❯ Zuko Was No Coward – Beginnings ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

In the beginning it was easy. Everyone had clearly defined roles. The Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom were the good guys and the Fire Nation were the bad. In the beginning, Katara never thought to question those roles. Never thought that the roles could change. In the beginning, Katara feared the Fire Nation soldiers. Feared they’d return to the frozen land of her home and kill the rest of them. She had never really hated them. But things change. Prince Zuko invaded her small tribal camp and stole her friend from her. Never mind the fact that he went of his own free will, that did not matter. Aang was the Avatar. He was to put the world right again. When the ship’s doors slammed shut�locking Aang inside the iron vessel�she could feel the fingers of hate beginning to creep from her soul.

In the beginning, her waterbending sucked. Nothing she did could make it any better. There were no waterbenders left in the South Pole to teach her. The Fire Nation was responsible for that. A dark scowl crossed her face. They were the ones who killed her mother. She had to master waterbending. For her mother.
�No one is born walking,� Gran-Gran had told her. �Everyone has to start crawling before they can run.�
Aang was the one exception. His first attempt was a success and she was beginning to resent him. She was the waterbender, after all. She was supposed to be able to show him how it was done. Water splashed at her feet at yet another failed attempt to create a simple water-whip. She had to start over, from the beginning. A branch snapped to her left and she jerked into a fighting position, wondering how she was going to defend herself. She couldn’t bend anything that would be any good against an attack. Rough voices to her right caused her to stiffen. For a moment she didn’t understand the words but soon the tone registered. The pirates! The grabbed the scroll and ran, only to crash into the solid chest of Prince Zuko. Warm hands seized her wrists and he leaned forward, his words surprisingly gentle. �I’ll save you from the pirates.�
Her heart leapt, surprised at the tenderness with which he held her wrists and spoke, but he tied her to a tree and tried to bribe her with her mother’s necklace. He disrespected her mother’s memory. In the beginning, she only had hazy images of cold gold eyes, ashes and the old Fire Navy ship outside her village when she thought of the Fire Nation. Now, when she thought of the Fire Nation, she was beginning to see Prince Zuko.

Beneath Bai Sing Se, the bonds of trust had begun to be formed. Katara was beginning to see the similarities between herself and Zuko. He was just a normal teenager, trying to find his way in a war-torn world. They both had heartaches but she was beginning to see that his scars went much deeper than just the one on his face. Zuko was beginning to accept differences and Katara was turning hate into compassion. They could both see the beginnings of something great in each others eyes but then Aang and Iroh arrived and Azula attacked and Katara returned to hating him.

In the beginning, it was just the three of them: Sokka, Aang, and herself. Then they met others. Suki, Yue, Haru, and Teo. Then it was the four of them when Toph joined to teach Aang earthbending. After the invasion, the group grew, taking on the younger ones who participated in the Day of Black Sun. Katara could feel herself growing stressed. Too much needed to be done before Sozin’s Comet arrived. Unfortunately, every morning would greet her with the same thought: �You rise with the moon, I rise with the sun.�
The thought of Zuko ruined the beginning of her day. She didn’t want to think about him. But Aang needed the learn firebending so her thoughts would drift in that direction more and more often. And then he showed up, begging forgiveness and admittance into their family. She tried to stamp down the beginnings of hope that blossomed inside of her. He betrayed her. He’d do it again. But, he fit into their group well. He entertained Toph, practiced swordplay with Sokka, and turned out to be a decent firebending teacher. Despite her snipping and baiting, he never fought back, helping with chores and keeping the group well fed. He even brought back things from scavenging for Aang. Once more, she was beginning to soften.

Zuko didn’t ask questions when they walked away from her mother’s murderer. He didn’t ask questions when she landed Appa on a small, out of the way island and dropped to the ground without a word. He didn’t ask questions when she marched into the woods without so much as a glance back. She was beginning to appreciate Zuko’s ability to know when to be silent. She had to think, to be alone. It was only when she was finally alone that she realized how frightening being alone really was.
She returned to the shore to find that Zuko had set up camp and had the small beginnings of a fire going. He glanced up when she stepped out of the shadows, saying nothing but she could see the concern. Had he always been that easy to read? Had she just never really tried? She was in his arms, crying into his chest before he could stop her. Awkward hands patted her back and she sobbed harder. She cried tears for the mother she lost and was never getting back, tears for the mother Zuko lost, and tears for herself for holding onto so much anger. She was beginning to wonder what kind of home Zuko grew up in if he didn’t know how to return a simple hug. She cried for Zuko because he wouldn’t cry for himself.

In the beginning, she believed she needed no one. She was independent and strong-willed�her very heartbeat didn’t rely on another’s well-being. She had thought she knew what she wanted. Aunt Wu had promised her and she thought she knew. In the beginning, she thought she’d never befriend a firebender. In the beginning she loved to hate him now she hated to love him. He took a lightning bolt for her and she thought her own heart stopped. In the beginning, she never thought so much could change.

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