AN: I do not own any of these characters or any of the dialogue in this show. I am merely a fan who was robbed of Zutara, and now I'm fixing it for myself and whoever wants to read it. I'm not sure how far this story will go, if I'll delve into Korra plot or if I'll just stick with ATLA. But there is definitely at least another chapter, and depending on reviews, who knows? Hope you enjoy.
Also, this is my first ever Zutara fic, and my first time writing in years. Rated MA for later chapters, this segment is M.
Setting: The gAang is at The Ember Island Players show and Zuko overhears Katara and Aang's discussion on the balcony. Feelings follow.
Intermission. Finally. Zuko knew it had been an awful idea to see this play. The acting was pathetic, the characters were nothing like them, and worst of all, it had got him thinking. He'd been trying to do less of that since he'd joined the Avatar's group. Thinking was dangerous. He glanced to his right as Katara started to stand.
Thinking was very dangerous.
But even as poorly acted as it was, seeing him and Katara in that cave again brought back memories. Of how she had trusted him. Of how she had opened up about her mother. Of the strange feeling that possessed him when she cried, a feeling that begged his arms to embrace her. He'd never felt that warm before, not even with Mai.
And worst of all, it brought back the guilt. Agni, but he was good at guilt. Katara had trusted him, believed enough in his goodness to do the right thing, and he failed the test. He failed her. It didn't sit well with him, even after their trip together. Katara seemed more comfortable around him, seemed to have accepted him into the group, but it wasn't enough.
Because in that cave, for the smallest second, she had accepted him into her heart. And that betrayal would take more than time to heal.
Zuko stood to stretch his legs, wandering out of the theatre with the group. Katara wanted to look for Aang. She was always looking for Aang, it seemed. Sokka and Suki went off to who knows where, and that left him and Toph. Even blind, she was one of the most perceptive members of their group, and she could feel that Zuko was down.
He told her about his uncle. It was a huge part of why he felt this way, but if he were honest, it wasn't the whole reason. He wanted it to be just his betrayal of his uncle—that was a huge mistake that he could never undo. He should be angry with himself for that. But that moment with Katara…it was hurtful, yes. But Uncle Iroh raised him. That betrayal cut deep. He had just met Katara.
So why did his betrayal of her sting just as badly?
A small child ran from the theatre and stopped in front of him. "Your Zuko costume is pretty good, but the scar's on the wrong side." The child took off running down the hall while Toph laughed.
Zuko nearly burned the little jerk's cape right off him. "The scar is NOT on the wrong side!" he bellowed, but it only made Toph laugh more. Frustrated, he pulled his hood over his head. Toph kept laughing.
"Would you stop it?"
"Geez, cool it Sparky. You have to admit, that was funny."
Zuko took a deep breath and stood. "I'm going to find Aang and Katara. The play's probably going to start soon."
He walked off in the direction of Katara, unsure exactly where outside she was checking. He heard voices he recognized and followed them. He was about to walk onto the balcony when he heard Aang's angry voice.
"…I would probably be in the Avatar state right now!"
Zuko decided not to interfere. It was obvious Katara and Aang had some kind of history. He knew it was wrong to listen. Good guys don't eavesdrop on personal conversations.
Well, he was new at this. He kept listening.
"Katara…did you really mean what you said in there?"
"In where? What are you talking about?"
"On stage! When you said I was just like a brother to you, and you didn't have feelings for me."
Wow. Sometimes it was easy to forget that Aang was only 13. And then sometimes he made it painfully obvious.
"I didn't say that. An actor said that."
"But it's true, isn't it?" Aang sounded really upset, so much so that Zuko almost pitied him.
Aang continued. "We kissed at the invasion, and I thought we were gonna be together…but we're not."
They kissed? Any sympathetic feelings Zuko had were replaced by jealousy, and then that jealousy was replaced by shame. Of course they kissed. It made complete sense, they'd been friends for so long now. He didn't have any claim on Katara. Not pausing to examine the fact that some part of him did want a claim on Katara, he kept listening.
"Aang…I don't know."
"Why don't you know?"
"Because we're in the middle of a war, and we have other things to worry about. This isn't the right time."
"When is the right time?"
"Aang, I'm sorry, but right now, I'm just a little confused."
A small part of Zuko leapt at that. Confused. She was confused about her feelings for Aang. He wondered if any of that confusion was directed his way.
They didn't say anything for a time, but Zuko kept listening. He was tense, afraid that at any minute they'd hear him, or start walking towards him. But the silence was explained when Zuko heard the undeniable sound of lips pulling away.
Zuko closed his eyes and took what was supposed to be a calming breath. All it did was fuel the flames that threatened at his fingertips. He balled his hands into fists to quell the heat.
He heard Katara next. "I just said I was confused!" She didn't sound happy about the kiss. Aang seemed to have overstepped some kind of boundary. They paused awkwardly before Katara spoke again.
"I'm going inside."
Zuko quickly walked away and turned a corner, then came back around and jogged up to her, hoping she'd believe that he was just getting there now. "Katara? The play's about to start again."
If she didn't buy it, she didn't show it. She seemed a bit preoccupied and answered distractedly. "Okay, thanks. I'll tell Aang."
Zuko walked away, trying to put their conversation out of his mind. If he had to sit between the two of them for the rest of this forsaken play, he would have to get a hold of himself.
The Stage Fire Lord and Azula were talking about the final battle. The battle that no one in that box wanted to think about. Stage Zuko entered and told the Avatar to get the Fire Lord, that he would take care of Azula.
The fight was short and simple, but to Zuko it seemed to last forever. This is how it could go. This could really happen in a few short days. Finally, Azula captured Zuko in a burst of flame, and the actor shouted something about honor as he died.
Zuko's eyes widened and his mouth hung agape. He could feel every pair of eyes in their box trained on him. And as much as he wanted to blow it off with some comment about his "superior fire bending" or some such, he couldn't. Because if I face Azula by myself, I am going to die. In less than a week, I'm as good as dead.
The rest of the play was a blur. It ended poorly for them, but that was no surprise. Even if they won, Zuko had a sneaking suspicion it was going to end badly for him anyways. He had to fight Azula. It had that ring of destiny to it. And if I fight Azula, I am going to die.
They walked back to the house in a bit of shock. No one really felt like staying up to talk. Sokka and Suki chatted some as they went off to their room, and Toph made herself a little tent like usual. Even Aang and Katara were distant, though no one but Zuko knew why.
Aang was the first into the house, and everyone heard the hard "thunk" of his door.
Sokka turned to Katara. "Play must have really gotten to him, huh?"
Katara turned to hide her embarrassed blush. "Yeah. Must have."
Zuko stood by the stairs, unable to clear his head of anything. He had too many thoughts and no one to discuss them with. "I'm going for a walk," he announced.
No one stopped him.
Zuko reached the beach and sat, his back against a cool rock. He leaned his head back and sighed. None of his thoughts were safe. The play kept repeating over and over again in his mind, different mistakes, same guilt. He betrayed his uncle. He joined Azula. He betrayed Katara's trust, so newly won.
Katara. That started a whole new thought process. He closed his eyes, his brows furrowing as he tried not to think about her. How she'd finally talked about her mother. How she'd cried. The gentle way she'd offered to try to heal his scar…he could still remember the feeling of her tentative fingers against his skin. His scar hadn't felt that warm since the day his father marked him.
He could still hear his uncle's voice in his head, telling him to look inside his heart and choose what he truly wanted. And for the briefest of moments, he'd thought of a sweet, lovely girl with too-blue eyes, offering to heal his scar. A girl he barely knew who looked back as she left the cave, almost seeming to care if he was going to be alright. Then, the thought disgusted him. Now it just brought on more guilt. Not being honest with himself was what pushed him to Azula in the first place. But he was in no position to be honest. Katara was right when she told Aang this wasn't the time for romantic feelings. But somehow, the threat of his own death seemed to push him towards her anyways. She was the center of the group. Forever calm and collected, and mature beyond her years. She made them all feel safe. Zuko looked at Katara and saw a place he could sit down and catch his breath. He'd never had that kind of security before, not since his mother left.
Zuko stood and watched the waves. It was surprisingly calming. For elements that were supposed to be opposite, the tides didn't seem so different from fire. He made a small flame in his hand to keep warm and watched it, then held it up in front of him to examine both elements. Just like the water, his fire could ebb and flow. It could surround. It could engulf.
He heard a stirring behind him and extinguished the flame, not wanting to accidentally burn someone again. But though his flame was gone, his body was tense. If it wasn't a member of their group, his body was wound tight, coiled up and ready to strike.
The person was in shadows, but seemed to see his stance. He could almost hear her eyes rolling as she spoke. "Relax. It's me."
That's the problem. Zuko's body relaxed, but his heart stayed at its frenzied pace. He was not in enough control of himself to be seeing her right now.
She had some wood in her arms. Zuko looked at her in question. She shrugged her shoulders. "I couldn't sleep. I thought you could use the company."
Zuko allowed himself a small smile as she set up a campfire, lighting it himself, coaxing the logs to smolder and burn. Katara watched his flames, a bit mesmerized. It was amazing to think she once saw him as an enemy. Now he was her friend, no matter what that stupid play seemed to say.
They were quiet, but comfortable. Neither of them was uncomfortable in silence. Sokka and Aang were the rowdy ones, and when Toph got going with them, it was often noisy. But Katara and Zuko were content to sit back and laugh, to observe. Before Zuko joined them, it was just Katara, sitting back by herself and feeling like the mother of the group. It was nice to have someone on her level now. It made her feel less alone.
"I wanted to apologize for something."
Zuko's comment broke the silence, but Katara was confused. "For what?"
He took a deep breath and looked away, unable to maintain eye contact and make this apology. "Seeing the play tonight…it just got me thinking. I know you and I have found a way to coexist now, but I'm not sure I ever really apologized for what happened in Ba Sing Se. You were open and honest with me and I betrayed you. You even offered to heal my scar. I knew then that what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn't face it. And you paid the price for my mistakes. So I'm sorry, Katara. I'm so sorry, and I hope one day you can forgive me."
Katara was blindsided. She'd tried so hard not to remember that day, and here he was bringing it up. At first it was because she couldn't believe how stupid she'd been, offering to heal him before he went off with Azula. But when he joined the group, it became more complicated. She started to see traces of that boy from the cave more and more each day. The boy who'd lost his mother. The boy whose father had scarred him. That scar. It used to haunt her dreams, but its more recent appearances had been a different kind of scary.
Not that she dreamt about him. Or remembered how it felt when she touched his face.
Katara nodded and looked at Zuko. "Thank you. I accept your apology."
Zuko met her eyes with a small smile of thanks. She returned it, but when she tried to look away, she found she didn't want to. His golden eyes were beautiful in the firelight. She was fully aware she was staring too long, but she didn't care. Her gaze shifted to his scar, then she lowered her eyes to the ocean. "The offer still stands, you know."
"If you want, I could try to heal your scar. I don't have any of the Spirit Water left, but I am a good healer, so if you wanted me to I could—"
"Alright. If you want to."
Katara smiled at him. "It's worth a try."
Zuko watched her walk to the water's edge and bend the salt out of the water. Her abilities fascinated him. She fascinated him. Even in her Fire Nation attire, there was something exotic about her. And for a Water Tribe girl, she had a fearsome temper. She cared fiercely for her friends. She fought even fiercer. She felt him staring and gave a quick smile. He didn't much care for how his heart leapt at that.
Besides, his scar had become such an integral part of him; he didn't know how he felt about the prospect of losing it. But it meant being close to Katara, and right or wrong that was all he wanted.
She knelt beside him with her hands covered in purified water. Her hands began to glow as she reached up towards his face. His eyes locked with hers, and something passed between them in that moment. Maybe it was just their proximity—the last time they'd been this close was when Zuko saved her from falling rock at the Western Air Temple. She'd been less than pleased with their closeness then. But now she didn't seem to mind so much. Her voice even sounded different, almost hushed. "Just…just close your eyes."
Zuko did so, and Katara turned to his scar. She delicately traced her fingers along the paths and ridges in his face, trying to calm and soothe the best she could. This healing felt different than the others she'd performed. She usually worked on very recent injuries, where the blood and tissue was newly damaged. This felt less like a simple stitching together of flesh. His scar felt immovable, and any attempt to heal it reminded her of running her fingers over her necklace. She could feel the little catches when her skin caught the engraved pattern in the stone, but it didn't move or change. She opened her eyes to look at the scar, but saw no progress.
Zuko seemed to sense that nothing was happening, so he touched her arm and told her to stop. She pulled away and he opened his eyes. "It's alright, Katara. It's a part of me now. It's not going anywhere."
That gave her an idea. She was trying to stitch something together that was already whole. That wasn't the part that needed healing. Maybe it just needed some rejuvenation. "Wait…let me try again."
"You really don't have to, Katara, it's fine—"
"Can you feel anything on your scar? Or does it feel blank?"
"What do you mean?"
"Like, if I touch it," she moved the water into one of her hands and lifted the other to his cheek, smoothing her thumb across his scar as she spoke, "Did you feel that?"
A faint heat passed over his cheek, but he couldn't trace it. "It's faint, but yes. I felt it."
She smiled excitedly. "Then you have to let me try again, I have an idea."
He sighed and closed his eyes, expecting nothing. This time, she spoke as she worked on his scar. "Before I was trying to fix just the surface, but there's so much more going on beneath it. I may not be able to take away the scar, but I could bring some feeling back to you."
She worked for a few moments more then pulled away. She sent the water back to the ocean as Zuko looked at her quizzically. "Did it work?"
"I don't know, I think so. Here," she repeated the motion from before, slowly running her thumb across his face, the rest of her hand cradling his head. "Did you feel that?"
Did I ever. "Katara…that's amazing. I felt it!"
Katara beamed at him, her curiosity taking over. "Is it the same as your other cheek now?" She mimicked the pose of her other hand on the unscarred side of his face. She held his face in her hands, and she could feel the heat radiating off his body. It was making her warmer than she'd thought it would. She repeated the brushing movement, this time with both her thumbs. "Tell me how it feels, do you have the same amount of feeling in both?"
Zuko watched her as she brushed her thumbs across his face. His breath hitched in the back of his throat as he tried to speak. "It…ah, it feels different. But definitely more than before."
She could feel his gaze, hot on her skin. It was a mistake to meet it. It kindled a fire deep within her that she'd been trying so hard to suppress. Because it wasn't right. It wasn't the right time. They were in the middle of a war. But the same excuses she'd given Aang didn't seem so real anymore. The face between her hands was warm and kind. He cared for her.
The realization caught her off guard. She had to get out of there. She broke their staring match and tried to pull away, but Zuko shot his arm out to cover her hand with his. Katara almost felt tears in her eyes as his fingers twined with hers; the force of her emotions was too strong. He seemed to be moving closer. He was moving closer. She felt her eyes start to close as he rested his forehead against hers.
Zuko took a shaky breath, but it smelled so strongly of her that it did nothing to calm him. His voice was deep and gravelly; she felt it reverberate deep in her chest. "Katara…I want to ask you something."
Her voice was equally as husky. She didn't recognize this voice as her own. "Alright."
"Can I kiss you?"
Her heart was thundering in her ears. He felt her hands tense at the nape of his neck as she spoke. She sounded unsure of her own words. "I don't know if you should…it's not a good idea."
He brought his other hand up to cup her cheek. "I didn't ask if I should, Katara."
Damn him and the way he said her name…it was like no one else had ever said it before. He pulled away to look at her as he continued speaking. "If I kissed you, would you let me?"
A single tear ran down her cheek. He brushed it away. She opened her eyes and saw her own torment reflected in his of golden fire. She nodded tentatively and murmured her soft reply. "Yes."
No sooner had she spoken the word were Zuko's lips upon hers. He wasted no time. This was not the chaste peck that Aang gave her. This wasn't even like before the invasion. It was a kiss as full of uncertain passion as she was. She longed to kiss him back, to do more than just sit there and let him kiss, but she was frozen. Immobilized. Zuko's hand snaked behind her head and into her hair, holding her firmly against him. He struggled to stop himself, but that was all he had asked for. Just a kiss. As he pulled away, he felt a slight tug on his hair. He looked at Katara and saw the effect the kiss had had on her.
Her eyes were still closed as she spoke. "Don't stop, Zuko."
"Katara, are you—"
She didn't let him finish the sentence. She tangled her hands in his shaggy black hair and kissed him with all that she had. She did so much for other people, constantly making the food, setting up camp, healing their wounds. She wanted something that was hers, damn it. And right now, nothing mattered but Zuko.
Zuko opened his mouth to hers, gently guiding her as they went. She was passionate, but inexperienced. When he touched her tongue with his, she started and tried to pull away, but Zuko's hand at the back of her head halted her retreat. "Trust me," he whispered against her lips, kissing her once more.
This time she didn't pull away. This time she was taking his instruction to heart. Zuko groaned as her tentative tongue brushed against his, delving into his mouth. He moved his hands to the small of her back as he guided her to sit. Once she understood what he was doing, she took the initiative and clambered into his lap, her arms locking behind his head as she deepened the kiss.
Katara…Feeling her warm body on top of his was almost more than Zuko could take. Almost. He broke their kiss to press his lips to her cheek, then the curve of her face, then the spot just below her ear, and further down her neck he went until Katara was nearly panting on top of him. "Spirits, Zuko…" He found a sensitive spot where her neck connected with her shoulders and grazed it with his teeth, appreciating the way it made her slowly grind against him.
He made his way back to her lips for a quick kiss before he explored the other side of her neck, his hands tracing light patterns on her exposed midriff. She felt like a hot spring; she wasn't surprised to see the edges of the ocean steaming. It seemed the ocean was suffering as much as she from Zuko's careful study of her body. He grazed her with his teeth again; she noticed that as she whimpered, the heat from the fire behind her flared. She took pride in knowing that she was not the only one affected here.
When Zuko found his way to her lips again, she wasted no time. She tasted him deeply, the fire at her back roaring in encouragement. Zuko desperately wanted to go further, but he knew not to press his luck. All he knew was Katara was as hopelessly lost as he was, and for better or worse, things would never be the same.
Zuko made to trace his path down her neck again, but Katara caught his head in her hands and pressed her forehead against his. Her lips were red from their kissing and she was nearly out of breath. "Zuko. We should stop."
"I can't." He caught her lips with his again, cupping the side of her face to deepen it. They spoke between kisses.
"Really, we have to…stop…someone could…see us…"
"I know you're right…but I just can't stop myself…" He pulled away and took a long, heartfelt look at her. "I could be dead in a week, Katara. I'm not putting anything off anymore."
His kiss was so full of pain that she couldn't deny him. She kissed him once more, running her hand through his hair to calm him. Eventually they stopped, their heads so close that their breaths mingled in the air.
"We can't live like we're dying, Zuko. We have to believe that we'll make it."
"You might. I don't see any way that this ends with me alive."
Katara tilted his chin up, forcing him to look her in the eyes. "Zuko, I'm not sure of much right now. But I know you're going to make it."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because if there's one thing I know about you, it's that you're frustratingly hard to get rid of."
Zuko breathed a laugh. She smoothed her fingers along his scar, knowing how keenly he'd feel it now. "To be honest with you, I don't know what I'm doing. There's too much up in the air right now for me to…be doing this."
"You're confused. I get it."
Katara started to agree, but his choice of words stopped her. In that moment, he knew that she knew. She moved to climb off him and he let her go. She stood on the opposite side of the fire, trying to get some distance from him. He brought up his knees and rested his arms to prop up his head.
"You heard us? On the balcony?"
"Is that why you asked to kiss me?"
"Yes. No. I mean, Katara, I don't know what it is, but when I heard you and Aang talking…I didn't know what to do. So I came out here to try and clear my head, and then you were here and all I wanted was to…I don't know, Katara. You're not the only one who's confused about all this."
"Do you have feelings for me?"
Zuko pinned her with a heated stare. That was the only answer she was to receive, it seemed.
Even though he was seated, she felt inferior under his gaze. She fell back to her old excuses. "Well if you heard what I said to Aang, you know that there isn't time for this. We're at war, there's no way I can think about this right now—"
Zuko stood at that. "Katara, I'm not asking anything of you. I just want you to answer something for me."
"You told Aang you were confused. Are you confused because of me?"
Katara was silent, arms crossed in front of her. "Don't make me answer that."
"I deserve to know."
No response. Zuko bent the fire from the wood and sent it out to the ocean. He crossed the ashes that stood between them, standing in her personal space. "Katara."
"If I say yes, what will you do?"
"I don't know."
"And if I say no?"
"I won't believe you."
Katara almost laughed at that. The boy from the cave was gone. In front of her stood a Fire Lord.
Zuko stepped closer and tilted her chin up towards him. "I'm not very good at these things, but if you really think we're gonna win this war, you need to figure out what you feel for me. Because if I make it out of this, I'll want an answer." He pressed a tender kiss to her lips, and at the moment he felt her respond, he pulled away.
Katara watched him leave, exhaling a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She brought her fingers to her lips and let them linger there, remembering his kiss.
She thought that in a few days everything would be decided, one way or another. Now she knew the truth. In a few days, all her decisions would begin.
Reviews please! Let me know what you thought and where you would like things to go!