Zuko opened his eyes. He hadn't had a restful night, and had been lying awake for some time. Feeling that he should do something, he slowly got up, careful to not wake his uncle, and walked to the bathroom.
He splashed water on his face, and looked at himself in the mirror, only to be shocked to see no scar, and an arrow tattoo on his head.
No, he thought wildly, this can't be happening…
Zuko woke with a jolt. He breathed heavily for a second, realizing it was just a dream. He slowly lifted his hand to his face to the place where his scar was, expecting to feel the familiar sensation of scarred tissue under his fingers.
But the sensation didn't come. Zuko's eyes widened. He touched the other side of his face, and couldn't feel any difference between the two sides. Each felt smooth and normal.
He hastily scrambled to his feet, and ran to the bathroom. Upon seeing himself in the mirror, he gasped.
His scar was gone. Where it used to be was only a faint outline, as though he'd gotten a bad sunburn that was most of the way healed. Other than that, his face was now perfectly symmetrical and unblemished.
How? He thought, feeling stunned. How…
He rushed back to his room where he knew his uncle was asleep. Normally he wouldn't have disturbed his uncle, but this was hardly a normal situation.
"Uncle! UNCLE!" Zuko said anxiously, shaking his sleepy uncle.
Iroh gave a sleepy grunt, then his eyes snapped open, and he quickly focused his gaze on his nephew.
"Uncle, my scar." Zuko said, his finger resting on the left side of his face. "It's gone. It's gone! What…what's happening to me?"
"I'm afraid I'm not entirely sure." Iroh said, sounding calmer than Zuko had expected. "You see, the Avatar and his friends stopped by last night…"
Zuko's eyes widened. "What? The Avatar was here?"
"Yes." Iroh said. "We talked for a while. Eventually, they asked me how you got that scar. Given your unusual connection with the Avatar, I felt that they deserved to know."
"You told them?" Zuko almost shouted. "You told them about…my banishment?"
"Yes." Iroh said.
Zuko dropped his head into his hands. He couldn't believe it. His uncle had told the Avatar, his sworn enemy, about the worst day of his life.
How could he? Zuko thought bitterly. Why would he tell the Avatar about my shame and humiliation? Isn't it bad enough that I'll never be able to regain my honor?
Without looking up, Zuko said in a subdued voice. "Did they laugh?"
"No." Iroh said, his eyebrows arching upwards. "They were horrified, and sympathetic."
Zuko looked up. "What? But…that was the day I lost my honor, and resolved to restore it by capturing the Avatar. How could they be sympathetic?"
Iroh shook his head. "Zuko, you feel as though you lost your honor that day, but I do not see it that way. I think you were right to challenge the general's plan."
Zuko flinched, and looked away.
"You did nothing wrong. But what your father did was unspeakably cruel. I know it, and the Avatar and his friends now know it." Iroh looked at Zuko carefully. "And at some level, I think you know it too."
Zuko glanced at his uncle, then looked away again.
"After I told them about that day, they were rather quiet for a while." Iroh said. "Eventually, they asked a few more questions, and then the waterbender, Katara, offered to try and heal your scar."
Zuko turned sharply to face his uncle again.
She offered to heal my scar? Zuko thought, feeling bewildered.
"I didn't think there was anything she could do, but I gave her permission to try." Iroh continued. "I'm not sure exactly what she did, but to my astonishment she actually managed to heal it."
Zuko gaped at his uncle. "But…how did she…why would she…?"
"Because despite what you've done, she could see that you were a young man in pain, and one that may still be able to be redeemed."
Iroh reached out and gripped his nephew's shoulders.
"Listen to me, Zuko. For so long you've believed that you lost your honor, and that your father could somehow return it to you. You've carried that scar as a physical reminder of your burden. But now, that physical reminder has been lifted; it's time to let go of the rest. Your honor isn't determined by your father, Zuko, it is determined by deciding to do the right thing."
Iroh gave a reassuring smile. Zuko looked at his uncle for a moment, then glanced out the window, his mind reeling.
Katara was walking through the streets of Ba Sing Se, the invasion plans clutched in her hands, her mind wandering.
She thought of how she'd seen Aang and Sokka off as they left on Appa for their respective destinations. She thought of how she'd said goodbye to Toph shortly thereafter, and couldn't help but feel nervous, and hope that the four of them would be reunited before long.
But the thing that she kept returning to was the events of the previous night, and her new perspective on the young fire nation prince.
I had no idea, Katara thought. All this time, I thought he was just an evil firebender, but in reality, he wasn't so different from Sokka or me. He was just trying to please his father, in his own way. That doesn't excuse what he did, but it does make it more understandable.
Katara shook her head, and checked her surroundings. To her surprise, she found that she was in front of the Jasmine Dragon. She glanced at the scroll in her hand, then at the small lemur perched on her shoulder.
"What do you say Momo?" Katara asked the lemur playfully. "A cup of tea before we get back to the king?"
Momo chattered in response, and Katara walked towards the shop. Apart from getting tea, she also wanted to see how Zuko had reacted to finding his scar removed.
As soon as she entered the shop, she heard two familiar voices.
"Uncle, I need two jasmine, one green, and one lychee."
"I'm brewing as fast as I can!"
Locating the two firebenders, Katara began walking determinedly toward them.
Seeing Katara, Iroh nudged his nephew. "It appears you have a visitor."
Zuko looked confused. "What?" He turned to see who the visitor was. Upon seeing Katara his face became shocked, and he dropped the tray with a loud crash.
Uncomfortably aware that everyone in the shop was now looking at them, Katara couldn't help giggling slightly at Zuko's expression. Stifling herself, she bent to help Zuko pick up the broken shards.
"What…what are you doing here?" His voice was not aggressive or angry, as Katara was used to hearing, but simply bewildered.
"I came by to see how you're doing." Katara said calmly. She glanced at him carefully. "You are glad that I healed your scar, aren't you?"
"Yes!" Zuko burst out. "Of course I am! But…I don't understand…"
"Why and how?" Katara finished.
Zuko nodded, straightening up with the broken shards carefully collected onto the tray. Momo's eyes followed the young prince with interest.
Iroh stepped forward next to them.
Momo made a small chattering sound, and then leaped off of Katara and climbed onto Iroh's shoulder.
"Oh, Momo, don't…" Katara protested.
Iroh laughed. "It's all right, I don't mind." He smiled slightly, petting the little lemur. "Perhaps you two could have a quick chat in the back room. I can handle things out here for a little while. But don't take too long, okay?"
Zuko nodded. "Right, uncle."
Zuko and Katara made their way to the back room. They both walked to the table, and sat down so that they were facing each other.
"Look." Zuko said. "I'm sorry for acting so shocked upon seeing you today. And I am truly grateful that you healed my scar. But, I just would like to know…"
"Why and how." Katara repeated.
"Well…yeah." Zuko sighed. "I mean, I haven't exactly given you any reason to show me such kindness. I've been rather…well…"
"Nasty?" Katara suggested.
Zuko winced, then muttered. "Something like that."
Katara leaned back. "Well, I'll start with the easy question, of how I did it." She reached into her bodice, and brought out a small vial.
"This is water from the spirit oasis at the north pole." Katara said. "It has special properties, so I've been saving it for something important. I figured, if this didn't work, nothing would, but it seems to have done the trick."
Zuko eyed the vial, then looked back at Katara. "Wait, so does that mean you used it all up on me?"
"No, not quite." Katara replied. "There's still about half of it left."
"Still, though…"Zuko said, his voice trailing off.
Katara sighed. "You're still wondering why I did it?"
"What your father did was cruel."
Zuko flinched, and looked down.
"Listen to me. What your father did was cruel and wrong. No one deserves to be branded in the way that you were. After hearing Iroh tell me about that day, it put into perspective for me the kind of person you really are. It was clear that you let yourself be defined and weighed down by that scar for so long. I thought, if I could remove it, you might be able to move on from your misguided shame."
Zuko glanced up. "But, why would you care? After everything I did to you…"
"That still hurts." Katara admitted. "But, as a healer, it's in my nature to try to reach out to those who are hurt. And, as long as you try to do better from here on out, I won't hold the things you did before against you."
Zuko was silent for a moment. "So…do you think that…despite our bad history…you and I, and the Avatar, and the others…might be…friends?"
Katara frowned slightly. "I'm not sure about that. But, I am hoping that our relationship can be more positive from now on."
Zuko smiled slightly. "Perhaps it can."
They smiled at each other for a moment, and then, as if realizing what they were doing, glanced away.
"Well," Zuko said, standing back up. "I'd better get back, I need to help my uncle with the tea."
Katara stood up as well. "I understand. Well, I'd better get going as well."
"Wait." Zuko said. Katara looked at him curiously. "If…if I wanted to talk to you, or your friends, where would I find you?"
"Oh." Katara said, surprised. "Well, we're staying in one of the apartments near the Earth King's palace. Just ask for the apartment where the Avatar is staying, and you should find it. Aang and Sokka are busy with other things, and Toph and I will be gone today, but you should be able to find Toph or me there tomorrow."
"Okay." Zuko said.
The two of them walked back to the store front, and Katara picked Momo up from his perch on Iroh's shoulder. Just as Katara was about to leave, Zuko whispered. "Thank you, Katara."
Katara turned back to Zuko, and smiled softly. "You're welcome, Zuko."
A few minutes later, Katara made her way back to the palace, the invasion plans now tucked inside her tunic.
Well, that was an interesting conversation. Katara thought. He was much more polite than I thought he would be, and he seemed genuinely grateful. I guess I did make the right decision in healing him…well, at the very least, he's not a threat anymore, and he may be a useful ally in the future. Who knows, he might even be a good friend at some point down the line.
Katara was interrupted from her thoughts by the sudden appearance of one of the Kyoshi warriors.
"Hello Katara!" the Kyoshi warrior said cheerfully.
Katara smiled. "Hello. Is Suki here?"
"Oh, she's around here somewhere." The Kyoshi warrior smiled broadly.
"I see." Katara said slowly. She wasn't sure, but there was something off here, something suspicious…
"Is something wrong?" The Kyoshi warrior asked brightly.
"Oh no," Katara said, forcing herself to smile. "Nothing's wrong. You just seem…vaguely familiar."
Katara peered carefully at the Kyoshi warrior's face, and her stomach turned over.
No, she thought, panic rising up in her. It can't be…
Katara reached for her water pouch, but before she could touch it, Ty Lee struck. Katara crumpled to the ground.
No, she thought weakly, the edge of her vision blackening as she slipped into unconsciousness.
Author's Note: So, some of you may be wondering why it took me this long to update. Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, I have been struggling with some personal issues, the details of which I'd rather not go into. Long story short, my life has been a bit of a mess the past few months, which prevented me from doing much writing. Things have been getting better lately, which is why I was able to continue writing.
But the second reason was that, at least initially, I hadn't had any intention of continuing this story. I wrote it in the first place because I really enjoy stories where Aang and his friends find out about how Zuko got his scar. But once I'd reached that point in the story, I kind of lost interest for a while. Because while Zuko joining with Aang in Ba Sing Se is an interesting idea, I honestly think that what the show did was better. Zuko's choice at the end of the second season gave him what he'd always wanted, but also forced him to really evaluate what he truly what he wanted out of life, and whether he had actually done the right thing. His time back home in the first half of the third season was crucial to his development as a character, and I honestly wasn't convinced I could write an AU that would be anywhere near as good.
But this story got a much bigger and more positive reception than I had anticipated, and your enthusiasm made me consider possible routes this story could take, and convinced me to keep going. I can't promise regular updates, as I'm still not entirely sure where I want this story to go, but I will be working on it.
Anyways, feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas, as I appreciate any and all feedback. Thank you so much for your support, and have a Merry Christmas. (Or, if you aren't reading this on Christmas, have a happy *insert day of week here*)
Edit: So I didn't make any major changes to this chapter. In fact, I don't think I made any, I just looked it over. Well, I did add a title, but I'm doing that for all the chapters.
For those of you reading this for the first time, just a heads up, there won't be any Zutara here, so sorry if you were hoping for that. Zutara used to really bug me, but that was before I discovered some of the popular ships in other fandoms. At least Zutara has some logic to it, whereas some of the other pairings I've seen...just...what's wrong with you people?