AN: Dear potentially disappointed readers... I got stuck. I'm snagged on the upcoming chapter of my other story and had to throw some energy into something else. Thus, you get a capture oneshot... because this scenario has been rattling around in my head and I have no self-control. Hope it's amusing enough to make up for the wait on His Majesty... D:
Katara gave her wrists another yank, but the result was the same.
She knew that it would be; she wasn't dumb. Still, there was something about the ropes binding her wrists to the headboard that demanded that she struggle. They were nothing but stupid leather strips. They had no right to hold her here.
Just like the Fire Nation. It had no right to hold her here, either. Yet, regardless of reason, this room, decked out in the jagged red-and-black of Fire Nation decor, was where she had awakened.
So, Katara struggled. She pulled and twisted until the knots had gotten so tight that her hands were growing cold and faintly blue for lack of blood. She pulled herself up and gnawed on the leather like a trapped animal. When that didn't work, she rolled her legs over her head and stomped against the wooden frame of the bed with her boots, trying to smash the wood.
That seemed to be working. The posts creaked and split and the waterbender was pretty sure that she was about to make a brilliant escape when she heard the steel door clank open.
"My bed! What do you think you're doing?"
At the familiar, outraged tone, Katara let her hips fall back to the bed and peered to the doorway. There stood Prince Zuko, his face twisted in a furious scowl and ponytail practically bristling with rage. His armor and indignant posture made him seem huge.
This was his bed?
She frowned right back, chin jutting forward stubbornly. "What's it look like? Somebody was stupid enough to tie me to something breakable, so I'm breaking it." With a little grunt, Katara curled back up and proceeded with the smashing.
"Hey!" She could hear him storm across the room and he soon loomed over her from the bedside, pointing an imperious finger. "You will stop damaging my property immediately!"
"Make me!" Katara met his yellow eyes, bared her teeth, and gave the headboard another kick. It made an ominous cracking sound.
Zuko's good eye twitched slightly with the impact. His lip curled. "That does it, water peasant."
Then, he was on her, the thigh-plates of his armor pressed rigidly to her backside and his hands darting, struggling to control her flailing legs. She managed to get a few good kicks in before Zuko finally pinned her thighs against his sides, clamping his biceps down on them above the knee and bracing his hands halfway to her hips. His grip was hard, bruising, and he glared down at her, breathing heavily.
Katara glared back, her own chest heaving. He was dangerously close, but she was dangerously angry. Not ready to be intimidated, she lifted her head from the pillow and sneered. "Now what, Your Highness?"
"Now…" He snarled through clenched teeth, leaning closer to her face. "…you're going to tell me where the Avatar is going."
"Or what?" Even as the words shot from her mouth, Katara became aware that, as Zuko leaned closer, her legs were forced to spread wider. The cold of his armor was starting to seep through the fabric of her pants; she could feel it against her inner thighs, her bottom. She tried to hold her glare, but could feel it fading as her eyes widened.
"Or I'll… I'll…" Zuko's eyes narrowed further and his mouth pulled up in a frustrated line. He seemed to be thinking very hard. "I'll… burn your stupid necklace."
The waterbender blinked, still frowning. He threatened her… necklace? "That would be… really mean…" She glanced off to one side and tugged her shoulders upward slightly, then narrowed her eyes at him again. "…but I still won't tell you anything."
"Raugh!" He tilted his head back and breathed a short plume of flame, then turned back down to her, yelling. "Why can't you understand-?"
"Prince Zuko!" Katara watched the Prince's glare shoot to the doorway before following his gaze. His chubby uncle stood in the open door, looking shocked.
"What is it?" The tone of Zuko's bellow was not much different when directed at the old man.
The other firebender frowned disapprovingly and shook his head. "A man does not raise his voice at a young lady in his bed, my nephew. I think you will find that gentle words meet with much more pleasurable reactions. Also…" He raised a finger, brows riding high. "A man usually closes his door before joining her."
Katara watched as the anger drained from the Prince's face and was replaced by something like shock. He whipped his head around, ponytail swinging, and looked back down at her. His wide yellow eyes flicked over her, taking in her face, her tied wrists, her chest, her hips, and his own grip on her thighs. His fingers relaxed and, for a long second, his eyes seemed glued to the narrow space between them, where her legs spread to allow his hips, just below his golden belt buckle.
Katara swallowed, her face heating slightly under his stare. She could almost see the thought as it blossomed in his brain.
…girl… in my… bed?
His good cheek turned startlingly red and, for an instant, he stared into her eyes, his mouth hanging slightly open. Then, his good eyebrow jumped up his forehead and he scrambled to get away from her.
After a less-than-graceful tumble from the foot of the bed, Zuko rose back into her line of sight and immediately assumed a belligerent posture, hands fisted and elbows bent.
"Uncle, why was the prisoner not taken to the brig, as I commanded?"
"Oh, is that what you said?" Iroh folded his hands together over his belly and bowed his head forward slightly in a gesture of embarrassment, a tiny smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "It was so windy outside, I could barely hear you… Brig, bed – they sound so alike! I'm sure you'll forgive your old uncle for such a simple misunderstanding." He offered a shrug and a sly smile. "After all, it certainly looked as if you had matters well in hand…"
Zuko, every unscarred part of his face going pink, now, jabbed a finger at the bound waterbender, though his eyes stayed on the old man. "She was destroying my bed. I had to stop her!"
"Of course, Prince Zuko. I understand, completely." Iroh was still smiling. "Shall I leave you to contin-?"
"No!" Katara jerked slightly at the loudness of the Prince's response and watched, brow furrowed, as he made a visible effort to calm himself and moderate his tone. "Take her to the brig, where she belongs. I will… go… check on the helm." He stalked past his uncle and vanished out the door.
Iroh peered after him for a moment, expression thoughtful. When he turned back into the room and found Katara scowling at him, his eyes widened.
"How could you?" She shook her head slowly, rattled by the depth of her disappointment in this man. He was supposed to be her enemy, yet she had expected so much better from him; he had always seemed so… decent. Her voice climbed. "Tying me to his bed? Even if you did misunderstand what he said, I'm sure you were aware of what this could have led to! How could you condone such loathsome behavior?"
Iroh looked genuinely apologetic, holding his hands out in an offering gesture. "Please, let me explain." He approached slowly, speaking in his calm, raspy voice. "My nephew is… an unusual young man…" His gaze flicked to her bluish hands and, with a furrowed brow, he immediately pulled a short knife from his sash and reached to cut the cord. "So sorry – I do not remember these being this tight when I tied them."
Katara cleared her throat and, when her hand dropped free, flexed her fingers. "I may have pulled… a bit."
"Ah… That does make sense." Iroh cast her a speculative sideways glance as he walked around the bed. He went on as he began cutting the other rope. "Prince Zuko is so very focused on the task set before him that he never spares a moment for the things that make life good… like tea or a good game of Pai Sho…" The second cord snapped.
Katara frowned and sat up, unwrapping the remnants of the ropes and rubbing her newly-freed hands together. She looked up to find Iroh smiling down at her, hands folded into his sleeves before him.
"…or a pretty young lady."
The waterbender blinked and her frown deepened. She would not be bought with compliments. "So you thought you'd just… tie me up for him? That's… very twisted… even for the Fire Nation."
Iroh's face reddened slightly and he looked off to one side. "I assure you that I had no intention of letting anything happen to you; that is why I arrived here when I did. I stood on the deck, expecting Prince Zuko to join me at any moment with a loud report of my error… but he did not come. I was deeply surprised to find him as he was…" He shook his head and looked back at her. "…and I am sorry to have put you in such a compromising position, Katara."
The waterbender went on rubbing her wrists and frowning, her head tipped forward so that she could glare with maximum potency up at the old firebender. "If you didn't expect him to… take advantage of me, what was the point?"
He held up a finger, smiling. "A subtle attempt to alter my nephew's way of viewing the young people he interacts with. He has always considered you and your brother as no more than obstacles between himself and the thing that he wants most in the world. I thought that putting you here might make him think of you in a different light."
Katara's frown morphed into skepticism. "How is viewing me as a war-prize any better?"
Iroh looked genuinely taken aback. "You, Katara? A war-prize?" He chuckled a little. "You are a warrior, in your own right. My nephew knows this. In fact, I do not think he even really acknowledged you as a young lady before I pointed it out to him…" His smile faded, expression growing sober. "Prince Zuko also knows that taking war-prizes is no way to go about regaining his honor."
Katara thought back to Zuko's shocked expression, his long moment of staring, and his sudden retreat. It made sense… sort of.
"And speaking of regaining honor, I think I owe you a rather significant debt…" Iroh unfolded his hands, holding the little knife between finger and thumb and glancing up and off to one side. It clattered to the floor. "Oops. I seem to have dropped my knife. Clumsy me." As he bent forward to retrieve it, he murmured. "Left out the door, then down the stairs."
She didn't need to be told twice.
With a final, astonished blink, Katara leapt from the bed and darted out of the room. She went left as he had instructed, but pulled up short at the stairwell. From below came the clank of soldiers climbing. In a snap decision, she scurried up, taking two steps at a time.
She came to an open door that led onto what had to be the bridge; there were control panels below the windows at the front of the room, manned by crewmen. Miraculously, they were all facing toward the front of the ship and no one spotted her as she hesitated in the doorway.
There was another door at the opposite side of the room that led onto an observation deck, where the sun was shining brightly, almost blindingly.
The waterbender swallowed and, before she could change her mind, made a mad dash across the bridge and through the open doorway to the observation deck. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the brightness and she skidded to a halt as she recognized the armored figure standing by the rail before her.
Zuko, hearing her footfalls, whirled to face her. For a second, their eyes locked.
He looked as fierce as ever, from the broad plates of his armor to the black shag of his ponytail whipping in the cold wind. His scowl was still intense, determined…
…but he hesitated.
Katara didn't. She dodged to the right and took a running leap, hurling herself over the side of the observation deck. For a few long seconds, her body hurtled toward the distant sea. Fearing the impact, she raised her arms. The ocean reached up to accept her.
Zuko leaned forward, hands fisted around the railing as he watched the Water Tribe girl bob in the ship's wake. She had hit the water with barely a splash. From so far, he couldn't determine the look on her face when she peered back at him, but he could see the gesture when she clapped her arms together and shot away through the water like a startled squid.
The Fire Prince considered commanding a change in course to recapture his prisoner.
He also thumbed the necklace twined around his wrist and considered the way she had felt beneath him, the way she had looked up at him, eyes startlingly blue and wide…
Iroh came panting onto the observation deck. "Prince Zuko! The prisoner has escaped – she was too quick!"
Zuko turned a suspicious frown back on his uncle. "I noticed that."
The old man approached and peered back into the wake of the ship, squinting at the dwindling spot that was the waterbender as she pushed further and further away. He frowned inquiringly at the younger man. "You do not plan to pursue her?"
For a long moment, Zuko frowned after the escaped prisoner. Weeks ago, when he had captured her with the help of those pirates, she had not seemed afraid… after that initial shock wore off, anyway. She hadn't seemed afraid this time, either – that is, not until he had become aware of her and started staring. Now, she probably thought he was a monster.
Zuko's eyebrow tilted back. He had… liked the way she felt against him. Maybe he was a monster.
No. No, he would never take advantage of a helpless woman. How dare she even think that he might? How dare she think so little of him – so little of his honor?
Oh, he'd show her just how honorable he could be. He'd lock her up – in the brig – and she could sit there, being a girl and basking in his honorable treatment like any other war prisoner-
…regardless of her pretty blue eyes…
-until the Avatar showed up to rescue her and was instead taken captive, himself. Yes, that was what Zuko would do.
"Helmsman!" He turned and glared through the windows to the bridge. "Turn this ship around!"
As the steamer began to alter its course, Zuko stood imperiously, glaring off towards the now-vanished waterbender.
"…show you honor…"
At the rail beside him, Iroh folded his hands together over his belly. He cast his nephew a sideways glance and the corners of his mouth twitched slightly upward.