I'll keep this brief: Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This is Zuko/Aang, for one. Second: I don't own Avatar.
Chapter One: A Perfect Night Gone Wrong
Aang pulled against his iron shackles, hitting them with one air knife after another. They rattled under the abuse, but refused to give in.
"Aang!" Zuko called from across the room. The heat of his firebending was suffocating, but it seemed to be having as much effect as Aang's airbending. Where the hell was Toph!
Glancing up at the man standing high above them, Aang could feel the sweat begin to pour down his face. People had started filing into the stadium's seats, their forms mere shadows in the dim light of the torches.
"This isn't funny anymore, Toph!" Aang shouted, his voice echoing against the cavern's walls. "Toph!"
The man above turned away with a chuckle, and began speaking quietly to a figure shroud in shadows.
Biting his lips, the panic beginning to well inside him, Aang turned to Zuko. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice quiet so that only Zuko could hear. "I got us in this mess. I should have admitted my feelings for you in the beginning and... I'm sorry."
Katara stood alone in the dimly-lit room, the large stand mirror before her. She ran a comb through her hair, over and over, making sure it was perfect. She had already gone over her clothes a dozen times that evening, and a small casket of makeup she used only on special occasions sat open on the wooden desk beside the mirror. Tonight would be the first night she got to spend with Aang in a long time, and she wanted to look her best.
With a final stroke she set the comb down. With the ambient orange glow from the candle behind her, she had to say she looked beautiful. Earings dangled from her ears, small wolves sparkling in the candle flame. Her mother's necklace was wrapped around her neck, and a sapphire teardrop - one that Aang had gotten her for her birthday last year - lay against her forehead. Nodding in satisfaction she turned to the door of the guestroom. Her heart was beating faster than normal. She knew she shouldn't be making a big deal out of this, but for some reason it seemed special. A night she wanted to remember.
With a deep breath she opened the door and stepped out into the palace hall. The corridor was empty save for Aang, who was leaning against the wall beside the door, whistling softly to himself. He straightened as Katara stepped out, a smile beginning to form on his lips - and then it stopped. His jaw slackened, and Katara watched with amusement as his eyes scanned her up and down.
"You're... You... I mean..." Aang muttered. He gave his head a shake and finally said, "You look good tonight."
"Just good?" Katara gave him a mock frown. "I was hoping-"
"Amazing," Aang interrupted. "You... you look amazing."
Katara chuckled, taking Aang's arm. They started through the halls as a slow pace, not wanting to rush the night in any way.
"It was nice of Zuko to invite everyone to the Fire Palace," Katara said, trying to get some small talk going. "I haven't seen everyone together in..."
"Since that day after Ozai's defeat, at Iroh's tea shoppe," Aang finished for her. "Two years ago."
Katara nodded. It really had been a long time since "Team Avatar" had been together. Since the Fire Lord's defeat, the world had been in a state of peace. Each member was off preforming their own duties in the world's restoration. Even Katara had been hard at work, the Southern Water Tribe's newly constructed city requiring more than a little attention.
Tonight, however, was the anniversary of the Fire Lord's defeat, a holiday celebrated in all corners of the three Nations. Even the Fire Nation participated in the revelry. Its people were noticeably happier since the fall of their oppressive government, and seemed to have embraced Zuko's leadership with open arms. It was interesting, Katara thought, how thoroughly an entire nation could be suppressed under a ruler like Ozai.
Katara glanced at Aang. Tonight was also the first night in nearly three months that she got to spend with Aang. Between his duties as the Avatar and hers to her tribe, they hadn't had much time to see each other. They had built a relationship after Ozai's fall, but Katara could see it weakening from prolonged absence. Tonight they would be able to resolidify it. Perhaps after the small vacation was over, she would take leave of the Southern Water Tribe for a time and travel with Aang. She was sure her GranGran would understand.
They turned the corner to the main palace doors, and Katara let out a gasp. From the open doors a line of massive, ribboned torches stretched to the city gates, flickering in the breeze. Two gigantic tables laden with food and refreshments stood to either side of the door, and in the center of the courtyard sat an immense dance floor, the band's upbeat music filling the night air. People were already dancing merrily, couples exchanging partners in a traditional Fire Nation group dance. Their laughter carried with the music out over the courtyard, mixing with the low buzz of talk emanating from the large crowd that filled the rest of the party.
As Katara stepped out into the warm summer night air she looked up. Floating paper lanterns intermingled with the splash of stars, and the full moon that topped the palace's roof lit up the sky. Katara felt a sense of euphoria fill up inside her. The laughter, the people, the beautiful decorations - this was something she could only have dreamed of as a child. And now here she was, standing in its midst, the Avatar at her side, the world balanced, happy.
"Ah, Aang, Katara, there you are." Katara pulled her gaze from the sky to see Zuko and Mai approaching, garbed in traditional Fire Lord and Lady dress clothes. People parted for them as they moved, giving small bows or curtsies before returning to their conversations. The four of them exchanged hugs, and Katara couldn't help but grin. Unlike Aang, who seemed to stop by the Fire Nation once a week, Katara hadn't seen Zuko or Mai in ages.
"Nice party," Katara commented, motioning around her.
"Yeah, nice," Mai replied. She sounded bored, but Katara didn't let that bug her. She knew Mai too well for that.
"It helps when you're the Fire Lord," Zuko chuckled. "You just snap your fingers, and next you know the courtyard is replaced with a circus."
"Half the city seems to be here," Katara replied. The crowd was certainly thick, though rather calm and stagnant, with the exception of the dance floor. It made for a nice change from the bustling crowds of the Southern Water City's streets and construction sites.
"The palace gates are open to everyone," Zuko shrugged and smiled. "Anyone not here is partying somewhere else."
They fell silent, shuffling their feet and watching the crowds. After going through the collapse of an empire together, finding small talk was hard among members of Team Avatar.
"Ahh, Fire Lord Zuko. A pleasure to see you safe and healthy," a voice said. They all turned to find its owner a short, elderly man. "It's been years since I last saw you. A shame about your father, eh?"
Katara and Aang ducked away as Zuko turned to start talking to the man. They made their way toward one of the refreshment tables.
"Zuko sure is popular," Aang noted, taking a peach from one of the fruit bowls.
"He is the Fire Lord now, I suppose," Katara agreed. "You would be too, if I hadn't suggested you slip on that headband."
Aang scratched at the old headband he had wrapped around his forehead and grinned. He had let his hair grow out again during his travels, and with a fancy Fire Nation uniform on, he was all but unrecognizable as the Avatar. Katara gave silent thanks that Aang had agreed to her suggestions. She had him all to herself that way.
"I thought I felt Twinkletoes around here." Katara glanced over her shoulder to see both Toph and Sokka pushing through the crowd toward them. "Long time no see!"
"The old team is back together again!" Sokka put in. He fell into a sword-fighting stance. "Ready to take on the great evils of our time! To clash where no man has clashed before!"
Katara crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "And what would we be clashing here, dear brother?"
"Toph's outfit, of course!" Sokka lifted the collar of Toph's coat tentatively. "Look at this, a green Earthbender's uniform with, dare I say," he plucked the red cap Toph was wearing from her head, "a red headdress?"
Toph made a swipe in the air for the cap, but missed by more than a few inches. "Oh, I'm sorry I can't colour coordinate. At least I don't have a broken nose."
"What broken nose?"
Sokka ducked the punch just in the nick of time - only to be hurtled into the air and land awkwardly against the cobblestones. The slab of earth Toph had bent sunk back into the earth, and she moved to follow Sokka, who had immediately scrambled to his feet and disappeared into the crowd. "Give me back my hat, you worm!"
"Some things don't change," Aang muttered with a chuckle. He took the last bite of his peach and tossed the pit in a designated bowl.
"Apparently not," Katara sighed, shaking her head. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised. She had lived with her brother most her life, after all.
Scanning the party, her eyes fell on the large dance floor, which had switched styles to a freestyle dance. She turned to Aang, a sparkle in her eye. "Wanna dance?" she asked.
Aang's grin widened, and they quickly beelined it to the dance floor. As they arrived, the song changed pace to a high speed boogie. Without a word they both climbed up to the floor and fell into bending stances, circling one another slowly.
Then they began. Twirling, twisting, somersaulting through the air, they danced like the fleeting wind, moved like water flowing through the air. Feet faster than the eye, they enacted a show they'd preformed many times over. Their bodies seemed to sync and become one. They traded dance moves instead of blows, incorporating fighting styles and bending forms into the dance. As always seemed to happen when they danced, the rest of the floor stopped, the people making room for their performance. From their vantage, the party seemed to come to a standstill while they churned the air around them. Katara could hear gasps and sounds of awe. Some started clapping or stomping their feet to the beat. Her own heart began to beat faster, sweat beading against her forehead - and it felt amazing. She let out a laugh as she did a butterfly kick through the air.
The music eventually came to an end, and was replaced by a slow but familiar melody. Katara and Aang came to a stop, bowed formally, and then came together. Aang, rested his chin on Katara's shoulder and pulled her close, and they began to sway with the music. Katara felt her senses start to cloud as she let herself melt into the moment.
Katara let out a small sigh. "It's been a long time..." she whispered. She could feel his body against her own, and it brought happy memories from after the war to her mind. She felt herself sink into his arms. She could hold this forever, pass away into the spirit world without a care or regret.
The music eventually turned back to a more upbeat rhythm, and they broke apart. They meandered through the crowd to take seats around the refreshment table. Glass of punch in hand, Katara let herself fall into her chair, feeling suddenly tired. That dance must have taken more out of her than she thought.
She looked up in time to see Mai sink into the chair beside her. A quick scan of the crowd found Aang and Zuko chatting beside the punch bowl, Aang's arms moving animatedly. Katara felt a brief pang of jealousy. Zuko always seemed to be able to bring the life in Aang to the surface easier than she. The laughter that floated over a moment later only added to the feeling.
"Enjoying yourself yet?" Mai asked casually. She was munching on an absurdly large cookie.
"Of course," Katara replied. "You?"
"Mmm," Mai shrugged, mouth full. As she swallowed, she nodded toward Zuko. "You know," she said, a slight measure of concern appearing in her voice, "Aang stops by the Fire Nation once a week, at least."
"I figured as much," Katara said, trying to sound apathetic. "It's probably a prime spot for his duties, what with the refugees and the diplomacy arrangements." She really didn't feel like getting into that conversation at that moment. Tonight was supposed to be a happy one, not one for dredging up jealousy or unpleasant speculations.
Mai nodded, apparently sensing her mood, and changed the subject. "Zuko's been rather busy lately."
"Oh?" Katara glanced at Mai suspiciously. It wasn't like Mai to try and make small talk. It really wasn't like Mai.
"He'll disappear for hours at a time into his small study. The paperwork he has piled on his desk..." Mai turned to meet Katara's eyes. Katara quickly turned her gaze to the floor, not wanting her friend to read her suspicion.
A hand suddenly touched her shoulder, and she jumped, letting out a small squeak. Aang's face appeared before her, an amused smile lighting his eyes.
"Zuko wants to show me a project he's been working on. We'll only be a minute," he explained. Before Katara could open her mouth he'd disappeared, following Zuko around the corner of the palace and into the shadows of a garden.
With a sigh, Mai got to her feet. "You can deny it all you want, but you have to admit, something is wrong," Mai said. Katara couldn't tell whether her tone was annoyed, worried, or something else. "It's better to admit it now, while we still have the chance." And with that she disappeared into the crowd.
Katara leaned back against the chair, taking a deep breath to calm herself. Mai was just overly paranoid. Yeah, that was it. Something in the back of her mind scoffed at the thought of Mai being paranoid, but Katara discarded it. She wasn't going to start suspecting Aang of having feelings for someone other than her. That was untrustful, among other things.
She watched the lanterns dance among the stars, trying to lose herself in their beauty, while she waited for Aang to return. She needed something to take her mind from her brief conversation with Mai. Leave it to Mai to give you a handful of words that stick in your mind for the whole night, Katara thought, annoyed. She couldn't blame her friend, though. Mai was simply expressing concern, in her own way. The situation affected her as well, after all.
"What situation?" Katara said aloud, drawing a couple stares. She ignored them, straightening her gaze. "There's no situation. When did I start calling it a situation?"
Directing a pointed glare at a plate of pastries, she rose from her chair. She needed to take a walk. Aang would find her later, she was sure.
Striking a path toward the garden Aang and Zuko had disappeared into, she sunk into the shadows between the rose hedges. The smell of flowers filled the air, and she breathed deep. It was relaxing, the familiar aroma. Slowly she ran her hand across a rose. Her heart fluttered at the sensations, and she let out a sigh.
As she pressed deeper into the garden, the sound of trickling water reaching her ears, she began to sort her thoughts. There was no reason to think Aang had feelings for someone else, let alone worry about him being unfaithful. The Southern Water Tribe was far out of the way of the other major cities, and had yet to truly enter into the world politics. Aang was busy, and couldn't be making constant detours just to see her. Zuko, on the other hand, would need all the help he could get from the Avatar to sort his Nation out and get it back in line with the other Nations. They would be forced to spend a lot of time together. And, she thought amicably, he was one of Aang's best friends. She couldn't blame them for spending time together, and neither could Mai.
As she ventured through the twisting paths of the garden, she felt a weight lift from her shoulder. It had been silly to let Mai's simple suggestion get at her so easily. She was enjoying the evening. She shouldn't let anything tear that down. With a contented yawn she circled around a hedge, preparing to head back-
And stopped dead. Before her, underneath a large yew, stood Aang and Zuko. Aang's body was pressed tightly against his companion, their lips locked in a deep kiss. Their eyes were closed, and they seemed oblivious to the world around them, completely lost in the moment. Katara watched, her brain refusing to process what she was seeing. It was... they... and...
She fought the urge to lash out in rage, to take advantage of the full moon and bloodbend them as far from each other as possible. Instead she turned and ran. Tears began to splash down her face before she could even begin to sort the sudden hurricane of emotions beginning to churn in her chest. Her mind was silent, the image burned into her mind.
Everything welled up inside her at once, battering against her chest in a swell. The run back to the party was a haze as thoughts began to torrent through her head. Stopping at the edge of people, she scanned the crowd, trying to fight blurry eyes to pick out someone, anyone.
It was no use. The crowd was too thick, and the longer she stood there the worse her tears flowed. She turned on her heel, and a moment later found herself flying down the corridors to her rooms.
She didn't know where to start sorting her thoughts as they came flying into her mind. Reaching to door to her room, she threw it open, tore inside, and flopped onto the bed, door slamming shut behind her.
How could Aang do that to her? It was unbelievable! And with one of his best friends! A guy! If it had been a girl, she could have had a cat fight. That would make her feel better. A little. So did that make Aang gay? Was the Avatar spirit gay, or just him personally?
"Goddammit!" Katara cursed, throwing a pillow angrily at the wall. It bounced at an angle and struck the mirror, sending it toppling with a crash. She ignored it, burying her face in another silk-wrapped pillow. It absorbed her tears, quickly becoming damp.
How long had Aang been seeing Zuko? Were they seeing each other? Or had that been an on-the-spot fling she'd walked across? Had they noticed her leave? Did Aang feel guilty about it? Or were they laughing at her, calling her a naive little girl for believing the Avatar could stay with a simple waterbender from some small downtrodden tribe?
She had to talk to Aang, make him confess to the deed, and tell her why he had done it. She was halfway off the bed before deciding against that idea, at least for the moment. With a emotional sigh she flopped back now on her bed and just let the tears flow, the sobs wracking her body.
She didn't know how long she had lain there, but she didn't guess long. Her tears had long since dried, and she'd curled into a ball, her mind running blank. She felt numb, as though she had run through all the emotion she could give.
The last thought she could remember having was whether this new turn of events truly changed anything. As she had been saying to herself more than once throughout the night, this was her first time seeing Aang in three months. What sort of relationship were they balancing anyway? Had the fleeting plan of accompanying Aang on his duties for a time really warranted such an emotional breakdown? It was becoming obvious to her now that the trip likely wouldn't have salvaged their relationship.
Using that thought as strength, she pushed herself from the mattress. Her body ached from the shaking, and her head throbbed from the sobs, but she shook them both off. She needed to make a reappearance at the party, lest anyone worry about her and come looking. She wasn't willing to deal with questions at that moment.
She turned to the mirror to check her appearance, only to find it shattered, pieces scattered across the floor. Sighing, she picked up a large shard of glass, and checked her makeup. As she'd expected, the tears had completely ruined it. Without much effort she bent water from the nearby wash basin over her face, cleaning it with ease. If anyone asked, she could say she'd accidentally fallen in a puddle. Or something.
Making a quick check of her clothes, hair, and jewelery, and trying her best to make her puffy eyes unnoticeable, she turned to the door. Breathing deeply she opened it, not really ready to face the world, but knowing it would be worse later if she didn't do so now.
The party hadn't lost any of it's energy during the her absence. Molding into the crowd, she quickly found her way to a stand of chairs laid out along one end of the dance platform. She sat back and, under the guise of watching the people dance, scanned around for anyone she recognized. Especially Aang. She wanted to make sure people knew she hadn't disappeared, but she didn't feel like dealing with anyone. Not at that moment.
Before she had been sitting for more than a minute, she spotted Suki in the crowd. The Kyoshi warrior seemed to spot Katara at the same moment, and began to weave through the crowd toward her, a slight smile on her face. Katara balled a fist in the silk of her dress, taking a couple deep breaths to fix her composure. That was the other thing she didn't need at that moment - friends asking her what was wrong.
"Hey Katara! I haven't seen you in... what's wrong?"
Katara flashed Suki a smile as she took the seat next to her. "Nothing's wrong," Katara said in as steady a voice as she could manage. "Why do you think something's wrong? Huh?"
Suki blinked. Too forceful... Katara sighed. She never had been good at hiding her emotions.
"I've known you long enough to know when something is bothering you," Suki replied calmly. She placed a hand on Katara's knee and smiled. Damn sister-in-laws. They knew how to dig right to the core.
Katara shook her head, staring at her knees. "It's... well... I'm not really sure what it is."
"I see..." Suki's voice carried a hint of curiosity and a heap of confusion.
Figuring that at that point, spilling her problem might be easier than evading Suki's interrogations, Katara spat out, "I just caught Aang kissing Zuko."
A silence fell between the two of them, and Katara shifted awkwardly. She could see Suki trying to process the information, maybe make sense of what Katara had just told her. Had she had an inkling into Aang and Zuko's feelings as Mai had, or had she been as oblivious as Katara?
"Oh..." Suki finally muttered, her voice soft. "Yeah... that..."
"'Yeah, that'?" Katara repeated with a frown. "What's 'that'?"
"Well..." Suki said, biting her lip as she struggled to find the right words. "You've got to admit, this was a long time coming."
Katara felt dumbfounded. So she did have an inkling. Had Katara been the only one not "in the know"? Had she been deluding herself the whole time? Aloud, she simply said, "It was?"
"Well, yeah," Suki said, the inflection in her voice making the point that it should have been obvious. "They had a spark, so to speak. The only reason Aang dated you was because he hadn't had enough time to let the spark with Zuko fan, whereas he had been traveling with you for a long while."
Oh, yeah, right, of course. Aang was simply using her as a stand-in while he waited for his true feelings for Zuko evolve. Why hadn't she thought of that? "Thanks, Suki," she said with a sigh. "Real uplifting."
Suki seemed to suddenly realize what she'd said, and smacked herself on the forehead. "That didn't come out right," she mumbled with a groan. "Sorry."
"It's alright," Katara gave a wave of her hand. "Aang and I were drifting apart anyway. I'm getting overly emotional over it."
She felt Suki wrap an arm around her, and Katara couldn't help but sink into the human contact. "You have every right to be mad. And Sad. Down right pissy, even," Suki said, care in her voice. "Just know that we're here for you."
Katara saw Toph and Sokka approach from the side, and she let out another sigh. She wasn't sure if she wanted to deal with their... mocking wasn't the right word, but between Toph and Sokka, she was sure to get hell. Though perhaps they wouldn't notice that something was wrong. Maybe they could take her mind off it for a brief moment with an unamusing squabble or humorous quip.
"Hey guys, what's up?"
"Katara just caught Aang and Zuko snogging."
Yeah. The universe just about hates me today, doesn't it?
"Oh," Toph frowned. "Well, even I 'saw' that coming."
"You did?" Sokka said incredulously. "Really? Aang and Zuko?"
Katara covered her face with her palm. Awesome. She was as oblivious as Sokka. Just awesome.
She could feel Suki glaring daggers at Sokka over her shoulder. Toph, however, who wasn't able to see the silent threats of death, asked, "So, what are we going to do about it?"
"What do you mean?" Katara asked offhandedly. What was there to do about it? She wasn't going to be the annoying ex and beat one of them up, or stand in their way.
"Well," Toph muttered, lost in thought. She adjusted her headpiece - Katara noticed a large bruise forming on Sokka's arm, obviously the result of his stealing the garment - and said, "How are we going to make sure they get together?"
"Toph!" Suki scolded. Toph shrugged, but she laid a comforting hand on Katara's shoulder. Katara wrapped her own hand around Toph's. She knew her friend meant well, even if she didn't always know how to show it.
"I think I'm just going to head to bed for the night," Katara finally said. She was starting to feel exhausted, and her goal of being seen back at the party was accomplished, even if its intended purpose of postponing questions had failed miserably. "If Aang asks where I went, tell him I've retired for the night."
"Alright," Suki nodded. "I'll help you to your rooms."
Katara leaned on Suki's comforting arm as they meandered their way back toward Katara's rooms. The emotional drain had finally sapped her of the last of her energy, and as they walked she could feel sleep trying to snatch her away. Her last thought before being lowered into her bed was of how her perfect night had been flipped upside down in such a brief and simple moment.
Alright, a couple things: Sorry for those of you who hate Katara. The next chapter is from her point of view as well, so... sorry? Anyway, secondly, a huge thank you to my friend VixenReborn for giving this a quick read. And third: thank you to you, the reader. Thanks!