The wedding was set for the end of summer. Invitations went out to the four corners of the earth, inviting friends and relatives to share in the joy of Fire Lord Zuko and Lady Katara. The palace was aflutter in preparations.
The finest food and drink were shipped in from every nation, ensuring that each of our guests could sample a favorite dish from their own nation. Bright, shimmering banners of blue and red were hung on the walls, lavishly draping to the ground in voluminous folds. As I walked through the palace, surveying the preparations, it was like walking through a dream.
Everything was light and beauty and color. Though the palace was still unmistakably Fire Nation, reds and golds and hard, graceful lines still the dominating theme, the cold feeling of hate was gone. So much had changed... And that change was about to be consummated tonight as the last waterbender chief added his name to the peace treaty.
Although we'd celebrated the signing of the peace treaty at the beginning of the summer, it had taken the whole season to collect the signatures of every last national leader, from the most obscure Water Tribe chieftain to the most disgruntled Fire Nation nobleman. But today... today the last man had signed.
There would be no public celebration. We'd already recognized the triumph at the beginning of the season, and to celebrate again would be redundant, not to mention a bit confusing and difficult to manage in the midst of the wedding plans. However, the significance of the event was not lost to me as I stared out the window at the Water Tribe ship that was slowly fading away on the horizon.
He was going back home, safe and secure and knowing that he needn't fear for his family and his people any longer. I closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh. I'd never thought this day would come.
Oh, I had hoped for it. Certainly! I'd dreamed, as a little girl, of seeing the messengers come riding in one day, their faces bright with joy as they proclaimed the end of the war. But I'd always thought it would be a thing accomplished by other people. Stronger people. Certainly not a little waterbender from an obscure tribe in the south.
Well, you had some help. I smiled, Zuko's face suddenly filling my mind's eye. What would have happened if I'd never met him? Would I be sitting on the ice right now, listening to messengers tell me of the end of the war?
No. I didn't know how I knew, but I knew. It was no accident that I met the Fire Prince. If I hadn't... Perhaps there would not be such a happy ending. Closing my eyes, I imagined Zuko's warm gaze, his fingertips combing my hair, his voice, low and gentle when we spoke together.
Getting up from my place by the window, I sought him out.
He was standing by a window in one of the palace's many west-facing rooms. A warm, sunny breeze was blowing in from the sea, tossing his hair carelessly back from his face as he stared out at the ocean. The sunset was casting a golden glow on his skin, making him look almost ethereal as he watched the waves carry the last Water Tribe ship home.
"It's finally over." He whispered as I came forward to stand next to him. I wrapped my arm around his waist.
"Yes it is." I murmured.
Zuko turned from the window to face me. His gaze was soft. There was a look of great tiredness in his eyes, but also one of great relief. I laid my head against his chest, smiling with him in the gentle, quiet joy of the victory.
"It's taken a long time... but finally, the last traces of my father's cruelty are leaving this place." Zuko said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Now the land can start to heal. There will be nothing left to haunt us."
Zuko turned back to face the sea. But he didn't turn his whole body, just his face. It was then that I noticed the scar. I'd noticed it before, of course, but it had never bothered me, just served to heighten Zuko's mysterious past. But now, in glow of the setting sun, the wounded flesh seemed all the more painful.
"What about this?" I asked, my hand reaching up to stroke the hardened, reddened scar. He winced as I touched it. I knew it didn't hurt to stroke the burn. No, the pain came from being reminded of it.
"Katara, there's nothing that can be done about-"
I had planned this. No, I hadn't told myself outright that I would do this, but in the back of my mind, as I practiced water healing each morning, each time with a bigger scar, I'd known somehow, somewhere in the back of my mind, that eventually, we would both be ready...
The water was in my hand, bent from a small basin of drinking water on the table. It glowed in my hand, tingling with pent-up energy. Zuko stopped speaking and stared at me quizzically as I lifted my palm toward his face. Zuko backed away from my touch, confusion and apprehension flickering in his eyes as my hand drew nearer
"Trust me, Zuko." I said softly, placing my hand over his left eye, the scarred one. He gasped, but didn't move. I closed my eyes, focusing. It was true that over the past several month's worth of practicing, I'd grown more powerful in my water healing, but I'd still never attempted to heal something this traumatic. I'd need all of my energy.
It flowed from my body into the water, just as it did when I healed ordinary wounds, but this time the tingling was more pronounced, more intense. I heard Zuko's breath catch, felt his body tense.
I focused on the scar, my body thrumming with energy and force as I reminded the water that the scar was a wound. Just as I had with my own, I concentrated on the pain of the burning, imagining the agony of the searing, burning flesh, the suffering of the young man as his skin was melted away...
There was screaming. Whether it was mine or Zuko's I didn't know, so deep was I in concentration. My muscles were trembling and my teeth were gritted. I could hear them grind in my mouth. I poured myself into the healing, feeling my blood pound in my veins as every last part of me pushed to heal him.
Finally, with a gasp of breath, I let go. I could feel myself falling. I tried to stop myself, but I couldn't. Darkness hovered in front of my eyes and finally overtook my vision. I tried to look at Zuko to see if the healing had worked, but I was too exhausted. I had spent everything I had. I was unconscious before I even hit the ground.
I felt myself being scooped up into strong arms. Smiling, I nestled myself into Zuko's embrace, enjoying the warmth.
There was no warmth. Though strong, these arms did not emit the same familiar glow of heat that I had grown used to in Zuko's body. I opened my eyes quickly, blinking in the light of the setting sun.
"My Lady Katara! I am so glad to see that you're okay!" The overjoyed voice of a guard brought my eyes up to settle on his face. I recognized one of the palace guards, an earthbender who had fought with the rebel army.
"We were so worried! We heard a scream and..."
"Calm yourself, Makoto." Another guard said, entering the room with his sword drawn as he looked around for the cause of the scream. "We don't know what she's been through." Still a little dazed and tired, I hadn't gathered myself enough to try and explain. Suddenly, the guard with the sword yelled a shout of alarm.
"My Lord Zuko!" He knelt down. I followed his movements, and saw that Zuko had fallen to the floor, crumpled onto his left side. The healing must have knocked him unconscious as well. I stared at his motionless form.
I was dimly aware of Makoto's worried voice asking if I was okay, and what had happened, and if I'd been attacked, but I wasn't listening. I was watching in breathless awe as the second guard reached down to rouse Zuko. His hands were on the Fire Prince's shoulders as he called Zuko's name plaintively, begging him to get up. Then, he rolled Zuko onto his back.
The guard's mouth dropped in shock and disbelief, while mine widened in joy, as we both looked down at the clear, unmarked skin of Zuko's face.
His scar was gone.
Zuko stirred, his breathing quickening as he began to wake. Slowly, he opened his eyes.
"What... happened?" He said, sitting up and looking around. I felt tears gather in my eyes and I motioned to Makoto to put me down. I walked to him and knelt by his side, pulling him into my arms as I whispered softly in his ear.
"The last fingerprints of Ozai are gone." I said, and I felt Zuko take a sharp intake of breath in realization.
He didn't have to look in a mirror to know what had just happened.
"Thank you." He whispered.
Shimmering rays of sunlight danced through the many windows that lined the aisle leading to the altar. As I passed under each one, I felt as if I were being bathed in a blessing. I closed my eyes and clutched the bunch of peace lilies in my hands, delighting in the cool feel of their stems against my palms.
"Nervous?" My father whispered to me as he led me up the aisle. I grinned.
"No." I answered truthfully. He smiled and continued to walk with me up the long, golden carpet. I was aware of many eyes, and could hear appreciate gasps and murmurs from the hundreds of guests who had been invited to the wedding.
"Isn't she beautiful?" I heard an excited whisper somewhere to my left. I turned my head, but was met with only the glowing smiles of many, many people.
I blushed a little at the scrutiny of so many eyes. Growing up in a tiny village in the southern Water Tribes, I was still unused to the large population of the Fire Nation capital. I brought my focus forward, trying to forget the crowd.
My eyes alighted on the breath-taking sight of my future husband. Zuko stood at the altar, staring at me with eyes glowing with love and awe. A smile tugged my lips upward, and I soon forgot about the hundreds of staring faces. For me, there was only one other person in the room, and he was waiting for me to marry him.
My father left me at the altar, stepping back to let Zuko take his stand at my side. I smiled and placed my hands in his, comforted by their familiar warmth. The master of ceremonies began the marriage ritual, an amalgamation of both the Water Tribe and the Fire Nation rituals, praying for our eternal happiness and sprinkling us with water and circling us with flame. The ceremony lasted for what seemed to be less than a breath's time.
When it was over, I felt myself swept up into Zuko's arms as he placed a passionate kiss on my lips. A cheer went up from the audience, a thunderous roar that echoed in the walls of the palace and seemed to make the very floors shake. Then, I was being led from the wedding room and into the feasting room.
There was dancing and music and enough food to keep Sokka happy for days. At first, I was content to sit and watch the festivities, but then a pause in the music caused everyone to stop dancing as a new chord was struck. There was something familiar about the rhythm...
My mind was suddenly filled with memories of a distant place, a dark night, a blue dress, a village of a fortune teller. Suddenly, Zuko was standing, his hand outstretched in invitation.
"Dance with me." The same words he'd used so many months ago. I smiled and stood, easily slipping into his embrace and allowing him to lead me into the dancing circle.
It was not so hard to keep up with the steps this time, even in the long, flowing train of my dress. We swirled around the dance floor, a whirling, shimmering mix of red and blue, like a colorful ying-yang symbol. I would have danced the entire night if only the song hadn't ended. But it did, and a new tune was played.
A voice spoke behind me. "Excuse me, my lord, but it is customary in the Water Tribes for a man to have one dance with his daughter on the wedding day." My father said to Zuko, who reluctantly let go of my hands and allowed my father to step in. I watched the Fire Prince disappear in the crowd as my father led me into the dance.
"Don't look so forlorn! You will see him again! You are married now!" My father laughed.
"I'm not forlorn." I smiled. "I am happy to see you. I am glad you were able to make it."
"Able to make it? What makes you think I would miss the wedding of my little girl?" He asked, feigning hurt.
"Oh, I don't know." I teased "I thought maybe you'd just think it was another one of those wild rumors."
My father laughed. "You will never let me live that down, will you?"
I shook my head, smiling.
"Nothing could have kept me from attending today. That can be said for someone else, too." He said cryptically.
"Someone else? Who?"
"Gran-Gran!" I shouted, whirling to see if I could pick her out from among the many people.
"She is sitting at the table, drinking tea with an elderly gentleman. She is too tired from the journey to join in the dancing, but she would appreciate your company later." He smiled.
"I will go now!" I said excitedly, letting go of my father's hands and turning to leave the dance floor. In doing so, I almost ran straight into Aang, who was standing coyly behind me and blushing.
"Um.. Katara... Can I dance with... if you don't mind... you?" He rubbed the back of his head and gazed at the floor sheepishly. I smiled. As much as I wanted to see Gran-Gran, I couldn't disappoint Aang.
"Sure." I said, taking his hand and leading him to the floor. I had to teach him the complicated steps of the Fire Nation dance, but he caught on quickly.
"So what will you do now that the war is over?" I asked.
"Well, I still have to sit on the council and everything. You know, help solve agreements and stuff that will come up between the tribes and all that."
I nodded. That had been a part of the peace treaty. Zuko and I were not so foolish as to believe that arguments would not arise between the nations again in the future. A council comprising of representatives of each of the four nations, and the tribes and kingdoms within them, would work to solve the disputes before they turned into all-out war.
"Yeah, but council only meets once a moon. What will you do with the rest of your time?"
"Well... I want to go back to Aunt Wu's." Aang said, avoiding my eyes and blushing. "I'm going to stay with her for a while."
I smiled knowingly. Aang mistook the expression.
"It's not that I don't want to stay with you and Zuko in the palace, Katara!" Aang said hurriedly. "It's just that... that..."
"It's okay, Aang. I'll get over it." I said, trying to hide my smile to spare Aang any embarrassment.
"Great! Oh, and don't forget! I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling! I want to ride the fish again, and I'm going penguin sledding too! You can come too, if you want." He smiled cheekily up at me. Still so young... he didn't understand that soon my time would be filled with the complicated task of helping my husband run an entire country.
And I wouldn't have it any other way. Penguin sledding held much less appeal now than when I was younger, now that I knew what true love felt like. I would not have given up standing by Zuko's side if I'd had the chance to ride all the Kiyoshi fish in the world. But still, I was glad to see Aang finally get to live the childhood he'd never had.
"Thanks, Aang. I'll remember that." I smiled back.
"Hey, can a guy dance with is own sister anymore?" Suddenly, Sokka was beside me. Aang bowed to me and slipped off into the crowd. I embraced Sokka before letting him take my hands and lead me into an awkward imitation of the dance being performed.
"Did you like the wedding?" I asked.
"Oh yeah. It was great. I mean, it would have been better if Zuko wasn't there, but I guess you can't have everything you want in life, can you?" Sokka quipped.
"Oh, stop it!" I laughed. "You like Zuko, you just won't admit it."
"Yeah, well. I swear, Katara, if he does anything to make you upset or angry I'll take my boomerang and-"
"Zuko isn't going to hurt me, Sokka." I said, smiling gently. Sokka's shoulders slumped and he gave me a bit of a defeated grin.
"I know." He looked up, a genuine smile gracing his lips. "I'm glad you're happy, sis."
"I am, Sokka."
There was a pause for time, and I spoke up. "What about you? Are you going to stay at the palace? There is plenty for you to do."
Sokka shook his head. "I have other plans."
"Really?" I raised an eyebrow. This was the first time I'd heard anything about this. "What plans?"
"I'm heading out to Kiyoshi island."
"Kiyoshi? Why there?"
"I have some things to find there." He said cryptically. I was about to ask more, when Zuko stepped in.
"Excuse me, but my Uncle requests we sit with him for a while." Zuko said. Sokka bowed, no hostility in his face this time, as he looked at Zuko.
Zuko took my hand and led me to a low table lit with flickering candles. There sat Uncle Iroh. I smiled politely at him, and turned to face his companion. Sudden realization flashed through me, and I let out a very un-Fire Lady whoop of delight.
"Gran-Gran!" I shouted. Several faces turned to look at me, but I didn't care. I flew into her arms, delighting in the feel of her wrinkled skin pressing against my cheek.
"Katara! What a big girl you've become!" Gran-Gran smiled at me.
"Oh, I've missed you so much!" I said, pulling away to look into her eyes.
"And I, you." She smiled. Then, her eyes shifted and I felt a gentle warmth at my back. "Is this the young man I've heard so much about?" She asked. I smiled. She did not bow and kowtow to Zuko's title, for that was not Gran-Gran's way, and Zuko seemed to appreciate it.
"From what I hear, you've made a fine choice." Gran-Gran's eyes sparkled. "But I could have told them that." She said, with hidden wisdom. I sat beside her, holding her hand and just enjoying being near her again.
We talked for what seemed to be forever. I'd missed her grandmotherly wisdom, and delighted in hearing the rasp of her old voice. She and Iroh played off each other well, joking and spouting proverbs in perfect time. I smiled, feeling my heart overflow with the joy of the moment.
But even that had to come to an end. The sun was beginning to set, and the guests began to slowly leave. Gran-Gran gave a quick look out the window, and then straightened, looking me square in the eye.
"Now, Katara," She began, "I had the job of talking to your mother on the day of her wedding, and I shall have to be the one to talk to you, too." Suddenly, I felt very, very nervous. She wasn't going to... she wouldn't...
"On the wedding night of a man and woman, something very special happens." She began, her eyes twinkling mischievously.
"Oh, Gran-Gran, really, you don't have to." I held up my hands, half to stop her, half to shield myself. I heard Zuko snicker behind me.
"Listen to your Grandmother, Katara." Iroh spoke up, a wicked little gleam in his own eyes. "After all, Zuko is a firebender. You should know that they get very warm when-"
"Uncle, would you like some more tea?" Zuko said in a panic. It was my turn to snicker, now.
"Now, now, don't be shy. It's perfectly natural." Gran-Gran giggled like a school girl.
"I really should be going now. I can't wait to get out of this dress." I tried to change the subject, but realized too late that it was a wrong choice of words. A very wrong choice of words.
"Don't worry, young lady. I'm sure Zuko feels the same way about you getting out of your dress."
"We're going now." Zuko said, pulling me away from the table and from the laughing old people.
We stayed a while longer, saying goodbye to all the guests who had come to wish us well. It was good to celebrate with friends and family. It was good to laugh, after all those years of fear and worry and war. Oh, it was so good.
"Don't drop me."
"Have I ever dropped you?"
"Then don't worry."
"I'm not worried." I said. It was true. I wasn't worried...
...I was nervous. But it wasn't the same sort of nervous you might get on the eve of battle, or before making a speech in front of many people. This was a different kind of nervous. It was like when I'd been a child, waiting for the Festival of Winter Solstice, when the villagers would gather and exchange gifts. It was like that, only multiplied a hundred times.
It was a kind of happy anticipation, tingling under my skin and causing tiny tremors in my muscles. I wondered if Zuko could feel it. He was, after all, carrying me. He'd insisted on it as we came to the little cabin overlooking the sea.
It had been lavishly decorated for us, with draping silk everywhere and flower petals scattered over the floor and on the bed. Goblets and a pitcher were set on a table by the bed, along with some sugary-looking food. Zuko set me down on the soft sheets, and I could smell the intoxicating scent of perfumed water rise from the mattress.
Would you like something to drink? He asked. I licked my lips, suddenly realizing how dry they were. I nodded and watched as he straightened and walked over to the pitcher, pouring out a honey-colored liquid into one of the goblets and handing it to me.
Putting the goblet to my lips, I took a tentative sip. I smiled at the flavor. It was sweet, just as its coloring promised, and tasted faintly of spice. I drank deeply, letting the spices heat my skin and the honey add a tingling of energy to my muscles.
Zuko stood and walked to the wardrobe as he began the chore of stripping off the many layers of his ceremonial robes. They seemed burdensome to me, but I realized they could not be worse then the hot, heavy armor he'd used to wear. I laid back and watched him undress of the heavy robes until he was only in his silk tunic and pants.
I smiled, remembering that first day I'd seen him in the outfit, the day when Aang had defeated him and we'd had to take off his armor to make carrying him back to camp easier. How long ago that seemed now.
I'd wanted little to do with him then, but now...
In only his tunic and pants, his muscles rippling noticeably beneath the fabric, I remembered the many nights we'd shared together at the earthbender fortress. The night he'd saved me from the cold sickness, the nights we'd held each other in the dark, not wanting to acknowledge our need for each other, but relishing in the touch anyway. A wordless longing had been born then, a longing that had grown into a pounding, rushing need.
I felt that need pressing down on me now. It washed over me, as urgent and undeniable as a tsunami crashing against the shore. We'd held back for so long, careful not to violate the honor of marriage, but now there was nothing to hold us back. Nothing but some silk.
Silk that was now clinging to Zuko's sculpted body in all the right places. I felt my heart speed up, hammering in my chest as my skin tingled with an electricity penetrated straight down into my core. I loved this man... and I wanted him.
I got up from the bed and walked over slowly, enjoying the painful feel of anticipation. Zuko turned to me, placing his goblet on the table, and just in time. I put both hands on his shoulders and pushed him against the wall, pressing him there with my body weight. I stared hard at Zuko, and he understood.
Our mouths met in hungry, hot kisses. Zuko responded to my need with a moan of pleasure, pressing back. His hands reached around my waist and began tugging at the lacing of the delicate wedding dress.
Following his lead, I placed my hands on his chest and began to unbutton the tunic, letting it fall to hit the floor. I felt it fall around my ankles, a cloud of silk, its precious value ignored and unwanted at the moment. My hands followed the muscular lines of Zuko's chest. Growling with hunger, Zuko lifted me off my feet and carried me in his arms to the bed.
Once again lying on the sheets, I looked up at my lover, who was crawling forward, his body hovering just inches from mine, his breath caressing my cheek, smelling of the spiced honey mixture.
The last few rays of sunlight mingled with the silver light of the already-risen moon and cast the room in a dim, sultry light. I brought my hand up, brushing Zuko's now-unmarked cheekbone and smiled at the softness. Leaning into my touch, his lips came down on mine.
My hands landed on his stomach, the muscles tightening in pleasure at my touch.
A little lower, and I was at his waistband. A tremor ran through me as I tugged at the drawstring, loosening the waistband.
The last sound I heard was the swish of silk falling to the floor before my world dissolved into ecstacy.
It is said in that on the night of the wedding, the fires in every hearth across the kingdom blazed with such intensity that many families had to put them out in fear that the heat would consume the house.
It is also said that on that night, the sea pounded against the shore with such strength that the booming of it could be heard three day's journey inland.
No one knows if these legends and rumors are true, but two things are for certain. One is that in every legend there is a grain of truth.
The second is even more certain:
On that night, Fire and Water became one.
That night marked the first of many nights filled with peace and happiness for all the nations. War would no longer ravish homes with fear, the blood of young men and women would no longer stain the ground. A new day had dawned, marking the end of a time when the world had tread on Dangerous Ground.
So, that's it:-) I do so hope you've enjoyed it! You, my dear readers, have been the driving force behind the story. You have been an incredible encouragement and a blessing to me as I wrote this. I cannot thank you enough for your support and incredible reviews. Please remember that I am always up for a chat. Email, AIM, or my website are all ways you can reach me if you want to talk about writing, the color of the sky, or whatever suits your fancy.
This fic has been incredibly fun to write. Why wouldn't it? It combines two of my favorite things: Avatar and writing:-)
But I do have one thing that I love more than both: My Savior.
I'm not talking about a life guard, although you could call him that. I'm talking about Jesus. Don't worry! I don't go bashing people about the heads with Bibles, lol. I'm open minded, and willing to talk about Christianity, your religion, or whatever, whenever you feel like it. Do you have a question about God? Or about this Christianity stuff you've heard about? Please, send me an email, ping me on AIM, or drop a comment at my xanga. I promise you two things: an open mind, and acceptance that you may believe differently than me. I'm here to answer whatever question you can come up with, without judgement or fear of ridicule.
Thank you again, all of you, for your incredible support and reviews. You people are wonderful, and I hope you liked Dangerous Ground. Give yourselves a hand, you, the readers, are the heros and heroines of this story!