Aang: Hey guys, I’m bringing a new friend over tonight! He’s cool it’ll be fun
Toph: sign me up i'm excited but wait do we know him
Sokka: yo that is L I T more people to freak on
Suki: Sokka be nice
Aang: I think some of you guys might know him
Toph: hey twinkletoes did your fingers stop working or what so who is this kid
He’s gotta be vetted by the committee
Suki: I’m joking if you like him he’s probably cool
Suki: But also an idea would be nice because you’ve been typing forever
yeah aang omg what is taking u 4ever
Sokka: wait why isn’t katara here did u make a new gc
Aang: You guys know Zuko Kaen right
Suki: Aang what the actual fuck are you doing
wait i think i’ve run into him before
Toph: doesn’t a kaen run the jasmine dragon? lit tea
Sokka: omg aang u are kidding me isnt he like in the mafia
Aang: Dude he’s not in the mafia
Suki: I know his sister and she’s crazy
Toph: oh kaen. yeah i think our parents knew each other we probably went to lil rich kids parties when we were younger
Suki: He’s not in the mafia but everyone knows his dad is
Sokka: wait ok im lowkey losing it why are we hangin wit the mafia kid
Omg guys he’s not in the mafia. We have philosophy together and started talking
Aang: And now we’re friends and he’s a nice guy at heart and he
Aang: He was telling me that he wanted to leave his family and all of that stuff behind
Suki: Dude you know Katara hates him what are you doing
Toph: wait why does katara hate him i haven’t heard of this before. oh but she isn’t in this group chat for a reason oh
Suki: I don't know but she thinks he’s like a total asshole
Sokka: ok but katara hates every1 and im lowkey down for mafia kid who wants to be good hangin
Suki: FINE but Aang has to tell Katara that’s not gonna be pretty
Aang: Hey can you call real quick
[ Incoming Call from Katara]
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Um, nothing much, I guess. What’re you doing?”
“Chem homework. Why did you need to call? I love you but I have to finish this so I’m free tonight—”
“Right. About tonight.”
“Uh, yeah? What about tonight? We’re just hanging out, right? Toph said she’ll buy pizza for us—”
“Um yeah, so I’mgonnabringZuko—”
“Aang? You’re breaking up? Or that was just really fast, I don’t know, just slow down. What happened?”
“Katara, I love you. I’d say you’re like a sister to me, but that would be kind of weird, but I’m not trying to antagonize you. I’m just trying to be nice.”
“Okay, did someone die?”
“Wait what? No. Wait. Nobody died?”
“Really? It kinda sounds like some sorta terrible tragedy happened—”
“You know Zuko Kaen?”
“Oh, yeah. Fuck, the senior, right? Pre-law? He’s such an asshole. What about him? Did he kill someone? Did he die? I don’t know if that counts as a tragedy, but it’d be chill—”
“Yeah, uh, why do you hate him so much?”
“I . . .”
“It doesn’t matter. What about him?”
“Um. So I have philosophy with him and I sorta told him that he can come over tonight.”
“Did something just crash? Are you okay? Katara?”
“Zuko Kaen? Are you okay? Fuck—”
“If it’s really that big of a deal I can ask him to cancel. I’d probably have to explain why, but—”
“You’ve already talked to everyone else, haven’t you?”
“I—ugh. He can come. Today. Because I don’t like half-assing plans. But literally never again, okay?”
Aang: She’s chill with it
Sokka: lol ur lying shes not chill what happened
Toph: it’s okay we can hang out with him it’ll be fine just leave sugar queen alone if she really hates him maybe she has a personal reason maybe we should have talked to her first
Suki: I guess it’s fine now, but we can kick him out if anything goes on
“Isn’t he supposed to be here?” Katara crosses her hands over her chest and glares from where she’s tossing popcorn into bowls in her and Sokka’s kitchen. Aang blushes and scoots further to Toph on the couch; she glares into oblivion.
“I told him to head here at 8:15. Just to do a last minute check—”
“You know I don’t like him—”
“I don’t think he did,” Suki pipes up from where she and Sokka are supposed to be noting down pizza topping preferences; they’re really just sucking face, but Katara is desensitized to that. “I seemed like the only one who knew.”
“Yeah, Katara,” Sokka lifts his head out of his girlfriend’s neck and stares at her. “What is your problem with mafia kid?”
“You can’t call him mafia kid—”
“It doesn’t matter,” she tosses the empty bottle of kernels into the trash can with unneeded vigor. “But whatever. Just don’t expect me to talk to him.”
Toph looks thoughtful for a minute, but Katara doesn’t really have time to consider why before she hears a tentative knock at the door.
“Oh, look. Guess the devil’s here.”
Aang sighs. “How about we just stay . . . silent?”
That tone is infantilizing and patronizing, but whatever. She turns away from the entryway and shoves her ex-boyfriend off the couch, placing another bowl in Toph’s greedy hands. While Sokka and Suki stay attached to each other Aang stumbles up and thrusts the door open with what she knows is an overenthusiastic smile. “Hey Zuko!”
“Uh, hey,” Zuko says back, and Katara twitches around the couch’s edge. Toph bounces and almost seems excited, and Katara wants to narrow her brows at her so she does, because Toph won’t be able to tell anyway.
“Stop doing that, Sugar Queen,” she whispers lowly, and Katara growls and takes up deep interest in the buttery contents of her bowl as she hears Sokka greet the interloper behind her.
“Hey man, nice to meet you.”
Awkward silence sounds for a minute, and then Sokka’s voice pipes up again, seeming slightly uncomfortable. “Um, yeah. This is my girlfriend, Suki.”
Suki’s got her back. She can’t wait until Suki’s her sister-in-law, because she’s been dating Sokka long distance since their sophomore year of high school, and Katara has never seen two people so in love, so maturely and deeply.
Katara can’t believe she ever dated Aang, but everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
Some kinda light-hearted awkward conversation is happening behind her, and she doesn’t want to confront the evil guy with the scar ever, ever again, not after what he did to her, so she crawls up into a ball. She’s not running away from her problems. Obviously. She’s very, very still.
“Your uncle is dope,” Toph calls out, and Katara side-eyes her and glares, trying to hide the hole in her heart, only to get clubbed with a stinky foot moments later.
“Yeah, he’s pretty cool. You’re Toph, right? I think I’ve met you before—”
“Yup, a while ago. You missing the little kid networking party scene?”
“Oh, definitely not. Good to see you again, though.”
Katara is refusing to look up. She will not. Not even if he sounds awkward instead of cool and collected, not even though he genuinely might be trying to make amends for his past. Nuh-uh, she is not falling for this act like she fell for the tough guy one.
She stays silent, wincing and observing the butter turn her popcorn all stupid and wet. It’s going to be gross and chewy and hard to eat now.
“So what do you like on pizza, Zuko?” Aang interrupts blatantly, positively. The others start up awkward chatter, and Toph elbows Katara in the stomach this time.
Unfortunately, they all seem to like Zuko, even though Katara is literally ninety-percent sure that this nice guy act is just this, and that he’s going to join his evil sister and date his stupid evil girlfriend once again after he’s done playing with the Dean’s adopted son. People don’t change like that. People don’t do shitty shit and just change.
Damn the spirits, even Toph seems to like Zuko, especially after he’d lifted her on his shoulders during a conversation about her magic feet. She hates being ungrounded, and she already trusts the idiot not to let her fall.
Suki, her best friend, the one who always has her back—even Suki is falling for his stupid, devilish charm. And it’s a different kind of charm, not Jet charm, unlike the way he’d messed with her in the first place. It’s stupid this time. It sorta feels like it’s working this time.
He’s attractive, and that sucks. He really shouldn’t be attractive, with that scar and the shitty betrayal she knows him for. He has no fucking right to be this attractive, damnit. She keeps glancing at his side profile, which is marred and ugly, except it’s not . . . especially because she knows how he got that scar, especially because they had trusted each other—
And he’s still that kind of big and broad that she isn’t used to, and he’s wearing one of his dumb sweaters, and it’s red and woolen and looks really comfortable, and it’s really, really bad. She fucking hates his sweaters, and she hates that she can see the outline of his biceps, and she hates that his hair is in that topknot that makes him seen dignified and proud. She hates it.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. “Pizza’s here!” Sokka yells as the door rings, and she clamors up before anyone else can, wanting to get out of this circle on the ground where Toph and Zuko and Sokka are laughing together and all of her friends seem happy with this traitor. She doesn’t pay the pizza guy much attention, slapping Toph’s twenties in his face before cavorting the four pies to the table and wrenching out paper plates from the corner.
It works. The food—it works. In five seconds flat Sokka has grabbed the entire meat-covered pizza and is attempting to smother it in barbecue sauce, only taking three slices to start with when Suki lightheartedly shoves his shoulder into hers. Katara steps back because she always goes last when they eat. And she waits.
But fucking Zuko won’t pick up anything. She refuses to look at his face. She absolutely refuses to.
Until it’s a minute later and they’re the only ones left in the kitchen and she doesn’t want to be here again. She thought she could do this, she really could. But she can’t. It hurts really, really badly. “Go ahead.”
“No, damnit,” and she loses it rather fast, even by her standards. “Fucking grab the pizza.”
She is not going to cry about this stupid guy who broke her stupid heart a year ago. She is not. “Can you just eat?”
“What is it with you? Everyone else seems to like me now—”
“Yeah?” the others have silenced and are staring at their heavy-hearted screaming match. “Yeah? Well, I was the first person to like you. Back in bio. And you turned around and betrayed me!”
Evil-guy deflates at that, and someone gasps in shock, but she’s not quite sure who. “Katara—”
“I don’t want to hear it,” if she’s crying, they’re righteous tears. “Just eat the pizza, damnit.”
“We need to talk about this—”
She pulls back and stares into his eyes in shock, and only gets angrier when she can’t see any malice there. “There is nothing to fucking talk about.”
“I don’t know what you think happened—”
“Really? Really? I saw enough. You have—you have the moral backbone of a chocolate eclair,” she gasps out, pointing to the dessert sitting in the corner. “You’re weak, and sad, and pathetic, and all you’re good at is betraying people.”
This is Zuko, and he’s angry like her, and passionate like her, and they never slept together but she knows he is really fucking passionate and she just wants him to scream at her so her friends can kick him out and this scarred and ugly Fire Nation part of her life can just disappear. But he’s not. He looks almost sad. “Katara . . .”
All she can really see is the outline of his arm, the thickness of his sweater, the familiarity in his gaze.
She grabs her phone from the island and thrusts open the door and stomps outside into the dry, cool Ba Sing Se night.
Suki: Katara please come back
It’s not safe at night please
Suki: Okay. Katara, what happened with you and Zuko?
Suki: Sokka and Aang went out to look for you they’re really worried
Suki: Come on please where are you
Katara: is he still there
Suki: I feel like I’m missing something really bad here
Suki: He really doesn’t seem like a bad guy
Katara: of course he doesn’t
Suki: You need to talk to me, Katara
Katara: okay then. I’ll call. I’m just
Suki: You know I’m always here for you
[Incoming call from Katara]
“Can you . . . make sure you’re not around anybody?”
“I’m locking myself outside.”
“Okay. He can’t hear, right?”
“No. We’re good.”
“Take your time.”
“I’m . . . remember when I broke up with Aang?”
“A couple of months ago, maybe?”
“No, the first time.”
“Like a year ago.”
“Yeah, so, I was in biology. With him. You know, Zuko.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“And we sorta—we kind of become friends in that class. We got partnered together for a lab, and then we had to write up a report together, so we got coffee a few times.”
“Oh, I see.”
“And I’d just broken up with Aang. And remember Jet? That guy I dated in high school? Well, Aang was always just a nice . . . guy. And that’s sort of why we broke up. Because I couldn’t do that. It wasn’t like you and Sokka. We didn’t really get each other.”
“Oh . . .”
“And I was thinking about Jet, and I sort of started thinking about his type. Like, tall, confident, sort of bad—”
“Zuko doesn’t really . . . seem like that.”
“You know his dad’s in the mafia, right? Well, he acted like his dad was in the mafia, back then. He didn’t even really try and hide it. And it seemed sort of interesting and all at the beginning, and he was cool. We hung out a bit, and we . . .”
“Yeah, for like a month or two. We would hang out at least a few times a week. And we kept on getting closer, and at the end of that I stopped seeing him as like . . . Jet, or Aang. He was really, really great. And I was so weirdly happy. Happy, like, with him.”
“That sounds nice.”
“It was. He was the best—he used to take me to his uncle’s tea shop and make the worst tea in the world. There was one week where we went every day after the shop closed and he took me to the kitchen and tried to impress me with his cooking skills. He couldn’t cook, really, but he tried, and it was sort of sweet.”
“I know, right? And he always put me first, and I don’t think we were even ever actually dating, but whenever I texted him he would answer right away, and if I called him to complain about anything dumb he would just answer me. It was different from you guys, because I love you all, but it was different.”
“He was just Zuko, and he was mostly cool, but he was nice, and he seemed to get me, and—we talked about some really deep stuff.”
“Oh, Katara . . .”
“Like, I told him about my mom, Suki. I told him about Mom, because he doesn’t have a mom, and he just seemed to get it, better than Aang ever did. Mom.”
“That must have required a lot of trust.”
“It really, really did. And I thought we trusted each other. It all just seemed really good. And he didn’t make me feel bad about me, he just kissed me and . . .”
“Ignore that I said that. But then he told me how he got his scar.”
“I don’t think he’s really told anyone.”
“This all sounds good.”
“It was. It was honestly really, really good.”
“You kissed him.”
“No. It was too soon. I’m glad I didn’t. We had that deep conversation, and I felt like it was going really, really well again. And then remember that awkward hangout we had at the arcade, like, in March? That night I tried to call him and he didn’t pick up.”
“Was he busy?”
“He was never—he was never too busy for me. That was the first night he hadn’t picked up the phone. And then I went to bio on that Tuesday, and he was making out with some girl with hair buns and talking to his sister, the one he was complaining to me about. And I tried to—he just glared at me, like he ignored me but then he glared at me—”
“I’m so sorry—”
“That hurt, Suki. It hurt really, really, fucking badly. And I’m sorry that you didn’t know, it was just that Sokka is a mess, and it just felt really, really good, to have something for me. Because it was just him, and me, and it felt good.”
“And you know I got back with Aang after that? Like, I wasn’t going to. But Aang was nice, and safe, and he wasn’t going to betray me for no reason. And of course it didn’t last but it felt okay, it felt okay—”
“And I never told him why I broke up with him but it was because of fucking Zuko, Suki. It was because of Zuko, because it didn’t feel the same, and I felt so bad, because Aang is a good guy—”
“And I thought I would be fine, you know. It should have been fine, seeing him again, talking to him again, it really should have been. But it hurts really bad, Suki, and it’s different from Aang, and he’s different and you all like him and he’s a mean liar and I really, really liked him, like it could have been something more, really, really easily, and I can’t make this mistake again—”
“No I—I told her my side of it, Katara. We really, really need to talk.”
“There aren’t sides of it, okay? I just—I just—”
“Where are you?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“Katara, please. Please, it’s me, and I want to make sure you’re okay, and please just let me—”
“I want you to be safe, Katara. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Please just let me be there, please, just talk to me—”
“No, Zuko—can you just go away, Zuko? I can’t do it. I thought I could do it but I can’t do it.”
“Can you just leave? Please, please . . . please just go. I’m not strong enough for this.”
“Katara, Katara, please tell me where you are, please let me fix this—”
“I’m just weak. I can’t do it. I’m weak. I’m too weak for this. I’m so weak.”
“You’re the strongest person I know. I—I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
“Where . . . are you?”
“I’m in the stupid—our park.”
You guys can come back now
Suki: I know where she is
Aang: We’ll go pick her up
Suki: It’s fine. Zuko has her
. . .
Suki: Just trust me
Katara is curled into herself on a park bench. It’s decently late at night, so it’s dark, but they’re in the Upper Ring of the city, a bit away from the rest of college town, so it’s safe enough.
She left her house in a thin shirt and shorts, and she shudders and crawls into herself. She runs cold, all the time. She really wishes she didn’t right now. She wants to be able to comfort herself. She wishes she could.
Headlights glare in the distance, and she shudders and places her hand over her eyes against the harsh light. When it grows closer she can make out the general crimson car she knows all too well.
She . . . she tries very, very hard to not run away. She sits down and stares right ahead as the car parks on the roadside and he gets up and makes his way across to her. That red sweater, on him—she remembers his sweaters. It draws attention to him, and it looks really good on him.
He sits on the park bench, a hand’s breadth between both of them. “Hey,” he says.
“Hi,” I’m weak I’m weak I’m weak— she’d told herself, after Jet, that she wouldn’t deal with fucked up guys anymore. And she hadn’t thought he was fucked up.
She’s fucking cold. She shakes against the bench and he takes off his sweater—she can see his muscles tense in the lowlight—and hands it over to her, silently. Katara doesn’t know if she’s worn this sweater, but she’s worn a decent amount of his, in class and when she was cold in this same park and when she’d spilled tea on herself in Iroh’s shop. She’s so weak.
She grabs it and puts her hands through the holes until she’s swallowed in the crimson fabric. More of her skin is hidden now, because he’s just bigger than her, but she feels naked. “I’ve missed you,” she admits.
A moment of silence resounds in the air, but it doesn’t seem awkward. Then his hand is reaching for hers, and his warm fingers are tightening around hers, and she’s vulnerable.
“We need to talk about what happened to us,” he says, and his grip tightens.
“You told Suki that I betrayed you.”
She wants to pull away, but he doesn’t let her. He holds her still, but not maliciously. “You didn’t call back, and then you were—when I went back to class—you were with Mai—”
“I—I can’t make it up, I can’t—I thought you were—I thought you were over me. I thought you were back with Aang, and that hurt me, and I just . . . I wanted to hurt you,” he admits, honestly.
She scoffs. “Why would I have been back with Aang?”
“Do you not . . .” his eyes turn towards her. The one facing her is large, opened, and for some reason she prefers the other one. “You don’t remember, do you?”
Zuko sounds broken, and she doesn’t know why. “What . . . happened?”
“I—” he struggles. “I told you I was trying to forgive Azula, and then I was at the . . . we were at the arcade, I was there with her and I was trying to forgive her. And it was hard, and I was telling her about you, because I didn’t know what to talk to her about. And then I saw you—”
Her heart stops beating, because she suddenly remembers that day incredibly, incredibly well. “Oh, no—”
He exhales. “I was telling her how much I liked you, and then I saw you across the room, and I was going to come over and show her you . . . and yeah, it was a little selfish. I wanted to show her that I had something good. Because you were so good, Katara. And I thought that I deserved something maybe . . . maybe good . . .”
She can’t help it, then; she turns herself around and digs herself into his chest, and he’s still stupidly warm even though she’s wearing his sweater. The scent of spice and smoke surrounds her, and it feels good. “I didn’t kiss him, Zuko. I don’t know what—I pushed him away, and I was thinking about you, and that’s why I called you, that night, I wanted to talk to you, and I was going to tell you—”
“And I know,” he chokes out and presses his head into her hair, his scar against her skin. It’s glossy, and she likes it. “I know I overreacted. And Azula was there and you know how she is and she kept saying all these things to me, like, whispering in my ear. She said you were too good for me, and that you probably thought I was just a big fuck up, and that of course you didn’t want me, because you’re good, and I have never been good—”
“And I don’t even remember what happened afterward. I sort of just . . . I went with her and she showed me Mai and I fucked up, and I wanted to hurt you like you . . . hurt me. I’m sorry,” he’s sobbing, a little. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
“No, no, Zuko—”
“And then I met Aang in class and I wanted to hate him. I broke up with Mai, you know. She wasn’t you. She was never you. And I wanted to hate him, but I couldn’t. And he started casually talking about you, and then I realized that you didn’t start dating again until months after last . . . after that, and I realized how dumb I was.”
“You’re not dumb, Zuko.”
“I didn’t even know if you would take me back, because I wouldn’t take me back, but I just wanted to see you again. I missed you so much. I missed you—fuck, Katara, I fucked up so badly, I can’t believe I fucked up that badly . . .”
She presses against him as closely as she can, trying to firm him down into reality. “We both fucked up. But you deserve everything. You deserve all the good things.”
His hands crawl up behind her into her hair, and her face is right in his collarbone, and they’re both crying stupid. She feels stupid and she can’t hold herself in right now. “I don’t deserve you.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
He chuckles weakly. “Does that mean we cancel out?”
She giggles slightly at the vibrations she feels through his chest. “We’re both stupid. We deserve each other.”
“Please, I—” he combs his fingers through her thick hair. “If there’s any way we can, if we can . . . I would do a lot to have you. I would do everything. I dumped Azula and my father and all of that, finally.”
“You didn’t need me to grow.”
“No,” he breathes in. “I didn’t need you to fix me.”
“Yeah,” she smiles, pulling away from him. “You fixed yourself.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“You are?” He sounds like a child, and she knows why, because she knows about his father and his mother and she could have tried harder. She should have tried harder.
“Spirits, Zuko . . . we can do this again, can’t we? Can we do this right this time?”
“Yeah. We can talk to each other. But would you . . . would you really . . .”
She grins up at him and wipes away the tears in the corners of his eye. “You’re not going to get rid of me that easily. Not again.”
Zuko pulls her into her lap and stares into her eyes and his grip tightens around her waist. “Promise?”
Suki: You guys good?
you’re a bitch
Katara: but also thank you
Katara: I’ll be home late
Suki: Getting it on huh
Katara: just remembering why we liked each other in the first place
Suki: That seems sweet
“Iroh shouldn’t trust you with the key,” Katara teases him, and Zuko sticks out his tongue at her, her hand still firmly in his grasp as she slides his uncle’s keycard through the lock on the Jasmine Dragon. The door slides open without complaint, and she pulls closer to him and groans when she realizes that the shop is cold.
“You’re wearing my sweater.”
“I like it,” she smiles up at him through her lashes. “It’s nice and it smells like you.”
“I like how it looks on you.”
“I like how it smells. It reminds me of you.”
“Yeah,” his tone shifts, “it does.”
Katara’s fingers reach up and grasp his cheek. The scarred one. She’s the only person, he’d told her, he allows to do that. “I’m keeping it.”
“Yeah,” she curls up into herself. “But I’m still cold. Turn on the heater, hotman.”
“Don’t call me that. Aang calls me that.”
“Oh,” she places her head at his shoulder. “It’s just, you know, an ideal name. You run so hot.”
“I can keep you warm.”
“I know you can.”
They stay absurdly attached to each other as he scoots over to the thermostat, turning it on and the lights in the back of the shop with it so that the kitchen is alight. They move into that area, away from the visibility of outsiders, until they’re in Iroh’s kitchen and they separate briefly. Katara hoists herself up on the top of one of his tables, and Zuko methodically starts filling a kettle to the side with water.
“What are you making?”
“I’m thinking hot chocolate.”
“Well,” his mouth twists, “I’ve learned that I’m not the best at making tea.”
“I can’t believe I missed your face when you realized that.”
He groans and takes out the hot chocolate powder from the side cabinet. “Don’t bully me, Katara.”
“I’m not bullying you,” she smiles when he places the kettle on the gas and moves back to her, placing his hands around her waist and holding her tight. She’s a little taller than him like that, and damn does that feel good. “Shortie.”
Zuko winks at her . . . or well, it seems like he does, she can’t really tell—and tugs her off the table until she’s a mass of limbs close to the floor, clutching onto him. Her hands grab his arms, and they’re lean and defined because of his time with martial arts and his sword fighting practice. “Zuko!”
“Bullies get dropped,” he teases before pulling her up into his arms again. She just wants to feel close to him, after all of these months apart the two of them have wasted.
“Oh. I’m sorry I said you had . . .”
“The moral backbone of a chocolate eclair?” he attempts to stifle roaring laughter, and she glares at him. “Creativity. Full points.”
“I saw them there. It seemed fitting. At the time.”
He’s staring at her. “Katara?”
She blushes at him, which she hates, because she’s an adult and this is Zuko. “Yeah.”
“Can I kiss you?”
Her heart beats fast and she suddenly feels absurdly warm. “That would be nice.”
It’s really fucking nice.
thank everything she came back
Sokka: i dont have to beat him up
Sokka: which is good he seemed nice enough
Suki: Lol Sokka
Toph: you guys don’t have to pretend that you’re not together we get it we’re not dumb
Aang: She’s home safe?
Sokka: she seems happy
Sokka: i dont know if he makes her look like that he might be ok
Aang: He’s a good guy
Sokka: omg kataras bf is in the mafia
Suki: Shut up Sokka