CHAPTER 1: REUNION
Aang helped Katara down from Appa and gave a quick bow to Zuko. "Fire Lord". Zuko smirked. "Aang, I've been telling you for years now that you can still just call me Zuko". Aang grinned. "Fine. Sifu Hotman then". Katara laughed as Zuko grimaced. Even 12 years later things had not changed. Zuko's servants had begun unloading Katara's things and setting them up in what would be her room for the next week or so. Aang was going on a solitary spiritual journey of contemplation at the Western Air Temple, which was in Fire Nation territory. Their son Bumi was visiting Gran-Gran in the Southern Water Tribe for the summer and Aang had been distressed about leaving Katara back at home and so far away until she suggested that maybe she could stay with Zuko and his wife.
Aang pulled Zuko into a hug. "It's been way too long buddy". "Aang, it's been a month". Aang shrugged. "What? That's way too long". Katara came up next to hug Zuko. "Aang is right Zuko. That is too long". Zuko felt a faint and familiar heart flutter. The same one Katara had given him for over a decade. Aang looked around. "Hey where is the illustrious Fire Lady?". "She's visiting her parents on the countryside", said Zuko after a moment's pause. Katara narrowed her eyes. She would find out what was going on later. "Well, I'd love to stay and chat for a while, but spiritual duty calls", said Aang cheerily. He turned to Katara and kissed her full on the mouth. "I'll miss you sweetie". "I'll miss you too sweetie", said Katara with a smile. Aang air bended himself up onto Appa's saddle. "I'll see you later Zuko!", he called out. Zuko nodded and waved. "Yip yip!". And he was off.
Katara and Zuko walked the wide and ornate halls of his palace. He had redone several areas over the years to fit his tastes and it was very nicely done. They walked in silence for a few minutes and as ever their silence was so peaceful. "So how are you doing, Zuko?", asked Katara finally. "I'm doing well. How about you?". "Likewise". Silence again. "Well here's your room", said Zuko. "Oh…it's right across from yours", said Katara. A fleeting memory of sleeping in a room across from Zuko…and then sneaking into his room each night rose and dissipated like mist in her mind's eye. "Yeah…does that…bother you?". "Oh! No no no Zuko! It's perfect. It was just an observation". Zuko nodded. "You must be exhausted from your travel here. I'll have some servants prepare a bath for you". Katara gave Zuko a grateful smile. "That would be great Zuko, thanks". His smiled back at her. "Don't mention it. Have you eaten yet?". Her stomach seized the opportunity to rumble loudly enough for Zuko to hear. She laughed sheepishly. "Umm…yeah, I could stand to eat a little something". Zuko chuckled. "Alright. We could dine privately if you'd like". "I'd like that".
After her bath, and a delicious five course dinner, Zuko and Katara stood leaning on the ledge of his balcony, enjoying the beautiful full moonlight. "It all seems so long ago now, doesn't it?", asked Katara quietly. Even without a preamble, Zuko knew what she had been talking about. More than a decade ago, they had fought side by side and ended the 100 Year War. He had saved her life…and she had saved his. And most importantly, they had been deeply in love. "Yeah…it does". So much had changed since that fateful evening in his palace when he and Katara had come to the realization that they could never be together…for the good of the world.
They had promised never to mention their past love. In the beginning they slipped up at times but as the years went on, they spoke less and less. It seemed like that was the only way they would be able to get through being apart. As the years went on, it had gotten easier. But always, Katara would feel a nagging at the back of his mind. Whenever Zuko saw Katara, he could feel a faint tugging on one of his heartstrings. They both learned to ignore those feelings. They certainly never spoke of them. "Are you happy?", Katara asked, turning to him. The searing sensation of her bright blue eyes piercing through him was heartbreakingly familiar. He could never lie to her. Even if he did, she would know. (Z) It's strange that she can still do that, after all these years.But then again, somehow he knew he could have that same effect on her still as well. "Yeah…I'm happy". He was. He had a beautiful wife and things had calmed down in the Fire Nation enormously since the Harmony Restoration Movement fiasco. "Are you?". Katara sighed. "I am".
Zuko gave her a doubtful look. Katara smiled weakly into his golden eyed gaze. Of course she and Aang frequently visited Zuko. Zuko was Aang's best friend. But this was the first time in years that they had been alone for a substantial amount of time and certainly the first time in years they hadn't spoken of considerably superficial topics. (K) After all this time he can still read me like a book. "Really Zuko! I am happy. It's just….I…well...it's Bumi". Zuko nodded. "Obviously you know he's a non-bender. And I don't find anything wrong with that. He's the most beautiful, sweet, charismatic boy in the world! But Aang…". "Aang wanted an airbender", finished Zuko simply. Katara shook her head sadly as Zuko nodded. "All he talks about, all he's been talking about since he was born was having an airbender and how happy he'd be if we did". Zuko grimaced. "I would never doubt that Aang didn't love his own son. I see him with Bumi. He loves that kid. But we both know how important rebuilding the Air Nation is to him. And you and I both know how he is. He's matured a lot but he's still the same person".
Katara nodded. Aang was a wonderful person. She loved him…as she should. He was her husband after all. But he had the habit of forsaking his duties for the thing he cared about most. "Don't worry Katara. You have plenty of time to have an airbending kid". Zuko put a hand on her shoulder... dangerously close to her neck. His touch felt electrifying! Katara nearly let out an audible gasp, to her own horror. Zuko's touch had been so warm and familiar and somehow…it was like they were back. Back on Ember Island...in the calm before the storm of Sozin's Comet. And she had fallen asleep in Zuko's arms in her room the Fire Lord's summer house. (K) What is wrong with me?! I'm not a teenager anymore I'm a grown woman! A grown married woman with a kid!Suddenly she had the terrifying thought that she might be blushing like she had done 12 years ago. "Uhh…what about you Zuko? Something's bothering you that you aren't telling me". It wasn't just to throw the spotlight off of her embarrassing, juvenile moment. She really did sense something wrong with him.
Zuko looked away. "It's nothing". Now it was Katara's turn to smirk doubtfully. "Well…my wife…she has some sort of ailment. The physicians say that she may not be able to have any children". "I'm sorry to hear that, Zuko", sad Katara quietly. There was a pause. "I love my wife", started Zuko quietly. Katara almost flinched. Somewhere in her subconscious, 15 year old Katara was devastated to hear him say that about someone else. "…and I would love her even if she couldn't give me an heir. The problem is that…I really do need an heir. I guess in some ways, I understand how Aang feels about not having airbender kid". Katara nodded. "I don't want my wife to feel pressured in anyway….and I don't think she's failed in her duties as the Fire Lady either. But the thing is…if I don't have an heir of my body, the throne will pass to Azula and her heirs….and I'm not sure the world could handle something like that". "You're right Zuko. It's taken us so many years to get things to where they are now, and we're still not even done. Your sister might try to undo that but…" she gave a merry wicked smile, "…in order for that to happen, someone would have to procreate with Azula first. And let's be realistic…", she spread her palms up. The two of them chuckled. The smile on Zuko's face caused Katara to feel a stab of pain. Why would she be feeling this after all this time?
Zuko looked down into Katara's sapphire eyes. They were beautiful and the moonlight caused them to have an illusion of an unearthly glow. They were breathtaking. Zuko had thought Katara beautiful ever since the day after they returned from facing the man who murdered her mother. He must have subconsciously known she was beautiful of course, but it didn't register until then. And womanhood befit her well. She had gained some weight since those years, but it was in all the right places. Even when he had seen her while she was pregnant with Bumi, she was absolutely glowing and Zuko had felt his heart clench in pain for a moment, for what could have been. "Jokes aside though Zuko, how is she? Azula?". "She's doing better all the time but she still has her bad days". Katara nodded. The memory of Azula cracking was just a fresh as the day it happened. Seeing someone have a mental breakdown after trying to kill you and the person you love wasn't something easily forgotten.
The wind blew and Katara shivered. Funny. She was from the icy tundra of the Southern Water Tribe and a Fire Nation breeze made her shiver. In her defense she hadn't been home for a few years now. She and Aang took up residence in what was now called Yue Bay. "Are you cold?", asked Zuko. Katara smiled sheepishly. "A little. Some Southern Water Tribe native I am". Zuko gave a half smile and put an arm around her. "Maybe we should go back inside then". It was a friendly enough gesture but her spine was tingling and her heart had jumped into her throat. She couldn't risk speaking and having her voice crack or something so she simply nodded.
Back in Zuko's room, Katara noted the familiarity. It was dark except for a few candles burning. Not much had changed in the décor or furniture. She focused on the big bed for a moment. When Zuko had sustained an injury from jumping in front of lightning to save her, they had slept wrapped in each other in that very bed. Zuko removed his arm from her shoulder and retrieved a blanket for her and draped it around her shoulders. "Thanks Zuko". He smiled and sat on the floor near his bed, stretching a hand out for her to join him. Katara hesitated for only a split second before grabbing his outstretched hand and sitting with him. They sat in the firelight talking for hours about their old adventures over the years and the new ones of married life and parenthood.
Katara stirred. She opened her eyes. Everything was blurry and she sleepily closed them shut again. She felt such a delicious warm feeling that was foreign…but so familiar. She wasn't in a bed. Her head was laying on something else. She reopened her eyes and slowly a panicked feeling settled over her. She jerked her head and realized that it had been laying on a sleeping Zuko's shoulder. She cursed inwardly. It wasn't like when they were adolescents- anyone could believe that was innocent enough. But now as adults it could never look good if she was seen sneaking out of the Fire Lord's bedchamber. She grit her teeth but then her expression softened when she caught a glimpse of Zuko's peaceful face. His hair had grown out and he wore it in the traditional fire lord style of a top knot with the rest flowing loosely. And he had also grown a goatee. He was so handsome. Katara remembered believing that there could never be a more handsome guy than Zuko. Well she was wrong. Adult Zuko was devastatingly handsome. Katara shook her head. (K)What is the matter with me? I'm a married woman and a mother! And he's a married man! She got up and listened at the door of Zuko's room. Some servants were still scurrying about. "Ugh! This is impossible!", she whispered fiercely to herself. She turned her head towards the bed when she heard Zuko stirring. She walked back over to where they had been sitting and sat back down. (K) Maybe this isn't so bad. After all, it's not like the servants are likely to come looking for me. I'll just wait until Zuko leaves and then I'll get out of here. He gets up early anyway.
Katara stole another glance at Zuko. His chest was rising and falling slowly. She had a sudden urge to stroke his chest. Even half asleep she could feel the warmth and strength of his chest. (K) Get a grip Katara! She couldn't for the life of her figure out why, after more than a decade of suppressing feelings for Zuko, they would choose to manifest themselves now! She sighed. Well, there was no use trying to escape now. She was tired anyway. She pulled another blanket down off of Zuko's bed and put it on him. The she took her own blanket and laid down on the carpeted floor.