes. My daughter-in-law came to me this morning with tales of firebenders and an imprisoned waterbender in her home. I assured her she was perfectly safe." He set his cup back down, suddenly looking serious. "We will have to speak privately, Grand Master."

Iroh copied his motions, pushing himself to his feet with a faint groan, waving off Katara's look of concern. "Of course. Miss Katara, I hope you don't mind waiting here. We should only be a few minutes."

They disappeared into a back room, shutting the door firmly behind them and Katara could only sit at the table and wait in perplexed silence. Perhaps Zuko was right about his uncle. The old man was crazy.
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