the_codex: (Angst)
[personal profile] the_codex
Title: Human Nature
Fandom: Avatar
Pairing: Zuko/Katara, Zuko/Aang if you squint
Rating: G

Zuko poured him the tea, frowning. "You keep saying Ba Sing Se was all your fault. Why? I was there, you know. My sister took a cheap shot while you were vulnerable, and there's nothing you could've done to stop her. If anything, the rest of us were the failures for standing around like idiots."

Aang shook his head, looking away. "It's...it's complicated. Even I don't totally understand it. I just know that I was supposed to do something, and I chose not to until it was way too late. And now I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to correct that mistake."

"We're not perfect. We aren't expected to be, either."

Aang looked at him, serious. "You're not. I'm the Avatar. I don't have a choice but to be perfect, especially now when I'm needed most."

Zuko frowned deeper, sipping at his tea. "What was it you were supposed to do?"

The boy hesitated, as though wondering whether he should even answer, before opening and closing his mouth a few times. "There's no way I can master all four elements before that comet arrives. Even for the most gifted Avatars, it took them years. Time that I don't have. So I was supposed to unlock my spiritual power centers, in order to reach the Avatar State at will.

"But...unlocking the last one..." he paused, shivering at Zuko's expectant look. "It means severing all earthly ties. Letting go of everything, and everyone. Appa, Toph, Sokka, Momo, Ka--" He couldn't even bring himself to say it, looking away.

Zuko felt something twist painfully in his chest. The way the boy faltered on her name, and more importantly the look on his face and in his eyes when he did so, told him far more than any words could. Whether the sensation he felt was a flare of anger or a pang of sympathy he wasn't entirely sure. Only that it was one of the most uncomfortable and intense feelings he'd ever had."

"You couldn't let her go, could you?"

Aang closed his eyes in silent admission.

"You cost the Earth Kingdom control of their last free stronghold because you couldn't let go of a schoolboy crush?" Even saying the words made him feel sick inside.

"It's more than that, I--"

"More than what? Your friends' lives were in danger, but you didn't want to save them 'cause it would mean losing your chance with a girl?" His throat tensed, and he was sure the look on his face was either pitiful or scary. He hoped for the latter.

"Of course I wanted to save them! But--"

"But not at the cost of anything important to you," Zuko finished, not even believing his own disappointment in the person before him. The one whom the entire world was counting on, and who had let that world down twice already.

An uneasy silence settled between them, and he just stared as Aang looked away from the fire. "This is war, Avatar. People are dying out there. You have far more important things to think about than your own happiness, just like the rest of us. Everyone must be willing to make sacrifices in order to end this bloodshed. Even you."

Aang swallowed thickly, voice tiny and strained. "I know that. I knew that even a hundred years ago before the war ever started. It's...part of being the Avatar. Everyone else comes first, and I only have a shot at what I want after I've done what I'm supposed to." He sighed, shoulders hitching slightly. "Every time I make a decision that puts my own interests before everyone else's...I fail. I fail hard, and I'm never the one who ultimately pays the price. My own people paid it the first time, and the citizens of Ba Sing Se have paid it now."

He looked up at him, seeming for the first time since Zuko ever laid eyes on him like the scared child he really was underneath all those monk's robes. "I can't do it anymore. I can't have you guys be the ones who get hurt next if I break again."

Zuko felt the angry tension in his limbs and chest soften as he moved over to kneel in front of the boy, resting his hands on those already burdened shoulders. "You won't break again. You have too many people behind you for that."

Aang's breath skipped a little in an all too familiar way, and his voice cracked as he spoke. "But I'll have to let you all go..."

"I know. And by then, you'll be more than strong enough." Those hands became arms as Aang leaned into him, shaking.

"I have to let her go. I don't want to, but I know I've got to."

Zuko pressed the boy's chin to his shoulder, inwardly shuddering. There was nothing more he could think of to say to that. Because as much as he ached inside for what this child was going through, he couldn't help but feel secretly hopeful in the darkest corners of his heart at the prospect of him leaving the Waterbender be.

Of all the times in his life, he'd never felt so low.

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June 2012

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