This is a response to DamageCtrl's work Under a Sapphire Sky. She created quite an engaging AU featuring our favorite polar opposites, and authorized/challenged other authors to "write your own fic based on [it]." [strike]After a sleepness night squeeing over the unexpected awesome hotness of her story[/strike] I decided that I had to take up that challenge.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and its characters belong to other people. This particular AU was thought up by DamageCtrl.
Make sure to read Under a Sapphire Sky [/s/3256552/1/Under_a_Sapphire_Sky] first, else this will make very little sense. Also, I suck at titles.
Katara sat, quiet and still, at the shore of a small pond. She could hear the muted sounds of life around her, feel people buzzing around inside, but she concentrated on the pond. If her mother were there, it would be so easy, but Katara wanted to do it alone this time. She wanted to prove to herself that she could.
She held her hand out over the water like she had seen her mother do so many times, her long pale fingers relaxed and turned up. Something stirred at the edge of the pond, underneath the well-kept rhodozalea that grew out over the water, and Katara held her breath, hoping, waiting…
The rhodozalea's lowermost branches quivered, and out swam the mother turtleduck, followed by her small clutch of turtleducklings. Katara let out the breath she had been holding, and splashed the water gently, holding out the cracker she'd smuggled away from the banquet tables in the main hall, where noise from the ball leaked out into the formal garden. The turtleduck swam closer, her young following, and Katara felt warm triumph wash over her as she –
– slid her foot out, then her toe in to close the movement. She dropped her hips, straightened her spine, opened her chest, and breathed in… and out. She kicked forward, returned, kicked out, returned, and brought her arms up. Katara could feel the energy coursing through her, felt it pulse and push against her skin like a heartbeat. She kept it within her and brought her arms back down, finishing the form, and bowing to an imaginary partner. She shook her head, feeling the sweat roll down her bare back; heard lazy applause from behind her. She ignored it and picked up the towel she'd left laying beside the training ground.
"Well done brother," Azula called, her tone mocking as Katara dried herself off. "Maybe next time, you'll actually–" Katara cut her off with an arc of flame, then for good measure threw the sweaty towel after it. Azula ducked the fire, but caught the towel across her face. Katara smirked and –
– stood before her uncle, trembling with excitement. She had trained hard for this day, envisioned it so many times, and now she was here. "I am so proud of you, my nephew," Iroh said, his eyes bright. "You have done your teachers, and yourself, proud. You have met all the requirements, done well on your final field test, and are now ready."
Iroh lifted her right hand with his left, held the ceremonial knife in his right. He lifted it high and turned his head to the three people who stood beside Katara, a respectful distance back, between two golden braziers that filled the room with flickering light and fragrant smoke. Her taicho, her mentor, and her sister returned his gaze. "You are here today to witness a student becoming a Hunter, having completed the training and requirements and having been found worthy of joining our guild." Iroh paused. "Do you accept Zuko, son of Ozai and Ursa, into our ranks?" Katara held her breath.
"We do," the three intoned.
Iroh took Katara's long, pale hand in his, turning it palm up and holding it over the brazier that stood between them. He brought the ceremonial knife down against Katara's palm and sliced, clean and shallow. Her blood splashed down into the fire; it sizzled, releasing an acid smell that dispersed through the room.
"Do you bear witness to this initiation?" Iroh asked.
"Zuko, son of Ozai and Ursa, you are now a Hunter, dedicated to helping our people stay strong and peaceful. Katara ducked her head, watching the gash across her hand slowly seal shut, and –
– crouched in a corner, stabbing pain in her side and watching a group of angry human men advance towards her with spears. She pressed her hand against her side and felt blood pouring from torn flesh as a spear-point jabbed towards her shoulder; she felt a growl deep in her throat and her hand moved faster than she thought possible, grabbing the wooden shaft and pulling hard. The human male lurched forward, fear in his eyes, and Katara grabbed his throat and crushed it easily with one hand. He fell limply, hitting the floor with a thud as she glared back at his fellows.
The remaining humans erupted in emotion that she could feel through the air: fury, terror, sorrow, a willingness to die to protect their village from these monsters... Katara drank in the feelings and gripped her torn side, already knitting back together, and cursed the rouge vampires that had terrorized this village and called her here. Rage filled her as the powerful muscles in her legs bunched and she –
– floated in cool water, sun warm on her chest and knees, the sound of birdsong in her ears. She could sense – smell, taste, feel – her sister, her brother, and her new apprentice up river, setting up a camp in the manner of humans, a fire already crackling. Katara's eyes were closed and she savored the feel of the river surrounding her, the gentle current pushing her along and soothing tense muscles. She felt Aang tending to their mounts, Jet lazily shaking out his bed roll, and Azula stalking the perimeter, ever watchful.
Satisfied, Katara let herself sink deeper into the water, felt it close over her head as she –
– knelt rigidly on folded legs, heavy clothing and a stiff collar weighing down her shoulders, as she kept her eyes on the feet of a man before her. He sat in a golden chair, surrounded by flames, and she listened to his commanding voice without hearing the words. Behind her, Katara heard the court shuffle; still kneeling, she bowed and touched her forehead to the dark red carpet, then rose smoothly. She turned on one heel and strode to the door, ready. She did not agree with her father, but she was Ozai's oldest son, his heir and trusted right hand, and she –
– leaned against a cold metal railing, staring at the waves below. Wind whipped through her hair, whistled in her ears, almost drowned the roar of engines behind her. Katara raised her eyes to the horizon, where dark grey sea met dark grey sky and distant lightning flickered. She felt the storm on her skin and in her bones, draining her as thoroughly as this latest assignment.
A hand touched her back, slid over her shoulder. She felt – tasted – the female vampire press up against her side, hot breath in Katara's ear a contrast to the cold wind, and she –
– sprawled in a darkened room, a warm body writhing beneath her. The female vampire, representative of a minor clan, ran smooth fingernails up and down Katara's back, her sharp gasping breaths a high counterpoint to Katara's own deep groans. Her long, glossy black hair spread across the pillow, tangled between her and Katara's hands. "Make me feel again..." she gasped against Katara's neck. "Make me forget..."
Heat building between, Katara felt the other vampire arch beneath her and cry out as she lowered her head and –
– felt the komodo rhino's lumbering gait slow as the animal tired. She drove herself and her hunters at a grueling pace, in pursuit of a prey that drove itself with unnatural speed across a barren landscape. The sun beat down on Katara's head, heating her thick black hair as sweat rolled down her face, her back, her legs. She hadn't fed in weeks, had barely been able to drink enough water to keep her metabolism functioning, but she knew that she fared better than the rest of her party. Jet's cheeks were sunken and his eyes hollow, Azula's posture stiff and exhausted, Aang slumped forward against his mongoose dragon's saddle. The clan representative that they escorted breathed shallowly against Katara's back; Katara could taste her exhaustion and growing weakness.
She raised her head to the horizon, squinted against the glare. She could sense their quarry ahead, the sharp taste of newly-turned blood, the insane, tangible fury of an unwilling vampire. Katara hated this assignment, hated this game, hated its players, hated her father for sending her into this wasteland, hated this female whose weakness placed her brethren in danger. She clenched her teeth as her exhausted team pushed forward, and she –
– stumbled backwards, a sword in each hand, streaked with blood. Her straight black hair, loose from its binding, fell in her face as she struggled for balance. Katara could feel Azula sprawled behind her, taste her blood on the air, and felt her own fury rise up and give her the strength she needed. "Jet!" she yelled, and her brother dropped from the trees onto the monster before her, tumbling them both into the torn-up earth.
Katara leapt forward, swords flashing, leaping to avoid the once-smooth hands stretched into claws. She brought her blades down and felt flesh part beneath them, felt the violent struggle leave the body. She fell forward, swords falling from limp hands, and saw long, glossy black hair settle as the monster's head came to rest on the ground. Katara reached over her head, grabbed Jet's wrist and felt him return the warrior's clasp. "Thanks," she said as her breathing slowed.
"Don't mention it," Jet responded.
Aang dropped from the trees. "Jet! Zuko!" Katara felt him survey the clearing, calm as he saw the slumped body, the fallen head. "Where's Azula?"
A groan came from behind them. "Nice of you to ask," she spat. Katara opened her eyes, watched her sister stagger forward, deep slashes through her thigh already closing. "Next time, warn us before you go all pacifist in the middle of a fight," she spat. Aang bit his lip, looked at the ground.
Katara chuckled, deep and rasping. "It's okay, Aang. It's okay." She looked over at her skinny charge. "You did fine. You provided the distraction that Jet and I needed to finish her off." Aang looked up and Katara saw shame war with pride on his young face. She heaved herself up, found her swords, surveyed the stunted trees around them, and –
– sighed, bored and uncomfortable. Her heavy, formal collar itched, and she wondered if the ancient, dignified woman speaking endlessly to her realized that she had a shred of spinach-lettuce between her teeth. Given the woman's intensity, Katara doubted it, and searched again for an escape. Her long robes and formal armor made disappearing through a window difficult, and endless other women eager to describe the virtues of their daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters stood between her and the doors.
A large, strong hand settled on her shoulder; Katara felt her uncle's warm presence. "Please excuse me, madam Suun," Iroh said with sincere apology in his voice as he took the old woman's hand. "I have not spoken with my nephew in some months. Will you forgive me?"
Even a vampire as old as she was not immune to the old general's charms. "Only you, Iroh," she said, equal parts irritation and fondness in her voice. "Please consider the offer, my dear prince Zuko."
Katara bowed deeply and allowed her uncle to lead her away. "Thank you, Uncle," she said under her breath. "I don't know what I would do without you at these things."
"Oh, I'm sure that you'd be torn to pieces by jealous potential suitors and your jealous potential in-laws," Iroh said with a smile. "It's good to see you, my nephew. I was worried after your long absence, but I see now that I should not have been."
Katara felt the weariness return, felt the throbbing behind her eyes. "It was hard, uncle, but we did what we had to. I believe that Aang did what he needed to do, as well, and that he will make a fine addition to my team." She felt the general smile beside her as they stood together before a window and looked out over the palace grounds. Moonlight played on the fountains and rock work, and she –
– felt the sting of snow on the wind, ice cold despite her own inner fire. She hunched her shoulders and pulled her knees up, trying to keep her core warm against the cutting wind. The komodo rhino beneath her had long ceased to provide any warmth to her aching limbs; she could feel the animal slowing and knew that it would succumb to the cold soon. They both would, if she couldn't… She'd been so stupid to split the team up, but they'd been outnumbered and outmaneuvered and Katara had only a brief moment to make the decision.
She forced her head up and looked to the horizon; the unnatural blizzard stood out as a dark blur against the clear winter skies. She would never make it in time, and the piercing cold numbed her senses. She didn't know where the rest of her team was, couldn't feel them or smell them, and knew that despite her best efforts, her decades hunting, she was going to fail this time.
A distant crack split the air, followed by a roar. Her head whipped up, eyes narrowed against the white glare that surrounded her, half-blinding her. She heard, felt, distant screams, and knew, knew that she was too late. She had failed. She –
– watched the girl sleep, curled on Katara's own bed roll, breathing deep and even. She sprawled against the fallen log that bordered the campsite, long legs bent in front of her, arms draped casually over her knees. She stared through the fire, remembering the girl's ocean-blue eyes, remembering how trust fought with fear on her face before trust won and she surrendered into her embrace. Katara closed her eyes but the memory was strong, and amplified by the smell, the taste of the girl across from him. She could hear the girl's breathing and beneath it her slow, even heartbeat; could feel it call to her own.
Katara shivered, struck by equal parts wonder, fear, and desire as she watched the sleeping girl and –
– sat up, gasping for breath. She winced, feeling the ache of stiff muscles; stretched her arms over her head and opened her eyes. She was alone, silk sheets draped around her hips in a palatial room. She let her arms drop to her lap, and took in her surroundings.
She sat on a huge bed, surrounded by lush draperies. Gold and red carpets lined the floor, rich tapestries hung on the walls beside tall windows, open to the night air. Katara felt the light breeze from them, tasted the ocean on it, tasted gardens and sun-warmed rocks and people living together in grand houses. Beyond the heavy doors to her room, she could feel servants moving about, their whispers and petty intrigues clear even if their words were not, and she marveled at how much she knew by just listening, scenting, tasting, feeling.
Part of her – the old part of her, she recognized – felt terrified at this knowledge, but the rest of her reveled in it. She could feel a pull at the back of her mind, like a whisper of silk across her bare skin; she felt awareness, and amusement, and relief; affection and passion and… boredom.
Katara smiled and rose, finding a robe laid out beside the bed. She slipped the silk, dyed a rich indigo, over her bare skin and tied the belt loosely around her waist. She ran her hands through her hair, found it smooth and untangled, and stepped down from the raised platform that held the bed. The breeze through the open windows called to her, and she crossed the room to settle on the broad sill. She looked out onto gardens – familiar gardens she had never seen – and waited, at peace.
Zuko found her stretched out on his windowsill, patterned with moonlight and shadow. He smiled and cast off his formal robes, leaving only a thin silk robe between he and the chilly air, the long, tedious meeting fading from his memory already. The sudden cool surge of awareness and wonder at the back of his mind as his father's oldest – and most boring – minister droned on endlessly had made the rest of the meeting agony to sit through, but now it was over and he was here.
He slid onto the sill, reached out to touch her cheek, stroked her smooth skin with one finger, lowered his face towards hers. "Katara," he breathed. She stirred, and her blue eyes opened slowly. He felt lightning race through his body as they met his, and at the back of his mind saw golden eyes reflected there.
She smiled, reached up to him. "Zuko," she sighed, pulling him against her. He gathered her in his arms, pulled her back against him, head cradled on his chest. He felt her smile against him. "Why do I always seem to spend weeks in bed after I'm with you?" she asked, laughter in her voice.
He tightened his arms around her. "It was a long time," he whispered. "I tried not to worry, but I did." He kissed the top of her head. "It's different for everyone and I believed in you, but I was so scared that you were…" he trailed off, felt her soothing presence both in his arms and in his mind.
"It was different than I expected," she said softly. "I felt… everything, all at once. I could feel you, and the air, and everything around us… I could taste it and smell it and feel it and hear it, and it was overwhelming…" He kissed her head again. "Then I could feel you." She twisted in his arms, looked up at him. "I felt you – your memories, your essence. It was like I was you, doing all the things that you've done in your life." She paused, looked down, looked back up. "You've had a really long life."
Zuko laughed softly. "Maybe. But I feel like it's only just starting." She smiled at that, settled back into his arms. Together, they watched the moon move slowly across the dark sky.
"Did you… feel me?" she asked.
"Mmm," he replied. "Yes. All of you." She tensed just a little; he felt anxiety and excitement bubble up at the back of his mind, and pulled her closer. "I saw sunrise on glaciers, and penguin sledding, and when your brother fell out of the canoe after the panther-whale surfaced, I helped pull him back in." He paused. "I think maybe you should have left him in a little longer. It might have cooled his temper down." He felt her relax, and smile.
Grey lit the edge of the sky as they sat curled together. Zuko felt their hearts beating together, pulsing gently at rest. Idly, he wondered how the physical aspect of their bond worked; he was bigger than she, and his heart rate should have been slower. Maybe part of the bond was speeding him up and slowing her down, so that they met in the middle?
"Is this how it's going to be?"
Her whisper brought his mind back from its musing. "What do you mean?"
She raised her hands, swept them around. "You. Me. Us. Forever?" She paused. "I hadn't really thought beyond just staying with you, and what we had to do to… get there." Zuko felt her blush; felt the heat in her cheeks and the faint embarrassment rise at the back of his mind. "I don't really know what comes next." She sat up. "I haven't met your family yet, I don't even know if you've gotten out of marrying that…"
"Katara," he said softly. "It's fine. My family loves you already. My mother is overjoyed that I found you, my mate, and my father's is trying to be irritated at having his plans disrupted by destiny." He smiled. "I don't think he knows how to be happy, but he isn't acting as angry as he would be if he were truly angry. As for the rest of my family, well, I think you know how Azula and Jet feel, and my uncle is delighted. Scheming old man that he is."
Katara smiled, remembering memories that weren't hers. "I felt him in your mind. I liked him."
"I know you will." He shifted. "Speaking of my uncle, he wants my team back put back on 'active' status. He said that we've been getting fat and lazy with nothing to do here at the palace."
Katara frowned. "I thought that you had to give up hunting, that tracking down Shu was your last mission, and that your father didn't even want you to go on that one."
"My father wanted me to give up hunting so that I could settle down and get married. Happily, the wedding has been called off, due to unforeseen events." He felt a shiver of excitement at the back of his mind, felt it race down his spine and make him tremble with her.
"My father and uncle apparently had a long talk a few days after we returned to the Fire Nation. It seems that Aang's clan is pleased with his progress, but feels that he still has a lot left to learn before he returns to them. They also think that as an Avatar, he belongs out in the world to help clean up the mess that the Dai Li made. Uncle says they want him to keep traveling with me and my team."
"Uncle also said that Aang's clan was displeased with his mastery of all four elements. They apparently commended his fire-bending and were pleased with his earth-bending progress, but his control of water leaves something to be desired." He paused, savoring the moment. "They want him to find a water-bending master to learn from. Coincidentally, Uncle convinced Father that it was time to refresh our relationship with the Dawn Phoenix Clan. It seems that a faction of the clan has been turning members of the Northern Water Tribe against their will, and it's threatening the balance of power at the North Pole."
He felt Katara stiffen, hope blooming at the back of his mind. He bent his head, breathed into her ear. "Last night, Uncle gave me orders to take my team to the North Pole, to work with the Dawn Phoenix Clan… and seek out the best water-bending master in the Northern Water Tribe."
She turned in his arms to face him, expression unreadable but body trembling. He could taste her excitement, feel it grow from a trickle to a torrent as it flooded into his mind. He leaned back, took her hands in his. "Katara…" he liked the way her name sounded in his throat. "Will you come with me? Will you join my team of hunters? Will you journey north with me, to find a water-bending instructor and work to maintain peace for our kind?"
She moved with a new speed that surprised and delighted him. Her arms wrapped around his neck and her chest crashed into his and her breath tickled his ear before he saw her move. "Yes," she whispered. "Yes. I'll join your team… I'll join your family…" He ran his hands along her back, down her legs, up her thighs and under the thin sleeping robe she wore, held her tight against him. She felt cool to the touch, soothing like water against the heat of his skin. "You know I'll go with you anywhere, and…" she trailed off.
He felt a trickle of shared memories flow through his mind. "Your uncle is a cunning man, Zuko. I'm glad he's on our side."
He laughed, held her close, kissed her neck, her shoulder, the gentle swell of her collarbone as he pushed her robe down. She inhaled sharply, pressed against him harder, ran her fingers up his arms, along his neck, into his hair. "I am, too. Oh."
"I forgot part of our team's mission." He smiled, lazily, and she pulled back to look at him. She was flushed, eyes half-closed, but intent on his words. "It seems that the Dawn Phoenix Clan has a close relationship with the Kiyoshi, and that representatives of the weyrcats are needed to resolve the issue." She went completely still in his arms. "Apparently, Clan matriarch Kiyoshi is sending her heir and her new mate to handle the matter. We'll be traveling to the North Pole by way of Kiyoshi Island to pick them up."
Joy flooded into his mind as she threw herself into him again, crushing him against her, kissing him and running hands down his back. An echo of thought drifted against his, it's okay, it's okay, it's all okay, and I'm not alone. I'll never be alone...
He tasted her tears, the sweetness behind the salt that spoke of happiness rather than sorrow, kissed them away. "I was so worried…" she whispered. "It all happened so fast, and there I was with you and I wanted you so badly but I was afraid that I wasn't ready yet, and then I could feel you and I knew it was too late." She pressed her forehead to his, fresh tears streaming down her face. "I knew I couldn't hesitate and that we couldn't stop, but I didn't know if I could do it but I'm so glad that I could trust you… that you could trust me, and that it all came out right." She sniffed, looked up at him. "Were you worried?"
Zuko kissed her gently, her lips, her cheeks, her forehead. "I was in ecstasy, with you, and then you weren't there. It was like you, your mind, your soul, had fled, leaving just your body. I could feel you, I felt your memories and your essence merge with mine, but you weren't there." He paused, took a shaky breath. "It was terrifying, but I had to trust you. That you were ready." He looked up, meeting her eyes, saw in his mind the flash of gold behind the blue as they mirrored each other. "I could still feel you, and I knew you weren't gone, but these past weeks have been so hard, not knowing for sure."
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I'm sorry, too. But I felt you wake up this evening and I knew it was all worth it." He gathered her in his arms and lay back, pulling her onto his chest. His robe fell open and her hair tumbled forward, tickling his neck, and he reached up, tangling his hand in it. Her eyes closed as she leaned into his hand.
"When you said that you would wait for me for another hundred years… I knew that wasn't what I wanted." She turned her head, kissed his wrist. "I knew that I needed you to say it, that I needed you to understand that I had to be me, as well as your mate. And I knew when you said that that you did understand." He moved his hand to trace the swell of her lips; she kissed the tips of his fingers, then bit them gently. He trembled, saw she felt it, too. She opened her eyes, looked at him through half-closed lids, grazed her teeth along the pads of his fingers. He felt her sharp new fangs drag against his calloused skin and arched up against her. "And suddenly, it wasn't important. You were the only thing that mattered," she breathed. She bit his index finger, gently, so gently that he didn't feel the pain; only the intoxicating feel of her tongue lapping up the trickle of blood that flowed from the wound. He shuddered, whimpered just a little, clenched his other hand around her thigh and pulled her into him. He could feel the pleasure radiating from her at the taste of his blood; knew that it was sweet as honey to her. Only her.
She leaned back, took his hand from behind her and placed it beside his other hand, the bite already sealing over. She gently pulled both up over his head, pinning them gently to the windowsill beneath them. Her touch was soft, teasing, gentle; he knew he could take his hands back without effort, and knew through the heat at the back of his mind that she knew that he knew, but he let her claim them. He felt her shift her weight back, slid her other hand down his chest, along his waist, down his hips, nudged his knees down beside her. She kissed him softly; he responded with heat, squirming against her as she settled her legs on either side of his thighs. She leaned back, shrugged the thin robe from her shoulders and down over her free arm, then replaced her hand holding his down and let the robe slide all the way off. He heard it puddle on the floor, saw her outlined above him by the cool grey dawn light as she rocked back against him, then he was inside her and shuddering.
He moved his hands, intending to pull her harder against him, but she held them down gently and moved slowly, so slowly, along him. He shivered, gasped, and heard her echo it. He felt it race from his body back into his mind and down the link they shared; felt her shiver as she felt the emotions and sensations that coursed through him, and they moved together, as one.
Later, much later, they lay together in the grand bed that dominated the room, Katara curled over Zuko's chest while he softly kissed her the back of her neck. She felt shaky and spent, but also delightfully warm and satisfied. "Do you think the gardener saw anything?" she whispered, laughter in her breath. She felt a shimmer of amusement from Zuko, sliding into her awareness.
"I think we were quick enough to avoid his eyes," he responded languidly, "but if he had come by five minutes earlier and we were still on the windowsill… well, we'd never have heard the end of it from Azula."
She laughed with him, enjoying the way his chest rumbled and his mind brushed against hers. If she concentrated, listened, hard, she could feel the stream of thoughts flowing through his mind, but it took more effort than she wanted to spend at the moment. The trickle of emotion surrounding her was more than enough to connect them. She sighed contentedly.
"Hmmm?" he asked, stroking her hair.
She purred in response, stretched against him. "What happens now?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" She felt his confusion at her question.
"I feel… like I should want to sleep, after all that… exertion. Or eat... but I'm not sleepy, and I'm not hungry." She paused. "I should be hungry, even if I've slept enough for the next month." She tipped her head back, looked up at him. "I don't know what to do next."
Zuko hummed deep in his throat, a warm sound that echoed the contentment lapping into her mind like gentle waves on a calm, sunny day. His arms wrapped around her waist and he nestled his face in her hair. "Don't worry. I'll show you everything you need to know about being a vampire, my love. My mate."
A/N: I guess I can still write fiction. It's been a while. Thanks to DamageCtrl for letting and encouraging others to play in her sandbox. It was fun!