perfect places



( past )

The way she looked at him should have been admonishing, or withering, or disappointed–but somehow, it was none of those things. Zuko 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. 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.

“If you… if you can’t…” Her brain was short-circuiting, replaying the playful lilt to his voice and the I’ll do my best to keep to one side. Nothing– not the pop of her soda can’s top, not the satisfying hiss that followed– could keep her from the edge of impropriety. She slipped, with his tiny smile, with the shift in balance as he swung his legs onto her bed.

With: “I wouldn’t mind… if you end up on my side.”

Color spread across her cheeks in an instant. Zuko’s eyes flew wide, gold flashing in surprise, and her heart jumped into her throat, beating wildly. Katara bit her lip like it’d keep her from thinking about his. Willfully, forcefully, she drew air into her lungs, but her eyes were already sliding over him, following the trajectory in her head that ended with his mouth marking up her neck.

Over his chest, down to his hips— want coiled tight and hot when she remembered the scrape of rough denim on her skin. She barely had the willpower to look away, to ignore that insistent ache between her legs and the overwhelming wish for him to leave bruises on her waist. She could say she was more than willing to pick up where they left things. If he wasn’t sure, if he pulled back because he needed her explicit permission, she’d tell him yes. God, she’d say it over and over, again. She could point him in the direction of condoms beneath her bathroom sink, pull him down on top of her…

…or, she could reign in her fucking imagination.

How much time had slipped by? She’d been silent for too long, ogling the shape of his hipbones and thighs. Of course, it wasn’t entirely her fault. Katara had yet to recover from the feel of his mouth and his hands and his cock. But, fuck, she couldn’t sit here and gawk at him.

Painting her face to be aloof, Katara stammered— for the umpteenth time that night— as warmth flared across her skin. “I mean, I… I can just give you a shove. It’s not a deal breaker or anything.”

She felt his eyes on the side of her face, even as a flighty, nervous laugh tickled her mouth and she looked away. Her fingers made circles around the lip of her untouched soda, then Katara forced a sip down her throat and left the bed.

Better to do something, right? Than sit there giggling like a deranged idiot?

Ditching the ginger ale on the floor beside her mattress, Katara rummaged through the box where she’d found her sleep set. A mix of t-shirts and sweats filled it, but she didn’t stop her search until she found a pair of grey pants with a worn-out NAVY written down the side.

“Even if you don’t bother me, your jeans will bother you,” Katara said. She tossed the sweats to him, providing him the chance to change by going to the kitchen. “If they’re too big, I can find a pair of my brother’s,” she called over her shoulder. “It’s just… you stand less of a chance being pummeled by my dad since he’s overseas until May.”

She collected the items on her countertop, talking as she put them away. “He leaves for two months every year, whenever he can take the time off.” There was really no need for her to explain, but she did, finding it tamped down on her jitteriness to ramble aimlessly. “My mom had this bucket list of countries she wanted to visit. Since she died, my dad’s been finishing it, as best he can. I go with him sometimes… when I can afford it. We went to Munich last year. So far, it’s my favorite.”

Smiling back at him, Katara let the fridge door swing hut and flicked off the kitchen lights. Darkness shrouded them, and she tiptoed lightly towards her bed. Most of her apartment she had memorized, despite the short time she’d been living there, but Katara still managed to stub her toe and stumbled.

“Fuck me…” The curse hissed into the air as she tumbled onto her side of the mattress, nursing her offended foot. “I’ve been so smooth all night and a box screws it up.” Katara chuckled lightly. Her eyes had adjusted by then, and she found Zuko smirking at her from his place on the bed.

She rolled her eyes and flopped down on her pillow. “Asshole,” she grumbled, feigning annoyance, “finding amusement at my pain.” Katara pulled the blankets up to her chest and rolled onto her side, scowling in Zuko’s direction. “I just moved in! Maybe you could click on your phone’s light next time. Save me the embarrassment of tripping over more than just my words, hmm?”

“Oh–I didn’t realize you needed a light,” Zuko apologized, his jeans bunched up somewhere around his knees, too late reaching out for his phone and fishing it out of his shoe. He flicked up on the screen with his thumb and tapped the flashlight function, sending a beam of light up toward the ceiling between them. “Too little too late, huh?”

Zuko cracked a smile at her. “At least you’d be in good company. In dying from embarrassment, and all.”

Instead of changing quickly while she was in the kitchen, he’d been listening to what she was saying about her father and mother, thinking that it was sweet of her to accompany her dad on her mother’s bucket list. He wondered if there had ever been a time when his father cared enough to have done that if his mother had left behind something like that.

Once she’d turned the light off, he figured he had a second chance to get into the sweats without seeming indecent–sure he was keeping his boxers on, but they weren’t always reliable on what they would or would not accidentally show. He really didn’t need her to turn around and be surprised by him unwittingly flashing her. Zuko would probably die from embarrassment at that point. He’d already nearly done that tonight, and didn’t care for a repeat.

He quickly pulled off his jeans the rest of the way, and tugged on the sweats. Admittedly, it felt a little strange wearing her… father’s sweatpants at a completely impromptu sleepover situation in which he had nearly fucked her half an hour ago, but at least they were as comfortable as Zuko’s own. And about the same size, too. His hips were a little leaner, so he tied the ties in the dark to keep them from slipping off in the middle of the night.

She shimmied back up to her previous spot on the bed and pulled up the covers, and he felt the mattress shift just a little from her movements. It didn’t bounce as sensitively as it would have normally on a frame, but there still was a little give with a body’s shifting. The thought of her splayed out on the mattress, legs wide and hair fanned out flit through his mind and send his pulse dropping straight to his cock like a stone to the bottom of a lake.

His face and neck burned with heat, and he felt for sure she would be able to hear the thundering of his heart an arm’s length away. What she’d said only minutes before replayed through his mind–I wouldn’t mind if you ended up on my side. An old knee-jerk reaction made his first fleeting thought one of passive-aggressiveness: was this her way of telling him she thought he was stupid for stopping? But, time was a good balm on that old wound, and he quickly dismissed the worry of accusation. She’d sounded a little breathless and a little nervous, but not condescending or miffed. His pulse skipped a little in his throat. The explanation that she could just give him a shove to get back to “his” side, such as it was, did nothing to even it out.

Beneath the covers with her again, Zuko’s thoughts went immediately back to when they were on the couch earlier, and the blanket there had slipped off their laps. If he slipped his head and shoulders beneath the comforter here, would her scent be headier than it was before? If he ran his hands along both her knees and up the outside of her thighs, would she part them for him? He could let them crook over his shoulders and splay his palms across her hips and belly, then nose against the satin junction of her until he was drunk off her smell and then he would slowly inch her shorts to one side and let himself taste her and–

He let out a breath.

That was getting him nowhere good really fast.

Even though Zuko was pretty damn sure he could do all that and more, and that she’d encourage him, he’d made his decision. After everything that’d happened earlier in the evening, he didn’t feel right doing any of it. It felt too much like a pity fuck and too-long-ignored hormones in his head, and if he was going to do anything, he didn’t want it to be a quick lay with an almost stranger. Well–that was a lie; he did want it, but only with his cock. He wasn’t about to give in to its demands just because he hadn’t fucked in a long while. Despite how difficult it was to bite back the urge.

Switching off the phone light, he set it back into his shoe and leaned back on the pillow. After a moment’s hesitation, he shifted so he was on his side as well, facing her in the dark. “My mom had a thing for growing all kinds of things,” he said, quietly. “In the backyard, she had a big garden with a pond we used to sit at when I was a kid. It’s not quite as fancy as going to a bunch of different places, but whenever I see a little plant that reminds me of her in a store, I pick it up and keep it in my kitchen.”

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