Hey all! So I've edited this a bit at the end. Per Request of Ruby of Raven I've added a bit more, okay a lot more, Zutara action. They're totally right though. I just didn't want this to be total fluff, but to hell with pride! I love me some Zutara!
I dunno if I'll move forward with this story. It would be a real test of my creative juices. As of right now it's just a one shot. Guess it depends on the amount of interest there is from you guys. Let me know!
He wants to pass out. He needs to, but for whatever cruel reason the universe decides to keep him awake as his captors deliver blow after blow.
Where is the Avatar?
Where is the Avatar?
Where is the Avatar?
The questions are shot at him faster and faster until they overlap and echo in his mind, bouncing off the far corners until they create a chorus of angry voices that threaten to overwhelm him. Maybe he'll go crazy before they can get any information out of him. Of course, they'll kill him as soon as he's no longer useful. Then they'll focus on Katara if they hadn't already. That's his main worry: Katara. He feels largely responsible for letting them get captured. He'd let his guard down and led the two of them straight into a trap. Now here he is chained to chair being treated like a piñata. The only difference is he isn't going to give them what they want. No matter how hard they hit him.
"Mmff!" he grunts as one of the black clad men viciously hits him in the ribcage..
"Tell us where the Avatar is." Zuko doesn't lift his head to glare at who is talking. He'd given up glaring and sarcastic remarks.
His stony silence receives a few more blows. His eyes roll in his head and he sees stars but after a few minutes he's conscious and coherent. The room is silent except for his own ragged breathing and the breathing of his captors.
"Where's Katara?" he attempts to have some confidence in his question but his voice is ragged from repeated strangling. He receives a slap to the face in response.
"You don't get to ask questions. If you want something then give me something. Where is the avatar? We know you're traveling with his group of rebels."
Zuko stares into his lap and tries to reign in his fury. He could endure broken ribs, split lips, burns, strangles but he had never been able to stand a slap to the face. It is the least painful of any physical attack but it reeks of superiority. When you slap someone you aren't trying to make them bleed. You slap someone to show them who's boss.
"It's funny," Zuko says without looking up, "how someone can think that asking the same question over and over again will get different results," Zuko says with a humorless chuckle. He hears footsteps approach and knows they're going to hit him. Then he quietly says, "Dangerous too. It makes you predictable." Zuko lifts his head to look his interrogator in the eyes. Suddenly he releases a huge pillar of flames from his mouth toward the man; something his Uncle taught him. Caught off guard the man isn't able to dodge fast enough and Zuko laughs as he runs around the room in panic while his comrades try to put out the flames eating up his sleeve.
Sometime during the panic someone quiets Zuko blow to the head. He sinks gratefully into unconsciousness.
"Unnngh..." Zuko moans and splutters as cold water is dumped over him. He looks around with some difficulty. He's laying on his stomach back in the room that he and Katara had been thrown into on that first day. He sees Katara with her hands tied behind her, a sight Zuko doesn't welcome. Despite the ropes she looks no worse for the wear as stares back at him with a concerned expression. As he tries to get up he discovers his hands are chained behind his back. A strong jerk on those chains sends a shooting pain up his arms.
"Get up," a gruff voice commands.
"I've stayed in stables where any rabbitass could give better service than this," Zuko says loudly. Another jerk on the chain makes him clench his jaw in pain but it relentlessly pulls him up into a kneeling position. Someone from behind grabs his hair and jerks back his head. Angry golden eyes glare down at him.
"You've been nothing but a thorn in my side." It's the man Zuko burned; the leader of the group. "You won't give us what we want, but maybe she will." Zuko follows his gaze and realizes with horror that they're going to question Katara. He knows her loyalty to Aang will force her to die before she gives him up to these men.
"No!" he shouts in defiance. The man ignores Zuko and motions for a couple of burly looking guards to enter her cage. Fear ripples through Zuko and his body reacts.
It's amazing what adrenaline will do. It feels like he's, well not bursting with strength, but is having a surge of power. He throws his weight backwards, thrusting his hard head into the stomach of the man holding him. With a grunt the man doubles over. Zuko rolls to his left before the man can pin him down with his own weight. Three of the leader's grunts rush forward but Zuko spins on his back and kicks fire at his attackers forcing them on the defensive. He jumps to his feet as they back away.
"You want to touch her? You'll have to go through me!" he shouts in a rage. He knows this is big talk for someone who's hands are still chained behind their back but he'd be damned before he let them hurt her. One man jumps forward and throws a right hook. Zuko dodges and kicks the man in the stomach as he stumbles forward. He jumps on him slamming him into the ground. Zuko barely registers that the man is unconscious before a kick to his injured left side sends him rolling. Hissing in pain he uses the momentum to get back into a crouched position. He moves to attack but as he leaps forward a sharp jerk on the length of chain binding him sends him reeling backwards. He cries out as his shoulder is torn from it's socket. He lands on his back further aggravating the shoulder and knocking the air out of him. He lays there gasping for air as a few hot tears stream down into his hairline.
"Zuko!" he hears Katara scream followed by what sounds like a slap. She won't be silenced though. "Zuko get up!" she shouts. She's not a quitter and isn't about to let him give up. Or maybe she's just worried about him...
A face comes into focus above him. "Are you brought down so easily, Prince Zuko?" The taunting gets to him. He gathers his energy for one last breath of fire but is unexpectedly gagged. "We are not fooled by the same trick twice." the man hisses. "Now comes your punishment. You'll watch as your friend's loyalty becomes her demise." He laughs cruelly.
"Unnngh!" Zuko tries to scream around his gag. He wants to beg them to spare her. They drag him by his bonds to a wall facing Katara's cage. The pain in his shoulder makes more tears come. He hates how weak he is. He can't save himself. How in the name of Agni will he save her? He struggles to his knees and fights with all his might against the strength of the man dragging him. He manages to throw him off balance with his erratic jerks but another man joins in and Zuko is finally chained to the wall. The leader approaches Zuko and hits him hard. He crumples forward stunned.
The creak of a cage door brings him back to his senses. He lifts his head from the hard floor to see two burly men enter Katara's cage. He fights against his bonds and screams into his gag. Not her! She's too good, too innocent, too beautiful and kind and pure for this. Zuko is brought up short as he realizes what he just admitted. In a sudden epiphany Zuko realizes he loves her. He pauses for moment in wonder. He loves her. He loves her! Oh Agni what has he done! He's gotten them captured and now as he's chained and broken with no way to help her!
The burned leader smirks down at Zuko's still form thinking he is beaten. Suddenly Zuko renews his struggle, startling the guards around him. It's so viscous and single-minded that they involuntarily take a step back. Zuko's mind is flooded with all the reasons he loves her. The crease in between her eyebrows as she struggles to master a difficult water bending move. Her terrible cooking though no one except Sokka would ever complain. Her thick, dark hair that makes him want to run his hands through it over and over. Her beautiful, blue eyes that seem to see through all the lies in this world. He thinks of her kindness and her strength. He stares at Katara in her cage and with every reason that comes to him he jerks harder against his bonds. Her laugh. Her strength. Her eyes. Her kindness. Clang! Clang! Clang! CLANG!
One of the guards in Katara's cage slaps her in the face with his big, meaty hands. Her hair sweeps across her body as her head is jerked to the side with the blow. Zuko's vision is tinged with red as his fury overwhelms him. Despite his gag Zuko releases his largest breath of fire yet disintegrating it. "You're going to regret that!" he shouts in a rage. His guards are hesitant at the intimidating sight of his flaming rage. It gives him the extra moment he needs. With one more surge of strength he manages to break one of the rustier loops in his bonds. He is free and his captors too slow.
"Now it's my turn," he says in a menacing voice.
He fights like a man possessed. With no regard for himself he delivers blow after blow. He picks up a sword and uses it to focus his fire attacks making them precise and deadly. Taking out men and moving toward Katara's cell he feels no pain when he sustains some injuries himself. He is single-minded in his mission; save the woman he loves. As he takes down the last man standing outside the cage he is brought to a sudden stop at the sight within her cell.
One of the two men holds her against him possessively with a knife to her neck. "If you want her to live you'll drop the sword and surrender." Zuko stands, chest heaving trying to make a fast decision. There's no guarantee they won't kill her when they escape but maybe he can buy her time if he surrenders now. He'd just have to escape again, track them down and free her. It's an impossible task but what choice does he have? He throws his sword down angrily.
"Tie yourself up," the man commands throwing him a rope. Gritting his teeth Zuko sits down and begins to tie his ankles together. "Make it tight."
"Sure, sure..." Zuko replies icily. A sudden grunt has him looking back up in a panic. The sight is not what he expected. The man who held Katara is doubled over in pain and Katara now wields a sizable, though not crystal-clear looking, stream of water. She water whips her second captor against the metal bars and he slumps to the ground unconscious. The first man grabs her from behind and her weapon falls into a puddle on the ground.
Zuko immediately burns the ropes off him and jumps up to help. She, however, has frozen the puddle unbeknownst to her attacker and manages to force him forward onto it. He slips and lands on his backside giving her the opportunity she needs. Turning her weapon back to liquid she pulls it back into her grasp. She spins and the water flies through the air in an arc around her then zooms downward toward the man as lethally sharp icicle. Instead of thrusting it through his heart as Zuko would have liked, she stabs hit through his shoulder and pins him to the floor. He cries out in agony.
By the time Zuko stands next to her she has covered her former attacker in a binding layer of ice. He won't be escaping anywhere for a while. The second man stirs but Zuko kicks him in the head and he slumps again.
"Damn you!" the man spits at Katara. Zuko storms forward to hit the man, but Katara stops him with a gentle hand on his chest. "I'd like him conscious," she says. "We need information."
Surprised, Zuko stands there looking dumb. "What?" he asks.
"We have no idea where we are, who these people are, how they found us. We should gather as much information as we can." she replies calmly. She removes her hand and steps toward the man on the ground. Zuko's hand flies out like a flash and grasps her wrist. She looks back at him with dull eyes. He hates the expression in them. Fatigue. Uncertainty. Pain.
Afraid he is the cause of her expression he releases her but asks, "Are you okay?" He notices the cheek that received the slap is swollen and a little discolored. He feels the fury bubbling up again.
"I'm okay," she says. She gives him a tight smile. Not feeling very reassured he steps forward and reaches out to touch her face. She pulls back and he immediately feels like a fool. He's had his revelation of love but he never bothered to think if she reciprocated the affection.
She doesn't love me, he thinks. What in the name of Agni made him imagine she could love him back? Him? They're just two prisoners of war who now shared a traumatic bond; not a romantic relationship. He's suddenly very self-conscious. He imagines how he must look; bloody and beaten, reeking of Agni knows what, not to mention his repulsive scar. He stands there awkwardly with his shaking hand still outstretched. He quickly pulls it back and rakes it through his hair as he steps away from her.
"Please make sure the other man doesn't wake up," she asks quietly refusing to meet his eyes. Oh Agni she knows and doesn't feel the same way! Torn between hurt and humiliation Zuko retreats to the opposite end of the cell to keep an eye on the unconscious man and nurse his crushed heart. He listen's to Katara speak to her captive.
"What is your name?" she asks almost kindly.
"Like I'm gonna tell you, you little-"
"If you call her anything but miss I swear I'll burn you so you'll never be able say another word." Zuko growls cutting him off before he can finish. The man adopts a stony silence.
"If you don't tell me I'll have to make one up." she says. Zuko looks at her with searching eyes. This is not the method he would have chosen. Is she serious?
When the man doesn't say anything she sighs and shrugs. "I guess the name Asshole suits you." Zuko and the pinned man look at Katara with a surprised expression. They didn't expect her foul mouth.
"So she can talk shit but I can't?" the man demands of Zuko.
"I think even your own mother would have called you that," Zuko replies. "And watch your language Asshole." he commands with a snicker. He glances over to see Katara quickly look away. There's a smile on her face.
"My name is Shogu." The man grumbles in a low voice.
"What was that, Asshole?" Katara asks sweetly.
"My name is Shogu!" he shouts angrily.
"Well it's nice to meet you." she says in the same sweet voice. "So Shogu, can you tell me where we are?" She kneels down near his shoulder and looks him in the eye.
He gives a humourless bark of laughter. "Listen you little bitch I'm not going to tell you anything so just kill me."
Katara stops Zuko's angry approach with a withering stare. She stands and takes a rigid stance. "Oh I'm not the killing type Shogu. I just don't have it in me," she says nonchallontly, "but I don't have any qualms about hurting those who will hurt my friends." She raises her slender arms so they form a long line from fingertip to fingertip, then she closes the gap between them by a few inches. The ice around Shogu's body is constricted in a corresponding distance. Zuko watches in pleasure as the man pales. Being slowly crushed doesn't look very pleasant.
"Where are we?" All the sweetness has left Katara's voice and expression. She is suddenly terrifying. She doesn't even wait for a response before constricting the ice another few inches. Shogu can't hide the fear he's feeling but still doesn't answer. She straddles him and places two fingers on the ice over the spot where she stabbed him earlier. She pushes down and he cries out in pain as the sharp pieces of ice penetrate into his shoulder. "Where. are. we."
"Go to hell!" he shouts. Katara balls her hand into a fist and slams it into his shoulder. Ice and fist create a combination Zuko never hopes to experience as he listens to Shogu cry out in pain. She brings her arm back up ready for another blow when he shouts, "Alright, Alright!" He waits for her to lower her arm before continuing. Zuko is impressed at her ability to break the man. "You're in a secret base of the Kasei Warriors. We're a secret organization of the Fire Nation."
"That's impossible." Zuko interjects. "I would know about it if it was."
"Well Prince Know-it-all," Shogue sneers, "you probably wouldn't because we're not a royal organization," he says sneering at the word 'royal.' "We're independent of your high and mighty daddy."
"That monster is NOT my father!" Zuko shoots back and starts stalking toward Shogu.
"Well I guess that makes sense. You are a lot uglier than he is." Shogu answers venemously.
"You stupid asshole!"
"QUIET!" Katara shouts as she pushes Zuko away from the helpless man. "Zuko calm down!" she commands.
"If you think you're going to live to see tomorrow you're sorely mistaken!" Zuko shouts at Shogu over Katara's shoulder.
"Oh yeah? Who's gonna kill me? You, Princess Zuko?" Shogu seems to know exactly which buttons to push to set Zuko off.
"That's it! you're dead!" Zuko tries to push past Katara but she holds him.
Placing her hands on either side of his face she tries to force him to face her. "Look at me." He tries to jerk his head out of her grasp all too aware that she's touching his scar. "Zuko." He reluctantly looks into her clear cerulean eyes and melts a little inside. "Please let me handle this," she begs. "Go take of care Tweedle Dee. I've got Tweedle Dum." She smiles at him and lets her hands travel into his hair a little bit.
"Fine," he answers gruffly. He doesn't want her to know how much her touch affects him, or how much pleasure it gave him to hear his name in her beautiful voice. He marches over to his still unconscious charge. It's probably about time he set his shoulder...
Katara turns back to her captive and he glares at her. "I heard that," he said. "I told you my name is Shogu."
"Thanks for the reminder, asshole," she says as she kneels next to him again. She smiles when she hears Zuko's chuckle. Focusing back on Shogu she asks, "So if you're not affiliated with the monarchy then are you rebels?"
Shogu rolls his eyes. "No," he says it like she's an idiot. "Obviously we're NOT on your side. We just don't want to operate under the restrictions of missions based only on royal orders. We look out for the interest of the fire nation as we see fit. No politics. No games. No shit."
"Fine. So you're independent. Do you just act as border patrol or something?" Katara asks.
Shogu laughs with real humor now. His laugh is cut off as Katara reminds him who's boss with an inch constricted on his icy suit. "You really are naive," his face is a little red as he now struggles to breath. "We're not some useless border patrol. We help out in useful ways. Economics. Militaries. The works."
"Could you be a little more specific?" she ask irately.
"He means they pirate." Zuko interjects. Katara looks up at him. He's a little pale and is rubbing his shoulder. "They pillage and terrify. Making sure they squeeze every last bronze coin out of small villages not very different from your own, Katara. Then they terrorize the people to make sure they know who's in charge. Those are the only details you want." Zuko looms over Katara and stares down at Shogu with a disgusted look. "I've heard of you but not under the name Kasei Warriors. Locals called you the Red Pirates. Blackwolves. The Dishonor of the West. You guys are scum. You use the fire nation flag as an excuse to do whatever you want. You're not patriots. You're criminals. If Katara didn't want you for information I'd kill you right now. Maybe she'll let me take a turn interrogating you," Zuko says suggestively.
"Only if you're on your best behavior," Shogu snears. "Who'd have thought a little water tribe wench could turn a former prince of the Fire Nation into her bitch."
Katara doesn't have time to stop Zuko's wrath. He punches Shogu hard in the jaw and the man's eyes roll back in his head. "I'm not sorry," he spits.
Katara looks up Zuko with questioning eyes. She's been through a lot in the past few days but she's still innocent. He wouldn't be the one to take that away from her by telling her the details of the Kesai. He remembered his own horrified reaction when the reports began trickling in. Murder. Rape. Houses burned down with people still in them. Stripping peaceful villages of everything. His father thought nothing of it since it was in other nations but Zuko kept thinking of the girl and her mother who had taken in Zuko and his Uncle that night when they were first 'refugees.' They'd fed them and offered them shelter. Then Zuko stole from them with little remorse- at the time. Every time he read the reports of the "Red Pirates" he would see the face of the girl and get sick to his stomach. Now innocent little Katara looked up at him with confusion while this filthy man grinned up at her. Zuko wanted to burn that smirk off his face but Katara was right; they needed information.
Katara doesn't say anything as she splashes ice cold water over Shogu's face. "Enough about the Kasei," Zuko says before she resume control of the interrogation. "Where exactly are we?" he asks as he suggestively lights a fire in one of his palms.
"You're still in the Earth Kingdom. We're about 12 miles south of Omashu." Shogue grumbles reluctantly.
"How do we get out of the base?"
"Well that depends on where you want to go."
"Play nice now little prince. There's a tunnel connected to this floor that leads south and out to a frequently used merchants' road, but if you go up three floors though there's the main exit that opens to a nice, out of the way forest. It's easy to get lost in there though so you might want to be careful if you choose that route." Shogu grins wickedly up at Zuko.
"Why the warning?" Zuko demands. "We're not exactly best friends."
"I just don't think anyone deserves to have to deal with the terror of not knowing where you're going." he responds cryptically.
"What is that supposed-"
"I'm sorry you're out of time." Shogu interupts. "See, Lug over there woke up while you weren't paying attention and now he's alerted the entire base. You'd better start running. Ah, but which route will you choose? Tunnel or Forest? Better hurry. I can hear boots clanging down the second level staircase. I only have time to tell you directions to one."
Zuko growls in frustration. Looking at Katara who now stands next to him he makes his decision. "Tunnel."
"Wise decision." Zuko doesn't trust the glee apparent on Shogu's face but they're out of time.
"Turn left out of this room. You 'll pass five doors and come to an inersection with four hallways. Go right. Follow that path down the stairs through the room with water. The tunnel leading to the road will be a few feet after that room. Be as silent as possible and whatever you do stay on he path. Oh, and try to stop the bleeding Sparky. It might excite them." Shogu is enjoying this too much.
"Excite who?" Zuko bends over the man angrily.
"You'd better start running! You'll want to beat the soldiers before they get down to this floor." Shogu is really laughing now. Zuko hits him hard before grabbing Katara by the hand and running out of the room.
The clanging of metal boots is loud as they sprint down the hallway. 1, 2, 3 doors and they pass a stairwell on their right. Glancing up staircase he doesn't see any soldiers yet. Well at least they had one thing going for them. They pass the last two doors and reach the intersection. Without pausing he turns right toting Katara along. A stream of water trails behind her. They run several yards down the dark hallway and reach three short levels of stairs. As he bounds down them Zuko begins to feel the poor condition of his body. His head pounds from dehydration. He's sustained severe bruising maybe even some broken ribs. He's pretty sure there's a good sized gash across his back, plus his aching shoulder to top it all off.
He slows as the sound of falling water approaches. He can faintly make out the opening of the tunnel into a poorly lit room. He pauses at the entrance not letting go of Katara's hand. The room looks like a large tavern. There are small waterfalls falling from random crevices in the wall into pools of water. The water flows in the direction they're heading which he hopes is a good sign. There's got to be something beyond that wall.
"Weird that some fire nation patriots would have an entire room dedicated to water..." Katara whispers in awe.
"Everyone needs water. It must be a convenient source," he answers quietly. Something about it does feel odd though.
The two continue forward trying not to over analyze a few pools of water. As they run Zuko remembers Shogu's warning. He stares at the water and wonders if something looms unseen beneath it's surface. Try to stop the bleeding Sparky. It might excite them... He's beginning to seriously wonder if he should have trusted that jerk. He listens to Katara's panting as they run side by side. As long as he can hear that breathing he knows whatever happens it's worth fighting to live.
They're a few feet from the tunnel to freedom when Katara releases her murky liquid and replenishes her weapon with the clear water from the ponds. In response, the water begins to bubble. The two slow down in surprise. As if on cue all of the other ponds begin to bubble and tremble also. The two stop short to stare at the phenomenon. Soon every pool is turbulent with rippling waves.
Suddenly a large monster bursts from the pool Katara disturbed. It's long, lean body looks like gigantic lizard with webbed feet and three rows of spikey ridges along it's muscular back. Part of it's long tail remains submerged in the deceptively shallow lake. The animal is poised to strike. It's head- a cross between a catfish and crocodile- is hung low and it curls back it's lips to reveal rows of sharp teeth.
"Guess that qualified as not staying on the trail," he mutters to Katara.
Zuko looks in one of it's beady eyes sensing it's tension. Three other creatures join the first from their various ponds. They make high pitched chirping noises that sound similar to the bubbling water that preceded their arrival. Zuko can feel Katara slowly slipping her hand out of his so she can assume a bending pose. Their escape remains unobstructed behind them so Zuko takes a very slow step backwards. Unfortunately the blood from his abdominal wound has finally soaked through the side of his thin pants and a few drops fall to the earth as he moves. That's when the animals charge.
Zuko grabs Katara by the hand again and flees to the tunnel. He releases as big of a flame as he can muster behind them just before they enter the dark corridor. He's so fatigued that even the adrenaline isn't producing the miracles it had before. The flame did little to hinder the giant lizards especially once the lead animal whips its tail forward to display its water bending skills. Shit! Zuko turns and shoots some flames forward in a fruitless attempt to stop the water, but just before the water hits him it flies upward in a great pillar.
His gaze darts over to Katara. She holds her arms above her as she bends the water to her will. He smiles gratefully at her. Out of no where a lizard's tail sends her flying straight toward the rest of the pack. "Katara!" Zuko shouts and takes off after her. The creatures are lightning fast however, and two block him off. He grimaces and dodges the animal's water attack. Fortunately they aren't able to reproduce the skilled moves of a bender. They can only send a wave of water at him, although that's not a force to underestimate. Rolling into a crouch he lunges forward fists flaming.
Meanwhile, Katara is dealing with two of her own monsters. Being born of water they're lithe and agile. She's having a hard time making connections with her attacks. They just splash useless against the wall. As the two circle closer Katara changes fighting style and decides to adopt a more offensive attack. She dashes forward freezing the water in her hands into two lethal icicles. The nearest animal slashes at her with it's front leg but she leaps and takes advantage of it's forward momentum. She drives the spear hard into its shoulder. It rears with a scream throwing her backwards. She is slammed against the wall and lays there momentarily in a daze. The wounded animal is crazed with pain. It thrashes around and into it's comrade. As they both struggle to right themselves Katara gathers her wits and siphons water from a pond. She water whips the already injured creature with icicle tipped weapon straight through the eye. It rears one last time before falling to the ground dead.
Unaffected the second monster claws over the dead animal and charges Katara. She bends a large wave over her and at the animal. It's washed away from her and into a pond where it doesn't resurface. Considering the problem taken care of she runs to go help Zuko who is struggling to fend off his adversaries. He is backed up against a pond and his fire is causing little damage to the animals' tough hides. Suddenly, just before Katara reaches him, the creature she failed to kill bursts from the pond at Zuko's back and drags him into the pond. The other two jump in after them. "No!" she screams.
Realizing the ponds must be connected underground she dives into the nearest one. She swims down to discover a crossroads of the underground tunnels. Unsure of which turn to take she glances down each tunnel and sees a flash of light down the one straight ahead. Using her water bending she propels herself forward at lightning speed and reaches the conflict just in time. Zuko is caught in the tail of one of the monsters though his limbs are free and he uses them to fight off the two attacking beasts.
Wasting no time Katara freezes large, razor sharp disks and hurls them at the beast charging toward Zuko. The first practically slices of it's tail and the second embeds itself in the animal's side until Katara melts it. Bubbles fly out of it's snout in what is probably a howl of pain and it flees. Katara's eyes flash to Zuko as she sees his body convulse in pain. His arms grab at the tail encircling his waste and she realizes with horror that the creature is crushing him. All of the oxygen is pushed out of his lungs in several large bubbles. Panicked Katara swims to him. The second charging creature switches it's course and heads straight for her. Without hesitating Katara completely freezes the animal with wave of her arms then using her momentum punches in it's skull using the same method she had with her prisoner. The animal sinks in a cloud of blood.
Looking back at Zuko she sees his eyes flickering shut. He has only seconds before reflex kicks in and he's forced to breathe in lungs full of water. She has no time to kill the beast so resorts to slicing off its tail grabbing Zuko by the hand and propelling them both up what she hope is escape to air.
Seconds later they emerge from a pond. Katara gasping for air and Zuko unconscious. Flat against the cold floor Katara gulps in air and drags herself over to Zuko. She puts her hands on his chest and senses the water in his lungs. She bends it out and he coughs and splutters into her lap. He's breathing though. A fact that makes Katara want to cry with relief.
"It's okay. You're alright." she says absently mumbling nonsense to soothe him. He dry heaves onto the pavement while trying to refill his lungs with air. "It's okay..." she murmurs putting her hand his back. Finally he collapses into her lap looking up at her with tired eyes. She can't resist running her hands through his hair. "We're not out of harm's way yet Zuko. We still have to get out of here." He doesn't respond choosing instead to stare up at her. She grows a little embarrassed under his scrutiny.
"It's okay I'll get us out of here." she says. It's her turn to be strong. Using some water she fashions a gurney and rolls Zuko onto it. She can hear the echo of dozens of soldiers' boots coming. She wills herself not to panic. Bending the gurney into a lidless box so he doesn't fall out Katara sends the injured man flying up the tunnel. She hopes it's a straight shot otherwise their will be a painful impact. She turns back to he entrance of the tavern as the soldiers arrive and assumes a bending pose. She has to do this. For Zuko.
Suddenly the two creatures who she didn't kill emerge dripping with blood. They attack the soldiers in a craze, mowing them down like they're nothing more than insects. Katara watches in shock as they claw and maul the men. Not wanting to wait around until there were no more soldiers to feed the creatures' rage she turns and flees to the tunnel erecting a thick blockade of ice behind her. She runs and runs until she sees Zuko's transport. He's sitting up it looking worried.
"What happened?" he asks in a scratchy voice.
"I'll tell you later. Let's just get you out of here." she says kindly. She gets ready to send his transport forward but he objects.
"I can walk," he insists. He weakly climbs out of his ice bed and takes a couple unsteady steps.
"You should lay down," she argues. "You're body's been through a lot." She moves forward to help steady him.
"I'm fine. Besides I'll freeze my ass off if I stay in that thing any longer."
Katara laughs out loud because of the look on his face and just because of the situation. "I guess you'd probably melt it anyway. You're body temperature is pretty high."
"Are you calling me hot?" he taunts her back with a smirk.
Her face flames and he immediately regrets saying it. He had forgotten about what happened earlier when she pulled away from him. "Forget about it. Let's get moving. You can tell me how you got rid of the rest of those monsters and fire nation soldiers instead. Maybe when we tell the rest of the gang what happened you can make me seem like I actually held my own out there..." A nearly hysterical chuckle escapes from him which turns into a wracking cough. He doubles over in pain.
"I'm okay," he whispers hoarsely. He stays on his hands and knees and breathes in and out slowly. "So how did you get out of those ropes back in the cage?"
"What? Oh, I guess that idiot thought he could just hold onto me," she shakes her head at the memory. "He untied me and threw the rope to you when he told you to tie yourself up. Why-?"
"Just keep talking. I need to get my mind off the pain." he groans from the ground.
"Okay. Um...I made Shogu pee his pants right before we left."
He laughs which erupts into more coughing. "Please don't make me laugh any more..." he's laying flat on the ground now but the smile remains on his face. His breathing steadies despite his laughter.
She kneels next to him. "You okay?"
He rolls onto his back and nods. He looks up into her eyes and wonders what she sees when she looks at him. He stares at her intensely, trying to decipher her thoughts. She blushes and looks into her lap. His heart breaks a little when she looks away. She plays with her hands awkwardly. He suddenly has the unbearable yearning to feel those hands touch him the same way he's watched them tenderly care for her companions.
Spontaneously he aks, "Do you think you could maybe heal just some of the superficial stuff?" He motions to his side.
She looks back at his face surprised. "Don't you think we should get further away first?"
"Yeah but I don't know how much farther I can go like this. Maybe just close up some of the larger cuts..." Wow, I sound like wimp he thinks to himself.
She gives him a searching look then sighs. "Take off your shirt," she says quietly.
She waves her arm and some of the ice from his transport melts away and flies to her deft hands. Her hands hover over his chest and torso. The water glows brighter emanates warmth. She closes her eyes in meditation giving him an opportunity to pour over her features. Strange as it sounds he was fascinated by her skin. It's so exotic. All dark and smooth. His eyes drink in the rich color that stretches across the lovely plains of her face and down her elegant neck.
He imagines her bending; the water flowing around her, the sinuous grace of her body, Her dark skin wet with the touch of her element. He's always loved to watch her bend. When her dark arms and legs weave through the air she moves with such grace and at the same time commands an unmistakable strength. Now it's torture to think back on those moments. He realizes how long he's been attracted to her but unwilling to admit it, even to himself.
His fantasy is cut short as he feels a large cut in his side knit together. He grits his teeth against the pain. A minute or two later she opens her eyes to check her work. There are a couple more cuts on his chest but the majority of the injuries along his torso is bruising. Her eyes move to his face and the old insecurities return as he watches her analyze his features. Her expression doesn't betray any disgust at the sight of his scar. In fact, her hands don't hesitate to trace over the ugly feature as she searches for injuries. His lip is split and there's a cut on his cheek and brow from where he'd been hit repeatedly. She applies water to his cut brow and stares intently at her working hands.
"The whole time we were in there I kept waiting for them to come for me," she says breaking the silence. "I'm as good of a source for information as you are. In all honesty I probably seem more likely to break under...pressure." Her words echo around the tunnel. It wasn't phrased like a question but Zuko knows it is one. He chooses not to offer an explanation. It would hint too closely at his feelings for her. "Sometimes they would bring you back into the cages but you were always unconscious. They rarely bothered to chain you up. It scared me- more than I thought it would." Her voice falls to a whisper. "I would sometimes just watch you lying on the ground. Even though there was blood pouring from the cuts on your face and your body spoke of abuse, for whatever reason you looked so peaceful. I guess in middle of everything watching you find some peace, however incomplete, made everything else..." she trails off. They sit in silence. She's finished the cut above his eye and moves her hand down to his cheek.
"Why didn't they come for me?" she asks. He doesn't answer. "I mean, it doesn't make any sense. I'm not as strong as you. It makes sense that they would assume I would be the one to break. Unless something convinced them not to, or someone..." Her hand hesitates above his split lip before she gently touches it. She closes her eyes and asks one more time, "Why didn't they come for me?"
Her eyes fly open wide as she's suddenly overcome by the strangest sensation. Warmth is seeping into her. The sensation spreads through her; into her cheeks, down to her stomach and all the way to her toes. It feels so good her eyes slowly close and she's kissing him back. Her hair slips over her shoulder as she leans into the kiss and creates a barrier between them and the rest of the world. They share a sweet moment hidden from all the heartache they experienced and awaiting them. Their lips whisper together in harmony until he pulls back with a gasp.
Laying back down his hand goes to his injured side. "Sorry. It's still sore," he says. There's a look of utter joy on his face as he stares up at her. It fades a little when he realizes her expression. She hasn't moved and is looking down at him with a surprised expression. Panicking he backpedals, "Katara, I thought you- I don't know what came over me. That wasn't okay. I should have asked or-"
"No you don't have say anything. I understand. Let's pretend it didn't happen. I already forgot what we were talking about. See I can-"
"Zuko." she says a little louder.
"You're right. That's stupid. The whole thing was just an accident. So our faces bumped together while I was trying to sit up. Big deal? I may have enjoyed it a little but-
He's cut off as she grabs him by the collar, pulls him up and plants her lips on his. She feels him relax beneath her and smiles into the kiss. His hands snake into her hair and they stay like that briefly. The kiss ends but they still sit close together. She's suddenly a little shy and can't meet his gaze.
"We should probably get moving. You're all healed." she says.
"I don't think I'm quite ready to move," he replies.
Her stomach flutters as she responds, "Well believe it or not those soldiers hacking away at the entrance to this tunnel and probably marching to beat us to the exit aren't going to pat us on the back for our fine escape if we run into them."
"You don't say?" he replies with equal sarcasm.
She helps him slowly get back on his feet and they start to head down the tunnel again.
"You know, I almost feel bad for old Shogu. It surprised me the first time I discovered that a little water tribe peasant could fight like a tigerlion." She smiles at the teasing and let's a little of the icy water she's now carrying splash on his head as they walk.
"Woah," he yelps in surprise."Hey, that reminds me. Where did you get the water from back when we were fighting in the cages?"
"I, uh...Well there was a lot perspiring going on when you fought all those guards..."
It takes a moment for him to understand then he says with a wrinkling of his nose, "That's disgusting."
"Well it worked didn't it?" she defends.
"Yeah until you decided to splash around in those ponds. Those things were pissed at you." he laughs again.
"I didn't know!"
He laughs harder at her defiance. Suddenly she jerks away from him and lets him fall to the floor. She smirks down at him.
He's immediately sobered by his pain. "What was that for?"
"You've got an exceptionally thick skull. You'll survive."
He uses the wall for support as he struggles to stand. "I saved your life!"
She storms over to him and growls in his face. "If I recall, I saved yours too."
He grabs her and spins, shoving her up against the wall. Holding her there he says, "Yeah you did. Thanks."
She is surprised by the sudden tenderness in his voice. She looks up into his golden eyes and an attractive blush creeps into her cheeks. "Let me go," she murmers.
He lets her slip away from him. "Let's get out of here so you can really heal me," he says in an attempt to combat the awkwardness. She quietly puts an arm around his waist and pulls one of his arms across her shoulders.
A few yards later she says playfully, "You know, you may have saved our lives and all, but if you pass out I'm not carrying you all the way out of here."
He laughs weakly. "Fair enough, but you do owe me." He's happy there's no more awkwardness.
"I have no doubt we'll eventually be captured again. Next time I'll do all the hard work." she says with a laugh. He smiles to himself. He can think of a few others way for her to repay him. They continue in easy conversation as they both limp down the tunnel and toward freedom. A few yards later Zuko stumbles and passes out.
"Damn it Zuko! I told you I wouldn't carry you!"
I couldn't resist that last bit of humor :)
Author's Note: I was reading through this and some of the grammar and syntax really bugged me so I've gone back and edited it once more. I still think a lot of the tunnel scene Zutara action seems pretty forced but it would be ridiculous to go back and delete it now. *sigh* oh well that's the last time I let my love of fluff get the better of me.
Okay folks so here's the deal. The muses gave me a sudden burst of creative juices last night as I was reading through some unfinished blurbs. I've decided I can't completely put this plot away but also that I don't want to turn this into a full fledged story because it's too similar to other stories I've read. This is just going to be some one-shots within the same plot. I have at least two more definite scenes planned in addition to this one but no promises beyond that. Please don't hate me for being so lame but I think the plot is always fun to fantasize about but overused. I would hate to further wear it out with my mediocre attempts.