Author's note: My very first Zutara fic. Be nice now... I'm in thin ice here, considering I'm new to the whole Zutara ship. Hopefully I didn't do too badly here.
Read, review, and enjoy. -trombe
and, here to help is trombe's constant annoyance - oops, i mean support! - artsyelric! hooray! (more like the hack in my cough 'ahem' - trombe) so in case you didn't know, this is a co-write. trombe is kinda similar to Zuko, and i've been told i'm pretty like katara (plus trombe's and my friendship survives based on the love/hate thing, ahhh! TT...TT), so hopefully we'll write it okay. at first when he proposed writing this, i was all... ehh... but read his zuko! XDDD it gives me shivers 'squeals!' but then i read his katara, and i was like, boy! move! so here we go, trombe is zuko, and i'll be your lovely, grudge-baring katara, and we will try to have some fun!
we wanna keep it a bit cannon, starting after the firebending masters episode, but it's going to go off a little (since zutara currently isn't cannon - go kataang!). let us know if you have fun ideas, suggestions to keep us on character, or anything else! thanks! - artsyelric
DISCLAIMER: No, we do not own Avatar. Duh. (If we did, it would come out much faster)
What I Don't Like About You
Chapter 1: Acclimation
No one told the exiled prince that doing the right thing could feel this cold. And yet he felt no moral ambiguity, not like the time in the crystal caverns beneath the great city of Ba Sing Sei. No dragon, prophetic or otherwise can tell him that he wasn't doing the right thing. He was helping the Avatar, the last known hope in the world, restore the balance that was lost a hundred years ago.
To do the right thing. That was enough. Wasn't it?
Well, that Waterbender girl sure wasn't making his redemption any easier.
In fact, most everyone in the Avatar's posse didn't seem to trust him all that well, a fact he couldn't blame on them. He wouldn't trust himself either, after all he had done. That goofy warrior seemed friendly enough, but Zuko noticed how much more cautious and wary he was whenever the prince was around. A family trait no doubt, he decided. As for the blind girl garbed in green, well, Zuko wouldn't pass anything in front of her. She seemed to be able to read his emotions every time, like an open book. And that meant he showed vulnerability, a vulnerability she gladly took advantage of as she called him all kinds of nicknames. The fire prince scoffed. And he'd thought Zuzu was bad enough. The other earthbender... Haru was it? ...Well, he couldn't tell enough what he thought of him, but they had as little interactions as possible. The boy in the wheelchair and the small warrior were eager enough to greet him, but never tried to go beyond more than that.
It was official.
Everyone hated him.
Zuko sighed as he rolled around his sleeping mat.
It was no surprise they hated him. He hated himself.
He looked around his dark quarters and listened to the quiet breeze that blew gently through the temple. Everyone was breathing peacefully, fast asleep, enjoying the comfort and relaxation that slumber brought.
How he envied them.
The fire prince had enough self loathing to do, he didn't need to be cranky too. Yet try as he might, his piercing golden eyes would not cooperate with him as his mind continued to drift, and the mismatched set continued glinting as he looked around.
Finally he couldn't take it anymore and got up. If he was not tired enough to sleep, then he was not tired enough at all. Perhaps a stroll or midnight walk would clear him of his restlessness.
Yet the more he walked, the more he regretted getting up from his room. He never really had time to take a good long look at their current base. Once he would have called the western air temple beautiful. An architectural wonder, with its unique way of building the temple beneath a cliff overlooking the vast sky. It must have been a marvel when Air Nomads still walked its halls.
Now, only their ghosts remained. The temple was charred, broken, and run down. All done by the hands of his fellow country men. By the Fire Nation.
Zuko was disgusted at the thought. For the greater good, they had called it. Did the peaceful air monks and nuns know that as they came to the defense of their homes? Did they see the greater good they were being sacrificed to as they struggled pointlessly against metallic behemoths that would not be stopped? The wind herself must have offered them no solace as they fell, their bodies burning afterwards, never knowing the reason for their demise.
Not for the first time, Zuko felt the shame of being born a prince of such a misguided nation.
He would not let that happen again. Not while he still could breathe. The fire nation was his home - beautiful, proud and strong. But Zuko didn't feel any pride in it now. Now he knew. Something must change. Someone must grow.
The Avatar had to return balance to the world. He fully realized that when he confronted the firebending masters, the dragons of old.
After some thought, the once exiled prince realized that not being liked by the Avatar's friends seemed so trivial a problem when he focused on the bigger picture. He wasn't here to make friends. He was here to help the Avatar realize his full potential and to teach him firebending.
One way or another, that waterbending girl was going to have to get used to the idea.
Katara felt relaxed and calm as she bent the water from the fountain and enjoyed a nice warm bath. The day had been long and tiring. Cooking and cleaning, feeding Appa, washing up Toph, etc. She felt like a mother of a few very hungry and mischievous boys, and one very dirty daughter.
As she lay out under the tranquil moon, she reflected that it was nice to have a moment to herself. She combed her undone hair as she hummed a peaceful melody. Her tanned skin along with her pale blue eyes gave the impression that she was some benevolent water spirit in disguise. Ugh, she winced as her fingers caught in her thick locks, not with these tangles.
Katara felt very at home living outdoors. She had grown up being one with the frozen tundra, and lived her life for some time off Appa's back, but she had also seen more splendor than she had ever dreamed possible back in her small water village, and every once in a while she found herself longing for the soaps and perfumes that made her hair so much more manageable. It wasn't vanity, she told herself; even Toph, for all she claimed to be well over the pampered society life, had admitted to missing shampoo. Maybe I should wear it up, Katara considered, noticing how much longer it was becoming.
Cutting it short like Suki's was totally out of the question. Not that Suki's wasn't lovely, but Katara remembered her mother's long hair from when she was a child - it was one of the few things she did remember of the woman her birthed her. Because of that, Katara had always thought long hair was the most beautiful on waterbenders, and she would never cut it short like Suki's.
It wasn't that she felt like competing now that there were other girls around. It was actually the men that had her rilled up. In fact, she'd felt all out of sorts since Aang had... well, since he'd left the submarines before the invasion. She'd tried to talk to him about it once or twice since, but how could she talk to him when she couldn't even say it to herself?
This is ridiculous, she chided herself. He kissed you - at least say it in your own mind.
The problem was, she was too confused about everything. Aang was just a part of it. A big part, she amended. And having Zuko walking around, looking down his nose at everything didn't help! It was no wonder she wanted to primp, what with Aang and Haru there, and that spoiled palace brat eying her like some kind of dangerous monster all the time...
I'm not sporting fangs! she growled inwardly, remembering the guarded look he always gave her.
She realized she was ringing her hair too hard, and tried to relax, letting more warm water into her bath, and soaking peacefully into her element, letting the soothing feel of the warm water envelope her and calm her.
But for every moment she had dared to relax and drop her guard came the thought of a certain firebender who slept near her chambers and made her tense up. She sighed. And she was feeling so good too. It's his fault. It has to be.
Trusting him. What was everyone thinking? What was Aang thinking?
No. She would not make that same mistake twice. While she might be tolerating his presence for Aang's sake, Zuko - she despised that name - was nowhere near being forgiven. Actually, she pondered if ever he could be forgiven.
Betrayal was a sin which, in her opinion, had no redemption. Trust is a mutual understanding between people who have agreed on a solemn unspoken vow. While it is one of the strongest bonds in the world, once broken, it can never be repaired fully. And it didn't help Zuko's case that the person it had hurt most was Aang.
Yet deep in the recesses of her mind a small whisper of a voice sounded to her. His betrayal did not hurt just the Avatar... it hurt you as well...
Katara quickly dismissed the small voice with her own logical conclusions. Of course it had hurt her! Here she was giving him the benefit of the doubt, thinking for a fraction of a second that maybe, just maybe he was human too. That he was a product of an uncaring father who lived under the shadow of a twisted prodigy of a sister. That for all he had done chasing the Avatar, there was something more noble and just in the young prince. But she'd been down that road with him before. The price she had paid for her trust was the death of the Avatar, and almost the entire world.
Why aren't you saying anything? You once said you thought we could be friends... Zuko's words to Aang would not leave her head.
...You know I have good in me...
Liar! she fumed. He is such a liar! The gentle water stirred a bit violently, as ripples began to grew, reacting to the turmoil within the waterbender. She caught herself in time to silence the growing ripples.
Katara sighed and tried to calm herself. How could he make her tremble so much with anger? It was like his constant bad mood was contagious! She'd surprised and scared herself the other day with the depth of her frustration. She remembered the parting words she had told the fire prince on the night he was accepted. If ever you do anything to hurt Aang... You won't have to worry about your destiny anymore. Cause I'll end it there and then. Permanently.
Katara had never wanted to end a life before but she came to a shocking conclusion that she meant what she had said. Aang was becoming - had become that important to her. In comparison to him, Zuko was nothing.
But it was hurtful to feel this way. Everything about Zuko hurt her.
Why don't you get off your high horse, Madam fussy breaches, and take Zuko for what he is now? Some poor sap who's trying to do what you always wanted him to do. The voice warped into Toph's no nonsense, blunt self.
And what was that jump off a cliff?
You and I both know thats not it, Sugar Queen.
Then what was it?! Katara scowled as she quickly doused her head in the water, now cold from lingering too long in the night air.
The voice didn't answer back, leaving Katara confused and a bit irritated at the vividness of her imagination.
The night air felt cool, crisp, and inviting. Totally different from the vibe Zuko felt inside his dark room. Contrary to popular belief, he didn't enjoy brooding around all day at all. Who does for that matter?
Quietly Zuko enjoyed the calming atmosphere that nature brought and contemplated in his head tomorrow's lesson with the Avatar, trying somewhat successfully to pull himself out of the depressing rut he'd been in earlier. Only the slushing sound of splashes and water brought him back to reality.
The sound seemed to have come from one of the rooms in the upper levels, probably near where the fountain had stood. With everyone supposedly asleep, the fire prince quickly deduced the chance that the source of the sound being one of them was highly unlikely. He had quickly learned in the years out to sea dealing with pirates and bounty hunters, that the one who deals with everything with suspicion is the one who lives the longest. Zuko always assumed the worst, and so far it had saved his life on more then one occasion. Now, perhaps other people would say this was Zuko being paranoid, but for the banished fire prince, that word held little value, because for Zuko, everything that ever could go wrong in a person's life, went terribly in his. Which meant mysterious splashing sounds in the middle of the night, when his companions were soundly sleeping, could have only meant one thing. An unwanted guest was being sloppy.
With stealth and speed he had not used since he had put the Blue Spirit persona to rest, the fire prince darted off, eager to find the source of the sound.
The temple's architectural structure was not hard to figure out, but it didn't mean he was a path-finding expert. Every time he thought he was close to the source of the noise, the route would end up to be a dead end or a set of broken stairs that led to nowhere. But he was not one to give up so easily.
Finding a clearing up ahead of one of the stairs, he realized the noise was becoming louder. Zuko grinned; he had finally found his intruder. He silently made his way around the shadow of a pillar, creeping slowly as to not give away his position.
What an amateur.
The intruder was making no attempt at hiding his presence at all! In fact, all that splashing and noise seemed carelessly loud from this close. And what was he doing there anyway? Perhaps the intruder was thirsty? The prince mused over the boorish intruder. But no matter what his reason, the sneak was about to learn the hard way why one shouldn't be trespassing on the Avatar's camp. At least not while Zuko was around.
The prince leaned in against his pillar, with his eyes studying the shadow of his intruder. Slim and small of stature. Unless this was the Avatar himself, this was going to be no challenge at all. Especially considering Zuko had the element of surprise.
With reflexes quick as the lightning he still struggled to wield, Zuko jumped from his hiding place and threw a fierce backhand, flames erupting behind his speeding fist in a long arch, projecting their way to their designated target.
The flames cleared, but intruder must have ducked underneath the water, because they hit nothing. His flames stuck only air, illuminating the darkness for a shocking moment.
The fountain was empty.
Then it erupted. Water streamed off the intruder's body as they stood, jetting off in angry ripples. As the figure rose, Zuko saw something that struck him to his core.
Two very blue, and very angry eyes emerged from their watery sanctuary.
"Oh no..." Zuko moaned quietly to himself; somehow the universe must find it amusing to torture him.
"Katara... I-I can explain..."