Disclaimer: I would do so many nice things with the canon if this series were mine. Sadly, all of my nice things remain in fanon alone.
Notes: "Try it," he kept saying. "You're going to like this show." I relented. We watched all the way through it in two weeks. I decided early on that there was no way Katara didn't close her eyes at night without seeing that firebrand scar glowing in the dark behind her lids. I have so many other fandom projects to be working on. I hope these two will get out of my head long enough to do it (I mean you, both of you, stop planning your series right now!)
Making The Pieces Fit
Now that he's married, Fire Lord Zuko has had to get used to doing some things differently.
There is the matter of the bed. Strictly speaking, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the bed. Neither one of them have any objections to its worth as a bed- soft, wide, curtained, draped with sleek silk and crisp linen and sheets so thin they feel like gossamer whispering against Katara's skin as she curls into Zuko to sleep, their coolness across her bare breast a chill but a welcome contrast to his chest against her back like a firebrand.
It's not that it's a bad bed. When they slip between its sheets at night it welcomes them and the mattress seems to have learned their shapes already. Even if they fall asleep with distance between their bodies, the bed always seems to have rolled them together by morning. Zuko will forever deny to anyone and everyone (whose name is not Katara) that he likes to snuggle. He insists it must be the bed. She knows better, but if it makes him feel better, makes him feel a little more like the Fire Lord and a little less like the boy who is still figuring this out, she'll insist right along with him.
The problem with the bed is that he hates having to Firebend to dry it.
Zuko reflects that there is no manual of How to Woo and Wed a Waterbender. If there were, he surely would have read it, and been prepared. But he wasn't prepared for the first time that they came together, bodies rolling into and washing over each other like the waves drenching the shoreline, their skin searing into each other, and he wasn't prepared for the way her arms suddenly felt liquid gliding against his body, or the way that he suddenly felt as though he were diving inside an oasis to shelter himself from the sun that beat against him from all sides, or the way her hands spasmed in his hair as her head slipped back against the pillow- or the way his hair, and his back, and the blankets, were suddenly soaked.
Katara had turned a delightful shade of pink when she realized, and then she couldn't meet his eyes and looked like she wanted to cry, and although he felt as though he'd been doused in cold water- and although he more or less had been- and although he still felt like a powder keg with the wick half burnt and the flame still sizzling towards home, he curled her against his shoulder, his wet hair and all. The mattress was soaked. The linen dripped. The drenched thin cotton sheets, he had to admit, clung to her body in a rather attractive fashion.
He chased the moisture out of the bed and kissed her forehead and said "Someday this will be funny," and then realized with panic choking his throat like coal that such things might also happen to Firebenders, and Waterbenders might be equally unprepared, and that he might burn her in all sorts of inconvenient places, but he didn't have much time to think about it because Katara (her hands still a little damp, his head still dripping) pressed back up against him and kissed him (an apology, an invitation) and the fundamental principle upon which their relationship had been founded was, after all, that his tides could not resist her moon.
To his immense relief, Katara said later that it felt really, really nice when his hands got warm like that against her breast and her cheek.
But the problem remained that the bed was not waterproof and he was married (finally) to a willful, determined, and absolutely irresistible Waterbender who (praise Agni) seemed to have the same ideas about his body that he had about hers. And one of these days, when he goes to dry them, he is going to burn the sheets.
The perks of being the Fire Lord include the ability to obtain a rather credible man-made replica of a hot spring, and that works for awhile, except that he has never figured out how to breathe underwater and she has the absolutely maddening tendency to ignite him and make his heart beat double time by leaning over him like the forbidden fruit she'd been for so long. The way she kisses him makes him feel like he's drowning and oh, what a way to die, but he'd rather die breathing in her than water. He almost dies both ways before he remembers how to inhale and when he comes up for air he nearly chokes on the steam they've apparently made without trying.
He has a waist-deep pool added to their hot spring sanctuary, with smooth rocks placed strategically, and arranges for a waterfall, too.
And that works for awhile, too, and even better because of the way she likes to play with the water as it cascades over and around and into their bodies, and the positively wicked way she has of changing the temperature of a single droplet by minute degrees as she steers it around his body. Cool caressing his scar, warming across the angles of his jaw and sliding down his neck and then cooling as it traces spirals and designs and words across his chest- I love you I love you I love you. And then the droplet's slipping down across the taut muscle of his stomach and then warming again as it slowly, agonizingly slicks its way down lower still. He tries too, tries warming the handfuls of water with which he anoints her skin, but still the way she finds release like a geyser is so, so much more addicting and the things she can do with her element make him feel like the sun, life burning out of his pores until he feels he glows.
He loves that waterfall, and so does she, loves the anytime rain and the way they become part of the cascade, Katara wrapped around his shoulders and his hips and her head against his neck and his head bowed over hers, his arms clutching her closer, closer. The water washes his forelock onto her hair and combs it over her back and his arms. He's wrapped in a cloak of water and Katara and even when he loses his balance and they crash into the stone wall- he slams his shoulder into the rock so as not to jar her- he's never felt so strong and so grounded as when she surrounds him. And when they shudder into each other and fall back against the water and the wall, it's the cascade that cradles them. He warms it, she wraps it around them. They cocoon in it, in it and each other, until their breathing calms. He still doesn't let her go. She kisses his neck, he kisses her hair, his heartbeat drums against her breast and hers flutters into his skin. He thinks how he is the luckiest man in the world.
And they're lucky when they hear the branches crackle. Katara sinks underwater and Zuko positively humiliates a couple strolling by their outdoor oasis by pretending they've walked in on the Fire Lord bathing. It's embarrassing. It's downright shaming. Only she should see his scars. But they haven't walked in on her.
After that, though, after the pools of different depths and the waterfall and the way Katara looks when she swims up to and against and around him, the great soaking tub in their shared bathroom is less than impressive.
He doesn't know if it's selfishness that makes him design indoor pool after pool for her- for them- or if it's an apology because he doesn't know how to do the things she seems to know intrinsically, and because what could he do with his element that would compare?
It's worse when they visit her people in the South Pole because the sight, the smell, the taste and feel of her make him so hot that they find their bedroll sinking. He's melted the ice.
Katara thinks this is hilarious. Zuko feels like slinking off and curling up in a snow bank. Katara thinks that sounds like it could be fun. Zuko wonders, and he hates to admit that it isn't for the first time, if his beloved isn't the slightest bit crazy.
One night she says quietly that he doesn't have to- she doesn't need- and that way they can stay in bed, and not worry about- and it's pitch black in their room but Zuko knows she's looking down and he can read the shame in her eyes even though he can't see her, and what he feels against his chest are her lashes and what might be a tear. She can't cry- not her, not the way she's lit his life, he won't watch the smile that reminds him every day that he's forgiven sundown from her face. She can't cry the same way that he can't not touch her until she's a waterfall herself; either would be wrong, so wrong they'd offend the universe itself. He knows she's about to do what he both loves she will and hates that she feels she has to. She's cursed with the gift of putting herself last in her own priority list.
He holds her closer until he feels her heartbeat. He tells her brusquely not to be ridiculous. His tone is as sharp as ever; she's redeemed him, not changed him. "They're just sheets," he says. "It's just a bed." He can't tell her that he loves the way the water caresses his body, he can't tell her that he loves the water because it's part of her, he can't tell her it's like she has extra hands. He can only whisper it, he can only leave embers on her skin. She smiles against his chest and he can feel her tongue touching him on every other word. I can make them hands. If you want.
He is the Fire Lord. His body temperature is naturally several degrees higher than the norm for any other elemental bender. Somehow she makes him hotter. Somehow she always knows- even when she isn't trying- how to lick a match against him and light him up.
They give up, and mutually decide to just be careful with the fires they set and the dams they break. But he can't be careful with her lithe body weaving around him and he won't be careful if it means turning away from one of the kisses that he's pretty sure will melt him one day, leaving him a pool to evaporate into her moonlight. She tells him she can't and won't be careful if it means she can't see the way his eyes close in divine ecstasy the moment they twine together or watch him struggle for dominion over the muscles that twitch and flex when he feels ready to burst into flame. She won't be careful if it means that the next day she won't wake up with speckles on her skin from the little fires in his flesh.
One day, inevitably, as the soaked sheets decorate her curves in the most alluring way, and they're both catching their breath, when Zuko lays a hand to the bed to dry the linens he catches that smile that makes him feel that he's always forgiven and he feels so full of sunlight that it happens.
He sets the bed on fire.
She makes him feel like liquid in her hands, and he wants to melt himself into the floor. She seems to think it's funny. He's sure it isn't. She interrupts his flow of curses with the lips that speak words he can never resist. It isn't the first time they've slept on the floor.
The perks of being the Fire Lord include the ability to get new sheets the next day, if he orders them.
The perks of being the Fire Lord, wrapped around his alluring Master Waterbender, include that she keeps him burning hot enough to keep them both warm, all night.