The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out
You left me in the dark
No dawn, No day
I'm always in this twilight
In the shadow of your heart
"Cosmic Love" by Florence And The Machine
Sometimes, when the signs of dawn were pulling Zuko out of the dreamlike world he succumbed to during sleep, he would think he was waking up beside her.
Dreams still clinging to his mind, he could see the expanse of her back to him, that dark skin complemented by the red silk sheets. He could see her chocolate hair pillowed about her head and shoulders, wild from nighttime activities and sleep. He could imagine that if she rolled over and opened her eyes, it would be blue he would see. It would be something he would never be able to get used to, waking up to those eyes. It was something he never wanted to get used to. He could imagine that she'd give him a sleepy smile and rub at her eyes, because even after months of waking up early she still wasn't a morning person. He could imagine that she'd kiss him then, and he would smile and sigh with happiness and contentment.
But like all dreams, it would soon fade away. He would awaken to a back of creamy white skin. She wasn't the woman she wished he could wake up next to. She never would be her. Even still, he'd rouse her awake and kiss her good morning. He'd tell her he loved her.
It was his greatest façade.
The night Katara turned seventeen was the night that Zuko got to kiss her for the first time. Zuko was taking a much needed break away from his duties as Fire Lord and had agreed to go to her "birthday party."
"Don't you think you're a little old to have a birthday party?"
Katara rolled her eyes up at him and frowned, shaking her head. "What's your point? You have one every year."
Zuko sighed. "As Fire Lord, I'm required to."
"Oh whatever," she huffed. "It's still a birthday party all for you!"
He smirked then. "Look, I can't help it if my birthday is a national celebration."
She rolled her eyes again and feigned irritation. "Fine then, Your Majesty, if you cannot appreciate my birthday party then I'm just going to go and mingle with someone who does." She paused when she realized her cup of rice wine was empty. "I need more to drink!" She then scooted away before he could offer to go and refill her cup for her. But then, Katara had always been an independent creature.
He watched her walk away with keen interest. He had always been attracted to her, so the idea of finding her beautiful wasn't exactly new to him, but everything about her seemed different, seemed older. Her dress clung to her figure in all the right areas, and he couldn't help it when his eyes roamed freely over them. And she was still as smart as she was stunning, as fierce as she was gentle, and she still new just how to get under his skin and—
He hated having feelings. He especially hated having feelings for someone who technically belonged to someone else. Zuko frowned when he saw Aang trot up to Katara and pull on her hand, gesturing for her to dance with him. In the past year Aang had finally grown to the point where he was taller than Katara, but those gangly limbs of his meant that the rest of his body had yet to catch up. He pulled on her hand again, but Katara was too immersed in her now full cup of rice wine to really pay attention to him. Instead, she patted his head and turned away from him, hips swaying as she went. Zuko couldn't help but smirk. The Avatar wouldn't have any idea how to handle those kinds of curves anyway.
His smirk turned into a frown. Huh. He was out of rice wine.
Two hours later she was yanking his crown out of his top knot, tousling his shaggy hair until it fell around his face.
"Much better," she breathed, her body pressed against his as her hands moved from his hair to rest at the back of his neck. He couldn't tear his eyes away from her lips.
She initiated the first move. She moved a hand to cup his face, her fingertips grazing his scar. He leaned into her touch. She was the only person who touched his scar, the only person who would ever touch his scar, if he had anything to say about it. Her fingertips left it to graze his lips and chin and finally she leaned in and captured his lips with her own.
They toppled onto the floor, arms encircling each other. Zuko couldn't remember where they were, why they were there, what they were supposed to be doing, all his mind could process was the fact that she was under him, above him and beside him. His senses could only register her.
When she pulled away, the feeling of loss was instantaneous. He groped for her, wanting her back in his arms, when she suddenly straddled him, her hair falling down to tickle his face and bare chest. She leaned down and placed kisses along his jaw and neck, her hands travelling freely up and down his torso. When she pulled away again he reached to grip the back of her knees and hold her there, as if he was afraid she'd float away. The wine was tugging at him from all directions and her image was starting to blur before him. But he could still see her in his haze and that was really all that mattered.
"There's something between us, isn't there?" He heard her say from above. "There always has been."
He pushed himself up and propped himself on his elbows, the world spinning as he did so. He just wanted to kiss her. He aimed his mouth at any part of her body, not really caring where his lips landed. They were both pleased when his lips found her neck. She gasped, her fingers entangling themselves in his hair. He sat all the way up so that she was positioned in his lap, his arms wrapping themselves around her waist in order to draw her closer. His mouth moved from her neck up to her cheek and then her ear.
"Yes," he whispered before nipping at her earlobe, causing her to shiver. "There always has been."
When he woke up the next morning, she was gone.
Things were different after that. Her letters came more frequently, and Zuko made the grave mistake of allowing himself to wonder what it might be like to really be with her. In her letters she talked about everything, from meaningless nonsense, to updates on her tribe and family, to sharing with him her deepest thoughts and self convictions. He saved all of them.
Sorry Zuko, there's no way I'm coming to the Fire Nation right now, it's summertime. I grew up on an icy tundra, so muggy Fire Nation heat is not my favorite thing in the world. I get cranky. You know this. Plus, I promised Aang I'd help him with his new student. The airbender he discovered in Ba Sing Se is picking up on Aang's teachings really well. But she refuses to get the tattoos. I can't say I blame her. Not sure why exactly Aang needs my help though, I don't think he has much confidence in his teaching abilities. Nonetheless, he's a great teacher.
Anyway, I promise I'll come and visit you once the weather cools off and once I'm done here with Aang. I miss you. I miss you more than anyone else, and I REALLY shouldn't say that because I haven't even seen my own brother in months, but it's true. You're my best friend and I feel like you understand me in a way that no one else really does, not even Aang. Things between us always run deeper. Why is that?
Like I said, I'll come visit when the weather is more bearable. Tell Iroh I said hi!
Big news, Suki and Sokka are getting married! Okay, so maybe it's not that big, since we all knew this was coming, but Sokka legitimately thought he was surprising us with the announcement. He thinks he's so mysterious, it's cute. Anyway, they want to get married quickly (I have my suspicions why) so the wedding is next week. By the time you get this letter they'll already be wed. I'll miss you at the reception. There's supposed to be a band, although I have no idea where Sokka is going to find one. Should be interesting.
In other news, my eighteenth birthday is in two months, as I'm sure you're well aware. I'm thinking about throwing another party. If I do, can we reenact what happened between us at my last birthday party? I'm willing to make it a tradition if you are.
Sorry I haven't written in awhile. Things have been busy here in the South Pole. Rebuilding has proven to be a lot more different then I thought it would be. Despite Master Pakku and Chief Arnook's encouragements, a lot of the people from our Northern sister tribe don't want to relocate. I suppose I can't blame them, I wouldn't want to up and leave my home either, but apparently it stems deeper than that. A lot of them won't leave the Northern Water Tribe because they're comfortable in their own culture and ways and if they move down here then all of that will change. They disagree with us allowing women to be trained in water bending, among other things. Dad thinks it might be best if I marry someone from the North in order to ensure our alliance. I told him there's no one up there that I'm remotely interested in romantically. He told me to stop thinking about myself all the time and instead think of my tribe and its needs. We fought about it and we haven't really spoken sense.
Am I being selfish Zuko? I just want to be proud of my tribe and be happy. I didn't think that was too much to ask for. Apparently it is. I'm really confused. How do you balance your duty to your nation and your personal happiness at the same time?
I just got off the ship and am here in the South Pole. Next time you don't need to send so many soldiers to accompany me. I appreciate the obvious concern you had for my safety (but really Zuko? Twenty soldiers?) but I nearly bent them all into the ocean. They seriously surrounded me when I nicked my hand with a knife while I was chopping vegetables. They just assumed I was going to bled to death. Never again Zuko.
Anyway, sending this message to you to let you know that I'm here safe and sound.
P.S. I love you too. I'm sorry I was too scared to say it before.
Hey Zuko, I'm sorry I've ignored your last few letters. Sokka told me he wrote to you and explained what was going on. I wish I could have done it myself, but I sort of threw everything I had into trying to save her. My healing couldn't save her, Zuko. She's gone. Aang says I shouldn't worry about it, that even the best healer can't cure a natural illness like she had, but that doesn't matter. Everyone says I'm a prodigy, so why couldn't I find it in myself to make her better? Gran-Gran is gone, and I can't help but feel it's somehow my fault. Who's going to help run the tribe now? She was one of the strongest women I knew. I wish the future girls of the Southern Water Tribe had someone like her that they could look up to.
Thank you for inviting me to come spend the spring in the Fire Nation. I'm going to have to think about it and talk to Dad. The tribe is just…not doing as well as any of us would have hoped, especially now that Gran-Gran is gone. There's a lot of shuffling among the women to try to find someone who can stand in her place. Dad has been talking to me a lot about duty, and how we sometimes have to do things we don't want to do because our people are more important. That it's a responsibility that comes with having power. "Sometimes it's duty over heart, Katara. But really, they should be one and the same." I miss you Zuko, more then you know.
Love you, Katara
P.S. Don't forget that Aang turns eighteen in three months. I don't have any idea what to get him so you're on your own.
And then the last one.
"Sometimes it's duty over heart. But really, they should be one and the same." I hate this. Just remember that duty and heart are not the same to me Zuko. You're my best friend.
Enclosed with that note was Katara's necklace that had belonged to her mother. Zuko had a very bad feeling.
He didn't here from her for quite some time after that. He faithfully continued to write her, like he always did, but her silence only caused the sinking feeling in his stomach to turn sour.
Then he got the invitation. Avatar Aang and Katara of the Southern Water Tribe were to be married that following summer. He resisted the urge to throw her necklace out the window.
"Just remember that duty and heart are not the same to me Zuko," he quoted, forcing himself not to be physically ill. He gathered up all of her letters and tucked them away in his desk. All except for the invitation. That he burned.
He was to leave for their wedding the next day. It was to be held on Ember Island of all places, Agni only knew why. He was positive that Katara didn't want to be married there, that she'd probably prefer something close to her home, somewhere like Kyoshi. But then, Zuko reminded himself, they probably had to marry somewhere that was suitable for the Avatar. Ember Island was a peaceful place where all of Aang's friends could meet up with relative ease.
Zuko still would have bet quite a few pounds of gold that Katara wasn't happy.
But then, what did he know?
He sat on the railing of his balcony, enjoying the warmth the summer breeze had to offer him. This time in three days he was sure he'd feel cold all over.
He heard someone let themselves into his chambers but he didn't bother to turn around and see who it was. When Iroh leaned against the railing next to him Zuko spared him a glance before turning his gaze back to the palace gardens.
"Good evening, nephew," Iroh greeted.
Zuko said nothing.
Iroh decided to cut to the chase. "People change Fire Lord Zuko. And sometimes people make decisions based on how they think other people will feel and not how they themselves will feel."
Zuko continued to say nothing.
"We cannot make people's decisions for them, and we must accept the paths they choose for themselves. We must accept them even if it hurts us to, because if we don't, it will eat away at our very being until all we have left is anger."
Zuko looked his Uncle in the eye. Where his hand was holding onto the railing, the knuckles were nearly stark white from his vice like grip. He continued to say nothing.
Iroh gave him a very sad smile before patting his shoulder and turning away. Sometimes there were no words.
His scar sometimes bothered him. Not the one on his face, although occasionally that did itch around the eye, but the one on his chest. It burned sometimes, like when he'd wake up from a fitful dream or was exerting himself during his firebending training. There was no medical explanation for it, or at least that's what all the healers in the Fire Nation's Capital had told him.
His Uncle was convinced it had something to do with his emotions. Zuko had a feeling there might be some truth behind that.
Because whenever he thought of her, the reason why he had the scar in the first place, the shiny skin of the scar would feel cool to the touch. It would give him peace. He never regretted jumping in front of Azula's bolt to save her. He'd do it again and again, if it ensured her life. Nothing was more important than her life. Nothing.
But now the scar burned. It didn't give him peace; it made him anxious and weary. He was growing tired of constantly being reminded of someone he could never be with.
He traced his finger over the scar and stared at the window in his bedroom on Ember Island. She'd been ankle deep in sea water for the past five minutes, just staring out into the ocean. He wasn't surprised by this, she was Katara after all. He just assumed that most brides would be trying to get some rest the night before their wedding.
Apparently he was wrong.
He sighed as he felt his scar burn and let his hand fall away from it. The moon was full. It was now or never.
He kept his eyes glued to her as he walked out the door. She was a master water bender and was considered a prodigy amongst her people, and it was the night of a full moon. He'd be damned if she couldn't heal the scar on his chest.
She didn't seem to notice him until he was an arm's length away from her. "Katara," he said softly, calling her attention. She whipped around to face him, the strong sea breeze causing her long, thick hair to fly about her face. Her eyes were wild, panicked and there were tear tracks on her cheeks. He jerked his head back with alarm. "Katara—"
"Hey…hey Zuko," she said, scrubbing at her eyes to wipe away what he could only assume were unshed tears. "What brings you out here?"
He frowned. "I was actually going to ask you something but… Katara, why are you crying?"
She straightened up immediately. "I'm not crying," she snapped.
He took a chance by reaching out and trailing a fingertip down her cheek, indicating where her tear tracks were. "Really Katara?"
She spluttered out something incoherent before swatting his finger away. "No, no, I'm just really happy, that's all."
"You've always been a terrible liar."
"Whatever, Zuko." She went from fake cheeriness to looking defeated all in a single instant. She turned her gaze away from him and crossed her arms over her chest. "What do you want? You said you had to ask me something."
Zuko fumbled around for a moment, not quite sure how to put his request into words, but determined to ask her nonetheless. He saw Katara roll her eyes and turn to him. "Spit it out already—" she froze. Zuko froze too, preparing to whirl around and protect her in case some danger was about to present itself.
"My mother's…you actually wear it?" She stepped forward and grabbed his wrist, holding it up to her eyes for further inspection.
Not long after he'd received her necklace he'd pulled the worn ribbon away from the hand carved pendant and managed to construct it into a wrist cuff. It hurt him to look at it and wear it, but it was something that she had treasured. Besides, in a way it was a gift from the Water Tribes and who was he to shun something like that?
Her grip on his wrist tightened for a moment before she let go. Another step forward and she had wrapped her arms around his waist and was clutching him to her. He moved his arms to wrap around her in return. It felt natural to hold her like this. It felt right.
It would always feel that way.
He could feel her shaking against him, her tears falling onto his shoulder. She was whispering things to herself, things that were muffled against his skin. He couldn't quite catch them, but maybe there were some things you weren't supposed to hear.
He whispered things into her ear and hair, any and everything he could think of to make her feel better. That marrying Aang would make her happy. That tomorrow was going to be a good day. That it was all going to be okay. That everything was going to be okay. They were lies of course. But he figured it was less of a matter of opinion and more of a matter of feeling. Besides, he'd always been a much better liar then Katara.
When she finally pulled away her fingers trailed along his chest until they found his scar. For the first time in a long time, the scar felt cool and he shivered involuntarily because of it. Her fingers lingered there for quite some time before, quick as a flash, she leaned forward and kissed it. Zuko took in a sharp intake of breath, but before he could say anything she had turned around and had begun to walk away from him, the waves and sea foam swirling around her feet.
He could follow her. He could ask her to heal his scar. It was why he'd come out here in the first place. But he couldn't. He wouldn't.
It was as much her scar as it was his.
After the wedding, the Avatar and his new wife held a feast in honor of their wedding at a great hall in Ember Island. Dinner had been served, plates piled down with foods that were both Air Nomad and Water Tribe delicacies had been set down in front of them. Their goblets had been filled with wine, all except the Avatar's who had continued to stick with water.
The long table was filled with close family and friends, everyone dressed in their very best, as this day was monumental for both the Avatar and the Southern Water Tribe. Someone began to clink on their glass and everyone turned their heads to see Sokka pushing back his chair in order to stand up.
"First off, the food is great!" The majority at the table laughed and cheered and a 'here here!' was heard from Toph. Sokka grinned and continued. "As we all know, today is an amazing day for my Tribe and for the world. Today is also the day that these two kids finally decided to get married. Took you two long enough."
There was more laughter and some cheering, but Zuko felt himself bristle. He blocked out the rest of Sokka's speech, which was basically just a retelling of Aang and Katara's love story anyway. Instead he opted to push his food around his plate. He knew he was showing off all kinds of bad manners by doing so, but in that moment he really didn't care. His prediction had come true. He was cold all over.
"To Katara, my lovely baby sister, and to Aang, the self sacrificing Avatar! Here's to an incredible future! Cheers!" Sokka drained his cup before holding it in the air. Most of the guests clapped and hollered out their support before picking up their own drinks and draining them.
Zuko looked up and caught Katara's eye. She was watching him from her seat next to Aang, an unreadable expression on her face. Her blue eyes were penetrating, but he couldn't help but stare right back at her. She seemed to take in a deep breath before tearing her gaze from him and making a point to laugh at something Toph had just said.
Zuko forced himself to look back down at his plate. He couldn't help but think that the Avatar knew very little of self sacrifice.
Mai was always a woman of few words. She was harsh and blunt and sometimes rough around the edges. But she also had a sharp sense of perception. She saw right through Zuko, she knew of his feelings and his losses. She knew that she would always be second best to him, but she accepted him anyway.
That was why Zuko stuck with her.
In the Fire Nation it was only socially acceptable to dance at weddings, although Iroh was trying very hard to get Zuko to change that. So at the reception of his wedding to Mai, he took his new wife around the dance floor more times then was considered proper, if anything to show that the Fire Nation under his rule was a different nation altogether. He knew his people were always watching his decisions, even if they were over something as silly as dancing.
Zuko also made a point to dance with a lot of guests; Toph, Ty Lee, and Suki just to name a few. He steadily avoided Katara, however. She didn't even seem to care. She said nothing to him as she watched from the side of the dance floor. She said nothing when he walked straight up to the girl standing next to her and asked her to dance, not even sparing a glance at Katara. She said nothing during the congratulatory speeches. She even said nothing when she walked right up to him at the end of the night and pressed a folded up napkin into his hand before ducking her head and walking away. He forced himself to take in a few steadying breaths, unfolding the napkin and reading over the note that was written.
How was it that she could still make him feel like he would burst?
When their kids were old enough, it was a unanimous decision amongst the Avatar and his old group of friends to set up a play date for them. It was also decided by the overwhelming majority to have the play date in the gardens of the Fire Lord's palace because they were just so nice.
Zuko wasn't amused, but let his friends and their screaming children make their way into his home nonetheless.
He leaned up against a tree in the garden with the pond, watching his four your old son run around and practice bringing up tiny flames in the palms of his hands. His son looked delighted with himself when he managed to hold a flame for longer than 10 seconds but was soon distracted when a four year old girl with light brown skin and bright blue eyes sauntered over to him. Giggling, the little girl bent water from the pond and made it twirl around herself like a ribbon. His son stood straighter, accepting the challenge, and began to pump little fireballs out from his fists.
Someone chuckled from beside him and Zuko turned his head to see Katara. They were both in their late twenties now, and she was even more beautiful then she had been before. She was smirking and he felt a smile play across his own features. She jerked her head towards their kids. "How much you want to bet that they at least date?" She was smiling, but there was sadness in her eyes.
He turned his attention back to their children. His son had blasted a tiny ball of fire a little too close to her daughter's face. Her daughter shrieked and shoved him backward, turning on her heel and storming away. When she reached the edge of the clearing she turned to see if he was following her before sticking her nose into the air. His son quickly regained his balance before watching her daughter stomp away. A look of complete confusion and then determination crossed his face before he sighed and trotted after her.
Zuko shook his head. His son didn't stand a chance. He turned his attention back to Katara. "If they don't get married, I will personally hand you my throne."
Katara raised an eyebrow. "Wow that's—" Her gaze zeroed in on Zuko's wrist where he was still wearing his wrist cuff that held her mother's pendant. He saw her eyes begin to water before she bit her lip and turned away. He gently bumped his hand with hers and after brief hesitation she entwined her fingers with his. The moment that stretched between them was filled with feelings but no words. Finally, she squeezed his hand and let go.
Sometimes, when the dreamlike world she succumbed to at night was pulling at her consciousness, she would think she was falling asleep beside him.
Dreams tugging at her, she could see the pale expanse of his chest where he lay in the moonlight. She could see the hard planes of muscle earned from years of fighting. She could see the scar in the middle of his chest from where he had taken a lightning bolt for her. For her. She could see his dark hair around his face, messy and tousled from spending a portion of the night lovemaking. She could imagine that if he rolled over onto his side to face her that it there would be a scar stretching across the right side of his face that she would see. That if he opened his eyes she would be confronted with a golden gaze, a gaze intent on wandering over every inch of her skin. She could imagine that he would reach out and bring her right up next to him, giving her a sleepy smile. She could imagine that he'd nuzzle her neck, whisper he loved her and then fall back asleep.
But like all dreams, she knew there was eventually an end. She'd wake up next to a tattooed man with gray eyes and an inquisitive stare. He wasn't the man she wished she had fallen asleep next to the night before. He would never be him. Even still, she'd smile at him and tell him she loved him.
It was her greatest façade.