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What Remains When the Flowers Die?

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When he came in, of course she stared. Katara froze when she saw the nasty scar on the man’s face, but his smile was warm and kind. She relaxed and tried to focus her gaze on his healthy eye.

“It’s okay, it’s usually the first thing people notice about me.” He said as he approached the counter. Katara blushed so hard she could feel her ears warm. Fixing her stare on his unburned eye, Katara screamed inside her head.

“I am so sorry.” She blurted and the man chuckled.

“It’s really okay. I wasn’t lying, it’s literally the first thing.” The man touched just under his left eye, his fingertips resting lightly on the pink burn. “It’s a bad burn.” 

He then smiled again, lowered his hand and leaned against the counter.

“My name is Zuko. What’s yours?” He asked.

“Oh, I’m Katara.” She said, taken aback by his manner. “Did you, are you picking up an order?” 

Zuko stood up and placed his hands on the counter.

“I am, yes. It’s a large order though, for the Jasmine Dragon. Is your brother around?” He said.

“How’d you know he’s my brother?” Katara asked.

“You look alike.” Zuko replied simply.

“Mmmh.” Katara intoned, neutrally accepting his comment. “Yeah, Sokka is in the back. Do you have a van or...?” 

Zuko was casually dressed, but in the way wealthy people were casual. She couldn’t fathom him moving large vases of sloshing water and loose petals. If he was picking up a large order, it didn’t look like he was ready to help move it.

“Yeah, it’s around back.” Zuko said just as the door to the workroom clattered open. The smell of sugar water and chlorophyll wafted out with the cooler air conditioned breeze. Sokka walked out, his apron damp and dotted with leaves and petals. 

“Zuko! I was wondering if that was your van. Is it new?” Sokka asked.

Zuko’s smile broadened as he clasped hands with Sokka. They shook hands as male friends do; a grand but brief gesture that was loud and normally came with heavy back pats. Katara watched curiously. Granted, she had only just started working at her brother’s flower shop, but she had never heard of this customer before. 

“So you managed to wrangle your sister into working with you?” Zuko asked and Katara grew more confused.

“Only for the summer.” Sokka admitted and Zuko turned to her.

“That’s right, congrats on getting into med school.” He said.

Bewildered, Katara pulled a face and looked between the two men.

“Who are you?” She asked Zuko and the two laughed.

“I was your brother’s roommate for the whole semester and a half he did at college. After he left, we still kept in touch.” Zuko said.

“His uncle actually loaned me the money to open the shop.” Sokka added.

“And now look at it! I heard you did the flowers for some fancy wedding in the North Pole.” Zuko said, leaning now toward Sokka.

“That was my grandmother’s wedding and you know it.” Sokka said blithely and put his hand on Zuko’s face, shoving him away from the counter.

“Okay, I got it, you two are friends.” Katara said and rubbed her eyes. “Are we getting the order or what?”

Surprisingly, Zuko did help them load the van. It was good too, as she wasn’t used to lugging the large vases. Once they were secured in their boxes, Sokka brought out the flowers while Katara used her bending to fill them with water. Apparently, before she got there, he would have to move the half-filled vases and not everyone brought someone to assist. 

This was part of the job that Katara enjoyed; it got her away from the customers. Except this time, Zuko followed them into the back room. So as she was filling the vases, Zuko kept talking, and  she learned their destination. The Jasmine Dragon, a teahouse she had seen on her drives to the shop, was owned by Zuko’s uncle. While not an employee - Zuko was evasive about his actual job - he would often help out and had chosen to do the flower pick ups. The flowers would be changed out weekly, which was extravagant on its own, and the arrangements themselves were exquisite. 

To irritate Sokka, who had proven oddly talented in flower arranging as a teenager, Zuko pulled out a thin white flower from the center of a vase.

“Here.” Zuko said and handed it to Katara. She took it, but stared at it for a moment. 

“Why?” She asked, looking up at him.

“I’m just glad to meet you.” He said with a shrug. Katara looked back down at the flower, then up again at him.

“I,” She blinked. “Work here?” 

“Oh, well I’ll take it back then.” Zuko said and reached for it. Katara yanked her hand back quickly.

“No.” She said sharply, then blushed again. “I mean, thank you.”

Zuko smiled and ran a hand through his hair. Sokka, done rearranging the flowers, came up and again shoved at Zuko.

“Stop hitting on my sister.” He grumbled. Zuko laughed and went back to the van, sliding the door shut. He waved as he got in and drove off, while Sokka shook his head and went back inside. 

Katara held the snowmelt blossom to her nose, breathing in the light scent.

It was her favorite flower.