"Will you go to prom with me?"
"What?" Zuko yelped, scrambling from his previous position laying down in her lap. Lids that were half-closed only a moment before were now widened with alarm. In his haste to put distance between them, Zuko had practically bolted halfway across the room. Katara bit the insides of her lips to keep from laughing. She knew he would react this way without context, but she couldn't call herself his best friend of four years if she didn't poke fun at him first.
"Prom...with me." Katara repeated, drawing out each word for emphasis, teasing him. At this point, Zuko's face resembled that of a fire, each second fanning the flames as his face became increasingly redder than the second before. Zuko pointedly fixated his eyes anywhere in the room, but on hers.
"Um, where's this coming from?" He finally asked, trying and failing to sound aloof.
A smile tugged at her lips turning into a full-on mischievous grin as tears of mirth brimmed her blue eyes.
"Zuko," she paused, still laughing at his alarm. "We've been best friends for years. I didn't mean it like that."
The tension that had worked his shoulders halfway towards his neck seemed to subside a little. "Then how did you mean it?"
"Well...it's senior prom, so I'd like to go..." Katara fidgeted with the fraying edges of the blanket in her lap, avoiding his eyes now.
"Sokka's scared off every guy that tried to ask me," she said, a small puff of air escaping her lips in annoyance. Zuko's lips twitched with amusement.
Sokka was the reason they'd became friends years ago. It started off with all of them hanging out, the two of them bantering over Sokka's antics and who Sokka irritated the most. Because as Katara put it, having to grow up smelling Sokka's dirty socks for over a decade was decidedly not less irritating than Sokka yelling "Sneak attack!" before jumping out of a very obvious hiding place and poking Zuko with a stick. Eventually, they realized they had a lot in common, namely their mutual appreciation for musicals and affinity for martial arts. So they just kind of...stuck. And when Sokka met Suki and started spending less time with them, they kept it up.
"And what makes you think he'd be okay with me taking you?"
"I don't need his permission!" Katara said indignantly.
"I just...knew he wouldn't be able to scare you off too. Besides, he trusts you."
She swung her legs off the couch and walked over to stand in front of him, lips rounded in her classic puppy dog pout. And then she turned on the charm with her impossibly blue eyes. The ones he couldn't say no to, not ever.
Zuko sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose like he always did when he relented.
"So you'll go?" Katara asked, a smile already enveloping her face. She already knew the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it.
"Yes," Zuko nodded. She threw her arms around him and squeezed with such intensity that the momentum almost sent them both tumbling to the ground.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you Zuko!"
He wanted it to be perfect. In the days leading up to prom night, Zuko found himself frequenting the flower shop where Mai worked since graduating. It was Mai who told a very clueless Zuko that Katara needed a corsage, and after he'd taken a look at the pre-made ones hanging on the walls, he decided she deserved a custom one.
He and Mai picked each element of her corsage with care; the image of her eyes lighting up with joy imprinted in the back of his mind. Even if it was just out of appreciation for the corsage, it was enough, and he could pretend that it meant more. He had always known she was beautiful; he had eyes. But it was more than that, more of how he felt around her. It had been some months after he and Mai broke up amicably and they both realized that they weren't sad. Because he liked Katara and Mai was in love with Ty Lee.
So the day she'd asked him to prom, he was nervous, then confused, then hopeful, but then she had said she wanted to go as friends. As a last resort because there was no one else. And he was...okay with that. He wanted the night to be special for her.
Ringing the doorbell on the night of prom felt strangely formal, and somehow added to his overall nervousness. The box that held the corsage was slick with sweat from his hands. After a few moments, the door swung open and Katara stood in front of him.
She wore the color of twilight with intricate gold patterns of the moon and the ocean that shimmered from the slightest movement. The dress itself had a plunged neckline and side cut outs that complemented her frame and clung to parts of her anatomy that he didn't trust himself to think about. She smiled widely at him, spinning around to show the full dress and even more of her exposed bronzed skin: the straps of the back criss-crossed flush against her defined shoulder blades. Her arms were adorned in silver cuffs and her earrings were tiny moons. Her hair remained the same as usual, pulled back into a singular braid except for her two hair loopies. She wasn't wearing much makeup, except for mascara and a slight dusting of blush that warmed her skin perfectly.
"How do I look?" Her face still held a widened smile, but her expression was much more bashful.
"Here," Zuko said, thrusting the golden box into her hands so that he didn't answer awkwardly. "This is for you."
Katara tilted her head to the side, quirking her eyebrow a bit. She didn't say anything about him changing the subject, just carefully opened the box. Her hand enclosed around the corsage sitting in a bed of red silk. Her mouth flew open.
"Zuko it's...beautiful. I didn't know that you would...thank you." She wrapped her arms around him and he froze for a few seconds, not trusting his hands on the bare skin of her sides. When she pulled away, her blue eyes were shining.
"Mai helped me pick them out," He said, not wanting to take all of the credit, but instantly chiding himself for mentioning his ex on his date that wasn't a date. But Katara seemingly didn't notice because she was still staring at the corsage.
"What type of flowers are these?" She asked, gesturing to the iridescent white flower with heart shaped leaves.
"Moonflowers. They uh...only unfurl their petals at night and they're supposed to smell nice," He said, trying to be casual, friendly.
Curiously, she brought the corsage to her nose. "It smells...sweet. Kind of like orange and jasmine. I love it."
He tied the agate gemstone base of the corsage securely to her wrist, taking a second to admire the way the moonflowers, blue roses and gold ribbon matched with her skin.
"It looks nice," He commented, when she'd caught him staring.
"And you look nice," she said, her hands smoothing and adjusting the lapels of his tux.
"Uh...Thanks," He scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "We should uh...get going."
"Wow, Katara you look hot!" Ty Lee beamed, pulling her into an crushingly enthusiastic hug.
"So do you...and Mai," Katara returned her smile with one of her own. "You two look perfect together."
The top of Ty Lee's pink tulle dress was completely see through, except for the pink and dark red flowers intertwined within the lace. Mai was wearing her characteristically vexed expression and a wine-colored suit. In her daith piercing, she wore a tiny pink dagger with red rubies on it; according to Ty Lee, the only pink item she would agree to.
"Thanks," Mai's lip quirked into a slight smile. "Where's Zuko, by the way?"
"He's over there," Katara said, gesturing to where Zuko was waiting in line near the punchbowl.
"I'll get us some punch too," Mai turned to leave, but Katara caught her arm just before she left.
"Oh and Mai? Thank you so much for you know...the corsage. I know it was your idea," Katara said smiling.
"I can't take the credit," Mai insisted before walking away.
Katara stole a glance over at Zuko again. His tux was almost all black, except for the trails of gold pattern lining it, with a high collar. The sleeves of his jacket were billowy, flowing into cuffs printed with the same golden moon and wave designs as hers. Though his pants were form-fitting, a dark blue sash lined his waist. Even from across the room, she could see the glint from his necklace, peeking out from under his high collar. A simple gold chain his uncle gifted him as a child.
He definitely looked handsome, Katara decided, but she couldn't really say that. Because he wasn't hers, and he was only doing this as a favor to her. Mai had made it across the room and hugged Zuko, his face breaking into a smile when he saw her. Katara couldn't help but feel her ears prick with curiosity as she watched their mouths move, their slight smiles and closeness. She wondered how Ty Lee never felt jealous. Sure, Mai and Zuko were childhood friends, but they'd also dated briefly a year ago and were still pretty close--
"He doesn't still love her, you know." Ty Lee spoke, pulling her thoughts.
"What?" Katara balked at her bold response. "I wasn't thinking--"
"They just...understand each other really well, you know? They can be gloomy together."
Katara laughed with as much indifference as she could muster. But Ty Lee just raised her eyebrows in a disbelieving way.
"When do you plan on telling him?" Ty Lee asked. She leaned in really close, a teasingly wide smile on her face.
"Telling him what?," Katara asked acting aloof. Ty Lee put both hands on her shoulders and stared pointedly at her with those gray intuitive eyes. Shouldn't Zuko and Mai have been back already?
"There's nothing to tell," Katara relented. "I'm his best friend's younger sister."
"And that makes me pretty much undateable. He doesn't see me that way," Katara shrugged.
Ty Lee laughed.
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Mai's monotonic raspy voice cut into their conversation all but making Katara jump out of her skin. Zuko was trailing a few footsteps behind, with two drinks in his hands. Katara felt her heart rate speed up.
She was about to try to explain away whatever he'd thought he just heard, but again Ty Lee interceded.
"Zuko, why don't you ask Katara to dance?" Ty Lee prodded. "This is such a good song, don't you think so Katara?" She let out a slight yelp when Ty Lee poked her side. Rather than giving an answer, Katara whipped her head around, narrowing her eyes. The DJ was playing Moonlight by Ariana Grande. The dance floor was very obviously couples-only, everyone paired up with their dates drawn close. And she had already decided that this wasn't a date. That was her idea. Katara wished she could kick Ty Lee for her meddling.
"Huh? Oh, right." Zuko's face flushed a bit. "Katara?" He asked, extending his hand. She placed hers in his and let herself be led away to the dance floor, but not before shooting a very miffed look at Ty Lee. Those gray eyes stared back at her blinking innocently with a very pointed expression that said, "Now's your chance."
It took a few awkward steps before they found their rhythm. Of course the closeness wasn't new, they were frequently in each other's personal spaces. But this felt different: With his hands resting tentatively on her waist and her arms wrapped comfortably around his neck. Her fingers just barely brushed the strands of hair at the base of his neck and it felt...nice. He watched her as they danced, the gentle smile on her face and the way her eyes closed as she leaned into him.
The coolness of her bare skin beneath his fingertips. The way moonlight illuminated all of the details of her dress as the material flowed like an iridescent wave each time she spun.
The sight of her contentment was enough to make the corners of his lips turn upward in a smile.
Makes me wanna give you my heart.
He could feel his heart hammering in his chest and he wondered if she could feel it from her head's position on his shoulder. If she could, it didn't seem to bother her much.
I be crushing' on you baby. Stay the way you are.
The song ended before he was ready to let her go, but she was pulling away to look up at him, so he pretended he wasn't just staring at her. Because that was decidedly a strange thing to do as friends. And he was sure his face betrayed the stupid happy high that he felt from her.
Cause I never knew, you could hold moonlight in your hands til the night I held you
"Can we..." She paused, her brows furrowed as if considering her next words.
"go out on the balcony?"
This time he let her lead him, away from the throngs of people to where they stood, alone. The lighting outside was pretty dim, almost solely provided by the moon. She stood with her back towards him, looking up at the infinite stars dancing in the night sky. She always did this when she was pondering something important, he knew. So he didn't voice his confusion, just waited.
"Zuko, I don't want to be your friend," the words tumbled out of her mouth all at once. There. She'd said it. She took a deep breath, spun around to face him. Waiting. The truth of her words evident from the softness in her eyes and her reddened cheeks.
He didn't really know what he thought she'd say, but he certainly had not expected her to say that. A million questions filled his mind as he flicked through his memories with her, wondering when he'd missed the signs. That she felt the same. He wanted to tell her that he had been hers unofficially for a while now. To tell her that he wanted her to be his girlfriend. But whatever part of his brain controlled speech was on autopilot, leaving him standing there with widened eyes, mouth agape.
She stared back at Zuko rendered mute, and wished she could take it all back. The words and what they meant for them. Her face burned as she quickly shuffled past him to go back into the dance hall. She'd read the signs wrong. She'd thought for a moment when they looked at each other during their dance...no. Ty Lee was wrong, she was--
"Katara," Zuko said, his voice was lower now, softer. She hated how she liked the way her name sounded when he said it. He'd managed to unfreeze himself and stood right behind her. She felt his hand on her shoulder as it slid down her back, leaving a trail of goosebumps. An involuntary shiver went down her spine as his hand finally settled on her arm. And gently, she allowed him to coax her to face him, steeling herself for rejection. She forced a hardened expression onto her face.
Zuko had never been good at saying the right thing, and now he had a very beautiful, offended girl standing in front of him after she stormed off. With shaky fingers, he tilts her chin up slightly and brushes his lips across hers. He lingered for a few seconds before pulled away slightly, peeking with one eye to see her face. Her eyelids were still mostly closed but that was starting to change. Her lips still puckered. And then, those blue eyes were shining up at him.
She takes his hand from underneath her chin, still trembling, and brings it up to her lips.
I kiss his fingertips, As I'm wishing he's all mine.
He watched her intently, amber eyes filled with adoration and desire for her unexpected gesture.
"How...long?" She asked, after she'd dropped his hand from her lips. She still kept his hand in hers, though.
"Months," He breathed, glad to finally get everything in the open. His chest felt decidedly lighter.
"Me too." Katara laughed. "Some best friends we are. Keeping a huge secret from each other."
"Yeah," he laughed too. A smile slowly crept across his face.
Then she's standing on her tip-toes and he leans down, and this second kiss isn't like the first one. It's awkward and clunky, their noses crashed into each other and he's positive that there is more of his teeth than lips on her lips. But they both laugh and they are both happy. He brings his forehead down to meet hers, gold eyes meeting with blue.
"What are you thinking?" Katara asked.
"I'm thinking that Sokka is the best unintentional wingman ever," Zuko paused.
"And that I don't want to be your friend either."
She grinned widely at that, a smile that reached up to her eyes making the skin around them crinkle.
"I was thinking you should kiss me again," she said smirking a bit, settling into his arms again.
So he did.