Author's note: I'm pretty excited about this story, as it started as something stupid and silly and sort of snowballed into something a lot bigger than that. As a warning, it does get a little dark in some places, because this story follows Zuko exclusively, and his mind is a scary place sometimes (themes of abuse within). It was just supposed to be silly, but I lost that battle when I chose Zuko to be the main conductor of the story oops. Read on for emotions, Gaang shenanery, and lots of stomping away dramatically! (will contain emotion explosions and also a little bit of explicit behavior/language but that's Zuko's fault and not mine). Enjoy!
Just a side note: I now have a tumblr dedicated to this sort of fanfictiony thing, which you can follow if you want I mean you don't have to but if you do want to it's fire-lordzuzu dot tumblr dot com :)
She had no idea.
"I'm the only one who does things around here," she sighed, stalking around the campfire like she did every night, picking up stray bits of laundry and other people's belongings. Zuko watched her with what he hoped was an inconspicuous stare; but it wasn't his fault. Katara existed merely to torture him, he was sure of that much.
Maybe she wasn't aware of it, or maybe she was doing it on purpose to infuriate him, but the way her hips swung and the silk of her dress clung to her frame nearly made steam hiss from his nostrils.
No, Katara had no idea.
"Hey, I have a huge burden," Sokka said, "coming up with plans and constant scheduling is very taxing."
"I'm sure it is, Sokka." Katara responded wearily, bending over to pick up his dirty socks. Sweet Agni. Zuko swallowed and tried not to stare. "So taxing that you can't even pick up your socks."
"I don't have to, you always do it." Sokka reasoned, stretching back. Katara scowled and crossed her arms.
"If you took care of your own mess, I wouldn't have to do it for you!" she retorted. Sokka just shrugged. Katara scowled again and bent down to pick another sock up, which gave Zuko a generous view of her chest.
That time, steam did hiss from his nose, which caused everyone to give him a strange look.
"Is everything ok?" Aang asked.
"Yeah," Zuko rubbed the back of his neck, and looked down at the ground. "It's fine."
Katara just gave him an odd look and sashayed away.
Later that night, Zuko was standing by the edge of the water, brooding, when Sokka approached him.
"I know what's buggin' ya," he said, a hint of smugness creeping into his voice.
"Do you?" Zuko asked flatly, not really interested. If Sokka really knew what was bugging him, then it definitely wasn't a conversation Zuko wanted to have. Yes Sokka, yes I was staring at your sister's ass.
"I'm not gonna pry too much," he said in that tone of voice that told Zuko yes, he was going to pry too much, "but it seems to me like there's a certain girl in our group you've developed a little crushy crush on." he waggled his fingers around when he said this.
"What? That's ridiculous."
"You don't have to hide it from me," Sokka assured him, putting an arm around his friend. "I understand how you feel. She's quite the special lady."
"Sokka, I don't have a crush on anyone."
"Zuko, Zuko, Zuko, Zuko," Sokka tutted annoyingly. Zuko sighed and his shoulders heaved. Was it too much to ask to be able to go to bed, he wondered? "Whenever she walks by, you blush like a little girl."
The comment struck Zuko in just the wrong place, and he began to grow irate, as he was like to do.
"I do not!"
"So you DO like her!" Sokka exclaimed triumphantly. "I knew it!"
"I...fine, whatever." Zuko resorted to what Katara always called his 'grumpy voice,' in the hopes that Sokka would drop it. Unfortunately, Sokka was A HUGE GOSSIP.
"AHA! What are you gonna do about it?" Sokka was beside himself. Zuko sighed and shrugged.
"Nothing? I don't know." Zuko gave him a wary side glance. "What would...you do?"
"Zuko, my pupil, you have come to the right master." Sokka spoke with an air of importance. "My first bit of advice would be to not tell her about your scar. She probably wouldn't care, but it could put a damper on the thing initially. Sensitive subject, you know."
"I'm pretty sure she already knows about that, Sokka." Zuko snapped. This was getting ridiculous. Why did I ask him for advice at all?
"I don't think she does," Sokka insisted, "No one has ever told her about it that I know of."
"But she...you're talking about Toph." Zuko realized with a start.
Sokka looked a little bewildered.
"TOPH IS TWELVE YEARS OLD! I DON'T HAVE A CRUSH ON A TWELVE YEAR OLD."
"Wait, so who were you talking about?" Sokka's face just looked confused for a minute, then his face darkened. "Noooo."'
"Sokka..." Zuko prepared for the eventuality in which Sokka would attack him for ogling his little sister.
"Suki!" he shrieked. Zuko slapped his forehead with his hand.
"It's Katara, you dolt." he snapped. "Can I go to bed now?"
"Waaaait." Sokka held his arms out. "You like Katara?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever. See Sokka, the thing about firebenders is, when there's no sun, we get really tired, so..."
"You like Katara?" he seemed unable to say anything else.
Sokka gaped, his mouth dangling nearly five inches from his jaw. He pointed at Zuko, and then at Katara off in the distance, and then at Zuko again.
"Have you two...does she...do you guys..."
"No, no no." Zuko shook his head quickly. If only. "No, Katara hates me. You know that."
"Still?" Sokka frowned. "But I thought after your life changing field trip, she changed her mind about you?"
"She did what she referred to as 'publicly giving me a hug to make Aang shut up'."
"Ooh." Sokka tapped his chin with a forefinger thoughtfully. "That does sound like Katara."
Zuko jerked his shoulders upwards as if to say 'well, there's nothing I can do about it,' and looked back out at the water. If truth be told, he had never liked the water. He hated being wet, there was altogether too much of it, and fighting waterbenders always took more effort when they could put out your attacks with a few meager splashes.
But the water had become Katara, silken and rippling, calm and fierce, glittering and soft. Something about the way water snapped from one thing to the other, from tranquil and lovely to angry and biting, reminded him painfully of her.
"You know..." Sokka mused out loud, "if you like Katara, just tell her."
"What, so she'll stab me with icicles?"
Pausing, Sokka held up a finger.
"I would watch out for that, yes, BUT- I'm gonna tell you a secret." When he said 'secret,' his voice got super low and whispery. Zuko leaned in closer.
"What, what is it?"
"Way back, when you were still evil and trying to kill us, we met this group of kids who lived in trees and exacted vigilante justice on Fire Nation soldiers."
He stopped, and Zuko shook his head a little, raising an eyebrow.
"Is that it?"
"No, see, they had this leader. He was totally charismatic, tough, and bad. He fought with two big hook swords..."
"I know that guy!" Zuko said with a start. "He stalked me all over Ba Sing Se; he was convinced I was some sort of firebender. Can you believe that?" He paused. "Oh right. But he ended up getting arrested, I never found out what happened to him."
"Yeah...that's another story." Sokka scratched his forehead awkwardly. "Anyway, the point is, he was a total bad boy. And Katara was all. Over him." When Zuko gaped at him, Sokka nodded smugly. "She made him a hat. I caught then kissing, like twice. I nearly beat him senseless, but..." at this point, he put an arm around Zuko's shoulders, "luckily for you, I think you're pretty cool."
"Wait wait wait, Katara kissed him?" Zuko's voice raised, and he had to keep himself from shooting fire into the ground. "Twice? If I ever see that kid again, I'm gonna kill him."
"Uh...yeah." Sokka did that awkward head scratch again. "I don't think that's...necessary. But the point is, Katara likes bad boys." Zuko didn't seem to get it, so Sokka gestured wildly at him, opening his arms out wide as if to say TA DA. "You're a total bad boy! You're brooding, grumpy, angry..."
"That's enough," Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose. "Are you saying Katara will like me more if I act like an asshole?"
"Yes, more or less."
"Is it?" he waggled his eyebrows annoyingly.
"Yes," Zuko hissed. "I just...I have to go think about this," Giving Sokka a semi-awkward shoulder pat, he left the water's edge and walked back over to the fire.
"Zuko, thank god, the fire's going out," Toph said, her tiny hands extended towards the fire. "Hook us up, will ya?"
Obliging, Zuko pointed two fingers towards the pitiful campfire and pumped a little more into it, before he started to turn around for his tent.
"Are you going to bed?" Suki called. Zuko turned his head.
"Uh, yeah. I'm really tired, I..."
"Come sit with us!" she said in a friendly tone, patting the ground next to her. Aang nodded eagerly, his eyes wide. Sighing, Zuko turned back to the fire and sat down between Toph and Suki.
"I have a joke!" Aang said. "Zuko, you like jokes, right?"
"Okay, listen-" Aang raised his arms and steadied a stance, almost like he was about to demonstrate a bending move. "What did the earthbender say to the waterbender?"
"What?" Katara prompted, sharing a look with Suki.
"Water you doing?" His mouth dropped open, and he looked around expectantly, a dopey look plastered over his face.
Toph snorted, but Zuko had a suspicion that it wasn't at the joke so much as it was as the quality.
"That was great," Katara said in a sweet voice, rubbing Aang's head. She was always doing that. Was it because Aang was bald? Or because he was the kind of kid who seemed like he could fit in your pocket if you folded him up enough times?
Aang blushed like a girl.
Katara turned to Zuko, and looked at him expectantly.
"Well?" she asked. "What did you think?"
"What did I think?" Zuko looked at her, and she raised her eyebrows, nodding at him. "I think you mean...water...d I think?"
Everyone stared at him blankly. Zuko grumbled, and in a spout of frustration, stood up and and stormed off. I can't do this.
He knew that storming off wasn't a great way to make friends, and it wasn't necessarily the optimal solution to every awkward situation, but it was the only thing he could ever come up with. Muttering could be heard from the campfire, and Zuko was about to keep stomping until he felt better, when a hand grabbed him by the arm.
"What?" he snapped, feeling fire balling in his fists.
"Calm down," Katara stepped back, a little afraid, looking at his hands. Flustered, Zuko stumbled back several steps, turned an embarrassing shade of red, and made sure his hands weren't burning anything.
"I'm sorry, I'm...sorry," Zuko mumbled, wanting to scream. He raked a hand through his hair and turned to walk away, when Katara stopped him again.
"Stop doing that!" she said, her grip firm. "I just wanted to talk to you."
Zuko swallowed, his throat thick. "About what?"
"About the way you keep stomping away every five seconds," she said, frowning. "You wanted to be part of our group, but you don't even want to sit with us!"
"It's not that I don't want to," he said, frustrated, "I just can't. I can't sit with people who expect me to laugh at their stupid jokes, who expect me to contribute, who, when I do try and act like a regular person, sit there and stare at me like I have three extra arms."
"You're not even giving it a chance," Katara insisted. "They like you. They aren't out to get you, they're you're friends."
Upon hearing the word, Zuko balked. He looked at Katara, her arms crossed tightly across her chest. He bit at his lips, momentarily distracted by the way her breasts were pushed together.
"Zuko?" she snapped her fingers. "Are you in there?"
"I don't have friends," he said, snapping back. "I never have. I'm not the kind of person who has that kind of thing."
"What about me?" Katara asked quietly. "I'm your friend, right?"
Zuko nearly gave her a double take. But she seemed honest, earnest even. Her blue eyes were wide and full of...what was that, sympathy? Did she feel sorry for him? For some reason, that sickened him as much as the word friend did.
"You hate me," was all he could force out of his mouth.
"I don't hate you," she said, acting for a second like she was reaching for him. Zuko instinctively reached back for her, but ended up raking a hand across her chest by accident. He apologized rapidly and awkwardly, resisting the urge to stomp away dramatically. Katara maintained her composure and smiled at him tightly.
"Why do you think I hate you?"
"Because of what...what happened," he said, referring to the incident in Ba Sing Se. Stupid.
"I told you, I forgave you for that," Katara said gently, folding her hands together. "I even gave you an 'I forgive you hug.'"
"Yes, I...I remember the hug..." Zuko scratched the back of his neck with a hand. She was so beautiful. "But I thought that was just a cover, I didn't think you'd actually forgiven..."
"Zuko," upon hearing his name in her voice, Zuko felt his heart quicken embarrassingly in his chest. "Of course I've forgiven you. What you did...that was a really nice gesture. It showed me that you cared, that you really wanted to prove yourself. But you don't have to prove yourself all the time. We like you, really! Especially Toph."
"Toph," Zuko smirked briefly. "She would."
"So..." ventured Katara, her hands twisting, her eyes boring into his expectantly. "Will you come back and sit with us?"
Zuko gave her a wary look.
"Do I have to listen to bad jokes?"
"No." Katara smiled reassuringly. "And don't be so self conscious." she brought her hand to his shoulder, and gave it a small little rub. Her thumb brushed over his collar bone, and Zuko took in a sharp breath that he was sure Katara must have noticed. "You're pretty cool."
"That's what Sokka said," Zuko said, killing what maybe could have been a moment between Katara and any other boy. But not him. Girls like Katara didn't have moments with guys like him. Maybe she'd had a moment like this with that crazy stalker with the crazy eyebrows. But Katara only gave him a small smile and dragged him back to to campfire. Sokka was there, and when he saw Zuko emerging from the darkness with Katara, he waggled his eyebrows suggestively again. Zuko scowled.
He sat down, and couldn't help the flutter of disappointment that sank in his chest when Katara crossed to sit next to Aang instead of him.
Another author's note: Thanks for reading! Of course, Zuko will see this crush on Katara as entirely her fault and the biggest inconvenience of his life ever, and he's extremely displeased that Sokka's brought himself into it, because it just makes it more of a hassle. Zuko is a complicated boy and I think he tends to repress, so he'll be forced to come to terms with his feelings as his Katara emotions develop (the subtitle for this story is basically 'Zuko has a lot of feelings about various things.'
Zuko is very perplexed that Sokka is getting so involved in this progression of his feelings for Katara. Little does Zuko know that it's about to become so much worse. Next chapter- Zuko makes tea, teaches firebending, and accidentally has an embarrassing emotional breakdown.