Title: The Ocean In A Thimble
Summary: Misery loves company. Because someone asked for a vignette. Now with dialogue!
Word count: 1,155
WARNING: IMPLIED SPOILERS FOR THE PROMO OF THE FINALE. PROMO SPOILERS ONLY.
Notes: Yes I am writing Avatar fic again. In fact, I set out to write something romantic. Ha! What a laugh. Instead you have this. Angst. Friendship, of a sort. Mostly angst.
The Ocean In A Thimble
It was not ten seconds after being abandoned in the underground cavern together that they started arguing. Zuko because he hated being there, and Katara because she hated the idea of being there with him. There was also the fear: for their loved ones, for themselves. When the last pebble rolled down the giant rock pile obstructing their only escape route, they turned to look at each other, scowled, and went to opposite ends of the cave.
They stayed like that for a goodly amount of time, being the more stubborn people in their respective families. Unfortunately when it came to enduring isolation Zuko was made of far sterner stuff than the young waterbender, and eventually she stood up, walked a little closer, and sat down again. She asked what he was doing there. It did not go well.
"Nothing that would matter to you."
"Did they try to arrest you?"
"It's not important."
"Then for what?"
"For insurrection, okay? Leave me alone."
"Oh. Do you want to know what I'm doing here?"
"I don't care."
And he didn't. She had clearly gotten herself in trouble with the city authorities, and from what little he knew of her he didn't find this hard to believe. What Katara had done to deserve being chased by Ba Sing Se's secret police was a mystery for someone possessing a greater curiosity than Zuko. Curiosity was wasted on him, because curiosity led you away from your goals. He'd trained himself to be so focused that even now, when he had no purpose, he still could not take interest in things that had no immediate usefulness.
In fact, there was only one thing useful that could come of such an exchange.
"Where's the Avatar? I assume he's going to rescue you?"
Katara shook her head, contempt bleeding into her voice. "I doubt it. He should be halfway to the Ea—he should be far away by now."
"Whatever. Like I care."
"You're telling me you don't?"
That was the end of their conversation for a while. Katara went back to her corner of the cavern, and Zuko stayed in his. Light trickled down from holes in the rock above, but it was too far to offer any hope of escape. It merely served as a convenience, a timepiece by which to measure their entrapment.
After the first two hours, Katara slept. After the first four, she cried.
It took Zuko by surprise. He'd seen girls cry before, but rarely, and he'd never been forced to stick around and witness one. If a girl started to cry in the shop he would do his best to keep her cup full and hot and when he wasn't pouring he'd make sure he was far away, preferably doing dishes in the back room where he couldn't hear. Girls were odd and crying girls were even odder. He'd never seen his sister cry after she turned about six, and Jin had never cried in front of him. In all the times he'd met Katara, he'd never seen her cry, either. Not by the river, not in the Northern Snow. He looked at her shaking shoulders now and could only assume it was either him or the cave. He figured some of both.
"What is it?" he asked, because there was no one else to. Iroh would have asked, and by now Zuko had no one else (no one better) to look up to.
"Nothing," said Katara.
"It must be something. You've been in worse situations before, and I've never seen you cry."
"Of course you haven't. You don't even know me."
He thought that was the end of it, and having held up his part of the conversation he resigned himself to listening to her sobs. He brought one knee up and leaned his chin on it, facing away from the crying girl and contemplating his options. They were fairly limited: escape and find his uncle, which probably wouldn't happen, or starve down here, which probably would happen. If he was lucky the Dai Li would come back and collapse the cavern entirely first. So he sat, and waited, and did what he'd learned to do after months as a refugee. He listened.
Eventually, Katara talked.
"I could die down here. I could die, and I'd never see Sokka or Dad again. I'd never see Aang again. I'd never get to help Aang stop the war. With the city being controlled by Long Feng, Aang might not even be able to stop the war. And now I can't warn him. He won't know! He'll think he has the support of the king but he won't and I'll never get to warn him. I'll just sit down here and starve and rot, alone."
Alone with Zuko, enemy of her people. He couldn't blame her. He couldn't argue with her, because she was right. She probably would die down here.
"I hate it," she sobbed. "I hate that I'm going to die like a rat trapped in a cellar because no one knows where we are and no one's coming to get us out. I hate the Dai Li. I hate this war. I hate the Fire Nation for making all of this happen. If it were for the Fire Nation I'd be at home right now, and everyone would be alive, and everyone would be happy!"
She looked at him, and meeting those eyes was the hardest thing he'd done since trying to nurse his Uncle back to life and health.
"Do you understand what I'm saying Prince Zuko? It's all the Fire Nation's fault, all of this! If it weren't for the Fire Lord's stupid greed then everything would be normal. Aang would be happy with his people, Princess Yue would be alive! My family would be whole!" Unable to stand his quiet gaze, she turned away again and sobbed with renewed vigor. Tears rose from places she'd thought long forgotten and spilled out of her in a fountain's rush.
"Because of the Fire Nation, I have to fight, my people have to fight! The Fire Nation made us go to war, just like they made the Earth Kingdom go to war. They did this to us. They killed all those people. They invaded our villages! The Fire Nation—the Fire Nation killed my mother!"
He and Katara were very different people, but loneliness was a feeling Zuko recognized. Most of Katara's words washed over him like the spray and wind of a waterfall you pass on a forest path—a hundred crimes he could barely acknowledge let alone repay, a hundred things that could be true or could be lies and propaganda. Fleeting and forgotten because he had no power over them. But this sentiment, this accusation, he understood.
"Then that's something we have in common," Zuko said at last.
It was all he needed to say.
I can check this off my list now. I've only seen the promo, so if you leave a comment (and I welcome all feedback!) please don't spoil me for the episode contents. Don't even HINT.