Title: The Rain Fell
Summary: When Katara dies an untimely death, Zuko will do anything to bring her back. Even if it means facing Agni himself. – Based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Disclaimer: If I owned Avatar M. Night. Shyamalan would not have done the movies. I obviously don't own the myth. The quote is from a summary of the original myth; the link is posted on my profile.
Word count: 5034.
A viper stung her and she died. [His] grief was overwhelming. He could not endure it. He was determined to go down to the world of death and try to bring [her] back…He dared more than any other man ever dared for his love. He took the fearsome journey to the underworld.
Ever since he was a child, Zuko had been taught to never curse the rain.
It was a strange concept for him then, a firebender forbidden to curse the rain. The rain was one of the greatest dangers to a firebender; it was something that could easily douse his element. As a child he had sometimes feared that the skies themselves would open and smother his fires, leaving him defenseless and vulnerable.
Ursa had told him that without the rain, just as without the sun, their crops would be not prosper and their people would be without food. Iroh had said that in the Fire Nation, where it was not always common, the rain was a blessing from the Spirits. "You see, my nephew, rain is the Spirits' way of rewarding us. When the rain falls, it means that they are pleased with what we have done."
At the time Zuko hadn't understood, but as he grew older he slowly began to. Rain was as much a necessity as any other part of their life. Without the rain not only would the crops not grow, the lakes would dry, the heat would escalate. Their lives depended on the spirits blessing them with rain. Rain was water and water brought life.
The rain also took another meaning when he met her.
Not at first, of course. But slowly, gradually, when the rain fell from the sky Zuko began to imagine the female waterbender. At first, it was out of paranoia, because rain meant that water would surround them, and Zuko was no fool. He knew that if that were to happen, the Spirits would be against him and he wouldn't win. But that was not the case for long. Because, at some point, the rain stopped being a threat and start comforting him; at some point, he stopped dreading the sound and began to search it out. Because, at some point, the soft drumming reminded him of her laughter, the loud thunder of her anger; at some point, when the rain brushed against his skin, he could almost feel the coolness of her touch.
Because, at some point, the rain began to remind him of her.
It was raining the day Katara died.
The streets of the Fire Nation capital were abandoned. The usually busy shops closed and the lively chatter she had grown accustomed to was replaced by the pitter patter of the rain. The city of firebenders hid away in their homes until it passed. It was indeed a strange sight to behold and, if it were not for the serenity of it all, Katara might have been a little creeped out. But surrounded by the gentle fall of her element, it was impossible for her not to find a calming peace – something the Spirits knew she desperately needed at the moment.
In three days, Zuko would marry Mai.
The entire Gaang had gathered four days ago to help their friends get ready for the wedding. For three days, Katara had bit her tongue and played the supportive friend. For three days, she had continued her life, as if seeing Zuko preparing to marry someone else wasn't actually killing her on the inside. For three days, Katara had been able to keep her peace.
But on the fourth day, she broke.
Nothing life changing had occurred; not even anything slightly close to significant, actually. Maybe she had seen them together one too many times, maybe the comments on how perfect they were for each other had built too high, or maybe (just maybe) it had finally hit her that he was really preparing to spend his life with someone else. But regardless of what it was, something in Katara had finally snapped and she desperately needed to get out of the palace and away from the wedding and all those celebrating it. Which was how she found herself on the outskirts of the capital, in a field of firelilies.
The drops drummed against her skin, reminding her that rainfall had yet to falter. Glancing over her shoulder, Katara's eyes locked on the palace and she bit her lip. It was crazy and stupid and so out of character for her, but she wasn't ready to turn back just yet. She would go back within the candlemark. She would smile and laugh and hide everything she was really feeling, but just not now. Not yet.
She sighed and shook her head. But before she could even turn away, she felt a tight pinch on her left ankle and all of sudden, she was weak and dizzy. Her eyes fell on the distant palace once more before everything faded into blackness.
There wasn't a soul in the Fire Nation that didn't know the legend of the dragonsnakes. They were small creatures, red in color with golden eyes. Their poison was deadly and a single bite would instantly kill their victim. But they were said to be pets of Agni, a legend and nothing more. Not a single one had ever been seen in centuries.
The woman who found Katara's body claimed she saw one curled beside the body. She had tried shoo it away, but the dragonsnake had hissed as if it were protecting its hunt. When she returned with the palace guards, however, it was gone. The only sign it had been there was the small bite mark on her left ankle. But it was enough, and Zuko knew what he had to do.
"Don't do this." Iroh came to him that night.
"Stay out of it, Uncle." He didn't turn to face him, but rather continued packing the few items he might need.
"Zuko, you cannot do this." He insisted.
"I have to!" Zuko snapped, shutting his bag. "You heard what the woman said, what the reports show. It wasn't a natural death – it wasn't her time." He faced him. "Something happened, Uncle."
"If the Spirits determined it to be, it was." Iroh's voice was soft, calm. It only pushed Zuko's anger further.
"They had no right!" He slammed his fist against the table.
"That isn't your decision to make!" Iroh snapped. "I'm begging you, nephew: do not do this."
"I have to." Zuko repeated. He removed the topknot and retied his hair into a low ponytail. He pulled the hood of his cloak over his head and grabbed the bag. Brushing past his uncle, he turned to leave. He made it to the door before Iroh finally spoke again.
"And what about the wedding? Mai?" He asked. "What should I tell her? Where shall I tell your fiancé you've gone?"
Zuko paused fingers on the door. "Tell her…tell her…" It wasn't fair to Mai, he knew, to get up and walk out like this. She was waiting for him, expecting him, but it wasn't fair to Katara to leave this undone. After everything she had done, after everything she had endured because of him, he owed her at least this much. "Tell her I'm sorry."
And then, without another thought, Zuko slipped through the doors and into the night.
The moment Katara opened her eyes, she was sure she was dreaming. She blinked once, twice, but nothing changed She clamped her eyes shut and shook her head, but when she opened her them again, she still found the same sight before her.
She smiled softly at Katara. "No, you're not dreaming, my daughter. It's me."
Katara's eyes widened. "Mom?"
Kaya nodded. "Yes, sweetheart, it's me."
Her body reacted before she could fully process the news and she hugged her mother. She heard Kaya laugh softly before wrapping her arms around Katara. Tears swelled in her eyes and she clutched harder, trying to get closer to the mother she hadn't seen or touched in so many years. She'd forgotten what it was like to be held so lovingly. It's been so long since her mother… since she…
Katara pulled away. "Wait, but how? Does this mean…?"
Kaya nodded slowly. "I'm afraid so."
She paused trying to remember. "In the field, something bit me."
"A dragonsnake, the pet of Agni."
Katara's eyes widened. "Agni? But why?"
Kaya took a deep breath. "I'm afraid your death wasn't a natural one. You see, Agni isn't like most Spirits; he's rash, a stubborn, and loves power a bit too much. His people take after him and so he is very protective of the Fire Nation, even to the point where he will interfere in human lives."
She stared as her brain tried to catch up to what her mother was telling her. "Zuko?" She asked, not sure she believed it herself. "This is because of him?"
"The young Fire Lord loved you, darling. You had to know."
Her vision blurred and she shook her head. "He never said anything. I never said anything. We… we couldn't. There were more important things. Everyone else, it wasn't fair to them." She tried to force the explanation out. "We just couldn't, so we never even tried."
"Obviously he feels different." Kaya wrapped her arms around her. "He loves you." Katara didn't say anything, but clutched tighter to her mother, seeking comfort. She didn't fight the tears that came streaming from her eyes.
It had been years since he had last been in the Fire Sages Capital Temple. And, just as before, he snuck in with the utmost of stealth and never allowed a Fire Sage to see him. If they saw him, they would never allow him to continue. Their loyalty was with the Spirits, with the Avatar, and then with the Fire Lord. They would oppose his plan and he couldn't let them do that.
The hardest part came once he was locked away in the part of the Temple devoted to Agni. Very few mortals had ever been able to cross into the Spirit World, because of the intense practice and training it took. In order to enter the Spirit World, he would need to relax and meditate. That, however, was the last thing Zuko wanted to do. He was so furious, so hurt, so betrayed that he wasn't completely sure he could clear his mind enough.
All he wanted was to scream, to bend, to destroy something. He wanted to cry, to breakdown, to curl into a ball and wish it all away. He had done so much, given up everything he had for the Fire Nation and Agni had taken the thing that meant the most to him. Snatched it right away from him when his back was turned, and Zuko needed her back. He needed Katara back like water, blood. She was a part of him and he didn't know what he would do without her.
He had to get her back, no matter what. So he sighed and sat down on the marble floor. He placed his hands on his knees and closed his eyes. No matter how hard, how impossible, he would do whatever it took to get her back. He had to keep his focus.
With a deep breath, he cleared his mind and began the meditation.
"So he was delusional off of cactus juice the entire time. It was such a hassle, because he wouldn't stay focused on anything. And when it finally wore off and we found shelter, he licked the gunk that was on the walls!"
"Oh, Spirits!" Kaya laughed. "Sokka always did have an interesting sense of curiosity."
"You're telling me." She giggled.
At some point, after she had finally calmed down, her mother had asked Katara to tell her about her life. It had been years and years since Kaya had last seen her children, so she wanted to know everything – from their boring days to their adventures with Aang to what they were doing now. Katara had quickly obliged, happy to have something to talk to her mother about. Because, at the very least, she could make the best of her situation and enjoy the time she now had with her mother. She only wished she could tell the others – Hakoda, Sokka, or even Zuko about seeing her mother again.
Zuko. A small frown tugged at her lips.
"You're thinking about him again, aren't you?" Her mother asked. "The young Fire Lord."
Katara blushed a little. "How could you tell?"
"Because that's the same look I used to have, at the beginning, when I thought about your father."
"Does it…does it ever get any easier?"
Kaya hesitated for a moment, as if she didn't know how to answer. Finally she sighed softly. "Some days." She said. "Some days it doesn't hurt as much, but some days I miss my family more than anything else. But," a smile tugged at her lips, "I wouldn't wish it any other way."
Katara's brows furred slightly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, it was my time to pass and I've accepted it. Just like it wasn't anyone else's time yet. When it is, I will see everyone again. A life is only so long, darling." She explained. "Until then, I thank the Spirits my family gets a chance to live, even if it means I have to be alone for a little while longer." And try as she might to hide it, Katara saw the sadness in her mother's eyes.
"Not anymore." She took her hand. "You're not alone anymore, Mom."
"I suppose not." Kaya smiled.
Still, Katara couldn't help but notice it didn't reach her eyes.
The first thing Zuko noticed was the creature, red in color with golden eyes. Only it wasn't small like the dragonsnakes he had heard of; it was massive, larger than most reptiles he had seen and he stood no chance against it. He wouldn't go down without a fight, though, and his hands clutched the hilts of his sword. The dragonsnake stared him down, as if it were testing his worthiness, judging him. He must have past, because finally it nodded at him, before turning its back to him and walking away.
Zuko watched it for a moment more before he slowly stepped forward and followed it. He couldn't be sure where they were going, but he didn't dare to break his gaze from it; he didn't trust he creature not to turn on him and attack. He wasn't sure what would happen to him if he, a living person, died in the Spirit World, but he was in no hurry to find out.
"You have courage if you dare come here, Fire Lord."
He wasn't sure exactly where the dragonsnake led him to, but that was forgotten when he caught sight of the Spirit. At least, Zuko thought he was a Spirit. He appeared as an older man, but held himself in a way that exemplified power. And even without the traditional garments he wore, Zuko could tell who he was.
"Agni." His voice was hard, cold. He knew he should be more careful when addressing a Spirit. Agni could take everything away from him, ruin his entire life, without a second thought. But he had already taken Katara's life away and Zuko wasn't sure he could do much worse than that. He tightened his hold on his swords.
"Lower your weapon, Fire Lord. I have no intention of fighting you."
"You have to know why I'm here."
"For the Water Tribe peasant? I'm more than aware." His fingers brushed against the dragonsnake's head, petting it.
"You had no right to take her life!"
"Watch your tone, Fire Lord." Agni's voice was hard, strong, like any power leader's would be. "I didn't particularly want to do it, but you left me with little choice." His eyes met Zuko's and it took all of his training to not flinch. "You made your decision, so what choice did I have but to make mine?"
And, just like that, it all made sense.
Three days before the wedding, Zuko had come to a decision: he wouldn't marry Mai. He didn't love her; it wasn't fair, he'd realized, to either of them. He would tell her the truth, set her free. He had been ready to seek her out when the news of Katara's death came blaring instead. Because Agni hadn't approved; because he wanted a Fire Noble, one of his own, to stand on the throne as Fire Lady, he had taken care of it himself. He had eliminated Katara from the equation all together. Zuko had been right: it hadn't been Katara's time. Agni had made it her time; he'd taken her life.
Suddenly, Zuko saw red.
"How dare you! You had no right!"
"I had every right!" Agni roared, flames bursting around them. "You were going to throw my kingdom away over some foolish Water Tribe peasant. I couldn't allow for that. I had to take her life to save the Fire Nation."
"It wasn't your place to interfere!" He snapped. "Mai, Katara – it wouldn't have mattered. I wouldn't have allowed anything to happen to the nation. If you knew about my choice, you have to know that I would have never made it if I thought it would hurt the Fire Nation. It was my decision to make. Not yours." He growled. "If the Spirits have the right to take lives, they have the right to give it. Give hers back."
Agni's eyes were penetrating his, but Zuko refused to flinch. He had to stay strong; any sign of weakness would only ruin his chance. If he really was the reason Katara's life had to be taken, he had to bring her back. It wasn't fair to her. He owed her this much.
"You feel that passionately about this?"
He stared at him for a moment longer. Finally his eyes shut and he seemed to let out the smallest of sighs. The flames around them simmered down to a small trickle. When Agni opened his eyes, he nodded. "Very well, Fire Lord; the Water Tribe peasant may return with you."
Zuko's eyes widened slightly and his heart skipped a beat. He pressed his fist against his other palm and bowed before the Spirit. "Thank you, Lord Agni."
"Not so quick." He said before Zuko could even think to turn and leave. "There is a condition: until you return to your world, you may not speak to her, you may not look at her. You must do this much to prove to me that you will not allow this girl to alter your focus, because, if you do, there will be no third chance. She will die again and, this time, for good."
"If I cannot look at her or speak to her, how will she know to follow me?"
"Do not worry about the details; I will tend to those. Your Water Tribe peasant will know exactly what to do, I guarantee it. All you have to do is follow the path I set out for you, without a whisper or glance at her." He explained. "Do we have a deal, Fire Lord?"
A small frown tugged at his lips; something did not seem right. Agni had been so set on Katara's death before that it almost seemed too easy now. There had to be some sort of a trick. But he knew he had no other option. It was either this or leave her here and he couldn't do that. He would just have to be cautious and prepared for any obstacles that he may have to face along the way.
Zuko nodded. "We have a deal."
"The Fire Lord is coming."
Five short words, but Katara stared at her mother as if she had just declared herself an earthbender. "Now? But how? Don't tell me he, he…" She couldn't bear to finish. She shook her head. "No, it hasn't been long enough. I only just died!" She knew time had no measure here, but it didn't seem right. It couldn't have possibly been so long.
"No." Kaya shook her head. "He isn't, but he was able to cross into our world."
"I don't understand. How? Why?"
"For you, darling." She said. "He came to take you back."
Take her back? Katara shook her head. It didn't make any sense. "He can't. I'm dead."
"Normally that would be the case, but you did not die a natural death. It wasn't your time; Agni chose to take your life, because he feared that the Fire Lord would choose you over his fiancé, over his nation. The young Fire Lord knew this, so he crossed into our world to confront Agni. He was able to convince Agni to give you a second chance and, because Agni took your life early, he has the power to return it."
"So when Zuko comes, I can go with him? I'll go home?"
"Almost. Agni still fears your relationship, so he is making the Fire Lord prove himself. When he comes, he can neither speak nor look at you. He will walk a path and you have to follow silently behind him. Do you understand? You cannot distract him. If you do, you won't be able to cross back."
Katara nodded, her mind processing all of the information Kaya was giving her. She opened her mouth, but before the words could come out, a small portal appeared and Zuko walked through. A smile immediately spread across her lips and her eyes lit up. It was true; he really had come all the way here for her.
"Mom, it's him!" But when she turned around, Kaya was gone. "Mom?" But no matter where Katara looked, she was gone.
And just as quickly as it had come, all of the joy, the excitement Katara had felt faded. For the second time, her mother was gone without so much as a goodbye. And now she would return to her world and it would be another lifetime before she could see her mother again. It was almost like some sort of cruel joke; to have her mother again one moment and to lose her without a word the next. It hurt her far more than she had ever anticipated.
She shook her head. She was being ridiculous; she would see Kaya again. The few years she would have in the world of living were nothing compared to the wealth of time they would have when she died her real death. Time; it was only a matter of time until she would be with her mother again. And right now, she needed to return to her own world. Return to Zuko. So she blinked back the tears and raced to catch up with him. She fell into step behind him; quietly, but silently being lead back to life.
Katara still could not believe it was him. He was supposed to be getting married, naming a Fire Lady, starting a new chapter of his life; instead, he crossed into this world and to save her. He really, truly did love her, more so than she had ever dared to imagine. It both warmed her heart and filled her with fear. Because if he was willing to give up everything to come for her, who was to say he wouldn't do it again when they crossed over?
Zuko was a man of honor; everyone knew that. He loved his nation and he loved his people, but he also loved her. Agni had taken her life, because his love for her was as great, if not greater, than that of his duty. And even though he was a man of honor, he was also a protector. Zuko would do anything for those he cared for, for those he loved.
The light of their world shimmered in the distance. They were close.
If she followed, after all he had done for her, she wouldn't be able to deny him. She loved him and he had more than proven his love for her. But if he tried to leave Mai, if he tried to take Katara as his Fire Lady, his nation would rebel. He would be hated, no one would respect him, and he wouldn't be able to accomplish anything. Either the Fire Nation would crumble or their relationship would. And he had already given her the answer to which of the two he would chose.
She summoned her courage and did the only thing she could.
He spun around instantly.
The only thing he could see was darkness. No matter what direction he turned, it was all that was there. It was as if he were trapped.
At first he had been scared, worried that something had happened to her; that one of Agni's creatures had come after her. Then the confusion came, because if she wasn't hurt, what other reason could she have for calling out to him? She had to know the consequences. And then, when it finally hit him, a storm of emotions flooded through him. He was angry, upset, hurt. He had been so caught up in searching for Agni's traps that he had never stopped to consider that Katara herself could be the trap.
"Why?" He called out, because he had to know.
"I'm sorry." Her voice echoed around him, so he couldn't tell how near or far she was.
"Why, Katara?" He cried. "Why?" He felt her touch brush against his cheek and he immediately reached for it and took her hand in his. "Why?" He couldn't bring himself to hide the betrayal he felt.
"It was my time."
"No, it wasn't! Agni had no right. It wasn't your time."
"But it was, Zuko." She whispered, her voice breaking when she spoke. "Agni was right to fear the consequences of this. You know he was."
"I can balance both." He swore. He could do it. Why couldn't she understand? Why didn't anyone believe him?
"No, you can't. At some point, you'll have to choose and that isn't fair for you." She said. "I died for a reason, Zuko. It may not have been a natural death, but the Spirits deemed it my time. If we fight it, we will only make the initial problem worse. I can't go back with you. I have to stay."
"No! You can still come. Nothing has to change. I'll still marry Mai; we'll act as we always did, whatever you want, but you have to come home."
"We both know we can't do that, Zuko. It would be harder now than ever for us to sit and do nothing. As hard as it is to accept, Agni was being merciful." She explained. "I'm dead. Let me go."
"No." He knew everything she was saying was true, but he still couldn't let go of her. They were so close, he almost had her back. "I love you."
"It isn't forever." She promised. "A life is only so long, Zuko. Go back, take care of your nation, and when your time comes, we'll see each other again. I promise." She brushed her lips against his, but she pulled away before he could do anything else. "Goodbye, Zuko. I love you."
He felt her hand pull away from his, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get a hold of her. "No, Katara." He could feel her slipping. "Katara!"
But it was too late, she was gone.
And, once again, Zuko could do nothing as Katara died.
She was crying on the floor when her mother found her. Kaya didn't waste a second and immediately wrapped her arms around her daughter, holding her closer. "You came back."
"I had to." Katara sobbed. "The Spirits took my life for a reason. If I went back, it, it would make things harder for him. I… I couldn't do that to him. I had to come back." She buried her face in her mother's shoulder.
"You did the right thing." Her mother mumbled.
"I know." She took a deep breath, but didn't dare lift her head.
She didn't dare look her mother in the eye, because, in all honesty, she hated herself for the decision. More than anything, she wanted to return to her family, her friends, to Zuko. He had done so much for her, left everything he had for her and she had turned her back on him. More than anything, she wanted to take it all back, but she knew she couldn't. She had done what was best for everyone and she had to stay with it, even though it was hurting them; even though it had literally killed her.
So she didn't dare look up and, instead, let the tears fall down her cheeks, like raindrops falling from the sky.
Iroh was waiting for him outside the Fire Sages' Temple. When he saw Zuko, he didn't say a word or ask about Katara; he only nodded his head. Zuko was grateful, because he wasn't sure he had the strength to talk about it anymore. All of his emotions – his anger, his hurt, his pain – had faded away. He was tired, too numb to feel anything else.
"What day is it?" He asked his uncle.
"Your wedding day."
Zuko said nothing, only nodded his head and followed Iroh to the Fire Nation Palace. As he did, the skies opened up and the rain came down.
That day, Katara died her second death.
That day, Zuko took Noblewoman Mai as his Fire Lady.
And that day, the rain fell.
The Spirits were pleased.
He turned to her. It was too soon… He held out his arms to clasp her; but on the instant she was gone. She had slipped back into the darkness… The gods would not consent to his entering the world of the dead a second time, while he was still alive. He was forced to return to the earth alone
Orpheus and Eurydice
Note: Finally! I have been working on this since July? August? Somewhere in that ballpark. It's just hard for me to write Zutara now, but I hope this one came out alright. I first read this myth back in 2008 and the moment I did, I was like "must fanfic this!" But I had a really hard time planning this out. I didn't know if I wanted to stick to the original idea or do something a bit different, like with Mai dying and Katara being his guide into the underworld. In the end, I decided to do something in between the two. I really enjoyed this one, though, so I hope you guys do, too. But this is going to be my last new Zutara for a while. I'll still wrap up The One That Walked Away and Nothing in the Light (I swear, I'm working on it!), but I won't post anymore one-shots. The show ended so long ago, that I don't have a good grip on the characters anymore and can't bring myself to do enough research to get back into it. I'm sorry; maybe when Korra comes out I'll feel different.
Also, please be aware that at the end of the month, I will be changing my pen name from Inu Star Angel to MuslimBarbie. It won't change anything else, but I really am sick of this pen name.
This fic is dedicated to River Severn, who drew me a fanart for Ever After. Thanks for being patient with me; I know this took FOREVER to get out.