Hello, everybody! Welcome to Day 3. Sorry for the delay, but I when I woke up this morning, I had no inspiration. I knew the pointed I wanted to get to in today's piece, but I had no idea how to get there. Luckily, I just sat down, prayed to St. Jun to help me in my time of Zutara need, and started to write. Luckily, our patron Saint saw fit to answer my prayers (Tophgod bless you once again, St. Jun), and here is today's piece. There is less St. Jun today, but that's because there's more of my special brand of Zutara tension (you know the one I'm talking about), and really, St. Jun is out gathering information in ways that would be hindered if she had two young girls with her. It's all going according to her plan (Yes, I stole from Death Note, but I'm a Zutarian, and therefore under the protection of St. Jun, who renders the Death Notes useless. Hear that Light ya bastard! I DEFY you to write my name in that book! Ha!)

Anywho, please enjoy!


Prompt: Tolerable Enough to Tempt Me


" This is boring."

" Shush, this is important."

" How is following them around all afternoon important?"

" How do you expect to make a plan if you have no information to go on?"

" Easy. You get 'em alone, shove 'em into a closet, and let nature take things from there."

" Nature?"

" Hormones, whatever. Just stick Sparky and Sugar Queen close together for a while and they'll be all over each other, guaranteed."

" I wish things were that simple."

" Why wouldn't they be?"

" You've forgotten who we're talking about here- oh, they're moving!"

" I can see that."

" No you can't."

" Damn. Sokka usually falls for that one."

" Do I look like Sokka to you?"

" I wouldn't know, but you feel different."

" Do I?"

" Yeah, when you move- just like that – there's like...a lightness when you walk. Like you're not totally touching the ground. Twinkle Toes walks like that, but with you it's...it's more...like you mean it. With Twinkles it's more natu-Hey!"

" Sorry, there was a building on your left ."

" I coulda dodged it."

" Yeah, but I felt like helping out."

" I don't need help."

" I know. I just wanted to."

" If you were anyone by you, War Paint, I'd kicked your ass by now."

" I know."

" ...So, how're you and Sokka?"

" What, our disturbing display didn't give it away."

" I'm trying to make conversation."

" You're so cute when you're awkward."

" Quit laughing at me."

" I'm sorry Toph. You know I don't mean – There!"

" Huh? What?!"

" Right there!"

" Don't pull me, War Paint, I can land on my own."

" I've roof-hopping longer than you, Toph. Just trust me."

" Fine. So what's got you all- oh!"

" You see now why we need to follow them?"

" Not really. I just thought you and the Black Empress just liked stalking people."

" Toph, if this plan is going to work, we need to know everything about our clients. Where they go, what they eat, what kind of relationships they have with other people."

" I still think you two are over complicating things."

" Toph, if this works, we'll have sealed the peace for years to come. A waterbender as the wife of the Fire Lord? Can you imagine the strength and unity that could spring out of that union. We're not just doing this for ourselves anymore Toph. We're doing this for the world."

" Stop trying to sound so high and mighty and admit that you want Sugar and Sparky together because they look good like that, just like the rest of us."

" Toph..."

" C'mon, Paint, just say it."

" I want to help the world. ...And if I can help my friends find happiness at the same time, than all the better."

" Stupid, noble bitch."

" I'll take that as a compliment."

" If you must."

" Hmm, that looks promising."

" What? What looks- Holy shit!"

" Yeah."

" Damn. And that felt like good pie too."

" From the colouring...I'd say pomegranate."

" Wow. And now she's...just storming off, yeah that's original! Let's not try and patch up our relationship, no let's just walk off angrily and not resolve anything."

" Hey, take it easy."

" No, damnit, Sparky deserves better than some bitch who is never going to open up and let him talk about it!"

" Toph, maybe they're just mismatched. You can't lay all the blame on one person. It takes two to tango."

" And it takes one person to shut off the music."

" Toph..."

" Particularly if that person is the greatest earthbender in the world, and can flatten an orchestra with one move."

" While that is a lovely for me to have in my head, particularly for when I'm dancing with Sokka tonight at the Chun Festival, I think it's best we moved on to our other client."

" And what makes you say that?"

" Because there's nothing else to see here and..."

Suki smirked slightly. It wasn't unpleasant, but it gave Toph (who could sense the vibrations coming off the girl like waves) the same, punch-to-the-gut feeling she got whenever her mother used to take her shopping.

**_**

Katara opened the door of her hotel room after the first, angry knock, only to come face to face (alright, face to chest, damn him for being taller than her) with a very irritated, very sticky, very covered-in-dark-red-cream Zuko, who scowled at her stunned face and proceeded to walk into her room (uninvited, but they had reached the point where invitations were more of a formality, anyway. And besides, she was dying to hear the story behind his appearance), turn around, and cross his arms. The look on his face was reminiscent of the one he'd worn at the North Pole, but all the seriousness was taken out of the situation by the cream still dripping down the side of his face.

" What in Tui's name happened to you?"

" I went on a tour of a pie factory and fell into the mixing barrel." Zuko snapped, his eyes sparking. " What do you think happened?"

" I think the next words outta your mouth had better be: ' Sorry for snapping at you, Katara', or you and door are going to get to know each other real quick."

They stood, staring at each other, neither wanting concede and neither moving an inch. Zuko's scowl deepened, both his eyes fairly glowing under the dark curtain of his hair. A year ago, such a look from a firebender would have sent Katara shaking into a corner, wringing her wrists and trying very hard to avoid such a deadly, furious gaze. But her time in the war, whether at Aang's side or on her own, had taught her strength and courage her Gran-Gran's stories never could. There was an ease in the way she met his gaze (straight on, no hesitation, just her and Zuko, a battle of wills all over again. He was the proud prince from the Spirit Oasis again, and she donned the spiteful airs of the hissing shrew down in the catacombs under Ba Sing Se once more, and the two warriors met in sparks), and her fingers flexed, the water in the bowl by the table, with purple snap-roses.

Abruptly, Zuko looked down and then away, his bangs falling into his face to shield his eyes, and (she noticed, because it was Zuko and her senses heightened whenever she was around) his fists clenched at his side.

" Sorry. " He mumbled, and the warrior was replaced by the frightened, unsure boy who'd knelt beside her and shared her pain. And Katara, used to the mood swings and delicate leash on the temper of the Fire Lord, let her control on the water in the bowl slip away, and a smile work its way up onto her face.

" That's all I wanted to hear." She grinned at him. He offered her a weak smile, but she could tell it was fake. " Wanna tell me what happened?"

" Mai...threw the pie at me."

Katara froze as she was walking over to the cupboard on the opposite wall where the spare towels were kept. She turned, very slowly, trying very hard not to think about the looks she'd seen on Mai's face earlier that day.

" She...she what?"

" She threw the pie at me." Zuko said through gritted teeth. " I just...I went to all that trouble to...to do something for her...and she literally throws it back in my face."

Katara gulped, and walked over to the cupboard with quick, choppy steps. Pulling out a large, fluffy, brown towel, she turned again. Zuko had seated himself on the arm of the couch in the room, his one hand pressed over his face (where his scar was, she noted with a tinge of remorse, and the empty space on her belt where the Spirit Water had hung felt heavy), his head bent and his other hand fisted in his robe. Katara made a move towards him, but his rough voice stopped her.

" I just...I just don't...I don't...get it." He struggled for words. The hand in his robes tightened. " I just...I try so hard...I want to make her happy. I want to see her smile. I want her to laugh with me, and let me hold her." A strange, cold curl erupted in Katara's chest as she walked forward, but she pushed it down, hissing angrily at herself in her head and throwing a swift look at the waiting snap-roses. They floating peacefully on the water, sucking it up greedily, and Katara, with the trained eye of a waterbender and a daughter of the South Pole, where nothing was taken for granted came without its price, noted that she would have to add more soon, or risk letting the flowers die.

" But everything I do is wrong!" Zuko's pained voice jostled her from her daydreaming. He'd curled himself up on the arm of the couch, his head (still covered with dark red cream) buried in the arms he had looped over his bent knees (and smearing the aforementioned cream all over his forearms and sleeves.)

" Zuko..." Katara bit her lip, vaguely wondering how she was supposed to deal with him when he was in such a state. He was nothing like the proud warrior or apologizing boy or even the unsure by hopeful comrade she'd come to know. He was just a teenaged boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders (so like Aang, she realized. But Zuko, to his credit, carried it better. She'd never once, before the moment he'd come storming into her hotel room, seen him run from his responsibilities. It was one of the things she admired most about him.), who couldn't understand what had gone wrong.

Idly, as she reached forward to touch his shoulder, she wondered if this is what he'd looked like the first time he'd seen his scar.

" I mean, every little thing ends in us fighting!" Zuko pressed his hands into his sticky hair. " And I don't understand why! I'm trying so hard, but the more I do, the more we fight!" He looked up, and Katara's and froze as she registered the shine in his pleading eyes. " Are all woman this difficult? Is it always this hard in a relationship? I mean, does it..." He gulped. " ...does it always...hurt this much?"

Katara doused him in the water from the bowl.

He sputtered, and flailed his arms back and forth until he over compensated and his weight sent him crashing to the floor. He looked up at her from his position, sodden and angry.

" What the hell, Katara?!"

" Oh, shut up, and take it like a man." She muttered, twisting her hand around so that the water swished back and forth over his form, sopping up the cream and lifting it from his hair and clothes. With another flick, the water, ladened down with the cream, flew off of him and was thrown out the window. His face, still dripping with cream mixed with water, looked up at her, surprised.

" What-" He started, but Katara cut him off, kneeling down to his level, bringing the towel up with her other hand to mop at the mess made by the viscous solution of water and cream as it trailed down his face. She smiled at his stunned look.

" You're such an idiot sometimes." She dabbed at his cheek. " You always try to make everything out to be your fault, even it's not. Whenever anyone is hurt, or sad, or angry, you try to make them feel better by letting them blame you."

" I didn't let you blame me." He said softly, and he was looking directly into her eyes, his own flashing with something dark and deep. She flushing slightly, but forced it down (just as she had with that strange, cold feeling that had coiled up her chest at the mention of Zuko and Mai), and continued to use the towel to clean his face.

" I'm..." She tried to come up with the words that could accurately describe her turbulent thoughts. " You and I...the relationship we share...it's different." Under her hand, under the towel, Zuko spasmed the tiniest bit. Katara ignored it. " We're...we can...we understand each other." The towel shifted so that she could wipe his forehead, the mass of brown blocking out his eyes. " We can talk about things. We can share things."

" Katara?" His voice sounded small and scared and hopeful all at once, and Katara felt herself reach out to him.

" You don't need to be my martyr, Zuko." She pulled the towel back and inspected his face. She avoided looking in his eyes, which, when she accidentally glanced at them, were burning brightly under the bangs plastered to his pale forehead by excess water. " You and I...we're equals."

She reached forward, and brushed the hair out of his face, her own eyes still closed in her smile.

" So stop acting like this is all your fault. Whatever's going on between you and Mai, both of you need to take some responsibility. Sit down and talk, okay?" She poked him lightly in the forehead like Sokka had done when they were children and he thought she was being stupid. " It'll all work out." She pulled back, still smiling, and trying very hard not to acknowledge the lump of lead that had dropped into her stomach.

A warm, pale hand shot out and pulled her back.

Zuko grabbed her wrist, pulling her closer to him as she tried to pull away. The towel fluttered to the ground next to them, landing with a dull thunk on the wooden floor of the room. Katara looked at the Fire Lord with wide eyes, her mouth parted slightly and her confusion evident on her face. The hand around her wrist gripped it lightly bit firmly, pale fingers coiled around the tanned skin and a warmth radiating from each and every fingertip as though underneath them, an inferno raged.

The warmth spread along her skin, racing down her arm and over she shoulders and down her chest and over her whole body, curling itself into the pit of her stomach, melting the lead lump and making her face feel hot and strange. Her heart, usually steady and strong, beat faster and faster in her chest, thrumming against her rib cage so fast she was surprised the bones didn't shatter from the impact, didn't break from the sheer amount of force her heart was using. She brought one hand up, without thinking, to press against her chest, feeling the thundering beats reverberate through her. The hand pressed closer, into the valley of her breasts, and the golden eyes across from her flickered down to follow the motion hungrily.

The hot curl in her stomach began to tighten, just the slightest bit.

" Zu-Zuko?" She whispered, and hated herself for stuttering. His eyes flicked back up to her face, staring, as though he were memorizing every dip and curve of her face. He looked right into her eyes, seeking, burning, and there was something there in that look, something dark and forbidden and frightening.

And she wanted it.

She wanted it more than she'd wanted to learn waterbending, more than she'd wanted to save the world, more then she'd wanted to stop Azula on that terrible night (he'd stepped between her and lightening; she'd wondered, even months later, why Azula had fired at her. What had the deranged princess seen in the way Zuko looked at her that made her whip a strand of deadly energy at Katara. If she'd seen what Katara was seeing now in those eyes, she didn't wonder at Azula's actions).

The air around her, them, sizzled and steamed, each breath a gust of hit air to her lungs. The hand on her wrist tightened and pulled her body forward, bit by bit, slowly bringing her face to face with him as the curl in her stomach twisted over itself in a molten frenzy, and something strangely constricting and soft worked its way into her chest. She took a breath, but somehow her lungs felt too small, pressed too close together to be able to take in the air (saturated with something she couldn't name. Or was it that she didn't dare name it, for fear of what naming it would bring?) that was superheated.

" Katara." Zuko rasped, and in his tone, there was a question, a plea, that Katara desperately wanted to answer. The hand on her wrist slowly dragged its way up her arm, grazing over the silk of her Earth Kingdom robes (why was she shivering? Everything around her was so hot, but she couldn't help but quiver under Zuko's hands), the heat searing through the thin material and dancing over her skin. He pulled her so close she could feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek and smell the faint, lingering scent of pomegranates in his hair and suddenly the world burned away and Zuko was all she could see, Zuko with his blazing eyes and his determined face and desperate, hopeful question that permeated from every pore on his body, that manifested itself in his every word and movement, and Katara leaned forward, and answer in her eyes-

" Serious, Twinkle Toe, you need to calm down. Rushing off everywhere will get you into trouble one of these days."

The two flew apart as a knock sounded on the door, and Aang's gentle voice came lilting in.

" Katara, are you there?"

There was a split second of fury that etched itself onto Zuko's face that was echoed in Katara before she pushed it back and got to her feet, shakily. Behind her, she heard Zuko pull himself up, but didn't dare turn around, for fear of what she'd see in his eyes.

Aang smiled at her as she answered the door, and Suki and Toph, followed him in with pleasant smiles and girlish banter. Katara explained why Zuko was in her room, and as Toph laughed herself sick at the thought of the Fire Lord covered in cream, Aang lamented the waste of a good pie. Katara giggled with Suki at the silliness of boys, and tried very hard to ignore the burning sensation of blazing eyes that followed her every move like a predator stalking its prey.

**_**

" Are you seeing this?"

" Tell me that was a rhetorical question."

" Now is not the time for blind jokes. Can't you feel it?"

" His vibrations...hoh boy, what a mess he's gotten himself into."

" And you're sure about...earlier?"

" Yes, I'm sure."

" Sure sure?"

" Could you please trust me on this?"

" We can't afford even one screw up and this point. If what you told me is true-"

" Which it is."

" –then we need to tell Senpai as soon as possible."

" And what exactly are we telling her?"

" That the Fire Lord has finally seen fit to act like a man and make a move on my sister-in-law."

" You and Snoozles aren't married."

" I-I know. I just...sometimes, I'd like to imagine...that he might...you know."

" Relax, I'm sure he's gearing up to ask you."

" Thanks."

" No problem. Oh wow, he's not even trying to hide it, is he?"

" Not at all. Idiot, he'll bungle up everything if this keeps up."

" We're lucky Twinkle Toes is so oblivious."

" He won't stay that way for long if this keeps up."

" You get back to the Black Empress, and leave this little mess to me."

" What?"

" Go and report and come up with a plan. I'll run a distraction and make sure Twinkles is none the wiser."

" You sure?"

" Positive. I can take Twinkles, any time, any place."

" Alright. Just let me make any excuse..."

" War Paint, you're a young girl in love in the middle of the most romantic festival of the Earth Kingdom."

" Good point."

And as Suki walked over to where Katara was conversing with Aang (she was listening to him talk, nodding and trying to look like she was paying attention), and trying very hard to ignore the look Zuko (who was being far too obvious and stupid for Toph's tastes) was giving her, the self-proclaimed greatest earthbender in the world let a smirk to rival her mother's when she was on a shopping spree slip up onto her face. The effect was rather ruined by the fact that she was facing the wall away from her soon-to-be victims, but the aura of sadistic delight was enough to have Suki raise an eyebrow as she walked out.

" Have fun." The older girl muttered out of the corner of her mouth. Toph felt her walk calmly out the door, and then vanish as she swung up into the air, only to appear again on the roof.

" Oh," Toph whispered to no one in particular (but somewhere in the Spirit World, Roku gave a shudder and Kyoshi nodded approvingly), " I intend to." She smirked at the unsuspecting trio. " I intend to."


And there's Day 3. I knew what I wanted to write the second I read that quote. I pictured Zuko bitching to Katara about Mai and how it's not working out (again, bit parties are at fault), and her tolerating his whining, and helping him, and makign him feel better. As a result, Zuko is severely tempted by Katara's understanding and good nature, and tries very hard not to yield to the temptation to tell her how he feels. The pie was just for fun.

A little more symbolize here.

Brown is, according to wikipedia, the colour of comfort and dependability. Katara using it to help Zuko shows that he can always look to her for help when he need it.

The flowers floating in the water are from Aang. They are a combination of roses (love) and snapdragons (presumption). The message, although intended for the reader, not Katara, is ' a presumptuous love'. Can you guess why I made the flowers from Aang to Katara have such a message?

The flower in the water- snapdragons drink a lot of water. The flowers are sucking up the water very quickly, and Katara realizes she must put more in or the flowers will die. This is symbolic of her relationship with Aang. He demands more and more of her without asking what she wants (like expecting her to always take his side, or to be his girlfriend after the war without even asking her, assuming that she 'owes him' because he 'saved the world for her'). She has to put more and more effort into the relationship or it will break down, and Aang will just keep taking 'the water' (her effort) and expecting more. And all he gives in return is momentary comfort (like flowers in a vase. They need to be fussed over and looked after or else they'll die, while flowers in the nature can be admired without much effort going into it - re: the natural way) Notice that, without even thinking about it (or maybe she was thinking about it and feelign vindictive) Katara uses the water (her best effort) that is keeping the flowers (her relationship with Aang) to wash off the pomegranate cream (his fruitless relationship with Mai) off of Zuko. Water, in any piece of literature, usually symbolizes cleansing. And as for the purple, well, this is a Zutara fic. Can't get away with writing it without a little purple.

Roof hopping is totally stolen from Naruto. So is Katara poking Zuko in the forehead. It's what Uchiha Itachi always does to his younger brother Sasuke. In his final scene, he does it in the most heartbreaking and ironic way possible, and I'll forever love him for it. That's my homage to him! Yay, Itachi!

The Black Empress - C'mon, Toph had to give Jun a nickname to get back at her for the 'Doll Face' thing.

Black Lotus Ops is based after the ANBU Black Ops from Naruto. I just thought it sounded cool, and Naruto is one of my favourite fandoms, if you couldn't tell.

I think that's about it. Stay tuned for tomorrow for 'In Which There is Denial', with prompt #4, 'Pretender'!

MoS