perfect places



( past )

If he were being absolutely honest with himself, and while he most definitely heard everything she said, Zuko wouldn’t be able to remember any of the movie options she listed off for him if she quizzed him on them. He very politely sipped his vodka and watched her fuss about her entertainment center over the rim of his glass while he held hers in his other hand, and allowed his eyes to wander. Just a little. He had no intentions of taking advantage of her, of course, but he was still alive, and couldn’t help a little ogling. She had been sending him flirty looks now and again over the evening; he didn’t think it’d be too out of line.

By the time she tossed him a look over her shoulder, he’d managed to compose himself with a respectable propriety, and gave her a smile once she settled back on the couch with a blanket–a lot closer to him, he noticed. He couldn’t not notice that, with her folded knee nearly brushing against his thigh. It was all hidden now, beneath their shared blanket, and he found himself wondering at the course of events that had led him here.

She must have really meant that she’d like him to stay, nestling back against the cushions as she was. It was… nice. She wasn’t using him as a shield, he wasn’t lugging books back to his car and driving her home, they were just… being. And a swell of contentment rose in him at not only how relaxed both he and this felt, but also that she seemed to be relaxed and comfortable enough to slap in a movie to pass the time. Zuko supposed that she could have put it on to cover up any remaining nerves or uncomfortableness, but he didn’t get the sense that was the case. It seemed like she just wanted… to watch a movie with him.

Unbidden, Zuko was suddenly glad that he was sitting leaning against his left side and she was on his right. She hadn’t said anything or even looked askance–that he’d noticed, anyway–at his scar, but sitting in such close proximity to her with no real agenda… it made him all at once self-conscious about it. He’d long ago made his peace with it, not too long after he disavowed his father and left home, but Zuko knew that it wasn’t… the most attractive thing. There were some guys that joked about women loving a good scar, but somehow Zuko didn’t think that his kind of scar was what the kind they meant.

Instead of commenting on how she might not have needed a blanket if she’d worn something warmer, or the fact that he should at least get the books he only had for that evening instead of watching a movie–things his sixteen year-old self would have blurted awkwardly–he shifted more comfortably and leaned against the arm of her couch. It was already a lot warmer under the blanket than not–though the weather was on the cusp of spring, the nights were still chilly, and Katara didn’t seem to keep her apartment on the overly warm side.

Putting a smile back on his face, he tilted his head to the side and looked down at her. “You might not believe me, but I’ve actually never seen this,” he admitted as the movie began. His smile widened. “I hope that doesn’t diminish your opinion of me, Katara.” If he wondered whether he’d enjoy the roll of her name in his mouth, the answer was that yes, he did.


Her eyes flicked back to him, surprise in them.

He’d said her name.

It only just occurred to her that he hadn’t before this, that he’d somehow avoided it, despite her using his twice. As much as she liked the sounds of his name in her mouth, Katara found his tongue moving around the light syllables in hers to be all the better. That rasp, that slight shift in pitch— Zuko made her name melodic.  

And… she definitely was affected.

A blush tinted her cheeks and her lips were slightly parted. Katara caught herself staring up at him for at least a few seconds. Her brain was short-circuiting; did he say he’s never seen it? Her eyes drifted from his to the movie’s opening scene and she squeaked, “You haven’t?”

Lovely. Next to his beauty of a voice, hers came out with all the conviction of a mouse. Katara forced a swallow, forced herself to sound like a grown woman.

“It’s, um— it’s a classic,” she said, laughing with a slight shake of her head. Her neurons only now seemed to be firing. Katara drew her thumb and forefinger together above her brow, like she could pluck intelligence from her brain instead of the lesser: “It’s so beautiful. I love it.”

No shit. Why would she have watched a movie enough times to nearly memorize the script if she hated it?

Maybe she was too self-conscious in her responses to Zuko, but Katara slumped into the couch anyway, utterly annoyed with her less than insightful summation. Jet always found it annoying about her, her difficulty articulating the why’s and how’s of her love for things. He’d make her explain every detail. If she couldn’t, if her interest was as superficial as it’s wonderful, Jet would steal if from her. He’d berate her, barrage whatever she thought until Katara tucked it away or gave it up.

Sharing pieces of herself, even a movie as simple as Pride and Prejudice— yeah, it made the knots in her stomach twist. Would Zuko like it? Would Zuko be okay sitting through it? Did he actually wish to leave? Was he only staying to keep her at ease? Katara’s next breath was a petulant sigh that she hid within the rim of her cup.

It wasn’t until Zuko snorted with the antics of Lydia and Kitty at the public ball that Katara’s attention focused again. She’d missed the first several scenes of the movie, caught up in her own world of worries.

Blinking away the scowl on her brow, Katara perked up in time to say Jane’s line out loud:  "One day, Lizzie, a man will catch your eye and then you will have to hold your tongue.“ A chuckle tickled her throat and she glanced to her right, eyes bright above a small smile. “I told you I could quote it. I’m holding back just for you, Jane Austen newbie.”

She nudged Zuko’s shoulder with hers, then polished off her vodka. The cup was set on the floor and Katara nestled back, inadvertently closer than she was before. Had he moved? Had he shifted off the armrest? She was acutely aware of the warmth radiating from him. Her hands rested on top of the blanket in her lap, and whenever Zuko exhaled, the smell of vodka came with a hint of his cologne, tickling across her fingers.

Whoever it was that changed positions, she didn’t mind. Sure, she couldn’t focus on the film to save her life. She had to deliberately restrain herself from flexing her hands, because that would draw his attention to them. And, no, she did not wonder if his palms were calloused or if his fingers were strong. She had to resolutely refuse her legs any stretching room, because with her knees already tilted towards him, the only feasible position was her legs tangling with his. And, how ridiculous to assume she wanted to feel the rough scrape of his jeans against her bare skin.

But, no… no matter who had made the change, Katara absolutely did not mind it.

Because, eventually, she found her chance to shift closer. When Mr. Collins took it upon himself to propose to Lizzie and Katara quietly muttered Lizzie’s entire, enraged speech. When she snuck her elbow under Zuko’s arm to bump his ribs in boastful pride and he lifted it, spreading his hand out flat on the cushion behind her. That was her chance, her opening. His entire side was exposed to her and there was the briefest glance exchanged between them— gold meeting blue, heat flaring on her skin. Katara looked down, then back at the TV.

She told herself if Zuko pulled away or never, ever wanted to see her again, that she could blame the slightly fuddled state the alcohol had created, and leaned against him.

She really did know the movie by heart, and he caught himself smiling every time he heard her murmur lines. Zuko wondered if she quoted her favorite parts more, or if it was just the ones the stood out slightly more in her memory. He suspected the former, as he noticed after a bit that she quoted Elizabeth’s character far more than any of the others.

The surprise that filled him when she pressed into his side sent a flutter through his stomach. Okay, so that’s what he’d been privately hoping might happen when he moved his arm, but he hadn’t held his breath for it. Zuko wasn’t really very good at the whole ‘smooth flirting’ thing, so when it actually worked the way he had wanted it to, he… had no idea what to do next.

Exhaling quietly so as not to alert her of his apprehension, he reasoned with himself. It didn’t have to be anything other than harmless flirting, and he really didn’t have to have a plan on what he should be doing. Katara seemed utterly unperturbed, so he took his cue from her and relaxed, letting himself just enjoy the warm press of her. She did fit very nicely against his side, nestled comfortably beneath his arm and on his hip. Heat filled his face and crept down his neck, and he was glad she was focused on the movie. Which he should also be doing.

In addition to quoting select lines, every so often she glanced up at him and gave him a bit of context to the movie that wasn’t readily apparent, or answered a question he had about someone’s backstory or motivations. She really did know the story inside and out, and it was… well, it was actually really cute. He murmured a soft apology when he leaned forward during one of the dinner scenes to place his long-empty glass on the floor to join her own. When he resettled, Katara hesitated in resting back against him, as if she were suddenly unsure she should be doing so. With a gentle press of his fingers on the shoulder furthest from him, he guided her back to his side, smiling above her head when she let him do so. His hand didn’t leave her shoulder.

Despite her encyclopedic knowledge, Katara still gasped and laughed softly as they watched, as if this were her first time seeing it. When they watched Mr. Darcy declare his affection to Elizabeth in the rain, Zuko felt Katara still and tense against him, and he glanced at her to see her eyes wide and enraptured by the scene. The fingers still resting on her shoulder gave a little squeeze, and he relished the smooth warmth of her skin beneath his hand, and the pleasant scent of… perfume? Lotion? He wasn’t sure, but it was light and made him think of the sea.

Everything combined made him acutely aware of her, the expanding of her ribcage as she breathed, the folded curl of her legs now fully pressed against his thigh, the heat that radiated from her and combined with his beneath the blanket. If he’d been told yesterday that he would be watching a movie with someone he’d only met a few hours before, nestled beneath a blanket together as if they really were dating, Zuko would have laughed. He hadn’t had an actual date in over a year–despite his uncle’s attempts–and the ones he’d been on had always had something go awry. Even with Mai, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to pinpoint a time in the five years they had dated that they had been so relaxed and comfortable as to curl up on the couch and do something as simple as watch a movie together with no other pretense or worry.

Zuko frowned. He’d always been concerned that she wasn’t happy–Mai had always been an expert at hiding her feelings, even from him (perhaps especially from him)–and as such, something as unassuming as popping in a movie classic and enjoying it had always felt like he should be doing more for her. He flexed the hand of his that wasn’t resting on Katara’s shoulder and banished the thoughts of his ex. It certainly wasn’t his place to be responsible for Katara’s moods, and anyway, she’d already declared her love of this movie, so he wouldn’t have had to concern himself even if he was. The thought struck him that she’d so casually and easily told him how much she loved Pride and Prejudice, and it was confirmed by her quoting and trivia. He didn’t need to guess if she was enjoying herself or not, and that thought was… liberating.

A quiet tenseness eased a little from his frame, and he tightened his arm around her minutely. The revelation that he could spend time with someone and enjoy what they were doing–even something this simple–without worrying had the ghost of a smile lingering on his mouth. Zuko turned his attention back to the movie proper and found he could allow himself to be sucked in by the story, and he didn’t have to feel bad about it.

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