He could see it glimmering, in the distance. He reached for it, he reached for absolute perfection and peace. The beautiful shining disk that he associated with water and snow and winter and Katara, certainly it must be nirvana. "Katara!" he found his voice rasping out of his throat, "Katara! KATARA!"
She stood before him, arms outstreatched toward him. She looked like a statue or a spirit, glowing blue with healing and smiling at him her mouth and her eyes.
"Katara..." He fell into her open arms, the only thing he could see in the desolate landscape. She cooed and hummed, the way she used to when one of the younger children fell and scraped a knee, or felt homesick. They were the noises of healing. Everything smelled of lemon and honey, and tea, and the clean cold scent of ice. He had to bite the insides of his cheeks to keep from crying.
All of a sudden the cold he was feeling, changed to heat, and Katara drew away. He opened his eyes to plead with her to stay, but he saw his father, holding the necklace, dangling the pendant by the blue ribbon, all he had left of her.
"KATARA!" He called out and tried to run forward, but felt something push him down. "YOU STAY AWAY FROM HER!" There was something forcing him down and holding him back, no matter how hard he fought. "THE NECKLACE! HER NECKLACE! GIVE IT TO ME, YOU BASTARD! I WON'T LET YOU HURT HER! I'LL KILL YOU, FIRST! YOU LET HER GO!"
He was free to fight, nothing was holding him back any longer, but before he could bend, there was a cold hand on his arm. "Shhh... Shhh..." she said in his ear. "It's alright. Shhhh... He's dead now." He looked up at her face, and she tied her necklace around his wrist. She touched his cheek and he leaned into her hand, feeling as if he were going to bun to ash if he didn't feel her cool fingers on his skin. "You did well, Zuko. We're alright, see? We're fine. Shhhh... Shhhh..."
Zuko had gotten used to the squint of his one eye, long ago. The scar impaired his vision, that was that, he adapted. Over came. His whole body felt sore, and his senses barely registered the bed beneath him, or the warm blankets above. Pain was pain, and that's all, he could deal with pain. It was his thoughts that really hurt.
For the first time in his life, Zuko was afraid to open his eyes. What if he couldn't open them if he tried? What if he opened them and only saw darkness? And what if he could see... and did see... what sight would await him. He remembered seeing the water bender, somewhere over him. Her cold hand had touched his face, and she had held him. He couldn't remember what she had said, or what was happening. He must have been dying for her to hold him... Maybe I'm-
"AWAKE!" There was a loud pounding in the distance, growing nearer, and the sound of the door bursting open. "He's awake! He's awake, again!"
"Miss Bei Fong, please, he has not moved since last time you saw him," His uncle's voice, calm and hushed, "He is quiet asleep."
"He's faking! He's awake! Let go of me!"
Zuko barely had enough time to register that he was the one who was being accused of fake sleeping, when two small arms wrapped around his neck and something hard hit his shin. He didn't mind the pain that both of these acts caused his sore body.
"I could feel you worrying from the other room, Sparky. I know you're awake." She spoke into his neck, "I knew you'd be okay."
"I won't be alright if you keep squeezing me like that. I can't tell if I'm being hugged or strangled to death." Zuko laughed and waited until Toph sat back a little to open his eyes, "What a beautiful sight to wake up to. Tell me, do you hug all sleeping fire benders? Cause it's not the best idea."
"Oh shut up, Sparky. I know you weren't really sleeping."
There was a knowing chuckle from Uncle Iroh, followed by his slow and steady tone, "It seems as if you've made a friend, nephew."
"Well, not everyone can hate me utterly. Statistically, that is." Zuko said, as Toph stopped laying on top of him, and opted for sitting next to him, which was a relief to the bruises she had been pressing against.
The blind bandit smiled and kicked her feet over the side of the bed. One leg was wrapped in a stone cast, that he assumed she must have fashioned herself. "I dunno, I'd say your fan base has grown substantially while you were in here playing sleeping beauty. Duke has been talking about wanting twin swords ever since he heard how you took down that one guard, Chiefie said he wished he had been able to meet you under different curcum- whatevers, and I even caught Sokka himself saying he wanted you to be okay... well, he said "Wake up already" but he meant well. Not to mention Sugar Queen lurking guarding your room like a saber-tooth moose lion!"
"Never been better, as far as I can tell." Toph said, seeming a little bored by the question. "She didn't even rest one single day. She set right off to heal the injured once she was sure you weren't going to die. She hung around till your fever broke."
"You were very sick, Nephew." His uncle nodded, agreeing with Toph's story. "It was amazing that you didn't die... redirecting your father's lightening was a foolish thing to do without your sight. Foolish... but brave. I'm sure someone was watching over you and saw your intentions were pure."
"Or it could just be because you're kick ass. From what I heard, you fought like a lion-bear!" Toph said to Zuko, her face angelic in it's own coarse way, and Zuko was glad to see it.
Iroh breathed deeply, before standing up. "I think I will go get us tea and something to eat." Before he completely left the room, he turned, a smile on his face, "I will not tell anyone of your recovery until Miss Katara returns, I don't want to think of the consequences she would inflict on my old bones if she was not among the first to know." And with that, he was gone.
Toph took this as a cue to crawl back on top of Zuko, sitting herself on his stomach and taking one of her hands in both of her own, playing with it as she spoke. Zuko noticed Katara's necklace was dangling from his wrist, but he thought nothing of it. I'll save you from my father. It was from Toph, as he lay there in his old bed, in his childhood room, that he found out about what had happened during and after the battle. Sokka had taken on 20 fire benders with nothing more than a sword and his boomerang, he was currently acting as a delegate along with his father in the peace conference that was going to take place in a different part of the palace, "I think I should be an Earth Kingdom representative, but they're waiting for the King to get here to start." Katara, as previously stated, was helping heal the injured, along with any other healing water benders (or regular doctors) that could be found, spending her nights playing mother to what was left of their ragtag group, "You'd think she'd quit it once we were in a real house with real adults, but not Sugar Queen." Haru was presumed dead, no body turned up yet, though. Same was true for the Mechanist. Aang was physically fine, but wasn't talking to anyone, not even Katara.
Iroh was one of the Fire Nation's representatives at the peace conference, but hadn't spent much time helping with the preperations, so he could stay with Zuko, Toph, and Aang; the three of whom were staying in the Fire Palace to rest off their injuries "Though I don't really need any more rest." Azula had been captured, though Toph hadn't been told the full story, having heard that news from Sokka, who was not actually there at the time it happened... "though we had both been there when Appa almost landed on her! I wish I could see that again! The look on her face, I think Sokka almost died laughing!" The 'creepy one', as Toph put it, had gone missing and the 'happy one' was being held prisoner, but not under any real security, since she was badly injured and she kept on crying and saying she was sorry, "She asked how you were doing. Sokka went to see her yesterday."
"And what about you?" Zuko asked, when Toph finished describing the epic battle between The Boulder and a Di Li agent.
The girl paused, her hands going still on his for a moment. "I got hurt toward the end of the battle, I was running away... I know it wasn't dishonorable, I already got that speach, so don't start." Her blank eyes glared for an instant, but then returned to normal. "I defended myself pretty well with my leg broken in two places... I guess it was like having one eye, huh?"
"And since then?"
"I've pretty much stayed with you..." She mumbled, quieter than he had ever heard her speak, ever.
The Fire Prince remarkably still had an eyebrow to raise, water bending healing, no doubt. "You stayed here? For how long?"
"Well, I wasn't necessarily here. I was in the room next door. And you were out for about 3 days, if you count this one." She explained, seeming guilty for some reason "With my leg the way it is... I can't really tell what's going on. And I don't like the unfamiliar foot steps everywhere else... This has basically been the quietest part of-... well, I guess the whole country. The only people allowed into this wing are members of our group and their immediate family members." She perked up a little, apparently glad to be off the topic of herself and her insecurities. "I was here when you woke up in your fever, talking all crazy, everyone thought you were going to jump out of bed and fire bend!"
Great... now I'm that crazy fever guy... "What was I talking about?"
"You wanted to defend Katara... Iroh figures you were still in the mindset you had been in when you passed out," Toph smiled, "You pointed out Sokka as Ozai and kept on shouting for Aang to hide. You couldn't even tell which one of us was Katara, but you sure as hell wanted to save her from something."
Zuko sighed and sunk deeper into his covers, "What else happened?"
"Well, you slept a lot... and snored..." She said, and then dropped her voice, "I-... I touched your face... your eye... At first, I was really scared. I thought it was a new scar, one from this invasion. Katara said she never saw you without it and that you got it when you were a kid... Does it hurt?"
"Not anymore. Not for a long time." He said, for the first time, not feeling any real emotion about his scar. It's just a mark. It's meaning died along with it's creator.He watched Toph's face look a little anxious. "You can touch it if you want, I don't really mind."
Seemingly thinking of doing just that, the earth bender reached out a small hand, touching it around his eye, gently prodding the slightly coarser skin with her fingers. "It's strange knowing that you looked a certain way but I imagined you another way." She let her hands move, feeling his nose and around his other eye as well. "I thought your face would be more square..."
"Nah, I look like my mother. Her eyes and nose... the only bit of me that was my father's was my scar." Zuko said, reaching up and tweaking the girl's nose. "And now that's all mine."
"It was your dad who gave you the scar? I would have thought it was your crazy sister."
The almost laughed, "No, at that point she was only a little girl, not quiet the psycho you know... It was him." My father."I was in a war meeting with my uncle, and I heard about a plan to send some of the men on a suicide mission. I opposed and I ended up being challenged to and Angi Kai by my own father over it... or over the principle of it... I guess I'll never know."
Toph laid down, cuddling in next to Zuko, her feet off the ground. I don't think I've ever seen her lay down anywhere but the floor... "Your family life doesn't sound like it was the greatest..."
"Hmph... there is definitely about a 10 year period somewhere in there I wish I could do over... but it's stuff like that who makes us who we are. I like who I am. I hate who I was, but right now, I like who I am... I haven't felt that way in a long time, Kid. I'm so glad we're safe, finally. I'm so proud of everyone. Of you and Aang. Sokka and Katara..."
"And we are all so proud of you, nephew." Iroh stated upon reentering the room with a tray of sandwiches and tea. "I have never felt more pride."