He was always in my dreams. Every night without fail he'd be there.
I sat up in bed, breathing heavily, a cold sweat clinging to my skin. Putting a hand to my head, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to calm myself. Why was this happening? So much time had passed since I'd last seen him, so why did I still think about him when I had no reason to?
I jumped at the sound of a soft knocking at my door. "Katara? You up yet?" Came the familiar voice of Aang, my best friend and boyfriend for a year.
"Y-yeah. What is it Aang?"
"We got a letter from the Fire lord! Hurry up and join us in the kitchen so we can open it!" He always sounded so enthusiastic. I smiled to myself and pushed away the bed covers, hesitating as my blue eyes caught the paleness of my skin. My hands trembled as I held them up, a flash of memory coming back to me.
The lighting, the pain. 'Help him Katara! You have to help him,' was all I could think.
"Zuko!" I yelled and rushed forward, holding my hands up as I desperately drew water to my palms.
I put a hand to my head and breathed out. That was the moment I kept replying in my mind every night, that last battle I'd shared with him before we'd gone our separate ways. I had saved him that day, and he'd saved me, that was all.
So why couldn't I stop thinking about it?
As I got dressed, my eyes narrowed at my reflection as I criticized myself. I was supposed to be level headed, an organised girl who was a master water bender.
People had always expected me and Aang to get together, and it was often spoken that we were a perfect match.
But when I was near Aang, I didnt feel the things a normal girlfriend should. I was happy and secure, in a relationship that would never change, and would always be safe. Was that all it was? Security?
I opened the door, passing an open window. I paused and looked out at the bright sunshine, that shone brightly on the nearby water, a truly beautiful scene. Ember island was indeed a magical place, and it was my favourite out of the homes we stayed at. Zuko had given up his old house to the Gaang, even though it wasn't really the Gaang anymore.
Sokka and Suki visited when they could, but most of the time they were on Kyoshi island together. Toph usually visited more often because she wanted to get away from her parents, but even Aang went away allot.
But that was to be expected, they had people who needed them. Aang was needed to keep the peace around the world, and stop the friction between the other countries that still didn't trust the Fire Nation. More often than not, he was in the Earth Kingdom, suspiciously the same time Toph was.
No, I shook my head. Aang wasn't like that, and it was my jealousy towards Toph that made me suspicious.
I wasn't needed anymore.
My usefulness had ended the day I'd saved Zuko, that had been the last time I had healed someone.
"Hey Katara, check this out, its for you!" Came the excitable voice of my brother Sokka, on a brief visit with Suki to the island.
Looking up sleepily, I saw that everyone was there. Toph, Aang, Sokka and Suki. It would have been perfect if Zuko had been there, but he was needed more than any of us to help the Fire Nation.
After years of war and violence spread by his father and ancestors, the people of the world still suspected the Fire Nation. Even worse, because of Ozais leadership, there had been rebellions by civilians ever since he had been de throned.
"What do you mean? Why would Zuko send me a letter? Surely its for Aang?" I asked.
"Nope, says your name right there on the address, c'mon open it, we hardly ever hear from Zuko anymore." Sokka pushed it into my face and I gingerly took it in my fingers.
"Katara? I can feel you shaking, are you alright?" Tophs sightless eyes looked into mine, and I faked a smile.
"Oh I'm fine. I just didn't get much sleep last night is all." I pulled open the seal on the back, naturally it was Zukos style to be so official with documents. My heart thudded in my chest, and excitement raced through my veins. I shouldn't have been exited, after all there was no reason to be, but whenever something concerned Zuko, reason seemed not to matter.
"Not much sleep again? Katara I'm really starting to worry." Aang said anxiously.
My chest tightened in anger. 'So now you worry? You leave me here alone but now your concerned?' I instantly felt selfish after that thought. The world was more important than I was after all.
I ignored him and opened the letter, my heartbeat thudding in my ears as I read his words.
My eyes widened as I held the paper. It was baffling really, the ways in which Zuko and I were so alike in different ways. A year ago when we were closer friends, it was like there was an invisible thread connecting us. Zuko had a way of knowing what I was thinking, and whether I wanted to talk to him about it or not. We had established a bond after he had helped me find my mothers murderer, and our similar pain about our mothers strengthened our relationship.
But right then and there, it was like a sign. It was as if I was holding a message from my boyfriend, or someone who I was intimately close to, who knew not just my secrets, but me.
"What does it say?" Asked Suki patiently, unlike her opposite Sokka who impatiently hovered over my shoulder, trying to sneak a peek.
I numbly held the paper, forcing myself to speak in order to appear calm. To anyone else, it would sound like no big deal, a friend helping out a friend. To me it was so much more.
"Because of the rebellions in the Fire Nation, Zukos been urged by the council to take action and stop the threat. He needs me to come over and help the wounded troops, and to help him face the rebels. The leaders of the rebellions wanting Ozais return are the Rough Rionos, lead by Colonel Mongke. He says that if we take them out, the mayhem will stop." I answered casually, a face of calm.
Inside I was anything but. The thrill of battle was something I had missed, but that wasn't what I was afraid of.
"Hey that's great! It'll be just like old times then." Toph smiled.
Aang didn't look so pleased. "But...are you sure this is what you want? You haven't trained for battle since you took down Azula, how can-"
"Actually Aang I have. You just haven't been here to see it. Besides, I never turn my back on people who need me, so I will help Zuko with this." I said confidently.
Aang recoiled, as if I had offended him. I probably should have apologized to him, but my mind was flooded with too many conflicting thoughts.
Zuko. The man who confused my mind and feelings, who I hadn't seen in a year. The man who secretly, I was afraid of. Though that wasn't because I thought of him as an enemy, no it was a different kind of fear.
Zuko was dangerous in a way that was more frightening to me than his fire bending. After he had helped me with my grief over my mother, it was true I had harbored feelings towards him, but there was an even deeper feeling I had hidden.
And I was afraid that if I saw him again, that feeling left untouched for so long would re-awaken once more.
After saying goodbye to the others, I had stepped onto the boat that Zuko had sent over to take me the Fire Nation. I looked back at the small island where beautiful white houses with red roofs dotted the shore line. I felt guilty about leaving Aang, but I pushed that thought away, if he could help the Earth Kingdom then it was only fair that I could leave to help the Fire Nation.
I hadn't seen Zuko for a year, though he had written several times to tell us how he was doing. Aang had even visited him a few times, but that was the way it was. Aang was needed by the Water, Fire and Earth Nations, and only the avatar could help restore peace.
It made me angry to think about those who still didn't trust in Zuko. I had been one of them at first, but he had done more than enough to prove himself to me, and to the world.
The sea air brushed my face, and a breeze of hot air came mixed in the wind. That meant I wasn't far from the fire lands.
I briefly touched my necklace, as I often did when thinking deeply about someone. I hadn't grown that much in the time part really, just matured more. Aang had grown taller, but his personality hadn't changed. In his spare time, he was still a fun loving kid. I looked down. 'Sometimes that's when the differences between us becomes painfully clear.'
Sokka had continued training as a fighter, as had Suki. They often helped out the refugees that were still around, despite the fact that the war was over.
But as Zuko had said so long ago, the world was scarred and divided from years of fighting. It would take a long time to get things right again.
I spotted a figure on the docks, but rolled my eyes soon after.
'Now your wishful thinking is making you hallucinate. Stop acting like a child Katara. You might have had a small crush on him, but your with Aang now, you made your choice.'
I nodded to myself, closing my eyes. But when I opened them, we were nearer to the bay, and the figure was still there. It wasn't just my wishful thinking, he was really there!
Zuko waited patiently for the boat to settle on the docks. Perhaps it was just because I hadn't seen him in a long time, but at the sight of his appearance, I blushed. He looked the same really, taller, hair slightly longer, though the air of isolation and loneliness seemed thicker than ever around him.
His eyes before they'd connected with mine had been sad and tired. But as he looked up to see me step off the boat, a spark of fire seemed to light them up. I walked towards him, not too fast and not too slow, though the distance between us seemed larger.
He took a few steps forward and before I knew it he had his arms around me. He pulled me into the warmth of his body, and I felt the same sensation I'd felt when I had hugged him after forgiving him. I tried to cram the feeling down and focus on why I was there, but my troubles seemed to vanish.
All thoughts of Aang were just...gone, as strange as that sounds. Like the only thing that mattered was him. He smelled and felt like home to me.
His breath tickled my neck and his closeness made me feel tense and yet comforted at the same time. "I've missed you Katara."
For some reason, tears stung my eyes as I whispered back. "I've missed you too."
"Feels like old times huh?" He mumbled, the arms around me moving so that he could look at me.
"You've grown I see." He smiled slightly and my own smile fell a little. Where was the man I had left? It was like he had taken a step backwards and become isolated and pained again, why was that?
"You have too, though you seem a little thinner than I remember."
He laughed. "I've been eating three meals a day I promise, even if the cooking here doesn't compare with yours."
It was my turn to laugh. "Who knew the Fire Lord would prefer Water Tribe cooking over his own Nations food? Next you'll be telling me you prefer blue over red."
"Who says I don't?" He voice sent a shiver down my spine, and I tried not to think too much of his words.
We stayed like that for a moment, until I pulled away, somewhat flustered. "I heard you have a rebel problem, what can I do to help?"
Zukos golden eyes dulled. "Way to kill the conversation. There's no need to get to the point so fast Katara. Still I guess its better you know now so that you can prepare yourself for it later."
His hands seemed reluctant to leave me, but they went back to his sides as he walked me towards the palace. I noticed that his fists had clenched again like they used to, and I looked up at the scarred side of his face.
'Zuko, what has happened to you while I was gone?' I furrowed my eyebrows as he explained about the rebels.
"They want my father to be in power again." He said bitterly. "I need you to come with me on a mission, just the two of us so that we don't stand out. I hired some men to find out the present and future locations of where the riots are being planned, and where the Rough Rhinos will be. I plan to go there, take them down, and get rid of this mess once and for all."
I smiled "I see. Are you sure we can take them down by ourselves?"
He gave me a look as if to say 'we beat Azula together, didn't we?' But instead he said. "Well since the riot will be taking place the same time we'll be around to take down the leaders, my soldiers will be there anyway, so if we need assistance its not far away." He turned away.
I stopped and looked at him worriedly "Zuko, are you alright?"
He nodded sharply, seeming to silently take whatever pain he secretly wanted to share and push it down. I waited for a moment, hoping that he would tell me what it was. When he didn't, I asked impatiently. "Zuko, whatever it is-"
"I'm just really...happy that your here. You have no idea how lonely its been here without you." His golden eyes looked at me, as if searching my soul. He wasn't implying what I thought he was, was he?
I spluttered out a response. "B-but, surely you have Mai around?"
"Mai and I aren't together any more." He didn't seem to want to talk about the subject, and I got a sense of da ja vue from the way he was acting towards me.
He was shutting me out, like before we were friends in Ba Sing Se. If he was hurting like before, that meant he needed me too, so I decided silently to find out why he had recoiled into himself again.
Zuko turned away, our happy reunion forgotten as we walked silently to the carriage that would take us to the palace.
The next day I was packed and ready to go. I was buzzing with excitement as I looked at myself in the mirror, my old blue battle clothes in place. It had been so long since I finally went out there and did something fulfilling. I felt like skipping to the dining room for breakfast, my good mood dimming slightly as I laid eyes on Zuko.
He sat at the head of the long table, drinking the contents of his glass. There wasn't anything particularly sad about him, but when I thought about it, he truly was alone. His uncle was in the Earth Kingdom in his tea shop, and without him, it was just Zuko alone, among everything a man could wish for.
Wealth, power, those things didn't matter anymore to someone like Zuko. As I walked in and he looked up, his eyes connecting with mine, I could tell all he wanted was company. A strange glint sparked in his eyes as he smiled in greeting, like he was truly happy to see me.
"Good morning." He said
I smiled "morning Zuko, you ready to go?"
He sighed tiredly "I'm glad one of us is eager to do this. Yeah I guess I'm ready, but we're not going until we've gone over the plan one more time." He gestured to the map in front of me and I frowned.
"You're going over it again? What are you so worried about? Are the rebels that bad?"
Zuko studied the papers almost as if he'd spent the whole night there, preparing.
"Its not that, I'm worried about the citizens that could get caught in the cross fire. A riot, along with the leaders could be a danger to them."
I looked at him then, unable to keep the pride I felt at bay. He really was a good leader, even if he didn't think of himself as such.
I sat down and ignored the plans in favour having food. I pestered Zuko until he had his own breakfast, to which he rolled his eyes muttering "stubborn." I grinned in victory, biting into my breakfast and chewing thoughtfully.
"You ought to take better care of yourself, I don't mean to sound like your mother but-" I stopped, catching the empty look that had crossed Zukos face.
I swallowed and could have hit myself in frustration, how could I have said something so insensitive? "I'm sorry I didn't mean to-"
"Its alright Katara. Its just that...I still don't know where my mother is. "
I put a hand on his, and stroked his pale skin with my thumb. He tensed at the touch but slowly relaxed. I spoke softly, "didn't your father tell you?"
He shook his head. I could tell he was angry as his skin was starting to get hotter. "He wont tell me no matter how many times I ask. After this trouble with the riots are sorted, I'm going to find her."
I nodded and squeezed his hand "I'll help you."
A disbelieving look crossed Zukos face but he didn't speak his thoughts. He merely nodded and we ate our breakfast in a comfortable silence. I was glad he had opened up about his mother, but there was still something he wasn't saying. I could tell by how he hesitated and how when he accidentally touched me, he would tense, a cold look crossing his face. It made me wonder if I had done something wrong.
Later, we were on our way to the location where the rebel leaders would be, my pulse racing with excitement. To hide our identities, we wore red cloaks over our clothes, hiding Zukos swords and my water pouches from sight.
We rode on ostrich horses to seem more like travelling folk than royalty in Zukos case. I doubt if anyone saw me they wouldn't recognize me as a water bending master anyway. They would see me as the avatars girlfriend.
I hated it when people saw me as nothing more than that. I glanced at Zuko who rode next to me, his posture straight, eyes focused, face serious. For some strange reason I wondered what it would be like being Zukos girlfriend.
A bubble of nervous laughter escaped me and Zuko looked at me, his eyebrow raised. "Something funny?"
"Its nothing, I was thinking something ridiculous, don't mind me." I shook my head, why did I even think about that?
But Zuko wasn't backing down. "What was it?"
I smiled and waved a dismissive hand, "nothing seriously. I was just thinking that no one really sees me as anything more than the avatars girlfriend now."
A strange look appeared on Zukos face, but he hid it quickly. It was something like a mix of resentment and frustration, quickly replaced by a look of calm.
He spoke gruffly "then the people who think that of you are idiots. You're more than just a girlfriend, and as long as you don't start hiding behind that title you'll always be a master water bender to me." He looked at me, eyes dark.
"While it is an important title, being the avatars girlfriend and perhaps someday his..." Zuko seemed to struggle to say it. "Wife. That's no reason to forget who you are inside."
My heart warmed to his words and I smiled, about to reply when Zuko turned, his mask of coldness in place once more. "Lets pick up the pace, we need to be there soon." He gripped the reins, the ostrich horse running forward at a quicker pace, I watched him go with quiet wonder.
In the distance, thunder boomed and lighting cracked across the sky. I nudged the horse to move forward, coming to a strange conclusion in my mind. If I were Zukos girlfriend, it wouldn't be the same. Because even if I became Fire Lady, I would share that title with being a master water bender, Zuko wouldn't have anything less.
I smiled sadly to myself, sometimes Zuko understood my feelings better than Aang did. He would make sure that I was secure with who I was, and who I wanted to be. I shook my head forcefully. 'Stop it Katara. Your comparing sweet and kind Aang to Zuko...that's dangerous territory.'
As I caught up with the Fire Lord, I couldn't help but think that Zuko himself was a dangerous person. He could mix up my emotions and wants so easily, until I myself didn't know how to act or what to think.
Thunder crashed again, and fear suddenly vibrated in my heart. I froze as I pictured the fight with Azula, her wild amber eyes flashing blue like the destructive lightning. I saw Zuko get hit again, a cry of absolute pain screaming into the night.
Zukos voice shook me out of my trance. "Katara? Are you okay?"
I hadn't realized I was trembling, but I wasn't surprised I had seen the fight again even though I wasn't asleep. Thunder and lighting had struck fear into my heart ever since that day. As I glanced nervously at Zuko, I wondered if he had shared my nightmares. He touched my shoulder, trying to steady me.
"You're shivering. Are you cold or..." his golden eyes flickered to the sky and lighting flashed again, making me jump. My arms had crossed over my chest, my hand clenched over my heart. Zuko's eyes warmed as he looked at me, I felt so pathetic next to him. He looked so stern and powerful, a true symbol of a fighter.
His arm wrapped around me, his ostrich horse moving closer as he placed his arm around my shoulders. I was instantly flooded with a feeling of warmth and comfort, as he whispered in my ear. "Its alright to feel scared. I remember that battle everyday."
My voice shook, "you have a constant reminder that's why."
I sighed "its my fault you were hurt that day."
His patient voice calmed me, "no it wasn't Katara. If you hadn't been there that day, I wouldn't have been able to fight like I did. You saved me in turn as well, so don't blame yourself." Zuko rested his head on mine, draping his cloak around me to stop my shivering.
I mumbled a response. "I'm sorry you got another scar that day. Does it still hurt to move?"
"Sometimes, but unlike the first, I'm proud I received this scar. I acted without the thought of personal gain, and I would have gladly died protecting you. For once I wasn't selfish and I think of that day as the one I truly restored my honor."
I moved to look up at him, startled at how close his face was to mine. I blushed and looked down, "you shouldn't say things like that. It's a miracle you survived that day. It was your strong will that was able to save you."
Zuko didn't answer and I had stopped shivering. I felt much more confident that whenever the would lightning strike, nothing would happen. He took his arm away, along with his cloak.
"We're almost there. The riot is set to take place in that market square, their aim is to break into that palace which is owned by my uncle. They plan to burn it, to set an example. The Rough Rhinos will be there, and that's when we take them down." He halted his ride and pointed down the large hill to the grand looking village. A large palace was in the center and the market place was a little ways away from its entrance.
I nodded. "The Rough Rhinos are all different kinds of weapon specialists. Their skills are said to be legendary, though I remember on Avatar Day our group had a run in with them and managed to win."
Zuko snorted "my Uncle told me that they're also a capable singing group."
I couldn't help but burst into laughter at that. Zuko gave a small chuckle before continuing.
"It should be an easy victory. Mongke the leader is a fire bender, Vachir is a Yu Yan archer, Kahchi uses a halberd as his weapon, while Ogodei uses a ball and chain. Yeh-Lu is a master of explosives."
My blue eyes widened, but I didn't voice my worries. 'We'll be fine, so what if I'm a little out of practice? Zuko trusts me with this. I have to do my best.'
Zuko moved forward, starting to descend the hill before he stopped and looked back at me. "By the way Katara, it wasn't my strong will that saved me, it was you." He smiled slightly. It was an awkward but genuine look that lightened his face before he turned and continued on.
I bit my lip and touched my mothers necklace. He really was unpredictable sometimes.
Please review and read on ^^ on DeviantART this is a one shot, but I've broken it into 2 chapters to make it easier to read :)