A/N: I decided that after all the heavy drama and darkness in my other story, "Conversations with Ozai", I would like to try my hand at writing something light and fluffy. This is just a one-shot, and originally meant to be a stand-alone piece...but if you squint you could imagine it as a bit of a prequel to some of the events in CwO. I guess because in my head cannon, they all run together.
This takes place during Book 3: Fire, toward the end of the series when the Gaang is hiding out at the Royal Family's beach house on Ember Island.
Also, for the record, I don't have anything against vegetarians. I just think they're weird.
The Way to His Heart
Katara watched with rapt attention as Toph systematically stacked up pile after pile of silver coins-what remained of her winnings weeks earlier when she had run her scams and acquired the relative wealth-and went through the painstaking process of metalbending them all together into solid lumps; only to scrunch up her stubby little fingers and separate them into stacks of newly formed coins a moment later. Ten coins turned to twelve; over and over again.
"Nice way to stretch a silver piece." Suki commented approvingly, tapping a finger upon her bottom lip as she too admired the earthbender's latest craft.
"Yeah, no kidding." Sokka put in, picking up one of the newly formed coins and holding it up close to his eye to inspect it. It was flawless, of course. "Hey! You know what this means?"
A roomful of deadpan stares were the Water Tribe warrior's only answer.
Sokka grabbed a handful of coins and snuggled them to his face. "We can afford to go SHOPPING!"
There was a loud slapping sound, and Katara turned to toss a sympathetic glance at Zuko, whose palm was still flat against his own forehead.
Beautifully painted paper parasols and bolts of exotic silk were hung all around; their finely crafted ends billowing in the warm ocean breeze. Suki and the Water Tribe siblings meandered down the rows of shops and open air stalls, browsing through the goods and occasionally stopping to inspect something that caught their eyes. Zuko and Toph had stayed back at the beach house with Aang under the pretense of continuing his training; but in truth the rest of them had deemed it more dangerous than it was worth to bring the tattooed young boy out into the crowded marketplace for something as trivial as a shopping trip. The Avatar had pleaded with those big gray eyes of his to come along, but Katara needed only to pat him on the shoulder and promise to bring him something back and he had reluctantly agreed that keeping hidden was best.
"Oooooohhhh..." Sokka swooned, skipping up to a merchant's display of delicately embroidered scarves and sashes.
Suki rolled her eyes and hooked her arm through her boyfriend's, pulling him in the other direction. "Come on, Sokka. Enough of this stuff...you already got a new pair of boots. Let's go over to the produce stalls and see if we can find something nice to make for dinner." The mention of a meal seemed to sate him, and he stopped struggling.
"I wonder what everybody would like?" Katara mused aloud. "It would be fun to make something special...like a great big feast to help us all relax and unwind a little."
The Kyoshi warrior nodded her agreement. "That's a great idea, Katara! Now that we're not on a rice and ramen budget anymore, it really would be a great change of pace to indulge a bit. I'm sure everybody misses eating their favorite things from home...I sure do. Plus, now that we can afford it, it would be nice to have some meat."
Sokka wrapped an arm possessively around the girl's waist, planting a kiss on her cheek. "And that's why I love you..."
"Well, they dosay food is the way to a man's heart." she grinned.
Katara watched the happy couple thoughtfully, a soft smile tugging at her lips. If the old adage was true; and Suki was generally right about these things, then perhaps putting on a wonderful meal would be just the way to show her friends how much she cared.
"Hey, pass the roast duck-iguana…" Toph demanded, gesturing toward nothing in particular with her chopsticks.
"Watch it!" whined Sokka as one of the tapered sticks nearly jabbed him in the eye. He turned to Suki and made a face, prompting the Kyoshi girl to giggle.
Katara smiled and pushed the platter of sweet smelling meat and roasted fruit toward Zuko, who began portioning out heaping servings onto Toph's plate and his own. The feast that she and Suki had laid out for their friends was a culinary masterpiece—at least, it was as far as the waterbender was concerned. It had been months since they had enjoyed such bounty, and as she had hoped the delectable meal was well received by their tight knit group of friends. Although…
"Katara?" a timid voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Yeah, Aang?" She turned her brilliant blue gaze upon him, expectantly awaiting his compliments with regard to the dinner she had crafted with love.
The airbender hesitated, gnawing on his lower lip for a moment as he fingered one of his chopsticks. They were clean—he had not touched his food. "It's just…um…It looks like you used duck-iguana broth in the vegetable soup."
Katara shrugged, her soft lips still pulled into a smile. "Of course. It gives it more flavor."
"Twinkletoes, what's your problem?" Toph cut in, having picked up on the Avatar's rising heart rate.
Aang sighed. "I'm sorry, I can't eat this." He pushed his bowl away, sinking dejectedly into his seat. The others all paused their conversations to throw glances in the boy's direction. Feeling their eyes upon him, he elaborated "There's meat broth in here. I'm a vegetarian. Don't you know that by now?"
The stinging sensation of unbidden moisture welling in her eyes brought the waterbender to her senses. "Oh…I'm sorry, Aang. It was an honest mistake…I guess I just got carried away…" She stopped to take a shuddering breath and blink back her tears; hoping that no one would notice how upset the sudden turn of events had made her.
Someone did, of course. "Your loss." Zuko said pointedly to Aang before reaching across to grab the discarded bowl of soup. "This is amazing…" he assured the young boy before hefting it to his lips and slurping right from the bowl. "You shouldn't turn your nose up at a good thing, Aang."
"It's okay, Katara. I'll just go grab some lychee nuts or something…" The airbender muttered halfheartedly.
Katara nodded absently, resting her chin in her hand and watching as the Fire Prince devoured her food with gusto. When he came up for air and smiled at her, his eyes shining like molten gold, she couldn't help but blush. Maybe Suki was right. She hoped so.