dedication: to Nathalie. happy Christmas, my dear.
title: where dwell the quiet things
summary: One day you are going to find yourself again. — Zuko/Katara; Pacific Rim!AU.
"I'm going to do it," she said.
"Are you stupid, Katara?!"
"I have four PhD's, Zuko, I am the farthest thing from stupid," Katara replied, and flipped her hair over her shoulder. The tattoos on her arms rippled with the movement, kaiju spirals inked into the delicate dark skin of her wrist. "I am going to Drift with that brain if it's the last thing I ever do. Can you even imagine, we could learn so much—"
"But it's dangerous, Katara, there's a reason it takes two to Drift, the neural load—"
"I can handle it," she said confidently. "And if I can't, well, I'll be dead, and then what does it matter?"
Zuko sputtered. "You can't, your brother—!"
"Can't?" Katara said, eyes narrowing dangerously. "Can't?! I'll find I can do exactly as I please, Zuko! And I want to Drift with a Kaiju brain, then I damn well will!"
"But they're monsters!"
"And we aren't?!"
Zuko made a very undignified noise. "We have mathematical probabilities and science and exploration of the universe! Of course we're not monsters!"
"We also have murderers and abusers and rapists! If we're going to be able to finish this, we need to know what's going on inside their brains, and this is happening when you like it or not! So you can Drift with me, or you can get out of my way. Take your pick, Zuko, I don't have time for this!"
The muscles in Zuko's jaw twitched just as his hands clenched, and he knew without a doubt that she was going to do exactly as she wanted, no matter what he said. The only thing he really could do in this situation was give in.
"Fine," he said. "Katara, what if we're not—"
"Don't even say it," she said, blue eyes undemanding. "We're Drift compatible. I know we are. I've known it since the first day I met you."
Zuko ran a hand through his hair to keep from touching her, because he knew that if he did, he would wrap his arms around her and take her far away from all of this. Katara was a danger, a beautiful flickering flame, and she was going to die if he wasn't there to look after her.
"Okay," he exhaled. "Let's do this."
The Drift is blue-white.
There is his mother. There is his sister. There is his brother—brother, no, that's her brother, that's Sokka, that's her mother, his mother, their fathers, and he's afraid of the ice bears but no, no he's not, he's afraid of the fire. He remembers swimming in the Atlantic, laughing with girls at MIT but Zuko never went to MIT, those are Katara's, they're hers, they're hers—
The Kaiju is a hivemind.
Oh, God, ZukoKatara thinks. Oh, God.
PULL OUT, PULL OUT, WE HAVE TO GET OUT, IF WE DON'T WE'RE GOING TO DIE—
They saved the world.
So that was cool.
Seriously, the whole team were like, rockstars now. Aang and Toph especially—the blind girl and the bald kid with the weird tattoos had the entire world staring at them like they were the most interesting thing since the Cold War. The pair of them were fine, it seemed—they both managed to escape Gipsy Danger before it detonated, and their Drift had been so stable that they might as well have been the same person. Even after pulling out, they were still themselves. They didn't lose themselves in each other's heads, and that was good.
Zuko and Katara didn't quite have that experience.
Because there were… repercussions
At first, it was just little things—a stray thought that wasn't hers, that couldn't be hers, because Katara had no interest in quantum physics, her speciality was biology. A sudden fondness for spicy food. Rubbing her hands on her pants to rid herself of non-existent chalk dust.
A phantom burning around her left eye.
Katara swallowed hard.
There was something wrong.
She found him in the lab. He was inspecting some of the Kaiju guts she'd stolen and left out to see how they'd oxidise, nose pulled up but actually touching it, and that was exactly what she was thinking about.
"Zuko, we need to talk."
He looked at her out of the corner of his good eye, and Katara could see that he knew exactly what she was referring to. "You, too, huh?"
"It hurts," she said, throat breaking around the words like they were shards of glass. "Zuko, how do you stand it?! Your eye—!"
"It was a long time ago," he said gently. "I don't feel it anymore."
"So why do I?" she demanded.
Because you're feeling the healing, he thought, and Katara heard it loud and clear. They stared at each other, Katara's curls caught in his fingers. When they'd gotten close enough to touch, she couldn't tell. But there was something soothing about it, being this close, like they were two ripped halves of a whole finally soldering together again.
"What's happening to us?" she whispered frantic. "Zuko, what's going on?"
"You know what the Drift is, Katara," he said.
"We can't be Melding, though," she said. "The probability of that is—actually, what is the probably of it happening? I never looked it up."
Zuko rolled his eyes. "Point zero-zero-zero three percent."
"Our luck is so shitty," Katara said, eyes narrowed as she wound long curls around her fingers. It was an old, nervous habit—Zuko only knew that because he'd seen her entire life, lived in her head for what felt like an eternity, God, God, how had it even come to this?
She was still rambling. "How, how even—how? What do we even do? What are we going to tell everyone else?"
Zuko shrugged helplessly.
"Useless," Katara sighed, rolled her eyes. "Well, I guess we could just get married, that would probably work—"
"Married?!" Zuko sputtered again. "What?"
"Zuko," Katara said quietly, "yesterday I asked for hot sauce on my sandwich. I hate spicy things, you know that. I don't think we have a choice. There have only been two other cases of Melding. Two. And both of those cases—"
"Ended in the pilots getting married. I haven't forgotten, Katara."
She reached up to wrap her arms around his neck. The physical touch was a sweet soothing coolness against the fire that had been raging beneath his skin for the past weeks for want of her. They'd always bickered—fought and argued and raged, and it worked because it was what they did. It worked because they balanced they each other, and sometimes Zuko thought he'd loved her before he'd even met her.
And so he kissed her, right there, amid the guck of rotting Kaiju entrails and chalky equations.
The Drift exploded around them, and they were lost.
"I know," she murmured against his lips. "I know."
"I need to—"
"I know you love me, Zuko. I know. I know. I know."