Author’s Note: In which there is fluff and shipping because the plot needs a break and the author likes the occasional fanservice.
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***A Whole New World***
It’d been a week since they had arrived in Ba Sing Se and a week since Katara had last seen Zuko. Since Ju Dee had mentioned that the newest arrivals were sectioned off in the Lower Ring, Katara had been thinking of ways to sneak out and find him. Today she had finally managed to set her plan in motion. The previous evening she had casually told Sokka and the others that she was going shopping – something that never failed to discourage them – and she had left early enough to avoid Ju Dee tagging along as her “attentive” host.
The train had taken her to the outskirts of the Lower Ring and from there she had taken to wondering around the streets, looking for any place that would possibly serve tea. By midday she had found none. Katara sat by a small spring tired and disappointed. The Lower Ring was a lot larger than it looked. Where would she find them? She watched absentmindedly as a few kids played with their earthbending ball nearby. Suddenly one of them kicked a rock with more strength than was needed at another kid, grazing his arm. Worried, his friends gathered around him and helped him to the spring to wash it. Without thinking Katara approached them.
“Let me help you,” she offered to the injured boy. He looked at her disbelievingly.
“How?” he asked suspiciously.
“Give me your arm,” Katara said forming the healing glove on her right hand without missing a beat. She touched the boy’s arm healing it instantly. The kids were now looking her like she was some kind of Spirit or something.
“Thank you,” the boy said in a friendlier tone. He looked at her searchingly. “Are you lost?” he asked finally.
“Kind of,” Katara admitted sheepishly, her hopes going up again. “I guess you know the Lower Ring very well.”
“Of course!” the kids looked at her proudly.
“Then, can you take me at the best teashop here?” she asked them, standing up. The kids talked quietly amongst them for a few moments and then the boy she had healed turned to her.
“Follow us,” he told Katara, taking her by the hand to drag her along.
They led her through back alleys to another part of the Ring. Then they stopped in front of a humble looking teashop.
“There’s an old man and his nephew and niece working there,” one of them explained. “The old man makes the best tea in Ba Sing Se!” Katara smiled at the kids.
“Thank you,” she told them.
“No problem!” they chirped back her before disappearing to the streets. Katara took a deep breath and entered the teashop.
The inside was just as poor as the outside. As she took a seat on a table near the door a smiling man, probably the owner, approached her.
“Welcome to ‘The Hot Teapot’,” he greeted her. “May I suggest today’s special?”
“Yes,” Katara said shyly. “I’ll have that.” She looked around discreetly, trying to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. She saw none. Sighing she turned to look outside the window.
Iroh had been busy all day, brewing pot after pot of today’s special mix. Serving a cup he turned to see which one of his “helpers” was free. Lia was washing some cups on the back side with Zuko drying them, unnoticeably using his firebending.
“Nephew, could you serve this cup?” Iroh called. “It’s for the table next to the window.” Silently Zuko took the cup and moved to the dining room.
“Could you brew one more cup?” Lia asked Iroh suddenly.
“Of course,” he said confused. “But why?” Lia shrugged.
“Just take a look at who’s sitting at the table,” she said non-commitably. The old man did as asked and smiled a knowing smile.
“I think he should take the afternoon off,” he said using the same tone as the Spirit.
Katara heard the footsteps approaching her and turned to see a young man bringing her a cup of tea. Her heart began to beat faster. Zuko had obviously not noticed her, so she turned her head to the other side to avoid being recognized.
“Enjoy your tea,” she heard him mumble gloomily.
“I think I’ll enjoy it more if you join me,” she said turning her head to face him. She lowered her voice. “What do you think Zuko?” she asked.
Zuko was ready to decline the girl’s offer, when he paused. It had probably had to do with the fact that he had been thinking of Katara the whole week, but that girl’s voice really sounded like the waterbender’s. He felt his eyes widen as the girl called him by his real name and turned to smile at him. It was Katara. He smiled back taking a seat next to her. Thankful that the room was empty right now, he leaned and gave her a swift kiss on the cheek.
“I would love to,” he said, blushing lightly.
They sat in silence for a little, enjoying each other’s company, when Lia appeared carrying another cup of tea.
“I thought you’d like to take the afternoon off,” she said indifferently to her brother. “It’s good to see you again Katara,” she added, smiling at the younger girl.
“Good to see you too Lia,” the waterbender smiled back.
“What do you mean I can take the afternoon off?” Zuko asked his sister surprised.
“Well rush hour will begin soon. I’m sure you two don’t want half Ba Sing Se knowing you’re together. So why don’t you take a walk around?”
“But,” Katara began hesitantly, “won’t you get in trouble with your employer?”
“Iroh will take care of him,” Lia said carelessly. “Now go!” she ordered them, half-dragging them out of the teashop.
Once outside the firebender and the waterbender looked at each other surprised and then burst out laughing.
“I didn’t even get to try my tea!” Katara said in mock frustration.
“Now you have a reason to come back tomorrow,” Zuko told her, hoping he didn’t sound too hopeful. He took her hand. “Come with me. I know just the place to go.” Katara followed him curiously as he led her back towards the apartment where he lived.
“Where are we going?” she finally asked him. Zuko noticed her nervous glance and shook his head.
“We won’t go inside. It’s the roof we’re going,” he tried to assure her, most certainly not blushing at the implication of taking his sorta-girlfriend back to his house. “It’s just up these stairs,” he said motioning towards them.
Once they had climbed them he opened the door that led to the roof. Bowing grandly he said:
“After you my lady,” Katara bowed back trying to stifle her giggles.
“My lord,” she answered cheekily and stepped out with Zuko right behind her. “Wow!” she breathed taking a look at the view.
“Yeah,” Zuko said taking her hand once again. “I sometimes come out here when I can’t sleep. The city looks beautiful at night.” Katara turned to look at him. He was paler than usual. She gave him a worried look.
“Please tell me that this doesn’t happen regularly,” she scolded him. Zuko sat down avoiding her eyes. Katara sat next to him silently, looking at him expectantly. He sighed.
“Why can’t I lie to you?” he asked her ruefully. “I missed you and I couldn’t simply look around Ba Sing Se for you. So I came here hoping to see what you were seeing from your window.”
Katara wordlessly hugged him. He hugged her back, leaning down to face her. She was staring back up at him with a small smile on her lips. She brought her hand to his face bringing his lips down to meet hers. He willingly kissed her back bringing her to rest on top of him. When they broke away they were both breathing heavily.
“I missed you too,” she whispered. “I dreamed of you every night and after these dreams I would sit by my window looking at the moon and hoping you saw it too.” She snuggled next to him as they lay looking at the city below them. “Tell me how your days have been,” she asked him.
“You mean after the shock I got when uncle Iroh flirted with the lady at passport control? I guess it’s been okay. We have an apartment, we have jobs, and no one is trying to kill us. It’s just that…” he trailed off.
“Just what?” Katara prodded him gently.
“I don’t know how to explain it. I just feel empty. I miss the days when we were traveling around. Even when we were just trying to escape Azula, I felt like I had a purpose. Now there’s nothing for me. I can’t even firebend. I haven’t bended since our spar after we got out of the desert.” He sat up gazing angrily at the horizon. “What am I doing here Katara?” he asked the girl next to him.
“I understand how you feel,” the waterbender told him. “You feel imprisoned, suffocated by what others force on you. Look at my life in Ba Sing Se. We are supervised all the time by this woman, Ju Dee. She says that she is our hostess, but in reality she is monitoring every move we make. I had to form a whole plan, just to sneak out of the house and come here. I honestly can’t wait until we find Appa and talk to the Earth King!”
“You mean you haven’t talk to him yet?” Zuko looked at her in disbelief. “I thought that Sokka would be preparing plans for an invasion right now!”
“He probably is, but I doubt we’ll ever see them set into motion. We are supposed to wait for a month to see the Earth King, and even when we do, I’m not so sure he would be interested in war.”
“Why would you say that?”
“The only thing any official seems to care about here is the city’s cultural inheritance. Even speaking about the war is forbidden. The city seems perfect, but in reality it’s nothing more than a fancy prison!” Katara was now glaring at the sky too.
“At least we can talk to each other about these things,” Zuko tried to cheer her up. “Imagine if you were alone here.”
“Or if I couldn’t come to the Lower Ring to see you.”
“What have you told your brother to let you come here?” Zuko asked her curiously. She gave him a guilty smile.
“That I was going shopping. He hates being dragged from shop to shop while I’m looking for dresses.” Zuko laughed.
They stayed on the roof talking and kissing from time to time until the sun started to set. Katara sighed.
“I have to go back,” she said sadly. “They’ll start to worry if I’m late and return without any shopping.”
“When will I see you again?” Zuko asked her sad.
“I don’t know. I’ll try to come every other day.” Katara kissed him softly. “I want to stay Zuko; I really do, but…”
“Hey,” he cut her softly. “I know. Don’t worry. At least now I’ll have something to wait for.” He stood and helped Katara to her feet. “Come on, I’ll walk you to the train station. It’s not safe around here at night.”
They walked in silence until they reached the station. Katara turned to face Zuko unsurely. He was looking as awkward as she felt, not really knowing what to say.
“Soooo…” she began.
“I guess I’ll see you around,” he said, mentally kicking himself.
“Yeah.” Katara turned a little disappointed. “Good night Zuko.” She started to walk away. Don’t let her leave like this idiot! his mind screamed at him.
“Katara wait!” he hurried after her. She turned to look at him surprised. “Until we see each other again,” he whispered before kissing her one last time.
When Katara returned at their apartment at the Upper Ring, she found everyone eating dinner. Sokka looked at her surprised.
“You’ve been out all day and bought nothing?” he looked incredulous. Katara shrugged.
“I didn’t find anything I really liked and the shops that had actually good clothes were far too expensive. I liked wandering around though. What did you do today?”
“Toph and I practiced earthbending today!” Aang said cheerfully.
“And scared the wits out of Ju Dee when she started reminding them of the rules considering earthbending inside the walls,” Sokka added gleefully. He, Aang and Toph laughed.
“I hope you didn’t do anything… permanent,” Katara told them disapprovingly.
”No, that would be too much fun,” Toph said in what she obviously thought was a reassuring way. It wasn’t.
“I hope you’re right,” Katara sighed as she stood to gather the dishes. She was in far too good a mood to reprimand them right now. Besides she had to plan how she would sneak out again soon.