SPOILERS FOR THE SEASON FINALE!

You know, once upon a time, zutara was known as the ship of Dark, Forbidden Angst.

Because of the finale, we can finally be the Dark, Forbidden Angst ship again! WOO-HOO! (parties with Rashaka and Akavertigoand a few others who are all like, W00t! Dark fics! Yay!)

So I present to you my post-finale fic-that-was-suppose-to-be-a-drabble-but-g rew-wings-and-six-pages---oh, and will be continued:

Title: Justification
Author: Jakia
Summary: Zuko attempts to justify his actions to Katara. This is easier said than done, as once a traitor, always traitor, and trust isn't exactly something you can win through seduction.
Genre: Angst. Yes.
Word Count: 2,513
Rated M for psychology and maybe some other stuff later. I hold no promises.
Part 1/?


"Follow me. I have something to show you."

She follows him through the dark passageways, the hidden tunnels that have always been there just-in-case, and when the sunlight hits her face she scathes. Even though it's been months since she'd seen the light, she still scorns its touch, as though the sunlight burns her like fire. She remains silent the entire way out of the prison cell, something he is both grateful and surprised for. He expected her to scream at him, to shout at him words of betrayal, of guilt, or at the very least, to ask where he was taking her.

But she says not a word. Nor does she look at him.

That was all right with him. He could live with her bitterness, her hatred towards him (how was it any different from how they use to know each other?).

But first, justification:

"This was my mother's garden," he explains quietly, so quietly he wonders if she hears him at all. She turns her head towards him, and he's surprised to see her expression soften ever so slightly. "She left when I was nine years old. I don't know why she left, or where she went, or--" he reminds himself to breathe, "Or even if she's still alive. All I know is that she's gone and it's my fault."

She whips her head around to face him, her mouth open with words on her tongue, but he holds his hand up to stop her. He'll face her judgment later, but first…

"That's what she said to me, before she left. She said, All that I have done I have done for you, and never forget who you are."

Her face held confusion as he turns to face her. "That's why I joined Azula in the end. It's who I am."

"But it's not—"

"Yes," he cut her off sharply. "It is."

He exhales piercingly before taking a seat near the water, motioning for her to join him. She does, with a little less reluctance than before.

"I am the Prince of the Fire Nation." He explains, to her, and maybe to himself. "That's who I am, and who I'll ever be. I'm not asking for you to understand that." He sighs. "My—my mother wanted to see me become Fire Lord. I know she did. That's what she wanted, for me to become the Fire Lor—"

"Why wouldn't you?" She quips suddenly, interrupting his train of thought. "Are you not the first born son, the heir to the throne?"

He frowns; "It's not as simple as that."

Silence erupts in the garden; the only sound is the stray cries of the turtleducks nearby.

"Go on," she urges.

"He always loved her more," He speaks barely above a whisper now. "I don't know why—even before we found out Azula was a prodigy he loved her more." He bites his lip as the words fumble out. "I think it might've had something to do with the fact that she was born second, like him. Father always resented Uncle because he was born first, and—" He struggled with the words. "I think he resented me for being born first as well."

"Then why do you bother to try?" She can't help but growl fiercely. "He obviously isn't going to stop any time soon, why bother at all?"

He breathes, and confesses:

"Because I wanted him to love me as much as he did her. I wanted him to be proud of me like he was of her. I wanted…I still want him to love me as much as her." He half-smirks, but it doesn't reach his sad yellow eyes. "There were times when I thought he almost did. After Mom left, he…he stayed with me, when no one else did. And there were other times, too, when he'd look at me like…like he was almost proud of me."

He crosses his arms around his knees tightly. "I just thought… If I were just a little stronger, a little more powerful, he'll love me like he does Azula. And so I'd try, and try, and try. Even in exile, I tried. You can't say I ever stopped trying. I'm still trying.

"I hate it here. I hate the court, I hate the people in the court, I hate my Father, I hate Azula, I hate Mai, I hate Ty Lee. I hate it. I didn't use to, but I do now."

She raises her eyebrow curiously. "So why don't you leave?"

He shakes his head violently, memory overtaking him. "I can't. That's what Uncle tried to get me to do…in Bai Sing Sei, he wanted us to start over anew." He closes his eyes, and breathes in deeply a memory of strong Jasmine tea. "But I can't. Because I'm not Li the refugee in Bai Sing Sei. I'm not. I can't forget who I am."

Ever so slowly, he lifts his hand and touches his scar. "…Even if I want to."

He turns to her suddenly, his face so achingly close to hers. "Could you? If the last thing your mother told you was to never forget who you were, could you start over?"

She bites her lip and pulls away from him slowly. "I—I don't know." Her honesty shakes him. "I…I want to say yes, but…" Unconsciously, her hand goes to her necklace with unnatural speed. "I just don't know."

The silence falls around them again, but not awkwardly this time. Rather, it's pleasant, and almost trustworthy.

"You're a good person, Zuko." She thinks aloud, a bemused look on her face. "You really are. I---I sort of wish you weren't. It'd be easier to hate you, you know."

"After you—I mean, when you sided with Azula, not us…" She speaks, unsure of herself even as the words form before her. "She almost killed him while he was in his Avatar State."

He nods, listens. "I know."

"I—I carried him out. And I used to Oasis Water to heal him." She wills herself not to cry. "It worked, he's alive…but it's not enough.

"We took him back to the Guru, to try to find out what was wrong with him still. He said that Aang had not fully completed releasing his jugulars, and therefore did not have full control over his Avatar State. So when Azula hit him…he died. But because I brought him back, his body still lives. But the Avatar spirit inside of him has died, and now he's stuck trying to come to a balance within himself.

…And he hasn't let me go, whatever that's suppose to mean." She says, the tears streaming down her face.

"We waited, and we waited, but he never woke up. We couldn't just wait forever. There was still a war going on out there.

"So we left Aang with the Guru and the King and came here, to the Fire Nation," She turns away almost spitefully. "And got captured."

He didn't know what to say; maybe she didn't either, but she was having a better time at it than he was.

"I don't know what's right anymore." She confesses out loud. "I don't know if what I'm doing is right, if what the Fire Nation is doing is right, or anything. I don't…I don't know if I still believe Aang can save the world. I just don't know."

Realization hits him hard. "You've lost hope," he muses.

She can only nod, and wishes she had the strength to stop crying.

Before he can stop himself, he puts a hand on her shoulder, and pulls her near him. "You can't lose hope," She cries harder, louder. "All we have is hope."

She buries herself in his arms and cries, cries until she feels she cannot cry any longer.

"You can't give up hope." it's another of Uncle's old proverbs that he finds himself repeating, and he berates himself for it.

She pulls away from him suddenly, as if remembering that, yes, he is her enemy, and crying on the shoulder of your enemy is never a good thing. She wipes her eyes, big and puffy and red, and stands.

"Surely there must be something that gives you hope?" He asks, standing beside her. There is only silence, but her face betrays her. She is torn, she is desolate, she is—

"There is hope." Her face goes cold, stone like, a living statue in Ursa's sacred garden.

He stares at her changed form acceptingly. "What is it?"

"You won't like it."

"I never do—tell me anyway."

She smirks tellingly. "I'm not suppose to." Her voice is low, calm, and, dare he say, seductive? "But you already know—the Day of Black Sun."

He frowns only slightly. "I guess that's something to hope for."

She leans closer to him, her nose touching his. "Do you want to hear a secret, Prince Zuko?" The way she says his name is haunting and dangerous, and makes warning signals go off in his mind.

But he whispers, "Yes" anyway.

She pulls away from him and flashes him a girly grin. "I have the invasion plans from Bai Sing Sei for the Day of Black Sun. I've carried them in my back pocket since…since the Fall of Bai Sing Sei." Her eyes flutter: this is madness in its truest form. "When I was in that cave with you, all those months ago…I had it then, and I have it now."

She pulls it rolled up paper out of her pocket tauntingly, proof of her words and her lunacy. His eyes widen at the sight of it—this is something Azula does not have, something Azula cannot get. With the Earth Kingdom's plans, the Fire Nation will be invincible. With those plans, he could—

"…Win your father's love?" She completes his thoughts, again twirling the scroll in her fingers, playing with the thought of throwing it into the pond to watch him jump for it.

"Give it to me." He barely breathes, thoughts and feelings and traitorous ideas flowing through him like the blood in his veins.

She bats her eyes at him coyly, her voice dripping with poisoned syrup as she speaks. "No."

But Zuko never gives up without a fight, and finds himself standing blue eyes to gold. "Give it to me, Katara." His voice flows without hesitation and with maddening obsession; perhaps he is the crazy one out of the two.

"How much do you want it, Prince Zuko?" She bats her eyes again at him, a mad laughter following.

Perhaps they are both crazy, and that is why they come to one another when all logic and reason fail them, just one crazy person looking for acceptance from another, a chance meeting of kindred, maddened spirits who know of nowhere else to turn.

"If you want it," her voice becomes deadly serious now as she tucks the scroll back into her pocket. "Then you can pry it from my cold dead fingers."

Like everything else in his life, he's going to have to fight to get what he wants in the end. He looks down at her apathetically. "Must you be so difficult?"

"How so?" She asks him softly, edging closer to him. "How is this any different from before? Different from any other time we've fought in the past?"

Because this time, he knows deep in his heart but cannot explain it, will be the last time they meet in battle.

He wavers. "I won't kill you."

"Not even for your father's love?"

He gulps. "Not even for my father's love."

Even though he says these words out loud, he doesn't know how true they are.

She frowns. "What if I attack you first?"

Before he can react to her words, he's dodging the icicle she's thrown at his throat. She leaps on him like a tiger pouncing its prey, pulling him down with her. The months spent in solitude and darkness has taken their toll on her—she no longer cares if she lives or if she dies.

He manages to push her off of him long enough to conjure up his familiar flame, red with desperation and his own personal insanity. Now, it is battle, true battle, familiar, reliable battle.

She jumps, he dodges. She throws, he catches. When push comes a shove, they're both evenly matched in the end, but that doesn't stop them from trying to get the upper hand for once. This time it's closer, more personal, because they aren't fighting for their beliefs, their duties, or the Avatar, but for themselves, because they are both tired of this, because they are both insane with grief, with loss, their bodies lain with scars that can't be seen, ones that will never heal.

He finally manages to push her down (push pull push pull pushpullpushpullpushpull) and holds her down, his legs around her waist, his weight on top of her, and his arms holding hers in place.

"I'm not going to kill you." He repeats, remembering to breathe.

She stops her struggling momentarily and flinches at his breath on her face. "Why not?!"

"Because," Has he ever been this close to another person before? "I've never killed anyone before in my life, and I'm not about to start now."

Not for the first time, not for the last, she wishes he was an evil man so she could hate him properly, wishes he was anything but pure and misguided so she could jab an icicle into his throa—

He kisses her suddenly, swiftly, unexpectedly; the contact is sensual and not exactly foreign, but different all the same. She can't help but moan as his tongue slides pass her lips, exploring her mouth with fire and lust and impatience and—

She pulls away quickly, remembering her name and place and who he is, the bastard son of a bastard, the Traitor, the Prince of her sworn enemy and—

She cries. "I wish you'd kill me instead," Her body shakes as she cries out, louder. "I wish you'd kill me instead. Did you hear me, you bastard? I said I wished you'd—"

"Shut up." He growls before smothering her lips with his again, this time harder, faster. She cries as her mind reels (traitor traitor traitor you're a fucking traitor just as bad as he is) because she wants it, this presence of him, his hands followings the curves of her body just as her own entangle themselves in the length of his hair, long and glossy and black, just like his soul.

He pulls away but not far, only enough for him to breathe. He kisses her again, softer, more gentle than before, and she pretends it's because he still cares somewhat. His lips do not linger long on her own before they begin to trail elsewhere, to her neck, her chin, her tearstained eyelids.

He kisses every stray teardrop on her body, every kiss burning like his skin, each of them leaving behind a personal scar all of their own.

XXX
END

ALSO: I don't care if you agree or disagree about my theory of Zuko's betrayal or Aang's Avatar State or anything. I just don't care.

Jak