A fire blast burst between Azula and Aang. Both turned their heads to look at the source of the flame. Zuko stood, his flat palm outstretched to where the flame had just landed, a fist drawn out behind him, ready to fire again. He first aimed it toward Azula, who met his gaze with a harsh eye. He redirected toward Aang, who steadied his stance in preparation. He stood completely still for a long time.
"Make up your mind, Zuzu, we can't set up camp to wait for your decision." Azula sneered with a cackle.
He became a statue that only changed the direction of his gaze. A low grumble escaped his lips as he glanced at Azula again. She looked too comfortable with this. She was playing him, he knew it. A smirk was drawn on her face, and two fingers on the end of each hand readied themselves to shoot at the Avatar. The offer of his father's love was definitely attractive.
Azula always lies.
Uncle had done so much to get him on the right path. He could determine his own path, now. Did he really want to go back home, anyway? What was there? Servants? Yes. Friends? Sort of. Love? Mai? His mother? Really, what did he have at home?
Azula always lies.
Was he really going to go back on his word? He had never done that before. He may have been an outright jerk sometimes, but he was honest about it. He'd never been someone known for being dishonest. But to have his honor back? That was truly something he wanted. To be able to see his homeland again. To be able to see the home he grew up in.
Azula always lies.
He stayed silent, still glancing between them. Azula's eyes widened as if she had realized something, just as he gritted his teeth, baring them and growling as his fist shot forward toward Aang. As it outstretched, his body turned and the flame shooting from his fist blasted at his sister, who looked surprised, for one of the first times in her life. She raised her arm and pushed the flame off to one side.
"You're a fool, brother!" she seethed, taking a precautionary step back and assuming a stance. "You're a traitor to the Fire Nation!"
Zuko kept his concentration on her movements, as they stepped sideways, circling each other. She attacked first, blue fire spitting out toward him as she shot herself into the air above him. His eyes followed her as his hands repetitively shot bursts of bright orange flames that collided with hers. Aang, not far off, glanced at Katara, who was smiling fondly.
"What did you do to him?" he asked.
She shrugged, before grabbing his wrist and pulling him toward Zuko. They ended up either side of the firebender, both combining their bending to bring a wave over the three of them that blocked a shot of blue flames that Zuko couldn't have dodged or blocked. He looked at Katara, who collected some more water and bore thick tentacles of it from her arms, stepping back to get a good aim on Azula. Zuko then met Aang's skeptic gaze, before the shield over head dissipated and his hands clenched into fists, long tails of fire traveling ahead of him in the same fashion as Katara used.
Azula landed on the other side of the canal, a hand on the ground to steady herself. She had expected Zuko to jump for the opportunity to regain his honor, but now she had to conjugate a new plan. She was relieved slightly when the Dai Lee stepped into a U-formation around the trio, with her at the opening at the canal.
"Perhaps Uncle can pass to you the ways of tea and failure!" Azula crossed her arms, walking sultrily toward the edge of the canal, spitting out an evil laugh.
Zuko growled, snapping one tendril of fire down at Azula. She narrowly dodged it by stepping to the side. She pulled a face as she saw that it had shortened one of her bangs by a fraction of an inch. Her crossed arms fell to her sides, before she raised them and held two fingers at the end of one hand, and a flat palm on the other. Blue fire trailed from her hands as she crashed one forearm above the other, combining the bending of both arms and forcing a large bullet of fire at them.
Katara raced ahead of the two boys, drawing up a shield from the tentacles on each arm and a sheet of ice from the canal, that she drew up high enough to block the attack. She then pushed it forwards, melting as it splashed down over Azula, who growled angrily, shaking herself as dry as best she could, her bangs sticking to her face. Aang ripped up the earth under the Dai Lee agents advancing on him as Zuko blasted his share of them backwards with his firebending.
Azula shot at Katara's feet across the canal, making her jump back away from it, drawing up more water into a ball and stretching it out at the end of a whip, whacking it toward Azula like a wrecking ball. Azula dissipated this with a single flash of orange flames, before pushing a blue streak sideways as if to slash through her middle. Katara snapped a water whip at Azula that grabbed hold of the princess's wrist. Azula struggled to pull free of the grip on her arm, resorting to bending with one foot to break the connection of the water.
Aang and Zuko ran up from behind her and each took a side as they blasted their elements at the princess, who struggled to build a wall of fire strong enough to withstand the impact of fire, air and water at once. As the smoke cleared, the princess pushed wet hair back behind her ears as she gritted her teeth angrily. This was admittedly not going well. Had she not stepped into this, Zuko would have stayed a refugee, and the Avatar's troupe would be one person less right now. She probably could have handled this if it was Azula and the Dai Lee versus the Avatar and the waterbender, but somehow her brother posed a problem.
She growled incoherently and involuntarily. She'd always been the prodigy. Zuko had never posed a threat to her, ever. But now, joined forces with her most powerful enemies, he was stronger than ever. She screamed out angrily, blasting at them with repetitive punches. Zuko blocked the blasts by pulling a torrent of fire sideways in front of himself and his new allies.
Zuko's eyes widened. He'd never seen Azula so frustrated. She'd always gotten just what she wanted, and never ever did someone argue with her unless they planned on being struck down and executed. Azula shot a furious blast of blue fire at them, only for it to be dissipated by a wave of water from Aang and Katara. Aang stomped down on the ground and a few loose bricks from the canal came free and bulleted toward the fire princess.
She dodged them narrowly and glared at her older brother. "Your new friends don't play nice, Zuzu." She regained some of her attitude, glancing across them.
"When have you ever played nice?" Zuko snapped, bringing his eyebrows down.
"Oh, how true. You've never been stupid, big brother. Strange that hasn't helped you learn what's good for you. Oh, well. I'll enjoy killing you anyway." She slashed sideways with a flame that Zuko, Katara and Aang all had to jump to avoid, before she dashed forwards and pushed herself over the canal toward them.
Katara and Zuko stepped back as Aang took the lead, using his Airbending to catch her unbalanced where he could. Katara and Zuko glanced at eachother before turning to the circle of Dai Lee around them. The two stood back to back as Katara pulled water from the canal behind the agents. She formed a wave that raced toward them, sweeping away the agents with their backs to it. The ones on Zuko's side bent their feet into the ground to keep themselves from getting washed away by the wave. Katara snapped the wave into a whip, turning swiftly to face the agents on Zuko's side. Surprisingly, most were down on their backs, and the two remaining were already being knocked off their feet by a swirl of fire extending from his foot as he swung low and kicked out. He stood straight and glanced at Katara, who was watching him with a slight smile.
"Nothing. Nice work." She shook her head quickly.
A loud explosion filled the catacombs as they snapped their heads toward it. Azula was pushing herself off the ground and throwing herself at Aang with force and ferocity. Katara glanced back to Zuko, before running at them to help. Zuko joined them, fireballs launching from his fists as he punched through the air. Katara drew up some water from the canal as Aang let a burst of air from his lungs out at Azula, whose hair flew back as she struggled against the gust.
She dusted herself off and fixed her hair, crossing her arms as she saw the Dai Lee agents approaching behind them. "The Avatar is mine. Take care of the minor inconveniences, will you?" she motioned a hand disinterestedly.
The Dai Lee immediately complied, advancing on them in such a way that it separated Katara and Zuko from Aang. Aang shot up toward the ceiling of the catacombs, darting between crystals as Azula shot them down and brought them crashing around the place, just another thing for them to dodge. Zuko kicked his legs over his head, swiping a powerful shot of fire at three agents. Despite bringing up a wall of crystals to protect themselves, they went down like a tone of bricks as Zuko's feet hit the ground.
Jagged rocks came shooting toward them, and they were narrowly dodging it as Katara's arms became tendrils again, snapping as best she could as the swarm of agents came toward them. Zuko struggled to stay on his feet as the ground underneath them tore apart. He steadied himself as he turned, agents surrounding him. Katara was off to the side, sporting an octopus form and holding back a similar situation to the one he was in. His hands crossed eachother before waving out a powerful shot of fire, pushing it into the agents advancing on him.
He took a step back, swiveling on one heel and kicking his leg in a roundhouse kick that knocked back more agents. It was useless, as more jumped down from the walls of the caverns. His hands formed tight fists as he shot both forwards, pushing a bout of orange into the agents and sending them flying back into the edges of the catacombs. He took a quick glance that swept his surroundings for a moment, before pausing to decipher his next move.
Aang let his feet hit the ground with a powerful strike, rippling up the rocks and earth beneath him. Azula planted her feet in the ground to keep herself from going anywhere, as Dai Lee agents swarmed around him to keep him from leaving Azula's aim. She outstretched one arm with a flat palm toward him, two fingers held up over her head behind her. She bore that smirk again as Aang's eyes swept over the catacombs.
Katara was struggling to keep the agents back, as was Zuko. He settled his eyes on Katara for a moment. Her hair had come loose in the fighting and from where he stood he could see her teeth were gritting in concentration. There were far too many agents for them to possibly win this fight. He had one tool left.
"There's too many." He said out loud, more to himself than anyone else.
The only way, is to let her go. Guru Pathik's words echoed in his head.
"I'm sorry, Katara." He brought his eyebrows down suddenly, turning his back to Azula and bringing up a teepee of green crystals around him. He dropped into a cross-legged position, linking his hands in front of him, shutting his eyes in meditation. Azula's eyes widened for a moment, before they narrowed into slits and the corners of her mouth twitched upwards.
Zuko and Katara both managed to turn their heads toward the scene as Azula paced slowly in waiting. A bright glow illuminated the crystals, both frightening and mystifying all present. Azula stepped back, as did all the Dai Lee agents nearby, their eyes widened in terror.
There was a blast, exploding throughout the caverns, catching everyone off-guard as the top of the teepee opened up with a pillar of light that Aang was traveling up in, his hands held close together as if forming a bout of energy. Katara looked up with a prideful smile on her face. No one was fighting anymore, everyone was staring up in awe. Zuko watched the Airbender rising up, somewhat glad he was on the right team.
His eyes and arrows glowed the brightest shade of white anyone had ever seen. Azula took her stance again, pushing blue steaks of energy along one arm, through her stomach and along the other. Her fingers pointed toward Aang, she let go of the blast of lightning. The majestic image of the Avatar convulsed wildly, the glow dissipating as he hovered in midair. Katara stared, the smile she had previously worn falling upside down as tears formed and rolled down her cheeks.
Aang started plummeting toward the ground as the water around Katara swiveled into a wave underneath her. She pushed her knee into the rolling wave, surging forwards atop it toward the point Aang was sure to hit. Zuko took a moment to regain his concentration, a fierce blast of fire knocking back as many agents as he could as he raced toward Azula with a determined look in his eye.
Katara caught Aang before he hit the ground, sucking him into a desperate embrace as she looked down at his lifeless face. She looked up, realizing she was on her knees with the Airbender in her arms. Azula was approaching with a menacing step, when two bouts of flame shot at her feet. One from Zuko, and another from … she looked. Iroh was landing on two feet and a hand. He stood up straight, addressing Zuko.
"You've got to get out of here! I'll hold them off as long as I can!" he informed him authoritatively.
Zuko's face softened in surprise. "Uncle-,"
"Go!" he shouted this time.
Zuko immediately complied, running to Katara's side. He helped her lift the Avatar by taking an arm each. He glanced over his shoulder at his uncle, who was blasting at Azula with powerful bouts of skillfully controlled flames. Katara drew a large swirl of water that wrapped around the three of them and carried them high into the air, her eyes focused on moving up. Zuko watched down as Dai Lee agents encased Iroh in crystals again and Azula stalked toward him. He then shut his eyes tightly, hoping his uncle would be okay.
Katara's hair blew past her face in the cloudy nightfall, as she looked down at Aang, lying limply against Appa's fur. She glanced up at Zuko as she took the spirit water's container from her neck. He nodded as if to say it was okay, his hands wrapped into the fur of the animal as Toph empathized with him on his first time flying. Katara opened the top of the flask, bending out the small body of water and moving it into a spinning disk in her palm. She lifted Aang by his upper back until his head rested over her shoulder, bringing the glowing water in her palm to the deep red indented burn on his back.
It swirled into the burn, glowing as it disappeared. A small, brief flash came over Aang's tattoos before she heard a soft groan of pain behind her. She lay Aang back, a hopeful smile lighting up her face as Aang forced his face into a small, brief, exhausted smile. She hugged him close again, grateful that he was alive. King Kuei looked back over his shoulder at the fallen city with a hopeless breath.
"The Earth Kingdom … has fallen." He spoke in defeat. Katara looked up to the others for a moment, before taking the reins and holding her arm around Aang, looking on as her focus settled on getting Aang to safety and comfort.
"Ba Sing Se has fallen, father, after a hundred years, we have finally succeeded in bringing down the Earth Kingdom capital." Azula dropped onto one knee in front of Ozai's throne. "The Avatar is dead. I defeated him in the Avatar state. The cycle is broken." She was pleased with herself.
"And your traitor of a brother." The Firelord spoke coldly.
"He has joined the rebellion." Azula answered simply, her head bowed low.
Ozai stood from his perch behind flames. "I want every bounty hunter and mercenary in the Fire Nation after them, Azula!" he raised his voice slightly.
"Father, I mean no disrespect, but what threat is he to the greatest nation on earth?" Azula looked up and met her father's evil eye.
"What threat is he?" he bellowed. "He is of royal blood, you foolish girl! If the Avatar is dead, the only opportunity to end this war that they have is to overthrow me." He spoke in a seething tone. "And where does that place Zuko?" he glared at her.
"Of course, father. I will set out myself to capture him."
"No." Ozai answered quickly. "Don't waste your time capturing him. Set a bounty on him. Dead."
Azula's mouth fell open slightly. "Your will be done." She bowed lower, before standing and turning her back to him, walking away. She bit her lip involuntarily as she held a helmet under one arm.
A/N: I've always asked myself 'what if Zuko HADN'T betrayed them in Ba Sing Se?' and so, here's what I came up with. It's a big task, yes, but I'm prepared for it. Combustion Man will most likely be included, as well as Hama and other episode-driven characters. I'm trying to go with an episode-a-chapter idea. Ideas and help are most appreciated. Yes, most of this will be me desperately trying to get Zuko to fit into basic plot lines.
But alas! I'm giving it a go. I know it says the pairing is Zuko and Katara, and it will be, but it's more about the series than anything else. Zutarians deserve to know what things would be like if they were canon. And so, this is my gift to us all. Readers who already know me by 'The Vacation' and others, I must inform you I will not be quoting in this Fic, because then I'd run out of quotes for 'The Vacation'.
You'll also notice Azula being more humanoid in this. She's the character I relate to the most, strangely. While Katara looks the most like me, I certainly don't act like her AT ALL. Azula, however is a different story. I kinda felt bad for her at the finale, so I'm going to enjoy her while she has her mind. :)
Click the little button! Review! xxx Rhia