perfect places

( from the beginning )
( previously ) 

The way she looked at him should have been admonishing, or withering, or disappointed–but somehow, it was none of those things. Zuko briefly thought he was imagining the heat in her eyes, the way she lingered on his now-bare arms, the breadth of his chest, before finally reaching his face. But, he wasn’t imagining it. She was… ogling him. Something taut and painful uncoiled a little in his chest, and it softened him. She looked and sounded just as off-kilter as he did. Not that he blamed her, but it did serve to make him feel just a bit better.

When she pointed out the stuff on her counter, he stared at it blankly for a few seconds before his memory caught up. Wincing internally, he now recalled the flimsy excuse. The fact that she’d actually… at least pretended to believe him and put things out for him was… It was really nice. Really nice of her. A faint thread began wrapping around the bottom of his heart, and he gave her a smile.

“Thanks,” he said distantly, and stepped over to the counter to look over the array. He cracked open a ginger ale and picked up a few crackers, then looked up at her, listening with mild amusement to her start to ramble a little.

He still couldn’t believe she was inviting him to sleep next to her–it was like his mind had gotten stuck on that and had to keep coming back to it, to keep reminding him just how novel a thing that was for him.

The first thought that crossed his mind was of course he would take the couch. But then he caught her eyes with his own and saw the uncertainty and nervousness there. The thread around his heart tightened a little. So, he balanced another ginger beer in the same hand as his, popped the few crackers he’d already picked up into his mouth and took the pack in hand, then made his way over to her.

“The couch would be a bit cramped,” he said when he reached the mattress, pausing to very noticeably drag his eyes from her to the frame leaning on the wall, “even if this was put together.”

Holding out the hand that held both ginger beers, he canted his head a bit, expression soft. “In case you need it after all that vodka, too.”

When she tentatively took it from him, watching every move he made and making him feel a little self-conscious, he sat down on the exposed portion of her mattress. It sank a little beneath his weight, and instead of glancing back at her, he busied himself with setting his open drink and the crackers off to the side on the floor and taking off his shoes and belt. He emptied his pockets–keys and phone and wallet all went into one of his shoes so he wouldn’t forget them in the morning–and Zuko realized that his heart was beginning to pound again. The idea to sleep in his boxers crossed his mind, but he dismissed it as soon as it had. He could see that escalating quickly in some half-asleep state.

Before turning back to her, he drew in a breath and released it slowly, quietly. He shifted and settled himself on her mattress, still sitting and feeling about three kinds of awkward–her proximity again most certainly being one of them.

Get a grip, Zuko. Act like a normal human being

He tucked his chin a bit and angled his head to glance over at her. “I’m pretty sure I don’t snore either, and I promise I’ll do my best to keep to one side.” He meant it as a joke, but realizing that he was used to sleeping alone in a bed, Zuko really wasn’t sure if he actually could keep that promise. Especially since his heart was already fluttering back up in his throat just from sitting near her again. Maybe he wasn’t as calm as he’d thought.

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