Coincidental; a coincidence
Modern soulmate AU where the system isn't quite perfect.
Zuko is twenty-two and has life completely figured out when he literally bumps into his soulmate and still manages to let her get away from him.
He's not quite sure how it happens, to be perfectly honest.
He presses end call and slips his phone into his apron pocket. He is already almost late to his shift at the Jasmine Dragon, and though he knows Uncle Iroh doesn't mind, Zuko does. If only Azula would stop getting into trouble on campus, or if his father was even remotely interested in his children's lives. He presses a finger to the name on his wrist, drawing comfort from the hope that his soulmate- whoever they are- will help him be a better person than Ozai is.
One more semester, Zuko promises himself, not raising his eyes from the cracked sidewalk covered by the occasional scrap of trash. One more semester and he'll be out of here. He won't have to work at the tea shop, won't have to deal with Azula's temper tantrums, and won't have to feel like he's breaking his uncle's heart with his plans to leave.
When his shoulder bumps someone else's, he raises his head to apologize. The words are stolen from him for a moment, by a pair of brilliant blue eyes that crinkle at the corners in a smile.
"Uh, sorry," He coughs, and she laughs. It's a nice laugh, he thinks dumbly, a nice laugh that makes him forget about Azula for a heartbeat. But then his worries come rushing back, and damn it all, he's now officially late to work. He steps around her, careful to keep his gaze up, and sees the line of children trailing behind her. A few are talking quietly, others are kicking at trash, and one is picking a dandelion from the sidewalk. The boy at the end of the line watches him with large eyes, and Zuko tries to smile. He doesn't flinch in fear, so Zuko considers the attempt a success.
"Sorry again," He calls out, already speed walking away.
"It's alright," she says, and her voice is as nice as her laugh- she laughs again, and Zuko can hear the little train continue on its way. It's too bad he didn't get her name, but perhaps they will see each other again and he can ask then.
Then a child yells out, loud enough that Zuko can still hear her nearly half a block away, "Miss Katara, I picked you a flower!"
He freezes mid-step and looks at his wrist. No way. He doesn't need to lift up the end of his sleeve to know, but he does it anyway, and sees the familiar six letters staring back.
Zuko whips around, head twisting to catch a glimpse of her hair- it was brown, right?- but there's no one in sight. Damn it. How did he literally manage to let his soulmate walk away from him? Azula will never let him hear the end of it once she finds out.
He pulls his phone out and checks the time. Shit. He is so late to work. And if a tear or two leaks from his eyes, it's from the wind in his face.
Zuko doesn't see her again until his thirtieth birthday. He is visiting Uncle Iroh for the holidays, and helping out around the tea shop. Zuko can't believe that eight years ago he wanted to escape this place so badly; everything is much simpler when the only thing you have to worry about is steeping the tea correctly. And everything seems easier with his uncle there to support him.
It was a hard decision to move away after letting Katara get away from him, but he figured at the time that if it was meant to be it would happen regardless of their ages.
So Zuko is more than a little surprised and definitely heartbroken when he approaches table nine for their orders only to see Katara with a happy, gray-eyed man. They're talking quietly from across the table, and as his get closer he can see why- seated between them is a toddler with the man's eyes and Katara's skin.
He tries to ignore the spike of pain in his chest as he asks what they would like. Katara glances at him, but there is no recognition in her eyes. Zuko supposes eight years is a long time, even when his scar is as conspicuous as it is. They order, and when he glances down to collect their menus he wishes he hadn't.
There, proudly displayed for all to see, is Katara's name on the man's wrist. He can't see her mark- it's covered with a leather bracelet- but he doesn't want to. He's not sure he can handle it. But Zuko does see the wedding ring on her finger.
When he rushes past Uncle Iroh at the register on his way to the kitchen, the man places a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you alright, Zuko?" His uncle's smooth, familiar voice soothes him some, but it can't fully dislodge the anguish crushing his ribcage. Zuko nods, then shakes his head, then discreetly motions in Katara's direction.
"I can't serve her, Uncle."
Iroh takes one look in the direction of table nine, and a soft sort of understanding fills his eyes. Zuko had only told him the basics, but clearly he knows enough to put the pieces together.
"Okay," he says, "I will take over for you."
He watches as Uncle heaves himself from his chair and makes his way to table nine.
Faintly, as he flips through his notepad, he can hear his uncle greet them. "Hello, I am Iroh and I will be your replacement server. My apologies, but my nephew Zuko is feeling unwell-"
Zuko hears a crash and his uncle's concerned voice as he steps through the swinging doors into the kitchen. He makes their tea, careful not to over-steep it, and then takes his break. He curls up in an old supply closet that is rarely used and scrubs at the skin of his wrist. He knows that this can happen, sometimes, but he didn't think it would ever happen to him.
He scrubs as his wrist and doesn't make a sound until his uncle finds him, and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. Iroh doesn't speak a word, only sits with him as Zuko tries and fails not to cry.
Zuko is seventy-eight and in town to visit Iroh's grave when he sees her again.
He picks his way through the headstones of the cemetery until he comes to Iroh's, settled between Lu Ten's and his wife's. Off to one side are Ozai and Zuko's mother, and on the other is Azula's. Zuko is the only one left, and though it's been years since Azula passed, leaving him with an empty house and an empty heart, he still feels an aching loneliness.
He moves to leave and that's when he sees a head of curly graying hair, kneeling before a modest tombstone merely one row over. There is a woman with her, a woman with a dark complexion and darker hair, and Zuko supposes she is the child he saw, all those years ago.
He lingers, not wishing to intrude but desperate for one final look at her face. He does not know why she is there or who she is mourning, but it is not his place to interrupt. He has no place in Katara's life, and that won't change even now.
Zuko is caught off guard when she rises with the help of her daughter, too entrenched in his thoughts to have expected it. He is surprised when she turns around and sees him and her eyes widen. And he is dumbfounded when she smiles and says, "Zuko?"
The woman with her looks at Zuko for a moment before whispering something to her mother and leaving. Zuko finds he can't tear his eyes from Katara. She remembered his name.
He glanced at his wrist. Or maybe…
She laughs, and it's nearly the same as it was over fifty years ago. She makes her way over to him and sighs when she sees his uncle's name.
"He was a good friend," Katara whispers, "I miss him." Zuko wants to say that he missed him too, more than he can bear sometimes, but he finds that he's speechless because Katara has just slipped her hand around his. He looks down at her and she looks up, and they both smile.
"We have a lot to talk about, I think," She says, and he is only capable of nodding. A soothing warmth fills him, similar to his Uncle's favorite tea, or the sound of Iroh's voice.
Zuko can admit that he cried, but only a little.
First Zutara piece from one of their points of view. Short and sweet and to the point, but spans many years, as a few of my other ones this year do.
Feel free to leave any sort of constructive criticism!