Katara was lying in the same position she had been since Long Feng left. It was the following day or at least it probably was. So much time had passed Katara felt as if she had been up all night. It's not as if she would have been able to sleep even if it had been hours since she had lost the energy to cry. She was still boiling with hatred, hate for Long Feng and for her own weakness. More than anything she hated how much his words were able to get to her. It was obvious he was trying to tear her down in order to frighten her into submission. It was a dirty tactic and the worst part of all was that it had worked.
As much as she tried to push it out of her mind Katara couldn't help but fixate on what Long Feng had said about her mother.
If it wasn't for her she might still be alive. If it wasn't for her Kya might still be alive. Ever since Katara had found out Kya died to protect her from Yon Rha this thought had been in her head. No in reality it had been there ever since the event itself. She had always felt a certain responsibility for her mother's death. She had always wondered what she could have done differently. Maybe if she had found her dad before going back to the hut, or hadn't agitated Yon Rha by going in herself, maybe if she had refused to leave when Yon Rha told her to, maybe if she had just done anything different her mother wouldn't have died. And now she knew the only reason the raid had happened in the first place was so the Fire Nation could kill the last Southern Waterbender. She brought the danger to her home and was too young and helpless to protect her mother. Aang had told her she shouldn't blame herself, she shouldn't focus on it but she couldn't help it. The same way Aang blamed his absence for the genocide of his people Katara blamed herself for her mother's death.
Now she had brought more danger to her family. Sokka was almost killed, a trap was being set for Aang, her own children were being held hostage. Once again she was at the center of the danger and powerless to do anything. She wanted more than anything to ignore the fear she felt, as she always had and take on the entire Dai Li herself so that Aang wouldn't even need to bother trying to save her. Sadly she couldn't get the motivation up. The fear in her heart was different than any she had ever known. Before she was always able to easily risk her life because it was for the sake of the people she loved but now there were other lives tied directly to hers. Risking her life was no longer brave and selfless, it was negligent; when she had found out she was pregnant she promised she would do whatever it takes to protect her babies.
She tried to convince herself otherwise, tell herself it was worth the risk, that if worst came to worst she and Aang could always have more kids. Long Feng had known the right cards to play though; associating risking her babies' lives with her mother's death, mocking her maternal instincts and insecurities. As much as part of her believed the best thing to do was try to break out anyway every bone in her body resisted any action that would threaten her unborn children. She couldn't help it. All she could do was sit there and wait for Aang to come save her like she was still the same helpless child she was when Yon Rha came. She had to pray Aang wouldn't fall for Long Feng's trap and would be able to save her without her help. And she hated herself for it.
There was a creaking sound. Katara jerked her head towards the door. It was opening. As it slid to the side she expected to see Long Feng again but it wasn't him. She didn't recognize the man. He looked like a generic Dai Li agent and he was carrying a metal tray.
"Breakfast" the man said gruffly.
Breakfast? Katara thought. I guess it is morning. It was impossible to tell the time inside the cell, it was always the same degree of dark. Katara groaned at the realization. Staying up all night can't be good for the babies but how am I supposed to sleep here? She felt an unpleasant rumbling in her stomach as she thought about it.
The man set his try down on the floor. Before Katara could examine its contents he walked over to her holding some keys. With an absent-minded look on his face he began unlocking her shackles. This was a big surprise to Katara, she had been bound all night and the guard didn't seem to think anything of releasing her. She remembered stories Hama had told her of how Waterbenders were carefully restrained and kept away from water at all times in Fire Nation jails. The comparative lack of care exercised by this guard was unusual.
"Really you're going to unlock me just like that?" Katara asked mokingly.
The guard didn't even bother to look up. He lazily replied, "Long Feng said it wouldn't matter because you won't try to escape anyway."
That felt like a punch right in the stomach. Long Feng was making fun of her, releasing her just to show how confident he was in his control. As the cuffs opened Katara immediately started rubbing her sore wrists. She hated being confined and mocked, but she couldn't deny it felt nice being able to move around more. As soon as she started moving she immediately wrapped her arms around her stomach. The rumbling hadn't subsided, she still felt nauseated.
She looked over at the food tray and became even more annoyed. The dish that Long Feng had undoubtedly handpicked for her was a steaming bowl of soup. Something like that would be so easy for her to use as a weapon if she chose. He might as well have left the door wide open to taunt her with the fact that she wouldn't dare walk out of it.
Someone else entered the room. Katara was again apprehensive of another visit from Long Feng. She did recognize the man but it was someone else; Ping. Katara's; anxiety faded a bit; of all the people in the Dai Li to deal with he would be the easiest to tolerate. He was carrying something under his arm. It looked like a padded mattress or futon of some kind.
"Long Feng wishes to apologize for last night's unpleasant accommodations" Ping explained. What he said sounded more rehearsed than anything. Katara didn't feel like he was doing a good job of conveying the mocking tone Long Feng pictured him with. "From now on we will be gracious hosts"
He calmly began unrolling the mattress on the floor.
Katara replied sarcastically, "Oh what you're going to be nice now so I'll behave?"
Ping repeated more clearly scripted words. "A miscarriage would be disadvantageous for all of us. We don't want our hostage to be lost through natural means. We'll ensure your comfort and the health of the baby. You'll find that soup to be filled with healthy plants."
Katara sighed. Like the loosening of her shackles this was a relief even if she knew Long Feng had his own reasons for doing it. She had been worried how her confinement would affect the children's health. At the very least now there was less urgency to her escape.
"I don't know why we're wasting so much time taking care of one prisoner" said the other guard with annoyance as he took away the chains and slung them over his shoulder.
"She's a valuable prisoner" Ping answered simply as he continued making the bed. "She's instrumental to our victory."
The other guard scoffed. "Still I say leave her here to rot; that'd be a nice site for the Avatar to see." Ping didn't reply.
Katara was becoming annoyed. She glared at the guard. He must have noticed this because he addressed her this time. "What you think you deserve all this special treatment?"
Katara retorted, "I don't think I deserve to be locked up like a criminal." Her stomach kept bubbling and feeling very uncomfortable.
The guard laughed, "Really? I'd say you've done plenty to deserve it."
Katara's anger grew. "You Dai Li guys think you're so great but you know what I think…" Suddenly the bubbling feeling in her stomach overwhelmed her and vomit exploded from her mouth, covering the guard's feet. Apparently she hadn't just been stressed; she had morning sickness. As she wiped her mouth Katara added, "Actually that was a pretty good way to put it."
The guard looked furious. He pulled his foot back and prepared to kick her. "Now you've done it you little…"
Suddenly Ping pushed himself between the guard and Katara. "Physical abuse could cause a miscarriage. We're not supposed to touch her unless she tries to escape" he reminded.
"Look at my shoes!" the guard demanded. "They're ruined."
"She has morning sickness it's normal for pregnant women" Ping countered.
"Yeah right!" the guard shouted. He looked at Katara. "You did this on purpose didn't you? I swear I'm gonna…"
"You're not going to do anything Long Feng doesn't order you to" Ping interrupted. "Now go."
The guard reluctantly turned around. "You should be careful woman. That spunk is gonna get you killed one day."
He left the room. Ping walked over to the wall and pressed his hand on it. A section slid away and revealed a small door. "This is the bathroom" he calmly said. "You can relieve or wash yourself whenever you chose." He turned towards the bathroom door. "Oh right" He walked through the bathroom door then returned holding a cloth and bowl of water. Without complaint he went to work cleaning the vomit from the floor.
Katara watched him with utter confusion. Nothing in his voice, or for that matter his actions sounded like he was addressing an enemy. Everything about this man confused her. Before she realized she was even speaking Katara asked, "Why do you keep doing that?"
Ping suddenly stopped his cleaning motions. He sounded confused. "Doing what?" he asked without looking up.
"Why do you keep helping me?" Katara clarified.
Ping sounded caught off guard but he kept staring at the floor. "I'm just doing what Long Feng says." He went back to wiping the floor but his attention wasn't fully on it.
Katara's had been confused throughout this encounter but this time her reply felt obvious and came to her quickly. "You didn't obey his orders at the Jasmine Dragon. You let me live. Why?
Ping gripped the towel very strongly. Apparently he felt the floor was adequately clean because he stood up, took the supplies and headed for the cell door. "Someone will be by in a few hours with your next meal. You'll get three squares a day. If you get thirsty there's a sink in the bathroom we pump clean spring water into."
He walked through the door. His evasive answer made Katara even more curious. Before he managed to close the door she shouted, "Why did you let me live…Ping? That's your name right? Ping why did you let me live?"
Ping hesitated in closing the door for a second. He didn't look at Katara but quietly replied, "Just worry about yourself and your baby."
Sokka was pacing up and down the hall of the Earth King's highest security prison. He was gritting his teeth and his hands were balled into tight fists. With each stride he stomped the ground forcefully with his feet. "Damn it. Damn it. Damn it! Damn it all to hell!" he cursed impatiently.
"Sokka!" he heard Toph's voice call. He turned and saw her running towards him.
"What took you so damn long Toph?!" Sokka asked curtly.
Toph stopped short, obviously surprised by the outburst. "Geez I came as soon as I got your letter! I had to make sure there was someone was watching my Metalbending academy."
"We don't have any time to waste!" Sokka shouted. "Every second we waste Katara is with the Dai Li and Long Feng and…and…and…" He was very frantic. He clasped his head in his hands and started shaking it frantically, becoming totally unintelligible.
Toph grasped his arms to make him stop. "Sokka calm down!" She was very worried.
Sokka sounded full of despair now. "I can't! It's my fault! I'm her big brother I'm supposed to protect her, ever since we were kids I promised my dad I would protect her." He started shaking his head again. "I failed! UGH I HATE MYSLEF!"
Toph pulled his arms down. "Sokka cool it! We have to stay focused on saving Katara! Beating yourself up isn't going to help."
Sokka was breathing heavily but his voice stabilized a bit. "I know but when I think about Katara…and what they must be doing to her right now…"
"You can't think like that Sokka!" Toph insisted. "It'll just distract you. We have to focus on finding her." Sokka still looked very frightened. He didn't say anything and kept his head bowed. "Look I promise you we'll get her back ok?" Toph said strongly. Without thinking she grasped his hands and squeezed them tightly. "I won't rest until we get her back!"
Sokka at first didn't react. He was still filled with emotion. But he knew Toph was right, Katara needed him to stay focused. He took a deep breath and resolved to stay rational. At the same time his sense of humor returned. With a sly smile he asked Toph, "Are you holding my hands?"
Toph immediately drew her hands back. "No!" she shouted. She was blushing quite furiously.
Sokka shook his head with sarcastic pity. "Oh Toph, Toph, Toph, still haven't gotten over your childhood crush on me I see."
"Oh piss off!" Toph responded shortly. "I never had a crush on you! Don't flatter yourself!" She folded her arms strictly, but her face was still turning deeper shades of red.
Sokka laughed boisterously. "Oh Toph I'm very flattered but Suki is the only girl for me. Besides you're just a little too young. I'm sure you'll find a nice hard-headed Earthbender guy some day."
Toph' reply was quite succinct. "Oh bite me!" Sokka laughed even more. It may not have been in the way she intended but Toph had helped Sokka feel better.
The door next to the two opened and an Earth Kingdom soldier stuck his head out. "The prisoners are ready to be interrogated" he informed.
"Good" Sokka answered. "You got here right on time Toph. I need your help with the interrogation since you can tell when someone's lying.
Toph seemed very happy to have the subject changed. She confidently boasted, "Oh I can help a lot more than that!"
"How" Sokka asked.
"By sensing their heartbeat and breathing I can tell just how afraid they are, how close they are to cracking. Not to mention I can tell the difference between a squealer and someone who won't talk" she explained. Suddenly a puzzled look came on her face. "But why did you call me here? Twinkletoes can do that too."
Sokka sounded fairly annoyed. "Aang has been trying to find Long Feng on his own for months. We have no idea where he is or how to reach him."
"I see" Toph replied. "Well in any event I'm a better for this job anyway. After all if a guy's not talking I know how to…" She punched Sokka in the arm. "…persuade him..
Sokka rubbed his sore arm. "Yeah I don't doubt that" he said with a chuckle. "Let's go."
They entered the room. The other two Dai Li agents who had helped kidnap Katara were tightly fastened to chairs with wooden harnesses. There was no earth for them to use, save for the stone floor, but they couldn't move anyway. They both had bandages wrapped around their heads, pressing cloths against the spots where Sokka and Suki's weapons had struck to stop the bleeding. The man on the right had a beard and the one of the left was bald. The bearded man also had a brace on his leg from where Sokka's club had struck him.
"I'm going to ask this once" Sokka said direly. "Where is my sister?"
Both of the men glared defiantly at Sokka saying nothing.
"Not talking eh?" Sokka said as if it was a challenge. "All right. Toph persuade them."
Toph cracked her knuckles gluttonously. "With pleasure." She stomped the ground and two columns of earth shot up under the men's chairs, propelling them into the air. They fell hard on the ground. The chairs didn't break though, they were reinforced with metal hinges.
Sokka knelt down in between the two chairs. "Let's try this again. Where's Katara?"
The bald man shouted with conviction, "We'll never talk!"
"Never!" the bearded man parroted.
Sokka knelt down near the bald man's head. "Are you sure about that?"
Toph cut in, "Don't waste your time with that one Sokka."
Sokka looked at her. "Why?"
Toph calmly explained. "He's cool as a cucumber. He didn't react at all to my persuasion. He's probably prepared to endure torture. That guy on the other hand" she pointed to the bearded man. "He's much more afraid."
"Oh really?" Sokka said happily. He picked up the bearded man's chair and stood it up straight, forgetting about the other. He could see what Toph meant; there was a lot of sweat on his forehead. "Where's Katara?"
The man was trying his best to stay calm but his voice trembled. "I…I don't know anything!"
"Stay strong!" the bald man shouted.
"Get him out of here!" Sokka shouted, pointing at the bald man. Two guards picked up his chair and carried him out of the room, back to his cell.
Having his ally taken away had clearly increased the bearded man's fear. He was sweating very visibly. Toph could feel his heart racing.
"Tell us where Katara is!" Sokka demanded.
"I know nothing!" the man yelled nervously.
Toph folded her arms, clearly proud of her abilities. "I doubt I need to tell you this but he's lying."
Sokka was very serious. "Listen to me" he said as he stared the man down. "You broke into the Earth King's palace, slaughtered some of his guards and kidnapped his guest. That's a crime punishable by death. You hear me? They're going to execute you!"
Toph's eyebrows quirked as she felt the man's physiological reaction. "Oh he doesn't like that at all" she said mischievously. "You're pretty scared of dying aren't you?" She addressed the man directly.
Sokka played off of her. "Why shouldn't he be? Dying sucks! Isn't that right?" he asked the man. The bearded man started avoiding eye contact and breathing heavily. "There's no reason you have to die. You have the right to stand trial like any other Earth Kingdom citizen. Maybe if you help us they'll lighten your sentence a bit. I'm not saying they'll let you go but life in prison isn't off the table."
The man became more and more uneasy but he said nothing. Sokka leaned in close and stared him down. "Where is Katara?" he asked again. "I'll tell them you helped me. I'll do everything I can to make sure they let you live. I swear on my honor as a warrior."
The man kept panting. He looked away from Sokka. He slowed down his breathing. "They're heading southwest" he said calmly.
Before Sokka could respond Toph calmly said, "Liar."
Sokka glared at the man angrily. "It won't help you to lie to us. Listen to me, you are going to die unless I can tell them you helped."
"Long Feng's army will reach us and conquer Ba Sing Se before that happens!" the man retorted fearfully.
"That won't happen" Sokka said simply. "Aang will stop them. But that doesn't matter. With how long it would take an army of that size to get here I can assure you that you would have been dead for a long time." The man bowed his head. Sokka could hear the numerous beads of sweat hitting the ground. "Look there's no reason you have to die. What do you owe Long Feng? Do you owe him your life? He's going to murder my sister! She's pregnant! She has a husband and a family! Don't you care at all?!"
The man shook his head frantically, much the same way Sokka had before. "Forget it!" he shouted.
"What's that mean?" Sokka asked.
"I'll tell you what you want to know damn it!" the man shouted. "I just did this so my family wouldn't starve! I never agreed to die for Long Feng!"
Sokka was very surprised to hear this, skeptical actually. "Just tell us what we want to know we aren't interested in phony sob stories."
Toph corrected Sokka, "Actually he was telling the truth." Her voice sounded the same as it had the day Zuko first tried to join their group and she was the only one who believed his remorse was sincere.
Sokka looked at the man. "Really?" he asked.
"I joined Long Feng's army because my home village burned to the ground" the man said. "My parents died and I had to care for all of my siblings. We had nowhere to go, no food, nothing! Long Feng's army showed up offering us food and shelter so I swore my undying loyalty. Problem is they made that exact promise to so many people there wasn't enough food to go around and my siblings starved to death anyway."
Sokka couldn't help but feel pity for this agent now. He knew what it was like to be responsible as the older sibling. He could only imagine how horrible something like that would feel. "I'm sorry" he said honestly.
The man looked up at Sokka. "I'll tell you everything and not just the stuff about your sister."
Sokka smiled. "Start with my sister. You can tell the soldiers everything else."
"Your sister is being held in our prison underneath the Secret Tunnel in the Kolau Mountain Range just outside of Omashu. Because of its legends of a curse no one would dare go looking around in it and even if they did they would never be able to find their way through the labyrinth without finding the articial metal tunnel we created" the man explained.
"That won't be a problem!" Toph shouted. "You know where this place is Sokka?"
Sokka nodded. "I wish I could forget it. Let's go Toph!" As they turned to leave Sokka doubled back, faced the man and thanked him.
The man didn't seem very effected. "Just promise me you'll screw Long Feng over."
Sokka nodded, "Deal."
Katara was still sitting in her cell. Nothing had really changed since that morning. No one else had entered the room. She was glad for that but she was growing bored and restless. She thought of escaping just so she would be able to walk around.
She kept contemplating how much danger Aang was really in. He was a fully realized Avatar. He had power other humans could scarcely fathom. He defeated Fire Lord Ozai single-handedly even when he was empowered by Sozin's Comet. It didn't seem realistic that Long Feng had anything that could kill him. Katara kept reassuring herself with this knowledge, telling herself there was no chance Long Feng would succeed, that she had complete faith in Aang. Sadly, at the same time, Katara couldn't help but feel a twinge of fear.
Long Feng wasn't as powerful as Aang, there was no doubt about that but Long Feng's danger didn't lie in his Earthbending power, it was in his cunning. Through careful manipulation and planning he had brought the Earth King and all of Ba Sing Se under his control. Whatever plan he had to kill Aang he must have been working on for years with every move plotted carefully and meticulously. Katara didn't want to believe he was right but at the same time she saw Aang acting rashly after the attack at the Jasmine Dragon. There was a chance he might play into Long Feng's hand.
The door opened again. It was another agent carrying another tray. Katara didn't even bother looking very closely at him. He was obviously just there to bring her lunch.
There was a strong thud. The guard had intentionally dropped the tray on the ground, spilling the food all over. He stepped on the tray and crushed the food even more.
"Hey!" Katara shouted. She looked up and immediately recognized the man. It was the guard whose shoes she had thrown up on this morning. "Oh it's you. Still upset about your shoes I see."
"Yep" the man said with a malicious smile. "And you're going to make it up to me."
Katara merely laughed off the comment. "Well I'd over you my shoes but I don't really think they're feminine enough for you."
The guard took a step forward. "You really should watch that spunk woman. It's going to get you killed one day."
Katara giggled. "Please you can't do anything to me. You're supposed to make sure I stay healthy. What would Long Feng do to you if he found out you disobeyed his orders?"
"Oh I'm not gonna hurt ya" the guard replied. He kept walking forward. His voice was ravenous. "Oh this isn't going to hurt at all. In fact, you're going to enjoy it quite a bit."
Katara gasped. She stared straight at the guard. His eyes were full of a malicious lust. "W…what do you mean?"
The guard's voice became more and more like a starving animal's. "I feel pretty sorry for you. Your husband is a weak, scrawny Airbender. Have you ever wondered what the touch of a real man is like?"
Katara stood up and took a defensive stance. "Stay away from me!" she barked.
Before Katara could react the guard struck the wall, using his Earthbending to close off the bathroom door. Katara was cut off from the only nearby water source. "There's no water for you to use and plenty of earth for me to use" the guard explained. It was true, the entire cell was made of stone. "You know how this is going to end. Just let it happen."
"Get out of here!" Katara shouted. "I don't need water! If you come anywhere near me you'll regret it!" In reality Katara wasn't as helpless as it seemed. The air in the cave was fairly humid. So much so it surprised her. She estimated there should have been enough water vapor for her to fight with.
The man merely smirked. He shot the rock gloves off of his hands and pinned her to the wall before Katara could react.
"Now this is going to happen but it can happen one of two ways" the guard warned. "Either you behave yourself and I don't hurt you, or if you can give me trouble and then I'll kill you when I'm done. Before you say anything about Long Feng you should know I'll just tell him you tried to escape. "
Katara was working on breaking the restraints. She was clenching her fists in order to gather water vapor in the cracks of the stone and to freeze it. Normally she would blow on gloves to hasten the freezing but the guard would notice that. She had to distract him to buy more time to break free. "Oh come on you don't want someone like me. I have a husband and I'm pregnant."
"Oh I don't mind" the guard responded as if he was being polite. "After all it's been so long since my last meal I don't feel very picky. When you're hungry enough any dish will satisfy your appetite." He licked his mouth, slobbering all over his lips.
Katara was disgusted, absolutely disgusted to be anywhere near this man. She was wondering if she would be able to use her vomit as a weapon. The man came closer until he was inches away from her. "You disgusting pig! Get away from me! Don't touch me!" She started sloshing around the saliva in her mouth, gathering up as much spit as possible.
The man put his hand on her shoulder. It was cold and boney. He leaned in closely to Katara.
Moron Katara thought. I'll spit an icicle right in your eye now. I'll use that opening to break free then freeze you with wator vapor. Katara wasn't that scared. She was more grossed out than anything by this man's presence but she was confident in her ability to defeat him.
"Don't worry" the man said with an evil grin. "This is gonna be fun."
Katara pursed her lips and got ready to attack. However she never got the chance.
Before Katara knew what was happening the guard was pulled away from her face. Someone else dragged him across the room. There was a sudden snapping sound as this second man punched the guard in the face, knocking him straight to the ground.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?" the second man shouted. He was absolutely furious, his eyes looked murderous. Katara immediately recognized the second man. It was Ping.
The guard rubbed his mouth, blood was pouring out of it. Ping's hand had been incased in rock when he had punched him. "She was trying to escape!" the guard feebly protested.
This sent Ping into a rage. He knelt down, grabbed the guard by his collar and pulled him to his feet. "That's a load of crap! I saw that look in your eyes!" His voice turned into a low growl. "I've seen that look in the faces of Fire Nation soldiers. You're an animal."
The guard could tell Ping was far too angry for any argument he could throw at him to work. So instead he merely smirked and answered, "Well we're all animals aren't we? My appetite's not really any different from yours is it?"
That was the wrong thing to say. Ping's eyes widened and he immediately let his fist fly again, this time much harder. The guard collapsed on the floor, barely conscious. As soon as he rose to his knees he spat out a soup of blood, spit and teeth fragments.
"You disobeyed my orders as well as Long Feng's" Ping said menacingly. "There will be consequences. Get up you filth."
The guard rose to his feet, struggling and teetering. He had to put his hand on the wall to support himself but Ping wasn't going to help him. He stumbled towards the door."
"Not so fast" Ping said. "Guards!" he called. In a few seconds two more Dai Li agents arrived. "This man is guilty if insubordination. Take him away to await punishment." The Dai Li agents silently obeyed, cuffing the bleeding guard and leading him away.
Ping turned around. He calmly used his Earthbending to let Katara go. His face was still filled with rage. She dropped to her knees, not out of pain or exhaustion, but mostly because she had been in an awkward position. Ping knelt down in front of her.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Katara nodded. "He wasn't able to do anything. I…" She was about to explain how she was prepared to fight him using her spit and water vapor but stopped short. She thought it would be a bad idea to reveal her fighting strategy, but she had another reason. For the first time it didn't look like Ping was holding back his emotions. He looked angry that was for sure but his eyes also contained the shadow of how they looked in the Jasmine Dragon, when he had hesitated to kill Katara. That looked seemed oddly familiar. He seemed worried and for some reason Katara felt the need to reassure him. "You stopped him."
Ping nodded. He let out a sigh of relief. His face changed. He looked very different. It looked like he couldn't decide how to feel. He avoided looking at Katara's face. "I…I'm sorry…" The words were hesitant and unsure as if he was confused about his motivation for saying them.
Confusion that was it! That was the look Katara recognized. That was the look she had seen in Zuko's face all those years ago; the moral war raging within one man. Even when Zuko had been the basished prince pursuing Aang that look was always in his eyes; the good within his heart always doubted if he was doing the right thing. Katara couldn't see it at first. She had always thought of Zuko as the enemy. Morality and people had always been black and white to her back then. There were good people and there were evil people. Zuko taught her how wrong that mentality was, it was a total oversimplification of human nature. Now another enemy stood before with that same look of confusion and doubt, and that enemy had already shown her several times he hadn't managed to fully repress his conscience.
"Sorry? For what?" Katara asked.
Ping sounded like he didn't know the answer either but he still did his best to answer. "I'm sorry for letting that guard in here. He won't bother you again."
Katara knew what she should do, or rather what she felt like she should have done when Zuko had first tried to redeem himself. She wasn't just going to shrug off his attempts to appear human. She spoke to him and tried to sound as grateful as she could. "Thank you Ping. Thank you for protecting me. It was very kind of you." She knew she could have protected herself but it seemed kind to allow him to think he had saved her.
Ping looked almost startled by what Katara had said. The confusion in his face grew tenfold. He stared at her as if she was a total enigma. He shook his head and stood up. "Don't worry about it. I'll send someone in to clean this up and bring you more food." He started walking out the door then suddenly stopped. "No I should do it myself."
Ping didn't say anything else while he was there. He quickly did the tasks he said he would. He looked far too distracted to even be capable of speaking. Katara left him alone while he was so shell-shocked but like Long Feng she was coming up with her own plan, a plan for escape. She was ready to put it in action.
Her chance came fairly soon. Ping was back in a few hours to bring Katara dinner. This time she wasn't surprised. She had been waiting.
"Aren't you Long Feng's second in command? Don't you have more important duties than feeding prisoners?" she asked. It wasn't sarcastic. It was an actual question.
Ping was calmer than before. He didn't evade answering this time. "I don't know which of the guards I can trust to send in here. It's safer if I bring it myself."
Katara sat back on the wall and folded her arms. "Why do you care?" she asked politely.
Ping looked up, just as confused as before. "What?"
"Why do you care if the other guards hurt me?" Katara asked. "Why do you avoid being cruel to me and why didn't you kill me at the Jasmine Dragon?"
Ping turned his head away and sat the tray down. "You ask too many questions."
Katara wasn't going to let it go this time. She was insistent. "No! I deserve answers! I've been thrown in the middle of this vendetta and I want to know the truth! You were ordered to kill me at the Jasmine Dragon what stopped you?!"
"I don't know" was all Ping could say.
"You were going to kill me" Katara reminded. "Before I told you I was pregnant you weren't hesitating. Why did that stop you?"
Ping sounded exasperated. "I don't know!" he grunted.
A realization dawned on Katara. Ping's mercy was so innate, so involuntary that it was second nature as if he had trained himself. It was almost as if he had long ago learned the rule that a pregnant woman is someone to protect not kill. Very confident in her guess she asked, "Is it because of your wife?"
Ping gasped in utter shock. He turned his head up. The surprise on his head was very apparent. "How did you…"
"It's not very hard to guess" Katara said. "We've all lost someone close to us during the war. Was your wife pregnant when the Fire Nation killed her?"
Ping stood up, his face was positively contorted with rage.
Katara went on. "It's all right. The war has hurt all of us. You didn't want to kill me because it reminded you too much of what the Fire Nation did to you right? Is that the same reason why that guard attacking me made you so angry?"
"Shut up!" Ping barked. "You don't understand anything!"
"Of course I understand!" Katara insisted. "I lost my mother to…"
"I know all about your mother!" Ping shouted. "But you don't know anything about me! Don't pretend to!"
"Come on Ping…" Katara began.
"Stop calling me by my name!" Ping ordered. "Stop talking to me as if you know me. If you think you can use my feelings about my wife and some patronizing words to manipulate me you're wrong!"
"That's not what I…"Katara started, as she tried to defend herself.
"Don't insult my intelligence! And never talk about my wife!" Ping interrupted. "I'm your enemy don't forget that!"
Katara retorted, "You're not very good at acting like one."
That remark clearly insulted him. With an angry look he turned around and walked out the door. "Next time I come you'd better keep your mouth shut! Otherwise I'll just send random guards to bring your meals."
Katara let out a sigh of exasperation. It looked as if her plan had failed. Ping may not have been particularly good at being an enemy, but it didn't look like he was going to be much help.