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12 October 2008 @ 11:24 pm
 
Update~! Sorry if it's kinda crappy - I had the attention span of a fish while writing it. xD And sorry for the Zutaraness. >.>


Katara hesitated before entering the kitchen, wringing her hands and chewing her lip. For over a week, she had been trying to think of how to explain things to her makeshift family without angering or worrying them. It seemed a difficult task, a million different unfavourable outcomes running through her mind.

‘Might as well spit it out and get it over with,’ she thought, taking a deep breath.

“Guys,” she started, drawing the group’s attention away from their food. “Um, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you...”

“Did something bad happen?” Aang asked worriedly.

Pointing his chopsticks at her, Sokka added, “Did someone from the Lower Ring attack you? Because I’ll gladly snap their neck.”

“No, no! That’s not it at all!” she assured them, hands held up with palms facing out in an almost defensive manner. “... And you couldn’t snap a chicken’s neck, Sokka, let alone a thug’s.”

Her brother sputtered angrily, Toph laughing loudly while Aang tried to hide a snicker behind his hand.

“Anyway,” Katara continued, trying to steer the conversation in the desired direction. “I met an old friend a few weeks ago. He’s working at a teashop in the Lower Ring.”

“You mean that teashop you told us not to go to?”

“Yeah... See, I kinda worried you guys might jump to conclusions and-“

“Wait – it’s Zuko, isn’t it? That’s why you didn’t want us to know who it was! Oh man, we are so dead.”

His sister snorted. “Like Zuko would ever come to this city. It’s Jet.”

Jet’s back?” Aang asked, eyes nearly popping out of his head. “Are you okay? Did he try to hurt you?”

I’ll hurt him,” Sokka vowed, punching his fist into his palm.

“You still didn’t beat him up, did you?” Toph asked boredly, speaking in unison with the other two.

Chirping excitedly, Momo flew in from the bedroom, landing on the table and upsetting a cup of water, seeming eager to join the chaos.

“Actually, we’re dating.”

Silence was the response, the only noise being swishing water as Katara bent the spill away.

“Wha- Why? Did he – Are you being blackmailed?

“No,” she assured her brother, “the choice was completely mine. He hasn’t done anything to force me.”

“Except kiss you,” Toph teased, smirking. Sokka gawked, glancing from one girl to the other.

“Why did you tell her but not me?”

“Trust me, Snoozles, it wasn’t her choice. I can tell when someone lies.”

“Really?” Aang asked, perking up. “Cool! You gotta teach me.”

Reaching over to pat his head, she said, “In time, Twinkle Toes. You still have a lot of basics too work on.”

“Can we focus on what matters, please?” Sokka snapped, shooting the pair an annoyed glare. “Like, you know, the fact that my baby sister is dating a psychopath!

“He’s not crazy!” Katara protested, fists clenching. Why had she even bothered to tell him? She knew it was a bad idea, that he would jump to conclusions and go into ‘over-protective brother’ mode. She was a waterbending master, not a baby!

“Oh, so flooding a village is perfectly sane, now, is it?”

Sensing that the escalating argument was about to get out of control (the water in the remaining cups stirring like a stormy sea was the biggest clue), Aang got to his feet, cutting off the siblings’ view of each other. “C’mon, guys, let’s not fight – we have enough problems with Appa missing.”

“Yeah, I think Sugar Queen’s taste in boyfriends is the least of our worries.”

Glare fixed on the wooden tabletop, Sokka was silent for a moment, fisted hands tensing as he thought. Taking a deep breath, he turned his gaze to Aang, then passed him to Katara. “Alright. He has one chance.”

He sister scoffed, standing akimbo. “Like I need your permission.”

As the pair broke out into another argument, Aang sighed. Something told him told him their stay in Ba Sing Se was going to get more and more stressful.

XxXx

She was late.

The one day Zuko actually wanted that wretched waterbender in his teashop and she was late.

Oddly enough, Jet hardly seemed concerned. When he asked him about it (trying to act as uninterested as possible, of course), the Freedom Fighter just shrugged and said, “She probably just has other stuff to do.”

Other stuff to do? But he needed to see her immediately, not tomorrow or next week or whenever she felt like it! He had important questions that needed answers and waiting for Katara was not an option.

Not that he told Jet any of this. That would lead to prying questions and curiosity as to what the reason was, which was something Zuko definitely couldn’t reveal.

Finally, an hour after her usual time of arrival, Katara entered the shop, the bell above to door tinkling merrily. Rushing over to Jet, she gave him a hug and a kiss, oblivious to the firebender ducking behind the counter.

“Sorry I can’t stay long,” she was saying, arms wrapped around her boyfriend’s neck. “I just wanted to tell you I might not be able to visit as often – we’re spending more time searching for our friend.”

Zuko’s body tensed. This might be the last time he saw her for quite a while; he had to tell her.

Peeking out he watched for the right moment, that familiar feeling (jealousy, he had realized) rising up when he saw Jet flirting and teasing, making her blush or giggle or give him a peck on the cheek. At the same time, he tried to make up excuses for his feelings, to find an explanation that actually made sense.

Because the prince of the Fire Nation was not supposed to have a crush on a Water Tribe peasant. That was stupid and absurd and borderline suicidal.

‘At least uncle doesn’t seem to know,’ he thought. If the events with Jin were any indication, Iroh would be having a field day right about now.

Finally, the owner yelled at Jet to get into the supply room and organize some boxes, and Katara decided she should probably go, too. Watching the two separate, Zuko held his breath –this had to be timed perfectly.

She was a step away from the front door when he darted out, stopping inches behind her and clamping his hands on her shoulders. The atmosphere in the shop completely changed, amiable chatter becoming curious murmurs.

“Don’t turn around,” he whispered, feeling her relax slightly when she recognized his voice. Swallowing, he tried to calm himself, wondering if his hands were shaking. “Can... Can you meet me at the usual spot? Tonight? An hour after sunset?”

“I dunno,” Katara said, making his heart plummet into his stomach. “I’m kinda busy... But I’ll try.”

“Alright,” he managed, slowly stepping away. “I’ll see you when I see you, I guess.”

“Bye,” she said, and, as he had instructed, left the shop without turning around.

Zuko’s shoulders slumped, a small sigh escaping him. He got the feeling this would either go really well or really horribly.

XxXx

Katara hurried down the dark streets, eager to meet up with Li. It had been hard to come up with an excuse for why she was ditching the group’s search for Appa – even Toph was getting fed up – but the curiosity nagging her made it hard to resist the opportunity.

Still, Aang’s disappointment had been heartbreaking. He wanted everyone working together, hated that another member of their family drifting away...

‘I’m not drifting,’ Katara told herself firmly. ‘I’m taking a few minutes out of the group search to talk to a close friend, then I’m joining the others. No abandoning on this end.”

The flickering light of candles came into view, and her heart pounded excitedly. There was always that chance of seeing his face.

When she stepped into the small square, Zuko smiled beneath his mask. She had come – a little late, but that didn’t matter.

“Hey,” he greeted, taking a few steps closer.

“Hey,” she mimicked, hands clasped behind her back. “So... What did you wanna talk about?”

His hammering heart felt like it might leap out of his chest, and he found his mouth suddenly dry, palms unusually sweaty. “Uh, th-there’s something... s-something I need to do. I-I was wondering if, maybe, you could help. Or something. I-if you want to.”

‘Dear Agni, this is even more pathetic than my date with Jin! Speak like a normal human, damn it!’

But Katara just smiled and nodded, apparently not minding his horrible, nervous stutter.

Moving a little closer, he wrung his hands, glad she couldn’t see the blush on his face. “Okay, um... Close your eyes. And don’t peek.”

Obediently, she did as he said, smile widening eagerly. Keeping a cautious gaze on her, Zuko began untying the strip of fabric that held his mask in place. The cold air hit his face in a surprising slap, his eyes blinking instinctively as they were assaulted by wind and peripheral vision.

Taking a deep breath to compose himself, he placed a gloved hand over her closed eyes. Then, after a brief, internal tug-of-war (‘Do it!’ ‘What if she rejects me?’ ‘It’s worth the risk.’ ‘She might figure out who I am!’), he leaned forward and kissed her.

She let out a tiny squeak of surprise, stiffening as her eyes flew open, her eyelashes brushing against his palm and making him very grateful that he had thought to cover her eyes.

I’ll have to thank Jin for the “close-your-eyes” idea,’ he thought, almost smiling against the waterbender’s lips.

“Li?”

Or maybe not.

Like anyone caught doing something they shouldn’t, Zuko jumped away, trying to act innocent. However, in doing so, he uncovered Katara’s eyes.

She stood there, blinking a few times, lips still slightly pursed, her mind seeming to have trouble recognizing him. Then her eyes widened.

“Hey, Jin,” Zuko said awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck and glancing between the two girls. Surely one of them would kill him...

“Is... she your girlfriend?” Jin asked, pointing at Katara with a hurt expression – not that he blamed her.

“Um, yes. No! I, um... I should go.”

Grabbing the waterbender’s wrist and running, he was dimly aware that he had left his mask and chance of survival back at the fountain. At that moment, it didn’t matter – his mind was too busy racing, wondering what she was doing there, why she had to choose that moment to question him, why nothing ever seemed to work out. All he wanted was one thing – one thing – to end happily.

When they had reached a secluded, dark alley, Katara pulled free from his grasp, forcing him to stop.

“You!” she seethed, fists clenching. “You’re, you’re... All this time! I trusted you!”

“Katara, please-“

“No! No, I get it now. You were using me, seeing how long it would take me to realize who you were, hoping I’d lead you right to Aang’s doorstep. And, hey,” she laughed bitterly, “why not take advantage of me while you’re at it!”

“No,” he protested, reaching to grab her shoulder as she turned to walk away. “That’s-“

A ringing slap silenced him.

“Don’t touch me!”

Then she turned and ran, leaving Zuko to slump down against the alley wall, cheek stinging and head buried in his hands.
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Arijan (pronounced "AH-ree-yawn"): zuko/katara is a srs otptobu_ishi on October 13th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
*chuckles* Never apologize for Zutara. I ship both ways. (And a bit of Jinko, for that matter, so it's a win/win/win situation any way you slice it.)
Rachael: Zutara - darkwohitzi on October 13th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
=D Sweet. Your multi-shipping works very well for this fic.

And I love your icon. xD
Omnicatomnicat on October 16th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)
I feel a little guilty for how giddy this chapter made me. ^^;

WHOO, TENSION! DRAMA! HEARTBREAK! 8D
Rachael: Sokkawohitzi on October 16th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
=D Gigginess is good~! I'm glad you liked it!