the_codex: (Drama)
[personal profile] the_codex
Title: The Color of Mourning
Fandom: Avatar
Pairing: Jet/Katara, Zuko/Katara, one-sided Aang/Katara
Rating: G
Setting: During "Ember Island Players"

Disclaimer: I own not, you sue not.


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The Color of Mourning

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Zuko watched the action unfolding on the stage, knowing he was meant to laugh but at the same time not finding any of it very funny. Or at least not finding most of it funny. But then, this was par for the course for the Ember Island Players; Love Amongst the Dragons was not the only semi-serious play they'd butchered into a sorry excuse for irreverent comedy. The Right and Harmonius Fist, Ghost of the Red Hall, and Lady Omashu suffered similar fates.

But this, he thought, was a whole new low. To him, there was a fine but distinct line between artistic incompetence and utter tastelessness, and mocking the suffering of real people crossed it utterly. He blinked, not quite believing he'd actually seen it.

"Did Jet just die?"

Sokka swallowed nervously. "It was...rather obscure."

But as Zuko looked up, catching Katara's expression -- the portrayal of her and Jet in the play had not escaped his notice -- he knew that wasn't wholly true.

She'd gone as sickly pale as her bronze skin would allow. On her face, the look of someone torn between wanting to scream in outrage or bury her face in her hands and cry until her throat was raw. It stayed that way for only a moment, though, before she looked away from the stage. Next thing he knew, she'd sprung to her feet and was quickly and awkwardly edging past him and out of the theatre, head down to hide the way her face contorted and reddened.

He watched her leave, swallowing hard, torn between leaving her be as she likely wanted, or following to check on her.

A minute later he found himself exiting the theatre, searching the balconies until he found her leaning on the railing of one. Staring off into the sunset, the corners of her eyes glistening, face flushed and breathing shuddery and erratic.

He frowned, approaching her carefully. "...Katara?"

"Go away!" she snapped. Her voice was hoarse and cracky.

He ignored the command. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing!" she hissed. "I'm fine!"

His eyes narrowed. "You don't have to bite my head off. Or lie. I didn't follow you out here to antagonize you. You looked upset when you left, and I wanted to see if you were okay."

Her shoulders sagged, and she bit her lip and looked down but didn't say anything. He came up behind her, resting a hand on her bare shoulder. She didn't lean into him, but she didn't flinch or shrink away, either. "It was...Jet, wasn't it?"

She nodded.

He sighed, swallowing thickly. "He...He really did die?"

She nodded again. "The Dai Li...Feng...I tried to help him but..."

"But there was nothing you could do."

She shivered. "No...there was. That...That water I showed you in the cave..."

"The one you used on the Avatar?" At her nod, he frowned further. "If you'd used it on Jet...you wouldn't have had it to save Aang. You think he would've wanted to survive if it meant the death of our only shot at defeating the Fire Lord?"

"It just..." She sighed heavily. "I was horrible to him. I never even gave him a chance to apologize. I completely shunned him and then he fought for me anyway and then... I never got a chance to tell him I was s-sorry..." She faltered on the word, covering her mouth with a hand.

His arm drew around her shoulders, but he didn't pull her against him. "Maybe he didn't need you to. Maybe he knew you were sorry even if you never said so."

She bit her lips again, resting her trembling hands back on the railing. "You didn't see the look on his face. He...He smiled and told me he was going to be all right but he knew he wasn't..."

Zuko felt his chest tighten at the way she said that. "He didn't want you to worry. And I don't think he would've done that if he didn't care about you, whether he knew you were sorry or not."

"He said he'd changed," she whimpered. "I didn't believe him. I didn't want to believe him because I thought he'd hurt me again..."

Zuko rubbed her arm a little as he felt her lean into him. "I...I met him on the ferry into Ba Sing Se. He said he'd done some things in his past he wasn't proud of. That he wanted a new beginning. I'm positive he was talking about what he did to that village...but I also think he was including what he did to you. He...He really did care for you in the end."

She sniffed, leaning her head into the hollow of his shoulder. "I...I know that now. That he was sorry for it. I just...I wish I'd given him a chance. But I didn't and now he's gone and I can't..."

Zuko slid a hand through her hair tentatively, prerpared to back off if she made any objection to the touch. She didn't. Rather, she closed her eyes and relaxed under it. "And don't think he didn't know that when he died. It's why he told you he'd be okay, even though he knew he wouldn't make it. Things were okay between you two. The things you did to each other were horrible and wrong, but...you forgave each other, too, even if you didn't specifically say so. He understood that. He just...wanted you to be okay."

She nodded, silently turning to nuzzle her cheek against his shoulder, and he finally ventured his arms and a deep, bending breath to draw her into a warm and comforting embrace. For the life of him, he didn't know where his words had come from. He hardly knew Jet, and what he knew wasn't exactly pleasant. But knew what he was saying was true, with a certainty he wanted to say was supernatural. The thought made him uneasy, but he shoved it to the back of his mind.

Whether it was minutes or hours that they stood like that, he didn't know or care. It was only when he heard the scrape of shoes on the flagstone that he looked up, to find Aang glaring venomously at him from the doorway. Much like he had back in the cave underneath Ba Sing Se. And like he did then, Zuko felt a catch of stubborness. His arms closed more securely around Katara, consciously protective.

The Avatar's scowl hardened, and for a moment Zuko expected a righteous outburst, which he was very much prepared to answer by putting the little brat in his place with the most eloquent "screw off" speech he could muster. But instead, the boy turned stiffly on a heel, going back the way he came.

Zuko let the tension melt out of his face as he turned back to Katara, resting his cheek on the crown of her hair. For now, it would be all right.


THE END

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