The winters never seemed colder than they do in the years following the war. By day, Master Katara teaches young waterbenders to command the ice. By night she shivers. Waterbenders do not feel the cold the same way others do. The ice is a part of them. But most waterbenders have never known the touch of fire.
She curled up in Appa's thick fur to sleep, more for the familiarity than the warmth. But the nights did grow cold, and once she awoke to find that she had moved nearer to him in her sleep, so close that his breath stirred her hair. Still half asleep, she hardly dared to breathe as his arm curled around her waist. Heat radiated from him, and she found herself shifting closer, telling herself it meant nothing.
There is always ice at the South Pole, but for most of the year she can make herself forget the cold – and more importantly, forget the heat she once sought. Aang spends the summers with her, and visits throughout autumn and spring. Sometimes she travels as well, to visit the smaller waterbending schools that have been established in the other nations, to teach children of mixed parentage. But she always returns for the winter, and Aang always stays away. It's too cold for him. Katara understands that better than he realises.
She hadn't meant to wake him, but his eyes opened, and he pulled his hand away quickly with an apology. He seemed startled to find her so close, and so she apologised as well, offering the cold as an excuse. So he took her cold hands gently in his, lifting them so he could breathe hot air to warm them. When she didn't pull her hands away, he kissed each of her icy fingers in turn, until her hands were almost as hot as his. Better now? He asked softly.
When she was younger, she would often share her sleeping furs with several of the other girls to keep warm. But she is a woman married now, and those times are long past. In the winters she is alone, and there is no one by her side to keep the cold away. She passes many sleepless nights shaping the ice by moonlight, as if by bending it to her will she can take its chill away.
She shivered, whether from the cold or from his touch she wasn't sure. So he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her to share his warmth. She missed the warmth of his hands around hers, his lips soft against her fingers. So, still not entirely sure if she was awake or dreaming, she kissed him and pushed her hands under is shirt, against the skin of his back. It was his turn to shiver then, and by the way he kissed her back, she knew not all of it was due to her cold hands.
When that fails, she tries to seek solace in her dreams. For during the winter, it is Zuko she dreams of nearly every night. In her dreams he warms her the way he once did on those shared secret nights. In her dreams he melts the ice away with a kiss, lifts the cold with a caress. She awakens each morning shivering and alone.
His mouth was hot against hers, and she could almost taste fire on his lips and tongue. She broke the kiss once, to remove his shirt so she could run her hands across his bare skin. But still it was only a taste, and having felt the touch of fire she craved more. Soon her own dress and wrappings were discarded and she pressed herself against him, trying to absorb his heat into her own skin. But the night air against her exposed skin was even colder in contrast to his warmth, and she still shivered. So his fingers ghosted across her ribs, her breasts, her back, leaving fire in their wake.
She is secretly grateful for Aang's absence during the winters. It is fire she craves, and though he can bend fire it is not his element, it does not radiate from him. And she knows she would never be able to hide her disappointment. She does not want to cause him that pain. The secret is hers to bear, and the cold is part of it. When winter ends she can ignore it more easily, can hide the occasional shiver, can smile in Aang's arms. But in the winter there is only one man whose touch could bring her warmth.
She made a faint noise of protest as his mouth left hers, but it soon turned to a gasp as he began to kiss his way down her neck, her chest, her stomach. He slid down until his hands were on her hips, sending heat pooling between her thighs, and then he kissed her there as well and it was all she could do not to cry out. He kissed her again, his tongue tracing her folds with liquid fire, his lips closing over the hard nub just above her entrance and she twisted her hands into his hair, pulling him closer. He explored her with his lips and tongue, kissing and licking until the fire surged through her and she bit down to keep from shouting his name.
So she tries to content herself with memories and dreams, though it is like trying to replace a bonfire with a candle. Every autumn she resolves not to long for him, and every winter her resolve is broken. But there is no one to see, no one who could know. Sometimes the women offer her sympathy, tell her they know what it's like to wait for a husband to return from far away. She tries to smile and thank them, but it's not her husband she's waiting for.
He moved up, casting his trousers aside, to cover her body with his, and she felt his warmth envelop her as he pushed inside, filling her once more with fire. Their bodies tangled together; their legs intertwined, her chest pressed against his, his hands moving across her back, her hands in his hair. His heat radiated around her and within her, the flames inside building once more until she could feel nothing else, and all she could see was fire. She did not feel the cold again that night.
She thinks she is dreaming when she sees him standing in the snow beside a tiny boat anchored just off the ice. Even when he says her name and she runs towards him, she tells herself that it is just a dream, that she will wake up and be alone once more, with only the cold wind against her skin. It's not until he holds her in his arms and kisses her that she knows he is real. Because for the first time in so many winters, she doesn't feel cold.