Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Rescue Me

Try Again

by hootowl 0 reviews

Recognizable quotes from "Bitter Work"

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor,Romance - Characters: Katara,Zuko - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2013-03-07 - Updated: 2013-03-07 - 4610 words

0Unrated
Katara kept a careful eye on Zuko as he worked around the cottage. She agreed with Iroh. They needed to find a place of refuge soon, but Iroh was still too weak to make the journey across the desert to the walled city of Ba Sing Se. A frown pulled at her mouth. She’d have to start making jerky soon. Raw meat in the desert wouldn’t last long. Iroh sat beside her, quietly amused to find out that Zuko had dragged a battered and dented kettle across so many miles. He was further amused to hear that tea was a regular addition to many of Zuko and Katara’s meals. A quiet cough from the younger firebender had her eyes narrowing and her frown deepening. So involved was she in her thoughts, she nearly missed Iroh saying, “You watch my nephew a great deal, Miss Katara.”

She spun to look at him, blue eyes wide and cheeks heating. “I—”

Iroh set the kettle down on a warm stone by the fire, giving it a friendly tap. “My nephew is a fine looking young man. I’m pleased he doesn’t take after his uncle.” Iroh patted his rotund stomach. “I’m afraid I’ve let myself go since I retired and I’m no longer as young as I used to be. Of course, my brother was the one that received the good looks in my family. And the height. I was always rather short and stocky. Tea?”

Katara didn’t quite know what to make of that and could only accept the cup of tea Iroh passed to her. Her gaze drifted back to Zuko, missing the smile Iroh hid behind his own cup. He let her watch in peace for a moment before speaking again, “Of course he is rather gangly. But most boys are at his age.”

“No, my brother doesn’t look like Zuko.”

Iroh made an encouraging noise in his throat, his words a little too casual. “How so?”

“Zuko—he’s got,” she motioned to the firebender in question and then seemed to realize what she was saying. “Never mind.”

Iroh smiled triumphantly. “My nephew has great strength.”

Katara gasped, tearing her eyes from Zuko and coloring spectacularly. When she continued to appear at a loss for words, Iroh continued blithely, “You are at an age where you begin to notice such things. Zuko has noticed a great deal about you, I’m sure. After all, he too—”

Katara shot to her feet, nearly shouting, “I’m going to do the washing!”

She fled before Iroh could say anything else. Iroh chuckled, calmly sipping his tea and paying no mind to Zuko’s cautious approach. The young man shifted uncertainly on his feet, before asking, “Uncle?”

Iroh breathed in the tea vapors, sighing heavily. “This tea is getting old, Zuko. We will have to stop in the next town and buy more.”

He didn’t have to look up to know Zuko was now sporting a flabbergasted expression. A quick glance through lidded eyes proved him right. Zuko’s expression was rapidly changing from flabbergasted to annoyed and Iroh gave his internal self a smug pat on the shoulder. It was nice that some things didn’t change. Zuko was quickly finding his words and Iroh would have laid down good money on what was coming next.

“We are not going shopping!”

Oh yes, Iroh thought, it was good to be back. “Why not? You could do with a new pair of shoes and a hearty meal.”

“Because last time, we ended up with pirates after us!”

“That was not my fault, Prince Zuko. Besides, you’ve been to town more recently than that.”

Zuko snorted. “Oh, yeah. When I went to buy supplies I ended up with a girl and no food. And the other time they ran us out!”

Iroh set his tea aside, folding his hands into the sleeves of his tunic. “Ah yes, Miss Katara. I must say, I’ve never gone shopping and ended up with a girl instead.”

Zuko’s pale cheeks flared red. “That was your fault!”

“Well, you made an excellent selection. I think she even approves of you. It’s certainly not the normal way one selects a wife—”

“I am not getting married!” Zuko bellowed.

Iroh let the echo of Zuko’s shout fade before calmly allowing, “Very well. But you have to admit, Miss Katara is not unattractive.”

Zuko merely folded his arms and scowled in return.

“If you are feeling ill, you should tell Miss Katara. She worries.”

“I am not sick.”

Iroh lifted an eyebrow skeptically as Zuko muffled another cough and started pacing. After several passes, he stopped in front of his uncle, a look of determination on his face. “Uncle, I’ve been thinking.”

“Excellent,” Iroh exclaimed. “A little bedside manner would do you well.”

Zuko stared, clearly thrown by his uncle’s comment. He opened his mouth to ask what his uncle was talking about, changed his mind, and closed it again. He shook himself, determinedly ignoring Iroh’s genial smile. “No. I was thinking: It’s only a matter of time before I run into Azula again. I’m going to need to know more advanced firebending if I want to stand a chance against her.”

Zuko paused, glancing cautiously at the older firebender. Iroh’s smile had sobered and a worn, tired look replaced it. Zuko jerked his eyes away, running a hand through his hair. “I know what you’re going to say; she’s my sister and I should be trying to get along with her—”

“No,” Iroh interrupted. “She’s crazy and needs to go down.”

Zuko sagged in relief though a part of him was still anxious about his uncle’s decision. He shifted nervously under Iroh’s gaze. Finally, Iroh nodded and rose to his feet. “It’s time to resume your training.”

.........

Katara sat by the fire, watching their dinner simmer quietly as she carefully darned a threadbare tunic. A needle pricked her finger and she scowled, her eyes narrowing at the wounded fingertip in search of blood. In the clearing not far from the cabin, Iroh stood, calling out corrections to a clearly exhausted Zuko. From what she’d heard Iroh say—and Zuko complain about—they were going through the basics and Zuko had fallen into some bad habits. It’d been two days since training had restarted and Katara was fascinated by the similarities as well as the differences. Finally, Iroh seemed pleased with Zuko’s form and they advanced into the more complex forms. Now that the basics were correct, Zuko progressed faster than Katara expected. A glance toward the setting sun showed that Zuko’s training was ending for the day. With that thought she heard Iroh call a halt and give his nephew a few words of encouragement and a few things for him to work on. As always, Zuko grunted in response. Zuko collapsed next to her with a tired sigh and she looked up with a smile. “Are you hungry?”

His head fell back with a groan and his eyes closed. Iroh laughed, easing himself down on a bench. “Perhaps after he’s cleaned up a bit.”

Zuko didn’t move and barely acknowledged his uncle’s subtle hint to bathe. Katara set aside her darning and scooped up the stew and handing it to Iroh. Zuko twitched when she leaned over him. She glanced over him, smiling at Iroh before settling back down and picking up her sewing again. “You look like you’ve improved.”

“Not enough,” he grumbled moodily.

“You are being too hard on yourself, my nephew.”

“Azula’s still better.”

Iroh loudly slurped his soup, exclaiming, “This is delicious, Miss Katara! Zuko, you know it’s rude to show up to dinner in such a deplorable state. You insult Miss Katara’s work.”

Zuko looked up, brow furrowed and scowling at his uncle. He glanced quickly at Katara to find her quickly ducking her head and focusing intently on the garment in her lap. With an annoyed sigh, Zuko lumbered to his feet and stalked off in the direction of the bathhouse. Katara watched until he disappeared around the corner of the cabin, the folded the tunic she’d been working on and placed it to the side. “Is Azula really that much better?”

The retired general sighed sadly. “My niece is exceptionally talented. She has had very talented instructors from a very young age. She is very ambitious and she draws her power from that ambition. I’m afraid that Zuko has been hurt too many times and has come to rely on anger and fear to power his bending.”

Iroh ate quietly and Katara picked at a loose thread in a pair of pants. When Iroh spoke again, she started with surprise. “Zuko is conflicted. He is trying to be something—someone—he is not.” A cough alerted them of Zuko’s return and Iroh frowned. “I am not liking the sound of that.”

Katara nodded. “He says he’s fine, but even if he is sick, I don’t think I can heal illness.”

Zuko rounded the corner, steps faltering when he saw them watching him. He hastily dropped his hand to his side. “What?”

Iroh smiled at him. “You look much better, Zuko. Come, eat Miss Katara’s fabulous stew. You are too thin!”

Zuko took a seat next to his uncle, warily taking the bowl from Katara. Iroh beamed at him before turning to Katara. “Now, what were you saying, my dear?”

She tore her eyes from her study of Zuko to look at Iroh in some confusion. Iroh smiled indulgently, motioning to the pants in Katara’s lap. “You were telling me about the state of our clothing.”

She looked down, alarmed to see that she’d pulled the loose thread enough to create a large hole. “Oh!” she exclaimed, lifting it to take a better look. She could clearly see through the fabric. “I don’t think I can fix these. Most of the clothing isn’t fit to wear again.”

Zuko’s wariness shifted to suspicion when Iroh took the pants from Katara and had a look for himself. A loud rip resulted when he tugged on the fabric. He looked startled at how easily the clothing tore but he recovered quickly and grinned. “It looks like we’ll have to—”

“No.”

Iroh turned to his nephew in surprise. “You expect a lady to travel without pants?”

Zuko choked on his soup, an embarrassed flush spreading rapidly up his neck and across his cheeks. Iroh waited for the coughing fit to pass, sending a red-faced Katara and sly wink. Zuko recovered enough to gasp hoarsely, “She’s got a skirt—dress—thing.”

“Oh, dear,” Iroh sighed sadly. “Isn’t that skirt covered in blood?”

“Fine! We can go shopping.”

“Excellent! Perhaps I can find a worthy Pai Sho opponent.”

Zuko groaned, but said nothing to contradict his uncle. With a last benign smile, Iroh disappeared into the cabin. Katara tossed aside the torn pants and took a seat next to Zuko. The firebender glanced at her, but returned his focus to his bowl. With a gentle nudge of her shoulder against his, she gained his attention and she smiled. “It’s not so bad, is it?”

Zuko grunted. “He buys all kinds of weird things. He bought a gold monkey before.”

She laughed, leaning against his shoulder. “Well, we don’t have much money any more so we won’t be able to buy much.”

The cabin door suddenly opened again and Iroh stuck his head out, calling, “Miss Katara, I would like to teach you how to play Pai Sho. My nephew is a horrible strategist. Perhaps a pretty competitor will improve his game.”

.........

Katara had learned during her time with Zuko, that firebenders tended to be early risers. Growing up, she was usually up well before Sokka to attend to the morning cook fires with Gran-Gran and the other women. She liked the peaceful beginnings to the day when Gran-Gran and the older women would share stories from when they were young. She had never paid much attention to where the sun was positioned when she rose in the morning. The south pole had periods of time where the sun never set and times when the sun never rose. It wasn’t until she left with Aang that she realized the sun rose and set every day in the rest of the world.

She’d always known Zuko woke before her, but it wasn’t until Uncle Iroh joined them that she realized he woke up before dawn. She woke an hour later to stumble out of the cabin to find that Zuko was well into his bending practice when she knew he usually spent the morning in meditation. Iroh greeted her with a cheerful “Good morning!” and Zuko merely grunted hello. And so the morning progressed like it had for the last week. This morning she noted that both firebenders had decided to forego their tunics. She eyed the bandages that still swathed Iroh’s torso, pleased to see they were still clean. She stopped by the fire, pouring a cup of tea from the battered kettle Iroh had left to warm in the coals. Cradling the cup between her hands, she breathed in the steam and released a contented sigh.

“Miss Katara, we are going to practice bending lightning.”

She turned at Iroh’s call, approaching warily when he motioned for her to come closer. She stopped next to Zuko, glancing up at him and catching his eye when he glanced down at her. A flush rose to his cheeks and he quickly looked away again, frowning at his uncle despite the fact that the older man said nothing. Iroh raised his brow as if he expected something and Zuko finally muttered, “Morning.”

Iroh seemed disappointed with his nephew’s grumble, but said nothing to correct him. He cleared his throat loudly and Katara caught Zuko straightening quickly from the corner of her eye. A quick look showed Zuko watching his uncle intently. Iroh grinned at her and gave her an exaggerated wink before adopting his instructor persona. “There is energy all around us. The energy is both yin and yang; positive energy and negative energy. Only a select few firebenders can separate those energies. This creates and imbalance. The energy wants to restore balance and in a moment the positive and negative energy come crashing back together. You provide release and guidance, creating lightning.”

Katara held her breath as Iroh moved through the motions, energy sparking and arching around him in bright, bluish-white bolts. With a final turn, he released the energy into the sky with a crack. Katara was still staring after the lightning long after it had disappeared into the morning sky, her eyes wide and her mouth dry. Huu had said there were firebenders able to bend lightning, but she’d never really put much thought into how much power there was behind it. Her attention turned from the sky back to the firebenders as Iroh walked Zuko through the movements. Once Iroh was satisfied with Zuko’s form, he gave a few last instructions before gently taking Katara’s arm and guiding her a distance away. “It would be best if you stayed by me, Miss Katara. Lightning is difficult to control even by a master.”

Apprehension settled heavily in her stomach. “Should I leave you alone with Zuko?”

“Oh, no,” he disagreed cheerfully. “I would have had to come find you. It is fortunate we are in the middle of nowhere. No, you are safest right here.”

Zuko was staring in their direction, clearly waiting for instruction. She stopped Iroh when he turned to call to Zuko. “Will he be all right? I mean, he’ll be safe, right?”

He paused, giving her a long, considering look before rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “It is fortunate we have such a talented healer in our company.” At her look of horrified fear he grimaced, hurrying to reassure her. “I don’t think it’ll come to that, Miss Katara. Zuko is stronger than he gives himself credit.”

With that said, Iroh waved and called for Zuko to begin. At first, nothing happened. It looked like he was just practicing the motions again. He reached the end and paused as if expecting something to happen. Several seconds passed without so much as a spark and Zuko straightened with a scowl. Katara started forward but Iroh’s hand on her shoulder brought her to a stop. “Wait until he gives the signal. Fire is a dangerous element.”

Zuko made no signal and instead went back through the motions. When still nothing happened, he repeated the steps several more times, each time the moves were sharper and angrier. One last time finally produced sparks that snapped and popped erratically. Iroh sighed. “This isn’t going to end well.”

Katara started to question him when Zuko entered the last form and a loud explosion knocked Zuko off his feet. Smoke filled the air where Zuko had been standing. Katara didn’t wait for Iroh’s okay to approach and quickly hurried forward. “Zuko!”

Iroh followed at a more sedate pace. Katara covered half the distance to Zuko when he angrily got to his feet, muttering curses. Soot covered his front and streaked across his cheeks. Zuko didn’t seem to notice and Katara slowed her approach just in case he started firebending his anger. He didn’t appear injured, but she felt she had to ask. “Are you all right?”

He jerked, realizing they had approached, but ignored her question. Instead, he caught sight of Iroh and exploded in a flood of frustration. “Why can’t I do it? Instead of lightning, it keeps exploding in my face! Like everything always does!”

Katara drew back in surprise, glancing back at the other firebender for a clue on how to deal with the situation. Iroh had donned his tunic again and her folded his hands into his sleeves, calmly watching Zuko pace angrily. “I was afraid this might happen. You will not be able to master lightning until you have dealt with the turmoil inside you.”

He bristled at those words, snapping defensively, “What turmoil!”

“Zuko, you must let go of your feelings of shame if you want your anger to go away.”

For a brief moment he looked as if Iroh had struck him. He stumbled, wide-eyed and breathing heavily, before he caught himself. “But I don’t feel any shame at all! I’m as proud as ever!”

He stormed off before either Katara or Iroh could say anything else. Iroh sadly watched him go, murmuring, “Oh, dear. That did not go as well as I had hoped.”

“I’ll go after him.”

She was already following Zuko’s path when Iroh called after her, “Perhaps it would be better to leave him alone.”

.........

It took longer than she expected to find Zuko. There weren’t too many places to hide in the area. They were surrounded by desert on one side and the steep sides of rocky mountains on the other. A storm was building on the mountains and her skin itched from the electricity in the air. She found Zuko at the base of the mountains, picking his way over the rough terrain and still as angry as he’d been when he’d left. She paused a moment to watch him and spared a brief thought to wonder what he was thinking when she saw him glance toward the mountain’s peak. A low rumble of thunder reached them and she suddenly realized what he must be thinking. She frowned. Learning to bend lightning in a storm would be like her learning to waterbend in a typhoon. “Zuko? Are you okay?”

He ignored her, making slow but determined progress up the face of the mountain. She followed, keeping an eye on the clouds as they grew steadily darker. Thunder rolled again and wind picked up, bringing the taste of rain with it. When she stumbled over loose rocks for the third time, she decided they were not going to climb the mountain in a storm. “Zuko—”

She’d apparently broken his concentration because as soon as she spoke, his hold on a protruding boulder slipped and he fell back, crashing into her and sending them both tumbling down the steep, rocky path. It was definitely faster going down then climbing up and they landed in a battered heap back where they started. They gasped for breath, filling winded lungs and each testing limbs for broken bones. Zuko rolled off of her—cradling a sprained wrist and nursing a few scratches and bruises—sitting in dejected silence while Katara examined her own bumps and bruises. She quickly healed her own scratches and then turned to Zuko. He didn’t respond as she tended to him, hardly flinching when she poked at his sprained wrist.

“Really, Zuko, we’re lucky we didn’t break our heads open.”

His shoulders slumped and he watched her fingers dance over his injured wrist, following the hidden flow of blood. She let her hand drop back to her side with a sigh, looking at the top of Zuko’s bowed head. “There’s nothing I can do about the sprain except wrap it when we get back.”

“Why am I so bad at everything?”

She sat back on her heels with a frown. “You’re not bad at everything.”

A snort of derision showed what Zuko thought of that. The wind picked up and brought the beginnings of the storm with it. Rain pattered around them but Zuko didn’t seem to notice, sinking into a sulk. “Yes I am. I hadn’t even passed the basics of firebending when I first met you.”

“And I couldn’t even bend a whip until a month or so ago,” she stated with a shrug, rising to her feet and encouraging him to follow. “Let’s get out of the rain before your cold gets worse.”

He followed with a grumble of: “I’m not sick.”

They found decent shelter under an outcropping of rocks and they sat, leaning against the back wall and watching the rain fall more heavily. Katara shifted closer to Zuko’s side in an effort to ward off the damp chill that followed the storm. They sat in silence until Katara prodded gently, “You’re not as bad as you think you are, Zuko.”

“Azula—”

She sat up, pulling on Zuko’s shoulder to turn him toward her, interrupting, “You need to stop comparing yourself to your sister.”

He seemed surprised at her vehemence, but forged ahead in an attempt to explain. “She’s had everything so easy. It’s not fair.”

“No,” she allowed, “it’s not, but just think. Azula has never failed at anything. She just might lose her mind if she did fail.”

They took a moment to ponder that thought before Zuko shuddered. “That’s almost more terrifying.”

Katara laughed, leaning into his shoulder again, slipping her arm around his and holding it close. Thunder echoed among the rocks and the rain picked up so they couldn’t see past the edge of their shelter. Katara let the fall of rain soothe her and she nearly fell into a doze when Zuko cleared his throat, started to speak, changed his mind and fell silent again. She looked up at him and he turned his face so she couldn’t see the scar that covered half his face. A muscle jerked in his jaw and he seemed to make some kind of decision. Still not looking at her, he spoke quietly, “My father—I’ve been banished. I can’t go home until I capture the Avatar.”

Katara frowned darkly, blue eyes narrowing at an unseen point in the distance. Piece of their previous conversations returned to her and she began to put the puzzle together. He hadn’t been home since he was thirteen and that was years ago. Her frown deepened. No one thought the Avatar was still around three years ago. “But until recently that was like chasing smoke. It’s like saying you could return home when it snows in the Fire Nation.”

Zhao’s words, spoken so many months before, echoed in his mind and he couldn’t help the flinch that followed. All this time and they still stung as they had the first time he heard them. Instead of feeling angry, Zuko just felt depressed. Perhaps Zhao was right. Zuko hadn’t even listened to what Katara said, muttering, “It wasn’t impossible.”

“Just improbable.”

Zuko didn’t argue, mulling over his thoughts. Outside their shelter, the storm still raged and Katara wondered if the storm would last all night. She’d rather be in the cabin. There she was protected from the wind and the damp that rode on its wings. She jerked from her thoughts of a cheerfully warm fire when Zuko sighed heavily. “I’m a failure and a disgrace to my father. I just wanted…”

He trailed off and Katara felt her heart squeeze. No wonder he seemed to expect rejection with everyone he met. But this was Zuko’s father. Surely a father wouldn’t treat his son that way. “That sounds like a lie someone told you.”

The words sounded weak even to her ears and Zuko simply shrugged a shoulder, his face still averted. Katara frowned at herself. She was doing a rotten job of cheering up a depressed firebender. Maybe she should’ve listened to Iroh and stayed behind until Zuko worked out his angst. She immediately felt guilty for the thought. If she hadn’t followed he’d probably be doing something stupid, like standing on the top of a mountain screaming for death. The storm seemed to wearing itself out when Katara spoke again, “Is your uncle banished too?”

“Uncle? No, he,” he stopped with a frown and shrugged.

“Your uncle loves you, Zuko,” she reminded him, “and you’ve never lost your honor.”

He turned to her, clearly startled by the conviction in her words though it was still apparent he didn’t believe her. “You—”

He stopped, not sure of what he was about to say and Katara smiled at him, prodding his shoulder. “I think I would know. There’s no shame in struggling to achieve something. It makes the success that much more earned.”

Zuko swallowed thickly, eyes darting out to the now drizzle that followed the storm. Katara lifted a hand, hesitating only a moment before slipping a hand over his shoulders and pulling him into an awkward hug. It was brief and tense and she pulled away to meet his eyes, saying firmly, “Never be ashamed of who you are.”

They waited until the rain finally stopped before they left their shelter and made their way back to the cabin where Iroh waited. Katara saw the relief that spread across the retired general’s face even if Zuko didn’t seem to notice and she returned the smile. He enveloped his nephew in a welcoming hug, murmuring something too low for Katara to hear. Zuko nodded in response and Iroh grinned, announcing cheerfully, “I have another idea. I will teach you a firebending move that even Azula doesn’t know, because I made it up myself!”
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