The music is so loud that Zuko can hear it faintly thudding from over a block away. It’s almost overpowering the thunder from the summer storm that’s currently attempting to drown him, but a little rain won’t stop Zuko from reaching his destination, which is his best friend Sokka’s house. There’s nothing Sokka loves more than throwing a good party; while by day he is a dedicated engineering student, by night he transforms into a creature of rare and awesome power, like a biblical seraph made of Solo cups. Judging by the volume of the music and the colourful lights already flashing against the rain-soaked concrete, this particular night is shaping up to be an absolute rager, in the current parlance. Some might even say it’s going to be a shitshow, but the river of time has yet to reveal which way it will curve in that regard. That’s the allure of parties, after all; the Void hovers, beckoning, at the edge of the dance floor.
Zuko has memorized the route to Sokka’s home, located as it is just a few enclaves away from his parents’ own mansion—equally palatial, but a far less pleasant place to be overall. It’s no surprise that Zuko spent more time at Sokka’s place than his own when they were growing up; he’s walked this route in both rain and shine, while shrieking with laughter and sobbing in shame. But nonetheless his stomach flutters with a hint of anxiety, because this isn’t just any ordinary party: it’s also, unofficially, a welcome-back party for Sokka’s little sister, Katara.
Zuko swallows a lump in his throat. Katara’s been back from college for almost two months, and the silence has been deafening; they’ve been a pair of ships passing in the night, one always busy on nights when other’s free. It’s functionally the same system they used to operate on in high school, albeit more elegantly executed than two emotional teenagers could ever do. But tonight is different. Tonight Zuko has the chance to show Katara just how much he’s grown up in the past four years, to relish in the shocked look on her face as he brushes right past her, to watch her squirm as he treats her with precisely the minimum level of decency—not a drop more, not a drop less.
It’s petty, Zuko knows. It’s petty and immature and phenomenally stupid, and in the coming days and weeks he will expend honest effort to actually trying to repair their relationship—if such a thing could be said to exist—because the fact is that Zuko and Katara are part of the same social circle and are going to have to start interacting with each other at some point.
But first, just for tonight, he’s going to show off like a goddamn peacock; his every move and word will proclaim look at who I’ve become. Too bad you weren’t nicer to me in high school.
The house is already buzzing with activity when he arrives, but Zuko finds Sokka fairly quickly, and they hug it out like proper besties.
“I’m glad you came!” Sokka yells over the thudding music.
“Me too!” Zuko replies. “What have I missed?”
“Ty Lee’s in the kitchen making jello shots, Toph’s probably somewhere making a frat boy cry, and Aang’s out on the enclosed porch.”
Zuko feels his face light up. Aang is one of his favourite people in the world; he is a natural peacemaker, a strict pacifist and vegan who believes that nothing is immoral as long as no harm is caused. All of these qualities make Aang a unique and valuable friend; they also happen to make him the world’s greatest drug dealer.
“I’m gonna start there, then!” he talk-yells in Sokka’s ear.
“Good choice. We got Aang to work on a flat fee tonight, so go buck-wild. On the house.”
Zuko claps Sokka across the shoulders. “You’re the fucking best, man.”
“Right back atcha!” Sokka yells as Zuko begins to head toward the glass-walled room off the main porch. As he walks through the party, a few familiar faces catch his eye, and Zuko smiles and waves and makes small talk like the best of them. Sometimes he can’t believe how lucky he was to meet Sokka and his gang; with their support, Zuko finally found the courage to tell his father to go fuck himself, among many other helpful and life-changing decisions that have vastly improved him on every conceivable level. And Katara has seen none of it.
You think I’m immature and anxious and can’t control my emotions, Zuko imagines saying to her. But I’ve gotten therapy, I’ve broken hearts, and I’ve commanded the rapt attention of a whole room while I told a joke. Not such a loser now, am I?
It’s hideously immature, but still kind of fun to think about. Zuko’s only human.
He swings into the enclosed porch; it’s carpeted with every cushion in the entire house and lit up with string lights, giving it a whole chill hippy commune vibe.
“Zuko! Buddy!” Aang swoops in to wrap Zuko in a hug. “Welcome to the party. What can I get for you?”
“Hmm,” Zuko thinks. Aang strictly deals in marijuana and psychedelics, and what he does provide is always top-notch in quality and guaranteed to be pure, safe, and in measurable doses. But while lying out in the rain and watching the drops turn impossible colours does sound appealing, in the end Zuko decides to stay with the tried and true. “What do you have in sativas? I want this party to be interesting.”
Aang pulls a plastic baggie out of his shirt pocket and takes out a thick joint. “Wonder Woman is the gal for you, then. Guaranteed to absolutely transform your night.”
“Ooh, yes please.” Zuko accepts the joint from Aang fishes his lighter out of his pocket. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Go forth and toke well!” Aang calls as Zuko slips out of one of the sliding glass doors and out to the wraparound porch. The rain is pouring down in sheets, and Zuko reaches his hand out to catch a drop or five on his palm before putting the joint between his lips and lighting up. The weed hits his lungs with a burst of sharpness, and he exhales a smooth stream of smoke out into the humid night. With every drag, his anxiety lifts from his shoulders, replaced instead by a lazily brazen sense of what can only be described as chill. The music thuds through Zuko’s bones, and he finds he’s grooving along with the bass, internalizing the beat and just enjoying the slow-motion phenomenon of moving this weird meat suit they call a body. His thoughts begin to slowly unwind themselves, and he profoundly understands what it means when they call music primal. There’s something tugging deep in his gut, whispering about all the beautiful things that happen in the darkest corners; so Zuko lets his eyes drift towards the warm golden light emanating from the enclosed porch. Inside, he can see Sokka, talking animatedly to a girl who’s facing away from him; he can’t hear what they’re saying, so instead Zuko indulges in some good old-fashioned all-American lechery, letting his eyes roam up the length of the girl’s long legs and settle on the retro high-waisted shorts she’s wearing, which accentuate her lovely waist and frankly fantastic ass. She’s wearing a sleeveless sheer blouse with nothing but a bandeau underneath, giving Zuko an extra shiver of stoned delight as he considers the faint curve of her spine, and maybe what it would be like rake his teeth across it. The girl has thick brown hair that’s loosely clipped up in an alluringly messy bun, exposing the simple crescent moon tattoo at the base of her neck.
“Oh, I would very much like to get to know you,” Zuko murmurs to himself as he stubs out his joint in a nearby Solo cup with ‘BUTTS LOL’ scrawled in Sharpie on the side. As he watches, Suki comes up behind Sokka and makes as if to leave, so Zuko stands and walks back toward the enclosed porch, reaching out to pull the sliding door. Sokka’s house is huge, so he figures he should introduce himself to this stunning vision and at least get her Instagram handle before she disappears into the throng within. Worst case scenario, she’ll say no and Zuko will move on with his life; best case scenario, he’ll have a hottie on his arm when he just so happens to run into—
The girl turns at the sound of the door sliding open, and Zuko’s stomach drops to his toes when he sees her face.
“Oh,” Katara says. “It’s you.”
Katara really did intend to have a good time. Promise.
She didn’t want to go to this party, but she’s going to, because she’s an adult and adults have to smile and make chit-chat with people they loathe all the time. She did more than her fair share of gritting her teeth through such encounters while away at college, and at this point she’s got it pretty well down pat. It was excruciating to be away from her family, but Katara couldn’t deny that going away to college had been the right decision; while she loved the friends she’d hung out with all her life—mostly—it was something of a blessing to be so far away during such formative years. Making new mistakes was a totally different experience when nobody knew about all her previous ones, when she could control the narrative of her own identity and discover who she wanted to be without fearing disappointing the people who knew who she’d been. Returning home had been both exciting and nerve-wracking; having left as an insecure and emotional teenager, Katara had returned with more social confidence, better coping mechanisms for her perfectionism, and an impressive tolerance for marijuana. It had been a pleasure to see the looks on peoples’ faces as they said things like I hardly recognized you, and to get to reintroduce herself to the people she’d known her entire life.
Except for one.
But tonight Katara’s going to be ready. She snags a joint from Aang early and slips out one of the side doors to a more secluded part of the balcony, where many years ago she set up a little writing nook with an outdoor couch and some large fake plants. She’s about halfway through her joint, and is privately indulging in a vivid fantasy involving—
“You’re excited to one-up some poor fool, aren’t you?” Suki asks as she appears through the leaves, sitting down beside Katara. “You only dress up to be this fuckable when you’re excited to one-up some poor fool.”
Katara shakes her head, handing the joint over. “Not at all, and I resent the accusation. I’m just here to have a good time, and say hi to all the people who haven’t seen me for four years.”
“Like Zuko,” Suki croaks through a mouthful of smoke, and Katara rolls her eyes.
“No, not like Zuko.”
“Okay, but, Katara, be real: like Zuko.”
She stubbornly purses her lips. “He probably won’t show up, anyway. Sokka says that Ozai has him basically chained to his desk at the firm—”
Suki cocks an eyebrow. “And you think he’d skip a party thrown by his very best friend in the whole world, where he will, for the first time in four whole years, have the chance to press your buttons?”
Katara sighs as she takes back the joint. “Whatever, fuck him,” she mutters. Suki fans herself dramatically.
“Girl, listen, if Sokka wasn’t already my wife, I would one hundred percent throw myself through the gauntlet for the chance to take Zuko in a manly fashion. You may have blocked him on Instagram, but I’ve had front row seats to watch our beloved crispy duckling transform into some seriously choice swan.”
“Ugh,” Katara mimes gagging. “I bet he’s even more insufferable than he was before. Can’t wait.”
“Well, I just came to let you know that Sokka’s looking for you, and he’s in the drug room.”
Katara blows smoke in a thin exasperated stream. “He ‘accidentally’ took the liquid LSD instead of CBD oil again, huh?”
“I refuse to incriminate my client, on the grounds that I may or may not have already agreed to babysit him all night so you can have fun without worrying.”
Katara takes a long smooth drag, silently thanking her years of oboe playing for providing her with such a good lung capacity.
“Fine,” she replies after she exhales. “I’ll stop by on my way in.”
“I’d say take your time, but, y’know. Liquid LSD.”
“I’ll be there in a bit,” Katara nods as Suki disappears back through the fake plant branches. Once she’s alone, she tips her neck back against the couch and studies the stone above her head.
Katara prides herself on being mature beyond her years; she’s been precocious her whole life, highly driven and eager to impress. Zuko is such a sore topic precisely because of how he always seemed to unravel her self-control; she hated how judgemental he was of her, and she really hated how much she’d always tried to impress him. Such is the nature of adolescence; she can see that now. But it doesn’t make those memories any more pleasant.
She takes one last long drag, letting the ember burn down to the filter, and then stubs it out. Now that she’s had her first joint, Katara’s excited to immerse herself in the party—to turn down the volume on her thoughts and let herself be guided by her baser instincts without fear or shame, even knowing Zuko will be here.
The best revenge, Katara decides, is to show him that he doesn’t matter to me anymore. But when he realizes it, I’m going to drink in that look in his eyes, because it’s been a hell of a long time coming.
It’s in this spirit of defiance that Katara returns to the enclosed porch, and finds Sokka giggling softly at a blank spot on the wall.
“Sokka?” she walks around to get right in front of his face, and Sokka’s face lights up when he sees her, even if it does take a second.
“Little sister!” he grins. “I’m going on a journey tonight.”
“Yes, Sokka, I know,” she retorts. “Thanks for leaving me to fend for myself.”
He lays both hands heavily on her shoulders. “Listen to me, Katara,” he says with deadly seriousness, “you don’t even need to be told that you can do this. You’ve been beaming with pride ever since you came back, and it’s been truly wonderful to see; now go out there and show those idiots what’s what.”
Katara grins as Sokka starts examining his steepled fingers with all the intensity of a scholar with a tome.
“How is it that you become wiser when you’re high off your ass?”
“An excellent question,” Sokka replies, his eyes still trained on his hands. “I suspect that boomerangs are involved.”
Katara leans over to catch Suki’s eye across the room, and Suki sweeps up and effortlessly links arms with Sokka.
“Okay, my love, let’s go find you some water,” she says.
“Dimensional boomerangs, Katara,” Sokka is mumbling sagely. “I’m telling you. They explain everything.”
As Suki begins to drag him away, she hears the sliding door open behind her and instinctively turns toward the sound, only to see—
Katara’s rehearsed this, and she never flubs a performance; so she stands her ground, remaining stock still even as adrenaline courses through her veins and throbs deep in her core. The weed is making everything seem vivid and fascinating, so she can’t stop herself from taking in all the details: the perfectly tailored fit of his jeans, the strategically faded Airborne Toxic Event t-shirt that’s been French tucked oh-so-casually into his waistband, the whimsically striped socks, and the fashionably shaggy hair that falls into his eyes just so, softening the sharper angles of his face. Their gazes meet, and she swallows; his eyes are still as intense as ever, but somehow even more unnerving.
A burst of furious envy erupts inside her. How dare you get this hot, Katara thinks. How utterly fucking dare you.
“Oh,” she hears herself breathe. “It’s you.”
“Hello, Katara,” Zuko says softly. His once-crackly voice has smoothed out into a deeper rasp, and for some reason she thinks of stubble scraping across her skin.
What should she say? She doesn’t know what to say. Nice to see you? But it isn’t. How’s it going? She doesn’t want to know. How many times has a variation of this outfit managed to put a quiver in some poor girl’s loins? She really doesn’t want to know.
“Sokka took LSD,” is what she goes with. Best to focus on the one single subject they can agree on.
A quiet smirk flits across Zuko’s lips, but he smothers it just as quickly. “That explains the gesticulating, then,” he replies.
Katara’s mouth is dry. This is going horribly , and it’s not even that she’s tongue-tied about all the hotness; it’s just that she can’t think of a single goddamn thing to say. I can’t believe I’m blowing this—
But it’s at that very moment that she sees Zuko’s reddened eyes flick downwards to her body, just for a fraction of a second, and then she can’t stop the smirk that spreads across her face. Because Katara made a lot of formative mistakes in college, and a good handful of them began with exactly that look. That look has never brought anything but a few decent-to-good orgasms and a lot of regret. Over time, Katara has come to resent that look, and all of the bullshit patriarchal misogyny and rape culture that comes with it.
But in this moment, it’s just about the greatest thing she’s ever seen.
“Well, I need a drink,” Katara announces to no one in particular, and spins on her heel to go back into the house, letting her hips sway just a little bit more than usual. Because Zuko may have gotten hot, but so did she. And he noticed.
All those years you looked at me and just saw Sokka’s kid sister, she thinks. All those years you made me feel like I was bossy and overemotional and like I talked too much and wasn’t pretty. Look at you now, jerk.
She finds Toph in the dining room, surrounded by howling frat guys. A neat pyramid of empty shot glasses sits on the table beside her, and a guy with god-awful straw blonde hair is nodding into his folded arms across the table. He also has shot glasses beside him, but arranged much more haphazardly.
“Do you yield?” Toph asks with theatrical seriousness. “If not, it’s time for number eighteen.”
Straw Boy raises his hand and gropes in the rough direction of his next drink, but instead sends it flying off the table, narrowly missing Katara.
“Hey!” she snaps. “Disqualified for making a mess.”
“Now hang on, Sugar Queen,” Toph says with a long drawl, “let Joshua here lose like a gentleman, and then I’m sure one of his friends will be happy to clean up the mess. Right?” her sightless eyes scan across the group of frat bros, and several of them visibly gulp. Katara hides her snicker behind her hand.
“Now, Joshy boy,” Toph says, raising her glass, “you ready? On one, two—“
“Yield,” Joshua blurts, much to the groaned consternation of his buddies.
“Pathetic,” Toph spits. “Well, boys, pay up.”
She holds out her hand, and the guys all reluctantly reach for their wallets and begin handing her cash. One particularly beefy dude drops a bill in her hand, and has only just turned to leave when Toph’s fist shoots out and grabs a handful of his shirt.
“Uh, Mathias, this here isn’t a hundo,” she waves the money at him. “I’m blind, not stupid; did you think I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference? I said pay up, asshole.”
Despite the fact that she’s easily two feet shorter than him, Mathias meekly complies and all but scurries away. Toph snorts with derision.
“Too scared to even take his original bill back, too. Thanks for the tip!” she calls after him, and then she and Katara break out laughing. Toph hands her a shot with an exaggerated wink. “Drink up, princess.”
Katara obeys. “Thanks, Toph,” she says. “It’s already been a long night.”
“Oh has it?” Toph replies slyly. “And why, pray tell, would that be?”
“No reason,” Katara winces as the lie slips out, and Toph’s smile widens like a Cheshire cat.
“I see college hasn’t made you a good liar, thank god. Now why don’t you take another one of these here shots, and sit down with Momma Toph and tell her what’s really going on. Because I think there’s a very specific reason for your current malaise, and my guess is it’s because you’ve made first contact with the massively renewed big dick energy brimming from our pal Sparky.”
Katara chokes on her drink. “No!” she sputters, before sighing. “Yes, okay, fine. We’ve already seen each other.”
“I can tell,” Toph grins. “What did you think? Pretty magnificent, huh?”
“It sure is something,” Katara says. “I guess he’s—” she cuts herself off as she sees Zuko across the room, and Toph claps her hands in delight.
“He just walked in, didn’t he? Oh, excellent . Most interesting. Do continue.”
Katara scowls, even though Toph won’t see it. “He seems...taller?”
“That’s because he’s not trying to hide himself all the time,” Toph points out. “He finally got himself to therapy, you know. He’s moved out of his family’s place and everything.”
Katara watches Zuko start to dance with a girl, and she suddenly feels warm. “I’m glad he’s stable, I guess,” she says, surprised at how earnest the words sound coming out of her mouth.
“So are you gonna fuck him?”
Katara whirls around so fast her hair nearly comes loose. “Excuse me?!”
Toph shrugs. “Just asking.”
Katara pinches the bridge of her nose. “Why is everyone around here so suddenly obsessed with how much they want to have sex with Zuko? Did he become a giant slut while I was gone?”
“I mean, kind of, yeah,” Toph answers. “None of us gave him shit for it or anything, I say ‘slut’ with nothing but love and compassion and, frankly, a little bit of jealousy, because that dude can get it.” Her face softens for a moment. “To be honest, I think it helped him grow up a lot.”
“And by all accounts he’s just ravenous in the sack.”
“Yikes,” Katara retorts, even as her eyes return to Zuko’s face, because it’s so much nicer to look at when he’s not scowling. She clears her throat. “Well. Too bad I’ll never know; I prefer to have at least one thing in common with the men I sleep with.”
Toph’s smile is downright wicked. “You should ask Zuko about Jet.”
“What about Jet?” Katara asks sharply, because no matter how far away you go or how many love affairs you have, the spectre of your first dirtbag ex never fully fades.
“Well, you’ve both slept with him, so there’s something you have in common,” Toph says. “And I’m not outing him, by the way, ‘round these parts it’s common knowledge that old Sparky dual wields his weapons. Even his dad knows.”
“God damn it,” Katara swears without realizing it.
Toph seems genuinely taken aback. “Wait, you don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
“No, of course not,” she replies; her eyes flick back to Zuko, whose dance partner looks like she’s in the process of climaxing right then and there. “I just...I don’t know, Toph, why did he have to get so cool? It’s making me feel like it’s high school all over again.”
“If I may make a suggestion, Sugar Queen, you’ve gotten pretty cool yourself. You also have BDE coming out of every pore, perhaps even more so than Zuko because you don’t even have a D to energetically embiggen in the first place. So my advice is: if you’re going to let him get your panties all in a bunch, at least let him be an active participant in the bunching.”
Katara downs one more shot. “Okay, Toph,” she says, wiping her mouth, “I’m going to tell you a secret, but you have to swear not to say a word.”
Toph’s face lights up with joy. “Oh, good, you are going to fuck him!”
“No! And keep your voice down! I just…” Katara huffs. “It’s immature, I know, but I’ve had this thought of how this scenario would go, that he would take one look at me and just, like...feel bad for all that shit back then. That he’d see me as more than just a bratty little sister.”
“That his jaw would hit the floor and his dick would burst into flames at the sight of your womanly form, and how you’d watch as he crawled to you on hands and knees to beg erotic forgiveness like the worm he is,” Toph suggests, and Katara lightly whacks her on the arm.
“No, nothing like that,” she responds, even as her weed-infused mind conjures up a very vivid mental picture. “But...I guess maybe a little like that.”
“Do him. Do him. Do him,” Toph chants. “For real, Katara. Ride that pony.”
“He’ll say no.”
Toph scoffs. “He will not say no. Do you know how many men wish they could hate-fuck the girl who made them feel inadequate in high school? All of them, Katara. Every single goddamn one of them would give their left nut to do exactly what you want to do to him.”
It’s positively atrocious how much sense she’s making, especially as Katara watches Zuko finish his dance with the girl, who wobbles away with flushed cheeks and knocking knees. What, can he bring you to orgasm with just his penetrating glare? she thinks, but her half-hearted attempt at snark instantly collapses as a vivid flash goes through her brain of what if he could? And what if he did beg on hands and knees?
Katara has never met an activity in her life that she didn’t eventually learn to excel at, and sex is no exception. She is more than capable of bringing even the most strong-willed man to the point of desperate and quivering arousal; but doing that to Zuko would be a power trip more intense than any orgasm. Maybe I could actually pull this off.
Plus, she can’t honestly say she’s never imagined it.
She worries at her bottom lip with her teeth. “Things would get weird with the group, if we—”
“—oh, bullshit, people sleep with each other all the time. The way I look at it, there’s already enough animosity between the two of you which we’ll all have to hear about in excruciating detail in the near future; worst case scenario, we just tack another few months onto the process.”
“That’s the worst case scenario?”
Toph nods. “Best case scenario, stress relief.”
A new song begins to blare over the speakers, something with a heavy drumbeat that seems to echo deep inside her, and a twanging guitar line that’s a perfect match for the thick air and the primal flash of lights across the dark. Katara clenches her thighs together as the music sinks deep into her bones and the alcohol dissolves the last of her inhibitions, and before she knows it she’s standing up.
“I’ll be back,” she hears herself say as she slips into the crowd, slowly but surely making her way towards him. When Zuko notices her, Katara gives him a defiant smirk, holding his gaze for just long enough to be clear that this isn’t a coincidence, before she turns around and begins to dance. She lets her torso and hips undulate in time to the music, shamelessly showing off as her hand crawls up her collarbone and curves around her neck. Her movements draw more than just Zuko’s attention; heads turn to her from every angle. Katara lets her smirk grow as she closes her eyes, letting the crowd fold in around her, bodies pressing in from all sides—but none of them are Zuko. A flutter of doubt temporarily stills her; maybe he’s not impressed. Maybe he’s laughing. Maybe he isn’t even there anymore.
Don’t look, she tells herself. Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look.
Mathias the Beefcake has finangled his way over to her, his body language a masterclass in clumsy white boy lust. Katara looks him up and down, waits in tense anticipation for another few bars, and then crooks her finger at him. Fuck it, she thinks. Maybe I’ll still get some stress relief anyhow—
But that’s when someone comes up behind her, his hand curving across her hip as a pair of lips just barely graze her neck.
“All right,” Zuko growls, his breath warm in her ear and his voice sending a shiver up her spine, “you have my attention.”
For a moment, Katara wants to freeze, to cry uncle, to run away up to her room where her books can keep her company. But instead she grins, leaning her head back against Zuko’s shoulder and lightly pressing against him.
“Who says I wanted it?” she asks.
“Oh, you were pretty clear,” he purrs back. Katara swallows a lump in her throat; dear Christ, he’s learned to make the most of that voice, hasn’t he?
“I was just dancing to have fun, Zuko. Did you see something you like?” she asks with mock innocence. I bet he buys it, too. He was always such a chicken.
“Oh, absolutely,” he replies. “But my question is, what do you want from me ?”
Katara hums with amusement. “What if I told you to leave me alone?”
“Then I would,” Zuko catches her earlobe between his teeth impossibly lightly. “But that’s not what you want, is it?”
She’s starting to understand why that other girl surrendered so shamelessly; his voice is turning Katara’s knees to jelly, and the weed is routing every single good sensation right to her groin. He really wants me to ask for it, Katara thinks to herself. But I’m going to make you ask for it, Zuko. Preferably several times.
So she doesn’t reply, just keeps dancing, her hips just barely grazing against his crotch but never technically touching him. Katara can almost feel how he stiffens when he realizes he’s being teased, and she beams to herself. And people say that pedantry has no place in the bedroom.
And then, just like every other man, Zuko folds. “I’m guessing you want something from me,” he rasps in her ear. “A dance, maybe?”
Now that he’s blinked first, Katara melts into him, pressing against his firm chest and letting her ass grind against him rhythmically. Zuko takes that as a sign and curves both hands around her hips, his fingertips skimming along the line between her stomach and thighs as he does. The song isn’t fast enough to dance with any amount of rhythm; its beat is slower, thudding like a heartbeat, so all they can really do is move in slow sways against each other. Even with the AC cranked up, the storm-thickened air has combined with the heat of a hundred bodies and drenched everyone in a thin sheen of sweat, and it’s so easy for Katara’s hands to glide over his arms up to wrap loosely around his neck, so easy for his lips to graze just barely against the skin below her ear, it’s all so easy that she’s starting to wonder why she didn’t try this sooner.
Katara can feel Zuko start to stiffen against her, and she comes to That Moment, the one where a decision must be made that will determine the course of the rest of the night. There’s still time to walk away from this, to stop before she does something she can’t take back.
But where would be the fun in that? She licks her lips and turns to face him, interlacing her fingers behind his neck and pressing against him very strategically. Zuko jolts in surprise at the sudden change, his hands freezing for a moment before he sees the look in Katara’s eyes. Then his expression changes; he gets that same smirk he always used to get when Katara successfully provoked him, but while it was infuriating during their childhoods, she finds it utterly entrancing now. Zuko’s hands move down to properly, purposefully grab her ass; he shoves his thigh between her legs, and he flashes a wolfish grin when she shudders against him. As they continue dancing, Katara keeps looking into his eyes, her face projecting all the bratty smugness she can muster while she privately quivers with pleasure at the sheer intoxicating power of him. I think I understand what Jet would see in him, she realizes, shivering as Zuko runs his fingers up her spine. God, okay, what everyone sees in him.
The song comes to an end, the spell temporarily broken. Zuko steps back, and Katara feels cold in all the places where he was touching her. For a terrifying moment she wonders if he’s going to walk away, if all this will end up being for nothing and she’ll be left feeling humiliated and ashamed. She doesn’t know what to say or do; she’s never wanted to tell Zuko to stay before. So instead Katara pulls a joint out of her blouse’s breast pocket and asks a question she knows he’ll say yes to:
“Want to re-up?”
When they were kids, Zuko hated Katara because, to be frank, she intimidated the hell out of him. Katara was smarter than him and wiser than him and funnier than him and kinder than him and overall just better than him, and he was an insecure asshole like all teenage boys are, so he’d responded with cruelty rather than vulnerability.
Now, though, he thinks to himself as Katara leads him through the crowd, now things are different.
Now he has the tools to cope with his emotions and considers vulnerability and honesty to be some of his greatest assets. Now he knows how to take a joke. Now he knows what it looks like when someone is trying to intentionally get his attention. Now he knows the signals that say look at me, want me, desire me, fuck me— and they look exactly like Katara did when she was dancing.
Zuko’s no idiot, at least not anymore. He knows this is a game; he of all people can recognize blatant manipulation when he sees it. As they make their way through the party, he wonders if Katara knows she’s being played right back.
Zuko is aware that he’s being a monster. He should be thinking we have to just work things out like adults. He should be thinking I am deeply sorry to see Katara so unnerved that she felt compelled to debase herself by leaning into the misogynist ideology that links a woman’s value to her physical appearance. He should be thinking we’re all better than this, let’s go plant some trees or something . He should be conflicted about Katara’s behaviour; she’s his best friend’s little sister. Surely this is breaking some kind of rule.
But he promised himself this one night of gloating. Just one night of petty, shallow, catty provocation to cap off a lifetime of bickering. One night of preening like an animal, of putting on a blatant mating display, of dangling a tantalizing treat just out of her reach and driving her insane. Can he be blamed if she’s responding in kind? If he’s honest, Zuko likes it better this way; it feels more like a proper meeting of minds. Among other things.
When they get to the enclosed porch, Katara slides open a door on the opposite side of the room and slips through a curtain of dense leaves, leaving Zuko to close the door after them. He emerges from the foliage to see a small tucked-away nook that contains a couch, a side table, and a few stacked books, lit by a string of retro-style string lights. They’re completely walled off from the rest of the house, and hidden from the rest of the property by the branches of a huge tree planted in front of the balcony. He smirks as they sit on the couch.
“So this is where you used to run off to, is it?”
Katara gives the facial equivalent of a shrug, putting the joint between her lips and putting her feet up on the balcony, drawing attention to the smooth brown skin of her elegantly crossed legs. Yes, Katara, I see you, Zuko thinks. Very sexy. I admire the boldness of the play. He pulls his lighter out of his pocket and hands it over; she curves her hand around the flame, the fire highlighting all the warm golden tones in her skin as she dips her head to catch the end of the joint. Katara’s cheeks hollow out as she inhales, and the white smoke curling around her face makes her look like a femme fatale. Zuko can just see her walking into some sap’s life, presenting herself as a tantalizing mystery to solve; the poor guy wouldn’t stand a chance.
After a few puffs, Katara hands him the joint, and they watch as a flash of lightning throws the tree into sharp silhouette.
“It’s nice to see you again,” Katara says, and he smirks.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Zuko replies.
“That’s what I’m told.”
He shrugs, inhaling short and sharp. “Don’t get down on yourself about it. Good liars tend to be exceptionally bad people.” He doesn’t name names, but he knows she doesn’t have to ask.
Katara chuckles. “What makes you think I’m such a good person?”
Zuko cocks his right eyebrow. “I never said you were.”
“Well, if good liars are bad people, ergo bad liars must be good people.”
He snorts. “Oh, that’s some Philosophy 101 bullshit, Katara, I thought you knew better—” he cuts himself off as his heart drops to his toes. That’s exactly the kind of thing that sets her off, Katara hates to be teased about her intellect, he has absolutely blown this—
—but Katara’s face doesn’t crumple; her eyes don’t feel with tears; her lip does not tremble. Instead she breaks out into a wicked grin.
“Yeah, what would I know?” she replies slyly, plucking the joint from his frozen lips and putting it to hers. “I just graduated with a double major in computer science and music composition, with honours. I have two degrees upstairs, Zuko. Two of them.”
She’s as intimidating as always, and maybe it’s the cannabis courage talking, but Zuko finds it intensely alluring.
“So I heard,” he murmurs. “Congratulations, by the way. I always knew you’d make something of yourself.”
Katara blows a smoke ring. “No you didn’t, but thanks anyway.”
Zuko shrugs, taking the joint back and taking a quick drag. “Maybe I did. Maybe I’m nicer now.”
“Oh, come on,” Katara grins, tipping her head back against the couch and giving him a truly impressive view of the line of her throat disappearing into the v-neck of her blouse. “Don’t wimp out on me now, Zuko. Where’s your fighting spirit?”
When he chuckles, it rumbles from deep in his chest. “You haven’t seen it yet. I’m saving it for when you actually present me with a challenge.”
Katara sits up, turning to him and coincidentally getting a whole lot closer. “Oh, now, that’s a nice try,” she says, pointing a finger near his nose. “I must say I appreciate all the tricks you’ve pulled out so far, don’t get me wrong, but let’s be real: you’re going to break. You always break.”
Zuko leans in, putting his face close to hers, and makes sure she’s caught in the web of his gaze before he smirks.
“Then tell me,” he murmurs, “why were you always the one who lost?”
She pulls a shocked face, but there’s a sly grin behind it. “How dare you,” she says in mock offense. “I’ve never lost a single thing in my life.”
They’re both lying like rugs, but it’s kind of the hottest thing Zuko’s ever seen. He turns to take a hit of the joint, maintaining eye contact as he does.
“So do you want me to start the list of times when you lost chronologically, or by subject?” he asks, and he downright shivers when he sees the look on Katara’s face as she slinks even closer to him.
“Actually,” she purrs, taking the joint from his fingers and stubbing it out against the wall behind them, “I think it’s time we stopped living in the past, don’t you?”
Her eyes are glittering in the storm-riddled light, the lightning flashing across her features—the clever little upturn of her lip and the mischievous crinkle at the corner of her eye—and for a moment the thought occurs that he might be the sap. That’s how those noir films always end, isn’t it?
Zuko’s mind is buzzing from smoke, his fingers tingling with all the infinite possibilities that could spark into existence as soon as his skin meets hers. Her breath escapes short and sharp as his hand lands on her leg—an invisible barrier that shatters with almost audible finality.
Katara opens her mouth as if to say something, but instead she mutters “fuck it,” grabs Zuko by his shirt, and pulls his lips to hers.
Zuko would like to say that he hesitated. He would like to say that he put a stop to all this, and that he and Katara recognized that this was going to make everything so much more complicated and instead chose to keep things from getting messier than they already were. But then Zuko would be lying, and he isn’t a very good liar either. So he doesn’t hesitate, opening his mouth under hers and letting his hand drift further up her leg. It doesn’t surprise him to find that Katara’s a great kisser, because she tends to be great at everything, but Zuko’s got his own set of skills, and as their kissing deepens he finds that he’s getting excited—quite literally—to show off what he can do. So as an initial demonstration, he grips Katara by the waist and pulls her over to straddle his lap; she makes a sound somewhere between a sigh and a moan, grinding against him almost instinctively, and he can’t help how he gasps against her mouth.
“Careful,” she murmurs between kisses. “Now you’ve asked for it.”
“Oh have I?” he replies, catching her bottom lip in his teeth with a soft growl, pulling her hips even closer so she can feel the erection already straining inside his pants. “You so sure about that?”
Surely she won’t—
Katara nips at the edge of his jaw. “Oh, please,” she retorts, “you think I haven’t done this before?” Just to prove it, she rolls her hips expertly against him. In fact, she does it twice.
Now Zuko grins, grinding right back against her. “You really think you’re something, aren’t you?”
Katara kisses him extra hard for that one. “Like I’ve said,” she pants as their grinding starts to become rhythmic, “you’re going to break. You always break.”
He pulls back again, but just enough to catch her eyes. “Prove it,” he whispers.
She bites at her bottom lip and Zuko can’t help but think hey, that’s my job. Eventually an adorable blush of pink rises to the top of her cheeks. “Want to come upstairs and see my degrees?” she murmurs.
Zuko leans in as if to kiss her but remains just slightly out of reach, as one of his hands slides just a little bit under her shorts.
“I want to come upstairs and fuck you,” he whispers, pressing hard against her as she shivers with lust. “How does that sound?”
“Yeah,” Katara replies hoarsely, her fingers carding through his hair. “Yeah, let’s go do that.”
They slink back into the house with approximately zero chill; Katara’s kiss-bitten lips are tingling, her senses overwhelmed by all the delicious little things that have just happened. She braces herself for a chorus of hoots and hollers, but the drug room is full of a dozen people lying on the floor and tripping their brains out, and as they slip into the main house it becomes clear that everyone has gotten intoxicated enough that memories just low-key aren’t being formed. Perfect, she thinks as they stick to the shadows and climb the stairs. It’s not that Katara’s ashamed or anything, but she’d rather make this particular mistake on her own terms first, and deal with any complications later.
No sooner does Katara close and lock her bedroom door than Zuko crashes into her, pinning her against the wall as he kisses her fiercely. Katara moans, wrapping a leg around his waist to pull him closer, pulling his shirt out of his waistband with desperate hands. Zuko takes over before she can do any more, whipping off his shirt so fast that they barely have to pause.
“You’ve had practice, I see,” Katara says cheekily.
“It’s the only way to learn,” he rasps back, picking her up with surprising ease. Katara wraps her legs around his waist, trying to unbutton her blouse as Zuko carries her to the bed. When he sets her down, he lightly smacks her hands away.
“I get to do that,” he whispers roughly, pressing kisses slowly down her neck, languishing in the hollow of her throat and the dip of her collarbone. At the same time his fingers set to work, deftly unbuttoning her blouse as he kisses his way down. When he gets to her bandeau, he pauses.
“Was this expensive?”
Her brow furrows. “The bandeau? No, it was six bucks from—”
Zuko grabs at the cheap cloth and rips it apart with a quick snap of his hands. Katara doesn’t even have time to protest before his mouth is at her breast, tongue flicking across her nipple and pulling a gasp from her lungs in response. He continues his slow journey, clearly enjoying himself just because he can, until a flash of lightning illuminates the skin of Katara’s hip and he stops right at the spot where an icon of a woman with a veil and red face paint has been inked onto her skin.
“And what’s this?”
Katara looks down at him with a smirk. “Sokka doesn’t know about that one,” she says.
The rain pattering on the windows casts a wavering shadow across Zuko’s face. “Is that so?” he murmurs into her skin. “How scandalous.”
“You gonna tell on me?” Katara’s voice hitches as his fingers snake along the waist of her shorts.
“My lips are sealed,” Zuko replies softly, and son of a bitch, she actually believes him.
“I told you this isn’t my first rebellion,” she says, and feels a huff of air along her hipbone as he laughs.
“That’s more like it,” he says wryly. “You, always trying to be better than me. It’s like you never left.”
Katara playfully swats at the top of his head, only just out of reach now as he dips lower to nip at where the painted lady’s mouth is drawn. “I’ve had a busy few years,” she retorts. “I don’t have to try to be better than you. I just am.”
Zuko unbuttons her shorts and she lifts her hips so he can tug them off, along with her underwear. She sees his teeth flash white in the dark as he grins.
“Oh, Katara,” he murmurs, “you don’t stand a chance.”
She opens her mouth to protest, but then she feels his tongue lick up and into her, and the words dissolve into a soft moan.
“Fuck,” she whispers, barely voiced; in response Zuko gives another luxurious swipe of his tongue across her folds, clearly more than familiar with the territory and eager to show off. Time slows, the space between her breaths seeming to stretch as every nerve in her body comes alive and her focus narrows to only the space between her legs and the frankly outstanding things happening therein. The music permeates the entire house, the walls positively ringing with it, a guitar solo still discernible from a whole floor away.
Katara wasn’t lying; she has had a busy few years, she’s more than familiar with her own body, and she’s not afraid to demand what she wants. But she never even gets the chance; Zuko’s a quick learner, noting every movement that pulls a cry from her lips, cataloguing and arranging them to chase her pleasure like a hunter stalking prey. He listens and responds to her body, his tongue never remaining in the same place for too long, overloading her until she’s writhing beneath him, her heart beating so fast she can hear it in her ears. Katara feels his finger teasing along her entrance, stroking at the sensitive skin, and she gasps.
“Yes,” she whispers, because she’s suddenly desperate for something inside of her, and Zuko hums his amusement against her skin.
“Say please,” he teases, and Katara scoffs.
“Not a chance,” she retorts. “I’m mmh okay, yes, please. Please. ”
He doesn’t need to be told a third time, pushing a finger inside her smoothly, and when he thrusts it gently in perfect time with his tongue’s ministrations Katara thinks she might just burst into flames. The rain outside patters against the windows; the bass thump of the music is like a heartbeat beneath their feet, supplying a subconscious rhythm that makes it seem like the whole universe is bending around their shared gravitational pull.
All the times Katara has imagined Zuko’s scar chafing across her inner thigh—and there have been more than a few—pale in comparison to him actually being there, his tongue and fingers exploring every inch of her, conducting a veritable symphony of pleasures played on the heft of her gasps, the muffled little sighing sounds he makes in return, the quiver that races along her flesh and how he chases it with the scrape of his jaw. Her orgasm sneaks up on her, ascending in the space of a single breath to send stars scattering across her vision. She cries out, the sound lost into the cacophony of the party around them, and her back arches off the bed as Zuko pulls the last few waves of pleasure out of her.
Katara’s barely had the chance to catch her breath when Zuko crawls up next to her, leaning on one elbow and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand with a grin.
“Shall we keep score?” he murmurs, and she shoves him playfully.
“It’s not very fair, from a biological standpoint.”
Zuko leans over and nips at her earlobe. “That’s what you think.”
Katara waits for the next flash of lightning so that he can see her incredulous look. “So you’re telling me that if I blow you, right now, you’ll be able to go again in time to keep my interest?”
It’s hard to tell in the half-light, but she swears Zuko licks his lips at her. “Sure I can, if you can make me come. But that’s a pretty big if; I’m good at thinking of baseball statistics.”
She climbs on top of him, already unzipping his jeans. “Game on.”
Now that their roles are reversed, Katara has a chance to appreciate Zuko’s body up close and personal, and what she finds is just criminally gorgeous; he’s in perfect shape, his muscles firm beneath his skin. When she reaches into his boxers, she can tell Zuko’s waiting to see her reaction, so she keeps her face motionless because yeah, of course Zuko’s well hung, that’s just kind of a given. He’s rock hard, and Katara makes sure to look up at him through her lashes as she lowers her mouth to the tip...and then lets it slip off, pressing open-mouthed kisses to the side of his cock instead. Zuko gasps, so she does it again, this time letting the head just barely push past her pursed lips before pulling away.
The quilts shift as Zuko bunches his fists into them. “Of course you’re a giant tease,” he mutters through clenched teeth. Katara hums her amusement, and he shivers as the reverberations hit him. She resumes her activities, licking and sucking him in tiny increments, always but never quite taking all of him in and feeling his muscles tense with every fake-out.
“Are you going to make me say please?” Zuko eventually pants; he sounds aroused by the very idea. Katara responds with a deadpan look and another lathe of her tongue across the head of his cock, and his breath whistles through his teeth. “Fine, then, please—”
Katara instantly swallows him, fighting the urge to grin as Zuko arches off the bed, a cry slipping from his lips. As she begins to suck him properly, he reaches down and pulls the clip from her hair, fisting his hand into her curls and holding on with a vice grip. He doesn’t pull or push her head, leaving her in control, and Katara clenches her thighs together in arousal and finds that she’s positively soaking wet.
Well, more for him to enjoy later, she thinks to herself as she lets him slip further down her throat. Bet he never thought bratty little Katara has lost her gag reflex.
Zuko is coiled like a spring beneath her, breathing in open-mouthed gasps, his hand tightening its grip on her hair. Katara pauses briefly to pull his jeans and boxers off entirely, and when she returns she begins to move faster, ready to show him she can swallow, too—
“—get up here,” Zuko growls, pulling her off him and sitting up, pulling her into his lap. Katara rubs lasciviously against him, her nails scratching across his toned back, and he groans into her mouth.
“Fuck, you’re wet,” he whispers as he snakes a hand between them to stroke her.
Katara grins, her hair falling like a curtain around their sweat-slicked faces. “Oh, yeah, I can do multiple orgasms,” she mimicks him. “But you won’t even be able to make me come—” she’s cut off with a kiss, but as soon as they come up for air, she grins again. “Couldn’t take it, could you? Lost all your composure over a little teasing, tsk tsk. Just like old times.”
“I’m impatient,” comes the rough whispered response. “Aren’t you?”
Katara rolls her hips against him again and he very nearly slips inside her, drawing a shuddering breath from her chest. “Extremely,” she breathes.
Zuko rubs light circles around her nipple. “Condoms?”
Katara stops, nibbling on her lower lip. “I’ve got an IUD and was tested just before I moved back here. You?”
“Every three months like clockwork.”
“Well aren’t we both responsible young adults.”
“Oh, I don’t know about responsible, ” Zuko murmurs, tilting his head up to kiss her. Katara reaches down to line him up properly and then sinks down slowly, her breath caught in her throat as he pushes further and further in, until her bare thighs meet his and they both exhale in shudders. Eventually she tries rocking against him, and her eyes roll back in her head because dear god, he feels amazing.
Zuko has a handful of her hair again, pulling her head back so he can suck a mark into the skin above her collarbone. Katara places both her hands on top of his chest and pushes him away; he takes the hint and lies back against the pillows, his hands gripping her thighs.
“My god, what a view,” he whispers, and against her will Katara feels herself blush.
“I bet you say that to all the hot girls who ride you,” she retorts, and Zuko nods.
“I say it to everyone who rides me. And I mean it, every single time.”
“Oh, shut up,” Katara pants as she begins to move her hips back and forth, one hand braced on his chest while the other slides down to rub her clit as she picks up the pace and rhythm. Maybe it’s because she’s exceptionally turned on right now, or maybe it’s because Zuko’s dick is magic, who knows, but his cock hits a very particular spot inside her with every roll of her hips and soon Katara’s ears are ringing as she chases the elusive prey of climax. The pleasure builds and builds with hardly any reprive, as Zuko’s grip tightens on her thighs hard enough to bruise. The party has shown no signs of winding down, so Katara doesn’t bother trying to quiet her cries as her second orgasm hits her; she rides him until every single wave subsides, leaving her limbs rubbery and her ears ringing. Eventually she stops moving, her head thrown back in the throes of ecstasy, and eventually the sounds coming out of her mouth start to resemble words.
“That was—god, that was—”
“You’re so hot when you come,” Zuko growls as he sits back up, his cock still hard inside her as he presses hungry kisses to every part of her that he can reach. With one deft move he flips them both over; Katara spills back against the pillows, her heart still hammering in her veins, and she can’t stop the disappointed moan that escapes her lips as Zuko pulls out, leaving her feeling cold and empty.
“Turn over,” he orders, and she eagerly obeys. Instead of taking her on her hands and knees, Zuko has Katara lie down flat against the bed; he pauses to slip back inside of her, and then straddles the outside of her legs, effectively pinning them closed around his cock.
“Gonna pretend I’m someone else?” Katara asks playfully over her shoulder. “I won’t mind—”
“Oh, no,” Zuko whispers, leaning down to nip at her ear. “I’m just going to take the opportunity to give this—” he grabs a handful of her ass, “—the glory it deserves.” Then he thrusts, and Katara’s cries are muffled into the pillows as his cock nails her G-spot perfectly. Zuko thrusts again, clearly encouraged, his skin hot against hers as he presses open-mouthed kisses into the curve of her shoulder and whispers the filthiest things imaginable in her ear.
“You’re incredible,” he gasps in the breaths in between. “You drive me insane, did you know that? Completely—” he thrusts, “—utterly—” he thrusts again, “—out of my fucking mind.”
Katara opens her mouth to retort, but instead all she says is “fuck me, Zuko, please—” In response he speeds up, his hips snapping against her ass, and Katara reaches out and grips the top edge of the mattress for dear life. She buries her face in a pillow as another orgasm begins to crash over her, but Zuko pulls her hair and lifts her head back.
“Don’t hold back on me now, Katara,” he says. “I want the whole house to hear you screa—oh, god—”
He comes with a shout, a strangled cry that resembles her name; Katara clenches her thighs together for all they’re worth as he pulses inside of her, until he eventually collapses against her back. For a moment there is nothing but the two of them, their heavy breaths seeming to drown out the storm outside and the party below; then Zuko slips out of her and Katara turns over, falling all too easily into the crook of his arm as he wraps his other arm around her waist.
“Okay,” she says when they’ve both come down to earth, “so how awkward do we have to make this whole, um,” she gestures down at their bodies, and Zuko chuckles.
“Does it have to be awkward at all?” he asks, pulling a sweat-soaked curl from her forehead and tucking it behind her ear.
“I don’t know. Does it?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know either. But this is the first activity we’ve ever agreed upon together, and I have to say I am not opposed to doing a whole lot more of it.”
Katara grins, resting her chin on his chest. “Zuko, are you asking me out?”
Zuko rolls his eyes dramatically. “God, no, I would never,” he replies sarcastically. “But, with that said...what are you doing on Friday?”
The sun rises the next day bright and early, illuminating the rainwater still dripping from the eavestroughs and lying spent in puddles on the ground. Inside the house, the revelers begin to stir; they crashed on couches and guest beds and inside bathtubs, curled in each others’ arms or splayed out like starfish. As he pads downstairs to grab some coffee, Zuko wonders if there’s a collective noun for just how many hangovers are being nursed at this very moment.
He turns to find Sokka sitting on the kitchen island, cradling a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch to his chest as he eats by the handful.
“Sokka, buddy,” Zuko grins. “How was the trip?”
Sokka scratches his head. “Long and strange, I think,” he squints. “I feel like I unlocked a foundational secret of the universe but now for the life of me I can’t remember what it was.”
Zuko cocks his eyebrow. “You have the word ‘BOOM’ written on your forehead in Sharpie, is that a clue?” he grabs an extra large mug and starts pouring coffee into it.
“Who the hell knows. If it’s important, I’m sure I’ll remember,” Sokka mumbles between a mouthful of crumbs. “Oh, hey, speaking of important—did you run into Katara?”
Zuko freezes for a moment, but then continues pouring. “Yeah,” he says casually. “We, um. We cleared things up, I think.”
“Oh, good,” Sokka sighs in relief. “I was really worried that you guys would do something crazy.”
Zuko raises the coffee cup to his lips so Sokka won’t see his grin.
“Nope,” he says as he breezes past his best friend and heads back towards the staircase. “Nothing crazy at all.”