In the dark quiet of the night she sits alone on the steps of the courtyard. Music still plays in the streets and on the beach below. She hugs her legs to her chest, biting at the salty flesh of her knee. Images keep playing in her head like the music outside, and as the notes rise with anger a rich excitement is laced underneath. She feels the sad and silver threnody beat in sync with her heart.
The song in her mind is dark and monotonous like a slow march. Not sad but like the whole world is dead and black and there is no use thinking back to how is was before—before they came for her mother, before the fate of the world rested on a young boy's shoulders. He is too young—they are all too young—to be fighting a war, to be dying for the sins of others. The song has become their threnody, the beat of their own death march.
Laughter drifts in the air, mocking and hollow, and she curls her hands into fists. She pounds the music of their laughter into her thigh, pounding with all her strength until the tears begin to stream down her face. But for some reason she cannot feel her fists hard enough, so she picks up a loose rock from the steps and begins to scrape it up and down on the same spot until her hand comes away bloody.
She collapses onto her back and looks up at the night sky. With the fiery hurt in her leg she feels a little bit better; her breathing comes back to her slow and shallow.
She turns her head to see Zuko standing on the top of the landing, looking down at her with sleep in his eyes. He's shirtless, lean and wiry, and he runs his fingers over the smooth pink ridge of his scar up into his hairline.
He looks exhausted and confused and he sleepily murmurs her name again, dropping his hand before his eyes widen in shock. He can see the blood dripping down her thigh and he takes a hurried step forward and then another until he is kneeling beside her with his hands on her leg.
"Nothing," she mumbles, sitting upright and turning away.
She summons water from the fountain and begins to heal herself, hoping that he will just go away and leave her be. But his fingers are on her chin and he lifts her face to meet his eyes. They're such beautiful eyes despite his deformity. Looking into them, she is reminded of the sky at sunset—the way his eyes curve like the inside of a glass ball, golden yellow with specks of amber like stars.
"I'm scared," she admits, not knowing why his eyes make her confess so easily.
His fingers curve up her jaw, touching her ear before his hand curls around the back of her neck. He pulls her forward so that her forehead rests against his. Her tears begin to flow freely now, her bloody leg forgotten.
"So am I." His palm presses warmly on the back of her neck. "But we'll finish this war together, as a family. I promise I won't let anything happen to you."
There is a warm smell of cedars wafting through the air, and she can no longer hear the angry music down below. There is only the sound of them breathing, the staccato beating of their hearts. No longer a threnody, the song has become a hymn; beautiful and clear and she can sing it if she wants to. And she will some day.
Some day when their world is at peace.
Author's notes: Aang got his moment to panic and stress out after the Ember Island Players (and I don't blame him one bit), but what about the others? This is my take on Katara's anger and fear and how awesome a friend Zuko is.
*Threnody is a lament or dirge in the form of a song.
Disappointing way to end the series? Maybe. But with the title "Unrequited" you weren't really expecting two lovers kissing—were you? Regardless, I hope you enjoyed the collection. In the meantime, keep an eye out for an upcoming multi-chaptered dark/angst Zutara fic, The Fifth Column.
Thank you for all the reviews and favourites, as they equal love and are much appreciated by humble ol' me. ^_^