The painted lady and laundry
Zuko stood up quickly after he was sure Katara was safe inside her room. She stood there just staring at me for so long, what in the world was she thinking about? He walked out of the courtyard and down the hall to his room. His feet made a soft thud on the floor with each step causing small clouds of dust to roll up. Katara had always been a mystery to him, she was so gentle and soft spoken at some times and at others she was passionate and out spoken. Zuko knew that she was someone special ever since he had found her mother's betrothal necklace and the incidences that had followed after ward had taken place.
He thought about the first time he saw her in the southern water tribe. She had looked so young and afraid where now she is strong and independent. The first time he saw her necklace Zuko had thought she was betrothed but to who. Thinking about it now sparked a flame of jealousy, he knew that she wasn't betrothed but the thought of it made his blood boil. Why did one girl make me feel this way? When I was with Mai things had been comfortable and safe but Katara was an unknown world, exciting and foreign. When Zuko reached his room he changed into his sleeping robe and climbed into his bed. Katara wouldn't leave his mind one waterbender who he had fought a thousand times, someone who had just been in the way of his capture of the Avatar was now someone Zuko wanted to know and understand. Someone that was more to him then he let on and was afraid of letting in close. Generally speaking he let very few people close to Iroh was one and he let Mai close but never fully.
Zuko shut his eyes and fell into a deep sleep. Sometime that night he opened his eyes to see a women standing over him, her hat covered her eyes and the long veils that fell from the obscured her face. Zuko was still mostly asleep and could just barely focus on what was going on around him. Her dress hung loose around her arm and waist her hair cascaded over her shoulders in long sweeping waves. He could see the red lines that gently swept along her cheeks and shoulder. She had to be a spirit, she was so beautiful, Zuko tried to move to reach out for her but her hand touched his face. This has to be a dream. It was cool and soothing and soon Zuko fell back into an even deeper sleep. His dreams were filled by this mystery woman. He chased her through forests and he could never catch her she stayed always just out of his reach. It seemed like the harder he ran to reach her, the further away she became Zuko had to find this Painted Lady.
The sun's first rays awoke him with a sweet caress. When he lifted his head and the memories if the lady came flooding back. Zuko pondered if what he had seen was real or if it had just been a dream.Was she real or just a vision? After several minutes of debating he finally gave up and dressed for the day. He walked out of his room and down to the courtyard to meditate, there was no need to be worried about being disturbed. Zuko was always the first one up, do to his connection with the sun. Aang would be up in about an hour or two followed by Toph, and Sokka and Suki, and finally Katara. He went to the center of the courtyard and sat down cross legged and relaxed. With the sun's first rays brushing his neck it was easy to clear his mind and just enjoy the peace and quiet.
She opened her eyes to see sunlight streaming in the window. Katara pushed herself up and slid out of bed. Landing on the floor with a dull thud she stretched out her arms, morning was not one of her favorite times of day. Katara dressed and did her hair before walking out to the courtyard to find the other. They were all sitting around not doing much, this was a bit out of the ordinary, normally Aang was training with Toph by now. As she walked out into the courtyard everyone turned and looked at her.
"What's going on?" Katara asked, Toph looked over in her direction.
"Nothing Sokka has deemed this a no training day and for once I have to agree with him." She noticed Zuko slouched on the steps not looking very thrilled about the idea. Katara decided that a day of rest would be a good thing for everyone plus she had chores that needed to be done.
"Well that's fine by me I need to do some laundry." She said calmly. At this Sokka pricked up and it was just like he had back home. He got a huge grin on his face.
"Katara can you grab my stuff as well and don't forget my socks." She just rolled her eyes. His socks where the last thing in the world that she wanted to touch, Katara knew he would just pout if she said no plus she was the only person who could do it right. Katara shrugged her shoulders,
"Fine I'll just do everyone's while I'm at it." She went back into the house and up into the attic to find a basket that could be used to carry the clothes in. After digging around in the attic she finally found one. Katara went about the house collecting the clothes from each of their rooms. As she left to start washing the clothes she ran into Suki.
"Hey we are all going into town." She said in her normal bubbly voice.
"Okay have fun I'll be here washing." Katara said with a shrug.
"Thanks for doing this." She smiled and ran off to catch up with Sokka no doubt. Katara went to Sokka, Suki, and Aang's room she was about to go out to start washing when Katara realized she hadn't gone into Zuko's room. She turned on her heel and headed down the hall to his room, to Katara’s surprise he kept his room very clean. There was a robe folded on his bed which she picked up and threw in her basket along with several other pieces of clothing she found in a pile near the door. Katara lifted the basket onto her hip and went out the back of the house to where a stream flowed.
Katara set the basket down and took off her own clothes that were in need of washing. Katara felt strangely exposed standing in the woods completely alone in only her under wrappings. She decided that she need to throw something on just till she had washed her own things. Katara looked into the basket and saw the robe she had taken from Zuko’s bed. He’s not here and no one would ever know if I wore it plus what would it hurt it was going to be washed any way. Katara pulled on the soft robe, it was made of silk and hung loose around her body. From the feel of the fabric she figured that this was his night robe. As she tied the belt about her waist the smell of the fabric wafted up to her. It was smoky not the bad kind of smoke smell but a sweet light smell, there was also the hint of spice to it and something else she didn't recognize. When Katara realized that she was infact enjoying the scent she snapped herself out of her trance and back to the work at hand.
Zuko was walked back to his room, he had seen no point in going to town with everyone else. I’m sick of hiding my face from my own people. But, he knew that if he was caught that Ozai would have him executed for sure. Zuko also wanted to try and work out what he had seen the night before, he figured if it had been a real person in his room they may have left some clue behind as to who they were. Once he reached his room he saw that the pile of clothes by the door were gone along with his night robe that he had left on the bed. Zuko slapped his forehead when he remembered Katara was doing laundry, she must have just come into my room and picked up all the clothes she had seen. Zuko walked out of his room to go and find her, I could keep her company and maybe we could talk or something. He figured she would be by the stream and headed out to find her.
When Zuko came around the tree what he saw caused him to freeze on the spot. She’s wearing my night robe! Zuko had no idea what to do, her back was to him as she washed something. He couldn’t help but notice how it was cinched around her waist showing off her curves. All he seemed to be able to do was stand there like a complete idiot and watch her. She bent some water out of the shirt she was working on and hung it up on a tree branch, Zuko quickly stepped back to hide but stepped on a twig that snapped and made a loud pop. She spun around ready to attack whoever was there and when her eyes met his, Zuko watched several emotions run across her face. First relief, then confusion and finally embarrassment her face drained of all color as she stared at him wide eyed.
"Z-Zuko? What…what are you doing here I thought you went into town with everyone." He gaped at her and stammered out.
"Ahh no. What are you doing wearing my clothes." She began to knot and unknot her fingers.
"I ah I needed something to wear while I washed my clothes and I saw your robe." She squeaked out.
"Why didn't you wear something of Aang's or Sokka's?" Zuko asked wanting to know why she had picked his robe to wear.
"It was the first thing I found plus Aang's clothes are too small and Sokka's stink so bad." Zuko still couldn't believe it she was standing in front of him in his cloths, it was so strange his brain couldn't seem to process it. Then Katara blotted past back into the house leaving Zuko there purely dumbfounded.