Summary- An unscripted, unguided show—a chaos too beautiful to contemplate. Fifty shorts on a relationship that is anything but straightforward.
They, together, were a full circle—fire and water, pride and humility, destruction and healing—because things of opposites rarely sit in straight lines; rather in a ring of balance.
Zuko had never been a villain; young and selfish, proud and petty, he'd never been a villain.
In his duality, he'd never been more than a shade of grey.
And despite the fact he'd killed his wicked sister, despite the fact he'd helped Aang save the world from a murderer intent on completing a genocide of a truly cosmic scale, despite the fact he was now Fire Lord to a broken country… he would never be a hero.
But he would work every day, every single day, to be a good man.
"I'll save you from the pirates-" Katara groaned as she remembered this moment once again—how humiliating would it be for her if anyone found out she was actually a little bit… turned on… by this memory?
Everything Katara knew fell into boxes; they said you couldn't classify people based on expressions like "good" or "evil" but Katara had been able to tell, for most of her journey with Aang, the basically good from the inherently evil—and then Zuko joined their group, contrite, awkward, on the verge of total, abject desperation, she mentally erased his badge of "bad" and carefully postulated a question mark instead.
She took off like a deer-rabbit, so fast you'd think she was an air bender, her laughter carried upon the wind behind her—"Hey," he called, "come back!" And Katara shouted back, "Only if you're able to catch me!"
"What's going on here?" Aang demanded as he alighted on the ground, his face etched in fury.
Zuko and Katara broke apart in a rush, Katara's countenance horrified, Zuko's resolute. "I love her," he said.
Because he would. He would fight for her. Through a hurricane, whatever it took, he would fight for her.
Zuko caught Katara sitting in the shade during a rare day of relaxation and walked up to her—it wasn't like they'd been on good terms since he'd joined their group, so it was a bold move—but she seemed to be in a docile mood and she offered him a smile and a seat, a chance to watch the butterflies in a moment of peace.
He is cold when he arrives in the arms of her friends, cold and barely breathing, and she knows what she has to do as soon as she sees him almost dead already—she won't fail in the anxiety of the moment, she would give him life.
Zuko is red. Red like the clothes he wears, red like the scar on his face, red like the rage in his heart, red like the blood in his body—she reaches inside of him and grabs his arteries and veins. She bends.
On their wedding night, Sokka had thought it would be hilarious if the water were to be spiked with cactus juice—it wasn't even CLOSE to funny when Zuko ripped off his clothing and started humping Katara's leg at the dinner table; at least not to her.
It was dark and they were in a hurry—couldn't be caught, weren't allowed to do this, with Zuko muttering dirty promises into her neck and Katara biting back moans as the fire bender's questing fingers slid into home.
Zuko walked into the room just as Katara bent over in her wet, transparent bending clothes, and quickly turned heel and walked in the other direction, groaning. She was killing him. Seriously fucking killing him.
She did a double-take as Zuko took off his shirt in preparation for his morning bending ritual—she could say one thing about living in the Western Air Temple, the view was amazing.
Iroh nodded his in his wise-old-man way, "Yes, women love a man who knows his way around a sungi horn."
Zuko looked down at the large metal instrument in his lap, cringing slightly. Well, it's worth a shot.
Zuko tugged the end of a lock of hair as he passed her in a hallway, grinning cheekily, "I like your hair—it feels like silk," and she gaped after him.
An arrow pierced her calf and Katara went down, agony singeing its way through her body like molten fire –in the midst of the battle field, with Yu Yan archers all around and the threat of a larger Dai Li force on the way, and she couldn't do anything, anything—and suddenly Zuko was on top of her, covering her body with his own as he shot a barrage of fireballs at the enemy, "Don't worry, I'll protect you—just keep down."
"Ow! Ow! KATARA. STOP THROWING THINGS AT ME. FUCK!"
"NO! You deserve it you—you!"
"AUGH. FINE. I PROMISE TO NOT EAT YOUR MOON PEACH NEXT TIME WE GET SOME. –DAMN IT! THAT HIT MY EYE."
"I swear, Zuko, if you break your promise, a lot more than your eye is gonna get hurt!"
In the dead of night, Zuko came into her room, breathing hard, hands flying over her body faster than lightening. "I had a dream," he rasped, "a nightmare. They took you. My father, my sister, they took you from me. And I could hear your screams. And I could hear their laughter. And I couldn't do anything." He buried his face into her neck, breathing hard, and she wrapped her arms around him. "Don't leave me, Katara. Don't leave me. I love you." And she felt hot tears upon her collarbone.
He sat in a darkened room, surrounded by candles, breathing in and out through his nose as he tried to concentrate on calming his rage, fury, jealousy when she came in and rested her hand upon his—and he just lost it. "How could you fucking kiss him, Katara—I gave you everything, I'd have given you everything, and you just—just kissed him like I meant nothing—" and she cut him off with her sad, sad eyes, whispering, "I'm sorry."
He had a singular talent of making her really, really pissed off, and she could tell he really, really enjoyed it.
Katara smirked as Zuko squirmed subtly, a blush high upon his cheeks, biting his lip to keep silence, eyes wild as he glared at her; she ran her finger from the base of his shaft to the tip, and he lurched in his seat, "Fu—I would like to now call a recess for this meeting until later today, gentlemen. I have some business to take care of," and with that proclamation to the rest of the bewildered table, he swept out of the room, shooting one last burning look at her. Katara snickered. Oh, she'd just bet he had some business to "take care of".
"Ugh, Zuko, I hate your country."
"Because of all those stupid, blood-sucking bugs! Seriously! Of COURSE the fire nation would have bugs that colonize other people's blood and take it for themselves without asking." She pulled up her skirt to show him the itchy, swelling bites where the mosquitos drew blood. "See?"
He stared. "Uh. What?"
"The bug bites! Look at them!"
"… No problem."
She stared across the camp fire at him, he stared across the fire at her, and they were locked into a battle of wills—neither would look away… neither would back down.
The sun was close to approaching its zenith when she finally awoke.
Katara 'hmm'ed in pleasure as she stretched languorously in her bed and rolled over.
Into something hard.
Warm, she thought, rubbing her cheek against it. From above she heard an amused voice saying, "I appreciate the fact you think I'm comfortable, but I'm not really part of the bed."
Her eyes snapped open, taking in Zuko's grinning, content face.
"Oh my God!" She shot out of the bed. "Oh my God!" Zuko looked on in confusion. She pointed an accusatory finger at him. "We slept together!"
She gasped. "OH MY GOD. I have to get out of here!" She scrambled out of the bed, running towards the door—escape, escape, escape!—but was suddenly yanked back. "Ouch!" she yelped. The water bender tossed a glare back to Zuko before struggling anew with all her strength.
"Are you crazy?" Zuko hissed, his face angry. "You're still naked! You can't go out there like this! Unless you want everyone to know what 'innocent-little-Katara' was doing last night."
She woke up the next morning with her tongue heavy in her mouth. "This… is a complication. A distraction. It won't happen again."
His face shuttered and drew itself in to a hard mask. "What?" he asked flatly.
"It won't happen again."
Zuko stood waist-deep in the iciest water he could find, body still charged and member still throbbing, and he groaned—this wasn't working, he was going fucking insane, if he didn't get some fucking relief soon, Katara was going to find out first hand just how her tiny little bending clothes were going to look on his bedroom floor, and as much as he was trying to tell himself otherwise, he probably wasn't going to regret it.
She was alone, alone, no one could ever see her like this, this cowardly, sniveling, scared girl who was crying in her room with her fingers clenched white upon her necklace—and then he was there, whispering in her ear in his husky, grief-stricken voice, "It's okay to be sad, you don't always have to be so strong—none of us will let you… I will never let you fall."
As much as it shamed him, Zuko couldn't quite remember the tone of his mother's voice, the color of her eyes, and though he still remembered the feel of her embrace and the smell of her perfume, he felt he'd betrayed her—once, she was everything to him; he owed it to her (especially in light of Ozai's most recent revelation of her disappearance) to remember her, everything about her, without fault.
Zuko leaned against a wall, stomach burning as he watched Katara dance around the dance floor with yet another suitor. The man was handsome, obviously full of charisma—everything Zuko wasn't. And he hated him for that. That man had no right to hold Katara. Not while she had chosen him.
Blood is her ocean. She is the queen of the body, blood her obedient little subject—so easily can she bend others to her will, more simple to play than an instrument in the arms of a practiced musician, she is the totalitarian of her enemies. She is powerful.
She is terrified.
Hama's is a future not to be repeated.
Her fingers whispered upon the bottom edge of his scar—this was sacred to him, she thought, this mark was everything about him, his broken dreams and his fear and his hurt and his shuttered kindness, and everything, everything, she'd try to bring back to him—to his life.
"I just need some independence, as a man," Zuko complained to Sokka, sulking.
Sokka just stared at him.
The water tribe man just shook his head. "I thought you knew that by getting in a relationship with Katara, you are essentially saying farewell to your manliness. She's terrifying, and she will make you her bitch."
Zuko contemplated this for a moment. Then he perked up. "That holds promise."
They slept upon a golden-wrought bed with their son between them, Zuko's birthright restored, and there was nothing, nothing, more right in the world.
Zuko tugged at the collar of his formalwear, nervous and sweating, strung tight as a bow, when Aang came up to him and laid a hand upon his shoulder, "Don't worry, Zuko, she loves you and always will—now get out there, it's time," and Zuko walked out and there, upon the dais, was Katara, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, resplendent wedding robes upon her, and he thought—God, she's so gorgeous, I'm going to spend the rest of my life with her, could anything be more perfect—and he was no longer afraid.
"This is what you do to me," he hissed as he pumped in and out of her, pinning her wrists with his hand above her head as Katara writhed helplessly against the wall, hot and feverish, "Never let other men touch you, never let them look at you—you are mine."
He watched as Katara tipped her head back and laughed at Sokka as the water tribe man whimpered over a papercut he'd gotten from Aang's glider, and Zuko forgot to breathe for a moment—surely, there was nothing more beautiful in the entire world.
"Of course I'm okay with you going out with Haru," but if he touches you, I'll find a way to kill him in his sleep.
"This is what I want from you," she whispered as she kissed him slowly, tears forging rivulets upon her face, "Nothing short of forever."
Katara lifted her arms and a wave as tall as a tree rose up between them and he was overwhelmed—"Oh, fuck."
"Hey," Katara whispered, poking him in an unhurt area of his torso, "hey. Wake up." He groaned, poking open an eye. "What?"
"Are you okay?"
He rolled over carefully and landed on top of her, grinning at her indignant shrieks and burying his face into her soft brown hair. "Better now."
"Wait, Zuko. I need to ask you something. Could you talk with me in private for a minute?"
He turned to look at her, swallowing heavily, stomach burning—God, she was still just as beautiful, just as bewitching as last time he saw her, and he knew, oh yes he knew, without a doubt that he would still never say no to anything she asked—"Of course. Let's go to my office."
They walked down the ornate hallway without so much as a word between each other. He opened the door to his private study, and she walked in, almost demure, certainly rare for her. "What is it?"
She met his gaze evenly, not missing a beat. "What happened?"
He stalled. "What do you mean?" He certainly did. This waterbender made the Fire Lord into a little liar.
She didn't believe his bullshit for a minute. "You know exactly what I mean. What happened between us? After the end of our journey, you just stopped talking. To me. Only to me. And don't you dare lie and tell me that you were too busy, because I know for a fact that you still talk to Aang and Sokka and Toph. But not to me. Why?"
He couldn't believe it. He couldn't fucking believe it.
"You know why!" Was she teasing—could she be that cruel?
"No I don't!" she retorted, eyes molten. "So tell me why! Did you not consider me a friend?"
"Of course I did!"
"Was I not worthy of your time?"
"I would never have valued you as a friend if I thought you unworthy!"
"Were you angry at me?"
"Yes," he hissed, mouth issuing smoke, "Yes. I was furious. And you fucking know why. I fucking straight up told you that I love you, and what do I find not five minutes later? You kissing Aang. So excuse me if I don't want to see that happen again, but I won't visit you to find you happy and in love with someone who isn't me."
She looked at him shocked, stricken, mouth slightly agape. "Zuko…"
He tried to regain his composure, leaning heavily on his desk with both hands. "Leave."
Because he would not make the same mistake twice. He would not be hurt by her again.
"I hate you."
"I don't hate you."
"Well. That's stupid. Because I still hate you." Katara pinched him.
"… So what now?"
Zuko scratched his head. "… Wanna make out?"
"We can't always find what we're searching for. And sometimes, when we find it, it's not always what we imagined it would be. Sometimes we fight it. But sometimes," she said quietly, wrapping her hand around his wrist to bring it in the air, lifting hers, "there's just…"
She linked their fingers together.
"… a spark."
There's a simple reassurance in the touch of another, Zuko though, twining his fingers through her heavy, beautiful hair, meeting her lips half way.
"Don't you think that it's, like, a symbol of our relationship, though?" Katara mused to Zuko late one night, drawing aimless paths of waves on his abdomen.
"No, I don't."
She lifted her head to look him in the eye. "Why not?"
He paused. "Not even night is as nightmarish as an eclipse, as short as they may be, because at night, at least there is a sun. In an eclipse, there might as well be nothing. I am never more weak, never more low, never more hopeless than when confronted by an eclipse.
"Our relationship makes me feel nothing close to any of these things. While it is true you make me weak… it is also true that you make me want to be so strong. For you. Always for you."
It was a restless night, and she was turgid, bursting, drowning in water—falling!—falling into the deep trenches of the ocean she felt sometimes when she was one with her element. When there was no Katara, just an endless force of gravity that grounded her to the world.
And yet, she felt so very, very high. There was no one to stop her on those restless nights. Nothing could contain her.
She was a human, a slave, a goddess, a tyrant, a mother, a child. She had no identity. She was a small link in an ever growing universe. She wielded the power to save the balance of the cosmos.
She was alive. On those restless nights, she was alive.
"What do you mean that this is a highway to nowhere?"
"Just what I said. This road quite literally goes nowhere."
"Hey, don't get mad at me, Katara. You were the one who decided to take a left instead of a right, like I told you to."
"Well, I'm sorry, your highness, but I wasn't aware that the stupid fire nation decided to build stupid roads that went nowhere."
"Hey! The fire nation is very advanced!"
"THEN TELL ME WHAT THE IMPORTANCE OF A USELESS ROAD IS, ZUKO. JUST TELL ME."
"Great, thanks for doing the laundary!" Katara said brightly, as she rifled through the pile of clothes to find her articles. "Zuko… Where's my underwear?" "Uhm. I don't know?" "ZUKO!"
If they had been able to preordain a life for themselves, they probably wouldn't have chosen a future of war and suffering—but fate stuck her hand into a bowl of chaos, and now they were locked into this web, a fire bender and a water bender, a lifetime of war and hate and suffering between them, struggling to find a place for love in between.
She buried her face into his neck and took one shuddering breath, "No matter what happens tomorrow, whether we die or maybe if we live and you don't ever want to see me again or something, I need you to know that I—I love you. Always."
A/N: Because there's gotta be some room for Zutara!