Disclaimer: Nope, don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Author's Note: After several years of wanting to watch the whole series, I finally did it (in between migraines, etc). I'm so happy that I did, and once I was done, I seriously felt inspired to write for the first time in quite a while. Hopefully I'll be able to write more for this show. For now… enjoy!
She hates, she hates, she hates.
She is a waterbender, and yet to him, all he can really see is the will of a firebender inside. She doesn't remind him of the calm flow of the ocean, of the stillness of the deep blue – she is all rage, all hatred, and so much like fire. She is so much like what she claims to loathe and fight against that he wonders if she can see it.
But Katara's always quick to remind him of what had been snatched from her fingers as a child, and by whom. And Zuko understands that pain, having been pushed through a similar fate, but he wonders why she has become so adamant to pin the blame on him when he wasn't the man who had her Mother slain.
A face, he realises quickly, frowning in her general direction, She needs a face of the enemy, a face to blame; and so she chose mine.
It fits, seeing as he practically chased them all over the world in an attempt to restore his honour. It makes sense, seeing as so many times they had fought against one another for the future, for survival, for redemption. It's a natural step, seeing as he'd betrayed her fragile trust so swiftly in the face of opportunity. He has scarred her just as time has scarred them both – as his Father scarred him.
Even as cups rise, he winces when she doesn't join the rest of Team Avatar's cheer.
He doesn't know the circumstances around her Mother's death, though he'd be lying if he says he's not curious; but when he feels that unwanted yet familiar pang in his chest when she stands abruptly and leaves, Zuko knows then that he cares about her acceptance too. All he ever seems to do is long for acceptance, and there's always something that hinders its full embrace.
It isn't fair.
He's tired of feeling inadequate.
Somewhere in the background he hears Sokka question what's wrong with his sister. Zuko merely replies with a faint 'I wish I knew' before following, because he's not only tired of feeling inadequate, but he's tired of being the face that she needs to blame.
He has lamented and continues to lament, and dammit, she's going to accept him. For flaws and for all.
And as he travels through the darkness and the trees, he remembers the expression on her face when he shoots flames at her and Aang in Ba Sing Se. He cringes. But, he's not that man anymore, and everyone else realises this – he wants her to see it too. He wants her to see it more than the Avatar, or his Father or his Uncle. She needs to understand. She needs to understand because it is important that she does. They'll not win this war if she doesn't trust him. Unity is essential.
Well, he trusts her.
He definitely trusts her, Zuko surmises as he walks, but maybe not in the ways that he himself would like her to trust him. He can trust her to defend the Avatar, no matter what's thrown her way. He can trust her to be an unyielding waterbender, even if her will is like the flames he fans with his fists. He can trust her to care for the team… even if she does not care for him.
And he sees Katara there, sitting by the cliff's edge and gazing out towards the ocean. She soon picks up on his presence and turns her head, and all Zuko can see is a hate that is almost entirely firebender, that shows a flickering resemblance to Azula that he almost turns on his heel and runs right then and there.
You're capable of such compassion and love, and yet all you have to offer me is hate.
Zuko winces at his own thoughts.
He wants to open his mouth and say 'you are more like the firebender that killed your Mother than you know', but, despite being bad at being good, he definitely knows that's the wrong thing to say. Yet he can't help but spit out, "This isn't fair! Everyone else seems to trust me now! What is with you?"
And Katara effortlessly brings him down, just like the wall at Ba Sing Se was brought down, and if all she feels towards him is hate, then all he can feel right now towards her is an endless amount of guilt. He knows he had done the wrong thing and he knew while he was doing it – yet he doesn't understand why he couldn't stop.
He closes his eyes, "What can I do to make it up to you?"
A stupid question, he hisses inwardly, because if he's honest, he's not sure he can do anything to make her stop hating him, let alone smile. He has seen her smile for the Air Nomad, and as much as he cared for and misses Mai… he'd be lying if he said he didn't want her to look at him that way, if only once.
Zuko is not a liar. Not anymore.
As she approaches, the Southern Water Tribe girl goes on about Ba Sing Se again, about reconquering it for the person who is supposed to rule it and know about what goes on within those walls; and then right afterward, without missing a beat, and as he expects, "Or, I know! You could bring my Mother back!"
Like the waves crashing against the rocks below, Katara rushes past him and returns to camp, where she will dream more so of lost memories and faces that she's learnt to hate in time's scars.
Uncle Iroh, who he misses terribly, he realises, would make some confusing comment right about now. It'd go right over Zuko's head – he's so tired. Either way, Sokka sure can talk, even if he seemed to be in a rush to get him out. He has everything he needs to know.
So Zuko continues to wait on the rock outside of Katara's tent. He watches the stars fade out and the sun rise. He watches the shadows scurry away until they're hiding from the light. He watches the sky tear away from the darkness and move towards a brighter morning.
A brighter morning… Uncle's said something before about brighter mornings.
It's going to be a brighter day.
Another shadow joins his on the ground. He raises his head and sees her emerge from her tent, full of vibrant life. For a fleeting moment, he's glad to see an expression towards him other than the accustomed hate, even if it's complete and utter confusion. But there it is again, that scowl, and the way she looks down on him and her hair falls forward, "You look terrible."
"I waited out here all night."
The Prince stands abruptly as she begins to brush her hair. He watches as she purposely faces away from him and brings the comb through her dark brown locks, and her voice really is unnerving when she's mad, he deduces. Maybe more so than Azula, "What do you want?"
It's a long shot, he knows this, but he wants to disassociate his face with the face of another man – with the face of a murderer that has scarred her so deeply. Zuko knows that he needs her trust, but there's something that he wants more than that – and it is always the want that will drive the human to the goal.
"I know who killed your Mother," he breathes effortlessly.
The information's laid out. There is stillness, silence, and she waits for him to speak again.
"I'm going to help you find him."
They travel from place to place, on Appa, to find these Southern Raiders. From the communication tower to Whale Tail Island, where they see the ship sail. And yet as they fly away, he can't help but feel bad for her. He's not the face that she needs to see and needs to focus on.
He wonders what her Mother had looked like. Generally the same, he'd assume due to genetics… dark hair, as he expects, but how would it be styled? Would she have… hair loopies, as Katara's called them? Would it be in a bun, or free-flowing? Did she have the same kindness and love that his own Mother had?
The same kindness and love that had been stolen from them both.
Yon Rha. He doesn't think that he's heard of that name before, but he knows he's not going to forget it once Katara's finished with him. Zuko doesn't know what she… did to that other commander, but if she adheres to the firebender spirit that he knows is inside of her, she's going to do it again to the murderer.
It was so unlike the waterbenders that he'd seen and heard of, and yet so like the firebender he had been and that he sees around him. That same look was in her eyes, the one where she was willing to do anything just for her own satisfaction. It's… unfitting for her.
She's supposed to be free-flowing and gentle… yet that woman in there was not.
And as he watches her face harden in the vanishing darkness, Zuko frowns and realises something. He doesn't like seeing her upset in the slightest. Even in Ba Sing Se… yet it's taken him this long to notice. Sure, he's accustomed to seeing her furious at him for existing, but there's something about the way she gazes at the water's horizon now that unnerves him.
For the many months that have passed, Zuko didn't possibly think that he could have grown to remotely care for the waterbender. He knows what is beyond the mask she holds to her face in his presence, and it's charming. He can understand why the Avatar is so besotted with her, for she is unlike anything either of them have ever seen before, one hundred years ago or now.
The Avatar gave him hope of restoring his honour once upon a time. Now, Katara gave him hope that people in the world could look past his sins, and the sins of the Fire Nation. She had shown him compassion when nobody else did, in Ba Sing Se, and he was wrong to have looked the other way. He was wrong to have doubted such love.
It is trust that he knows he needs to acquire, but it is her friendship that he wants – and that is what fuels him to raise his hand and point to the land below.
There's a new part of Zuko that's completely confused by what's transpired.
I brought you here for closure, and yet you did not take it. Why?
He had sought out this man and brought her here for revenge, and yet she did not take it. The revenge that she's looked for had been presented to her, and yet Katara looked away, that hateful look still in her eyes; but something's changed. He'd seen it the moment Yon Rha looked up at her and begged.
She is a complex woman, and it confuses him.
Yet here, as he watches her with the Avatar, he understands. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she's listened to him as intently as he himself would listen to Iroh. She did not take that chance to slay him – she's forgiven the man, or so he thinks. It'll take years before she's able to lay her Mother's ghost to rest, just as he has yet to do for his own, but she's on the way.
"You did the right thing," Aang praises, all smiles, "Forgiveness is the first step you have to take to begin healing."
And as she rises from the boardwalk, "But I didn't forgive him."
Zuko hears, furrows his eyebrows, lifts his head and watches. He watches as she says how she'll never forgive the man who disrupted her family and took away someone who meant the world to her. And like before, he understands, because he's sure that somewhere inside of him, he's not forgiven his Father for letting his Mother… leave.
And there – the smile. The smile he's wanted. He swallows.
"But I am ready to forgive you," Katara remarks, her smile growing.
It's somehow infectious and causes him to smile the slightest bit too, even as she reaches for him and hugs him tightly. He returns it swiftly, relishing a warmth he's not felt for years, before she pulls away and passes him.
He understands more so, then. He's been wrong the entire time.
Zuko stands beside the Avatar and watches her rejoin the others. He gets it now. She doesn't have the firebender spirit, she's got the waterbender one – he'd not been knowledgeable enough on them to realise.
Katara is the calm flow of the ocean, of the stillness of the deep blue – he sees it now in her smile. And yet, she can still be all rage, all hatred, and so much like the torrent of an unforgiving river that pulls in its victims. He'd only associated that river with fire because that's all he has ever known.
And he speaks to the Avatar, saying that he'd been right and that for her, violence wasn't the answer, he understands something else. Such a journey of understanding…
Sometimes, scars don't heal. For Katara, she'll not forgive or forget. Sometimes, they will always be there to serve as a permanent reminder of the lessons that one has learnt. They'll never be willed away, and time may never fix them, but there's always something to take away from them.
As he places a hand on his own scar, he hopes that perhaps in time, they can heal together.