Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender, its concepts, or its characters. No money is being made out of this.
A/N: The term "fireblast wedding" is borrowed from Emletish's excellent Stalking series. This was written for Day 1 of Zutara Month 2012 - "Relief".
Katara leaned on the railing of her balcony and tried to will away the unpleasant butterflies in her stomach. The full moon was high and her blood sang, bent by Yue into a restless rhythm Katara had known since she was a child. Back then she had felt like running and playing when everyone else was asleep; sometimes, she would tip-toe over to her family's drinking water supply and move her fingers just so, to watch as icy stars appeared on the water surface. It had been all the bending she could do then, but it had still made her body tingle. Now, as a fully realized master Waterbender, the vague restlessness of her childhood became an urge to perform very specific movements. Naturally, her limbs wanted to bend, but aside from that, her hips wanted to thrust, to undulate back and forth until the fullness of the moon receded and things got back to normal.
It had taken her a while to realize the reason she felt like this was because of her Waterbending, and she had been relieved Yugoda had been the one to broach the subject, and not Pakku. Later, Yugoda had clarified to her that the men were just as affected, but women had their cycles to factor in, and it was important for Katara to learn to both control her urges and use her bending to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The hushed tone Yugoda had used had nothing to do with bashfulness; it was simply frowned upon in the Northern Water Tribe for women to have such control over anything, even their own fertility, so they weren't allowed to talk too openly about it. Katara rolled her eyes at the memory, but the thought of her cycle sobered her back up.
Like most Waterbenders, her period usually came during the new moon. It wasn't as exact as, say, Toph's, whose body seemed to work with a precision that rivalled her sandbending, but it came every month around the same time and Katara was never particularly worried about it. That is, until its absence started to mean something; from then on, she rather welcomed it.
Which was why the lack of blood over the last six weeks left her cold with fear and not a small amount of panic.
Her cycle wasn't precise, but it had never been this late. Two weeks was too long to be a normal deviation. No; she knew what was going on, and the thought sent a new wave of dread through her guts.
Katara wasn't really sure what to do now. Should she tell him? Should she go home to the South Pole and try to keep a low profile, maybe marry some random guy as soon as possible? But even as the idea crossed her mind, she immediately rejected it. She could never be in a loveless marriage for convenience; especially not with anyone from her tribe, who most likely came from the Northern Water Tribe and brought with him its backward attitudes toward women. I guess I'll just have to do it alone, she thought. As she considered it, she grew more and more convinced she could do it. So many women had done it before her, and so many more would do it after; it wasn't impossible, just not...ideal. She had wanted to be happily married when this happened, not in the middle of a secret affair. But what good had plans ever done her or her friends, really? Three years ago, she would have never pictured herself where she was now, much less planned for it to happen. She hadn't planned to find Aang, or to leave her home...or to fall in love…
She could do this. She was strong, and she'd have her family, her friends. They would stay by her side, even if the entire world looked down upon her. And she'd be a mother! She'd always wanted to be one. No one even had to know who the father was; their secret would be completely safe with her. At least until the kid bends fire…
A scraping noise to her right startled her out of that train of thought. She immediately took stock of all water sources available and moved her legs into a vague bending stance; then, she spotted his dark hair emerging from the other side of the railing. Relaxing, she moved closer as he climbed over to her side. When he finally looked up at her, she couldn't help but smile at the familiar look in his eyes: a kind of shy eagerness, as if all he wanted to do was grab her but something – uncertainty, respect – restrained him.
"Hey," he said, slightly breathless.
"Hey! I thought you said you weren't going to make it tonight," she replied, and talking felt like a distraction from the weight that had settled over her stomach at the sight of him.
"Yeah, I thought I wasn't. I mean, I am later than usual," he glanced at the moon, "but I thought I'd come anyway. Figured you wouldn't be asleep, with the moon and all…"
He had stepped much closer. She wondered if his arms would comfort her as they usually did, or just remind her of her predicament. She decided to test it.
(They did comfort her. And so did his warmth, his smell, the way he buried his nose in her hair and the way he held her tighter and sighed and oh spirits I love you I love you so much.)
When they pulled apart enough to look at each other, he gave her a sweet kiss, then smirked.
"Plus, you know, I thought I should help out with your predicament."
Katara froze. "W–what?"
He frowned. "The full moon? You kn––"
"Oh! Right, of course…" She pulled away slightly. It occurred to her that they really should be inside; out on the balcony they might be seen from the garden. She took his hand and pulled him inside.
"Is everything okay?"
She stopped in the middle of the room, at a bit of a loss about what to do next. "Yeah, sure." The concerned look on his face confirmed that she hadn't been convincing, but it seemed pointless to do anything about it now.
"Are you okay? Did anything happen?"
"No…well, yes, but…" I guess not telling him was never really an option. She sat on the bed and patted the spot next to her. "You know that the moon really affects Waterbenders, right?" She began once he sat down.
"Well, for women it kind of affects…our cycle, as well." He blushed a little at that, and she knew her cheeks were probably just as red. She mentally rolled her eyes at them both. When he didn't say anything, she continued. "So when the moon is full, I'm usually at my most fertile...and during the new moon, I usually get my period."
"It's…probably why I have that 'predicament' in the first place," she added, smiling. He grinned back, but didn't lose the worried look. She decided to get it over with. "Anyway…the moon is full now, so it's been two weeks since my period should have come. But it still hasn't."
She watched his frown melt as he blanched. "Oh…"
"Yeah," she said, her breath shaky.
He stood and paced forward a bit. "So…that means you're…?"
"I'm not sure, but I guess I could be. I mean, you were here last full moon, so…"
"But we were careful! I mean, you did the thing, right?" His tone was more scared than accusatory, but it stung.
"Of course I did! But I guess it's not one hundred percent effective, or something!"
Her defensiveness triggered his. "But this never happened before! It obviously worked just fine! So what the hell happened?"
"I don't know!" They both seemed to realize at the same time how loud they had increasingly become, and it startled them out of their anger.
Zuko sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm not implying you did anything wrong. If anything I should have pulled out, or something."
"No," Katara said immediately. She could feel one of his guilt trips coming on. "It's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault, I guess. It just…happened."
He stared at her for a long time, his expression soft. "Yeah, I guess so." He walked over to the window and stared out at the garden, his back to her.
Katara had no idea what he was thinking, and it made her feel alone and helpless. Katara hated feeling helpless. She was strong and independent, and she hated that this situation kept insisting on making her feel like she wasn't. Because she was. "It's okay. I can just go back to the South Pole for a while, and just... stay there for a bit. Nobody has to know about it, or us, or whatever. It'll be fine."
He'd looked at her sharply when she mentioned the South Pole. "What?"
"I'll just go home, my family's there. I won't tell them about us, I'll just say I made a mistake or something. I'll lie low for a few years and no one will suspect anything." The longer Katara talked, the more confident she became in her idea. She stood. "I mean, sure, my tribe probably won't like it, but I know my family will support me and they're respected enough that I'll be okay. After a while I can just stay on Kyoshi or wherever, but no one will even think about this a few years from now, and––"
"Wait, what? Why would you do that? Why the hell would you leave?"
"Um…isn't it obvious? This could ruin everything!"
Katara stared at him. "Your rule. The peace negotiations, your reputation, your claim to the throne, whatever." Zuko looked away. "I mean, we've sort of discussed this before – can you imagine the reactions from my tribe, from the nobles here, from the Earth Kingdom even? Isn't that the reason why we've been doing this–– like this, why we haven't told anyone?"
"Yes! I know that. But this is different!"
"Yeah, it's much worse. It could cause more damage. It could get you assassinated!"
"I thought I was supposed to be the dramatic one," he said, a skeptical look on his face.
"You are. But this isn't drama, this is a realistic concern! It's not like there haven't been attempts already!"
Zuko shook his head. "Look, it's not like anyone would like it, but…"
"My tribe would flip out! The Northern Tribe would flip out even worse! You know how they are about women, they'd probably see it as an affront of some sort!"
"I know, but––"
"And with a half-Water Tribe child, the Earth Kingdom would probably feel like you would favor the Water Tribes politically and flip out about that!"
"Probably," Zuko agreed wearily.
"Not to mention this snake pit right here…"
"Yes, I know. Everybody hates me here; I'm over it. I'm just doing my job as best I can."
"Zuko, it wouldn't be just about your attitude anymore. A mixed race heir could be what finally drives them to do something." He sighed. "Not just to you," Katara added quietly. He glanced up at her, eyes briefly full of something like pain.
"I know. I know," he finally said.
She walked over to him. "We can't just jeopardize everything we've been working for – especially you and Aang. This could screw everything up royally, you know that." Sadness had crept into her voice, and Katara felt the beginning of tears form behind her eyes.
He stared back at her, but he looked so hurt that Katara quickly wondered what she could have said that offended him.
"How can you say that?" He asked softly. "How could you think this is less important than all that stuff?"
Katara searched for his meaning in his eyes. "It's the future of the world we're talking about, Zuko."
"Yeah, but––" Zuko sighed. "Okay. I get what you're saying. I do." His hands cupped her shoulders. "But…" She could tell from the frustration in his eyes that he knew exactly what he wanted to say, but was having trouble putting it into words.
Her hands moved to his elbows, and they held each other in an awkward sort of embrace. "But what, honey? What are you trying to say?"
At that, his entire expression softened. He moved slightly closer, until their foreheads were almost touching. "But," he said quietly, "what about our future?" He paused. When she didn't say anything, he continued, drawing away slightly: "I mean, I know we never discussed it properly, but I thought we were…you know, going somewhere with this? I––"
"Yeah. I mean, yeah. D-didn't you?"
"Well…yeah. I just…I wasn't sure what you thought, and knowing what the situation's like, politically, I figured you weren't even thinking about that kind of stuff at the moment. You know, in general. And with us it's an even bigger mess than usual, so…"
"Yeah... But…I was."
They both paused, looking at each other. Katara looked away first. They started talking at exactly the same time, then laughed awkwardly; Zuko told her to go first.
"What…what exactly did you…you know, think about? About our…future?"
"Just…you know. How viable it would be." He smiled. "I looked in the library for records of old Fire Lords that might have…you know, done this. I was thinking about asking Uncle what he thinks. Sometimes he knows the best way to put a spin on something, politically."
Katara giggled softly. "He is better than you at this," she teased.
He smiled ruefully. "What isn't he better at?"
She cupped his cheeks, frowning. It always bothered her when he started to put himself down. "Many things."
"I guess I'm just trying to say that," he began, gently pulling her hands away from his face and entwining them with his, "I don't think you should go away. I don't want you to go away. We'll just…deal with it, or something."
"But…it's such a huge mess…"
"So what? What the hell isn't a mess these days?" She must have looked unconvinced, because he continued with vigor: "This entire country's a mess. My attempts at peace negotiations with the other countries are a mess. My reputation with the nobles here is a mess; it's always been a mess since I was banished. I just don't think doing–– what you said, would make enough of a difference to make it even remotely worth it." He paused. "And…even if it did, to be honest. I wouldn't care. I don't care. I would never––" He paused again, composed himself. "I would never want you to just go away like it's your problem or something."
"Of course it's not just my problem!" Katara said quickly. "I just thought that with everything that's going on, you'd…have the most to lose."
"Like I said, I don't think I haveas much to lose as you think. And…it's not just that." He threw her a shy a glance before looking away. "I wouldn't want to be away from you and–– and our child. I wouldn't…want you to not be in my life." His fingers squeezed hers a little more tightly. "And I wouldn't want to eventually have this with someone else while you're off alone somewhere, when I could have had it with you."
Katara stared up at him as his words sank in. He was still looking down at their joined hands.
"And to be honest," he added, "it bothers me that you would think I'd go for this."
"I didn't," she said. "I knew you'd want to go all honorable on me regardless of the consequences. But in this case my common sense had to prevail over your obsession with honor." She smiled teasingly at him when he looked up sharply at her words. "That's why I just blurted out my idea right away."
"Well, your common sense isn't necessary, in this case, so you can have it back," he teased back.
She smiled, and they looked at each other for a few moments. His expression was so soft that Katara felt butterflies all over her stomach again. This time, however, they were far from being unpleasant. "So…you're saying we'd just tell everyone to go to hell and have a kid?"
Zuko grinned. "Yep. And probably have a fireblast wedding in a couple of months."
"Eh. I think I gave up on my reign being classy before it started."
Katara bit her lip, smiling, then stood on the tips of her toes to kiss him. He wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her up as hers went around his neck. "I love you," she said quietly when they finally broke away.
His smile was wide and just a touch shy. "I love you, too."
The next morning, Katara woke up with a familiar, insistent ache in her lower abdomen and back. It took her several moments to realize what it meant; when it finally hit her, she sat up abruptly, kicked away her sheets and looked down. Sure enough, she found brownish red spots all over her underwear. Heart pounding, she got up to check her sheets for any stains; as soon as she stood, she felt the usual gush of blood between her legs and rushed into the washroom adjacent to her bedroom.
Shaking slightly, she reached for the golden faucets around the bathtub to run herself a bath. As she removed her nightgown and underwear, Katara willed herself to calm down. She wasn't sure why exactly her heart was beating so fast – the blood was unexpected by now, of course, but what else was she feeling, aside from surprise? After her conversation with Zuko the night before, it felt like things might even turn out alright, after all, and she had been so relieved she'd gone to sleep with a smile on her face. It hadn't been just about dealing with a mistake anymore; their entire relationship had shifted, become more solid, and it had felt like a blessing. But now…
As she climbed into the bathtub, it hit her that she was still relieved. The possibility of a pregnancy had been what triggered the whole thing, but it was clear to her now that their relationship went beyond that, and stood on its own. They had simply been compelled to face the inevitability of ending up together for good. Because I love him. And he loves me. And they didn't want to be with anyone else, whatever the political consequences. Realizing that was scary, but it was also liberating. Katara was glad that now they could at least deal with it at their own pace.