Title: Fade to Black
Paring(s): Kataang, Tokka in later chapters, Maiko hints
Summary: AU. In a world where Ozai and his minions have taken over, a young girl discovers a group of travelers striving to do the impossible…only to find that it's far more complicated than she thinks.
A/N: Not as much Katara/Aang interraction here as last chapter, but I hope you don't mind. It was getting pretty long and I had to cut it off at the end. This chapter had to include Katara's first official patrol as a revolutionary (very imporant), the introduction of a new enemy (also crucial), and Zuko's appearance (now you just know I could have wasted an entire chapter on that, don't you?). Besides that...enjoy!
Chapter 3: Meeting with a Monkey (Name Zhao)
For Katara, it was very strange being outside again. She'd been cooped up for what seemed like so long that she'd nearly forgotten what the sky looked like—not that it was much to see, just a hazy-grey of smog emitted fumes.
She looked around, blinking, at the section of the city they'd come up in. It looked to be somewhere in West District, an area Katara had never seen before.
Jin snuck a few looks around the deserted alleyway, hand positioned nervously on the gun holster at her hip. "All clear," she whispered, stepping forward and beckoning for Katara, Haru, and Suki to follow.
Katara glanced doubtfully around the desolate street as they strode forth into the filtered sunlight. Somehow, she hadn't imagined anything quite this…normal for an entrance. But, then again, Katara reasoned, it was simply fortunate that they'd been able to find a place this devoid of the normal crowd of druggies and thieves.
In the cracked and dirty street, she somehow felt unprotected without her father or brother accompanying her, as they usually did. Use to, Katara corrected herself, not without a pang of bitterness. She bit back sour laughter. Guess I should get used to going outside alone, huh?
But Katara wasn't alone. Glancing around, she wondered, One day, will I think of Jin and Haru and Suki and Teo and Aang and Toph as my family, instead of Sokka and Dad? Maybe, Katara decided. She wouldn't forget the connection she shared with her brother and father—and hopefully maintain the former, if Sokka was, indeed, alive—but that didn't mean she couldn't forge new bonds.
"Hey, Katara—" she was disrupted for her musings by Haru's words.
Jerking her head up, Katara stared at the brown haired boy, trying to hide her embarrassment at getting distracted so easily. "Yes?" she asked weakly.
"Hey, Katara," he repeated, an amused smile pulling at the corner of his lip, "Have you ever been to West District before?"
She shook her head fervently, once more glancing around the street and again feeling uneasy without the normal company of her father and brother. "No," Katara said, shifting uncomfortably, "But…why is it so deserted? Did something happen here?"
Haru gazed at her. "Yeah. No one hangs around this part of the city. Not after what happened last year." He paused. "Have you heard about it?"
"No," Katara admitted, "I haven't. But then again, it wasn't very often that we got news from other districts. Sometimes there were a few government reports, but we never really trusted those."
Suki laughed bitterly. "You were right. Ozai, that bastard—I'd be surprised if he's ever told the truth in his entire life."
Katara glanced at her, alarmed by the hatred in her tone. What had happened to make her so thoroughly set against Ozai? She hesitated. "Did something happen to you, Suki?"
Her expression darkened. "Yeah. I was captured and placed in one of their holding facilities for nearly a year. I still have nightmares." Suki shuddered. "God, it was pure hell. I would hear these horrible, absolutely tormented screams when they tortured prisoners for information. If I ever go back there again, I swear I'll—" She seemed to notice Katara's stricken and horrified expression all at once, and paled.
"Katara, your brother's in one of their holding facilities, isn't he?" Suki asked quietly, hands gripping her gun as she glanced around the street—not completely empty, but occupied by a few scrawny citizens here and there, scurrying past like mice fleeing the neighborhood tomcat.
She nodded, suddenly about to burst into tears. What were they doing to Sokka, even as they spoke? Katara struggled to push back the force inside her that threatened to spill out and take over. I'm going to rescue him, she thought, surprised by her certainty and determination. Even if I get killed doing it.
"Good for you," Jin said, approving. It took a moment for Katara to realize that she had spoken out loud.
"Ozai's men," Suki hissed, gripping her gun tightly. Jin and Haru quickly dropped their shoulders and gazed at the ground, emitting a meek and scared aura. Katara was as shocked by their sudden change in attitude as the appearance of Ozai's so-called soldiers. Quickly, she tried to copy their movements, sinking into the shadows and avoiding so much as looking at the bulky men striding on the opposite side of the street.
Horror rose within her as she heard heavy footsteps thud over, then a large hand close around her arm. Katara suppressed the urge to yank it away, but whipped around her head to stare at her captor.
Although the other soldiers had certainly been confident, this man was flat-out arrogant. A permanent smirk stretched across his face, cruel and defined with its many angles.
Through the buzzing bolt of adrenaline shocking through her and begging her to run, Katara heard a soft click as Suki cocked her gun.
"W-what did you want?" she stammered, her nervousness no longer an act.
"I haven't seen you around her," the man commented in said, smiling down at her wickedly. "May I see your permit?"
Permit? Katara's heart thudded in her chest. No one ever said anything about a permit!
"She's with us," Jin said quickly, stepping forward. "Visiting from…" The Ba Sing Se native hesitated, before finishing decisively, "South District. Her apartment building burnt down, so she's saying with her cousin," she finished, gesturing towards Haru. "We didn't have the time to get a permit, and one of Ozai's soldiers said it would be fine if she stayed with us for a week or so."
He gazed at her suspiciously, his hold on Katara unyielding. "South District? There was a fire in South District recently…" he directed his forceful stare back on Katara. "A group of rebels. They deserved to die. Surely you don't know anything?"
Katara felt anger rise up within her at the insult. She wanted to scream at him for being so cruel as to say such a thing about anyone, let alone her own father. However, she also knew that such a thing would only make the situation worse than it already was.
"Some of the other residents held meetings," she forced herself to say. "I assumed that they were just some sort of dinner with friends and family. When the apartment burnt down, they died." Knowing it would be for the best but still detesting herself for saying, Katara added, "I was glad to see them go."
Although he did not look entirely convinced, the man nodded and relinquished hold on her arm. "You should feel that way," he told her. "They are criminals and thieves, and unworthy to live." He turned to walk away. "Be sure not to become involved, or one day the government may go after you as well."
Disgust welled within Katara. They don't even try to hide that they were responsible for the fire! She glared at his back, clenching her fists and swearing that she would one day avenge her father.
Just as he had nearly reached the other soldiers, slouching against the wall across the street, Suki called out, "Wait! What's your name?"
He paused, and, without turning around, answered, "Zhao. Commander Zhao. You would do well to remember that name." Zhao glanced back at them, smirking and reminding Katara of a leering fox. "It could very well be that of your future king."
As he reached the soldiers, they snapped to attention. Katara watched uneasily as the group of men marched away, headed by Zhao. Ozai's army were rumored to have been collected from prisons all over the cities, young men that had been imprisoned for heavy-duty fighting or other skills useful to the army. What they lacked in discipline, they made up with for power and sheer numbers.
It was a wonder how Ozai got so many people to join the army in the first place, now that Katara thought about it. Throughout the city, anyone who so much knew their ruler's name detested him. But, she realized, the army had something you just couldn't achieve on the streets: protection. Although the revolutionaries had been acting up recently, Ozai still had thousands of troops at his disposal.
The only way to make an impact, in reality, was to try and attempt to take down the formidable leader himself.
Katara shuddered at the mere thought. Face Ozai? Even now, simply thinking it seemed ridiculous and impossible. Will I be with the final team? Katara wondered, struck by this new and slightly frightening concept. Yes, she decided. I'll train my butt off; whatever it takes to bring Ozai down.
As she walked back towards HQ, still fresh from her brush with Zhao, Katara's steps became newly energized.
Whatever it takes to rescue Sokka.
Whatever it takes to save the city.
Whatever it takes...to stay by Aang's side.
Just as they reached the hidden entrance to the hideout, a figure seemed to slide out from the shadows. Jin, Suki and Haru immediately assumed fighting stances, while Katara withdrew her gun and pointed it directly at his head, despite her trembling hands.
The man took a step forward, the darkness melting away to reveal a fiery red scar and an unwaveringly set jaw.
"My name is Zuko. I'm Ozai's son…"
Suki let out a snarl; Haru's eyes narrowed; Jin's mouth pressed into a thin line; and Katara started.
"…and I want to help bring my father down."
"There's something coming." Toph spoke after a few hours of muteness in response to Aang's mutual silence.
He glanced up at her, still wary of their earlier clash. "What? Another one of your," Aang chewed hatefully on his words before spitting them out, "premonitions on Katara?"
"No. Something else," she said, unshaken.
Aang's brow furrowed. "What?"
"Trouble." Toph returned to picking at her toes, ignoring Aang's unsettled expression.
He looked at her uncertainly. "Toph—about earlier—" Aang swallowed, and seemed to regain his confidence. "I won't apologize for how I feel about Katara." Toph seemed about to object, and he hurried on, "But I am sorry for what I said. I didn't realize until afterwards…" Aang let out a slow breath of air. "I made it seem like we weren't really friends, didn't I?"
Toph examined him for a moment. "Aw, it's alright, Twinkle Toes," she said, breaking out in an affection grin and leaning over to give him a friendly punch in the shoulder. "Just one big softie at heart, aren't ya?"
Aang returned her grin. "Hey, maybe we could go beg the cook for some milkshakes? After all, we practically—hell, we do—run this place, and I would say that we've definitely—"
A knock at the door interrupted him. Looking curious but overall unperturbed, Aang called easily, "Come in!"
The door flew open to reveal a furious Suki, a shocked Haru, and Jin in the lead, looking unbiased but troubled. Last of all, Katara came filing through, an odd mix of anger, determination, and fear written across her features.
Upon seeing their expressions, Aang turned to the uneasy man trailing Jin like a shadow, hands cuffed behind his back, and demanded hotly, "What did you do?"
The man raised his bowed head to reveal the scar that stretched across his face. Aang leapt back with an exclamation of shock. His eyes narrowed as he let out an outraged snarl. "You."
There was so much hatred and fear written into that one word that Katara stepped back with the impact of it. Who was this man—this Zuko? Ozai's son—that she was fairly certain of—but what else?
What had Zuko done to earn Aang's hatred?
What had Zuko done to transform her friend—or more—into such a monster?
What, what, what, what?
Katara glared at him. Already, her loathing threatened to boil over. To see Aang like this…it scared her. And Zuko was the cause of it. How could he have done this to Aang? How?!? How could he have transformed him so?
She sucked in her breath and glared. At last, unable to control her raging emotions any longer, Katara burst out, "What have you done?!?!"
Hm! Zuko doesn't seem to giving a very good first impression, ne? I hope I didn't make Suki TOO bitter, but remember that she's had a much harder life here (and I haven't seen any Suki episodes in a long, long time). If any minor characters (or major) are acting OOC, please please please tell me so I can fix it. I'm always looking for constructive criticism. Next chapter should be up within a week (and a half)!