[AU] When Zuko and Katara embark on a mission together, an unlikely bond is formed between two different people of two opposing elements. After reuniting with the rest of the gang, what will become of their newfound relationship?
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything related to it. But this story, its plot and any original characters created here belong to me.
Katara was furious. She thought that she would wake up in the morning to the sound of Momo's constant chatter. But today, she was awakened by the sound of crashing rubble and crazed laughter. It was Zuko's sister, Azula. She was attacking the Western Air Temple, three colossal airships at her command. A scramble to get to safety had begun, and by that, Katara and Sokka had to leave their father again. Now, after only ten minutes, they were seated anxiously in Appa's saddle. Toph was flinging jagged rocks into the air, hoping to hit a target. The blind girl flopped down, panting lightly, clinging onto the rim of the saddle.
Sokka looked up suddenly. "Toph, head's up!"
Her empty eyes widened. She shot out her arm skyward and clenched her fist. With her other arm, she anchored herself into a strong stance. She brought that same arm up and swept it to the side, the large boulder following the movement of her arm. In the air, Toph could not see, and to her all that was present was the floating chunk of earth. As she directed it, she heard a deep groan of pain vibrating below her. Thrusting her clenched hand out – now even paler than usual – the boulder flew into the distance.
She huffed and sat down again. "Sorry, Appa," she said quietly.
"Katara, fire blasts!" yelled Sokka; next to him Suki winced and rubbed her ear.
Katara gasped. She rose quickly, pulling her water out of its containing skin. The aforementioned fire blast was directly in her path. She wove the lucent blue liquid into a spinning disk just as the fire was about to reach them. A small amount of steam was released with the collision of the two elements. She slapped her hand forward, continuing the spinning motion with the other, to dissipate the next blast. A third blast. A fourth. And then a ball of seething blue fire came zooming down. She coiled the water around her waist, working it into a tight snake. Lunging forward, she shot the snake into the core of the blue fire. It burst, raining down.
Katara relaxed out of her waterbending stance, kneeling in her corner of the saddle. "So you're just gonna sit there, giving out orders?" she asked, turning to Sokka.
"That's the plan." He gave her a thumbs-up.
Suki smacked it out of the way, looking shocked. "That's Zuko!" She pointed to a falling figure clad in dark red. "Aang-"
"Appa, yip-yip!" commanded Aang.
The flying bison groaned with exhaustion and swerved, picking up his speed and rushing them to Zuko, who was tumbling down through the thin clouds. Katara, still kneeling, realized she was nearest to where he was going to fall – she had to catch him. He flipped around, arms outstretched towards Katara. She grabbed him by the elbow, and he landed with a thud in the centre of the saddle. She opened her tightly shut eyes and saw that she was leaning much too close to him, her grip on his elbow strong. He did not seem to notice, but she let go. Not even a thank you. She shrugged away to sit down at the front of the saddle with her back to Aang.
"She's not going to make it… of course she did," said Zuko bitterly. He was talking about his sister, who had saved herself from a fall similar to Zuko's.
While the others began to chat to him, Katara looked at Aang. "How long will we be flying for?" she asked.
"For as long as Appa can manage," he replied hoarsely.
"He's injured, isn't he?"
"Yeah. Toph's boulder…"
"Don't worry about it, Aang. As soon as we land, I'll heal him as best as I can."
Aang's posture visibly relaxed at the sound of her words. "I just hope we don't crash-land now – we're flying over the sea."
Katara looked over her shoulder. In the distance, she could make out dark hair blowing in the wind on the side of the mountain. Although she could not see it, she knew there was a malicious smirk on Azula's cold face. Her eyes narrowed slightly, and she turned back to Aang. "Where are we going?"
"I don't know. But we'll set up camp on the nearest island when the sun goes down." Aang paused and rubbed Appa's head. "You can do it, buddy," he said to the bison. Their bond could not be severed.
Katara smiled to herself. She gazed at the sun. It was quite high in the sky; they must have only woken up before noon. She blinked a few times, noticing everyone had quietened down, even her brother, and her eyelids suddenly felt heavy. She looked at the sun again, squinting now, trying to stay awake. Her head lolled forward and tilted back again. Everything suddenly felt… nice. She rested her head on the rim of the saddle, looking up at the golden clouds. She sighed. Even though a terrifying, teenaged future warlord had tracked them down, she felt oddly content. She realized that when the War was over, she might rarely enjoy the company of her friends – and Zuko. She finally closed her eyes, casting away those sad thoughts.
A rapid surge of energy greeted Katara. She opened her deep blue eyes and sat up. It was the evening, and the full moon's soft glow shone down on them, lighting up the dark night. She breathed in the fresh air. Appa was flying slowly now, and everyone was still asleep. Sokka's head was thrown back, his mouth gaping wide, drool leaking from the side of his mouth. His arm was around Suki, who was lying on her side, curved so that her head relaxed on his arm. Toph was curled up, still clinging onto the rim of the saddle. Zuko was wide awake.
He was staring out into the distance, in deep thought, his arms crossed on the saddle's rim. His dark hair was blowing to the side, just so that Katara could see the clear side of his face. He wore a look of deep concentration. In fact, he looked like a normal boy. Looking at him from the side, one who had not met him before would think that he was, indeed, very much normal. They would think that the unseen side of his face was identical to the seen side. But in reality, a horrid red scar was pasted there. It was a mark symbolizing the anguish he had suffered. He was definitely not normal.
But there were other marks, too. These marks were invisible to his people: the marks pasted upon the other three nations. The Fire Nation were mostly ruthless people. His father, the leader of them all, was the worst. He was a monster, a murderer, a destroyer. Zuko, his son, had recently joined them with the intentions of teaching Aang firebending and helping bring peace to the world – the world his family has been destroying slowly. Firelord Ozai was an evil man, and the source of the world's problems. And Zuko is his very blood. Katara's eyebrows curved inward as she thought of more reasons to dislike Zuko.
His golden eye flashed quickly to look at her. She removed the scowl from her face. She knew what he was seeing on her face now; although her scowl had disappeared, her facial expression was that of sullenness. She gave him a hard look before turning away to face the back of Aang. Any moment now Appa was going to lower them onto the island before them. It was a miniscule patch of rocky land, darkened by night's shadows. Katara could still feel his eyes on her, but she chose to ignore it and stay in key with the peaceful atmosphere.
Appa lurched in the sky as he began the descent. Everyone let out a cry of shock as they were awakened.
"Easy, boy, easy!" called Aang.
Zuko's bag fell forward as Appa jerked again; a book fell out of it and jabbed Katara in the leg. She turned and snatched it up. In the faint moonlight, Katara could make out the words 'Love Amongst the Dragons'. What was a book like this doing in Zuko's bag? She rolled her eyes and tossed it behind her.
"Whoa!" they all cried simultaneously.
Appa groaned before touching down as lightly as he could – his passengers almost fell out of the saddle.
"Whew, that was rough!" commented Toph.
"I thought it was more rocky." Sokka grinned. "Get it, rocky?" He pointed at Toph.
Suki rolled her eyes, giggled, and stood up. She stretched her arms. "What is this place?"
"No idea, but we'll stay here for the night anyway," said Aang, leaping off Appa and landing lightly on the ground.
Katara gathered up her things. "We should use the blankets from the Western Air Temple to pitch our tents."
"How are we supposed to hold 'em up?" asked Toph.
Sokka scratched his head. "Branches…"
"Yeah, you guys do that."
"Toph-" began Katara.
"Can it, Sweetness. I'm an earthbender, remember?"
Katara grumbled. "Well, like I said before, it wouldn't hurt-"
"Stop it with the lectures! I thought we already went through this!"
"Yeah, you can carry your own weight." Katara stuck her nose in the air. "Help yourself down, then."
"Actually, Sparky over here is helping me." Toph grinned and grabbed onto Zuko's sleeve.
"Of course," he muttered, escorting Toph awkwardly to the edge of the saddle. He climbed down midway, balancing his bag and blankets while holding her hand as she began to follow him down Appa's side. After five minutes – when the saddle held only Katara – they went around Appa to where the others were setting up their tents.
Katara rolled her eyes. She picked up her moose-lion skin bag from the Earth Kingdom, which held her clothes and accessories. Slinging her bag over her shoulder, Katara pulled the two remaining rust blankets into her arms. They were as long as she was, and after only one step, she found herself slipping and falling over. With a grunt, she halted her fall, half of her body dangling over the edge of the saddle.
"Are you okay, Katara?" asked Zuko, who had stopped setting up his tent and started towards her.
She pursed her lips and kicked her leg over the side, pushing off the saddle, and landing heavily next to him. "I'm fine."
She stomped off, hearing Zuko sigh. Suki had finished with her tent, which had been pitched low and circular, and was pretending to help Sokka with his while they whispered. She had left a space for Katara's tent, which, much to her annoyance, was close to Zuko's, only a pile of flat stones separating them.
Suki glanced at Appa and turned to Sokka, speaking normally now. "Why'd you put your tent so close to Appa? He needs good rest, you know."
"Appa and I go back a long way." He shrugged.
"As long as he and Aang?" said Katara, tying the branches which made up her tent's contour.
"That's unfair. They had a head start."
"Of a whole century," said Toph, strolling into the centre of the camping spot.
"Actually, one hundred and seven years. That's when I met Appa – I was only five." Aang smiled. He was carrying a mess of sticks in his arms. "Better move, Toph. I'm gonna light the fire."
"Sure. I don't want my feet burnt again." The earthbender turned and stared pointedly in Zuko's direction, who was testing the branches' strength.
"I said I was sorry." He threw his arms up. "What more do you want?"
"Hm, a foot rub!" said Toph with a sassy grin. She slid her foot and a column of earth rose from the ground, propping her foot up. "You know you want to, Jerkbender…"
Zuko cringed. "Maybe later."
"When is that?" asked Toph sweetly, dropping her column.
Zuko grumbled and rushed forward. He grabbed Toph by her wrists and pulled her next to the entrance of Katara's tent. Holding her in place, he said, "Aang, light the fire!"
The boy nodded, throwing the sticks down, and with a single punch, he produced a bush of fire. It rose high and suddenly dropped down into a neat little campfire.
"Nice," said Zuko.
Katara emerged from inside the tent and raised her eyebrows at the sight waiting for her. "Toph, is Zuko planning to save you from the pirates?" she asked awkwardly.
Toph frowned. "Pirates? What're you talking about?"
Zuko let go of the young girl's wrists and trudged away, a dismayed expression on his face.
"Never mind. Have you seen my waterskin?"
"Do you-" Katara stopped herself in time. "You're blind."
"I thought you knew by now." She shook her head.
Katara couldn't think of a decent comeback. "Sorry. It must be in Appa's saddle." She sauntered off.
After a few minutes, the campsite had been left empty. Only Katara remained there, hunting for her waterskin, and Toph, who was sealed up in an earthen tent. Suki had insisted on preparing the group's dinner, since Katara usually took on that responsibility – "Relax, read a book, do some bending". And the blue-eyed warrior had run off into the thick brush. Aang and Sokka had snatched up two spears, and charged off, Sokka barking at him from behind about selecting suitable meat.
Walking behind the sleeping bison, Katara found a pleasant surprise: Zuko.
"What're you doing here?" she demanded.
He was seated on the edge of the cliff. "Did you have to bring that up?"
"Well, that was the first time we formally met, right?"
"I know I've made some bad choices, but I swear, those days have long passed." He stood up and turned to look her in the eye. "I've tried to fit in, and the others have accepted me. But why won't you, Katara?"
"Aside from the obvious?" Her voice was getting louder. "You didn't just betray all of us – you betrayed me. You lied to me. And I was the first person to trust you, to accept you, all the way back in Ba Sing Se! You were so eager to join your psycho sister before, and now you think that just because you say you've changed I'll actually believe you? Welcome you with open arms?"
"Katara, I didn't think you'd love me instantly, but I didn't think you'd hate me either."
"I don't hate you. Ugh, the things coming from your mouth are just too hard to believe right now." She huffed. "No wonder you're related to Azula," she spat the name out as though it sickened her. "It's as unbelievable as saying the Fire Nation didn't take my mother's life," she finished quietly.
A large tear was pooling in her eye. Zuko was about to take a step to her, but then a moonpeach dropped from the sky and hit the ground between them with a thud. The two looked up and saw the shape of Aang's glider cast in the dark sky like a silhouette.
"Sorry!" rang his voice.
As he was about to swoop out of the clouds, Katara turned and walked back around Appa to the centre of the campsite.
"Katara!" called Zuko after her. He did not follow, but instead waited for Aang to descend.
Sokka was dragging his feet towards the fire. His spear was leaving a broken line in the ground, showing the trail he left from the woods to the cliff. He looked worn-out, twigs and many other intriguing delights in his warrior's wolf-tail, which had fallen considerably lower down. He sighed as he dropped his spear and carried on his lackluster movement.
"Hey," he greeted Katara.
"What happened?" she asked, plucking a leaf from his wolf-tail as he passed.
"No meat. Dumb moonpeaches. Gonna starve…" he mumbled.
A loud explosion of sand erupted as Toph shoved the walls of her tent into the ground. Her fist was still in the air from the earthbending move. "Sokka! You're back! I mean, d'you have food? I can't feel anything on you."
He sighed again. "Thanks, I'm fine. How about you?"
"Great. So does Fangirl have dinner, 'cause you obviously don't?"
"Yeah, maybe. Toph, I think we're eating vegetables tonight."
"Again?" whined Toph.
"You could do with some vegetables," said Katara. She looked around and saw that Aang and Zuko were seated and observing this little scene silently. "Maybe I should get some water boiling so Suki has less work – and so you two don't have a fit."
"Thank you!" said Toph, relieved. She punched Katara in the shoulder. "Now go get some water."
"I think Sokka and Toph should be separated. Now she's giving orders," said Aang. He looked at Katara. "Want me to come with you?"
Aang got up eagerly, a wide smile on his shiny face. Unlike Sokka, he looked refreshed after their expedition in the woods. He had Katara's deflated waterskin slung over his elbow, still holding it as they began to walk in the opposite direction; down to the abandoned pier he had spotted beneath the cliff. A few moments of silence as the two walked away from the campsite. Aang kicked a stone and broke the silence.
"So what were you and Zuko talking about?" he asked.
"Nothing," replied Katara, rubbing her shoulder with her other hand.
"Sounded like something to me."
She looked at him with surprise. "Did he tell you or did you hear that?"
Aang chuckled nervously. "I was in the sky for longer than you thought."
"But that moonpeach did its work."
Katara frowned. "How?"
"It stopped your argument."
They had gotten to a place in the land where it began to slope down steeply, forming the hill the cliff clung onto. A stony path ran down to the sandy shore which could be made out from the very top. Crunching sounds could be heard as their feet weighed down on the gravel. Katara did not know how to respond to Aang's words, deciding silence would be better than saying something ridiculous. She picked up the pace, Aang matching it too.
Not before long, they reached the shore. There was a small dip in the sand that stopped the water from running fully over the shoreline, and it also formed the foundation the rickety wooden pier was built on. Katara stopped at this dip and slowly pulled up enough water to fit in her skin. She sighed and turned it this way and that – then she suddenly whirled and hurled the liquid at Aang.
He slowed it down with one hand and drove it around his head, making a full circle before sending it back at Katara in a slim arrow, only a small droplet separating and falling to the ground. Katara waved her hand upwards, the water moving in that direction. She brought it back down and sent it in a final movement to Aang, who held up the waterskin and slipped the water into it as it came.
"Well done, pupil Aang. You were pretty good, and you only let one drop out." She started towards him, smiling. "I think I've become too predictable."
Aang laughed as they both began the walk up the hill. "No, you're even better."
Katara rubbed her head uneasily. The way he said it… reminded her of the invasion; it reminded her of her confusion about Aang since then.
"Remember what we were talking about before?" he interrupted her reverie.
She coughed. "Huh? Oh, right. The argument. You were saying?"
"Try not to be too uptight. He's doing his best."
"Are you trying to make me forgive him?" she demanded with annoyance.
"No, no," he said quickly. "I'm saying that being hostile isn't good for anyone, not just the two of you. I'm not telling you to forgive him, but I'm asking you if you're going to."
"Maybe, but not right away."
And that's the end of the first chapter... to my first published FanFic!
It started at The Southern Raiders. Zuko's book will definitely be highlighted on; it's going to be a recurring object throughout the story.
I hope you enjoyed it. R & R :)