Disclaimer: You better be glad Avatar isn't mine. It would probably end up like this…
A/N: A save in the nick of time. A small miscalculation. A close shave. Such things adventures are made of. But what happens when the timing is a bit off, when the foes are just a little smarter, just a bit stronger?
This series of one-shots will explore the darker possibilities of the Avatar world. Expect pain, suffering, death, and no happy endings. You have been warned.
The Warden is a ruthless man, and he won't stand for any rebellion. I'm sorry, but we're powerless.
You're one mistake away from dying where you stand.
-Warden Shen of Earthbender Prison Camp Six
Where You Stand
Katara stood straight and strong, facing into the setting sun glinting off the metal deck of the prison ship. She turned to face the earthbender prisoners, banging her spoon on the lid of the gruel pot, and watched as dozens of eyes turned towards her. She took a deep breath, and began.
"Earthbenders! You don't know me, but I know of you. Every child of my water tribe village was rocked to sleep with stories of the brave Earth Kingdom and the courageous earthbenders who guard its borders. Some of you may think that the Fire Nation has made you powerless. Yes, they have taken away your ability to bend, but they can't take away your courage and it is your courage they should truly fear! Because it runs deeper than any mine you've been forced to dig, any ocean that keeps you far from home. It is the strength of your hearts that make you who you are, hearts that will remain unbroken when all rock and stone has eroded away. The time to fight back is now! I can tell you the Avatar has returned! So remember your courage, earthbenders, let us fight for our freedom!"
Warden Shen stood on the balcony overlooking the deck, where a young girl was trying to make some sort of inspirational speech. The prisoners weren't really listening, but still, that sort of behavior wouldn't do. He waved for a guard.
Katara looked into the prisoners' faces hopefully, searching for the will to prevail that she knew was there. But her gaze was met only with expressions of shock, dejection, and fear. Even Haru wouldn't meet her gaze. She deflated. What was wrong? Why wouldn't they listen to her? They had more spirit than this, she knew they did…
Suddenly, a hand closed over her shoulder. She started and looked up into the face of a helmeted guard, and tried to shrug away. Then a hand closed over her other shoulder, and she was steered away from the platform where she had made her speech. "T-Tyro!" she cried, her stomach twisting in her throat as the guards started to force-march her away.
But Haru's father could only look at her sadly as she was silently led into the depths of the ship.
Warden Shen looked down at the furious-looking girl, a cheerless grin playing on his lips. "Hello, child," he said. "I heard you out there, and I must say it was a lovely speech. But I think you'll find that the prisoners here were broken long ago. They will not resist. And you…" He leaned down until he was eye level with the girl's glaring, dark-skinned face. "… are about to learn why."
"Sir," said one of the guards, staring straight ahead. "What shall be done with her?"
The Warden raised his hand to his chin, putting on a show of thinking it over. But the moment he had laid eyes on this particular prisoner, he'd known what her punishment would be.
"Give her to the men," he said, inclining his head slightly towards the guards. "I do believe they have been without pleasurable company for quite some time, and they deserve a little treat, don't you agree?"
Katara stared for a moment, the angry expression turning first into surprise, then slowly dawning fear. The Warden looked into her eyes as they went wide, then as her mouth fell open. "W-what?" she gasped. "But… No! N-no! No! No, no don't!"
The Warden allowed himself a satisfying smirk, watching as she began to struggle against the guards. But they were almost twice her size, and easily contained her kicking and writhing. "Take her away," he ordered, and the guards hastily complied.
"Aang! What took you so- Where's Katara?"
"I don't know!" said Aang, looking fearful. "I found Haru, but I can't find Katara! Do... do you think something's…"
"What?" Sokka's eyes grew wide. "Are you sure? Did you check everywhere?"
"I did look everywhere! Unless she's below decks, and I don't have a key!"
"Oh no. Oh no oh no. Can you break in?"
"Not without waking up the whole ship!" Aang looked like he was on the verge of panic.
"Can you steal a key?"
"Oh," Aang looked up. "Maybe, but we would lose the element of surprise."
"You know what, Aang? Right now I don't care. I just want to get my sister, and get out of here. Okay?"
Aang swallowed. "Okay."
Sokka watched as the Avatar ran back onto the ship, praying to whatever spirit that would listen that Katara was okay.
Flesh flesh flesh against flesh. Pulling grabbing hitting slapping bruising oh spirits it hurts it hurts it hurts.
Oh spirits, spirits help me, please please. Get me out of here or kill me I don't care just make it stop. Break my bonds break my bones I'm dying oh spirits they're tearing my insides apart.
He's finished. He's finished it's through and maybe–
No! No no no no! Not another one please not another haven't you had enough? Haven't you had enough of me please please just let go let go you'll kill me I'll die.
Oh spirits, is that screaming coming from me? Spirits, let somebody hear. Let somebody hear oh please please just stop stop stop stop.
Hot tears on my face I could bend them but I can't move they have my hands feet body all of me all of me just please leave me is there any part of me they haven't touched oh spirits oh Mama it still hurts.
Aang ran through the corridors of the prison ship. He didn't know quite what he was looking for, only that he had to get there fast, before the guards caught up. He vaulted over the head of a surprised guard in front of him, dodged a fireblast, and skidded around a corner into a lower level. He shut the door behind him and held it shut with a gust of wind while he fumbled with his stolen keys. He looked around desperately. He was trapped. He ran down the corridor, casting his eyes about for a way out, and heard… something. Not really a sob. More like a hitched breath.
"Hello?" he called, and peered cautiously through a barred window. It was a simple room, with only a hard cot and a small chamber pot. And on the cot was…
"Katara…" he breathed. He immediately felt a flush of embarrassment, and turned his face away. Where were her clothes?
The naked body on the bed didn't move. "Katara," he repeated, terror creeping into his voice.
This time, Aang thought he saw a slight shifting of weight. His pulse raced. She was alive! He tried several keys, none of them right, before becoming frustrated. The guards could come any second! "I'm going to blow the door down, okay? Okay, Katara?"
There was a shriek of tearing metal and a roar of wind, and the door was blown off its hinges. The form on the bed looked up, struggling to cover itself with its arms. "No!" it cried, panicked. "Please don't!"
"Katara!" Aang walked over the wreckage of the door, trying not to look at Katara while at the same time trying to assess if she was hurt. "Why are you… Where… What happened?"
"Aang," said Katara, and burst into dry sobs, her entire body trembling and shuddering.
"Katara!" cried Aang again, this time bringing himself to look at Katara's face. He rocked onto the balls of his feet, attempting to resist the urge to put his arms around her. Then, he gave in. Trying desperately not to look down, he put his arms around her shoulders and held her tightly.
"It… it'll be okay, Katara," he said, his voice shaking. "It'll be okay."
Katara did not respond, only continued to tremble as the sound of the guards' boots echoed down the corridor…
A/N: Well, I did warn you. The Warden sure was lenient in the show, wasn't he?