❯ Zuko Was No Coward – From The Ashes ( Chapter 10 )

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

A strange sense of déjà vu gripped her as she stood on the balcony over looking the gardens that spread out behind Iroh’s modest mansion. So much had change since that night five years ago. The last time everyone had been able to gather in one place and just have fun. They were no longer children, free to play and forget about the cares of the world in the aftermath of the war. They were adults. A small smile touched her lips. Well, some of them were adults now. Aang still retained his childhood innocence and, at times, recklessness. She closed her eyes, a brief flash of pain coming to her at the thought of Aang. Nothing seemed as it should be. She sighed, leaning her elbows on the railing and resting her chin in the palm of her hand. When did life get so complicated? Wasn’t it supposed to get simpler with the peace? A thought stuck her and a small frown pulled at her lips. Well, easier for her.

The soft scuff of footsteps shook her from her thoughts and she turned slightly to see Zuko step up to the rail next to her. Twin flames glanced down at her before focusing on the gardens shrouded in shadows. They stood in silence together as Katara allowed herself to study the firebender as he pointedly ignored her gaze. Poor Iroh. To receive not just one, but two broken hearts within a matter of days. The pity party they each threw for themselves didn’t seem to damper the retired general’s cheerfulness. With a soft sigh, she straightened. �You’ve gotten taller.�

She’d clearly started him out of whatever he’d been thinking if she were to judge by his expression when he turned to her. She felt herself flush as his eyes ran over her as if seeing her for the first time. True, last time he’d seen her she’d been a girl of fourteen, barely comfortable with her changing body. Zuko seemed to realize what he’d been doing because he quickly looked again. �You�you too.�

Katara gave a soft snort, amused at the slight darkening of his cheeks. She leaned a hip against the railing, folding her arms across her chest. �I suppose. You’re up late.�

He turned, mimicking her pose, and raising an eyebrow. �I could say that same about you.�

She laughed, giving a little wave to indicate the moon high over their heads. �I clearly recall someone saying something about my rising with the moon.�

His stance eased and his shoulders slumped, his eyes dropping to the side. �That was a long time ago.�

A thin eyebrow rose over blue eyes. �Is it any less true now?�

�No.� He sighed, his brow furrowing. �I couldn’t sleep.�

�Neither could I.� He looked surprised and Katara gave into the urge to stick her tongue at him. �Just because I ‘rise with the moon,’ doesn’t mean I particularly want to stay awake all night. So, what’s on your mind?�

He opened his mouth to tell her, but appeared to change his mind. �Nothing. It’s stupid.�

Katara edged closer, giving him a little nudge. �Can’t be that stupid.�

She almost laughed when she saw him worry his lip. It was such a little boy thing. With a smile, she placed a finger on his chin and popped his bottom lip free of his teeth. He blinked down at her in surprise and she offered a shrug and a smirk. �You should only let others nibble.�

His eyes widened and she could see him blush deeply at her flirtation. His words rushed from him in an attempt to cover his flustered thoughts. �I was thinking about the political ramifications of the termination of my courtship with Mai.�

Katara eyebrows rose and she couldn’t stop the incredulous giggle that escaped her. His eyes narrowed and he scowled at her. �It’s not funny.�

�You’re right. It’s not. But you are. You could have just said, ‘Mai dumped me and now I don’t know what to do.’�

He flinched, muttering, �Thanks. You don’t understand.�

�I don’t? I dumped the Avatar, Zuko. Talk about political ramification of a terminated courtship. My father’s going to go ballistic. Master Pakku is going to be forcing an arranged marriage on me as soon as I set foot in the South Pole! I’m surprised they haven’t sent June after me with her creepy lizard thing.�

�The Sirshu.�

�Right.�

Katara scowled darkly over the gardens�unmindful of Zuko’s thoughtful look�pondering all kinds of nasty thoughts about her former bending master. She almost missed him saying, �I thought the Southern Water Tribe didn’t do arranged marriages.�

She turned her scowl on the young Fire Lord, causing him to step back in surprise at the force of her glare, before it softened and turned into a sulk. �In case you haven’t notice, there aren’t many young men in the South Pole any more. It’d probably be an arrangement with one of the returned warriors who lost a wife or had never married. If my brother hadn’t married Suki, he would’ve either had to wait for one of the younger girls to come of age�which will be in another year or two�or agree to an arranged marriage with someone from the Northern Water Tribe.�

�You’d do it? Give up your customs and agree to an arranged marriage?�

A cold breeze picked up causing her to shiver and tugged on her sleeves a bit. She’d forgotten that winter was approaching. �I wouldn’t really have a choice.� She gave him a sardonic grin. �Political ramifications, you know.�

With a roll of his eyes, he pulled her to him, enfolding her in a warm embrace and blocking the wind. �How so?�

She stared up at him in surprise. �How s�? Zuko, my father’s the chief of the Southern Water Tribe. If something happened to him or Sokka�Did you forget?�

This close to him she could tell he’d forgotten or at he’d least never thought of it. His muscles tensed briefly and something flickered through his eyes as he met hers before he shifted his gaze over her head and looked thoughtful. A comfortable silence fell over them and Katara cuddled closer, breathing in the scent of embers and sandalwood and listening to the steady beat of his heart. If she concentrated hard enough, she could feel the pull of his blood through his veins. It was comforting. �I’m sorry.�

It was soft and, at first, she didn’t think he’d heard her, but he shifted and she looked up to meet his curious gaze. �About what?�

�Did you love her?�

His embrace tightened fractionally and a frown flickered through his eyes before he sighed and looked away again. �No. It was,� he trailed off, carefully choosing his words, �comfortable, I guess. It was what was expected of me.�

She hummed, closing her eyes. �I can understand that. Do you think we’ll ever find someone to love? You know, like all the stories say love is.�

For a moment he said nothing, though she felt a tiny jump in his heart and a soft catch in his breath. And then he raised a hand to her cheek, brushing back hair that had fallen loose and tucking it behind her ear, his voice soft when he spoke, �Yeah, I think so.�

�Our passions are the true phoenixes; when the old one is burnt out, a new one rises from its ashes.� –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Zuko Was No Coward – Crumbling to Ashes
Zuko Was No Coward – Full House