Happy Zutara Week 2012! I'll be making an attempt at seven themes in seven days. To see the given theme of the day, just look at the chapter name. Today's theme is Serendipity. Hope you enjoy!
"Katara, why are you staring at me?"
Katara shook her head to clear it, having spaced out while looking at Zuko from across the campfire.
"Sorry, I was just thinking."
Without saying anything, Zuko stood up and came to sit beside Katara. He lifted his hand and brought the dying fire back to life in case Katara wanted to talk for a while.
When he was done, Katara began to speak as she watched the flames reach desperately toward the sky.
"I was just thinking… that so many things had to happen to get me to where I am now, to this very moment. Thousands of things have happened to me that have set the course of my life, and if certain ones of those changed, I could be in a completely different situation, maybe even be a completely different person."
"I disagree," Zuko interrupted.
Katara looked at him in surprise, but before she could ask for an explanation, he gave one.
"I don't think anything could make you a completely different person. I think no matter what happened, you would always know who you were and not stray from that."
Katara looked away from him and hugged her knees more tightly to her chest.
"Well, then you think too much of me."
Zuko insisted, "At your core, you're good, and you're strong. I don't think circumstances would take that away from you. Me, on the other hand…"
Zuko didn't finish his thought out loud.
"Never mind," he said instead. "What were you saying?"
"The fact that we're here together, talking as friends instead of trying to kill each other… It would have seemed impossible not that long ago. If Sokka and I hadn't found Aang in that iceberg, I would probably still be at the South Pole. My waterbending wouldn't be as strong. I never would have seen the North Pole or any of the other nations. I wouldn't have met Appa or Momo or Toph or Suki or… I'm sorry. I'm just rambling on and on."
"I don't mind," Zuko said, her words striking more of a chord with him than he let on. "If certain things hadn't happened in my life, I never would have gone after the Avatar."
"Yeah, and what a shame that would be," Katara said, laughing it off. "You never would have gotten to chase me and my friends around the world or try to kill us."
"And if I hadn't done those things, I never would have realized that I had any worth outside the approval of the Fire Nation or broken my allegiance to my father," Zuko said seriously, not going along with Katara's humor for some reason.
"And if you hadn't done those things," Katara said, matching his tone, "I wouldn't have been able to forgive you."
Zuko stared at the fire absently, making it leap a little higher every once in a while just for the sake of doing so.
"And if you hadn't forgiven me…" Zuko paused to think about it, and then he shook his head. "No, I would probably still feel this way about you."
Instead of responding to what he had said, Katara wordlessly reached her hand out and tentatively touched his scar. She had only been allowed to do so once before.
"I'm sorry I can't heal it, Zuko," she said quietly, imagining the pain that must have caused the scar, and the pain of having to carry such a distinguishing mark. He deserved so much more than her forgiveness.
"Don't be," he told her, still watching the flames. "It's a reminder—a reminder of who I was and who I've become, a reminder that pain comes before strength… a reminder that everything happens for a reason, and that I can't ever regret the path that led me to you."
He looked over at Katara and was surprised to see that her eyes were shining with tears.
He asked, "Are you… tear-bending?"
Katara stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes, and then she nearly snorted, dropping her hand from his face and half-heartedly punching him in the arm for the reference.
A single tear escaped her eye, but before she could wipe it away, he lifted his hand and used his bending to dry it, making it evaporate into the night.
He almost laughed afterwards; it was the gentlest thing he had ever done with his firebending.
His potential laughter was brought to a standstill, however, when the rest of Katara's tears started falling from her eyes.
"Did I hurt you?" Zuko asked in a panic, figuring his bending must not have been as gentle as he thought.
She quickly grabbed his hand to show him that she wasn't afraid of it and knew he wouldn't use it to hurt her.
Squeezing his hand gently, she whispered, "Zuko, the whole truth is… I was staring at you because… I love you. I kind of just figured it out."
Zuko was visibly staggered, not having expected those words to ever come out of Katara's mouth. He was so surprised and relieved and thrown off that he almost didn't hear the next words she said. Almost.
"Zuko, everything has led to right now," she breathed, her nerves getting the best of her voice.
No longer wanting or needing to restrain himself, he leaned in toward her, only briefly pausing right before their faces touched.
"Right now?" he asked, his voice only audible because of their proximity.
Katara felt her nerves melt away, and a smile appeared on her face.
"Right now," she answered him before letting out a small laugh that was almost instantly cut off.