Disclaimer - I don't own Avatar, or any of the characters. The only things I own are the DVDs of the series. I'm not making any money from this, I'm writing purely for my own enjoyment.
A/N - You know when an idea grips hold of you and won't let go until you write it? In this case it as just one scene, but it demanded a story be written around it. I had no choice but to comply with the request.
"No lightning, today? What's the matter? Afraid I'll redirect it?"
Azula's face contorted in rage, "I'll show you lightning!" She called upon the electrical energy and Zuko prepared his stance. He was going to win. He had taunted her and she had fallen for it. He could almost taste victory.
His sister's lips twitched into a wicked smile and her gaze drifted over to Katara. Lightning flashed and Zuko realized a split second too late that he wouldn't be the target of her attack.
As blue lightning arched toward Katara, Zuko ran, launched himself into the air and threw himself between his sister and the Water Tribe girl. Maybe, if he was lucky, he would still be able to redirect the energy. Perhaps not in the direction he had planned, but away from himself and Katara. He failed. As he dove through the air, the lightning hit him in the face. The seconds seemed to stretch into an eternity of agony as he tried and failed to redirect the blast. The electricity coursed through his body and grounded through his feet. His body convulsed and his eyes and feet exploded in agony.
As she stopped the blast he dropped to the ground, still twitching. The pain more intense, if possible, than after his first Agni Kai. This would be his last, knew that for certain. This would be his last everything. It wasn't possible to survive this much pain. Hands cradled his face. Any second, Azula would deal the killing blow and it would all be over. He braced himself for the relief death.
It never came. He was vaguely aware of battle sounds around him, but before he could process what it meant, he passed out.
He awoke to find himself cradled by gentle arms. The pain had subsided slightly but was still very much there. He groaned.
"It's okay, I got her." Katara's voice. She was healing him. He thought he could hear Azula's cries of frustration somewhere behind them. He sank once again into unconsciousness.
Katara ignored the suspicious stares of the Fire Nation healer tending hovering ineffectually by Zuko's bed. She had done all she could to heal him, the Fire Nation healers had placed him in a comfortable bed with a ridiculous amount of cushions. It was strange for them, she was sure, to play host to a Water Tribe girl as she tended to the wounds of the prince their Firelord had banished and declared an enemy. But she didn't care about their comfort. Zuko was going to be their ruler, and he had saved her life.
She perched on a stool by his bed, and waited.
He lay there for hours, exhausted from the fight and the stress that his injury and healing had placed on his body. By the time he began to wake, Katara was fighting sleep. Her eyes popped open at the sound of bedsheets moving as he stirred in his sleep. He moaned quietly, turned over, and his eyes opened half way, then closed again.
"Zuko?" She spoke in a whisper, not sure whether he was fully awake, not wanting to disturb him if not.
His eyes opened again. "Katara?"
She touched his shoulder with her hand and smiled, "It's me. How do you feel?"
"Like I lost an Agni Kai."
"She cheated. You saved my life."
He rubbed at his right eye with his hand and blinked, "You told me you defeated her. You saved my life too. We're even."
Katara hesitated. "Not quite," she whispered.
"You healed me?" Zuko began to climb into an upright position, leaning against the many cushions.
"I did the best I could. You won't have another scar."
He blinked and turned his head, looking around the room. "I can't see," he said eventually.
Katara closed her own eyes against the fresh onslaught of tears that were threatening to fall. "I know. I did the best I could. I'm so sorry, Zuko."
So this was how the dream ended. It had all been for nothing; the years in exile, the months in hiding, walking out on Mai without even saying goodbye. Every action he had taken in the years since his banishment had lead him here, to this hollow victory. He was supposed to be Firelord, instead he was a blind teenager laying in bed trying to pretend that when he opened his eyes, he would see again.
Katara was never far from his bedside, bringing him food and water, telling him the latest news.
"Sokka and Toph arrived today," she said. "And your uncle sent word he should be here some time tomorrow."
"Good." Zuko nodded. "With me incapable of leading the Fire Nation, he's next in line to be Fire Lord. He'll have no choice but to accept."
Katara touched his arm with her hand. He supposed she intended it to be comforting, but it was unexpected and made him jump. "Zuko, you're not incapable. I mean, look at Toph. You're still injured right now. When you're on your feet again I'm sure things won't seem so bad. Maybe I can ask Toph to help you."
"Toph sees using earthbending. She can't teach me that."
"No, but I'm sure she could help you in some other way. Or maybe there's some firebending technique you could use..."
Zuko turned away from her, "I'm sure there is," he said, "I could stumble around setting fire to things at random, then I'd know where they were from the heat."
"Hilarious. I'm going to talk to Toph, okay?"
He listened to her leave, and closed his eyes again. He wasn't tired. Under normal circumstances he would have been up and about almost immediately. But the idea of trying to navigate through the thick, inky blackness before his eyes was almost as bad as being seen by other people as he stumbled and groped his way down the corridors. So as intensely boring as it was staying in bed, he feigned exhaustion.
"Hey Katara, how's Zuko?"
Katara granced up from the ground where her gaze had been fixed as she walked and smiled sadly at Aang. "Depressed," she said. "Not that I can blame him. I feel so guilty. If I had only gotten out of the way when he started dueling Azula, he never would have had to save me. He would have beaten her."
"It's not your fault," Aang told her.
He sounded as though he believed it, but Katara couldn't find any comfort in his words. "I'm going to ask Toph to talk to him," she said. "Maybe she can help."
Aang shrugged, "Maybe," he said. "But Toph can see better than the rest of us using earthbending, and she was born blind. It's not really the same thing."
"I don't know what else to do."
"Well," They reached the door leading to the garden and Aang leaped out over the steps and landed slowly and gracefully on the grass. "What about the spirit water?"
"There's none left. You know that."
"Well, you don't have any, but the Northern Water Tribe have a whole pond full. And healers. I mean, you're a great healer, but they've got people who are just healers, they've got to be better than you at it. Well, not better, just..."
Katara had stopped listening. Her eyes shone with hope and she silenced Aang's mumbling with a tight hug. "I can't believe I didn't think of that! Aang, you're a genius."
"Oh," he scratched his head, "well, I'm glad someone thinks so. Now the war's over, I can't move for people trying to tell me what I should do next. If you go to the North Pole, I think I'll go with you, it'll be good to get away for a while."
"Great, I'll see you later, okay?" Katara sighted Toph sitting in the shade under a tree. Aang watched as she ran across the garden and sighed. They had shared two kisses now, but she still didn't act anything like he imagined a girlfriend would.
Katara sprinted across the grass and came to a stop in the shade of the tree. She dropped to the ground next to Toph.
Toph stretched out on the soft grass. "Not that I'm saying the war being over is a bad thing, but I'm starting to miss the excitement. I haven't been this bored since before I left home."
"Would you talk to Zuko?" Katara asked.
Toph shrugged, "Sure. That might keep me entertained for a few minutes. What about?"
"Come on, Toph," Katara folded her arms. "You know what about."
"Oh." She propped herself up on her elbows, staring out unseeing over the palace gardens. "Give him the pep talk, you mean? No, I don't think so."
"Why not? He could really use someone showing him how to cope."
Toph stuck out her bottom lip as she exhaled, redirecting the puff of air upwards, blowing her bangs out of her eyes. "I don't see with my eyes, but I do see," she said. "If he was an earthbender, I could work with him. As it is," she shrugged, "I've got better things to do than listen to him whine."
Katara frowned, "What kind of things? Sitting around complaining that you're bored? We're going to the North Pole, maybe the healers there will be able to help him. If not, I suppose it'll lift your boredom for a while. You can talk to him on the way."
"Not likely, I'm not going anywhere near the North Pole. All that ice? I won't be able to see anything up there."
"Well," Katara smiled, "you'll be on equal footing then, won't you? I'm going to go and tell him. If he wants to go we'll leave in the next few days. I hope you'll come."
Toph laid back down, putting as much of her body on contact with the ground as she could, and closed her eyes. As Katara walked away, a piece of earth just large enough to trip her rose out of the ground. As Katara stumbled, she turned to glare at Toph.
"I'll go," the earthbender said. "But don't expect any heart to heart chats and blind kid bonding. It's not my thing."