Katara and Iroh helped Zuko to his feet. Despite healing him, he was still stiff and sore. Iroh draped one of his arms over his shoulder and Katara looked to her father, silently asking permission to go with them. With a nod, her full attention was back on Zuko as she pulled his other arm over her shoulder and helped support his weight on their way out of the arena. Iroh led them all into the cabin they had been staying in and they eased Zuko onto a couch heavily padded with furs. Katara was smoothing his hair and making sure he was comfortable while Zuko held her hand and was unable to stop looking at her.
"I'll go make some tea." Iroh excused himself and disappeared into the kitchen to give them some alone time.
"How're you feeling?" She asked softly.
"Like hell." He said bluntly.
She started to stand. "I'll get some water and see if I can make it hurt less."
He tugged the hand he still held hard enough to pull her back onto the couch. "Don't leave." He pleaded, almost sounding panicked.
"I was just going to-"
"I'm fine. As long as you're here, I'm fine." They sat in silence for a while, Zuko slowly rubbing his thumb across the back of her hand, watching her carefully as she worried her lip between her teeth and would sneak glances at him.
"Katara…" His voice broke and she turned her blue eyes to him. "I…"
"Teas ready!" Iroh announced sweeping into the room and placing a tray with a steaming pot and three teacups on the table nearby. Zuko sighed as Iroh started pouring cups and passing them out. It was warm in Kataras cold hands and she inhaled the flowery scent of jasmine tea she had been craving since leaving the fire nation behind.
"I did promise you some tea before we left." Iroh said smiling fondly at her.
She took a small sip. "Yes, I've missed it. Nothing has ever been as good."
"You flatter me dear."
"So…" her eyes on the amber liquid in her cup. "When are you leaving?"
"The plan was to leave this afternoon after the tournament," Iroh watched as Zuko's grip tightened on his cup and the steam rising from it and Katara started turning her own cup in her hands. "But that was just an idea. We have plenty of time so we're in no hurry."
Katara nodded, mostly to herself. A long tense silence stretched between them.
"Well, I'm going to go for a walk; perhaps I can entice Paku into a game of pai sho." He said with a wry grin and left the cabin.
Without looking up, Katara asked quietly, "So when are you planning on leaving."
"I don't know."
She chanced a glance at him and found his burning gaze boring into her. A light blush colored her cheeks and she stared at the amber liquid once more.
"Katara, I'm probably an idiot for asking, but I have to know, why are you here right now?"
Feigning ignorance she answered simply. "I'm drinking tea."
A tight frown crossed his lips and the corners of his eyes crinkled. "You know that's not what I meant." He sat up straighter and winced.
Katara set her teacup on the table. "Because you're hurt. I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Haru was hurt too." It was barely a whisper.
"He had other healers working on him." She answered a shade too quickly.
"It could have been the other way around. You came to me though."
Getting flustered and frustrated she bit out her next words. "Would you have rather me leave you there?"
He quickly put his cup down as well. "No, that's not what I meant. I…" He ran a hand down his face, slowly massaging the bridge of his nose. "That's not what I meant. Katara," he tried again, peering over his hand at her. "You chose me, didn't you?" It was between a question and an accusation.
"I don't know what you mean." She said brusquely and went to stand and take her cup from the table to the sink. Something caught her wrist and she was pulled into a warm body. Zuko was standing with a slightly pained look on his face, clasping her wrist and pulling her back into him.
Her back was to his chest and his eyes closed, inhaling her scent of sea water and lilacs, cheek brushing against her hair as he spoke into her ear. "Despite all I've done to you, you still love me?" There was pain and hope, an unbearable mix, in his voice.
She couldn't speak. She didn't know what to say and her heart was pounding so hard and her gut clenched painfully. Was she really unable to have let him go? She had run single mindedly to him in the arena, she was here with him now… Haru, no matter how much she cared for him, couldn't elicit this kind of response from her. Her legs were shaking so badly it was hard to stand and she leaned her weight into him. The hand holding her wrist found its way to her waist and urged her to turn and face him. Somehow she managed.
"I never meant to hurt you. I still love you. In the arena, I tried to prove myself… that earth bender sure packs a punch though." He tried for a small laugh to lighten the mood, but it quickly died on his lips.
"He almost killed you." She murmured, head down and hair falling to hide her expression. "You could have died."
"I wasn't going to give up."
"If Aang hadn't done something…"
"I was going to win or I was going to die trying. I love you so much that my life isn't worth anything without you. In the fire nation, when you ran without seeing me and left your bracelet, when you wouldn't return my letters… I couldn't sleep, I was never hungry. I just sat in my room; I still had a shirt that you used to wear that smelled like you. I messed up; I mean I really messed up. At one point, it got so bad that I found my dagger, I sat there with it in my palm and I thought how easy it would be to drag the blade across my wrists. Uncle came in before I had made up my mind and told me about the tournament; how there was still hope. I'd do anything to get you back, go to any length to prove myself."
"You idiot." She interrupted. He looked down stunned and she was half heartedly glaring at him through damp eyes. "You don't have to die for me."
He took her hands in his. "But I would."
"I would do anything for you Katara."
"Stay with me?" She asked so quietly he wasn't sure she had even said it.
His features eased and he no longer felt any pain, in fact, he felt light. He pulled her into his arms and held her close, whispering in her ear. "Forever."
It was a few hours before Katara returned home. Her father was sitting by the fire and smiled lovingly at his only daughter and she smiled in return. Gran Gran was sitting next to him and just winked knowingly at her, but no one spoke. Katara was headed towards her room, but the light at the end of the hall made her pause. Haru was in there. She had almost forgotten about him. Suddenly guilt consumed her and all her feelings of resolve and happiness evaporated and she loathed herself for what she had done to him. He would hate her now for sure. She deserved it and it was probably better that way. She knocked tentatively on the door.
She quietly eased the door open and peeked around it. "Hi." She felt so miserable right now. She saw that he had been packing. His duffel bag sat on his bed with some folded clothes and she wished she could just curl up and die right there.
"Hey. Come on in."
She shuffled in around the door and quietly closed it behind her, wringing her hands. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore, but the healers said that was normal." He was acting so calm and normal, it just added to the knife twisting in her gut.
"Haru…" Her voice broke and she started crying, and angrily wiping away the tears. "I'm so sorry!"
"Hey… Hey now…" He quickly closed the space between them and hugged her. "It's alright."
She shook her head. "No it's not. I'm a terrible person."
Haru held her at arm's length and brushed away some of her tears. "No you're not."
"Yes I am. I've been horrible to you and now you're leaving."
"Shhh…" He soothed, pulling her back into a comforting embrace. "I'm leaving because it's my time to go."
"I didn't mean to drive you away or break your heart."
"I know. It's not your fault. I should have known better. Actually, I did know better, but I still cherish our time together. I knew you always loved him." At this point she started sobbing into his chest. How could he be so nice? She was some kind of monster.
"Shhh…" He hushed her again. "Don't cry. Remember what I've been saying all along?"
Miserably she wiped her cheeks and shook her head.
He smiled down at her with kindness shining in his eyes. "I've always just wanted you to be happy. You came to me broken hearted and I tried to fix it, but I was never the right man. You'll be happy with Zuko and that's all I want for you."
"Haru…" She started.
"Don't. Really, I'll be okay. It's not your fault." He always knew the right thing to say. That's what he was good at.
"I love you too though."
"I know. I also know it's not the same. But thank you for loving me in your own way."
She almost started sobbing again. "No more crying. It should be a happy day. Go; be with your fiancée or your friends and family. I'll be fine; just make sure to visit every now and then, okay?"
Haru hugged her one last time, gave her a reassuring smile and she left to calm down in her room and give Suki all the details she was dying to hear.
It was a quiet dinner that night. All the competitors had gone home, even Haru, Suki and Toph after a long goodbye with all their friends. Kanna and Katara had made up a simple dinner for everyone in their house plus Zuko and Iroh. There was a long lapse in conversation so Kanna made it her mission to make things even more awkward then they already were.
"So," She asked looking at her granddaughter and then Zuko. "When's the wedding?"
Katara flushed bright red, Zuko dropped his chopsticks and Sokka started choking on his dinner. Iroh chuckled and Hakoda cleared his throat.
"Mother…" He warned.
"What? Zuko won the tournament and clearly Katara has chosen him as well. They were once engaged, and I want to know when the wedding is." She asked innocently enough.
"We haven't quite had a chance to discuss it yet." Zuko said smoothly regaining his composure.
"It should be in the spring. Spring symbolizes new life; like the one you will have together."
"A spring wedding would be nice." Katara admitted, squeezing Zuko's hand and giving him a shy smile.
"We could always have it at the palace." Iroh offered. "That's where Zuko's parents wed. Maybe by the turtle duck pond or in the garden? We have wonderful cooks." Iroh offered the last bit to Sokka who was frowning at his dinner.
"That sounds like a nice wedding." Hakoda said, smiling at his daughter in approval. "I also understand that you'll be living in the fire nation." He added.
Katara nodded slowly. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Kanna asked. "For living your life and being happy? Zuko can't run his country from the South Pole. You'll just have to visit us every now and then."
"Oh course I'll visit you!"
"We both will." Zuko said.
Everyone had voiced their approval and excitement except for her brother. "Sokka?" Katara asked hesitantly.
The young warrior sighed and put down his chop sticks. He turned to Zuko, a warning glint in his eye. "Just treat her right. You make her cry again and you'll have to answer to me and my boomerang."
Zuko nodded, taking his threat very seriously. "I vow to never hurt her again. If I do, I will gladly accept your justice."
Sokka smiled. "Good. Then I approve."
Katara rolled her eyes but Zuko smiled. The rest of the night, plans for the wedding were discussed.
6 Months Later
"Zuko!" His wife called into his study where he had been reviewing the latest trade treaty with King Kuei.
"What is it, darling?" He asked, coming to her and brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. She leaned in and kissed him sweetly.
"It's about time." He teased with a small smile pulling at his lips. The royal couple walked down the stairs to the greeting hall, their red cloak and dress trailing behind them respectively. Once they were in the greeting room, doors closed, all decorum was lost.
"Aang! Sokka! Suki! Toph! Dad! Gran Gran!" Katara cried in turn, flinging herself onto each with a lingering hug. "It's about time you came to visit us! We finally got everything just the way we like it about a month ago and things have been a bit hectic." She explained, looping her arm in her husband's and leading them on a tour of her new home. She was so blissfully happy; it was hard to imagine this was her life. All of her friends, family and her love, Zuko; it was just so perfect. They had all come a long way and times had been rough, but it was well worth the journey and nothing would truly be forgotten.
Sarahplainntall here! SOOOO sorry for the long wait. One thing after another, but I hope the wait was worth it. Left the very end a bit vague, but have fun and let your imaginations fill in the blanks. Please review and thanks for sticking with me till the end!