It was supposed to be a one-time thing. Spur of the moment, end of the world, no strings attached, kind of thing. This wasn't supposed to happen! Katara glanced at the sleeping airbender next to her and bit her lip. It was one thing to sleep with someone else, Aang's best friend nonetheless, but wind up with... this? He would be devastated, crushed, broken...
What would Zuko think?
Katara fought the urge to cry as she brought the water to her abdomen once again. What had started as nausea and fatigue turned into vomiting and sleeping at odd intervals all day. She felt horrible, and thought it was possibly an infection or some sort of bug. Oh, it wasn't a bug. It was a parasite, or more lovingly called a fetus.
She couldn't get rid of it, no. Although it was conceived on accident, she knew it was important. Something deep inside of her very being told her that much. It was the only piece of him that she would ever get to keep all to herself. And as much as she wouldn't dare admit, that was one selfish thing she was willing to do. But Aang wouldn't let her. He thought she was his, that she was pure and light and everything he could ever dream of.
He wanted her for the rest of his life.
And that scared her, more than the baby that now thrived in her. And because of it he would try to convince her to get rid of it, conventionally or not. And she couldn't tell him who was the father, that would crush him and the unstable peace that had been so painstakingly established. She had to prevent all of that from happening.
So, as quietly as she could, Katara slid out of her sleeping bag - separate from Aang, because according to him that was "inappropriate" - and she tiptoed to Appa's saddle where her bag laid. She gathered her things and slipped on her shoes, cautious of the sleeping bison and lemur on his head. She glanced at Aang's sleeping form, laid comfortably on Appa's tail, and she gathered the will to leave him behind.
She did love him, but not as much as she loved the new life inside of her and the man who helped her make it.
With that thought, she stepped out of the saddle and ventured into the woods, guided by the light of the full moon, and disappeared from existence.
It was time.
Katara looked at herself in the dirty mirror, blue eyes haggard and pained. Her hair was cropped to her shoulders now, hanging limply and sticking to her sweaty face as she panted through another contraction.
The midwife was supposed to be here by now! As much as Katara knew about delivering babies, she couldn't do it for her own! Her heart was already racing but she was sure it was about to quite literally vibrate through her chest in her panic. The baby was coming! She had to get her out!
A loud banging on the door of the hut distracted her minutely from her panic, then she waddled to it and opened it to reveal the midwife, Song. Unfazed by Katara's nude body and disheveled appearance, she gave her a slight smile and stepped inside the hut.
"I'm so sorry I'm late," she stated softly. Her hands immediately reached for Katara's protruding stomach and she felt for a small second before shuffling them both back into the hut. "There was a storm and we had to stop for a few hours. I truly apologize, Kyra."
Katara waved her off, too tired and done to be angry at the soft spoken woman, and she waddled back to the birthing mat on the floor. "You're right on time."
"How far apart are your contractions?" Song asked from the basin under the mirror as she washed her hands.
"Less than a minute."
As Katara laid herself down, Song hustled over and helped her get comfortable. "I am truly right on time. Let me check you and then we'll go from there."
Katara spread her legs and Song got to work. Her water broke over four hours ago and the contractions were speeding up quicker than she thought possible for her first baby. It was frightening that she was progressing so quickly. It just meant things were becoming reality.
"Okay, it looks like you have dilated all the way," Song commented from Katara's feet. "When it feels right, I want you to start pushing."
Katara nodded and her head back against the pillow. She felt the contraction build up, starting from the base of her spine and wrapping around her engorged abdomen and tightening. The pain was unbearable, all encompassing and sharp as her body tried to force another out.
It was time.
So she pushed.
As her body worked on its own, Katara tried to distract herself from the erupting pain and Song's encouraging remarks as she thought back to when this blessing had been conceived. He had been drunk, she had been scared. He came to her room in the middle of the night, confided in her, and the desperation in his surprisingly clear eyes drew her in, like she was a moth and he was the flame. And they disregarded their previous reservations and became one, in the light of the silvery moon on the eve of battle.
And once more the morning after, before they realized Aang had disappeared.
She pushed again and wondered how they both were doing. When she had been passing through Gaipan and assessing their progress after the dam broke, she heard they both had worked with the Earth King on letting the Fire Nation colonies on Earth Kingdom land cede and create their own nation separate from either leaders. Aang apparently had taken up residence in one of the former colonies and started dating someone that was a part of the Air Acolytes. That didn't take him long, did it?
Did he even look for her after she disappeared? It would have been hard. She cut off all her hair and burned her blue clothes, then restitched the green ones she had from the party at Iroh's tea shop to look more plain and stopped bending around people. She merely traveled from place to place, using some leftover money from their travels and mostly kept to herself as the baby grew inside of her. She met Song while on the western coast of the Earth Kingdom. She had needed some medicine for a bug bite that got infected and her bending couldn't fix, so Song helped her. Through talking, and some skeptical looks from the medicine woman, Katara decided to confide in her help for when she gave birth. She would try to come to Song's village when she was ready, but if not she would send a messenger about two weeks before she expected to go into labor and they would meet in a secret place, this makeshift hut of a home that Katara built all on her own when she realized she couldn't travel anymore.
With only thoughts of Zuko and their baby keeping her company.
Apparently Zuko had, for the most part, stayed in the Fire Nation. He wasn't married off yet; there was no time for love when working on rebuilding a broken nation. For some reason, it comforted her knowing that he was. There was word he would be traveling to the Earth Kingdom soon for a diplomatic meeting with King Kuei, passing right through where she was giving birth this second.
Maybe she could...
"Kyra, push a little harder! The baby is crowning!"
She gasped and started pushing again, pushing aside the meditative thoughts that were getting her through this agonizing process. His face became clear in her mind, golden eyes sparkling like the sun and small reserved smiles, all just for her. His body, airborne, as he leapt in front of the comet-enhanced lighting blast intended for her. How his eyes shone with love and pride as she healed him after defeating his sister.
How she wished the baby that was finally leaving her body looked like her daddy.
"Kyra, you're doing great!" Song declared as the feeling of gaping emptiness hit Katara like a tidal wave. "She looks great! Let's get her on you."
Katara opened her eyes to see Song lifting a small little body from between her legs and moving forward to drape it on Katara's bare chest. To be honest, in her pain-induced delirium, the baby was kind of ugly. Covered with the fluids from her home of the past nine months, she was squishy and limp, but her cries were loud and clear. And oh, so beautiful.
"Kyra, I'm going to need you to push a bit more so we can get the placenta out, okay?"
Katara may have nodded, but her mind was too focused on the crying baby in her arms. A wave of euphoria washed over her, blocking out the pain of the birth and the fatigue of what could be considered the greatest and hardest workout of her life. The little one was here, alive and healthy, and she was over the moon.
Song began cleaning up and draped a blanket over both of them, to ward off the chill of the night. Katara couldn't help herself and pressed a kiss to the babies forehead, which surprisingly calmed her immediately.
"I'll leave you two alone for a while, then we'll need to work on getting you cleaned up."
Katara was in a daze, lost in the baby's peaceful face. "Okay."
"Have you decided what you will name her?"
She had, ever since she checked on herself and the baby and sensed she was a girl, one with royal Fire Nation blood running through her. With a smile, Katara lifted her hand and brushed the thick black hair of her baby with her fingertips and murmured, "Zarina."
Katara kept running, her lungs burning and screaming for her to stop, but she couldn't. Not when Zarina was with her and they were in danger. She turned the corner and darted down another alleyway, weaving between buildings that led her to the harbor. It was too late, she had been discovered. And now people were in pursuit to capture her and bring her to some crime lord that likely wanted to ransom her off to the Avatar, Southern Water Tribe Chief, or the Fire Lord for money.
Not like they would care. No one had come to look for her in over two years. Not even a peep asking where she had gone to when she left Aang in the middle of the night. No one cared. And no one would care if she was found.
She just had to protect Zarina with all of her might. Her child needed to be safe, no matter what. The toddler in question was strapped her her back and snoozing away, apparently lulled into a deep slumber by her mother's running. It was a surprise she hadn't been jostled awake by Katara's constant corner turning.
Katara turned one last corner and reached the harbor. Without thinking she leapt into the water, bending a bubble around her and Zarina, and launched herself out to sea. She turned north, where a secluded island village laid, and she used all of her might to get her there. It used to be a Fire Nation colony, but now was part of the United Republic. If anyone could house her safely, it would be them. No one would ask who she was or where she was from, just that she had a baby and needed shelter and haven.
When she landed on shore, she bent the bubble away and Zarina woke, crying out in surprise as she got a little wet. Katara maneuvered her around so she was nestled on her mother's chest, and she cooed quietly to her, "It's alright, Rina. We're safe now."
Zarina looked up at her, blue eyes bright with confusion and she blinked the heavy tears from her almond-shaped eyes. Eyes the same shape as her father's. Katara sighed and observed her pride and joy. Now two years old, the little one had thick black hair that fell in slight waves, the same texture as Zuko's. Her skin was dark, but not as dark as Katara's, and she had the same blue eyes that was passed down throughout the Water Tribe. The only difference was the Fire Nation shape. Even her nose looked like Zuko's, but her mouth pouted like Katara's. A perfect blend of her parents, which could be her perfect disguise or a beacon to her origins.
As she raced inland towards the town and heard heavy splashing behind her, Katara had a sickening realization: those pursuers had followed her. They must have a rogue waterbender with them, as well. As great of a bender that Katara was, she's been missing for years. When people find out who she is - which is inevitable with the posters and portraits of all the members of Team Avatar floating around - she would be chased and run down until she either got away or was caught. So far, all she had done is run with the baby and her pack strapped to her back.
Katara's eyes went straight back to her baby and panicked. She couldn't fight those men with Zarina strapped to her. It would too risky and she wouldn't be able to fight to her best ability, she'd be worrying too much about protecting Zarina from attacks that she wouldn't be able to fight the men off properly.
She reached the first of the buildings and searched around. Such elegant homes, all dark in the night, resting against a mountain that seems to have spouted on its own out of the sea. It was modestly sized, large compared to the size of the rest of the island, with its single fountain in the town square and the four streets that spouted away from it. She ran towards the fountain and looked around, trying to figure out where she could best hide Zarina while she took care of the men, and then her eyes went straight to the mountain itself. There was a network of caves, that much she could see in the moonlight, and one was large enough that she could easily hide her out of sight.
Katara raced over, as if she was aided by the wind at her back, and skid to a stop at the mouth of the cave, she felt the water against the stones, but no bodies, so she knew Zarina would be safe for the next few minutes. After unstrapping her makeshift carrier and their packs, Katara wrapped the sleeping Zarina in her blankets and tucked her tiny stuff rabaroo under her little arm.
"I'll be back for you soon, Zarina," she murmured as she kissed her baby on the forehead. "Don't go anywhere."
With one last lingering look at her daughter's peaceful face, Katara stole away from the cave and sprinted back to the town's main square. The shouting of the men looking for her were louder now, clear in the cool air of the night, and Katara pulled all of the water out of the fountain in preparation. Her eyes darted to the cave, content to see no movement near it, and then she looked to the shore beyond the edge of town to see the men spot her and start running.
Her moves were methodical, ingrained in her very being despite not being used in so long. She coated her arms in her element, sharpening the ends like jagged sickles, then began slicing and thrusting as the men got closer. The first one was bisected without a thought, his surprise at her bending prowess frozen on his lifeless face.
His fellow rogues saw her kill their comrade - something she had to do in order to protect her baby - and hesitated only slightly before charging at her again. Katara made swift work of them all, slicing through them cleanly with detached determination. After what felt like an eternity of fighting, seven bodies littered the island town square, and Katara stood victorious. She was afraid the ruckus would have awoken the town, but no one seemed to notice or care about the skirmish.
Katara looked down at her clothes, sighing when she saw the faded green flecked with blood, and she quickly took the water from the fountain and picked up the bodies of the men she slaughtered. She carried them to the sea, then launched the pieces out so they wouldn't wash back ashore. A catshark would take care of the bloody pieces, too.
More time was spent cleaning up the bodies and her clothes than the actual fight, and Katara cursed that she had left Zarina alone for so long. Based on the movement of the moon, it had been over an hour since they arrived on shore. She needed to get back to her baby and bring them back to the mainland so they could get somewhere safe again.
As Katara ran to the cave where Zarina had been hidden, a sudden sense of dread filled her chest. There were large footprints, ones that weren't hers, leading up to the cave. She broke into a dead sprint and stumbled into the cave, only to see Zarina gone. The carrier and packs were still there, but Zarina was gone.
Her heart ripped into pieces and Katara fell backwards onto the hard rocks of the cave floor. Someone took her baby. Her eyes went to the footprints and saw there was no exit trail. The cave wasn't deep enough to hide an adult and Zarina wouldn't have walked off like that. She was curious, yes, but she was fast asleep! If she had awoken and saw Katara was there, she would have stayed put and cried! Not run away!
Hot tears burned trails down Katara's cheeks and she struggled to breathe as she thought of losing Zarina. Her baby! Her love, her child! Where was she?!
Katara's eyes went straight to the town and she stumbled as she tried to stand and make her way there. Someone had to know. Someone had to have seen. There was no way her fight didn't wake everyone in town and there's no way no one saw who came to take Zarina. The cave was too close, and no one else was here.
Someone had to know.
So she knocked on the first door of the house closest to the cave, and waited.
The next few days became a blur.
After asking almost every resident of this island town, no one had seen Zarina or her possible kidnapper. Katara was met with looks of contempt at her disheveled appearance and was told at least twice to take better care of her child if she lost it so easily.
By the end of the fourth day on the forsaken island, Katara collapsed on the shore. Her eyes were heavy, her limbs ached, her heart was breaking at the thought of never seeing Zarina again. She had cried so much in the past few days that she couldn't cry anymore. Her body begged her to eat, to rest, and they would look again in the morning. But without Zarina, there was no point.
She lost her baby.
Someone took her, and Katara could not find her.
For all she knew, Zarina could be in the Earth Kingdom by now if they had taken a boat from the other side of the island. But Katara had gone over there, and there were no footprints or boat marks on that shore, either. And she knew the statistics of missing children around the world: after three days, it would be impossible to find them ever again. They were either dead, or about to be.
Zarina was gone.
So, on the fifth day, Katara launched herself into the sea. She gave up. She would never be able to find Zarina, not anymore. There were no clues, no one on the island knew anything, and all that was left was the pack and carrier. No way of finding out, like Zarina had vanished into thin air with her belongings.
And Katara wished she, too, could disappear and be with her baby again.
The water welcomed her, greeted her like an old friend, and she was whisked away with the tide. Katara shut her eyes and let herself finally rest. Here, in the ocean, would be where she met her end. No one would know whatever happened to Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe nor of the child she bore from the seed of Fire Lord Zuko. They would both fade into nothing, and be one with each other again in the Spirit World.
But fate had other plans when Katara's back hit a tree root and she was pulled onto a marshy shore by moving vines.
"And who are these children?"
The woman guiding him through the village frowned sadly at the children playing in a courtyard. They were clean and well-fed, but didn't have any parents around them. The only person watching them was another weary-looking woman sitting on a bench near the building that was attached to the courtyard.
She paused, then answered softly, "Orphans, Your Majesty."
Zuko frowned and looked upon the children. They were happy, laughing and playing without a care in the world. Their smiles were bright despite their circumstance and sadness gripped at his heart.
"Where did they come from?" he found himself asking. Curiosity tugged at him, especially at the sight of a girl running with the brightest smile he had ever seen. At least, since she disappeared.
"War orphans, mostly," the woman, Mizuki, remarked with pity and a shake of her head. "Some were brought to us, others were already here when their parents died in the war. We're such a small community so it never seems like the kids are unwanted. Almost everyone pitches in and helps, but that doesn't do much. That one over there?" She gestured towards the girl Zuko had been observing. "She was dropped off in the middle of the night with nothing more than her blankets, a change of clothes, and a little stuffed rabaroo. One of the villagers had found her in one of the caves outside of town, fast asleep but all alone."
Zuko frowned at Mizuki's word usage.
"That little one has been here for a little over a year," Mizuki added. After looking over and seeing the two adults looking at her, the little girl's smile faltered slightly and completely froze at the sight of Zuko. He gave her a little wave and she immediately ran over to them, which was strange. As she did, Mizuki added, "Very bright, very loving. She cries about her mother every night but there's nothing we can do. We don't know who or where either of her parents are. She just... showed up. There had been some sort of battle in the town square the night she was found, lots of blood but no bodies. They either were still alive and fled or swept out to the sea by the victor. We suspect one of the fighters had been the girl's parent, but we really don't know."
As the little girl slowed down when she reached them, Zuko felt some sort of affectionate warmth fill him and he knelt down. He was always pretty good with kids. "Hello. My name is Zuko. What's your's?"
He was stunned by her bright blue eyes when she grinned. Her reply was hard to distinguish behind her childish lisp.
Instead of trying to incorrectly interpret her declaration, he replied with a chuckle, "Nice to meet you."
"Daddy," she merely stated, causing a bolt of something to hit Zuko right in the chest. It oddly ached where his lightning scar resided on his stomach. His eyes were wide, but the girl was oblivious, her grin was the main indication of that.
"Oh, my apologies, Fire Lord Zuko. She's just a child, and -"
Zuko silenced her with a simple wave of his hand, but didn't remove his gaze from the toddler in front of him. "Little one, do you like it here?"
The little girl stared at him for another moment with those startlingly bright blue eyes before she shook her head. "I miss momma."
That sadness gripped his heart a little more. "I understand. I miss some people I love, too."
Something inside of him pulled him to her, like she was special. It tugged at him, begging him to keep her at his side, and protect her with his life. He couldn't explain it, nor could he ignore it. This girl could not be left behind.
Deep in his heart, he saw this girl by his side as the family he always wanted. The one he never could truly have. Oddly enough, he felt the need to call her Zarina, the ancient Fire Nation name for golden. It just seemed... right. Like he was meant to come to this well-off island town and meet this orphan, as if it was fate he would look in her eyes and see the woman he loved and lost all those years ago.
"Mizuki, what would I need to do to take her with me?"
Katara tossed and turned, her nightmares plagued with her lost child. Her desperation morphed into regret, and then to shame. No matter how badly she wanted to go back to find her baby, to reunite with the child she lost all those years ago, she knew it would only hurt her and her daughter. If she had been found, no one would let Katara take her back.
She did not deserve to be a mother after losing her child like that that.
She opened her eyes and sighed. The sight of the swamp hut was expected, as was the full moon shining through her window. She lost Zarina in the island village almost three years ago. If she was still alive, her baby wouldn't remember who she was anymore.
"I know ye miss 'er, but if you couldn' find 'er then, it'da be harder now."
Hue's words stung worse than a buzzard wasp bite.
Apparently the reason Katara had been in so much danger in the first place was Aang had mentioned something to a random person about Katara going missing, and all of a sudden a bounty was out on her head to return her to the Avatar, like some sort of runaway property. After he had moved on to one of his devout followers, the enthusiasm died off, but there were still people out there wanting to find her. After all, she was the person who defeated Princess Azula and helped end the One Hundred Year War.
She was needed.
But she was ashamed.
How could people look up to her if she was revealed to be a mother after having desperate sex with one of her friends at the tender age of fifteen? A friend in which she did love but knew she could never be with? Such was the expectations of the war-torn nation he swore to lead. And such would be the red character written on her tainted chest.
Her thoughts raged of him, here in the mystical fog of the swamp. Constantly she was barraged with the image of him and their child, smiling and happy, but she knew it was all an illusion. Zuko didn't know Zarina existed, not that he would care. He was probably married to Mai by now, judging on how she had clung to him after his coronation and how he seemed to loved her as much as she loved him. She would make an excellent Fire Lady.
Tonight, like many nights before it, her mind lingered on the way he had touched her all those years ago. How her now-almost twenty-year-old body ached for those nimble fingers again. He probably knew so much more now. He probably could make her quake with pleasure just with one smoldering look in his golden eyes.
Often Katara found herself like this, sprawled on her sleeping mat and coated with humid sweat, caressing her bare breasts and dragging her hands over her belly until they buried themselves in her womanhood. Her own touch was familiar and knowledgeable of what it took to bring her to her peak, but she always imagined it was him. It was his name on her breath as she trembled and clenched and rubbed herself until her climax swept over her. It was his face in her mind that helped bring her to completion. It was his happy smile that she imagined when she told him of their beautiful daughter.
As she sighed and rolled over onto her side, Katara looked out towards the moon that peaked through the passing clouds, she wondered where he was and what he was doing. And if, by some miracle, their daughter was safe and loved in the ways she wished she could.
Zuko sprung up in his bed, panting and aching, and he cursed himself for dreaming that again. All he dreamt of lately was her, how she writhed, how she cried his name, how she glowed in the pale moonlight of her patron deity.
How he lost her.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his loose and sweaty hair and glanced down at the aching erection resting on his thigh, obvious even through his sleeping pants and sheets. This happened every time, too. So often, that in the first year of his reign when Mai had stayed the night - not like they did anything, it wasn't something she liked recreationally - and when he was moaning her name in his sleep, Mai left him right then and there, only to run off with the surfer boy from Ember Island less than a week later.
Not liking it recreationally, his ass.
So he was alone. At least, until he found Zarina. The little sprite that reignited his fire. The little one that became is little love, his adopted daughter. Though she was not his by blood, she was his daughter. Unfortunately adoption did not give her a place in the line for his throne, so Zarina stayed behind the scenes, which he preferred. Her blue eyes were not liked by some of the pure-bred nobles that already sneered down at him.
A quiet knock on his door shook him from his thoughts and Zuko willed his want away to find out who was stopping by his room at this hour. Before he could get up, however, the door opened and a small head poked through the opening. It was Zarina.
"Zarina, what are you doing up this late?"
She tiptoed into the room, mindful of the creaky floorboard right in front of his dresser, and she climbed into his bed. Luckily for him, he had calmed down and was able to accept her into his arms for a hug. Zarina rested her chubby face on his bare chest, snuggling close to him, and sighed.
"I think I'm wrong."
He frowned and held her tighter. "Why do you say that?"
"I can move water with my head."
Zuko stiffened slightly at her words and hoped she didn't feel them as rejection or as a bad sign. He figured with her blue eyes and darker skin that she was of Water Tribe descent, but he never imagined she would have become an actual waterbender. Of course, the island he found her on was in the United Republic, but no waterbenders were in the area at the time Zarina would have been born. Mizuki had estimated Zarina would have been born right after the war or several months after its end, meaning she would have turned five just a while ago. She would have been brought to the island by someone else, someone who Mizuki figured, had been running away from something. Blood in the streets told the villagers of a skirmish that did not end well for many, one of which could have been Zarina's parent.
He figured she would manifest her bending soon, if she had any. He had just hoped it was firebending so he could help her. After all, the shape of her eyes and the color of her hair told him that she was mixed, and one of her parents had come from his country.
With a sigh, Zuko maneuvered Zarina around so she could sit properly in his lap. "There's nothing wrong with you. See this?" He held up his free palm and created a fire there. Its light was dim but still lit up her face, settling deep in the shadows and revealing her awe. "What I can do is called firebending. Fire is the element of power, but fire is also life. What you can do is called waterbending. Water is the element of change, and water, too, signifies life. You have a gift, Zarina, and it is to be used wisely. If you'd like, I can try to find you a master to help you control your abilities."
As Zuko extinguished his fire, darkness filled the room once more. Save for the tiny beam of moonlight that poked through his curtains and highlighted Zarina's thoughtful face as she looked up to him. Her blue eyes glowed and suddenly Zuko was thrown back to when he looked into strikingly similar blue eyes as he realized he was in love with most beautiful and incredible person on the entire planet.
Someone who would be perfect to teach Zarina, if only he could find her.
"I'm okay, daddy. Not today."
Zuko couldn't help but laugh and kiss her on the forehead before lifting her up off of his lap and back onto the floor. "No, not tonight. Maybe later. You just let me know, okay?"
"Okay, daddy." Her earnest look made his heart hurt.
"Now go to bed."
She yawned on queue and padded towards the door to the sitting room. She didn't avoid the creaky floorboard this time, and Zuko couldn't stop himself from laughing again. "Goodnight, Zarina!"
"Night, daddy," came her quiet reply when she made it to the hallway. As he heard the door shut, Zuko let himself collapse back onto his pillows. What a night... As much as he tried to avoid it, he knew it would happen: Zarina will need a teacher. Someone to help her control her powers, someone exactly like her. But unfortunately, no one knew where she was. She disappeared completely after the war. Aang had been traveling with her, newly minted as a couple, Zuko remembered bitterly, and one night she up and vanished without any warning or note. Her things were gone and there were no footsteps leading to where she had gone.
She disappeared completely without a trace.
So Aang had started asking for help in finding her, searching high and low around the entire Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes. No one knew where she was.
It made Zuko think about Song, the girl he had stolen an ostrich horse from all those years ago, and how she had sent him a letter thanking him for the new steed he gifted her soon after he was crowned, and she mentioned something about becoming a midwife that traveled the land helping women give birth. With the end of the war, there was an influx of those all over the entire world. She had also mentioned something about helping a woman named Kyra deliver her baby, and how wonderful and blessed the birthing process was - he almost blocked that part out - and how the woman had looked like the Avatar's Waterbending Master, based on paintings she had seen spreading the news about the end of the war.
But Zuko knew that wasn't her. If she had been pregnant, she would have told someone.
The thought of her fucking someone else - most likely Aang - made his stomach churn with disgust. With himself or the other man, he didn't know.
He disregarded it, much like he had to push away his love for her when he became Fire Lord. He had made love to her the night before the left for battle, in the heat of the Fire Nation summer with the sounds of her element lapping at the shore outside her bedroom window. He had shown her everything, bared his soul and love for her, and she left with Aang.
His resentment at her abrupt departure hurt him deeply, deeper than he could truly voice, but his love for her ran just as deep.
After all, it was her that he cried out to when he stroked himself, her body he dreamt of when he spilled his seed on his stomach. Her eyes he became lost in when he imagined that Zarina was truly his daughter, and she was her mother. It would be a dream come true.
And after he was sure his door was closed and the hallways were empty, Zuko pulled himself out of his sleeping pants and stroked himself quickly to completion, gasping her name as his cum spurted onto his sheets.
Her eyes flew open and she glanced around. There was no one else in this dawn-lit grove, no one else near her. Probably for miles. She would be alone until Hue came to get her for dinner at sundown. She had asked that much for her meditation, for her desire to connect to the world like Aang once had in this very swamp.
But the sound of her name being whispered jarred her from her trance.
No one answered.
She frowned and settled back into her meditative position and closed her eyes. Feel the world, feel everything connected.
Golden eyes... the same eyes but blue.
She frowned and drowned out the noise in her head.
A laugh, and cry for her momma.
She fought the pain in her chest.
Hue's words of wisdom when she was first in the swamp five years ago echoed in her mind: "In the swamp, we see visions of people we've lost -"
"- people we've loved -"
Zuko's face followed.
"- folks we think are gone."
Zarina's bright smile and sloppy kisses.
"But the swamp tells us they're not. We're still connected to them."
Zuko's low laughter and his simmering gaze.
"Time is an illusion."
Zarina crashing into Zuko's arms after she waterbent a bubble in the air.
Katara's eyes flew open. With a breath, she murmured, "and so is death."
She scrambled to her feet and looked around, searching for a large root that led to the mother tree, and she placed her hand down on it like Aang had before years ago. She felt the whole world, not as clearly as Aang said he did, but she felt the life of the ones she loved. Sokka was on Kyoshi Island with Suki, Aang was up in the United Republic with Toph, building something. Her father was in the Southern Water Tribe, eating some sea prunes...
And Zuko was with Zarina in the Fire Nation.
Her eyes flew open and she stumbled away from the tree.
She had to get to the Fire Nation.
And some clothes.
A letter arrived on the morning of the autumn equinox. Zuko was busy reading through proposals from the Board of Infrastructure when Fuji, his palace steward, came forth with the note. Typically, letters for the Fire Lord were passed through inspection by Imperial Guards, just in case it was unsafe for the young Lord. After all, after multiple attempts to smuggle harmful powders into scrolls for the Fire Lord to inhale and be poisoned by, they decided to take some precautions to avoid having Zuko in bed sick for weeks.
However, this one seemed to be special. Fuji's shifting eyes and cautious stance told Zuko that much. He frowned when he looked from his steward to the scroll in his hands, then his fingers dropped the one he had been reading when he saw the ribbon that had been wrapped around it.
He knew that blue.
"You may leave the scroll, Fuji," Zuko commanded immediately as he picked up the scroll he had dropped when he spotted Fuji's delivery. "And please, lock the door behind you."
"What of Lady Zarina, my Lord?"
"She is currently having her breakfast in her sitting room," Zuko replied coolly, trying to not let his voice betray his sudden anxiety over the simple scroll. "Her lessons begin soon so she should not be looking for me."
"Of course, Your Majesty."
As Fuji slunk out of the room, the door clicking with finality behind him, Zuko stared down at the inconspicuous scroll that he had left on the desk. The ribbon was a smooth, dark blue. He knew it so intimately that his heart leapt to his throat at the sight of it. With trembling hands, he reached forward and grasped it as lightly as he could, as if his touch would make it disappear into thin air. After all, if he suspected correctly, the author of the note was just as elusive and almost imaginary as this surprise.
He untied where the ribbon had been in a bow, pulling the soft and worn fabric between his fingers with a reverence dedicated to its owner. The solid weight of that rested in his palms, so familiar it made him ache with the possibilities of the letter's contents.
The seal was broken by a slide of his thumb - blue wax with a full moon and wave as the detail, her symbol from after the war - and he carefully, almost cautiously, unrolled the scroll. His eyes scanned the contents, suddenly confused, and he dropped the letter onto the desk. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, then read the thinly scripted characters once more.
I am coming for this. Please, forgive me."
And that was it. He had to sit back and absorb what she had written on the page, so open yet cryptic. His eyes darted to the ribbon in his palm and they rested on the pendant that had been tucked carefully inside as to not reveal the sender's identity to anyone but him.
Katara was coming.
And her necklace was going to wait here for her.
The shores of the Fire Nation mainland had only been so foreboding to her once, back on the Day of the Black Sun. Katara tugged the hooded cloak she donned tighter over her body, and fought the aching burn in her chest. She was coming for her, for her baby. Maybe Zarina would remember her. Maybe not. She hoped she did, and at least would forgive her mother for her transgression that caused them to be separated.
It was want she wanted more than anything in the whole world.
And find out how Zuko of all people had come to find her and actually take her in.
The ship moored in the bay and before the captain could tell Katara to board the dinghy, she left off the deck and used her bending to catapult her towards the shore. She knew a shortcut up to the palace and wanted to avoid as many eyes as possible in order to prevent Zuko from finding out that she had arrived, so she headed a little more south of the harbor and raced towards the lip of the mountain.
Though, she knew it was for naught. The guards watching her bend herself through the bay would send word via messenger hawk to the outpost at the palace. They would know that Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe has finally come out of hiding.
It took most of the morning to travel up the dormant volcano to the Fire Nation's capital city, Caldera. When she did arrive at the top, a pair of Imperial Firebenders were waiting for her.
"Fire Lord Zuko is expecting you," one said to her. With their helmets, it was hard to tell which.
"Of course," she murmured with a submissive bow of her head. Play nice and they won't bombard you. That's what she had to keep telling herself. It took a while longer to traverse through the grid-like city streets, and they arrived at the Fire Palace at high noon. She was brought inside, her escorts deadly silent, and she noticed the eyes of spectators watching as they moved through the halls.
Even with her shortened hair and nondescript clothes, people knew who she was. After all, this was the first time anyone had seen her in years and the aura around her demanded that they look and see who had returned.
When they arrived at the double doors that were her only barrier between her and the father of her child, Katara's stomach dropped.
She hadn't seen Zarina at all, nor any sign of her. Was she wrong? Was she not really here? Were the visions she saw in the swamp figments of her imagination? Were-
"Fire Lord Zuko will see you now," the guard stated, momentarily shaking Katara from her internal panic. She nodded and they stepped aside, leaving the doors for her to open on her own. Apparently, when she vanished off the face of the earth, respect for her disappeared, as well.
She pushed the doors to the side and stepped into the office. At his desk, broad shouldered and stern, was Fire Lord Zuko, with eyes burning and face impassive like a statue as he gazed upon her for the first time in almost six years. As the doors closed behind her, Katara was suddenly very aware of the fact that she hadn't bathed since the day after she left the swamp.
Well, better get this over with. "Fire Lord Zuko."
His gaze remained cool as he folded his fingers on the desk. "Katara."
She winced at the deliberate lack of title in his greeting.
The silence stretched on, thick and tense with so many words unsaid. She didn't know where to start. It wasn't like she could just go, "Hey Zukes, long time no see! Would you happen to have a waterbending five-year-old here? Yeah, she's my baby that I conceived with you right before Sozin's Comet flew in the sky. Can I have her back now?"
It wouldn't work.
"You look well," she started and tried not to grimace. That was graceful.
Zuko's gaze didn't falter as he took a deep breath and finally appeared human. "You do, too."
The silence actually hurt her.
This was her fault.
"How have you been?"
That unreadable mask twitched and he glanced at her with angry confusion. "Why are you here?"'
She couldn't suppress the wince this time and dropped her head in shame. "I... I feel like I should explain myself, but I don't know where to start without throwing you for a loop."
Katara looked up to the steely look in his typical warm eyes and wrenched her heart. For years, she was comforted by the thoughts of his love and her love for him in return. But her shame kept her away, her shame in having to lie and in losing their baby... She was taking a big risk by coming here and facing him now, by revealing the truth to him and asking to forgive her transgressions.
She had to be brave.
With a deep breath, Katara clasped her hands together at her waist and said bluntly, "I was pregnant."
Zuko's comically stunned look was the only answer.
"Right after the war," she clarified. "I found out I was pregnant while in the Earth Kingdom with Aang on our way to Omashu."
When he didn't remark on it, Katara continued, "The baby was yours."
He blinked and his jaw dropped.
She dropped her gaze to her wringing fingers. "That's why I ran away. Aang wouldn't have been able to accept the fact that I had been with another man, and if he knew it was you he would have destroyed the peace we fought so hard for. So I ran. I cut off my hair and kept jumping from place to place as the baby grew inside of me."
She risked a glance at him and saw he had snapped his jaw shut and his eyes were getting glassy. She was about to continue when he whispered raggedly, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Her own tears started to burn in her eyes and she gave a resigned reply, "How would it look that the new teenaged-Fire Lord had knocked up a waterbender while he was in exile?"
Zuko blinked and tears fell down his cheeks as he looked away. There was a mulish set to his jaw as the tears started dripping onto his collar. When he didn't say anything, Katara took a deep breath.
"I feared that either I would be told to get rid of it or myself to preserve your honor and my dignity," she murmured unevenly. Her tears, too, started to fall and she hastily wiped them away as she sniffed. She noticed Zuko had looked back to her, waiting for her to continue. When she gathered herself enough, she spoke through her tears, "I found out our baby was a girl on the Winter Solstice. I had considered going to one of the Water Tribes to celebrate, but I realized they would have shunned me, too, had they found out. So I stayed in the Earth Kingdom, still going from place to place in order to remain anonymous."
"You could have come to me," Zuko whispered, causing Katara to sob and feel the burst of emotion for the first time since she lost Zarina. She couldn't handle this anymore. She heard him stand as she buried her face in her hands and the soft sounds of his footsteps on the floor blended with her cries. He didn't hold her though, he just grasped her chin and lifted her face away from its hiding place. "I would have never shunned you for bearing my child! Why are you so ashamed of something so wonderful? I made love to you that night with every intention of loving you afterwards. Didn't you see?"
Katara shook her head. "They wouldn't ever accept me-"
"Who gives a fuck?" he snapped. "I would have forsaken my birthright, should it have come down to choosing it or you. But you left me, then disappeared, and then birthed my child without anyone -"
Zuko froze and his eyes grew wide. Katara held her breath and waited for him to continue, afraid of breaking this fragile contact they shared at that fleeting moment, and she swallowed.
After his eyes darted back and forth as if he was reliving their conversation, his face grew dismayed and fearful as his voice dropped, "Where is the child? Katara, where is our daughter?"
Katara's eyes fell as more tears sprung forth and Zuko's hands left her face. She couldn't stop the keening cry that left her as her sobs started anew. How could she tell him that she was separated from their baby and could never find her? The island that they were on was not that big, but there was no sign of Zarina anywhere. When morning had rolled around, no one knew what she was talking about, as if she was delirious. Not even the orphanage that she suspected Zarina may have been taken. Her heartbreak over Zarina disappearing had caused her to leap into the sea and subconsciously waterbend herself all the way south to the swamp, where she stayed until just a week ago when she had her vision of Zuko and Zarina together.
It was what brought her here now, and what made her spill all of her shameful secrets.
With a sniff, Katara wiped her tears again and squared herself to Zuko. "I think I'm the one who should be asking you."
His stunned expression was eclipsed by the redness of his eyes and the tear tracks going down his face. He had been mourning a baby he never met. Her heart ached more at the sight. Why did she ever doubt this man?
"What are you talking about?"
Katara looked to the fire and replied, "I've been in the swamp for the past three years, since I was separated from our baby. There was a fight... I had to keep her safe so I hid her away. Except when I got back, she was gone. No one in the village knew what I was talking about or where she was... I was on that island for days looking for her, but I could not find her or anyone who knew where she was. So in my heartbreak I ran.
"While I was in the swamp, I kept having visions, ones that grew stronger and stronger over time..." She looked up into Zuko's shining eyes and stated, "They were of you, with her, here in the Fire Palace."
Zuko shook his head and started mumbling, "No that's not possible, that's-"
He interrupted himself once more before he whispered to himself, "Zarina."
Katara's heart felt like it exploded and her tears began anew. "What did you just say?"
"Zarina," Zuko repeated, and as her heart soared at the sound of her baby's name coming from someone else, Katara couldn't help but nod erratically and grip the lapels of his shirt.
"Yes! That's her name!"
Zuko's hands grabbed hers and he silently tugged her out of the office. As soon as they were in the hallway, they broke into a dead sprint. There were shouts for them, but they were ignored in favor of Zuko rounding a corner, Katara in tow, until they reached another set of double doors. Zuko dropped her hand right as they stopped, the place where he touched her still burning, and he rested his head on the wood. For a long moment, the silence stretched on and Katara itched to go inside to see her baby again.
His voice soft when he said, "I found her at an orphanage. They didn't know her name, but Zarina was the only one I could think of when she looked at me. I just felt this... connection with her. Like nothing I've felt before... except with you."
The ache in her chest returned when he lifted his head and looked her right in the eyes. "If she's our daughter, all I ask is that you don't disappear with her again."
All she could do was shake her head. Never again.
"She's everything to me, even though I thought she wasn't my blood," he murmured as his hands gripped the handles. "She filled the void that you left behind."
Katara heart felt as if it was being stabbed a hundred times. "Zuko-"
"I'm not asking that you stay," he muttered coldly, his fond expression turning hard when she met his eyes again. "You left, and you lost her. You don't have the right to call yourself her mother. Not right now. It was by the grace of the Spirits that I found her, and that you felt us. But that doesn't mean either of us will forgive you. Not so quickly."
At the stinging truth in his words, Katara hung her head and nodded. "I don't expect you to. I just want to see my baby again."
She knew he would feel this way. After he had revealed the truth of his mother's fate to her all those years ago, she knew of the betrayal he felt at his mother abandoning him and his sister to his father's dirty schemes. At the same time, Katara did not voluntarily get separated from their daughter. She had tried so hard to find her again, but it was almost as if the people of that forsaken island had deliberately kept them apart.
Her heart still broke at the thought.
"Maybe one day we can be some sort of fractured family," Zuko remarked in a sad, wistful type of way. "Zarina can never be Fire Lord. She is a waterbender, like you. So whomever I marry and produce firebending offspring with, they will be the true heirs and first in line. But Zarina will always have a place in the Fire Palace and at my side as my child."
Katara glared at him through her tears but kept quiet. The rules of the Fire Nation were not ones she could contest, not now and most likely not ever. Instead, she watched as Zuko opened the doors to a courtyard where a little girl was sitting by a pond. There were turtle ducks swimming around and she was bending the water in little ripples with clumsy movements of her fingers.
Zuko strode in, silently beckoning Katara to follow, and the fear weighed down her feet as she was led to their child. As they got closer, time slowed and Katara watched with anxious eyes as the little girl turned around and looked at the people entering the garden, unknowingly greeting her biological parents.
Blue, almond-shaped eyes and slightly tanned skin with the slim and elegant nose that she shared with her father. When her lips pulled into a smile, Katara recognized it as her own. That was her baby. Her Zarina. And she had been found.
Zarina leapt up from her spot, leaving the poor turtleducks alone, and jumped into Zuko's outstretched arms. He hefted her onto his hip and he turned to lead her to Katara. The evidence of his crying was gone - her's likely wasn't - and he smiled at their little girl as she stared at her birth mother.
"Zarina," Zuko started in a soft voice that Katara had never heard before, "this is-"
"Mommy!" she cried suddenly, causing both Katara and Zuko to widen their eyes in alarm as the young child practically leapt from Zuko's arms to Katara. As soon as her arms were wrapped around her mother's neck, she squeezed tight and pressed her face into Katara. She couldn't help but return the hug and start to weep, her love and heartbreak over this babe overflowing as her knees buckled and she collapsed to the ground. Zuko helped eased them down, awkwardly hanging behind as Zarina started crying against Katara's neck.
"Hush, Rina, I'm here. I'm so sorry, my love. Please forgive me for losing you."
Zarina shook her head and sobbed louder as she clung tighter. Katara cried with her, holding her tight as the world melted away. All she could feel was her baby, and Zuko's hand that rested strongly on her shoulder.
The adjustment of having Katara living in the Fire Palace was pretty smooth. It was widely accepted - at least to Zuko's face - that she was welcome there, and she was quick to reintegrate herself into Zarina's - and by extension, Zuko's - life. Apparently, after further investigation on his part, Zarina had been purposely taken by one of the people that worked for Mizuki and they hid the fact that they knew where the then-toddler had been when Katara came around asking. In the waterbender's dismayed desperation, she hadn't resorted to breaking down each and every door to find her baby.
Like Zuko would have.
Mizuki had apparently been reluctant to let Zuko take Zarina away, but was deterred because of his status as one of the most powerful men in the world. Had she refused, there could have been dire consequences, like people finding out that their orphanage stole children from the mainland and groomed them with the intention of being sold as sex workers in the major cities. It was how a small island such as theirs had such nice facilities without any visible sources of income.
Zarina had been snatched with the intention of being raised to become a prostitute.
That alone was enough to spur Zuko into ordering a raid onto the island and rescuing the other children as they arrested Mizuki and her workers.
Katara learned of that after the raid was already finished, so she didn't bend herself across the ocean to kill that woman herself. The bond Katara and Zarina had was inexplicable, even after all of these years apart, and Zuko knew Katara felt completely responsible for Zarina's kidnapping. Taking out her rage on the woman that separated them would have been an empty relief, in his opinion. Just like Yon Rha.
Zarina insisted that Katara slept with her in her room, to make up for lost time, and Zuko couldn't resist. The girl had him wrapped around her finger and he was all too willing to comply to any request she made. So Katara's sparse amount of things were moved to their daughter's suite within a day of Katara coming to the Fire Nation.
His relationship with Katara was, however, rocky at best. With his insistence, she had to write to her father to explain everything, and Hakoda set a course to the Fire Nation soon after with Sokka in tow. When he arrived, he ignored Katara and immediately went to Zarina, to greet the grandchild he didn't knew he had. Zarina was certainly a grandpa's girl, loving on the older Chief at every opportunity she could get. Sokka was smitten with her and more than once tried to smuggle her away from the Palace and take her to Kyoshi Island.
Both Katara's and Zuko's intense reaction hindered his attempts completely.
Iroh had already met her when Zuko first brought her to the Fire Nation all those years ago. He loved that little girl with all of his heart, and the knowing looks he had given Zuko when he wistfully watched her play suddenly made much more sense to him.
It seemed the Dragon of the West knew all along, which didn't help with things much. Zuko was certain to get to the bottom of that soon.
Katara was hesitant to be alone with him, out of fear or guilt, he didn't know. She would avoid him at times and merely be cordial at others. Regardless, it hurt him. More than her lying about their child and disappearing for six years. He still loved her after all this time, but he didn't know how to be around her. She had kept such an important secret from him and from everyone, out of what? Guilt? Shame? Either way, she assumed he would react one way and fled from the consequences.
Such as her ex-boyfriend.
Aang arrived at the Palace in the middle of spring, his eyes full of fury and his sights set on one woman alone: Katara. They went somewhere private - the other side of the island on Appa's back - and he screamed at her so loudly that they could still hear him in Caldera.
Katara was dropped off and Aang left without another word, not even greeting Zuko or meeting Zarina. He and Appa disappeared before Zuko could blink away his surprise. Such was the nature of the Airbending Avatar.
That night, Zuko went to Zarina's and Katara's room with two bottles of Fire Whiskey in his hand. He knocked once, then there was a hushing sound on the other side of the door. After a moment, the door swung open to reveal a slightly disheveled Katara with red-rimmed eyes, in her wrinkled sleeping gown.
"Zuko!" she exclaimed in a whisper. "What are you doing here? It's late."
He silently held up the bottles and quirked his eyebrow in a silent question, then she nodded with understanding and stepped out into the hallway. Zuko led her to one of the empty rooms across the hall, where she would have stayed if Zarina hadn't begged to let her mom stay in her room, and they sat in the opposite chairs by the fireplace. Zuko methodically lit the fire as Katara uncorked one bottle and took a heavy swig from it.
He took the other and followed her lead.
It took a while, half of her bottle and about a third of his, for the silence to break.
"I didn't mean to hurt him, you know?"
"He just," she sighed and took another long drink. After she swallowed, she wiped away a little dribble of the whiskey that escaped her mouth. "He just expected me to be this perfect... wife: silent and comforting and fertile. That would sit and let him walk all over me because he was the Avatar and create a dozen airbending babies for him."
She looked into the fire, lost in her bleary eyes, and she added in a murmur, "I would have never been good at any of that."
Zuko bitterly took a long chug and ignored the way her eyes burned into him. When he finished, he replied, "Anyone could have told you that. You were just afraid of hurting his feelings."
"I'm not good at that either," she said rancorously. "At least, purposely."
He met her eyes and coldly stated, "You had no qualms about hurting mine."
Katara sighed and sank into the cushion behind her. "Zuko..."
"I don't want to hear it," he muttered before he took another drink. "You made love to me, then went running to him after the war was over. Just because he was the real hero, doesn't mean he gets to have everything he wants without working for it."
Katara glared at him and spat, "He worked hard to be able to beat Ozai! You're the one who said he was the real hero back then! Why are you so bitter about it now?"
With a bright and frightening flash of anger, Zuko shouted, "Because it lost me you!"
She stared at him with open shock and Zuko cursed his loosened tongue. He also cursed his loss of control and the now-burnt out fire in the hearth.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
He frowned and looked at the dying embers to his right. "Because you left with Aang right after Ba Sing Se and then disappeared four weeks later. You didn't give me much time nor opportunity to pour my heart out to you."
Zuko didn't look, but he heart Katara stand from her seat and walk over to him. She stumbled a little in the dark, but she reached him nonetheless. When she crouched in front of him and placed her hands over his clenched fists, Zuko was thrown back to the night they made love in the moonlight. His breath caught and he fought the angry and agonizing tears that built in his eyes.
He could not cry, not now, not when they were finally talking about this elephant mandrill in the room.
Hesitantly, Katara pried his hands open and held them loosely in her palms, as if she was afraid of scaring him away. Softly, almost inaudibly in the still air, she murmured, "There are so many things I regret... And I don't think I'll be able to absolve them..."
His heart stuttered and he lifted his eyes to meet hers as she finished, " Or earn the forgiveness from those that I don't deserve quite yet."
Zuko tried not to cry even more as he recounted those very words he had murmured to her on that fateful night. "You don't need to earn my forgiveness, Katara."
"But I do," she replied just as softly. "I deliberately kept Zarina a secret from you in fear of your rejection, without even considering how you would feel if I kept her from you. I thought rashly and changed our lives entirely because of it. Zarina suffered for it. She's forgiven me now but who knows what she'll think years from now when she thinks it over with a more mature head. I lost her, Zuko. And by the grace of Tui and La was she able to be found by you and not by some pervert or sadist, but that doesn't absolve me of my guilt."
"Your guilt is placed on you by yourself," he remarked sadly. He met her shining eyes in the light of the moon and he tried not to get lost there again. "Only you can forgive yourself for things out of your control."
Katara shook her head. "I should have looked longer, tried harder, told you and maybe-"
"Asking ourselves 'what if' won't do any good," he cut in. As boldly as he could in his state, Zuko cupped the side of her face, just as he did all those years ago, and held her so he could look her in the eyes. "Zarina loves you and would never fault you for what happened. We will explain what happened when she is older, but for now all that should matter is that girl loves you with all of her heart."
"And you, too," Katara whispered without breaking her gaze.
Zuko smiled sadly, sobering slightly at her timid stare, and said, "And me, too. We're a family now, Katara. And when you're weighing yourself down with this guilt it hurts all of us. You need to heal."
Katara remained silent, her gaze lingering on his for a long moment, before she inhaled unevenly and her breath ghosted against his face. "Will... will you help me?"
Without saying anything, Zuko gave into the desires he had been resisting up until now and captured Katara's lips in a soft kiss. Her gasp was like a breath of fresh air, revitalizing him and the love he had for her. He took her head between his hands and pulled her closer, helping her lift up onto her knees and press their chests together. She settled into the space between his legs and sighed when he slid his tongue into her mouth.
It was as if no time passed.
He hadn't touched a woman since her, there was no desire nor time to do it, and his body immediately reacted to her. Without breaking the kiss, he shifted forward so he was sitting right on the edge of the couch cushion and she could feel his want for her. As soon as his erection pressed against the soft skin of her stomach, they both moaned.
Katara's hands roamed his chest, sliding under the collar of his shirt and pulling it down off of his shoulders. As soon as he was bare, her fingers splayed on the starburst scar on his stomach. She never got to truly thank him for that, he supposed.
Her breath caught when he slid his fingers into her hair and tilted her head back so he could devour her. When she arrived at the shores of his home all those months ago, reappearing for the first time in years, her hair had been as short as Suki's. Now, it fell in soft waves to her collarbone and was the perfect length to grab.
With strength he didn't have back then, Zuko grasped Katara by her hips and lifted her onto his lap, still kissing her feverishly. His mouth broke away from hers and started trailing down her jaw to her neck, remembering the way she sighed his name when he dragged his teeth against her pulse. Her hands clutched at his shoulders and she ground her hips against his cock, causing his breath to stutter and his teeth to bite down a little harder than he intended.
"Zuko- ooh," she cried out quietly, sending a thrilling shiver down his spine. He flexed his hips up into her as his reply and began tugging her collar to the side so he could have better access to her chest. He always loved her in red, and now in a soft sleeping gown that was the color of burgundy, all he wanted to do was rip it off.
He fumbled with the hem, tugging it up and out of the way so he could have more access to his body, and when he finally moved his mouth from her body to toss it off, he was stunned to see she was wearing absolutely nothing under the gossamer fabric of her dress.
He met her eyes for the first time since he started kissing her and asked, "Did you intend on this happening?"
Katara kept her eyes on his as she shook her head and shrank in a little on herself. "I had hoped, just slightly, that you would come to me tonight after what happened... But didn't expect anything. After all, I thought you hated me after what I did."
"I've never hated you," he said as he grasped her chin to level their eyes. "I was upset, yes. Hurt, of course. But hate? Never."
Her gaze became misty and he lifted his other hand from where it rested on her thigh and held the other side of her face. "You have plagued my thoughts for years. I was only upset when you showed up because it turned out you hadn't been kidnapped or killed like I thought, just disappeared on your own. And it hurt."
"Why didn't you look for me?"
Zuko gave her another sad smile and his hands slid down her neck and shoulders to grasp her elbows. "I couldn't very well leave my people to chase after a girl I loved. And as much as I wanted to, Aang was still under the impression that you two were going to get married so I didn't want to risk the Avatar's wrath by dropping my responsibilities to look for his girlfriend."
Katara looked away and Zuko immediately regretting bringing up the source of their drinking that night. Her hands tightened on his shoulders and she sighed, "I deserve your hatred, though. Not your love."
"You don't get to decide what you deserve," he remarked as earnestly as he could. Katara met his gaze again and he continued, "This is something we will have to work on. Fuck the opinions of the nobles, fuck anyone else. All that matters is you, me, and our daughter. It's going to take some time and a lot of talking, but I'd like to figure things out between us."
A lone tear dropped from her eye and Zuko swiftly wiped it away. Katara silently regarded him for a moment before leaning in and kissing him. Zuko immediately let himself react to her, pulling her body in and feeling every inch of her bare body. As she deepened the kiss, Zuko grabbed her hips and pulled her closer. Immediately, he could feel her arousal dampening the fabric of his pants. Her hips moved and brushed against his erection, sparking that desire back into it and causing him to groan against her tongue.
The way she smiled against his lips was dangerous.
Since his shirt was already shed and she was completely naked, Katara took to getting Zuko out of the rest of his clothes. Her hands slid down his stomach, ghosting over his starburst scar, and settled right under the waistband of his pants.
"I can't tell you how long I've wanted to touch you again," she murmured after breaking their kiss.
Zuko buried his face in her neck and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and feeling every inch of her supple skin. The tips of her breasts pulled against his chest right as her hand slipped into his pants and wrapped around his shaft, dragging a ragged groan out of him.
He bit down on her neck and replied, "Your name was on my tongue every time I made myself cum to the thought of you."
She made a whimpering noise and stroked him with one had while the other knotted itself in his hair. "Me too."
"I didn't touch anyone else."
He gasped when her palm twisted over his head, sending sparks through his spine, and he immediately stood, with her in his arms. Katara yelped at the sudden movement and she met his eyes as he lowered her onto her back, right in the moonlight on the floor. As he pulled his pants and undergarments off, she stared up at him, glowing eyes wide with wonder and love, and he looked at the body he had missed all these years.
There was a scar on her ribs, jagged like she had been burned or scraped by a rock. Her breasts were larger, fuller, as were her hips. They sloped pleasantly to her tapered waist and framed her soft stomach. One that was barely striped with the marks of carrying a child. Reverently, Zuko lowered himself and pressed a kiss to the skin, and Katara jumped back from the contact.
Like she had said, no one had touched her in six years. Her body was barely used to any touch but her own.
He smiled against her skin and started pressing kisses downward, trailing along her stomach and heading towards the thatch of curls nestled at the top of her legs. When he pressed his lips against her mouth, Katara shivered and sat up slightly, causing him to lose contact with her skin.
"Zuko, I-" she chewed her lip and looked away, beautifully bashful in this ethereal light. "We... I haven't done this since the day of Sozin's Comet... I'm a little out of practice."
"Me too," he said, still on his stomach and waiting for her approval to continue. "That's why I'm doing this, to ease us back into it."
Katara's blush was evident, even in the low light, and he waited. When she didn't say anything, he leaned forward and dragged his tongue up the part of her slit he could reach, tasting her strong arousal, and he murmured against the moistened skin, "We can stop if you want."
She was panting, ready for more of his ministrations, and she shook her head. "No, no... I just..."
Zuko sat up and brought his face to hers to give her another loving kiss. When he pulled away, her lidded eyes stared at him with awe and suddenly, as if all of her hesitations vanished, she wrapped her arms around him and straddled his waist. Immediately, he slid into her and their collective moans echoed off of the walls of the vacant room.
Her lapse in confidence was clearly gone as her darkened eyes met his and she moved her hips. Zuko groaned and let his head fall back onto the floor, oblivious to everything around him except Katara's body moving with his. As she rode, he flexed his hips up to meet her. Every roll of her hips was accentuated by the sway of her breasts and the moans in her throat. When she sped up, Zuko felt as if he had gone blind and cried out as her pace brought him to an orgasm only paralleled by the ones she had given him as a teenager.
She was right behind him, crying out and fluttering around him as she rubbed herself more and more against him. As she slowed, Zuko's vision blackened at the edges and he was dimly aware of her falling off of him and laying at his side, curling up against his chest and succumbing to exhaustion like he did.
When Zuko came to a little later, Katara was tracing the scar on his stomach with the tip of her finger, face pressed against his bare chest and a far-off look in her beautiful eyes.
"What's on your mind?"
Her gaze flickered up to him before going back to his stomach and she sighed, her cool breath fanning the skin of his torso as she murmured, "I feel like I never got to truly thank you for saving my life. When I tried to, we got whisked away to our respective futures. It was as if the Spirits willed us apart."
Zuko shook his head and grasped her hand, halting her thoughtless tracing, and he brought her fingers to his lips to press a soft kiss to the tips. Her cheeks darkened adorably and he stated, "No, the Spirits willed us together with Zarina. I loved you then, before she even existed, and I love you now. Always have, always will. No matter the distance or the circumstance or past love, I will love you. We'll make this work."
She sat up, clearly skeptical, and she replied, "You love me still? Even after all this time?"
He reached up and tucked some hair behind her ear as he said, "Of course. How could I not?"
Katara's eyes dropped and the guilt seemed to wash over her entirely. "There are so many reasons..."
"And many more to explain why I do." He sat up and took her hands between his, then pressed them to the scar on his stomach. "You helped me live. When I thought I would die, you saved me. And when I felt hopeless and alone, the child we created together helped me through and gave me purpose to carry on. You may think that you are some sort of demon for having a child at the age of fifteen, but that doesn't define your character. The fact that you took care of that baby, all by yourself, until she was forcibly taken from you, shows the kind of person you are: a strong one. One that I admire and adore. Please don't ever think you aren't worthy of my love."
Zuko barely noticed that she had started crying and his gaze dropped to her neck. In the craziness of the months since she moved in and started helping him raise Zarina, he realized he never gave her back her mother's necklace. The both had been too swept up to remember. A pang of regret hit him square in the heart and he vowed to return it to her first thing in the morning.
"What did I ever do to deserve someone like you?" she whimpered through her tears.
Zuko wiped them away with the pads of his thumbs and smiled as he said, "Because you are more than you give yourself credit for. I would be blessed to have you by my side for the rest of our lives."
That made Katara laugh and she shoved him playfully as she sniffed and replied, "Absolutely not. Not right now."
He grinned and kissed her again. "No, but someday."
She looked him in the eyes and let out another watery laugh. "You're confident."
"And you're wonderful."
Her cheeks were ruddy again and his heart was over the moon. Without another word, Zuko took her again, savoring her sighs and gasps as he brought her to completion another two times before the sun rose and they needed to greet Zarina for breakfast.
When they walked into the sun room, she was already waiting for them and beamed when she saw them walking hand-in-hand. And as they enjoyed breakfast together in the light of the rising sun, Zuko decided then and there that he wouldn't change this life for any other one.
Two months later, when Katara came to him on the morning of Zarina's true birthday, exclaiming about being pregnant once more, he was sure that this was absolutely better than anything else he could have ever imagined.