a/n

Team: Water Tribe
Round: 1
Category: Drabble
Prompt: 6. (Object) Table
Word count: 649
Other: AtLA


Just Two Words

Zuko's head reeled.

Something was going on between his friends, and it wasn't the thing that everyone assumed it was. Well—maybe not everyone. He cast a glance to Sokka, who was definitely watching his sister from a few tables away, clear concern in his expression. There'd been a few things that the Water Tribe warrior had mentioned to him during their walk to the ballroom earlier that hadn't made much sense to Zuko then, but in retrospect made him wonder. You know my sister, he'd said. She'd cut off her own arm before risking a friendship. Or, you know, a whatever.

But, the way Katara had tensed against him when he mentioned her helping Aang, the way Aang had tried to guilt her and caused an almost imperceptible shudder through her frame had him remembering Sokka's words in an entirely different light.

He knew it looked bad, leaving together, but he did it anyway. When she allowed him to lead her out of the center of the room, where scores of eyes were honed in on the two who'd just upset the Avatar enough to drive him to vanish, Zuko didn't hesitate. He drew her back toward the table where Toph and their abandoned cups of wine waited, but it wasn't his ultimate goal. He paused only briefly when Toph turned her head in their direction.

"What the heck just happened out there? One moment you two were dancing just fine, and then the next Aang—"

He shook his head firmly. "Later." He tried to put enough command into the word that she would accept it without further question, and it seemed to work. The earthbender worried her lip, but nodded in the end. He hesitated a moment longer, debating the wisdom of picking up cups of wine to take as well, but in the end discarded the idea as ill-advised.

Had he paused to consider the situation, he would have been surprised that Katara let him take her so far without stopping him. As it was, she said nothing and didn't even try to withdraw her hand from his, merely following in his wake. They exited beneath open archways that lead out of the ballroom, then ducked into the first empty room he spotted. Only then did he stop, stepping into the soft light and finding a huanghuali table meant for waiting guests. Even then, he didn't release her hand, not until they were fully inside. Now that they had stopped, Zuko realized his heart was pounding. He watched her put the table between them, pausing by a zabuton. Her eyes focused on the empty tea set that took up the center.

"I didn't need saving from that," she said after a while, not looking at him.

That startled him. He hadn't thought of it that way, and his cheeks heated. "I didn't—I know. I'm sorry."

She let out a choked sound he realized was supposed to be a laugh, and he moved to the table separating them, fingertips resting heavy on the lacquered wood, before he could think better of it.

"Are you okay?" he asked her, worry coloring the jagged edges of his voice.

Now she did look at him, the light flashing off the beads and coral in her hair. The fragile look on her face gripped his heart tightly. "It's just as easy as that? Just two simple words?"

Zuko furrowed his brow, not understanding and desperately wanting to know, wanting to help. "What do you mean?"

"He's never apologized for any of the things he's done that I didn't want him to do," she said, very quietly.

It felt as though someone had dropped a stone deep into Zuko's gut, and his palm started hurting before he realized he'd clenched it into a fist. With a controlled breath, he relaxed his hand.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

She bit her lip.