For the first time, you notice her eyes. They're blue like her tunic –what an odd color for eyes to be- and they aren't filled with hatred, like when she told you to go jump in a river, or sympathy, like when she tried to heal Uncle. They are soft, but firm and clinical, as focused as those of the Royal Physician when he examined your face just like she is now.
You try to keep your breath steady as her fingers roam the scar. It feels foreign and wrong, someone touching your face.
The voice in the back of your head insists that it is wrong; this girl is the enemy, the Avatar's girlfriend. It is selfish and disgraceful for you to even consider letting her "help" you. You were given this mark for a reason. You wonder if this is treason.
Would it even matter? You are branded a traitor anyway.
But you aren't a traitor. You love your country and your father and you should be more concerned with going home than-
"Are you ready?" she almost whispers, drawing the water from her vial and into her palm.
Your stomach soars as the reality hits you. It's possible –this girl who you've been chasing for months is going to heal you. But another thought knocks the air from your lungs.
Is she lying? Will she take it away –snatch the world from under you- just as you let your guard down? This is obviously what she is doing; she's no better than Azula, the horrible, manipulative peasant. No one would be so naïve as to use something so special on an enemy. And you're just as naïve for allowing her to trick you. You want to slap her for mocking you –haven't you been through enough?
But she looks so sincere, staring up at you with the water swirling around her hand. Before either of you can change your mind, you-
She nods once and you close your eyes as the water starts to glow.
The water is cold –too cold- on your tender skin, but then it is hot and it stings and burns but nothing could ever come close to the pain you've already endured and then it is over. She pulls back and bends the water off of your face.
You open your eyes and you feel sick because everything is too clear, too sharp, and your range of vision has expanded. Your hands are on your face and it is smooth and soft and bald, but that makes sense because hair takes time to grow, and you realize that your eyes are wet, both of them, because you are crying. You wipe away your tears and see that she is crying too, her miraculous hands clasped in front of her mouth as tiny tears roll down her cheeks.
Then her arms are around your neck and she's telling you you're beautiful and it is strange because you've convinced yourself that you're hideous, disfigured, but not anymore.
You feel such gratitude towards this girl, who is so kind and trusting and forgiving it hurts you, that you hug her back.
"Thank you. I –Thank you…"
"Katara," she laughs into your shoulder, "My name is Katara."
"Thank you, Kata-"
The wall crashes open, your uncle and the Avatar walking in through the dusty hole, and the Avatar is shouting.
"Get away from her!"
His hand doesn't quite wrap around your bicep as he throws you away from her. He is speaking very quickly and loudly, but you can only hear your uncle's awed whisper as he holds your face, wiping a thumb across your restored cheek.
"What has happened to you, my nephew?"
"I…" you trail off as you hear Katara reassure the Avatar.
"Aang, it's okay! Zuko's on our side now –he's going to help us!"
Uncle claps you on the back.
"I am so proud of you, Prince Zuko."
You can't think straight. You don't remember saying anything about helping them –that would be treason. You aren't a traitor. Was this the unspoken condition of removing your scar? Or had she misinterpreted your acceptance of her help as acceptance of her beliefs?
The crystals crack open again, the green bits of rock scattering across the ground.
"Azula," Uncle mutters, then barks at the Avatar. "Go! Find your friends; we can hold her off."
They both nod to you and the Avatar leads Katara away by the hand. She gives you a small smile as they leave.
Crystals fly up and trap Uncle and you take a bending stance.
"Oh, please, Zuzu," your sister rolls her eyes and pauses on your face. "Well, what happened to you?"
She drags an unwelcome finger over the spot where your eyebrow should -will- be and tucks a lock of hair behind your ear.
"I need your help, Zuko," she looks up at you through dark eyelashes, painted lips parted just so. "We can return together, as heroes."
"Don't listen to her, Prince Zuko!"
You jump –you had forgotten that anyone else was in the room, but with a snap of Azula's fingers, Uncle is taken away.
"Come home with me, Zuko. I'm going conquer this city within the night. And if you help me, your honor will be restored. Not to mention it decreases the chance of injury for my team; you remember Mai and Ty Lee, I presume?"
"Mai's here?" The words almost catch in your throat.
"Of course," Azula smirks. You hear rocks crashing in the distance and Azula turns to leave. "Choose wisely, Zuzu."
You collapse as soon as she's left and your head is in your hands. Pictures overwhelm your mind – your uncle's proud smile- the Avatar snarling as his girlfriend embraced you- your father seconds away from burning your face- the waterbender naively assuming your allegiance- the faces that mean home: so smart Azula, supportive in her own horrible way, so odd yet sweet Ty Lee, who used to braid flowers into your hair, and Mai, almost smiling with her eyes closed as the sun shone through her wind scattered bangs- your father restoring your honor as the waterbender has restored your face- your father , angry, and prepared to brand his discarded lessons into you again.
You can hardly breathe, but another rock explosion calls you to the fight. You cast aside your robe and run.
You blink and when you open your eyes, your entire body is screaming in protest –of what, you don't know- and you're shooting fire between your sister, your healer, and the Avatar.
"Zuko!" Katara smiles and narrows her eyes at Azula tauntingly. Azula merely laughs and holds her stance.
"Hello, brother. Care to join us any time soon?"
The battle freezes and you look at each of them.
Azula holds the promise of everything you've wanted in her bronze eyes that feel like home. Her arrogant smirk tells you that she believes you are here to help her, properly manipulated even as you knew it was happening.
Katara is confident in her judgment as well; she has made a fantastic sacrifice to help you and trusts that you will make the right choice, her right choice.
The Avatar's eyes darken with suspicion –you have given him plenty of reason not to trust you, but there is something else there in the way his eyebrows almost perk up in the center –pleading? You are reminded of when you were lying on the forest ground after what had turned into a mutual rescue mission. He had asked to be friends.
Bronze, blue, grey.