The first time Zuko kissed Katara -or, technically, Katara kissed him- they were in an alley behind some seedy Earth Kingdom bar. They were tipsy, too close, and still teenagers. Katara still held her cup in her hand, though she had long since lost interest in its contents. Zuko was just beginning to realize the full weight of being Fire Lord and he had desperately needed a break. Uncle Iroh, in typical Uncle Iroh fashion, had conveniently (almost too conveniently) invited the whole gang back to the earth kingdom for the grand re-opening of the Jasmine Dragon the week later. Something about a brand new tea recipe. Whatever. They managed to escape the group and ended up at a bar, watching the Earth Kingdom locals entertain themselves now that they were free of Fire Nation rule. They each had had a drink, maybe two, and Katara suddenly decided the bar was too stuffy.
“I can’t breathe in here. Let’s go outside?” she had said. Something along those lines. They decided to loiter in the alley behind the bar, because it was close but secluded.
Katara took one more sip of her drink, mostly because Zuko had paid for it and she didn’t want to waste his money. He seemed to sense that, and scoffed.
“Don’t worry about it. The Fire Nation has more money than we’ll ever need.” His words seemed a little more slurred than usual. Maybe it was just the background noise.
“Still. I appreciate it, Zuko. Thanks for everything.” She didn’t quite know what she meant by that. What did “everything” encompass? Thanks for helping Aang save the world? Thanks for turning the Fire Nation back into a respectable entity? Thanks for taking a literal lightning bolt to the chest for her? Somehow, “thanks” just didn’t seem like enough.
He smiled. Their eyes met. He looked back down. Zuko sighed and brushed his hand through his hair. Katara was confused. “What’s wrong?”
Zuko looked back up at her, then frowned at the contents of his cup. “I just- um. I really want to kiss you right now.” She blinked.
“So….what’s stopping you?” she meant to think, but somehow ended up saying it out loud. Oh well. His eyes shot back up. His head kind of tilted, like when a dog hears a noise they don’t quite understand. Katara’s brain took about .002 seconds to make up its mind. She lifted up on her toes and kissed Zuko before either of them could change their minds. Later, she’d say something poetic like “he tasted like smoke and spices” or whatever. But right now? He tasted like the bottom of whatever barrel their drinks came out of.
The first time Zuko realized he was in love with Katara, she was teaching him how to pack snow into the holes of his igloo to help keep the warmth in. “No, Zuko,” she had said. “You can’t just start a fire inside a house made of ice that’s literally the opposite of productive right now,” she had said. They were in the Southern Water Tribe, solidifying arrangements for Katara to be the official ambassador of the Southern Water Tribe and hold a seat on Zuko’s council.
Honestly, Zuko would have done anything if it meant he got to see Katara every day. The idea of her actually living in the palace made him downright giddy. Giddy enough that he was willing to spend nights in a house made of literal ice in order to ensure he got to spend more time with Karara.
She turned around to make sure he was comprehending her lessons. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t. “Zuko, what did I just say?” she asked, but her tone was way less condescending than her words. He coughed to buy time. “You, um. You said I can’t make a fire here.”
She chuckled. “You realize you’re going to freeze tonight if you don’t make this work?” Zuko had not, in fact, realized that yet. He ran a hand through his hair. “So I’m just supposed to survive for an extended period of time in here by myself? Without my bending?” He hoped he sounded as incredulous as he felt. Apparently not, because she was laughing even harder now. "You wouldn't have to fight to survive if you'd just listen to me. Here, do it yourself." She gave him a handful of snow. He took it, and it immediately melted.
He wrinkled his nose.
“I think I might die if I have to stay in here alone tonight.”
“You know what?” she said, freezing the snow back. “I think you’re right. I’ll stay in here with you,”
Zuko’s breath hitched.
“-Just to make sure you survive the night. Would that be alright?” He could hear her smile in her voice. Of course that would be alright. That would be amazing. That would be-
“Perfect! Please! Yes- I.” he stumbled. “I don’t want to die tonight.” He still wasn’t completely convinced that he wouldn’t die, but if he did, he wanted to make sure it was by her side.
The first time Zuko told Katara he loved her, they were watching the fireworks on the first anniversary of the war’s ending. There was a huge festival in their honor, and it was the first time Katara had been surrounded by all of her closest friends in a very long time. The sun had just set, and the cool summer night was a relief from the sweltering heat Katara had endured for most of the day. She supposed she should start getting used to the heat. Just in case. They were alone for the first time that day, atop some hill Zuko knew about that awarded them the best view in the city, he’d said.
She’d never admit it, but he was right. They could see the city capital for miles and miles. She could see each individual light from each house. The Fire Nation looked nothing less than gorgeous. The fireworks were just starting, and Zuko took it upon himself to name every type and how they were made. Katara honestly couldn’t care less, but she was happy just to hear him talk about something he enjoyed.
A particularly large firework burst, and spread beautiful orange lights over the sky. They could hear the crowd’s reaction far below them. Katara really, really wished this moment would last forever.
“Zuko, this is amazing. I love it!”
His hand found hers in the dark. He squeezed it.
“I love you, Katara.”
She laid her head on his shoulder. “I love you, too Zuko.”
The first time (yes, there were multiples) Zuko asked Katara to marry him, they were out by the turtleduck pond, watching the new baby turtleducks learn how to swim. It was a spring morning, and the breeze brought with it the scent of freshly-bloomed fire lilies. Katara was playing with the turtleducks, giving them gentle waves to splash in. Zuko had been drowning in work just a half hour before, Katara had had to drag him out of his office for a much-needed break. Zuko was leaning against the big tree in the garden, and Katara was leaning against him.
She was a well-seasoned ambassador for the Southern Water Tribe, and had managed to negotiate peace and trade not only between the Fire Nation and her tribe, but the Northern Water Tribe as well. She had carved out a place for herself on the Fire Nation council, and Zuko supported her through it all. She, honestly, felt at home here.
“I could honestly stay here forever,” she mused aloud.
Zuko grabbed her hand, stroking the back of it idly with his thumb.
“How would you like to?” he almost whispered.
She craned her neck to look at him. “What do you mean? I live here already.”
“No, like... forever forever. How would you like a permanent home in the palace?”
Katara narrowed her eyes. “Zuko, are- are you asking me-”
“Yes! I mean, yeah, I suppose so.”
“You suppose you’re proposing to me.” she deadpanned.
He cleared his throat. “Katara, I’ve loved you for years. I wish I could say I’ve loved you since we met but we both know that isn’t the case.” Katara chuckled.
He took another deep breath. “It would be my honor to ask you to be my wife.”
Katara felt her heart fill, and couldn’t stop the grin that spread across her face.
“Yes, Zuko. I’ll marry you. But you know your mother will be upset that she missed the proposal.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I guess we’ll have to make sure she’s here next time.”
The first time Zuko and Katara kissed on their wedding day- way, way before they were supposed to- they were giggling like children, hiding from the prying eyes of the fire sages and Katara's ladies in waiting. It was still early morning; the sun hadn't risen yet. The palace was already bustling with servants preparing for the ceremony. Zuko should have been tired, but he wasn't. He was too excited. They met up in Zuko’s office, having judged it the last place anyone would look for them today of all days. Zuko got there first, and sat on his desk, idly playing with his hands. There were so, so many things that could go wrong today. He ran through a mental checklist of everything he needed to do. He was on his third run-through when the doorknob jiggled slightly, and Katara slipped in the door as quietly as she could.
They met eyes, and burst into quiet laughter. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Zuko said.
“I’m sneaking around my own palace.” He felt like a teenager all over again.
“You know the fire sages wouldn’t approve. It gOeS AgAinSt TrAdiTiOn” she said, mocking the ancient Fire Sages’ voices. That only made them both laugh even harder.
“Everything about this goes against tradition!” He grabbed her waist as he said that, bringing them closer. “That’s part of what makes it so great.”
He tilted her chin up for a kiss. The first of many, on this special day. They locked eyes for a moment.
“Honestly, you’ve been my wife for a long, long time. This just makes it official.”
She snorted. “It was official to me when you took that lightning all those years ago.”
The first time Katara realized she was pregnant, she was sitting at a long, long dinner table in between her husband and an old Fire Nation nobleman with a long, silver beard. She remembered his beard specifically, because the sight of a small crumb that had gotten trapped in the wispy hairs suddenly made Katara very, very nauseous. She excused herself politely, the picture of an ever-graceful Fire Lady. Ursa taught her well. Katara held her posture perfectly all the way until she rounded the corner and was out of eyesight- then she all but sprinted to the bathroom. Her handmaids shared a look with each other.
After Katara cleaned herself up, she looked at herself in the mirror for a long, long time. She thinks, deep down, she’s known for a while now. Being a healer, she had become very in tune with the details of her own body. She’s been noticing a change for weeks, at least. But she guessed it was finally time to acknowledge it. She knew her handmaids were probably wondering why she hadn’t asked for her monthly supplies yet. She’d better tell Zuko before the rumor spread faster than any of his flames would.
She waited until the night. They were in bed, but not asleep. Zuko was writing something down on a scroll, and the small candle he lit cast his face in a warm glow.
“So what are you writing? Is it names?”
His eyebrows furrowed. “Names? What? No, it’s-”
“Well you should start.”
She smirked. “Start thinking about names.”
“Names for what? Katara, I don’t un-” his mouth closed. Then opened again. Then closed.
She smiled. “I’m pregnant, Zuko.”
His face lit up. Zuko flung his arms around his wife, and she swears she hadn’t seen him smile this wide since their wedding day.
Katara took everything in, reveling in just how she ended up here. If you had told her at 14 that she’d be the Fire Lady, and carry the Fire Lord’s child, she would have definitely written them off as insane. But right now, in this moment, she couldn’t be happier with how her life turned out.