Kuebiko

BY : Death_Rattle
Category: Avatar - The Last Airbender > AU/AR - Alternate Universe/Alternate Reality
Dragon prints: 5257
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Avatar: the Last Airbender or any of the characters. I do not profit from my writing.

Even from her place below the ground, Katara could feel the full moon rising above the horizon. In her blood, in her chi. It was as if her life force was being electrified.

It wasn't really a surprise. She had felt the moon waxing night by night, each day bringing her closer to her element. But tonight was the night Katara gained something unique, something that even her oh-so-knowledgeable captors didn't know about. And she sure wasn't going to waste the opportunity. With the full moon's power, Katara was going to end the Phoenix King and avenge Aang.

Her master wouldn't approve, obviously, but she didn't care about that. Katara was not going to concern herself with what happened afterwards. It didn't matter if she couldn't get away, or if the Phoenix Queen killed her in retaliation. What mattered is that monster would be gone.

Already she could hear voices chiding her in her head. She could hear her brother, she could hear Zuko scolding her for not wanting to do the same to Azula. She would surely replace her father upon his death and the Fire Nation's rule would continue unabated (perhaps worse if Ozai's ineptitude was taken into consideration). However Katara was no murderer, she had decided that the last time the moon was full. She wouldn't kill a victim (yes, a victim!) in cold blood. Regardless of how many distasteful things that victim was capable of.

She ignored the voices and carefully got out of her cot, her bare feet hitting the ground soundlessly such as not to disturb the others. Despite the invincibility the whole moon granted her, the less people who took note of her, the better.

Perhaps before the comet, Katara might have dressed in something dark, something more suited to the occasion. However she had nothing else but her new robes to dress in, so red and gold would have to do.

A gentle hand twisted the knob on the old door, pushing slowly as to avoid the inevitable Creeeaaaak that followed. Katara made her way up and out of the servants' quarters into fresh air, the night sky now wholly visible from her position in the palace grounds.

She hadn't really been there that long anyway, but even if she had there was little point in not taking the most direct route to the royal's suite. She was the Phoenix Queen's servant, after all. The Dai Li and the Imperial Firebenders had no reason to suspect the waterbender of malice, at least not yet. So she could move around the palace freely until she needed to go somewhere she shouldn't.

The royal couple's suite was guarded of course, and there wasn't really a lie Katara could think of to get inside at such an hour.

She looked around to check for patrols or those creepy Dai Li on the roof. Satisfied that there was none, she walked towards the two men guarding the door, who of course immediately stiffened upon her approach. Though they didn't get an opportunity to ask the wayward slave any questions, for their necks clenched violently and the men fell to the ground, unconscious.

The sliding doors opened with the utmost discreetness. Suffice it to say, while Katara believed in what she was doing... her soul was decidedly not that of a murderer. She felt her heart racing in her chest and a buzzing in her ears as premature adrenaline flooded her blood.

She made her way inside the lavish chambers. Nothing she hadn't seen before - this area was at least one she knew how to navigate.

1, 2, 3...

Slam

The bedroom door flew wide open and....

nothing.

They weren't there. The bed was empty, undisturbed.

For a second, Katara felt stupid. Her target wasn't even there, she had undergone tremendous risk for nothing.

But quickly that feeling of stupidity turned into fear. If she'd been seen, she'd be punished. Katara didn't have an exit strategy, or a way to explain the unconscious guards. She didn't plan on not finding Ozai, all her plans had to deal with what happened after, including talking the distraught Phoenix Queen down from her inevitable anger at losing her 'loving husband'

So she stood there, pondering her options for the first time. She had to leave, and fast. Just go back to the servant's quarters? Pretend as though nothing happened and wait until the next full moon?

Katara began to walk back, slowly moving one foot in front of the other. Feeling smaller, somehow. Her head darted back and forth, up and down, watching for possible witnesses as she walked out the door and closed it behind her, looking down at the two guards who were still unconscious. She stopped, another terrible idea coming to mind. She wouldn't be able to explain this away, and it wouldn't take much more than rubbing two brain cells together to figure out it was her. The Phoenix King and Queen were very popular in the Fire Nation, and had few subjects with both the will and the power to enter the palace for a stealthy assassination.

She had to use the rest of the night to do something worthwhile. Otherwise it would be wasted.

Part of her just wanted to escape herself. She could get quite far before the sun rose, at least halfway to port. Enough time to shore up a disguise and some money, to at least have a chance to evade everyone looking for her.

But there were at least a few problems with that. Beyond the simple things such as not knowing the terrain and looking obviously foreign - there were the Dai Li, who were notoriously stealthy and could easily catch a lone Katara unawares even with the full moon. And even if she managed to evade them, she knew nobody she could trust to get her out of the heart of the Fire Nation and to the Earth Kingdom or the Water Tribes. Especially not with all the search parties they'd inevitably send. And then there was the fact that, honestly, with Aang gone, there was little she could do out there. She had a better chance of turning Azula against the Phoenix King than she did mounting an attack from the outside.

But there was something Katara could do other than shuffle back to the servant's quarters and hope for the best. Someone she could save for real.

So she went the other way, this time keeping low and trying to stay out of sight.

The prison cells were a much longer walk than the Phoenix King and Queen's suite, but Katara could comfortably make it without scaling any walls. Azula had let slip that they were holding him in the same cells they had held her, as the previous prison for distinguished inmates had been proven insecure by Azula's uncle.

Eventually though, she did make it down into the tunnels that marked the palace dungeons. They were guarded, of course, but Katara disposed of them the same way she did the men guarding the royal suite, constricting the bloodflow to the head just long enough to render them unconscious. Katara couldn't help but feel a little nauseous with each motion. She may have been far away from her targets, but she could feel the effect she was having with each and every twitch of her fingers, as though she were reaching into their throats and clenching the blood vessels with her bare hands. It was disgusting.

It was also poetic in a way. The insane woman who had taught her the technique in the first place had used it first out of necessity, to evade her Fire Nation captors and escape a life of imprisonment, servitude, and eventual death. Katara could only hope she wouldn't become like her, using her powers for evil - gradually being consumed by them over time.

She searched the labyrinth of tunnels, corridor by corridor, cell by cell. Her bending sped up the process, she could reach out with her mind, feeling the hot blood circulating in people's bodies. Most of the cells were empty, but they were guarded anyway. Due to the layout of the tunnels, she thankfully avoided confronting every soldier she came across, only the ones she needed to bypass to get deeper inside.

Katara stopped, the cell behind the next wall had an occupant, and twice the usual complement of guards.

She forced the door, breaking the locking mechanism with ice. The four men turned around, raising their arms to fire only to be swept off their feet, their root broken and their flames faint, and slammed against the wall. Suddenly they felt weak and dropped to the ground, one after the other. Without so much making a sound.

The room was cold, colder than all the others. Water dripped down from the ceiling allowing small patches of moss to grow on the stone, accompanied by faint spots of mold which had grown wherever spores could find purchase. The room was lit only by a small torchlight, barely enough fuel in it to burn for much more than a couple hours unattended (not to give the occupant any opportunity to use its flame, Katara presumed).

But even in the faint firelight Katara could see the small figure of her friend Zuko. Weakened and dirtied by incarceration, but the same man.

"Zuko?" she whispered through the bars, before turning to find something that could unlock the door.

Zuko had been sleeping throughout the whole ordeal, though he woke at the sound of a voice. He rose from his bedroll (a pittance, granted by the Dai Li) albeit much more slowly than he would have liked. What with his injuries and the weeks spent in a prison cell the size of a closet, his reflexes just weren't what they used to be.

"Mm?" he answered, groggily, his eyes adjusting to the low light. "What-?"

He couldn't believe what he was seeing!

"Katara?!"

Was this a dream? A hallucination?

"It's me." she said, seeing the disbelief on his face. "Are you alright?" she asked, running her hands over the men she had downed - finding knives, coins, and various other trinkets, but no keys for the cell door.

The deposed Fire Prince approached the bars, slowly, still unable to fully process what was happening. He'd given up hope that Katara (or anyone for that matter) was coming and yet, here she was. But... why? How? And where were the others?

"I- I think so," he stammered.

"They didn't capture you? After the Agni Kai?" he asked. Everything went dark after Azula's lightning, and the next thing he knew, he awoke in this Agni-damned cell, half-dead.

"No." said Katara matter-of-factly, giving up with the fallen soldiers and moving onto the lock itself, hoping she could force it like the last one. "Your sister got me, too. I tried to fight her, but she was too strong." she explained, freezing the lock solid. "She kind of turned me into her servant."

crack

The ice fell away revealing a still-intact lock. The metal was obviously stronger than the metal making up the outer door.

Although it was no laughing matter, Zuko was unable to suppress a laugh. "I gave up on that lock a long time ago. It's no use."

He had so many questions... about Aang, Azula, his uncle... "The Dai Li told me you were okay but I wasn't sure I believed them," he said. "My sister's servant... sounds like you've had it worse than me."

Silence for a moment.

"How did you escape?" he asked, but he didn't give her time to answer. "Nevermind, you should get out of here while you can. Leave me."

"I doubt it." Katara said, shaking her head. Being a lapdog for the Phoenix King and Queen was surely not a walk in the park, but at least out there Katara was doing something, not just sitting and waiting around for her muscles to decay and her bones to rot. As much as Katara had loathed her time with those two, she wasn't sure she'd prefer being thrown back into a cell, even if she had the choice.

"It's the full moon." she said simply, explaining everything in one simple sentence. "And I'm not leaving you. Your father says he's going to execute you. There has be a way to get past this lock!" she exclaimed, bending water into the mechanism again, trying to pick the lock rather than bust it apart.

"I know," Zuko said, simply. "I know what he's planning. He came to visit me," he elaborated, unsure of how long ago that had been exactly. He'd lost count of the days. But in his defense, he'd spent much of his time sleeping, nursing his injuries. He was feeling much better than when he'd first awakened in this cell, though, thanks to his sister's Dai Li agents.

Zuko shook his head at Katara's continued attempts. "The only way you're getting past that lock is with the key. You need to get out of here, Katara. Before they find you. Get as far away from here as possible and never look back."

A pause.

"I'll be okay." he said, unsure of whether or not he truly believed that. "Azula's agents gave me a message. She said she isn't going to let him... do anything."

"I know what Azula told you." said Katara, finally ceasing her efforts after realizing the lock was more complicated than anything she was familiar with. "But..." she trailed off.

"Azula doesn't get what she wants, not anymore at least. When your father comes down here to..." she choked on the word. "-kill you, she won't lift a finger. She's terrified of him."

Katara dropped to the ground, letting her back rest against the bars. "And I don't know what to do." she said, breaking into a sob. "This whole situation, it's just so wrong. I always want there to be hope but there just isn't any. Everyone's a slave to your father, and the only person who could stop him is dead."

dead

All this time, he had been holding out the hope that it wasn't true. So his father had come to visit him, that didn't necessarily mean that Aang was... you know. So that Dai Li agent had said as much, he could be lying-!

Only he wasn't lying. Now, Zuko had to face the facts. Aang was dead, and it was all his fault. On the day of black sun, he could have put an end to his father's miserable existence... but he didn't.

"Then I deserve what's coming to me," Zuko said. "I had the chance to stop my father and I didn't take it."

A pause.

"Maybe there's still a chance for you, though. If you could find my uncle, or Sokka and Toph, you might be able to..." he trailed off. "Have you heard anything?"

"No." said Katara simply, trying her best to hold back tears. "No." she repeated, quieter.

"That's not right, you don't deserve to die." Nobody deserves all the fucked up things that are happening to them in this Tui-forsaken world, she added, in her mind, thinking back to the time when Azula said something eerily similar. "None of this is right. Why can't something just work for us for a change. Somehow they always win." she said, before realizing she was borderline ranting and stopping herself.

"Your uncle is fine, I think. Or at least your father thinks so, he wrote him a letter." she explained. "But it doesn't matter, I can't escape, not alone. I.."

She trailed off, the thought actually seeming borderline insane to say.

"Actually, part of the reason I came here was to get your help. So that we might have escaped together."

"My help?" Zuko asked, incredulously. "But what could I do? Even if you could get me out of here it's not like-"

He stopped mid-thought, sparing Katara his musings on just how useless he was, how he always managed to fuck everything up. Now was surely not the time to have a pity party for himself.

"They might give up on tracking you down, but me? My father would send an entire army, he'd never give up. I'd only be putting you in danger."

"Yeah, probably." said Katara with a sigh, admitting defeat. "I just... I just wanted to keep you alive."

A long pause.

"I was going to kill him." she said finally. "Your father. He... wasn't there. And now I'm here, and now I don't know what to do. Tui, I didn't even know what to do before. Your sister could stop all this, she could save you. She wants to. But she won't, she's broken." Katara explained, not sure what the point of saying all this was but knowing it was too late to stop the words from gushing out. "Your father hurts her. And she just takes it. I don't understand it. I tried to help her but it only made things worse."

"I wish you had killed him," Zuko spat, bitterly.

He contemplated what it meant to make things worse than they already were, his mind conjuring the possibilities, each one darker than the last. He knew all too well what Ozai was capable of, not to mention his sister had been in a downright sorry state the last time he'd seen her.

"Is Azula... okay?" he asked, knowing fully well it was a stupid question but it was one he had to ask nonetheless. "I mean, I know she's not okay but... what happened? What did he do to her?"

Yeah, me too, Katara thought to herself.

"He, uh..." she trailed off, not really wanting to answer the question. And, in all honesty, Zuko probably didn't want to know the truth.

She let the words hang in the air for a few moments.

"She made him angry. And he, well, he forced himself on her. And... she broke, like she did on the comet. She pretends to be okay now, but I know she's not. She has a lot of scars under her skin." she explained, her voice as cold as ice, as though she were reading from an encyclopedia.

"He..?" Zuko stammered, almost in disbelief. His father's cruelty truly knew no bounds. If he could do such a thing to Azula, his own daughter who loves him and would do anything for him, he had to be pure evil, there was no doubt in his mind now. And here he'd thought it was impossible to stoop any lower than dueling and banishing his own son or murdering a twelve-year-old yet somehow Ozai had managed it.

"Katara, forget about me!" he exclaimed. "You have to try and find my father while you still can, and give him what he deserves!" Sure, it was a big city but in all likelihood he was passed out in some pub, or maybe an opium den. "He's got to be in a pub, or an opium den... or a brothel!"

"But which one..." Katara trailed off, the hope of the situation withering away into nothing. She had never been anywhere in the caldera or the lower city, she had no idea where to even start looking, let alone where the Phoenix King's regular destinations were. "I only have until sunrise. And it's not like I could set up an ambush with all the guards around..." she let her voice fade as the options she came up with had increasingly low odds.

A pause.

"I'm sorry." she said, not exactly sure which thing she failed to do that she was apologizing for. Maybe all of them. This wasn't how I planned it at all.

"Fuck!" Zuko hissed in frustration. Not at Katara, but at the whole situation and the fact that Ozai would still be breathing after this night. "Fuck! Fuck!"

He noted Katara's glum look, her bright blue eyes devoid of their usual sparkle.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Katara," he said. "At least you tried and that's more than I can say for myself."

Silence for a moment.

"You have to get out of the city then. If the guards or the Dai Li find you, they'll throw you back in a cell and then my father will do Agni knows what with you."

Katara considered it for a moment. An opportunity to see some of her friends again. Her brother. She could tell them that she was alive.

It's true that Katara's chances were the best now than any other time, but her odds were slim nonetheless. The caldera and the city around it spanned for miles in every direction, and while the full moon gave her the capability to win any engagement she found there, she'd also be extremely conspicuous. On top of being water tribe, Katara's face had apparently been plastered across the entire country in those little 'plays' like she had seen on ember island. Escaping the city with that kind of recognizability wasn't just going to be hard, it would probably prove impossible.

And...

She turned to Zuko.

I'd be leaving people behind, too

"I can't leave." she said. "Azula said she'd kill you if I tried. And..." she trailed off, her next words sounding ridiculous. "I think she needs my help, too."

Zuko's brows knit with confusion. Just what sort of game was Azula playing at? First she'd sent him that note claiming she wouldn't let their father do anything, now she was threatening to kill him herself if Katara refused to be her personal servant..?

Perhaps she wasn't playing a game at all, perhaps she didn't even know what she was saying. From the sound of it, she was still in an awfully sorry state mentally, maybe even more so than the last time he'd seen her - and that made her all the more dangerous and unpredictable. She could kill him (or let him go) on a whim, who knew with her. He certainly didn't.

He let out a long, languid sigh. "Then you have to-"

He stopped, not even wanting to say the words aloud. It felt so wrong, telling her to just surrender... but what else could she do?

"You have to surrender. It's the only way they might have mercy on you."

"Of course." Katara acknowledged, looking around at the guards she'd subdued. There wasn't much hope in them just forgetting about her attack.

She stood up and began moving to the door before turning. "We'll see eachother again." she said, more to herself than anything. "I promise."



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