dedication: to Elle, for Christmas.
notes: you asked for this and I'm a bad person, so
title: my salvation, he's not anything
summary: Let's run away and start another war. — Zuko/Katara.
"Do you love me?"
"How can you even ask that, Katara?"
Fire Lord Zuko and Waterbending Master Katara stood on one of the cliffs along the north side of Ember Island. The sun was warm, but not yet too hot to be uncomfortable: this was late winter in the Fire Nation, when the sun was just beginning to break its way through the rainy season and scorch the ground to flaky soil and long hot nights of revel as the crops grew and the Nation celebrated another year of Agni's blessings.
But for now, they stood near the edge of the white stone cliffs, the grass grown tall and wild up to Katara's knees, tangling with her long skirt and the wind. She wore a blue so pale it was almost the colour of snow, and fire lilies twined into her hair like a crown. The ocean sprawled out in front of them, stormy today, capped white with squalls.
"Don't do that," she said. Against the sky, she was a shout of colour and life, and she tucked her arms behind her back and stared him in the eye. "You know I can't stand it when you answer questions with questions. So do you love me, or not?"
Zuko clenched his jaw, and looked down. "You know I can't answer that."
"You can, too," she said. "Or do you want me to say it first? Because I love you, Zuko. I do! I love you and I love you and I love you, and I don't think—I don't think anything's ever going to change that."
"No!" she half-shouted the word, eyebrows pulling together. She looked exactly as she had the first and only time he'd betrayed her, after the Crystal Caverns. The memory still stung. "You were the one who said we had something, and that it could be good! You said that, and you were—you were right."
She stopped, and drew into herself a little with her arms up and wrapped around herself. There was only disappointment in her face, and an exhaustion that ran bone, bone deep.
"I'm so tired," she said "of always doing what everyone expects of me. I'm so tired of doing what's right for the world, and what's right for everyone in it and I'm—"
"I know you are," Zuko said softly, but didn't reach towards her even though that was exactly what they both wanted.
"I'm so tired," she said again, "of being everyone else's girl."
Then he did reach for her, drew her close. They touched like a forest fire, burning and consuming each other even as they couldn't pull away for fear of going out altogether and turning to nothing but ash. Tongues of flame licked around their faces as they kissed desperately, hissing away into steam as Katara's bending hauled the water from the air to keep them cool.
Blood rushing beneath their skin, Katara and Zuko held onto each other because they had nothing left.
"If we go, we'll start another war," Zuko said into her ear.
"I don't care. I'm done caring," Katara replied. "I want to do what's best for me, and for you, and that's—that is being together. I don't care about—about any of it, anymore!"
"So I'll ask again. Do you love me?"
Zuko pressed his forehead to hers, fingers linking, and they simply stared into each other's eyes for a long, long time. Finally, a long deep sigh left his chest, a great exhalation of fears and wants and needs.
"Agni, Katara," he said. "Of course I love you. Of course I do."
Katara tucked her head into the curve of his throat. He'd filled out in the intervening months, taller than she remembered him being, wider in the shoulders. Her shoulders were small and sloped, and unable to carry the load that she'd been left with at fourteen years old.
(And when had fourteen started seeming like a lifetime ago? When had fourteen started seeming so reckless? When had fourteen started seeming so young?)
"Okay," she said. "What do we do, now?"
"That's up to you," Zuko replied, still soft, smoothing his hands over her forearms, the soft dark skin on the inside of her elbows. He clung to all her sharp edges, turned them easy with gentle fingers.
"We should just… run away," Katara said. She shook out her hair, petals falling away from the fire lilies in her hair in a rain of orange-red. The whirled away with the wind, and there was something bright and sharp in that that took Zuko's breath away. "Get married, and run away."
"…What," he managed.
"Do you really think we'll have a chance if we don't?"
He didn't answer that either, because he couldn't honestly say yes. Instead, he asked "Do you want to?"
"Yes," Katara said, reaching up to curl her fingers around his face. "How could I not?"
"What happens when they find us?" he asked, because he always had been the practical one of the pair of them, the one that kept her anchored to the world so that she didn't just float off
"We do what we always do," she said, and her face turned to something grimly determined. "We fight."
The newly-healing world hadn't been expecting two of its heroes to simply up and disappear, especially given that one of them was the Fire Lord and the other was the Avatar's intended. No one could find them, no matter where they looked. The world was in an uproar, and so was everyone else.
General Iroh looked out of the Ember Island's palace window, out towards where the cliffs were white and the sea and the sky melded into one dark fuzzy line on the horizon.
He'd seen his nephew and Lady Katara out there together. He'd seen what he'd always seen. He'd seen the way they loosened and trusted and calmed. He'd seen the way they'd balanced.
It wasn't very often that one person found their soul mate.
His nephew was a very lucky man.
Iroh hadn't known how long they'd stayed out on the cliff together, hands linked tightly. He'd gone away to make a cup of tea, perhaps to give them a little privacy, but when he'd returned, they'd gone.
Perhaps they'd never come back.
It was a sad thought.
The world would move on.
But there might be another war, first.