Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender is the property of Mike and Bryan. We are in no way making any profit off of this.
Authors' Notes: This is a story that I've been working on with my cousin Simatra. She's pretty much awesome. It all started one night when we'd been drinking Mountain Dew, eating chocolate, and spazzing. We saw this picture, I colored it, and a story formed. It was meant to be a oneshot but it sort of took over our minds; it's grown and developed chapters. Anyway, I hope you enjoy our little project.
After their defeat on the day of the eclipse, the Gaang retreats to the Western Air Temple. While there, they find out the location of a Fire Nation prison that may be holding their father and the other warriors captured on the day of the eclipse. Meanwhile, having been imprisoned shortly after his arrival on Fire Nation shores, Zuko's guilt has slowly been driving him mad. As he slips in and out of consciousness and fever-induced dreams, he slowly gives up hope of ever being free. When Katara comes across him during the prison break, will she somehow find it in her heart to forgive the battered prince? Or will she leave him there, alone with his madness?
Meanwhile, having been imprisoned shortly after his arrival on Fire Nation shores, Zuko's guilt has slowly been driving him mad. As he slips in and out of consciousness and fever-induced dreams, he slowly gives up hope of ever being free.
When Katara comes across him during the prison break, will she somehow find it in her heart to forgive the battered prince? Or will she leave him there, alone with his madness?
"There it is," Katara hissed, pointing with her finger at something in the distance.
"You can't be serious," Sokka exclaimed in a harsh whisper, following her pointing finger. "It's in the middle of a lake of boiling lava! How are we going to get into there?"
"Anyway we can," Katara said determinedly, watching the dark entrance to the prison. She looked at her surroundings; taking in everything and trying to decide how to cross the lake of lava. With the whole gang there, this should be easy. She got an idea. "Lava is just melted earth. Toph, you can make a path using your Earthbending."
Toph nodded and walked casually out to the bubbling lava. Getting into her horse stance, she pulled the molten rock together, trying to pack it in.
"Okay, now, Aang," Katara said, turning to the little bald monk. "Cool it down using Airbending."
Aang smiled and jumped up to help Toph. He took a deep breath and Whoosh! the path was complete.
"We're this much closer to finding Dad," he whispered excitedly to her. Katara grinned back at him.
Stepping out on to the path, Katara noticed that the lava beside them slowly ate at the path, melting it again. Sokka noticed too.
"Look at that everyone," he said pointing at the edges of their walkway. "We need to hurry."
They broke out into a run towards the island prison.
No one spotted them, and they didn't see anyone as they moved behind some rocks for cover, sitting down and panting after their run. Sokka held on to his side and pointed to a nearby doorway that would hopefully lead them to the prison.
"I think we need to go down there. I'm sure that's where they are keeping everyone," he gasped.
Aang looked at it a moment and turned back to Sokka.
"You and Katara go. Toph and I will stay here in case any trouble comes." Aang looked at Katara worriedly. "I know how important it is for you guys to find your dad. I just hope nothing happened to anyone. It would all be my fault."
"Don't be ridiculous, Aang. Everyone knew the consequences. They'll be fine," Katara reasoned, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. He smiled weakly up at her.
Toph stood up. "You better get going. I'll block up the doorway so no more guards can get in or out. When you guys get back here I'll move the rocks. If anyone comes, it'll just look like a landslide."
With one last glance over her shoulder, Katara followed Sokka deep into the dark tunnel, drawing a stream of water and holding it at her side. Even with Sokka leading the way with the torch, Katara was still uneasy and watched the shadows for signs of Fire Nation guards waiting to ambush them.
Toph and Aang are standing guard on the surface, she told herself reassuringly. Unfortunately, Toph closing the earth over the exit to their escape route had plunged them into darkness, leaving only the five feet of flickering light from Sokka's torch for them to see any threats. It was hard to be reassured when she couldn't see everything going on around her.
They, unluckily, ran into some guards on the way; fortunately, Katara had frozen the two men in place before they had alerted more guards. Sokka searched them, finding a mapped layout and two sets of keys.
"Thank you," Sokka had said tauntingly, tapping the rolled up map against the chest of the guards as they left them in an empty storeroom. Katara locked the door behind them with her set of keys and Sokka spread the map out on the floor.
Sitting down to look at the map closely, Sokka's finger traced the different routs they could take. "Look, Katara. It seems that the prison cells are this way."
They quietly discussed their next move. "We'll want to take this direction; it doesn't pass any quarters where there might be guards. If we took this other way we'd have to pass a Mess Hall. The only other path has sleeping quarters along the way."
Katara nodded in agreement and Sokka folded the map, stood, and took a deep, relaxing breath before heading down the tunnel.
They passed down the tunnel without hearing anything but the sound of their feet padding on the packed earth. It was odd to think that over their heads, on the surface, the Fire Nation was sleeping, not expecting an attack; the Eclipse warriors were locked away in their prison. Who could possibly be a threat? And then, down here, the only Fire Nation who knew the warriors would not be in jail for much longer were the two guards frozen in an empty storeroom.
The tunnel flattened out and small holes from far above gave the place an eerie light. The tunnel widened and Katara could hear scuffles and sniffles and coughs from ahead. She and Sokka exchanged a look; they must be getting close! Breaking into a run, they raced towards the sounds of voices and more eerie light. Finally, they reached a wide corridor with cells on either side of them and torches lit on the walls.
"We're here," Sokka exclaimed softly, not wanting to alert any guards to their presence. Katara hurried passed a few empty cells as Sokka rushed along the other side, opening cell doors as he went. She could hear the jubilant whispers as the Eclipse warriors were freed. Katara moved along faster, skimming each cell in search of those she wanted to free. Then, just as she getting to the end of the row, Katara noticed movement in a cell she'd thought empty.
She saw the Fire Nation prince (though you wouldn't know by looking at him) curled in the corner of his cell, his arms wrapped tightly around his shaking body. She couldn't believe it; how did he get here?
He raised his head at the sound of her voice. She saw his amber eyes trying to focus on her face. His mouth opened and closed but no sound came forth. He wet his cracked lips and tried again. "Katara?"
His voice cracked and was barely audible. Katara cringed at how terribly mistreated he looked.
Katara grabbed her set of keys and began working a key in the lock, her fingers fumbling as she tried to turn it.
"I'm here, Zuko," she said gently. "Just stay awake; stay with me. I'm going to get you out of here."
"I'm sorry…" he whispered.
Katara looked down at the keys in her awkward hands and chose another one. Shoving it in the lock, she tried turning it. Nothing. She didn't know what to say. The silence followed as she tried another
key. Zuko coughed and it was so raspy and sickening Katara paused just to listen and watch him for a few dazed, horrified moments.
"I know," she at last replied, finding her voice and picking another key and repeating the process. It didn't work either. She dropped the keys as her frustrated fingers sought out the next one on the ring. They clattered against the stone floor and jingled when she picked them back up.
Zuko slumped over onto his side, his eyes slipping shut.
"Zuko," Katara exclaimed in a harsh whisper, clambering with the keys. Her eyes widened; he wasn't answering. "Zuko!"
Turning, she yelled over her shoulder for Sokka, not being quiet in the least. She shoved another key into the lock and twisted. It broke off, making it impossible to keep trying; Katara almost cried in frustration.
She heard running footsteps coming her direction and drew a stream of water to defend herself, dropping the key ring to the floor once again.
"Katara!" Sokka came hurrying out of a cell followed by her father and the others who had been captured on the day of the eclipse. It was a small crowd of poorly cared-for people. Katara looked at some of her friends who had cuts or bruises and an unconscious Suki cradled in Sokka's arms; her clothes were ripped and she had several cuts all over her. Hugging Suki closer to him, Sokka scolded in a whisper, "You shouldn't have yelled! You could've alerted the guards!"
"I can't get this lock open," Katara explained, yanking on the offending piece of metal and slamming her shoulder against the door.
Sokka raised a questioning eyebrow and turned to take count of those behind him. "Who is it? I thought we had everyone."
Katara shook her head.
"From the invasion, we do. But it's…it's Zuko," Katara said. Sokka stiffened and then frowned.
"We've got to get out of here Katara. He made his choice, let's go," he said harshly.
"No," Katara said fiercely, pointing through the bars on the door. "We can't leave him here! He'll die!"
Sokka seemed shocked. Appalled, he said, "He's their prince! They wouldn't let him die in here, would they?"
Hakoda stepped up to the door and looked inside to see the state Zuko was in. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he took in the distraught look on Katara's face and the tears brimming in her eyes. He turned to Sokka.
"Katara's right, Sokka. We need to get this boy out of here. Take the others to the surface. Leave your boomerang," he commanded. "Bato, stay here."
With a nod, Sokka obeyed his father's orders and started down the corridor, casting a worried look over his shoulder as he disappeared into the dark.
"Katara, freeze the lock."
Katara did as she was told with no questions. Her father was here. He'd be able to fix everything.
"Now step back." Hakoda rammed Sokka's boomerang against the frozen metal with enough force that the lock shattered.
Katara shoved the door open and rushed into the cell only to almost tumble back in disgust; the smell was nearly unbearable. But Katara soldiered on, her instinct to care and be kind overriding the one telling her to get out of the cell as fast as possible.
"Zuko," she called, falling to her knees beside him and shaking his shoulders gently. Zuko's clothes were ripped and filthy. His dark hair was matted with dirt and blood from a gash on the side of his head. Katara examined the wound closely, carefully prodding the area around it. It didn't look to be infected, which was good, but it was fresh and a sign of a recent blow to the head. If he fell asleep, he might never wake up. She shook him more firmly. "Zuko!"
Zuko's eyes opened slowly, his brow furrowing as he concentrated on her face, trying to bring it into focus. They appeared glazed and unfocused, as though he hadn't used them for anything important in a while.
"Katara?" He gave his head a firm shake and blinked several times. His hand reached up slowly through the air, stretching toward her face. His lips moved but his voice was so quiet that she couldn't hear anything but a low mumble.
"Yes," Katara replied, taking his hand in hers and cradling it against her cheek. "I'm right here. We're going to get you out. So, promise me you'll stay with me, okay? I won't leave you if you don't leave me, agreed?"
He sighed heavily and slowly nodded.
Hakoda and Bato had followed Katara into the cell and were moving around the two on the floor.
"We've got to go, Katara," her father told her, taking Zuko's hand from hers and pulling it over his shoulders. Bato took the other side and hoisted Zuko to his feet. "Come on, son. Let's get you out of here."
Katara stood up, taking a torch from the wall to lead the way back up to the surface as Zuko slipped out of consciousness again.
Here it is, our first chapter to the planned one-shot that took over our minds! The plot bunnies were RABID!!
...So...Now I guess we'll talk about this chapter!
Simatra: In our first verison of this, Sokka sounded like he was all for leaving Zuko there to die...basically, a teutonic twit!
Lurisa: ...he's...blink, blink...German??
Simatra: vacant expression...YES!! AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT!!
We are not entirely sure that Zuko knows Katara's name is "Katara" and NOT "Water Tribe Peasant" but, you see, Zuko croaking "Water Tribe Peasant..." would not elicit the proper amount of remorse from Katara, making it impossible to continue the story in the direction we wanted to take it...BECAUSE!! Gasp for air! being referred to as "Water Tribe Peasant" would not make Katara willing to free Zuko, but rather...LEAVE HIM THERE TO ROT!!