Stuck in an Igloo With You
An Avatar: The Last Airbender Katara x Zuko fanfiction.
Comments: Given the very nature of the story there will be some OOC-ness, although hopefully not to an unbearable extent. Major warning is some language although no gratuitous cursing. My one-shot is pretty much based off the (fairly non-existent in canon) tension between Zuko and Katara. Because you just know they're dying to get with each other. (Okay, enough with the jokes. I know there's not a terrible lot of canon support but I only have 7 days. I'm going to ask for a huge favor from you to kind of suspend your beliefs for a few minutes. Thanks). Oh and this is transposed three years in the future (Katara 17, Zuko 19) and somewhere near the end of Book One: Water.
Day 1: The Blizzard
Zuko had quickly learnt, as a newly-exiled fourteen-year-old, to blame his uncle Iroh for pretty much everything that went wrong.
Everything. If something went wrong, then it had something to do with round, tea-drinking, game-playing, extravagantly-spending, constantly-shopping Uncle Iroh. Said uncle was quite genial and often took his young ward's accusations against him lightly, treating the adolescent as…
Well…as an adolescent. And that was what got on now nineteen-year-old Prince Zuko's nerves. After all, while he may physically be only nineteen, surely he had been through more than many men? And certianly his mental capacity was far greater than others' (just look at the Water Tribe buffoon who hangs around the Avatar), wasn't it?
That old hurt rankled but Zuko loved his Uncle more than anyone else he had met. Which wasn't saying much actually. But when Zuko loved it was sincere, and he truly had no one else after his father exiled him to this hellish existence of ships and sailing and sailors and fruitless attempts to catch the Avatar.
However, that was not the issue at hand. The more immediate problem was the thick curtain of snow that had suddenly started to fall. Living in the Fire Nation had given Zuko precious little experience in the area of cold places in which such things were common, and even less experience when it came to actually surviving in the snowstorm. His travels had led to the snowy poles of course, but that was different—he'd always been in some sort of civilization (Although those Water Tribe peasants hardly count, he thought uncharitably).
So Zuko solved this problem the only way he knew how: curse out his uncle.
It had been Iroh's fucking stupid plan to have Zuko go on a solo operation to obtain more information on the Avatar. It had been Iroh's decision to do it now and here in a fucking cold and unfamiliar place. It had been Iroh who thought "Gee, wouldn't it be lovely to have a blizzard and obscure Zuko's view?" Maybe not that last one, Zuko thought fairly, relieved by his session of anger, but close enough.
Zuko sent more of his inner fire to his fingers, toes, and nose, the coldest parts of his body. Fire was powerful, but the thickness and copiousness of the snow made it ineffectual to try and blast his way through. Besides, Firebending right now would take away precious energy that he would need to conserve.
The snow would not let up.
It was not any sort of beautiful.
Prince Zuko snorted. A small burst of fire hissed as it hit the cold air. And on top of everything else I'm turning into a dragon.
Zuko turned. His footprints were already obliterated. Everything was white as far as he could see.
Katara huddled into herself as far as she could, scooting closer to Aang and Sokka. Although wrapped in her thick parka and armed with an upbringing in the South Pole, this blizzard was one of the worst she'd ever seen. It was all well and good if they were just in one place, but poor Appa was getting confused by the unrelieved white everywhere. Even the usually calm Avatar was feeling the chill of the snowstorm.
A particularly strong gust of wind succeeded in pushing Appa to the side, so that the great flying bison hovered on his side for a moment, his six legs and huge flat tail working furiously to turn over, while his three passengers and Momo struggled to remain in the saddle.
Things were not looking good.
Katara glanced up at the sky—mistake. She blinked her eyes rapidly against the onslaught of snow (which was deceptively soft; individually each flake was a sharp ice crystal) and managed to catch a glimpse of the clouds. They were stubbornly grey and it didn't seem as though they would change anytime soon. Despite the strong gusts of wind Katara couldn't see any cloud that was not heavy with the burden of snow.
She lowered her head again, the wind forcing Katara's long chestnut braid to beat against her face like a whip.
"I think we're going in circles!" Aang shouted, just managing to have himself heard over the brutal whistling of the wind.
Katara had a feeling that Aang was right, but it was impossible to tell. Appa was losing his air and was lowering ever-nearer to the surface. The snow must come up at least to my thigh, Katara thought wonderingly. And she wasn't even short.
All three companions knew that if Appa were to land it would be disaster. The faithful animal groaned in protest as Aang yip-yipped, trying to keep Appa at least a foot or so above the rapidly growing snow cover.
And then another fist of air punched Appa cruelly in his left underbelly, so that he turned onto his side again.
And this time, Katara couldn't help it.
With a scream, she fell off Appa's back and landed in the snow.
Zuko thought he heard what sounded like a young woman's scream, but he couldn't be sure. He was rapidly losing energy slogging in the knee-deep snow. The effort of keeping his extremities from freezing black with his internal fire didn't help his energy levels either. He shivered and pressed on.
He thought he saw something in the distance—wait, not the distance, the figure was really close actually—a blue parka, a flash of brown rapidly diluted by white. Zuko thought to speed up but he couldn't feel any progress.
Hardly noticing it, Zuko collapsed.
It took Katara only a few minutes to get up, although the effort was so great she could barely manage it. The snow came up to her waist.
She scanned the skies, knowing it would be useless. Aang and Sokka would try but there was no way they'd find her in this blizzard. She couldn't see them at all. At this point the wind probably had more of a say in which direction Appa would go than Aang or the Appa himself.
Katara chastised herself for being such a ninny. Wasn't she a Waterbender? She hadn't quite mastered state conversions, but how hard could they be?
Famous last words.
As Katara soon found out, her inexpert attempts at bending the snow into liquid water required a lot of energy and concentration, with very little results. However, she did succeed in making it a little easier to walk.
At the price that the water seeped into her clothes and made her numb toes curl in her boots.
While Katara was thus attempting to make her way to some sort of shelter, she came across something quite solid that she hadn't seen.
Bending down close, she unburied the solid object only to find the familiar red scar of Prince Zuko.
What's he doing here? Katara thought as she hurriedly checked his pulse. Good…still breathing… But she didn't like his color. He was starting to turn blue and though Katara liked the color blue, she knew it wasn't particularly pretty ringing someone's mouth and fingernails.
"Hey—wake up!" Katara yelled, trying to drag the Prince upright. She managed to melt the snow around the two by turning it into water, and after a few moments Zuko's eyes opened.
So cold… was all he could think. He registered a pair of concerned blue eyes just inches from his own and the shock of that was enough to make Zuko struggle to get to his feet.
"Oh. It's you," Zuko managed, although his lips felt curiously stiff and he was forming his words a little oddly.
"What are you doing here?" Katara demanded. Then: "Never mind that. Can't you help me? You're a Firebender, aren't you?"
"First things first, girl," Zuko said, and he searched for the last reserves of his inner fire. The blizzard seemed to have been very effective at tamping it. He sent it to his skin so that his mouth and fingers and toes and face warmed.
He concentrated, and with a deep breath brought a fireball to his hands that was powerfull enough to melt them a path a few feet in length. But he couldn't keep doing this.
"Quickly," Katara instructed, but she let Zuko go first so that he could burn a path. But soon enough he had to admit defeat.
He was feeling faint. Having run out of his fire he had poured some of his life-energy into his hands, shaping that into fire that could melt a clear pathway.
For the second time, Zuko collapsed, this time into Katara's slim arms.
Day 2: The Igloo
When Zuko awoke, he found himself curiously warm. He tried to sit up, still feeling very weak, but felt an arm pushing down on his chest.
"Watch out," said Katara in a warning tone. "We don't have a lot of room here."
Zuko looked around. He was in a very small space, surrounded by a dome of white—was it snow? But it felt fairly warm—at least, he wasn't shivering nearly as much as he had yesterday—and ouch.
His whole body was aching, from the incessant pounding in his head to the stiffness of his feet. The Water Tribe girl seemed to have a trace of amusement on her face as she observed the wince on his face. Does she dare to laugh at me? Prince Zuko thought with derision but he was too weak and too cold to do too much more about this affront than to attempt a cutting glare.
"Where are we?" Zuko asked after a few moments.
Katara shrugged. "Somewhere in the middle of this desert." She moved her hand in a narrow range to indicate the white dome they were encapsulated in. "I built an igloo with the help of my bending after you passed out." She looked at him inscrutably.
"Stubborn idiot, using your life-force…" she muttered.
Ah. So that's what had happened.
"What's an…igloo?" Zuko asked, in the most uninterested voice he could muster. He decided to conveniently forget about his moment of weakness.
"It's a temporary housing structure," Katara replied. "We learned when we were children how to build them—you have to know how to live in the South Pole."
Zuko nodded. There were a few more moments of tense silence before Katara spoke again.
"What were you doing here?" she demanded. "Shouldn't you be off on some ship, searching for the Avatar?"
"That's what I was doing, before this damned blizzard interrupted," Zuko snapped. He wasn't about to divulge the full story to this peasant girl. Bad enough that he probably owed her for saving his life.
"Well, you're lucky that I happened to be by," Katara said, but there was a note of grimness in her voice. "We're in the middle of nowhere. And it's still snowing."
"So…what? We're going to be here until the snow clears and someone comes for us?" Zuko said, allowing irritation but not panic into his voice.
"If we don't freeze to death first," Katara replied calmly. "And you're not going to be able to Bend for another few days at least," she added, anticipating Zuko's next thoughts.
Zuko, who mulishly tried to produce some fire, did indeed feel very faint again. He growled in frusration.
Iroh would never hear the end of this.
"So what are you doing here anyway?" Zuko asked. "Or were you just lost?"
Katara ignored the barb. But she blushed slightly with embarrassment. She was not going to tell the arrogant Prince Zuko, a.k.a Chief Arch-nemesis, that she'd fallen off a flying bison. "I don't think you need to know that," Katara replied with as much dignity as she could gather.
"You probably fell off your overgrown beast," Zuko guessed with the most contemptuous smirk in his arsenal.
"For your information I did not," Katara said, fighting to keep the blush from her face. "I should think you'd be more properly grateful to the person who saved your life. Or did they not teach you manners in that palace of yours?" she shot back.
Zuko was ready to breathe fire, and he felt himself firing up. But he still wasn't strong enough so he settled for yet another glare.
Prince Zuko, Katara noticed, had quite an extensive collection of glares, smirks, and sneers. He probably spends his spare time developing each one, Katara thought. In fact she began to doubt he even had the physical capability to smile.
Silence fell. Zuko could hear the whistling of the wind through the cracks in the snow-blocks that made up the igloo. Katara was determinedly not looking at him, but there was precious little to do in the confined space. Zuko fell to observing what little he could see of her, although for the most part she was covered up by her thick blue parka. I could really use one right about now, Zuko thought, eyeing the fur and cloth garment enviously.
"Cold?" Katara asked at that moment, as though she had somehow read his mind.
"No," Zuko said untruthfully, but whatever he lacked in strict honesty he more than made up for in pridefulness.
"Well of course not—you're a Firebender, aren't you? And Firebenders never get cold," Katara replied sarcastically. She was a Waterbender, but she had picked up very quickly on the particular hamartia of the Fire Nation. The pride and arrogance, perfectly personified by Prince Zuko, annoyed her. It was through that very same pride that the whole stupid war had started in the first place.
"You're right. We don't," Zuko said contemptuously, smirking. "Unlike you Water peasants…having to wear so many layers of clothes you have the figure of a ten-year-old boy…"
Oops. Maybe he'd gone just a little too far, if the murderous look in Katara's narrowed blue eyes was any indication.
Why was he even looking? Katara thought, trying to come up with a suitable retort. Then again…I haven't traveled with Aang and Sokka for nothing…all adolescent boys are the same…
"Fine," said Katara huffily. "But if you're shivering tonight then I'll laugh."
"Ooooh, now I'm so scared, a little girl is going to laugh at me!" was Zuko's sarcastic rejoinder.
"Well you should be, because if your fingers and toes freeze black then I'm not going to help!" Katara said, incensed.
Zuko simply gave her his archest look (which, by the way, was quite arch; it must have been another expression he spent a few hours each day cultivating), but inside he was slightly worried. No, she can't not help someone, it's in her weak Water Tribe nature. She took me here in the first place…
A few more hours passed in silence. Then all of a sudden a clawing emptiness was in his abdomen, his stomach writhing with desire for food. He looked around, but there was nothing edible in sight. His stomach growled, loudly, and Katara glanced down at it with a giggle.
"Hungry?" she asked, with a raised eyebrow.
"No, I've got a tiger in my body that I've trained to roar at my command," Zuko said, his sarcasm bringing Katara's eyebrows back down.
"Eat snow," she said shortly.
"Excuse me?" Zuko said after a moment. Surely she wasn't going to deprive him food…? Maybe she was crueler than she seemed…..
"Does it look as though I've got a whole kitchen here?" Katara snapped. "All we have is snow." She demonstrated by taking her hands out of their sleeves, dipping them into the packed snow underneath them and then putting the handful of snow in her mouth. Her face contracted for a moment with the unexpected cold, as she felt a vein of ice sear up through her face. But then she swallowed and smiled widely. "It's not that bad," Katara said encouragingly, seeing Zuko's slightly disbelieving expression.
Zuko, however, was a prince, and although he had lived the past few years on a ship he hadn't been eating the wormy meal biscuits the common soldiers ate. It wasn't exactly palace food but the ship's cook was very good and their frequent stops at ports (usually commanded by General Iroh) meant that Zuko and the other upper-class officers ate fairly well.
So he wasn't going to eat common snow.
"You don't expect me to eat snow with my hands like a…like a peasant, do you?" Zuko asked arrogantly.
"Fine! Starve!" Katara flared. She repressed a scream of frustration. Zuko's slightly amused look only incensed her farther. He was the only one who could so easily drive her to irritation, even anger, and she hated that he had that power over her. So she turned the tables on him and gave him her best glare. Which was pretty good. Her liquid blue eyes hardened to chips of ice and Zuko's smirk faded as he almost felt himself being cut by the hardness in them.
But he recovered quickly. He opened his mouth to speak again but Katara held up a hand to stop him.
"Please," she said, in a voice of determined calm. "I don't know how long it's going to be before anyone finds us or before this storm ends. So in the mean time let's try to be civil with each other?"
Zuko, after a moment's reflection, quieted. It wasn't because he was trying to be nice or anything, or because he took requests from peasants seriously. He had to admit that the girl was right. As much as it begrudged him to acknowledge it, if he ended up burning the girl out of a moment's anger then he would be even worse off than he was at that point. At least she was useful as a Waterbender; she wouldn't be any good to him as a corpse.
Katara had quickly cooled off—although that might have had more to do with the weather than her feelings actually warming towards the prince. She noticed him fall back asleep after a few moments of their argument. Good…he should sleep…he'll recover faster that way…
In the meantime, Katara was collossally bored. Zuko annoyed her to no end—not to mention he was her worst enemy. Always after the Avatar. She looked at him, at the scar that spread over a third of his face. He was a true Fire Nation heir.
She wanted the stupid war to end, and she wanted the pain of her past and the pain of the thousands of others around the world to stop. Why can't you do that? she silently asked the sleeping young man who was really quite close to her.
Katara sighed and leaned back against the solid wall of the igloo she had built. Her parka kept her warm…relatively, at least. Although she was sitting up with her knees drawn up to her chin and her back pressed against the sloping wall of the dome she too fell asleep.
Day 3: Warm hands, cold heart?
Katara didn't know how long she and Zuko would be inside the confinement, but the relentless wind told her that the storm was for from over. She sighed. She'd heard of blizzards like this, that could last days and days….
Zuko was amusing himself by building small snowmen and then melting them with his newly-regained Firebending powers. Katara shook her head over the juvenile antics of it all. Guess he isn't as high-and-mighty as he seems to be, she thought. She also saw him glance longingly at the snow balls, and Katara knew he was dying of hunger. She'd had enough experience with adolescent boys to know that the slightest hunger pang was always at the very top of their list of priorities.
But she also knew that Zuko's prodigous pride would not be overcome no matter how hungry he was. Boys… she thought with a small grin, and conspicuously pretended to go to sleep so that Zuko could eat without feeling humiliated. In reality she kept her eyes opened to the narrowest slit and she saw that indeed, the minute Zuko was sure she was really asleep he stuffed a handful of snow into his mouth.
It was quite an uphill battle to fight the giggle that formed in her throat as she saw Zuko's face freeze for a moment in an expression of shock as the cold fluffy substance melted in his mouth and for the first time Zuko too felt the odd burning of cold flame in his face.
"Owwww," he muttered, gripping his head tightly.
Katara couldn't help herself. She laughed. She laughed so hard she snorted and Zuko's face morphed into anger.
"You pretended!" he raged, even more irritated by her laughter at his expense. No one, but no one, laughed at Prince Zuko.
"N—no, really, it happens to—to everyone…" Katara gasped. It felt good to laugh. Katara was a naturally sunny and happy girl and laughter came to her easier than tears. Unfortunately, in the last year she'd had precious little to laugh about.
Zuko was put out about the girl's mirth, but his teeth were aching from the snow and he didn't feel his insides had quite recovered. So he setteld for yet another glare, but Katara was actually in a good mood. Despite the confinement, despite the cold, despite the fact that she was stuck with the man who had been chasing her and her friends for the past year, she actually felt okay. She felt good, in fact.
Her laughter faded as she realized that in a way the cause of her good humor was actually said young man.
She wasn't going to deny it. In their adventures she'd had some time to know him, and although his chief object was their demise he didn't seem like a particularly cruel individual. There had been moments, when Zuko was close to her, when she'd felt goosebumps on her skin. And when her heart had beat just a little faster. And when her breath had come just a little shallower. Like the time that he held her mother's necklace over her neck, Zuko's voice whispering in her ear, the tips of his long pale fingers grazing her cool neck…Katara had hated herself for thinking, in that wild moment, about the physical pleasures he could inflict on that neck with those very same fingers.
I'm such a foolish girl… she chastised herself. The most important object of the quest was so that Aang, the Avatar, could master the remaining two elements and bring peace to the world, not for Katara to have a relationship with their enemy.
"Why…why are you doing this?" Katara asked, after a long while of silence.
"I'm bored, stuck here with you," Zuko said, as he blasted yet another small snowman.
Katara rolled her eyes, not sure if Zuko was really that obtuse or if he was really avoiding the question. "You know, it's not like I woke up a few days ago and said 'Gee, I'd just love to be stuck with arrogant Prince of the Fire Nation who—oh, by the way—is out to kill me and my friends'!" Katara said angrily. "So don't keep acting like it's all my fault!"
"Well, it is," Zuko said matter-of-factly, with a shrug of his shoulders. "You didn't have to bring me here. You could just as easily have left me outside in the snow."
"You know very well I couldn't have," she said. "Maybe that's something you would have done—but I was not raised to leave people alone and helpless."
"I wasn't helpless," Zuko snapped. "And I wouldn't have left you," he muttered.
Katara was quiet.
Shit, Zuko, he mentally cursed. What the hell did you just say? Way to go…now she's going to think you're weak, weak enough to defeat… "Forget it," he mumbled. "Forget I said anything…"
Katara still didn't say anything, and Zuko determinedly avoided looking at her. He didn't want to see the expression captured in her maddening eyes. Oh, how Zuko hated those eyes! He hated how they held her every thought, how they shone with happiness and how they hardened in anger, how big and blue they were. He hated every time he had to be near her, hated every time they had touched, if even accidentally.
He hated it.
He hated it for the way it made him feel, like no dignified Prince should feel about a common Water peasant who was, moreover, the enemy. They had met plenty of times, in the course of their adventures, they had met and talked. And Zuko felt his inner fire flare just ever-so-slightly. And he hated that it wasn't so bad to be in this tiny space with her, and he hated that he had once dreamt of her (just the once, swear), and he hated that he, once or twice, had actually looked forward to seeing her.
Despite the fact that he was doing his best to burn her, and she was doing her best to freeze him.
So it was a good thing that Zuko definitely hated her.
More silence. More wind threatening to blow the igloo over.
"Are you sure this thing is stable?" Zuko demanded, after a particularly vicious howl of wind.
"Yes, quite," Katara replied in arctic tones. Ouch, Zuko thought, that's colder than it is in here… The silence was becoming unbearable now: although Katara didn't particularly want to talk to Zuko, but she tried again anyway.
"I mean this, the whole war," said Katara, tracing a circle in the snow floor with her finger. "Why don't you want to stop all this death and destruction?"
Zuko frowned. This was exactly what he'd been hoping she wouldn't have asked. "I don't have to explain myself to a Water Tribes peasant," he snapped.
"Aaargh!" Katara fairly screamed. "What is it with you and calling me Water Tribes peasant all the time? My name is Katara and as far as I can tell I have more manners than you do, Prince Zuko! It's all your stupid nation's fault that my tribe is almost wiped out! So don't go around pretending like you're so much better than me!"
Her violent outburst was one of very few. It took Zuko by shock and he stared at her, for once rendered silent, while even Katara's eyes widened slightly at her vehemence.
"You're not that different from us," Zuko said quietly, scrutinizing her carefully. "You're so easily roused to anger—that's stereotypically a Firebender characteristic." Katara remained silent, although she mentally acknowledged his words as true. She couldn't believe she'd let him get to her like that.
"Sorry," she muttered, a little while later. "It's just—" she raised her eyes briefly to lock with Zuko's before dropping her gaze—"we're stuck here and—you get on my nerves but…I didn't mean to yell, it's just this stress and this confinement."
Even more silence, not that Zuko and Katara weren't expecting it. They were so close to each other, just by the confines of the igloo.
"I don't have much of a choice," Zuko said quietly, a while later. He hardly knew how long it was before he cut through the silence with his voice like a knife. He just knew that the silences between them were unbearable, that they made it seem an ocean of distance between them rather than just a few inches. He didn't want to admit that he didn't want to be away from her.
"It is my honor, my birthright, to capture the Avatar," Zuko continued, and although he tried so hard Katara could not feel that the pride was sincere. "I will have him killed so that my father, the Fire Lord Ozai, can become the supreme ruler."
Yes, yes, I know all that, Katara thought impatiently. But she liked Zuko talking to her more than proving a point to him, so she stayed quiet. "But why not just…let Aang master the other two elements and bring peace?" Katara asked softly. "What's the point behind this war? Don't tell me no one you have know hasn't died!"
"The point? The point is to win," Zuko said. A true warrior's answer, an answer indoctrinated into every Fire child from birth. "The war was started a hundred years ago, and no one has stopped us yet."
Katara decided to let it go for now. She rubbed her hands together rapidly, trying to heat them up. From the sounds of it the blizzard still hadn't let up and of course Sokka and Aang couldn't come until the snow had cleared. She hoped they, at least, had made it to safety….
Zuko noticed her rubbing her hands and blowing onto them, and something that came from his lower abdomen made him turn to her and say, "Give me your hands."
Katara stopped trying to warm them and looked at him with some measure of shock. "S-sorry, what?" she said, no too brightly.
"Your hands," Zuko repeated impatiently. "They're cold, aren't they? I'm a Firebender, I can warm them up for you."
Zuko reached over and drew Katara's slim brown hands into his own, sending more of his fire into his hands so they transferred the heat into Katara's. He heard her sigh in relief as the circulation came back into her fingers. Slowly his thumbs described circles on the backs of her hands. Her eye were closing. Of course the motion wasn't necessary for his Firebending but her skin was so smooth under his calloused palms and fingers.
It was perhaps only five minutes before Katara fell asleep and her hands slipped through Zuko's like water, although to Zuko and Katara it certainly felt a lot longer, the time their hands were clasped.
Day Four: Getting a little 'friendly,' are we?
I should never have done that nope no way so should not have done that why did I do that?
That was going through both Katara's and Zuko's heads after they'd both slept. If their bodies were not off in their natural rhythms then they'd been in confinement for about four days.
But right now they were extremely embarrassed. Zuko wondered why he had even offered. Katara wondered why she'd let him.
Not as though there was anything tender in the gesture. Zuko was just repaying Katara for rescuing him. He was nothing if not honorable, and he never left his debts unpaid. And Katara was just keeping her hands from freezing—really it was only in self-preservation.
Silently they both ate some snow for breakfast, and Katara smoothed the gound again with her bending.
The wind outside didn't seem to be as loud, and after some time Katara spoke up.
"Could you just…melt a small hole for me to see through?" she murmured, not looking at Zuko. He complied without nodding or speaking and sent a fire jet that just barely missed Katara, but that made a nice round peephole through which Katara could see that indeed, the snow seemed to be just a little less dense than usual.
She shivered and quickly covered the hole back up.
"It seems better," Katara reported. "I think we might be able to get out of here in a few more days." Inwardly Zuko groaned; he didn't want to be here any longer with the girl. In order to prevent more incidences like last night's if nothing else.
Zuko returned to his favorite pasttime of building snowmen and melting them. Katara fell to observing him as he blasted the poor helpless snowmen. Nonetheless, the constant bursts of fire kept the igloo a little warmer than usual. His narrow gold eyes were glinting in concentration, and his dark ponytail swung down to form a black parenthesis against his pale cheek. Hair had started to grow back around that ponytail, since he hadn't had his barber in the past five or six days.
She felt a random but intense desire at that moment to place her cool hand on the scarred burn that spread across a third of his face and try to bring him some relief from the pain of it but her logic quickly tamped down that idea. Where did that come from? Katara wondered. It was probably just because she was a healer, and healers were born to try and help people.
Katara had to keep her hands busy. She also built snow people, an entire village of snowpeople. There were short ones and tall ones and she even carved out crude facial features to differentiate between them. Her snowfigures weren't just three spheres on top of each other, but her childhood growing up in the South Pole had taught her to form sculptures out of the snow.
Katara sighed. That was where she should be. At home, with Sokka and Gran-gran and while she was dreaming, her father and her mother. And the war should never have happened and she and everyone else should all be happy right now.
And it was all his fault that she was stuck in an igloo with him. Well, not entirely his own fault. But definitely his nation's fault. And it wasn't as though Zuko was doing anything special to stop his father from trying to kill the Avatar.
All of a sudden a wayward fire blast melted half her village. "Hey!" Katara said, her eyes flashing. "It wasn't enough for you the first time, when you came into my tribe and wiped out so many people? It wasn't enough for you to kill my mother and my father and half the others? You have to do this again to my snowpeople? Why did you even start this stupid war in the first place? Why aren't you trying to stop it, Zuko? Why—"
"Shut up!" Zuko yelled, and his hands flared with fire. "You think you know every single fucking thing about me? Well you don't! You're not as clever as you think you are and you have no fucking clue what this whole war is about!"
"Well, do you?" Katara challenged him.
Zuko looked away. "I wasn't the one who killed your mother and father," he said after a few moments. "Even you must know that." He remained silently for a long time afterwards. "It will mean my restored honor and my reclaimed birthright, to capture the Avatar," he continued quietly. "I can come home from exile and prove my worth to my father."
"But…but surely…Zuko, the rest of the world will be a better place without the war!" Katara said, somewhat desperately. "You don't even know why your nation started it in the first place."
"Power and land, power and land," the exiled prince replied readily. "I don't…I mean, I will win and I will reclaim my father's love."
"If you have to compete for your father's love then he's a bad father and hardly worth it," said Katara softly. She'd heard that the Fire Lord Ozai was the one who'd given Zuko the burn and she wondered why he still wanted to be with his father. She certainly missed her own…but her father had been so kind and warm and loving….
"No," Zuko said in a determined voice, "no, that is not true."
Katara gave a short laugh. "The person you love most is your uncle," she said. "And he loves you too. That's what love is. It's when…you shouldn't have to pass a sort of test to be considered worthy of it." She smiled softly and the expression brightened her every feature. "I love Aang just as I love Sokka, and I know they love me too—just like you and your uncle love each other and I know you would do anything for each other."
"How would you know?" Zuko muttered.
Katara laughed, this time with a little more mirth than the last time. "You've been chasing us for a while, I've gotten a chance to see," she said.
There was yet another long stretch of silence, unbroken by any attempts by Zuko to melt more snowmen, or by the wind still blowing outside. Zuko was surprised, and even a little scared, at how well she seemed to know him, and how much he actually didn't dislike having her talk. And what's more, how she talked about him, and how true what she said actually was.
"Do you mind if I—" Katara said suddenly, as she unfolded her legs and stretched them out. They crossed with Prince Zuko's own but he didn't say anything. "Mmmmm," Katara murmured. "I can't wait until we can get out of here and I can walk again…."
"You couldn't have just built a bigger igloo in the first place?" Zuko asked peevishly.
Katara shrugged. "I could have, and you could have frozen to death. And besides, a larger igloo would not have kept us this warm." Unfortunately, she chose that very moment to shiver quite conspiciously.
"What are you shivering for, you've got a parka!" Zuko said, a little irritated.
"Well, you're a Firebender, I thought you could make yourself warmer!" Katara countered. "But…it is rather chilly in here and…I could share my coat with you—if you gave me some of your fire…."
Not this again…
Katara unzipped her coat, revealing the thin blue robes underneath that clung to the soft curves of her body, lying smooth over a flat stomach. Zuko swallowed. His single-minded goal of capturing the Avatar had left him a bit…uneducated…in some other areas of a normal teenage existence. She scooted close to him so their shoulders were touching, her left to his right, and she flung her coat over the both of them.
Zuko's body had immediately warmed at the contact—heated quickly, in fact, and he desperately hoped he wasn't blushing. He wasn't going to act as though he'd never had intimate contact with a female before, even if that was the truth.
"Aaaaah," Katara sighed, leaning closer into him. "This is so much better…."
How could she be so oblivious to the fact that she was leaning on his shoulder? Zuko wondered in some alarm. "You do know you're sharing your coat with the person who wants to kill you and your friends, don't you?" said Zuko in a low voice. "You do know that I could burn you to a crisp right now and wait for your brother and the Avatar to come for you and then capture them?"
"No, I don't know," said Katara. "I don't think you'd ever kill, not unless you absolutely had to. I don't think you've ever killed someone before, either. Yes, at the beginning, I was afraid you would kill me and Sokka and Aang but…."
"I'm not weak. I'm not a Waterbender," said Zuko.
"Yes, I know you are very strong," said Katara, with a bit of amusement in her voice at his pridefulness. "And that strength is why you won't kill anyone." She was feeling so warm now, so safe and comfortable.
Perhaps the greatest desire and comfort for a human being is warmth. Physical warmth, the feeling of snuggling deep into wool blankets on a chill night, or someone's arm around you. And emotional warmth, the feeling of being loved and loving. Warmth was the equivalence point between burning and freezing, and between obsession and dispassion.
And filled with that warm feeling Katara thought that Prince Zuko was the only one who'd ever made her feel warm like this. The contact point of their arms was the conduit through which Zuko channeled his fire into her. And it was so enjoyable.
It was perfect.
Day Five: Oh, wilderness were paradise now!
When Katara woke up that morning, she was lazily aware of a curious warmth that surrounded her. And then she realized that she'd fallen asleep in an awkward position with her head in Zuko's lap, with his back resting against the wall of the igloo. His head was nodding toward one side.
And the events of the past night came back to her, about leaning on his shoulder, about sharing her coat with him, of having an almost intimate moment.
With arrogant prideful enemy intelligent witty understanding Prince Zuko.
She quickly recoiled from his lap but as she glanced at him, checking that he was asleep, she noticed a bluish tinge around his mouth. She knew that hue well: it symbolized freezing and lack of oxygen.
Oh no, Katara thought in distress, and he was doing so much better too…Idiot channeled too much of his Fire to me… She blushed at the thought that he'd shown her but she had a more important matter to deal with; namely keeping Zuko from dying.
She rinsed her mouth with snow and then did the only thing that came to her.
Katara put her lips to Zuko's, and massaged his cold mouth with her own until, within a few moments, Zuko's mouth responded, his icy tongue licking her closed lips until Katara regained her senses and pulled away.
"Wh—what did you just do?" Zuko demanded, fully awake now. His mouth felt strange from the alien pressure of another person's lips on his own.
"Y—you were so cold and—well, you did the same thing!" Katara said, flustered. Her face was flaming red. What in the world had possessed her to do something like that?
Well I'm certainly warm enough now… Zuko realized, as he realized his blood vessels expanding nearer his skin. His heart was beating in an irregular rhythm, and he could see that Katara's thinly-clad chest was falling up and down rapidly.
"And that was really the only thing you could do?" said the Prince, staring at the girl.
"Yes, at the moment," Katara muttered. Her face was flaming. Zuko noticed the twin rose spots that colored her dusky cheeks, and her downcast eyes gave him the opportunity to admire her long thick lashes. She was still so close to him….And he was seized with the uncontrollable desire to kiss her, to kiss her properly, and satisfy the desire rapidly growing in his lower abdomen.
So that's exactly what he did. Gently turning Katara's face to his own he swiftly lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her as he'd never been kissed (and, if her own fumbling motions were any indication, as she'd never been kissed). The warmth that bloomed in him at the contact, at the pure pleasure that filled him, and the rightness he felt—all he knew was that this was the best decision he'd made in a long time.
They broke apart, breathless, Zuko sweaty. He scanned her face quickly, seeing her eyes large with surprise and wonderment and yet how they shone with pleasure and enjoyment, and knowing that he was not doing wrong, and that she wanted this as much as he did.
So he kissed her again, so deeply, his sensitive tongue burning at the wonderful taste of her. She was almost too much for him to handle but he knew that if he stopped he would shatter into a thousand pieces.
And Katara, with the last bit of reason that was left in her, thought that she'd never enjoyed anything so much as this. She didn't stop to think that he was the Prince of the Fire Nation, that he was out to capture her friend the Avatar. She just knew that she had to answer Zuko's insistences and demand her own.
She didn't know how long they spent entangled with each other, her fingers caressing his face while his hands ran up and down her narrow back. But all of a sudden passion overtook Zuko and fire shot from his hand to barely miss Katara and instead burn a hole through the igloo.
They broke apart instantly, both sweaty now, tendrils of Katara's hair framing her face, both faces flushed. They made sure not to look at each other and Katara quickly repaired the igloo wall.
The igloo was feeling uncomfortably warm now, even though Zuko had been divested of his overshirt and Katara's parka was long gone.
Minutes crawled by slowly as a frozen lemur.
Zuko knew that if he looked at Katara then he would not be able to control his desire for her. The feeling was mutual and so Katara made sure to avoid catching the slightest hint of Zuko. But their breathing seemed unnaturally loud in the insular silence of the igloo and it was impossible to ignore.
Katara's lips felt pleasantly swollen. Unconsciously she ran her tongue softly over them, checking to make sure they were all right. Zuko hadn't bitten…not hard, at least. She shivered with the memory. Why do I feel this way about Zuko?
She felt filthy right then, consorting with the man who had been chasing her, her brother, and the Avatar, trying to capture—perhaps kill?—them. And she had just kissed him passionately, and enjoyed it. That was just wrong.
Zuko, however, had stopped thinking rationally a long time ago. "Katara," he whispered, but his whisper carried an edge to it and sounded slightly ragged. She turned to him slowly, her mouth so vulnerable, her blue eyes wide and trembling slightly.
But they closed soon enough as Zuko took her lips prisoner again. Katara responded instantly. Her hands fumbled against his fuzzy skull to undo the band that held his hair high. His long dark hair was released and Katara tangled her hands in it. Meanwhile Zuko's hands explored the lithe supple body currently clasped against his own.
He pushed her down, gently, underneath him, and they continued their frantic, desperate ministrations without any more cuase or concern. Finally, however, Zuko knew he was about to take their affair too far and with the last bit of will left in him he pulled himself away from her, gazed into her surprised eyes with his hooded amber irises, and lay down uncomfortably next to her, folding himself awkwardly to fit inside the confines of the snow house.
His breathing was coming in short harsh bursts, and he closed his eyes to keep himself from seeing her wrinkled clothes, or her chest rapidly rising and falling. They lay like that, silent, wanting more and knowing they couldn't, until finally their breaths came normally and their body temperatures receded, cooled by the melting snow.
Katara turned the liquid into a thin coating of ice, while Zuko steamed his clothes to dry them.
Day Six: Bonds that were meant to be broken
They were still awkward after sleeping. Katara was the first to speak.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, not meeting his eyes. "It was wrong of me—well, it was wrong of you too—but I suppose I started it and—"
"I shouldn't have," he muttered, his narrow eyes averted. "A Prince—"
Katara's awkwardness was suddenly displaced by frustration, and a little anger. "Yeah, yeah," she said. "A Prince of the Fire Nation doesn't do things like that with a Water Tribes peasant girl. I"ve heard it all before." And now she felt hurt. How her emotions had so rapidly changed!
"I wasn't going to say that," Zuko said defensively. "No matter what you may think you don't know everything."
They were quiet again for a long time.
"I was going to say, a Prince of the Fire Nation does not take advantage of a young woman," said Zuko after that long while.
Katara didn't say anything. What was she supposed to say? 'Oh, Prince Zuko, I wanted that as much as you did, let's hug and make out—I mean, make up'? She hardly thought so. Zuko took the responsibility on himself, solely, despite the fact that she was the one who had technically initiated the whole incident; he was more honorable than she had taken him for, then. But was Prince Zuko's statement a trap to make Katara admit that she wanted Zuko, in a rather more-than-friendly sense?
"And a Water Tribes peasant girl does not betray her family and friends," Katara finally said quietly. She was looking at him steadily now. Zuko saw her strength and almost admitted to himself that he admired it.
So. Katara and Zuko had broken the bonds they'd previously held, only to have forged a new one between themselves. They had been connected since—when, exactly? When they'd first laid eyes on each other, or when Zuko had her at his mercy and let her go, or when their lips had met in that first electrifying moment?
"I don't think I know everything, either," Katara said a little while later, still in that same quiet tone. After all, she'd just finished being passionate with her (once) enemy, and she wasn't exactly beating herself up over it.
How the silence stretched between them, thickening palpably until it was no longer just a curtain but a darkened window, slowly hardening into solid wall. It was almost inconceivable that they were separated by mere inches, that the slightest movement of Zuko's or Katara's would have them in each other's arms again.
Once kindled however the fire of their desires could not so easily be contained. Zuko shifted uncomfortably, aching for the contact—any contact—even if only their toes touched—
Zuko wished he could read Katara's mind. What would he see? Would she hate him, or hate herself, or think of the thing as a mistake? In fact Zuko was wrong on all counts. Katara was hoping to read his mind, to find out what he felt.
Because they obviously just couldn't talk about it. This was one of those situations where the right thing to do is talk but no one can get up the courage, because it would just make the whole deal even more awkward.
"We can't be silent forever," suddenly said the both of them, surprising themselves by their odd connection.
Katara bit her lip and looked away from him, and then back up. "Zuko….How can we? We're on opposite sides of the line. You—you've been trying to kill, or at least capture us, for the past so many months."
"But at this moment, we are on the same side—or are we? I don't think it was a mistake," Zuko replied. The words coming out of his mouth hardly sounded like his own. They suddenly seemed stronger, deeper, manlier.
"And afterwards?" Katara challenged him. "After we get out of this godsforsaken place? You'll go back to chasing us and I'll go back to trying to freeze you."
"My birthright is important to me—but so are you," said Zuko very quietly. His irises were a blazing amber as they looked at her. "And so am I."
"What—what are you saying?" Katara stammered. Had someone put some sort of curse on Zuko, to make him say something so out of character? Or did love (or more likely lust, Katara thought) just screw up people's brains?
Right in one, Katara. Desire will make people do—and say—foolish things. But sometimes those foolish things aren't so foolish after all.
Zuko growled in frustration, smoke curling out of his nostrils. "I think we—together, you and me—we're more important than hading the Avatar to the Fire Lord. We could be together—" he reached for her hand and clasped it tightly. "I promise you—"
But Katara withdrew from his grasp, looking at him with inscrutable sea eyes. "Zuko—how can you even say that? I have a duty as the friend of the Avatar—Aang has a duty—to bring peace to the world. How can you say that our personal lives are more important than saving the world? I know you won't kill your own father and so we have to do it for you…and for the sake of the other remaining nations."
"Listen to me!" Zuko hissed. "What do you want, hmm? Tell me!" he almost yelled, taking her wrist again and squeezing it. "What promises do you want me to make to you? I have my duty also!" Katara was just looking at him, and Zuko was suddenly aware of the pressure he was putting on her slim wrist and he quickly dropped her hand, thankful it hadn't broken.
"I don't think it's right," Zuko said quietly, staring right into her eyes with his own steady gold. There was a sort of desperation there that Katara had to believe. "The Fire Lord knew when he sent me out that I would not be able to capture the Avatar. I don't agree with his…with his war tactics. I don't agree with this war in the first place."
"Katara," Zuko said with that same tone of quiet desperation, when the girl remained silent. It was the first time he'd used her name in conversation (their moments of passion certainly didn't count). Katara's eyes were shining with fear, and with hope, and Zuko couldn't imagine anything more amazing than the sight of those irises focused on his own.
Katara knew he was telling the truth and fell into him, embracing him awkwardly given their position. But it was such a tight secure embrace and Zuko buried his face in her neck, breathing in her exquisite perfume, fingers disentangling her hair, feeling nothing more right than this could ever happen.
"Don't leave, Katara. Never let me go," he whispered, and Katara brought her face to his to lose him in another kiss with more passion and intensity than before.
When with effort they pulled away, in an odd state of half-undress, Katara was smiling gently. Zuko thought that the only thing to do at that time was to hold her hand and so he took the slim brown hand in his own and held it.
To hold hands is perhaps the most intimate of all human gestures. Holding hands signifies the trust in each other. Protect me. Love me. That's what holding hands says in the language of the body. So they sat, next to each other, content and quiet, their hands clasped. It was different from the third night when Zuko had warmed her hands. This was truly intimate and truly warm.
They didn't know what the future would hold, but the uncertainties didn't bother them—not this evening, at any rate. All that mattered was that they were together.
Day Seven: The rescue
Zuko and Katara rinsed their mouths with snow, greeting each other with a light good morning kiss that more than made up for the lack of proper breakfast.
Then Zuko melted a door through the igloo, and they stepped out, cautiously and stiffly unfolding themselves and stretching in the chill starkness of the snow desert.
Finally the blizzard had subsided, and they had decided to try their luck with finding a proper shelter. Today the landscape looked beautiful and not treacherous. The sunlight made little rainbows dance across the surface as the ice crystals bent the light, and the cloudless pure blue of the sky imbued the both of them with hope.
In fact the depth of snow was not as great as they had both feared. Katara had a sneaking suspicion that the blizzard had ended actually quite a while ago—two or so days—but she blushed thinking about why they were not so concerned about getting out of the confined space.
They set off, Zuko enjoying his new freedom with Firebending to melt paths. After a few hours or so they heard a distant shout and looked up and around to see a rapidly descending Appa, with Sokka and Aang jumping up and down on the leather seat. Once he was close enough Momo jumped clear off Appa's back to land flawlessly on Katara's shoulder.
"I've missed you too," she told the chattering lemur softly.
Appa landed and Aang and Sokka ran up to hug her, make sure she was all right, talking at full speed. Zuko watched Aang's embrace with a touch of jealousy—after all, Katara was his. Or was she? He saw how her face had brightened so much at seeing her old friends—even that stupid bison and annoying animal.
Finally after a long while they remembered that Zuko existed and Aang spoke up. "Can we give you a ride to your ship?" he asked. "Your uncle put up in the same town as we were in this past week," he added. Katara's eyes were still sparkling when she looked at him, encouraging him to come with them, so he put away his pride and silently climbed on.
"Yip yip!" Aang cried, and Zuko felt an uneasy sensation in his stomach. The water was fine—but air was a completely new element, and the last time he'd flown he'd been unconscious.
Sokka put his face close to Zuko's with his eyes narrowed in interrogation. "Exactly what were you doing in the desert with my sister?" he hissed.
"Nothing, you buffoon," Zuko said with irritation. "You Water Tribes peasants interest me not at all."
Katara desperately hoped he was acting. Zuko desperately hoped she knew he was acting.
"I'm not a buffoon!" Sokka yelled. Katara recognized the warning signs in his voice and quickly moved to restrain him.
"Sokka, please don't throw him off Appa's back," she pleaded.
"Why?" Sokka shot back suspiciously.
"Because it would be messy to clean up!" Katara said, not meeting her brother's eyes.
After a short time, perhaps three-fourths of an hour, they landed in the fairly busy port town. Iroh was waiting for them and ran to greet his nephew the moment he thankfully slid off the beast's back.
"Prince Zuko—you are alive, and unhurt?" Iroh said anxiously.
"Yes, no thanks to you," Zuko replied, nonetheless glad to see his uncle again.
Well he must be okay, if he still has that sharp tongue…Iroh thought.
"Come uncle. Let's go," Zuko said over his shoulder, heading towards the docks.
"Thank you, Avatar," Iroh said, with a noble bow at the young boy. Aang grinned and then Iroh bustled to keep up with his nephew's longer strides.
"Katara, you look different," Aang said, scrutinising her. She'd finally had a proper bath and she'd eaten about enough for three people at dinner that night.
"Yeah, I noticed it too," Sokka added through a mouthful of bread. "You're sure Zuko did nothing to you?" he said after an admirable swallow.
"Not a thing," Katara said, smiling softly.
"Uncle…we cannot continue to chase the Avatar and his friends," Zuko said that night.
"And why not?" Iroh asked, fairly sure he knew the answer anyway. A man only gets that look in his eyes after one thing has happened.
"I owe them my life. The girl saved me during the storm and the Avatar allowed me to come back."
A/N: Okay thanks for sticking with me through all this! I hope you all enjoyed and I really hope it was a nice fun little piece. I warned of OOC-ness in the beginning and frankly, for once, I wasn't too concerned with it, as long as they're not majorly out of character (I hope). As I said before, I'm going to pretend there's this burning sexual tension between them in the show and write the story from that.
Did you know that the guy who plays Prince Zuko is also Jake Long from American Dragon: Jake Long AND he was Rufio from Hook? Hook was one of my favorite movies as a kid! "Rufio, Rufio, Ru-fi-ooooooooooooooooo…" Yeah but that was definitely a surprise. In an interesting coincidence, the girl who plays Katara also happens to play Rose from American Dragon: Jake Long…Jake Long's love interest…hmmm…foreshadowing? Hahahahahaha well I guess we can only hope!
Aaaaaugh! Just two more days until the Season Two premier--and so a one-shot in celebration of Book One! The countdown begins now.