Title: Zutara Week '09
Author: Jade Sabre
A/N: This is the last one I have done for last year's challenges…we'll see if anything comes of the last three. I struggled a bit with this one, but it is probably my second favorite, after "crossover." I hope you enjoy it, and look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Disclaimer: A:TLA still doesn't belong to me. Alas.
challenge 4: cactus juice
Zuko woke in the middle of the night because he couldn't breathe, and he couldn't breathe because there was a hand over his mouth, and that hand was attached to Katara, one finger against her own lips as she loomed over him in the darkness. He blinked, but she was still there, her laughing eyes the only feature he could make out in her face. She smiled as she saw him and straightened, beckoning him to follow; confused, he stood, and she grabbed his hand and dragged him along as she danced around the others' sleeping bags.
It wasn't until they were out of the house, skipping down the steps towards the beach, that he allowed himself to speak. "What are you doing?"
"You'll see," came the reply, followed by another giggle. He gave up and concentrated on watching where his feet fell on the pebbly ground, trying not to be distracted by the way her wavy hair caught threads of moonlight amidst the dark—
He tripped and only her quick thinking saved them from both going down. Of course, her brilliant plan was to grab his other hand and tug him back to his feet; they were uncomfortably close together, and her eyes were strangely bright. "Um," he said, but she was already turning away.
She led him to the beach, where an unlit fire pit and a Fire Nation canteen were waiting for them. "Tada!" she said, releasing his hands in order to present her surprise.
Zuko blinked. "You dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night in order to have me light a fire for you?"
"No," she said, giggling as if this were the funniest thing he had ever said. "I dragged you out of bed to light a fire and to share something with you. If you will." She sat down on the sand next to the fire pit and reached for the canteen.
He hesitated, if only because it seemed a waste to ruin the moonlight's effect on her skin by starting a fire, but after coaxing a small one to life he sat down next to her, pulling up his knees and waiting. She uncorked the canteen and sniffed it, then held it out for him to smell; its odor was sweet, milky, with a hint of something odd that made him feel a little light-headed. "What is it?"
"Sokka must have saved some," she said, trying to look down the small hole to see the contents. "I woke up and I was thirsty, and the water in my waterskin is old, and so I went to see what Sokka had—"
"You stole your brother's water?" he said. "You're a waterbender. Couldn't you just—"
"Most of the water around here is salt water," she said, regarding him as if he were an idiot. "So I found this in Sokka's sack, and had a taste, and then I thought I needed to share it."
"Why?" he asked. "And why me?" He tried not to sound too hopeful or desperate.
"Well," she said, "first I think we should try some. Come here."
It was like something out of a dream, except that he would never ever admit to having such a dream: his lips and Katara's, with only a spare bit of metal between them, she staring deep into his eyes, her hands covering his as she directed the bottle towards his mouth. "You have to promise," she whispered, her breath smelling rather like the contents of the bottle, "that you won't tell anyone about this."
"All right," he said, and then he was drinking it, and then she took the bottle away from him and he was almost upset but instead he was laughing, and she was chugging and laughing, and somehow they were both lying on their backs in the sand and laughing. It hurt his stomach, the laughing, like he hadn't laughed so hard in years, but he couldn't stop. He felt her shift and turned his head to see her turning on her side, shaking her head only to have all her hair fall in her face. He laughed. She blew on it, causing an explosion—a parting—he saw her expression, annoyed, and her eyes round like the moon. Except that there were two moons. But not in the sky, in Katara's face, but they weren't moons, they were her eyes, they were moon-like—he lost hold of the coherent thought, and basked in the silver light in her eyes until her hair covered them again.
He reached out with two fingers, poking around—"That's my nose!"—until he lifted the hair away from one eye; she squinted at him, and he laughed.
She tossed her head, freeing her face, her eyes round and shining as she stared at him, unblinking even as she brought the bottle back to her mouth, drinking again. It left her lips with a smack and she handed it to him and said, "Drink more."
"Does the moon have a name?" he asked, taking the bottle, tasting metal and cactus juice and somehow disappointed for it, and she giggled, and he choked and swallowed and laughed because metallic giggles echoed between his ears, erasing the question.
"You," she said, and then she giggled, and said, "I can't see—you're always so—"
He couldn't feel the sand against half his face, and liked it that way; he was lying on air, the only way he could possibly be elevated to such celestial heights. "So?" he said, as if it mattered.
"Serious," she said, and she was laughing and snorting and trying to snatch the bottle back, but he held it away and she said, "And your smile is like a rainbow. Upside-down."
"Rainbows are circles," he said.
"So many colors," she said. "It looks like…"
"The moon?" The moons had moved, and he wasn't really sure moons ought to be able to move so rapidly, but perhaps it only looked fast because he was so close to the goddess peering through them.
"Ice," she said, shaking her head back and forth on the hand that precariously supported it. "Ice when the night won't end, and the hunters are hiding inside."
The crackling of the fire could have been the snap of a frost, but the air was warm and sleepy, snoring even, although maybe that was Sokka, and maybe Sokka would know what Katara (Katara Katara Katara he lost himself in the name because it sounded like the push-pull-push of a wave of a tide and the moon was push-pull-pushing his stomach over and over) meant and he asked her name, except instead he said, "Why me?"
She tried to shrug sideways and instead her head slipped off her hand and thumped against the sand and he thought the hunters were coming, but she giggled and he forgot again. "Well," she said, shifting the sand, "Sokka would've brought Suki, and I like Suki but they would've gone all googly-eyed and started kissing or something like that, and then Aang and Toph are too little, so it had to be you."
Zuko was a little pleased that the spirit of the moon-eyes had chosen him. He was so rarely chosen for anything else. "It had to be me?"
"Yep! Two grown-ups, sharing a grown-up pastime." She waved her arm and the stars fell from the sky to become her jewels, dusting her skin like diamonds. Suddenly there were a million prismed Kataras, a kaleidoscope of them turning, turning over his head, and he realized it was because she was leaning over him, her hair tickling his ears as she tilted her head—the Kataras all turned in the opposite direction, merging into one and then splitting out again—tickling his ears—like—like—
"I think I'm being attacked by a furry monster," he whispered, wide-eyed, unable to see anything past the curtain of her hair and the constantly revolving moons of her eyes.
"No you're not, silly," she whispered, and then something that tasted like cactus juice but wasn't was touching his lips, and so he opened his mouth and drank, deeply, reaching up with his hands to—
"Furry monster!" he yelled in panic, or tried to yell, bolting up, but his lips were stuck to Katara's and his hands were being wrapped like a furry boa constrictor had hold of them, and she was screeching something about ow, ow, my hair, the furry monster has my hair has my hair and the harder he struggled the more she squealed until their heads connected with a painfully loud thud and they collapsed to the ground.
Zuko blinked the stars away, and for a brief lucid moment he realized Katara's head was lying on his chest and her shoulders were shaking and he lifted his arms to see that his hands were tangled in her hair, soft and silky. She propped her chin up on his chest and said, "Ow."
"Your hair is soft," he said.
"You're like a pillow," she said, experimentally pushing against his chest, bouncing her finger up and down. "A really hard, nicely covered pillow. Not as fat as a pillow, but still…fluffy! Are you filled with feathers?"
"I think your eyes are pretty," he told her.
She slipped her hand inside his shirt. "No feathers," she said, disappointed, her fingers dancing over his skin.
"You smile pretty," he said.
"I thought a rich pillow like you would have feathers," she continued, oblivious to the fact that his hands had freed themselves from her hair and were now stroking her head. She withdrew her hand from his shirt—for the best, he was starting to think that ants were running all over his chest, and he really hated fire ants—and said, "Oh well," and dropped her head face-first into his chest. Within seconds, she was snoring.
For the third time that night, Zuko couldn't breathe. But there wasn't anything to do about it, so he closed his eyes and went to sleep, and dreamed of moons and suns colliding.