Disclaimer: All characters and canon events are (c) Mike, Bryan and Nickelodeon. Story is (c) me, Lady Asvin.
She should have said something
Anything. Anything to keep him from going back to her, anything to keep herself from leaving, anything at all that would have let them live their fantasy a little while longer.
It's complicated, she had told her blind friend, and the girl had scoffed and shoved some hair out of her foam-colored eyes.
You're making it complicated. Stop lying to yourself. Stop lying to Twinkle Toes.
I'm not lying, she had insisted. I'm doing the right thing.
So that morning, despite the fact that she had been visiting him to heal, clean and bandage him daily, she left a bowl, fresh bandages, water – and she left.
She ran that morning, ran for an hour through the palace, ran until she found a garden with a pond and threw herself down on its bank.
I'm ready to forgive you.
I was the first one to trust you.
I need someone to help me defeat my sister.
I know who killed your mother.
She sighed and lifted herself from the bank, brushing off her worn blue clothes. The grey-eyed monk whose voice had invaded the sanctuary of the garden glided into view, landing with a soft wthhh.
"It's time to get ready for the coronation," he said, smiling widely. "Toph and you have new robes thanks to Iroh!" Something in the back of Aang's mind told him Katara was bothered, but his thoughts moved too fast to ponder it.
"Come on, let's go!"
She sighed and stood upright, still dusting herself, blue eyes dull and sad. How did this happen?
But of course, the obvious answer was:
She had hated the Fire Nation Prince since before she had ever seen him. The invasion had left her tribe devastated. Without men, there would be no hunt, meager harvest. Without men, it would be difficult to protect all the women and children of the Tribe. The invasion had killed many of the men, and the rest had gone to avenge their fallen comrades, swept up in the fervor of war, infected by the disease of revenge. And the Prince had repeated history, this time threatening the only real authority the Tribe had left: Kanna.
No, the barbaric Prince was bad news.
And then she and Sokka had found Aang, and her lot was thrown in with the Avatar, and she ran into the maniacal honor-driven Prince a lot more often.
Of course, there had been that time with the tree. The time when he had kidnapped her and held her hostage against rough bark, hands tied, and her traitor body began to react to his proximity. Angry, his husky voice demanded that she betray the Avatar, and she would not – because the Avatar was her friend, of course, but something in the back of her mind played with the thought that the more she refused, the closer he got.
And then as refugees, in Ba Sing Se. Dirty, humbled, rid of the topknot. The Crystal Catacombs had been a moment of weakness for her, for him, for them, their trembling nonrelationship threatening to turn into something deeper and more tangible.
The Fire Nation took my mother away from me!
That's something we have in common.
Their pulses had raced as he let her touch that infamous scar, the wretched symbol that everywhere advertised his pain and dishonor. Nobody but his Uncle had ever gotten close.
And then again, after that wrenching betrayal, after hours of tears and why, why? and nursing Aang back to health and feeding the group and traveling and washing and cleaning and training and –
Hi. Zuko here.
A predictable blast of fury, threats, jibes, insults, but the moment she found her sleeping skin she cried all night because he was alive, still scarred, turning over a new leaf, close.
And then he saved her, no hostage this time, purely of his own volition, and his heaving, hard body had crushed her soft one into the ground to prevent her from getting pelted or impaled.
To find her mother's killer. He had waited all night for her, hadn't slept, he wanted her approval, wanted her acceptance, wanted that connection they had back in Ba Sing Se because ever since his sister had driven him out, ever since he had been "accepted" by his father it hadn't felt right to live without that feeling of complete understanding, that feeling of doing something truly right, something that was worth the world, something that she had spent so long fighting for and that he had taken away time and time again. So he went with her. And she forgave him.
And she forgave him.
Once again crushed by him, but in a searing embrace this time, his blood rushing loudly through his ears as her cheeks reddened prettily and he was forgiven and gods, there was no greater feeling than that.
Fighting next to her, he asked her to help him fight his sister and she agreed, but of course she would, he didn't know it but with his shaggy hair and humble attitude, between insults and harshness, tenderness and training, washing, cooking, cleaning and looking after the group, somewhere along the line she had fallen in love with him, with the impulsive angsty Fire Prince-turned-refugee that had come like an orphan begging for her forgiveness.
He took a lightning bolt for her.
He saw it, his sister shouldn't have ever tried something so sordid, but how could he have put it past her? Completely mental, but no time to think, the electricity was heading for Katara, ready to sear her spirit out of her skin, and he couldn't let that happen because
he loved her, this peasant-warrior, somewhere between her freezing him in an iceberg, trying to help his uncle, giving all of herself to protect the boy, sparring, bathing, falling asleep close to the fountain where, long after everyone else had gone to sleep, she went to think, over time, he had fallen in love with the hotheaded woman who risked her life to save a Fire Nation village.
She loved him, and so as she dressed that morning of the coronation, she took special care to appear as though nothing was bothering her. Her new robes fit like a glove, all shades of blue and grey, embroidered in silk with white lilies and silver koi. At her throat lay her mother's necklace, and rings of moonstone adorned her hands. Even her waterskin had a new cover of blue fabric for the occasion, complete with silk tassels.
It didn't matter.
She was deaf throughout the ceremony, didn't care what was happening, as soon as it was over she ran back to change into Earth Kingdom green and flee to her garden.
She threw herself on the bank again.
"A beautiful young woman such as yourself… should not mar her features with tears," said a voice softly, and she recognized Uncle Iroh sitting on a bench twenty feet to her left. In her grief, she hadn't noticed him when she ran (escaped) to the garden from the ceremony.
She couldn't bring herself to say anything, choosing instead to draw herself up and cling to a willow. Iroh flipped a white Pai Sho tile back and forth between his fingers. He coughed slightly, holding the tile close to his eyes.
"What is reasonable, what is right – these things nearly always pale in comparison to the desires of the heart," he offered pensively. "Perhaps, if the desires are equally matched, the best choice is neither reasonable nor right?" Katara just looked at him. Somehow, he seemed to know what was going on… or else he was an extremely accurate guesser full of Dear Ah Jiang advice.
"My nephew has endured trials beyond his capacity," said Iroh, sounding much older than he was. "But only when he accepted love and was accepted and loved by those who matter – only then, did he begin to overcome his obstacles." Katara gazed over the pond and considered the comment slowly, turning over the last sentence in her mind.
"Come now, it is time for tea." Iroh heaved himself up and offered an arm; Katara took it, gave a perfunctory glance at her robes and nodded. They walked toward the tea house.
He knew she cared.
Even though her eyes seemed unfeeling, her touch was cold and her attitude never changed, he knew she cared.
But she wasn't her.
On their way to the tea house, Zuko considered his tall, willowy, admittedly beautiful consort; her own eyes, hard yellow chips of quartz, took in her surroundings with an air of disdain. Although he had offered his arm, she preferred to walk alone, silent. Something had changed, the dynamic had shifted, but neither was willing to admit it.
And then he saw her. His eyes widened because there she was, dressed like a goddess in flowing green robes, flushed and laughing, the pendant on her mother's necklace hanging proudly between her collarbones. Her idiot (but sometimes more than perceptive) brother painted clumsily in the background, and the airbender hovered about her like a moth drawn to a flame. An unreasonable surge of jealousy coursed through him, but he controlled it; this was a good day, a happy day. He was Fire Lord and the world was saved; Aang had united the nations in peace.
The airbender disappeared.
Zuko and Mai approached Iroh slowly, and the man looked back and forth between the young couple. One had matured much in little time; his topknot proudly displayed the coronet of the Fire Lord, his scar was a testament to his trials. He was at once humble and proud, but when his eyes swept the room, his shoulders sagged.
The other was as arrogant as she was devoted; her cold eyes absorbed her surroundings with no reaction or hint of emotion. Her long fingers clutched a red silk fan, but she did not move it; her being was stiff and uncomfortable, and when her eyes swept the room, she seemed to wish she was anywhere but where she was.
The airbender had taken her outside to kiss her.
Knife-sharp, white-hot. He had dragged her outside, and she had kissed him, and it hurt like bloody hell to realize that the story really had ended, the world was saved and the hero had gotten the girl. She blushed and smiled, and the airbender turned around and went giddily back inside, and as soon as the doors swshed shut she began to cry silently, shoulders shaking, tears ruining what little makeup she had on her flawless face.
He didn't know whether to make himself known, crouched as he was behind a corner. He couldn't bear to see her suffer, he wanted to hug her, even if it was an excused hug, a congratulations-I'm-glad-we-won, congratulations-I'm-glad-you're-with-the-Avatar, anything, anything to put his arms around her and make her stop crying.
"Well, what are you waiting for, Sparky?" The blind girl bent a slight tremor that shook the porch and toppled Katara off-balance, and Zuko fair flew to catch her. He clutched her to his chest, heaving more from the panic of her breaking than from the effort, and she looked at him, blue eyes wide, mouth half open, and gods was she tempting but she was the Avatar's girl and his hands were, at least figuratively, tied.
Oh, and there was also Mai.
"I – thank you," said the waterbender shakily, and he couldn't help but notice that she made no effort to move.
"You're welcome," he said dull-wittedly, but his half-voice made Katara smile softly.
"I guess I should say, 'thank you, Your Eminence,'" she teased, and her smile made her eyes wrinkle at the corners. Without thinking, he raised her head up and looked at her intently.
"Then I guess I should say, 'you're welcome, Your Grace,'" he whispered, and before she had a change to look confused he had pulled something out of his pocket, red silk, obsidian and moonstone pendant, beautiful embroidery,
"Please," he pleaded. "If you've believed nothing else that's come out of my mouth, believe this-" He couldn't finish because suddenly she was closing the gap between their lips and kissing him, nothing soft or gentle, as raw and passionate as
Give me one reason.
Maybe you're not as good as you thought you were?
I'm ready to forgive you.
It's water, from the Spirit Oasis.
her, as painful and precise as all of the obstacles that had blocked them, burning with a desperation and longing that had been building since that day in the crystal catacombs and exacerbated by the Ember Island Players.
"Believe- this -" he gasped into her mouth. "I can't be without you, not now, not after everything!" She was crying again, but his heart leapt into his throat because
she turned around and took his hands, breathing them over her shoulders and placing them on the clasp of her necklace.