A salty zephyr threads its way from the harbor, through emptying alleyways, across dirt-smeared children’s faces, up gold and red walls and dancing atop tiled roof peaks. By the time it reaches the summit and the young woman waiting there, it’s salty wisps are tinged with all the spices of Caldera City. She closes her eyes, breathing in deeply the complimentary blend of life. Here, in the center of fire, her ocean dances at the edges.
At the edge of her horizon, a molten sun is melting into the waves.
Slowly, the last few years unwind from her shoulders, and she leans blindly out against the railing, arms crossed upon the banister.
It’s here that Zuko finds her, as he stretches away the past few hours of meetings. The view is one he is familiar with, having spent many nights at that very spot. And many of those nights, he would admit only to himself, would be spent imagining a singular ship emerging from the horizon, bearing a certain water bender to his city. So when he joins her at the edge, his eyes are on her, as if concerned that looking away would dissolve the illusion.
As he leans forward, he can sense her warmth, smell the water lilies, feel the ever so gentle brush of the fur at her shoulders against the silk of his robe. He can't stop the smile that pulls at his lips. Watching her breathe in the twilight, it’s almost like his daydreams.
Her words are on the breeze, but her eyes remain closed.
“Long meeting, huh?”
Eyes like the setting sun stay fixed on her. “Yeah, but it’s over now.”
“Cook says dinner will be on after sunset.”
She lets out a small hum of a response.
“It’s a beautiful night.”
The words escape him like a sigh, and she hums contentedly in response. Slowly, her eyes open, first to the horizon, before turning to him. A shy smile, not so dissimilar from his, pulls at her lips.
“I’m really glad I came when you asked.”
A comfortable silence stretches between them, the awkwardness of the previous morning long washed away. The sun skitters across the tops of crystalline waves before setting the rooftops aflame. Her eyes are drawn out to the horizon as the sun slips into the water. His are drawn upward as a new celestial phenomenon catches his eye.
A soft smile turns into a grin as he playfully bumps her shoulder with his. Reaching out, he points to the sky, and Katara’s eyes follow his motion.
“Hey, look-” Zuko leans in, his voice low and soft, “the moon’s out already.”
Its crescent shape hangs low to the horizon, yet it glows brightly in the darkening sky. Glittering around it, the stars shine like pinpricks in the velvet sky. Blue eyes follow as he drags his finger down to the molten sun.
“The sun hasn’t even set yet.”
Her smile grows, and she turns towards him. “Is that rare?”
As his elbow comes back to rest on the banister, he answers her, eyes still fixated on the celestial bodies.
“Yeah, I guess it kind of is.” Katara watches the eager smile on his face as he explained, her own morphing into something soft. The years apart and the letters in between are nearly tangible. “At least, this close to sunset.”
She’s missed him, and there’s a sense of coming home in his presence. He was there- Zuko, who would spend hours standing straight backed during long, arduous meetings with councilors. Zuko, who would spend his lunches sharing them with the turtleducks. Zuko, who would make iron-willed decisions. Zuko, who would stop his entourage to comfort the child with the skinned knee. Katara knows him. She can see it in the corner of his eye, the lines at his smile, the curl of his fingers. It was as if all the words on the page were written on his skin.
She can’t look away- she doesn’t want to.
There must have been something in her stare, or the silence that stretched again between them, for he turns, looking towards her.
His lips quirk, expecting a quip from the young woman beside him. But when he meets her gaze-- eyes soft, a slight pink in her cheeks, lips slightly parted-- it startles him. He hasn't seen that expression before- at least, not on her face. She jumps at the same time, her pink cheeks flushing deeper, a watery smile on her lips. Turning away, she begins to play with her hair, before dropping her chin to a supporting palm.
Suddenly awkward but determined to keep his composure, the Firelord drops his eyes to his palms. With a look of pseudo seriousness he takes to rubbing them together as if to ward off the autumn chill. He stares at the motion as if his glare alone would make them warm faster.
Unseeing blue eyes study the horizon stretched out before her. Katara’s thoughts were clear; for the first time in many years, there was no lingering doubt in her own emotions. Fear dances at the edges of her thoughts, though. She knew herself finally, but as much as she knew him, his thoughts were still his own. Unintentionally, she had shown her heart, just a little, and she worries. What if there wasn’t a chance? What if she had been reading his letters all wrong? What if he only viewed her as a friend? What if, what if….
Pulling in a deep breath, she chances a glance towards him. He is still studying his palms, worrying them with his fingertips, as if all his answers were divined in their lines. With a curt nod, she straightens up, and moves to cross the space that now separated them. Eyes locked on the mesmeric motion of his hands, she reaches out, gently resting her own over his.
Her breath comes short and fast, her heart pounding like a drum.
For the second time in as many minutes, he jolts. Turning to look, he finds her fixated on their now connected hands. Her breath is coming fast and hot. But when she feels his eyes on her, she meets his gaze, and her breathing seems to slow.
A playful smile pulls at his lips.
She meets his eyes with purpose, and it surprises him. Her words are soft when she responds, and he curls his hand around hers.
She drops her chin ever so slightly, and Zuko feels his heart race. His eyes soften.
They hold their spots, letting the world turn without them for the space of a breath, and then they both move. Surging forward they meet each other, her hand at his waist, shoulder; his cupping her jaw, his fingers in her hair. A breath away, they pause, eyes studying each other. An unspoken question passes between them as she studies his lips, and he watches her. The answer is “yes”.
Katara runs a hand up his arm, gripping his tunic, and Zuko doesn't fight the curl of his lips as she impatiently closes the gap between them. For all of his nervous brushing of his hands, they are surprisingly warm on her cheek, and she clings to him.
The world seems to fall away under Yue’s silver light and Agni’s orange glow on their skin.
When they finally break away, their lips pull into a smile, and he let out a sigh that sounds almost like ‘finally’.
Their dinners are left untouched.