It started before either of them was born, when forbidden lovers learned to shift the earth and defy the mountain between them.
It ended with renegade Yu Yan archers, their arrows numerous, aim impeccable, and loyalty to Fire Lord Sozin's vision unshakeable.
Even knowing his short stint as a poor exile, Katara would always be amazed by Zuko's resourcefulness and skill at budgeting.
"For Agni's sake, you're the Fire Lady – you don't need to worry about which hairpiece is cheapest!"
Two of a Kind
Trapped underground with Zuko in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, Katara couldn't shake the feeling of déjà vu (They built elaborate tunnels so they could meet secretly. . .).
Looking back, Zuko realized it would've been wiser to figure out what exactly a polar swim was before agreeing to it.
Her arms are around him, the sun is setting, past grudges are forgotten; Zuko doesn't want the moment to end.
Aunt Wu's words came flooding back as Katara watched Zuko take down his sister, realizing for the first time what a powerful bender he was.
Zuko is the first person to hold her necklace after her mother dies, and it's something Katara will never (can never) forget.
Watching blue water and fire clash, Zuko wonders if he's about to breathe his last breathe for saving the last person he thought he would love.
Iroh actually slaps him when Zuko uses honour as an excuse for not swiping Katara out from under the Avatar's nose when he had the chance.
When he tears a hole in the crotch of his pants during a particularly strenuous sparring exercise with Aang, Katara decides to "punish" him by refusing to sew it for a week.
During his first few weeks travelling with the Avatar, Zuko can't decide if he's annoyed or pleased by the fact that Katara laughs every time he falls off the bison or fumbles with conversation.
Seeing Ba Sing Se fall at the hands of the Fire Nation, Katara wondered how someone could destroy the world's hope so thoughtlessly; how she could have ever hoped Zuko had changed.
It was the fear of past repeating itself that made Katara hold onto her grudge; it was fear of that grudge tearing her apart that forced her to forgive.
Zuko would always be amazed by how quickly he fell for Katara, despite her hateful (not to mention violent) attitude toward him.
"Haven't you ever played chess?" Katara asked, grinning as she pushed Zuko down on the bed; "Queen always takes king."
Honesty hurts, particularly in Aang and Mai's case (how could they not have known?).
When Aang would ask Katara if she loved him – all wide-eyed and clueless and vulnerable to heartbreak – she would force a smile and say, "Yes."
Even living as royalty, Katara couldn't let go of cleaning up her own mess; she just felt so awful leaving those poor servants to pick up after everyone, despite Zuko reminding her they wouldn't have a job otherwise.
They stumbled down a hill together, holding hands and laughing as they bumped limbs and slid through mud, perfectly good summer clothes stained with grass and dirt and sweat.
Her fingers were warm and soft against the scarred flesh around his eyes, the first person to touch the mark aside from his uncle and the doctor who treated it.
When he tells her he wants to try growing sideburns, she gives him a wide-eyed, bewildered stare and threatens to divorce him.
This first time Zuko's gaze lands on her, Katara thinks it's yellow like cat-lizard eyes, predatory and menacing; when she looks into his eyes after the overwhelming hunt for her mother's killer, she sees them as molten gold, warm and soothing.
The first time Zuko touches Katara, he's 'saving' her from a gang of pirates and unable to ignore how smooth and soft her wrists are, her skin dark like chocolate.
To her, death is blood-stained snow and soot raining from the sky; to him, it's a midnight goodbye and a disappearance never explained.
It's a glimpse in the night – blue face, black eyes, white shape of a demonic grin – but it's a face Katara will never forget.
No amount of his princely training could prevent Zuko from staring when he stumbled upon Katara bathing in a lake, admiring her bare, dripping form despite his mind screaming at him to "run, you stupid pervert!".
"I feel ridiculous," Zuko grumbled, fidgeting with the furry collar of his parka; Katara just giggled and reminded him of the time he made her wear uncomfortable, skimpy clothing during their honeymoon visit to Ember Island (a fond memory, if there ever was one).
Kya smiled down on her daughter as she hugged Zuko on the docks, knowing they both had made the right decision.
It was just a simple pendant, hand-carved from a pale blue stone native to the arctic mountains, yet there was something so distinct about it that Zuko almost didn't recognize Katara the first time he saw her without it (something that occurred because he was carrying it in his pocket).
Zuko had always believed in destiny – fates that were written in the stars, carved in stone, flowed through his blood, and were passed on in stories sung by misfit nomads.
Sometimes Zuko would have nightmares, often involving his scar or his mother or some other past terror (he kept this a secret from everyone, even his uncle, too prideful to let anyone know he was scared by the imaginary happenings of his dreams); sometimes Katara would visit his room at night, offering soothing whispers and a gentle hand on his sweaty brow as he tossed and turned and cried out (she kept this a secret from everyone, even Aang, too stubborn in her grudge to let anyone know she felt sympathy for a traitorous prince).
It started with a pain in his chest, a numbness in his jaw, a not-uncommon feeling of heartburn; it ended with his heart stopping as a result of damage that even Katara's bending was powerless to heal.
It's hard not to blush when Katara is pressed against him, her arms around his neck as she sobs and thanks the spirits that he survived the lightning.
Their first kiss was an accident (Iroh thought it would be hilarious to shove his nephew while he told Katara he would "save her from the pirates"), something she told herself was awful and disgusting and downright wrong; nevertheless, the feeling of his lips lingered for hours afterward.
As a prince, Zuko was used to putting high value in wealth and jewels and property and material things; as a self-exiled ally to the Avatar, he valued friends and family and the world, protecting the girl he was raised to hate no matter what it might have cost him.
It was a well known fact that Zuko had a very one-track mind at times - his chasing of Aang the infamous example – but that didn't mean Sokka expected to discover his little obsession with Katara ("I swear I don't know her bra got in there, honest!").
Try as she might, Katara couldn't hide her smile as she watched Zuko struggle to understand a simple game of Sandbender.
"Wanna hear a secret?" Katara whispered, leaning in close to Zuko, making their cramped hiding space (Aang insisted they play Hide-and-Seek) feel even smaller; with her lips almost touching his ear, she murmured, "I like you."
Zuko stared at Katara, dressed in a Fire Lady's traditional red and gold silk with her hair in a fancy topknot decorated with fire lilies and moon blossoms, his heart stuttering as much as his tongue: "You... you look... wow."
A fresh blanket of powdered snow covered the earth, making everything sparkle in the afternoon sun, and even though it was only temporary, Zuko knew he would get an earful from his advisors ("I know she misses her homeland, Fire Lord Zuko, but is it really necessary to let her cover the grounds in snow?).
The first night in the Western Air Temple, Zuko dreams of Katara and her threat, of ice whips slitting his throat and cooling his blood as it spills; the first night at the Ember Island beach house, he dreams of her arms around him, the words "I'm ready to forgive you" pounding in his mind like a percussion instrument, steady and holding everything else together.
It seems unreal that the boy who tied her to a tree is now tying a hand-carved betrothal necklace around her neck.
Katara writes a million letters that are never sent, all centering around Zuko and three words that shouldn't be so hard to write; on the other side of the world, Zuko sits at his desk facing the same problem.
Somehow, the silence that she and Zuko share while soaring through the clouds in search of a killer is the best support, the best comfort he could ever offer – words would judge and persuade and suffocate.
Iroh is more than a little shocked when he hears the gentle notes of a tsungi horn drifting out from Zuko's room; then he peeks in, sees Katara smiling shyly as his nephew plays the awkward instrument, and quickly understands.
Twirling with his baby sister (married sister) on the dance floor, Sokka was sure to interrogate Katara about every aspect of her relationship with Zuko, hesitant to let her go when it was time for the bride and groom to have their dance (and even more reluctant to admit that Zuko could take care of her just as well as he could).
It always amazed Katara that a person like Zuko – sweet and brave and striving to grow – could be born out of a family like Ozai's – chaotic and backstabbing and never to be trusted; it was like a beautiful fire lily growing in the icy plains of her home.
No matter how many times he apologizes or Katara vouches for him, Kana never quite forgives Zuko for the time when, during his first (peaceful) visit, he melted her igloo.
"Now, as the Fire Prince I'm sure you're not familiar with Water Tribe customs, so I'll walk you through," Hakoda said, giving Zuko's shoulder a squeeze as he leads him away from where their ragtag team is clustered around the campfire; "First off, a man who is unfaithful to his wife is often, er. . . robbed of his manhood."
It's more than a little shocking when Zuko and Katara stumble upon his mother and her father together at the wedding party, sitting a little too closely and staring a little too intently.
"You know, just because I tried to fry dear Zuzu with a bolt of lightning doesn't mean I'm not concerned for his welfare – especially where marriage is concerned," Azula said to Katara on one of the rare occasions when she visited her jail cell.
"Okay, Sparky, I'll help you woo Sugar Queen, but only because you getting pitter-patter heartbeats and tongue-tied when you're around her has quickly gone from amusing to annoying to just plain pathetic."
The enemy has fire in its hands, burning houses and boiling bodies, taking her peace and reality and destroying it at its core; her ally has fire in his heart, determined and protective, ready to help her track the enemy at all costs if it means making amends.
He chooses Katara to help him take down Azula because the memories of tackling her out from under falling rocks and being caught by her as he plummeted to his death are still fresh in his mind, reminding him that they have each other's back even when filled with spite.
"You shouldn't be hanging around with strange men," Zuko insists, dragging a protesting Katara away from the small village's festivities, already prepared to deny Toph's accusations about his protectiveness.
People say time heals all wounds, but Katara is finding this hard to believe as she glares at Zuko across the campfire, wondering how her friends can laugh and joke and trust when he stabbed them in the back not so long ago.
The suspicion started when Katara refused Pakku's tips on fighting and instead requested lessons on healing ("Scars – please teach me to heal scars"); it was confirmed when she was found with Zuko at the North Pole's oasis, kissing and sobbing and running fingers over a smooth face and stomach.
Sometimes she pretends to still hold an inkling of a grudge, only because he's still so determined to right himself in her eyes that he will do all the laundry and cooking without complaint.
Even after practicing birthing procedures and discussing the painful process with her Katara and her gran-gran and his mother and half the palace maids, Zuko is not prepared for the blood and screaming and does what many fathers before him had done: he fainted.
It's not when Katara is fleeing Azula's lightning that the fear of death truly grips her heart, but when she kneels by Zuko's limp body, willing her water to mend his wounds.
His voice is gruff and low and distinctly masculine as he leans forward to whisper, "I'll save you from the pirates."
After tackling her away from the collapsing ceiling, Zuko lays with his head buried in Katara's hair for the briefest of moments, barely long enough to be overwhelmed by her scent – clean like the soap she bathed with while still carrying something distinctly Katara.
"Just close your eyes and trust me," she said, giggling as she held up a spoonful of the foul smelling sea-prunes; that's not what Zuko tastes an instant later, however, instead surprised by the feeling of warm lips.
On one of his first days in the temple, Zuko insists on helping Katara prepare dinner, surprising her with the warmth and smoothness of his hands when they brush against hers as they both reach for the stirring spoon.
It's rude to ask, but Katara just can't contain her curiosity, so – late at night, when the campfire is just starting to burn out and Yue smiles down on them – she pops the question: "Can you actually see out of that eye?"
"No, that's not – wait, let me show you," Katara said, grabbing Zuko's arms and adjusting them, oblivious to his tensing muscles and reddening face (maybe learning about the other elements wouldn't be so bad after all. . .).
It was the Fire Nation's rain season and they were stuck outside during a routine run to the market, unable to continue forward because of mud-slicked roads and vendors packing up shop; instead, they're forced to huddle together under a tree, steam rising slowly into the air as Zuko acted as their only heat source.
There is always a calm before the storm, which is why Zuko was at first apprehensive about Katara's kindness toward him after their search for her mother's killer.
'Home' is a word of uncertainty for Zuko, who had been accepted and rejected by his family more times than he could count, but he thought he might have found it in the run down beach house, where there were friends and safety and love in abundance (not to mention Katara, sweet and spicy and sane and crazy).
If Zuko didn't know what true happiness was, he certainly did after hearing Katara utter the words "I'm ready to forgive you", his heart leaping and lips pulled into a seemingly permanent smile.
"This is all your fault!" Katara shouted, glaring at Zuko in the dim firelight, her voice echoing in the cavernous space; it didn't matter that Azula had shot the lightning that caused the cave-in and Toph should have been getting them out, because he was Zuko and that was reason enough to be blamed for all the world's problems.
He carried her, sleeping, from Appa's head to the saddle as they continued to glide through the air, her light-weight frame making him wonder if she was eating properly, if the stress was getting to her more than she let on.
The unending night that came with the winter solstice was almost unbearable for Katara, missing the sight of sunlight that reminded her so much of his eyes.
Zuko was often baffled by Katara's inability to understand the more crude 'compliments' that various men would offer as they strolled through the marketplace.
There was a time when Zuko, barely taller than his mother's hip, was painfully shy (even more so than as a teen) and resorted to showing his feelings for Katara by pulling on her hair loopies.
Zuko's uncle had always told him to never look a gift ostrich-horse in the mouth, so he was reasonably apprehensive when Sokka came up to him one day any outright said, "You can marry my sister if you want – in fact, I dare you to."
Pressing her healing water to Zuko's bruised cheek, which had turned a rainbow of blues and greens and blacks, Katara wondered why Aang would have reason to punch him in the first place.
His arms slipped around her waist to hold her wrists, ("No, you're supposed to hold them like this"), a simple offer of assistance in learning to use swords that sent shivers up her spine and blood rushing to her cheeks.
It seemed a bit morbid that the Fire Nation burned their dead, but that didn't stop Katara from standing by Zuko during his uncle's cremation, ready to support him during his inevitable breakdown.
Fate seemed to enjoy their torment, forcing them to meet only when war would divide them.
It was hard to find a quiet moment in the temple, but Zuko and Katara soon discovered that early morning – when the sun was just starting to peak above the horizon, hazy edges giving the illusion of bed-head – was the best time to find silence; it was one of the few times they were content to sit peacefully in the same room.
It's a simple gesture – a small bloom that Zuko clearly picked out of the many wildflowers growing around the decrepit beach house, handing it to her with a bow and apology – but Katara still accepts it with a smile, wondering how she held her grudge for so long.
"Patience has never been one of his strengths," Iroh commented as he and Katara sipped tea whilst watching Zuko and Aang play high-stakes Pai Sho (the prize: marrying Katara).
Seeing Katara dressed in Fire Nation clothes on their second day at beach house almost made Zuko's knees buckle to the point that he thought he might collapse into a face-plant, though that didn't stop him from staring.
There was a difference between bravery and stupidity, and Zuko decided that angering Katara required a bit of both.
Once upon a time, the mere sight of Zuko could make Katara's heart pound with a mix of anxiety and fear and panic, something she hid with glares and harsh words.
He stepped off a ship dressed in sharp, shiny red armour, his eyes golden eyes scanning the tiny village with the ferocity of a wild panther-seal, sending one word echoing through Katara's mind (dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. . .).
Their secret meetings were always in Omashu, on top of the mountain overlooking the city (but not in the cave – never in the cave, because that had been their place and look how that turned out).
One thing about the South Pole Zuko doubted he would adjust to was bathing – right out in the open in the steaming water of a natural hot spring high up on the mountains.
After threatening his life in low, harsh tones, Katara left Zuko's room and slammed the door behind her, seeming to trap in the small space with her words echoing along its walls (one false step. . .).
"I think you should leave your hair down for the conference," Katara said, already reaching her hands up to undo his topknot, "because then I can at least admire how nice it looks on you instead of just listening to your boring discussions."
"What do you mean, you lost Soku?" Katara demanded, on hands and knees checking under furniture for the (apparently capable of crawling) baby boy.
Sidling up beside Zuko, Katara ran a finger down his arm and practically purred, "You know, I never properly thanked you for finding my necklace all those months ago – now's as good a time as ever, don't you think?"
Often times, Zuko would wish he could erase certain memories from his and everyone's mind; it would make the path to forgiveness much smoother.
The sky split and poured rain down on them, flashes of lightning brightening the dark sky, all of it going unnoticed by the two teens dressed in black as they confronted the former leader of the Southern Raiders.
"It's called a sunburn," Zuko said, laughing at Katara's panic over the sore and discoloured skin that had appeared on her arms after a long day out in the sun.
Fire and water collided as they sparred, creating a thick cloud of steam, obscuring vision just long enough for Zuko to sneak forward and steal a kiss from Katara.
Sometimes, while Katara slept, Aang would hear her murmur about scars and lightning and healing, and would wrongfully assume she was dreaming about his near death in Ba Sing Se.
Author's Notes: I actually wrote this a while ago, but neglected posting it until now. I discovered it's very, very hard to write one hundred single sentence stories. xD
Disclaimer: "Avatar: the Last Airbender" is property of Nickelodeon, which I am in no way associated with.