Friday, June 26, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 15

Got pretty sick last week, so my apologies for the random silence. Double chapters this week to make up for it. :)

Zuko wanted to scream. He couldn't be here again, helpless, easy to manipulate. He'd left the palace so he could become stronger, so this wouldn't happen again. He listened for the sound of the Kyoshi warriors fighting, but it seemed they too had been cornered. All he could hear was Katara's breathing. She'd moved so her lips were practically at his ears.

"Zuko," she whispered so faintly he could barely make it out. "There's a large beam above our heads. Let's jump for it.'

He glanced up. The beam in question was so far out of jumping range, it was laughable. "Katara, there's no way. I don't even know if Ty Lee could."

"I'm going to go for it first," Katara said. "You're going to use bloodbending to give me a boost."

Zuko stared at her, wondering if she'd gone completely insane. "Are you suggesting I levitate you?"

"You could send a stream of water up there. Why not me?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because you're not a stream of water."

That last part was loud enough that one of the guards shot a warning flame in his direction. "Hey, enough whispering. Are you coming quietly or not?"

"I'm giving you permission. It's okay. I'm going to jump on three. One…"

Zuko shook his head. What was wrong with her?


She'd just explained to Ty Lee the dangers of this, right? So she knew full well how delicate it was, how difficult to keep the target safe and how easy to hurt them. How could she ask him to--

"…three!" Katara leapt up. Zuko yelled out in frustration. But her feet had already left the ground; the guards were already to attack her. He had no choice. He held out his arms and concentrating everything on lifting her higher. Just like a pool of water. But so much more precious and delicate that that. He concentrated everything on keeping her safe. He'd done it before. He'd never known the sensation of putting his all into bending like that before. Maybe that was why the lightening had never come to him. He'd never been able to put his total focus there before. But this… this was everything.

Suddenly, Zuko realized that he didn't have to concentrate anymore. Katara was staying suspended in the air on her own, gripping the beam far above them. He released his power over her, and she fired down a series of flames onto the guards' heads. The group of them were so bewildered at what had just happened, their reaction time was horrifically slowed. Then, to add to their confusion, Zuko collapsed. He didn't actually mean to; bloodbending Katara up into the air had taken more energy than he thought. But several of them stood back in surprise, and the rest of them scattered to get out of range of Katara's attack.

I have to get up. I have to help her fight. He flexed his fingers. The movement was right, but he could barely lift his arms; they felt so heavy. Just then, he felt Katara helping him to his feet.

"I'm sorry," she said worriedly. "It was a stupid idea. I should have thought about how much that would drain you."

"It's fine," he muttered, even though it was painfully obvious how not fine he was. Behind him, he heard the sound of several people collapsing to the ground. He looked back to see Ty Lee and the others with a group of fallen guards at their feet.

"Sheesh! Couldn't get a hit in to chi block them, waving that fire all over the place," Ty Lee said, blowing a piece of hair out of her face. "Now we've got some room to maneuver." A guard yelled and charged at her, but she easily sidestepped it, nailing him in the back and sending him down on the ground with his fellows.

"We can handle ourselves," Suki said, preparing her fan. "You two go ahead."

Zuko smiled and nodded. Then he took a long slow breath and straightened himself up. Still with Katara's support, he turned and addressed the guards.

"I am not a traitor," he announced. "I'm going to see my sister. But I'm doing it on my terms!" He took a few steps towards the door that led to the heart of the palace. His strength wasn't coming back nearly as fast as he wanted, but it was coming. He would do this. His friends would help him do this. Katara seemed to sense his thoughts and smiled. Then she threw the door open. Zuko wanted nothing more than to go sprinting down the hallway, but the best he could manage was a quick shuffle as Katara continued to support him. Even so, he could feel a bit of strength coming back. The hall was clear, at least. It seemed Azula had concentrated her forces in that single room. Well, the preliminary forces, anyway. No doubt there would be more.

"Why did you tell me to do that? After all that talk with Ty Lee about how dangerous bloodbending is?"

Katara smiled warmly at him. "Because I knew you could do it if you were pushed to. Especially on someone who was a willing target. Focusing on Azula would've been a whole different mess. But, hey, on this," she gave him the most annoying grin, "on this, I trusted you."

He turned a bit red at those words. It wasn't like people told him too often that they trusted him to be able to get anything right. Even his uncle seemed hesitant to trust his judgment at times. Not that he'd earned a whole lot of trust. But it felt good to start getting some back. Especially from Katara.

Zuko realized that his face had grown warmer, and he couldn't figure out why. He didn't… like Katara, did he? And even if he did, there was hardly a worse time to be thinking about it. He breathed deeply and picked up his pace as best he could.

The path to the throne room was short, but not clear. They ran into at least half a dozen guards on the way. Not all of them fought; he noticed at least two running ahead, no doubt to inform Azula they'd entered. Zuko gritted his teeth as he sprayed water at one guard's feet, turning it to ice and freezing the guard in place. He would have rather faced two more people than lose their element of surprise. Against Azula, they needed every advantage they could get. But Katara's words poured a confidence into him that hadn't been there shortly ago. With the four guards down, they continued on. He could see the door to the throne room, so close he could touch it--

The grand double doors swung open before he got to the handle. And there (his stomach turned at the sight), stood Azula. Her arms were crossed, and she had that smug smile that seemed permanently etched onto her face.

"Welcome, dear brother," she said. "I was wondering when you'd show up."

Zuko and Katara hurried into the room. Zuko could feel his energy draining again. He'd done too much in that last fight; he should've conserved his strength. On instinct, he crouched into a firebending stance, even though the logical side of his brain reminded him that it wouldn't do anything. Azula laughed and strode over until she stood only inches from his face. Zuko glanced around them. Azula had planned for his return, all right. He could see the entire palace staff standing around the huge throne room. A safe distance from the fight they expected to erupt, but eagerly watching to see if the rumors Azula had spread were true. Watching to see if Zuko had betrayed his firebending and his country.

"Nice outfit," she said, nodding down at the Water Tribe clothes he still wore. "I guess you wanted to make your confession nice and official, then?"

Zuko gritted his teeth. Some part of his brain wanted to bloodbend her right here and now. If she had a clue what he could do to her, she wouldn't be bragging. She'd be begging for mercy.

And then what would that make me? he thought. If not a monster and a traitor, even moreso than she says I am?

He lowered his hands, not into a waterbending stance, but simply leaving them loose at his sides.

"Zuko, what are you--" Katara started to say, but Azula wouldn't let her finish. With one hand, she shoved Zuko to the ground. With the other, she prepared her fire. Her blue flame hovered within an inch of his neck as she held him pinned. He could feel its heat, ready to burn through his throat as soon as Azula got mad enough to do it.

"You're a waterbender," she said through an ever-maddening smile. "Admit it for everyone to hear."

Zuko held his grip on Azula's arm, trying and still failing to push it away. Then it felt like a fog had melted away from his mind. He did have a way to beat Azula. And it was by doing exactly what she demanded.

"Yes, I'm a waterbender," he said quietly.

Her eyes widened in shock. "What did you say?"

Zuko didn't answer immediately. He focused his mind not just on keeping his own body moving but on hers as well. He rotated his arm and felt Azula's pressure on his shoulder lessen. Then he yanked his arm out from under her and sent a torrent of water cascading at her chest. It hit her full force and she toppled backwards. The blue flame was quickly extinguished.

"I said, I'm a waterbender," Zuko repeated. He stood so everyone could see, spoke loud enough that everyone could hear. All around him, people gasped, pointed, and whispered. There was no backing out of this now.

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 14

Zuko was disappointed to learn the Kyoshi warriors did not, in fact, know any secret methods of getting into a heavily guarded palace undetected. He knew a few of the least guarded entrances, of course. And maybe if they'd had Toph here, she could've found a way for them to tunnel in. But realistically, they had to be ready for a fight. The only question was where and with whom. One of the Kyoshi warriors claimed she could do a bit of earthbending, but not enough to break down any major walls. If anyone happened to throw a small rock at Zuko or Katara's head, she'd be happy to help out there.

It was a long journey back to the palace and Zuko made most of it in silence. Every step of the way, he second-guessed himself. What if they were moving too early? What if Azula had hurt Aang or Toph… okay, she probably couldn't hurt Toph, but Sokka or any of the palace staff still loyal to him? What had she done in the capital in his absence? The only thing he was sure of was her takeover was not public knowledge yet; even Azula knew that overthrowing two firelords in the same month would've caused more chaos than she could handle.

Zuko looked out over the horizon as the group scaled a series of cliffs leading up to the entrance he suspected was their best bet. In preparation for the day of black sun, his father had left an impressive labyrinth of secret tunnels leading in and out of the palace. The man had assumed in his overconfidence that no one could find the tunnels who didn't know about them in the first place.

Well, that'd be his first mistake right there. He looked out over the horizon and at least took comfort in the that fact that everything in the capital seemed normal enough. Maybe even Azula couldn't cause too much damage over a few days.

"We're almost there," he whispered. Katara glared at him for stating the obvious. He ignored her. "I don't think Azula will attack me directly," he went on, pulling himself up the final slope. He almost slipped and fell, with Suki catching him and pulling him to safety. "At least, not in private. I'm pretty sure she wants a crowd."

"So, what exactly do you think she's told all the guards about you?" Katara asked.

"Probably to capture me and bring me to her."

Katara crossed her arms. "Well, here's a novel idea. Have you thought about trying to get yourself captured?"

"Oh, right, get me in that waterless prison again and you in another freezer. No thanks."

He pointed in the direction they needed to walk and motioned for everyone to follow. Katara sighed, but fell into line. Zuko wanted to sigh too. Did she actually think that he'd gotten so much better at bloodbending in this short space of time that he could get himself free if Azula captured him? She had way too much confidence.

"Okay, I don't get it," said Ty Lee. "The way you two have talked, it sounds like your bloodbending has only been getting better each day. So why can't you just bloodbend Azula?"

The other warriors looked at Ty Lee like she'd gone insane. Zuko mostly looked at the ground.

"I… I'm not sure if I can do that," he said. "It takes a lot of concentration just to use it on myself, and--"

"Okay, yeah, but you waterbend at the same time. It can't be that much different, can it?"

He still didn't look up at her. Really, the ground was absolutely fascinating right now. Way easier to look at the pretty leaves than to explain just how uncomfortable he felt about her suggestion.

"Do you know what it feels like to control someone else's body like that?" That was Katara's voice. Strange how she sounded so serious and quiet at the same time.

"I know how it feels to stop someone from moving," Ty Lee retorted.

"That's not the same," Katara replied. Zuko chanced to look up now. Katara was holding her hand out, as if grasping an invisible ball. Rays of warm sunlight danced across her palm. "Imagine trying to walk a tightrope."

"I am pretty good at that."

"Well, imagine you're pretty awful at it and then imagine that one little slip and it's not you that's in danger. It's someone else. Someone who has no way to defend themselves against you." She tightened her hand into a fist. "Bloodbending takes a person's life in your hands. Literally. It's nothing to mess around with."

"Well, you better think about messing around with it," Ty Lee said, walking ahead of them both. "'Cause I can promise you, Azula's got no problem using everything she's got."


Zuko was impressed. The secret entrance that had been built into the palace for the day of black sun had actually been left without guards. He and the others snuck in without encountering any obstacles. It felt really good at first, walking down the corridor, straight for Azula. There weren't even any tributaries along this path to get them lost; it just ended at a large storage room. From there, it would be a simple walk up to--

Then Zuko's stomach dropped. Was he really that clueless? Azula knew the palace as well as he did. This path would only be left clear if she was a complete idiot. And that was one thing she had never been. He was probably walking into her hand and only now realizing it.

"Hang on," he whispered. The small bit of sunlight that had been at the entrance to the tunnel was long behind them now. Still, he heard the girls' footsteps stop. "I think we have to turn back," he said. "Find another way in."

"Zuko," Suki whispered in reply. "We're almost there. Why on earth would we--"

Just then, the area around them was flooded with orange light. The tunnel had ended. Now, lit torches lined the walls of the storage room, just as Zuko remembered it, and no less than two dozen Fire Nation guards were poised to attack.

Katara reacted first. "Get into open space!"

No one had to be told twice. The Kyoshi warriors moved with all the speed and efficiency they were famous for, heading off to the left of the storage room and distracting a good half of the guards. However, it was clear the guards had their orders to keep their focus on Zuko and Katara, because the other half of the group quickly had them surrounded. Katara aimed a fireball at one of them, but he dispersed it easily. Zuko tried throwing a spray of water at another. A wave of heat from her hands turned most of it to useless steam. Zuko gritted his teeth.

"So it's exactly as Azula said," the soldier spat, "You're not our leader. You've betrayed your own nation to join the Water Tribe!"

"No, I… that's not how it happened--" Zuko couldn't find the words. And the guards didn't give him a chance, either. Every one of them had a flame ready.

"Azula wants you in the throne room," another said. "You can come quietly or make this difficult. You decide."

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fanfic Friday: Switched Powers, Chapter 13

Ten minutes later, the group sat around a fire. "Second dinner", as Ty Lee had dubbed it, consisted some boiled root vegetables and rice. The space was devoid of words and instead filled with the sounds of the crackling fire, the midnight scurrying of the woodland animals, and the clinking of everyone's chopsticks against their bowls. It was Ty Lee who finally broke the silence between the human beings.

"Y'know," she said, nabbing another clump of rice and putting it in her mouth, "this has always been a problem with you, Zuzu."

Zuko groaned at the nickname, but decided it best not to waterbend at the people he was asking for help. "What," he said in the best controlled tone he could manage, "has always been a problem with me?"

"You hate looking weak. I mean, really hate it. What exactly would've happened if you would've just… y'know, kept your firebending powers from the start?"

He groaned. "What do you think would've happened? I would've looked--" He cut off his own words, searching for some synonym. When it didn't come fast enough, Ty Lee got a gleeful look of triumph on her face.

"Uh-huh. That's what I thought."

Zuko scowled and rubbed his forehead, mostly to break eye contact with Ty Lee. Suki was a little more sympathetic. "I think I understand where you were coming from," she said gently. "It's natural that you wanted to look strong as a new leader. And you couldn't have known that all this would happen. But now that it has… have you considered leveling with everyone?"

He only grunted in reply. Of course he'd considered it. Did she think he was an idiot? But the problem was that every time he thought about, he didn't see any other option than to admit everything. The fact was, all the palace staff now thought he was a traitor to their country. Anytime Azula wanted to spread that message farther, she had the perfect crowd of witnesses to do it with. And of course, all he had to do was show his face in the Fire Nation again and it would confirm her story. Surely giving them the truth couldn't make him seem worse than that.

"Hey, don't look so down," one of the other Kyoshi warriors piped up. "We can help you get back into the palace, no problem."

Again, Zuko did not reply. Then, Katara's hand was on his shoulder. "We'll all help," she whispered. "Let's do this together."


The group stayed out in the woods that night. Only Zuko couldn't sleep. The night air was filled with the sounds of crickets, scampering animals, and Katara's slow and rhythmic exhales. They weren't in the same little tent, of course. That would've just been uncomfortable. But still, he knew her breathing. She snored.

Zuko sat up and rubbed his face. He'd suffered insomnia enough times to know when sleep was a lost cause. Besides that, the moon was only making movement easier. It would be a good use of time to get up and practice. Carefully, he tiptoed outside and headed for the creek beside their campsite. He watched the water's surface rippling like liquid metal under the moon's watchful eye. Well, the best way to practice was to get his hands dirty. He walked up to the bank and stepped in. The creek was shallow, only coming up to his ankles. He imagined, if he had any sensation in his feet, the cold would be biting into his skin. But the most feedback the bloodbending would give him was the sluggish way his muscles moved when they had to step through liquid instead of air. He briefly wondered if wading out far enough could give him hypothermia without his notice. But then he felt the night wind blow warm and comfortable on his face and decided that last thought was really stupid.

At first, Zuko just stood, lifted up a blob of water and let it float from one hand to another. Then, as he grew bored of that, he started moving the water in larger quanities. At some point (he had no clue how long he'd been out here), Suki walked up and sat down on a rock several yards away from him. At first, she rested there soundlessly, watching as he pulled and pushed the water in rhythmic waves. The sound was comforting, drawing him into his few pleasant childhood memories. He thought of the smell of salt as he stood looking over the beaches of Ember Island with his mother.

"A little late night waterbending?" He'd almost forgotten Suki was there when she spoke up again and surprised him. She then slipped off the rock and walked over. Classic Kyoshi style. If he hadn't seen her approach, she could've snuck up on him without a sound. "Kind of a big day tomorrow, invading the palace and all. Don't you think you should be getting some rest?"

Zuko nodded. "Oh, I know I should be getting some rest. I just… wanted to take the time to do this, that's all." He let out a long sigh and pushed a decent wave across the lake, startling some animals that were taking a drink on the opposite side. "Can I tell you something in confidence?" he asked. Suki nodded. In truth, Zuko wasn't sure he wanted to tell anyone what he was thinking right now. On the other hand, if he didn't tell someone, he might cower out. "I've put a lot of thought into it. And I've reached the decision that… that I think the leader of the Fire Nation should be a firebender. When I return to the throne, I'm going to ask Aang to switch our powers back again."

Suki nodded thoughtfully. "And you're not telling Katara this?"

"I want to. But I know she'll tell me not to do it. She might even refuse to do it. I'm hoping if I can put her on the spot, she won't have any choice." He groaned and shoved a wave of water away. "Arg, I can't believe how much I'm plotting against her."

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time." Suki cracked a smile, but when Zuko didn't return it, her face fell serious again. "But I don't understand. Without the bloodbending, you can't move, can you?"

"I can a small amount. It's how I get the hand movements to control the rest of my body now." He twitched his fingers and lifted his arm to rest his hand in front of his face. The skin was rough, especially on the palms where he frequently gripped his swords. It looked like the hand of an adult. "And maybe with some time…" He shook his head and lowered his hand once again. "It's not my comfort that matters here. Please promise me you mention any of this to Katara."

"Zuko, I really think you should--"

"Promise me." Even if everything else in his world had turned upside down lately, at least he still knew how to give an order.

Suki sighed and shook her head. "Fine. I promise."