For Zutara Week. Prompt two: Electrify
Oh, man, I am unnecessarily excited about this week now. It's a personal record for me - two different fics of the same pairing in two consecutive days. Who'd have thought that I'd even be able to do this much. Thank God for prompts, though. Otherwise, I'd be dead.
So, yes. My second installation for Zutara Week for your reading pleasure. I hope you like it.
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Lightning severed the sky.
Though kept dry by the rock face housing the Western Air Temple, Katara could still clearly see the rain hiss past the courtyard, every so often splattering onto the stones and exploding into smaller droplets. Goosebumps ran along her skin, and her blood pulsed with excitement as all around her the air was alive with the sound of the storm. Unfortunately, most of the group did not share in her enthusiasm.
Momo, made frantic by the rolling crash of thunder, had flown to the security of Appa's head and had swiftly burrowed into the downy softness of the bison's fur, hiding away; Appa, too, groaned and shifted in discomfort, searching for sleep amidst the roar of thunder and hiss of slithering rain. Nestled against his belly, Toph still fought to find refuge in a calming sleep, shivering and shaking as in her dreams the thunder racked her senses. And Sokka, who'd left the campfire an hour ago to simply sit by her side and rub her back until she fell asleep, had at this point also collapsed against Appa, one of his arms wrapped loosely around Toph's stomach as his nose brushed against her hair.
The rest of the group had been smart. Instead of bothering to withstand the storm and speak nervously about the arrival of the comet, they'd retired to warm beds and four walls of shelter, where the cold and the rain didn't seep through.
So that left her. Sitting on the cold stones of the temple floor, she shifted her legs with a slight wince and did her best to not awaken the Avatar in her arms, who'd slumped against her suddenly just a half hour ago, thoroughly exhausted. Suppressing a shiver as a cold gust of wind drafting in mists of rain billowed in her face, she smiled tenderly and smoothed her hand over Aang's head, leaning down and pressing her cheek against his forehead when his face twitched and he muttered uncomfortably. She remembered the last storm they'd been caught in together, when he'd relayed his tale of how he'd run away once before, and she wondered if the memory still haunted him now, in the dark corners of his mind.
With a sigh, she flicked her gaze back to the gaping mouth of the rock face, watching as a sudden sheet of lightning illuminated the entire temple. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of his profile flicker, his loose-hanging clothes rippling in the wind, and she looked forward to stare into molten amber before the darkness stole most of his features away from her once more. He seemed invigorated by the lightning, his profile straightening and his eyes dancing when it engulfed them all in brightness – just as she was excited about the rain rushing down in torrents and riding on the wind.
"Why are you still up?" Her voice rang surprisingly true in the darkness, despite her exhaustion, despite her uncertainty about being alone with him. She remembered the only other time they'd been truly alone, when she'd trusted him, when she'd touched his face and had realized that beneath that mask of his he was also human, and her heart still felt sore about the encounter. She was scared of him, because he made her believe in him so easily.
Self-consciously, she hugged Aang closer, as if the moment she shut her eyes he would stand up and steal her last hope away once more.
"Lightning storms remind me of Uncle."
His expression twisted into one of pain, and she felt her arms ease up around Aang slightly. In the background, the thunder rumbled, and he violently twitched and moaned as he nestled his head into her arm. Shushing him, she lovingly smoothed her hand over his head, watching as the furrow of his eyebrows slowly relaxed.
As she sensed his eyes on her, she glanced up and searched for him through the dark, confusion on her face. At her insistent stare, he remarked, "You really love this…child, don't you?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Of course I do. Aang brought me hope again, after the Fire Nation destroyed everything. I'd do anything to protect him."
Breathing out through his nose, Zuko shifted his head slightly and glanced away, his shoulders slumping as her words weighed on him. He didn't say more, and along with the rush of rain and wind silence descended in their midst, gnawing at Katara as she kept her eyes away from him and gazed worriedly down at Aang. Still, she couldn't help but chew her lip in concern as she replayed how scathing her words had sounded in her own ears, how hatefully she'd reacted.
Lightning flashed, and she got a full look at the suppressed pain and guilt that he'd attempted to hide from her. Heart lurching with shame, she closed her eyes, smoothing her hand over Aang's head when he began to shiver again.
Then, determinedly, she turned back to Zuko. "That was wrong. I know you're not like them. I just--"
He shrugged and kept his stare averted. "But I was like that. I attacked your home. I still remember how…disgusted you were with me…" Thunder rumbled in the background, and he sighed and leaned against his arms, gleaming eyes hidden beneath his mess of bangs. "How afraid I made you…" He gave a wry laugh, glancing up at her, and at his glance, she felt a small shock run along her spine, and the hairs on the back of her neck rose. "Before I joined you, I asked my father how he could justify fighting a child. And look what I did – I chased you into corners, all for the purpose of capturing a twelve-year-old."
Wordlessly, she stared at him as the rain filled in the silence, still hissing beyond the shelter of the air temple. Aang nestled more comfortably into the crook of her arm, and absently she patted his back, trying meanwhile to figure Zuko out, to see past the sincerity in his eyes and find something more wicked, more malicious, more evil. All she saw, though, was how beautifully his depthless, amber eyes pooled when the lightning flashed, and how soft his mouth looked in opposition to the ragged scar marring his face. He looked innocent, harmless, his gaze no longer hard and hateful as he peered from beneath his tousled bangs.
"Zuko…" Startled, he glanced at her, and she felt heat wash over her face as their gazes locked. She couldn't tell what he was thinking, but she wondered if he felt the sudden spark, too – if it wasn't just she whose breath quickened every time they looked into one another's eyes. "You have changed…haven't you?" she asked tentatively, the rumbling thunder hiding the fear in her voice, the darkness concealing the hope in her eyes. She heard him shift above the roar of the wind, and she watched him stand, and she wondered if he was going to walk away without dignifying her deepest concerns with a response.
She couldn't deny her relief, though, when stiffly he sat beside her, crossing his forearms over his knees once more as he leaned forward and stared into the ashes of the fire. Lightning again illuminated the sky, and she looked to her right to take in his profile, to see the way his heavy, black hair brushed against his nose and temples, the way his scar had viciously mangled his ear. She remembered the moment back in the cave, and her neck prickled again.
She was surprised when he lifted his hand and summoned fire right before her eyes. It roared to life in his hand, and then it flickered and lessened until it was but a small, fanning flame twitching in the middle of his palm. "Give me your hand."
Katara stared at him incredulously. "Why do you want my hand?"
He didn't provide an answer. He merely held out his left one in expectation, his eyes finding hers as the lightning flashed and the thunder rumbled pleasantly. She found no reason to distrust him, and if he tried anything Aang was right there, finally resting peacefully as the storm began to die – his even breathing provided her with enough reassurance. Therefore, she willingly gave over her hand, brushing her fingertips against his, holding her breath to calm her heartbeat as the pad of his palm brushed against hers and he pulled her slightly closer.
Her eyes widened as he dragged her hand towards the flame, and she gave a wild jerk. Aang moaned and writhed in discomfort, and she was torn between sending him an apologetic glance and glowering in accusation at Zuko. "What are you trying to do?" she hissed, fingers retracting so that her nails bit into the side of his hand. He winced, but he didn't let go.
"Just trust me."
"You're really asking a lot," she muttered, a vicious scowl on her face.
"You want to know if I've changed?"
"And burning me's the trick?"
Nervously she met his eyes, her fingernails still sinking into his skin as his grip on her hand remained firm. Again, she found no reason to distrust him in his expression. He was determined, stoic, serious, but he didn't look cruel in this instant. He just looked as though he wanted to justify himself to her – to prove that he was, in fact, good.
Breathing out a shuddering breath, she gave a slight nod and relinquished her nails. "Fine. I guess I can just heal it anyway, right?" she muttered, but her hands still slightly trembled.
He nodded back, and gingerly he guided her hand forward, towards his chest. Shivering slightly in fear, she squeezed her eyes shut, awaiting the searing heat, awaiting the blinding pain. All she felt, however, was Zuko squeezing her hand back, and she let her lashes flutter open in surprise. Lifting her chin, she gazed into his face with confusion.
"You have to watch, Katara," he said with a slight grin, and she felt another jolt flow through her when she heard her name on his lips. She hadn't yet gotten used to how…wonderful it sounded. "That's the whole point."
She glowered at him, but this time she obeyed, warily dropping her stare to where their hands connected. Chewing on her lower lip as he gently squeezed her fingers, she watched his hand follow the curve of her palm, slipping to cradle her wrist as her fingertips trembled. She wanted to close her eyes again, to brace herself against the pain, but instead she watched the flame flicker, and she felt him firmly grasp her wrist. When the heat brushed finally against her palm, she sucked in a breath, and she gave a nervous jerk, but she didn't pull as violently away this time. She only watched his careful ministrations and the flame flickering in his palm, transfixed.
Before she was ready, he forced her hand into the fire, and she yelped in fright, violently pulling away and striking him in the shoulder. "What're you doing, you jackass?!" Breath shuddering past her lips, she stared at him with incredulity, some of her hair disheveled and gathered in her eyes as she clutched the hand he'd so gently cradled against her chest.
And he was smiling. How was he smiling?
"It didn't hurt, did it?"
Blinking several times, she gaped at him, flexing her fingers and remembering the feel of his callused hands against her skin. Slowly pulling her hand away, she stared at her palm with a blank expression, confusion then sweeping through her when she saw no burn. "What…?"
"I have changed." Glancing up, she met his eyes in bewilderment. He reached forward and grasped her hands, and she watched at a loss as she willingly let him do so, blushing as he ran his thumb thoughtfully along the line of her palm. She almost thought she could feel the electricity building in his fingertips. "See?" Again, in his free hand, he summoned fire, and she watched with the same amount of nervousness as he guided her through the flames. The heat licked at her skin, but she felt no pain, and she looked up at him in confusion and wonder as he balled his fist to smother the fire. "I have more control now. I won't hurt you if I don't want to." He tilted his head, and his bangs slid out of his eyes. "I've learned that fire's as much of a gift as it is a curse."
Automatically, her eyes flickered to his scar. Sliding her hand free of his grasp, she lifted her fingers to his face and brushed the edges of the raw skin, and she blinked when he wearily leaned into his touch, his eyes closing. Fingers curling against his cheek for a moment, she stared at the face of her former enemy, at the curve of his jaw and the furrow of his eyebrows and the uncertain twist of his lips, and she sighed and leaned against him, still cradling Aang close. Then, smoothing her palm against his cheek, she swept the pads of her fingers against his ear and cradled his head close.
His breath hitched in his throat, and he gently moved away from her, linking his hands together on his knees as he leaned forward. A fading flash of lightning cast his form into a soft glow, and she didn't miss the smile on his face or the way he tentatively reached up to touch his ear.
"You should sleep, Zuko."
He shot her a quick glance, and then he shrugged the suggestion off. "The sun will be rising soon. I'll feel better then."
"You're exhausted," she said worriedly, threading her fingers through his hair before she could help it.
He gave a muffled laugh and waved her off. With a sigh, she leaned back and turned her concern to Aang, who still tossed a bit fitfully in her hold. Frowning, she leaned close and shushed him again, gently rubbing his head, murmuring encouraging words into his ear as a threatening crash of thunder rattled the sky. Aang inhaled sharply and jerked away from her, and she frowned worriedly, easing her hold.
"You really think he has it in him?" Katara glanced back at Zuko, taking in the way he'd been watching them, the way his attention was trained on the boy but his interest lay mostly in her. "Are we putting all of our hope in some excitable kid for nothing?" His eyes flashed to her before she could angrily retort, and she was surprised by the fear she found there. "My father…will destroy the nations as we know it. Azula's no better."
"There's no doubt in my mind," she reassured softly, and she smiled at him when he continued to frown. "I've discovered in my travels that people have the odd habit of surprising you – they can prove themselves in ways you never thought they could."
His eyes widened at her words, and then, slowly, a gentle smile curved the corners of his lips. The storm thrummed in the background, the thunder ebbing slowly away, and as the rain began to let up the first traces of gray streaked the air beyond the mouth of the Western Air Temple's rock face. Turning her head to meet the new day, Katara smiled and cradled her hope for a better world, her dearest friend, close to her heart.
And with her other hand, she reached out and carefully searched for Zuko, pressing their palms together and relishing in the electricity that trailed along her skin.
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Done! Please review.