After the end of the play the group returned to the beach house. Everyone was discouraged, quieter than usual, the only thing that was said as they shuffled around were comments about how unrealistic the play was, especially the ending. Katara was discouraged too, but not about the end of a play that was nothing but fire nation propaganda, it was something else... A thought, no, the idea of a thought. It was so vague and she had avoided it so much, that she couldn't even consider that she had thought about it.
But now she supposed it was time to think about it.
Instead of entering the house with the others, Katara went to the footbridge overlooking the beach. She took off her shoes and sat down on the edge, the tips of her toes touching the cold sea water, she looked at the sky and realized that there was no moon and the absence of it made her feel even more lost.
She began to untie her hair, undoing her bows, taking off the small hairpiece that she is been wearing on top of her head lately, as if it were a crown.
She thought about Aang and how she felt about him... What she felt about him? Affection, that was clear. She wanted his well-being. [But she also wanted the well-being of Toph, Sokka, and Suki. That didn't mean she was in love with them.]
Maybe the right thing to do was focus on what she was not feeling. Katara thought about the kiss earlier, the absence of butterflies in her stomach, the absence of that warm feeling in her cheeks. And she remembered the feeling of rejection and how confused she felt. She looked at her hands, at the red flame shaped hairpiece she was holding.
And she felt butterflies in her stomach.
She let out a big sigh and stayed a long time contemplating the horizon, avoiding that other idea…
She heard footsteps across the footbridge, turned, expecting to meet Aang, but it was Zuko that her eyes met.
"Do you mind if I sit here? The prince asked.
"No, not at all." She said, making room for him.
Katara noticed that before sitting down, Zuko took off his shoes as well.
Did he like the feel of seawater too? She wondered.
"Are you thinking about the play?" Zuko asked again. Katara nodded. "The ending was terrible." the firebender added.
"The ending is bad, but that's not what I was thinking... That was just fire nation propaganda." said the waterbender.
"So what were you thinking?" Zuko looked at her with genuine curiosity. In Katara's hands the hairpiece suddenly felt warm.
"On... on how exaggerated Toph's character was, for example." She replied.
Zuko coincided with a nod. During sveral minutes they listened to the rumor of the tide rising, the crackling of the burning torches. It was not an uncomfortable silence, but neither was it exactly a peaceful one. Katara thought it was the kind of silence that doesn't ask questions, but definitely expects answers.
"You know what was unexpected?" commented the firebender, suddenly.
"What?" Katara looked at the prince expectantly.
"Our relationship." Zuko mentioned. Katara felt her cheeks turn red. The firebender's face turned into a mask of shyness and he added, "I mean, the relationship of our characters in the play."
Though she herself felt somewhere between nervous and embarrassed, she was unable to look away from Zuko. They looked at one another without saying anything for a brief moment, then Zuko looked away, apparently more embarrassed than she was.
Katara looked down at both of their feet, half sunk in the cold water. She opened her hands and saw the hearpiece, the tiny red flame...
"Would that be so unexpected?" she ventured, keeping her eyes on the water.
"Something between us?" ventured Zuko as well.
When Katara looked up she noticed her shoulder and Zuko's were rubbing against each other. They were so close.
"I think there's only one way to find out." She muttered.
The prince now looked at her and for a split second his golden gaze fell on Katara's lips and Katara noticed it.
Katara approached Zuko, he looked at her lips again, this time lingering on them longer. She noticed that she was feeling butterflies in her stomach and that despite the cold of the night, her cheeks were still warm.
She wanted to check if Zuko's cheeks were warm. She left the hairpiece on the floor of the footbridge, and approached her hands close to the firebender´s face. He did not move. Katara touched Zuko's face with her fingertips and noticed that, despite the cold night, he too had warm cheeks.
Katara brought her face closer to the prince's, but did not kiss him. Their noses brushed against each other, Katara's loose hair falling over the firebender's shoulders.
"Can I do it? Zuko asked. Katara found herself relishing the prince´s breath.
And then She knew the answer.
Chapter 2: Cold Hands
here is, finally, the second part of warm cheeks. enjoy! Comments are welcomed.
That afternoon was nothing like a typical afternoon on Ember Island. The blue of the sky had been replaced by a grey shade of stormy clouds and the ever-playful sea now looked threatening. Zuko sat atop the balcony, watching the changing weather. He watched the clouds gather, reluctant to move despite the wind blowing from the north. He knew that if he stayed in the same spot the rain would soak him. He decided he didn't want to move, maybe the rain would wash away his doubts, his fears...
It had been two days since he and Katara had sat on the edge of the bridgefoot, with the tide soaking their bare feet, while they kissed. It had been two days since that kiss they shared for just some seconds. He remembered that as they separated, both looked out at the sea, perhaps not looking for answers, only wondering if it would keep their secret.
They had not been alone since that night. They spoke a few times, but the kiss did not come up, and Zuko, personally, was afraid to ask. Perhaps that was one-time thing, one of those one-time events best left in the past, because if you brought them into the present they would lose their charm.
A fine drop of rain took him out of his reflections, that drop became one, two: a hundred. Zuko closed his eyes and stood there, hands resting on the railing, as the rain soaked his hair, face, and fingers. It was a relaxing experience that, sadly, he did not do often.
"I didn't know you liked the rain." He suddenly heard. He recognized Karata’s voice, but did not move. He simply inhaled a breath of fresh air.
"It has a relaxing effect, this." He answered shortly after, still not opening his eyes. He heard footsteps: Katara was approaching.
"You know I wasn't used to the rain?" He heard her say, opened his eyes and turned to the waterbender. She took a couple more steps and put her arms on the railing, soaking wet with the rain as well.
"I had no idea, but it's strange, since you are a waterbender..." said Zuko, letting his words die, waiting for Katara to tell the rest of the story. Because from her intonation, he knew she wanted to tell something.
"There's very little rain at the South Pole." She explained. "Water always falls as snow. I'd only seen the rain a couple of times." Katara extended her hand to let more raindrops fall on her. "It still surprises me."
Zuko noticed that particular sparkle in her eyes, the one she always had when she spoke about something that excited her.
Katara closed her eyes and sighed, enjoying the rain that soaked her. Zuko smiled as he realized that, at least in that, they were similar.
"The first time I was in a big storm I felt very powerful." Katara counted, still with her eyes closed. Zuko merely watched as the raindrops trickled down the waterbender's face. "I don't know how to explain it. It's not the power I feel on nights with a full moon, no. This power was like running downhill, with nothing to stop you, just your restless heart, your legs that won't stop..." Katara exhaled, as if the memory alone made her feel powerful and she could not contain herself. She opened her eyes and looked at Zuko "I don't know if you've ever felt anything like that."
Zuko thought for a few seconds and remembered that time, right before he joined the group, when he redirected his father's lightning bolt.
"I caught a lightning bolt once. I redirected it, but for a few seconds... Yes, I understand what you're talking about." Zuko noticed Karata’s lips contracting into a smile and then looked away, realizing that perhaps it was too noticeable where his attention was.
Both were drenched in water, Zuko more than Katara, but water was dripping from both of them. Zuko went to pull back a strand of wet hair that fell unruly on his forehead, noticing that his hands were cold, that in all those minutes talking to Katara he didn’t bothered to warm himself. He wondered if Karata’s hands were cold.
Zuko extended his hand to Karata’s. He placed his palm on the back of one of the girl´s hand, noticing that her skin was cold. The waterbender placed his other hand over Zuko’s.
Zuko wondered how such cold hands could cause such a warm sensation in his chest.
"About what happened the other night..." Katara muttered. The firebender looked at her expectantly. "I don't know what to tell you."
Zuko looked at his hand, caught between Karata’s hands.
"You don't have to say anything."
"But I want to say something." She responded, frustration on her words.
"Then tell me what you feel, whatever you feel."
Katara watched him, with those big blue eyes. The prince was intimidated, but he did not look away.
"I like spending time with you. I couldn't stop thinking about that kiss, but I don't know, everything's so complicated now and I..."
"Then let's not complicate things." Zuko suggested, his voice drowned out. Katara seemed to expect a detailed explanation of that suggestion. He said his definition of uncomplicated. "If you just want to talk at nights or hold my hands, that's fine. If you just want to kiss when no one can see us... That's fine too. We don't need to decide anything yet, Katara."
Katara set her gaze on the sea. Apparently she was reflecting, the prince couldn't help but think that while the waterbender was reflecting, she was holding his hand between her owns.
After a long time Katara looked at him again.
"Nothing will be decided." She commented.
"Not until the war is over."
She nodded, happy with the idea. The firebender, now calmer, stroked his thumb on one of Karata’s hands. Then he gently unclenched the grip. This time he took the waterbender's hands in his hands, and in a few seconds warmed them. He noticed that beneath the raindrops, Katara had managed to blush. Zuko smiled, flattered by it, and then kissed her.
Their lips were both cold, but that changed after some seconds.