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 wanted—drifted 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?”
She was more than a little surprised. After making a fool of herself all night and nearly being caught with her hands all over him, Katara expected him to go reeling back. It showed on her face, in the slight pinch of her brows. Even cupping his neck, as understated as the gesture could be, she felt she was pushing one or more boundaries. They’d only just met. She’d learned his name… what? twelve hours prior? She almost pulled away, almost sat up and slipped from her bed, but Zuko’s fingers whispered up her back— again, and again; he was tracing some pattern. And, unbeknownst to him, he was soothing her. The taut line stretching down her spine snapped and Katara relaxed.
“I’d like breakfast. I love waffles,” she hinted, now smiling and trying to cover the rush of giddiness that tangled her tongue. “Especially with strawberries. And, whipped cream. I still drown everything syrup, but…” A quiet laugh cut her off. Thank god. Oversharing, especially trivial facts, was something she excelled at when a man made her nervous. And— well, she’d proven herself to be enough of a mess as it was. There was no need to make it all worse.
Katara quickly reigned herself in, chewing her bottom lip in the moment it took to compose her thoughts. “I- I’d like breakfast,” she repeated, far too breathy for her taste, but at least she didn’t sound like a startled mouse. Her eyes left his, settling on the hand he flexed between them. She wished for the guts to hold it, or simply brush the inside of his wrist, but she kept her hand where it was, fingers tensing a little on his neck. His pulse rivaled hers, her hummingbird heartbeat.
Something warm unfurled in her stomach, and Katara found a sudden burst of confidence. As casual as he seemed, Zuko was just as easily thrown off his game, would just as easily lose his cool if she smiled flirtatiously or touched him just right.
“It is the least you could do,” she teased, pulling her gaze back to his, “satiating my appetite.” Katara chuckled quietly. His eyes widened ever so slightly at her wording, and she found she liked surprising him. “After all, you stole my pillow and… didn’t you promise to keep to your side of the bed?” Nudging her leg further between his, she made a point of showing how entangled they’d become. Her foot slide up the back of his calf before Katara pressed her toes to his overheated skin, drawing a quiet gasp from him.
Of course, the sound made her attention jump to his lips, which promptly derailed her train of thought and left her drowning in the memory of how they’d felt on hers. God, she wanted to kiss him again. All she really had to do was curl her fingers around the back of his neck and pull him in… but, she always did this, jumped into things too quickly. Everything with Jet happened (over and over again) because she never stopped to think. Half her pain could’ve been avoided if she’d focused more on her senior prom and less on the bad boy who’d dropped out of the local college.
Swallowing, Katara’s breath followed in a short puff, and she took her hand from Zuko’s neck, tucking it under her chin. “I should probably shower before we leave,” she mused aloud. “I smell like vodka and…” She watched Zuko’s gaze flick to her neck. Or maybe he was looking at her chest. The way she was laying did accentuate things. Her cheeks colored in the brief pause and Katara adamantly kept herself from wondering if he was wondering if the scent from last night still clung to her skin.
Naturally, his question— if it was his question— was answered when she reluctantly untangled herself and pushed the comforter off her body. It wasn’t as strong as the night before, that heady scent, but it was still there, sustained by her less than appropriate thoughts before Zuko awakened and the frustration that lingered until she fell asleep. She prayed he didn’t notice; and, if he did, she prayed she’d left her bed so quickly he couldn’t place it.
But, when Katara pulled a thin, floral robe around her shoulders and turned back to him, Zuko was propped up his elbow, his one ink-colored brow arched with… amusement? If he was hoping she’d look embarrassed, Katara didn’t give it to him, despite the flush heating her skin. Instead, she found her box of towels and set one out for him.
“You’re welcome to shower, too,” she offered, patting the soft cotton. “Not that you stink… you’re fine, actually.” A little smile threatened her cool. Katara grabbed a towel for herself to hide it, then padded towards her bathroom. She paused, however, just outside the door, and glanced back at him. “And, you don’t have a best side, Zuko.”
He stared at her closed bathroom door.
Did she…? Yeah. Yeah, she did.
She’d looked at his scar very first thing in the morning and… didn’t seem to be bothered by it. If he was being honest with himself, it was definitely a big factor in not trying to date around much. Mai had never said anything about it, and she’d been the only one who knew him before… it happened. Then again, she didn’t say much of anything with regards to her opinion on things. Zuko decided she wasn’t a good point of reference. Jin hadn’t said anything, but he could tell she didn’t quite feel comfortable making eye contact with him. The only person he might have felt comfortable around was Song, because she had a burn scar of her own. Hers was well out of sight if she wanted to hide it, though, not prominently on display regardless of what he wished. In the end, she had just been a short non-fling where nothing even happened. Katara on the other hand… Zuko didn’t detect any kind of hesitation or uncomfortableness when she looked at him–not last night, and not this morning.
Don’t be an idiot, a nasty voice said in his head that sounded suspiciously like his father. She’s just being nice, like everyone else.
That insidious voice that fed his self-doubt and worth managed to put a damper on his mood. Nine years since he last saw his father and he could still hold things over Zuko’s head. Even when he was just the echo of disappointment in Zuko’s thoughts.
He collapsed back on the mattress, arms splayed across the width of it, and stared up at the ceiling.
Zuko didn’t think she was pretending not to notice it. It was a pretty difficult thing to ignore, and he’d had plenty of years to figure out when someone was avoiding looking at his face because of it. She had met his looks boldly throughout the night, and didn’t shy away when he’d woken to find her nearly nose to nose with him not long ago. Then again, she could feasibly just be really good at hiding things, Zuko didn’t know. Will you ever really know? his father’s voice asked again.
The sound of the shower turning on in the bathroom cut through Zuko’s spiraling thoughts, and the image of her naked beneath the water immediately shoved out the creeping doubt in his head. Sure, he hadn’t seen everything, but it didn’t take much for his imagination to fill in the blanks. Her scent still lingered amid the blankets bunched up around his waist, and he had to clench his hands into fists to remind himself that it would be entirely inappropriate to start doing anything about his wayward thoughts.
Breakfast first. One step at a time. After that, he could go home and get some release, so he could think about something other than the way her mouth had tasted.
Yeah. He was definitely going to take her up on that offer to use her shower. To cool off, to cool off. He absolutely wasn’t going to jerk off in the shower of a girl he’d only just met last night. Zuko wasn’t that desperate.
He wasn’t sure how long he lay in her bed, but it was enough to start dozing again. Katara’s bed, for all that it was just a stacked mattress and boxspring on the floor, was comfortable, and it was warm. And, it smelled nicely of her and just a bit of sex. The perfect combination to lull Zuko, still somewhat sleepy, back to a drifting state between consciousness. It was unusual for him to go back to bed–he was one of the few people he knew who actually enjoyed getting up in the mornings and doing something. Even though he hadn’t checked the time, it felt like it was sometime around nine or ten, judging by the filtered light that streamed in between the blinds of Katara’s apartment.
Nine or ten– “Shit,” he said softly his eyes opening again. It was Saturday, wasn’t it? It was. The muay thai class he normally went to was already underway if it was past as late as ten. “Suki’s gonna give me hell,” Zuko groaned to the ceiling. He expected at least one message from her giving him grief about being lazy after the class was done and she got back to her phone.
Letting out a soft noise, Zuko rolled onto his stomach, shifting both arms beneath the pillow he was using. It was the one he’d woken up on, that Katara had used, and it smelled strongly of whatever shampoo she used. He took a deep breath in and decided a little teasing from Suki was worth it.
Zuko closed his eyes and rummaged through the short list of breakfast joints he knew that he might take Katara. Someplace that had a variety of waffles; the way her eyes lit up when she talked was something he very much enjoyed, and he could definitely stand to see it again. If waffles were a gateway to that, then he’d take her for waffles. She was still in the bathroom, though, and his thoughts soon slowed and he dozed once more, ruminating lazily that this was something he wouldn’t mind happening again.
Not for the first time, Katara stood with both her feet over the drain and watched the water pool around her in the shower basin. She tried to calm herself, tried to focus on nothing more than the soothing beat of the water stream against her back and the warm steam, but a flicker of nervous heat unfurled in her stomach once more.
Just knowing he was out there, in her bed or, perhaps, musing over the things in her apartment, made her heart thump harder.
The bathroom door was unlocked. Katara didn’t expect him to, but should Zuko try it, he’d have no trouble peaking in, no resistance from her should he notice her camisole and shorts on the rug and leave his clothes beside them. Picturing his bare skin, her mind conjured up that sweet mix of spice and musk in the hollow of his throat. Was all of him as intoxicating? Would she find that same, mouth-watering scent if she kissed down his chest? If she dropped to her knees in front of him?
Katara rinsed conditioner from her hair, then rested her hands on her shoulders, rubbing at the tension lingering there. It was Zuko’s fault… sort of. She couldn’t stop thinking about him— or, daydreaming, really.
How would he touch her? If he did ditch his jeans, pull back the curtain, and step beneath the hot stream?
She bit her lip, imagining his warm hands and soft kisses and how delicious his tongue had been, chasing hers and swiping over her lips. Her fingers slipped down her chest; Katara mimicked the path his thumbs made around the swells of her breasts. She wouldn’t have stopped him. She couldn’t say how she might’ve felt after, but, hell… she wouldn’t have stopped him.
So, why stop now? She was alone… and her body never seemed to have calmed from last night. Forgetting any sense of decency, Katara played with her nipples until they pebbled up under her touch, until the ache between her legs was too much to ignore and she had to slide a finger over her clit. It was only a matter of minutes. Her blood still thrummed from the memory of Zuko’s weight. She was painfully sensitive, blissfully responsive. Katara caught the moan that came with her climax against her shoulder, biting into her skin until her pulse stopped thundering.
And, eventually, she was able to gather herself enough to rinse her hand and her thighs, before shutting the water off and collecting her towel. Her steps were shaky and fatigued, but she’d been in the bathroom too long to sit on top of the closed toilet seat and bask in the afterglow of that… much needed orgasm. Honestly, she could go for another. Maybe later.
Tossing her hair up in the towel, Katara ran quickly through her routine of toner, concealer, and mascara. After, she pursed her lips at her reflection, then topped the whole look off with red-tinted chapstick. It wasn’t too much, hopefully… she did like how it pulled the attention to her mouth, as opposed to her too bright, too wide eyes. Blinking—like that could make her look sane—Katara rubbed lotion into her skin, then redressed in her silky robe and pulled the towel off her head.
The ends of her hair had already left wet spots on her chest when she opened the bathroom door, clutching her pajamas and damp towel. A cloud of steam followed her out, curling lazily in the sunlight that slanted across her bed. Zuko was dozing in the middle of it, sprawled out on his stomach with her pillow clutched under his head.
She smiled, going to him quietly, and patted his back.
“Sleeping Beauty…” A soft laugh greeted the confusion in his gold eyes. “I guess I took too long in the shower, hm? The bathroom’s yours, if you want it.” Katara straightened and gestured towards the open door with a nod. “I’ve got a-million-n-one soaps to choose from, so feel free to use anything.”
He scrubbed his face with a lazy yawn, but stretched out and swung his legs off the bed, taking up her offer. Left to herself, Katara fished through her dresser for a pair of panties, and found her favorite boyfriend jeans, too. Ditching her robe, Katara pulled both items on, then tore through a different drawer until she’d located a ribbed tank top. Perfect; as soon as she tugged the shirt over her head, sans bra, and checked her outfit in the mirror, she was sure she wouldn’t be the only one suffering through breakfast.
Her chest looked good, with its full, natural shape. And, not that his opinion mattered, but Jet always said the braless look was as good as sex on her. Her breasts bounced whenever she moved, and if that wasn’t enough to draw someone’s eye, the little barbell through her left nipple would. And, that was only fair, considering Zuko’s sharp jawline and strong biceps and firm a—
Katara startled at his reflection in the mirror. He was behind her, coming out of the bathroom with a towel over his head, roughly drying his dark hair. His undershirt clung to him, sticking to damp skin, and, as she turned around to steal a better look at him, her gaze slid down his hips and legs to the hem of his jeans and bare feet.
Zuko pulled the towel off his head.
“Um.” Crap. So much for the impact she wanted to have. Met with those pretty, gold eyes and a light flush on his cheeks, Katara couldn’t think. There was no witty line, no smile; she couldn’t even remember how to close her mouth, how to stop gawking, until Zuko cleared his throat.
She mimicked the sound, then spun back around on her heel, deciding this was the opportune time to occupy herself by braiding her hair. “I’m… ready to go whenever you are,” she said, finding her voice again. “Just, uh—” Katara spotted a hair tie on her dresser and twisted it around the end of her braid. “Yep. There. All ready.” Swallowing to collect herself, Katara tucked her hands in her back pockets and faced him. “Any thoughts on where you want to go?”
He couldn’t help it. When she turned, his eyes swept up her, catching on her chest at a little odd bump on the left side that confused him for about a split second before he realized—
—and she was talking to him. Asking him a question. How was that fair, when she obviously wasn’t wearing anything underneath her tank? Zuko gathered himself mentally and focused on what she was saying.
“I do have a place in mind, actually,” he said, happy that he managed a somewhat intelligible sentence. The fact that was mostly possible because she’d spun around away from him again did not escape him. How was he supposed to make it through breakfast?
Leaving that bridge alone until he had to cross it—in about fifteen minutes, a small voice in his brain unhelpfully reminded him—Zuko followed Katara’s suit and went to het bed, sitting on the mattresses again to tug on his boots. He surreptitiously checked his phone as he pulled it out of the boot he’d stuck it in last night; no new messages. It was also almost ten-thirty, which meant he would probably hear from Suki while they were at breakfast.
Zuko cast Katara a glance over his shoulder, and she was finishing up the braid over her shoulder. Worth it, he decided instantly.
He stood and slipped the rest of his belongings back into their respective pockets, then raked his hair back. There wasn’t much to do to style it without product, and of course he didn’t have any with him. It didn’t really matter, in any case
“You ready?” he asked as she faced him again and he determinedly kept his eyes on her face (nevermind his peripheral). At her nod he gathered his keys from her counter and followed her out of the small apartment. It was a nice little place, he thought, even if she hadn’t had time to put it all together yet. It’d look even better once she did. He could tell immediately from how she kept her bathroom that she was a normally tidy person, despite what all the boxes littering the rest of the studio indicated. No small part of him was hopeful that he’d be able to come back and see it after she got to the rest of it.
They chatted lightly about how nice a day it was on their way to his jeep. Once they got in, she asked him where they were going.
“It’s nothing fancy—just a little spot I like to go to sometimes on Sundays. You probably have been there before, honestly, but they have great croissant sandwiches.” His gaze flicked back over to her, a smile pulling at his mouth. “And waffles.”
The conversation in the car was easy, relaxed. It was like it’d been before her ex had come along last night, but with a little less awkwardness. Which, in of itself, was surprising to Zuko. After what they’d… almost did on her couch and after sleeping in the same bed together, waking up nose-to-nose, Zuko would have thought he’d been a mess of awkward, tripping over sentences and unable to handle the situation like a normal human being. But, instead, everything felt comfortable with her. It was like what had happened was okay, and that they didn’t have to worry about it so much. There was something about Katara that put Zuko at ease, and he couldn’t place his finger on it.
He had to loop around the diner twice before snatching up a spot on the street that another person pulled out of. Katara commented on how smoothly—and quickly—he parallel parked into the space, and he couldn’t quite keep a smug little smile off his face.
“Lots of practice, coming into the city proper. I live a bit further out, and my place happens to have its own driveway,” he told her with a shrug. Okay, so he was showing off a bit. He liked the way she reacted when she liked what he did; she was so very open with expressing if something pleased her, and it made Zuko’s chest fill with a lightness that almost made him feel giddy.
That giddiness followed him out of the car and onto the sidewalk again with her, walking side by side as they approached the diner. As they neared, he gestured. The neon sign in the window greeted them.
“The Village Cafe. Welcome to my Sunday spot.”