Title: Five Kisses that Zuko and Katara Never Had
Fandom / Pairing: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko/Katara
Rating: T
Disclaimer: I own Avatar! Ozai sold it to me. Fufufufu.
Summary: The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.
Notes: For Sophia. Because I love you and you deserve this.
Notes II: Yeah, these aren't canon. At all. I tried. All post-Book Two finale, most roughly set in/after Book Three.

1. earth

He sees her in the hallway from the servant's quarters and swears. Then it's him and her in the shadows of suits of armor and she has no idea what's going on, but she sees the glint of his gold eyes and the shadows of his scar and her expression darkens to a glower.

But it's him who's swearing, not her. "What the hell? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

If looks could kill, he has no doubt he'd be pinned to the wall with icicles, but he's not going to get her get a word in edgewise. "You're wearing the wrong sash, you idiot. This is why you don't trust blind people." Because blue sashes are for the kitchen workers, and black for the maids in the east wing. But she couldn't know that.

"Get off me," she retorts, trying to shoulder past him. But his hands are pressed on either side of her waist, and he's leaning his weight into her, and she really can't escape.

There's the sound of footsteps and he swears again, under his breath, but his lips are at her ear and she hears it anyway. "Look, Wen--Katara, you're going to have to trust me." She looks at him, eyes wide with surprise and nods, because she can hear the footsteps coming down the hall and she doesn't have much choice.

He kisses her as the footsteps of the guards move by (Azula's guards but she doesn't know that), tenderly at first, just a press of lips on lips. Mostly, it's because he can't think of anything else on such short notice, and also because for all her water affiliations there's fire in her eyes. Her hands slip around his neck and his shift from the wall to her waist. The guards stop at the end of the hall and he swears against her mouth - they need to be more convincing.

A hand shifts from around his neck to tangle in his hair and he finds himself pulled tighter against her, whose back is now flush against the wall. She gets it, she really does, and for a moment he's impressed. But when she deepens the kiss and slips one leg around him, he's beyond that; he's at a loss. He skirts his hands along her torso, ghosting around the edges of her Earth Kingdom robes, curling fingers into her sash.

There's a low chuckle from the end of the hall and the footsteps fade into silence. When even the echoes are quieted, they separate, disentangling themselves with care. Suddenly, it's awkward, and suddenly he feels very seventeen.

"Go back to the kitchens," he murmurs, looking determinedly at his feet. "Come back here when you have a black sash. Or have your brother dress up as a guard." He looks at her here, and she returns his gaze directly, if puzzled. "Azula's not forgiving."

She nods curtly and moves to run off, lifting the hem of the robes, when he speaks without meaning to. "And," he starts, hands clenching into fists. "Uncle should be in the first dungeon."

"We know." Her hands curl into the material and the sash flutters in the still air. Then she's off running again, and the blue silk fans out behind her like a tail.

When she's out of sight, he touches a hand to his mouth and smoothes the back of his hair. Straightening his robes, he steps out into the main hall and waits for Azula's summons.


2. fire

The arrow whistles past him and he barely manages to dodge it before a barrage is upon him. The broadswords ring as he unsheathes them quickly and slices shafts in half, desperately trying to backpedal into something resembling cover and finding nothing but forest and thin trees around him. He swears under his breath and decides instead that if he can't go on the defensive, he has to go on the offensive.

He slices cleanly through the last of the shafts and charges forward. There's a twist of fire down the curve of his blade until it pulls off the point, and suddenly he's off, left arm swinging forward even as his right arcs back. Then it's step-two-three, turn, dodge-five-six, and thrust - a dance he's familiar with even with the wave of arrows crashing down on him. The heads bounce off the leather guards and he spins around once, quickly, cutting and burning through the shafts of arrows like air.

There's a hollow thwok sound and he whirls around to see a shower of darkness headed for him and he's powerless to stop it. The world suddenly quiets, and all he can hear is the blood rushing through his veins and all he can see is the dark shadow of arrowheads against a sky alight with fire. He's going to die, he can feel it, and the only thing he can think of is his mother's last words even as his the grip on his swords slacken.

There's a wall of ice, suddenly, six inches from his face, and he hears the points puncture the surface with a quiet chak, like a knife in a tree. The wall melts into water and the shafts fall harmlessly to the ground and finally he breathes.

"This way!" It's her voice and he follows it instinctively, cutting away stray arrows as he goes. They fall behind a rock wall that's low enough to the ground to keep them hidden, but high enough to let them sit with their backs to it as they try to come up with a plan.

"Aang's almost there," she tells him in a rush. "Sokka's trying to keep him covered, but the archers are holding Appa at bay. We have to take them out."

"How many?" His gold eyes narrow and he looks over his shoulder, sheathing his swords to get a better look over the edge of their cover.

"Sokka counts fifty, but they're shooting like there's 75."

"They're probably shooting multiple arrows," he mutters and checks himself over. A few small cuts around his face, a couple tears on his sleeves, but he's not the worse for wear.

"Here," she says, and pushes a water skin at him.

He shakes his head. "You need that more than I do." He checks the bandolier and swears softly; he's got three explosive capsules and a handful of smoke bombs left. "We need a plan."

She nods and peers quickly over the barrier only to duck back as several dry clatters are heard. "I can take them from the right. I'll use ice to knock out as many as I can."

He nods sharply. "Don't use your water to put out any fires." The tips of his fingers spark slightly, and he curls his hand into a fist. "I'll see you on the other side."

He moves to stand and dart into the shadows of the trees when he feels a tug on the ties of his armor. The same hand turns him around roughly, and he finds himself in a hard, persistent kiss, almost bruising in its pressure. Her hands curl around the edges of his breastplate, and he finds himself caught off-guard and speechless as she pulls away.

"Don't die on me, Zuko." Her blue eyes are narrowed and as unwavering as the rock they're crouched behind, and in spite of the chaos around them, he's impressed. She freezes herself a sword of ice and deflects the rain of arrows as she darts into the thick of it, and he watches her until she's a shadow on shadows.

He takes to the trees, Dao swords in each hand, and licks his lips quickly before moving to strike an archer in his sights.


3. air

There's a quiet town nestled in a quiet corner of the Earth Kingdom. Here no one knows about the fall of the Earth King. Here, no one knows that in four days the Fire Nation is set to fall. All they know is that they have an odd assortment of visitors tonight.

They don't realize who they're in the presence of, here. There's the girl in the green noble's clothes at the bar that swears like a sailor, with eyes that seem to see through those around her. There's the tall boy in blue robes with his hair pulled back, ribbing her and getting his feet stepped on for his trouble.

There's the boy in orange with the blue tattoo on his head smiling quietly as he sips tea, the chair leaning back dangerously far. Physically, he's probably the youngest, but he's got the oldest eyes of the lot. On his shoulder is an odd creature, ears like a fox and tail like a monkey, face like a cat with a nose like a raccoon. Idly, his hand goes up to scratch the creature behind the ears even as he scans the crowd before him. To his right is an old man, gray hair long and wild, dressed in simpler green robes, smiling softly, and speaking quietly to the bald boy. There's a pot of tea before both of them, steaming gently, matching the steam rising from both their mugs. They look at peace.

Then there's the girl in blue, her bandolier of water skins slung across the back of a chair carelessly. She's got her hair in braids, long and dark against the pale fabric she wears. Her eyes are bluer than anyone's ever seen before, and her robes offset that beautifully even in the low light of the tavern. She's dancing with the boy - the young man, as it were - in brown, edges of green and red visible when he moves into the light. But she's blocking off the light to him and so he wears brown in their memories. His swords are lain on the table where the young monk - what else could he be? - and the old man - the boy's father, perhaps - sip tea, but he pays them no mind. It's the blue girl in front of him that they see has his attention. He's utterly nondescript, dark hair pulled back into a low ponytail. They wish he had some distinguishing mark - a blue arrow, a haunting gaze, an easy manner - but he's utterly nondescript save for the eyes that seem to glow gold in the firelight.

It's the bartender who notices it first. She's wiping away at the lacquered surface the tavern is so proud of when she sees them in the darkest corner of the room, revolving against each other to the quiet folksong Marie sings from by the fire. There's the strum of the guitar and the quiet, gentle voice Marie has floating across the bar, over the hum of dishes clinking and people connecting. She sees them revolving in the darkest corner and her eyes soften and she leans back and observes them. The blue girl is leaning her head on his shoulder, arms circling his shoulders tightly. He's got his own around her waist, loosely draped but ready to catch her if he needs to. The barmaid smiles a little and turns away, thinking about summer nights long ago when her own lover would take her to see the fireflies.

They disappear on her halfway to midnight, but she pays them no mind; she remembers youth and love. (She doesn't remember knowing her death is possibly imminent, doesn't remember last chances and countdowns in single digits. She can't have; she isn't them.) Instead, she heads out into the garden, intent on finding more mint for the sweet old man's tea. And if he flirts with her a little, no harm no foul.

They're there, she sees, under the willow tree by the trickle of a stream that runs through the area. It's oddly picturesque, with the fireflies in the branches and in their hair. She leans over the old planters and quietly picks the leaves, choosing the largest and the longest for the tea-loving gentleman. She straightens and casts one last glance to the two silhouettes.

The dark outlines of their faces touch, and she feels something inside of her rise; even here, even now, some things are the same. She thinks of stolen kisses in her own kitchen long ago and dusts her hands against her apron, silently making her way back to the bar. The light spills out onto the porch from the open door, and the pretty strains of Marie's favorite up-tempo song ring against the wood paneling. She steps inside and hums along, taking care to shut the door behind her without even the slightest of clicks.

The next morning, the odd, assorted group checks out and makes their way along the dusty trail leading to the sea. She watches them until their shadows blur into the horizon, and then goes back to polishing glasses, humming Marie's Aire in D, the quiet ballad from the night before.

Eight days later, she learns what they have done.


4. water

"Spar with me?"

He opens his eyes from under the waterfall and looks at her, knee-deep into the stream in her white waterbending clothes. "Spar? With you?"

She rolls her eyes and waves a hand idly, causing a small wave along the surface or the water. "You're the only Firebender here. I'm about to go up against a bunch." She shrugs. "And you're uncle is off imparting wisdom to Aang, so it looks like it's you or bust."

"Bust, then." He shifts back into a comfortable stance and closes his eyes, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling when he hears her huff.

Unfortunately, the roar of rushing water is harder to tune out, waterfall and all. He opens his eyes only to be swallowed in a wall of water rushing at him, hardly having time to take a breath. When he surfaces, sputtering and gasping, she's doubled over in laughter, so far folded that her long hair is touching the water.

"Your...face!" She cries, pointing, between peals of laughter.

He scowls and stands, droplets steaming off of him as he (quite literally) warms up. "Fine. You still wanna spar?" He climbs onto the rocks dotting the wide, shallow river and adopts a dragon stance, left foot braced and right leg coiled back. His left hand extends out, palm out, and his right is drawn across his torso, palm face-down.

"Oh yeah." She slides into a simple back stance, right arm extended and left at her ribcage, both hands with palms face-up to strike. "You're so going down."

"Uh-huh." He looks up quickly. "What a nice, cloudless, sunny day."

She flicks her wrist and he gets splashed in the face. "Don't get cocky."

"You have no idea." He pivots quickly and kicks an arc of fire at her, letting it skim against the surface of the slow-moving river at it goes. She steps forward and switches hand positions, cutting through the bolt of flame, but barely manages to dodge the three quick fireballs he's sent her way.

She low kicks, skimming along the base of the stream, and whips a cord of water around him, freezing it into ice as it touches his skin and pinning his arms to his sides. He glares at her but breathes deeply and blows, while she takes cover under the water's surface and rolls to the side. The ice bindings shatter free and he jumps to another rock just as a wave douses the one he was on moments before. Now adopting a cat stance, he lobs fireballs the size of his fist at her in quick succession, causing her to backpedal rapidly and waste time deflecting them. One of them hits just in front of her - they're sparring, after all - and the water explodes in a nice spray of mist.

Suddenly, out of the rapidly dissipating cloud comes a javelin of ice that he finds himself literally bending over backwards to dodge. It manages to nick the edge of his shoulder regardless, but he doesn't have time to think about that because now he's the one dodging ice shards as thick as his arm and twice as long.

She sees him start to use a fire-whip to knock away the spears and curses softly, spinning around in a wheel kick to engulf him in a large wave. When she turns back around, he's shifted to another rock, this one wider and flatter, and moves into a wider stance.

"You know, when you gape like that you look like a fish." There's a smirk playing on the features of his face, and if she wasn't so pissed she might smirk back.

"I'll show you fish--!" The water whip is out again, this time with an ice melee weapon tagged onto the end. He slices through the whip cleanly with a hand covered in fire, but doesn't expect three spheres of water lobbed at his chest to follow. The first two hit their mark and cause him to lose his stance, but the third only swipes at his knee as he jumps into the air, right leg coming down in an axe kick that draws a clean semicircle of fire in the air.

She draws up an ice sheet to guard herself and sees the reddening of the ice through it and falls back, dodging rough kicks and punches made sluggish though the water. There's a punch over her shoulder she barely dodges that she can feel the heat course by, and her mouth tightens into a firm line. There's a sweeping arc of fire as he jumps back that she counters with a swirl of water, and there's the crashing hiss of steam where they meet, but before he can counter, she dodges quickly and throws him over her shoulder into the shallow bank of the stream.

"Gotcha!" She cries, and settles into a forward stance, hands poised as if to strike.

"Really?" His legs sweep out and knock her from under her, and she falls backwards into the water. "You're right," he says, as she pulls herself coughing above the surface. "You're not a fish. More like...wet dog."

She flicks a few fingers at him, and several small ice shards move to piece him in the shoulder, only for him to dodge and jump back onto land. She pulls herself up and pushes her loose hair out of her eyes, taking on the back stance once more.

He side kicks, then smoothly back kicks through, finishing with a punch that just barely misses her jaw. She grabs his leg and encases it in ice, giving it a nice twist to throw him off. But he continues to shoot fireballs at her, so the ice splinters as she heaves his leg away. He lands in a long back stance and crescent kicks four times back and forth, sending x-es of fire her way. She counters with x-es of ice, which shatter on impact, then dodges the shrapnel and reclaims it. She lifts a swirl of water from the river and drives it at him.

He dodges neatly, but is hit by a second, smaller length of water square in the chest, effectively knocking the air out of his lungs. She twists the larger swirl and it comes crashing down on top of him, too. When the rush stops, he's lying in wet grass and coughing.

Quickly, she pounces, sitting on his chest, knees pinning his arms at his sides. "Do you give up?"

He coughs and groans. "I thought you said this was sparring."

"It is," she insists, and grins.

"Man, I just got beat by a girl."

"A waterbending master," she corrects him, and crawls off, offering him a hand up. He grasps the hand tightly and rises, standing a hand span taller than her. They're both soaking wet and a little rough around the edges and unable to look away. There's the rush of the waterfall behind them and the spray of it quietly making its way over to envelop them. There's the sun high in the sky, stiffening their clothes and reclaiming the moisture. And there's her wet hair and his wet clothes.

Which is why, when he kisses her, suddenly and without warning, he thinks she tastes like rain.


5. void

There's a ridge overlooking the Fire palace, burned to the ground.

She's standing there and feels cold, somehow. In the midst of a thousand fires, she feels cold and suddenly alone.

And then he's there, twin broadswords hanging limply from each hand. "It's done," he says, and collapses onto his knees beside her, the swords cutting into the dry earth. "It's all over."

"Is this was ending feels like?" It's a rhetorical question, thrown out so that the words can be scattered to the winds, so that the meaning is somehow lessened in the face of everything. "Like failure and finality?"

He doesn't say anything, doesn't have to. His unmarred face looks upon the place of his childhood without emotion, without reaction even as the smoking remains press sulfur into the sky.

"Zuko," she says quietly, and watches the last of the palace burn. The light from the fire highlights the lower half of her face, but her eyes are shadowed. But there's nothing left to say. This is where they begin to part ways. This is the beginning of the end.

It leaves a bitter aftertaste.

He looks up at the smoky sky, sun obscured by the thick smoke that followed the eclipse. For a long moment, every limb, every bone, every muscle feels tired, and he wants to fall back and watch clouds - dark and light and heavy and puffy - pass by like he was six once more. He suddenly wants the childhood he never had, and feels ever the more tired for it.

She falls to the ground beside him, one hand on his shoulder. He turns to her, to see the blue of her eyes and dream of clouds in an endless blue sky. Instead, she presses a kiss, chaste and slow, to his lips and pulls away. And rises.

And walks away.

1. "earth" refers to the Earth Kingdom, clearly.

2. "fire" refers to them being 'under fire,' as it were.

3. "air," I found, can refer to a melody, although Aang's prominence may well be my excuse for that.

4. "void" is the fifth classical element, and can also be called "heart" or "ether," and generally refers to that which is divine, or to love, as in the movie.

5. The order of the elements comes from the Captain Planet theme song. Just throwing that out there.

6. Yeah, it ends on a downer. But they're all post-Book Two, so suck it up. It's practically taken for granted that Zuko is either working for them or part of the Gaang. Whatever. Gripe elsewhere, folks.

7. That fight scene was fun (and intensely difficult) to write. Good thing I took martial arts for a while there, and that I love Naruto. (As an aside, you have no idea how many times I had to erase words like shuriken, kunai, and shinobi. It was ridiculous.)

8. "The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer. " - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

9. Some of you may have seen this on LJ. Yes, I have an LJ. And yes, I crosspost fic here, too. :D