“You’d be surprised.” A scoff left her, short and halting. It hurt her throat, scratching at the hoarse tissue worse than her voice. “That does make you better.”
Katara swallowed, grimacing. Looking at him through the bright flames in the cave’s center was straining her eyes. She let her gaze fall to the small presentation of fruit and dried meat. Blueberries. She hadn’t tasted something so sweet in over a year; her mouth watered. That didn’t convince her to eat them.
Resolutely, stupidly, Katara tucked her hands under her arms and ignored the food. Unless she watched her captor catch it, kill it, and cook it, she wasn’t eating a thing. She’d had enough of strange substances and the strange feelings that followed.
The water, however—
She couldn’t help it. Her tongue was so dry. Her throat burned with every inhale, every exhale. Katara threw a glance across the cave at the masked man— he still wasn’t facing her— and snatched the waterskin from the stone floor, guzzling down half of it.
Then, she was on her feet. She’d been torn between using what remained to heal or fight. Instinct settled on the latter.
Katara’s captor turned at the noise, the clatter of rocks around her feet and the sound of water splashing. She had the water frozen into needles, hovering around her. If the assault weren’t so deadly, it’d be pretty; little icicles refracting rainbows of firelight.
But she glared, a harsh juxtaposition to the simple beauty. “Don’t move. Don’t move or I’ll— I—”
It took but a second for Katara to realize something was wrong. Something was terribly, horribly wrong. She was dizzy and shaky. Her legs quaked with tremors and her heart thundered in her chest, marking shallow breaths. She should’ve known better than to stand so quickly; should’ve been smarter than to gorge herself on water.
The needle-like shards fell, shattered. Katara keeled over, retching on the cave’s floor with enough violence to bring to tears to eyes. Then, she stumbled. A grab for the wall couldn’t keep her upright.
Her head cracked against the stone when she fell and her world returned to black.
Before he could react beyond snapping his head in her direction, she was on her feet. Her hands were before her and all the water in his canteen frozen into darts and directed at him. His heart thudded in his chest and for a the space of a breath he was convinced he wouldn’t be able to defend himself in time. He’d underestimated her, didn’t stop to think that she might fight him–
But then her voice wavered like a fire sputtering without enough fuel behind it, and the ice she’d formed all fell to the ground and scattered into a thousand glittering pieces against the rock. It was a momentary distraction that would have been beautiful in the firelight had Zuko given it any kind of notice, but then she fell to her knees and emptied the–notably little–contents of her stomach before the rest of her gave out and she dropped the rest of the way to the ground.
The fact that he reached her a moment after she’d collapsed didn’t matter for much when he found blood trickling out from beneath her hairline. Cursing under his breath, Zuko shifted her as carefully as he could without moving her neck too much so that her shoulders and head were propped up against one of his legs.
“Dammit!” he hissed to no one. He hadn’t saved her from certain death only for her to crack her skull against the wall and die anyway. He had traveled with very little, and had even less medical supplies. Though it did no good whatsoever, he glanced around, as if the answer of what he could do lie within the flickering dimness of the cave.
The longer she remained unconscious, the worse it could potentially be, that he knew for sure. He had to try and wake her up if she didn’t start to on her own, soon. Zuko held a firm hand against the back of her neck and rolled her slightly onto her side–it’d be even worse if she threw up again and ended up choking on her own sick–and stretched back to reach the canvas pack. If he could just get it to prop beneath her, he would be able to maybe go find something that would help. It was just out of range of his fingers. Of course.
“Wake up,” he said to her abrasively, his voice a rough scrape that echoed faintly. “You survived all this time in chains, you can’t let a rock finish the job that couldn’t even do.” As he spoke, he tugged off one of his gloves and gently pressed his palm against her head, feeling for any sign of fracture while trying to put some pressure on where it was bleeding. “And you can’t die and make all the effort it took getting you out a waste. I could have just dealt with the raiders and left you but I didn’t. Don’t tell me I wasted my time doing that. Wake up.” It didn’t matter what he said so long as he was talking and giving her something to hopefully register and focus on to lead her back to consciousness.
His other hand was pressed between her shoulder and his leg from shifting her, so he couldn’t do much other than squeeze with his fingers. Maybe if he did that hard enough, maybe if he risked a bit of heat through his fingertips…