"What's wrong Zuko, freaked out?"
"What, no!" Zuko said and repressed a shiver. There was no way no way at all he was going to admit to Katara that her story about Nini had indeed freaked him out.
"So then you won't mind checking out Nini's house with me." Katara challenged.
"I don't think you two should be poking around Nini's house during the Glacier Spirits Festival." Sokka warned. "I mean its a day for the Spirits or whatever this is exactly the kind of day for all sorts of Spirit world shenanigans."
Zuko didn't say anything for a moment. He knew that Sokka was probably right, but he wanted to wipe the smirk off of Katara's face. He still couldn't tell if she liked him or just liked teasing him, but she must have felt something for him. After all she was the one who personally invited him all the way to the South Pole for the Glacier Spirits Festival and she hadn't invited anyone else. Sokka was the one to invite Toph and Suki. Whatever her reason for inviting him didn't matter to Zuko. He'd do whatever he had to just to spend a little more time with her. Ever since that day they were trapped together in the crystal catacombs he'd been unable to get her out of her mind. Even Mai had noticed and broken up with him over it.
"If you like Katara so much why don't you just go be with her!" She'd screamed at him when he had brought up the subject of Katara for the millionth time. After her accusation about his feelings for Katara she stormed out of his room and his life. Zuko hadn't seen her since and he was shocked to find that he didn't really miss her like he once thought that he would.
"You're on." He said to Katara.
"All right." Sokka said. "But don't expect me to come thaw the two of you out when Nini's ghost freezes you in a block of ice."
"I'm a firebender, Sokka. I don't think that will be a problem for me."
"Or for me." Katara added. "Besides nothing is going to happen."
"Now something is definitely going to happen." Sokka said and walked away. "Haven't you learned that by now, Katara?" He shrugged. "Nothing I can do to save you now so I'm going to go find Toph and Suki and get some fried food."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Katara asked. "You don't have to?"
"Now who's scared?" Zuko teased back.
"I'm not scared!" Katara snapped.
"Well let's go then."
Katara marched ahead of him, probably to show him that she wasn't scared, but he quickly stepped beside her to show her that he also wasn't scared.
Nini's house was still empty just like Katara had said in her story only there was no smoke coming from the chimney and no little voice calling out "It's so cold and I can't get warm."
Zuko stepped ahead of Katara into the house. "I can't believe no one lives here." Zuko said. "Seems like such a waste." From what he'd seen of Katara's house he could tell that everything in Nini's house was dated. It was as if time had stood still in Nini's house, and he guessed it had since no one had been in the house since Nini disappeared. There were fur pelts on the wall. Furs on the floor. Various tools for hunting and trapping lined the walls.
"I know this may sound silly, but I like to think that wherever Nini is my mom is there too and she's taking care of her and now Nini is finally safe and warm."
Zuko turned to look at Katara. "That's not silly in fact what's to say it isn't possible?"
"You think so?"
Zuko shrugged. "What do we really know about the Spirits or the Spirit World? Anything is possible especially where a mother's love is involved."
Silence enveloped them in the small cold empty house. Both of them were lost in the memories of the two women who had made huge sacrifices so that they could live. He still didn't know if his own mother was alive or dead, but wherever she was he hoped that she was warm and happy too.
"We should go find the others." Katara said. "It's silly to stay here and I think we've already proved my brother wrong. Nothing is going to happen."
Zuko nodded and turned towards the front door the same time as Katara did but outside heavy snow began to fall and the wind picked up causing a whiteout. He couldn't even see one foot in front of him. There was no way that either of them could step out into the snow without being lost.
"That's not my fault." Katara said nervously. "Must be a freak pop up snow storm. They happen sometimes. That's just normal life in the South Pole."
"I guess we'll just have to wait it out." Zuko replied. "How about I start a fire."
"That would be great. We don't want to end up like poor little Nini."
Zuko hadn't notice the wood in the fireplace when they'd first entered Nini's house but there it was just the same. He must not have been paying that much attention he figured and shot a quick burst of flame at the wood. It caught fire at once.
Katara moved closer to the fire and put out her hands to warm herself and Zuko did the same.
"How long do these storms usually last?" Zuko asked.
Katara shrugged. "Could be a few minutes could be a few days."
"A few days, there's no food in here we'll starve."
"No we won't. If push comes to shove we'll just have to leave this place. I can always bend some of the snow out of our way so we'll have some visibility but I'd rather try and wait the storm out first."
"What will we do in the mean time?"
"Tell me something about yourself. Something that I don't know about you yet." Katara bent a small sofa out of ice and then covered it with fur blankets. She gestured for Zuko to sit down.
He obliged Katara and sat down and she sat down beside him. "I yelled at lightning once."
"My uncle was trying to teach me how to lightning bend but I couldn't do it, I still can't, and I got so frustrated that I yelled for lightning to strike me. Not the smartest thing to do I know."
"Why did you want to learn to lightning bend for?"
"Azula." Zuko said.
"Yeah, maybe it's a good thing I never learned how to bend lightning because my uncle showed me how to redirect it instead."
"Well, I'm for one glad that he did." Katara said. "I wouldn't be standing here right now if he did."
"The ironic thing is that he learned how to redirect lightning by studying waterbenders."
Zuko nodded. "My uncle told me that waterbenders let their defense become their offense and you effectively turn your opponents' energy against them. Essentially that's what you do when you redirect lightning."
"So I guess that makes you a waterbender of sorts."
"All the elements are connected but that something I was too blind to see at one time."
"I've always been curious to know what it would feel like to be able to bend fire." Katara admitted. "It seems like so much power."
"It is, but that's not the true meaning of firebending, but the true meaning is something I can't tell you because I made a promise to the Sun Warriors that I wouldn't tell anyone."
"That's O.K. Zuko the important thing is that you know."
"I just hate that for so long I let my rage fuel my bending. I let my anger consume me and I did so many awful things I don't know if I'll ever be able to make up for them."
"You can't keep beating yourself up you've done your part to make up for your past. Beside you're not the only one to lose yourself in anger. I almost killed a man because I was so consumed with anger."
"Yeah, but the important thing is that you didn't."
"Thanks for supporting me. It's what I needed. I didn't need a lecture I needed an outlet."
"Well redirecting lightning became my outlet for releasing a lot of my anger. For so long I was my own opponent and once I figured out that I was only turning all of my anger towards myself I realized that I had to let it go, and I figured that you'd realize that too."
"Waterbenders helping firebenders helping waterbenders." Katara joked.
"All the elements are connected." Zuko repeated.
"Hey, the fire went out!" Katara yelped.
"It's so cold and I can't get warm." A little voice called out.
"That's not funny, Katara."
"That wasn't me!" Katara said and jumped up from her seat. Her eyes were twice there normal size and he could see her visibly shaking from his place on the ice bent sofa. She was just as scared as he was. She hugged her arms around herself and began to pace back and forth.
"It's so cold and I can't get warm."
Zuko shivered. He was looking directly at Katara this time. Her mouth wasn't moving and as far as he knew ventriloquism wasn't one of her skills.
"We're just cold and hungry is all." Katara said calmly, but her voice had raised several octaves, just start a new fire and we'll both feel better."
"Don't worry I've got it." He said and stood up from the sofa and with shaking hands he bent at the fire place and nearly fell over backwards with shock when water and not fire came from his hands. He'd just bent water. He couldn't have but yet he had. If he hadn't of seen it with his own eyes and felt it with his own skin he'd of never believed it.
"Zuko, did you just bend water?" Katara asked.
"I don't know. It must be a trick of the light or I don't know the storm?" He tried again to bend fire and again he bent water. Zuko stared at his hands. All his life they'd been bending fire but now he was bending water? How? It didn't make sense. It felt so different to be bending water and not fire. It felt smooth and fluid. Almost like redirecting lightning. He could feel the push and pull within himself.
"It's so cold and I can't get warm."
The little voice was right. It was cold and it was getting colder and colder by the second. If he couldn't start a fire they would freeze. Was Nini some how responsible for this? No. That was silly. There were no such thing as ghost and Nini wasn't a Spirit. It must be cabin fever. That was it. Both he and Katara were going mad from being trapped in such a tiny space.
"It's so cold and I can't get warm."
Katara looked at Zuko for a moment then without having to speak a word to him bent, and even though he knew it might happen, he was still shocked to see Katara bending fire. It was like being out side of his body. Or out side of his mind.
"What's going on?" Zuko wanted to know. "Is this really happening?"
"I don't know, but storm or not I think we should get out of here."
Zuko nodded. The two ran for the door but the strong winds blew them back into the house. Snow began to fall even heavier until the front door was competely blocked by snow.
"It's so cold and I can't get warm."
The fire had gone out again and the temperature in the house began to rapidly drop.
Katara gripped Zuko's arm. "I don't like this."
"You need to make a bigger fire." Zuko told Katara.
"Bigger fire?" She shook her head. "I was lucky to make that little fire. I'm not a firebender Zuko. I don't know what I'm doing."
"Don't worry I'll help you." Zuko told her. He placed his hands on her shoulders and guided her into a proper firebending stance. "Power from firebending comes from the breath. Your bending needs to be less fluid and more aggressive. You really need to feel your energy and then drive it forward with your body and breath. The energy is combustion not fluidity. Don't be afraid of the power from the fire. Don't be afraid of the energy it creates within you. You're it's master and it's your servant.
Katara nodded. She closed her eyes and took in a few deep breaths.
"You've got this Katara. I know you can do this. Watch me." He did the movements of his fireball stance.
Katara copied him and a huge ball of fire shot from Katara's hands and into the fire place. The fire roared to life crackling and popping. The whole room lit up and immediately it began to get warmer.
"I did it!" Katara shouted. "I did it." She jumped into his arms and hugged him.
"You did it!" Zuko shouted at the same time. His arms automatically went around Katara. He held her in his arms for a few seconds and she made no attempts to disentangle herself from him. "You're amazing." He said looking into her eyes.
A loud thud interrupted their intimate moment and they both turned to see the snow falling away from the front door.
"We can get out now." Katara said.
"Yeah, but the storm is still raging." Zuko pointed out.
"I think it's your turn to bend now, but don't worry I'll help you." Katara said. "You can do this too. Waterbending is smooth and fluid. You have to flow through your stances. You can't force or muscle your way through. You really have to feel the push and the pull." She stepped up behind him and moved him into a waterbending stance. "It's like a dance. Think of the snow as water. The water and your energy is your partner. When you combine them all together it makes your waterbending work."
"Take my hand." Zuko said. "That way neither of us will get lost."
Katara took his hand and Zuko felt a spark travel from the point where she took his hand straight to his heart. He turned to look into her eyes making his heart beat even faster in his chest. They breathed out at the same time. Katara gave his hand a little squeeze. "I trust you." She said.
Together they stepped out into the snow. The wind were so loud that he couldn't hear anything over the sreaming cold air. The sheer cold took his breath away and made his eyes water, but he remembered everything Katara had told him. He kept one hand tight around Katara's and with the other moved through the motions of the waterbending stance that Katara had shown him. The snow parted for him and slowly the pair made their way forward through the blizzard. Inch by inch they made their way forward towards the village. Zuko kept bending the snow out if their way.
Then all the snow from the storm began to turn and twirl away from him. Almost as if it were dancing around the two of them. Something about the way the snow shifted and shook seemed playful. He and Katara could only watch as the snow began to form together as if pulled by a magnet. It was quickly becoming solid. It began to take on mass and shape. It was like an invisible sculptor was making a statue out of the snow. A statue of a person no not a person a child. The snow melted away and a bright light flashed across the sky. Both Zuko and Katara had to close their eyes against the brightness. When they opened there eyes the snow was gone and a little girl stood before them.
"Nini?" Katara asked.
She smiled and nodded. "It's so warm." She took off her heavy blue coat. "I don't even need my coat."
Zuko looked around. They weren't in the South Pole anymore. They were in a field of fragrant flowers. Their colors were nothing like Zuko had ever seen on earth. He'd only seen colors like this once before. When the dragons had shown him the true meaning of firebending.
Nini bent down and began picking the flowers. She made two flower crowns and placed one on his head and the other on Katara's. "I'm going to stay here forever and ever." She began to hum a little tune. "I'm sorry that the two of you can't stay here." She ran up and hugged them both. She started to hum again, but this time added words to her little tune. "Two lovers, forbidden from one another a war divided their people, and a mountain divided them apart, but they built a path to be together."
"Wait, I know that song!" Katara exclaimed.
"I know silly." Nini said. "The song is for the two of you." She took Katara's hand and placed it in Zuko's. "Close your eyes."
There was another bright flash of light and then the field of flowers and Nini were gone.
"I found them!" Sokka's voice called out. "There in Nini's house."
Zuko opened his eyes. He was back in Nini's house and Katara was beside him wrapped up in his arms.
"Soooo, this is where you two have been." Sokka said suggestively.
"What? No, it's not what it looks like." Katara said and scrambled away from Zuko.
"Yeah, we were waiting out the storm." Zuko explained
"What storm?" Suki asked. "There was no storm."
"Look no one even cares that you're dating, Toph said, We've all known for months."
"We're not dating!" The two said in unison.
"Sure you're not, and I don't like meat." Sokka said. "Now come on the Festival is almost over. Instead of making out in a dead girl's house like a bunch of weirdos why not eat some fried food and play some games."
Katara looked at Zuko and he just shrugged. There was no use in explaining what had gone on no one would believe them anyway. He held out his hand for Katara.
She took his hand in an instance. "Yes, so does this mean what I think it meana?" Katara asked.
Zuko bent down and gave Katara a long kiss. Her soft lips were warm in the cold of the abandon house. The fire in the fireplace became a huge roaring inferno and then became smoldering embers before it went out completely.
"That's weird." Suki said as the group left Nini's house.
"What's weird?" Toph wanted to know.
"You're gonna call me crazy, but the smoke leaving the chimney looked just like a little girl."
"I hate to admit it, but I saw it too." Sokka said.
Zuko smiled. Nini had come back for her last goodbye.
"And you call us weirdos." Katara said, but she smiled and gave him a wink when her brother wasn't looking.
"Come on let's go, Zuko said, I want to enjoy the rest of the Glacier Spirits Festival with my girlfriend."
"You two are just lucky that you didn't get caught up in any Spirit world shenanigans." Sokka said. "Anything could have happened to you two."
"We are lucky aren't we?" Katara asked and looked directly into Zuko's eyes.
Zuko took Katara's hand once more. It was still warm from when she had bent fire and his was still cool from where he had bent water. "Yeah, we are lucky. The luckiest couple this side of the Spirit World. Hand in hand they followed their friends back to the village both of them humming the Secret Tunnel tune the whole way.