*AN: If you think I have rights or claims to any of these characters or that I'm making money off of this I have a lovely bridge you might be interested in purchasing. Please forgive formatting issues as this is a first posting, and I'm still learning the publishing process. Story is OLD. *
She'd just wanted to sleep. It had been a long day. Hell, it had been a long week, a long month, a long five years. As one of the main players in ending the Hundred Years war, one of the strongest Waterbenders, and one of the most highly demanded political advisers, healers, and diplomats in the world she was pulled in so many directions that a chance to turn in early and get an extra hour or two of shut eye sounded positively indulgent.
And honestly, was sleep so much to ask out of a surprisingly pleasant Firenation summer evening? It was usually oppressively hot, even after the sun set, but tonight it was almost balmy.
But instead of falling into her lavishly outfitted guest bed the Firelord had come tapping on her door almost as soon as she'd gotten back from the ambassador's meeting. It was closing in on midnight, and she'd had to fight not to snap at him in irritation. He had come a long way from the "angry jerk with the ponytail", but he was still painfully clueless at times. Such as when he showed up at her private rooms in nothing but a casual tunic and loose pants in the middle of the night. The clothing would have been fine five years ago, when they were still teenagers, but they were adults now, and he was going to start rumors if he kept it up.
At least he'd looked a little uncomfortable. But that, she'd learned, was a function of the message he'd had to pass on, than of any potential impropriety He'd made an odd comment, insisted she come with him, and led her out into the gardens.
So here she was, when she could be asleep, dealing with yet another unpleasant shock. And the evening had held such potential.
Katara gaped at the figures across the gardens from where she and Zuko hid behind a giant decorative urn, "You have got to be kidding me." She glanced back at him.
"Unfortunately, I'm not." He grouched, his voice a rough rumble.
They peered around the urn again, staring at the pair flirting like teenagers in the palace gardens. There was the low suggestive rumble from the figure in blue followed by a girlish laugh and the sound of a playful swat from the woman in red.
Katara shuddered and turned back to Zuko before muttering in horror, "She just giggled at him."
A pained look crossed Zuko's features and he rasped an exasperated, "I know."
"How long has this been going on?" the pair looked disturbingly comfortable with each other.
"Well…" Katara winced when she saw the pair in the distance drift closer to one another as they walked down the garden path, "What are we going to do about it?"
Zuko sighed, "Pretend it isn't happening?" he offered hopefully.
"Oh no." She shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest, "There's no way you can forget seeing something as horrifying as that." The man in the distance gallantly offered his arm and the woman took it shyly as they continued to walk.
"Welll…" Zuko hedged, "I had thought that maybe you would talk to him about it."
"ME?!?" Katara squawked in indignation.
"Shhhh!" he hushed her.
"Me?!?" She continued in a hiss, mindful now of the way sound carried in the still night air of the gardens, "Why should I have to be the one to do something about it?"
"He's your dad!"
"And she's your mom!"
"Yeah, but your dad is the guy, he's the one who must be leading the relationship. Or whatever it is." Zuko looked a little ill.
"Oh! That is SO sexist!"
"Well it's true!"
"Really?! And tell me Zuko – when you and Mai were dating – who was the one who was really leading the relationship?"
Zuko colored and his jaw took on that stubborn set that communicated the answer to her question loud and clear.
He chose to ignore the question, "You should talk to your dad anyway. She has more standing than he does, so it would be appropriate for him to back off."
A threatening, feminine pause followed this statement – one that Zuko had come to recognize as impending doom.
"Are you suggesting," her voice was dangerously calm, "That my dad isn't good enough for your mom?"
Crap. Impending doom was definitely on for the night, "No, no! That isn't what I meant at all!"
"Uhhh! This is just like you!" she poked him in the chest, glaring up at him, "Your mom would be lucky to have someone like my dad!" she poked him again, "Especially with her "conflicted" past."
"Hey!" Zuko snapped, "Don't you dare use that against her. She did what she had to do and she's made her amends and come to terms with it."
"Oh no I understand completely. You're saying that my father is beneath your mother. That there's no way a Watertribe peasant could ever possibly deserve to even breathe the same exalted air as the precious mother of the Firelord."
"Arrrgh!" a puff of fire escaped his lips and he tugged his hair in frustration, "Girls are so crazy!"
"Admit it," she continued, "for all your big talk and acting like you've changed you still think that you're better, and that she's better than a nobody from the Southern Water Tribe."
"What I'm thinking –" he snapped and grabbed her hands as he leaned towards her, "is that if our parents ended up together you would be my sister."
Her indignation collapsed with a huff, "Oh."
His expression shifted almost too fast to read, going from angry and meaningful to guarded. He was looking at her somewhat nervously, as if he'd revealed something he shouldn't have.
"I guess that would be, weird. Not that you would be a bad brother, but I've already got more brothers than I can stand in Sokka."
After a few moments of searching her face his expression shifted to one of vague relief and he cleared his throat awkwardly and took a step back, "Yeah. So, yeah…we can just, both talk to our parents."
Katara sighed, "this is going to be fun."
In a pavilion in the center of the garden Aang regarded Toph's sudden smirk warily.
"Oh this is going to be fun." She grinned.
"Its never a good thing when you smile like that."
She shrugged, still grinning maniacally "Depends."
"Depends on…" Aang trailed off, "You know what, never mind. I don't even want to know."
"See Twinkletoes, you're getting the hang of it."
Two days later found Zuko and Katara behind the urn again. Frankly, Katara was sick and tired of losing out on potential beauty sleep to making sure her father was behaving himself.
"Aren't they too old for this?" She muttered under her breath and then craned her face to peer at her companion, "Didn't you talk to your mom?"
"Okay, okay, sorry. Just wanted to make sure."
Zuko huffed in frustration, "Look, I've done what I can okay? We both have. You've talked to your dad. I've talked to my mom. What else can we do?"
Silence stretched between them as they watched their parents stroll slowly through the gardens. Lightning cicadas flitted through the air, glowing off and on as they filled the warm night air with their dull hum.
Katara peered at the older couple glumly, Zuko was right, what else could they do?
Then Zuko's words from two nights ago came back to her. If their parents ended up together it would mean that she and Zuko would be brother and sister. If they took the same concept and reversed it…
Her expression shifted into determination, "Oh I know exactly what we can do." She grabbed Zuko by the collar, pivoted smoothly and marched out into the garden paths, dragging him behind her.
When she finally stopped in the middle of a path she listened briefly to judge the distance and direction of Ursa's giggle before turning to Zuko.
"Okay. They're headed this way. Now kiss me."
Zuko gave her an incredulous look, "What?!"
"Kiss me!" she bossed with a scowl tugging on his tunic insistently.
He paused a moment more staring at her in disbelief, then shrugged one shoulder and leaned forward, bringing their mouths together.
Katara was beginning to think that this wasn't the best idea she'd ever had.
She thought that she'd known what she was getting herself into. Although it had been several years since her childish 'boyfriend/girlfriend' relationship with Aang had ended, they'd kissed and cuddled enough for Katara to be sure she knew what to expect from kissing Zuko. She was quickly discovering that kissing a grown man was very different than kissing a boy.
The fact that she had to tilt her head back and use Zuko's body as leverage made her feel small and feminine, something she rarely felt when she could routinely hand boys their asses in battle.
And she had to hold onto his shoulders which meant that she could feel how broad they were, and feel the corded muscles bunching and sliding under her fingers as he wrapped one arm around her waist and moved his other hand to cup the back of her head. This close to him she could smell the slight musk of his skin, and she wondered if it was just him that smelled so good, or if all Firebenders smelled warm and smoky like incense. She had noticed that when he was angry he sometimes began to smell slightly like charred wood.
The way one of his arms had wrapped around her in a loose hold made her feel safe and protected, and then there was the fact that he was warm. And rapidly getting warmer, she noticed. Did she feel cool to him then?
There was a soft sound to their right, and a muffled cough. Zuko pulled back and Katara's eyes opened to see gold-flecked amber glimmering at her in the low light.
Dragon eyes Katara's thoughts felt sluggish and unresponsive.
There was another polite cough and she and Zuko both turned at the same moment.
Ursa and Hakkoda were standing not 10 feet away.
Ursa looked thrilled, though she was doing a poor job of trying to hide it. Hakkoda looked like the presence of the woman at his side was the only think keeping him from assassinating the fire lord.
"Oh! Excuse us, we didn't know you two were enjoying the evening as well." Ursa, grinning broadly, tugged a glaring Hakkoda away and they disappeared down a side path.
Katara realized that Zuko had not released her.
She opened her mouth, but for the life of her could think of nothing to say. When she finally was able to look up into his face she found Zuko regarding her, wary and quiet. But with a glint of that stubborn determination behind his gaze that she remember very well from her initial meetings with him.
She opened her mouth again. And once again, shut it without saying anything. For a long moment she simply stared at him and his guarded expression.
She felt her cheeks heat and broke his gaze, dropping her eyes to find her hands still fisted in his tunic.
Well hell. She gave up, leaning her forehead against his shoulder. His muscles twitched, and then his arm tightened around her.
"That didn't go exactly how I was planning." She admitted, her words muffled against his body.
"Yeah. I sort of got that feeling."
His voice sounded rougher than usual.
"It…it could have turned out worse." Zuko suggested hesitantly, tensing as he spoke the words.
Katara found herself glad that he couldn't see her face, because she could feel her blush blaze from the implication.
"Yeah," her voice was barely a whisper. "Yeah, it could have been worse."
They were silent for a long time. Long enough that Zuko began to tentatively stroke her unbound hair.
"I think my dad is going to kill you."
Zuko expelled a breath that could have been a either sigh or a laugh, "I expected that."
"Well, considering the unfortunate political implications of having the chief of the Southern Watertribe kill the Firelord, I think, as a peace ambassador, I could find it in myself to save you."
Zuko snorted, "Good luck."
"You don't think I could take my dad?" she teased, suddenly feeling oddly lighthearted and free.
"Never underestimate a father protecting his daughter's virtue." He muttered, sounding like he was repeating his uncle's words.
"What about a Firelord protecting his mother's virtue?"
Her question surprised a rough laugh out of him and he pulled back to look down into her blushing face.
"There's a thought - stay away from my mother if you want me to stay away from your daughter?"
Katara fidgeted a little, conscious of the fact that his arms were still around her "Do you think it would work?" she whispered conspiratorially.
"I think..." he brushed a lock of hair behind her ear, "I think I'm not willing to risk having to uphold my end of the agreement." Zuko said softly.
"AW GEEZE!!! Just freaking tell her that you like her already!"even the cicadas went quiet at the ringing demand.
"TOPH!" Aang's hissed admonishment was clear in the sudden silence.
Zuko groaned and muttered something unflattering under his breath as Katara's helpless, embarrassed laughter tumbled into the night.
*Why isn't there more stuff with Ursa/Hakkoda? They're a cute couple. And dude, Zuko WISHES he were that suave.*