The ceremony went by in a flash. The warmth of Zuko’s hands left when it all ended, his tall figure fading into the shadows of the palace halls after he had been so kind to have escorted her to her chambers before proceeding to his own. It bothered the teary eyed waterbender, more than she thought it was worth.
It all began with a single proposal, one in which would benefit not only her people but Zuko’s as well. The Fire Lord was searching for a bride, and Katara opted in among many candidates from around the world, from prestigious to royalty. Shock was visible on his face when he first entered the palace’s ballroom, his gaze immediately fixated on Katara’s, bewildered by her presence.
She wasn’t much too pleased to be there either. Forgiving Zuko was one thing, their conflictions long gone and forgotten, but she was still wary. Not that Katara thought that Zuko was untrustworthy, but his past faults had her questioning his capabilities.
On top of it, her heart still lied with Aang. Making the decision not to peruse a romantic relationship with him proved extremely hard. She loved him, her first and only. She kissed him on the balcony of Iroh’s tea shop and that was supposed to be their happily ever after. But things change. People change. The Avatar looked to the love of his life for further confirmation of their relationship months after their first kiss, and she could not answer.
The dread of it all stuck in Katara’s throat.
After some courting and awkward meets, Zuko chose her. It didn’t hit her until she was adorned in a wedding dress, one that Gran Gran was thrilled to make. White parka embroidered with blue tribal designs of the sun and Fire Nation lilies. Her grandmother boasted about the flower when she was given a tour of the palace, her soft eyes set on the delicate plant. Katara felt ashamed. If Gran Gran knew how much of a farce this was, she’d beg Katara not to go through with it. But her tribe was in need of financial aid, rebuilding required money, money her people didn’t have.
At one point the Chieftain of the Northern Water Tribe had come up with a solution. Arnook’s offer to help was just a ruse to get her close to his nephew, promising his aid in exchange for her hand and the joining of their tribes. Hakoda was furious with the Northern Chieftain and his motives. It was enough to sever their link with their sister tribe once again, and though Katara was grateful for her father sticking up for her, it still left them in the dark.
It was through a letter from Sokka, who was currently visiting Toph back in the Earth Kingdom, that Katara got word of Zuko looking for a foreign bride, one that would join nations and bring peace and prosperity to not only his homeland but all around the world. It was sincere, Katara thought, but sincerity had to be on the back burner for the time being. She needed this. She needed to save her people. No matter how much Hakoda begged, she wouldn’t listen. The waterbender made her father promise not to tell Gran Gran and Sokka her reasonings, only that she intended to join forces with Zuko in order to usher a new era.
Uniting a loveless marriage was not in the cards, but nether was giving up on the village.
“Katara?” She caught the uncertainty in his voice. Surely this had to be different tribeswoman. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay? Is Aang with you?”
Katara stood up proudly dressed in an elegant blue gown made appropriately for harsh Fire Nation weather. “I am Katara, daughter of Chief Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe. I have come as a candidate for marriage, Fire Lord Zuko.” She declared. “I believe that we will greatly benefit by joining our people.” She announced loud enough for the crowd in the palace’s ballroom to hear. She was next in line for introductions. She knew Zuko was not expecting this. “I am dedicated to proving myself of being a capable ally for both you and your nation.” Katara bowed.
He was taken aback, she could tell. The awkward air between them lingered longer than a second. She could see his boots shift awkwardly beneath his robes as she stayed her bow.
“I-uh,” He gestured for her to stand up straight. “I’m honored by your introduction, Lady Katara. I look forward to getting to know you.” Zuko didn’t like this demeanor she was giving off.
“As do I, Fire Lord Zuko.”
She caught the quick glance he directed towards Iroh, who could only shrug.
After he managed to get her alone one evening, he questioned why she was doing this and what happened between her and Aang. She calmly stated it wasn’t meant to be it at once and that it simply made sense considering their compatibilities and the many things they had in common, even though her heart stung like a million needles stabbed it at once.
“Loss is common among us all.” Zuko stated. He knew she was referring to their mothers and the moment they had in the crystal catacombs. Taking a step back with a pause, as though musing over what to say next. “Don’t let that be the reason you’re here.”
“It’s not.” Katara snapped unintentionally. She took a deep breath. “It’s not, Zuko.” If anything, the common ground here was to gain something.
The Fire Lord pursed his lips, averting his eyes to the side avoiding eye contact. “Then I have made my decision.” With that he angrily stormed off and she had not spoken to Zuko until the announcement of their engagement. Even then his words were far and few between. He spoke when he needed, and nothing more.
“You do are not obligated to uphold your wifely duties. Not yet. Not until you’re ready.” Zuko stated once they made it to her chambers after the festivities. Her eyes widened, unsure of how to respond. Katara had more wine than she had ever consumed in her lifetime, in an effort to gain the courage to consummate their marriage. Was it that obvious how nervous she was? “Other than that, which is required of you, your privacy is your own. I respect you immensely Katara, and we both know the real meaning behind this marriage.”
She gulped, the burn in her throat from the excessive liquids she consumed wouldn’t subside. “I-“ What exactly could she say” She very well couldn’t deny it,
Zuko smiled, his hand patted her arm. He frowned, retracting his it quickly, allowing it to dangle heavily at his side. “I admire your courage for being here. Know that I am more than appreciative for you doing this. You’re my friend, Kat, which is why I chose you out of all people. You doing this for me is more than I deserve. Anything you need, for both you and your people, I will do everything in my power to make it happen.”
He was right. Right about everything and Katara wasn’t the least bit ashamed of it. So why did she cry herself to sleep that night?