Firelord Zuko lay in bed, his eyes shut as he tried to fall asleep, hands linked behind his head and his wild black hair falling against his forearms. He should've been able to sleep. It had been his idea to take a vacation to Ba Sing Se, mainly because he'd been having trouble sleeping at home. He'd narrowed it down to the stress of the final battle still weighing on his shoulders and decided he needed a vacation, and his friends needed one too. Deep down, he knew whatever was bothering him wouldn't be cured by a change of atmosphere, however he clung to the hope that maybe it would go away and he'd be able to find peace by pushing it to the back of his head and focusing on his Firelord duties.
Katara also was lying in her bed, not ten yards down the hall, staring at the ceiling, not even trying to fall asleep. Being a little less optimistic than the Firelord, and she knew that was a strange switch of characteristics, Katara knew something was wrong and she wanted to have it figured out before tomorrow, so she could enjoy her vacation, compliments of Zuko. She tried to push him to the back of her mind, however his selfless act of flinging himself in front of a lightning bolt for her had struck a chord deeper than she could imagine. Perhaps what had confused her more was how horrified she had been at the prospect of losing him. If she'd been at all unfocused, she'd have been shaking. She had been a wreck with the worry of losing him to Azula's lightning. Why?
Zuko rolled onto his side, wincing as his lightning shot wound pulsated, sending pain up his arms. A part of him wondered why he'd thrown himself after the shot to protect Katara. Perhaps she'd have dodged it if he hadn't stepped in the way and Azula would've gone down even quicker, and without causing him so much pain. He sighed, recalling that they had decided not to tell anyone he'd taken the shot for her, seeing as it would make leeway for people to make him sound like some amazing hero he couldn't possibly live up to, and because Katara hated people to think of her as a damsel in distress as people often did. The history scrolls of the battle had written out that he had taken the shot and trudged on, knocking Azula down so Katara could contain her. While it sounded like Katara hadn't done much, Katara had told him she was content with just knowing herself what she'd been able to do, and she didn't care if the history scrolls saw her as a minor convenience, because it was better than being the damsel in distress. Since that conversation with the scroll writers, Katara and Zuko hadn't spoken much to one another, most likely avoiding a conversation over why he had leapt in the way of the shot.
The fact was, neither of them really wanted to know. They wouldn't admit to it, anyhow.
Katara stared for a moment at Aang, who lay in the bed on the other side of the room, Sokka in the bunk bed above him. She sighed quietly, not knowing if she regretted kissing him earlier. She searched her mind for her emotions, unsure what they were. Perhaps what bothered her the most was not knowing how she felt. How could she possibly figure out two things at once? Yes, Aang was something she needed to figure out. And so was the day of the comet. They both needed undivided thought and consideration, and both raided her mind for it at once. If she could figure them both out at once, it would be so much easier. Not that they could ever be one problem; Zuko was nothing to do with her personal affairs. Or was he?
Zuko looked to his side at Mai for a moment, unsure. He wasn't even sure what he was unsure of. He had been with Mai from the very beginning, and being with her now seemed logical, whether or not his heart was in it. She shut his eyes again, bringing his only eyebrow down. Oh, how he hated being confused. That itself had the power to make him angry. How could he possibly figure out two things at once? Yes, Mai certainly deserved some reflection upon, and so did the day of the comet. Not that his protecting Katara was something to do with his love life. Or was it?
Zuko pushed himself into a sitting position in his bed, despite the pain it caused his wound, leaning over and tracing his gaze over the floor. He needed to figure out what had happened that day. He needed to figure it out, and he couldn't do that without talking to Katara.
Katara sat up in her bed and out her feet on the floor, hunched over and staring at the floor in unrest. She needed to know why he'd saved her life that day. She needed to understand what was going through his head, and she couldn't know without talking to him.
Both silently pushed onto their feet and snuck out their bedroom doors, their knuckles ready to knock on each other's doors. Katara looked up from the floor the same time as Zuko, only to see him looking at her with the same surprise on his face as was on hers.
"I was just coming to talk to you." They said together. An almost pained expression came over them both as they followed one another into the main room where Sokka had painted a panorama of them. The seated themselves either side of the table, where the Pai Sho board was still set up.
Zuko and Katara stared at eachother for a moment, before Katara swallowed and asked the inevitable question. "Why did you jump in front of that lightning bolt, Zuko?"
Looking down, the Firelord pondered this. "I don't know. I keep thinking it over and I … I really don't know."
"You have to know. You're the only one that can." Katara put her elbows on the table and dropped her head into her hands.
"Well, I don't." Zuko snapped. "I'm trying to be honest here." He sighed heavily, bringing his own elbows and forearms onto the table and leaning forwards on them.
Katara looked through her fingers at him. "You wanted to ask me something."
Zuko nodded slowly in thought. "You … you were crying. Like nothing I've ever seen before." He tilted his head up to meet her blue eyes in the dark.
The two stared at each other for a long time, the dark not even posing a distance between them.
What had he been thinking as he dove for the blast?
What had she been thinking as she cried over his lump of a body on the floor?
Zuko's golden eyes followed her hand as it pushed her undone hair behind her ear to get a better look at him, trying to figure out what was going through his mind. Their gazes locked on one another, the answer to both questions coming at once. I couldn't lose you.
Of course, neither would ever admit they felt that strongly for one another, no matter how many questions it answered, or thoughts it simplified. But then they didn't need to. Katara knew Zuko would give his own life to save hers, and Zuko knew Katara could cry herself into an early grave at the prospect of losing him to the Grim Reaper. The unspoken words traveled between magnetic gazes of blue and gold, with honor as a barrier between them, blocking them from speaking their hearts' true words.
Zuko pushed past his honor for a split second to see Katara's eyes blinking slowly in the dim light of the outside moon, his eyes dancing over her snug night-attire, before her blue eyes met his and he knew he could never have her. He stared down at his hands on the table, bitterness so strong he could almost taste it in his mouth, racing through his veins like the venom of a rat-viper.
Katara forced her way through the blockade of tainted obligation to stare along his handsome jaw line, furrowed brow and calloused hands that drummed against the table, a pulse of something she hadn't felt before ran wild in her heart, before it was killed by an arrow of guilt and pain, and she drew up her shoulders in insecurity, ashamed of her own emotions.
The pain that stabbed through her heart repeated on Zuko, and knowing this, she outstretched her hand to the middle of the table, offering it to his, and it reluctantly fell over her soft skin with a heavy sigh from his mouth. His grasp became tight, desperate, and Katara felt her own hand tighten around his in equal desperation. Pushing onto their feet, they grabbed eachother for an anguished hug, gripping, clinging to one another and hoping never to pull apart. Burying her face in Zuko's bare shoulder, his bandaging rough against her cheek, Katara felt tears threatening to spill down her face as Zuko ignored his pain to grasp her as tight as he could.
As the first silent shudder of tears shot through Katara's body, Zuko felt his own tears running slowly down his face, the sensation almost lyrical against his scar. She didn't shake again, letting the tears move silently as she pulled away to look up, her eyes begging him to kiss her, though surprised to see his tears. Zuko needed no more invitation than that, shoving his duties and obligations to Mai to the back of his mind as his lips came hungrily against Katara's. A hand on her cheek and a hand on her waist, he shut his eyes tightly, his kiss nothing short of do-or-die.
Katara reached up, her hand on his cheek and fingertips soft on his tear-striped scar, her other hand on his shoulder as she answered his kiss with a despairing whimper, pressing into his body, her lips pushing and pulling with Zuko's like the waves of the ocean. Parting for breath, Katara dared not to kiss him again, her eyes downcast as she pushed him away, stepping back. He held tight to her wrist, his eyes shutting as he pulled her back, leaning down and putting his forehead to hers.
She shut her eyes too, taking his hand in hers and letting tears continue to flow endlessly. They stayed like that for perhaps an hour or two, lingering in each other's company, terrified to part and find it was all but a dream. While eventually they split paths and led separate lives, neither would ever forget the battle during which the fell in love, the night they loved and lost eachother to their obligations, their nations and their honor.
More importantly, neither would ever forget where they hearts really lay.