CHAPTER 1: THE WESTERN AIR TEMPLE

Katara stood with her friends at the Western Air Temple. In front of them was the guy that had hunted Aang, the only hope for the world. The guy who chased her friends around the globe and burned down whole villages in his search; the Fire Nation Prince: Zuko. She folded her arms and glared at him as he spoke. "Listen. I know I didn't explain myself very well yesterday. I've been through a lot in the past few years and it's been hard". (K) What is he going on about? He can't possibly think any of us would trust him now! "But I'm realizing that I had to go through all of those things to learn the truth". (K) The truth?! "I thought that I had lost my honor and that somehow my father could return it to me, but I know now that no one can give you your honor. It's something you earn for yourself by choosing to do what's right". (K) Since when does Zuko care about what's right?! "All I want now is to play my part in ending this war. And I know my destiny is to help you restore balance to the world". (K) Oh his destiny? Please! Zuko turned to Toph and bowed in the Fire Nation style. "I'm sorry for what I did to you. Fire can be dangerous and wild so as a firebender, I need to be careful and control my bending, so I don't hurt people unintentionally". (K) Just what does he think he's getting at?! Apologizing to Toph?! Why would he care if she got hurt? Doesn't anyone else find this suspicious at all?! What could he possibly be up to? And he…Her thoughts cut off at the sound of Aang's voice."...Burned Katara, and after that I never wanted to fire bend again". She glanced in Aang's direction. She realized she had been glaring at Zuko the whole entire time. Well he deserved it anyway. (K) Aang can't possibly be thinking of this! Zuko joining us?! He'll just betray me…betray us all again! Zuko is the Fire Lord's son! There's no way he's ever going to change! That little speech was just that! A speech! Like the one he gave me in Ba Sing Se! I can't believe anyone is actually considering this! Distantly she heard Toph say "go ahead and let him join. It'll give me plenty of time to get back at him for burning my feet". (K) Seriously Toph?! Aang looked in Sokka's direction. "Sokka?". "Hey, all I want is to defeat the Fire Lord. If you think this is the way to do it then I'm all for it". (K) My own brother! I can't believe this! "Katara?". Aang's voice seemed distant too. She had gone back to glaring at Zuko. In her peripheral she could see Aang's face looking vaguely hopeful. (K) I don't trust him at all but…Aang does need a firebending teacher and experienced firebenders willing to teach the Avatar are in short supply. She took a deep breath and faced Aang. "I'll go along with whatever you think is right".

Zuko said something but she was already storming away. (K)I still think this is a bad idea! Katara went back to preparing lunch. She slammed the pouch filled with wild berries on the floor and stirred the rice she was boiling with her waterbending. (K) And everyone just let him join so easily! Like…did anyone even give it two seconds of thought?! She slammed a pot and large bowl on the ground. "Are you okay Katara?", asked Haru cautiously. "What?! Oh Haru. I'm fine, why do you ask?". Haru gave her a doubtful look. "Fine", she sighed. "I'm just a little frustrated". "Because the Fire Nation prince joined us?". She nodded. "I don't even think it's possible for Zuko to change. He's done so many horrible things, Haru. He chased us all over the world and…he betrayed us one time when I thought he wouldn't. I don't trust him. I'll never trust him". "I understand Katara. But Aang does need a firebending teacher". (K) And that's the only thing…Aang really does need a firebending teacher. But why does it have to be Zuko?! Why couldn't Jeong-Jeong pop up somewhere?! "Look Katara", continued Haru, "you don't have to like him. You just have to tolerate him until Aang faces the Fire Lord".

(K)That's true. But this time I have to make sure that he knows I'm not taking chances like last time. I'll be watching him. "You're right Haru. Listen, would you mind finishing up lunch for me? I have to do something". Haru gave her a slightly quizzical look before agreeing. "Sure Katara". Katara nodded to him. "Thanks". She headed straight for Zuko's room. Several feet ahead, she saw her brother and Aang leave Zuko's room and walk the opposite way. (K) Good. He's alone. Zuko was sitting on his bed thinking back to what his uncle had told him about destiny being a funny thing. (Z) Uncle was right. I never thought I'd be here, and on my way to helping the Avatar. I just wish…I hadn't betrayed you Uncle. Sensing a presence, Zuko started, and realized Katara was in his doorway. He stood immediately. Something about the look on her face was unnerving. (Z) She isn't saying anything. Maybe I should say something to her? But what? As soon as he was about to open his mouth, Katara began. "You may have everyone else here buying your little transformation, but you and I both know you've struggled with doing the right thing in the past". In two angry strides she was in his face. "So let me tell you something right now. You make ONE step backwards, ONE slip up, give me ONE reason to think you might hurt Aang, and you won't have to worry about your destiny anymore. Because I'll make sure your destiny ends right then and there, PERMANENTLY". She turned on her heel and stormed out, slamming the door behind her. Zuko's heart was pounding. He was glued to the spot staring at the recently slammed door. (Z) For a minute there I thought she was gonna bend at me again! He shuddered and sat back down on the bed. Of course, he wouldn't fight back if she did. Indeed, he couldn't fight back.

Katara slowed her pace as she headed to get lunch. (K) Hopefully, Zuko gets the message now. She frowned. In her mind all she could picture was a pair of sad golden eyes. She shook her head, irritated with herself for even considering how she made Zuko feel. (K) So what if I hurt his feelings? I could have said a lot worse and it would have been deserved! "Hey Katara", said Aang with a sunny smile. Everyone had been sitting in the center of the temple and Haru had already begun passing out bowls of rice and wild berries. Katara smiled. There was always something so pure and genuine about Aang's smiles that had nothing to do with him being the Avatar. She got her bowl from Haru and sat between Aang and Sokka. "Hey where's Zuko?", asked Toph. Katara shrugged. "Who cares?". Aang frowned a little and it nearly broke her heart. He was disappointed with her. He sat his bowl on the ground and stood. "Where are you going?", asked Katara. Aang grabbed another bowl and turned. "I'm gonna go bring this to Zuko. It's gotta be weird for him to be here". "Well it's definitely weird for me", said Sokka. Katara nodded. (K) Aang is such a good-hearted person. He's so kind to everyone…even towards people who don't deserve it, like Zuko. She smiled at him as he headed for Zuko's room.

Zuko heard a tap-tap on his door and his stomach lurched. He was hoping with everything in him that it wasn't an angry Katara again. He opened the door to find Aang standing there with a bowl of rice and some berries. "Hey Zuko. Here", said Aang handing him the bowl. "Uhh…thanks", said Zuko. "Listen Zuko, I know it's gonna take some time for people to trust you and I know this has got to be weird for you". "Yeah tell me about it", sighed Zuko. "Well I think things will start to get better once you start training me in firebending. Then everyone will see that you really came to help". "Yeah you're probably right". "I understand if you want to take a couple of days to get used to everything and everyone". "No. I'd rather start tomorrow morning if that's okay with you". "Really?! Tomorrow?! Yeah!". Aang very poorly executed Fire Nation styled bow and said, "Thanks Sifu Hotman!". Zuko couldn't help but give a small smile at Aang's enthusiasm although he was bewildered by the 'Sifu Hotman' comment.

Zuko had decided he still felt too awkward around 'Team Avatar' as they called themselves, so he decided to go out and hunt for his own dinner. In his mind he had been replaying his encounter with Katara. (Z) Why is she so upset with me? I mean…I know I did some pretty messed up things in the past, but everyone else seems like they're ready to move forward. He sighed. It was obvious that she wasn't going to make anything easier for him. (Z) That's okay I guess. I'm only here to train the Avatar in firebending so we can end this war. Zuko found a stream and squatted down to look into it. The sunset was an explosion of pinks and purples and oranges. Once again, the incident with Katara replayed in his head. Zuko closed his eyes. It was like she was there right then, still threatening him. But during this replay he noticed a sad, hurt look in her eyes under the intense disdain. Had he hurt her? (Z) How? Nothing I did was ever really directed at her…all I wanted to do was capture the Avatar. He thought harder. (Z) Maybe it was all those times I called her a peasant? But I can't imagine that really hurt her feelings THAT badly. Maybe when I tried to bribe her with her own necklace? He cringed at the thought of his actions. Obviously that necklace was very special to her. He felt like a colossal jerk for doing that (Z) But no…it couldn't have been that! Sure, I teased her a little, but I didn't even try to hurt her; I tried to reason with her then! Zuko sighed in frustration. The strange thing was that of all of the group, Katara was the one he felt the most connection to. It was so weird! He thought of their time in the caves under Ba Sing Se. (Z) She's the only person I ever let touch my scar…and I don't even know why I let her. Zuko sighed again at the frivolousness of that thought. There was no point thinking about that! That was the past, and present day Katara hated him with a burning passion. It was better to focus on the task at hand. Zuko caught and roasted his own fish, and sat in his room eating. Idly, he thought of how he wished the river contained fish bigger than the size of his fist, as the muffled sounds of everyone else laughing and talking out in the center of the temple wafted up to his room. Eventually he would have to go out there with them, but not today. He took a sip of water from a pouch and leaned back on his bed. He would get up early the next day to train Aang in firebending. And everything would go a lot smoother from there.