❯ Zuko Was No Coward – There Was A Time ( Chapter 13 )

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

The afternoon was lazy, almost peaceful. Talks with the ambassadors from the different nations had gone well and they had adjourned for the afternoon, content to relax for the remainder of the day and resume discussions the following morning. Zuko had retired to his private gardens, only vaguely surprised to find them already occupied. Katara’s middle son was calmly strolling the garden paths with his youngest daughter. A small frown tugged at his lips when he saw them, but the boy appeared to be behaving and his daughter was more than capable of defending herself. Her mother had made sure of that. Soft laughter drew his attention to the woman kneeling nearby, a cup of tea in her hand. She smiled, her blue eyes flashing amusement. « You don’t need to worry so much, Zuko, my son is honorable. »

He joined her at the pond’s edge, accepting the tea she poured for him with a small nod. « I was not concerned. She’s capable of taking care of herself. »

Katara hummed. « No doubt Mai taught all her children shuriken-jutsu. »

There was nothing to say to that and the two fell into silence, watching their children progress around the garden paths. Zuko liked silence. It provided him time to think and didn’t require him to make effort keeping up with small talk. He glanced at the waterbender next to him. And Katara had always made him tongue-tied. « Where is Aang? »

Her lips thinned and her eyes dropped, but she answered cheerfully enough. « He is teaching Tenzin the ways of the Air Nomads. »

He allowed himself a moment to study her before turning back to the pond to watch the turtle ducks paddle along the far edge. « It must have been disappointing to not have more benders. »

« He has never said so. »

They watched their children pass around a bend and Katara sighed into her teacup. « There was a time when I could have loved you. »

Zuko choked on his tea, upsetting the cup and spilling the contents into his lap. He was thankful his robes were thick. Blue eyes glinted at him and a smile touched her lips. With a wave of her hand, she drew the spilled tea out of his robes and tossed it aside. « Really, Zuko, you shouldn’t be so surprised. »

A quick glance around revealed that they were still alone and he turned to her, meeting her eyes. They were still as blue as he remembered. It had been years since he’d truly looked at her. « You never said anything. »

She shrugged, looking away with a slight frown. Her fingers flexed against the delicate teacup as she spoke, « What could I have said? When could I have said it? The end of the war was so busy. Before I knew it, six years had passed and I was accepting a betrothal necklace from Aang. » She paused, considering her words. « If I recall, you had married not even two years after the war. »

He had. He remembered the day he made that decision. He remembered his uncle questioning the wisdom of it, but Zuko had been adamant. He’d needed stability and the Fire Sages had agreed. Eventually, Iroh had accept the decision, even if he hadn’t necessarily agreed with it. Zuko took the opportunity to look away, concentrating on placing the teacup on the tray. « Politics. »

She regarded him carefully before she nodded, her eyes growing distant at some memory. « Yes. »

They let the silence envelop them, each lost in memories of the past, of their younger selves, when they were just Katara and Zuko\a watertribe peasant and an exiled prince. He turned to her, burnished gold eyes tracing familiar features, looking for the girl he’d once known in the woman now before him. « Are you…happy? »

Katara blinked, returning to the present, to the here-and-now, to the man Zuko was and leaving the boy he’d been in the past. She smiled a full smile, the same one that had sent his stomach tumbling and his heart racing in his younger years though the effect was dampened by the sheen of tears he saw in her eyes. « I am not unhappy, Zuko. »

« That’s not an answer. »

« No, » she murmured, « I suppose it’s not. I will consider myself happy and that will be it. » Blue eyes lingered on his face a moment before she turned away with a strange sense of finality. « It does not do to dwell on dreams. »

« Katara\ »

She interrupted, her gaze on the children that had reappeared on the path, « Your daughter has grown into a beautiful young woman. It seems she is one of the fortunate few who skip that whole awkward stage that plagued the rest of us. »

He regarded the waterbender a moment longer, tearing his eyes away to watch his daughter. « Yes. »

Perhaps it was time to let go. Whatever might have been\whatever could have been was in the past. And that’s where it would stay.

Zuko Was No Coward – For of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen*
Zuko Was No Coward – The Better Part of Valor