Title: Eye of the Storm
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Spoilers: Post-Southern Raiders
Summary: One-shot. Katara deals with the aftermath of her rage.
Disclaimer: Written as a result of this unwritten meme on Tumblr. Prompted by nessismore. First Avatar fic? Yes.
Eye of the Storm
Katara doesn’t remember leaving the village in the mountain valley, doesn’t remember climbing on Appa and she doesn’t remember where they were headed. She wakes up in the saddle, quelling the immediate urge to panic. The red of the setting sun outlines Zuko’s silhouette, and Appa’s comforting roar reminds her of the days just passed. The wind pushes and pulls all around her but she feels heavier than usual.
“How long was I asleep?” her own voice is barely audible to herself but somehow Zuko turns to look at her. She doesn’t know why, but he looks different – sadder and stronger – somehow. And his eyes… they’re different, different from the way he used to look at her even after he joined their gang.
“For a little while,” is all he says and turns back to the sun, but she catches the flash of concern there. Why was he worried about her? He had no reason to be. She didn’t need anyone looking after her, especially not him.
But she couldn’t find the energy to call him out on it. The moving wind bites at her eyes and her lids feel like boulders. “Where are we going? This isn’t the way back to the others.”
“To a safe place, we want to be closer to the Fire Nation capital come Sozin’s Comet. I know just the spot. It’s a perfect middle point between them and … where we were.”
Katara knows she should be protesting, how could she trust him? And an odd thought entered her mind: why not?
“You should get some rest while you can,” Zuko says with a glance over his shoulder. “We’ll be there in a few hours.” His words trigger a memory; one that she knows is recent but feels terribly old. The memory of her flying Appa, reins gripped tight in her palm, the bitter sting of the air in her nose. You should get some rest. We’ll be there in a few hours. You’ll need all your strength. And then she’d reassured him. She had all the strength in the world, at least for this. Especially for this. But somehow before they reached the ship of the Southern Raiders she had taken reprieve. How had that happened? She was ready, she was – and Zuko of all people had managed to convince her not to drive herself to an end before she even got there.
The last thing she remembers before falling fast into slumber is attempting to say, ‘Thank you.’
“This place looks desolate,” she says, hopping down from Appa and observing the empty vacation houses, all bright with reds and yellows looking sad and empty.
“For us, that’s a good thing,” he leads her to a particularly large estate, prominently larger than any of the others. “This is Ember Island, and this is my family’s place. Don’t worry, no one’s been here in a very long time. There’s a village nearby, but it’s far enough not to attract any wanderers.”
He had turned away from her when he reassured her that no one would bother her with that same sadness she saw on the way here. There was something about this place that haunted him, something that he was willing to bear to keep them safe – if it was safe. And then she remembered that day in the catacombs. Finding him there, a prisoner like she was. Her mother’s necklace.
That’s one thing we have in common.
“You helped me find Yon Rha. Why? To gain my trust?” She questioned him further with her gaze. Why risk it? For something as meaningless as revenge?
“I guess that was the initial goal, I was so desperate to get you to trust me – I just didn’t know how,” he placed a tentative hand at the back of his head, his facemask pulled down around his neck. “But in the end, I guess I always knew how. You told me, back then, back in Ba Sing Se – your necklace, your mother. So I did some digging – didn’t take much, Sokka’s a pretty talkative guy – and I knew. And because… I’d want to know, I mean – if it were my mother.”
If it were my mother.
But Zuko, she thinks. It was your mother, too. A different evil, a kinder fate, but it is just the same.
Katara tries to picture him these past three days – not as traitorous Prince Zuko, friend of the Avatar, but of herself – his feet in her shoes. Going to avenge his mother’s death. The images that flood her eyes are not of the Zuko before her, but of the Zuko of months gone by – of the angry boy with the angry burn, who chased them to the ends of the Earth and charred everything in his wake. That was a boy who lost his mother and suddenly Katara was frightened that that was what she was. How easily did she slide into his soles and trampled people with them. How far would she have gone?
“Aang was worried that I would kill him. Were you?”
Zuko crosses his arms, giving her a long look. “No, I knew you wouldn’t.” That made her uneasy, to think that he knew her and could predict her so easily. “But I there was a moment where I wasn’t so sure.”
She knew exactly which moment he spoke of – the invasion on the Raiders ship, storming the bridge, ambushing the captain. It was a full moon, bright and powerful and terrifying. All that rage inside of her mixing with the pull of the moon, and then – her body automatically followed the stance. She could feel the tremor of the captain’s limbs underneath her fingertips and she used it, made him kneel. How could she have done it? After all this time, after what happened in the mountain forest. Hama. The technique was developed to do horrifying things, things that goes against life itself. But she had done it – to a man that was innocent of the crime in which they accused him. She wrung her fingers together at the thought and looked up to see him watching her intently. There was a question there, but he wouldn’t ask it – Zuko was not the others and he wasn’t without tact.
“It’s called bloodbending,” she finally says. “Water is an element of life. Where there is life, there is water and… we live. Shortly after we came to the Fire Nation, we ran into another waterbender, one from the South Pole. A friend of Gran Gran’s actually. She had me… she had me learn it.” Flashes of that night still haunted her, the light of the moon making everything strangely darker, the glint of Sokka’s sword plummeting towards Aang, and she could still hear Hama’s derisive laughter even after she woke from her fitful sleep. Hama, she had been everything Katara aspired to me – a master waterbender of the South Pole – and now she is everything Katara fears she’ll become. Old and alone and angry.
Zuko stays silent, listening. Katara moves to untie the cloth around her neck. “I swore I’d never use it. Swore no matter what that that was a line I couldn’t cross. But there, on that ship, knowing – thinking about him and what he did to her. I lost it, I lost control of myself.”
“I think I know a thing or two about that. My uncle, he’d always be the one to talk me down when I got worked up. He said every storm had a tranquility to them – that even a tornado had its eye. Sometimes you just had to face the storm to get to that peaceful side. You had to go through your storm to find your peace.” He gives her a comforting smile.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten my peace yet,” Katara says quietly.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get there,” he puts a hand on her shoulder. “I did.”
His touch was heavy, but it calmed her mind. Yes, he did. With many trials and many disappointments but yes, he did.
“You stay here, I’ll take Appa and bring the others. We should be back by sundown.”
“I’ll come with you – I, you don’t need to leave me here.”
Zuko stops her from following him. “I know, but you should take some time for yourself. I’ve watched you with the others, you’re always so guarded and in control. I know you’re worried about them half the time and the other half it’s the Fire Nation on your mind. Stay. Relax, enjoy your peace.” He smiles. “Besides it’s easier on Appa with one person.”
“Do you trust me?” The question catches her off guard. And it surprises her just as much when she doesn’t immediately say ‘No’.
His golden eyes bore into hers and she studies his face – the drape of his bangs, the scar against his left eye. Her fingers twitch to remember the feel of it under her skin. I have healing abilities. Katara remember when she trusted him. It was so easy to in the short time they were in the catacombs. With his sad words to his sad story, it was so easy. And yes, he did betray them – betrayed her. Katara remembers how disappointed she was when he turned his fire onto Aang. He looks different now than he did then, all tired eyes and stiff shoulders. All that he did and all that he had to go through, that was his storm – it was a storm he created for himself and now, he’s found his tranquility and he’s almost done. And to think of all that Zuko did for her these past few days. Leading her, following her, supporting her even when the others didn’t. He stood steadfast by her side and he’s still there now – maybe he’ll always be from this day forward.