artyselric: hey guys! long time no see. trombs actually started writing a few weeks ago, but it took me a little while to pick up the slack and correct it. so sorry.
we know we took a while, but a few good things have happened while we were afk. trombe got two jobs, my parents have almost finished selling their house, and trombe and his sister are still working on getting an apartment. however, despite how busy he is, he's still determined to finish this story.
artsyelric: i guess you could say the other reason we're willing to get back on the ball is… i guess, it got a little awkward for old friends like trombe and i to write zutara as zuko and katara. we weren't bad, but we could probably have been better, yeah? well, those of you who've been pm-ing us for a while and know us a bit better won't be surprised to hear it, but we're back with a new passion. because… well, we're dating.
Trombe: Zug-Zug. But to be on topic. Yes, we are dating. Yes, we are happy. And yes, this story is moving forward. Also just a brief mention the other reason why we are so busy is that we are also starting back up our old shirt printing business which was known as XD Ecksdee productions. We have fan made shirts and apparel of all kind and now we plan to add Avatar to that list. It is still in progress but basically once its up and running we will let you know and if you guys are interested in our stuff our readers are entitled to a discount (Don't you feel just lucky?) plus it'll give us a chance to get to know you guys better when the forum on our website is up too. Just a heads up. Anyway back to the story.
What I don't Like About You
Chapter 51: Calm Before The Storm
It was a strange thing, the former prince noted, how different people acted differently on the same night. There was camaraderie around the bonfire, and laughter was shared all around. Men jested crudely about the celebration that was to come and the many women who would welcome them as heroes. Others silently prayed to whatever god or spirit they believed would hear their plea. There were also those who remained as unnerved as before, calmly sharpening their swords and spears, grinding the steel, the iron, the whale bone against hard unfeeling flint. The sound the sharpening blades made seemed to echo like a mantra, a soothing melody to calm any warrior's spirit. Yes, it was a good sound. And for a moment the cold night under the banner of the stars provided an air of tranquility.
Zuko, like so many others, had threaded this path before. A serene calm, right before the chaos that is the storm.
And this storm was going to be the storm of the century. The fate of the entire free world depended upon their actions tomorrow. The threat of the next day hung over them like a cloud, the feat they were each to accomplish lay heavy on their hearts, and Zuko contemplated upon how previous Avatars could handle such a responsibility.
How Aang might be handling it alone.
As he passed by along the camp many unfamiliar faces spotted the once scarred prince of the Fire Nation and gave assuring nods and deep glances. And it felt strange to not be ostracized by them. These people acted like they had known who he truly was and did not care for a moment whether he was the legacy of the man who could ruin the entire world.
Sokka's now familiar voice beckoned to him, and he spotted the young Water Tribe warrior. He was amongst what looked to be other Water Tribe men, all garbed in the hauntingly alluring white and dark blue of the Order. The boy waved, inviting the prince to join him.
As much as Zuko appreciated the gesture of friendship, there was a small voice in the back of his head that cemented him to the spot. While The Order of the White Lotus had been nothing but an ally to him and his uncle, there was still something about the Water Tribes that made Zuko feel uncomfortable. Of course, with the exception of one beautiful blue eyed bender he could not get out of this mind. She made him feel very comfortable, now a days at least. And he supposed, if he had to, that her older brother could be annoying, but he was an all right fellow too. The rest of them though just seemed so… opposite. So unapproachable.
"C'mere!" The young man gestured wildly with his hand.
Zuko groaned inward. If he left now, it would be a clear snub, so he definitely needed to go over there now, just to appease the guy.
"Hey," he cautiously greeted, climbing awkwardly into the circle of warriors.
"Here try this out!" Sokka grinned mischievously as he pushed a small jug into Zuko's fist, the clay base of it fitting perfectly in his the palm.
"What? What's this?" Zuko glanced at the foreign container which was obviously of Water Tribe origin from the markings and design.
"Just do it! Be a man!"
Sokka pressured the older boy until he basically shoved the beverage down the prince's mouth. That action alone made Zuko roared and insist he could do it himself. With a final glance at the contents, the prince chugged down the unknown liquid from the jug.
Almost immediately he regretted it. A cold sensation surged throughout his throat as if he was frozen. Then almost as suddenly as the cold had come, a scorching heat followed as if he had swallowed the lava of a volcano. Zuko couldn't help but choke and cough violently as Sokka and the men around him enjoyed a laugh or two.
"We call it uunaqtuq siku," one of the men spoke out casually. "The burning ice."
"That's… That's a…" Zuko slammed his fist into his chest, hoping to force some form of air into his lungs as he tried to suppress his coughs. "That's a very… appropriate name."
The former prince was no stranger when it came to alcoholic beverages; it was customary for any boy who had reached adulthood, thirteen summers, to drink. It was one of the few vices allowed by the Fire Nation. But whatever it was contained in the jug… it was pure lightning in liquid form.
"We think so too," a different Water Tribe man smiled at him.
"Whoo! Ain't that a rush?" Sokka elbowed him in the rib. "Man, I do miss Water Tribe customs."
"You guys actually drink this on a regular basis?" Zuko inquired.
"Yeah," Sokka agreed, then frowned, considering, which must have been hard if he'd had much more than a gulp or two of the 'burning ice'. "Well, at least on every special occasion. Its one of the first few things that marks a young man of the Water Tribes into adulthood."
"Well, that's something we all share," Zuko muttered.
"What?" Sokka asked, blinking a bit too rapidly.
Zuko rephrased his response. "Isn't your coming of age thing supposed to be, like… ice dodging? Or something? And that survival hunt we were on?" Zuko reminded his bright eyed companion.
"Yep and yep."
His remaining brow drew as he frowned. "You guys sure love tormenting your young, don't you?" Zuko delivered the line in the type of absolute deadpan that always set Sokka off into rolling laughter.
Surprisingly, a few of the older men chortled too.
"I've never heard it put quite that way," an older Water Tribe man smiled. "However there is some merit in that description."
A scared man seemed to agree. "Life on the tundra is harsh. Is it any wonder our aging rituals are too? They breed strength and character. And in the planes of the cold north- or south," he added, with a nod to Sokka and another companion, "-one needs both to survive. The snow spirits have no mercy for the weak willed."
Zuko nodded, reminiscing of the times he had spent with Katara's Southern Tribe family. It made him marvel at the strength and unity that they had shown him anew. "I see," he stated simply, and in a way, he did.
"Of course you see. You have both uunaqtuq and siku," the oldest man chimed in.
"Huh?" Zuko face fell as he tried to remember the foreign words.
The elder smiled as he explained. "Young man, not one Water Tribe member here has not heard the story of how Prince Zuko chased the Avatar all across our country."
"Across every country, the way I hear it," the man who had told Zuko about burning-ice snickered, and a few men laughed again at that.
The old man grinned briefly, then continued. "You've spent years in Water Tribe territory and have survive all odds despite the harshness of aput anaana, mother winter's embrace. Tenacious and fearless. You would have made a fine young man had you had been born Water Tribe."
Zuko shivered, privately glad he hadn't been. He hated the cold. The man's words touched him, even though he knew they weren't deserved, however Zuko's memories of the cold flooded his mind, burring any feelings pride beneath an onslaught of barely controllable fear. Of his first real battle, his invasion of the Southern Tribes village, his flames had placed a glaring fear into the eyes of many Water Tribe women and children, but it was really their ice that frightened him. More than once, he had been sure he would freeze to death, or drown beneath the ice. He felt unable to stop the memories if he didn't say something, and therefore found himself speaking before he thought better of it. "But... But I've done things that I'm not particularly proud of."
"We are not saying we approved of your wayward actions during your frantic chase of the Avatar," the same older gentleman answered sternly. "No. Far from that. You've invaded our homes. You've fought against our people. By every sacred right and law of the Water Tribes you are our enemy..."
"Now guys, let's not go there," Sokka jested nervously, not sure of what to make of the situation.
However, the older men ignored him this time, keeping eyes on Zuko only. "But, we are men of the Order first, and Water Tribe men second."
The scared man grumbled at that, but Sokka glared at him. "White Lotus, smotus," the boy dismissed the elder's declaration, "Zuko is not our enemy." Another man snorted, and Sokka tossed the bottle at him harder than was strictly needed. "Zuko accompanied me on my First Hunt. Well, it wasn't really the first time I went hunting, because the war and all…" He caught himself rambling, his face flushed, and he yanked himself back on track. "But that's not the point. He went with me, and my father, Hakoda, the Blue Wolf, and he had my back. That makes him family, as far as the Southern Tribes are concerned. My brother."
Brother. The word stopped Zuko. What would it have been like to have a brother? Probably a lot like it was to be with Sokka, he supposed…
"Your brother in arms," the scared man grunted.
"That's still a brother!" Sokka snapped, and the scarred man looked at him and shrugged.
Zuko reached out and snatched another bottle of the burning drink, and gulped down a whole mouthful. It was all he could think to do. Sokka's inhibitions may have gone out the window with the alcohol, but Zuko could tell the words were true, and they burned somewhere even deeper inside his chest than the drink did.
After a moment, a third man nodded in agreement and took up the elder's meaning, easing the tension out of the air. "Even if we are Water Tribe... The men of our people are wise enough to know honor when they see it, Prince Zuko. You may not be a brother of mine, but I don't believe you are my enemy either. You took neither innocent life nor prisoner. And you were a man of your word. Not all in the Fire Nation were like that."
"Here here!" the scarred man agreed, giving up his stance against Zuko in favor of hating on more vicious foes. "Damn bastards made hateful enemies; couldn't respect them one bit."
"Exactly," the elder resumed his explanation. "You may have fought us, but you did so with honor, Prince Zuko. What more could we have asked of our enemy? You are a son of Fire, and of the olden ways, just like your uncle. You were an enemy we found pride in facing, and there are not many men we could say that about."
Strangely enough the words that these men had spoken gave him more solace than even his recent lack of nightmares had. "Thank you," he practically whispered. "I appreciate that. I truly do." He met not just the eyes of the men in the fire, but Sokka's too, and he held those especially long, until Sokka grinned, and turned away.
After that, he was finally able relax amongst his company. They took turns telling stories of home, many so funny they had everyone in an uproar, even Zuko. The drink, after the initial shock of ingesting it, seemed to add to the merriment. It made it easier to laugh, and harder to be afraid.
It was just after Zuko's third sip of the burning ice, when the world began to take on a comfortable, dreamy haze, that he heard the strangely melodic tune of a sungi horn being played. He was obviously not the only one to catch the brassy tones, as Sokka and the men around him also turned their head towards the music's origins. Almost immediately the responsible culprit was sighted, and Zuko felt a small, unbidden smile lift his lips.
Sitting in the middle of the camp was his uncle, with his favorite instrument, a sungi horn, in tow. He was puffing out a hauntingly beautiful melody, and Zuko's and Sokka's group weren't the only ones to stop talking and take notice. Many more men and women drew quiet to hear the old general play his instrument.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see the figure of Jeong Jeong joining in beside the old grandmaster of the Order with a liuqin in hand. A few strikes upon the stringed instrument and moments later Jeong Jeong played harmoniously with the brass sound of the sungi horn. It wasn't long until Iroh passed on his instrument to another to continue playing as he bellowed out one of his favorite tunes. A familiar, gaudy, yet somehow still lovable song.
It's a long, long way to Ba Sing Se,
But the girls in the city they look so pretty
And they kiss so sweet that you've really got to meet...
The Girls of Ba Sing Se!
When you've marched all day to Ba Sing Se,
And your clothes are grubby and your feet feeling weary,
Who'll bring food so sweet, serve you plates filled with meat...
But the Girls of Ba Sing Se!
Now I've heard them say, down in Ba Sing Se,
That when summer's hot all the girls doff their tops!
And the sight's so neat that it sunk a passing fleet...
Who saw the Girls of Ba Sing Se!
But Soldier, never stay in Ba Sing Se,
For if your plan for life isn't to have a wife
Then forsake their bed, or you'll wake up newly wed...
When he reached the final line, Iroh paused in the song, placed a hand in his ear, and beckoning for the men around him to join the chorus and finish the line. The result was a roaring:
TO A GIRL FROM BA SING SE!
Laughter echoed and cheered from every mouth within earshot of the music. People were telling stories of their own experiences with girls from Ba Sing Se, or elsewhere, and it made Zuko think back to his time spent there. Come to think of it, he had met a girl… Heh, maybe it was a good thing I didn't stay there too long after all.
After Ba Sing Se, Iroh launched into another song, just as fast and upbeat as the last. It was not long until the proverbial calm before the storm dissipated as many White Lotus Soldiers began to join in on the festivities, scooping up instruments of their own, adding their voices to the song, arguing over the different ways they had learned the words. Here and there men jumped to their feet and danced, every once in a while managing to get one of the women in camp to join them. It was a night to be remembered after all, and Zuko could see the way it spread through the ranks. If a final war with the world's most powerful military awaited them with the dawn, why not enjoy one's self tonight?
Sokka did, as Zuko could plainly see. His goofy friend was already in the middle of the crowd trying his hand at the Sungi horn, desperate to make a sound.
Out of the corner of his eye the former prince spotted Katara laughing cordially with some unfamiliar women. Strangely he felt at ease just watching her, enjoying the way her blue eyes seemed to shine even in the bleak of night.
"It is not often I find my nephew staring so lovingly at a woman." His uncle, ever like the mysterious voice in his head, appeared from the sidelines, walking with the pace of a man who had already seen most of what life offered. "Avidly, yes, but lovingly?" Iroh trailed off suggestively.
"I wasn't staring," Was all the raven haired youth could rebuttal.
"Your words may say so, but your eyes tell a different tale."
"I had completely forgotten how completely annoying you can be sometimes, uncle," Zuko stated, with a hint of biting fondness.
They shared chuckle after a moment, met each other's gaze, and regained their emotions. Poised, controlled, and watchful. A trait forged by Fire Nation nobility. Unbridled passion and feelings were dangerous to firebenders. This was especially true for those with royal blood who were gifted with extraordinary power. Zuko knew it would be even more true the closer the comet got, and the stronger and more wild their bending became.
"Do you want to talk about this?"
"Talk about what?"
"About her. About a certain pair of…" Uncle waggled his eyebrows. "Blue eyes?"
Zuko crossed his arms gruffly. "What's there to talk about?"
"Ok, fine." But Zuko didn't continue, and after a moment, he realized he didn't know how. "What do you want me to say?" He just barely resisted the urge to yell it.
His Uncle sighed. "Perhaps you could tell me if you truly care for her?"
"Of course I do!" Zuko protested. "What kind of man would I be if I didn't?"
But Iroh didn't miss a beat. "If you love her?"
Zuko felt his mouth go dry. The first question had just been a build up to this. "I… I don't…" But again, he didn't know how to answer that. Iroh, however, just waited, and eventually, Zuko had to say something. He took a deep breath, and tried. "Have you... have you ever felt so much for someone you were willing to throw everything you had away just to be with them?"
Uncle smiled fondly. "My boy, I was many things in my youth. A lover was one of them. How could I ever forget that feeling? That feeling that made you feel... invincible. Like there was nothing in the world that could harm you, so long as she stood by your side." Zuko looked at Iroh with a renewed sense of respect and awe. And once more he found his eyes tracking Katara. "Though I must say, from personal experience, that I would not recommend throwing everything away for a girl. I almost did, once." Iroh looked at his nephew strictly. "It did not end well."
"A story for another day?" Zuko suggested.
"Oh, and what a story it is!" Iroh agreed heartily. "But we were speaking of you."
"It's just that... I mean... C'mon, Uncle. Look at me." His voice whispered so softly that underneath all the music and the voices it could have been easily drowned if not for the attentiveness of Iroh's ears. "And look at her," Zuko continued with slightly more volume, his own eyes darting upward to gaze at Katara. "How can we be so different? Fire Nation, Water Tribe. Moon. Sun. She fights for her people and the world. We fought only to satisfy our ancestors' greed and glory." The list just seemed to be endless now that Zuko was starting was actually thinking of it.
"You sound as if this is the first time you have considered such things," Iroh commented. "Surely you thought of them… before?"
Zuko shook his head.
Iroh paused, and Zuko realized he was listening, much like how a father listened to his son. "When we… started all this, I said… I said not to think about anything else. Tomorrow, or… or anything. Not to think about the war. Or opposites. Or…" he paused. "Or Aang."
"But now you're thinking of it?" Iroh suggested. "It's not spur of the moment for you any longer. Now you have to think of all those things. And one more."
Zuko nodded. "Mai."
They were quiet for a moment before Iroh came to a conclusion. "Does all of that really matter?" His uncle's question left the boy a loss for words. "The fact that you both are so opposite, I mean."
"No. At least… I don't think so."
Uncle had seemed to expect no less. He clapped a hand onto Zuko's shoulder. "You have always had a strong heart, Zuko. Of that I am certain. I think you already know what your answer is."
"But what if I don't? I'm... afraid." Slowly he reiterated, as if discovering for the first time how he really felt, and trying to voice it. "I'm afraid if this is not going to last. Afraid that I... that I could lose her."
This gave Uncle a pause. It was expected, certainly, but Zuko could see Iroh wishing there was another answer he could give, though none seemed to come to him. Finally, he spoke. "If it is meant to be it is meant to be, my boy. That is all the wisdom I can offer you. Love is a fickle mistress, more fickle then any god or spirit. Only time can pry an answer from her."
"Why do you old folks talk that way I mean do you just love messing with me?" Zuko had to contain a hidden snicker, as he had known full well what the answer was going to be.
"Why should we deny you the fun of discovering life for yourself by giving you the answers?" His strange uncle chuckled, and it reminded him of the lessons he had learned from Lo and La on Ember Island.
"By the dragons, I hate this game," Zuko laughed it off. "Speaking of which-"
But before he could bring up the Sun Warriors, the sudden beat of drums erupted in the air, catching both Zuko and Iroh's attentions as it did the rest of the camp. The drums echoed a sweet rhythm, like the primal heart of the elements. A cry of celebration flourished from the crowd. From its core formed a shape, as Water Tribe men and women began to coordinate a movement, mirroring each other much like how a shadow mirrors a man. It was hypnotic, strange, and intriguing to watch. The men's form were close to the ground. Their movements primal and almost as if they walked on all fours. The women on the other hand made movements that resembled something that struck Zuko as peculiar and familiar. The wide and slow exaggerated gestures of the arms, the calm and steady breathing, the empty stance of the legs gave Zuko all that he needed to remember where he saw those forms.
"What's this now?" His golden eyes were fixed on the dance, and Zuko felt he could not look away.
"My, oh my, A ceremonial dance of the Water Tribes. I have not seen one in decades." Iroh may have sounded the cultured old prince he really was, but he was right, never the less. " Here comes the warriors, proud and true. Look how primal they move, how tense the muscles become," Iroh noted out loud, and Zuko knew the commentary was for his sake.
Iroh's words guided him through their dance. The prince amazed by studying the new routine. Dances in the Fire Nation Empire were purely symbolic, gestures done only because it was decreed of them by duty. The ones that had been breaking out across camp the rest of the evening were sporadic, unplanned, simplistic. This was something else entirely, almost alien-like.
"Why are they doing this?" Zuko's voice escaped from his throat unconsciously.
"For war, for peace, for joy. Its a dance that could mean many things," the old Lotus grandmaster commented.
"It is a precursor dance to a tale that we of the Water Tribe enjoy, boy." The silhouette of Master Pakku walked casually to their side, amused by how fascinated the prince seemed to be of the spectacle. "The warriors move with grace and strength to honor the spirit that lends them his power and courage. To beg the blessing of the Warrior."
The prince fell silent for a moment before the image popped into his head. "The wolf."
"So there is a mind behind all that hair, " Pakku snickered. "Yes the wolf. A creature that is both cunning, strong, ferocious, and deadly. But none so fierce as the father of all wolves, Winter Wolf. The ultimate Warrior of the Tundra."
Myths and stories once had a place in Zuko's heart when he was just a child, but they left no existence in his pragmatic mind now. He wondered now, as he was compelled to listen to this tale, if that had been an oversight.
Pakku's story began on the downbeat of the lion-seal skin drum, and moved along with the dancers, his voice weaving through the beat like the dancer's bodies, both carrying the story. "Long, long ago when the ice covered the entire lands and the Water Tribes were of one single Tribe, there was a spirit who roamed the lands. A giant white wolf with eyes as blue as the sea. This spirit ruled the icelands with no fear of others, for who would he fear when he was the strongest, the fastest, and the fiercest? He ate whatever he wanted, took what he wanted. He was a greedy spirit. He was an angry spirit. And he plagued my people to no end. He was called Winter Wolf because he was as cold and as ruthless as the unforgiving snow."
"Didn't your people fight back?" Zuko questioned with a child like curiosity.
"Fight a spirit? Don't be foolish boy. How would you fight the elements themselves? But," Pakku sighed, and attempted to find his place again. "Of course they did, or tried to. Foolish as they were, my people are a proud lot. And no spirit was going to terrorize them. But whenever they caught him with spears and swords the wolf would vanish in a blizzard. When they tried to net him, Winter Wolf's claws and fangs would tear through their strongest rope with ease. It seemed that the wolf spirit would remain unchallenged. Fearing the worst, our old shamans and wise men prayed to mother moon to deliver unto them protection against Winter. And so she showed them the ocean. The ebbs and flow of the waves, how strong they would move the ice and how nothing stood in their path. The people of the Water Tribe watched until finally a young girl learned the secret- she learned how to move the ocean, and wield all its power."
"Waterbending," Zuko exclaimed slowly to himself.
"Well according to our legend, yes. One day, as Winter wolf prepared to attack the village once more so he could take what wanted, this child stood up to him in all her diminutive stature."
"So she won?"
"Sadly, no," Pakku replied with no hesitation. "No matter what anyone says, she was but a mortal child and he a mighty spirit. He took her life like he had taken so many others."
"What a beast," Iroh commented and Zuko found himself agreeing with his uncle.
"Here is where the story gets interesting. As the wolf slew the girl he could not find himself to devour her body. He found himself strangely held in place, as if something held him there. It was said that he felt remorse, guilt. Personally I don't really think he felt anything. But the story goes that Winter Wolf, in all his cruel form felt the cry of mother moon and he was ashamed at his deed. And so he mourned the only way he knew how. He howled. Long and sad." Pakku paused a moment, as if to share the grief the great beast felt. Zuko noticed the dancers motions, many inspired by fighting, by waterbending, and indeed, by the howls of the wolf. "With the girl's death however... came a startling revelation. Winter Wolf, it would seem - if you pardon the pun - had turned over a new coat. The once dreaded invader had become our people's fierce protector. He defended the Water Tribes from all her enemies, both ethereal and mortal. And with his strength came a time of peace. A piece that lasted generations."
"What happened next?" Zuko figured that couldn't be the end of the story.
"Who knows, boy. It's an old story. Some say he left this world to go run and hunt in the spirit world. Others say he is the Avatar reincarnated. And then there are those who believe he still lingers in this world, repenting for his crime by continuing to watch over the Water Tribes. Wherever he is it is said that it his absence that is the reason why wolves howl now, to mourn the loss of their first brother." The waterbending master coughed abruptly. "Bah, I am getting old. I'm telling wives tales like Bumi. Anyway, it looks like the ceremonial dance is over. Enjoy yourself while the night last. Prince Zuko, Iroh." With that, and the end of the dance, the sarcastic master took his leave.
"Fascinating story, wouldn't you say nephew?" Iroh stroked his beard in satisfaction.
"Yeah... Yeah it is."
"That was always one of my favorite things about traveling the four nations," Iroh admitted. "Learning all the stories."
"I know," Zuko admitted. "And actually, I kind of understand why now."
The prince felt strangely at ease, as if he could finally let his worries disappear for the night. With resolve firmly in hand he glanced at his uncle with a new found vigor.
"If you will excuse me uncle, I've got something I have to do."
He walked with a confident pace, making his way into the crowd until finally he was in front of her. The women who were with Katara must have gotten the hint as they smiled mischievously and excused themselves from them.
"Dance with me."
"What?" Katara looked at Zuko as if he had lost his mind.
"Dance with me, Katara," he repeated.
"There's music. There's dancing. So yes. Here. Now."
He lent out his open palm as if he was offering his soul. "Please?"
"...Okay." Her eyes sparkled a blue that dwarfed the bluest ocean and his heart skipped a beat.
But of course, men are easily caught in the moment. And once they returned to reality, they often find themselves in situations where they've bit off a bit more than they can chew.
That kind of moment, was now.
The two stared at each other awkwardly, each as if anticipating the movement of the other.
"Uh... What now?" Zuko asked causing Katara to laugh.
"I don't know, you asked me to dance!" She couldn't contain a laugh.
"I'm not much of a dancer actually... to be honest I don't think I even know how," Zuko admitted sheepishly, feeling foolish at the fleeting bravado he had displayed earlier. Katara felt no shortage of amusement at his awkwardness as she continued to laugh. It was a laugh the two shared at the moment, though. Zuko no longer harbored a fear of laughing at himself, at least, not with her. "I just mean, I've never even seen dances like… like this." He gestured behind him at the frivolity, at all the dancers moving free form.
"Zuko... Why'd you ask me to dance if you don't know how?" she asked, an amused smile gracing her gentle face.
"I don't know... I just felt like I needed to live in the moment."
A pause. Katara's eyes seemed far away for a moment. Then her features set, and she spoke. "Spar with me."
"Your firebending and my waterbending. Spar with me like how we usually do. I wasn't a great dancer before, I may not be now, but someone showed me once that our bending, our martial styles, are like a dance. So... with that in mind… let's dance?"
Stunned at her answer, it took a few moments before what she said finally sunk in and he replied with a grin and an, "Okay."
He held his hand out again, and this time, hers went into it. They smiled. And then she flung it away.
One a prince. The other a peasant. One of the Fire Nation. The other of the Water Tribes. He, with eyes of the golden dragon. She, whose eyes mirrored the sea. Their movements were mesmerizing to behold, his bold, striking, powerful, her smooth, flowing and graceful. Whenever Katara spun around to weave her ribbons of water, they would meet Zuko's wild fire as he spun a kick that smoldered bright orange flames that illuminated the sky. Over and over again the two spun around each other, creating a duels circle. An open palm strike came from Katara, Water spinning around her arms which Zuko answered by deflecting her blow with a cartwheel kick, guiding her palm strike harmlessly into the air, as the spiral of water joined flame, creating a lovely vortex of orange and water droplets to the eruption of applause from the watching crowds.
There was no time in the dance, just as there was no aggression. They weren't waiting to see when they'd fall apart, or be discovered. It did not even dwell in their thoughts that everyone was watching. They were thinking of anything at all, but each other. It was what they did best, Zuko and Katara, the only way they could be together, in a single moment where they didn't think. They just were.
Pure joy was on both bender's face as they laughed while they fought. Their moment, suspended like a crack between two stories, caught. Revelry spread across the camp, across every person of every nation, for whom there might not be any more tomorrows. For whom, in this single, stolen moment, might find a final freedom, a last joy, or a moment of peace.
For one night, this night, there was no White Lotus. There was no Fire Nation. There was not even a tomorrow. There were only people who were in celebration. And in the middle of those people were a boy and a girl, lost in their own world.