perfect places



Warmth wrapped around her, enveloped her.

It was unexpected, being tangled up with someone— the mornings she’d woken up alone were countless and the night was foggy, weighed down by liquor and the late hour. But, someone had her. Someone held her. She was too sleepy to process much more than the feel of cotton against her nose, but Katara remembered smiling, laughing… blushing too much.

Her eyes fluttered open, adjusting to the light, to the color. Or lack of.

Everything was white; warm and white.

Her thoughts stuttered. Then, slowly, lazily, a languid sigh hummed from her lips, bringing with it memories of library books and smooth vodka, of heated tension and impassioned kisses. Zuko. Katara smiled. The satisfying weight of his arm hung over her waist; the other… well, he had to have lost all feeling in his hand by now, threaded beneath her as it was, holding her close. She thought of moving, maybe waking him… the idea was fleeting.

She didn’t want to. In fact, she refused. Nestled happily between a sunny dream and the coolness of the late morning, Katara curled closer, slipping a leg between his and tucking her head under his chin. Her fingers twisted in the hem of his shirt; it’d drifted up around his ribs while he slept, affording her the opportunity to trace his spine, skin to skin. Eyelids heavy and heart content, she promised herself she’d keep her touch modest: just her fingertips, just the subtle curve along the small of his back. She listened to his breath come and go, tried to name the notes hidden in his cologne– gentle amber and a touch of bamboo; maybe that was his soap. Beneath it, as her fingers moved to his hip and she shifted the angle of her head, she caught something richer, like woodsmoke, in the hollow of his throat. Woodsmoke and sweat… his neck had tasted like sex.

Focusing her attention just below his jaw, it was easy to find memories of their kiss. Her lips had left marks over his pulse. Her teeth had scraped down to his collarbone. She would’ve liked to explore more of him, search his body for spots that made him gasp. He’d found a few places on her: her shoulders, her hips, the edge of her breast. Katara diverted her thoughts before they traveled any further down the path his mouth had taken. There wasn’t a point. He’d backed away, and despite the initial ache, she figured he was right to, anyway.

But— the hand memorizing the slope of his ribs stalled and Katara readjusted enough to look at him— she did hope they might have more mornings like this. Or, at least, nights like last.

He’d been… sweet. He was careful with her and respectful of boundaries, and Katara knew it was a little presumptive to think it meant anything; it didn’t. Zuko stayed because of Jet. He kissed her because they were drunk. He’d migrated to her side of the bed because he wasn’t used to sharing and he’d probably dart back to his the moment he woke up. She was being stupid, truthfully. Stupid and naive, crushing on the first nice guy she met. Whatever. A girl could dream.

Or, watch him dream.

His face was peaceful, any remnant of the prior evening’s tension erased from his mouth. Instead, his lips were soft now, like they were after his third glass of vodka, and his breath puffed quietly between them. She could see his pulse thumping in his neck. Katara, finding her position advantageous, slid her hand up and flattened it on his chest; his heartbeat matched, firm and comforting. Then, her fingers ventured further, breaking her private promise to only explore his back: she brushed her thumb up his jaw, then traveled around the curve of his ear until her fingertips circled his eye.

This was the ruined side… and only ruined in the sense that whatever’d happened to him was likely irreparable, at the time. Today, maybe, something could’ve been done, but this scar was old, pink around the edges, faded and soft. Is this what had made him so kind? So quick to stay at her side?

Katara followed the divide between burned skin and smooth ivory. She sensed a change in his breathing, and although she would’ve been happy with another hour of simply studying him, Katara remembered the dazzling gold of his eyes and was happy to have awakened him. Her hand settled on his neck just before Zuko’s dark lashes fluttered open halfway.

She smiled, sheepish. “Sorry… Zuko. I didn’t mean to act as your alarm.” If all her touching had pulled him from sleep, she owed him an explanation. “It’s… hard not to admire you.” 

Sweet, sleep-thick words—his name, the harsh consonants of it somehow sounding soft and wanteddrifted through the air to him, coming from beneath a set of brilliant blue eyes that were watching him. He was comfortable and warm, and the light diffusing in around them was soft and smelled vaguely of sweat, and the sea. That’s how Zuko knew he was dreaming. There was no way he had actually fallen asleep and become entwined with the stunning woman he’d met yesterday—Katara, his memory supplied. In this dream, his own return smile was sleepy. The dream-girl’s apology was shy but still so straightforward—so different from what he’d been used to in a bedfellow. Of course his mind would meld together how ridiculously attractive Katara was to him and the soft kind of affection he’d always wanted from someone else.

He hummed softly in response and furtively wished he wouldn’t ever wake up. If he could press his nose beneath the junction of her jaw and exist within this dream state for the rest of his life, he’d be just fine with that. “Not even my best side,” he murmured half into the pillow.

The weight of her hand against the pulse in his neck felt very real, however, and not typically something that his mind would have conjured for a dream. Especially since it was just resting there, content, rather than roaming as he would expect a dream to turn. His right arm protested somewhat, nerves trying and failing to jump back to life as Katara shifted a little. All at once, he became aware of the rest of everything—his left hand draped down her waist, a pressure between his knees that he was pretty sure was her leg and not an extra pillow, and that he wasn’t warm as he first thought; he was closer to hot.

Zuko blinked a few times, the last remnants of dreamy fog clearing. He wasn’t dreaming. Katara really was looking up at him and he really was curled more or less around her. With no conscious command, his gaze drifted down to her bared collarbone and shoulder, and the entire night came back to him in a heady rush. Nearly half a dozen vodkas on the rocks between the two of them, watching a movie on her couch—the smell of her driving him crazy—her legs on his lap, his hand on her neck, the way she tasted—the way she tasted. Christ, they’d nearly fucked on her couch. And he’d bolted. He swallowed an embarrassed noise in the back in his throat.

The very first instinct he had after all that they’d done and almost done hit him was to draw back and do his best to sink into the floor and vanish. But… she still was smiling up at him. That meant that either she didn’t remember exactly what had happened, or she wasn’t pissed at him. The thought that she could be pretending to be fine with everything so she could brandish it at some point later crossed his mind, but he tamped that down quickly. Though, that particular line of thinking, which he recognized as his own cognitive distortion, also made him realize that he did want there to be a later time with her.

Zuko drew in a breath and turned his face into the pillow beneath his head—which he was fairly certain was not the one he’d fallen asleep on and was instead the one she’d used—when it turned into a yawn. When he resettled, Katara was still smiling at him, her cheeks just the slightest bit dusky from a flush. The curve of her mouth and the way her hair spilled back away from her face and cushioned her cheek against the pillow in wild waves made him relax. If she woke up with him all up in her personal space—he definitely hadn’t kept to his side of the bed, and had migrated to wrap around her while he slept—looked straight in the face of his unsightly scar, and still smiled up at him so disarmingly…

Within in his chest, Zuko’s heart beat a little faster. He moved his left hand to skim lightly against her back, hoping that as small a gesture as that was wouldn’t be stepping over any more boundaries than waking up entangled with her had already.

“Sorry for taking over your whole bed,” he told her.

He tried to wiggle the fingers of his right hand, but couldn’t really tell if he was succeeding or not. She must have noticed what he was attempting, because she shifted enough to release his arm, which he withdrew to nestle between them. Of course, her doing so highlighted just how the camisole she wore exposed the entirety of her shoulders down to the soft curve of her breasts. Zuko felt himself stir in response and heat crept along his neck beneath where her hand still rested. He was sure she could feel the skips in his pulse there. After a moment of looking at his hand and slowly flexing the feeling back into his fingers, Zuko lifted his gaze to meet hers again. Immediately, he was caught by the blue of her eyes. The one thing he was sure of, was that he wasn’t ready to leave her just yet.

“Hey,” he heard himself saying, “what do you say about getting some breakfast?”

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