A/N: Hey everyone! :) Here's my latest bit, an Avatar fic in which there's a little bit of Zutara, and a whole lot of fluff. Sort of. I'm incapable of writing hardcore fluff. Actually, my muse won't let me; Alex isn't a fan of plotless fluff.
ANYWAYS. Zuko and Katara are on a miniature training mission, when Katara discovers something about Zuko he didn't really want her to know. Oooh. :)
I don't own Zuko, Katara, or anything else except the story idea, my muse, and my laptop.
Of Stealth and Allergies
-A Zola Production-
"So…why are we doing this again?" Katara sank back onto her heels in the soft soil. Zuko didn't move from his watchful position behind a squat, moss-covered wall.
"Stealth mission. If you all are going to be ready to fight my father in a few weeks, you're going to have to brush up on some skills." His tawny eyes darted from left the right, scouring the distance between the ruins and a grassy meadow stretched out in front of them. Katara sighed, rolling her eyes. The group was on their way through the southern tip of the Earth Kingdom, hoping to make it to Ember Island at the end of a few days. While Aang, Sokka, and Toph were setting up camp in the ruins of a village (it looked to have been attacked by Fire Nation soldiers; ashes and charred remains were everywhere), Zuko had pulled Katara away.
"Why are we training stealth, then?" Katara asked. Zuko still didn't move.
"Because you're a Waterbender. You're not used to moving stealthily." Katara opened her mouth to argue when Zuko cut her off. "Our goal is to make it across that meadow and into the woods on the other side without making much noise. Pretend that it's a life-or-death situation."
Katara rolled her eyes again, but she joined Zuko at the edge of the wall, shifting in discomfort as the grainy surface bit into her fingers.
"When do we go?" she asked again. Zuko didn't answer for a second; it seemed like he was waiting for something. Then he drew back a half-pace from the wall.
"Now." Katara pulled away from the wall and followed him as he slunk from boulder to boulder, carefully shifting his wait to minimize the noise.
"Make sure you avoid any dry leaves or sticks, if you can help it," Zuko coached her, nudging her front foot aside as it nearly came down on a small twig.
"Zuko, I know all this! We've had more training with stealth than you think."
"Shhh," he quieted her, holding his hand back to her as he crouched down behind a pile of rubble not four feet from the meadow. Katara rolled her eyes yet again, but followed his lead.
"And…go!" Zuko sprinted across the dirt median and threw himself into the meadow, squirming forward until his entire body was obscured by the tall grass.
"Wha-? Zuko!" Katara complained, standing up and crossing her arms. Zuko stuck his head out of the grass, scowling at her.
"Hurry up! If this was really a life-or-death situation, you'd be dead by now! Come on!" He vanished again. Katara sighed, but got down onto her knees and wiggled into the grass after him. He really had lost it.
She couldn't see Zuko, but she could locate him by his breathing. Once she was up next to him, she paused, absently brushing away some dry grass that had caught in her face.
"Now what?" she whispered. Zuko shifted, and, to Katara's amusement, broke several sticks with a series of popping noises.
"Now we practice being silent." Katara watched him, hoping he was going to do something else, but the dark-haired boy just lay there, propped up by his elbows. She sighed, rolling onto her back and looking up at the few clouds floating across the darkening sky. Judging Zuko's current mood, it could be a while before he would let her go.
As her thoughts drifted to Zuko, she noticed that he was fidgeting. Carefully keeping her head lowered so it wasn't obvious that she was watching him, Katara slowly rolled to her side, watching the tawny-eyed prince through dark lashes. She didn't want him to jump-attack her while she wasn't looking, to train her awareness or whatever.
Zuko was rubbing at his nose with his right hand, but all it seemed to be doing was making it red. Even redder than it already was, Katara noticed. He gave up the attempt and sniffed, burying his head in the bend of his elbow.
"Zuko, what the-?" Katara was kind of confused, but Zuko cut off her whispered question with a glare and a hissed reprimand
"Be quiet! You're missing the point of the exercise." Katara let out her breath in an annoyed huff, deciding that she didn't care what he was doing in this mood. But she couldn't help but glance over at him again as he continued sniffling, then cleared his throat with a muffled sound. She noticed with a twinge of worry that his eyes were rather red and beginning to water. Katara was about to ask him if he was okay when she remembered his snappy retort. Well, if Zuko was going to be obnoxious, she would let him suffer, or whatever it was he was doing.
They had been lying in the grass for a few minutes (two, tops) when Zuko abruptly sneezed. Despite her growing worry, a small smile spread on Katara's face.
"Whatever happened to silence?" she whispered pointedly. Zuko shot her a glare.
"I am being silent, I just -" he broke off and sneezed twice. Katara giggled softly.
"Remember, if this was a life-or-death situation…" She stopped when Zuko sneezed again. "Zu, are you okay?"
He avoided looking at her, too preoccupied with keeping from sneezing again to get annoyed with her use of a nickname. "Yeah, I'm fine. Let's just go back to being quiet."
But after about ten seconds, it was obvious that Zuko wasn't going to manage being quiet. When he wasn't sneezing, he was sniffling pitifully, and rubbing at his nose wasn't doing anything.
"You don't sound so good," Katara spoke up, forgoing the whisper. Zuko shook his head.
"I'm all right," he protested half-heartedly, though whatever effect the statement would have had was lost as he sneezed again.
"Let's head back to the others. We don't need to be hanging out in the open if you're sick," Katara said, watching Zuko with worry in her eyes. Zuko shook his head.
"I'm not sick, it's just…I'm not sick." He cut himself off, eyes tightening.
"It's just what?" Katara crossed her arms, which was more difficult than it looked, since she was lying down. Zuko was quiet for a second, but then he buried his face in the crook of his elbow again, sniffing.
"Could I tell you something that you'd keep between us? You wouldn't tell the others?" He asked, his voice muffled by his arm. Katara nodded, then tilted her head
"Of course, but I don't see how this has anything to do with…oh." She stopped as something occurred to her. "Zuko, do you have…allergies?"
"Shh!" Zuko hissed, though there was no one around to hear them. Katara shook her head.
"So all that time when you were chasing us, we could have just…hid in the grass?" Zuko glared at her.
"Maybe." He paused, rubbing at his nose again with his shirtsleeve until Katara gently pulled it away from his face.
"If it's the grass you're allergic to, rubbing your nose in it isn't going to help," she said softly. Zuko sighed.
"Just…promise you won't tell the others? I could see them taking advantage of me." Katara smiled.
"We're not out to get you, Zu; when are you going to learn that?" She shook her head.
"Are we going to finish the stealth exercise or what?" Zuko broke in after a moment of silence, sniffling. Katara was about to answer when he started sneezing again, this time four or five in a row.
"I think that's a no," she replied with a smile. Zuko grimaced.
"Yeah, you're probably right." He stood up, shaking the grass out of his hair. Katara stood up also, brushing him off gently. Zuko sneezed as the dust accumulated around him.
"Grass and dust," he remarked wryly. "Here, let me get you," he added, turning to brush her off too as she finished his shoulders.
Katara drew back. "Don't worry about me. I don't want to make you feel any worse than you already do." Zuko nodded, and the two of them made their way out of the grassy meadow back towards the ruined outskirts of the village. Katara fished a handkerchief out of her pocket and handed it to Zuko as he started sneezing again; he accepted it gratefully.
"Wait, what are we going to tell the others?" he asked after he had recovered. "Could you heal me or something so it wouldn't be so obvious?"
Katara furrowed her brow. "No, I don't think I can heal you. I guess we could just say you caught a cold or something? I could douse you with water so it's a little more realistic; you could have fallen in a pond."
Zuko shook his head. "Then I really will catch cold. It's a Firebender thing," he replied when Katara raised an eyebrow.
"I guess an excuse will just have to work." By then, the rest of the group was in sight, and the two teenagers quickly shut up. Aang glanced up from unloading Appa.
"Well that was a quick mission," he commented, eyes flicking from the sullen-looking Zuko to the blushing Katara.
"We had to come back because Zuko's not feeling well," Katara replied, avoiding his gaze. Zuko sneezed, accenting her point.
"What's wrong?" Toph asked from her lounging position nearby. Katara couldn't help feeling a little annoyed that she wasn't helping.
"It's just a cold, that's all," Zuko muttered, stalking off to grab his bedroll and tent from Appa's saddle.
"Why are you two covered in grass?" Sokka asked suspiciously. "Is there something we need to know about?" He added, staring pointedly at Katara, who instantly blushed harder.
"No, nothing's going on. Now excuse me while I find some water." She grabbed the empty canteens and stormed off into the woods, blushing furiously.
Aang was glaring at Zuko, looking as if he was about to drop Appa's saddle onto his head, when the Firebender met his gaze with red-rimmed, watery eyes.
"Nothing happened. Just chill, okay?" He grabbed his bedroll and stormed off in the opposite direction of Katara, leaving Aang, Sokka, and Toph to wonder what all had happened on their little adventure.
Notes: Did you like it? O: I'm tempted to add some more chapters to this, but only if I get some reviews...