As if things hadn't already gone terribly wrong that day. His and his uncle's invitation to meet with the Earth King had a been a trap set by Azula, he had separated himself from Iroh to fight her, and she had chosen not to fight fairly, causing him to be captured by the Dai Li. That should have been enough for one day, but no. The icing on the cake was the Zuko was imprisoned here with her of all people.
Katara, who had said his name with surprise when he was thrown into her cell, quickly remembered that she was supposed to hate him and glared at him as he dusted himself off.
“Why did they throw you in here?” she asked. “Oh wait, let me guess. It's a trap, so that when Aang shows up to help me, you can finally have him in your little Fire Nation clutches!” When he merely shook his head, she continued. “You're a terrible person, you know that? Always following us, hunting the Avatar, trying to capture the world's last hope for peace! But what do you care? You're the Fire Lord's son. Spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood.”
“You don't know what you're talking about,” he said finally.
“I don't?! How dare you! You have no idea what this war has put me through! Me personally.” She turned away, and he heard her voice break. “The Fire Nation took my mother away from me.”
His eyes widened, surprised that he could relate to someone so unlikely with that. “I'm sorry,” he said. He could hear her sobbing as he turned and said, “That's something we have in common.”
She looked up at him, shocked. “I...I didn't know,” she said softly.
“Of course you didn't,” he replied. “Just like I didn't know about your situation. We've been fighting for so long, I think we both stopped thinking of each other as human at some point. But that's all different now.”
“It is?” she asked, confused.
“Yes. I'm tired of constantly bowing down to my father, I'm tired of playing a game I can't win, and I'm tired of running from Azula,” he said. Katara didn't seem to have a response, and the two fell silent for a long time.
As the long, awkward silence drug out, Zuko realized that his bad luck was about to continue a bit. He had felt a small twinge in his bladder just as they were arriving at the palace, but thought nothing of it at the time. He had figured that there would be a decent chance to excuse himself later, and when he saw Azula, he had completely pushed it out of his mind.
But now that he was sitting in the cold catacombs, his need was brought back to the forefront of his thoughts. It had grown significantly, and he hoped that someone, preferably Iroh, would show up soon to help him out of here. Otherwise, he didn't know if he would be able to avoid relieving himself in front of the Waterbender.
“I'm sorry I yelled at you before,” she said, snapping him out of his thoughts.
“It doesn't matter,” he said, distractedly. His shifted a bit in place.
“It's just that, for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy, it was your face.”
“My face,” he said, reaching up to touch his scar. “I see.”
“No, no, that's...that's not what I meant,” she said apologetically, realizing her mistake.
“It's okay. I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of the banished prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever. But lately, I've realized I'm free to determine my own destiny, even if I'll never be free of my mark.”
“Maybe you could be free of it.”
“What?” Though this conversation was more intimate than most that he had had recently, it was hard for him to stay focused on what he was doing. The pressure in his bladder was growing to an uncomfortable level and he hoped that Katara wouldn't notice whenever he shifted his weight.
“Well, I have healing abilities,” she said.
He wanted to sigh in frustration. She had almost had his hopes up there, and her continued distractions only made it harder for him to focus on holding. “It's a scar. It can't be healed.”
She pulled out a small vile and said, “This is water from the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole.” Just the sound of the word “water” made him feel weak. “It has special properties so...I've been saving it for something important. I don't know if it would work, but...” She reached a hand up to touch his scar, and he felt his face heat up in a blush.
This, combined with the thought of what any form of Waterbending might do to him in his current state, caused him to pull back nervously. “I...I...I don't know if we should try that right now. I don't think it would work and I don't think you should waste something that valuable on me.”
“It wouldn't be a waste,” she argued. “You said it yourself that you want to make your own destiny. You want to fight Azula, right? That alone is proof of that, and if that's the case, I can't see helping you as a waste. I know you're trying to see the scar from a more positive light, but wouldn't you want to be free of it as well?”
“I...” He turned away from her, crossing his legs. “I just want to think about it.”
“Okay...” She sounded hurt, and he knew that she was taking his reluctance the wrong way. Still, what option did he have? Carrying on this conversation was breaking his concentration, and it was painfully hard to hold it when he was completely focused.
He had really wanted to try to wait until he was taken out of here, but he had no idea when that would be, or if it would even really give him a proper chance. His only option was to tell Katara what was going on and ask her not to turn away, as humiliating as the thought was.
Still, he wondered if there was any way to keep it a secret. If there was any way at all to avoid that humiliation, he wanted to, and it was while he was stalling and trying to way his options that his desperation to a rapid turn for the worse. He clenched his thighs together, and crossed his legs tighter than before, hissing quietly to himself. There was no way to conceal it anymore.
“Are you okay?” he heard Katara ask, and was horrified to realize that she hadn't stopped looking at him the whole time.
He started to try to think of some excuse, but felt himself leak a bit and grabbed himself to stop any more from escaping. This alone told her exactly what was going on with him, and he knew his face was a bright red. He mumbled an apology, as he couldn't really think of anything else to say. She remained silent, probably also at a loss for words.
He took a few staggering steps, trying to get far enough away from her, but he could not move quickly enough to beat the torrent that escaped him, darkening his pants. There was nothing he could do but give in, falling to his knees as he wet himself. Before long, he was sitting his own puddle, warm and wet, and yet it still just kept coming. He hadn't realized he had even been holding so much.
When at last he was empty, he sat quietly in his humiliation. As if the day hadn't been bad enough, now something like this had happened. Whenever he was finally rescued, it would be plain to all what had happened. How could he ever face anyone with a shred of dignity ever again?
“Don't say anything,” he said sharply. “Please, just shut up. I know you're going to say something like 'it's okay', and pretend to sympathize, but it's not okay and I know you just want to laugh at me. So just...don't say anything.”
“I said shut up!” he roared, fighting back tears. He still just could not believe he had let something like this happen to him.
Without warning, he suddenly felt all the liquid that he sat in flow away from him, scattering into tiny droplets to the point it couldn't be distinguished from any other moisture in the catacombs. Then the same happened with the dark patch in his pants until he was completely dry. He turned his head sharply to see Katara, smiling tentatively at him.
“Is it okay now?” she asked. “I won't tell anyone what happened or anything.”
“I...thank you,” he said, not knowing what else to say. “I'm sorry I yelled at you before.”
“It doesn't matter,” she said gently, then they both laughed, realizing they had had the same conversation earlier. He stood up to face her as she said, “Is that why you didn't want me to try my healing water on you?”
“Yeah,” he said, sheepishly. “I figured it would only make the situation worse.”
“Well, do you think you might want to try it now?”
“I...I still don't know. Really, I don't think there's any way to heal something like this. I don't want you to waste it.”
“I told you,” she said, once again touching his scar, “it wouldn't be a waste. We'll never know if we never try...”
Just as he was about to answer, a loud crash sounded, and they turned to see the Avatar and his uncle standing in the room. Katara grinned and took off to hug Aang, while Iroh ran over and embraced Zuko. He glared at Aang, angry to have been interrupted and just a little bit jealous of the attention he was getting.
He wondered what would have happened if he had had just a bit more time with Katara, but there were bigger things to worry about now, and thanks to his conversation with her, he was ready to face whatever lay ahead and determine his own destiny.