Disclaimer: Don't make me repeat myself, people! It bloody well isn't mine!
Author's Note: Zutara fans! I have finally come up with the sequel of my previous fic! I must thank all my reviewers; your collective impatience drove me to finish this quickly. This, however, will me a multi-chap fic, and I can't finish it until the season finale comes on Saturday. I need to be reminded of the order of events. Also, I would like special thanks to go to Pattie Mayonnaise, without whom writing this would have been impossible. So, thank you! Read, review, and enjoy!
Katara stood up as the sound of the opening hatchway reached her ears. She looked up; the light spilling out of it, infinitely brighter than the glow of the crystals filling the cavern she was in, showed the silhouettes of three figures. The first was a guard, simply because he had a weapon. The second had not a weapon, but a person struggling in his grip. That made two Dai Li, and the third their prisoner. He was thrown down the chute, the derisive laughter of the Dai Li following him until the hatch closed again.
The prisoner groaned and endeavored to get up. "Zuko," Katara said darkly. Once again, he didn't reply, but looked up, his face grim. After much effort he managed to get into a sitting position. The last thing he wanted behind his back was that stupid chute, but he didn't think he could stand up yet. And he definitely wasn't crawling in front of Katara.
Katara asked the most obvious question. "Why are you here?" The last time she'd seen him, he had been working in a tea shop. That had come as a bit of a shock.
"Ah," Zuko said, his voice slightly strained. "Water Tribe subtlety."
Katara frowned. She wasn't in the mood for that kind of thing. "Great. Now he has a sense of humor. Why are you here?"
He glared. "I could ask you the same question."
Katara looked away. She was here because she had tried to turn him in to Kyoshi warriors, who turned out to be Fire Nation. Why did she feel… guilty for getting him imprisoned? This didn't make any sense.
And why was he working in a tea shop?
Zuko smirked. "I guess you don't want to talk about it, either."
"I'll answer if you do," she shot back.
Katara growled. He was impossible! "Fine." She crossed her arms and turned away. "I was just walking along and thought I'd get some tea." She smirked a little; she could practically see him wince from here. "I was about to walk in when I saw you, and… I panicked." She sighed and sat down, but didn't turn around. She wasn't sure she wanted to see the look on his face right now. "I went to the Kyoshi warriors and… told them you were here. Only it wasn't the Kyoshi warriors."
Zuko wasn't dull; he knew what came next. "Azula."
Katara turned around, and her mouth dropped open, just slightly. Zuko was standing, and his face was twisted with rage. "You turned me in to Azula!" he yelled.
She jumped to her feet, her own temper flaring. "I didn't mean to!" she shouted right back.
"No, you meant to hand me over to the Kyoshi warriors!" he spat at her.
That caused both to freeze. They stared at one another, panting. Finally, Katara dropped her gaze. "I'm sorry," she whispered. Swallowing, she continued. "I'm just… so used to seeing you as the enemy. Like I said, I… I panicked."
Zuko was silent, but his expression softened a little. He wasn't just an enemy to her, then. He wondered why that pleased him.
"It's your turn," she said, just to change the subject.
"There's not much to tell," he said. "Azula found out where we were and tricked us into coming to the palace. Uncle escaped, but I got captured. Are you happy now?"
"So your own sister locked you up so she wouldn't have any competition in trying to capture Aang?" Katara asked, a little incredulous. Even after this time, she was having trouble coping with the idea of one sibling trying to capture another.
"I've stopped trying to catch the Avatar," he snapped. "You and your friends are safe – from me, at least."
Katara looked at him thoughtfully. How did she know he wasn't lying? There was no way for him to prove it. She would just have to do it the old-fashioned way. She edged closer to him. "Look me in the eye and tell me that again."
He was so startled that he actually looked at her. She held his gaze. He took a deep breath and said, slowly, "I have stopped trying to catch the Avatar. You and your friends are safe from me."
After a moment of consideration, Katara smiled. "I believe you." There it was. That simple statement contained so much trust.
She paused. There was something she had wanted to know about since the first time they had been captured by the Dai Li together. "Zuko…"
"You… you don't have to answer, but… how did you get… well…" She bit her lip, not sure how to continue.
He guessed, anyway. "This?" he asked touching his scar. She nodded, blushing a bit. "I don't really want to talk about that." He sighed. "It's just the mark of a banished prince, forced to chase the Avatar forever. I'm not him anymore, but I still carry it." He was pouring out his soul to this stupid girl! What was wrong with him? He could feel his face heating up.
As much as she hated to admit it, Katara felt sorry for Zuko. He had been through a lot, more than she had thought. However, there might be something she could do. "You don't have to."
He looked up, eyes wide. "What?"
"I have healing powers…"
He turned away, trying to squash the hope that was forming. "It's a scar; it can't be healed."
"See this?" she said, and he was forced to turn around. She was holding up a vial. "It's water from the North Pole. It has special properties. If you want, I could try…"
Zuko stared at the vial with longing. You owe her too much already, a voice in his head said, but he didn't care. The thought of being free of his scar was too much to resist. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
Katara opened the vial and extracted the water. The blue liquid glowed almost white, a glow that was only intensified by the crystals. Steadying herself, she formed the water and put it over Zuko's scar. The water disappeared. At first, nothing happened.
Zuko could see a glow from behind his eyelids. Then the left side of his face tingled pleasantly. As soon as he heard Katara's gasp, he opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Katara looking up at him, awe on her face and tears shining in her eyes. He raised a hand and slowly, carefully, felt the left side of his face.
It was perfect.
He couldn't speak; he could only run his hand over smooth skin. His hair had grown back on that spot, his ear had healed, and he could see clearly out of that eye again. After a while, he realized he was crying, but it didn't seem to matter.
Katara grinned as she watched him. She had never seen him so happy. And he's handsome, too – and she pushed that thought away, though halfheartedly. Suddenly, she followed her instinct. She hugged him. It was only instinct, after all. It was what she did when she saw someone this overjoyed. That's what she told herself.
After a moment of indecision, he hugged her back.
That was when the wall behind them exploded. Katara and Zuko turned to see what had happened, and quickly separated.
Aang just stood there, not quite sure what to say. He wasn't sure what he had expected to find – a bending battle between the two, perhaps – certainly not them hugging.
Iroh stared, as well. There was something on his nephew's face that hadn't been there in a long time. Yes, there it was. Zuko had a left eyebrow again.
Iroh was the first to recover. "Zuko!" he cried, and ran towards him. Katara backpedaled wildly as Iroh took the space she had just been in.
As soon as she was clear of the danger area, Katara ran up to Aang. "Aang, I'm so glad you came!" she exclaimed as she gave him a quick hug. Aang responded weakly, but she didn't seem to notice. "Did you master the Avatar state? Where are Sokka and Toph? How did you find us?"
At the same time, Iroh was examining Zuko at arm's length. "Zuko, how did this happen?" he asked, grinning from ear to ear. Zuko was smiling, too.
"She healed it; Katara healed it. Uncle, it's really gone!"
"I can see that," Iroh said wryly. "I am happy for you, Zuko. Why, you're quite the handsome young man now!"
Zuko impulsively glanced over at Katara, who was still rapidly interrogating Aang. Iroh didn't miss the look, and had to repress a chuckle.
After Aang managed to answer (rather despondently) all of Katara's questions, he came to a decision. "We have to go help our friends," he told Iroh.
Iroh agreed. "Go!"
Aang disappeared down the tunnel. Katara started to follow him, stopped, and turned to give Zuko one last look – a small smile. Then she disappeared as well. Zuko stared after her. Iroh was trying very hard to appear as though he didn't notice any of this, but was failing miserably.
Suddenly, a cluster of glowing crystals shot up and pinned Iroh. The wall opened an Azula came in, followed by several Dai Li.
"Azula," Zuko said, immediately dropping into a fighting stance.
For just an instant, Azula was caught off balance by Zuko's now-symmetrical face. Then she returned to her normal arrogant self. "I see you got a makeover, Zuzu. Nice. Does it wash off?" she sneered.
The corners of his mouth curled up in the beginnings of a smirk. She really thought it was a bluff.
At his silence, Azula continued, "I have a little deal for you, dear brother. You can come with me to capture the Avatar… and restore your honor."
"No, Zuko! Think about what you want!" Zuko spun around. The cry came from Uncle, still trapped by the crystals.
Unbidden, Katara's voice came to his mind. I believe you… He had promised he was done chasing Aang. He was silent, thoughtful.
"You could have your honor back. Father would welcome you back." Her eyes flashed, preparing her secret weapon. "He would love you again."
Zuko stiffened. That was all he wanted: his father to act like a father should and love him. Uncle was shouting something. Somewhere in the turmoil of his mind, Zuko saw Katara's face, eyes wide with shock. …Your own sister locked you up… as though she couldn't imagine betrayal among family. What kind of family was that, anyway? Zuko looked at Azula, then at Iroh, then back at Azula.
She saw that she wouldn't get any response just yet. She was sure, though, that he would make the right choice. It must have confused him when that fake face didn't throw her off. Besides, she had seen his eyes light up when she had casually used her secret weapon. It wouldn't be long now.
Zuko stood still as a statue. Iroh offered no advice; Zuko was on his own now. Just when Iroh was beginning to think Zuko should reach a decision or risk turning into a real statue, Zuko did something. He raised his left hand… and touched his cheek.
That appeared to be the decision.
Don't worry, it's not the end! More soon!
Review! Tell me if you liked it! Tell me what's wrong if you didn't!