Hi there! I don't know if anyone even reads these anymore (or if they ever did), but I have some quick things I want to mention.
I want to throw this out there: I DO NOT HATE KATAANG. In fact, I totally shipped them when I watched Avatar in my youth (I was 10). However, Katara was always my favorite character (because to my 10-year-old self, she represented the capacity of a woman to be more than just a mom or a love interest with a pretty face, AHEM) and Zuko was a close second (because his character development throughout the series was beautifully done). When Korra happened I was pissed that Katara got totally SHAFTED. While everyone else did super cool things, Katara just kind of became a mom. I get it, she's motherly, but this is the modern age people! To me, it seemed a little out of character that Katara would accept a life like that. What about when she challenged Pakku over his outdated beliefs on the role of women?! In short, having grown up into a woman and re-watched Avatar, I found the Kataang sort of creepy and saw much more potential in the Katara and Zuko pairing. And that is why I am here, writing this. This story is essentially my take on what could have happened if Book 2 (kind of a huge tipping point in the series) had ended just slightly differently. I also create another character as Aang's love interest, because being the avatar at such a young age, and being the last of his people, I think his ideal match would be a very particular type of lady and I didn't really see any of the main female characters as being the right fit for Aang and his specific situation. Let me know what you think!
Also: Rated M for some adult content, language, and potential for lemony goodness later on.
Hope you enjoy reading!
They had been so close. After the long struggle to overcome the Dai Li and convince the Earth King to help them end the war, they had ultimately failed and opened the gates of Ba Sing Se to the enemy. They had left the city vulnerable. She had failed. After all, it was Katara's suggestion that they split up and, as she huddled in the corner of her cell, bathed in the green fluorescent glow of the crystals around her, she couldn't curb the immense guilt. She had been too eager to celebrate and move on from their stagnation in Ba Sing Se and, as a result, the group had been scattered and separated. The city was under siege by none other than Princess Azula and it had all happened right under Katara's nose. She cursed herself under her breath. Then she cursed Azula for good measure. That cunning little bitch.
She was helpless in this cave. They had taken away her water and the air in her subterranean prison was bone dry. Her only hope was that someone, any one of her friends, would come back looking for her. Surely Toph would return after seeing her mother and wonder where Katara was. Perhaps any moment now a passageway would open up in the rock wall of her cell and the blind girl would stroll out, call her some variation of 'Sugar-Queen', and make a sly comment about-
Her thoughts were cut off by the rumble of earth around her. She stood up, spinning around, and for a moment was expecting to see Toph's goofy smile and dirty feet. That expectation vaporized like water hit by lightning when she heard "You've got company."
Someone came tumbling down into the cell and that gruff, raspy grunt when his body thudded on the floor filled her with a sudden rage. It couldn't be. What the hell was he doing down here? Her mind began to race. Was this some sort of twisted game Azula was playing? Was this another plan to capture Aang? Her nails dug into her palms as her hands formed into fists.
Swiftly, she turned to face him just in time to see the Prince of the Fire Nation lift himself from the ground. "Zuko." Her tone sounded more surprised than she had intended and she cursed herself again, a deep furrow forming on her brow. Before her knelt the Fire Nation Prince, gazing up at her as she frowned down at him, unsure of what to think of this sudden intrusion. When their eyes met, his eyes widened briefly before he averted his gaze and turned away from her.
"Why did they throw you in here?" She practically yelled at him, closing the distance between them. When he didn't respond she turned. "Let me guess, it's a trap. So, when Aang shows up to help me, you can finally have him in your little fire nation clutches." She made a clawing motion at him with her hands for emphasis, and for a moment he half-turned towards her, as if he was about to say something, but then turned back. His refusal to respond and his apparent attempts to ignore her entirely only deepened her rage. Who the fuck did he think he was?
She remembered their last encounter before Ba Sing Se clearly. Azula had shown up and, much to everyone's surprise, Zuko and his Uncle had teamed up with them to fight her. When his uncle was hit by a blast of Azula's lightning, Katara heard the pain in Zuko's voice cut through the air like the lightning itself. In that moment, she had felt a pang of empathy strike her heart, and memories of her mother surfaced. Without a second thought, she had offered to heal Iroh. Her compassionate gesture was met with rage. Despite herself, she tried not to take his response personally. She had done the right thing by offering; Zuko was in shock and she tried her best to shrug it off. But now, she was furious. She was already angry with herself at the situation she was in, her role in the fall of the city, and his sudden intrusion into her confinement pushed her temper over the edge. She wanted him to hurt this time.
"You're a terrible person, you know that?" Katara shouted towards him, starting to pace back and forth. She felt like she was about to boil over. "Always following us, hunting the avatar. Trying to capture the world's last hope for peace!"
Katara hadn't really hated Zuko before. She had been scared of him at first. Then that initial fear turned into something more akin to annoyance by the time they fought at the North Pole. She was sick of him showing up, but hate was a strong word. Now, she was starting to question that. She was sure he had something to do with Azula's infiltration. Just when things were starting to take a positive turn.
"But what do you care? You're the Fire Lord's son," She spat, "spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood."
"I'm done chasing the avatar," he finally responded in a cold tone, turning slightly to look over his shoulder. "And you don't know what you're talking about."
She didn't even consider the former part of his response. Done chasing Aang? Lies.
"I don't?!" Her nostrils flared. "How dare you." What world has this guy been living in? The war had caused devastation everywhere they had been; So much loss and pain. So much destruction. People had lost their homes, their cultures, and their lives. Not to mention her own loss; her mother, her childhood, and her village. This war had uprooted her life entirely. How could he be so oblivious to the world around him? How dare he suggest that she didn't know what she was talking about.
"You have no idea what this war has put the whole world through! What it has put me through!" She turned as her voice broke, trying to push back the tears that were forming in the corner of her eyes. Katara reached up to touch her necklace, all she had left of her mother, and the tears welled in her eyes as her knees gave in. "The fire nation took my mother away from me." Her tears were now streaming down her face and she had given up trying to hold them back.
Zuko hesitated and then turned towards her, a pained expression on his face. "I'm sorry…" He had seen the effects of the war, the scars of conflict that the Fire Nation had left on the Earth Kingdom. His travels had opened his eyes to the horror. Back in the Fire Nation, they were taught that the purpose of the war was to share their glory - to spread prosperity to the other nations. What a lie that was. They weren't spreading prosperity, they were spreading influence. It wasn't sharing, it was imperialism. Zuko had seen the Southern Water Tribe; Katara's village was sparsely populated, a collection of tents and huts surrounded by a wall of snow. A pitiful excuse for a settlement, he thought. But was that just another scar from the war? She had just said the Fire Nation had taken her mother.
Katara hugged her legs to her body and buried her face in her lap, all control of her emotions having escaped her. She sobbed and trembled violently.
Zuko listened to her muffled sobs, staring down at his hands. He closed his eyes and saw his own mother; remembering how inconsolable he had been upon finding out she was gone. Something heavy was weighing down on his heart.
"That's something we have in common," He finally mumbled.
When she heard this, her sobbing ceased and she looked up in shock. Zuko had lost his mother too? Katara wiped her tears, unsure of whether to believe him. She resisted the urge to turn and look him in the face, to gauge the truth herself. She couldn't let him see her distress, her tears. Sniffling, she tried to wrangle in her emotions.
"Really?" She almost whispered.
"Yea," Zuko responded, eyeing the ground. "It's been years now," he paused, "But I still dream about her."
Katara was silent for a moment, processing. Zuko had dreams? In hindsight, she realized she didn't really know much about her fellow captive. She knew he was the Fire Lord's son and the sibling of Azula. She knew that he had tracked Aang around the world in an attempt to capture him for the Fire Nation and his honor, whatever that meant. She knew he was a firebender with a typical firebender temper. In her mind, Zuko had embodied the Fire Nation, the war and suffering, all of the things she hated. Having actually known very little about him and the kind of person he was, her mind had attributed all of the worst possible characteristics that she could conceive of onto him. From her perspective, he was an amoral, sadistic, rapacious monster who would never stop tormenting the world until his timely end.
That illusion had shattered when she turned to see the unmistakable grief in his eyes. Now, she only saw a boy, a little older than she, who had lost his mother at a young age. An inexplicable feeling came over her; the realization that perhaps she had been wrong about him. Her guilt for suggesting he was a monster married with her own grief and loss. She had always prided herself on being an empathetic person, feeling the hurt of others, and somehow she had forsaken him in her indignation. Katara let out a shaky sigh.
"My mom was killed during a Fire Nation raid on our village," Her voice quivered. "Sokka and I were only young. She sacrificed herself to protect me. They were looking for the last water bender of the Southern Water Tribe... They were looking for me." She bit her lip. Her rage had melted away completely. "All I have left of her is this necklace."
Guilt rose up inside Zuko. He had used that necklace to track them. He had tried to bribe her with it. At the time, he didn't give it any thought; he was simply doing what he had to do to regain his honor. Suddenly, he was angry with himself.
"I-… I'm sorry." He mumbled, staring at the ground. He had felt shame before, but never like this. "I shouldn't have… I shouldn't have taken it that time."
She turned to look at him, shocked. Was Zuko actually apologizing? Her glassy blue eyes met his fiery amber. The regret and pain in his gaze was palpable. She blinked a couple times to both ensure she wasn't dreaming and that her tears weren't blurring her vision. That look on his face. This wasn't the same Zuko that had attacked her at the North Pole; something in him had changed. It caught her off guard. She couldn't continue being angry with him. He voluntarily admitted what he did was wrong.
"It's in the past," She finally responded, clutching the pendant in her hand. "I got it back, that's what matters." She sniffed again. "I guess it's forgiven."
Zuko couldn't believe it; she was forgiving him? He had tried to take advantage of her loss for his gain and here she was, crumpled before him with tears streaming down her smooth cheeks, offering her forgiveness. Did he even deserve forgiveness? He had done so many horrible things in the name of his destiny, in the name of his father, and in the name of the Fire Nation. The suffering that he had witnessed throughout his time in the Earth Kingdom was impossible to ignore, suffering caused by his country - the nation that he himself represented.
"I'm not sure I deserve it," he replied, averting his gaze again. "Your forgiveness."
Katara paused in shock. Something about him was certainly different than in their previous encounters; he had apologized. He hadn't even raised his voice once while she berated him. Zuko seemed to be much more introspective than she would have ever imagined.
"It's not about deserving it," she said quietly, "It's about moving forward, learning, and healing."
Zuko let out a snort, "You sound like my uncle."
"Hmph," Katara crossed her arms, not sure what to think of that. Comparing her to a Fire Nation war general?
Zuko noticed her reaction and rushed to correct himself, "Th- That's a compliment. My uncle is very wise. He's the closest thing I've had to a real father."
Katara's brows furrowed in confusion, "What about the Fire Lord?"
"He- he was…" Zuko was struggling to find the words, he had never opened up about this to anyone but his uncle. He averted his gaze and stared intently at the rock wall of their prison cell. "My father has always been cruel. When I lost my mother, there was no one to protect me from his cruelty; my uncle was still at war and Azula... she was always my father's favorite. For a while, it felt like I had no one..."
"That must have been very… lonely," She responded quietly. "Not long after my mother died, my father left to join the war with the other men from the village. But we still had my grandmother. And I always had Sokka. I can't imagine what it would have been like without him. I'm sorry that you had to... go through that alone."
"Well, I had Azula," Zuko almost chuckled at the comparison, "but she seemed to enjoy watching me fail. When I was 13, my father challenged me to an Agni Kai. I refused to fight him. He banished me and…" Zuko trailed off and subconsciously reached up to touch his scar, but stopped himself. This gesture was not lost on Katara. "Marked me as a traitor. I think Azula was pleased, my failure meant she was next in line."
Katara felt tears forming once more in the corners of her eyes. Despite everything, she could see past Zuko's harsh exterior; even though he was the child of Ozai of the Fire Nation, he had his fair share of troubles. He had been alone. He had been scarred and exiled by his own father, someone who he was supposed to be able to trust.
There was a moment of silence before Katara said, "Perhaps I was too quick to judge you."
"No," Zuko responded, looking back to her, "You weren't wrong. Hatred is in my blood, I'm the son of Ozai. Only recently have I started to notice it for what it is. I did lots of things that I'm beginning to regret." He looked at her necklace again.
"I believe people have the capacity to change," she took a couple steps toward him. "The first step is realizing that you want to."
"You really do sound like my uncle." Zuko smirked.
Katara's lips turned up briefly into a slight smile. This was a side of Zuko she had never seen before; one that she would never have imagined. "Thank you," she feigned a curtsy, "I'm serious, though. Your choices are yours to make. If you want to change, you can."
"It's more complicated than that." He averted his gaze again and she backed off, recognizing that he was done talking about it.
She sighed again and returned to her perch in the corner, determined to mull over whatever had just happened. This day had been full of surprises at every turn. Her mind drifted back to the situation in the city above. Perhaps she could convince Zuko to help them take down Azula? Even if he wasn't fully committed to changing, he had ample reason to want to stop her. As she pressed her back against a large crystal behind her, she strategized in silence. How could she make it happen? She had to get him talking again. After a while, she opened her mouth.
"So if you aren't here for Aang… What are you doing in Ba Sing Se?" She asked.
"We came as refugees." He looked down, like he was ashamed. "After the attack on the Northern Water Tribe, we were being hunted by the Fire Nation. I had given up looking for the avatar and we wandered the Earth Kingdom for a while, until some bounty hunters recognized us."
Katara remembered their fight at the North Pole clear as day. She remembered how she had knocked Zuko unconscious out of frustration that he had bested her when the sun came up. She had agreed with her brother when he suggested they leave the banished prince out in the snowstorm to die. Even if it was only a momentary notion, born of indignation after her defeat, she regretted it. Katara knew she had a temper, and she was sometimes prone to making rash judgements, but she had never truly wanted to hurt someone like that. Talking with Zuko had opened her eyes to his past, his own struggles. He was just a pawn in someone else's war, a war that began long before their time. She had to make him see that.
"All my uncle wanted was to make tea and live in peace," he continued fondly, making a sound that might have been a chuckle. "We were working at a tea shop when we first arrived. We still couldn't escape the past though; some guy who called himself a "freedom fighter" kept harassing us and accusing us of being Fire Nation-"
"Freedom fighter?" Katara interrupted. "Jet?" She said, mostly to herself.
"You know him?" Zuko asked, surprised.
"I- um…" She turned away in an attempt to hide the reddening of her cheeks. Zuko noticed. "We ran into the freedom fighters when we were traveling through the Earth Kingdom on our way to the Northern Water Tribe."
"I guess it makes sense," Zuko pondered out loud.
"That you would be interested in a guy like that; a vigilante that fights for freedom from the Fire Nation at all costs." He was rubbing his chin. Katara spun around and her blush deepened. "I thought he was pretty annoying, and sort of righteous, but to each their own I guess."
"Wh- what? Interested?! No!" Her brow furrowed again and she crossed her arms, trying to will away the telling redness that graced her cheeks. "We had to stop Jet from destroying a whole village of innocent people, just to rid the valley of the Fire Nation soldiers! I hated him," Anger boiled up in her heart as she remembered the feeling of embarrassment and shame at discovering Jet's true intentions. She had felt something for him, but those feelings had only amplified her shame.
"I hate anyone who believes that they have the divine right to put innocent people at risk for their own selfish motives-" She stopped, noticing Zuko's expression and how he glared down at the ground, clearly thinking she was referring to him as well. She paused. "Oh, that's- damn it. I didn't mean…" She cursed herself. Katara had let her anger get the best of her again. She didn't really hate Jet. After all, she had witnessed his transformation, he had sacrificed himself to help Aang. She didn't really hate Zuko either. When her emotions flared like that, she couldn't control her impulsive response, making ill-considered statements that she didn't really mean. She had done the same thing at North Pole and she was ashamed again.
"No, it's fine. I get it." Zuko replied gruffly, still frowning at the ground, clenching his fists and pacing back and forth. "Most people probably hate me. And I probably deserve it." He paused, brooding, "It's foolish to think anything will change!" In a burst of anger, his fist ignited with flame and he punched the crystalline formation nearest him, grunting at the impact. The crystal shattered, scattering green shards across the cell. Katara shielded her face, still feeling a little guilty she had insinuated that the world hated him. Zuko pulled back his fist, let out an annoyed sigh, and slumped down the nearby wall into a seated position. For a moment there, he had thought that him and Katara were getting along surprisingly well, all things considered. He had felt that there was an air of acceptance and understanding about her; that she would be willing to listen to his story and forgive his past mistakes. But he must have been wrong. She hated him. And apparently, so did everyone else. He lifted his fist and frowned at the shard of crystal puncturing the outer edge of his palm.
Katara saw blood drip from his hand and a quiet gasp escaped her lips. "You're hurt."
"It's fine," He responded, dropping his hand to his side, "it's just a scratch."
"It's definitely not just a scratch." She crossed her arms. "If you don't remove that shard and let me heal you, it could get infected."
"...Heal me?" He looked her in the eyes as she nodded, sighed in defeat, and held his hand out to her.
"It's... uh, something I learned in the North Pole," She moved towards him and undid the wrapping tied around her wrist, "Some waterbenders are capable of healing. People are mostly water, so I guess it makes sense." Kneeling down and taking his hand carefully into her own, she closely inspected the puncture wound. His hands were large and calloused in comparison to her own; not the soft hands that she would expect of a Prince. When their hands touched, Zuko averted his gaze. She turned his hand around and examined the other side.
"It looks like it will be alright, I don't think it punctured any major blood vessels." She turned his hand back over, "I'm going to pull out the crystal now, ok?" Katara warned him.
"Just do it," He responded nonchalantly.
She carefully removed the crystal and quickly covered his hand with the wrap she had taken off her wrist. "Hold this here for a second," she commanded. "The pressure will help stop the bleeding. I erm… This is going to sound strange, but I need some water to heal you and… well, all I have right now is tears."
Zuko turned to her suddenly, his facial expression a mixture of surprise and fascination mingled with an undertone of guilt for causing her to cry in the first place. He paused and then said, with a hint of playfulness in his tone, "You're going to heal me with your tears?"
"Well, it sounds really silly when you say it like that," Katara feigned a frown, but couldn't resist the tugging at the corner of her lips at the thought. "But, yes. . At least I didn't cry for nothing," she joked. As Zuko applied pressure to his wound, she took a water bending stance and moved her arms gracefully, resembling the ebb and flow of the tides. He watched with amusement as she moved one hands by her face and over her sleeves, pulling with her the moisture that had previously dampened her eyes and what little there was in the air. When she had gathered enough, their eyes met and gave him a sheepish smile. "Ok, you can remove the wrapping now." He did as he was told.
The water engulfed her hands, flowing freely between her fingers and around her palms. She placed her hands over his and he watched closely in amazement as the wound began to close up. Zuko had never seen anything like it.
This girl from the water tribe, the avatar's friend, was truly quite remarkable, he thought. In their short amount of time together, she had gone from berating him to allowing him to open up to her and then healing him. She had yelled at him, she had called him out, but she also made him feel like no one had before; she had given him hope.
Katara removed her hands and stood up, allowing the remaining water to fall and puddle at their feet. Zuko looked at the side of this palm where, just minutes ago, the long shard of green crystal had protruded. There was nothing, not a single mark.
"That's a pretty useful skill," He told her, still inspecting his hand as he stood.
"It has come in handy. Although, I think this is the first time I have used it for a self-inflicted wound," she teased.
"Yea, I have a bit of a temper…"
"It's ok. I do too," She admitted, biting her lip. "As you saw earlier. But I really do believe that people can change. We have control over our destinies; we have the freedom to decide who and what we want to be. We grow and we change. And... I believe that you have changed, Zuko." Their eyes met for a moment before Zuko broke the gaze.
"I'm trying," He mumbled. "I'm just tired of trying to live up to my father's expectations. No matter what I do, it's never good enough in his eyes."
"I'm sorry I yelled at you before."
"It doesn't matter. I'm sorry I made you cry."
"You didn't," She responded, "I just get emotional when I think about my mother sometimes and I was frustrated at myself for getting caught. Then you showed up and well…" She paused, looking for words, "It's just, when you chased us to the Northern Water Tribe, I was convinced that you were-... But having actually talked to you… I don't know anymore. I almost feel comfortable with you now… I- I… nevermind." She felt heat rise in her face, embarrassed at her inability to form full sentences.
"I know what you mean," Zuko replied. "I feel it too. I haven't opened up to anyone like that, except for my uncle, in years."
Katara smiled at him, "Its just that, for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy… it was your face. But now, all of that has suddenly changed and I-"
"My face…" As if out of instinct, Zuko's hand reached up to brush his scar, "I see."
"No, that's- sorry, that's not what I meant."
"It's ok," he paused. "I used to think this scar mocked me. The mark of the banished Prince, cursed to chase the avatar forever." He turned in her direction, and the corner of his lip curled in acknowledgement. "But maybe I am free to determine my own destiny, even if I'll never be free of my mark."
"Maybe you could be free of it." She turned to him and placed her hand on his, lowering it from his face to get a better look at discolored tissue. "You know," She said softly, "I could maybe heal that for you."
"It's a scar, it can't be healed."
Katara reached into her shirt and pulled a string out that was attached to an ornate vile. "This is water from the spirit oasis at the North Pole. It has special properties, so I've been saving it for something important. I don't know if it would work, but…" He closed his eyes as her fingers brushed softly against the rough, scarred tissue of his cheek. "I could try."
After a moment of contemplation, acutely aware of her fingertips grazing the tough skin of his scar, he opened his eyes. "No," reaching up to place his hand over hers. "The past can't be changed. Even though this scar reminds me of my shame, it's a part of who I am. Without this scar, without my banishment, I would never have seen this war for what it really is."
Katara looked up at him, wide-eyed. A soft smile formed on her lips and, without warning, she hugged him. Caught off guard, Zuko wrapped his arms around her slim frame. After a moment, his body relaxed and he pulled her in closer as she rested her head in the crook of his neck. Her hot breath tickled his bare skin. His heart was thumping rapidly in his chest and he felt her heartbeat, through their contact, quicken to match his. He was suddenly aware of her breasts, pushed against his chest; the curve of her hips under his hands.
He breathed in deeply through his nose, as if to commit her scent to memory. She was something else; a true rarity. She was kind and motherly, but also protective and headstrong. She was powerful but still virtuous. Passion and empathy flowed from her, engulfing him in a warm embrace; he felt like he could tell her anything, everything. After a moment, he broke the embrace and took her chin in his hand, turning her face towards his. The fire in Zuko's eyes burned into hers and she started feeling a little dizzy.
She parted her lips to make words but no sound came out.
Zuko's face was so close to hers that she could feel the warmth of his breath. They began to gravitate towards each other as he tilted her chin up. Their lips almost touched when one of the walls of their underground cell exploded, sending a plume of dust into the air. Startled by the disturbance, they pulled apart, red-faced and flustered, just in time to see Aang and Iroh enter through the rubble.
Thoughts? Realistically, Katara and Zuko would have been locked in the cell for quite a while - long enough for Aang, Sokka, and Toph to return to Ba Sing Se, get together, look for her, and talk to Iroh, before they bust in to break them out. So I extended their dialogue quite a bit. I always saw this scene as an important step in Zuko's transformation, even though he reverts later on. Throughout Book 2 he has slowly but surely been realizing what is going on in the world around him, outside of the Fire Nation and he seems to really start to feel some empathy. Of course, the transformation is not yet complete and he has to fall back into his old ways to realize his true destiny. But I think Katara's offer to heal his scar and her trust in him during this scene is something that Zuko wouldn't just forget.
So... yea. This chapter is kind of clunky and I attribute that in part to the fact that I wanted to start off by sticking mostly to how things could have potentially gone, while also trying to set up some stuff off later. My apologies. I promise, it gets better.
Let me know what you think! Review please? :)