|The Turning Point
Author: Kimberly T PM
Set in mid-3rd season, post-The Firebending Masters; the beginnings of Zutara. But first, they must get past the issue of betrayal under Ba Sing Se...Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Zuko & Katara - Words: 5,768 - Reviews: 39 - Favs: 53 - Follows: 10 - Published: 01-02-11 - Status: Complete - id: 6615979
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Turning Point
By Kimberly T.
Author's note: this story takes place between 'The Firebending Masters' and 'The Boiling Rock, Part 1'. But who was really betrayed, back in Ba Sing Se? it's time to set the record straight...
It all started with a tea set.
The deluxe tea set that Zuko had brought with him to the Western Air Temple, to be precise. He'd brought it out of his room right after lunch, mumbling something about having figured on his uncle being with him, then said in a louder voice, "Since I have it here, might as well use it, right? Would anyone like me to make tea?"
He had such a hopeful look on his face, that several of the people still there letting their just-eaten lunch settle said yes just to keep him from being disappointed.
Except Katara, of course. She immediately snapped at him while washing the dishes from lunch, "No, thanks; I don't feel like being poisoned today."
Zuko looked hurt for an instant, while everyone else rolled their eyes. Katara's endless snapping and snarling at the Fire Nation prince had been going on for five days straight, and they were all sick and tired of it… except for Katara, of course; she had as much vitriol in her as ever. Even the fact that Aang and Zuko had gone off alone to restore Zuko's fire, and had come back with Aang not dead and not captured for the Fire Lord and even doing a little firebending of his own, hadn't done anything to ease her conviction that Zuko was a useless pampered prince and also Evil Incarnate who was just waiting for the opportunity to betray them all.
Really, what amazed everyone was the patient way Zuko just took it from her, with barely any protests or even any insults in return. Maybe because Aang was almost always right there to quell any fighting before it started, to try to redirect Katara's attention to something else or to just tell her to stop it (though his tone of voice over the last few days had gone from anxious to angry to just resigned whenever he said it.) Almost automatically, everyone looked around expecting to hear Aang's voice as he piped up with something to distract Katara from her new favorite pastime.
But Aang wasn't there, this time; he'd felt nature's call and left for the bathroom. After a pause in which it seemed Katara had expected to hear Aang's voice too, her eyes glinted as she said to Zuko, "And I wouldn't put it past you to lace the tea with some kind of knock-out drug, so you can take advantage of us!"
Zuko just sighed. "I'll drink the first cup of tea myself to show you it's safe, okay? I'm not going to poison or drug anybody." He set down the tea tray and opened the brightly lacquered wooden box on it, looking over his selection of teas. "I've got plenty of jasmine, ginseng, oolong and chamomile. What's everyone's favorite?"
"Oolong," Toph said promptly. At the same time that Sokka said "Ginseng," Haru said "Jasmine" and Teo said "Chamomile."
Zuko looked chagrined. "I can only make one batch at a time."
"With a four-way tie, what we need is a tie-breaker," Sokka declared, looking around the room. "Who hasn't voted yet? Aang's not here, so Katara, what—never mind. Hey, the Duke, what's your favorite kind of tea?"
"Um, I don't drink-" the Duke started to say, but his voice was overridden by Katara snapping as she bent the dirty dishwater away and over the side of the temple, "Why don't you want my opinion, Sokka?"
"Because you said you didn't want any tea," Sokka pointed out quite reasonably.
"Yeah, we all heard your 'opinion' already, Sugar Queen," Toph drawled from where she was picking between her toes. "It hasn't changed a bit in the past week. Listen, I'm okay with nearly any tea, so-"
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Katara interrupted, arching an eyebrow in Toph's direction.
The blind earthbender might not have been aware of the arched eyebrow, but she heard the tone in Katara's voice loud and clear, and she scowled in response. "What do you think it means, Not-So-Sweetness? We all know you hate Zuko, and frankly, we're getting tired of it. Just shut up and buzz off, will you?"
Sokka flinched. Teo wheeled his chair back a few feet. The Duke gripped his oversized helmet with both hands. Everyone braced for imminent combat, while Katara most definitely did not shut up and buzz off; instead she said to Toph with clear outrage, "How can you defend him? He burned your feet!"
"It was an accident," Toph said, rolling her unseeing eyes. "And he's apologized to me for it about forty times, while giving me piggyback rides anywhere I wanted to go! I didn't get mad, I got even, and it's over and done now. You're the only one around here who refuses to see that!" as she got to her feet in an earthbending stance.
Which is when Aang walked back in, having finished answering nature's call. He paused in dismay at the sight of Toph and Katara facing off, and asked the room in general, "What are they fighting about?"
"They're fighting over Zuko," the Duke told Aang helpfully, and didn't understand why Aang looked sort-of jealous for an instant.
Just then, Zuko carefully stepped between Toph and Katara, his hands raised in a placating manner. "Please, no fighting. I don't want to people to start taking sides over me; the last thing I want is to be the cause of dissension in this group."
Katara sneered at him, "So you say, but you stepped right in between us to make it look even more like we're taking sides over you! A master manipulator, just like your evil sister!"
Zuko paused, then carefully backed off two paces to take himself out from between the ladies while muttering, "Don't compare me to my sister."
"And why shouldn't I?" Katara barked at him. "You're so much like her; a lying, two-faced-"
"I'm not her!" Zuko snapped, showing the first burst of temper anyone had seen from him in days.
"He is most definitely not his sister," Toph growled at Katara, while stepping closer to Zuko. "And not just because she's got boobs and he's got a hard six-pack!" as she swung a hand out to thump Zuko's abs, making him gasp. "You know how I read people by a lot more than what they say, and Sparky is nothing like Azula!"
"Toph's right; I've fought them both, and they really have nothing in common besides their parents," Aang said, stepping between Toph and Katara just like Zuko had done earlier. "Just give it a rest, Katara, okay? Let's talk about something else."
"Yeah, like what your favorite type of tea is," Sokka chimed in. "Zuko's gonna make us tea, but we're in a four-way tie as to what kind he'll make and we need a tie-breaker vote."
"Really?" Aang asked with interest, turning to Zuko. "My favorite is chai tea like the monks used to make, but I haven't had it in ages. Can you make chai tea?"
Zuko went over to his lacquered box and rummaged through his selection of teas. "I tried to grab at least two packets of every blend in the palace, so give me a minute to see if it's in here… Mmm… nope, sorry. But I've got lots of jasmine, ginseng, oolong and chamomile-"
"And nerve," Katara interrupted, scowling. "If you get sick or poisoned from whatever he brews, Aang, I'm going to say 'I told you so' a dozen times before I heal you!"
Aang and Zuko both tensed at her words; then Aang rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and sighed loudly, while Zuko closed the lid of his tea box and took a step back from it, which happened to be a step closer to Katara. His back was stiff with tension but he said quietly without looking at her, "I've already said I'll drink the first cup of tea myself, so everyone will know it's safe. I'll even let you pick which teacup I'll drink it out of, in case you think I poisoned the cups themselves or something. What else is it going to take, to get you to trust me at least a little?"
Katara snarled, her features filled with hate. "I'll never trust you, ever! Not after the way you betrayed me in Ba Sing Se!"
Zuko froze, then slowly turned his head to Katara, the rest of his body even more rigid than before. "You think I betrayed you? Is that it?"
She scowled at him. "Isn't it obvious? You tried so hard to earn my sympathy, made me think you'd changed, that you'd given up-"
Zuko suddenly spun to face her and slashed a smoking hand through the air between them, interrupting her tirade with his shouting, "If there was betrayal in Ba Sing Se, it's you who betrayed me, bitch!"
Katara actually shut up and drew back a pace at his anger, before rallying and flipping the cap off her waterskin. Water flashed out to form glittering spears of ice, all aimed at Zuko's heart while Zuko took a firebending stance, both fists bursting into flame—
And thick columns of earth abruptly surged up around both of them, encasing them clear up to their necks. Without waterbending direction, the ice spears fell and shattered against the ground, and immediately began melting in the summer sunlight.
"Toph!" Katara shouted angrily as she struggled against the embrace of stone, to no more avail than Zuko's struggles a few feet away. "Let me go!"
"And let you kill Aang's firebending teacher before he's fully trained? Not gonna happen," Toph said bluntly.
Aang looked askance at first Katara, then Toph before saying with an uneasy smile, "What Toph means is, we really shouldn't be fighting amongst-"
"Don't put words in my mouth," Toph said sharply. "I've been in more fights than you've even been to, Twinkletoes; I know the difference between sparring, fighting to beat the other guy and doing your damndest to kill somebody. Sparky there was ready to beat Katara… but Katara was ready to kill him." The fact that she did not use any nickname for the waterbender, underscored the fact that she was serious.
And Katara did nothing to contradict Toph's assessment; instead she snarled, "He can't be trusted! He's traitorous scum who will see us all turned over to the Fire Nation and-" she was interrupted again, this time by a stone gag suddenly wrapping over her mouth.
"That's enough out of you," Toph said flatly, while everyone stared. Not at Toph for what she'd done; at Katara. Sokka's face was dismayed, Aang's was utterly stricken…
And Zuko's was bitterly resigned. "Let us both go, Toph. This fight needs to happen."
Toph said sharply, "Weren't you listening, Sparky? She wants to kill you!"
"I know. She threatened to kill me the first night I was here," Zuko said matter-of-factly. "But I can deal with it, without getting either of us killed."
"She… she actually threatened to kill you? After the rest of us accepted you; after you saved us from Combustion Man? Katara, how could you?" Aang cried out, his dismay turning to outrage. "He's teaching me firebending; trying to help us win the war!"
"Which is why she only threatened me instead of actually trying to kill me, until now," Zuko sighed. "Probably what pushed her over the edge is that she didn't expect to be reminded of what she did in Ba Sing Se."
Katara's eyes widened, before they narrowed in hate again as she began screaming muffled, unintelligible words behind her stone gag.
"Look… what exactly happened between the two of you in Ba Sing Se, anyway?" Sokka asked, rubbing the back of his neck uneasily. "All we know is that you and Katara got captured by Azula and the Dai Li; your uncle and Aang went off to find you both while Toph and I went to warn the Earth King. Next thing we know, Katara's free but Iroh's nowhere in sight, and Aang's hit by lightning and nearly dead. Katara's never talked about what happened, except to say it's all your fault."
"My fault, even though it was Azula's lightning?" Zuko's voice was tinged with bitterness. "I'm not surprised she blames me, though. I've blamed myself enough times lately for making the wrong choice that day." He looked down at his feet, though he could hardly see them as he was still encased in stone. "I did betray someone that day; my uncle, and his faith in me. He told me I was at a crossroads, and asked me to choose good… but after what had just happened, I chose to listen to Azula. Who didn't lie, for once; my father-"
"Back up a bit, Sparky," Toph interrupted. "You said 'after what had just happened'. What was that?"
"…It doesn't matter. I still should have done what my uncle wanted, chosen to side with you people then and there, instead of helping Azula in that battle. I'm more sorry than you'll ever know that I didn't switch sides that day…" Zuko sighed. "Can you just let me go, please? I'll just head to the far side of the temple until you can get her to cool down."
"Okay," Aang said quietly, and started to earthbend Zuko free.
But Toph stopped Aang with a sharp gesture, and told Zuko bluntly, "Your heart's hammering. Whatever it is you don't want to talk about, it obviously matters to you a lot. So what was it? Give with the details, already!"
The Duke, who had been watching in utter silence up to that point, piped up innocently, "Did you have sex?"
"W-what?" That floored everyone, even Toph, possibly because of who had asked it. Zuko turned beet-red as he sputtered, "No, we did not have sex! Who in their right mind would want to have sex while trapped in a cave, anyway?"
Aang looked at him with narrowed eyes. "So then why, when Iroh and I broke through the wall and found you, did it look like the two of you were kissing each other?"
"It—it wasn't kissing! Take her gag off," as he jerked his chin at Katara, "and she'll tell you herself that there was no kissing involved!"
Aang turned to Katara and gestured, and the stone gag melted away; Toph didn't stop him. As soon as she was free to speak, Katara snarled, "I absolutely did not kiss him! Why would anyone think I did? Why did you even ask about sex?" as she glared at the Duke. "You should be too young to even know what it is!"
The Duke cringed back, gripping his oversized helmet in both hands, but stammered out, "I-I don't really know what sex is about, other than that babies come from it… but Jet said once that when people go from being nice to each other to really hating each other, they probably had sex first."
Katara blushed even redder at the mention of Jet, while Toph smirked and commented, "Funny how it's Katara's ex-boyfriend who should say that…"
"We never had sex!" Katara almost screamed, utterly incensed. "Jet was never my boyfriend—and that doesn't matter now! We were talking about Zuko and how he betrayed us all under Ba Sing Se!"
Teo cleared his throat. "Um, just to be sure we're all clear on this… back then, Zuko was still your enemy, right? But for someone to betray you, means you had some level of trust in them, or at least an agreement between you. Right?"
"That's how it usually works," Sokka agreed. "And we never made any kind of deal with Zuko; with his uncle, yeah kinda, but not with the Jerkbender himself." He looked at Katara. "Unless you made a deal with him while you were trapped in the cave together? Let me guess, a pact to help each other escape?"
Before Katara could say anything Zuko quickly said while glaring at Sokka, "If there'd been a way for us to escape together, then we wouldn't have needed the Avatar and my uncle to come rescue us, would we?"
"Both their heartbeats just spiked," Toph said abruptly. "There was definitely some sort of deal made. What was it?"
"It doesn't matter; it didn't happen!" Zuko snarled, turning his face away.
"No, Toph's right; it does matter," Aang said soberly, regarding both Zuko and Katara. "If it was important enough for each of you to think you were betrayed somehow… What was it?"
Zuko just gritted his teeth, refusing to answer. But Katara said, glaring at Zuko, "I offered to try healing his scar." Everyone except Toph gasped, as she said directly to Zuko, "After you got my sympathy with that line about the war having taken your mother too! After you'd said you weren't chasing the Avatar anymore! I was going to heal you, so you'd-" and then her eyes widened, as she abruptly clamped her lips shut.
"So he'd what, Katara?" Aang asked quietly, after a few seconds of strained silence. "So he'd want to join us? So he'd go all of a sudden from being the enemy to being my firebending teacher?"
"She never said that to me… but that's probably what she was thinking," Zuko said, his voice low and bitter as he stared at Katara. "Wasn't it? That was the deal you made, all inside your head; you heal my scar, and I-"
"What scar?" Toph interrupted, looking annoyed. "I know it's not on your legs, because you don't have any sort of limp from an injury, but what's the big deal about a little scar?"
There was a long moment of awkward silence before Sokka said slowly, "It's not a little scar, Toph; it covers nearly half of Zuko's face. It goes from his nose clear back to his ear on the left side."
Toph froze for a moment… then marched determinedly forward. When she reached Zuko's stone casing on the left side, she earthbent a pedestal for herself, putting her head at the same height as his as she reached out towards him.
Zuko tried to jerk his head away from her probing fingers, but she growled, "Quit fussing, you big baby," as she finally grabbed him by the chin and started feeling the left side of his face. He finally sighed and stopped struggling, and let her touch his scar.
When she found it, she paused… then began hesitantly tracing the features with a gentleness none of them had ever seen in Toph before. After a few seconds she asked hesitantly, in a little-girl voice that none had ever heard before either, "Does it hurt?"
"…It did once, but not anymore," Zuko said back quietly. The stone casing around him melted away as Toph continued exploring the scar, but Zuko didn't try to dodge her anymore.
Her voice somber, she asked, "How'd it happen?"
Zuko stiffened, starting to pull away… then sighed. "Oh, hells, since you're so determined to pry open my soul today, you might as well know... My father did this to me in an Agni Kai when I was thirteen years old, for refusing to fight him in the arena. And I'd been challenged to the Agni Kai because I'd spoken out against a battle plan that would have resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of our troops. I thought I'd be facing the general that had come up with that plan… but when I turned around to face my opponent, I saw my father there instead. I surrendered on the spot and said I was his loyal son, but he gave me this to teach me respect."
His words made everyone gasp, even Katara. Aang swallowed hard. "F-F-Fire Lord Ozai did that to you? His own son?"
Zuko looked away. "And then told me I was dishonored and banished until I could capture the Avatar for the Fire Nation. That's why I was chasing you in the first place; it was the only way I could go home again! But now… it's one of the reasons I've come to help you defeat him. My biggest regret is that it took me three years to figure out that the fault wasn't mine, but his; that after everything I'd done to get his approval, it just wasn't worth having." He said all that while facing out into the canyon, away from their stares, but they didn't have to see his face to know the pain exposed on it; they could hear it in his voice.
He turned back to then, his expression cynical and bitter. "So that's what Katara offered to do; to try to heal this scar. You can probably figure out how badly I wanted that… how much hope she made me feel, when she showed me that vial of spirit-water and offered to try. I knew there'd be some sort of catch, no one except my uncle has ever done something for me just out of kindness, but right then I didn't care. She offered, and I trusted her enough to let her touch it… and then you showed up, Aang, and she turned away from me and ran to you. And two seconds later, while Uncle was still trying to talk to me, she left with you and took the spirit-water with her. She gave me hope, and then she took it away. So yes, I felt betrayed. And that's probably part of the reason why I joined Azula in the fight against you; at least with Azula I've always known where I stand. She's tortured me in I don't know how many ways over the years, but she was never quite that cruel…"
He turned back to Katara, who was staring at him wide-eyed with tears starting down her cheeks. "You thought I was going to join you guys and become Aang's teacher because of you, huh? Well, guess what, Katara; I ended up joining despite you." Then he turned on his heel and marched away, his back straight and stiff.
Everyone watched him go in silence, until he went through a door and slammed it hard behind him. Then they turned to Katara, still encased from the neck down in stone, giving her looks ranging from disappointed to downright angry. Toph melted the stone away and back into the floor, while drawling, "Well, Sugar Queen, you sure screwed that one up."
Even after the stone was gone and she could move again, she stood frozen in place. She stammered, "I-I-I didn't know… I didn't realize…"
Aang said hopefully, "Well, now that you know, can you heal his scar anyway?"
She regretfully shook her head. "I can't… I used all the Spirit Oasis water while healing you after Azula's lightning."
Teo said coldly while glaring at her, "I suppose I should feel grateful that you never offered to try healing my legs, and then walked out on the deal." He spun his wheelchair around. "Come on, guys; let's go exploring." After giving Katara glances full of reproach, Haru and The Duke went with him.
Katara hugged herself, shivering despite the warmth of the sunlight streaming in. "I… I hated him, so much…"
"So much you've been treating him like crap ever since he arrived," Toph said bluntly. "And all because of a deal that he didn't break… you did. Seems to me that he should be the one hating you instead."
Katara flinched. Aang looked in the direction Zuko had gone, asking worriedly, "Does he hate her now?"
"I don't think so," Sokka said, rubbing his chin as he followed Aang's gaze. "I think he's just really angry right now. Kind-of at all of us, because we made him talk about emotional stuff, but mostly at Katara."
Katara swallowed hard. "I… I should go apologize…"
Sokka held up a hand to forestall her. "Maybe later, sis; let him cool off a little first. Tell you what, I'll go first and sort-of break the ice for you, okay? I've been meaning to talk to him anyway, about… some other stuff," he added as he walked away.
That left just three in the hall; Toph, Aang and Katara. Toph shrugged, "Well, while Sparky's off cooling down, how about an earthbending lesson, Twinkletoes?"
Aang started to leave with Toph, then paused to look at Katara as he asked plaintively, "You didn't really mean to kill him, did you? You didn't really threaten to…"
Katara hung her head. Toph said impatiently, "Sparky didn't lie about that! Face it, Twinkletoes, your girlfriend isn't all sweetness and fluffybunnies," as she stomped away. Aang cast one last disillusioned glance back over his shoulder before following her, leaving Katara alone in the hall as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky.
That evening Katara made a big pot of rice and vegetable stew for dinner, and Sokka grudgingly went around finding everyone to let them know dinner was ready. But when they all came in to eat, Katara wasn't there beside the cooking pot, and there was one less bowl stacked up waiting to be filled. It seemed she had chosen to eat alone rather than face everyone again after what had happened earlier.
So Aang took it upon himself to serve everyone the stew, ladling out their portions. He made sure to fill Zuko's bowl just as full as Sokka's, and handed it over with a cheerful, "Here ya go, Sifu Hotman; more fuel for your firebending."
"Don't call me that," Zuko grumbled, but accepted the stew anyway.
"No meat?" Sokka whined as he swirled his stew around with his spoon, searching in vain.
"That makes it even better!" Aang said cheerfully as he sat down with his own bowl to eat.
After dinner, just as he'd offered to do hours earlier after lunch, Zuko made tea (jasmine, after Aang's vote broke the tie) and served it to everyone present. They all accepted their cups with uneasy smiles and murmurs of gratitude, and somewhat worried glances when they thought he wouldn't notice. Since he could tell they were all feeling uncomfortable after that afternoon's revelation, Zuko tried to put them at ease by telling his uncle's favorite tea joke. He messed it up because he could only remember the punchline, but they laughed anyway, and all agreed the tea was great.
He'd made more tea than he'd served to everyone around the fire. After they were finished he collected their cups and set them by the sink to wash, then reheated the remaining tea, filled two more cups and set them on his tea tray. Then he went looking for a certain waterbender.
As he'd expected, he found her by the fountain, sitting on the ledge and idly waterbending shapes in the air under the light of a crescent moon. He came up silently and set the tea tray down beside her; she gave a start as the ball of water in the air momentarily grew spikes, then saw the tea tray and the ball smoothed out again. Then she glanced up and saw who he was, and the ball lost cohesion and splashed back into the fountain.
"I brought tea," he said quietly, offering her a cup. "It's still hot, if you'd like some."
"Thanks," she said in a very small voice as she accepted. He took the other cup and sat down beside her, and they sipped together in silence.
"I'm so sorry," she blurted out after the second or third sip. "I didn't think…"
He gave a small it-doesn't-matter shrug and responded, "It's okay."
"No, it's not!" she insisted. "I hated you for breaking my—for betraying me when you didn't, because I never told you what I was hoping you'd do!" She scrubbed at her face as she muttered, "Just like I was so angry at my dad for so long, for something that wasn't really his fault either. I'm a horrible person…"
"No, you're not," Zuko said firmly. "You wouldn't be the Avatar's girlfriend if you were."
She flinched a little at his words, mumbling, "He's not my boyfriend."
He gave her a questioning look, but didn't comment on it; instead he went on, "You were wrong about something, but I'm the last person in the world to judge you for it. I was wrong for years, and I've made plenty of mistakes that were a lot worse than yours. You know that; you were there for some of them. And in that cavern, you didn't have to tell me what you were hoping for me to do; it was pretty obvious," as he looked down at his teacup. "It was what Uncle wanted, too, and I definitely betrayed him."
"But now you're making up for it; teaching Aang, helping to end the war, trying to make things right," Katara said, looking down at her teacup too. "But I… I can't heal your scar now. The water from the Spirit Oasis is gone; I used it to save Aang's life, after the lightning."
He gave a deliberately casual shrug, to hide the disappointment after that momentary hope that had insisted on flaring up inside. "I figured as much. It's okay; the Avatar's life is a lot more important than my ugly face."
That made Katara look at him, for the first time since accepting the tea. "You're not ugly. You… the scar is just there; it doesn't make you ugly. You're actually…"
"Actually what?" as he looked at her, but she just blushed and looked back down at her teacup. Then he blushed too, as he realized what she wasn't saying, and found his own teacup just as fascinating.
After a few moments of awkward silence, she drained her cup, stood up and said with determination to change the subject, "Thanks for the tea, but I'd better get back to the kitchen; I'm sure the dinner dishes are still waiting for someone to wash them."
"And the teacups," Zuko said as he drained his cup and stood up as well. "I'll help."
She gave him a startled glance, almost shocked as she stammered, "You don't have to…"
He shrugged again. "It's okay; I actually got a lot of experience washing dishes in Ba Sing Se. How about you wash and I dry them? And I'll heat the dishwater, too," he offered as he stacked the cups on the tray.
She accepted his offer with not just a smile, but a wondering look as if she was seeing something in him that she had never seen before, and they went off to clean up together.
Author's note: And at this point the story could turn into any one of many, many fluffy little Zutara stories out there about Zuko and Katara falling in love and becoming a couple while still at the Western Air Temple. Some of which are better written than I could ever manage to do, so I'll just refer you to them, 'kay?
I will say that the 'other stuff' Sokka wanted to talk to Zuko about was where his father and the other warriors from the invasion might have been taken prisoner. It could be that very night that Sokka tries to sneak off to the Boiling Rock and Zuko goes with him, and they return with Hakoda and Suki to keep Sokka distracted and occupied while Zuko and Katara blushingly fumble their way towards romance. Or it could be several days/weeks in which Sokka has lots of opportunity to get all suspicious and paranoid about the Jerkbender and his baby sister spending time together… it depends on which of those third-season-Zutara stories is your favorite!
And yes, the Zutara stories that happen post-'The Southern Raiders' (usually with Z&K having frantically hot sex on the way back) could happen too. I've often thought that over the last seven years, Katara has had fewer and fewer nightmares about her mother's death, and taught herself to keep quiet when she does have them to avoid waking anyone around her, but she does still have nightmares from time to time. And if, just before the Western Air Temple is attacked by Azula, Zuko wakes Katara up because she's whimpering in her sleep, and she tells him about the firebending monster still haunting her dreams… He'd help her find and confront Yon Rha not to earn her forgiveness at last, but in hopes that his girlfriend's nightmares would end at last. Zuko's that kind of guy.
Eight pages of this twelve-page story just poured out of me on New Year's Eve, and the whole thing was unbeta'ed, so there's probably a glaring error or two in it. I'm okay with constructive criticism, so feel free to point out the errors in reviews!