❯ Zuko Was No Coward – For of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen* ( Chapter 12 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

She arrived in a whirlwind of blue clothing and sea air, her smile brighter than the sun. She  caught sight of him waiting on the steps in a manner befitting of royalty greeting foreign dignitaries and released a squeal of delight. His heart leapt to his throat when she threw her arms around his neck and squeezed. His hands had just risen to grasp her arms when she pulled away, dazzling him with another smile.

“Zuko! I’m getting married!”

And just like that, something shattered. The half-smile that came to his face at her enthusiastic greeting froze. She continued talking, gesturing, beaming, but he couldn’t hear her over the rush of wind in his ears. At least, it sounded like wind. Some part of his mind that wasn’t drowning saw, and recognized, her fingering her necklace. It wasn’t her mother’s. Sound registered again and his tunnel-vision cleared just in time to hear her exclaim, “Isn’t he the sweetest!”

Aang had arrived, grinning proudly, his cheeks flushed. Zuko recollected himself enough to offer congratulations though he couldn’t for the life of him remember what he’d said moments later. He missed the slight dampening of her spirits as he welcomed the others that crowded behind, ushering them into the palace. He smiled, hoping it didn’t look as painful as it felt.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Her heart was beating a wild tattoo in her chest as Aang guided Appa to the wide plaza at the entrance of the Fire Palace. Her breath caught for a moment. There he was, standing stiffly on  the bottom step, his expression serious and calm. Perfect for meeting strangers. Less than perfect for welcoming friends. She would change that. Their eyes met and she could no longer suppress her excitement. She was out of Appa’s saddle and across the plaza almost before the sky bison had landed. Ignoring all courtly manners and etiquette, she threw herself at the Fire Lord. Distantly, she heard the herald announce, “Avatar Aang and Master Katara of the Southern Water Tribe.”

Aang, her head whispered. She pulled back, smiling up at gold eyes, her heart tumbling when she saw the beginnings of a grin tugging at his lips. “Zuko! I’m getting married!”

For a split second, she saw something in his expression crack and then it was gone and she was rambling. Spilling the whole story of Aang’s proposal. The Cave of Two Lovers. What Aang said and did… and her necklace. She touched the skin-warmed stone at her neck, turning to smile at Aang as he wrapped an arm around her waist.

“Isn’t he the sweetest!”

Aang blushed at her praise, grinning down at her. Finally, Zuko seemed to find his voice—not that she blamed him for losing it when she greeted him with a geyser of words—saying, “May the fires of your love keep you happy and warm.”**

Perfectly calm. Perfectly stated. Perfectly distant. Katara could feel her smile falter but Zuko was turning away, welcoming them back to the Fire Nation. He smiled, but Katara thought it looked a little forced. She scoffed internally at the thought. Zuko’s smiles usually looked a little awkward—a little out of practice. She’d only managed to coax a real smile twice and a real laugh once. His eyes moved over her once more and her throat tightened. Something was communicated but then he broke eye contact and was leading them into the palace. A distinct sense of disquiet settle on her and not for the first time she wondered if she made the right choice.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

*John Greenleaf Whittier, « Maud Muller »- The full quote I’m referencing here is: « For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.' »
** part of an Indian Wedding Blessing
AN: You would not believe how many wedding blessings I looked at. This oneshot is actually only half of what I originally wrote. I decided I didn’t like the second half. Correction, the only part I liked about the second half was Toph. She’s awesome. Maybe some form of it will appear… This has been hanging on my hard drive for about two months. I’ve noticed that despite the fact that I’m a total Zutara fan, I seem to have a lot of Kataang writings… I use the excuse that I can’t always escape the travesty of ATLA.

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Zuko Was No Coward – Full House
Zuko Was No Coward – There Was A Time