A/N: LOOK, IT'S ANOTHER CHAPTER! This one was a roadblock for me, so thank you for all your patience. In this chapter, the gaang sees a play, Aang worries a little, and Zuko barfs some feelings around.
By the time Zuko convinced himself to leave his room the next day, Aang was already roaring around the house, demanding to be taught more firebending.
In all honesty, Zuko appreciated his enthusiasm. He also appreciated his dedication, dedication which could even rival his own on days, when Aang wasn't being particularly flighty. While he did have the tendency to be flighty once in a while, it seemed like the weight of the war had been pressing pretty heavily on him lately and he'd been extremely devoted to his training. And Zuko couldn't turn him down, not when he knew how much Aang needed practice, not when he knew he still needed practice. So he went out to the courtyard with him, the sun beating down so terribly, both boys had to rid themselves of their shirts.
It was impressive, really, how easily Aang was able to match Zuko's movements. Only a few months ago, that would have bothered him. These were things he'd struggled with for years, after all, and Aang was picking them up like they were nothing, just nothing. Zuko breathed, and allowed a strange feeling of calm to settle through his body. He didn't feel annoyed, he didn't even really feel angry.
He felt like he was doing something good.
Zuko was also aware of Katara, who was sitting on the courtyard steps, just watching them practice. He thought he would have been used to that, but he wasn't. With her eyes watching him, he was aware of every movement of his body somehow, every individual flush of his skin. He moved, his breath hitching, fire blazing around his fingers. Aang followed.
Zuko was in the middle of a rather complicated move when Sokka marched into the courtyard, very importantly. Zuko spotted him and instantly adjusted the arch of his back and the thrust of his foot so Sokka didn't get blasted in the face.
"Sokka," he shouted, "watch where you're walking!"
"Hmm?" Sokka looked. "Oh, you're doing your..." he waved his hand, "jerkbender practice."
Zuko just rolled his eyes. "You have to be careful," he said, coming back to a standing position. "You can't just meander around when we're practicing."
"Yeah Sokka," Aang added in support, nodding with the air of a wise old man. Zuko sighed.
"Ok, whatever," Sokka said before giving Zuko a strangely significant look. Zuko narrowed his eyes as if to say don't you dare bring up that stupid play, and Sokka waggled his eyebrows as if to say of course I'm bringing up the stupid play. "You guys will never guess what I found."
And he unfurled the poster, looking ridiculously pleased with himself. Aang ooohed and scootered closer, squinting at the poster. "Is that me?"
"It's about us!" Sokka said, nodding vigorously at Zuko as he just stood there and glowered. "Suki and I found out about it in town. And we're going."
"Are you sure?" Toph scratched her head. "You seem pretty confident that all of us want to go."
"Yeah, I don't know," Katara said. Zuko started; he hadn't even realized she'd come over. But she stood next to him, also crossing her arms. "I don't know if it's a good idea for all of us to be seen in a group. We only go to town when we absolutely need to, and in pairs, so we don't get recognized." She glanced at Zuko. He scowled.
"We'll be fine," Sokka insisted. "Zuko hasn't been recognized yet."
"Right, because we've been careful."
"Wait." Zuko frowned. "Why am I the focus of this?" He'd gone to the market a few times, and nothing had gone wrong, or even come close. "It's worse if Aang gets recognized than me."
"Yeah, but it's easier for Aang to cover up his arrow," Sokka told him.
Zuko huffed. "Easier to cover up than what, exactly?"
Katara patted his arm, but Sokka quailed under his glare.
"Nothing!" he said. "It's fine! You're fine. I'm sure no one will notice. But we're going. This is definitely something I need to see."
"I think it could be fun," Suki said in an encouraging tone, in an attempt to placate Zuko, who was still fuming a little. "And it can't hurt to relax before...you know."
Yeah, the comet.
"I'm not going to the play," Zuko said. "Especially if you all think it's a bad idea for me to go out in public."
"I didn't mean that." Katara continued to pat his arm, her hand moving in slow circles. "But you don't have to go if you don't want to. I don't even know if I want to go."
"No." Sokka rolled up the poster firmly, and glared at all of them in turn. "We're going. "It's five hours away, so I suggest you all mentally prepare yourselves, if that's something you need to do."
And with that, he put an arm around Suki and marched away.
Toph just shook her head.
"I've been to plays before," she said, "they're not fun."
"But this one is about us!" Aang said, still very excited about the idea. "Don't you want to see yourself in a play?"
"I can let you tell me what 'seeing myself in a play' is like," she offered dryly, "or we could all just not go. I'm with Zuko. It doesn't sound like a good idea, and if he's as recognizable as everyone says he is..."
Still grumbling, Zuko wondered why everyone thought it was okay to talk about him when he was standing right there. No one would say it, the reason why he was so recognizable, and it was irritating him more than it probably should. Steadily, he began to grow uncomfortable.
"You can stop with that anytime," he said shortly. "I've been in town before and it hasn't been a big deal. The deal with things like this," and he spat the word this so people knew it meant scar, "is that people make a point to not look at me. So I don't think it'll be a problem."
Katara stared at him, and there was a bit of a heavy pause. No one quite seemed like they knew what to do with that. Aang poked his index fingers together, looking at Katara with awhat do we say to that sort of face.
Before either of them could say anything, though, Toph butted back in. "I thought you didn't want to go," she put bluntly. "So what are you huffing about? Either stay here or wear a hood so no one sees you."
There was another pause.
Aang looked between Toph and Zuko with a worried look on his face, as if he expected Zuko to blow up at her insensitivity. Katara instantly flew into protective Katara mode, and frowned heavily at Toph.
"Toph," she started, her voice heavy with warning, but Zuko held his hand up.
"No, she's right," he said. Both Aang and Katara slowly rotated to look at him, both with a resonating look of what on their faces. "It doesn't matter if I'm not going."
Aang just sort of sighed. "If you don't think it's a good idea," he shrugged, "then I guess you don't have to." Toph nodded in agreement.
"So you guys can go and see the play," Toph said, "and Zuko and I can stay here. Sounds good to me."
Aang shrugged again, exchanging another glance with Katara. "If you think that's best," he said. "But I think it'll be fun! How often is it that someone writes a play about you, anyway?"
"That's true," Katara said uncertainly, still wavering on the edge, it seemed, of wanting to go and wanting to stay behind. "But it doesn't matter if Sokka drags us all there whether we want to go or not."
"Sokka isn't the boss of me," Toph jabbed a thumb to her chest. "Nobody is."
It occurred to Zuko that he was sort of hungry, and he felt himself starting to drift away from the conversation anyway. So he walked a few paces away to the fountain and wiped some sweat off his face with a towel, vaguely aware of Katara's eyes following him.
"I'm with Aang," she decided then, her voice suddenly firm. "It does sound fun. And with the comet so close..."
"With the comet so close, we have other things to worry about," Zuko cut in, pulling his shirt back over his head. "This just sounds like time wasting nonsense."
He vaguely remembered why Sokka was trying to drag them to the theater in the first place, and he felt his face go a little red. He blamed it on the heat. Definitely the heat.
"Well, what if I said I wanted you to go?" Katara said suddenly, a sharp tone in her voice. Zuko looked, a little surprised, and she had her arms folded over her chest, her eyebrows furrowed. "Would you?"
Zuko blinked. Toph rammed her elbow into Katara's ribs, smirking, and Katara huffed, pushing her away.
"Uh...I guess, if you wanted," Zuko said, confused, and maybe just a little too hopeful. Does she want me to go?
Maybe Sokka's plan isn't as stupid as I thought.
"Well, I guess that's that!" Aang said. "We're all going. I'll go tell Sokka."
He scootered away, leaving Toph to slap her forehead in frustration. She chased after him, saying something to the effect of I'll smash your head in if you make me go to that play, Twinkletoes, which just left Zuko sitting on the edge of the fountain, and Katara lingering just a few steps away.
He raised his eyes to her. "Do you want me to go?" He would, if she wanted him to. It felt like he would do anything if Katara wanted him to do it. There was just a part of him that wanted to hear it from her, even if he could almost tell how she felt, what she wanted. He still wanted her to look at him and say yes, I want you to come.
And she did.
"I want you to be there," she muttered, looking somewhere between his eyes and the ground. "I want you to come."
"Okay," he said, standing up. "I'll go."
Katara smiled at him a little, and he touched her shoulder, brushing his thumb across her skin. "Good," she said, looking a bit happy. She smiled again, and Zuko felt an impossible rush of feeling, still so dizzying, even if Katara had smiled at him a hundred times. Even if she did a hundred more times, a thousand times, even a million, Zuko was positive it would feel this way every time.
The theater was surprisingly full.
Katara sat down in her seat, and Aang sat next to her, looking quite excited about the play. He turned around and saw Zuko, and instantly scooted to one side of the bench, awayfrom Katara. "Sit next to me, hotman!"
Zuko repressed a scowl. Sokka must have told Aang what he was up to.
Stepping around Aang, Zuko sat between him and Katara, still not feeling nearly as romantic as Sokka had promised he would. Mostly, he was still trying to mentally prepare himself for whatever he was about to witness. He didn't know exactly what to expect from a play about himself. He'd done bad stuff.
He didn't really want to see a play about him doing bad stuff.
Then again, the poster made it seem like the focus was going to be on Aang, so maybe there wasn't anything to worry about. Maybe he was overreacting, or at least preparing to overreact. The fact, though, that it was being put on by the Fire Nation worried him. And no one had seemed to realize that but him.
Zuko pulled his hood further over his head, and Katara patted his knee.
"You're fine," she said in a low voice. "I don't think anyone noticed you."
"Yeah, for now."
The lights dimmed, and Zuko groaned internally.
Maybe a little externally, too.
Katara patted his knee again.
This was stupid.
This was so stupid, Zuko could hardly believe he was watching it.
It seemed as if his index and middle finger were permanently glued to his temple as he pushed at the skin, positively and absolutely annoyed at what was transpiring before him.
"Oh, no," Katara whispered as the next scene went up. "Not this."
Zuko looked, and saw the three actors wandering about aimlessly on stage. He, for one, was just relieved that he wasn't involved. Every time Actor Zuko opened his mouth, he wanted to punch something. A lot of things.
From the corner of his eye, Zuko could see Sokka poke Katara and giggle. She scowled deeply and crossed her arms over her chest, sinking a little in her seat. This was a terrible idea, Zuko could tell already. The only ones enjoying themselves so far were Sokka and Toph, and really, it didn't take much to amuse either of them.
And it definitely wasn't as romantic as Sokka had promised Zuko it would be.
"Psst," Sokka said in Zuko's ear. "You might want to pay attention to this part."
"Pro tips," Sokka said sagely, and nodded.
"What are you..."
Katara's actress wandered on stage, looking extremely confused and emotional. Another actor swaggered out, and said something to the effect of "hey baby, come make out with me in my treehouse."
He remembered then, what Sokka had said all those weeks ago. He was totally charismatic, tough, and bad. I caught them kissing, like, twice.
Zuko scowled even more.
Meanwhile, Katara sunk even further in her seat, awfully red in the face. Instantly, and all too easily, Zuko jumped to the wildest of conclusions. She liked him. They kissed. She still likes him. He's gonna show up and I'm gonna have to fight him off AGAIN and I will never ever be rid of him.
"Don't cry, baby," the Jet actor said, and with way more bravado than even the real Jet was capable of, "Jet will wipe out that nasty town for you!"
Sokka poked Katara again, and laughed.
Still not understanding what was so fun about this idea, Zuko made a point to cross his arms and huff loudly.
"It's not even like that," Katara said to him in a hushed voice once the lights went down and the scene changed. "He turned out to be...well..." she stopped, looking a little guilty, like there was some piece of information she was reluctant to say.
"Crazy?" Zuko deadpanned back, looking at her out of the corner of his eye. She looked at him, curious.
"Did you know him?"
"Yeah, I knew him. He's crazy."
"Oh." Katara looked at the floor, and scrunched up her eyebrows. "Well...yeah, I guess he is. I mean...was."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, he sort of di..."
She was cut off by the scene change, and her mouth clamped shut. Zuko was confused, but he pushed it out of his mind, because thoughts about Jet just really made him angry, and he just didn't need any more of that. The play, as it had transpired so far, was making him angry enough as it was.
Sokka was just laughing.
Zuko wondered if anyone would notice if he set something on fire.
This was the stupidest thing he'd ever been to.
Katara seemed near to smashing her head against something, which only made Zuko feel a little better, because at least he wasn't the only one getting catatonic. Hours, it seemed, had gone by, and all the play had managed to do was make him look like the biggest asshole on the planet.
He was sort of starting to feel like it was true, too.
The scene changed, and he felt another stab of guilt in his chest, because even with the poor quality of the set, Zuko could tell that those were the crystal catacombs. Making a great effort not to look at Katara, not to think about Katara, Zuko focused his eyes on the seat in front of him, rather than the stage. Or Katara. Or anything.
With all his power he tried to block out what was happening. Certain words though, snuck though, and caught him in just the wrong places. "Captured...attractive...avatar's girl."
He was busy sulking, not really paying attention, when Katara made a garbled noise.
First, he looked at her. Bright red, she just stared straight ahead with wide eyes. Zuko felt Sokka clamp two hands on each side of his skull and sharply turn him to look at the stage.
Suddenly, the urge to flee hit him. To get up and storm away and probably never come back, because he and Katara were still in the catacombs and they were kissing. All the heat in his body rushed straight up to his face, and he was sure it would never leave.
It wasn't fair. Zuko found himself angry, because it was so wrong, because they'd taken one of the biggest mistakes in his life, one of his worst moments, and trivialized it. They'd taken one of his rawest emotions, probably his best one, and cheapened it.
It was then he chanced a glance at Katara, who just looked at him from the corner of her eye. There was so much, so much brewing in her eyes, that Zuko couldn't tell what meant what. She just looked at him through what seemed like miles and miles of empty space, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth.
Zuko thought what it would be like to have it between his teeth.
Again, he felt Sokka poke him, and he forced his eyes back to the stage, not thinking about the play, or Sokka, or Jet (who was dead, apparently), or Katara or her lips or whether it would be nice or not to have her lips between his teeth (it probably would).
He ground his teeth together and tried not to think about anything at all.
Thankfully, the act was over, and Zuko stood up before anyone else. He yanked his hood back over his head and huffed quickly away, hoping to find a place he could wander around by himself for a while. Maybe no one would come looking for him, this time, and maybe he wouldn't have to suffer through any more of the stupid play. Eventually, he found himself back outside, where the air was surprisingly cool. If he wasn't so angry, it would have been refreshing. Keeping his hood pulled closely over his face, he ducked through swarms of people, hoping no one would connect him to the actor on stage.
It wasn't exactly common to have a scar where he did.
Still, no one seemed to realize who he was, so he managed to get away without much trouble. Maybe I should just go back to the house.
He definitely didn't want to stick around to watch any more.
Zuko walked around to the back of the building and leaned up against it, certain no one would find him, crossing his arms. He just needed to ruminate, just for a while, even though people had told him over and over again that ruminating wasn't good. He didn't really care anymore.
It was Suki who found him, eventually.
"How did you find me?" he frowned. She just shrugged.
"I followed you."
"Because I knew you were going to leave," she said pointedly. "You're worrying everyone."
Zuko looked at her, his face deadpan. "Are they surprised?"
"You have to stop storming away every time something upsets you," Suki said. "I feel like we've told you this a thousand times."
"I didn't storm away," Zuko said, frowning. "I'm just..." What? Upset? Embarrassed? Everything else in the middle? "I'm just taking a break. I'll go back in when it's time."
"Okay," Suki said, "but Katara was looking for you."
She turned to walk away, but Zuko was too interested now to let her leave. "Wait," he said, walking after her. "What? She was?"
Shrugging, Suki kept walking, keeping her back to him. "I think so. At least, it sounded like that's what she said. You'll have to ask her."
Against his better judgement, Zuko followed Suki back inside, where it turned out that Katara was too busy talking to Aang to mention anything about wanting to talk to him too, before they were ushered back inside.
Zuko noticed that she was tenser when he sat down.
He didn't say anything to her. Maybe he should have. Maybe he should have told her then, like he should have told her a hundred times already, how he felt, but it never seemed like the right time. Now, it was starting to seem like there would be no right time. They'd both watched versions of themselves kiss in a play, and his reaction had been to run. Katara's, he didn't know.
But the itching need to confront it was rising.
Usually his instant reaction was to confront, he knew. That's how it had always been at home with Azula, that's how most of his relationship with Uncle had been, that's normally how he handled everything. And yet here was this thing, this thing he needed to confront Katara about and say, but he just couldn't do it. And he didn't know why.
When the lights went back down, he heard Katara sigh.
He hoped it wasn't because of him.
On the walk back to the house, everyone was pretty much silent. Zuko was still reeling from what he'd seen. Somehow, everyone had ended up dead and he wasn't sure how he was supposed to take that, exactly.
"It was just a stupid play," Toph said when Zuko opened the front door. "Obviously we're not all going to die."
"Yeah, it was way off. In a lot of places." Sokka said this like it wasn't obvious. "I mean, you saw how unfunny I was."
"Well all did," Toph groaned, making to sit down heavily at the kitchen table. "We also go through it every day, but you don't hear us complaining about it."
Aang was fretting.
"But what if that really does happen?" he asked. "What if we can't defeat the Firelord? What if it's too late, and we can't save Ba Sing Se, or the earth kingdom, or...or anyone?"
Zuko frowned. "Aang, stop. It's not going to take much of this for you to completely wreck your confidence. There's no point in dwelling on what could happen."
"Zuko's right," Sokka put in. "We all know you can do this. That we can do this."
"Aang," Katara put a hand on his shoulder, "The play was stupid. Nothing...almost nothing in that play really happened."
"You know, that's very interesting, Katara," Sokka said, putting a hand to his chin. "Does that mean there are things in the play that did happen? Because I myself was curious about that."
Katara glared at him.
"I liked the parts before I showed up," Toph said, "where you guys just sucked and Zuko yelled a lot."
Everyone gave a collective huff.
It took a while, but eventually Aang got a little better and went outside to spend some time with Appa. Katara wandered off towards the parlor, and Sokka nudged Zuko.
Zuko swatted him away. "I get it, stop," he hissed, and followed her.
When he walked into the parlor, she was standing by the window, just looking outside. She was quiet.
"I never told them what happened," she said eventually, her back still to him. "In Ba Sing Se. They never asked."
Zuko didn't say anything right away. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to say; he and Katara had never talked about it, not even in passing. "Is it really important?"
Katara turned her face just a little, so he could see her profile. "No," she said. "I guess not."
Really, he shouldn't have been surprised that she hadn't mentioned it. Nothing DID happen. Nothing like that, anyway.
And even if the scar wasn't too deep, even if it could have been healed, nothing still would have happened. He was certain the betrayal would have been the same either way.
And he hated that.
"I never apologized," he said after a heavy pause, his voice still rough. "For what I did."
"Zuko..." Katara sighed. "You can't..."
"I'm not done," he interrupted. "I should have apologized a long time ago. I should have done a lot of things a long time ago."
Now Katara's eyes were fully on him, her eyebrows scrunched just a little. "What do you mean?" she asked slowly, her fingers just barely dragging against the wood of the windowsill as she turned.
"I mean that I was so wrapped up in what my dad was feeding me that I didn't come to the right side sooner, that I didn't understand what was important soon enough, that I still haven't told my uncle how much he means to me and that..." he paused only long enough to breathe, "I haven't told you..."
He must not have noticed Katara crossing the room. "It's okay," she said, her hands somehow his hair. How did they get there? "there's things I haven't..."
But she stopped, because Zuko kissed her.
Zuko put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her, because this time, he felt sure he would die if he didn't.
Turns out, he felt like he was going to die anyway.
Katara's lips were soft, careful, just barely parted under his, and he swore he heard, no, felt her whisper "Zuko" before she sunk into him. And he felt it, he felt her body relax, felt her melt, felt her breath and her skin and her lips, finally her lips.
Katara breathed against him, no, into him. She was kissing him.
Spirits, I love you.
Her mouth opened just a little, and Zuko traced her bottom lip with his tongue, because he'd been thinking about this for so long. Katara was there, her hands roaming through his hair, her sighs spilling into his mouth.
Katara broke away first, her lips still parted, her face flushed. Zuko just stared, hardly believing, hardly thinking, even.
He threw his arms around her, pushed his nose into her hair. Katara hugged him back, fiercely, her heart hammering. There wasn't anything else but her, how could there be? What did it matter if there were Ozais, if there were Yon Rhas, if there were Kataras?
Katara's fingers curled in his hair again. Pressed against him, he could still feel her heart beating, and oh how it beat.
A/N: A ZUTARA KISS FINALLY
Thanks for reading! This was a big one.
Jet is one of my favorite characters, so I'M SORRY if I was a little heavy handed with his piece in the play, but there's really no room for him anywhere else in this whole story, so I threw him in here as much as I could because really, I love him a lot.
WELL, I'm sorry to say, but that's the end of it! Thanks for reading and keeping up with this story, everyone, it really means a lot to me. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! :D
/BLOWS KISSES TO EVERYONE