So this pretty much turned out not at all how I had planned, but I still like it. I own nothing.
Katara Watson first met Zuko Ishikawa when she was six. He was a sullen eight-year-old with a big bandage over his eye who moved in with that funny old man next door, and because he was close to her and Sokka's age, his uncle would take him over to Katara's house every so often to play. But Sokka was at a summer camp for big kids when Iroh first brought him over, so Katara was the only one there to play with him. She had clutched her purple stuffed octopus, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and stared at him and his bandage while he scowled at the ground.
Finally, he looked up at her. "You still suck your thumb? Baby."
"Well, your bandage is ugly," she snapped back, scowling at him and removing her thumb from her mouth. Then she remembered that she was supposed to be nice and held out Mr. Octopus as a peace offering. "But I don't mind. You can play with my octopus if you want."
He hesitated, then gingerly took the stuffed animal from her, holding it awkwardly by one tentacle. "My uncle's got a tree house in the backyard. You wanna go play?"
And that pretty much summed up their relationship.
A year later, around the time she turned seven, Zuko showed up at her house and declared that he was going to teach her how to ride her bike, since her dad was on a business trip, Gram Gram was too old, and Sokka didn't care.
"Without training wheels?" she asked, horrified, and he rolled his eyes.
"Of course," he said irritably. "You have to be able to keep up with me when we go riding this summer, and how're you gonna do that if you've got two extra wheels on your bike?"
"Oh," she said thoughtfully. "We're going riding this summer?"
"I just said that, didn't I?" he snapped. "Now get on, would you?"
"Whatever," she grumbled. "I'm gonna fall off and die, aren't I?"
"No, because I'm holding on to the seat. Start pedaling."
She was eight when her dad told her she couldn't sleep over at Zuko's anymore. "Why not?" she asked, feeling hurt. "What'd I do?" Usually, not being allowed to go to a friends house was a punishment, and Zuko was her best friend, so she didn't know what she could have done that was so bad she wasn't allowed to have sleepovers anymore.
Hakoda shook his head and gave her a sad smile. "It's not that, sweetheart. You haven't done anything wrong. It's just that girls aren't really supposed to sleep over at boys' houses."
Katara crossed her arms and huffed angrily. "Well that's a dumb rule," she grumbled. "I like sleeping over at Zuko's! We always watch old movies, and he lets me pick which ones to watch, and we make popcorn usually, too. It's fun." Something suddenly occurred to her. "Wait, you said I can't have sleepovers at his house, right? So that means he can sleepover here?"
"As long as Sokka's here, too," Hakoda said hesitantly. "And if Sokka goes with you, then you two can sleep over at his house." Katara stared at him in confusion.
"How come Sokka's gotta come?" Suddenly, something clicked in her head. "Oh! This is so Sokka can have more friends, right? Because he doesn't have hardly any friends." Hakoda laughed a little and brushed her bangs out of her eyes.
"Sokka's got plenty of friends, hon. It's just that... well, I'll tell you when you're older, all right?" She thought about some more, then rolled her eyes.
"Dad, it's not like we're gonna hold hands or anything!"
Katara remembered slapping Zuko at her ninth birthday party. "I'm the birthday girl, not you!"
"Well duh, I'm a boy," he muttered, rubbing his cheek. It stung.
"Yeah! So that means that I'm supposed to blow out the candles, not you!"
"You were taking too long," he grumbled. "You wished for like an hour. I wanted some cake, and we can't eat any if there's still candles on it."
She scowled at him. "You're mean."
He grinned. "You can have the first slice."
She smeared the chocolate icing on his nose, and her dad and his uncle shared a knowing look.
They got a swingset in the backyard the summer she turned ten, and she, Zuko, and Sokka were the first ones to try it out. But there were only two swings, so, because she was the smallest, she took turns sitting in each of their laps, and when she finally got to sit on the swing herself, Zuko pretended not to see her and sat on top of her. She shrieked and tried to push him off, but he just looked around the yard curiously.
"Sokka, do you hear something? Kind of a buzzing sound... I think there's a fly around here." He glanced behind him, gasping in mock surprise. "Katara! What are you doing there? I didn't even see you!"
"Get off, you jerk!" she laughed, shoving him in the back as hard as she could, and he laughed finally got up. He aimed a kick at his back, which he dodged easily, laughing some more.
"Here, I'll push you," he said by way of apology, and she screamed again out of terrified elation as she soared higher and higher.
Eleven years old, and Zuko took it upon himself to teach her how to play baseball. "But why?" she demanded, holding the bat loosely in one hand and looking at it distastefully. Zuko rolled his eyes.
"Because I need someone to practice with, that's why. You're holding it all wrong, knucklehead, it's like this." He moved her hands to the proper position, and she stuck her tongue out at him. He gave her his best disapproving face. "Young lady," he said somberly, "if you stick you tongue out at me again I shall have to pinch it off."
She acknowledged his challenge by sticking her tongue out even farther, and they spent the next half hour chasing each other around his backyard until Zuko became the clear winner, sitting almost on top of Katara, who was lying on her back on the grass where Zuko had tackled her, her arms pinned to the ground. He let her up obligingly, and an hour later, when he was teaching her how to pitch, it was only partially by accident that she threw the ball at his head.
Their families went hiking when she was twelve; there was a trail that actually started just down the street, and went all the way up to the top of Baby Mountain (as Katara called it, since it was really just a big hill). Hakoda and Iroh were talking in the front of the group, Sokka was in the middle taking pictures of everything, and Katara and Zuko were wandering along behind, not really talking, just looking around. Suddenly Katara's foot caught on a tree root that was sticking up out of the ground and she fell. Zuko pulled her to her feet, but then sort of forgot to let go of her hand, and she didn't really mind, so they kept walking. Sokka, turning to snap a picture of the trail behind them, started laughing.
"Katara and Zuko, sitting in a tree..."
Zuko let go of her hand, then punched Sokka in the shoulder, and Katara moved to the front of the groupd to avoid both him and her brother.
"Thirteen!" she cheered, bursting into Zuko's house. They had long since done away with knocking; besides, he'd told her to come over that morning so they could plan for her party the next day. "Zuko, did you hear me? I'm a teenager today!" She looked around the empty living room, frowning. "Zuko?"
"SURPRISE!" Suddenly a dozen people jumped out from their hiding places around the room, shouting and blowing on noisemakers. She yelped and jumped, everyone laughed, and then she laughed, too.
"Whose idea was this?" she asked Zuko later, while they were sitting on the backsteps eating cake. He grinned a little and didn't answer. "I had my party planned for tomorrow!"
"Yeah," he said, "but you told me you always wanted a surprise party, so I mentioned it to your dad, and he sent out sort of secret invitations to everyone telling them to come today, because we already knew you'd be coming over, so..." He trailed off. "You don't mind, do you? Not having your party when you wanted it?"
For an answer, she gave him a quick one-armed hug. "This is the best party I ever had!" she said earnestly. "You wanna ride bikes tomorrow?"
"Sure," he said, blushing, but Katara didn't notice as she returned to her cake, humming "Happy Birthday" to herself.
Zuko was Katara's best friend, but then when she entered highschool they weren't allowed to be "just friends" anymore. Everyone assumed things. Katara wouldn't have minded, but it really bothered Zuko. Or at least, she thought it did, the way the sixteen-year-old started blushing and stuttering any time he tried to talk to her at school, especially if any of his friends could see them. Finally, she suggested they just not talk to each other too much while at school, and maybe hang out only on weekends. He agreed, though he seemed oddly disappointed, and she missed talking to him. It had been nice to have a friend at school, since she didn't really get along too well with any of the other girls in her grade. They were friendly, mostly, but none of them were really friends.
Therefore, she took to watching Zuko secretly, because if she couldn't talk to him she could at least see what he was doing. One day, just before Christmas break, she was standing around waiting until the last possible moment to step outside into the cold to get on the bus, and watching Zuko having an argument with his friend Jet. For some reason, they kept gesturing towards her. Finally, Zuko threw his hands up and stormed over to where she was standing by the door, watching him curiously.
He cut her off by placing his hands on her shoulders, taking a deep breath, and then smashing his lips against her. She was so surprised she forgot that she was supposed to close her eyes. When he pulled away - it was only a second or two later, but it felt like much longer - she just stared at him, jaw flapping up and down uselessly. He glared at the ground.
"I'm gonna kill Jet," he grumbled finally.
"Jet?" she said weakly. "You just kissed me!" He didn't answer. "What for?" she demanded, suddenly furious that he had the audacity to walk up to her in the middle of a crowded hallway - thank goodness Sokka was home sick or he would have just killed Zuko - and kiss her.
"It was Jet's fault!" he said, sounding anguished. "He... he likes you, Katara!"
"So?" she snapped, scowling at him. He scowled right back, his face tomato red.
"He said... he said he was gonna, you know, ask you out. Or kiss you. Or something." Zuko's voice was getting progressively smaller and smaller with each word he spoke, until he finally said, voice barely above a whisper, "And I didn't want him to."
"And why not?" she snapped, hands on her hips. The people watching were all staring with wide eyes. Finally, the Zuko and Katara drama they had been expecting all year was here! Zuko met her eyes for the first time.
"Because I wanted to."
Her jaw dropped, but she recovered quickly. "I'm going to miss the bus," she said imperiously, turning and striding away. Zuko followed her. "Where do you think you're going?" she snapped, whirling on him, when he followed her all the way to her bus. He glared.
"We ride the same bus, Katara," he said testily, and she turned to hide her embarrassment.
"Whatever. Don't even think about sitting next to me."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he snapped. "I don't know why I kissed you."
He sat in front and she sat in back, and they didn't look at each other as they walked home from the bus stop.
Katara and Zuko didn't speak more than two words to each other for the rest of the school year. She told her father what happened, crying, and made him promise not to tell Sokka. "Even if he's an idiot and I don't want to talk to him, I don't want Sokka to kill him!" she practically sobbed, pressing her face against her father's shoulder. He made a soothing noise and stroked her hair.
"It's okay, Katara, I won't tell Sokka... But I can't promise he won't find out, if Zuko did this in front of so many people."
Katara cried harder and didn't know why she was crying in the first place. She just knew that she was lonely. Yes, she was still angry, but not as absolutely furious as she had been at first. When she really thought about it, it had actually been kind of... nice, she guessed, but she had told Zuko she wanted to save her first kiss for the man she was going to marry. So what did that say about him?
It had been bad enough not talking to Zuko at school. But now, not talking to him at all? She was going crazy. Finally, three weeks before school started, she started digging around in her old toy chest.
"Gotta be in here somewhere... A ha!"
Clutching the old, worn, purple octopus in her hands, she hesitantly walked next door and knocked three times. Iroh answered.
"I, um... is Zuko here?" she asked weakly, holding her old Mr. Octopus behind her back. Iroh nodded and gave her an understanding smile.
"He's in his bedroom. You can go on back."
"Thanks," she said, scampering past him. She stood outside Zuko's closed door for almost thirty seconds, trying to muster up the courage to knock.
They never used to knock on each other's doors.
She took a deep breath and barged into his room. He was lying on his bed reading Eldest (the same copy, she noticed, that she had given him for his fifteenth birthday), but he jumped up when she entered.
"Katara!" he yelped, standing quickly. The book dropped to the floor.
"Hi, Zuko," she said awkwardly, still holding the stuffed animal behind her back. "I, um..."
"Listen, Katara, I'm really sorry," he blurted out. "I just wasn't think, and you know, can we just forget it never happened? I know it was really stupid, and... and... well, I don't know."
"It was stupid," she agreed, then smiled a little hesitantly and held out Mr. Octopus. "But I don't mind. You can play with my octopus if you want."
He grinned and took it from her, holding it by one tentacle. "My uncle's got a treehouse in the backyard. You wanna go play?"
And that pretty much summed up their relationship.