Title: Fade to Black

Paring(s): Eventual Kataang, Tokka, Maiko hints

Rating: PG-13 for language, innuendo, and violence in later chapters

Summary: AU. In a world where Ozai and his minions have taken over, a young girl discovers a group of rebels striving to do the impossible…only to find that it's far more complicated than she thinks.

So...I have started yet another Avatar AU fanfic. Hopefully I'll update more regularly than I did last time, lol. I want to apologize for any OOCness, but do remember that the characters here will just have a darker personality in general, given the chaos and war wracked world the grew up in, coupled with the fact that the characters were introduced out of order (ie, Toph is closer to Aang than Katara because she's known him for much longer). There's not much action in this chapter, but after all, I'm only warming up... ;D

Chapter 1: Ticket to Freedom

She remembered the fire that spiraled up towards the feeling, and smoke hanging in the air like a thick blanket.

She remembered the sacrifice made ("Katara, go!") and the push that sent her stumbling out into a dark alleyway clear of the smolder, and then hearing the sounds of fighting and taunts from insides the flaming apartment building.

She remembered the walls sliding apart and crumbling; catching a glimpse of dark brown hair sprouting from a crushed skull and still body.

She remembered running.

And running.

And running.

She remembers tripping, falling—

She remembers his face, looming above her.

"Hey, Toph, get over here! We found one."

And then, all she remembers is the black.

"So, where d'you think this one came from?"

"Jeez, Twinkle Toes, how should I know?"

"Well, you're best at these things."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. She was in a fire, that's for sure. She's lucky to have survived."

"Wonder what her family did to get targeted?"

"There was a group of revolutionaries somewhere in this damn place, I know...mightta been related to that one guy, one of the first rebels—Kuruk, was it?"

"Yeah, I think—hey, look, Toph!—she'd waking up!"

Katara's slowly blinked, eyelids heavy, at the voices coming at her from above. It felt as if she was underwater, like there was a film of liquid separating her from the rest of the world. Dimly, she realized that there were bandages wrapped around sore spots on her arms and legs; even around the top of her head. I wonder, Katara though, I wonder where Sokka and dad

She blanched, scrambling up from the ground, then gasping at the pain in her appendages and sinking back down onto the faded green cot once more.

"There, there," a new voice soothed as she closed her eyes in order to stop the world's spinning around her. "It's alright, everything's all right…"

Katara's world faded into unconsciousness one more.

The next time Katara awoke, she fought to stay conscience, somehow fearing that if she sunk into sleep once more, she would never wake up. Forcing her eyes open, she immediately flinched and sunk her head back in the tautly stretched cloth at the shock of seeing a pair of dark grey eyes return her stare.

The head looming over her immediately snapped back, and Katara slowly lifted her head to see a boy perhaps a few years younger than her rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. Glancing around the area, she saw that she had been placed in a square, cement room, dimly lit by a few lightbulbs swinging overhead. Katara directed her gaze back to the young boy standing before her, a mop of black hair sprouting from his head.

"Sorry about that," he apologized, hesitantly sitting down on the edge of her cot, "I didn't know you were awake." Clearing his throat, he glanced at her, than back at a raven-haired girl impatiently tapping her foot and rolling her eyes as if to say 'go on, go on, you big baby.' "I'm Aang," he began. "And this is Toph," Aang added, almost as an afterthought. "We're the ones that found you. So…who're you?" Cringing, he amended hastily, "That is to say, what is your name?—well, where are you from? — what I mean is—" Aang sighed. "Let's start with the basics. Do you have any idea why Ozai targeted your family?"

"My father and brother were working against Ozai, holding secret meetings to organize a rebellion," Katara said, surprised by how strong her voice sounded. "We lived in South District, in an apartment building with a bunch of other rebels. And my name—my name is Katara."

Aang nodded cheerfully. "Nice to meet you, Katara." He hesitated, smile shrinking down to nothing. "What happened to you're father and brother?" he asked carefully, eyeing her warily as though he was afraid she'd snap at the very question.

"My father—" for the first time, Katara faltered. Swallowing, she forced herself to go on: "My father is dead." Aang and Toph exchanged glances. "I don't know if my brother, Sokka, is alive…or not…" she trailed off, sobered by the very plausible notion that she might be alone in the world.

Toph's brow furrowed. "Do you know if he would have been an adequate source of information?"

Katara's head jerked up, and she stared at the dark-haired girl, eyes wide. Suddenly, something clicked. "If you bastards are suggesting," she snarled, hands clenching into fists and her eyes glowing with rage, "That Sokka would ever, ever—"

"No, no," Aang interrupted, looking horrified. "We'd never do that, Katara! I swear to you, Toph didn't mean it like that. It's just that sometimes, if they're not too dangerous to keep alive, Ozai will imprison revolutionaries like your brother and try to…you know…get information out of them."

"You mean—torture them," Katara uttered faintly, nauseous seizing her stomach.

Aang frowned. "Well—yes. Sometimes." For a moment, he looked incredibly, monstrously sad, as if remembering something the depths of which she could only imagine. His facial expression arranged itself carefully neutral once more as he continued, "If he was captured and put into a holding facility, then it's completely possible that he's alive. We were planning to do a prison raid in a few days anyway, so as I said, you might still get your brother back, Katara."

"Might," she repeated, voice tinged with disbelief. Katara shook her head slowly. Then, noticing Toph and Aang's pitying gaze on her, she was filled with a sudden fire to prove she wasn't weak; to prove she could do something. "Wait," Katara's mouth fell open in a comical expression of surprise and her head spun as she realized, "Prison raid?" If it was one thing Katara knew, it was that standing up to Ozai and actually making a difference—let alone freeing prisoners—took power. Lots and lots of power.

And, as they say, power corrupts.

She swallowed, eyes shifting back and forth to rest on to her rescuer's expression, once again mirror reflections of the other's. They only spoke of one shared sentiment: Well, it had to come sooner of later. Strangely, this only scared her more than she had been preciously. "Who—who the hell are you guys?" Katara forced out, voice shaking.

Obviously, they weren't working for Ozai (well…maybe not so obviously. Could this whole thing have been arranged?), but that didn't necessarily mean they were working against him. There were plenty of dangerous people out there that called themselves heroes but only ended up raping…and stealing…and murdering…

Katara scrambled back, scooting back against the wall alongside the folding bed and prepared to break for it.

"Relax," Aang ordered hurriedly, tone oddly soothing, even to her terrified ears. "We're…" he paused, obviously considering how to phrase his explanation. "We're a group of rebels, you see. To be honest, Toph and I are only the tip of the iceberg. We have more power than everyone thinks…and pretty soon the day will come when we bring Ozai down."

Katara stared at him. "Bring Ozai down? You're—you're—" she searched for the proper adjective. "You're insane!" she finally settled with. "I used to—I still do—have hope, but if the only people left to make a last stand are a couple of kids younger than I am, then, frankly, we're screwed."

Toph scowled. "Listen here, Sugar Queen," she snapped, glaring, "We're not just a few kids out to do the impossible, and you know it. You think that it's just me and Twinkle Toes running the show?" She thrust her face rudely into Katara's, smirking when the latter flinched at the intrusion. "We've got people. We've got ammo. We've got power. And we've got the guts to use it."

Katara ran her eyes over Aang and Toph carefully. From what she had seen so far, they were dead serious. But to bring down Ozai? Since he had taken over, chaos and poverty had ruled. Anyone who dared speak of rebellion—or worse, put those thoughts into action—was swiftly and mercilessly dealt with, either put into a holding facility or killed. Katara had always wanted to believe that someone would come and save the day…and with the rumors of a new and powerful revolutionary on the rise, that hope seemed to be more and more possible.

She wanted to help, truly she did. But how could Katara allow a pair of children take on the deadliest man in the world without at least telling them what they were getting into? "Listen, guys," she began kindly, "I understand you want to help. But maybe you could just—"

"Will you stop treating us like a couple of dumbstruck kids!" Toph burst out, hands clenched. "Don't you get it? This—the guy right next to me, Aang—the guy you've been talking down to—is the Avatar! The person you've been hearing about—releasing all the prisoners out at sea in one night—the one they say is gonna be the world's savior—he's here! And you know what? Those people that say we're gonna take down Ozai are damn right, because we are going to get rid of that lying bastard, and we don't need skeptics like you to help us do it!"

Katara's head spun. This boy, the great Avatar everyone spoke of? A mere child, younger even than her? Looking to the black haired boy, unusually solemn, she decided—perhaps on instinct alone—to believe them. They couldn't gain anything by lying, could they? And Toph and Aang certainly didn't seem like the type to work for Ozai…

"Well? Are you going to answer, or are you too caught up in your own self pity?" Toph demanded, still fuming.

Katara sunk farther into the cot, taken aback. "I—I'm sorry," she stammered. "I—I should have—" she faltered, trying and failing to swallow the lump now occupying her throat. "I'm sorry," Katara said again, now close to tears, "It's just—ever since my mother died—and now this—it's just hard to, to—" at last she forced her eyes shut against the tears fighting to be release. "I'm sorry," Katara repeated at last, feeling lower than low and voice barely a whisper.

To her surprise, Toph looked slightly ashamed at producing such a reaction from her. "Look, Sugar Queen," she muttered, bowing her head so her hair fell across her face, "I didn't mean to make you upset. Look, we all have our doubts, okay? We're just trying to pull through."

"That's alright," Katara managed, spirits heightening at Toph's apology, however insignificant. "I was pushing it too far. I really shouldn't have been so cynical about the whole thing."

Aang, whom she only now realized had been silent the entire time, gave her a nod. It was strange accepting approval from a boy younger than her—and, somehow, Katara had expected Toph to be the one to finally decide whether or not to accept her apology—but it only seemed to make sense, as he was some sort of famous rebel.

"I guess we'll leave you alone now," Aang shot her a brief smile. "We don't have much to do around Headquarters, aside from planning the revolt. Although," he mused, "It really is pretty fun to deal with new recruits…the ones that come here on purpose, you know—not just off the streets—act a lot like lovesick puppies," Aang explained at Katara's confused expression. "I hate dealing with…" he hesitated. "The stragglers. The…the unlucky ones."

"Yeah, Twinkle Toes is just one big softy," Toph said, punching his shoulder fondly. "But he has to go do target practice now and, you know, deal with his fans."

Just as Toph vanished out the door, leaving only Aang exiting the threshold of the room, Katara called out on impulse, "Wait! You said something about Headquarters. Where exactly am I?"

"Underneath the city," Aang replied immediately. "It used to be some sort of safe haven built in case of a bombing. Everyone forgot about it after a while, I guess…and now it's our main base for the 'Bring Ozai Down' campaign."

"What if he finds out about it?" Katara dared to ask, meeting Aang's eyes and thinking of him as a true, god to honest equal for the first time.

His lips quirked in a grim smile. "Then it certainly can't be could, can it?"

Then Aang was gone, leaving Katara alone to ponder what she had learned, until, at last, she drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

"So...have you made your decision?"

Katara's gaze settled on Aang's curious face as he spoke, absently running her fingers through her hair. She knew what he was speaking of--it had already been four days since her first encounter with Toph and Aang, the latter continuously making hints that she must either join their cause, or leave as soon as she was able. During the time that had lapsed, Katara had thought...and thought...and thought some more.

Finally, she had come to a decision. The choice she made today would effect her for the rest of her life.

Katara's eyes bore into his. "Yes."

Relief flooded his face, and she wondered, troubled, if he had become somehow attached to her these past few days. Brushing away the thought, Katara asked inquisitively, "Do I finally get to see the rest of this place, then?"

Aang merely nodded, beckoning toward the door.

With a tentative glance at her savior, Katara took the first few steps into the unknown.