Actions

Work Header

Nothing is Simple; Everything is Complicated (Three Nights on Ember Island)

Chapter Text

DINNER PART TWO 

 

Not wanting to reach over the table, Katara tried to waterbend her berry lemon dressing onto their heaping plates of chicken. It lifted an inch and then... “Oil base. I forgot,” Katara mumbled, watching the liquid glop back down into the bowl. She reached for a spoon. 

 

“Wait, I’ll get it; you made most of dinner anyway,” he said, moving faster. She shrugged. He gestured to the table. “Katara, you made a salad. That wasn’t even in the plan.” 

 

“Well maybe Sokka doesn’t let me eat greens as much as I want…” 

 

His mouth cracked open, words failing him. Again. He took a deep breath. Say something-anything. But he could only prod at his seaprunes. Stare at his seaprunes. Not even eating them, just staring. 

 

She saved him. 

 

“You haven’t touched your food. Eat too many fireflakes before dinner again?”

 

   “No. I’m just not hungry.” How was she still so eloquent after all this?

 

“You okay?”  He shrugged.  

 

Katara’s face softened. “You sure?” 

 

Zuko’s hardened. “I’m fine. Just because I made half the dinner doesn't mean I have to eat it.” 

 

Her gaze found an insect on the wall. “The tea - the tea turned out well. It’s a perfect brew, and green tea is... you know.” She twisted a lock of hair between her fingers. “Uncle would be proud.”

 

“I don’t know if Uncle would agree…”

 

“Well, I like it. It’s not too bitter, or too strong. Just earthy enough...sweet...leafy.” 

 

Zuko nearly choked on his tea, quickly taking back all thoughts of her being eloquent. And all his inhibitions. 

 

“What - what does the chicken taste like??”

 

“It’s an improvement from last night.” She raised an eyebrow. “You have some too, you know; you can be the judge.” 

 

“I know. I heard somewhere that stuff tastes better to those who didn’t cook it.”  

 

  “I suppose it does? I’ve never really thought about it.” 

 

 “The sea prunes are good by the way.” 

 

Katara squinted. “Was-was all that a set up to compliment my sea prunes?” He shoved one into his mouth. 

 

“Tui and La, you’re such a dork.” Her blue eyes crinkling, she tried in vain to keep the corners of her mouth from rising into a grin. A hot tingling rolled through Zuko’s body. 

 

Golden light crept in through the windows, slinking around corners and slipping into every dark crevice of the beachouse. Katara’s hair absorbed it all. Shimmering highlights sprung up and disguised her as the moon; she burst alive with stolen sunlight. As they did on the balcony, her eyes shone silver. The room melted into shades of pink. 

 

He fought a desperate urge. The urge to reach out with trembling fingers and glide them through her hair like molten metal.  To bury his face in the glowing spot between her chin and neck, to draw the warmth from her lips. To steal back the sun. 

 

With every moment the urge grew. His soul itself was a magnet drawn to hers, one that no matter how far it was thrown would always find its way back. Terror dawned in his eyes as he realized no place, no matter how distant, no distance, no matter how far, would ever be safe. His very soul was hers. Forever. 

 

But there was still time to run. Time to run, but never to hide. Never to tell her how-how he felt. But always to say goodbye… 

 

His fingers curled tightly under the table, his knuckles turning white. 

 

Forever…



“Zuko?” 

 

“Zuko???”

 

Pink and gold faded back into muted gray. “Hmm?” His head rose as if pulled by some invisible string. 

 

“I asked if you were done eating.” 

 

“Oh. I am, yes.” 

 

“Were you thinking about something?” 

 

His face turned red. “No, not really, nothing you need to worry about anyways.” 

 

She gave a puzzled look, and stacked her empty dishes on the table. “If it’s the Fire Nation healthcare system again, believe me, I have plenty of suggestions.” 

 

He smiled sheepishly. “No-no it’s not that. I would like to hear those sometime, however.”

 

“Oh good. What you have right now is a trainwreck,” she said, reaching for his plate. 

 

He scrambled to his feet; his legs, half asleep from sitting so long, tingled painfully. “No-no-no let me.” 

 

 “...thanks.” Katara blinked. 

 

He swiftly swept their used dishes into his arms, juggling wobbly silverware and mugs, stacking and lifting with agile precision. 

 

“That’s that’s some impressive plate juggling there, Firelord,” his houseguest remarked. 

 

 “I worked in a tea shop - two actually - I still do sometimes. Only like a day a month now though .” 

 

“Really? I always thought the guy from The Jasmine Dragon was your evil twin.” She cringed at her own joke. “We should probably get some sleep soon.” 

 

He yawned on cue. Then walked out the dining room, plates locked in precarious balance. 

 

She followed him. “You want some help with the dishes?”

 

“No-honestly, I’ve got this, go… make an ice sculpture or something.”

 

 “Zuko, are you sure you’re alright?” 

 

“I’m great!” He exclaimed with just a hint of sarcasm. At the top of his stack, a cup wobbled. Teetered. Fell. Zuko caught it on the point of his shoe. 

 

Katara flipped up an eyebrow, teeth just grazing her bottom lip. She swung her arm with an echo of “You’re great,” shook her head, and walked away.

 

He groaned. It can’t go on like this. 

FIRE AND ICE

 

 The dishwater was slimy against his skin. Blegh. I forgot how disgusting this was. He winced. The kitchen staff is certainly getting a raise when I return. His heart plummeted; he had almost forgotten how soon that would be. A sigh escaped his lips, and he clutched the dishrag tighter in his hand, scrubbing it even harder against the plate. If only he could wash away the grime inside him. All this confusion and frustration and sadness and...guilt. 

 

In the background, wind whistled around the sharp edges of the building. The storm ever advancing, his whole world was water. The rain pelting the roof like arrows, his hands swishing around in the warm basin, the disorienting thoughts in his head giving the sensation of drowning...water. He pulled his hands out of it, used them to prop himself up as he leaned over the counter. Water. Carving grooves in his fingertips. Pooling in his eyes. Spilling down his face. 

 

Katara. He whipped around at the sound of her voice. 

 

“Are-are you crying?” 

 

His reddened eyes crinkled, a small smile drawing up the corners of his mouth. “No. It’s just dishwater and a little sleep deprivation; I rubbed my eyes and forgot to dry my hands off first.” 

 

“Just making sure…” Something flickered in her eyes as they found his. 

 

“To be fair, it is something I do a lot.” 

 

She shook her head and they darted up to the ceiling. Outside, the rain beat down hard, colliding loud against the roof.

 

“I was in your room, for...reasons, and I noticed your clothes were folded on your bed next to your swords - which appear to be freshly sharpened and polished...It almost looks like you’re packing.”

 

Fuck. 

 

She knows. He grimaced, not daring to tear his eyes off the wall. “Because I am.” 

 

Katara blinked. “You’re-you’re leaving? When? Why?”

 

“Tomorrow morning, if the storm’s passed and there isn’t too much carnage to deal with. I have work to do at home and people are probably starting to wonder where I am.”

 

“You've been gone 2 days, I doubt the Fire Nation’s in a state of panic,” she jested, thick brown eyebrows receding up her forehead,  “Besides, your uncle’s taking care of everything - what happened to taking a vacation?” 

 

“I changed my mind, but you’re welcome to stay. Also, should I be wondering why you were poking around in my room?” 

 

She smiled awkwardly. “I-um wanted to see the sky. And the windows are bigger in that room?” 

 

His nose scrunched and vision darkened, eyes squinting almost shut. “Why didn’t you just go outside?” 

 

“It-it’s raining…” 

 

But you’re a waterbender?”

 

She crossed her arms. “Zuko, what is it? You’re changing the subject.”

 

 “It’s nothing. I’m fine,” he said. A shallow sigh parted his lips. 

 

“You’re acting strange.” Of course she wouldn’t buy it. 

 

“So are you! We haven’t slept in two days…”

 

Katara’s neck assumed a sharp angle. “No...it’s more than that. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were running away from something. But the Zuko I know tends to face problems head on.”

 

“Well - well maybe the something I’m facing would only get a lot more complicated if I did that,” he said, swiping hair out of his eyes. 

 

“See, this is the whole reason you need a vacation. You’re trying to solve your problems by throwing yourself back into your problems.” Her voice softened. “Zuko, there’s nothing wrong with taking a little time to heal. Spirits, I’m doing it right now.” 

 

“You sound like Uncle.” 

 

“Well, he’s right,” she scoffed. He is…you’re just missing some information. 

 

What’s going on here?” His voice came out warped and frantic. 

 

“What?”

 

“You’ve been giving mixed signals since you got here!” The Firelord had lost his cool. 

 

Katara’s mouth popped open. “Me? Look who’s talking! You’re acting like a different person!”

 

“What are you-“ He took a deep breath. “What are you talking about?” 

 

“Really?” She snapped, “One second you’re laughing - genuinely laughing - and happier than I’ve ever seen you, and the next you’re all broody and grumpy and won’t even look me in the eyes. And now you’re leaving all of a sudden?” 

 

Zuko crossed his arms. “Then I guess that makes us even.” 

 

“Even for what? What exactly are the mixed signals you’re referring to?” 

 

“The scar! What about the scar? Earlier on the balcony you - you kissed my scar! No one’s ever done that before, okay, not even Mai, and - and what’s so confusing is that honestly, I thought you were going for my lips!”

 

Would you have preferred it?” she seethed, “Would you have preferred it if I had gone for your lips?”

 

“What? I don’t know - what kind of question is that?”  Calm, Zuko, calm. “It just- it kinda seemed like you were trying to um, make a move on me, which you shouldn’t even be doing ( calm), not to tell you what to do, but you have a boyfriend - a boyfriend you love and I’m not him!” The last words stung in his mouth. 

 

Katara’s hands flew to her forehead. “I don’t know what’s going on either, okay? Everything’s so complicated, confusing, and things I don’t understand keep happening and -“

 

Zuko’s hands flew into the air. “‘Things keep happening?’ That articulate explanation’s going to keep him out of the Avatar State for sure! He’s going to be pissed, Katara, he’s going to be pissed if he learns even a fraction of what’s been going on out here!!!” 

 

“You seriously think I don’t fucking know that?!She hollered

 

A terrible explosion crashed through the room; on the floor lie the jagged shatters of a flower vase, its water now spines of ice on the wall, its flowers flash frozen a violent gray. Wide eyed, Katara picked one up. It subsided into a cloud of dust at her touch. 

 

Zuko took a faltering breath. “I - we need to…this has gone too far.” 

 

“Yeah. Yeah I think it has.” His houseguest collapsed to the floor beside the shattered vase. “I don’t want to yell at you any more; I can’t stand it.” 

 

“Me neither,” he whispered. 

 

She rubbed her hands up and down her thighs. “I think I’ll go get some fresh air…”

 

“It’s pouring out there...you’ll be miserable.” 

 

Half a smile seeped into her eyes. “I know.”

 

“But you said a minute ago…”

 

“Well, maybe I like the rain sometimes.” She pulled herself up, a heavy, gentle breath lifting her chest along with her. 

 

“Katara, I’m -” 

 

He stopped himself. She had already walked out the door. 

 

CENTER OF THE TEMPEST

 

The room flashed sporadically between dark and light. Rain struck the roof, a million tiny explosions. 

Wind pounded at the windows, yelling to come in, never to be allowed. In the center of it all, Zuko paced, feet leaden, breath quick and shallow, pain welling up inside his heart, begging to flood out. Unlike the wind, it was a welcome company. Who even was she anymore? She was still Katara, headstrong, fierce and compassionate. A healing voice for the silent and weary, a warrior armed with hope and love...a scarred, broken child forced to grow up too fast. But she was changed. Her eyes clouded over with more emotions than she could profess, darted around aimless yet searching. Unbalanced. Her feet clamored for stable ground but found none, arms reached helplessly for answers. Different, but not in a way he couldn’t understand. He’d felt the same way before. Zuko pled to whoever would listen that understanding be enough. 



He found her sitting, head in her hands, on the rim of the courtyard fountain. Though the rain pelted down so hard he could scarcely tell the difference between land and sea, she didn’t bother to bend it away. She let it seep into her ocean blue kimono, mess up her carefully styled hair, linger with the tears he could tell were streaming down her face. Suddenly, he was back on the ground at the Agni Kai, convulsing and bleeding out inside, heart burning and barely beating, reaching out for her with no way to help. Whispering “Katara” under his weakening breath. He wanted nothing more than to run to her, murmur every secret, apology and answer he ever could into her ears, hold her tight in his arms as she cried and never let go… He didn’t. He couldn’t. Whether it was out of fear or something else was anyone’s guess. 



“Can we start over?” he asked. Katara swallowed and nodded, her blank gaze still plastered to the floor. “How - how about we sit down and work this out together...you say what’s bothering you; I say what’s bothering me?” 

 

“Okay,” she said, voice small. Her head glided upwards, tear stained eyes glowing. 

 

“No more explosions?” 

 

She sniffled out a smile. “No more explosions.” 

 

“Good, I’ll try not to light anything on fire…”

 

“Thanks for that,” she sighed. “I’m just - I’m so confused...and worried. I feel like you’ve been all over the place lately, being so sweet to me, listening to me, doing all those nice things...but then, you’ll act so distant, frantic, cold almost...I haven't seen you this frantic since, well, you remember.” The wind moaned in agony, the ground trembled in fear. In the distance, a palm frond careened towards the sea, ripped off a tree like a petal from a flower. 

 

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” It was a lie. He knew exactly. Yet, that small lie was far safer than such a massive truth. “If it seems like I don’t care, or like I don’t enjoy your company...I promise it’s neither, because I do. I do care, and I’d spend every day with you if I could.” Every day of my life.

 

“But you can't. And that’s fine...but Zuko, I know you, and I know when something’s wrong. I’ve never seen you closed off like this. Please tell me what it is, so at least then I’d know if I could help you.”  

 

His voice hollowed. “Believe me...your help is the last thing I need right now.” 

 

“Then what do you need? Even if I can’t help, I still want to know what’s going on.”

 

I need -” breathe “ - I need answers. Why are you doing all the little things? Why do you care if I leave so much? Why are you acting… like that.” 

 

Her eyebrow twitched. “Like what?” 

 

“You know. Being all weird with the teasing, and the smirking, and the...and the - I think you might be flirting with me, and it’s freaking me out because Aang and…” His voice shrunk into his throat. “...Are you trying to use me to distract yourself from Aang?” 

 

Lightning flashed, and for a half second, night became day. She reached out and took his hand in hers. “What? Zuko, I would never do that to you. Either of you.” 

 

“Then what’s going on?” he grilled, “You don't just - something’s happening between us - with the dock, and last night, then dinner and what on earth has gotten into you, I used to think you’d never even think of betraying Aang like that- he’s my friend too - but now I don't know anymore!” 

 

Katara clenched her fists. “Because I’m not thinking, I’m not! All this anger and confusion, and emotion is coming up and I don’t know where it’s coming from or how to deal with it...I don't even know who I am anymore!” 

 

“You know what? Me either! I don't know who you are either!” He shouted, rising from his seat on the fountain. “I don’t know who I am! I don’t know anything!” 

 

 “ Really, Firelord Confusion Face? I would have never guessed!” she snapped, following him upwards. Lightning streaked across the sky, a white hot knife slashing through a masterful painting. “You know, earlier, I was hurt by you trying to sneak off without saying goodbye, but now I'm wondering if that's a good thing and I should just let you go on your merry way!” 

 

“I was going to say goodbye! I didn't expect you to go rummaging through my stuff!” The wind howled, a lost monkey-wolf in the night. “And why do you care so much about my leaving? You were the one who showed up on my property unannounced in the middle of the night! Shouldn't you be back at the restoration, anyways?” 

 

“Sokka and I got in a fight, okay, not Azula level, but worse than normal sibling squabble! I needed time to process!” 

 

Icy rain stung his skin. “It would have been nice if you’d told me that, we could have talked about it.” 

 

Katara raged on. “You never gave me the chance! Decided you’d leave instead!” 

 

“Why do you care if I leave so much?” 

 

“Again with that damn question? Well, if you really want to know, I care because I’m not sure it’s what you really want!” 

 

Had it been anyone else, he would have blown up at them. He might've stormed off in a tempest worse than the one above their heads, might’ve screamed “stop assuming you know me!” Might’ve caught the roof on fire. But she did know him, possibly better than anyone. So he held his tongue. 

 

“Is that really what you want? You really want to leave so soon?” He held his tongue. 

 

Lightning exploded across the sky. Lightning terrorized the beach, shocking sand into violent glass, the resulting sound roaring loud over the waves. And above his head, lightning burned hotter than the kindling flame inside him. 

 

He held his tongue until he broke. No. No - no I don't! I don’t want to leave at all! That’s the whole problem! I don’t want to leave, I want to stay here forever and cook terrible food and play in the water and stare at the stars and -” 

 

“Then why are you leaving?” 

 

“I already said I can’t tell you!”

 

“I don’t care!” 

 

“Katara, why are you...?”

 

“Please tell me,” she pleaded, voice deep in her throat.

 

He clutched his head; steam rose from the floor beneath his feet, the ground danced to the amelodic tune of thunder. “I-I-I can’t.”

 

“But why?” 

 

“I just can’t!” 

 

“Why?” 

 

“I love you.” 

 

She stumbled backwards. “What?” Everything turned to stone.

 

“I just...I love you Katara. I’m in love with you and I don’t know what to do. You’re so confident, and inspiring, and you , and I know I’m not the Avatar, or some perfect guy, or even who you want, but…” His hands drifted to his face and began massaging his forehead. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have told you that.” 

 

“I-I cant...” Her voice shook; her jaw wavered. “I love you too.”

 

No. Trembling, his hands fell. No. Curled under his chin.  No. This isn’t happening; this isn't real. It can't be. Dropped and folded across his chest. The world doesn't-she doesn’t... His voice blended softly into the storm: “But not the way that I love you...” 

 

A flash of lightning illuminated the wildness of Katara’s face, shocking the look in her eyes into Zuko’s mind forever. Katara may have been a child of the ice and snow, the most powerful waterbender alive, the wild card who in icy precision took down Azula, but her eyes were filled with fire. Primal, lawless fire. She blazed towards him, loose hair streaming out behind her like seafoam wind-whipped off the waves, dark blue kimono heavy and stained the color of midnight with rain, each step she took rooted into the stone beneath her as if earth itself was pulling her to him. Then she came to rest: Inches away, hands gripped firmly onto his collar, their foreheads tenderly pressed together, her nose gently depressing his cheek. 

 

The world froze. 

 

”Don't you get it?” she whispered into his mouth. “I love you more.” 

 

“Wanna bet?” 

 

The world became a tangle of arms and legs, a blur of fire red and ocean blue, of the rising moon and setting sun, of past, present, future and calm, harmonious chaos. 

 

Because the fire in her eyes wasn't anger. It was love. 

 

And when she kissed him, tears streaming down both of their faces, they became the world.


AFTER THE STORM 

Dawn seeped in through the windows; early morning sunlight spilled into the room. Zuko’s eyes fluttered open. He was lying on a sofa, one of the many new furnishings he’d put in the beach house since his coronation, not being able to bear the thought of such an important place falling any farther into disrepair. He’d picked it out from a selection of couches brought to the palace a few months after the war, secretly wishing he had the time to search for one himself. Mai had observed from the corner, looking up from her chipped black nail polish on occasion to remark “I don’t understand why you care so much about a couch. Just pick one already,” to which he’d respond “None of them are right. It has to be right.” “ It has to be what mother would pick.” Now, warm, heavy pressure pushing his body into the red velvet cushions, it finally felt like it fit. Now that the world was back to pink and gold. 

 

 “Did we fall asleep?” 

 

“Yeah,” Karara murmured from on top of him, face buried in his neck. 

 

He let out a groggy yawn. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked myself to sleep before.” 

 

“Well, we were awake for 48 hours straight...and there was a lot to talk about.” Her fingers lightly traced the shape of a starburst through his shirt. It’s real; she’s real...she’s here. She’s really here. He wrapped his arms around her, his lips just grazing her forehead. 

 

“There still is...”

 

Lying there like that, wound together as one, feeling her breath as if it were his own, their hearts slowly drumming in unison, should have sent alarm bells ringing through the Firelord’s ears. Instead, it felt more natural than sleep. They could have been lying there all their lives for all he knew. The current ones and all the lives before. All to come. Outside, the rain had tapered to a drizzle and the gale had slowed to a breeze. The sun, though still shrouded by cloud cover, was persistent in trying to break free. No lightning burned scars in the sky. No thunder made the ground tremble in fear. The storm was over. 

 

“I’m sorry I yelled at you yesterday. I know it’s a trigger for you and I hated every minute,” Katara said, pulling her head down to rest over Zuko’s heart. 

 

“I know you didn’t mean it maliciously; besides, I wasn’t exactly whispering. You didn’t deserve that either.”  

 

Her eyes squeezed shut. “And I’m sorry I blew up at you for wanting to leave. You got spooked and I don’t blame you for it.” 

 

“You're not the one who should be apologizing... The way you found out - it wasn’t fair and it was never how I wanted you too...between Aang’s flightiness and your abandonment issues-“

 

“My what now?” She smirked. 

 

“If it makes you feel better, I have them too?” 

 

“If you didn’t just read me like a scroll, I’d be quite offended.” 

 

Their eyes met. Fierce cobalt swirled with soft amber. 

 

“How are you so beautiful?” he breathed. 

 

She wove her fingers into his - dainty fingers like rain in the desert against his dry skin. He flooded with life. His mouth found hers, hesitant, savoring and new. He drew a sharp breath as she skimmed her tongue across his lower lip. Breathed in color. Hands unraveled and wound into hair, slipped under shirts, searched for starbursts etched into skin. Ached for warmth but moved no further. 

 

“I’m so sorry,” Katara‘s voice was a fragile whisper. “Sorry for everyth-” 

 

He silenced her with another kiss. She softened in his arms.

 

Then pulled away, bringing her head back to rest on his chest, but hugging him even closer to her body. “I can see the headlines now,” she sighed, “Firelord Zuko spotted making out with Avatar’s girlfriend after own girlfriend leaves him for former circus performer.” 

 

An ironic chuckle rose in Zuko’s throat and he kissed the hand still on his chest. Were it anyone else, it would be awkward, self conscious, need getting used to. But it wasn’t. It was Katara. “You’re more than the Avatar's girlfriend, you know.”

 

“It doesn’t always feel like it.” Her eyes melted into glass, a sad smile falling over her face. 

 

Zuko inhaled slowly. “What are you going to tell him?”

 

 “I don’t know.”

 

 “What have we done?” 

 

“I don’t know,” she said. 

 

 “Why can't something in life be simple for once?” 

 

“Because nothing is simple. Everything is…” 

 

“Complicated?” he asked. 

 

“Complicated.” 

 

EPILOGUE

 

The dulling metal was cold as he spun it around in his hands, watching shades of every color emerge from its reflective surface. It had belonged to his mother - one of the only things he had left of her - a simple golden headpiece shaped into a delicate curving flame. Someday, it might sit atop the head of the person he would marry. For now, he was content with keeping it tucked away in his room where he could touch it, hold it, or merely look at it whenever he pleased. His father had kept it hidden in the bowels of the palace, far out of reach for either him or Azula. Perhaps the next time he went to visit her he’d bring it with him. She deserved to hold on to something more than a memory. Even if just for a moment. He’d begun wondering if his mother’s crown was still out there somewhere about two months ago, or six months into his ill fated second try with Mai. The hopeful thoughts that had crossed his mind then now only brought laughter. He’d confronted his father about it, and much to his delight, had it in his hands by the next afternoon. He ran his fingers from the base-clip to the pointy end. What would the eventual wearer of this crown be like? If the nobility had a choice in the matter: she (and it would be a she) would be elegant and polite, gentle and cultured, beautiful beyond words at least on the outside...a companion but likely little else. If he had a say, lying on his four poster bed, an hour late for his duties but only half dressed, feeling lighter than he could ever remember...he couldn’t help noticing how much it resembled the crescent moon. 

 

How would that even work? She certainly wouldn’t be staying here full time. Perhaps she could travel back and forth, spending half her time with him in the Fire Nation, reimagining society by his side, and half off changing the world in different ways, whatever that meant for her. She could have chambers in the palace, with waterfalls and fountains and hanging plants...or just share his if she preferred. Either way, the palace was sorely lacking cooler colors. He could add blue curtains and trim, gray stone statues and sculptures - Toph could handle those - really anything that wasn’t red or gold. He carefully placed the crown back in its box and flopped his limbs out around him like a starfish. She could also make a wonderful ambassador… Ambassador Katara. Better than ‘Ambassador Sokka,’ he should be an architect or master bladesmith or something like that...I wonder what she would think… “Maybe she can be both! Is that allowed?” It should be. Zuko rubbed his forehead and laughed. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself. She and Aang aren’t even broken up yet.”

 

An unexpected darkness seeped in. What if they don't… “What if she wants to give it another try? Like how I did with Mai.” Her name felt odd in his mouth. Not in a bad way or a good way, nor tinged with hidden bitterness or tainted with betrayal. Just...different. His heart filled with warmth at the memory of running into her earlier that day. Hand in hand with - and being dragged down the hallway by - an overexcited Ty Lee, her eyes caught his, just for a second. Her eyes, bright and sparkling and alive . She was happy. And he was set free. 

 

Another, more painful thought resurfaced and trapped him, sent him crashing back to the present. Katara was still with Aang. Perhaps for not much longer...perhaps forever. Perhaps that was it for us, he thought, staring up at the ceiling. Perhaps it was better that way.

 

Hurried footsteps outside his room launched him off the bed. He smoothed his hair and scrambled to slip on his regalia, climb into his boots, slide on his crown. Straightening up and practically flinging himself into the hall, he was greeted not by a concerned servant or scowling advisor, but by a small package resting in the doorway. Zuko furrowed his brow. What the… He stepped back and rolled an empty vase at it, rightfully cautious. Last month one of his new advisors had an unnervingly close encounter with a homemade bomb.  No explosions. It’s probably not an assasination attempt?  He nudged it with his shoe. Nothing happened. Intrigued, he picked it up. Zuko’s heart fluttered. Sealskin. His hands trembled like autumn leaves as he fumbled with the packaging.  Sick with desperation and urgency, his stomach twisted into knots. The sealskin slipped open. 

 

 A tiny sculpture of a turtleduck, expertly shaped in ice. And a letter. Tears welled in his eyes as he read the neat and looping script scrolled across the paper: 

 

When all is over and clear with the sky, the moon and the sun at last can collide.

 

Love, 

... you know who it’s from.

 

 

 

Zuko smiled. 

 

           

THE END