-Day Two of Zutara Week-
Note; Inspired by a lovely piece of Zutara week fan art by the lovely MasterZutaraFan over at Deviant Art. Her picture was the only reason I joined in on Zutara Week this year, a link to the picture can be found in my profile. Enjoy
If I should die this very moment, I wouldn't fear.
For I've never known completeness like being here.
I was seventeen when it all started. Or rather when we realized what had been happening all along. It was summer and we were in the pool. Toph, Aang, and Sokka were in the middle of an intense game of Marco-polo, which Toph was winning without breaking a sweat.
I was never good at it and I was too old to be playing little kid games, for the most part at least. If Katara had been playing it would have been different. Even though she was only fifteen, she was as smart as a whip and could give my sister a run for her money in the 'beat Zuko at everything' department.
It wasn't exactly a secret that I had a crush on her either, we've been almost-sorta dating since our first play date as toddlers.
I remember her wading in the shallow end, which was weird for her, the best swimmer of all of us. She usually lurked in the deep end and tugged us underwater when we least expected it.
It was just weird to see her in the kiddy end. "You okay?" I asked paddling over.
She looked up, her pretty blue eyes glazed and not quite focusing on me. She looked so very un-Katara-like. "I'm fine, just tired. The sun drains you, ya know?" she smiled weakly and swam around a bit for show.
I raised an eyebrow, not really believing her. The sun never did that to a person. "Are you sure you-" I stopped mid-sentence.
Looking back at it now I've realized that for the rest of my life everything would be defined as before and after this moment. That nothing would ever be the same the moment after I first laid eyes of the deep yellow-blue bruises that ran across her back. The blue polka dot bathing suit did nothing to hide the cruel, deep, ugly marks that had no business being on her skin.
I only remember how she looked when she followed my eyes and saw them for the first time too.
She was petrified.
The next few days are a blur of hospital visits and doctor appointments. For the most part I'm not allowed to go along because I'm not family.
It was weird to walk to school alone. Katara had always walked with me ever since she started kindergarten and my uncle had to walk with both of us because we were too young to mange the two block walk alone.
She was two years younger then me but we were only a year apart in school because she skipped the third grade. What I think I remember most about those couple of weeks was sitting in a swarm of our friends, all of which I only made because of her, listening to the laughing and joking like everything was normal.
I almost forgot that she was even gone, but when I went to pass her half of my Twinkie, a ritual we had carried out all of our lives, I was startled to find she wasn't there next to me.
I'd never felt so alone before.
After two weeks of testing and poking and prodding, I managed to get into the hospital to see her.
I had begged Hakoda to let me visit Katara even for a few minutes, and after days of unyieldingly standing outside of their home, he agreed. They told the attending nurse, Ju-di, a woman with an all too fake smile and glassy eyes, that I was her 'cousin' coming to visit. I knew she didn't believe a word of it, it was a pretty obvious lie, but she let me in none the less.
I almost didn't recognize her, hooked up to so many machines and wires, she looked tired and frail, but she was still my best friend, whose eyes lit up when she saw the bag of Twinkies that I snuck in.
"About time you got here! I was going crazy with only Sokka to keep me company. Hey did you bring me my homework? I bet Mr. Pakku didn't lighten the load any did he? Figures, crazy old man doesn't have any sympathy left in him." It was great to hear her talk again. "Zuko, why are you looking at me like that? I haven't seen you in days this is the reception your best friend gets? No hug or anything?" She joked lightly, feigning anger.
I looked to Hakoda for permission, the older man had never liked boys hanging around his little girl even if I was her kinda-sorta-not really-almost-pretty much boyfriend since she was four, but I was more worried about hurting her. There had to be a reason she was looked in this startlingly white room cut of from the world, right?.
Her father nodded his head a fraction of an inch.
She felt so small when I held her, so delicate, I was afraid of breaking her. "I missed you." Katara's voice had lost it's playful undertone and had adopted a more timid one. She was as scared as I was, if not more.
"I missed you too." Her grip was frantic and her nails dug into my shoulder blades. I didn't move an inch to stop her. "Are you gonna be okay?"
Katara burrowed her face into my neck, her breath was hot and she smelt of overly clean hospital. It don't fit her at all.
"Don't be stupid. I'll be fine." She tried joking again, but I felt the tears bleeding through my shirt. It felt like she was trying to convince herself of the that more then me.
"I'll be fine." She whispered over and over again.
She wasn't fine.
That night I stayed in the hospital room watching the rain poor from the small window. It seemed as if the world it's self was crying, as it should. Katara, the nicest girl in the world, the girl I had spent nearly everyday with since I was 6, the girl that sold cookies to buy her brother a scooter that he wrecked within the first week of having it, the girl that beat up boys like it was nothing, the girl that made it a point to tell her history teacher, Mr. Pakku, to piss off at least once a week, was dying.
Katara was dying.
I only absorbed bits and pieces when they called all her family together to tell them the results. As her 'cousin' that included me too. As an even more ironic twist of fate it happened on her birthday too.
She turned 16 the day she was officially diagnosed.
The doctor sat us down in the pediatric waiting room, a bright and shiny room with pictures of baby animals on the walls and disinfected Lego's and race cars on the floor. It was so at odds at the news we were hearing that I wanted to laugh.
"It's called Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML."
Leukemia meant cancer.
" - Means that the abnormal white blood cells are gathering her bone marrow and are attacking her red blood cell-"
She was going to get sick. Very, very sick. She'd have no immune system. A cold could kill her.
"We'll start her on the first round of chemotherapy, which we call the induction round which will wipe out all of the bad cells, but it will also kill off her good cells-"
To treat her they were going to try to kill her. Basically bring her to the brink of death and then hope they could bring her back.
"Even with these treatments only 20%–30% of patients can expect to live a long disease free life."
Katara was strangely calm during the entire explanation, while Sokka openly cried and Hakoda held his face in his hands asking 'why' to no one in particular, Katara listen quietly, her cinnamon face eerily blank, Absorbing all the information that Dr. Yugoda gave.
But I knew better. Her pulse raced, I could feel it through our connected hands, erratic and jumpy Even though I tried to push it away and swore it off, Shamefully, I thought that her heart may not be beating much longer.
The chemo started a few days later.
"Zuko don't sulk around like I'm dying."
'But you are' I wanted to say, but I kept it to myself. "For someone getting toxic chemicals pushed though their veins , you're pretty bossy."
She grinned and stuck her tongue out. Sometimes things were so normal I almost believed that the doctors had made a mistake. Nothing could bring Katara down, she had invented optimism.
"Yeah well, I can't help it. You're just so helpless witho-" The nausea struck again, her features blanched as I rushed to pull her hair back as she emptied to contents of her stomach into the bed pan.
Her father called in a nurse, but by time they arrived the retching had stopped and she was apologizing. She was always apologizing.
"I'm really, really sorry Zuko." Katara's eyes were blood shot from the force of the heaves, and looking into them felt like a part of me was dying along with her. "I make you skip class to come here and then I proceed to puke all over you." she laughed half heartily.
I only smile at her and push one of her brown curls back into place. "Trust me, I'd rather be here, tossed cookies and all then have to face Coach Zhao, the gym teacher from hell." Her eyes dance with happiness and for a minute everything is fine.
But when I pull my hand away from her head, the lock of hair had fallen out and lay lifeless in my palm.
For a long time, we both just stared at it, mesmerized.
Later that night, when I'm staring at the ceiling fan in my room, watching as the blades move so fast they seem like one single being, there is a knock at my door.
It was Azula. Under normal circumstances I would have questioned why my bratty, ruthless, spoiled baby sister would be in my room, let alone knocking genteelly and calling me by my pet name.
But these were not normal circumstances.
I don't tear my eyes away from the fan.
"I heard about what happened from Sokka." That was news to me, Azula and Sokka never talked unless absolutely necessary. Katara and Azula had never liked each other either for that matter. Girls. They never made sense. "Is she going to get better?"
I answered truthfully, "I don't know."
From my periphery I saw her standing awkwardly in the doorway, looking around nervously. Katara having cancer made everything weird. Even saying it in my mind felt weird.
"I hope she does. Get better I mean. She's important to you right? Even you deserve to be happy sometimes Zuko." With that she walked out of the room as if we didn't just have a touchy feely sibling moment.
The world was a very strange place indeed.
Not surprisingly, Katara's optimism did not last long.
Being confined to the hospital was understandably a damper on things.
"You know what I miss most?" She asked me while strapped to the Chemo machine. By now this was completely normal for us. Most couples our age went out to parties, drank, saw movies, but not us. No, me and Katara spent our Saturday nights with nurses and the only cocktails going around were the different drugs that traveled into her IV.
"Telling Pakku to piss off?"
Or blood transfusions when her platelet levels went down. Hakoda's blood type didn't match and neither did Sokka's, but mine did.
Dr. Yugoda said that the chances of us both having O negative blood was unimaginable low. But thank Agni we did.
Giving blood and by extension platelets was almost too easy. You drink some apple juice, get a needle shoved in your arms, wait a few minutes and it was over. It was hard to believe that something so simple could really keep Katara alive.
She grinned and playfully hit my arm. "Well that too. I miss being outside. Going places, being able to just walk around town. I miss the beach."
I missed that too. "You know I heard that Pakku's been having coffee with your grandma lately. Azula says that it looks pretty serious." I laughed at the face she made, her nose scrunched up and she stuck her tongue out in mortification.
"That's disgusting. I don't need any help throwing up, thank you very much. Wait, Azula told you that? I thought she hated me?"
I wrapped my arms around her, careful of the IV, and pulled her close. It was rare that I got to be alone with Katara, usually there was Sokka, or Hakoda or even a nurse that we had to play nice around. I kiss her softly on the lips, they're chapped and pale, but their hers so I don't mind. "She does hate you."
Her fingers run through my hair, rough and calloused from graph versus donor. "Then why is she keeping tabs on my family."
She had a point there. "It's Azula." Another kiss "She knows everything-," another kiss and she's pulled herself unto my lap, not that I'm complaining. "- about everyone."
"Ew, can you please stop molesting my sister while I'm here."
I groan, because Sokka has returned from the cafeteria and that's the end of that. Katara only laughs and tells him he needs to get a girlfriend.
For some reason he blushes deeply.
I think the worse part was when she stared losing her hair, She would cry and no matter how much I told her that she was just as pretty without her hair, she was depressed for day when it started to falll out in large clumps. On good days she tried to be reasonable about it, I knew it killed her to see those curly brown strands laying on the pillow in the morning, only to sit up and see them still there.
And then one day, when the nurses were changing shifts, the entire group burst through the doors of the hospital, hair gone in an attempt to cheer Katara up, smiling brightly like idiots.
Toph tricked her parents into letting her get her long black hair trimmed only to return home with it cropped clear to her ears. They were none-to-pleased.
Sokka had gotten a stupid Mohawk with a pony tail, the hair at the sides of his head gone. And then there was Aang. Bubbly, cheerful, beanie loving Aang, who cut all of his brown spiky hair off. Completely. Bald as a cue-ball.
I don't know what made me laugh harder, seeing Katara laugh so hard that the nurses thought that she was having a seizure, or how completely and utterly goofy they all looked.
That was the first time she smiled in a long, long time.
As for me, I didn't really care if she lost all her hair, if she lost everything, she was still Katara to me. She never left my side after the fire the killed my mother, the same fire that gave me the scar over my eye. And even though as the years went by, it shrunk a bit and the angry red bruising faded, I remembered that when it was horrible and ugly and painful beyond words, she had been there to tell me it wasn't, that girls thought scars were sexy, to keep me from hating myself.
And somehow watching my blood, my platelets emptying into her, I felt as if I was only repaying the favor.
A life for a life.
She saved mine, and I would do the same for her.
A little over a year after everything started, Katara went into remission.
At the ripe old age of seventeen and 34 days she had been through more then anyone ever should have to go through. Her hair started to grow back only to fall out again when they put her through stage two chemo, to make sure the cancer didn't return.
The blue scarf, the one I had bought her for Christmas was always in her hair, so much so that it was just as familiar to me as her hair loopies had been. For the first time in a long time she was able leave the hospital returning twice a week for the chemo.
The group planned a big trip to the beach to celebrate her remission.
I'd never seen her more happy.
Seeing her swimming in the ocean was like seeing the sun for the first time, magical. She looked like she belonged there, a part of it. To be honest it did help that she was wearing a bikini.
That was a strange trip, half way through the day Azula and her posse convently showed up and didn't even start any trouble, in fact they seemed to get along enough to start the most intense volleyball game I'd ever seen.
That all made sense later when Katara walked in on a rather disturbing make out session between her brother and my sister behind the bluffs. I thought I would need to go to the hospital after seeing that one.
It didn't help much that Pakku, the teacher she hated teacher most, proposed to her gran-gran on the beach at sunset. Or that she said yes, or that he had smirkingly asked her to start calling him grandfather.
Weirdness aside, it was worth it to see Katara out of the white walls of a hospital, to see her eat like a growing boy again (she hates it when I say that), to be able to hold her hand down the street and just walk.
A year and seven months to the date, Katara replaces.
It feels like I'm dying all over again.
She is seventeen and I am nineteen and in a little over 24 hours she'll be getting a bone marrow transplant
And I'll be the one donating it.
It's not a pleasant procedure. They knock you out, and drill into your hip bones with what is for all intents and purposes, a cork screw and suck the thick bone marrow out. Then they put it in a little baggy and feed it to the patient intravenously.
There was no guarantee it would work, but Dr. Yugoda made it very clear that if they don't try, Katara would certainly die.
And there was no way I would let that happen.
My father out right forbid me from doing it, threatened to disinherit me, to disown me, but that was of little consequence to me. Uncle Iroh would help me, he always did, more so then my own father. Ever since my mother died he was the one who looked after me, and he knew how much losing Katara would devastate me.
"You would make your mother proud Zuko" I agreed, my mother had always liked Katara too. "I am proud to think of you as my son."
I owe him so much.
"Katara about your surgery tomorrow…" I trail off, unsure how to continue.
She sighs and turns to face me, her head cradled by the hospital pillows. "Can we not talk about that now Zuko? That's all anyone ever wants to talk about anymore."
Katara's tired, I'm tried, we're all tired of this but hopefully it'll all be over soon. "The person who's giving you the bone marrow…"
"Zuko! Please I don't want to think about this righ-"
She sits up instantly and just stares at me, completely overtaken by the quiet whisper.
"They're taking my bone marrow for you."
The silence between us stretches for was seems like and eternity.
Katara hasn't said a word since I told her. She's just stared at me with her pretty blue eyes, for over thirty minutes now, not once looking away. I have no idea what to think. Does she want me to? Is she mad? I've spent my entire life with her and I have no idea what she's thinking half the time.
Suddenly she speaks. "Zuko, let's get married."
I definitely did not see that one coming.
"WHAT!" I stare at her like she's crazy, and maybe she is. Finally cracked after all the crap she's been through. Katara is completely and totally out of her mind.
She nods and shushes me, lest the nurses over hear, the short brown hair that she managed to keep attached moves with her. "Let's get married, now."
I stare in disbelief. "Are you crazy? We can't get married We're to young for one and we're on the eve of surgery, not to mention-"
"You love me right?"
"Yes…" I do not like where this is heading.
"Then lets get married, tonight, right now. We can sneak out and be back before morning!" She's positively determined now.
This was definitely not how I imagined getting engaged. "Katara, we can't just up and-"
"Zuko!" All of a sudden she's taken my face into her hands and all I can do is stare at her as her eyes tear up. "We may not be alive tomorrow. And even if we survive the surgery there's no guarantee that it will work."
"But the doctors' said-"
"Fifty percent. A fifty percent chance that it will work. And who knows, I could last a day, a week and year, maybe even fifty years, I don't know. But I do know, that when I do die, wither it's tomorrow or a hundred years from now, I want to take a piece of you with me. So lets do it. Call your uncle, he'll help us, and let's get married tonight."
How do you say no to that?
I grin and kiss her dry chapped lips. "Alright. We'll get married."
The ceremony is small, so small that it can hardly be called a ceremony. Just the priest and his wife, my uncle, and the two of us. There is a veil tucked into Katara's too short hair, the vows are simple at best, the rings are cheap mood rings we bought on the way here, and our wedding cake is a couple of shared Twinkies, but it is perfect in it's imperfection.
Because when we returned to the hospital only four hours after we left, we are husband and wife, as absurd as that sounds.
Of course everyone was shocked. Hakoda was upset, but more so that he hadn't been there then out of anger, Sokka was livid, and Azula congratulated me on 'finally growing a pair.'
But it was worth all the yelling and scolding and reprimanding to see Katara dreamily smile for the rest of the day. To have her hand tucked into mine, our tacky rings changing color and clashing together, until that very last minute when they wheeled our gurneys apart and the only thing separating us is a small surgical room.
I blearily remember waking up to entirely too much sunlight and annoying chirping birds. My hips are on fire and my head is spinning, and I suddenly have a new respect for everything Katara has been through. Uncle is by my side, telling me that things are okay, and Azula, bratty, cruel, selfish, baby sister Azula, is frustratedly trying to wipe the tears from her eyes.
There are many things that I remember after waking up from surgery, but what I remember most is seeing the stupid ring on my finger change from cold lifeless black, to warm sweet, cerulean blue.
And knowing that things will be alright.
Six mouths later our rings clash together once again as I walk hand in hand with Katara out of the hospital doors for the last time. The life giving blood that runs through us both so strongly, are one in the same.
Ending notes; That was a dozy to write. Zuko's POV is very difficult to write. As I said before this was inspired by a picture done at dA (link is in my profile) I honestly only meant to write a drabblely one-shot but it turned into a super!oneshot. This always seems to happen to me. Well, please leave a review if you enjoyed, and thanks ever so much to MasterZutaraFan for allowing me to write this at all!
Forever and Eternally,