A/N: This is just a little project that popped into my head (yay for plot bunnies!). It's a series of related oneshots. The title comes from the fact that I was going to originally post all of these on their own. I changed my mind, though, and now they're all in one collection. This is the first of fifteen, so there's fourteen more to go after this. I hope you enjoy reading them!
Song Number Four: Leave out All the Rest by Linkin Park
Quote: When my times comes/Forget the wrong that I've done/Help me leave behind some/Reasons to be missed
Summary: Zuko thought this was it. Katara thought differently.
Scorching, smothering, body-wracking pain.
Zuko didn't even realize that his body was convulsing as Azula's lightning shot through his veins, burning through his chest and making it nearly impossible to breathe. In the increasing distance, he heard Azula and Katara exchanging bitter words and then a loud shriek.
He was vaguely aware of thrusting his hand out into the air, trying to reach out to the waterbender whose life he'd just saved. Pain ricocheted through his torso as he reached and he let out a cry of pain as bright lights splattered his vision, followed in quick succession by a series of exploding black spots. The firebender's heart squeezed painfully in his chest.
"There you are, peasant," he heard his sister spit out, her voice echoing in his ears as though he were listening to her from the bottom of a well.
He had to get there! He had to help Katara! She shouldn't have to face Azula alone! This was his responsibility. It was his fight. Azula was ruthless, Azula was cruel. Zuko's fading thoughts flooded with worries for the waterbender. He couldn't just leave her to die at the hands of his own flesh and blood.
"K-K'tar…K-K-K'tara," he choked on her name, roasted chest heaving. The hand he had extended in what he assumed to be her direction rocked with another spasm as he convulsed again.
Every nerve in his body was on fire, electrocuted.
Minutes passed in seconds, or maybe it was seconds passing in minutes. Zuko didn't know anymore. Time had simply ceased to hold any meaning to him.
There was a roar. A blast of heat.
Katara's agitated scream hardly reached his ears.
He shut his eyes, waiting for the inevitable.
Katara whimpered as she collapsed to her knees by Zuko's twitching body. His face was contorted with pain she couldn't even begin to fathom. With tentative, scared hands, she lifted him off of his stomach and rolled him onto his back. Her arms screamed with the effort. The firebender was mostly muscle and Katara hadn't expected him to be quite so heavy.
"Zuko. Zuko…Zuko…" His name was a mantra that carried on a whisper from her mouth. "Zuko…"
Tears began streaming from her eyes in salty torrents as they landed on the gaping, star-shaped wound on his ribcage that was oozing blood. Steam was rolling off of it; his blood was soaking his singed shirt and seeping into the dirt he had been laying face down on.
"Oh, spirits! Zuko! Oh, for the love of Tui and La!"
For one more brief second, she stared at the gaping hole in the firebender's chest before turning to the side and promptly bringing up everything she had eaten so far that day. The whole thing was just too gruesome.
Chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath, Katara shakily managed to uncork her water skin after several tries. The cork rolled away from her and across the arena. She paid it no mind and gloved her hands in the cooling substance.
Behind her, Azula was releasing her anger in spray after spray of fire from her mouth.
"Spirits, don't let me be too late!" She pressed her hands to the wound in Zuko's chest, hardly reassured by the fact that his heart was still beating faintly. Sobs shuddered through her body and tears blurred her blue eyes, but she kept her concentration on the hole, sending her prayers to the water spirits that Zuko was going to be okay. "Please, Zuko! Please! Don't do this to me! Please be okay! Please!!"
The hole in Zuko's chest was closing up; he wasn't bleeding quite so fiercely. But for one horrifying second, his heart stopped.
And Katara lost it.
Muted, but still there.
His chest was still throbbing sharply, but the convulsions were gone.
There were still brief flashes of heat and desperate growls from somewhere near his feet, but what concerned him most was the broken-hearted sobbing that was coming from above him. It sounded like a girl and she smelled familiar.
The sobs worsened. Zuko didn't dare open his eyes just yet. Instead, he reached out a shaking hand that collided with a mass of soft hair.
The breath of the girl hitched and there was a watery chuckle. "I-it w-wouldn't be…be the f-first time th-that some-someone t-took me for their…mother."
Zuko cracked open his eyes. Katara was staring at him with such horror in her big, blue eyes that, for one moment, he almost thought he was dead. There was a twisted sort of smile on her tearstained face that left her with a sort of bizarre beauty that didn't suit her at all.
"…Katara," he breathed and watched as she pressed a fist to her mouth and bent over him, long brown hair whispering over his tender skin. "C'mon, Katara…don't-don't cry!"
This only made the waterbender cry harder.
"Katara, you can't-don't… I'm not… It's okay?" Zuko offered up.
Katara wailed, burying her face in his shoulder. He could feel hot, salty tears rolling down his neck. Awkwardly patting her shoulder, Zuko did his best to comfort the girl that had become one of his very best friends. He had never been good with emotional girls, especially ones that cried. Worse, he'd never seen Katara display much more than anger. She hadn't ever really cried around him before. It was weird. It made him more uncomfortable than the pain that was shooting through his chest.
Gently taking hold of her arm, Zuko pushed Katara her away ever so slightly and offered her a small smile. He reached up with his free hand and wiped the tears off of her cheeks as she sniffled.
"Thank you, Katara."
She returned his smile mournfully and helped him sit up. "I think I'm the one who should be thanking you. You…saved my life."
Zuko snorted and then winced as it strained his wound. He attempted to push himself up off the ground, but Katara beat him to it. As she stood up, she held out her hands and he reluctantly took them, hating the fact that he had to rely on her aid. Especially when she seemed a bit strained as she hauled him to his feet.
He lifted a hand and pushed her hair behind her ear, his hand lingering on her cheek. "You don't have to thank me for anything."
"I have everything to thank you for lately," Katara replied with a wide smile. "First, you help Aang learn firebending, and then you help Sokka find our dad and Suki, and then that…that thing with the monster who killed my mother." She stared at her feet for a few moments, digging her toe into the dirt. "And now…this." Katara shrugged. "You just never seem to give up on trying to win someone over, even after you already have. I can't just…let someone like you go. I'd…miss you too much."
An anguished, manic scream emitted from Azula's mouth, followed by a stream of fire and several dry, heaving sobs, interrupting what Zuko was about to say. The pair of benders diverted their attention to the disturbed Fire Princess and watched on as she sank further into madness, knowing that there was nothing they could do to save her.
Later, as Katara swept out of the infirmary after bandaging his wound more thoroughly (There's gonna be a scar, she'd told him, eyes not meeting his. But this time it was okay, because that scar was for her and her alone and not for his father's pride), Zuko thought to himself, You don't have to thank me for anything, Katara. When you care about someone like this…stuff like saving your life…that just doesn't need a thank you.