This was written before "The Firebending Masters" so forgive me 8). Anyway, I leave this chapter off with a blunter note. So forgive me. Also, took a little plot device from Kanon 2006. Thank you Ayu x Yuuichi! I was listening to a lot of the Dexter soundtrack when writing this. I suggest Daniel Licht's stuff to get you in the mood 8). He's got clips on his website that are really worth the listening. So go check that out!
As the sun began to rise, a weary firebender dragged his body out of bed. Even with the tea he had drank the night before, he found it difficult to sleep. His bones ached and his eyelids drooped. Finally able to stand, he moved toward the mirror in his room. His eyes were nothing but slits and his face sagged with fatigue.
He yawned, extended his arms outward and looked outside the window. The sun was shining brightly in the sky and the sounds of cheery birds filled the room as Zuko opened the latch of the window. A tiny bird pranced onto the ledge of the window and looked curiously up at Zuko. The bird then chirped happily at the prince, jumping up and down in delight. He had never seen a bird so happy to see him since the turtle ducks at the palace. Zuko looked around his table and found a piece of bread Toph had left when she and Aang had played cards during one of their breaks. He slowly ripped a tiny piece of it and placed it next to the bird. Sensing the presence of food, the bird chirped and jumped toward the bread to peck at it. Suddenly a whole group of birds landed on the ledge and began to peck at the bread Zuko had not ripped. The prince quickly closed the window and let the birds eat alone.
I guess animals really like me. The ducks, the bison now the birds? Zuko thought, walking out of his room and into the hallway. As he turned toward the common room he noticed that Katara had just walked out of her room. He instinctively looked to her and wished her a 'good morning'.
She looked back at him and then looked to the floor. Slowly, she moved toward him and greeted him. When their greetings had been exchanged, the two looked at each other then away. Zuko wasn't quite sure why he couldn't find anything to say to her, and although he usually stumbled over his words in her presence, at least he knew what he wanted to say.
"Thank you for helping me with dinner last night." Katara said, breaking the silence between them. She stepped forward and looked up at him warmly.
The prince smiled and turned his gaze away from her, "It's not a problem. I enjoy helping around and helping you. I like to cook." He replied, his voice thin and slightly trembling.
Katara nodded and turned when the sound of footsteps drew near them. Both benders turned around to see that Aang had wandered out from the common area and had been standing by them while they were speaking to each other.
The waterbender walked to Aang and lightly put her arm around him, "Did you have breakfast yet? I put out a few of the left over dumplings into a bowl on the table this morning. Unless Sokka has gotten to them—"
It was then that Zuko noticed just how motherly Katara could be at times. There was that word again: Mothered. Although she had stopped nagging him since she the time she had supervised him and Aang, the prince felt that Katara couldn't stop herself from throwing care upon others. Whether it was a pat on the back, a gentle embrace, or prodding into the business of others, nurturing and compassion were traits glued to Katara. It had been a while since Zuko could remember anyone being so caring as if they were a mother. His mother.
The airbender walked off toward the kitchen with Katara following him. She turned around and looked at Zuko again but this time she was smiling.
Slowly, the prince followed her lead and into the kitchen. Sokka was leaning back dangerously in a chair chewing a dumpling in his hand while Aang and Toph went to eat by the table. Teo, the Duke and Haru had comfortably parked themselves at the end of the table to play with the carks Toph and Aang had lent them. Zuko moved toward a chair in front of Sokka and reached for a dumpling from the bowl. The Water Tribe boy suspiciously looked at the prince as he picked up the dumpling, then turned away.
"Katara seems to be less angry at you now." Sokka said, quite offhandedly. He looked at his sister then back to the prince who seemed quite surprised.
Zuko perked his head up, "Is she?"
Sokka shrugged and leaned forward, bringing the chair back down to the ground. "Yeah, but wouldn't you be able to tell?" He moved his head closer to Zuko's and raised a brow in inquiry. "Well?"
The prince moved back and wondered. Had she? He turned his gaze to where Katara was standing. She was propped up against the cooking table and looking through the recipe book Zuko had been reading. He noticed that the sunlight from the window behind her made the back of her head glow warmly. Seeing that the firebender had been looking at her, Katara looked up at him with a small smile. Zuko's face relaxed as he turned back to Sokka.
"I guess so."
"It's kind of strange actually. She still refuses talk about you. It must be that weird kind of girl stuff." Sokka offered, chomping on the last dumpling.
Now Zuko was confused. Weird girl stuff? He purposefully shot Sokka a look of confusion but was even more frustrated when Sokka simply shrugged and walked away. Zuko looked back to Katara who was now playing cards. He sighed and rested his head on the table. Even after months of having a girlfriend, he sadly still didn't understand girls.
When everyone had finished breakfast, Aang raced Haru to the door with Toph and Sokka closely following behind them. Today would be one of the last days Zuko would be training with Aang. The time for attack was near and though everyone tried their best to put it out of their minds, another fight was an impending reality.
Zuko walked to the open door and leaned against the side of it. He looked out to all the friends he had made, and all the friends he would soon be fighting with. Aang was happily bending rocks with Haru and Toph, while the Duke and Teo investigated flora and fauna near the edge of the fountain. Taking another look around, he noticed that Katara hadn't gone out with them. Suddenly, he felt the presence of someone behind him. Sure enough, Katara had been standing with him the whole time.
"Oh, hi." Zuko said, turning to greet her.
Katara walked to his side and looked up at him. "So...we're going to have to start preparing for the next invasion soon."
The prince nodded, "Yeah. I suppose we will." He clenched his fists and looked down solemnly.
"Hey, I know said it was a bad idea but, I think teaching Aang how to redirect lightning would...be a good idea. I don't know how long it'd take but, I see now that it may be something to...keep an interest in." Katara said, fidgeting with the strap on her left glove.
Zuko looked to her in surprise. "Are you sure?"
"It's still dangerous," she began, "but if it's important for Aang to know then he should know it. And I...I think he'd be okay if you were around."
"Th-Thank you." Zuko replied, slightly dumbfounded. "I know how you do worry about Aang and I promise to make sure he's safe."
"Now don't make me a promise you can't keep." She answered slyly, but they both knew she was being serious. Katara held out her right hand and stuck out her little finger.
The prince looked down at her extended hand and looked up at her in uncertainty.
"Promise?" She asked again. Zuko extended his left hand and wrapped his little finger around hers.
"I Promise." He answered, and they let their hands gracefully fall to their sides.
After dinner and when the sun began to set, Zuko knew where he wanted to go immediately. He walked into the kitchen and prepared 'Mushi's Oolong Tea' then put the teapot and cups on a tray. Carefully and slowly, he walked out the backdoor of the temple and down to the pond.
Zuko knew that Katara would sit by the tree by the pond. He also knew that this was important time spent for her. When he drew near, Katara heard his shallow footsteps and turned around. She put her necklace back on and got up to greet him.
Zuko uneasily walked toward her and nearly slipped on the wet grass. He managed to regain his balance and stood upright on the edge of the pond. "I made you some tea to apologize for interrupting you the last time I was here...I didn't know you were talking to someone important." He said, handing her a cup then placing the tray on the ground.
The waterbender shook her head, "It's all right. You didn't know." She held the cup firmly in her grasp and took a sip. "Is this what you made the other day?"
The firebender nodded and took a sip of tea himself, "Yes."
Katara motioned for Zuko to sit down with her. "You really like tea, don't you?" She said as he sat.
The prince chuckled softly and put his cup down, "I didn't before but, I think my uncle must have changed my mind. But um, am I interrupting you now?" he asked, worried he was taking away from Katara's time again.
However to this, Katara shrugged and smiled. "No, you're not but this is really the first time anyone has ever come to sit with me."
"Oh I see. Were you talking to—" The prince started.
"Yes. I was."
"Asking advice?" She replied eyes fixated on the water. "Mom helps me when I'm confused. I ask her to tell me what to do, and how to feel sometimes. How to know if what I'm doing is right...or wrong. When I don't ask her, I always end up lost."
Zuko looked to her and followed her gaze to the pond. The moonlight hit the pools of water gently as turtle ducks nearby gently rippled the water. The prince was surprised that turtle ducks had made their way to the Western Air Temple, and then noticed a lone duck was swimming toward him. As the tiny bird made its way onto land, it headed toward Zuko's shoe only to peck at it. Zuko lifted his foot into the air. The duck clung to his shoe but lost its grip and fell into Zuko's out reached hand. Confused, he lifted the duck to his face only to have it quack loudly in his face. Katara laughed.
The duck hopped off of Zuko's hand and then waddled to Katara. It climbed up her leg and then onto her lap. It made a small chirping noise. Katara petted the duck softly and smoothed its feathers. Carefully, Zuko watched her hands as they gently caressed the duck's shell. He remembered a time where he and his mother would sit by the pond and feed the ducks. He never thought of asking his mother for advice, not like how Katara did. Somewhere out there his mother was possibly alive. She was living. She was being, being someone else. Someone who was not his mother.
Katara's mother was dead but her spirit was alive.
The Water Tribe girl looked to the prince and then to the turtle duck. "You know, I'd say that animals really like you. Or at least seem to." Her voice grew distant. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you."
"What?" he asked. Her voice was low and he could barely make out what she had said.
"I think I realised it a while ago, but I didn't want to believe it. You really do care about Aang. About Toph, Sokka, Haru, Teo, the Duke, even me. I hate to say it, but...I'm impressed. I..." she looked at his face and into his eyes. Zuko couldn't help but notice that the light of the moon reflected gracefully on her bright blue eyes. They seemed pale, almost glowing.
She weakly smiled, "I think I've grown to like you."
Zuko nervously smiled and his cheeks began to burn. "Thank you. I'm glad that you don't hate me anymore...or at least sort of like me."
Katara looked at him again and then down. "I've grown," she stroked the duck again and in the quietest voice she could find she answered, "to like you."
The prince looked at her, and blinked several times in confusion. Slowly she lowered her head onto his shoulder and closed her eyes. Zuko could feel the warmth of her body seep through his clothing and into his skin. The hairs on his body were standing on end, and his face was hot. Almost intuitively, he took his hand and placed it on her shoulder, pulling her closer. He let his head rest gently on hers.
The prince could feel his heart racing beneath his shirts, beneath Katara's rested head. He swallowed the knot in his throat and embraced the warmth growing in his body.
"I feel the same."