Hello everyone! Its a one shot...kinda crappy, but I tried. It was inspired by the song, "No Bravery" by James Blunt and I highly encourage listening to the song as you read it. It fits..
No flamers please. I'm still not used to the One Shot style, especially when its actually a story and not just a perspective. XD If you don't like it, message me to tell me.
Here it goes...
"Zuko...come to bed..."
He didn't turn away from the window, the wide open gap in the wall from which he could see the entire Earth Kingdom city. The Fire Nation soldiers making their rounds about the streets, the Earth Kingdom people scurrying away, running to their houses, darting in the shadows. Praying, begging that they wouldn't get caught being out after curfew. That no one would see them.
And they never were caught. Never caught, but always seen. By the pair of golden eyes staring out from the window of the highest room in the highest building of the city. The only one who saw them. The one who should be reporting them, having them hanged in the streets for the crime. But the one who could do nothing but watch.
"Zuko..." He felt her hand touch his shoulder, the tough hands of a Fire Nation woman, the long nails of a fighter. But not the tender hands that his heart craved for.
He couldn't look at her. Could not turn his eyes to fall onto her face, her tan skin, her long black hair hanging down over the shoulders bearing the red gown. The expression on her face, the expression he knew only he had recieved, the kindness, the worry, the anything but the nonchalance that had been her image for so long.
It had truly been frightening how quickly and how easily all this had happened. As soon as Zuko and Azula teamed up, as soon as Zuko and Mai met and kissed, as soon as they had caught the Water Tribe warrior and held him captive. One by one, the Avatar's friends fell until it was but him and the Waterbender. They caught them in the Air Temples, and as soon as the Waterbender was captured...the Avatar had lost all hope.
He had been so easy to contain really. Put into a cage of his own making, a cage made of only metal, hoisted high in the air in a room made of nothing bendable.
And he still sat there today. A year later. The world had moved by, Zuko had married the woman behind him. The Water Nation warrior and his sister had been permenantly imprisoned, while other fighters were put to death.
The world became a dead place.
"Come on. You need your sleep. Come to bed." The voice was firmer this time, firm out of love and affection, but firm none the less.
He turned, still avoiding her gaze and allowed the vest to slip from his shoulders as he slid onto the bed. The sheets rustled to his side, he heard her slip under the covers, and he took a soft breath, allowing the flames of the torches on either side of their bed to die down to a soft flicker.
Laying on his side, his back was to her. He heard her intake of breath, held for a long moment and could feel her eyes bearing into his, the eyes that were creased with agony she would never tell him. He heard the breath slowly slip from her lips, as she turned, rustling the sheets again, moving to her side.
He blinked, his golden eyes unfocused. This wasn't right to do to her...Mai was a kind soul to marry him...she was there for him all these years really, always kind to him even when Azula was not. But she was not...
No, he couldn't think that. It was never meant to be. It would never happen.
Zuko turned over, reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder. She moved in turn, her eyes meeting his, questioning. Quietly Zuko slipped forward, brushing a strand of her hair from her face and leaning forwards, kissing her.
She melted into his arms, and he held her tightly, not feeling the flames ignite him as they should, not feeling the heat radiate from his body. He felt nothing.
"I thought you had changed!"
"I have changed."
No...no stop...what are you doing..?! Stop it, now! You'll hurt her! Go, go with Uncle Iroh! Don't trust Azula...don't do it...
It was useless. He could hear his pleas again from the sidelines, watching as his flames whipped at the water bender, watched as Iroh appeared, refusing to look at his nephew. He watched as the Avatar fell and he felt, as always, the sickening thud of his own body flying, falling through the air, only there was no Waterbender underneath to catch him, only laughter from all around him...
The ground flew upwards-
He sat up, panting slightly and instantly running a hand through his hair, the long dark hair he had grown out. Breathing deeply for a moment, he vaguely noticed the flames on the torches shooting upwards and calmed himself, breathing, relaxing.
Mai was still asleep, her black hair against the pillow. For a moment Zuko wondered if he should reach out and touch it...wasn't that what newlyweds were supposed to do...? But these months of marriage...
Zuko slipped out of bed, standing and taking a button-up vest from a hook on the wall, putting it on over the loose black pants. Sighing softly, seeing the sun was just barely risen, he moved from the room, opening the door, coming face to face with the Main Gaurd.
"Oh, Lord Zuko, we were just about to wake you."
Zuko stifled a yawn, nodding. "Yes?"
"A prisoner has arrived, apparently the prisons in the Fire Nation weren't strong enough, they believe an Earth style prison will hold her better. She is a very important prisoner."
Zuko nodded. "Well then put her in the prison and leave me be." His head ached, flashes of different images flooded his mind, blue eyes, dark skin, a thumb against his lips, fingers against his scar-
"My Lord...your sister has arrived as well, with the prisoner."
Zuko snapped his head to look at the gaurd. "Why didn't you tell me this first?" He snapped, and when the guard didn't answer, he waved his hand. "Nevermind, where is she?"
"The Main Hall downstairs."
She was waiting for him, sitting perched in his chair, her legs crossed, the expression as smug as always. "Ah, brother," she said, standing and moving forward towards him. "How go things here?"
Zuko felt himself mechanically respond. "They're fine."
"The soldiers keeping everyone in line?"
Zuko thought of the late-nighters, the Earth kingdom people who ran about in the dark, speaking of things he knew would enrage his sister, slipping through the guards fingers like shadows.
"Good. Then this should be a quick meeting. Do you remember the Avatar's friends, brother?"
Zuko nodded, stiffening slightly.
"The Water Tribe boy, the Waterbender and the blind Earthbender?"
"The Waterbender has been a pest. We brought her here, the jails here are truly most efficient, and her being in a Fire Nation jail just seems to enrage her." Azula was regarding him with intense eyes, it took every bit of Zuko's strength to not react.
The Waterbender...? Here? Only minutes away, months after he had last seen her? He had expected her to have been put death ages ago...the only reason they could be keeping her alive is for leverage, or perhaps her healing abilities?
"But I believe we should just dispose of her." The effort was monstrous, his eyes had almost widened at this comment. Azula smirked. "She is just a thorn in our side. So I will leave it to you, I told your guards she is to be executed in the next week. When, where and how is all your choice." Azula made her way past him, leaving Zuko with his back to her, his hands slowly slipping into fists.
"And Zuzu, send my greetings to Mai." He heard her laugh. "I always knew you two would get together."
And as she left the room, laughing softly, Zuko felt his body tremble.
"Come on, now. Give up and we won't hurt you. You've lost." Zuko could hear Azula's taunting voice and could only watch, stare at the pair, the Waterbender and the Avatar as they stood back to back in the Temple, bones, remains, all resting around them. Both were starved, both looked dead on their feet.
"Never you bitch!" The Waterbender cried out and stepped forward, her hands following the motion. A wave of water shot at Azula, but with one hand the Firebender turned it to steam, the flames from her fingertips dissolving the attack.
The Avatar wavered, he seemed to be losing conciousness.
"Now, now, if you come with us, we'll keep your friend alive. You don't want us to kill him, do you? And kill your other friends?"
The Waterbender was so pale, really...so terribly pale...
But she let out a scream, running at Azula with her eyes blazing in a fire no firebender in the world could harness... Azula just grabbed her, twisting the arm as steam flew up, the flames evaporating the water as easily as a hand slicing through still air.
Zuko couldn't look as Azula stared into the Waterbender's blue eyes. "I win," Azula hissed.
The Waterbender's eyes had darted towards him. He couldn't meet her gaze. And with all the strength that Waterbender could muster, she spit at him.
There was something completely terrible about that memory, something that bothered him more than any other thoughts of the war. Something about those blazing eyes, the ones with the passion that only Firebenders were supposed to have, about the hatred that shouldn't come from someone who heals. Nothing seemed natural anymore, the way the world rotated seemed strange. What had happened? Why was it suddenly the world was grey? Why was it that even fire could not keep away the night that was foreboding over them?
Zuko blinked. "Lord Zuko," the guard said, bowing. "How can we be of service?"
Zuko's eyes darted about, looking at the jail he had hardly come to before. The steel bars of prisoners, the lack of all elements about them. No water. No dirt floors. Not even heat to be used as fire bending. A bleak place, a dreary place. Lifeless.
"I'm here to see the new prisoner, the Waterbender."
The guard nodded. "Of course, Lord Zuko. Right this way." He began to lead the way, but Zuko lifted a hand.
"Not necessary. Tell me her cell, I will go on my own. A request of my sister's."
The guard nodded hesitantly, but certainly. "Down the main hall, when you come to the end you'll see the hall break apart into two. Take the left all the way down, take the staircase on your left. She's the only one down there."
Zuko nodded, then moved past the guard.
He hated this place. So empty and so dark, so looming. He could hear rustling as he walked, holding his head as high as possible, looking straight ahead.
"You..." a voice rasped. "You're...Lord Zuko..."
Zuko couldn't look at the voice, couldn't stand to look at the man who was calling his name.
"I hope...you die...you bastard..."
Zuko couldn't hide it. He winced. And as soon as he did, he cursed himself for it, cursed himself for showing weakness to the man who already believed he was so much better than himself. Zuko heaved a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and continued on his way.
The prisoners were jeering, laughing at him, calling him foul names. "The bastard prince," they called him. "The foolish worthless brat." "The one who should kill himself and save the rest of the world the trouble."
He took this all quietly, turning down the stairs, never able to tune out their words but keeping himself from retaliating. What if they were right..? What if all these things he had were just a fluke? He felt daily as though he was living a lie, could these rotting prisoners see what he refused to acknowledge himself? Could they understand the side of him he hardly knew himself?
The room he entered was sweltering. He could tell the reason, to make the Waterbender as uncomfortable as possible. Torches were everywhere, a large fireplace burned almost right in front of the cell, fire lined the walls. Burn away all possible water in the room, cause it to disappear. A cruel trick.
He saw her before she saw him. She was as skinny as a rat, her bones visible in her face and in her skin. Her once beautiful clothing was ripped and shredded, so that it hung in ragged limps around the bandaged underclothing. Her hair was matted, bearing knots and burrs and everything else, slimy from the lack of washing, some edges burnt away from the flames.
She was curled in a corner, obviously unaware of his being there. Clutching something in her hands, her back was to him, and as he silently moved forward he could hear her speaking.
"Wake up...not real...wake up...dream over...wake up...wake up...Aang...wake me up, Aang...Sokka...Toph...no more dreams...nightmare go away..."
She thought this was a nightmare. She didn't believe this was really happening. As Zuko stared at her in disbelief, he found himself suddenly nauseous. That someone who had once been so beautiful was this, this disgusting, filthy scum...
As though sensing his thought, she looked up and turned, her large blue eyes caught in the light of the fires, the thing she hid in her hands quickly hidden away. Slowly she crawled forward on her hands and knees, weakly, and he could see a bit of hysteria in her eyes.
"You..." she practically breathed, staring at him. "Zu...Zuko...You..."
Slowly she grabbed onto the bars and pulled herself up, until she was hanging on limply, but standing to face him. "Why are you here...?" He watched the hysteria leave her eyes, but couldn't answer what she asked him.
Her eyes narrowed. "Why are you here?! What are you doing here?!" she screamed, garbled.
Zuko's mouth opened, a retort was on his tongue, but it went no further. He could only stare, stare into her eyes.
"Leave me alone, you bastard!" she screamed. "Leave me alone!"
Zuko panicked, he felt like a coward, but he couldn't stand staring into those eyes anymore. Guilt overwhelmed him, he turned and left, racing up the stairs as quickly as dignity would allow him.
Her screams followed him up the stairs.
"I have healing powers...I could heal your scar..."
Her hand was gentle on his face, her thumb touched his lips and sent a shiver down his spine. Such sweet skin, such miraculously sweet skin, the scent of water, of a pond, of soft days sitting beside the gentle water. She tasted of the adventurous sea water, of the sky far above them...It was as though water were running down his body, he felt his spine twitch in calling, felt his body tremble at his touch, for it felt so right, so impossibly right that it was terrifying...
"Back again, Lord Zuko? How can we assist you?"
The guard bowed to him again and Zuko nodded in turn. Coldly. "I'm here to see the prisoner again."
The guard seemed surprised. "Are you sure, Lord Zuko? She is in no better condition then your last visit, three days ago."
Three days. It had taken him three days to work up the courage to follow his recklessness. Three days of thinking, of remembering, of foolish royal duties, of seeing Mai's sad gaze on him. Three damn days.
"I'm sure." Zuko walked past the guard again, moving so quickly that the prisoners rose only to miss seeing who it was who walked by. The halls were silent, and even as he made his descent down the stairs. She was silent.
She was laying on the floor this time, staring up at the ceiling with her hand clasped around the unseen object again. As Zuko entered, he heard a huffy sigh come from Katara's lips.
"I don't know how many times you Firenation scum have to hear this, I am not telling you a single fucking thing about the Resistance!" Ferociously the Waterbender sat up, but her eyes widened at the sight of Zuko.
It was strange. The delirium was no longer in her eyes. It seemed as though she had recovered mentally...why? Why was she so different? She should be insane beyond all reason by now, not perfectly fine...
No, she wasn't fine. Her body was matted with blood. It looked like she had been tortured. Zuko winced at the sight, then waited for her to begin her screaming.
But she began to laugh. The laugh was high pitched, ugly, nothing like he imagined coming from her mouth and nothing like he knew it should sound.
"Hah-I was wondering when you'd have the balls to show your face again!" Katara said, clutching her stomach as she laughed. "Feeling guilty, huh? You ashamed of what you did, Zuko? You want to make things better? Or are you just here to get more information out about the Resistance?!"
Zuko said nothing, but quietly stood there, letting her speak.
"Oh, what you can't look at me?! What's wrong Zuko? Can't look at what your people did to me!?" She stood, wobbling, and came up to him, ripping off a few of the pieces of her clothing, leaving her standing just in her undergarments. Her body was coated in whip lashings. The fingers on one hand were broken.
"Look at me Zuko! Look at me!"
He couldn't. He didn't. His eyes were on the floor.
"LOOK AT ME YOU FUCKING PIECE OF WORTHLESS TRASH! THIS IS WHAT YOU DID TO ME! DON'T YOU DARE LOOK AWAY FROM ME!!"
At the ferocity of her words, he looked, and his stomach plummeted. It was obvious they were starving her, how she was surviving he didn't know. Every bone in her face was revealed, the circles under her eyes could match those under a skeleton's. She looked like a corpse, rotting, covered in bites from bugs and rats, her wounds in serious need of care.
"Are you happy with yourself, Zuko?! Are you proud of what you did?! You destroyed everything!! And why?! Because your father wanted you to!! BECAUSE YOU WANTED YOUR FATHED TO LOVE YOU?!?! YOU KILLED THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE FOR YOUR OWN SELFISH REASONS?! WHAT DID WE EVER DO TO YOU?! WHAT DID WE EVER DO EXCEPT TRY TO MAKE A BETTER FUCKING WORLD?!?"
Let it all out, Katara, he found himself thinking. Please..just get it all out... He was praising the guards for putting her so far down that they wouldn't hear her screams.
"So what Zuko?! Are you here to sit and reminisce?! Are you gonna prove me wrong?! Huh?! You gonna kill me, Zuko!?! Go ahead and kill me! I DON'T CARE ANYMORE! KILL ME ZUKO! KILL ME!"
Zuko took a deep breath and said nothing.
Katara let go of the bars and backed away for a second, panting with fury, her eyes blazing. Smoldering eyes stared at him, tearing into his soul until he wanted to run and escape her gaze. But he wouldn't.
"Why are you here, Zuko...?" she hissed at him. "Why are you here..? To ease your guilt? Come on Zuko, tell me I'm wrong. Tell me everything you did was right. Tell me I'm wrong."
Zuko raised his eyes to hers and opened his mouth.
Katara began to laugh again. "Of course I am! And now your conscience is clean! So go on, run off and live your life guilt-free, Zuko!"
"No, that's not why I'm here-" Zuko heard himself protest.
"Then why are you here, Zuko!? Why?!"
"To say I'm sorry!"
He expected screaming. Expected laughter. Bared himself for both. But what he didn't prepare for was her to have a look of astonishment on her face. Slowly she crept forward, until her hands were on the bars. Zuko wanted to back away from the cell, but he couldn't, he found himself hypnotized by her gaze.
"You're sorry..." she repeated. "You're sorry... Well Zuko, I hate to tell you, but sorry doesn't cut it."
She reached through the bars with a speed he never would have expected from someone that weak and before he could move away she had grabbed the back of his head with her good hand. He found his eyes meeting hers, found himself locked in her grasp, found his breath being held in his chest. He found himself trapped.
"What happened to you, Zuko...?" she whispered. "Your eyes...they used to be filled with such courage...And now, now I see so many things in your eyes...I see hate, I see anger, I see regrets...But I see no bravery."
Zuko trembled at her touch. It was still exactly the same. Katara held the back of his head tightly for a moment before releasing it and moving back into the cell. "Leave me alone, Zuko. Just leave me alone."
Zuko stared at her for a moment, then turned around and left.
As Mai spoke the words, Zuko found himself looking into her eyes. Before his eyes had drifted, drifted to the priest, to the congregation, even to his sister who sat in the front row. The only place they hadn't drifted was the fiery throne the ceremony took place upon.
Did she mean those words? Did she loved Zuko..? Of course she did, he could see it in her eyes. She had love only for him.
Did he love her? Was this the right thing to do? To marry Azula's best friend, his childhood companion..? To enter a marriage he wasn't even sure of, to seal away his life..?
Why was it he was thinking of another's eyes when he looked into Mai's?
And the question came. Zuko gave the slightest of all smiles to Mai. He would try. "I do."
Once again, he moved too quickly for the prisoners to realize it was him. The guards by now were beyond confused with his visits, but he hardly cared. He had ordered them to keep these visits quiet, they were designated for him and by mentioning them to anyone, he would have their heads. They seemed scared, so maybe it worked.
He didn't even care really. Instead he made his way down the stairs, carrying the bag closely to his body. As he entered, Katara looked up, even skinnier than she had been two days ago. She looked confused at first, then sighed.
"What now, Zuko?" she asked angrily. "Can't I just die in peace, or do you have to bother me constantly?!"
"You're not going to die, otherwise you would have done it awhile ago," Zuko stated matter-of-factly as he opened up his bag, setting it down.
Katara snorted then shakily crept forward, quietly and uncertainly. "What's that...?" she asked warily.
Zuko held out his hand, on which was a fair sized piece of bread. "Eat," he said, holding it through the bars. "But be careful. Don't let a crumb fall. They'll find it, and kill you."
"You think I care?!" she retorted, folding her arms over her body. "I don't want it."
Zuko huffed slightly, annoyed more so than angry. "If you don't eat, you will die. You've gone too long without food."
"How many times do I have to tell you?!" she exclaimed. "I don't care! What do I have to live for, Zuko? My friends and family are dead. You've crushed all hopes of a Resistance." As she spoke, her eyes seemed to grow dead, as though these were the thoughts to plague the true nightmares of her short slumbers. "There is no point for me to stay alive."
Zuko heaved a deep breath. "You mean to tell me that you're not even going to hope that something could change? You're just giving up?"
"Looks like it, doesn't it?" Her voice was cold. "But then again, I don't have to tell you what that's like, do I Zuko? You gave up on the only cause worth fighting for. Now leave me alone, I do not want to see you. Do you understand that?"
Zuko didn't leave. "No. I'm not going until you eat."
"Why do you care, hmm!? Still trying to ease your guilt?!"
"Look, I never believed in the torture they use. Starving you isn't right. I'm trying to help."
"Well I don't want your help!"
"Fine then! Here!" Zuko threw the bread into the cell, along with the fruit he had brought. "You'd better eat it before the guards come, otherwise they'll torture you even more to find out where you got that! And don't think they'll believe you when you say you got it from me!" He stood, storming out.
The next day was nerve wracking. He kept expecting for a guard to come in and order his arrest for treason, for someone to come and say to him, "The Waterbender Prisoner was killed last night. She was tortured to death." Could he really be the cause of her dying?
Why was he so insistent on her eating anyways? Maybe because he didn't want more blood on his hands, he didn't want her to die in the jail of his city, didn't want to know he could've saved her and didn't. But this was cowardly, she was right. He had lost all dignity, lost all courage he once had. He was reduced to this, this cowering slave of his sister's. He wasn't even brave enough to love Mai, to love her, or to be honest and tell her the truth.
The truth. He didn't love Mai. He loved someone completely different, he knew. But he could never tell.
"Zuko...could I talk to you...?"
Zuko looked up from the papers, a report from his soldiers on the condition of the city in the past week. Mai stood there, she looked paler than usual. No, more than that, she looked terrified.
"Mai...is something wrong..?" Zuko stood up, feeling the strange mixture of emotions again. He cared for Mai, he knew. He would always consider her a friend. He would always know she loved him, and something about that tenderness made her dear to him, that she loved him despite his scar. He would protect her and be her friend always. But he could never say that he loved her.
Mai shook her head, then nodded, then heaved a sigh. She couldn't look at Zuko, and his expression grew slightly worried.
"Mai...what is it..?"
"Zuko..." she whispered, then took a deep breath and looked up. "Zuko...I'm pregnant."
"What's wrong, lost your girlfriend?"
"She is not my girlfriend!" Zuko glared up at Jun in anger. How was it this busybody hired help could see what no one else had even guessed? The way he always had her necklace on him, the way he found himself thinking about her dark hair, her skin, her eyes-her wide, ocean eyes...That somehow, this Waterbender peasant had become the idol of his thoughts.
That necklace was always around her neck. And when it rested in his hand, he felt as though he was holding her.
He turned down the hallway out of the guard's sight, coming into view of the cell row, morning sunlight drifting in through windows from all the way down the hall. Quietly he paused, knowing that as soon as he passed prisoners would peer out and begin their jeering, their yelling, their swearing and their hateful words. But this time would be different. He wouldn't just avoid them.
Slowly he walked forward, the prisoner in the first cell coming to the front. Upon recognizing Zuko, he cackled. "Back again, you worthless shit?"
Zuko paused. He said nothing, he simply stood there as the prisoner swore up and down, reaching out in an attempt to snatch at him, calling him every foul name. Quietly Zuko counted to ten, his mind receiving every blow painfully, until he took a step forward, coming between the next cells.
It worked like that, Zuko allowing the prisoners to scream at him, to yell in anger and hatred, to shake their bars, to reach at him to attack him. His steps were slow, and finally he came to the last cell.
The prisoner there was silent, and finally Zuko lifted his head, looking a prisoner in the eye for the first time. He recognized him. A man from the Earth Kingdom...where was he from...? It hit Zuko hard like a pit in the stomach. It was the man who served Jin and him dinner.
The man stared at him for a long moment before he curled back and spat on Zuko's cheek.
Zuko shuddered slightly, but didn't move to wipe it away. Instead, he stared at the man with empty eyes and quietly, turned and walked away.
"I thought I heard someone screaming your name," Katara commented as he entered. "Come on Zuko, when are you going to stop coming to see me? When your sister gets bored with me and kills me?" She heaved a sigh, sitting up again.
Zuko looked through the bars at her cell. "I see you ate your food."
"And what if I did?"
"Well you won't starve-"
"Wait..." She looked at him for a long moment, curiously it seemed, then suspiciously. "You have water."
Zuko paused for a long moment, then nodded. "Yes...I brought some for you."
Katara's eyes narrowed instantly. "Why?"
"Because its like I told you, this isn't fair for them to do to you."
"Since when has life ever been fair?"
Zuko didn't reply, instead he just took a seat down on the floor, looking at her steadily. Katara met his gaze for a long time, then huffed and turned away.
"Do you want it?"
"I want to know why you're going to give it to me."
"Because if you don't drink it you'll die of thirst."
"And you care why?"
"I just do."
"Wrong answer." Katara sat down on the floor, still as wobbly as he had seen her on the first day. But the fact that she was surviving this long was miraculous. "I don't trust you, Zuko."
"If you don't trust me, why did you eat the food?"
Katara threw up her arms, though the gesture was weak. He could tell she was losing strength without water. "Because I was hungry, alright?! I didn't want the guards to make me bleed anymore than I already am!"
Zuko looked at her steadily. Katara huffed again. "So when am I going to die?" When Zuko didn't answer, she rolled her eyes. "I know they're going to kill me. Tell me when Zuko."
"I don't know yet...but maybe soon..."
"So what's the point of keeping me alive?"
"I don't know."
Zuko looked at her with emotionless eyes. "If you have to die, you should die with honor. Not like some rat in a cage."
Katara was quiet as she regarded him with those intense, smoldering eyes of hers. "You're risking a lot to do this..." she said quietly. "But you're still a coward."
He was still as she spoke. Silent. Part of him wanted to disagree, part of him wanted to ask her how dare she think that...part of him wanted to argue, but the other part knew the truth. She was right.
"Here..." Zuko reached out and extended to her a container, lid open, which from the soft sounds inside bore water. Katara stared at him for a long moment.
"Its not poisoned," Zuko said quietly.
"No...its not...what's the point in poisoning someone who's going to die anyways..?" Katara reached out and pointed at the container with her good hand. For a moment her expression changed, and Zuko saw in her the Katara he had fought, the Katara he had known so well.
The water floated out of the container, wrapping around her arms and a look of pure healing relief touched Katara. For a moment she held the water over her wounds, then thought better of it. Of course. Katara had healing powers, but she was wise enough to know how it would look if her wounds were all healed.
She looked up, regarding Zuko for a long moment. He watched her in turn, baring to see if she would strike him with the water...But Katara instead drifted a bit of the water to her lips and swallowed.
The change was instant. Suddenly Katara was refreshed, her hair seemed sleeker, her eyes brighter, even her wounds seemed petty as the water touched her lips. The rest she played with, allowing it to dance around her hands, smiling.
Her eyes met his. She didn't need to say it, he knew. The gratitude in her eyes was overwhelming.
But she shouldn't thank me...its my fault she's here to begin with... Without a second word, Zuko took the container and fled.
No bravery...she still sees me as a coward...Why is it that suddenly, all I want is to be brave? Who does she consider brave? The people who died for their cause? Her brother, who was imprisoned because he fought trying to protect the Kyoshi warrior? The Avatar, because as only a kid he fought for a better cause? That Earthbender because she sprang headfirst into battle, even when she couldn't see? People always call me brave, courageous, strong... But if she...if Katara sees no bravery...there is none...
"Oh Zuko, good. I was afraid you had forgotten me."
Zuko bowed to his sister. "Of course not, Azula."
"How is Mai..? Morning sickness bad?"
"No, she is well off. The wise women made her a potion. She sleeps most of the time."
"Good. She needs to take good care of her son. The wise women did say it would be a son, correct?" Azula seemed particularly happy today as she was seated in Zuko's chair in the Great Room, her lips curled into a smirk.
"Good. So, brother, I discussed it with Father, and he agrees that since I hardly plan to ever marry, I will adopt your son as my heir. After all, we both know if and when Father dies, I am next in line. You will always be just this, an attendant of the crown in an Earth Kingdom city."
Zuko felt himself stiffen, but ignored it.
"Father agrees that leaving a child to be raised by you would be a foolish thing, but a young child will be pesky and in my way. So when the child turns ten, he will come live with me and learn what it truly takes to rule the Fire Nation."
Zuko felt anger boil in him. His son? The son of his and Mai's, the one he would take such good care of, would be sent off to Azula? The son would become a monster, become just as terrible as Azula herself.
He straightened. "I would rather raise the boy myself."
"Not a chance, brother. After how you nearly betrayed Father yourself, you think he'd risk you raising a traitor? Your son is mine. Mai already knows, she has agreed to it. Have another child to raise as your own. But your first belongs to me."
That she could be so cruel about her own nephew, it caused his blood to boil. Zuko's eyes narrowed as he met his sister's gaze.
"What's wrong, brother..." Azula mused, her eyes gleaming. "Are you going to defy me...?"
As his eyes met hers, the heated fire against fire, he realized something. He was meeting his sister's gaze. It was hardly a task, after seeing eye to eye with Katara. Something about the Waterbender gave her more passion than Azula would ever have. It was terrifying to meet Katara's gaze. But to meet Azula's.
Right then he decided. His son would never be Firelord.
"I didn't think so. And Zuko...have that Waterbender peasant executed tomorrow morning."
"Uncle...do you hate me...?"
His Uncle watched him from behind the cell bars. Zuko sat on the chair, his hands cradling his head. Tears were falling down his face as Iroh stared at him.
"Nephew, you had so much potential. You threw it all away the moment you rejoined your sister."
"You don't understand, Uncle," Zuko choked. "Father wouldn't have ever accepted-"
"And is that such a loss? My brother is a cruel and terrible person, you would be wiser to have not received his acceptance, instead of trying so hard to."
Zuko moaned, the tears still falling. "Iroh...I have to marry Mai and I don't love her...what am I going to do...?" He looked up with a tear stained face to meet his uncle's gaze, but his uncle had turned away.
"You do what you think is best Zuko... After all...that's all that really matters..."
It was quiet that night. He was out of breath as he made his way through the city, the black clothing upon his body once again, his face shielded by just a plain black mask. What he would give to have his Blue Spirit mask once more... But then again, he hadn't expected to ever have to use this again.
They had been closer than he expected. Prepared for the break-ins of other Nations, not the Firenation. Not someone who knew the basic builds of jails and cities, not someone who could walk through flaming doorway without a single burn.
And now this one. The easiest one for him to enter. The hardest to break into.
Creeping up the side, he scaled the wall and made his way across the roof, finding the window on the uppermost room on the other side. Silently, he unlatched it and entered, swinging down and landing into the room just as the sun began to peek over the horizon.
Tomorrow morning...was now...
He moved silently, as shadow-like as he used to long ago, gracefully through the halls. He paused, fleeing around the corner as a guard moved quietly past him. The typical routine, he went behind the guard and grabbed him, knocking him out before he could make a sound and taking the keys. Then again, the path continued, through the hall, around the corner, down the staircase, down the endless stairs leading into the sweltering heat...
She was asleep. Asleep with her breath moist, bearing for the first time in so long, sweat. Her eyes were closed, she slept peacefully.
He could see clutched in her hands her mother's necklace.
The keys made a soft sound as he unlocked the cell, the door creaked as it opened and the Waterbender sat up instantly. Her eyes widened at the sight of the masked figure, but he shot forward, putting a hand over her mouth.
"Your brother and the Earthbender are free," he whispered quietly, ripping off his mask with his free hand. "Now look me in the eye and tell me you see no bravery."
His hand moved from her mouth, instead it was at the back of her head as she stared at him, as the two shared the same breath for one moment.
There was a yell, they could hear it echo down the stairs and Zuko's head snapped up. "Come on," he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her.
The pair dashed up the stairs, the guards flying at them, Zuko's mask back on as he blocked them from touching Katara. The Waterbender was weak, she began to falter and soon he was practically carrying a half-dead girl.
The guards yelled, Zuko turned, dashing down another corridor, turning and spinning around another corner coming face to face with a guard. No time, the guard fell by his kick and the pair were free, practically flying out the front doors of the jail.
He heard the prisoners cheering.
And it made his heart fly that the people who swore at him and spat on him were cheering for him...Even if they would never know it was him.
He continued to lead her down an alley, across a street, behind one building and then behind an old inn, decrepit in its ruins, ready to be torn down. There was her ride and he lifted her up onto it.
She was half-conscious. Zuko lifted a canteen from the saddle's side to her lips and she drank, her eyes opening, relief on her features.
"Go now," he hissed. "Ride."
"Thank you..." she whispered. "I was wrong, Zuko... I see bravery..." With that the steed tore off, with the Waterbender holding on tightly.
Zuko caught one glimpse of an incoming soldier and climbed up the side of a building, making his way onto a rooftop and hiding behind a chimney. There he watched as she rode out, her path unblocked by any soldier.
He yearned to go with her, to ride at her side, to escape this all. He wanted to feel her hands on his lips again, feel her fierce passionate gaze. He wanted to redeem..
But his redemption would not be his own. His redemption would be in the small child, the child he would name "Iroh."
He jumped down into the street, running headfirst into a group of the soldiers, twin blades whipping out of their scabbard.
For his son..he would be brave...
Kind of a cheesy ending..but hey. Review! XD