Author: Jade Sabre
A/N: …is it July already? Wow, sorry about that, y'all.
Anyway, here's the last prompt. It started out as another segment of "stare" and then was too long and so I made it its own. It's not my favorite out of all of these (that would probably be "manipulative") because it feels a little sell-out-y, but it was fun and I hope y'all enjoy it.
Thanks for all the reviews! Hopefully my Avatar muse will creep back out from hibernation soon.
Katara often thought she had the most on her plate after Aang, although on her more selfish days she thought she had more than him, because he was on her plate as well whereas he just had to concentrate on Ozai and the fate of the world. Still, she had a million things to be doing—they all did, even if they didn't have as much as her—and she kept getting distracted because that thrice-damned (once with a necklace, once in an oasis, once through a lie) prince was watching her. Oh, not all the time, and he was subtle enough about it, but she had unconsciously trained her body to a state of hyperawareness where he was concerned and so she knew.
She often lay awake at night, and thought about what she might say to him to make him stop. The looks were never quite the same, but there was an undercurrent of longing, sometimes physical, more often emotional, that made her feel…guilty. And there were few things she hated more than feeling guilty for a crime she did not commit. So she was a little harsh on the guy. So what? So he didn't deserve it? Ha. Any day now he might change his mind, and she had to be ready; until that day passed he was still in a state of potentiality, and she had to be on guard against that potential. Addressing the problem would mean acknowledging it, and frankly she didn't think he deserved that much.
Still, one afternoon, she caught him red-handed, the only other person on the particular level of the Air Temple in which she had chosen to practice. She faced him with her octopus arms flailing around her, and said, "What do I need to do to get you to stop?"
He stayed his distance; his voice carried, quiet but intense, and he said, "Forgive me."
"For what? Stalking me?"
He hesitated. "That's not what I mean to—"
"Well that's what you're doing. You realized that, don't you? Staring at me all the time like—"
"Look, do whatever you need to do to get it out of your system. Kiss me, if that'll help you get over your crazy—"
"Is that what you think I want?" he demanded, stepping closer and nimbly dodging when she lashed out with a water-arm.
"Why else would you be staring?"
"I just want to know what will convince you to stop hating me. That's all."
"Well, you can't kiss me and make it better."
"I don't want to!"
"Are you saying you don't want to kiss me?"
"You're the one who started talking about kissing. It wasn't me."
She harrumphed and crossed her arms, letting the water fall to the ground, splashing her feet. She could see him more clearly, now, his expression open and pleading and just a little bit haughty, too, ready to fight her if he had to in order to get what he wanted. "Don't tell me you weren't thinking about it."
"That's not why I've been—"
"Katara," he said, pinching his nose in a gesture she knew was new to this "reformed" Zuko, "can we at least be a little bit mature about this?"
"I don't know, Zuko," she said, mocking his name. "Can you manage that?"
"I'm not the one acting like a child."
Ah, some backbone at last. She'd been afraid that this spineless Zuko was really just a sham, and now she was right. "Are you calling me a child?"
He paused, clearly wrestling with his answer, and then he lifted his chin and said, "Yes."
"So you're admitting to stalking a child."
"I'm not stalking you, I just wanted to get you alone so I could talk to you—"
That, frankly, was all the evidence she needed; she called up the water from the ground, forming two long whips that lashed out in a classic pincer motion, designed to corner him against the wall. It worked (whether or not he intentionally stayed still was beside the point), and she wrapped the water around him, holding him still as she stepped forward, enjoying her moment of triumph. She leaned in close, planning to laugh directly in his face—
—when he broke free of the whips, grabbed her arms, and twisted her around until she was the one pinched between him and the wall, and he was leaning into her face. She stared at him, defiantly, already planning what she would say to Aang (finally, the excuse she needed to get permission to watch him at all times), and she could see her defiance reflected in his eyes as he studied her face. Then he smiled, suddenly, and it didn't make any sense, so she glowered at him.
"You're impossible," he said, "and I should just stop trying, shouldn't I?"
"Exactly," she said.
"Right," he said, nodding, and then his grip on her arms tightened, and he looked at her, and said, "Katara, I'm not going to stop."
She didn't respond immediately, searching his face for the trace of duplicity she knew hid there. It was scary when he was sincere, because it reminded her of Ba Sing Se and she remembered how easy it had been to trust him them because it was equally easy now except for the fear, and she didn't—
He kissed her.
She kissed back, instinctively, because her entire mind had gone blank with shock, and so of course her instincts kicked in, kissing and examining the kiss and determining that it really wasn't that bad of a kiss—and then her brain kicked back in and she pulled her face back, banging it painfully on the wall behind her.
Her mouth moved, and she could barely see his face past the rage coloring her vision, and her voice found itself in a question: "What?"
He hesitated again, and finally said, "I just…wondered."
She moved her mouth soundlessly again, shame and embarrassment and—longing? dear spirits please no—memories of another kiss she hadn't exactly addressed and oh dear spirits embarrassment overwhelming her; she wasn't angry, suddenly, because part of her realized she'd been wondering the same thing, and her curiosity, now satiated, settled itself contentedly in the back of her mind. Blushing, and aware she was blushing, she tried to snap, "Oh, and that makes it okay?" but it came out more like a squeak.
He released her and took five steps back, and bowed deeply. "I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"It better not," she said, and then she laughed, and she saw him glance up with just the slightest expression of hope. She wanted to make him work a little harder—and she would, oh she would—but just like that, she wasn't afraid. She didn't know if it was the kiss, or realizing that when he had turned himself over to them he really had turned himself over, and that she really did hold him in the palm of her hand, that he was willing to place that much of himself under her control, but…she wasn't afraid. And the freedom from that fear—from the watching and the waiting and the worrying—made her want to skip and sing like a little girl.
She didn't, of course; she merely bowed in return, not as deeply, and he straightened, his face redder than hers felt, if that were possible. "I'll…just be going now."
"That sounds like a good idea," she agreed, grinning after him as he beat a fast retreat. Her hands absentmindedly rubbed her arms where he had gripped them; and then she whipped up the water again, content to express her happiness, if not in skips and songs, in bending for peace, at least for now.