Author Note (of Apology): Hi, folks! It's been a while since we've talked, no? For those who have taken the time to ask, and threaten, about it let me assure you that I have not abandoned this project. "No Map Without Water" is currently being written, but at slower rate than I originally expected. Blame college and my silly need to graduate sometime before humanity colonizes Pluto. Meanwhile here's a little "bonus" Tempest to buy a measure of forgiveness. (The following are set during Arc II, drowning the moon, a.k.a. "the ship years.")
Tempest in a Teacup: Intermission (#2)
#01 – Ring
what goes around
Katara stands on the dock's edge, a stone's throw from the ship due to be their address, and thinks of how the line of every journey, new and past, can be bent into a circle.
#02 – Hero
the right to bleed
"He is not a traitor," are strange words from a strange little girl, but still it's the soldier, not the child, who looks away first.
#03 – Memory
history, her story
The first few weeks are full of rough, painful awakenings; Zuko briefly not remembering where he is, Katara unable to forget.
#04 – Box
geometry, the study of space
Her new room is small and narrow, each wall the size of the other; Zuko stares incredulously when he finds her bouncing on the mattress, laughing and free.
#05 – Run
going back to basics
It takes the prince a while to master walking across the ship's constantly tilting floor; Katara, however, seems to acquire her sea legs between her first and second step.
#06 – Hurricane
never underestimate a butterfly
The first fight takes them all by surprise, the crew shocked at first not so much by clash as by the fact that it is happening; yet even Iroh is startled by level of intensity igniting the pair's faces.
#07 – Wings
hope is the thing with feathers
The ship slices through the sky's reflection, cleaving the waves like a bird parts air; Katara would point it out to Zuko, if she believed he'd look.
#08 – Cold
if you got the poison, I've got the remedy
"You're going to catch a cold" is a ridiculous way to admonish a Firebender standing alone against the sea wind, but it's not his physical wellbeing she's worried about.
#09 – Red
what good is spilling blood, it will not grow a thing
He called it a stain, a ruin, a wound; she called it a mark, an emblem, a scar.
#10 – Drink
inside is the only way out
Used to the taste, Katara downs the sleeping draught in one long swallow with nothing in her face to tell Zuko whether she finds the mixture bitter or cloying.
#11 – Midnight
cinderella said to snow white, how does love get so off course
And then there are times when they climb to the topmost roof of the ship, not the highest point but the most out of reach, and she sits with her legs dangling and he lies on his back, and they speak about anything except how and where they are, and life is okay.
#12 – Temptation
you're dangerous because you don't know what you want
After the eleventh failed explanation of why, Zuko began the tradition of simply forbidding Katara to venture more than ten feet from port unescorted; thought the order was faithfully, and predictably, ignored, at least they no longer spent an hour beforehand debating it.
#13 – View
objectives in the mirror are closer than they appear
The problem with reflections, Katara thinks when the prince locks himself away to meditate, is that they can only show what is behind you.
#14 – Music
waltz to the beat of your own heart
Katara had two choices; she could fear the soldiers around her, and spend the evening hiding, or she could accept them, and dance.
#15 – Silk
so forget the inner me, observe the outer
Katara's wardrobe grows simpler and plainer until finally she attends breakfast dressed as practically and humbly as any soldier; the lack of silk and ribbons goes ignored by the crew but not by Zuko, which should be flattering but isn't.
#16 – Cover
Nobody onboard will outright lie to the prince, but many are willing to bend the truth when the occasion requests it (yes, sir, it was like that we got here and no, sir, I haven't seen her today.)
#17 – Promise
there's a time to play a king and a time to be the thief
If Zuko's word is his bond, then Katara's silence is her testimony.
#18 – Dream
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed
"I don't want to talk about it," is the only thing one has to say to the other to guarantee sympathy in the form of understanding, kindness in the form of company, and love in the form of an extra dollop of honey stirred into the tea.
#19 – Candle
little altars everywhere
For meditation Zuko requires candles and quiet, and the strength to tame his own frustrations; Katara's tools, on the other hand, consist of anything from a black sky over dark water, or thick ink on a smooth page, or red tea in a pale cup—anything except shadows and heat.
#20 – Talent
she seems to have an invisible touch
Katara's skill at antagonizing the prince was rivaled only by her ability to soothe him.
#21 – Silence
this is the story of a girl
When Katara tells stories, Zuko is absorbed not by her words, but the sweep of her hands, the slant of her gaze, and the candor of her smile, because when Katara tells stories, Zuko listens with his eyes open.
#22 – Journey
the mother and the matador, the mystic: each were here before
The places they visit are diverse, some urban, some in ruin, some sacred to nobody except the very old, but all are alike in not housing who they seek.
#23 – Fire
life is not tried, it is merely survived
In the morning, Katara doesn't recognize the scratch on Zuko's cheek—just like she didn't recognize him during the night when her terror drew it there.
#24 – Strength
subtract out the impact and the fall is all you get
They're friends, best friends, so of course she likes him—but they're friends, best friends, so of course she doesn't like him like that.
#25 – Mask
I'm the color me happy girl, miss live and let live
She walks through green clothed crowds, wearing blue leathers, dark shoes, and a red, red thread around her heart.
#26 – Ice
tread carefully lest you sink beneath
"Upset about something?" Zuko asks, breaking the icy skin atop his soup with more patience than her outburst (undoubtedly) deserves.
#27 – Fall
autumn is the season of memory
Zuko tries to measure his time at sea first by days, then weeks, then seasons, and then, finally, by how many notebooks Katara has managed to fill.
#28 – Forgotten
forgot to remember to forget
"Because if I'm going to hate anyone," Katara whispers, eyes never leaving Captain Zhao's profile across the shipyard, "he's the best ogre for the job."
#29 – Dance
take the lead
One moment he's winning (again), next she's got an arm across his shoulders, their faces close enough to share breath; Zuko hesitates and Katara plants a knee into his stomach, triumphant.
#30 – Body
I don't mind looking up to you as long as there's something to see there
He hits a sudden growth spurt at fifteen, stretching him another inch above her head; Katara spends a happy week teasing about the possibility of her getting whiplash if he keeps growing that fast.
#31 – Sacred
one man's church is another man's cemetery
In its current state the temple is little more than three and a half walls, a roof on the floor, and vintage dust in which Katara traces characters with her finger: house, fire, wish, end, air.
#32 – Farewells
Fourteen, she studies the girl in the mirror, touching the lips, the hair, the dip of her chin, the hollow of her throat; one by one, Katara catalogues the changes her mother will never see.
#33 – World
where are we going from here?
His world is his duty, his mission, his honor; her world is her charity, her daring, her hope.
#34 – Formal
cats may look at kings
Out loud and in public, he is never simply Zuko because nothing about their friendship is simple—only true.
#35 – Fever
you've got it, I want it
Fire Nation poets speak of envy as biting, frigid, cold, but when Katara watches the prince practice and learn, she feels it burn.
#36 – Laugh
there's a piece that's hard to reach
"Did you just try to tickle me…through armor?"
#37 – Lies
honor among thieves and children
Zuko trusts Katara to disobey, distract, disregard, defy, dispute—but never deny him the truth.
#38 – Forever
would you rather follow a map or a clock?
"What if he is dead—where will we go then?"
#39 – Overwhelmed
you've already won me over in spite of me
Zuko plops down in the sand, stunned and blinking salt water out of his eyes, tipped further off balance by the arms around his neck and I did it, Prince Zuko, did you see—I finally did it!
#40 – Whisper
They touch more and less than they did as children: more caringly, more carefully, but less casually; the pressure on his arm and the warmth around her wrist have a new undertone, its power unfamiliar.
#41 – Wait
standing outside the fire
Sometimes Katara looks at Zuko and worries about what she sees: all wick and no wax, a figure ready to burn away.
#42 – Talk
foreign you, foreign me
Katara's speech is frequently colored by the city accent Zuko was born to and she was taught; to him it is a mantle, for her, a veil.
#43 – Search
don't worry about catching me; worry about keeping up
"Got you," Katara exclaims triumphantly, wiggling a bit further inside the air duct to seize the ship cat and pull the stupid critter out—just as a hand closes around her ankle, its owner thinking the same about his target.
#44 – Hope
in between you hope and pray the scars don't show.
Their situations are alike, not identical; the difference between an exile and a refugee, after all, is the difference between having a future and having hope.
#45 – Eclipse
here comes the summer son
Zuko sometimes dreams of golden fields, warm light, his mother's scent, his father's care; at breakfast, Katara ask him what's wrong, her hand half-raised to touch the shadows under his eyes.
#46 – Gravity
the laws of attraction defy the rules of habit
To him Katara looks the same to him as she always has, a little short, a little thin, a lot of blue—and then one day she laughs in the sunlight and suddenly it's a little different, a little strange, a lot like something he wants.
#47 – Highway
when life goes to hell, keep walking
Steadily, their course turns increasingly southern until the wind carries an aching chill, foreign to all except one.
#48 – Unknown
wake up scared, wake up strange, wake up wondering if anything is ever gonna change
The hush between them grows deeper, while the water beneath grows colder; Zuko's closest companion is abruptly distant and Katara's stanch protector is keenly helpless, neither knowing how to start talking about what's coming.
#49 – Lock
the trick is to keep breathing
The sodden lock of hair lies like a bandage, or seaweed, or ink, across her forehead (he'll remember this, afterwards, when he is awake and alone, with a piece of torn cloth in his lap and his heart a blister.)
#50 – Breathe
the weight of the invisible
Her body sinks, her chest locks, everything hurts—but still there's a moment, one single, flaming moment, when the fear in her lungs is overshadowed by the shape of his name in her throat.