What can I promise about this story? It's my first on , so I'm bound to have a learning curve on figuring out mechanics and formatting. It's a token capture fic, replete with such gratuitous classics as "forced to sleep in the same bed" and "unrequited longing." All scenes will have either Katara or Zuko in them, and if it's just the one, they'll be thinking about the other. It will skip over unimportant scenes so as to get to the "good stuff" faster, thus taking on a slightly one-shot feel. Creative license might be taken, and it will have an overall heroic, romance-style theme meant for more mature readers. The ending will be bittersweet.
Chapter 1 – Possession
There were too many. Every time I raised a wave against a volley of their fire, another attack of churning flame was on its heel. Water hissed into steam where our fighting met, and I leeched the water back out of the humid air to cascade toward the group advancing on my right. Eventually, I staggered. My shining shields, with the width and strength of well-lain masonry, became as ephemeral as sudden, summer showers. My mighty water whips were flicks of dew. Another fireball leapt through my last weakening wave, and I threw myself backward, panting. My lungs burned as I choked on the heat in the air. Now, the fire benders I had so bravely held back crowded around me, several holding fire in their palms that lit hard glints of malice in their sea of amber eyes. I jutted my chin out at them. If this was how it would end, then I would not show fear, not for these fire bending devils.
All trace of fire vanished and the benders parted like smoke for the approaching warrior, his ponytail swaying in time with his determined stride. "I want her alive." Prince Zuko stalked toward me, and I summoned just enough energy to bring up the water soaking the grass between us. Zuko's red scar wavered through the shimmering view until a clean line of brightness parted my curtain, slicing like a hot knife through soft cheese. Disheartened, I let the water fall back to the earth, watching it disappear as the newly scorched ground greedily sucked it up. Zuko towered over me, and I flinched when he grabbed my upper arm and dragged me to my feet, having to support me more than my pride would have liked.
"Singed, Water Bender? You should be more careful—it seems you keep falling into my clutches." His fingers dug possessively into my skin as he gloated over my capture, but then, his self-congratulating smirk suddenly turned dark. "How fortunate for you that I've never been content with consolation prizes." He shoved me toward the nearest of his men. "Bind her and take her to the ship," he ordered.
I was dutifully trussed up, my arms tied behind my back, and then prodded toward the beach where a rowboat awaited us. I stumbled into it, rushed by hands hoisting me from the shoulders of my robe. The soldiers gave the boat a shove, freeing it from the sand, and then jumbled in. The Fire Nation ship loomed against the flat, blue horizon, its massive, iron hulk growing impossibly larger as two men rowed us toward it. But I had eyes only for the patch of sky where I had last seen Appa sailing away, Aang's tight, tortured expression peering over the edge of the saddle.
It had been all I could do to convince Aang to escape with Sokka, wounded by the first arrow, while I held back the fire benders. The boy had looked disconsolately between me and my brother as if trying to choose who would live and who would die. I would live, I finally made him believe, as long as the fire benders thought they could use me to lure him into a trap, but Sokka would die if we were all taken. Also, I quickly reminded him, he and Sokka, together, would be much more likely to save me while Zuko lingered here, awaiting a rescue attempt, than we would be of trying to chase him all the way to the Fire Nation, to which Zuko would surely flee the moment the Avatar was secured. Aang had seen reason, and I had given them enough time to fly away on Appa, Aang calling back a continuous stream of promises that he would be back for me soon and Sokka calling a continuous stream of curses at Aang for leaving me behind.
I had to believe that Sokka would live, that Aang would find help for him, and that they would be able to find me again without falling prey to Zuko's relentless hunt. "Please be okay," I whispered.
When we reached the ship, I was taken below deck and placed in a holding cell. It was cold and as dark as pitch. It was difficult to tell much about my surroundings, bound as I was, and the only thing I was certain of was the echoing deadness of the metal as I clanged about and a small bunk against one wall, where I collapsed. In the darkness, fear engulfed me, giving fearsome form and feature to every invisible noise. Without my friends, with no fire benders to bolster my contempt, I cowered in the darkness, my head whipping right and left every time I felt a phantom brush on my face or thought I saw the spark of light in my peripheral vision, and I waited for whatever would come next.
I did not wait long.
With a groaning sigh, the door to my cell swung inward, revealing the gloomy, subtle light of oil lamps beyond, and a lone figure entered, shutting the door behind him. As a small flame lit in his hand, Zuko stared down at me. I rolled my eyes with more courage than I actually felt.
"What do you want?" I demanded.
Zuko's mouth pursed and his voice sounded raw and tired as he responded, "Do I really need to answer that?"
Anyone who had ever encountered Zuko knew what he wanted. I turned away in passive refusal. "I don't know where he is, and even if I did, you'd rot before I told you anything." I watched his wavering, flickering shadow shrug.
"It's no matter. He'll know where you are," Zuko predicted.
"Aang's not stupid; he won't come for me," I lied—not about Aang being stupid, of course, but I knew that neither he nor Sokka would leave me in the hands of the Fire Nation any longer than they could help.
Zuko barked out a mirthless laugh. "If there's one thing I know, it's that the Avatar will always come for his friends; he's sentimental like that. You'll help me capture the Avatar, Water Bender, whether you like it or not."
I turned to face him again, mock dismay etching my expression. "However will Aang see this coming?" I rolled my eyes. "Don't you think he knows what you're planning? He's too smart for you, Zuko," I taunted, my lips lacing his name with as much contempt as I could muster. I let my gaze travel the length of his tall, flame-lit form, assessing him with a smug look, "and he's a more powerful bender."
Zuko leaned over, bringing his face close to mine. His scar, the lines cast in sharp relief by the fire light, scrunched as he narrowed his eyes at me, folding like peaks and valleys on a map, a jagged range that sheltered the smoldering volcano of his amber eye. I fought to not flinch away from its hideousness and intensity.
"You have no idea what I'm capable of," he warned me in a cold, even voice that made me shiver despite the heat flaring from his hand.
Zuko clenched his fist to douse the flame, turned, and left, closing the door behind him and plunging me back into darkness. I hugged my knees to my chest and prayed that he was wrong—that Aang would not fall blindly into whatever trap Zuko was planning to involve me in and, almost as desperately, that what I had thus far seen of the twisted prince was not just a shadow of his true malice and cruelty.
I was left no water; I couldn't tell what length of time passed between my visitors, but every once in a while, someone came with a small porcelain cup and let me drink. Eventually, my binds were removed—replaced, of course, during my drinking breaks—but my newly freed arms did me little good. The Fire Benders were very cautious and thorough. I had taken down a good many of them before I had tired, and they left nothing to chance. It was a particular frustration to know that we were surrounded by an ocean I could not access for all this blasted iron.
I counted the days by how many meals I was given—I had to assume they were feeding me three times a day—and by the sounds I had learned to recognize coming from the belly of the metal beast that had swallowed me. The ship clanged and moaned as it ate up fuel and belched out flame to move its sighing, straining gears. I could hear the slow, unnatural beating of its flame-and-iron heart, the pattern of the mechanical routine in the engine room, and how it slowed during what I assume was the nighttime shift of the skeleton crew. My guards had given me a candle, unconcerned with what I might do with it—there was always a Fire Bender present when I was given food or water or allowed to take care of other necessities—and I had gone through a fair number of tapers. Three or four days had passed, I had decided, by the time I saw my captor again.
Aside from his first visit to my cell, Zuko had not bothered with me again. As far as I could tell, I was doing my part in his scheme, sitting securely in my cell and waiting for Aang to mount a rescue. I served no other purpose in Zuko's mind and was, therefore, otherwise inconsequential. While the opening of my cell had been a surprise, I wasn't taken altogether unaware. The ship had warned me something was coming. The momentum of the normal noises had stalled, everything grinding down to a halt, followed by the deep, seemingly endless clink-clink-clink of the anchor being dropped. As I lay on my bunk, I heard heavy thuds from somewhere above. Was that a gang plank?
My senses heightened with anticipation, and I expected the guards to at least check on me, possibly replace my bindings until whatever was transpiring had passed. I hadn't, however, expected the frenzied, irate face that appeared on the other side of the flung open door to be Zuko's. I scurried to sitting, worried about what this break in routine meant.
Dispensing with any formalities or threats, Zuko latched onto my wrist, dragging me off the bunk and out the cell door. My blood ran cold as I wondered whether he had finally decided to kill me. Had his plan worked? Had Aang and Sokka attempted a rescue and been captured? My heart sank—one small water bender in exchange for the Avatar; the world had lost on that deal. I was not worth his life; I was not more important than the fate of the world. I knew that Aang and Sokka would not see it that way, though.
But as I watched Zuko, I realized that he was in a fury that had nothing to do with me. I didn't know what to expect; nevertheless, I was surprised when he threw open the door of a large cabin and shoved me inside. He followed and quickly shut the door, leaning against it as if to hold something at bay. His amber eyes glittered with rage, his good one narrowed to match the perpetual squint of the one that was scarred.
"If you value your life, don't draw attention to yourself," he advised.
Leaving me with that cryptic warning, he slipped back out into the corridor. I saw a small light through the seal of the door, and when I tried to touch the handle, I had to snatch my hand back from the heat. Whatever new cell this was, Zuko had welded me inside of it.
More to come... Feedback appreciated, especially since I know what I like, but I'm not extremely familiar with others' tastes in the 'ship. I'd be interested in what other people might want to see between them.