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New Year

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Her phone rang in her pocket, and she knew before she looked at the screen who was calling. A fond smile touched her lips as she pulled it out. “Yeah?”

Hey, sweetie,” her father’s voice was over-loud as it always was when he spoke on the phone, “Just checking up on you—you okay?

“Yeah, Dad, I’m fine,” she replied, “I just left the—BYE, YUE! … Yup, Happy New Year to you, too!—I just left the hospital. I should be home in twenty, twenty-five?”

Okay, but be safe,” he cautioned, “The roads are icy. I don’t want you getting into an accident just because you wanted to get home in time for the countdown.”

“Well, I do want to get home in time for the countdown.”

Her father’s exasperated sigh made her grin. She could just imagine him pinching the bridge of his nose. “You know what I mean.

“I do,” she agreed, “I’ll see you soon—love you!”

Love you, too.”

Hanging up, she glanced sideways before jogging across the slushy road to the parking structure across the street. The holidays were always a busy time for the hospital, and there’d been no space for her in the hospital parking lot. She was on the top floor—Level 6—and the stairwell was freezing cold but dry and devoid of ice, which was a welcome change. 

She was breathing hard by the time she got to the top, though, the chilly air burning in her throat as she panted slightly, and walked over carefully to where her car was parked. Vehicles had been moving in-and-out of the structure all day, so the snow and ice was mostly slush, and she’d always had a knack for walking on ice without slipping.

The top level was mostly empty, only her car and handful of others—most were like hers; small, old and relatively cheap. The sole exception was a red Mustang that screamed my dad has money. Rolling her eyes, she unlocked her car and stuffed her key into the ignition, and waited for her small, old and relatively cheap engine to tick over.

And waited.

…and waited…

and waited

Slowly, the realisation that her car just wasn’t going to move dawned. Frustrated, she let out a wordless yell and slammed her hands down on the steering wheel—first the handle, then the horn, and she cursed to the heavens and back over the long, loud HHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNKKK that echoed across the top of the structure.

Getting out of the car, she slammed the driver door closed and pulled out her phone, scrolling through her contacts. She couldn’t well ask her Dad to pick her up, and Sokka’s car was in the shop… Aang didn’t have a car… Toph was blind. With a sigh, she realised she only had one option, and pressed Dial, holding the phone up to her ear, and listening to it ringing.

And ringing.

And ringing.

Her stomach sank even lower as she realised he wasn’t going to pick up. And then, sure enough…

Hey! You’ve reached Jet! I can’t come to the phone right now—leave a message!” There was a beep and with gritted teeth Katara pulled the phone away, glared at it, and angrily jabbed the End Call button.

Turning to her car, she kicked the rear tyre, as if somehow that would make it start.

Damn it!” she snapped, “Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it—”

“Katara?” A blank, confused voice behind her made her freeze and cringe. She’d thought she was alone. She composed herself, straightened, took a deep breath, and turned to see who it was. As soon as she did, her self-consciousness was forgotten, and her face split into a blazing grin,

“Oh my god, Zuko!” she cried, stepping a few paces and throwing out her arms to pull him into a tight hug. He chuckled and hugged her back, “How are you? It’s been forever!

“Three years, Katara,” he corrected as they parted, “That’s hardly forever.”

“Oh, you know what I mean,” she waved this aside, “It’s good to see you.”

“You, too,” he agreed,

She smiled happily, then, “Seriously, what’re you doing here?” she asked incredulously, “I thought you were at your family’s holiday house in—”

“Yeah, things sort of… fell apart,” he replied, cutting across her in a way that suggested he really, really didn’t want to talk about it. “You know how it is—Dad, my uncle, Azula. Just… no.” He shook his head.

“When did you get back?”

“Just now,” he answered, turning slightly to show a rucksack he had slung over one shoulder. “I caught the last flight back. Lucky, really—the next one wasn’t ‘til tomorrow afternoon.”

“So you’re all alone?” she asked, frowning.

“Yup,” he nodded, popping the ‘p’ with a nonchalance that worried her a little.

“I… I’m sorry to hear that,” she murmured,

“Don’t be,” he told her, “Figured an empty house was better than one full of arguing. I mean, we all know what happened last time.” His joke fell hollow and flat, and Katara couldn’t help but dart her gaze to the burn that marred half of Zuko’s face. His father… had a temper. The ‘accident’—at best, far too nice a word, and at worst, an outright lie—had been in her sophomore year of high school. She’d already been working at the hospital as a trainee nurse—even at fifteen, she’d had the talent and the knowledge that she wanted to help people—and had seen him come in. It was ingrained into her mind, the image of him staggering dazedly, barely conscious, barely able to walk, propped upright by his Uncle, who was shouting desperately for help. It was the only time she’d known Iroh to raise his voice. For whatever reason, social services hadn't gotten involved.

“How is your Uncle?” she asked. He shrugged,

“Okay, I guess,” he replied, “He wanted to stay though—couldn’t tell you why. Anyway, enough about me—how’re you? I haven’t talked to you properly since we left high school.”

That had been three years ago. It seemed a lifetime away.

“Since you left, you mean,” she smiled, “I’m still right here.”

“Oh, you went local, then?” he asked. She nodded,

“Bachelors’ Nursing,” she replied, “I work at the hospital, too. Part-time. Hours are awful but the experience is good. What about you?”

“Politics,” he shrugged, “Foreign Relations. Pretty boring, actually, but hopefully I can do something with it.”

“That doesn’t sound boring at all,” she smiled, “You’ll be capable of real change, one day. That’s huge.”

He raised a neutral eyebrow, “I guess, one day. But not today.” He looked at her car, “Uh… you alright? I saw you kicking the tyre…”

She turned around and glanced at her car, suddenly embarrassed, “Oh, yeah…” she muttered. She’d forgotten about that, “Um… yeah, in retrospect, parking it on the top floor of an exposed parking structure was… not the best idea. Engine’s shot.”

“I could give you a ride home, if you like,” he offered. She stared,

“You have a car?” she blinked,

“Uh… yeah?” he replied, offering a slightly concerned smile, “I didn’t climb up all those stairs for the fun of it.” He pulled out a ring of car keys, jingling them with one hand and gesturing to the red Mustang with the other. “Drove back from college and parked it here. Was still here when we flew out, so… here I am.” He shrugged. “You want a ride?” he asked.

“Oh, Zuko…” she turned to him, “I really appreciate it, really, but I can’t ask that. We didn’t live anywhere near each other, that’s way too far out of your way—”

“Don’t worry about that,” he waved a hand dismissively, “All you’re keeping me from is an empty house and a fridge of beer. They can wait an extra hour. It’s freezing, Katara.”

He spoke, as he always did, in a sort of gruff rasp that always made him sound more irritated than he actually was—though to be fair, he was normally pretty irritated. There was a short-tempered exasperation when he said, "Let me give you a ride," like she was annoying him, like he was trying not to show how much he cared. She'd once found it no end of irksome, but now she knew it was a young man's awkward way of trying to help the people he cared about, it was kind of sweet.

And, she had to admit, the idea of walking for forty minutes in the ice and snow wasn’t all that appealing, even if she liked the cold and all the streets were well-lit.

“Well... I guess it would be rude of me to turn down such a generous offer,” she admitted with a smile. Zuko wasn’t one for smiling, she knew, but he gave her one just then, and it looked genuine.

The inside of his car was all black leather, cold from a week of sitting idle in the ice and snow. But it was quickly warmed by a competent heater system, and definitely a lot comfier than walking home alone. He twisted the key in the ignition and the engine thrummed to life without any of the complaints her car had had to offer. Carefully, Zuko inched them into the parking structure’s stairwell, down the levels and out into the main road, “You moved since we last saw each other?” he asked.

“I’ve got my own place, now,” she said, “But my dad’s hosting a New Year’s party, so, if you remember where I lived in high—”

“I do,” he promised, and turned right into the road. He drove with one hand on the wheel, Katara noticed, the other resting casually atop the gear-stick, waiting for when he needed to change gear. It was an oddly relaxed position, but she rather liked it. For many reasons, Zuko often came across as tense and tightly wound and just a moment away from snapping. Whether that meant anger or sadness was anyone’s guess with a family like his.

For a few minutes, they drove in silence, and it wasn’t uncomfortable, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant, either. Katara was used to constant noise and chatter—her brother, Aang, Suki, Toph, the patients at the hospital, colleagues like Yue. She wasn’t used to simple quiet. Zuko, on the other hand, disliked quiet not because he was used to it, but because quiet, for him, usually meant something loud and angry was waiting just around the corner. It was a timebomb and it unnerved him.

“So…” he said, breaching the silence to the relief of them both, “How’s everyone?” Not a question for the history books, but pleasant enough, and not so specific he might be encroaching upon things she didn’t want to talk about.

Katara shrugged, “Everyone’s good,” she replied, “Um… Oh! Sokka and Suki are engaged, now—that was a big deal.” She chuckled, at the memory, “Dad went ballistic. Said they were way too young—didn’t listen, though. They aren’t getting married anytime soon, they’re both broke. But, still… engagement’s a big step.”

Zuko nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. “It is,” he agreed, “And I did hear about that,” he said, “Sokka texted me—I’m invited to the wedding.”

“Oh, great!” she grinned, then smirked, “I'm Maid of Honour.”

“Very classy,” he remarked, nodding again. There was a pause, “And… everyone else?”

Katara thought, “Hm, well… not really any news on the Toph front, she’s the same as always. Aang started dating this girl named On Ji. She’s really nice, she—”

“Wait, wait, Aang started dating who?” Zuko cut across, glancing away from the road to stare at her, “You guys broke up?”

Katara blinked at him, “Uh… yeah,” she said, “Over a year, now. Didn’t… didn’t you know?”

He raised a doubtful eyebrow, “You think I’d be asking if I did?” he asked, “I haven’t had a proper conversation with any of you guys—except Sokka, I guess—in three years.”

“We all have been pretty busy…” she murmured, “We should try to do something this summer,” she mused thoughtfully.

“Yeah, actually, that sounds nice—” Zuko sounded sincere but also very distracted, “How come you guys broke up? He adored you.”

Katara flushed, “Adored is a strong word…” she muttered, but Zuko gave her another doubtful eyebrow, “Yeah, okay, he kind of did. But… that was part of the problem, I think. He had this idea of me in his head that I just couldn’t live up to, it was like I was on this pedestal, and… I just couldn’t do it. I was constantly worried about hurting his feelings or coming across as less-than-perfect and… after a while I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

“Oh…” Zuko said softly, and he moved his hand from the gear-stick to cover hers, folded demurely in her lap, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“No, it’s fine,” she said, offering a watery smile. “We’re still really good friends, I love him to bits, just… like a little brother, y’know?”

He nodded, “Yeah, I get that. I… I kind of see him as a little brother, too. Though,” he then added, “I didn’t live with him.”

Katara flushed. Aang was, technically, her brother, as her father Hakoda was his legal guardian. He and Aang’s father had been good friends—such good friends, in fact, that when Aang’s parents had died in a car crash when he was just a baby, Hakoda had fostered him. He was only a year younger than Katara—two years younger than Sokka and Zuko—and was something between a dear friend and a sibling. “Anyway…” she said, “They’re both really happy, it’s cute. I took up yoga just after we broke up, actually—it’s so good. Tai Chi, especially, just amazing.” She glanced at him, his eyes were on the road but an amused smirk tugged at his lips, “You could use it, I think,” she remarked, “It’s calming.”

A good-natured frown, “I’m calm,” he said, vaguely indignant,

Sure,” she dragged the word out, folding her arms and smirking, “Anyway, enough about my love-life—what about you? How’re things with Mai?”

“Mai?” Zuko asked, “Um… right, uh… we… we actually broke up, too.”

“Oh, no!” Katara exclaimed, turning to stare at him, “Really? That’s such a shame, why?” Anyone else, he would'be thought the horror was exaggerated, or even outright mockery, but with Katara, he knew it was sincere. It baffled him, especially when they were talking about Mai, whom he remembered as being... less emotive.

He sighed, “We wanted different things, I guess?” he said, “I mean I loved her… I loved her a lot… and I know she loved me, too, but…” He sighed again, “She would hate how I get kind of angry—I never hit her, though!” he said quickly, “I never raised my hand or anything like that, I swear on my mother. She just… didn’t like how riled up I could get, and I hated how she never expressed herself and just let things fester under the surface… She did care, I know she did… she just had a hard time expressing it. And I expressed too much.”

“That’s sad…” Katara murmured, “I’m sorry to hear that, Zuko.”

“Ah, don’t be,” he waved her concern aside, but she couldn't miss the sadness staining his words. “She went on to realise she was bi, so that’s something. She and Ty Lee make a cute couple.”

“Aw…” Katara smiled, “That’s really sweet…” She looked at him, “And you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” he said, sounding casual enough that she decided he was being truthful, “It was nice while it lasted, and we’re still friends, but… it wasn’t meant to be.” He gave a sideways glance, “You know how that feels, don’t you?”

She smiled, blushing slightly, “Yeah, I do.” She admitted.

The conversation was then interrupted by her phone, ringing in her back pocket. Katara jumped, having not expected it, and heard Zuko laughing at her softly as she pulled it out. Her stomach twisted into an uncomfortable knot as she answered, “Jet?”

Hey, babe!” Jet’s voice sounded at the other end, “I saw you called me. Sorry I missed it, what—whoa! there, gorgeous, watch yourself. Hehe… yeah, yeah, you go get another drink, beautiful—what’s wrong? Need me to come get you?

Katara sighed, wondering why she’d expected anything more, “No, I’m fine,” she said, “I… My car broke down, but I got a ride from a friend. I’ll be at my dad’s in fifteen. You on your way?” She knew he wasn’t. She could hear the music, she could hear the girl giggling in his ear. Why did she ask?

Aw, crap…” He sounded almost sincere, she had to give him that. “Aw, babe, sorry. I’m really sorry, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it. I am way too drunk right now, and Smellerbee was my ride, I don’t know where she went, I—easy, there, tiger, I’m on the phone!—I’m sorry, babe. I love you, though, you know that? Happy New Year!

“Happy New Year—” She barely got the words out before she heard the click on the other end and knew he’d hung up. With a sigh, she stuffed her phone back in her pocket.

The drive continued for several more minutes in silence, until Zuko spoke up. “So… you and Jet, huh?” he asked mildly, “Giving that another shot?”

“Apparently,” she murmured, looking out of the window as if she could see anything in the blackness except her own dull reflection. “Don’t know why, though. Maybe it was just after Aang… I needed someone… less clingy.”

“That’s one way to think about it,” Zuko muttered, his words sharp and cracking, “He sounded pretty detached from what I heard.” Katara flushed and he grimaced, “Uh, not that I meant—sorry, I—”

“It’s fine, Zuko,” she sighed, “It’s… he’s always like this. I shouldn’t expect anything more, I don’t know why I do.”

“He’s an idiot,” Zuko said bluntly, so bluntly that she turned to look at him, confused and wide-eyed.

“Excuse me?” she said blankly, she wanted to say don't call him an idiot, don't insult my boyfriend, but the effort to say the words aloud got lost on their way to her mouth.

“I said he’s an idiot,” he repeated firmly. “You’re an amazing girl, Katara—woman, even… You deserve better than some guy who can’t even make it to kiss you a Happy New Year.” His cheek went slightly pink as he said this, and he wished it was his scarred side facing her. It would’ve hidden the blush, at least.

She huffed, “I guess I’m just tired,” she admitted. It was something of a non-sequitur, but he decided not to comment—she looked like she needed this. “I went to college here because I wanted to wait for Aang, and then when he finished he decided he wanted to go elsewhere, and that was fine, because I like my course and the people on it and I like working at the hospital… But then we broke up because it was just obviously not working, and I was okay with it—and I still am because we just function better like that.” She sighed again, “But then I got lonely—there’s really no way to sugarcoat it, it is what it is—and Jet was just there and he may be a bastard but he’s cute and he knows what he’s doing and—”

She cut herself off and went positively crimson, looking down at her hands in her lap. Because of this, she didn’t see Zuko’s eyes go wide, or his knuckles whiten on the steering wheel.

“You and Jet, uh…” He didn’t know how to phrase the question, and flushed, “Sorry, it’s… it’s none of my business.”

“No, it’s not,” she agreed, her tone strange. There was a long pause, and her tone was light with the changing of a subject. “Do you… remember junior year? Or… your senior year, I guess…” She swallowed, “Ty Lee’s birthday?”

Ty Lee, a bubbly girl who at the time had had a massive crush on Sokka, had invited him, Katara and Aang to her house party. Katara and Zuko hadn’t been friends, hadn’t even liked one another, but it had been more based on principle than anything else. They were different people in different years from different cliques and that was just how it’d worked out. Somehow, they’d ended up locked in the basement as part of a weird, cruel prank Azula had pulled. After berating him angrily about that, Katara had calmed, and they’d actually ended up having a rather nice conversation.

There’d been a shift, then. They’d gone from enemies to—not quite friends, that was a word with too much amicability. More like allies. She remembered that clearly.

She remembered even more clearly how he’d looked under the basement’s single flickering lightbulb, his dark hair a little shorter than it was now, his scar only a year old, freshly healed but exactly the same as it looked now. His eyes, amber and piercing, a sharp, angular shape that juxtaposed how gentle they’d seemed in that moment.

I’m sorry,” she’d murmured, reaching up to touch the scar, feeling rough, hard skin under her fingertips, “I wish I could’ve helped you.

She glanced at him a moment, his face in profile, the scar hidden from view. A face that might have been. He hadn’t answered her question.

She was just beginning to think he wouldn’t when he spoke, “Yes,” he said simply. His voice was hoarse and rough. He cleared his throat, “I do. I also remember Aang and Sokka breaking down the door.” They’d been furious, of course, had grabbed her and walked out of the party on the spot. She’d never given much thought as to what had happened after then.

“Oh yeah…” she murmured. They fell into silence once more. She glanced at her watch, and announced, “Eighteen minutes til New Year.”

“We’re just over ten minutes away, you’ll be fine,” he said, not taking his eyes off the road. He snuck a glance at her when she wasn’t looking. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he said, “Asking about… you and Jet.”

“It’s not your fault,” she said, not looking at him, “I mentioned it.” She frowned. “I don’t think he was very good, though. Okay, but not great." She gave a laugh that sounded a little too bitter for Zuko's liking. "Not like I have much data to go on, though. Maybe my standards are too high."

"No such thing," he told her briskly. "If there's one thing I've learned you should never settle for anything less than what you deserve. Not from a boyfriend, not from a brother. ...not from a father." He swallowed.

Katara glanced at him, guilt pricking at her heart. But it was swept away and replaced with confusion when he then said. "If you don't mind me asking... and feel free to just... not answer, by the way... What do you mean you... don't have much data to go on?" He glanced at her, they caught each other's gazes for a moment, then, flushing, both turned away.

"I, um..." Katara swallowed. "Well, hook-ups aren't really my thing, right? Just... not for me? So Jet was... I mean, I was... He... He's the only one I've ever." She squirmed in her seat a little. "You know."

"Had sex with?" Zuko's tone was so blunt she almost flinched. Even at twenty she couldn't help but cringe at such frank conversations when they came so close to home. Someone else's sex life, sure, she could talk for hours on end with nary a blush. Her own, on the other hand... well.

She nodded. Zuko stared at her, gaze flickering between her and the road.

"Wait, so you and Aang," he said, "You never...?"

Katara shook her head. "He, um... he was never... interested," she said slowly. "Asexual, we eventually figured out. Which is fine, but... it wasn't what I was looking for... and we already weren't exactly... perfect, so... Yeah." She shrugged. 

"So Jet was your first," Zuko said carefully, with the air of trying to make sure he was getting everything right. "And he was... underwhelming? I take it?"

"Something like that," Katara muttered, the barest hint of amusement in her words. "Yue suggested I might want to consider switching teams. Honestly, I wish I could.”

“He’s that bad, huh?” Zuko chanced a joke. Katara flushed, even though she’d started it,

“Well… what was it like with Mai?” she asked, desperate to move the focus off of herself.

Zuko, who went red at the slightest implications of impropriety, who she knew melted at the sight of ducklings, looked her right in the eye, cut through all her preamble and answered her unasked question directly. “I'm good at sex.”

Just as well he was the one driving, really. If Katara had been behind the wheel she might’ve driven them into a streetlamp. She felt her cheeks burn and suddenly felt very small. She’d helped deliver babies and stitch up gruesome wounds but somehow any mention of… sex got her acting like a child whispering curses to their friends; new, sharp words that she knew were bad but fascinated her because of it. Maybe it was the result of her first kiss, her first boyfriend, being a year younger than her and very much of the abstinence-until-marriage mindset.

“Not that good,” she eventually managed to splutter out, “Mai has a girlfriend now.”

She’d expected him to snap at her, or to plunge them into awkward, stony silence for the rest of the journey. She wasn’t hoping for that by any measure, but she’d felt the need to give a retort, anything to regain the upper hand, and expected anger as a result of it. Instead, however, Zuko laughed. A sharp, unexpected bark of laughter that made her jump. It sounded rehearsed, forced even, but she knew it was genuine. He just had a really weird laugh.

“Fair point,” he admitted, smiling amusedly. “Back to my point, though, sex isn’t all about you or all about him. It’s… shared." He gave a shrug, "If you’re not happy once its over, he’s doing something wrong.”

“Hm, I guess…” she murmured. She was, for a great number of reasons, hesitant to discuss the subject. As it was, she couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with Zuko of all people.

“You said you were tired…?” he prompted delicately, steering the conversation to less smutty waters. “Tired of what? Jet?”

“Tired of being second place,” she corrected him, “I get that everyone’s supposed to put themselves first—self-care and whatnot, but with Aang and Jet… they’re so different in basically every way, except that I always felt like an afterthought. They wanted me to go along with their things, they never took an interest in what I liked or what I wanted to do…” She sighed again—god, she was doing a lot of that—and shrugged—a lot of that, too, yikes.—“I guess I’d just like to be someone’s first choice for once.”

He frowned, wondering whether he should voice his thought. It was a little embarrassing, but she looked like she needed some truth. “Um…” he began, turning crimson before he’d even said anything, “In… in Ty Lee’s basement… you were my first choice.”

She turned to him, entirely perplexed, “…what?” she asked, face crumpled it utter confusion. He swallowed, cringing—that had not come out right.

“I-I mean…” he said, “Out of all the girls at that party… if…if I’d had to be locked in the basement with one of them, I… I’m glad it was you.”

Now she understood. “…oh,” she said softly, turning away from him to look down at her feet, “Um… thanks.” A pause, she exhaled harshly through gritted teeth, “And, uh… I’m the same. I… I’m glad it was you.”

For some reason, she wasn’t thinking about the conversation they’d had, rather the feel of his scar under her fingers, and his lips under her thumb. She was thinking about how she’d been thinking of kissing him. How she might have actually done it if Sokka and Aang hadn’t broken down the door and all the possibilities of that moment with it.

Zuko turned to her and offered a comforting smile. It was an awkward thing—smiling didn’t come naturally to him. Normally when he was happy, his eyes and expression would soften, but his mouth stayed in a firm line. It looked more like a grimace, like he was pained, but that only made it funny rather than scary. It made him look like he really meant it, even if he didn’t know how to show it.

“Just wait,” he said, “Someone amazing will come along, and you’ll be their first choice, and they’ll be yours, and all this… messiness will be completely worth it in the end. I promise.”

She smiled at him, affectionate and warm. He wondered, did she know how radiant she looked when she smiled like that? “Thanks, Zuko,” she said, and she meant it.

A few minutes later, they pulled up outside Hakoda’s house without Zuko having to ask for a single direction prompt. Katara stared at the house outside the passenger window, “Wow,” she muttered, “You have a crazy good memory.”

“What can I say, it’s a gift,” he drawled. Katara unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car, and when she shut the door behind her, Zuko thought that was it, until she stopped and turned, bending down to look at him through the window.

He lowered the window on the passenger side and she leant on it, arms on the sill, “Thanks for the ride, Zuko,” she smiled at him, “It was really good to see you again.”

“You, too,” he replied. There was a pause, and Katara didn’t move, meaning he couldn’t move off, either. She swallowed, then,

“Would…” she faltered, “Do you… want to come in?”

He blinked at her, “What?”

“Only if you want to!” she said quickly, flushing bright red, “I just thought… if you’re going to be on your own otherwise, you’re more than welcome to come in and celebrate the New Year with us. I know Sokka and the others would be really pleased to see you.” She paused, “Only if you want to,” she said again.

He thought it over for a moment, then smiled, “If you don’t mind,” he said, “I think I’d like that. Sounds a lot nicer than an empty house.”

Katara positively beamed at him. She leant back, allowing him to put up the window, then climbed out of the car and allowed her to lead him into the house. The front door opened and Suki's head popped in the door frame. She glanced at Zuko and didn't bat an eyelid, though Katara was fairly sure she'd be subject to the girl's questions later on in the night. Instead, she yelled to them both "HURRY UP! IT'S STARTING!"

Zuko blanched slightly, having forgotten, or mentally softened, Suki's tough, loud attitude. Katara giggled, and glanced at her watch as they walked in.

“Twenty seconds.”


Twenty seconds, guys!” Sokka hollered above the crowd of people crammed into the small house, all crowding around the TV on the far wall. Katara and Zuko were sat on one of the chairs next to the TV, managing a decent view without standing. Zuko was sat normally, Katara on his lap, legs swung over his, his arm around her back, hers looped across his shoulders. Hakoda leant over and passed Zuko a beer,

“Thanks, Hakoda,” Zuko smiled. He’d only recently gotten over his slight intimidation of the man and stopped calling him ‘sir’. Hakoda had to admit he kind of missed the fear, but didn’t doubt he could fully re-instill it should the need arise.

“Aw,” Katara giggled, “Look at you two, getting on.” She wasn’t holding a drink, and with her free hand played with the choker necklace that had once belonged to her mother. A navy ribbon with a turquoise disc on it, carved with the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol.

“Don’t get used to it,” Hakoda joked, and Zuko flushed in a panic, making Katara laugh. She leant in and kissed him gently on the cheek.

“Ignore him,” she said gently, “He told me at Christmas he actually likes you. A lot more than my other boyfriends, certainly.”

“Well, not hard, is it?” he pointed out with a smirk, which soon turned mock-thoughtful. "Though I suppose I should be lucky you haven't run off with any of the guys in your new classes." Ever determined to help people, Katara had finished her Nursing degree and immediately put herself down for a second Bachelor's—this time a joint-honours in Politics and Sociology. 

She gave a laugh, now. "They're a bunch of eighteen-year-old kids," she said. "And besides, I already have the best boyfriend I could ask for." She ducked down and nuzzled his nose with a grin. In two days it would be exactly a year since she'd dumped Jet officially and had asked Zuko if he wanted to go for a drink—their first date. The pair of them—as well as Sokka, Hakoda, Aang and basically anyone remotely fond of Katara—were much happier for it.

“TEN!” Sokka announced loudly, along with the TV,

“NINE!” Everyone joined in,

“EIGHT!”

“SEVEN!”

Katara hugged Zuko's around the neck tightly, grinning in anticipation,

“SIX!”

Zuko nuzzled Katara’s neck and murmured, “I love you, you know that?”

“FIVE!”

Katara giggled and ran a hand through his hair, “I love you, too.”

“FOUR!”

Zuko smiled at her radiantly, “So much,” he insisted,

“THREE!”

Katara blushed, flattered and embarrassed, which made him laugh.

“TWO!”

Grinning at one another, they tilted their heads back and yelled out,

ONE!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Laughing delightedly, Katara leant forwards, and their lips met in a tender kiss, sweet and adoring. When they parted, she cupped his face in his hands and gazed up at him, beaming, grateful beyond words that her car had broken down.