Author: moor / beyondthemoor on LJ
Title: Merits
Part : 28 or 29?
Genre: Romance/humour/vamp/Modern AU
Fandom: Avatar: TLA
Pairing: Zutara, Jetara
Length: 5400 words, approx.
Rating: M
Disclaimer : "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and all related rights belong to their original creators… I am not among their ranks.
AN: In response to hyperroo' s vampire/Zutara challenge, I present…

"Merits" – Part 28 or 29

Zuko saw stars as the back of his head crashed against the corner of the desk, before slumping to the floor on his back. The noise was incredible, part of the desk cracking, papers, pens, heavy paperweights and decorations flying off the now-damaged piece of solid oak furniture. They fell around the room in a disorderly mess, scattering over the thoroughly disoriented vampire prince. A few pictures fell from their nails in the wall and shattered on the ground. The racket was terrible, and it didn't stop there.

Distracted by his realizations of a few moments prior, the wolf had caught him off guard and seized on his advantage, rushing Zuko and tearing into him. The raging animal had even managed to grab hold of him with his teeth and throw him a certain distance, then followed and jumped on him before careening helplessly backwards into his desk.

On the bed just across from the struggling pair, Katara lay motionless, an arm listlessly dangling off the bedcovers, completely unaware of the fight waging so close by.

Throughout the scuffle, still the vampire's thoughts whirled through his bleary mind. What had he done to her? How could he have let himself prey on her, on the one he'd waited so long to have again? How badly had he damaged things between them?

In his haze, Zuko felt the heavy weight of the wolf's paws land on his shoulders again and he looked up into bright, fierce eyes. The beast's snout was inches from his neck, and Zuko could feel the rumbling snarl that was building in the huge animal's chest reverberate through him. Canine lips pulled back to reveal vicious, sharp teeth as spittle fell from the animal's mouth to drip downwards over him.

Deep inside himself, Zuko felt his luck sputter like a candle in a gusty wind. He deserved this. He really deserved this.

The thought repeated itself in Zuko's head over and over, and shamefully he accepted it. He wouldn't have bothered trying to fight the animal, but Katara hadn't regained consciousness yet – would it turn on her next? It was her pet, but bloodlust distorted a predator's perceptions, twisting them beyond reason.

He should know.

Closing his eyes a moment, Zuko took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he looked up and focused on the animal's gaze above him.

"I would let you kill me if I thought you could protect her," he admitted ruefully, patiently, to the animal that had him pinned. "But there are worse things than me that are out to get her."

And Zuko could hardly believe it, but he'd almost swear he saw the wolf's eyes widen in surprise, before narrowing at him.

"But she needs at least a human to fight off what's coming."

And with that, he was decided. Doubling his efforts, he raised his arms and grabbed the wolf's forelegs, tucking his legs up under the animal to kick him off, but the wolf was ready for him.

"Then you aren't needed after all," it snarled back in a husky voice. It was distorted, and furious, but it was clear enough for the vampire to make out every word. And the voice itself was unmistakable.

Zuko's eyes snapped open and his breath caught in his chest.

Was it really--?

It couldn't be, and yet, Zuko knew for certain it was. "Jet?" he said incredulously, starting to rise.

The 'were had other ideas.

Jet felt the savage fury fill his heart and flow through every part of his wolf form. He had the bastard right under him, neck exposed. It was the perfect time to end him, to punish him for what he'd done, and been about to do. When he'd heard her scream, when he'd smelled her blood, when he'd seen her splayed out for the vampire, and Zuko looming over her about to… he couldn't even articulate it. He had snapped. Nothing, he was sure nothing could have stopped him, calmed him, halted his murderous actions.

And then the asshole had to go and open his mouth and talk.

Reasonably, at that.

Inconsiderate louse.

But it wasn't over yet, because what had Zuko meant by 'worse things'?

"Worse than you, Zuko? Really? That's gotta be pretty fucking awful then. Because everything was going great between me and Katara until you came along," he spat, panting harshly from his fight with the vampire. He had a feeling the only reason he'd managed to best the well-fed predator a moment prior was because he'd caught him by surprise. He wanted to press the advantage, but more than that, he wanted the bastard to know why he should die.

However most of all he needed to know how to protect Katara, and from what. Trying to get that information would expose her as his most vulnerable weakness, unfortunately; and the cyclical dilemma made Jet that much angrier. In Jet's eyes, Zuko was the cause of so many problems, yet may also be the only way he'd find out how to possibly resolve things, since Jet had burned his bridge with Long Feng. He may not trust Zuko, but he trusted the snake-like man even less. Which meant Jet couldn't kill Zuko. Yet. Still, that didn't mean he was going to take it easy on the subdued vampire for preying on his loved one.

With a snarl, Jet sunk his claws deeper into Zuko's shoulders, feeling the skin burst and shred beneath them, smelling the blood that was released through the cuts.

"If it wasn't for you, she would have been safe!" he challenged, lowering his face to Zuko's.

Beneath him, Zuko's mouth opened to protest this, but Jet would have none of it and with his front paws slammed the vampire beneath him to the ground again.

"If it wasn't for you, I would have been the one who protected her!"

Another slam. Behind his eyes, Zuko saw stars and winced as the claws tightened further into the muscles of his shoulders. While vampires healed quickly, they weren't immune to pain.

"If it wasn't for you, she would have come to me for help, to me for sanctuary, to me for everything she needed, wanted, loved."

Breathing hard, Jet felt his anger ebb and flow away from him, and his head drooped, and his eyes closed for a brief second as he gathered himself and breathed out, long and low.

"… but if it wasn't for you, she would have died, wouldn't she?... Back in her apartment…"

Chest heaving, Zuko felt the grip on his shoulders loosen, and slip off as Jet stepped off him and turned away to look at Katara. His tail swept slowly from side to side, too relieved to hear her breathing normally to pay further attention to his revenge for the time being.

"I want to kill you," he admitted calmly to Zuko, glancing back at the vampire still laid out on his back on the floor. "… But I need her so much more. And she… needs you."

Zuko closed his eyes and let out a long, low breath just as Jet had. Almost release and consolation in one. It was a few minutes before he spoke.

"I'll look away if you want to change." I think we should talk, went unspoken between the men.

Jet's wolf-form nodded.

Together, the men sat down.

"I've never met anyone like her," said Jet.

They were still in Zuko's room, both in human form again. The pair of otherworldly adults had both moved closer to Katara, and by some unspoken agreement neither touched her once Jet had pulled the blankets up to cover her. Officially he was still her boyfriend; it was more than Zuko could claim (without getting into another scuffle over who had the most valid, long-standing claim on the woman). And—should Katara wake up during said argument—Zuko didn't see the object of their mutual desire reacting well to either of them starting that quarrel in the first place; the terms 'chauvinistic pissing contest' and 'I don't belong to either of you assholes' would likely feature prominently in the subsequent rant…

For his part, Zuko wasn't sure how to respond to Jet's comment, so he waited for the 'were to continue. He didn't feel it would go over well to admit he'd loved the woman between them for over 150 years. It may come across as a bit obsessive or stalker-ish. No, he decided internally while he rested against the broken desk, he may need to finesse his situation a bit.

"I thought you were a pretty cool guy, when we first met. A bit of a chip on your shoulder, but I'm the same way," Jet grinned a bit distantly to himself in memory. "I guess I thought I'd found someone a bit like me. She was always pissed at or about you, you know, and I wanted to see what it was you had that captivated her. Maybe I'd see what it was that she saw in me. Common ground."

There was a pause, and Zuko saw a wave of emotions flow across Jet's face. "Unless she was just looking for another 'fix-it' project."

"How long have you known her?" the vampire found himself asking Jet. He wanted to know more about Katara, too – and speaking to the man in front of him, his rival in a sense, was too tempting to pass up. Like Jet, he was comparing his own situation to another, to try and determine the similarities. To try and figure out how Katara 'ticked'.

"How did you meet?"

The look on Jet's face darkened; but it was the way his eyebrows dipped and tightened, the way he clenched his jaw and swallowed, and looked away, that gave it away. He was another who was ashamed of his past.

Zuko recognized the look, and the feeling behind it, immediately. So much like his own.

Jet adjusted Katara's covers minutely, more as something to occupy himself than anything else, before he spoke.

"You know Katara specializes in family medicine? She's really good. She did a lot of volunteer work, even had a few jobs in different medical facilities as an assistant and stuff to help pay her way through school when her scholarship didn't cover her."

Zuko nodded, he knew through Katara's classes what her focus was. But what it had to do with Jet…

"She's really good," repeated Jet. Zuko watched the man across from him closely as he nodded to himself, as if convincing some inner part of himself it was ok, safe, to divulge such personal information to the vampire. "I… You can see I'm a werewolf."

Stating the obvious and stalling. Zuko was tempted to make a 'no shit, Sherlock'-type retort, but held back. He really wasn't one to comment about stalling… He schooled his features into one of patient understanding.

The look in Zuko's eyes must have convinced Jet he was trustworthy enough, because he continued brokenly.

Jet looked over to Katara for a moment, as if gaining strength from her presence. "I was a bit wild when I was younger. Even for a werewolf. I was always causing trouble, at first nothing major, but then it got more serious. For a werewolf, where control over oneself is so important, to deliberately taunt that balance, to join up with regular thugs and gangs who pit themselves against each other and use us as muscle to get their own way, it turned me into a target. For a while, no one cared or really noticed. But when they did… it was like inviting even more trouble. It got pretty brutal. Things escalated. And when I'd go home after those fights, the other gangs would send someone to follow me."

"You endangered your pack?"

"I took care of it!" snapped Jet defensively, before he caught himself.

Rubbing a hand roughly through his hair, Jet pulled on it for a second as if to try and calm himself. He swallowed again.

"My pack. Back around the turn of the twentieth century, there was a group of wolves who lived near one of the native tribe reservations. We were a werewolf pack, but at that time we spent a good deal of our time with the tribe, protecting them, and they in turn shared their hunting grounds with us so we wouldn't have to venture out close to the towns where the trading and hunting took place. We were part of their totem. Game was getting more scarce at that time, and our arrangement worked out to be mutually beneficial. The pack was trying to decide whether to subjugate their wolf-forms, abandon their 'were-dom as it were, and move into the new cities and towns; to conform and integrate into the human society completely. The pack was dwindling in numbers, and it was getting harder to feed everyone when there were fewer to do the hunting. Even with the tribe's help, they weren't able to protect themselves the way they needed. Especially the really young children, the pups, they just couldn't…"

His voice trailed off, and Zuko was shocked to see the emotion working around Jet's mouth.

The werewolf tugged at his hair again, rubbed at his eyes.

"The pack had finally decided to integrate; they'd explained things to the tribe, and the tribe had wished them well, and even given them some supplies and money to help them get themselves established."

Around the two men, the house had settled and gone quiet. It had shifted to afternoon by this time, and the still short days meant the sunlight was already waning, the brightness shifting to darkness around the confining room. Their shadows cast longer; the men sat very still as the story unfurled.

"It happened when I was away from camp, near one of the settlements, raising Hell. It was fun for me, I was so much stronger than everyone else I could do what I wanted. I always brought things back for the pack to help, but they thought I was stealing. Then someone from one of the rival gangs realized I wasn't normal, that I was a 'were, which meant I had a pack nearby."

Zuko had started putting two and two together, and listened grimly to the rest with his hands closed into loose fists in his lap.

"They teamed up with some poachers. At first I wasn't worried. But then they brought in some rogue vampire crest. They wiped out the pack. Traps, guns, poison, ambushes, you name it, they did it. They hung the pelts out to dry, beheaded. Even the pups, and it was illegal to hunt them. We were an endangered species of wolf, but they didn't care. Even the innocent babies, the youngest ones, they couldn't even fully shift yet…"

The vampire's fists slowly tightened, knowing all too well where the history was leading.

"I tried. I tried to stop them. To save them. But I was too late."

Zuko looked away from the guilt-ridden man to give his grief some privacy. He'd heard of such purges before, not just in werewolf packs, but in witch covens, vampire enclaves, and other groups. They were outlawed unless carried out by the Guardians, a group that tried to maintain a balance between the humans and otherworlds. The Guardians were the ones to conduct the exterminations – but only when the situation was irreparable and dangerous to all involved. This particular genocide, on Jet's pack, was obviously personal and vindictive. And to think the pack had been about to integrate themselves into human society… It sickened the vampire lord, and Zuko felt the pressure build behind his own eyes in sympathy. Everyone knew family, the pack, was paramount in werewolf society. The strike had hit at the heart of the werewolf culture.

"I'm not actually a timber wolf like Katara thinks. I'm what's called a 'white wolf'. We protected some of the north eastern forests, but not as high up as the Northern Territories. We were declared extinct around 1911."

Zuko's eyes shot to Jet's.

"You mean, you're--."

"I'm over a hundred years old." A pause. "Like you."

Jet watched Zuko's reactions carefully, and finally smirked at the other man's silence.

"I told you we had a lot in common."

Zuko's mind reeled at the admission, and he felt his head bang softly back against the desk behind him.

"That's impossible," he argued in confusion. He stared at the ceiling and tried to think through his bewilderment. "Vampires are the only immortals… and even then, it isn't as if we're indestructible. We age. We can perish. The only way someone else can benefit from our immortality is if they…"

His level golden eyes stared at the werewolf as the insinuation sunk in. But how? Then it hit him.

"The rogues."

Jet gave the barest nod, and his eyes hardened.

"They deserved it."

A sense of revulsion nearly overwhelmed the vampire in that moment, but he forced it back. No wonder Jet had gone for his throat when he'd discovered him feeding on Katara. He was lucky to be alive.

It took some time for him to absorb the influx of information and history. Jet's story wasn't unusual or, unfortunately, uncommon from the time period – Zuko had been fully aware of such happenings while he'd travelled; he'd simply chosen to ignore the rumours, preferring to remain independent of them. His decision, now that he'd met a survivor from one of the illegal raids, no longer felt as honourable as it once had. He hadn't participated in any of them, hadn't wiped any of the packs out in a crimson-hazed bloodlust; but he hadn't stepped in to ever prevent one from occurring, either.

"What did you do after? There's nearly a century-long gap between then and now… How does Katara fit into it?"

"Drugs," Jet said simply. The emotion had drained from him by now, and he leaned back against the bed. He still sat on the floor, but tilted his head slightly to check on Katara again. He watched the rise and fall of her chest for a bit to calm himself. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken of the raid with any lucidity. Drugged-out rantings, inebriated fits—no wonder he'd ended up committed so often—but never calmly with another. The tension in his chest made him want to clutch at his heart, but he refused to show such weakness in front of Zuko.

"By the time I finished tracking down the last of the rogues… finishing him… their 'immortality' had started working on me. It isn't a pleasant process, FYI. I was so sick I thought I was dying anyway. And crazy. I started taking drugs to try and escape some of the memories, the nightmares. And physically, it hurt like Hell. The drugs numbed everything. Eventually I learned to like the haze more than the reality.

"I couldn't control the shifting for a while. I went mad. I spent some time in institutions, but usually managed to escape and would run off again and back into the drugs. Deeper, harder, more self-destructive each time. It was a bad cycle. And yet I couldn't seem to kill myself. I think I…" He drifted off a moment, deep in thought. "I did a lot of things I will never be able to make up for." The werewolf found himself looking away from Katara as he admitted the latter.

"She found me in a rehab wing about 2 years ago; completely delusional. I found out, as I sobered up there, that she'd been one of the volunteers assigned to help look after me. I had planned on using her to get out of there, but the minute she touched my arm, I felt something. A jolt. It was some kind of weird connection. It was like forest rain and lightning and waterfalls all at once, and for the first time since I'd lost my pack I felt at peace. I saw clearly."

Jet was back to looking at Katara again, and so missed the look of surprise, then concern that spread across Zuko's face. That feeling, it couldn't be true, thought Zuko… It must have been some kind of drug-related hallucination, or, or…

It couldn't be what he feared. What he dreaded. What he wanted for himself.

But Zuko would be wrong.

"It took months, but I finally cleaned myself up. Katara even came with me to my trials to give witness testimonies about my character and improvements, and with her help I managed to get most of my pending criminal charges dropped after they saw that I'd been under the influence. Not all of them, so I do have a record, but the worst ones, the assaults and things, were dropped down. She was there through all of it," the awe and raw appreciation in his voice were unmistakable. Zuko felt his heart tighten in his chest. He fought to keep his face impassive.

"When I finally got myself settled, I took a few courses, got an apprenticeship, and invited her out to celebrate with my first real paycheque," at that, he smiled in memory.

"I found out she works a lot with addiction and rehab cases because she saw so much of it on her reservation growing up. It's a real problem up there. And she made a huge difference at the clinic I was in. I really mean it, it was amazing. They've been trying to get her to come back part-time since she left, but she's pretty focused on finishing her studies. She wasn't even going out much at all until…" The sentence went unfinished, and he looked back to Zuko again.

"When you moved in to the department, to her office, she changed. She became so volatile, so angry. It was such a contrast; don't get me wrong, I love her fire," his eyes flickered with amusement at some private memory, "but she has become so… weak, overly emotional, and run down since you came into her life. She wasn't like that before. She loved healing people before – it was what she lived for, to heal and help those who needed it. She has a gift. Whatever she touches, whoever she reaches out to, she can heal. She's like magic."

That was exactly what Zuko had been afraid of.

"It wears her out, though. I'm kind of glad she gave up her clinical hours for the term and accepted a lab instead."

The vampire nodded at Jet's rambling. It was very good for Katara to have decided that, though she probably didn't realize herself how important that decision was at the time.

"You probably already know this," started Jet again, his dark eyes now focused on Zuko. "But werewolves… our pack, our family is our most prized 'possession', if you can call it that. We live for our pack. Everything we do is done for the pack. I'm the only one left of mine. I thought my clan would die out with me. And while I deserved to die, the rest of my pack didn't. They deserve to be remembered and revered—they were so compassionate and such good people. And the only way I can redeem myself is to honour their memory and traditions, to try again and this time, to do things right. To become the best man I can. To show that I did learn what they taught me, that I can represent my pack proudly."

Zuko's heart gave a solid thud in his chest. He didn't like the turn the conversation had taken, and felt himself grow fractionally tenser with dread. It was sounding like Jet intended to show someone specific. But he had no pack left. And if he had no pack left, what was left for him?
Of course Jet had his own plans, and enlightened his host.

"If I have the chance, I want to make it up to my pack. I want to start over, to show them I'm a better person now. I want to be the one that young wolves, pups, look up to and admire. I want to be their role model, I want to provide for them, and I want to show them how proud they should be to be who they are."

Determination and purpose filled Jet's voice, and he held Zuko's gaze.

His tone became hard as he stared at the vampire across from him.

"And I'd found the person who could help me achieve all that. Who could help me settle, and come to terms with, the biggest mistake I ever made. The person I want to spend the rest of my life with, to re-establish my pack with, to love and give my name to and devote every part of myself to, is lying unconscious on this bed because you took advantage of her compassion, you took advantage of her trust, and you nearly fucked her while she was passed out after coming in here to help you."

Every word was true; Zuko didn't even try to deny it as he saw Jet nearly shaking in anger. His behaviour had been despicable and disgusting. There would never be any way to excuse it, and he didn't try. And unlike Jet, he didn't know how to go about fixing what he'd done, either.

"So, I need to know, right now, what your intentions are and why the Hell you thought what you nearly did was OK," the furious, though tenuously controlled, werewolf demanded.

The dark-eyed man's fists were clenched tightly at his sides, and while he leaned back against the bed he was anything but relaxed. He wanted to attack and enact some divine-caliber retribution on the rival across from him, and in a way, the intended recipient wanted him to do it, too. Perhaps that would help alleviate some of his guilt?

But something in Zuko resisted. And something greater wanted to rip the werewolf apart for daring to infringe on what he considered his.

Yes, Katara was his. Long ago, she had promised him she would wait for him, and he for her; and while times had certainly changed he would never give her up, or break their promise, without fighting for it.

The way she looked so much like she had before, the way she drove him to insanity, the way she had automatically been drawn to him in their office—constantly trying to get his attention, trying to offer him coffee, trying to ingratiate herself with him—and when he'd resurrected her, the way she'd so actively participated with him, until her consciousness overruled her subconscious instinctive reactions to him. She was his still and always would be – she just didn't know it. But he would show her.

He just had to get rid of this irritating obstruction first.

"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't build your plans revolving around my Katara," remarked Zuko coldly as he fixed Jet with a dark look. Possession dripped from his words and he knew the werewolf's territorial hackles were raised when he stiffened.

"'Your' Katara?" growled Jet, leaning forward. "How is she yours?"

And it was a low blow, the prince knew it before it passed through his sneering lips, but he said it anyway. "She stopped sleeping in your bed and moved to mine, didn't she?"

"You son of a—!"

Their control snapped, and both men lunged for each other.

"I should have killed you when I had the chance," snarled Jet, grabbing Zuko's shirt-front in his fists and yanking him to get him off-balance.

"You need second chances to do everything," scoffed Zuko, unconcerned that the werewolf intended to tear him apart.

Neither noticed their position, other than trying to keep the other away from Katara.

"You think you know everything, don't you? Well, you don't know me, and you sure as Hell don't know her! Stay away from her, we don't need you."

"She does need me, she loves me."

What little hadn't been disturbed in the room during their last battle now smashed and was destroyed under their wild swinging and lunging. The day, and room, had darkened by now and no one had lit a lamp, but with their enhanced eyesight the men didn't need it to see their environment – not that either was paying it much attention. Most of the bedroom had been destroyed already. Still they raged at each other, their blows escalating in cruelty as they taunted and struck each other, tearing off strips of skin until each saw bone. Blood ran down both men's arms and faces; one of Jet's eyes was swollen, while one of Zuko's hands was broken. Neither let up. The bloodlust called to them, inciting more.

"No, she doesn't. She has a debt to you, an infatuation with you, but she will never love you, and you will never love her the way I do!"

Back and forth they wrestled, punches flying and legs tangled as they tried to subdue each other, oblivious to the girl stirring into consciousness on the bed.

"I do love her! I have always loved her, and she is everything to me!" yelled Zuko wildly. The pair teetered precariously, wrestling and clawing at each other as their otherworldly states started to overtake them both. Claws and fangs and strength swelled and collided, and they staggered, edging towards one of the outer walls which was lined with windows. The carpet was a wasteland of rubble and was slowly soaking crimson as they staggered across it.

"You barely know her! You've worked together for barely a month," burst out Jet incredulously. "So stay away from my future wife."

And it was upon hearing that again, that disgusting claim over his Katara, that unleashed the terrible curse.

Zuko felt his heart constrict sharply, then release with a sudden spike; and at that moment fire funneled through his veins to his hands as they sparked, then lit up with flames, a long-dormant power finally re-awakening in his primal state. It was never supposed to be used like this, in petty jealousy, but he didn't care anymore. In his vision all he saw was Jet's interference.

"I do know her, and better than you do!" Zuko grabbed for Jet's shoulders and his eyes locked on the rampaging werewolf's as he added, "and Katara will never be your wife. She's always been mine." The fires leapt down his fingers and sizzled as they found purchase again in the skin of Jet's shoulders; the flames licked down the werewolf's ragged shirt and then flared as they reached his flesh, searing and burning and turning everything they scorched black.

"How!" howled Jet, clearly in pain while his hand closed in around Zuko's throat.

And neither was sure whether Jet referred to Zuko's possessive statements or his pyrokinetic control, but the vampire answered both regardless.

"We're soulmates!" Zuko roared, eyes blazing.

And with that, he shoved Jet backwards, plunging them both (though Jet first) through the window. The pane exploded outward and both men flew over the snowy yard, the shower of glass raining around them and tinkling as they crashed on the frozen ground below.


And so neither man, then, heard the fairly weak voice. Feminine voice.

Blue orbs tried to focus in the dim room, the sudden chill stimulating her senses and making her more alert; still disoriented, she brought the covers up closer around her.

"We're… what?" asked Katara.


AN: Happy Oktoberfest! This chapter posted Oct 8-9-ish, 2009. Ok, nearly a 2-month wait…. But better than 9 months… sort of?

Also, I apologise; I have it on good authority this chapter is suck-tastic, but I will do my best to write a lemon—or hell, commission one from someone who writes them very well—to make it up to you later! (If anyone wants to help me write apology porn, please submit resume to me via PM. XD)

As always, concrit's much appreciated.