The hysterical shrieks erupting from Azula drowned in the frantic pounding of Katara's head, matching the rhythm her feet made as they slapped the pavement, dodged rubble, and hurdled fissures gaping like disbelieving mouths.
There he lay, weakly twitching, and yet limp like a torn ragdoll. Like a mockery of her violent thoughts after he joined their little band of rebels—I'll push him off the cliffside. I'll blood bend his heart still. But Katara knew herself, knew she'd never be able to take a life. Even his.
His sister could.
She reached his side—he's so hurt! Look at the size of that wound!—knees protesting as the heat from the ground seeped through her leggings and dress, reddening the skin. She cast aside the remnants of his tunic and examined the lightning wound. Gingerly prodding the ruined skin on his stomach, Katara silently mourned that this, the first such intimate touch, occurred under these circumstances—like a mockery of her daydreams. C'mon, Katara, she chastised herself. He's about to DIE. Now's not the time to be ogling him!
Still shaking her head at herself, Katara began her work, mostly confident in her abilities. But if Zuko's comatose for two months, too…I'll die.
"Zuko," she called, caressing his face, shaking his head gently. "Wake up."
Nothing—but mounting panic.
The wound looked better, but there's only so much superficial healing could do. Frustrated, Katara threw her water aside; the liquid formed tear patterns across the pockmarked battleground. She dove her senses into his bloodstream.
She explored the deeper damage, relieved to discover less damage to his liver, stomach, and kidneys than she'd anticipated; she was dismayed to realize that there was critical damage nonetheless.
As she coerced the stomach tissue to repair itself, Katara groaned over the acid that had flooded her thoughts and emotions for weeks after Aang accepted Zuko at the Western Air Temple. He didn't deserve the vitriol then, nor did he deserve death now: death at the hands of his maniacal sister, death from her own (heroics, she'd thought) stupidity. He was possibly the person least deserving of the hate, jealousy, and pain of life that she'd ever met.
She pulled her awareness out of his organs, satisfied with her effort and his forthcoming return to consciousness, and allowed herself to sit back out of her crouch. She bundled up his tattered tunic and gently placed it under his head.
Her fingers clenched a little as she brushed the hair out of his eyes, touched his scar. She recalled her previous encounter with it under Ba Sing Se. Okay, maybe he did ONE bad thing. But it certainly doesn't merit this!
She wished now, more than ever, that he was awake. She wanted to hug him and kiss him and shake him and ask Why on earth did you do this to yourself?!
It was fifteen minutes later, with her hands cradling her head and silent tears leaking all over the place, when he awoke.
It was with a quiet grunt of pain, a silent cringe; he saw her and placed a trembling hand on her knee. She looked into his pained yet grateful and grinning (and beautiful and perfect) face, and burst into loud sobs of joy. She barely restrained the urge to give him a big, platypus bear-hug right there in the middle of the Agni Kai stadium, and instead placed her left hand on his right cheek, hoping to channel all her gratitude and friendship (and love) into the contact.
"Zuko," Katara choked through her euphoria.