Fire and Ice
The plan to invade the Souther Raiders went off without a hitch. Katara was fierce, more so than Zuko would have ever given her credit for. He had come into the mission prepared to cover her, to power through the opposition for her. But time and time again, just as he was preparing to strike an opponent down with a blast of fire, a whip of water would lash them away. Soon the two of them were moving through the halls shoulder to shoulder, fire and ice, felling man after man.
At last the cockpit was before them. He looked to Katara to find that her ocean blue eyes had hardened into two lapus lazuli with her determination. His own eyes traced the lines of her face, down to her lips, which were set in a hard line. His gaze lingered just a heartbeat longer.
"This is it." He said finally. She turned to meet his gaze wordlessly, simply nodding. She was ready.
The door burst open, a tidal wave of water announcing the arrival of the intruders. The man inside had been startled, clearling not expecting them to have made it this far into his ship. He quickly retaliated, a stream of fire materializing from his fist. Zuko easily deflected it with a motion of his hands, and began to fire back at him. The man jumped back against the helm, apparently surprised that he was a fire bender.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice snide.
"Don't remember her?" Zuko retorted with a hint of sarcasm. "You will soon. Trust me!" he released another burst of flame, aiming for the man's face. He dodged it easily, the flame deflecting harmlessly off of the helm. The man had prepared a counter strike when suddenly his closed fist froze mid-air. Zuko gave a hesitant step back, unsure of the situation. The ship's captain began to wave his arm around spastically in stiff, sudden motions.
"What - is - happening to me?" Fear tinged the man's voice. Frantically he grasped the out of control limb with his other hand, trying unsuccessfully to free himself of the freak spell that had taken control of him. Suddenly, his arm trust downward, dragging his entire body with him. A hint movement caught Zuko's eyes as he turned his head slightly towards it; it was Katara, making motions with her hands. His eyes opened wide with the sudden realization: somehow, she was doing this to him.
He turned my attention back to the captain. "Think back. Think back to your last raid on the Southern Water Tribe." Zuko commanded sternly, accusingly.
"I - I don't know what you're talking about!" The man stammered.
"Don't lie!" The Fire Prince shouted, getting down onto the floor and into his face. "You look her in the eye and tell me you don't remember what you did!"
Katara thrust her palm skyward, forcing the captain to sit up and stare at her face to face. His obvious fear and helplessness caused Zuko to turn away in disgust.
"Its not him," came her voice in a shocked whisper.
Aboard the bison, Katara was inconsolable. As Zuko steered them away from the ship, he heard the soft thump of her fist beating on Appa's saddle. "Come on, its not Appa's fault that we found the wrong guy," he teased. For once, she was the dark and brooding one, while he tried to keep things light-hearted. Katara glared, a storm brewing in those sky-blue eyes of hers. Zuko offered a small smile, but it only seemed to increase her inward fury.
He flew them towards a small group of islands a safe distance away from the ship. It was really no more than some boulders jutting out of the ocean; perhaps a long-forgotten mountain range, burried beneath a watery grave. The rock that they chose to land on was seemlingly not much larger than Appa. The bison roared once and lay flat on his belly, content to rest after nearly two straight days in the sky. Zuko removed a yellowed map of the Fire Nation and the surrounding areas from his pack to study it carefully. Katara sidled up closer to him; their shoulders touched as she looked on to the map. Zuko could feel the tips of his ears burn as she rested her cheek against his arm.
"You almost seem like you know what you are looking for." She offered a light tease, but her voice seemed flat and dispassionate. The firebender's lips turned into a slight smile in return anyway. This seemed to please her.
"That's because I do. You must have been too busy brooding to realize that I was questioning some of the men on our way out." He hadn't meant to offend her, but he could see a tinge of hurt in her liquid blue eyes. Zuko put her arm around her gently to show that he had meant no harm, but she cooly shrugged it away. He sighed, turning his concentration back towards the map.
"There." He pointed to a small island, no more than a colored dot on the detailed map. Katara, lost in a reverie, perked up at the sudden announcement. Her brows furrowed as she glared at the dot, as if she could burn away the island's very existance from the earth just by staring at its image on the map.
Soon, she would have the revenge that she desired.
"His name is Yan Rha." Zuko said, finally breaking the silence that had settled between them for what seemed like hours.
Katara shifted her legs in an attempt to sit more comfortably atop Appa's large neck, but to no avail. She wondered how could Aang stand to fly on this thing so much. She leaned forward, placing her palm firmly against her spine in an attempt to alleaviate the soreness there.
Yan Rha. The name itself somehow seemed tyranical in its own right. She tried to picture his face, to remember what it had looked like. It had mostly been hidden behind a grotesque Fire Nation naval mask, but she could remember one detail intimately. His eyes. They were a rich brown color, like the color of polished mahogany. But a fire flickered deep inside them. Not a warm, spirited flame, such as the kind that burned within Zuko's golden eyes. It was a cold, chilling and discomforting, like the flame of a funeral pyre. Katara knew the eyes of the enemy almost as well as she knew her own reflection. That was how she had come to the conclusion that the man who had been leading the Southern Raiders was not the same man who had killed her mother.
She was interrupted from her reverie by a sudden warming sensation on her hands and back. Zuko had leaned up against her, unclenching her hands for her. In her state of flowing consciousness, she had subconsciously balled them into fists. Despite his warmth, Katara froze, her muscles clenched in uncomfortable stiffness. With a sigh, the exiled prince released her from his grasp and backed away.
She turned her head around to look at him. His liquid golden eyes seemed softer than usual, somehow kinder. Her brows furrowed, eyes narrowing distrustfully. "What is with you?" The words had come out sharper than she had intended; Zuko flinched as if he had been physically stabbed by them.
But the hurt in his eyes quickly evaporated, flaring into anger. "What is with me? I'm just trying to be nice!"
Katara suddenly realized that during this entire trip he had taken any excuse to make physical contact somehow. For what possible reason puzzled her to no end. As far as she knew, he wasn't upholding some Fire Nation code of honor by comforting her (not that she would pin Zuko for the type who would avoid social faux pas!)
Or maybe he really was just trying to be friendly.
She gave sheepish glance back towards the firebender. He was in in his classic brooding pose: arms crossed over his lean but muscular chest, head turned away from the object of his brooding, eyebrows furrowed over dark amber eyes, staring into the distance. Katara let out a soft sigh; Zuko's eyes twitched in her direction for a fraction of a moment before turning away more violently than before. Her lips upturned into a slight smile at his boyish behavior.
As she turned back towards the open sea in front of her, she noticed that a black mass had appeared on the horizon.
"Is that it?" She asked excitedly, pointing frantically into the distance like a little girl.
Zuko took a moment out of his brooding to stare into the direction indicated. He glanced quickly down at the map, which he had pinned under his knee.
"Looks like it." His words were barely audible over the rush of the wind atop the flying bison. Katara worried the top of her lip with her teeth guiltily, a habit that she had formed long ago. When her mother was taken, she inherited all of her responsibilities. Sokka often recieved the brunt of her matriarchal reign, thus she was used to feeling guilty over something she had said or done to him.
"Look, I'm sorry. " Her apology had obviously not turned out as smoothly as she had planned. Zuko glanced balefully in her direction, acting as if he were reluctant to acknowledge her very existence.
"Sure." His voice was a gruff murmur. Katara let out a deep sigh and tilted her head skyward, as if looking to the spirits above for a little helping hand.
"No, Zuko. I'm really sorry I-"
"Its fine, Katara. Don't worry about me." He gave a sheepish smile, looking as boyish as ever with his long black locks dangling in front of his eyes.
She returned his smile briefly before shifting her gaze forward once again. The black mass had taken a more definite shape. The island seemed to be full of sharp edges where cliffs suddenly jutted from the surrounding greenery; perhaps a volcanic eruption had rendered the island so splintered in a paste age. A snake-shaped river coiled between the sharp edges, splitting the land mass neatly in two. There were only a few houses visible, and only one small gathering of buildings that could have been called a town. It was the perfect place for a high ranking Fire Nation official to retire. The beauty of the island somehow hightened the water tibe girl's hatred for the man who lived there, surrounded by such peace and tranquility. Yan Rha was his name. Soon, she swore, she would liberate the world of his existence.
Yan Rha walked with a ghost of confidence in his steps; he definitely seemed like a man who had once held power and authority. But somehow his gait also implied that he had done so many more than just four years ago. Yes, he walked with what might have once been confidence, but it was now just a sham, a spectre of what once was. A full head of silver-gray hair perched atop his sunken-looking visage, tied neatly in a traditional topknot. He wore a simple tunic of rust and deep marroon, typical of Fire Nation citizens.
She began to ask Zuko whether the entire nation had a dress code, but he quickly placed a finger on his lips and shook his head, instructing her to keep quiet. They were crouched within what might have been an abandoned shop. Or at the least, it had been closed for the day. Whatever the reason was for most of the shops being closed that day, it worked well in Katara and Zuko's favor. Unfortunately, the latter hadn't been swift enough to prevent a small peep from escaping his companion's lips, and the once-leader of the Southern Raiders turned cautiously in their direction. The two quickly ducked down; Zuko chastised Katara with his hard, amber colored eyes. She stuck my tongue out at him in return. He shot her a look that said as-soon-as-its-safe-I'm-going-to-rip-that-tongue-out-of-your-mouth. This just made her feel as if I were about to burst out laughing, but her mouth was being crushed by Zuko's hand before that could happen. Katara sighed into his palm, indicating that the feeling had passed. He slowly removed his hand and peaked up once again to gauge Yan Rha's position.
"Dammit, Katara!" He hissed, grabbing her by the sleeve and pulling her along. Yan Rha was on the move, and so were they. Swift and ninja-like, they ducked behind any cover available, each keeping a persistant eye on the graying old man.
At last the two of them reached the open road; there were very fiew places to dodge behind there. Katara knew then that she would have to face the man that took her mother from her - from her family - once and for all. Just then, with a sudden boom of thunder, the gray clouds ahead gave way, and rain began to pour from the heavens. Zuko turned towards the water bender and gave a stiff nod. Now was the perfect time for her to attack.
"Nobody sneaks up on me without getting burned!" A voice called out suddenly. A burst of flame shot out from the older man's fist, colliding with a tree that Zuko and Katara had been under not a moment before.
Ok, so he might be old, but he's still dangerous.
Satisfied, Yan Rha gathered up his dropped vegitables and continued down the road. Right into a trip wire. The two benders exchanged smug glances as the older man cried out, falling gracelessly into a muddy puddle. Katara couldn't help but grin wolfishly, taking supreme pleasure in his humiliating downfall. Before the man could get up, a ball of flame burst near his face, causing him to jump back. Zuko was standing before him, eyes glinting dangerously.
"We weren't hiding behind the bush." He stated bluntly before thrusting his fist forward, threatening to unleash another volley of flame against the man. "And I wouldn't try fire bending again!"
The man lay on his side in a pathetic heap before Zuko, begging for him to spare his life. Katara took a deep, calming breath before stepping out from behind her cover. Measured, confident strides marked her gait; she was determined to not only represent herself as a strong woman, but to represent the strength of her tribe, the tribe that he and his allies had decimated so many years ago.
"Do you know who I am?" she asked in a deep, throaty voice as she removed the mask that had been covering her nose and mouth. She looked into his dark brown eyes. They no longer had the power to strike fear within her. No, she saw only the tinest flicker of the flame that had burned within them all of those years ago.
"No, I'm not sure." There was a slight movement of his haggard and wrinkled face as he slowly answered. A hint of recognition in his eyes.
"You better remember me like your life depends on it!" Katara raised her voice, resorting to intimidation in order to jog his memory. He stared at her face a moment longer before the moment of truth finally hit him.
"Yes, I remember now. You're the little water tribe girl."
Just let her go and I'll give you the information you want.
Katara heard again in her mind the voice of her mother, trying to save her daughter from the strange and frightening Fire Nation officer. The memory of that day began to play out before her mind's eye, like watching actors on a stage, preforming the same play over and over again.
Mom, I'm scared.
She had been so young. Her eyes were no longer seeing what was in front of her. They saw only the blinding snow mixed with ash as she pushed herself forward, felt only the hot tears against her cold, numb, face as she tried desparately to find her father. It was only when the man said something about her mother giving herself up as the last Water Bender in the Southern Water Tribe that she jolted back to reality, as if being pulled out of a dream.
"She lied to you!" Katara cried. The revelation was so sudden, she felt dizzy and nausiated. Katara turned away, unable to look at him -at anyone- any longer. "She was protecting the last waterbender." Her voice faltered. She was on the verge of breaking down right then and there.
"What? Who?" The man's eyes opened wide with terror, possibly guessing for himself what the answer might be.
"Me!" Without warning, Katara held her arms out to her sides, stopping the rainfall around them. Small bubbles of water floated unaturally in mid-air. The man's eyes darted about fearfully as the water bender waved her arms gracefully through the air, manipulating the water into a liquid dome overhead. Violently her stance shifted; she thrust her hands forward, converting the liquid water into daggers of ice and sending them racing towards her mother's killer.
He should have died then and there. But the daggers froze just short of his fear-painted face. As suddenly as they had appeared, the ice transformed into water and splashed down upon the man harmlessly. However, Yan Rha was clearly still afraid for his life. He crawled through the muddy water and began to bargain, even offering up the life of his own mother as a sort of sacrifice. But Katara wasn't some angry vengeful goddess to be appeased by bloodlust. She ignored his pathetic drivelings.
"I always wondered what kind of person could do such a thing." She began slowly. "But now I think I understand." Yan Rha flinched backwards as the water tribe girl took a step closer to him. The sight of him, sitting in the mud, fearing her wrath, should have pleased her. But instead it only made her hate him more. Not with the hot vengeance that had posessed her soul before. It was a cold, dispassionate, almost pitying hate.
"There's just nothing inside of you. You're pathetic, and sad, and empty." Katara spat the words at him. He just sat there on his knees, looking more and more like a snivveling animal of some sort. Disgusted, she turned away. She never wanted to see his face ever again.
As much as I hate you, I just can't do it.
They walked side by side, back towards the overhang where Appa was hidden. Katara waved her hands above her head carefully, weaving a watery canopy that acted as an umbrella from the rain. She focused all of her attention on her bending, not wanting to address the cyclone of feelings that was whirling through her heart. Lazily she extended the dome, stretching it as far as she could, shrinking it to where it would just barely cover Zuko and herself. She did this a few times before it finally seemed to get on the fire bender's nerves.
"Would you stop that?" His voice wasn't angry or condemning. It was a simple request, and she oblidged with a soft sigh.
They continued to walk in silence, each left to their own thoughts. Katara began to feel regret; for not killing Yan Rha, for not avenging her mothers death, for ever coming to this island in the first place...
Her thoughts circled around one another, tying knots in her head until finally with a cry she let her hands drop, dumping a torrent of water down onto their shoulders. Zuko gave her an irritated look, but said nothing out of respect. At least he could understand some of what she had been going through.
Appa gave a muffled roar in greeting as Zuko and Katara approached the overhanging cliff. Katara walked over to the big animal and gave it gentle scratching, causing the wind bison to rumble in its throat softly. The rain was beginning to let up, leaving Appa free to roam around and search for food. At least he had stayed dry during the rainstorm. Their clothes had soaked through completely. Zuko yanked his damp shirt off of his body and tossed it onto the ground. Katara couldn't help but feel a bit envious; it was not the first time that she thought that boys were lucky that they could go shirtless without worrying about their modesty. Zuko seemed to sense her feelings and gave a short, mocking laugh.
"What are you, chicken?" He teased; his eyes flashed, daring her to prove him wrong.
A smirk played across Katara's face, answering the challenge first with haughty glances of her own, then by awkwardly fingering the opening of her shirt. His eyes opened wide, mouth agape and ready to protest when she pulled the heavy, waterlogged cloth over her head and tossed it next to his. Underneath she wore a simple white cloth that hid her modesty.
"Well? Are you going to stand there staring at me all day or are you going to make us a fire?" She bantered back. Zuko shook his head, his wet mop of hair flinging droplets of water towards Katara and Appa. The wind bison gave a soft roar in protest before taking off, while Katara held up her palms as an unsuccessful shield from the water.
"Whats the matter, Water Bender? Can't handle a little rain?" He returned, grabbing a small pile of kindling from their packs. Soon they had a roaring flame in front of them to dry off by. Unable to stand any amount of silence between them, Katara decided that teasing the former Fire Price proved to be much more plesant that confronting the dark, confusing thoughts that threatended to invade her consciousness at any moment.
"You know, I could have just bended the water out of our shirts." She said smugly. Zuko jerked his head to face her; his eyes narrowed as studdied her own, as if trying to somehow extract the truth behind her words.
After a moment, the firebender scoffed. "You just wanted to see me shirtless." Katara thought she could see a hint of pink tickle his ivory-white cheeks. It was somehow very becoming of him. A devilish grin danced across her face as she set her mind to initiating more of this phenomenon.
"What about me?" she asked daringly. Zuko's face began to burn so red that his unmarred flesh almost matched that of his scar. He mumbled something inintelligible into the crook of his elbow as he shifted awkwardly in his seat.
"Whats that, Zuzu? You want to hold my hand? Why didn't you say so?" Her fingers hesitantly brushed against his, sensing the natural heat that seemed to radiate off of his body. He pulled away so suddenly that she nearly fell into his lap. He held out his arms to stop her, wrapping his thin, strong hands around her bare stomach. The situation was suddenly becoming much more uncomfortable than originally planned. Now color painted both of their cheeks. Zuko overtly cleared his throat as he set the girl in an upright position on his lap. Katara seemed about to offer a hurried apology when suddenly his arms wrapped around her protectively. His grip was as hard as iron, but he held her just close enough so that it was comfortable, but not restricting. Neither spoke a word for several minutes. Katara suddenly realized that she was sitting up perfectly erect, her back taunt in an arrow-straight position. She began to relax, reposing against his lean, muscular chest. Zuko laid his chin on top of her head; she had never been this close to him before. She could hear the soft inhale and exhale of his breath. Suddenly, he sighed.
"Well this is weird." He offered lamely.
Katara couldn't help but give a nervous snort before stopping herself from laughing outright. He shifted his arms uncomfortably, almost as if to push her away. Her laughter had obviously unnerved him. Katara sighed as she rest her head lazily in the crook of his neck; the feel of the soft press of her cheek against his chest seemed to both unnerve him even further and soothe him at the same time. He closed his eyes and shifted his hands into a more comfortable position, the soft flesh of his wrists and fingertips sliding slowly along her bare abdomin. The sensation sent chills through her body, up her spine and into her shoulders. He whispered an apology into her chestnut colored hair, his warm breath brushing gently against her scalp.
Katara gently tilted her head upward to gaze at the Fire Prince's face. He had changed so much since she first laid eyes on him. But at the same time, she felt as if right then and there was the first time that she ever truly looked at Zuko. His jaw line had hardened over the years, while still retaining some of their boyish look, especially in his cheeks. She decided that she loved the way his soft, black locks hung in front of his eyes of liquid amber. The only thing that hadn't change - that could never change - about Zuko was his scar, except that maybe it seemed less noticible. Or maybe she had just gotten used to it.
As these thoughts flitted across her mind, those amber eyes met hers of ocean blue, if only for a heartbeat. In another heartbeat more, his lips met the mocha-colored flesh of her cheek. She turned her head ever so slightly, so that the tips of their noses met. He gazed at her longingly, only a hint of gold showing under his half-lidded eyes. He whispered her name so quietly that only she could possibly hear it as she lifted her hands along his chest until they rest upon his strong, sinewy back. She gave a quiet half-moan as his lips brushed against hers lightly. She felt the soft tip of his tongue trace her lower lip.
She wanted to pull away, but at the same time she never wanted for the kiss to end. Her arms instinctively found the back of his neck, and she pulled herself closer to him. Likewise he placed one hand firmly onto the small of her back, while the other ran through her thick, soft hair. Dual sensations of fire and ice coursed through their veins as the kiss intensified. Never before had either of them experienced such raw and primal passion. Before she even realized it, she was lying on the dusty ground with him on top of her. His chest lay on top of hers like a warm, smothering weight, but it only seemed to intensify her drive. Their tongues danced like twin dragons between their lips as Zuko traced the forbidden parts of her body with his finger tips. A cold fire seemed to erupt within her, coursing from the warm spot in between her thighs through the blue veins of her wrists.
How could a person live after being consumed by such a fire?
How could a person survive being frozen in ice?
She doesn't know why, but the words spring from some ancient and unknown source within her soul. Somehow, her thoughts turned to Aang, Sokka, and Toph. Behind her closed eyes she sees a river of faces. Gran Gran. Dad. And then his face. The face that she had only months before deemed the face of the enemy.
He pulled himself away, feeling her hot tears on his flushed cheeks.
Authors Notes: *Pulls cork* yay for my first story publish!
This is a one shot, but do expect more Avatar (and Zutarian) goodness in the future. If you liked this story then great. If you didn't then tell me what I should work on for next time.
If you noticed a slight switch in PoV from the first part of the story to the second, that's because I had originally written the first part in the first-person perspective from Zuko's standpoint, while the second was from Katara's. But Katara's part ended up being WAY longer than Zuko's, so I opted for third person. If you didn't notice or have no idea what I'm blathering about right now, then don't worry about it.
And reguarding the ending: I REGRET NOTHING!