Friday, May 29, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 12

It was true that the next night brought some much easier waterbending. Their hostess, who finally told them that her name was Noriko, still thought Zuko looked "awfully unsteady on his feet" when he and Katara insisted on leaving. But Katara let Zuko lean on her shoulder, smiled widely and said she'd look after him. Noriko shook her head like the two of them were the biggest fools she'd ever laid eyes on.

Well, no wonder she thinks we're a little insane, Zuko thought. We are leaving in the middle of the night. Still, Noriko let them go their way and didn't offer any more arguments. She even gave them some more traveling supplies. She seemed like a nice enough lady, Zuko decided after he'd been speaking with her throughout the afternoon as he waited for the sun to finally set. Apparently she had a husband and daughter living not far from here, in a town called Hira'a. But, she'd told them, sometimes she felt drawn to the Fire Nation capital and liked to come out here to visit on occasion. Zuko had said he understood, but the truth was, it'd sounded odd to him. Then again, he hadn't really grown up with the option of traveling alone, whether he felt drawn to a place or not.

Maybe I'll see her again someday, he thought. And somehow, the idea pleased him.


Of course, the downside about traveling at night was that it was hard to tell which of the many things that moved around in the dark might actually be a threat. More than once, Zuko shot out a stream of water at a passing owl-mole or something else equally harmless.

"We just need to get back on the main road," he muttered, pulling the water back into his water skin for the third time. "We're far enough from the capital, and we need to find transport to-- gah!"

This time, it was Katara who overreacted. But instead of smacking whatever had just slithered by Zuko's leg (a turtle-snake, as it had turned out) with a couple good flame blasts, she pointed two fingers at the ground. A line of light jumped from her fingertips to the creature, and it rolled over on its back, extremely dead. Zuko could hear the crackle of electricity around its burned body. He looked up and although the light might've been terrible, he could see how wide Katara's eyes were, could hear her rapid breathing.

"Did you just… shoot lightning? " he asked.

Katara's breathing slowed and he watched her silhouette straighten as she relit the flame they'd been walking with for light. "Um, yes. That is a firebending thing, as I recall. Your sister seems to do it a lot."

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, but you've got my firebending. I could never use lightning."

"Zuko, first you think a stranger looks like your mom, then you think she doesn't, now you don't remember your own techniques? I saw you controlling lightning when Azula fired it at me."

"I was re-directing it. I can't create it."

"Oh." Katara flexed her fingers, staring at them like she'd never noticed they were there before. "Well, I guess you can look forward to having that skill when Aang switches our bending back." She turned a bit red in the face and kept walking. "So, elaborate a bit more on this brilliant plan of yours. What exactly is on our way to Kyoshi Island? I mean, besides the Kyoshi warriors, of course?"

Zuko lowered his head and began to act like walking around the next tree was a lot harder than it actually was. Katara stopped short. "Wait, don't tell me that was your whole plan?"

Now it was Zuko's turn to go red in the face. "Well, we clearly can't come at the palace with brute force," he said. "Suki told me once that she sometimes comes up to this area for training. We need someone on our side who can be--" There was another snap of twigs, only this time it sounded like it came from something much heavier than a forest animal. Katara's flame was snuffed out. Before Zuko could make any reaction, he felt something jab him in the back of the neck. Not a blade, he quickly realized, but someone's hand. It stung, but nothing more. Had his attacker mis-landed the blow somehow? It didn't matter. Zuko whirled around, pulling out the water from his waterskin again. He made a motion as if yanking back on a rope and the water obeyed, shooting over his shoulder and straight into whoever had snuck up behind him. A girl's voice yelled in surprise and Zuko could see several silhouettes emerging from the trees.

"Ty Lee?" he called out. That was sure who the girl had sounded like. At first, he got no response. Then there was a flicker of light as Katara's flames returned. She held one in each hand this time, moving them around so that everyone in the group could see each other. Suki was standing there, with two more warriors besides her that Zuko had not met before. Ty Lee had moved from standing behind him to standing in front, her eyes wide.

"Zuko?" she asked. "But how-- that's impossible!"

"What's impossible?" Suki asked, stepping closer. She looked over his clothes with a bit of confusion, but otherwise couldn't seem to tell what Ty Lee was going on about. "I mean, it's weird you guys are out here, and I'm not sure why you're dressed like that, but--"

"That's not what's impossible," Ty Lee said, stamping her foot. Then she pointed a very accusatory finger at Zuko's chest.

"I landed a perfect chi block on you, and you didn't even react! You shouldn't even be able to stand right now, and yet you were able to--" she narrowed her eyes at him. "Wait, did you waterbend at me a second ago?"

Zuko exchanged a nervous glance with a Katara. She nodded him on, but that wasn't the reaction he was hoping for. His first instinct was the same as it had been at the palace -- lie. Don't let them see weakness. That was what a firelord had to do. But, no, he had come here to ask for help. And that started with admitting everything.

"There's… a good reason. For both those things, actually."

Ty Lee crossed her arms. "Go ahead. We've got time."

"Um, we could at least get them back to camp first," one of the other girls said. "It's getting cold out here." Suki nodded her agreement.

Half an hour later, the six of them sat on some fallen trees in an open glen. Katara started a campfire easily enough, which Ty Lee said was a major improvement from the past few nights they'd camped out here. Zuko told every detail of their journey so far, starting with the agni kai. As Zuko he spoke, he tossed a small globe of water between his hands. It calmed him, oddly enough. Or at least, it gave him something to focus on besides the gut-wrenching guilt that seized him when he described how Azula had ambushed him and how he'd run away. Like a complete coward. Not to mention how he, the leader of the Fire Nation, had given up firebendng in an effort to hide his own weaknesses.

"Well, I think you did the right thing," said Suki, after he'd finished. After way too long a block of silence. "Azula had the upper hand. You couldn't beat her. There's nothing shameful about retreating and re-grouping."

"There is when it leaves Azula in charge of the Fire Nation!" Zuko was getting insanely frustrated, and he pounded the fallen tree to emphasize it. They weren't supposed to support his decision. They were supposed to explain to him in exact detail how he'd been an idiot. He certainly felt like one.

"Explain how you would have done it differently, then," Suki said, voice low and firm. "You just told us your bloodbending wasn't strong enough yet to let you put up a fight against Azula. What else was there to do but retreat until you could re-challenge her?"

Zuko said nothing. Suki's words were so stupid, they weren't even worth answering. Ty Lee coughed loudly. "Hey, anyone hungry? We've all been talking a while. I bet everyone's hungry."

"We ate dinner an hour ago," one of the Kyoshi warriors pointed out.

"So did we," said Katara.

Ty Lee was unfazed. "Details, details. I'll go bring some veggies to roast on the fire."

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 11

"Y-your mother?" Katara stuttered. "But… why? How did she get there?"

"You think I know?" Zuko demanded. "You think if I had half a clue where she was, I wouldn't have dropped everything to go find her?" He gritted his teeth. "We're putting her danger by being here. We should leave." He tried to sit up. Maybe if he propped himself up on his elbows first, he could rest a second and then pull himself up the rest of the… No good. His head and upper back got a few inches off the ground before he fell back again. It was the kind of mind-numbing frustration that really made him wish he was a firebender again, just so he could let out a blast of his anger on the nearest wall.

Katara crossed her arms. "Didn't you just tell me ten seconds ago that you can barely move?"

"Thought maybe I was wrong," Zuko grunted.

"Clearly, you were right. Just calm down. Let's wait out the day here. If yesterday really was a new moon, that means you should be stronger tonight. We can leave then."

"That's another whole day with Azula running the palace," Zuko muttered. Katara didn't answer. Maybe she'd just decided that the best way to help him deal with his worries was to pretend they didn't exist.

"So, um, what are you going to say to your mom when she gets back here? Are you going to tell her the truth?" Zuko stared thoughtfully up at the cloth ceiling. "I'd rather keep it a secret if I can. But I'm having a hard time coming up with an excuse. For all I know, she saw me waterbending yesterday when she found us."

"I, uh…" Katara blushed. "I meant are you going to tell her the truth about how you got your scar."

"That? Absolutely not."

Katara sighed and reached towards Zuko's face. The left side of his face. "I think you should."

Zuko scowled. He wanted to slap her away, just like he'd wanted to slap her the first time she laid a hand on his scar. He hadn't, of course. Only an idiot would slap someone who just said, "Hey, that disfiguring scar taking up half your head? Yeah, I think I can fix that." But the whole thing had backfired. Giving her permission that first time apparently made her think she could pry into the worst part of his past anytime she pleased.

"Why don't you tell me how it happened first," she said, finally getting her hand off him. "Maybe that will make it easier to say to her later."

"I've told you. I fought my dad in an agni kai. I lost. Badly. The end."

Katara frowned. Almost pouted, actually. "You know everything about the worst day of my life," she said. "And you were with me when I finally made peace with it all. But then when I ask about your past, even mention it, you clam up."

"Sorry, I already had my making-peace ceremony," Zuko told her. "A shame you missed it. It would've really tugged at your heartstrings."

For this, Katara pushed him in the arm and he almost rolled onto his stomach. It was the kind of push that was meant to be playful, but had a knot of hurt feelings hidden behind it. Maybe he couldn't blame her for all those feelings. He'd gone to Sokka to find out what happened to her mother. She, out of respect for him, had never asked Iroh anything.

"What exactly do you want to know?" he sighed. "What my dad said to me right before he attacked? How Azula laughed about it for weeks?"

"Anything you're willing to tell me."

Zuko closed his eyes and breathed deeply, willing himself to remember what he'd tried so hard to forget. Maybe it would be good to get it out to someone. Just this once.

"It's weird the stuff that goes through you mind right before you face pain. I remember thinking, 'Keep your hands on the ground and your eyes on him. If you show him that you're refusing to fight out of respect, not fear, he'll forgive you.' But I never saw any forgiveness in his face. He'd disowned me the second I got on my knees. If I hadn't been so stupidly convinced he loved me, I would've fought back. I would've protected myself."

Zuko swallowed. Here was the part he expected Katara to counter with some of her unwelcome to words of wisdom. To tell him that he wasn't stupid, that trusting his father was the most natural thing in the world. That Ozai was all the more evil for betraying that trust. But she only sat and listened. So he continued. "I remember the pain overtaking me, but it never made me unconscious. I tried to will myself to pass out so it wouldn't hurt anymore. Then I heard someone at my side calling for me. I thought, 'It's my father, he's sorry for what he's done. He's tending to my injuries.' Only it was my uncle. I found out later that no one else called a doctor to look at the wound. Just him."

At these memories, Zuko's eyes burned a bit and he feared for a second they might actually tear up. Thankfully, as he breathed deeply and closed his eyes, they felt dry.

"I was in bed for a week after it happened. I… cried a few times I think. I mean, it hurt like I can't explain. Any movement, any touch felt like it sent flames through my body. I remember telling Uncle that… that I deserved it. That Father was right in his punishment."

"And what did Iroh say?" Katara asked, perfectly passive.

Zuko tensed. "He yelled at me. He'd never yelled at me before, and he's never done it since. But he yelled at the top of his lungs that this wasn't my fault. He tried to get me to repeat it, but I wouldn't. I wasn't ready for that. Between accepting that my father never loved me and accepting I'd just really screwed up, one was easier than the other."

He stared into Katara's deep golden eyes, waiting for an answer. But she kept silent. No pity in her eyes, but… some strange understanding. But her parents had both loved her. How could she understand?

"I didn't want to tell you any of that," he said, trying to sound gruff about it, but probably failing. "It was none of your business, anyway."

"I know," Katara said quietly. "That's why I'm so grateful for it." She took his hand in hers. "Thank you, Zuko."

Zuko scoffed, but he didn't pull his hand away. There were some things only an idiot would do. Pulling away from the first person to listen to his story, listen without judgment or pity, would be one of those idiotic things. And Zuko was no idiot.

At that moment, the sound of footsteps approached the tent. Anticipation gripped Zuko and he drew in a sharp breath, waiting to see the mother he'd been missing for so long. A slender hand pulled back the flap of the tent, and…

…and it wasn't her. Zuko exhaled slowly and narrowed his eyes at the woman who had entered. Her hair was rougher, her eyebrows a bit thicker, and her whole face looked much more plain than Ursa's did. But how had this stranger found them? And what did she want?

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said, hoping to act casual. "Are you lost? Can we help you find something?"

The woman in the doorway cocked her head. "No. No, I'm quite sure I'm in the right place." She held up a cloth knapsack. "I found some vegetables and dried meat in the market yesterday. I think that will make a sufficient breakfast."

Okay, now Zuko was seriously confused. The voice reminded him of his mother, at least a little bit, but… "I'm sorry; are you a friend of the woman who found us?" Zuko asked. "Did she send you here?"

For this, Katara knocked him in the shoulder and whispered harshly into his ear. "What are you going on about, Zuko? That's the same woman who left a few minutes ago. The one you said was your mom."

"It's not, though," Zuko said. "It doesn't look anything like her."

She stared at him with a look of bewilderment and concern. For a moment, he wondered if she was playing some kind of strange joke on him. Then he realized she was staring at him as if she was wondering the same thing. Was he going crazy? He had seen someone different when their hostess left. He knew he had. The woman who stood in front of them now… her figure looked the same as Ursa's, and the voice was similar, but the face… the face was completely different.

"Zuko?" Katara asked when he'd been quiet far too long.

"I must have mistaken," he finally said, slowly and sadly. "I don't know; I guess I was out of it or something. But that's not her. I was wrong."

He nodded his apologies to their hostess, who stood there holding the food and looking completely confused. And with that, he closed his eyes and resolved to sleep as much as possible until nightfall.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 10

Katara's eyes fluttered open. She tried to remember what had happened before she blacked out. Everything seemed unclear. She remembered a man recognizing Zuko, the fear that went through her. Then she remembered the same man attacking her.

"Wha-?" She sat up quickly, expecting a jolting pain, since that was the last memory she had before she passed out. But surprisingly, the pain was not there.

The room was dark. Katara stared around, trying to get her bearings. She was in a tent of some kind, a drab brown sort of fabric. Perhaps like something the water tribe hunters might construct on a trip, though of thinner material. The furnishings were minimal – some blankets and extra clothes in neat piles along the wall. A strange woman sat in the corner, rough dark hair down to her shoulders. She had a kind face, and her hands were folded on her lap. Upon seeing her patient awake, she smiled.

"How are you feeling, my dear? You were asleep for quite a while." Her voice sounded soft and nurturing.

Katara rubbed her head. She touched the side of her face. Last she recalled, it was pretty nasty there. Now she just felt the lightest line of raised skin above her cheek. Had her injury been just a dream? It'd felt so real.

"I'm... feeling fine," she heard herself muttered vaguely, still looking around. Then she spotted the one other person in the tent. He was laying down on a single tan blanket.

Zuko. Katara almost called out his name, then she remembered they were supposed to be in hiding. So she knelt down next to him and tucked a piece of hair behind his ear. She could see him breathing, but his body lay so still, and his skin looked unhealthy and pale.

"Is he…?" Katara started to say.

"He'll live," the woman said. "But he's very tired. Very tired." She walked up and pulled a blanket up to Zuko's shoulders, staring at him a good long while before she spoke again.

"This boy…" she said. Her voice had a distant sound to it, like her mind was lost somewhere else. She motioned to the side of her own face. "How did he get that mark?"

Katara swallowed. While she and Zuko had talked about fake names, they hadn't discussed what excuse Zuko would give for his scar. Katara didn't expect anyone to question it. Just some guy from the Southern Water Tribe who got on a firebender's bad side and paid for it. It wasn't like the firebenders had played nice with the Water Tribes these past few years.

"A firebender did it," Katara said clumsily. "During a raid on his village."

The woman nodded like she not only knew Katara was lying, but also like she knew the truth. "I've seen many people with scars," she said. "But most have them on arms or hands, because when a firebender attacked them, they shielded their faces." She put up her arms as if blocking an attack. "Like this."

"They attacked in his sleep," Katara said.

The woman cocked her head to the side, as if looking for a way to contradict Katara's story. Her face started to look less kind now. "His family… I can't imagine how they must've felt."

"I wouldn't know," Katara said, lying yet again. "We haven't been traveling together that long." This time, however, the woman didn't seem to notice her lie at all. Instead, she just kept staring at Zuko's face.

"If anyone did this to my child," she said quietly. "I'd kill them."

The voice sent chills down Katara's spine. She had no doubt that their hostess meant every word. She decided to refrain from any more talk that evening and get to sleep early. The sooner they got away from this woman, however kind her intentions, the safer the two of them would be.


Katara woke up early the next morning and already had everything packed and ready to go before either Zuko or their hostess woke up. She walked over and nudged him awake. To her great relief, he stirred right away. He still looked awful, pale and sleep-deprived, but it was a step above unconscious.

"What day is it?" Zuko asked, his voice groggy and unfocused.


"The moon cycle… what day?"

Katara tried to remember what the sky had looked like before she fell asleep last night. Strange, without her waterbending, the movements of the moon weren't nearly as strong in her mind as they had been.

"It's waning, I know that," she said. "It's been getting thinner and thinner as we've travel."

"I thought so," Zuko mused. "It was so hard to heal you." He nodded towards Katara. "And I still didn't get it right, did I?"

Katara brought her hand up to her cheek and felt the faint scar under her eye. "That?" She tossed back her hair. "If I recall anything from that night, that firebender nearly burned half my face off. You healed all that." She smiled and suddenly the tent felt a lot quieter than it had a moment ago. She stared into Zuko's bright blue eyes. They almost looked natural on him, after all that traveling together. He was staring at her with such intensity that she couldn't help but wonder if he thought the same about her.

"Well," she said, clearing her throat. "We'd better get moving. I've packed everything we need." She leaned down and whispered, just in case their hostess was a light sleeper. "That woman who took us in. She seems nice and all, but I think she's a bit... unstable. We should leave right away."

"Um, yeah, about that," Zuko said. He spread his fingers apart, a shaky motion. "Unless that moon plans on re-appearing midday, I don't think I'm getting very far today."

Katara didn't like the sound of that. They couldn't stay in one place too long or they'd get caught. Plus, that woman who'd taken them in seriously creeped her out.

"I can move my hands a little," Zuko went on. "And I feel like I could waterbend perfectly fine. I just… can't get the bloodbending quite right."

That sounded promising. "So, can you walk normally then?"

Zuko laughed. "Katara, if I can feed myself today, I'll be impressed." The sound finally roused their hostess from her sleep, and she sat up groggily. Katara might've slapped Zuko if he wasn't so weak already. This woman already knew Zuko needed to recover, she didn't need to know how much.

"I'm so sorry, children," she said, rubbing her eyes and pulling the blankets awake. "I didn't realize you were awake already. Do you need something for breakfast?"

The moment Zuko saw her, his eyes widened. He turned his head to the side and made a coughing, gagging sort of sound. It was a bit melodramatic in Katara's opinion, but then again, she couldn't fault him for wanting to hide his face after what had happened the previous night.

"Is he sick?" the woman asked, stepping closer and reaching out a concerned hand.

"No, no, he's fine," Katara said quickly, rubbing Zuko's back. "But, yes, breakfast would be lovely. Thank you so much."

The woman stood there and gave a hard stare to both Katara and Zuko. Still, she nodded and exited the tent without an argument. Zuko wouldn't face Katara until she left.

"It's okay, you can cut the theatrics," Katara told him. Zuko finally turned to face her. He still looked very pale.

"Theatrics?" he asked, shaking his head. "Katara, did that woman act like she knew me? Did she say anything about me last night?"

"Um, she…" Katara wasn't too happy about admitting how bad a liar she'd felt like last night. "Well, she asked a lot about how you got your scar."

Zuko groaned.

"But, I made up a story for you," Katara went on. "See, you were asleep in your home in the Southern Water tribe, and then Fire Nation soldiers came and attacked you in your sleep, so you didn't have any chance to defend-"

"Katara, she knows you're lying. She knew who I was the second she found us."

Katara pouted a bit at this. "Hey, I know my deception skills aren't the best, but give me a little credit. It wasn't like I announced anything."

"No, no, it's got nothing to do with that," Zuko said. "She knows you're lying because she's my mother."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 9

Katara nodded down yet another alleyway, and Zuko followed her. They'd been approaching some sort of market, and the mass of people looked near impossible to work through. It had been three days since they left the palace, and so far, no one had given them any trouble, not even any strange looks. It seemed to be as Sokka had said, everyone just assumed he was a visitor from the Water Tribe. Zuko brushed his hands against the side of an old building. Small side streets had both good and bad points. On one hand, it kept them away from large crowds and Zuko figured that even in disguise, the less people who saw him, the better. On the other, if anyone did want to corner them, a quiet alley would be the ideal place to do it.

"Hello there, your majesty." The voice sent chills down Zuko's spine. He hadn't even realized someone was behind them until the man's breath was at his neck.

Katara impressively kept her wits about her and put on a convincing insulted face.

"Excuse me?" she said. "My friend Rokka here is just a representative from the Southern Water Tribe. He's not a leader there." Before she had the chance to move forward, however, another man darted out from behind a corner and stood right at her back. Neither had drawn weapons, Zuko noted. Of course, if they were skilled firebenders, they hardly needed to.

"Your sister's looking for you," the man next to Zuko whispered. "Now, if you'll just come quietly with us, this doesn't have to get ugly."

Right, because walking right into Azula's death trap isn't ugly. He had a plan worked out in his head for how this would work. First, it was best to get their guards down by going along with them a little ways. Then he could find the perfect opening when their backs were turned, and…

…and Katara really didn't follow the same strategy. With a flick of her hand, she'd already thrown a small flame in their enemies' direction, causing them to jump back and ready themselves for a full-on battle. Katara readied a firebending stance herself, pausing just a moment to narrow her eyes at Zuko.

"A little help would be nice," she said.

A little subtlety would've been nice too. Zuko said nothing and readied an attack position as well, but couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. Katara glared at him like he was the stupidest person ever born.

"You didn't bring any water with you?"

"Hey, I'm not used to having to carry anything to use my bending, all right?" he snapped back. "I mean, can you imagine having to carry a torch with you everywhere or hope you get lucky enough to be standing near a lantern when you firebend? How stupid would that be?"

"Then find some water, you idiot!"

Zuko looked desperately around him. At the end of the alleyway, he saw a small fountain. Perfect, he thought. Or rather, it would've been perfect if he could call the water from this far a distance. Cursing himself for his stupidity, Zuko ran towards the water source, with one of the men on his tail and the other fighting off Katara.

Their enemies were both firebenders, for sure. Zuko could feel the hot flames behind him, each barely missing an arm or a leg. His mind was a blur as he focused on nothing but running, nothing but getting within range of the water. At last, he reached out his hand and a large jet of water came towards him so fast, he had to sidestep it. It pummeled the guy chasing him and knocked him unconscious to the ground. An excellent start. He turned to see how Katara was faring and saw it wasn't nearly as well.

The other firebender had Katara pinned to the ground, his hand inches from her face. She turned her head this way and that to avoid him, but getting out of his grip proved impossible. And no matter how fast Zuko ran, he could not get there fast enough. He watched in horror as the flames erupted from the man's fingertips, flowing onto Katara's exposed skin. Her scream pierced Zuko's ears. He felt a moment of fear, then his body was overcome with rage. He ran forward, barely aware of his own actions. The water from the nearby fountain lept up and came alongside him, split, and hardened into a blade of ice in each hand. He thrust the weapons forward, catching the man off-guard.

He jumped back, barely missing being wounded on the arm. Katara, still gasping in pain, had enough of her wits about her to roll away from danger. Covering the injured side of her face with one hand, she threw a line of fire in the man's direction. Now outnumbered, he threw up his hands in surrender, and disappeared down the road.

Zuko's first intuition was to follow him, hunt him down and make him pay for the pain he'd caused. Then he heard Katara's voice, quiet, whimpering. She knelt down on the road, clutching her face and leaning over. Zuko ran to her side. Even with her fingers hiding most of the injury, he could tell it was bad. Gingerly, he tried to pull her hand aside.

"It... it hurts," Katara whispered.

"I know," Zuko said. "I know, but I need to see it."

Reluctantly, Katara moved her arm and Zuko saw her face in full view. Her right eye was swollen shut, the skin around it red and raw from the burn. The sight brought far too many memories to his mind. He heard his 13-year-old self crying for mercy and getting none of it. Instantly, the cold dagger in his hands melted into an orb of floating water. It rested on Katara's face and began to glow. Zuko concentrated all his energy into healing the injury. He could see the skin starting to heal, but only lightly. This wasn't working. Not as well as he needed it to. A bead of sweat dripped down Zuko's face as he concentrated harder. He had to heal her. He couldn't let it scar. Not Katara's beautiful face. He would restore it, even if it took hours, even if he had to spend all the energy he had.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Memory Monday: Joke Time!

JT has started telling jokes. If you are not aware of the language development of an average four-year-old, know that jokes told by most children from preschool through early elementary have punchlines that make no sense. The goal of the joke is to say the most ridiculous thing one can think of.

Q: What's turtle plus baby?
A: An octopus!

Q: Why does a fin have two fins?
A: So it can swim!

As a parent, you laugh at these jokes because they do not yet revolve around trying to get you to say something inappropriate by repeating certain letters or the names of certain planets. Incidentally, during my adventures as a substitute teacher, I did have a fourth grader who repeatedly asked me to "spell iCup." It took quite a few rounds of me starting of the spelling with "E-Y-E" before the realization dawned that it was possible, just possible, that I had heard this joke before.

I love my four-year-old and his random word humor. :)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 8

Zuko swallowed, feeling the dry edges of his throat stick together. He couldn't remember being this thirsty, not since the time he'd struck out on his own, away from Iroh. Azula knew how to deal with firebenders for sure, but she seemed pretty adept at making a waterbender just as miserable.

Zuko shifted his arms slightly, but with his hands chained and his body dehydrated, he could barely get any movement out of them. His mind was a blur, every time he tried to think of a way of escape, he came up empty. For all he could see, Azula had won.

One of the four guards assigned to watch him turned around at the sound of the chains moving. He narrowed his eyes at his prisoner, looking like was about to shout something, when suddenly the man's face turned... well, a bit green. He raised his hand and wiped his forehead, which had started to sweat. Then he stumbled backwards, barely catching himself as he fell to the ground, out like a light. The other three barely had time to notice what was happening before they too fell victim to the same mysterious ailment.

Zuko held his breath. Was there some sort of poison in the air? Where was it coming from? Why hadn't it affected him yet?

Before he could come to any conclusions, however, Zuko heard the dungeon door slowly creak open and a light set of footsteps began to descend. A familiar figure rounded the corner.

"Sokka!" Zuko exclaimed. Well, it wasn't really exclaiming, he barely had a voice, it came out as more of a hoarse whisper. Sokka shushed him anyway and walked up to the prison door, fumbling with a set of keys.

"How did you...?" Zuko asked in shock, staring at the four unconscious guards on the floor.

Sokka smirked, though not as much as he normally did when he was explaining how genius his plans were. "The thing is, Zuko, growing up in the fire nation, you don't learn as much about the natural world as the people of the water tribe. It's true, there are plants that make a great stinkbomb. But there's also the varieties that can knock you right out if you eat it. I snuck some into the guards' lunch."

"Not bad," Zuko muttered.

"I snuck in to see Katara already," whispered Sokka. "I wanted to try and spring her out, but the lock was complicated, and..." He stopped and looked at the ground. "And she insisted on me getting you out first."

"What?" Zuko asked, blushing a bit. "Why?"

"Hey, don't get any weird ideas. Your life's in the most danger. If Azula kills Katara, she loses her bargaining chip with Aang. But if she kills you, she loses her only competition for the throne. Of course, if she kills Katara, I'll kill you, but you know…" His sentence trailed off as he began working on the chains on Zuko's wrists.

"Hey, you have any advice for, like, using firebending to keep your body warm?"

Zuko strained to look Sokka in the face, but the odd angle made it difficult. "What do you mean?"

"They've got Katara in something like that cooler we saw at the Boiling Rock. She seemed okay when I talked to her, but later, when I overheard her talking to the guard, she sounded really quiet and weak. Like she was just putting on a brave front for me."

Sokka finally managed to release Zuko's arms and began working on his legs next. His tone was a forced calm – he wanted nothing more than to be with his sister, helping her.

Zuko growled. "There's a technique she knows, but if she didn't start using it right away, it's not going to work now. Her bending will be gone for at least few days even if you got her out of there right this minute."

Sokka scowled as he freed Zuko's left leg and went for the right. "Guess even knowing all your techniques doesn't help her much if she doesn't realize when to use them," he said sharply. The last of the chains fell off and Zuko shakily got to his feet. He could feel the water beginning to circulate in his body, increasing his control. Sokka handed him a waterskin, which he guzzled like a greedy child until there wasn't a drop left in it.

"Come on," he said, wiping his mouth. "Let's go get her out."

He started for the open prison door, but Sokka put out his hand to stop him. "No. You leave, and I'll get her out. The only reason I came here first was because she insisted. If you go with me, it kinda defeats the purpose, doesn't it?"

He reached down on the floor and picked up something Zuko hadn't noticed before. Some pile of fabric that he shoved into Zuko's hands.

"Here. It's an extra set of Water Tribe clothes. Katara thinks you'll be able to sneak around the capital easier if everyone thinks you're a representative from the South Pole."

As Zuko stared at the gift, trying to concoct some other reason for why he should stay, Sokka turned and headed back up the stairs. The heavy prison door closed behind him, but didn't lock. Standing alone in the silence, Zuko sighed and began changing. Maybe Sokka and Katara had a point. He had to find Azula's weakness to defeat her, and he couldn't do that from inside a dungeon. In fact, as he thought over exactly who might know Azula's weaknesses, his best bet for success lay a long way from here.

Zuko crept up the stairs and slowly eased the door open. Azula had screwed up concentrating all his guards so close to him. Once outside the dungeon, sneaking out of the palace was quite literally child's play, something he'd mastered long ago. If he'd actually stayed in his room every time Ozai told him to when he was younger, he might've died of boredom.

Outside it was already night. Right, Zuko thought. I should've guessed as much. I can't move nearly this well during the day. The moon looked to be about halfway full. Zuko decided to count his blessings and continued to put as much distance between himself and the palace. He wasn't running, wasn't really sure he could run, but if he wanted to blend into the crowd, he couldn't look like he was in a hurry. No one seemed to think anything of him in the Water Tribe attire, but then, not many people had a huge scar covering half their face either. He had to stay cautious.

Guilt ate away at Zuko as he kept moving. Was it really okay to run away like this? Wasn't it his duty to stay and protect his country? What would happen to everything with Azula in charge? And with Aang pretending that all her orders came from Zuko, would he even be welcomed when he returned?

"Hey, wait up!"

The voice sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite believe it. Yet when he turned his head, there she was, hurrying in his direction.

Dang it, Katara, you're going to blow my cover, Zuko thought. But, no, Katara was more clever than that. She stood next to Zuko, but looked in the opposite direction.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were someone I knew," she said to a tall guy standing nearby.

"Quite all right," the tall man muttered, and the crowd lost their interest in both of them, moving about their business. Katara winked at Zuko, as if to acknowledge that yes, she did realize how clever she was, and no, he didn't have to break his act to tell her so.

Zuko rolled his eyes. He didn't plan to have anyone come along with him, let alone her. Still, it felt good to have a friend by his side.

"How'd you get out of the cooler?" he asked when they'd reached a more secluded area. "Sokka said you sounded wiped out."

"Huh? Sokka overheard that?" She groaned and massaged her forehead. "Oh, no. I was hamming it up for the guard so Azula would think everything was working. I didn't mean for it to work on Sokka too." Her face suddenly took on a fierce look of determination. "All right, you'd better have a plan to get your sorry self back on that throne before my brother has a mental breakdown. Where are we headed?"

Zuko scoffed. It wasn't like it was his fault that Sokka had misunderstood. And anyway, Azula was probably going to notice sooner rather than later that Katara's cell was empty.

"In the general direction of Kyoshi Island," he answered. "But hopefully we don't have to go that far."