Mike and Bryan own; I just write better than them.
"Nay, let us walk from fire unto fire,
from passionate pain to deadlier delight—
I am too young to live without desire."
She pretended not to notice him; after all, she was the one who was supposed to be uninterested. If she were stronger, she would have been able to keep her eyes from flitting between him and something interesting on the ground. But she wasn't, so she couldn't.
When it came to him, she was always weak.
So when he walked over to her, his pale hand waving to her in a friendly way, she felt herself wanting to crawl, run away, hide. Anything to get away from him, to avoid having to face the one thing she wanted more than anything else in the world and couldn't have.
His smile seems like its permanently etched onto his face, or at least he's been looking at ease since the evening started. It made her feel jealous that he could so easily be content with how everything turned out, or how it didn't turn out.
He reached her, still with a curve to his thin lips, and she put on her false semblance of cheerfulness. "You look like you would rather be somewhere else," he points out, giving her a quick hug that was too swift for her to even think about returning it.
"Probably because I would," she scoffs in an affable tone. Something she hopes he understands. It's not the words; it's the manner.
"I'm sorry my parties bore you," he frowns purposefully, wrinkling the little line on his brow. "They're more for the sociable part of my career, not because I actually want—"
Spirits, she just wanted him to shut up about his career, politics, everything. Tuning out his apologies, she looked at the small changes that had come to his face in the past couple of years since his reign had commenced:
His face was more chiseled, his skin a little more pale—probably had something to do with being indoors all the time—his hair longer but pulled back a little tighter, his entire frame slightly taller—no one could have known but her—and more lean, but there was something else, something she couldn't see.
It was in his eyes.
They were soft, no longer drawn closed. She didn't know whether it was just for her, or if he had truly learned to not close up his wonderfully gold eyes.
"So how is the North Pole?"
How, indeed, is the North Pole? She doesn't know, mainly because she hasn't been there in four months. She ran away, from a marriage she didn't want, from a family she didn't have, from the freedom she thought she had.
She shrugs. "If I knew, I wouldn't be here."
His inquisitive face was so predictable that she could have bet Aang's life on it without fearing. "You left?"
She nods lightly, waving a gloved hand sensitively. "I didn't have a choice anymore," she told him. "It's easy to be in a place where you're respected, wanted, needed. But I couldn't just be a mother to those people anymore. I did it when we were a band of idiots, and I thought I could just continue to do it after everything changed."
He seems to be in agreement with her, stuffing his hands in the hidden side pockets of his extravagant, traditional red and gold robes. He looks at the floor, swallowing hard. She can't decide if he is waiting for her to say something else or if he just doesn't know what to say.
"But I thought," he started, then changed his mind, pausing. "Weren't you getting married?"
If she didn't have such exaggerated make-up on, she would have slapped her palm to her forehead, wiping her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. It was impossible, though, when she so desired to remain beautiful for him. One of the few things she could still do.
"I was," she said of her broken engagement. "We decided that maybe we weren't really as meant for each other as we thought."
A maître d' offered both of them a glass of Fire Whiskey, to which he accepted and she declined politely. Taking a sip of the fiery substance, he looked at her. "There is nothing sadder than an engagement that cannot be consummated."
She felt herself flush, against the embarrassment of being a woman who had rejected marriage.
They signed in unison, and then his eyes met hers for the briefest of moments. "Was it because of his mistress?"
It is a legitimate query, but she feels a rush of anger and disgust in the tone of her distant friend. "You think—" she couldn't get the words out correctly "How dare you suggest—" she stuttered until it came out truly "Aang would never have left me for a whore."
"I didn't mean to offend you," he defended himself, wanting to keep eyes from the conversing pair. But he was the Fire Lord, for Agni's sake, every pair of eyes would be on him.
She relinquished her resentment, albeit reluctantly. Her nails dug into the skin of her palms, turning her knuckles a clenching white. "I know."
"I left him," she admits after a few seconds of miscarried silence. "It was horrible and selfish and awful, but I did it." She can't meet his eyes, can't even bear to think about what he thinks of her. Now that she's started, it's hard to stop. "I just didn't love him that way anymore, and I actually don't know that I ever did.
"I just did everything because I thought I had to, not because I wanted to."
Biting her lip, she nervously meets his stare, finding his smoldering eyes and unable to look away. She thinks he should tell her off for leaving his friend, the savior of the world. The very reason he even had his crown, the right to rule. But instead:
"I'm proud of you."
That was no castigation. It wasn't even the tiniest bit demeaning in any way, shape, or form. Her jaw drops, gaping. She doesn't know what to say, or even what to think.
"Katara, for the amount of time I've known you, you have never done anything for yourself."
He said her name. This was no longer a formal conversation. Not that it ever had been, anyway. It probably stopped around the time he started questioning her about her personal life, her engagement. But that doesn't matter now.
Somehow, despite her shock and surprise, she finds the sense in her to nod.
Now would be a really great time to tell him how she really hadn't done it for herself; she had done it for him. It was done with the intention of coming back to the Capital of the Fire Nation, to find him, to walk right into his arms.
It was completely impossible, but in her line of sight.
She wants him so badly, but it's so selfish, so unlike her, that she just can't bring herself to do it. Not to mention, there were about five hundred people who would kill to be talking to him as secluded as they were right now. If she told him something so personal, so truthful, the consequences might have a negative effect on not only her reputation, but his career.
After all, what was she to him? She was a peasant, a silly girl who had run from him for so long, only to find that she had been running the wrong way the whole time.
"Will you step outside with me, for a moment?"
It's not unreasonable, it's not promiscuous. He looks around, over his shoulder, seeing a few of the Lords gazing upon him with a watchful eye, and his Uncle, sitting in a corner, entertaining a couple with a war story and a cup of tea.
"Sure," he says, placing his hand on the upper part of her back, leading her out of the room. The contact of his hand on her back—despite there being a dress between the contact—is almost too much for her. It made her want to cry, knowing that she is probably too late, too unwilling to fight.
Or was she?
The balcony was large enough that they could step out to the left and not be seen by the windows inside. She liked the feeling of privacy, but she did not like the fact that she felt like they needed it. They weren't together; and he wasn't single.
"Are you okay?" She turns her back to his question, her face flushed and scared to answer. Something comes over her, and she can't stop it. It's like fire in her belly, and she doesn't know how to douse it. So she turned around, promptly. Before either of them knew what was happening, she had pressed her lips to his, soft but surely, in a firm kiss.
He pulled away before it had even registered in her brain what she had tried to do. "No," he told her. "No, no, no, no."
She flushes and rests her palms on the cool railing, looking out and trying to forget about what had just happened. Or what hadn't. She couldn't even recall what had urged her to do something so rash, so inconceivably stupid.
"I'm sorry," she apologizes.
But she isn't. And she wonders if he suspects it.
He leans over with her, standing to her right. He looks down on the small gardens, where there are a few servants and few guests, intermingling. She can't look at him, but she can feel his gaze on her shoulder. He clears his throat a softly.
"Katara, I'm with Mai," he tells her. "I won't do that to her, her family, my people."
How noble, she observes. It was hard to be angry with him when what he was doing was right.
"But Zuko," she sighs, "I don't understand. I probably never will, and that's okay because I probably will never need to." He can't look at her. "But I want to. Why couldn't you have just been with me after the war, after everything?"
He turns away from her now. A light breeze blows in, and it carries her words away, so far away that she can't even remember what she had just said, only that she was waiting for an answer.
"Because you were with Aang."
The answer is so simple, and she remembers the question, but she can't recall why she asked it. It was her fault for everything. If she had just followed her heart, for once in her life, and done what was right by her standards and not the world's, she might have been saved the pain.
"Then leave her!" She's shocked by the words that come out of her mouth in a sharp whisper. "Leave her and let her find someone who will love her." He didn't respond; he just looked down at her shoes. Her heart tightened. "Unless—unless you love her."
She turns, and she can feel her long hair flip against his body. It makes her want to cry, throw-up, scream. It hurts so bad, so horribly bad, but it's the right thing. She's being selfish. Somewhere deep down, the old Katara knows that if he did what she was asking him to do, they would both feel awful.
"We just didn't meet under the right circumstances, Katara," he tells her. "Maybe in a different life, in different situations, but we're just too different. We'll always be too different."
And she knows that's true. That's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
"I'm sorry," he tells her. "Try hard, for me though." She looks up at him, blinking away her tears. "Promise me that you'll find someone else, because you're too wonderful to be alone."
She thinks of Aang, and how she left him back in the North Pole with nothing but the necklace he had carved for her and the letter she had left him. Explaining how she was with him because she wasn't supposed to be by herself, but being with him made her feel more alone than ever.
"I promise," she says, expression blank.
But she knows that somehow, she'll always be tied to him, always want him, no matter how suffocated by people she is. As long as she wants him, she'll feel alone.