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

Emotions

by hootowl 0 reviews

Too lazy to look up episode quote.

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor,Romance - Characters: Katara,Zuko - Warnings: [?] - Published: 2013-12-12 - 4981 words

0Unrated
Katara was angry. Iroh ushered her into the kitchens shortly after she kicked Jet out of the teahouse while the remaining patrons' teacups almost exploded with her temper. Iroh disappeared back to his customers after giving Katara stern orders to remain in the kitchen until she cooled down, reassuring them that they had nothing to fear and promising a free order of teacakes for their troubles. Now she was furiously washing dishes, glowering angrily into the soapy water as she worked. That—that jerk. The water sloshed over the side of the washtub, splashing onto the floor and wetting her shoes. She ignored the mess. She'd been flattered that an attractive guy would notice her. That he would want to talk to her. He complimented her, identified with her, sympathized with her…and he was willing to kill hundreds of innocents for no reason! She knew better than to accept shallow flattery yet she still fell to Jet's charms.

Her knuckles whitened as her fist tightened around the washrag. And the worst part of it all, she could remember Zuko's betrayed expression before he quickly covered it in a sneer and turned away. So many times she'd seen that emotion swiftly buried—the Foggy Swamp, the boy Lee's rejection, and most recently with Yun. And now she'd put it there. She should've recognized it.

Katara threw the rag down, pressing damp hands to her eyes and taking a deep, quivering breath. She needed to calm down. Zuko would return. Iroh said he would, but it was getting late. Curfew was well past and worry was beginning to set in. If the guards knew just who Zuko was—She banished the thought, focusing on another calming breath. Her anger at Jet let her focus on something other than Zuko's absence. Jet was nothing more than a terrorist, tormenting people unable to defend themselves. Her brother saved a village of Fire Nation civilians. A bubble of pride rose in her, tinged with homesickness. It'd been so long since she'd seen any of her family. She wondered if they knew she was still alive or if they thought her dead.

She dropped her hands to the rim of the washtub, staring past the walls of the teahouse. She hadn't heard any news of her brother or Aang in months. She hadn't heard from her father in nearly a year. Maybe even longer. Iroh bustled into the kitchen with the last of the teacups and saucers, saying, "That's the last of them, Miss Katara. After this, we can brew our own pot of tea and relax. I bet we still have some of those delicious biscuits we," he paused, looking at her carefully. "Is something wrong?"

She blinked, shaking her head and quickly washing the remaining dishes. "It's nothing. I was just thinking about my family."

"You will see them again some day."

Together they dried the remaining dishes and put them away. Iroh prepared a tea service, setting it on the small table in the kitchen along with a plate of teacakes and biscuits. He settled down with a sigh, pouring a cup for each of them. Katara looked lingeringly at the back door before joining Iroh at the table. She noticed that Iroh's gaze lingered on the door, but said nothing about his preoccupation. Finally, Iroh cleared his throat, drawing her attention. "I saw you had an argument with your young man."

A flush of shame rose on her cheeks that even Iroh had been aware of her focused attention on Jet. She avoided his gaze. "I—He calls himself a Freedom Fighter."

"Yes," Iroh acknowledge, "he told us of the…former use of his time on the ferry."

She shifted restlessly. "He attacked civilians."

The former general's features tightened. "There are many types of warriors, Miss Katara. I dare say, the Fire Nation does not use its soldiers just against opposing armies. You know that."

She pulled a face. She had firsthand experience with the Fire Nation's brutal war tactics, both past and more recently. "Zuko didn't do that."

"My nephew is not a soldier and I believe you are a civilian."

Katara's jaw clenched. She had been a civilian when she first met Zuko, but she couldn't really say Zuko had attacked her village. He'd defended himself when Sokka attacked, demanded and threatened everyone, engaged in a brief duel with Aang and then left. He could have easily wiped out the remaining villagers since the village contained mostly women and children. Then she left to rescue Aang and her life changed. "Not anymore."

Iroh nodded and each fell into silence. Katara found herself gazing at the backdoor more often than not. She knew she was likely worrying for nothing and Zuko was perfectly all right. Despite Iroh's reassuring words, she still caught the older man watching the door as well. Somewhere out on the streets, a dog barked and Iroh stirred, setting his teacup down and pushing back from the table. "This old man needs his rest."

He paused at the stairs to the living area above the shop, turning to look back at her. "He'll return when he's ready. You should get some sleep."

At her nod, he continued up the stairs and Katara heard the door to his room slid open and closed. She snuffed the candles throughout the teahouse, leaving the one burning on the table in the kitchen. She dropped to the chair, determined to keep vigil until Zuko returned.

Katara jerked awake at the soft scuff of shoes outside the backdoor, muscles tensing in case of attack. Habits from sleeping outdoors were hard to break. She waited in tense silence as the door slowly opened and a thin figure slipped through, closing door quietly. A soft sigh reached her ears and Zuko turned, running a tired hand over his hair. Katara stood, her eyes narrowing furiously. The motion startled the firebender, as he obviously thought he was alone, and he stumbled backward, eyes wide. Hands fisted on her hips, Katara demanded, "Where have you been?"

He glanced around the room, looking bewildered, his mouth working soundlessly for a moment before he began, "I—"

Katara made a derisively sound and a sharp hand movement that made Zuko snap his mouth shut. "You just left. Without a word. What if something happened?"

He blinked and Katara could see the dark circles under his eyes. She knew only his exhaustion kept him from exploding in a rage. His hand dropped from the hilt over his shoulder and he passed his hand over his face. "Uncle knew I was…going for a walk."

The excuse sounded weak to both of them and Zuko winced. It was close to dawn now. Katara ground her teeth, trying to surprise the rush of relief and worry that was trying to escape as fury. "That was last night, Zuko! People have been disappearing from the streets. I thought—"

She snapped her mouth shut, breathing rapidly, forcing herself to calm before she did or said something she'd later regret. Zuko stood against the door, watching her warily. She could just imagine what she looked like, sleep rumpled and hair standing on end. Anger drained away and, to her horror, she could feel her eyes burn with tears. "I thought you left."

Her voice cracked and she sniffled, hurriedly wiping away a tear. Zuko cautiously moved closer, timidly reaching out to place a hand on her shoulder. "I got a little distracted. I'm fine."

Katara stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his waist and holding tight, ignoring his immediate flinch. He shifted awkwardly at first, giving her a hesitant pat on her back, before he relaxed and wrapped his arms loosely around her. She sniffled, speaking into his chest, "Where were you?"

She felt him tense and his heart skip a beat. She lifted her head, another question on the tip of her tongue, when a clatter on the stairs startled them. They jerked apart, a blush staining both their cheeks, as Iroh entered the kitchen, yawning and stretching. A relieved smile crossed his face when he caught sight of Zuko. "I am glad to see you've returned, my boy. How was your walk?"

Zuko shuffled awkwardly and avoided Katara's curious gaze. "It was fine."

"Well, go on. Rest up. Miss Katara will watch the tables."

Katara sent him a look that promised his absence would be questioned once she managed to catch him alone and Zuko slipped past her and up the stairs to their quarters. Katara watched him until he turned a corner out of sight then turned and met Iroh's curious look.

"You're not going to ask where he was all night?" she demanded.

"Zuko is a healthy young man with wants and desires," Iroh said blandly. "If he chooses to spend the evening in fairer company, I will not press for details."

At her horrified expression, he lifted an eyebrow. "If you are not prepared for the answers, Miss Katara, you should not ask the questions."

She scowled at him and marched into the front room to set up tables and unlock the front doors. She knew Iroh was right, but that didn't mean she had to like it. It wasn't even that she believed Zuko had spent the night with…another woman. Not really, at least. It was probably her old fear of abandonment that demanded an explanation for Zuko's absence. When she returned to the kitchen to put her apron on, Iroh wordlessly handed her a steaming cup of tea. Tension she wasn't aware was in her shoulders drained from her as she breathed in the steam. Iroh sipped his own cup, finally speaking when he saw her relax, "Sleep is essential to the healthy mind."

"Weren't you worried?"

A moment passed as Iroh sipped at his tea. Finally, he sighed. "I worry about many things, Miss Katara. My nephew has been my chief worry for many years."

The bell over the front door rang jauntily and Katara put her cup on the counter, pasting a smile on her face as she left the kitchen with a cheerful, "Good morning!"

Her smile dropped as soon as she saw the young man standing in the open door, a cocky grin on his face.

"Morning, Katara," he drawled.

She folded her arms, speaking coldly, "I told you I never wanted to see you again."

Jet rolled his eyes, stepping toward her. "Really, Katara—"

"No!" she cut him off. "Just…just leave, Jet."

He put his hands on her arms, attempting to draw her into a hug. "Don't be like that, Katara. You don't meant it."

She yanked herself out of his arms. "Get out."

Jet's arms dropped to his sides and his eyes narrowed angrily, demanding, "What's with you? What are you hiding?"

"Nothing! I'm hiding nothing. I explained to you last night that I never wanted to see you again. I made myself quite clear."

A clatter on the stairs announced another arrival was soon to appear and Zuko burst out of the kitchen, eyes narrowing on Jet. "What do you want?"

"You're not part of this."

Katara stepped between them, stopping Zuko from advancing further into the room. "I asked you to leave, Jet."

"If you're hiding firebenders—"

Katara folded her arms, ignoring the near silent growl from Zuko. "You aren't continuing your crusade here, Jet. Lee and Mushu are not your enemies."

Tension grew thick around them as Jet stared at Katara through narrowed eyes. Finally, Jet backed down, sending Zuko a black look. "Remember what I said, Lee."

He swept from the teahouse, slamming the door behind him. Katara turned to Zuko, asking, "What did that mean?"

"I saw Jet after he left the teahouse last night. He made some threatening insinuations."

She nodded, accepting his answer. "He's paranoid. He's got no proof. Just be careful, all right?"

............*

Katara's feet were aching and her head was pounding by the end of the day. Lack of sleep the night before and worry about Zuko's whereabouts combined with a steady flow of customers left here feeling drained. She glanced across the room to where Zuko was less than patiently listening to several old ladies. She could see the droop in his shoulders attesting to his own fatigue and she wondered if he would finally tell her what was on his mind and causing such an obvious distraction. One of the ladies reach up and pinched Zuko's cheek, making the firebender jerk backward in surprise. The ladies twittered as Zuko stalked away, cheeks red not just from the pinch. Katara smiled at her table as she cleared the emptied tea service and turned to drop the dishes off in the kitchen. She passed Zuko in the door. "Lee?"

He turned to look at her, affecting a grimace when he caught her worried expression. His brow furrowed and he looked from her to the room beyond, muttering, "Later."

Iroh's call for closing came with relieved sighs from both Katara and Zuko. A flurry of activity followed the last call as customers ordered last minute cups of tea and cakes. By the time the last customer was ushered out the door, Katara had wanted to smash her tray over several far too flirty young men and Zuko's feet were dragging even more than they'd been previously. The door finally closed and locked behind the last customer—one of Zuko's regulars that always invited him back to her place for a nightcap knowing he'd have to stay due to curfew laws—and they turned their attention to clearing tables. They worked in comfortable silence for a while until Zuko darted a quick look toward the kitchens, speaking lowly, "The Avatar is here."

His words caught her by surprise and her fingers trembled. She had been expecting to hear he'd spent the night with someone or something she would have found equally heart-rending. She'd spent the entire day preparing herself for it and nearly convinced herself she didn't care. The relief was heady and she almost forgot what he'd told her. She would untangle her emotions later in the privacy of her bed. Already she could feel Zuko's curious gaze on her. She quickly put the delicate teacups down, her heart in her throat as she whispered, "My brother?"

He frowned. "I…did not see the Water Tribe boy."

She moved automatically, picking up plates and teacups as she let his news settle. She was so close to seeing her brother again. She bit her lip, chewing it thoughtfully. He had to be safe and alive. There hadn't been any word that any of the Avatar's companions had been captured or killed. Telling herself to stop worrying, she said with more confidence than she felt, "If Aang is here, Sokka must be. Where are they?"

"They're probably staying in the Upper Ring."

That was true. Even if the city of Ba Sing Se was determined to remain out of the war, they would still make sure the Avatar and any of his companions would be placed in a comfortable location. Even so, the city still set her on edge and she knew Zuko was just as uncomfortable. She wondered if Aang had learned to firebend yet. Excitement flooded her and she turned to the firebender, exclaiming, "Zuko, now's your chance!"

She grabbed his arm, making him jostle the loaded tray. Her excitement startled him and he yelped, trying to keep from dropping the dishes. "W-what?"

"To teach Aang firebending!" she said. It was so obvious! How could she have not thought of that before now?

Zuko stared at her as if she'd lost her mind and he set the tray down with a thud. "Are you insane?" he demanded. "I'd be betraying my family, my county—I'd be executed for even thinking of it! I can't betray—"

She caught his arm, halting his agitated pacing, and gently cupped his cheeks in her hands, drawing his eyes to meet hers. They stared into each other's eyes for a moment. Finally, Katara spoke softly, "Zuko. How many times must your nation turn its back on you before you realize it never deserved your loyalty?"

He flinched at her words and she could see the internal conflict in his eyes. "But…"

He trailed off uncertainly, drawing a quivering breath. Katara smiled gently, absently stroking his cheeks with her thumbs. "Loyalty is a noble thing, Zuko, but is your loyalty misplaced? Is your father deserving of your devotion?"

"It's my home, Katara," his voice came out in a plaintive whine. "Do you expect me to be able to attack my own home?"

"Your people are dying, Zuko. You can save them."

She let her hands drop away from him, watching as he ran a hand through his hair and he sighed. "This isn't easy for me."

"I know, but you must choose. I can't make that decision for you. Joining the winning side is the easy way out."

He frowned at her. Katara merely smiled back. She was used to his frowns and sneers and had long ago learned to discard the vast majority of them. He wasn't truly upset with her anyway. She picked up the tray of dirty dishes and carried them to the kitchen to give Zuko time to think things through. She knew it was a difficult decision to make and she didn't want to put too much pressure on him in case he decided to push back. Iroh smiled when she put the tray next to the washtub. "Is my nephew giving you a hard time, Miss Katara?"

She studied him a moment before she shrugged, deciding he must have heard their raised voices. "Not at all."

"Well, as soon as these are washed and dried I'll leave you two alone. Don't get into too much mischief."

Katara felt her cheeks heat and she rolled her eyes. It seemed no matter how many times she heard Iroh's subtle and not-so-subtle hints she would never be able to keep from blushing. The man really needed a better pastime than Pai Sho, tea, and speculating on his nephew's love life. "If you're tired, I can finish up."

"If you don't mind, I'm getting far too old to stay up so late. It's better to let younger bodies do the hard work."

He groaned, rubbing his lower back for good measure. Katara didn't buy it for a second, but shooed him out of the kitchen nevertheless. He walked across the kitchen with an exaggerated shuffle, pausing at the door to call a faux weary goodnight to Zuko before limping up the stairs. Zuko entered the kitchen with the last of the dirty dishes to watch Iroh's exit with a resigned expression on his face. He shook his head and dropped the rest of the dishes next to Katara. "Uncle always was one for dramatics."

Katara laughed softly in agreement as she turned to the washtub. "Would you like to dry?"

"Better not. Uncle says the glazing is delicate."

She laughed again and they traded places, Zuko washing and Katara drying. Katara watched him from the corner of her eye as she dried, carefully stacking the dishes to the side to put them away later. Zuko appeared lost in thought, his hands deep in the soapy water, his movements mechanical. When he handed her the last dish to dry and wiped his own hands he turned to her, his expression speculative as he began, "Okay, so say I join the Avatar. What am I supposed to say?"

He didn't wait for her answer, continuing, gesturing with his hands and pacing as he spoke, "Am I just supposed to say, 'Hello…Zuko here, but I guess you probably already know me. Sort of. Uhh…so, the thing is I have a lot of firebending experience, and I'm considered to be pretty good at it. Well, you've seen it, you know, when I was attacking you? Uhh…yeah, I guess I should apologize for that. But anyway, I'm good now. I mean, I thought I was good before, but I realize I was bad, but anyway, I think it's time I joined your group and taught the Avatar firebending.'"

He came to a halt in front of her, looking at her expectantly. Katara stared at him in surprise before an incredulous giggle escaped her. Zuko's expression fell and he looked away, grumbling, "Yeah, that's what I'd say too."

With some effort, Katara swallowed her giggles and cleared her throat. Once she was sure she had herself under control, she said, "Come on, you weren't that bad."

Zuko rolled his eyes, crossing his arms, his expression mulish. "Says you. You weren't there."

She grunted. He seemed determined to believe the worst of himself. It was true she had no idea what he did before he found her, but she hoped he realized he had grown since then. She, at least, believed he'd changed and grown even if he didn't see it. "You rescued me."

His expression tightened and he refused to meet her eyes. "Uncle made me do that."

This time she rolled her eyes. "I don't remember your uncle being there."

"Oh, he was there all right," he muttered darkly, scowling at his memory.

"Zuko!" she laughed, surprised. "Are you telling me your conscience sounds like Uncle Iroh?"

He glared at her, mouth thinning. She shrugged carelessly, hoping what she said next would placate his wounded pride. "Well, mine sounds like my Gran-Gran. But still, even if it sounded like Uncle Iroh, it was your choice. Besides, you taught me waterbending and I doubt your uncle told you to do that."

His expression didn't change, but he shifted his glare to a pointed over her shoulder. She waited while he mulled over his thoughts. In a shorter time than she expected, he gave a resigned sigh. "Fine. I'll teach the Avatar firebending."

Unable to stop herself, she threw her arms around him, squeezing him in a tight hug, her eyes burning with tears. "Thank you."

She had pinned his arms to his side so he could only shrug, muttering under his breath. Her head tilted up to look him in the face. She contemplated his features for a moment, ignoring his self-conscious shifting. "You never did explain how you knew Aang is here."

To her surprise, his face flushed and he cleared his throat awkwardly. She stepped back to give him some space and he gradually confessed, "I saw the sky bison."

Katara blinked, processing that information. "I haven't heard any rumors of the Avatar being in town."

"It's…complicated."

She searched his eyes, sensing he wasn't telling her something and he appeared unwilling to talk about it. "How are we going to find Aang before he leaves?"

"We'll think of something."

............*

It had been two days since Zuko told her Aang was in town and so far neither of them had developed a reasonable plan to seek out the Avatar. The gates into the Upper Ring were guarded and the walls were far too high for either of them to climb with any success. Iroh seemed to regard both of them with more intensity than he usually did and Katara sensed he was up to something, though he brushed aside her inquiries with a laugh and the occasional obscure proverb that left her more flummoxed than before. Zuko knew no more than she did and seemed determined to avoid his uncle's interest.

The bell over the door rang and an old woman stepped through, glancing around the tearoom with an appraising look. Katara turned toward the door, saying cheerfully, "Good morning! Welcome to The Jasmine Dragon."

The woman turned to her, her gazing sweeping over Katara with the same appraising look she'd given the room. "Good morning. You must be Katara."

Katara maintained her smile despite her surprise. "Yes, ma'am."

Katara heard the kitchen doors swing open and Zuko's voice addressing a table as he placed a tea set down. The woman's gaze shifted from Katara to Zuko, contemplating the firebender for a moment before redirecting her attention back to Katara. "I believe I will stay for a cup of tea and perhaps an order of teacakes."

"Of course," Katara responded automatically, leading her to an empty table. "This way, please."

Katara led her to a small table tucked into a quiet back corner of the room, taking her order for jasmine tea and teacakes. When Katara turned to take the order to the kitchen, the woman spoke up, "Please let Mushu know I am here, if you will, Miss Katara."

Instead of going to the small window, Katara passed through the kitchen doors. Iroh welcomed her with a smile. "Good morning, Miss Katara."

She reached for a teapot, saying, "There is a customer asking for you, Uncle."

He didn't appear surprised and, with a polite thank you, exited the kitchen. Katara quickly set up the tray and carried out to the table. Iroh and the woman appeared to be in serious conversation that they paused when Katara approached and set the tray on the table, pouring the woman the first cup of tea and asked if she required anything else. Assured that everything was fine, Katara moved to check on the other tables before retreating to the kitchens to cover Iroh's position. Katara cleaned the space until Zuko's surprised exclamation made her look up. "Why do you get to work in the kitchen?"

Katara gave him a smug grin, setting up a tray and passing it to him. "Because I haven't ruined any brews."

"That's not fair."

She clicked her tongue, looking around him at the occupied tables. "Your customers are waiting, Lee."

He snatched up the tray with a murderous glare. "We're trading."

"I don't think Uncle would appreciate the disgruntled customers if we served substandard tea. Besides, the ladies love you."

She watched as he stalked away, his ears red, and she laughed quietly. He was so easy to rile. The bell rang above the door and Katara could see Zuko's dread as four old ladies bustled through the door. She recognized them immediately and she could almost hear Zuko's despairing groan. The ladies spotted him, wide smiles spreading across their faces and they quickly settled down at table. Katara grinned, never having had the opportunity to watch Zuko interact with this group of regulars. He seemed to drag himself to their table with a resigned expression. "Welcome to The Jasmine Dragon, I am your server Lee—"

He was interrupted by a giggle and a playful swat. "Oh, Lee. We know who you are."

A clatter and a gasp drew his attention to one of the ladies. Her smile was sheepish but both Zuko and Katara caught the flirtatious flutter of her eyes as she gasped, "Oh, dear! I dropped my chopsticks. Do you think you could get them for me?"

Zuko's back straightened, his jaw tensing at their muffled giggles. Katara muffled a snicker at their obvious ploy. To Zuko's credit, he didn't attempt to retrieve the dropped chopsticks, saying flatly, "I'll be sure to bring you a clean pair."

The ladies sighed in disappointment but quickly recovered. Zuko spoke before the ladies could say another further, "Our specials for the day are—"

"Oh," the lady closest to Zuko fluttered, "are you on the menu?"

Zuko's neck reddened and he apparently decided to make a hasty retreat. "I'll bring your usual."

He hurried away, ignoring their groans of disappointment. Instead of stopping at the window to pass the order through, he retreated into the kitchen and dropped into at chair at the small table with a sigh. Katara fixed a pot, setting up the teacakes on a plate, then left the tea to brew before approaching Zuko to ruffle his hair. "Are they always like that?"

"Yes."

Katara carded her fingers through his hair in a soothing manner. "I'll take the tray out. You can hide in here for a few minutes."

He gave a grunt of acknowledgement and let his head fall to the table, muttering, "Don't forget the chopsticks."

Knowing the tea was ready, she moved back to the tray to deliver it to the table. The ladies were eagerly watching the kitchen door and their disappointment was tangible when they saw Katara exit with their tray. She poured each of the women their first cup of tea, commenting, "Excellent choice. The Jasmine Dragon is well known for the best jasmine tea in the Lower Ring."

The women watched her with a distinctly unfriendly eye which she ignored as she set the teapot back in the middle of the table with a flourish and stepped back. "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"Where's Lee?"

Katara didn't let the question faze her. "Lee had to take care of things in the kitchen for me. In the meantime, he's asked me to make sure you have everything you might need."

They subsided with put-upon grumbles and Katara left them with a smile to check on the other tables. The bell over the door rang and Katara turned with a cheerful greeting that died on her lips when she saw who it was. Jet was back. She folded her arms as the former Freedom Fighter approached her. "What do you want?"

Jet paused, clearly surprised by her cold greeting. "You're not still angry, are you?"

"What do you think?"

"You aren't serious. It's been two days."

Katara snorted. "It's going to be longer."

They stared at each other until Jet scoffed, "I can't believe you. I did some asking around. I know what that ring means."

Katara scowled, tucking her hand out of sight. "You don't know anything. It's none of your business either."

Jet's eyes narrowed and Katara just knew she'd have more difficulty throwing him out of the teahouse this time.
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