A/N: This story takes place between The Boiling Rock and The Southern Raiders and the Gaang has just arrived on Ember Island. Zuko finds Katara holding the clay tablet he left during his last visit to the beach house.
This story received a honorable mention in the ZEFID Contest on DeviantArt.
The moon had already appeared in the sky, though the world was still bathed in the soft light of the setting sun. A small figure clad in blue appeared at the entrance of the once-stately beach house. As she stood there she sighed tiredly, watching the waves come crashing onto the beach before her and feeling the wind caress her face gently. The last rays of the sun made the silvery beach look golden but for a faded black spot near the shore.
From somewhere inside the beach house, she could hear excited voices. She smiled as she glanced quickly over her shoulder, into the dark hall. At least the voices warded off some of the gloomy atmosphere the house was drenched with. Echoes of lost time and faded memories lingered in the thick air, a result of years of abandonment. The tense look in his golden eyes had been apparent when they landed in the courtyard earlier that evening. She had taken his hand and he had squeezed it gratefully. She understood.
Sitting down against the doorpost, she enjoyed a rare moment alone, feeling her strength return with the rising moon while the setting sun still kept her warm. She stretched out one of her legs and suddenly felt something brush against it.
Surprised, she leaned over and picked up what appeared to be some kind of tablet, made of clay. A child's hand was pressed into it. She spread her hand across the handprint, her fingers curling around the ridges, and smiled tenderly at the difference in size.
"Your hands are small. Last time I tried that, my hand didn't even fit the tablet anymore," a husky voice said from behind her.
He always knew where to find her. With a nod, she acknowledged him as he sat down beside her.
"My mother made it when I was about three years old," he said, letting his fingers run over the print before turning his eyes absentmindedly to the black spot near the shore, lost in his thoughts. Then he sighed and gave her a sideways glance. "I thought I'd lost it. I'm glad you found it, Katara."
He sounded thoughtful and a bit hesitant, as if there was more he'd have liked to say but lacked the courage to.
"I guess that makes us even, then," Katara then said quietly, touching her mother's necklace. Next to her Zuko involuntarily took in a deep breath as he understood what she meant. Hesitantly took her hand, still holding the tablet, and she did not withdraw.
"Thank you, Katara," he whispered.
In the mild summer evening, the couple sat on the doorstep of the dilapidated summerhouse, finding an inexplicable solace in each other's presence. Slowly, Katara allowed herself to relax against his shoulder. The tablet rested in between their enlaced fingers, connecting them to their lost childhoods. They may have had their differences, but now that they'd put those behind them she felt they'd started rebuilding the bond that was formed between them in the Crystal Caves of Ba Sing Se. And she realised she'd been longing for it ever since he'd showed up at the Western Air Temple. Despite the anger, despite the hurt, all she'd wanted was to feel that connection once again, the connection she'd thought she'd lost forever when he'd withdrawn himself from them - from her - in Ba Sing Se.
She lightly rested her cheek on his shoulder and a quiet smile appeared on his features when he gently squeezed her hand. He was reaching out to her as much as she was to him. They were healing simply by being in each other's presence, the person who understood them the most.
It wasn't until they heard the voices of the others calling them that they reluctantly returned to reality, where everyone looked to them to care for their little group.
Zuko stood wordlessly and extended his hand to help her to her feet. Their eyes met in silent understanding. This moment was over, but there would be more to come.
Slowly they started to walk towards the sound of laughter and, for a moment, Katara's hand brushed Zuko's in silent gratitude that he was here with her, sharing responsibilities. He responded by momentarily touching her shoulder. His hand was warm against the coolness of her skin - a promise for the future like the child's hand pressed into a tablet of clay.
Zuko led them to what appeared to be the kitchen, and when he opened the door they were greeted enthusiastically by the others.
Katara smiled as she and Zuko started to hand out chores. And in the pocket of her skirt safely rested the clay tablet.