And here's part three, with all the Zutara goodness I've been keeping from you! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar.
Prompt from - Quile: On Your Side
" Would you please calm down?"
" Calm down? Calm down?! Suki, I'm deformed! Hideous! An unsightly, grotesque caricature of a man!"
" …Are you quite done?"
" Just give me two minutes. Ahem. Don't look at me, Suki! I can't bear to be seen like this!"
" Okay, you're done."
" I am ?"
" You are."
" Are you positive?"
" …I'm done."
" That's what I thought you'd say."
" …Suki, is it embarrassing that you have me this whipped?"
" Honey, you're not whipped, you're just well trained."
" I feel as though I should take that as an insult."
" You've been hanging around Toph to long, her jokes at your expense are starting to take their toll."
" You laughed right along with her."
" Yeah, but I didn't make the joke, I just got it."
" …I'm not going to win, am I?"
" Not in a million years, Honey."
" Then why do you keep letting me try to?"
" Because you wouldn't give up even if I told you to."
" Aww, thanks Suki."
" Plus, it's kinda funny."
" I said kinda. It gets old after a while."
" You know just what to say to make a guy feel lousy, you know that?"
Suki smiled benignly at her husband-to-be.
" How about we stop talking then?" She offered. Sokka shot her a confused look, but Suki merely smirked as she pushed him into the alley on their right. With sure hands, she grabbed his collar and yanked his head down, firmly attaching her lips to his.
Sokka gave the slight sigh that meant he was content, and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her to stand flush against him. With a comfortable sense of familiarity, Suki tangled one hand in his hair and coiled the other one over his shoulder to grip the space between his shoulder blades. When Sokka let out that muffled sound that meant he was incredibly pleased with her antics, Suki smirked into the kiss, and raised her one leg to curl it around Sokka's.
" I love you." Sokka whispered against their joined lips and Suki felt the familiar heady rush of warmth pass through her as Sokka murmured the words against the skin of her neck.
" Hey there!" A boisterous voice cut through the passionate haze that had settled on their sense. The couple sprang apart, faces flushed and eyes wide to stare at the girl and boy from before.
" I had a few more questions, and I spotted you guys over here!" The girl exclaimed delightedly, as if she hadn't just interrupted another couple's alone time. The boy behind her dropped his head into his hand and muttered something in a language neither Sokka nor Suki understood.
" Haruhi…" He groaned, but the girl ignored him.
" We heard about this really great tourist attraction!" The girl, Haruhi, bounced over to them. " 'The Cave of the Two Lovers'. Ever heard of it?"
" Yeah, I went through it a few months ago." Sokka answered, his voice taunt. Haruhi immediately zeroed in on him, scooting to stare in his eyes, her own sparkling.
" Really?" She gushed. " What's it like?"
" Very confusing." Sokka shuddered. " And dangerous."
" Why?" The boy asked from the entrance of the alleyway. " Are there cave ins or something?"
" No, but the walls change on you, and there are giant furry animals called badgermoles that live there." Sokka deadpanned, but the girl in front of him gave a squeal.
" Giant creatures! Really?!" She clapped her hands together in excitement. " That's fantastic! We have to go, we have to!"
She turned to her companion, who shook his head quickly.
" Oh no! I am not going into shape shifting caves that trap people with furry monsters roaming about!" He crossed his arms over his chest and planted his feet. " No way, no how!"
" Your chief is ordering you to!"
" Newsflash Haruhi, I don't think the fact that you're the president of the SOS Brigade is going to do much for us here!"
" Regardless, I am still your chief, and you are still my subordinate, so you are bound by the honour of the club to obey me!"
" What honour?! All you ever do is make underhanded deals and harass Miss Asahina!"
" Mikuru is so moe and cute, can you blame me?!"
" How she looks has got nothing to- Wait, you're bi?"
" Well, of course I am you idiot! You honestly think I'm going to limit myself to just one gender?! Please, aliens and espers and time travels can be any gender, moron! I have to be open to all aspects in order to find them!"
Suki exchanged a glance with Sokka as the boy stopped moving to stare at the Haruhi girl.
" Aliens?" Suki mouthed.
" Espers?" Her fiancé whispered back.
" Anyway, we have an obligation to the rest of the Brigade to discover as many weird and amazing things as we can while we're here so that when we get back, we can tell them all about it!"
" So you do wanna go back, right?" The boy asked. Haruhi paused, and tapped her index finger to her bottom lip, surveying the area around her.
" Well, this world is pretty interesting, and there's no school, and I'm sure we could find a way to fit in," The boy looked terrified, " but I don't think I could live here forever. No TV and no computers."
The boy let out a sigh of relief.
" So you want to go back, right?" He pressed.
" Eventually." Haruhi shrugged. " But I want to see these 'badgermoles' first."
" Trust me, you don't." Sokka stepped in.
" Oh yes, I do!" The girl grinned at him. " As a woman who is always on the look out for anything unusual in her environment, I can't pass up the opportunity to see something this amazing!"
" I'm not getting out of this, am I?" Sokka asked, his posture defeated.
" Nope!" Haruhi said in a singsong voice.
" Fine." He agreed, but grabbed Suki's arm. " But if I go, so does my girl!"
" What?" She started to struggle, but Haruhi clapped her hands together again.
" Perfect!" She took each of them by a hand and led them out of the alley. " Two young lovers coming on a journey with a lost adventurer! Right out of a manga!"
" What does that make me?" The boy darted after them. " Luggage?"
" The heroine's trusty sidekick!" Was the reply.
" Sidekick! That's Koizumi's job, not mine!"
" You're right, he's more suited to the part. A much more charming smile, and I'm much more likely to fall in love with him in this sort of setting than you."
" Oh, keep quiet Kyon! I'm trying to memorize everything I see so that I can tell everyone back at headquarters about what we've seen!"
" They're nuts!" Sokka hissed to Suki as the boy, Kyon, began to rail on Haruhi about someone named 'Koizumi'. Suki shrugged at their antics.
" They seem harmless enough Sokka." She smirked. " Besides that, a thought just occurred to me."
" Where do you think Toph sent Subjects A and B?"
The chamber was black and silent.
Zuko had let the light fade away as soon as he had let slip those fateful words and Katara's grip had gone slack. He'd stepped out of range of her grasping fingers, mentally cursing himself for letting those three, deadly little words come tumbling out of his mouth. The look in her eyes (the shocked, stunned blue of them barely concealing the last little shred of hope she'd been hanging onto for Spirits only knew how long) was enough to make him want to reverse time back to the very instant he'd first started flirting with her and undo all the damage he'd done.
If he had known then, that leaning over her like that, staring into her eyes and discreetly smelling her hair would lead to all this pain and heartbreak, he would never have done it.
That was a lie.
He would still have done it.
Every touch, every caress, and every deep breath in her presence; every longing look, every yearning embrace, every half heard whisper of desire; he would have done it all and more, even if he knew that they would end up in such a turbulent place, because temptation had always been his weakness, and when it came to Katara, her very smile was enough to bring him to his knees.
He stumbled back, well aware that he eyes were trained on where he'd last stood, but he could be silent if he needed to, and he inched away from the space where he felt her eyes most intensely, and leaned back against the smoothed stone of the craving they'd been staring at. The stone at his back and under his tilted head, cool and hard, make his breath slow and his racing heart calm just a little.
(Because he was in a tomb created solely to preserve the tragic story of love. He was in a place that not only related to his situation, but personified it to the great detail, with stories of warring villages and forbidden romance and love winning out against all the odds, and the beautiful monument to Oma and Shu still standing tall and proud today. He ran his fingers along the stone, and wondered distantly if Shu ever blurted out any stupid love confessions when he hadn't meant it, and something in him told him that the boy in the legend had, but it had been endearing and breathtaking and Oma had loved his for it. With a dreaminess settling in on his mind, Zuko vaguely wondered which carving he was leaning against: Oma's, or Shu's.
" You…" Katara's voice echoed from somewhere in front of him, and over to the left. He shrank into the stone, praying that she might think he had walked away from her, think that he might abandoned her in this most important time, and she would find it within her hate him again.
(Because if she hated him, she couldn't love him back, and then his feelings would never be returned, and he wouldn't yield to temptation, and while everything might not ever be how it was, he could live with Katara despising him and marrying Aang and giving birth to many airbending children than loving him when he was most vulnerable and scared. He could live with her loving someone who loved her completely, than having her bound to him in an instant of weakness when he wanted comfort.)
" Zuko, you…" Her voice was more to the right now, but he still didn't answer. As badly as he wanted to, and as badly as he wanted to hold her in his arms and whispered those words over and over again until he lost his voice, he couldn't because, he was still hurt over Mai, and Aang loved her, and he wasn't about to deny the only one of his kind left – thanks to Zuko's people – anything he wanted.
" You said you loved me."
And then she was holding his face, and around them, same little green crystals were lighting, bathing the entire chamber in a jade glow, and reminding him eerily of the catacomb under Ba Sing Se. And a warmth filled him, starting from his back, and reaching up over his shoulders and up his neck and through his brain, and down into his aching chest, over his stomach, down his legs, and right into each one of his toes, until he felt strong and brave and hopelessly, hopelessly, in love.
" Since when-" But he cut her off, because suddenly, he couldn't stop talking, couldn't stop telling her all these damaging things; couldn't let her walk away without making her understand.
" You remember when you stopped the rain in mid air over Yan Ra?" She nodded, and the glow made her look ethereal. " Right then. I was watching you bend, and I knew right then that I loved you."
" But, why…" She couldn't seem to make sense of anything he was saying, but Zuko was feeling too light headed and too drunk on the release of all his long buried secrets to worry about coherency.
He was too love sick, and love was never meant to mash with reason.
" You were so beautiful and angry and flawed and hurt and wonderful." He said in a rush. " You were so human, so achingly human, and suddenly, all those fights and all those words and everything we'd done up until that point didn't matter, because this was you at your best and worst, vengeful and angry and it made my knees weak."
He reached out and grabbed her hand, running his thumb over her knuckles.
" I didn't understand anything when we first met, but I think that if I had been a little more like I am now back then, I wouldn't have fallen for you at the North Pole."
" When we fought?" She sounded so shocked, but there was a warmth gathering around them, and for the life of him, Zuko couldn't remember why he had been so scared to tell her how he felt, not when she was looking at him like that.
" You have any idea what you look like when you fight?" She shook her head, and the light from the crystals was reflected in her untamed hair. " You look so passionate and wild and free and so alive that it's breathtaking and frightening and wonderful. There's nothing in the world like fight you, Katara." She was starting to shake, and while he was pretty sure that wasn't a good thing, her eyes were telling him something utterly different. " You move and you twist and you're so focused, so in the moment, that sometimes I'd lie awake at night on my ship and wonder what is was that made you so determined. And then you fought me at the North Pole, and you were controlled and wild and you bent water like fire and twisted ice like lightening and I think I actually fell in love with you right there, but back then, I couldn't understand what love was. All I understood back then was anger and purpose and honour."
He looked at her, looked at her trembling shoulders and her parted mouth and her flushed cheeks, and looked most of all at her bright, burning eyes, staring up at him, looking at his face and flickering with something Zuko finally felt ready to answer.
" You rise with the moon," he whispered huskily, and her breath seemed to catch in her throat as he invoked the memory of that particular fight, " I rise with the sun. Remember?"
And then she was kissing him.
" I said, stop whining, Twinkle Toes!"
" I swear to every Spirit out there, Twinkles, you call me that one more time, and I am going Blind Freakin' Bandit on your sorry a-"
" What now, Twinkles?"
" You're too young to swear! So don't!" He tapped her on the head. " The all might Master Arrowhead commands it!"
" If you don't quit it with that, I am going to rip your damn arrows off and beat you with them!"
" That's not very nice."
" What the hell made you think I was nice?!"
" Please stop yelling at me, I hate it when people yell at me." Aang looked forlornly into his cup. " Katara never yells at me…I miss Katara. Toph, can we go find her and Zuko now?"
Toph made choking motions with her hands.
" No, Twinkle Toes, we can't."
" Why not?" He may have meant it as a question, but it came out like a whine.
" Because, we wouldn't know the first place to look."
" But that hole-"
" There was no hole, got it?!" Toph ground out through her clenched teeth. " No hole."
" No. Hole."
" But Tophy, I saw it!" Aang insisted plaintively, and he apparently had shattered Toph's last nerve.
" That's it!" She roared, and with a shift of her feet, Aang was right in front of her, her hands grabbing his collar and her enraged face suspended directly in front of his flushed and dreamy one.
" I can't take it anymore!" She shook him. " You have done nothing but sit and mope over the girl who asked you for a break! Did it ever occur to you why she needed a break?! Why she wanted to spend some time by herself?! Why she needed to freakin' get away from you?!"
" Katara wants to-"
" You never give her a moment's peace! I've watched you two since you got together! You're always hovering all over her, at her side, bouncing after her like a lost penguin puppy! She's barely allowed to go and have a bath on her own! You never give her any space, and you never let her have a minute to herself, and now, you're telling me you didn't even ask her to be your girlfriend?! You just assumed she would be?!"
" Why shouldn't she be?" Aang protested, but his voice was meek. " I saved the world just for her, I did everything just for her. Why shouldn't she be my girlfriend? Why shouldn't she want to spend all her time with me? She loves me, does she?"
" She loves everybody!" Toph snarled. " She's spent the entire trip loving everyone and putting everyone ahead of her! She's been everything we ever needed and we never questioned her willingness to be that person in our lives! And now that the war is over, she should be able to finally put herself first! But no! You expect her to be that person for the rest of her life, putting you ahead of her and putting your feelings ahead of hers!"
" What d'ya mean?" Aang slurred, and Toph saw red.
" She isn't in love with you!" The earthbender screamed, and threw Aang to the floor. " She doesn't feel the same way! She doesn't want to be your girlfriend!"
" Yes, yes she does." Aang whispered, but he was thoroughly quailed by the furious Toph.
" You never gave her a choice! You never gave her the option of saying no!"
" Why would she?!" The cactus juice seemed to have made Aang bolder. " I saved the world for her! She…She has to love me, after everything I went through for her!"
The Avatar went flying backward and he hit the table, dizzy from the force of Toph's punch.
" You pathetic little excuse for a man!" The blind girl screamed. What few patrons had remained in the tavern for the show were huddled behind one table, staring at the two.
" Are you kidding me?! She has to love you?! She has to love you?!" Toph kicked the ground, and table behind him flipped over with a crash. " She doesn't have to do anything! If she wants to get into a relationship with you, then that's fine, but if she wants to be with someone else, and you're the one think holding her back, than screw it, I am going to kick your ass, pal!
" You have no right to tell Katara what she can and can't do, especially after everything she went through for you! She hasn't been allowed to think selfishly since this little road trip began, and it's about damn time she finally got her chance at happiness! I was sure that this whole 'You and Katara' relationship was gonna blow over once you figured out you weren't doing it for her. But oh no, you had to keep going, you couldn't accept that you weren't her one! You had to hold her to you, find some way of binding her to you, is that it?! So you decided she owed you after you saved the world, and regardless of how she really felt, she would have to love you in exchange for your hardships?!"
Aang nodded cautiously. A spear of earth knocked him back to his feet and bumped his chest into Toph's outstretched finger.
" Listen up, Twinkles." Her sightless eyes narrowed. " Katara owes you nothing. You chose to save the world for her. You chose to fight for her. You chose to run away all those times when things got too tough instead of facing them down like a real man."
" It's in my nature…" Aang started, but trailed off at Toph's look.
" Didn't I teach you better than this?! Didn't I teach you to face a problem head on?!" Aang nodded meekly. " Then face this, Aang!" He started as she used his name. " Face the fact that you aren't the man Katara wants! Face the fact that she doesn't owe you anything, especially not her love! She's been giving that to us since the day she met us, can't you be satisfied with that?!" Toph reached over with one hand and rubbed the bridge of her nose to try and ward off the headache that was beginning to form.
" Can't you let her go?"
" You sound like the guru." Aang whispered to her. " He told me to let her go too."
" Smart guy." Toph threw and arm around his shoulders. " You should listen to him."
" It's just…it's so hard." Aang fisted his hands in frustration. " She was the first person I saw after such a long sleep, and she woke me up, and she's been with me ever since…and it's so hard…letting go of her…"
" I'm here for ya, Twinkles." Toph gave his shoulders a squeeze. " I'm your friend, I'm on your side."
" Can we go somewhere quiet?" Aang asked in a tired voice. " Somewhere I can think?"
" Sure thing." Toph lead him out of the tavern, taking him down the dark roads where the crowds were starting to thin for the night. " Cheer up, would ya? Seeing you so down is weird."
" And how would you suggest I cheer up?" Aang mumbled, but Toph grinned out into the darkness ahead of them, her blind eyes fixed straight on the hill she couldn't see.
" By remembering that Sugar Queen isn't the only girl in the world."
Zuko was warm.
He'd always been warm; a heat she could feel through his clothes and skin whenever he held her close (which had become more often, recently). He'd always seemed to give off some kind of heat, like he had a bonfire blazing just underneath the thin layers of skin that separated that fire from the world. In the beginning, when his nearness meant battle and steam, she'd written it off as him being a firebender; that the heat was nothing more than the internal fire he turned outwards on his opponents. Later, when they met in friendship (or maybe not quite friendship, maybe something more like just meeting, without skills and fire and water and war cries), she'd thought perhaps that it was simply the kindness he seemed to repress in himself, the real Zuko that he'd locked away behind honour and ruthlessness.
But as she threw herself against him as he whispered the words that he'd once uttered as s victor at the Pole, all she could think of was that he was warm, and it was nice.
His lips were soft under hers, softer than she'd expected after that bare little brush in the alleyway. He was standing very still, stiff, as if frightened that movement might scare her away. Or perhaps, she mused, he was as in just as much shock as she'd been on the day of the eclipse, when Aang had kissed her.
Despite having kissed Aang, Katara was slightly at a loss about what exactly she was supposed to do. She had locked lips with him, and that was good, but she had never been really comfortable going any farther than that with Aang, and now, as she curled her arms around his neck, she wondered what was supposed to happen next. With a slight sigh, she parted her lips over his unmoving, but pliant ones, and, remembering several blush inducing chats with Suki, ran her tongue over the dip where his two lips met.
It appeared to be the right thing to do.
Zuko's arms snapped up around her and she was pressed against him so hard that she could actually feel his heart vibrating against her chest. She wiggled slightly to pull herself up farther than him, and in the minute space between their mouths (allowed only by the fact that his was still closed), Zuko let out a muffled groan, and her tongue slide in between his opened lips.
For a split second, Katara panicked as she realized that her tongue was in his mouth and she had no idea what to do with it. But a long repressed instinct shoved its way passed all the inhibitions and notions of propriety that had been drilled into her, and Katara let her ideals of 'whatever feels good goes' guide her through the confusion.
She reached up with her one hand curled several locks of dark hair in between her fingers, lightly scraping her fingers along his scalp. She tilted her head to the left, and the angle caused her mouth to fall perfectly into place against his. She arced her back like Suki had told her about doing, and the sound of Zuko's ragged release of air was more than enough encouragement. She flicked her tongue against his, and suddenly, she wasn't alone in the kiss anymore.
Zuko's hands flung themselves down to her hips and pulled her completely against his own, and there was something…something she thought she should now about, something that was pressing into her and sending little tingles of electricity down her spin, like Zuko was jolting her lightly with the fingers he had digging into her hips. She shifted, and her leg fell between his, that same something hard against the thigh. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, a warning bell was going off, the last vestige of the little girl who hated the Fire Nation and all it stood for, screaming for her to stop, begging for her to come to her senses. But then Zuko pushed her tongue back into her mouth, followed it, and took her lower lip between his teeth, and Katara forgot her own name.
Something hot coiled in the pit of her stomach, twisting over itself and turning like the lava that had crawled down the mountain in the village where she'd first heard the prediction of her love life.
As Zuko's hand dragged it's way up her lower back and she found herself shuddering, Katara might have found it miraculous that she could still hear the distant voice of Aunt Wu whispering a powerful bender over and over again if she hadn't been so preoccupied with keeping herself upright. She clutched at his shirt, and a moan crawled out her mouth as Zuko pulled back.
He breathed hard, panting, but she had no room to mock him because her chest was heaving, and her lungs were starved of breath, and she was the only shaking so badly she could hardly stand.
" Do you have any idea what you're doing to me?" Zuko whispered, his voice hoarse.
" Something good I hope." She murmured, and pressed soft, tender little kisses along his jaw line as she steadied her breathing. Zuko held her close and did something that had his hips rolling into hers and the something pressing against something that wasn't her thighs, and wasn't her stomach either, and the thing coiling in her wound tight as she remembered all her lessons and what, exactly, that thing was that was pressing into her.
" What do you think?" Zuko purred in her ear, and the rumbled of his voice through his chest made her lightheaded. She blinked hazy eyes, and caught sight of his jugular beating wildly under a thin layer of skin on his neck just under her chin. The fluttering of his heart so close to her undid every last bit of restraint she hid in her.
She pressed her lips to the thundering little point, feeling it skip and jump under them. Zuko let out a breathless sound that may have been her name, but she was too absorbed in memorizing the rhythm under her mouth to care. She moved her head slightly, and grazed her teeth along his pulse. Zuko sank to his knees with a delighted, low-pitched mewl, hauling her down with him as he slid down the rock face, nestling her in between in leg and burying her face in the crook of his neck as he kissed the top of her head.
" I love this place." Zuko murmured dreamily. " I love this city and I love this cavern and I love that story and-"
" Zuko." She interrupted his inane rambling.
" Mmh?" He nuzzled her hair.
" I love you." She said in a rush, meeting his astonished kiss halfway to her face. She pulled back a second later, holding his face back as he tried to make contact with her again. She smiled at his pout, and brushed her fingers along his jaw. " I didn't want to, and I've ignored it, but I do, I honestly do.
" I was healing Aang, on a Fire Nation ship, and that's when I knew it. We were talking, and I remembered using the Spirit Water," it seemed very important that he understand this, " and suddenly, all I was thinking about was you, and how I should've saved you, how I should've healed you, how I should've brought you with us-"
" A relationship of might have's and should've's." Zuko whispered.
" I'm not that strong." She muttered, her fingers tracing the shape of his cheek.
" Neither am I." He was whispering, but in the darkness of the cavern, and the soft glow of the crystals, and the image of Oma and Shu carved behind them, Katara didn't mind.
" You said there were a lot of times you should've kissed me." Her fingers found his scar.
" I should've kissed you the very first time I saw you." He closed his eyes and sighed, leaning into her touch.
" But you didn't." She could barely hear her own voice anymore, over the desperate pounding over her heart.
" How can I make it up to you?" He rubbed the side of his face against her hand.
" You can kiss me now and you can kiss me tomorrow, and you can kiss me every other day after that."
Zuko smiled at her.
" I think I can do that." She surged forward, but his hand coiling around her throat, gently fondling her necklace stopped him. " Katara?"
" Yes?" He fingered the jewel the same way she had run hers over his scar.
" Is it alright if I ask your brother for help when I carve mine?"
Her answering kiss made his knees weak and his heart pound and his blood sing.
He was very lucky he was already sitting down.
Sokka grumbled as he held the torch up. Behind him, Suki was chatting animatedly with Haruhi, who was gushing about how awesome the tunnels were, how cute those badgermoles they had just run into had been, and how cool Suki's dance with her fans in the firelight to appease them had ended up being. Somewhere beside her, Kyon gave a slight twitch, but kept his death grip on her hand nonetheless.
Sokka blinked as his the light that spilled from his torch fell on a large entranceway up ahead of the group. With a puzzled look (he couldn't remember this from the last time), he sped up, torch held aloft, and wandered into the chamber.
" What the hell?!" He screamed in a high pitched voice as Katara hauled herself off of Zuko, her hand still pressed against the scar on his abdomen, visible with his red shirt flung open over his torso.
" Hey Sokka." The boy on the ground greeted sheepishly. " How's it going?"
Sokka simply kept pointing.
Katara frowned, but didn't remove her hand, much to Zuko's delight.
" Sokka, what are you doing here?"
Any answer he may have given was cut off by two loud, energetic squeals. Suki and Haruhi stood in the entrance behind Sokka, grinning for all they were worth, staring at the couple on the cave floor.
"Alright!" Haruhi groused, offering her hand to Suki. " You completed your mission!"
" You know it!" Suki slapped her palm against Haruhi's. " Operation: Epic Zutara is a complete success!"
Sokka merely twitched along with Kyon.
An end or a beginning. You decide.