Rhythm of the Rain
All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything related to it.
He closed his eyes as he felt her warm breath caress the side of his face. He could now feel the weight of her body pressed against his back. Zuko smirked. Had any one else questioned his sanity, he would've been annoyed. But it was her. And she could ask whatever she wanted.
"I don't think you're one to talk," he replied as his hands rose and gently grasped her forearms as they rested over his chest. "You're out here with me."
He felt the vibrations of her giggle against his back and he turned his head to the left. Rain soaked lips slipped over hers gently. A searing hot breath sent shivers down her spine as her lips parted, welcoming him as he turned his body towards her. His arms rose and reached for her face, cupping the supple warm skin in his rough, calloused palms.
Katara closed her eyes allowing the sudden barrage of tears to mingle with the rain as she joined him on the stone slab. Carefully, Zuko maneuvered her body between his legs. One hand reached over and ran down the length of her leg, moving both of them over his lap as her arms wound around his neck, keeping his lips close to hers. Around them, the rain fell in a familiar pattern, welcoming them back to where they belonged.
He felt her uneven breaths against his lips and her trembling body against his. His arms wrapped around her as he pulled away. Golden eyes opened and looked down at her. Brown hair was pasted in unruly clumps around her face as she struggled to keep herself from crying. A pale hand rose and stroked the side of her face tenderly, urging her to look up at him and meet his gaze. As cerulean eyes opened, he saw the tears that rimmed her long lashes and frowned.
"I...I was so scared," she choked out. "I don't remember being so scared...watching your body fall...oh, gods..."
His eyes crinkled up, feeling them grow teary eyed as he watched her shake in his arms. Katara shook her head and then turned it towards him. She held on to him tightly as she buried her rain and tear streaked face against his neck. "I'm sorry..." he whispered sincerely. He closed his eyes and pulled her closer to him, fusing her body against his.
"I saw you on that cliff with your sister..." Katara wheezed. "And I was terrified...the only thing I wanted to do was run to you. Even when she shot at us...when she got Appa and we fell...all I could think about was getting to you."
"It's all right, Katara," Zuko whispered softly. "It's over."
"You're so stupid...taking on your sister by yourself. Putting yourself in that much danger. What happened to a simple recon mission?" she chastised. "You could've died...You don't understand," Katara said as she pulled away. Shimmering blue eyes looked up at him pleadingly and Zuko felt his heart swell up. "I thought I saw you die. And I couldn't do anything...all I could do was try to heal Appa and not get myself killed. You don't know how much I wanted to be by your side."
"I didn't want you at my side," Zuko frowned disapprovingly. A hurt look crossed Katara's face and he elaborated. "Katara, I know you're pregnant." Her eyes widened.
"Jet and Ty Lee told me when we were in the palace," he told her. "When they told me, I knew I couldn't die there. Not yet. I wanted to see you one more time...and when I did, I wanted to run to you. I had to stop Azula... you think I don't understand how it feels? I saw her send that blast of lightning at you. When she did that, I thought I'd lost you and our baby. I've never felt so helpless in my life..."
Katara pulled back, her eyes squinting in the rain as she looked at him. "Zuko...what do you mean pregnant?"
His eyebrows furrowed. "Aren't you pregnant?" he asked, confused. "You...you were throwing up one morning. Isn't that what pregnant women do?"
He looked utterly confused and regardless of their conversation, Katara couldn't help but smile. Slowly, a laugh bubbled from within and she pulled herself closer to him. She kissed him softly and shook her head. "It was food poisoning," she laughed. "The shellfish was spoiled."
Zuko's eyes flew open. "But...how did Jet and Ty Lee..."
"I don't know...maybe they over heard me talking with Iroh and Suki," Katara chuckled as she stroked his wet hair back. "I thought I was pregnant...but then I bled and the cook apologized for feeding me spoiled sea food."
He shook his head, unable to believe it. "But...but you weren't the only one who ate the dish."
"Sokka has an iron stomach. It's practically impossible for him to get sick!" Katara laughed. She leaned forward once more and kissed his cheek. "Zuko, I'm not pregnant," His face fell. He had been so worked up over the thought of a child of his own...he couldn't help but feel disappointed. Katara smiled softly and cupped his face with her hand. She gently turned his head towards her and caressed his lips with her own. "At least not yet..."
Gold eyes lowered and met her blue ones, a slight glint in them. "You were the one I wanted to wake up to, you know," he frowned. "And you weren't. I think you owe me."
She raised an eyebrow and lowered her forehead against his. "Do you even think you're up for it?"
He smirked and lowered his head against the side of hers. His lips parted as he bared his teeth and gently bit the curve of her ear. Katara shivered as a low voice whispered seductively in her ear. "I already am." Her body flushed as his tongue slid over the hollow of her ear.
Katara let out a small moan, ready to drag him back to his room, when a sudden quack reached her thoughts. Katara suddenly remembered what she came there for and shook her head. "Wait..."
"Why?" he whispered, his hands already roaming over every curve of her body.
Katara gently pushed him away and lifted up a piece of bread. "Can we feed the turtle ducks first?"
He pulled back and stared at her. "Gods, woman..." he murmured as he shook his head. He looked up at her flushed, hopeful face and smiled back slightly. "You really are insane."
The sun had risen and outside the open windows of Zuko's bedchambers, a cool morning breeze swept in. The body beside him shivered as her bare back side felt the chill of the cold. Silently, his hand lowered and grasped the edge of the blanket. He pulled it over Katara's sleeping body as she lay on her stomach, her arms hugging the pillow beneath her head, and a light snore coming from her parted lips.
She snuggled deeper into the bed and Zuko sighed heavily. He was so close...then the moment she fell on the bed, Katara was knocked out. To make matters worse, rather than curling up beside him like she had done on her tiny bed back on the ship, she grabbed the nearest pillow and clung on to it. It left the young Fire Lord annoyed and slightly frustrated. She could've at least paid him some attention and fallen asleep in his arms or something.
Then again, how could be angry at her? She had stayed awake for hours healing him and laying by his bedside. She had complained that he had gained consciousness twice and that she had been there. It wasn't her fault he didn't remember. He had wracked his brain and remembered only warm caresses of water against his body and a frustrated, yet sadness tinged voice ordering him to wake up.
However, he supposed she got her revenge. Hugging the pillow instead of him. His hand rose and he gently swept back her hair. It had dried from the night before, yet he suspected it would be tangled in the morning. Not that he had helped by running his hands through her long locks.
His stomach growled. Zuko narrowed his eyes and looked down at his bare midsection, glaring at it for disturbing his peaceful morning watching his beloved Katara sleeping. It growled once more. Sighing heavily, he looked back down at Katara. She wouldn't get up for another few hours. That would give him enough time to go eat breakfast and return before she woke up. And then, they could commence with the activities he had been grossly deprived of the night before.
He pulled another sheet over Katara's body and tucked it around her shoulders. She mumbled out something he couldn't understand. Zuko slipped out of bed as carefully as he could, trying not to disturb her. He walked to his wardrobe and gathered together some pants and a loose top. As he secured his clothes around him, he looked over his shoulder. She was still sleeping.
He smiled to himself, knowing that she was safe. His hands rose and began tying his hair in a messy pony tail. Zuko carefully walked back to the bed and crawled over the side of the bed to reach Katara. He bent down and kissed her forehead gently. "I'll be back after I get something to eat." he whispered.
Katara let out a groan. "That's nice, Momo..."
He rolled his eyes and got off the bed. He put some shoes on and headed out the door. Zuko carefully closed it behind him before heading towards the main palace. As he walked, he stretched his arms in the air. After Katara had gone to sleep, he had done some breathing exercises and simple practice movements to exercise his body after being at immobile for three days. He was still a bit sore, but that would pass with time.
Halfway towards the small dining area where Katara and the others had eaten whenever they were at the palace, a voice shouted for him.
"Zuko! Zuko, you're awake!" The Fire Lord turned around and raised an eyebrow as several people waved at him from under a pavilion by one of the ponds within the palace walls.
"Fire Lord!" Iroh chuckled as he waved for him to come forward. "Join us for breakfast!"
The corners of his lips curled into a small smile and he turned and headed for the pavilion. Aang was sitting with his Uncle, along with the two earthbenders and Mai. "Good morning, Uncle. Aang, Toph, Mai, and... what was your name again?" He asked the male earthbender.
"Haru, your majesty," the young man said sheepishly. "We traveled together on the ship."
"Right." Zuko nodded. In truth, he knew exactly who he was. He just never talked to him if he could help it. Zuko took a seat beside his Uncle.
"Mai came to tell us that you were awake last night," Iroh said. "I rushed over to see you, but...you were... preoccupied in the garden."
Golden eyes immediately darted away as Zuko reached for a piece of fruit to eat while one of the servants went to fetch him a plate of hot food. He cursed his cheeks for burning, knowing that his Uncle had seen him outside, in the rain, doing things with Katara.
"Yes, well...thank you for coming to check." Zuko mumbled.
"If you do not mind me asking, where is Lady Katara?" Mai asked, slipping into formal titles. Zuko sighed.
"Asleep...she couldn't keep her eyes open any more. The second she hit the bed, she was went to sleep." Zuko explained.
"Sokka will be glad to hear that." Aang mused. Toph nodded beside him.
"It is good that you came for breakfast," Iroh said. "I wanted to speak to you before any of the council members reached you."
Zuko looked up from his morning meal as it was placed in front of him. His eyes narrowed. "What's going on?"
"Azula's orders need to be retracted," Iroh explained. "Mai and I have prepared all the paperwork. All you need to do is sign them. Admiral Lin is currently imprisoned and is awaiting punishment for his betrayal of the throne. Reparations need to be made to the Northern Water Tribe after what Azula did to Chief Arnook. They are not pressuring us as they do not deem it our, or more specifically your fault. However, it would be wise to give reparations as an apology for what she has done."
"And then there is the matter of Azula's funeral." Mai said in a low voice. Zuko turned to look at her. Mai's eyes were down cast, trying to hide the feeling of pain and sadness. In the back of his heart, Zuko also felt a small twist of pain. Azula was still his sister. Family, regardless of how psychotic she was or how many times she tried to kill him and those he cared about.
Zuko looked back at the retired general at the head of the table. "Uncle...what happened back on the cliff side?" he asked. "All I remember seeing was an explosion right in front of me..."
"Ah..." Iroh put down his tea. "Well, when the cliff side gave way, we tried to reach you. Sokka almost had you, but you slipped out of his grasp."
"Sokka?" Zuko asked, his chopsticks nearly falling. "Sokka tried to save me?"
"Why are you surprised?" Aang asked with a grin. "Sokka likes you."
"Actually..." Toph piped. "That's debatable. I think he did it for Katara's sake."
"Well, at least he tried to save Zuko." Aang persisted. Toph shrugged and bit into an apple.
"I remember feeling someone try to grab me," Zuko admitted. "I just never thought it was Sokka. I remember turning and shooting at Azula with lightning...she countered and then our lightning collided..."
"The force of the explosion threw you into the air and further out to sea," Iroh said. "Aang went after you, but the pressure from hitting the water knocked you out and cracked some bones. Katara bended the water from our lungs. You were lucky. You missed the rocks."
Zuko's eyes narrowed. "And Azula?"
"The force of the explosion affected her, too," Mai said. Zuko turned back to the young woman. Mai closed her eyes. "She fell before you, so when the explosion happened, she was pushed down instead of up..."
"Her body fell on to the rocks," Haru concluded for Mai. He looked at Zuko apologetically. "By the time we found her, it was too late."
Zuko closed his eyes. He lowered his chopsticks and took a deep breath. A warm hand rested on his shoulder and squeezed him comfortingly. "We have her body. As a traitor to the throne and the Fire Nation, she does not deserve an honorable death ceremony," Iroh told her. "But she is still family and I wanted you to decide."
Zuko clenched his hands tightly. He shook his head. "She was still my sister," he stated as he opened his eyes. "Prepare her body for cremation. She will have the proper funeral of a member of the royal family and her remains will be entombed with our father's."
Iroh closed his eyes and bowed his head. He had known Zuko would do the honorable thing. "Yes, Fire Lord. I will send the order."
"Uncle," Zuko added as he looked down at his food. Suddenly, he didn't feel like eating. "Keep it quiet. I want to keep it small. Just a few people." Iroh nodded.
The group was quiet. The only sounds were of eating. Finally, Mai broke the silence. "Ty Lee cried for her," Mai said softly. "Even after Azula burned her shoulders and threatened to destroy her circus, Ty Lee cried."
"How is she doing now?" Zuko asked.
Mai let out a heavy breath. "Katara was able to heal her burns. She's sad, of course. Azula was her friend and she died...regardless of what she did, Ty Lee cared about her. Just in case, we've sent Jet to watch her and make sure she's coping well. So far, she's just been crying."
"And you?" Zuko asked solemnly.
Mai looked down at the wrist. A small diamond glittered from where it hung around a simple red chord. "I wish I could."
The door creaked open and Katara looked up from where she was standing by Zuko's wardrobe. She had put on one of his robes, the hems almost reaching her feet. One door opened and Zuko's form walked in. Katara immediately noticed the worn look on his face. She bit her lip and walked forward.
He heard the soft footsteps padding across the ground and looked up. Katara extended her arms as she reached him. Zuko allowed her to engulf him in a warm embrace.
"They told you," she deduced quietly. He nodded. Katara closed her eyes and pressed her head against his shoulder as her fingers dug into the robes on his back. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Zuko told her. His arms rose and wrapped around her shoulders. "I'm just... shocked."
"Shocked?" Katara asked. She lifted her head and looked at him.
"Azula is dead," The words were odd coming from his mouth. "It's just hard to believe...after all this time..." He closed his eyes and lowered his head against hers. "The things she told me when we were fighting...I never knew she felt that way."
"How did she feel?" Katara asked softly. She gently stroked the back of his head calmingly as she led him to his bed.
"She felt like no one understood her," Zuko said quietly. He sat down on the soft cushions, his head lowered. "I should've known how she felt. I should've understood her. She was my sister. I could've saved her."
"Zuko-" Katara began as she stood in front of him.
He looked up at her with pained gold eyes. "I could've been there for her. I knew how it felt to be pushed aside and over looked. I should've been able to understand. Maybe if I had tried harder..."
"Zuko," Katara reached down and cupped his face in her hands, forcing him to look up at her. "You couldn't do anything. If she wanted you to understand, she would've let you in. Something held her back. Something you don't have. You let your Uncle understand you. Let us try to understand you. It took a long time, but in the end, here we are. And you tried. You gave her chances she wouldn't take."
Zuko closed his eyes. "I can't help but wonder how it would've been like if my mother or Uncle Iroh were never there. If I never met the Avatar...or you," Zuko closed his eyes and reached forward. His arms encompassed her waist and pulled her forward. His head gently rested against her flat stomach. "Katara, I thank the gods every day that I found you..."
The ceremony was small and not announced to the public. Mourners dressed in white sat behind him as Zuko stood over his sister's body. She was dressed in her favorite red clothes, her hair done up and pinned back with a metal emblem signifying Fire Nation royalty. Her eyes were closed, make-up heavily put on her face. He could still see the scratches and bruises from her fall. And that was just her head.
He was dressed in white. Silently, he turned to the soldiers and nodded his head. The lid was closed over Azula's casket. Zuko stepped back and gave another nod. It was set of fire. In the background, under the canopy behind him, he could hear Ty Lee crying and Mai's quiet words of comfort as she held her friend.
Monks mumbled prayers for the body as the flames consumed the former princess. A young woman in white stepped beside, Zuko. Her tan hand slipped into his pale ones. His hand tightened around her hand securely.
The nobles who had come to show their respects to the late princess watched silently as their Fire Lord stood at the top of the steps, just above the burning object. His hand clasping the waterbender's silently. No words were spoken. No looks of displeasure. They lowered their heads and kowtowed to the two figures standing above them.
Iroh watched from his seat. He kept his eyes on the two young people standing before the nobles of the Fire Nation. He could see his nephew's hair neatly tied into a top knot, a flame shaped insignia pinned on top. Iroh turned to the young woman at his nephew's side. Her hair was braided neatly down her back, but a small bun was collected behind her head, unseen by the nobles. Pinned on the bun was a flame shaped insignia.
It had taken almost two months for Zuko to gain complete control. After the attempted take over by his sister, the nobility was much more lenient on Zuko. Practically allowing him to do whatever he wanted. All of Azula's orders had been easily retracted. Mai's addition to his council as an Advisor had very little opposition. Those that opposed her addition were later silenced after she proved capable of her job.
Iroh received the duty of punishing Admiral Lin and other traitors to the crown during Azula's brief stint as Fire Lord. He had dishonorably discharged them from duty and took away their stipends before banishing them. And he was being generous.
A month after Zuko awoke from his three day slumber; he received a letter from the North Pole. It was marked from Chief Arnook. After his near death by an attack from a member of the Fire Nation royal family, it was requested that Zuko find a way to show both Fire Nation and Water Tribe that he was not a threat. When the Fire Lord presented this to the court, he was surprised to have it suggested that he marry Katara. When he told her later that night, she was rather upset.
"I'm not marrying you because your sister nearly killed Chief Arnook," she fumed as they stood in one of the palace kitchens. She was suddenly hungry and wanted to get something to eat. Zuko had followed her and stood to the side as she went through the pantry looking for food. "I'm marrying you because I love you and that's the only reason!"
Two days later a draft treaty suggesting the exchange of students between the countries was sent to the North Pole. Now, on night of his nineteenth birthday, Zuko stood in front of the same mirror he had dozens of times before as the tailor finalized the small details of his robe.
"I thought I asked for a small, informal ball this year, Uncle..." he hissed behind gritted teeth.
"You're Fire Lord, Zuko! Small, informal, and Fire Lord do not go together," Iroh insisted as he stood to the side, smiling widely as the tailor stepped back. "There...don't you look dashing!"
Zuko snorted. "Hand me my emblem pin," he stated. He held out his hand and Iroh brought him a lacquered wooden box. He lifted the top and a glimmering head piece shined up at Zuko. The young Fire Lord picked it up and pinned it neatly in his top knot. "Let's get this over with."
The city was now decorated and filled with life as its people celebrated Zuko's nineteenth birthday. Inside the palace, guests from all over the world were pouring in. Among them, Water Tribe members.
"Why do I have to bring him a present?" Sokka snorted as he and Suki stood at one of the gates dressed in Water Tribe clothes. In Sokka's hands was a rather large box. "I'm already giving in and letting him marry my sister. Isn't that enough? And what is in this thing anyway?"
Suki shrugged as she handed a guard her invitation. "Just a little something I dug up in Katara's old room," she mused. As the guard nodded and handed her back the invitation, Suki stopped. "Excuse me, but where do we put the gift?"
"A guard will take in the foyer, miss." The guard nodded. Suki thanked him and cheerfully walked in.
Sokka groaned as he struggled to catch up, waddling uncomfortably as the heavy box tittered in his hands. When the guard finally took it off his hand, Sokka let out a heavy, content sigh. "There they are!" a voice said. He lifted his head and saw Aang running towards him. Toph was not far behind.
"You guys are late," Toph stated. "What took you so long?"
"Someone," Suki began as she shot a glare at Sokka. "Couldn't decide whether he should wear dark blue or navy."
"I went with the dark blue," Sokka told them proudly. "So," he said as he glanced around. "Where is my baby sister?"
"She's still in the royal quarters...opps..." Toph closed her mouth and smiled. Sokka narrowed his eyes.
"But she's not royalty."
"Not yet." Aang beamed. Sokka frowned.
"That little Fire Nation punk better not-"
"Sokka! Suki! You made it!" a voice boomed behind them.
"Iroh!" Suki smiled as the jolly old man walked towards them. "The decorations are wonderful. Did you do it again this year?"
"Well, what can I say? I have an eye for decorating," Iroh beamed proudly. He looked over his shoulder. "Now, where is that boy? He was right behind me..."
"Uncle!" Zuko squeezed out from behind the crowds of people, a scowl on his face. "Have you seen Katara?"
"I told you before, Zuko. She's still getting ready," Iroh frowned. He looked back at the group. "There was a problem with her robes, you see, and so we had to send someone to fix them last minute."
"She is my escort and she should be here." Zuko frowned.
Suki chuckled. "It's good to see you, too, Fire Lord." she bowed her head respectfully. She still found it hard to believe that one day, he would be her brother-in-law.
Zuko blinked as if suddenly realizing that they were there. He gave a small nod of his head to the newly arrived couple. "Sokka, Suki...I'm sorry, I was being rude. Thank you for coming to my celebration."
"Well, I heard you were making the announcement tonight," Suki smiled. "So Sokka and I came. Isn't that right, Sokka?"
"Yeah...whatever." the Water Tribe warrior scoffed. He crossed his arms and turned away from Zuko.
The Fire Lord glared Sokka, only to be nudged by Iroh. The old man motioned his head towards Sokka and Zuko shook his head. Iroh frowned. Zuko sighed and took a step forward, extending his hand.
"Sokka." Zuko stated calmly. The other man ignored him. Suki smiled brightly and pinched Sokka's arm.
"Ow! What did you do that for?" he gasped. She immediately sent him a meaningful glare and Sokka snorted. He looked at Zuko's extended hand. "Fine...for my sister," He grasped Zuko's hand and shook it firmly. "But let me tell you something. If she ever comes crying back home, I will personally hunt you down. No army, navy, palace guard, and fortified city will stop me if you hurt my sister. And I will come for you. I know where you live." Sokka hissed, his face hovering threateningly in front of Zuko's.
The Fire Lord mere stared back at him. "Obviously, you're in my home as we speak." The two released their hands. Iroh felt a tap on his shoulder. A servant bowed and whispered in his ear.
"Oh...thank you," Iroh nodded. He turned to Zuko. "Katara is ready. She is waiting for you in the eastern entrance."
Zuko nodded and bowed respectfully to his guests. He slipped through the crowds heading for the gateway. "Kind of hard to believe that our little Katara is going to marry the Fire Lord, isn't it?" Toph mused. "But now that I think about it, they were pretty much made for each other. What with the attitude problems and all."
"You're not too bummed, are you Aang?" Sokka asked as he elbowed his old friend.
Aang blushed slightly and shook his head. "Why would I be bummed?" he said sheepishly. "Besides, I think he needs her way more than any of us do."
"And frankly," Toph piped. "I think she needs him."
Behind the doors of the eastern entrance, Katara took a deep breath. She nervously fiddled with the betrothal necklace around her neck. The soft velvet blue cloth had been replaced with smooth silk. But a familiar blue stone still dangled from it. She smiled warmly; remember how he brought it back to her after she 'lost' it.
It had been raining a month ago and somehow, she had lost her necklace. She had torn Zuko's bedchambers apart looking for it. When she couldn't find it, she was devastated. Three generations and the necklace was lost. It was her most prized possession. Zuko swore that he'd carve her another one, to which she replied she didn't want another one, she wanted that one.
Frustrated and annoyed, she went to seek solitude in the pond. She sat on the stone slab, her legs curled up in front of her as the rain matted her hair against her head. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her knees. To make things worse, the turtle ducks weren't there. Groaning, she buried her face in her knees. Then she heard them.
She lifted her head and peered out into the darkness. The dim light from the stone lanterns that were placed around the garden were being used that night. Something that normally didn't happen. And by the large rocks across the pond, she heard quacking. Two turtle ducks were paddling along, seemingly pulling something behind them.
Katara adjusted herself in her seat and leaned over the water, calling them over by touching the water with her finger tips. The two turtle ducks quacked as they approached and Katara clearly saw the little raft they pulled. A small smile graced her face as the ducks came closer. On the little raft was a shiny, lacquer box.
With her name on it. Curious, she bent over and picked it up. She lifted the latch and opened the lid. It was filled with little blue flowers. Her heart skipped a beat as she recognized them. She had given one to Zuko the night she left...and he had remembered. Her eyes began to water and she blinked to keep herself from crying. He finger tips rummaged through the little flowers, wondering if there was anything else.
A piece of parchment brushed her hands. Picking through the box of blue, she pulled out a parchment. She read it quickly as the rain made quick work of the ink and paper.
"Katara of the Water Tribe..." she read quietly. She felt her heart stop. Her hand dropped the paper back into the box and she found herself breathless. "Will you marry...?"
"Me?" Familiar blue was dangled in front over her as a rich, warm voice whispered in her ear.
"My mother's necklace..." she whispered breathlessly as he held the pendant in front of her. Soft lips leaned in beside her and placed a gentle kiss on her bare neck before pulling back. Katara could do nothing but sit there as the silken red fabric rested against her neck. "Zuko...how did you get that?" She squinted and wrinkled her nose. "And what did you do to it?"
He chuckled. "Tell me what I want to hear, waterbender." he urged teasingly.
She wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. But most of all, she wanted to tell him to shut up and put the damn necklace on her already. Katara bit her trembling lip and nodded. "Yes!" She heard the breath of relief being released from his lips. Had he been nervous? She began to cry as he secured the necklace around her slender neck.
Part of her couldn't really believe that she would marry him. The last month or so, living at the palace with him, everyone had considered her the Fire Lord's high consort...practically his wife. So far, there had been little opposition. However, that would change after tonight. Katara took a deep breath to calm herself once more. Tonight he would announce it to the world. She would've thrown up with her rising anxiety if she hadn't done so already that morning...
Zuko rounded the corner and saw Katara standing by the closed doors, fidgeting with her necklace once more. A small, thoughtful smile graced his face. Two days before he gave her a 'romantic' proposal, he had found her necklace laying by the side of the bed on his way to the adjoining bathroom. When he came out, Katara was throwing pillows and sheets off the bed, looking for it.
It had been in his pocket. But he wasn't about to let the opportunity slip past him. He offered to make her a new one, only to be yelled at saying that the necklace was irreplaceable. Even as she ranted on as she tore through the room, his mind was coming up with an idea for a proposal. That afternoon, he had sent for the tailor.
"I want red silk. The best you can find. The remove this pendant and place it on the red silk," Zuko had told him sternly. "It should fit her neck like a choker. And if you tell anyone about this, I'll have you silenced."
Then when it was raining the next night, he purposely went to piss her off. What better time to ask than at night, in the middle of the rain? He smirked to himself. He had easily gotten her riled up. Katara was gorgeous when she was angry. Her face flushed, her hair a mess, screaming angrily as a fiery passion burned in her eyes. She was Fire Nation, she just didn't know it. Then she stormed off into the garden.
Mai had lit the stone lanterns in the garden just before Katara appeared. She didn't seem to give them any notice. From his bedroom window, Zuko signaled Jet and Ty Lee, who were hiding behind the rocks with two turtle ducks.
When they released them, Zuko sneaked out of the royal quarters. He had never been so nervous in his life. There was a large part of him telling him that there was no need to worry. She had practically said 'yes' already. However, his heart was still pounding in his chest and his hands were still shaking as he stood behind her and dangled the pendant on its new necklace in front of her.
He had been smiling the entire time, remembering the first time he captured her and tied her to a tree. Looking back on it, he seemed like a little boy teasing the girl he liked. When he leaned down and finished the question with a low whisper, he felt her shiver against him. He may have sounded amused and calm, but he was afraid his voice would shake. When she didn't answer immediately, he wondered if she were having second thoughts.
But when she said yes, he suddenly felt as if the world were his.
"Katara," he called out and the young woman turned to look at him. She was dressed in rich red robes rimmed with indigo. "Were you waiting long?"
"No," She shook her head as he reached her. His hand took hers in his and he lifted it to his lips. He placed a warm kiss on the back of her hand before securing her arm in his. "I'm nervous."
"You'll be fine..." he assured her. He took his place beside her and nodded to the guards. The doors opened and as they did, the gongs sounded. "Here we go..."
Katara's hand squeezed his tightly. "Don't let me go." she whispered.
He squeezed her back. "I never will."
"Fire Lord Zuko," a voice shouted over the hushed crowds in the court yard. "And his fiancée, the future Fire Lady, Lady Katara of the Water Tribe!"
Zuko frowned. He peered around the corner for any guards or servants, or worse yet...his Uncle. It was his birthday and what was he doing? Sneaking around the palace because Katara wanted to play hide and seek. Actually, she had run off. Zuko snorted indignantly as he looked down the hall and then ran across.
"Don't let me go..." he grumbled."I should've told her not to let me go." As soon as she had seen her brother and her friends, he was forgotten. Katara had been surrounded with warm hugs and rapid fire chattering. And he had been pulled away to mingle with his other guests. He had allowed it to happen, knowing that she would be safe from any harsh gossip and condescending words of the aristocracy so long as she was with them.
Honestly, it was just like his eighteenth birthday where he hardly saw her. By the time he made his way back to where he had last seen her, she was gone. In fact, the table was vacant. All expect for the little winged lemur. Zuko was about to turn around and continue his search when Momo jumped up and down, trying to get his attention.
He glared at the creature and Momo cowered back and hesitantly lifted up a bread roll. Everything seemed to click. He grinned and reached down, patting Momo on the head and giving him a promise of the Fire Nation's best apples, before looking over his shoulder and vanishing into the palace.
He was walking down the hall to the walkway, intent on taking his usual route to the garden, when a loud boom sounded in the distance. His eyebrows furrowed. "I thought the fire works weren't until later..." He mused. He looked out over the edge of the walkway. Sure enough, the clear dark skies were exploding with colors.
Zuko grumbled and shook his head. He turned back to his original destination and easily jumped over the side of the railing. "It took you long enough," she said as she turned around. Zuko rolled his eyes. "Did it really take you that long to figure out where I'd be?"
Part of him was insulted that she would think he was dense. The other part of him was annoyed that she was right. "What are you doing out here?" he sighed. "You are the future Fire Lady. You're supposed to be out there with me." He sighed, making vague motions towards the main courtyard with his hands.
"I know, I know..." Katara sighed. "But I couldn't wait any longer. I wanted to tell you something."
"What now?" Zuko asked. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and assumed an authoritative position. Katara paused for a moment, taking in the sight of him in full Fire Lord regalia. She licked her lips. "Katara?"
"What?" She lifted her head up and shook it. "Right...right..." She smiled brightly. "Come here," She walked over and took his hand, pulling him forward.
Zuko sighed tiredly. "Katara..."
"Just wait..." she giggled. Zuko indulged her and followed without question. She led him around the decorative rocks at the other end of the pond and pointed down. "Ta-da!"
Zuko followed her hand. The two turtle ducks, the original two adults that Katara first seen, were nestled in a comfortable nest of twigs, grass, and mud. Zuko squinted and saw the small white shells beneath the female. "Turtle ducklings?"
"Uh-huh!" Katara beamed brightly. "In a few months, they'll have babies!"
Zuko smiled. He straightened up and pulled Katara into a warm embrace. His arms wrapped around her waist as he leaned his head against hers. "That's wonderful, Katara."
"I know..." she smiled softly. Her warm hands slipped over his and moved them lower, over her abdomen. "And they're not the only ones."
The sky exploded above them in brilliant colors. Somewhere in the palace, music could be heard wafting over the awe filled crowds as they watched the sky light up. In the small garden, in the enclosed area of the royal quarters, Zuko closed his eyes and gently turned Katara around to look at him. He took a deep breath and golden eyes reopened. "This morning...when you were in the bathroom...?"
"Not food poisoning." she assured him.
"And you're sure?" he asked softly.
Katara's smile widened and she nodded. "I checked with the doctor...today. He confirmed it."
His arms wrapped around her tightly, pulling her against him as he buried his face in her hair. "I'm so happy..." he whispered. He gently pulled back, stroking her face with one hand as the other kept her close. "Why are you telling me now? We could've announced it!" he realized.
Katara chuckled and shook her head. "I wanted to tell you here," she said softly. Zuko's eyebrows furrowed with confusion and Katara lifted up her hands and cupped his face. "In the garden." she explained.
"Why?" Zuko asked. Katara smiled widely. The sky illuminated with a bluish-white glow and cast a light over her face. He suddenly understood.
"Because this is the place," Katara whispered as she brought her lips against his. "Where we found peace."
A.N. - Well, it's finally over. It's been a fun month or so writing for you guys. I hope you enjoyed the story. Thank you to everyone who has stuck it out this far and were patient with me. I can't thank you guys enough for your support. To the betas that volunteered, I will harrass you now. Also, I decided to make Katara pregnant in the end, because half way through writing this chapter, my good friend called and guess what... :) Much love, always. :heart: