Special Thanks to: My wonderful Betas, Syberian Quest and Linda. Sy, you're so talented, and I'm honored you'd Beta me. I can't thank you enough. Linda, you already know how much I appreciate you and your amazing writing/editing skills. Thanks for everything.
By the Shadow of the Moon
~Love begins with a smile, grows with a kiss, and ends with a teardrop~
Snow crunched beneath his shoes. An icy wind smacked him in the face, but he bit his lip and continued on, unnoticed by the surrounding villagers who were used to the cold. They were all used to this one little town. After traveling for so long, he didn't know if he could ever become so familiar with a single location ever again. He didn't know what to call home.
He never did like the Northern Water Tribe with its towering walls, ice houses, and freezing climate. Everything was exactly as he remembered. It had been too long since he'd last visited, and time had changed him. You could say that he was a different person. This wouldn't even scratch the surface of the truth.
He trudged against the blustery weather with no one but his thoughts to accompany him, when finally, he arrived at his destination.
Even the wooden door that led to the most spiritual part of the Water Tribe was the same. It hadn't been destroyed in the siege that took place so long ago. Had he really been a part of that?
Shaking the memory from his thoughts, he pulled the door open and was immediately overwhelmed by a wave of heat. He removed his hood. The door creaked as it revealed a beautiful oasis – a little green island in the middle of a village made of nothing but ice.
He walked across the bridge and set foot on the grass. In the middle of the island lay a pool of mystical water, the home of the moon and ocean spirits that lived on Earth in the form of koi fish. They circled each other in perfect balance. If this balance was ever disturbed, the world would surely be destroyed.
This made him think of his beloved, a brave girl who sacrificed herself to return life to the wounded moon spirit and restored order to the world. He had never known she'd possessed such selflessness and strength. After knowing Yue for only a short time, he had almost thought she was just a pretty face.
He could still picture her shiny blue eyes and pearly-white hair that cascaded down her parka. And when she smiled, even the sun would grow jealous. The very thought brought back a wave of memories. It hit him just as hard every time. She was really gone.
It all started when he had agreed to meet her at the oasis.
"Oh, you're here!" she exclaimed, rushing over to him the moment he stepped foot on the bridge. "It was starting to get late. I began to think you had forgotten."
"I got lost," he admitted. "It's hard to sneak out with no one hearing you."
"I can only imagine." Yue looked him straight in the eye and held his face in her hands. Her palms pressed softly against his cold cheeks. "You're freezing," she said quietly. "Absolutely chilled to the bone."
He reached up and held her wrist loosely. Her warm skin against his fingertips sent tingles down his spine. She caressed his cheek with her thumb.
"You touch your boyfriend like that?" he asked, his voice slightly bitter. Her eyes tore away from his.
"He's not my boyfriend," she mumbled, sitting down on a nearby rock. He joined her, and she took his hand as she continued, "I do not love him. Not like I love you."
Deep down, he knew he loved her too. Yue had touched a part of his heart that had not felt the fire of love since he had had his mother. He felt something special and was convinced that they would find some way to make things work.
"You met me two days ago," he said. "I don't understand how –"
"The moment I saw you, I knew at once that I would love you forever." She kissed his cheek. "Even though we will never be allowed to marry."
Gently, he gripped her upper arms with both hands and held her closely. It was so unlike him, but when he was with Yue, he was a different person.
"Yes, we will."
He pulled her in and kissed her as if the world depended on it.
The moon grew bright, but he felt as if the night around them had grown darker. A slight breeze whistled through his hair. Yue's arms wrapped around his neck, and he dreaded the moment when he would have to leave her.
When the kiss ended, she would not meet his eyes. Her gaze was on the moon, the only light that shone on the oasis.
"You seem sad," he said, frowning.
Perhaps she was worried about being discovered, or maybe she was just feeling guilty about spending time with him. Having another boy that she was so close to was probably what was making her so distant.
"I just… I just have a bad feeling that something dreadful is going to happen," she began. "The moon usually radiates positive energy to me, but right now, I'm feeling empty and sad."
He turned away from her. "I shouldn't have come. You only feel guilty when we spend time together. It's just not worth it." He couldn't explain it, but he hated seeing her so unhappy. Maybe hurting her would make her realize how miserable she actually was.
"How dare you say that!" she cried. "Every second means the world to me!"
She spun him around and kissed him again. The moon shone a little brighter.
"This may be the last time we see each other," he said. She pulled him into a hug, and he held her in his strong embrace as if shielding her from the world's cruelties. They only had this one moment to hold onto, to create memories that would last a lifetime.
"It won't," Yue insisted. "You'll always be my prince. I love you, Zuko."
Zuko let himself smile.
"I love you too."
The words felt dry on his lips. And little did he know, it would be the last time he would say them in a very long time.
There she was.
He stared at the white koi fish swimming around in the pond at his feet.
There she was again.
His eyes met the radiant full moon above, his favorite thing in the sky.
"You are a beautiful moon spirit," Zuko said aloud.
The truth was that he had never seen Yue in her human body ever again. But whenever the urge hit, he would get lost in the night, look up at the sky, and whisper, "I love you." It never failed; the words were always bittersweet. The pain never seemed to lessen.
Zuko reached into his pocket and pulled out a small water lily, placing it in the water by the fish. For the first time in a long time, he felt at peace with himself.
That is, until a shout rang out. "What are you doing? Hey, you're Fire Nation!" A night guard had spotted him.
Zuko grit his teeth in frustration. He had left the door open.
Before things could get ugly, he fled, dashing past the man and running as fast as his legs could carry him. The more he ran, the more his temper flared. That man was just another reminder of his spoiled relationship with Yue.
But maybe it was for the better. Now he could see her whenever he wanted to. It would always be their little secret.
Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.
Princess Yue of the Water Tribe.
The couple that could never be.