A/N: Hi, people! So here's my new story. It's gonna be rather short (I like to call 'em "Quick Fics") Hope you like it! Oh yeah. One more thing. If you don't like the story, please tell me—but don't flame because of the plot; flame because of my writing. I can't exactly improve if you don't give me some advice here!
Summary: Takes place after "Zuko Alone." Zuko's fallen ill but a certain waterbender helps him through it. Why is she helping him and why does she seem to be alone too?
Zuko sat on the stolen ostrich horse, lost in thought. His sad, thinning face was half hidden beneath his hat. He bounced with each step the animal took, swaying.
But he didn't care.
It had been four days ago, but that boy in the last town had really tugged at his heartstrings. Zuko wondered why the boy's words had offended him so, but he could not figure it out.
"I hate you!"
The words rang in his ears so loud he felt his ear drums would burst. They echoed off of the inside of his scull and pulled at the heartstrings the prince didn't know he had. Once the boy had found out who Zuko was, he wanted no part of him. Didn't it matter that the exiled prince had saved his life and stood up to those bullies of soldiers? Didn't his deed prove Fire Nation could be kind as well? Zuko supposed it didn't. For the rest of eternity, even after the war had ceased, the rest of the world would hate the Fire Nation.
The firebender swallowed a lump in his throat, taking in a rather shaky breath. He swallowed again and gripped the cracking leather reins tighter. The burning sun beat down on him, unforgiving. He was too weak to even adjust his body temperature. Now even his own element was betraying him.
Up ahead, he saw something that made him a little less depressed. Trees. The animal quickened its pace to its own accord. The thing did deserve a break… Zuko's stomach let out a painful rumble. And he himself needed to find something to eat. Once at the edge of the trees, the firebender dismounted from his ride, leading it by the reins.
He walked through the brush, waving away the creature's beak. It kept trying to peck at his head. After twenty patient-trying minutes, the pair came to a small stream. Zuko let the bird go and get a drink. He knelt beside the water too, filling his stomach with water, gasping for air afterward. Never had he felt so refreshed. And never again would he take water for granted. He filled his canteen with pale hands, screwing the top carefully.
Zuko stood and waited for the animal to stop its foolish splashing in the water. Having been alone for a few weeks, the firebender had grown much more patient and less arrogant. If the foolish bird wanted to play in the water for a few minutes, that's what he'd let it do. The thing did deserve a break after all of that walking. The creature stepped out of the stream, pecking at Zuko's hat in what seemed an affectionate manner. With a sigh from the young man, the two set off farther into the forest.
Within moments, they came across a berry bush. The ostrich-horse squawked and darted over, sticking it's head right in, clearly ready for a meal. Zuko's stomach growled again. He clutched his stomach. Well if the bird thought it was okay… Zuko plucked a small red berry from the bush with his fingers and popped it into his mouth. He was surprised by how delicious and juicy they were. He swallowed and began picking more. They were just the right balance between sweet and tart.
He remembered entering the last town, hungry as he'd ever been. That boy's mother had been kind enough to feed and house him for a night, but before that, he'd nearly keeled over from starvation.
He recalled seeing a man cooking on the roadside, meat just about ready on a spit over a fire. Zuko was preparing to take it, but then stopped when he spotted a woman sitting against a tree. No, it wasn't the woman that had stopped him. It was her current state: pregnant. He couldn't bring himself to steal food from a pregnant woman. She and her unborn child needed it more than he ever would. Should that mean he keel over and die in the dirt, so be it.
The ostrich-horse drew back from the bushes. It squawked. A thin, weak, half-smile spread across Zuko's face. The creature's beak was stained with berry juice. The firebender swallowed what was in his mouth. He pulled a small bag from the carrier on the back of the bird and began filling it with berries. There was, after all, no telling how long it would be before he ate again.
Again, they set off deeper into the woods. Occasionally, the feathered creature would make a small noise or a twig would snap, but other than that, there was silence. In an hour's time, just as the sun was setting, they came upon a small clearing.
Zuko stopped and unloaded his companion- not that there was much to unload. There was a sack of feed with little of it remaining, the berries, a bag containing a change of clothes, a small blanket with a hole in it, and his broadswords. The firebender sighed. He changed into the other clothes as his "steed" settled itself in a patch of dirt. Zuko pulled the blanket over himself. Without a word, he turned over and shut his eyes.
But sleep refused to come.
He wondered more about what had happened back at the town where the boy lived. The child's family had been torn apart by this war and then some "soldiers" come waltzing in and take the boy away from his parents. Zuko's fists clenched involuntarily. But this was happening all over the world. Because of this war, the whole world was being torn apart; Fire Nation included. But his father was too blind to see. The exiled fugitive prince wished he still had his birthright so that he could end the stupid war himself.
And for the first time in almost three years, single tear rolled down the firebender's cheek.
His dreams were haunted by memories of his home and of his mother.
He saw her, tall, pretty, graceful, and smiling. The background in his dream was the garden of the palace, but it was blurry. He could barely recognize it. He ran to her, hearing his footfalls against the ground.
"Mother!" His voice was higher in pitch than it was now. And his mother seemed taller than she should be… And Zuko realized he was dreaming he was a child again, a day or two before his mother had left.
"Zuko! Hello!" She knelt and hugged her son. "I was just looking for you. Do you want to go feed the turtle-ducks?" Zuko felt his head shake.
"Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai are by the pond." he said. His mother gave him a look.
"Azula is your sister. Be nice."
"But mother, Azula is always playing tricks on me and Ty Lee is so cheerful, and Mai is… Mai is quiet. Creepy-quiet." A small smile spread across his mother's face.
"If you can't talk to Mai and Ty Lee, how will you ever handle girls?"
"Who said I need to?" Zuko asked, arms crossed.
"Aren't you ever going to marry?"
"No!" Zuko stuck out his tongue at his laughing mother.
And as suddenly as it came, the vision faded away into blackness. Zuko woke with a start. He flew into the sitting position, eyes wide, sweat crawling over every inch of his body. Why had he—
Zuko clutched his stomach. It was doing summersaults, churning in pain. He groaned. I guess those berries weren't so safe after all. He thought, throwing his blanket off of his legs. His mouth was watering and his legs were shaking; he knew what was coming. Zuko took a few steps out of the small clearing and got sick in the grass.
His knees gave way as he sat in the grass, breathing heavily, swallowing access saliva. His fingers had a few blades of grass in a death grip. His stomach gave another lurch and he was sick again. When the firebender was sure he was done, he stood slowly, legs still wobbly.
I'm pathetic. His inner voice said, just loud enough for him to hear. And yet the voice was loud- the words echoed inside his head louder than the boy's ever had. The I hate you's were drowned out by his own voice. I'm pathetic.
Zuko managed to stumble and trip his way into camp. He couldn't believe how weak he was. He blamed it all on the berries. They were probably poison…
He lay on the ground near his blanket. His head turned to meet the staring eyes of the ostrich-horse. Looks like you didn't get sick. Zuko mentally cursed the animal. The bender turned away with a scowl.
You were lucky to be born.
More painful words. Those were that of his father. He had yet again been comparing his two children: Zuko and Azula. Azula was born lucky and Zuko was lucky to be born. Zuko fought the urge to shout. Why hadn't his father loved him? Why couldn't he just try to accept his son for who he was? Why—
He sat up abruptly and threw up for a third time. His shoulders shook as he evened out his breath. He closed his eyes, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. Golden eyes fluttered closed and he fell backward, unconscious.
"Wake up." whispered a soft voice. Zuko felt a gentle nudge on his shoulder. He groaned in pain, still clutching his stomach. "I've got something that will make you feel better." The firebender let his eyes flutter open but snapped them shut due to the light. He heard a soft laughter, a girl's laughter. It was sweet and musical.
"Try again." she told him. He opened his eyes again, the light shielded by a tanned hand. After a moment, she slowly pulled it away. Zuko's stomach took another gigantic turn. He sat up quickly and turned to the side. Burning bile rose in his throat. The bile was, by far, worse than the berries coming up.
"Are you alright?" Zuko felt a small hand on his back, rubbing up and down to comfort him, like a mother would. The exiled prince gave a nod, swallowing. He turned and looked at the mystery girl for the first time. His eyes widened.
"You!" he said fiercely, struggling to stand.
"Calm down!" the girl said, pulling him back down. "I can help you."
"I don't want help from a water tribe girl!"
"Well, at least I'm not "peasant" any more." she mumbled. She grabbed a cup that sat on a large palm leaf in the sand. Zuko noticed they were on the beach, waves crashing onto the shore. How had he gotten here? That girl certainly couldn't carry him! "But could you please call me by my name? It's--"
"Katara. I know." Katara looked up at him, surprised he'd actually known. He was looking down at the sand in silence with a more serene look on his face than usual.
"Anyway," the waterbender continued, "I found Koala berries on your ostrich-horse. I figured I should check to try to see if I could find anything to explain why you were so sick… But you should cook those before you eat them. Only animals are immune to the raw poisons."
"So I found some herbs." she went on, seemingly unphased by his tone. Katara began filling the cup with assorted herbs, also laid on the palm leaf. "It'll make a tea and if you can get it down, you'll be better by tonight." She looked up and smiled kindly. Zuko said nothing or acknowledge her speaking. Katara's smile faded and she streamed some water from her water pouch and into the cup. She handed it to him. He looked up at her, capturing her gaze with his gripping eyes. For some reason, they were no longer laced with hatred. She silently wondered why.
"Why are you helping me?" The waterbender looked at the sand, choosing her words carefully.
"Well… Look, I saw the wanted posters of you and your uncle. And I know you may be rude and selfish, but you needed help. I can't just walk through the woods and pass someone that needs my help." Their eyes locked. Zuko's heart skipped a beat as Katara's mesmerizing blue eyes stared back at him. He quickly returned to his senses and looked away.
He sipped the tea, secretly wishing he could spit it out. How did his uncle drink this crap?
A/N: How was it? I thought the quality plummeted as I wrote on, despite my editing. Should I keep writing or forget about it?