Thinking Out Loud @jacqstoned
I Do

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.

A/N: The rating goes up here, people! When this fic started, I had no idea we would get to this place, and yet here we are and I felt that the… ahem, maturity that comes with this chapter is something that the characters deserve. Plus I couldn't just leave you guys hanging after all the pining. So enjoy! Cheers!


CHAPTER 34: I Do

"Why is this plane so small?" hisses Zuko, clutching at his armrests as the aircraft taxies on the runway.

"Well, Kyoshi Island is an island, Zuko," laughs Katara. "They don't exactly have a big airport."

"Are we going to land on the water?" asks Zuko incredulously. Katara snickers.

"No, but it's fun to know you're afraid of something as trivial as flying," she says, nudging his shoulder. Zuko glares at her.

"I'm not afraid of flying," he replies, still holding onto his armrests for dear life, "I'm afraid of dying in this small, rickety excuse for an airplane that might as well double up as a coffin."

"Want some of my snacks?" offers Aang from the window seat. "Eating might distract you!"

"Sure, 'cause plunging to my death while full of sodium is something I've always dreamed of," mutters Zuko through gritted teeth— the plane is gaining speed now, and any moment they'll be taking off. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, his heart thumping in his throat—

Katara's hand closes around his and he's distracted enough to open his eyes and look at her. She smiles at him and holds out the in-flight magazine.

"Wanna see what Kyoshi looks like?"

"W-What?" he asks, perplexed. "Is this supposed to help me or something?"

"Who knows? I just wanna show you all the stuff you should look forward to," shrugs Katara, tucking a loose curl behind her ear, still smiling secretively. She flips through the magazine and points at a picture. "Look. Here's the statue of General Kyoshi in front of their museum. She fought for the island's independence from the mainland during Chin the Conqueror's era."

"Is that—" Zuko finally lets go of the armrests and leans in to take a better look at the photo. "Is that her armor? It's huge."

"Yep. She was a large lady," says Katara, before flipping the page and pointing at another picture. "This is the South Beach. This is where the wedding's gonna happen. It's got an amazing view of the sunset and it's actually where Sokka proposed to Suki."

"Are those traditional Earth Kingdom inns?" asks Zuko in wonder. "They still have those?"

"Kyoshi is a cultural hub," explains Katara. "They try not to change the exterior of the buildings too much, but the insides are a mix of modern and traditional."

"Yeah, all the bamboo stuff don't really hold up well against the storms," adds Aang, and Zuko's stomach swoops.

"They have storms? Is there a storm now?" he exclaims. Katara shoots Aang a look of annoyance and he grimaces.

"I checked the weather, Zuko, we're all gonna be okay," says Katara soothingly. "Springtime in Kyoshi is basically summer, but just a bit colder."

"Yeah! And they wouldn't let us fly in bad weather," assures Aang.

Zuko takes a deep breath and pinches the bridge of his nose.

"It's just a short flight," says Katara, rubbing her hand on his arm. "We'll be there in less than thirty minutes."

"Couldn't we have ridden a ferry?" complains Zuko, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Well, you didn't say you were afraid of flying when we booked our tickets," points out Katara.

"I'm not afraid of flying. I'm okay with flights from the Caldera to the Earth Kingdom," explains Zuko tiredly. "I'm— I'm just not okay with— with this surprisingly small and surprisingly loud plane, okay?"

Aang and Katara share a look and Aang shrugs helplessly before Katara suddenly snaps her fingers and digs out her earphones from her carry-on and dumps them on Zuko's lap.

"Put those on."

"What, are you gonna play me some calming whale sounds or something?" asks Zuko dryly. "'Cause that won't work."

Katara purses her lips and raises an eyebrow at him just as dryly.

"I know it won't work— the things that relax you are very, very few, but we can't exactly cook komodo chicken right now and I don't think you should drink whiskey in your current state," she says stubbornly, pressing the buds into his ears before connecting it to her phone jack. "This is just something else to distract you, since looking at the magazine didn't work and you don't wanna eat Aang's snacks."

Zuko frowns but obediently waits for a few moments— until Sokka's voice assails his ears.

"What the hell is this?" he exclaims.

Katara grins victoriously.

"It's Sokka's underground rap battle thing that he forced the gang to attend a few years back," she says, shoving her phone into his hands. Zuko watches the video with equal parts horror and amusement.

"Oh, god, he's horrible at it," he comments, watching Sokka perform on stage with his limbs flailing around like he's being electrocuted.

Aang laughs through a mouthful of chips.

"At some point you'll probably hear Toph heckling him in the background," he says. "The other guy even used Toph's insults in his rap."

"'I'm Sokka, it's pronounced with an okka'?" repeats Zuko, aghast. "That's not even a proper rhyme! He just basically repeated most of his name!"

"And he uses that line in all his raps," says Katara, rolling her eyes exasperatedly. "He calls it his 'signature'."

"We're all sick of it," remarks Aang laughingly. "He came up with it in his junior year in high school and he never stopped."

"So we stopped coming to most of his events," chuckles Katara. "He still manages to drag us into it from time to time, though."

Zuko continues to watch the video and he cringes in secondhand embarrassment when Sokka stutters on stage and spits out something almost unintelligible.

"'Squish, squash, sling that slang'?" Zuko half-laughs and half-groans, plastering a hand over his forehead. "What even is that?"

"Hey, I liked that part!" says Aang defensively. "It's alliteration! I think. Right?"

"Alliteration is good when you're using it properly, not spouting gibberish," says Katara with a tired laugh.

"Wait, did Toph just get kicked out of the bar?" asks Zuko.

"Oh, right, that happened!" exclaims Aang animatedly. "They thought she was underage and she forgot her IDs. Didn't help that she threatened to punch the manager."

"I bet that happens a lot," says Zuko. Katara giggles beside him.

"Like clockwork," she tells him. "It's kinda a habit for us to check if she has her IDs before going out, 'cause otherwise we'd get kicked out as well."

"Ugh, the other guy just slaughtered Sokka," comments Zuko, watching as the host raised Sokka's competitor's hand. The winner did a complicated victory dance and Sokka slouched off the stage. Zuko shakes his head.

"Oh my god, and to think I nearly let him convince me to write a poem," huffs Zuko in disbelief. "And to think Suki likes his poems. He can't even rhyme! Or use normal words, like a normal person!"

"Well, I guess that's love, huh?" says Aang, grinning.

"Yeah, and Suki still attends every single one of Sokka's rap battles," agrees Katara, taking her phone and earbuds back from Zuko. "She's his number one fan, and he gives her a shoutout every time."

"That's cute," says Zuko, settling down in his seat. He's able to keep it together as the seatbelt sign pings on and the captain announces their arrival on Kyoshi Island.

They walk down to the tarmac of a small airport seemingly built for only two planes at a time, grab their luggage, and head out.

Zuko had just barely gotten his bearings in the sunny parking lot when a man who resembles Katara and Sokka gets out of a car near them— both Aang and Katara rush to his side and hug him fiercely, and Zuko is filled with a new kind of fear.

Katara waves him over and he does so, his legs feeling like they are made of lead. Zuko's a few inches taller than the man, but knowing who he is makes Zuko feel like a scared child all over again.

"Dad, this is Zuko. You know, Sokka's other best man," Katara says. "Zuko, this is my dad, Hakoda."

Zuko offers his hand mechanically, his brain seemingly detached from his body.

"H-Hello, Sir Hakoda— I mean, sir—"

"Oh, no need for all that sir nonsense!" Hakoda smiles, his eyes crinkling at the edges much like his children's, and he grasps Zuko's forearm in a strong grip. "Sokka and Katara have told me much about you, son."

"They— they did?" croaks out Zuko, feeling like all the breath in his lungs have been sucked away. "Wha— what did they say?"

"Oh, all good things, don't you worry," laughs Hakoda, before gesturing towards the car and taking Katara's bag. "Now, c'mon, why don't we get back to the hotel and have some lunch, hm? You three must be starving!"

So that's where Sokka gets his appetite, Zuko thinks, and Katara giggles beside him.

"Yeah, Gran-Gran and I had to cook enough food for an army because of them," she says, and Zuko blinks at her until he realizes he'd spoken out loud. He shakes his head to clear it and resolutely presses his lips together in case he says something even more embarrassing.

"Ah, speaking of your Gran-Gran," Hakoda tsks as he loads their bags into the trunk. "She'll have words with you for not seeing her and Pakku when they were in the neighborhood, you know."

"Oh, I'm well-prepared for a lecture," replies Katara haughtily, getting into the car with her nose in the air. She slides into the front seat and crosses her arms over her chest. "They were only in town overnight, anyway, and it was finals week! She knows what that's like, being married to Pakku."

"Alright, alright," says Hakoda resignedly, getting into the driver's seat while Aang and Zuko climb into the back. "How are your studies?"

Katara beams and launches into a lengthy compilation of anecdotes of her time at Roku's, Aang chiming in with a question or two every now and then, and despite Zuko's fears of being cornered into a conversation with Hakoda, he finds it easy to add to Katara's stories, and before long they have arrived at the hotel.


"It's so beautiful!"

Katara throws her arms up and runs past the hotel's alfresco dining area and onto the beach itself. She breathes in the salty ocean breeze and sighs happily.

"I can't believe that in all the months I've been in Roku's, I haven't gone to the beach for some me time," she mutters to herself, before she hears shuffling sand behind her and an old, gravelly voice speaks out.

"Well, if you were that busy, it's no wonder you didn't have the time to see us," Kanna chides, and Katara turns around and smiles tiredly at her grandmother.

"I'm surprised you heard me," she jokes, folding herself into Kanna's outstretched arms.

"Your step-grandfather finally convinced me to get hearing aids," she laughs, holding Katara tight. "Of course, you'd know that if you dropped by your brother's when we were there."

"Oh, c'mon, Gran-Gran, it was just one night, and you fall asleep right when I get off work, anyway!" she tells her, pulling back a little. Kanna shakes her head with a smile and clasps Katara's face between two withered hands.

"I've just missed you, that's all, my dear," she says. "It is good to see that you are in better shape than the last time we saw you."

"The last time you saw me was at Suki and Sokka's engagement party," laughs Katara. "I look exactly the same, Gran-Gran."

"Oh, old eyes can see past your youthful face," Kanna says sagely, before looping her arm around Katara's and trudging slowly back into the shade. "So, tell me— when will I meet him?"

"W-What?" Katara stammers, sure she misheard her grandmother. "Who will you be meeting?"

"Oh, come now, child, don't hide things from me," says Kanna sternly. "Only a man will put that glow in a young lady's eyes. Now, who is he? Did he arrive with you today?"

"Gran-Gran!" squeaks Katara, blushing to the roots of her hair. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

Her grandmother just scoffs and continues her slow trek back to the hotel. Katara is forced to assist her— or, more likely, steer her away from the lobby, where Zuko and Aang are checking in. Her father had left them to pick up their family friend, Bato, when his flight arrived earlier than expected.

"Alright, Katara, if you won't tell me who it is," says Kanna shrewdly before they reach the reception area, "Just do me a kindness and answer honestly— Is he treating you well?"

Katara wills her blush to subside and makes the mistake of glancing past the glass doors at Zuko's shadowed figure. A smile creeps up her face involuntarily and she sighs in resignation.

"Yes, he is," she tells her grandmother, who nods and pats her hand.

"That's good. After you lost yourself with that— that boy, I prayed to the spirits that I would see your eyes light up again," Kanna tells her gravely. Katara furrows her brows in concern.

"I'm sorry to make you worry like that, Gran-Gran," she says sincerely. "I just thought you didn't approve of Aang because he was younger."

"Bah, who cares about age?" Kanna waves her hand. "He is a sweet child, but for him to be with someone like you, who had to grow up all too quickly— ah, well, I did not want you to suffer that imbalance."

"Oh, Gran-Gran."

She embraces her again and Kanna chuckles, lightly patting her back.

"You see what you miss when you do not come to see me, hm?"

"Yes, yes," Katara laughs shakily. "I'll try to visit when I can."

"Bring your man along, too, since you're not ready to introduce him now," says Kanna slyly. Katara grabs her hand before she could enter the hotel.

"Actually, Gran-Gran, I'll introduce you," she says without thinking. Her grandmother raises a wispy white eyebrow at her.

"Really, now?"

"Well, um—" Katara swallows, feeling the blush creep up across her cheeks again, "We're not, um, we're not technically together yet, but— but he told me he loves me a couple of months ago and I just, uh, haven't told him that I love him. Yet."

Kanna rolls her eyes to the heavens with a sigh.

"But do you love him, child?"

"I do." She says it without doubt or hesitancy. "He's been so good to me, Gran-Gran— he took care of me when I had the flu and he knows me so well and he's seen the absolute worst parts of me and he's still here and when we fight he doesn't run away or force me into anything, he just tries to understand where I'm coming from and he actually does things to correct his mistakes—"

She stops her rambling at the knowing smile on her grandmother's face.

"Alright, alright," says Kanna. "I just wanted to hear you say it. So, where is this mysterious gentleman?"

"Gran-gran," wheedles Katara, "Please don't act all… grandmother-y on him."

"Why not? Seems like he will be my grandson in the future," replies Kanna offhandedly. Katara groans.

"You know what I mean!" she exclaims. "Just please remember that I haven't told him that I love him."

Kanna snorts.

"Oh, I'm sure he already knows," she says, ambling into the hotel. "You are very easy to read, my dear."

Katara pouts and follows her as she lumbers to the lobby. Kanna suddenly stops ahead of her and beckons Katara with a bony finger.

"My eyesight is not as it was, but is he the one with the scar?" she asks in a low voice. Katara nods subtly, and her grandmother's brows shoot up. "What in heaven's name happened to the poor thing?"

"It's not my place to tell you, Gran-Gran," says Katara lowly, before smiling softly in Zuko's direction. "But it's a testament to his strength and bravery. I just don't think you should ask him about it. It's a touchy subject."

"Well, I'll have to take your word for it," says Kanna, approaching Aang and Zuko, who are sitting on one of the couches, surrounded by luggage.

"Gran-Gran!"

Aang immediately shoots to his feet at the sight of Kanna. He holds out his arms as though to hug her, but Kanna just stares at him flatly until he coughs and lowers his arms with an awkward chuckle.

"It's, uh, good to see you," he finishes lamely, scratching the back of his head.

"It is good to see you, too, Aang," says Kanna, more out of politeness than actual pleasure. She focuses her attention on Zuko, who has also stood up. "And who are you, young man?"

Zuko straightens up hastily and squeezes past Aang, his feet getting caught on the bags at his feet. He clears his throat and holds out his hand for Kanna to shake.

"H-Hello, ma'am, I'm Zuko— I'm Sokka's, um, other best man," he stammers, hand still hanging in between them.

Kanna appraises him with narrowed eyes before finally shaking his hand.

"Hello, Zuko," she says, their handshake going for a little longer than normal. She pats his hand with more warmth than she greeted Aang. "My name is Kanna, but you can call me Gran-Gran."

"Oh, um, a-alright," Zuko's eyes flick to Katara, who gives him a small, encouraging smile behind her grandmother's back. Zuko nods and some weight seems to slide off his shoulders. "It's nice to meet you, uh, Gran-Gran."

"Likewise." Kanna glances slyly at Katara, who widens her eyes warningly at her. Her grandmother chuckles dryly and leads her out to the hotel's beachfront restaurant, calling over her shoulder, "Now that we all know each other, how about some lunch? Leave those bags to my husband, he's been doing nothing all day."

Katara snorts.

"How is Gran-Pakku dealing with retirement?" She asks, helping her grandmother navigate the shallow steps going down to the alfresco area of the restaurant. "The only thing I've heard from him is that the cold is not good for his back."

"Oh, you know Pakku," laughs Kanna, "He's nosing around the new dean's leadership style, always spouting nonsense about how she should do this or that. It's a miracle he hasn't been banned on campus."

"Well, he's an institution at Northern," giggles Katara, settling her grandmother down in an empty table and sitting beside her. "I don't think they can kick him out if they tried."

"Your grandfather was a professor at Northern?" asks Zuko across from them, pausing halfway through opening the menu. Katara raises an eyebrow at him and he has the grace to blush. "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, I just— how could they— I mean, why didn't they treat you fairly, even with that on your side?"

"Ah, I see he knows about you and your business at Northern," comments Gran-Gran, not even bothering to lower her voice. "He does know you well."

"W-What?" asks Zuko, flustered.

"Gran-Gran!" hisses Katara, only to be met with a laugh. She shakes her head and turns to Zuko. "First of all, Gran-Pakku is my step-grandfather. Yes, he was a professor at Northern, and before he got reacquainted with Gran-Gran, he was one of the toughest professors I had to get through. Northern is a small university so we only had a few professors and instructors, and he was terrorizing me every other subject! I had convinced all the other teachers to hand out grades fairly, but he still wouldn't budge, and I'd been putting up with his sour old face for two years!"

"Stubborn old fool," clucks Gran-Gran, fumbling with the reading glasses at her neckline while holding a menu. "But he does admit his pride often gets in his way."

"Yeah, it took acing all his final exams to finally make him see that girls can get better grades than guys," huffs Katara, rolling her eyes. "Or maybe it was just 'cause Gran-Gran gave him a call."

"Oh, I enjoyed that call," sighs Kanna. "It is not everyday that you can yell at a former lover for reasons other than your history."

"So, what should we order?" interrupts Aang, visibly uncomfortable at the term 'lover' coming out of an eighty-year-old woman's mouth. He points frantically at his menu. "I think I'm gonna get the vegetable wrap and the spicy pickled kelp— it's a delicacy!"

"Ooh, they have seared wild elephant koi," says Katara, her eyes lighting up. "Suki and I had it when I came to visit once. It's so huge it can feed four people!"

"Let's get that. I'll give Pakku the leftovers," says Kanna decidedly. Aang calls for the waiter and they've barely given their orders when the elderly woman rounds on Zuko. "So, Zuko. Tell me, how long have you known my grandchildren?"

"Gran-Gran," hisses Katara, but Kanna just stares at her flatly until she falls back into her chair with a roll of her eyes.

"Uh—" Zuko clears his throat uncomfortably. "M-More than a year, ma'am."

"A little close to two now, actually," supplies Katara. Zuko nods in agreement.

"You must have made quite an impression on my grandson to make you one of his best men," comments Kanna, clasping her hands on top of the table. Zuko's lips twitch into an almost-smile.

"I honestly don't know what I did," he admits, "I only met him because my roommate, Toph, dragged me to his engagement party."

Kanna laughs delightedly.

"Oh, when is Toph flying in?" She asks. "I've missed that wild child."

Katara grins.

"Tomorrow around noon," she says, before adding excitedly, "She's got a serious girlfriend now, can you imagine? They're meeting the parents and everything!"

"Ah, how wonderful for that little daredevil," chuckles Kanna. "Lao would have a heart attack!"

"Uncle Lao is still in the Fire Nation, right?" Aang asks the table in general. There's a pause before Zuko answers.

"Yeah," he says, fiddling with his napkin. "He calls Toph about twice a month. She's still not sharing anything important with him, but it could be worse. At least she's taking his calls."

"She's a strong girl, that one," says Kanna. "I am not too worried. She knows how to carve her own path."

"I knew it was really hard for her to confront her dad, but I'm glad she did," says Aang softly as the waiter comes around with their orders. Kanna finally regards him with a warm smile.

"She was lucky, then, that you were there for her," she says knowingly. Aang beams at her, and the conversation flows more freely as they dig into their food.


Zuko sits down by the ocean, letting the breeze ruffle his hair as he watches the sun set. He is surprised by the unexpectedly warm welcome he got from Katara's family— or maybe normal families are just like that, he mused. His mind wanders to his sister and the issues Aang had told him about First Sozin, and he shakes his head fiercely, trying not to let the gloom filter into his thoughts.

"Hey."

He shifts and sees Katara approaching him, mouth set with fierce determination. He suddenly remembers all the things left unsaid between them, and his heart jumps to his throat. She sits on the ground in front of him, nearly silhouetted by the sunset, their legs brushing against each other.

Her eyes are the exact shade of the ocean behind her, its usual bright blue tinted with the rays of the dying sun, and Zuko finds himself arrested by every move she makes.

"Zuko," she begins, eyes gleaming, "I wanted to talk to you about something."

His heart thunders against his ribs. Thoughts shoot rapid-fire through his head— Was this about her family's impression of him? Did he misread the situation? Did they hate him now that they met him in person? Or was this finally about her half-asleep confession? Did she remember it now? Was she here to tell him it was all a mistake? Was she going to laugh at him for thinking he had a chance?

"What is it?" he manages to say.

She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. Her cheeks visibly redden, and suddenly, Zuko's heart is pounding for a different reason.

"I—" Their eyes lock, and her hands find his and hold on tight.

"Zuko, I'm in love with you."

Zuko gapes at her, at a loss for words. She bites her lip and looks down at their clasped hands and fidgets. He feels the nervous tremor in her fingers and he realizes he still hasn't said anything so he blurts out the first thing that comes to mind—

"Please tell me you're not half-asleep."

Katara bursts into giggles, her eyes twinkling with amusement as she meets his gaze again. His eyes are wide with a mixture of panic and bewilderment.

"Zuko," she laughs, shaking her head. "Why would you even ask me that?"

"Um… it's just that— that, uh—"

Some of the laughter slides off Katara's face. She tilts her head and leans closer.

"Zuko? What is it?"

Zuko inhales deeply and all the words rush out in one breath.

"You said you loved me when you were half-asleep and had the flu."

Katara's eyes widen and she pulls her hands away, only to slap both of them to her cheeks in horror.

"Oh my god," she says, voice choked. "Oh my god, did I really?"

It's Zuko's turn to laugh, the absurdity of the whole situation catching up to him. He pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Yes," he says, still laughing slightly and shaking his head. "And I've spent weeks trying to figure out the right way to talk to you about it but I couldn't catch you alone. It was driving me crazy."

"We spent the whole day after Sokka's bachelor party together!" exclaims Katara. "Why didn't you say anything then?"

"Well, by then, Sokka had already convinced me that I should let you decide when you'll… tell me how you feel," shrugs Zuko, his cheeks reddening. "And, honestly, I— uh, I didn't expect this. Part of me thought you only said you loved me 'cause I took care of you when you were sick, or something."

Something shifts in her eyes and she reaches out, placing her hand tenderly on his left cheek, and instinctively he leans into it.

"Well, I'm telling you this now and I'm making it clear," she says solemnly, though her eyes are sparkling, "I love you, and I'm not half-asleep."

She sighs and runs her thumb along the ridges of his scar. His breath hitches.

"I think I've loved you for a while now," she murmurs. "I'm sorry it took me so long to say it."

"You have nothing to apologize for," he whispers back, the air between them so delicate that it seems the slightest movement would break it. "I didn't even think that it was possible for someone like you to fall in love with someone like me."

"You know, it was pretty easy to fall for you," she chides, her fingers moving to the corner of his lips. "I just wish I realized it sooner."

Then she smiles that smile of hers that he could never get enough of, and it snatches all the breath from him and he feels lightheaded from the joy and disbelief thrumming in his veins. She loves him. His own lips curve into a smile and he cradles her face in his trembling hands. She looks up at him, eyes hooded in anticipation, and he lightly, gently presses his lips against hers— it is a chaste, almost heartbreakingly innocent moment, but the heat between them flares and it is all he could do to slow it down and let it simmer.

"Zuko…"

She murmurs her name like a prayer— she tastes like hope and happiness, her arms feel like home. She slowly leans forward and kisses his scarred cheek, traces her lips to his jaw, whispers into his ear— I love you so much, and I want to be with you— and everything in Zuko snaps like a matchstick struck against flint.

His lips find hers hungrily and she kisses him back with equal fervor, her hands burying themselves in his hair, his arms tight around her waist. The world shrinks into rumbling moans and needy gasps before expanding into a labyrinth of sensations that they begin to explore—

Katara suddenly pulls away, panting harshly.

"Not— not here," she says, clambering to her feet unsteadily.

Zuko blinks at her, dazed, before slapping a hand to his forehead and getting on his feet as well.

"Right! I'm sorry— I didn't think— you're right, I don't want to rush this either— we can go as slow as you want—"

"Zuko," says Katara pointedly, giggling. She reaches for his hand and squeezes it reassuringly. "I didn't say we had to stop, I just meant we shouldn't do it here, where my whole family can walk in on us at any moment."

Zuko swallows and gapes at her.

"You mean—?"

Katara smirks deviously and tugs him close.

"I'll be all alone in my room until tomorrow afternoon," she says, sidling closer and standing on her tiptoes to lightly graze his earlobe with her teeth. Zuko shivers and groans, but before he could do anything, she steps out of arm's reach, still smiling slyly. "Would you care to join me until then?"

"Thought you'd never ask," says Zuko as solemnly as he could, fighting back a huge grin. He follows her up the gentle slope of the beach and nearly stumbles on the sand. Katara giggles ahead of him as he shakes out his clothes and catches up to her. "Looks like half the beach will be tagging along with us."

"Hmm, maybe we'd have to take a shower, then," comments Katara, almost offhandedly. Zuko's mouth goes dry.

"You're killing me," he mutters.

Katara chuckles and threads her fingers through his, then leads the way to one of the balconies of the ocean-view rooms.

"Don't die yet, 'cause I've been waiting for this for a long time, y'know," she says, peering up at him from under her lashes, and for the first time, there is a hint of shyness in her voice. Zuko smiles softly and pulls her back to face him, kissing her intently.

"You and me both," he murmurs against her lips, and she laughs, her breath tickling him like feathers and sending shivers up his spine.

"Let's get going, then," she mutters, all but dragging him to her room.

The second the tinted sliding doors close, Zuko catches her by the waist and she snakes her arms over his shoulders. Zuko sighs and presses his forehead against hers.

"I never thought this was going to happen," he confesses quietly. "I thought I was gonna go insane not knowing how you actually felt."

"Well, it's real and I'm not going anywhere," says Katara, sliding her hands down to his chest. Zuko's lips twitch into a crooked smile and she kisses the corner of his mouth tenderly. "I love you, Zuko."

His eyes darken, sending a thrill through her spine, the heat in his gaze enough to reignite the fire in her belly.

"Katara…" he whispers her name with such devotion that it makes her knees weak, "I love you, too."

Then, he closes the distance between them.

Katara breathes a sigh of relief and pulls him closer as he tightens his arms around her waist. She hungrily opens her mouth against his and he responds just as insistently— one hand slides up her back to tangle in her hair and she moans against his lips as shivers run through her spine. She takes his bottom lip between her teeth and the low, guttural sound he makes sparks embers throughout her whole body— she gasps when he moves his mouth to the line of her jaw and the curve of her neck, each kiss searing through her skin—

They stumble unsteadily through the room, blindly shrugging off articles of clothing— his shirt, her top, her skirt, his shoes— until Katara feels the cold wall against her back. Zuko's hands find her thighs and he lifts her, pinning her to the wall with his hips. She locks her legs around him and buries her hands in his hair and groans in satisfaction as he rakes his teeth from her neck to her clavicle and up again to the soft spot just below her ear. She whimpers and grinds against him, and the moan she elicits from him is the most delicious thing she's ever heard. He shifts her higher and nibbles at the exposed flesh of her breasts, making her pant harshly and pull him even closer. His breathing is ragged as he works off her bra with one hand, the other firmly clasped on her bottom, and when her bra finally falls away he doesn't waste any time and flicks his searing tongue over her sensitive peaks and she finds herself keening in delight.

"Zuko— please—"

Suddenly, he sets one of her legs down and pushes off the wall. Katara blinks at him as she tries to steady herself.

"What are you—?"

Her question dies in her throat and turns into a shuddering gasp when he slides down and swirls his tongue down the valley of her breasts, the planes of her stomach, and around her navel. She clutches at his shoulder when she feels his hot breath against the waistband of her underwear.

"Zuko."

He pauses at her tone, looking up at her from where he is kneeling, her other leg now on his shoulder.

"What is it?" he rasps, rubbing his knuckles soothingly against her thigh. "Do you want to stop?"

She swallows and shakes her head slightly.

"It's just, uh—" she blushes and resists the urge to cover her face with her hands. "I have no idea what you're about to do, and it's making me nervous. I— I mean, shouldn't I be the one in your position now?"

"The one in my—" he repeats incredulously, almost angrily, before audibly snapping his mouth shut and shaking his head. "Don't you— don't you want me to… to... take care of you first?"

"Take care of me?" she echoes, tilting her head at him. "What does that mean?"

Zuko grins wolfishly at her, and liquid heat pools at the bottom of her stomach.

"Do you really want to know?"

His tone is light, but under his teasing smile is that gentle touch and mindful look that she fell in love with, and even as jitters flutter in her stomach, she couldn't help but feel safe— safe enough to know that she wants him, that she wants this.

"Yes," she replies breathlessly. "Show me."

His eyes never leave hers as his hands skim the side of her legs, coming to a stop at her hips. His fingers tug at her underwear, and she shimmies out of his grasp for a moment to get rid of it before facing Zuko again. She feels oddly powerful, standing over him as he sits on his knees staring up at her, lips slightly open, eyes drinking her in.

It's something she never felt before, and she already likes it too much.

"Well?" she asks, hooking her knee over his shoulder again, "What did you want to show me?"

He smirks at her and plants light kisses on the inside of her thigh, the leathery skin of his scar chafing at her, sending thrills throughout her body. Her breath hitches as he approaches her center—

Jolts of lightning thrum through her nerves as his tongue presses into her folds, swiping and sucking at the sensitive skin with growing ferocity— she tightens her leg around him and he delves deeper and deeper, leaving her gasping for air. She pushes her hips against him greedily and he easily slides a finger into her, curling and uncurling it to match the rhythm of his tongue until all she could feel is tight, enveloping heat and all she could see are blinding white stars—

"Zuko— please—"

He gasps and presses his thumb against her center, his fingers still working wetly against her. She moans and grinds her hips against his hand.

"Tell me," he says, his breath as labored as hers, voice as laced with desire, "Tell me what you want."

"More," she pants, and her hands clutch at his hair as he buries his face between her legs again— his tongue swirls around the sensitive nub of skin hungrily and she keens as his fingers quicken their pace. "There— yes, oh my god, Zuko—"

All the tension snaps and she flings a hand to her mouth to muffle her scream, her body convulsing. She almost slides down the wall before Zuko catches her in his arms.

"Hey," he says, also breathing harshly, "You okay?"

Katara smiles at him, still a little dazed, and tugs him down, kissing him sloppily, her legs still trembling under her.

"I'm more than okay. That was—" she laughs breathily, leaning against him, "I've never experienced it that way before. That was amazing."

"I'd ask, 'Really?' but you were pulling at my hair hard enough to leave a bald spot," he jokes, and she swats him lightly on the chest before he suddenly scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the bed.

She wonders how she must look right now, all flushed and sweaty and frazzled, but the way he stands in front of her, gazing at her as though she is the only thing he wants to look at for the foreseeable future, makes all her insecurities melt away.

So she sits up and tugs on his hand, leading him to the bed.

"Come on," she says, pushing on his chest and climbing on top of him, "Now it's your turn."

"You don't have to do that, Katara," he says, and Katara raises an eyebrow at him as she unbuttons his jeans.

"I'd say, 'Really?' but I can feel how hard you are right now, Zuko," she replies teasingly, tugging down his pants and running her fingers over his bulge. He groans and kicks off his jeans, and Katara laughs, emboldened enough to straddle him again.

She trails her fingers down his chiseled chest to his toned stomach, marveling at the way his muscles clenched and rippled, admiring all his sharp angles and soft edges. She skims his jutted hipbones and hooks her fingers under the waistband of his boxers—

"Shit, Katara— w-wait."

She glances up at him and he props himself up on his elbows, a strangled look on his face.

"I didn't— I didn't bring protection," he admits, his cheeks reddening. "I didn't want to assume anything and I didn't want to be tempted in the slightest bit if you didn't want to—"

"Zuko," laughs Katara, sitting back on her heels and lightly tracing patterns over his covered erection. Zuko groans and shakes his head adamantly at her, but she continues, "There's some stashed in the bedside table."

His brow shoots up and he grapples with the drawer, extracting a couple of packets of condoms. He grins lopsidedly at her.

"Should I be flattered that you prepared for this?"

Katara shrugs slyly and makes a show of tugging his boxers down.

"Oh, you know me, I try to be prepared for anything," she says casually, gathering her hair on one side before gripping him tightly.

"Katar— ahh—"

She takes as much of him as she could in her mouth and grasps the rest with her hand. She hollows out her cheeks and moves her head vigorously, lavishing her tongue up and down his length and around his tip with steadily increasing speed, her hands furiously pumping to the rhythm of her movements.

"Katara." The sheets shift in her peripheral vision and she glances up to see his fists clutching the fabric, all his muscles flexed, throat bobbing as he gasps. "Dammit, that feels so good—"

She hums against him and he involuntarily bucks into her mouth— she quickens her pace and sucks even harder and he nearly rips out the sheets from the mattress—

He sits up and she releases him with a pop, and he reaches frantically for her, mouth finding hers desperately, their tongues dancing together as he pulls her into his lap, his hand tangled in her hair. She pushes him down onto the bed and he falls back with no resistance, his hands finding the small of her back and the curve of her bottom. She grabs a condom and rolls it on him.

Her heart thunders in her chest.

She meets his burning gaze and sees the same vulnerability she's feeling reflected in his eyes. She smiles softly and leans forward, her hair falling like a curtain around them, and kisses him tenderly. He kisses her back, just as sweetly, and she shivers in anticipation as she positions herself above him.

He slides into her easily, and she closes her eyes as she braces her hands on his abdomen, getting accustomed to his girth. She hisses out a breath as she buries him to the hilt.

"Are you… is this— is this okay?" he asks.

She opens her eyes and a giggle bursts out of her.

"You don't look okay," she says, teasingly moving her hips. A long, drawn out moan slips out of him and he scrunches his face in concentration. Katara moves her hips again. "You think you can hang in there?"

"Yes," he says, his eyes snapping open and meeting hers in a challenge. The look sends sparks pulsing through Katara, and she smirks impishly at him.

"Really?" She asks, working her hips faster now, relishing the way those fiery eyes never leave hers. "How long can you go, Zuko?"

His eyes darken even more and he lifts one hand away from her back.

"Two can play at this game, you know," he rasps, eyes glinting dangerously, before licking two of his fingers and suddenly slipping them at the point where their bodies meet.

Katara cries out and tips forward, hands digging into his shoulders— he doesn't miss a beat and thrusts into her, fingers still pressed between her folds, and Katara collapses onto her elbows with a keening moan. Zuko buries his face in her hair, breathing in the scent of her sweat and arousal, and snaps his hips up even faster, almost lifting them both off the bed. She meets him thrust for thrust, grinding against his hand, their flesh slamming wetly against each other— then Katara gasps and Zuko feels her tightening tantalizingly around him, and he works his fingers harder against her, thrusting erratically now, determined to get her to the peak—

Katara bites into his shoulder with a muffled scream and shudders against him before her hips stutter to a stop. Her breath is hot on his neck and he could feel her trembling all over.

He hears her huff in amusement as he runs his hand over her back.

"You were right, two can play at that game."

"Oh, I'm not done playing."

He flips her onto her back and kisses her fiercely, taking her bottom lip between his teeth and sucking on it before making his way down to nibble at her neck, careful not to create any marks. He slowly runs his tongue down to her breasts, something he noted that she liked, before taking one of her nipples in his mouth and swirling his tongue around it.

Katara groans and tugs at his hair impatiently.

"Zuko, please—"

"Yeah?" He asks, feigning innocence while moving onto the other nipple, making her arch her back and whimper. Zuko lightly traces his tongue around the peak. "Is there something you want me to do?"

"Please, I just—" He sucks on the side of her left breast and she gasps and pushes her pelvis against his abdomen. "I want you inside me, Zuko."

He grins crookedly at her and slips a finger inside her. She lets out a needy whine and Zuko couldn't help but chuckle.

"More, Zuko, oh my god—"

Zuko obliges and slides into her again, throwing her legs on his shoulders and leaning forward on his hands— she tugs him down for a kiss that turns into a stifled scream as he begins to move, faster and faster and faster until she is grasping frantically at the sheets and the pillows and muffling her cries with her fist. She is tight around him again, pulsing and throbbing deliciously around him, and this time he does lift her hips off the bed and he pounds and snaps his hips against hers, nothing else matters but the heat and the sounds she makes and the way her hair unfurls across the bed—

She shrieks into her hand and he follows not a second after, shattering like waves on the shore. He lets out a groan and his hips judder to a stop.

He pulls out of her, the two of them still panting harshly, and he ties off the condom, getting halfway out of bed to throw it in the trash can. He clambers back in and peels the sheets from under them before covering them both and throwing an arm around Katara's waist.

"That was great," murmurs Katara, turning in his arms to face him. Her eyes are bright and her cheeks are flushed, her hair sticking to her sweaty temples, and it is the most beautiful thing Zuko has ever seen. She giggles and tangles her legs with his. "I didn't peg you for a cuddler. That's a nice surprise."

He brushes her hair from her cheeks and plants a kiss on her forehead, feather-light, a stark contrast to the ones they shared before.

"I'm usually not, so you better make the most of it," he teases, kissing her shoulder and pulling her close. Katara hums sleepily against his chest and he strokes her hair quietly, basking in the afterglow, when a thought occurs to him.

"Hey."

"Hm?"

"We're… together now, right?" He asks, and Katara laughs and emerges from the nook between his arms.

"Yes, Zuko, we're together now," she replies, eyes twinkling. She pokes his chest with her finger. "Unless you don't want to."

"How can you say that?" exclaims Zuko. "Of course I want to be with you!"

"Relax, I'm just teasing," giggles Katara. She lifts herself up by her elbow and looks intently at him. "You don't have to keep asking, you know."

"Okay, okay," he twists a lock of her hair around his finger before continuing. "So, when are we gonna start telling people? About, y'know… about us?"

"Oh no," gasps Katara, eyes widening. "We can't tell anyone until after the wedding!"

"Why? If this is about your father's approval—"

"Oh, no— Dad already loves you, it's fine. If anything, it's Gran-Pakku you need to worry about," says Katara breezily. Zuko opens his mouth to retort, but she cuts in, "Besides, the bigger problem is— god, can you imagine how Toph would react?"

Zuko feels his face pale in horror.

"Oh. Oh shit, she'll have a field day," he says. "We'll never hear the end of it."

"Exactly!" exclaims Katara. "And that would totally steal Suki and Sokka's thunder!"

Zuko raises his eyebrow at her.

"I think it's safe to say your brother's okay with us getting together," he tells her, but Katara shakes her head.

"I'm not worried about him— it's just, the one thing Suki wanted was to be treated like a queen on her special day, and I am not about to ruin that for her," she says. "I mean, Toph packs a punch, but Suki? Suki can literally kill me with her bare hands."

Memories of Suki warning him to keep Sokka's spending in check filter through Zuko's mind, and he shudders.

"Okay, so we won't tell them until after the wedding," he agrees. "Hey, uh, what was that you were saying about your step-grandfather?"

"Oh, Gran-Pakku just doesn't warm up easily to anyone," shrugs Katara. "Took him a year to get used to Sokka's puns."

"Great, so I'll keep my puns to myself at dinner, then," says Zuko wryly, but Katara just rolls her eyes at him.

"I'm pretty sure he's already heard all about you from Gran-Gran, anyway," she tells him. She kisses his cheek and slides off the bed, tugging on his hand. "Hey, speaking of dinner… wanna go freshen up together?"

He sits up and gapes at her.

"Really?"

Katara nods and makes her way to the bathroom, beckoning him with a sly glance over her shoulder. Zuko grins and follows her.

"Have I told you how lucky I am to have you?"

She smirks at him impishly.

"Well, you're about to get even luckier."


A/N: Dear god I hope you guys liked this chapter because this was the first time I ever wrote smut and I'll probably never do it again unless it's absolutely needed in the fic! I love reading 'em but I just find it so hard to actually write those kinds of scenes, I feel like my language is a bit off ahaha. Anyway, see you in the next chapter, please tell me what you think!

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