Author's Note: This story takes place after a second seige on the Fire Nation. It focuses on Katara and Zuko, mainly, but it also has to deal with the relationships between the nations as they find peace after the great war. I tried to keep it mostly cannon, but there are parts that are just made up for the sake of the story. There are a lot of perspective switches.
Also, despite my best efforts, I couldn't find a proper beta for this, so I attempted to proof read it myself... there shouldn't be any huge errors, but tell me if you spot any mistakes.
Enjoy the fic!
That night a strange quiet suffocated the camp. It hung from the trees, it dried the air, and pulled at the end's of everyone's sleeves. It was a child refusing to be ignored, and it took a child to break it. Sneaking up behind her favorite fire bender, in an attempt at surprise, she was the first to speak to him since dinner "Hey, Sparky! Why the long face?"
"Well, it's not like I'm about to invade my own house or anything, right?" the exiled prince responded sarcastically. When he saw the look on the girl's face, the slight hurt in her white-gray eyes, he put his own problems aside. "Heeeeeeeeeey, how could you tell my face was long? Last time I checked, seeing wasn't exactly your strong point."
She laughed and stuck one of her feet in his face, "I see with my feet!" Zuko recoiled as her toes touched his cheek. "Yup, definatly a long face!"
He grabbed her leg and pulled her, hopping, to him. "Come here, you! What's the big idea, sticking your dirty stinky feet near my nose! That's a good way to get yourself attacked by a tickle monster!" The former Fire Prince then knocked her down, not hard of course, but just enough to get her off her feet. He remembered years and years ago at the summer house when he, Zuzu, would do the same with his little sister, Toph doesn't breath fire when she laughs. "Earth benders are a tickle monster's favorite food! They like to eat them all up!"
Toph laughed as she was showered in kisses that were accompanied by exaggerated fake munching and chewing sounds, but her tough girl attitude would not allow her to relish in what might be one of the last moments of her already ending childhood. "Get off, Sparky! Zuuuuuukoooooooo! I'm not a little kid!"
"You're right Toph, but it seems as if Zuko is." A sharp voice came out of the shadows. "Playing 'tickle monster' when we're about to invade a nation. I never expected the boy who tried to kill me on a near daily basis to be much for tickling."
Zuko snapped into a sitting position, relinquishing his grip on Toph. He wanted to say he never wanted to kill her, or anyone, just to capture them... but that would have no effect. Of all the people, why did she have to walk in... His face was bright red, no one in camp aside from Toph had ever seen him in what the earth bender called 'Big Brother Mode'.
Toph was never one to hold her tongue, even in the face of an angry Katara, and quickly spoke up in his defense. "We were just playing! Maybe you should lighten up, we weren't doing anything important, anyway!"
"Exactly my point." Katara snapped back. "You should be in bed, and Hothead should be helping out around camp. No one else is taking a cuddle break." She paused and neither the fire or earth bender responded. "Do you realize how serious tomorrow is? Aang has to battle the Fire Lor-" Your dad, Zuko's dad. Zuko's dad is going to die tomorrow and he's going to help kill him. The fire lord is Zuko's father. "-d."
"You heard the water bender, Looks like it's bed time for all cute little girls." Zuko said, his voice so low and soft that Katara could hardly make out what he was saying. "We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."
Without another word, Katara watched as Zuko picked up their younger friend and she wrapped her arms around his neck, letting her wall of cynicism and strength crumble like the walls of Ba Sing Se under the siege of the Fire Nation. "You're not going to be able to fall asleep tonight, Sparky. I know your not." Katara could hear Toph saying as they got farther away and closer to camp. "I want to sit with you so you're not alone."
"Don't worry about me, kid."
"I said don't worry. Everything will be fine..."