Title: Where We Belong
Summary: "Your relationship has defied what Destiny set forth for you." – Zuko and Katara's relationship angers the Spirits.
Coupling: Zuko/Katara; slight Mai/Zuko and Aang/Katara.
Warnings: Language, character death, slight sexual content.
Disclaimer: If I owned it, it would have been canon. The song belongs to Trading Yesterday.
Slight AU Note: Both follows canon and AUs.
Love without, love gone wrong,
Lifeless words carry on, but I know
All I know is the end's beginning
For all the second (and third and fourth) chances that he's been given, Zuko has never been one to believe second chances. Not for him, at least. He's pulled every wrong move that one could ever possibly think of, but every time, somehow, he's been forgiven. Sometimes he wonders what he did to trick Agni into letting him have everything that he has, because there is no way that someone like him could ever possibly have a happy ending. Which is why, at twenty three years of age, when he lays on his bed (because he is too weak to do anything but), he can't curse the Spirits, because it only seems fair that his life should be cut so short.
Though he almost wishes that Destiny would be a bit more original, because dying by poison from some rabid Azula follower almost seems like it would be something out of one of those stupid reading scrolls Ty Lee is always going on about. (He survived travelling the world with, and against, the Avatar – through freezing blizzards and crazy Azula lightening – only to die from eating dinner.)
To be fair, he isn't exactly sure that it happened that way. He isn't sure of much, actually. He doesn't remember much after eating with Mai and Uncle. From there everything goes dark. He wakes from time to time (the first time that he did, the Palace Healers tried to explain to him what happened, but he couldn't make out more than food, poison, and dying. Then again, much more than that doesn't really matter now. Maybe once upon a time it would have, but not now.) and when he does, someone is always there. Sometimes it's a healer, sometimes it's Uncle or Mai, sometimes it's one of his old friends – Aang or Toph, Sokka and Suki, Ty Lee.
But never Katara.
So when he wakes to find a sleeping waterbender on the chair beside his bed, Zuko is fairly sure he's dead.
He realizes that her hand his holding his and, with more effort than it should take, his thumb brushes again the top of her hand. Her eyes immediately snap open and the next thing he knows, her arms are around him. He flinches at the sudden contact, his muscles (or what remains of them after laying in bed for Agni knows how long) not prepared for the impact. (Who knew that being dead would be so painful?)
Almost as if she senses his thoughts, Katara pulls back and Zuko almost feels more uncomfortable with her gone. She mumbles an unnecessary apology and he gives her the best smile that he can to let her know that he didn't mind. (He could never mind her touch, no matter how much pain, no matter how many years have passed.) An awkward silence follows.
Without realizing it, his eyes land on her necklace. Different from the one she wore when they were younger – soft blue ribbon with a copper-orange stone. Even after all these years and even after he watched Aang tie it around her neck, it still doesn't seem right. The stone clashes with her dark skin and the blue doesn't match her eyes. It just seems so wrong for her. Not that he has any right to criticize; he and Mai married before Aang and Katara, only after two years of his becoming Fire Lord.
She notices his gaze and tugs at her collar to hide the necklace. He's ashamed when he realizes that he prefers it hidden, and looks away from it, his mind desperately searching for something to say to change the topic they hadn't even discussed.
"Am I dead?" His voice is sore from lack of use and he feels ridiculous asking, but he needs to know.
"Don't talk like that, Zuko!" She hisses and he finally notices the tears threatening to spill behind her eyes. He so desperately wants to comfort her, but doesn't have the strength to. Wouldn't know how to even if he did.
"Where is everyone?" He asks instead. Stupid topic, but not one that would make her cry. (Agni, he hates it when she cries.)
"Your Uncle is in a meeting. Mai and Aang went with him. I think the others are asleep. I can go and get them for you." She stands and turns to leave.
"No." And with all the strength he can muster, Zuko grips at her hand. "Stay." Any other time, he would deny the plead in his voice (because Fire Lords did not plead), but not now. Now he just doesn't want her to leave him.
Her eyes soften and she nods before she sits back down. "Okay."
It's been over a year since he last saw her; three since her marriage to Aang and four since his to Mai. But it's been even longer since they've been together – alone – and free to say what they want to. Need to. It's almost pathetic how many times he's wondered what it would be like to be alone with her again. It figures that when he finally gets the chance to, he doesn't know what to do, much less say.
"I'm so sorry." Katara's voice is soft, her head bent, and for a moment, he remembers the teenage girl he travelled with all those years ago. "I should have come sooner."
Zuko wonders what took her so long, but, for once, doesn't voice his thoughts. He knows she must feel bad enough without him adding to it. "It's okay." He mumbles. Silently he curses his current state. He hates feeling weak, vulnerable.
She shakes her head. "No, you don't understand, Zuko. The moment I heard the news, Aang and flew here on Appa as fast as we could. I have been working with the healers, but I didn't want you to know I was here." Her head is turned away so that he can't see her. "I was scared of how you would react." Her voice is filled with shame and he doesn't have to see to know that tears are streaming down her cheeks.
He doesn't like this situation. Their roles are switched – he is supposed to be the one apologizing for being stupid, not playing the comforter. Apologetic he can do, he's even better at stupid, but he doesn't even know how to begin to play the comforter. "It's okay." He strokes her hand with his thumb, wishing that he could hold her, wipe away her tears, something – anything – more. "You're here now. All that matters."
Katara finally looks at him. Her expression is slightly surprised, and for a moment, he worries that he said the wrong thing. But a soft smile tugs at her lips before he has the chance to say anything else. He can't help but smile back at her. It's impossible to see her smile and not feel better. She's infectious like that.
He needs it – needs her.
(She is his water, his breath, his reason.)
(She balances him better than anyone will ever know.)
"I am." She whispers.
There is a small space between where he sleeps and the edge of the bed and Katara crawls onto it so that she is beside him, his head resting on her heart. He imagines it can't be very comfortable, but can't bring himself to let her move once he feels her beside him. He ignores the protest of his body and, with some aid from Katara, wraps his arm around her.
In the back of his mind, he knows this isn't a good idea – that anyone could walk in at any moment – but he doesn't care. It has been far too long since they last held each other like this; far too long since they were able to find comfort in each other's touch. He can feel his time slipping through his fingers and he needs this now more than anything. Everyone else be damned, because these final moments belong to them and them alone.
Who I am from the start
Take me home to my heart
It's his turn to keep watch while the others sleep. Aang offers to take his place, insisting that he must be tired – he and Katara had been out searching for Yon Rha – but Zuko just shakes his head and tells the young Avatar that he's fine. To be honest, he's tired – fucking exhausted – but he knows sleep won't come to him. Not tonight at least. So he figures he might as well put himself to use and let the others rest.
That's how she finds him, sitting away far enough away from the tents as to not disturb others, staring at the campfire. He hears her coming before he sees her, but he doesn't move, because – for some reason – he's sure it's her. He half expects her to yell at him for it, but she doesn't. He supposes maybe it's because she's forgiven him, finally believes that he is on their side. Katara doesn't say anything, actually, but rather sits with him – close enough that he would hear her if she spoke, but far enough as not to invade his space.
A silence falls over them.
It isn't awkward, like the many they've shared before (when she wasn't yelling at him), but somehow it isn't completely comfortable. Not the way he imagined – the way he hoped – it would be once he earned her forgiveness.
"The last thing my mother said to me…" The words slip from his mouth before he thinks anything of them, because it suddenly occurs to him that he never explained himself to her. Not really. He asked for forgiveness and promised that he really has changed his ways, but never once explained to her why he did what he did. Why he turned his back on her in Ba Sing Se. "The last thing I ever heard her say before she disappeared. 'Never forget who you are.' I thought that…" He has never talked to anyone else about his mother since that night – not Azula, not Mai, not even Uncle – and the words are harder to say than he expected. "I thought that I was doing that in Ba Sing Se… That if I didn't go with Azula, I would be turning my back on my Nation, on my crown…on who I am." He thought he was betraying his mother by not going with his sister. At the time, he hadn't realized that he was going against her wishes by doing just that.
His eyes never break from their gaze on the fire, but he can feel her eyes on him. "You were just doing what you thought she would want." It isn't really a question, but he can't help but nod in affirmation, because, for some reason, he desperately needs her to understand. "I'm sorry." Her voice is soft, gentle. "I didn't know."
(He doesn't understand why she is apologizing, because there was no way she could have known if he never told her.)
"She's alive." Zuko mumbles instead. She's the only one he's told. "My father – Ozai – told me. He knows where she is!" His hands clench in frustration and the fire in front of him flickers as a result. "And I left him without finding out." He bows his head, ashamed.
A pair of arms wrap around his shoulders. "You did that right thing." Katara mumbles and his head jerks up. It's the first time in a very long time that someone has told him that. His eyes search hers for any sign that she is lying, but he doesn't find one. "He wouldn't have told you. You did the right thing by leaving."
"I lost my chance though. I'll never find her now." He feels ridiculously pathetic, but leans his head into her shoulder. "I lost her."
"No." She promises. "You'll find her."
And he does find her. It takes him a month after the war has ended and peace has begun to spread through the nations. He pulls all his sources together and finds his mother – sick and dying – in a small Earth Kingdom island. She apologizes for leaving him, but explains that it was the only thing she could have done to ensure his safety. She tells him that she loves him, that she's proud of him.
She passes the next morning.
Her body's immediately returned to the Fire Nation. They give her a proper funeral and the whole Nation mourns – some for the loss of Fire Lord Ozai's wife, some for the mother of Fire Lord Zuko. She is cremated and a memorial – the largest and loveliest of them all – is placed in the Royal Family tomb in her honor.
Then one day – the official mark of six months since the death of Princess Ursa of the Fire Nation – Katara comes to the Fire Nation.
Fire Lord Zuko's locked in his study when it happens, determined to forget. Nobody – not Mai, not Uncle – dares to bother him. (Not now. Not today.) So when a servant comes knocking on the door, Zuko is all but ready banish him, until said servant bows and quickly mumbles that Lady Katara of the Water Tribe is in the palace and that she refuses to leave until she sees him. He doesn't hear the rest of the servant's explanations, (of his excuses,) because he is already on his feet and out the door.
He finds Katara standing in the throne room, glaring at one of the guards, as if she is daring him to try to tell her to leave.
It is customary for guards to always be present at the throne in case of an attack on the Fire Lord's life. Family is the only exception and even that is a rare exception. So when he tells the guards to leave them be, they stare at him as if he has just declared himself to be an Earthbender. Fire Lord Zuko's eyes narrow and he barks his orders again – this time the guards don't hesitate before leaving. (They have seen enough of the Royal Family's temper to know better than to question their strange behavior.)
The moment the door close behind the guards, his shoulders slump and his posture relaxes. It's a reflex that he saves for very few – not even Mai – but he barely thinks anything of it. Katara has been his ally in battle more times than he can even count anymore, so it is natural for him to feel more at comfort – more safe – around her. He and Mai have never technically fought on the same side, so it is logical that he wouldn't feel as comfortable around her. (He ignores the part of his mind that argues that Katara was his enemy longer than Mai.)
"I didn't know you were coming." He glances around and finally notices the lack of a certain presence. "Where's Aang?"
"The Eastern Air Temple." Her voice is automatic, almost as if she thinks nothing of her being separated from the boy she is supposed to be in love with. She gives no other explanation, which surprises him slightly. It's as if she has more important thoughts on her mind. "How are you doing?"
"Fine." A stupid answer for a stupid question, it seems fair enough.
She ignores it. "You shouldn't be alone today."
He narrows his eyes at her. "I'm fine." He repeats.
She doesn't believe him. He didn't expect her to. "No, you're not." Her voice is soft, gentle. "Ignoring it isn't going to help. Trust me."
Part of him is furious with her. How dare she say that he was trying to forget his mother! She has no idea what she is talking about. He wants to scream at her, demand that she leave the Palace grounds now, because she has crossed a line that not even Uncle dared to dance. But his eyes meet hers, and he doesn't have the strength to anymore. Suddenly he feels very much like the seventeen year old boy he is.
"You don't want to be with me today." He says instead. "I'm not exactly the best company right now." Even Mai's avoided him for the past couple of days.
"I'll be the judge of what I want. And as for the company," She takes a step forward and rests a hand on his arm, giving him a gentle, comforting smile. "I think I can manage for the both of us."
That day he's not Zuko of the Fire Nation Royalty. That day, for the first time in longer than he can remember, he's just Zuko, the boy who lost his mother only after he had just found her.
And I've lost who I am and I can't understand
Why my heart is so broken
Nothing around him feels right. Everything around him seems dimmer, darker, and if he didn't know any better, bluer. It's almost like he has been taken from his world and put in the Spirit World, but that doesn't make any sense because he isn't a Spirit. At least he doesn't think he is, but he can't be sure because he can't remember anything before being here. Not even who he was.
Sometimes it feels like years have passed, sometimes mere seconds. Every second drags on forever, but every hour seems to blur together. He has no sense of time anymore, but he supposes the dead don't really need one. (At least he thinks he's dead. It's hard to be sure.) Still, he thinks it would be nice to know how long he's been here (wherever here is).
Lovers surround him from every direction. Some he thinks he sort of almost recognizes, but isn't sure. Some he's never seen before, but feels like he somehow knows. He watches them sometimes, but never goes to them, never invades their moments. Although not all their moments seem so precious. Sometimes they fight; sometimes they scream so loud that he thinks he's going to go deaf. But he doesn't think they ever mean any of it, because they always make up. They always have their happy ending.
Sometimes he hates them for it.
He doesn't know why.
Losing what was found, a world so hollow
Suspended in a compromise
The silence of this sound is soon to follow
Of all the mistakes Zuko has ever made in his life, he's pretty sure this one tops them all.
He's lying in his bed, one hand wrapped around Katara's waist the other lost in the depths of her chocolate hair. She is curled up against his bare chest, and he's suddenly so much more aware of the paleness of his skin, the darkness of hers. And he suddenly thinks it's stupid how people call them opposites, because they are a balance and one cannot exist without the other. Like yin and yang, water and fire. Her and him.
But he knows that her and him are not supposed to be a her and him, because they do not belong to each other. Cannot belong to each other. She's the Avatar, because after all that he's done for the world, he deserves someone like her. And she deserves someone like him – kind and gentle who will make her his world. And Zuko belongs to his Nation. He is the Fire Lord and one of the only living (sane) members of the Royal Family and he has a duty to his Nation, his people. They expect – they need – a Fire Lady from noble decent, one who knows all of their customs and history. A Fire Lady like Mai.
Zuko knows these things and he is fully prepared to the decision he needs to (no matter how much he doesn't want to), because what they did is a mistake (no matter how right it felt) and he needs to leave. But then Katara mumbles something in her sleep and curls closer to him and his arm instinctively wraps tighter around her, and his resolve crumbles. He takes a deep breath, and in his moment of weakness, his eyes slip shut. He relishes in the moment, and decides that whatever he needs to do can wait until morning.
When the sun rises and tugs him awake, he finds himself alone.
That day, the announcement of Fire Lord Zuko's engagement to Noblewoman Mai is spread across the Nation.
Katara, her arm wrapped in Aang's, congratulates him with a smile that doesn't reach her eyes.
He thanks her with a smile that doesn't reach his.
All this time, spent in vain
Wasted years, wasted gain
He spends his time (his seconds, his years, whatever they are) wandering around. He's looking for something, but what, he isn't exactly sure. All he knows is that something – some part of him – is missing and he needs to find it. Because without it, he isn't sure we will survive (or whatever it is that he does) much longer.
It happens when the moon is at its fullest.
A girl appears. Her skin is dark and her hair even darker. She is dressed in the strangest blue costume he has ever seen. But none of that seems important, because he realizes that the way her head goes from side to side and her feet seem to lead her aimlessly, means that she is searching for something too. And part of him says to leave her alone – that he has his own whatever to find – but a bigger part of him can't help but want to go to her, to help her. And his feet lead him to her before he even realizes it.
"Do you, uh," The words stumble out of his mouth and his heart is doing this weird thing when he's around her. He can't remember ever feeling like this before and hates it, but (for some insane reason that he can't think of) kind of likes it at the same time. "Do you need help?" Her head snaps up at his words and the next thing he knows, he is staring that the bluest eyes he has ever seen before.
"Zuko…" She breathes.
The memories flood into him all at once. His family, the Fire Nation, the war. He remembers his hunt for the Avatar, being trapped in the cave in Ba Sing Se with her, and doing everything he could to earn her forgiveness after. Her offer to heal the scar on his face and the one on his chest he got for her. He remembers Mai taking him back after, her finally going to Aang, and how they both regretted everything they did from there on. But more than anything, he remembers his final moments with her.
"Katara." He wraps his arms around her, holding her tight to him.
"I thought I lost you."
His brows furrow in confusion. "Did…did you die too?" He doesn't like the question, almost doesn't want to hear the answer, but needs to.
"No." She says and he can tell she is confused too. She takes a step back and he fights the instinct to pull her back to him, because they have to figure this out first. "I remember waking up and you…" She doesn't finish the sentence. She doesn't need to. "I remember the news spreading. The…funeral," It takes her a moment to get the word out. "Was supposed to be in the morning."
"But if I'm dead and you're not, how…?"
"I," A gentle voice says behind them and they both turn to face it. "Can answer that."
The first thing Zuko notices about the Spirit is that she looks oddly human. (Not that he has seen many other Spirits to compare her to, but he imagines that very few look like so.) The second thing he notices is that she has eyes blue enough to rival Katara's, a clear sign of Water Tribe. He can't shake off the feeling that has seen this particular Spirit – this girl – once before.
"Yue?" Katara takes a step forward.
The Spirit smiles down at her. "It is good to see you too, Katara."
Zuko suddenly remembers the white haired girl at the North Pole all those years ago. He remembers the moon disappearing and when it reappeared, she was missing, but he hadn't paid attention at the time. It's a strange thought, a human taking a Spirit's place, but so is standing before said Spirit when one is not the Avatar.
"What's going on?" Katara asks, once her initial shock of seeing the human-turned-Spirit fades.
"I was chosen to come to you on behalf of the Spirits. The two of you have angered them tremendously since the end of the Great War."
"What? But how?"
The Spirit – Yue – smiles again down at them again. It is both heartfelt and painful. "Your relationship has defied what Destiny set forth for you."
Katara's cheeks redden slightly and she takes a small, awkward step away from him. Zuko, on the other hand, narrows his eyes. "What are you talking about? She married the Avatar, I chose a Fire Nation Noblewoman – we did exactly what we were supposed to!" His voice is harsher than it should be considering he is speaking to a Spirit, but at the moment, he doesn't care. They gave up everything they had – everything they wanted, everything they needed – for Destiny, so how dare she say they defied it!
The smile never leaves her lips. "That, Fire Lord, is exactly the problem."
There is a moment of silence and they stare at the Moon Spirit. "What?" He isn't sure which one of them says it – maybe both?
Yue laughs softly. "The two of you proved to be far more selfless than any Spirit – than Destiny itself – expected of you. Your destiny was not to be separated as you were, but together."
"So you mean everything we did…" Katara doesn't finish her sentence. And he's glad she doesn't, because he isn't sure he can bear to hear that everything was in vain. Yue nods.
"So what?" Zuko asks. "Do the Spirits plan on punishing us?" He's not sure he can imagine anything much worse than what they've been through. Than knowing that it all was for nothing.
The Moon Spirit shakes her head. "Your actions have both angered the Spirits for defying your paths and won their favor for your loyalty. It has been decided that you will have to correct your mistakes."
"Correct our mistakes?"
"How is that even possible?" He's dead, it shouldn't be possible.
"You are going to be returned to the time when your mistakes first began."
"Returned? As in time travel? The Spirits have that power?"
Yue hesitates for the slightest of moments, as if she knows where this is leading to, before nodding her head.
"But the war!" Katara cries. "All those lives, all that bloodshed was for nothing then! It could have been stopped it!"
Zuko imagines a life lived in peace. One where Ozai wasn't raised to hate the weak, where Azula wasn't pushed to her end, where Ursa had been with him all along. His fish clench, because suddenly he is furious with them for not stopping the war earlier, for letting it happen in the first place. "How could you let it happen?!"
Yue bows her head, her eyes pained, and she looks so human in that moment, that Zuko immediately regrets it. He remembers the play all those years ago on Ember Island and how she and Sokka had been in love, but she forced to leave him to take the place of the fallen Moon Spirit. She had been another casualty of the war, had lost just as much as either of them. He suddenly imagines that she must have wanted the same as them. Katara shifts next to him and he knows she's realized what he has.
"The war was written as Destiny so desired it. It was not in the Spirits powers to change it." Yue explains. "I do not know why Destiny chooses what it does; all I know is that we have no choice but to follow."
Katara is silent for a moment. She bows her head and hair falls over her shoulders, blocking his eyes from her. "They'll hate us." Her voice is both plain and filled with pain. It's both a question and a statement. "Our family, our friends, our people." He wants to hold her, comfort her, but knows better than to. "Mai. Aang."
Yue hesitates for a moment, as if she doesn't like what she is about to say. "At first, but they will move on." The words sound weird coming from her mouth as Zuko heard stories from Sokka about how she thought about others before herself. "It isn't in their destinies."
"What…" He takes a breath, hoping Katara will not hate him for his next words. "What if we refuse? If we went against Destiny once before, we can do it again, can't we?" He doesn't dare to look at the waterbender beside him, knowing that it will make him betray his words. "We can keep everyone else happy."
She doesn't answer him at first. Yue stares at him for a moment, but her eyes resemble Katara's so much that he can't keep their gaze long enough, and looks away. "You will be returned to the past, but your minds will be as they are now. You will remember everything. It was your belief that you were following destiny that kept you apart before, but this time you will know that it isn't true." She lowers herself to the ground and stands in front of him. Her fingers, as light and gentle as one would expect of the moon, pulls his chin so that he faces her. "Fire Lord, you are being given something most people only dream of. Please do not waste it." He voice is soft, almost as if she is begging him. "But," she takes a step back so that she is facing both him and Katara. "You will be free to act as you desire and will have to face the Spirits in the afterlife. But do you think that you can go through everything again – choosing someone for everyone else's sake – knowing that you are meant to be together, to be happy?"
Zuko imagines Aang's arms around Katara, his lips on hers, him putting a necklace – the ribbon the wrong shade of blue and the stone that clashes with her skin – around her neck all over again, while he just sits and watches again. His fist clench on instinct and the answer rings in his mind.
He spares a glance his side and sees Katara – biting her lip with her eyes wide in horror – and knows her thoughts match his. Without thinking, his hand reaches to hers, pulling it out of the fist she too clenched it into. His heart skips a beat when her eyes meet his, softening immediately, and blue is the last thing he sees before everything goes dark.
This day's ending is the proof of
Time killing all the faith I know
Knowing that faith is all I hold
Her fingers brush against Zuko's as he hands her a cup of tea in Uncle's new shop, right outside the Fire Nation Capital. And suddenly he knows that something he doesn't like is going to happen, which doesn't sound the slightest bit reasonable. The war's just ended and they've won – for the first time in one hundred years, there is peace – so what could possibly go wrong? But something in the pits of his stomach is sure of it. He doesn't know how he knows, he just does.
He tilts his head up slightly so that his eyes lock onto Katara's. She gives him a smile that doesn't match the guilt in the blue of her eyes. A frown tugs at his lips.
But he is momentarily distracted by a crashing sound behind them. He turns around to see Sokka screaming behind what looks like a painting canvas. They gather around his "moment of memory" or whatever it is that he calls it, and by the time Zuko remembers to look back up, Katara's gone.
He glances out the window and sees her – dressed in fine Earth Kingdom garments (green doesn't suit her the way the blue of the Water Tribes or the red of the Fire Nation does) – approaching Aang. He feels his breath hitch and he looks down at Katara's abandoned cup of tea just in time to see the heart she bent it into collapse. He knows what is about to happen and he was right – he doesn't like it.
"Zuko, are you going to give me my tea or what?"
He turns his head and is met with Mai's gaze and hands her a cup of tea. She gives him the smile she never bothers to share with anyone else. He forces his own smile, one that doesn't reach his eyes, but she doesn't seem to notice.
He tries to shake the thought that Katara would.
And finding answers
Is forgetting all of the questions we call home
Passing the graves of the unknown
All he can feel is the pain. It starts in his chest and spreads through his body, tingling the ends of his toes, the tips of his fingers. It's so unbearable that he has to struggle to breathe. And he doesn't have to open his eyes to know where he is – when he is. Because it's a pain he can never forget, no matter how many years have (or haven't) passed. He never regrets it though, because it was worth saving Katara.
Zuko's eyes shoot open and suddenly all he can think about is getting up, about getting to her. Protecting her. It doesn't matter that he has already been here and he already knows how everything will play out, because he knows she's alone with an insane Azula. All he cares about is getting to her, protecting her. His body disagrees and every movement feels like it is going to be his last. In the distance he can see the blue flames erupting and the splashes of water fighting them back. Desperate his hand reaches out to them, trying to will his body to move.
Katara. It hurts. Katara.
In the end, however, the pain wins again. His fingers wrap around Katara's image, before his hand falls limp. As the darkness consumes him, he curses the Spirits, because he can't be this close and lose her. Not again. Not now.
The first thing he sees when he wakes up is blue (which is suddenly his new favorite color). Katara's eyes glisten with tears, but a smiles pulls at her lips and he can't help but smile back, because it's impossible to see her smile and not feel better. (She's infectious like that.)
She laughs softly at his words. "I think I should be the one thanking you."
The next thing he knows, her arms are wrapped around him and she all but on top of him. His body screams in protest, the wound on his chest still far too fresh for any sudden pressure, but he doesn't care. They are alive and they are together. That's all that matters now.
"I thought I was going to lose you again." He hears her choke out from his shoulder, her fingers clutching at his torn shirt. "I was so scared."
"I know." The words crack as Zuko says them and he realizes that he's crying. He doesn't care. She's with him. "Me too." He manages to say.
Katara lifts her head and her lips brush against his for the first time in an eternity. (Or is it the first time ever? He doesn't care enough to figure out at the moment.) But she pulls back before he has a chance to respond, as if the she has chosen that exact moment to remember his injuries. His fingers grasp at her arm, keeping her from moving.
"No." He mumbles. "Stay."
She smiles at him. "I'm not leaving you, Zuko. Never again. I promise."
His fingers let go of her and she helps him to sit up, so that she can better check his wounds. He shudders as her cool fingers trace over the heat of his chest. A smile tugs at her lips and she brushes her lips against the scar already forming on his chest. His breath hitches and he wonders if she heard the beat his heart missed.
She lifts her head up and her fingers trace the scar on face, cupping his cheek. "I love you." She breathes the words they've both been too afraid to say for far too long. "I love you." She mummers again, as if she's afraid of consequences. As if she's afraid of him not knowing. "I love you." Her lips kiss the corner of his eye. "I love you." His cheek. "I love you." His lips.
"I love you." The words sound awkward and clumsy coming from his mouth compared to the smooth melody of her voice. But her eyes shine in a way that he can't help but to repeat them. "I love you."
Agni, he loves her.
Later they watch the red of the sky fade into the twilight. Katara sits on the floor with her back leaning against Appa and Zuko's head on her lap. One of her hands runs through his hair, the other in Zuko's hands, resting against his chest. His eyes are closed and neither of them speaks, perfectly at peace in that moment. Silently, he thanks every Spirit he can think of for what they have given him. Given them.
"I see the Fire Nation Airship." She mumbles. "They're here." She moves to help him up.
His eyes flicker open and he, with her assistance, he stands up beside her, gazing at the Airship. "This isn't going to be easy."
"I know." Her hand takes his. "But this is how it should be. This is where we belong." She smiles softly. "Together."
Zuko glances to her and a smile tugs at his lips. He turns back to the Airship and his hand squeezes her gently. "Together." He nods.
The path before them won't be easy – people will fight, scream, cry. They will be hated, they will be cursed – because he's supposed to choose a noble, she's supposed to be the Avatar's. They won't be supported. Not at first, at least. But slowly, people will change, will see. Because when it comes right down to it, they will have their ending, because they know they are meant to be.
In the end, Zuko and Katara are exactly where they belong. Together.
When all is lost, hope remains
And this war's not over
There's a life, there's a sun
Taking on shattered ones
To the place we belong
Shattered – Trading Yesterday
Note: I know I said I was done writing Zutara for a long time but, well, I lied. I've had this idea for a long time, but I had to write it once I heard this song. (Which is quoted, but not a songfic because it does not follow the lyrics exactly.) The last two scenes were inspired off of LittleRedRidingHoodie's works, but the whole fic overall, was based off of a Ranma 1/2 fic I read many years ago. Sorry if my writing seems off. I know it is not as good as Ever After, but I am trying to fix that.
I am offering a free Zutara oneshot to anyone who will make me a Zutara fanart from Ever After, Where We Belong, or Surmount.
Review, please. =)