Disclaimer: Avatar is not, nor will it ever be, mine. Unfortunately.

Spoilers: Uh I guess up to Southern Raiders in terms of references, although its more of a post series thing.

Rating: Mention of sex so... PG13? Rish? I have no idea how to rate things so... yeah.

Pairing: Zutara


The seventh time they lay down together, after the violent glorious reaction, she is calm and thoughtful. After the first time she was shy and astonished as she'd tentatively touched the scarred side of his face. Earlier, she'd clung to him and shouted his name, but when their breathing had slowed she'd blushed when he smiled at her. The fifth time she was giddy and talkative both during and after their coupling. She would giggle and tease him between kisses, demand responses to her questions and refuse to answer any of his. But the seventh night, when the deed is done she is quiet.

Through it all, he watched her and held her as close as she'd let him. While she evolves with each night he remains stuck in the first stages of post coital amazement. All he can do is lie there and observe her in awe. She is in his bed and she kisses him with a fervor he had barely allowed himself to dream about. She wants him, she writhes beneath him and moves above him and moans and yells and whispers "Zuko, Zuko, Zuko please," in the darkness.

Now, he hears rain pounding outside and all he can do is pull her closer to him and close his eyes and finally rest. But in the silence her thoughts twist and turn. One moment she's fourteen and watching her brother being kicked aside by a boy who barely fills his war armor and the next she's underground offering to take away his shame. Water and fire clash and dance and he freezes to a wall in the north and then he rides with her on ice, dressed in black. She is in the past and future all at once, but still his body is pressed against hers and his breath tickles the back of her neck.

He is a sound sleeper, she has learned. She is too, normally. But where sex exhausts him it energizes her. When the morning comes and she wakes to find him studying her she is not bothered. She has spent just as much time watching him sleep. It is the nature of their elements, she supposes, that when the moon is high she witnesses him completely relaxed and when the sun rises he sees her at her most vulnerable.

They are alike in many ways, she has realized. Their temperaments are quite similar. They are both prone to extremes, although he has mellowed somewhat since his ponytail days. Often he is the cool calming foil to her heated excessive reactions. Mostly, they balance each other. Still though, emotions tend to churn quietly inside of them before exploding in violent beautiful ways. Perhaps, she muses, that is why the pull is strong.

She knows the pain of an absent mother and a distant father. She has not lost touch with the little girl who'd watch blue sails disappear into the horizon and she still woke up sweating and trembling from dreams of smoke and screaming and red snow. But she'd never watched her mother walk away from her and her had father had returned happy and healthy and proud.

In the half darkness, she thinks of the second time she'd touched his scar, shortly after she noticed the way he'd watch her when he thought no one was looking but long before he learned the quickest way to unravel Watertribe under-wrappings. He'd shivered, as her fingers traced the line where healthy skin met burnt. You shouldn't do that, he'd said in that hoarse, shuddery way only he could. Why not? She'd asked impishly, drunk with her newfound power over him. Because, I might get used to it. And that was when she knew. She could break this half healed boy if she was so inclined. But her heart would be damaged in the process, and she had grown to like the way he could make it pound.

After the second time, they'd talked late into the night of everything and nothing. And after hours of revelations and confessions, as the sun rose and exhaustion began pull them towards welcome unconsciousness, he'd thoughtlessly murmured his love for her. When she woke, some hours later, the sun was high in the sky and they both said nothing of his sleepy admission. His statement – and her lack of acknowledgment – had seemed to follow her around since. She would be practicing her bending, working on a new form or perfecting an old one, and in the back of her mind his voice would whisper to her over and over until she'd toss the water angrily aside – her concentration broken.

He had not said it again, since that second night, but she'd felt it in every smirk and kiss. But, he was not the first man to be enamored with her. Jet spoke sweet and flooded villages and died, Haru complimented and swooned and grew a mustache, and Aang depended too much on her and sacrificed things she did not ask or want him to. Zuko was different, she knew, but experience told her to wait and see and be cautious with her words and her affections.

So the third night was rough and good and the fourth full of laughter and wine and the sixth sweet and slow and now here she is, in bed with a man who has been both an enemy and a friend – a man she's made love to seven times – and it is now that the words bubble up inside.

Thunder booms distantly and she takes strength from the storm and turns in his arms. Softly, she caresses his face and neck and says his name. He stirs but doesn't wake, so she says it again.

"Zuko, wake up."

He struggles awake. He is bleary and blinking. His bad eye stubbornly remains closed as he rouses.

"Hrm…What is it?"

"I… I've got…"

"What's the matter?" His voice is rough with sleep but she hears his concern and affection. Sees the way he strives to make himself available to her. And suddenly she doesn't need to hide anymore.

"I'm in love with you."

His good eye pops open and now he is awake. He stares at her, opens his mouth to speak and then closes it. He pushes himself up on elbow so he can look at her properly.

"I…" His face is a riot of feelings and it takes him a moment to quietly, desperately ask, "You mean it?"

And she wants to laugh and cry because it's just so painfully, wonderfully Zuko. He knows too much about fake declarations of forgiveness and love, to risk immediate joy.

"Yes," she says, "I mean it."

And so after the seventh time he beams and pulls her towards him. The eighth time soon follows.

Reviews are appreciated. Please no flames. Please do not bash my pairing. I don't go onto your stories and make fun of your preferred couple.