Disclaimer: I don't own the Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of its characters.
A/N: Thanks for all the encouragement ;) and nice words ppl, I love you all! .
Chapter 5 - The Deal
Story by Last Butterfly
Summary: The tension of ending a war makes people do unexpected things. Like trying to gain forgiveness in exchange of a favour. Who would have thought that was what she had in mind? - Zutara, Zuko x Katara
The sun was setting by the time Katara made up her mind. She didn't leave her room in the last hours, but she had figured out – maybe - the only way out of this…
"Zuko…" She had found him in the royal gardens, where he usually meditated with the dying sun. He looked up at her from before a single candle, but this time his expressions didn't change from the indifferent one. He was wearing a pair of thin, red trousers, with the same coloured sleeveless shirt, and he had seen that her clothing was also meant to let her move easily. "I have an offer for you."
His eyes slightly narrowed as he eyed her from top to toe, but slowly turned back towards the candle as he asked. "What kind of offer?"
She was watching the back of his head then she averted her gaze before swallowing once. She knew that the risk of loosing her last chance with this deal was really high… but it was the only thing he might have accepted. That's why she needed to try it either way.
"The current situation is… something none of us would want to stand in the future…"
Zuko scoffed. "Maybe you wouldn't." He said as he stood up, stretching his arms before turning to her. "Get to the point Katara, I have to listen to politically correct speeches day after day…" He let a slight smile appear at the edge of his lips as her eyes averted from his. "And you didn't plan to bore me I presume…"
One of her hands turned into a fist at the tone in his voice. He was teasing her directly, and she hated that. "I'll agree."
He crossed his arms as she didn't say more. "Into what?"
Her blue eyes rose up to bore into his ones giving him a strong look when she finally spoke. "I'll agree into this… your whole plan. I'll stay and become your wife, but only on one condition."
"Oh…?" He arched an eyebrow at her, and lifted a hand to his face, covering a slight smile while rubbing his lower lip. "And what would that be?"
She raised her chin, straightening in her place. "That you'll win against me. Your bending against mine."
From just a look at her in the almost orange light, he couldn't help realizing that she had turned even more beautiful since he had last seen her. Her expressions were not torn because of the war's end and the responsibility towards the gaang had finally faded… probably even the simple fact that she had returned home, and finally ate regularly helped in this too. He was not even aware how true he was when he written down those words about her before…
His expressions didn't change when he finally asked. "You want a bending battle?" She held his gaze, and only made a nod as an answer, but he let his hand fell next to him before tilting his head to the side. "And what if I loose?"
"If I win, you withdraw. You'll let me go, and never say anything about what happened between us; neither here nor sooner." She didn't even let a smile come to her lips as she said this out… she wanted him to see she was serious. He could get everything or nothing… that was her offer.
For a moment he was only looking at her while he was thinking about what she said. Well… this would get them somewhere. Not like he would have come up with a better idea… but as he thought about it…
Her mouth stayed open. He can't refuse… he just can't! She was looking at him with round eyes, she had nothing else left to offer…
"You have to understand… the risk is too big." But he already wore a slight smile as she walked towards her. "It's not worth it for me, unless…"
Her heart skipped a beat. "Unless?"
He didn't say anything, only wore that mysterious smile upon his face until he stopped before her. The way he was looking at her made her shift in her place, and as she did so, he let his smile change into a smirk. "Unless I got some motivation…" He whispered the end, but she looked at him stunned nonetheless. "I'll accept the offer if you agree in sealing it…"
Katara's lips parted, but in the next moment she gritted her teeth and with a dark look she lifted up her hand to slap that smug smirk off of his face. How dare he?! "I'd sooner…!"
In mid-move, he caught her hand, and interrupted her starting yell at once. "With a kiss Katara." He said, after his smirk faded. "I'll agree if you seal it with a kiss." As she formed an 'o' of surprise with her lips, he spoke again after letting go of her hand. "If that is acceptable for you too…"
The waterbender looked to the side and bit her lower lip in thought. Well… that's not too much… and if it is enough for him then… maybe…
Zuko slowly let his smile return as he was watching her while she didn't even realize that the edge of her lips curled upwards in the meantime too. He slowly took a step closer to her, which made her look up at him again but she forced that slight smile to fade as her eyes bore into his.
One of his arms wrapped around her waist but she didn't protest, only held his gaze as he pulled her closer and her hands fell upon his chest. He slowly leaned towards her as his heart started to beat faster – and he knew that she had probably felt it too - but before they could have kissed, she let out a whisper. "I hate you…"
Just for a moment he looked at her then let his smile widen a bit before answering. "I hate you more."
"No, I h…" She tried to retort, but his lips sealed her ones. For a moment she was about to push him away and finish what she started, but as her lips parted and he deepened the kiss, she changed her mind. Her hands slowly trailed upwards – one to his neck, and the other clenched in his shirt, giving it a slight tug, making him open his eyes.
But he saw that hers were closed… so his arms simply pulled her even closer, and one of his hands moved to the back of her head in return… Gods… she's even greater than I've remembered…
The two of them let themselves enjoy the moment and finally, her eyes opened. Blue met gold once again and it was the time when she slowly pulled away, and he let her go. He saw her flushed face while they were taking deep breaths… but the only thing that rang in his mind almost made him embrace her again. I knew it… I knew you'd felt something!
She straightened up in her place, trying to hide whatever ran through her mind, and only held his gaze as their expressions turned serious. Then she stood in her stance. "Are you ready?" She asked when finally there was only one thing in her mind: I can't loose!
Zuko's eyes filled with determination as he took his stance, and let a half-smirk come to his face. "Just come…" He answered, while he concentrated on one single thought himself: I must win!
Then she made her move. In the garden they were, there was a smaller pond, which Zuko faced earlier… and now all the water from it suddenly rose behind him.
He didn't even have to turn back to know what was coming his way as the waves shadows already fell upon him. He slightly bowed his head, pulling his arms up to his chest, and before the water's impact, he let out a growl…
In the next moment his whole upper body was encircled in flames, and for a moment she could only see water and steam. She already called the water towards her when she made the steam fade, but her eyes rounded as his form didn't appear in his original place or anywhere near.
She hardly had time to turn in her place, when Zuko rushed towards her from the side. Only when she was aware of his presence did he let his fist flame up, but she made a hard frown and slammed a big amount of water to him.
He flew backwards because of the sudden force, already cursing himself for underestimating her, but didn't have much time between the moment his back hit the ground and when she sent another attack towards him.
He rolled away from his spot, but as a strange noise reached his ears, he looked back to see that a rock – which stood in her water's way instead of him – slowly slipped to the ground in at least a dozen parts. Her attack cut it through in several places, leaving him with opened mouth. Shit.
She was smirking at him by the time he got to his feet, and his expressions turned serious. "Now you wish you've waited till the sun came up, don't you?"
Zuko made a scoff. She might have thought she had the advantage… but he knew that her weak point was the distance. If he got close enough…
Her next attack was her favourite water whip, aimed right at his head and she almost waited for him to use the same technique… but instead he just moved away from the whip's direction, heading towards her.
The whip flew back just in time to create a shield before her, because he sent several fireballs towards her using his hands, and a bigger one with a right kick in the air…
The ice shield turned to steam as the attacks hit, but with a flick of her wrist she pulled the usable water out of it then formed an octopus around her, when he reached closer to her.
As he tried to step towards her, one of the octopus's legs whipped towards him… but he counted on that. He sent two fire punches towards her, while running to the side…
When she tried to follow him with her eyes, the flames met the octopus just before her face, making her loose track of him. The next thing she knew was that the water behind her evaporated with a hissing noise… Damn!
She tried to adjust the water to cover her, but the fire he sent towards her seemed to devour every single drop of it, while she already had to stumble backwards from the heat that surrounded her… No! He can't be this strong!
The steam blinded her by the time the fire suddenly stopped, but she couldn't even finish another move when his final blow came… his attack sent her backwards and she fell roughly on her back, hitting the back of her head.
For a moment she only saw stars before her, but this was more than enough for him to get to her… before she could have sat up, he loomed over her, getting a hold of her wrists and pinning her down. Her eyes slowly managed to focus on his smirking face, and only then did he speak. "You've lost."
Her blue eyes went wide below him. Without trying to struggle she turned her head to the side while biting her lower lip. He slowly let go of her, as he sat up beside her, but didn't say anything else.
It was over… she had just lost her last chance… As she felt that her sight slowly turned fuzzy, she rolled on her side before slowly sitting up herself, with her back towards him – this way she couldn't see that the smirk faded from his face. She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them…
He could first see that her shoulders slightly shook, and his expressions saddened while he reached towards her. But then – even though she tried to hold back – a sob escaped her lips, making him froze.
She let her forehead fell on her lower arms, and with closed eyes she tried to pull herself together after that treacherous sob left her. For a moment she remained in that position, while the tears silently fell from her eyes… but then the silence broke as he slowly started to speak.
"I have…" His voice was low but strong, and when she peeked behind her, she could see that he turned to the opposite direction too, so that she wouldn't see his face as he spoke. "Changed my mind." She turned towards him with parted lips, and did not even tire herself with drying her eyes… his words were enough to slowly make them fade. "I'm not going to marry you…"
His fists were upon his knees while he was looking ahead of himself. He didn't want his expression to give him away either… because first he was about to go on with this. He would have really done that, after all it was her offer to begin with… while he wanted nothing but her, ever since holding her in his arms on that fateful night… Maybe he should have stayed away from her from the start.
When he reached towards her, he wanted to pull her close… telling her what he really thought and felt… he even counted on tears too, but after hearing that little sound… he just couldn't do it. Hadn't he done enough to break her heart already? Hadn't she done the same too?
And in his hesitation, a small voice appeared in his head… saying something that made him disgusted with himself. Your father would do this…
His fingers clenched upon his knees as his emotions mixed with his expressions. "I'll keep my promise to the Water Tribes. What I offered still stands without the condition…"
She was watching him with utter disbelief, while he didn't even peek at her. Her eyes wandered to his fists, which slowly relaxed before he spoke again. "There is a ship at the docks… its destination will be the South Pole. It is going to set sail at dawn."
Her expressions softened behind him. She could hardly believe what he just said… She shifted in her place to fully face him – well, as much as she could, because he didn't even plan to turn back towards her – then she slowly decided to reach towards him. "Zuko…"
"Please…" His voice remained stern, but made her stop in mid-move as he slightly lowered his head. "Just go."
She slowly pulled back her hand while a slight frown appeared on her face, but then she closed her eyes and stood up. The sun went down entirely, and in the low light she tried to memorize how he looked like while he was sitting there… She knew that suddenly everything turned out the way she wanted… but why did she feel like this because of it?
She took a deep breath before lowering her head, and said one thing before turning away. "Thank you Zuko…"
He was sitting there, unmoving while he heard her footsteps fading away… He had done the right thing. And still… suddenly he wanted nothing more than to turn back the time and just be the bad guy. Why am I so bad at being good? His eyes closed before even he could have decided if a tear wanted to fall from his right eye or not. He still had his memories… those were something he'd never loose.
He felt as a slight breeze ruffled his hair, but he still didn't move from his place, only turned his gaze upwards at the night sky. Finally… he let one last whisper join to the wind. "Farewell, Katara…"
-- DAWN --
Katara was standing on the deck with one of her hands resting on the rails, while the other… held a single flower as her eyes wandered around the still sleeping city.
"Miss…" She turned her head to the side as a sailor bowed to her, and offered him a smile as he spoke. "We're almost ready to leave."
She slightly bowed her head as an answer before her gaze returned to the port.
He didn't know she hadn't left at once yesterday… just as he couldn't know what was going on in her mind…
I don't care what you feel anymore…
But if that had been true… then she couldn't be here now. He set her free…
As you can see… She slowly raised the flower in her hand… the panda lily still had a wonderful scent, which was like a miracle to her… she was sure it would shrivel after its vase broke. Nothing had changed.
She remembered all her cruel words then what happened after… she had truly messed things up… That night… meant nothing. He didn't deserve what she had done with him… just as she didn't deserve what finally he had done for her. Then why…?
She felt a slight pull, as the ship started to move, and her hand clenched upon the railing. The thoughts whirled inside her again strengthening a sinking feeling in her stomach, but she knew it had nothing to do with sea-sickness at all.
I can't forget you… Her eyes slowly focused upon the fire palace, and her eyes almost turned teary as the edge of her lips slightly curled upwards. Don't leave… "I am such a fool…"
In the next moment the sailors could only hear a loud splashing sound…
-- ZUKO --
The Fire Lord's golden eyes followed a black spot on the horizon. He was standing on the royal bedroom's balcony, with a bitter smile upon his face. His hair was still messy after waking up from maybe an only two hours long of sleep. He only wore a pair of loose pants as the wind blew around him, but he didn't really care about that either… A day like this was always like a blessing to sailors.
He was watching as the ship she was on fully faded from his sight, and even then he only slowly moved. He knew his duties wouldn't allow him to just 'waste' his time like this… but there were certain things even he couldn't simply shrug away.
He heaved a heavy sigh, rubbing his temple as he turned back, and as he stepped in his room, for a moment his good eye rounded… probably his sight was joking him after looking in a darker room from the bright sunlight… He rubbed his eyes, but as he opened them again, the picture didn't change.
Katara stood in the middle of his room with a soft look in her eyes. "You…" He started hoarsely, and swallowed to solve this before going on. "You haven't…?"
A small smile appeared on the waterbender's features as she shook her head. "No, I haven't."
His lips parted with surprise, as she walked towards him, but her eyes turned teary while her smile remained. The last steps she made with a hurry and in the next moment her arms wrapped around his neck, while she buried her face in his shoulder.
He stood in his place still stunned, but he returned the embrace sooner than she'd finally started to speak. "I'm sorry…" The world almost spun around him as the words finally left her mouth, and this time she said out the truth he started to feel he had just imagined… "I'm so sorry for everything I've said! I didn't…" She sniffed before she turned her gaze up to meet his. "I didn't mean them! But after what you've done under Ba Sing Sei…"
He gave her a guilty but solemn look as the tears fell freely from her eyes. "You've hurt me so much… and I j-just couldn't forget…" Before she could have hid her face again, one of his hands rose up to her face, not letting her while she still tried to go on between her sobs. "I w-wanted to hurt you just as you've hurt me… But it was all wrong! I should have never…!"
When his lips pressed against hers, the tears slowly stopped in the corner of her eyes, but he slowly pulled away, pressing his forehead against hers. "We are both fools…" He said lowly and she let out a half-sob half-laugh as he smiled down at her. "I…" He slowly shook his head. "I would have never told it to anyone… especially not to your family…" His hand slowly moved from her face to brush a hair-lock behind her ear, but his golden glance locked with hers as her lower lip slightly trembled. "I couldn't hurt you after all the things I have done against you already…" He let a half smirk appear on his face for just a moment. "Though I've tried! Believe me."
She smiled and her gaze went to the side as he leaned his head forward, pressing his right cheek to hers. "You have really been successful, you know… painfully successful…" His voice trailed away as her hand touched the left side of his face, and he slowly straightened up to let her look him in the eye.
Her blue eyes searched his as she softly stroked his scar, and he even leaned in her touch letting her do as she pleased, when she asked softly. "And you would have still married me?"
His gaze focused on her again and he answered without even making a blink. "Without hesitation."
For a moment she watched his expressions, whether he showed any sign of not telling the truth, but she found none. "Why?"
This single word surprised him so much that he took a step away from her. "Do you seriously not know?" One of his eyes narrowed as a slight smirk appeared at the edge of his lips. "Or you just want me to say it out?"
She answered with a smile too. "Maybe a bit both…"
He stepped back to her, cupping her face in his hands when he finally said it out. "Katara… I love you."
She leaned in to kiss him gently on the lips with closed eyes, and when she pulled away she asked one thing. "You haven't sent out letters about our deal yet, have you?"
Zuko's eyes popped open and a scowl appeared on his face as he straightened up, leaning backwards. "You know this is Not what I wanted to hear..."
Her hands quickly get a hold of his head, just below his ears and pulled him back. "Have you, or have you not?" She asked impatiently.
"No, I haven't!" He snapped, but as her lips curled into a mischievous smile he raised an eyebrow.
"Good. Let it stay that way." Her hands stroked the side of his face as a slight confusion appeared in his eyes. "I love you too, stupid…"
His scowl faded, but when he opened his mouth to retort some way, she made her best to make him forget this with a more passionate kiss like before. Her hands slowly trailed down to his chest, slightly leading him towards the bed behind him, while his arms embraced her, pulling her close… "I hope you have slept some…" She only pulled away to purr in his ear as his lips wandered to her neck. "Because I'm going to tire you out…"
A familiar shiver ran down his spine, before he returned to kiss her lips, but when the back of his legs hit the bed's edge, his eyes opened as he suddenly remembered something… without being too happy, he slowly pulled away, removing her arms from around his neck. "What's wrong?" She gave him a questioning – if not disapproving – look.
"The…" He slightly shook his head, to make his mind work as he straightened his back. "The council awaits me. Not that I would want to…" He sighed before letting a hand through his hair, but by the time he looked back at her she cast her gaze to the side while sitting down to the edge of the bed. "Go… right now…"
"I see." She said, but with a thought she smiled up at him in a way that maybe had a stronger effect on him than the previous kisses. "So, you'd rather go than spend time with me…" When her hands slowly undid the sash around her waist his gaze remained on her as if nothing else would have ever been in the room except her…
As she let her blue shirt slip off only her shoulders, he swallowed making her smile widen. "Aren't you going?" She looked up at him again and as she spoke he finally blinked returning the gaze.
He made a move with his head that probably supposed to be nodding, but in the meantime somehow mixed with and ended in fierce headshaking. "The council can wait…"
She giggled in their next kiss he gave her, as he finally climbed beside her upon the red silk sheets. And in only a matter of moments… everything other than them seemed to cease in the world, just for the two of them.
A/N: The End. :)
Well, I'll be away for the weekend and all, so... I wanted to put this up before tomorrow - when I'll have an exam, than disappear... but I didn't want to leave you without putting this up!
Finally I'd like to thank you all once again for your time, faves and reviews. :) I'm really glad you stayed with me till the end of this story... though I'll still gladly await your opinion about it. ;)
I hope you liked it.
Till the next story... ;) Farewell!
(I might write a prologue though... I haven't decided it yet...)