Author’s note: In which painful lessons are learned, Sokka is the butt of this week’s joke and the shipping is not implied anymore! -cue the (not so) inner fangirl screams-
Previous chapter: link
Next chapter: coming soon…
*** Bitter Work ***
When Iroh woke the next morning dawn was just breaking. He felt weak, but in surprisingly less pain than he thought he ought to be. He tried to rise but he couldn’t. With a grunt he turned his head to take in his surroundings. On his side Zuko was asleep facing him. Even now he had a worried expression etched on his face. Next to him slept Lia. She was using his nephew as a cushion, something Iroh found adorable. They could easily be passed for siblings, if it wasn’t for the Spirit’s red hair. Such a scene would never unfold between Zuko and Azula. He was feeling more and more tired by just thinking all this through, so he drifted back to sleep. The next time he woke was by the smell of tea and the sound of quiet conversation.
Zuko had woken up early, feeling a strange weight resting on his stomach. Opening his eyes cautiously, he saw Lia sleeping soundly. Uncle Iroh also seemed asleep. Zuko stood up carefully, trying not to wake his friend. Lia mumbled in annoyance at the shift but she went right back to sleep, snuggling deeper inside the sleeping bag. She reminded him of a cat, curling next to the fireplace to get warm. He decided to go check on the provisions she had stored. Hopefully there would be tea there too. If nothing else could wake his uncle, tea would. To his surprise, he wasn’t the first to rise from bed. Katara was already in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. She was having trouble with lightning the fire, he noted smiling.
Katara had been trying to light the fire for fifteen minutes now, to no avail. Just as she was about to give up and let the others figure out breakfast, the stove sprung to life. Startled she turned to see Zuko leaning against the doorway.
“I thought you could use some help,” he said casually. “By the way is there any tea?”
“Thanks,” Katara hastened to say. She looked around at the cupboards. “I didn’t have time to check through all of these. You like tea for breakfast?” she asked curious.
“Not really,” Zuko shrugged. “But it is the only thing that would convince uncle Iroh to wake up.” He couldn’t believe he was having an actual conversation with her at last. Even if it was only about his uncle’s drinking habits. He went over to some cupboards and started looking over them. Katara silently started to do the same on the other side of the wall. They met in the middle, their hands lightly brushing as they tried to open the cupboard the same time. Both teens flushed red and then burst out laughing at each other’s expression. Zuko opened the cupboard, still chuckling. Sure enough, inside it, there was everything they would need for a cup of tea.
Lia found them, still in the kitchen, half an hour later. They sat by the stove, talking and comparing their travels. When she entered, Zuko was listening with interest about Katara’s fight with Master Paku. The Spirit hated to disturb them, but she was a much better choice than Sokka or – Spirits forbid – Aang. She coughed loudly. The two teens jumped startled. Zuko relaxed immediately upon seeing her and Katara followed his example.
“I thought it would be better for you to know,” Lia said mischievously. “Aang has just woken Sokka and,” she paused for a moment, unsure about the other girl’s name. “The little earthbender too. Prepare yourselves.” As if to prove her words, Aang entered the kitchen.
“Today is the day! Can you believe it?” he was so ecstatic he didn’t notice Zuko sitting close to Katara, studying him with a bemused smile. “After all that time searching for a teacher, I’m finally learning earthbending!” Sokka stumbled in the kitchen behind the Avatar. He had a serious case of bedhead and his expression didn’t lighten even when the smell of breakfast reached him. Katara sighed.
“Aang I know you are excited,” she said handing him and her brother their breakfast, “but you needn’t have woken Sokka. You know he hates it.”
“Sorry,” Aang smiled sheepishly.
“Good morning earthbending student!” Toph yelled entering.
“Good morning sifu Toph,” Aang said equally laud.
“You never called me “sifu” Katara,” the waterbender observed with raised eyebrows.
“Well, if you think I should…” Aang started.
“Never mind!” Katara cut him off smiling as she handed Toph her plate. She shot a questioning glance at Lia. “Won’t you eat something?” she asked her.
“No, thanks,” the Spirit declined. “I’m rarely hungry.”
“Okay…” Katara said unsure.
Sokka nearly buried his head inside his plate, obviously not quite awake yet.
“Sorry Snoozles,” Toph told him sarcasm dripping from her words, “we’ll do our earthbending as quietly as possible,” she whispered. Zuko laughed upon hearing this. He remembered his few fights with earthbenders as nothing but noisy. Sokka stood, still muttering under his breath and retreated back to his sleeping bag.
“So what move are you going to teach me first?” Aang asked eagerly. “Rock-the-land? The Trembler? Oh, maybe I can learn to make a whirlpool out of land!” He didn’t notice Katara’s wince at the mention of the last trick.
“Bad memories?” Zuko whispered to her concerned. She nodded.
“Let’s start with move-a-rock,” Toph proposed calmly.
“Okay! Sounds good, sounds good.” Aang followed her outside. There was a small canyon twenty minutes from the house. Toph led him there, mindful of Iroh, who had still to awaken. Sokka, still wrapped in his sleeping bag had taken a seat near them to watch the lesson. Upon Aang’s first failed attempt to move a rock he snickered.
“Rock beats airbender,” he announced, more to himself.
Back at the house Lia had shooed Zuko and Katara out of the kitchen in order to clean up. The two teens went back to Iroh’s room carrying the tray with the tea along.
“Is she always like this?” Katara asked curiously Zuko.
“More or less. It makes you forget how powerful she really is,” Zuko shrugged. “Why did you wince when the Avatar mentioned the whirlpool?” he asked her back.
“When we first arrived to the Earth kingdom, we were supposed to meet with this General, who would provide us with an escort to Omashu. This man was obsessed with the Avatar State. He convinced Aang to try to trigger it, in order to lead an invasion to the Fire Nation.” She stopped, realizing what she had just said and to whom.
“I guess it didn’t work out,” Zuko said tonelessly.
“It didn’t,” Katara hurriedly assured him. “Finally the General resulted to attack Aang in order to force him into the Avatar State. When neither this worked, he trapped me into a whirlpool of earth. He freed me only when Aang went out of instinct into the Avatar State. But then he was impossible to control. He destroyed the whole courtyard, before he snapped out of it.”
Zuko looked angry. “So you’re telling me that this man purposely endangered you, in order to secure a weapon against the Fire Nation? He would make quite a pair with Azula.”
“Who’s Azula?” Katara asked him confused.
“My sister,” he answered bitterly.
“She is traveling with two other girls. One that throws darts and one that could paralyze me and take my bending away,” Katara told him. “Do you know them?”
“Their names are Mai and Tai Li,” Zuko explained. “They have been friends with Azula since childhood.”
Their heads shot up when they heard a groan from the bed. Zuko was immediately at his uncle’s side.
“Uncle?” he asked seeing the old man waking. “You were unconscious. Azula did this to you. It was a surprise attack.”
“Somehow that’s not so surprising,” Iroh commented, trying to sit up. Zuko took a cup from the tray.
“I hope I made it the way you like it,” he said hesitantly. He had never made tea before. Katara saw Iroh taking a sip and trying to stifle a disgusted expression. She stood and approached them not wanting Zuko to notice it.
“That was very… bracing.” Iroh looked up from his cup and saw her. “My dear,” he said. “I think I should be thanking you.” Katara blushed.
“It was nothing. I will just need to check on the wound one more time and then I will leave you two in peace.” Zuko moved to make way for her, as she peeled off the bandages from Iroh’s wound, and bended water from a small basin she had brought, to form the healing glove. The wound was doing better than she had thought and she was finished quickly. She put the bandages back into place and left to go watch Aang’s lesson.
“Such a wonderful girl,” Iroh commented.
“She really is,” Zuko agreed in a whisper. He turned his attention back to Iroh, studiously ignoring Iroh’s teasing look. “So uncle, I’ve been 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. I know what you’re going to say,” he added hastily. “She’s my sister and I should be trying to get along with her.”
“No, she’s crazy and she needs to go down.” Iroh said seriously. “It’s time to resume your training,” he added.
Meanwhile Katara had found the rest of her friends. A laughing Sokka informed her of Aang’s failed attempts before leaving to hunt. His sister couldn’t see why. There was plenty of meat in the house. She approached Toph and Aang.
“Maybe there’s a different way!” Aang was still hyper from excitement. “What if I came at the boulder from a different angle…?”
“No!” Toph cut him. “That’s the problem! You’ve got to stop thinking like an airbender. There’s no different angle, no clever solution, no trickily trick that’s gonna move that rock.” She shoved him to the ground to underline her words. “You’ve got to face it head on. And when I say head on, I mean like this!” She smashed the boulder with her head and started to go away in a huff. Katara ran after her.
“I’ve been training Aang for a while now,” she said to the impatient girl. “He really responds well to a positive teaching experience. Lots of encouragement and praise. Kind words. If he’s doing something wrong, maybe a gentle nudge on the right direction.”
“Thanks Katara.” Toph said sweetly. “A gentle nudge? I’ll try that.”
The waterbender wandered away from them ignoring the yells that echoed behind her from Toph and the occasional yelp from Aang. She was at loss of what to do. Aang and Toph were having their lessons, Sokka had disappeared to hunt, and there were no jobs to be done. She thought of returning to watch Zuko practice. Maybe they could spar a little. She halted as soon as she thought that. She was already thinking of the prince as a part of their team. They had barely spent a day together, yet she had noticed that she was opening up to him. That very morning they had sat together, sharing stories of their lives. They had already created a bond and Katara noticed surprised that she didn’t have a problem with it. Maybe they could even be friends… Or something more, a tiny voice on the back of her head whispered. The girl blushed furiously. She was so deep in thought; she didn’t notice she had returned to the small forest near the house. She didn’t even hear the sound of running water. Which resulted in her falling into a small stream. Katara smiled. She had just found what she was going to do today.
Sokka was perched on a tree near the forest too. He knew they had enough provisions thanks to Lia, but he wasn’t going to trust a Fire Spirit – one that was friends with Zuko of all people! Today’s breakfast had tasted a little funny. Under him, he saw a small cub passing. Sokka tried to tell what kind of animal it was, but he couldn’t.
“You’re awfully cute,” he said to himself, “but unfortunately for you, you’re made of meat.” He watched it approaching. “Just a bit closer…” He jumped screaming from the tree, to feel the earth giving way on the spot he landed. The cub neared him curiously. Sokka tried again to strike it, only succeeding to sink more on the narrow hole.
“You are one lucky little meat-creature,” he told the cub furiously.
Zuko and Iroh moved from the bedroom to the kitchen, where Iroh brewed a fresh pot of tea, before he began to instruct his nephew. Lia was leaning on the doorframe, listening curiously. It had been a long time since she had heard Iroh instructing Zuko, what with her travels and all.
“Lightning is a pure form of Fire,” the old man began, “without aggression. It is not filled with rage and emotion the way any other firebending is. Some call lightning the cold-blooded fire. It is precise and deadly, like Azula. To perform the technique requires peace of mind.” Iroh wondered whether his nephew was ready for such a step. Lightning didn’t suit his temperament at all.
“I see,” Zuko observed. “That’s why we’re drinking tea. To calm the mind.”
“Oh yes good point,” Iroh said cheerfully. He heard Lia laugh quietly from behind him and sobered hastily. “I mean, yes,” he said more seriously.
They moved outside to continue. Lia had followed them silently, watching their every move closely. It made Iroh a little uneasy.
“There is energy all around us,” he continued nevertheless. “The energy is both yin and yang, positive energy and negative energy. Only a select few firebenders can separate these energies. This creates an imbalance. The energy wants to restore balance and in the moment the positive and negative energy come pressing back together, you provide release and guidance, creating lightning.” He motioned Zuko to pull back and once the boy did, he produced a lightning shot.
“I’m ready to try it,” Zuko said impatiently.
“Remember, once you separate the energy, you do not command it. You are its humble guide. Breathe first.” Iroh went to sit back with Lia.
“He is not ready yet,” she told him grimly.
“I know,” Iroh answered. “But he needs to understand it himself.”
They saw Zuko mimicking his uncle’s movements, but instead of producing lightning, he was blasted back. He tried again and again to no avail. Finally Zuko lost his patience.
“Why can’t I do it?” he asked both his uncle and Lia. “Instead of lightning, it keeps exploding in my face! Like everything always does,” he added bitterly. Iroh opened his mouth to say something, but Lia stopped him. She walked to her student and placed a hand on his shoulder. Iroh studied her curiously.
“Stand up Zuko,” the Spirit told him calmly. The boy did as asked. “I want to show you something.” She stood right behind him and placed both hands on his shoulders. “Now, when I tell you, you will repeat the movement, okay? Just the movement. Don’t try to produce lightning.” Zuko nodded. He felt Lia taking a slow, deep breath and, “Now.”
He felt an unearthly calm wash through him. It emptied his mind, leaving him feeling cold. He repeated fluently the movements and was surprised to see lightning springing from his fingertips. Once the move was finished, Lia let go of him. The flow of emotions returned like a tidal wave, making him feel dizzy. She steadied him.
“That’s the price you have to pay to produce lightning; this emptiness. I don’t think you are ready to practice such a move regularly, without it affecting you,” she explained to Zuko. “Originally lightning was taught to grown adults, as the last step before receiving the title of a master.”
“She’s right,” Iroh added. “You won’t be able to master lightning unless you deal with the turmoil inside you.”
“What turmoil?” Zuko yelled at Iroh’s direction.
“Don’t you yell!” Lia snapped at him. “You know exactly what he’s talking about. Spirits above! I thought I was going to explode, holding all those feelings and thoughts back!” Zuko bowed his head. They were right of course.
“I apologise uncle Iroh,” he said bowing.
The scene reminded vividly to Iroh of that storm they had encountered on their ship. He had seen his nephew losing his hold and always marvelled at how he hadn’t fall into the sea. Now he had his suspicions of how it had happened, as well as for the reason behind Zuko’s improved attitude the following days.
“I know! I’m going to teach you a firebending move that even Azula doesn’t know. Because I made it up myself,” he said in a flash of inspiration. Lia smiled approvingly.
“Come on prince Gloomy,” she called affectionately the prince, nudging him with her shoulder. “I know you’re curious about it!” Zuko turned smiling slightly.
Somewhere else, inside the forest Sokka was losing his patience. He was stuck in that hole for hours, with his would-be lunch sitting comfortably on his head.
“You probably think I deserve this, don’t you,” he said at the cub. “Look I’m sorry I hunted you, but that’s just the natural order of things! Big things eat smaller things. Nothing personal. But this time it didn’t work out that way.” The little animal snuggled on his head and fell asleep. Sokka sighed. “I admit it; you’re cute. Okay you convinced me. If I ever get out of this there will only be a karmically correct, vegetarian existence for me. No meat. Even though meat is so tasty.” He sniffed, holding back tears at the thought. The cub jumped of his head and ran off. It returned moments later with an apple on its mouth.
“Hey! Looks like my karma is already paying off!” He tried to reach the apple, but he couldn’t with his hands literally glued inside the hole. Instead his boomerang fell of its sheath. “Now come back boomerang,” he ordered it frowning. Spirits I must have the worst luck in all four Nations.
Sokka and Zuko weren’t the only ones facing problems. Aang had quickly realized that earthbending was much harder than it looked. His airbender mind-frame was getting in the way of truly understanding the new technique. Besides training with Toph was so much different than training with Katara. Katara was lenient with him, never too tired to explain something again and again. Toph on the other hand yelled at him whenever he did something wrong. She was tough and expected him to pick up her attitude immediately. Finally Aang gave up and went to find Katara. She took one look at him and understood the situation. They were practicing waterbending together now, talking their – or more accurately his – problems over.
“You know this block you’re having is only temporary, right?” Katara asked him.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Aang passed her back the water they were bending. He was still embarrassed from being yelled at by Toph.
“You do realize that’s the problem, do you?” Katara insisted. “If you face this issue instead of avoiding it…”
“I know, I know, I know! I get it, alright? I need to face it “head on” like a rock. But I just can’t do it. I don’t know why I can’t but I can’t,” he blurted out angrily.
“Aang, if fire is the opposite of water, then what is the opposite of air?” his waterbending sifu calmly asked.
“I guess it’s earth.”
“That’s why it’s so hard for you to get this,” she explained. “You’re working with your natural opposite.” Aang looked at the water thoughtfully. “But you’ll figure it out. I know you will.” While she was talking she cut a small reed from behind her. She threw it at him. “Think fast!” she ordered. Aang quickly raised a wave in front of him, cutting the piece of wood in two. “Excellent!” Katara praised him. “You have the reflexes of a waterbending master.”
“Thanks Katara.” Aang bowed on her. “Sifu Katara,” he added.
Iroh took a long stick and started sketching in the dirt. This would need a longer introduction than lightning. He took a look at the teenagers sitting in front of him. Zuko had a look of serious concentration on his face, while Lia a bemused expression, as if she was trying to guess his words before he said them.
“Fire is the element of power,” Iroh began, sketching the symbol of fire. “The people of the Fire Nation have desire and will and the energy to achieve what they want. Earth is the element of substance,” he continued, again sketching the element’s symbol. “The people of the Earth Kingdom are diverse and strong. They are persistent and enduring. Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly concerns and found peace and freedom.”
“They also had a great sense of humour,” Lia added. Iroh laughed at her remark.
“Water is the element of change. The people of the Water Tribe are capable of adapting to many things. They have a deep sense of community and love that holds them through anything.” Zuko’s thoughts turned to Katara. These things described her well.
“Why are you telling me these things?” he asked confused nonetheless.
“It is important to draw wisdom from many different places,” General Iroh explained. “If you take only from one place it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, the other elements and the other Nations will help you become whole.”
“All this four elements talk is sounding like Avatar stuff,” Zuko remarked.
“That’s because the combination of all elements on one person is what makes the Avatar so powerful,” Lia explained. “You shouldn’t be surprised. Remember our lessons?”
“You see, the technique I’m about to teach you, is one I learned by studying the waterbenders,” Iroh concluded. Zuko’s face lightened. Whatever it was that uncle Iroh was going to teach him, was bound to be interesting.
They started practicing with some basic blocking moves. While they repeated the sequence Iroh continued explaining:
“Waterbenders deal with the flow of energy. A waterbender lets his defence become his offence, turning his enemy’s energy against him. I learned a way to do this with lightning.”
“You can teach me to redirect lightning?” Zuko had never thought it possible.
“If you let the energy in your own body flow, the lightning will follow. You create a pathway through your fingertips, up your arm to your shoulder, then down into your stomach. The stomach is the source of energy in your body. It is called the sea of chi. Although,” he chuckled, “in my case it is more like a vast ocean. From the stomach you direct it up again and out the other arm. The stomach can take a critical amount of energy, but you must not let the lightning pass through your heart, where the damage could be deadly. You may wish to try a physical motion, to get a feel of the energy’s pathway like this.” They tried the movement a few times.
“Now are you focusing your energy? Can you feel your own chi flowing in, down, up and out of your body?” Iroh asked.
“I think so,” Zuko answered, still concentrated on the move.
“Come on,” Iroh said. “You’ve got to feel the flow.” Lia giggled seeing the old man making wave-like movements with his arms.
Half an hour later Iroh stopped his nephew. “Excellent!” he praised him. “You’ve got it.”
“Great! I’m ready to try it with real lightning!” Zuko said, sounding very much like Aang had that very morning.
“What?” Lia exclaimed.
“Are you crazy?” Iroh asked incredulous. “Lightning is very dangerous!”
“I thought that was the point,” Zuko insisted. “You teaching me how to protect myself from it.”
“But I’m not going to shoot lightning at you!” his uncle insisted horrified. “If you’re lucky, you won’t have to use this technique at all.” He walked away. Zuko turned hopeful at Lia.
“I never use lightning,” she told him gravely. “Besides, your uncle is right. You know the movement. You don’t have to prove anything.” A distant rumble was heard from the canyon.
“Well if you won’t help me, I’ll find my own lightning.” Zuko stormed off furious.
Katara returned to the house at almost sundown, thinking that everyone would be there already. Instead she found Iroh gazing worriedly at the darkening horizon and Lia pacing restlessly.
“What happened?” Katara asked worried. “Where is everyone?”
“Beats me!” Lia said. She looked furious. “But I know what I will do once I get my hands on Zuko. Nobody storms off like this into such weather alone. I swear I’m going to prevent him from bending for a month if he returns with so much of a scratch!”
The waterbender looked questioningly at Iroh.
“My nephew has some very set ideas on some topics,” the old man explained wearily. “Things turned out to be very different than what he thought and he refused to accept them.”
“Sokka’s missing too,” Katara said. “I’m going to find Aang and start looking for them.”
“I’ll go look around town,” Lia decided.
Katara raced to the canyon. Aang was sitting on a rock, his back to her.
“Aang, have you seen…” she tried asking him but he interrupted her.
“Meditating here!” he said, still annoyed with Toph.
“It’s important,” she insisted. “It’s almost sundown and Sokka and Zuko are missing. I think we should search for them.” Aang turned towards her in worry.
“We’ll find them faster if we split up. I’ll go search the forest and you go back to the house in case they return.” Katara nodded and took off again.
Toph, Aang and Sokka finally returned just as the sun set on the horizon. Katara had prepared dinner quickly and now was worried sick. Iroh was in no better condition. He didn’t want to think what his nephew would do in order to find lightning. Finally the trio arrived at the entrance.
“You found him!” Katara cried, feeling only a tiny little bit relieved. She hugged her brother, checking him for injuries.
“The whole time I was in that hole,” Sokka told her reflecting. “Not knowing if I would live or die. It makes a man think what’s really important. I realized…”
“Hey Katara, look what I can do!” Aang jumped in. He took an earthbending position, but she stopped him.
“Not now Aang.” She turned to Toph. “Do you know where Zuko is?” she asked.
“No clue Sugar Queen,” the earthbender said carelessly. “Can we go eat now?”
“Yes,” Katara said a little sadly. “Get inside. Dinner is ready.” They all entered the house.
Katara had just served Iroh when Lia returned. She looked exhausted.
“Hasn’t he returned yet?” she asked out of breath. Her face was almost ashy with fatigue.
“No. Where could he be?” Katara asked. She noticed the colour of the Spirit’s face. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“We must head in to the heart of the storm…” Lia muttered sitting next to a bewildered Sokka and then leaping right back up on her feet again. “I have to go find him.” Katara pushed her back down.
“No you don’t,” she ordered. “You stay here, rest and eat something. I’ll go find him.” She turned to Toph. “Don’t let her leave.”
“No problem.” The tiny earthbender had too sensed the tiredness in the other girl’s movements. Katara put on her cloak. “I’ll be back soon,” she promised.
The storm got worse the farther she went from the house. From the canyon earlier she had noticed a small cliff that seemed to loom higher than everything else. Zuko would probably be there. No one had thought to search the rocky area. The storm was at its peak when she climbed to the top of the cliff. Indeed Zuko was there. From Katara’s point of view it seemed as if he was kneeling in front of the raging storm. Suddenly, she realized that he was sobbing. Hesitantly she approached him, unsure of what his reaction would be, and put a hand on his shoulder.
“What do you want?” he asked her harshly.
“What are you doing here?” she asked him back.
“Proving to myself what everyone else seems to know. That I’m a failure,” he said bitterly. Zuko didn’t understand why he was confiding in Katara, but he found he couldn’t stop the words.
“How could you be a failure?” the girl asked him in disbelief.
“Multiple reasons – take your pick.” The prince said with a humourless laugh. “I will never be the crown prince my father wanted. My sister will always best me at firebending. It took me sixteen years to understand what a monster my father is. Uncle Iroh will soon tire of me and leave me and so will Lia. I don’t even know who I am supposed to be and you…” he trailed off. They were now standing close, facing each other. Zuko had stopped crying but was still trembling. He turned away.
“What about me?” Katara asked him quietly.
“It doesn’t matter.” He answered still refusing to face her. “You don’t care anyway.”
What Katara did next surprised them both. She forced him to turn and face her, placing a hand on each side of his face.
“Zuko look at me.” She told him urgently. “You’re wrong. I care about you and you’re definitely not a failure.” He still refused to meet her gaze, so she did the only thing she could think of. She stood on her tip-toes and kissed him. Zuko was so shocked that he didn’t react at first. Katara broke away almost immediately, blushing crimson.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, turning to leave. What was I thinking, kissing him? she thought, close to tears. He obviously doesn’t like me. She felt a hand taking hold of her own. Katara caught Zuko’s unreadable expression just before he leaned down and kissed her.
It was as if they had been doing this forever. Zuko’s hands went immediately to the small of her back, pulling her closer. Katara felt hers move out of their own free will to each side of his face. Through the haze of her mind she could hear the small voice cheering. When lack of air became evident they pulled away.
“I think I’m falling in love with you Katara.” Zuko whispered trying to catch his breath, still holding her close. Said waterbender felt the teenage girl inside her wanting to squeal in delight. She didn’t though. Instead she snuggled closer to the boy’s warm body and said something she had been refusing to believe for a long time: “I think I’m falling in love with you too.”
They just stood there while the storm raged around them. Finally a thunderclap broke the spell. They pulled away smiling shyly at one another.
“We should go back. Everyone will be worried,” Katara said reluctantly. She didn’t want to leave his warm embrace.
“Let’s go then,” Zuko answered equally reluctant taking her hand once again.
The walk seemed to them to last mere seconds. Before they entered the house, Zuko paused and tuned Katara to face him.
“Do you want them to know?” he asked her hesitantly.
“No, not yet,” she answered unsurely. “Sokka and Aang will go crazy.”
“Then there is something I should do before we go in,” he said kissing her again. Katara felt him smile through the kiss. When they broke away she bended the water out of their clothes and hair and gave him another shy smile.
“Let’s go home.” Zuko told her, smiling back the biggest smile of his life.
Once they entered Toph opened her mouth to say something. Lia, spying the mischievous twinkle on the other girl’s eyes, quickly put her hand over the earthbender’s mouth.
“About time you two talked!” Lia cried out over Toph’s muffled protests.
“What do you mean ‘talked’?” Sokka asked her. Lia studied him for a moment before spreading her arms in the air and saying dramatically:
“I’m a Spirit! I’m supposed to say stuff that doesn’t makes sense!”
“That’s true,” Zuko said taking a seat next to Lia, with Katara on his other side. “Half the things you say are nonsense.”
“And the other half?” his ‘sister’ asked.
“You only understand it when it’s too late.”
“Gee! Thanks for the vote of confidence!”
Everyone laughed as the firebender and Fire Spirit continued their bickering, much like normal siblings would.