“I mean you could always come home with me.”
Zuko snorted and tried to will away the heat in his chest before it crawled into his neck. “You often bring home strays for Thanksgiving? I wouldn’t want to impose. Besides, I should see my mom’s new family more often.”
Katara steepled her fingers. “Well, it wouldn’t be entirely selfless—“
“Lady Katara has ulterior motives?” He smirked.
“Let me finish.” She shoved his shoulder. “My new granddad has been bugging me about not having a boyfriend. I’m only top of my class and Vice President of student government but where is that boyfriend.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m kinda tired of hearing him go on about that. Soooo, you would really being coming home as my pretend boyfriend for Thanksgiving.“
Zuko held his breath. The blush had conquered his neck and cheeks now. “Oh.”
“We would fake breakup before Christmas,” Katara began gesturing with her hands. “It would involve lying. But, I think it would be believable. I talk about you enough.”
“Talk about me? About what?”
“That we had lunch or were studying in the library. If I conveniently forgot to mention we were dating…” She gestured to say “oops.” She took a moment to take in his body posture. “You can say no. I would understand. We’re not in a movie or anything.”
Zuko swallowed. “No, I would like to meet your family. And, if you think they’ll buy it, we can pretend to date. It’s just Thanksgiving.”
“Are you sure?” Katara scanned him, finding assurance in his relaxed posture.
“Positive. I trust you.”
“This is Zuko, my boyfriend.”
Zuko’s heart flipped. Pretend boyfriend. Pretend.
Hakoda turned to Katara, mouth gaping and still holding onto Zuko’s hand. “You never mentioned that in your calls,” he said softly.
Zuko froze. Anger and disapproval were emotions he could navigate. He’d mastered dodging and deflecting them. But, this shade of surprise was disconcerting. It almost sound hurt. They’re not like your father.
“It happened really recently, Daddy.” Katara took Hakoda’s arm, squeezing it. “You said dating your best friend was the best decision you ever made.”
Pretend. Pretend. Pretend.
“It caught me off guard,” Hakoda mumbled, letting go of Zuko’s hand. “So, Zuko where are you staying this weekend?”
“Uh, I was planning on going back to the dorms. Uncle is visiting my cousin and his wife’s new baby on the West Coast.”
“You should stay with us we have an extra room.” Hakoda took Katara’s duffle.
Zuko glanced at Katara who blinked. “Thank you sir but I—“
“You shouldn’t be alone during the holidays. Don’t be shy.” Hakoda climbed the stairs to the second floor. “Katara can show you. It’s on the ground floor.”
Zuko looked to Katara again. She shrugged before beckoning him to follow her.
Katara turned the light on. “This is it.”
Zuko walked in and looked around.
“What do you think?”
“Do boyfriends usually sleepover on their first Thanksgiving?”
Katara hummed, raising on shoulder. “Dad would understand if you don’t.”
“I’d have to go get my stuff from the dorm.” He put a hand on the back of his neck.
“If it’s too much, don’t—”
Zuko glanced away. “We might as well follow through right?”
Katara drew her lips into a line. “We don’t want to do too much though.”
“This doesn’t seem like too much,” he shook his head. “It’s not like we’re sharing a bed,” he chuckled. “Chill out.”
Katara paused before nodding. “Okay. If you’re comfortable.”
He gave her a crooked smile. “Besides, your dad was right. No one wants to be alone during the holidays.”
What were you thinking, Ryuku?
Zuko packed a bag in his dorm.
Really? Sleeping over? That wasn’t the plan.
He got back in his car and drove back to the Kuruk’s.
The plan was play pretend boyfriend and squash this stupid crush. The plan was to avoid seeing your mom’s new family and nothing more. Look at the mess you’ve made!
He pulled up to their street and noticed another car in the driveway.
<Katara: Pakku is here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.>
<Zuko: What should I expect?>
<Katara: A grilling>
He sighed getting out of his car. This much I’m prepared for.
Zuko adjusted his overnight bag into a more comfortable position. He rang the doorbell.
An older man opened the door and glared at him.
“Hello, you must be Katara’s grandfather. I’m Zuko, her boyfriend.” He extended his hand for a handshake.
Katara was at the door before Pakku could respond. “Oh Pakku, this is the guy I was telling you about!” She smiled and Zuko could feel how much pleasure she got from this. He’d seen her act before but this was a different level. She wrapped her hands around his elbow and leaned her face against his shoulder. “This is Zuko.”
Zuko smiled at her, following her cues.
“Pakku, let them in.” An older woman tugged on Pakku before pulling Zuko and Katara into the house and closing the door. “Hello, dear. I’m Kanna, I’m Katara’s grandmother and this is my husband, Pakku. It’s nice to meet you.”
“You too, ma’am. Katara talks a lot about how much you inspire her. It’s an honor finally meeting you.”
Kanna smiled. “You found yourself a charmer, Katara. Hold on to him.”
Pakku was still glaring. He twisted his mouth into a pout and hmpfed. He turned around. “I’m going to watch the game.”
Kanna looked at her husband walk away and shook her head. “He doesn’t know what he wants. Old badger.”
Katara laughed. “I could have told you that.”
“Can you believe he used to be worse?” Kanna guffawed.
Katara snorted. Zuko looked over at her, furrowing his brow.
“Pakku is Gran-Gran’s second husband,” Katara explained. “She didn’t give him the time of day until they were a lot older and Pakku mellowed out. I guess I’m kind of to blame for their relationship. I went to his martial arts school to learn tai chi. He insisted,” she shook her head. “I wasn’t old enough to start the beginner classes. I swear I heard someone say it was because I was a girl and I threw a fit.”
“Of course you did,” Zuko smirked, knowing.
She pulled away from him and play slapped his arm. “Shut up! Long story short, he found out I was Gran-Gran’s granddaughter after I started lessons and he reconnected with her. And here we are.”
“I guess that’s kind of like us, huh?”
“Hmm?” Kanna raised an eyebrow.
Katara grimaced. “Yea, you know you’re right.”
“We weren’t exactly the friendliest when we met,” Zuko explained
“That’s an understatement,” Katara laughed.
“But now, look at you,” Kanna said.
Zuko smiled at Katara. Best friends.
“How did this happen? I was surprised when Hakoda said you were dating.”
“It felt right,” Zuko said, really without thinking. Oh boy, way to go, Ryuku. Foot in mouth.
Katara smiled back, bigger. Zuko could see the shock in her eyes.
“Those are always the best relationships,” Kanna’s eyes grew warm. “I’ll let you get settled in Zuko. Katara, help me set the table.”
“I’ll be right there.” Katara watched her grandmother walk away. “What was that?” She drew out her question in a whisper.
Zuko blushed. “Just following through.”
“If you make them love you, I won’t be able to let you go.” Katara snorted.
He nodded. Yea, Ryuku, slow down.
“Lemme go help. I have my phone on me if you need me.”
Zuko unpacked, familiarizing himself with the guest room and bathroom. He called his uncle and checked in to hear how his flight was.
“I’m having Thanksgiving with Katara’s family.”
“That sounds nice. I know this arrangement wasn’t ideal.”
“It’s been okay so far.”
“Good. I’m glad. Take care, Nephew.”
“Goodbye Uncle. Greet Lu Ten and the family for me.”
“Will do. Love you Nephew.”
“Love you Uncle.”
Zuko put his phone in his pocket and wandered around looking for Katara.
“Zuko!” Hakoda called, smiling.
Zuko tensed up. “Sir.”
“Can you lend me a hand? We’ll eat as soon as Sokka comes.”
“Sure.” Zuko felt thoughts bouncing around in his head.
“Be careful, the pan’s hot.” Hakoda handed him potholders.
“Thank you.” Zuko began plating the roasted vegetables.
“So, your cousin just had a baby?”
“Yea, Uncle is really excited to have a grandson. Lu Ten and Kimiko’s first child came early. We were planning on visiting them together around Christmas. But, it made more sense to get a refund from our December tickets and use the credit to buy a ticket for Uncle to go see them now.”
“That must be exciting.”
“Yea. I’ll still see them at Christmas.”
“I forgot to ask if you had any food allergies or dietary restrictions.” Hakoda pulled the turkey out of the oven.
Zuko realized he hadn’t answered and cleared his throat, “Uh.” Zuko focused on scooping out a stubborn beet. “No I don’t have any dietary restrictions. Thank you for asking.”
Zuko wasn’t sure how to handle Hakdoa. He wasn’t quite like Uncle and he wasn’t like Father. Zuko watched him out of the corner of his eye. The older man surveyed the food prepared. Hakoda gave him another task. And after seeing him struggle, Hakoda gently instructed him on how to get stuffing off the spoon in one motion. Maybe it’s not for show.
“I think, that’s everything.” Hakoda glanced at his phone. “Sokka says he’s in the driveway. Let’s start putting everything on the table. Thank you for the help.”
“You’re welcome. Don’t want to be a freeloader.”
“Nonsense, you’re a guest!”
“There you are.” Katara stood when they entered the dining room. “Sokka’s washing his hands now. Here, lemme help you.”
“Relax Katara. You didn’t bring home a freeloader.” Hakoda winked at Zuko.
Zuko sent back a small smile.
“Dad! Don’t call him that! Zuko is very hardworking.”
Hakoda’s eyebrows shot up. “I was teasing, sweetie.”
“I mentioned that I didn’t want to be a freeloader and I didn’t mind helping out,” Zuko said. He placed his dish on the table trying to ignore the relief and joy wanting to explode inside of him.
Katara sighed. “Pakku is being hostile. I could really use you as an ally, Dad.”
Zuko faced the speaker. When he saw, who he assumed to be Sokka, looking at him with curiosity and not a glare, he released the tension in his jaw and uncurled fists
Katara had echoes of Hakoda in her mannerisms and eyes. Her brother was his spitting image.
“This is Zuko, my boyfriend.”
Sokka narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. “Boy, do you know how to pick them,” he said.
“Sokka!” Hakoda chided.
“Hey!” Katara slammed a hand on the table.
Here it is. Zuko felt his muscles coil, the tension reclaiming its place.
“What! I’m just saying this guy looks like bad news. After Jet, I thought you’d—“
“Shut up! Zuko’s nothing like Jet. And just because you c—“
“Enough.” Hakoda motioned for them to stop, miming a line. “Cut it out both of you. Sokka, that was incredibly rude. You owe your sister and our guest an apology.”
Sokka grumbled sorry’s as he pulled out his chair to sit down.
Zuko remembered one of Katara’s rants about her older brother. He’s a genius but sometimes I swear he’s six.
“Are you okay?” Katara leaned over to ask once the rest of the family sat down at the table.
“Peachy,” Zuko responded through grit teeth.
“He’s not normally like this.”
Zuko glanced at her and saw the worry in her face. He forced a smile, “Clearly, not with you.”
She bumped shoulders with him.
He glanced over again as she accepted a plate of turkey. He caught her smiling to herself and his heart fluttered.
I really want to hold her hand right now.
“I’ll wash the dishes.” Katara offered standing up once everyone had finished their dessert.
She might as well have opened a window or turned on a light.
Dinner had been a mix of awkward silences and pointed questions.
“I can help,” Zuko stacked her plate on top of his. He shot her a look to say, ‘We need to debrief.’
“No, Katara you’re probably tired. Why don’t I do the dishes?” Sokka didn’t take his eyes off of Zuko.
“Sokka, I’m fine. If anything, you should switch with Zuko not me.”
“He’s a strapping young man. I’m sure he can handle it.”
Hakoda glanced at Zuko who shrugged and stood to collect more plates.
“Fine by me.” Zuko walked into the kitchen.
The two of them washed dishes in silence. Zuko scrapped food into tupperware or the garbage. Sokka washed them and set them to dry.
“So what’s your deal?” Zuko asked, after several minutes.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Why are you giving me such a hard time?”
“‘Cus I know how sleazebags look at my sister and what they think they can get out of her and there’s no way I’m stepping out of the way to let that happen.”
“And, I’m a sleazebag? You just met me. How can you be so sure?”
“You look like the poster child of bad boys. I just need to get you a leather jacket and some piercings.”
“Really what gave it away? The scar?” Zuko pointed to the burn scar around his left eye.
Sokka glared at him, sensing the sarcasm. “Yea, you look like you make reckless decisions and I don’t want my baby sister around someone like that.”
“Newsflash Sherlock,” Zuko took measured breaths to keep his tone even, “my dad gave me this scar when I was thirteen. Katara has known me for two years and we’ve been best friends for a year and a half. Maybe you should stop looking at her like your baby sister and consider maybe she’s learned from her relationship with Jet.” Zuko returned to spooning food into tupperware.
“How are you two doing in here?” Hakoda popped his head in the kitchen. “Need an extra hand.”
“We’re good, Dad.”
Hakoda nodded, before leaving them. His footsteps became faint.
“Zuko, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Oh, that reminds me.” Hakoda opened the kitchen door. “Sokka why don’t you bring Zuko with you to the mall?”
Zuko looked at Sokka and watched his mouth gape open.
“I’m okay with that. Katara won’t be shopping. I don’t have any assignments due when I get back from break either.”
“Great! Glad to see you come around Sokka.” Hakoda tapped the doorframe.
Sokka waited for his father to leave. “You didn’t have to do that. I was sucha jerk to you.”
“You were. But, you’re still Katara’s brother.”
“Are you okay?” Katara leaned over the armrest of her chair towards Zuko.
“Yes, Katara,” Zuko laughed, “for the hundredth time.”
“It’s just been hostile I didn’t expect this big of a reaction.”
“You’re the princess. I think families are always like this with their only daughters.”
“Your sister’s partner would get this kind of red carpet treatment?” Katara snorted.
“No, but Azula’s not like you. She’s not as close with the family. For what it’s worth, I don’t regret coming.”
Zuko nodded his head. Spending time with you like this—
Katara smirked. “Look who’s getting soft.”
A blush blossomed across his cheeks and down his neck. He scoffed, crossing his arms. “Never mind.”
“No, no, no! I’m glad you don’t regret it. I owe you big time.”
Zuko’s eyes jumped to her lips and he turned his face away from her. Cut it out Ryuku. You’re breaking up soon anyway.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Katara tugged on his arm.
“Uh, hanging out with your brother.”
“Really? How did that happen?”
“Well, your dad suggested it and I think I felt bad for him.”
“Zuko,” she gently chided. “You don’t have to do things you don’t want to.”
“No no, it’s fine. He’ll be more reasonable tomorrow.”
“I kinda blew up about my scar.”
Katara swore, “He asked about that?”
“He didn’t ask as much as assume I was a delinquent or something.”
She shot up, “That jerk!”
Zuko grabbed her arm. “Hey! It’s okay. We talked about it. He’s a lot more rational now.”
“Katara, it’s okay I promise.”
She sighed. “Okay, fine.” She flopped on the couch next to him, abandoning her previous seat. “Do you want to see a movie tomorrow?” She held onto his arm. “We haven’t spent any time together so far.”
The blue of her eyes flooded his thoughts. “Sure.” He turned away.
“Does it matter what?”
“Great! We should at least pack in a fake date right?”
Zuko nodded, ignoring the ache in his chest.
“How was shopping?” Katara looped an arm around Zuko’s neck, leaning her head against his. Sokka and Zuko had been waiting for her in the food court.
“Good. Zuko is actually a better shopping partner than you are Katara.”
She snorted. “If that gets me off the hook of spending two hours with you as you agonize over one belt, so be it. Can I have my boyfriend back? Our movie starts soon and I want to see if the popcorn line is worth it.”
“Yea yea sure. You kids have fun.”
Katara stood back to let Zuko stand up. She lobbed car keys to Sokka.
“You ready?” She looked up at him.
“Lead the way.” He took her hand.
Katara decided the line was too long and they found their seats.
“How was shopping?”
Zuko chuckled. “Sokka and Uncle both have the same shopping habits. It’s really uncanny.”
“And, he wasn’t a jerk?”
“No. He was fine. We ran into Suki. They’re gonna plan a date.”
“Wait! Suki Suki? How did that happen?”
“To start, we kept running into her all day and he’s not really subtle.”
“As subtle as a jackhammer.” Katara nodded
“Suki walked by our table before you showed up and I just was gonna go crazy if I heard him talk about her for another thirty minutes. So I kinda flagged her down and introduced myself. I mentioned that I had to go make a call but that Sokka had something to ask her and walked away.”
Katara grabbed his arm. “Then, what happened?”
“I came back like ten-ish minutes later and he had Suki’s number.”
“You got my brother a date with Suki?!”
“That’s one interpretation.”
“Why do you have to be so perfect?” She put her hands on her forehead. “My brother blew his chances with Suki the minute he met her. I think it took him five minutes to his foot in his mouth. He’s had the biggest crush on her for years.”
“I know. He told me.”
“Zuko,” she laughed. “My family is never gonna let me live breaking up with you down.”
Zuko chose to ignore that comment. “I’m actually surprised they like me. I wasn’t expecting it.”
“Really? I talked you up. Plus, Zuko, you’re like a catch. You know that right.”
He shot her a skeptical look.
“It’s facts! Besides, I kinda went through an anti-love phase after Jet. I think they’re just happy I’m brought someone normal home. But enough about them. I’m glad we’re gonna watch a movie together.”
“Really?” Zuko teased.
She laughed. “Seriously. I feel like everyone has got to spend time with you except for me. We can’t have that.”
“Yea, perish the thought.”
She snorted. “And like it has been crazy at school, too.”
“Right, I’m lucky to get any time with you, Madame Vice President.”
“So, it’s nice.”
Zuko hummed in agreement.
Katara wrapped her hands around Zuko’s forearm, resting her hands there. She rested her head against his shoulder. “I’m glad you didn’t spend Thanksgiving alone.”
He rested his head against hers. “Me too.”
“So?” Katara sat down. “Your text was a little bit of an SOS. What happened?”
Zuko groaned, rubbing his hand over his face. “Somehow, we never realized that Pakku and my Uncle play paisho together.”
“Get out.” Katara set her phone down on the table.
“Yea, and Pakku told Uncle that we’re dating.”
“Uncle was pretty devastated that I hadn’t told him we were dating.”
Katara’s face fell. “Oh no. What did you say to him exactly?”
“Essentially what you told your dad. That it was really sudden and that I kinda didn’t think it was gonna last long.” Zuko swallowed past the lump in his throat. “But since we’re together, he wants to invite you over for Christmas.” He ran his hands through his hair. “But like, a big Christmas, with Lu Ten’s and my mom’s family.”
Katara chewed her fingernail. “Well,” she looked at the table, “you did Thanksgiving with my folks. It’s only fair I do a holiday with yours.”
“Katara,” Zuko shook his head. “I don’t think this is a good idea.” My heart can’t take this.
“Well, what’s our alternative?”
“We could just let them know that it didn’t work out and we were better off as friends.”
“You don’t want to do this?”
“No, it’s just,” he sighed. I want to and that’s the problem because I don’t think you want this to be permanent. “I don’t want this to get complicated.”
“You’re not twisting my arm. If that’s what you’re afraid of.”
Zuko sighed again. This was not the plan.
“As long as we break up before Valentine’s Day. I think they’ll understand. We can just do it in the middle of the semester and they can’t badger us about it cus we won’t be back home until Spring Break.”
“February is two months away. You’re okay with ‘dating’ until then?” He searched her face.
“I told you, you were a catch, Ryuku.” Katara smiled.
Zuko gave her a weak smile in return. Pretend.
“Who knew the dork would bring home such a beautiful girlfriend?” Lu Ten put Zuko in a headlock.
“Babe,” Kimiko chuckled, “Cut it out. Nice to meet you.” She smiled at Katara.
“Likewise,” Katara smiled.
“Where’s baby Kibou?” Zuko asked, finally wrestling free of his cousin.
Zuko glanced at Katara. “Do you want to go meet him?”
“Let’s go.” Lu Ten grinned, watching them.
“Uh, just a heads-up that Uncle is almost the exact opposite of Pakku,” Zuko whispered to Katara.
“If I could handle Pakku, your warning is in vain.” Katara winked at him.
Uncle Iroh stood rocking the baby. He turned towards them as they entered the living room. “Hello!” His smile grew as his eyes shrank. Where Pakku was a steely facade, Iroh exuded energy and comfort. “Kimi, I think Kibou is getting hungry. He’s a little fussy.”
“Oh, Kibou, let your mommy have a break.” Kimiko accepted her son from Iroh. “I’ll be right back.”
“You must be Katara.”
Katara smiled, “I am.”
Zuko pressed a hand at the small of her back. “Katara, Uncle. Uncle Iroh, Katara, my girlfriend.”
“I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
She whipped her head to look at Zuko. “Really? I’ve heard about you too, Uncle Iroh. Clearly not to level of detail you’ve heard about me.”
Zuko’s face took on more color. “Uncle,” he protested.
“Zuko’s been a lot happier since you two have become friends. I think you two will make a fine couple.”
“What?” Uncle moved forward and extended his hands for Katara. She placed her hands in his and he squeezed them. “It really is a pleasure to meet you. I know you two were taking your time to tell everyone but I felt it would be nice to see everyone for the holidays.”
“I sprang Thanksgiving on Zuko. It’s only fair.”
He squeezed her hands again, chuckling.
The doorbell rang.
“That must be Aunt Ursa. Dad, do you want to open for them. I’ll check on Kimi.”
Zuko drew his lips in a line.
“Yea, I’ll get it.” Iroh let go of Katara’s hands and headed to the door.
Katara waited until it was the two of them before turning around to face Zuko, his hand withdrawing from her. “How are you feeling?”
Zuko shrugged. “Just have to face it head on, right?”
Her eyes bounced back and forth between his, searching. “I’m here for you, okay?”
He felt his heartbeat settling. He nodded. He felt his head lean towards her but stopped short of touching her. Her eyes are so blue.
Ursa stood in the doorway. “Hi, how are you baby?”
Zuko felt tears prick his eyes. “I-I’m ok.”
Katara took his hand. He grasped her hand, feeling how his trembled.
For Pete’s sake, Ryuku.
She squeezed back.
“Ikem and Kiyi are taking their coats off now. I’m so excited for them to see you again. And you’re well?” Her forehead wrinkled.
Zuko ducked his head, nodding again.
He could hear the hesitance in her voice, as if she wasn’t sure.
“Kiyi.” A man ushered a little girl into the room behind Ursa. The little girl glanced up at Katara and Zuko and walked backwards until she bumped into the man. She scurried behind him holding on to Ursa’s pants.
Ursa looked down at her. “You remember Kiyi.” She placed a hand behind Kiyi’s head and tried to coax her back where Zuko and Katara could see her, but she refused. Ursa sighed, chuckling softly before putting her hand on the man’s shoulder. “And, you remember Ikem, my husband.”
Ikem took a step forward and extended his hand. “Nice to see you, Zuko.”
Katara squeezed his hand again before letting go and nudging him forward.
“Nice to see you, too.” He glanced back at Katara, who was already by his side. “This is Katara, my girlfriend. Katara, my mother, Kiyi, and Ikem.”
“It’s so nice to meet you all.” Katara shook Ursa and Ikem’s hands.
“Kiyi, don’t you want to meet Zuzu’s girlfriend?”
Kiyi shook her head. She moved behind her mother after her father exposed her.
Ursa shrugged her shoulders, apologetically. “She’ll warm up once we get settled.”
“No rush.” Katara slid a hand across Zuko’s back to loop an arm around his waist.
He let out a breath, realizing how tense he’d become. He focused on her warmth and let his shoulders relax. He looked up at his mom. Her forehead was still furrowed and Zuko felt a pang in his chest.
“It’s really good to see you mom. I know it’s been a long time––“
“No! I could have made a better effort, too. It’s so good to see you, baby.”
He smiled, leaning into Katara. She squeezed him.
Ursa surveyed them before smiling in return.
Ursa cocked her head slightly. “Sorry, we had already planned on sending Kiyi’s crosspoint to Zuko. I ‘helped her’ with this one for you, Katara.”
“It was last minute. I understand.” Katara smiled at Ursa, smoothing out the embroidered bookmark.
“Dad, has to be special and require handmade gifts.” Lu Ten teased
“But, Katara was able to make candles in time for all of us. It’s not too unreasonable,” Iroh responded.
“You weren’t the one answering hundreds of questions about which scents you all would prefer or stayed up on the phone with her as she made those candles.” Zuko crossed his arms.
“Yea, but that sounds like boyfriend duties, Zuko.” Lu Ten smirked.
“Yea,” Katara turned to face him. “Tough luck.”
Zuko couldn’t help the small smile on his face. If this is tough luck.
“I do have cookies, since I figured Kiyi might not be too ecstatic about candles.”
“You nailed it with the mermaid candle.” Ikem glanced at his daughter, playing in the corner. She’d every now and again uncap her candle and smell it before setting back down.
“Kiyi, do you want to do tea time with Ms. Katara?” Ursa leaned towards her daughter. “It would be a nice ‘thank you’ for the candle.”
Kiyi glanced at Katara.
Katara smiled, nodding in agreement.
Kiyi looked her mother again, nodding slightly.
“Lets go make some tea.” Ursa took her daughter’s hand and led her out of the living room. She beckoned Katara to follow her.
Katara squeezed Zuko’s hand before getting off the couch they shared to follow his mother into the kitchen.
“Oh, I do have a new pot Kiyi can use. Let me go get it.” Uncle Iroh stood up to find it for his niece.
Kimiko stood. “Tea actually sounds lovely. Be right back, babe.”
“So, Katara.” Lu Ten steepled his fingers, raising an eyebrow and smirking. “What’s the story?”
Zuko scratched the back of his neck.
“No need to get shy. You’re gonna have to tell this story a million more times.”
“It’s just. I, I don’t think we’re gonna last that long.”
“What do you mean?” Lu Ten frowned. “You guys look happy together. Are you just preparing for the worst?”
“It’s in the tea leaves, as Uncle says.” Zuko put his face in his hands.
“If you don’t want that to happen, what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t think Katara wants a long-term relationship with me.”
“Have you asked her?”
“It’s kind of obvious. She doesn’t have to tell me. It’s been a casual relationship.” Zuko felt his chest constrict at that reality. Their movie date had been an anomaly.
“But it could be serious and long-term if you said what you wanted. Is just letting your relationship fall apart a better option?”
“You want to stay with her, don’t you?”
“Yea of course.”
“So, act like it. Katara saw something in you to agree to be your girlfriend. She came here and met your crazy family, and I know you tried to dissuade her. You guys haven’t been dating for six months. That’s a lot of commitment from someone who’s in a casual relationship.”
“You don’t understand. There’s more to the story.”
“Yea, you’re right.” Lu Ten stood up. “I don’t know the full story. And neither do you. Either you save your relationship or watch it go up in flames. C’mon, let’s see what the girls are up to.”
Zuko reluctantly stood up.
“Knock knock!” Lu Ten opened the door to the bedroom Iroh had prepared for Kiyi. “Can two boys come in? Or is it a girls only party?”
“You can come in Uncle Lu Ten!”
Lu Ten smiled back at his cousin.
Zuko rolled his eyes. Like father, like son.
“We were gonna join you. But, it looks like there’s only room for one more. Zuko, why don’t you stay and I see how Kimi and Kibou are doing.” He clapped a hand on Zuko’s shoulder.
“Yea have a seat, Zuzu.” Katara smiled.
Where are your allies when you need them. Zuko sat down.
“Perfect timing. I should go put the cookies in the oven. I’ll be right back.” Katara winked at Zuko.
Kiyi’s mouth dropped as she watched Katara walk out. She glanced at her brother before staring at her teacup and furrowing her brows.
How the tables turn. Not my plan either, kid.
“…Would you like more tea?” Zuko lifted the teapot.
Kiyi shook her head.
Zuko poured himself a cup. “Uncle makes a good pot of tea.”
“Do you know what kind of cookies Katara made?”
Kiyi shook her head.
“Did you have a good tea time?”
She nodded. “Ms. Katara is nice.”
“Yea, she is.”
“Are you gonna marry her?”
Zuko choked, sputtering tea into his hand. “What?”
Kiyi had on a serious expression. “She’s really nice and she likes you. If you like her back, you should marry her.”
“Kiyi, it’s more complicated than that.” He wiped his hand in a napkin.
Kiyi pouted and Zuko swore he saw a six-year-old Azula in her expression. “How? Ms. Katara said she’s happy she came. She really wanted to make you happy.”
“Yea, that’s cus we’re friends.”
“That’s not what she tol–“ Kiyi covered her mouth.
Zuko stared at his younger sister. “What did she tell you Kiyi?”
“It was a secret. I can’t tell you.”
He leaned back. “That’s fair.”
They each took a sip of their tea.
“Can you poor me some more, Zuzu? My tea is cold.”
Zuko lifted the pot. “There isn’t much left. We should go get some more.”
They walked to the kitchen together in silence. Kiyi opened the door.
“Hey, the cookies will be cool in a couple minutes.” Katara greeted them.
“Did you just take them out?” Zuko asked he turned on the fire under the tea on the stove.
“Mhm. But as soon as they’re the right temperature, you should try one, Kiyi. They taste good cool but amazing almost out of the oven.”
Kiyi struggled to sit on the stool.
Katara and Zuko both moved to help her. Katara laughed, waving Zuko on to go ahead.
“Thank you.” Kiyi leaned forward on her forearms.
“Did you guys have a good chat?”
“Yes,” Zuko answered, watching the tea.
“We ran out of tea.”
“I see that.” Katara smiled.
“Kiyi, darling, your aunt is on the phone and she’d like to talk to you. We can come back and get cookies later, okay?” Ikem wrapped his arm around his daughter and set her on the ground before taking her hand. “Ms. Katara will want to hang out with Zuko.”
“Oh, the cookies just cooled; so she can have one now.” Katara handed her one in a napkin. “Zuko and I can come visit you soon and have a proper tea party.”
“I mean if Zuko wants to.”
Kiyi looked at Zuko and raised both her eyebrows, another classic Azula face. Get with the program, dummy.
Zuko turned off the stove before facing Katara and crossing his arms. “Kiyi is gonna be devastated when we break up.”
Katara’s eyes became round. She took a bite of her cookie and looked away. “About that. I wanted to talk––.“
“I don’t want to break up.”
Katara’s eyes flashed to his.
“I know we said this was all pretend but I don’t, I never wanted it to be.”
Her mouth fell open. She set her cookie down.
Zuko swallowed. Heat radiated throughout his body. “I want to be your boyfriend Katara, for real.”
Katara closed her mouth and nodded. “I don’t want to break up either.”
Zuko’s breath stuttered. “Seriously?” He took a moment to process what she said. Calm realization rooting out anxious nerves.
“Yea,” she laughed. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. Like I said you’re a serious catch and––“
Zuko stepped around the island and cradled Katara’s face in his hands. He leaned forward and kissed her. She slowly took hold of his shirt. He moved closer as she tugged on him. Katara gasped a little and Zuko pressed closer still, deepening the kiss. He let out a soft moan.
When they pulled back, Zuko knew his favorite color in the world was the shade of Katara’s eyes after making out. The blue was deep and stormy.
He brushed his thumb along her jaw. “I cut you off as you were complimenting me. And?” He smiled laying his forehead on hers.
Katara snorted, wrapping her arms around Zuko’s neck. “I don’t know. I forgot.” She ran her fingers through his hair. “You had something more urgent than listening to me compliment you so let’s just pick up from there.”
Zuko settled a hand on her waist and brushed his lips against hers. “Your wish is my command.”