A Powerful Bender
Katara stared up at the night sky. Her hair was fanned out around her head and her hands were clasped on her stomach as she rested her head on her water bag. From a distance, she looked relaxed and at peace but it would only take one look into her ocean blue eyes to see the turbulence in her soul.
Her tears had been shed and she felt spent, hollowed out, by what had just happened. In less time than it took fill her water skin, her life had changed completely. She knew she should have been used to the dangerous and unexpected things that occurred when traveling with the Avatar, but this had completely turned her head and shaken her deeply. Too many things had changed...yet somehow stayed the same.
Maybe it was the fact that things hadn't changed that was making her so weak.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to center her thoughts but the exercise only succeeded in amplifying the pain on her forearm.
The burn mark.
It would be a simple enough task to heal it but she wasn't ready to do that just yet. It stung whenever the air stirred and it stung whenever she moved, but it was the only thing she could feel. Without it, she would just be numb and empty. She needed it there to remind her that she was still alive and she still had responsibilities to fulfill. In the moonlight, Katara could see the perfect imprint of Zuko's fire whip on her skin and she hoped he had one to match.
Crushing disappointment had her struggling to catch her breath. They had been alone together for little over an hour and it shouldn't have been long enough for her to make a connection with him, but she knew that there was no denying it was there. There had been a carefulness about him that hadn't been there before and he had barely been able to meet her eyes. He was...humble.
For that brief respite, she'd been able to talk to him like a person rather than the enemy and had seen the man he could be if he wasn't who he was. She had very nearly used the oasis water on his scar, the same water that had healed Aang and brought him back. It was a matter of mere seconds that could have very nearly changed the fate of the world.
As the thought passed through Katara's mind, she realized how true that statement was. If she had healed his scar, would Zuko have come over to their side? Would he have turned his anger and rage on his sister, saved Ba Sing Se and in effect, the world as well? She'd seen his face in that moment of truth, saw the flash of pain and confusion in his eyes before he turned on Aang, and her heart ached.
A wave of self-loathing had her clasping her hands tighter together and her brow furrowed ferociously. The last thing Zuko needed was her sympathy. He made his choice, just like they all did when they set out to fight the Fire nation, and he'll live or die by it. She knew that his uncle had tried to save him, to lead him down the right path but whatever drove Zuko went deeper than his uncle's love. She'd seen how he'd fought Aang, the discipline in his movements but the underlying anger as well. When that anger turned on her, she'd seen the cool calculation on his face—the same that was always on his sister's. Before all this, she never would have called Zuko a powerful bender, but after what she'd seen, she couldn't deny that he was one now.
The boy she'd talked to in the cave had stayed there and she was facing the Prince who had chased them all over the world, but this time he was wiser and stronger. Knowing who he was, having fought against his sister and seeing the ruthlessness of his father in every scorched place they passed, Katara knew she shouldn't have been surprised that he turned...but she was and it hurt.
Turning her head, she glanced at Aang and saw him sleeping peacefully in the safety of Appa's legs. He was doing better and his breathing was steady which was a relief. Every hour, she had to heal him because she was afraid of how much damage Azula had done to him. They needed to get back to the North Pole and to the Spirit Oasis because Katara was afraid that he would not heal properly without its water. He had come to save her, she knew that, and the love she'd seen in his eyes was more powerful than before.
It touched her and frightened her at the same time. When it came to the Avatar, she knew she had a responsibility to stay by his side and protect him, but her reasons were less personal than his. The world needed him to end this war and usher in peace. He had given her hope when she thought there was nothing left to have faith in. He was Aang but he was also the Avatar. She loved him but she wasn't so sure if it was the same love he felt for her. She couldn't honestly say it wasn't but something held her back.
Her burn ached and she closed her eyes.
Regardless of her feelings for Aang, Katara knew that she would die before she let anything touch him again. The world needed him and she would do what was necessary to protect him. She, too, was a powerful bender and in that battle against Azula and Zuko, she realized just how powerful she was. To protect Aang, she had dug deep inside herself, gone to places she'd been afraid to go in the past, and used her element to get them to freedom, but in doing so, something inside her had broken apart. She was different now because she had opened that door to powers she had feared, powers that needed more than the serenity that came with the graceful movements of Waterbending. She had been afraid and angry, and those emotions had given her the strength to save Aang.
Waterbenders were taught to respect their element, to move with the ebb and the flow of the tides even when bending it, but Katara knew what it felt like to make the water work for her.
To use it as a weapon and to turn what should be a life giving and life saving element into a life taker.
To make it cut and hurt and drown.
It went against her very nature to hurt people but for Aang she would. Power had its price and powerful benders had to pay it. Perhaps in that, she and Zuko were alike; they were willing to make sacrifices to see their goals to the end. He turned his back on the life he could have had and the man he could have been to be able to return to his home; she would lock away her doubts and her fears about her own powers and be as ruthless as her enemy even if it killed a part of her.
At the end of this, she knew she would have to face him again. If he stood between Aang and the Fire Lord, Katara knew she would have to stand between him and Aang. When that happened, she would be ready.
Powerful benders had to be.