Disclaimer: I don't own any part of Avatar the Last Airbender.
A/N: A nice little short in which Zuko and Katara speak their minds to everyone's favorite lovable sky bison. Set just after the Southern Raiders. Please enjoy the story and please review.
Appa Knows Best
Appa was happily munching on some ash bananas that he had found growing in the trees outside of camp. The sun was just setting on the horizon and an evening snack was needed before he went to bed. The humans that he traveled with where all gathered around the camp site and doing their own thing, so he was free to eat to his heart's content before returning.
Halfway through his meal though, the young Water Tribe female walked from camp and brought him some of the soup that everyone else had for dinner. This was one of the reasons why he liked this young girl so much; she was always looking out for him when it came to food. Probably because the other Water Tribe member could eat just about as much as he could.
"Good evening Appa!" greeted Katara cheerfully as she placed the pot of soup in front of the sky bison. "I brought you the last of the soup. After you finish, I'll take the pot down to the river to be washed."
Without further need of persuasion, Appa started to dig into the soup, which turned out to be a noodle soup! One of his favorites. The young girl picked an ash banana and sat down next to Appa as he had his dinner. "Do you mind if I talk to you about something?"
The sky bison gave an affirmative grunt as it continued its meal. "It's about Zuko." This gave the sky bison pause. Ever since the young Fire Nation boy had joined the group, there had been tension and anger bottled up in the young Water Tribe girl. Appa's ability to sense the moods of the people he traveled with was very keen and he did not like this conflict that had been going on.
Sure, he and the Fire Nation boy had met on bad terms with the whole constant threat of fireballs being thrown at the bison and his friends. But the Fire Nation boy had freed him in Ba Sing Se when he was being held captive by those evil earthbenders in those funny-looking hats. Appa could tell that the boy had changed over time. The boy didn't smell the same way he did originally. Being the Avatar's animal partner, he was very keen on being able to read the hearts of people and creatures. The young Fire Nation boy had changed and that was why he was so open to letting him join the group before any of the humans he traveled with did.
Appa gave the young Water Tribe girl a nod as if to tell her to go on. "I just don't understand him anymore. I mean I thought I did. He's supposed to be the enemy! He's been hunting Aang ever since we first met! He's interfered with us every chance he got. In Ba Sing Se he even earned my trust with a sad tale about his life and then turned around and betrayed me! But now, but now he's helping us…"
Appa took another couple of licks of the soup pot as he let the Water Tribe girl get all her feelings out. "He showed up saying he was a changed man. But he's tried that before on me and that's why I didn't trust him. But he's won the trust of everyone else. He went with Aang to learn from the original firebending masters and then he went with Sokka to free our father and Suki from a heavily guarded prison. Then just a few days ago, the three of us traveled to avenge my mother."
Appa had licked the soup pot dry now and looked inside it to see if he had missed any. Katara continued, "He wouldn't do this much if he wasn't sincere right? I mean his acting was good enough to trick me before, but I doubt he could be pretending for this long without letting his mask fall. I just don't know Appa. Part of me wants to trust Zuko, but there's still another part that says this is all a trick and he will betray us again, betray me."
The young Water Tribe girl appeared to be in a depressed state as she just stared down that the ash banana she had peeled but hadn't touched yet. Appa took a few steps towards her and nuzzled her with the side of his large face fondly. "That's tickle's Appa!" giggled Katara in amusement. She hugged him in return. "You're right. Maybe he has changed. But I'll still be ready just in case." She finished unpeeling the banana and feed it to Appa instead of eating it herself.
"Thanks for listening Appa. It helps to always have someone to talk too, and as much as I love the Gaang, they can sometimes make things into a much bigger deal than they need to be." She picked up the empty pot. "I'll take care of this." She turned to leave and her eyes widened, Zuko was walking up the path to where they were.
Without too much thinking, she ran around to the other side of Appa. "Shh! Appa, don't let him know I'm over here. After just talking about him so openly, I don't feel too comfortable facing him at the moment." With an understanding grunt, Appa sat down to signal he wasn't going to go anywhere.
A minute later, Zuko walked into the banana grove. "Hey Appa, have you seen Katara? She's been gone from the campsite for a while and even though everyone else didn't seem to notice, I wanted to be sure that she was okay." The fire prince didn't seem to like that implying look that the sky bison was giving him. "Hey! Whoa there! It's not like that!" There was a small giggle from behind Appa, but Zuko didn't seem to hear it. "I mean that we just faced the person responsible for a really dark part of her life and I was worried about her." Katara raised an eyebrow from her side of Appa.
The fire prince seated himself next to Appa, his back leaning against the sky bison's side. "Facing the one responsible for your mother's death. I don't care what anyone says, there's no way something like that doesn't affect a person, even if they say that they're okay. Not to say that Katara isn't a strong woman, I mean she's one of the strongest, firm-minded, brilliant girls that I know." A blush escaped across Katara's face despite her misgivings.
"It's just that when I was going the hard patch of realizing my sister was trying to take me prisoner and my father wanted me to become a bad memory, I had my uncle there to help me along. I could talk to him about things." Zuko gave a small laugh. "Though it was usually uncle that did most of the talking. I kind of just yelled and got angry a lot." A small, silent smile crossed Katara's face.
The firebender continued, "The others weren't there. They probably can't understand the situation all that well. Even for Sokka, it doesn't seem like the whole affair bothers him as much as it does his sister. He's been able to move on. Facing Yon Rha allowed Katara closure, but I still think that she needs to talk to someone about it. Pain like that doesn't just go away. It will always be there and you need someone to confide in." Katara remained silent as she stared into the empty soup pot absentmindedly. "That's also why I will track down my uncle after all this is over. He broke out of prison during the eclipse and I need to set things right between us."
Zuko just continued to sit, leaning against Appa as he stared up at the stars as they began to emerge in the sky. "You know, I never thanked you yet. For vouching for me when I tried to join the group. You were the only one that supported me in joining the Gaang. I know that couldn't have been easy for you. I have wrong you as much as I have all the other members of the group and I'm still trying to make up for that. I think I've made a good start, but I know I've got a long way to go."
A gentle breeze joined the evening setting. "I've helped Aang learn firebending. And he's actually not that bad a guy, a little childish and naïve, but his heart's in the right place. And then there's Sokka. Working with him at the Boiling Rock to bust his girlfriend and his and Katara's father out of prison was…interesting. In fact joining in with his half-baked ideas was actually pretty fun…when they worked of course. For some reason we seemed to make a pretty decent fighting team."
Zuko paused. "That reminds me I still need to do something for Toph. I burned her feet and I've apologized extensively for that, but there's got to be more that I can do. She did make me carry her around everywhere after that, but that's not good enough. Hmm… I guess I'll have to talk to her about that."
Appa's stomach rumbled. Even after the soup and the bananas, he was still a little hungry. Zuko opened up a small bag that he had on his belt. "Here, I found these while scouting around the area with Aang earlier today." He handled Appa two apples that the sky bison thoroughly enjoyed and rewarded the firebender with a long lick of its tongue. "Thanks…" mumbled Zuko. For some reason Appa seemed to lick him and Aang the most. Maybe that was just his way of showing who he liked the most in the group.
Settling back against the bison, Zuko renewed his musings. "I think I've finally connected with everyone in the group now, even Katara. I know that she hates my guts, and that probably wouldn't change regardless of what I do, but for some reason she's the one I want to make forgive me and trust me the most. I hurt her in Ba Sing Se. I messed up big that day. And there hasn't been a night where I haven't spent hours staring at the sky or the ceiling regretting my actions." Katara felt as if she had heard enough and believed as that it was time for her to sneak away, but something kept her from doing so and she stayed.
Breathing out a long sigh, Zuko looked at Appa. "You know, I've been more talkative this evening than I have been in a long time. You're an excellent listener Appa." Another pause. "There's something else too. It's been eating away at me for a long time now and you're the only one that I feel that I can trust with this. Everyone else would probably just laugh at me." Appa gave a curious grunt and twisted his head a little to the side. Katara pressed a little closer into Appa on her side. "I can't seem to get Katara out of my mind."
The Water Tribe girl in question was stunned and frozen in place. Luckily, the pot was already resting on the ground; otherwise she would have dropped it. Appa just continued to stare expectantly at Zuko. "I mean at first it was just because of my mistake down in the caverns of Ba Sing Se. But then I just found myself thinking of her! I don't really understand when or how my thoughts started moving in that direction, but they did and now they wouldn't stop. And I'm not entirely sure I want them to…"
"I don't believe I've ever even felt this way about Mai. That was an arranged marriage and there was never any real sparks there." He let out a small chuckle, more to himself than to Appa. "Just my luck, you know. I start having feelings for the one girl in the entire world that probably would like nothing better than to never have anything to do with me. One more unattainable goal that the world throws my way."
The young Water Tribe girl didn't move, didn't say anything, didn't breath. Out of all the things that she expected for Zuko to have as a secret, this was probably at the bottom of the list. Something that she would probably think was a joke; but here he was spilling his guts to Appa.
"I won't fool myself," continued Zuko. "I've seen the way that Aang looks at her. He's in love with her, though I can't really say I've seen the same returned. Still they've been together the longest and who am I to get in the middle of that? That would be completely selfish and I've been selfish long enough. Though…" he looked around in the empty grove, "since this is just between you and me, it would do me good to completely get this off my chest."
Taking a deep breath, Zuko proclaimed in a clear and steady voice, "I love Katara."
The night stood still. It was as if time itself stopped for a couple of moments. Grinning, Zuko stood up. "I feel much better now, thanks Appa. Guess I should return to camp. Katara's probably already returned anyways and if I'm gone too long, people might start thinking I'm up to no good again."
Now Appa had been listening to both of these troubled teens and could read the moment. The signals that both teens had been giving off were kind of obvious, though that apparently only seemed to be to him. It was time for Appa to take matters into his own hands. Before Zuko could take a step forward, Appa grabbed the back of the collar of the boy's tunic with his teeth and chucked the young firebender over to his other side, where the young waterbender still sat.
Zuko landed heavily on the ground and paused for a moment to regain his senses. Looking up, golden eyes met blue. Neither could manage to say anything for several minutes, until Zuko whispered out a "Hey…" and Katara answered "Hi…"
Appa just let out a deep, hearty-sounding chuckle as he walked back down the hill to camp.