A/N Hello Everyone! Valiski Jin here! This is my first fanfic I've ever published here (even though I've been lurking here for more years than I care to remember). It is also my first ever Zutara fic. I hope you enjoy it! Reviews are most certainly welcome!
Just a Mistake
"Look I'm not asking you to take responsibility. I just thought you should know" Katara didn't dare look up. The girl who had faced down pirates, thieves, bandits, an entire navy, countless firebenders, anyone who had ever told her 'no' and Sokka in the morning all without flinching couldn't quite muster the courage to meet the fire lord's eyes.
Katara kept her head bowed, staring hard at the only bit of Zuko she could bear, the tips of his black booted toes. They were unmoving, frozen like the rest of Zuko, like he had been ever since she dropped her bombshell.
Katara having significant more time than Zuko to process the situation had already made her decisions; everything else depended on Zuko now. She hated being dependant on anyone and she was more terrified now than she had been for a long time.
Zuko, for his part, sat completely still, body frozen, but mind racing. Several reactive emotions ran through his mind, shock, fear, denial, disbelief, guilt, anger, resentment and a tiny, tiny, nudge of something warm and shining that he didn't have a name for.
It wasn't as though he didn't have enough on his plate as it was. Sure there was peace between the nations now after the Avatar defeated Ozai and Zuko was the Fire Lord, all was right in the world… except that it wasn't. Peace, as Zuko was discovering, brought with it a whole new set of problems and in a world thrown out of balance by a century of war it took more than a few short months to heal the wounds war left behind.
He was facing opposition on every side by the Fire Nation Nobles, many of whom had grown fat off the profits of war. Other's resented his new policies on religion and education seeing them as an assault on their 'traditional' way of life, never mind the fact that Zuko was just trying to lead the Fire Nation back to its true roots of greatness. He also had the largest standing Army and Navy in the entire world suddenly without jobs or funds, a dangerous situation to be sure.
Then Zuko had the thousands of prisoners to deal with. Prisoners taken captive during the war from the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes, prisoners from the Fire Nation who had refused to fight or been labeled 'traitor' for some minor offense, and then there were the prisoners who had actually committed crimes and deserved to be incarcerated, Zuko and the court system had the Herculean task of sorting them all out. And now on top of it all there was this.
Zuko almost hated Katara at that moment for dropping this on him. He hadn't asked for this! He didn't deserve this!
He was immediately ashamed of himself. It was just as much his fault as hers. Katara hadn't asked for this either. She certainly didn't deserve this. It was just…an accident.
Brave, strong, Katara with a passion inside her worthy of any Fire Bender, certainly didn't deserve this. She deserved to fall in love, Zuko thought, fall in love, marry, raise children with a man who adored her, live out her life doing…well whatever it was that people did at the South Pole. She didn't deserve for one drunken night to ruin her future, her honor.
Zuko instinctively traced his scar. Honor. He was the fire lord he could just ignore this situation and no one else could say anything, just close his eyes and wish this all away. But he had spent three years searching for his honor, and he had learned a lesson he would never forget. No one can give you your honor; you have to earn it yourself. That was what Iroh had spent all those years trying to teach Zuko that was the reason he had abandoned everything he thought he knew to join the Avatar and fight, that was why Zuko was still fighting. He wanted to restore the Fire Nation's Honor. How could he do that if he abandoned his own?
He glanced at Katara again. He knew from the way she was gripping her fists that she was just as scared and angry as he was, but he was not going to let that anger or fear get in the way of doing the right thing. He would not take the easy way out.
Zuko opened his mouth to speak but only a strangled raspy gasp came out. He cleared his suddenly dry seeming throat and tried again. "When is your birthday?"
Katara, startled at being addressed after such a long and rather uncomfortable silence, jumped a little. She was surprised enough to meet Zuko's eyes for the first time since her arrival. She was shocked at the determination she saw reflected in his golden eyes, fear also, but mostly an iron resolve tempered by learned patience she knew he possessed. It was not what she had expected to find, and nor was the question he posed.
"Um… My Birthday is one week after the autumn equinox but I don't really see what that has to do with anything." She answered.
Zuko waved aside her comment. Fall Equinox it wasn't that far away thank Agni. They still had time. "You'll be Sixteen right?"
Zuko tried to smile in a reassuring way. "So you'll be of marrying age. That gives us a little over a month to plan a wedding and make arrangements." He tried to make it sound casual, he really did but his voice broke on the word wedding. He tried to pretend that he hadn't just proposed to one of his worst enemies, well former worst enemies. They were certainly on better terms now but not by much.
They were barely even friends. How were they ever going to survive till death do us part? Their mere acquaintance alone had almost resulted in Zuko's death more times than he cared to remember. Their marriage probably wouldn't last more than a week.
Honor. He reminded himself. I'm doing the right thing. And there was that one small corner of Zuko's brain, the one that had contained the tiny nudge of the warm nameless feeling that seemed to grow stronger as he stared at Katara.
Katara stared back, trying to decide what shocked her more Zuko's knowledge of Water Tribe customs or his proposal. His proposal was definitely the winner. In her wildest dreams Katara had not expected this. In all the past weeks since she had found out, all the sleepless nights she had stayed up imagining what her future might be she had never imagined this.
Katara was an optimist, she like to believe the best of people but even she had been having a hard time seeing the silver lining in her current situation. She had been thinking worst case scenario, her family finding out, public humiliation and shame, being ostracized and forced to live on the fringes of society with the very obvious result of her indiscretion. Because Chief's Daughter or not that was how things were done in the water tribe.
The best case scenario Katara had barely let herself hope for was for Zuko to deny paternity publicly, then privately set her up with a house in a city far away from him and the gossip and quietly support his child.
She had not expected Zuko to be willing to sacrifice his future for hers, but as she glanced at his face once more she realized she probably should have. Zuko never gave up, not ever, not when his father gave him the impossible task of finding the Avatar, not when chasing Aang and the rest halfway round the world, not even when it came time for him to defy his father to do what was right. He would not give up on her.
Katara wasn't sure she could let Zuko do this.
She opened her mouth to protest but he cut her off.
"Before you say anything, I'm sure." He answered her unspoken question as if he could read her mind. "If you didn't want me to take responsibility you should never have told me. " Honor.
"But Zuko I-"
"Look I don't want to hear whatever self righteous reasons you have for telling me" Zuko said with the unintentional bite of his old sneer. Katara could feel her temper rising, but before she could do anything more that grunt angrily (She was NOT self righteous!) Zuko spoke again.
"But you chose to tell me and now I'm choosing to do the honorable thing here and marry you. It takes two to tango right?"
When she looked unconvinced he continued quickly. "Look I'm not just going to abandon you! You can't just waltz in here and say 'oh hello Zuko how have you been? Oh by the way I'm PREGNANT with YOUR CHILD' and just expect me to let you waltz right out of here again. That's MY heir you're carrying and by Agni I am going to do the right thing by you for his sake! I DON'T CARE about whatever stupid objections you might have because they are stupid and needlessly self sacrificing. I'M THE FIRE LORD DAMN IT AND WE ARE GOING TO GET MARRIED!" Zuko hadn't realized how worked up he was getting, or that he was nearly shouting at the top of his lungs until all the flames in the room suddenly roared higher.
Katara promptly burst into tears. Zuko was immediately remorseful.
"Oh god don't cry-" He wasn't good with girls, or tears, or girls with tears. Especially not Katara, she was supposed to be fierce and strong, and kick his ass. Before Zuko was fully aware of what he was doing he had closed the distance between him and Katara, holding her firmly in his embrace as she sobbed into his shoulder.
"I didn't mean to make you cry" He tried, which only seemed to make Katara cry harder.
She couldn't help it. She had worn herself so thin worrying about his reaction, her family's reaction, the whole damn situation and suddenly he was saying he wanted to make things a whole lot easier for her because it was the right thing to do.
As she cried into his shoulder she wondered why he had transformed from a selfish boy into a man when she hadn't been looking.
"Zuko- this isn't going to be easy." She warned.
"I Know" Zuko whispered holding her tighter. And he did know. There would be rumors, and gossip and scandal, despite their best efforts to stop it. Then there was the reaction of Katara's Family, Zuko paled a little at the thought of facing down a pissed off, boomerang wielding Sokka. But Zuko would stand firm, like he always did. He would not give up. Honor.
"Suki is going to be so mad." She whispered more to herself than anything. When he quirked his eyebrow at her in question she smiled "I think Suki was really hoping to get married first."
He grinned a little at that. "Oh well, Uncle will be pleased. He loves babies, and weddings. Any occasion he can shop for. "
She snorted in laughter and then immediately sobered. "So we're actually going to do this huh?"
"Ok" She said firmly, and Zuko could see her determination. She was willing to face this challenge with him.
"Ok." He answered. As she buried her head in his shoulder once more, the warm feeling in Zuko's brain exploded across his chest, for the moment overcoming his fears and uncertainties, and he recognized it, even if he wasn't ready to put a name to it just yet. But it was the part of Zuko that had always secretly admired Katara and it was the impulse that had led him to take her to bed two months ago after a night of celebrating his coronation.
Maybe this whole thing was just a big mistake, Zuko thought, but his heart whispered Maybe not.
A/N II: I may or may not be continuing this depending on how well it is received! Let me know what you think!