Change by The Lady Arianrod
a/n: First fanfiction in three years! I loved the Avatar finale. This is a brief interlude between Katara and Zuko. They discuss their relationship, how they've changed, and what will happen in the future. This is not a Zutara fic. It's a Zuko & Katara friendship story with a side of Kataang and Maiko. It's my way of understanding the intense, fast-formed bond between Zuko and Katara and how it differs from their former hatred.
I hope you enjoy this little fic. Read and review! Criticism is helpful.
The sun hung low in the sky and offered one last moment of golden light to the Fire Kingdom. Zuko looked into the sky and sighed deeply. He felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders as he watched the life-giving sun set over his kingdom.
Zuko still couldn't believe that he was the new Fire Lord. Everything had happened so fast. His former beliefs and hard-headed stubbornness had all but vanished over the past few months. Traveling with the Avatar and his friends had renewed him, but Zuko was still exhausted.
He could still picture Azula throwing brilliant blue waves of lightning and orange wheels of fire at him. Her maniacal laughter still echoed faintly through the humid air. Zuko narrowed his eyes as he thought of his sister, but his former fear of her was gone.
He was at peace with himself.
Zuko even pitied Azula in a certain way. He initially rejected these sympathetic feelings, but then he thought of Iroh's forgiveness and Ursa's unconditional love.
Zuko was still a work in progress. He had been surrounded by these positive forces for so long, but his desire for revenge and victory had darkened his mind.
The newly-crowned Fire Lord was deep in thought when he heard a faint noise behind him. He whirled around to see Katara standing in front of him. She wore a sheepish grin as she lifted a hand and tentatively brushed away a few loose hairs from her face.
"Hi, Zuko," Katara said. She bowed her head briefly to acknowledge his new regality.
"You don't have to bow," Zuko said with a grin. Katara's expression softened as she laughed quietly.
"Zuko, I wanted to thank you for what you did before," Katara said, speaking slowly as if she was unsure of what to say.
"You already thanked me, Katara. You didn't have to say anything else," Zuko said, crossing the room so he could look at her directly.
"Zuko, I… I wanted to say that I feel so wrong about the way I acted in the past," Katara admitted reluctantly. She remembered snubbing and mocking Zuko, and the images seared her conscience.
"Katara, I completely understand. I'm not completely free of being vengeful myself," he said plainly, grinning at the similarity of their words.
"I just wanted to tell you that before we returned home," Katara said quickly, brushing her hair behind her ears. She looked at the floor as if contemplating what to say next.
"Katara, maybe I should apologize too. I was your enemy for almost a year, after all," Zuko said, attempting to forget about chasing Aang and taking Katara captive.
"Zuko, listen. I know that we've had our differences in the past, but I just wanted some closure. I just feel like we've become such good teammates and even… friends… in the past few days. I felt horrible about the way I acted when you first tried to gain my forgiveness," Katara said. The words flowed from her mouth like a raging river that she would usually be capable of controlling.
"Katara, I already think that your actions have proven that you changed also. You did heal me after Azula attacked me," Zuko said. He placed a hand on Katara's shoulder.
"We've both changed. I think that we should keep in touch, Katara," Zuko suggested.
"I think we should too. I know that you're the Fire Lord and everything, so I'm not sure if you'll have time for a Water Tribe peasant," Katara said teasingly.
"Come on, Katara! You saved my life," Zuko said emphatically. He pulled the gold Fire Nation comb from his hair and examined its brilliant surface.
"This was once all I ever wanted," he said softly.
"I gained more than just the Fire Nation," Zuko continued. Katara looked into Zuko's golden eyes and listened to him expectantly.
"I'm a new person, but I'm the man I've always wanted to be. You had a hand in changing me, Katara. When you and Iroh forgave me, I learned that I was capable of change. Aang's acceptance also helped me," Zuko said.
"I know you'll make a wonderful Fire Lord, Zuko. I'll miss you when I go back home," Katara admitted. She was surprised that she was saying this to a former enemy.
She and Zuko stood in silence for a few moments. The intensity of their newfound friendship had completely eradicated the former hatred, bitterness, and tension that had existed between them. She truly appreciated Zuko's selfless sacrifice for her and the true loyalty that he had shown to her, Sokka, and Aang.
Katara was at a loss for words. She and Zuko were entirely different now. He was going to lead a nation and she was going to lead her own life. Katara still had her old enthusiasm for life and a desire to grow and change, but she lacked Aang's youthful optimism.
That was what she truly loved in Aang. She loved his indomitable energy and soaring happiness. She also loved his kindness and compassion for all living beings. Katara admired Zuko's changed outlook on life and his recent teamwork, but she knew that their time together was drawing to a close.
"Katara, thank you so much for finally forgiving me," Zuko said suddenly.
Katara's blue eyes widened at Zuko's candidness.
"Zuko, I…," she began.
"I knew that you would stay angry at me the longest, Katara. Your friendship and loyalty meant so much to me because I had to fight for it," Zuko continued. He stared deeply into Katara's eyes as if he was peering into her soul.
"Don't ever change, Katara. I know that the man you love will be very lucky. I think a certain Airbender already knows how you feel," he said, grinning slyly.
Katara felt her cheeks flush as she thought of Aang.
"I love him, Zuko. Thank you so much for helping him defeat your own father," Katara said gently.
"Don't mention it," Zuko said casually. His thoughts drifted to a certain woman who had always loved and supported him throughout his turbulent life.
Zuko felt a surge of warmth and familiarity tug at his heart. He longed to see Mai again and feel her slender arms around his neck. She had changed also. She was far more expressive and open than she had been in the past.
Zuko was instantly brought back to the present when he heard Katara clearing her throat.
"Zuko, I have to leave soon. I hope that we can all get together soon," she said quietly. Katara straightened out her sky-blue dress and stepped closer to Zuko.
"Zuko, thank you for changing," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. She threw her arms around his neck in a tight embrace, and he returned the hug.
"Katara, I won't forget you. Believe me, I won't be too busy as the Fire Lord to visit my old friends," he said with a grin.
Katara bowed her head briefly as she pulled away from Zuko. He bowed in return, laughing at the stiff formality of the gesture.
"Good-bye," Katara said quietly as she disappeared between the red drapes of Zuko's throne room.
Zuko lifted a hand to wave good-bye, but he paused in midair. He didn't want to give any finality to this meeting. He knew that he would see Katara, Aang, and even Toph again.
Mai wandered into throne room from a side door. She looked into the Fire Lord's eyes and saw that he was deep in thought.
"I'm not even gonna ask," Mai said with a smirk as she placed her hand on Zuko's and leaned against the shoulder of her Fire Lord.