don't get any ideas, an all canon compliant one-shot
Zuko growled under his breath viciously, but quietly, and had tried his best to shut out the yelling that woke him up in the middle of the night.
Sleep was something that came to him rarely and that night, he found himself tired out and had promptly fallen asleep. But now he was awake and irritated. Usually, a majority of nights left him restless and unable to sleep, so he turned his back to everyone else so they couldn't see him stare into the air around them. When he felt that they had all gone to sleep, however, he'd turn onto his back and watch the stars or get up and move a distance away from the camp. At that point, he'd start a fire and choose from the many activities he could do late at night: meditate, practice his calligraphy, practice his firebending tricks, or stare up at the stars in the sky.
He was a considerate insomniac. Aang and Sokka, on the other hand, were not. Zuko didn't know when the two of them had gotten up and why they decided to hold such a loud conversation so late at night, but he knew that he was awake and that he wouldn't be going back to sleep. He rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself out of his sleeping pack carefully. How Katara, Toph, and even Appa and Momo seemed to slumber peacefully through this racket was beyond the former heir's scope of understanding. He got to his knees and shuffled a little, hearing a clear clip of their conversation.
"I don't care that you're the Avatar. Keep your hands off of her!"
"I-I I've never done anything to Katara that she didn't want!"
"Oh, so you know what she wants now?"
"I never said that! I just—"
"You just stay away from my sister. She doesn't need you going all Avatar State on her, especially when we have a lot to focus on, okay?!"
"Sokka, I would never—"
"Save it! Take your googly eyes elsewhere!"
Zuko rubbed the bridge of his nose uncomfortably, standing from his position to go explore the outburst; it seemed to be over but it was simply paused. He only took two steps before he felt a sweeping gust of wind—presumably Aang—and an indignant yell—definitely Sokka. The rustling that followed caused him to still before the conversation restarted and he let out a quiet, but frustrated groan.
"What do you think you're doing?!"
"Sokka, I just want to talk—"
"I don't care, Aang! Leave her alone!"
"I love her!" His proclamation even caused Zuko to still and from the sudden slam of silence that met his ears afterwards told him that his words had rendered Sokka speechless as he was. He crept towards the source of their voices, grateful that a brush separated them for the time being. He took carefully measured steps towards them and stopped when he was at a respectable distance. He had never eavesdropped like this, on personal conversations that had no ulterior motives to the information that was gathered other than the personal curiosity. Honestly, Zuko wouldn't be surprised if Sokka tried to slug Aang, Avatar or not, and it was one of the only motivations that he had for hanging still around.
"If you love her, you'll stay away. For her own safety."
"I'm the Avatar, Sokka! If I can't keep the girl I love safe, then what can I do?"
"You can leave her alone! I'm telling you, she's not that great, you can find someone else to endanger more than you've endangered Katara!"
"For Sages' sake!"
Zuko hadn't realized he had exclaimed anything until Aang and Sokka ceased their talking and looked around. He stepped from behind the brush, stomping angrily and leaving steam prints of his bare feet in the ground. He stepped in between the two friends who seemed to be standing far too close and forced them apart. Both of them stared at him with wide eyes. Now that he was standing in the middle of their argument because he couldn't keep quiet, he might as well interject his opinion.
"Katara is a waterbending master! She's smart and skilled and compassionate and she's capable of thinking on her own. Sokka, she doesn't need you to play the fates and decide who comes in and out of her life whether you like it or not! And Aang, just because you love her, it doesn't mean you can treat her like a bargaining object! If Katara wants to be with him, then let her! She can protect herself and I'm sure she can speak for herself too, so quit treating her like a gold piece. And if you do have the irresistible urge to discuss her out in the open, you can at least shut the hell up!"
As the firebender turned on his heel to march back to camp, he was surprised to see Katara standing in front of him. She had the beginnings of sleep lines on her face but it was neutralized by the angry, annoyed look on her face as she stared past Zuko and glared at her brother and her friend. His face paled and she stepped wrathfully around him, headed to the two males. He winced as soon as she started talking—screaming, rather—but still turned around to watch the verbal lashing. "Are you kidding me?! You two are out here yelling over me like I'm a piece of property? It's obvious that neither of you respect me enough to come to me!"
Both Aang and Sokka spluttered in unison, trying to grapple with her insinuation. "Katara!" They both called in unison.
"I would never disrespect you!"
"I was just trying to protect you!"
"Oh, be quiet!" Her fists balled at her sides and she turned on her heel, redirecting her fury at the firebender standing idly by. She stormed over to him and Zuko flinched. "And you! What in the..." she twisted, turning her head over her shoulder to glare at Aang and Sokka. "What is the world coming to when the Fire Nation's Crown Prince defends me to the Avatar and my own brother!?" The rage of her words echoed through the clearing. Zuko, clearly feeling out of place, moved to leave, but Katara grabbed his shoulders and yanked him down to her eye level. Before he could plead with her over his words, she crashed against him, her lips meeting his before her forehead collided with his. Their noses met and Zuko felt an embarrassed heat spreading through him. It wasn't a very intimate lip-lock, but it was fiery and surprising enough to keep the firebender still. After a few shocking moments of silence, Katara ripped away from the kiss and pivoted again.
And she had gone running away from the clearing opposite of where the camp was. But neither Aang or Sokka seemed interested in following her. Instead, they stared at Zuko, whose face was even paler under the sliver of moonlight and looked like Katara had slapped him across the face rather than kissed him. He grumbled something under his breath that neither of them had caught and headed off in the general direction of where Katara had looked to have gone.
He found the waterbender angrily creating waves in a small puddle. He didn't want to sneak up on her so he tried to be as loud and noisy as possible, crushing branches and shuffling his feet unnecessarily until she turned. Her face was less angry than her actions. To be honest, she looked disappointed and distraught more than she appeared to be angry. Zuko knelt wordlessly beside her, finding a stick that he broke into three pieces and lit on fire. Despite the meager kindling, his hands danced along the edges of the charred sticks as the fire rose higher and higher with no reason.
"I don't like you," Katara announced, but Zuko continued to manipulate the intensity of the fire in front of him. "So don't get any ideas. I just...I love Sokka to death and I believe Aang will change the world, because he will. But it's hard to believe he loves me when he can just treat me like a possession."
Her voice started to sound bitter and she flicked her puddle water absently towards the fire. It doused it down to a tiny flame but Zuko pushed it until it rose again, with a little more difficulty because of the dampened sticks. "I didn't kiss you because I like you. I did it because I wanted to. Not that I want to kiss you," she added hastily, "so don't get any ideas about that either. I wanted to do something that I could control. I don't feel like I have any control over anything. I've been burdened with chores and responsibilities since I was a little girl. I didn't have a choice because people were depending on me to step up and take care of them. So I did, without too much complaining. I take care of everyone because that's all I've been allowed to do. And now my brother and best friend are fighting over me like...a gold piece."
She glanced up at him with a tiny hint of a smile. His mouth dropped open for a moment before he returned it cautiously and then continued to stoke the fire he had created. "Thank you," she added reluctantly, "for saying that. Not for calling me a gold piece, but...giving me back the right to make my own choices. I lost so much of that when Sokka and I discovered Aang. It was our responsibility to help him; it was our destiny. It's pretty inescapable. But sometimes I feel like I've just gone from being responsible in the Water Tribe to being responsible with the Avatar, and essentially the entire world."
Zuko took his turn to observe her. He had known nothing about her home life and her responsibilities and he was still unsure as to why she was telling him all of this, but he listened. There was a reason he could hear his uncle's voice in the back of his head. 'Nephew, there is a reason why the Spirits have blessed us with two ears and only one mouth.' The firebender ceased his thoughts as she spoke up again. "I don't like you. But I don't hate you either." With that, Katara swept the rest of the water in her puddle towards his fire and watched it disappear completely before she walked back to camp. Zuko stayed behind and took the sticks carefully in his hands and heated them while he pondered why Katara had confided in him and why she had kissed him.
Setting the dry sticks back down, he lit them on fire and stared into the dancing flames, while, against the waterbender's demands, Zuko tried to come up with a few ideas.