Summary: Zuko attempts to justify his actions to Katara. This is easier said than done, as once a traitor, always traitor, and trust isn't exactly something you can win through seduction.
Genre: Angst. Yes. But this chapter also has fluff, mostly to contrast the angst of last (and future) chapters.
Word Count: 1,845
Rated M for psychology and maybe some other stuff later. I hold no promises.
The sun rises in the eastern sky, gently coating the ground with its warmth, and eyes the color of fire open when the light touches his face.
Normally, he would get out of bed, dress, and meditate before facing the rest of the day. But he can't will himself to do it, not when there is something soft and brown beside him that demands his attention instead.
Katara sleeps through sunrise, and he finds himself surprised by that. He knows, of course, that she is a waterbender, not a firebender (a whip-shaped bruise on his back is a clear-cut reminder of that), but it still boggles his mind how anyone can sleep so soundly after the sun has risen. Doesn't the light wake them up, at least? --Apparently not, because Katara has yet to acknowledge the sun's existence.
Gently, so gently that she barely feels it, he lifts his hand and gently caresses her face, careful not to wake her. She is so beautiful right now, with her hair disheveled and her skin, dark and sinful and soft. He's half-tempted to kiss her, to wake her up from her dreamlike state, but he doubts that would end well for anyone.
He's still her enemy, after all.
Slowly he pulls his hand away from her cheek. (He's her enemy.)
He snorts as he watches her bury her head deeper into the red satin pillows. Enemies don't talk like the two of them have talked; enemies don't share the connection they have. If they were really enemies, truly, he would have never shown her his mother's garden, would have never held her as she cried, would have never kissed her or touched her or made love to her.
(Because that's what it was—making love. Gentle and soothing and passionate all the same, but it was love he felt for her, not lust.)
She shivers (cold?) and moves her hands unconsciously along the bed until she feels his body, and smiles as she wraps her arms around him and sleeps with her head on his chest.
Spirits, he loves this woman! This wild woman of water, who has captured his heart and soul with simple words and gentle, adoring touches. Everything he's ever known tells him he shouldn't love her, but logic and reason left him a long time ago, and he's not so fond of them as to ask for them back. He'd prefer to bury his head in her hair (so soft…is everything about her so soft?) rather than think of the reasons why he loves and adores her so.
Because sometime after he spoke with her in the underground of Bai Sing Sei, he couldn't stop thinking about her. Soon, his dreams were filled with thoughts of her, memories of her touch and her hope and the words he spoke. Eventually even his waking hours were dedicated to her as well, to remembering the feel of her hand against his scar, the only person outside himself to ever touch it.
One of these days, he thinks, his hand entangled in the length of her hair, I'll stop hurting the people I love.
It's a bad habit and he needs to stop it, he knows—first Uncle, now Katara, why is it that anyone he gets truly close to he feels the need to push away somehow?
But Katara is his enemy, even though he loves her and would do (almost) anything for her, she's still his enemy.
And she shouldn't underestimate how far he'll go to get what he wants.
He places one last fleeting kiss on her forehead before detangling his body from hers, catching a last look at the mocha flesh he spent the night worshipping. She continues to sleep, oblivious to his absence, and it breaks his heart a little somehow. He feels guilt and disgust at himself, and is partly ashamed at his actions.
But that does not stop him from rummaging through her clothes and pulling out the Earth Kingdom's plans to invade the Fire Nation.
He gives one last fleeting glance at her sleeping form, and then he's gone.
Katara wakes up cold, alone, and not at all surprised. She wakes up to an empty bed with sheet the color of fire and a smell that she can only describe as Zuko, blushing as her hand traces the indent of the sheets where his body lay last night. In spite of everything that has happened to her, she wakes up feeling like a little girl who just had the most wonderful dream, dreams of a handsome prince who'll sweep her off her feet and carry her off into the sunset, whispering to her some of the words he said to her last night.
Even though she's sore and exhausted and it hurt like hell, it still reminds her of magic, and so she breathes in his scent one last time, trying to glorify the memory of a handsome Prince who loves her and would never betray her trust before facing the harshness reality offers her.
His room seems cleaner in the sunlight, far from the mess she thought she tripped over in the night when his were hands spread across her back and pressure building between her legs. No, now it's much cleaner, and if it weren't for her discarded blue clothing in the middle of the floor it would look like the ideal prince's room. She winces as she walks, a sheet covering her body as she makes her way to where the clothing lays. She notes the ripped seam of her robe and hopes, no, prays that it is easily fixed, because she doesn't want to have to wear red, not red, not red.
She finds the door to his room is locked from the outside, and the invasion plans from Bai Sing Sei are gone.
She is not surprised. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised. (She wonders how many times she'll have to offer him her trust before he stops disappointing her.) She doesn't cry though, and even manages to laugh, darkly, at how stupid and naïve she still is. Of course he used her. Of course. When has he done anything but?
Like she's come to expect from Zuko, even when he's cruel he's still somewhat kind. She finds an unlocked door that leads to a warm bath and scented perfumes, and she spends hours in the bubbly water until she finds herself daydreaming (of him) before she tries to scrub his scent off of her skin.
When she finally leaves her haven of water she finds another surprise: breakfast and clothing. A basket full of exotic fruits tempts her taste buds as the juice rolls down her chin. There's enough of it there to last even Sokka for days, and enough variety of it to satisfy her curiosity. (These fruits never grew in the South Pole; admittedly, not much did, but it's still interesting to try different foods.)
The robe he left for her is made of silk and looks distinctively Fire Nation, but the blue and purple colors warm her soul with gratitude. It fits perfectly, hugging the more womanly curves of her body, and she wonders where he got it from and how he knew it'd fit her.
She twirls around in it playfully, and for a moment pretends she's a Princess, not a prisoner.
There are books, too, to keep her entertained. Three large piles of books catch her interest immediately, containing everything from war strategies and history to poetry and the arts. She surprises even herself by picking up the poetry book first. Instantly she falls in love with a sonnet written by a King, whose lover was lost to the sea. She finds the descriptions of the lover terrifyingly similar to herself, and wonders if Zuko left this book with her on purpose.
By the time Zuko comes back she has already ravaged the texts on history and strategies, and is so deep in a love story about two forbidden lovers that she momentarily forgets her anger and disappointment in him and focuses on the book instead.
If he's surprised at her inaction he doesn't show it; instead he wanders over to the bed and lies next to her, resting his head on her shoulder, reading over her shoulder as she devours the pages one by one.
"I think I've read this before." He mumbles after she finishes the chapter, nuzzling her absentmindedly. "It has a terrible ending, if I remember right."
"If you tell me the end of it before I get there I swear to Nin I'll—"
But the grin on his face is irreplaceable and full of mischief as he knowingly blathers on, "He dies in the end."
"Damn you. I—damn you. I swear, I'll kill you—"
But his mirth is contagious and soon it is all-out war between the two, the pillows acting as both weapons and shields, but both of them are defenseless against the matters of the heart, so this night ends the same as the last; filled with passion and sparks but without the much needed confessions and accusations that would make them whole once more.
They fall asleep beside each other, arms wrapped tightly and protectively. She leans her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat as she closes her eyes, thinking how perfectly content the world seems from this bed of lies she's put herself in.
The next morning Zuko wakes up cold, alone, and not at all surprised to find himself that way. Distantly, he's aware that Azula is in his room, throwing various articles of clothing at him, screaming for him to "Get up, get up, the prisoners have escaped!" and that this must, somehow of course, be Zuko's fault.
After all, his keys were the ones found gone.
And the guards were found frozen to the wall.
(How Azula came to relate him to that one he didn't dare venture a guess, but the knowing look she sent him made him shiver all the same.)
He shoves the tunic Azula's thrown at him off of his head and waits. She leaves promptly after, expecting Zuko to dress and follow, and in most circumstances he would but—
(He knows he's a firebender and therefore should just be able to warm himself up, but this sort of cold he can't cure with firebending, for the warmth of her body and an inner flame cannot replace each other.)
Lightly his hand traces the spot where she lay a few hours ago, remembering a smell he can only describe as her, and wishing more than anything that it was her beside him instead of an empty and cold bed. He's not surprised, though, and in fact is amused by this, by the way she betrays him like he betrayed her.
He smiles before closing his eyes, thinking of the soft brown girl he will no doubt dream of, and for the first time in his life, sleeps through the sunrise.
A/N: Thank you guys for your reviews last chapter! Made me so happy that other people liked my theories and I'm not just crazy.
Also, I could not for the life of me remember if the Avatar!verse had books or if they only used scrolls. However, since a scroll of poetry didn't sound right I used book instead. The Fire Nation is Just That Good.