I read a fic a little while back that, as the author so eloquently put it, "fixed" the canon developed in Korra. This is my attempt to reconcile canon and that which should have been. This is unbeta'd, and I am rusty on some of the small facts. If you so desire, feel free to correct me on things. I don't remember how long it was that they traveled, but I have extended this for the sake of the story. This is not finished, as I intend to expand it further into Korra-canon in upcoming chapters. Feedback is valued, and highly appreciated.
Katara watches Korra ride away on Naga, eyes shining fondly. It was devastating when Aang died, but her time with Korra has been therapeutic for her broken heart. It is beyond strange to think that she had been married to the spirit inhabiting Korra. . .the Avatar. . .
Aang had always been her safe place. She went to him when she was scared, when she didn't know what to do, when nothing made sense - he was safe, and some part of her had always imagined being his wife ever since they met. But there were nights, while she had been traveling to find her mother's killer, and afterwards, that she had discovered she didn't entirely want safety.
She walks back to the stables and sits down, watching the horizon and letting her memories of those days wash over her.
Zuko lays on his stomach, staring up at the moon. They had come back to land after their failure to find the right person on the boat, and now they lie beside a campfire. Katara lays across the fire, and he can only barely hear her breathing. He hasn't been able to sleep. He's been too haunted by the image of what she did when they found that man. He has no idea what she did to make the man stop moving like that. There was a gleam in her eyes -
"Hey." His thoughts are interrupted by Katara's voice, and he turns his head toward the sound. "I'm. . ." she trails off for a second before continuing, "I can't sleep."
"So you thought you would wake me up?" Zuko quips, voice low and grumbly.
Katara huffs and answers, "I was just trying to see if you were having problems sleeping, too! You don't have to be a jerk about it, since you would have been fine if you were asleep."
He grins at her, too fatigued to care about suppressing his emotions. "I'm just pulling your braid, calm down. But since you're awake, and I'm awake, I have a question for you." She half-sits up, propping herself up on one arm and tilting her head to one side quizzically. "What in Agni's name did you do to that man?"
Katara freezes, her expressive eyes fixed on him. Silence hangs in the air for several long minutes, the full moon shining down on them. Then she sighs, a heavy, deep thing, and answers his question once more. "It's called blood-bending. Your blood is part water, or something. . ." She looks away, face masked in shame. "An old lady named Hama taught it to me. It allows you to take control of a person and force them to do your will."
Silence once more, and then Zuko says, eloquent as ever, "Oh." Several beats pass, and he cannot help but ask, "What does it feel like?" She shoots him a look of utter horror, and he cannot help but laugh at the expression of incredulousness on her face which fades into anger as he laughs. "Sorry, your face. . .it was just. . ." Thunderclouds gather between her eyebrows, and he shuts up.
They lay there. Katara slides off her elbows and makes to lay back down, and just as her head hits her bedroll, Zuko blurts out, "Will you show me?"
She sits up, blankets flying. "Will I show you what?" she says, voice dangerous and eyes pinned on him.
"The. . .the bloodbending. I want to know what it feels like, in case. . ." his voice trails off for a moment, and then he continues, "In case someone else tries to use it on me."
Katara snorts. "Don't worry. There's only two people in the world that know this technique: me, and Hama. Hama is in prison, and I can only bloodbend during the full moon. So don't worry. When you betray us again, I probably won't be able to use it on you."
Zuko starts and sits up to whirl towards her. "What. . .I, no! I don't - I'm not going to betray you!"
"Fine, then. Believe what you will." Zuko hunkers back down into his bedroll, grumbling beneath his breath, and turns his back to Katara. When the stars begin fading from the sky, the two of them finally fall asleep.
The next day is full of frenzied, silent travel after they wake up late in the morning. When night comes once more, they set up camp again and eat, all without a single word to each other. The only occurrence of sound is when Zuko manages to accidentally burn himself while warming their food. "Ow!" he exclaims, and Katara barely spares him a glance. But after a moment, she walks over to him, water in hand, and heals the little burn.
Supper is eaten in silence, and they bed down in silence. Zuko falls asleep quickly, but Katara's mind is too agitated to fall into rest. She envies the firebender his ease in falling asleep; she has been struggling all week with insomnia. She lays there for what feels like hours as the moon moves across the sky, and she can feel La's - Yue's - pull on her blood when she plays close enough attention. Her cycle always comes just a few days after the full moon, and she is praying it will hold off long enough for them to return to camp, since she would really rather not be on her period in the middle of nowhere with Zuko.
She is startled from her increasingly strange thoughts by a rustle of movement across the fire, an oddity in and of itself. Zuko usually held perfectly still while he slept, to the point that she had occasionally wondered if he were dead. But the rustle is accompanied by murmurs, and a moment later he sat up in his bedroll and spoke. The words are too incoherent to make out for the most part, but she can hear a few: "mother", "why", "going away", "zula". Then the rustling ceases, and he lays quiet for several minutes.
"No, Father, no - pleaseeeee AHHHHHHHHHH -" his scream splits the still night air, and Katara jumps from her bedroll. He writhes amidst his blankets, screaming shrilly and clutching his face. . .his scar, she notices. She stands still for a moment over him, not sure what to do, and then she drops to her knees, resigned.
"Zuko." She says, trying to wake him up. Her voice is too soft, and has no effect. "Zuko! Zuko!" His screaming abruptly stops, and he bolts up, shivering violently.
"Katara?" he asks, voice wavery and rough with sleep, and her heart clenches.
"Yes, Zuko?" she murmurs, and he visibly relaxes. "Are you okay?" she ventures a question after a moment, and he looks at her, face still unguarded.
"I. . .Sometimes I have nightmares about things."
"So do I."
Zuko opens his mouth, and then pauses, and she sees indecision on his face before he finally speaks. "Can I hug you?" Her jaw drops and she is far too astonished to react. Before she can recover and say anything, he hurries on. "I won't be able to get back to sleep without human contact. I never could. And if we're going to be traveling all day tomorrow, I -"
His words are cut off by her arms sliding around him. She had moved closer while he babbled, and now she leans forward on her knees, hugging him, head resting on his chest. Now he is the one who does not react, but after a few seconds, his arms come up and tentatively slip around her. She is soft and comforting, her hair long and loose for the night, and if he closes his eyes he can almost trick himself into believing that she is his mother. Only her scent is different - she smells of salt, arctic ice, and smiles. His mother smelled of fire lilies, smoke, and something he can only call "motherly".
"Thank you," he whispers and means it as he buries his head into her shoulder, clinging to the last person of the Avatar's traveling troupe who hates him. All that Katara does is tighten her grip on the banished prince and wonder what it means that he was telling his father no.
They are on their way back to the others the next day, after Katara has faced down the man she sought. The first night after she faces him, she is unable to sleep much. Most of her time the next day is spent snoring in the sunlight, sprawled across Appa's saddle. But the sleep is not restful, and she is so exhausted the next night that she is almost asleep before her head hits her blankets.
Zuko is the one left awake tonight, and he is dropping off to sleep when he hears Katara moan. He jerks awake and listens carefully, and then he can hear the sound of someone crying in their sleep. He lays still for a moment before he can stand it no longer, and he slides out of his blankets and crawls (for some reason, he doesn't really want to stand up) to where she is encamped across the fire.
He tries to wake her, but the whispers of "Katara!" only worsen it. She mumbles, "Mother. . ." as tears streak down her cheeks, and after two or three minutes he uses his last resort. He sings. It is a simple lullaby his mother would sing him after he had a nightmare, and it both calms and upsets him to sing it or hear it sung, but he knows no other lullaby. After singing for a moment, she calms down marginally and whispers something. Zuko finishes the verse and leans down to hear what she's whispering, and hears a fragment, "'ove y', Muvver."
Zuko jumps and nearly swears loudly when he feels something touching one of his wrists and constricting it. Katara's hand is curled around his wrist, and she pulls his hand loose from where it is resting on his knee. A second later he finds himself tugged forward by the sleeping woman: she has taken his hand, pressed it to her neck, and rolled over, taking him with her. As she rolls, he is tugged along, and he ends up in a precarious position. His knees and free hand are on one side of her body, holding him up, and his other hand is firmly in her hold.
It is not all a strictly bad thing, really; the way she has pulled his hand and placed it has positioned his arm in between two very lovely "womanly assets", as Mai liked to call them. He is also close enough that he can smell her again, her scent sharp and yet alluring in a strange way. But the fact remains that he is trapped, and that he has absolutely no idea what to do. So he resorts to trying to wake her up by whispering again. "Katara. Katara. Katara!" Each whisper is infused with a little more urgency, because with every breath he draws he is reminded that she is a beautiful young woman and that he is very close to her body.
Zuko is trapped, and his last option is what he enacts now. Carefully, oh-so-carefully, he attempts to remove his hand from Katara's grip. He is mostly successful. After a moment, only the tips of his fingers still touch her neck. He pulls his fingers away slowly, and as he pulls his fingers drag along her skin. He can feel goosebumps springing up in the wake of his fingertips, and then Katara moves. Her grip loosens, freeing him, and she rolls onto her back, leaving him almost straddling her. He moves to leave quickly, but then her eyes crack open. "Zuko?" she murmurs, eyes half-lidded and sleepy.
He holds his breath for a second, and then answers, "Yes?" He is so close that he can feel her breath on his face, and it makes him shiver. She reaches one hand towards him and runs her fingers through his hair softly. Zuko's eyes close. This hasn't happened in a long time. Mai would do it on occasion, but previously it had only ever -
"Mmmph!" he mumbles as his eyes fly open, voice negated by Katara's lips pressed against his. Her other hand creeps up around his neck and pulls him closer, and after a moment his eyes slip closed once more and he lets himself fall into the kiss. Her lips are unbelievably soft, and though he can tell she is inexperienced she does not let that stop her. He repositions himself so that he is straddling her body and leans into her, enjoying her scent and the feel of her.
It doesn't take long for hands to start wandering. Hers go first, slipping inside the tunic that he is wearing and exploring his skin. Her touch is feather light and makes him shiver once more. Then one of his hands slides down the side of her body and rests on her hip, bunching up the fabric there.
A spot of worry slips into Zuko's mind. He is kissing Katara, touching her - for all he knows, she is not even fully awake. He opens his eyes and makes to pull away, only to find a pair of shimmering bright blue eyes fixed on him with a look that reads 'don't you dare'. He can't disobey, especially not when he's enjoying this moment (more than he probably should). So he lets his eyes go half-lidded again and falls back into the kiss.
After a little while, his legs start to cramp. So he pulls away (for more than a second of breathing) and rolls onto his side, pulling a willing waterbender with him. Then simply stare at each other for a moment. Her eyes are a dark blue that he's never seen, her hair is mussed, and she is lovely. He kisses her again, slower this time, sliding his hands down the contours of her body once more. Her breath hitches in her throat and her hands slip inside his shirt once more, stroking his skin, firmer this time. Her fingers dance around his hipbones and he cannot help but moan into her mouth. She stiffens, almost imperceptibly, and then she relaxes.
Zuko moves his mouth away from hers and begin placing kisses on the junction of her neck and her jawline. She obligingly tips her head up, and the smooth column of her neck reveals itself. He wastes no time in kissing his way down the dark skin revealed, down to her shoulder, where he gently noses the cloth on her shoulder out of the way and bites down. She gasps and a thrill goes through his body, and he needs no encouragement to continue his ministrations.
They kiss and touch until they are aware that enough time has passed that they really ought to sleep. By a mutual, unspoken agreement, they pull away and lay back down. But before Zuko lays down once more, he brings his bedroll to Katara's side of the fire and lays down on the outside, keeping her closer to the fire. Protecting her, his mind whispers, but he pushes the thought away and closes his eyes. He falls asleep almost immediately.
They awake early the next morning, with only a little more than a day's flying to go. Appa could certainly have gone faster if urged, but neither of them liked pushing him unless necessary. Silence reigns, as usual, but Katara sit right beside him as they eat. Once they are done eating, Katara sends him a sly glance and licks her lips. Zuko takes the look as an invitation, and leans over to kiss her. They quickly end up entangled on the remains of their bedrolls, and it isn't until the sun is a full handspan from the horizon that they decide they ought to fly off.
It takes twenty minutes to find Zuko's shirt, and Katara eventually has to redress herself completely because of how rumpled her clothing is. They usually don't talk much over the day, but today neither of them seem to be able to keep their mouths shut. They talk about fears, parents (a bit, anyway), food, traveling, relatives, friends. . . nothing escapes the myriad of conversation topics. When they set down for the evening, they have to find a place to set down next to water so they can refill the water skins. Between the two, the bags had been quickly emptied as they talked.
Dinner is hastily taken care of, and cleaning the dishes is shoved aside in favor of each other. Zuko's shirt is quickly lost once more, and Katara discovers that he moans beautifully when she bites the junction of his neck and shoulder. Not long after that, she's shirtless, and Zuko thinks that she is unexpectedly beautiful in the flickering firelight.
That night, they explore each other.
They wake up the next morning naked and bodies entwined. This time, they don't take off until it's nearly noon, and the trip back is filled with little touches and smiles. When they approach the camp with the others, they agree that nobody in the camp would take particularly well to seeing them together. Sokka would attempt to murder Zuko, Toph would laugh, and. . .yes, it would not go over well, they agree. So they land and everything is as it was before they left, except that she and Zuko are friends now.
Until the day of the comet, Katara and Zuko sneak away here and there for time alone. The night that Aang disappears, they feel particularly guilty because Katara had been in Zuko's room. She might have been able to stop Aang if she had been in her own, but. . .
Eventually they split up, and Katara gladly jumps at the chance to go with Zuko. They spend their time traveling clinging to each other, both desperately afraid and unable to admit it. Zuko jumps in front of the lightning because how could he not?, and when Azula has been put away somewhere safe, they await the news of the "Melon Lord".
After the defeat, they slip apart like two puzzle pieces. She gravitates toward Aang, and he gravitates towards Mai, and they are happy with where they are. The memories haunt them, though; some part of them wonders what could have been. Would she have been the first foreign Fire Lady? Would they have. . .but it is all speculation.
Katara hears shouting in the city, and she knows that Korra's disappearance has been discovered. They will be looking for her, and so she stands and makes her way back to her house. It is lit up from inside and warm when she reaches it, and she steps inside grateful for the warmth. The now elderly woman steps toward the fire and picks up the cup of tea waiting for her on the tea table. A sip later, arms that are still strong enfold her and a familiar voice murmurs, "What have you done now, my water lady?"
"I have given someone freedom, Zuko." she murmurs, and she can feel him smiling against the side of her cheek.
"You would." he says, and means it.