A/N: Well, here is a one-shot that I promised an exceedingly long time ago to one Harlequin Jade. It took me a while to find the inspiration for this, but once I did…well, the words just started flowing! This is a companion piece to my story Shaping Destiny. You don't necessarily have to read it, but I think doing so would show you where this came from, especially if you look to chapter five.
Dedicated to Harlequin Jade
Like a Moth to a Flame
Katara slipped into the guest quarters of the Fire Nation Palace, padding silently and quickly down the hallway to her room. She heaved open the solid wood door and stepped into her darkening room. Opening her wardrobe door and taking out a clean, crimson Fire Nation shirt and skirt, Katara slipped out of the dusty blue dress she was wearing and slipped the silky fabric on. She felt rather uncomfortable in the short skirt and midriff baring top. Wearing her wraps to practice her bending in was one thing, but prancing around in public in halter tops and short skirts was still something the waterbender wasn't quite used to yet.
Crossing over to her mirror, Katara gently tugged her long brown hair from the braid it was already falling out of and ran a soft-bristled brush through the tangled locks. She didn't bother with tying it back up, enjoying the way that the strands of hair weren't being tugged this way and that.
A few minutes later, a quiet, nearly nonexistent knock sounded at her door and she turned toward the hunk of wood with a wide smile. She walked across the cool, marble floor, a hint of a skip in her step and smoothed her skirt before opening the door. Zuko stood there, stripped of his formal robes and wearing a simple red and gold tunic with black pants. He ruffled the back of his hair as he smiled at her, the muscles in his arm flexing with the motion. He seemed to study her outfit for a brief moment (an act that made her cross her arms across her stomach self-consciously) before offering her a quiet hello.
Katara responded in kind and took the arm he offered. She smiled privately to herself; he was always such a gentleman when he was in the palace. It amused her to no end. The waterbender supposed it had to do with the fact that there were all sorts of servants and aids around that could spread word about any lack of decorum he showed.
"So where do you want to go?" he finally offered up.
Katara shrugged her relatively bare shoulders, the fabric that was tied around her neck chafing her skin slightly. She wondered if she'd tied the top a little too tight. "It doesn't matter really."
The firebender seemed to ponder this for a few moments as they strolled down the hallway at a leisurely pace, her hand secured in the crook of his elbow. After a few seconds, he looked at her, golden eyes curious. "Have you ever seen turtleducks?"
"Have I ever seen a what?"
Zuko's small smile widened ever so slightly and he took her hand, tugging her after him down the long, echoing hallway. "You'll like them, I promise!" His voice held a child-like quality that Katara had never heard him use before and his eyes were positively alight with glee.
Which, she thought, is funny because his eyes are gold. Kind of like the sun…
Katara let her royal friend lead her down the hallway. With every step that he took, she took two just too keep up with his long stride. Soon, she was running after him and they were skidding around corners and she was getting quite lost in the labyrinth that was his palace. Together, they burst out of a set of double doors and into a sort of outdoor hall that ran around a square-shaped courtyard.
The pair paused for a moment, and Katara took the chance to take in the scene. The sun was beginning to set in the distance, painting the sky in evanescent pinks and golds that were so vivid they could only belong to a Fire Nation sunset. To her immediate left was a willow tree that brushed it's long branches across the grass as a slow, lazy breezed rifled through the air in a manner that only summer breezes are wont to do. A few feet from the tree was a small pond whose glassy, calm surface reflected the dusky sky and rippled only when a few curious-looking little animals (were they ducks or turtles?) glided through the water.
"Turtleducks," Zuko stated proudly as he pulled her over to the pond. "What do you think?"
Katara watched the little creatures as the paddled serenely through the water. The little ones were still covered in downy fluff and their green shells were slightly lighter than that of their proud mother who swam near them, giving off an air of protectiveness the whole time. "They're cute," she finally replied, kneeling in the soft grass after she kicked off her sandals. The grass was cool between her toes and she wiggled them through the green blades, smiling at the tickling sensation as she watched the animals swim around the pond.
Zuko sat down next to her, seeming more relaxed and at ease than he had in a while. The waterbender supposed it was doing him some good to get some fresh air and a break from his duties as Fire Lord, even if that break was brief and with her, not his girlfriend.
Katara swallowed hard at the memory of the fact that Zuko was with Gloom and Doom, as Toph called the knife thrower. She wondered what Zuko really saw in Mai. Sure, she was pretty in an odd way, but she didn't seem to have much of a personality save for the occasional sarcastic comment or fit of dispassionate anger. From the time that Katara had spent around the other girl, she found that Mai was somewhat indulgent and very much into bossing people around. The servants seemed to fear her.
The waterbender sighed and lay back in the grass, staring unseeingly at the darkening sky and contemplating why someone so sweet and caring (albeit short tempered) as Zuko would be with someone like Mai. Once you got past his standoffish exterior and wormed your way into his heart, Zuko was the best friend one could ask for. Katara had to admit, though, that she found his mysteriousness to be somewhat alluring. She envied Mai.
Mai got Zuko. Dark, mysterious, handsome Zuko.
Katara got landed with Aang.
Aang was nice and all, he was adorable in a childish way, and he would certainly be handsome once he grew up (though Katara wasn't positive he'd ever grow into his ears; they were kind of disproportionate to his head), but Katara just didn't feel that surge of emotion around him that she got whenever Zuko happened to show up. She just couldn't bring herself to let Aang down. Whatever feelings she had toward Zuko were totally and completely negated by the fact that Aang, her only hope of ending the war, needed whatever emotions she could muster up to direct toward him now that said war was over.
No matter how unfair it was to her.
She turned her head toward Zuko, stray strands of grass sticking in her long hair. Quietly, Katara studied his pensive form. He was classically handsome with a strong jaw and high cheekbones. His mop of raven hair was constantly tumbling into his eyes and setting him up with an air of moodiness. But it was far more than his looks that Katara admired about him. There was just something about his personality that drew her to the firebender like a moth to a flame.
She laughed to herself at the pun.
"How's Aang?" Zuko asked suddenly, leaning back on his hands, blades of grass sticking up through his long fingers. He was staring up at the now dark sky.
Katara shrugged, grass tickling her shoulders. "Fine, I suppose. We don't really see each other. Or talk to each other that much, for that matter. It's kind of hard to have a relationship with somebody who doesn't seem to care."
"Like they're taking you for granted," Zuko murmured, sparing her a glance.
"I know how you feel," he said. There was a pause, but she waited patiently for him to continue, knowing he would. "With Mai…it sometimes feels like it's less about me and more about the prospect of power."
The waterbender turned her gaze to the moon. "She likes you," she told Zuko truthfully. "I've seen the way she looks at you when you're not watching."
"Maybe," Zuko allowed with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "But I think her feelings run a little deeper for me than mine do for her. Mai's…never been more than a really great friend."
"I know how that is. You almost feel…obligated."
"Sometimes you just want to forget that obligation and go with your feelings. You want to break things off and have your freedom, be with whoever you want to be with," Katara continued. "But you can't because the person you're with seems to need you."
"You know a lot about how I feel."
"It's hard not to when I'm feeling it myself."
Zuko nodded in concurrence. If he knew she was alluding to her relationship with Aang, he didn't say anything. She was somewhat glad for that. It made the conversation seem less imposing. She sat up slowly, placing her hand atop Zuko's calloused one.
"If you ever need anyone to talk to…" she offered.
His fingers wove through hers and he gave her hand a gentle squeeze, his hand dwarfing hers. "Thank you, Katara." His golden eyes flickered to her hair and his somber expression turned to one of amusement as he chuckled softly.
"You've got a ton of grass in your hair," Zuko said, reaching up and starting to pluck the offending material from her hair with gentle, deft fingers. As the digits moved through her hair, Katara could feel her cheeks warm. It was a foreign feeling. He'd never done more than hug her before. The way his fingers were sifting through her hair was making her heart speed up unexpectedly. She hoped he didn't notice the blush staining her cheeks.
After a few moments of him fingering her hair, Katara was beginning to suspect that there wasn't grass in it anymore and he was just running his fingers through the strands just to run his fingers through them. It was a peculiar feeling, but not at all bad.
Eventually, he moved away, clearing his throat uncomfortably.
Katara shyly pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear and stared at the ground. The turtleducks had long since disappeared, and she wondered vaguely where they'd gone. Maybe they had a nest somewhere or something. Someplace cozy where they could all huddle together, one happy little family.
She didn't know how long they sat there in silence, but the moon was reaching its peak when she started to yawn. From this cue, she supposed it was nearing midnight and the dawn of a new day. How Zuko, a firebender, was keeping his eyes open at the peak of the night, she didn't know. He did, however, notice her own struggles to stay awake and stood up, offering her his hand. Katara took it and he pulled her gently to her feet.
"Suppose I should be getting you back to your room," Zuko said.
Katara smiled and let him lead her from the isolated courtyard and back into the empty halls of the palace. "Yeah, maybe so," she replied.
They took their time navigating the halls this time, but the waterbender still managed to get lost. Maybe if she hadn't been half-asleep on her feet, then she would've been able to tell what way they were going. The walls passed in a sleepy blur of red and gold tapestries, marble, and snuffed out torches.
Before she knew it, she'd stumbled to a halt at Zuko's side next to the door to her room. The wooden door looked too heavy to push open in her tired state and she had to shove back the desire to glower darkly at it. Instead, she turned to Zuko with a smile on her face. He returned it.
"Thanks for listening, Katara. You really helped me out."
Katara shrugged modestly. "I don't really know about that."
"No," he insisted quietly. "You were. Thank you."
And then he had raised her hand to his lips and gently pressed a kiss to her knuckles.
Katara felt her face turn scarlet and the skin that stretched over her knuckles tingle as her heart threatened to throw itself out of her chest. It was galloping in her chest, hammering loudly. Spirits, she hoped he couldn't hear it!
"Good night, Katara," he called to her as he retreated down the hall.
She pushed open her door and stepped into her silent room. As the barrier closed behind her, she leaned heavily against it, a silly smile gracing her face and the kissed hand cradled to her chest with the other. Katara felt stupid and girlish as she pressed her hand to her chest, but oddly enough she didn't care.
Something between them had changed tonight. At least on her part. And the fact that Zuko wasn't happy being Mai's boyfriend made her weirdly giddy. Hope welled up once again in her chest, but this time for a much different reason than the end of a war that had torn apart her family.
Time, she felt, would bring something good with it. Things were going to change. And most of it would be good and a little of it might bring sadness, but things were going to change and she was going to be happy.
A/N: So…does anybody have any reviews for me?