A Challenge Met
Author's note: This highly-unlikely -- yet exceedingly pleasant -- scenario was written for the Season 3 Summer Smut Fanfiction Challenge at Zutarotica on LJ, and is set during the second half of Day of Black Sun.
Katara ran through the narrow stone corridor, following the directions she'd ripped from the Fire Nation soldier who'd fallen behind their defensive line.
The air inside was heavy, almost choking, laden with the thick smell of the hot springs hidden in the northern forests. Her eyes watered and her throat rasped; Katara stumbled in the dark, but kept running. I have to find them, she thought, desperate. I have to find them, I have to warn them… The soldier's voice, the scattered images she'd caught from his mind as she'd slapped him aside with a careless water whip... We were so stupid to think it'd be that easy…
Distant explosions rumbled through the caverns and Katara felt terror flood through her as she stumbled again. Please, she begged silently. Please let them –
Something caught her arm, breaking her stride and spinning her around. No! A rough hand clapped over her mouth and she felt herself pulled backwards, slamming against a hard body. A smell like summer storms before the rain swept over her, harsh and bright against the volcano's choking air. No!
"Stay still. I'm not going to hurt you," her captor whispered, breath hot against her ear.
Katara's blood froze, seeming to still in her veins like the great glaciers of the North Pole, crushing her under its weight. No… Despair – the despair of a surprise attack that robbed her of a friend, the grief of hope and trust and inevitable betrayal – pulled her into its icy depths. Not Zuko…
"I know you must hate me," he whispered. "I hate me, too. But you have to trust me, I have to –"
Katara bit down, hard, as rage pushed away the cold. The taste of blood flooded her mouth, sharp and metallic. Zuko yelped as she jerked her head up. "I'll kill you before I trust you again!" His hand clamped over her face again, sliding down to her mouth as she struggled. Her waterskin was almost in her grasp when his other hand came down on her wrist, pinning it to her waist.
"I'm sorry. I can't… I have to…"
She tried to bite him again, but only succeeded in scraping her teeth across his fingers. Zuko shuddered against her and she tried to elbow him in the stomach with her free arm. He twisted – Damn him! – then slammed her against the tunnel's rock wall, trapping her between it and his body.
"I'm sorry, I – "
She stomped down, driving her heel into his instep and he grunted but didn't loosen his grip. Katara felt the panic rise in her; I can't break free, he's going to –
She froze at the sound, her name sliding easily from her enemy's lips. She felt pressure against her cheek, the softness of his hair shifting against her skin and she shivered despite the heat. "Katara. I… I think that's your name. I don't know, I never…" he stopped. "I've made some bad choices, but I'm trying to make it right, and I have to – "
Katara summoned her strength and pushed, bracing her shoulder against the rock and bunching her muscles and throwing her weight backwards. She felt Zuko overbalance, stumble, and then she was falling, one of his hands still wrapped around her wrist.
They landed together on the hard rock and she heard, felt, the breath whoosh out of him. She scrambled sideways, trying to get her legs beneath her, trying to flee this exiled prince and his lies – but he was too fast, always too fast. He caught her ankle as she rose and she fell forward onto him again. Her nose crashed into something hard and she saw stars as her knees buckled.
Zuko felt the breath leave him again as her weight slammed down onto him. His head throbbed where it had hit the ground, but he kept his grip on the girl – Katara – as she thrashed atop him.
"Wait!" he gasped, trying to protect himself and still prevent her from fleeing. "I'm trying to – I want to join the Avatar! I want to – "
"Liar!" she hissed, ceasing her struggles to glare down at him.
"No!" he yelped as he dodged her hand; he dropped her ankle to grab her wrist, and he pulled her arms down and pinned them under his hands against the rock he lay back against. The hold twisted her arms awkwardly; Zuko knew that it wouldn't hurt her if she didn't struggle…
The girl struggled, trying to pull her arms away; she gasped as he tightened his grip and he felt guilt wash over him, another entry for his list of wrongs against this girl and her friends. Zuko lay still as she tested him, trying to pull free; he hoped that she would expend her rage and be willing to listen to him. He had to join the Avatar, he had to amend his past mistakes.
Finally, Zuko felt the girl – Katara! he reminded himself again – still, relaxing slightly against him. He felt her weight settle against his chest; they lay close, like lovers, a parody of an affectionate embrace. "I'm sorry…" he whispered again as he raised his head to look at her.
Their eyes met again, her glare just as venomous as before.
"You are not sorry," she growled. "You are my enemy, and I will –"
Maybe, Zuko would think later, it was the electricity still running through his veins, the thrill of triumph from defying his father, from successfully re-directing the lightning meant to kill him, the surge of fire returning to his body as the eclipse ended. He had felt reckless, and confident, and just a little proud as he ran through the snaking tunnels beneath the volcano. Mistakes he had made in plenty, but finally he had done something right.
At the time, though, all Zuko could think was that with his hands pinning hers, he had only one way to stop the angry words pouring from her mouth.
He kissed her.
For a moment, it worked. Katara froze, rigid, her eyes wide as Zuko broke the kiss and looked up at her. Her blue, blue eyes – the first thing he had noticed about her, all those months ago when she had become a person, rather than an obstacle – seemed to hold the depths of the ocean and he stared into them, watching emotions race across her face.
Then her eyes narrowed and she snapped at him, her teeth clicking together as he jerked his chin up.
"How dare you," she hissed, and Zuko took the opportunity to slip past her defense and kiss her again.
What are you doing? the rational part of his mind shrieked. She is going to kill you!
Another other part of his mind, the part that never gave up without a fight, noted that Katara had stopped struggling again. He deepened the kiss, tilting his head, and he felt something in her relax, the tension slacking in her wrists beneath his hands. Relief washed over him and he moved his lips from her mouth to kiss her along her cheek, down her jawline. I'm sorry, he tried to say with the gesture. I didn't mean to hurt you.
What is he doing? Katara screamed to herself. What game is he playing?
Then Zuko's lips reached her neck and she trembled. Oh, Katara thought. He kissed her collar bone, her throat just above her mother's necklace; his mouth so gentle she forgot to fear his teeth. His hands relaxed and she felt a soft touch against the inside of her wrist, his thumb barely stroking the delicate skin there; and she sighed, just a slight exhalation that she told herself was not because it felt nice.
"I'm sorry…" he whispered against her neck, his tone excruciatingly penitent, and she trembled again. I want to trust him, she realized, and hated herself for it.
"I've done so many things that I'm not proud of," he continued softly, the light touches at her wrists gaining confidence. "To the Avatar, to your brother, to you…" He kissed her temple, then his breath tickled her ear and she tried to ignore the pleasant tingles that ran down her spine.
Enemy! she reminded herself, but he sounded so different than he ever had before. The biting, grating tone was gone, replaced by a quiet desperation that she didn't want to acknowledge. I have changed! she heard in her memory, and she lifted her head, turning away from him and refusing to meet his eyes. She saw his head fall back and felt him sigh deeply beneath her.
"I betrayed my uncle," he said. "He showed me more love than anyone ever has since… since I was small… and I threw it away." She peered down at him through her lashes, trying not to let him see her watching him. "I am such a fool," he whispered.
Katara refused to respond, still disconcerted by his touches and his words, and silence fell between them. The distant sounds of fighting had long faded, and she hoped desperately that Sokka, Toph, and Aang had triumphed, or escaped, and not…
"What do you want from me?" she finally whispered, lowering her head so that she stared at his chest, studying the fine fabric of his simple robe.
She thought he wouldn't answer, but then she felt the grip on one wrist disappear. Before she could think to use this advantage, to struggle and break free, she felt his hand in her hair, smoothing the tangles, then caressing her face. He stared up at her, his eyes amber in the dim corridor, and she found herself leaning into his touch as something twisted deep in her middle.
"I want…" he started, his hand tracing the curve of her cheek, then returning to her neck. "I want your forgiveness."
Anger rose inside her. "My forgiveness? You think that trapping me here and kissing me is going to make up for chasing us across the world? For capturing Aang, for capturing me? For convincing me to trust you and then betraying us to your sister, who nearly killed Aang with your help?" Katara raised her hand, but he caught it before she could reach her waterskin. He surprised her when, rather than pinning her arm to the ground again, he drew it to his face. He closed his eyes and flattened his own hand over hers and Katara remembered the glow of green crystals, his suspicious glare before he surrendered to her touch.
"Of all the things I regret," he said softly, drawing her back to the present, the rough texture of his scar under her fingertips again, "I regret that the most."
His hand relaxed and Katara knew that she could pull it away easily, knew somehow that he wouldn't stop her if she reached for her water now, and that sudden trust sowed doubt in her mind. She watched him, looking for any sign of deceit, any hesitation, but his face was creased with worry and fatigue, rather than malice. She became suddenly aware of his heartbeat pulsing in his neck, pumping softly under her own chest, and she let her fingers splay across his face. She stroked her thumb gently across the line between scar and skin, and felt him stiffen, then relax. He turned his face into the stroke, and his warm breath on her palm sent shivers down her spine.
Yue, she suddenly thought. Mom. What should I do?
Please, Zuko prayed, to whom he wasn't sure. Please… Her touch remained gentle and he felt hope surge inside him. Her hand drifted over his mouth and he kissed her palm, the pads of her fingers, and he rested his own hand lightly on her wrist. Pressed up against him still, he could feel her tremble at the touch, her sharp intake of breath, almost a gasp. He opened his eyes and found her face inches from his own, her blue eyes watching him intently. He saw judgment in her expression, and he held his breath. Please…
"I'm sorry, too," she whispered, so softly he strained to hear her despite their closeness. He looked at her, the surprise evidently visible on his face, because she continued. "Your sister… when you were thrown into the cavern with me… it was my fault." Her hand had wandered into his hair, stroking it back from his forehead, and Zuko wondered if it was a conscious gesture. "I saw… In Ba Sing Sei… I walked into a tea shop… and there you were, you and your uncle." He felt her draw in a shuddering breath. "I've thought about that moment so many times since; you looked… happy."
She closed her eyes and bowed her head, resting her forehead lightly on his chest. Zuko raised his own head as her hand slid to his neck, resting lightly over his pulse. "All I could think of at the time was that you had found us, again, and I had to get help." His other hand, the one still pressing Katara's to the ground, felt cold; he flexed it, then laced his fingers through hers and squeezed lightly. She stayed perfectly still for a moment, then she returned the pressure and continued.
"Since then, I realized that we hadn't seen you in months; that you'd stopped chasing us. In that tea shop… you were clearly trying to start over, but I was so scared, so angry, that I couldn't think." Katara shuddered against him again, and he slid his hand from her wrist up into her hair, stroking lightly. "I told your sister exactly where you were. If I hadn't… you wouldn't have ended up in that cavern, I wouldn't have yelled at you, she wouldn't have forced you to make that decision, and maybe you would still be in Ba Sing Sei… happy."
Her shoulders shook and Zuko lifted his hand from her hair to draw her into him. "Shhhh…" he whispered. "The mistake was mine. I chose poorly, and I've regretted it every day since, even if I couldn't admit it to myself." He kissed her hair, her forehead, and she looked up at him, unshed tears glimmering in her eyes. "Now, all I want is to redeem myself, and help the Avatar end this war. And…" he paused, let go of her hand to caress her face, "try to be worthy of the gift you once offered me."
"Zuko…" she whispered, and he heard a sob catch in her throat. "I can't… the Spirit Oasis water, I used it to heal Aang, when he –"
"No," he cut her off gently. "That's not what I meant. This scar…" He felt her hand drift across it again, her fingertips dragging along the ridges, and he wondered if she was aware of the gesture. "It reminds me of all I have to do, who I have to be." He caught her hand, kissed the fingertips, felt her shudder, and he felt deep in his core that something had changed between them. "It was never a mark of shame."
She met his eyes again and he saw deep within that ocean-blue gaze that she, too, realized the change. Her fingers were still on his lips where he'd drawn them, and impulsively he gently bit her index finger, lightly scraping his teeth across its tip. She gasped, softly, and closed her eyes, and Zuko knew that the world would never be the same.
"Katara…" he whispered, biting her middle finger as he inhaled. "I'm sorry."
Spirits… Katara thought, the sensation racing from her fingertip to her toes leaving a pleasant fire in its wake. What do I do now? Zuko's mouth – his lips, his teeth – moved to her ring finger, then her little finger, and she felt hot, too hot, pressed up against this boy, this man, who had tied her to a tree, had slammed her into a gate and stolen her hope, had trusted her and betrayed her, who now kissed her fingers with a tenderness that took her breath away. What do I do?
He drew her fingers from his mouth, cradling her hand in his so that both her hands were trapped by a grasp so soft she could break it, bring her palms together, seize his blood and choke the life from him before he could move. His eyes closed again as he guided her hand to his chest, resting it over his heart, and she realized, suddenly, that she didn't want to hurt him.
What do I want? and before she could think, before she could tell herself all the reasons to freeze him in place and run, she leaned down and kissed him. He tensed – in surprise? – and then kissed her back, lips soft beneath hers, yielding as they hadn't been only minutes before. He whimpered, a tiny sound deep in his throat, and she felt him arch against her as his tongue moved along her lips. One hand moved from hers, sliding along her hip to rest at the small of her back; she brought her own hand up to stroke his face.
Zuko's other hand, the one holding her other hand against his heart, tangled in her hair and Katara found herself scootching upward to angle her head and slide her tongue along his. He gasped into her mouth as their bodies pressed together and she felt hot and cold and on fire as she trailed her fingers along his neck and down his back. Distantly, she remembered Aang's lips on hers, soft and dry and desperate and nothing like this.
The part of Katara still urging her to run quieted as Zuko's hand slipped to her collar, pushing the fabric aside as he broke the kiss; before she could protest, she felt him kiss down her shoulder and she could think of nothing but staying, nothing but laying here with this boy she kept thinking she knew. His teeth scraped her skin, biting softly between kisses as she turned her head to nuzzle his ear, blowing softly as she heard him whimper again.
"Katara…" he breathed, the exhalation hot on her skin, and she shivered at the longing in his voice, longing she was surprised to find echoing in her own body. She felt him tug at her tunic, pulling the fabric back further, and thoughts of the war, their struggle against the Fire Nation, her friends fighting slipped to the back of her mind at the thought that here, now, she had to assure this exiled prince that his apologies were accepted, that he could help them defeat the Fire Lord and restore balance to the world. His hands were burning hot against her shoulders as he slid the tunic down her back, and she admitted to herself that she needed this too, this assurance that her panicked actions in Ba Sing Sei hadn't turned a powerful ally against them, hadn't shattered a fragile boy searching for a new path.
Then his hands fumbled with the belts of her waterskins, his fingers releasing the clasps and pushing her tunic down to tangle around her waist, her hands sliding under his own collar, pushing the fabric aside, and Katara knew that she wanted him, too, that she was almost fifteen, almost a woman, and heat raced over her as he heaved himself up to lean against the wall. She almost tumbled backwards, but he caught her and settled her in his lap, running his hands over her bare shoulders. Their lips met again, her own hunger reflected in the way he drew her face closer to his with one hand while the other found the end of her belt and began to untie it. Her hands found his own belt, found the cleverly intricate knot and had it undone before he figured out the trick to hers.
She slid his tunic down over his shoulders and he shrugged to help it off and let go of her belt for a moment to allow the fabric to fall free of his arms. Katara heard him sigh in satisfaction, almost a purr, as he finally untied her belt and pushed her own tunic open; his hands were hot against her sides and she broke their kiss to exhale freezing air across his shoulders as her tunic fell to the floor beside them. He arched up against her and whimpered again, except that this time he had his hands around her waist and the whimper turned to a gasp and a groan as he pulled her against him.
He struggled to remove her arm-guards, the process made harder by her own struggle with his boots and the kisses they kept stealing from each other, gentle nips and soft caresses and sighs and gasps as they each gained confidence. She leaned back to help him remove her own boots, heard him mutter about how she was wearing "far too many clothes," and she threw back her head to laugh, the sound bright and unexpected in the tunnel.
Zuko paused, looked up at her, and smiled hesitantly; the expression changed the lay of his features to something beautiful, and she reached out to cup his face, entranced. His golden eyes showed more depths than she remembered as she brought her mouth down to his, yellows and oranges and browns reflected in the dim light like none she had ever seen. "You're beautiful," she whispered, and closed her eyes to kiss him again. His arms tightened around her, his chest hot against her own, and he returned the kiss gently.
The rest of their clothing fell slowly to the ground, each a small struggle overcome by eagerness, and finally Katara crossed her arms and molded herself against Zuko's chest, suddenly shy. He kissed her neck, tangled one hand in her hair and ran the other soothingly over her bare back. "Hey," he whispered, and she shivered at the sigh of warm air along her skin. "If you don't want…" he began.
"No," she cut in. "I want… I want this." She pulled away from him, far enough to look at him, their eyes at the same level as she sat curled on his bare legs. He smiled again, softly, and that gave her the courage to uncross her arms and tentatively reach for him. She ran one hand down his chest, her fingers tracing the planes and dips of skin stretched taut over muscle and bone, and he closed his eyes and sighed, exhaling steam as he leaned back against the wall, his fingers gently kneading her lower back. She hummed softly, enjoying the sensation, and closed her own eyes as his hands moved higher, began to explore her body.
One hand slid over her neck and she felt him touch the pendant that hung at her throat, then his hand continued downward. She gasped at the sensation, leaning in to kiss him as heat built in her body and tingles ran from her core to the tips of her fingers and toes. He stroked her again, raising his other hand to trail it from her lips to her naval, and Katara's focus narrowed to Zuko: his hands, his lips, his knees awkward but firm beneath her, and the delicious pleasure he created; she shifted, twisting against him. She ran her own hands along him, and they moved together, kissing and stroking and sighing until Katara forgot her nervousness, forgot the lingering guilt and anger, and thought only of Zuko.
Zuko felt his control slipping as she suddenly cried out, arching her back as he continued his short, teasing caresses. "Spirits…" she gasped, and the gasps ran together until she panted, her breath hot, all memory of freezing cold vanished. "Oh, spirits, Zuko!" and she squirmed against him, rubbing up against the heat throbbing inside him and he gasped as her hand brushed him while she her hips bucked and her breathing grew more and more ragged. He kissed down her neck, down her chest, and she tried to speak. "I want… I want… I want you! Zuko, please!"
"Are you sure?" he whispered, slowing his movements, and she gasped again and drew his head down to kiss him.
"Yes!" Heat shot through Zuko at this affirmation, at how she brushed against him as she scrambled up, moving her legs to straddle him. He groaned, digging his fingers into her thighs and started to apologize, knowing it would hurt, but –
She positioned herself carefully and he gasped, bracing himself, and then he was sliding smoothly inside of her as they exhaled on the same long breath. He bit her shoulder softly and she shivered and kissed his neck, and he shivered as she moved along him, and they rocked slowly together, holding each other tightly.
"Dear sages, Katara," he whispered, and she whimpered in response. He bent his head to kiss along her chest, felt her arch up, sweat beading on her back, and he tasted salt as he teased her and she gasped. He felt pressure build in his thighs, agonizingly slow, and he shifted beneath her, twisting his body to lay back against the smooth rock floor.
She started to follow him down, stretching out along him, but he caught her hands, laced their fingers together, and braced her over him. She opened her eyes and they watched each other for a moment as they rocked, the movement faster and deeper. Zuko let his head fall backward as her eyes closed again, and he released one of her hands so that he could caress her thighs, the soft swell of her breasts. She splayed her hand out across his chest and bowed her head, and he felt the ends of her hair brush against his stomach as she rode him.
Pressure built within him, speeding his movements and his breathing; Katara matched his pace, gasping at the crest of each wave as they rocked together and he felt her clench ever-harder until finally she cried out, grinding down against him and his hips moved in response, thrusting into her as ecstasy broke over him and he lost himself, moaning as they crashed together and he clenched his teeth and his vision danced with white fire. Katara cried out again, almost a sob, and he followed her down into shuddering blackness.
Katara stirred first, struggling out of the warm haze she lay in. She blinked, smiled as she saw Zuko spread out beneath her; he was blazingly warm where her cheek had rested on his chest. He breathed slowly and deeply, his head resting against the rock, one arm draped over her back, the other across her shoulders.
She started to lay her head back down, intending to trace the hard lines of his chest while waiting for him to stir, but a distant rumble cut through the air and the rock around them. Her head jerked up and she listened for screams, clues for what had happened.
"Zuko," she said softly, shaking his shoulder. He came alert instantly, grabbing her wrist; for an instant, his grip was painfully tight, then he relaxed and looked up at her, blinking.
He looked down briefly, then blushed. Katara pushed down the sudden wave of – affection? – that swept over her. "Come on," she said, rising, bending the sweat and fluids from her in a single gesture. "Something's happening. We have to get out of here."
As she spoke, she sorted through their discarded clothing, searching for her undergarments. She pulled them on as Zuko rose, catching the shorts she tossed at him. She found her pants, her tunic; she re-tied her belt and settled her waterskins along her back. She pulled her hair back, running her hands through the tangles, then looked at Zuko, who was re-tying his own belt. "You're coming with me this time, right?"
Zuko picked up his sheathed swords, slung them across his back, took the hand she extended to him. "This time and always," he responded.