I want to write a realistic Zutara One-Shot of how I think things really went down; I refuse to believe those two were just 'friends'. I think that if Zutara were to ever actually occur with the current canon timeline, it would have to happen like this. Or, at least, along these lines. I tried to keep the story as close to the actual story line of Avatar and The Legend of Korra as possible, in an attempt to keep it realistic.
Have had this idea for a while now; let me know what you think.
Edited-26/05/14-I just wanted to say thank you to each and every one of you that have taken the time to read this oneshot of mine and leave a review. It honestly means the world to me, you have no idea. I hope to be back with updates and such very, very soon, thanks to all of your encouragement with this fic. Thank you all, again. You've moved me with your kindness, and I will never, ever forget it.
Stay safe, happy and healthy.
She sighs loudly, feverishly, almost, at the parchment in front of her; she blows a strand of curly hair out of her face, swallowing as she re-reads the statement, over and over and over again. She adjusts her tunic a little; the long, baby blue colour has been swapped for a shorter, more practical navy shade over the past few years. She tugs uncomfortably on the darker trousers underneath, and then at the top of her black, knee-high boots as she curses at nothing in particular.
Or, rather, at a lot of things.
If Katara had learnt anything over the past three years, it was that world peace didn't actually solve much; everyone tries so hard to achieve it, that they forget about the never ending damage control that follows a century long war, about the endless hours of paperwork and healing and persevering that is required, about all of those little things you had wanted to do during the great battles, and realizing slowly that you'll never actually be able to do them.
She sighs again, a little weaker this time. She can feel Aang approaching her from behind, and it doesn't take long for her to feel his arms encircle her waist from behind; he's taller than her now, finally, but not by much. She can feel his cheek press against her temple, before feeling his lips brush against the high point of her cheek, lingering as he breaths her in.
Her smile is thin and forced; something she thought would've gotten a bit more genuine by now. She can smell the fabric of his monk uniform, the bright oranges and yellows not quite mixing with her navy Water Tribe fabric as well as it should. His arms are strong, unreasonably so for a sixteen year old, but she blamed this on him being the Avatar, as they tighten around her.
At eighteen, she is still a wishing a fourteen year old girl; wishing these feelings will just magically become mutual overnight. He loves her, and it's so obvious; she can hear his smile as he breaths, and it makes her insides churn. She used to be the hopeful type; the type that would put in a quiet word with the stars, pray to Agni on those harder days, maybe.
But the longer Aang's arms rest around her, the more she realizes how far gone that part of her is.
His grey eyes finally settle on the parchment; she can practically hear his frown as he picks it up.
"Katara, what is this?" he asks softly; it's not like he would ever raise his voice at her.
A beat passes before answering him. "I'm needed at Luthanak Island; the sister island to Kioshi," she says plainly. "Luthanak is key for vegetable and fruit trade all over the world, especially the Fire Nation; which is now a rehabilitating nation, that has a strong tie with them. Most of their people are dying from a disease; which is resulting in the population density of the island decreasing at a rapid rate, making workers and produce much more scarce."
Aang blinked. "So, what does all that mean?"
She tries to sound gentle, but it doesn't play out like that. "It means that I'll be there for a minimum of three years; doing my best to keep them alive with my healing, whilst trying to find a cure."
They are silent for a long time, since there isn't really much to say, is there? Aang's arms loosen until they finally fall, a little despairingly to his sides, as he too stares at the parchment with her. She glances at him; he is growing more and more handsome as the years pass, without a doubt. On more than one occasion had she caught other girls looking at him whilst they were out, and not just because he is the Avatar.
But there's still this little pang inside of her; every time he kisses her, touches her, says her name. She doesn't know what it is, but then again, she was always good at lying to herself. All she does know is that love is a bitter, sticky, aching substance; and maybe she doesn't feel so bad about leaving him here in Ba Sing Se after all.
"But...will you be alone?" Aang asks quietly, eventually, unable to hide his grief. "For all that time, on the island by yourself?"
It takes a long time for her answer; she has to deal with all of these feelings that come flooding out of her all at once, in some strange clump of a tangled...something. She doesn't quite know the word, cannot quite find the words as she continues to stare blankly.
"Like I said, Luthanak Island has a strong tie with the Fire Nation," she explained a little too quietly. "They both rely on each other desperately, especially through the war; and right now, the Fire Nation needs to prove that they can have a peaceful allegiance with another nation without oppressing them or committing genocide."
His soft, grey eyes fixate on her, forcing the words out of her.
"Meaning that Fire Lord Zuko will be accompanying me."
A few months later, Aang didn't put up much of a fight; it wasn't his place, anyway. Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe was legendary for skills in waterbending and healing, and he didn't have a right to deny the world of such excellence. He hugs her firmly, because he doesn't want to let her go; he breathes her in one last time, before pulling back and pressing him lips lightly against hers, for long, long second that Katara is quite placid towards.
He pulls back, looking at her in a way that should make her giddy as they stand at the docks; only, it doesn't.
"And hey, maybe I'll be able to take a break out of my Avatar duties and come visit you," he tries with a light laugh, but they both know this is a hollow promise; he grows busier with every year that passes. "But I'm sure you'll be fine; besides, you'll have Zuko to keep you company for next three years."
She tries to smile; she really does. But it's not coming out right, and for the love of Agni she can't figure out why. They hug a bit more, Aang kisses her a few more times, and the next thing she knows, it's well into the night, and she's on the deck of the large ship made specially for her, staring out into the constantly moving ocean; the familiar scent of salt and the light breeze fills Katara with nostalgia she does not care much for anymore.
She leans against the railing, and it's like a sudden punch in the stomach; everything from the past three years just drops on her like lead weights, and her body sags against the cold, steel of the boat. She cocks her wrist, and water is covering her hand instantly, having drawn it from the ocean that lies so far beneath her; she presses her water-engulfed hand onto the back of her neck, the pale blue light illuminating the night sky as she heals.
But Katara knows the pain she feels is not external.
When he sees her there, waiting at the Luthanak port, he fully understands the term, 'being rendered speechless'. Zuko wasn't stupid; he knew Katara was beautiful. Hell, the entire world knew that; if the rumours didn't consist conspiracies or broken alliances, it consisted of the legendary beauty of Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe (not to mention her power).
When he had joined the Avatar's group at seventeen years old, he was fully aware that she was dangerously beautiful. Even though she was fifteen, she was completely mesmerizing; he had caught himself one too many times watching her beat laundry against a rock whilst he meditated in the early morning, or letting his eyes linger on her swift curve of her swaying hips as she walked with a laundry basket balanced on it, or allowing himself to openly gaze at her whilst she practiced waterbending late at night, the full moon bouncing off of her beige skin like a dream.
But this was different; this was a different kind of beauty entirely. Before, she was girl; features a little too soft, stature a little too inexperienced. But time and war changed everything, Zuko realized, as he stops in front of her, at the woman that she is now.
She wasn't that much taller; still quite petite, but he liked that about her. Her hair was in an elegant half-do, emphasizing her, soft curls even more so (since only young girls of the Water Tribes would braid their hair). Her tunic wasn't long and baby blue like he remembered; it was short for practicality, a dark, elite, powerful navy colour. It clung to her resounding curves that completely unsettled him now.
Her skin was practically glowing from the setting sun; a light brown colour, sprinkled with a few endearing scars here and there. Her lips were much more sultry than he remembered, and they were pressed together now, probably because he had been staring at her for a good two minutes, but he hardly cared.
And her eyes, Agni her eyes; they weren't soft anymore. They were sharp, like daggers, like ice; completely unmerciful to his warm, golden ones. They weren't glaring (more like blinking in confusion at him), but they were so powerful all the same. She cleared the throat, loudly, licking her lips. A light breeze pushed some of her curly hair over shoulder, and Zuko knew he didn't stand a chance.
"Erm...long time no see," she tried with a nervous laugh.
She remembered Zuko; of course she did. He was engraved in her memory for all of those months he spent hunting them down, for underneath Ba Sing Se in the crystal catacombs, for the few days of tracking down the Southern Raiders, for taking Azula's merciless lightening for her.
Katara wasn't an idiot; she knew Zuko was attractive. Annoyingly so, actually; she found herself looking a little too intently when he would teach Aang firebending topless, or forcing her heart to calm down every time he said her name, or easing her senses when he stood close to her, forcing her to breath in his dangerously addictive incense of burnt wood and musk.
Or when he would smile at her, and her entire day completely collapsed at her inability to forget such an event at fifteen years of age. There was something about him; something she couldn't quite put her finger on, something she wasn't sure about, something that was unmarked and dangerous territory that they were both far too aware of, afraid of, even. It was something she'd never seen or felt in any other boy; or any other man, now, for that matter.
But she was in no way prepared for this; he towered over her in a way Aang never did, wearing maroon pants and a vest, a causal Fire Nation outfit, which was so unlike the Fire Lord. She wished the climate was colder, so that he would put on a jumper; she blinked at the swell of muscles on his arms. They were defined and toned, covered in his flawless pale skin, and she knew she stood no chance. His hair hardly stayed in place, up in all angles, charmingly messy.
He was much stockier than she remembered; his chest a lot broader, his body much more sturdier, taller. His jaw was defined, covered in light stubble that made Katara's insides feel funny. She could smell him already; that scent of his, a little more...addictive. She didn't quite look at him, afraid that his smile would deflate her; this wasn't the Zuko she remembered. His golden eyes intoxicated her, forcing her to look away in an attempt to quieten that fifteen year old inside of her.
"Y-Yeah..." Zuko breathed as a reply, and she noted his voice being much deeper than she remembered.
There was an awkward pause, as they stood there in the middle of the port; Katara shuffled nervously, swallowing, looking away at the wood under their feet. Zuko, on the other hand, couldn't stop staring at her; but eventually, the atmosphere eased. They started to realize how silly they were being, how childishly ignorant they were. Their nervous faces collapse into embarrassed smiles. No titles, no legacies, no identity to uphold.
Right now, they were just Zuko and Katara; and nobody was around to break that perfect fantasy.
They laugh at their initial awkwardness as they embrace; they find it hard to let go of each other.
"So..." Zuko started lamely. "You're like...eighteen now, right?"
Katara can't help but laugh, spilling some liquor on the bar in front of her. She's still laughing as she bends the droplets off of the bar desk effortlessly; the golden alcohol settles back in her glass easily. The soft murmur of the other people in the inn is comfortable and warm, the liquor rather sweet on her tongue as she takes another sip, still grinning.
"I thought Fire Lords were supposed to sound a bit more...articulate," She comments. "Especially whilst conversing with your allies."
He raised a brow, but he's grinning all the same. "What are you talking about? I'm as articulate as they come."
Katara laughs again, and Zuko's chest swells. "Oh, please! 'So, you're like, eighteen now?' That's sounds like a pick up line!" Katara laughed.
Zuko smiles at her, making her focus her attention down at her drink. He takes a sip of his own liquor, relishing in the cool, yet bitter taste. The dim lighting compliments her beautifully, he realizes, watching her bend her drink absent mindedly in her glass. The contents lifts itself out, swirling around her wrist and hand fluidly, before settling in her glass again, her eyes snapping to him.
He pauses a moment, watching her watching him. "What?"
She takes another sip of her drink, savouring the taste. "I just...I just can't believe that you're...twenty."
"Well...that's kind of what happens when you're seventeen and three years pass," Zuko said, smiling. But it fades. "Besides, the time goes quickly when you're ruling a nation. It's basically been my life for the past three years."
Her smiles fades, too; the question had to be asked, despite how little she wanted to ask it.
"How's Mai?" she asked. She wanted it to sound genuine, but it came out sounding more...bitter.
Zuko frowned; he hadn't even thought about her since he docked. He had completely forgotten the argument after he was pretty much forced to leave for Luthanak (for the good of his nation, mind you), the argument at the Fire Nation docks, and the argument they were currently having through the letters he burned shortly before he arrived. His face was still, and he took a large, long gulp of his drink before he answered.
"She's fine," He said flatly. He pauses. "The elders want us to marry when I return."
A familiar, dull feeling fills her. "Congratulations." Katara says, her smile uncared for by them both.
There's a pause, and the two finish their drinks rather quickly. They order another just as quickly; the bartender sliding them over the desk easily. His eyes settle on Katara for a little too long; but once he sees Zuko's unimpressed frown, he backs away to serve other customers, careful not to look at her too long again.
Luckily, both Zuko and Katara's statuses were not announced to the public; it was decided that their if everyone knew who they were, it would cause too much of a fuss. Instead, they were claimed to be on hiatus for the next three years, working on separate projects that were highly confidential. They were just a healer and her assistant (only the island's leaders needed to know of the Fire Lord and Master's presence here); said to work at Luthanak to help the sick.
Zuko couldn't delay it for much longer; he needed to get the question out and over with; despite his permanent grimace on the matter.
"How's Aang?" He asked; he winced, since even he sensed his insincerity.
Katara savoured her drink; her eyes weakened. "Great," She said quietly. "He wants us to marry as soon as I return, also. He'll be nineteen by then; he wanted us to wed as soon as he turned eighteen, since that is the legal age. But this project will overrun by a year. He never was one to waste time."
They are quiet; unnaturally so.
"That's great," Zuko said, and he tries hard to smile. He pauses, for the nth time that night. "He's a good man, and I wish you both happiness."
It's like the life drained out of them both, after that, remembering their homes; they were silent, after Katara barely uttered a thanks. They just stared at the glasses of alcohol, only drinking it occasionally. Their lips feel heavy every time they attempt to smile, to lighten the mood; but it proves ineffective, as they find their glasses become increasingly empty, again and again as the time passes. Eventually, they bid their goodnights; they venture off into their small cottages that they are given for their stay here.
Neither of them sleep.
A couple of months passed, and Katara tried to calculate how many people she had tried to heal in this time; three hundred and eighty-five. She realizes that this is the culprit for her continual neck ache, which she has to spend a full ten minutes nursing at the end of each day. Out of those three hundred and eighty-five patients, two hundred and ninety seven of them died. That means that out of all of the people she had healed, only a measly eighty-eight had survived.
She had to change her healing tactic, she knew that now; she started to mix powerful herbs in with the water she used to heal, and this proved to be rather effective on a short term basis. Nevertheless, it was the only option she had until she could think of something else to slow down the virus long enough to drain it from the body completely. This wasn't something standard anymore.
But even that would take intense skill, something she could perform, but not at a large amount; that is, if she were to perform such a thing with water. Katara sat up at her desk, looking out into the night sky, the moon glowing down at her. She focused on the medical scrolls again, trying to interlock ideas together-
There was a knock at her room, slow and precise.
Zuko entered, his perfect teeth grinning at her. "You shouldn't be up so late, Master Katara."
She smiled weakly. "And you shouldn't be venturing into a young lady's office at such an hour, Fire Lord Zuko."
He half blushed, looking away. She noticed his hands behind his back, forcing her to raise a brow and look at him incredulously; Zuko made his way to her slowly, leaving her wondering how he had even managed to get into the healing hut at such a time. He looked tousled and handsome, and she looked tired and weary, but they were both smiling at each other; just because the other was there.
But this didn't matter as he abruptly thrust a single fire-lily at her, surprising her.
"I saw this and...I thought it would look good in your office," Zuko said uncharacteristically. "You've just helped me a lot; you know, teaching me how to deal with the sick people and stuff, and your office looks really bare, anyway, and watching you waterbending has actually helped my firebending..."
It was beautiful; a vibrant, vibrant red with a few luminous oranges thrown in there. Aang would get her panda-lilies on a frequent basis; they were beautiful, and she liked them, but that was it. They lacked that certain spark, that certain originality she craved so badly. This small gesture made her entire body surge as she looked up at Zuko from her chair, a smile pulling at the corner of her lips.
"Thank you." Katara said, cutting him off.
She took the single flower from him carefully, admiring it's red simplicity; she suddenly had an idea, flicking her wrist as she broke off the stem of flower by manipulating the water within it. She plucked a couple of hair pins from her desk and pinned the flower to the side of her half-do hairstyle, the vibrant red standing out perfectly against her dark hair and skin.
"How does it look?" She laughed, her smile broad and actually genuine.
The red suited her, Zuko noted; though she was of the Water Tribe, the red flower complemented her skin beautifully, just as well as the blue did. It made her eyes stand out and her complexion glow; Zuko couldn't help but wonder what she would look like in Fire Nation clothing, in royal Fire Nation robes, with the Fire Lady clip sitting snuggly in her hair-
"You're beautiful." Zuko stated simply, wishing he could take it back immediately.
Katara froze, more than slightly alarmed. Her head snapped up to him, watching him intently; her blue eyes danced in surprise, icy and fiery all at the same time. Zuko couldn't help but stare at her still, as a strand of hair brushed against the subtle arch of her jaw; he lost all inhibitions as he reached out and brushed it away, his fingers warm as they graze against her skin; but inhibitions found him again, and he cursed at what he had said, the words he had used.
She was still stunned; even as he muttered goodnight, even as he walked out of the room briskly. If it was anybody else who had said that to her, it would've been different. If it was anybody else to touch her in such a away, it would've been different. Her heart was still fluttering, her stomach still churning.
Katara looked down at her lap; it was unfair. It was unfair that he couldn't even utter such innocent words without weights of endless guilt falling upon them, again and again until they were scarred and bruised and disheartened. But when was anything fair?At least, for them?
It still hurt, though.
He was good at talking to people, Katara noted; he had a way with them, and that was something that his past and his mistakes could not cover up. He'd grown up so much, from that grumpy teenager to this smiling man, now. He laughed as he talked with an elderly woman, helping bandage a wound that was once rather ghastly, before Katara had healed it. The woman laughed back at Zuko fondly, her eyes skirting over to Katara occasionally, who had her back to them, bending water expertly as she mixed herbs within it for her next sick patient.
"I must say, you two are beautiful couple," She spoke in her smiling, weak voice. "You don't tend to see waterbenders and firebenders together after what the war did to the two races; it's too bad, really. It's young love at it's brightest and most balanced."
Zuko and Katara both stiffened, unable to speak.
Katara closed her eyes, thankful her back was turned. An awkward silence followed, and their hearts were both swelling; they were aware of it now. They were aware of this certain feeling they got when they were with each other; this strange euphoria that made them want to get up each day and face it together. They were aware of the warmth they brought each other, the solace and the genuineness; since nobody else offered either of them such things.
They weren't children anymore. They couldn't ignore something like this any longer.
"We're not together." Katara said quietly, and she could practically hear her heart break.
They were also aware of how wrong it was.
Katara walked slowly along the streets, the light breeze comforting her. Her patients were all improving drastically, but it came at a cost; she realized that the only way to save them was through a specific type of bloodbending. And because of this, she couldn't wait for full moons; she had practiced everyday until she had mastered it, until she was able to bloodbend at will for the sole purpose of healing.
Now, it wasn't something she could turn off, and it wasn't something she could tell anyone but Zuko about; before, she would avoid full moons altogether in an effort to hide that part of herself. But the world needed her, and like always, it wasn't about what she wanted anymore. She learned how truly dangerous it was, how terribly frightening it is to have a power like this, judging by the initial look on Zuko's face as she put her tactic into action on one of her patients for the first time to show him.
Because of this, she had sent a letter to both the Water Tribes, Aang and all of the official Nation leaders, including the members of the Order of the White Lotus; prohibiting all bloodbending entirely.
She sighed, and finally became aware of the waves crashing close to her. She looked up, finding that she had walked herself all the way to the small beach at the side of the Luthanak; she was a little unsettled, since it was approaching eight months into her stay, now, and she wasn't missing Aang yet. Actually, she wasn't missing anything; she was perfectly content with spending her nights with Zuko at the bar or the park or this beach or the marketplace, talking about things that didn't concern peace treaties and allegiances and getting married to people they knew they shouldn't be marrying.
She lifted her arms, bending the water around her; it was the only time she felt relaxed, the only time she felt like she was in control. It didn't last long, though, as she felt the warm presence behind her. It was so tangibly ironic; the sun almost finished setting, the sky no longer azure, but a vibrant pink as she turned to face him, breathing him in past the salty, clean air.
They were quiet for a while; like usual. But it was a nice quiet, a comfortable quiet; in which a smile and a brushing of their hands spoke more than what their mouths could. Zuko looked down at her, wishing he could go back three years ago and set it all right; maybe then they both would've been saved the heartache. She wished the same thing, as he approached her, coming dangerously close.
They spent too much time wishing.
"I don't want to marry Mai." Zuko said plainly.
Katara layed a hand on his broad chest gently, trailing her fingers down him. She wasn't pushing away; if anything, she was savouring this. Savouring how simple it was, how he was more than enough, how this was all more than enough. He didn't have to ask; of course he didn't. But he did anyway, just in case, just to make sure, just to be certain that she felt what he did.
"Do you want to marry Aang?"
Anguish made her face twist, as her hand continued to play with the fabric of his shirt on his chest. She didn't look up at him; didn't dare to. She continued to stare at his broad, firm chest; the longer she did, the more her face crumpled. The longer she stared, the more her lip wobbled. The longer she did, the urge to sob and scream and cry and weep overwhelmed her.
This was enough.
His lips were on hers instantly, silencing her sobs before they had time to exist yet.
She awoke tangled in his red silk sheets that smelled just like him; she winced when she felt the absence of their clothes, but decided not to care. Not today; not now. Zuko pulled Katara closer to him, wrapping his strong, muscled arms around her petite frame. She fit in his arms perfectly, like they were made for each other; he pressed his lips to the top of her head before burying his face in her hair.
He was so warm; so inexplicably, wonderfully warm, Katara noted. She breathed him in, sighing contently as their bare skin brushed against each other as she pressed herself closer to him. She hadn't felt this safe and secure and content in a long, long time; she wonders if she ever did, as she lazily presses kisses to Zuko's stubble covered jaw, whilst he brushes the tip of his nose on her forehead, closing his eyes.
She trails her fingers along the scar on his chest; the very scar she had healed over three years ago.
"You idiot," she laughed quietly, but her voice wobbled with the memory. "I still can't believe you took that lightening for me."
Zuko smiles into her hairline, and she can feel his lips curve against her skin. "I'd do it again," he stated. "I'd do it every time."
She smiles, but it's weak; she can feel Zuko's lips press against her forehead affectionately. Trail along her temple; he pulled her up a little, so he could continue kissing her along her jaw. Again, and again, and again, until he's at the corner of her lips once more.
They're a mauve colour, compared to his pale pink ones.
When the two mouths touch again, there are tears.
They find themselves in the same predicament a lot of the time; it's the only time they feel happiest, the most content. It's the only time they feel like they actually belong somewhere. They are not ignorant; they know the second they leave this place, everything changes. The know that once these three years are up, they have to take up their old, half hearted lives once more.
But the very prospect motivates them every night; with every kiss, with every whisper, with every moan, they are living. And it's the only time they are doing anything completely and utterly for themselves, for each other, for what the have together, and nothing else. It's only time they're selfish; it's the first time, actually, in the past Agni knows how many years, that they felt like they were doing something right.
Katara hisses as she parts her mouth from his; but she has to, in order to take off her navy tunic. It goes flying across the room, leaving her only in her wrappings as Zuko holds her hips firmly, walking her backwards until they topple onto the end of her bed. He can feel her hands run up his bare arms, up to his shoulder, against his neck before grasping his matted hair firmly. He runs his own hands against the sides of her body too, but he feels this pressure in his chest.
He parts their lips abruptly, making her glare up at him in confusion.
"It was always you, you know." He blurted out, hovering above her.
Katara blinked for a second, a long second; before erupting into a smile, grabbing the back of his neck as she presses said smile to his mouth. She appreciates his need to tell her how he feels; she appreciates how he tries to keep things romantic, tries to keep things a little more pure, tries to bring some kind of innocence, and excuse, even, to what they had.
She appreciated as much as she could, whilst she could.
It's approaching close to eighteen months since they arrived at Luthanak; the patients are doing well, Katara is on the verge of finding a cure, and the two realize just how infatuated they are with each other. No, how infatuated they have been with each other since they first met. But now, she is nineteen, and he, twenty one; no longer fourteen and sixteen.
Katara can feel Zuko's chest pressed against her bare back as they lie together in his bed, yet again; he plays with her hands, unable to deny how greatly their skin tones complement each other. She leans her head back against his chest, and his lips are close to her ear as they watch Zuko play with their fingers, their bare bodies tangled together.
"Shall I tell you how things were supposed to go?" Zuko murmurs into her ear.
She smiles; they both love this game. "Please." She can feel his smile.
"We leave our duties as the Fire Lord and Master waterbender; we stay and live in Luthanak; you heal the people, I'll farm the lands, I guess. Anything to make money," Zuko said quietly into her ear. "We're young and crazily in love, which results in us marrying rather quickly, but it doesn't matter."
"After a few years, when we're a bit older, and have a bit more than just a few gold pieces, we'll have children. Many, many, children," Zuko explains, kissing her ear briefly before continuing. "They'll be beautiful; mixing and matching our features, the epitome of peace, some inheriting our bending skills, some not. But it doesn't matter, since we love them all the same."
"Then they grow, and marry, and bless us with grandchildren; and we grow old, here, together."
They close their eyes and try to see it.
The game always ends in tears.
He holds her close to him in the moonlight, and this is just about as close to perfection as it gets. The sea crashed next to them, but it was out of nothing but bitter joy as they resume walking along the shore once more. Zuko is exhausted; it's Agni knows what time at night and he is a child of the sun. Meaning, that this is the most tiresome time to be awake for him.
But he doesn't care; not even in the slightest as she holds his hand in her small one delicately, saying his name quietly, like a secret. He doesn't care, because he's with her; she smiles at him, small and a little timid, but his heart doesn't falter in fluttering messily at it. She captivates him, to say the least. She always had; except this time, he was able to tell her that. He hesitates, but not for long.
"I love you," Zuko said softly against her ear, pulling her to him. "I think I've always loved you."
She's smiling; it's bitter, and it's small, despite the reason for its presence.
For the first time in a long time, Katara is honest.
"Me too..." She admits with a blush he finds endearing as well as adorable.
When they are together that night, they cry afterwards - love like this isn't the kind to be wasted.
She hadn't even stopped to think about Aang this past year and a half; and he didn't think of Mai, either. They didn't like to think of such things, especially since they had reached up to half their time here by now. They busied themselves with work, with bloodbending, with healing, with paperwork, with being in love; they tried their hardest not to think of what waited for them beyond the seas.
Every time they did accidently think about such things, they would go to each other to forget; besides, nothing felt better than a kiss from your true love. But it all hurt just as much after they parted, because they knew they wouldn't be kissing each other for that much longer. This was not their fate; their fate was to marry the people they were expected to, live the life they were expected to live. It was not to live in blissful ignorance with the person who made your heart soar through the clouds.
Because this was the real world, and as narcissistic and unfair as it sounds, happy endings don't exist. You don't go riding off into the sunset with who you most want to be with; you suck it up, endure the pain, and live your life in a way that is best and least gut wrenching for everyone else around you, regardless of what you feel. It's the real world, the grown up world; the world they tried so hard to get away from, and who could blame them?
They decided love was cynical, dangerous, heartless.
Yet, they found themselves claiming it to each other frequently as they lie together.
She can feel it.
She can feel it inside of her, deep inside of her, before she even knows it openly. She tries to deny it for a few days, but realizes that it is ridiculous to do so; she tries to stay placid and calm and controlled, like the Katara everyone knows, as she checks herself properly, finalizing the truth. It's barely been over a week, and yet she is completely aware of it.
She doesn't quite know how it makes her feel; yes, most of her feels weary and broken and full of anguish and despair every time she thinks of it. But, then again, there's another part of her that's a little delighted, a little curious, a little fanatical about it all. However, this part of her is small and almost nonexistant; and Katara knows that once she leaves Luthanak, it'll be dead and gone for good.
She feels...well, she doesn't quite know; not even as she leans against Zuko's doorway, his head turning to see her.
He smiled, but she did not; and so, his smile falls.
"I'm with child." She says flatly; or at least, that's how she wants it to sound.
There is utter silence as Zuko just stands there, completely motionless. She doesn't blame him, since that's how she initially reacted, too; but a week into the revelation, she had time to accept it, had time to come to terms with it. Her mood isn't at its greatest, but not because she spent the entire morning vomiting; mostly because her hormones don't allow her to hide her emotions that well, stripping more control from her.
Zuko just stares at her, golden eyes trailing down to her stomach. His child, their child; he knows it is wrong, Agni they both do. But he can't help feeling a swell of love, a swell of overwhelming, overbearing, bitter joy that engulfs him along with the hollow ache. He approaches her, and her shoulders sag; her wraps his arms around her, pulling him and the life that resided within her as close as possible to him.
They stay like that for a while.
"I can't...I can't get rid of it," Katara admits, her face crumpling against his chest. "I can't do it, Zuko."
He presses his lips into her hair. "I would never ask you to," He murmurs. "I wouldn't want you to, either."
They continue to hold each other, quietly and a little sullenly; they both cry a little, quietly, a little sullenly. He simply holds her; Katara and his child, and he finds it funny how he harbours so much love for something that he didn't even know existed five minutes ago. But love was never a game either of them were good at; they hoped better for their child, though.
"We'll find it good parents," Katara said eventually. "A couple who want a child; who'd love it just as much as us."
Zuko nods into her hair, tears slipping from his golden eyes.
They find a good couple quite quickly; Hakuna and her husband Kroshu, both earthbenders. They're in their mid thirties, and had been looking to adopt a child for years; they were those types of people that were born to be parents. Zuko and Katara were forced to tell them of their situation; complete with who they really are, and how long they have. The couple were good people, no doubt; they understood the circumstances and were more than willing to comply.
Zuko and Katara tried to distance themselves from the life that grew within her as the months passed; but it was so much harder than it initially seemed, so much harder. She tried not to touch her growing stomach that much, tried not to look down at the life within her and wonder and fantasize about what could've been, they life they could have built with this child, the love they could give it first hand.
But on more than one occasion had they awoken in the morning to find Zuko's arms wrapped around her swollen belly protectively, or find themselves lingering at the market stalls that sold infant clothing and baby rattles and cots and baby baskets.
Katara thought she had the hardest job; her body being subjected to such drastic changes, never being alone from their child, feeling it kick inside of her longingly for a warm hand that she would eventually give in to. But as she watched Zuko as the months progressed, she started to realize how hard this was for him, the look on his face whenever he saw her walk into the room. It didn't help that Katara was growing more and more beautiful; her skin practically gleaming, her femininity too gorgeous to turn away from.
"I think..." Katara started quietly, looking down at her partially round, protruding abdomen. She pauses a second, wanting to lay a hand on her lower stomach but restraining from doing so. "I think there are two."
Kroshu and Hakuna both gasped in delight, engulfing each other in a hug. Zuko came closer to Katara, looking down at her ever growing tummy, resting his hands there gently. They kicked within her desperately, crazily, almost; Hakuna and Kroshu laying a hand on Katara's stomach also, grinning with pride.
"It seems that they love their father dearly, my Lord." Hakuna said gently, smiling at Zuko.
Zuko glanced at her, but his attention soon turned back to Katara's stomach; his hands resting there protectively once more. Hakuna and Kroshu watch the Fire Lord with slightly scrunched faces; it is not easier to endure than it is for other's to watch. All four of them are quiet, as they feel the children kick within her, Zuko's face crumpling as tears brim his eyes silently. He'd never felt such a primal urge, such an innate instinct to father his children, to hold them, to protect them, to teach them, to love them.
He shook his head slowly, filled with this overwhelming instinct, knowing it would never leave, that he'd never truly be okay with this.
Katara read his face, her hand rising to hold his stubbled jaw.
"Give us time," Katara said quietly, eyes cast down. "After some time, we'll...we'll be alright."
The closer her due date approaches, the sadder they become; they tried their hardest, they really do. Katara tried not to touch her huge stomach, and Zuko tried not to look down at it lovingly. They tried to converse normally, to pretend it wasn't there; that the two lives that grew within her didn't exist. They tried not to think if they were boys or girls or both.
They tried not to think what colour eyes they had, what characteristics they would inherit, what type of element they possessed, ever since Katara confirmed they were benders; they tried and tried and tried and tried, until it became unbearable. Hell, it was already unbareable, trying to forget something you loved with all of your heart.
Zuko didn't care anymore, and his broken heart controlled his actions in her final weeks. He collapsed onto his knees in front of her, alarming Katara suddenly; he rested his forehead gently against her stomach, holding it with both of his strong hands gently. He felt them kick rapidly, and his smile covered his entire face in complete joy, complete bitterness. He was so desperate to see them grow, so desperate to spoil them, so desperate to love them and proclaim to the world that it was unbearable.
Katara felt the fabric of her dress become moist with tears as she stroked Zuko's hair.
They'd tried their hardest, but they had fallen in love with their children regardless.
Katara's labour was long and tedious, but despite that, she wished all pain was like this; she wished all pain was physical. Physical pain healed, over time, eventually; however, internal pain never left you, no matter how much liquor you drink, or how many kisses you receive from the person you love, or how many days you spend broken and vacant as you stare at your children with a completely shattered heart.
Kroshu and Hakuna gave the two a little time with the newborns; a girl, and a boy. They wanted their biological parents to name them, since they were the ones who had blessed them with children in the first place, after their many years of waiting.
All Zuko and Katara knew, was that nothing prepares you for that moment when you see your child for the first time; nothing prepares you for the crying infant in your arms that is half made up of you, and the one person you love on this earth more than anything up until then. Nothing prepares you for the euphoria of your child looking up at you; the swell of pride and love and protection that surges through as you cradle the small bundle of warmth in your arms.
The babies' skin was a lighter shade than Katara's sandy-brown colour. Their daughter had Zuko's eyes; warm and golden and vibrant; however, she had inherited her mother's masses of curly hair, as her father held her with paternal pride. She gazed up at him, and Zuko's heart melted so quickly; she was so small, so delicate, his daughter, and his chest swelled with love.
Their son, however, was the complete opposite; he had Katara's icy blue eyes, and Zuko's straight, shaggy hair. His eyes lolled sleepily in his mother's arms, as she looked down at him; her chest swelled similarly to Zuko's, and they both knew that this type of feeling would never leave them. They swapped babies, too; so that Zuko could hold their son, and Katara could hold their daughter. They shifted them back into Katara's arms as she lay in the bed, exhausted.
"They're beautiful," Zuko murmured, kissing the heads of his son and daughter. "They're so perfect."
They both watched their son and daughter sleep peacefully. They looked so fragile; and though it pained them indescribably, they were thankful, that they were not alone. That their children had each other, at least. And really, there was nothing more they could ask for, as their parents; but it didn't make the aching go away.
"I want to name her Kya, after my mother...but if I were to bear a daughter for Aang, I think he would be suspicious if I didn't name her so," Katara murmured.
Zuko didn't say anything as he watched their sleeping children sleep blissfully in her arms.
They knew the hollow, dull, agonizing ache was here to stay until they took their last breath.
"So, have you thought of names?" Kroshu asked gently, looking down at the baby boy in his arms, glancing to Hakuna who held the and Katara looked at each other for a second.
"Zunyah, for the girl." Zuko said softly.
"Kaythus, for the boy." Katara murmured.
Kroshu smiled. "Fire Nation and Water Tribe names," He said softly. "They're good choices."
Katara swallowed, pausing before continuing. "Zunyah a firebender, Kaythus a waterbender. I can sense it."
Kroshu and Hakuna nodded in silence, for they knew of this in the pregnancy. They knew this may cause some problems as the children would grow; since they themselves were earthbenders, inevitably making them doubt their origin. However, this didn't stop them from loving them instantly, eyes steadily meeting Zuko and Katara's worried ones; the older married couple smiled. They that Zuko and Katara were young, but if the time and place were different, they also knew they would've made a beautiful family.
"We'll write you letters of them to you both as they grow," Hakuna said firmly, holding Zunyah's squirming form closer to comfort her. "You can decide when to tell them who they really are; if you ever decide to do so, that is."
There was a silence, and Zuko gripped Katara's hand firmly as they nodded. And with that, the couple set off, for they were to relocate to the Earth Kingdom to raise the babies. They paused at the door; Zuko and Katara took one final look at their children, and they could barely breath. Could barely stay conscious; if they did so much as move, as they knew the pain would just erupt even further inside of them than it already was.
They looked at their children, their beloved children, for the final time.
"We'll take good care of them." Hakuna confirmed in the doorway.
Zuko's face crumpled and he turned away, and Katara, utterly numb from childbirth, swallowed before answering.
"We know," She whispered, looking away as well; she heard her and Zuko's heart shatter simultaneously. "We know."
They cried a lot; some people would say they cried too much, even. They cried and cried for a long time; it took even longer for them to be with each other again. Not just for Katara to heal from labour, but because the wound was still open and gaping inside of their hearts. But they needed each other more than anything, now; it only brought them closer together than they already were, if possible.
They cried afterwards too; it was so much more bitter than what they remembered. But they knew exactly why; because they shouldn't be here, making love so soon. They should bickering about nightly feeds, exhausted from having to care for two babies constantly, collapsing on their bed in a heap before falling asleep having been fatigued beyond compare of being new parents.
They should be frustrated at how they never had a chance to be together because of their newborns.
They cry, again; their bare bodies tangled in the the same red, silk sheets.
She is twenty, and he is twenty-two.
As the months passed, they can't cry openly anymore; instead, they cry internally, constantly. On the outside...well, it's just as painful as it is on the inside; they don't know how to smile properly anymore, and they can't do anything without feeling exhausted and empty. They can barely eat, barely sleep, barely speak. It still hurt; it would never stop hurting.
They stroll through the local market place in a slow manner; their hands are clasped together, of course, but their shoulders slump, their vision cast aside. Katara felt empty inside of her, quite literally; she ached. And Zuko felt cold all of the time, having no bundle of warmth to heat up his hands; he ached. Empty aching; that's the only way they could describe it - empty and aching.
They hear a baby cry in the large crowd; they stop dead in their tracks, completely stiffened. The infant couldn't have been more than eight months, but it doesn't matter; they thought that the sound of a child crying would bring them solace and peace, but it did the exact opposite. They felt this horrible churning in their stomach; this gut wrenching twist that that made them nauseated and deeply unsettled.
They heard a mother's soothing voice; a father lifting the now laughing child onto his shoulders.
They cry; again and again and again.
Months pass, and the time has come; they stand at the port of Luthanak at Agni knows what time in the morning, staring at each other. The citizens are healed and healthy, Katara having found a cure months back. However, they are still broken; except, they're just quiet about it. They met at the same port, three years ago; she was eighteen, he was twenty.
Now, she is twenty-one, and he is twenty three; smarter, wiser, much more powerful, older, but neither of them care.
Saying goodbye pretty much kills any part of them that is left; they kiss for a long, long time, since it is the last one. Once they have boarded their individual ships, they don't have any more tears to cry. They breathe in the ocean air and prepare themselves; ready to return and marry people they never even loved. Ready to live lives that they never even had a say in - to live a lie. Ready to forget about the life they could've had with the children they never even got to hear cry for a second time.
But, as they stare out into the same moon, they know they are not ready. But that's sort of the point, isn't it?
You can't ready yourself for something like that.
They don't sleep well that night; they never sleep well again.
His wedding was red; different shades, but red all the same. He doesn't see much else other than that; not Mai, his bride, puzzled at why his smile is so insincere. Not his Uncle, suspicious at the light that no longer flickers in his golden eyes. Not the world, as they watch him say those fateful two words flatly that bind his soul to the girl he never even loved in the first place.
It's been a year since he came back from Luthanak, but he still doesn't feel much different; after a while, you accept reality over the dream world you had clung to so desperately in the arms of a beautiful waterbender. At some point, you just stop feeling sorry for yourself, and you just...be. You're alive; and that's it.
She's at his wedding; she has to be, for she is his ally, his friend. She's beautiful - of course she is; in her beautifully simple, pastel blue kimono that he prefers much more to Mai's extravagant gown. Her eyes are glowing, but not in the way they used to; Zuko hugs Katara for a long, long time. Long enough for others to become suspicious. When they part, they realize just how numb they've become. Zuko's heart tightens as watched Aang encircle a strong arm around her waist; his smile uncertain.
"We're marrying in a season's time," Aang says cheerfully, though, a little nervously. "We hope to see you there, Fire Lord Zuko."
Zuko's eyes glance to Katara; she's looking away vacantly. Probably wondering the same thing he was; what their children did for their second birthday yesterday; his smile is forced and so, so fake, and Aang decides not to acknowledge this. His misty, grey eyes glance to Katara; she hasn't smiled properly since she got back a year ago, but he decided not to question her about it. Actually, she hadn't smiled properly in a long, long time.
He isn't stupid; he knows that both Zuko and Katara died in Luthanak.
He decided he doesn't want to know why.
Her wedding is blue; bright or dull (mostly dull, to her), but it is blue all the same. They all tell her she looks beautiful; even Aang, as she joins him at the classical Water Tribe themed alter. He agreed to marry in her native custom, and have a reception in Air Nomad celebration. But, to be quite honest, she didn't care; she smiles bitterly as she says those two words that seal her fate to the Avatar that is so madly in love with her.
The crowd cheers, and she's glad at least someone is cheering; Zuko is there, looking as handsome as ever, despite his Fire Lord robes not suiting him the way his maroon pants and vest did. She practically runs into his arms, and everyone thinks it is out of happiness and glee; they don't know how wrong they are. She breathes him in and for a second, she feels safe. But the embrace ends and Aang's arm is around her again.
"Congratulations." Zuko said with a smile.
Katara's smile is just as fake.
Aang's eyes dart between the two. He honestly doesn't want to know.
Some years pass, and Zuko and Katara get good at this. They get good at this sickening game called life; Katara is there for the birth of Zuko's daughter. She watches him hold her, and she sees an old part of him flutter back for the first time in a long, long time. It is clear that Mai isn't completely content with her presence, as she lays, exhausted from childbirth; she wasn't an idiot. She knew Zuko never looked at her the way he looked at Katara.
"She's beautiful." Katara said. Zuko catches her gaze.
It hurt so much, so she left.
It was better that way.
A couple more years pass, and when she tells Aang she is carrying, he is more than overjoyed; she, on the other hand, didn't quite know how to feel. She knew immediately, having felt the same euphoria previously. He wouldn't stop holding her, resting his hands on her stomach; he told everyone immediately, not able to contain his excitement. He listened to her stomach every day, delighted at the kicks that eventually responded.
Nine months later, whilst she was holding her second daughter, she felt it. Kya, her daughter, was a waterbender; she started crying, since she could blame it on hormones, now, anyway, so that Aang wouldn't worry. Now, she had both a waterbending son and daughter. Except, no one knew of her son, did they?
Zunyah and Kaythus would be six, now; she awaited the letters from Kroshu and Hakuna like the elixir of life. Zuko is there for the birth of Kya; he holds Katara in way that Aang cannot as she cries.
"She's beautiful." He murmurs, stroking the cheek of the blue eyed girl, who had the same eyes as her mother and half brother.
It hurts too much, and so he leaves.
It's much better this way.
Years and years pass; time happens and passes, not particularly slowly, not particularly quickly. They learn to carry on no longer for themselves, which was tedious and empty, but for their children; both the ones that the world knew of, and did not know of. Katara cradles her newborn baby in her arms; Tenzin, Aang's third child, second son after Bumi.
But really, it was her third son, wasn't it?
She sits in the rocking chair of the nursery in her home with Tenzin in her arms, sleeping. Five year old Kya and three year old Bumi somehow balancing on her lap, sleeping just as soundly as their new baby brother. One arm held Tenzin, whilst the other wrapped around her other two children. She cried, because her hormones were still all over the place; or so she says.
But also, because it shouldn't be like this; she should be struggling to fit five children on her lap, not perfectly comfortable with just three. She rocks them gently, crying and crying; they don't stir in their sleep. She loves them, of course she does; she loves them with her whole heart. But there were supposed to be five; not three. Five, not three. Five, not-
Aang walks in, opening the door gently; he watches his wife cradle his newborn son, whilst somehow managing to keep their other two children on her lap, also. She's crying, and he doesn't know what to say. Something is wrong, and he knows that. Something happened, something terrible in Luthanak all those years ago that broke her, shattered her, not sparing Zuko, either.
Aang was not stupid; none of them are, are they? He knows that Katara and him, him and Katara, Avatar Aang and Master Katara...they're not everything that everyone thinks they are. They are not quite complete, not quite whole. He loves her, by Agni, her and his children more than anything on this earth; but at twenty-eight years old, you learn to stop kidding yourself about how your wife feels about you.
It pains him to watch her sob quietly as she rocks his children.
"Katara..." he murmurs, but even after all of these years, he still doesn't know what to say.
They turned eleven last week.
Zuko is crying, also; just, in another nation.
The time had come; it had to, at some point.
The two met in Ba Sing Se at a secluded cafe that was guarded by the White Lotus, just to be safe. When they saw each other, their embrace lasted far longer than what was necessary; it had been nineteen years since the birth of their first two children, and it was time. Zuko, aged fourty; Katara, aged thirty-eight. They decided that this was the right time, explaining it to Kroshu and Hakuna through letters a few weeks back.
They waited avidly; anxiously. And why wouldn't they be? They knew of everything that had happened in their childrens' lives through the letters; they were both prodigy benders, to say the least. Zunyah had become a general in training for a new army being enforced called the United Forces, one of the youngest to ever exist. Kaythus had become a master healer; touring the world in healing the sick and injured, developing a new technique as well as doing some work for the army his sister was currently being trained to command.
They were more than proud; but such love and pride could not be put into words as they walked in.
Zunyah looked exactly like her mother, with a hint of her father's strong jaw and paler skintone; her golden eyes were wide and alert and gleaming. She was more than beautiful, turning many heads in the small tea shop. She was petite, like her mother; long, curly ebony hair falling over her back, a mischievous fierceness in her gaze.
Kaythus was tall and broad, just like his father; he was undoubtedly handsome, girls double taking at his piercing, icy blue eyes and shaggy hair. He was at least a foot taller than his sister, and his hands were smooth and gentle, just like a healer's - his smile even more so. They both paused at the doorway, murmuring a few words together, an the twins laughed quietly with one another, Zunyah patting her brother's back affectionately, and Zuko and Katara hoped they had always been this close growing up.
Zuko and Katara stood slowly, mesmerized. The twins approached them cautiously, taken aback from complete shock. It took a lot of strength on Zuko and Katara's part to not just loose it and hug them both, then and there; but they managed to keep themselves together, though, not able to hide their proud, loving smiles.
"Wh-What?" Zunyah breathed. "You're...you're our parents?"
The middle aged masters smiled nervously.
"But, you're Fire Lord Zuko and Master Katara," Kaythus murmured. "I thought...I thought the prospect of you having a relationship was joke, since it was used in plays and old myths; that you married Mai, and you married Avatar Aang. How is this...how-"
"We were relocated to Luthanak for three years," Katara said softly. "We love each other, but the world needed us to be with our respective others; when we found out we were having you, I couldn't bring myself to terminate. We wanted you to have a life, to live; to have and be what we could not."
"You are proof of our love," Zuko said gently, yet firmly. "You both are result of pure love that couldn't be killed; not by war, or time, or marriage to other people."
"But...but your daughter," Zunyah whispered turning to Zuko, then to Katara. "Y-Your other children-"
"Are all your half brothers and sisters." Katara finished simply for her.
There was silent pause that lasted for what seemed like an eternity; Zunyah was frowning all the while, whilst Kaythus looked at the two in complete awe. He was the first to stand, tears in his eyes, briskly walking around the table to meet the two.
"My mother...and father," he whispered, hugging Katara and Zuko. "We've always known that Mum and Dad weren't our biological parents; but Master Katara? Fire Lord Zuko? You're both legends!"
The two smiled, hugging their son tighter; they all released, eventually, looking at Zunyah who still sat placidly at the other side of the table. Her golden were fierce like her mother's; like daggers, sharp and striking. She was cautious and a little weary, having spent her entire life wondering where she came from, why their real parents could have possibly given them away, who they could've been-
She shook her head in disbelief, slowly.
"How could you..?" she whispered. "How are you our..?"
It didn't take long for her to be pulled into a hug by her brother; the four stayed like that for a long, long time. And finally, Zuko and Katara felt that ache start to lessen; they felt that hollow, dull, meticulous pain that had lasted all of these years inside of them start to subside, start to erode away. It felt so good, that they cried. They cried properly for the first time in years, in decades.
But for once, they cried through temporary satisfaction and partial relief; and this time, the're children joined them.
"I was actually your age when I had you both," Katara remarked with a small, half smile. "It was the hardest thing that me and your father ever had to do; it still tears us apart, even now. We never wanted either of you to think for a second that we did what we did out of anything other than pure love."
Kaythus laid a hand on his mother's; pressing his smile to the back of it. "Of course we know that, mother," he said in his deep voice, that strangely resembled Zuko's. "We love you too; hell, we've both spent years imagining what our parents were like."
"It didn't take us long to figure out, what with our bending," Zunyah said with a genuine smile. "Eventually, Mum and Dad just up and told us; they said you named us?"
After a soaring of their hearts, Zuko and Katara steadied on their children, their eyes firm and alive. For the first time in their lives, Zunyah and Kaythus felt that they belonged somewhere; that they derived from somewhere. It delighted them to learn that all their little quirks and techniques were inherited; and by the world's legends, at that. Despite the four of them talking for hours, not all the questions were answered; but none of them cared much, since this, in itself, was more than enough.
Zuko went first, following the slow pause."'Zunyah' is derived from the ancient Fire Nation word 'zunithai'," Zuko said softly. "It means 'strength'."
Zunyah blinked at her father, who smiled gently at her.
"The name 'Kaythus' is originally from the Water Tribe language, of the word 'kaythanika'," Katara said gently. "It means 'courage'." Kaythus watched his mother as she grinned softly at him.
"We want you to know that we have always loved you," Katara said firmly. "And we chose these names because we wanted to give you everything we didn't have. We didn't want you end up like us, hiding yourself from the world and living half heartedly."
"There was not a day that passed by us when we weren't thinking about you; and so, in an effort to make up for the time lost, we gave you these names because we want you to do and to be everything we weren't," Zuko spoke gently. "Do not be afraid to do what makes you happy, like we were, like we are; learn from us, and use your names for remembrance."
The twins threw their arms around their parents again; it wasn't perfect, because they all knew it wouldn't last, but it was enough to make their hearts soar, even if it was only for a small while.
Years passed; a couple of decades, to be quite frank. Their children grew; both the ones that the world knew of, and did not. Zuko and Katara grew old, just like everyone else; respectively and separately. They received frequent letters from both Kaythus and Zunyah, updating them on their life. Eventually, Katara knew she could not hide it anymore; at least, not from her husband.
She told Aang about them when she was sixty-two, and he was sixty; he wasn't mad. He would never get mad at her; actually, he smiled. He hugged her, tears in his eyes, which confused the Katara beyond compare. When she pulled back, dulling blue eyes looking at him completely bewildered, she still didn't understand.
He smiled into her face; his wrinkles wise and loving.
"Those two seconds when you told me about yours and Zuko's children, were two seconds in which I felt like I actually saw you, for the first time since you were fourteen," Aang murmured. There was a pause, as he hugged his wife again, and the permanent bitter feeling inside of her swelled from the guilt. "I love you, Katara. I always have, and I always will. And loving you means I won't ever expect that love to return to me."
For the first time in her life, Katara cries into her husband's arms.
At Aang's funeral, everyone is there; they are all looking sullen and disheartened as they give Katara their condolences. She is sad, of course she is; her children hold her hands and hug her frequently, but this is what makes Katara realize that she feels just as guilty as she does sad. They're all crying around her, and so does she, but not that much. After spending your whole life crying inside, it's hard to do it physically.
She hugs them all; Toph, her daughter, her children, Sokka, Suki, their children, even spends some time wishing her father and Uncle Iroh were still around to hug, too. But eventually, she reaches Zuko; his hair is grey and his pale, yet vibrant skin is sprinkled with wrinkles, but he looks so good for his age. Though, this means less than nothing to her. He will always be the charmingly messy twenty year old in her eyes.
Zuko wonders how anyone can still look so beautiful at an age like hers as he hugs her back; she feels familiar. Her scent, her hair, her skin. He never realized how much he actually missed it all until it was then and there, hugging her in the midst of crying figures. They're all new to crying, but Zuko and Katara are masters at the art; they hold each other for a long, long time.
Eventually, after a few more years, Mai's funeral happens similarly. And then Sokka's, Suki's and Toph's.
And now, it's just them; it's just Zuko and Katara once more. She is sixty-eight and he is seventy.
But there's nothing to say anymore, because they missed their chance years ago.
Maybe in their next life, they hope.
Their time is coming; both Zuko and Katara know this. They have cheated death many times, and in many ways, but the prospect is drawing near now; dangerously near, but neither of them mind. They've had enough of this sickening game called life, and they are more than ready to sleep. Yet, they cannot help but wonder what could've happened if the times had been different, if destiny and luck worked in their favour.
Life is a long and tedious journey; but Zuko and Katara realized that this is only so if you allow it to be.
They have grandchildren, now; more so than what the world is aware of. Kaythus had five children, Zunyah, four. They had seen them a few times, but not too many times as to draw suspicion; they were beautiful, just like their parents, and they loved them dearly. They told the twins, their eldests, that once they were gone, they could reveal themselves to the world, if that was what they wanted.
Both Zuko and Katara make it a point to smile as their children frown at them.
They are at a ball of some sort in Republic City that neither of them care much for; Aang's city, the mark he left on the world. Katara stands a little away as she watches Avatar Korra and her family; the young woman is moderately pregnant, thus, still able to hold her two year old son in her arms as she laughs. She is a great Avatar, no one can doubt that; and by Agni, an excellent mother, also.
Her husband, Mako, is laughing as his four year old daughter sits on his shoulders gleefully, grasping fistfuls of her father's hair, laughing just as loud as her mother is. Mako turns to Korra, and Katara knows that look; Aang had looked at her like that. Zuko looked at her like that, too. Hell, he still does; Mako brushes his hand against his wife's cheek and she blushes like a little girl, before pouting and scolding him for making her blush in the first place.
Katara can feel his presence behind her; she can feel his lips near her ear, dangerously close.
"That was supposed to be us, you know." Zuko says, watching with her.
Mako kneels down in front of his wife, somehow balancing his daughter on his shoulders; he kisses her swollen stomach, resting his forehead there, like Zuko did to Katara all those years ago. Korra blushes again, and her son is laughing in her arms at her blush, before nuzzling into his mother's neck affectionately.
"I know," Katara replies, their eyes never leaving the family on the balcony. Mako stands up slowly, holding his daughter's legs on his shoulders for support before whispering something into Korra's ear; her cheeks are still pink as she smiles, still pink as her husband's lips brush over her temple.