St. Valentine's Day: ATLA-Style
A/N: Okay, so I admit it: I used to be fine with canon Kataang (even got a little enthusiastic about their cuteness) but then some conversations with friends led me to DeviantArt. And then Fanfiction. And before you know it, I jumped ship to Zutara and gosh darn it, I will go down with this ship forever. YOU CAN'T STOP THE FEELS! …I mean…
This story was written for my dear friend MertleYuts around Valentine's Day. I actually didn't finish it until almost a month later, so here it is now.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or any affiliated characters or other such things. This is purely for my own evil enjoyment.
"Hey guys, hey guys! Guess what tomorrow is?"
Aang glided down from the clouds and flipped to a neat stop in front of his gathered friends: Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, and Zuko. They had been sitting around the campfire, shivering slightly in the frigid winter air, with a range of expressions from no-one-talk-to-me-I'm-still-sleeping (Sokka) to wide-awake-and-already-did-my-firebending-exercises (Zuko). Katara and Suki were cooking breakfast while Toph taunted Momo, and from the smells of it, breakfast was nearly ready.
"What day is tomorrow, Aang?" Katara asked while Suki nudged (or rather, shook) Sokka awake. Aang plopped down between Toph and Zuko, the latter of whom was trying to sip his tea without burning himself. Aang accidentally knocked into him and Zuko cursed.
"Oops! Sorry Zuko!"
"It's fine, Aang, it's just tea," Toph rolled her eyes while Zuko scooted away from Aang, tea held high, scowling.
"It's not just tea," Zuko muttered.
"I'm sure the firebending master can handle a little boiling water," Toph snickered. Zuko glared, then realized his expression was wasted on her and grumpily returned to his tea.
"Calm down everyone, we're about to eat," Katara said consolingly. "Sorry it took a little bit longer than normal."
"That's all right, Katara. I almost made you guys wait for me," Aang said, distracted by the fruity-smelling congee Katara spooned into his bowl.
"Yeah, it's not like Twinkles toes is used to getting his food delivered instantly," Toph remarked slyly. "It's probably good for some of us to get away from being pampered by servants day in and day out."
Zuko snorted. "I am not pampered! Just because I'm the new Firelord does not mean I get food whenever I want it."
"Then you should find new servants, Sparky," Toph waved her spoon at him. "That, or a woman who's not afraid to order people around!"
Zuko's jaw dropped, but before he could muster a scathing retort Katara quickly interrupted, "So Aang! What was it about tomorrow that you wanted to tell us?"
Aang leapt to his feet. "Oh yeah, that's right! Tomorrow is Sifu Ken'ichi's Day!"
Blank looks were shared around the circle. A yawning Sokka mumbled, "Whosawhatsit?"
"Sifu Ken'ichi Day!" Aang repeated, looking crestfallen that no one else seemed to understand the significance of the day. "You know, the day to celebrate love and friendship and eat chocolate and sing songs and enjoy dances together?"
More blank looks. "Is this an airbender holiday?" Katara asked carefully.
"I mean, Sifu Ken'ichi wasn't an airbender, but his teachings on love and compassion are well-known and held in high regard by the monks. Or… they used to be well known."
Zuko looked distinctly uncomfortable as everyone thought but no one said that the tradition had likely been forgotten – or destroyed along with the airbender people – when the fire nation had attacked a century ago.
"Well, Aang, if you remember the customs maybe we can all celebrate the occasion tomorrow," Katara said practically.
"Yeah, we're on vacation!" Toph crowed. "It's a perfect time to party!"
"Okay, yeah!" Aang exclaimed, his excitement returning. "It'll be so much fun!"
"What is it you said we're celebrating, exactly?" Zuko asked skeptically.
"Love and friendship! Well, mainly friendship, I suppose, but back in the day there were all kinds of festivals for lovers."
Toph elbowed Sokka, who seemed to have dozed off again. "Hear that, Sokka? It's a day for romance."
Sokka immediately jerked awake. "Romance?" He glanced over at Suki, wide-eyed. "Like what? How romantic? What did people do?"
"A lot of things, Aang said, shrugging. "I thought we could all exchange little gifts or favors – sweets were pretty popular – since friends often did things for each other, too. I don't know you; you can really do anything you want."
Zuko crossed his arms. "I don't know about this. That's not a lot of time to come up with gifts or food if we're celebrating tomorrow."
"It doesn't have to be elaborate," Toph rolled her eyes. Then snickered. "Unless you're planning to romance someone tomorrow, Firelord."
"What? Be serious!" he snapped, blushing furiously. "I don't have time for romance when there's a nation to run!"
"That was the whole point of dragging you out here in the first place," Suki put in. Then, realizing everyone was staring at her in disbelief – especially Sokka – she said hurriedly, "The vacation part, I meant!"
Zuko put his hands over his face. "I don't do romance," he said again.
"No one's forcing you to do anything you don't want to do," Katara snapped unexpectedly, cheeks red. "Like Aang said, it's a chance to celebrate our friendship. It's not like we get to see each other that often anymore."
"Here, here," Toph said.
Zuko looked away, cheeks still burning. "Fine," he muttered.
"Great!" Aang smiled. "Now that that's settled, who wants to take a field trip into town?"
As it turned out, everyone went into town, but it was eventually decided that the girls would split off from the boys – mainly so that Sokka could get something for Suki and still have it be a surprise. As they waved to the departing trio (Zuko still scowling as much as if they had said he had to get a makeover and wear women's clothing), Katara couldn't help but worry that Aang might try and get her something more romantically inclined as well…
It wasn't as if she didn't care for Aang, she mused as Suki led them down the avenue, but she had thought theirs was a strictly platonic relationship. Once, it might have been more, but now…
"I wonder why Zuko got so hot and bothered this morning," Suki said aloud, and Katara started. "It's not like he's never been with anyone before, right? I thought he had a girlfriend back in the fire nation."
"Not anymore," Toph said cheerfully. A little too cheerfully, perhaps.
"That's a shame," Katara murmured, trying to sound normal and disinterested. "I thought they were cute together."
Toph snorted in disbelief. "Zuko and Mai? She was so dull and unemotional! Zuko needs someone who's not afraid to fight with him. Or willing to kick his butt when he needs it."
"Yeah, I can see that," Suki agreed. "Someone more complementary, perhaps."
"Someone passionate, too. I can't see, but going by his voice I imagine Lord Hotness is cute enough to attract any girl in the Fire Nation," Toph drawled.
"Well when we've all finished deciding who Zuko should be with, I think we should actually start looking for gifts for the boys," Katara said loudly. Almost angrily. "Come on, let's go in here." She ducked inside a small shop while Suki glanced at Toph, surprised.
Toph smirked. "After you."
"What about this one?" Sokka shoved a bracelet beneath Zuko's nose, who eyed it distastefully.
"Of course it's blue! I'm from the Water Tribe, man! Everything is blue!"
"But Suki isn't from the Water Tribe," Aang pointed out. "Don't the Kyoshi warriors wear a lot of green?"
"Yeah, but I wanted to give her something more symbolic…" Sokka trailed off, spotting something over Zuko's shoulder. "Oh! Wait just a second!" He darted off.
Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. "Remind me why we're doing this?"
"Oh come on, Zuko, it's just a friendly gesture," Aang exclaimed. "You could always just get them chocolates or exotic fruit."
"Exotic fruit? Where am I supposed to get exotic fruit?"
"We just passed a vender over there," Aang pointed. Zuko followed his gaze and saw another jewelry vender set up beside one with fruits and another with cabbages.
"I guess I'll check it out," he muttered, and wandered over before Sokka could return and solicit his opinion again. How was he supposed to know what kind of jewelry Suki would like?
He stopped before the two carts and glanced over the wares, feeling foolish. What would those three like? Toph didn't have any use for jewelry; she'd probably be happy with food. He didn't want to take a chance offending Suki, so definitely food for her. As for Katara…
"Looking for something, young man?" the street vendor, a wizened old woman with grey hair piped up at his elbow.
"Not in particular," he answered honestly. "I'm trying to find a gift for a friend."
The woman peered at him. "A female friend?"
"Ahh…" the woman pondered. "A special female friend?"
Zuko threw up his hands. "No! I mean, yes! I mean, no! Agh, I don't know!" He had half a mind to turn around and head back to Aang and Sokka, but the woman tugged at his sleeve.
"Fear not, young man. I have some special items I'd be happy to pull out for you. Just a moment." She disappeared behind the cart.
Now's your chance to escape, he thought, but stood still. What would Katara like? He thought back to her mother's necklace, beautiful in its simplicity. She wouldn't want something to replace that, of course. And hadn't Sokka mentioned that those were traditionally betrothal necklaces…?
For a moment his imagination conjured Katara in traditional Fire Nation bridal robes, and his breath caught in his throat. Then his mind caught up to his imagination and he shook his head to dispel the image, cursing himself for a fool. Katara probably had plenty of suitors among the Water Tribe, and probably elsewhere. Including… hadn't Aang been in love with her at one point? Was he no longer? Zuko's stomach clenched. What if this "Sifu Ken'ichi' Day" was just an excuse for Aang to woo Katara?
"Here, young man," the old woman returned bearing a cushion with several necklaces on it. "These were made by the finest artisans in the region with the best quality gold they could source. These stones," she indicated one, "are Fire Nation rubies."
Zuko's gaze was drawn to a piece centered around an unusual stone. "What's this one? It almost looks like lightning." Surrounded by a storm, he thought, studying the myriad of colors swirling through the stone.
"Ah, that is a fire opal," the old woman said, nodding. "Extremely rare, but extremely beautiful."
Zuko studied it, pondering. It was a short necklace, but still longer than Katara's mother's, which nestled in the hollow of the wearer's throat. Zuko was momentarily distracted by the memory of when, desperate to find the Avatar, he had tied Katara to a tree and taunted her with her mother's necklace. Even then, when she had been the enemy, he had noticed the delicate lines of her throat and collar bones…
Stop it! he shook himself mentally. Katara is your friend. She probably would never see you as anything other than a friend. Get a grip, Zuko.
"Hey Zuko! Whatcha looking at?" Aang peered curiously around his shoulder at the necklaces.
Zuko stiffened. "Nothing! Absolutely nothing. Thank you," he gave a quick bow to the woman, "for showing me your wares." He gripped Aang by the arm and began to drag him away from the stand.
"Hey, wait a minute!" the airbender protested. "Those were pretty! Were you thinking of getting one for one of the girls?"
"Of course not," Zuko blustered. "Like you said, food is probably best. Come on, we have to find Sokka."
"Uhhh, Sokka is still trying to find something for Suki…" Aang said, eyes widening. "We should probably leave him to search in peace, right?"
Zuko caught on. "Oh. Yeah. He'll just find us when he's gotten something." They abruptly swung back in the direction they had come, passing the disappointed necklace vender.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, glancing over various venders and stalls. Eventually Aang said, "So, that necklace…"
"You wanted to get something for Katara?" Zuko blurted, then winced.
"Well…" Aang seemed hesitant.
Hope swelled unbidden in Zuko's chest. "Are you, uh… still interested… in… her?"
Aang scratched his head uncomfortably. "I mean… I'll always love her as a friend, you know?"
"Yeah," Zuko murmured, thinking the exact opposite.
"Besides," Aang said, "I think she may be interested in someone else."
Zuko abruptly stopped walking. "What?! Who?"
Aang glanced back at him, surprised. "Does that bother you?"
Zuko struggled with himself. It shouldn't bother him. Katara was her own woman, free to make her own choices. "Of – of course not," he lied.
Aang didn't look convinced, but didn't press him either, for which Zuko was extremely grateful. The last thing he felt like discussing with Aang was his interest – no, he wasn't interested in Katara! He couldn't be. "Let's find a food vender so we can get something for the girls," he said abruptly. Better to do something simple, and leave it at that.
To be continued…