Deffie (DefyGravity2502) said she wanted some more Memories For Us. I tried but I just kept getting distracted by the music. That happens, sometimes. Instead, this came to me. I don't know from where or why or how or anything. I am merely a typing vessel for my muse.
I am sending super vibes, Deffie. I want the Agni Kai to come soon *evil glare*
Also, comments will be loved. As usual.
EDIT: I am a moron. I've revised this fic so that the gaang is where they're supposed to be after The Southern Raiders. Sorry for being a moron, Deffie. And thanks to Kimberly T for pointing out my horrible mistake.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Avatar is Bryke's, Zuko's abs are his, this fic is Deffie's.
When Zuko burned, he burned intensely. Firebenders have a natural defense against fevers; their internal fires usually burn out the attacking virus or infection long before the body's first level of immunity can make itself known. In fact, Zuko had only had a fever three times in his entire life.
Right then happened to be the third.
His sweat trickled from his brow and down his neck onto his heaving shoulders. Everything in his body seemed to be quivering; he could not keep his fingers still. It was getting harder and harder to suck in air and to stay on his feet but he refused to succumb to his begging limbs and throbbing head. Instead he grit his teeth against the waves of dizziness crashing at the back of his brain and flew again into a training exercise.
He pushed his shaking, aching, tired body as much as he could, desperately trying to build up as much heat as possible. He needed to be the warmest he could be without frying himself. It was uncomfortable and agonizing now but when his fever reached the second stage he would need every ounce of warmth he could get. For in the second stage of fever a Firebender's body decides enough is enough and it fights the unnatural heat the only way it knows how: by shutting down its internal flame. Many Firebenders had died because they had frozen to death from a fever. He would not let it happen; he'd only just got his bending back, thank you very much.
And so he pushed on, ignoring the times he stumbled or tripped or sent the world spinning sickeningly. He had to stay warm, even if the heat felt like it was killing him. It was a dangerous line he was walking, but like most dangers the ex-prince faced it with grim determination. Zuko pushed his body through the forms but never once let even a hint of a flame escape him even though bending would stoke his internal fires even more and create more of the dreaded and yet craved heat. Cold may be on its way to him but right then his body was raging with fever- his Firebending would be powerful and unpredictable. And in a place as confined as his family's holiday house he could not risk his fire running amok. It had only been a week or so since he'd burnt Toph's feet- he did not want another such incident.
Suddenly the distant wall Zuko was facing slid up and out of his vision. Instead he was abruptly facing the courtyard floor. It took a few seconds for Zuko to register that his knees and palms were aching more than before. It took a few more seconds for him to realize that he had fallen to his hands and knees. As though puzzling all that out had been too much effort for him, his head suddenly flared with pain. Groaning, Zuko finally gave in and crossed his arms across the floor so his head could rest on them. There was not much relief granted by this action, but the little bit of relief given was enough for him.
And so he remained in a position the Sages usually prayed in- his knees curled in under his body, his back hunched over and his head on the floor- while sweat continued to trickle down his neck and face and his body continued to tremble. Even though the position he was in was far from comfortable he could have stayed like that for ages. And he probably would have, if Katara had not come looking for him.
The Firebender winced at the volume of her shout and her footsteps. Couldn't she walk quieter? She sounded like a hippobear! Mercifully, the footsteps stopped. Zuko was just about to sigh in relief when Katara's voice came again.
"Zuko?" This time his name was quieter and hesitant.
Crap. She was probably standing at the door looking at him. And he was hunched on the floor, practically with his ass in the air. Just perfect. Summoning his will and strength he pushed himself into a kneeling position, trying to ignore the increased pressure in his head. Instead he gave Katara a slightly raised eyebrow look, a clear 'Yes, what do you want?' gaze, as though people regularly found him in ridiculous positions on the floor.
"Uhm…" The Waterbender was still a little hesitant. Things were better between her and Zuko- much better- but they were still rather cautious around each other. It had only been two days since the whole Southern Raiders incident, after all. "I was wondering if… you wanted to spar with me? You know, get in some training. Everybody else is too busy or too lazy and…" She trailed off.
Under normal circumstances, Zuko would have smirked and taken her up on the offer at once. It would not even have bothered him that he appeared to be the last resort to curb her boredom- he realized he still didn't deserve much better where she was concerned. And the chance to match his bending against hers yet again would have soothed any wounded pride he had at once. But even sitting straight was a tax to him then, and he knew he should not- under any circumstances- bend right then.
"Uh… I'm… Uhm… Kinda busy…"
Katara's face pulled into a pout at once. Not only was she disappointed at the refusal but she was also angry at the way it had been so blunt. And without proper reason, too! Her eyes narrowed in a way that left Zuko expecting the worse. Inwardly he groaned: the spirits loved torturing him, didn't they? Katara's pout turned to a glower, and her hands rested on her hips in true Katara fashion.
"Well, I'm sorry I asked. I was just trying to be nice. But apparently you don't train with peasants unless you have to, huh? There's nobody around to see you Zuko so you can-"
Zuko never found out what he could do. Katara cut off in mid sentence, staring at him in a very strange manner. Zuko was utterly confused until he realized that his body was trembling again from a mixture of fatigue and fever. The hard glint in Katara's eyes changed but did not lose any of its intensity.
"Are you okay?" She was now peering instead of glaring.
"I'm fine," Zuko said at once, his head automatically raising higher.
She did not look convinced in the slightest. And so Zuko drew on his very last reserves of strength and pushed himself to his feet. He felt less vulnerable at once- he was taller than Katara now- and saw her automatically back up a bit. Everything would have been fine and normal and dandy if the ex-prince's body didn't choose that moment to finally rebel against him completely. Before he knew what was happening he was looking up at a hole of sky through leaves, his limbs spread awkwardly and his head throbbing even more than it had a few moments ago. The piece of sky above him grew fuzzy and there seemed to be a slight buzzing in his ears. The buzzing seemed to be calling his name, too. Oh no, wait… That was Katara…
Her steps towards him vibrated through the floor in perfect sync with the pounding in his head. He wondered, vaguely, if it was on purpose. Then her face was blocking out the patch of sky, peering down at him very anxiously even though it swam in and out of focus every now and then. Her lips were moving, but the infernal buzzing in his ears prevented him from hearing what was being said. And then, unexpectedly, things cleared up again.
"Zuko! Zuko, are you okay? Hey, are you okay?"
He blinked slowly. "Yeah I'm-"
"Say 'fine' and I'll hurt you for lying to me. What's wrong?"
He decided against making up some story. She was, honestly, rather scary when she was mad. And he just didn't have the energy to think up something brilliant and plausible at that very moment.
"Head hurts," he mumbled. That was a bit of an understatement, but he'd go with that.
And suddenly his forehead was being probed and investigated by Katara's fingers. The feeling of being touched- especially on the face- was still new to Zuko and he didn't know if he liked it or not. But then he noted how cool Katara's fingers were and he never wanted her hands to leave him ever, ever again. A sigh of relief escaped his lips and he closed his eyes as the pleasant sensation of cold Waterbender fingers washed through his body.
"You have a fever." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah, a little bit." He didn't even have the will to be biting and sarcastic.
"Then why the hell were you training like a possessed person?" she yelped, making him wince at the pitch and intensity of her voice. She lowered it before asking, "Are you insane?"
"No." He sounded faintly irritated; couldn't she shut up and let him sleep with her cold fingers on his head? "I have to keep warm."
"Warm?" She sounded as though she really doubted his sanity now.
He groaned. "Firebenders have two stages to a fever. The second stage is when our bodies shut down their natural heat to try and fight it."
"Oh." She sounded surprised and intrigued. "Uhm… What happens if you don't…?"
Zuko looked at her for a moment. "We die. Slowly."
Ocean blue eyes widened, the interest suddenly replaced with horror and fear. He felt a vague stab of guilt for making her look that panicked but he didn't have the will to do much about it. Katara began babbling, looking around as though expecting some miracle means of warmth to appear around them.
"What about bending?" she suddenly suggested. "You don't have to stand. Just… Lie here and shoot fire-"
"No!" His answer came out harsher than he intended and a hurt look crossed Katara's face.
"Sorry. I was just trying to help," she muttered darkly.
"I know," he sighed. "But I can't." She opened her mouth to ask so he added, "Katara. I'm almost literally a raging ball of fire right now. I won't be able to control my bending. And if you stand too close, or if Aang suddenly walks out or Toph or… I can't."
Her face turned soft and understanding as he began to shiver again. And suddenly he realized how vulnerable he was. He was lying on the ground at Katara's feet, shaking and sweating like a weakling. Disgust for himself and his weakness rose up in him and he pushed himself into a sitting position at once. Katara jerked back in surprise at the sudden movement and then leant in again to grasp his shoulders when he swayed.
"I think you should stay down."
His tone was stubborn, and she recognized the note in it. The Waterbender rolled her eyes exasperatedly to the heavens. Zuko and his damn pride. Honestly.
"Look, I promise I won't tell anybody," she said, her tone a little dry.
The rest of Zuko's answer was drowned out as the dreaded cough finally made itself known. His body hacked with the movements, the nausea and headache escalating as his lungs tried their best to choke him to death. Katara's hands were on his back, rubbing and patting and trying their best to sooth him. He had his head turned away from her so he could not see that she was wincing. Finally he was allowed to breathe again and he gulped down air thankfully.
"I'm not used to this," he told her quietly. "Being sick. I don't know how to handle it."
She had to give him a soft smile. "That's the thing about being sick, though: you don't have to handle it. Your friends and family take care of you- they handle it. You just have to sleep and get better."
Zuko gave her a look that was so strange it made her heart clench. His gold eyes looked almost… disbelieving. Like a child who had just been told he was getting a very big present he'd never expected before. And it hit her then that Zuko didn't really have many family members or friends who would take care of him when he was sick.
"Come on," she said quietly. "Let's get you inside. There are blankets in there. Warmth."
Zuko's eyes flickered to the distant side of the house where his room was. He didn't look too pleased about the prospect of staggering all the way back there. Katara saw and an absurd idea flew into her mind. Before she could talk herself out of it she spoke it aloud.
"It's okay. You can stay in my room. It's right here."
He looked at her with huge eyes. With the white pallor to his skin and the sweat sticking to his face and hair he looked a little deranged.
"I can't stay in your room," he half yelped.
She ignored the blush creeping up her face and gave him a calm look. "And why not?"
He stared at her with his mouth slightly agape, obviously not completely sure she wasn't messing with him. She sighed and rolled her eyes.
"You're not going to do anything to me, are you?"
Some colour appeared in his cheeks again. She could feel the same red-hot heat creeping around her neck and cheeks.
"No," he answered vehemently.
"Well then I don't see the problem. It's close and I'll also be closer so I can help you heal."
He was still staring at her. She put some of it down to the fever making things fuzzy and surreal, but she knew the other bit was because he simply could not believe what she was saying. Her manner softened again.
"I'm a healer, remember? And I may not be able to do a thing to help chase away the virus or whatever you have, but I can help you through it. I'm going to help you through it."
He didn't have an answer to that, but Katara didn't expect one. Instead she shifted closer to him and gripped his arm to help him stand. Somewhere in his low and slightly clumsy ascent the muttered words 'thank you' reached Katara's ears, making her smile ever so slightly. Her mind was taken off the slightly awkward moment, however, when Zuko immediately began to sway. She pulled him closer and tried to steady him but after three steps towards her room they couldn't keep it together any more. Zuko's legs caved and, being unprepared, Katara was pulled to the floor with him. She landed with her elbow jabbing him hard in the stomach, the rest of her body crashing down onto him afterwards.
"Oh my gosh, I am so sorry! Are you okay? Zuko?"
The ex-prince looked even more dazed than before and he was rather winded, a condition that wasn't helped much by the now-persistent cough. Katara winced at his hacking and her hands hovered awkwardly around his shoulders as he tried to get his breath back.
"I'm sorry," she moaned guiltily.
He shook his head, running shaking hands across his face. "It's fine. I can handle injury."
She thought his comment weird but put it down to the fever and the two knocks to the head he'd received in the space of ten minutes. This time he didn't wait for her and instead pushed himself to his feet alone, making her have to swoop forward and grab hold of his arm as he lilted to the side. The journey became a little easier once they left the courtyard and went inside for then Zuko could hold onto the wall as well as Katara. But even so by the time they reached Katara's room the Firebender was spent. He allowed himself to collapse onto Katara's bed without another word of protest and once his body sank into the mattress he didn't move save to cradle his head in his hands.
Spirits, Agni and Avatar Roku his head hurt. Katara, noticing his plight, felt a deep stab of sympathy for her once enemy. Healing people of fevers and sicknesses required driving out the viruses or bacteria that caused the sicknesses. This level of healing could only be reached by the most skilled of all healers- something she was not. She could mend bone, stitch together skin, heal organs and remove poison from the blood but fighting living microorganisms was beyond her. She could, however, help with his headache. Covering her hands with the water from her water skin she bent down beside him and gently placed her fingers over his right temple and his forehead. Zuko jerked in surprise at the contact but as soon as he felt her healing working he relaxed, even letting out a noise of pure relief as the pounding went away. Katara healed silently, very careful not to touch his scar: neither of them were ready for that to happen again. Not yet.
When she had done all she could for him, Katara rose to her feet and placed her water back in her pouch. Telling Zuko to stay down she quickly left the room and began hunting down every blanket she could find in the old house. She knew the rest of the gaang would not appreciate being left with only the threadbare wrappings, but they'd just have to understand. On a whim she grabbed Sokka's parka from his room too, paying no attention to the fact that she knew her brother would not like it at all. Zuko had to be kept warm and that was all that mattered. By the time she returned Zuko was almost asleep, shivering and coughing and sweating away. He looked even worse than when she'd left and this greatly worried her- she could do nothing at all to help.
"How you doing?" she asked him, dumping the heavy pile of blankets next to the bed and beginning to drape them over him.
Zuko's eyes opened slowly and focused first on the blankets and then on her. "Fine."
It was the worst lie he'd ever told her. "You're a terrible liar."
A ghost of a smile twitched across his face. "Everybody always tells me that."
His eyes started drifting closed again and Katara bit her lip, her hands nervously twisting the last two blankets that she would leave off him until the cold set in. It was so weird to be standing next to Prince Zuko while he lay down in a bed. And that was ignoring the fact that it was her bed and he was as sick as she'd ever seen anybody.
"Uh… I don't think you should fall asleep," she said gently. "If you're asleep when you start getting cold…"
She'd seen many old or sick people die in her village from falling asleep when they were cold. True, the situation wasn't really the same but she was very sure the same principals applied. Zuko's eyes opened again, blinking at her tiredly.
"You could… uhm… talk to me. To stay awake." He looked at her expectantly, obviously waiting for some sort of question or conversation starter. Her mind frantically searched for something and she blurted out the first thing that came to her. "What did you mean earlier when you said you can handle injury?" She immediately felt foolish for asking.
"I meant just that. Injuries don't usually bother or… hinder… me. I can usually ignore them and carry on as normal. I've grown used to injury. I have a… high pain tolerance, I think it's called."
He said it in a weak, matter-of-fact tone, like he was commenting on the weather or the colour of her clothes. And yet Katara was sure that he would never have told her that piece of information if he was healthy. It was… too personal.
"You've… grown used to injury?"
Again he gave her an almost-smile. "Katara, I sailed around on a ship for nearly three years. Out on the open ocean isn't exactly as calm and happy as it sounds. And after that… Well, you know how good you guys are at fighting."
Katara suddenly felt like she'd just been run over by Ba Sing Se's train. For the first time in her life she realized that she- and all the other members of the gaang and their friends- probably hurt Zuko. Physically hurt him. They'd always gotten off with scratches or one or two bruises- save for the time Azula had shot Aang with lightning, of course- but she'd never given thought to what they had given to Zuko. He had always fought them alone and lost. With a kind of growing horror she was taken back to the Spirit Oasis and how much her head had hurt after Zuko had pushed her against the pole. How many scratches and bruises she'd had to heal on herself. How Zuko's face had already been cut and bruised when he'd come to fight her and how many times she'd knocked him into things after that. How she had attacked him so hard he'd fallen unconscious at their feet in the snow.
And she was suddenly speared with a truth she'd never considered before. Zuko was not indestructible, as they'd first thought. He was simply very good at hiding his pain.
"Oh." The Waterbender's voice was very small. She couldn't think of anything else to say.
Zuko looked confused, picking up on her change of mood, but before he could say anything he suddenly hissed and stiffened. His back arched a little and his face screwed up in a tight grimace.
"What?" Katara hovered closer, alarmed but unsure.
"It's starting." Came the hoarse answer.
She just looked at him, expecting some kind of change or something but saw nothing but the same pale, pale face drenched in sweat. Zuko lifted his hand and placed his fingers against her cheek. They were ice cold, drawing a startled gasp from her lips and making her eyes widen.
"It starts at the extremities and works up to the chest," he explained,
It looked like he wanted to say more but his words turned into yet another cough, folding his body over and causing it to tremble quite violently. Katara sat crossed-legged on the ground beside him, making sure the blankets and parka were in easy distance. The coughing ended but the trembling continued, almost seeming to make his entire body vibrate.
"Back off a bit," he asked her hoarsely.
But she refused to move. Not having the patience or strength to argue with her Zuko rolled onto his side so his back was towards her. Before she could make a sound of protest he snapped his fingers and fire appeared on his palm. The Waterbender then understood; he was bending to keep warm. Over and over Zuko systematically caused flame to appear on his hands, making it grow before snuffing it out with one movement. But as his shaking increased the flames grew smaller and smaller until he clicked and nothing came. Almost reflexively Zuko rolled onto his back again and stared at his shaking hands. Once more he tried to call fire and once again it failed to come. His bending was gone. His expression twisted into something that Katara would never be able to name. It was completely foreign to her, but it still managed to make her heart clench and go out to him. Zuko's hands curled into fists and he shut his eyes tight, his face still in that strange, haunting expression. His wince was deep: the pain he was feeling right then was not physical, but it was deep enough to be. When his eyes opened the golden fire Katara usually saw in them was gone, watered down to a dying ember inside of him. He looked almost completely hopeless; as though he'd just lost a battle and knew it.
Katara would remember that expression and that look in Zuko's eyes a few days later. Aang would fly triumphantly to find her in the Fire Nation, beaming that he'd defeated the Firelord without killing him. And Katara would force a smile but inwardly remember Zuko's face and wonder if it would not have been more humane to kill Ozai, after all.
Zuko's teeth began to chatter and even though Katara was rather alarmed by the action she was also awed. Zuko had gone from flaming volcano to human iceberg in less than half an hour. And the weather outside was only mild.
"What does it feel like?" She couldn't stop herself from asking.
"Like I'm h…hollow. In…nside. Hollow a…and c…cold."
For a moment she allowed herself to imagine not being able to Waterbend. The thought scared her, quite honestly. She snapped herself back to the present and quickly began peeling of the blankets covering Zuko. He blinked in astonishment at her but did not protest. She realized with another jolt that he trusted her enough to let her do what she wanted. Grabbing Sokka's parka she almost smiled at the less-than-enthusiastic look Zuko gave it.
"You're putting it on." Her tone left no room for argument.
She helped him slip the thick parka over his tunic and then layered the blankets on top of him until it looked like she was trying to suffocate him with coverings. Slowly Zuko's shivering calmed down until it was only a slight tremble. His eyes began to droop shut again and this time she let him sleep. Spirits knew he'd need it. Time passed slowly after that. She stayed on the floor, leaving her spot only briefly to grab some torn clothes that she had to mend for the rest. Zuko's breathing was calming and she found she stitched in rhythm with it. He'd been asleep for about three hours when Toph found them.
Katara looked up at the noise of cloth rustling against the doorpost. The blind Earthbender leant against the doorframe, head cocked to the side. For a long while Katara stared at her and Toph took in the room, probably 'seeing' more than Katara could fathom.
"What happened?" Toph finally asked.
Katara told her, feeling guilty and uncomfortable for unknown reasons. Toph was uncharacteristically serious, not teasing or cracking a joke even once. After Katara was finished explaining the younger girl nodded and shrugged herself from the wall.
"I'll tell the others. And make sure none of them complain about the lack of blankets too much or try and come here. Fan Girl can make dinner and I'll bring you guys some."
Somehow, Toph's promise for secrecy made Katara's heart soar. It was silly, actually, because she knew she wasn't hiding anything. But somehow her body thought that she was and that anybody seeing her and Zuko like that would be… wrong. Toph seemed to understand this, somehow. The blind girl stopped after a few paces.
"Only… what are you going to do after sunset?"
Katara frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the sun's up now. The day is warm and his power source is right there. And yet you're using all our blankets to keep him warm. What are you going to do when the sun sets?"
The Waterbender's mouth went as dry as bone. She hadn't realized this yet; hadn't thought that more danger was lurking right around the corner. "I don't know," she whispered. Then, with more strength, "I'll figure it out when we get there."
Toph just nodded and walked away still lost in her un-Toph-like seriousness and humility. Katara stared curiously after her for a while but then just shook her head and returned to the task at hand. She could only worry about one person at once. The hours ticked by and sunset came closer and closer, bringing with it the same sort of impending doom that Katara felt when she thought about Sozin's Comet. She wondered if she should get up and check every now and then what the sun's position in the sky was, just to be sure. But it turned out she didn't need to see.
As soon as the sun began descending rapidly towards the horizon, Zuko began to shiver again. At first she thought it was just her paranoia, but when the light coming from her window bathed the floor pink and orange and the Firebender was shaking like a leaf in a gale she had to admit that Toph's prediction had been right.
The first thing she did when she admitted the truth was swear. Loudly.
Then she began to frantically try to find ways to keep him warm. There were no more blankets. A fire was out- Sokka had tried it before with disastrous consequences. Zuko couldn't keep himself warm. Maybe if they created a hot spring somewhere in the house or outside? Aang could Firebend the water warm… While she contemplated this idea she seated herself on the bed beside Zuko and began to try and wake him. No person should sleep when they were that cold. It took much longer for the ex-prince to open his eyes than was safe and Katara felt her heart begin to pump faster in fear. When the gold eyes did open they were bleary for a long while before focusing.
"Sun w…went down?"
"Yeah." And then, because she was very desperate, "I don't know what else to do."
His eyes were closed again. "S'kay."
"No, it's not. And stay awake!"
If the situation weren't so tense Katara would have been surprised that Zuko actually obeyed her. As it was she was just glad he wasn't asleep again. Images of herself trying in vain to rouse his cold, lifeless form kept screaming through her head. She grew suddenly frustrated: there had to be something they could do! If only she had more blankets. If only Zuko had some body warmth left- that would heat the blankets and then he'd be fine.
Wait. She blinked. Body warmth. What if… No. There was no way. It was preposterous! A mortified, absolutely embarrassed blush clamed her face instantly. But it was also at that moment that the actual situation she was in became clear to her. She, Katara of the Water Tribe, was sitting around helping the Firelord's son. And she was doing it not out of duty but because she wanted to help him. The whole situation was utterly preposterous and yet up until then she hadn't thought twice about it. She cared- actually cared- about Zuko enough to want to heal him when he was sick without having any second thoughts or self-centered rebuttals. Zuko had become a close friend.
She almost laughed at the absurdity of the last thought. But then she remembered the idea that had sparked her inner epiphany and she swallowed hard. For another moment she debated. And then she jumped into action. Throwing off her shoes she began peeling back the blankets again. Zuko cracked his eyes open to watch hr but his attention was vague. Until Katara began climbing into the bed too. Then he jerked, suddenly very awake, and stared at her with the same flabbergasted look he'd given her when she suggested he go to her room in the first place.
Spirits. He must think I lured him here under false pretenses so I could jump him. Katara wanted to die from shame and embarrassment and mortification.
"Body heat," she explained to her patient in a very small, very girlie voice.
It took a while for his fuzzy brain to understand her message. When he finally did he didn't look that much less uncomfortable. "You d…don't-"
"I know," she cut him off. "I… Want to."
The Waterbender and the Firebender stared at each other for a while before Zuko seemed to accept the fact. It was when he dropped his eyes away from hers that Katara finally noticed how hot it was under the blankets for her. It was almost stifling. After only a few minutes she was already sweating and feeling very uncomfortable- she was used to freezing temperatures. But cause was granted to her madness when she noticed Zuko sigh with relief, his teeth no longer clashing together violently. She let her patient begin to doze, keeping a close eye on him in case she had to wake him. Without warning Zuko suddenly shifted much closer to her, his body drawn in by the heat.
Katara stiffened. It was the closest she'd ever been to Zuko: their bodies were a mere inch apart. His face was turned towards her and his eyes were closed, indicating that he wasn't very aware that he was almost on top of her. And slowly her body relaxed. He looked… peaceful. It was a new experience for her; she was used to stubborn, angry, fiery, passionate, hateful. And while she had to admit that the passion burning in his eyes was nice to her- when it wasn't aimed at destroying her family or the world's last hope, of course- she also found herself softening towards calm Zuko. He looked… younger. She could finally see that he really wasn't that much older than her own brother.
His fingers twitched towards her and she jumped at their icy contact on her arm. Deciding it was high time she cooled down and he warmed up she bit her lip and placed her palms on his arms, watching him carefully in case he woke up. But Zuko seemed to drift even further into sleep, relaxing even more under her warm touch. And then he shifted even closer and she did the thing that she later assured herself was the natural reaction: she wrapped her arms around him.
He was a lot colder than she thought he'd be and she sucked in breath sharply. He reacted to the warmth by stirring and she instantly began softly talking him back to sleep. Not only did he need the rest but she really, honestly didn't want him to awake to her holding him. It was just… No. Zuko slept on, only occasionally twitching as a bad dream played over him. In those moments Katara wondered again about his history and the blank spots that existed about him. And, strangely, she thought about asking him about it all when the war was done. She wanted to know more about him. She wanted to understand why his face screwed up when he muttered his sister's name in his sleep. She wanted to know about his mother with the same sort of craving that she wanted to know about hers. And, probably most importantly, she wanted to know who or what had been cruel enough to scar him.
And, honestly, wanting to know that bad scared her. Because she didn't know why she wanted to know him that intimately, that intensely.
Eventually she too fell asleep- it was the natural reaction to his breathing and the now-comfortable warmth of the bed. And that was how Toph found them when she came bearing dinner hours later. The blind Earthbender felt the vibrations silently. She couldn't see their arms wrapped around each other of Katara's head on Zuko's chest but she felt enough to understand that nobody else should see the scene before her. She bended the door closed, careful to be quiet. And then she smiled wryly to herself. Spirits, she was being solemn and kind. Maybe the world was going to end. To make up for her good deeds and seriousness she sent Sokka flying with some well-placed rock. Just because she could. While he complained and the rest laughed or tried to sooth him she tossed her head back and stared sightlessly at the heavens.
Toph was not stupid. She knew about destinies and fates and although she thought both were stupid- to put it very nicely- and deserved to be shoved in dark places and trodden upon she couldn't deny that some destinies just had to happen. Particularly when your world was entwined with the person who would save the universe. And the things that had been unfolding before her between water and fire were not part of the destiny the world needed. She knew that. And she knew Katara and Zuko knew that. She just hoped they would remember that when logic and destiny became their enemies.
She had never been one to pray. Praying was for sissies and whiny idiots. But at that moment she begged internally that whatever higher power there was would hear her.
"Spirits… Help them," she whispered.
The stars twinkled above her merrily, their light lost to her sightless eyes.