Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar.
Author's Note: The song "Heaven Help My Heart" is from the musical Chess, lyrics by Tim Rice. This is my first attempt at a Zuko/Song fic, so I'd really like input on how it turned out.
Heaven Help My Heart
If this were love, I should give that love
Every second I have, and I do.
Did I know where he'd lead me to?
Did I plan doing all of this
For the love of a man?
Song still couldn't believe where she was. When the main force of the Earth Kingdom army had marched through her province, she had volunteered her services as a healer and been readily accepted. Her mother had tried to stop her, not wanting to lose someone else to the war. Song, however, could no longer sit quietly at home as battles raged around her. Besides, this advance had a different, final feel to it, and Song sensed that, if whatever they were planning to do failed, they would all be overrun by the Fire Nation anyway. It was time to stand up or lie down, and Song chose to stand.
If she were honest with herself, though, that wasn't the only reason she'd wanted to come. She'd thought it might give her a chance to see him again.
Yes, she knew who he really was. A few days after "Li" and "Mushi" had passed through, new bounty posters began showing up. Normally, Song didn't pay much attention to those things, but the shape of a distinctive scar caught her eye. She found herself gaping at the image until, unable to think of anything else to do, she had torn the poster down and taken it home to show her mother.
"I knew they must have been desperate to take our ostrich-horse," was all the old woman had said.
"But, Mom…Fire Nation royalty! In our house!" Song couldn't quite wrap her mind around it. When her mother didn't answer, Song added, "I wonder what they did to bring their own family against them?"
"Well, if they did something to bother that madman of a Fire Lord, they can't be too bad," her mother replied.
And that had been the end of it. Only, it hadn't, not really.
Why'd I let it happen anyhow?
And what I'm feeling now
Has no easy explanation,
Reason plays no part.
Song had taken the picture to her room and looked at it frequently.
"Zuko," she whispered his real name, rolling it around on her tongue, testing it. "Zuko."
She didn't know how to feel. First, she had taken in two weary travelers and thought the younger was a kindred spirit. She had even shown him her own scar from a firebender, something only her mother and a couple of close friends knew about.
Then, the young man had callously stolen their beast of burden. Song remembered feeling confused and betrayed. Now she saw that his situation was even worse than that of a refugee – he was a fugitive, and Song thought she was beginning to understand. She gazed at the artist's rendering, considering how the haughty-looking prince there had become the desperate wanderer with haunted eyes.
Over the next few months, Song collected information. She overheard conversations, asked a few questions. Rumors were beginning to circulate through the Earth Kingdom about Prince Zuko and his uncle. Song knew enough about the nature of rumors to disregard about half of what she heard, but she gathered that the burn had come from his own father, and he had been exiled more than three years ago with the task of finding the Avatar.
His more recent status was a little muddled, but it had something to do with Zuko's failure to capture Avatar Aang and the Fire Nation's heavy loss sustained at the North Pole. Princess Azula, his sister, had come after him, so he was now an enemy to both the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation.
Song felt pity for what she saw as a lost soul. And, strange as it seemed even to her, she began to love him from a distance. Or maybe she had really fallen in love with him at that first meeting but had not allowed herself to accept it until she felt she understood him. In any case, the feeling was as unreasonable as it was real. Finally, Song allowed herself to do something with the picture that the real thing hadn't permitted. She touched the scar.
Heaven help my heart.
I love him too much.
What if he saw my whole existence,
Turning around a word, a smile, a touch?
So, here she was, camped on the western shore of the Earth Kingdom as the massed army prepared to cross the sea and attack the Fire Nation. A few groups of soldiers had stayed behind, of course, for the benefit of the cities occupied by Fire troops. The last thing they needed right now was to be squeezed by an attack from the rear, or to have the Fire Lord tipped off.
As Song had guessed, Zuko and his Uncle Iroh were there as well, keeping a low profile. It had taken her a few days to find the prince, and she still had not decided whether to approach him. Instead, she watched him from afar, working to reconcile the stories and the wanted poster with the young man she saw before her.
Only the Avatar and his friends seemed to know who the two firebenders were. Song observed them occasionally, speaking together in hushed tones, but they usually remained separate.
Avatar Aang and the blue-clad girl he traveled with went to the shore to practice waterbending. They had both mastered the art, but they were perfecting the meshing of their two techniques. Since they were the only two waterbenders with the army, this could be very important. However, it didn't take Song very long to realize that the pair required little effort to blend, either with their bending or on a personal level.
In fact, it was watching those two that finally convinced Song to try talking to Zuko. If the Avatar felt he had time for love at this momentous occasion, why shouldn't she try?
One of these days, and it won't be long,
He'll know more about me than he should.
All my dreams will be understood.
No surprise, nothing more to learn from the look in my eyes.
Mustering all her courage, Song walked up behind the prince, who stood alone and morose. Song could almost feel the conflicted emotions within him. On the one hand, he was going to be seeing his home for the first time in years. On the other hand, these were probably not the circumstances he would have wished for his homecoming.
"Zuko," she said softly. He started and tensed, turning to see who had called him by his real name. He relaxed a little when he saw her, but his expression remained guarded.
"Song," he addressed her, and she couldn't help the small thrill that ran through her at his remembering her name. "So you know."
"The wanted posters," she explained. "I won't tell anyone." He nodded shortly and turned back to his contemplation of the horizon.
"I never thought I'd be going home surrounded by my father's enemies," he commented levelly. Song noticed that he hadn't said they were his enemies. He cast a sidelong glance at her and asked, "Why are you here?"
"I joined the army as a healer. I wanted to help." She was tempted to leave it at that, but she felt she owed him the whole truth. "I also hoped…I might see you again."
"Why?" The question was simple and genuine. He couldn't imagine why she would have wanted to see him. Her courage plummeted and her throat grew dry as it occurred to her that he hadn't thought about her at all. He misunderstood her silence.
"I'm sorry about the ostrich-horse," he apologized. "I'll repay you, if--"
"No," Song cut him off, finding her voice again. "I mean, thank you, but it's not that." Silence fell between them again. Finally, Song decided that if she was in for a copper, she might as well be in for a gold piece. They could both die tomorrow, and then what would a little embarrassment matter? "The thing is…I think I love you."
Though I know that time is not my friend,
I'll fight it to the end,
Hoping to keep this best of moments,
Where the passion starts.
Zuko's head whipped toward her suddenly. Something Song couldn't define flickered in his golden eyes before he shielded them and only showed a guarded curiosity.
"You - you what?" the tone was mild, but his expression was one of total disbelief.
"I know it sounds crazy," Song began, flustered. Thoroughly embarrassed, she began making her retreat. "I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have--"
"No, please," Zuko took her hand in a gesture reminiscent of the one he'd used to prevent her from touching his scar, but really, it was the "please" that stopped her. It was said with the air of a man who isn't accustomed to using it. "It's just that no one's said that to me since…it's been a long time."
He released her hand, and she dared to look into his eyes again. She saw an old, deep sadness there, one that reminded her of the grief she'd experienced at the loss of her father, and she wondered what the cause of his was.
"I don't understand," he said then, studying her intently. "I abused your hospitality, lied to you, stole from you. How could you possibly…?" he trailed off, unable to finish the question. Song's heart went out to him even more. Had his life been so lacking in love that he couldn't even say the word? Still, she had to smile a little because she had asked herself the same question so many times.
"I don't know," she replied honestly. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. What I do know is that love isn't something you have to earn. It's given."
Zuko stared at her as though she had just said the most profound thing he'd ever heard.
"I'm not telling you this because I want anything from you," she assured him. "I just wanted to be able to say it aloud. And I wanted to make sure you knew you weren't alone."
Then, in a sudden spontaneous display that surprised her, she slipped her arms under his and gave him a hug. She wasn't sure why she did it, other than it seemed like he needed it.
Heaven help my heart the day that I find,
Suddenly, I've run out of secrets –
Suddenly, I'm not always on his mind.
Zuko stood there stiffly as she hugged him, as though he didn't quite know what to do. Eventually, his arms hesitantly found their way around her, and he closed her in loosely. She rested her head against his chest, listening to his heart beat and inhaling his scent of musk mixed with wood smoke.
He hadn't rejected her, but there was still so much she didn't know about him. Song had allowed him to remain secretive while she had shown him almost everything she was. Perhaps it was unequal, but she also sensed that it was what he needed. Love was about giving, and she was fine with this arrangement, at least for now.
They stood that way for a long moment, taking in each other's warmth and comfort. After a while, Song felt Zuko's nose and mouth pressing the top of her head briefly, and his warm breath moved through her braided hair. His heart rate began to increase. She raised her face to him, feeling her own pulse rushing to match his. Softly, his nose slid beside hers and he touched his lips to hers tentatively. He stopped himself and pulled back, his eyes asking for permission.
Instead of answering, Song wound her arms around his neck and pulled him down towards her. She'd never been kissed before, and she guessed that neither had he, but that touch had only whetted her appetite, and she threw herself into their joining of mouths with an abandon she never would have allowed herself under other circumstances.
Zuko responded to her ferocity with his own intensity, wrapping his arms tightly around the small of her back and pulling her up and closer. Before long, they were both pouring out their uncertainty, their fears, their long-submerged needs for human intimacy in this one act.
When they finally broke away, emotionally drained and gasping for breath, they needed no more words. They simply held each other, enjoying the new connection they'd found with another soul.
Song knew that things would have to change tomorrow, whether they won or lost. She had no idea whether she would ever see him again, and certainly it would never be even this easy. For tonight, though, he was hers, and that was enough.
Maybe it's best to love a stranger.
If that's what I've done, heaven help my heart.
Author's Note: It seems to me that Zuko is not comfortable with physical contact except while fighting, so I thought about what it might take to draw him out of that. While I believe that Iroh loves Zuko, I don't think he's ever told him. The closest I've heard is when he said "I care about you" in The Avatar State.