Candles; or Jab Tak Hai Jaan

"Please, please let him live," she whispers, on her knees in the church before the lit prayer candles. "Please let him live. I will do anything."

Katara will never forget the happy young man, singing an old tune to himself while using a combination of a shovel and firebending to clear snow off the steps of the church.

He's wearing a light jacket - the snow has barely started - and it's threadbare like the rest of his clothes, but he doesn't seem to mind.

He's also shooting her glances out from beneath his shaggy black hair.

Katara smiles through her prayers, lights a candle, and then lifts up informal prayers of thankfulness when she steps out into the snow and the man has found his courage. He sees her, and starts dancing about with the shovel as a prop, singing a song she thinks she heard in a movie once.

When, breathless, he introduces himself as Zuko, she politely replies with her name. She doubts she'll see him again. Snow shoveling is a temp position, and she's seen so many newcomers to the city cycle in and out.

Imagine her surprise when he's there, a waiter at the restaurant where she's having the most awkward dinner of her life.

She wishes the sea could swallow her up and let her die when he sees her. his whole being lights up, and she wishes she could match him, but there's a box sitting between her and her date, and she knows what's inside.

She is happy to hear he's moving up in the world. This waiting position isn't temporary, and she can tell with his dedication he might own the place one day.

So when he comes back with their food, and sees the engagement pendant sitting there, accepted, but not worn, he puts on a false smile and offers to get a bottle of champagne.

Katara doesn't see him until two weeks later when she's sneaked out of her own engagement party to throw ice at walls in the alley behind the ballroom. The door creaks open, and he's standing there, halfway out the door, trash in hand, that annoyingly handsome smile on his face.

She walks back into her party with arrangements to trade waterbending moves for guitar lessons.

When, six months later, her father finally wants her to set a date with Haru so the nice boy who's always helped their family will finally be family, Katara bursts into tears, and can't explain it, only goes running out of the house, one frantic text sent.

That text, her failure to be an adult about her life, her heart, her engagement-

Zuko ran to her, or as close as he could get.

Some bastard didn't look before turning, blinded-sided him, a metal machine careening into a pedestrian moving too fast and focused to react.

So here's Katara, on her knees in church, praying while he lies in a hospital bed, condition critical.

"Please," she whispers, fumbling with the lighter to get the candle lit, remember the ease with which he lit prayers the few times he joined her after their lessons. "Let him live. I will do anything; only let him live. Look, if he lives, if you give him life, I promise I'll stay away. I won't see him again. Just let him live. Keep his fire lit."

She falls asleep there, before the candles. When the priest nudges her awake, to send her home so he can sleep, all the candles but hers have burned down, burned out.

So be it. The deal is struck.

When he comes to, when they drag her to his side, she tells him the deal she made.

She tries to leave.

The boy grabbed on to life and demanded it be better, the man who grabbed her heart and showed it how to sing, he seizes her arm before she can leave. The sounds from the machines around him leap with extra activity before he manages to ask,

"And if you are my life? If you are the fire in my soul? Would you leave me, alone, unable to light so much as a candle to keep me warm?"

When she returns Haru's necklace, the sweet earthbender smiles slyly. "I knew it. He'll make you far happier than I could."

The world doesn't fall apart; Zuko doesn't drop dead.

When Hakoda meets him, Zuko's welcomed with open arms.

The wedding goes off without a hitch.

In the middle of the reception, Katara sneaks off, followed closely by Zuko. They hurry to that same old church, as she intends to light the same candle in prayer for their new life.

Only, the candle holder is empty.

Zuko is fishing in his pockets for some change so they can buy a candle from a store somewhere when the priest wanders in.

"I had to move your candle."

"Excuse me?"

"Your candle." He points to the altar, past where lay feet may walk. Sitting in a small alcove is a simple, lit candle like the ones she's always used. "It hasn't gone out yet. There's still a scrap of wick hanging on. Seems a prayer was answered." He glances between the couple in their wedding finery. "And in a better way than they could have dreamed."