Title: Forcing the Issue
Disclaimer: Anne Bishop owns everything to do with the Realms of the Black Jewels series, and a collection of people who aren't me own Avatar. But you already knew this. Right?
Summary: Saetan steps in because Katara needs a stern talking to. Marian steps in because Saetan's talking to just meant Katara needed another talking to. So Zutara.
Notes: Item the first, I actually ran this by Misora, because her fanfic Penance, which you should totally check out if you're a Zutara fan and/or like citrus fruit in your fic, was the original inspiration for this. In effect, while Katara's motivations in this fic are not the ones in Misora's, the result is a relationship much like the one in her Penance series. That is, Katara's confused and confusingly mean to Zuko much of the time, but is still absolutely hooked on him. If you want a more detailed description of how the pair is interacting, you should check the fic out. For the record, this isn't a spinoff or sequel to Penance, it's just inspired by it. So please, don't freak out that I'm not matching the canon of Penance.
Other, less important notes: Saetan can have an office still in the Keep, even if he has retired as the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan . . . Okay, I realised what I'd done and I don't want to rewrite. I'm just so used to Saetan behind a desk. As always, this is just a single section of a nonexistent story, and if anyone wants to pick it up and make a complete fic out of it, just let me know and you'll have my blessing.
Saetan had been watching these children from this strange Realm where Craft was merely elemental manipulation and the dynamics between them had him riveted and a little disturbed. They all seemed to treat the boy, Aang, with a sort of reverence and respect that almost ridiculous. This twelve-year-old boy was just that. A boy. While Jaenelle had been the same age when she first began to jump between Realms in that way that still gave him heart palpitations, even though it was now more than a decade since (and he was Demon Dead, but that hadn't stopped his heart from pounding back then, either), it had been evident in everything she said or did, that she was Witch.
Aang was just a boy with far more power than the others, and it left Saetan rather baffled.
Then there was the older boy Sokka. He was a warrior, interesting, clever, practical and intelligent, but the others seemed to see him as somehow less than they were. This was only disturbing because it mirrored the tendency of the Blood to discount anyone who did not practice Craft as worthy of their time.
What bothered him the most, however, was the girl Katara, and the difference between how she treated the boy Zuko, and the rest of the children.
She mothered Aang, was a sister to both her brother by blood, and the girl Toph and had created a very close friendship with the warrior woman Suki. But with Zuko she was extremely cruel and demanding. She seemed to blame him for all the actions of his people, but was also in a sexual relationship that had caused several of the Kindred dogs in the Hall to poke their heads into his study to ask why the Katara-witch was so unkind to her mate. He'd pressed them for details and received descriptions that were a little tangled, as the Kindred descriptions of human interactions tended to be, but made it fairly clear Katara was pressuring young Zuko in a way that was most disturbing.
Saetan had seen this sort of dynamic before, usually between a young warlord and the queen he had just begun to serve as Escort. That is, among the Queens groomed by Hekatah and Dorothea. She prodded him and pressured him, saying cruel things, and he simply took it, apparently unable to pull himself away, perhaps afraid of breaking Protocol, perhaps unsure of his boundaries as Escort.
What upset Saetan most, however, was that the girl Katara was obviously a kind and wonderful witch. Jaenelle was friendly to her and she was clearly gentle and compassionate. So why was she being so terribly cruel to this boy, and treating him in such a dreadful way. There had been some discussion of Zuko having been an enemy of this group before, but it didn't explain why she wasn't merely ignoring him in lieu of this mean-spirited treatment.
This was why he had managed to get her separated from the others. She needed a very stern talking-to, and it looked like he was the one to do it. He knew his sons had told some of the horror stories of their upbringing in Tereille to the visitors. A few apt comparisons should warn her clear of this appalling behaviour.
"Lady Katara," he spoke to her from where she stood beside the fountain practicing her Craft.
She turned and smiled at him. "It's just 'Katara', your Highness," she said.
He raised an eyebrow. "The correct form of address for a warlord prince is simply his title, 'Prince'," he informed her.
"Oh," she said, looking surprised. "Back home, if you're talking to a prince, you call him 'Your Highness'," she explained. "I'll let the others know. Although, I suppose, since none of you are princes the way we'd understand it, I should've expected that."
"Really?" Saetan let the conversation wander a little. This might be a bit of a clue to some of the more unusual behaviour of their visitors. "So 'prince' is not a designation of Craft?"
"If by Craft you mean bending," she paused, he nodded, and she continued. "Then no. A prince is the son of a king, that is, the ruler of a country," she explained. "They're the ruling family. The only people who can be called 'prince' – officially that is, as opposed to a sort of joking popular title – are the sons of kings. Period." She shrugged. "Which, by our definition, makes Zuko still the only real prince around."
Miraculously, she had led the conversation right to where he wished it. "I actually wished to speak with you on the topic of that young man."
Her face turned ugly. "What about him?" she snapped. "He betrayed me – us, under Ba Sing Se, and Aang nearly died because he chose the sister who had been trying to kill him and his uncle over helping us stop the war."
"He seems to have repented," Saetan said mildly. He had not missed her stumble, 'me – us', in her explanation. "The others certainly seem to have forgiven him."
She leapt to her feet, pacing angrily. "She called him a traitor. She tried to kill him. I was there, in the Catacombs with him when he said the Fire Nation had killed his mother. Like mine. I offered to heal him. I offered him the chance to be part of something and . . . and he just threw it all in my face when his sister showed up." There were tears in her eyes, of frustration and something else. Hurt maybe. "He knows that Azula always lies."
"So you decided to force yourself on him in revenge for your hurt feelings?" Saetan asked, watching his words hit her like a slap in the face. She flinched away from him. "Do you know, I have only ever seen one kind of woman treat a man like this," he said, keeping his voice mild and letting his words do the work. He knew just how awful such a dispassionate summary of one's faults could be. "Queens like my former wife, Hekatah. I will never forget the way she led me along, having me convinced of her affections for me. I will also never forget how it felt when she denied my paternity and took my son away from me. Took both my sons, Daemon and Lucivar, from me."
"What?" Katara gasped.
"You are forcing him to be with you. Using his feelings of guilt and desire for expiation of that guilt against him," Saetan told her, becoming sharper. "You are hurting him to satisfy your own base desires and I will not let you do it." He glared at her, still seeing the hurting yellow eyes, so like his own, and those of Lucivar and Daemon as the boy crept from her room just before dawn, looking wan and sad. "My daughter nearly died destroying the Taint to the Blood from queens who did just what you are doing to this boy, as a matter of course. Don't force me to stop you." He stood, leaving her pale and shocked beside the fountain. "Don't forget," he crooned, "There is no law against murder here."
She was shaking as he swept off, feeling bed for having to do this, but knowing that someone had to step in on the boy's behalf.
Marian had felt the rumble of Saetan's temper in the garden and had glanced out the door as she passed by. She was on her way to the kitchen to consult with Mrs. Beale on a recipe the other woman had given her, but she'd wondered if she would have to check that someone needed to inform the gardener that the garden needed rebuilding. Thankfully it didn't, but beside the fountain was that girl Katara.
Being a hearthwitch, Marian had first bonded with the young woman over recipes. They had chatted, each of them exchanging recipes that were completely normal to each, but utterly exotic to the other. The dumplings and that 'jook', which Katara had showed her how to make, were a fine addition to her personal collection of recipes. Katara had, meanwhile, been utterly fascinated by simple breads, gravies, and the spice combinations Marian normally used in the kitchen. The whole process had been very rewarding.
The girl was shaking and crying, and Marian knew she didn't want to leave her like that. Perhaps she had accidentally said something that upset Saetan. The Darkness knew the Realm these children were from was so different from everything in any of the three Realms that practically anything could have been said or interpreted wrongly. "What's wrong?" she asked the girl.
Blue eyes snapped up and stared at her, before Katara stammered out between sobs, "I'm a terrible person."
"I'm sure you're not," Marian said, soothingly, getting her seated on the bench next to the fountain.
"I am, I am," she practically wailed. "I – I'd heard that – Daemon and – and Lucivar telling Zuko and Sokka about bad queens and . . ." she trailed off for a moment as a fresh round of sobs rendered her unable to speak. "Saetan just said I was treating Zuko like they – like . . ."
Marian winced. She had heard from Lucivar all about the tortures he'd been put through. She'd heard about the rapes, the dosing with aphrodisiacs, safframate being only one, just the cruellest. She'd heard about the use of the Ring of Obedience to cause pain whenever he didn't obey and the abuses, physical and emotional, he'd suffered at the hands of the queens in Tereille.
She couldn't picture Katara doing those things, and her being so distraught at the accusation also suggested against it. "What did he tell you? What have you done with Zuko that warranted his saying so?"
"I . . . he . . . it started because I was so angry with him," Katara explained. "He'd been chasing us and trying to capture Aang to give him to the Fire Lord for months. Then, I thought he'd joined us, in Ba Sing Se, but he just . . . he just turned on me, and because of him, Aang nearly died."
Marian nodded. "I can see why you'd be angry." She guessed, "When he first joined you, you were suspicious?"
Nodding miserably, Katara continued. "I thought it was a trick. So I treated him badly. Then one night, I just . . . I just wanted to humiliate him. Make him feel the way I did when it turned out I'd trusted him but he sided with Azula against us." She took in a shaking breath. "It was too much, I knew it then, but I was so angry." She seemed to be pleading for understanding as she spoke. "I made him do things like kiss my feet and . . ." she shrugged. "The next thing I knew, I wanted him to – to do other things with me. It just kind of . . . kind of happened."
Eyes wide, Marian said, disbelieving, "You forced him to have sex with you."
Katara nodded miserably. "He didn't seem to object. I kept coming back and he never said anything about it." She sighed. "I was going to stop. I was. But he was so good and nice and everyone trusted him. I realised he wasn't bad."
"You fell in love with him," Marian guessed. Katara nodded miserably. "Now you don't know how to change the relationship?"
The girl shook her head. "He's a prince," she explained. "He's going to be the Fire Lord someday. I . . . I don't want him to fall in love with me. I mean, I do, but he shouldn't. He needs to marry for the good of the Fire Nation, and a waterbending peasant can't – shouldn't be Fire Lady."
This was familiar territory for Marian. "You think you're not good enough for someone as important as a prince?" she asked. "That's ridiculous. I felt that way about Lucivar-"
She didn't get to finish, because Katara interrupted. "No. That's not it. The Fire Nation's full of people who think anyone who isn't Fire Nation is a savage or . . . bad or something. I've seen that. When Zuko takes the throne, he won't be able to afford the kind of controversy that having a wife or girlfriend from the Water Tribes would give him. They're very conservative in the Fire Nation in some ways and he'll need the backing of his people. There are a lot of policies that have to be put in place, and they'll be very unpopular. Not to mention he can't afford to be fighting a war on two fronts, one about his wife being inappropriate, which goes to supposed bad judgment about everything and thinning the royal like, as well as fighting with those same people over taxes and education.
"Zuko needs to be able to start his reign without all that trouble. If I were to be involved with him, permanently, he would have just those problems," Katara explained.
So this wasn't the issue that Marian had been through herself. It would have almost been noble if it weren't for, "So you're forcing yourself on him to . . ." Marian thought quickly, "To get time with him while you can, but at the same time, ensure he hates you so that he'll find himself an appropriate wife without having feelings for you interfere?" she guessed.
Katara nodded again. "I have to make him hate me," she lamented. "But I can't, I can't leave him alone. I just . . ." She burst into tears again, and Marian held her, rocking the confused girl gently. There was a sound by the door, and they both looked up to see Zuko standing there. Marian frowned slightly, certain the look on the boy's face was yearning. She winced internally. It seemed pretty certain Zuko had fallen in love with Katara anyhow, if the way he was looking at her now was any indication.
"Are you okay?" he asked, taking a few steps forward.
The transformation was incredible. Katara had been shaking and weeping a moment before, but before Marian's eyes she straightened with a snap, and if it weren't for the fact that Katara's psychic presence was bleeding sadness and shame into the air around her, Marian might have thought the whole scene a moment before was a lie. "Fine, Zuko," she told him sharply. "I certainly don't need any sort of help from someone like you."
The boy flinched, and Marian noted Katara clasping her hands behind her back, one hand giving a vicious pinch to the wrist of the other arm. The girl swept off, as imperious as any queen could ever be, and the boy watched her go, then turned and bowed. "Lady," he said, and vanished into the house as well.
Marian tracked Saetan down in his office. "Marian," he said with a small smile. "This is a surprise. I thought you were here to see Mrs. Beale."
"I was," she said without preamble. "But I talked to Katara, I'm guessing right after you scolded her."
He leaned back, steepling his fingers, "I assume my words had some effect?"
"She knew she was being cruel," Marian told him. "I doubt it's anything as terrible as Dorothea's pet witches though."
Saetan sat up. "When you say she knew, do you mean she was doing it deliberately?"
"Yes," Marian told him. When the temperature started to drop with the man's cold rage, she hastened to say, "But she thinks she's being cruel to be kind."
That derailed him. "I beg your pardon?" he asked. So Marian explained about Katara's political reasons for trying to keep Zuko from falling for her, while still getting his attentions for as long as she could. "So . . . Allow me to clarify," Saetan said. "She believes that a romantic connection between them would be damaging to him as the authority in his native Territory, so she is damaging them both because she feels she is protecting his future throne?"
Marian nodded. "I think it's too late for that, of course. He arrived while we were talking and I am fairly certain-"
"It's too late," Saetan agreed. "He is in love with her. I must presume it is because he knows her true character from watching her with the others. Perhaps even because she betrays herself when they are alone, so he has hope." The warlord prince sighed, heavily. "Something must be done," he said.
That was simple enough to arrange, actually. "I'll get her talking about it. Can you fetch Zuko to 'accidentally' overhear?"
Saetan smiled. "You fit so well into this family," he told her.
It was that simple. It took very little time for Marian to get Katara to join her in the kitchen to discuss more recipes and complain about the men in their lives who couldn't seem to pick up after themselves. It was even easier to get her talking about Zuko. Most likely the poor girl had been languishing for an opportunity to say something about it.
"He's actually the only one I never have to bother about for his laundry," Katara told her as she pounded out the dough for some sweet rolls she was making. "I have to bug everyone about their laundry every time, and then there's always someone who comes up to me after I've finished."
"'I forgot all my socks,'" Marian said with a grin. "That happens all the time with Daemonar."
Katara smiled. "At least you're his mother. There's something wrong about having to be Sokka's mother when it comes to those things."
"True," Marian said. "But Zuko remembers?"
Katara sighed, a little dreamily. "He remembers, he even helps when it doesn't interfere with Aang's training schedule." She smiled. "Actually, he helps with a lot of things the others just totally miss. It kind of amazes me that he does, since I'd think that the prince of the Fire Nation would be the last person to pay attention to when the mending gets done, but he shows up and helps me thread needles and carries things for me."
"It sounds like he's a wonderful young man," Marian commented.
"He is," Katara admitted. "It's why I love him so much. But I know that part of it is just that he's trying to get me to . . . to forgive him." Her eyes suddenly sparkled with tears. "I just wish I could let him know he doesn't need it," the girl said. "I wish I didn't have to make sure he hates me so that he won't . . . won't even think about finding a proper Fire Nation girl when the war is over."
"What!" Zuko snapped sharply from the door. Marian saw Saetan hovering behind him and sent a quick thank you to him on a psychic thread. Unaware of their plotting, Zuko stormed over to Katara. "You've been . . . all this time you've been like you have because you think I should marry a 'proper Fire Nation girl'?"
"You should," Katara told him. "When you're Fire Lord you won't have the luxury of getting into arguments with the council over who your wife is. We both know most of the Fire Nation thinks of the Water Tribe as savages."
"You're not a savage," Zuko told her. "And you're changing the subject. Have you been . . . been so hot and cold all the time because you were trying to make me hate you?"
"Yes!" Katara exploded. "Of course I have! It was the only way I could have you, wasn't it? It's not like you'd ever want to be with a Water Tribe peasant anyhow-"
I knew it, Marian shot to Saetan. I knew that was part of it.
Her father-in-law sighed. If only it weren't.
The couple were still arguing, Zuko shouting over whatever she would have had to say next. "So is this about my future as the Fire Lord, or about the fact that you think I'm such a horrible person that you think I would never want someone like you as my girlfriend?"
"What do you mean?" Katara asked him, bewildered. "I just meant you'd want someone who was sophisticated, with fancy manners. Someone who's pretty."
"You are pretty," Zuko told her. "And I don't want someone else. I want you. Did you really think I was letting you join me every night because I felt guilty? Did you really think you were forcing me?"
Katara nodded, looking miserable. "I thought you were doing it because of how I threatened you that first night."
"I knew by the second day you were too fair to do that," Zuko told her. "Katara. You just said that you love me. Do you mean it?"
Tears had begun to spill down her face. "Yes," she told him.
"I love you too," he said, pulling her against him. Katara burrowed into his chest and he easily tucked her head in under his chin.
"You're not supposed to," she grumbled. "You're supposed to hate me because I've been horrible to you and forced you to sleep with me."
Zuko sounded amused. "You think force would come into it? I wanted you ever since we fought at the North Pole."
"Really. You were amazing."
They leaned back enough to look at each other properly, then they kissed. Then Katara said over her shoulder, "Don't think I don't know you just set me up, Marian."
"Thank you," Zuko said.
"I told her all that in confidence," Katara said to him in irritation. "And I still think you should find yourself a nice Fire Nation girl, because I'd make a lousy Fire Lady."
"First, you'd rather we were both miserable?" Zuko asked her. "I mean, I love you."
"Don't say that," Katara said, belying her words by pressing herself closer to him.
Zuko ignored her and continued. "We'll just both be miserable since there's nothing keeping us apart except that you feel like you have to. Second," he added, "You'd make a great Fire Lady. If it weren't for you we'd all fall apart. You're great at organising. Sokka plans, but you make things happen."
"Sokka's stupid," she muttered.
"I promise I won't tell him you said that."
"Pfft. I'm not scared of my stupid brother."
"Are you going to stop your silly plan and be my girlfriend?" Zuko asked her.
Katara thought for a moment, then gave in. "Fine. But when you can't get anything past the Fire Nation councillors because they think your ability to govern is compromised, I'm going to say I told you so."
"Fine," Zuko said, and kissed her.
It was when Katara and Zuko told their friends about their new relationship that Saetan learned why the boy Aang was so indulged. The boy's fit over the loss of any chance to win Katara's romantic affections sent him into a rage that involved glowing eyes, whirlwinds and the near-total destruction of the garden.
When his sons started pounding on his door in an attempt to convince him to intervene, he just locked the door pointedly and ignored them. He'd done his part, let someone else pick up those pieces. The resolve lasted until it became clear Marian had ratted out his role in getting Katara and Zuko together, which meant both his sons had prevailed on Kaelas to let them in.
Saetan sourly reflected on the idyllic days when the Coven had been teenagers and he'd only wanted to bang his head on the wall and whimper once day as he sat through the scheming of his three children.