Little about their positions had actually changed but Katara's perspective was suddenly altered, quite possibly forever. With his leg pressed between hers and her chest flush against his Zuko stopped being a firebender and started being a boy. A boy not so different from Haru or Jet or Aang. A real, tangible boy, with arms and legs and a mouth that were all very, very male and very, very close. Katara had no idea what he was thinking but it must have been as staggering as her own thoughts because neither of them had spoken in practically an eon.
What was she supposed to do now? What did she want to do?
He wasn't moving. She couldn't see. Someone had to make a decision.
"Zuko, let go of my arms," she said gently. She waited a beat.
"Okay," he murmured and released her, uncharacteristically passive. But he only stepped back a fraction, just enough so that his leg was no longer between hers. Their forms still teetered on the edge of touching, and she could not only hear his quick, shallow breathing but feel it.
She inhaled to speak again, and that was when he took her face in his hands and kissed her.
Katara's intended words became an unarticulated noise buried under Zuko's assualt. The wall was hard and flat behind her but his hands were cradling her cheeks, her neck. It made no difference if her eyes were open or closed because in the darkness all she had to sense was touch. Zuko's touch was new and awkward, but not unkind.
It was her first real kiss, and like the kiss-that-wasn't-a-kiss this too was in the dark, but a much smaller dark with no where to go but closer in. The contact was strange and wet and it wasn't bad, it wasn't bad at all. It was—
Zuko's lips separated from hers, and he stepped back. His hands lingered for a moment longer on the curve of her jaw before they too fell away.
Her first thought was Did I do something wrong, because Zuko wasn't explaining and once again they were just two people alone together. In front of her she could hear heavy breathing that matched her own. Nervousness, confusion, and excitement hammered Katara's heart so loudly into her ribcage she thought it might break her chest. Wouldn't that be an awful sight after kissing someone? But she couldn't see anyway, and neither could Zuko, and oh great spirits, all this silence was killing her.
"Why did you...do that?"
"I don't know." He sounded young, honest—and strangely, shaken. "It was an impulse."
She believed him, if only because that sounded nothing like the fearsome villain she thought she knew.
"That was my first real kiss," she offered, brushing away the memory of something childishly close to it with a different boy in a different place. Katara couldn't afford to think about Aang right now—she wasn't sure she wanted to think about anything except this moment, about what was happening. Or what wasn't happening.
"Was it?" he sounded distracted, and she wondered what could possibly be distracting him here. How could Zuko even be distracted, after what had just occurred? It was all she could think about. It was all she wanted to talk about.
"How many times have you kissed someone?"
Her question caught him by surprise, and he answered truthfully, "Just the once."
"Oh." The silence slipped further into awkwardness. Katara wasn't sure exactly why, but it made her even more nervous to know she was his first kiss too.
"I just sort of thought..." she began. "I mean..."—shut up shut up shut up— "You seemed...pretty confident."
"I'm...sorry. If I startled you."
Katara wished she had a pillow to scream into.
"You don't have to—look, would you just light a flame for a second? Please, just, make some fire so I can talk to you."
"No." He was hiding, that's what Zuko was doing. He had kissed her, he had really kissed her and she couldn't believe it but now he was hiding. In the darkness of a closet that was already keeping him safe from someone else. The thought struck her that Prince of the Fire Nation was hiding from girls a lot these days.
In the tense blackness of the closet, Katara swallowed a giggle. And then another.
"What was that?"
Suddenly it all seemed so incredibly hilarious, and she couldn't hold back.
He hissed, "Are you laughing at me? Stop laughing!"
Katara truly tried to stop but the giggles bubbled up and out of her in a fountain of misplaced emotion. All the fear of getting caught, all the loneliness of waiting in the dark, all the tension and the bickering and the crazy butterflies in her chest flowed together into onslaught of laughter. She, Katara, was in a closet with a banished prince who smelled like sweat and dust and failure, and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't stop laughing about it.
"Be quiet!" Zuko grabbed her with one hand and covered her laughing mouth with the other. "You're going to call attention to us if you don't shut up!"
Katara nodded, and tried to tell him that she thought she was okay now, but his hand muffled her words.
"Do you promise to be quiet?" he demanded. She nodded again. "Okay," he said, and lowered his hand from her face. She hastily grabbed it; it was now or never, before she thought too hard.
"What is—" Katara finished Zuko's sentence for him by pushing the boy back against the closet door and pulling his head down for their second kiss. It was like the first but more fun, because now he was against the wall and Katara's hands were fisting in his short hair as she tried to press herself closer. If the young waterbender could have climbed all the way into his pockets she would have.
She felt a rush as Zuko, slow on the uptake but not obtuse, found his hands clutching her hips and her tongue in his mouth. Grabbing Katara even closer he spun them a quarter turn until the door was to one side and the back of the closet to the other. The box's width was narrower than its depth and now they had even less space to move if they should want to separate.
That was okay with Katara, seeing as she didn't want to. Sometime back around their fourth kiss—by now she'd stopped trying to decide what determined the end or the beginning of kissing— she had come to the definite conclusion that arguing to kill time was overrated, but kissing… kissing was fun. Kissing Zuko was fun. Sokka and Aang and the Water Tribe weren't around to tell her she couldn't, and she was bored in here, and Zuko was safe. Relatively. For a firebender.
Actually this was pretty stupid and dangerous but none of that seemed to bother her right now.
The prince pulled back his head, gasping for breath. "Okay. Um…Okay." He made noises like he was getting ready to say something.
"Zuko, you had your chance to talk." She ran her hands down his chest and started kissing him again, feeling bold and grown up. "You wasted it."
Too late Katara remembered that taunting arrogant firebenders was a bad idea. No sooner had the snide words left her mouth than Zuko pushed their intertwined bodies away from his wall and toward the opposite one, trapping her like she had just trapped him. Fingers ran up and down her sides, daring to brush her chest but never stopping there. Her own hands wound their way around his neck again. Zuko had nice, broad shoulders. Leaner than he looked with his armor on, but more filled out than Sokka. She wished she could see his body up close in the light.
The door to the closet was flung open and Katara got her wish.
"What in Oma's name!"
Zuko and Katara stood frozen and blinking in the light that spilled from the hallway. She had one hand at the base of his neck and another on his shoulder; Zuko had both of his hands circling her waist and Katara didn't look down to check but she was pretty sure one of her legs was half-wrapped around his.
"You!" The shopkeeper, a woman of forty years and five children, grabbed Zuko by the collar and yanked him out of the closet. He lurched into the hall while his partner in crime tried to inch past the distracted matriarch.
"Don't you move another step, young lady!" Katara obediently froze. The woman looked back and forth between the two of them, flicking her dishtowel in one hand.
"YOU!" she suddenly shouted, and swung an accusing finger at Zuko. He shrank back a little. "I didn't offer you sanctuary so that you could make my mop locker into a chamber for your sordid idea of an afternoon tryst! What if one of my little baby girls had opened the door and seen this? What then, young man!"
Zuko bowed his red face to the floor and muttered the meekest, most pathetic apology Katara had ever heard. She gulped as the woman turned to her next.
"And you, young lady." The shopkeeper grabbed the girl's chin with bony hand and stared into her eyes. She frowned, then shook Katara's face a little. "Get some sense child, and stop kissing strange boys in closets. You never know where they've been."