Word Count: 802
Summary: Zuko ponders the Gaang and their relationships now that he's joined them.
Author's Notes: I wrote this because there are a ton of Zuko-redemption fics that have him winning Katara in the end of his grand journey. But what if redemption leads him to the Gaang, but not to Katara's heart. What if his actions do have consequences.
Zuko watched as the young Avatar and the watertribe boy played a version of what the group had dubbed "Portable Airball." Two sticks were set up on either side of a hastily-made field, each stick topped off by a strip of cloth. The goal, Aang had explained, was to take the "ball" – which was nothing more than a medium-sized sack stuffed with leaves – and knock down an opponent's stick with it. To make it fair, Aang was not allowed to use his bending abilities and Zuko had cracked a small smile more than once as the young Avatar ended up in the dirt. Apparently the watertribe boy did have some skills and in a match where bending wasn't allowed, he was a formidable opponent.
They were an interesting group, Zuko noted as he watched them, his gaze drifting from the boys to the girls, who were having a rather heated discussion over the division of chores. The four companions were made up of unique personalities and each had treated him differently once it had been decided that he could join them.
Sokka had acted rather uneasy around him, keeping his distance at first and speaking to him only to make a snide remark. And in truth at first Zuko had thought him rather silly and not terribly bright, but during times when they planned strategies or discussed battles, the firebender realized that he was in fact rather smart and full of unique solutions.
The earthbender, Toph, had taken his presence in sarcastic stride, letting him know that she was completely unimpressed by him and that his presence mattered little to her one way or the other. Out of all of them, she was the one Zuko was most comfortable around in part because with her he knew exactly where he stood.
Aang was at first wary of the prince, months of him hunting the airbender had taken its toll. But it was not long before Aang was all smiles around him and treating him like a friend, not an enemy. And it bothered Zuko. That someone could forgive so easily and hold no ill will despite everything bothered him. The firebender had never known someone like Aang and it was Aang's easy-going nature that made him ill at ease on occasion.
He was so caught in his thinking that he didn't realize that Katara had stopped arguing with Toph and had taken a seat next to him.
"Isn't it nice to see Aang moving around so well, especially after your sister's attack." She said, leaning back on her hands.
The fire prince detected a hint of ice in her voice, a coldness that had been there since minute one of him joining their group. She was, he admitted to himself, justifiably agitated around him and she had let him know that his actions in the caves under Ba Sing Se were not going to be forgotten.
Zuko looked over at the girl. Katara's jaw was set in a hard line but occasionally her face would soften as Aang made a good play. She didn't like him and she had no real reason to after what had happened beneath Ba Sing Se, Zuko realized, and he didn't know why it mattered to him if she liked him, but deep down he wanted her to.
"Yes. It is." He finally said, his response causing the girl to stiffen slightly.
"I suppose I should thank you though."
Katara's statement startled him and he looked at her in surprise.
"You and your sister made me realize what he means to me."
With that simple statement Katara stood and jogged over to where the young Avatar was standing, hands on his knees and panting from exertion. Zuko watched as she smiled brightly, watched as the boy smiled back, and watched as their fingers laced together. Katara whispered something in Aang's ear, causing the Avatar to laugh and prompting a noise of exasperation from Sokka.
"Are you two going to make kissy faces at each other all afternoon or are we going to get back to the game!"
Katara glared at her brother before kissing Aang lovingly on the cheek and telling him to win one for her. The young Avatar grinned, made a sweeping bow in her direction, and strode confidently back onto the homemade field, clearly basking in Katara's adoration.
Zuko felt regret as he watched them. Perhaps if he had realized then what he knew now it would be him the waterbender shared smiles with. He knew now that he was on a different path, that he had made bad choices, and that he had hurt others in ways that he could never be forgiven for entirely. He would try his hardest to make up for his past actions, he was certain of that. But as he saw Katara smile once again at Aang, he knew that some things and some opportunities were lost forever.
Redemption, like everything, had its price.
Author's Note: Yeah I know, I'm mean. But realistically I just can't see Zuko's actions not having lasting consequences.