Characters: Katara, Zuko, mentions of Aang and Mai
Disclaimer: I really don't own Avatar.
Notes: My first branch-out into the Avatar fandom. It's Zutara. It also has KatAang and Maiko. This is post-Ozai. I hope you enjoy!
It had been dark for hours, in the rooms set aside for the delegates from the Water Tribe
It had been dark for hours, in the rooms set aside for the delegates from the Water Tribe. It was a miracle that, after a century of war, warriors from the Water Tribe were honored guests in the Fire Nation. In accordance with their guests nationality, they had been placed surrounding a garden, whose greatest accent was a large koi pond.
It was here where a young woman sat, looking out over the moonlit water, the expression on her face melancholy. She waved her hand lazily, and the surface of the water danced in swirling patterns.
She looked up, as a figure entered the garden. He wore the ceremonial headdress of a Fire Lord, but instead of the traditional robes, he wore only simple cotton garments. Still, she knew him as soon as she saw him, and turned to give a small bow of courtesy.
"Fire Lord Zuko," she said, voice at once respectful and also joking. She smiled at him, pushing back the sudden anxiety that filled her.
He winced at her tone. "Don't, Katara," he told her, voice curt and somewhat pained.
She let the smile fall from her lips. This wasn't the time for jokes – mocking or not – and they both knew it. For a moment, a raw look passed between them – blue eyes meeting with gold – and neither of them spoke.
Katara turned, and broke the silence. "So, I suppose the council meeting is over," she hedged, attempting to give this meeting some purpose beyond the clandestine. Perhaps that had been enough on their travels with the Avatar – but here, where tradition and history surrounded them, it seemed almost a trespass.
"Yeah," he answered simply.
She waited – he was the type to give an answer like that. She knew him well enough to know that he would come to the point when he was ready to.
"We've… decided," he said.
She knew – without his telling her – what exactly they had decided. Still, she needed to hear.
"And…?" she asked, unable to keep that breathless quality from her voice.
He frowned, and the moonlight made the furrows of his scar deepen. She thought, for a stricken moment, that he looked like an old, proud warrior. In a way, she thought, he looked beautiful, and for a helpless second she was struck with the desire to reach toward his face.
He turned away from her. "I'm going to marry Mai," he said. "In the summer, in accordance with tradition."
She forced a smile. "Oh," she said, and she was proud that her voice didn't crack too much. "I see."
He gave her a sorrowful look, and she felt like she would break underneath it. "I have to do what is best for my people, Katara. I always knew there wasn't much hope…"
"We both knew," she said, and now that she was comforting him, it was easier to hide her own pain. "I understand."
"There were some who suggested it," he said, voice quiet with a kind of regret. "They said… if my bride were of another country, it would show good will toward the other nations. You were suggested. But in the end, tradition won out…"
She reached for him, and her hand brushed his shoulder, before he flinched away.
"It's ironic, isn't it?" he demanded, bitterly, and she could see traces of the old anger returning. "We all worked for so much change. But they only said that we had changed so much, that some traditions needed to be upheld! What was all of that change for…?"
This time, her hand reached for his wrist, and the other one cupped his cheek. "Zuko, don't," she said. "We didn't do this for us. We did it for the world."
He sighed. "Sometimes I wish the world would just shove off," he spat bitterly.
"You don't mean that," she replied, reprovingly.
He sighed. "I don't," he said, and his voice sounded resigned. It broke her heart to hear him like this. "It's just…"
"I know," Katara said. They didn't need to speak of things long past. "Congratulations. She… she will be a good wife. A good Fire Lady."
He nodded. "I know," he said. He sighed, and turned so his gold eyes met hers.
She gave him a sad smile.
"I love her," he said, quietly.
Katara nodded. "And I love Aang."
But I also love you.
It remained unspoken between them, tinged with bitterness.
"What will you do?" he asked her.
She smiled, trying to do as she had when she told her brother and father of her plans. "I'm going to travel with Aang. He's a fully-realized Avatar now, but he still need to know the earth, know the people. I should… I should be with him. We were going to leave tomorrow."
He nodded, slowly, as though unsure of how to answer her. "Are you going to be at the wedding?" he asked, finally.
She shook her head. "I don't think so," she said. "We'll be far away, and…"
It wouldn't be right.
She hated herself for thinking so selfishly.
He nodded. "I guess this is goodbye, then," he said, voice strained.
For a second, she was afraid tears would spill from her eyes. She stepped forward, and her voice choked in her throat. "Zuko," she said, unsure of what she was trying to do.
A moment later, she was caught up in a scalding kiss – the kind that she had missed these past weeks in the Fire Nation palace. For a moment, there were no names between them, no titles, no countries, no traditions. They were just Zuko and Katara.
She pulled away from him, quickly, and still felt that tingle on her lips. "No," she said, voice firm. "We shouldn't…"
He nodded. He understood.
"I'm always your friend," he said.
She smiled, and tried to pretend she was less miserable than her heart said she was. "Always," she promised.
And then she fled from the garden, and back into her room.
In the morning, he wasn't there to see her off. For a moment, her eyes lingered on the crowd of friends bidding them farewell, as she settled herself into Appa's saddle. Even though she searched, there was no familiar scarred face, no softly passionate gold eyes.
He hadn't come to see her off, and she wasn't going to be at his wedding.
It was a fair trade-off.
She tried to pretend it didn't hurt.