I wrote a sort of reaction fic to SR almost as soon as it aired but it was in no way coherent. I recently rewatched the episode and rewrote the reaction and this is what I came up with. I tried to address somethings that I felt would come about from the whole experience.
Disclaimer: Avatar is not, nor will it ever be, mine. Unfortunately.
Rating: PGish (I really need to stop rating thing "ish")
Spoilers: Up to Southern raiders. In fact this starts immediately after the episode ends.
Pairing: Zutara friendship
Constructive criticism is always appreciated.
He leaves the Aang on the dock and slowly follows Katara over to Appa and the others. Not so long ago, only a few months really, dreams of a menacing figure that glowed an otherworldly blue would startle him awake. He would sit up on his small cot in his battered boat and look at the surrounding bolts and metal, and remind himself that he was not being sucked into a vortex, or pulled to the bottom of the ocean, or crushed under a mountain.
Now though, he walks away from a child, a boy barely thirteen years old, and wondered if the kid had enough strength to end one man.
Yes, things were different now. Now a girl he'd considered nothing more than a peasant – a nuisance really – could stop the blood in men's vain and bend it to her will.
What an odd place he lived, where children decided the fate of the world and water bending masters cooked dinner and hemmed pants.
Katara goes straight to Sokka and gives her brother an embrace just as forceful and sudden as the one she gave him on the dock. He hears a muffled, teary "I'm sorry," and he turns to help unload Appa– it's all too much – he's witnessed too much of this family's suffering – been too involved in their personal business.
Suki is handing down a rolled sleeping mat from the saddle when Toph asks, "What is this place?"
"My family's summer house."
They all stare at him.
"No one's been here in years." It's a lie of course, but no one needs to know about that bizarre little beach party. That strange period in between betrayal and redemption is something he'd rather not dwell on – he was just now getting over the repercussions of it all.
He shoulders his bags and starts up the path.
The house is just as dusty as it was those few weeks ago. The air is stale so he drops his things to floor and starts opening windows.
He'd seen the servants do this only once. In those days, the good days, they would send a small staff a few weeks in advance prepare for the royal family's arrival. By the time they arrived it was if there had never been a time it was open and clean and beautiful. But one summer they'd come early. He couldn't remember the exact details of it all but he had vague memories of his parents shouting at each other and then being hastily ushered by a tense mother onto a boat with grumpy sister. The servants had gaped at them in shock and then scurried about the house, throwing open windows and wiping down floors at incredible speeds. His mother had tried to calm them down and order them to resume at their normal place, but they all knew that though the Fire Princess's words were always sincere, the Fire Prince's wrath was always fiery.
He remembered being a bit in awe of how different a place so familiar to him could look.
"This place is huge," Sokka says from the doorway.
"This place is made of wood," Toph says, disdainfully.
"This place is dusty," Suki sneezes.
"I'm going to open some more windows," he replies and quickly leaves the room. Maybe it's the lack of sleep or weight the question he gave the avatar or the churn of emotions this place brings out in him, but he needs to escape his new friends – if only for a few moments.
Her eyes follow him and linger on the doorway he exits and for moment she wants to go after him – to walk steadily behind him as he has done for her for the last few days. But Sokka's stomach growls and she remembers that they have been without her for a few days and therefore without a steady a meal. Suki could cook, but not well – apparently the Kyoshis' alternated duties, and her cooking day was somewhat dreaded by the other warriors.
Sokka was somewhat worried about their future together. Katara had suggested he learn how to cook for himself.
"I'm going to look for the kitchen," and just like that she leaves their curious, concerned gazes behind – content to explore the vacation home of the enemy.
She wanders from room to room, mostly finding furniture covered in sheets. Eventually she finds the kitchen. Amazingly almost everything is in working order and they've brought enough food with them for a stew that should last a few days.
Soon Sokka is drawn to the smell of it and the others slowly trickle in and the kitchen is filled with their normal chatter and laughter. She stands apart from them, stirring the thick substance and ladling it into bowls. She wonders how they can just talk as if nothing has happened. She feels so different inside, but the world is the same. Her mother is still gone and she still hates the man who did it but now… now the world seems new somehow.
She passes out the bowls but comes up with one extra. She looks around the room. Toph is teasing Sokka and Suki is giggling and Sokka is talking with his mouth full and Aang is sitting quietly with them and Zuko… is not there.
They all look up and around the room.
"He must still be opening windows," Sokka supplies.
"There aren't that many windows," Suki rolls her eyes.
"Suki, This place is huge!"
And then they're arguing and laughing again and she says "I'm going to find him before his dinner gets cold," to no one in particular. In the hallway their voices fade as she looks from room to room again.
She finally finds him upstairs in a bedroom with a view of the water.
He is staring out at something, the stars or the sea – she can't be sure. In the darkness his scar is darker than the rest of his face.
"Zuko," she says and he turns. Only the stars illuminate her and he thinks of how she looked when he'd tried to convince her to sleep last night – powerful and crazed and tired. Now she is still tired, but calm somehow.
She holds out a bowl.
They stand together awkwardly for a moment before he goes and sits down on the bed. Some dust rises as he sits. He coughs and she smiles to herself and sits down next to him.
They eat in silence and he does his best not to sneak glances at her. She looks different when she's not threatening to end him. It's nice.
He can't help but think back to the road and the thunder and her rage. Such power, such anger, and in the end she was so strong.
After, the rain had continued to fall as he followed her back to the bison. This time they did not sneak or hide. She drifted through the town in plain sight, like a ghost in the rain, and he walked a few paces behind her. Whether any of the villagers took notice he couldn't say.
When they'd reached the bison, she climbed into the saddle without a word. He stood on the ground looking up at her. She sat in such a way that she was mostly hidden from sight by the wooden siding of the saddle.
He didn't know how long he just stood there before she said, flatly, quietly, "let's go."
Neither spoke for some time as he steered Appa in the general direction they needed to go. The rain stopped as soon as they left the island, though the clouds remained gray and ominous.
After a while he heard a quiet "are we almost there?" from the saddle and he decided to go straight to Ember Island. When they landed she moved towards the ocean as though drawn by the waters she commanded.
She walked to end of the dock and he followed as he had in the town – a few paces behind. At the end she just stood and stared out.
The thunder rumbled and he wanted to tell her how much he admired her, how he wished he was as strong as her, how she had made the right choice in the end. But he couldn't find the right words and her silence unnerved him.
"Who's room was this?" She asks now, breaking through his thoughts.
She nods and scrapes the last bits of stew from the bottom her bowl.
"Zuko…" she hesitates, then turns to look at him.
"What happened to your mother?"
His eyes widen and he looks away from her, to the bowl. His brow furrows and she backtracks.
"I'm sorry, you don't have to-"
"No, I do. I just…" he sighs and looks out the window again. Looks at the beach where Lu Ten used carry him around on his shoulders.
He takes a breath and begins the tale. He tells her about his cousin's sudden death, his uncle's grief, his father's ambition, his grandfather's madness, his sister's delight, and his mother's sacrifice. He tells her of being shaken awake in the middle of the night, of her parting words. He talks about the next morning, how he had ran around the palace searching – sure it had all been a terrible dream. He talks about the unanswered questions, the silence, the day he stopped asking. He talks about his mother's birthday, the third since she'd been gone, when he'd given up hope – when he finally believed her gone forever. And then after a lengthy pause he talks about the day of back sun and his father's taunting truth.
When he finishes the silence in the room is heavy and he is sure that their newfound bond is broken.
"So… She might still be alive?"
In the caves they had understood each other, understood the pain. But now the situation is different. Now he has hope where she has none.
She is quiet and he is tense. He dreads the return of her hatred but he refuses to be ashamed of his hope.
"We'll find her," she says with calm determination.
"When all this is over, when we've won and things are better, we'll look for her. We'll find her."
He looks at her with wonder. A feeling spreads through him, something foreign and good – something he's never known but always wanted.
His voice is so soft that she wants to touch him, hold him even.
He manages an odd half smile and whispers, "Ok," and she smiles back and they sit together in the dark.
There's a crash from downstairs. They stand up and look towards the direction of the noise.
"Sokka's broken something already," she sighs.
"I don't know, Toph has a fondness for destruction."
"We should probably stop them before they burn the house down."
"Maybe we should let them. Demolishing the Fire Lord's personal property has got to be some sort of victory for the war effort."
She laughs and the sound flows through him.
"Yeah well they can burn it when we leave, I'd like to sleep tonight."
They walk out of the dark room together towards the sounds of destruction – ready for the challenge ahead, confident in each other's abilities, glad to have a trusted friend with them to face the danger.
Let me know what you think.