The first time Katara and Zuko got along was at the Western Air Temple after him and Aang had visited the Sun Warriors. It was at dinner and the gaang was talking about some of the adventures Toph had missed, and Sokka brought up how they met Jet. And in the same tone and cadence Katara and Zuko said, “ugh Jet.” It wasn't exactly disgust coloring their tones, or affection either, but somewhere in between.
The two of them stared at each other while Sokka complained in the background over Jet and how he was the worst. In the end Katara spoke first.
“So where did you meet Jet?” It was a little forced but was still nicer than anything she had said to him yet.
“Um, it was on the ferry into Ba Sing Se. We were both traveling as refugees and we ended up stealing food from the captain and distributing it.” Zuko gave a tight smile at her.
“And you and-” Katara trailed off.
“Yeah.” Zuko said. “Then he tried to fight me at my job like a week later.”
“Wait where did you work?” Toph butt in.
“It was a tea shop in the lower ring.” Zuko was a little uncomfortable with all the eyes on him.
“Why did Jet try and fight you?” Sokka asked.
“He saw Uncle heat up tea and figured out we were firebenders, he wasn’t happy.” Zuko said.
Katara was still on the first part of the conversation though. “So you like… boys?” She sounded unsure.
“I like both.” Zuko wanted to die this was the worst. “Um, boys and girls.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you could do that.” Katara said. While it sometimes happened in the Water Tribe for the most part people didn’t really talk about sexualities.
“Yeah it’s pretty normal in the Fire Nation. Um I don’t know about the Water tribes but I do know that being gay is outlawed in most of the Earth Kingdom.” Zuko was rambling now.
“Oh yeah they’re really stuffy about it back home.” Toph cut in.
“What!” Aang said, frowning. “Air nomads believe that anyone can love anyone.”
“Well it's not like it was illegal but if you were people sort of just didn’t talk about it.” Katara said.
“I think the Southern Water Tribe is a lot cooler about it than the Northern Water Tribe though.” Sokka said, remembering Yue and the arranged marriages.
The conversation moved on from that and Zuko was glad, while he never kept it a secret he wasn’t in the business of telling everyone he met his sexuality, he wasn’t even sure if his dad knew. It wasn’t like it mattered, Ozai wouldn’t care he had plenty of other reasons to hate his son, and besides Azula was a lesbian and Ozai didn’t care. But he actually liked Azula so who knows.
Katara couldn’t stop thinking about it though, it felt weird that someone who she disliked so much had dated(?) the same person as her, even if that person was Jet. But more than that she wanted to talk about it, Katara hadn’t been able to talk about boys with anyone. Aang and Sokka wouldn’t work, and Toph never wanted to talk either. It ended up being a few days after the initial conversation that she approached Zuko who tensed up when she got close. Usually she felt vindicated when he did that, even if Zuko did it around everyone, but right now she was unsure herself.
“Hey Zuko?” She was quiet but Katara’s voice didn’t waver.
“Yeah?” Zuko couldn’t think of why Katara wanted to talk to him, he doesn’t think he had done anything bad recently.
“So about you and Jet,” Katara started. “Like he was weird right?” Katara wanted to cringe, it was clunky and awkward and Zuko was staring at her.
“He was,” Zuko wasn’t sure how to phrase it. “A lot.”
“It was kinda inspiring though.” Katara said.
“Yeah, he is good at giving speeches.” Zuko didn’t understand why Katara’s face screwed at that.
“He was.” She said.
Zuko was confused. “Was?”
“He died, under Lake Laogai.” Katara didn’t like to think about it. “It was the Dai Li.”
“Oh.” Katara wanted to comfort him instinctively but she held back, it was still Zuko. There was a long pause before Katara realized that the conversion was over and left without saying anything.
Zuko ended up approaching first next time, Katara had been less cold towards him the past few days and he wasn’t sure why. She was making dinner when Zuko approached with heavy footsteps so she could hear him coming. Katara looked up at him and rather than frown she just ignored him and went back to cooking, Zuko took that as a good sign and sat a bit away.
“So I don’t actually know how you guys met Jet.” He was expecting to get shot down but instead Katara paused what she was doing.
“We were walking through some Fire Nation infested woods and his group dropped down from the trees and they took us back to their hideout. Long story short he was using me and Aang to fill up a reservoir to flood a town at the bottom of a valley.” Katara explained.
“Oh I’m sorry.” Zuko thought that was the right thing to say.
“So he attacked you at work?” Katara asked.
“Yeah, busted through the door with a sword, shouting about how we were firebenders. I ended up fighting him.” Zuko said.
“No, I borrowed a sword from a guard at the store.” Zuko was still nervous to mention he was the one who got Jet arrested. But lying had never helped him. “He got grabbed by the Dai Li after.”
The conversation died but Zuko was relieved that Katara didn’t soak him or something. They didn’t end up talking about it at dinner or the next day. Or the next. Zuko made the next move this time too, he slid next to her while Katara was watching Toph and Aang train.
“The wheat was weird.” He offered.
It took Katara a few moments to place what he was talking about, but when she did she let out a small laugh. “Jet always had that stupid thing in his mouth.”
“I don’t even know where he was getting it, there were no wheat fields by Ba Sing Se.” Zuko smiled.
“I’m pretty sure he never changed it.” They both grimaced at how gross that idea was.
There were a few moments of silence before Zuko said, “he was a really good kisser though.”
“He was!” Katara agreed. “And the thing with your hair.”
“Yeah! And you get all hyped on justice and-”
“And sticking it to the man.” Katara finished.
“Yeah.” It was getting a little awkward again. Zuko and Katara sat next to each other for a few moments before he mumbled a goodbye and retreated.
And then the next day he and Sokka disappeared. And the day after that they came back with Suki, and Katara’s dad, and some random guy. They end up around the campfire while Sokka tells the story.
“And we ended up getting saved from Zuko’s crazy sister by his girlfriend and some other girl. The one with the chi blocking.” Sokka said.
“Mai isn’t my girlfriend.” Zuko protested.
“She said she loved you.” Sokka countered.
“We broke up. Kinda.” Zuko said.
“Fine ex-girlfriend and her friend saved us then we got away.” Sokka amended.
It was after dinner that Katara, having spent some time with her dad, went over to Zuko and said, “Mai was the one with the knives right?”
“Cool.” Katara still felt weird around Zuko, it was less burning hate however and more like busts of annoyance whenever she remembered everything he’s done. “So did you guys date before or-”
“No but I was like 13 so.” Zuko shrugged, thinking she meant before he left the Fire Nation.
“13?” Katara was confused.
“When I left the Fire Nation.” Zuko said.
“Wait why’d you leave when you were 13?” Katara had thought he had left a few weeks before finding Aang.
Now Zuko was confused, he had thought everyone knew. “I was banished. I couldn’t come home until I found the avatar.”
“But Aang wasn’t back, what? 3 years ago. Why would anyone send you to find him?” It didn’t make sense to Katara.
“Yeah that was kinda the point, I wasn’t supposed to come back.” Zuko still felt shame rush through him even after admitting his father was wrong. “My dad didn’t like me much.”
“Your dad? What did you do to get kicked out at 13.” It was a little harsh but Katara didn’t really care.
“There was this plan to sacrifice a group of new recruits and I called out the general who said it and got challenged to an Agni Kai, it’s a fire duel for honor.” Zuko hated this but Katara had asked and she was being nicer and he really wanted her to stop glaring at him. “I thought I was fighting the general but I turned and it was my father, I apparently disrespected him by speaking out of turn in his war room.”
Katara’s mouth was hanging open. “Did you fight him?” She didn’t want to know.
“No.” Zuko sounded bitter. “Didn’t matter, still burned off half my face and sent me to find a myth.”
Katara didn’t know how it got worse. His own dad fighting him was evil, but Ozai gave him the burn. She shuddered and tried to imagine her dad fighting Sokka at 13 and couldn’t.
“Your dad sucks.” Zuko laughed at that, it surprised both of them.
“Yeah he does.” He gave her a small smile.
They weren’t close after that but Katara and Zuko chatted more, they had stuff in common. Well it was more that there was no one else to talk about some things with, but it still counted.
“Really? Haru?” Zuko was looking at the man on the other side of the common area.
“He didn’t have the uh-” She made the motion of Haru’s mustache.
Zuko turned his head and tried to imagine it. “Huh. I can see it.”
“Right?” Katara said. “And I met him after he saved this old man, who kinda didn’t deserve it. He turned Haru in as an earthbender right after and got him arrested. I had to get arrested as an earthbender too to save him and his dad.”
Zuko raised his eyebrow at Katara. “You have a type huh? Jet, Haru, Aang.”
“What?” She whipped her head to look at him. “No! Me and Aang aren’t like that.”
“Really? You sure?” He was teasing but Katara didn’t seem mad.
“Of course not.” She pointedly didn’t think of a cave and a kiss.
“Okay.” Zuko put his hands up.
“Whatcha guys talking about?” Suki walked over to the two, she thought they didn’t get along. Well Sokka told her they didn’t get along.
“Boys.” Katara said.
“With Zuko?” Suki said.
“I’m Bi.” He wasn’t too worried, the Earth Kingdom might have been a little prejudiced (a lot prejudiced) but Kyoshi Island has always been a bit of a safe space.
“Can I join?” Suki asked.
Zuko looked to Katara who smiled and said, “Sure.”
“So what are we talking about.” Suki sat down next to Zuko.
“How Katara definitely has nothing going on with Aang.” Zuko said.
“Shut up.” Katara reached over and smacked his arm. “I don’t!”
“Of course you don’t.” Suki was being sarcastic, she hadn’t been with the Gaang much but she had seen how the kid followed Katara like a sea turtle puppy.
“Thank you.” Katara ignored the sarcasm. “What about you Suki? Any boys?”
Suki froze for a second. “Um, Sokka?” It was quiet.
“I mean he’s kinda cute.” Zuko offered. “Kinda an idiot though.”
Katara said, “Hey that’s my brother!” right as Suki said, “Yeah he is.” Her voice dripping with fondness.
“I’m not saying he’s dumb.” Zuko raised his hands. “Just- impulsive?”
Katara paused for a second. “Yeah that’s fair.” She agreed.
And the little gossip group went from two to three, Toph had almost joined not wanting to be left out, but left as soon as she realized what the gossip was about. Suki found it fun however, even though she had never met Jet. And couldn’t really add to the conversation, being in charge of the Kyoshi Warriors was time consuming, she still had some good takes however.
“I don’t mind the mustache.” Or maybe not. Suki got yelled at for that.
Suki held up a painting of a young Iroh after they had been forced to evacuate the Western Air Temple and move into Zuko’s family home. It was from when he would have been in his late 20’s.
“You know Zuko, your Uncle was kinda cute.” Suki had a shit eating grin on her face.
“Shut Up!” Zuko wished for death.
To be honest Katara didn’t find him that cute but after having had her life changing field trip with Zuko as Toph put it she felt more comfortable teasing. “Only was?”
The look on his face was worth it even if she ruined the joke by laughing. “Don’t do that to me!” He shouted.
“Your face though.” Suki was laughing too at that point.
“What’s next my dad’s cute?” It was a rhetorical question.
“Well he’d be cuter if he wasn’t a psychopath.” Katara said.
“No.” Zuko really wished for death.
“Katara I don’t think you get to talk about cute dads.” Suki said. “I mean I like Sokka but woo.”
Katara looked scandalized. “I mean she’s not wrong.” Zuko said, “Please don’t fill me with icicles.”
“I’m not talking to either of you anymore.” Katara left the room.
They were quiet after the play. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but things were tense as they walked back to the house. If everything else hadn’t ruined the evening, seeing Aang and Zuko killed as a crowd cheered certainly did. It didn’t help once Katara realized that no one else knew how Zuko got his scar, she wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact Zuko had told her, no one else.
They had just gotten to the house when Katara decided that it could wait until morning. “Zuko can I talk to you?” Neither of them noticed Aang’s face when she asked that.
“Sure.” He wasn’t sure why, maybe it was to do with Jet.
It was a little ways away. “No one knows your dad gave you your scar.” She said it like he needed to be told.
“I’m sure they do.” Apparently he did.
“They don’t.” Katara insisted. “I didn’t tell anyone so Sokka and Aang definitely don’t know.”
“Well Suki and Toph might. I mean the Earth Kingdom would get information a lot faster than the Water Tribes.” Zuko didn’t want to imagine that they didn’t know. Telling Katara was bad enough and she didn’t even like him when he did, telling them now?
“I don’t think they know Zuko.” Katara felt bad, he looked scared. “You don’t have to tell them but you should know that they don’t know.”
“I don’t think I can Katara.” Zuko admits.
“Why?” She asked. “No one will judge you, it might even help convince Aang about your dad.”
“It wasn’t something I had to tell people, everyone knew. And I didn’t have to worry about your reaction when I told you.” Zuko said.
“My reaction?” Katara said.
“You weren’t going to pity me.” Zuko never wanted to be pitied.
“They’re not going to pity you. They’re going to be upset that their friend was hurt but not pity.” Katara wasn’t expecting that but when she thought about it it made sense. The Fire Nation wasn’t a place that bred compassion. “It is up to you but I think you should tell them.”
Zuko swallowed. “Will you help?” His voice was small.
“Of course.” Katara said.
Katara got everyone gathered around a campfire that Zuko was relighting, for the most part it wasn’t that hard as the only person who had wandered off was Sokka.
“Um hi? Zuko here.” He tried to lessen the tension that had built up at his expense, it kinda worked. “Um, does anyone know how I got my scar?” He hoped someone said yes. There were a few no’s and he sent a glare at Katara who gave him a small smile. “I guess I should just get it over with fast right?”
“Whatever you want.” Katara was going to freeze the mouth of anyone who tried to talk.
“So there’s this thing called an Agni Kai, it is a Fire Nation duel about honor.” Zuko was doing a bad job he could tell. “Um I fought in one when I was 13.”
He trailed off and Suki asked a careful “why?” as Katara looked ready to kill anyone who interrupted.
“Um, my Uncle got me into a war meeting and this general proposed a plan which would sacrifice a new division of troops, about 16-20 year old's, and I told him he couldn’t do that and I got challenged to an Agni Kai. I thought it was going to be against the general.”
Sokka really didn’t like where this was going, mostly everyone else seemed kinda confused but Katara looked sad. “But it wasn’t the general when I turned around, it was my dad.” Sokka hated being right all the time.
Aang suddenly felt bad about being bitter over Katara taking Zuko aside to talk. “I told him I wouldn’t fight, which is an option you can do in Agni Kai. Surrender should have worked but my dad didn’t want to hear it. He held me down and burned my face, said ‘suffering will be your teacher’ and then banished me. I was only able to return if I found the avatar and brought him back.”
Toph hadn’t actually heard the story but she heard rumors about how cruel the Firelord was and how he had burnt his own son. She hadn’t believed it at the time. She thought it was if the Firelord was bad enough to do this to his own son, imagine what he would do to yours’. “Of course the Avatar wasn’t supposed to come back. It was a way to get rid of me and make Azula heir.”
“That’s terrible Zuko.” Suki said.
“I thought I deserved it for the longest time.” He gave a bitter laugh, Zuko had never actually talked through it like this and it felt like something had lifted off his chest.
“Why would he do that?” Aang was choked up he couldn’t imagine anyone being that evil.
“He hated me. It wasn’t even the worst thing he’s tried to do.” Zuko never told Uncle about this, maybe he should have. “He’s tried to kill me twice.”
“What?” Katara had never heard about this. “Zuko!”
“When I was a baby we thought I was going to be a non-bender, my mom had to promise I would be so he wouldn't get rid of me.” Zuko said. “And the second time my grandfather ordered it after my dad tried to get the throne when my cousin died. My mom killed my grandpa probably so my dad wouldn’t kill me.”
“That was how your mom died.” Katara thought of her own mother.
“My dad said she’s not dead. He could be lying but I don’t know.” Zuko said.
Katara put her hand on his arm. “We’ll find her if she’s still alive.”
Zuko didn’t get to respond as he got an armful of Aang at that moment. “Don’t worry Zuko I will defeat your dad and put him in jail forever and he will never hurt you again.”
He gently returned the hug. “I’m sure you will Aang.” The rest of the Gaang soon crowded around to join. He met Katara’s eyes and at her smile he gave her one of his own. The next days would be hard but Zuko felt safe in his friend's arms.