After the end of the play the group returned to the beach house. Everyone was discouraged, quieter than usual, the only thing that was said as they shuffled around were comments about how unrealistic the play was, especially the ending. Katara was discouraged too, but not about the end of a play that was nothing but fire nation propaganda, it was something else... A thought, no, the idea of a thought. It was so vague and she had avoided it so much, that she couldn't even consider that she had thought about it.
But now she supposed it was time to think about it.
Instead of entering the house with the others, Katara went to the footbridge overlooking the beach. She took off her shoes and sat down on the edge, the tips of her toes touching the cold sea water, she looked at the sky and realized that there was no moon and the absence of it made her feel even more lost.
She began to untie her hair, undoing her bows, taking off the small hairpiece that she is been wearing on top of her head lately, as if it were a crown.
She thought about Aang and how she felt about him... What she felt about him? Affection, that was clear. She wanted his well-being. [But she also wanted the well-being of Toph, Sokka, and Suki. That didn't mean she was in love with them.]
Maybe the right thing to do was focus on what she was not feeling. Katara thought about the kiss earlier, the absence of butterflies in her stomach, the absence of that warm feeling in her cheeks. And she remembered the feeling of rejection and how confused she felt. She looked at her hands, at the red flame shaped hairpiece she was holding.
And she felt butterflies in her stomach.
She let out a big sigh and stayed a long time contemplating the horizon, avoiding that other idea…
She heard footsteps across the footbridge, turned, expecting to meet Aang, but it was Zuko that her eyes met.
"Do you mind if I sit here? The prince asked.
"No, not at all." She said, making room for him.
Katara noticed that before sitting down, Zuko took off his shoes as well.
Did he like the feel of seawater too? She wondered.
"Are you thinking about the play?" Zuko asked again. Katara nodded. "The ending was terrible." the firebender added.
"The ending is bad, but that's not what I was thinking... That was just fire nation propaganda." said the waterbender.
"So what were you thinking?" Zuko looked at her with genuine curiosity. In Katara's hands the hairpiece suddenly felt warm.
"On... on how exaggerated Toph's character was, for example." She replied.
Zuko coincided with a nod. During sveral minutes they listened to the rumor of the tide rising, the crackling of the burning torches. It was not an uncomfortable silence, but neither was it exactly a peaceful one. Katara thought it was the kind of silence that doesn't ask questions, but definitely expects answers.
"You know what was unexpected?" commented the firebender, suddenly.
"What?" Katara looked at the prince expectantly.
"Our relationship." Zuko mentioned. Katara felt her cheeks turn red. The firebender's face turned into a mask of shyness and he added, "I mean, the relationship of our characters in the play."
Though she herself felt somewhere between nervous and embarrassed, she was unable to look away from Zuko. They looked at one another without saying anything for a brief moment, then Zuko looked away, apparently more embarrassed than she was.
Katara looked down at both of their feet, half sunk in the cold water. She opened her hands and saw the hearpiece, the tiny red flame...
"Would that be so unexpected?" she ventured, keeping her eyes on the water.
"Something between us?" ventured Zuko as well.
When Katara looked up she noticed her shoulder and Zuko's were rubbing against each other. They were so close.
"I think there's only one way to find out." She muttered.
The prince now looked at her and for a split second his golden gaze fell on Katara's lips and Katara noticed it.
Katara approached Zuko, he looked at her lips again, this time lingering on them longer. She noticed that she was feeling butterflies in her stomach and that despite the cold of the night, her cheeks were still warm.
She wanted to check if Zuko's cheeks were warm. She left the hairpiece on the floor of the footbridge, and approached her hands close to the firebender´s face. He did not move. Katara touched Zuko's face with her fingertips and noticed that, despite the cold night, he too had warm cheeks.
Katara brought her face closer to the prince's, but did not kiss him. Their noses brushed against each other, Katara's loose hair falling over the firebender's shoulders.
"Can I do it? Zuko asked. Katara found herself relishing the prince´s breath.
And then She knew the answer.