Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar the Last Airbender.

Notes: The chapter in which there is Angry!Zuko, Angry!Aang, Angry!Katara, Angry!Characters In General, Attempted Girl Talk, Aang Ass Kicking Part the First, Meaningful Dreams, MOAR Jun, and Katara Grows a Fucking Spine. Oh yeah.

My goal is to have this finished by this summer. End of May, preferably. It will be done before the end of August, however, because at that point I embark on the wonder known as college, at which point my writing time will become a thing of distant memory most likely.

I also want to take a moment to thank everyone for trying to stick with me. I know, I know, it's been forever. Pelt me with carrots if you like.

EDIT: This is slightly edited for clarity. If it is still not clear—Katara returned to Aang in order to make her own break from him, as opposed to simply being rescued by Zuko. Was she raped at the end? That's for you to decide, it's fairly open ended. Edit is dedicated to xyzisme, who points out my plot holes. :D

Part Eight

Just Breathe Me

"It's not as bad as you think," Katara says quickly, laying her hands on his shoulders in what she hopes is a placating manner. She almost recoils back at the sheer heat emanating from his skin, as if he is quite literally about to burst into flames. He notices her sudden hesitance, and maybe misinterprets it, or maybe not, but he says softly, softly, softly:

"Don't worry, 'tara. You're safe. So safe." His throat moves once, twice, swallowing down more words. Probably, she thinks distantly and maybe a little hysterically, more threats about just what he is going to do to Aang. His eyes clench shut briefly, muscles moving under his skin in a way that leaves no doubt about just how angry he is and just how much he wants to kill something right now.

But strangely…Katara does feel safe. Because Zuko never lies. Never ever ever, and she knows, with the certainty that she used to believe in fairytales, that Zuko will never ever ever hurt her not even if it costs him the world and his life. And he will protect her, protect her with the ferocity of a dragon protecting its damsel. And… "Zuko," she whispers. And he will let the damsel save herself, too, she thinks. "Zuko, you can't kill Aang."

Zuko freezes above her, whole body tensing. "What?" he hisses oh so slowly. He is so dangerous right now, barely leashed ferality, and she knows it. Dragons are not tame creatures, after all. They never are. She has done the impossible and made the dragon hers, but that does not mean he's tame, and she's not stupid enough to think that Zuko will not rip Aang limb from bloody limb.

"You can't kill him," she says softly. "He's the Avatar. It's dangerous."

A low, rumbling growl leaves his chest. "Agni Kai. I will destroy him." His eyes open, all golden sincerity and fierce fierce fierce absolute unconditional adoration. "I'm not letting you go back to that, 'tara." She lets that sink into her mind.

An Agni Kai. Zuko still cannot summon lightening, but she has no doubt that even with Aang's bending it would be a very close battle. And if Zuko won…when Zuko won…he would take her away, whisk her to a palace where he would adore her, would cherish her. They would spend their days arguing and laughing and fighting and playing and being almost painfully in love. They would be happy.


"You can't kill Aang, Zuko." Her mind works frantically, shifting through the new scenarios racing in on her. "If you kill him, you'll be seen as the evil Fire Lord trying to take over the world again. The world will fall into chaos. War. So much war."

"I don't care," he growls. His body pushes against hers as her wraps himself over her. So warm, hot, scorchingly hot, she's drowning, can't think anymore. "I don't care," he says again, pressing long, slow kisses against her neck, lips moving sensually as he growls out those words. So hot, burning burning burning.

And he will literally give up the world for her.

It is nearly noon when he finally lets her leave. His hand stays on her waist protectively and she knows possessively, and she briefly wonders what she is getting herself into. She is in love with Zuko, in a different way if not more than she had loved little Aang. But he loves her enough to let terrible things happen, and if he loves her that much then she knows, that easily, oh so easily, she could be trading one cage for another. A better cage, perhaps, one made of gold and furnished with adoration instead of bruises, but still a cage.

"Zuko…" she says, pausing. The laces of her boots are held in her fingers, tangled around slim brown digits like so many tiny chains. "Zuko, promise me that you won't kill him. Not yet." She adds that last bit as some placation, but more as her own sort of safety net. If this does not go how she plans, this whole thing could come crashing down around her ears, and she wants, needs, to know that Zuko will be waiting there to shield her and fight away everything that would harm her.

She's being selfish, she knows.

He takes a deep breath, and when he finally lets it out is shaky. His hand tightens a bit on her waist, not enough to hurt but enough to reassure himself that she is there and for the time being safe. "Alright," he says quietly.

"Promise," she persists. "I need to deal with this on my own." The laces fall from her hands as she leans back, upright, to stare him dead in the eyes. He needs to know just how serious she is about this, just how much she needs to confront her demons.

To her surprise, he meets her gaze evenly. His expression is raw and so, so sincere as he says, "I promise, 'tara. I'll let you deal with this your way." He swallows, and his grip tightens again briefly, and he looks at her with eyes that are still raw, sincere, but also dangerous. "But if he hurts you again, I swear to Agni above that I will kill him without a second thought."

And both of his promises are true, she knows. So Katara smiles softly but tinged with fire, the kind of smile she has only ever given Zuko, and leans over the scant inches to press her lips to his. She will not call it a desperate kiss, but it is close.

Her walk back to the house is long. Her body is sore. Her mind still aches slightly with a hangover. Her heart pounds with what she knows must happen soon. But her soul dances a bit, because she's seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

One conversation, one confrontation, and this is all over.

It's going to be hard, she knows. Knows deep inside, as she climbs the stairs into the house she shares with her not-really-husband. But she'll survive. She has to.

(Zuko will burn the world if she doesn't.)

The faint smell of smoke and flame emanating from within the Fire Nation Embassy almost makes Jun smile. She was right. She's almost always right, but as she ascends the stairs she thinks that it's rather nice to have it proven once again.

Admission into the embassy is surprisingly easy to gain, all things considered. Her eyebrows raise involuntarily, wondering just how lax security must be if they'd let a rough and tumble Earth Kingdom wench in just to see the Fire Lord. But perhaps, she thinks as she pauses under the eaves of the roofed veranda that lines the inner courtyard, that might have something to do with the fact that right now, Fire Lord Zuko looks like he could kill something. (Or several somethings.)

A rough and tumble Earth Kingdom wench might not be such a security breach after all.

"Hey, Prince Pouty," she calls, leaning against the nearest pillar casually. She knows right now she looks goddamned sexy, which makes what she's about to do a hair easier. Zuko turns, gold eyes impossibly narrow like he's squinting straight into the sun.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, dropping his fighting stance. She's not stupid enough to think it means he's relaxed. His muscles are deceptively loose, but she knows one false move from her and he could spring into action.

So she shrugs, slow casual easy, like she's just checking up on an old friend. "Oh, wondering if you might have gotten a visit last night," she says airily.

Zuko's muscles tense, even though she hasn't made a move yet. Jun lets her eyes travel over his form assessingly. The waterbender really is a lucky bitch. Jun would've never even bothered with the Avatar if she'd had Prince Pouty running after her adoringly. He'd grown up very, very well.

"I did," Zuko says finally. His voice is rougher than normal, she notes. Always rough, his voice. Unmistakable when he's giving a speech. But now it has that special kind of roughness borne from holding back tears.

"Hm," Jun hums noncommittally.

"Jun…" he begins slowly, as if he's starting to piece together some vital information. "Jun, did you run into Katara last night?" Jun hums again, nodding barely enough to let him see. She doesn't want to interrupt his train of thought just yet. "What do you know?" he asks.

Fire, she thinks. So much fire. He's grown up so well.

"I'm just a simple girl," Jun says. "But I hear a lot of gossip. Drinks tend to loosen tongues." She looks at him meaningfully. Perhaps he gets her double meaning, perhaps he doesn't. "What I can tell you is that your sweet, precious little princess is in a great deal more danger than she will tell anyone."

She thinks, watching his body heave with slow, purposeful breathes, that he probably already knew that. But she also thinks, distantly, that perhaps there is only one thing that she knows that no one else does. "And once upon a time, the sweet precious little princess ran away from home. She ran to a canyon, a canyon deep in the Earth Kingdom. And in that canyon, the sweet precious little princess met a beast of unimaginable strength." As she talks, she pushes herself away from the pillar, walking toward Zuko, who looks at her with wide eyes. "A warrior watched helpless as the princess fought the beast, until finally, the beast brought her to her knees. And the beast asked why the princess ran, but the princess would not answer. So the beast…" Jun pauses a few feet from Zuko and cocks her head. "The beast made her break. And as she broke…"

Zuko roars, and it is only Jun's quick reflexes that save her from the blast of fire that burns her way at a frightening speed. Jun's heart pounds with unwilling fear. But she can't let it end likes this. She needs to finish this.

"As she broke the princess screamed for her savior."

Zuko watches Jun leave with dead eyes. His heart clenches in on itself, like it is trying to implode his entire being if it will only be given enough to time to do it. So he curls tighter into himself, breathes harder, tries to remind himself that he's alive, she's alive, and this time he's going to save her.

screamed for her savior…

Jun's leather clad hips sway from side to side, sensual, easy. She looks over her shoulder, something that should be coy but isn't. Like she's checking over her work, making sure that he is as broken as she expected. Or as angry, he thinks, because she had looked at his rage with approving eyes.

"Bye, Prince Pouty," she says easily, pausing and still looking at him. Even from here, he can see how dark her eyes are. Piercing eyes, really, the sort of strong deep color that lends ferocity to her gaze. Then she's turning away, and all he can see is the sway of her midnight dark hair.

"Katara," Toph sing songs, tapping on the other woman's door. She waits, listening as Katara moves from the bed toward the door. The sheets rustle along the floor, and Toph briefly wonders why exactly Katara is bringing her bed drapery with her.

The screen door slides open. "Yes?" Katara asks. "What is it, Toph?"

"Toph would like to ask you a few questions," Toph says, putting on one of her patented "I'm being a snarky smug bitch, go with it" smiles. Katara sighs and opens the door a little more, backing away to allow Toph to walk into the room.

Toph walks in, shoving some of her way-too-thick hair behind one way-too-delicate ear. "So, Sugar Queen, what's been up with you lately?"

Katara freezes. Literally freezes. She could be no stiller if she were iced over by one of the other master waterbenders. Toph pauses and listens. Though Katara's breathing is nonexistent, her heart pounds hard enough that Toph can practically swim in the vibrations.

"I've got no idea what you're talking about, Toph," Katara says slowly.

"Sure, sure, Sugar Queen," Toph says carelessly. "Even Sokka's noticed something's up. That means something must be up." She turns, facing Katara. She's slightly relieved that Katara has started breathing again, even if the breathes are overly slow and controlled.

"Is it because of Aang?" Toph says after a few beats of silence.

Katara's heartbeat speeds up as she shakes her head. "N-no, of course not."

"Could it be that he's angry because you and Sparky are in love?"

Faster, faster. "Toph, what are you t-talking about?"

"Has Aang been…harming you?"

No words, but Katara's heartbeat is impossibly, impossibly fast as she stumbles backward and shakes her head.

Sokka doesn't want to believe what Toph relays to him. He doesn't, because that means so many things. All the wrongs that he's let slip by. All the years that his baby sister may have been in pain. So much that has gone wrong wrong wrong wrong.

But more than that, he's angry.

Toph lets Sokka confront Aang on his own.

Sokka does not go heavily armed, but the boomerang on his back and his space sword at his hip are reassurances. He isn't sure what he's tracking Aang down for, if he merely wants to scream or if he wants blood to be spilt. Confrontation, however, is inevitable.

It is the low rumbles that tell Sokka his first guess of Aang's location was correct. Rock moving, shifting. Aang is practicing his earthbending one of the smaller training stadiums of Ba Sing Se, a place that is well appointed but not so busy as to disrupt the Avatar's practice. A good place for a confrontation, not so public that Sokka cannot scream to his heart's content.

The workers give him not a second glace as he walks through the main gates and through the changing rooms. It is empty as can be, to better facilitate the Avatar, but they don't bother stopping him. His face is as well recognized as any others from the main gang.

Aang is in the largest courtyard, practicing creating small paths that almost resemble a Zen garden. The paths are something that Toph uses and abuses for finesse control of her earthbending, something that Aang clearly picked up as her student at some point.

Strange to think about now.

Sokka steps into the courtyard, forcing himself to move calmly. "Aang?" he says, and he's dreadfully proud of how very even and calm his voice is.

Aang turns, a bright smile on his suddenly far too young face. "Sokka," he says back, the cheer on his face translating easily into his voice. It seems impossible, looking at him now, to connect him to the frightened creature that is Sokka's sister.

And yet…Sokka remembers when the Avatar state took over. Remembers when the sandbenders stole Appa. Remembers when Aang woke up after the fall of Ba Sing Se. Remembers when Katara stammered out that Aang had kissed her oh so unexpectedly. Remembers remembers remembers and he knows, has always known, that there is darkness in Aang's soul just as there is darkness in anyone's soul. Darkness that has eaten at his spiritsdamned baby sister and this will not stand.

"What have you done to Katara?"

Aang freezes, smile slipping off his face at the ice that coats Sokka's voice.

"What have you done to my baby sister?"

With wide eyes, Aang shakes his head slowly. His hands come up placatingly. "Sokka, whatever you think…I haven't done anything," Aang protests weakly, backing away. "She's making it up, I swear."

Fury taking over, Sokka grabs his sword, unsheathing it in one easy movement. He points it at Aang, and even if it feels like he's about to fall apart his hand does not tremble. "What have you done?"

Blood. Pouring out of a cut to Aang's side where he didn't dodge quite in time from Sokka's vicious swings. Aang has never seen Sokka fight like this before, this anger and fury blinding him but at the same time honing him until everything is so precise.

Aang whimpers and pushes a hand over the gaping wound, trying to stem the flow of blood. It is not long but deep, and had he jumped two seconds later it probably would've hit an internal organ.

Sokka pauses, looking at him with that same strange ferocity, like a predator trying to gage the threat of another predator. It is a look that Sokka has never directed at Aang before and maybe that, that is what breaks him. Or maybe it's the slow, deliberate words that come out of Sokka's mouth next. "You don't deserve her. She is no longer your wife. And if you hurt her again, I will murder you."

They are not words that Sokka can keep, most likely. But they are words that Aang knows Sokka will try to keep, will die trying to keep. That's what scares him.

"I'm sorry," Aang whispers, eyes tearing up. "I'm so sorry. I don't know…I didn't know…I just can't…" But he can't finish, and Sokka just narrows his eyes.

"I'll send a healer on my way out," Sokka says, all ice again. "And later, we're going to talk."

Aang comes home with a new cut on his side. They are both immeasurably quiet as they eat dinner, Katara not bothering to mention Toph's strange visit. It all ends rather abruptly as Katara is cleaning up after dinner.

She looks over her shoulder at him, and finally says quietly, "What happened?" There is no need to ask what she is referring to.

Aang glances down at his own side. "Your brother." His voice is icy, icy calm. "He had some things to talk about."

"Oh," Katara says, her hands pausing in their work. She looks down, away. "I have…some things to talk about too, Aang." The silence that follows her statement is not encouraging but he hasn't said no yet. "I want to leave."

"You whore," Aang says, and it scares her more than any screamed threats could. His grey eyes are impossibly cold, glacial in a way that reminds her of her homeland. Nostalgia builds in her as she stares into his eyes, not really for her home (because it hasn't been her home is so long, for years and years really) but for what she remembers those eyes used to be.

She shakes her head slowly, sighing as her mind goes distant. Happier times when he was happier and she was happier and everyone was just happier.

A slap on her face brings her back to reality. She flinches, biting her lower lip painfully. Hard enough that she is sure that any moment it's going to start bleeding. She would not mind if it did. A little blood. Just a little to prove she's still alive.

He grabs her chin, gripping it with one strong hand. She lets him wrench her head about until he feels she's looking up at him with proper subservience. "Yes?" she says, finally, when he says nothing and simply stares down at her as if expecting something from her.

Once Upon a Time, she'd never seen him snarl. She'd never even seen him scowl. All that started changing the summer he defeated the Fire Lord.

"You are a whore," he says again, making sure to enunciate each syllable. "Did you think I wouldn't know?"

"Know what?" she asks dully, playing along.

"Know about you and your precious Zuko. The one you want to leave for."

"You already knew," she says again. Her shoulders slump a little. "We've had this argument."

"But that was before you decided it would be a good idea to run away with him. Convinced everyone that he deserved you. Made people think that I was hurting you," Aang hisses. She almost misses the screaming that it used to be. This is more unsettling. But she still catches his words, and her eyebrows draw together in confusion.

"What…?" she starts.

He had never raped her before.

In the end, it is almost shocking how easy it is. How quickly all her nightmares crumble before her. Her heartbeat syncs into his and she snarls, so triumphant. His eyes widen in utter shock and her snarl turns darker and so much more deadly. A slight movement of her wrist: he slams against the wall, bones creaking dangerously. She stands, legs trembling and blood streaming down her legs, and her arms are shaking as she pins him against the wall with his own blood. She feels like damnation, and he looks at her like she is the Goddess of Death, and maybe she is.