I'll be honest. I have absolutely no idea where this came from. It just like... popped into my head and assaulted me until I wrote it down. It's basically pointless fluff, so uh... don't judge me too harshly.
It takes place during THE PAINTED LADY. A lot of people are saying it was just filler, but I liked it a great deal. It really developed Katara's character and gave us more insight into the Fire Nation, which we are still sorely lacking at this point.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar
Katara looked at Aang. He looked away quickly, pretending he hadn't been staring. They had been moving quietly through the craggy rocks for a short while, trying to find the most inconspicuous way into the Fire Nation factory to save the village, but Katara kept getting distracted by Aang glancing at her every few seconds.
"Aang?" she asked quietly, smiling.
He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry," he said quickly. "I'm just not used to seeing you like this."
Katara stopped walking and looked down at herself. "What, you don't like it?" she asked curiously, tugging at the sleeves of the robe she had made to disguise herself as the Painted Lady.
"No, I do," Aang replied, grinning. "I wasn't kidding when I said you're the most attractive spirit I've ever met."
Katara blushed and glanced away from him, smiling demurely. "I'm not a spirit, Aang," she muttered.
"Well then, you're prettier than all of the spirits," Aang reasoned, shrugging.
Katara nudged his shoulder, unable to stop smiling. "Aang, don't make fun," she chided gently, laughter in her voice.
"I wasn't making fun, I'm serious," Aang laughed in reply. He looked up at the dark face of the factory, made all the more intimidating by the fire glowing in the windows. Then he glanced back at Katara, who was still blushing. He smiled.
"You're staring again," she said quietly.
"Well, now you know why," Aang replied simply. "It's a good reason, right?"
"Aang…" she sighed, rolling her eyes.
He laughed again. "I'm not making fun of you, I promise!" he continued imploringly.
She turned and looked at him. He just grinned at her, staring straight back. She returned his smile, but then his faded slightly and he looked thoughtful.
"What?" Katara asked, suddenly self-conscious.
"The paint, it's wearing off," he said, brushing her veil aside and touching her cheek. She froze and blushed, but he backed away a second later, showing her his fingers. They were covered in paint.
"Oh… I better fix that, huh?" Katara laughed nervously. She sat down in the shadow of the dark cliffs and pulled two small jars out of the folds of her robe.
Aang sat down beside her. "How have you been putting that on yourself? Isn't it kind of hard?" he asked curiously.
Katara took off her hat and glanced at him. "Yeah… but what choice did I have? I couldn't just wake up Sokka and ask him for help," she said reasonably, opening the first jar to reveal the red paint.
"No… but you could have asked me," he replied simply, taking the jar from her. She blinked at him.
"Aang, it's fine, I can do it myself," she said quietly, holding out her hand for the jar.
He just grinned at her and dipped his fingers in the paint. "Come on, Katara. It'll be quicker and easier if I do it for you," he said, whispering now for some unknown reason. "Besides, you helped me put on the Kyoshi paint in the village of Chin. I'm just returning the favor."
Katara's mind jumped back to that strange city where she had sat down with Aang before his trial. He was nervous, she could tell, but he was pretending to be calm.
"It's okay, Aang," she had whispered, dipping her fingers in the white paint and placing a hand beneath his chin to still him. "Everything's going to be fine."
"Yeah… of course," Aang had whispered in response. He didn't sound convinced, but Katara had just smiled and begun to carefully brush her fingers over his cheek, leaving a trail of white behind. He had frozen completely at her touch, and she felt his cheeks burn beneath her fingertips. She had smiled a bit more as she continued her task, feeling his breath catch in his throat every so often.
She had enjoyed being that close to him.
Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
She jumped, pulled out of her memories by Aang's fingertips on her shoulder. She hadn't noticed him move around in front of her, so deep in thought as she had been. He was focused completely on her bare shoulder, smoothing the red paint in perfect stripes. She watched him thoughtfully as he finished the three stripes on one shoulder and moved on to the other. He glanced up and met her eyes for a moment, smiling.
"You okay?" he whispered.
Katara smiled. "The paint is kind of cold," she said simply. "But your hands are warm, so it's okay."
Aang looked at his hand for a second. He grinned. "My hands are warm. Huh, I never noticed," he replied, returning to her shoulder.
Katara laughed lightly, still watching him. He had changed a lot since they had arrived in the Fire Nation. After those few dark days when he had just woken up, he had practically become a new person. Where he used to blush and stammer around her, he was bold and dashing. She might even go so far as to call him flirtatious now.
Aang loved the Fire Nation. That much was obvious just from their visit to the town with the school. He knew their dances and their culture as it had been a hundred years ago, and he thrived in it. Maybe that accounted for the change in him. This was how he acted when he visited his friend Kuzon all those years ago.
"There, shoulders are done," he said quietly, grinning at his accomplishment. Katara looked down. It did look a lot better now than it had when she had done it herself. She smiled at him and he returned it, though he now looked a little nervous.
"Just your face left now," he said, reverting to a whisper.
Katara didn't understand why he was nervous. She hadn't been nervous about painting his face. But then… she had never had her face painted before. Least of all by Aang.
He dipped his fingers in the paint again and reached forward, starting at her neck. It tickled immensely and seemed even colder on the sensitive skin of her throat, but she resisted the urge to move. He was quick about it, painting two stripes on each side and backing away to admire his work.
"How's it looking?" Katara whispered.
"Great," he said with a nervous smile, reaching tentatively toward her and placing a hand und her chin to hold her still. She swallowed and took a calming breath, trying not to look at him. She felt his fingers on her cheek and closed her eyes. She knew he could feel her blushing, and that just made her blush even more.
Aang was taking his time now. He seemed to enjoy being so close to her, being allowed to touch her. She smiled a little at the thought, and his fingers stilled for a moment.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," she replied quickly. "Don't stop." She chanced a look at him, and she saw that he was smiling too.
"Close your eyes," he whispered, moving closer. She obeyed without a second thought, and moments later she felt his fingers on her eyelids, brushing on more paint. It was a very soothing feeling, she thought with a sigh. She didn't open her eyes, but she practically felt him smile.
He finished the stripes on her cheeks and over her eyes. All that was left for the red paint was her lips and chin. But instead, he reached for the jar of yellow paint and brushed the crescent on her forehead. She looked at him curiously, but didn't say anything.
Aang was avoiding looking at her, slowly closing the jar of yellow paint.
"Aang? Are you okay?" she asked quietly. He glanced up at her, smiling in that same nervous way.
"Of course, just uh… cleaning up the yellow paint," he said hastily. She didn't question him. He wiped the yellow paint off his fingers carefully and dipped into the red. He slowly scooted closer, tilting her head up slightly with his other hand and carefully painting the stripe down her chin.
Katara suddenly understood why he was so nervous. Her lips. He had to paint her lips. She had been nervous while she had painted Aang's lips at the village of Chin, and she had a brush then. All he had was his fingers.
"Maybe… uh… you can finish the rest," Aang muttered, looking away and dropping his hands from her chin, but she caught them. He looked up at her, startled.
"No…" she whispered, blushing. "I want you to finish."
"You want me to… what?" Aang repeated blankly, a bright blush rising to his cheeks.
"Finish," she replied, still whispering but never breaking eye contact with him. "Please."
Aang just nodded slowly. He tore his eyes from hers and looked down as he applied more paint to his fingers. When he placed his hand beneath her chin again, he carefully avoided her gaze. His fingers hovered over her lips for a moment. She waited, holding her breath, until he moved his hand the last few inches and brushed the paint lightly across her lips.
It was an intensely strange feeling, she mused silently, still holding her breath. His hands were shaking slightly, so he had to move a little slower than he would have liked. He finished after several seconds, but his fingertips lingered for a moment, and he finally looked up at her. Their wide eyes met for a moment. Katara took a deep breath.
The next moment, her lips were on his. They would never remember who had moved forward first, or if it was simultaneous, but it had taken less than a second to close the distance between them. All she knew was that she had grabbed him by the front of his shirt and he had seized the back of her head, and their hands remained in the same position as Katara finally exhaled, expelling all of their tension in a single sigh.
Aang seemed to think they weren't nearly close enough, because his hands were suddenly on her lower back, pulling her closer. She finally let go of his shirt, choosing instead to rest her hands at the back of his head, fingertips tickling his neck and scalp, making both of them laugh against each others' lips. After a few heated minutes, however, Aang pulled back with great difficulty. His face was flushed and he was breathing hard.
"Um… uh… the factory," he stammered between breaths, pulling his hands away from her.
Katara looked to be in a similar state of disarray, wide-eyed and blushing. "Oh… right, uh…" she began frantically searching the ground for her hat, but then she caught sight of Aang's face and burst into a fit of laughter.
"What?" he asked, bewildered.
"You're going to have to paint my face again," she laughed in reply, brushing her fingers across his chin and showing him the paint he had smudged all over his lips.
"Oh… oops," he muttered, blushing in embarrassment.
Painting Katara's face the second time took quite a bit longer, because Katara kept bursting into infectious giggles which Aang soon joined her in.
The third time, however, went quickly enough.