Recognizable quotes from the episode Zuko Alone.
Katara watched his progress, having to squint to pick him out in the deep shadows. "What is it?"
"It's nothing," Zuko said, his voice low. "Go back to sleep."
He was out the door with hardly a sound and Katara quickly struggled to free herself from the blankets that had gotten twisted around her. She made it to the door in time to see Zuko slip around the edge of the barn and head back toward the sunflower fields she'd spent most of the morning weeding and watering. Hesitating only a moment, she returned to her side of the bed to grab her waterskin and quickly followed—making sure she stayed far enough back to keep out of sight.
At the edge of the field, Zuko paused, shoulders tense as he assessed the area. He hadn't been this way earlier, staying close to the buildings with Gansu and he probably wanted a moment to gain some kind of lay of the land. Katara held her breath while the firebender took his time and she vaguely wondered what he was doing. A child's war cry lifted and carried faintly on the breeze. Zuko turned toward the sound, but waited a moment, examining the ground before he chose a direction. A pleased feeling rose up in her when she realized he was using what he learned in the swamp to follow a trail. It didn't seem like the firebender was concerned about what he was following since he maintained an easy stride and wasn't attempting to keep his steps quiet. When he paused again, Katara realized that this time he was watching something and she edged closer.
A wordless cry, a flash of silver, and the heads of several sunflowers flew through the air. She recognized the flash of silver as blades and she realized the rough sound of displaced air as a clumsy attempt to wield them. A leap of a small, shadowed body, followed by a two streaks of silver and a cry of battle, and Katara knew who Zuko was watching. Lee had said he'd wanted to sword fight and subsequent pestering had worn Zuko down enough for him to admitted knowing how. Zuko had refused to teach him despite the young boy's pleas and now it seemed Lee had taken the matter into his own hands. No doubt the boy wanted to be able to impress all his friends. Lee leapt again, tripping over his feet and landing in a heap. Zuko moved forward through the sunflowers, finally making his presence known. "You're holding them all wrong."
Lee startled, shooting to his feet with a gasp. He fumbled with the swords, stammering, "I'm sorry!"
Zuko rolled his shoulders, plucking the dual swords from the boy's hands, adjusting his hold and showing Lee his grip. "The swords are an extension of your arms."
He demonstrated a few swings, explaining the nature of the swords, before handing them back to Lee. The young boy took them carefully, almost reverently, staring in awe at the blades. Zuko traced the edge of the blade without touching it, repeating, "The swords are an extension of yourself. They are both halves of a whole. Don't forget."
Katara watched a few more minutes before slipping away to return to the barn. She settled back down under the covers and let her mind drift to what she'd witnessed. She knew Zuko valued those swords and wondered why he hadn't been more upset that they'd been stolen, even if the thief was just a boy and the swords would most likely be returned by morning. She half expected the firebender to return to the barn shortly after she did, but it was several hours before she heard the sound of footsteps and quiet conversation.
"He used to show me stuff like this all the time."
Zuko's response was too low for her to hear, but she caught Lee's farewell and then saw Zuko quietly enter. His steps were near silent as he approached and he startled when she spoke. "That was very nice of you."
A flame flickered in his hand for a brief second before snuffing out. "Don't do that."
He dropped the swords next to his spot, kicking off his shoes and rolling into his blankets. She felt him shiver slightly and heard him released a slow breath. Spring may have arrived, but the desert nights were still chilly. Once he'd settled again, Katara laughed quietly. "You're not nearly as heartless as you pretend to be."
Zuko rolled his eyes. "The kid could've run himself through, swinging those swords like that."
She lifted herself onto her elbow, peering through the darkness at him. "So you taught him how to hold and swing the swords?"
He shrugged, settling down with his back to her, grumbling, "I didn't want to clean the swords in the morning."
Katara laughed but left it at that. She waited several moments before scooting closer to his back, curling up and facing the other direction, relaxing into his warmth. The bedding had been cold without him there. She was nearly asleep when Zuko spoke quietly, "Did you know Lee has a brother?"
Katara looked over her shoulder, but Zuko hadn't moved. She frowned. "I did. He's joined the Earth Kingdom Army in place of Gansu."
"Gansu was in the Army?"
Katara hummed sleepily. "Yes. He was injured so they let him go."
Zuko was silent for a time and Katara was once more drifting off when she felt him roll toward her. "Do you know how?"
She groaned, throwing an arm over her eyes. Half the time she couldn't get him to speak and now he wouldn't shut up. "Zuko, we didn't discuss that kind of thing. Go to sleep."
She half expected him to say something else, but he only grunted and settled down quietly.
When Katara woke again, the sun was shining through the slats in the side of the barn and spilling across her face. She rolled away from the light with a disgruntled groan, directly into the spot Zuko was sleeping in the night before. His absence roused her enough to lift her head and look around the barn. He was nowhere to be seen and Feathers was out of the stall. Another search of the area showed that their packs were still present though Zuko's dao swords were gone. The latter didn't concern her since Zuko was rarely without the blades since leaving the swamp. She took her time folding the blankets and packing their bags so was surprised when she heard raised voices.
"What do you want, Gow?"
She dropped the bags, grabbing up her waterskin and hurrying out of the barn. Zuko and Gansu stood in front of Gow and several of his men astride ostrich horses. Sela was holding a scowling Lee back by his arm and the sheep and cow pigs were squealing angrily. The large earthbender towered over Gansu with a laughing sneer. "Quite the friendly reception, Gansu. Especially after we rode out all this way to tell you."
Katara held her breath, a feeling of dread curling in her stomach. Gansu and Sela looked just as fearful as she felt while Zuko merely looked irritated. Gansu straightened his shoulders. "What's that?"
Gow affected a careless shrug. "Just thought someone ought to tell you that your son's battalion got captured."
Sela gasped and Gansu's face drained of color. Sela's hold on Lee's arm tightened painfully and when she spoke, her voice shook. "Is he alive? Do you know?"
Gow laughed and Gansu and his wife flinched. He looked over his shoulder at the rest of his men, asking, "You boys hear what the Fire Nation did with their last group of Earth Kingdom prisoners?"
Zuko tensed, his expression stony. Katara didn't want to hear, dreading what the response might be, but one of the soldiers on the ostrich horses spoke, his tone tinged with humor, "Dressed 'em up in Fire Nation uniforms and put 'em on the front line unarmed, the way I heard it. Then they just watched."
Sela gave a great sobbing cry, her legs collapsing under her. Gansu's fists clenched and he stepped forward angrily, shouting, "You watch your mouth!"
No one noticed Zuko's flinch or the way his expression turned a sickly pale color when he heard the rumor. Katara moved closer to the firebender's side, keeping a wary eye on the Earth Kingdom soldiers. Gow drew himself up importantly, green eyes glaring at the distraught family. "You better watch yourself, Gansu. You're behind on your taxes as it is."
Gansu's teeth clenched, eyes flashing, and he growled out, "Get off my land."
Gow's hand reached for his hammer and he stepped forward threateningly. Zuko smoothly stepped between the two men, meeting Gow's glare without flinching. The two benders sized each other up before Gow finally sneered, tearing his eyes away from Zuko's and cast Gansu and his family a disdainful sneer. "Why bother rooting around in the mud with these pigs? Let's go."
He stalked to his ostrich horse, hoisting himself onto the protesting animal's back and the whole group charged back toward town in a choking cloud of dust. Sela burst into tears and Gansu enveloped her in a tight hug, drawing a confused Lee in as well. Katara moved forward, placing a hand on Zuko's arm and drawing his gaze. For a brief second, she caught a glimpse of remembered pain and grief. She blinked and his emotions were hidden again beneath a mask of indifference. He glanced back at the small family that was seeking comfort from each other and Katara thought she detected some form of longing from him as Gansu brushed his hand over Lee's head. Katara put a hand on Zuko's back, leaning into him to offer what comfort she could. He seemed to come to himself again and he turned to the ostrich horse, muttering, "We should go."
He looked down at her, glancing back at the huddled family. "Yes. It's for the best."
Katara frowned. "But what about Gansu and his family? Shouldn't we stay and help?"
Zuko didn't answer right away, his brow creased with a frown. Eventually he sighed, shaking his head. "No."
Gansu stood, helping his sobbing wife up, a determined expression on his face. "I'm going to the front. I'm going to find Sensu and bring him back."
Sela gasped, clutching at her husband's tunic. Gansu placed his hands on her shoulders. "I'll leave right away."
A last nod to Zuko and Katara and Gansu guided his wife back to the house. Lee immediately turned to Zuko, looking up at the older boy with wide, hopeful eyes. "Will you stay? When my dad goes…will you stay?"
Katara smiled at Zuko's stunned expression, tucking herself close to the firebender's side. For a brief moment, he looked torn and Katara could see him struggle with the desire to stay. He'd opened himself up to the small Earth Kingdom family. Unfortunately, Katara knew they couldn't stay and Lee's hopeful expression fell when Zuko finally shook his head. "No. I—We need to move on."
Lee's disappointment was nearly heartbreaking and he followed them to the ostrich horse, pleading even as Zuko mounted and lifted Katara into the saddle behind him, "Just until dad gets back?"
Zuko looped the reins around one hand, looking first towards the horizon before turning a steady gaze to the young boy. To Katara's surprise, Zuko pulled out the dagger he'd always carried, holding it out for Lee. "I want you to have this."
Lee's face lit up with a grin and he took the dagger, pulling it from the sheath and holding it up. Sunlight sparked along the edge of the blade. "Wow! This is the best present ever! Thanks!"
Zuko ruffled the boy's hair fondly. "Never give up without a fight."
Katara leaned over a well, peering down into the depths. Zuko leaned against the dry stones watching her. Katara had insisted they stop to refill their waterskins before they got too far out of town in the off chance that she'd overlooked doing so in the excitement following Gow's appearance on the pig sheep farm. She glanced up at Zuko, meeting his eyes for a moment before quickly looking away, brushing loose hair out of her eyes. "I don't sense any water in this well."
Zuko grunted, eyes sweeping the area around them before settling on her again. She scowled in return. "I know. You don't have to rub it in."
The firebender had taken one look at the area surrounding the well and declared it was dry, but Katara had insisted that it wasn't. She caught the briefest tilt to his mouth before Zuko turned away to gather the reins of the ostrich horse. Katara tried one last time to draw water up before declaring defeat and moved to follow the firebender. Quick movement caught her eye and she paused, reaching out to stop Zuko from pulling himself into the saddle again. He followed her gaze, frowning when he recognized the figure that approached. Katara worried her lip, murmuring, "Do you think something's wrong?"
Leather squeaked as Zuko's hand tightened around the reins. "I'd says so."
The relief on Sela's face when she finally reached them was obviously and she barely paused a moment to catch her breath before gasping, "You have to help! It's Lee—the thugs from town came as soon as Gansu left. When they ordered us to give them food, Lee pulled a knife on them! I don't even know where he got a knife!" She was nearly hysterical, her words flooding from her her a jumbled mess. "They they took him away. They told me if he's old enough to fight, he's old enough to join the army."
Katara felt Zuko tense beside her, but she moved to comfort the distraught mother. Sela clung to the waterbender, but her attention was on Zuko, pleading, "I know we barely know you, but—"
Zuko was already swinging into the saddle, pulling his dao swords over his shoulders to rest against his shoulder blades. "I'll get your son back."
"Oh!" she sighed, her relief palpable. "Thank you!"
Zuko waited long enough for Katara and Sela to situate themselves behind him on the ostrich horse before urging Feathers to a quick pace. The trip back into town seemed far longer than the trip out. Sela clung to Katara, her expression anxious and her breath catching. Katara was surprised to see just how many people there were in the streets. Several dozen men and women crowded into the square, shouting angrily at Gow and his men but none of them moved to do anything more. They scattered when Zuko approached but hung on the edges to watch. Zuko dismounted, handing the reins to Katara without taking his eyes from the stocky earthbender. She took them, reaching for his hand to stop him. Gold eyes flashed up to meet hers and she hesitated before saying, "Be careful."
Zuko nodded and turned, his eyes sweeping over Lee who stood bound to the central water tower. The boy appeared uninjured and even grinned when Zuko looked at him. Gow, however, did not look pleased and stepped forward to scowl menacingly at Zuko. Not one to be easily cowed, Zuko raised his chin, commanding, "Let the kid go."
Gow laughed. "This isn't any of your concern, stranger."
"It is now. Let him go."
"Who do you think you are?" Gow growled.
"Who I am doesn't matter. I don't associate myself with bullies and cowards who intimidate women and children. I will tell you again, let the boy go."
Gow snorted, glancing at the soldier next to him. "Are you going to let him insult you like that?"
The soldier charged, spear leveled at Zuko's chest. Katara held her breath. She knew Zuko was a skilled fighter, but firebending and sword fighting were completely different from spears and she knew Zuko was hiding his bending, even if he never said as much. He dodged the spear, landing a forceful blow to the man's stomach that sent him tumbling to the ground. Zuko straightened and Katara heard the distinctive sound of a sword clicking back into its sheath. The downed soldier quickly regained his feet and fled. A second man with a spear attacked and again Zuko dodged the point, slamming the man into the ground. A third shortly after and Zuko's kick splintered the spear. Without a weapon, the man panicked and ran. Lee cheered, but Zuko was still closely watching Gow. A feeling of dread filled Katara, but Zuko didn't appear concerned. He'd lost his conical hat some time during the scuffle so the flash of his gold eyes was obvious now.
"As I'd said, cowards and bullies."
Gow sneered, pulling out the hammers. "You think mighty highly of yourself, boy. You'll find I'm at a completely different level. We don't like punks like you around these parts."
Zuko drew the dao swords, holding them at ready. "You've been abusing power too long."
They faced off, sizing each other up as an opponent. Gow moved first, earthbending a rock up and thrusting it Zuko. The firebender smashed through it with his sword, eyes narrowed to avoid dust and rock shards. Gow followed the attack with another three rocks in rapid succession. Zuko dodged the first two but took the third one in the stomach. Katara started forward as he stumbled back—hunching and clearly winded—but Sela grabbed her arm, halting her.
Zuko straightened from his hunched position, taking a deep breath. The swords leveled and held steady. A moment later, he charged. He dodged and flowed around the attacks with ease. Katara held her breath, flinching each time a boulder brushed Zuko's clothing. Another boulder slammed into his abdomen. Katara heard the air rush from his lungs as he hit the ground. She couldn't stop her gasp. The only thing keeping her back was Sela's white-knuckled grip on her arm.
The firebender somersaulted to his feet, favoring his ribs and grimacing in pain. A smug smile grew on Gow's face and he launched a barrage so fierce it took everything Zuko had to dodge. Katara gasped as the ground beneath Zuko's feet surged. Zuko stumbled in attempt to maintain his balance, his eyes narrowed in concentration. A wall of rock slammed into the firebender before Zuko coud gain the footing to avoid the blow. Zuko flew through the air, hitting the ground hard. A terrified cry escaped Katara before she even thought of the words, "Zu—Lee!"
He hit the ground hard, rolling a few feet before coming to a stop. He lay still and Katara held her breath. The crowd had also grown deathly silent, all eyes anxiously turned on the downed firebender. She heard a few mutterings of encouragement and prayers to the Spirits around her. Gow approached Zuko's prone form with a cautious eye, smirking when he remained unmoving. "You're not so tough now. Let this be a warning to the rest of you."
The hammer rose to deal Zuko the final incapacitating blow when Zuko's hand shot out, snatching up his fallen dao swords and rising in a hurricane of fire. Shocked gasps rose from the spectators and even Katara was surprised. She hadn't seen Zuko firebend since they'd been captured by the Swamp Tribe and even then she'd been involved in her own pathetic fight and hadn't actually watched him bend. Fire leapt from his hands, knocking Gow back and forcing him to drop his hammers as they heated to near unbearable temperatures. The large earthbender fell back, all traces of arrogance gone, and raised his fists to continue the fight without his weapons. His movements were clumsy and Zuko's attacks were relentless and powerful. A desperate attempt to gain the upper hand failed and Gow tripped over his own element, landing in a cloud of dust. Defeated, the earthbender looked up at Zuko, fear in his eyes. "Who—Who are you?"
Zuko stood proudly over him, breathing heavily, his eyes shifting to briefly glance at the stunned crowd that was quickly recovering from its shock. Angry rumbles were moving through the crowd, taking the place of the previous cheers. A firebender had defeated one of their own! It suddenly didn't matter that the man he defeated was the one abusing them. The men around were now unfriendly faces. Fierce gold eyes pinned Gow in place. "My name is Zuko, son of Ursa and Fire Lord Ozai; prince of the Fire Nation, and heir to the throne."
The crowd's surprise increased and even Katara was taken aback. Of course she'd known. He'd admitted as much in the swamp, but she never thought he'd declare it to all and sundry. An old man nearby recovered enough to shout, "Liar! I heard of you! You're not a prince, you're an outcast! His own father burned and disowned him!"
Blue eyes widened and swung around to look at him, but he didn't even flinch. "Zuko…"
He ignored the murmurs of speculation as to what he could've done to warrant being banished by a man as ruthless as the Fire Lord. Katara could hear speculations from theft to attempted assassination. Each story more outrageous than the last. He stepped forward, expression growing cold when Gow flinched, and snatched the dagger he'd given to Lee from the earthbender's belt. A last glare from gold eyes sent the defeated earthbender fleeing. He sheathed the dao swords and approached the water tower were Sela was quickly untying Lee from one of the posts. She looked terrified as Zuko approached, but she stepped protectively in front of Lee "Not a step closer."
Zuko flinched, betrayal flashing across his face before he buried it beneath an impassive mask. He stopped where he was, holding out the dagger to Lee. "It's yours. You should have it."
The young boy glared angrily, tears welling. His small frame shook with emotion and his fists clenched at his side as he shouted, "No! I hate you!"
He kicked desert dust at Zuko and sped off home, Sela quickly following after him with a last fearful look at Zuko. Lee's words seemed to shake the rest of the town out of its stupor. Voices rose in anger, jeering, and a few rocks flew. The very people who'd been cheering him on were now calling for his death or at least his being run out of town. The crowd surged around Katara, jostling her, shouting.
"Get out of our town, scum!"
The firebender drew away from them, but didn't draw his dao swords. Katara pushed at the bodies around her, forcing her way to the front, calling, "Zuko!"
Her shout reminded the villagers of her presence and hands grabbed at her, trying to pull her back. She struggled against them, breaking free and stumbling into Zuko's surprised form. Blue eyes clashed with gold and then Katara straightened, turning to face the crowd. They hung back, the shouts lulling as she faced them but she could clearly see they weren't past their lust for blood yet though they feared Zuko would slaughter them if they got closer. She shivered. Maybe many firebenders would, but for some reason Zuko seemed hesitant to use his firebending or attack the townsfolk. It had to be more than just avoiding notice in hostile territory.
An old woman wrung her hands anxiously, looking nervously at Zuko even as she addressed Katara, "What are you doing? Get away from him, he's dangerous!"
Katara bristled, anger flaring and stepping away from the few men who were brave enough to approach with the intent to pull her away. Her back pressed against Zuko's chest. She looked over the crowd, declaring angrily, "He's no more dangerous than you."
Disbelief rumbled through the mob and several men closest to her looked insulted. Fingers lightly touched her elbow and Zuko mumbled quietly, "Let's just go."
"No!" she exclaimed, pulling away from him and glaring furiously for even suggesting they leave the way things were. "They're being unreasonable. You helped them and they're treating you like—like—"
She groped for a suitable word, falling short when another villager exclaimed, "You don't have to stay with him. You can be free."
Blue eyes turned on them in an icy glare. "You're all cowards."