Zuko and Katara sort through their feelings about the previous day separately.
An Avatar: The Last Airbender Fanfiction
Chapter 2: The Next Day
30 June 2006
A/N: I really hadn't intended on writing more to this story, but I've received some encouragement to do so. I sat at my computer, and found that there was indeed more story to write.
This chapter is about how Katara and Zuko feel the next day. There's no action, as this is all interior dialogue. I promise the next chapter will bring in more characters and be generally more interesting. ^_^
Katara had slept for what seemed like an eternity. She rolled to her side and grimaced, her hands moving to the source of her pain.
Unbelievable, she thought, a whole FLEET full of waterbenders, and none of them bothered to heal me?
She opened her eyes and looked down at her chest. It was tightly bandaged, and for the moment, she didn't know why it hurt so badly. Quickly, she relived the final moments of that last, heartrending day.
Aha! She thought, it was that firebending archer on the cliff. He shot some sort of lightening at me and...
Katara's thoughts trailed off as she remembered what happened after that. The fall, the kiss, Sokka's rage.
Her cheeks blushed as she recalled the weird passion of that one little kiss, the way she had burned, deep down in her soul, even as they parted.
Zuko, huh? She wondered to herself. Part of her wanted nothing more than to see him again; to talk to him and find out if he was feeling just as strange and wonderful as she was. The other part of her, the part that always said no when danger was involved, was more than a little relieved that Zuko was far away on a ship headed to the Fire Nation.
He's probably going to die there, she argued with her safe side.
Well, then you won't have to worry about whether or not he's just in this to get Aang, will you? Her safe side argued back.
She sighed. Always with her was this strange duality. The side she showed to the world was bold and brave, or so she hoped. But the real Katara was frightened-of losing her friends or her father, but she was really scared of life.
When had this paralyzing fear of life started? She suspected it was when her mother died. She watched as the Fire Nation raped and murdered her mother. The person who was more dear to Katara than life itself had died so unceremoniously at the hands of villains. The voice, only that of a child back then, had begun its vile whispering that very night. She remembered the first thing it said to her, "It should have been you."
She argued against any plan of Aang and Sokka's that could get them into any kind of danger. She told them they took unnecessary risks, but the reality of it was that she didn't want to be alone. She always got angry with Sokka or stomped about in a silent rage when she felt this way. It was so far out of her control that she always felt helpless, and she took it out on her friends and her brother all too often.
She desperately hoped that they didn't see through her. She'd much rather be thought of as "moody" or "stubborn" than afraid of everything.
And now, she thought, there's Zuko. What am I doing with him? Why did I want to care for him in the first place? I would have left him where he lay in that Earth Kingdom desert on any other day, so why had I fought to keep him with us?
But she knew the answer. The hotheaded prince had always excited her. He was fearless where she was trapped by her fears. He was action where she was thought. He was day where she was night. Even when he was attacking them, she felt drawn to him by some power that she didn't understand.
She decided to nurse him back to health when all Sokka and Aang wanted to do was get away from him because of these things. She fell in love with him for a different reason.
When he was near, that fear that had been with her for most of her life abated. She felt normal and in command. She drew from that strength when she attacked the archers. Now that he was gone, the voice of her old friend had returned, triple-fold.
He nearly tore you and your brother apart, it hissed at her. He didn't kill you then only because he was so weak and needed you. Now that he's well, it'll be business as usual. You'll see. Stop this now, before you're all dead at the hands of your lover.
Katara grimaced at that last thought. It was dripping with derision and hatred.
How can you be 'in love,' anyway? You're only fourteen.
That's true, she agreed. I am only fourteen. We were in unusually close quarters; we nearly died. Of course I'll have these strange feelings.
That's right, the voice caressed. It was a fluke.
Right. A fluke.
But it felt like a lie to Katara, and it tasted bitter as she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat.
Zuko groaned as he sat up. He was still fairly weak and every muscle in his body burned when he moved, but he wasn't sick anymore and that was something.
He brushed his hair out of his eyes. He wondered when his hair had gotten that long when searing pain shot from his hands. It burned a path to his brain, and it was all he could do not to scream.
Zuko looked at his hands in bewilderment. They were both burned badly. Enormous blisters had raised on both palms and the skin was sloughing off the back of them.
When in the hell had this happened?
Right, he thought as he remembered. The firebending archer had shot lightening at him. He was too weak to completely control it at the time, and this was the result. He felt lucky that his insides weren't in this shape as well.
As he stared at his crippled hands, wondering if they would ever be the same, all the events of the day before flooded his brain. The delirium of the fever, his frenzied 'escape' through the forest, the fight on the cliff, and the kiss all came back to him in an instant.
Zuko coughed nervously and his cheeks reddened as he remembered the softness of her lips. He allowed himself to remember how she seemed to melt into him the moment they touched, how it all had felt so... right. But mostly, he thought about how his never-ending rage had quieted in that brief moment before the Avatar had let them fall.
He assumed the airbender had allowed that little drop to teach him a lesson. It said 'Don't touch my girl' just as plainly as if he had said it out loud. Zuko was good at interpreting the useless posturing that goes on when envy is involved; he had mastered it in the years of his banishment.
Zuko gave a cynical chuckle at this thought. He wondered how the Avatar was dealing with the prospect of losing Katara before he ever 'had' her.
Just her name made him feel weak at his very core. Weeks ago, he hated her for making him feel so helpless. Today, he just wanted to see her. He wanted to know how she felt about him. Well, part of him at least.
The other part, the part that had driven him almost to the point of madness in his ceaseless chase of the Avatar, had other ideas on the matter.
A waterbender? It sneered. She hates you down to your soul, and you know it. Even if she doesn't, what would your father say?
There you go again, thought Zuko. Why do you care about what father says?
You have to regain your honor! You have to capture the Avatar; only then will your father take you back. You don't want everyone thinking you're weak, do you?
Zuko had gone through this thousands of times before. Anytime he felt like just maybe his father's idea of honor wasn't what he wanted for himself, this voice spoke up. He should have learned to ignore it long ago, but he hadn't. It was the voice of his deepest fear-of being weak and helpless.
When had this fear that had made him incapable of getting close to another human started? He suspected it was when his mother died. It wasn't so strong then, but it was still there. It was born of the whispered rumors around court. He never learned how she had died, but he felt it was somehow his fault. The rumors, hissed behind his back, confirmed that fact. They spoke of the weak prince and the fire lord's wrath. The evil voice had begun its incessant festering argument then. He still remembered the first thing it said to him, "It should have been you."
The old anger surged through his body, and he fought off a wave of nausea with clenched teeth.
Why had he even helped her? Why did she have this power over him? He thought the answer was in her tranquil sort of strength. Her quiet power had always intrigued him; even when he saw her as only an enemy, he had always respected her. She was calm and in control where he was blinded by rage. She was solid in her conviction where he wavered between shame and anger. She was the soothing moon where he was the burning sun.
This didn't make him love her, though. He loved her because her presence chased away the anger and confusion he always felt. She made his fears go away and he felt almost normal. He loved her because she helped him discover that he was still capable of emotion. He was still capable of tears.
No, he couldn't possibly love a waterbender. That would be a stain on his honor that would never come clean.
That's right, his other side soothed. You can't love her. She kept you alive when you would have died. You're too honorable to ignore that debt, but in the end, she's a filthy waterbending peasant.
Right, he thought. A peasant.
If anything, you can use her infatuation with you against her. She's close to the Avatar, you know.
I know, Zuko agreed.
But he felt ashamed as he swallowed the bitter lump that had formed in his throat.