Chapter 1: That's Something We Have in Common
"Why did they throw you in here?" Katara fumed, her hands resting on her hips. She glared at Zuko, who sat on the cold, rocky ground, staring at the dusty surface. When he didn't say anything Katara circled him, trying to get his attention. "Let me guess. It's a trap! So when Aang shows up to help me you can finally have him in your clutches and drag him back to the Fire Nation!" she shouted, curling her fingers into talons. She stood, breathless.
Zuko moved, causing her to jump. She berated herself for showing him she was still intimidated by him.
Zuko regarded her for several moments, then turned his back to her. Katara clenched her fists, glaring at him. Why didn't he respond? He certainly hadn't had trouble doing so when he was chasing them throughout the Earth Kingdom.
"You're a terrible person! Always hunting Aang, following us…" She turned away from him, sneering. "We were never safe. You tried to take away the world's last hope for peace. But what do you care? You're the Fire Lord's son. Hatred and war is in your blood."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"I don't? How dare you!" Katara whipped around. "You have no idea what this war has taken from me. Me, personally!" She sat down and tucked her knees under her chin. "The Fire Nation took my mother away from me."
Zuko listened to her sniffles. His mother's last words replayed in his mind. 'I love you. Remember who you are. My son.' "That's something we have in common."
She wiped her eyes and stared at him, brows furrowed. "What did you say?" She tried to control the trembling in her voice. She stood, staring at him through teary eyes. "What do you mean?"
A long pause followed before Zuko spoke. "The Fire Nation took my mother from me, too."
Katara let his words sink in as her anger subsided. 'Zuko lost his mother?' She shook her head. "But your mother is the Fire Lady."
"She was the Fire Lady," Zuko snapped.
Katara came closer. "What happened to her?"
He shrugged. "She left. I asked my father about her, my sister, and the servants. None of them would tell me why. Maybe she couldn't stand to be with my father anymore."
"I'm so sorry."
"I don't understand. Why did she leave me? I needed her! If she'd been there for me…" Zuko gritted his teeth. "I wouldn't have this." His hand brushed his scar. He glared at the ground.
Katara looked at the burned flesh. She had never taken the time to study it. Not that she had ever had the chance, since they were always running away from Zuko. "I'm sorry. I'm sure you mom loved you."
"Then why did she leave?" Zuko stood and paced around the crystal chamber. He leaned against the stone walls. "What did I do wrong?"
Katara tried to find words that would answer Zuko's questions, but she had none. 'Was she exiled like Zuko? Did Fire Lord Ozai kill her?' "You really love her," she said, trying to calm him.
He nodded, sighing. "She...would always protect me. Sometimes I wonder what she would say if she could see me now." Zuko slumped against the wall and slid to ground.
Katara sat next to him, gazing at his face. His eyes held a certain darkness in them. Her heart ached in understanding. The pain that Zuko felt at losing his loving mother mirrored hers. As if someone had jabbed their hand inside your chest, grabbed hold of your heart and twisted it. It seemed so strange that he, of all people, would know the emptiness it brought. She had never seen him as anything more than an enemy. How strange that her enemy shared a pain so personal.
Now, as she looked at him, she saw the shared sorrow and longing in his eyes. "Whenever I imagined the face of an enemy, it was your face," Katara said.
Zuko frowned, his hand slowly ran over the burned flesh. "My face, huh? I see."
"No! That's not what I meant."
Zuko turned away from her and breathed in. He closed his eyes and exhaled. "I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of a cursed prince destined to chase the Avatar forever. But lately…" He opened his eyes to meet Katara's. "I realize I'm free to make my own destiny. Even if I'll never be free of my mark."
Katara's gaze shifted to his scar. Even the best healers in the water tribe couldn't heal a scar like that. It was impossible. Her hand went to touch her mother's necklace. Her brows furrowed as she felt a second string around her neck. She followed it down to the vial dangling from the loop of twine. 'Maybe it's not impossible.' "Well, maybe you could be free of it."
His eyes widened. A glimmer of hope shot through his chest. "What?"
Katara inhaled deeply before continuing. "I'm a waterbender. I have healing abilities."
He scoffed. "It's a scar. It can never be healed."
"This is water from the Spirit of the Oasis at the North Pole." She held it out for the exiled prince to see. "It has special properties, so I've been saving it for something important." Her heart beat fast. Katara sat in front of Zuko, holding out the vial. "I don't know if it will work, but…"
Zuko stiffened as Katara reached for his face. She noticed that he withdrew at her touch, but hoped he would allow her to help. Zuko stared at her, eyes heavy with sorrow.
Katara gently touched his scar. 'If this scar has been tormenting him this, what would happened if I got rid of it?'
Suddenly, the ground began to shake and the walls around them rumbled. They stood, tensing as their eyes darted around as the wall behind them cracked and crumbled, creating a cloud of dust. Katara coughed and waved her hand. She made out a figure wearing orange and red. "Aang!" she yelled, running towards her friend. The airbender smiled. Katara hugged him tightly."I knew you'd come, Aang." She held him at arm's length and grinned. As the dust cleared she saw Iroh behind Aang. Aang returned her smile, but frowned when he looked behind her.
Zuko's uncle had finished hugging him and now stood beside him. Her joy was short-lived as an irritated voice soured their reunion.
Zuko glared at the Avatar and then back at his uncle. "I don't understand, Uncle! What are you doing with the Avatar?"
Katara frowned at the prince's sudden change in demeanor. How could he be so sorrowful one moment and so hateful the next?
Aang held onto Katara's hand and stared at Zuko with a level gaze. "I'm saving you. That's what."
Zuko growled and lunged at him, but Iroh restrained him before he could do anything foolish. "Zuko, it's time we talked." Iroh turned to Aang and Katara, his face softening with gratitude. "Go and help your friends. We will catch up with you."
Aang bowed and ran towards the exit. Katara went after him, but her gaze lingered on Zuko. Their eyes met. She had the urge to stay, to say something, anything to him. But no words came. Zuko lowered his eyes to the ground. Katara touched her hand, the one that had felt Zuko's scar. If only she'd had more time.
Katara's lungs burned as she ran beside Aang through the cavern. 'That's something we have in common.' She still had a hard time believing that someone as cruel as Zuko could relate to her personal loss. She pushed the thought aside. Now was not the time or place to dwell on things like that. 'But someday…I want to know his story.'
"We've gotta find Sokka and Toph!" Katara said. Aang nodded.
A wave of heat washed over her back, singeing her clothes. She didn't have time to warn Aang before a lightning blast separated them. Her ears rang from the blast. Katara rolled to the side to see Azula standing in the tunnel entrance. The Fire Princess had two fingers pointed at them with deadly precision, her eyes filled with obsessive determination.
Katara pulled water from a canal next to her into a huge wave and sent it towards Azula, flicking her wrist to form a whirl.
Cool drops of water showered Azula as she held out her arms, creating crescent shaped flames that crashed into the whirl, turning it to steam. Aang rushed to Katara's side, staring through the mist as he searched for the firebender.
"There!" Katara pointed into the air. Azula had used the force of the explosion to propel herself upward, throwing several blue fireballs down at her opponents. Aang and Katara circled their arms to bring up a wave of water, blocking the flames.
Azula flipped, landing on a tall boulder. Aang held out his opened fist, then closed it. Azula's eyes widened as the boulder began to crumble beneath her, making her lose her footing. She leapt down, landing between the two benders.
Katara sucked in breath as Azula glared between her and Aang. Her heart rattled with every breath she took, but her eyes stayed on the firebender. One wrong move could kill them both. 'We have to get away from her. But she's keeping us both on edge.'
Out of the dark entrance, a fire blast shot past Aang, headed straight for Azula. The impact made her lose her footing for a moment as she dodged. Her eyes widened as she stared at the opening.
Zuko emerged from the smoke, his face stern and body tense. He met Katara's gaze, then his sister's, and last Aang's.
Azula glared at Zuko, her lips twisting into a grin. Zuko approached slowly. He glanced at Katara, his eyes falling to her mother's necklace. His previous words played back to him. 'The Fire Nation took my mother from me, too.'
Zuko roared, throwing fireballs at Azula. In her shock, she stumbled back. Aang blew a torrent of air at her. Katara formed a water whip that snapped at Azula's ankles. Flames erupted from Azula's feet, turning the water to steam.
Zuko formed a large swirl of fire and sent it towards her. Azula barely dodged in time and skidded across the stony ground. Her narrowed eyes turned to Zuko. She snarled. "So, you've decided to side with the Avatar. Father will be so disappointed to know his only son is a traitor," she said, her voice level. She shook her head. "If you came home, you could have everything you ever wanted."
Katara gritted her teeth. "He'll have everything except for a mother, not that you'd care about that."
"Zuzu, if you come back we can search for Mother together. Wouldn't that be nice? We can all be one happy family. You, me, and Mother…together."
All eyes fell to Zuko. His throat tightened as he stared at his sister. The muscles in his arms tensed as he raised his fists, glancing at Aang. He exhaled and turned to Azula. "If you didn't care about Mother then, why would you now?" A stream of fire flew from his fist.
Azula stepped to the side, allowing the flames to shoot past her. Her lips twisted into a sneer. "Have it your way." She snapped her fingers. The cave began to rumble as Dai Li agents emerged from the walls and slid down, blocking the tunnel entrance. They had them surrounded.
Katara spun around, bringing a torrent of water and separating it into several water whips. She could see Zuko and Aang across the channel, both surrounded by agents. Zuko glared at his sister.
"Last chance, Zuzu," Azula said, holding his gaze. "Think about Mother. Think about our family. Come with me. Redeem yourself!"
"Redeem myself? Redeem what? My reputation? My honor? For who? No, Azula. It's over."
The crackling of lightning filled the air as Azula drew a circle around herself. "For you." She pointed her fingers across the channel. The flash from the lightning blinded Zuko, making him shield his eyes. He heard Katara scream
Thank you so much for reading, "The Weight of Hope." I hope you continue following the journey of these characters and enjoy the ride! Don't forget to leave a helpful review.