Disclaimer: I don't own the Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of its characters.

The Shadow of the Past

Chapter 16 – A Nightmare's End

Story by Last Butterfly

Summary: Modern AU, no bending. The first chapter is the background of the two characters, and it is the base of the story. How did Zuko gain his scar? What happened to Katara's and Sokka's mother? Read it to find out! - Zutara, Zuko x Katara

Azula was staring down at Zuko in his hospital room, while he was hugging a stuffed toy. "Please don't hurt me…"

The way his round good eye was fixated on her, she eventually let out a laugh. And this time it somehow came out softer than her usual chuckles she welcomed him with. If he hadn't known he was not completely sane because of painkillers he would have said she had a small tear in one of her eyes. But maybe... ah no. He must have imagined it there.

As she raised one of her hands and reached towards him he flinched out of reflex but as in the next moment it fell on top of his head, he looked up at his sister bewildered. She rolled her eyes, murmuring something about 'puppy eyes' before ruffling his hair – in his opinion a bit rougher than necessary, but it had been Azula who did it, so it was understandable.

"Only because you are in pain." She said then blew out a bigger amount of air to move her bangs out of her eyes before straightening up.

He raised his only eyebrow but as the movement hurt his cut – and now bandaged – cheek, he let it drop before blurting out: "Are you Okay?"

"Of course I am, you idiot-!" She snapped at him before clenching her teeth to stop herself. She put her hands in her pockets with a shrug and asked while looking down at her shoes, almost uninterested. "So how are you?"

"I…"A smile crossed Zuko's face when he answered. "I feel like a pincushion." His sister's face turned red in a mere second, but this time he knew it was not him who angered her.

"Did you hear that?"

"Yeah… I can also recall that you threw Sokka out of the ambulance for making that joke." Her brother spoke. "And it made me realize… something." Her brother's smile widened to a content one. "Azula, you love me ."

She let out a huff while looking to the side, her mouth forming a small frown too. "You're stupid."

"But you still do."

Azula crossed her arms before turning on her heels. "Think what you want, Dum-dum. I have better things to do…" Her ears pinked by the time she reached the door, but his light laugh in the end made her lips curl up into a smile. Finally Zuzu, you are awake.

She crossed the hall to step into the room opposite to her brother's. The room was only lit by a lamp on the bedside-table, two forms curled up in the room's two bed while in the far corner a pot-bellied man was sitting on a chair, his chin bowed down to his chest. When she closed the door the old man let out a half snort, his head rose and he blinked rapidly. "Jasmine please…!" When he saw Azula standing in the doorway he rubbed one of his eyes. "Oh, it's you. I'll switch you now, let your mother rest some more…" Iroh spoke lowly, and he was already getting up when she shook her head.

"Uncle, he's conscious."

The old man froze in mid-step, meeting her eyes with wide ones. Only when she made a small nod did he dare to move again, hurrying out through the door. "T-tell them, please!" He was out of the room in more than a second, his louder voice echoing in the hallway when he rushed to his nephew's room.

Azula walked up to the bed closer to her first. She could not see the face of the girl lying there through her thick wavy locks, but as she was hugging the pillow she guessed it would have been a miracle anyway. She lightly shook the girl's shoulder but she only murmured something, trying to curl herself up more.

"Katara," It was strange how life could change people. She and the Water Tribe girl had barely ever talked to each other before Ozai's appearance. But in the last couple of days it did not seem to matter at all. She, Katara, Ty Lee and even Toph seemed to be talking and hugging in the last three days as if they had been best friends for years. Well, mainly Ty Lee did the hugging. But Katara needed it and for once even Azula thought it was luck that she had a friend like her.

Mai did not even show up. Ty Lee said she saw her driving her Porsche with a lot of bags. She did not even wave back at her while passing by. Azula did not confess that she had a pretty bad argument with her about friendship, brothers, lies and dark little secrets which her parents would have not been happy to hear about…

After shaking the girl again, she opened her blue eyes then gasped, sitting up at once. "What happened, Azula? Is he…?"

The pale skinned girl opened her mouth then closed it, she nodded with tired eyes. "He's up."

The blue eyes girl was kicking off her blanket, and with a couple of rapid "oh-my-God"-s she halfway hugged her, halfway fell off the bed and they would have ended up on the floor if the wall hadn't been behind the golden eyed girl. "Sorry!" Katara apologized with a smile but she ran after Iroh to her boyfriend's room in a hurry too.

For a long moment Azula remained there, leaning against the wall when she felt a burning sensation in her eyes and throat. She needed five minutes to herself before waking up her mother to let her tears fall. Oh yes, this had Also been Zuko's fault, but once she could let him be. Her stupid brother would truly be there with them to give her a vast amount of chances to tease him. Now it had been sure. Thank Agni…

Only when her mother's arms fell around her did she realize that Ursa had woken up. Though Katara had been probably loud enough to wake the dead too.

"I'm fine…" She said and wiped her eyes before meeting her mother's gaze, trying to make a convincing smile but at the moment she was too tired, and that strange feeling in her throat just did not want to fade. "Z-zuko's awake. He probably wants to see you."

Ursa made a small nod but did not move. "And he will," She said while smiling at her which made Azula sniff. She hadn't seen her mother smile like that for a long time when she looked at her. She halfway thought Ursa could only smile like that at her brother. "But not when you need me too." Her mother lifted a hand to her face, wiping away her tears then embraced her, blowing a kiss on top of her head while her daughter was too surprised to pull away. Azula had that habit if it came to her mother for a long time. But this time she did not.

The woman said nothing more and her daughter did not feel like speaking either. They had been talking a lot in the last few days. She confessed that Ozai called her but Ursa did not yell with her. She didn't even get mad. And in those days: the wall she had been building for years, trying to close her mother out had finally fallen.

Iroh's bear hug made Zuko cry out first. When Katara did the same he managed to reduce it into a groan. A loud one at that but that did not matter. Men could handle pain. Or so he wanted his girlfriend to think.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" The Water Tribe girl pulled away but remained sitting next to him. For a long moment she just kept on staring at him while trying not to let her tears fall. "You are alive." She finally whispered, her hands holding one of his gently but firmly. "I… I was so afraid that… that…"

"Shh," He slowly straightened up into a sitting position, his free hand cupping her face while looking into her eyes. "I'm fine."

When she allowed herself a smile with her tears slowly rolling down her cheeks, his gaze slowly took in her bruises, the bandages on her neck, and her messy hair. His lips curled upwards while placing one of her hair-locks behind her ear. "You look…" When he let out a chuckle a blush came to her face. "Honestly, terrible."

Katara's face reddened more as she put her hands on her hips. "Oh yeah? Look who's talking," She poked her laughing boyfriend in the chest whose laugh mixed with a couple of coughs after catching her hand. "Mr-I-can-be-bandaged-from-head-to-toe-cuz-I'm-a-guy-but-you-should-look-like-a-mannequin!"

If anything this made Zuko laugh only louder. Even Iroh smiled knowingly to himself, while hiding his hands in his sleeves. Ah, young love… He only stood there in the room a little longer then decided to go and check on Ursa and Azula. He also had a phone-call to make to Hakoda as he promised…

"Do you even know how selfish you are?" The tanned girl ranted on, while pulling against Zuko's soft hold on her wrists. She did not want to use her full strength though, so it ended up as a more playful move than an actual wrestle. "I've been worried sick! Everyone has been! And you-you…!"

"Katara," The scarred teen could finally speak as his laughter died out, but his girlfriend decided she was not finished.

"No, don't you say anything! If you make me any madder I swear I'll-"

She never had a chance to finish that threat, because Zuko let go of one of her hands to reach behind her nape and pulled her into a sudden kiss. He smiled against her lips when the frown disappeared from her features while holding their eye-contact. Then she slowly relaxed too and her anger at him faded just as fast as it came. She allowed him to deepen the kiss, and after closing her eyes she snaked one of her arms around his shoulder to pull him even closer…

That's when the scarred teen broke their kiss with a hiss escaping him. One of his hands moved to hold his shoulder while he spoke through his teeth. "Gods woman, that hurt!"

"I'm sorry!" Katara's hands moved before her mouth with a gasp. "I-I didn't want to…! Are you alright?"

"It's ok." He leaned back against his pillow while letting out a great amount of air, then let go of his shoulder putting a hand on the Water Tribe girl's knee instead. "I guess I should have waited a bit longer with that." His expressions changed back to his previous smile, but she could not know that it was because he remembered back to the images he saw before he had woken up. She raised an eyebrow at him when his thumb brushed her knee by his side, and only then did he speak again. "I've been dreaming about you, you know."

"Really?" That brought a smile to her face too, and she leaned forward towards him daringly while pushing her hair back above her shoulder. He already found her movement seductive, oh but when she lowered her voice and batted her eyelashes, he realized it was not at all accidental. "And what was I doing?"

"You were my very own, personal nurse." Zuko's smile reached his eyes as she reached towards him, her fingers were playing with his hair, pushing it away from his forehead. "You can bet you were dressed accordingly too, you little minx."

At that Katara offered him a mischievous look. "Well, I can be your nurse if you wish." Her fingers slowly trailed down his jaw while her other hand pressed against the bed by his other side. "Just tell me where does it hurt, Zuzu. "

He rolled his eyes when her smile turned into a small smirk, her fingers trailing to his lips. "Please don't call me that." He murmured against her fingertips, but she merely giggled as he started frowning. "No, really. It's so childish… don't ruin the moment."

"All right," The blue eyed girl looked in his amber eyes, her hand moving away from his lips, brushing into his raven hair. "If that's what you really want."

"You just agree with that now?" Zuko's eyebrow rose again, for a moment he squinted as the bandage on his face pulled on his skin, but then asked lowly. "You've been calling me like that for I don't know how long... and what's with the smile?"

Katara slightly shook her head while leaning closer to him once again, but making sure to keep her weight by his sides and not on him. "I'm just happy, Zuko. You know," She said with the softest of smiles. "I would have never thought..."

"Thought what?" He asked lowly, his gaze not leaving hers.

She slightly pushed her forehead against his, only closing her eyes for a second as she felt his hands brush her hips and waist. "That we could ever... be like this again. That we would both live through this." She whispered, her sparkling eyes opened and he had never seen them more beautiful than in that very moment, while her smile almost radiated warmth to someone who had been out in the cold for days. "That the one who almost died while saving us would truly wake up." The scarred teen's eyes slightly grew while listening to that, and his hands came to a shaky halt upon her warm skin. "You are a hero, Zuko."

"I…" At that the teen closed his eyes, feeling how his face and ears both turned red in less than a second. "Katara, I see it quite differently-" Before he could have shook his head he felt lips press against his own, and her curly hair on the side of his face. She knew he would try to protest. After all she had known him better by then than anyone else. Zuko and all his buts and what ifs...

She understood now that he had all these because of Ozai: because of the man who he resembled so much and yet, who he would never be like. But she decided she could live with these. No… she especially liked these insecurities in him. Had he been any different then they wouldn't be here. They survived. And really, that was all that mattered in the end.

Oh, he did not protest though when she was kissing him. It almost made her smile. After all the things they went through that did not change. Not one bit. Even when they started dating: they could argue all the time but once they let the distance between them disappear, their troubles would leave with that too.

She slowly pulled away with a content smirk on her lips and she made a small nod as he let a slight smile come to his face too. She could still see doubt in his eyes, but with time she wanted to make sure that it would fade.

"And," She started softly while her nose remained so close to his that they almost touched. "You are my hero."

Zuko's smile widened while gazing into her eyes, and his hands softly brushed her slim waist. "And is there a reward for saving, my lovely Water Tribe girl?"

"Oh, sure there is." Katara smiled while batting her eyelashes. But before he could have kissed her again, she pulled away with her finger against his lips. "But first we'll have to wait for those wounds to heal."

She merely giggled at his groan as she got off his bed, but soon - as half of his family came in the room too – he accepted the situation. Even though they all seemed to talk to him at the same time, his eyes always found their way back to a pair of blue ones. Then without realizing how tired he had really been, he dozed off while thinking about the future. The future where his father would only be a dark memory. Where he could live without the shadow of his past. And where he didn't have to keep his secrets from those he loved anymore. Especially not from the love of his life…

Did the scarred teen have a calendar, he would have marked that day: because unlike before, he never saw his father in his dreams ever again. It seemed that Ozai's evil had perished along with his final breath. For Zuko, that was the day of his nightmare's end.

A/N: Well then, I guess this is it. :) We have eventually come to the story's end. It kind of brings me down to finish a fic, (that's why it took me so long to update too. ^^; Sorry about that.)

I was thinking about some more Zutara fluff (a prologue? Maybe?) But really, :D in a hospital one can only do so much. XD I wrote then rewrote this chapter already at least 3 times, :S and I'm still only half satisfied. (For example, D: I've left out Toph and Sokka... but I reeeeally wanted to focus on Zutara now. :) And Azula! There's just not Enough love for Azula out there ppl, :( but she would deserve it too.)

Well, :) now there is only one thing left: to Thank You All for reading and reviewing. :) I mean it. :D You can always make my day with that! ^_^

Untill the next story, :) I wish you all a good day, :D a good week, and a good year, really. :) Don't forget the Zutaraness! ;) Bye~