The incomparable AvocadoLove has a story called "One" here at the Pit; its story ID is "4356911". It's a splendid gen one-shot, and should be read prior to this chapter.
This is an unofficial sequel to that ficlet, written in the "What Comes After" zutara challenge a few years ago. I took her dark little Zuko AU and gave it a dose of Zutara in the sequel/re-interpretation, but AvocadoLove said she enjoyed it, so I'm happy to present it to you, my readers!
It's been a while since I posted ATLA fic, I know. I may do more in the future, I still love this fandom.
Pretty Music Accompaniment: Greg Laswell - Comes and Goes (In Waves)
Tea and Sympathy
This one's for the torn down, the experts at the fall
Come on friends get up now, you're not alone at all
Tea settles in Zuko's mouth and slides down his throat, tingling and burning on its way. Over his teacup he watches Lyrna rotate leaves in the air, one above each fingertip. She moves them first clockwise and then counter, never letting one get low enough to touch her hand or high enough to be caught by the real wind. It's a small game, probably something Sokka or Katara taught her as a concentration tool, but the flickering swaths of green and brown mesmerize the prince.
"That's beautiful," he says. He folds his legs and settles down to watch.
"Oh, I can do more!" the child assures him. The leaves begin to spin faster, each held in place by its own miniature tornado, until she flings her hand upward and they sail into a glorious arc, circling Zuko and then herself before settling back in her tiny palm. She holds them out to him, and Zuko looks at his own hand. It's larger than he remembers, with nicks and scars he can only see now that he's resting in the sunlight. He folds his fingers in and shakes his head.
"No thank you. I apologize for interrupting your training. You are truly talented."
Lyrna's shoulders slump, and she puffs out her lip. "That's what Mom always says. She thinks that if I don't practice, I won't be as talented as I need to be. So I'm always bending, even when I'm in trouble."
Zuko sets the tea cup beside his knees and eyes the Avatar. "Your mother?"
Lyrna points, and they both look at a woman standing near the campfire with a map spread across her knees. It is Katara, and he can still see the water tribe emblem where her hair wraps behind her neck.
Leaning close to Zuko's ear, Lyrna whispers, "If I'm mad, I call her Katara. She hates that."
Zuko abandons his examination of the woman he'd known so long ago. When he speaks to the child at his side, he is careful not to scold her, only to suggest. "You should honor your parents. You owe your mother your respect."
Lyrna looks everywhere but at him, and in profile he's struck by what a lovely child she is. Her face is more angular at seven than Katara's was at fourteen, and her eyebrows are high and narrow. Yet that dark pout she indulges is familiar almost beyond his comprehension. It's been so long, so very long, since he has seen it.
At last she mutters, "Okay. Fine."
"And your father?" Zuko asks as gently as he can, but Lyrna's eyes still wilt at the corners. Without saying anything, she snatches up his tea cup and scampers back toward the supply pile.
Zuko sighs, and hobbles to his feet. When he reaches the fire Katara's already gathered a blanket, and when he sits on a large rock she hastily tries to wrap it around him.
She moves guiltily, as if regretful that this is all she can give him, but he smiles at her and she relaxes a fraction. Sitting together, they stare at the map of the Earth Kingdom. Eventually, Zuko points a finger at a dark area to the West, covered with squiggles and a deft sketch of a tree.
Katara laughs a bit, and it's hard to believe it's the laugh of a girl barely into her twenties. Up close, she sounds so much older than he could have imagined.
"You were always good at guessing our destination before we'd even decided on it."
With a shrug, Zuko says, "If you want to take me somewhere to hide for a while without endangering your operation, the Great Swamp is one of the most remote and unappealing. Azula would scour the desert and the ocean three times over before looking there."
"You're right." She rolls up the map and stuffs it into a wooden tube that's packed with others of the same. "You'll be ready to travel the day after tomorrow."
"I don't feel ready," he admits, but Katara pats his shoulder with a light touch.
"Don't worry about it now. With Lyrna's waterbending and mine combined, you'll be ready."
"She can heal, just like you can?"
The waterbending master is proud when she nods, and the emotion glows from her. "I was young when I had Lyrna-very young-and we had no idea she'd be the Avatar until nearly two years later. All that time we'd been keeping her secret for fear of the headhunters after Sokka, Toph, and myself; turns out it was a good thing we did."
Katara's gaze returns to the fire, but she reaches out to take Zuko's hand in her own. Her fingers pass over the indents and scars as if they aren't there. "One day, on the way out of a town marketplace near Omashu, Lyrna burped fire then immediately sneezed so hard she blew me off my feet. She gets allergies pretty bad in the spring."
Although he feels the flames off to his right, whispering and humming sparks like an old friend, Zuko can't lift his gaze from Katara's profile. He is measuring her features with his eyes, embedding every detail in his memory and trying desperately to recall the girl from eight years before. Like the fire, her hand over his is warm and familiar.
"My uncle and my father got horrible allergies in the first few months of spring," he says at last. "My grandmother and I were spared, but I think Lyrna's going to have to get used it."
"Yes," says Katara, and gives his hand a squeeze.