Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Bending, Chapter 6

Zuko had several reasons to be irritated. First and foremost, against all his experience and arguments, Aang had decided to leave Azula with some of her firebending. Not much, he assured everyone, barely anything at all. Even the slightest sliver, Zuko thought, and she was just as dangerous as when she was at her full power.

The second reason was that Mai had really been giving him the cold shoulder. Not that he'd expected anything else, the way he'd avoided her and yet let Katara follow him everywhere. He wondered constantly if the whole reason he'd refused to let Mai in on his secret wasn't to protect the Fire Nation, but to protect his own pride.

And now, to top everything off, Iroh had been acting strange lately. There was no doubt about that. In his mind, Zuko liked to imagine that it was just his uncle being his usual oddball self, but somehow, he knew better. Iroh could tell he was hiding something and was going to be determined to find out what. Zuko just never imagined exactly how conniving his uncle could be when he put his mind to it.

"Ow!" There was a loud clang as something fell over. Iroh generally came in several times a week to let everyone try his latest recipes before he tried them on customers. (Zuko's attendants had mixed feelings about that.) Lately, it seemed, he'd been coming in every day.

Zuko turned to see what the crash was. His uncle knelt down on the ground, his teapot turned over with a dull green liquid spilled out over the carpet. The metal pot's base was bright red with heat, and Iroh grasped his hand, wincing as he bent over.

"Oo, my hand! My hand! That really hurts!"

Zuko grasped the throne's arm to steady himself for a moment before kneeling down next to his uncle.

"Let me see," he said with a sigh.

Iroh relinquished his grip and allowed Zuko to examine the injury. It wasn't pretty, already the skin was peeling away under the burn. It would probably get infected and scar if not dealt with quickly.

"Come on, Uncle Iroh, since when are you this clumsy?" Zuko muttered. He glanced over at the few attendants in the room and ordered them out. They bowed and slipped away silently. Except for one that Zuko ordered to bring him a bowl of cold water. The attendant obeyed, and then she too slipped out of sight.

"It must be my hands getting all old and shaky," Iroh theorized as he dipped his injured hands in the cold water, wincing again.

"Yeah right," Zuko muttered. He looked at the injury again. It wasn't going to get any better with just some cold water. It needed some serious healing. It needed...

Zuko scowled. He could've cared less that his attendants thought he was odd for keeping his distance from them. He could even tolerate Mai thinking he was a complete jerk. But to let his uncle, who'd always defended him, sustain an injury that he knew perfectly well how to heal? It wasn't an option.

"Uncle, hold still for a moment," he said, holding up Iroh's hand.

"What?" Iroh asked. "What are you planning to do?"

"Just be quiet for a minute," Zuko snapped. He raised his hand over the water. It felt much more familiar now than it did a few weeks ago when he'd first become a waterbender. It still wasn't as comfortable as the fire, it was harder to deal with, but nevertheless, he could manipulate it.

A blob of water rested over Iroh's burned hands. It emitted a soft blue glow, and the skin that had begun to blister on Iroh's hand became smooth and uninjured.

Iroh's eyes widened in surprise, but somehow the surprise in his voice sounded less than genuine. He had a smug smile on his face.

"Zuko! Where did you pick up this little trick?"

"Oh, don't start," Zuko muttered. "You knew something was up right from the beginning."

The smile on Iroh's face grew into a grin. "Well, the change in your eye color did give a bit of a hint. But you haven't explained what happened exactly."

Zuko pulled the water back into the dish. "It's a long story. Maybe I'll have time for it later."

The next voice that spoke was neither Iroh's nor his own, but it drove fear through his spine. "Oh, but come now, brother, we've got plenty of time now for you to explain."

Zuko whirled around. Apparently the attendants had not left him as alone as he thought. And now, standing in their midst, surrounded by a pack of guards, was Azula. Her face sneered in triumph as she turned to face the same crowd of palace staff.

"How did you get out on the dungeon?" Zuko demanded and he and Iroh quickly got to their feet. Azula ignored him.

"You see? It's just like I said. Zuko has betrayed the Fire Nation by taking on the powers of a waterbender!"

A murmur went over the group. Clearly some of them were more skeptical than others. This was good, Zuko thought. It meant that Azula had lured many of them here out of curiosity, and they might not be traitors if steered in the right direction.

"But how is that even possible?" one of the guards asked. "I've never heard of any bender changing powers."

Azula looked annoyed, but kept her cool. "The avatar, of course. Don't you see? If he has the power to take away my father's bending, couldn't he have the power to change Zuko's?"

Iroh stood to speak. "May I ask you, Azula, even if what you say is possible, what reason you think the avatar could possibly have for doing such a thing?"

Azula hesitated. Clearly, this wasn't going in the direction she'd hoped. Before she could come up with a good answer, Zuko heard a voice calling out from behind the crowd.

"That was me!"

The guards turned and made a path for the person who had spoken. Katara walked past them and into the room, standing next to Iroh.

"The waterbending you just saw wasn't Zuko. It was me. I've been... practicing an advanced technique that allows me to bend water from another room. I can see how this would cause some confusion." She made a polite bow to show her apology. Some impressive quick thinking on her part, Zuko observed. Katara had been present at the coronation. Everyone in the palace knew of her waterbending skills. She must've heard just enough to know she had to cover for him.

Even better, the crowd was now starting to turn on Azula, anger and shame written all over their faces. Zuko prepared to give a forgiving speech about how clever Azula's trickery could be, planning to be particularly harsh on whoever had been manipulated into letting Azula out of her cell. However, he had little time to compose. A line of fire flew straight toward himself, Katara, and Iroh.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Bending, Chapter 5

a/n: So, annoyingly, I scheduled the last chapter to automatically post last week, since I knew I would be gone for Good Friday, and it never actually showed up. So there are two new chapters this week. Thanks for reading. :)

The day Azula's powers were removed was not a day that Zuko had any intention to miss, no matter how lousy he was feeling. Toph, Katara, and Sokka joined in his excitement, practically counting the minutes as they waited for Aang to arrive in the dungeon. Mai had refused to come herself. Although Azula deserved what she was getting, she agreed with that much, she had a difficult time watching her former friend suffer like she undoubtedly would. Zuko didn't blame her for sitting out. If he had ever gotten along with his sister at any point in his life, he might've felt some sympathy for her now. As it was, however, she drained out all of his sympathy a long, long time ago.

Aang's avatar garb was similar to his usual monk robes, but finer material, embroidered with the symbols of all the four nations. He said it looked ridiculous and he liked his old clothes better.

"It makes the people feel united," Zuko had explained. "Just wear it. It's not hurting you or anything."

The group covered their faces to avoid breathing in the potent fumes that kept Azula subdued along with her chains. Her wild hair was matted up hopelessly as she leaned over, arms bound behind her back, sobbing and wailing. At least two days worth of food sat off to the side untouched.

"Azula," Zuko said in his most commanding voice. "Look up at me."

She did so. At first, her eyes were bloodshot, insane with despair. Yet when they fell upon Zuko, he saw a bit of the old Azula again. That conniving, plotting expression that always told him she was one step ahead flooded onto her face.

"How…?" she asked. "How are you walking?"

"By putting one foot in front of the other. I picked it up in toddlerhood. You know, that wonderful time of my life before you were born."

Toph and Sokka snorted behind him at this, but Katara elbowed him in the side and Aang gave him a condescending, "That's not what we're here for," sort of look. Azula didn't react to his mocking at all. Instead, she continued her intense stare, first at his feet, then on his face.

"I saw that Water Tribe brat try to heal you and fail. The girl who healed the avatar from my lightning strike couldn't help you. So how…?"

Now her gaze fell to Katara. Zuko felt a bead of sweat crawling down his face. For once in his life, he had been relieved to have his scar - unless someone stood reasonably close, spotting his blue eyes wasn't easy. Especially when he'd been going out of his way to avoid eye contact with anyone who didn't know his secret. Katara, on the other hand…

Zuko's hand flexed as he stepped between Azula and Katara. This didn't ease his nerves one bit. Azula examined his hand as much as she had his face.

"This conversation is over," he said, trying to sound as authoritative as possible. "We've got other business here."

Azula smiled her usual cat-like grin. "Of course we do. So, Zuzu, what do you want with me?"

"You know very well what I want," he replied. "For crimes against the other three nations, your punishment has been decided. The avatar will remove your firebending powers. After your time in prison is complete, you will be released and confined to a restricted area of the palace." He gritted his teeth. "It's more than you deserve, you should know that."

Azula laughed. "Why not execute me? Isn't that what you normally do with war prisoners?"

"Avatar Aang is in charge of keeping the peace between the Fire Nation and the other nations. Your punishment is his decision."

Another hideous laugh. "You're a coward, brother! You always were! You're too scared to get a little blood on your hands, so you're blaming the decision on the pacifist avatar. I knew you were weak! I always knew it!"

Zuko held himself back from attacking her. His temptation was to fire blast her, but that wasn't going to end well, even if he could do it. He'd already decided how to deal with this. Best to let Aang go forward and not think about it anymore.

He unlocked the door to her cell. Aang stepped cautiously in, clearly ready to counter if she tried to breathe a blast of fire in his direction. She did no such thing, however, merely lowered her head back down and started sobbing.

"Please don't do this to me!" she begged. "I'd rather be executed than humiliated like this! Stop being so cowardly and just kill me!"

"You know I can't do that," Aang said calmly. "You'll find a way to live without your firebending. Start over-"

She sobbed louder. "Don't you understand? My firebending is all I have! If you take that away, what reason do I have to go on living?"

Zuko saw the hesitation in Aang first, he was sure of it, but Sokka got the words out before he did.

"Aang! Don't listen to her. She's just trying to mess with you! Take her bending away now!"

Aang's hand was shaking. Not a good sign. What was it he had said? That if he didn't have complete concentration, the energybending could go awry? He could injure both people involved. He'd been able to take the powers of Ozai against his will because of his own determination and strength. If Azula made him falter on those, then this could be a much more dangerous act than defeating her father.

Aang knelt down next to her. "Listen," he said calmly. "I'll do what I can, all right? I have to make sure you're not a threat to this nation anymore. If I can do that without removing your powers completely-"

"Aang, that's not what we discussed," Zuko said sharply. "Azula's dangerous. You have to remove them completely. "

"I had to do that for your father because of his authority," Aang said. "Azula doesn't have any authority here anymore. She's just a helpless prisoner."

Azula put on the most pathetic face she could, an act that irritated Zuko to no end.

"I was an exiled prince and look where I've gotten," Zuko argued. "If she even has an ounce of power, she's-"

"Your highness," Aang said, in a tone more serious and formal than Zuko could ever remember. "You said you were putting this decision on my shoulders. If you're taking that authority away from me, please tell me now. Otherwise, I have to act the way I feel is right."

Dang it, stupid Aang putting the ball in his court like that. He'd told his people he'd be trusting the avatar. This was pretty early on in the game to go against that.

"Fine," he said. "Do what you think is best, Aang. But please remember what I told you."

Aang smiled childishly now, like a kid who'd just won a clean victory at Pai Shō.

"Thanks, Zuko." He walked up to Azula's side. She still crouched over, whimpering as tears streamed down her face. Aang closed his eyes, slipping into the avatar state. Only this time, not only his tattoos glowed. His entire body gave off a soft bluish-white aura. Zuko remembered it vaguely. The state in which Aang would energybend.

Slowly, Aang reached down and touched Azula's forehead.