Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender
AN: So this is the other half of my fic It Was Winter... It's the same story told from Zuko's POV. Roo was supposed to beta, but I'm tired of waiting for her to get it done so here you go. I'm hoping it's up to standard.
It was winter when I met you. A beam of brilliant white-blue light led me to the icy shores of your village. I had always assumed the Avatar would be old and decrepit when I found him, after all, he was more than one hundred years old. I attacked your grandmother, making an example of her. Then I took the Avatar on board my ship and you and your brother rescued him. Later, when you gave the Earthbenders something to fight for, your necklace was left behind and I held on to that insignificant piece of jewelry like a lifeline. You, I knew, were with him. If I could find you, I could find him.
You hated me with a passion I thought no one could match, not even me with my relentless pursuit of the Avatar to regain my lost honor. When I found you on the banks of the river, surrounded by pirates, my heart raced as I held your necklace up to your neck. I'd researched what its purpose was. Betrothal. The simple fact that you wore a necklace such as this made me insanely jealous and I wondered if it was the guy I always saw you with. I didn't know he was your brother until shortly after that day when my uncle pointed it out to me.
After that, I wondered if there was someone you left behind or who had gotten dragged off to war and hadn't come back yet. I tried to tell myself that there was no way you could be promised to someone, but in the end I never believed it because if I could have you, I would never let you go.
And then Ba Sing Se happened. You told me the story of your mother's death. You confided in me and I couldn't help but do the same for you. You promised to try to heal my scar, the mark of my shame, with your sacred water. And I screwed it up. I shattered the fragile trust you had in me with one decision. One mistake.
I went home with my psychotic sister and felt like there was a whole inside of me. I felt empty and alone and even though I was welcomed home. I hated it. My goal, my dream, turned out to be a waist of my time. Every night I lay in bed thinking of you, remembering the way your body moved as you fought and the sound of your voice saying my name. Every night, I lay awake wondering where you were and what you were doing. I decided to join you because to do anything else would have been idiotic. I went, knowing that the Avatar would need a Firebending teacher, and ended up learning so much more myself.
You didn't trust me. I couldn't blame you but I also can't tell you how much it hurt me that you didn't. Then, I proved my worth to you by taking you to the man who killed your mother. You were filled with a rage I knew none of the others could possibly understand. Telling your brother that he didn't love your mother the way you did was only the tip of the iceberg.
And then you showed compassion. You showed restraint. You showed mercy. They were the same qualities that I wanted for myself and I knew I had to find a way into your heart.
But Aang was there to stop me. At every attempt I made, he made one step closer to being the person you turned to with everything. He saw more of your tears, heard more of your laughter, enjoyed more of your smiles than I was certain I'd ever be able to. You promised me that if I ever did something to hurt him, you would kill me. I don't think I've ever been more afraid of a person than I was of you when you told me that. The look on your face was enough to drive fear into the bravest of men. You protected him with your life.
He's gone. We can't find him anywhere and we've gone to the best source on the planet for finding anyone. Tomorrow the comet arrives and you and I are going to fight my sister. Together, I know we can bring her down, but I don't want you to go. On the other hand, I can't do it without you and if you're not with me, so I know if you're alive, I'll lose because I'll be too distracted to fight earnestly.
I roll onto my side because I can't sleep. As I blink in the light from the fire, I notice you're watching me. "Katara?" I ask, sitting up and resting my weight on my hands. "Are you alright?"
You look away and stare at the sleeping bag covering your legs. "I can't sleep," you answer. You stare at your knees a while longer and I wonder where the worry that is so clearly etched on your face is coming from.
"Are you worried about Aang?" I ask.
You look back up at me and there's a torn look in your eyes. I can tell that there's something you want to say but you keep yourself in check. Restraint. It's one of the hundreds of things about you that I love.
You finally nod. "What if he doesn't come back?" you ask.
I feel your fear for an instant. It bites at me like a venomous snake and I fear what the world will be if Aang really doesn't come back. "He will," I say, hoping to convince us both.
The silence grows. You turn your eyes back to your knees and I watch the dying fire. The flames trickle up towards the night sky like fingers reaching and failing to grasp. It's how I feel in moments like these. I lay back with my arms folded under my head to stare at the stars those flames are trying to reach. I could send those flames up there, I know that.
But it's not the flames I want to grasp at what they reach for. I want to reach for you and I want you to take my hand and let me in. I want to tell you what I feel for you but Aang stands in my way. It's like he's some immovable force that refuses to let me have my full happiness.
I sigh softly and roll onto my side to look at you. I look at every part of you I can see, trying to memorize you. A sudden burst of courage makes me open my mouth to tell you everything, but the concentration on your face and the worry I can see in your eyes stops me like I've just run into a wall. I close my mouth as you turn to look at me. After a moment, I can't stand this situation anymore. I get up and I walk to the top of the ruined wall we've put our camp near.
Your voice startles me. I hadn't expected you to follow. I turn to find you almost silhouetted against the dying fire behind you. You are suddenly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on this planet. Having scoured all of it, I really can say that, even if I never vocalize it.
I decide to tell you. "I can't defeat Azula without you and I don't want you to be there. I don't want you to get hurt," I say.
"I don't want you to get hurt either," you say as you take a step closer to me. A sudden burst of electricity passes between us and I know. I know without the slightest of doubts that you feel for me what I feel for you. I want to tell you, but I can't seem to find the words.
You hold out your hand. I stare at it for a moment and then I grab your hand and pull you towards me so fast that we almost stumble. I wrap my arms around your shoulders so tightly that I almost feel as if I can break you. I can't keep pretending that I don't love you anymore.
You start to cry and all I can do is tighten my arms around your shoulders. A large part of me wants to cry with you while I feel I have to stay strong for you.
A minute passes and your crying quiets. "Don't leave me," you whisper. I wonder how anyone ever could.
I lower my face so that it's buried in your hair. "Why would I leave you?" I whisper. "You're the reason I'm here." The admission almost feels like it's too much to share.
"I am?" you ask. My heart starts pounding in my chest because this could be the defining moment of my life.
I nod. " I came to you because I knew Aang needed a teacher, but I left the palace because I missed you. After being in prison with you here, I couldn't stop thinking about you. When I went back to the Fire Nation, I felt like I lost a piece of myself."
"I felt that way too," you reply. "And I was so confused when you came back that I didn't know what to do. I was so angry because you betrayed us and left without ever stopping to think about it."
"I know," I say as my arms tighten once again of their own accord. My heart doesn't seem to know how to slow down. Everything around us seems to have stopped. The entire world, it seems, wants to keep this night going just for us. I want it to as well.
You pull back and I meet your eyes. Slowly, because I don't know if I can take the rejection if I'm caught doing something you don't want, I lean in to kiss you. My stomach ties itself up in knots and the world seems to spin uncontrollably, threatening to knock us both down.
Your lips on mine send a rush through me that I've never felt before. I wonder if anyone has ever felt this way before. I open my mouth because I want to know what you taste like at the same time you open yours. I'm too caught up in the sensation of the kiss to notice what, just heartbeats before, I couldn't wait to discover.
Your arms move to wrap around my neck as I move mine to your waist, holding you closer to me. I can feel the blood in my body going south and I fight that because I don't want to scare you away. I pull away from the kiss because I've had this dream before. I've felt this passion with you on long and lonely nights. "Is this a dream?" I ask, praying that it's not.
"I hope not," you whisper. Again, I kiss you and we're both lost in all of those sensations again.
I hold you until the sun creeps over the horizon. I can feel it coming up because the sun is what gives strength to my Bending. For the first time in my life, I can see beauty in a single time of day because you're sharing it with me. You are in my arms, gazing off to the east and I am awestruck.
We notice movement coming from the campsite and decide wordlessly that it's time to go back to our lives.
The coals in the fire pit are still hot. I bring them back to life with a flick of my wrist and you cook us a breakfast fit for a king. Hopefully I'm lucky enough to be that king.
While you cook, I wonder away to my uncle's tent. I sit with him for a morning cup of tea. We talk of my coming fight with Azula and once again he says that she's crazy and needs to go down. I can't help but agree with him. When he asks how I slept, I tell him that I didn't. He asks me what I did, and I tell him because I have to tell someone and I know I can't tell anyone you know and love. I know that they would never understand.
Uncle tells me that you would make a fantastic Fire Lady. I can't help but agree with him though I doubt it's the sort of life you would want to lead. You would be bound to the Fire Nation. I don't want to clip your wings when I know you deserve to fly.
Once I finish my tea, I return to our little campsite. You serve up that breakfast fit for a king and again I can only hope that I live to see myself become one. The silence is filled with a light conversation that is somehow subdued by the thought that this may be our last meal together. When breakfast is finished and cleaned up, you hug your brother tightly. I stand by the bison, waiting for you and again I'm filled with the feeling that I do not want you to join me in this battle and yet I can't stand to leave you. Sokka walks up to me and holds out his hand. I grasp his arm and meet his eyes. The look I see tells me that he'll kill me if I let anything happen to you. I silently vow that I'll die before that happens.
We climb up onto Appa and say our goodbyes. You wave as we fly away and I can feel your tension even from feet away.
We arrive as Azula prepares to be crowned Fire Lady. I can see by her appearance that she's cracked. Something within her has finally broken and I see a weakness I can extort. I agree to her challenge for the throne.
Agni Kai hasn't always been a fight to the death and I wonder if this one will end in yet another. I stand and face my sister in the sunset and we fight. I know I can beat her if I can get her to send lightning at me. She doesn't know how to redirect it and I don't know how to create it so I need her to do this. She agrees that lightning is the way to end this fight, but she doesn't fire it at me. She chooses you.
Knowing that I will gladly give my life if it will save yours, I run into the path of the lightning. In the midst of redirecting it, I'm overcome with the fear that you might still be hit and I falter. The lightning stays within my body and I collapse to the ground, numb with a pain that makes me want to vomit. My body won't stop shaking and twitching and every movement feels like knives piercing every nerve in my body.
I lose myself in my agony and an unknown amount of time passes. Suddenly, I feel your hands on my chest and a cool tingling sensation washes over me, easing the pain. I can finally breathe again without it catching in my throat. I open my eyes to see your face hovering just above mine. "Thank you," I say, my voice sounding weak even to my own ears. I close my eyes again, feeling as though I can dissolve into oblivion and not care.
You moving me makes me open my eyes again. Your face is so close but I don't have the energy to move closer. All I want to do is kiss you because I'm so thankful to be alive and you're the one who saved me.
You close the distance and I feel your lips brush mine. I reach up with an arm that weighs a ton and hold you closer, kissing you more deeply. You pull away because of Azula's screams and for a moment, we watch her with pity. After a moment, we look back at each other and I'm so overcome with exhaustion that I sigh and let my eyes close again. I can feel your feather-light touch as you brush the hair away from my face. Your hand is cool and comforting.
A moment or an hour later, I feel people pick me up and carry me away. I open blurry eyes to see that I'm being carried to the palace healer. I pass out as they lay me down on a bed and don't wake up for hours.
When I do, I see you curled up on a chair, fast asleep. You've stayed with me the entire time and I don't know what to say to that. The healer walks in and checks on me. She tells me that everything is fine and that you saved my life with your ability to heal. I feel strong again and oddly invincible even though I know that's not true.
One of my guards is standing by the door. He walks up to me as the healer leaves and tells me what they've done with Azula. He also tells me that you finished the fight for me and that he's never seen a Waterbender as powerful as you before. I smile because I'm suddenly more proud of you than I could have possibly imagined I could be and dismiss him. I stand up and test my strength a little before I lift you from your perch. Your brilliant blue eyes flutter open as I carry you. "Go back to sleep," I say. You don't protest.
I lay you down on the bed in the room next to mine because I want you close. It's selfish of me, I know, but now that I've had a taste of what things can be like with you, I don't want to find out what life is like after you.
You open your eyes again and seem surprised to see that it was me carrying you. As I stand to leave the room and go to my own bed for the first time in months, you take my hand in yours.
I freeze because I don't think I can stop myself from giving in to every desire I've felt for you in the months that I've known you. Something inside of me clicks and I lay down with you on the bed, clutching you close as I kiss you, grateful that you're still in my life and that we both survived this night.
I want to take this further but I can't. For the first time in my life, I find my own well of restraint and I pull away. We need to talk about what's happening between us before I dare take this any further. I see the knowledge in your eyes even though it's mixed with disappointment.
You nod. "I know," you say. A part of me wonders if you really do. How could you when I don't even know what I'm trying to say?
I know what I have to do. As the next Fire Lord, I have to make this decision for my country as well as for myself. I shake my head. "Let me say it." This is one of those life-changing moments. I've struggled with being good in the past. You've always been the driving force that made me keep trying. You're the one who brought the goodness out of me and even Uncle says that he is grateful to you, though he'll likely never tell you.
I have a sudden fleeting thought of what could happen if you reject me for what I'm about to say. If I don't have you in my life, can I go through with bringing peace back to our world? Will you stand with Aang as he fights me if I do or will you stand against him with me?
You take my hand and I can see in your eyes that you're trying to give me the strength to do this.
"Can you lead a country?" I finally ask. "Can you live with not being able to go home very often?"
You nod as though this thought has already crossed your mind and you've known the answer forever. "I want to," you softly say. "Zuko, I…" You hesitate and I relish in the sound of my name from your lips. "I love you."
Again the thought of Aang standing in my way crosses my mind. I can't help but ask the question because I know everyone will want the answer to and I want to hear it first. "What about Aang?"
You sigh. "Aang is like a brother to me," you say softly. "Ever since Sokka and I found him I've taken care of him, like I took care of Sokka after our mother died. I never had to do that with you. You and Suki were the two people I didn't have to take care of. How could I be with Aang when I know what kind of person he is on the inside? Because he's the Avatar, he expects the world to be handed to him. I can't do it."
I think back to a conversation Aang and I once had. "Even though he did everything for you?" I ask.
You nod. "Especially because of that. Besides, he wouldn't have put his life on the line to save me like you did. He would have just gotten me out of the way."
"Do you really believe that?" I can't help but ask.
Again, you nod. "It's happened in the past," you confess. "He'll find some way to keep me from being hurt without actually getting in the way himself. He probably would have put up a stone wall to stop the lightning."
"I can't do that," I say. I'm not the Avatar after all. My only abilities lie with fire. "The only thing I could have done was get between you and the lightning."
You shake your head. "You could have pushed me out of the way," you say, making me realize that no other thought had occurred to me. "Or you could have hit the ground near me with enough of a blast to knock me out of the way. You chose to save me by putting yourself in danger."
Our eyes meet again. You reach up and touch the unmarred side of my face. I briefly wonder if the scar disgusts you "Don't push me away, Zuko," you whisper.
How could I? I wonder. The thought of a single day without you brings a sharp pain to my heart that leaves me almost breathless. I clench my eyes shut because I don't want you to see that the thought brings me close to tears. I lean into your hand because I suddenly feel as though I don't have to entertain those thoughts. I open my eyes and see the decision in yours. I can take you right here and now and you won't have a problem with it. I can see the desire for me to do it written on your face. I lean in and kiss you, fully intent on doing just that, yet I pull away again.
My hand is resting on your thigh. I feel the electricity coursing through my body and a momentary thought reminds me of the lightning I took for you. I push that thought away because this isn't pain, it's ecstasy. My heart is thundering inside my chest and the blood is pounding its way through my body so loudly that I wonder if you can hear it.
I start to lean in for another kiss but there's a knock on the door. I virtually leap from your bed, determined to not be caught in such a compromising position with you. I turn towards the door as it opens and all of your friends walk in. Your brother is supported by his girlfriend and his leg is in a splint. Aang is with them and I wonder where he's been.
The conversation begins with a look from Sokka. He sees you lying on the bed and wonders if you're alright. I shake my head at his silent accusation and his eyes widen at the bandages around my chest.
Aang also sees you lying in the bed and glares at me with near-hatred in his eyes. I watch as it seems to drain away from him, like water slipping through the gaps of the fingers of anyone who isn't a Waterbender.
"Your father lost his ability to Bend," he tells me. "I took it away."
I'm stunned by this announcement. I had been expecting to hear that he was dead, not that he was disabled.
"You—what?" I ask, unable to completely wrap my head around this new development.
"Energybending," Sokka says happily. "You should have seen it."
The conversation goes on as we tell them what happened with Azula. When Aang mentions that you are the rightful leader of the Fire Nation because you're the one who defeated my sister in the end, I realize he's right. You are the rightful ruler, but you don't take it saying that you could never lead a country and that it's my right. I wonder if you really can't, even though you just finished telling me that you want to rule the Fire Nation by my side. If I marry you, your right to succession is held up and my bloodline stays intact. I smile and thank you and Aang goes on to talk about whether or not I continue the war effort.
I claim the right of peace because I know you'll hate me if I don't. the Fire Nation killed your mother. By rebuilding the world, maybe I can make up for that loss somehow. I see a relief in your eyes that I don't understand. Would you have followed me into the darkness if I had chosen to continue the fight?
Soon people begin to tire and I have them escorted to their rooms. Once your brother, his girlfriend, and the blind girl leave, only Aang and I are left in your room. With you on the bed, I can tell he knows that this isn't my place and I want to stay with you. We keep the conversation going as long as possible but you and I haven't had much sleep in the last two days. Even though I want to stay, I can see that Aang refuses to leave until I do by the way he keeps yawning. I finally give up and leave. He follows and I escort him to his room. On my way back, I open your door but you've laid back down and your slow breathing suggests that you've fallen asleep. I extinguish the candles with a thought and go to my room. Before I know it, I've fallen asleep and my dreams are filled with you.
Morning arrives and I get ready for my coronation as Fire Lord. Mai walks into the room and I'm surprised to see that she's escaped from the Boiling Rock. We fight because she wants something I can no longer give her. She leaves in a huff and Aang looks at me as though there's something I should tell him. I ignore the look on his face and go see the people of the world who have come to see the end of the war. None of them truly know that it's over but I say it is and they cheer. I tell them that the victory isn't mine alone. It isn't even just me and the Avatar who ended the war but the rest of you as well. I see the way they look behind me at you and Sokka's girlfriend and the questions on their face are clear even though they're so far away from me. Is one of them going to be the Fire Lady?
My hopes are high that you will be as I promise to use all of the Fire Nation's resources to rebuild the world and usher in a time of peace. The celebration lasts all night and, towards the end, we make plans to travel to Ba Sing Se on the invitation of my uncle. We leave that night because it's one more adventure we can all take part in.
As I sit in Appa's saddle, I watch you as you watch the world behind us. Even though we spoke of you leading the nation and staying with me, I can't help but wonder. "Where are you going after Ba Sing Se?" I ask, watching closely in case your answer is different from what you say.
"I don't know," you confess. "I may just stay there."
A rush of fear chills me to the bone. I quickly push it aside and without missing a beat, I say, "You could always come back to the Fire Nation." I hope that you hear extra meaning I've put into the words. The words I don't know how to say yet.
"Do you want me to?" you ask. I know that you want to hear me say it, even if I don't yet know how.
I nod. "I would like that," I tell you.
"What will happen if I do?" you ask. With each sentence we speak, our voices get softer. Neither of us want Aang to hear as he is the only other one awake. It's not time for them to know yet.
I reach across the back of the saddle for your hand. When I have your hand in mine, I squeeze gently, noticing the contrast between our skin. Where I am light, you are dark. Your skin is like a shadow over mine.
I don't want to clip your wings, but I don't want to let you go either. "Anything you want," I promise, knowing that could mean that you leave me.
Your smile takes my breath away. "Anything?" you ask.
I nod once. "Stay with me," I barely whisper, thinking of last night and what could have happened had we not been interrupted. You nod and I feel overjoyed. I can't stop my mind from going to your bed last night and playing out what could have happened in my head, even though I know it's not appropriate. I can feel the blood in my body going south again and I wish we would land so I might take care of the problem that's starting to rise.
Aang decides that he and Appa both need to sleep before we get to Ba Sing Se. I'm grateful as we land and notice how the others only wake up long enough to go back to sleep. You and I set out our sleeping gear before you take off for the water. I wait because if I see you too soon I know I won't be able to stop myself. After a few minutes, I can't keep myself away. I follow your trail to the river's edge and see you in the water.
At once, the blood goes straight to the one place I had hoped it wouldn't just yet. You look up at me and I'm grateful that it's dark so you don't see. "May I?" I ask, knowing this probably isn't the best idea I've ever had. You nod and I pull my shirt off of my shoulders and my boots off of my feet. You quickly turn as I remove my pants, and I can't tell if its because you're shy or if this isn't as real as I hope it is.
I wade into the water and you don't turn until it's chest deep on me and I'm standing so close to you. I reach for you and we kiss. You point to a large boulder because you don't want them to know. I follow you over to it and you find that it has a ledge for you to sit on. With the assurance that we won't both fall, you wrap your legs around my waist and I kiss you again and again and again.
The moans and sighs that escape you only send the blood in my body rushing faster and I'm suddenly ready to burst. I keep catching myself trying to strip off the clothes you're still wearing.
Your skin on mine brings out an almost animalistic quality in me that I didn't know I possessed. I stop kissing your mouth to lick the water from your neck above and below the choker you never take off.
I freeze when I realize where you've just placed my hand. I stare at you in shock because this isn't something I would have expected from you. You nod and I blink stupidly because I can't believe you're honestly willing for this to happen. Suddenly, you grind your body against mine and the only things that keeps me from falling into the water are my hands clutching your arms and your legs around my waist. I can't take it anymore so I kiss you as I struggle to get the clothes covering your waist off. They're wet and the rushing current isn't helping. Eventually they slide off and I slip out of my shorts. After tossing the clothing up onto the boulder, I stand poised to enter you. I kiss you again because I really do love you and I can't believe my luck. I move slowly because I know this is going to hurt you and a breath later I feel something I've only been told about before. I hesitate because there really is no going back after this. I hold you close and break past that barrier. I feel your teeth cut into my shoulder and hear the muffled cry of pain.
I give you a moment because I know you need it. In all honestly, so do I. Then I start to move inside of you. You arch your back and I have my arm there to keep you from falling backwards and hitting the boulder. Each time we move, the pressure builds inside of me and it makes my movements speed up. I can hear the sounds we make but they fade into the background with the rushing of the river and I kiss you again because I still can't believe this isn't a dream. Even in my dreams, you've never let me go this far.
The building pressure is suddenly released and I hold you because I'm lost in the dizziness I feel. You are my anchor. You keep me where I need to be.
The river suddenly feels much colder. I feel you shudder because I'm still connected to you and the movement of your body sends a chill down my spine. I kiss you one more time and step back, slipping out of you. I pull my shorts on as you pull yours back on and we start to walk back towards the bank. As the water gets lower, I notice that you're having trouble walking so I wrap my arm around your waist and hold you close to me. I'm not going to let you fall because I'm not going to let anything happen to you that you don't want.
You use your Waterbending to dry us off and we wordlessly get dressed. Most of our conversations in the past few days have been without spoken words.
We start walking back to the camp and I pull you back because I have to tell you. I pull you close and kiss your cheek before I whisper three words in your ear. You said them to me once and now I know how to say them back to you. You smile, repeat the words and thank me, for what I'm not entirely certain. We walk back to the camp hand-in-hand and slip under the covers. We reach for each other's hand at the same time and I fall asleep absently rubbing circles on the back of your hand with my thumb. Peace, I'm certain, has never felt this good.
As usual, you and I wake first and pack up our things. I notice your stiffness and feel a measure of my own. My shoulder burns where you bit me last night and I smile while no one is looking because it's my secret proof that last night wasn't a dream. When it comes time to leave, I help you up into Appa's saddle because I know you won't be able to do it alone. You smile your silent thanks and we continue on our way to Ba Sing Se with no one the wiser. Our actions are still a secret to everyone around us and I like it that way, even though I want to shout from the rooftops how much you mean to me.
Our arrival in Ba Sing Se is greeted by my uncle who feeds us and serves us his own special blend of tea, free of charge in gratitude for ending the war. The day is spent with laughter and joy yet I feel somewhat removed from everything. Have your brother and Suki done what you and I did only hours ago? Are we the only ones to know this kind of passion? I can't honestly believe that second unless we keep it within this circle of people.
We laugh at your brother's painting because it looks nothing like the real world. You wonder off outside after a few minutes and I follow because I don't want to be separated from you. As I leave the teashop, I meet my uncle's gaze. He has a knowing smile on his face and I wonder if he knows what we did or if it's that he knows what we are.
I walk up to you and stand next to you as my arm slides around your waist. You rest your head on my shoulder and I realize I've never known what contentment feels like until now. As the sun dips below the horizon, we kiss and know that we have the rest of our lives to look forward to with each other.