Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar, The Last Airbender
Katara's eyes forced themselves open, telling their owner that she can't stay in bed all day. As logical as that sounded, she strongly disagreed. She did glance up to see the personification of all of her desires. Zuko looked peaceful, like he always did in the confines of his dream world. He was holding her close, not as close as they had been last night, but close nonetheless. Katara made it a point to get even closer, wrapping her legs around his.
Zuko muttered incoherent words in his sleep while unconsciously radiating more heat to his partner. Katara sighed and buried her head in his neck, rubbing his skin like an affectionate wolf-dog. Her hands made an effort to share the warmth that throbbed like a heart in her core by running them up and down the fire prince's chest. For the last few days, (Zuko's recent banishment of her from his room included) Katara has felt an overwhelming urge to simply touch ever inch of the firebender's body. Every inch. The idea made her flush red, but she quickly dismissed it, just telling herself that Zuko was an attractive young man and she was almost a fifteen year old girl, almost a woman.
The small section of her brain still devoted to logic screamed at her to stop making excuses for giving the prince suggestive looks and lustful eyes. Instantly, the new and rapid growing Zuko devoted section of her brain stomped on the logical section. Katara decided, with recent events, that she can temporarily give in to Zuko's overwhelming power over her with the knowledge that they cannot do it forever. Eventually they will have to stop, and eventually Katara will have to get over her addiction.
Her hands exploration of his body prompted an early rip from his slumber. Zuko looked down with blurry eyes to the daring waterbender, one who was dancing delicate and slender fingers along his muscles. Zuko had to admit that ever since he first saw Katara in the Southern Water Tribe so long ago he recognized her attractiveness. It only grew on him as time went on, but his obligation to his nation and to Mai simply stamped a 'good-looking' stamp on her and left it at that. However, his recent and prolonged contact with the 'good-looking' girl made it painfully obvious that a beautiful young woman, even by Fire Nation standards, was resting in his arms.
"Good morning," he whispered quietly and mysteriously, his exotic voice revealing the true depths of an exiled prince's character.
"Good morning," she returned, looking up to him.
Katara offered him a small smile. He returned it to the best of his ability and Katara found it amusing to see him try to do something as out of the ordinary as smiling just for her. Zuko's eyes seemed to travel down their almost single form. Katara followed his observant eyes to see a surprising sight. The two benders were holding each other's hands in a tight and warm embrace. Katara's eyes widened. The two weeks they had spent sleeping together seemed no more intimate than cousins making eye contact compared to the simple act of holding hands. There were times she grabbed his hand when he tried to sneak a premature dinner, times he would grab her to stop a fall from tripping over one of Teo's inventions. This was different.
Zuko moved to pull his hand away from hers but could not escape her embrace. She held him tightly, her fingers acting like constricting vines around his. "Something wrong?" she asked.
"We are...uh...holding hands," he said quietly as though it was a secret.
"So?" she whispered back, just as secretly.
"You're comfortable with this?" he asked, nodding his head down to their interlocked fingers.
"What's wrong it?" she questioned. "I think it's perfectly normal."
"You think that us holding hands is normal? You don't think there can be a single negative ramification?"
"I think..." she said while sitting up, still not breaking the bond between their hands, and placing a single finger on his chest. "That you think too much."
"There's a nation of firebenders, an afterlife of spirits, and even a small group of kids led by the Avatar himself that say I don't think enough," he said quietly while avoiding her gaze. Those blue orbs could sometimes burn his soul more than looking in a mirror or picture of his mother.
"Perhaps," she said while using the finger planted firmly on his chest to move some hair away from his face. "But they don't know you as well as I do."
"You think you know me?" Zuko did not sound angry, but amused. "You don't know anything about me beside the fact that I can heat things with my firebending."
Katara couldn't help but feel ashamed, even if he meant it as a joke. She did know very little about him, and yet forbidden images were constantly conjured within her mind about this specific man. He visited her dreams, invaded her thoughts, and plagued her conscious. She even found herself pondering what those thin lips might taste like. Maybe she should make it a point to learn more about him. I mean, you should know your enemy right? But truthfully, when Katara saw his face, his scarred eye, and long dark hair she did not see the enemy like she used to. She did not picture the head of the opposing forces, the entire reason why they needed to succeed. All she saw was Zuko, plain old Zuko. Zuko who told interesting and sometimes funny stories at the campfire. Zuko who would make Aang training for hours and then ignore his whining. Zuko who she spent every night with in the comforting warmth of his arms. There was no sadness, no misery, and no war.
Despite her obvious growing physical attraction to him, her decent like for his character, and her shaky trust for him, she could not deny how much happiness swelled inside her when she thought about nights with Zuko.
"I need to go make lunch," she said quietly. She could see the disappointment in his face. Rarely would she be the one to break it off early, but the situation was too uncomfortable. She could tell Zuko expected her to maybe actually try to learn about him, but she made no attempt. Maybe it was because she did not want to learn everything about him at risk of trusting him too much, or maybe its because she knows in her heart that if she gets to know him anymore her harmless physical attraction could become more than that.
She broke the connection between a pale and tan hand, moving to get dressed and leave.
Katara stepped outside and paused, rubbing the bridge of her nose and sighing. She was walking on a delicate tight rope, one that barely held above an enormous pit of angry firebenders. She stumbled her way to the main courtyard, her mind filled with images and thoughts of only one person.
The one person she did not want to talk to with her mind occupied with Zuko was the only one by the recently lit fire. Toph smirked as Katara got closer, but did not direct her sightless eyes upon the approaching girl. "Hey Katara, how did you sleep?" Her words were dripping with sarcasm.
"I slept well," she said, ignoring her sarcasm.
"I'll bet you did," the younger girl said while edging her toes closer to the fire. "I have been thinking Katara, and I have a question."
Katara sighed. She knew it was not below Toph to blackmail her, even tell the others for her own amusement. Frankly she was surprised that she hadn't yet. Yet Toph's constant questioning of Katara's intentions and her interference with the situation seemed far worse than seeing the faces of the others if they found out.
"What is it now?"
"I'm curious if you trust him yet?" Toph did look up to Katara now, her grey orbs betraying no emotion or intent behind her words.
Katara hesitated to speak; confident that no matter what her answer was Toph would not be satisfied. She was not sure if even she would be satisfied with what she said. "Honestly...I'm not sure," she said. "But I do know one thing. If Zuko ever betrayed us again, it would feel like you or even Sokka betrayed us. It would hurt far worse than any fire ever could. I don't think I could even muster a will to defeat the Fire Nation after something like that."
Toph sighed and said, "Look Katara, knowing you, you are probably going to use that little bit of information to justify your distancing yourself from him. But trust me, someone that you actually can trust, that if you do that then you will lose him."
The prospect of losing Zuko made Katara's stomach turn uneasily. She thought about him ignoring her like she did him when he first came, and the thought sickened her. It took Toph's words to make her realize how devastating it would be if she lost him. It was a scary thought, one she wanted to ignore but knew she couldn't. "Since when did you become so smart?" Katara asked jokingly.
Toph shrugged. "I usually only get this involved or invested in something that is important to me. I don't like messing with others people affairs outside of pure amusement. But sometimes you find that when a situation involves two people you really care about you are willing to ignore those stupid insecurities...right Katara?"
Katara's gaze was fixed on the younger girl. So that's why Toph was interested in this unhealthy relationship between Zuko and her? It was because she cared about both of them that she knew if she left the entire thing unattended then either the stubborn Prince of Fire or the equally stubborn Master of Water would get hurt. She saw Toph in a slightly new light at the moment. She was not the joking, rude, noisy child she had been when she first arrived. She was a seasoned bending veteran, who saw things deeper than a person blessed with their sight ever could.
"I do have one more question," said Toph, looking up to Katara with a smile. Katara knew the serious moment had passed, and Toph was back to her old self.
"You like him don't you." It wasn't a question.
Katara could not help but flush, thanking the spirits Toph could not see and prayed that her heart beat remained under her control. "I don't know what you are trying to get me to confess or say but I don't hate Zuko."
"I didn't ask if you hated him Sweetness," she said with a smirk. "I asked if you like him."
Katara bit her lip and looked away. "I...well....not in the way you mean. I do like Zuko, but as a friend and a comrade. It's no different than my like for Haru."
Toph gave an unsatisfied 'pfft' and pushed her bangs out of her face. "I'll get you to admit it Katara, sooner or later I will get you to admit it."
"Admit what?" Katara had to admit she was nervous. With Toph, things were not as simple as nag you until you crack. She knew the earthbender would take drastic measures to prove a point. It did not matter who would suffer, as long as Toph was right in the end.
"You know what."
Katara stood and shook her head. Without another word she began to walk away, knowing full well that Toph was smiling mischievously with the fire. The waterbender proceeded back to Zuko's room, almost the same as going to her room, to get some clean clothes so she could bathe. Upon entering she was surprised to see Zuko was still there, although he had fallen back to sleep. It was a very rare sight, this quite possibly being the first time she had seen it, to see Zuko go back to sleep after he awoke. He must have been giving Aang a break. Katara quickly gathered her bathing supplies and began to leave but stopped before she exited.
The waterbender glanced ever so slightly over her shoulder to the young man breathing quietly in his bed. She glanced around, almost expecting that there were eyes on the walls watching her every move. When there was no such sight she proceded closer to Zuko. He was resting on his side and facing her. She got on her knees so she was eye level with him. She took a moment to observe every youthful dig and curve of his strong face. Every strand of long, dark hair. Every painful smudge that was once skin sprouting from his left eye.
"Katara?" Katara jumped, effectively waking Zuko. The Prince was out of bed in an instant, prepared to send a wall of flames to any intruders. Katara was completely blindsided.
Sokka stood in the doorway, his arms crossed and his face plastered with confusion. "Katara, what on earth are you doing in here?"
Katara looked to Zuko and then to Sokka, then back to Zuko. "I was...uh...getting..."
"Katara lent me her bathing herbs because I ran out," Zuko explained. "She was just grabbing them, right Katara?"
Katara looked down to the bathing supplies in her hand. "Right."
"First of all, that's weird," Said Sokka while letting the sheet that acted as a door fall behind him while he entered the room. "Second of all, why were you staring at him in his sleep?"
Now even Zuko looked to Katara in questioning. "You were what?"
Katara felt her lungs burn. She had not taken a breath since the question was asked. "This is embarrassing Sokka, maybe I should explain to you outside."
"I think you can explain right here," Zuko said, cutting off Sokka before he could reply.
Katara kicked the ground nervously while two of the most important men in her lives watched her intently. She felt as though she were on display. "I was...looking at your scar Zuko."
Zuko did not buy it, that much was obvious from his reaction. She knew that he knew she was lying to Sokka. There was another reason for her watching him and she knew he would not give up that easily. Sokka chuckled and put a hand to his head.
"This is a whole lot of weird things to deal with. Let's begin with Zuko. Buddy, I have plenty of normal bathing herbs you can use, not Katara's girly stuff." Katara scowled. "Second, I am sorry for Katara's...really weird behavior. Now Katara, no matter how much he asks in the future, don't give Zuko the girly stuff. Its humiliating for him and me. Zuko and I represent the strongest male force on the team. You can't ruin that! Second, I think you shouldn't be...staring at people's faces while they sleep."
"Thank you for your infinite wisdom Sokka." Katara tried her hardest not to insult him with her tone, knowing it would only make him prod further. She got lucky she was just looking at Zuko and not doing other things when her brother walked in. Sokka simply turned around and left the room, mumbling something about crazy sisters and embarrassing teammates. When Sokka was gone, Zuko looked Katara up and down.
"Looking at my scar?" he asked quietly.
Katara rubbed her temple and closed her eyes. "I'm sorry it was all I could think of. I hope I didn't...insult you."
"I'm more curious that insulted," he said while sitting on the bed. "As to why you are staring at me in my sleep."
Katara sat down next to him but kept her gaze fixed on the neatly folded clothes in her hand. "It's hard for me Zuko," she said very softly. "to express what I am thinking sometimes. Sometimes I need a quiet moment to study something, to process it, to determine what it means to me. When I see you, I see someone with enormous potential to hurt me, yet I want to spend more time with them."
Zuko sighed and closed his eyes. "Katara, we both know this got more complicated than it should have been in the last few days. But nothing has changed. I scratch your back if you scratch mine. You're thinking too hard about this. This is not going to last much longer."
Katara sighed. Zuko thought that she was clinging to the aspect that she could get whatever she wanted from him. He had no idea about the conflicting thoughts in her head. He had no idea that she was contemplating if she liked the Prince, more than she should.
"You're right Zuko," she said, feigning disappointment.
"But...you were honest with me," he said. Katara's eyes bulged when she realized that he had placed a hand on hers. "Thank you."
She could only smile at him. It was at that moment, looking at Zuko's soft expression, hearing those words from him, that Katara realized she was in trouble. Katara realized that she had gone off the deep end long ago, but it took her until now to realize it. She had been living in an illusion, but seeing his grateful face, feeling his warm hand on hers, and hearing the sincerity in her voice confirmed it.
Katara was falling in love with Zuko.
She felt like a small girl again, hearing stories of brave Northern Watertribe princes. It seemed like a fairytale that a peasant like her could ever be with some of those princes. Yet now, years later, she finds that she has feelings for the Prince of the Fire Nation. This was more than admiring his muscles, this was actual affection and feeling she felt when she looked at him. She felt her stomach flutter and her heart soar.
"You're welcome Zuko," she said with a smile. Despite her revelation, Katara decided it best not to tell the Prince yet that she had feelings for him. Logically, she did not even know much of his past, had no idea how he felt, and could assume that he would break it off if she told him. Zuko brushed the hair from her face and looked into her eyes. Katara felt strange that he would do something like that, but the new Katara loved every second of it.
Zuko forced himself to stare hard into Katara's eyes. He was determined to find something in there, some truth to what she really was. He could not find it. It was just Katara, plain old beautiful Katara sitting there with him. Zuko faintly hoped he saw her eyes drift to his scar, flash in disgust, or give away something inside of her. If he did, it would mean he could easily let her go because she was a fraud. However, he knew she wasn't because she did not look at his scar, she looked at him.
Zuko knew that he was in trouble days ago, but it was official last night. After his talk with Toph, Zuko had seen Katara in a new light. She was more than an arrogant and hurtful bender that used him for her own good. She was a beautiful, smart, confused young woman who sometimes did things that she should not have. It was forgivable, because Zuko realized that he had grown to like the petite waterbender before him.
He realized it last night when she was in his arms, but ignored it until now. He knew it was trouble, more than trouble. What about Mai? What about Aang? Zuko could see the boys admiration for her. How could he hurt his new student when he just joined them? How could he hurt Mai after so many years of devotion? Zuko realized though that Mai never made him feel the way Katara did when she was in his arms. Mai was never a security blanket he could feel comfortable with like Katara was. Her blue eyes were enough to seal the deal. Despite this, Zuko knew he could not tell her, at least not now. He would take time to rethink, and if it was true then he would tell her somewhere he could bear getting shot down. Maybe the higher temples where the view was breathtaking. When she slapped him across the face and told him to go to hell, at least he could see the inspiring stretch of canyon to make him feel better.
Katara offered him one last smile before she went to bathe. When she was far enough away from him she had to brace herself from collapsing. How could she betray her friends like this? How could she lie to them and fall in love with Zuko? She told herself that it didn't matter that it was Zuko anymore, because he was just a part of the family as she was. Nothing could change what she was feeling; nothing could save her from her heart.
Katara forced herself to shrug off the feelings for a short while to bathe and go prepare lunch, something she should have done hours ago. Surely she would not hear the end of it from Sokka. Sure enough, when she arrived at the fire, Sokka was prodding through supplies to find something to eat. Toph and Zuko rested on the log, waiting patiently for their chef.
"Who's hungry?" she asked while pulling out some ingredients.
"Finally!" Sokka grabbed his sisters shoulders and shook her. "I need food!"
"Calm down Sokka. I'm making it right now." Katara pushed him off and began putting the food in the pot of water. "Zuko, can you please light the fire?"
He nodded and fire sprang to life under the wood. Katara thanked him with a warm smile. Katara forced herself to stop. Even though she liked him, it didn't mean she had to announce it to the world. Although Sokka was complaining too much to notice Toph noticed it before Katara even did. "Zuko!"
Zuko looked over to the blinjd girl curiously. "What?"
"Massage my feet!" she said loudly for Katara to hear. Katara glanced over her should, but did not think much of it. Zuko was still in Toph's debt.
"Do I have to?" he asked.
She answered with a firm stare. Zuko ran a hand through his hair and released an irritated breath. He made his way to her side of the fire, getting on his knees. Toph lifted her feet on the log in front of her and relaxed as he rubbed her feet. Katara continued her cooking, not bothering to pay attention. "You hands are really warm." It was directed directly at Katara's back. She stopped stiring the stew and glanced back at Toph who was smirking.
"I can warm things with my firebending," he said, although she clearly already knew.
"That's actually pretty cool," Sokka admitted from his spot by Appa. He was fidgeting with a stick, picking nonexistent specs in his mouth. "You guys have some use. That could make a pretty killer bath."
This caught Katara's attention even more. She turned completely around now.
"Warm it more," demanded Toph. "Rub my shoulders."
Zuko obeyed, rubbing her shoulders with warm hands. Katara's senses had become so devoted to him that she could almost feel it from across the fire. It was probably the stew, probably her imagination. She moved closer to the two, slightly upset that she had not had Zuko massage her.
"Okay Toph that's enough," Katara said while giving him a stern yet gentle look and crossing her arms. "You can stop now Zuko."
Zuko hesitated, obviously debating on whether he should be yelled at by a mad waterbender or a mad earthbender.
"Don't move Sparky," said Toph while sitting up. "Who made you Zuko's handler Katara?"
Zuko does kind of owe her Katara," reminded Sokka from the corner. "What's the big deal?"
Katara obviously struggled to respond. "Well I think it's kind of unfair to Zuko."
"Since when do you care about what's fair to Zuko?" asked Toph with a smirk. "You're not jealous that he is giving me a massage and not you?"
Katara laughed as best she could, trying to cover the obvious truth behind Toph's words. "Of course not."
Toph seemed to ignore her answer and continued, "Because I thought you hated Zuko?"
Katara stuttered for a moment. This was obviously Toph's clever way of getting her to admit she liked Zuko. She looked to Zuko, trying her best to try and tell if she he would understand if she said yes. "I don't...really...what I mean is...I kind of..."
"Spit it out Sweetness."
With a sigh Katara looked to the ground. "I don't hate Zuko."
Everyone, besides Toph, gave her a surprised look. Zuko's face was etched with confusion, forming slowly into relief. "As ecstatic as I am about you not hating Zuko," Sokka said sarcastically. "don't you still agree that he kind of oese Toph?"
"That's not the point."
"Then what is Katara?"
"Zuko is only allowed to share his warmth with me okay!?" The words slipped before she had time to pick them back up. Toph smiled, obviously not expecting her to say that above everything else. Sokka looked confused, and Zuko seemed surprised.
"What?" asked Sokka. "What are you talking about Katara?"
Katara buried her face in her hands. It was over. With Sokka knowing everything was over. "I have something to tell you Sokka," she said quietly.
Sokka just gave a questioning shrug, demanding an explanation. Katara could see Zuko edging away from the fire, obviously preparing to run. Katara decided that if Sokka made any attempt at Zuko she would stop him and force them to talk it out. "Zuko and I...have been...sleeping together for the last couple of weeks."
Sokka's eyes bulged larger than she had ever seen them.
"Not like that!" interjected Zuko. "Just, in the same bed. That's all."
"Wh-Wh-Why?" he asked. His tone revealed he was far more confused than angry at the moment.
"Zuko can warm things with his bending. I can't sleep without him. It gets too cold and he's...so warm. I'm sorry Sokka, I should have told you but I was afraid of what you might say. Or do."
Sokka looked to the ground for a moment, then to Zuko. "You've been sleeping with my little sister?"
Zuko nodded quietly, taking one more step back.
"Did he try anything?" Sokka asked Katara.
"No!" Katara said, moving over to Zuko. "He didn't even want to do it but I begged him and he agreed. He doesn't even like me."
The words burnt his heart more than Sokka's gaze did. Did she really think that he hated her? She probably had every reason to. "So you've just been...sleeping together for weeks?"
"Two," said Zuko.
"Sokka please, I'm begging you not to tell anyone else. Let us tell them," Katara said. "I promise we will."
Sokka ran a hand through his hair. "This is a lot to take in. You don't have to make me promise Katara. You're my little sister and I will do whatever makes you happy. Zuko," he looked to the firebender who stiffened. "If you do anything to my little sister I swear, Aang's master or not, I will throw you off those cliffs."
"Fair enough," said the firebender.
Sokka left, claiming he wasn't hungry anymore. Katara buried her head in her hands, clearly more than upset. She did not even look at Toph before storming off. Zuko followed her to the pool where they had spent so much time together. She sat on the edge and began to cry. Zuko approached quietly and sat down next to her.
"I'm sorry you have to deal with this," he said quietly. "I should have broken it off long ago to avoid all of this. It's my fault."
"No it's not," she said while sniffing. "It's mine. I should have been able to stop but I couldn't. I just couldn't get enough of you. Now it's all falling apart. Sokka knows, and soon everyone else will. They'll be furious with me."
Zuko closed his eyes and looked away. "I'm sorry that it had to be me."
Katara fought back more tears as she looked up to him. "What?"
"You wouldn't be having this problem if it was with Aang, or Haru. It had to be me, the one person no one likes and the one person that you don't want to be with. I'm sorry Katara, sorry I couldn't be something else."
He started to get up and leave. Maybe two weeks ago Katara would have let him go. Maybe two weeks ago she would have pushed him away. It wasn't two weeks ago though. It was now, and right now Katara loved Zuko. She grabbed onto his arm to stop him. He glanced back slightly towards her. She stood and turned him around completely, holding his arms. He placed his hands on her waist, waiting for her to speak. She had to let some tears fall before she could speak.
"Don't ever be sorry for who you are Zuko. Don't ever be sorry it was you, because I'm not. Maybe this problem wouldn't have happened with Haru, or Aang. But this situation would not have been worth going through with them. I would rather face difficult times with the man I love then face easy times with someone I don't."
Zuko's good eye poured a tear down his cheek. He pulled her into a tight embrace and hugged her gently as she began crying again. "I think I love you too."
Katara pulled back and looked up to him. Zuko brushed her hair aside to see her brilliant eyes, the eyes he had fallen in love with. Her tears just magnified the brilliance. "You know Zuko," she said between sniffles. "If you tell anyone that I love you, I'll kill you."
Zuko smiled and cupped her cheek gently in his hand. He moved closer, slowly, to make sure she had no objections. She pulled him in suddenly, before he could even think, and kissed him passionately. Zuko returned the kiss with equal intensity. Katara ran her hand through his hair and across his back while he ran his along her waist. Katara felt herself drift even more into heaven if it was even possible.
Zuko felt amazing. Zuko smelled amazing. Zuko looked amazing. Zuko sounded amazing. And now, Zuko tasted amazing. It was over for Katara, every sense dominated by one person. But above all, she could still remember that first day two weeks ago when she sealed her fate. When she first stepped foot into his room it was finished and there was no avoiding it. Katara's heart was pinned every day after that until Zuko had a firm grasp on it.
And it all began with a firebender and his warmth.
Whew. Done. I planned on splitting this into two chapters, but I was on a roll and didn't want to stop. I hope you enjoyed the story and I appreciate your reading and reviews even though it took me forever to update. I never would have even finished the story if it wasn't for your guys support. Couple reviews spurred me on and I managed to crank this last chapter out. I have recently felt better about my writing and the Zutara pairing itself and I think I might be planning another story. Please let me know if you would like a sequel or a completely new story, but either way it will be a post war fic. Again thanks for everything and I hope you guys forgive me.