"Katara!" Toph's voice wrenched her from sleep.
"Why does everyone just feel the need to barge into my room!" Katara grumbled and rolled onto her back.
Toph hovered above her bed with a grin on her face. "I haven't been able to bug you all year." She shoved Katara in the shoulder, almost flipping her off the bed. "Besides you have to get up, Twinkle Toes has been spotted outside the city."
Katara cringed and slipped her feet onto the cold floor. She wasn't sure she what Aang would do when he saw her, she wasn't even sure what she was going to do. Behind her she could hear Toph sigh and shuffle over to her.
"Sugar Queen." Katara sighed and looked up at Toph. "Aang has had a year, he got over it and he has forgiven you. You know what Twinkle Toes is like, he can't hold grudges."
Katara smiled at her friend, and got to her feet. "You're probably right."
"I'm always right." Toph grinned. "Come on, hurry up get dressed so we can catch up with the others."
"Alright, alright." Katara huffed and padded over to the wardrobe.
Toph leant against the bed post as Katara riffled through the clothes. She ended up pulling out an outfit that looked similar to her old Fire Nation outfit. The top still left her mid-drift bare but it had a scoop neck and long off shoulder sleeves. The skirt was a simple one, ankle length and a shade darker then the top. She slipped her feet into the sandals and walked back over to Toph.
"Alright I'm ready." Katara wished that Toph couldn't feel her pulse racing.
Toph raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. Katara wondered how long they had left her to sleep before someone had thought to wake her up. The doubt crept back into her mind, maybe they should have let her sleep, maybe Aang wouldn't want to see her as soon as he got back.
"Calm down Katara! I can feel your pulse all the way to my head." Toph didn't look at her but turned slightly to grasp her shoulder. "You know I don't like to get soft Katara, but listen to me. Aang has forgiven you, he's over you, you hurt him but he forgave you." Katara flinched. "He's not going to yell and scream at you just because you came out to meet him." Toph flicked her fringe out of her face. Katara smiled at the girl and went to hug her. "But if you don't stop mopping I'll have to just kick your butt to make you listen to me."
"You haven't changed Toph." Katara laughed and felt herself calm a little.
"Why change what's perfect?" Toph grinned and walked out of the room, Katara hurried after her.
"Why did they call him away?" She asked as they walked, Zuko's explanation had been vague.
"Bumi wanted to see him, to make sure he had mastered Earth Bending I suppose. I was meant to go with him so I could see what how good the crazy old guy was but my parents came to town and I had to stay here." Katara could see a slight scowl on the younger girls face.
"Did you enjoy seeing your parents Toph?" As she asked Toph's face softened.
"Yes but I wish they wouldn't make me dress up and do all the girly stuff like they used to. They still can't get used to the fact that I can take care of myself and I'm not like other noblemen's daughters. My mother said she would be happy if I just found a husband." Toph grimaced at word, Katara shared her pain. "We should just marry each other, I'm sure our parents would be happy." Katara started and looked at the earth bender. "Kidding Katara."
Katara rolled her eyes. "Very funny, Toph. At least your parents are just hoping you'll get married my father's ordering me to."
"Listen Sugar Queen, I know your bummed out about your dad and the whole marriage thing but can't you just worry about it later? Besides what can he do if you don't marry anyone by the end of the year?" Toph shrugged. "He's bluffing, he knows you'll fold to make him happy Katara, just don't fold."
Katara nodded. "Maybe your right." Toph raised an eyebrow and opened her mouth to speak. "I know, I know, you're always right."
"Hi Katara..." Katara froze and looked at Aang, he was smiling nervously. "It's good to see you again."
Katara's chest squeezed a little. "Hey Aang, it's good to see you too." He had grown since she had been gone. He was taller than her now, training had given him a bit more of a solid body but she could still see the lanky kid she had left behind. "How was Bumi?"
Aang smiled, the kid was still in there. "Crazy as always. How was home?"
Katara smiled stiffly. "It's not really home anymore."
Aang frowned then stepped forward and pulled Katara into a hug. She froze for moment before she hugged him lightly back. "You can just stay here with the rest of us then."
Katara relaxed and smiled, she squeezed him tight before letting him go. Aang drew back and looked down at her, just. "Thanks Aang. I missed having you guys around."
"Welcome back Aang." Zuko walked into the hall and smiled, casting Katara a strange look. She stepped a little further back as Zuko clapped the Avatar on the shoulder and smiled. "How's the Earth kingdom?"
Aang shrugged. "Their doing alright but they could use some more supplies or some spare hands." Zuko nodded. "Oh, and Bumi told me to give you this." Aang offered Zuko a sealed scroll.
Zuko plucked the scroll from Aang's fingers and tucked it inside his robe. "I'll see if I can spare some people for the Earth Kingdom."
"Bumi would appreciate that." Aang nodded.
Katara looked at the two of them, zoning out to their conversation. Aang was still shorter than Zuko but he was catching quickly catching up. Aang still looked like a kid but he was changing fast, the way he spoke was different from before, more mature. She supposed that the Avatar had to be grown up to handle the Nations problems. Toph nudged her in the side and she looked down at the girl.
"It's rude to stare." Toph whispered with a grin.
"I wasn't staring..." Katara stopped and glared at Toph. "Very funny."
"I know." Toph laughed, Aang and Zuko looked up. "Come on Twinkle Toes, I'll show you around again, Zuko keeps building things."
"I'm restoring the palace to..."
"Yeah yeah." Toph waved her hand at him and hooked her arm in Aang's. "He even added a training room for me, dragged earth in just for me." They walked away with Toph still talking.
"I'll see you at dinner Katara." Aang called over his shoulder.
"Bye Aang." She called back.
"Strange seeing him again?" Zuko was staring at her, that strange look on his face again.
"A little." Katara admitted. She studied his face. "What was that look for?"
"The one you gave me when you came into the hall." She narrowed her eyes at him. "I saw it."
Zuko shrugged. "I saw you hugging Aang, it was strange is all." He huffed and pulled the scroll back out of his robe. "Walk with me?"
"Where are we going?" She fell into step beside him.
"Training?" He grinned and slipped a finger between the roll of the scroll to break the seal. His eyes skimmed the page and his face darkened.
"What?" She looked over at the paper but he rolled it up.
"Nothing, just some bad news." He tucked it in his robe once again and opened the door to the training room.
There was a large barrel of water to one side of the room. Katara grinned. "Do I get my own training room like Toph?"
"She gave me no choice, it was that or she was going to ruin the gardens. I like the gardens...they were my mothers." Katara glanced at the door quickly and took his hand in hers. Zuko looked at her and smiled. "Besides it's not really a room, just a bare patch of ground with walls and a roof."
Katara laughed. "Toph would love it."
Zuko stretched away from her to close the door behind them. "It would be better if she stopped metal bending the walls in and out of shape, eventually the roof is just going to cave in." He turned back to her and pulled his hand from hers.
Katara frowned slightly and walked over to him. "If I hear a crash I'll let you know. I'm sure Aang will keep her busy for a while now he's home." The tiniest hint of jealousy sparked at the idea of them spending time together. "Toph always liked him...after Sokka of course." She began to laugh but stopped when she meet Zuko's eyes.
Zuko nodded silently. He looked down at her, the strange look appearing on his face once more. His lips pulled into a thin line and his eyebrows came together. Katara sighed and stood toe to toe with him, wishing she was taller so she could look him directly in the face.
"What is wrong? Is it the letter?" She laid her hands on his chest; she heard the paper of the scroll crinkle under her palms.
Zuko shrugged. "The letter is nothing new, I've been receiving them for months now. It's nothing I can't handle."
"Who is sending them?"
"Bumi, I've gotten one from your father, one from the southern water tribe. I even get them from noblemen in every nation."
Katara sighed. "Get what?"
"Lists of eligible women that they want me to marry." Zuko's eyes focused on something across the room.
Katara froze and pushed him away. "My father sent you one?"
Zuko nodded. "You were on the very top." He still refused to look at her.
"How long did you know?" She crossed her arms, anger bubbled up in her chest. Behind her the water barrel started to shake.
"I got the letter a few days after you left." Zuko finally looked back at Katara. "I didn't have a way to tell you, to warn you."
Katara's finger dug into her arms. "You would have sent hawky."
"Hawk's can't fly that far over open water. There's nowhere for them to rest." Zuko ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. "I couldn't do anything, Katara. I wanted to warn you, I almost sent a balloon after you until Toph pointed out that I had to stay here."
"You should have found a way rather than let my father set me up like that!" The water barrel exploded behind her, sending water pouring across the floor. It brushed over Zuko's feet like a tiny wave. "How could he tell you before he even told me?" The water froze, sealing Zuko to the floor.
"I tried." He stretched out his hand but she leant away from him. "Do you really think so little of me?" She began to answer, he smiled ruefully. "Don't answer that. But no matter what you think of me you can't think I would do that to you after the same thing has been happening to me do you?" His finger twitched in the air, brushing the sleeve of her shirt.
Katara was silent for a moment, until she dropped her arms, putting herself in his reach. Gently Zuko grasped her arm and pulled her across the ice to him. He wrapped his arms around her waist and held her against his chest. Katara took a deep breath and rested her head on his shoulder. He squeezed her tighter and bent his head to her hair.
"You're horrible at holding grudges you know?" He said into her hair.
Katara pulled a hand free to punch him. "Only when it comes to you."
Zuko laughed softly and kissed the top of her head. Katara lifted her head in surprise, Zuko smiled. "I've kissed you before."
"I guess I can't get used to the Fire Lord being so gentle and kind. I still remember when you stole my necklace and had me tied to a tree." She glared at him half heartedly.
Zuko spun them around and put her back to the door. "I'll save you from the pirates."
"That was so cheesy." Katara smirked, but her heart was pounding in her chest just the same as it was that night, so many years ago.
"I like cheesy." He protested.
"That's because you are..." She lost her breath as Zuko's hands trailed down her side and gripped her hips. "Cheesy." She let out a long breath.
Zuko's gold eyes glinted in the dark, he could feel her heart racing against his own and the gentle shiver in her arms when she looped them around his neck. He smiled down at her. He could never get over how different she was to Mai, how wonderfully different.
Zuko leant close to her and slipped the robe from his shoulders, dropping it to the floor and his lips brushed her as he spoke. "Ready?"
She smirked and pulled water to her hands. "Always."
Zuko leapt back and his hands erupted in flames, they danced along his fingers and forearm. He flew towards her, bending flames in an arc before him. Katara dodged to the side, sliding along the ground and bending ice in his path. Zuko slid into the wall but kept his balance. He jumped away from the ice and came at her. Katara met his blows with water, steam began to fill the room as he drove her back. He swept wave after wave of fire at her, always keeping it from touching her. She didn't realise he was driving her towards the barrel of water.
"Is this the best you can do?" Katara yelled over the roar of his flames and whipped water at him, glancing off his stomach.
"No." Zuko yelled back and grinned, giving one last shove with his fire.
Katara stepped back, her back forced up against the barrel. She smiled and reached behind her, immersing her hands in the water. "Bad move."
She pulled the water to her, taking every last drop from the barrel and coating herself. It was her turn. She ran towards him, the water taking the brunt force of the heat. Zuko danced away laughing. They circled each other, dodging and attacking in a dance. Katara bent the water away from her mouth and nose every minute or so to take a breath. Zuko sweated in his own heat, the steam was getting to him but Katara was well protected.
"That looks like a good idea." He said and let his fire die. Zuko leapt forward, straight into her water bubble.
Katara almost dropped her bubble when he joined her but managed to hold onto it. She shook her head and pointed out but Zuko just smiled. He half stepped, half swam towards her. The bubble rippled as she lost a little concentration. She glared at him, trying to figure out his plan without speaking. He hovered closer to her. Katara shook her head again, her hair fluttered around her face. Zuko pushed forward and kissed her. The bubble popped.
They both dropped to the ground in a giant puddle. Zuko laughed. Katara rolled over and punched him. "You cheated again!"
"We never set rules Katara, besides Uncle taught me to think of every possibility to win."
Katara sat up and swept the water off the floor into the barrel. "I wasn't prepared for that." She huffed.
"That was the point." He sat up and moved to her side. "I knew it would work." He nudged her. "You're not angry are you? I can't stand it when you're angry at me, I never understand why."
Katara swirled around and kissed him. She lingered longer then he had, tasting the fire and his sweat on his lips. Zuko kissed back, his hands moved to pull her closer when she jumped back a smirk on her face.
"No hard feelings." She lay back, letting the water soaked floor cool her.
Zuko scowled and leant towards her. "Hey guys?" Aang's voice called from the door.
Zuko meet Katara's eyes and silently sighed. "Remind me to get a lock for these doors." He whispered to her. "Get bored of the tour Avatar Aang?" Zuko's tone was playful, his eyes stayed on Katara.
"Toph got lost actually; I said we should get you to give a tour." There was a momentary pause. "Fire Lord Zuko."
Katara laughed quietly and sat up. "I thought you knew your way around here Toph?"
"I do, but Twinkle Toes here wanted to get the professional tour." Katara turned to face her friend; her eyes were glancing between Katara and Zuko. "I tried to convince him I knew it all but he didn't believe me."
Katara felt herself blush and looked away; Zuko glanced at her then Toph. "I would be glad to give you a tour Aang."
Aang smiled and stepped into the room, spinning the water into the remaining barrels and coming to a stop beside Zuko. He offered the older boy his hand, Zuko grasped it and got to his feet. He bent the air around him hotter to dry his clothes and offered Katara his own hand at the same time Aang did. Katara looked between them, neither backed down, or even looked at each other. She grit her teeth and glared at Zuko, he smiled. Purposefully she took both of their hands and let then lift her to her feet.
"Thanks." She smiled at Aang.
He grinned and looked around the room, pieces of the broken barrel lay on the floor. "You guys know how to make a mess." He commented.
"It's more fun when it's messy." Zuko replied smoothly. Katara sighed.