❯ Zuko Was No Coward – The Better Part of Valor ( Chapter 14 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Obsession

“Just keep walking.” Zuko grabbed her arm, preventing her from turning. “Don’t turn around.”

Her head turned to look over her shoulder. “But Zuko—”

He gave her a sharp yank, causing her to stumble and forcing her to look at her feet. “Don’t look. Pretend you didn’t hear.”

“But someone’s calling me,” Katara huffed.

Gold eyes glinted at her, expression impassive. “Do you recognize the voice?”

She frowned. “Well, no.”

Zuko looked away, scanning the crowd ahead of them, never releasing her arm. “Then ignore him.”

“But what if he needs help?”

She blushed at his sardonic look. “While I can appreciate your bleeding heart tendencies—having benefited from them several times in the past—that man is not distressed.”

She unconsciously quickened her steps to match Zuko’s suddenly brisk pace. “But why is he calling me then?”

“You trained the Avatar, you helped end the war, you’re a Master Waterbender—of course you would gather fans.”

“You did all those things too and they’re not calling for you.”

“I am wearing red while you, Sweetums, insisted on wearing your Water Tribe blue. Besides, they would not dare address their Fire Lord by his given name.”

A joyous squeal suddenly erupted to their right, “Great Spirits, it’s Zuko!”

As one, the crowd turned. Zuko flinched back, his steps faltering for the first time since Katara’s name had been called. Katara laughed, raising an eyebrow at Zuko. “You were saying?”

“Shut up! Look for a way to escape.”

“You can’t run from your people.”

“I can and I will. They’re crazy.”

Before Katara could respond, the crowd converged on them. Hands reached out—touching, grabbing, pulling—and voices rose in a chaotic din.

“I want to have your baby!”

“Marry me!”

“Does that tan go all over?”

“Fuck marriage! I just want to ride you.”

“I’ve always liked exotic women.”

“I touched him!”

“Agni, so tight and firm!”

“I bet you’re flexible, want to try it out some time?”

“So many scars, I can play your personal healer—”

In the surge of the crowd Katara felt Zuko’s hand slip away from her and she was suddenly alone, surrounded by men—and women—all touching and soliciting her. Panic set in as the clinging hands grew bolder and suddenly it wasn’t just hands touching her. Katara screamed for Zuko and suddenly people were shouldered out of the way as Zuko charged through, scooping Katara up without pausing. The crowd roared in protest, but fell back when Zuko fell into a firebending stance and a wall of fire erupted between them. The wall of flame didn’t last long, but Zuko used the seconds to disappear.

Zuko wove through the alleys and less crowded streets, putting as much distance between them and the fanatic crowd behind them as he could, before he paused in a darkened alley and sunk into the deep shadows. Finally, Zuko set Katara on her own feet as he leaned against the wall and caught his breath. Katara silently stayed in his loose embrace, her arms wrapped around his shoulders and her face pressed into his chest. It was only when his thundering heartbeat slowed to a normal rate that she pulled away, letting her hands slide down to rest on his arms. Blue eyes evaluated his appearance, taking in his tousled hair and disheveled clothing. Her eyes narrowed and her hand lifted to trace a lipstain mark on his neck and cheek. They narrowed even further when she caught a hint of the lipstain on his lips. Apparently, Zuko had tried to rub it away. She raised her eyes to meet his gaze and allowed a lopsided smile, tapping a fingertip against his lower lip. “Well, I can’t fault them for taste, how was the execution?”

Gold eyes darkened and his hands tightened on her hips. “Awful.”

Katara let her hand fall to his shoulder, feigning a disappointed sigh. “I suppose you won’t be replacing your healer any time soon, then.”

Zuko paused, considering her in silence as his hands gripped her hips and drew her closer. “I may need a new palace healer.”

Shock crossed her features and her hands slid down his shoulders, resting against his chest. She could feel the steady thrum of his heart beneath her fingers. “Why?”

His fingers flexed on her hips. He turned her, pressing her into the wood panel of a door at his back. “I was thinking the current healer would hold a different office.”

Wide blue eyes gazed up at him and he heard her breath catch. Zuko leaned into her, eyes drifting from her eyes to her parted lips. He moved slowly, waiting for any sign of protest. He stopped a breath away, gold eyes meeting blue. Surprise, anxiety, and something else reflected back at him.

“Katara.”

Her name was low and rough and it vibrated through her chest. A whimper escaped her and her eyes lidded as her chin rose a fraction. Zuko closed the distance, brushing a barely there kiss on her trembling lips. Katara’s arms slid around him, fingers digging into the fabric of his shirt. She tugged and Zuko responded, his mouth coming down on hers, hot and demanding. Heat rushed through her, tingling her fingers and sending her heart racing. They parted with a gasp, eyes locking.

“Marry me?”

Katara’s breath caught and her mouth worked soundlessly, searching for words, before stuttering, “You—I—”

Zuko pressed his forehead to hers and took an unsteady breath. “Please. Heal me?”

Tears filled her eyes. “Zuko. Of course I’ll marry you.”

To her surprise, instead of another enthusiastic kiss, he let his head fall to her shoulder and his arms tightened around her. A shudder shook his frame and she stroked his back, running her fingers through his hair and dancing them over the back of his neck. She barely heard him when he asked, “Really?”

Katara turned her head, kissing his temple. “Yes. I love you.”

Zuko Was No Coward – There Was A Time