Zutara Week, 2012, Day 5—
Heartstrings: (plural noun) 1. the deepest feelings; 2. the strongest affections
Katara huffed, throwing herself back on Appa's head. She hadn't done it, couldn't do it. She should have. Every fiber of her being told her to; a life for a life and all of that. It was fair. It was unthinkable how many people that despicable man had killed. It would have been fair and right for her to take his life. To cut off the circulation to his blood and watch as he died. It would have been right, and no one could fault her for doing what was right and correct. She should have done it, she should have.
No one would have thought less of her if she had, not even Zuko. The only person who would look upon her with disdain would be Aang, and he would get over it in a few moments. Sokka would have praised her. Toph would have made some joke about her finally growing up. Suki would understand. Zuko would have understood.
Everyone would have been fine with it eventually. Even the old man had begged for it.
Why couldn't she do it?
Katara opened her eyes. Above her, Zuko stood, his dark hair waving in front of his eyes because of the wind. His golden eyes were soft, worried. "What?" she snapped.
Zuko sat down next to her. The look in her eyes was both terrifying and terrified. She looked like a lost little girl, begging for help, lashing out when she didn't find it. It hurt him to see her like this. He ran the pad of his thumb over the wet trail of tears. "There's no need to cry," he said softly, carefully removing each of her many tears from her tanned face. He felt the skin under his thumb heat up, and he almost smiled. "You did the right thing," he assured.
Katara closed her eyes again, snorting. "Yeah, right," she growled. She crossed her arms over her chest, begging to close herself back into her thoughts. She didn't need Zuko's pity. "I could have gotten revenge for all those people he killed, for all those families he destroyed."
Zuko's heart ached. He wished he were in her place; he didn't want her dealing with all these dismal feelings. She should be happy, or mad, or even confused—not sad. Never sad. It hurt him to see her like this. He couldn't remember ever feeling worse, even when Oazi had burned him into dishonor. He couldn't imagine what Katara was feeling. "You could have," Zuko agreed. He pressed a thumb to Katara's tear-ducts. "But you wouldn't be you if you had."
Katara sniffled. "Is that such a bad thing?" she wondered, licking her dry lips. Her chest ached. She felt like shouting, screaming, crying, sobbing. She felt like being held.
The banished Fire Prince frowned. "Of course it is," he said at once. His normal awkwardness with girls was forgotten. Here, in front of him, was a girl in desperate need of help, in desperate need of comfort. Not just any girl. Here was Katara, silently and unknowingly begging for help. Katara, the strong girl everyone looked up to, everyone thought of as a mother, everyone thought was indestructible.
Katara humphed. She lay there quite for the longest while, trying to keep her emotions to herself. Confusion. Anger. Sadness. Grief. Despondency. Suddenly it was all too much. She curled in on herself, the warmth of Zuko's finger falling away. Her body trembled and shook, silent sobs turning into angry shouts. Tears rolled down her face in angry waves, like a storm oversea: Relentlessly. Her body shook with the power of them. She lay there, shouting her sobs, as her heartstrings took over.
Zuko bit his lip to stop himself from crying at the sight. He gathered her into his lap, just holding her, petting back wet strands of hair. He held her as she curled into a ball and held onto the black folds of his outfit. She sobbed, tears staining the blackness of their outfits, her body shaking. Zuko held her tight, pressing reassuring kisses to her forehead, unaware of what he was doing, just trying desperatly to calm her. She had to feel horrible. Zuko didn't like that.
After a while, she stopped sobbing. Katara looked up at him, a small grin on her face. "Thank you," she said, holding on tighter to him.
"What for?" he wondered. All he'd done was tell her the truth.
"For holding me," Katara answered quietly. "For helping me." She curled tighter in his lap, wanting to be held for a while longer. She looked up at him with tearstained eyes and smiled. Quickly, she leaned up and pressed a kiss to his forehead. A blush flamed across Zuko's pale cheeks. "For that."
Zuko almost laughed, but he felt too awkward to.