A Christmas present for liduen loivissa on livejournal. Sorry it took so long!
"But our love was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we
Of many far wiser than we
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee."
-Edgar Allan Poe, Annabel Lee
At the end of the Day
Sometimes, she thinks she can still see the scarred boy who struggled with his own character. The way he smiles when he sees his Uncle, trying to truly amend for his misdeeds, makes her heart ache for him in a way she didn't know was possible. She knows Iroh has forgiven him, and would do it a thousand times over again, but she can't help but notice the way he looks guilty, even when he shouldn't.
It is she that tries to remind him each and every day that he is human and therefore prone to mistakes and misjudgment. He just tells her that he has made too many of those.
His heart beats steadily to an unknown rhythm, and, after all, he sees a country that has fallen into a state of disrepair, something he—or any future sons—may be able to fix. He sees nothing but the constant bickering among his council members, or of the unbalance of the nation that stands on the brink of civil war. He can't even see her, trying to see him.
Only he, alone, knows the constant burden of making unparalleled decisions that have thwarted attempts of famine and destruction. Yet, he has made sacrifices. He tells her that she should return to her homeland, where she is safe and needed. She just tells him that he needs her too.
No One to Turn To
The seconds tick down steadily, like he knows what is coming.
They were letting go, he could feel it in his bones.
Where are you? He wants to cry out. Mom, where are you, where are you?
I need you. I need you. IneedyouIneedyou.
She feels him shudder, and then she sees his eyes.
He sighs, and takes her hand. "Your healing can't fix this."
And even though she knows it's true, she tries again and again, deep into the hours of the night.
The day he let her go, he knew right away that it was the right thing to do.
He caught her in bed with one of her friends, something he would have thought preposterous. He was Fire Lord, he was king, and she wouldn't shame him that way. And yet, he felt that she had only opened more doors for him.
She was giggling, something she never did for him. And whoever was next to her, they were breathing down her back and whispering something in her ear.
Later, when he asks her about it, the plate she was holding crashes to the floor, shattering into little, tiny shards of perfected china. He thinks that is what his heart should be doing.
They talk for a long time, about how he left her when she thought their love was the strongest. She was wrong, she knew, and even though she went back to save him—something she thought she was doing for her heart—she really went back to apologize. Tell him that she was a friend, something he had gained and not lost.
"I really did love you, Zuko," she tells him. "I just think…that, maybe sometimes people are meant to be."
She hugs him tightly, promises to write to him while she is in Ba Sing Se. He could feel that she was a changed person, no longer the spoiled noble who had not known true nurturing.
He touches the spot on his cheek where her fleeting kiss had left a small effect, and he smiled.
Love isn't fickle; lovers are.
Home is where the Heart is
He thinks sees her wishing she were back in the South Pole sometimes, with her long overcoat and her annoying brother. He watches her as she closes her eyes and pretends that she's really just taking a short reprieve.
"I miss my mine, too," he tells her.
And even though he isn't explaining, he knows she understands. And when she walks over to him and takes his hand, placing it over her heart, she feels his breath stumble and his fingers falter.
"We can't always go back. Sometimes we just have to go forward."
Grass is always Greener
He was back, he was back, he was back, were the only words that pounded through her head. Her arms were around her brother in a second, and he was hugging her back. Then when she lifts her head, she sees Suki, with a belly bigger than a moose-lion.
"Katara, Suki and I have big news."
And she and Suki spend the rest of the night discussing baby names and plans for a wedding, but in her heart, she feels like something's missing. She wants to be Suki, so very badly.
"Suki, you're so lucky," she finally pouts.
The only response she gets from her future sister-in-law is that someday, she'll regret saying that.
Katara doesn't think so.
Same old, same old
When she gets back to room, there is a certain bald monk waiting for her. She smiles and hugs Aang, her heart unable to handle seeing all of her friends in one day.
"I came back," he says. "Toph hopes she can be here in a few days."
"What is this, a reunion or something?" she cries, elated.
"You didn't know?" Aang said. "We're celebrating the treaties."
Katara whirls around. "What treaties?"
"The new accords. The Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes signed for them today, I just came back from them. I thought I'd stop and see you."
She smiles at the eighteen year old boy, seeing his boyish face through all of his maturities.
For a fleeting second, she's scared that he is remembering something too intimate, so she rushes a suggestion of taking their conversation somewhere more comfortable.
"You know, Katara," Aang says, sitting down with her in the parlor. "I think you made the right choice staying here. Zuko obviously benefits from your help."
"Yeah," she sighs. "I just miss the snow, you know?"
"Not really," Aang grins at her. "I've been at the North Pole for six months, working out peace negotiations in order to sign those treaties."
They pause, taking sips of their tea that Iroh had so readily prepared for them.
"Remember the last time we were at the North Pole?"
"Yeah," he says, nostalgically smiling. "Didn't Sokka fall in love, didn't I go into the Avatar state, and you became a water bending master, right?"
She smiled. "I forget the details."
Something inside her is relieved that he sees like he has matured enough to finally understand that their friendship is just that—a friendship.
"You know Aang," she begins, "you've changed a lot."
"Really?" Aang asks. She shrugs. They laugh more, share more stories. In the end, they have exhausted each other's company, and she tells him that it's late.
"Okay, mom," Aang smirks.
She makes sure that he gets to the gates, and then bids him goodbye.
When he pulls away from her gentle hug, he looks at her.
"Katara, you haven't changed one bit."
It's the Little Things
She first started noticing his manner around her was less casual than usual when he stopped asking her to file paper work.
"You've done enough in the last six years," he tells her.
She smiles on the way out of the office.
All things Grow with Love
He looks at her more than he should, but he can't bring himself to stop. He wants to look at her. And even though it'll take forever for the council to see his way, he doesn't give a shit.
"Zuko, do you have the papers from the—"
And he kisses her. It was short and brief, and he wasn't even sure if it happened.
"…Council meeting from…" She looks incredulous. "What…?"
He smiles at her, and takes her hand. "I want to show you something."
He leads her to a secluded part of the palace gardens, a place she has seen but never been to. It was his mother's garden, a place where he spent his refuged childhood, hiding from a disappointed father and a monster of a sister.
"It's beautiful," she whispers, letting her thin fingers skim the surface of the still water.
He turns around, and she tries to look over his tall shoulder, but when he turns back around, he's got a panda-lily in his hand. He gently tucks it behind her ear and she looks at him, her eyes sparkling, her heart trembling, and her body anticipating.
"This is yours now," he tells her. "My mom would have wanted someone who is just as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside to have it.
"I always thought this was a place of sorrow." He takes her hand. "But now I understand. It is a place of rebirth, no matter what has happened to the gardener. I know she wanted it taken care, of, Katara, and you are the right person. I just know it."
She smiles and lets go of his hand. She runs to the base of the beautiful pink-leaved tree, and climbs it.
Giggling and looking down, she waves to him.
"I'm the Queen of the Garden," she tells him. "Bow to me."
And he does.
Chip off the Old Block
"Sparky, I've got some serious pay back lined up for you."
Zuko turned around, seeing a taller Toph standing before him.
"For what? I didn't even do anything."
"Not yet," she smiles, running to hug him. "I've missed kicking your ass around."
She ruffles his hair. "Yeah me, too" he says.
"What have you been up to then?" Toph asks. But even though he knows she's still Toph, he can't get over how much she's grown. Her entire form was more feminine, so un-Toph.
He mentally shakes himself down, looking at her and smiling, even though she couldn't see it.
"Oh you know, just improving my tea making. Katara does most of my work."
"Sugar Queen told me that you do too much work."
"That's true, too," he says.
"Then you must have a lot of work."
He playfully hits her on the back. "You know, Toph, you still the same old you."
"Yep, Sparky," she agrees. "And you're more and more like your Uncle every day."
And he knows she can see it this time, so he smiles and gives her a hug.
"He taught me well."
Give and Take
"Zuko, I am an old man, surely you will not make me wait any longer than I have to."
Zuko's smile turned into an uncomfortable facial expression rather quickly.
"Uncle, I can't ask Katara to move up the wedding anymore, she'll freeze me to a tree."
"As I recall, you once tied her to a tree."
He slapped his forehead. "Yeah, when we were kids. Right now, she is very serious about this."
"Zuko, you have learned that each action has reciprocation, you must apply this! Think, nephew!"
"I don't understand…"
"Give her a reason to move up the wedding, Zuko."
A wide smile cracked his face.
"Uncle, you're a genius!"
Iroh laughed, as Zuko ran to find his fiancée.
"One great-nephew, two great-nephews…"
"SHE SAYS YES!"
Happily Ever After
They each drank from their spiritual cups, and then the Fire Sage pronounced them legally husband and wife.
"Zuko, we're married," she whispered.
"I know," he says, looking in disbelief.
All around them, people cheered and clapped and smiled.
But the people that the happy couple wanted to see the most were waiting for them in a small tea shop known as the Jasmine Dragon, on the outskirts of the Fire Capital.
Zuko kissed his wife—he still couldn't believe he was saying it, wife, wife, wife—and they entered the small building, where their friends sat, waiting.
"Wow, Katara," Toph said, "nice dress."
"Oh, thanks Toph! It was Zuko's moth—very funny," she smirked.
"No problem," Toph smiled.
Katara looked around the room. There was Aang and Haru. They congratulated their friends, and then Hakoda smiled. Katara leaned to hug her father when a shrill voice echoed through the room.
"You know, if you would have told me that you were going to marry a Fire Prince, I would have never let you leave with the Avatar!"
Gran-Gran was smiling as she walked over. She hugged Katara, Zuko, and Hakoda all at once. She seemed to have a confused expression written on her face.
"Where is Sokka? Did you leave him somewhere again?"
As if on cue, the man in question burst through the door.
"Suki had the baby! It's a girl!"
He walked to her.
"Will you to be the godparents?"
Zuko and Katara looked at each other.
"We'd love to," Zuko said as Katara hugged her brother.
Everyone then went to follow Sokka.
"You know, we could sneak away, for bit, if you wanted," Zuko murmured.
She smiled devilishly.
"We have a lifetime ahead of us, Zuko."
He took her hand in his, and kissed her forehead.
"Sounds good to me."
I don't own ATLA. Please don't sue me.