It's been a while since I've updated, sorry!
There is a time in your existence when everything comes into perspective. A time when clarity makes an appearance, and all things are at once in harmony.
Zuko finds this moment in the open space between life and death, the tear of a soul from a body.
It is at this particular stage of despair that the fates decide to enlighten him, and Zuko thinks it is quite useless for one to discover their meaning of life when at the threshold of death. But he was never one to be dealt a lucky hand.
He sees red and orange and black. He feels the pulsing of heat and energy at his core, the painful scorch of fire. The world blurs, and he thinks, 'This is it.'
He is going to die. But he thinks it's okay, because at least he saved her. At least he prevented Aang from losing his first love, saved Toph the heartache of losing her family, stopped Suki from losing a best friend, and made sure Sokka wouldn't lose his baby sister. It's okay, because if he dies, they won't be losing too much.
And suddenly, his vision fills with blue. He feels shaky hands turn him over, and the drip of her hot tears on his neck. He tries to tell her not to cry, opens his mouth to comfort the comforter, but then cool hands are pressed to his open wound and-
-his cheeks burn red, back hitting the wall of the tiny closet. When he'd agreed to attend his cousins party, he hadn't expected college kids to stoop so low as to play such a pathetic game.
Not that he wasn't enjoying it.
This girl wasn't wasting any of the seven minutes they'd been given. Her fingers slid his shirt up, tracing his toned stomach, and he tried not to shiver from her touch. Their lips were molded together, his hands tangled in her hair. She smelled like something sweet and fresh, something he couldn't quite place. It wasn't unpleasant.
He didn't know how long they had been in there for, but he couldn't say he cared. Especially when her teeth caught his bottom lip and her fingers hooked into the belt loops of his jeans, yanking his hips closer.
Never one to submit easily, Zuko took a step forward, forcing her own back against the opposite wall. He felt a grin on her lips, and stifled a smirk of his own.
All too soon, the door was opened, and the pair pulled apart. Her face was flushed, and his hair was sticking up funny, but neither looked particularly embarrassed or guilty.
A dark skinned boy glared harshly and grabbed the front of Zuko's shirt, heaving him out of the small space. Once again, his back was slammed into a wall, albeit with much, much different intentions.
The slightly shorter college student curled his lip, blue eyes sparking as he said-
"Surrender." The wolf-tailed man pointed the tip of his samurai blade at the black-clad figure. "Or I will surely kill you."
Zuko grit his teeth, knees throbbing and back sweaty. The rest of his master's warriors, his fellow comrades, lay around him. Dead. He swallowed the blood in his mouth like acid, wishing it was poison so he too could die a death more honorable than this.
A ring of green and gold men (and women-how indecent) surround him, their faces painted intimidatingly with white and red. A deep hatred stirred inside him. He and his warriors had been outnumbered, outmatched. It was a suicide mission.
He locked his jaw shut. He'd rather be killed by his own master than surrender to the enemy.
The man merely shrugged one shoulder, lifting his obsidian sword. "Death it is."
Zuko closed his eyes, awaiting the blow, only to snap them open again at the sound of metal clashing with metal. Surprised gold eyes watched as a woman-not painted with white or covered with green armor, but donning a navy blue kimono-deflected the man's attack and knocked his weapon to the side with her own steel sword.
The audience of samurai and commoner alike held a breath as the man scrutinized the woman. Her voice was quiet, but held strength as she spoke. "Don't you think enough blood has been shed today, brother?"
Silence. Zuko fully expected him to lash out and punish her for such defiance, fully expected him to do what any member of his own clan would do to a foolish woman. But was surprised once again when that black, black sword was swallowed into a leather sheath and she remained unapprehended.
The dark-skinned samurai nodded and the woman put down her own blade, handing it back to the other warrior she had taken it from. "Then he is your responsibility."
Zuko almost scoffed aloud. How stupid did this warrior have to be to let a mere woman guard a full grown enemy intruder? So the moment the ring of green soldiers disbanded, leaving him kneeling in the dirt alone with the girl, Zuko took his chance.
With a lunge, his hand flew out to wrap around her neck, and an odd sense of guilt and shame came with the sound of her choked breath. Yet, his freedom was more important than his morals, and he lifted his other hand with the intention of knocking her unconscious, only to be stopped by a sudden jerk of his body.
Panic flooded his mind as he watched his own fingers bend to another's will and curl away from the woman's neck. He watched as her cold blue eyes literally forced him back down to his knees. His fear intensified as ice began to slowly creep up his legs, his torso, his shoulders, stopping only so he could see, breathe, and hear.
He had always believed sorcerers to be just a myth.
Her chin tilted up so she looked down on him, one hand held out to manipulate his body. She carried an atmosphere of power, of dignity, and he now understood why that man (her brother?) had respected her command so much. Dark tresses of long wavy hair spread elegantly across her shoulders, her piercing eyes pinning him in his place.
Her voice was still soft, despite the harshness of her actions. "Do not forget that you were meant to die, if not for me. Perhaps I saved your life for a purpose. It would be a shame if that purpose was never unveiled."
No matter how angry, how hateful, or how vengeful he felt, Zuko could not deny that he was in debt to her.
He could also never deny that she was-
-beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous.
"Move it, nerd." Zuko snapped from his trance, eyes sharpening as a football player shoved the girl into a locker. She stumbled, pushing her thick-rimmed glasses that tipped precariously at the tip of her nose back up. Her arms clutched at her chemistry textbook, only to have it swatted out of her grasp by a meaty hand. It hit the ground with a smack that resounded through the semi-crowded halls.
"Aren't you gonna apologize for getting in my way, loser?" Zuko pursed his lips. He shouldn't just be watching as this bullying went on, especially to this particular girl (the girl he had been inadvertently crushing on all year). He should be helping her, telling his football buddies to lay off.
But it didn't seem like she needed his help.
"The only thing I'll ever apologize to you for, is the fact that your brain is smaller than your dick." She stepped forward until her nose was almost touching Jet's. "Which is saying something."
Zuko winced. Their other friends and the growing crowd broke out into ooh's and 'burn!' This was going to be bad.
Jet's ears turned pink, and the muscles in his jaw flexed. "You don't even know what a dick looks like since no guy would ever screw your ugly ass."
Her lips twitched. "Well, considering I don't do anal, I guess that would be true. Although I'm curious, Jet. How many guys screwed your ugly ass before you found out what a dick should look like?"
His right arm shot out, pressing on the petite girl's collar bone until her back slammed into the locker, a nasty sneer marring his handsome features. "Bitch, I'll show you what I-"
A fist struck the brunette's jaw, and his grip on the girl let go. It took Zuko a full five seconds before he realized the fist had been his.
His own surprised eyes met identical blue ones before Jet's body rammed into his. Half a minute of brutal punching and throwing passed before a teacher pulled them apart.
There were several phone calls, a furious mother, countless glares from Jet, and one long lecture about 'school unity' by the time Zuko made it out of the principal's office. He was surprised when he turned the corner to see a hand stuck in front of his face.
His gaze trailed up a dark arm before settling on a crooked smile and curious sapphire eyes, his heart beginning to pound.
"I don't believe we've ever been properly acquainted." Her smile widened as he reached out to grasp her hand. "I'm-"
"Katara! Behind you!"
He lunged forward, swinging his serrated knife forward until it was embedded in the forehead of the mutilated body. The zombie slumped to the ground, and Zuko retracted the blade, grimacing at the blood that came with it.
Wiping it off on his faded cargo pants, he flashed a grin at the girl beside him. "Guess that means you owe me one."
Without batting an eye, she extended her arm and fired her handgun right by his head. He heard an incoherent groan and the thump of a body hitting the floor. She smirked. "There. Now we're even."
He almost laughed, but suppressed it at the sight of the dark bags under her eyes, and the split lip she was supporting. "When's the last time you had a decent night's rest?"
Her face suddenly became very hard to read, cobalt eyes going blank. He narrowed his eyes at her casual shrug, worry eating at his insides.
"Kat, you've gotta keep yourself healthy. How do you expect to fight with the rest of the defense corps. if you're half-dead all the time?" He watched as she turned her head to the side, toned arms crossing over her chest. Great. Now she was mad at him for being concerned about her well-being.
Sighing, he lifted a gloved hand to tuck a strand of dark hair behind her ear. "Hey." Her eyes shifted to look at him through thick lashes. "I just want you to be safe, okay?"
She nodded, flashing him a small grin. His heart stuttered. "I know. Thanks."
A gunshot went off, and they flinched. "You two lovebirds done flirting? I could puke from all this gushiness."
Katara rolled her eyes, but her lips were tight in an attempt at keeping her laughter at bay. "Shut up, Toph."
She raised an eyebrow at him, a playful glint in her eyes. "Race you to the med-bay?"
He smiled and elbowed her in the rib, "Just don't cry when I beat-"
Her laughter followed her as she sprinted down the alley, his baritone chuckles right behind her. This is what it meant to be alive. This is what it meant to-
"Love is stupid."
He watched her furrow her eyebrows, saw her fingers clenching a bit tighter on the strap of her briefcase. "And what makes you say that, Zuko?"
"Because. Love is supposed to be free, right?" He moves his weight onto his right foot, but his eyes never leave hers. She needs to hear this. She has to. He's gotten so tired of this pressured air between them, of all the words they refuse to say. "But it's the most constricting, restrictive thing to ever exist. It's not free. It's biased and complicated and conditional. It might as well be the same thing as irony considering how many damn times it screws things up."
He begs her with his eyes, pleads with her to understand, to agree. He hates this. He hates that she is the daughter of his father's worst enemy. He hates that their parents are rivals in a political game, an irrefutable competition. He hates that this is such a cliche. He can tell she hates it too. All of his hope is riding on her, that she will choose him over her father's reputation, as he is so willing to do for her.
She breaks their gaze, flexes her jaw, and suddenly, he knows what she is going to say before she even says it. "Nothing is ever free, Zuko. Especially not for us."
And in that moment, his hope was-
Lost. He was lost in her. He could stay that way forever.
He was drowning in her sky blue eyes, her locks of thick chocolate hair, her smooth tanned skin. He was hypnotized by her laugh, her smile, her heartbeat. She was like a siren, pulling him farther into oblivion, and he could not be any happier.
Zuko traced a finger down the side of her face, and her eyes blinked sleepily. "Good morning, Mrs. Agni."
Her lips pulled upwards-God, he loved her smile-and she wraps a hand around the base of his neck to tug him down. "Good morning," she says softly right before landing a chaste kiss on his lips.
He thinks she's even more beautiful like this, with her tangled hair splayed like a halo around her head and her face rosy from the sleep that was slowly slipping away, than she had been yesterday evening, donning an elegant white dress with a bouquet of lilies clasped in her hands.
He is madly in love. His single friends think he's pathetic, his married friends understand, and he still doesn't give more than a damn. He's in love, and he married the woman of his dreams.
Her arm drifted down to his waist and she curled against him, beautiful eyes closing in drowsiness. She was so perfect.
There was a happiness stirring inside him, humming and buzzing, threatening to overspill. The peace of the morning settled in his soul, and a small smile graced his features.
She breathed deeply in his arms, nuzzling her nose into his neck. Her fingers traced a pattern on his stomach, and his heartbeat slowed. "Zuko."
He began to drift off, sleep swallowing his conciousness.
"I love you."
"I love you too."
And in that moment he can feel air rushing back into his lungs, the ground a solid force beneath him. He can taste the blood in his mouth, smell the musty smoke permeating the air. His mind reawakens, and suddenly he knows his fate, he saw his future.
"Zuko, don't do this to me, please."
His future is her.
He knows this because life after life, world after world, they were brought together, they discovered each other.
"Zuko!" His chest aches at the brilliant smile that stretches across her face, familiar blue eyes glowing with the coming tears.
"Thank you, Katara." -Thank you for saving me-Thank you for loving me-Thank you for giving me a new hope.
"I think I'm the one who should be thanking you." She laughs and leans over, wrapping shaky arms around his neck, and his heart hitches. Agni-how had he not seen this all along?
His uncle once told him to choose his own destiny, but he thinks destiny already made up its mind.
And who is he to tell destiny that it's wrong?
Author's Note: Wow. It's been a heck of a long journey. We've reached 40! Cheers! Sadly, now it's time to say goodbye to this drabble series, although I may revisit infrequently if I get a plot bunny that just won't go away! Most likely not for a while, however.
A HUGE thanks to all those who've stuck with me throughout this series! I honestly couldn't have down it without you! So really, thank you. :)
Have a happy life, and long live Zutarians!