There wasn’t a thing in the world Zuko hated more than seeing Katara out of sorts. Her smile was so bright that it just felt wrong when it wasn’t there, as if the natural order of things was disturbed and needed to be restored.
Zuko wanted to restore it himself. Katara had supported him so many times he had lost the count of it, and now that the situation was reversed, he wanted to return the favor.
It was six in the morning and everyone was still asleep. Everyone except Katara, who was, in fact, in the kitchen of the royal palace sipping some tea vacantly.
Zuko was awake, too, and had just found her. He approached her stealthy as always and coughed twice to announce himself.
Katara jumped on the chair as she was deep in her thoughts. Then she turned to him and gave him a smile—though Zuko could see it was a forced one.
Zuko didn’t hesitate a second longer and asked softly, “Katara, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m just a bit tired.” But she was clearly lying. Her current mood clashed with her usual one and it wasn’t hard to notice, if you only took an accurate look.
“Whatever it is,” Zuko said, letting her now he hadn’t fall for her lie, “you can talk to me about it. Not that you have to. But, just so you know, I’m here” he concluded shrugging his shoulders.
Katara looked down at the cup of tea she was holding, wondering what to do. She trusted his discretion as well as his judgment, but the fears troubling her were so personal and delicate she found it uncomfortable to share them with other people. However, she also had to consider that Zuko had been through something similar. Who better than him?
Katara took a deep breath and then asked: “Have you ever wished not to be a bender? Not a bender of your element, at least.”
“Yes, more than once” he spoke frankly. It was such a deep and personal matter to him. “When the world was still at war, Firenation people were considered aggressive and violent. Also, if you don’t know how to control it properly, fire is the most dangerous element of all, and this didn’t help. Wherever I went, people couldn’t help but see me as the enemy. They were sure I would hurt them. Even if it wasn’t my intention, even if everything I wanted was to capture the Avatar, they would just assume I’d do it. So I started thinking of my bending more like a curse than a blessing.”
Katara nodded. What Zuko had been through because of his own father was just horrible. But horrible was also the fact that now she could see herself in his words—though Zuko’s situation had been much worse.
Zuko, wanting to move forward with the conversation, asked, “Does this have something to do with Master Pakku? I know you talked to him yesterday.”
“Yes, we did.” Once again, Katara looked down at the cup of tea she was holding and bite her lip.
Zuko was worried. The usual Katara was an honest and straightforward person who could easily talk to her interlocutor without looking away.
“Since I’m studying to become a doctor and Master Pakky taught me everything I know about waterbending, I was happy to finally have someone to talk about it. But…” She hesitated. “But then he mentioned bloodbending.”
Zuko finally understood what was troubling her. She had mentioned bloodbending to him just once, and after that they had never resumed the argument. He’d never tried to force her to talk about it because he knew it was something she was scared to do.
He didn’t want to force her this time either. In fact, he just wanted to let her know that she could talk to him about it anytime, if she just felt like it. Thus Zuko waited for her to resume talking.
“I hate it” she said after a while. “Master Pakky says it’s such a rare gift to have and I should be grateful, but I just hate it. How could I even be grateful to have this… power that can control other people? What kind of monster would use that for his own profit?”
“Not you” Zuko responded immediately.
Katara glanced at him in surprise as she found those simple words loaded with significance.
“Not you” he repeated. A bad person would use bloodbending to turn people against their will, but you wouldn’t. You’re not that kind of person, Katara. In fact, I’m sure you’d use bloodbending only on a selfless way. Being able to bloodbend doesn’t make you a bad person, because you’re the one to choose how to use that power.”
Belonging to the Firenation, being son of Ozai, being a firebender—all those traits had always been the first things people would see in him. He’d grown up seeing himself as stupid and worthless, to use his father words. However, with time passing by, he’d finally come to realize it wasn’t true.
Because of bloodbending, Katara felt the same. But Zuko wanted to remind he she was who she was because of her choices.
And when Zuko said so, Katara sniffed and hugged him. Coming from him, those words really helped her put things in prospective.
A little taken aback, Zuko froze for a moment. He wasn’t really used to hugs. Katara hugging him, however, meant his words had been of some help and he was glad. Besides, it’s not like he would refuse an hug, if this was from Katara.