" NOT LIKE THAT "
02. CHAPTER TWO: OWARI
A/N: Many people demanded another chapter to this once one-shot, so here you have it. This is a continuation and an alternate take on the scene in the finale in which Mai helps Zuko into his coronation robes.
Zuko looked up to see Katara standing in the doorway, her blue eyes fixed to the bandage that covered his wound. If it had been any other person, he would've assured them he was fine and sent them on their way. Katara, however, knew first-hand how badly he'd been hurt--she'd healed him, after all.
Sucking up his pride, he nodded. "Please."
Katara moved to him, but she didn't help him pull his arm through the sleeve of his father's robes. Instead, she knelt before him and pressed her fingers to his abdomen. Zuko winced and reached down to stop her, but she batted his hand away.
"You're still tender."
Zuko rolled his eyes. "I was hit with lightning, Katara. Of course I'm still tender."
She ignored that comment, running her fingers lightly along the length of one of the bandage strips. "Aang was, too, for a while after."
Katara looked up at him, her expression unreadable. "You almost did."
"But, I didn't. You made sure of that." He offered a small, appreciative smile.
The waterbender merely sighed and plucked at the edge of the bandages, her fingers disappearing beneath the wrappings to touch the edge of the wound. It was already starting to scar and Zuko sucked in a sharp breath at the new and surprisingly pleasant sensation. Her other hand pressed against his side where skin was exposed and he suddenly felt compelled to reached down and seize her wrists to stop her. She stared at him, confused and blissfully unaware of exactly why he'd halted her touches.
"Did I hurt you?"
He shook his head. No, she hadn't hurt him. Not in the least. In an hour's time, he would be crowned Fire Lord. He needed to focus on keeping his composure, what he was going to say and do...not on how her fingers felt against his skin.
"Can I have my hands back or are you just going to keep them?"
Zuko caught the playful tone in her voice and arched his good eyebrow at her, tightening his grip slightly as if to tease her back. "Well--"
"Well, what?" Katara prodded, grinning up at him and reveling in the break from the serious atmosphere the palace had been coated in since she and Zuko had stepped out of Appa's saddle.
The crown prince, however, didn't seem to be in a joking mood anymore, though. His good eye was wide, expression somewhat weary, and he looked as if he wanted to run and hide like a child avoiding punishment. He was staring past her, at the door, and Katara turned and looked over her shoulder at the displeased figure in the doorway.
"I thought you were in prison," Zuko breathed.
The gloomy girl sighed. "I was. My uncle let me out as soon as word of Ozai's defeat reached the Boiling Rock." She paused and her eyes shifted from Zuko to Katara. "What are you doing to him?"
Katara pulled her hands away as Zuko let go of her wrists. "Making sure his bandages weren't too tight," she lied as she stood.
"Azula struck him with lightning during their Agni K--"
"I was talking to Zuko," Mai snapped.
The young man in questioned sighed heavily behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Katara, would you excuse us?"
Katara nodded, understanding. "Of course."
She left the room then and moved into the dining hall where the others were gathered. Sokka sat in a chair near the far wall, Suki sitting cattycorner from him with his broken leg resting in her lap. The older girl mumbled something about needing to change and passed Sokka's leg gently to Haru, who took her seat when she stood. Katara stifled a giggle at the sight, watching as Suki pressed a kiss to her brother's cheek and left, Sokka glaring hard at The Duke, who had pointed and laughed. Aang was nowhere to be found, but she assumed the young airbender was off seeing to Appa.
"That's not going to end well," a knowing voice at her side said.
She glanced down at Toph, the earthbender frowning with her unseeing eyes directed at the hall that led to the room where Zuko was changing into his coronation robes.
"With Mai and Zuko?"
Toph nodded. "Yeah. Sparky doesn't exactly like her like she likes him." Her head titled so the cloudy eyes now faced Katara. "Don't let me say 'like' that many times in a sentence again."
Katara laughed at that last part, but got serious. "I know."
"Huh," Toph breathed after a moment, lips pursed together and head titled to the other side.
Somehow, Katara didn't believe her, but wasn't in the mood to pry an answer out of the younger girl today. The past week had been the most trying experience of her life. At just barely fifteen, she'd been through more and seen more than most do before reaching their death beds. The time for her to be the serious one who kept the others in line had passed. It was time for her to relax a bit, too."
"Mai's not going to like what Zuko has to say," she told Toph. "I know she chased and attacked us and worked with Azula, but I kind of feel...bad for her. She risked so much when she decided to save Zuko. I can't imagine what that must feel like, to make that sort of sacrifice for someone and then find out that their feelings aren't the same."
Toph was uncharacteristically silent and Katara suddenly felt a little awkward, standing there after saying that. Why? She didn't quite know--or maybe she did and just wasn't ready to process it yet.
"He'll do the right thing," she said in attempt to break the silence, but Toph only nodded in agreement.
After a moment, though, Toph seized her arm, exclaiming, "Whoa!" as she tugged Katara back. The waterbender stumbled along, confused until she saw the angry form of Mai storming into the room. There was the slightest of hesitation in the shuriken expert's step as she passed them, her dark eyes focusing on Katara as she did so.
The room had gone silent and even The Duke had stopped making noise of any kind. The young boy had been standing between Mai's approaching from and the doorway and quickly bolted out of the way, going to hide behind Sokka, who eyed Mai wearily.
"What's her problem?" Sokka asked once Mai had left.
Katara would have answered him, if concern for another person hadn't caused her feet to move and carry her down the hallway. She heard Toph answer for her, telling Sokka not to worry about it and continued down the hall. Coming to the room, she found the door still open and peered in, not seeing Zuko at first.
"Over here," came his reply and she ventured deeper into the room and saw him standing at the window, leaning on the ledge with his head bowed. She hesitated, then moved to him, coming up beside him and putting a comforting hand on his back.
They stood like that for a while, Katara's attention temporarily stolen by the expanse of the capital that was visible from this side of the palace. For a city she'd seen swathed in nothing but shades of red before, it looked so right with the various banners of green and blue that were draped across some buildings where nobles and government officials from the Water Tribes and Earth Kingdom had taken up temporary residence. It was a rare sight for the Fire Nation and one that Katara hoped would continue long after the golden flame was placed on Zuko's head.
"I think I broke her heart."
Katara's attention returned to the firebender at her side and she patted the shoulder she touched, only noticing now that robe was still hanging off of one side of him, the other still bare with the bandages exposed. "You did the right thing," she reassured him.
He sighed heavily and she felt it beneath her hand, pulling it back when he pushed off the ledge and turned around to face her. "Did I? I thought I was past my habit of hurting people."
She reached out to touch his arm, but he moved away before she could reach him, moving over to where the was a mirror on the wall and attempting once again to get his arm through the other sleeve without straining his injuries. Katara frowned at him and moved up behind him, commenting, "You're impossible," and taking hold of the limp sleeve.
"What are you--"
"Helping, like I said I would. Now, hold your arm out--no, not straight, bend your elbow some!" Rolling her eyes in annoyance, Katara seized his arm and bent it at the proper angle, then slipped the sleeve over his flesh, pulling the collar up to his shoulder and smoothing out the fabric there with her palm.
"I can do the rest myself," he said in a voice entirely too small for her to take him seriously.
"Sure you can," she said and poked him in the side lightly, smirking in satisfaction when he winced. She moved to take hold of the sash that would keep the robe closed, when he seized her wrists yet again.
He wondered if she knew, if that clever mind of hers had worked out a piece of the puzzle that would explain exactly why he wouldn't go back to Mai. Sure, she knew from before that he did not care for Mai as much as the girl did for him, but there was something else within his reasoning now, something that Katara was responsible for. It hadn't been there originally, having only recently surfaced in his mind and had quickly became something he couldn't seem to stop thinking about.
Which is why it concerned him that she was entirely too close to him that she should be right now and he had only made matters worse by taking hold of her wrists, for his intents of stepping away from her were now ruined by the fact that her head snapped up as he looked down, her face now inches away from his own. His breath caught in his throat and whatever he'd intended to say to her died in his throat before it could be properly articulated.
Zuko stood rigid as he waited for her to move or demand to have her hands returned to her again, but she stayed where she was--eyes wide and staring up into his golden ones, drawing his attention to her lips as her tongue darted out to wet them. She must've noticed where his eyes went, for her cheeks tinted a fascinating shade of pink.
He made a decision for her and let go of her wrists, but her hands moved to fist in the fabric of his robe and she stayed in place, not moving and preventing Zuko from doing so as well.
He found his voice with some difficulty. "What are you...?"
"I...don't really know," she breathed quietly.
For a moment, it seemed as if she was going to close the gap between them, but she looked down instead, lowering her chin so that his mouth now hovered over her forehead and not her lips. He bit back a groan of disappointment that turned into a small gasp as she placed her hand on his chest again.
He swallowed roughly. "Katara--"
"You saved my life," she started, cutting him off. Her other hand joined the fingers that were already dancing around the area where his sister's lighting had split him open. "I could have dodged her strike, you know. I was going to move, but you jumped in the way. I thought you did it on reflex, but now I think..." Her voice got quieter, smaller, as she trailed her palms along his flesh until her hands rested on either side of his neck. "I think that's only part of the reason."
Zuko pressed his lips to her forehead instinctively, chastely kissing the flesh there, taking hold of her hands and stepping back, holding her in place at arms length. She looked hurt and confused, as if she'd jumped to an untrue conclusion and opened her mouth to utter something that he anticipated was an apology.
Such an apology, however, was not needed.
"It was," he admitted. "That was one of my reasons. I had to think fast and that's the first direction my mind went in and I followed it. It's the first time I've done something so drastic without thinking it through and haven't regretted it."
Her eyes shined with tears and he would have pulled her back to him for a hug or perhaps something else, if a knocking sound hadn't caused him to drop her hands and jump away.
Zuko turned to see Toph in the doorway, arms crossed over her chest and eyebrows arched high above her unseeing eyes. "Sorry to interrupt, but your father's looking for you, Katara."
"Thanks, Toph," Katara said and moved back to Zuko. He thought her bold for doing so in front of Toph, but she did not hug him nor kiss him. Instead, she seized the sash and tied it firmly around his waist and moved away.
He took a step to follow her, but stopped, remembering that he needed to finish getting ready. He had duties to attend to now, a role to play in this game and couldn't go off and follow whomever he wished to anymore.
Katara stopped at the doorway, Toph having already left and leading the way down the hall. She looked over her shoulder and asked, "Later, then?"
A smile broke out across his face of its own accord and he didn't bother to stop it. "Later," he agreed with a nod.
She returned the smile and shouted, "Coming!" after an irked Toph who had called out, "Get a move on, Sugar Queen!"
Zuko watched her as she ran out after the earthbender and called out himself for a servant in one of the adjoining rooms to help him finish getting ready. As distracted as he thought he would be before, he was suddenly very focused on the words he would say to the gathering crowd--if only because the sooner that speech was over with, the sooner he could continue whatever had been started with Katara.
"Avatar: the Last Airbender" is © Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.