the_codex: (General)
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Title: Two Worlds
Fandom: Avatar
Pairing: Zuko/Katara
Rating: PG

Zuko stared down at the cup of steaming liquid in his hands. Liquid that he dared not call tea because he could just about hear his uncle's sputter of indignation at the very thought. Despite what he'd said back in Ba Sing Se, there was tea, and then there was hot leaf juice. He watched Sokka pretend to sip his cup of the latter as Katara poured Aang his share.

"How is it?" she asked.

"Wonderful!" her brother squeaked. In that voice that meant he dared not lie any further lest he be discovered. She smiled, turning to pour a cup for Toph, and he took the opportunity to empty his cup into the plants when she had her back to him. Zuko swallowed thickly, knowing he would never be cut slack like that.

Toph sniffed the air as she came back from filling the waterskins, sighing. "Awesome! Drinks!"

Katara handed her the cup, then went back to tend the cooking pot. "There you go. Dinner should be ready soon."

Zuko's stomach growled, though he knew shouldn't have much hope for dinner if the girl could barely handle brewing drinkable tea. He tried to hide the grimace as he lifted the cup to his lips, knocking back the whole thing as though it was a shot of Captain Jee's strongest baijuu and willing his stomach not to bring it back up as he coughed. The look on Sokka's face was almost worth it.

Toph smelled hers first, before taking the first sip. He watched in something between amusement and vindication as her face screwed up, and she spit it out with a guttural sound of disgust. "Oh God, what did you do to it?"

Katara whirled in surprise to face her. "What? What's wrong?"

"This is the worst tea I've ever had! How do you break hot leaf juice!"

"I... I thought it was okay. You guys said it was okay... it is, right?" She bit her lip, and Zuko could swear she wibbled for a moment.

Toph pushed the cup at her, indignant. "You try it..."

Katara took the cup, pressing the rim to her lips and sipping with tangible trepidation. Her caution was rewarded a moment later when she spit it out herself, coughing. "Ugh... oh my god, what did I do wrong?"

Toph snorted. "Everything maybe?" She turned in Zuko's general direction. "Hey Hotman, your uncle's great at this. Did he teach you? Maybe you can make it better."

Zuko gulped, turning varying shades of red, sure that he looked as panicked as he felt at the prospect of having to show up someone who just made a death threat at him a week ago. "I...h-he did, but...um..."

Katara frowned at her cup, then scowled at him. "Well, if you can do it better, show me!"

Sokka threw his head back with a sigh of relief. "Thank god!" He got up, handing Katara his empty teacup. "You teach her to make tea, I'm gonna practice till dinner."

Zuko swallowed thickly, feeling like he'd been left in a cage with a very hungry lynxlion. Without a word for fear of upsetting said wild and short-fused animal, he went into the tea stash with trembling hands, pulling out a brick of green tea and another of dried pomegranates. Using the tiny knife Katara had, he measured a precise cut of each one, the pomegranate piece itself no larger than his fingernail. She settled beside him with a sigh after washing out the glasses, looking on curiously.

"Why so little of the pomegranate?"

He avoided looking at her, answering and trying not to look like he expected her to go for his jugular with no warning. "It's really tart, especially when dried...and...um... green tea itself is a little bitter. If you have too much pomegranate, the bad sides of the two flavors start enhancing each other, and you get this sour-bitter mud that'll turn your stomach if it's done right." He bit his lip as he put them in the mortar for grinding, making sure to scrape the sides so as not to leave any huge chunks.

She watched him with something of a fascination, murmuring and picking at the folds of her skirt. "You're not clumsy at all with this. Did you do it alot at the shop?

He nodded, still stammering despite his best efforts not to, almost wishing she would quit asking questions but knowing that the more she talked, the less likely she was to kill him. "I had to learn when we got popular and when Uncle opened the Jasmine Dragon. He could never keep up with it all himself..."

"Why... was he always with you? It never really seemed like you treated him all that well sometimes, but he was always there."

Zuko closed his eyes, visibly wincing at that. "I know I didn't. And when I find him again, the first thing I'm going to do is beg his forgiveness even though I hardly deserve it. He...He chose to come with me. Because he was the only family I had left who didn't think I was worthless..." He sighed, quieting. "I can't believe how wrong I proved him."

"You're here now, aren't you?" She looked away, her voice matching his in that same wistful tone.

He turned to her, looking at her as though she was speaking another language for a moment. A hard swallow bobbed his throat as he turned to fill the kettle, not quite wanting to ask her if she got into that cactus stuff her brother mentioned.

She frowned a little, quiet. "...I had no right to ask, did I?"

He cursed the wait for the kettle to boil. "I-It's not that. I...um...just..." He gave up, sighing out a shaky breath. "N-Nevermind..."

"What's the matter?"

He wanted to look at her, but he couldn't bring himself to. She would know by his face that he was lying. Not like the tremor in his voice didn't give him away. "N-Nothing..."

She got up, going over to touch his arm gently. "Zuko?"

It made him glad he wasn't holding anything, because he flinched away from her as though she'd smacked him, shivering and not daring to turn around for fear of getting an iceblade to the throat. She backed away in alarm, staring at him as if afraid he might take a siezure. Which he thought might not be too far off with the way his hands trembled and his throat tightened. Her hand settled on his back, and she bit her lip again in worry.

"Zuko? Zuko, look at me, what's wrong? You're shaking..."

He felt his chest shudder with the kind of fear he hadn't known since he was thirteen and getting strangled and burned as a measure of discipline. The words tumbled out before he could stop them, almost hoping it would set her off and break the taut wire between them that he'd been pulling at for a week. "If you really want to kill me, just do it already..."

She blinked at him, visibly taken aback. "Wh... What? Who said I wanted to kill you?"

He bit his lip, chest tightening painfully. "You did..."

Her jaw dropped, stumbling over the words. "I...I said I would if you made me by hurting someone I care about... That...that doesn't mean I want to!" A shudder wracked her spine. "God, Zuko, there's nothing in me that wants to take a life."

He hardly realized he was saying anything, thinking out loud but unable to keep it to himself. "I-I know you're only going along with it because the rest of them are... Y-You hate me and I don't blame you... There's got to be someone else out there who can teach Aang, so if you're going to do it, just make it quick, okay?"

She shook her head, vehement. "Zuko... There isn't someone else that can teach him. That's why he chose you. You're meant to do this, as much as I don't like it. Am I thrilled and giddy that you're here? No. But I don't want you dead either. Just...keep going the way you're going and things'll work out."

"Things never work out for me. I always screw up when I try to do something right. Believe me, you'll have to carry out that threat sooner or later whether I know the reason or not. Might as well nip it in the bud before someone gets hurt..."

She paused, and he met her gaze. It was serious, understanding. The same one Aang had given him before accepting him on board the group. "No. No, I won't. I'm not going to punish you for what you might do. That's not fair. That doesn't even give you a chance. You came this far, and it takes a real set for someone like you to flat-out admit you were wrong and say you're sorry. You deserve for me to at least let you try."

He looked away, back at the cooking fire. "No I don't, and you know that." He lowered his head. "You've given me more than I deserve already."

"I get to decide how much you deserve, Zuko." She sighed, looking sad for a moment. Her hand wandered up, fingering the scarred skin on his cheek. "Just... finish up the tea. I'll check on dinner. You can teach me another time."

He bit his lip to keep from flinching at the phantom pain, nodding and pouring the water into the teapot when the kettle finally whistled. Not for the first time, his uncle's words rose from the back of his mind to haunt him. But not in the usual way they did, making the conscience he never liked to listen to weigh on his heart and mind like lead shackles. No, this time, those words were a comfort rather than a haunt. Soothing and warm, the way the man's presence had always been.

You did the right thing, Nephew. Leave it behind.

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June 2012

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