When the Moon Cries
A/N: This story is dedicated to Bree, Bailey, to Anna…and to our seven hour trip to St. Louis. Enjoy!
"There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery." - Joseph Conrad
Rain was coming.
It began as a soft rain, light and cool. A mist of drops sprayed against Katara's skin and soaked her shoulders. She turned her head towards the night sky, watching as the darkening clouds thickened overhead, covering the full moon.
"It's going to storm tonight," Katara said. She sank back and rested her hand against the pagoda's cold, stone wall. The edifice connected to the rest of the Western Air Temple. She glanced inside to where she saw her team was resting for the evening. Toph, Aang and Teo – they were exchanging conversation. Haru and the Duke were eating the last of the sweet corn, peas and the stale, white bread Suki and her father had steamed over a boiling dish of water to soften. The problem with a larger group was tighter rationing. The last of their food had run out. As for Sokka…that bum had already passed out, curled up next to the fire.
They couldn't stay hidden here for long though. The moment they stepped into the open, they would be wanted targets of the Fire Nation. Katara narrowed her eyes. Speaking of the Fire Nation, Zuko hadn't yet returned from his alleged scouting mission. What an inane notion sending someone like him off by himself for a scouting mission! Katara frowned. If she had been around when everyone else had been dividing the duties between themselves, she would have stamped down against Zuko leaving camp at all. If anything needed to be kept watched on, it was him, and if no one else was going to do it, she would. Grudgingly, Katara stepped forward and into the rain. She laid her arms across her chest.
"Katara," Hakoda called from inside. "Come sit down with us."
Aang glanced up at the mention of Katara's name and smiled. "Yeah, Katara. Come on in. You're getting wet just standing out there all by yourself."
Katara spun around. "I'm fine," she snapped more harshly than she had intended. She was tense and worried for all of them. "I'm surprised the rest of you can just sit there!"
"Actually, Toph, Teo and I were just discussing what we should do next." The young airbender dropped his head down to the side. He stood forward. "Is something wrong, Katara?"
"You could say that," she replied. Stepping into the shelter, she shifted her hands down her front, pulling the rainwater from her body to dry herself. "I'm concerned about Zuko."
"No need to worry about him," Teo said. "He can take care of himself."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Katara said. She turned aside. "Don't any of you understand? The eight of us are vulnerable sitting here while a member of the Fire Nation is scouting for more members of the Fire Nation?! Am I the only one who doesn't see the logic in that?"
"Cool it, Katara," Toph spoke up finally. "He's not even Fire Nation material anymore."
"And he has gone out of his way to teach me firebending. I think we can trust him," Aang said.
"Listen Aang," Katara said. "The last time I trusted him, it almost got you killed."
"But it didn't, did it?" Toph stated matter-of-factly. She pointed in Katara's direction. "Now I think it's time you listened. The rest of us are fine with this. The only one who seems to have a problem is you. First, it was Jet. You trusted him at first, right? Then what did he do? He broke your trust, and when the day came that he asked for our trust, you never gave him that chance until it was too late to matter and you gave him nothing but lip service before he died, not because you trusted him, but because he was dying! It's the same here, except now Zuko is in Jet's place. He too stole your trust, broke it, and now that he's back to help, you won't let him. What's the matter, Katara? You won't give second chances? Are you going to wait until something happens to him too, and save his last words for sound byte as well?"
As if Toph's words had crippled her, Katara stumbled back. She was silent, and after a moment, Katara clenched her fists and met Toph in the eyes. She found herself staring into a stifling, blind void that was never met back with hers. "When it comes to you, and Aang and everyone else on this team, then yes. I don't give murderers a second chance."
Teo spoke up. "You're speaking for everyone on this team. Isn't Zuko a part of the team?"
Katara watched him steadily. Without leaving him an answer, she turned back and walked out into the rain alone.
What Toph said kept repeating in her head. She cast her eyes down against the falling rain. Toph had brought up two entirely different people. In truth, Jet had never lied to her. He did exactly what he thought what was right, and sought what was liberation in his mind. Zuko on the other hand could say one thing and act on something entirely different…
Something landed on her shoulder and Katara jumped. She looked back. It was her father.
"In many ways," Hakoda said, looking down at her, "You remind me of your mother…always looking out for the welfare of everyone who is important to you."
"Do you think what I'm doing is wrong?"
"I think what you believe is wise."
"But does that make it right? I know if anyone else here was still gone, I'd be worried about them. I wouldn't be worried for everyone else's sake. Maybe Toph is right. Maybe I am holding on to the past…maybe I'm holding my past against him."
Hakoda sighed. He pressed down on Katara's shoulder, leading her inside. "Come and lie down. It's getting late," he said. "I'll wait up for Zuko to return."
Reluctantly, Katara followed her father inside. She lied overtop some blankets and faced away from the fire, trying to keep her eyes shut. She kept her breathing steady and quiet, feigning sleep. Eventually, the rest of the camp fell silent and even the fire faded into dying embers.
Katara turned around and propped her elbows back, pulling herself to her feet. Everyone must had left to their rooms. The only one remaining with her was Sokka. It seemed he hadn't woken since Katara last saw him. She stood up and walked forward when suddenly, Sokka sprung forward. "Who's there?" he demanded groggily, still half-asleep.
"Shh, Sokka, it's only me," Katara whispered.
Sokka rubbed his eyes, pulling his knees to his chest. "What's going on?"
"I don't think Zuko ever came back."
"Hmm? You worried about him?"
"I was worried about us."
"Sokka, why else? The Fire Nation could know where we all are by now."
"And you think Zuko told them."
"Listen. If the Fire Nation was coming our way, Toph would've seen it by now, unless Zuko somehow managed to catch up to them first."
Katara crossed her arms over one another. She turned away. A jagged white bolt of lightening thrashed through the night sky. The rain was pelting down in heavy sheets now. She looked and back and whispered. "I'll be back."
"What? Right now? In this weather?"
"Sokka, I said I'd be back."
"Where are you going?"
Katara positioned Appa's reigns in her hands. "To find Zuko." She snapped the reigns back and braced herself as the sky bison lifted itself into the air.
Zuko was breathing fast. He clenched his jaw, stifling each gasp forced from his chest.
At first, Zuko had tried to run away. But he couldn't run back to the Western Air Temple in fear of having all three agents follow him back. Unfortunately, he had no where else to run. That left him with the other option to outrun them first. That plan hadn't worked so well when the three agents managed to corner him. His next option had been to fight – fight three, highly-skilled and trained agents from the Fire Nation, and he had given them a damn, good fight and had even taken out one agent. However, his stamina was running thin, and now he had only one other option. Hide.
But after fighting three Fire Agents, and with two left to go, he was at his limit. Suddenly, a blaze of raging, hot fire was sent his direction. He rolled and stumbled out of the way into the bushes. Despite the soaked wood of the bushes, the leaves caught on fire and swept through the forest underbrush. The flames spread too fast and Zuko hissed in pain as the fire burned him.
They smoked him into the open and Zuko jumped out of the flaming brush, guarded for an ambush from either side. What happened next, Zuko didn't expect.
He heard a roar.
Regardless, he never let down his guard, but he didn't have to. The other two had let down their guard before him. Taking advantage, Zuko shot a flare of fire at the nearest agent. It blasted into his side, shredding his clothes and flesh into blood and ash. The agent fell to the ground, laying motionless.
Immediately, Zuko directed his attention towards the flying bison. It landed on the ground and Zuko was relieved, but he soon turned rigid when he realized no one was on top of the bison. In a glimmer through the rain, he saw Katara already climbing down from the bison. She was alone.
Zuko tore his eyes away from her and scanned the grounds. It wasn't safe yet. Somewhere around, there was one more.
Katara stood her distance near Appa. "Zuko, it's after midnight and you're still out here. What are you doing?"
Everyone was standing still and everything was too quiet. This leaves a perfect opportunity to harness a stance and prepare an attack. It was that thought that came first before he had the chance to act. This isn't good.
Her voice steadily rose with irritation. "I came all this way to find you," Katara said. "Are you going to continue to stand there or answer me?"
It was then, Zuko heard something that made his chest hammer. There was a crackling sound. No. This wasn't rain. It sounded like angry chirping. Zuko cursed. He saw no one else around him except Katara. That meant the last agent had positioned himself into a blind spot, and Zuko was helpless to stop him.
He reached out towards Katara and shouted. "Get out of the way!"
Katara was taken aback. She stepped forward, readying to defend herself and looked around her. "What are you talking about? Who else is here?"
Zuko rushed towards her. He grabbed her shoulder, shoving her into the ground and spun back around in time.
The lightening bolt entered his right hip and ran through the ground, up into his stomach. He pivoted his foot, forcing himself upright, then thrust his left hand back, shooting his right arm forward. The lightening channeled out his body and Zuko redirected the bolt back in the direction it had come.
Out of relief, Zuko let out a breath. He witnessed as the redirected lightening struck the final agent to the ground.
Katara rose to her feet. "Who was that?"
Zuko turned around to face her. He stepped away slightly. "An agent from the Fire Nation. They're all taken care of. I didn't expect them to come up on me like that –,"
He doubled-over and coughed violently into his hand.
Katara stepped towards him. "You've over-exerted yourself. Let's get you back." She wrapped her fingers around his and pulled his hand towards her. But after feeling something warm, she paused to glance down.
"You're hand…," Katara turned his palm over and flushed. Blood.
Immediately, Zuko turned aside, and coughed. Blood splattered from his lips. Even in the dark rain, Katara could see he was too pale.
"Zuko," she said. She tried to force his name out sternly, but her voice faltered. "Lie down."
In a blind daze, he staggered forward, and Katara wasn't sure if Zuko had even heard her. She wrapped an arm around his back and supporting him under her weight, she lowered him to the ground. His clothes were badly torn and his skin was marked with new burn wounds Katara had never noticed before. She laid him to sit up against Appa's thick, ivory coat, but even that seemed too strenuous for him. He stared forward, but his eyes were blank, not focusing on anything – not even on Katara, though she kneeled in front of him.
Strangely, he seemed restless and anxious, though he seemed to be unaware of what was around him. Katara bit down her lower lip. "Zuko, do you hear me?"
She stretched her arm forward, cupping her hand. She pressed her hand against his cheek, lifting his head up from his chest. Raising her other arm, she rested her palm against his neck. His pulse was rapid and weak. Katara frowned. His heart was falling into shock.
Katara shrunk back. His heart was failing. She shut her eyes.
" – you never gave him that chance until it was too late to matter and you gave him nothing but lip service before he died, not because you trusted him, but because he was dying…are you going to wait until something happens to him too, and save his last words for sound byte as well?"
"That's not true," she whispered.
Her eyes immediately flew apart.
"Zuko…you're going to be all right," Katara told him, trying to pull herself together. So much water was falling around her. She bended the water towards her to soothe his burn wounds. There would be nothing she could do for the heart. Her eyes began to burn and in shock, Katara blinked back any tears before they fell. No. She had to try.
Zuko spoke to her. "…when I was younger, I knew I would be alone in the end…"
Katara focused her energy into healing his heart around the water.
"…I wanted it that way…somewhere inside, I was always prepared to – ,"
"Zuko, stop it!" The glimmering water began to dim, and the healing water dropped uselessly to the side. She was left breathless.
"…I don't know what has become of my Uncle…," Zuko continued, "I don't even know what has happened to my mother…even if she is alive, or not." His voice sounded strained.
"You're mother?" Katara began, "I thought she died."
"After I found out, I hoped to know what had happened to her…maybe… to see her once more," he inhaled weakly, as if he hadn't heard her, "What happened in Ba Sing Se…with my sister…I'm sorry."
Of all things to say.
Her lips parted. "Wait – ,"
"Katara? Please don't leave."
She shut her eyes ferociously and threw her head back in anger. Out of all people to be angry with, she was angry with him. "Why did you do it!" she yelled, desperate. Why had he tried so hard to save her? "I hated you!"
"I know," he told her. "…I don't know why…," In that moment, Katara saw his lips twist back into a faint smile. "I suppose," he continued, "You still don't trust me, do you…"
"I…" Katara pressed her tongue against her teeth. She wanted to say 'I do', but she held those words back. She wanted them to be the truth, but what if what Toph had said was true? That she only forgave at these times, because she didn't want to deal with the pain of words never spoken, and she wanted to lay to rest all past misgivings. Yet a different pain was swelling inside her chest at that moment, and it hurt.
"It's okay," Zuko told her, tearing Katara from her thoughts, "I know I wouldn't have deserved it."
"No," Katara started. The burden of her guilt. She was begging for it to stop. "We need to get you to a medical center."
Weakly, Zuko gripped hold of her wrist before she rose. "You and I both know I wouldn't last the journey. We're far alone out here."
"We have to try," Katara was already standing, frantic, "I need you to hold on."
"There's nothing more you can do," Zuko told her gently, "Please, just stay here with me a little longer."
Now Katara was crying, and she couldn't hold it back. She couldn't think clearly. Finally, her knees gave out beneath her and a sob escaped from her throat. Acting on instinct, she wrapped her arms around him and buried her eyes into his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Zuko," she said, "I don't know what else to do."
Quietly, Zuko relaxed, easing into her embrace. He rested his hand over her back. "No," he said, "…you've done enough…,"
Then, he closed his eyes and slowly, his arm fell to his side. As Katara held him, he fell limp under her.
Sitting alone, Katara held him tighter. She remained there as the rain soaked, and bled through her clothes and hair, drenching her until she was shivering.
It was later, Katara was shaken from her delirium. She pulled her head back, staring up at Appa. The rain had ceased. It was a starless night, but blearily, Katara noticed the light of the full moon as it shone down on her. She blinked once before lowering her eyes.
Under the light of the moon, it appeared as if he had only fallen asleep.
He had died listening to the broken memories of his past.
…and she cried for him.