Pretending to be married was easier when your supposed spouse was in a temporary lightning-induced coma. Tending to Zuko as he slept, she knew there were whispers from the nobility about her place in the palace. Those whispers grew to loud, pointed commentary whenever she left her room with the man next in line for the throne. There was no way Katara could have prepared for what it meant to be the real fake-wife of her momentary lover.
“They do know I’ll be able to have them banished, right?” Katara asked in a mock whisper as they passed two women in the hall gossiping behind fans with grimaces in the couple’s direction.
“Is that how you plan on solving conflict within the palace?” Zuko muttered with a grin as the women hurried off.
“Well death threats seem so…common,” she answered sarcastically.
“I’d prefer we keep your death toll to a minimum,” he agreed, clasping her hand in his.
There was a slight lean in his walk, tugging at her arm with every other step. His grip on her hand was light, but she could tell he was growing tired. Bringing the back of his hand to her lips for a kiss, she repositioned her hand to support his weight better. After a month of healing, it was clear that some effects from Azula’s lightning strike would be lifelong.
“We should have a cane made for you,” she said, motioning that they should head back to their room. “A big fancy one.”
“A cane? People would think—“
“That it’s amazing their leader survived a direct strike from the nation’s most prolific fire bender,” Katara finished with a pointed look. “Suffering for the appearance of strength will only weaken your ability in the long run.”
“And that’s why I’m marrying you,” he laughed.
The sentence made Katara’s nerves scream. Their situation was surreal, and she was still coming to terms with their somewhat-arranged marriage. Before Sozin’s Comet, they’d agreed to discuss things once the war was over. But the end of the Agni Kai with Azula threw both of their lives into chaos. Whenever Zuko tried to broach the topic, Katara avoided the core of the issue.
They were having sex. They were now in line for the throne as a couple. Did it matter how Katara felt about him? For all intents and purposes, they were husband and wife. No one would know the difference if they never addressed their feelings. They were already acting it out either way.
“You’re really okay with that deadline?” Katara asked quietly. “I mean, it’s one thing to have a…conveniently acquired marriage license from your uncle’s friend. But actually getting married?”
“You were right when you suggested ruling together,” Zuko shrugged. “You’re an incredible asset to reforming this country. But this is your choice.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I just wasn’t expecting those fucks to come up with an ultimatum like that. But I want to stay.”
Two weeks after Zuko regained consciousness, the council made an announcement: Zuko would have a one-year trial on the throne. In that time period, his and Katara’s ability to lead would be carefully watched. If Zuko proved himself fit for the throne, he and Katara would have to marry in an official Fire Nation ceremony before his coronation. If Zuko was found unfit, he and Katara would be banished and another heir would be found.
“It makes sense though,” he kicked a pebble in his path and watched it bounce along the wooden flooring. “I abandoned the country for you. Eloping and ignoring tradition adds insult to injury. Really I’m marrying the Fire Nation as much as I’m marrying you.”
“We need to come up with your first movement as Fire Lord still,” she reminded him, avoiding where she knew that conversation would lead. Being reminded how much he was willing to give up for her made Katara squirm.
“Ugh,” Zuko groaned as they approached their room. “There are so many options. I need something impactful to really set the tone.”
“Focus on the soldiers,” Katara kicked the door open. “My village is small enough that we can help each other if someone’s only family doesn’t return. In a nation this big, people are going to fall through the cracks. Fuck the council. You need to be there for the people who will soon find out how badly their country has wronged them.”
The royal bedroom was a world away from the small space they shared in the hours immediately following Zuko’s injury. In the center of the room sat a large bed piled with silks and cushions. The difference in quality made it clear that they were hoping the perpetual discomfort would impact her ability to heal the prince. Conversely, their new room was an extravagant waste of space that filled Katara with guilt.
“I know I’ve said it before,” Zuko smiled and wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing her body against his. “But it’s really nice to see how much you care about them.”
“You’re really nice,” Katara looked up at him with eyes that made it hard to breathe. Lifting her heels, she brought her lips to his.
She didn’t know how to put her feelings into words. Things that should be clear were muddied by the days spent healing him after the duel. Life spiraled out of control, planting a seed of doubt as she worked to help the man she loved secure the throne. In the heart of the Fire Nation, she was a person without origin or history. What did she want for her new life?