Tender Nightmares

Part 1

Genre: Romance/Angst
Zuko and Katara
Synopsis: Katara and Zuko share a dream. Takes place at the end of Season 2.
Disclaimer: blah blah blah, Avatar belongs to people not me.

"This..." Zuko looks around at the columns of steam billowing up from the hot spring in the bathing house, "This is a dream."
"I hope so." The reply is bitter and feminine, spat out in disgust, "Though why I'm dreaming about you is a mystery." Without looking up, Zuko knows the silhouette in the mists.

In dreams there is no room for lies or self-defense, even when you want them. Zuko hears the familiar crack of a water-whip, and braces himself for the impact. He screws his eyes shut and grits his teeth against the blow, but opens them to a soft hand on his scarred cheek. He looks down, into hate-filled blue eyes.

"Why?" Katara demands angrily. Her cheeks stained with tears, "Why are you here? I hate you! I've always hated you!" A second hand comes up to punch him, but before he can think to block it changes into an open palm and settles gently against his flesh, "I decide for a split second that maybe you're a human being just long enough for you to betray us! You nearly murdered Aang!" He doesn't think to question the 'nearly', this is a dream, dream logic doesn't need to make sense.
"You don't understand!" Zuko shouts back as his arms, against his will, fold around her. "I needed to be able to come home!" He growls, tears flowing unhindered into her tangled hair, "I need to reclaim my honor."

"Why are you touching me?" For all the hatred in her voice, Katara doesn't struggle, her hands slid away from his cheeks and wrap around his torso in an embrace.
"I don't know!" Zuko tries to pull away, but only succeeds in pulling her closer.

Infuriating, Katara.
Know-it-all, Katara.
Holier-than-thou, Katara.
Infantile, Katara.
Judgmental, Katara.

Beautiful, Katara.

Her head tucks under his chin, unnervingly gentle.
"They took your mother!" The hate in Katara's voice begins to subside, replaced with confusion and worry, "And you're still fighting for them!"
"I needed to redeem myself!" Zuko surprises himself by answering, "And...besides, I shouldn't need to explain myself to you!"
"Then why are you?" Katara hisses. Though, the eyes that look back at him are worried and soft.

Dreams are funny things. Katara and Zuko sink to the bathhouse floor. Silently, they each take in a breath. Despite the billowing steam clouds and the obvious heat, neither feels themselves sweat-drenched. As if the bathhouse exists, but has no bearing on them.

As if they are untouchable.

"I can't let go of you." Zuko growls, "My arms...aren't...listening to me." His voice adopts an angry, dangerous edge, and it sounds like he's struggling, but his arms remain gentle and protective around her. Not a single muscle moves, though, to his confusion, it isn't quite like being frozen.
"I..." Katara's voice shakes with a medley of emotion, "I can't move either." She bends against him in resignation, leaning her head against his chest, feeling the fire of his skin in her cheek. "This is so STUPID!" Her tears are cool on his skin, tears of hate and frustration and sadness.

For a moment, he is ashamed of them. Ashamed that he has no way to stop what is happening. Ashamed, even, that he has made the irritating woman cry.
"Stop! Touching! Me!" Katara howls.
"I'm sorry...Katara..." There is nothing else he can say.

They sit there huddled together for what could have been seconds or days or lifetimes. Katara sighs at length, "I hate you so much." but it was without the earlier venom.
"I hate everything..." Zuko confesses, Katara is cool in his arms. It might be refreshing, he thinks, were it not against his will, "All I've ever wanted was my father's love...and..." He exhales, "I might have that now..."
"I hope you're happy." The venom is nearly tangible as it drips from her lips, but the words sound nearly sincere.
"Me too..." The words ache against his throat and he knows he's lying. Maybe it will be better when he is home. Maybe when the ship pulls in and Azula takes him before their father everything will be alright. "I miss my Uncle..." The words and tears that fall from his scarred eye are lost in Katara's hair.

'Every time I pictured the face of the enemy...it was your face.'

The words resound through the bathhouse, though neither Katara nor Zuko speaks. The prince looks up, and he exhales.
"You were going to heal my face..." There is a small nod against his chest, "And then I betrayed you." He buries his face in her hair, "I'm sorry."

Zuko sat bolt upright in his bed, he huddled forward against his knees and glared at his blanket hard enough he was impressed it didn't catch fire.
"Are you alright, Zuzu?" Azula's mocking voice was the last thing he needed, and the snarl from his throat said it all. It was rewarded with a rich chuckle, "So touchy. Having nightmares, older Brother."
"Go away, Azula."
"Oh, come on Zuzu." Her smile was wicked, "You can tell me what's wrong."

He fired a small bolt of fire at her head.

Azula left, her laughter following her out of the room.

Katara didn't realized she had fallen asleep until she woke up. She looked around frantic, and let out a relieved sigh to find Aang, still unconscious, but breathing beside her. Appa's flying was smooth and steady. Everyone else was asleep, and so she curled up beside his body and wept.
"Please wake up, Aang..." She put her healing hands to his temples, "Please come back."