A/N: Another one of my "what if" scenarios. This scenario is "What if Zuko had never rescued Aang in 'The Blue Spirit' episode, and Katara and Sokka hadn't known what had happened to him?" This is basically a short oneshot about my favorite character. Warning: Violence ahead. Yay violence!
I thought it was about time to write something on my favorite character in the entire series. Judging on all the things I've written, I'll bet you didn't know that my favorite character is Zhao! I really have a huge soft spot for him, and hope to see more of him (whether in memories or otherwise) in season three. But alas, I think wishfully! D:
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
In the beginning, he had marveled in the feeling of war. The sounds of death and terror, the tears of victims, had always been something to celebrate. He had killed, yes; killed as though it were nothing more than throwing away an old scroll or an apple core. But nothing, not all the killing of innocent people and taking forceful advantage of useless women could have prepared him for this. This intense feeling was one of absolute mental fulfillment, a feeling that can only come from the cries of an innocent victim. Yes, his acts of violence had seemed mediocre compared to this, this madness that he relished in with every flick of his wrist. His subject, trapped and defenseless against his new master's pent-up need for release, had been brave at first.
But alas, even the bravest have a breaking point. The bruised Avatar's breathing was shallow and gasping. Two days had passed since his capture, and thus far he had said very few sentences consisting of more than a word or two. Gray eyes had once been filled with that young, naïve hope that the Admiral so looked down upon had been washed away by brutality. Of course, Zhao was a busy man with a lot to do, so he had not had much time for petty things like torturing and interrogating the Avatar, but now he had scheduled some bonding time for the pair of them, and he intended to make the most of it.
He walked, hands clasped behind back, around the tower's upraised platform. The Avatar's chest dripped with sweat that stung his open cuts and made him grimace. He smirked.
"I see that my men have done a number on you," he said in a pleasant tone, as if addressing the weather, "but we haven't even begun. As you already know, we can't kill you, but we can punish you for the trouble you've caused us. Me, especially."
"I can take whatever you throw at me," the Avatar hissed through gritted teeth.
Zhao laughed. "Trust me, we haven't even begun." He paused. "Oh, and have you heard the news? Two Water Tribe children have been found and taken into custody. The men who visited you before are currently, ah, tending to them."
The Avatar's back became rather stiff then as the message sunk in. Then, forgetting that he was chained into place, he made to turn around and was held back. "That's a lie!" he exclaimed, expression furious.
"It's no lie, I assure you," Zhao sneered from where he stood behind the Avatar. "Are they not ill, the two of them? The boy was delusional; he went gladly, calling my men his companions. The girl, on the other hand…" his voice trailed off, deliberately sounding saddened.
The Avatar made to turn around again, but his voice was much weaker when he spoke. "…What did you do to her?"
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a sheathed knife and answered, "Nothing half as painful as what you'll feel, of course, but enough to set her straight." He unsheathed the knife and traced it down the back of the boy's neck without piercing skin. That strange sensation, the will to injure and hear the sounds of pain, coursed through his veins, but the Avatar didn't move an inch. Zhao continued with his tale, nonchalant.
"My men brought the pair of them in for questioning. Both were given the frozen frogs that you had undoubtedly gone out to get – a noble task for your friends. Then, once I discovered that neither of them was willing to talk, I was forced to commence with my own form of influence. I'm a very persuasive man."
"I know," the boy spat bitterly.
"Even so, they still refused to talk. I was forced to be harsh with her. It was not long before she began to cry." His voice became filled with relish then. The Avatar's shoulders began to shake, but he did not cry; the chains that held him down rattled. "But you know what was interesting?"
The boy said nothing, his jaw set. Zhao's pulse leapt up at the disrespect from this boy. He would have to deal with the matter severely if he was trained to obey. Swift and silent, he dug the blade into his subject's shoulder just enough to pierce the skin and drew a red line across his back and to his other shoulder. The Avatar gasped. Zhao saw a bead of sweat roll down the side of the boy's shining face. Already he felt release – not that he needed it, of course, but it was there nonetheless. Being an Admiral was stressful work, after all.
"You will answer me when I address you, or I will carve out your tattoos!" Zhao snarled. He stepped towards the gasping Avatar and placed the blade, tip red with blood, on the center of his back. "Now answer me: you know what was interesting?"
Helpless, eyes closed, the boy breathed, "What?"
Zhao chuckled and cleaned the blade's edge in two swipes on the leg of the Avatar's windpants. "What was interesting about the scenario was, well… she was crying, but she seemed to be saying something at the same time. It was tragic, really, truly heartbreaking. It sounded is if she were saying something like 'Aang'." No response came. Clearly the boy had resigned to his fate, to his destiny. A destiny that Zhao had mapped out since the beginning. He felt that smirk rise in his face. "You wouldn't happen to know anybody by that name, would you?"
"You know," the Airbender replied accusingly. "My name. My name is Aang."
"It's very nice to meet you, Aang," Zhao mocked in a professional tone. "I – what is it?"
Somebody had knocked on the door outside. The sound of a key fumbling in the lock followed and the door opened just enough for an armored man to stick his head in the door.
"Your orders, Sir," he said curtly. He looked as if he'd very much like to be elsewhere, but he managed to keep a straight face.
Zhao nodded once. "Let them in and get out of my sight."
"Shall I keep them bound, or –?"
"No. Don't bother." The Admiral rolled the knife handle in his fingertips subconsciously. "They won't resist."
The guard disappeared from sight for a few moments and reappeared again, escorting two blindfolded people dressed in blue. The Avatar, pain no longer on his mind though blood was running down his back, gasped yet again.
"Aang!" Sokka sounded weak, but not surprised. "Is that you?"
When the guard reached behind the pair of Water Tribe children and unlocked their shackles, the girl called Katara tore off her blindfold. She saw Aang there, chained in place, and made to dart forward with the cry of his name. Zhao was quick, though, and knew immediately of her intentions to comfort the Avatar. Quick as a flash, Zhao reached around, pulled the boy's head backwards, and placed the blade against his exposed neck. The girl stopped in her tracks.
"You won't kill him," said Sokka forcefully from beside the door, through which the guard had slipped and locked.
The Admiral raised an eyebrow, not moving his arms from their position. Avatar Aang was rigid, unmoving for fear of being sliced open. "True enough," said Zhao. "I cannot kill him – that would be impractical – but you wouldn't want him to be in any more pain than necessary, would you?"
Sokka said nothing. Zhao turned his eyes to the girl. "No funny business, or we'll find out just how far this blade can go into his arm before he screams."
Instead of replying, for she got the point and he knew that she would comply (he had always been good at reading people), she darted forward and hopped upon the dais where the Avatar stood. Zhao released the Avatar's head from his grasp, though he kept the knife at his throat.
The young girl expressed for her comrade the utmost compassion. "Oh Aang," she breathed, "This is terrible."
The young Avatar gave a small, forced laugh to comfort his friend. The chains on his wrists clinked forebodingly. "I'm fine Katara, really," he said. "It's just – just a scratch. They didn't hurt you, did they?"
She shook her head, but her eyes were not completely convincing.
Zhao watched as she placed one hand on the boy's forehead as if checking his temperature, then placed one hand on either side of his face. The room was silent as Katara unwrapped one of her wristbands and used it to wipe her friend's face, all the while acting as if Aang were not being held at knifepoint. She then tended to his various wounds, starting by wiping the dried blood from the cut on his lip and ending with the bruise on the side of his abdomen. After she'd made sure that each cut was no longer bleeding (except for the gash on his back, which was invisible from the front), the girl was bold enough to nudge Zhao's arm a bit out of the way in order to examine a cut on the boy's chin.
Zhao took it all in with an eager eye. Clearly this pair had some sort of special bond, one that didn't need words in order to work out. The boy standing near the door was a part of it too, the Admiral observed, but he took part in this ritual by allowing the woman to do her work. Nothing but death would be able to end this fellowship. Such bonds were dangerous, Zhao deduced, and would need to be stretched thin, to the point of breaking if at all possible.
"Alright, that's quite enough. Get down there with the other one. Go!"
Hastily, she kissed the Avatar on the cheek – though out of what emotion she had done it, he wasn't sure – and gave the boy a significant look. Aang nodded once, not enough to disrupt the knife on his neck, and the girl backed down the dais towards her brother, who took her hand and pulled her to closer to him as if protecting her.
"Now, I am going to ask you some questions. Answers will be rewarded with mercy; you can be treated as honored guests, if only you cooperate," he lied through his teeth. The inevitable was still imminent, and cooperating would bring a humane death at best. "If you refuse to talk, however, there will be consequences."
With one last look of warning at the siblings, Zhao took the knife away from Aang's throat. He heard Aang inhale deeply, relieved that he had not been cut. It seemed to Zhao that this was the appropriate time to begin the interrogation. These kids must have known something about that which had been planned long ago, or else they would not have been traveling across the world with such haste. The only matters at hand were what they knew, and how to know when they were lying to him. And that, he mentally concluded with the slightest of smiles, was what he was here for. Once the girl had reached her brother, the array of questions began.
"Where are you traveling?"
The pleasant ring in his voice only seemed to harden the siblings' expressions. He shrugged. The knife's blade rested on the Avatar's bare flesh; he felt the boy tense under his arm.
"Well, if you insist on keeping your mouths shut, then I have no qualms about –"
"Wait!" Katara sounded helpless, weak. She stepped forward.
Sokka made to cut across his sister, but she wrenched her hand out of his grasp, turned back to him, and exclaimed, "No, Sokka. I can't let this happen if I can stop it!" She turned to Zhao now, whose expressionless face didn't move in the slightest. "I –"
"Katara, don't," Aang interjected. "It's okay, I'll be fine."
"But Aang –"
The Avatar jerked his head to the side and the girl fell silent, tears welling up in her eyes. Zhao, half annoyed by the lack of answers and half amused at the children's broken attempts at remaining silent, frowned. "Well," he said simply, "It looks like we're going to have to learn the hard way, aren't we?"
His first strike was slow, intended to be agonizing, and yet the boy remained conscious. Aang tensed up again, holding back any sound as the blade pierced his flesh. Skin diagonally across his chest had been cut shallowly on contact, though it looked as if nothing had happened until the cut turned red and blood began to dribble down his chest in tiny rivers. The Avatar took a long breath, eyes closed, a few seconds after Zhao took the knife away from his skin. The girl, horrified, could only bury her face in her brother's unmoving shoulder and try to keep her tears from Zhao's view. But he saw them, and saw the brother's hands clench at his sides as he fought the need to look away from the scene.
Satisfied by the response he'd received, he wiped the blade off again on the boy's windpants and placed the cleaned knife on the back of Aang's neck. It was a start, at least.
And so it went. Question after question asked and without answer or sound at all from the three children. Soon Zhao's hands were stained red, and his temper was quickly fading.
"What do you know about the Fire Nation's plans?" he asked in that tone that reminded even himself of poison.
The girl looked up from her brother's shoulder and set her glassy eyes on the Avatar again. Reading her mind through her eyes, the boy jerked his head to the side. Katara wept; the light in her eyes was gone. Sokka closed his eyes, his lips and hands trembling.
"You're going to have to kill me first," whispered Aang. The first of many tears to come slipped down his bleeding and dirty face. His shackles clinked together like a haunted bell.
"Don't worry," Zhao remarked with another flick of his wrist. The Avatar tensed, gasped, and was silent again. The Admiral's mind buzzed with the humming energy that he could only get from this marvelous task. A cold grin rose to his face, and he slashed again.
"I'm going to make sure that you wished I had."
A/N: I love hurting Aang. I know it sounds twisted and cruel, and I love him so much, but he's the most interesting character to be violent to. Throw tomatoes at me, if you like. : )
Additionally, a friend of mine made a piece of fan art based off this work. I really love it, and it motivated me to edit and post this work. Replace the dots and equals and slash with the actual mark, get rid of the spaces, and there you go!
www (dot) themfund (dot) com (slash) kataang (slash) forum (slash) index (dot) php ? topic (equal sign) 4027 (dot) 0