pairing: zuko ო katara.
disclaimer: own nothing.
in everything i do, i feel you.
Their first touch is far from gentle or fleeting; he is pulling her by the bends of her wrists, so close that she is breathing him in, ashes and hatred and fire and all. He overpowers her with half-lipped smirks and rasping promises—I'll save you from the pirates—and with the threaded gleam of her mother's necklace in his hard, teasing grasp. Katara hates him, hates him as he circles her, as if she is beneath him, as if he transcends her in some way that she is too naïve to ever understand.
This is how they begin: she swears to knock him down from his gossamer, self-deluded pillars of blood and embers, and he tries to convince himself that his gaze had not lingered on the petal-part of her mouth.
They do not touch with skin, the second time; it is the feel of water on fire, of flames on the film of the sea. Temple-tears, spirit-water, all at the tips of her fingers; the moon hangs high, twinkling from its perch on a gauzy chain of stars, its power made tangible through the veins of the oasis. Zuko is nothing but a candle on the water, flickering, faint, to be swept over, made dull, made to bow to a girl with her element surging through her.
Aren't you a big girl, now?
She wants to make him pay, make him beg, make him humble. Katara wants him to look up at her with awe and pleading in those harsh, golden eyes; she wants to dip her head down to him so that she can relish the sensation of an almost-touch, so that he can perhaps see his wrongs in a new light, so that he can perhaps see what it is like to be vulnerable.
Only the sun rises and he leaves with bruises clouding his skin and Aang slung over his shoulder and she has failed because even if she has pushed him down he still always, always picks himself up.
The third time is so different that it is jarring; he looks years younger with raven locks skimming over the shape of his scar, and it is like something has shifted in him, something harrowing and soul-deep. This boy is ashes; he has no fire. Like her. There are no trees or stolen-necklaces or star-bathed battles, only the pale, jasmine light of the crystal-catacombs, and twin heartbeats thrumming low.
But he still has the same face, she tells him, even if the eyes are sad and the lips are down-turned and the voice is hollow.
He speaks of his scar, his mother, the war his family has thrust onto the world and she is moving towards him, an apology on her lips before she can think, and then she is the one making tinny promises, the moon-water heavy in one hand, her other palm spread flat over the ridged surface of his mottled skin, almost tenderly—
And then the sparkling wall caves in and the moment has been stolen. There is his Uncle and there is Aang, and there is guilt inside of her when she follows after him, and it remains, lingering in her eyes, her steps, her words, until it is swept away in a whirlwind of betrayal and lightning and I thought you changed, and Aang is dead and her water is spitting at his flames but it is not enough. It is never enough; her kindness, her promise, the kiss of blessed-water, it was all nothing to him.
He will always be out of her reach.
It is like something out of her wildest dreams; he has come crawling back, bowed and pitiful, claiming that he is good. Months ago, she would have felt delight, pride, compassion. Now she is only spiteful, jaded to his supposed change of heart.
Katara is far from gentle when she threatens him, fingers poised and sharp and pricking at his skin, reminding him of his betrayal, his faults, of the struggles that he has never overcome.
Once upon a time, she would have forgiven him. Saved him. In a twisted way, he was the reason she longed to improve, grow stronger—
Now, the thought of him, even a glance at him, makes her chest constrict and her mind go heavy with questions like If I had healed him before, would he have come with us? and What did I do to him to make him betray us at Ba Sing Se?, and he makes her sick with doubts and blame, and for that, she feels she will never be able to forgive him.
She wonders at the symbolism when the pillars of the Western Air Temple crumple in an explosion of dust and rock and grime, and when she feels strong arms wrap around her waist and push her away from the scene.
It is something new: a hold, not meant to inflict pain or fear, not laced with naiveté, and suddenly, she is seeing him from an entirely new angle.
A comrade. A friend.
Katara sweeps the thought away in an instant; they will never be friends, this fact has been set in stone since the day they first met, beneath the murky moonlight.
But even so, as he falls from the breadth of the sky after waging war with his sister, she finds herself outstretching her arms out to him from her seat on Appa, and for the first time, she reaches him.
She does not let him forget Ba Sing Se.
He doesn't try to.
Instead, he tries to make amends. He gives her something: the chance to find her mother's killer. And without preaching for forgiveness or revenge, he guides her to the empty, shell of a man that is Yon Rha and Zuko does not even flinch as she bends the blood streaming beneath the murderer's skin, does not tell her that she is wrong or weak when she is unable take his life the way he had taken her mother's, years and years before.
On their way back, Katara knows this: Zuko can be cruel. Zuko can turn his back on people who trust in him, believe in him. Zuko can take, but Zuko can give. Zuko can hurt, but Zuko can heal. Zuko can care about people, and he must feel an inkling of something for her if he is able to know exactly what she has always, truly needed: closure.
And when she wraps herself around him, embracing him on the dock, I'm ready to forgive you, she hopes her touch explains everything she cannot put to words, hopes this cements them towards a new beginning, and hopes that she isn't imagining the way she seems to fit perfectly in his arms.
He is all nerves, plopped before his Uncle's tent. His spine is craned; he is bent and anxious and unable to face this newest twist of fate, and her heart leads her towards him, moves her hand to his shoulder.
He'll forgive you, she says of his Uncle, because she knows. She traces comforting circles on his skin, and everything unspoken translates from the presence of her hand on his back, her pulse pressed into him, and the wispy, breathless way he thanks her before slipping into the tent.
The eighth time is not a goodbye. It is not a goodbye, it is not a goodbye—
He has taken lightning for her. He has taken lightning for her. For her.
The water is rushing through him, stitching and mending and his skin is puckered, a cluster of nerves and a wishing-star of a scar and she wishes for her water to heal, heal, heal him and for him to breathe and her hands are plunging over the stretch of his wound and she is ragged, panicked, barely able to see him through the well of tears glossing over her eyes—it is not a goodbye—she repeats, as part of her trickles into him, trying to save him, trying to bring him back.
It is not a goodbye—
And then, as if her prayers are answered:
Thank you, Katara, he rasps from below her and then she breaks. The tears fall, she cradles his head with her water-slick palms and lets her hand rest on the ridge of his side as they stand and he stares down at what his sister has become, at the blood at his feet, at the ashes that they will rebuild this world from.
Katara takes one look at him, remembering the way her world stopped when she watched him fall, and knows that they will never just be friends.
They are years older and not at all wiser when, one starry night, while sitting by one the turtle-duck ponds, her hand trails up along the angle of his jaw, up to the warmth of his lips. His eyes shine amber, the firefly-lights brightening his features in the night. He does not push her away.
So, she leans forward.
It is not like when she held him when she was fourteen and just forgiving him, not like when she healed him, not like when her fingers glanced over the ridges of his scar in Ba Sing Se. It is not hate or admiration or gratitude that pushes her forward; it is something that has been building up inside of her for far, far too long, the something that led her to break it off with Aang, the something that led her into the arms of the Fire Nation and into the royal-gardens, with Zuko at her side.
It is her lips on his as she kisses him, full on the mouth. It is him kissing her back, bating and breathless and holding her tenderly and telling her he's loved her for too long before begging, pleading, wishing for her to stay.
The tenth time is both old and new: tentative, questioning, roaming hands, hot, reddened mouths, legs tangled in the cherry-silk of the bedsheets, skin-on-skin, gently, passionately, touching deeper than words can ever dream of reaching. It is intimidating, daunting, push-and-pull, searing, healing, and something else: love, maybe. And she brightens. The word makes her toes curl and her pulse sing and she laughs into his lips. Love.
They cannot change their beginning, but this is how they go on: she wears a necklace as red as fate, robes trimmed with gold, tells him she loves him when they wake up together. He feeds the turtleducks with her every night, visits the South Pole to meet her family, and teaches their daughter how to bend fire. He catches her when she falls, and she does the same.
They have a hold on each other, a hold that dates far, far back, to days of waterbending scrolls and crystal caves.
And neither one of them plan on letting go.
Lol, I rarely leave these, but just wanted to give a quick thank you to all of my amazing readers. Your kind words and reviews keep me writing!
Also, my 30prompt piece, faithfully, has been taken down for now because I want to flesh out the first prompt and repost it again. Sorry for the inconvenience :(
Again, thanks so much, and PLEASE review to leave your thoughts? :)