At Least He's Trying
It was inevitable. They weren't going to stay forever and before they knew it, winter made way for spring, and it was time to leave.
As the day approached, the Fire Lord's mood darkened to the point where people rushed from the room when he entered. No amount of cajoling from his uncle, nor teasing from Sokka, nor kind words from Aang could cool his temper. Only one voice could reach past his misery, and it was the one voice he knew he would be hearing in his head for a long time after it was gone.
"We'll come back," Katara said gently as they sat in the library. "I promise this won't be the last you'll see of me."
"I know that," Zuko groused. "But seeing you every three months is very different from seeing you every day. I want you to stay."
Katara's eyes widened a fraction. It reminded her of the way he was when they'd first met—except this time around, his behavior was more flattering than annoying. And she couldn't say that she didn't feel the same way he did. Imagining her life without him was painful, and she pushed it from her mind, wanting to make the best of what little time they had left.
For his part, Zuko was completely unaware of how forward he sounded, his attention focused entirely on his one single desire. She'd changed him without even trying, and for someone who'd hated change, he found that he wasn't the least bit angry about it; he was grateful. And they had only just begun.
"I just found you," he went on, sliding a sideways glance at her. "You can't just leave."
"I'll be back," she soothed, putting a hand in his. "I just found you, too, and I'm not going to waste all your good humor to let you go so easily. It was really hard to come by."
He smiled, and tugged on her hand. Katara chuckled, and went to him, curling up in his lap. Zuko kissed the top of her head as she settled down against him, her head resting on his shoulder.
"Don't go backwards from here, Zuko," she said earnestly. "You've come a long way since...well, since everything. I want to see you smile when I come back, and I want a real smile, not the kind you paste on your face. I want to hear you tell a joke, and laugh even when others don't."
"Why wouldn't they laugh?" he asked haughtily.
"I'm not going to be gone for that long," she teased.
Zuko chuckled. Katara looked up at him, her expression tender.
"Most of all, I want you to be happy," she said, touching his cheek.
"You want a lot of things," he said, arms tightening around her.
"And I'm going to get them."
"Yeah," he said, before his lips descended on hers. "You will."
Eight months later, a Water Tribe ship arrived bearing the new Ambassador to the Fire Nation...and his sister. It had been decided that it would be a conflict of interest to have the Fire Lord's lady act as Water Tribe ambassador as well. The Fire Lord was waiting for them on the docks, his face a stern mask, even when the young woman, her brother at her side, began to make her way down the gangplank towards him.
They stared at each other for a heartbeat, young lovers who had waited impatiently for this day to come after months of exchanging nothing more than letters that arrived too slow. Then, the young woman noticed a small, flickering fire in the palm of his hand. He was standing slightly ahead of his retainers, so they didn't notice what he was doing, and such was his control that the fire retained its distinctive shape despite its small size. As she stepped closer, she saw what it was and her mouth twitched. Her eyes met his, and she saw then, the playfulness there despite his stern expression.
Her brother let her go ahead, and she stood before the Fire Lord, her hands clasped primly in front of her.
"My Lord," she said with a small bow.
"My Lady Katara," he said and he leaned forward, so that only she could hear what he had to say. "My heart burns for you."
Katara's hand flew to her mouth as a laugh erupted from her lips. Zuko grinned and extinguished his small gift.
"Welcome back," he said.
"I did get everything I want," she said, grinning and she touched the pendant that hung around her neck. "And some things I didn't realize I wanted, as well."
"Yeah," he said, holding out a hand for her to take. "Me, too."