Title: Condition of Love
Summary:
Zuko comes to a pain realization - Katara will never be his.
Coupling: Katara/Aang; Zuko/Katara
Disclaimer:
If I owned it, some of the canon couples would be different. The quotes belong to their respective authors.
Setting Note:
Takes place between the final battle with Azula and the scenes that follow.
Thoughts regarding pairing at the end of the story.


A mighty pain to love it is,
And 'tis a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain.

- Abraham Cowley

"Do you think Aang is doing alright?"

"He is…He has to be."

If someone had told him a year ago that he would be sitting outside the Fire Nation Palace wondering the outcome of the battle between his father and the Avatar, Zuko probably would have believed them. But what he would have never expected was to be sitting with his sister passed out in chains, praying to Agni that Aang would win and the Fire Nation would lose the war. That he was pretty sure he would have lit someone on fire for suggesting.

And never would he have expected to be leaning against Appa and sitting next to Katara, of all people. It wasn't that the idea of sitting beside the waterbender was so outrageous (because Agni knew Zuko didn't mind now), but because even his is search for the Avatar, he had barely noticed her. To him she had just been that annoying Water Tribe girl who got in his way of capturing the Avatar. He had acknowledged her as a bender at their battle at the North Pole, but he hadn't really noticed her existence – that she was Katara, not just the Water Tribe peasant with the Avatar – until they were imprisoned together at Ba Sing Se.

But he had no idea when he had actually noticed that she was a girl.

He wanted to say that it was when they saw that awful play on Ember Island, the one where the writer had gotten the idea that he and Katara must have been secretly together, but he knew that was a lie.

Before Ba Sing Se, Zuko couldn't be bothered with trivial things like girls, because he had to capture the Avatar; before Ba Sing Se, Katara had never existed. And after he had focused too much of his attention on getting the acceptance of their group – of her group (because even though they came because of the Avatar, Katara was the one who really kept them together) – to really notice her. He had been so caught up in earning her forgiveness that he had never noticed how much of his attention really went to her. Because, to be honest, the only approval that should have really mattered was Aang's, but it wasn't. He needed to know that Katara had as much respect for him as he did for her. He needed her acceptance – like air, like blood.

It wasn't until after she had finally forgiven him did Zuko notice the way her eyes lit up when she smiled, how her laughter suddenly made his heart skip a beat, or how when she smiled at him, he suddenly knew that everything would be alright. He had never noticed how much he loved her.

His eyes snapped open and he jumped up, only to immediately wince at the pain that shot through his chest.

Love?

"Zuko? Are you okay?" Katara's voice rang with concern as she scooted closer to him, her hand already incased with water.

"I'm fine." He grunted, trying to wave her away with one hand as he covered the bandages around his injury with the other. "I just moved too fast, that's all."

She bit her lip. "Are you sure? I should probably check the wound, just in case."

"I'm sure Katara, don't worry about it."

She stared at him for a moment, before sighing and mumbling something about stubbornness of guys, and he smiled.

He loved her. It wasn't so startling when he really thought about it.

Everything about her drew him in – her strength, her kindness, her loyalty – and Zuko was fairly sure that if it wasn't for her dark skin and her eyes (not that he would ever wish them different), Katara would have been the ideal noblewoman – the perfect Fire Lady.

Leaning back against Appa, Zuko shook the thoughts out of his head. His friend, the Avatar, was out fighting his father, the Fire Lord, in order to protect the world. Now was most certainly not the right time to be thinking about these things.

He wasn't sure how long they sat in silence, staring at the red sky and waiting for any sign of what was going on in the real battle. For a moment he had considered them flying off on Appa to help, but quickly decided against it. Leaving Azula alone, chained up or not, was not a good idea. Besides, it was Aang's battle – they would just get in his way. So they just sat and waited.

"I love you."

Zuko's eyes shot open and his heart skipped a beat. "W-what?"

Katara had her arms wrapped around her knees and she buried her face in her legs. "Spirits, I love you so much." Her voice was so soft he almost thought it wasn't real.

"Katara…I…" Was she being serious?

She turned to face him, her eyes filled with tears, and he forgot how to breathe. "It's just three words, Zuko. Why didn't I just tell him?"

Him.

Zuko's heart dropped. "You mean Aang?"

"Yeah…" She mumbled curling her legs even closer to her and resting her head on top of her knees. "He's already kissed me twice, did you know that?"

Agni, he really wished she hadn't told him that. "No…"

"The first time was before the invasion - he just kissed me and flew off. It really surprised me and I had no idea how to even react." A soft smile brushed against her lips and Zuko hated that he wasn't the reason for it. "The second time was after that stupid play. Do you remember him disappearing in the second act? He was upset about that scene with our characters. Us." Katara let out a dry laugh. "He actually thought there was really something going with us. Can you believe that? Like there was ever anything between us."

Ouch.

"Yeah…funny." He tried to force a smile, but couldn't.

"He kissed me then, too. But… but I told him that I was confused."

"Were you?" Zuko asked, even though he was fairly sure he didn't want to know the answer.

She was silent for a moment and a shamed look spread across her face. "No." She shook her head. "I don't think I ever was… I loved him. I love him."

He really wished she would stop saying that, because he wasn't sure how much more pain his chest could handle at this point. "Then why did you lie to him?" And Agni, why couldn't he just keep his damn mouth shut?

"I...I didn't want him to worry."

"What?"

She sighed and leaned against Appa. "Aang…Aang needed to focus on the war, on his battle with Ozai. Knowing how I felt might have distracted him, pulled his focus away from the battle. He would have..."

"Been like how you are now?"

Katara smiled at him and Zuko's heart skipped a beat. "Am I that obvious?"

Only because I know exactly what you mean.

"A little." He replied instead.

He hadn't known why he had asked Katara to come with him at the time – it had slipped from his mouth before he even had a chance to think – but it suddenly made sense. If she hadn't come with him, Zuko knew that he would have been wondering about her condition every second. Was everything okay? Did she get hurt? Or worse? If she was away from him, he couldn't watch after her, he couldn't protect her. Her being with him ensured that he knew exactly how she was, but it had nearly cost her life as a result.

He winced at the thought.

"Zuko? Are you sure you're okay? Is your chest alright?" She crawled closer to him.

No.

"Yeah. Don't worry about it Katara." He saw in her eyes that she didn't believe him, but it wasn't the kind of pain that she could fix. It would only hurt so much more for her to try. "I promise."

She either believed him or chalked it up to his male pride (his bet was on the latter), but either way she sighed and crawled back away from him. A silence followed.

"Are you going to tell him when he gets back?" He hated himself for keeping the conversation going.

"I'm not sure…"

"Why not?" And he hated himself for wanting her to say that she really was confused now.

"I think…I think I might have pushed him too far. I hurt him already."

"Do you regret it?"

Her head snapped towards him. "What?"

"Do you regret lying to him?"

"Of course not! I did it to protect him!"

"You did it for him – how could he be upset over that? He loves you; he fought this battle, saved this world, for you. Don't you think he deserves to know the truth?" But most of all, he hated himself for what he was about to say. "Tell him, Katara. Tell him you love him."

Her blue eyes, glazed over with fresh tears that threatened to spill, stared at him. And the next thing he knew, Katara had her arms wrapped around him. "Thank you." Her lips brushed against his scarred cheek. "Thank you, Zuko."

He didn't say anything in return, but, despite the protest of his chest, wrapped his arms around her waist and took solace in having her with him. He closed his eyes and didn't dare to open them and look towards the sky, because he knew the moment the red of the comet faded and the Avatar returned, she forever would be lost to him.

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. - Robert Heinlein


Note: I'm a Zuko/Katara fan, but I do try to read some Katara/Aang fics to try to understand why people ship it. And I've found this concept a couple of times, but every time Zuko's side seems very shallow. So I decided to this idea a try. Since this was written as an insert and with canon couples and for Kataang fans, I chose to put this in the Katara/Aang section. Please do not make me regret this. For all of you who are upset because I did not mention Mai, I'm sorry, but I just couldn't fit her in without changing the whole point. This story is not about Mai and Zuko. It is about Zuko's point of view on Katara and Aang's being together. It is about sacrifice and love.

This has to be, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever written. I never in a million years thought that I would write a Katara/Aang fic. There were several instances where I could have very easily twisted it to become a happy Zuko/Katara, but I decided against it, because this was a story more worth telling. And even despite the couples, I do not usually write realizations or explanations of love. I have never really been in love, so I usually write stories where the couple is already together or, at the very least, aware of their feelings. That being said, teen Zuko and Katara are so incredibly hard to portray. I hope I captured them alright.

Please let me know if the characters sound weird, but please do not tell me Zuko is OOC because of the lack of Mai. I'm going under the influence of him only mentioningMai once when he was with them and even that was in the passing. After The Boiling Rock, there was no mention, no second thought of her. Please let me know if there is anything else about the characters that sounds odd.

This fic has not been beta-ed.

Special thanks to Muffintine for reading, reassuring me, and helpings me pick the quotes/title. You rock.