@teaandcrowns | closed starter
‘So many people have not handled you with care,’ he said.
That was his answer to her demands for a reason. Why did you take me? What do you want with me? Why am I here? Katara eyed her captor warily, refusing to move from her defensive position against the furthest rock wall.
He’d undone the shackles on her wrists, but that didn’t make her trust him. He’d brought her water, fruit, and jerky, but that didn’t make her grateful to him. His mask was a hideous mockery of a river spirit; his clothing was as black as the night in which he stole her away. Only his eyes and his dual blades caught the firelight, reflecting a gold that was almost familiar to her.
Katara shook her head as if to clear it. There was no one left that she knew. She was the last of them, and she’d been inches from death two nights prior, when this wraith found her, saved her, as he seemed to think.
‘So many people have not handled you with care.’
She toyed with the words in her head, unable to fathom what he could mean. A small part of her, the prideful part that still sparked up and fought back when she had the strength was angered by it. How dare he imply she was broken? How dare he pretend he was some kind of savior? He was a monster, as frightening and dark and elusive as the monsters that haunted her dreams.
Katara glared across the small cave he’d made his home, her voice like shattered ice. “I suppose you think you’re better?”
His hands didn’t even pause in their movements at her question, only the most recent of many. If he were being honest with himself, he knew that it had never originally crossed his mind to save her; she was only one prisoner of many, and his goal had been to stop the marauders, not embark upon a rescue mission. And yet–that’s what it had become, in the end.
Zuko’s gaze fell from her furious one to the cave floor, shadows flickering across it from the firelight beside him like the long fingers of a specter. He couldn’t answer any of the questions she’d asked him before. Why had he taken her, when he hadn’t bothered to try and save anyone else? Was it because she’d been the last alive and that left him with little choice? Was it guilt that he felt? (If it was guilt, was it for himself, for what he was? Or was it for the country he was born to?) He wasn’t sure of anything, really; he couldn’t answer her.
Nor did he want anything from her. The thought had never even crossed his mind. In fact, he hadn’t thought at all–when he saw her, he just moved and cut her chains and carried her, unconscious, to the first secure cave he’d found. She was light–too light. He wasn’t sure how long they’d been starving her, but he wasn’t about to risk her life by giving her more than small portions of light food until after the first few days.
Even if he didn’t know much of who she was, he knew what she was, and he knew what that meant for her treatment. Being a waterbender captured by firebenders–his people, he thought a little sourly–was an offense punishable by death. Even if those people were criminals themselves. Zuko hadn’t meant to say what he did aloud. He really hadn’t intended to say anything at all–the Blue Spirit wasn’t for that–but he had, and he had to deal with that fact. Now that he had said something, however, he was surprised to find he only halfway regretted it. Sure, it very well could have revealed more of him than he wanted it to, but at the same time, it also showed him her spirit had not been broken. And, perhaps, that she was stronger than he had originally feared from her imprisonment.
So when she asked him if he thought he was better, he could have laughed. Finally, a question he could answer.
“No,” Zuko told her. “I’m not. But I’m not going to mistreat you or hurt you.”
He still didn’t look at her, instead reaching into his worn canvas pack. There was more food in there that he’d stolen for his own share, but he’d be willing to give some of it to her to start truly rebuilding her strength. She couldn’t stay here forever, and now that she wasn’t unconscious anymore, he somehow doubted she’d let him carry her again.