Cross Posted to the Katara_zuko community on livejorunal and 30_kisses challenge. Check it out!
Disclaimer: My fandom is by no means owned by me and is owned by Nickelodeon, along with Mike & Brian, nor am I, in any way, affiliating myself with Nickelodeon and/or making any form of profit from this. Characters, places, titles, and the 100-year-war are property of Nickelodeon. Plot, scenario, and everything that is not property of Nick is mine. Please do not steal it.
I do not own Sozin's Comet. All dialogue/action/kung-fu up to my own fan creation point belongs to Mike & Brian.
"By decree of Phoenix King Ozai, I now crown you Fire Lord—" The Fire Sage stopped abruptly and unexpectedly, making the still Fire Princess grow more impatient by the passing minute. Her half-insane mind was now evident through her dreadful appearance since her father had last been in the Fire Palace.
"What are you waiting for?" she hissed. "Do it!" A loud groan immediately redirected her attention from the incompetent Fire Sage to the sound coming from above. Just then, a giant animal with white fur and an arrow on its head flew down in-front of her. The Avatar's Sky-Bison landed. At first, the Fire Princess prepared to meet the meddlesome kid, but it was then she noticed the creature was not carrying the Avatar. It was different kind of wasted space: Her worthless brother and his water peasant.
"Sorry," he said. "But you're not going to become Fire Lord, today." He jumped off of the creature, landing swiftly and well-balanced. "I am."
The Fire Princess let out a mocking, childish laugh. "You're hilarious."
The water tribe girl stepped beside him with confidence, "And you're going down."
The Princess was about to send her Sages upon them, but decided against it. She was going to punish him for delaying her even a minute with her new ruling power and title that would bring even the most stubborn Fire Nation men to their knees.
"Wait," she commanded the High Sage, "If you want to be Fire Lord," she spoke cruelly, now directed towards her brother, "fine. Let's settle this—just you and me, brother—the showdown that was always meant to be: Agni Kai."
For a half-second, her brother flinched. The Princess was so absorbed in her own brilliant idea that she failed to notice. "Fine," he confirmed. The water tribe girl turned to look at him, worry and confusion displayed on her face.
Weren't they supposed to be in this together?
"What are you doing?" she hissed to him. "She's playing you. She knows she can't take us both so she's trying to separate us," she tried to reason.
"I know," he whispered back. "But I can take her this time."
"But even you admitted to your uncle that you would need help facing Azula," she argued back sharply.
"There's something off about her," he whispered, looking into his sister's unusual appearance. Her normally tight fitting ponytail was loose and untidy. Her bangs that usually hung in two straight lines, dividing her face, were cut unevenly and gave him the impression that she had tried to cut them herself. "I can't explain it, but she's slipping." He knew he had won the argument. "And this way, no one else has to get hurt."
She nodded, understanding his unnerving decision. She would be ready, though. If any kind of slip up had him in any kind of fatal position, she would be ready in a split second.
The ring was silent, each sibling contemplating his or her thoughts, each one preparing himself or herself to face the other. The dead silence was almost sarcastically mocking to them. It reminded them of their childhood, each separated by the favored parent. Each one put on a different status than the other.
For Azula, it was all about showing her brother who was finally the greater of the two. In spite of her age disadvantage of being three years younger, she was obviously the more powerful one. Who had successfully taken over the Earth Kingdom with a silent coup? She had. Who had almost killed the Avatar—had it not been for the meddling water peasant that stood only a few yards away from her—with the lightning she could successfully bend? She had. Who had been on the favored side of their father, Fire Lord, and now Phoenix King? She had. She was clearly favored to win. In her mind, she could not lose.
For Zuko, it was all about finally showing her sister that he could stand for something he believed in, something that he knew was right, instead of being tricked. He might die in the process, yes. But it was not about living or dying. That was a job for Aang. Aang! He had not thought of him in a while. Zuko suddenly wondered where the boy was. Was he with his father? Was he fighting? Was he dead? He had to keep his mind focused on the task at hand. It was important for him to defeat his sister or die trying. If he failed, Katara would complete the task.
The water tribe girl had been such a pest from the beginning, but he felt that somehow, after finding the Southern Raiders, he had somehow formed a bond between them. It had formed an unbreakable bond, at least for him, which ended only one way: Separation by death. He had fallen in love with her, and he was prepared to tell her, should the rebellion succeed and Aang be triumphant.
For now he stood up, looking at the other side of the ring to see his sister doing the same.
"I'm sorry it has to end this way, brother," she spat, taking off her robe and looking at him with a sardonic glare.
"No, you're not," he spoke.
She took one last look at him, smiling evilly, and then put her hands above her head, coming from the end of her fingertips a blue fire that was so carefully controlled, so elegantly bended, that Zuko was almost sorry that it was for the wrong cause. He put himself into a basic stance, his feet at an angle and his hands bending a fire, pure, he thought, that was for the right cause.
The fire clashed in the middle of the ring, splitting and each staying on its own side. The fire itself formed the shape of the Fire Lord's crown, the bending so powerful, yet so weak, so beautiful, yet so despicable. It represented more than just an Agni Kai. It was the war between the Nations, the war of 100 years. It was the war between a family, torn apart and broken. It was the war between right and wrong. It was the war between years relinquished to search for an honor that never existed and recent months spent trying to create an honor all of his own. It culminated and soon dispersed, leaving behind not a trace of a burn.
Azula flew through the air, quickly and landing on her feet in an impressionable stance, only to recover by bending flames of blue fire through the air, directed straight for Zuko. She continued to bend, only this time from her feet, her hands, and it looked like she would bend fire with her eyes if she could. His passion of hatred for his sister almost consumed him, stopping only when he remembered what he was truly fighting for. Blue and gold flames shot back and forth through the Agni Kai ring, each sibling releasing their energy and abhorrence for each other. The force of the flames pushed Zuko backward, but he kept his balance, refusing to back down and fall.
The flames stopped, revealing fire set upon every structure behind, in front, and beside them. Azula looked back, enraged, seeing her palace ablaze and continued on with the fight-to-the-death battle. She used her feet, nimble and fast, to spread more blue fire up into the air and directing it right at her brother. Zuko quickly blocked it away in a wall of his own golden fire, producing something of an image of a parting Red Sea. Azula kneeled, breathing hastening. Zuko shot flaming fire, spiraling in and out of itself. It did not stop, and proceeded to the palace as Azula just jumped away in time to be spared a fiery death. She quickly came around rapidly, using the force her fire created to glide towards Zuko. She thrust fire with her fist towards her brother, and he blocked in a wall, jumping many feet high to avoid either of their fires. He came back to the ground with fire shooting out of his forefingers, meeting with Azula's blue blaze.
She continued to glide and thrust fire at him as he continued to block it until she had made two full counter-clockwise circles around him. Zuko made a last chance attempt to get down on his back and discharge fire from his feet in a circle towards his target. Azula lost her balance, falling towards the ground and rolling 20 feet away from where she had fallen. Her hair had come undone from its loose bindings, and she now stood before him, breathing deeply.
"No lightning today?" Zuko asked mockingly. "What's the matter? Afraid I'll redirect it?"
"Oh," she smirked, "I'll show you lightning!"
And with that, from her fingertips came a peculiar blue light in zigzagging shapes and creating a sound that seemed like thunder. Zuko prepared himself to redirect it, breathing in, watching her every move. As Azula was about to smite him, she glanced at the water tribe peasant. Distracting him and taking out his ally might be a cleverer tactic. Then she would be free to dispose of her worthless brother once and for all.
Zuko saw the path the lightning was about to take, and he could see Katara standing on the other side of it, eyes only having seconds to reflect the image that was about to go through her body, destroy every cell that kept her alive. Zuko didn't have to think twice; he launched himself in front of it. "No!" he cried out. The lightning entered his body with a jolt, sending his body into unbearable pain. He was not going to let his vile sister destroy her, Katara, the one girl who had seen past him for all of his misdeeds in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se. He suddenly had a vision of her hand reaching up caress his face, his scarred face. The texture of her skin had been so soft, so un-like anything he thought women could be. He thought of her warm embrace after their trip to the Southern…what were they called again? It was too much pain. All of it was swarming through him as he landed hard on the cold, dirt ground, sending his body in unconsciousness.
Katara watched as he had put himself in the path of the lightning, protecting her from Azula's intentions…he twitched once, and then he was still.
"Zuko!" she cried out.
In fear of the worst, she started towards him. Azula's fire blocked her path, and she quickly turned to watch as the Fire Princess laughed an evil, menacing laugh. It chilled Katara's veins to see her, distorted and insane though she looked, Katara had enough sense left in her to realize that she was still going to try and kill her. She had to fight back or else all Azula couldn't be stopped, and Zuko's sacrifice would have been in vain…
Zuko stirred again, trying to get up, and Katara gasped, trying once again to run to get him. She was so close, but Azula once again created a wall of fire, from which Katara protected herself with the water from her pouch. She continued to try and burn Katara, strike her with lightning, but she could not prevail because Katara ran for her life. Somewhere safe was where she had intended to go, but if she would have looked back, she would have seen Zuko, trying to bend something to protect her.
Azula shot more fire at her, and Katara dove into the ground trying to find more water to protect her. She landed on the rooftop of a structure standing right beside the ring, and looking down on Katara, she bended more lightning.
"I'd really rather our family physician look after Zuzu, if you don't mind!" she mocked.
She continued to fire lightning bolt after lightning bolt and spread more of her menacing fire towards Katara, who was seeking shelter under the roof of another structure. The fire stopped, and she looked cautiously on the other side of a pole, her eyes open and her body ready to flinch at the slightest sign of movement.
"Zuzu, you don't look so good!" her mockery continued.
She shot more lightning towards Katara, and she ran towards another pole, trying to hide, to find a way to Zuko. But she knew she had to defeat Azula to get to him. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a barrel of water, and she mustered up her courage and bended the water out of it, giving away her position. She bended it to where she had last seen Azula, but after realizing she was no longer there, she turned around to see Azula flying towards her with fire in his fists. She bended the water into ice, sliding along it until she was facing Azula on her strong side. She continued to bend fire towards Katara, but she was moving too quickly and Azula ended up hitting the ice Katara was using to move faster.
She came by in an explosion of fire all around, sending Katara running again. She ran under the roof she had first hidden, falling onto a metal grate in exhaustion. She had to keep fighting. She had to heal him. She had to finish Azula. It was then she noticed below the grate was a stream of water, and an idea immediately sprung into her head. She looked up to see chains on a locked door, and piece by piece her idea seemed more and more realistic. She grabbed the chains, and as she backed away, turning the corner was Azula.
"There you are, filthy peasant," she spat.
Katara waited patiently, her stance not showing the slightest form of attack. Then she sprung water whips from her pouch, thrusting them towards the Fire Princess. She was agile and quick, so she avoided them and slid onto the metal grate, which was exactly what Katara wanted. She pulled all of the water from the grate up and froze both of them into a block of ice, encasing Azula from head to foot. Katara breathed out, producing an air bubble so she could move. She carefully strapped the chains to Azula's hands and to the metal grate. She was moving slowly through the ice, and she knew it was only a matter of time before Zuko would be dead.
Once the chain was securely fastened to the grate, she bended the ice back into water and splashed it onto the ground around them, some of it flowing back into the grate from whence it came. Katara and Azula were both breathing heavily, getting oxygen into their lungs.
It was not long before Katara remembered Zuko and rushed over to where his still form lay on the ground. She turned him over, to inspect his wounds more carefully. She bended water to her side immediately, placing her hand over the lesion that was across his chest. She hoped to spirits that it would heal him. She needed him. Without him, it seemed that everything would be a waste. He wasn't responding to anything. Her healing powers weren't enough. They could not save him. She kept trying to heal him for several minutes, her vision blurred by her tears, but her heart telling her she had to keep trying.
After a few moments, she pulled her knees up to her chest and started to cry, sobbing into her legs. It was her fault that he was dead. If she hadn't spent so much time running from Azula, she could have saved him in time. Images flooded to her mind of being tied to a tree, Zuko dangling her mother's necklace in front of her face. In the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, when she had first learned of his terrible past, of the connection they shared. And then when he had offered to take her to the Southern Raiders. He had been so understanding, so easy to relate to. What had been the last thing she had said to him?
He began to stir, and when his eyes opened, he saw Katara lying next to him, her form shaking slightly with sobs. He instinctively tried to sit up, but the excruciating pain in his body prevented him and he let out a cry of anguish. Katara looked up to see him, and she was so overjoyed to see him alive that she forgot that he was fragile and wounded. She thrust herself onto him, hugging him in revelation and bliss. He let out another cry, and she immediately pulled back and helped him up.
"Oh," she cried, "I'm so sorry."
He sat up next to her, taking a hand and cupping her face, "Where's Azula?" She pointed in front of him, where Zuko saw his sister, strapped to the grate and screaming in defeat and anguish. Fire spat from her mouth like a poison as she eyed Zuko, sitting up, alive.
"You did it," he whispered to her. "Thank-you, Katara."
"Not without you," she whispered, her eyes still flooding with tears. "That was the most courageous thing I've ever seen."
"So I guess you forgive me now for betraying you?" he said nervously.
"Are you trying to humor me?" she asked.
"No," he smiled, "never." He looked into her eyes, lost in an ocean of blue. She stared intently into his gaze, hoping what she had been so desperately hoping to not lose could be expressed in their eye contact. She soon found herself lost in a sea of gold, like the sunset, she reminded herself. Before she knew what was happening, his lips were pressed to hers, and her eyes shot wide open in surprise. It was like a shock had been set off through her body.
Zuko felt her jump in surprise of his rash display of affection, but he neither reacted to it nor cared. The jolt he had felt when their lips had met had brought more electricity through his body than when Azula had stuck him with the lightning. He brought his hand around her neck, trying to relax her as he continued to kiss her.
He broke off the kiss, leaning their foreheads against each other.
"Katara, I…" he started. He could not find the words to say.
Katara swallowed, looking at him, "Don't ever take a bolt of lightning for me again." Her short laughter afterwards had been contagious for a near second to Zuko.
"I'd do it again, a thousand times over if it meant that I would get another kiss like that," he whispered before kissing her again.
It seemed to be days before the kiss finally ended, but to both of them it still seemed to be too short.
"We need to get back to the others," Zuko said.
Katara helped him stand up, her arm around his waist to support him while he watched his sister go insane. She had never seen anyone like this before. Azula was crying, screaming to no one, eyes watering with tears that had come on like a virus. She continued to breathe fire, which kept Zuko and Katara at a considerable distance.
"Let's go," Katara prodded.
Zuko turned to go with her. Half-way, he looked back at his sister, seeing her face into the ground; he could still hear her sobbing. He swallowed hard and continued on, following the right person who would lead him to the right place to help the right people. Looking back at the wrong person, he thought, was a waste of time.
There was still his father to worry about.