Fuck. He was hot. She was definitely in trouble.
Every time he touched the console, shifted gears, turned the steering wheel, her attention shot straight to his arms. There was no hiding how she appreciated him— the way his forearms flexed with the slightest application of strength, the assured grip of his hands. Her heart jumped to her throat when she thought of those hands on her waist.
It was ridiculous that she liked watching him drive; idiotic that she smiled at his confidence and felt her stomach flip as he picked a spot, mentioned his house, walked and welcomed her to his Sunday spot with a gorgeous smile.
“You come here often, then?” Katara teased, dipping her shoulder with a playful laugh. “Every Sunday?”
She enjoyed the color that blossomed on his cheeks, how it spread to his ears. She made herself swear on all that was sacred that she would not randomly, accidentally, or coincidentally bump into him here. Ever.
As they entered—with Zuko very respectfully holding the door and letting her pass in front of him—a chipper waitress greeted them and led them to 70s-style booth against the windows. It was sunny out, filling the spot with a warm glow. Zuko’s eyes flashed a pretty, honeyed color and Katara flipped her menu up in front of her face before she got caught staring.
“So, you live out in the country…” she prompted, wondering if she’d ever have the chance to see his place. “…or just far enough to have a bit of space and a driveway?” Katara’s blue eyes peeked over the menu at him. “Any roommates?”
Zuko looked up in time to catch the flash of her eyes, and the answer that had been forming in his mind fled momentarily. She was so easy. No ulterior motive to conversations, no hidden agendas, no subtly prodding to try and get him to slip up so she could hold information over his head later. She just… made conversation. Like a normal person. Conversation to which he should answer soon.
“Ah—my family has a house in the country,” he admitted. “But I don’t live there. Haven’t lived with them for years, actually. I live further out to the edge of the city.”
He lowered his gaze back down to the menu in his hands, though he didn’t need to look at it; he already knew what he wanted. A fond smile tugged up one corner of his mouth. “No roommates, luckily. It’s my uncle’s old place. He has a cafe not too far from here and moved into an apartment above it. But, he’s owned the other place for years now, so he let me move into it.” It wasn’t a fancy affair, just a small, single story rancher with two bedrooms, but it was all his and he didn’t have to owe anything to his father to live there.
A young waitress different than the one who seated them came by. She had volumes of dark hair pulled haphazardly into two thick braids on either side of her head, and a tattoo of a white deer with a few words in simple Hanjul script running down her arm.
“Your usual?” she asked Zuko brightly, not even bothering to look up as she was already writing it down.
“You know me, Ming,” he replied. “Thanks.”
She nodded, then finally looked up and spotted Katara. “Oh! I almost didn’t see you there,” she said, laughing. “I’m not used to seeing Zuko come in with anybody anymore.”
Zuko slid his gaze over toward the wall, feeling embarrassed heat rise in his cheeks. “Come on…”
Ming grinned and waved vaguely at him. “You know I think it was for the best, anyway. We’ve talked that to death. But! What can I get you?” Her pen hovered over the order booklet as she looked at Katara, expectant.
“You… didn’t see me?” Something uncomfortable settled in Katara’s stomach, but she swallowed it quickly.
There was history here. Clearly. She didn’t think it was between Zuko and Ming, and it wasn’t any of her business. She didn’t want to pry… even though it put her in the incredibly awkward position of wondering if she was forcing herself on Zuko.
She did all but force him to sleep over.
Katara folded her menu shut and handed it off to Ming. “Coffee’s fine,” she said. “A little cream and sugar to go with it.” If there was a figurative cloud having over Zuko’s love life, she certainly didn’t want to make the assumption that this was a date… or have Zuko feel obligated to pay. And, with only about $3 to her name, she’d have to wait ‘til she was home to eat.
After watching Ming go, her attention drifted back to Zuko. The topic of his house came back to her. It seemed a harmless enough subject to dance around.
“So… your uncle’s place, no roommates.” Katara folded her arms on the table. “Any pets? Or… hobbies?”
“No pets, either,” Zuko said. “But I’ve got a nice pond within walking distance where there’s always lots of ducks and old people.” A wry smile teased across his mouth, remembering when his uncle first showed him the place and took him for a walk around the grounds and nearby places. He hadn’t cared much at the time, circumstances being what they were, but now he’d come to appreciate them more.
“I don’t know if you’d really call it a hobby, but… I train and teach at Combat Sports a lot. It’s mixed martial arts, and some extra. What about you? You just moved in, but anything you do to pass the time—other than Pride and Prejudice?” The wryness of his smile turned into something more genuine and teasing. It was then he noticed her bowed shoulders, the way she was slightly hunched in on herself. He hesitated a beat, trying to read her. Something had shifted in her demeanor between them walking in and her ordering, and he tried to figure out exactly what.
“Hey,” he said suddenly, leaning his arms on the table in an almost mirror to her. “I thought you would have liked waffles?”
She kept her shrug slow and lazy. “I changed my mind about being hungry. The coffee will keep me full until it’s time to run.” Managing a smile, Katara attempted to brush off her mood. In any case, it was… extremely out of place for her to be affected by his friends or story.
“That’s something I like to do,” she addressed his question. “Running. Clears the mind… I used to train in martial arts, too, but I haven’t found a gym I like, though my friend runs one, so I could try that out…” She was rambling. Katara bit her lip as color flooded her cheeks.
And, fortunately, Ming saved her from rambling any more of her whole life story by bring her coffee, the order complete with a saucer of cream and some sugar packets.
She dumped a packet in, poured in some cream too, and stirred it absently. The spoon clinked against the ceramic, covering her silence until she went on. “I also like dancing. I’ve learned a lot of different styles. I’m hoping to take that up again soon, but I need real work first.” Katara looked up thoughtfully, “Unless work could involve dancing… I don’t know. We’ll see.”
“Dance? Really? That’s not a typical hand-and-hand with forensics.” She stirred her coffee and Zuko added two packets of sugar to his, but with no cream.
He watched her most closely now—not that he was having difficulty keeping his eyes on her to begin with—but something was still clearly off. Zuko wracked his brain for anything he could have said that would have deflated the moment so much. The ride here was pleasant, and she seemed so enthusiastic about having waffles, about having breakfast with him. The thought had stirred a nervous fluttering in his stomach he had to work to quash. It wasn’t as if they’d done… much. But, she’d smiled so sleepily at him and it was as if his whole world focus zeroed in on the curve of her mouth, and the sweetness of her eyes. He couldn’t have left then, couldn’t tear himself away.
Now, though, the atmosphere had shifted. It was less like an airy spring morning and more like the vague pressure of a storm that couldn’t decide if it truly wanted to build or not. At least, that’s how it felt in the booth where they sat. Unspoken tension that lingered between people was not something Zuko had been naturally inclined to notice, but he certainly had learned to become attuned to it, between his father and his ex. He wanted to press her again about the waffles—there was something there about them, beneath her surface dismissal, but he couldn’t think of a tactful way to broach it. And, he suspected his instinct to simply and bluntly ask would not be very well received.
Well, he had her for at least a cup of coffee. Maybe an opening would present itself, or he could convince her to actually eat. Especially after how much they’d had to drink the night before. He chewed on his bottom lip quickly to suppress the frown that wanted to form. He lifted his gaze back up from his coffee to her, alighting on the blue of her eyes; he was struck again momentarily by their clarity. Yeah, a corner of his mind mused, he could get used to breakfast with her real easy.
So the smile he gave her was easy and subdued. “What kind of dance do you like? Or would like to get into?”