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Rebirth

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“Is it true that Fire Nation royalty are dragons reincarnated?”

Behind the stack of reports he was holding, Zuko wrinkled his nose. “No. Where’d you hear that from?”

Katara shrugged, gesturing at the doors of the Fire Lord’s study. Of Zuko’s study. “I found a few scrolls in the archives that said something about a connection between the Fire Nation royal family and the first dragons. And given your little dragon dance with Aang-” she smiled as he furrowed his brow in irritation, mouth opening to say something like it’s not a dance, it’s an ancient firebending technique that’s thousands of years old—

Before he could cut in, Katara cleared her throat and continued. “Given your little dragon dance with Aang,” she repeated emphatically, “I didn’t think it would be that implausible.”

“Well.” He looked up from the report to meet her eyes. “It’s not entirely false.”

“What do you mean?”

“Fire Nation legend says that the royal family are descended from the first dragons. So there’s a little connection there, but nothing like reincarnation or rebirth.”

“Oh,” she said, feeling oddly disappointed. “So you’re like, what? One percent dragon blood?”

“Maybe,” he said. “It’s a little weird to think about.”

“Would you rather be a reincarnated dragon?” She meant it teasingly, but something in Zuko’s expression shuddered and he looked back down at his sleeves, fingers picking at the golden hems.

“...No.” His voice was gravel, rough and low. “I don’t want to be a dragon at all.” 

What started as a lighthearted conversation was quickly becoming something heavier, laden with implications both of them would be better off blissfully ignorant of. Yet Katara’s heart was thudding too loudly in her chest for her to hear her next words forming on her tongue, spilling out her lips.

“Why not?” she asked. “Why don’t you want to be a dragon?”

Zuko laughed. He laughed so rarely that each time he did it became a golden thread lining her memories, a chiming bell echoing through her mind. But this laugh was pained, joyless and just like that, Katara knew.

His gaze returned to her once more, but this time his eyes halted right below her face, in the dip below her chin, at her neck. The betrothal necklace Aang carved for her tightened like a noose.

Zuko’s voice came to her as if he was from a dream, distorted and haunted and surreal.

“Because,” he answered slowly, mournfully. “Dragons only know how to love once.”